Astronomical note 

I'm watching tonight's total lunar eclipse from my bedroom window right this very moment. Almost total... almost total... last unshadowed sliver of moon hanging in there, just barely... Seas of Tranquility et al. still visible in the shadowed part... oh, there it goes! It looks sort of coppery, only not.

And I'm glad I got to see that without having to go outside, because it's cold as the dickens out there. At least we had a clear view in my corner of the Midwest.


Covetousness and cataloguing 

My big pile of grading? Is done. Done done done. I just handed back the last of the papers. Whoohoo!

But while I was still grading a couple of days ago, I took a quick bookstore break, and saw that the New York Public Library has produced a kit for organizing your home library: it consists of a book with advice about classification systems, cataloguing, bookshelf-buying, preservation, and the like; a CD-ROM with library software; and a binder for record-keeping. I immediately thought "What a cool idea! I want one of those!" and then "But it's $40 and I'm trying to keep to a budget" and then "Maybe I could just eat more rice and lentils this month and call it even..." After all, the book on "Your Home Library" does include a section on how to cull your book collection and sell your used books — so it could be a money-saver in the end, right? Right?

Perhaps academic librarianship really is where I'm heading. All I got out of a panel discussion of museum careers that the Midwest U. Career Center hosted last night was "Gosh, I like going to museums, but museum work sounds like more of a people-oriented career than I really want." I think, on the whole, I'd rather be the person behind the scenes fiddling with information — tracking it down, putting it together, organizing it, writing it up, editing it — than the person out talking to the public, or to large numbers of people, anyway. I suck at sales because I absolutely hate asking strangers for money, I can't see myself doing PR, and I've realized after several years of teaching that I much prefer helping people one-on-one to being in front of a class. But I'm still wondering what other careers could fall into the less-public-contact, information-oriented category. Too bad there's no career book entitled Information-Wrangling Jobs for Introverted Nerds with Strong Verbal Skills. Because if there were, I'd be all over it.


A day in the life 

From Apt. 11D (entry on "The Academic Life"), and from Rhubarb and Planned Obsolescence, comes the question: why don't academic bloggers post more about their personal lives? Rhubarb comments, "So much of our personal lives are eclipsed by our academic identities that we sometimes don't even know how to just act like people around our colleagues," and Laura adds "Why don't more academic bloggers write about their girlfriends or weekend vacations or what they ate for dinner? I could really use a break from all Iraq all the time."

Amen. While there are plenty of areas in my life that I wouldn't share with the blogosphere, I've been feeling a kind of longing to write about daily life lately. Perhaps as a symptom of this, I've been drawn to the narrative elements in my students' papers — which, for me, is odd. Usually I don't assign personal narratives because I find that many students already know how to tell a story, even if they have trouble putting together an argument, and I'd rather use the first weeks of the semester to start laying the groundwork for the latter. And there are some things I'd really rather not know about my students, speaking of the separation between the academic and the personal. But the best papers from the batch I've been grading have been the ones that managed to accomplish both analysis (the main part of the assignment) and personal narrative. A few of them were stunning. It reminded me that, for all I'm a poetry person, the storytelling impulse goes back even further in my life than the song-making impulse does.

So I'm all in favor of writing about girlfriends and dinners. While I don't have a girlfriend at present (more's the pity; I need to get out more) and I haven't had dinner yet tonight (too busy writing this), here's a snippet about what my afternoon was like.

I went to one of Collegeville's approximately 7 billion coffee shops to grade. This particular coffee shop is relatively new, not part of a chain, decorated with photographs by some local photographer who seems to like cemetaries, and possessed of good coffee and sidewalk tables. Half the people I know seem to have discovered it within the last few months. Today was remarkably, unseasonably mild, nearly 70 degrees and sunny, and I knew that if I didn't get outside, I wouldn't get to see weather like this again until May. There was an empty outdoor table, where I sat with someone else's ashtray and my stack of papers and the background noise of the street. I had a view up the street and toward the Art Deco facade of a row of businesses (watchmaker, jeweler, movie theater); I had coffee and cigarettes and fragments of overheard conversation from the other tables, including a guy attempting to say something in Spanish about Shakespeare — not terribly coherently — and someone else telling a passing friend "You look beautiful!" I stayed there until 5:30, when my pen ran out of ink and the wind started to blow a little colder and swirl the ashes around the table. And as I walked home it was the blue hour,* post-sunset but pre-dark, with the moon backlighting a small spot in the clouds. It was one of those odd moments where you know that for once, you're entirely happy, even though there's no particular reason for it. Now I'm going to watch a bit of one of the DVDs I borrowed from the library last week and haven't had time to watch, and then grade the last five or six papers in today's quota. But first I'll make dinner: an omelet, some pasta with pesto, and some endive that's starting to wilt that I think I can doctor up by sautéing with garlic.

* See Edward Gorey's L'Heure Bleue, possibly his most beautiful book, which includes dialogue such as "I should like a parsley sandwich." "To the best of my knowledge they are no longer in season." and "More is happening out there than we are aware of." "It is possibly due to some unknown direful circumstance."


Lifting my head from under the pile of papers to say "Read this" 

I've been doing heavy grading this weekend, and therefore heavy Mozart-listening while I grade (though tonight I may be frantic and nervy enough to want to switch to Bach). So it was a pleasure to see, during a quick spin through Crooked Timber, that Chris Bertram has posted about small- and large-scale productions of Così fan Tutte and the question of why more people aren't into opera. Pity there aren't more replies to that question in the comments thread, though. I can't really answer it myself, because I can't imagine not liking opera. But I suspect the answers provided — people think it's too intimidating, or people think it's all about sopranos in Viking helmets — are on the mark. Which is also a pity [says she, deciding to save the Bach for tomorrow night and go with La Cenerentola instead this evening...].