Monday, December 31, 2007
Dr. Crazy fell so far off the fitness wagon in 2007 that she hardly knows how to talk about it. The exercise? The eating well? Yes, those things didn't so much happen. At all. Things really went off the rails in July, but they were already on that path from about January of last year. She blames the Book and the Job Search(es) but the reality is that Crazy is prone to letting the fitness fall by the wayside because she'd much rather not pay attention to it. But so. Crazy has many fitness goals for the coming year, which she has explicitly outlined for herself, along with plans of action for achieving those goals. The bottom line is this: with no job search stuff to worry about this spring, with an excellent teaching schedule, and no plans for conferences until at least spring of 2009, Crazy can really devote 2008 to getting herself in tip-top (ish) shape and, ideally, staying in tip-top (ish) shape from that point forward. It's all about accepting the fact that I'm old (well, or at least not 23) and I have to eat well and exercise forever in order not to continue expanding.
I'm in not horrific financial shape, but I've got a good amount of credit card debt. And it occurs to me that if I teach summer school this year (see above about excellent schedule in spring and no conference plans) that I can extricate myself from that. Which would mean being able to achieve the 14-year-old-girl resolution of actually having a savings account. Which means that I can start working toward the goal of actually buying something (a house? a condo? a luxury home for cats?) within the next five years. Because basically, it's been time for me to do that for a good while now, and I've just not cared enough about it to get on the plan. And so, as with the fitness resolutions, there is a very detailed plan of action that goes into effect tomorrow, which should, by January of 2009, see me as (except for student loan/car stuff) debt-free. Note to self: traveling to Europe 3 of the past four years and to MLA 4 of the past 4 years probably has something to do with my debt situation.
It occurs to me that I've managed it so that I have no major work plans for the coming year. I'm going to be taking a much-needed break, gearing up for tenure, working on teaching and admin and service related duties, and that's it. This is also why there's room for the whole "fitness" goal. But with that being the case, I think that I need to focus on making my life more "fun" in the coming year. Now, as those of you I met will probably note (I'd hope), I'm a pretty naturally fun person. So it's ridiculous that in recent years I've limited my main fun activities to when I'm away from my "real" life. I mean, come on. I should be having more fun. I have a less detailed plan in place for this final "F-word" resolution, but the night is still young.
So those are my resolutions for 2008. I'll keep everybody posted on my progress (even though nobody will really care about my progress but me, but posting about it will keep me honest).
Happy 2008, everyone! (And champagne is lovely. I love champagne with a love that is pure and true.)
1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?
- Got my book contract and finished the book manuscript.
- Traveled in Scotland and Wales
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I sucked at my New Year's resolutions last year, although I did accomplish a great many non-resolution things, so yes, I'll be making resolutions this year and the idea is that I'll actually do them this time around.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
The United Kingdom
6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
Hmmm. Last year I said I needed to be in love again. The funny thing is, I'm still not entirely sure whether that happened. (Because I'm an asshole.) But so what do I want for the upcoming year? I think that perhaps the "in love" thing was a bit too ambitious. I think what I want in the upcoming year is more affection. I've got lots of love in my life, but not as much affection as I'd enjoy. Yes.
7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I suck with dates. I never remember even my closest friends' birthdays. Thus, no dates are really etched on my memory.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Obviously, The Book. God, my answers are boring this year.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Well, the job search(es). But I think I've come to terms with that, actually. More irritating to me in the present is all of the weight that I put on through those failed searches and through the completion of the book.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No. Indeed, I don't even remember really having very many colds. I think all in all 2007 was a very healthy year.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
I don't feel like I've bought anything that great this year at all. My plane ticket to the UK?
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I probably shouldn't be doing this meme because no answers are coming to mind for any of the questions. I'm sure somebody did something worthy of celebration, but who they are is not occurring to me. So I'm going to say... in a lame reprisal of last year... The Man-Kitty (with the exception of that time when he sliced open a houseguest's arm :) )
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
You know, the first person who came to mind with this one was Britney Spears, but I don't mean it in a judgmental "she's a bad mother" way but rather in a "oh god, why does she keep spinning out of control! Poor Brit-Brit!" way.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Travel for conferences and job-search related stuff. This is one reason why I will not be traveling for anything work-related in the '08.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Fake relationships, The Book, the trip to the UK.
16. What song will always remind you of 2007?
"Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie and "Stronger" by Kanye West.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
a) I think the same b) fatter c) I think the same.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Been more financially responsible so as actually to get rid of some debt and save some money; had more fun.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Freaked out about things; created unnecessary drama.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent Christmas in my hometown with my parents. It was a pretty quiet Christmas family-wise, though. I also saw the inimitable A., my friend J., and my high school BFF.
21. Did you fall in love in 2007?
I'm not entirely certain. I think maybe? But if I did, I think I also fucked it up. Maybe.
22. How many one-night stands?
Not a one.
23. What was your favorite TV program?
Well, I do love that Moonlight.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is a very strong word. But let's just say that certain people in my world have a tendency to inefficiency that became incredibly apparent this year.
25. What was the best book you read?
No idea. And I refuse to rack my brains to come up with a definitive answer.
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Tegan and Sara. Bloc Party. Silversun Pickups.
27. What did you want and get?
I feel like I got nothing I wanted. This year felt much more like a year of dealing with all the shit that was in progress as of last year at this time. Thus, what I hope is that a) I want some things that are brand new in 2008 and that next year I can have gotten them and then talk about that.
28. What did you want and not get?
Again, I don't feel like I wanted much. I felt sort of... bogged down... in the results of past wanting.
29. What was your favorite film of this year?
I really liked Knocked Up. I suspect that the Savages would have been a favorite had I seen it =)
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 33 and I don't think I did anything. God, 2007 was a lame year for Crazy. OH! I know what I did! I got angry at FB because he didn't adequately wish me happy birthday and then I went and got drunk. Happy freaking Birthday. Must do something better for my birthday next year.
31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having relationships that don't include the word "fake."
32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
"It is not easy to be stylish when you gain a bunch of weight."
33. What kept you sane?
I don't think I've been terribly sane this year.
34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ok, I'm not sure, but I do feel a lecherous pull toward the aging cast of the Potter movies....
35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Nothing really, because I'm a bad citizen.
36. Who did you miss?
37. Who was the best new person you met?
Too many people to name just one, but it was fabulous meeting Maude Lebowski and Sisyphus and all the other bloggers at the meet-up whom I'd not met before! Also my friend G.'s parents, and FB's parents, and G's grad school crew.... and A.'s new love.... Indeed, I seem to have met a lot of cool people in 2008!
38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
There isn't a thing in the world wrong with staying in the same place - physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever - and taking whatever time one needs to take in order to regroup. This is not to say I've done this - at all - but as the year ends, I realize it's what I need to do. I've been flailing around trying to do something - anything - for the past couple of years to get unstuck. It occurs to me that part of why I'm stuck is because I'm flailing around. I'm not talking about wanting balance or anything like that. I'm talking about wanting to take time just to *be* for a little bit without racing around and trying to become something else. So that's the goal for 2008.
39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
I'm all alone now and I feel just fine
I don't feel much like doing anything
True love ain't that hard to find
Not that either one of us will ever know
- from Ryan Adams' song "Please Do Not Let Me Go"
Friday, December 28, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I hope you all had a happy Christmas, and I look forward to seeing many of you at MLA!
Later on, blogging peeps....
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Hmmm. Am feeling a bit hungry and tired. And I wish I were wearing different clothes. Hmmm.
At any rate, I shall go, but regular blogging will return after MLA.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
So somebody tagged me for the five books meme. And because Crazy sucks, and because she's been a lame blogger, she doesn't remember who. So, if you tagged me, well, then you should remind me of that and I can then link back to you. But at any rate, I was tagged (on friday maybe?) and so now here I am.
People have either been listing the books that they've read without much commentary or they've been talking a bit about them. Because I'm in the middle of packing and procrastinating, I think I shall include a quotation that I particularly liked from each of the books. My only criteria for the books I've chosen is that they are not books that I read only for work but rather that there was some corollary pleasure (at least) involved in choosing to read them.
1. Shikasta by Doris Lessing.
"They look at the sun as if they want to pull it down to them, they linger under a moon which is much father away than I remember it - and they hunger, they yearn, holding up their arms to the sun, and wanting to bathe in moonrays or to drink them. The gleam of light on a tree, or on water, the brief heartbreaking beauty of their young, these things torture them, without knowing why, or they half know, and make songs and tales, always with the hunger behind, a hunger not one of them could define. Yet their little lives are ruled by it, they are the subjects of an invisible king, a kingdom, even while they court Shammat, who feeds their hungers with illusions" (104).
2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don't, you will leak away your innate contentment. It's easy enough to pray when you're in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments" (260).
3. Limbo by Alfred Lubrano.
"Mobility means discomfort, because so much has to change; one can't allow for the satisfactions of stasis: You prick yourself and move, digging spurs into your own hide to get going, forcing yourself to forget the comforts of the barn. In this country, we speak grandly of this metamorphosis, never stopping to consider that for many class travelers with passports stamped with new territory, the trip is nothing less than a bridge burning" (48).
4. The His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman.
"She had never dreamed of what it would feel like to love someone so much; of all the things that had astonished her in her adventures, that was what astonished her most. She thought the tenderness it left in her heart was like a bruise that would never go away, but she would cherish it forever" (The Amber Spyglass 463-464).
5. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.
"Lots of work. She worked at school and also at home; she worked nights and weekends. She got pitying looks from her colleagues, because gossip travels through universities at the speed of influenza and they all knew about West, but she didn't care. She skipped regular meals and snacked on cheese food and crackers" (187).
Friday, December 14, 2007
Well. As I believe I've noted, I'm out. On the one hand, this hasn't been too terrible to deal with, and I don't want to pretend that my rejections sting in the way that they would if I were unemployed or underemployed or even unhappily employed. I only sent out a handful of applications, and well, what did I really expect? That said, I really had believed that the book would mean something market-wise, even as much as I tried to talk myself out of believing that. And guess what? It didn't. It doesn't. And so, well, that's made me reevaluate a bit about my value in this profession more broadly. I think maybe I've been wrong to assume that my feeling of being unappreciated is institution-specific. I'm beginning to think that this feeling stems from much broader sources, and well, maybe it's good to acknowledge that. And also to move on from that, because you know what? All of this putting oneself under one's own and others' microscopes is really debilitating at a certain point. I'm good at what I do; I've done well insomuch as I can have done well given a variety of constraints. The end.
Things with my job are... ridiculously good. I know, sick, isn't it? But true. First of all, it's not a done deal, but it may well be that I'm only teaching two courses next semester. Obviously I will have to trade my soul for this, but it may be a good trade, in that the soul-trading would get me a title and some decent admin experience. I'm thinking that having more admin experience would be a good thing should I ever want to move, as I have absolutely no hope that I'll ever be able to move within my discipline in higher education. No, moving might mean moving into administration. Is that what I want? I don't know. But I want to be able to be mobile. I do not want to feel trapped. And so, better to get this experience if it works out. (If it doesn't work out, it will be more because of my criteria than because of others' for indeed, I've got a wee bit of power in my current situation. Only a wee bit, but every little wee bit counts.) But even aside from this, well, things are just really good in my department and with how I'm doing here. This is a good thing.
Ok, it's lame to blame one's moods on the hormones, but for real, people, I become a maniac in the days before Lady Time. And this is only exacerbated by end-of-semester stress and any other stressors that I might encounter. But so I've found myself in tears more than once this week, which is odd as really, I don't cry nearly as much as I did when, say, I was like 19. Indeed, I'd begun to think I'd dried up. But apparently no. I'm thinking it might not be altogether bad that my emotions are actually running so close to the surface, as it may well mean that I'm not dead inside. Always nice to have confirmation of that :)
I'm less ready for the holidays this year than I've been in, well, years. I didn't even put up my sad little ceramic Christmas tree or my sad little nativity scene. And I suspect I won't. It just doesn't feel like Christmas this year. And none of my shopping's done, and I didn't send out Christmas cards and and and.
Not Related to Any of the Above
I've been in a pretty... intense... yes, I think that's the best word... place lately. A flying-off-the-handle-y sort of place. A cranky and petulant place. But the thing is, I don't think this is all necessarily bad, or doesn't need to be. I think it's because I'm in a kind of vulnerable place and in a transition-y sort of place. I think that when I come out on the other side, I will be GRAND. The difficulty, though, is that others have to deal with me when I'm in the intense, transition-y, flying-off-the-handle-y, cranky, petulant, vulnerable state. And that really sucks for them. And I know it sucks for them, and I hate that it does, but I can't stop it. Or I won't stop it. Whatever. At any rate, I'm hoping that this is a growing pains sort of thing and not a "I'm tragically fucked up and I drive people away from me" sort of thing. We shall see!
So yeah, it's been a weird week. And next week will be weird in entirely different ways, as I'll be visiting the family as well as some other important visiting. And then (unbelievably) it's MLA. And then, it's the new year! And can I just say, I'm ready for a new year? And in random moments I've been thinking already about resolutions and feeling excited to actually determine the final resolution list and to make a fresh start? What kind of nerd gets excited about making new year's resolutions? That would be Dr. Crazy :)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Ok, so to be fair, what I'm writing isn't *total* crap. I've got about 4 1/2 REALLY rough pages. Now, remember, I've got but 15 minutes, and so really I can only legitimately bring this thing in at just over 6 pages. Now, how much can a girl do in 6 pages? Not much. So it's not like the paper won't be done. The issue, however, is that this is totally new research, and as it now stands, what I'm writing is bag-o-licious. Not at ALL tight. The problem is that while I know where I'm going (ish) I'm not actually getting there. Well, I'm kind of getting there. But it is ROUGH. Why can't these things just write themselves? That's what I'd like to know.
In other news, I received a rejection in the mail, from the one place where I still had hope. 'Tis true, folks. Unless there's some bizarre 11th hour occurrence, Dr. Crazy is off the market. Luckily, this wasn't very disappointing as I'd already assumed that this would be the outcome. Nevertheless, it just goes to show you that you can have teaching experience out the wazoo, a solid and consistent publication record, a book contract, a demonstrated history of collegiality and service to your institution and community, and guess what? You may not even get an interview. On the other hand, you may be missing one or more of these things and you will get a slew of interviews, for any number of reasons. The point here is that there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. But so, if you'd like to feel sorry for me at MLA, I will of course accept any offers of drinks, for it's not like it matters if I'm hung over in the daylight hours this year! Hurrah!
In OTHER news, I've been fretting privately about the title of this blog, for it was looking like I'd be back to my four-course load in the spring. BUT WAIT! Indeed! It may well not be so! Of course, I may need to agree to something that will suck my soul from my body if I want to have but three courses, but I will not know the details until I meet with Program Director tomorrow. The question is, would I be able to say no even if the thing will suck my soul from my body? This I do not know.
The point here though, is that I am VERY excited about this potential course reduction.
In other news, BFF has been talking a great deal about the job market being ruled by "The God of Whimsy, whose name is Caprice!" This makes me giggle, and it's an image that definitely helps one to deal with whatever's happening on the job market - whether positive or negative - in a somewhat rational way, I think.
Ok, back to work, because I really need to get this thing written. So far, I feel like it's not going to include any critical context because I'm trying to do too much. Must fix this.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
1. I'm done with grading one of the three classes, and well on my way to being done with a second. This is astonishing, as normally I put grading off until the last possible moment. Somehow I'm on top of things.
2. The course that I've been fretting over for next semester - the brand new course that I feared would not make its minimum enrollment - seems to be out of danger (commence knocking wood and crossing fingers now). But so yes, it looks like I shall indeed be able to go ahead with it, and that means I can now allow myself to get excited.
3. I got my hair cut and colored (for indeed, the going darker thing? Yeah, not really for me, so now it's brighter and I immediately look less washed out, which is a very good thing, as people have been telling me lately that I "look tired" which really is not the response I'm going for).
4. A Favorite Student, who is graduating, slipped a letter for me into his batch of reaction papers that I collected, and let me just say, it made me feel warm and fuzzy indeed. I wish that I could quote it here, but I feel like that wouldn't be a cool thing to do. Suffice it to say that even though I've been known to question whether my work here is appreciated, it is appreciated and it's appreciated by the only people who really count to me, my students. I am going to miss this student *so much* for he's really been just a bright spot in every class that he's taken with me.
5. Even though I've been a wee bit crazy lately, things are actually really awesome with me in the non-work life. Must remember not to be crazy in the way of a person who sabotages herself so that things can continue to be awesome.
I suppose that's all for now. Oh! Except for that the Man-Kitty has been exceptionally adorable and so perhaps you might like to see what he's been up to? Of course you would. So here is a picture of my adorable little kitty-cat, who has been very supportive and wonderful in recent weeks. (And sure, I realize that he's not *really* being supportive but rather just doing his own thing and I'm anthropomorphizing him, but whatever. It's time for a Man-Kitty picture in any case. And yes, this is one of his preferred positions for hanging out.)
Sunday, December 09, 2007
(And yes, I realize that it is ridiculous how excited about this I am, but really, it's the simple pleasures in life.)
In other news, I've been wanting to post but I'm just too lame to write something worth reading. It's really a shame, because I'm in the mood to post. Ah well. I suspect that things will pick up once the semester is done and once the holidays are over.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
It's strange. There is a part of me that's disappointed, obviously. But then there's also a part of me that kind of expected that this might happen. And I can shoulda-coulda-woulda all I want, but you know, I'm not sure if I care enough to beat myself up in that particular way. I really believe that I've done as much as I could have possibly done given the constraints of my job. And so, there we are.
So, I need to focus on other things, which I've pretty much been doing anyway, but so really I need to put this behind me. And I really don't think I'll do the market again next year. I'm going up for tenure next year, and you know, I think I'm done with the looking elsewhere. Where I am is pretty ok, and if I decide that I want to be someplace else, I'd rather make that choice based not on the constraints of the academic job market but for personal reasons that are specific. I don't know what that would look like, but well, whatever it would look like, it wouldn't look like the process that I've been part of over the past couple of years.
It's hard, because well, my job is fine. My location? Well, in some ways it's fine but I also know I'm not terribly happy here personally. And I know I would like to be more satisfied than I am, but I think that in many respects I've not been sure how to achieve that outside of going on the market, which is pretty silly given how little control one has over one's role as an applicant. The thing in my life I'm most satisfied with is actually my job. I really do good work here, and I really *like* my work here and my students and my colleagues. So why exactly have I been going on the market if that's true? Well, because going on the market means being able to see other possible futures, and I'm not terribly satisfied with the options for my future here outside of work. But maybe I've been limited in my thinking. Maybe the job isn't the index through which one should perceive one's future. Especially as I don't care terribly about being a tenured faculty member. I mean, sure, if I stay here then I want that, but I don't feel like that defines me or that it should define me. And so, next year the book will come out, and that will be awesome and an achievement that I care about. And next year I'll get tenure, and that will give me a certain kind of security here, and that's nice, too. But those things aren't everything, and I feel more and more aware of that the longer that I'm in this profession.
The things that matter most to me in my job really do have to do with what I provide for my students and the work that I do to make my university the kind of university where I want to work. This isn't to discount the reasons that I gave a while ago about why I chose to go on the market - those reasons are still there - or to discount the things I said in another post about what kind of a job I'd like. But I'm thinking that maybe it will be possible to think about my life - with my career as a part of that - in a way that doesn't make finding another tenure-track job the only way to achieve the things that I want.
And so, on the bright side, this means that I will have one rocking MLA. Because you know what? Nothing's more fun than an MLA where one is *not* interviewing. And really, all I want to do at MLA is to socialize anyway, so those places that think I'm not cool enough for them? Well, clearly they don't know what they're missing :)
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
- The book.
- The end of the semester.
- The MLA paper looming.
- The fact that I'm in Laundry Dire Straits.
- The sounds of silence on my end re: the few applications I have out vs. the mutterings on the wiki, which I know that I should not peruse and yet I do, like a freak. I know, I know: no news is good news. Except with the advent of the wiki, no news can make one feel like a loser, which really sucks. Especially as one may not BE a loser for real. Ugh.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
- Well, the holiday season is officially here, for a certain Dr. Crazy officially made 2 students (that she knows of) cry. Nothing like watching students fight back the tears to put one in the holiday spirit. NOT. (And it always makes me feel like I might cry, and I wish that they understood that I don't like for them to be upset but it doesn't matter how hard you work or how much time you spend- sometimes you work hard and you get a grade that is lower than an A. Sigh.)
- I'm also trying to figure out Christmas presents. It's times like these when I wish that Christmas did not fall at this time of year. Especially as my current list involves about 47 things for myself and only like three gifts for others.
- I wish that I'd worked out more over the past six months. We all know what one of my New Year's resolutions is going to be.
- The grading. Ugh.
- Is it wrong that I'm praying for a snow day tomorrow just so I can sleep all morning? And do my laundry all afternoon?
- I took on a new service thing for the spring. I'm excited about it and also I'm an idiot, as I already see where it can become a huge time suck.
- No word on the limited job search, although the things on the wiki (which I should not allow myself to examine, although I do so every day) have me confused.
- Hmmm. Let's try to think of something positive. Well. The Man-Kitty. He is a bright spot in all our lives, now isn't he? There will be pictures of him coming soon, as he's been posing like a champ. I think it's all of the America's Next Top Model he's been watching. He's all about angles and showing a lot of neck.
I apologize for the lameness of this post. Am too tired to post anything of any sort of substance. Now it's time for a cup of tea.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog. Check.
- My favorite word in all of D.H. Lawrence's writing is "cockaloopy."
- When I was 7, I had these swimming lessons, and at the end of the lessons there was like this swimming exhibition where we got to show what we learned. As each group went, the instructors would afterwards give everybody candy. My group didn't get to go because they were running short on time, and the instructor gave us candy anyway. Not only was I upset because I didn't get to show off my swimming in the exhibition thingie, but I was utterly inconsolable because I'd been rewarded when I'd done nothing. The tears, they flowed freely.
- When I was 10 years old, I really thought that I would grow up and be a fashion designer. Huh.
- "To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal/ Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle" - indeed, I still know all of the lyrics to "Ice, Ice Baby," as well as to other classics like the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" and Candyman's "Knockin' Boots."
- I can cook in more than five ethnic traditions.
- I have a dimple on each shoulder, and more than once people, given the right lighting, have thought that one or the other was a smudge of dirt.
- I cannot resist a made-for-tv movie. Right now, I'm watching one on the Oxygen network about high society African-Americans on Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s and their daughter who wants to marry a white musician. It is awesome.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Consider the three functions of the tongue:
taste, speech, the telegraphy of pleasure,
are not confused in any human tongue;
yet, sinewy and singular, the tongue
accomplishes what, perhaps, no other organ
can. Were I to speak of giving tongue,
you'd think two things at least; and a cooked tongue,
sliced, on a plate, with caper sauce, which I give
my guest for lunch, is one more, to which she'd give
the careful concentration of her tongue
twice over, to appreciate the taste
and to express — it would be in good taste —
a gastronomic memory the taste
called to mind, and mind brought back to tongue.
There is a paucity of words for taste;
sweet, sour, bitter, salty. Any taste,
however multiplicitious its pleasure,
complex its execution (I might taste
that sauce ten times in cooking, change its taste
with herbal subtleties, chromatic organ
tones of clove and basil, good with organ
meats) must be described with those few taste
words, or with metaphors, to give
my version of sensations it would give
a neophyte, deciding whether to give
it a try. She might develop a taste.
(You try things once; I think you have to give
two chances, though, to know your mind, or give
up on novelties.) Your mother tongue
nurtures, has the subtleties which give
flavor to words, and words to flavor, give
the by no means subsidiary pleasure
of being able to describe a pleasure
and recreate it. Making words, we give
the private contemplations of each organ
to the others, and to others, organ-
ize sensations into thoughts. Sentient organ-
isms, we symbolize feeling, give
the spectrum (that's a symbol) each sense organ
perceives, by analogy, to others. Disorgan-
ization of the senses is an acquired taste
we all acquire; as speaking beasts, its organ-
ic to our discourse. The first organ
of acknowledged communion is the tongue
(tripartite diplomat, which after tongu-
ing a less voluble expressive organ
to wordless efflorescences of pleasure
offers up words to reaffirm the pleasure).
That's a primary difficulty: pleasure
means something, and something different, for each organ;
each person, too. I may take exquisite pleasure
in boiled eel, or blacmange — or not. One pleasure
of language is making known what not to give.
And think of a bar of lavender soap, a pleasure
to see and, moistened, rub on your skin, a pleasure
especially to smell, but if you taste
it (though smell is most akin to taste)
what you experience will not be pleasure;
you almost retch, grimace, stick out your tongue,
slosh rinses of ice water over your tongue.
But I would rather think about your tongue
experiencing and transmitting pleasure
to one or another multi-sensual organ
— like memory. Whoever wants to give
only one meaning to that, has untutored taste.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The moment at which I began to question this guy's credibility was when he described his own personal Doom and Gloom during the tenure process. He writes, in the third paragraph, that while he had very pleasant circumstances surrounding his bid for tenure, that it was (boohoo) "without joy." He then goes on to describe those "pleasant circumstances," and concludes with the following:
"Thanks to the efforts of the office staff, my graduate assistant, and my wife, I had to do very little work in assembling my tenure file."Ok, my first response to this sentence was utterly without value [insert expletives here]. See, he was dejected because, with all of that support and smooth-sailing he "felt no exhilaration" upon being awarded tenure. (One might ask whether he should since he didn't really put his application together, but I'm not going to be that petty.)
Now, I don't know when this guy got tenure, but who does he think he's kidding? Does he really think that his experience above is the norm? Apparently, yes, for he writes toward the end of the column,
"Consider a relatively minor bump on the tenure path: the task of putting together your tenure application. Sure, that can be time-consuming. But an obvious solution is to assemble your materials each year. A little upfront work can spare you lots of last-minute paper shuffling as you try to track down six years' worth of teaching evaluations. Ask for secretarial help from your department." (Italics mine)On the one hand, he is right. Assembling one's materials once a year does mean that you won't freak out at the end. But on the other, why do I know this? Because my institution requires that we submit them for review each and every fall. Every single tenure-track person must do this, regardless of whether they're going up. And every year the binder goes all the way up the chain of command, and every year you get feedback about how to make your binder (not your application, but your fucking BINDER) more spiffy. Because apparently one needs a Ph.D. in scrap-booking as well as in one's field of specialty in order to get tenure where I work. Since I've been in this job, there have been no fewer than seven people on the tenure-track each year in my department alone. If somebody can explain to me how our two department administrative assistants (who do a fuck of a lot more than secretarial work, incidentally) would be able to "help" with all of those materials, I'd be interested to hear about it. I'd also love to see the looks on their faces if anybody were to be such an entitled, privileged asshole as to burden them with the request. And did I mention that I do not have graduate assistants? And that even if I did, I think it would be wrong to ask them to put together my tenure application? And did I mention that I also don't have a fucking wife, and that if I did (or have a spouse at any rate), I certainly wouldn't expect them to put my tenure shit together for me because GOD ALMIGHTY IT IS THE 21ST CENTURY AND IDEALLY ANY SPOUSE WOULD HAVE THEIR OWN LIFE AND INTERESTS THAT EXTENDED BEYOND MY BID FOR TENURE?
Look, I don't know this dude, nor do I think that he had any sort of a clue how these comments would be perceived by a person at a regional university with little administrative support, a 4/4 teaching load, and ever-increasing demands for service and publication. Nor do I think he possibly could have anticipated that I read his column during a "break" from the final tweaking of the book manuscript, at the end of a grueling semester where, yes, I've got a course release, which means I'm teaching "only" three classes (and three different preps, one of them a new prep, and again, with no teaching assistants or graders), a book that I've managed to see through the revision and publication process with no sabbatical (or possibility for one before tenure). So yes, I'm bringing my own shit to this.
But let's put my own shit aside for a moment. I suspect that the table of "unhappy assistant professors" with which he sat at a faculty reception and which inspired his column probably have their own shit with which they're dealing, shit that does not resemble David D. Perlmutter's own idyllic tenure bid. You know, sometimes people have good reasons for being unhappy, and it's not just that we need to "celebrate" the achievement of tenure with more pomp and circumstance or that people need to adjust their attitudes.
I mean, sure, it would be nice if achieving tenure did feel like more of a, well, achievement. And yes, it would also be nice if the process itself were more transparent, and if the work that we do on the tenure track received more acknowledgment. But come on. Sometimes when people are unhappy with their lot, they've got really legitimate reasons for being unhappy. And putting on a happy face doesn't necessarily constitute a reasonable or good response to a system that is at best difficult and at worst oppressive and exploitative.
So what do I wish? Well, two things. First, I wish that people who received tenure more than 10 years ago would actually talk to their junior colleagues about how their junior colleagues perceive their situations and the process rather than assuming that their junior colleagues' experiences are identical to their own. Second, I wish that the Chronicle of Higher Education would pay attention to the fact that their First Person Columns rarely, if ever, speak to the experience of anybody I know and respect in this profession.
*I should note that many of the things that Perlmutter writes do not entirely enrage me and I even agreed with him at points, but those points of agreement were overshadowed by the things that did enrage me. And so, I really do recommend that you read the whole column, as it's not without value.
The problem is, however, the timing. I've got just two weeks left, and so there's all of this pressure to do things in my classes and for my classes (though there is a bit of a respite in that next week and the week after do promise to be fairly light), and then also I'm putting some pressure on myself about other things... attempting to make holiday plans (some of which I am very stoked about and some of which I'm.... well, obligated to squeeze in) for example.
But so yes. This morning I slept in a bit, spent some time reading blogs, and only now shall I get in the shower and make my way to the office. I have a dream that I will also make it to the gym today (for I have realized that the book has made me chubby, and I'm finally ready to do something about it) and maybe will grade at least a few papers. This is the dream, at any rate.
So wish me luck, people. The sooner I get past this stuff, the sooner I can post things that aren't idiotic and boring.
Monday, November 26, 2007
And then, a Certain Person Who Shall Still Not Receive a Pseudonym noted that he was humming to this song and thinking of me.
And then I happened upon this song and felt as if it was perfect for how I felt, even if I'm not nineteen years old.
My point here is this, people: Tegan and Sara are fucking awesome. Totally.
- I haven't got it in me to do a post that is in anything other than bulleted form. Today, it has been.... grueling.
- I'm coming up on the major book deadline, and while I'd fantasized about putting the thing to bed today and getting it in the mail, this is not to be. It's looking like I can realistically be done Wednesday or at the latest Thursday. I kind of anticipated this, so I feel like I'm in good shape.
- The grading. Oh god, the grading. I've got so much freaking GRADING. That said, I won't have as much at the very end of the semester because I set it up this way this semester. I think the reason it's such a burden is because of the book deadline. Really, I think this shifting of deadlines is, as Martha would say, "a good thing."
- The weather outside is frightful, and not in a Christmasy way either but rather in a Guns 'n' Roses sort of way. LAME.
- A. and I decided that the skinny sister in White Christmas maintained her skinniness by living on a diet of black coffee, cabbage soup, dry rye toast, and cigarettes. Well, and she was a dancer, and so probably danced every day. We're wondering whether rocking it out old school in this fashion is really, indeed, the way to not be a fatso. I mean, sure, you would be killing yourself slowly with such a diet, but you'd have a body like a china doll!
- So I have all of this work to do, but I've been on the phone with people for like 2 hours. I have bad work habits.
- I'm beginning to feel seriously concerned that my "specialty" course next semester won't make. Sigh.
- I think that is all for now, as I really do need to grade and to prep. Sigh again.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
It's funny: there was a time in my life when I thought this could never be true. When I broke up with my First Love, the thing that I mourned most was that he knew all of my things, and I just couldn't imagine revealing all of them - or wanting to reveal them - to another. Now, the two of us broke up about 13 years ago, and clearly I've revised my thoughts on this matter as I gained more experience. That said, I still tend to forget that this wanting to know another person that way, and wanting another person to know me that way, is a possibility. And when it happens, it feels like this amazing gift.
Because it's easy to forget that it's important for a person, in order really to know you, should know that you still resent the fact that you never got a toy cash register for Christmas when you were a kid. Or that you in the right circumstances have what others might call a "good" singing voice (even if such a singing voice is these days only apparent when you're either alone or too devastatingly intoxicated or into a song to forget to hide it). Or that Thanksgiving is your favorite of all holidays, or that there is a certain look on a tired face that in your family is called "Muffin Face." It's easy to forget that it's possible to want to tell another person those parts of you that aren't on the surface. It's easy to forget that those parts of you that aren't on the surface matter in really important ways. And, maybe more importantly, it's easy to forget that the wanting to tell matters. It's easy to convince oneself that all of those things aren't really the point ultimately, that when you meet people at this point that obviously there will be things that there will be things that they'll miss or that will go untold, blah blah blah.
And then a person comes into your life, a person whom you want to know your things. And you're surprised, because, really, it's surprising. And you find yourself opening up, and you find yourself telling about the resentment about the toy cash register. You find yourself telling things you never thought you'd tell again, or never thought you'd tell period. And it's scary and weird and perhaps stupid, but when you find yourself telling those things, you remember a self, a less cynical self, who wanted to tell everything, who wanted to give everything, who thought that telling and giving everything could result in happiness rather than pain.
It's easy when you're 16 to do that. You don't realize the cost; it feels natural. And then you think you learn in the intervening 17 years that it's not natural, and that indeed you were incredibly stupid to have believed that such things could be good or true. Until a new person, a special kind of new person, happens. And sure, it's fucked up. Sure, it feels uncomfortable. And you find yourself revealing parts of yourself that while seemingly inconsequential ultimately go pretty deep. And you freak out a little bit. But this thing - this revived belief - it's a thing to be grateful for. It's something to cherish. Even if it might not last, it's a kind of possibility that one should acknowledge as important, as special, as something for which to give thanks.
And that, really, is the thing I'm most thankful for on this Thanksgiving. That once again I feel this possibility, that I'm excited about this particular variety of possibility. And sure, it might all end in tears. But right now, the possibility matters infinitely more than the potential outcome.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I've long dreamed of dressing the Man-Kitty up in Thanksgiving costume, but we've discussed this dream at length and the Man-Kitty would like me to tell you that he is a dignified cat who prefers to remain in the buff. Indeed, says the Man-Kitty, his fur coat is more than glamorous enough for any holiday or event. And he refuses to be humiliated just to satisfy the whims of Crazy. It is clear who runs the show around this joint, and it is clearly not me.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
- Ok, so the MLA Blogger Meet-Up currently has like 16 interested peeps. This is awesome. If you're interested in joining in on the fun but have yet to drop me an email, do so.
- In fun MLA Blogger Meet-Up news, a person who dropped me an email turns out to be somebody with whom I went to grad school! How crazy is that? It's a small, small world.
- I just finished a first draft of the book acknowledgments. I think they're pretty much done - though I suppose I might change a word or two - but I did find a way (thanks, Dr. Virago, who offered a suggestion, lo, many moons ago, for how to do so) to address the blogging peeps who've meant so much to me throughout this process. Indeed, the line is this: "I would like to convey my thanks to supportive friends scattered across the country, who offered long-distance care and encouragement when it was most needed."
- In other news, I've spent most of the day house-cleaning, though I anticipate that I shall work a bit on the book as the night progresses. I'm trying to decide whether to make a pie tonight or whether to do so in the morning. Hmmm.
- Is it wrong that I love Thanksgiving so much? It really is the best possible holiday.
- Yes, I think that's all for now. I should probably eat something and do some work on the book. Or bake a pie. Or something.
And then I realized that in spite of my plan "not to do" Thanksgiving that somehow I ended up buying all of the fixings for a full Thanksgiving spread (minus the turkey, because even I'm not fool enough to make a turkey for one - I'd planned to roast a chicken instead). Apparently, Thanksgiving is a holiday I do, whatever my intentions, sort of like how my mom does Christmas. So I was feeling vaguely silly this morning, as I realized what I was doing, but apparently, much like the field of dreams, if you build it they will come, for BFF's Thanksgiving Plans fell through when her cat Flo got a tummy-ache yesterday, and so now it will be the Thanksgiving of BFF and Crazy! Hurrah!
But so that is the first thing that I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving Eve. What else does Crazy feel thankful for?
- I am thankful that my book is almost done. I've been making a major push, and I expect to mail the thing off on Monday.
- I am thankful that I'm finally giving my house a good cleaning, something only possible because I'm "not doing" Thanksgiving for real. I know, this seems counterintuitive given the above, but there you are.
- I am thankful that my mom and stepdad were so great about us not doing Thanksgiving together this year, and I'm thankful that they're just so generally great (even if they do annoy me when we're in the same place).
- I am thankful for my crew of awesome friends, and I'm most especially thankful that I'll get to spend some qual. time with A. on Friday.
- I am thankful for the great students that I have this semester. I really lucked out with the makeup of my classes, and I feel spoiled by how engaged and interested so many of them are.
- I am thankful for my sweet Man-Kitty, as anybody would be, really, if they had the pleasure of his company.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Ah, what books would I take on my journey? I'm going to imagine that I could carry 10 books somewhat comfortably. This may be either overestimating or underestimating - I'm not certain - but I feel like that's at least in some way realistic. (And also, I'm resisting my own "top five" sort of tendencies with these questions, in part because it's always so difficult to narrow down to just five, and I inevitably make stupid choices. I feel like having 10 with which to work will help me to choose wisely as well as by preference.)
You're being sent to a distant planet as a representative of species and type. You have twenty minutes to pack, and are limited to non-electronic versions of the materials you need for your mission and sanity. You can only take what you can carry, books, clothes, etc. Toiletries will be provided. What reading materials would you take?
- Now, the first book anybody should take on such a journey would probably be a survival book, except since I'm going to another planet, I'm not sure how useful such a book would really be... what if they don't have the same plant life, etc., as we would have on earth? But, just in case I end up in the wild someplace and it in some way resembles earth in terms of how to make fire, etc., I would take along something like this. I should note that I have no idea whether this would be the best or most useful book, as Dr. Crazy's habitat is not generally "the wild." Thus, I'd probably rely on the kindness of natives or animals or die. But there we are. At least with a book such as this there would be some hope.
- Some might say that it would be important to take all of Shakespeare's plays. Most important works of literature and all that. I say no. Why? Well, because I don't exactly read Shakespeare's plays for pleasure in my regular life where I'm not limited, and to take an anthology of the plays would be wicked-heavy. Thus, I'm going to settle for five of Shakespeare's plays, and I will include them under one number, as I feel that five would equate to one normal-sized book. Obviously, I will take the slimmest pocket editions. And so the list is this: Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard III, The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing.
- Ulysses. A new copy (so it wouldn't be falling apart at the seems) but into which I'd have transferred all of my annotations. And no, I'm not picking that as a pretentious choice: I'm picking it because I know I could read it forever and find something new in it each time.
- Finnegans Wake. Also not a pretentious choice. Indeed, this is the choice of a fraud. I've read parts of it, sure, but I've never read the whole thing, and I feel that if I were stranded on another planet that I might be inspired to do so, thus making myself less of a fraud.
- Ok, if I'm really taking The Wake, I'm sure I'd need some sort of companion book, because even I'm not silly enough to think that I could go it alone with that one.
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond. One of my absolute favorite books in the whole world. I read it first when I was about 9 years old, and I recently bought a copy so that I could read it again. I could read it over and over again. Witches, puritan New England, love - it has it all.
- So far, I've picked stuff that's quite literary - even TWoBP was a Newberry Award Winner - so I feel I must pick something that is silly, for those times when I'm not terribly in the mood for Serious Literature. I choose Bridget Jones' Diary. For I love it.
- Oh God! Only three left! I must be sure to choose wisely! Ok, were it in print, I'd choose this, a book including all of Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos books. Tragically, there is no such book in print, according to my cursory search. With this being the case, I'd pick either Shikasta or The Marriages between Zones Three, Four, and Five. If I'm going to space, I want to read Lessing's Space Fiction stuff. I'm consciously refusing to choose The Golden Notebook, as I don't know how interesting it would be to me were I on another planet (and, really, I don't feel like it's a book I *need* to read again even as I love it).
- The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. No, it's not an "important" book in the way that some others on this list are, but it is my absolute favorite Atwood novel, and I've read it more times than I can count. And I feel that if I were on another planet, it would be a book that I would miss if I didn't take it.
- I can't believe I've already made it to 10. I feel like this last choice must be something of great import. God. What will I choose? There are many ways I could go. Again, I could choose something I love that will comfort me. But then I look at this list and I notice that I've only got Shakespeare and Joyce for male authors. Maybe I need another dude? But then I think that maybe I should pick something I've not read, so as to have some new sort of stimulation on this other planet? Well, I'm going to rule out the last option, as I'm sure I'll have to learn the language of the new planet, and I bet they'll have literature, too, so I won't be at a loss for new material. Oh my god! I know what I need for the last one! I've got drama, and I've got fiction. I've got no POETRY! I'm going to make a somewhat lame choice and choose volumes one and two of the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. I'm cheating in two ways here - I'm technically choosing two books, and also I'm choosing anthologies as opposed to single-author works. That said, if I had these, I'd have all of the poetry I absolutely needed in order to survive on another planet. Sure, there'd be poems I'd miss that wouldn't be included there, but all the poetry that I most need - or at least poems by the poets that I most need - would be there. And what is life on another planet without poetry?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I know I've been a bit quiet of late - things are in the final stages with the book, and it's all the tedium of editing and checking references and stuff like that, which is not difficult but which is, in my humble opinion, absolutely the most annoying part of this process. I had a bit of a setback in which I realized that I didn't have a most recent version of one chapter saved and so I had to reconstruct the final content changes I'd made from the hard copy draft I had (and yes, friends, this is why one must save those hard copy drafts, and why I am totally justified in having about 45 draft versions of this damned manuscript, which I'm considering burning in a ceremonial purge when the thing finally is published), but otherwise the biggest challenge has just been in forcing myself to sit down and to do this stuff. It's not fun; it's not rewarding; it is boring. As hard as writing may be, at least it's not so fucking tedious. At any rate, though, I am at a good pace to finish everything with some room before the final deadline, especially as now I've decided that I'm not doing anything for Thanksgiving but rather using the mini-break to plow through and finish the damned thing and ideally to get a strong start on the MLA paper.
Oh, but the Thanksgiving weekend won't be all work! Oh, no sir! Indeed, the Inimitable A. shall be coming for a brief visit on Friday the 23rd, so don't be surprised if in between our planned activities (calling random people on the phone, gossiping, analyzing the current states of each of our lives, playing The Game of Life, what have you) there is an impromptu visit to Crazy Medusa's Lounge. At any rate, the anticipation of this visit has proved to be just the catalyst I needed to get a TON of work done - and efficiently, too - and sure, as a person who shall remain nameless notes, our plans are pretty much those of your average sixth grader (minus the wine, I suppose, as sixth graders really shouldn't be getting drunk together, and A. and I never would have done so when we were actually in sixth grade) but I feel that people who mock 30-something women for engaging in such activities really just don't understand exactly how entertaining A. and I find ourselves (and, really, how totally entertaining we are just objectively speaking).
Hmmm. What else? Well, a while ago I did a preliminary temperature-taking to see if people would be interested in doing an MLA meet-up again this year, and it seems there are many who would be interested, so here's what I'm thinking.
- If you want to be part of the meet-up, drop me a note at reassignedtime at gmail so that I can put together a mailing list of those who'd like to be involved. (I should have just had everybody do this when I initially posted about it, but I was clearly not thinking.)
- Lots of people are either interviewing or on searches, or are presenting or whatever. With this in mind, I'm going to throw out the idea that maybe we try to do the meet-up on the 27th, since then we can be sure most likely not to conflict parties, papers, interviews, etc. Let me know what you think about that, as I'm not sure when people are planning their arrivals, etc.
- Once I've got a mailing list compiled, I'll send out an email and we can start discussing the specifics of times/meeting places/etc.
Some Thoughts on Students:
I think I'm going to do this portion in bullet-form, since my thoughts are kind of scattered.
- Once upon a time, I mentioned in a post that I broke my self-imposed rule about suggesting graduate school as an option to my students. I've only done this one time in my time at this institution. That's not to say I've not supported students who have come to me with the idea already in their heads - I have - but I haven't presented it, except in this one case, as an option that a student should consider. Now, I think it's generally a good thing that I don't suggest grad school to my students. Grad school in English Literature is a pretty risky path to pursue, as it's a huge time commitment and it won't necessarily result in a full-time job with benefits even after all of that education. But even I am not made of stone. Even I can't help myself given the right set of circumstances. So, about a year ago, I tentatively suggested the possibility to a student of mine, a student whose plan was to teach high school. Now, of course I accompanied the suggestion with my usual Doom and Gloom speech about the state of the profession, and I explained my reluctance even to bring it up to the student even as I made the suggestion. (Which, it strikes me now, probably was a bit confusing for the student... but I wanted to impress upon the student that this would be a big decision and I wouldn't at all be disappointed if the student was in no way interested in such a path. Actually, an aside: my proudest moment last year was when another phenomenal student of mine announced to me that he had no interest in grad school [even though he is very, very talented as a reader, writer, and critic] because he'd rather write great books than write about them - that if he was going to choose a risky option for a future then he'd rather choose an option better than becoming a professor. So the point here, is I'm ecstatic when students see futures for themselves beyond the college classroom, and I encourage them to do so.) But so anyway, back to this student's story. When we discussed the possibility of grad school, he was resistant, and I didn't push him. In fact, I said that if he thought he could be happy teaching high school that he probably should do it. Even as I said that, though, I had a suspicion that he would not be happy doing so. Students who write brilliant theoretical papers for sophomore-level survey classes, well, they're not generally the best suited to the bureaucratic grind of education classes or high school teaching. So, this student announced to me recently that he's dropping education and is just going to major in literature. I asked him what he was thinking about doing after graduation, and he confessed that he's thinking of graduate school. In part, I blame myself. That said, if I'd not suggested it, somebody else most certainly would have done, and really, I'd rather that I mentor this student through the process if indeed he's going to go for it. He's just so smart and so engaged. How can I discourage this path if he really thinks it's right for him? How can I not encourage him when I know that he has what it takes to do well if he pursues this? I suppose what I'm saying is that perhaps I'm less jaded about this profession and discipline than I sometimes think I am.
- I recently attended the induction of our chapter of the honorary fraternity for English. It was a nice event. So anyway, it was a dinner, and when I arrived, I saw that probably around a third of those in attendance were former or current students of mine. So do I attract strong students or do I help to make strong students? I hope it's a little bit of both. But what was most awesome for me was that I didn't sit with my colleagues who also attended. I plopped myself at a table with some of my former students, and just had the chance to hang out with them and talk about their classes and their plans and books and movies. What was so funny to me at the time was how excited they seemed to be that I chose to sit with them, but as I think about it further, I know that I'd have been excited if a professor chose to sit with me when I was in their position. And you know, it wasn't a calculated choice on my part - it was just that the event really was about the students, and I can socialize with my colleagues whenever I want. I wanted the chance to socialize with my students. I wish my department did more of that. I think it's a good thing.
- I'm concerned about making my enrollment in my upper-level class. The topic is scary for many students for a range of reasons, and thus far, more than half of the students enrolled are students I've had in previous classes, which is both gratifying (they believe that I'll make the material accessible and interesting to them) and disheartening (why aren't students more motivated by the content of courses at this institution; why are they so afraid of things that challenge them? At another university, I have no doubt that this course would have made its enrollment pretty much immediately).
- But it is exciting to me how many students do seem to want to take multiple classes with me. And it's not only the students who do really well who do so, which is also nice - it means that they're not taking me again because I'm "easy" or something. But so I don't have a single class scheduled next semester without at least one familiar face, and that's just awesome. It's nice to see students at different points in their academic careers, and it's nice to have the opportunity to guide them over a sustained period of time in their intellectual development.
Friday, November 16, 2007
In love are we made visible
As in a magic bath
to the sharp pit
so long concealed
With love's alertness
the soundless whimper
of the soul
behind the eyes
A shaft opens
and the timid thing
at last leaps to surface
with full-spread wing
The fingertips of love discover
more than the body's smoothness
They uncover a hidden conduit
for the transfusion
of empathies that circumvent
the mind's intrusion
In love are we set free
and flesh no longer insulate us
to ourselves alone
We are released
and flow into each other's cup
Our two frail vials pierced
drink each other up
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Could you write something about coming from a working class background? If you feel like talking about academic stuff, I'd like to know what you say when you get asked what your family does.
Ok, now I've talked about class before on the blog, but it's always been in the context of talking about other things, it seems, from doing a quick attempt at searching for posts about it. So I figured it would make sense to do a post in direct response to this question.
The short answer is that when I've been asked that question, I just tell people what they do. My mom currently works in insurance, but throughout most of my life she worked in various clerical positions. My dad was a steelworker when I was a kid and now is in charge of maintenance at a mall. My stepdad worked in a parking lot for years, and now runs a store with his brother. And no, none of these people has a clue about what my job really entails. They're ridiculously proud of me, but my career is something entirely separate from them.
My particular brand of academic insecurity has never involved insecurity about my family exactly. They are who they are. That's where I come from. It's always been simple. (Now, I've worried about my ability to pass as "belonging" in this profession, but that's a different thing than answering the family question. In fact, I have a friend whose father is a fairly public figure, and she is more reluctant to talk about that than I am to talk about my family's jobs. In other words, I think that this question can be troubling no matter what side of the class fence one grows up on.)
But I want to talk a bit how weird I find the question when it is asked. See, in my experience, people from my background don't ask it. Not really. And I've never asked somebody I've met in my adult life what their parents do. I don't get it. I mean, we're grown-ups, right? What difference does it make what our parents do for a living? Aren't there more pertinent topics of conversation? And nobody in my hometown circle has ever asked such a question of me. I mean, it comes up sooner or later, but it's not like, "And so, Crazy, what does your father do for a living? And your mother?" In my academic life, though, people have asked that of me, and I suppose maybe because I'm not used to the question being asked I just rock it out with the truth. I mean, what's the difference?
I think that what Sara's question gets at, though, is the shame that we can sometimes feel as members of this profession if we come from uneducated people. When we are surrounded by people whose parents are academics or lawyers or doctors or accountants, it can make us feel like we don't "belong" in an office alongside them. Nobody at our dinner tables talked about books that they were reading or what happened "at the office" that day; nobody discussed buying a "summer home" or even annual family vacations. Most of us probably didn't go to camp; most of us probably didn't go to elite universities because it was a big enough deal that we could find a way to manage the state university down the road. Most of us probably didn't travel to Europe until we were in graduate school; we most likely didn't study abroad as undergraduates. We didn't take unpaid internships over summers. We weren't necessarily encouraged to "find ourselves" before choosing a career.
In other words, as much as I say that I'm not embarrassed about my family, and I just say what they do without thinking twice about it, I also recognize very deeply the ways in which my experience that brought me into this profession differs radically from many of the people who work in this profession alongside me. And yes, that difference in experience can lead to certain kinds of insecurity, even as I own the background that brought me to this point. What has been fabulous about my current job is that I have learned not to be as insecure about that stuff, in large part because my particular experience is so incredibly valuable with dealing with the student population that I teach. While it may not be identical to each student's experience, it has many common features, and I really get their anxieties, the roadblocks to high achievement that stand in their way, and the fact that for most of them that education is a scary thing, because it really does threaten their most intimate relationships. Because I understand those things, I can help them to navigate their educations in ways that other professors might not be as equipped to do. And so, sure, there are still moments of shame. But there are far more moments of pride.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
What do you do with colleagues who don't seem to like students? They just want to spend all their time and energy on the best and brightest, the ones we don't have to teach because they critically engage the books and come to class already knowing more than we might teach them. As for those students who don't look right or act right or speak or write correctly, they basically ignore them or castigate them. They spend the rest of their time bemoaning "falling standards." What do you do besides wait for them to retire??
This is a great question, but it's funny: it's not one with which I actually have a tremendous amount of experience. I think that I have dealt more with the inverse of this question, i.e., colleagues who tend to make excuses for students and to talk about how "great" they are in lieu of teaching them basic skills that they need. What's interesting, though, is the result is the same, just what I've dealt with has a more warm and fuzzy cast to it. In other words, the needs of the lower third or half are still not met - those students are still ignored - but in your version that lower third is castigated or lamented, where in my version that lower third is explained away through excuses and apologies and, ultimately, praised. ("Our students have so many responsibilities!" "Our students have such difficult lives!" "They do the best they can!")
I think that the problem with both attitudes is that they both let us as instructors off the hook for what students fail to achieve or master. "Learning" becomes something for which one either has a natural aptitude or one doesn't. If a student doesn't "learn" it's entirely on the student, whether because the student is stretched too thin to fulfill their academic obligations or whether it's because the student is in some way inherently "weak." Now, I'm all about students having ownership over their own educations, and I don't think that it's all on the instructor to "inspire" in the fashion of Dead Poet's Society or Mr. Holland's Opus. That said, I do believe that there is a reason why it's worth it for students to pay money to park themselves in front of me for three hours a week, to do the assignments that I set for them to do, and to think in the ways that I show them how to think. For me, the classroom should be a space in which both students and instructors have obligations to each other: the moment that one lets the bottom third or bottom half fall by the wayside without any attempt at intervention, for whatever reason, I believe that the instructor is failing to hold up his or her end of the bargain between instructor and student.
Ultimately "standards" fall whether instructors blame students for not achieving or excuse them for it. The only way to insure that "standards" remain high is, to some extent, to teach to that lower third or half and to bring them up to the middle or higher. And, it seems obvious to me, that doing so ultimately pushes the top students to achieve more as well, because if the other students increase in their abilities it takes a lot more effort for students in that top spot to shine.
But so what is to be done? Well. Institutional change is slow, and I think overt attempts to change an institutional culture can often be counterproductive. The Old Guard will become even more entrenched in their positions because they'll feel that they are being threatened. One thing that I think is helping at my current institution is that there has been an influx of new professorial blood, and students are responding well to the higher expectations. Ultimately, I only really have *control* over what happens in my own courses, but when it *works*, and when students respond to it positively, that goes a longer way toward changing the minds of the fuddy duddies than if I railed against them in an overt way. And there are small changes that one can try to institute at a department level (somewhat under the radar) that increase the level of professorial engagement - like, for example, taking an administrative call for more transparent assessment as an opportunity to come up with assessment objectives that fall in line with hitting that lower third by framing it as "this is what all majors should come away from courses with the ability to do." This way, it's not an attack on specific individuals but rather the discussion becomes one of shared governance and about making the administration the enemy - not students, not other faculty members. [Edited to add: Dean Dad writes a post today that reacts against my characterization of faculty/administration interaction here. I've left a lengthy comment to his post, so I won't repeat it here. I will say, however, that I do not think that individual administrators are the enemy, nor do I think that all administrative pet projects are bad ones. What I want is to get things done, and sometimes an administrative decoy can help with that job. Again, though, I wasn't lashing out at administrators here, but rather just writing off the top of my head about how to navigate the distance between entrenched and embittered faculty (or entrenched and enthusiastic faculty) and faculty who are less entrenched. I'm in no way an expert, and I hope I didn't characterize my thoughts here as some sort of universal truth for how things should or do work at every single institution.] But at the end of the day, some people won't change their attitudes. What I suppose speaks loudest is if students stop enrolling in their courses. How one can achieve that kind of shift in enrollment, though, I'm not entirely certain.
This then brings me to Nik's question, which is about what kind of university would most appeal to me. How is this linked to the above? Well, I think students and the attitude to students matters a great deal in how I imagine the "ideal" institutional setting for me. But so here is Nik's question:
If you could choose what kind of University you wanted to work at, what would it look like and where would it ideally be?
This is such an interesting question to me because given the state of my field (English) I've historically avoided allowing myself to fantasize about ever having such a choice. It was enough to have a job - any job. Even when I tried my hand at the market last year, I was fairly scattered in my approach because I didn't really believe that any preferences that I might have would make any difference. This year, however, I've been more focused on what I want than on what the market has to offer. So, let me first address the types of institutional settings that seem most attractive to me:
- I'd like to work at an institution that has a better sense of its own identity and about the identity that it imagines for itself in the future. My current institution began as one thing (open enrollment, serving a community college type mission) and now is in the process of transforming into something else (although it's not always clear what that is). On the one hand, there is a heavy focus on serving the community. I think that's ultimately a good emphasis for my institution. But because it's not always as clearly articulated as it might be, it makes it difficult to figure out how to fit oneself into that mission when one's specialization doesn't necessarily lend itself to that kind of work. At the same time, my institution has been adding many graduate programs, which then requires (or should require) a greater emphasis on research for faculty. At the same time, the emphasis on teaching remains. So an institution that once was all about teaching now is all about everything. This makes it a pretty grueling set-up, especially for junior-faculty who must be aware of tenure requirements that seem to increase year by year with no grandfathering in. On the one hand, it's exciting to know that the work I do shapes the future of this institution; on the other, it's very easy for the work that I do to become all-consuming in ways that are not at all personally healthy.
- I'd like to work at an institution at which I did not have to teach composition. My Ph.D. is in literature, I have no commitment to teaching composition and no interest in doing so. That is not to say that I don't have a commitment to teaching students how to write, but since I end up having to do that in my lit classes anyway, with students who've already had composition, there is a futility to teaching composition for me that is disheartening. I like working with freshmen, and I actually do enjoy teaching service courses in literature. The issue is not that I don't want to pull my gen. ed. weight. It's that I know that I do a better job with teaching things that I'm passionate about - even if only tangentially - than with teaching things that I am only barely qualified to teach (and where the qualification comes out of a system of exploitation that begins in grad school). If I'd wanted to teach composition, I'd have gotten a Ph.D. in composition and rhetoric. Now I do it, and I do the best job I can with it, but I hate it. I'm burnt out on it. And I am not inspired to find a way not to feel burnt out, and this does a disservice to my students.
- I'd like to work at an institution at which my research has more value than it does in my current context. In part, this links to teaching, in that I know I'm a better teacher when I feel satisfied with the research portion of my duties. For me, the two really are linked, and I would love to be in a situation in which that link was recognized more than it is.
- I'd like to continue to work at an institution that serves a large population of first-generation college students. I was in the first generation in my family to attend college, and I identify strongly with the needs of those students and the particular challenges that they can face in an academic context. I think that it's important that they have instructors who understand those challenges, not only intellectually but also personally.
- I'd like to work at an institution where I have relative autonomy in choosing what courses I teach and how I teach them. I have that at my current job, and I'd be reluctant to give that up. Same goes for autonomy as it relates to scheduling.
- I'd like to work at an institution that cares about all of its students - that does not privilege grad students over undergrads or vice versa - and that rewards excellent teaching as well as excellent research.
Now, as for part two of the question: location, location, location. I'm actually fairly open on location. When I look at the positions for which I've applied this year, they do tend to be in cities of some kind, but geographically And they're not centered in a particular region. I did tend to choose based on being nearer to people I care about than I currently am, but not necessarily nearer to family in all cases. Some places are on the east coast (nearer to grad school and high school BFFS); some are nearer to my family and hometown friends; some are further west, but again, nearer to friends. Ultimately, I want to end up in a place where I can imagine myself making a life. Here, well, I've given it a good shot. And I don't see my life ending up here. For a long time I beat myself up or feeling that way, like it was somehow my fault that it doesn't work for me here. What I think now is that maybe this place just isn't for me. It's not a bad place, as places go. I'm not totally miserable. But I'm not *happy* here. And dude, I want to be happy where I live.