Friday, December 18, 2015

A Semester in Review

38ยบ ~ bright sun, the first "chilly" weather of the winter, sweet gum and hackberry leaves all fallen, gathered on the grass and waiting for the rake


Fall 2015, my first semester on the tenure track at the University of Central Arkansas is in the books, and it was a doozy. In no particular order, I list below some of what has occupied me.

* Two sections of Intro to College Writing (Comp I): This was my standard course at PTC for ten years and for the most part my materials transferred well. While my heart really belongs to creative writing, and I probably won't be teaching composition again, it was wonderful to transition to UCA with these bright and energetic students following along to a plan I knew by heart.

* Two sections of Intro to Creative Writing (three genres): Again, I'd taught this course many times at PTC, but with only two genres. I also switched from a Tuesday/Thursday plan to teaching on Monday/Wednesday/Friday. My students were engaged and engaging and quite resilient as I fumbled a bit at the beginning of the semester to get my UCA legs under me. I'll be teaching this course nearly every semester at UCA and I'm looking forward to having the time to really fine-tune my approach.

* Two visiting writers (Dinty W. Moore and Cristina Garcia), both of whom held three events (one public reading, one craft talk, one interview or workshop).

* 24 meetings (one hour minimum) with my colleagues in the Writing Department, the undergraduate Creative Writing Program, and the MFA Program. To be fair to UCA, there's a lot going on and some major changes coming our way that include strategic re-alignment of departments, accreditation reports/visits, and growing the nascent MFA program.

* Three all-day training sessions in August.

* Five mini-training sessions throughout the semester to get up to speed on the UCA systems.

* A half a dozen dinners / receptions / parties involving many colleagues / grad students or just a few.

* Seven readings to support The Alchemy of My Mortal Form (four out of town: Tennessee on two occasions and Illinois on the other two) and one conference presentation (Missouri).

* At least 90 minutes each week (minus the last couple) sharing writing time with one of my also-new colleagues, Jennie Case, who works in both poetry and creative non-fiction. If I publish anything in the next six months, it's because she helped keep my BIC (butt in chair).

* 10 new drafts of poems, of which I think maybe five will survive into full poemhood.

* Five journals accepted poems, most of which were written in 2014 or early 2015.

* Continued editorial work for Heron Tree, One, and Trio House Press.

* Nowhere near enough reading of journals and books of poetry.

* Too many hours to count in physical therapy and doctors' offices as my TMJ progressed to the point of living with daily pain from the beginning of September until Dec. 15th when I got my new precision dental appliances that are working to sort out my joints and muscles. I talk funny, and I drool when doing so, but the bulk of the healing should happen over the break, and then the doc can adjust the daytime appliance so I can talk straight.

* The new 40-minute commute each way (just over double what my drive to PTC was) has also carved a bit more of my time away. But it is an easy drive on the newly expanded I-40.

Lest anyone think this is a list of complaints, let me say that this may have been a challenging semester time wise, mostly due to my out-of-state travel and my medical issues, but it was also an invigorating semester. I feel like I've settled into the UCA culture and am getting a handle on all the nuances and procedures. It will take a few years to gain the institutional knowledge on the level I had at PTC, but I've made a start.

Overall, I'm happy with the way the semester turned out, and I'm beyond satisfied with the work of my students. I've got a list of areas I want to change for next semester, and have lounged around for a few days and gotten my energy back to a level playing field. Sometime between now and the new year, watch for the next blog post, A Semester in Preview, to find out what's in store for Spring 2016 (hint: the blog will be back on a more timely schedule).