Tag Archives: work

Inaugural Post to the Artist in E-Residency Position

Something From Home Nicole Geary intaglio, collagraph, chine collé 11" x 14"
Something From Home, Exhibited 2013. Intaglio, Collagraph, Chine Collé, 11.00 x 14.00 in. (27.94 x 35.56 cm.


I first want to thank the NASSR Grad Caucus Board for such a warm welcome to this blog and, also, to the NASSR community. I am thrilled about the many ways in which my role as an active artist can contribute to conversations about, and in response to, issues in Romanticism, illuminating both historical frameworks and existing political or ideological currents. I’ve been provided such energetic feedback to all of my initial questions that I now feel I am ready to tackle an initial post. To do so, I’ll introduce myself more thoroughly. I recently graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking from the University of South Dakota and I am currently living and working in San Antonio, Texas. I teach printmaking, make prints and sculpture, and also involve a good deal of geological and art-historical research in my practice.

To more fully explain my work, I need to talk about where I’m from and what I’ve studied. I’m going to take some latitude to go into a little selected personal history and write at some length about what drives me to make work.

I grew up in North-Central Florida for most of my life, born and raised in a swampy and green part of the state that informed most of my understanding about nature and animals. The idea of mountains, snow, desert, or indeed of other spaces, is foreign to me. I am captivated by the idea of travel while at the same time am imbued with a sense of desire for “home.” In many ways, the work that I make is about exploring the feeling of longing for two places. As a young art student, Jean Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra” always resonated with me, perhaps because I grew up in Florida, and he most briskly takes Disney down to a mere order of infantile fantasies. [It should be noted that Baudrillard is referencing the Disney Land in Los Angeles, but I hold that the same is true for its own iteration in Orlando, again the simulation of itself.] I believe Baudrillard’s writing on simulacra also held sway with me. I felt that a place could hold a fantasy, a wonder, significance – and be in reality nothing more than a swampland.

By the time I reached graduate school, I’d found that my attention to land and the impression that certain areas had upon me were developing into a research-based artistic practice focused on maps and geology. I was interested in understanding more thoroughly, on a scientific and rational basis, why land was so important to me. I specifically wanted to take emotion out of the equation. It was my point of conjecture that my feelings of homesickness, anger, pain, or regret were, to put it logically, contaminating my results. In an attempt to dissolve those feelings into a solution of metaphor, charts and graphs balanced sensitive marks. It was tricky at first, because old anger and severe homesickness didn’t want to be dealt with. I looked for ways in which I could talk around these feelings without being too blatant. The more I read about maps, the more I realized that signs and signifiers wouldn’t work for me anymore. Replacing emotion with a symbol was too simple an answer; the reality of emotion goes deeper and is felt more thoroughly than any pocket-size road atlas could contain. To go forward and really grapple with emotion I must nod to the oft-referenced Jorge Luis Borges fable and say , “the map is not the territory.”

Geology seemed to have all of the answers. As a printmaker, I work in layers and stages naturally, and the process of observation and investigation is something of a peek into history. I had been slowly growing more aware that to know what my work was about in the present, I needed to know where it came from. I desired to be able to read the strata of my own history. Geologists can do a wonderful thing: they can walk out into the world and, using careful observation, tell you what kind of environment used to exist there thousands or millions of years before. They see the world as it is now and as it was then, peeling back the layers of time before them like the blankets on a press bed to slowly reveal the surprise beneath. Geologists and printmakers both work in strata.

My prints are often akin to a journal page or even a field note, a place for working out internal thoughts or recording events: poetry of inner questioning and curiosity. Formally I tend to be drawn to the work of artists that utilize their own handwriting or found items into prints or drawings, like the pages of a well-loved diary or sketchbook. To me, this is part of the process of knowing. Scientific diagrams are beautiful and clean, as they are meant to be effective teaching tools. What tends to be forgotten is the disarray that went into the collection of data to get to that well-prepared and perfect outcome. I’ve become more interested in the mess that came before.

I welcome any comments in response to this evolution and to these thoughts as I’ve outlined them. As this is my first post, I’d like to share more as I go along, diving into more diverse realms of pedagogy, practice, and specific areas of research.


Teaching the Gothic

“We trust… that satiety will banish what good sense should have prevented; and that, wearied with fiends, incomprehensible characters, with shrieks, murders, and subterraneous dungeons, the public will learn, by the multitude of the manufacturers, with how little expense of thought or imagination this species of composition is manufactured.”

Thus says Samuel Taylor Coleridge in response to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk in 1797, a strange statement from the writer of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel.”[i]  Treated with a certain degree ambivalence by many of the Romantic poets—Wordsworth expressing an outright disdain for “frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies” in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads—the popularity of the Gothic in the late eighteenth century was difficult to ignore, as was the Gothic nature of the political climate that made most literary and visual descriptions of the French Revolution Gothic almost by default.  Indeed, the genre seems to almost anticipate such violent and bloody upheaval, revealing the period’s anxieties about tyrannical rulers and corruption of the aristocracy in its earliest texts.  Because of its popularity, bolstered through stage-productions and cheap chap-books, the Gothic’s place within “serious” Romantic literature, it would seem, is itself somewhat meta-Gothic: a position of ambivalence and abjection, of reluctant importance and acknowledgement.  It’s almost Twilight-esque status as “pop-lit” of the age (and most subsequent ages) deterred its recognition as a literature of value until surprisingly recently, despite the fact that many Romantic poets—Robinson, Southey, Byron, Shelley, and Keats to name a few… and, yes, even Wordsworth and Coleridge—experimented with the Gothic tradition or at least its features.  Clearly, it was something of which even the most established writers could not “weary.”  And some, like Mary Wollstonecraft, found ways of shifting Gothic tropes to work for their own purposes, to expose and contextualize the reality of horrors in the here and now:

“Abodes of horror have frequently been described, and castles, filled with spectres and chimeras, conjured up by the magic spell of genius to harrow the soul and absorb the wondering mind.  But, formed of such stuff as dreams are made of, what were they to the mansion of despair, in one corner of which Maria sat, endeavoring to recal her scattered thoughts!”[ii]

With these contemporary attitudes toward the Gothic in mind, I recently had the opportunity to give a guest lecture introducing the Gothic to an upper-level undergraduate class on Romantic Literature.  They had just finished Frankenstein and were two acts into The Cenci.  I will be taking my comps at the end of the semester, examining in the major field of Gothic literature, Romantic to Contemporary, and in the minor field of Romantic Literature.  I have, thus, had my head buried in Gothic texts for the past nine weeks, so it was easier said than done to distinguish between what I have been obsessing over and what might actually be useful for students in this survey class.

Some background: Gothic 101

We started with the basics: what does “Gothic” mean?  The term Gothic originated from the Goths, the Germanic tribes that brought about the fall of Rome.  Its original connotations were barbaric, primitive, uncivilized, and medieval.  Yet, around the mid-eighteenth century, a new interest arose in the Goths as conquerors, yes, but the conquerors of Britain.  As such, with a rise in nationalism, the British began to see the Goths as the origins of their own civilization and the values upon which it had been built.  Thus, the term “Gothic” came to have two meanings associated with the primitive: barbaric but also virtuous.[iii]  This second definition is facilitated by a subsequent glorification of the past, antiquity, and medievalism.  The perfect example of this is, of course, Horace Walpole, whose behavior even before he pens the Gothic grandfather, The Castle of Otranto, gives insight into the beginnings of the genre.  Obsessed with Gothic architecture and antiques, Walpole built Strawberry Hill, a construction which mixed styles, time periods, and materials to cater more to what Walpole considered Gothic than to the restrictions of historical aesthetics.  Thus, we have the fragmented mixing of pasts and present that would characterize the literary tradition, emphasizing atmosphere over realism in the interplay between truth and performance.  All it needed were a few ghosts. And thus we have the inspiration for the first Gothic novel.

What does that mean?: Making sense of the texts

While it seems obvious that The Cenci would fit into the same Gothic as The Castle of Otranto, it is less clear how Frankenstein can also fall into this classification.  We can trace the origins of the Goths, but the definition of what is “Gothic” is still (and probably always will be) contested among scholars, both past and present.  My favorite definition and one I see often-cited is Chris Baldick’s: “For the Gothic effect to be attained, a tale should combine a fearful sense of inheritance in time with a claustrophobic sense of enclosure in space, these two dimensions reinforcing one another to produce an impression of sickening descent into disintegration.”[iv]

By then breaking the two texts down according to how they depict time and space, we were then able to touch briefly on other important key terms and aspects.  We could begin to see how Victor’s dangerous preoccupation with the ancient forbidden texts of magical science and alchemy might line up with the dangerous power of the Cenci’s ancient and decaying line.  We noted the family structures in the two texts, highlighting the absence of the mother and the presence of incest.  We compared the structures of the texts themselves, both sprung from the fabrication of manuscripts that frame the narrative itself as old or dangerous.  Doubles, the uncanny, paranoia, isolation, excess, the return of the repressed: all could be structured, compared, and contrasted through time and space. I found that keeping it broad and simple, tempting though it was to go into other more dark and dusty corners of this tradition, provided the students with a general framework to apply to their upcoming readings… even those of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

[i] Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Critical Review 2nd ser. 19 (February 1797): 194-200 in Matthew Lewis. The Monk. Ed. D.L. MacDonald and Kathleen Scherf. Ontario: Broadview, 2004. 398. Print.

[ii] Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. 69. Print.

[iii] Punter, David and Glennis Byron. The Gothic. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2004. Print.

[iv] Baldick, Chris, ed. The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. xix. Print.

Grad Students In the Moonlight…

Here’s a shocker: Graduate School is a significant financial investment.  Some begin graduate school with already significant school debt.  A fortunate few attend schools that can afford to fully financially support their graduate students, but it’s tough to find a Master’s program that guarantees funding; even PhD programs that give tuition waivers and stipends for teaching can still require students to pay all or some of their health insurance and their student fees.  We all know how many worthy things we can spend our precious stipends on—books, conferences, travel for research, rent, utilities, groceries—and we also know how quickly those stipends can run out.  Fellowships and grants are fantastic when granted; loans are slightly terrifying; none of this is news.  It is not my purpose today to complain or dredge up all of our financial worries; I actually feel very fortunate to spend hours of each day researching interesting things and teaching great students, and for now I find a certain bohemian charm in this life of genteel poverty.  I do, however, want to acknowledge the reality that, given our financial positions, most of the graduate students I know find creative ways to supplement their income.  In this season of scrambling for summer employment, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the moonlighting second-lives of scholars.

In talking with my friends and fellow graddies, I’ve actually been really impressed with the range of jobs people do in addition to their teaching.  Some stick close to academia, working as research/administrative assistants, freelance writers/editors, tutors, library instructors, and department office staff.  Summer teaching positions at community colleges and year-round high schools level are at a premium.  I feel incredibly lucky to moonlight as instructor of an online community-college Humanities course, based in another state (it’s a carryover from my previous life teaching there in person). One friend has a paid position organizing/running an annual conference. Some folks pick up short-term gigs as AP graders (a one-week commitment), and the shortest-term jobs are always welcome: just this week I received emails offering 5 hours of employment helping run graduation festivities, or two hours helping to proctor a final exam; I imagine the positions filled within seconds.

I’ve been interested to find how many graduate students take second jobs outside academia. Nannying seems to be a popular one, and a natural result of department professors seeking childcare.  Bookstores and coffeeshops are favorites.  Some love waiting tables.  Hotel desk clerks can discreetly do homework during slow times.  I even have a friend who walks dogs.  Some are fortunate to have jobs directly related to their hobbies (play in a band with paying gigs, anyone?), or even to their dissertation work:  one of my good friends works as a full-time administrator for a humanitarian organization that helps women in Uganda, while dissertating on contemporary literature and transnational female identity (Tackling so many things has put her “on the slow boat,” as she says, but how cool that it’s all connected!).   I’m sure all you readers could name dozens more interesting odd jobs you and your friends have taken as graduate students, or various ways you save your hard-earned cash– anything to keep from selling our plasma, right?  (Um, not saying I haven’t thought about it….)

The fact that grad-students moonlight is not at all strange or difficult to understand; what is strange is how reluctant I have felt to talk about it. Maybe it’s just me, but that little phrase in my offer letter, “you may not accept other University employment that would result in your being employed more than 50% time by the University unless you receive approval by the Associate Dean of the graduate school,” has had me a little bit spooked—as though extra employment, even outside the University, is at least a breach of trust, if not of contract.  “A second job?!,” I imagine a shocked voice say, “How dare you squander the investment we’re making in you by not spending every spare hour in the library!”.  Judging from Brittany’s last post, I’m not alone in feeling some of this anxiety.  Now, there are some fellowships that do not allow recipients to have other employment during the time of support, since the point really is to enable him/her to spend every waking, working hour on research.  You might want to check the terms of your own contracts, but I’m willing to bet that for average grad students with part-time teaching loads, this stipulation doesn’t apply.

This isn’t to say that holding down extra employment is easy, or that our schoolwork and/or the job don’t sometimes suffer. We all have that haunting feeling that somewhere, someone is spending more time than we are researching and writing and publishing brilliant articles—because let’s face it, that person probably does exist.  Still, today I want to send a shout-out to all the folks who, like me, are cobbling together a living while also managing grad school, and might have felt a little sheepish to admit it. Way to go, I say! I think we should give ourselves a collective pat on the back for supplementing our income, minimizing our student loans, making ends meet, and acting like responsible adults.  Best of luck to all of you in your summer endeavors!


Bankrolling Education

I began my first post as a member of this blogging community as a reflection on course organization, but as the week progressed it has been impossible to ignore some of the larger issues facing higher education—Romanticists and non-Romanticists, faculty and students, graduate and undergraduate students alike. Public institutions around the nation are asking if they will have state support next year—support that (although less substantive than it was in the past) most state colleges and universities rely on.

Faculty members at various state institutions have made a stand this week, protesting the massive state budget cuts affecting education. For example, as reported by Slippery Rock University’s newspaper, The Rocket , students and faculty at Pennsylvania State School of Higher Education’s Slippery Rock University rallied together in protest of the proposed 51.4% budget cut. Meanwhile, in New York, thirty-three people were arrested during a non-violent protest. The proposed budget cuts in New York will reduce the budget of CUNY’s senior colleges by $95.1 million and community colleges by $17.5 million. Why should we all be concerned with the finances of these state institutions, you ask? Well, because these seemingly isolated incidents help to create a narrative about the importance of education in America. Educational funding is often framed as party politics or treated as an investment in some imagined future (raising/teaching the next generation, forming a future America). Perhaps those are both true but as a graduate student who learns with and teaches nearly 150 students a year, I’m most interested in how such changes dictate who is and is not able to attend college. State (and federal) funding opens or closes the doors of higher education for many Americans. If states’ education budgets are slashed in the ways proposed, universities must find a way to stay in the black. Who will bear the burden? How will our classrooms be affected by such changes, if at all?

I was recently asked a set of questions meant to provoke interesting material for a banquet introduction. One of the questions asked, “If you could rid the world of one thing, what would it be?” I thought through all of the typical answers: violence, bigotry, misogyny, hunger and disease. I even considered the entirely selfish answers: deadlines and comprehensive exams. In the end I decided my answer was college debt. Not only because I’d love to relieve my credit report of this particular burden but because I believe that education should be accessible for those of us who would like to learn. Education should come at a price—the loss of ignorance, some serious intellectual exercise– but it seems unjust that the cost of education should be a lifetime of debt. Many of us excuse such debt by calling it “good debt,” but deep down we know there is no such thing. If college loan debt were good debt then it wouldn’t prevent my cousin from qualifying for a home loan, especially since he works a full-time job that he is qualified for because of his college education; but that isn’t the case, he cannot buy his first home because his educational debts make it impossible for him to do so (and he attended a relatively low-cost state institution). The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on the Pell program, which provides “need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education” (which means that unlike loans, they do not have to be repaid). Even though the Pell program, through Congress’s continued support, has been able to

keep up with both inflation and a surge of new college students…low-income undergraduates are actually much worse off than equivalent students were 30 years ago. A student without a Pell Grant in 1980 paid less out of pocket to attend a public four-year university than a student with a Pell Grant pays today. That’s because between then and now, the cost of higher education has grown far faster than inflation. As a result, the federal government has gone from bit player to major investor in the educational part of higher education, to the point that it’s starting to rival states in the magnitude of support.

As state budget cuts continue, the reliance on federal support—through programs like Pell, FAFSA, and so on—will increase (as will educational debt). Students will be forced to make difficult choices about the financial viability of education. Whether we are (graduate) students and/or teachers at state funded universities or not, it is important that we advocate for education’s financial accessibility. None of this is new to those of us who annually navigate(d) those annoying, tax-like FAFSA forms in order to pay tuition bills. Even more familiar and heartbreaking are the pleas from students, “I just need a B in your course or I lose my (often state or federally supported) scholarship!” Robert Reich’s recent article might best summarize the importance of education, “Over the long term, the only way we’re going to raise wages, grow the economy, and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people — especially their educations.” The ways that our governments approach, support, and finance education does and will continue to shape our classrooms.

Finally, hello! I am Teresa Pershing, another new NGSC blogger. I’m a proud member of the Mountaineer (West Virginia University) community and am happy to spend the next several months learning with all of you!

Belated Blog: What I’ve Learned This Semester

At the end of each semester, I tell students that any class worth its salt should give them something they didn’t have before they began it.  Since I ask them to think about and name a few of those “somethings,” I figured I would ponder and write about a few of my own!

I was supposed to post more than a week ago, but it’s been one of the more hectic Decembers in recent memory; something that definitely affects the subject matter here.  If you’ve ever seen the fabulous Disney movie Meet the Robinsons, there’s a recurring line: “I’m just not sure how well this plan was thought through.”  Well, no matter how well I feel I have planned my semester and prepared for every contingency, there are always a few snags that bring that line to mind!  Thankfully, those snags generally balance out with a few pleasant surprises I hope to repeat.  So here, in no particular order, follow my top ten.  May you avoid my mistakes, and have a few pleasant surprises of your own! Continue reading Belated Blog: What I’ve Learned This Semester

Advice: How to Ace the Job Search

Advice on the Job Market from Experts at RMMLA

So, I promised in my past post that I’d deliver something practical—and here it is!  At the Rocky Mountain MLA conference in Albuquerque last month, I attended an incredibly useful panel on advice for students entering the job market.  It proceeded in Q&A format, but I’ve rearranged and edited the information to consolidate major themes.  No matter what level you’re at, this is really good stuff!  If after you’ve read it you’re hungry for more, check out the recommendations on the MLA website!  Lots of good, detailed advice there too.

But back to the RMMLA.  Our panel of experts included four distinguished folks:

Ingrid Ranum – Gonzaga University

Catherine Perry – Notre Dame

Anthony Cardenas-Rotunno.– University of New Mexico

David Laurence – director of research and ADE for MLA

I’m sorry I haven’t kept track of exactly who gave what advice…but their messages were fairly unified.  I just hope they won’t object to being mooshed all together!  Anyway, without further ado, on to the good stuff!   Continue reading Advice: How to Ace the Job Search

Putting Literature to Work

The traditional literature class does much to perpetuate the image of a hermetic system.  The student, in almost every instance an outsider to that system, is to read a text whose value has already been established within the system, whether by a traditional canonically-centered ideology or by the myriad political or historical ideologies that variously motivate literary study.  The obligatory reading practice to be adopted relative to this text is one that is oftentimes foreign to students.  We demand: the value with which someone has imbued these particular pages exerts an occult-like control over the method of your engagement.  This is not a text that can be read from afar, or casually; it requires a scrupulous, an active, a restless and a difficult attention.  Close-reading demonstrations and exercises become the incantations that manifest the space of literary analysis.  Students enter into this conjure room, having struggled to adopt that practice, and unload the fruits of their labors in discussion.  They leave.  They refocus.  They return.  They pour their energies out into the open air.  Meanwhile they produce documents, exercises in literary analysis that are presumed to be of great value within the system, and of almost no value outside of it (the rarity with which students will return to claim end-of-semester work the following semester speaks to the degree to which they know this to be true).  At the end of the semester they are awarded a grade that evaluates their capacity to accommodate themselves to the expectations of the system.  They are sent on their way.  They are not asked to return, nor is it suggested directly that they take anything with them.   Continue reading Putting Literature to Work