Thursday, August 20, 2015

Letter #59--Faculty Annual Activity Report

Dear Governor Ducey,

I’m not sure you’re familiar with the FAAR. It’s short for Faculty Annual Activity Report. Each year, college faculty complete a report on what they’ve done for the last two semesters. These used to be reports compiled into very large binders but most universities, I think, have gravitated to an online system. NAU has been using it for a few years now. I like it because I am not so good at copying paper or at three-hole punching, which is one of the demands of the old binder system.

In the new system, you upload the classes you’ve taught, the evaluations. You include your committee work and institutional work and any grants and publications. This itemized list also provides a chance to reflect on how you’ve succeeded and what you might do differently for the coming year.

Last semester, as you know, I was on sabbatical but in Fall 2014, I was not. I taught two classes and directed the MFA program. It was a very busy year. We had four guest writers last fall. David Carlin and Robin Hemley, with whom I’m chairing NonfictioNOW came to read and to help plan the conference. Their reading was a great success—students were familiar with Robin’s work—we read his literary guide on immersion writing in my nonfiction class— but not David Carlin, who teaches and writes in Melbourne. His stories were sad and funny and his new book, The Abyssinian Contortionist, is about a woman acrobat emigrating from Ethiopia. I felt lucky to introduce students to a well-known American writer as well as an exciting global one. Later that semester, I hosted Melanie Bishop whose YA novel had just been published. Students are very interested in writing young adult novels, and even young adult nonfiction, so her visit was incredibly welcome. Meg Files read and invited students up on the stage to read with her, making the stage less ominous-seeming and their work more professional-sounding.

My classes went well. I just looked at the number of words I wrote in response to grad student work. 45 single-spaced pages, one for each essay students turned in. I had 15 students in my grad class, which is 3 more than is recommended by the Associated Writing Program best-practices guidelines, but isn’t the 18 it sometimes can be, so I am grateful. In student evals, they were grateful to write so much but I think 3 essays per student may be too much both for students and for the classroom—we had to set a timer to make sure everyone got exactly 20 minutes per essay. As I begin to work on this coming semester’s syllabus, I may ask for only 2 essays, plus a more critical paper about structure and voice. I should work on that instead of this!

In my undergrad class evals, I got good comments—my favorite being “This was the best class I’ve taken,” which is always my favorite comment. I had one detractor who said we read too many other stories and that I didn’t explain difficult concepts well. I tried to explain difficult concepts well through the use of already-published essays but it is possible I need to slow down and define terms more often. I’ll work on that.

The Lit Mag, Thin Air, for which I am the faculty advisor, did a ton of great work last year. They made a calendar, hosted a fundraiser at Karma, included local writers in the newest issue and made big waves at AWP—big names published. We increased donations, subscriptions, and general funding by a factor of two. Sadly, we were not one of the two projects chosen to apply by our university to apply for arts council funding again because we asked for too little money and spreading the word about NAU and Thin Air at the biggest writers conference in the world was deemed to have “insufficient impact.” Still, I will look for other grants for the mag this year.

This is getting boring so I’ll try to be quick in my final analysis. For my sabbatical, I wrote and finished the “sustainability” manuscript. I applied for two grants to support finishing them. Didn’t get them. I published a bunch of essays online: The Rumpus, Hobart, Full Grown People, Sundog Lit (thanks, Jill), and Better: Culture and Lit. I had a big essay come out in Witness, which is one of my dream mags and another of my dream mags, Black Warrior Review, published “Distracted Parents of the Micromanagement Era” as a chapbook. I made a new category on my CV. I also published in Orion, which is my dreamiest dream. It was just a short essay but it’s about bees so it counts.

For most of my sabbatical, I worked on the conference. I’ll write more about that soon. Let’s just say, there is about an email per hour about the conference. I spent this morning looking at Tote Bags. I am very close to people who work in NAU’s IT and Ebiz department. I have to pick some hors d’ouevres soon. That will be fun.

Even though I was on sabbatical, I hosted a few guest writers—Cynthia Hogue and Karen Brennan—who were excellent guests and spent time talking to students after their reading about exploding traditional forms and wrote a poem for the president’s installation. I wrote the final reports for grants which is a lot like writing a FAAR report for the year in support. I also wrote some new grants since even though I was on sabbatical, the grant funding places were not—and now we can have guest writers again.  Thanks ACA and FAC! I joined the Northern Arizona Book Festival board and I taught at Pima’s Writer’s Workshop and visited Murray State in Kentucky.

I revised a lot of books. I also started a new one. There’s really no place to put this in-progress work on the FAAR Faculty 180 page but since I imagine you’re counting words per minute as a sign of my worthiness to take some start dollars for my salary, I thought I should post word counts here:
Semi-permeable (novel revision)—added 13,000 words (probably deleted as many).
New essay, forthcoming in Barrelhouse: revolution—3600 words
Published in Full Grown People: You Never Know Just How You Look in Other Peopl’s Eyes (sorry if you have the song in your head now)—2000 words
Action for Sustainability—2000 words
Whales for Sustainability—4400 words
Wolves for Sustainability—2500 words
New project--Eggs: 19,000 total
More new project--Better Lettuce--3000
More new project--Nice Eggs—8000
More new project--Why we break Things—3700
More new project--Better—500
Buzzfeed quizzes (I didn’t just take them! I wrote about them)—1500
Mohawk  new project—500
Smile new projet—1000
Glomski Log (film logging for Micro-film. Way hard)-4000 words
Letters to the governor—38500 words

Old novel: Quicksand 83,200
New YA Novel: Hard Rain: 64,074 (but not all the way done with this one).

My goals were to revise Microcosm, Salmon (which has a new title: Processed Meats!), Quicksand, Semi-permeable, and Hard Rain and to finish the Microfilm movie. The movie is hard. I had some serious near successes with each of these books—especially, Quicksand (almost) and Microcosm (almost). Horseshoes is not quite what we’re playing but there’s some feeling of forward motion.

I don’t know if other state employees upload evidence of the work they’ve done for the year or if they must provide links to work they’ve published or to evaluations from their “clients” or “customers.” I don’t know if writing this report instead of drafting an essay or working on my syllabus or writing a grant is something other employees do, but I’m glad you find it meaningful and that you now have a greater sense of where tax dollars go.  I’m sure this report, if not the work I do, is money well spent.

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