Saturday, May 9, 2009

De Breeze's First Theorem of Kalamazoo

Sometime early Friday morning, I had a vision. As I struggled to open my eyes enough to turn off my alarm clock, the following appeared to me in symbols of flame:


My head was throbbing, and if I didn't get out of bed soon, I was going to be late to the blogger breakfast meetup, so I didn't think much about these symbols. In the middle of the 10:00 session on Friday, as I began to feel a little better, understanding dawned on me. I immediately realized that this equation was an attempt to predict and quantify the most appropriate way to enjoy oneself at Kalamazoo, represented by x, where:

b = the total number of alcoholic beverages consumed,

p = the total number of papers attended (probably only valid for papers during which you do not fall asleep), and

d = the total number of days spent at the conference.

Ideally, x should fall somewhere between -1 and 1. A number higher than one reveals questionable moral fiber. If, for example, you attend six papers on day one but then consume eight beers that evening, x would be equal to 2.0, outside the acceptable range. A negative number suggests admirable restraint but questionable joie de vivre (it is also interesting that numbers less than -2 are exceedingly rare among medievalists).

When I went to bed Thursday evening, my x was floating (literally) right around 10. I had only been at the conference for half of one day, arriving too late to attend any sessions, but then I had about five drinks before finally getting to sleep sometime around 1:00am (i.e., (5-0)/0.5=10). At present, my x is slightly below zero, since, in an attempt at recovery, I did not really go out last night (though I did hit the wine hour--not sure how the watery stuff they serve there counts). Unfortunately, I have dinner plans tonight with a bunch of grad school colleagues. I fully expect, then, the value of b to soar by the end of the evening. To make matters worse, my flight out of Kalamazoo is at 5:45am on Sunday, so I can't really count Sunday as a day at the conference. All of this means, of course, that I need to get off my ass and go to the afternoon sessions. Hopefully Mary Kate Hurley's paper on time in the Old English Orosius will have an ameliorative effect.

I'll give a full account, complete with the final value of x (assuming I can...umm...recall all of the values accurately) once I'm back home.

Monday, May 4, 2009

See all the monkeys, scritch-scritch-scratchin'

It must be getting close to time for Kalamazoo, as I'm spending a large amount of my time composing and replying to emails about dinner plans, get-togethers, and general conviviality of the medievalist type. I should be spending this time writing my paper, but, hey, I still have three days, right?

I'm planning on posting while at the Congress, if only because I've so enjoyed living vicariously through other bloggers' K'zoo posts the last few years. I may be spending much of Thursday and early Friday in my room writing my paper, but if not, I'll try to post a bit about the sessions I attend.

Can't wait. Now what was I doing, again? Oh yeah, the paper...

Friday, April 10, 2009


Yesterday's New York Times contains an interesting review of the off-Broadway play Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. While I'm not exactly a devotee of experimental theatre, the play sounds like a lot of fun to me. I have a feeling that a few of my colleagues may not relish a play poking fun at Beowulf scholars, but I'm of the general opinion that any mention of the poem in popular culture is good news for medievalists.

One small complaint, though: the review refers to the scholars who appear to be the butt of the play's joke as "stuffy academics." It's a cliche, of course; for many people the term "academics" is just naturally preceded by "stuffy." But you know what? Most of my academic friends, maybe especially the medievalists among them, are decidedly non-stuffy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines stuffy as "not receptive to new or unusual ideas and behavior; conventional and narrow-minded." That definition seems to me to be more applicable to the students I teach than to my colleagues, some of whom are pompous and self-interested, yes, but not stuffy.

So I'd like to call for an end to this kind of libelous characterization. Maybe we need to hire a publicist or something. Let's redefine the cliche and be known for what we are: "dorky academics," or "poorly dressed academics," even "boring academics," but not "stuffy academics."

Take that, New York Times.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kalamazoo 2009

So the program for this year's International Congress on Medieval Studies is now available online. For the first time since 1997 (I think), my name is to be found among the 2500 or so presenters (though you find "DeBreeze" in the listings). It's a weird feeling to going back to Kalamazoo. I've been going to conferences all along, of course. I've attended either the SEMA (Southeastern Medieval Association) or TEMA (Texas Medieval Association) conferences almost every year for the past twelve, so it's not like I've been completely outside the community of medieval scholars. But I know that I've missed something as a result of being absent from Kalamazoo for so long. As a friend of mine put it once, Kalamazoo is the one must-do event for an American medievalist each year. So in at least one way, I feel as if I haven't been a full-fledged medievalist for the past decade. It's kinda like I've been on the Junior Varsity team. And probably not a starter even there.

But now I'm going back, though it's to a very different Kalamazoo that I'll be returning. The last time I went, I was still in graduate school, still pretty starstruck by the big names, still very much figuring out what medieval studies were all about, and still unsure about my own place in that world. I was shepherded by my professors, introduced around by them, maybe even fed by them on occasion. But as I looked through the program this morning, I realized that none of my former professors, most of whom are nearing or past retirement age, will be presenting this year (though they may still be attending, of course). A few of my good friends from grad school will be there, some of them shepherding students of their own now. And while I'll be having a great time, no doubt, I'll also be missing my wife and kids. I imagine that I'll be in bed by the time the Saturday night dance gets underway.

Still, I can't wait. I'll spend the next few months dreaming about the book display and planning meet-ups with my friends old and new.

Oh, and at some point I'll need to reread my proposal, so I can remember what my paper is supposed to be about.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I must have nodded off for a moment...

A couple of weeks ago, a non-academic friend emailed me, asking what I thought of the new Burton Raffel translation of the Canterbury Tales. I hadn't looked at it, so I did a quick Google search, read a few excerpts, and then handed down my judgment. The translation was not that bad, I told my friend, but I had some qualms about translations of Chaucer in general. The importance of Chaucer's contributions to English, the beauty of the original, and all that. We had a brief email conversation on the subject of translations and general readers, at the end of which my friend said: "You should blog about this."

Blog? I thought. What is this blog of which you speak?

I'm not a big fan of blog posts about why there haven't been any blog posts lately, but since a little while (cough...three months...cough) has passed since my last post, I feel an excuse is warranted. So here, in bullet points, is as little explanation as I can manage:

  • I'm serving as President of our Faculty Council this year.
  • We had to fire (yes, actually fire) a faculty member in the middle of last semester, with the result that I taught six classes for the last couple of months of the Fall. It exhausts me just to remember it.
  • My daughter started kindergarten in August. For those of you with kids, enough said.
  • Did I mention that I'm serving as President of our Faculty Council?

Suffice it to say that I've had little time, energy, or, frankly, inclination to blog recently. The Faculty Council thing is an absolute time pit. I have monthly meetings with the President and with the Board of Trustees, bi-weekly meetings with the VP of Instruction, and countless committee meetings (since the head of the Council is an ex officio member of about 400 different committees). Add in the time spent listening to various and sundry faculty complaints (all of which are pressing, extremely important, and not at all frivolous or petty, of course), and you're left with precious few hours to actually do your friggin' job. It's been disappointing to give up blogging, but not nearly as disappointing as it's been to give up being a medievalist. Working at a community college means that scholarship of any kind has to take place in the little time left when all other aspects of the job have been satisfied. For the past several months, that's meant that I've had to give it up altogether. I still read my regular blogs, of course, and I've glanced at an article or two when I've had a few spare minutes, but my scholarly productivity, always dicey, has fallen off completely.

There may be light at the end of this particular tunnel, though. Or, rather, two lights. A couple of exciting developments will soon force me back into the world of medieval scholarship. Well, exciting for me anyway. First, I'll be going to Kalamazoo this year. First time in a decade, if you can believe it. I'm a little nervous about my paper, however (and by "nervous" I mean "panicked"). I have a tendency to write conference paper proposals in the middle of the night when hopped up on cough medicine, and, as a result, they are often wildly ambitious and well above my actual skill level. The upside is that I always learn a lot while writing the paper. In my room an hour before the session. After I stop hyperventilating. But the conference is still three months away, so all is well for the moment.

The second development is something I'm seriously thrilled about. In the fall, I will be teaching a Medieval Literature survey course for the first time. To those of you who spend your afternoons conducting doctoral seminars on the idea of the body in tenth century poetry, my excitement probably seems a little pathetic. But since my courseload is normally restricted to lots of Freshman composition, made tolerable only by one or two British Lit survey classes per semester, the opportunity to teach a real medieval literature class is nothing short of monumental. I've already been working on the syllabus, and I'll likely be asking for help and suggestions in the near future. It's not easy to figure out how best to teach medieval literature to non-majors at a rural-leaning community college, but I'm having fun trying.

I hope this is not my last blog post for a while, but I know myself better than to promise anything different. As a result, I'll resist the temptation to say something like "stay tuned," and content myself instead with something like "I'm not dead yet."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Because New Kid is too busy with law school these days to skewer Chronicle articles

I don't know how many of you have read this piece on the Chronicle website this week. In it, the author highlights problems with the tenure system in American colleges and universities and suggests some sort of fixed-term contract (he argues for 30 years) to make sure that aging professors eventually retire and open up spots for new faculty. I'm not going to respond to his idea (mainly because my school has no tenure system and offers only one-year contracts to faculty), but I will respond to one example he cites. One of the problems with tenure, the author claims, is that departments often get "tenured in"; that is, they reach a point when all members of the department are tenured and likely to stick around for many years. The result is that departments find themselves not flexible enough to cover all of the areas they need to. Then he says:

"Does, for example, an English department with 30 members really need three medievalists?"

[pause for laughter]

I just want to know where these schools are. Where are these English departments that are terribly overstaffed in the area of medieval literature?

I also love the way he pulls "medievalists" out of the air as an appropriate example of obsolescence. Would he ask whether the same department "really needs" three Americanists? Three people covering the twentieth century? Probably not. But three medievalists? The absurdity! The waste of taxpayer dollars!


Okay, I feel better now. Back to grading papers.