OK, I exaggerate slightly: I’ve also had some papers to grade. But the final exams for both of my winter term classes were this Tuesday. At 3 hours each, with set up and pack up time that meant over 7 hours straight in the dreary Dalplex fieldhouse, and I walked away with 120 exams which I will be working my way through until next Tuesday at least. Overall, it’s not exhilarating work: there are certainly bright spots (many of which so far have been in the essay answers from students in the 19th-century fiction class), but a lot of this marking is more or less drudgery. I do try to make the questions not just relevant but, where possible, interesting, for me as well as for the students, but as I’ve written about here before, the main value of exams for me is simply, and kind of sadly, coercive. So I approach this part of every term with resignation, and try to pace myself so that repetition and fatigue don’t make me mean.
The other typical feature of this time of year is an uptick in meetings. These too require some deliberate self-care for me these days, as I continue to struggle a bit with the emotional residue of my failed promotion application. Certain topics, and certain faces, can still trigger bursts of bitterness; one thing I’ve been thinking about, inspired in part by this excellent post from Timothy Burke, is how to orient myself towards the university for the remaining third of my career there. (I’ll probably write something more about this once this term is fully behind me.) At the department level, our meetings are particularly difficult right now as we are facing a decline of a third in our faculty complement (the number of full time faculty in the department) due to the non-replacement of retirees. As you can imagine, shrinkage on this scale has significant repercussions for everything from our ability to form supervisory committees for graduate students to the kind and range of undergraduate courses we can offer — and thus for how we structure our majors and honors programs. Let’s just say the term “death spiral” has come up more than once: it’s hard to sustain a program, much less expand or innovate it, under these conditions.
I have been managing to get some reading done: some serious reading, with an eye to reviewing deadlines coming up, and some light reading. I just finished Julie James’s newest, The Thing About Love — and did not love it. It was entertaining enough, and she’s good at both plot and banter, but the awkwardness I always notice in her prose seemed particularly conspicuous this time. I can’t believe better editing couldn’t smooth a lot of it out: she has tics like explaining new names by adding “referring to etc. etc.” after them. I was diverted by the book, but also disappointed in it, especially as I like her previous novel, Suddenly Last Summer, a lot. I am really looking forward to doing some immersive reading that’s not for work (or for formal reviews, for that matter). I have some birthday gift cards I’m going to use to treat myself to some new books as soon as I file final grades! It will probably be pretty quiet around here until then.