Sunday, July 22, 2007

Kavita gets banged!

And yes, I chose this title specifically because of its provocative nature. I sent a bulletin on MySpace and titled it "Bangin' Kavita." My third choice was "Banged Kavita?" All of which are highly amusing to me, which should not be surprising to my readers. I'm hoping that friends of mine who have not checked out my page as of late will be curious enough by the title to read the bulletin and comment on the picture.

As you can tell from the accompanying picture, the title refers to my recent (though now it's been almost 2 months) haircut in which I got bangs. I only recently received my digital camera back from repair, so I can now share with you this lovely picture of me be-banged (kind of like bespectacled), but a new coinage nevertheless. Share your comments with me and let me know what you think. I am curious to know what my friends think of the new and improved (kinda) me.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Teaching Adults

Eighteen is the age when people are officially considered adults, yet somehow, when it comes to certain issues, people will still be children. Unfortunately, for me, when it comes to receiving an appropriate, albeit failing grade, in a class, the person is still just a child who needs a parental figure to fight his/her battles for them. I checked one of my many school email accounts and was astonished to find an email from a parent regarding his/her student’s grade in my course. The syllabus for this course was designed by the institution and not me, and so truly, I have no real control over it. In the syllabus, it is plainly stated that a student will not pass the course if all assignments are not completed. That means, even if the student, does an assignment unsatisfactorily, he/she will still be able to pass the course.

A few of my students neglected to do their Oral/Powerpoint presentations, which were only worth a small fraction of the total grade. These presentations are a requirement of the course and the institution requires this assignment for two of its general education courses. Thus, according to the syllabus, the students could not pass the course. So, I acted suitably and gave the students Fs, as required. I received a few emails from one student requesting clarification for the grade. I explained the situation, but the student still wished for me to change the grade to the one he/she thought was deserved. I decided not to take any action because I was following the syllabus. Then I received an email from this student’s parent chiding me for the failing grade and for not doing my duty as a teacher. I have sent all of the emails to the Chair of the Department and I will abide by his decision, whatever that may be.

Truthfully, I think that making all students complete every assignment is not a bad thing to have in a syllabus. Oftentimes, however, there are assignments that are not worth as much points-wise and students often have to make the decision as to whether they should do multiple assignments in different courses shoddily, or if they should do one well and just neglect the other. Part of the college experience is learning to make difficult decisions. Inserting the requirement of students completing all assignments takes away that decision, in some ways. Regardless of what I think about it, as the instructor in the course, I must act in accordance with the syllabus. All of the students need to be held to the same standards and fairness is one of my biggest concerns with regard to students. I always hated it when I felt like someone else was given better treatment than me as a student and I vowed not to do that with regard to my students. And I haven’t. I think the fact that some of my students who have requested me to be their friends on Facebook, or on MySpace (after the end of the semester) did not, in fact, receive an A in my class, suggests something about that.

What irks me the most is the fact that the student did not handle it him/herself and instead involved a parental figure. It is entirely possible that the student does not know that the email was sent to me, but in this case, I have a feeling that the student is aware of the situation. What would have happened had the student not gone to college and instead was hired for a job and consequently, got fired for not completing the work required? Would the parent have emailed the adult’s employer (note the 18 year-old IS an adult) and reproached him for terminating the adult’s employment? Certainly not. It seems irresponsible on the parent’s part to allow oneself to become involved. I understand that when it comes to one’s child one will do whatever it takes, but the fact is that once that person is 18 years of age, he/she is seen as an adult and no doubt wants to be treated as such. The parent’s involvement undermines the student’s agency in myriad ways. And to boot, technically, I am legally not supposed to discuss the student’s grades with a parent because the student is an ADULT and it is violating privacy regulations!

I mean, there are 18 year-old men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet one student can’t take it upon him/herself to fight this measly battle over a grade in a college course? I understand that there are sociological changes in the way that college students are now in comparison to how they have been. I remember hearing one professor mention how much more attached students are to their parents because of cell phones. Students do seem to talk to their parents daily, if not hourly, and I have witnessed students talking to their parents between classes, pledging to call them during their next break. As a parent, I’m sure it’s wonderful to have one’s adult child so close, but all it does is foster a potentially unhealthy dependence on the parent. When will the student actually grow up? Isn’t that what college is about, in a lot of ways—growing up?

What’s interesting to me is that oftentimes it is these same students who would like the drinking age to be lowered to 18 because they are adults and should have the same rights as other adults. But apparently, they want things both ways. They want to be children when it comes to receiving a poor grade they clearly earned with regard to the requirements of the class, but adults in cases where they are not being afforded the right to imbibe the same beverages as other adults. Be consistent. Or perhaps the government needs to be consistent, I’m not quite sure on this one.

If the grade is overturned, it doesn’t help me or hurt me in the slightest. But it would make me question why we have syllabi in the first place if we aren’t going to actually abide by them. It will also make me wonder about the role of the teacher and who has the power in the classroom, the student, the teacher, or the student’s parents.

I just sent the student an email which said that I would not change the grade. I received an email from the Chair of the Department and then later I spoke to him. Based on my syllabus, we concluded that it would be fair for me to keep the grade as is. The most important thing is that the Chair is going to support me in this decision without any hesitation. I appreciate this a great deal as oftentimes I have heard of situations in which the student, like the customer, is always right. I am glad that this is not the case.

I’ll keep you posted on this situation. I hope that there will be no more addenda.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Surprisingly Monumental

Today was a surprisingly monumental day. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but three major things happened today. The first was the most adult, I think. Yesterday I turned in my contract at Capital University. I have been hired as a Visiting Assistant Professor of English beginning Fall semester of 2007. What’s exciting about the job, besides the fact that it’s an actual job with a reasonable salary, is that there are benefits associated with it. It’s not like I haven’t had insurance before, but the benefits package which was explained to me today by a woman in HR, is way more than that. I get Life Insurance, a retirement account (TIAA-CREF), a flexible spending account and more. This is probably all completely normal for most people my age, but for me, this is ALL new. Not only is it exciting, but it’s also a little terrifying. It means that I’m a real adult with an actual job and a reasonable salary. As much as I like to complain about the difficulties of being a student at my age because of the obvious arrested development (and yes, I still think the song “Tennessee” whenever I hear this term, though I did really enjoy the TV show about the Bluths) I seemingly suffer, I’m almost more concerned about truly becoming an adult in this way. It seems almost as significant as graduating, but I’m sure when that actually happens I will disagree with myself.

After I heard about my benefits I went for a routine haircut, or so I thought. I went in just wanting to get the ends trimmed, but I did something more bold, something more significant, something utterly life-changing. I GOT BANGS!!! For my male readers, I realize that you may not understand the significance of such a move, but it is such a big deal. I have not had bangs since I was in third grade and those were feathered. Yes, I said feathered. I look completely different and I apologize to those of you who were big fans of cute little forehead because now it is obscured with my shiny, shiny bangs. It’s a new look for me, but I’m loving it though I do find myself a little more obsessed with my mirror.

The third monumental thing I did was attend a poetry reading/open mike/slam contest here in Columbus. I was trying to remember the last time I went to one and I think it was when I was back in Toledo and was a Co-founder of Toledo Poets which met at the now defunct Bagpiper’s bar and Pub in downtown Toledo. It was a lovely experience that my friend encouraged me to attend. Although I didn’t participate in the open mike portion, I was a judge for the Grand Slam, in which the four winners would represent Writer’s Block (the name of the poetry group) at the National Slam contest in Austin, Texas in August. Being a judge was fun and reminded me just how much I love poetry and writing. Before the poetry even began I found myself coming up with some ideas, and I wrote a poem on the receipt for my haircut. Here it is:

Writer’s Block (05/30/07)

Kept my words to myself
On my first night
Back in the saddle

I’ve never ridden horses here
And not sure I remember
How to climb up
Much the less
How to gallop
Without stumbling

Tripping on my feet
And on my phrases

The now unfamiliar ring
Of poems in my head
Reminds me

That somehow
I’m destined for this
Or at least named for it

Kavita means poem

I mean poem
I mean poem
I mean poem

The name Kavita does mean poem. Look it up on wikipedia if you don’t believe me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Better Late Than Never…

I know that “better late than never” is a cliché to the nth degree, but I’m finding that this one is quite apt in my life, especially at this time. As the semester ends, I am trying to look back over the past two semesters and see the difference that time has made. Since I’ve moved to Columbus, I’ve been making a lot of adaptations and discovering just how much I’ve changed. I’ve been trying to discern the impetus for these transformations, but I’m having some difficulty. The most sensical idea is that since my environment has changed, I have accordingly adapted to it. That is true on many minute levels. I have gone back to calling soda, “pop,” as is colloquial here in Ohio; my driving has become markedly less aggressive; and I smile and make eye contact with strangers on a much more regular basis than I did during my years on Long Island. Those are all fairly small changes, but the largest modifications seem to relate most directly to my personal life.

The ways I handle things within all of my interpersonal relationships seem to have improved. I’ve always been a fairly reasonable listener and advice-giver, but I’m finding that my patience and tolerance of such things has grown by leaps and bounds. Things that I used to find tiresome or ridiculous, I am able to more openly discuss and with less judgment. I am also less critical of others’ foibles, though certain mispronunciations do and will always irk me to no end. (Sorry Amy!) The most important of these interpersonal changes is that I am not as quick to react, or in my case, overreact when faced with certain situations. Although I still do analyze everything too much (according to most of my friends), I am much more capable of taking my analyses less seriously and just thoroughly enjoying the moment, or as recent events, would have it, moments. I remember not so long ago a time when I would overreact and over-analyze a circumstance which invariably was really of little significance or more importantly consequence to me, and all it really did was cause consternation. Now I’m finally better at these things…better late than never…I suppose.

Again, I’m not sure whether to attribute this to fresh Midwestern values and aesthetics, to my maturation and growing as a person, or to something else entirely. I have found that the two books that I taught to my students at Ohio Dominican University really affected me quite profoundly. In the Fall, I taught Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. This fact, in itself, isn’t that significant because last fall constituted the fourth time I had taught this particularly lovely novel. I even taught it when I was 28, the same age as the protagonist Edna Pontellier. For some reason, only at age 31 did it ring as true and as wholly within me. For those of you who haven’t read it, I suggest that anyone can benefit from reading this classic.

What I gained from it on a personal level, is the idea that a person MUST be satisfied with her own life and must live for herself. Although her decisions were inherently selfish, she reveled in them because they were hers and she owned them, without them owning her. Even if others were critical and didn’t approve of the direction in which she was heading, she was content with herself. I find it’s easier to make decisions that are valuable to the whole of society, or one’s family or friends, but often much more difficult to make decisions solely for one’s own benefit. It also reminds me of a few lines from Tori Amos’s song “Everybody Else’s Girl”—“She’s been every body else’s girl/ Maybe one day she’ll be her own.” I’ve realized that the only PERSON I am really responsible to is me and it’s been a hard lesson to learn. A few of you reading this know exactly what this feels like.

The book I just finished teaching this Spring was Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Like the titular character, it can and does become quite easy to obsess over one’s youth and beauty, and perhaps lack thereof. The discussion of youth as put forth by the lovely Lord Henry Wotton to our very impressionable Dorian Gray states that “When your youth goes, your beauty goes with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to be content with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful” (Wilde 16). Although ultimately, Lord Henry’s speech becomes more a defense of seizing the day as he claims that Dorian should “Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensation. Be afraid of nothing,” his claims about the importance of youth bring about much to ponder (Wilde 16).

It seems fitting that since I recently had a birthday I would be contemplating youth and its ephemeral existence, but I have realized that as much as I wish to cherish my youth (if one calls being 32 young), I am really pleased with the maturation and adult version of myself that I have now become. The triumphs that Lord Henry suggest are located only in youth, can be found at any point in time when one is searching for a new and improved way to live one’s life. Despite all of the negative influence that Lord Henry has on Dorian and the implications of it, Lord Henry does speak a great deal of truth: “The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self” (Wilde 13). It’s this self-development that I have been witnessing and undergoing somewhat simultaneously.

After rereading what I’ve just written, it seems that I am advocating a selfish attitude towards one’s life, and perhaps I am, but not in the way one often thinks of the word selfish. Although it does require some forsaking of others, being truly selfish, and considering one’s own feelings and desires as paramount, CAN be a positive thing, depending on the person. If you are already one of those people who can’t and don’t think of others, then this is not for you. More people than not, I believe in my currently optimistic, glass-half-full, mentality, choose to honor others’ desires and feelings over one’s own. This can result in a great deal of unhappiness, unfulfilled dreams and can overall be detrimental to one’s own psyche.

I cannot overemphasize how much one needs to understand the difference between being true to oneself and being selfish in the completely negative sense. Living in a post 9/11 world and now in a post-Virginia Tech massacre kind of world, it’s of the utmost significance that we understand the shades of meaning and myriad ways in which these feelings of empowerment of oneself and one’s actions regarding this can affect other people. As a former English major, current PhD student in English and current instructor on the college level, I do firmly comprehend the difficulties one can have in negotiating between these various levels of independence of thought and action.

I find that since I moved to Columbus, though the reasons for that move were by no means selfish, I have made some really important decisions for myself where the only person that was consulted and referred to was me. That’s not to say that I didn’t, from time to time, ask my friends about their opinions about the various situations in which I tend to tangle myself, but the fact is, that ultimately, I decided to go with my own beliefs on the situation and not rely on their opinions for validation of my decisions. I learned to depend on me, and yes, I realize that’s from Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.” Again, better late than never, no?

As a coda to all these internal revelations, I would like to note that some of my new experiences, including: eating oysters, re-discovering my creative writing abilities, (though perhaps in a unique format and genre,) and reconnecting with my journaling, have really made this cliché of “better late than never” even more appropriate.

Oh, and if you happen to be one of the few and privileged who know the details of my actual experiences, please remember that I write about them obliquely purposefully.

Work Cited

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 1891. Dover: New York, 1993.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Full Circle

I am sitting on the 3rd floor of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library on the campus of Wright State University, with a copy of the school newspaper, The Guardian, on the table. It is possible that ten years ago, to the day, I was doing almost the exact same thing. Things certainly have changed since I graduated from Wright State back in 1997. [Insert old joke here]. I didn’t have a fancy laptop, that’s for sure. I only knew of one person in college who had a laptop—this older guy named Chris who used to take notes for our science classes on it. I remember thinking he was quite strange back then for not writing out notes, like the rest of us normal people did. Now students can rent out laptops to use during their time in the library.

The aesthetics of the campus have changed a great deal, but somehow being here is still very comfortable and safe. I think it’s because I really did have some of the best times of my life here. [Insert St. Elmo’s Fire theme here]. As I sit here, staring out at the students walking to and from class, and watching students scramble for parking (some things never change), I am caught in a whirlwind of nostalgia. For those of you who know me, being nostalgic is a fairly common occurrence, but now the experience is more visceral since I’m actually here, walking in the same doors I used to and trolling the same book stacks I did when I took Dr. James Guthrie’s American Romanticism class. My recent encounters with college buddies only amplify my experience.

This is where I truly learned about my love for books, and poetry and language. I used to quote Wordsworth, write in my journal obsessively, create poems in my head and walk around with the words swirling through me; and, of course, it’s where I first fell in love with the man who still preoccupies my head, and my heart, most days—Walt Whitman. I’m sure some of you were expecting another name, but no other man unrelated to me, has impacted me as much as Whitman has. I’m here today doing research for the Whitman section of my dissertation and I’m thrust back into that time my senior year when I had to write a paper about him. I believe the title was “Walt Whitman and the Ever-Inclusive You.”

My paper was due on a Thursday, sometime in November of 1996. That Wednesday, the 12th of November, I now recall, I went home to Cambridge because I had a dentist’s appointment. I was wearing my favorite black corduroy bib overalls (yes, they were actually quite stylish back in the day) and my gray ribbed turtleneck and decided that night that I would go to The Asylum for ‘80s night, a veritable tradition for me. That night would be special though. It was the first time I ever hung out with the guy who would eventually become my boyfriend my senior year of college. I had a great time dancing, as per usual, but then went back to working on the paper as soon as I got back. It was one of the few 10 page papers I had to write in undergrad and I worked very hard on it.

Imagine my disappointment when I get it back with a B- on it, after all the toil and trouble I had put into it. I was so upset to receive that grade; my belief in myself and my writing faltered after that, but thankfully only for a short time. I was still writing for The Guardian and enjoying my time with my roommate, friends, and boyfriend. Soon after that I became News Editor for The Guardian and worked those amazingly fun but tiring Tuesday nights. My path, at that point, was certainly not leading to my current lot in life. I was still pre-med and had the awful pleasure of studying for the MCAT which I took April 20, 1997.

Soon after that, but perhaps not soon enough, things finally changed for me. I embraced my passion for English and teaching, and released my desire to pursue a career path in medicine. After a Masters degree in English at the University of Toledo, and several years of work on my PhD at Stony Brook, I am back here at my baccalaureate institution writing my dissertation. I guess some things really do come full circle.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Groundhogs and misaligned ducks

Happy New Year! It’s already February and the groundhog has prophesied an early spring, but this year I think he’s wrong. He’s incorrect because of all the arctic air cascading over the mid-section of the country, but I still put a lot of faith in that pawed animal. I was having some difficulty figuring out if I should continue with a particular pursuit of mine or if I should abandon it for possibly greener pastures. I let it ride all on the national groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Both he and his Ohio counterpart, Buckeye Chuck, came to the conclusion that I should not waste six more weeks on this ineffable situation and just as spring abounds with newness and rejuvenation, so should I. I’m fairly content with my decision, or rather Phil’s, though it is disappointing.

My decision to rely on something as ridiculous as a groundhog came about because of a misalignment of ducks. I unwisely thought that all of my ducks were in a row, as it were, but in fact, they refused to line up as I wished for them. Each duck is its own circumstance, and apparently felt the need to exercise its own limited agency, though in some cases, weaving in and out of the line so much that I had no idea if it would remain in the linear progression I had established or if it would plot its own course, contrary to all prior arrangements. A few ducks remained in position, adhering to the configuration, but when it came to knocking them down, they would not, in fact, budge. One duck remained steadfast in its opposition to my overall plans, though perhaps not voluntarily.

I am realizing more and more that I must have control over almost everything, especially when it comes to certain circumstances in my life. And since I could no longer control these ducks and their seemingly arbitrary whims, I decided that the enterprise itself was no longer worth my time, energy and pursuit. It’s unfortunate that I had to rely on the oh-so capricious pundit of prognostication Punxsutawney Phil, but sometimes it takes an outside force to help one realize what has been bubbling at the surface for quite some time. In my case, it was my inevitable failure at an impossible undertaking.

This dissolution will truly only bring rise to a better set of circumstances for me, at least that is what I am trying to believe. And fear not, I am not referring to my dissertation.