Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Which I Am an Inventive Cook

A thing I really do love is to make up new recipes. I always feel slightly uncomfortable publicizing these recipes to the world, for I fear that I may reveal myself to have more in common with the inventor of "fish stick parmigiano" or "sloppy joe di maggios" than I'd like to admit, and while I think there is nothing wrong with inventing such things in the privacy of one's own home, making such inventions public does indeed seem wrong.

That said, I did make a red cabbage soup today, into which I threw in left over mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving, thus making the soup pleasantly creamy and thick, even as the cabbage was crunchy.

Also, I finally tried that brussel sprout recipe I'd intended to try on Thanksgiving (the Gods of Thanksgiving must have intervened, because my brussel sprouts never made it home with me), and it turns out I don't hate brussel sprouts! I only hate them every other way except for this way! It is amazing!

I also made the lebanese chicken/almonds/meat dish that I so love.

So anyway, I've got food to tide me over all week long. Operation Fitness resumes! Deliciously!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Presents - Ideas?

Ok, so I expressed to FB when I saw him this week that I'd like for us to exchange gifts for Christmas. He agreed.

[The conversation:
Crazy: FB, I have a thing.
FB: Of course you do.
Crazy: I feel like we should give each other Christmas presents.
FB: Ok. ]

Tonight, I tried to get some information regarding his preferences, but FB, being FB, refused to provide information.

He refused to provide rules about amount to spend.

[The conversation:
FB: I'll know how much you care about me based on how much you spend.
Crazy: But I don't believe that how much one spends shows the amount of caring!
FB: Well, so clearly whatever you get will show that you don't care very much.]

He refused to talk about what he wanted.

[The conversation:
FB: I don't want anything. I told my mom I need underwear....
Crazy: Your mother will already be getting you underwear, so that would be a lame gift if I got you that! And that's not what you need, it's what you want!
FB: Right, so if you got me underwear I'd know that you don't really care about me.
Crazy: You're a jackass.]

So I took another tack: "I had imagined that I would have to give you a list of things that I might like."

His response: "Oh, I don't need a list. I'm just going to get you something like the flip-fold, something that will make your life better that you don't know you want."

(Note: I do really love my flip-fold, even if it is pink-for-girls. It really has made my life awesome. And I will say that I was incredibly pleased on the day on which it arrived. Still, I also feel it has a lot in common, as gifts go, with my mother's "stocking-stuffer" from college of a power strip, which wasn't really a gift, I must say.)

And then, he asserted that I could make rules if I wanted but that he didn't need rules, nor did he want them.

Actually, all of the above went on a lot longer than this recounted interchange on this here blog.

The point is, he refused to offer any ideas, and he refused to make a dollar-amount limit. Oh, wait, he did say I could spend "a month's salary." Asshole!

There was also some discussion of the fact that a sweater is no more thoughtful than a power-strip.


Any ideas for FB? I really only suggested the present-exchange because I liked the idea of him giving me a present. Because I'm selfish, and a little bit of a jerk. But now this is a challenge. I clearly have to get him something that's wicked-cool. Well, or something lame, but then something sweet and thoughtful and homemade in additon to the lame thing. (Though, of course, we know from the earlier post from today that "thoughtful" isn't my natural register.)

But so what should FB get for Christmas? And, to make this even more fun, what do you think he should get for me?

RBOC: Qual. Time and Shopping with Mom of Crazy

I'm back! My mom's been here since Wed. night, so I haven't been blogging, but now she is homeward bound, and so I thought I'd give an update.
  • In spite of my feelings of TCB on Wed. morning, it turned out that the pumpkin pie that I sent with FB wasn't entirely baked.... I did send him a message to make his mom put it in the oven (I'm not this much of an idiot really - was just rushed and distracted) but apparently his mom thought I was an idiot because of the whole "not baked pie" problem (though he claims he defended me valiantly). Ah, whatever. Just goes to show that thoughtfulness isn't my natural register :)
  • Thanksgiving dinner was great, and for the first time ever I made just about the right amount of food - the only thing left over in my house is turkey, which I shall transform into healthy food today. Operation Fitness resumes today!
  • People asked about the sweet potato recipe - is it really that simple? Could it be possible that it works every time? Indeed, it is really that simple. And it does come out every time. When I make it, I typically make it the day before, and I bake it for about 30-45 mins covered. Then, when I take the turkey out, I stick it in the oven (after it's been sitting out to take the chill of the fridge off) for about 15-20 mins uncovered to make the top bubbly and browned a bit. I will say this, however: this year I dumped too much cream in, just because I didn't feel like measuring. Still came out grand, though. If you use too much cream, just dish it out with a slotted spoon :) I also salt/pepper to taste in addition to the sage, which brings out the flavor of everything. You should know it's wicked rich, too, and that really instead of it serving 4-6 in the full recipe, it probably stretches to serve that many plus leftovers, particularly with all the other thanksgiving side dishes on the table. For me and my mom, I made just one sweet potato, and that came out to like 5 individual servings.
  • Yesterday my mom and I went shopping, and G.'s presents for Christmas are taken care of. Great sale on Polo stuff at Dillards. I also got a skirt, a sweater, and a t-shirt for myself.
  • I've been thinking about commemorating getting tenure (crossing fingers, saying prayers, though I did get the positive decision from the dean, so all is going according to plan) with a present to myself - some big purchase. I've been toying with various options - diamond earrings? a vacation-type trip? - but I think that what I've decided upon is NICE kitchen knives, like these. First, they're something I'd never shell out the dough on under normal circumstances, in spite of the fact that I really do cook enough to support a decision to purchase them. Second, I will get to enjoy them like every single day for the rest of my life. Third, there's something right about buying something that could be used as a tool for murderous rage as a result of the tenure decision :) So, if you have fancy knives that you enjoy, perhaps give me some recommendations? I don't want to spend more than like 500 bucks, but other than that, the world is my oyster :)
I suppose that's all for now. There's work I should do, but I think I'm going to be lazy-ish for the next long while. It's nice to be without visitors after the past week :)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Historiann's Thanksgiving Recipe Exchange

Per Historiann's suggestion, here is a recipe that will be featured (and has often been) on my Thanksgiving table. It's a savory (as opposed to sickeningly sweet) sweet potato recipe, it's really easy, and you can make it the day before, and just heat it up in the oven right before you're about to serve dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

From Wild Women in the Kitchen: 101 Rambunctious Recipes and Tasty Tales.

Sweet Potato Gratin

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 tbsp finely minced fresh sage
1 cup cream
1/2 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a buttered casserole dish, overlap the potato slices in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the sage and pour half of the cream over. add another layer of potatoes and top with the rest of the sage and cream. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked and the top is bubbly. Serves six.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yesterday Might Have Been...

My absolute best day ever.
  1. Taught 2 good classes.
  2. Book came in the mail! Yippee! (Still can't quite get over that.)
  3. Managed to get everything but pie crust sort of done.
  4. FB arrived.
  5. Fab dinner (FB had tuna - delish - and I had a fish stew w/ mussels, scallops, etc.) and Fab bottle of wine shared between us.
  6. Etc. I can't figure out how to write the rest in a way that's not just gross (in a gooey way - nothing actually "gross" happened
So let's just say I'm giving thanks early :) (And very early it is, stupid kitty cats with their "schedule" for breakfast!)

Now going back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

T-2 Hours

Ummm, I haven't done a lot of things. In part, I blame the trip to the vet to attempt (note the word attempt) to get the kitties' nails clipped. Mr. Stripey? Totally into it. No problems there. Anyone can manhandle him without any complaints from him.

The Man-Kitty? Er, things didn't go so well. He defeated not one, not two, but three vet techs. Apparently, he feels that he must have weapons for the coming days.

The problem isn't so much that he has claws - whatever - but rather that other people don't seem to understand his boundaries. Neither he nor Mr. Stripey ever scratch me, so I don't think about the claw issue. Except when other people might be around the cats for an extended period of time. Whatever. FB will just have to watch his step around the Man-Kitty of the house.


I just got my copies of my book in the mail. Finally. Still not quite available via normal booksellers yet, but it is published and available. I feel very, very fancy. Indeed, I am very, very fancy! I wrote a fucking book, people! And it is published!

There will be much celebrating tonight indeed. Much, much celebrating.

Am Feeling Very Excited!!!!

Indeed, in less than 12 hours I will be in a restaurant, eating yummy food, with FB. Sure, I have lots of things to do this afternoon, but it turns out his flight gets in like an hour later than I thought, which is like the gods saying, "Do not fret, Crazy! You have loads of time! You can be excited! Not freaked out about not having enough time to accomplish things!"

It was funny, in talking to BFF last night, she noted that FB and I wouldn't get to see each other for very long. This observation is, in fact, true. But you know, it hadn't occurred to me to be irritated by that. I mean, the fact of the matter is that typically we don't get to see each other at all, and so I'm totally all, "wow, I'm getting to see FB in real life! How exciting!" and not, "I'm so mad that on one of the rare occasions FB and I can get it together to see one another it isn't for more time and I am not going to take any pleasure whatsoever in seeing him for less time!" And let's face it people: it's not like we need to have a bunch of time-consuming conversations or something during this visit. I mean, our relationship takes place nearly entirely on the phone. We've kind of talked ourselves to death, if you get what I'm saying. No, it will just be nice and fun and yay and then I will send him on his way to his mom's house. And then MY mom will come to spend quality time with me, and that will be grand, too. Ah yes, everything in my world is very nice indeed.

Oh, and FB indicated when we talked last night that he really hopes I find time for kitten manicures - or, actually, that he "isn't worried about Mr. Stripey" but that the Man-Kitty should be taken care of. Now, there is part of me that wants to test his theory that The Inimitible Stripey will not cut him like a streetfighter with a grudge and a bad attitude. But seriously, if I'm going to take one cat, I totally can take them both. And it would be nice for me to do that, ultimately. Perhaps I shall do that instead of dusting.

Ok, must go consider my plans for molding minds. And then teach. And then meet with students. And then take kitties for beautification. And then make pie crust. And then finish doing things around the house. And then maybe (crossing fingers that this is possible) nap. And then beautify myself. And then FB! Hurray! It shall be a busy and yet excellent day! I can feel it!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shit! Shit! Shit!

It is nearly 8 PM. All of the many things I was supposed to do today reduced to doing laundry. The laundry is now mostly folded, but I still must make the bed and hang things that need to be hung. I also need to grade two stacks of things (which I plan to do quickly). Then I have to teach in the morning, and then I have to meet with two students. And then I have like FOUR HOURS (if I'm lucky) to do TONS of things because I'm a JERK who WASTED the day today, in a fit of morose self-pitying laziness.

By tomorrow evening, from approximately 2 PM until approximately 6 PM, I must:

1) wipe down kitchen counters and stovetop, sweep and wet swiffer the kitchen floor.
2) clean the tub, toilet, and bathroom sink.
3) vacuum.
4) shelve books and either straighten the study or just hide things so that if a cat decides to open the door wide when he goes to the litter box, I won't look like a weirdo who stores mountains of paper in seemingly random piles. (Note: I am a weirdo who stores paper in seemingly random piles.)
5) dust (yeah right)
6) make pie crust. Because if I don't get that done tomorrow, my whole plan of waking up in the morning on Wednesday to do the pumpkin pies so as to be able to send one off with FB when he goes to his parents later that day will be ruined. And yes, I'm an idiot who refuses to use store crust, even though in cases like this one it would be the most sensible course of action.
7) make myself look fabulous and glowy and like I haven't been racing around like a fool but rather that I am effortless and awesome with no work.

In theory I should also take the kitties to get manicures, but there will not be time for this. Must remind FB to be very careful not to get kitties angry, or he will perhaps face grave injury.

Crazy times in the House of Crazy, my friends. Crazy times.

On Putting Off Until Tomorrow What Should Be Done Today

So I have a big long list of things to accomplish, but it is a dark, gray, cold, rainy day. This does not inspire me at all. It promises to be a mad dash tomorrow afternoon should FB decide to come. I am doing laundry, though, and have caught up on some correspondence and will grade shortly. I'll get everything done. Surely. Though I am considering a nap....

Tired, and Yet, Awake

Poof, because I didn't intend this post to hurt anybody's feelings or to upset anyone or to make anybody look foolish or jerky.

I just wrote what I wrote because I had things I wanted to get out of my system without burdening the person who probably should have been the one to hear them. I also (wrongly) assumed that the person wouldn't actually read the post. So, anyway, I'm an ass who really shouldn't be allowed to blog because she still makes mistakes like this years into the whole thing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday: Taking Care of Business Edition

So I did take care of a few things yesterday (cleaned out fridge, went to the grocery store, did dishes, etc.), but today needs to be a day of massive productivity around the homestead and related to work.

To do:
  • Get cash and put money on laundry card.
  • sort laundry.
  • clear off various tables of clutter.
  • vacuum.
  • clean kitchen.
  • clean bathroom.
  • grade.
  • email two classes.
  • change litter of kitties and straighten study.
The list seems short in this form, but in reality, many of the items include lists of their own, and this is a lot to accomplish, much of which I know I must accomplish in daylight hours in order to really get it done. And yet, I do not feel like doing any of the things on my list. And yet, if I don't do the things on my list, I will be mad at myself, as this week will be the week of visitors! Huzzah!

I'm trying to get myself excited about doing all of the above, but I'm totally not feeling it. I am lazy, and doing necessary tasks is not exciting. So I may be checking in periodically throughout the day in order to take breaks from the work that I'd like to ignore.

In other news, why do I buy French Roast coffee? I never really like it, and yet, it always seems like a good idea at the time for I do like a darker roast. Annoying.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dude, It's Been Like a YEAR since Crazy Medusa's Pub Was Open For Business

Medusa is totally unreliable of late (well, or perhaps for like the past year), but tonight, Crazy is game. Head on over if you're in the mood. I suspect I'll be tired in like 1 hour's time, but that might be a lie :)

Happy Friday!

This promises to be a somewhat scattered post, as I've got a lot of disparate things rattling around in my brain , and I lack the energy to organize my thoughts into multiple posts. I suppose the overarching theme is that I've been feeling this week like I'm back to my normal self (as much as we can characterize my "self" as "normal") after the past six weeks or so of feeling basically like I was at my wit's end. Nothing much has changed, really, other than that I seem to have regained focus, regained the feeling that there are things I'd actually like to do, regained perspective and hopefulness and all of those things. It's weird: it's like I was in a fog through the middle of the semester, and now that it's closer to the end of the semester it's like the fog has lifted and I'm seeing clearly again.

Now, one thing that sucks about this is that I've realized that during the Time of Fog a whole bunch of things fell through the cracks and I've been all over the place in a couple of my classes. So part of what I need to do over the next week is to get myself caught up with grading and to get myself back in gear and up to speed to finish out the semester in both on a positive note. But if that's the only thing that's a bit stinky, that's really not that big of a thing.

So what other things do I now see clearly in front of me?

I have energy for research again. I'd been feeling utterly down-trodden regarding that really since the start of the new year. Somehow I pushed myself to write that article last spring/summer, but even with that, I felt spent after MLA, the spring was dominated by figuring out book permissions stuff, which was draining, the summer was dominated with final book revisions and travel and teaching, and by the time I hit fall I felt like I'd had no down-time in which to recharge. So I started the semester feeling out of sorts and like I had no ideas - none that I really cared about pursuing anyway - and that is not a register in which I operate particularly well. I've been thinking a lot about the role that research plays in whether I feel good, bad, or somewhere in between, and I've come to realize that while research really isn't my number one most important thing, as I know that it is for some people, it is something that works as an indicator of how good (or not) I'm feeling and how centered (or not) I am. When I hit snags where I feel like I don't have my own ideas, or that I don't care terribly about the ideas that I do have, that bleeds over into all other areas in ways that are negative. Whereas, when I feel like I have ideas that are interesting, that bleeds over into all other areas in ways that are positive. So it's not like I'm the World's Most Productive or Interesting Scholar, but scholarship, well, it keeps me plugging along at the other stuff and keeps me happy. This is good to know, because if ever I left this profession, or moved into administration, I'd need to find a way to fill that hole - whether by being an independent scholar or with something else that filled that void.

So anyway, I've got three-ish projects at the stage of inception. I say three-ish because two of the projects are variations on a theme, another is related but more teaching-oriented, and another is completely different. So yes, if I were counting all things separately and weighting them equally, I'd have five things going. But in my head, it's really three-ish. So first, let's talk about the related projects. I'm returning to an author that I haven' focused on with any sort of intensity for years. I gave a cool (I think) conference paper a couple of years ago (which has been collecting dust ever since but which may well make it into a "next book" should I choose to write one), but other than that, nothing new since the dissertation. This author was my First Love Author that brought me to literary studies. And what I'm working on will allow me to work on novels by FLA that I've barely touched upon. And it's also taking me into new (for me) theoretical territory, in which I'll be thinking about the intersection of discourses on shame as they intersect with discourses on pleasure. I'm really excited. As for the related teaching-oriented thing, I have it in my head to invite students to be on a teaching-related panel that I'll put together for a conference. The non-related project is on the interplay and conflict between nostalgia and irony in a Very Popular and Critically Acclaimed Television Series. I only agreed to do this project because a) it would mean seeing BFF and FBA (Friend by Association), and b) it would mean seeing them in New Orleans. But now I'm actually excited about the research! 'Twill be fun! And interesting! And awesome!

But see, what brought me back to the Place of Research Energy wasn't actually me really. Credit for that really goes to my students this semester. It occurred to me yesterday when I was chatting with a student (a shy and BRILLIANT student, with whom I'd never before had an extended conversation until yesterday, when the student stopped by my office hours without an appointment - which NEVER happens! - to shyly ask a couple of non-questions and then hung around talking for over an hour - which NEVER happens!) that the thing that I want most from my students, as I said to the student, is that they "have an idea." An idea of their own, an idea that excites them, an idea that isn't just something that will work for an assignment or that will give them something to say in class discussion, but to really "have an idea" that they want to explore and that inspires them. Everything I do as a teacher is about getting students to "have an idea." And what I think I've learned this semester is that if I can inspire students to "have an idea," well, it becomes awfully hard for me not to have ideas of my own. When everybody around you is having ideas, well, you start having them yourself just to be sociable. I've always intuited that this is true for students in a class - that if you've got a few who have ideas that the others will follow - but what I realized this semester is that it's true for me, too. I've found myself talking about my muddy research plans with my students, commiserating with them about not being sure which direction that I plan to take, talking a lot about the process of developing ideas and turning them into fully formed things. It's been awesome.

And I'm going to be honest: this is not an experience I've ever had before in a teaching context, whether as a student or as a professor. And I'm going to note here that I'm talking about having these conversations with undergrads - not grad students who are fully invested in their own research. While it's true that we now have a grad program, what I've come to value about my institution is that it's undergrad-centered, and I really don't think that I would be more fulfilled if I had a cadre of grad students to manage. Differently fulfilled, perhaps, but not more fulfilled. Also a good thing to know. It'll be interesting to see how things develop as I start teaching in the grad program. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll always love my undergrads best. Why? Because they're totally the best :)

In other exciting (though slightly stressful) news, I'll be seeing FB on Tuesday! Which was just confirmed like right now! (He is such a travel commitmentphobe.) And my mom for Thanksgiving! This is only slightly stressful because it means the need to make the House of Crazy hospitable for visitors, and I would like to be lazy and not to accomplish those necessary tasks. Oh, and because I've got a boatload of grading I need to do, and a revise and resubmit that I need to review for Fancy Journal, which I'd like to do over the weekend just to have it off my desk.

Well, given the last paragraph, I need to stop blogging and to use the afternoon wisely. Sigh. But I am happy! And filled with energy! And the end of the semester is in sight! And then it will be break and I'm not going to MLA! So I get a real break! Life is good!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Which I Curse My Choice to Teach Things I Research

So I got the acceptance for a spring conference today (yay, though not like a tremendous yay because it's not entirely unexpected) and I thought, "Hey, I don't feel like prepping for class! I don't feel like grading! How's about I dust off that abstract and do some preliminary researchy things!"

Dude, like EVERY book I'd want to check out of our library about my topic has already been checked out by my diligent students who are apparently beginning their papers for me three full weeks before they are due.

I suppose I should be happy? Indeed, I am happy. But this also means that I really do need to grade and/or prep. Harrumph.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Ok, so I've been all fired up about two recent posts over at Historiann, and I decided when I read the most recent today that I was going to contribute to the discussion with my own post over here. But before I launch into my tirade about sexism that still runs rampant in the halls of universities across these great United States (the ridiculous) that I should post the two things that made me ridiculously happy this afternoon (the sublime).

1. I met with BES, and we hashed out the thesis stuff, and it was a breakthrough sort of a meeting. I really do love that BES. She's so great. Of course, sometimes I think I think this because I see so much of myself in her, but after this afternoon's Come to Jesus I do think that things are back on track.

2. I rode the elevator up with a student that I didn't know, and as we were getting off the elevator, she asked: "Are you Dr. Crazy?" I replied, "Well, yes, I am." Anyway, it turns out that she and a bunch of her friends are signed up for my one class next semester, and she's wicked excited because I'm "exciting" (who knew?!?!) and because she's heard so many awesome things about me (also, who knew?!?!)! And they're all psyched that they can take this class with me! For Dr. Crazy is the professor of which legends are made! (Ok, maybe I exaggerate slightly, but that was the tone.) Hurray!

So the point of starting with this is first that I'm not some angry lady who does not appreciate the joys that this profession affords. Though, of course, we can question why I feel the need to assert that at the beginning of this post. But so on to the tirade.

Both of the posts to which I linked over at Historiann's deal with the ways in which students (not necessarily or even most often one's own students, either) challenge the professional boundaries of female professors. Now, those of us female professor types (and also profs of color and also those who "read" as gay) out there have probably experienced this in some fashion, whether it's a student refusing to address us appropriately, a student interrupting us when it is not our office hours and then acting as if we're in the wrong for expressing that we're busy and that now isn't the best time to talk, or other such mildly irritating things.

That's right: I said mildly irritating. Taken in isolation, these things are just mildly irritating. Say this happens to a professor once a semester, or even less frequently, like once a year or once every few years. In those cases, these would be merely mildly irritating episodes that just speak to the general trend of our culture becoming more informal, more rude, whatever. And it never fails: when a discussion like this gets going, there are always those who will say that the professor should lighten up, that it's just "these kids today," that all professors face similar situations.

I'm not going to refute that all professors do face similar things, nor will I refute that taken in isolation such occurences are really not that big of a deal. All professors do, and in isolation, such occurences are not that big of a deal.

The issue, I think, is less about each individual incident than about the many, many such incidents that such accounts as those in the two posts to which I linked represent. When this crap happens over and over again, at a certain point it becomes not just mildly irritating. And when you watch them happening to you, over and over again, while your male colleagues sit happily in their offices without the emails, the interruptions, and the challenges to one's professional status, yeah, it becomes something that pisses a person off.

Now, you might say, "well, all you lady professors are clearly just too sensitive!" This is often the tenor of the challenges that women professors get when they complain about these sorts of things. Our skins aren't thick enough; we take everything to "personally." My first response to such challenges would be that they in themselves express a certain kind of gendering of the woman professor. Because we have vaginas, we must be blowing things out of proportion. Clearly. My second response would be that the challengers, too, would lose their sense of perspective if they experienced this stuff not infrequently, but rather over and over and over again in each and every semester.

So the first issue is frequency.

The second issue is the fact that such challenges are nearly always subtle and insidious. It's never that a student is smacking me on the ass and calling me a bitch to my face. It's never that a student comes out and says, "well, Dr. Crazy, I don't think what you have to say means shit because you're a woman, and I don't respect women." Honestly, that would be a hell of a lot easier to deal with because it would be obvious to everybody.

But when I'm in a bank of offices nowhere near the department office, when on my door it says Dr. Firstname Crazy, and when I'm clearly grading in a closet-like office that could belong to no one but a faculty member, alongside male colleagues in other offices that also havetheir Dr. Firsname Colleague names on their doors who are doing the exact same thing, and I am without fail the person who is addressed "Do you have [a stapler, a paperclip, a pen, insert-office-supply-here]" yep, that gets tiresome. And when I direct them to the department office, a mere 50 feet away, and then I am treated as if I am rude, yeah, that gets old. And it certainly gets old when I correct a student nicely at first, and then more sternly, that I'm not "Miss" Crazy, but rather, "Dr. or Prof." Crazy, only to see that student just a short while later obsequiously "Doctoring" and "Professoring" a male colleague who doesn't have a motherfucking doctorate. And it gets even older when male colleagues will excuse the student not respecting what I'd wish to be called because "it's commonplace in some regions from which our students come to call women 'Miss'." And it gets awfully old when I'm clearing out people's jams in the printers and copiers in the workroom in the morning so that I can get my work done, as if my sex makes that part of the job requirements. And it gets old that the secretaries and student workers in my department will often call female faculty by their first names while they address male faculty by their courtesy titles. And it gets, you guessed it, old, to have to begin every semester with new students like a total hard-ass in order to get some modicum of respect, when my male colleagues can walk in with a tie and just be themselves.

What I'm describing here is not an occasional slip-up on the part of a clueless student (when this happens, and you correct the student, they learn quickly, I've found), nor occasional rudeness on the part of an asshole (assholes are assholes to everybody, and they never learn). I'm describing something that is, ultimately, institutionalized and invisible. And it affects my ability to perform well or to be evaluated positively in my job.

Example: Let's just take the office-supply-seeking student issue. One answer could be to shut my office door. Ok, but I'm in a department where the culture is to keep one's office door open. If I work with my door shut, I'm perceived as unavailable, uncollegial, and, potentially, untenurable. And so then there's the option of just "lightening up" and being the office supply lady. But of course, that then means that I become the office supply lady, and I'm not "professional" or "professorial" or whatever. And then there's the option, which is the one I use, of just keeping one's office really messy and directing people to the department office, and then the supply-seekers decide I'm unfriendly and rude. Whatever course of action I choose, I'm a woman first and a professor second. And yes, that gets really freaking old.

Now, I will say that the longer I've been in this job the easier this shit has gotten. I've learned how to perform my role in such a way that the frequency of these occurrences has lessened (though not tapered off completely), whether because students fear me or because the word on the street has told them what to expect of me. And also, I have gotten a thicker skin. I no longer fret so much when a student finds me rude, for example. I'm not sure that's actually a good thing: I think it just gives me license to actually be rude to students. But even though the frequency has lessened, it's not like I no longer face these things. And learning to deal with them has been an extra part of learning this job, one I wasn't trained to learn and one that has taken time that might better have been spent elsewhere.

Yes, everybody encounters rude students. Everybody encounters disrespectful students. Everybody encounters annoying things in their lives. I'm not saying that they don't. I'm just saying that when one dismisses gender as playing a role in this stuff that it expresses an unconscious privileging of one sex over the other at best and that it expresses misogyny at worst. And maybe that seems like a strong assertion, but it's one I'll stand behind.

Thoughts on Thesis Advising and Other Random Musings

Well, so I'm up, showered, and well into coffee, and it's before 8 AM! This means that the plan of waking early so as to finish grading is moving forward! (In theory the grading that must be done will take but 1/2 hour to complete.) In other news, for the first time in about 10 days, my weight seems to be moving in the right direction (down) again. I wasn't gaining really over this time, but I had stalled out on progress (and given PMS and life happenings, I'm not really surprised by that). What's making me happy, though, is that I didn't just go off the deep end into non-fitness even though I'd stalled. I kept myself in line, and I kept my eye on the prize (or whatever).

Now, what does this have to do with Thesis Advising? Stick with me. See, this is the thing that I've always been able to do with writing: to keep my eye on the prize (a lame phrase, I feel, but the only one occurring to me right now, and we're all stuck with it because I've only got 15 minutes to write this post) and to keep making progress even with stalls. I've also typically been good at setting up "fake deadlines" that are ok to miss alongside "real deadlines" that aren't, both of which sets of deadlines being self-imposed. So even when stalls happen - because they do for all of us - I still move forward, albeit at a slower pace.

The problem I'm having right now is that I see that BES, whose thesis I'm advising, doesn't seem to just have this talent naturally. In spite of me trying to trick her into making progress, in spite of us coming up with schedules, in spite of us meeting regularly, and in spite of the fact that she can't hide from me because her schedule doesn't allow it, she has not been making progress in spite of stalls. I'd guesstimate that she's got about 30 unpolished pages that do not fit together written. Only about 10 of those pages have been produced since May. 'Tis not a good thing. She's been in one big long stall for months.

Most recently, this has manifested in her not getting a draft to me by an agreed upon date and trying to reschedule our scheduled meeting to discuss that draft. Now, on the one hand, she actually does have a good reason in this particular instance. BUT at our last meeting, I played the mini-heavy and we had a big discussion about deadlines and what she needs to do in order to have an actual decent thesis by spring. So not only is this latest glitch not good timing, but also it's seeming (to me) to be part of a larger pattern, a pattern that's really bad for her progress and a pattern that is going to fuck her up totally should she pursue grad school, which is her plan. She needs to learn how to push through a stall. And in a lot of ways, I'm not sure how to get her there.

And also, I'm feeling a little bit contrite about how I've responded to her past couple of emails, because rather than letting her off the hook because of her current predicament, I've been a bit harsh about the fact that ultimately, there are always good excuses not to get work done and at a certain point no excuses can fly.

I think she needs me to be more than the "mini-heavy" and instead to be the actual heavy. While I resist doing this, I feel like we might have reached the point where I need to refuse to read anything in progress until she's got a beginning, a middle, and an end to this freaking thing. Not a perfect beginning, middle, and end, but some complete representation of the project. Right now, she's spinning her wheels, and I feel like part of the reason for that is that I've enabled it. But then on the other hand, I don't want to be unreasonable, and I know that she's got a lot going on. But then, I go back to thinking that she needs to learn that in order to finish a major project like this that it needs to be the absolute top priority, and maybe the only way to learn that is to be flung into the deep end with it. But then I think that I don't want to become some sort of megalomaniac tool of an adviser who changes the rules of the game midstream (i.e., I don't want to be like Anastasia's many advisers).

But at the end of the day, she's the one who has to write this freaking thing. I can't do it for her. I can't make deadlines and somehow by magic make her produce by the deadlines. I can't somehow bestow upon her the innate respect for the deadline that I've got. (Which, to be fair, probably isn't innate, but rather which was hard-learned during my whole "I'm going to be a journalist" phase, which was also when I learned that writing doesn't need to be perfect to be done.)

And this brings me back around to the beginning of the post. Because for a long time I think that I've focused all of my not-stalling energy on my academic pursuits. Whether it's grading, whether it's writing, whether it's prepping for class, that's been the area where I've focused all of my diligence. Everything else has fallen by the wayside in favor of that area. Only now am I learning to apply those skills in other areas. Only now am I realizing that I can't give all of that to work stuff in isolation.

Dammit. I spent 30 minutes on this post instead of 15 minutes. Now I'm officially running late.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Am I Procrastinating about Grading?

I know I need to grade (a) and I'm a tool for not getting done with it (b). I've got two - just two - stacks of things that *must be graded*. And one is half-done. And yet, I don't feel like it. So here I sit, not grading, thinking about not-grading, thinking about how easy it would be if I would just grade and get into a groove.... and yet. I'm totally not grading tonight. Because I'm a jerk who makes excuses. And indeed, I've spent much time this evening thinking of how I shall justify my not-grading to my students as well. Lame, lame, lame.

But I'm still not grading. No sir, I am not.

Perhaps I shall awaken early tomorrow and finish the half-done stack, thus appeasing my students? Oh yes! And then I have a 2-hour period of time tomorrow when I have to hang out in my office between student appointments. Indeed. This is when I shall do the other stack. I'm still sort of pathetic, but this will mean I'm done with this grading by tomorrow. This is positive.

Mmmm. Feeling Much More Rested

Ok, so now I'm "really" up, for my initial waking was only a temporary thing, for, you see, the kitties wake up chipper as can be, but then they, too, decide that more rest is in order. This works fine on a day when I don't have to teach, but on a day when I do have places to go and people to see? Not so much.

The short version of the story is that I've lost my morning to catlike sleep patterns, and so now I must become a paragon of productivity for the afternoon. This sounds good on paper, but I am feeling very lazy indeed. Sigh. Perhaps if I have some lunch and make a list this will assist me in my efforts.

In Which My Cats Are Wankers

I am so not a fan of the tag-team thing they've begun pulling in the mornings that forces me awake. So. Not. A. Fan.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In Which My Students Are My Favorite Part of Even the Sadder Parts of This Job

This week has been a rough one on my campus, and in my department specifically. But last night I went to a dinner for a department student organization, and today I went to another event on campus that wasn't just students, but where I got to reconnect with some students from years gone by, and you know what? As much as I care about research, which I do, I don't care so much about even it, or being a colleague in my department, or being a "professor" in the abstract. "Being a professor," at the end of the day, doesn't mean shit to me, not now, even though I once thought it did. What I care about - what I really and truly care about - is my students and what they've learned and how funny and smart and thoughtful and sensitive they are and the relationships that I've formed with them.

In what is a really hard time on levels both personal and logistical, it's my students who've kept me going and who have been a reminder that there is joy. And sure, students can be frustrating. They don't do what you want them to do. They make mistakes when you know that they know better. They produce things that you have to grade, and sometimes what they produce is torture to get through. But. At that event today, while I chatted with a few colleagues briefly, I spent nearly all of my time talking to students. And while I felt like maybe that wasn't what I was "supposed" to be doing, it did feel right to me - on the inside - that this was what I did, in a whole lot of ways.

So tonight I'm feeling a bit sad, and a bit wistful, and a bit ... well... verklempt. But when I think about the past couple of days, the bright spots all involve the conversations that I've had with my students. Those have been the real interactions that I've had over the past couple of days, and those are the interactions that I most value.

At the end of the day, while I'm good at "being a professor" and it's a job I like, I do think I could do other jobs and like them. But if I did do another job, it's my students that I'd miss, and that would be what I would lose in doing another job. I'd miss knowing other people in the way that I get to know them, and I'd miss having other people know me in the way that they know me. It's weird: my students in some ways know me on the inside in ways that even my closest friends and family do not.

And, you know, it's funny. Today was a day of celebrating a colleague who left this world too soon and who was, as a student said, the heart and soul of this campus. And I am so, so sad. But this colleague, perhaps more than any colleague I've got, would have understood why I mostly ignored colleagues and faculty and staff and everybody else in favor of students. And I think he would have approved.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Time for a New Workout Playlist, Because I've Been Slacking

Obviously I have very good excuses, but I'm thinking that a new playlist will inspire. And if I put the playlist here, it will inspire even more, as I'll feel like a loser if I don't work out after posting the new playlist.

  1. Overglazed - The Breeders
  2. Hot Knives - Bright Eyes
  3. Tick - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  4. Wave of Mutilation - Pixies
  5. Hella Good - No Doubt
  6. Bird in a Cage - Old 97s (Apparently doesn't exist on youtube. This seems impossible.)
  7. Time Running - Tegan and Sara
  8. On Call - Kings of Leon
  9. Special - Garbage
  10. Bruises - Chairlift
  11. Knock 'Em Out - Lily Allen
  12. Red Wine, Success! - Cold War Kids
  13. Paper Planes - M.I.A.
  14. Cure for Pain - Morphine
  15. Bang On - The Breeders
  16. Just Like Honey - The Jesus and Mary Chain
  17. Help Me Mary - Liz Phair
  18. Re: Stacks - Bon Iver
57 minutes, 38 seconds. Hopefully this will be inspiration for working out in the next couple of weeks :)

Itching for the Semester's End - A Post about Teaching

Really, this semester has gone, with a few exceptions, very well. And yet, well, this semester has been one of the roughest on me in some ways since my first year at this job. Part of that is real life stuff that's caused static, part of it is the tenure/book business, part of it is that it's the first time I've been back teaching four courses in a few years, which is an adjustment (though I will say the fact that I'm not doing a traditional comp class, let alone two, has made the burden lighter). I also feel like maybe the reason it's felt rough is that I do feel like I've been growing as a teacher this semester, and realizing some things that I need to change to make my life easier. So let's look at the courses I'm teaching, and how things are going.

The Web-Based Course:
Well, this was my first ever time doing it, so there are some glitches. First, I assigned myself way too much work to ever keep up. In terms of prep the course has involved exactly nothing (did it all before the semester began) but in terms of keeping up with graded assignments and in terms of being "present" in the course, things fell apart for me around midterm. I'm glad I'll be teaching it again next semester, because I've learned a lot from these problems. Some things I'll change: 1) I'm going to cut the number of scheduled real-time interaction opportunities in half. Because while the requirement for student attendance is reasonable, the requirement for my attendance each and every freaking week totally isn't. 2) I was sort of... well, let's use the more neutral word... "encouraged" to include an assignment sequence in the course in which I don't really believe and that is a total time-suck. I'm not going to eliminate it altogether (as I think that would be bad politically) but I am going to scale it back to make it less of a time-suck for me. 3) I need to be stronger on giving instructions for certain tech things early, because STILL certain students seem just not to get it. While for me this stuff is intuitive, for some students it apparently isn't. I also need to state more strongly up front that if you don't understand the INCREDIBLY CLEAR assignments, perhaps you shouldn't be taking an online class. This class is not populated with distance students for the most part, but rather with students from a wide range of ability backgrounds who think online = easy. And at least a few of them really can't handle the independent nature of the course medium. The fact of the matter is, I can't walk an individual student through each and every assignment any more clearly than the assignment sheets do. As far as I can tell, the problem with this method of course delivery (for me) is that it cuts out the multiple kinds of delivery and reinforcement that are possible in the "traditional" classroom. Actually, in that regard, I feel like this method of delivery is more - not less - "traditional" than what I do in my other classes. Not all students can handle that model for learning, and with four classes, and I can't handle the time required to do the basic work of the course and to get the outliers (over and over again) up to speed. Anyway, all of this is good to know as a teacher, and I think it will really help me to improve my performance in the course in the spring. Finally, if I've learned anything that's not totally about me but that would be useful to others, I would strongly discourage anybody who's thinking of trying to teach online for the first time to wait until they're in a position where 1) they can really devote themselves to learning the medium without fear that it will negatively affect performance reviews, tenure outcomes, etc., 2) they will have the opportunity to teach the course repeatedly over the course of multiple semesters in a row, so that they can really fine-tune the course and think about their pedagogy as they do so. I'm glad that both of those things are in place for me, and I can't imagine doing this if they weren't.

Gen Ed. Course #1
This course flies along with the greatest of ease, perhaps because I've taught it every fall of my life on the tenure-track. Sure, I've changed texts in and out, but the assignments are set and my schtick for what I do in each unit is like second-nature. I've become much stronger in terms of my ability to engage students of varying ability and interest levels, and I feel like I have the freedom to experiment in there. I also was very excited to see VAST improvement on their second test, so they really are learning. I could teach this course every fall until I retire and I'd be completely content. Is it my most favorite course to teach? No. But I really love teaching in the Gen. Ed. curriculum, and I really love that doing so allows me to introduce students to my field.

Gen. Ed. Course #2
In contrast, this course is feeling a bit stale. I've taught it four times in a row now, and I'm bored. It doesn't help that I'm also in a wacky classroom for the course, which has messed with the dynamic of how the students interact and of how I interact with them. I won't be teaching it next semester, which I think is a good thing, and so I'm going to change it up a bit before I teach it again in the fall. I need to change one assignment, and I need to think about changing some texts, I think. If I haven't done so to this point it's because this course is very well designed (if I do say so myself), and so I've felt like changing it would be a lame move. However, if I'm bored, I'm a less good teacher. So some changes are in the offing for it.

The Most Fantastic Course Ever
Oh, how I will miss this course, and these students, when the semester is through! This is my second time teaching a version of this course (it used to be focused on three authors - now just two), and in many respects this is the paradigm of a course that many would argue a) would never fly at an institution like mine and b) that students at an institution like mine would hate with a fiery passion. But no! It is perfect! The students are on fire! It is amazing! Now, in part this is because I've got a solid core of frequent flyers in the course, and they set the tone early in the semester for the level of discourse. In part this is because I've learned enough about my own teaching since I last did the course that I my expectations are a lot more reasonable - both for what I can achieve and for what will work for them. (Note: that doesn't mean dumbing down the material at all - it just means I'm no longer teaching in a weird grad-school-produced vacuum. I've gotten better at making the tough stuff accessible, and they've gotten better about knowing what to expect from me as a professor before they ever enroll in my classes. I was still basically a new hire the first time I taught a version of this course, and that meant that the combination of me being green and them only taking the course because they needed it for graduation and because it fit with their schedules doomed us all to mediocrity.) I also think I'm a better teacher of this course because of bringing the book to publication. I'm no longer teaching this course in dissertation-ese. That makes such a huge difference.

So why am I so looking forward to next semester's teaching and to summer teaching?

The web-based course:
I'll have the chance to do some tweaking, and to really think more deeply about how my pedagogy works within this delivery method. And having done it one time, I do feel like I have a better sense of the challenges of teaching in this medium, so I can head some of them off at the pass. I'm excited to grow into this course.

Gen Ed. Course:
It's my favorite one of these that I teach. I will be teaching it both in the spring and summer, and it, like Gen. Ed. Course #1 from the fall is a well-oiled machine. The assignments are great, the pace is great. I love the things I'm teaching in there right now, and with the changes I made to it in terms of texts last year, nothing feels stale or in any way awkward. And, since I teach it so frequently, it requires like zero prep. Huzzah! It's just a course that is the fun of talking about fun literature with students! Hurray!

Course Required for Majors (my first time teaching it):
I'm a bit trepidatious about this one, though also excited. Reasons for trepidation: how I will teach this course promises to be more... demanding... than the way that some who have taught the course teach it. And if those who have enrolled are anticipating the less demanding version of things, I may face some resistance from students. However, I've got one student from the Best Class Ever taking it, and one student from a few semesters back from the gen. ed. course above who's also enrolled, and that will help with getting the other students on board. Reasons for excitement: I love the set-up of the syllabus, I think I've chosen good books, and I like the way that I've integrated film into the course as a touchstone for our discussions. This course promises to be a world of prep for me, but I also think that doing the prep will be good for my research, and it will energize me toward thinking about taking on a project worthy of a sabbatical, for I do fully intend to apply for a sabbatical next year, which I would take in either fall or spring of the 2010-2011 academic year. I still don't know whether I want that project to be a new book project or whether I want it to be a series of articles. Both options have merits, but the biggest merit of any such project would be that I would get to take a sabbatical! Crazy needs a break from teaching, people! Holla!

Upper-Level Course in My Field:
I've changed out a couple of novels in this course, and now I'm including one that I've not read since grad school, so that will be exciting. I'm also excited about this course because it will be populated with students whom I don't know, for the most part, and I need to get to work on creating a new fan base for my courses since I'm losing my cadre of student-peeps to graduation in the spring. I love this course because it's one of the few they take in our curriculum for majors that gets them reading stuff by Live Authors. (Our curriculum is stuck in like 1960.) Indeed, not a dead one in the bunch. This is exciting for them and for me.

And then in the summer, I'll also be teaching....

Grad Course:
This will be my first time teaching in our M.A. program. So that will provide an interesting challenge, a challenge which will be doubled given the abbreviated schedule of summer sessions. This course will not just be a ramped up version of something I teach at the undergrad level. Rather, I'm taking this as an opportunity to teach all new stuff - indeed, I'll be teaching a lot that I've not read (but have intended to read and which I should have read ages ago) - and to teach around a theme that wouldn't necessarily work at the undergrad level because of the topic. I think it's going to be a neat experiment, and I think I'm going to like the intensity of doing it for the first time in the summer, engaging with this material for (often) the first time right along with them. Also, the grading for the grad class will be easier than doing an undergrad class in the summer, since most of what I'll have to grade will be the seminar papers at the very end, as opposed to grading a lot of shorter assignments/tests with less turn-around time.


You will notice that over the course of this year I'm teaching eight different courses, two of which are brand spanking new preps. I should note that this is my preference, and not some draconian practice that's common in my department. If I wanted, I could teach the same courses with greater frequency, as opposed to having such a spread-out rotation. If I wanted, I could be teaching sections (like two or three of the same lower-level course plus my upper-level course in my field), but sections make me feel crazy, and not in a good way. See, I'm not one of those people who separates teaching from my intellectual and scholarly pursuits, mainly because I suck at doing that (not because I'm some sort of Super-Academic). When I've taught sections, I feel really irritated by them, partly because of the necessity of keeping the sections on the same schedule, partly because I like to fly by the seat of my pants in the classroom and so I have a hard time keeping track of what I've talked about in one class vs. another, and partly because I ultimately find them boring (esp. when it comes to reading twice as many papers on the same topics). I learned this early on in my time on the tenure-track, and so I've moved toward four preps per semester, in large part because that keeps me on my toes mentally and because I really enjoy doing lots of different things. Also, this has worked for me in terms of combining teaching and research interests, so prep for class ends up being research and thinking for scholarly endeavors. This is actually a reason why I think I wouldn't necessarily thrive at a research-intensive institution: I wonder whether I'd ever produce research if it wasn't tied so closely to what I do in the classroom. I'm inherently a pretty lazy person, when left to my own devices: teaching something forces me to do the work in a way that some abstract idea for a research project doesn't because I feel like I've got a responsibility to my students and I don't feel like I have a responsibility to Deep Thoughts. And teaching provides deadlines: you can't put off reading the novel that is on the syllabus for class the way that you can put off reading a novel that might be interesting for an article that maybe someday you'll write. Finally, teaching provides a forum for conversation. I can't tell you how many times just discussing books with my students has made something click in my head related to my research endeavors. The fact is, given the teaching loads of my colleagues, we don't really discuss our research interests or projects with any regularity, and we don't have much time for the conference circuit. With that being the case, if I don't use my students for those sorts of conversations, I'm operating in a vacuum 99% of the academic year.

Now, if you were to talk to many of my colleagues at my institution, and describe my thoughts on the matter, they'd say that I'm a nut. Many of them would dispute the connection that I draw between what I do in terms of my teaching schedule and scholarly productivity. And my grad school mentors and peeps at more research-intensive places most certainly think that I work in a sweatshop and that I'm either a masochist or a victim. But you know what? The proof is in the pudding. I feel intellectually stimulated, I'm productive, and I'm happiest when I'm not focused on one thing in a single-minded sort of a way (which for me quickly devolves into obsession and actually stalls productivity, cf. the time of doom when I had writer's block during dissertating).

So I kind of think that happiness at an institution like mine, if you care about research, is deeply linked to these sorts of work habits. YMMV and all that, but perhaps as those of you who are on the market think about where you might thrive on the tenure-track, this narrative will be useful to you. I'll say this, though, to temper my thoughts here: it only works because while I teach a lot of different preps, I do teach the same courses over and over again, and so they're not all NEW preps or infrequently taught preps, and a lot of my courses allow me to use similar prep in various slightly tweaked forms. My upper-level courses are always linked to my area of research expertise and use the same basic assignment and course design structure, an important part of which is using student presentations to convey some background info so that I don't have to prep it, and my gen. ed. courses are like well-oiled machines that vary very little from semester to semester in terms of content, structure, and design. And I could not have managed if I started off doing things this way. I needed those semesters with sections in the beginning in order to get my sea legs, as much as I disliked teaching sections. This only works now because I had very reasonable teaching assignments for the first few years. Oh, and it also matters that I have near total autonomy in choosing when I teach: this also couldn't work if I were required to be on campus at weird times, or if I had to change back and forth between a 3-day-a-week, 2-day-a-week, and 1-day-a-week schedule for the same class from semester to semester. So I'm in no way saying that there aren't variables that would make this unworkable, even given my natural predilection for this sort of set-up. There certainly are. But as things actually are, I actually really enjoy the variety I've achieved in my teaching life and it works for me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ummm.... I'm Not Entirely Sure What's Getting Into Me....

But I think that (in spite of the fact that my ear kind of hurts and I'm coming down with a cold I think) I've got my mojo back.

1. I graded a stack of assignments.
2. I agreed to put together a paper for PCA in New Orleans, although I've no idea what I'll actually talk about.
3. I started thinking in earnest about two other conference papers. (How is it that I'm for sure going to attend two conferences, have just agreed to a third, and actually have been strongly considering a fourth? When I was supposedly taking the year off?)
4. I found out that I'm for sure teaching a grad class this summer (huzzah!) but that means that I need actually to, I don't know, read the books that will be on the syllabus, as for the most part I'm venturing into brand new territory with this class.

Where all of this work energy is coming from I have no idea, because seriously, I really do think I'm coming down with something.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things That Make Me Happy

I don't want to be all gratitude-journal-y, but I've been trying over the past few days to focus on the positive, and I feel like the academic blogosphere, given our point in the academic calendar and the job-search season and the grad school application season, can use some warm fuzzies. So. Here are the things in my life as a professor that make me happy today.

  • That by a quirk of scheduling this week I got to teach what I really do think may be my absolute favorite thing of all the things I teach. On the surface, the story is depressing. Dead parents, dead-end lives, and attempted suicide are all parts of this text. And yet - and yet - there is the fact that there may be a blow-job in this text. Ah, 'tis so fun! The laughter! The blushing! The wonderful discussion that results!
  • That I finished one big stack of grading.
  • That I'm really at home at my university. Good to have realized this and to feel really solid about it in my tenure year. And nice to appreciate just how great the community here is and how great my colleagues are.
  • That I have the privilege of teaching my awesome students in my most awesomest class ever. I am so sad that so many of them are graduating this year!
  • The fact that my upper-level class in my field for the spring has already reached the enrollment minimum, that it's populated with students that I for the most part don't know, and that juniors haven't even really begun scheduling.
  • That once again I've been invited to a celebratory dinner for a student honorary society. The students choose who to invite, and not every faculty member gets one of these coveted invitations, and let me tell you: the awesome students in my department? They think that I rock. I love that this is true.
  • That what angst I'd been feeling about the book and about the tenure process seems to be in check. I'm not saying it's over - it ain't over until the fat lady sings and all that - but I'm feeling centered and good and like the world might not come to an end. Revolutionary.
  • That I finally seem to have come to terms with the fact that while the job isn't the end-all-be-all, it is something that I really love, and there's no reason to feel badly about the fact that I love it as I do.
  • That I don't actually feel disappointed that I may be out of the running for JWIBSNA. This is really groundbreaking, that this fact isn't fucking with my sense of self-worth.
  • That my article does seem to be inching, however slowly, toward publication, and that it's an article that I really feel makes a significant contribution to the field, which I have rarely felt about my scholarship.
  • That I saw one of my first students ever at this institution, the first student who shouted "Hey, Dr. Crazy!" across the quad at me (which was huge as I was newly minted and nobody had ever done that before), a student who did not start out as an English major and whom I converted, and in spite of some sucky circumstances over the past year or two, the student is doing fantastically well and is about to graduate and hurray!
  • That everybody loves my hair. Ok, so that's not an academic thing per se, but I've gotten lots of compliments at school about it, and so I'm throwing it into the mix even though it's a stupid thing to care about. Also (as this is the fake bullet of academic happiness) I feel that part of the reason people are giving me all these compliments is because the weight loss is just generally making me look better. And it's been inspiring me to dress better for school, partly because I have clothes that actually fit me properly what with the 8-10 lbs I've shed. And so no, this isn't really academic happiness, but it bleeds over into my academic life.
So yes, all is not pain just because it's November in academic-land. And for those of you who are feeling like it is, well, it's entirely possible that not every November will feel as crappy as this November does for you. I'll tell you: I've had some shitty freaking Novembers in my time. It's nice to finally feel like that's not a life sentence of shitty Novembers, even with the horrible events (in my world) of this past week.

Provisional Good-ish News

So, I've had this essay out for review at a Fancy-Pants Journal for lo, these many months. I'd stopped myself from inquiring about it because the last I'd heard, they were waiting on an overdue report and I figured no news meant at least I wasn't rejected, so I'd let the thing lie. But since it's been six months, I figured I should check in just to make sure it hadn't disappeared into the ether. At any rate, it's been through one level of review (apparently there are multiple levels), the editor of the journal then decided those reports meant that it was good enough to proceed to the next level of review (see - told you it was Fancy-Pants, because dude with all of these levels of review! I had no idea there'd be all of this crap), and apparently the first report from that level of review recommends to publish, and they await the second report. I suppose that the reports may end up disagreeing, so this isn't actual good news yet, but it gives me hope that this thing will ultimately see the light of day sometime in the next year or two. I just hope the thing doesn't stall out with the second reviewer, meaning that I need to revise and resubmit or that I need to submit it elsewhere and start the process over from scratch.

I decided to post about this in part because I think it's useful to make the timeline for publication more transparent than it typically is. My experiences have been so varied with this - the Collection Article that Languishes continues to languish, and it's about 4 1/2 years since I presented the conference paper on which it was based. In contrast, I've had other articles that made it from inception to publication within like 9 months. In this particular case, the thing's been under review for like 6 months (in part because I submitted it at the start of summer, which is not good timing, we should all note), and I expect I won't hear anything definitive until the start of the new year, and if I hear positive news, I suspect the thing won't be out until 2010. This isn't terribly stressful for me because I'm not at an institution where publication rules the day, but I imagine if I were on the market without a permanent job, or if I were at a research-intensive institution, the time involved in getting things to publication would probably have me in a constant state of anxiety. I mean, I suppose I'd have more out at a given time than I typically do now were that the case, so perhaps I wouldn't be so focused on each individual article, but still. I suppose the moral of the story is, thank god I wasn't counting on this particular article to shore up my tenure case. At the pace things are going, I'll be lucky to hear what's up with it before the decision is made.

In other news, my prospects for JWIBSNA, if he wiki is to be believed, have diminished. Apparently calls for writing samples have gone out, and I've not received one. Obviously it's still early, and it could be that they're not making those requests all at the same time, or that they're not making them of all candidates. Whatever the case, feeling like I'm potentially out of the running actually makes me feel better and not worse - for it means that I've got one less thing to be angsty about.

Monday, November 10, 2008

RBOC of Let's Put Something Else at the Top of the Page

  • So I got an email today from some blog-ranking site that congratulated me for having a 7.8 out of 10 ranking for a personal blog. Because I'm an overachieving college professor, I feel like that makes my blog a C blog, which made me disgruntled. I'm not a C-level person! But then I realized that because my blog isn't actually a personal blog in a lot of ways that it's probably about right. And also, there are a gajillion blogs in the world, and if I'm being put into competition with a blog like Dooce (9.5), of course my blog is a C-level sort of blog. Whatevs. At least it ranks, and at least it's a C+ and not like a C- or D or something.
  • I met with two students today, and it looks like the Club for Nerds (as I affectionately think of it) that they're proposing will happen. I'm actually really excited. Because, like my students, I'm a Nerd. That said, I did advise them to broaden the scope a bit, to attract members aside from the people who have taken classes with me.
  • I've also been thinking a lot today about preparedness and how that translates (or doesn't) into writing ability - specifically, the ability to come up with a clear and precise thesis statement. Something specific in the blogosphere (I think) made me think about this but I'm not sure what so I can't link. At any rate, here's my theory of the relationship between preparedness/training and whether students can write a thesis statement: there isn't one. The longer that I've been teaching, and my teaching even within my field emphasizes writing, the more I believe that this whole "thesis statement" and "clear and precise argument" business has little to do with instructions and more to do with a student's personal readiness for getting what that means and what the value of that is. In other words, I really think that a student will reach a point, with reinforcement obviously, where something "clicks," but having one or more classes that emphasize this, or having this stuff emphasized in high school, doesn't necessarily produce that "click." And so if that's the case, my theory is that we can't depend on high school, or freshmen writing, or whatever, to produce students who can write. The thing is, students need to be writing all the time across a variety of courses in order to have the opportunity for clicking. And I think that clicking happens, in part, based on maturity, personal readiness, and life experience. I'm not sure it has all that much to do with the teacher (assuming the teacher is attempting to convey the necessary ideas about this stuff - obviously a teacher who isn't won't produce the desired result whatever the student's level of personal readiness, maturity, and life experience).
  • I'm in love with the band Kings of Leon. Seriously. Sure, I have a hard time figuring out what the fuck they're singing, in terms of the lyrics, but with this band, I don't actually care if I understand the lyrics. Any band that makes me feel that is one freaking awesome band. Rock and roll, my friends. Rock and roll.
  • FB.... He sometimes knows me better than I know myself. And is often really quite sensitive and insightful. Of course, he's smug about that fact, which makes him awfully annoying, but I feel the need to give him a shout-out for his awesomeness of late, because really, he's just... fantastic. Even if smug and annoying.
  • In other news, I finished reading the Twilight books. My verdict: I actually liked the most recent book best, mainly because I hated the narrator-protagonist Bella Swan for most of the first three of the four novels. Indeed, she reminded me why it's entirely awesome that I'm no longer in high school and no longer an obsessive, angst-ridden teen. It's because both of those identities are utterly tiresome - both for the person who inhabits them and for all who have to deal with that person. The last book, in contrast, leaves her narration for a good portion, and when we return to her head she's a vampire and doesn't suck nearly so hardcore. The series is troubling to me on many counts, all mainly to do with Bella, but reading it did take me out of my tenure-review-book-coming-out funk. Total cotton candy reading. And the last novel reminds me of Anne Rice in a good way, which the first three do not.
  • Speaking of cotton candy reading, I also just read the three books in Maria V. Snyder's "Study Series." Are these the best that American writing has to offer? No. Are they action-packed, with a strong heroine, and totally pleasureable to read? Indeed. And they're also not the worst books I've ever read in my life, and I've read some crappy freaking books for pleasure. Don't believe me? Think Judith Krantz, people.
  • The thing that makes this week especially hard for me is that it's what I often think of as the "Death, Sweet Death" week in two of the four classes. It's Veteran's Day tomorrow, and in two of the four classes, we're all about the WWI-related lit, which requires me to explain the horrors of trench warfare, to talk about the transience of human life, and about how little we know those whom we love and how we all die ALONE. Not ideal, given the current real-life goings on in my department. But, on the other hand, this literature provides a certain kind of solace. What happened this week is kind of the point of this kind of literature. It's just hard to be the person who's supposed to shepherd them through this emotional and existential landmine, particularly at this time.
  • But most of all, I'm thinking about the person that I (and so many others) lost, and I'm thinking about the fact that I'll never be able to listen to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" without feeling a little bit sad. And that sucks, man. Because that's a happy and awesome fucking song. That said, I'll also feel happy, because I know how that person would rock it out to that song (on LP, no less), and how happily he'd do so.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


There's been news in regard to the situation that I've mentioned in my past couple of posts. Blogging will be light for the foreseeable future.

Sunday: Day of Work or Day of Procrastination?

First of all, thanks for any good vibes you've been able to send re: my last post. The situation remains very not good, as far as I've heard, which hasn't been much. I'm trying to keep the idea that no news is good news in mind, and to think as many positive and healing thoughts as I can.

But so on to the day ahead of me. Will I accomplish a great many things, or will I not accomplish a great many things? Hmmm. I think I may go a middle route, attempting some balance of productivity (making a big pot of chili, dealing with the grading and prep for the week for one of four classes, working out, sorting laundry, and making the kitchen spic and span after the cooking) and slack (continuing to read the "fun" books that I started reading this weekend and which I've been plowing through with reckless abandon).

I've hit what I think is my first plateau with Operation Fitness. I was going along like gangbusters, but I've hit the moment where I typically rest on my laurels and then ruin what progress I've made. This is why working out this weekend is imperative. I need to get back in the mindset that I'm working toward something more, so that I don't lose what progress I've made.

Hmmm. I think that's all to report on this end.

Oh, but a question:

This portion of this post has poofed because apparently sometimes all I need to do is to ask a question in order to come up with the answer myself. If you missed the previous version of this post, I'd asked for people to give me suggestions for films to use as points of reference in a class I'll be teaching in the future, but since doing so, I finally forced myself to figure out what I wanted to use. Funny how that works, huh? There is a large part of me that is so pleased with myself that I want to reveal what I've chosen, but that would sort of defeat the purpose of the poofing.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


I've been trying to figure out all night how to write about a thing that happened today. It's not really mine to write about; it's not really something I can write about in any sort of detail without compromising my decisions about what should happen in this space, in regard to what I communicate about things not directly related to me. I know I can seem like I write about "everything" here, but actually I don't. I write about most everything with me, but there's a lot that I don't write about. So anyway, consider this vague request: if you believe in praying, or if you believe in sending good vibes into the universe, or whatever, this would be a good time for that. Not for me, but for someone who needs all of the prayers and good vibes available, someone who is really one of the most genuine and wonderful people and who is facing something that is unexpected and awful.

In Which I'm STILL Ridiculously behind on Grading

It's all my own fault. It's not like I've not had the time. But between being too keyed up because of the election and my own innate laziness, well.

I actually am ready to hand back papers in one class today, and I'll also hand back some ridiculously overdue assignments in the class after that (thank god they're watching a movie so I can finish up!), but still, that leaves a stack each for my other two classes. I want to die.

In other news, I'm also starting on a new novel in one class today, for which I've not really prepped. Good times.

I don't know about you all, but I am just DONE with this semester. The problem is, the semester won't actually be done until December.

In exciting news, pre-registration began this week, and even though I've done like no advertising for my upper-level class in my field, and even though only honors students and athletes have been able to register so far, I've already got three enrolled. I am popular! My classes no longer (knock wood) face the danger of not making enrollment! Obviously I'm in no way to the enrollment minimum in there yet, but with this early response, I'm feeling quite at ease about the whole thing. And, because I'm a jerk who doesn't want to do her work right now, I'm more excited on getting going with that class than in finishing the Awesome one currently in progress. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I Didn't Think I'd Be So Happy

But I am so, so happy. And so proud of my vote. Even if my vote didn't really actually count in my stupid state. Damn the electoral college.

In other news, I am also happy (because I'm obsessed with food) about the lentil soup I made today. Although this recipe also makes it essential that I acquire a food mill (I made due today with a homemade sort of version, using a mesh sieve and spoon), which I had formerly thought was a totally stupid thing to own.

And I'm a little sad that Barack Obama's grandma didn't live to see him elected president, but I also believe, as he said in his speech, that she, wherever she is, knows he did. In my version of the afterlife, the people you love and who love you know when awesome things happen and they're super-excited about those things for you.

I also sort of can't believe that we're done with the past eight years. Whatever comes next, things will be different. And I'm so excited that we'll have little kids in the white house again. And I'm so excited for the non-suit-wearing Michelle Obama. Dresses, people! It's all about dresses! I'm also excited for Michelle Obama because I really do feel like she'll be a new kind of First Lady.

So those are my disjointed thoughts. I'm ecstatic. And pleased about First Lady fashion. And I think the lentil soup recipe I posted is really worth it for all to try.

(By the way, most of the new recipes I've made recently are from this cookbook, which, so far, doesn't have a bad recipe in it. So if you're looking for a cookbook, picking this one up could be worth it.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day! Hurray!

So I've done my civic duty and cast my ballot. There was a longer line than I've typically experienced - indeed, rather than it being just me and the old people working at my polling place, there were about 6 people there ahead of me. My polling place has *two* voting machines - yep, just two - and so the fact that there were about 6 people there meant I had about a 10 minute wait. Of the people there, only one other person and I were under retirement age.

So, now it's time to grade all day and to watch the news. Good times.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Coming up for Air, Part II: Some Extended Ramblings

Before I begin, let me just state for the record that what I'm about to write about here is just about me. It's not meant to be some universal decree about everybody's experience, nor do I think that what I'm about to describe is how it "has to" be or how it "should" or even how it "is" in "reality." It's just some stuff that I've been thinking about in relation to my own current state of emotional upheaval. My thoughts promise to be scattered, but I feel like it's worth writing this crap out in this space.

So where to begin? I suppose the first thing that I should acknowledge here is that any angst I've been feeling of late has nothing to do with concerns about my prospects for getting a positive tenure decision. I've done all of the things plus extra. I know that. My colleagues generally like me and have been nothing but supportive. I know that, too. And I've gotten positive recommendations in two of the four main parts of our process, so you'd think that would make me less - not more - stressed out.

So what's my damage? (I use that particular turn of phrase partly for the fun John Hughes Movieness of it, but also because I'm coming to think that my nutso behavior of late is really about "damage," at least in some sense.) I suppose I think that part of it is that I'm not supposed to be freaked out. Going up for tenure is not like finishing/defending one's dissertation in one crucial way: "everybody" seems to acknowledge that completing the Ph.D. is a painful experience. One that causes distress. A major life change. What's weird about the whole "tenure" business is that unless one is in some sort of "trouble" or has "cause for concern," people don't seem to acknowledge in a broad way how distressing just the experience of putting oneself under that kind of scrutiny is. And I'd say the same goes for the whole book publication thing. People assume, rightly or wrongly, that one is supposed to be "happy" about these things, that one is supposed to feel pleasure in the accomplishment of these things. That it merely confirms that you're awesome, and not that it signifies a major self-identity shift.

Now, let me just say, it's not that I'm unhappy exactly about those things, in the abstract. In the abstract, I'm quite proud of myself. It's just I hadn't quite anticipated how... unhinged... these two things would make me feel. In a lot of ways, where I am now is where people who enter this profession hope to end up. I feel positive about earning tenure; I have a freaking book that was accepted for publication, in a time when fewer and fewer scholarly books are being published, and I'm in a book field. I've managed these things in a job that people might look at as being not ideal on paper, but in reality, I really like my job. So in that regard, where I am right now is like this whole hopeful thing, where people can say, "Look! It's possible! Crazy has done these things! I, too, can do these things!" And it's true. I have done these things, which all of the doom and gloom about the market in English, about publishing in English, etc., ad infinitum, often makes to seem impossible.

But with all of that said, how these things feel isn't necessarily grand. In part I feel guilty for not being all celebratory and enthusiastic. Lots of people would feel very happy indeed to be in my position. Who do I think I am that I'm not over the moon at this particular juncture? And not only do I feel guilty, but also I feel like nobody wants to hear it that I'm not just super-ecstatic over where I am at this juncture. This is how it's not like finishing the diss: then, everybody got it that I was a train wreck, and indeed, there was a lot of commiserating. This is not to say that there is no commiserating now, but it's typically only with people who've already been through this wringer (who, by the by, have been fantastic) and who are not at my institution. I don't feel like I have any peeps who are in exactly the place I'm in, really. And that's nobody's fault - I think a lot of academics keep these feelings, if they have them, under wraps when they're in the middle of the process (because of the whole guilt thing, or because they're superstitious, whatever). And it makes sense that none of my colleagues in my department who are also going up this year are commiserating with me: I've got the strongest case of the lot, and everybody knows it, so obviously if there's commiserating going on, I wouldn't be included.

You know what's scariest about both going up for tenure and the book coming out for me? It's that I feel trapped. I do not feel, as I did when I finished the Ph.D., that everything that "really" mattered was ahead of me, like anything could happen. And yes, a lot of that feeling was uncertainty about my future, and that sucked in its own way, but I felt tremendously (perhaps foolishly?) hopeful. Now, all of those hopes that I had then are about to be achieved. And that makes me feel like I'm locked in. Like these things, rather than opening up new possibilities, confine me. And I feel like I'm under a horrifyingly powerful microscope, and like everybody is going to see, ultimately, that while I've talked a good game that really I'm a twit and a fraud. (Ah, imposter syndrome! It rears its head at the most inconvenient junctures.)

To some extent, I realize that the answer to what I'm feeling right now is to find a new project, a new goal, or seven, and to stop dwelling on these things that are now out of my control and that, really, are in the past. (Indeed, the scrutiny is happening now, but the work in both cases is done.) If I haven't done this, a lot of it is because I've also been thinking a lot about certain sacrifices I've made along the way toward this particular end. I'm not sure I want to continue to sacrifice the same things. I'm not sure what comes next, not because I believe there won't be a "next thing" but because I don't want to choose a "next thing" by default, out of habit. And that, well, that's uncomfortable. It would be easier just to start a new book project, honestly, or to plan a series of articles, or to develop 27 new courses, or whatever. Because I know now how all of that works. But I feel pretty confident that I need to choose whatever comes next pretty consciously and in a calculated way. I need to decide and to choose, on purpose. I know that will be good in the long run, but it's a hard thing to do, to be measured and to wait and to consider. I'm much better with acting first and thinking later, with doing whatever falls into my lap. In choosing not to do that right now, I'm responsible for a lot of the angst I'm feeling right now, but I also feel like it's better to move through this and to force myself through this rather than to do the easiest possible thing.

What's sick is that if JWIBSNA ends up resulting in anything, then a lot of this angst will have been for nothing, for I'd just go through some version of it again in two or so years. This is why I almost hope nothing happens with JWIBSNA, because then at least I'll have been going through this current rough patch with a clear end in sight.

Finally, there's this thing that's been bothering me. So I've talked a bit about the one class I'm teaching this semester, that is probably the best class I've ever taught in my life and in which I'm directly teaching in my specialization. So, a group of students from this course - amazing students - approached me because they wanted to know whether I'd help them form a reading group and advise them about what to read, so that they could do more in Specialization Field. All of these students, in spite of my straight-talk about going to grad school for English, are thinking of grad school. Note: Specialization Field is one of the most notoriously competitive, which I didn't really realize when I began my journey into academia as an undergrad, both in terms of getting into grad school and in terms of the job market. Now, on the one hand, I feel utterly gratified by the fact that I've inspired these students, all of whom work and have complicated lives, etc., to want to do something of this magnitude in their free time. (Also note that it's highly unusual for students to want to do this sort of thing at this institution, as a rule.) I'm just... I'm astonished by their curiosity and their motivation and their interest in stuff that typically students sort of hate me for teaching them. But with what I'm going through now, I also feel like I want to warn them off (which of course I won't, because while I do enjoy crushing spirits and all, I could never do that to this group of students who is so utterly enthusiastic) and refuse to encourage what I now realize (in dark moments) is a pretty fraught path. I know how amazing they are, but I also know how horribly competitive it is. And I know that they don't have a pedigree that's necessarily going to get them where they want to go. This is a no-name regional institution, and these students are in part responding to the material that I teach because I challenge them, which is not their experience in all of their classes. They're so bright. And I honestly feel like anybody who really pushed them would elicit this response, whatever the material. They're just so thirsty for challenge. And yes, Specialization Field offers challenge all on its own without me. What I offer, I hope, is that I make that crap accessible and cool, in spite of its notorious difficulty. Thus, the request that I sponsor their super-secret Specialization Society.

I somehow wish I could convey to them that while I am, truly, fascinated by this material, that it's not the only material, and that their feelings about it are colored by the fact that I'm challenging them. I wish I could convey to them how scared I am for their futures if they go down this road, even though I know that if I did so then it would be utterly fucked up and would so not be good for me to do as a teacher of these students, because it would be more about my weird issues than it would be about making a conscious choice as a teacher. And also, part of me loves that they are loving what I love. Even though I also hate that I feel that way, because I really think it's fucked up to produce a bunch of mini-me type students, and I actively try not to do that, but I feel like how I'm feeling right now is about giving in to that impulse, which I despise. I have no interest in populating a bunch of grad programs, and then finally adjunct lines, with former students of mine. The thought of that is utterly disgusting to me.

But so obviously I'm going to help them. How could I not? But the thought that I'm perpetuating a cycle that has left me, at this current juncture, a hot mess, well, it really does bother me. I know that their interest isn't only about me, but I fear that more of it is about me than is necessarily good for them. And I don't want this world that is academia to chew them up and spit them out. And I don't know how to express that, if I haven't already communicated that to them at this point. (As you might imagine, I'm very up front about the realities of grad school, the job market, and the job of professor in my field. Not in a discouraging way, but in a way that is about communicating information. The problem is, students seem to listen selectively.)

Just like I once listened selectively to the advice that was offered to me. And so I'm in this weird place, where I'm questioning a lot of things about my life as a professor, while at the same time I'm in this position of authority and mentorship for a group of students who are truly intellectually engaged in the material that drew me to the profession in the first place and who really want me to guide them. How do I do that, feeling how I'm feeling? How do I encourage students to enter on a path where they will be scrutinized and judged, and maybe beaten down, over the course of about 10 years (give or take)? How do I continue to encourage them to love what I love (and I do really love the literature of my specialization) and yet still give them the tools that I know they need to survive? How do I "keep it real" with them without bringing my own bullshit to the table?

You know, one thing actually does make me feel better about this conundrum. It's that I did manage to mentor a former student through a (very good) MA program, and that student made the choice to take a break from academia upon finishing the MA, in spite of the student's MA program's professors encouragement toward the Ph.D. This student may well end up returning to academia - in fact, I kind of expect that - but I think the fact that I continued to mentor the student did make a difference, and did make the student think that it was ok to try out something else for a bit, and even made that possible, actually, because the standard advice I give about grad school is to only go where one is funded, in addition to not going the straight Ph.D. route. Even in a very good program, it's easier to leave if it's not a straight Ph.D. program. If I know anything from my own grad school experience (I did an M.A. first, though many of my friends from my Ph.D. program didn't), I know that. And it's easier to leave if you haven't accrued a mountain of debt. So in other words, there may be hope for my current students yet.

So tomorrow will be a day of grading. The grading didn't happen so much today, though I feel ok about the fact that it didn't.