Music for abdication of responsibility

Sometimes I think it’s just me checking email when it’s late and I’m tired, and then sometimes I really do think that the students are, more and more as the semester goes on, sending me emails that balance on that subtle knife’s edge between “I have a complicated question about the Federalist papers that I find difficult to articulate and I am trying to explain it” (which is fine – that’s what I’m here for) and “I have not slept in three days and have difficulties with punctuation at the best of times and this question could be about Alexander Hamilton, or it could be about whether I am failing the class or not or it could be about both, in a cosmic kind of way – wasn’t he the one who told his father he could not cut down a cherry tree?”


I got one this evening that was precisely midway between the two of these. It was (at least I think it was) about the paper assignment that is due tomorrow. There were a lot of parentheses, and the structure of it reminded me a bit of that shell game where a lot of things are moving about very quickly and you think the pea is under walnut shell #1, but it’s actually under walnut shell #3.

This student is normally quite organized. I discovered her on the treadmill next to mine at the gym one day a while back before the midterm. ‘Discovered’ is probably the wrong word. I was running and staring off into space as I usually do. (I find it relaxing to just run and not think.) But then I hear this chirpy little “Hi, Dr. S—-!” And on the next treadmill is the student, running along with a rather endearingly enthusiastic boing!boing!boing! sort of gait. She had a pile of papers balanced on the magazine rack of her treadmill. “How are you!?” [boing!boing!boing!] [points to papers] “I’m studying for your test!”

I told her that I was impressed with the multi-tasking. She did better than most on that exam, so clearly the studying/running approach works for her.

And then we had a faculty meeting during which we tried – again – to settle on the revised requirements for the undergraduate history major. One of my colleagues said that if we adopted the proposal he does not like, he will cease to do student advising out of principle. (The look on the department chair’s face when my colleague said this was sort of fantastic. Have you ever seen a generally very fair minded, even-tempered Tudor-Stuart specialist attempting to maintain a completely neutral expression while he mentally works out whether 1. this can be laughed off or 2. the revolt might conceivably spread? It’s well worth the price of admission.)

So I came home and listened to an old CD of Stradella’s cantatas, performed by Christine Brandes and a few other people. It reminds me of graduate school, when opera was still new and I wasn’t responsible for anything other than rent and my dissertation. Here is an excerpt:

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