April 18, 2015

Summer is coming...

TWO WEEKS UNTIL SUMMER. It's like the anti-Stark motto: Summer is coming . . .

I cannot believe it myself, but it is true! School started so early this semester that I finish up on the afternoon of Friday, May 1... and Fall semester does not start until August 24, which means August 17 for me (I always open my classes one week early). So, that is all of May... all of June... all of July, then two weeks in August to do all the actual getting-classes-ready. THREE WHOLE MONTHS.

The next time I moan about how little I get paid, I need to remember this most incredible of all possible luxuries, afforded by very few jobs on this planet: TIME FOR MY OWN PROJECTS. Every single year. No one to answer to, no one telling me what to do. 100% my own time to read and think and write and make things. As I said in my "learning subjective" for #Rhizo15, my goal is to energize that whole process this summer in fabulous new ways.

I'll freely admit that I am selfish and protective about that time, too. During the school year, I commit every working day to my job, and in the evenings and weekends, I'm mostly just recovering, ha ha, because I really do work hard. So, when summer comes, the difference is total: I still work hard, but it is on projects that I choose. Basically, during the school year I am all about trying to find ways to help my students as they work on what they choose... but summer is my choice!

This summer I'll have some traveling to do (so far 2015 has been a pretty hard year for me, as my mother died, and so my dad is now on his own), and I'm also going to my first conference in years: DML in June! But aside from that, I'm going to be doing India-India-and-more-India this summer, retooling my Indian Epics class much like I did my Myth-Folklore class last summer.

And for those who watched the Myth-Folklore Textbook happen last summer, this may be hard to believe but ... I am even more excited about this project! It's a harder project, which is part of why it is exciting, but it is also one that is really meaningful to me personally because I am going to learn SO MUCH. I discovered Indian storytelling and the Sanskrit language much too late in my life (see below), but now I can make up, at least in part, for the Indian education I never got to enjoy for myself. I want to know ALL the stories, and given the vastness that is Indian storytelling, such a project would take a lifetime. But three months sounds pretty good to me! Plus, I have the benefit of the tricks and strategies I learned from the massive project I did last summer.

Overall: The goal is to move my class from using four paperback versions of the epics (Ramayana by Narayan and by Buck, Mahabharata by Narayan and by Buck) to an UnTextbook model where students can choose to read the printed books if they want, or they can choose to do all their readings online from public domain sources, along with a comic book option available on reserve in our beautiful Bizzell Library.

So, to make that happen, there is a series of tasks I need to accomplish. These are more or less in order, although they are a kind of "rolling" agenda in the sense that I can start on the first few projects now and then add on the later projects as I complete the earlier ones. Luckily, most of these are open-ended in the sense that there is a bare minimum I have to get done for my course to go well in Fall, but above and beyond that bare minimum, I can really just go with the flow.

1. Catalog my ACK comic books. This is so exciting I still squeak when I talk about it (I talk too fast in general, and I really do squeak when I get excited). I had ordered just for my own pleasure the 300+ comic book collection from Amar Chitra Katha when it went on sale a few weeks ago. Now I own them all:

Then, thanks to the wonder-working goddess of the OU Libraries, Stacy Zemke, the Library also purchased a set that will be on reserve for my students. So, I need to catalog the comic books and transcribe the little blurbs from ACK so that the comic books will be really searchable. The ACK website itself is pretty terrible and I have not yet found a good comprehensive text document anywhere online that lends itself to searching for specific comics. As a result, this catalog will be something useful for me, for my students, and I hope useful to the public at large! This will be happening at my Amar Chitra Katha blog.
Bare minimum: Write up blurbs on the Myth, Folktales, and Classics comics; the Bravehearts and Visionaries can come later.

2. Create my own Ramayana and Mahabharata online anthologies. This is a huge challenge, and I need to start at the beginning of the summer so that I have lots of time to revise. Basically, I want to create for each epic an online anthology of readings drawn from different public domain sources that would be appx. 150-200 pages long if it were a printed book (but they will take the form of individual blog posts for linking, remixing, etc. and also for easily including images, embedded video/music, etc.; Ramayana I am sure I can do in 150 pages, but Mahabharata will probably take 200). I'll have more to say about this in a separate post, but I see this as the biggest online writing challenge I have ever set for myself. I've been inventorying all the public domain sources I can draw on, ranging from literal English translations of the epics, to English verse translations, to prose retellings, along with audio resources at LibriVox. My goal is to make an online book that students can read over a two-week period which will give them an overall sense of the epic (comparable to what they now get in my classes by reading Narayan's condensed versions), and which will also give them a sense of which public domain books they might like to read for themselves later on in the course.
Bare minimum: I'm aiming for 50-60 episodes as a core for each epic (each episode as 500-1000 words or so), knowing I can build on that later, swap episode content, etc.

3. Write up Reading Guides for the public domain books. This item goes hand-in-hand with the previous item. As I write up the Reading Guides for the public domain sources (here are the Reading Guides I've done for the four class books in the past), I'll also keep an eye out for episodes that are really well told so that I can transcribe those episodes (most of the sources I am using are just page-images, not fully digitized texts) and consider them for inclusion in my own Ramayana and Mahabharata anthologies as described above. I'll start with the books (only a few of them unfortunately) that are available at Sacred Texts and/or at Project Gutenberg (which has better proofreading than Sacred Texts) so that I can being by copying-and-pasting, only transcribing when I need to use texts from Hathi Trust, Internet Archive, or Google Books.
Bare minimum: I need enough reading guides for 16 weeks of free reading (i.e. 8 weeks with at least 2 choices each week), ideally 24 as the minimum.

4. Keep building my Indian images library. Right now this exists in a kind of higgledy-piggledy way across my Indian Epics Resources blog, my Pinterest Board, and my Diigo bookmarks, but I've already started normalizing that (making sure that I bookmark everything in Diigo in order to avoid duplicates), and I'm really excited about developing this more systematically. Being able to include images in the anthologies (see above) is essential; in some ways students prefer to read the paperback books, but the images are a powerful lure to get them to read online. For most of the students in the class, the world of the Indian Epics is completely new and foreign, and the gorgeous, thought-provoking images are the best method I have to provoke the students' curiosity. Also, just speaking for myself, I love working with images. This is going to be a really wonderful part of the summer!
Bare minimum: What I have in my Library is actually enough, so this is truly an extra, but a fun extra. I'll probably set myself a goal of 5 new images per day, something like that.

5. Write up Reading Guides for the comic books. This is a project I can start as soon as I finish the cataloging of the comic books described above. My goal is to make sure that there are abundant comic book reading options for the second half of the semester which is all free reading (Weeks 9-14), but I also want to make sure to have some comic book materials available for the free reading in Week 4 (Ramayana-related) and in Week 7 (Mahabharata-related). My goal is to blend the comic book reading with other online sources, as you can see here in the Reading Guide I wrote up to go with one of the jataka comic books: Monkey Tales. I'll be able to use these for my Myth-Folklore class also, which is another big plus!
Bare minimum: As with the Reading Guides above, I'd like to have comic book choices to support 16 weeks of free reading options (32 individual comic books), so I'll pick those first and then move on from there. (Update: I just did my first pass and found it hard to limit myself to 40 comic books titles, ha ha. So that is what I will start with.)

Well, writing that out made it seem less intimidating! Of course, it's an infinitely large project because of all the materials available online and all the ways I can make those materials useful to my students, but what's great is that I can build the bare minimum (comic book catalog, the two anthologies, plus a core set of Reading Guides), and then just see how much more time I have.

I cannot believe all the great things I am going to get to read this summer... especially the Mahabharata-related materials. Discovering the Mahabharata in the form of Peter Brook's film shown on PBS back in 1990 changed my life forever, making me realize that my undergraduate education had been absurdly incomplete — the most absurd thing being that I had no idea whatsoever how incomplete it was.

Being completely mesmerized by that film from the very first opening moments led me on the most extraordinary path for the next ten years. That path led me to graduate school, where I read and read and read (I was a reading machine for those six years at Berkeley), but since I finished graduate school in 1999, I have not had time like that to devote to my Indian education. Of course, I have been incredibly lucky to teach this Indian Epics class at OU because it means I have learned a lot and read a lot, in bits and pieces, over the past 15 years (and even during my brief stint in the Classics department at OU, I taught an Iliad-Mahabharata course). Now, at last, I get a chance to take a deep breath and plunge into three months of reading.

I cannot imagine a better summer for a bookworm like myself............! And I hope everybody else is expecting a glorious summer as well!


  1. Wow! This reads very fast - I think because your excitement and all the different future tasks in your head create the pace. Laura, what a Summer for you! I'm so grateful that you are making the whole process transparent - the thinking, the steps taken, the resources, the students' work, etc. Not as excited as you, but I'm definitely looking forward to your posts.

    1. Thanks, Tania! This has all been taking shape since back in December when I realized something which seems obvious to me now of course: of course I can make an UnTextbook for the Indian Epics class. It's kind of like my Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, but different too... and it is exploring those differences that will make the summer extremely fun. :-)


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