Powering Through the Last Month of Dissertation Writing

This will be a short post, as I’m not feeling great at all these last couple of days. I’ve officially caught some bug, and the timing couldn’t get much worse given that I have less than a month to complete my dissertation in preparation for my March defense.

But as I frequently say to myself and my students, now is the time to “power through” the feeling sick, the exhaustion, the desire to let work slide. This does not mean that I’m working as productively or diligently as I do when I feel well, but it does mean that I don’t halt all work. If I did that, I’d lose momentum, quickly fall behind, and find it to be a real struggle when I try to then frantically wrap up my dissertation.

Instead, I’m taking a break from revising my last chapter in order to review some reading for my introduction. I still can review and read text right now even with the exhaustion and coughing. But final revisions require an objective eye and an alert brain, and I can’t claim to have either of those assets right now. So I continue to work a little each day to keep the momentum going and make a little progress, but I do so with lowered expectations. (Admittedly, even with lowered expectations, I still fall short, but that’s because I dream big so I don’t beat myself up about it–I’m just grateful for any progress.)

So I guess, for me, powering through means keep moving forward despite the obstacle(s). But also know your limits. Don’t push so hard that you wear yourself out and extend the illness or create new problems. It’s a skill that will serve you well in academia and in other environments (professional or otherwise).

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Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015

Keep Writing

Source Unknown

Hello, 2015!

I have found myself super excited to begin this new year and a new phase in my life. So excited, in fact, that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t fall back to sleep! While I’ll remedy my lack of sleep with a nap later today, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the amazingness that was 2014 and document my plans, expectations, and resolutions for 2015.

To say that February 2014 was a good month is an understatement. I received a series of amazing notifications:  I was awarded a travel grant for a conference presentation, a fellowship to complete my dissertation during the 2014-15 academic year, followed by another fellowship to work on my dissertation during the summer of 2014, and notification that I was selected to present at Wayne State’s 2014 Graduate Research Exhibition. This was all cherry-topped with the news that my article on Mary de Morgan, “Seeds of Subversion in Mary de Morgan’s ‘The Seeds of Love,’” was accepted for publication pending revision. (This article has since been accepted for publication and will appear in Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, volume 29, issue 2 in 2015).

Yet beyond the this excellent news, February 2014 validated my original evaluation of my research and dissertation project: it is worthwhile and important. Before entering my doctoral program, I had not doubted that my research was important. I was shocked to find how very little had been written on the topic of 19th c. fairy tales by women when I first became interested in Mary de Morgan. Most scholarship on the topic is to be found in anthologies of the tales themselves, but these are usually on the topic fairy tales in general or Victorian fairy tales (many if not most written by men). The opportunity for innovative scholarship on the topic was (and still is) practically wide-open and the need to “rediscover” and/or bring to scholarly light the works of neglected female authors persists. But despite my own enthusiasm for my research, doctoral programs were far less enthusiastic. It was made explicitly clear to me by the DGS that I was accepted NOT for my interest in Victorian fairy tales but instead for the list of additional research interests I included in my purpose statement, such as women’s literature in general and sensation novels. I was admitted in spite of my research in fairy tales, not because of it.

But with the help of February 2014, I was finally able to put aside my inferiority complex regarding my research on 19th-century British fairy tales by women. Despite the general consensus that I will not be hired for my work on fairy tales, people are more than happy to hear me discuss them at conferences. And I have clearly become quite adept at selling my research to earn funding, as the multiple fellowships, research awards, and travel grants indicate. Surprisingly, the DGS assured me that I was awarded the Rumble Fellowship by a unanimous vote of the department’s graduate committee. So while at the beginning of my doctoral program, my research in and of itself was not valuable or scholarly enough, I now find that this perception has changed as I quickly approach graduation:  Perhaps fairy-tale research is undervalued, but *my* fairy-tale research is worthwhile AND worth funding.

Beyond the flurry of activity in February, 2014 saw me make a lot of progress on my dissertation. In fact, I submitted my 5th chapter (of 6 chapters) to my director on Jan. 1, 2015. All that remains is 1 more chapter and an introduction, so I am very much on track to defend in early March and graduate in May. I also moved “home” to MN to finish my dissertation writing and perform archival research on the British literary annual at the U of MN. I returned to University of St. Thomas for an invited presentation on Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the proto-feminist fairy tales she published in literary annuals as well as to sit on a panel discussing what could be done with a BA in English (the audience of this panel was a classroom of English majors). I also presented at several conferences, all on the topic of my dissertation research, and have applied for several teaching positions for 2015-16.

Additionally, I returned to physical therapy for some balance work, and I began taking watercolor classes. I also utilized HabitRPG to encourage the development of new and productive habits and to meet the various goals I have set for myself, including periodic blogging.

I feel confident stating that 2014 has been a wonderfully productive and successful year for me.

As I look forward to 2015, I anticipate my dissertation defense and the conferral of my Ph.D. I am particularly looking forward to leaving behind my student status after 10 consecutive years of higher education. I want to experience adulthood that is about working rather than studying, and I very much want to settle down into a stable job that will offer me the same challenges I have come to enjoy over the last 10 years.

I have further found that I have missed teaching while I have been on fellowship. I have not missed grading, but I do miss the interaction with students, the development of courses, course topics, learning objectives, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as witnessing students’ “aha” moments. I have also missed the class rapport and discussions, and as I work on writing my dissertation, I wish I could share my writing process with my students and inspire them to continue writing every day. I therefore plan to return to the classroom, to teach new courses and help new students, and perhaps to use my recent interest in online pedagogy to teach a hybrid or online course in 2015.

Additional resolutions:

  1. Read Dickens’ novels, 1 chapter a day, beginning with Oliver Twist, to try to duplicate the serialized original and experience if the novels appear less overwhelming in small pieces (to perhaps implement in the classroom).
  2. Become more active to reverse some of the unhealthy effects of sitting to read and write every day, as well as to possibly increase my balance and strength deficits.
  3. Work on publishing my dissertation.
  4. Begin new research projects and continue current ones on topics ranging from the literary annual, the femme fatale, Letitia Landon, etc.
  5. Enjoy the experience of transitioning from student to professional!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to note some of the fantastic events of 2014 as well as some of my plans for 2015, but I’ll leave it at that. It has been a fantastic year of discovery and success and I hope that continues in 2015. Essentially, I hope to continue working my passion.

A Possible Answer to “Generic Intersections: The Fairy Tale and the Romance”

Some weeks ago, I wrote a post questioning the distinction between the Romantic Romance, as described by Jacqueline M. Labbe in Romantic Paradox, and the fairy tale. Happily, I have stumbled upon a possible and/or partial answer to my concerns while composing my American Folklore Society conference presentation on Elizabeth Gaskell.

Ruth B. Bottigheimer explains in Fairy Tales: A New History,

Restoration fairy tales grew seamlessly out of the medieval romances that preceded them, retaining their chivalric locations, courtly activities, and royal characters. Precursor plots about the restoration of displaced and suffering royal figures who returned to their rightful position are nearly as old as storytelling itself, as are many of the motifs that characterize restoration fairy tales. In the 1500s this traditional plot took on a new and abbreviated form as brief tales of princes and princesses whose expulsion and suffering are relieved by magic and marriage” (24)

For those readers unfamiliar with the term “restoration fairy tales,” Bottigheimer included a lovely diagram for explanation, which I have attempted to reproduce here:

royal origins *                                                  * royal restoration

\                                                   /

\                                            /

\                                     /

\                              /

\                       /

^^^^^^^^^ 

(tasks, tests, trials, and sufferings)

*(Adapted from Bottigheimer 11)*

While Bottigheimer is discussing medieval rather than Romantic romances, the connection between the romance and the fairy tale is made explicitly clear. What is left to determine is what is the distinction between medieval, Romantic, and gothic romances…

Generic Intersections: The Fairy Tale & The Romance

My fascination with the fairy-tale genre should be obvious by now. It has sustained me for years, academically since 2008 and my introduction to Anne Sexton’s Transformations, but since childhood in the form of Disney (in particular The Little Mermaid) and bedtime stories from a big illustrated book of Grimms’ fairy tales. In the last couple of years, the literary annual has entered into my list of favorite genres, and today I will be adding the romance.

labbe romantic paradox

Labbe’s The Romantic Paradox

Jacqueline M. Labbe’s The Romantic Paradox: Love, Violence and the Uses of Romance, 1760-1830 (2000) has blown my mind. I came across Labbe’s book while researching Letitia Landon, and I definitely was not disappointed in her analysis of Landon’s work, especially given that it largely supports my own interpretation of Landon’s subversive use of the fairy tale. Without going into great detail, Labbe basically argues that Landon subverts the romance genre and in doing so expresses a profound disillusionment. Moreover, she characterizes Landon as an authorial femme fatale, symbolically ruining or killing the romance even while she utilizes it for her own purposes. (How can I not squee over such a beautiful overlap of so many of my favorite topics and themes?)

But while Labbe’s analysis of Landon was both exciting and eye-opening, her discussion of the romance genre has caused me to seriously reflect on the intersections of this genre and the fairy-tale genre that has held my interest for so long. Labbe begins her introduction as follows:

“The Romance has always had a bad press within Romanticism. As a genre, its associations with women readers and writers and assumptions of its inherent inferiority to, for instance, the epic, the ode, or even the sonnet have for many readers contained its power; as a plot-line, its fabled preoccupation with love and fantasy has limited its appeal. The romance is rule-bound, immature, feminised and predictable: readers know the outcome before the story even begins.” (Labbe 1)

Already the similarity to the fairy tale (and even the literary annual) is apparent: its a fluffy genre, appropriate for women to write and read, includes elements of romantic love and fantastic magic, and is formulaic.

Labbe then discusses what she calls “the Romantic romance,” or the romance as interpreted by Romantic poets:

“The Romantic romance contains all the necessary ingredients, although not always at the same time: a love relationship central to the plot; a hero, heroine and villain; journeys, adventure and escapes; the supernatural or magical. Importantly, however, it largely dispenses with ‘happily ever after’; lovers meet, love, are parted, but seldom are reunited, and if they are, it is seldom to good effect. Instead of celebrating their happiness, the Romantic romance utilises their distress; it finds in the elements of the romance justification for pursuing a changed romance. [. . .] The traditional romance is inherently deeply conservative in its gender constructions; indeed, many gender stereotypes about strong heroes and passive, beautiful heroines are directly traceable to its plot. The Romantic romance throws down a challenge to the romance of gender; subverting the familiar angles of plot, the Romantic romance reveals the emptiness of generic rhetoric.” (Labbe 2-3)

Romanticism has ever been a period that I’ve struggled to get into and interact with. My fascination with Landon and with the figure of the femme fatale (as seen in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats) has enabled me to find a foothold in the period, but I am now fascinated by Labbe’s Romantic romance. What she describes as the Romantic romance directly ties in with what fascinates me about the proto-feminist fairy tales I’m currently writing about: largely, the upset of the “happily ever after” and gender stereotypes.

Even more similarities can be found when Labbe later discusses the instructive nature of the romance. She writes in the first chapter,

“In many ways, the moral of the conventional romance is the preservation and strengthening of the status quo [. . .] Romance offered, even demanded, the continuation of a lifestyle where strength and goodness were rewarded, gender distinctions (mostly) upheld, men protected women, social classes were strictly observed and believed in.” (Labbe 33)

Inherent to the traditional fairy tale is the moral, an aspect of the genre that was explicit in some cases, such as the fairy tales of Perrault. Furthermore, Perrault’s fairy tales were written to educate and instruct children in their courtly gender roles. While the fairy tales of the French conteuses of the same time period were more subversive, attempting to expand women’s role in society, many fairy tales throughout the centuries are more concerned with the reification of cultural mores than with the transformation of social expectations and society in general. The classical fairy tale would therefore seem to have much in common with the “conventional romance.”

My knowledge of the romance genre, and the Romantic romance in particular, is still very basic and incomplete, but I am very pleased to have found another point of interest in the Romantic period. Perhaps more importantly, Labbe has caused me to question how much of my discussion of proto-feminist fairy tales is perhaps more a discussion of Romantic romance or proto-feminist romance. The same generic playfulness and/or subversion is present not only in Landon’s fairy tales but also in those that come later in the century. Could there be a Victorian romance waiting to be revealed? And how much do the genres of the romance and the fairy tale crossover? Is there a distinction that I’m missing? While such classic tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” seem to share little with the romance, fairy tales such as “Cinderella” seem to share much with the romance.

Such intersections are certainly worth pondering more. But for now, I’ll leave you with a final fascinating quotation from Labbe:

“As the century progresses and the romance becomes ever more popular and widespread, it also gains the ability to engage directly with the violence it describes: texts become metaphorically blood-soaked as human relations disintegrate into an anti-fairy-tale world of dying unhappily ever after.” (Labbe 4, my emphasis)

Resolving to Return to a (Work) Routine

As I begin writing this post, I can’t help but sigh heavily. To say that August has been a whirlwind of chaotic activity would be an understatement. But as it comes to a close and my special collections research ends (or at least is put on hold), I find myself struggling to get back into my old routine of writing and reading. Or rather, I need to find a new routine. Either way, productivity is down.

Part of this is simple burnout. I want and need a break. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I have approaching deadlines that require that I continue working and accept the last two days as break enough. As Tim Gunn says, “It’s time to make it work!”

So, since I’m not simply falling back into a work routine, reflection is in order to push past the feeling of being overwhelmed with “stuff” to do. What do I need to do? What is the first step(s) to getting it done? What is my priority? What can wait a while?

And to make this official, I’m sharing my “To Do” list, in prioritized order with any formal (or informal) due dates:

  1. Organize desk top. (It is a mess from the move still.) [X]
  2. Register for conference in Sept. [X]
  3. Reserve shuttle for Nov. conference. [X]
  4. Read and incorporate secondary sources into my current dissertation chapter. [in progress]
  5. Polish my current dissertation chapter.
  6. Submit to dissertation director before meeting on Sept. 15th. [X]
  7. Condense to conference presentation and submit to graduate student presentation contest by Sept. 18th. [X]
  8. Begin creating colloquium presentation (PowerPoint or Prezi) while on the topic.
  9. Attend and present at conference Sept. 25th-28th. [X]
  10. Finish preparing 40 minutes colloquium presentation paper/notes and visuals by Oct. 16th.
  11. Jump into next chapter (already begun but put on hold last semester), in particular to prepare for Nov. conference presentation.
  12. Prepare conference presentation by Nov. 5th.
  13. Attend and present at conference Nov. 5th-8th.

I think at that point in November I can afford to take a week or two off to recover.

And, just as I’m about to publish this post, I realize I left all my job application materials off the official list, so . . .

*1-13* Scatter job application prep, search, and submission throughout.

Literary Annual Research @ U of MN

Once August hit, my summer went from relaxingly productive to complete craziness, hence my recent lack of posts. Between a full schedule and exhaustion, blogging has not been high on my list of priorities. In addition to moving, unpacking, and physical therapy, I’ve also begun my archival research at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Libraries, and this is the topic of today’s post.

A professor first mentioned the Victorian literary annual to me during my first semester in my doctoral program; in my second semester, I began researching the genre for a book history course. (I’ve written on the topic previously here and here.) Now, the literary annual is playing a major role in my dissertation as one of the genres I’m investigating (along with fairy tale collections and poetry and short story collections).

I’m fascinated by the history of the literary annual. Marketed as appropriate reading and gifts for young middle-class women, the annual featured luxurious bindings (such as red silk) and state of the art steel-plate engravings. These engravings were the real appeal of the annuals, as the poetry, short stories, and nonfiction texts were written to accompany the engravings. Moreover, the genre was increasingly “feminized,” as women increasingly edited, wrote, and read the literary annuals. Published between 1823 and 1857, at the height of their popularity more than 60 different annuals were published in a single year.

Perhaps because they were considered feminine, as well as because the engravings rather than the texts were the selling point, critics since the genre’s debut have considered the literary annual to be fluff rather than literature, and the literary annual has only become a source of scholarly interest in the last few decades. So there is plenty of work to be done with the annuals, in particular with the literary contributions that have been overlooked in favor of the genre’s intriguing history as a book-object.

I was thrilled to discover that the University of MN has an extensive collection of British (and American) literary annuals; as a side note, those interested in exploring the catalog should search under “gift books” rather than literary annuals. Holdings are available in regular collections that are loanable as well as in various special collections, including those held at the Andersen Library and Wilson/Bell Library. I’ve included my current batch of special collection annuals in the spreadsheet image below.

Literary Annual Holdings (Incomplete) @ U of MN

The literary annuals I’m currently accessing at the U of MN

Although my research has only begun, I’ve already found some literary gems although they are not quite what I’m looking for for my dissertation. Fingers crossed that my theory is proven true as I continue my research into the fascinating world of the British Victorian Literary Annual!

Technology in the Classroom: Infographics

I have a love-hate relationship with technology, as some of my previous posts on the topic may suggest, but I’m trying to overcome my knee-jerk rejection of technology in the classroom, which seems to be largely caused by my frustration with trouble shooting technology problems. As usual lately, this post was inspired by my Pinterest addiction (a good indication that I am an all too frequent user of technology outside the classroom). So today I’d like to share some thoughts on how I can envision using infographics in the classroom.

Because of my Pinterest addiction, I’ll begin with an infographic entitled “Professors, Peers, & Pinterest.” 🙂

Okay, back to infographics in the classroom!

Assigning students (or groups of students) to create their own infographics seems to me to be a fun and useful assignment in an English classroom. In terms of the composition classroom, infographics are a unique form of communication, incorporating images, charts, and researched statistics or other information to educate and inform an intended audience (general or specific). Infographics thereby become a distinct genre of communication, with a specific purpose and audience.

Yet it is a genre quite different from the typical kinds of writing I usually assign in my composition classroom (think summary, analysis, and argument). Although related to summary (info graphics are, after all, a summary or even synthesis of information and research), communication in this genre occurs not through sentences and paragraphs but mainly through images. It appears to be a more obviously creative form of communication that I think might appeal to students with a creative bent, as well as an opportunity for students to consider the creation, layout, and appeal of a visual form of rhetoric.

An infographic assignment could be a welcome break from the typical written assignment and seems an ideal way to transition to a researched argument paper. It would offer students an opportunity to practice their researching skills, including the evaluation and citation of sources, and it could even accompany (or replace) an annotated bibliography.

An infographic assignment is a bit more difficult to incorporate into a literature classroom, but I think there are still some available options. I’m intrigued by the idea of using infographics to present reader-response information following each text. For instance, groups of students would be responsible for creating a survey for their classmates to complete after reading each assigned text; survey results then would be transformed into infographics to be presented to the class and/or uploaded to the course wiki or blog. Surveys could ask questions regarding the speed of reading (such as whether students read only assigned pages or read ahead–and even why they read at that speed) and/or students’ enjoyment of, comprehension of , completion of, or agreement with the text. Whether students are reading a bound or digital copy of the text would also be interesting to know.

If someday reading speed could be calculated as it was for this “How We Read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice” infographic, it would be an amazing tool. But as an instructor, I think it could be helpful to receive such anonymous feedback concerning my student’s interaction with specific texts. For instance, a text that is more appealing to female readers, as the infographic suggests Pride & Prejudice is, would preferably be balanced by a text more appealing to male readers. Moreover, knowing whether students finished reading or understood the text is equally important, and I think students would be more likely to admit such information to their peers in an anonymous survey than to me in anonymous feedback submitted to the instructor.

Or infographics could be created to provide background information on literary texts before or while reading. Such an assignment in the literature classroom would practice many of the same researching and citing skills discussed previously concerning infographics in the composition classroom, as well as provide fellow students with important contextual information on assigned texts.

Finally, infographics could be used in the classroom not as an assignment but as a way for the instructor to review information and skills. In this way, instructor-produced infographics would become a quick reference for students in the course. Although the last method to be discussed in this post, this is probably where I would begin incorporating infographics into my classroom practices, if only because it would require that I become familiar with the creation of infographics, thereby allowing me to help my students create their own as well as more effectively evaluate and assess their final products.

10 Free Tools for Creating Infographics” seems to be a good place to begin playing with the creation of infographics.

I would greatly appreciate any suggestions and/or reviews of infographic creating applications (preferably free and user friendly). I’d also love to hear from anyone who has used infographic assignments in their classrooms.

Note: I have not checked the veracity of the infographics included in this post.

reading statistics, book facts

Source Unknown

Response to “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities” (with Class Activity)

For the past five years, I’ve been examining the pros and cons of reading on-screen versus in print. The bottom line is that while digital devices may be fine for reading that we don’t intend to muse over or reread, text that requires what’s been called “deep reading” is nearly always better done in print.

Naomi S. Baron via How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Baron’s short discussion of digital versus print texts in the humanities classroom caught my eye, probably because it reinforced some thoughts I expressed in a previous post when a family friend urged me to purchase e-texts so he’d have less books to move for me. In that post, I commented that bound books are easier to use in the classroom, and Baron supports that statement in “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities”; she writes of the results of a survey taken by students on the pros and cons of bound books and e-books:

Several open-ended questions on my survey were particularly revelatory. I asked what people liked most (and least) about reading in each medium. Common responses for what students liked most about reading in print included “I can write on the pages and remember the material easier” and “it’s easier to focus.” When asked what they liked least about reading on-screen, a number of Japanese students reported that it wasn’t “real reading,” while respondents from all three countries complained that they “get distracted” or “don’t absorb as much.”

My all-time favorite reply to the question “What is the one thing you like least about reading in print?” came from an American: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.” Isn’t careful reading what academe was designed to promote?

Which brings us back to the humanities.

Readings in the humanities tend to be lengthy, intellectually weighty, or both. The challenge of digital reading for the humanities is that screens—particularly those on devices with Internet connections—undermine our encounters with meaty texts. These devices weren’t designed for focused concentration, reading slowly, pausing to argue virtually with the author, or rereading. Rather, they are information and communication machines, best used for searching and skimming—not scrutinizing.

Teachers and scholars must look beyond today’s career-mindedness in talking about challenges to the humanities. We need to think more carefully about students’ mounting rejection of long-form reading, now intensified by digital technologies that further complicate our struggle to engage students in serious text-based inquiry. (Baron)

As a student, I can testify to the veracity of Baron’s survey results. Texts that I read via a paper copy (whether a bound book or printed article) invariably taught me more and stayed with me longer than those texts read digitally. In fact, as a graduate student, I would frequently make decisions regarding whether to purchase print copies or digital copies of a text based on whether I thought the text would (or could) prove to be significant or relevant to my personal research interests and fields of study; texts that merely fell into required reading for a course were downloaded digitally as not being worth the (extra) money spent.

Kindle App, e-texts, technology

Screen Shot of my Kindle App for Mac

But as a graduate student in English literature, I am far more aware of my personal reading habits and reading needs than first- or second-year undergrads.

I think Baron’s short essay may prove useful in introductory English classrooms, particularly those introducing students to the study of literature (although it could be equally relevant in the composition classroom if reading skills are being stressed). This is not to force my students to purchase paper copies of texts, but to at least get them thinking about the difference medium can have on their reading practices. Such a discussion could easily be used to transition into a discussion of close reading strategies or even active reading and learning; it would also offer students an opportunity to reflect on their current reading practices.

Furthermore, an activity whereby half the class is asked to read Baron’s piece (or an assigned short story or critical article) online while the other is given a paper copy to read could prove both interesting and enlightening. Would the students with the paper copy of such a short piece prove more able to discuss the points in detail than those who read online? Or would the results of such a small sampling prove to be inconclusive, or even the opposite? No matter the result, I think such an activity and discussion could function as a simple and productive gateway to what we mean by “reading” in the English classroom. Moreover, I think this activity would urge students to reflect on their own reading practices and encourage them to make thoughtful choices when it comes to reading medium and their learning in general.