Michael's CSU Stan

The Musings of a Graduate Student of English: Rhetoric & Composition

May 27, 2013
by michaelelkins

Graduation 2013

Wrapping it all Up: 

I haven’t posted for awhile, so I’ll do my best to tie up all of the loose ends.


I passed my comps. It was more of an endurance test than anything, although not straight stamina, as 72 hours proved to be more than enough time to do a good job. I actually turned mine in about 12 hours early, so I wouldn’t be tempted to wake up early in the morning they were due and fiddle with the essays more. I was happy with both essays, and felt that I did a good job, though they will suffer the same fate that all of my writing does: to spend the rest of my life in a manuscript box, which I will lovingly pass on to my children who will likely toss it into the trash.



One, actually.  And he’s due in about 18 days. I’m freaking out a bit.  My wife is starting to do strange things like pile baby clothes in stacks in her room, and I’m getting nervous.  I mean, I did it once, but I’ve seen the pictures, and it wasn’t pretty.


English 1001:

I’ve been finishing up all the grading in my 1001 course. I made it through the final two in-class writing prompts over the weekend and have to spend Mon/Tues on the papers. After that, I will submit my grades, and move on to a non-TA position in the summer as long as the course I’ve been assigned fills. I’m excited about the course–four weeks long, full adjunct pay, with a cap of 15 students. Sweet!


 I didn’t walk as an undergraduate. I just drank a few beers and called it a day. But for the MA, I figured I should walk, even though I still don’t exactly want to. I don’t know why i’m resistant to the idea, other than the crowd and the silly costume, but I am going through with it, mostly for my family. It’s hard to say anything else about it. It kind of doesn’t feel real, and I don’t really know what I’m going to do now. It was sort of like life-on-pause for two years, and I’ve just hit the start button in the last few days. I’m not sure that it has sunk in yet.


To my readers: thank you both!




April 29, 2013
by michaelelkins

About 2.5 Weeks Left

Graduation/Final Obstacles and Loose Ends

I have just a little over two weeks of  left until I finish my coursework and end this two year project called grad-school. Except for the fact that I can’t freaking wait, and am having trouble mustering the necessary oomph for the last few weeks, things are going fairly dandy.

For the last two weeks I’ve been scoring college placement tests for a private company, which has consumed most of my time. Seriously, I’ve rated something like 1000+ papers (not one of which have been my students…I’ve got to get back to that tonight!) in the last two weeks, and my brain feels fried. The pay’s good, though, and the last day of scoring is on Wednesday, so I’m more or less through with that ordeal.

I take my comps this Friday, which will be another “X” off the list of things to due before I graduate, and once that is done, I will have more or less finished the term. Well, not exactly–there are two end of semester projects in my grad classes, but I’m not that concerned about them. Actually, I’m not that concerned about anything school related, anymore. I’m pretty sure I’m graduating.  The only thing I am starting to worry about is finding a job.  Job or no job,  I can’t wait to be done.


April 15, 2013
by michaelelkins
1 Comment

Nikki Giovanni At CSU, Stanislaus

Nikki Giovanni

I was not familiar with Nikki Giovanni’s work prior to sitting in on her recent reading at CSU, Stanislaus,  which, after hearing her credentials, surprised me:  author of  30-plus books,  Grammy Award nominee, world-renowned writer, poet, activist, and distinguished professor at Virginia Tech (to name a few).

Because I am largely terrible at planning, I had scheduled a conference with one of my students  right in the middle of the event, and planned only to stay for 20 or 30 minutes. But the event was slow to start due to some trouble with the microphone, so a good 10 minutes of the time I had to be there was gone before the event started. Then, about 10 minutes in, Nikki Giovanni begins with a story, and after a few minutes I was hooked, and left my student hanging,  hoping that the student simply wouldn’t show up (they sometimes didn’t).

Giovanni read two poems, but most of the time was spent telling stories, stories of her mother’s death, stories of life on Antarctica,  stories about dreaming of Deal or No Deal. They were long stories, wandering, so you’d think that the tether ball had gotten loose from the pole, but then it would swing back around, and you’d see the relationship.

I don’t remember the poems. They were brief, a few minutes at best. But I remember the humor of her stories. The insight that would be crammed next to a seemingly personal or mundane bit about death and Antarctica and Deal or No Deal. I remember the rich humor and the voice of encouragement that she offered to all in the audience, urging them to push through. I remember her advice to not avoid things that make you uncomfortable, and to always have sex with the light on because if you’re going to bother to do it, you shouldn’t pretend that you aren’t, and about taking the third offer from Howie Mandel if you are ever fortunate enough to be a contestant on Deal or No Deal.

It’s good advice.  I was glad I had the opportunity to hear it.

April 8, 2013
by michaelelkins

Spring Break Recap

Family Road Trip

A few times a year, my family and I head out on a shortish road trip, usually to another family member’s house that just happens to be in a nice location. My mom’s place fits the bill–she lives in Sonoma, and it’s only a few hours from Modesto, where I live. But my in-laws have a better location–Bend OR.–and being that it’s relatively far away, we don’t see them nearly as often.  Since my wife and I both had a week off at the same time with nothing to do (ha!), we decided to head up to see her folks.

Post-Drive Jammies

The Drive

The trip took about 10 hours each way, which in the past has been fairly rough on my son, which makes it fairly rough on us. Fortunately we were able to borrow a portable DVD player and my son watched one video on the way up, and another on the way back which gave us a few hours of semi-guaranteed quiet time in the car. He also napped for a couple hours each way, so we lucked out there, too. The drive was surprisingly pleasant, and my son was in a good mood even when he wasn’t sleeping or watching a video.

Potty Breaks

I’m Breeding Next Gen Geek Squad Employees Who Get Excited About Peeing in the Grass and Fixing Computers

We stopped a lot on the way, four or five times, usually so my son could go to the bathroom. My son is new to potty training, and a few times we ended up creating a rest-area in some tall weeds on the side of the road, something that thrilled him more than actually using a toilet. He didn’t have any accidents on the way, though there was one particularly close call that I will politely refrain from sharing. Okay, I’ll just say this–Taco Bell bean burrito: He ate one; you can figure the rest out.

Me an’ Eli



Bend is a nice town. 80k people, high-desert, which is a blend of desert shrubs and evergreens, with the Deschutes river running right through the middle of the town. I spent most of my time studying for my comps, but I managed to go out for a few hours each day, eat a buffalo burrito, fish with my son, and drink some local beer that was super hoppy and smelled like flowers. Good beer. Good trip.

March 25, 2013
by michaelelkins

Spring Break Countdown

A Much Needed Break: With under a week until spring break, I’m definitely counting the days. Of course, since it’s my last semester, I’ve been counting days more or less since it started. I’m actually somewhat surprised in my ability to stay on top of things this semester. I tend to procrastinate anyway, and normally combining my own tendencies with the end-of-program burnout that is so common for students, I would have thought I would be barely scraping by this semester, doing just the bare minimum. I’ve been on top of things, though. Getting ahead on reading and writing when possible, and turning in everything that is due. Maybe in part because I’ve been staying on the ball, and maybe just because I’m just plain worn out, I’m ready for  the upcoming break. It hasn’t started yet, and I’m already finding myself balking at the brevity of a week, but I’m a bit greedy when it comes to free time. We have a family trip to Oregon planned to visit my in-laws, and 12 hour car ride with a three year old aside, I am looking forward to it.

Zombie Stuff: I’ve actually mapped out the last six weeks of the semester until graduation, and one of the upcoming things on the to do list is to submit an application to speak at the PMLA on a panel about The Walking Dead. While my zombie paper was not on The Walking Dead, I’ve been working on some ideas related to memory/anamnesis in the show that fit fairly well with some of the work I’ve already done. There is also an upcoming collection of essays on The Walking Dead soliciting manuscripts, and I am going to try to adapt my work for that as well. It would be nice if I could make the cut on both of the calls, as it would simultaneously legitimize the work that I did on the essay and also better position me for work when I graduate. I mean, I’m glad I did the study, and I’m fairly happy with the work (although it’s still somewhat rough around the edges), turning it into a few more lines on my CV wouldn’t hurt.



March 18, 2013
by michaelelkins

The Death of a Video Card

The Death of a Saturday:

This weekend got off to a slow start productivity wise. My wife finally had me cornered long enough over Saturday morning coffee to remind me of an ongoing problem with her car, so that ate up the first bit of the morning on Saturday. Now, before you think that I am a handy guy, let me tell you that what was wrong with the car was simply a clip breaking on the under-carriage, which resulted in the occasional (okay, constant) dragging of plastic while driving. I fixed the problem, but the tools involved were wire cutters, two pocket knives, and a metal clothes hangar. Handy? Not really, but I fixed the problem. But as things seem to go, one problem was followed up with another problem.

After “fixing” my wife’s car, I was ready for a day of tax preparation and paper grading.  But when I sat down at my desk to start the taxes (resume, actually, because they ate a good chunk of my last Saturday as well), my computer monitor wouldn’t display video. The monitor is an older CRT, so I figured I just needed a new one, which wouldn’t be a big deal. I found a replacement (also a CRT) for $10 on Craigslist, and picked it up within a couple hours. Only problem, when I tried hooking the monitor up, there was still no picture, which meant that the video card  had given out and would need to be replaced. This was a bigger problem, mainly because it’s an older computer, and I didn’t want to spend much money to have the part replaced, so I couldn’t just run out to Best Buy and pick something up. I ordered a replacement on amazon for $30.00 (told you it was an old computer), and should get the card on the 22nd. But, all that running around and figuring-out killed my Saturday, and other than a cleaned off desk, I ended up with a fairly dead Saturday.

The Semi-Productive Sunday:

Sunday was a better day. I still lost some time  Sunday because I volunteer with the toddlers at my church one Sunday a month, or, more accurately, my wife is in charge of arranging volunteers for childcare at our church, and she has enlisted me to serve alongside her once a month. Still, even with the morning filled, I managed a productive afternoon. I graded half a stack of papers, and finally started to go through more of the boxes from my Nerd Garage Sale find. I hit a few stacks of water damaged stuff, which made it in my boxes simply because of the speed at which I was filling them at the sale. I hate mold, though. It makes me physically sick ,and I ended up having to chuck a few dozen mold-damaged comics and magazines. I pulled a lot of cool stuff, though. There were instruction manuals for the Commodore 64, A Ghost in a Shell laser disc, stacks of RPG manuals and scenario books, lots of old video game magazines from the early 90s, a Japanese Jungle Pokemon booster, and even a cool M:TG promo pack from Portal. I’ve never seen it before, but it looks like it was a magazine insert that demonstrated the game for two players. From what I can tell, the sealed pack is worth only about $20, but it’s still a cool find, because I still play Magic occasionally, and like to be able to have the older stuff pass through my hands from time to time, that way I get the pleasure of owning it, but also get to let it go after that initial cool factor has worn off. Being a dealer sort of gives you the perks of being a collector without all the hits to your wallet. The hits to your garage are still sizable though. The six boxes I cleared barely made a dent.

March 11, 2013
by michaelelkins

Half Way There

School Stuff

As of today, I am about half way through my last semester of graduate school. In the back of my mind there is always that nagging feeling of possible failure. And, technically, it is possible. I could fail my comprehensive exams; I could fail a course I need; I could suddenly and inexplicably become a compulsive gambler who opts to go to the card room instead of class (I’ve never done this, I swear!). But, the thing is, it’s very doubtful any of that would happen. I generally don’t miss class. I am too conservative with my money to do wild gambles. I am, for the most part, prepared for my comprehensive exams, and I’ve had only A’s/A-‘s the whole time I’ve been in the program. What I’m getting at, I guess, is that I’m more or less done, and as long as I keep moving like I have been while in the program, all of my stress and worry is over nothing.

Job Stuff

As of today, I’m caught up in my classroom. I get a new batch of papers today, though, so that will set me behind again. I generally need a one week turn around on papers, and sometimes I take two weeks on lower-stakes assignments. They still take too much time overall, but it is manageable, and I have caught the rhythm of the semester and been able to ride it fairly well. No major bucking or injuries, and I feel I’ve been doing a good job with the course.

Home Stuff

My son was given the gift of stomach flu by one of his little playmates, so we spent Sunday lounging around the house, watching videos,  and attending to the occasional bouts of vomit and diarrhea  With the exception of my son’s frequent and sudden uncontrollable loss of fluids, it was actually a great way to spend a Sunday.

March 4, 2013
by michaelelkins
1 Comment

Birthday Party

Elijah’s Third Birthday

I had a good weekend. Full, but good.  My son turned three on Friday. We asked him what he wanted for dinner, and he said pancakes. I tried influencing him towards pizza, but he was unwavering in his decision. We ended up heading to Denny’s. He had a pancake decorated like a baseball, and my wife and I ate burgers. My burger was a “Bacon Slam Burger”, which is a burger topped with an egg and hash browns. In one of my introductory writing assignments in the English 1001 course I teach, a student had said how much they loved them, so I wanted to try it.  It was good. Not epic, but good.

That Friday was also the two year anniversary of me being laid off of my job, which was the catalyst to me going to graduate school. I feel pretty good about the situation now. It doesn’t bother me that it happened. I was unhappy in the work, and I have nearly completed a program that will qualify me for teaching composition, something that’s a better fit than management, my previous work. But I’m two years into it, and it took more or less the full two years to come to grips with it. The first year or so was pretty rough emotionally, but I’m glad it happened. I’m not sure I would have gone back to school otherwise.
We had a small party on Saturday–at least small considering the size of our family. We mostly only invited family, with a few straggler invites tossed in, and we still ended up with about 20 people. I bought my son a pretty awesome Imaginext Castle that goes with a dragon that his grandma had got him for Christmas. It has a sensor that can sense when the dragon is near, and it plays specific recordings related to the event.  Eli and his guests played with it for most of the party, which was fun to watch.  It was a good weekend, and a nice change of pace from the normal textbook grind on Saturdays.  Breaks keep you sane,  I guess. At least they keep you passing as sane, which is more or less the same thing.


Sunday I made it through 19/24 essays. It takes me too too long, mostly because I type to many comments and I’m a noob. It was more or less my whole day. I try to be helpful with the students, though, and for the most part, I enjoy reading their work. I’ll finish the last few before class tomorrow, which leaves me on track for the week, despite the party.

February 25, 2013
by michaelelkins

Crazy Nerd Garage Sale Day

Estate Sale

Estate sales aren’t generally treasure troves for nerds–at least not the dice-toting, D&D playing type. But my aunt  gave me a lead the other day about an estate sale with a full house of  “the types of stuff I sell,” which more or less meant nerd stuff. She was right. I spent the day digging at the sale, and I’ve got an aching back, an injured thumb,  and a full garage, but I’m blissing out in nerd heaven  (nerdvana?), because I’ve never had such a large quantity of nerdy stuff. Seriously, my garage is a comic store, and it’s freaking awesome.

Except for furniture, everything at the sale was $5.00 a box, and after about six hours of digging and hauling, I  ended up with 39 boxes  of manga, anime, figurines,  cards, comic books, art books, D&D books, board games, card games, Pokemon, laser discs, commodore 64 games, and even a couple old packs of Magic: The Gathering  (Portal and Planeshift). I basically filled a good chunk of my garage for less than $200, and it’s going to provide me with months of work during slow times in my life. One of the best things about it, other than it will net a very large profit for my eBay store, is that  I don”t even know everything that I got, because if it looked nerdy,  I threw it in the box.


No Nerds Were Harmed in the Making of this Estate Sale

Oh, and don’t worry, no nerds died in the making of this estate sale. That thought did bum me out during the dig, because judging by the stuff, the nerd was probably my age or a little older.  I asked the man who was selling the stuff about the situation, and it turned out it was an elderly family member who was storing stuff for her grandson (or maybe nephew, I don’t remember exactly).With her gone and the house being sold , the nerd had no place for his overflow nerd-goodies, so I made the biggest and nerdiest score of my life.

Frickin’ sweet.

February 18, 2013
by michaelelkins
1 Comment

Five Things I Wish I’d Done In Grad School

Top Five Things  I Wished I’d Done In Grad School

Alexia’s recent list of the top  movies and songs from the 80’s inspired me to do a list of a different sort  to help prospective or current  graduate students.


A big part of what you are doing in graduate school is building your academic resume (CV). Conferencing isn’t required, but professors (or would be professors) are expected to both research within the discipline and present that research in conference. This is more or less a glaring omission from my CV that I put off because of my own personal hang ups with crowds and public speaking.

Applying for a Graduate Assistantship Award

The Center for Excellence in Graduate Education offers a competitive grant for individuals to perform research with a sponsoring professor. It is fairly competitive, with only about 1/3 to 1/2 of applicants receiving the award. It’s another thing I wish I’d applied for, although I’m not really sure how I would have managed it with my other responsibilities.

Written a Thesis

One of the reasons I went to graduate school is because I thought I would have to write a thesis. Sounds strange, I know, but I wanted the mandate so I would be forced to set aside the time to write. Only problem, RTW doesn’t require a thesis, and there is no way I can make myself do something extra just for the heck of it. I simply don’t have the time. Still, it’s something I wish I had to my credit when finishing school.

Stayed Longer

Come May, I will have finished the program in two years. If I would have opted for three years (which was actually my original plan), I would have likely been able to teach more classes, enter more contests, apply for a Graduate Assistantship, conference, etc. Two years isn’t that long. Not really, and my first year was spent simply getting accustomed to the discipline and understanding what exactly you are actually supposed to do in  graduate school. If I had another year, I could do more of those things that actually count toward finding a job. And, technically, I could stay another year, but I’m not really at a point in my life where I can just work another  year (largely for free or at an expense) to build a resume. Which brings me to my final point.

Gone Earlier

Perhaps my biggest regret is simply being so damn old–at least by student standards. Off hand, I’d say about 80 percent of my cohort  are in their early or mid 20s. I’m 32. Those six or seven years might not seem like much, but a lot happens in six or seven years. Houses happen, spouses happen, kids happen. Many (though not all) of the other students aren’t married, don’t have kids, and have lives much more conducive to graduate study and the lack of resources such study is usually synonymous with.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad I went, but I should have gone earlier.

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