Close Reading in Kindergarten
Sep 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

My kindergarten teacher taught us an old rhyme:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

A Conversation From My Youth:

Me: What does “dainty” mean?
My teacher: Small.
Me: A pie with 24 blackbirds would be really big. Are we saying this wrong? Should we say “undainty”?
[Long pause.]
My teacher: No one else has ever had a problem with this.

Harry Potter Studios
Jul 15th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I’m sorry in advance for how awesome this is.

You see, most people can’t say that they’ve been able to take a group of university students to the Harry Potter Studio Tour as just another day on the job.

When you get there, you see this: 

And then you wander around and see so much more!

The Way to the Common Room!

Dumbledore’s staircase!

sleeping headmasters!

The Potions’ Room!

John Cleese’s head!

Size Technology!

An elusive Dante smile!









The Handmaid’s Tale: Now on Hulu!
Apr 26th, 2017 by Dr Karma

For much of my youth, I was put off by dystopic visions. I’m not sure if this was because I was so frightened of what my own future could become, if I was horrified by the dark glimpses into human nature that dystopias provide or because I’d been frightened by a childhood viewing of an HBO special on Nostradamus, featuring explorations of a coming apocalypse that were rather hysterical (in both senses of the word). I eschewed all of the texts that would later captivate me (like Bladerunner) and settled on comforting visions of the future (like the socialist near paradise that was Star Trek). Then, in high school, there was The Handmaid’s Tale. One relative, who had not read the book, but who had heard some rumors about it, tried to deny me access, even though it was required reading. Luckily, I prevailed. It entranced me, both with its ideas and its language—which could be poetic and tragic and comic all at the same time. When Aunt Lydia tells the girls that they are rare and valued, like pearls, our narrator contemplates the metaphor: “I think about pearls. Pearls are congealed oyster spit” (145)—it was exactly the type of close reading that I was prone to do.

Perhaps the text drew me in because I identified with it. Atwood wrote parts of the novel in Alabama, very near where I was growing up (in “Florbama”—the part of Florida directly underneath Alabama). Her world seemed very real to me—I was deep in the Bible belt; our world history teacher was forbidden to acknowledge that there was any history before the ancient Egyptians, as that fact offended parents who believed the Earth was only 6000 years old; abstinence only education was standard; an abortion provider, David Gunn, was murdered in my town right around the time we encountered the handmaid’s repressive society.

I was electrified. Not all students responded the same way, of course. I remember one girl complaining that she didn’t like the book because it was disturbing. And I remember the teacher’s response: “Good. It’s supposed to disturb you.”

Those are the first three paragraphs of my introductory essay to Atwood’s Apocalypses.

I’m crazy excited about Hulu’s premiere today. It’s taking all my willpower to do work this morning instead of watching. Fingers crossed that this is better than the much maligned film (with a screenplay by Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter)!

A review of the start will be coming soon.

In the meantime, are you excited about Atwood? Consider liking The Margaret Atwood Society on Facebook or following us on Twitter (@atwoodsociety)–we post lots of Atwood news there–for free!

Full membership is only $15.

What I’m Reading
Apr 9th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Years ago, I read Jane Eyre for class while sick with the flu. It’s fitting that I had Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele to read during my week of the spinal cord stimulator test. Jane Steele‘s narrator is very much like Jane Eyre, and Faye manages to capture 19th century storytelling in a captivating way. This narrator has more spunk than the original Jane–more desires of her own and less patience with prurient males and idiots. She’s more like us, except she’s killed more people.

I also just finished (and enjoyed!) Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank with Me, about a young woman in the publishing industry who is assigned to help a famous reclusive writer pen a second novel. Helping means taking over the full-time childcare of the author’s precocious, socially awkward son.

While I was traveling to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, I started The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. I read the first novel in a day–it’s delightful urban fantasy with a great comic touch. The hero is an old druid living in the modern world–with a penchant for Shakespeare and helping people know their sprites from their fairies and their adjectives from their adverbs.

And everyone’s read Hag-seed by Atwood now, right? BECAUSE IT’S AMAZING!

2016 Wrap Up
Dec 31st, 2016 by Dr Karma

We all know the ways in which 2016 has sucked.

I’ve cried a lot more this year, over the deaths of heroes, over the death of reasonable elections, over the fear of how much worse it might get.

But there were good things in 2016.

Melissa Bender and I had a book come out.

I spoke at conferences in Spain, Sweden, London, San Diego, Portland, and Chicago (twice).

I saw Love and Information, The Deep Blue Sea, The Suicide, Aubergine, Keith Lowell Jensen, Emo Philips, Blackberry Winter, Macbeth, Igudesman & Joo, Mr. Burns, Women of Will, the Cashore Marionettes, Disgraced, To Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, Frankenstein, Latin History for Morons with John Leguizamo, The Totalitarians, the opening of the Shrem Museum, and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.

I did guest lectures and interviews and stage talk backs. I taught courses that I love, films that I love, plays that I love, creative nonfiction that I love.

I taught 15 courses, got my first grad student through her PhD, mentored and performed with my stand-up students, got another Atwood journal out, started prepping for next year’s Oxford course, ran a program, and got chosen to run another.

I made old family favorites and tried new recipes, including my first shepherd’s pie, my first souffle, and my first carnitas. I made tons of soups and stews and proved the worth of my crock pot time and again.

I read books, saw movies, and binge-watched tv.
I recommend The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Fool by Christopher Moore, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Crown, Stranger Things, Westworld, Deadpool, Shaun the Sheep, Arrival, Rogue One, Lady Dynamite, American Housewife by Helen Ellis, Galavant, Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, W1A, anything by John Scalzi, People of Earth, new comedy by Margaret Cho, Jim Gaffigan, Ali Wong, Dana Carvey, Louis CK, David Cross, Patton Oswalt (all on Netflix), World of Tomorrow (Netflix), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Transparent, One Mississippi, and Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood–my favorite book in years.
I have survived another year.
I’m repeating to myself the lessons in World of Tomorrow: “Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”
And, like its protagonist, I am proud of myself for no longer falling in love with rocks.
Happy New Year!
2016, fucking fuck you:
Karlissa’s New Book!
Dec 13th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Today I came home from lunch with Melissa to find a few copies of our book at my doorstep.

We’re proud of this–twenty great assignments, with rationales and tips for integrating them into your classroom.

Melissa and I also both wrote a chapter.

Buy yours here or here.

Start of Fall Update
Sep 25th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Remember when I wrote about some changes I was trying to make? Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve still been walking/exercising a lot more. However, I fell behind in doing lots of writing.

In my defense, I taught three classes this summer, went straight to Spain for a conference after the quarter was done, came back to start five more classes, and am heading to Sweden on Tuesday.

There are lots of pics and experiences to share–and I will–I just have to do this other stuff first. 🙂

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen my piece on Star Trek, it’s here.

Almost Two Months of 2015–Readings, etc.
Feb 21st, 2015 by Dr Karma

In addition to the usual blogs and magazines, I’ve been able to finish a few books so far this year.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher–this was for book group. It’s a quick and funny read, especially if you’re into academy satire. It’s an epistolary novel through one point of view. As an English professor writes his letters of rec, etc., we learn about him, his department, and the future of academia. My favorite parts are when he describes what his creative writing students are working on–all but one seems to be focused on supernatural drivel. However, the passage I’ll quote is from a letter of rec that I want to steal for some of my own: “Mr. Lesczynski attended class faithfully, arriving on time, and rarely succumbed to the undergraduate impulse to check his cell phone for messages or relentlessly zip and unzip his backpack in the final minutes of class.” dear-committee-members-e1419348076751

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In–Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. The novellas in this collection were written a long time ago, but could not be published because they depicted unhappy people struggling to get by behind the iron curtain. Interesting stuff, but I can’t say I found them very engaging. I was also irritated by the introduction–the scholar gives away the endings of what you’re about to read, but doesn’t see fit to contextualize some of the important references (like how the support rationing worked) Westerners will likely not understand.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle–one of Alexander’s favorite artists has done a great cover of the song (by America) from this movie. He asked if we had it–we did once upon a time, but on VHS. And I’d never owned or read the book. I suggested he get a copy from the library. To our surprise, Sac State had a signed one! I now get to show him one of my favorite childhood films (when we get the Netflix disc)–nothing is going to surprise him though (except maybe who voices the King), since the film is remarkably faithful.


Being Mortal by Atul Gawande–I’ve been reading and teaching Gawande for years. One of my favorite articles by him is “Letting Go” from The New Yorker, so I was thrilled when his latest book was an expansion of it. Being Mortal is an exploration of how we handle death in America (not well)–we spend most healthcare dollars on the last months of life; we don’t talk to our families about the end (the most heartbreaking section is about Gawande’s own father dying–they’re both physicians, but they had trouble having the necessary end of life conversations); physicians aren’t trained to guide us through these moments/talks–and insurance companies don’t want them spending the time to; etc. Great read–read it, write the living will (as I need to), and talk to your family.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness–The third in the All Soul’s Trilogy. Satisfying. Perfect for getting to Vancouver and curling up in a hotel room bed.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion–I read most of this on the plane back from Vancouver. A friend of a friend recommended it as a light comic read. It’s about a man on the spectrum in Australia who begins a project to find a wife–questionnaire and all. Things, of course, go awry. I’m tempted to read the sequel, and I’ll definitely go to see the movie they’re making of it.

The gods have not heard my pleas for an easier year; in fact, they’ve taken away a big part of my joy and refuge, but at least there are good books.


(Totally published this at first without mentioning another important book–I’ve had to go in to edit my own book in! Atwood’s Apocalypses–ask your library to buy it now!)


2014: Year in Review
Dec 31st, 2014 by Dr Karma

I haven’t blogged much this year. This is partly because it’s been a crazy (busy) year, but it’s also partly because it’s been a pretty awful year in many ways. Some lowlights: replacing two cars (one replacement is a lemon that is in the shop as I write this); several trips to the ER; most of the year in physical therapy; between 2-7 medical appointments each and every week (expensive + time consuming!); Grandma dying; Vanessa moving away; taking in Mindy (not because Mindy is awful, but just because having to deal with another person in our too small place and having her disabled & thus needing to move in is awful); several medical procedures.
All of this happened in a year in which I taught 18 courses, served on several committees, edited the Atwood journal, edited Prized Writing, ran the upper division comp exam, edited a collection on Atwood for Cambridge, and hit quite a few conferences.
In short, I’m tired and fairly cranky from being tired and being in pain.
I’m really hoping that 2015 is a lot better. As a symbol of starting that, let’s talk about the good things that happened this year:
My classes were generally good. Some were very good. An independent study I did with an honors student was awesome. Teaching was a wonderful break from everything else.
I have become one of the favorite people of Artemis, the cutest baby in Davis, who gets to come over to my house at least once a week.
My boyfriend is awesome and our time together is consistently enjoyable, as we provide each other a refuge from the rest of the world.
My friends are amazing. They are supportive, generous, and thoughtful. I’m especially grateful to have been able to travel with Melissa and with Vanessa, to see Vanessa and Tiffany this holiday. Plus, friendship usually involves good wine.
I’ve been able to see some great plays and other live events, most notably in Ashland and here at Mondavi, where I caught Willie Nelson and Mike Birbiglia.
I’ve read some great books. Some I’ve mentioned here earlier in the year. A few more favorites: The Goldfinch–beautifully written. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves–my favorite book of the year–set in Davis, thoughtful, compelling, gorgeous. The Kingkiller Chronicles–picked this up on a lark–so good, so well paced–could not put them down. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared–dry Scandinavian wit resulting in a very fun read. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic–this is sort of a cross between Outlander and The All Soul’s Trilogy.

Here’s to more of the good stuff. And now, just because, comet Lovejoy:c2014_q2_2014_12_16dp950

Weird Al’s Grammar Lesson
Aug 28th, 2014 by Dr Karma

Weird Al’s latest album, Mandatory Fun, features an upbeat parody of “Blurred Lines”–“Word Crimes.” The narrator of the song gives some grammar and word choice lessons, including the correct use of the apostrophe and “literally.” Weird_al_yankovic_word_crimes_titlecard
Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty) objects to the song, saying, “I don’t expect a music video to get into the details, but what I see is that he’s appealing to the base instincts that I’m tired to the bone of seeing: The call to feel superior and to put other people down for writing errors.”
She notes that some people have argued that the video is a parody of grammar nazis (it can be read that way, although I agree it’s unlikely to be). I noted on FB that we should refrain from automatically assuming that the artist and the narrator of a song are the same person. After all, on the same album, Al sings that he wears a hat made of aluminum foil because “there’s always someone that’s watching you / And still the government won’t admit they faked the whole moon landing . . .”
However, the artist’s views on grammar are well known. Al does care about language. He has even made videos about correcting signs.
(Mignon, whom I adore, argues that his corrections are sometimes unneeded in the same article.)
But I just don’t share her disdain for the song or the video.
A small part of this is because of my love of Al. One day, years ago, I was in Maui. My then boyfriend and I happened upon a street sign that had been corrected. The boyfriend noted that my soul mate must be near. Later that evening, in his catch-up on all things Al (because he’d known me long enough to be converted), he found a video of Al correcting that sign that very day.

It’s not a coincidence either that I identify with the narrator of another Al song, who breaks up with a woman because of her inability to distinguish between “imply” and “infer”–I use those lyrics on a word choice handout.
I haven’t encountered anyone else who’s bothered by “Word Crimes.”

The music editor of The New Yorker described the video in an article: “Brackets and exclamation points dance as Yankovic defines contractions and counsels against using ‘c’ to mean ‘see.’ But Yankovic never comes off as a scold. Every aspect of his art is enthusiastic and cheerful, a throwback to an earlier era of comedy and pop culture, when lightness had validity.”

However, it’s possible that The New Yorker writer and I aren’t bothered because we don’t make those grammar mistakes–we aren’t the target of the song. Grammar Girl is worried about students viewing the video in class–as people with bad grammar are insulted in it. I’ve been the indirect target of jokes like this before, though. The Simpsons has lampooned people who teach college classes on cartoons and those who have taught at Florida State (as I have). I have had arguments about the relative virtues of Kirk and Picard, like the people Al skewers in “White and Nerdy.” In one of Al’s new songs, “Tacky,” he wears an airbrushed shirt as a signifier of tackiness. One of my airbrushed shirts has Al as his Simpsons avatar. I’m still laughing. weird1

Grammar Girl said she hated to hate this song. I hate to say that I think she’s overreacting a bit. I don’t think this is going to do much damage even to the most sensitive grammar-challenged person. And, even though she might say it makes me a mean person, I like the song because I identify with it. I have friends who literally cringe when “literally” is misused. Denise and I had to fight our editors on the first book because they said my example of an its/it’s mistake might be too subtle (due to its commonality) for people to understand. Denise and I wanted it in for exactly that reason–it’s one of the most common errors out there, and people need to learn to fix it (if only because one of the ways people narrow down the pile of applications is to throw out the ones with an error).

I had a relative who thought I was pretentious because I spoke correctly as a teenager–I wasn’t trying to be, but I was already a reader, already a writer–and it would have been especially pretentious for me to try to dumb down for a grown man (it was just a lose-lose situation). I don’t correct signs. I don’t correct people outside of work, no matter who much I sometimes want to. But I’ve been fighting the good fight for writing properly in my classes for a while now. Each year, it gets harder. In the last couple of years, I have had students turn in formal essays with “you” written as “u.” In the last year, I’ve had several students refer to themselves as “i.” One student claimed he didn’t know he was supposed to capitalize that word.

This is in a university where we only accept people in the top of their class.

Sometimes I just need to know that I’m not the only one bothered by this. Add a catchy tune and my soul mate singing and two double entendres, and I can’t complain.



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