Monday, December 15, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teaching Laura Ingalls Wilder As A Major Author

Here at my university, we have an upper-level class, Major Authors, focusing all semester long on one writer.  I've taught Octavia Butler in this class; other professors have taught John Steinbeck, or Toni Morrison. The criteria is deliberately vague, but in general you're supposed to teach someone who is important enough to have major influence on the field of literature or on the culture itself.

This semester I taught Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I first conceived the class after reading this post on Wilder over at Historiann (and the comments!).  I got the Fellman book which is mentioned in the comments, and then several other books from the bibliography, and then more books from their bibliographies, and soon I was reading Wilder scholarship like a boss.

You would have thought I was one of those research professors, not a Creative at all.

Anyway, when it came time to propose classes for this Fall semester, I put forth for Major Authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, and our chair loved it (happily).

I anticipated a few possible problems for the class -- either that students wouldn't sign up, because it was a class about kids' books; or that they would come into the class having only seen the execrable 1970s TV show.  (Directly responsible for electing that fucker Reagan, by the way.  Okay, indirectly.  But see the end of this article.)

Students signed up, y'all!  Only a few of them had read the books as obsessively as I had, as a kid; more had -- as I fear -- been fans of the awful TV show; but not that many. More than a few had never even heard of Wilder.  (WTF.  Kids today!)

The class went brilliantly.  I converted nearly all of them to Wilder fans.  We didn't read any of the critical books, but there are just tons of excellent articles, and we used several of those, in particular  Sharon Smulders' "The Only Good Indian: History, Race, and Representation in Little House on the Prairie," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly; Anita Clair Fellman's "Don't Expect to Depend on Anyone Else," and Claudia Mills' "From Obedience to Autonomy," both in Children's Literature).

The books teach really well, you will be glad to know, and since about half the class were English Education majors, we were able to approach the books from that standpoint as well -- how these books might be used in the elementary classroom.

We spent a lot of time talking about the history of the books --  the time they were about (1870-1880); the time they were written in (1930-1940); and the time of the TV show (1974-1982) -- as well as the political history / impact of the books.  This meant a lot of time talking about The New Deal, and Libertarianism, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, FDR, Frederick Jackson Turner, and what all this had to do with a seemingly innocuous children's series.

We read all eight books.  If I had the semester to do over again, I'd skip Farmer Boy, I think, since we were rushed for time here at the end of the semester.  Or maybe not assign presentations.  Those ate up a lot of time.

OTOH, the presentations were great.  One of the students presented on the Dakota War of 1862 (which appears in Little House on the Prairie as the Minnesota Massacres); another researched the music Pa would probably have been playing and its history, and another taught us to dance the dance at Grandma's house.

I'm also getting just excellent papers.

All in all, a successful class.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Too Snarky?

Hell fire

This is my new post, over at Grounded Parents, about raising an atheist child.

I tried hard to rein in the snark.

Not sure I succeeded.

Go here to read it:  Raising The Atheist Child.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

On Ferguson

Living where I do, here at the edge of the South / edge of the Midwest / sort of almost Texas, in what is indisputably a Red State, but nonetheless very close to a college town, though also a working class town, it's -- how do I phrase this? -- an odd experience.

Very nearly the first thing that happened after I moved here, back in 2004, was Arkansas voters passing an amendment against LGBT marriage being recognized in the state.  I remember my shock at how vehement my students -- my little baby freshmen -- were on the topic.  I remember saying in my freshmen class that there was nothing wrong with being gay, and having the class rise up in shouting and mocking fury to rebuke me.

"Yes, there is!"

"Oh, yes, there is!"  

The smug glee in their eyes as they realized they were all united against me.

Just ten years ago.

Now some of my students* -- as I'm discovering more from Facebook than from anything any of them are saying in class -- are united in their conviction that Mike Brown is a thug, that he deserved to be shot by Darren Wilson, that the black people who are protesting are looters, criminals, and probably need to get jobs.

This depresses me as much as my students back in 2004, I have to say.

Here's hoping that in 2024 I can look back on this post, as I look back on my students of 2004, and think about how much the world has changed.

*By no means all of my students.  This is a big difference from 2004, when 75% of Arkansas voted for that stupid, evil, vile amendment.  I'd say only 30 or 40% of my students, if that, are Wilson supporters.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Little Rascal!

New baby over at the Geebies!

Go here for pics!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Raising the Young Artist: New Post at Grounded Parents

I've got a new post up at Grounded Parents.

Advice (such as I have) on the care and feeding of the young artist.  This one comes to you, by the way, via the young artist herself, who suggested it.  "You know what you could write about next," she said, "you could write about what's it's like to be a parent and a writer, and to have an artist for a kid. And the thing with the burritos.  Write about that."

So here it is: Make Her a Damn Burrito.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Annual Winter Argument in the delagar Household Has Commenced

You get all kinds of advice, y'all, on how to have a happy marriage (Huffington Post says there are Thirteen Secrets to a Happy Marriage; WebMD says just two -- Be Nice and Don't Nitpick).

I am here to tell you there is one and only one true bone of contention in the Long Term Relationship.

It's the thermostat.

Y'all need to find someone whose blood runs at the same speed as your own.

Seriously, don't even mess with this one.  You can negotiate a way to get the dishes done.  You can figure out how to pay the bills.  Children or no children, well, that's serious too, I agree, and probably a deal-breaker, but you'll handle it.

On the other hand: this morning I woke up and he had the thermostat at 74.

Seventy-four, people!

"What the shit, Dr. Skull!" I shouted.

He re-adjusted his headphones and turned the volume up on his fretless bass.  (This is what I mean by negotiation, y'all.  He loves to get up at three a.m. and play his guitars.  His electric guitars.  Loudly.  We found a way around the problem.  Through it is true that a new problem -- for me, at least -- ensued.)

"Take off the earphones!  I know you can see me talking!"

"Are you making coffee, Boo-boo?" he shouted over the music.  "Will you make some for me?"

"It's 80 degrees in here!" I shouted back.  "Why did you put the heat so high!"

"I wrote a new song!  Do you want to hear it?"

I stomped off to put the heat on 55.  Which is where it should be.  People aren't meant to be baking in the middle of winter! (Of course I'd also like the house to be at about 55 in the middle of summer, but that's another argument.)

I also made him some coffee, because I'm a good wife.

About an hour later, he came wandering out from his Man Cave, looking disgruntled.  "It's freezing in here.  What did you put the heat on?"

"Wear your slippers," I said sweetly.  "It's the middle of winter."

Thursday, November 06, 2014


My kid has finally cussed in school.

At least it was the GD word and not the f-word.

Which, you know, being as she is my kid....

It was also Latin class, and not some more dangerous class, so she didn't get in serious trouble.

While we're here, I will share a little story about my kid I ran across in my journal, while hunting for some information I needed (we are signing up for a new insurance plan [THANKS, OBAMA!] and I needed the exact date I started working at the university, which, you know, who remembers that?).

This is from when the kid was tiny, about three and a half or maybe four.  We had just moved to the Fort, and I was not yet actually working at the university -- it's about six weeks before I started -- so I had lots of time to hang with her, taking walks and such:

The kid and I walked down to cemetery the other night, so I could read headstones, one of my favorite hobbies. 
She had many questions (not the least of which was probably why have you brought me here?), wanting to know if people were still dead here, if they had turned to fossils or whether they might be rotting, and whether Grandpa Marvin was buried here. She also wanted to know what would happen if I died.
“We would bury you here,” she said, “and then draw some words in stone and put it by your grave, and Daddy and I would come to visit, and Daddy would say, there’s my wife.”
“And how would you feel?” I asked.
“I would be very sad. You shouldn’t die.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“You should live forever, like me.”
“I’ll live as long as I can,” I told her, which was what Charlotte said to Wilbur, so it satisfied her.

Monday, November 03, 2014

New Grounded Parents Post

My new post is up at Grounded Parents.

It's about the kid's troubled experience reading Merchant of Venice, among other texts.

Go here to read it: This Jew Bleeds: Your Kid and Problematic Reading Assignments

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

General Suckitude

My life has just been generally terrible for the last several months.

Sometimes, as all of us who are mortal know, these things happen.

Bad shit piles up.  Bad things occur.  Brothers die, cars wreck, radiators spring leaks, appliances break down, dogs get ill.  Migraines happen.

I remind myself it's not personal.

 (I mean, you know, except for my fuckwad neighbor who keeps calling the lawn police on me every five or six days for truly ridiculous reasons, because that shit is personal, and dude, I know who you are now, and it is on.)

I remind myself it is random circumstances, not some evil fate or cursed star or what the fuck ever, I just have to live through it, blah blah blah.

But boy, is it wearing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wheels of Justice

Yesterday I had my second first-hand experience with the Justice system.

This is the fall-out from the wreck I was involved in back in August.  I am still not entirely clear why this incident went to court -- the fella that hit me received a citation for following too close.  That's not something that usually gets you put in jail, is it?

And yet, here we were, in a court with people who were receiving jail sentences.  Not long sentences -- five days, twenty days -- and most of them were being suspended, in lieu of fines or in favor of probation, but still.

Dr. Skull and I speculated that this guy who hit me maybe had several other accidents on his record.  (We speculate thus from something he said at the scene, to the effect that he had been through this, reporting an accident, plenty of times.)

Anyway.  He had a lawyer, someone we knew socially interestingly enough, the lawyer and the DA talked several times, fencing with each other as far as I could tell.  His lawyer had pictures that my guy had taken at the scene of the accident, which they thought exonerated him (because it showed I had been changing lanes, though both the DA and I and the police officer on the scene felt that made little difference in the case, since the charge was following too close).

This fencing went on for some time, while all the other cases were being swiftly tried or put off to a later date -- several people had failed to show, and had bench warrants issued.  One immigrant was brought into court in chains and the judge levied a four hundred dollar fine for driving without a license, and then informed him he wouldn't have to pay, since they were deporting him.  That was charming.

There was a DUI who plead out: $650 and a six-month suspended license, plus a mandatory educational course.  That was a first offense.  Also 25 days in jail, suspended.

There was a woman who showed up late to court, whose trial date was rescheduled to December, who also got a lecture from the judge on her improper attire.  "You're lucky I didn't issue a bench warrant.  Don't show up late again."

"No, m'am.  I won't."

"And I don't like what you're wearing.  Don't come in here dressed like that again."

"No, m'am."

To be fair, what she was wearing was pretty appalling.  No one except the lawyers was wearing a suit, and a few of the defendants were in jeans and teeshirts; but she had on what looked like a bikini sort of thing under a really tight drape that was cut in a vee down the front and up to her knees on the sides.  The bikini was black and the drape sheer and white.

How my trial turned out:  The guy that hit me lied like a thief on the stand, which everyone, even the judge, seemed to know.  The DA caught him in the lies, openly, several times, during the questioning.

The judge found him not guilty anyway.

I'm pretty much okay with this, though.  He's got two or three little kids, I think, and my car is repaired.  If the outcome was putting him in jail or taking away his license, I don't see what purpose that would have served.

I hope  he slows down on the roads from now on, though.

And my foray through the court system has been educational, I must say.