Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let the world wait

Last night
a weary worldly friend
crept in and sat down by my bed.

"What's happening?"

"What's not?"

She settled in.
I sighed.

Staring at the ceiling fan,
I told her of a summer long before,
of when sixth grade had ended
and for the last time until September
I'd bounded home from school.

"My pack slid from my shoulders,
my shoes fell on the floor.
Down the stairs I flew, twelve of them in seven steps,
my brother a blur behind me.
On the concrete floor we crouched,
a pair of academic acolytes.
Gleefully we lit a fire:
in the wood stove went
More still:
maps I'd drawn,
games I'd made,
an unsent love letter or two?
page after page after page after page after page after page of
all that made
a year of school
a pile of learned lifeless ash."

So easily ended.
As though a heavy blade had sliced the summer from the spring,
I was cut free
to waste those sunny days in whatever way I could.

The ceiling fan spun on.

"And now?"

"And now it's hard to extricate
tomorrow from today.
So much undone
makes what is done
remain unsung.
I can't rest on my laurels
if my laurels aren't yet won!
If I flew westward fast enough,
might I outrace the sun?"

"Now it's time to get some sleep,"
she said.

Nodding, I agreed.
I let her close my eyes.

"Close the door.
Shut me in.
Make me a cup of chamomile tea.
As I sit sipping,
let the world wait.
For a day,
let the world wait."

Friday, July 04, 2008

Week Four progress report



This summer has been flying by.

Our program evaluator, Ophelia, is currently in town (she's been down in Jacksonville, FL, preparing for her upcoming year of teaching there). She arranged for the mass comm people to videotape yesterday's student presentations, which she herself attended as well. (Not to mention one student's mother and another student I'm doing research with who is not taking part in the program...) The talks are improving steadily: they're all getting better at pacing themselves to say what they need to in fifteen minutes and no more, and they're getting better at making use of board space and multimedia tools. I was particularly impressed with Ethelred(not the Unready!)'s presentation, in which (I only noticed in reflecting on it, while composing a feedback e-mail to him) he didn't write a single alphanumeric character on the board. His fifteen minutes were focused on a series of well-chosen diagrams that illustrated his technique, a complicated generalization of a method I developed last year for navigating internally disjoint edge paths in a certain kind of graph. His method seems to work, but he's yet to make it one hundred percent rigorous. I eagerly await the finished algorithm.

Others made solid presentations, too: Desdemona seemed hurried, but she too made great use of appropriate pictures in explaining how to find homomorphisms between graphs; Camilla and Dione worked together to weave a multimedia presentation on growing networks that was bursting with differential equations; Norton couldn't resist replaying his PowerPoint presentation illustrating Bach's unintentional use of the theory of cyclic subgroups in his Violin Concerto, BWV 1041; Uwe gave the first public presentation of his algorithm for finding optimal L(2,1)-labelings of internally three-regular trees; Hector talked about his progress through the research program that should allow him to show that all algebraically realizable finite hyperbolic tilings are indeed constructible; and Thalia put forth her new technique for hunting down gracefully labeled paths...her work this past week has been really interesting stuff for me, and I've had a blast trying to tell Mathematica how to help us out in our search.

From a pedagogical point of view, it's clear that the students are helping each other out as much as we (the faculty) are helping them. Though we see four or five of them regularly during our common morning office hours, and we see a few more somewhat regularly in the afternoons, in between those sessions they're all progressing in great loping strides. That progress is often attributable to one another: "yeah, Ethelred helped me code this in Mathematica...", "Thalia can help me with the differential equations...", "Uwe figured out how to do that..."

The quality of their written work is improving substantially, too: several of them are already producing work that's beginning to look publication-ready, and we've got four weeks to go yet!


I really need to start thinking about my courses for the Fall semester. Ouch.

Not to mention the two grants that I promised myself I'd be working on for the fall.

And the review I've got to be writing.

And the papers I'd like to finish off and send on in.

Why is it that the summer is busier than the school year?

Anyone who says academics get a three-month paid vacation is full of shit.

Pardon my French.

Of course, I've been spending my free time reading up on the pedagogical uses of poetry as I start to write my paper on poetry in mathematics, so I can't complain overmuch about not having time to complete the above tasks. I've got a stack of papers, mostly from educational theory journals, some from general qualitative research publications, dealing with the roles poetry can play in research and education. The literature is somewhat sparse, judging from what I've found, but I have found some relevant material. Not surprisingly I've seen nothing about poetry in the "hard" sciences apart from the offshoots of Clemson's Art Young's Poetry Across the Curriculum movement.

I have managed to get some great responses from my student poets from last Fall. I'm going to send out a reminder to those from whom I've yet to hear, and maybe include a couple more students in the process before I begin writing.

For now, I've got to go and clean up a bit for the company we've got coming over for our inaugural Thanksgiving in July party.