Sunday, December 21, 2014

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Week 1 Introduction: Being in Two Places at Once

Hi, everybody! As you already know, I teach online courses at the University of Oklahoma... but what you might not know is that I am living in North Carolina, as I have been for the past several years. Here's how that happened: my husband retired early from the Meteorology School at OU in order to take care of his very elderly father (who was living here on his own in North Carolina), and, luckily for me, I was able to move here too and keep on teaching at OU. Which was great... because I love my job! So, like students who sometimes need the flexibility of online courses to manage complicated life situations, the same is true for me too.

Since I work full-time "in" Oklahoma while living here in North Carolina, I often have this strange sense of being in two places at once. When I say "here," sometimes I mean here in North Carolina... but sometimes I mean Oklahoma! I'm very lucky that online space works that way: even at a distance, I can feel very connected to things that are going on in Oklahoma and excited about the things happening at OU.

I've been at OU since 1999, and I've been teaching online courses since back in 2002... which is a long time ago in the world of online teaching. I really like teaching online because every semester there are new things to try, based on all the ideas and suggestions from students during the semester before! Last summer, I created an UnTextbook for the Myth-Folklore class, and next summer I hope to create an UnTextbook for the Indian Epics class. In fact, I'll be asking for your advice and suggestions about that this semester!

And yes, since my idea of fun during the summer is to read lots and lots of books, you have probably guessed that I am a book nerd. I love science fiction novels, and I also really like historical fiction. The best book I read last semester was this amazing novel about Watergate: Watergate, A Novel by Thomas Mallon. I was just a little kid when Watergate happened, so I the names of all the characters are familiar to me, but this novel really brought them to life (Pat Nixon especially). I had never thought about historical fiction set in the 1970s... but history is any time in the past, including the 1970s.


I'm also a huge fan of Doctor Who, and I'm actually reading through all the Doctor Who television scripts as part of this new "Doctor Who Quotes" project. Hey, it's an excuse to binge-watch Doctor Who whenever I want, ha ha. Here's a TARDIS quote from an episode with the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant):


So, books, television... and cats. We have two cats. One is a girl cat named Possum. She likes to go on walks, and she especially likes to play hide-and-seek! She came to us as a stray summer before last, all skin-and-bones after living out in the woods for who knows how long. She was glad to find us, and we were glad she found us too.

(Possum photo taken by my husband)

We have a boy cat too; here you can see him surveying his outdoor domain from our back porch. His name is Einstein... because he is seriously smart. Einstein was also a stray; he came to us a little over a year ago. We had been thinking we wanted to have a couple of cats, and we are very glad with the two strays who came our way.

(Einstein photo taken by my husband)

Anyway, 2014 was a great year for me, and I'm looking forward to great things in 2015 also. I hope you will have a fantastic year ahead too!!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Week 1 Storybook Favorites

One project I looked at was The Ancient City of Ayodhya. I picked this one because I am very aware of the contemporary history of Ayodhya (not a happy history), and the way this Storybook works is that there are stories from ancient Ayodhya plus a final story that is exactly about the modern city of Ayodhya in India and the riots that took place there. I think it is cool that the author of this Storybook found a way to connect the ancient stories to something that is modern and real and in the news today.

The next Storybook I looked at was RateMyRishi.com. Who can resist the title of this project, eh? This student took some stories about gurus and wrote them up like professor ratings at RateMyProfessors.com. She even made it look just like RateMyProfessors.com with avatars and all kinds of layout details so that it looks just right, in addition to being written in just the right style. It was really funny and I liked reading the stories in this way. This would get top marks for creativity from me - wow!

The last one I looked at was Animal Tales from India to Oklahoma. I will confess that the Storybooks which connect to Oklahoma are often my favorites! This Storybook is about a squirrel in India, in ancient India that is (this particular squirrel is over 2000 years old) who had a series of supernatural adventures that brought him to Oklahoma, to the OU campus in fact (gotta love those squirrels), and he spends his time telling Indian stories to random OU students who stop to listen. How cool! There was also a really beautiful image on the cover of this one, so I have provided a screenshot of that below. The story of Rama and the squirrel is one of my favorite legends in the epics, too.

I liked all three of these projects so much — plus, they are so different from each other! Three cheers for creativity and originality!

Here is a screenshot of the Indian squirrel Storybook; the image is Rama and the Squirrel:


Week 1: Exploring the UnTextbook

As you can guess, it is especially hard for me to pick just one unit each week since ALL of the units mean something important to me. But as an experiment, here I think is the thread I would like to follow in a hypothetical semester:

Week 2: I gained a new appreciation for the world of fairy tales this summer, so I think I would choose Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche for my reading this week. It can claim to be the oldest fairy tale in writing, and even without its claims to antiquity, it is such a brilliant take on the "Beauty and the Beast" theme.

Week 3: As a follow-up, I would do the Jewish Fairy Tales unit. The idea of fairy-tale type stories about Bible characters is fascinating to me, and I also like the way this book uses materials from both the ancient world and the Middle Ages.

Week 4: This is easy: I would choose Persian Fairy Tales. During the summer, I had the impression while reading that this was the most delightful collection of fairy tales I have read anywhere, so I would enjoy reading it again!

Week 5: I would stick with the Middle East for this week also (even though I love all the India units too), and read Folklore of the Holy Land. This book is very much about the peoples who hold Jerusalem as a sacred city, and with the tragedies unfolding in the Middle East right now, that is a topic I would like to ponder.

Week 6: Here the choice is easy: Tibetan Folktales. This was the very first unit I created in making the Un-Textbook. I would love to go back now to that very first unit and see the ways in which it has turned out to be connected to all the other units.

Week 7: Here I would choose More Brer Rabbit. Until this summer, I had not know about the Brer Rabbit stories in verse, and I included some of the verse stories in this unit. I would really like a chance to read them again, and maybe even write my own Brer Rabbit story in verse.

Week 9: Oh man, the choices here are almost impossible since, of all the modules, the Native American material is what I am most interested in right now in terms of my own learning and exploration. I think I would choose the Sioux Stories unit because the stories come from books written by women.

Week 10: And for this unit, I would do the Tejas Stories. This was another unit that I found completely delightful during the summer, and I would like the chance to read the stories again. I had so much fun putting that unit together! Also, I really liked the original artwork for this book!
Week 11: For this unit, I would like to read the Welsh Tales by Thomas again. This is another one of the units that I added very early on, and I would like to go back and read it again!

Week 12: I would follow up with the other collection of Welsh Tales by Emerson. I had the impression that the literary versus folkloric difference between these units was really striking, but since I read them months apart this summer, I am not sure about that. Reading both of the Welsh units together and comparing them would be a lot of fun!

Week 13: My choice here would definitely be the Kalevala. I was so excited to find not just the text but also the audio of this epic to use for the class! Plus I would love to try writing a story in this poetic meter. I've never done that before!

Week 14: And for my last choice, I think I would do the Russian Folktales. That is another unit I prepared very early in the summer, and I would love to read through the stories again, looking for connections to the tales of other countries!



Week 1 Story: The Cat Who Would Be King

PUSSY-CAT, pussy-cat, where have you been?
I've been to London to look at the queen.
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you there?
I frighten'd a little mouse under the chair.

(traditional nursery rhyme)

~ ~ ~

There was once a cat who was sure that he was destined for great things.

"Without a doubt," he said, "I am destined to rule over all these other cats. In fact, I feel that it is my destiny to rule over all the creatures, those that walk on four legs as well as those that walk on two legs. I will be the king of everyone!"

Of course, a king needs a kingdom, and this cat — we'll call him Rex — was sure that the tiny house where he lived, with its tiny front porch and even tinier garden, was not a kingdom worthy of his majesty.

In short, Rex decided to go to London. He had heard that the queen lived in London. Ergo: to London he must go.

~ ~ ~

PUSSY-CAT, pussy-cat, where have you been?
I've been to London to look at the queen.

Before going to London, Rex decided to dress the part. Searching diligently through the rubbish bins up and down the street, he found a long piece of red cloth to wear as a cape (he looked very regal, or so he supposed!), along with a crown.

He meowed with special delight when he found the crown; it fit his head perfectly — and just as Arthur had found his sword in the stone, Rex realized that this crown in the rubbish was a divine sign confirming his right to rule. Purring with anticipation, he licked his lips as he thought of all the fine food that would be served at his coronation banquet.


~ ~ ~

It was a long way to London but, by wise use of public transportation, Rex arrived at Buckingham Palace, slipped past the guards, and made his way inside.


Rex was on a mission: find the queen, propose marriage (how could she refuse?), and then begin his reign as King of All Cats and, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Head of the Commonwealth, and Defender of the Faith.

He was not quite sure about the Defender of the Faith part, but he hoped it would involve mice.

And that hope, as it turned out, was his undoing.

On this way to the queen, Rex proudly pranced through a long corridor, and that corridor was lined with chairs, polished and gilded and resplendent in their loveliness.

And beneath one of the chairs was... a mouse.

And a very fine mouse it was. Rex could not resist. Tossing off both his cape and his crown, he ran full tilt after that mouse...




... and was caught by a housemaid ...

... and thrown out of the palace.

End of adventure.

~ ~ ~


PUSSY-CAT, pussy-cat, where have you been?
I've been to London to look at the queen.
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you there?
I frighten'd a little mouse under the chair.

It was a long way back home for the erstwhile Rex. He decided he had had enough of London, yawned, and curled up beside the little fire in his little house, dreaming of .... mice.

~ ~ ~

Author's Note. As you can see by reading the original rhyme, it just says the cat went to London to see the queen and ended up frightening a mouse. That reminded me of the story about how Aphrodite, the goddess of love, changed a cat into a woman so that the cat-as-woman could get married to a man, but she ended up chasing a mouse during the wedding festivities, and this made Aphrodite angry, so she turned the cat back into a woman. For my story, I decided that this cat in the nursery rhyme wanted to be king, so he went to London... but he got distracted by a mouse and didn't get to be a king after all. The word "rex" means king in Latin. Meanwhile, the title is inspired by one of my favorite movies, The Man Who Would Be King (based on a story by Rudyard Kipling).

Bibliography. This story is based on the nursery rhyme "Pussy-Cat, Pussy-Cat" in The Nursery Rhyme Book, edited by Andrew Lang.

Something extra...

As often with nursery rhymes, there are all kinds of YouTube videos about the rhyme. Watch this Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat video at your own risk: the weird tune and bizarre animation will get in your head and your won't be able to get rid of it!