Friday, August 30, 2013

School Spirit is Creepy

Last night I attended Premier UNLV, a beginning-of-the-year tradition here, apparently. It was geared entirely toward undergraduates, which I expected. However, I was enticed there by the free food and the opportunity to watch Shaun Leonard freak out with what can only be described as puppy-with-a-new-chew-toy glee as all the stereotypes about the American college experience appeared before his eyes: cheerleaders, marching band, mascots, etc.

In my opinion, the best part (aside from the free food) was when three dangerously close and somewhat unanticipated fireworks went off at the end of the night. Overall, though, I found that the whole event made me extremely uncomfortable. Part of it was that I didn't want to run into my students; I didn't want them to feel like they couldn't have fun if their teacher was there. But I also realized that I have some deep-seated negative feelings about school spirit that I've never tried to analyze. I will attempt to do so now.

One problem is that I've never attended a school where school spirit mattered. St. Pat's had terrible sports teams. So did Carmel. So did Loyola. (So did Loyola I think--I honestly never paid much attention.) I never played sports--too horrifically uncoordinated. I've always been able to simply go to school and focus on my education and my friends without having to care too much about the school itself, and I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. It seems that the students here definitely care a great deal about UNLV as an institution; I gave my class a reading quiz the other day, and more than one student referenced the values that one must have as a Rebel (UNLV's mascot, for those of you who don't know). I can't imagine anyone at Loyola writing about the importance of being a Rambler.

It also seems that most of the people I've known who do take pride in their school are either obnoxious or utterly horrible. Sometimes it's just a matter of them not shutting up about it, which I can cope with, but I find it irritating. I always wonder why these people take so much pride in their school. It usually has to do with a sports team of some variety. I'm fine with people enjoying sports, but what else has the school given you, then, besides a team that has nothing to do with you? Certainly an education, but I don't get the impression that education is what people are celebrating when they wear school colors and sing fight songs.

The utterly horrible people are worse, of course. I suppose I've just noticed a strong correlation between people with school spirit and people who treat other people like shit. Jocks, frat boys, etc. I know that my brain is perpetuating a stereotype here--not all jocks and frat boys are bad people. I'm aware of that. But it's sometimes difficult to remember when you see the stereotype played out again and again. School spirit and the worship of student athletes is what gets you Steubenville. (And a total lack of appreciation for consent, I suppose. And a generally misogynistic society.) It's an extreme case, certainly, yet I can't help but associate it with love for one's school and one's team.

Furthermore, I'm bothered by the cultish aspect of school spirit. They're like a hoard of zombies chanting rah-rah-rah. To be clear: I have no problem with cheering on your school/sports team at a sporting event. That makes sense to me. Your team needs to hear your vocal support in order to be energized and beat the other team. There's a reason for the school spirit during a game. But what the hell is a point of a pep rally, for instance? Why do you need pep when a game isn't going on? You're not trying to defeat anybody. It seems totally illogical.

I'm sure my issues regarding the cult-like quality of school spirit have something to do with my fiercely independent streak. I don't like asking people for help. I like doing things on my own and thinking for myself to a fault. There are times when I should ask for help and I don't. My fear of doing-things-just-because-everybody-else-is isn't limited to school spirit/sports; even when I'm at a concert, and the lead singer tries to get the audience to sway their hands back and forth, I typically refuse. I don't want to dance that way. I want to dance my own way. So in this regard the whole school spirit thing kind of disgusts me--not that it should. I don't understand the appeal of groupthink. And when I say "groupthink," I'm referring to something most other people would probably call "bonding."

I guess I have some serious cognitive dissonance going here. I believe that people should be able to do what they want, and if they want to engage in absurd, over-the-top displays of school spirit, who am I to stop them? At the same time, I also believe that school spirit is, as I said in the title, creepy. Ominous. Sinister.

I hope this makes sense to some people.

Onto happier things. It's Labor Day Weekend! Hope you all have exciting events planned. I certainly do. I want to blog about it, so I won't discuss it now. All I'll say is that I hope we don't get abducted.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notes from Office Hours

Office hours. I have those now. Because I am a professor.

It's still weird.

I'm writing from my little cubicle in the RAJ, where I will spend an hour and a half every Monday and Wednesday, even though I'm nearly certain no students will come to see me unless forced. Which isn't to say they don't like me--one of my students told me today that I'm one of his favorite professors this semester. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I hope he knows that flattery will get his grade absolutely nowhere. I think he might know that, actually; the same student asked: "when does college get fun?" Hilarious. I told him that it's probably already more fun than he thinks, and that when he graduates and starts working in the real world he will likely long for even his introductory courses. That's the way it happened with me, anyway.

Yesterday I had my first Forms of Fiction class with Maile Chapman. Our focus is American Gothic, and the syllabus makes me nothing short of giddy. We get to read Poe and Lovecraft and O'Connor--right up my alley. And for our final project, we have to write a piece of gothic fiction. I already have some ideas oozing around in my brain. A word map may already be scrawled in my notebook. We shall see what comes from all this.

I have just realized that I left my notebook in CBC, where I teach. Great. Why am I always so absentminded? 

Monday, August 26, 2013


You guys.

I taught my first class ever today.

It went disgustingly well.

I barely slept last night I was so nervous. But something changed while the students were filing in. It felt like someone smacked me across the head with a baseball bat made of resolve. I suddenly knew what I had to do and how I had to do it. 

It certainly didn't hurt that my class seems like a great bunch of kids. They're all freshman, all young. No English majors, but I was expecting that. Most are Las Vegas natives, but I have a few from more exotic climes--Alaska, Hawaii, and so on. They laughed at my stupid jokes, they were willing to participate. My "express your opinions about Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky'" exercise seemed to be successful. They actually debated about it. When they found out I was from Chicago they even started suggesting food places that I needed to try, which I thought was rather kind of them.

Perhaps more importantly, the fact that this is my first teaching gig didn't come up. Of course, now the more intrepid students are going to Google my name, find this blog, and figure that out. DAMN YOU, THE INTERNET!

Oh well. As long as I stay on top of things, I suppose it won't be detrimental to the classroom atmosphere if they discover I'm a karaoke goddess. 

I also had my first fiction workshop today. It's with Richard Wiley, the current head of our program. It was a shorter class than normal, since nobody had any work to share yet. But we did have a great discussion about writers' different aesthetics, and how it's nearly impossible to nail down one's own aesthetic, and how certain authors' aesthetics are more infectious than others. Richard also stressed quality in our writing. He said that it was more important for us to make something than to be somebody. Solid advice, I believe. I'm excited to get started.

In order to wind down from our first day, Shaun, Michael, Olivia, Austin, and I went to this divey little joint called The Dispensary. OH MY GOODNESS DO THEY HAVE INCREDIBLE BURGERS. It's the perfect greasy bar burger, and it's huge, and it's only $6 (with fries). I inhaled mine. This calls for a tiny dance party in my bedroom. Classes at the gym don't start until next week. 

You guys. 

I'm glad I moved here. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Almost 24 Hours in the 24-Hour City

Yesterday was a looooong day. Thoroughly enjoyable, but long. It began at 6:30 a.m., when I woke up to get ready for our second day of Writing Center orientation. There we learned valuable information such as, "always be polite when meeting a student" and "don't tell a student that their paper is terrible." We discussed many legitimately helpful tactics as well, but apparently these basics tend to escape some people. Plus, there was free breakfast. Always a good thing.

At noon the school held a campus-wide barbecue for all incoming students, undergraduates and graduates alike. UNLV has a marching band. They must be sick of playing "Viva Las Vegas." It's interesting to attend a school that has sports teams that, you know...matter. Students actually appear to have school spirit. This is a foreign concept to me. In my opinion, one of Loyola's most endearing qualities was its lack of a sports cult. Who knows? Maybe this will be a positive change. Maybe I'll grow as a human being. Maybe.

I didn't spend long at the barbecue; instead a bunch of us went up to the English department and had way better leftover Hawaiian food there. Did you know that there's a huge Hawaiian population in Vegas? It's sometimes referred to as the ninth island. I had no idea. There are many Chinese people here as well. 我想练习说汉语.

While stuffing my face full of free salad, I received a call from Century Link--they had finally come to set up my internet! No more WiFi-desperate trips to Starbucks for me. The best part? The man who came to install it was named Larry. Larry the cable guy. You can't make this stuff up.

After Larry's departure, I returned to campus to join an epic quest. You see, poor Shaun Leonard just wanted the typical American college experience, but there were no free "I am a Rebel" t-shirts for graduate students--even international graduate students. Incensed by the injustice of this, Shaun, Zach, and I vowed to obtain one of these t-shirts for Shaun. We tried asking some freshman where they got theirs ("I'm from Ireland." "You mean like leprechaun Ireland?"), we begged students who weren't wearing one to take pity and give their shirts away. Finally, a kind young lady in the admissions office located a few extras. Now Shaun can shine in rebel red, just like he always dreamed.

We made a quick victory trip to the library for a graduate reception, and from there we went to Stake Out, a bar/restaurant where the English MAs and MFAs gathered to celebrate the end of orientation week. Delightful conversation, cheap PBR, and shockingly tasty chicken fingers were enjoyed by all.

Several of us then made our way to Dino's, a Las Vegas institution since 1962. And by "institution" I of course mean "dive bar." There I learned valuable information such as my fellow fiction MFA Kayla has quite a set of pipes, and I am terrible at pool. I'm going to have to work on that. I have three years. I, too, made my Las Vegas karaoke debut at Dino's. Here is a video of said debut, surreptitiously filmed by Zach:

One thing I didn't anticipate about Vegas was how much the secondhand smoke would affect me. After a few hours at Dino's my eyes and throat felt ragged. I miss Illinois' indoor smoking ban. Oh well. I'm sure I'll get used to it.

We finally left sometime between 1:30 and 2 a.m.; as the evening's designated sober chauffeur, I drove Zach home, then Shaun and Austin back to Austin's car. At one point we got to drive on the highway, convertible top down, Arcade Fire blasting, the lights of the strip sparkling to our left. It was absolutely gorgeous.

And that's how I ended up going to bed around 3 a.m., a mere 3.5 hours short of the 24-hour mark.

Today I slept until almost 1 p.m. I do not regret this decision in any way.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

This is My Leftover Pizza, Which Shall Be Given Up for You

It appears that free food is something that goes along with being a university professor. I just had a bunch of leftover pizza forced on me by the English department staff when I went to turn in my syllabus copy request. I'm okay with this.

Today we had Writing Center training. I have to say, the director and assistant director seem far more pleasant than their "write 13 one-page MLA-style response essays" pre-orientation assignment would suggest. I think I'm going to enjoy working there. UNLV has an extremely diverse student population, so for a large percentage of students that come to the Writing Center, English is their second language. I'm excited for the opportunity to meet with foreign students. I've never done it, so I obviously can't know for sure, but I imagine that I'm really going to like working on their English one-on-one with them. I suspect I'll be better at that than standing in front of a classroom and teaching a large group. I guess I'll find out next week.

I can't believe tomorrow is already the last day of orientation. I have to teach on Monday. Monday. For many of my students, it will be their first college course ever. I will be their first college professor ever. Such a large responsibility. I'm going to try not to think about it so that I'll still be able to sleep at night.

Luisa's going to be gone this weekend visiting her family, so I'll have the apartment to myself. I hope my fellow MFA-ers make plans; I hate being alone in a place for too long.

There were rumors of bingo this evening, but I'm awfully tired. Who knows where the night will lead me?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Walk Like an Egyptian

Today was stressful. I don't know if I've explained this, but during orientation we've basically been lectured at from 8 to noon, then from 1 to 5. Few breaks. It's been exhausting, to say the least. So after working on our syllabi to the point of delirium, a few of us grabbed a much needed beer at the local British pub. 

I'm not so much worried about teaching at this point. I mean, I am worried about that. But today was especially difficult because of the mixed messages we received. Sometimes it seems like they want us to follow the sample syllabus word for word, and sometimes it seems like they want to give us more autonomy. I'd prefer more autonomy, obviously, but I don't want to break the rules, either. I'd be grateful for some specifics. 

Did I mention that I've revised my draconian laptop policy? After consultation with trusted parties, I've determined that banning laptops would make me the most hated teacher in all the land. So instead I've decided on something that is possibly MORE diabolical: they can use laptops for class-related purposes, but if a single person gets caught doing something unrelated to class, everyone loses laptop privileges. (Muahahahahaha!)

Dinner and drinks at the Crown & Anchor were delightful. They played awesome 80s new wave hits the whole time. I got to know Olivia and Michael better, and I got to spend more time with Shaun, who is absolutely hilarious. His impressions are spot on. The four of us decided on some Labor Day weekend plans as well, upon which I will elaborate at a later date. 

Now I am watching David Tennant-era Doctor Who with Luisa, and I'm getting unnecessarily emotional. Time for bed, I think. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Her Royal Highness, Miss Professor Doctor Becky

That should be what my students call me, don't you think? The "doctor" part would be a complete lie, unless, of course, I'm somehow a Time Lord but have no knowledge of it. I suppose the part implying that I'm royalty wouldn't be correct, either.

I think I'll just go with Ms. Robison.

We continued teacher training today. I'm now feeling less like my students are going to murder me, and more like their parents might. Thankfully, FERPA has my back as far as grades are concerned. As for what exactly I choose to teach in class, I suppose I'll just have to bounce it off my fellow teachers to determine whether or not it could possibly be construed as even remotely offensive.

Note to parents: when your child is in college, your child is no longer a child, but rather an adult. Or something close to an adult, at least. Enough of an adult for you to back away from their education, even if you're paying for it. I'm sorry to break it to you, but it's true.

I was overjoyed to learn that the class I am teaching will convene at 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. This means that I will not have to get up early. Sleeping in is a high priority for me. My brain doesn't typically work that well before 10 a.m.

I was also overjoyed to learn that, while we have to closely follow a standard syllabus for our 101 classes, classroom policy is completely up to me. Know what that means? I get to ban laptops (unless a student has an extremely convincing reason to use one--disability, etc.). Will they all hate me because of this? Probably. But I know how it goes. I went to college. I sat behind people using laptops. Were any of them paying attention, especially in gen-ed courses? Nope. I know how addictive Facebook and Twitter can be. I have my own social media obsession. I'd like to remove that temptation for them while they're in class.

I'll be refining my policies over the next few days at training when we work on our syllabuses (the Oxford Dictionaries say that syllabuses and syllabi are both acceptable plurals). We also get to learn to make lesson plans soon, which will be helpful, because at this point I have literally no idea how to structure a class.

I can't believe I'm going to be a teacher. How did this happen? I'm in a faculty directory. Is this real life?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Be Positive and Polysyllabic

"Be positive and polysyllabic" was my favorite alliterative advice given to us on our first day of orientation. These wise words came from the impressively mustachioed mouth of Don Revell, poet and translator extraordinaire, regarding how to write grant proposals to the department.

My favorite non-alliterative advice was given to us by a member of the campus police: "Watch the hands. Hands kill."

I must admit, it was a somewhat nerve-wracking day at orientation. The head of the Student Misconduct Office talked to us about how to address troubled students. One of the campus counselors talked to us about how to address troubled students. Students that might stalk you or scream at you or threaten you. The policeman told us that, if there's a shooter in the building and you don't have time to escape, it's your responsibility to convince your students to take down the shooter should he enter the classroom. I'm not even joking. That's the protocol, because there are twenty of you and one of them. Obviously, you're supposed to escape and report the problem if at all possible. This would be an extreme last resort.

Anyway, I now think teaching is a far more dangerous job than I did this morning. By far my favorite part of the day was talking with all the Creative Writing faculty in the afternoon. And spending more time with my new cohorts, of course. I still like them.

On an unrelated note, there is now a fund for the arts created in memory of Ian Pelton, my good friend's father who died the other day. I can assure you that this is a good cause; he spent years of his life dedicated to the performing arts in Paynesville, Minnesota. Please consider donating to help ensure that his good work lives on.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Stormy Sunday

The Las Vegas skies have been heavy with thunderstorms all afternoon. Rain in Las Vegas had not occurred to me. Luisa says it doesn't happen all that often, but that July and August tend to be "monsoon season," with quick storms and occasional flash floods, so I'll have to watch out for that when I'm driving.

This morning I gathered with even more of my fellow MFA program members for an endless champagne brunch. Alas, I was not able to take advantage of the endless champagne because I drove there. Living in a city without adequate public transportation is strange. Brunch was great, though. I had fun talking with everybody. The buffet was epic--not just breakfast food, my friends. So, so much more. Chinese food. Salad bar. Cake. 

I may have been briefly married to Shaun Leonard (who says he does not mind if I mention his full name on this blog--hi Shaun!) under "Irish law," but never fear--the whirlwind nuptials were quickly annulled when I said I didn't believe in zoos. Zeus? Long story. 

The thunderstorms began as soon as I got home. Luisa and I have decided to combat the rainy day blues with a Star Wars marathon. I start orientation tomorrow. Kinda excited, kinda nervous, kinda bummed by the prospect of getting up so early, but I'm sure I'll get over that. Ultimately I'm thrilled to get started.

In sadder news, last night I learned that the father of one of my good friends back home unexpectedly passed away. I didn't know him all that well--her family lives in Minnesota--but the few times I was fortunate enough to meet him were wonderful. I wish I could be there for her. 

Have to go now. Phone's running out of battery and Luke's about to learn who his father is. I'll write again soon.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

White Puppy, Black Widow Spider

As most of you know by now, I've made it to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I will be pursuing my fiction MFA for the next three years. I believe that personal blogs work best with time constraints. I kept a great one when I studied abroad in Rome and Beijing, but upon my return I couldn't seem to keep one up. What did I do today? Go to school. What did I do after school? Homework. It was boring to write about my day-to-day life in a place I'd always lived (even though I love Chicago).

You might argue that this will be the same thing, and to a certain extent you'd be right. But moving to Vegas is a radical change for me, and not just in climate. I've never struck out completely on my own like this before, so I think keeping a record of how I navigate my new life will be quite enjoyable. Hopefully it will be as enjoyable for you to read as it is for me to write.

Let's begin at the beginning:

Dammit. I've just found out that the cafe where I'm writing closes in twenty minutes. (I don't have internet in my apartment yet.) This calls for bullet points.
  • Drove with Meg and Leta from Chicago to Vegas over a period of four days. Fun, beautiful, exhausting. Utah has no lights.
  • Upon arrival, we stayed with my mom in the Tropicana. Bought things for my new place by day, partied like old ladies in the hotel room by night. Went to a spa one day for mom's birthday. I'm not sure I like spas.
  • I've been writing reflection essay after reflection essay for my writing center orientation next week. Only two more to go, and then I'm free.
  • My new roommate Luisa is delightful. We are, in her words, movie soulmates, and she has an adorable little white dog named Luna.
  • Yesterday I went to happy hour at the Cosmopolitan with several other members of my new program. As of right now, at least, I like them all very much. Hopefully this trend will continue in the future. We then proceeded to one of their houses for a pool party. Apparently pool parties happen a lot. I could get used to this.
  • At said pool party, I saw three black widow spiders on the porch. I had already realized roaches and scorpions would be here, but not black widows. I'll try not to get bit.
I promise there will be a more detailed post next time.