Monday, August 8, 2011

Potpourri III: Jadis, si je me souviens bien...

--Villon, François: portrait from woodcut

Jadis, si je me souviens bien...

The odd pot is putrid again -- for my more attentive readers, you know that I am referencing a series of blog posts with no structure beyond whatever the heck is on my mind: Potpourri!

The word pourri puts me in mind of whatshisface -- I usually think first of Verlaine, and indeed, that is so:  I *am* thinking of Verlaine. But that is so wrong. Hmmmm. Fred tells me to relax the brain, think of other things, expend no effort to uncover the correct name/person, and what is sought will be made manifest. Harrumph. That's cranky talk for: Not bloody likely. This man, whatshisface, was a criminal (having committed, among other things, murder), wrote his last testament, a moving piece -- and PRESTO! Francois Villon! Get it -- Verlaine/Villon? O! My brain, O!

Unfortunately, my EEG is likely spiking ominously, because Verlaine brings the idea of Rimbaud, and Rimbaud gifts me with Le dormeur du val -- which, of course, makes me think of war, Iraq, Bush, bin Laden, Afghanistan, al Qaeda, the Taliban and downed copters,  all superimposed over iconic images of 9/11 -- as things continue to careen, careen, out of control, while walls come tumbling down.

I see Neda Agha-Soltan die on YouTube and read Tweets organized by the hashmarked term #arabspring.  Nothing takes more than a few minutes to watch, a few seconds to read.

Oppressors wager that murderous impulses are longer and more persistent than 2'23" clips and 140-character near-instant messages.   Oppressors align themselves with the history of sacred texts, and therefore, they believe, with some equally unassailable Wisdom of Oppression.  The Book of Oppression is kept alive by bloodlines and blood-lettings and memories crushed into blood-soaked scorched earth by the conveyer belts of caterpillar tracks. 

sunni::shia::sunni::shia  --  Not likely the same tanks today as rolled over the people of Hama in 1982, but what a neatly bookended poetic thought!  The Assad regime - Father (and Uncle) and Son -- has glossed its murderous impulses as some sort of governance by birthright.  And yet, this morning I read that reality, or some other impulse, prompted King Abdullah to finally speak against Syria, and to recall Saudi ambassadors from Damascus. It is reported that Kuwait and Bahrain will follow suit.

And so, like everyone, I dare to hope that videoclips and videoconferencing and text messaging -- by a multitude of means -- have become democratizing impulses and not just cacophonous noise, the combined sound of now. 

Real time!

It is, as the kids say, awesome, this media spectacle that allows wired revolutionaries access to... well, to whatever they can dream of, really.  The rest of us idiots get to ride along, blogging and retweeting, blithely wishing everyone had a chicken in their pot, a car in their garage, and gas for that car, too.  We cannot be bothered with too much in the way of conflict's history, or vegetarians, or the tribal/feudal infrastructure of oil-producing nations. The wish is father to the thought as never before.

The King said, among a few other things, that "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms... Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss."  Fred frequently tells me -- because I have frequent anti-Saudi outbursts -- that there will never be an uprising in Saudi Arabia, because "the people love their standard of living too much to risk it." Sometimes I want to smack Fred upside the head.  Degree of disgustingness aside, King Abdullah speaks to Assad in an ancient shared language, one despot to another.

I am pretty sure most of my readers have given up on this post, maybe even on this entire blog. Those of you who remain, studies show, are probably neuropsychologists, using me as fodder for scholarly articles on narcissistic personality disorder and anomia.  Does my brain confuse me?  Am I driven batty by my constant circumlocutions, not just of meanings, but of relevance, and truth?  How do I dare consider (almost) every juxtaposition felicitous or wildly instructive?  Yes, and yes, again -- and I dare because periphrasis is my fertility,  my one and only chance for a happy ending. Overburdened with useless detail, my dialog with the world exchanges one word for another until the ragged corner of one observance can be tucked and tied into the holy end of some cherished, but threadbare, belief.

As the lad whispers in that movie I did not see:  "I see dead people." And, by God, my brain is gonna explain them, one by one.  A better quote comes from the apocrypha of My People, as told by my Mother-Unit.  She went into labor with my Brother-Unit Grader Boob while alone at home with my eldest Brother-Unit, known now as Tumbleweed the Bookie, TW, for short.  They were in London at the time, and she did what anyone would do -- she called a cab.  When it arrived, she put a sleeping TW up front with the driver.  Well, labor proceeded more quickly than she anticipated, and Grader Boob proceeded to be born in the back seat of the cab.  According to Scripture, the cabbie gamely kept driving in the general direction of her chosen hospital during these birthing proceedings.  Me, I think I'd have pulled over.  Anyway.  I imagine the cab skidding into the receiving entrance of some posh private maternity hospital, as wheelchairs and people in starchy white rushed their way.  All movement comes to a sudden halt, however, when young TW returns from the Land of Nod to discover he is no longer the only Prince In Town.  TW prohibits any exit from the cab.  I am not sure how a four year old does this, but the Mother-Unit insists it was through the imposing power of his voice and will.  

"I see a baby.  Where did that baby come from?  No one is going anywhere, no one is leaving this vehicle, until someone explains to me, and to my complete satisfaction, why I see a baby.  Where in hell did that baby come from? I see a baby!  Make it go away..."

Or something like that.  Anyway, it has, of course, passed into the popular discourse of My People, this expression, "I see a baby." Corrupted by association with the aforementioned film, TW's humorous utterance has morphed into a more compact and slightly disturbing version ("I see babies...") among the younger members of The Clan. 

What does it mean to us?  Something along the lines of:  I don't care how innocent you look, or how much we love each other -- you've got some s'plaining to do.  

Also:  I see a baby... Where in hell did that baby come from?  

Before I give myself completely over to self-immolation and a mental slideshow of African drought babies and Somali warlords, I need a shot of something.  Either morphine or whiskey.

So we stop, me, my thoughts, and some Tomintoul Speyside Glenlivet Reserve Single Malt -- with a splash -- and focus on the original impulse for this post.  Do you remember the original impulse, mother to the babies, progenitor of all these damn dead people, victims of autocrats, famine, poetry, and glorious freedom, alike? 

I think it all started with a need to find Le dormeur du val.  

No, the exercise was to find Villon à travers [through, across, by means of] Paul Verlaine, to whom Rimbaud sent L.d.d.v.

I can make it make sense, I think, if I just keep going, going in a Beckett kind of way, the Becket of Molloy, Malone meurt, and L'Innomable, because I am the language I speak, it's last sentence:  "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on... :::   il faut continuer, je ne peux pas continuer, je vais continuer..."

Believe it or not, while rereading the poem -- and yes, I have found the poem -- what interrupts are thoughts of how to curb the sexual appetite of our young (neutered) kitten, who has been suffering some confusion of late. Poor Buddy the Kitten. (And, certainly, poor Diminutive Dobby, the unwitting object of his nascent ardor.)

It only happens when Buddy is between sleeping and waking, caught in what looks to be a feline fugue. I am often wakened by Dobby's cries for help. In my pastel world of bubblegum children's classics, Dobby is an asexual Manor Elf, and my helpmate here at Marlinspike Hall;  His cat companions, however, clearly see him as their bitch.

Oh, *right*! Yes, let's leave my pathological tendency toward anthropomorphism, and return to something else that confuses me.

I am assuming that you know Verlaine and Rimbaud were lovers. That Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist (and really, who could blame him?). That Rimbaud had him arrested. That there was some public humiliation ensuite, après, puis, donc et enfin -- and that Verlaine served a couple of years. Rimbaud? He wrote Saison en enfer -- a sweet little domestic cautionary tale that I hope my felines will take to heart.


The poem.  Right!  Rimbaud wrote it when he was only 16 years old.  The Franco-Prussian War was on, and some people assert that the scene he describes is one he witnessed during one of his frequent flights from home. I dunno.  He enclosed it with several other poems in the letters he sent to Verlaine, who promptly and famously replied:  "Come, dear great soul. We await you; We desire you."  Oh, he also enclosed a prosaic train ticket.

Le dormeur du val
C'est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D'argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c'est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l'herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

Madly catching white tatters in the grass.
Where the sun on the proud mountain rings:
It’s a little valley, foaming like light in a glass.

A conscript, open-mouthed, his bare head
And bare neck bathed in the cool blue cress,
Sleeps: stretched out, under the sky, on grass,
Pale where the light rains down on his green bed.

Feet in the yellow flags, he sleeps. Smiling
As a sick child might smile, he’s dozing.
Nature, rock him warmly: he is cold.

The scents no longer make his nostrils twitch:
He sleeps in the sunlight, one hand on his chest,
Tranquil. In his right side, there are two red holes.

Surely it has been done, some sort of dynamic brain scan (PET? MRI? Or, if your fingers miss the correct keys: MEO?) Nurse, nurse, we need an MEO scan, presto! No... not presto... pronto! No, not pronto. Ah, yes, STAT! Sounds like accurate, reality-based, cutting edge medical dialogue to me. Anyway, surely it has been done, some sort of dynamic brain scan designed to follow the bouncing brain balls as the subject searches for a lost word.

In addition to circumlocuting like a maniac, I am horrible with names. This is not a great thing for a prof. I handled it well, I think, when teaching at university level. There was no dearth of personalities to make my students memorable. The merde hit the fan when I descended into that Outer Ring of Hell known as "urban" public high school. Used to dealing with not more than 60 or so names, personalities, and talents spread out over a week, suddenly I had 190+ students that I saw daily, excluding homeroom.

And all these kids were determined to establish themselves as rabid individualists by means of dressing and acting alike.  Most of them fell into the categories of average students and fine human beings.  And were one to cross the moat and rap on our bronze doors?  Yes, I'd remember them, but I'd probably get their name wrong or not recall it at all, and my recollections would be of a general nature.  Most of my classes functioned best as a sort of amoeba, oozing around the room, engulfing whole globs of French, so I tend to remember students that way -- as a part of a whole.

Ah, but as for problem students? I always remember them -- by name, by issues, by their uniqueness -- their actual individuality. I have even continued to follow the escapades and achievements of a few, one of whom actually ended up on live television leading a police chase that rivaled O.J. Simpson's laconic trip on the L.A. freeways. God, I wish I could share his name, but obviously cannot. In fact, if Brother-Unit Grader Boob discovers that I put his email exchanges with students smack dab in the middle of my blog -- Oy! Big trouble!

My former student's name was a combination of a garden feature and a past participle, together forming an unforgettable label. His family circumstances were never clear -- I met, serially, with his mother, uncle, and two siblings, all of whom had different last names, and none of whom were ever home when I called.

He was tall, lanky, good-looking, with dreadlocks that one could not help but admire, that must have begun at birth, they were so long. He was quite brilliant, one of the few language students interested in the history and culture of l'outre-mer -- francophone countries, mostly former territories of France. He and his mother traveled to Senegal one Spring Break, and he derived enormous benefit from that trip -- not just in the old "broadening of horizons" category but in calmness and focus. He began what I hope will be a lifelong passion for African history and politics, particularly in the context of post-colonialism.

So he robbed a convenience store! So he flashed a gun in the process! So he drove that rusty old two-toned brown-on-brown Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme at a top speed of under 45 down one of the busiest highways in the country, cops trailing him like breadcrumbs. So what? He never passed a test, written or oral, but he was a great student.

Ha!  I can read *your* mind, Gentle Reader.  And hear your snores!

What does this young felon have to do with anything, much less death and war, the Middle East, famine, or the social media?

He's the only student I ever had who borrowed book after book of french poetry, who asked -- after school, of course -- to hear poems read.  I am quite sure he wasn't kissing up, as he could be quite the A-hole, and besides, I'm impervious.

Of course he fell in love with Rimbaud, with Baudelaire. With Baudelaire's challenge to perception, correspondences: "Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants..." (there are perfumes as fresh as children's flesh...);  With Rimbaud's "dérèglement de tous les sens" (the derangement of all the senses), his

Even though I am impervious to ingratiation, I did offer extra credit opportunities whenever I taught -- figuring that people are drawn to their passions, even in a foreign tongue, and I always found ways to reward passion.  Of course, I also have been known to pass the odd passionless Honor Student if she wrote a promissory note to the effect that she will never again enroll in a French language class while under the age of 22.

My dreadlocked man-boy student who so wanted to run before he could walk?  He took on two oral presentations, one of Baudelaire's Enivrez-vous, the other, the prologue of Rimbaud's Saison en enfer.

Il faut être toujours ivre, tout est là ; c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.
Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu à votre guise, mais enivrez-vous!
Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d'un palais, sur l'herbe verte d'un fossé, vous vous réveillez, l'ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue, demandez au vent, à la vague, à l'étoile, à l'oiseau, à l'horloge; à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle, demandez quelle heure il est. Et le vent, la vague, l'étoile, l'oiseau, l'horloge, vous répondront, il est l'heure de s'enivrer ; pour ne pas être les esclaves martyrisés du temps, enivrez-vous, enivrez-vous sans cesse de vin, de poésie, de vertu, à votre guise.
(Baudelaire, Les petits poèmes en prose)

One must always be drunk.
Everything lies in that; it is the only question worth considering. In order not to feel the horrible burden of time which breaks your shoulders and bows you down to earth, you must intoxicate yourself without truce – but with what?
With wine, poetry, art? As you will; but intoxicate yourself.
And if sometimes upon the steps of a palace, or upon the green grass of a moat, or in the sad solitude of your own room, you awake – intoxication already diminished or disappeared – ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the clock, of all that flies, of all that groans, of al that rolls, of all that sings, of all that speaks – ask, what time is it? And the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, will answer you, “It is time to intoxicate yourself.” In order to escape from the slavish martyrdom of time, intoxicate yourself; unceasingly intoxicate yourself; with wine, or poetry, or art – as you will.  (--translation by the incomparable Aleister Crowley)


« Jadis, si je me souviens bien, ma vie était un festin où s'ouvraient tous les coeurs, où tous les vins coulaient.  Un soir, j'ai assis la Beauté sur mes genoux. - Et je l'ai trouvée amère. - Et je l'ai injuriée.  Je me suis armé contre la justice.   Je me suis enfui. Ô sorcières, ô misère, ô haine, c'est à vous que mon trésor a été confié !   Je parvins à faire s'évanouir dans mon esprit toute l'espérance humaine. Sur toute joie pour l'étrangler j'ai fait le bond sourd de la bête féroce.   J'ai appelé les bourreaux pour, en périssant, mordre la crosse de leurs fusils. J'ai appelé les fléaux, pour m'étouffer avec le sable, avec le sang. Le malheur a été mon dieu. Je me suis allongé dans la boue. Je me suis séché à l'air du crime. Et j'ai joué de bons tours à la folie.   Et le printemps m'a apporté l'affreux rire de l'idiot.   Or, tout dernièrement, m'étant trouvé sur le point de faire le dernier couac ! j'ai songé à rechercher le clef du festin ancien, où je reprendrais peut-être appétit.   La charité est cette clef. - Cette inspiration prouve que j'ai rêvé !   « Tu resteras hyène, etc.... , » se récrie le démon qui me couronna de si aimables pavots. « Gagne la mort avec tous tes appétits, et ton égoïsme et tous les péchés capitaux. »   Ah ! j'en ai trop pris : - Mais, cher Satan, je vous en conjure, une prunelle moins irritée ! et en attendant les quelques petites lâchetés en retard, vous qui aimez dans l'écrivain l'absence des facultés descriptives ou instructives, je vous détache ces quelques hideux feuillets de mon carnet de damné.

      One evening I sat Beauty on my knees – And I found her bitter – And I reviled her.
      I armed myself against Justice.
      I fled. O sorceresses, O misery, O hatred, it was to you my treasure was entrusted!
      I managed to erase all human hope from my mind. I made the wild beast’s silent leap to strangle every joy.
      I summoned executioners to bite their gun-butts as I died. I summoned plagues, to stifle myself with sand and blood. Misfortune was my god. I stretched out in the mud. I dried myself in the breezes of crime. And I played some fine tricks on madness.
      And spring brought me the dreadful laugh of the idiot.
      Now, just lately, finding myself on the point of uttering the last croak, I thought of seeking the key to the old feast, where I might perhaps find my appetite again!
      Charity is the key – This inspiration proves I have been dreaming!
      ‘You’re a hyena still…’ the demon cries who crowned me with such delightful poppies. ‘Win death with all your appetites; your egoism, all the deadly sins.’
      Ah, I’ve practised too many! – But, dear Satan, I beg you, an eye a little less inflamed! And while awaiting my few cowardly little deeds, for you who prize in a writer the lack of descriptive or instructive skill, for you, I tear off these few hideous pages from my notebook of a damned soul.

He earned the maximum points possible and did a very good job, even if he lapsed quickly into English.  His French was not sufficient, he did not want to do violence.  I was disappointed that he hadn't hammered out the language but did not interrupt him nor the other students who took his lead and chattered happily in English in the few minutes remaining before the bell.

Trellis wasn't done, however.  Yes, his name was Trellis (Isn't that a lovely name?).  He gave something close to a giggle and said he'd forgotten his unifying point, and "you all know how Ms. Madame loves her unifying points..."

He unrolled some of that ubiquitous white poster board.  He had traced his poster's title in Elmer's glue. upon which he had rained down an alarming amount of pink sparkles.  And I laughed a rare and liberating belly laugh that spread like arson.

Poètes maudits, read his headline.

poète maudit (Frenchaccursed poet) is a poet living a life outside or against society. Abuse of drugs and alcohol, insanity, crime, violence, and in general any societal sin, often resulting in an early death are typical elements of the biography of a poète maudit.

He had made a family tree of French "poètes maudits," an odd looking bit of revolutionary genetics.  As the source of all, I guess as the taproot of all, he chose François Villon. There were branches for Verlaine, and Rimbaud, and then Trellis was talking about Rimbaud in Ethiopia, and somehow Jim Morrison.

If I had a copy handy the day I watched the cops chase him down the freeway*, I'd have stood before the television, a glass of wine in one hand, and Une Saison en enfer in the other, and I'd have intoned that Prologue loudly and clearly enough that it would've resounded inside that child's rather cavernous skull.  


Yes, this would be a good place to stop.

*Trellis, I am informed, is now married, and a father.  His crime and attempt to flee were compassionately adjudicated.  Beyond that... I don't know and prefer it that way.

How to e-mail a professor -- From Orange Crate Art

It downright behooves me to republish this post at this, the dawn of many a new and glorious collegiate career:

At Orange Crate Art, the most read of Michael Leddy's posts dates from January 2005 and deals with "How to e-mail a professor." It caught my eye, as my bosom still resonates with sisterly angst on behalf of my brother, Grader Boob. You can read about his most recent travails here.  We are expecting an onslaught of fresh email recounting fresh travails from Grader Boob this week, as both Huge Public University and Small Private Religious College are hosting "departmental orientations."  The joys of part-time professorships!

These things have induced psychosis in the past.  We pray that his hands do not snake their way into the air, as can happen in these cult-like beginning-of-the-academic-year round-ups.  That was how he came to represent the English Department -- back in '08 -- on the Physical Plant and Campus Planning Committee, as well as suddenly becoming Parliamentarian to the Multicultural/Minority Issues Work Group.      

"Point of order!" he was heard to cry, as they led him away on that balmy May afternoon.  "I am steward of your physical assets and the standard for civic spaces!"

Professor Leddy's post, its addenda, and commentary, should be required reading for incoming Frosh, and is a good refresher in common sense netiquette for most anyone.

I've read enough e-mails to know that many college students could benefit from some guidelines for writing an e-mail to a professor. Here they are:

Write from your college or university e-mail account. That immediately lets your professor see that your e-mail is legitimate and not spam. The cryptic or cutesy or salacious personal e-mail address that might be okay when you send an e-mail to a friend is not appropriate when you're writing to a professor.

Include the course number in your subject line. "Question about 3009 assignment" is clear and sounds genuine, while "a question" looks like spam. "Question about English assignment" or "question about assignment," without identifying the class you're in, may leave your professor with the chore of figuring that out. For someone teaching large lecture classes, that might mean reading through hundreds of names on rosters. But even for a professor with smaller classes, it's a drag to get an e-mail that merely says "I'm in your English class and need the assignment." All your English professor's classes are English classes; she or he still needs to know which one is yours.

Consider, in light of this advice, the following examples:

An e-mail from "qtpie2005" with the subject line "question."

An e-mail from a university account with the subject line "question about English 2011 essay."
Which one looks legitimate? Which one looks like spam?

Think about what you're saying. Most students are not accustomed to writing to their professors. Here are some ways to do it well:
Choose an appropriate greeting. "Hi/Hello Professor [Blank]" is always appropriate. Substitute "Dear" and you've ended up writing a letter; leave out "Hi" and your tone is too brusque.

Avoid rote apologies for missing class. Most professors are tired of hearing those standard apologies and acts of contrition. If you missed class because of some especially serious or sad circumstances, it might be better to mention that in person than in an e-mail.

Ask politely. "Could you e-mail me the page numbers for the next reading? Thanks!" is a lot better than "I need the assignment."

Proofread what you've written. You want your e-mail to show you in the best possible light.

Sign with your full name, course number, and meeting time.

Maggie Simpson
English 3703, MWF 10:00

Signing is an obvious courtesy, and it eliminates the need for stilted self-identification ("I am a student in your such-and-such class").
One don't, and one last do:

Don't send unexpected attachments. It's bad form. Attaching an essay with a request that your professor look it over is very bad form. Arrange to meet your professor during office hours or by appointment instead. It's especially bad form to send an e-mail that says "I won't be in class today," with a paper or some other coursework attached. Think about it: Your professor is supposed to print out your essay because you're not coming to class?

When you get a reply, say thanks. Just hit Reply and say "Thanks," or a little bit more if that's appropriate. The old subject line (which will now have a "Re:" in front) will make the context clear. I don't think that you need to include a greeting with a short reply, at least not if you refer to your professor in your reply. And you don't need to identify yourself by course number and meeting time again.

Many e-mail messages end up never reaching their intended recipients, for reasons of human and technological error, so it's always appropriate to acknowledge that someone's message got through. It's also plain courtesy to say thanks. (Your professor will remember it too.) When you reply, you should delete almost everything of your professor's reply (quoting everything is rarely appropriate in e-mail). Leave just enough to make the original context clear.

So what would a good e-mail to a professor look like?
Hi Professor Leddy,

I'm working on my essay on William Carlos Williams and I'm not sure what to make of the last stanza of "Spring and All." I'm stuck trying to figure out what "It" is. Do you have a suggestion? Thanks!

Maggie Simpson
Eng 3703, MWF 10:00
And a subsequent note of thanks:
> "It" is most likely spring, or life itself. But have you
> looked up "quicken"? That'll probably make
> "It" much clearer.

It sure did. Thanks for your help, Professor.

Maggie Simpson
[How to e-mail a professor is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License. Revised September 26 and October 29, 2005; February 4, 2006. ]

More useful stuff for students:
Beware of the saurus
Granularity for students
How to answer a question in class
How to do well on a final exam
How to do horribly on a final exam
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences
How to talk to a professor
How to unstuff a sentence
Is this honor society legitimate?
Rule 7
Seeing professors clearly
Syllabus week
Yo, professor!
And if you want to read the most recent posts on Orange Crate Art, here's the front page.

[Some further thoughts: I'm astonished by the amount of interest in this post--over 1,600 visits in the past two days. Then again, there really isn't anything very similar on-line--or if there is, I haven't found it--so if what I've written is useful, well, I'm happy.

My one purpose in writing these guidelines was to help college students write to their professors with greater ease and maturity and a better sense of audience (instead of "i am a student in your class"). They're guidelines for writing to a professor, any professor, in the absence of other guidelines. And they're meant to keep the e-mailer in the high esteem of any professor to whom he or she is writing.

Most of the reasoning behind the guidelines is omitted for concision. But I'll elaborate a little here. Why, for instance, write from a university account? A professor filtering spam will almost certainly also have a filter to okay mail from addresses from her or his "edu." So if you want your mail to get through, an "edu" account is a smart choice. Many schools require students to use those accounts for official school business already. Writing from an appropriate address is smart practice for the future too. (I always say something when I see a tacky or juvenile e-mail address on an otherwise polished student résumé.)

Why say "Hi/Hello Professor [Blank]?" Well, what should a student call a professor? Some people like "Doctor"; some don't. Some people don't have a doctorate. Some people don't explain any of that to students. There was a great piece in the Chronicle about this subject not long ago--"What Should We Call the Professor?" Professor, in the absence of any other guidelines, seems like a good choice.

Having received many telegraphic one-sentence e-mails, often with no greeting, no thank-you, and no signature, I find them weirdly depersonalized: "I need the assignment." I do think a question is better, better even than a polite "Please send the assignment," because the question is more conversational, more human. (But if a student e-mails me and says "I need the assignment," I send it.)

Why sign with your name, class, and meeting time? It's a courtesy, yes, but it also avoids the awkward "My name is . . . , and I am a student in your such-and-such class," all of which is taken care of in the signature. It occurs to me that "My name is . . . , and I am a student in . . ." is telling evidence of the unfamiliarity of e-mail as a way for students to communicate with professors.

I appreciate the point several commenters have made about a follow-up thank-you being unneeded. Still, a lot of e-mail doesn't get through, and the follow-up, to my mind, closes the loop. Many people do a follow-up by using the subject line to say thanks, often followed by the abbreviation "eom" (end of message). That seemed to me too arcane to recommend. But I do like the idea of closing the loop by saying yes, I got it, thanks.

I hope that this post leads to much more talking on the part of professors and students about communicating by e-mail. All reports from the business world point to enormous problems of clarity, correctness, and decorum with e-mail writing. Maybe things can start to go better in college.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Driving Around With No Pants On

If I try to direct blog traffic away from elle::est::belle:la:seine:la:seine:elle::est::belle and toward something I find noteworthy, there aren't going to be any resultant traffic jams.  Still, from time to time I fall in love with a blog that appeared out of the blue, some place I landed by accident on one of my crazy-ass searches.

Like:  How can I apply Bob Dylan's The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll in a way to express my contempt for the Weeper of the House, John "Crybaby" Boehner?

Like:  Cure for moat algae infestation, kind of a muted aubergine with bright red moving specks.  That won't harm the finish on The Captain's submarine.

Like:  naked women xxx  [My blog usually turns up on the first or second page of a Google search using these terms.  Also, if you plug in "red," and do a Google image search, my use of a very red graphic is now featured toward the top of page two.  It was used to illustrate a very important post that culminated in a group sing-along of De colores.  Funny, Fred and I were just a-warblin' away, putting our unusual vocal stylings all over that perky classic the other night.  It's the only song besides  I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night that he and the Militant Lesbian Feminist Existentialists can agree is appropriate music for Sunday services.]

Umm.  I've been awake for a long time now.  Going on 40 hours.  Okay, I took two naps totalling 1.5 hours 
-- both were achieved by judicious overdose.  I share this information because of how dangerous it is to start talking about blog discoveries and being ostentatious enough to start giving recommendations.

Yeah, well, whose blog is it, anyway? 

But, please, Lord, don't let all 51 of my subscribers** rush over to New Nurse in the Hood's place, just because an insomniac in a ShitFest of Pain recommends it -- lest the internet tip over.

** Plus the naked women xxx crowd from Israel, Dubai, Wisconsin, and Tajikistan [plus virtually all of the former Soviet Socialist Republics and every nationalized islamic society].
I ran into her as most of us run into new people in the blogosphere (it being such a small and cozy place 'n all):  via one of her comments.  She exuded Good Snark.  She made me laugh out loud, and I like that.

Why read ER blogs at all if you are not in the health care profession?  I am health-obsessed, obviously, as I don't have any.  But aside from that, they serve as an excellent reminder of two things:
1.  These are intelligent, spirited people with unique insights into what makes people do, say, and think the things that they do, say, and think.  If the nurse/doctor/tech writes well, also, that's just a dandy combination of talent that shouldn't be ignored.
2.  When I am considering going to the ER, I only need to spend 5 minutes on an ER blog for complete dissuasion of the notion.  I figure medical bloggers have done more to keep me out of the hospital and emergency department (nod to WhiteCoat***) than the combined efforts of the best medical team in the world and the complete ingested products of Big Pharma.

***See the end of this post by Nurse K for an explanation of ER versus ED.  And yes, I DO see similarities between "New Nurse" and the inimitable Nurse K... but I also see more soul and less asking-readers-for-money to buy a freaking refrigerator (or *whatever*).  I'm just sayin'.

Honestly picked at random from my Google Reader is this piece, from July 31:

I Just Had to Know
So, after a couple of years working in the ER I for the most part have learned to stop asking why. Why? Because what does it really matter, most of the time?
Why did you insert that particular object in that particular place? Does the answer make a difference as to how you remove it? Why did you continue to eat sloppy joes after you had been vomiting? Is there a good answer to this question? Why did you choose to get on the roof to get drunk? It doesn't really change the big ass head laceration at this point, so what the hell do I care?
Yup, now I'm like, "Oh, the old flashlight in the butthole, eh? Cool. Well, let's get that taken out for you. Next please."
Until tonight, when we got the drunk driver found in the car by EMS wearing a shirt, but no pants. We're clearing him from the backboard and without even thinking, I just blurted out, "What happened to your pants, bro?" Everyone in the room started laughing hysterically, because they all know, as I do, that it's pointless to ask- they all thought I was just screwing with the dude. But no, I was just really curious what was going on that he was driving around with no pants on. But alas, there was not a good answer.
Oh well.

So go visit.  You'll bust a gut.  And probably end up in the ER.  Uhh, ED.  Whatever.

Always remember and never forget:
"If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good." 

Man, I sure am using "Google" at the drop of a hat.  Hmm.  I wonder if that could be because I am scared of losing my current 27% profit on GOOG come Monday at about, ohhhh,  9.31 am, Wall Street time?  Ya think?