Friday, August 31, 2007

The Bitchiness Has Lifted

Well, at least somewhat. I mean, there's always some residual bitchiness lurking about during the semester, but I'm in a MUCH better mood today than I've been over the past couple. Why?
  • I am taking a wee break from cleaning my house. Now, I hate cleaning as much as the next person, but I sure do like it when the place isn't a total sty. And I especially like it when I have a clean house in which to write (which actually means a clean house that I will turn into a sty while I write, but if you start with a sty, the result is something like a squat for crack addicts, and that's not cool).
  • I'm putting together a committee - a small one, but the first one I've ever chaired - that's going to hash out ideas for an intro course for a new program that we'll be rolling out next year. At first, this task was making me a bit bitchy, as figuring out who else would serve on the committee was hitting some snags. But all of the members are now in place, I am totally happy with the make-up of the committee, and I really think that it will be great to run the one meeting (as I aim to make this a one-meeting deal) super-efficiently and to come out with something that has strong consensus with which to head through the curricular process. God, all of this sounds so boring written out, but it's the little things in life that give me great joy :)
  • I'm actually feeling excited and, perhaps more importantly, ready to do those revisions on that article. And I can see how it's going to work in my mind's eye, and I think that I really may have found the key to the larger ideas that I've been thinking about with my newer research stuff. Thank you, anonymous peer reviewer, for your somewhat harsh but really useful and also strangely encouraging review. You may have given me just the thing I needed for what could potentially, sooner or later, become Book #2.
  • As for Book #1, I should be able to work on it in earnest as soon as the revisions are done, and that also has me energized.
  • I actually feel hopeful that I will see a person who has been woefully incapable of making plans of late. Don't worry, that hope is tempered with the realistic possibility that the person will continue to be unable to make plans :)
  • That said, I also found out that a bloggy friend will be attending MLA and so we shall, unless something bizarre happens, be able to meet! Hurrah! It's so much easier to see people when they go to the same places that you go. Much less effort involved.
  • I'm also excited to begin my workout plans for the next month beginning tomorrow.
So yes, I have an altogether positive outlook today, one which has been absent for the past few days. Thank god, because I really need some energy to do all of what I need to get done.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Revision as Re-Seeing

I often say to my students that revision isn't just "fixing" things that are "wrong" with a paper, but rather has to do with re-seeing the piece of writing, approaching it from a new vantage point. This is the reason why it's good to give writing time to "age" between drafts, so that when you come back that you're not just looking for "mistakes" but rather that you're taking the whole piece of writing in with new eyes. It's also why it's good to have others look at your writing and to give you feedback.

I actually do believe that, but I also feel like it's a somewhat counterintuitive process for people who do academic writing, or at least for me doing academic writing, because at least for me, one thing that is crucial to actually getting a piece of literary critical writing done is the ability to block out everything but the thing that I'm trying to do, to visualize my purpose in a very concrete way and to avoid distraction with other ideas. And thus, when things get to the revise and resubmit stage, I often feel irritable (at first) with having to address what almost always feel to me like comments that have nothing to do with my purpose and my vision for the piece of writing.

But. Once I get over my initial irritability, I actually am pretty good at taking in the comments and trying to do something with them, to forge some compromise between what I was originally trying to do and the suggestions of the reader. And it's interesting. It's an interesting activity. A little bit humbling, but also... I don't know. I suppose that it's possible for me to throw off my original commitment to my own purpose and to visualize a new purpose through the comments. And usually (ok, always) I always feel like the fleshing out of that original purpose ends up producing something better than what I'd originally done.

But then, that begs the question: if I get so much out of feedback, ultimately, why don't I share my work - ever - before sending it off someplace? Because I don't. With anybody. Ever. It's like the research stuff is this secret, private thing that I do, and it's not until the final stage - when I actually think I'm "done" - that I can let it go and let others see it and let their feedback help me to shape things. And this fact about my own writing process is completely counter to what I encourage my students to do - indeed, make them do - in my courses. And so I wonder whether the way I do this thing in my own life is really the best thing, or I wonder whether I should be encouraging so much collaboration between students in the drafting process, because if my way is the best way, then I'm actively teaching my students to do something that's not good for them. Who knows.

But suffice it to say that apparently I'm now interested in cognitive aesthetics. Who knew?


I am so tired this morning. Part of it is that I stay up later than I should, part of it is that I didn't get a nap in yesterday (which, of course, is how I sustain staying up later than I should: by taking a daily nap much in the way of three year olds and, from what I've heard, Matt Lauer), and part of it is that the week is winding down and I just wish it were over already. And yes, I am a very whiny person, which may or may not be an improvement on the bitchy person that I was yesterday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Turf Wars

One of the most frustrating things about academic life, I find, is having to deal with people who don't pay any attention to the big picture but spend more time staking their claim and protecting their own interests. (Note: I realize that there are people like that everywhere, but I don't have to deal with them.) I'm not saying that it's wrong to take care of oneself or that one should throw oneself under the bus for one's institution or colleagues. It's not, and people shouldn't. But it's one thing to take care of oneself and another thing to stupidly fight over whatever turf is in question, completely disregarding the broader context that will be affected by these tiny victories.

Whatever. All I know is that this sort of stuff drives me nuts, and, as a person who tends to think more about the big picture than details, I really despise when I am made to become part of these sorts of battles.

What Year Is It Again? How Old Am I?

I just spent the past who knows how long listening to a boy/man sing along on the telephone to Def Leppard's Hysteria album. It felt oddly familiar. Why? I swear to god I did the same thing with my eighth grade boyfriend. The only difference is that now I don't have to attempt to giggle quietly for fear that my mom will burst in and scream at me for a) being up past my bedtime, b) "laughing too loudly on the phone" (a constant complaint throughout my adolescence).

I was brought back to reality when the boy/man changed the soundtrack to the band that I hate most in the whole world here in the '07, Nickelback. But so the spell was lifted, and now I'm going to sleep. For real.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You Know What's Great?

When you're doing prep for a class and the reading you're doing actually helps you to think about the article that you're revising and it gives you a total moment of clarity about how you're going to design the syllabus for the brand new prep that you have in the Spring. Hurrah! Everything is clear to me!

(I'd say more, but I really need to go back to reading and taking notes.)

Random Bullets: I'm a Workaholic Edition

  • Remember how I was going to say no to every single thing in order not to become completely overloaded with service stuff? Guess who has agreed to do about 5 different things since then.
  • In addition, I've finally started working on some revisions with a Sept. 1 deadline. That's right, I finally looked at the comments for real for the first time *today*.
  • What we see from the above two bullets is that I am both a fool who takes on more than she should as well as a person who doesn't do the things she's already supposed to be doing, even as she says yes to ever more things.
  • Don't even ask how the book's going.
  • I'm sleepy. Perhaps I shall take a nap with my kitty-cat.
  • Oh, and rather than work out I think I'm going to lie around and read and maybe order pizza for dinner.
  • Yes, this is what I've become.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Some tips for College Life

Tip #1:

Let's say that you decide that you are the sort of person who chooses to take an elevator that is going in an opposite direction from the one that you ultimately need to go. So, say, you go up to go down, rather than waiting for the down elevator, which might be full by the time it gets to you. If you do that, getting onto an elevator that's already quite full, GET OUT OF THE WAY WHEN YOU REACH THE TOP FLOOR BECAUSE IT IS TOTALLY FUCKING OBVIOUS THAT EVERYONE TRAPPED BEHIND YOU WAS ON AN ELEVATOR GOING UP AND SO PROBABLY THEY PLAN ON GETTING OFF OF THE ELEVATOR AT THE TOP FLOOR.

Tip #2:
It does not make a good impression on your professors when you fail to do your reading assignments within the first two weeks of class. Nor does it make a good impression when you fail to bring the reading assignments with you to class, when it states EXPLICITLY in the course policies that you must do so in order to participate adequately. DO YOUR WORK FOR YOUR CLASSES OR YOU WASTE NOT ONLY YOUR TIME BY COMING TO CLASS BUT ALSO YOUR PROFESSOR'S TIME.

I could go on, but I'm going to go do work instead. Since this is the case, I will leave it to you, my readers, to add to this list should anything come to mind.

Monday Mornings Stink

I am s-l-o-w-moving this morning. Clearly I'm not used to the schedule yet. Also, I had a scary dream last night, a version of which I've had before, which involves walking along this ice-and snow-covered metal bridge (the bottom of which is not solid, so you can totally see the chasm below) that includes these stairs, and the stairs lead to these mountains (so no, I'm not actually climbing mountains in the dream per se, although thinking about it as my awake self that would probably be easier than being on the stupid icy bridge of metal with stairs and an open floor).... At any rate, as you might imagine, I woke up terrified after a slip that might have meant my potential doom. That said, the dream wasn't ALL scary, because before that in the dream there was another part where I kept finding wads of money on the ground, which was kind of cool, and there was a bunch of other stuff going on that did not involve potentially lethal falls. But so now this morning I'm feeling a bit tired (because I was very busy in my sleep) and not terribly motivated to get on with my day. Thank god, though, that I did prep yesterday for today. That should make the morning go much more pleasantly.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lately I'm at a Loss for Titles

And it really gets in the way of regular posting. I don't know what the problem is - I'm generally all about the title. Usually I've got the title before I've got anything else. But I think I'm having difficulty with titles in all areas, personal and professional, of late.

See putting a label on things (ultimately, what a title does) is a good way of having control over them, yes? The title gives you direction, tells you where you're going, tells you what to expect. And I like controlling, having direction, knowing where I'm going, knowing what to expect. Or at least I have always liked those things historically. But all of a sudden, I'm in this "hey, it is what it is" sort of a place, and that's seeping over into my ability to come up with actual titles for written things. Whatever.

But so anyway, Friday night I went out (hurrah!) and it was good great fun and something that I really needed to do. Yesterday, I did nothing. Because you know what? I'm totally not used to going out and partying like a rockstar anymore. It's so sad. And then today, well, things got off to a very slow start, but I finished up something that I had to do for a deadline, I came up with an activity for class tomorrow, I made a delicious (and yet seemingly disgusting) and healthy "Crazy Casserole" so I won't eat garbage all week long (yes, I'm getting back into the whole, "I chef it up on the weekends so as to eat in a healthy fashion" groove), and so all was not lost today.

As for personal life considerations.... ah. I don't know really how much I want to write about that stuff in this space. Things are fine, really, and it's not like I'm agonizing related to personal stuff lately. And my personal life isn't totally subsumed by the job lately, although one might think that it would be, given how much focus the job is demanding. So at the most basic level, everything is cool. I suppose this is the thing: I used to use this space to work out preliminary thoughts about personal stuff a lot more than I seem to do now. There are some concrete reasons why I don't use that space in this way lately (having to do with not wanting to be a passive-aggressive jackass) but to be honest, I'm not really sure that the concrete reasons are the only thing operating here. I think part of it is that more than ever I'm not sure how much good analyzing the fuck out of one's personal life really does. I mean, however much analysis one devotes to that crap, it all sort of goes one way or the other regardless, you know? And I know what I want in my life, and I think I'm progressing along in a way that isn't counterproductive when it comes to that stuff. So why bother analyzing everything to death? It doesn't make other people do what you want them to do, or make anything go more smoothly - in fact, it generally seems to have the tendency to fuck things up. But then I think that maybe my resistance against analysis lately - not only on the blog but elsewhere - might be evidence of a kind of shutting down that might not be good in the long run. You know what it is, at bottom, though? I think it's that I don't want to do what I've done a lot in the past - I don't want to be the person who figures everything the fuck out. I'd much rather experiment with other people figuring things out and seeing what happens if other people do that. Partly because when I think I've got everything figured out most of the time people haven't gone along with my grand plans. So, I'm just letting it ride for now. And if it happens that I'm no longer comfortable with that, I think I'd rather just call it a day than make some big bid for a grand plan that's not going to work out anyway. I'd rather keep my options open - to be on the receiving end than to be on the proactive end.

But so yeah. I'm shit when it comes to putting titles on things lately.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Maggie May has had two great posts about her concerns about blogging as an academic under a pseudonym lately, and I thought I'd respond at more length here, even though I've left some comments over at her blog. To summarize briefly, Maggie May asks readers to weigh in because she's starting to feel a bit uncomfortable about her level of exposure in the blogosphere, wondering whether she should change the content of the blog, go password protected, or use some other strategy in order to limit potential or current feelings of paranoia about discovery. A primary issue for MM is the way that she writes about the personal as well as the professional on her blog.

Now, these issues are ones that are not foreign to Dr. Crazy. When I started blogging, I never really believed anybody would actually read my blog.

(Aside: what's funny about this is that at a conference recently I met up with a colleague whom I'd met a few years before. Over beers, the conversation somehow found its way to blogs, and I decided to reveal that I had one. What was hilarious, when I revealed that I was "Dr. Crazy" was that he'd been reading me for years, and he was all, "but your blog is really big! I can't believe that's you!" and he generally thought it was totally awesome. I'd actually known him pre-blog, and so it was weird, but also really cool. It was like he was caught up with all of my stuff even though we'd not talked in years. By the way, if you're out there Colleague-who-has-read-the-blog, has DC entered the world? If so, congratulations!!!!! If not, congratulations in advance!!!!)

But so anyway, "Dr. Crazy" blew up as a persona before I'd ever really thought about the possibility of such a thing happening. And that freaked me out, especially because I'd never really imagined a readership when I began. And it freaked me out because some evil person threatened to out me, and the voice that I had cultivated in my first space was pretty divorced from a voice that I'd intentionally cultivate for those who might know my identity. I was both too personal and not personal enough, if that makes sense. And it was much harsher than I am in life. There was this projected identity, but one over which I had little control.

So I thought about stopping blogging, but then I felt like that wasn't really the answer for me. And then I decided that the best option for me was to move spaces, to take down the archives at the old space, and to stay Dr. Crazy but in a new register. Why did I choose this? Well, part of it was that I didn't want to stop blogging. Blogging gave me a community that I didn't have in my new-ish job, in my new-ish city. Blogging also gave me the ability to write daily, in a way that wasn't entirely solipsistic. Blogging was something that ultimately added to my life rather than detracted from it, and I refused to stop something that felt so positive out of fear. Part of it, too, though, was that I felt very confined by the initial voice that I'd chosen, without having really considered what that choice of voice would mean to me (both personally and professionally). So, for me, moving to another space allowed me to construct the voice I wanted out there publicly much more consciously, and it allowed me to grow as a blogger, to move beyond my first initial attempt. That was entirely positive.

But so, the question may be, why blog? Why blog as an academic, if one wants to write about personal-ish things?

1. I blog because it keeps me writing regularly and it keeps me writing for an audience in ways that just keeping a journal doesn't.

2. I blog because I with that I had more insight into this profession when I was a graduate student, and even as an undergraduate considering graduate school. I want to make this profession less mystified and mystifying and more transparent.

3. I blog because I think that it's important that all "academic blogs" are not just about academic pursuits. I think it's important that we recognize that academics have lives outside their research. I think it's an important feminist project to talk about how women negotiate their jobs with personal life considerations, even when those personal life considerations don't have (yet?) to do with children and being mothers.

4. I blog because I love the people I've "met" through blogging, whether in person or just online, and I want to continue to have conversations with them.

5. I blog because it's worth talking about this profession in ways that are just not possible to do in traditional forms of publication.

One of the things I've thought a lot about is what I'll do when I get tenure, with the blog. Will I
"come out" and reveal my "real" identity? Will I stay "Dr. Crazy"? This is a harder question than it may seem. On the one hand, I hate that I can't think of a single female blogger who reveals her "true" identity that writes freely, that is "known" (for example, as Michael Berube did on his blog). On the other hand, were I to reveal my identity, I wouldn't want to just blog as "me" - I like being Dr. Crazy online, and I think it serves a valuable purpose. I don't like the ways in which I can anticipate my voice changing were I not "Dr. Crazy." For me, the question is not how to retain my pseudonymity or anonymity. It's more a question of how to "go public" without it changing the mission of what I'm doing here.

Ultimately, the great thing about blogging as a genre is that it allows one to create a voice over time. Because it's a relatively new genre, it is flexible, and it allows for modes of expression and representation that aren't available in more entrenched genres (fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, etc.). One defines one's own space (through the graphic design of the blog, through the blog's voice) in ways in which it is not possible to do in other media (like traditional publication). A pseudonymous blog can be particularly liberating, because one can write outside of one's "public" identity, in ways that can be really productive and useful, not only to oneself but to others. But ultimately, one does need to think about the potential repercussions of that mode of expression. One needs to think about what one's blog means in a larger context. Does one want as many readers as possible, or does one want only a select few? Does one feel comfortable thinking about one's blog as a professional document, or would one rather think of one's blog as something that is public-private? These are questions that individual bloggers can only answer for themselves. That said, I'm attracted by the idea of coming out after tenure. Of staying Dr. Crazy, but also of claiming "Dr. Crazy" as mine. Why? Because for me, ultimately, I think it would be great to claim what I've done here. I'm not saying that what I've done in this space is super-great or anything, but it would be nice to own it in a way that I can't (or don't feel I can) do now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Minimums, Maximums, and Building a Rep

Both Bardiac and Dean Dad have had posts recently that discuss course enrollments. Enrollments are a tricky issue for many of us, whether the issue is that our courses are too full (and thus we get the many, many emails from students who want to be signed in over the cap) or that they're too empty (and thus face cancellation). Now, in a perfect world, I do feel like this wouldn't necessarily be the problem of individual instructors. In a perfect world (at least my perfect world) I wouldn't have to sing for my supper to get students to sign up, nor would I have to be a big meanie who rejects those who beg for me to let them enroll once the cap is met. But the reality is that this does fall to me in my imperfect world, and it's something I'd not really even considered before landing in a tenure-track job. Actually, I had a conversation with a colleague who is less far along on the tenure-track than I am about this very issue today, and this colleague is particularly frustrated by how these issues are playing out for her. So I thought I'd do a post today about this thing of attracting (and then repelling, if necessary) students.

I think where most of us have the most difficulty in this area is with what Dean Dad called "pet courses" and what I'd call "courses in one's field of specialization." Service courses, regardless of instructor, tend to fill. But what about those courses that don't fulfill general education requirements? What strategies can one employ to make sure that those courses "make," not just because they are fun to teach, but also because they are really important to one's professional development?

How much does a flyer really help? Hmm. Well, I think that depends. In my department, we make flyers for all upper-level courses and they go on a bulletin board outside the office before scheduling begins. This is a relatively new practice, and honestly I think the nicest thing about it is that one gets to see all of the cool courses that are being offered all in one place. Does it make a huge difference in terms of attracting students, though? Well, I think that it really can be a benefit for new instructors who don't already have a fan base (as I like to think of those students who follow me around from class to class) and I think it can be a benefit for courses that are brand spanking new and that have absolutely no word of mouth. But is an advertisement going to make your class hit the enrollment minimum? On its own, probably not. Because students make their schedules with a variety of considerations in mind, including things like the instructor, the time of day or the days of the week on which the course meets, workload issues, etc. Ultimately, students don't only choose their classes based on their intellectual interest in a topic or on the pizazz of a sheet of paper.

More important, then, than one's ability to hawk one's wares is often one's administrators' ability to come up with a rational and workable schedule. A few years ago, my department did an overhaul of the upper-level schedule to make sure that too many competing courses weren't running at the same times of day or that we weren't too overloaded on particular days of the week. We also rationalized course offerings so that there was a better range of content from semester to semester. As far as I can tell, this has hugely improved the chances of all faculty's upper-level courses making their enrollment, but it has been especially beneficial to newer faculty members.

This, too, is HUGE. Now, in my department we do not make students meet with their individual advisers each semester. And the kind of advising a student gets within the major can vary pretty widely from one adviser to another, as some tend to suggest to their advisees that the advisees should enroll in their own courses (which I suppose is one way to meet one's enrollment minimums, although that leaves a bad taste in my mouth so I don't tend to do it unless my course really is one that the student should take, and if a student has already taken one course with me I discourage them from blindly following me from course to course), some don't really look much at what the student plans to take and just ok whatever they do, whatever. But all is not lost. One thing that really helps is developing relationships with your colleagues and talking to them about what you're planning on teaching so that they think to suggest your course to their advisees. But again, remember that at least in my situation, not all students are getting advising every semester with their individual assigned adviser.

BUT we have started doing this GREAT thing in my department that has helped a LOT with attracting students to courses. We've started holding general advising meetings each semester for all majors and minors, and at those meetings, each faculty member who will teach an upper-level course has the opportunity to introduce themselves and to talk briefly (although some don't keep it brief enough) about what they'll teach in the upcoming semester. This had a dramatic impact on my enrollment situation. One of the problems at my institution is that students tend to take one class with a faculty member and then they stick with that person if they like them. If you're new, that can mean that you're on the chopping block every semester because you don't have enough word-of-mouth to attract students. What standing up and talking for three minutes did for me is that it let students get a sense of my personality and it made them think that the crap I teach might actually be interesting to them. Before we did the meetings, I had no platform from which to do that to the audience that I'm targeting. (We also do other things at these advising meetings, like break-out sessions about study abroad, or applying to grad school, graduation requirements, etc. so the meetings meet a lot of needs in a very short period of time, which is also a great thing.)

Now, for a new faculty member, this is tricky, and it's tricky for a lot of reasons. One, you're a nobody. People don't know you, and so it's hard for word to get around about you. Two, you probably are getting acclimated to the culture of the institution, so in your first semester or two, you might have difficulty in figuring out where exactly to aim your courses. I know this was a problem for me, coming from my graduate institution (an R1) and ending up at a comprehensive. Three, sometimes it can feel like one is being advised to "be nice" in order to "get students to like you" and that can feel like a path that compromises one's beliefs about one's role as an instructor or about how a class at the university level should be run. What I've found, though, over the past four years, is that even if one gets off to a bit of a rough start (as I did), all is not lost. In part, this is because I really became much more comfortable in my teaching persona, and I think that my comfort and confidence in that has really helped. Second, the students who did like me in spite of the amount of work I expect or whatever really did spread the word to other like-minded students. What this has meant for me is that when students enroll in my courses now, they do have a much better read on what they're getting themselves into and so there's not as much buyer's remorse on their parts. Also, I do tell my students about upcoming courses that I'll be teaching, so I start the ball rolling (I hope) with getting the word out about my courses.

Course Design and Curricular Need
I think that this is why I resisted Dean Dad's terminology when he described such courses as "pet courses." To me, a "pet course" would be one that serves no curricular need but rather that just plays to the interest of the instructor. One of the key things for me has been trying to play to my interests and expertise while still hitting the mark in terms of how those interests and areas of expertise fit into the broader curricular needs of students in terms of requirements. I'm not teaching any single-author courses, folks, and I'm not proposing courses that can't count for some sort of requirement. Maybe when I've been around here so long that I have a fan base in the hundreds I will do that sort of thing - maybe I'll attract them on personality and topic alone - but I'm under no illusions that such a thing is yet possible for me.

But so yeah, I think that those are the key factors in getting people to sign up. Not all are in the individual faculty member's control, but some are. As for what happens when all of that works, though, well, that's another can of worms. That's when the barrage of emails starts, the phone calls, etc. So how does one say no?

Well, I've done it enough times now that I've got an answer memorized. It goes something like,

"Dear Student,
While I'm pleased that you are interested in taking the course, I make it a policy not to sign students into my courses once the enrollment cap has been reached. I encourage you to keep your eye on the course for any openings, as usually there is some movement in the enrollment after the first class meeting. Good luck with the upcoming semester!"

And that's that. And yes, it sucks to turn them away, but if they really want to take a course with you, they somehow find a way to do so, I've found. Maybe not in the semester in which they'd originally wanted to take a course with you, but sooner or later. And so that's the final piece in having consistent enrollments: saying no to those ones who try to get in over the cap in such a way that they try, try again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts Two Days into the New Semester

So, I've met with each of my classes one time, I've kvetched with colleagues, I've had a meeting, I've been irrationally irritated at the fascists who administer parking on this campus. The new semester is solidly underway. My thoughts thus far:

I'm actually excited about all of my classes. I'm excited about my freshmen for the usual reasons (they are New! and Excited! and New!). I'm excited about my survey because I've revamped the syllabus and changed the books and changed, well, far too much, but I think that it will give me new energy for teaching the course. The last time I taught it, things were beginning to feel a bit stale, and I think changing up some of the texts and the way that I do some assignments is going to breathe new life into the course. Now, obviously I'm doing a lot of the same sorts of things that I've done in the past, but I think the changes that I've made will be interesting both for me and for them. Finally, I'm super excited about my upper-level class. The students seem really into the topic, and while I know there will be glitches because this is the very first time I'm teaching the course, and I think I hit the right note tone-wise on the first day - a tone of "we can have fun but we've got to be smart in the ways that we talk about things and there has to be a core of seriousness to our approach." I'd been a bit worried about that, but all felt good once I got up there in front of them.

I'm also really pleased about the amount of prep that I've managed to do in the past month, even if it was at the expense of some other things that I need to be doing. It means that this semester should be pretty stress-free prep-wise, and I do feel like I need that. I was talking with a friend last night about teaching styles, and I do seem to be a little anal about how I approach syllabus and assignment design. I suppose for me it's important to have a strong plan in place so that I don't freak out. That's not to say that there's no flexibility within the plan, but the plan itself is set in stone. I don't get more than a day behind on a syllabus, and if I do we catch up within a class period or two. I have only in the most rare circumstances cut a text from a course. Deadlines and assignments listed on the syllabus do not change. All of that stuff, for me to be comfortable, needs to be the case. So no, I'm not the sort of "laid-back" professor who let's a class set its own pace. I set the pace, well in advance of students ever entering the picture. Sometimes I wish I were a little less control-freaky in that particular way, but then, when I was a student I hated classes with the laid-back professor who let the class set its own pace. I needed structure then, and apparently I still need it now.

I can't really think about all of what I'm not doing research-wise. Deadlines (both internal and external) loom, and I know I need to kick it into high gear this weekend and stay in high gear in a pretty sustained way for the next two months. But I'm giving myself permission to focus on teaching until the classes are taking care of themselves and they hit their stride. I can't do all these things at once.

Hmmm. Well, I gave my chair my preferences for committee work today, and I also have committed to continue to serve on a university committee that I'm on. I'm also, apparently, agreeing to advise a student publication (which I really love and which I really want to continue on in as awesome a fashion as it has over the past couple of years, and I know I'm an idiot for taking this on, but I really do want to do it, at least for this semester - I can bow out if I need to or want to, so this isn't a lifetime commitment or anything). Finally, I'm going to lead a book discussion (just one book, just one meeting) at some point this spring for a community group. Other than that? I MUST SAY NO TO ALL THINGS. Well, all things beyond judging writing contests in the spring, which take no time and are easy service.

Edging Ever Closer to Tenure:
Well, since I've talked about the three areas, I might as well talk a bit about the fact that I am a year away from going up. Now, at my institution we submit a binder Every. Single. Year. So I know exactly what is required, exactly how to put the thing together - actually, it's ALREADY put together, and I just need to add, year after year, and to tweak the statements. Can I just say that I think this is a brilliant way to deal with the tenure and promotion process, even if it is extra busy-work throughout one's time on the tenure track? Because, sure, it's a pain in the ass, but it completely demystifies the process. And that's the thing about my university, really: it's not really one where mystification is the norm. Perhaps type of institution plays into this, but I really think it's a special thing about this particular place. Not that there aren't irritating things about the place, as all places are irritating, but there is a transparency here that is really, really great. On top of that, I really do have great colleagues, in that we truly are a collegial bunch and in ways that are above and beyond saying hi in the hallway. The best example I can give is that a colleague of mine has been dealing with a difficult family situation, and my entire department has come together to make meals for the colleague's family and to provide a kind of support that I just don't think happens in most departments. This may not be a place that's particularly good at welcoming newcomers or at providing social support in other kinds of ways, but when it really counts, people here are really good-hearted and kind people (and I use those words consciously). It won't be the worst thing in the world (and in fact could be a good thing) if I get tenure here and make my career at this place (because I really do think that I'd be reluctant to leave if I don't do it pre-tenure). I'm keeping my options open because it's stupid not to do so, but I'm happy here now in a way that I just wasn't last year at the same time. I'm in a much more centered place, both with the job and with my life outside the job. All of that is something I'm ultimately really grateful for, because wow did it suck to feel like I wasn't centered and like I had to find a way out.

You'd think with all of the above that I have no time for a social life right now. Not so! I've got plans for coffee Thursday, I'm going out on Friday - and who knows what plans might materialize in weeks to come! And on top of all of that I've got a vibrant long-distance social life via the telephone! (Speaking of which, Medusa and I have been talking about the need to stage a happy hour at one or the other of our blogs soon, while we're on the phone with each other, of course, so the long-distance social life may also go global!) So never fear, faithful readers, Crazy is not a total workaholic, just a partial one.

So those are my thoughts on this Tuesday night, with the semester well under way.

Creatures of Habit

While it's true that the re-entry into the semester isn't the easiest thing in the world, it's also amazing how easy it is to slip back into the routine of it. Perhaps this is to do with the fact that I've had pretty much the same schedule for the past 5 semesters or so, and so now, even after the months without the schedule in the summer (I've decided I'm never going to say "summer off" again, as if I don't want people to imagine me off lazing on a beach then I really shouldn't give the impression that I am) the schedule of the semester actually feels "normal" after just a day. Apparently, the same is true for my darling little Man-Kitty, who's back to his normal routine, including begging me for treats as he sees that I'm attempting to get my crap together to leave the house. Spoiled little shit. He is cute, though. How could anyone resist his charms? I think people who don't find him utterly adorable might have something wrong with them.

I mean, look at him! He's all Back-to-School Man-Kitty! Bookish and regal one moment, attempting to steal away in my book-bag the next!

Monday, August 20, 2007


Probably not the emotion with which one should start the semester, but alas, it is the emotion I have felt most often today. Parking. Grrrrr. I also, however, felt satisfaction with a meeting that I had as well as a teensy bit of excitement about my class that I taught. On the afternoon's agenda:

Now: Lunch

Following lunch:
  • Update blackboard
  • Lecture(s?) for tomorrow
  • Overdue revisions
  • Gym (hopefully to sweat out some of the rage that courses through my veins)
I then plan to collapse. God, the reentry is hard.

RBOC: First Day of School Edition

  • You know what sucks? That I STILL get that night-before-the-first-day-of-school feeling, which means I don't fall asleep until like two hours after I want to do so on the night before the first day of school, even though I've been doing this for THIRTY FULL YEARS NOW (if we count nursery school). And yes, I get a mild case of it in spring semester, but this fall nonsense is totally out of control.
  • (Warning: this bullet is totally disgusting.) For the past 3 days I've been battling what my friends and I refer to as a "cigarette burn zit." This variety of facial affliction, in case you for some reason don't know what I mean, starts out below the surface of the skin and is quite painful. You may even resort to hot compresses, because it seems to just grow and grow with the passing days and you fear that if you don't bring the thing to a head that it might take over your whole face (this thing first began appearing like a week ago). And it doesn't quite come to a head, but you think to yourself around day 3 or 4 that it wouldn't hurt to mess about with it a bit. It then becomes a bizarre combination of pimple and irritated dry skin, which closely resembles the burn of a cigarette, and you then begin applying neosporin to it hoping that it will make it go away, but still you've got this thing that looks like a cigarette burn in the middle of your face. And it's hard to cover up because the skin is so dry. Except maybe still it's better than a huge lump in the middle of one's face? In other words, I look awfully pretty for my first day of school. And it's all my own fault because we all know better than to pick at our faces.
  • Except of course that picking at one's face is something that I also tend to do when I'm anxious (see bullet #1).
  • I have so much to do that I'm feeling awfully overwhelmed. Must be careful not to pick fights with people, as that's something I do in times such as these, without even realizing I'm doing it. (And yes, Mountain Man, that's a veiled apology for how I ended our conversation last night, because I know I was a jackass, especially after you'd sweetly listened to me freak out and tried in your way to make me feel better.)
  • I hate all of my clothes.
  • Wow! I'm being awfully negative in this post. Wonder where all of this is coming from? Ah, it is the start of PMS time! This explains a HUGE amount. In other words, I shall be less cranky in just one week's time. Hurrah!
  • Ok, time to jump in the shower and to make my way to my first class of the school year. Please send good traffic/parking vibes my way, for I shall need them!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Mean, Bless His Heart! Whatever!

Of late, I've had a number of conversations with various friends about relationshippy type things. What's going on with all of the women in Crazy's life?

Friend #1: Friend #1 has been seeing this guy for like 7 months, and they got into a spat over a stupid thing, he proceeded to pout and to ignore her, and so she chose, thinking that it would stop things from escalating and making a mountain out of a molehill, to go home that evening. He then got all pissed off and angsty at her for "leaving," even though he wouldn't talk to her when she was there. The molehill thus became a mountain, but I think it's all smoothed over now.

Friend #2: Friend #2 has been sort of seeing this guy, and they're attracted to each other, have a lot in common, whatever, but he can't be in a relationship with her because all he wants to do is have sex with her (although they've not, actually, had the sex). Apparently desire is a deal-breaker for him? He'd rather be with somebody with whom he doesn't want to have sex?

Friend #3: Friend #3 started seeing a guy like three weeks ago. They talk on the phone every night for hours, and they've been out a number of times. Every time they're out, he's all "I'm going to make out with you in public to claim territory" but things have yet to progress beyond first base behind closed doors. She is confused.

Friend #4: Friend #4 got a call out of the blue from Larry Lothario, with whom she's had dealings over the past four years. She'd thought she'd finally gotten him out of her system, and so (stupidly) agreed to meet him for dinner and a drink, just to show that she'd moved on. One thing led to another (and he was all, "I love you and I miss you") and the following day it was revealed that he had another kid a year ago and he lied to her and said that the kid was his niece - not his own fucking kid. When she called him on the lie, he then said that it was the mother of his first kid's child, but that it wasn't his and he only goes around telling the whole town that it's his daughter so that people won't think the mother of his other kid is a whore. I think that this person is truly, truly evil.

My friends are all awesome women, all smart and successful and great. So tonight, I was having yet another conversation, with Friend #5, about life and love, etc., and at one point she busted out, exasperated, with the sentiment that makes the title of this post, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. I mean, what's the deal with all of these guys with their angst and woe? Their baggage, and their commitmentphobia, and their strange ideas about sex and relationships? Bless their hearts, but whatever.

Sunday Morning

Good morning, readers! I don't actually have much to write today, as yesterday was spent in an orgy of doing absolutely nothing of any value (including watching a most excellent movie on Lifetime: Television for Women entitled "I Me Wed" that you really should check out if ever it should air again) and then I went to bed early-ish, and I had yet another BIZARRE dream. (In this one, I lived with my mom, and she was going out with this pseudo-ex of mine, for apparently she was not married to my stepdad, but I liked my pseudo-ex, and somehow my childhood dog lived with me, too, and so first the pseudo-ex and I decided to give it a go, but then my childhood dog shit all over the place, so a lot of the dream from that point was spent on clean-up and stain-removal, and then the pseudo-ex's sister was there - though this makes no sense because he doesn't have a sister in real life - and somehow it was revealed that he had been dating my mom but that he actually wanted to go back with me, which was all very odd because he was in my bed as all of this was being discussed. Strangely, my mom didn't seem too heartbroken over the whole thing. And then I woke up.) But yeah, so then I woke up because my mom called me, and now here I am drinking some coffee and wondering what I shall do with my day. I promise that this will not become a blog wherein I just record my dreams, as with school starting tomorrow I should have a wealth of material at my fingertips. A wealth, I say! Perhaps more later, perhaps not.....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ok, So I Don't Normally Post about Dreams

But last night I had one in which I was going to get refreshments after having been in some long meeting, and thus following a line of people to the refreshment area, and apparently Rudy Giuliani had also been in the same meeting because he was behind me in line and he totally molested my butt. Obviously, my dream self did not enjoy this inappropriate attention, and so she wheeled around to freak out on the offensive butt-toucher, but then she realized it was Rudy Giuliani and everything got all confused because my dream-self was on the one hand still angry but also felt the need to be weirdly polite because of the "celebrity" of good ol' Rudy.


Friday, August 17, 2007


First of all, thanks everybody for the happy birthday wishes! All in all it was a fine 33rd birthday, including many phone calls from all my peeps, cards, presents, revelry, just all the things that any good birthday should include. There was only one little negative spot in the birthday wishes - one person who just totally botched the enthusiastic celebration of me that my birthday should be, but you know, in the grand scheme of life, this is not ultimately that big of a deal. (And yes, I really do know that, even though on the day I responded in a much less laid back way.)

But so yes, there's that. In other news, I have just 2 1/2 days more of freedom, as classes start on Monday, and so as I'm always to do things at the last minute in a kind of massive effort of denial, I've got plans to go out tonight with Naomi, and that will be awesome.

Until then, I think I'll clean up around the house and relax, and then tomorrow and Sunday I shall get myself mentally and emotionally ready for the start of the semester.

So that's the story in the aftermath of the big birthday. Thanks again for the happy birthday wishes!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'Twas the Night Before Crazy's Birthday...

So tonight BFF took me out for the "Birthday Kick-Off Dinner" and it was excellent and good fun and just fabulous. Can I just say how happy I am to have BFF here and that she's my friend? And she had a really shitty day today, so I'm even more appreciative of how awesome she was to me in celebration of the Jesus Birthday. Incidentally, she got me a GREAT card. It a) recognizes the Jesus Birthday as one of Great Religious Significance AND b) invokes my love of all things Celebrity, including the Religions of Celebrities. On top of the card it says "The Church of Briantology" and on the bottom of the front it says, "Not totally satisfied with any of the world's religions, Brian decided to go out on his own." Inside, it reads: "May Brian bless you on your birthday and always." Teehee! I also got a great card from Jezebel yesterday. The picture has a girl at a bar, with a word bubble in which she says "Hola, Waiter! Uno more margarita, por favor!" Below, it reads, "For whatever reason, Carol always thinks she's "bilingual" when she's hammered." Inside, "Hope your birthday is muy bueno." I love my friends. I have great fucking friends.

So I don't have any big plans for this, the Jesus Birthday. I'll go to the salon, I'll (annoyingly) go to campus to drop some shit off that I couldn't deposit today, and other than that, I am FREE! FREE as a bird! I shall do whatever I decide whimsically to do. I think that's a GRAND way to spend the day. What's insane is that I'm really in the mood to work on the book. But you know, I think I probably will resist the impulse to follow that particular whim. It's my birthday for Brian's sake!

Monday, August 13, 2007


This post is an offshoot of the one that I wrote about the need to protect one's time, and in large part it is inspired by this commentary at The Grad Life. It's also inspired by some of the comments that people have left on my blog and elsewhere about these issues, and also by this comment that Manorama made in a post that was more generally about workload:
"BUT...what puzzles me, then, is the abundance of stuff we read in the blogosphere about how time-consuming it is to be on the tenure track, how it sucks up your life, etc. I'm not saying that less time demanding equals less challenging, but all this time I've carried around the impression that my life is going to be hell when I get the job I want. I've even told some of my friends when we marvel at how busy we are and how buried in work we are that "It's only going to get worse--this is like boot camp for when we find jobs." Maybe all this time I have been inflicting this upon people without knowing what I was talking about...only I read what I was talking about from profs on the tenure track!"
What is striking to me is how much of a divide there seems to be between grad students' expectations about the profession and what professors do or should do (and I include my own expectations that I'd had as a grad student in that description) and what professors perceive as "common knowledge" about the day-to-day grind. And I think that the gap between these two perspectives leads to a lot of miscommunication and misinterpretation on both sides. So, the point of this post is to attempt to articulate my experiences with the different roles of this job that I've got, as somebody who is on the tenure-track and not-yet-tenured, at a state university that emphasizes teaching, who is in the humanities. Let me say for the record that I am decidedly not speaking for All Professors here - just for myself. It would be great if this gets a dialogue going where people from other disciplines, other kinds of institutions, other perspectives in the promotion and tenure hierarchy (including adjuncts, full-time instructors, VAPs, etc.) threw in their two cents as well. The point here for me is not to paint One True Picture of life on the tenure-track, but I suppose it is to clarify some things that I think I tend to assume are implicit in what I write on the blog but that don't come across to the entire audience of the blog.

When I was in graduate school, one of my mentors told me a version of what Manorama's quote above describes: that if I thought grad school was hard/time-consuming, that life as an assistant professor would be 10x that. This, for me, has been true in many ways, though I think that requires explanation. Graduate school for me was intense and grueling. I am not going to deny that. But it was intense and grueling in ways that were decidedly different from the ways in which the job now is intense and grueling. It's that difference that makes being on the tenure-track more difficult, in my estimation.

So what are the differences?

1. Social networks.
  • One thing about grad school is that one has a ready-made cohort of people with whom to discuss one's work and with whom one can socialize. One enters at the same time with a group of other people, and one has a common experience with that group of people. Even if you don't like every person in your cohort, you do speak a common language, at least to some extent, if only because you're taking the same courses with the same instructors. In addition, there is a strong likelihood that there will be one or more people generally working in the area in which you focus your research. Finally, everybody in graduate school basically has the same primary goal: to finish the program successfully. Even if there are differences between you (plans for after the degree, family situations, hobbies, whatever), every person's primary focus is that degree, otherwise they wouldn't be in graduate school. Now, the group-think and paranoia that can result from that can be a burden, and I remember in grad school longing for "regular conversations with normal people that have nothing to do with work."
  • When one enters a job on the tenure-track, one likely has moved to a part of the country where one has little-to-no social network in place, and one typically does not enter with a cohort of people with whom one will have any sort of common experience. Unless one is in a huge department, it is likely that you will be the only person who works on whatever it is you work on. Moreover, people do not necessarily have goals that in any way resemble each other: some people are focused on raising children, some people are focused on hobbies outside of the job, some people are focused primarily on teaching, some people are focused on research interests, etc. And perhaps most importantly, when you enter a job on the tenure track, while your department may be quite friendly in a professional sort of way, people have their own lives and priorities and becoming your new best friend probably is not high on the list. So you get plopped down in a place where you likely do not have family or friends, and you have to invest time in developing a social life that you just did not need to spend when you were in graduate school. One of the difficulties in managing how to do this, at least for me, has been that up until I got this job I'd pretty much let my social life take care of itself and used most of my energy on my academic life. If you do that at the expense of your personal life once you get on the tenure-track, it can lead to profound unhappiness. The problem is, graduate school trained me to efface my personal needs in favor of my academic pursuits, and so it's required a kind of rewiring of my internal hardware in order to allow myself to make my personal life a priority.
2. Teaching
  • I taught independently throughout graduate school, and I also TA'd in large lecture courses. My work in the classroom was twofold: to teach students (obviously) but also to learn how to be an effective teacher. While obviously there were some administrative tasks that were under my purview, particularly in the courses that I taught independently, the buck did not stop with me. If there was a problem with a student, I had the support of "real" faculty who would step in should the need arise (for example, with plagiarism cases, conflicts with student behavior, grade disputes, etc.). Moreover, the number of students for whom I was individually and solely responsible never exceeded 30 or so. Finally, teaching was always regarded as secondary to research, as what gets one a PhD is not, in fact, teaching, but rather writing one's seminar papers, passing one's comps, and writing one's dissertation.
  • In my current job, I am independently responsible for approximately 90 students per semester, not counting advisees (if I don't have a course release). I do not have TA's. The buck stops with me for all administrative tasks. By Spring 2008, I will have developed approximately 10 new courses. Teaching as a whole does not take less time than when I was a graduate student, but certain tasks associated with teaching now take less time because if they didn't, I would be either insane or dead. Teaching technically counts more than anything else toward tenure at my institution, but while this is the official party line, good teaching alone will not get a person tenure here. There are no awards for excellent teaching available for junior faculty. So the expectations for junior faculty in this regard can be muddy, for if one spends too much time on teaching, one is often advised that one should assign less, etc., but if one does not perform well on evaluations, one will be criticized for not devoting enough time to teaching (and often this criticism will be couched in terms like, "maybe you're spending too much time on research"). It should be noted that none of this has anything to do with actual time spent, but more with hitting a kind of middle-range with one's teaching, which can be difficult to do in one's first year or two when one is still getting used to institutional norms and expectations.
3. Service/Meetings/Etc.
  • Service was barely on the radar for me as part of this profession when I was in graduate school, and I say that as a person who actually made an effort to do a few service activities just to have them on my CV. While I was vaguely aware that I would have to serve on committees and advise students, I really had only half a clue about this component of the job. And the few "service" things that I did do as a graduate student took maybe one or two hours a month.
  • Oh holy hell. Service now. Where do I even begin. First of all, all service is not created equal, and depending on one's institution, some service "opportunities" count more than others. For example, at my university "service to the community" is a big thing. That doesn't mean that one can skip out of other "service," which includes things like serving on department committees, university committees, professional organizations within the discipline, reviewing articles for journals, advising students (although many places now try to place this under the teaching heading), writing letters of recommendation for students, advising student organizations, judging student writing contests, requesting new acquisitions for books and other materials at the library, and god only knows what else. Oh, and while this doesn't count as service, one also needs to attend things like department meetings, campus events, etc. It's all about "visibility." (Note that in grad school people often expect you to be kind of invisible because it means you're writing.) I'm going to estimate that during the academic year I spend at least as many hours on this sort of stuff as I do in the classroom.
4. Research
  • In graduate school, research was the thing. Research is ultimately the point of a PhD. While there are anxieties associated with this, it also means that one can maintain certain periods of long and intense focus on research, and that such activities are rewarded. One is expected to be reading, expected to be thinking, expected to be writing. And everybody else is doing that same thing alongside you, so it does not necessarily have to be a tremendously isolating experience (though of course, it sometimes still is). I had space in which to think about research in complicated and intense ways in graduate school.
  • Research now... well, it means a lot of other things for me now that it just didn't mean when I was in graduate school. First, research is an essential part of keeping my job. Yes, there are tenured faculty at my institution who received tenure without any publications, without conferences. But that was in days gone by. The requirements are changing, and have changed even since I first arrived here, and there is no grandfathering where tenure requirements are concerned. What this means is that, because one can't predict in year one what the requirements will be in year six when one goes up, that one must maintain at least a minimal level of research productivity throughout one's years on the t-t, whatever advice one might receive from senior colleagues who claim that research is not important. It is also helpful to try to remain under-the-radar as much as possible with one's research accomplishments, in order not to alienate those same senior colleagues who will evaluate one for tenure even though they may have fewer research accomplishments than one has. But ok, so what might a minimal level of research productivity look like? Let's say it's two conference presentations a year and one or two articles in peer-reviewed publications. Not much, right? But. Let's say one chooses just to do that bare minimum. Will one have any potential to get another job should something go wrong come tenure time (which it still could, of course) or if one wants to move to another job? At least in English, your chances would be dramatically reduced, especially if you hoped to move to a better institution than your current one. But, you say, what if you have no interest in getting a new job? That minimal research agenda can still hurt you because the reality is that one of the few ways to increase one's base salary is to get an offer from another institution and to negotiate with your current one to keep you. Moreover, research matters in terms of maintaining one's own reputation in the profession, and one of the reasons why I wanted to be an academic - and not "just" a teacher - is because I care about being part of a scholarly community, and let's not forget that it's membership in that scholarly community that makes letters of recommendation that I write for students or mentorship that I am able to offer them more meaningful.
But so the thing is this: In order to do all of that, I've had to learn to be somewhat mercenary in the way that I prioritize different tasks and in the time that I allot for different tasks that together make up the entirety of this job. During the academic year, I'd estimate that I "work" somewhere around 50 hours a week. This may be less work *time-wise* than the amount of hours that I "worked" during the academic year in graduate school, but part of the reason why I think that this is possible is that what counted as "work" in graduate school (for example, reading the equivalent of 3 novels plus secondary material a week when I was in coursework) a) I no longer do or b) I no longer "count" as work because it feels like a welcome break from all of the other stuff that I'm juggling. I also think that certain tasks for which I allowed much more time in graduate school (for example, I'd spend 30-45 minutes on each paper that I graded) no longer get that kind of time. For me now, it's all about whittling down each task to the least amount of time possible that I can spend on it and still do a half-way decent job. It's all about keeping all of the balls in the air simultaneously, about juggling, about attempting to balance my personal needs with the needs not only of my students but also of my colleagues, my department, my institution, my discipline, my research obligations (and notice, those do not count as personal needs). And this, I think, is why professors might bitch about things like receiving multiple needy emails from students (or colleagues, because I suspect we all get our fare share of those as well), last-minute meetings, unexpected committee assignments, students who expect to receive extensions without clearing it with the professor first, students who want their hands to be held at every step along the way, or new policies that come down from on high that require more paperwork or more assessment or more documentation of some bureaucratic minutiae: it's because any time one of those things happens, it's like somebody threw yet another ball into that collection of balls that we all are juggling, and every time that happens, the whole operation threatens to come crashing to the ground. And if that happens, one can feel like one's whole career is on the line. And so yes, that is frustrating, and anxiety-producing, and people may feel the need to vent about that stuff.

Professors are not merely bitching because their precious vacation time (or evenings, or weekends, or whatever) is interrupted. And they're not bitching because they don't care about students or they don't care about their jobs. And they're not merely lounging atop their PhDs getting a free ride when the rest of the world is off working.

Now students (undergrads or graduate students) may say, "but we're juggling, too!" I'm not saying that you're not. I'm not saying that I didn't. But the reality is that when I was a student, I felt like I was juggling maybe 5 balls at any given time. Now I feel like I'm juggling about 15. And part of any frustration I feel related to that comes from the perception on the part of many (both inside and outside academia) that I only, in fact, am juggling one ball - the ball that relates to students.

What seems apparent to me as I edge ever closer to tenure is that students, while they may be the "reason" for institutions such as mine to exist (particularly in a customer-service model of higher education), are not the only raison d'etre for the professor. Indeed, my job includes a hell of a lot more than "serving students" in the conventional sense (office hours, time spent in classroom, correspondence with or related to students, meeting with advisees). At least at my institution, the only employees who have that single mission are adjuncts or non-tenure-track faculty, and that is only if they do not aspire to tenure-track positions in higher education.

Now again, let me reiterate: It is important to note my specific context here. I am not saying that this is the one true picture of what it is to be a college professor. Moreover, let me just state for the record that I would not trade this job for another. I didn't write this post to complain about how hard my life is, or to say that this career is the most demanding or any other such nonsense. The fact of the matter is, I have a great deal of control over my working life, which is the benefit that occurs alongside the frustrations that may come from needing to juggle so many competing demands. I'm challenged by my job, and I continue to feel passion for what I do. My job allows me - in fact requires me - to have an intellectual life. Those are not small things, and I know that they're not. But if we're going to have a discussion about how professors should treat students or about how professors spend their time, I feel like we've got to get specific about what this job actually involves. And I feel like most of the time, those specifics are absent from the conversation.

Two Down, One to Go

One week from today, teaching begins. Two of my three syllabi are done. I've also written a bunch of my assignments for the semester, and I've done a good amount of reading so that I won't have to do it during the actual semester while I'm teaching (other than to skim through and refresh myself, of course). All of this falls under the heading of "not-writing-my-book," but I figure that since I've done all of this advance work that I shall be able to catch up with the book stuff once the semester is underway. (Not that I haven't done book-related work, but I've not done the really hard stuff that I should have been doing over the past couple of weeks.)

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to do some goals for the coming semester, as the start of the school year always puts me in a goal-making mood. And it's good to write the goals down, as then one has a better chance of actually accomplishing said goals. So. Here we are with some goals:

  • Lose weight. Between finishing the book manuscript in the spring, various visitors and travel engagements throughout the summer, and totally falling off the exercise wagon, I've gained back all that I lost in 2006 plus five pounds. This sucks. Also, incidentally, it puts me back at what I like to think of as "dissertation weight," which was also the "weight of a dysfunctional relationship." This is not where I want to be. And thus, subsets of the "lose weight" goal are to work out 4-5 times per week (which should also help with stress) and to get back on the healthy eating regimen (with but one cheat day per week) that helped me lose weight before in the first place (which should also help with energy).
  • Get back on the plan with one of my new year's resolutions (I've abandoned the others), which was to learn to make some lebanese dishes. So far, I've only learned how to make one stupid thing. This is sad. Sad, I say. Must learn at least 2 more by year's end.
  • In terms of relationships, there are things. I suppose what I want to achieve (should achievement be possible in this realm) is fun with a minimum of drama, and perhaps a bit more definition in certain areas. I'd really like, should such a thing be possible, to be satisfied with this particular area of my life in ways I've not been, well, ever. And I don't want to sacrifice in this area for the job. I've done far too much of that.
  • Finish revisions on collection essay by the deadline(ish).
  • Finish revisions on review essay (this week).
  • Finish book-related tasks.
  • Write MLA paper.
  • With all of that being said, I feel like this is a year of tying up loose ends research-wise. The overarching goal is No. New. Projects. The aim, ultimately, is to become a member of what my mom called "The Clean Plate Club" as a kid (which may be why I'm back to dissertation weight?), but in terms of research. I really want to make it so that I have a break in 2008 - a break that lasts for at least a few months. This is only possible if I finish with all of what I list above by the end of 2007.
  • My overarching goal with teaching is that I want to be as good a teacher as possible with the minimum investment of time. What this means first and foremost is keeping on track with prep and grading so that I'm efficient without sacrificing quality.
  • I want to invest more time in my lit courses with emphasizing writing. One of the things that I think has been missing (or if not entirely missing, has not been terribly present) is emphasis on this in terms of class-time spent on talking about writing about literature, even though it is actually one of the most important things that I want students to come away from my courses feeling competent to do. I think my thought in the past has been that they should be getting that instruction elsewhere - that by the time you are in a college-level lit course that you should "know" how to write about literature. I'm thinking more and more that this is counterintuitive. One thing I've already done in order to try to facilitate this greater emphasis is to cut some literary texts (something I've always been reluctant to do) in order to leave time for this. I'll let you all know how this experiment goes. (I should note that even with cutting some things, I'm still teaching a great many texts in my lit courses and am still probably trying to cram in too much. But dude. Students should totally expect to read until their eyeballs hurt if they're taking literature courses. That's kind of the whole point.)
  • I want to remain energized about teaching all of the courses that I teach, rather than indulging in a certain level of petty resentment about teaching things that I hate teaching (ahem, composition) and/or devoting more time and attention to the courses that I "like" best and then letting the others flounder. This will be a challenge, especially with the brand new prep that I'm teaching in the fall (that I am totally in love with, at least in theory).
  • Write my syllabus for the new prep that I've got in the spring. I've been toying with this syllabus for a year (since I found out I'd teach this course), and I need to make some decisions and stop tinkering as a way of procrastinating.
  • Ok, I'll be honest: my only goal with service is to do as little of it as possible without coming off like I'm not a team player. Thus, I need to say no early and often. This is not easy for me, as I tend to like to volunteer for things more than I probably should. Can I help it that I'm naturally a good department and university citizen? My answer to that question is yes, yes I can.
I think that this is an entirely reasonable set of goals for the fall, if an ambitious set of goals. And so now, back to the Final Syllabus. (God, I love that I'm getting things accomplished today and that it's not yet noon! Love. It.)

Edited to Add: I have finished my syllabi for the fall semester! Hurrah! I also made a hair appointment, so I will look smashing on my birthday! Hurrah! Now, the question is, which items on my to-do list would I like to tackle next?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On the Need to Protect One's Time

First of all, an aside: today I'm much cheerier than I was in last night's post. Thanks for the support of those who commented, and yes, part of it is really just the time of year :)

But what I want to write about is in response to this post over at Manorama's, which is written in response to this post (and the comments) over at Profgrrrrl's. To summarize briefly, Profgrrrrl complained about an incoming advisee who emailed twice within 24 hours, and Manorama noted that the tone (especially of the commenters) was not terribly supportive. (If you want the fuller story, read the two posts.)

At any rate, when I read P-G's original post, I've got to say that my first thought was, "this is why I don't check email when I'm not in town." And then when I read Mano's response, I thought, "hmmm, should professors be more supportive to this kind of student? I don't know."

So first things first. I think that I would have been irritated, as Profgrrrrl was, by this sort of correspondence from a student. Why? Well, the main reason is that this was a grad student, and NOT an undergraduate. If a person is entering grad school, while it's true that they don't know the ropes in many ways, they should at least have a clue about the academic calendar and the fact that professors are often not immediately available in the summer. Now, I understand angst and the desire to make a good impression. That said, by the time I was grad-school-age, I also understood that it would NOT make a good impression to seem needy and impatient. The student could have waited at least a couple of days. That's not to be dismissive of the student's anxiety - it is rather to note that by the time that a person is an adult (as all grad students are) they should have some sense of social protocols for not seeming overbearing and annoying. I'm not talking about the content of the email here, really, just about the time in between the two emails, and the fact that the student (at least from Profgrrrrl's report) wasn't terribly tactful in resending the email (at the very least the student might have explained why he/she was concerned that the email didn't go through and apologized in advance if the prof. was getting two identical emails). That said, Manorama is spot on when she writes: "Profgrrrrl was on vacation and could simply put the e-mail, and NGS's worries, completely out of her mind until it was a better time to respond." That's the beauty of email. One doesn't need to respond immediately.

Except it's important to note here: there was a time when I would have been much more irritated by such a situation, because I would have felt badly for not responding. What has happened to me, in four years on the tenure track, is that I no longer get irritated by such things because I no longer feel a responsibility to respond in a timely fashion, or to respond substantively in a timely fashion. I suspect, that whenever Profgrrrrl does respond to this student, that she'll be much more helpful than I would be. [Edited to add: she actually did post a basic version of her response to the student in her comments, and it is nicer - and longer - than what I'd have responded, in that she took the time to look up info online and to provide it for the student. ] Here's what I'd probably respond, if I responded at all before I were back in town: "Thanks for your email. I'm currently out of town, but I look forward to meeting you at orientation. Best wishes, Dr. Crazy." I suspect that a student who was anxious and looking for answers wouldn't necessarily respond well to such a reply. But that's what I'd write, and then I'd not respond to the student again until I met the student. Why? Because that's how my diss. director treated me, and I am apparently becoming him.

But really, it's not that I'm just a bitch who learned passive-aggressive and bitchy ways from her own advisor. Here's the thing: the fact of the matter is that being a good adviser, in itself, in terms of helping students to choose classes and such, is totally not rewarded, as far as I can tell, if one is a professor. Nor, ultimately, is teaching. Particularly at institutions with graduate programs. What matters, more than anything else, is publication. Even at my institution, an undergraduate institution that emphasizes teaching, things like being a good teacher and adviser alone will not get a person tenure, and one doesn't receive much reward for those things. And most people in professor-type positions are on nine-month contracts. What this means, for most of us, I think, is that we confine teaching-type duties to the time during which we're paid to do them. The "off time" is reserved for the things that "actually" matter, like research and publication. I'm not saying that this is good or fair or anything else. I'm just saying that this is the way that it seems to be.

The other thing to remember is that people ultimately are more likely to respond positively to requests when they actually know the person requesting them. Again, perhaps not good or fair or anything else, but human nature. I know that when a former student whom I'd mentored for two years asked for my help in the spring, even though she's no longer "my student," I was happy to help. And quickly. When students (and there have been a number throughout the summer) who don't know me and with whom I have no relationship whatsoever have emailed me for help, with getting into my classes where the enrollment has already capped, I'm much less likely to be forthcoming in meeting their demands. Because here's the thing: it comes off as a demand if you email and call me asking me for something when I don't know you. That's not because it is a demand - it just comes off as one. But here's the thing. That's why I don't check my voicemail in the summer regularly, and it's why I'm not obsessed with work email in the summer. Because ultimately, it's up to me to set the boundaries. Because, as Manorama notes, the professor is the one with the power in this situation.

In recognizing that, maybe I've actually become less supportive of students. But it also means that I don't vent about this sort of crap on the blog anymore. You know why? Because I don't get irritated anymore, because I'm not personally bothered by the fact that I'm not responding to them. Is that a good thing? Maybe.

Maybe not.

Friday, August 10, 2007


This is about the gajillionth time that I've started this post. I've started to write about the funk I'm in (too depressing) and also a post about crying (WAY too depressing). I've started to write about my thoughts about my hair, and the only thing to say is that I'm bored and that I'm thinking about growing it out, which is perhaps the most boring possible solution to hair boredom. I've thought about writing a response to Tenured Radical's post about theory, but I just don't have the energy for that, and I also don't have the energy to write a post about single-authoring vs. co-authoring in academe (which a friend suggested I should write, I think because a) we've talked a bit about the topic or b) because he'd rather I not write about other things we've talked about lately). Speaking of things that I've talked about with that friend lately, I've thought about writing about those conversations and about things I'm thinking related to those, but that brings us back into depressing territory. I've started writing about the block I seem to be experiencing with research-writing, and I've started writing about the block that I seem to be experiencing with blogging (which I think has to do with the research stuff). I've started writing about the funk that I seem to be in over the past couple of weeks (but again with the depressing). So I have chosen, apparently, to write a post about all of what I'm not posting about because it's all lame, depressing, boring, shallow, or requires to much energy. I have high hopes that in doing this, I will ultimately find my way back to having things to say.

Poetry Friday - Anne Sexton

"That Day"

This is the desk I sit at
and this is the desk where I love you too much
and this is the typewriter that sits before me
where yesterday only your body sat before me
with its shoulders gathered in like a Greek chorus,
with its tongue like a king making up rules as he goes,
with its tongue quite openly like a cat lapping milk,
with its tongue - both of us coiled in its slippery life.
That was yesterday, that day.

That was the day of your tongue,
your tongue that came from your lips,
two openers, half animals, half birds
caught in the doorway of your heart.
That was the day I followed the king's rules,
passing by your red veins and your blue veins,
my hands down the backbone, down the quick like a firepole,
hands between legs where you display your inner knowledge,
where diamond mines are buried and come forth to bury,
come forth more sudden than some reconstructed city.
It is complete within seconds, that monument.
The blood runs underground yet brings forth a tower.
A multitude should gather for such an edifice.
For a miracle one stands in line and throws confetti.
Surely The Press is here looking for headlines.
Surely someone should carry a banner on the sidewalk.
If a bridge is constructed doesn't the mayer cut a ribbon?
If a phenomenon arrives shouldn't the Magi come bearing gifts?
Yesterday was the day I bore gifts for your gift
and came from the valley to meet you on the pavement.
That was yesterday, that day.

That was the day of your face,
your face after love, close to the pillow, a lullaby.
Half asleep beside me letting the old fashioned rocker stop,
our breath became one, became a child-breath together,
while my fingers drew little o's on your shut eyes,
while my fingers drew little smiles on your mouth,
while I drew I LOVE YOU on your chest and its drummer
and whispered, "Wake up!" and you mumbled in your sleep,
"Sh. We're driving to Cape Cod. We're heading for the Bourne
Bridge. We're circling around the Bourne Circle." Bourne!
Then I knew you in your dream and prayed of our time
that I would be pierced and you would take root in me
and that I might bring forth your born, might bear
the you or the ghost of you in my little household.
Yesterday I did not want to be borrowed
but this is the typewriter that sits before me
and love is where yesterday is at.

You Know What Sucks?

Crying on the phone.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

This Day in the Life of Dr. Crazy

6:00 AM - Dr. Crazy wakes up with her mind racing. This is what she gets for going to sleep thinking of things she'd like her subconscious to do work on. At any rate, in spite of her best efforts, she cannot return to sleep (and we should give props to the Man-Kitty for his role in this, because he was, as far as Dr. Crazy can tell, attempting to bathe her face with his wee kitten paws and it's very difficult to sleep under those conditions).

7:00 AM - Dr. Crazy, having whipped herself into a neurotic frenzy, sends off an email that will allow her to return to precious sleep. As she drifts off, she thinks to herself, "maybe I am crazy...."

10:40 AM - Dr. Crazy wakes up, realizing that her alarm did not go off at 9 as she had thought it would, and thus she must race around like a fool in order to meet with a student at 11 AM. Thank god I don't live far away from school. Thank god.

12 Noon - Lunch, delicious.

Afternoon hours - Dr. Crazy takes herself off to the pool for some swimming, some sunbathing, and some reading of theory. Theory is not proper material for poolside reading, you say? Oh, but you are so wrong. It is perfect! And then there was some brief emailing with A., and then there was a shower and some contemplating about whether I should do more work.

And so now here we are. Ooh! A. just called!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


There are any number of things that I could post about, but I've just got no energy for the posting lately. I think this has to do with the fact that I've been solidly in work mode, which has included a shitload of reading (I'm trying to get ahead for the upcoming semester, as well as to get some research crap read before the semester begins), planning my classes, etc. None of this is terribly interesting, but all of it has to be done. And it's been too hot to live out of doors, so I've also been cooped up in the house for days. I promise that I'll be inspired soon. Really.

Inside Crazy's Studio?

A meme as seen over at Medusa's.

1. What is your favorite word?


2. What is your least favorite word?


3. What turns you on?

Verbal sparring

4. What turns you off?

Somebody who doesn't realize when the verbal sparring has gone too far

5. What is your favorite curse word?


6. What sound or noise do you love?

The purr of the Man-Kitty.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

When people chew audibly.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?


9. What profession would you not like to attempt?


10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Hi? Come on in? I know I'm boring with this answer, but I'll just be happy to be getting into heaven, so I'm not sure it matters what God says as long as he's not like, "woops! you made a wrong turn! You need to go back to purgatory!" or something like that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You Know It's Bad When You Can't Even Turn Your Life into Bullets

I was going to do an RBOC post, but after I got to bullet three I realized that my bullets were so boring that I could not continue with them or even post the ones that I'd made. The basic facts are these: what with the heat index and the air quality, I've been dragging for the past couple of days and I likely will continue on in this fashion until the dog days of summer get out of town. If it weren't for jello and Crystal Light Pink Lemonade, I might not have the tiny bit of energy it's taken to post even this much.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The "Right" To Complain

At various points throughout my blogging career, I've been chastised for complaining (or, why not use the gender-specific term, bitching) on this here blog. In fact, this isn't only specific to the blogging - I've gotten similar reactions in other situations as well. But I've been thinking about this a bit lately, and I want to write about it.

Let's start with a basic premise: Every single person has things in their life that make them irritated. Things about which they would like to complain. Things about which they do complain.

I would suspect that even Oprah complains about work sometimes, or if not work then about her family, or about her friends, or about whatever irritates her. To complain is human, to write in gratitude journals divine, or some such.

At any rate, however, there seem to be people in the world who like to judge who has the right to complain - or really, to speak at all - and who does not. My question is this: at what point does one have a "right" to complain?

People who like to tell other people to stop their bitching, I've found, tend to think that the person doing the bitching has nothing to bitch about - she's lucky. So, for example, I shouldn't complain about things that irritate me related to my job because I'm "lucky" to have the life that I have.

First, let me say this: I will be the first person to say that luck played a role in me getting this particular job at the particular time when I got it. BUT. I'm not lucky. Nor is any other professor out there. Why? Well, here's what goes into getting a job as a professor:

  1. One spends years in which everybody else is earning money and putting cash into retirement and social security and buying first homes NOT earning money and doing all the other things and in fact going into DEBT (unless one is independently wealthy, or some such, which most people who go to grad school are not).
  2. One potentially puts relationships on hold during that time, and if one does that, the whole "finding a life partner" business becomes much more complicated, especially for women.
  3. One works fucking hard to earn a PhD. Without much acknowledgment and without much compensation.
  4. One has to reconcile oneself to the fact that one can't even choose what city one lives in, let alone what part of the country.
And then once one has the job as a professor, one continues to work fucking hard, without much acknowledgment and without much compensation (although obviously there is more compensation than there is for grad students). And one finds that the job that one worked so hard to get isn't precisely what one had in mind when one started off on that path 5 or 6 years before (if one finished quickly, if we're talking about the humanities), nor what one was led to expect throughout graduate school (as grad programs happen at research universities and most jobs in higher ed do not happen at research universities).

But an aside: I really love my job. I'm happy that I've chosen this path. I am glad that I made the choices that I did.

But that doesn't mean that things about this job don't piss me off. Just as things about grad school pissed me off, and I was happy I made that choice too. Just as things about temping pissed me off, and I was happy that I made that choice because it paid the rent.

So why is it that when I "bitch" about the job, when I "complain" about aspects of my life, that this is not acceptable behavior?

Well, I think part of the answer to that question does have to do with gender. If it didn't have to do with gender, then people wouldn't bring my physical appearance into the equation when they chastise me for expressing what I think. Whether I'm attractive or not attractive - or whether I talk about things related to my appearance, which I honestly don't think I do, really, but perhaps I'm blind to my own conceitedness - (and for those of you who don't know what I look like, I'll note that while I think I'm "pretty" or "attractive", I could use to lose some weight and I'm no super-model or anything) has absolutely nothing to do with whether I have a right to have an opinion, about my job or anything else. I've noticed, related to the blog, that the people who like to say that one doesn't have a right to complain tend to gravitate toward the blogs of those who admit to being single, childless women. I suspect that if I were a mother, or even a wife, that I wouldn't have to deal with this sort of "complaint" (as what are those who chastise one for complaining doing but complaining themselves?). I'll admit that I've not paid much attention to whether men get similar sort of "feedback" (often characterized as "constructive" criticism, as a "wake-up call" about what a bitch a person is), so I'll not comment on that, but feel free to post in the comments if you've gotten similar reactions, male blog readers, whether you've experienced this in blogland or in life.

I also think that part of the answer to the question has to do with the profession itself. On the one hand, non-academics think that academics have it easy. Does the comment, "must be nice to have summers off!" ring a bell? Or, if not that, "must be nice to only have to work 12 hours a week!" (and that, if one is at a teaching institution)? And someone recently noted that I "bitched" about my five-day-a-week schedule because it would cut into "vacations" - all I can say to that is that yes, I did complain about that (although I thought in a self-deprecating way), and you know why? Because the reality is that my most significant relationships right now are with people who don't fucking live where I work. With the exception of BFF, of course. But since the people I'm closest to live more than 3 hours away (whether by plane or by car), yeah, it matters that I teach five days a week, in ways that it just doesn't matter for people who are not in that predicament. If you think that I have "chosen" for that to be the way that my life is, take a gander at the job list in English Literature, and perhaps you'll get an idea of how little choice one actually has in the matter. But I digress. The point here is that I've never heard somebody say that a medical doctor shouldn't "complain" or that a lawyer shouldn't "complain" or even that a plumber shouldn't "complain" about work. There is a real belief in our culture that academics should be grateful that they get to be paid for the work that we do. That what we do is a "luxury" in some way. And the subtext of that belief is that what we do doesn't really count as work. Even administrators think this sometimes, because we "only work nine months" as opposed to working 12 months of the year. (Although, of course, that's not true either, for I do only get paid to work for 9 months but I do, actually, do work throughout the summer and on breaks.)

The fact of the matter is, everybody bitches. Male or female. And that doesn't mean that one isn't grateful for the life that they have, or that they don't appreciate the benefits of the life that they've chosen or the life that they lead. It's just that no matter how great a person's life is, some things about it suck. Period. Everybody has the "right" to complain. You know why? Because a lot of things in the world suck. And if nobody complained, then nothing would ever change, then none of those sucky things would ever be eradicated.

And whether I'm pretty or attractive or lucky or whatever, it doesn't mean that my complaints don't have validity. And if one can't bitch on a blog, where exactly can one bitch? That's the bottom line.