Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not as Turn't Up as I Hoped

As previously posted, I hate grading papers,but there is an exception: my students' personal statements for college. I enjoy these papers because I get to learn about who my students are as young men and women.  It is often enlightening, sometimes heartbreaking, and once in a while didactic.

One young lady wrote about her struggles making a new group of friends when changing high schools--quite a formidable one for a teen. (We all know the critical role our homies play during the adolescent years). She shared that unlike most of her peers, she doesn't like to get "TUed (turn't up)" on the weekends, so finding like-minded peers was difficult.

I had encountered "turn't up" before: the first time was a couple summers ago when one of my college students used it to help me understand "ratchet" when I was investigating that word (my investigation led to an article still in the revising process), but using slang to help define slang only increases confusion. Most recently, a student asked me how my weekend had been, and in response to my assurance that it had been good, asked "did you get turn't up?"

It doesn't take a linguist to figure out what it means. Hell, it only requires rudimentary understanding of teenage rebellion. But, I thought that the word's longevity might allude to a deeper meaning. (As with all things, the Internet speeds up the spread and burn-out of slang terms.)  I decided to do a little investigating.

I had a few minutes of class left after finishing one of my lessons, so I asked a group of seniors what "turn't up" meant.  After the laughter that inevitably results from my questions on slang died down, I get a mixture of voices yelling, "Partying," and "Getting wasted" paired with raise-the-roof gestures and bodies dancing behind desks.

I focus on the young lady sitting closest to me and hear her say, "It's like getting crazy."

"In my day, we called it 'getting amped', is that what you mean?"


I need to read my own blog posts. Not only was I trying to use slang clarify a definition of slang, but I was using slang of my generation. I probably could have said, "we called it 'getting ugga-bugga'" and would have gotten the same response. At least she wouldn't have known that "getting amped" ususally mean consumption of methaphentomine.

Lil Jon
Fortunately, I went in with a pretty good idea what "turn't up" meant: increasing the energy level of a social situation through being more boisterous and less inhibited, usually with the assistance of drinking, drugs,and music. Nevertheless, I wanted to clarify if, getting "turn't up" required drinking and drug use. Could one drink too many espressos, throw on the Motely Crue, and get "turn't up?" Do teens who do not experiment (or become dependent on) drinking and drugs use the term?

Several students said, "no" but with some hesitation.  My guess was that the answer was really "yes," but they were trying to protect me from the iniquities of teenage life. You know, because when I was in high school I didn't nothing more devious than drinking Diet Rite Cola and playing Candyland. On nights I really wanted to take it to another level, I busted out the Monopoly and regular Rite Cola.

While trying to get a consensus on the role of illicit party favors in the definition, a student said, "It's because of the song!"

Lil Wayne
"What song?" I asked.

" 'Turn't Down for What' by Lil Jon."

This brought on a couple more questions from me:  "Do you use 'turn't down' too?" and "I thought it was Lil Wayne."

No on both accounts.  Apparently there is a Lil Jon as well as a Lil Wayne, a Lil Kim, a Lil Fizz, a Lil Bibby, a Lil Boosie, and a Lil Bub. And while using "turn't up" is cool, "turn't down" is lame.

My students exhorted me to look up the lyrics to the song.  I did and they provided no further insight. In fact, the entire song is a repetition of these three lines:  Fire up loud/ Another round of shots/ Turned down for what?

"These lyrics aren't saying anything profound," I said.  "In fact, they aren't saying much of anything at all."

I am assured that if I listen to the song, it will enrich my understanding. I was not sure how, but I played the song.  As it turned out, I had heard the song before, quite a bit actually, but since my clubbing days are quite over and have been for several years, I related it to a funny cat video on Youtube called ""Kitten Jam Turned Down for What."  I admit, it does have a good beat.

But the lyrics = lame.

"Fire up loud" means smoke weed.

"Another round of shots" means another round of shots.

"Turned down for what?" has a couple interpretations.  One is "I am not turning down any weed or shots;" another, "why not get wasted?" If Lil Jon could let Lil Ol' Holly know which interpretation he meant, I would greatly appreciate it.

And the next time anyone makes fun of Whitesnake, Poison, or Warrant, I am just going to turn up Kitten Jam on Youtube.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thought of That THOT and Then I Moved On

I have some major linguistic knowledge to throw down.

Major. Linguistic. Knowledge.

This new slang term for an old label might revolutionize the English language.

Found on Pinterest Quotes
Teens today have created a new way to call a girl a whore, and thank the goddess because pop culture does not have enough ways to pigeon-hole females. Refer to my post "Whore's Offspring"

Whore's latest addition is the eloquent, sophisticated, and innovative term "thot." 

Originally an acronym for the phrase "that ho over there," T-H-O-T became the texting translation so that the youth can communicate their socially relevent commentary faster and easiter. "THOT is talking to my ex" is far less cumbersome than "That ho over there is talking to my ex-boyfriend." 

Found on Kevin Gurlides' Twitter
A new twist texting contributes is acronyms that have a slightly different definition. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, always means National Aeronautics and Space Administration, while That Ho Over There, THOT, doesn't.

Considering culture's obsession with developing a myriad of ways to call a woman a whore, I would think that it would assume that a whore's life is always interesting. So, to save oxygen and finger muscles, why not just say (or write or text) "thot?" I'm not too worried that it will be confused with "thoughts?" Problem with the verbal use, is that "THOT" sounds too much like "thought" so that whoever is receving the question doesn't know if she is being asked to share the escapes of her body or her mind. But at least without the inflection of voice needed to ask a question, a woman will know when she is being insulted: "THOT."

NASA was developed to expedite communication, but not by teenagers.My high school students use "thot" frequently; my college students have "heard of it" but didn't know what it meant (until I told them). Unlike with BOGO, I am slightly ahead of this verbal trend instead of way behind. 

By telling my college students about it, I might have just hastened the spread of its use. Life is full of irony.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

BOGO or Bobo?

A whole lexicon of acronyms is multiplying faster than I can keep up.

I thought that teaching high school students, teaching college students, and a penchant for action films and hard rock music would keep me abreast of Generation I's lingo, but I seem to be falling behind.

One night while indulging my guilty pleasure of watching Investigation Television (Homicide Hunter and Deadly Women are two of my favs), I saw a commercial for a sale at Payless shoe store.  Here was this cutesy, twenty-something blonde loading up her trunk with a bundle of shopping bags saying that it was the best "bogo" sale ever.

What in the hell is a "bogo" sale?

Since the commercial didn't present the term in all capital letters, it technically didn't qualify as an acronym. I didn't bother to look it up (or pay enough attention to the commercial), so I didn't learn what it was until I was shopping online and saw the phrase again: BOGO sale.  This time, it was capitalized correctly and below it was written "Buy one, get one 1/2 off."

Ah-ha: BOGO sale.  I am quite familiar with the concept; it's the new terminology that was, well, new to me.

Now that I am enlightened, I must criticize. Technically, BOGO just stands for "buy one get one," which could cause confusion.  Is the retailer reminding me that if I buy one of whatever that I will be getting just one item? Or is the retailer reassuring me that if I buy one of whatever, I will indeed get what I bought? The more accurate acronym for a "Buy one, get one 1/2 off sale" would be a BOGO HO sale. And the can of worms that advertising could open up could be cataclysmic.  Or at the very least, illegal.

My pedantic analysis aside, the phonetics of the BOGO (HO) sale are problematic. I don't know about other shoppers, but asked if I wanted to go to a BOGO sale, I'd be inclined to say "no" because it sounds too much like a sale of stupid people. Or a sale for stupid people. 

I commend advertisers for keeping it fresh, for incorporating the language the youth into your ads, for contributing to the degradation of the English language. But, I do recommend that you say your new, catchy phrases out loud to make sure that the older, less hip Gen Xers go to those sales as well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I Say Colon; You Hear Butthole

Even though I teach English, not all of my friends are teachers. I do have a handful of friends that also teach, but neither of my best friends work in fields remotely related to academia. They are intelligent, accomplished professionals, but like most people, they are not grammarians.

Knowing the intricacies of English grammar is not a survival skill; it isn't even the key to success (a friend is currently padding her bank account by doing workshops related basic writing for very accomplished audiences, for example, the Navy Seals) but because I spend so much time contemplating and teaching grammar I assume that my knowledge is common knowledge: I often forget that the average person doesn't understand the function of the colon.

The colon, the two periods on top of each other as my students call it, has three basic functions: to introduce a list, to signal an elaboration or example of what came before the colon, and to build up anticipation.The colon (:) can be replaced with the words "for example," "to elaborate," or "wait for it!"

Recently, while engaging in a round of Crabs Adjust Humidity (an off-shoot and addition to Cards Against Humanity) with my group of non-teacher friends, as Card Czar I drew the following "question" card: "_______________________: Ain't nobody got time for that."

I thought that sharing the use of the colon (:) would help my friends come up with witty answers, so I said, "Blank colon (:) Ain't nobody got time for that." By doing so, I thought my friends would grab onto the "wait for it" aspect of the punctuation in order to construction a witty response. I waited in anticipation for the rhetorical genius to come my way:
  • "Micropenis: Ain't nobody got time for that."
  • "Breeding elves for their priceless semen: Ain't nobody got time for that."
  • "Two midgets shitting into a bucket: Ain't nobody got time for that."
The kind of wittiness I envisioned was not what I got.  When I said colon (:) they heard

My friends were so excited for me to read their answers: they were laughing before I even flipped their cards over.  When I began to read them, I put down the question card for them all to see and the miscommunication was immediately seen.

"You meant the punctuation," a friend said.  "I thought you meant the other colon."

Of course, I extemporized on the ridiculousness of that assumption. I know that CAH is a crass, bathroom-humor type of game for twisted minds, but in what world does "_____________ colon: Ain't nobody got time for that" make any sense?  Mircropenis: makes sense; breeding elves for their priceless semen: makes sense; two midgets shitting in a bucket: makes sense.

My friends proved me wrong.  The answers they provided actually did make sense in both contexts: the punctuation and the anatomy.
  • "A butt-plug in the shape of a rolled-up copy of the U.S. Constitution"
  • "A tossed salad"
  • "Struggle Snuggles"

Which one did I pick as the winner? Struggle Snuggles, just to be spiteful. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Booze and Books

My sister texts "Super drunk. Making my way back" at 3 a.m.

Recently I did a turn-around trip to Las Vegas with my sister, Kelli. The occasion that prompted the trip was that her two best friends, Kyle and Todd,  from high school would be staying there for a week in a time-share. Between the guys' military service and moving to different states, Kelli doesn't have many opportunities to see them so this was not to be missed. We left on a Sunday, but she had to be back by Monday evening because she had a very important meeting for her job on Tuesday.

Now, my sister is very responsible. She didn't need me to keep her out of trouble (I'm usually the one who needs bailing out). I was basically her designated driver for the ride home.  Kelli hadn't seen Todd and Kyle in a few years; she is a mother to a toddler and career driven. 24 hours - kid + her high school BFFs = party, party, party until the breaka-breaka dawn. I would be hauling a very hungover sister home.

I packed yoga pants and tanks-tops, flip-flops, and a book. Kelli packed three pairs of shoes, two pairs of jeans, several blingy tops, and a dress.

A few minutes after she informs me that she's wasted and working her way back to the hotel, I get "Can you come get me?"  As I am sliding out of bed, I get "I'm getting a cab."

Good thinkin' sis.

I meet her and her friends in the casino of the hotel.  The guys are wide-eyed and jovial; Kelli is slouched over an empty Blackjack table.

Been there; done that.

The guys make sure that I know what a "trooper" she was.  If two career military men claim that a "civilian" can keep up with their drinking, that makes one's badass status official.

I escort Kelli back to the room and pour her into bed.

She wakes up at around 8 a.m. saying, "I don't feel that bad."

That's because she's still drunk, but I decide not to burst her bubble.

By 10 a.m., she's near death. She anticipated this condition so she arranged for a late check-out time. See what I mean? Responsible.

I knock around the casino for a bit, return to the room to see if Kelli is up for lunch.  My suggestion of a meal sends her scurrying to the bathroom; I am on my own.

Grabbing my book, I head down to the America cafe, belly up to the bar and order a cheeseburger. As I am reading, the host cruises by, stops short, looks at me and says, "Wow, you don't see much of that anymore."

At first, I think he's referring to my hotness. Then my heart sinks as I realize that he's referring to my reading. The monologue of how the decline of civilization is because nobody reads is scrolling through my head.
Well, this is Vegas. It's not like people come here to read. Only nerds like me.

He saunters over, leans on the bar next to me and says, "All you see these days is people with their electronic books. I haven't seen an actual book in a long, long time.

At this point, I'm near suicide. Only recently have I acquired and electronic reader and I've yet to use it.

Both Kelli and I were moaning in agony on the way home.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"You Don't Have to Be Naked to Be Sexy"--Nicole Kidman

I decided to take a break from dating several months ago and have been enjoying my sabbatical. I find I like men better when I don't date them.  

I have no doubt that the problem was (is) me.  When online dating and sexting exploded onto the scene, I was in a serious relationship.  My ex and I would send dirty texts, but more in the name shits-and-giggles than foreplay.  So, when I re-entered the dating scene at 38, not only was online dating and sexting the new way to court but also cougars were the objects of said courting.  For a while, my ego relished in these 20-something young bucks clamoring at my heels, but after a while new dating etiquette began to frustrate and confuse me.  One thing that made me nuts were the naked-selfies that I not only received (I could publish my own Playgirl with all the penises I've been sent) but were also asked for on a regular basis.  I never sent one man a naked picture of myself and it had absolutely nothing to do with how I felt about my body.

Do women enjoy being told we are beautiful?  Of course. Does it make us feel good to be categorized as sexy? Absolutely.  Does that mean we want to send you a naughty picture and/or talk dirty to any guy that asks for it? No. And to assume that that is the exception and not the rule is insulting.

Women are willing to capture and share their nudity on film for three basic reasons: to please their partner with whom they have established a relationship with, to compensate for their lack of self-esteem, or for a paycheck.  I am not suggesting that women who are proud of their bodies and show them off at every opportunity have no self-esteem, but if she's doing it in the name of being accepted by the opposite sex, I see that as a big problem.  Just because he wants it ladies, doesn't men he should get it.  

And to those who do it for a paycheck: good for you.  At least you’re acknowledging that your body isn’t up for grabs to whoever wants to see it.  You are acknowledging your body is valuable in a language all will understand.  

Women who will not engage in sexting with men they don’t know very well or aren't in a relationship with are not “uptight” or “prudes” or “melodramatic." They just happen to have some integrity.

So, when a man who I’ve either never met in person or who I’ve only been on a date or two with suddenly wants me to start sending naked pictures and talking dirty, you know how that makes me feel? Like an object. Like a prostitute.  Let me take that back, offering to pay me to send you a naked picture or talk dirty to you would make me feel less used—less objectified.  Hell, I might even be flattered a bit. At least that way, the john is acknowledging that what I got ain't for free.I don’t get anything—except for a sense of shame-- out of sending naked pictures of myself to acquaintances, or in more cases than not, near strangers. My self-worth is not based on who does (or does not) want to fuck me or see me naked.  To me, access to my body is a privilege; something has to be earned in one way or another.  That doesn’t mean that you have to love me or that I have to love you, but I do need a relationship established outside the perimeters of WiFi.

I choose to teach high school instead of wire my mouth shut so I can lose 800 pounds and become a Playboy model; I teach high school instead of setting up a 900 number (or chatroom where nothing dirty is coming your way until you contribute to my bank account).  And just because I’m not willing to hand over my intimate, sexual life to you on a platter just because you want it, doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to fuck you senseless.  That doesn’t mean that with the right guy, who respects me, I am not willing to do things that would make any man blush.

Let me create an analogy. To my understanding, men are sensitive about their finances.  A man’s earnings is something private to him, and he might be a bit sensitive about it because not only women, but the media, link a man’s  worth to how much money he has  in the same way that a woman’s worth is linked to her appearance. 

Now, in the online message/texting phase of a courtship, wouldn’t it be a bit presumptuous for me to ask, “Hey, do you have an extra $100 lying around to send me a dozen roses?” Why would a man who has not found an emotional connection to me, who may think I’m cool and attractive, but really doesn’t know me, want to spend $100 of his hard-earned money on buying me flowers?  

If a man enjoys sending women flowers, regardless of how he feels about them, because it makes him feel accomplished or proud because he can afford to do that, then bonus for me.  And just because he may not want to do that during the fledgling stages of a relationship, that doesn’t mean he never will.  As our relationship grows and my happiness influences his happiness, he’ll enjoy sending me flowers because I love receiving them.  Because he respects me as a person and finds aspects of my character attractive, my appreciation will make him feel good about himself.  But for me to assume that his life’s goal is to make all women happy by sending them flowers is objectifying him.  I am basing his value to me on something that has nothing to do with his character or mine.

So, those women who get a feeling of empowerment or accomplishment by sharing their bodies openly, that’s the same bonus for a man as a man who just likes to send women flowers is to me. But to presume that every woman wants to do that for you just because you tell her she’s hot or send her a few charming emails/texts is arrogant.  It’s the same as if I assume that just because I have big tits every guy is tripping over himself to get to the flower store or make reservations at that five-star restaurant is arrogant.

For that man whose emotional and/or physical pleasure is important to me: I’ll sext you all day long.  I’ll want to send you naked pictures and dirty texts because you enjoy it.  And I give a shit about what makes you happy because you give a shit about what makes me happy. You’ve taken the time and care to listen to what I say, to ask pertinent questions, to make me comfortable to communicate with you. You don’t just assume; you care enough to regard me as an individual with unique needs and wants. Even if those needs and wants only take place in the bedroom. 

Ladies, I hope I've given you a voice on this issue.  Gentlemen, I hope I've given you a little insight.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Don't Be an Ass

My future husband
The "evolution" of communication brought about by technological advancements does not negate basic grammatical structures.

In other words, now that y'all are using nothing but abbreviations and acronyms in written communication, at least use them correctly, dammit.  It may not seem to matter while texting, tweeting, snap-chatting but those mistakes will transfer to an arena where it does matter.

Abbreviations are shortened versions of a word, but that doesn't mean they aren't just as important as what they stand for. Missus David Draiman (my name once he skips out on that gorgeous model wife and new baby for little ol' me) implies no more than Mrs. David Draiman; I am no less a wife by using Mrs. (actually, I'm not a wife at all, but that's not the point). 

By the same token, Lieutenant Van Buren doesn't lose any of her brash, ball-busting authority by signing her name Lt. Van Buren when she writes up Briscoe for being a smart-ass or Curtis for being a tight-ass.

Acronyms are a type of abbreviation. A basic abbreviation is the shortening of one word; an acronym is the shortening of a phrase into a single word which is constructed from the first letters of each word.  For example, NASA is an acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  NASA is both an abbreviation and an acronym; Mrs. is just an abbreviation.

What abbreviations do is make communicating, and filling out forms, a bit easier. Who the hell wants to say, "I have to get up at 5 ante meridian," when it is so much easier to say, "5 A.M."  Hell, "abbreviation" even has an abbreviation: abbr.  But just because it's shorter, doesn't mean there aren't any rules:

1)  The period and capitalization can affect meaning.  Abbreviations only capitalize the first letter or each letter after a period; acronyms are always written using all caps and no periods.  A B.S. in physics is not the same as using BS to get through physics. Albert Einstein had a B.S. in physics; the closest thing I come to having knowledge in physics is BS. 

2)  Abbreviations are written not spoken; acronyms are both written and spoken. Saying "Mrs. Draiman" sounds the same as "Missus Draiman;" one does not pronounce my future name as "Mmmrrrsss Draiman." Detective Curtis called Lt. Van Buren "L-T" but he's still a tight-ass.

3) Abbreviations are not arbitrary.  There is a correct way to abbreviate things; one can't just shorten a word any way he or she likes and consider it correct.  Take the following example from a student's paper:

"One of the cadets absent was our Class Sgt. and the other was our Class Ass. (Class Assistant).  Another cadet volunteered to become to new Class Sgt. and I volunteered to become the new Class Ass. because I knew it would please the instructors by being a leader.  I moved from my position from the right to my new position, the Class Ass. Position on the left."

I don't know about other teachers, but my class ass is never absent.  But I guess I'm supposed to put all the asses on the left side of the classroom. 

My student's error may have provided me with a few laughs (and material for a blog post), but the panel of judges grading his project will just think he's an ass. BTW, the correct abbr. for assistant is asst. 

Maybe being an ass is conducive for being an assistant, but I wouldn't put that in writing. 

You Fahrenheit 451ers are totally ignoring these basic rules.  LOL is usually written like an acronym, but we don't pronounce it like one. We say "L-O-L" not "loll." Technically, it's an abbreviation, not an acronym, and should be written like this: L.O.L.   So when those insurance commercials poke fun at the out-of-touch father who says, "loll," it is the insurance company, not the father, who is an idiot. 

I suppose asking teens to put their periods in the write place when engaging in social networking is setting the bar a bit high.  Let's get them to capitalize "I" first.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Leather of the Corinthians by Tom Lucas

A Corinthian can be a citizen of Corinth, Greece; an architectural style of a column developed in aforementioned city; an alloy used in the design of armor; "a gay licentious man; a man of fashion about town" (OED). Most commonly known, Corinthian is a book in the New Testament written by the apostle Paul which is often quoted in marriage ceremonies.

The latest edition to Corinthian is the novel, Leather of the Corinthians, a satire written by Tom Lucas that Johnathan Swift and Mark Twain would both tip their hats to.

Available through Amazon
In the words of Lucas, "I don't write nice genre pieces.  It's a slippery thing I've got going on" and that "the disenfranchised, The 99%, Old Punk Rocker (the DIY crowd), and anyone else who likes to read a good mindbender," would be drawn to his novel.  

He ain't just whistling Dixie.  But Lucas is modest in defining his range of fans because this liberal, left-brained, straight, lover-of-Victorian literature, hair-band disciple had her mind bent, kicked, titillated, and stretched. And she liked it.

Leather of the Corinthians takes place in a Dystopian, capitalistic world where money, media influence, technology, war, religion, egotism, sex, and fast food has erased any semblance of humanity in civilization.

No, it's not a history of the 21st Century.  

It's fiction, yet it's not. Its setting and characters are fantasy, yet they're not.  As far out as this novel may be, there's a realism that is both hilarious and discomforting.  

Leather of the Corinthians involves a war between fast food giants whose casualties stretch beyond the obese; a corporation trying to own everything; a priest seeking fame; a band of nomads trying to enjoy the benefits of a hedonistic society while remaining out of its crosshairs; a lonely man searching for acceptance, sex, endless television and endless snacks; a fugitive king; a video-game addicted general, and a soldier trying to understand it all. Lucas does a masterful job weaving the paths of these characters together using the rhetoric from the toolbox of advertisers and politicians. 

Read it.  You'll laugh, you'll squirm, and you might even start a revolution.  Be sure you eat your Wheaties first and check your sensitivity at the door.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Quote My Grandmother: Why are Teenager's So Stupid?: In the Clutch

Just as some teenagers are too cool to come to school, I am too cool to show up to work.

At least that's what I tell myself.  I'm actually not too cool, or too sexy, for anything; I'm just overbooked.  I commit to more things than my old, tired mind and body can managed without doing things like . . . missing work. And cloning me . . . not a good idea.  Think Orphan of Mass Destruction.
In my defense, many of the reasons why I miss work is because of work.  As your brow furrows at what seems to be a paradox, all I have to say is welcome to public (not pubic) education. Recently, I volunteered to chaperon an overnight fieldtrip, took grading days to plow through 80 in-class essays, and had to go to an all-day meeting at the district office.

My students have mixed feelings about my absences: they enjoy turning their inner (and outer) rowdy selves loose (there is something about a substitute that brings out the little demon in even the most serious student), but I usually leave a boat-load of work to keep them busy.  Also, no substitute is more entertaining than I am.

But substitutes are getting better looking. At my high school, there is one young woman and one young man who are very easy-on-the-eyes.  Every time I announced to my classes that I'll be gone, I am bombarded with students asking, "Can you get Miss ---- or Mr. ----- to sub?"  I try to acquiesce. I don't care if it's good looks or an iron will that keeps my class in line; as long as I come back to no complaints and no blood, I am happy.  Unfortunately, I am not always successful in making my students happy (actually, I am seldom successful at making them happy) but when a couple weeks ago I announced that Miss -------, a very young, sweet and lovely young woman would be subbing for them, one of my male students called out, "In the clutch!"

This slightly alarmed me.  Was this an obsessed student plotting to kidnap Miss -------? Did he mean that she was nearly in the clutch of his desire?  To me, the noun version of "clutch" is either a tight grip or that damn pedal in a stick shift car that made it impossible for me to get out of first gear as a teenager.

"What does that mean exactly?" I asked my student, wanting to make sure that Miss ----- was not walking into a compromising situation.

The young man smiled, "It means 'to my benefit'."

I surveyed the rest of the class to see if this was one of those "slang" words exclusive to only a small group of friends (aka inside joke), but most of the class nodded in agreement with their classmate.  Of course, they had no idea where such a phrase originated. 

I can't find any correlation between "in the clutch" and "to my benefit." The former has a anxious, foreboding tone; the latter, optimistic.  Different prepositions, an article replaced by a personal pronoun, and two nouns with antonymous definitions make connecting these difficult even for a woman who has a Master's degree is bullshitting (aka English)

Urban Dictionary didn't have a definition for "in the clutch" but defines clutch as an ability "to perform under pressure" and is synonymous with "beast" and "boss." It's beneficial to be beast and boss, but that didn't quite carry over to the context in which the student was using the phrase.  My students wouldn't be performing under any kind of pressure: Miss ----- is just too sweet.

Not sure why this student thinks having Miss ------- is "to his benefit" and quite honestly, I didn't ask.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kill Me Now: Grading Papers

I hate grading papers. I HATE it.  I'd rather clean my apartment with a toothbrush after I leased it out to a fraternity for Rush Week.

And, of course, I teach the subject with the most amount of grading: English. That alone affirms that I'm a masochist.

I know most of my problem is psychological, but when it's me against my psychology, I get bitch-slapped every time.
Recently, I collected 100, six-page research papers from my high school seniors. Rough draft research papers, which means that I'm going to have to make copious comments to guide them through their revisions.

Imagine having to read badly written 600 page novel on a subject you could care less about while writing on every single page why you don't like it.

Have I provided enough instruction for students to produce drafts that shouldn't need copious comments? Absolutely. I'll admit that I do not teach everything well (Siddhartha is always a crap-shoot; Emily Dickinson--never knew how just a few words could confuse me so much) but the research paper? I am a genius. My instructions include brilliant analogies, handouts with simplified instruction to maneuver MLA formatting, and color-coded examples to highlight each aspect of a quality research paper. I hold their hands through every step of researching, developing quality thesis statements, creating supportive arguments, and inserting relevant commentary. In class, I model, model, model; students practice, practice, practice.

But it never fails: most of the students' first drafts are shit. And not the type of shitty first drafts that Anne Lamott writes about.

This has been a rinse-repeat process for my entire 21-year teaching career.  And no, to all you non-teachers, I can't just not assign the research paper.  It is a standard upheld by all senior English teachers, the district office, and God himself.  I could sooner teach the writings of the Marquis de Sade than not teach the research paper.

Every year, I have a ritual preparation for onerous this annual onerous task. This includes buying a lot of chocolate and a few bottles of wine, making sure all of my yoga pants are clean, and sending out a mass email to my friends and family to not even think about calling, texting, emailing, or in any other way communicating with me for a week.

As if it only took me a week.  One of my colleagues gets hers back in a matter of days; the others, a week to 10 days. Me? I am always the last to return my papers.  In fact, by the time I do pass them back, the students have forgotten that they wrote them in the first place. For those of you non-teachers, it takes me anywhere between 20-30 minutes to grade one paper.  Granted, I am slow, but I provide an individualized plan on how to revise their drafts.

Every year I approach the papers with a positive attitude and a promise to get through these papers more quickly than the previous year.  My school is generous enough to allow me a couple grading days (they provide a substitute for my classes at not cost to my sick days), of which I take full advantage. But no matter how determined, how optimistic, how "prepared" I am to blast through these drafts, the pattern is always the same.

Day 1 (Tuesday):  I wake up at 6 a.m., get dressed -- jeans and a cute crew-neck top, light make-up, hair styled--fill my bag with papers and walk up to the local coffee shop.  I power through about eight papers, jotting down comments like "You are on the right track," "Consider doing some more research in __________," "Expand here," "Clarify?," and "remember to refer to that handout I gave you on MLA formatting."  I have lunch, walk back to my apartment, grade a few more papers, take some time to watch TV for an hour or so, grade a few more papers, walk to a local restaurant for a romantic dinner with my papers, come home, have a glass of wine and some chocolate, grade one or two more papers and then go to bed feeling productive.

My second "grading day" (Wednesday) is fairly similar, but I do get up a little later, watch a little more television in the afternoon, dinner is take-out. Two glasses of wine. My comments are a little less euphemistic: "Need more research," "Need to write more here," "Not sure what your point is here," and "Do you need another copy of the handout on MLA formatting?"

Then I must return to my normal teaching day, with maybe 1/3 of my papers graded.  The pressure begins to build. And I do not have 1/2 the energy I had in my 20s.  Shit, even in my 30s. I know that teaching is not the only exhausting job out there, but my workday is a lot like chaperoning a juvenile hall fieldtrip to Disneyland.  After work, I may get through four papers before I collapse from exhaustion.

Day 5 (a weekend day): I wake up at 9 a.m., do not get dressed, do not put on any semblance of make-up, hair is in a ponytail. I do not leave my apartment.  At this point, in addition to my comments in the tone of "You are not sticking with your thesis," "Where did information come from?," "Huh?," "The period goes outside the parenthesis," I am circling brown and red smudges on the paper and writing, "chocolate," and "wine ring."

By the second weekend, I have dedicated at least 25 hours of my free time to reading a bunch of papers that could have been titled "Captain Obvious" littered with errors and some nearly incomprehensible. I am sending texts of "kill me now," to my friends and family.

Day 12 (a weekend day): I wake up at 9 a.m., clean my apartment, do some laundry, go to the supermarket. While I am gone, my cats attack and play with my stack of papers.  I step on them as I haul groceries in from the car.  By 2ish, I sit down to grade my first paper. There are few, if any, positive comments.  I don't even bother to identify the "mystery stains." Some papers will be returned with torn edges and puncture marks from my cats channeling my angst.

Day 13: I might get to my first paper by 4 p.m.  My comments have been reduced to "I have no idea what you are writing about," "Now you are just being random," "Did you hear anything I've said in class in the last month?," and  "Did you even look at the MLA handout?" What I want to write is, "WTF?" and "A drunk monkey with a serious head-wound could write better than this." I am convinced that I spent more time reading it than they spent writing it.  There are more wine-rings than comments.

Last day of grading: I have around 8 papers left.  I don't change out of my pajamas, bathe, and the hair is still in the ponytail I put it in three days ago.  I don't even know what the mystery stains are on the papers. I don't even have to order take-out because my food haunts know to show up with a shitload of carbs and chocolate around mealtime.  I drink anymore wine and I'll have to join AA. I am thinking of pulling a Anna Nicole Smith--overdose and all. If fornicating with an elderly man will keep me from having to grade another paper, I am in.

Eventually, the papers are returned. Students rush me with questions about my comments to which I answer: "I don't know what I meant; I graded ONE HUNDRED papers." (See post after this one on my memory).  I go back to bathing, eating veggies, drinking water. And I vow, that next year, I'll be more efficient at grading the rough draft research papers.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory"-- Albert Schweitzer

I have a horrible memory. The only reason I don't forget my name is because someone calls me it on a daily basis.

I've always had a bad memory; I inherited it from my mother. Forget implanting computer chips into the brain to increase its function, I need to implant Ginseng.  

My mom used to joke that after teachers stopped pinning parent notifications to my clothing in kindergarten, she never knew what the hell was going on at the school.  I'm sure she meant to call and find out and then forgot. 

My father? Never forgets anything. Ever.  But the shit he reminds me of is not often helpful.

My mother's sister, Sheree, is her antithesis in memory.  She remembers even the most minute details.  Her brain is like a computer.  Every time Mom and I are trying to recall the details of a family event, or someone's birthday, or who bought who what the Christmas of 2000, we always say, "We'll have to ask Sheree." And be damned if she doesn't always know. She should have gone to the casting-call of Unforgettable.

In college, if I had to remember to do something when I got home, I used to call myself and dictate reminders on my answering machine. And my messages to myself would always start with, "Hey, it's me . . ."  The system worked unless my roommate got home first, listened to the messages and then did not give me the message from me. Fortunately, this didn't happen often; we had been friends for years and knew well of my handicap.

I graduated to post-it-notes when they began selling nationwide in the 1990s.  (An interesting fact: post-it-notes were first manufactured in Cynthiana, Kentucky. My mom's name? Cynthia.) Of course, I'd have to stick them on bathroom mirror or eye-level on the inside of the front door for them to be effective. 

With today's technology, I can program a reminder into my phone--and don't think I don't program more than one for the same thing.  Most people's reminders are about doctor appointments and social gatherings; mine are more like "don't forget to put on underwear."

But I find that teens have even worse memories than I do.  The first couple months of school, I reply to the 15-20 questions I get a day that start with "Do you remember?" with "I don't remember anything."

By the end of the semester, students have adjusted their opener to "you may not remember, but . . ." There isn't any "may" about it; I don't remember.  Eventually, they move on to, "I know you don't remember, but remember last week . . ." of which I simply say, "no" or if feeling particularly feisty I say, "I can't remember what I did five minutes ago, let alone what you said to me last week."

Point is, they never remember that I don't remember anything.  Nevertheless, I am skeptical of what teens claim to "forget." When one tells me that he forgot his notebook in his locker or that he left his backpack at home, I question his honesty.  How does one walk to class or out his front door to school empty-handed and not realize that something is missing?

They don't forget their cellphones. Ever.

Or when a student tells me he/she "forgot" to turn his/her homework, I always say, "How do you 'forget' to turn in homework, when you are surrounded by 35 of your classmates who are passing their papers in as I walk about saying, 'don't forget to put your name on your homework'?"

But, the other day a student forgot something that baffled me. It was the the first day back to school from Winter Break, and I was greeting my students at the door.  As one young man came shuffling down the hall, he suddenly stopped short, threw his head back and groaned.  

"Ms. Vance," he said.  "Can I go back to my car? I forgot something."

He had his backpack, so I inquired about what he needed at that moment.

"I forgot my tooth," he said and smiled.  One of his front teeth were missing.

How does one forget his tooth?  At the age of 18?  His tooth?  In my 17 years of teaching, I have never gotten that one; so, I let him go to his car--my laughter following him the whole way.