Monthly Archives: January 2008

Can’t talk – Mario.

I don’t think I mentioned that our wii broke a while ago. In fact, I may have failed to mention that my family are totally Nintendo’s whores, but we so are. We have 4 DS handhelds for 3 people (including a special edition pink 1st generation DS that Feckless and StepLadder won in a contest), and we had a gamecube, and now we have the wii.

Nintendo’s customer service is totally awesome. Unlike, say, the cable company or the IT guys at work, Nintendo customer service dudes’ default position is not that you are an idiot who is lucky to have electricity. Rather, they offer sympathy for the problem (“Hard drive failed just after you beat Bowser? That’s so frustrating! That battle is really long!), and they listen when you describe the symptoms and tell them what you tried. Bonus points for the one who was helping me, because he refrained from howling with laughter at StepLadder, who was wailing piteously in the background that her “heart was broken”.

So we had to send the wii to them for a couple weeks, but they returned it promptly, fixed, and replaced the game that was zorched by the defective harddrive. It’s been home for nearly a week, and I have been playing Mario Galaxy quite a lot. Hence, the not so much blogging, because I am pretty sure you don’t really need to know how many stars we need to get before we can beat Bowser again so then we can play as Luigi.

Funny things happened at work, but I wrote about them for RYS, so go read it over there. I need to grab some more 1-ups.

Beowulf after the movie.

So, this week I taught Beowulf for the first time since the movie came out, and so I had an opportunity to think through and then talk to my class (about half of whom had seen the film) about what I thought were the problems with the movie, or rather, What They Got Wrong ™.

Leaving aside completely the arguments about the quality of the facial animation, and the technical merit (or otherwise) of the film’s special effects, the woodenness of the acting, the oddness of the accents, or whether the penis-covering scene is funnier than the penis-covering scene in The Simpson’s Movie, I really just went to the heart of the narrative adaptation. And there I do have a couple of insurmountable objections.

Before your squeaks of protest get too loud, let position myself. Yes, I am generally a Gaiman fan, although not because of Sandman. The first Gaiman book I read was Stardust, and I read that because it was recommended by Diana Wynne Jones. (I think this came up in the context of both of them having written books which were in some way inspired by Donne’s “Go and Catch a Falling Star,” but it might have been because someone pointed out that Gaiman has a cameo appearance in Deep Secret.) I love Stardust, both in book and movie versions, and I was delighted to find that Gaiman is an author who can really read aloud, too. I follow his blog a bit, I’ve read and enjoyed American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere. Generally pro-Gaiman, okay? Got it?

I’m also not having a stereotypical kneejerk English Professor The Only Way to Read Beowulf is in the original Anglo-Saxon moment, either. (Although, having said that, Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon as presented by the eccentric Benjamin Bagby is pretty awesome.) I don’t have conniptions about the “hibernicisms” in Heaneywulf; I teach the poem in translation, and I do what I can to help students see what it means by relating the arc of Beowulf’s battles with increasingly impossible monsters to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I’m not offended that the movie strayed from the original text, and I do understand the idea behind the adaptation. I’ve read a couple of the reviews that Gaiman says capture his idea about what they were trying to do (I’ve read some of the other kind of reviews, too). I actually think the idea that Gaiman and Avary had of turning the poem into the “public” version of the story and having their version tell the “real” story is an interesting one. It certainly provides a better answer to the question “Why did Beowulf bring back Grendel’s head after he killed Grendel’s mother in their underwater home?” than anyone else has come up with.

So, what’s my problem? It’s that Gaiman and Avary present sex and kingship as the things that Grendel’s mother uses to tempt Beowulf. Beowulf, in the original poem, is not that kind of guy. He’s not perfect, and he has a fatal character flaw – he has buttons to push, all right, but sex just isn’t one of his buttons. In the poem, after he has killed the Grendels, Beowulf is rewarded by both Hrothgar (the king he has rescued by slaying the monsters) and Hygelac (his own king). The kings give Beowulf all of the traditional rewards suitable to a hero – money, treasure, weapons, land – except for one. Neither of them offer him the hand of a princess in marriage, and Beowulf passes up not one, but two obvious opportunities to ask for a wife. There are women in the poem who make eyes at him, but Beowulf doesn’t see it, and his failure as a king to produce an heir seems tied to his inability to see himself as anything but a single hero. In fact, he’s so disinterested in the women who are in the background in the mead hall sometimes students ask if it’s possible to read him as gay, but he seems oblivious to the boys making eyes at him, too. (Wiglaf, in the movie, might be one of them.)

Kingship is thrust upon Beowulf; the explanation of how he becomes king is brief, and then, suddenly, in one line, it’s 50 years later, and there is no mention of a wife, or heirs. The poem is silent on the topic, but it’s easy to read an implied criticism of Beowulf as king in this silence; he should have a dozen grandsons eager to go and fight the dragon, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t express regret over this mishap of fate; instead, he charges out – sword in one hand, cane in the other – to fight the dragon himself, as if he is still the young tough he was at the beginning of the poem. In essence, Beowulf’s death at the end of the poem comes about because he never was able to exchange his identity as a hero in order to be a king.

Fundamentally, then, it makes no sense for Beowulf to give in to the temptation to have sex with any woman, no matter how much her bosoms are defying gravity, in order to be rewarded with a kingdom. He doesn’t want a kingdom, and he doesn’t want to have sex with her either. He should have had no trouble in resisting temptation. That’s where I have a problem with the adaptation – Gaiman and Avary went for the most obvious Hollywood cliché – and the really irritating thing about it is, Beowulf really does have a flaw that could have been exploited, and it might have made the movie more interesting.

What is Beowulf’s Achilles heel? It’s his desire to be famous for his deeds. The poem ends with a description of the hero, and the final word of his epitaph sums him up perfectly. He is lofgeornost: the most eager for glory.

You can’t tell me that’s an alien concept in the movie industry.

Rating My Students

Student evaluations of instruction are a thorn in the side of any instructor; it’s like, once a semester, they get to throw a free punch, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Of course, you get quite a few who only manage a swing and a miss: “this teacher were to tuogh on spelling and grammer,” but others do manage to connect, and it’s the ones that hit you in unexpected places that can really be disheartening. I don’t mind the random jabs at my meanness, or my dress sense, but the one who said, “do not mock people who are funnier than you,” really stung.

I know it’s not just me who has angst over evaluations; look at all the ink spent on navel-gazing. And what do we learn from all this scholarly research? That student opinions of their teachers are swayed by chocolate. Nice. That’s really going to make me roll philosophically with those punches. If chocolate is all it takes, why would anyone stress about good teaching? But no, I will take the high road.

I do get a chance to make my case; there’s a form I have to fill in that talks about my teaching in the classes that have student evaluations, where I get to complain about the heating system making a sound like a jet taking off, or the fact that the motion sensor attached to the lighting in the room was located too far away from the teacher’s desk, so that halfway through the class, all the lights would go out, and students would need to stand up and wave their arms to make them come back on. There’s a leetle tiny space on that form for comments about student behaviour; just enough room to write, “never have I seen such a group of egregious sloths – these reluctant slugs could not even get it together to read children’s picture books.”

But, let’s face it, this is not enough. The fact that this is not enough is the whole reason Rate Your Students exists, bless their tiny cotton student-loathing socks.

This semester, I am preparing an Instructor Evaluation of Students. Based loosely on my institution’s Student Evaluation, it will have 20 items for me to rate my students on a 5 point scale. Here are the items:

  1. The student shows interest (real or feigned) in the subject.
  2. The student demonstrates respect for the instructor and classmates.
  3. The student’s behaviour is not actively disruptive to the class.
  4. The student demonstrates an openness to new concepts.
  5. The student makes use of offered opportunities of assistance.
  6. The student’s personal hygiene is inoffensive.
  7. The student does not actively try to make the instructor’s life harder.
  8. The student makes a visible effort to learn (includes grunting).
  9. The student responds to instructor’s overtures to promote participation (i.e. will respond to a direct question if eye contact is made).
  10. The student comes to class.
  11. The student shows an understanding of the duration of the class (is on time, does not leave early).
  12. The student does assigned reading.
  13. The student attempts to meet deadlines.
  14. The student accepts responsibility for handing in his/her work on time.
  15. The student demonstrates an ability to follow simple directions.
  16. The student gives some priority to fitting this class into his/her life.
  17. The student is responsive to instructor requests and/or advice.
  18. The student shows an understanding of grading standards.
  19. This student shows an awareness of the existence of other individuals.
  20. I would recommend this student to others.

That way, I will have hard numbers at which to point and laugh. And I’ll post them here, so others can do the same. I have not decided yet whether to rate all my students, including those who drop the course (skews negatively), or only those who make it to the end of semester and receive a final grade (skews positively), but I have the whole semester to ponder. Suggestions welcome.

Proud Parenting Moment

This morning, while I was procrastinating about getting up, doing some reading and chatting online from bed and enjoying the coffee Feckless had just brought me, Stepladder came in to tell us about her dream. She was describing how, in the dream, instead of houses behind the bus stop, there was a meadow with deer, and a forest with other animals, which she was listing: coyotes, wolves, and so on, until she got to badgers.

“Wait a minute,” said Feckless, “There are no badgers here. How could there have been badgers?” This is the kind of people we are; we nitpick dreams for zoological accuracy. Stepladder got into it a bit with him, but since her arguments were based on the premise “there were, I just know,” she wasn’t making much headway. Stalemate, with Stepladder developing something of a mulish look on her face, and wandering off to her room.

Feckless went to do some important computer work in the study (apparently involving learning what a camel toe is, thank you SJ for enlightening him), and I stayed in bed, mainly because I want to steal A Year of Living Biblically from him (one of the worst breaches of etiquette is taking someone’s new book before he is finished reading it – if I am going to be so heinous, I have to at least show some finesse).

A little while later, Stepladder came bounding into the bedroom. “There are badgers! I knew it! It says so in this book!” I was delighted. “You mean, you went and found the information that shows you were right? I am so proud of you. Run and tell Daddy right now that you did research to show he was wrong and you were right.” So she did, and then we did a little “I pwnt Daddy” dance. So now she’s thinking that maybe she will be an animal researcher when she grows up, as well as an artist.

My 7 year old knows how to do research to support her arguments. Put this one in the parenting win column. I think it quite balances out the other day when she poured herself a big glass of the vodka I was running through the Brita in preparation for making limoncello, and took a big gulp before complaining that “something is wrong with the water”.

New Year’s Resolution: Post MOAR

Since I got this shiney new computer, and I can blog from anywhere, I figure I really should blog from anywhere.

We’ve taken the spawn skating the last couple of days. She seems to have taken to it like a duck to water – she has her father’s native athletic abilities not mine. It’s nice to have a rink just down the road, and to see her enjoying it, just because it is fun.

I thought about asking if she wanted lessons, but people take skating lessons so seriously in this town; there are girls in her ballet class who are there because, at age 7, they are taking skating seriously enough that they do other activities, like ballet, to support their skating. Getting up at 6 in the morning to go skating 3 or more times a week seems like a recipe for sucking the fun right out of it, to me.

Of course, I say this as a parent who makes her kid go to ballet and violin, so maybe I am just one-eyed and pushy in my own way, but I hope not. A couple summers ago we tried diving, since she was really keen to do it, and all the kids there were taking it really seriously. At 8. One mother said her child was doing diving because she had fractured her wrist horribly – twice! – in gymnastics, and “her career was over”. At age nine, and her mother said this in front of her.

I don’t want my kid to be an athlete (my grouchiest pal would say that is because I am an incurable egghead), but I love it that she is good at physical activities and confident in her own body. That’s such a difficult gift for girls to retain as they grow older.

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