Tag Archives: navel gazing

What I Learned on My Winter Vacation

Among the many reasons people cite for travelling internationally, broadening your perspective and growing as a human being is probably the most well-worn. What precisely that means, however, varies dramatically depending on what type of growth results you are looking for. Making your Facebook friends jealous and being able to trade tips with your yuppy friends on what to order in a Paris café are some of the more mercenary goals, perhaps. But at the bottom of all of it is the belief that encountering more kinds of people and more ways of living makes you a better human being.

I do actually believe that, otherwise I would have chosen the kind of life I’m living. But often what we think of when we talk about the kinds of experiences that make us broader, wiser, more tolerant people are the kinds of experiences that teenagers write about in their college essays: either the types of experiences that put us in touch with the goodness in all humanity (including our own) by bearing witness to triumph over adversity or the types of dramatic self-discovery that occur when our plans and expectations are radically upended.

I’ve been living abroad for six months now, and I’m not really sure that I’ve had either type of experience. Perhaps that is because I am living the same kind of middle-class, 9 to 5 (well, 10-6 because Europe does everything an hour later than America) existence that I would in the States, associating primarily with other expats and intimidatingly well-educated, cosmopolitan Russians. The Russia I live in is a fairly rarified on. The challenges I have experienced have been of the “Thanksgiving is coming and I can’t for the life of me find ground cloves!” variety. Ok, a few weeks ago, an entire work day on the last day of classes was hijacked for a two-hour cab ride with five other colleagues to the Immigration Office in brutal Moscow traffic in which one of the cabs got into a wreck, and the cab driver had to pay off the other driver so that we could make it in time.

But maybe that’s the point. Rarely are we given the opportunities for the kinds of apocalyptic self-examination that make good memoirs. I know people who have had those sorts of experiences, and I am not excited to follow in their footsteps. For the most part, it’s in this kind of mundane bullshit that you come face to face with your limitations and the places where you could stand to change and adapt and, you know, “grow.” And the reason why travel abroad is often associated with that is because for those of us who don’t have children, going to another country is the best possible opportunity we have for being ruinously inconvenienced.

At least that is what has happened to me on our winter vacation to Southern Italy. Vacationing in a different country is, as it turns out, a very different beast than living in a different country, and in many ways, it is a fiercer one. There is far more pressure to have the time of your life, for example. “I have spent quite a lot of money to be here,” you tell yourself on a daily basis. “I had better not spend it playing another level of Plants vs. Zombies when I could be out there having a good time.” “Italian food is amazing,” you tell yourself as you realize that you are possibly doing permanent damage to yourself with the amount of wine, pizza, and gelato you are consuming in the name of seizing the moment. And it is in the name of making the most of your time in this place that you consider waiting in a queue for the Sistine Chapel so long that it would give you a rage stroke if you encountered it outside the context of this vacation.

I do not want to set you up for the expectation that this has been a bad trip or that I am ungrateful for this opportunity. Far from it. Please believe that I did jump up and down when I saw the Colosseum and that I have been gleefully uploading photos to Instagram every night. I embarked upon this trip overflowing with optimism. And maybe because of that, it has also been a particularly acute period of encountering the disappointing limitations of both the trip and of myself as a human being. I have learned that I am precisely the type of over-ambitious, type-A vacation planner I always thought I wouldn’t be, treating the guide book like a check list and becoming livid at my spouse because he broke up the day’s itinerary with his suggestion that we go back to our Air BnB in the mid-afternoon after five hours of walking and have a nap. In other words, we have become the most disgusting, overworn stereotype of travelling couples ever.

I have also learned that in both psychological and physical terms, I am completely inflexible when it comes to my tea intake. I am basically a grouchy, be-tweeded Brit or Uncle Iroh (take your pick), and Italy is coffee country, where the best a tea-drinker can hope for outside of certain very specific Roman establishments (where tea is served as a sort of novelty or sop to tourists) is a bag of Lipton Yellow Label served in a cappuccino mug. And a reliable wi-fi connection is pretty much a deal-breaker for me. “The internet connection is really just there for checking tourist information,” my landlord tells me when I complain that it is too slow and cuts out all the time. “You are history’s worst monster,” I think, mourning the episodes of 30 Rock that I planned to watch quasi-legally via VPN connection. (If an Italian coffee-shop–those places where you guzzle espresso while standing at a counter–advertises Wi-Fi on their front door, take it with several grains of salt. This is not a country where you can expect to park for several hours with your laptop.)

I, who like to think of myself as a tolerant, open-minded person have found myself characterizing the inhabitants of an entire country based on the rude, pushy behavior of off-brand tour guides outside of the Vatican, a couple of obnoxious waiters, and that family in front of me walking very slowly and taking up the entire sidewalk while throwing their trash on the ground.

I will not, as it turns out, wait for multiple hours to see a Michelangelo masterpiece. I will instead buy handbags. 

It occurs to me that I may have sort of lucked out by landing in a country that happens to support most of my addictions and neuroses, where it is dark most of the time and the free wi-fi is plentiful, where I can swill tea around the clock even if it does keep me awake at night and where the locals share my preference for putting on a set of headphones and staring sullenly into the middle distance while using public transportation, avoiding eye contact with strangers at all costs. If a Muscovite complains about the fact that everyone on the metro stares at their mobile devices rather than striking up friendly conversations with the person next to them, they probably exile him or her to California, where fiends like that belong. If someone is standing on the wrong side of the escalator or is blocking the door of the metro car, you can shove them out of the way. No one will blame you. This is Russia, mofos. 

In other words, the ways in which travel forces you to grow are often far more mundane than the ones you think are worth writing home about. In truth, it’s the times when a little kid dumps tacos in your purse that you come face to face with your humanity and are forced to become a better person. I hear that having human children gives you this sort of opportunity all of the time. I also think I’m content to remain precisely this selfish and this limited for now. At least until my next vacation. 


Mountain Climbing for the High Functioning Depressive, or What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

From left to right: North Apostle, Ice Mountain, West Apostle
From left to right: North Apostle, Ice Mountain, West Apostle

This is the penultimate week of my research fellowship here in Boston, which means that my summer of nomadic living will soon be drawing to an end as I head back to my parents’ house in Dallas for a few weeks to pack up for Moscow. Since the sale of our house was completed in early May, I have not stayed in any one place for more than two weeks, having visited five states and covered thousands of miles by airplane in a little over two months.

Included in this farewell tour of the US was a visit to Deer Valley Ranch near Buena Vista, CO, an establishment owned by long-time family friends and site of annual visits for my family for over twenty years. It’s one of those family vacations that makes you happy to be amongst a crowd of introverts, as our family of nine adults (and one toddler) can easily pass an entire afternoon reading and only occasionally talking for an entire afternoon (or for as long as the toddler is napping). In the evening, me, my sisters, and our spouses play Settlers of Catan, a ritual that very often sends us to bed hating each other but doesn’t stop us from starting another game (or two) the next night. (Josh, my sweet, infinitely patient missionary-kid brother-in-law is the most quietly ruthless player and regularly makes us feel like complete assholes for telling him where he can shove his Monopoly card. Anyway).

That level of competitiveness tends to bleed into more athletic pursuits as well. Five of the nine of us play tennis, and I suspect that if I were one of those, no one in my family would speak to me again. Ever. I don’t really excel at sports but do like intense physical activity, particularly hiking. This means that at the end of our week, I typically join my dad and now the aforementioned brother-in-law on an all-day mountain climb with Actual Mountain Goat Bob Marken. If you have never attempted climbing a Colorado peak, let’s just say that they are called the Rockies for a reason and with altitudes over 14,000 feet present a significant challenge for anyone who spends 51 weeks out of the year at sea level.  For that reason, the rest of the family, my spouse included, tends to opt for spending the day sitting on a deck looking at the mountains rather than scrambling over them. My other BIL, a Colorado native, swears that the next time he’ll climb one of the state’s famous “fourteeners” is when the Goths invade. And as my dad says, the two things required for this sort of adventure are a high threshold for pain and a bad memory.

The first major ridge we had to climb.
This was one of the easier parts

I’ve been up a half dozen or so fourteeners and other local peaks, and this year, our intrepid guide proposed what he called a “more interesting” thirteener. At 13,860 feet, the North Apostle is just 140 feet shy of the prestigious 14,000 but sits on the same ridge as two other thirteeners that present one of the greatest challenges in Colorado mountaineering. The mountain doesn’t have to be high to completely kick your ass. The North Apostle is the easier of the three in the sense that the climbing is non-technical and no special equipment is required. However, unlike the many Colorado mountains (including the most trafficked fourteeners), there is no trail for the last half of the four mile hike up, at which point the elevation gain becomes so precipitous that you are basically climbing a ladder for about 2000 vertical feet.


This is my way of explaining why, even though I made it to the summit, this mountain basically broke me over its knee Bane-style and has left me to painfully recover at the bottom of a sunken prison while it destroyed everything I loved. Not that I didn’t help it or anything. The day before, I neglected to get on top of my hydration and, not wanting to get stomach cramps, I didn’t eat anything on the trail until we’d already gone almost three miles. What this meant is that by that point I was dehydrated, hypoglycemic, and hyponatremic (salt-deficient), and throughout the day, my body would never really be able to catch up. 1400 vertical feet from the top, I got a calf cramp that made me see white. This is honestly probably where I should have stopped and waited for the rest of the group to pick me up on the way back. But no. I pressed forward even though my body was screaming at me not to. I was able to stretch it out, but in order to keep it from happening again, I had to take an unscheduled food and water break, and slow down and ease up my pace each time I felt my muscles start to seize up.

Summit Ridge
Summit Ridge

This meant that I fell considerably behind the rest of my group and therefore never got to rest with them, even at the top of the mountain. Getting to the summit was exhausting enough, but after I snapped a couple of pictures and wolfing down half a sandwich, the sleet started, which meant we needed to face what I had been trying not to think about all the way up: climbing back down the steep rocks, which were now wet.

F*** this
F*** this

Anyone who has done a significant amount of hiking can tell you that the descent is often worse than the ascent. For one thing, you have no choice about it. While summits are optional, getting off the exposed peak before the lightning shows up—not to mention getting home—is not. For another thing, if you have terrible knees—which I do thanks to heredity, dance, and high school track—walking down a flight of stairs is way worse than walking up. And these stairs were slippery, uneven, and constantly moving around under me. About 500 feet from the top, on the way down, with 3.5 miles still to go, in addition to dealing with knees and sleet and burning quads, I hit what runners call the “wall.” I had completely burned through my glycogen stores. And I was still dehydrated. So, around 1000 feet from the top, I was not only physically running on fumes but had lost the ability to make good decisions about where to put my feet. Mountain climbing is a mental challenge as well as a physical one, and if your brain is basically just buzzing inside your head, then the physical side of things starts getting much harder as you slip all over the rocks, struggle to right yourself, and thereby make yourself more and more tired than you would be otherwise. At one point, my father had to start hiking right in front of me so that I could just step in all the places he was stepping.

Ice Mountain from the NA Summit.
Ice Mountain from the NA Summit.

Along the way, I ate the rest of my sandwich, a bunch of chips and other snacks (yay salt), and drank three bottles of water, but as a testament to the fact that my body was using every available resource for cell maintenance, I didn’t have to relieve myself once the entire day. By the time we got back, I was clearly in ketosis (which some extreme dieters and athletes try to induce but really doesn’t feel good). It took me an hour longer to get down than it had to go up, and in the car, I was too tired to talk and couldn’t eat anything without choking because I was so dried out. When we arrived at a gas station, I did what I never do and bought a 16 oz. full sugar soda and almost instantly felt better (protip: have these waiting for you in the car next time). But I was so physically defeated that getting to the top of that mountain feel like a pyrrhic victory. It’s been five days, and my legs are still a little bit sore. I also immediately came down with a cold, and there were a few other physical after effects of extreme exertion that are a tad too personal to mention here.

You could argue that the views are worth it. I'm not going to right now.
You could argue that the views are worth it. I’m not going to right now.

Mountain climbing is the source of a number of self-help clichés that I could no doubt spend another thousand words listing here. There’s the one about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And the one about taking everything one step at a time. A journey of a thousand miles. Humility while standing before nature’s grandeur. None of those are the epiphanies I had while I was barking my shins repeatedly on boulders. No, the persistent thought I keep returning to—that I’ve actually been turning over in my head all year—is that there may be something really wrong with me. Because this flogging myself up a mountain even though I know that it’s probably going to wreck me, that I am probably going to embarrass myself while climbing with three men over six feet tall in top physical condition (there are plenty of female athletes who could have breezed right past them, but I am decidedly not one of them), is pretty characteristic. I am ambitious, competitive, challenge-seeking, and I see stuff through to the end no matter what. Those all sound like strong qualities. They are without question the reason I got a PhD, why I am moving to Russia, why I double-majored and graduated with enough credit hours for two degrees, why when I was thirteen, I went to Honduras for a month to lay concrete with a crazy fundamentalist mission group. While basically a home-body and not much of a risk-taker, I have a tendency to push myself in ways that get me things I want but that also know can become maladaptive.

For example, panicked about money and my job search, over the course of my last year in Austin, I was working no less than three part-time jobs at any given time. For a few months, I was working four. Granted, one of those jobs got me the job I have now, but piling on that many commitments is inadvisable if you are also supposed to be writing a book.

On that note, there seems to be no project so difficult that I can’t find a way to make it even harder. My dissertation project should be strong enough for publication with some straightforward revisions and the addition of a new chapter to replace one that no longer fits the book’s scope and methodology. Having spent almost three weeks in an archive this summer, I’ve come up with ideas for another two chapters and two articles with little clarity about how to prioritize what I want to do.

Again, all of this sort of sounds like good stuff. Having more ideas than time to write them is a high class problem. So is having more paying gigs than you can possibly juggle. And it sounds like all of this could be waved away with “work smarter not harder,” and “give yourself a break,” but this is as useless to a high-functioning depressive (which is what I am) as the advice to not worry so much is to someone with an anxiety disorder (which I have). But the truth is that this past year (the past few years, really) has taken me to absolutely terrifying physical, emotional, and spiritual lows that I might blog about one day if I’m drunk enough. And because I do not behave in stereotypically depressed ways, because I get out of bed in the morning and generally get shit done—whether or not I have to go cry for an hour in my office after teaching class—my particular form of depression is very difficult both to acknowledge and to treat. What it costs you to get to the top of the mountain and back again isn’t as significant to most people as the fact that you got there.

So, rather than write for another 2000 words on what should by now be the obvious similarities between mountain climbing and academic high-achieving (both are endurance games, both require mental toughness and very high tolerance for discomfort, etc.), so instead of that, I’d like to take a paragraph or two to recognize the wisdom of doing to reverse of making it to the top. Sometimes it’s ok to bail out. Sometimes it’s ok to not make the climb in the first place.

Critical to making those choices are enough self-awareness to know why you are doing what you’re doing. I am at the point where I can recognize what itch I’m trying to scratch but don’t quite have the will-power to stop myself. I attempted a hike I knew would be very difficult under circumstances that were less than ideal because I enjoy challenges, yes, but also because I was mad at my body. Moving around a lot has meant falling out of a regimented workout routine, usually only getting to it 2-3 times a week, and between that and new medication, my weight has creeped up bit. As someone whose all for body positivity and HAES and all of that, I’m a bit ashamed that that sort of thing throw off my equilibrium so much, but I live in the world, and sometimes it gets to me.

Likewise, I think some of us tend to pursue our academic careers, pursue a PhD or a particular job or tenure because of the feeling that it will fix something that we think is deeply wrong with us or because it will prove something about you. I defended a year and a half ago and spent the following two weeks in a post-partum fog expecting to change color or something, expecting some external sign that I had arrived. As anyone who reaches that milestone can tell you, it never really comes. You don’t suddenly become a different person (just as you don’t when your body changes, much as the diet industrial complex would like to tell you otherwise). And of course in a career like this, the goalposts just keep moving, so there’s always something new on the horizon to be neurotic about.

And finally, what it costs you to get something really does matter. I’m not just talking about the consequences of putting off family or neglecting friendships or whatever. There is a personal cost to everything that—especially if you are a very sensitive person—can be very, very real and long-lasting. And that is a thing that is worth weighing any time you are facing a difficult endeavor. Deciding that the terrible, never-ending scrutiny of grad school is just not worth it is not cowardice. It’s wisdom. And deciding that a job that is less prestigious or *gasp* not even academic is more amenable to your lifestyle preferences is knowing yourself, not selling out. I’m lucky in that I really do enjoy what I do and can’t imagine really being happy in other line of work (one of the things I learned from the multi-job clusterfrack of the past year is that I hate, hate, hate working in a normal office and love the fact that my schedule completely changes every few months). It’s also true that when the challenge is well-matched to my level of conditioning and acclimation, mountaineering is really fun. But with the work ethic of a Puritan and a masochistic streak, you can sure find a way to make it torture.

What does “failure” mean to you?


If you have been trained to pursue an academic career–or trained for any highly specific career path, honestly–then it’s easy to feel like a failure if that doesn’t pan out. But there are many reasons why people wind up choosing Plan B (or C or D or M), and oftentimes it has little to do with incompetence. I have a sibling and an uncle who each studied piano performance. One is a VP at a major tech corporation you have definitely heard of and one is an SEO specialist at a Madison Avenue firm and lives in Central Park West. Neither of them are playing at Carnegie Hall right now, but both of them are winning at life by every measurable standard.

By going international, I’m stepping a bit to the left of the traditional career path for someone in my field and have been told by one colleague that it could make things additionally difficult if and when I try to get an academic job in the U.S. However, in many respects, I am pretty much living the dream. I am get to teach literature and will have time to do research. But it certainly looks different than the dream I had in mind 8 or 5 or even 1 year ago.

So as trite as it is, I think it’s important to remember that success and failure are contingent categories, though often our training teaches us to adopt a very narrow understanding of what success actually constitutes, implying that anything that deviates from that is failure. But failure, I think, really depends on what you want to get out of life. So here’s what it would constitute for me:

  • Failure is being in a job I hate even if it provides security.
  • Failure is staying in Texas (no offense to Texas, but I’ve lived here 26 of 30 years, and I’m ready for weather that sucks in at least a novel way).
  • Failure is not growing as a human being.
  • Failure is continuing to beat myself up over shit that doesn’t matter.
  • Failure is never getting relief from depression.

It would have been possible (and seemed, actually, very likely if I had gotten this one job I interviewed for) to have gotten the golden ticket–the tenure track offer–and still “failed” myself on all four counts. This is getting awfully self-helpy, so I’m going to cut it short, but with all the job market and post-job market angst, it helps to remember that the whole point of job searching is to create a life for yourself that you enjoy living and that allows you to contribute something to the world. And it’s possible to do that without the title “Professor.”


When I tell people I’m moving to Russia in August for a minimum of three years, I find I often have to spend the remainder of the conversation taking care of them. I’m not talking about my family. For the most part, they have been like, “That sounds like something you would do.” I’m primarily talking about strangers, like the guy who notarized a copy of my diploma for apostille purposes, who looked at me as if I had a fever. “Do you speak Russian? Have you ever been there before?” people like this usually ask, assuming, I suppose, that this person they have known for 30 seconds can’t possibly have thought this through long enough. The truth is, the answer to both of these questions is, “No,” which makes it sound like they are probably right.

Some of this is, of course, brought on by the word “Russia,” which I think most Americans learn about from action movies. “I just rewatched Air Force One,” one of my sisters said the other day. “I think you should reconsider this whole thing.” (She was kidding, but I there are people out there who agree with her). Moscow is about as exotic as you can get while still telling people you live in Europe, but it is still almost at the exact opposite end of the world from where I live now.

It’s hard listing off the reasons why this whole journey seemed so appealing to me in the time it usually takes to wrap up a conversation with a retail associate (“I’m moving to Russia” is now my go-to excuse for why I can’t sign up for loyalty programs and store credit cards. “I’m currently homeless” is another one.) I can tell people that my husband and I have always wanted to live abroad and travel together and that the job opportunity (with a school I have worked for before, albeit briefly) is excellent. I can talk about my romantic ideas about cold, snowy weather, that I think another August/September in Texas might literally kill me. I can tell them that in academia you go where the job is, but I don’t usually like to give off the impression that this is something I defaulted into out of desperation. Even though it’s sort of true (the job market: it is as bad as you’ve heard), it was also a conscious choice. None of my advisors or colleagues would have faulted me for turning the offer down. But I sent the application in the first place–never dreaming that this was the one would pan out–for a reason even though it’s difficult to nail down.

The truth is that even though I live in a city that–like Portland and Denver and Brooklyn–most people consider a final destination, I can feel myself rotting here. Based on anecdote, I’ve come to understand that this is common among people who are finishing up grad school. Even though it’s been the center of your life for the better part of a decade, it’s difficult to feel sentimental about a place that has been the scene of what I can only describe as so much trauma. Don’t get me wrong, I would do it all over again, but as with any mountain climb, I’m glad it’s over and I’m ready to get the caked mud out of my socks.

But if I had to summarize why this all appeals to me in one word, it would be “surrender.” Relocating to a new country is an enormous undertaking that involves navigating the bureaucracies of two immense nations, unloading of most of your worldly possessions, re-homing your pets, and flinging yourself into a culture that is almost completely alien and where you do not speak the language. In other words, it involves reversing what is usually thought of as the prescribed trajectory of adult life, which typically involves the accumulation of competencies and things. Everything I own now fits in a 7 foot POD, which means that we are leaving Austin with less than we brought (and will be leaving the US with even less as most of it is family keepsake stuff that will be left in my parents’ attic). My list of big adult responsibilities, like maintaining auto insurance and buying pet food, is diminishing. And having made my proficiency with the English language my bread and butter, I will now be headed for a place where that means precisely dick when it comes to buying groceries and finding a mobile service provider. I will become a hapless foreigner. Having trained to become a professor, I will find myself in the position of learner once again.  And yet this is a role in which I find myself most comfortable.

And I know many people wind up seeking or stumbling upon the transformative possibilities of helplessness at many points in life. Some find it in having children. Some find it in moving from the suburbs to the city or changing careers or going to graduate school. In many ways, it probably was this same impulse to be awed in the face of what you don’t yet know that drove me and many others to graduate school, though grad school has a weird way of both cultivating and crushing that out of you. The realities of academic labor are such that words like “marketability” and “job security” occasionally crowd out words like “discovery,” and while I’m now hating myself a little bit for saying that so cheesily, at bottom I’m trying get at the fact that in the face of the academic career trajectory and its immense challenges, it becomes difficult to sustain the kind of curiosity and even risk-taking that got you there in the first place. A PhD does not promise a secure middle class existence, but I’m starting to think that while we should be fighting for better working conditions for grad students and adjuncts, there are some appealing alternatives out there to tenure, though they demand a kind of faith that is often difficult to muster.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I am simultaneously terrified and thrilled about what I am preparing to do. It is like cresting the first hill of a roller coaster and waiting, breathless, for the drop.

First Round of Papers

I just finished grading my first batch of papers for the term, and ya’ll, it was a bleak scene.  I had begun the semester resolved to be a little tougher since I already allow students to revise their assignment for a better grade, to insist that students with scintillating analyses go back and polish up the rougher spots in their prose before getting an A and to give out D’s where they’re warranted.  That goal has certainly been met.  The average grade for this assignment is well below normal, but I suspect that that is not so much a product of higher standards as it is an indication of the vast range of ability levels I’m dealing with in one class, and that range makes my strategy going forward unclear.

I have freshman students who clearly are struggling with the difference between analyzing a text and using a text as a jumping off point for talking about whatever it is they want to talk about, and given that this is a course called Literature and Religion, the results are, well…  For example, I received three papers that interpret entirely different narratives as allegories for the Christian life as the student understands it based on a criteria so broad that just about anything could be read as an allegory for the Christian life (which is more or less what I said in comments).  Coming from a religious background, I understand where it’s coming from.  Kids who grow up in evangelical environments are pretty accustomed to hearing popular films, songs, and books interpreted in this fashion in sermon illustrations and books on spiritual life, and for many of them, reading a narrative in this way is an important strategy for justifying their own interest in it.  So, when I get a paper on how the film 300 is an allegory for the Gospel, I understand that at least in part, this kid is trying to rationalize the fact that he likes the movie 300 by projecting Christian themes onto it.  So getting that kid to see that what he’s doing is, in fact, projection rather than an accurate interpretation of the film is, in a way, taking something rather important away from him.

Conversely, I have at least two seniors in their final semester, both of them intellectually talented but lazy.  Unfortunately, one of these students was the one who told me he “has to get an A” in order to graduate. Nevertheless, it’s clear that while I have some students who need to be acquainted with the basics of textual analysis, who really need to be taught how to accurately summarize a text before they can even begin to analyze it, and I have a few others who are bored to tears.

So in addition to the dilemma of how to conduct class in a way that addresses the needs of the weakest students without alienating the stronger ones, I have the question of how to assign and present grades.  In previous semesters, I’ve simply refused to assign a grade to the first draft as a way of encouraging everyone to revise.  However, students were clearly expressing a desire to know where they stood.  Furthermore, a bad grade early on can act as a wake-up call for students who are simply lazy, though I run the risk of students in the first category becoming discouraged and simply shutting down.

It occurs to me now that I worry a bit too much about how students will respond to a grade, that how they choose to move forward is entirely on them, and it is simply up to me to provide thoughtful, honest feedback and allow them to take it from there.