English at Marietta College
Dr. Bland

 

 


How I became a Professor:“I started out as a lot of majors. I started out in journalism and then this – well he was, at least when I knew him, a lovely young man named Michael Feher. I was at the University of Washington and he was at the University of Oregon, we had grown up together, and he clearly became mentally ill and got a gun and became the Oregon Sniper in 1894; killed two or three people and killed himself in Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. I’m standing there in my journalism class, and said, ‘Oh my god, I know Michael Feher!’ And everybody said, ‘Oh you have to run there and get the story,’ and I thought, over my dead body. These were nice people; we could watch on the news – because we didn’t live in that neighborhood any more, my parents didn’t – we’d watch on the news people hassling them. And I thought, you know journalism is important, and clearly it’s not for me [laughs]. So good I found out early. I did try education, but it just didn’t call to me, and everybody in my family, all the women were teachers; that was sort of the generations before me, the options for smart girls. I was not going to, just like a sheep, follow that, because I wasn’t going to teach, who would want to do that? And so, I did get an English degree, an English and Political Science double-major with a writing emphasis. So I knew I wanted to do it, but by the time I had graduated from school I was soo sick of school. I went and worked, I was a bartender, actually, I mean in a really nice place. I worked in a corporate hotel chain, and eventually was an assistant manager, and then a manager, in hotel fine dining for five years in Seattle; I worked on cruise ships, I did all sorts of little ‘mess-around-in-your-twenties’ things, and then I thought, ‘Good lord, get a real job!’ you know? And bless my parents’ hearts. They were really educationally focused; I came from a highly educated family, they never said, ‘My God, use your degree!’ Which, I think that would have been hard for me not to say to a child, and they were somehow OK with it which, my parents were old school parents, so I don’t understand what that was, but I appreciated it. Then I applied to graduate school and went to Temple in Philadelphia for Creative Writing, and I kind of learned to teach there, more or less. I was lucky in graduate school, both there and at the University of Denver, because there was real training for teachers. I can remember the first batch of papers I corrected and I was so excited; I was just so excited, I was sitting in this on-campus restaurant, feeling all teacher-y. I was probably twenty-six, and I had everything all lined up, and I was going to make marks, and offer help, and I just felt pure joy; I try to remember that when it’s like 11:00 at night here, and I’m going through another group of papers, thinking, ‘Remember when this was joyous?’ [laughs]. But they did support teaching there, because it’s not like an education degree where they really teach you pedagogy; depending on what kind of school you go to, it depends on if you get really good support to become a good teacher. I came back to Washington State, and I taught at a community college for two years. I kind of had to think, do I want a Ph.D.? And I decided I did; that I was going to go really into academia, and even in creative writing the argument has been made for years that an M.F.A. is a terminal degree, and it is, and there’s plenty of people who make really good careers with an M.F.A. and they can do it, but you know what: you come into an English department a lot of times and you’ve got a Ph.D., and you’re up against people with an M.F.A…yeah. I also think its made a huge different in my writing, and my ability to teach literature; to have three more years of coursework really made a difference. So after two years back in Washington, when I was about twenty-eight/thirty, I went to the University of Denver where I worked after I got my degree there and ended up running the first year program which did teach people to teach the Ph.D. candidates, and supported their pedagogy. It was accidental; I was no more going to be a teacher than Fli. Although I do believe this is what I’m supposed to be doing; I think this is probably best at.”
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Before Marietta:“I came here for the job, but specifically I liked the faculty when I interviewed. You know, they were one of my interviews at MLA; so I interviewed with all these schools, and I really liked the people here. I met Joe Sullivan and Dr. Hogue, and we got along very well. They also were starting creative writing, so I got the opportunity to not join a program, but help develop one. So I liked that. Um, it was kind of an adventure; we’d been in Denver for nine years, and I was ready for something new. I also had no idea that they had no Thai food here at all, not even a little – I don’t know why. But yeah, I didn’t know I was moving to Appalachia. Which has been interesting.”
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What I like best about this campus:“This is a really nice community. Faculty and staff are equally dedicated to the school; it’s remarkable. I used to kind of wonder why there were so many people who had retired from this college who still hung about and took classes and everything, and I thought, really? They wouldn’t do that at IBM. Well, this isn’t IBM. People, in many ways, can give their entire working career to a place like this. And it is a nice group of people; one of the ways we hire people – although it is very much a buyer’s market – is we show them what our community is like here. It’s a nice group of people. You know, there’s like a faculty Happy Hour every Friday – you laugh now, but when you’re middle-aged, it’s cool. But it’s not where all the bitter drunks go; it’s a nice group of people. I also like the students here; they are pleasant, they’re wanting to get somewhere in life; they’re trying. This is expensive; we are actually a good deal for a private liberal arts college, but I didn’t go to a private liberal arts college. I was very lucky my parents paid for everything, but it was in a time where State schools were highly subsidized. It was competitive, and I got an excellent education – I didn’t have an advisor – you figured it out yourself. I was stunned when I went to the University of Denver, and we knew who our English majors were. I didn’t know they cared. Now, I knew nothing about academia, but it wasn’t all love and joy. Good education! So I have gone to smaller and smaller schools where I have this kind of relationship with my students. So yeah, you guys pay more, this is what you get. But that doesn’t deny the cost of it…and I don’t know, I really like the student population here. They’re warm-hearted. Is that a good word? I like students. If you don’t, you need to get into another field.”
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My area(s) of concentration:“Modern Fiction and Fiction Writing, but I teach Introduction [to Creative Writing] where I do all the genres. I’m very interested in narrative structure, and I can talk about that as students produce it, and I can talk about that as we read what other people have produced. I’ve taught a lot of Honors over the years, which I really enjoy because I’ll pick a country, and we’ll try to explore a culture and a people through literature by those writers, and by writers who are observing them from the outside. But really, creative writing, I really like to teach. But I wouldn’t just like to teach it; I have had semesters at another school where all I did was teach creative writing. I like to balance it with literature. If we’re really talking about trying to write literature, we should know something about literature.”
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I feel my strengths as a professor are:“I care deeply about what I’m teaching; I think it’s tremendously important to be able to blend communication skills, which is what you’re always doing with your reader, and artistic structure. You don’t have to become a fiction writer to need these skills for the rest of your life. I care about my students; there are a lot of teaching styles, and I believe that if you walk in the door with the assumption that your students can get there, they are more likely to get there, as opposed to ‘CRETINS!? YOU SHALL NOT PASS,’ and you are the orcs at the gate, and I’m going to go, ‘get over yourselves.’ I was taught by people like that. Sort of like, ‘Let me spend the next ten weeks telling you all that you do not know.’ Of course I should know more than my students. That’s why I went to school for nine thousand years. But I like going in with the positive; with the opportunity. I probably make too many smart-aleck remarks in class [laughs]. I know I am up there, saying all sorts of crap, you know, blah blah blah, it’s just sort of, it’s what I’ve got to work with [laughs]. When I was younger, I had more of a problem in the classroom because you carry more authority when you’re older, and I would be up there going, ‘blah blah blah,’ and some kids would misinterpret that as a class where there were no rules; that doesn’t happen so much any more. Maybe I’m a better teacher, but when I was younger I had to be careful about that, because – my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my aunts, my cousin, there was a lot of teachers, and I can remember when I was very first teaching a class, calling my mother and telling her what was happening, and there was like dead silence on the phone; I said, ‘What do I do?’ and she goes ‘Ha, you’ve lost control of your class.’ And I’m like, ‘Well how do I fix it?’ and she goes, ‘At this point you don’t. Thank your lucky stars that you don’t have them all year; when’s your term over?’ And I never lost control of a class again. I didn’t know what to do! I thought I had to go in there and they had to like me. That that was pedagogically the whole goal. Because you don’t know. I don’t worry about them liking me; I want them to know that I like them. And that I believe in them. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to give them a D! But I still have faith in you.”
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I struggle with:“I worked with a women at a community college years ago, she was a physics teacher. And you don’t automatically think of a physics teacher, necessarily, in that atmosphere, working to build a learning community by taking the time to build relationships. At least I didn’t, and maybe that’s an utter stereotype. I’ve had some very good science teachers. But you sort of think, ‘Oh, they’re content-driven, and they’ve got to go,’ and she really taught me how to form – she had an entire plan she followed. Now I don’t do this; she gave them tests on each other’s names. She was going to make sure they knew each other. I try to use students’ names a lot. I try to reinforce who everyone is; it’s easier at a small school, but it’s always – and I don’t know, maybe I just don’t think – I’ll get to the end of a term, and my classes are pretty cohesive. I know who you are, and you pretty much know who I am, and you know each other, and you’ve worked together, and they’re in-sync. And I start a class the very next term and I’m always sort of stupidly surprised when it’s the first day and they’re acting like it’s the first day, they’re not acting like we’ve been together for ten weeks. And I always sort of go, ‘Yeah, okay okay, you’ve got to start over,’ got to build that again. I have to remind myself of that. I like the beginning of the term, but you know, when I walk in and I start doing my little weird shtick, and you look at them and some of them look happy and some of them look like, ‘What in the name of God is this?’ You know, you have that transition period [laughs] and even though I can say I know it’s there, I’m always a little surprised by it. So then it motivates me to build the community, and do that, but…I try to teach a lot of different things; I don’t want to get rote, I don’t want to get bored, I don’t want to get angry, you know, ‘Why don’t you know how to write this paper!?’ Well, that’s why you’re here. I try to be aware of that; I think an unhappy teacher is a bad teacher, so I try to keep it interesting for me.”
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I revise my classes:“For creative writing, I’ve kind of got a set of things I use; for 301, the Fiction class, I’ve got different exercises I’ll bring in, it’s so driven by what students produce. And then I like to have a collection that people respond to, different story collections so we can talk about, ‘What does it look like when you can get a body of work? What does it look like when you have nine or ten stories together?’ So not just, ‘Can we look at a really good story,’ but what do we see when this author really has some room to spread out in? I’ve got two to three sets of fiction that I use, versions. I didn’t change the readings in Concepts of Gender, because it covered a really specific progression of the issues; I never usually teach the same book twice in Writing 101. I have I think six or seven versions of Honors 111…my whole life, I think what will happen, is that when I get to be 80 and die, I will finally find what I think are good books to teach in Intro to Creative Writing. It is an endless search…that’s what I mean by I don’t want to get bored. Now. I am in a field where fiction is always produced, although Dr. Hares-Stryker does find modern connections, she’s really good about that; certainly Bev does, Nathan does, but I was going to say it’s harder when you’re the Shakespearean like Dr. Sullivan, and yet he does new stuff. So let’s say that there are schools, and I don’t think this really sticks true with us, that people teach the same things that were written 300 years before them, forever. And what changes for them is just the scholarly discussion of it, which I eventually think people are going to run out of things to say to Milton. So I have an opportunity because people are always producing new fiction. At this end, we think of things differently. Forty years ago, we didn’t use the term postcolonial. I think in my career we’ll outgrow that term, because, you know, we call it African American literature right now, we don’t call it ‘I used to be a slave literature.’ So postcolonial is to say you’re going to be defined by the fact that somebody took over your country. So there’s so much evolution. I would be bored out of my mind if I had to keep teaching the same thing, and I also think it’s not good for the students. There needs to be some – obviously I’ve read all the books before I teach them – but I think that’s what keeps the life in your teaching, is reconsidering your material. Because otherwise, you know, you’re like a robot, up there, giving the same lecture. I’m always amazed…and I would not say that’s typical here, but I have seen it at other institutions. Then it’s interesting to me, and I learn.”
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What I want to gain from teaching: ““I feel very passionate – I love story. I love narrative. I’m a narrative person; I make meaning through story. I know that’s how I talk to people, that’s what I do in my work; that’s what I do in my teaching. I think teaching is translation. You tell a story and then you tell it a different way and then you tell it a different way, it’s just about pronouns. Or, it’s about why people are represented – Vietnam; the country, not the war – in a certain way. And I think that’s how people learn. Teaching gives me the opportunity to share what I feel is deeply meaningful to me, which in many ways is a privilege. I never doubt – it’s not that we don’t have bad days. You see crazy stuff, or you have a day where nobody’s done their reading, and you just want to go, ‘Really?’ But that’s not typical. I don’t doubt that I’m doing something good in the world. That I’m furthering something for people who are seeking an education. When I was a restaurant manger, and I was a good manager, I could make anybody happy; you know, you could go and save any table if you really could do anything. But at the end of the night, I didn’t feel like I’d accomplished much. I know that I accomplish something here.”
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What I want my students to walk away with:“Really what I want from my students is that they understand they all have elements of creativity in them, and that that’s something that they feel confident in. It doesn’t mean that they have to become sculptors. That they have skills that, with effort, can be built upon. That they see the value of making those, not just those on-the-page communication skills that they need to go make a living, because they need to go make a living, but at the same time that they value the creative arts, that they value the role of story in our culture; I think that’s really important. We can’t just work. I remember, when I worked up in Alaska on a cruise ship, they would talk about different cultures and how with different indigenous native cultures, their ability to create art relied on how hard their lives were. With the Tlingits, in Southeast Alaska, where my god the food was probably falling out of the sky, they would say ‘when the tide was out the table is set.’ Well they caught fish, they caught crab, there are muscles on the beach, there are clams, there was food everywhere. They made amazing traditional art. When you think of the native peoples who, one of the Athabascans I think, and I’m not an expert on Alaskan natives, were making totem poles. People who don’t have to fight for their lives make art. You go out to the end of the Aleutian chain where there’s such harsh winds and weather that eagles are nesting on the ground because a tree is not going to hold an eagle’s nest, less so. And so we live in a modern society, we should be able to appreciate forms of art. I hope that I support that.”
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Why you should consider this English Department:“I think we have deeply committed faculty who really make an effort to continue to be engaged in the field, and who want students to know these things – I think across academia we don’t do a good job saying consistently why the liberal arts are important – but I think our faculty here does. We are a relatively young department – I don’t think anybody’s fifty. It’s not that there aren’t good older professors, but we’re pretty energetic. And I think we give a good education. We’re small enough in terms of a school to know our students, to take them to conferences, to work on projects with them, so it’s a skill set you all need. I think this is a committed department that cares deeply. That’s why you come to Marietta College. That’s what you’re paying for. The number one thing an alumni says about college is not the, ‘Oh, I met my husband,’ or ‘Oh, we had this great time rowing together,’ but every single one of them said it’s about the faculty. And I was very well educated at the University of Washington, and I would never say it was the faculty. You know, they taught me, and I had individual relationships, but…[shrugs].”
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I have published: “Radioman (1945)”

“My father was a radio man, working for Motorola, when he met and married my mother in the spring of 1933, a few months after Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor, a few months before Edwin Armstrong discovered Frequency Modulation. Father bought a house in Oak Hill, a conventional Baltimore neighborhood where milk was delivered by the Petrocelli Brother’s Dairy and people painted landscapes on their front door screens in the fashion of the day. And right off, he filled the attic with bunches of wires and Diode vacuum tubes and Amplitude modulation dials and electric switches and numerous Crystal radio apparati in various states of assembly, and he bolted an antenna to the top of the gable right over my room. He turned the attic into his own private lab, where he soldered and fussed on the weekends. The neighbors were mystified. The antenna was nine feet high. Mother was worried that it would attract lightening and too much attention…”

To read more, purchase a copy of her short story collection, A Fish Full of River (2006). Copies, which have received outstanding reviews, are available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Full-River-Janet-Bland/dp/0977803422

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If I could teach any class, it would be on:“The Ukulele [laughs]. No. I love the ukulele. Okay, I know, it’s not like saying, ‘I play the drums.’ No really, that’s kind of a jokey-thing, but I do think the ukulele’s fascinating. And I’m not a good enough person to teach it. I would –  and we don’t have this in our curriculum, I’d have to design it – I think it’s tremendously hard, how to figure out in a meaningful way, to connect literary criticism, particularly narratology, that talks about narrative structure, such that it’s meaningful for student writers’ creative process. Because we do a lot of teaching by example, you know, ‘Here’s a good story, look what they did, why don’t you try that.’ A lot of contextualizing; I would have to think long and hard on how to do that. I know it’s possible, and there are probably better teachers than I doing it, but I would wish that even as undergraduates, that I could teach a class where we really talked about the idea of a structure of a story, and instead of emulating someone else’s we looked at the theoretical underpinnings of how a story works. And that that could be put into their own work. Probably far more rigorous that the ukulele; that’s always been out there as an interest to me. Well one said, ‘You could write a book on it,’ but I know enough literary criticism to teach some, from the Ph.D., but it’s not all I teach, so that would be a real different project.”
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To contact Dr. Bland with questions regarding the English Department, email her at janet.bland@marietta.edu
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