Sunday, September 30, 2007

When Working Feels Like the Thing to Do

So, as with yesterday, I had a lot of difficulty being productive in the daytime hours. This is about the rhythm of when it feels natural to do research for me. I've never been good at being a daytime writer or a daytime researcher. I usually get the itch to start on that sort of work in the late afternoon and early evening, and when I try to force myself into productivity earlier, I do much less well with producing anything that's any good. I can sometimes change my internal clock in the summer, when I have lots of unlimited time, but it's not natural. What's natural is to start working around 5 PM. This is just the way of me, and I need to accept it.

And today I did accept it. I thought a good deal about working before then, but I couldn't settle in to do it. But since I started? I'm speeding right along. So the plan is that I'll get everything I can done at home tonight, and then I'll work through the day tomorrow in my office at school until the thing is printed and finished and mailed off. One thing that helps is that this is an internal deadline for the manuscript - not the final deadline for delivery to the publisher. That's a full two months away. And so, I'm chugging right alone, and I'm feeling pretty good about what I'm accomplishing.

In other news, have I mentioned that I'm growing out my hair? This is an annoying thing to be doing, and one that I'm not really good at doing. Because of this I can't legitimately get my hair cut for another two weeks, and it's driving me nuts. And even when I get it cut, I can't really do more than get a trim (although I think I will get a heavier bang, and I'm thinking a lot about color). Anyway, in a trip to Walgreens yesterday, I attempted to stave off the hair boredom by buying lots of silly things, all centered on the idea of creating volume. So today I experimented with velcro rollers to boost the hair a bit at the roots, and it seems to be a success! Who knew I could do something so easy and be so pleased with it?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

So It's Still Not Done....

But I edge ever closer to being done. The problem today was that apparently I needed a day of rest, and so I didn't start working until like 6 PM. Not ideal. That said, I worked solidly and I addressed the most difficult part of the revisions that were suggested, so tomorrow is fairly smooth sailing with typing in changes, Doing the nit-picky once-over of the whole thing in which I also look at the bibliography and notes, and dealing with formatting stuff. I'll need to do one last close reading on Monday because I'm an idiot and I teach things that I research and so the book that I need is in my office. That said, I somehow managed a day that was both very productive and very relaxing.

Needless to say, my house is a STY. Which is the main reason why I've got to get this thing out of my hands, so that I can live like a human being again. You know, doing things like vacuuming and showering.

You know, it's times like these when I wish that my personal life were more... stable? figured out? That it existed in only one time zone? As much as I needed and wanted to be left alone all day today, right now I wish that I weren't alone. It's so easy for the work to be all-consuming, and if you don't have a person or people who take you out of that, well, I'm not sure that's entirely positive. I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing in my personal life.

I had thought, when I got this job, that my personal life would just be very different from what it is. I'd been living with a guy for three years and it was understood that when I was done with the PhD that we'd get married. That was how things were supposed to go. But when I got the job, he left. And so now here I am, with this life that I never thought I'd have. And I've done all of the things that you're supposed to do in order not to be a lonely person. I've done the online dating thing, I've done the going out thing, I've done the going to events that attract single people thing, and yet here I am, typing on a fucking blog at 11:40 on a Saturday night.

But what's weird, too, is that the blog has brought more new people into my life than any of the other shit I've done. Real people, with whom I have real relationships. The problem is, though, that as much as that's a good thing, it means that the real relationships I've developed are all elsewhere. And I don't want my life to be a long-distance life, ultimately.

Which, of course, is why with the final stages of the book I freaked out on FB yesterday, because the thing is, the last thing I've ever wanted is a long-distance relationship and yet I seem to find myself in one. One that is incredibly crazy and impractical and that is, in many respects, having trouble getting off the ground. And so now I'm at this breaking point with it, where it either needs to go further (terrifying) or just end (which isn't what I want). But it's all wrapped up in this job - the fact that I even know him, the fact that we're both so fucking retarded about it, the fact that I feel like he knows me better than most people I've dated in real life (including the guy that I lived with for three years) have ever known me. This profession makes it so fucking hard to just have a normal life. A lot of times I feel like my biggest problem is that I thought the personal life shit would just take care of itself once I had a job. But you know, getting a job only made that shit harder.

Because the thing is, the job is... rational. I know what I need to do both in the specific job I'm in so that I do well and in the wider field so that I gain in reputation. The steps are clear, concrete. It's all manageable. You just do a/b/c and then x/y/z happens. Or maybe y or z fall through, but still, you're on a path. And it's not unlike knowing the rules of how to do well in school. I've always been most comfortable in that area, and so it's the thing that I fall back on, the thing that makes sense even when nothing else makes any sense. Which then ultimately means that the job eats away at the personal life stuff, even though I want the personal life stuff to be a priority that actually comes before the job.

I think some people feel about relationships the way that I feel about the job - like it's the thing that makes sense to them even when nothing else does, like it's where they're most comfortable. Some people have spent their lives knowing how to "do" them. They don't have all of this fucked up static when it comes to them. My mom is like this. So is my friend A. But for me, that's always been the thing about which I've felt most clueless. And so when I've ended up in relationships, it's always felt like an accident. Kind of like a car accident - you are doing your best to avoid getting into one, but then suddenly, there you are exchanging insurance information. That's kind of how I feel about my personal life right now. Like ultimately I don't have any control over it and like I don't know what I need to do to get where I want to go, now that the wreck has happened.

And so my response to that is to put it all on FB - to make it so he needs to make a move. In part, he *does* need to make a move, but the way that I'm insisting on it has as much to do with my insecurity and feeling of just not knowing what the hell I'm doing as it does with the fact that it's his turn, so to speak. And so I know I'm not really being fair, but I don't know how to be fair. I don't know how to apply the determination and focus that I have in my work life to my personal life. I don't know how to be competent.

So why am I writing all of this here? You know, I'm not really sure. I think it's because I do feel a connection between Major Work Events for me and Personal Life Freak-Outs. The two always seem to go hand in hand. And I also think that I'm writing about this here because I wonder whether this is just me being fucked up or whether this really is related to some of the idiosyncrasies of this profession. I wonder if I'd be the same if, for example, I'd gone to law school and settled down in my hometown instead of choosing a profession that would fling me into an unknown location. I wonder if I'd be the same if I did a job that didn't demand that I analyze the fuck out of everything, because, you know, it's hard to turn that shit off. I wonder if I'd be the same if I didn't specifically choose to work on stuff that focuses on fucking sex. I mean, the fact that I spend all of this time thinking about relationships in books has to have something to do with the fact that I can't seem to manage them in my own life. I wonder if I'd be the same if I hadn't internalized quite so perfectly academia's demand to achieve at all costs.

So yes, these are my thoughts on this lonesome Saturday night. Oh, and also that the movie Failure to Launch is both entertaining and totally enraging at the same time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

TGIF? Kinda

First things first: I love you, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and I love your fantastic show The Ghost Whisperer. The season premiere had everything: Jay Mohr (who may play the most awesome professor character ever), scary parts, a great nightgown, and I cried my eyes out at the end (which is one of the reasons I love the show - instant catharsis). In addition, I am totally on board with the Vampire Show that follows your show, Moonlight. Mick St. John? Awesome Vampire Detective? You had me at hello.

In other news, I edge ever closer to being done with the book, and I should put it (mostly) to bed tomorrow. Yeehaw.

The other bright spot in my day was that I participated in a feminist pedagogy discussion group that was fabulous. And I may (though I've not fully thought it through yet) get a new baby kitty cat for the Man-Kitty.

Why only "kinda" then on the TGIF? Well, last night I sent a sort of Come to Jesus email to the FB. And now I've got to call him back. (He called while I was sobbing to The Ghost Whisperer, and I thought it best if I didn't answer just them.) So I'm going to call him back, but then I think I'll be heading over to the Lounge, if anybody wants to join me. Medusa's on a date (ish), so depending on how things go, she may stop by as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

You Know That You're at Your Wit's End When....

  • Everyone, including students, keeps asking if you're ok.
  • You lose your senses and freak out in a department meeting.
  • You've been spending the past 20 minutes deliberating about whether or not it would be a good idea to drink a bottle of wine.
  • You have two sets of tests and a few straggling papers to grade, in addition to a book manuscript to finish.
  • You've been on the verge of tears more than once today.
  • You are annoyed with the precious Man-Kitty who won't just leave you alone for god's sake, even though you know you've been gone all day and he misses you.
  • You actually uttered the phrase "God Almighty" in exasperation in your office today, totally unironically.
  • You know that you should eat dinner, but you keep thinking that a bottle of wine could actually serve as dinner.
  • You hate everything. And everyone.
  • You're considering picking a fight with your Fake Boyfriend, or really anybody, just because you want to yell at somebody.

I suppose this, too, shall pass, but damn. I am in one bitchy mood today. I'm totally stressed out, and I'm sick of all of the shit that I have to do. Sick and motherfucking tired.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Update on the Book

So. I worked on it all afternoon. I've still got miles to go before I put the thing to bed, but I've addressed or made notes about how to address all of the comments that I got back, and I went back through the report (in spite of my hatred of actually dealing with criticism of my work) to figure out where I stand with the thing. The prognosis is fair.

So, tomorrow I've got a meeting in the late afternoon, but I only teach for one hour and I've got one office hour. The plan is that during the office hour I'll work on typing some changes in and get through the changes in the two chapters that need the least work. Then, I'll go to the gym. I'll go home and shower and get some food, and then I'll head back to the office. I'll (I hope) get through another chapter before the meeting. When I go home tomorrow, I'll start working through some of the more substantive changes on another chapter.

Thursday, I'll get through all of the other minor changes.

Then comes Friday, the hard part. In one chapter I need to do a lot of revamping with organization in order to make illuminate the argument that drives it. In another chapter, I need to do some major fleshing out, some reorganization, and a brief digression into analyzing another novel.

Then I shall watch The Ghost Whisperer and have a much needed good cry (I hope) when some earthbound spirit enters the light.

Then Saturday, I'll finish with all the changes, and deal with formatting issues (which will most likely mean going into the office, sigh).

Sunday I hope shall be a day of rest.

Monday I will print the motherfucker out and mail it off. And then I will await word from my editor about final editing stuff and the index, and I won't need to think about the thing until November, when I will make the final push.

A note about the editing I'm doing: in large part, I'm feeling very positive about the manuscript as a whole. It is so different from the dissertation. A reader caught but one sentence that was terribly jargon-y, and only two sentences that were weirdly abstract and incomprehensible. Overall, the writing itself is strong. Also, I'm confident that what I'm doing is truly new work that really does make a contribution to my field.

As for the writing itself, can I just say how much I think the blog contributes to the fact that the writing is strong? While this thing is based on my dissertation, it bares so little resemblance to that document in terms of the strength of the writing. I also think it's notable that feedback I've gotten indicates that the strongest chapters are the ones that are most revised or actually new additions to the manuscript. I've found my voice as a critic over these years of blogging, and while I think my voice was strong in the dissertation (indeed, it's the only full-on compliment I ever received from my adviser, when he told me after my defense that my dissertation was actually pleasurable to read) I know that I've really found it now. That's not to say that it won't change or develop, but I have a confidence now in my writing voice that I didn't have when I submitted the dissertation, and that confidence, I think, has a lot to do with the project of writing regularly for an audience. No, my academic voice isn't identical to this one, but developing this voice helped me to find my academic voice.

As for the content, well, I am so indebted to my adviser for helping me to pursue the line of inquiry that I chose. In many ways, my work has very little to do with his, but his influence is still all over the thing, in ways that are totally positive, I think. My relationship with him is a weird one for many reasons, but perhaps the best thing about it is that he never wanted me to be a miniature version of him: he allowed me to pursue my own ideas while offering me his expertise. It wasn't warm and fuzzy, but it also wasn't some sort of dictatorship and I was never an extension of him and his work. I'm a better writer for having written under him, and a better thinker for having thought under him. Of course, because of the nature of our relationship, I can never actually tell him this, as we'd both be terribly embarrassed by any such conversation. But if I'm anything as a scholar and as a mentor, I've learned how to be that from him. At the end of the day, he respected what I was trying to do, and he didn't impose himself on the project. For that I am so, so grateful.

So is the book "good"? I think that it is. I'm sure there are things about it that can be stronger. It's not perfect, and it's not going to be even after the changes. But I'm proud of it. And I will be so fucking happy to get it out of my life.

Experiments in Teaching Research Skills: Update

As I was planning for the semester, I posted about an assignment that I developed for my junior-level class this fall, a group research project. Now the deadlines are staggered, so I'm not receiving all of the projects at once, but the early returns are in, and, well, it's not the fabulous success that I'd hoped.

As I see it, these are the complicating factors:

  1. As specific as the assignment is, students did not follow directions. As much as we've talked about my expectations, students did not follow directions. As much as I offered help and clarification, students did not follow directions.
  2. Students put the project off until the last minute, which meant that they could not effectively do the group portions of the assignment. This probably meant that they didn't have time to follow directions either.
  3. Students didn't take the help that I offered, and that was available through the library, for the project. And if they'd taken that help, perhaps they would have been able to follow directions?
So, is this a bad assignment? Well, it's too early to tell for sure, but I really don't think so. I think, actually, that the ways in which the students are screwing up are really illuminating some of the biggest problems that students have generally with research at an advanced level. Research beyond what one does early in one's college career requires attention to detail, careful focus, and well, that one play by the rules of the game (including meeting the requirements of the assignment, following directions, getting to work early on projects so that kinks have time to be worked out, etc.). These rules are often directly contradictory to the way that students handle their academic commitments when they are in college. And if they don't screw up sometimes, they're not going to reprogram themselves to do that kind of intense work. Why? Because they won't need to reprogram themselves for that.

Another thing that the difficulties students are having with the assignments illuminates is the fact that they don't know how to work collaboratively with other people. It strikes me that this is an important skill to insist that students master because in the "real world" we all need to work collaboratively with people. It's easy for students to see their academic lives as personal experiences; their successes and failures as either only affecting them or as reflecting personal vendettas that they imagine professors have against them. One reason that they can perceive their academic lives in this way is because of how assignments are structured: if all of your work is independent, and if the only interaction you get regarding your work is with the professor, it's difficult to see that in doing this work that you are participating in a broader conversation about ideas, concepts, and critical debates. They don't see the wider ranging implications of their academic work.

It's easy to think that research work is personal because so much of it requires solitude. But when I think about the contours of my job as a professor, really I do a great deal of collaborative work. From meeting commitments for committees on which I serve to dealing with editors and readers' reports to working collaboratively with students, most of what I do is not ultimately solitary. Sure, there are parts of what I do that are. But then all of that goes out into the world and has to be in line with the needs of others. I suspect this would be even more true if I worked in another profession. Most students won't become professors, and even if they do, they will need to have the skills necessary to play well with others. If we don't teach them those skills, then are we really giving them the education that they need?

And so, at this point, in spite of the early returns, I still feel like this is a good assignment. I'm hoping that future groups will learn from the mistakes of those who go before them (which they will have the opportunity to do, as I'm going to post the research projects on our course blackboard site, which they've known all along, and I've now decided that I will post them to the site with comments and necessary additions).

So I'm teaching this course again in the spring, and when I do, I do think that I'll make some changes to the assignment.

  1. I'm going to require each group to schedule one out-of-class meeting with me to discuss the project. I think that I've given them too much independence as the assignment now stands, and I think that requiring one meeting with me will be a good way of forcing them to get to work earlier and will enable me to address problems before we're at the grading stage.
  2. In combination with number one, I think that I will require that they have a draft of the project prepared for the meeting, so that I can provide comments.
  3. I will also be able to offer the next section of the class a model of the assignment because I'll have samples from this section. I had thought about doing a version of the assignment myself and giving it to them this semester, but the reality is that I just didn't have time to do it with the book and everything else.
So yes, there are kinks to be worked out on my end, too, with this unconventional research assignment. I don't want anybody to get the impression that I'm vilifying the students in this situation. I think part of the problem is that this sort of work is foreign to them.

But. I know with some of the students that the problem is not that the work is foreign to them (only) but also that they blew the assignment off. Because it is very straight-forward, they assumed that it was "easy." They assumed that it wouldn't require intense focus and time. About this, they were sadly mistaken.

You know, in thinking about this assignment, I'm wondering how I myself learned these skills. I think I had similar experiences as an undergrad with underestimating the level of time and commitment that certain assignments would take, but ultimately I was a "good" student, and that carried me through. The same is true for some of the students in this case. But I think part of my desire to break the process down for them has to do with the fact that in my own education, I could have used more help with this stuff.

Another thing I've been thinking about is the way that technology has transformed the way that students do research, in ways that aren't entirely positive. For example, I don't think that students tend to take many notes when they do research, something I still do as a leftover from the days before electronic sources and the days before I had a computer (for yes, I did not own a computer until I began my PhD program). I no longer use note cards, but I do take notes on paper, and at the top of a page of notes for a source, I put the correctly formatted bibliographic citation, just as I had to do back in the days before citation machine and easily accessible online databases and library catalogs. I don't think students have these sort of research habits, in large part because they're no longer essential to writing a paper. The problem is, if you don't master those sort of habits, then you're always half-assing it. You never really master the technical skills necessary to really solid and deep research. But how do we teach those kinds of habits? Because they aren't essential, if you require students to do this sort of thing, you're requiring an anachronism - they'll see it as busy work. They need to come to this stuff on their own, to some extent - even as I needed to come to it on my own during my freshman year of college.

Similarly, I'm not sure that students ever compose much on paper. Now, I no longer compose everything by hand, as I did back in the stone ages before I had a computer, but when I'm working on a really difficult passage, I find that writing longhand slows me down in ways that are really positive for the writing, and so I can go deeper than I tend to do when composing at the keyboard. (You may wonder why my blog posts often tend to be so long. One reason is that I type approximately 100 words a minute with approximately 98% accuracy - at least the last time that I was tested - and so I can pretty much compose at a keyboard as quickly as a person might speak and nearly as quickly as a person might think. Ah, there is always transcription typing to fall back on should the whole academic career not work out.) Again, though, I can't necessarily require that they compose long-hand, nor am I certain that this would solve some of the problems that I see.

For me, all of this stuff connects back to the fact that students often perceive academic work as something that happens outside of any real world context. Because they don't see these activities as having value - other than the value that is signified by the grade that is ultimately assigned - they don't necessarily invest the time and energy necessary to do their best work. And with my students, well, why would they? Most often they have other commitments that are more concrete than the commitment to their own education. I recognize that. And so I suppose what I'm trying to figure out is how to make the commitment to their education concrete and real in ways that it isn't for them naturally.

Monday, September 24, 2007

In Which Plans Are Changed Because a Friend Is In Need

So, it was about 20 minutes to the start of part two of "The War," and I was about to settle into work on the book and to the watching of said program, when DH called me to tell me that she and her (so it seemed at the time) One True Love broke up for once and for all. Obviously, I could not tell her that I needed to go in order to watch TV and in order to do work that I've been procrastinating about for days. I feel so horrible for her. You know what may be the worst relationship thing in the world? When you know exactly what you want from a person and when they don't want the same thing - not even enough to say maybe. This is especially shitty when they broke it off with you a month before only to come crawling back a few days later because they "miss" you. I wish I could say I'd not been through the same thing, but having been there, I know exactly how much DH is hurt by the whole charade. And you know what I think of this dude? I think he totally and completely sucks. And I'm proud of DH for not putting up with it for as long as I'd probably have done.

Behind Schedule

Ok, so it all started when I agreed to put together a course proposal at the last minute. And then I decided that I'd go to the gym later, thinking that I'd get the proposal plus some revisions done and then go. Well, the proposal is done, but the revisions? Not even begun. So now I have a decision to make: do I go to the gym (as I'd promised myself I would do) and then work on the book? Is that something I will really do? And what about prep for my one class tomorrow? When does that get done? However, the course that I pulled out of my ass for this proposal is pretty kick-ass, if I do say so myself. Ah, the joys of being one who procrastinates by doing work. Fuck it. I'm going to the gym. The work will get done or it won't, but I must be committed to the new work-out schedule.

Update: So. I went and worked out. Somehow talked myself into a full 45 minutes of cardio. (If you only knew what I have to do to talk myself into such things: it generally involves thinking about all of the food and drink I might consume to nullify the workout.) I also skimmed the book I'm finishing with tomorrow while working out, so prep is basically done. While I generally cannot read and work out, I find that I can skim and refresh myself on stuff that I've already read. Who knew? So, I think the plan now is to relax for a bit, shower, grab dinner, and then settle in with the book manuscript and Ken Burns.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Week Ahead

The week ahead promises to be brutal. I've got a department meeting, a committee meeting, another meeting that's visibility-related (a reading group I volunteered to participate in - should be fun, actually), I'm giving two tests (both of which are written and ready to go, thank god). On top of this, I'm making the final pass through the book so that I can send it off a week from tomorrow. This isn't a set-in-stone deadline, but I really want to get this out of my life. And so, I will somehow find the time to do what needs to be done. Somehow. One reason I'm particularly motivated is I've invited my parents to come for a visit in mid-October, and I really can't have people in my house when I'm in the Crazy Manuscript Place. Oh no, I cannot. And did I mention that this week I've also decided is the week when I'm getting back with the diet and exercise program? Perhaps not auspicious timing, but no time is a good time, and at least I'm set for the diet portion of things because of my labors in the kitchen today.

All of this is manageable as long as I manage my time. And so I've scheduled everything in, and hopefully all will go well. I just can't let myself get taken off course.

I have a suspicion that the new Ken Burns documentary The War is really going to help, though, as in times of crazy work, there's nothing I love more than some excellent PBS. And can I say that I was so pleased by tonight's first installment? No "greatest generation" crap, even though, obviously, what the people being interviewed experienced and what they did was great, but it's not being romanticized, and that is refreshing.

Ok, am sleepy. Must take myself to bed.

How Not to Finish the Book You're Writing in Five Easy Steps

  1. Decide on Friday night to have a "party" online, which involves drinking the better part of a bottle of wine as you simultaneously listen to music, write blog posts, talk on the phone, and interact with the party guests. You will think this kind of "party" is a safer bet than actual going out in the world in terms of your potential for productivity the next day. About this you will be wrong.
  2. Wake up Saturday morning suffering from confusion and a massive head ache. Return to bed.
  3. Think to yourself, "Self, you're a little groggy," when indeed you do wake up, and continue, "Perhaps if you play computer games for a little bit this will get your brain working. Civilization is very strategic, after all."
  4. Five hours later, realize that you didn't get any work done. This inspires you to attempt to do some reading. Read 20 pages and fall asleep for two hours.
  5. Wake up and play a bit more of Civilization, until finally you're so sick of yourself that you straighten up the living room and move all of the stuff that had been on your to-do list to other slots in your calendar in the upcoming week. And then surrender to your procrastination, feeling horrible about yourself but still choosing not to work and to feel horrible instead of choosing to work and to feel good.

Today has also been unproductive re: the book, but I gave myself permission for that last night when I reorganized my calendar. No, today I got up, went to the grocery store to stock up on actual healthy and non-fattening food, and now I'm cheffing some things up for what promises to be a long week ahead. At least I will have delicious food that has the power to give me energy as I go forward into Red Alert Book Mode.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Um, Hello?

Ok, so I know that people are stopping by via this here blog to Crazy Medusa's Lounge because we're using the surveillance technology to monitor your movements. While Medusa and I really do enjoy just talking back and forth to one another, we'd really like to widen the circle :)

Virtual Happy Hour - Plans, They Change!

This always happens when Crazy and Medusa go out. Apparently, even when we go out on the internet.

It's been a long, long week, folks. We cannot wait until tomorrow to drown our collective sorrows. Thus, we are moving our inaugural festivities of Crazy Medusa's Lounge to tonight. TONIGHT!

So grab a cocktail or a Shirley Temple and perhaps a tasty treat, and stop on by. The conversation promises to be scintillating! Scintillating, I say!

We'll be over there at approximately 7PM EST (maybe 7:30.... you know how it is). I must go and procure supplies for this festive festive occasion. Upon my return, I shall be at the Lounge :)

Like a Chicken with Its Head Cut Off

That might be one way to describe how I've been running around for the past week or so, in making the push with the book stuff and in trying to get all of my grading done, etc. On the one hand, all of this feels good. It's nice to see items get crossed off of my many lists, and its nice to feel like I'm getting closer to not feeling so overwhelmed. That said? I think it's telling that I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream in which all I was doing was drinking glass after glass of wine and chain smoking. I suspect my subconscious may want a wee break from all of the productivity stuff.

But so now, this afternoon, it's time to continue work on the book. Now comes the more substantial stuff that I've got to do, but I have high hopes that it shouldn't be too difficult.

More later, for I'm sure I'll take frequent breaks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Grand Opening

So Crazy and Medusa have known one another, we realized just recently, for just about ten years. Indeed, it is our 10th anniversary. In honor of this, we've decided to open up a new watering hole - Crazy Medusa's Lounge - and, indeed, the grand opening will be on Saturday, a celebration of the anniversary of our friendship and a celebration of blogging with cocktails. I'll provide more details as Saturday September 22 approaches, but mark your calendars and your bookmarks: the party starts Saturday, probably around 7 pm :)

ANTM into Gossip Girl

Ok, so I saw that the premiere of America's Next Top Model was on, and this inspired me to grade. Still inspired, I hung in there through the premiere of the GG show. I have no idea what the GG show is about. I will say this though: I like their taste in music :) I decided this particularly when I heard the Cold War Kids "Hang Me Up to Dry" song :)

But so yes: I graded. One batch of papers was a pretty perfunctory checking sort of exercise. I'll probably skim them tomorrow and make some comment in class, but they really didn't require lengthy marginal comments. And then I went through reaction papers from my "gross" class. I have to say, I love reading these. It's so interesting reading their progressive reactions through the texts, and being able to have a real conversation with them through these papers. Perhaps because I was so en"gross"ed in these reactions, I couldn't register anything other than the soundtrack to the GG show.

This class is such an amazing experience for me, both because of student reactions as well as because of the reactions of my colleagues. Everybody - and I mean everybody - is excited about the possibilities of this course. It makes me wonder why I'm the one who finally proposed it, to be honest. I mean, why did people think that our students couldn't handle it, when clearly everybody in the whole world thinks that the topic is of interest? That said, I am glad that it's my baby. I'm glad that I'm defining in some fashion what this course means. And I'm glad I have a section of it scheduled for next semester, which will help to solidify that definition.

So, the one thing that I didn't do today/tonight was work on the book. This is ok. There's no house on fire for me to do what is left to be done. Tomorrow plus the weekend is soon enough. And now I'm ahead of myself with prep and classes, so tomorrow plus the weekend can really be devoted to the book. This is all good.

Today I have...

  • Had 11 individual conferences with students.
  • Graded 11 papers (in order to be able to return them at said conferences).
  • Created an activity for one class for tomorrow.
  • Wrote two tests.
  • Chatted with two colleagues at length.
  • Caught up with A. on the phone. (You may be wondering what's going on with her: she's been dating this guy for a couple of months, and somehow he's morphed into her Fake Live-In Boyfriend. She's a bit concerned about this turn of events, not because she doesn't want to spend as much time with possible with this guy - she does - but because it was never actually a *decision* that it happened. I advised that she needs to have a conversation with him in a non-confrontational situation about it so that they won't fight later because of this development. Fake Boyfriends are one thing; FLIBs are entirely another.)
  • (Probably in what was a big mistake) poured myself a glass of wine.

Now. In theory tonight I should do some grading, although I did warn my students that they probably would wait a bit longer than usual for the things that I have because I had the major papers from the other class coming in this week. I should also prep for tomorrow, as I have a lot to cover because Tuesday's class in the one section was... well, it was a pretty relaxed discussion. We're finishing up with this text tomorrow, and if we're going to cover everything that I want to cover, I'll need to be a bit more regimented. This requires prep. I also have to finish up with minor edits on the book manuscript.

The problem is, I'm not terribly motivated to do the "should" list this evening. I may need to trick myself into doing some of it, otherwise tomorrow I will be s-c-r-e-w-e-d. Let's think. What must I absolutely do? Well. I need not necessarily do the book stuff. It will keep until tomorrow. I think that the prep and the grading are the things, with prep coming before grading. Ooh! I just had an idea! Ok, the prep is 75% done, now that this idea has occurred to me. Hurrah! All I need to do tonight is to pick out some passages for the thing that I will do in class and to make some notes about things I should lecture on. Which leaves the grading. Le sigh.

Maybe I actually should work on the book in order to make grading seem more palatable? Perhaps that would be a good thing to do. Ooh! The phone just rang! Yay!

Edited to add: Ok, picked out the passages: prep for tomorrow - done! Hurrah! So grading? Book? Not very motivated.....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Question for the Internets

I've got a friend who teaches a class about scandalous books written more for notoriety than for literary merit. (And yes, I know that's unweildy, but I'm doing my best to be ungoogleable on this one.) Anyway, do any of you know of a novel that would fit that broad definition that is written by an African-American author? Please advise!

Thoughts on Eat Pray Love

A few of you had mentioned that you wanted to know what I thought when I was done with it, and so now, unaccountably, even though I've got a boatload of grading, book edits to do, etc., I am done. My short reaction: I liked it. It's worth reading.

But you know I can't just leave it at that.

I suppose I'll begin with why I decided to read it in the first place. My friend J., a non-academic, periodically recommends books to me, and usually these books are from the book club circuit. Generally, when she recommends something to me, I try to read it, because left to my own devices I either read stuff for work or I read total shit. And I reread either my favorite shit books or children's lit before bed. So left to my own devices, I'm not a terribly well-rounded or widely read reader. I rely on others to recommend things from the what I think of as the "normal" reading world to round out my booklist. Well, that and airport bookstores, but even then I'm likely to pick up a piece of shit before I pick up something that's passably good.

But J.... She's an interesting friend because on the one hand she's this wild and crazy person who kind of careens around getting herself into these outlandish situations. She's 35, never been married, she travels a ton, she's super-successful in her career, but she also tends to have a lot of high highs and low lows. When she hits one of the low spots, she tends to go into what I think of as periods of intense over-correction. So for about six months she'll be going out like a crazy person, have all this drama with guys, be just generally out of control, and then she hits a limit and will decide, "I'm going to lose 50 lbs., go to church every Sunday, never go out to bars, start therapy, and quit smoking." All at once. And then she'll do all of that for about 6 months or a year and be kind of like a shadow of her crazy self. And then, lather, rinse, repeat. She's back to Crazy J. again. Until the next time.

But the thing about J. is that she's a person who's always searching and trying to be a better version of herself. She's thoughtful and caring and a friend that you can count on in any situation. She really cares (and I say this unironically) about the betterment of her soul. It's a strange mix.

But so anyway, J. recommended the book to me, and demanded that I read it because she found it so evocative and wondered what I'd think of it. And so, since you know, I'm supposed to be doing all of this other stuff, I decided to read it.

Now, I should probably preface my actual remarks on the book with the fact that I would never call myself a "spiritual" person. I'm not particularly interested in exploring different religions, and I've never tried meditation, been to therapy, done yoga, any of the stuff that most people who I think of as "spiritual" or who define themselves as "spiritual" do. That said, I've got a little statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in my kitchen, one of the few Christmas decorations I have and put up faithfully is a nativity scene, I pray every night before I go to sleep, and I have in my adult life have realized that since I was a kid I actually instinctively do practice some common meditation techniques to shut my mind off, but I never learned those anywhere and they're just something I've always sort of known how to do. I've been known to go to church (though I'll admit I'm in no way consistent in doing so, and I'm pretty much a Christmas/Easter sort of Catholic). That's right, I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school until I was 13, and I still consider myself a Catholic, although obviously a sinning and pro-choice Catholic. But I believe in the saints, I believe in the Virgin Mary, and I pray. I think that the rituals of Catholicism are beautiful. One thing I can be counted on to do any time I travel is to visit at least one church, sometimes even for mass. I suppose I just don't think all too much about it. I feel like I have a relationship with God, but it's kind of a regular relationship, like one I have with a friend. I've never been.... a spiritual seeker. Or no, that's actually not true. When I was 7 I did have a few months where I really LONGED to have a vocation to be a nun, and I said the rosary every night and stuff, but then I realized that I'd never be able to have kids if I were a "bride of Christ" and I realized that a life of devotion was not one for me. I made that choice, and I never looked back.

And so reading Elizabeth Gilbert's account of her year of searching for emotional and spiritual clarity and centeredness is probably not something I'd have done had a good friend not told me to do so.

But I liked it. In spite of the fact that I'm not terribly spiritual or "God-y."

Ultimately, the book is about one person's realization that she's totally fucked up and that she's got to do something to restart her life. And that is interesting, whatever form such a journey takes. And the version of spirituality that Gilbert describes is not one that is preachy but rather one that is about finding divinity within ourselves, something that I can totally get on board with. During the section where she's at the Ashram in India, she writes the following: "God dwells within you as you yourself , exactly the way you are. God isn't interested in watching you enact some performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person looks or behaves. We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality. [. . .] To know God, you need only to renounce one thing - your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character" (192). That's probably as close to what I believe about God as anything.

But while the book is filled with such kernels of wisdom as that, it's also funny and irreverent and, well, regular. Elizabeth Gilbert isn't some holy saint who's never made a mistake (and she admits hers freely), and she doesn't try to be. And the people to whom she introduces us aren't holy saints either (with the possible exception of her Guru, whom we never meet). They're just regular people, from all over the world, from all different life circumstances, who are all trying to find their way. And so reading about them, and her developing friendships with them, is... well, it's uplifting.

That said, there were things that did irritate me about the book. Most notably, there are moments when she talks about "this yoga" that she practices, and something about the phrase "this yoga," like "this yoga teaches...." or "this yoga demands...," annoys the crap out of me. It's all a little too new-agey for me. I think that the book is actually strongest in the center, when she's at the Ashram, and I felt a bit let down by the final third, when she goes to Bali, finds Happiness and Peace and a Boyfriend, which ultimately bored me. While I loved the first third, about Italy, what I loved most were the descriptions of food, and descriptions of food will only get me so far in loving a book (though that destination is quite far indeed). But what redeems the book for me, even at moments when I felt like it was a bit uneven, is that it really does give an account of what it is to make searching for balance in one's life a priority. Does one need to take a year and travel around the world to do that? I don't think so. But it does make for a better book if one does.

And Gilbert's prose is a pleasure to read.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tunnels and Lights

So today I got good work done. I did the grading that I absolutely had to complete; I prepped for my classes; I made good progress on the book manuscript (although I do have the final two chapters left to slog through, but I was too fucking mentally exhausted to make the final push tonight). And I made chili, and I got dishes done, and I read some more of Eat Pray Love, which I'm enjoying (though I'll have more to say in an upcoming post when I've finished). I've been intermittently reading it, and my soundtrack throughout the day has been Sinead's Theology. Oh, and I went into the office and dealt with some correspondence and updated my CV. So yes, it was a productive day.

But I want to talk about how I'm feeling about the book. I really do see it as nearly finished now. And the thing is, I should be happy about that. And in a lot of ways I am. But I'm also kind of scared. I don't really know what I'll do when the book is no longer this thing hanging around in my life. Remember: this book emerges from my dissertation. This means I've been sitting with these ideas, with these texts, for approximately 7 years. As much as I don't want to sit with these books and these authors anymore, and as much as I see the project as a whole now, and as I see what little I have left to do as things that will lead to completion - and satisfactory completion - I also feel... anxious? And I feel a sense of impending loss. And I also feel... I don't know. I feel on the one hand like it's great that this thing I've done will be published. I really do think that it contributes to the field in a way that is useful. I really do think that I've accomplished the only thing that makes scholarship in my field meaningful to me, which is to use scholarship to make it possible to see literature in a different way. But I also wonder: what if nobody else thinks that my book accomplishes that? What if people don't think it's interesting? What if they don't think it's smart? What if it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever?

I don't think I had these anxieties when I was finishing the dissertation. I never expected my dissertation to do much other than to help *me* to think about things more deeply. I really never thought anybody would or should bother reading the thing. And while the dissertation was a very solid starting point for the book, and I retain the same structure and the heart of what I have to say remains the same, I've done a lot to flesh the thing out. And so when I was dissertating, I was able to save any ambitions I had about making a contribution for the transformation of it into the book. I always new I wanted it to be a book, but somehow I was able to table what that meant (to me, and just generally) during the process of dissertating. Now, I can't table all of the anxieties that go along with making the thing public. And that's scary.

There's also the fact that I don't know, even with all of the time and energy I've put into this project, this project that has pretty much no meaning in terms of my ability to successfully get tenure at my current institution, if there was any point to turning this into a book. Will this book make any difference in my marketability? Will it make any positive difference in my reputation? And if it doesn't, then why did it matter so much to me to do it? I mean, it's being put out by a decent press, but it's not like it's some uber-awesome-university-press. And what if that means that ultimately all of my work will land me in exactly the same place that I would have been in had I not made this huge effort? What's the point of it all, in a practical sense?

I suppose part of all of what I'm feeling right now might just have to do with my tendency to try to stave off disappointment. I don't want to think that just because I've got this book thing happening that it means that anything in my life is necessarily going to change as a result. I don't want to assume that this will make some sort of radical difference in terms of job prospects or in terms of my stature within this profession. There are a lot of people in this world with books. And some of those books suck. And mine might be one of those. I don't think it is, but I suspect those people whose books I think suck don't think that their books suck either. Maybe that's the thing: I think everybody thinks that their dissertation sucks on some level. I'm not sure that anybody who writes a book that gets a publisher thinks that it sucks. And so I don't want to have some sort of crazy delusions of grandeur as a result of the fact that I'm doing this thing and that it's almost done.

And I know it's stupid, but I'm wondering who I'll be once the thing is finally and completely finished in December. Seven years is a long time to sit with any set of ideas. And finishing means that I'm not going to have those sitting around and defining me anymore. And so what will I have left when those ideas are sent off into the world?

Blah. I'm being whiny. But those are my thoughts tonight. I suppose the short version of what I'm feeling is deep, deep insecurity. And probably the reason that this bothers me so much is that it's not something I feel all that often. So I just need to suck it up and get on with it. There's no way to know the future: how the book will be received, how the book will affect my chances on the market, how I'll replace the book in my life when the time comes for that. So I need to stop trying to anticipate and project and just enjoy the final months of this process as much as is possible.

Things to Do

Ok, so my list of things to do today started out as a fairly lengthy one. It originally had 19 items on it, with items varying in difficulty from "organize student papers in order of their conferences" to "finish notes for major manuscript edits." So far, I have crossed 7 items off the list. This is pretty good given that it's only 1:25. Also, remember that I always feel fine if I just get through approx. 2/3 of any to-do list, so really if I just do 5 or six more things, I'll be happy with today's productivity. The question is, should I do the teaching stuff that I know I must do first (because I must do it) or does it make sense to do book manuscript stuff because since the teaching stuff *must* be done, I'll do it anyway, whereas if I do the teaching stuff first I probably will blow off the book stuff? And would it be useful to leave my house to work or would I accomplish more if I stay here? Hmmmm.

Update (because I know you care):
Ok, so I decided to stay home. I decided that going out would not ultimately help the productivity. I think I was kind of right. So far I have
1.) Gotten through 2/3 of the book manuscript.
2.) Prepped for one class tomorrow.

The problem is, this slogging through the book stuff is really exhausting. So I feel like i need to take a break from it, but what I want to take a break and do is nap, which is not at all on the list of things to do. Ok, perhaps I shall do a small item on the to-do list and then will allow a wee power-nap to rejuvenate.

(And yes, I know this crap is boring, but for whatever reason it's helpful to report to the blog periodically on days like this, when I'm really trying to do more than is humanly possible to do.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shopping! Hurrah!

Well. NFMB today inspired me to go out and do a bit of shopping. See, I needed to buy some jeans, and since it was the super-secret-Macy's-preferred-customer sale, I could buy them at 20% off. So.

I bought jeans.

But what I'm most excited about buying are these....

And these come in a close second....

At full price, each pair would have cost $69. Do you know what I paid for BOTH? $29.

And then I went to Borders and bought Eat Pray Love and Sinead O'Connor's Theology and a new cookbook. And then I took myself out to lunch, and then I swung by the library where I checked out all of the books that I shall need to finish my fucking book. And then I cheffed up some beef stroganoff and chicken paprikash, and I'm thinking now that I might take a nice bath to prepare myself for Rock of Love at 9 PM.

It has been a great Sunday. Totally.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What Is Crazy Doing? Oh, Not Finishing Her Book!

Yes, that's the reason for this second post on a Saturday. See, I've been busily Not Finishing My Book for a couple of months now. This has some similarities to Not Finishing One's Dissertation. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, you know that if you just set your mind to it that you could knock the thing out, but instead you decide it would be better to make yourself feel really guilty and stressed out first because without pain there is no gain, and so it's important to make the process as painful as possible so that you can feel especially proud of yourself when you actually finish because, you know, all the pain makes it "mean" more. Oh, and NFMB also means that I can't allow myself other certain pleasures, even necessities, because it's part of the important work of making myself miserable. So, for example, I've not been cooking. As I sit and write this, I'm eating a pathetic South Beach frozen pizza. I've got food I could cook, but you know, as I should be working, I can't allow myself that pleasure. One positive, though, is that NFMB means that all of my laundry's done, that I've cleaned my bedroom, that I've cleaned the bathroom, and also that I've taken out the trash. I have also written 3 job letters.

But I should be nicer to myself. Today I actually *have* begun finishing my book in earnest. I've completed the changes to the first two chapters, I've got notes for the more substantial changes to chapters 3 and 4. I intend tomorrow to go to the library to get some necessary tomes, and by Tuesday I hope to have all minor edits finished, to have extensive notes for all substantial changes, and to have only the more substantial changes to tackle next weekend and the weekend after. The more substantial changes generally include fleshing out my readings with references to other works in the authors' oeuvres, and this isn't something that is ultimately that difficult - it just requires some broadening and deepening of my perspective that takes some intellectual stretching that, during the semester, I'm having a bit of a hard time focusing enough to do. My aim is to send the manuscript off to my editor Oct. 1 so that they can look at it and I can have one more pass through it before the final delivery deadline. Also, that means that I can begin working on the index (oh, sweet jesus, the index).

It does help that I've worked my schedule (oh, the joy of mandatory conferencing) so that I've got 3 days this weekend and 3 days next weekend, which is always a good thing when one is trying to make a big push of this sort. So I think I'm going to allow myself to quit for today, and tomorrow I'll wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and begin work anew.

Did I mention the fact that I've got my first stack of papers to grade in my bag? Yeah, I'm thinking that Monday night is the soonest I can even begin to think about looking at those.

On the Market and In a Job

In a comment to yesterday's post, Earnest English writes:

Dr. Crazy, I was wondering how you (anyone) handles having a job and going on the market. I too have a job and don't really want my current department to know I'm planning to leave. (The job is fine, but like the girly girl I've become, I want to go home to my boyfriend and have a chance at playing Suzy Homemaker at least part time. Isn't that disgusting? I can't believe I'm saying this -- in public!) So how do you handle it? For example, my chair has come from Department X, where they are hiring this year in my field, but if they see where I'm at now, then they'll surely get in touch with said chair and then said chair will know I'm on the market. So I figure I won't apply, even though it's a potentially good job in a location Boyfriend and I both like. Crazy, please advise. What do you do? Does it ever seem like a problem?

I started writing a comment, but it threatened to become a mile long, and so I've decided to do a full post in response. First of all, I faced the agony of wondering how to tell or not to tell my current department last year, and I came out on the other side, so anything I say now comes out of that particular experience. Second, a lot really does depend on one's specific situation and one's personal relationship with one's colleagues, so what I say here may not be advice that all should or could take. I should also note that I perused my "on the market" posts of last year, and I didn't really write about this aspect of my search, so a full-on post rather than just a comment is probably in order. What I wrote most about last year was the "why" of my decision to go on the market generally, and about points in the process, like telling Very Supportive Colleague, but not about the how I came to the decision to tell or not to tell. But so anyway, here I go.

First things first. I think that in fields like English, where the market is impossibly over-saturated, that one can feel (rightly or wrongly) like a traitor to one's current position if one chooses to look from a job. Moreover, one can feel like a traitor to all those folks who don't have tenure-track employment and who've been on the market multiple years. I know that I had those feelings last year. The thing is, it's stupid to feel that way. It's *normal* to keep one's career options open, and it's *not* a betrayal of one's current institution or colleagues to do so. It's a job, not a marriage. Taking a job does not include making vows of lifetime commitment and fidelity. Taking a tenure-track position is not the same thing as taking religious orders.

Moreover, pretty much the only way to raise one's base salary is to get an offer from another institution. Because of the realities of salary compression, it's likely that time spent on the tenure-track will ultimately mean that after a few years one is making below the market value in one's discipline, and it makes good sense to try to up one's base salary whether by getting another offer and taking it or by getting another offer and using it to negotiate with one's current institution. This is easier to do when one is looking at the assistant professor level, because once one enters the limbo of tenured associate professordom, one doesn't have as much capital with which to get an offer that will allow for such an increase. Particularly if one is at a teaching institution, getting tenure means that one is most likely going to fall behind others at the associate level in terms of research who would be competing for the same few jobs that might appear, and so would be much less likely to be able to move or to be able to get an offer. Ultimately, it's a good thing for one's current department if people look and get offers from other places because it can better enable the department to convince those who hold the purse strings to hire people in at higher salaries, to work harder to rectify inequities that result from compression, to deal with workload issues that might be making faculty look elsewhere, etc.

Finally, it's important to recognize that given the realities of the academic job market generally that most people's first jobs don't necessarily land them in a location or type of institution of their choosing. Your colleagues know this. It's not wrong to want to be closer to family, to be in the same place as your significant other, to be in a place where it's easier to have a vibrant life outside of your job, or to teach a different student population or at a place with a different balance of teaching/research/service. Those things, ultimately, can actually help you to do your job better, because a person who's happy is likely to be a happier and more productive colleague.

But so. If it's so great to look, why do people choose to search on the down low?

1. Fear of retaliation. The culture of your institution/department is such that looking for another job makes people think that you're not committed to your current one. People are suspicious of those who keep their options open, and this (potentially) could hurt your chances of getting tenure because people see you as a "bad" colleague.

2. Fear of embarrassment. You don't want to tell your current colleagues because you don't want to look like an ass if you don't get an offer.

3. Fear that if people know you're looking that they will then believe that you hate your current job/your students/your colleagues. If you're in a snake pit filled with conflict and mutual loathing, a decision to look will be rightly read as an insult to your institution and/or your colleagues. See #1.

4. You're not really committed to leaving the job that you've got should you get an offer. In other words, you're just testing the waters even though you're totally happy in your current position, but if you got an offer you wouldn't really take it. (I'd say if this is one's position there's no point in sending materials out, but that's just me.)

5. You're applying to a "dream job" (because it's in your hometown, because it's at your alma mater, because it's the top department in your specialty according to the rankings, whatever) and you feel like it's such a long shot that you don't think it's worth mentioning. See #2.

Now, all of these are real concerns, and they shouldn't be taken lightly. That said, the reality is that even if you try to search under the radar, if you get to the interview stage, people at your current institution may find out that you're looking anyway. My initial feeling when I decided to put myself on the market last year was that I didn't want anybody to know, mainly because of Reason #2. After discussing it with Job Search Mentor, though, and realizing that if I had any success that I'd ultimately have to come clean and that it might look even worse if I waited until later in the process, I decided that I'd rather be embarrassed than spring the fact that I'd been searching for months on them later in the process. For me, being up front meant not feeling like I had to live a double-life or fear being "found out" before I told. Now, I didn't stand up in a department meeting and announce my search to all and sundry, but I told the administrators in my department, and it gave me a sense of calm, and I think that they took my directness about my intentions as a sign of my professionalism. Also, telling meant that I could get a letter from a person in a position of power in my current department, which is really helpful if one is looking as an advanced assistant professor.

So, I've addressed some of this in the previous paragraph, but to be parallel, I should probably list the reasons to tell:

1. Being direct about your intentions can reflect positively on you. It shows that you trust your colleagues, it shows that you are professional, and it means that you get to control who finds out, when they find out, and how they find out.

2. A letter from your current institution will help in your success on the market. Especially if you've been out of graduate school for a few years, the people who can best speak to your collegiality and your teaching and service record are not your grad school mentors. Moreover, such a letter can alleviate search committee fears that the reason that you are looking is because you won't receive tenure at your current institution or that everybody in your department hates you.

3. You aren't unhappy at your current institution. This may seem counterintuitive, but I feel like if you're not desperately trying to get out then it makes it easier to tell. Everybody has reasons why they might want to send out a few applications. If those reasons are personal (relocation issues) or if those reasons are professional (hey, I do a lot of research and I'd like more support for that, for example), then you might as well just say, "look, I'm totally happy here, but jobs x, y, and z would be great jobs for me and so I feel like I should give it a shot." If your colleagues are reasonable, then they should be able to grasp the fact that looking doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your current position.

Now, this year, I haven't done any Grand Reveal about my intentions to look. I asked my colleague to update his letter, and that's all I'll do until I get further in the process (if, indeed, I do get further in the process). I'm pretty relaxed about looking in part because I am not using this search to do soul-searching about the state of my life in the way that I was last year. If nothing pans out, I know that I can be happy getting tenure and remaining at my current institution. I have great colleagues, I do valuable work, I feel like I have a great deal of autonomy that I might not have in another position, and I have been able to achieve everything I've wanted to achieve in this career right where I am. I'm looking because while I'm content here, I am not bound to this place. I don't have roots here, I don't have a family, and I don't have a reason to stay. And I'm ambitious. And hell yes if I can get a job that would allow me to do more in this profession, I want to see if I can make that happen.

But I don't care about the affiliation on my nametag, and I'm not just trying to get higher up on the food chain, not really. I don't think that any job at any "better" university or any more researched-focused university would necessarily be a better fit for me. My priorities right now are more about trying to find the best possible balance between what I want professionally and what I want personally. The personal in this location hasn't been exactly stellar, and so that's as much a reason that I'm looking as anything. The professional is ok in this location, but I wonder what I could do at a place that had higher expectations for me and more support directed at those higher expectations.

But to answer EE's specific question, I'll venture the following. Assuming that you're in a department without a lot of crazy political maneuvering and vitriol, I'd think that it would be ok to have a talk with your chair about the job opening that you describe. You might say something about having noticed the job ad and that you're thinking of pursuing it, but you want advice about what the chair thinks. Your chair might actually be an advocate for you and help further you in the process. I wouldn't couch the revelation that you might apply for a job or two as "I'm planning on leaving this job." I would say, "I'm keeping my options open, and one thing is that I would like to be in the same location as my S.O. and this job could potentially allow for that, but I'm very committed to this job and happy with this job should that not come to pass." Don't make your chair think you've checked out of your current position, if that makes sense. Not knowing more about your specific situation, though, means that I might be offering you bad advice. Is there a colleague in your department with whom you are friends and whom you can trust not to gossip with whom you can discuss your quandary? Ideally somebody who's been there a few years and has some historical knowledge about what's gone on in the past? You also might talk to other mentors that you've had from grad school about your options. I know that helped me a lot with my decision last year to tell. Basically, I needed somebody to tell me that it's ok to look and that I wasn't committing some sort of crime by doing so. Also, I should probably mention that I was a bit more confident about going to VSC about it last year because he had mentioned a year before that people shouldn't hesitate to ask for letters if they needed them, which did give me a sense of how he'd respond if I told him. You may not be in such a great position as I was regarding that.

The thing is, there's no formula for this stuff. Honestly, if I were in a different place in my personal life, I might not even consider sending applications out right now. If I were in a different and less supportive department, I might not be so open about the fact that I am sending applications out. The reality is that I really think it's most likely that I'll end up staying here. I feel like I'm applying out of my league this year, and I'm in no way confident I'll even make it past the first round of cuts. But you know what? That doesn't matter. It's not wrong to apply. It's not wrong to leave oneself open to possibility. And if people can't deal with that? Well, then that's really about them, and it's not about anything I'm doing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Whatever Will I Be When I Grow Up?

Oh yes, I had to do this one - the careers meme that's going around. Seen first at Scrivener's, and then everywhere else :)

I've got to say, I really do like the list, and given the fact that "professor" is #4, I did pretty well for myself. Here are my top 10.

  1. Curator
  2. Director of Photography
  3. Director
  4. Professor
  5. Anthropologist
  6. Foreign Language Instructor (though only of dead languages, because I only speak modern ones with the most pathetic of accents and proficiency)
  7. ESL Teacher
  8. Music teacher/ instructor
  9. Historian
  10. Lobbyist

To Market, To Market

Well, today was the big day for those of us in MLA fields. The list is now searchable (albeit very slowly, for apparently everybody chose to lie in wait and to attempt to access the thing at the first possible moment), the ads are now up, and the job searching season is officially underway.

I've decided I'm going to apply for three jobs. I don't feel confident that I'll get any of them, or even that I have much chance of making cuts for interviews given the fact that the odds with applying for only three seem not to be in my favor, but since I'm not so much looking to leave my current job as looking to remain open to the possibility for positive change, I'm not applying for anything that I don't feel sure I'd want. And so, there are three. I suppose I may add one or two more as more ads appear in the coming weeks, but that, again, is only if I'm particularly entranced by what I see.

So, what distinguishes the big three?

One would mean moving closer to my family and hometown friends; one would mean moving closer to my fake boyfriend; one would mean moving back to the east coast. All would mean more time for research but all would also allow me to continue to care about teaching. So I've sent off my requests to people to get letters of recommendations updated, and I'm looking over my own letter now. We shall see!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A New Kind of Test (For Me)

In the past, I've been a big fan of the take-home midterm. Why? 1) I don't need to take class time for tests. 2) I get something type-written, rather than having to decipher handwriting under duress. But I decided to try something new this semester in one of my classes, and I'll begin to see how it works out in a couple of weeks.

I've decided to do two tests in class, one after the first unit and one after the second unit. Why the change? Hmmm. There are a lot of reasons.

Probably the biggest reason is that I want to demonstrate to students that the stuff that they do when I make them do group work in class actually has meaning. I tend to do a lot of group stuff in lower-level lit classes, mainly because it is a way of teaching them to fucking read literary texts. By getting them into a group, giving them 3 or 4 questions to focus them, and then coming back together to discuss the stuff, I'm showing them what I do with a literary text without the prompt. I'm showing them how to read literature on their own. Ultimately, I think that's the job of general requirement type lit courses. You should come out of those knowing how to fucking read literature without a professor to tell you what it "means." Now, in a take-home, I can't really connect what they do in group stuff in class to the exam because they've got all of the stuff in front of them. All their notes, all the texts. I can make sure that they can use all of that stuff to analyze, but I can't really get them to show how they're thinking in the same way. Also, I think take-homes are kind of cruel. As much as you might tell students to spend x amount of time on them, they don't. The good students spend way too much time (as I always did), the bad students don't spend nearly enough (because they leave it until the last minute). So. I have devised an in-class test that will take 1 hour.

The first two parts are totally based on stuff that we've covered in class. (Part of the reason for this is because I've had some issues with absenteeism, and I kind of want to fuck over the ones who think that they can phone it in. It's funny, a recurring theme on my evaluations is that 1) I don't understand this stuff if I don't come to class! and 2) if you don't do the reading "you're screwed." Well, duh! If you didn't need to come to class, why bother coming to college! You're paying for me to illuminate this shit for you! That's the whole point of me! And yes, in a LITERATURE class you really do have to read! What did you THINK?)

So the test. The first, identifications of important quotations. Five quotations, give me the author and text. And the five quotations are things I've harped on multiple times. The second part has to do with linking texts to common characteristics of the unit that we're studying. Again, stuff I've harped on over and over in class. What I'm excited about, though, are parts three and four. In part three, I've given them three poems that are not on the syllabus but that are by authors that we've studied. I'm going to choose one of these poems for the exam. And the section of the exam will ask them to do the exact same thing with these poems that we've done in class with poems on the syllabus. Tell me what the poem is generally about, talk about the language and how it gets you to the meaning, and connect those first to things to the themes of the unit. So all of the stuff that they've been doing in groups, ultimately, is on the test. I'm asking them to show me that they can read a poem. I've told them that I'll answer questions if they have them before the exam, so I'm not being totally draconian about this exercise. My point isn't that they guess what I want them to see in these poems. It's that I want them to demonstrate that they've learned how to engage with the literature on their own - that they're not just waiting for me to explain everything in class.

The final portion of the exam will be a close reading section, that has everything to do with the stuff that I talked about on the blog about close reading, and one that I will also have had the students practice in class. I'm going to pick a passage that we've discussed at length in class (again, attendance here will help a brother out), but if you have done the reading, and if you just follow the steps, you can do fine even if you didn't memorize everything from your notes. The point, again, is not that you spit out what happened in class, but that you show me that you can read.

I'm oddly excited about seeing the results of this experiment. Both because I think that it links my pedagogy to assessment in an important way (god, I hate the jargon of this shit, but I do feel that way) and because I'm excited to see what they do with parts 3 and 4 of the exam. You know, most of all I want to see my students thinking.

I think that's why I'm enjoying the "gross" class I'm teaching right now. I see their brains working as I look out at them. Even when they're quiet, they're thinking. It's visible. That has a lot to do with the students taking that class, and it has a lot to do with the subject matter of the course. In other words, it's not all about me, or even mostly about me.

BUT. That's really what I aim for in all of my classes. And I realized this summer that I'm not achieving that in all of them. So this new idea for tests (not so new, to do tests in class, but this kind of test that I've designed here, kind of new, and even the format new for me) is about trying to get them thinking when they take the test. It's about trying to make even the assessment situation an active one, and one that has a direct link to the "active learning" stuff that I do in the classroom. Radical, huh?

The Adorableness Runs in the Family

I'm not sure if I ever told the story of my glorious Man-Kitty, of how he and his brothers and sisters were abandoned by their mama, of how they were rescued by a colleague of mine, of how I made the fateful decision to open up the email with his cute kitten face that made me decide to bring him into my family. But I thought you might like to see my glorious Man-Kitty's brother, the one kitty from the litter that my colleague chose to keep.

As you see, the gorgeousness runs in the family (although I must say that I think that my little Man is more gorgeous, even if he's not rocking the white boot look, but then, that's because I have adopted him and I am partial to pets of my own). Apparently both kitties are similarly chatty as well. Man-Kitty would like me to tell you all that he is happy to hear that his brother thrives, although he also feels that he should be the center of attention at all times and so you shouldn't get used to seeing pictures of this interloper in this space, which he considers his own. Man-Kitty is a very territorial cat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the Mend

It is true (I think, fingers crossed, etc.). I think that the worst of the Horrible Cold of 2007 is over. How do I know this? Well. First, I'm actually feeling energized about teaching tomorrow, and I'm about to finish up prep for one of my classes. This means that I'm not just lying around in my bed. A definite improvement. I am also breathing through my nose. Solid.

But really the thing that let me know that I was feeling better was that I was actually excited by an email that I received about my spring teaching schedule. Now, I'd planned on asking whether I could reconfigure my classes in the Spring, mainly because I'm totally burnt out on one course I've taught since my arrival here. The general rule in my department is that you get one upper-level course and three service courses to make up your four-course load. So, I've been in talks with the person who does the scheduling, and the spring schedule was finalized today.

You'll notice that I'm talking about teaching four courses, something I've not done throughout the time I've kept this blog. The run of course releases may indeed be up for me, since I've vowed not to take on any major (or otherwise) research projects this spring. Except that there is a possibility to get a course release for a thing through the College that they're talking about doing. I'm certain that if I want to participate in this thing that I have a strong likelihood of sailing right through the application process. But do I want to? Well, with the four-course schedule I've devised, I'm in no way certain of that.

Why? Because I might have gotten myself the best schedule possible in the whole world. I will teach only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. That's right folks, for the first time ever I will not have a 5-day-a-week teaching schedule. (I should note that this is preferable particularly because I will not be doing research. When I'm doing research, I think the 5-day week actually works better for me.) I will teach my upper-level course first on T/H, followed by 2 sections of my most favoritest service course that I teach, and there will be a break for lunch between the sections. I will then teach ONE OF MY OTHER FAVORITE CLASSES (so favorite that I don't even think of it as a service course, though technically it is) as a one-day-a-week-er (which is actually awesome given the film stuff I do in there) on Wednesdays. So three courses that I *know* I love already, another course I'm teaching for the first time that I'm sure to love for my upper-level one, and a FOUR DAY FUCKING WEEKEND EVERY SINGLE WEEK! Now, obviously I'll need to work on Mondays and Fridays, too, and obviously I'll be pretty spent Tuesday through Thursday. BUT. I feel like this is a *brilliant* schedule, and I've got to say, if the possibility for a course release would mean that I'd need to be around on Mondays and/or Fridays, I'd totally rather teach the fourth course.

One reason that this schedule is so brilliant, I should note, is that if anything promising reveals itself when the job list appears, I will apply for some things this year. Although I'm superstitious enough to know that sending out an application or two will not necessarily grant me even the possibility of a campus visit, I do feel like it's preferable to have a schedule that could accommodate such a windfall were I to apply for something and to make it that far in the process. That said, being granted such an awesome schedule makes me wonder why in god's name I'd want to leave this job, as really, I've got a really great gig. Sure, it's a heavy teaching load, but my department is SO HUMANE in how it organizes that heavy teaching load, and let's be honest: I'm used to it now. What this means is that I'm not even going to consider applying anywhere with a teaching load above a 3/2. Since this is the case, I suspect my chances of getting very far in the interview process will be dramatically reduced, even if I do apply, but who knows. I'm no fortune-teller so I'll just need to see what appears when the list comes out, and then see what happens if/when/where I choose to apply.

Another reason that this schedule is so brilliant is that it means that I will be able to do some personal-type travel in the spring if I so choose to do so. Something I've never really been able to manage during the academic year without a good amount of stress. At any rate, I suppose the bottom line is, HURRAY!

Day Three: Have I Turned the Corner toward Recovery?

Well. I am reluctant to say that I have, as I am still sick and I do not want to tempt the Gods of Wellness. That said, I think I definitely made the right call in staying home and in bed yesterday. Today I'm still going to take it pretty easy because I really can't afford to cancel classes tomorrow, so there we are.

But I did want to thank those of you who wished me well yesterday, and to say that yes, I am still alive, and I promise that as soon as I stop feeling like crap I will post something that doesn't have to do with the Terrible Cold of 2007.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Day Two of the Terrible Malady

Which is just a raging head cold, but the problem is, I'm in need of my head these days, and the fuzzy feeling does not bode well for my classes today. The questions are these: 1) Will the theraflu daytime formula that I am drinking make me feel ok enough to teach? and 2) Is there any way that I can afford to cancel my classes and to stay home in bed?

I suppose a third question would be whether there is any way not to cancel my classes but at the same time not to use the amount of energy that what is planned for today would on the surface seem to require?

I think that the third option is probably the most realistic one. I'm not going to feel magically my normal well self with the aid of medicine - just better than the crappy way I felt when I woke up. While canceling classes would probably be best, as if I try to teach I shall spread germs (a) and be less effective (b), the bottom line is that if I lose today's class, I don't know how I will make up the time. But then I think that maybe I would know how to make up the time if I weren't sick?

Ok, I'm thinking.... And I'm feeling like maybe taking the sick day is the thing to do. I do feel better than I felt yesterday, but whereas yesterday I felt like I was operating at about 20%, today I only feel up to 40 or 50%. In order to teach my T/H schedule well, I really need to be at least at 75%. Dammit. Looks like my decision is made.

Monday, September 10, 2007

RBOC: Sick on Monday Edition

  • That's right. I seem to have a head cold. It all started with waking up with a sore throat yesterday morning. At first I blamed my mom for this illness, because she'd been similarly sick last week, but that's crazy because I haven't actually seen my mom since July, and as much as I really do believe it's possible intuitively, intellectually I know that one can't pass cold germs telephonically.
  • Around 8 PM I realized that I actually probably have one of my administrators to blame for this malady. I knew I shouldn't have been "visible" and gone to that event on Friday.
  • In other whiny news, I also burnt the tip of my middle right finger while making a grilled cheese sandwich yesterday. That sucks.
  • I talked to FL on the phone last night in lieu of talking to my Long Distance Whatever-He-Is, which was the right thing to do as I'd not talked to FL in near a month (because he called on my birthday in the morning, now that I think of it), and what's pathetic is that as I turned off the light in my Nyquil induced haze, I actually felt bad that I didn't talk to my LDWHI. Like I "missed" having talked to him. It's really hard to balance one's life when one is feeling under the weather. That said, in another way I'm glad to have talked to FL, not in the least because he understands the protocol for pitying me when I am sick, and he does not offer suggestions for what would make me feel better (because I suspect he learned his lesson somewhere around 1992 related to that) but rather just effusively feels sorry for me (or pretends to) and so actually the constant flow of pity throughout the conversation did make me feel better.
  • So I slept for 9 hours last night. I just got out of the shower. I feel like I probably feel better than I did yesterday afternoon, but my plan is to make my stay at school as short as possible and come back home and rest more and continue with the drinking of fluids.
  • Chai tea is delicious when one is sick.
  • Did any of the rest of you watch the MTV Music Awards? Or at least the Britney show-opener? Because let me tell ya, I really thought that her comeback bid was not terribly energetic.
  • Ok, must go get on with it and go in to teach.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The One That Got Away

So first of all, what I chose to do in my class as a follow-up to the whole "gross" debacle, was to begin by talking a bit about heteronormativity and about how all of our responses are to some extent emergent from the fact that we live in a heteronormative culture, however we might resist certain beliefs that emerge from that. And so I mentioned words that we might use for things that make us uncomfortable - "gross," "disgusting," "wrong," "unnatural," and "deviant," to name a few - and I talked about the fact that my goal in the course is that when we have those reactions that we just ask the question why. Because what we're really saying is "I'm uncomfortable," or "I don't agree with x," when we use those words. Now, we may have a good justification for being uncomfortable or for disagreeing. But before we speak, we should tack on the "because." We should try to come up with a non-solipsistic reason for our responses. In other words, it's not good enough to say "It's gross because it's wrong." Instead, we should think about how our reactions emerge from our particular positions in culture. Because, and I really do believe this, I don't think that all of our views on such things will change as a result of this course. We might go out of the course still feeling that two guys kissing is gross, or that it's "wrong" for people not to identify as the biological sex into which they were born. But if we do have that feeling, we should realize why we feel that way. We should come out of the course aware if not dramatically changed.

What I didn't say in class is that, for me, it's that awareness that leads to change, ultimately, and I don't necessarily believe that I can change people in one 16 week semester, and so it's not really on my agenda to do so. I just want them to see more broadly, if that makes sense, even if they believe exactly what they believed coming in. I just want them to recognize belief as belief, and not as "truth" that applies to all people. From that comes real change. Not from me lecturing them about what they "should" believe.

What is interesting is that the student who inspired this little lesson wasn't in class - because this student chose to drop the course. Now, on the one hand, I think that this is probably for the best, for the student, and for the dynamic of the class as a whole. If one is so uncomfortable that one can't engage with the material, then it's really difficult to learn. And I want my students - all of them - to learn something. And if one student can't table his/her biases for the moment in order to engage, then the likely outcome is that the class dynamic will be affected in such a way that other students will have difficulty engaging as well. At the same time, though, I wish that this student had been able to stick it out and to allow for discomfort enough to at least try to engage. I don't want this student to feel disrespected by the response that I gave in class to the initial comment, or to other comments that I'd made to the student about previous reactions that the student had. I don't think I was disrespectful - I think that my expectations were very clear from the outset for what was appropriate to the course - but I don't like the idea that the student might have felt that even with that being the case. And so this student, as much as it's probably good that this student made the decision to drop, is in some ways "the one that got away."

I don't know. I feel like I'm in such muddy territory with this course. On the one hand, I'm teaching a course that is really out there for my institution. (Which, I should say, is why many students said that they chose to take it - because there was no other course like it.) On the other, I'm not entirely secure with the fact that I'm the person teaching this course. That insecurity has to do with identity politics shit that I ultimately think is fucked up. (I was introduced to all of the concepts/texts I'm teaching by people who were lesbian/gay, and as I'm not, I often feel like I don't have the "right" to be teaching this stuff, even if intellectually I think that such a feeling is totally dumb.) I'm qualified to teach this course, and on top of being qualified I think that I probably am the best person to be doing it in part because I'm not in a marginalized identity group as I teach it, which I think means that the course can be less threatening than it might be were I on some sort of soap-box (or perceived to be on such a soap-box) "promoting" things that make the more conservative students uncomfortable.

One thing I will say is this: I know that the students who remain have thought about things that they've never thought about before, and that's down to what I've done in developing this course. And that's fucking exciting. I feel the energy the minute that I walk into the room. Students I don't know from previous courses have made a point of stopping to chat with me about ideas and insights that they've had, even though we're only at the start of the semester. And in reading their weekly reactions (a new assignment for me, which I see as a way for me to track their ideas and their progress, kind of a conversation between me and them), I see that even the ones who've not approached me directly are thinking - and thinking hard. I've never felt this so much in my four years here. And I'm pushing myself in new directions through this course, and I feel like that's contributing to the energy I'm feeling both in it and out of it, too. That energy carries over into the class that I teach directly after, something I've taught a bunch of times and had been feeling a bit unenthusiastic about, and I feel like I'm a better teacher in there because of the experiment with the earlier class.

I know I'm being vague in the posts about this, and part of that is because I really don't want to get into specifics that might compromise this class as a safe space for my students. I don't want to unconsciously say something that might compromise the integrity of the course as a place where it's ok to be uncomfortable, if that makes sense.

I'll conclude with one last thing: as much as I'm challenged in my particular institutional setting in offering such a course - because of the conservatism, because it really is a radical sort of course to be teaching within the curriculum here even though such courses have existed in other places for at least the past 20 years - this is one of the most rewarding things about teaching at my institution. As I look ahead to the posting of the job list this year, I realize that the work that I'm doing here is really significant and important work, and I realize that I couldn't do this kind of work at a less conservative university, at a different kind of university, not really. I'm not saying that I wouldn't reach individual students in a similar way, but I think that there is something inherently valuable about teaching at an institution that attracts a large number of students who are in the first generation to attend college in their family, about teaching at an institution in which students are generally quite sheltered in their view of the world. These students need what I do here in a way that students at other types of institutions just don't. They need it precisely because the stuff that I teach them is like stuff from outer space in terms of how they react to it according to their prior experience.

Again, I'm not saying that I wouldn't open minds or change perspectives at another type of institution (like a SLAC or an R1) or at an institution in another part of the country (the Northeast, the West Coast), but the work that I would do in those sorts of institutions wouldn't, as far as I can tell, make as big of an impact, ultimately. People will always want to teach at those kinds of institutions in those sorts of locations. People who are really smart and open-minded and engaging, people who come from backgrounds that would think that what I'm doing here isn't all that big of a deal. The thing that makes me particularly suited to my current institution is that I come from the same place that my students come from, and so I get their resistance, rather than resenting it. I get what a big fucking deal it is to resist all of one's acculturation in a working-class, socially and culturally quite conservative upbringing to think something new. I understand what a big fucking deal it is to think in ways that oppose one's family and friends and coworkers. And I value how hard it is to change given those constraints. I doubt that a lot of people I know from grad school or from other networks within this profession would have a clue how hard that is. And that's not to diss my friends/colleagues. It's just that they haven't been through it, and so were they to end up at a place like my institution, they would see the students as "broken" in a way that I don't, precisely because I was that student. Sure, I was "smart," and "motivated" or whatever, but the bottom line is that I was very resistant to certain ideas because they challenged everything that I had been raised to believe. It's hard fucking work to move out of that, to open oneself to moving out of that. And yes, I expect my students to do that work. But I know that it's harder for them than it is for students from different backgrounds. They don't, ultimately, expect education to change them. They don't, ultimately, expect that a college education is going to make them a different person. Students from other upbringings? I think that they have a much clearer sense of the fact that this is what education does.

And having that kind of audience does matter to me, even if it means that I'm not at a "top" institution in my field. Or even a "better" institution than the one I'm at. You know, one thing that's liberating about being in English with its glutted market, is that one's institution doesn't really matter all that much in terms of prestige. I mean, it matters - obviously people at fancy places will get more props than I'll ever get - but in some ways because the market is so glutted one's work really does matter more than one's placement. If you are "known" in your field - through publication, through one's service in professional organizations - people do respect you, whether you're at Harvard or whether you're at some regional comprehensive somewhere. Now, it's true that one has more time to make a name for oneself at a research university, but if one manages to do awesome research (and I'm not saying that I have, really, but I have done a lot for my type of institution and I am "recognized" as doing good work, whatever my institutional affiliation) at whatever kind of institution, that is what makes one's reputation. We don't, in English, really need the kind of resources that people in other disciplines need, and so institution itself isn't all. That is what I've thought a lot about since getting the book contract, actually. I matter to the people to whom I want to matter, and I really don't need more resources to do what I want to do. I have respect in this profession, regardless of location. Am I a superstar? No. But I'm doing good work, and people recognize that fact, even those at my grad institution who think that I could do "better," and even those I know in other disciplines who think that I'm too good for the job that I have. I suppose I include this last bit mostly for the grad students who read me who will be going on the job market this year. Getting a job at an institution like mine and not in a super-desirable location is not a death sentence, or it doesn't have to be. In fact, it can be really, really rewarding.