Yesterday's Times ran an article about the "coaching tree" of Pat Summitt--about the impressively high number of her former players who are helping to achieve what, really, was Summitt's aim all along: to raise the level of the women's game. That number, believe me, would be much higher if it weren't for the WNBA or european professional leagues. It's a terrific article, and the print version of the Times features an uncanny shot of one of Pat's many point guards, Kellie Jolly Harper, squatting and squinting, Summitt style, on the sidelines.
Reading this piece made me spiral back a couple of decades to my explicit decision not to go into coaching. The 1989-90 season was a particularly challenging one for Pat. We had some behavioral issues, the details of which escape me now, something to do with missed curfews or spending nights with boyfriends. We had some rifts on the team. One player was perceived as the "coach's pet," which can be devastating to team chemistry. My best friend Regina's unlucky eye twitch happened more times than ever that season (we lost every game before which her eye twitched). We played some pretty raggedy basketball that year, and we didn't make it to the Final Four, which as it happens, was being held on our home court (for more on that particular devastation, go here). Pat made us sit in the stands and watch every second of the 1990 final four. We watched as the Stanford point guard from Oak Ridge who had really wanted to play at Tennessee won her team a championship. The next week, Pat called us in one by one.
Regina and I waited for our meetings with trepidation--my stomach turns just writing about it. After those meetings our team numbers dwindled to 9 scholarship players; nearly a third of the team transferred or rotated elsewhere by mutual agreement. Apart from the fear heading in to the meeting, and the fact that I, like Regina, came out of mine okay (we both were team players with easy-going temperaments), I remember nothing.
At that point I wasn't planning on a coaching career--the pressure cooker that was my high school coach's job already made that option less than appealing--but around 1990 I decided there's no way I wanted to coach basketball for a living because I didn't want my livelihood to depend on the motivational levels or the mercurial temperaments of 18-to 22-year olds. Regina and I talked about this a lot, and we agreed that much as we loved basketball, it was not our future.
It's not that I don't like 18- to 22-year olds, I do. I ended up deciding to become a college professor after all. But there is a big difference in having one's job hinge on the win-loss record posted by a small handful of young adult women and having student evaluations of your performance as a teacher figure ever-so-slightly into promotions and raises. 1990 showed me that no matter how much talent you have recruited, or how hard you work to prepare your team, things still might not turn out well: players bicker, sulk, and rebel much as they hesitate, slough, and miss. Students may do these things too (especially sulk and slough), but one need only wait out the semester, and there's a fresh batch of faces the next term. Personality management, it seemed to me, had to be one of the most frustrating parts of coaching. Pat--and all those former players who are now coaches--have far more patience than I would, and I admire them for it.
1990 was also, as it happens, the year I changed my major to English. That summer, I fulfilled my major's Shakespeare requirement, and one of my teammates taunted me by swiping my Riverside and coloring in Shakespeare's eyes with red pen.
The book itself is still a few months out, but here is the cover. I think the graphics designer at U of South Carolina Press did a great job. As it turns out, the cover is the same color I painted the walls of the office where I wrote most of it.
When I was in kindergarten, I sometimes got to come up to the split first and second
grade because I could read pretty well. The teacher was a little on the mean side and also seemed to forget that I was a fair bit younger than most of the kids in the classroom and would ask me to assist her with various classroom tasks--like I was a tiny research assistant. Once she gave me a bunch of papers to staple together, and I went off, happy to have my little task, but also a little bit unsure about which papers needed to be together. So I attempted to staple the entire stack of papers together--it was about a half-inch thick. After much wrestling with a big industrial-size stapler, the likes of which I had never seen, let alone used, I ended up with a bloody finger and a set of papers with seriously mangled corners. The teacher yelled at me. My finger hurt.
I--and my finger--have thought of this long ago tiny trauma several times over the course of the weekend as I grade and then print my grad students' papers with my comments. The papers that exceed 25 pages prove to be the most difficult to get a staple through, but it's also the case that my stapler sucks ass. Apologies to those of you whose papers will arrive in your mailboxes with so many mangled corners (the worst of these are pictured here). I hope you'll be more understanding than that grouchy, mean old teacher.
Like most of you, probably, except for those of you who are done (yay!) or on leave (double yay!). I do my grading on the computer, so my wrist hurts, my eyes are tired, my head is throbbing, and if I hadn't taken a break to go see Slumdog Millionaire (which, by the way, is really fantastic), I think I might be a little crazy. It's so nice during the semester, I'll tell you, to have a seminar that is so packed there is no room for anyone else. The discussions, as I've mentioned on this site, power through any break, spill past the bells, and out in to the hallways. But then it comes time to grade the papers, and I admit that a little part of me wishes the seminar had been a nice medium size with lulls and fits and starts. If it were, I would be done. But instead, I am a little over half way finished with seven more papers to go, and leaving on Monday. Wish me luck.
Brad Anderson's Transsiberian plays on several of my own personal fears, and
maybe they are yours too: the inflexibility of train schedules, sharing small spaces with people i do not know, getting lost in a foreign country, being a dumb american in another country, and being outside without a hat when it's forty below. And now we will just toss in a couple more: having the dining car suddenly and without announcement removed from a train that is making its way across one of the globe's longest countries, and being the primary cause of someone else's torture. If I were Emily Mortimer, I would also be afraid of being too skinny when it's 40 below, but there isn't much chance of that, so we'll stick with torture.
At any rate, we watched this movie Saturday night, and when we turned it on, I was comfy, warm, and worried that I would fall asleep. Not so: this movie begins as intriguing and builds and builds to the point where the prospect of sleep is threatened altogether. If you got stuff you need to get off your mind, go rent this dvd.
It came recommended from our neighbors down the street and their 20-year old daughter whom we adore, and also E!. I won't giveaway any more of the quite exciting plot, but the casting I thought was good (Ben Kingsley is of course first rate), and the cinematography was fabulous. I am a sucker, it should be noted, for trains in general, and this film's shot of the long train winding through snow are at once lovely and sinister. And also, snow is an excellent backdrop for, shall we say, fresh blood.
I tend to like it when my grad students are toiling away on their papers, because I, in turn, do the same thing. On Wednesday I noticed a few grad students fiddling with what looked to me like the material instantiations of their inventional processes. G, for example, had index cards in a set of bright pastels. M (1) had plain white index cards with long, flapping ribbons of paper stapled to them. M(2) had a beige sheet of paper with a conceptual map scrawled on it.
Before we started our abstract workshop, I asked these folks to do a little impromptu show & tell in order to get people thinking about what they do when they write a seminar paper. G held up his cards and told us that all the quotations he wanted to use were there. They were color coded, not by topic, as I had assumed, but by source. M(1) explained that the stapled pieces of paper were sentences that had formed part of her draft that she had cut apart and reordered according to topic so that she could find a good organization. M(2) held up his map and when M(1) asked him how that drawing would become a paper, he walked us through the many circles connected with lines. A, another member of the class, proudly held up his flash drive and indicated that we would have to trust him that a draft was on it. I told them about my method that combined M(1) with M(2), wherein I sometimes use a giant sketch pad and sharpie pens to reorder a messy draft by taping cut-out chunks of the draft under handwritten headings. Sometimes I end up writing transitions and forgotten passages in the margins, even on the tape itself.
Just having that chat about invention helped me to see the problem with the current draft of an article I'm working on: it's all crammed into one Word document, and it was getting a little claustrophobic. It needed room to breathe. So over the past few days, I have pulled out my sketch pad, resurrected endnote, and even--in honor of G--implemented note cards that I staple together by topic. The thing is still something of a mess, but it's coming together. I can see it.