I’m taking an online course! I’m weirdly excited about this. It’s an online course in how to teach courses online — and yes, I’m doing this backwards because I’ve already taught courses online. Two, in fact. And it’s only now that I’m taking the course to learn how to do it. But that’s the way things generally work when it comes to college teaching — you get thrown into it with only the tiniest bit of training or maybe none at all and you figure things out on your own. You learn things from colleagues and maybe pick up some training here and there and you do the best you can. The course I’m in will run for nine weeks and I’ll get a certificate at the end of it if I complete at least 80% of the work.
I guess I’m just a nerd who likes learning new things. The fact that I’m looking forward to the class tells me that while teaching is fun, being a student is much more so (especially since I won’t be getting A, B, C-type grades). Maybe I should take classes more often.
I really loved the recent New Yorker article on David Foster Wallace. It gives an overview of his life and, most interestingly, talks about his unfinished novel and what it was he was trying to do with his fiction. It sounds like the unfinished novel — which will be published some time next year — is fascinating and majorly ambitious, so much so that Wallace had a lot of trouble making progress. Part of the trouble is that its subject isn’t well suited for fiction — it’s about boredom and tells the story of IRS workers dealing with the dullness of their jobs, so the issue is how to make boredom interesting. He took on a difficult subject, but he also was trying to write in a new style:
Wallace was trying to write differently, but the path was not evident to him. “I think he didn’t want to do the old tricks people expected of him,” Karen Green, his wife, says. “But he had no idea what the new tricks would be.” The problem went beyond technique. The central issue for Wallace remained … how to give “CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” He added, “Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”
This is such an interesting combination to me — acknowledging the darkness of life but not succumbing to despair and managing to write about “the possibilities for being alive and human” without being trite or cheaply sentimental. I’m also intrigued by the way he is influenced by postmodernism — its irony and self-consciousness and playfulness with language — but also cared about writing fiction with a moral interest and with real emotional weight to it, things that the postmodernists sometimes ignored.
Apparently his last novel was only about one third finished, but it still sounds well worth reading.
My cycling is coming along pretty well, with the exception of a few days last week when I couldn’t ride because of a snow storm. I was supposed to ride in my first race last Sunday, but it was canceled because of snow, so now my first race of the season will be this coming Sunday. It may rain that day, but it’s supposed to be in the upper 50s, so I doubt we will be in danger of snow.
This week was bitterly cold, but it’s finally warming up a bit, and I am more than ready for the change. I really should have gotten on the trainer on those cold days, but I just couldn’t. I don’t like the trainer ever, but it’s particularly bad when it’s March and spring is on the way. Riding on the trainer in January is tolerable, barely, but riding on it in March is just impossible. I’d prefer to sit around and do nothing, even if my I lose some fitness and my mood plummets. That’s silly, probably, but oh, well.
And now I want to go read some more of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a book I’m greatly enjoying.