I finally finished grading papers this week--I am happy. 26 visual analyses. The kids did really well, all things considered. And I learned a LOT about grading. Like, I can't take nearly as long as I've been taking. It ate my week to the point that I hardly got my own work done. Now they're coming up on their second paper, which is twice as long and involved--I'm hoping they're ready. Every day I figure out a few more things we haven't talked about--it's funny how much you tend to rely on their experience or their high schools to have taught them some things already. Because, I mean, I know academically that this isn't true. High schools and high school teachers vary immensely. You can't count on anything. And this is a new thing for many of them, analyzing rhetoric. Looking really critically into people's speeches and writing to see how they're constructed, not just what it says. Of course political topics and personages are on the table. I've got quite a polar class politically; I already know that about half of them are writing on either Obama or McCain/Palin, and I'm worried I'll get tons of papers back with "McCain says 'Country First'; that means he's a good candidate" (Not analysis, guys, until you define the expectations behind a "good candidate" and talk about how McCain plays to them) or "Obama is someone we can trust because he's all about change" (Examine those assumptions; what audience might trust someone because they call for change, and why?). I appreciate that they're invested, but that's not going to get them through an analysis, and I'm not sure we've talked about the difference between being invested and being persuasive.
Sigh. Well, there's still a week until the deadline.
The student who was having a rough time is still having a pretty rough time--he's come back to class, and he says he wants to stay for the semester. I know he has things really hard right now. At the same time, though, I'm afraid I'm going to have to be a hardass about all his absences. He's missed more than the limit (the rule is after six, you fail--the logic being that you've missed two weeks of a course that's only fourteen weeks long). I've been giving him make-up assignments, but he's not really doing them. It's frustrating. I guess I'm just going to talk to him after class next time I see him. I really can't keep doing him these kinds of favors--I care very much about his situation, but I think he just needs to take a break from this class and maybe others to deal with these things before he digs himself into a hole academically.
Other than that, I've been working feverishly on my first story for fiction workshop. It's about a girl on a Sioux reservation who's in the middle of a cluster of suicides. (Based on a true story? Pretty much. Suicide rates for American and Alaskan natives are through the roof.) I think it's a bit different from some of the other workshop pieces I've seen so far--really in that I'm not going out on much of a limb. It's pretty traditional. There's a big focus on language right now, I think, and I care very much about that, but I also like things to very clearly happen in a story. I spent years writing really pretty things that no one could make heads or tails of. I'd rather write a successful plot. I think writing the novel did that to me--nice language just isn't enough to get you to 200-300 pages. But, anyway, I turned the story in yesterday; it's up for workshop in a week...I hope people like it!
I've been having some fun, too. There's a great group of other grad assistants whom Mike and I tend to hang around with on the weekends (and at school). Last week we went to an open mic (complete with slam poets, electric guitar solos, and this awesome troupe of performers that I like to call fight-dancers) and then to a karaoke bar, which was honestly quite disturbing and weird--there were these three girls onstage with you the whole time, and they would sing along and dress up for every number, sometimes in full sleazy costume (remember Cher with her sailor hat and fishnets and no panties?)--but it was fun nonetheless. Mike and I and two of the other guys got to belt out some Proclaimers in our best Scottish accents ("Walk 500 Miles"). Fun times.
Which brings me to this weekend's plans, and, to break my promise in my last update, a vaguely political aside. See, we were all supposed to get together this Friday to watch the presidential debates and eat and drink and make fun. In fact, I was going to bake cupcakes for the occasion. But, along comes John McCain and suspends his participation in the debate. (Which, to be honest, I consider a very swaggering and juvenile move--for one, he's been practicing for the debate just as much as Obama, and it's not focused on economics, so he should be prepared to give up a few hours to do what he's been preparing to do for weeks or even months. More than that, he's actually proposing that he give up the responsibility to appear before the American people and respond to and challenge his opponent. A lot of voters will watch the debates to help them make their decision. Even in the face of something as big as the financial crisis, which mirrors--what? every day of a presidency, when you have eighteen equally important issues on your plate, the problems he's canceling the debate for are better addressed by open discussion and honesty to the American people, and to move to cancel them is irresponsible to us. Not to mention such a move brings the potential consequence of canceling the vice-presidential debates entirely--an important consideration, keeping in mind that Sarah Palin has been falling from favor, has not been interviewing well, and has not been responding well to questions--not to McCain's liking or his opponents'. No surprise in him making the move; it's just a new level of dishonesty to the public that could keep a lot of people in the dark who want to make informed decisions. And now, I breathe.)
So, the point is, it looked like this silly attempt at posturing was going to cost me my Friday night fun, send me back to that sleazy karaoke bar, and--most importantly--rob me of the cupcakes I've been craving since I came up with the idea. And that's all I'm saying. John McCain tried to take away a girl's cupcakes. Spread it around the 'Net.
(Fortunately, it looks like people are responding so ferociously that he's pretty much agreed to appear in some form, even if it's not in the flesh. Crisis averted. Cupcakes restored.)