Thursday, April 30, 2009

One Down, Two to Go!

It's true. I have successfully achieved a zero balance on a credit card that has never had a zero balance since the mid-90s. This is the credit card that I used throughout grad school, the credit card that made life on a 9K/year stipend in Boston possible. This is the credit card that took me to London, to Trieste, to Dublin, and to Budapest, when seriously, I had no business taking any of those trips in terms of my money situation at the time. At its highest, I believe the balance hovered someplace around 13K. And over the course of the past 17 months, I have taken it from that horrifying level down to $0. And this was my card with the highest interest rate.

I've still got two credit cards to pay off. They, too, relatively painlessly, will be at zero by August. I can't tell you how empowered I feel by having committed myself to this project and by succeeding at it. Sure, it's meant teaching in summer. Sure, it's meant being more conscious of my money, and I am not really a person who likes to think about money very much. I'm not really motivated by money, when it comes down to it, and historically it's stressed me out to pay much attention to it. (Though, of course, this could be because I've been in a wicked amount of debt.)

Now sure, I've still got student loan debt, and I've got my car loan, but for the first time in my life, once the credit cards are paid off, I will have the freedom to save money in a real way and to actually look toward living a life where I'm not just making ends meet. I kind of can't believe it!

In a weird way, this feels like as much of an accomplishment - if not more of an accomplishment - than tenure. Seriously.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mark Taylor's NYT Piece

I'd been thinking I'd write about this, but it turns out, I don't actually have to!

For an administrative perspective on why Taylor's suggestions are problematic, head on over to Dean Dad's establishment. Michael Berube responds (with much more thought than I originally gave that point) to one point of DD's post here. However, my favorite post of this whole roundup is probably Berube's succinct reaction that he posted on Monday.

For great historical context that shows Taylor's ideas about abolishing tenure and getting rid of departments are as old as departments and tenure have existed, check out this great analysis at Printculture.

Mark Bousquet punches a big fat gaping hole in Taylor's comments about current academic hiring practices.

Historiann talks about who will actually do the work in this newfangled university that Taylor proposes.

Geeky Mom takes seriously the idea that change in higher education would be a good thing, especially in terms of serving students, and Tim Burke, too, seems to think that Taylor's ideas are worth considering (though he does have some criticisms, as well).

Bobba Lynx takes on not only Taylor's piece but also Erin O'Connor's response to it.

I may weigh in with a post in any case, but if you find more reactions, post them in the comments. It's really interesting to read all of the different angles on this piece.

ETA: I've been editing and adding links as the day has gone on, and I really do feel like I have things to say, but what with the grading (sigh, the grading), a tenure reception at my provost's house (though I suspect it's more on the order of a mansion), my parents coming to town Friday, and a department end-of-semester thing, too, and not to mention the Kentucky Derby, I may end up being too late to the conversation to care by the time I have time really to post the incredibly insightful and substantive things about which I'm thinking (for obviously my thoughts are deep and grand, what with the fact that I'm not writing them, you see). Who knows.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Because What Really Matters Is My Hair

And not all of the cock-a-doodle-dum (a Virginia Woolf word I so want to bring back, along with D.H. Lawrence's "cockaloopy" - in fact, I have a fantasy about writing a paper called Cockaloopy Cock-a-Doodle-Dum then a colon, and then something, but I don't know what comes after the colon, so that paper remains unwritten, but I would so love to be called the author of "Cockaloopy Cock-a-Doodle Dum" in somebody's dissertation or something, but I digress) business of service and the humanities and theory vs. reading for transformation whatsit. No. It is my hair that matters most of all.

I just got back from the salon (a tiny little store-front establishment with no frills, for that is where my AWESOME hair lady moved, and I shall follow her anywhere), and I feel like a whole new Crazy.

The hair, it is the blonde that it should be (i.e., summertime blonde, the blonde of my 3-year-old self).

The bangs, they are back with a vengeance. It turns out that the whole "I want to grow out my bangs" thing was really an unfortunate interlude in an otherwise brilliant hair year. You see, I look great with bangs. I thought I needed some sort of a change in January, which precipitated the thought that I should grow them out. What I then realized is that the bangs a) give my hair a style (important since I'm a lazy girl when it comes to doing my hair each day) and b) that I now have unfortunate wrinkles that are beginning to become apparent on my forehead (note: probably I'm the only person who sees these, as in recent weeks like 3 separate people have noted that I look like a student).

In addition to the bangs, the hair, it is cut, very blunt along the bottom (slightly shorter in the back, with the pieces closer to the front grazing my shoulders - though the difference in length is decidedly not dramatic) with a very few layers for some movement and texture (and because the hair already had some layers). I should note that aside from those very few layers, I do believe I had not only this color of hair when I was three years old but also this exact same hair cut. Cute in 1977 is apparently also cute in 2009. I suppose my face hasn't really changed, so this does make a kind of sense.

In addition, my eyebrows were waxed to perfection (because I'm now high maintenance in this area and never deal with my own eyebrows).

Guess, just guess, how much this all cost?

Before tip.... drumroll.... $50. Seriously. I actually said, "Jen, but you did my color, too?" and she was all "well, if you'd like to give me thousands of dollars.... but no, seriously, that's how much."

I gave her $65. I seriously would have given her $75 but I thought it would make her feel weird. Needless to say, the AWESOME Jen will be receiving a LARGE tip this Christmas. LARGE.


Ok, so I've got a dilemma re: a service "opportunity" for next year. A colleague of mine is terribly over-committed. This colleague has been our department's representative on two related Very Important University-Wide committees. We'd discussed me taking these over not next academic year but the year after. Now, the colleague thinks that it would be best just to step down now.

These committees are so important that there would be a department vote for who would serve as our representative. The thing is, if I chose to be nominated, I think I'd most likely win.

  • I really do care about the work that these committees do.
  • I think I'd be a really strong advocate for our department.
  • Strong service in this area would give me exposure university-wide, and would contribute to developing skills that could lead me into administration someday, should I want to head in that direction.
  • This would be my way off of a university-wide committee on which I serve currently that I think is totally stupid.
  • Taking this on would be time-consuming.
  • This is my first year post-tenure, and a large part of me wants not to take on something of this magnitude.
  • There is no reason why I really have to do this now. It's not like I won't be able to do this service in the future if I want.
  • I've got a big professional service thing that I need to begin organizing in earnest throughout this year, and that plus this may effectively put the kibosh on any kind of real research agenda. Or not. I don't know.
At the heart of my ambivalence is that on the one hand taking on this service task would put me closer toward my goal of world domination. Well, perhaps that's saying it too strongly, but it would allow me to have a voice in some very important things. I like that idea a whole lot. On the other hand, with world domination comes a huge time commitment and responsibility. I like that part of it not so much.

I think I need to discuss it with my chair.

In the meantime, though, what do you all think?

In Which I Am Totally Sick of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Yet another prediction that my discipline is obsolete (apparently this time from a lame teacher): "When all the world is abuzz with digital twitterings, it may be that the humanities requirement is a dead and rotting carcass that we tiptoe around, neglecting to bury at our peril."

1. Maybe if English professors keep talking about how what we do is no longer relevant, we're actually ensuring our own demise, actually killing our own discipline. Maybe the problem isn't in fact texting and twittering and iPods and the like: maybe the problem is professors who don't think every student should take a humanities course - like really don't believe that they should, and feel like they're too good to teach those chemistry and construction management and accounting majors - and so they actively resist making such a course appealing.

2. Shame on the Chronicle for just about everything it publishes related to the humanities.

(If you really want to revel in some righteous indignation, also check out this thread over in the forums about the reading vs. readings debate. There is exactly one commenter who seems to have half of a clue, from my perspective.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lost Weekend

I have so much to do that it's ridiculous. But this weekend has been almost an entire loss. Well, unless we count the fact that I do feel very rested and like I'm not so stressed as I've been.

See, it all started with BES coming over Friday night. Because we're both idiots, we started drinking wine, um, immediately. Now, we did accomplish some important stuff with the thesis, most particularly related to me showing her that she does in fact know how to talk about theory, using the exact same skills that she uses all the time to talk about literary texts. There were a number of "aha" moments, in which she saw exactly what I meant about organization, in which she figured out why the theory connects to what she's trying to say, in which we really delved into the comments I'd left on her draft.... So work-wise, it was worth doing. However, as the wine kept flowing, some other things happened as well, most of which involved gossip and silliness. And I tried to force her to start calling me by my first name, which was hilarious, we ordered a pizza, etc.

As I am no longer 22 years old, I was beat all day yesterday, and I accomplished nothing other than making dinner.

Today, I've thought about work, but that's where that has begun and ended.

So this week promises to be busy busy, but I think I may just call today a wash and continue to enjoy relaxing. Doesn't make for interesting blog fodder, but it does make me feel like more of a human being, for whatever that's worth.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Which I Agree, Kind of, and Yet I Totally Don't

So. I've just been reading Mark Edmundson's "Against Readings" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a lengthy argument that is at once about the power of literature to transform the reader and about the ways in which theoretically oriented criticism can obstruct such transformation. It's long, so I'll excerpt some highlights.

Edmundson writes:

If I could make one wish for the members of my profession, college and university professors of literature, I would wish that for one year, two, three, or five, we would give up readings. By a reading, I mean the application of an analytical vocabulary — Marx's, Freud's, Foucault's, Derrida's, or whoever's — to describe and (usually) to judge a work of literary art. I wish that we'd declare a moratorium on readings. I wish that we'd give readings a rest.

For Edmundson, "readings" get in the way of the appreciation of and multifaceted engagement with the literary text. They are something that we overlay onto the literary text, which obscures our view of the text's complexity and that gets in the way of us being transformed by the literature that we read. He goes on to give some explanation and an example:

I said that transformation was the highest goal of literary education. The best purpose of all art is to inspire, said Emerson, and that seems right to me. But that does not mean that literary study can't have other beneficial effects. It can help people learn to read more sensitively; help them learn to express themselves; it can teach them more about the world at large. But the proper business of teaching is change — for the teacher (who is herself a work in progress) and (pre-eminently) for the student.

Nor do I think that everyone who picks up a book must seek the sublime moment of unexpected but inevitable connection. People read for diversion; for relaxation; to inform themselves; to stave off anxiety in airplanes, when the flight attendant is out of wine and beer. A book can make a good door stop; and if you find yourself especially angry at the cat, have a good throwing arm, and a good angle — well, there's no end of uses for a book. But if you're going to take a book into a room, where the objective is to educate people — education being from the Latin educere, meaning "lead out of" and then presumably toward something — then you should consider using the book to help lead those who want to go out from their own lives into another, if only a few steps.

If this is what you want to do, then readings will only get in your way. When you launch, say, a Marxist reading of William Blake, you effectively use Marx as a tool of analysis and judgment. To the degree that Blake anticipates Marx, Blake is prescient and to be praised. Thus the Marxist reading approves of Blake for his hatred of injustice; his polemic against imperialism; his suspicion of the gentry; his critique of bourgeois art as practiced by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds. But Blake, being Blake, also diverges from Marx. [. . .] The current sophisticated critic would be unlikely to pick one master to illuminate the work at hand — he would mix and match as the occasion required. But to enact a reading means to submit one text to the terms of another; to allow one text to interrogate another — then often to try, sentence, and summarily execute it.

The problem with the Marxist reading of Blake is that it robs us of some splendid opportunities. We never take the time to arrive at a Blakean reading of Blake, and we never get to ask whether Blake's vision might be true — by which I mean, following William James, whether it's good in the way of belief. The moment when the student in the classroom, or the reader perusing the work can pause and say: "Yes, that's how it is; Blake's got it exactly right," disappears. There's no chance for the instant that Emerson and Longinus evoke, when one feels that he's written what he's only read, uttered what he's only heard.

Ok, so far so good. Now, as Edmundson lays his argument out, I'd have to say that I'm in general agreement with him, in terms of how I believe that students should be introduced to the study of literature. I firmly believe that it's important to allow students to engage with the primary literary text as a personal experience, and I think that we must offer opportunities for engagement that facilitate the potential for transformation through reading literature. The problem for me, however, is that "getting rid of readings" can ultimately work to impose another "standard" of reading - one that limits transformation - or what counts as transformation - just as surely as imposing theory on a text can do. And, in fact, that "standard" of reading can ultimately foreclose individual student responses to a text. Don't believe me? Let's look at another passage:

I've said that the teacher's job is to offer a Blakean reading of Blake, or an Eliotic reading of Eliot, and that's a remark that can't help but raise questions. The standard for the kind of interpretation I have in mind is actually rather straightforward. When a teacher admires an author enough to teach his work, then it stands to reason that the teacher's initial objective ought to be framing a reading that the author would approve. The teacher, to begin with, represents the author: He analyzes the text sympathetically, he treats the words with care and caution and with due respect. He works hard with the students to develop a vision of what the world is and how to live that rises from the author's work and that, ultimately, the author, were he present in the room, would endorse.

I dispute that the above constitutes a "straightforward" approach to teaching literature or to studying it. Why? Well, first of all, it assumes that the instructor teaches only those literary texts (and authors) that he or she admires. I know that for me, this is certainly not the case. I often teach texts (and authors) that I don't admire, or even like, because those texts (and authors) provide a context for a period, offer a foundation without which a student can't quite understand what follows, or because I know that they are generally seen to be central to a canon of literature. That's what a canon is about, ultimately. Not about teaching only that which we personally admire, but about teaching that which people generally, historically have thought is important. These things are not identical. Next, I dispute that we can ever hope to know whether we are giving a reading of which the author would have approved, or that even if we can that in doing so we would give a work of literature its due. To presume that we, as teachers, have access to the author in that way strikes me as extreme arrogance. Also, it invests the author with a kind of dominance over the text that personally makes me uncomfortable and that makes me feel quite hemmed in as a reader. Why exactly do I have to force my students to start with an initial reading of a text that is sympathetic to a long-dead author? Why must I be sympathetic to the needs of that same author? And further, as a person who works on writers that were and are notoriously hostile to critics, I have to say: I find it difficult to believe that those authors would endorse a reading that purports to give the "sympathetic," and it is implied true, reading of anything that they've written. Further, I am doubtful that all writers of literature are offering in their works "a vision of what the world is and how to live." (Actually, this approach to literature reminds me of the approach that Richard Rodriguez criticizes in "The Achievement of Desire" when he talks about how he kept a notebook of what each book he read "meant" as a kid.)

Now, to be fair Edmundson does attempt to qualify this perspective with the following:

This kind of criticism is itself something of an art, not a science. You cannot tell that you have compounded a valid reading of Dickens any more than that you have compounded a valid novel or a valid play. When others find your Dickensian endorsement of Dickens to be of use to them, humanly, intellectually, spiritually, then your endorsement is a success. The desire to turn the art of reading into a science is part of what draws the profession to the application of sterile concepts.

Hello, sweetness and light. I can't tell you what art is but I know it when I see it. Trust me. I'm a very sensitive expert. Much more sensitive than you. And I can't tell you what "valid" criticism is, but criticism is valid when others find your criticism of use. The problem, here, is that what Edmundson takes to be self-evident doesn't seem quite so evident to me. Who decides what counts as "use"? (And what if I find the application of sterile concepts useful? And let's not even talk about the binary between fertility and sterility here, because my head might actually explode....) How can I as an instructor of literature presume to shape my students "humanly" or "spiritually"? What does that entail, exactly? What does it mean? And what if my students don't share my values? Or what if they don't wanting me to interfere in their humanity and their spirituality?

And this whole criticism as art vs. criticism as science meme? Yeah, I would recommend that people just read them some new criticism (Especially Cleanth Brooks, Victor Shklovsky, and maybe some Eliot for good measure) and call it a day. No, I don't believe that reading is a "science," but I do believe that literary criticism is a disciplinary practice. The disciplinarity of literary studies is not opposed to art, for me, nor does disciplinarity equal "the application of sterile concepts." Also, this profoundly conservative argument ultimately reifies the art object and reduces to "sterile concepts" politically engaged forms of criticism, forms of criticism that have proved central to the expansion and revision of canons of literature, and forms of criticism that value voices that are not white, male, and dead. As a woman scholar, critic, and teacher, yes, that matters a hell of a lot to me.

When someone writes, as Edmundson does, "But unless we as a profession change our ways and stop seeking respectability and institutional standing at the expense of genuine human impact, they are destined, as Tennyson has it, to rust unburnished, and that's a sorry fate for them and for all of us," I wonder who decides what counts as genuine human impact, and, more than that, who actually counts as human. I wonder why theoretical thinking is construed in this context as respectable and institutional, while reading atheoretically is construed as, the essay implies, radical. I wonder why there is no in-between when we think about the relationship between theory, literary texts, and classroom instruction. Why is it either that we teach students to "love books" or that we force them to "apply theory"? Why can't we argue that students should first learn to engage carefully with literary texts (note: I say carefully - not necessarily sympathetically), independent of a stated critical approach, but that later, such approaches will help them to think in more complex ways about the literature that they encounter? Why can't we find room for literature as art object while at the same time we acknowledge that literary studies, as a discipline, has its own language, its own theories, its own metholologies?

And finally, is it a mistake that Edmundson alludes throughout his essay to Blake, Emerson, Matthew Arnold, Tennyson, Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Longinus, Orwell, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Whitman, Cervantes, Flaubert, T.S. Eliot, and Schopenauer, along with a slew of the Big Names of Theory (mostly male)? And that he mentions just one literary text by a person of color (The Autobiography of Malcolm X), and throws in the names of only one woman poet (Emily Dickinson) and one woman novelist (Virginia Woolf), in passing? Does reading without readings mean a return to the canon of 1960? Does reading without readings mean that ultimately anybody who's on the margins just doesn't really "count" very much, as those writings by or about those people don't help as much in the project of making us "human"? That sure is what it seems like from this essay.

Theory is not a threat to the transformative power of literature, or it doesn't need to be. And if students apply theory in ways that are reductive, maybe that's because their teachers aren't helping them to do something else, something better. Literature has the power to transform. Teachers have the power to educate, which may involve transformation, but also involves a lot of other things - socialization into a discipline being one of them. I really don't see myself as some sort of officiant of student transformation. That's not teaching. That's self-aggrandizement.

ETA: Undine posted in response to this over at her place. It's a great extension of the conversation.

One Hell of a Year

So, I finally caught up with my friend J. last night (we'd been playing phone tag for weeks), and we had a nice long talk about what we want in our lives, feeling a bit overwhelmed by changes that are happening to each of us individually, how the economy is making everything crazy for lots of people we know, etc.

It's weird, both J. and I are in a place of uncertainty right now career-wise, but for diametrically opposed reasons. You see, she just found out that her company is being bought out by a smaller company, and so the likelihood is that as of July 1 she won't have a job. She's been there a long time, so she'll get a good severance package, but she was the victim of downsizing almost 4 years ago (got a severance package, used the time to finally finish college, and then was hired back with her old seniority), and so this news is a real blow. Especially because she'd been feeling unhappy about her work situation for a good while now, had already updated her resume, but figured that she'd be able to stick it out until job prospects improved. Now, the decision is made for her.

In contrast, I now am in the place where there is total job security, which is awesome and which I do not take for granted, but it also means I have to figure out what I do next without the aid of any external motivation. Now, don't get me wrong: I am not saying that people should feel sorry for me because of this. That said, it's still a big conceptual leap to make, having been a person who had gotten used to jumping through hoops that other people set for me.

In any case, both J. and I are at a point where we're reviewing decisions that we've made and about where we want to go and how to get where we want to go now that we've reached this point. A lot of that involves thinking about how a personal life is going to look based on our current career situations, and a lot of it involves thinking pretty carefully about priorities in the coming year or two. J.'s considering grad school, but she's very ambivalent about it at this point - not sure whether she's thinking about it just because she went back to school the last time she lost her job. I'm certainly not thinking about more school (as IF!) but I am thinking a lot about needing a Next Big Project that will justify a sabbatical.

So anyway, I'm not sure what I really want to write about further in this post, but I felt so good after we talked last night. J. is just such a super friend, and I'm so lucky to have friends like her in what has been a pretty rocky year (both the '09 and the academic year).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tough Love

I first met BES in the Fall of 2007. She was a transfer student, and so hadn't encountered many faculty in our department. I met her because she went to a colleague of mine looking for an Honors Thesis Adviser. He was one of the few teachers that she'd encountered in our department, at that point. She told him what she was thinking, and he said, "Seriously? I am not the person you want. The person you want, if you really want to do what you propose, is Dr. Crazy." So he introduced me to her. And I was suspicious and in no way inclined to say yes to advising her without... well, without knowing her. But I met her, and we talked, and I felt, in the words of Anne of Green Gables, that we were Kindred Spirits, and well, so there is how our alliance was forged.

In the intervening time she's taken two courses with me, and we've spent a year and a half working on her senior thesis. Mentor Colleague of mine (who's seriously worked here longer than I've been alive and who's fabulous and who was my mentor toward tenure) has tried to poach her, but BES refuses to be poached. As I told her today, though, I so don't feel like it's a competition because I feel like Mentor Colleague is actually MY professor, and thus she and I are under the same umbrella. Anyway.

When BES first came to me, she indicated that she wanted to do a thesis that would prepare her for grad school in English. I gave her then, and I've given her many since, a speech about how that was a RISKY proposition. [Insert the diatribe about grad school in English here] But when I signed on, that was the project I signed on for: prepare this student for grad school at a school that doesn't really prepare students for that. And dude, if she wants it? It's hers. Yes, I've tried to dissuade her from the dream, because I feel like I should, but she is SO bright and SO capable. I really do believe she can maybe do it, or I'd not have agreed to this thesis project.

But so the road hasn't been easy. For me or for her. For her? Because I've been a real motherfucker to her. I've given her comments that are NOT comments for undergrads. I've not coddled her. I've not made her feel good, or even ok, about lame work. I've not even excused the lameness out of a sense of niceness or whatever. I've been a total hard-ass. In regard to the thesis, that is.

And she, well, she's not been easy either, in that she's done the classic shit of avoiding me, of resenting me, of refusing to do what her adviser tells her to do. Not out of conviction but out of laziness and rebellion. She's lost her shit and sobbed, she's thrown tantrums, she's pitched a fit. She's sulked and sighed. All of those things when she knew from the first day that I'm the Ill-Equipped Professor who barely has a napkin, let alone kleenex.

But I LOVE BES. She's seriously, like, my friend. I mean, it's weird as I'm like a professor-friend, but for real, she's not just some undergrad to me. She's somebody whom I'd figure as a peep.

So I forced her to give me a complete draft of her thesis this past week (after she'd been actively avoiding me for two weeks, in the way of anxious dissertators). And I spent at least 2 hours commenting on it by hand, with three different colors of ink. When I finished, I knew that I had to email her before she saw it or she would totally lose her mind in angst. So I emailed her yesterday, saying "BES, you're at a crossroads, and you can either choose A (finish the shit up and do nothing ambitious) or B (work your ass off and do work you never thought you could plus make the theory make sense to normal folks). I made it very clear that I was cool with both, and that I'd mentor her through either, happily. I made the point that this was HER project and that it really isn't mine. So she thought for approx. 24 hours.

Then she came to pick up the draft with all of the comments. And she lost her shit.

Luckily, Mentor Colleague comforted her for a few before I was out of class, and then as I came back to my office, I found her. I saw the look on her face and hugged her, she cried, I nearly cried, I talked her off the ledge, at a certain point I said, "Do you have a lighter? Because if you do I have cigarettes and I'll provide some for you," and then we went and smoked and she calmed down, and then we went back to my office and had a two-hour long confab, that was part meeting and part just hanging out and in which it was agreed that she'd come to my place on Friday (for thesis work, yes, but mainly for dinner, and wine) and I'd help her hash the shit of her thesis out. The thing is, and the thing that she didn't seem to get, is her thesis is already fucking passed. She's amazing. It's just -- her thesis isn't what I know she wants it to be. I'm committed to helping her to make that, if it's still what she wants.

So there are lots of things, related to this cathartic meeting with BES.

Things she was surprised about:
  • I never had a preconceived notion about what this thesis would be. I never had an idea in my head about what her thesis "was." I was always about helping her to get as far as she could go. And still am.
  • I wrote a shittier senior thesis than she's written already. Seriously. My standards for her have nothing to do with what I did as a student.
  • I really do see how totally far she's come. I'm proud of her - already.
  • I really don't think that this thesis is my business. I think that it's her work. I want to facilitate that work, sure, but I have absolutely no personal investment in it.
Things I've been surprised about:
  • I have a gift for giving people as much or as little feedback, at the appropriate times, as they need to do their best work.
  • I'm good at pushing a student past what they think are their limits, and bringing them over the threshold into a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing.
  • I'm really good at giving students ownership over their own work - for as stressed as BES is, she sees how much she's become her own scholar through this - and so do I.
All that being said? Thank freaking god I'm not responsible for a bunch of grad students writing their dissertations. I have absolutely no interest in that. I do not care fuckall about spreading my academic seed. I care about teaching. I care about helping my students to find their own voices and to find their own highest level. None of that involves being at a research university with grad students. My students aren't an accomplishment of mine, nor do I wish that they would be. FB laments that he can't have "real" grad students and that he can't advise good PhD types where he is (althought it's an actual research place). Nah, I'd rather have a random thesis student every now and again, and be able to get that person to a place to which they never dreamed of going. And to invite that student over for wine and cigarettes and theory. That's my scene. Totally.

The Rainbow's Working Its Magic!

What with the budget crisis (and what with shady accounting practices of my last chair), there was some uncertainty about how travel money would work out for the spring. My current chair (who RULES) had given me a figure for my recent conference, below what Former Chair had offered but reasonable.

It's a miracle! The money worked out such that I get the full amount Former Chair had Promised! Hallelujah! A full 260 bucks more! Huzzah!

Allergies are for Losers

Tree pollen is NOT my friend. I am also no huge fan of mold spores.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Somewhere Over the ....

I just saw not only a rainbow, but a double-rainbow. I ran into the house to get the camera so as to take a picture of it, but by the time I got back outside, it was pretty much gone. I'm not superstitious about most things, but I really believe that a rainbow means good things to come. I think I've been due for a rainbow for some time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Most of the Time I Do My Best Not to Do This....

So I started reading Sepulchre by Kate Mosse yesterday (a grocery store purchase made on a whim) and for the most part I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Now, is it the best book I've ever read? Not so much. But is it engrossing, entertaining, and a great pleasure-read? So far, yes.

Typically I can cut a book like this a ton of slack. And typically, I don't get too disgruntled when things are outlandish in such a book. So, for example, I'm on board with the whole "the tarot cards are sending definite signals" thing, and I'm also on board with the whole "there is an important connection between these people from a hundred years ago in the book and this biographer character from today" thing, and even I'm cool with the idea that there is something supernatural going on in the book.

But, in spite of my abilities in the area of willingly suspending my disbelief, I am decidedly not able to look the other way about the following passage:

"After a couple of years of researching and planning - but getting nowhere - she'd caught a break. Six months ago, a small start-up academic press made a modest offer for the book. The advance wasn't great but, given that she didn't have a reputation in the field of music criticism, it was pretty good. Enough to make her dream of coming to Europe a reality. She was determined to write not just another Debussy memoir but the book, the biography.

Her second piece of luck had been getting a part-time teaching post at a private college outside Raleigh-Durham, starting the spring semester. [. . .]

After ten years of paying her way through college, Meredith had racked up a lot of debt, and money was tight. But with what she made from teaching piano, combined with the advance from the publishing company and now the promise of a regular salary, she summoned up the courage to go ahead and book the tickets to Europe." (56-57)

I have tried to stop being irritated by the above, but DUDE! a "part-time teaching post" is not (as my readers here well know) a "regular salary" on which one could live, let alone justify a pricey trip to the UK and to France (Paying 10 Euros for breakfast! Agreeing to pay 30 euros for a 1/2 hour tarot reading! Staying in a swank hotel in the heart of Paris, and then in a 5-star place for a few days in the country as a "reward" for roughing it! Not taking the metro once! Flying as opposed to taking the train to the countryside!) by any stretch. And an advance from an small academic press for a first book? DUDE!

I realize my complaint here isn't terribly articulate, but this is exactly why I feel like people who aren't academics - or who have little to no familiarity with academic life - should not have characters whom they style as academics. Of course people think that this is a cushy gig, if the "realistic" parts of the book include these details! Hideous!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Which I Am Without Words

Ok, so you all know how I enjoy a Lifetime movie every now and again, and I did somehow get partially sucked into one this evening. Note: it is called "Then She Found Me," and it is about a mother who finds the daughter she gave up for adoption.

The cast includes Helen Hunt (who directed as well), Bette Midler, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, and....

Salman Rushdie. Playing a gynecologist.

No, I'm not kidding.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Well That's Weird

When I was in high school and college, I wrote stories and poems all the time. You'll laugh, but I actually thought that getting my Ph.D. was a "sensible" choice, as opposed to attempting to become some silly thing like a poet. (Not that becoming a poet is "sensible," per se, but it's no less sensible than going to grad school in English, as far as I can tell.) I was editor of my college's literary magazine (which I resurrected from the ashes - it had gone defunct prior to my arrival), I took workshops in poetry and fiction writing, I would give readings of my poems in public venues.

So anyway, graduate school, well, it did something to me where I stopped writing for myself. I came to believe that nothing I could write would ever be close to what I love reading, and it all just stopped. The stories went first, and later, the poems. I just didn't have it in me to write crap anymore, or so I explained it to myself. I've often thought that graduate school taught me too much - that graduate school ultimately ruined me for writing creative pieces. I should also note that I felt like graduate school ruined me for reading for a long time, too. I would say that I spent 5 or so years reading almost nothing just because I wanted to read it (unless I was rereading, which is something I've always done).

When I got my job, I returned to reading - reading for me. Not as much during the academic year, but still, I read for myself again. But the "creative" writing never returned. I had a scholarly book to write, articles to write, reviews to write, conference papers to write. And then I had this blog to write, which while in some ways creative, is also in many ways just me spewing. Or it's journalistic, or it's just... well, it somehow doesn't "count" in the same way. Which of course is why it's awesome, though it's also not quite the same sort of risk.

Sure, I've had moments where I've wanted to write a story or a poem. I've even attempted to participate in Nanowrimo once (though that lasted only about a week or two). I still jot down ideas, and I still think, "Oh, someday, that will be the thing, just not now, I'm not ready, I don't have the experiences I need to do anything really good...." (Of course, then I think about a writer like Zadie Smith who is a literary darling and who is my age, and I think that I'm an idiot because it's not like she had all this grand life experience when she was in her early 20s and published White Teeth, and no, I don't believe I'm Zadie Smith, but seriously - I'm definitely way more cool than Stephenie Meyer who's about my age and who is a zillionaire, so perhaps my problem is one of confidence, and not one of talent.)

But so today I sat down and wrote a poem. Unselfconsciously. I just felt like I had a poem in me, and I wrote a poem. Now, sure, it's probably crap. But I wrote it. Without overthinking it, and without worrying over it.

It's probably not very good. It's surely not revised.

Again, I think it's probably crap. But it's what happened today. And I'm kind of excited that it happened, even if it's crap.

Friday - Finally!

So I've got tons of things to catch up on this weekend, a student event to attend tonight, etc.

Anyway. That's not what I feel like writing about right now, though. What I feel like writing about is my inability to understand how anyone could possibly think that a person who is angry at them will become less angry if one ignores them and pretends that they don't exist. I mean, I get it if the person doesn't like the idea of dealing with the angry person, but to characterize checking out as being about taking care of the angry person and of the relationship just strikes me as totally disingenuous. Going and pouting in a corner isn't some positive course of action in my book, however one tries to spin it.

But I'm not going to write more about that because really, what is there to say?

In other news, I've been rereading Jeanette Winterson's The Powerbook. Let's end with a passage from her that captures how I feel in less rage-filled moments:

"I said I was afraid of not living.

I don't want to eke out my life like a resource in short supply. The only selfish life is a timid one. To hold back, to withdraw, to keep the best in reserve, both overvalues the self, and undervalues what the self is.

Here is my life - I have to mine it, farm it, trade it, tenant it, and when the lease is up it cannot be renewed.

This is my chance. Take it." (203)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Which I Brag about My Students

So today was our annual department awards ceremony, and I realized that in the 6 years I've been around, and 6 awards seasons, that I've had 2 students win the big award and like 4 win the "we love this student and this student is a pleasure to have in class" award, both cash prizes. And this year, I knew all but like 2 students who won the awards for the major (so like 5 of 7 awards or something). The point here is this: I attract smarties to me. And awesome students. Indeed, they cannot resist the Crazy.

Tragically, I was dressed like a homeless person today because I forgot it was the day of the awards ceremony. The good news is that BES's parents were there, and her dad was all, "I hope this isn't offensive, but how old are you anyway?" When I revealed that I'm 34, and that the question was actually complimentary in my book, he and her mom were all, "But you look like a student! We wouldn't guess you were over 25!" Once upon a time, this wouldn't have pleased me so much, but seriously: I now love being thought to look like a student.

So anyway, I have students who won book awards, a leadership award (one who gave me his poems to look at when he was a baby Freshman!), the outstanding senior writing award, the outstanding major award, and the "Miss Congeniality You're a Great Student to Have in Class" award. Now, on the one hand I will say that they are the ones who deserve the props for having won these. On the other, dude, there's a reason why my students are the big winners. It's because I attract the smarties to me and I help to make them outstanding.

I'm so proud of them all. They are all so freaking awesome. And the fact of the matter is, these students are as awesome as any student at an elite slac or at a fancy R1. They just don't have the histories that would have gotten them there. And no, I don't believe that choosing a CC for the first two years and then transferring to a fancy place would have insured some sort of brighter future for them. So when people talk about how institutions like mine are "doomed," well, I say to those people, you don't know what an institution like mine can do for students who would do just as well at fancier establishments, but who didn't have the guidance, support, or money to get there. My students rock, y'all. Maybe not all of them, but having taught at an R1 as a grad student, I can say with all confidence that not all of them rocked either.

I am so, so proud. Both of them, and of the teacher that I've been to them. And god, I'm going to cry my eyes out at graduation this year. I'm so happy for them, and so sad to see them go (for me).


So typically I'm the sort of person who is a great sleeper. My head hits the pillow, and I'm asleep in no time at all. And then I stay sleeping until it's morning (or until a certain Man-Kitty yowls for breakfast). For the past few days, however, I keep waking up approximately 3-4 hours after I've fallen asleep, and then I can't really go back to sleep to the point where I feel rested when it's really time to wake up. In addition, the waking up makes me restless, which then causes me to wake the kittens up, so all of us are cranky and off schedule. And then on top of that, I didn't buy coffee yesterday, and so I was down to the last of it, so I did this totally depression-era thing where I ran yesterday's leftover coffee back through the coffee maker along with some water and the remains of the coffee in the can (like 3 tbsp). It actually tastes pretty good, though I may just be lying to myself about that so that I won't be disgusted with myself.

In other news, I live in a Valley of Pestilence and Airborn Allergens, and so I'm sniffly and my eyes are watering (allergy meds have not kicked in yet). And I have about a thousand meetings today, as well as a mountain of grading, and BES has disappeared into the dark place where thesis students who are avoiding their advisers go. She'll have to see me today, but I feel like this might end up being one of those times where she cries. Sigh. I really can't hang with her crying today. And yes, I know that makes me a bitch, but seriously: I've got enough without that, too.

I'm also doing the thing where I'm reading stuff and I keep coming across passages that are Very Deep and Connected to My Life. I hate when I do that.

So yes. I am whiny and I'm annoying. And I'm feeling sorry for myself.

But it is Wednesday. Not long until the weekend. I must remind myself of that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to the Daily Grind

So I woke up reasonably early this morning, and I've done my prep for theory. One of the things that's been interesting about teaching this course is that I've remembered some things about how I read theory best (in the morning, and with discernible goals about what I'm hoping to achieve) and also I'm realizing how much is really trapped in my brain about theoretical approaches, stuff I'd not really had to call on since graduate school. Another thing that's been interesting is that I've really gained a lot of confidence in my talent at "translating" theory into small blocks, easily understandable chunks. As a graduate student, I often felt overwhelmed by theory, and a definite lack of confidence in my ability to communicate about theory. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I felt so intimidated by my adviser and other profs in the program, who seemed to be able to discuss theory in ways that were (to my novice eye) effortless. What I think I'm realizing now is that what I learned from them was how to do the exact same thing - to discuss theory in a way that appears natural, although there's really a lot of hard work that goes into getting to that point. I've tried as much as I know how to model for my students the nature of my reading process, and I think that's a good approach, but I also see reflected back at me in their questions and in their looks of consternation that they feel a similar sense of intimidation in response to me as I once felt in response to my professors. I keep trying to insist to them that this is a normal feeling, and that it means absolutely nothing about their intrinsic abilities to grapple with this stuff. I'm not sure whether they believe me.

So I need to meet with some students about Levinas, I need to hound BES about her thesis (which she's not turned in to me - alas), and I need to catch up on work for my online class and to prep for tomorrow. Things are progressing at a steady, if slow, pace.

So now it's time to get motivated, to get in the shower, and to get myself in to the office.

Monday, April 13, 2009


So today I spent the day chilling with the kitties and reading and then I watched In Treatment. I also wrote in my journal for the first time in months. So far so good, right? But now it's about that time when normally I'd be on the phone. And yeah, that feels a bit lonesome.

But why does it feel lonesome? Is it because I really want to be talking to that person? When I ask myself that question for real, the answer to that is no. At least, not if it would be another Wednesday-night-style conversation. And also not if it would be a conversation that pretended Wednesday night didn't happen. I feel lonesome because my routine for two years was to be talking on the phone right now. And you know, that's just not a good enough reason to be talking on the phone.

I'm a creature of routines. In order to be a successful academic, I think one has to be. The thing is, we don't have a lot of outside pressure to order our time. If one is going to get done all the things that one must, one has to have some sort of internal organization system, a penchant toward making routines for oneself so that one doesn't just transform into a sloth. But breaking routines is much harder for me than making them. Breaking a routine takes a lot more effort than sticking with one.

I feel a lot of anger that breaking this particular routine was on me to do. I'm really resentful of the fact that I had to make the change - a change I didn't really want to make - because I wasn't getting what I needed. This doesn't feel empowering to me - it feels irritating. This is not what I wanted, ultimately. I wanted to be able to do anything else but this. But here I am.

I'm also angry and resentful because I know that the lonesomeness I'm experiencing is less than the lonesomeness he's experiencing - because another of my routines is writing on this blog. My situation, ultimately, is one of total radio silence. He doesn't have a blog at all, let alone one on which he'd ever spill his guts. I'm cut off - totally. He, well, isn't. He can check in with me via this here blog. He gets to know what I'm thinking, what I'm feeling, what I'm doing. Now, I could shut down the blog, but seriously? Fuck off to that idea. Or I could choose not to write about how I'm actually feeling or what I'm actually thinking about. I could do a series of posts about teaching or research or something. I could cut him off from what's "really" happening. But how satisfying would that really be for me? How honest? Um, not very. And I'll admit, I hope he's reading and I want him to be reading because I think that he should have to deal with me. That's weird and lame. But it's how I'm feeling.

I think one of the reasons that I'm feeling that is because he'd mentioned a while ago that he was convinced if things ended with us that I'd just get over it in a snap. That he'd be bereft and wallowing while I'd be moving on. Because, of course, he's this total fucking victim of circumstance. As if just because I'd be the one to end it I'd be cool. And then he'd be able to feel sorry for himself ("Woe is me! She is moving on! I'm a loser!") while also being able to congratulate himself ("I'm very selfless and awesome! I have let her go and now she shall be happy!") Sure, that's convenient for him to think, but it's not true. And beyond not being true, it's a totally shitty way to think.

Here's a tip, fellows of the world who are too cowardly to end something that is lame: just because the girl ends it, it doesn't mean that she's "happy" now or that she's "fine" with the decision. In fact, she may be very distraught over the whole thing, while at the same time she feels regret and guilt and a general sense of unease about her decision. Even if she has no intention of changing her mind, she still might feel those things.

The bottom line is that he's neither a hero or a victim here. He's just an asshole, really. A coward. A fool. That's not why I ended it, but it's how I feel about his response to me ending it. And I don't feel "good" in feeling that. I feel horrible. But I'm not calling him. Because there's really nothing left for me to say. I'm not willing to pretend that what we've been is enough, nor am I willing to have another fight. The only thing, really, would be for him to apologize and to step up to give me what I need. And he's not going to. I get it. I really and truly do get it.

But god, that so sucks right now. Because I didn't want for this to be how things turned out. It's just - man, I'm an adult. And as an adult person? Yeah, I saw the writing on the wall. Once you acknowledge that there's nothing that you can do to change a thing? No matter what you try? The only thing for it is to stop that thing. Even if all you'd really want would be something else.

I spent 22 years of my life in a routine with my father, wherein I would be disappointed when he didn't give me what I needed, and then I would try harder - harder! - and still it wasn't enough, and then I'd decide to stop trying but would feel like a shitty daughter for it. I refuse to keep trying in that same way, and feeling the same bullshit guilt, now that he's gone. Crumbs are just not enough. What is convenient for the other person, in spite of my needs, just isn't enough. I couldn't say no to my father, not really, even though I tried. I can say no to just about anybody else. It's not on me to make this ok. It's not on me to fix it. It's not on me to make things comfortable.

I just can't believe that people who claim to love another person can act this way. I can't believe that if you love somebody you hurt them the way that he hurts me, and that it's in any way possible to justify that. It's really unforgivable. Unforgivable.

So. It's time to start making some new routines, right? To fill up the hole of this one with something else. But all I feel right now is empty. I don't feel like I know how to fill the hole.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back from the Big Easy

I am home. Stuffed with lovely food, much rejuvenated after days spent walking, hanging out, having girl time and new conference friend time... and did I mention the eating of the mountains of food? I had a woman (whom BFF and I have named "the leprous crone" but who has named herself "Fox") read my tarot cards in Jackson Square (and I have to say, I think that she may really have some gifts, as such things go, or at the very least I enjoy that she looks like an authentic gypsy complete with headscarf and that she only shows up when darkness falls - not when it's all touristy psychics all over the place).

In other words, a great weekend.

More tomorrow. I need to go spend some quality time with the kitties. Thanks for the support re: the last post. "Fox" had some really wise things to say about my situation, pretty much all of which are encompassed by her emphatic announcement "Other people's problems are not your problems." There was also a thing about a glass half filled with sand with a rock jammed in the top. In any case, I don't know what will happen, but the days away did not result in me feeling any differently than I felt Wednesday night, so I think I'm on the right path.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

You Know What Sucks?

Trying to break up with a person whom you've not seen since December, who is probably if not your single best friend in the world is definitely one of them, and who's doped up on vicodin because he likely has a kidney stone.

Perhaps Crazy's timing wasn't ideal with the drugs and all. But she feels both too old for this shit and too young for this shit at the same time.

Here's the thing. You know what I want in the next five years?

I want the following:

1) I don't want to live in an apartment.
2) If I'm in a romantic-style relationship, I'd like to see the person at least 6 times a year. (like in the next year or two)
3) Further, I think I would like to be in a committed, married-style relationship. (by year 5)
4) I want the option of having a baby. I'm not entirely sure about how that would work for me right now, but in the next five years, I want to be able to decide to do that if I want.
5) I want to know that if I decide to be in a relationship that the person I am in it with is equally in it. That includes actually motherfucking seeing me.

I do not think that those five things are too much to want. I am not being unreasonable. And so if I have been giving a person the benefit of the doubt for two full years, and those things are no nearer now than they were then, well, it is time for me to jump ship, right?

And NOT because that other person is a douchebag, or a loser, or because he has an inability to make plans, or because he is this total victim of the cruel, cruel world in which we live. It is time for me to jump ship because this sucks balls for me. He is not some victim of the world - he has made this world. This is his fucking world, and the fact that there is nothing that I can do to change it, sure, sucks, but clearly it was never my world to begin with.

My world is nice, and there is hope and happiness and flowers and such in my world. This world with HIM? BULLSHIT. That's what makes up that world. Total and complete bullshit. And it's not that I'm naive, or that I want too much, or that I don't understand complexity, or whatever. No. It's that he can't step up. Done. I need to be done.

(I don't feel done.)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


So I'm leaving (on a jet plane... don't know when I'll be back again... - except I do, because dude, return tickets and jobs and work and all that) on an 8:45 flight tomorrow for The Big Easy, and I am so in a state.

The Good:
  • The paper is written. I'm sure I'll tweak on the hard copy, but it's written. And if I do say so myself, I'm saying some interesting shit, theoretically. Sure, I only get there in the conclusion, but if I really cared, I could turn this into something that actually made a difference to people. It is not that now, but it doesn't need to be.
  • I got a boatload of grading done this evening, which was good, although the reason I had the time was bad (students unprepared, the Big Speech about Not Being Able to Teach People Who are Not Prepared, get out of my sight, blah).
  • Wine.
  • Oh! and I just (yesterday) got a thank you note from a person for whom I wrote a letter of rec.! She got into a great Library Science grad program! Huzzah!
The Bad:
  • Packing? I need to do that, right?
  • Exactly how clean does a house need to be for a pet-sitter? I have been pondering this all day long, while not cleaning. I am fairly certain that I need to pack up the ceramic Christmas tree on the dining room table or the jig will be up. Yes, I'm that sort of person.
  • I've been ruminating for about two weeks about a Major Life Decision that involves ending a certain phone habit (which really is all it is at this point). I shouldn't write more about this. I just deleted tons. The point is, Crazy is feeling, in the words of those crazy kids from Laguna Beach, "donezo."
The Random:
  • I'm obsessed with that show "Chopped" on the Food Network. Part of this has to do with my love of all things FN. Part of it has to do with my love of trying to think what I would make with the random ingredients (I SOOOO would have made a curry with the turkey breast, pearl onions, baby turnips, and coconut! Stupid contestants!) and part of it has to do with my weird attraction to sometime judge Scott Conant, who I think is a real dick (as I did when he dissed Fabio on Top Chef) but who nevertheless compels me. I feel like he does have good taste in food. What can I say? That said, I really do think he's a dick. I hate myself for finding him compelling.
  • I totally want Mindy to win Rock of Love Bus. I know she's doomed, as were Amber and ... Whatsername from the first season, but whatever the case, she's my choice. But seriously, he should always be with Heather from the first season, even though apparently he felt more of a "friend vibe" with her.
  • In Treatment is amazing. It is the one show that I cannot multitask while watching. I am riveted. I love it even more this season than last. You must watch it, if you have not. Gabriel Byrne. Dianne Weist. Freaking Hope Davis and John Mahoney. I feel this way, that I can't do other things in the meanwhile, only while reading books. In Treatment is like a really good freaking book, and I'm a person who doesn't think every book falls into that category. There are books I multitask while reading. Seriously.
  • Speaking of which, I'm going to be at my conference this weekend with BFF. We have vowed that we will only attend Twilight panels.

Wow. Just Wow.

Ok, so before this day, I'd never looked at the published annual salary report for my institution. I always thought that it would leave me filled with rage to do so, or that it would make me disgruntled or something. I'm not about the whole comparing what other people are getting relative to what I'm getting if I'm happy with what I've got. I'm not sure why I just looked at it (other than that it didn't require going over to the library) but, um, let's just say I'm not disgruntled, though I think I have a better sense of why some other folks (who are the type who like to make such comparisons) are.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not making a million dollars or something, in comparison with my colleagues. It is very clear, however, who negotiated successfully when they started and who, for whatever reason, didn't. Now, when I did my negotiating, lo, those many years ago, I sort of felt like I didn't exactly set the world on fire. I only ended up getting a bump of a grand to what they initially offered, and I felt like I was a bit silly even having bothered to ask. However, I now see how that bump has grown so man, any bump you can negotiate to your base is totally worth it.

I also see, as I look at the numbers, that it was probably worth it that I not only went on the market but also that I was open with administrators about doing so selectively, while at the same time I was busting my ass to be as productive at this institution as possible. I never got an offer, but I think that those interviews during a flush budget year (though, let's be real about the fact that I was not calculating this when I decided to put my cv out there) - the same year that I got my book contract (a happy accident timing-wise) - had to have affected my raise in that year, which only widened the gap further between me and some of my colleagues who entered around the time that I did. I think that the raises I've gotten reflected my department's desire to keep me here, though at the time I didn't think much of them (because again, I never asked other people what they got - I just figured everybody's raises were as lame as mine were, when apparently lots of people got much lamer raises than I did). Looking at my salary now, I suspect even if I'd gotten another offer, it would have ended up being unlikely that they would have matched my salary - let alone bumped it higher.

But so now, there is like a 3-4 grand differential in base salary between me and people with whom I went up for tenure this year. Since the tenure raise is 8% of one's base, that gap widens this year, as somebody who's making 50K will only get a 4K raise, whereas somebody making 54K will get a 4,320K raise. Moreover, since there will likely be no actual raises this year, that bump will put me at about the same pay level as about 75% of people who already rank at associate (some of whom who've held that rank for 10+ years - this is what people are on about when they freak out about salary compression).

Another thing that looking at this report has done is solidify my intention to go up for full as soon as is reasonably possible. On average, people ranked at full in my department make a 10-20K more than the people who rank at associate (though obviously some of them have been around for a very long time, so that has to be taken into account). That whole "it's not worth it to go up for full" thing? Totally a stupid move, as again, while it may not be a huge raise at the outset, that raise in base pay clearly makes a huge difference over time. Also, being on the "associate track" - at least in my department - seems to apply mostly to women, which means that I've got just one female colleague who's cracked the 60K mark.

Now, I know that it's not terribly classy to talk about money in this way, but it strikes me that it's a good thing to do, if only because I think a lot of the people who haven't done as well as I have money-wise at this institution have in part ended up in that position because they just didn't know any better. The fact of the matter is, the initial offer that I got - ABD, first year on the market - to work here, was pretty darned good. I know that some of my colleagues didn't negotiate because they just assumed that there would be no room for the administration to pay more. They were just happy to get a t-t job, and a fair offer to boot. My approach (based on advice from savvy mentors) was to ask because the worst they'd say was no. I also think that there is a perception at my institution that research carries no material rewards here, and you know, that's crap. In fact, I think that it's the only thing that merit pay is based on, if the salary report is any indication. People who publish get raises. People who don't, well, even if they do, they are small. Regardless of their work in the classroom or the mountains of service work that they do.

I'm not saying that this system is "fair." It's not "fair," even though I am comfortable that I am worth every penny of what they're paying me. "Fair" would mean transparency about how to achieve a higher base salary and higher annual raises to that base. The fact that I had the confidence to negotiate (and the encouragement to do so and good advice about how to go about it), and the fact that I intuitively did the sort of work that would be rewarded with raises (even though nobody ever stated that "research = money") is a fluke, ultimately. So while I've earned every penny, no, the system isn't "fair." Also, we should totally be mentoring people to full, and encouraging people to go up for full, which we don't do in my department. Instead, we mentor people to tenure as if it's the finish line, and then people (and their salaries) stagnate. It's one thing if people know the facts and choose this path, but my impression from looking at the report is that this is less about choice than about inertia. And the fact that we're all too middle-class to talk about money openly.

So anyway, it turns out that I'm very well-compensated for my work. I always thought I was fine money-wise, but who knew I was this fine?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

My Students Rule

Now is the time for presentations of student research, and this year a number of my students participated. They did so, so well. Indeed, my chair and other colleagues noted that really the work that they are doing is more on the level of grad work than undergrad - better than much of what gets presented at professional conferences. And sure, you see my influence, but they're exploring their own questions, and they're having ideas that are original.

The work is all theirs. They deserve the total credit for that. But man, am I proud of them. And of myself for helping them to have the ideas that they want to have.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Ranting, Raving

  1. Actually, the whole reason that I schedule library instruction on the freaking syllabus - taking a whole class period for it - is so that I can say things like "do a keyword search limited to books in the MLA database" and you will go do that without me having to teach you how to do it individually.
  2. Probably the day before the annotated bibliography is due is not the day to email me about how you have no clue how to use library databases.
  3. The whole point of the vote is that no, I will not be incorporating whole new proposals that are not well conceived into the fully developed proposal with my name on top of it that goes to the department. If you would like your half-brained idea to go to the department, you will need to do the actual, um, work. I will not be doing it.
  4. I hate people. This includes students and colleagues.
  5. I do not hate cats. Although I do find certain ones that I live with very annoying today.

Conference Paper, Done Enough

Now, "done" of course is a matter of opinion, and is this the best thing I've ever written? Uh, not so much. But it's done enough to present, and thank god because I've got about a thousand other things I need to do between now and Thursday when I leave for New Orleans. All I want to do is to go back to bed, now that this is accomplished, but I've got to meet with students at noon, so alas, no return to bed for me. Sigh.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Victory!

CTTCCFPD has not crushed Crazy into a fine and powdery dust! No, indeed! Instead, the hard work, the politicking, the sleepless nights, the rage have all resulted in a vote that is a positive and unequivocal mandate for Crazy to proceed forward in exactly the fashion that she thought should happen all along!

Crazy is a masterful strategist with the unswerving support of a full 2/3 of her colleagues! Our major will no longer be stuck in 1975! The haters have been silenced! All is right with the world!

Summer Teaching

So my university has instituted a new policy about summer courses. Historically, if a course made its enrollment and was held, a f-t faculty member would make .9% of her base salary for each course. If a faculty member chose to teach two courses (the maximum allowed), that means that in only 5-8 weeks (depending on the summer term in which the courses took place) a person could make nearly 20% of her annual salary. This approach was intended to encourage f-t faculty (on 9 month contracts) to teach over the summer, which helps students to graduate on time, brings in revenue to the university when students from elsewhere take classes while home over the summer, etc. Indeed, in the past, departments had been rewarded with extra pots of money based on the summer FTE hours that they generated, in addition to the individual benefit of being able to make nearly 20% of one's base salary extra. (We haven't seen that extra money for departments in a few years, I should note.)

Under the cover of the economic crisis, two significant things have happened. First, the administration has decided that summer pay should be prorated based on enrollments. This means that if you don't get x bodies into the seats of your courses, you will not make the full summer teaching salary. Second, the "minimum enrollment" for full salary is higher than the minimum for a course to go. So, for example, let's say one is scheduled to teach a gen. ed. course that has an enrollment cap of 25. In order to get the full salary for teaching the course, one has to have at least 15 students enrolled in the course. (Note: your salary won't increase if you are teaching to a full house.) If, however, only 11 enroll? Now, technically the course still might "go," but the faculty member would only make 11/15 of the salary he/she was expecting when he/she signed up for summer teaching. The faculty member might choose not to teach the class, but the faculty member has to decide no later than 2 weeks before the summer term starts. For a gen. ed. course, this policy is not too transparent: basically, it means that if a faculty member bows out, the department has two weeks to get an adjunct in there (teaching for much, much less). And if 5 students enroll in the two weeks before the course starts? Well, the faculty member who bowed out has no recourse to take the course back. The faculty member is just out the summer teaching.

This change happened pretty much by fiat, and it was announced after summer teaching schedules were made. Now, on the one hand, a person slated to teach a gen. ed. course probably doesn't have a whole lot about which to worry. Those tend to fill in the summer. But what if, in the interest of one's program, one agreed to teach an upper-level undergrad course or a grad level course in one's specialization over the summer? Well. The "minimum" for full pay for those courses is 10. (Yes, the number for undergrad courses and grad courses is the same.) The course that a person agreed to teach may have a significant impact on students' time to graduation, and there are not very many of these offered. At the same time, the audience for such courses is also much smaller. It's not unlikely that one might end up with, say, only 8 enrolled in such a course.

Let's say that there are only 8 enrolled. The faculty member still has the option, two weeks out, to say no to the course. But can another instructor be brought in to teach the course? In this case, no. First, our department policies are such that adjuncts can't teach upper-level undergrad or grad classes. Second, the whole point of these courses is that they are taught by "experts" in the field with specialized training and a specialized point of view. If a colleague of mine was slated to teach a grad level course in restoration drama, really only that colleague would be qualified to teach it. Not only couldn't an adjunct reasonably step in at the last minute, but I or another f-t person couldn't either. We wouldn't be qualified to do so. Also, I question the wisdom of thinking that anyone should prepare an advanced course with just two weeks in which to do so, having never given it a thought before then.

So let's say that the faculty member thinks, "No way, dude! I'm not teaching for less money!" in an upper-level/grad context. That means most probably that the course will be canceled, right? But what if those 8 students all really need the course? Where does that leave them? And who is the bad guy here? The faculty member, right? The university didn't cancel the class. It wasn't technically under-enrolled. The faculty member decided not to teach it, screwing the students, when we all know that faculty members don't really work for the money but rather for their own personal edification and because they are committed to a "life of the mind." Thinking about monetary compensation for work is just gauche in this context, surely.

I'm scheduled to teach two summer courses this summer. I am teaching in the summer because it's a way to quickly erase my credit card debt without a lot of personal sacrifice and to come up with a down payment for a house. If I came into an inheritance, won the lottery, or similar, I would not be teaching in the summer. That's a fact. I am not teaching in the summer because I just love teaching so much. I'm teaching in the summer because I want the cold hard cash. I know. I am a mercenary. I am a bad person.

Now, the one course is a gen. ed. course, and I would be surprised if it doesn't make the minimum enrollment for full pay. Of course, this is still a gamble, but I'm confident. The other course that I agreed to teach, however, is a grad course. I said I'd teach it to help out our DGS, and I did so when the old rules were in place about pay. Priority registration only began yesterday, and there are four students enrolled, and I think another student will likely enroll today. This is a very good sign, right out of the gate. BUT, it's entirely possible that I will not get to 10 students. In my head, I've decided that I would be willing to teach the course as long as I get 8, my personal cut-off. (The course would be good for my research, and I'm willing to take that much of a hit in the service of my research if necessary.) That said, it sucks that I'm in the position of making the call to cancel the course if it only makes it to 7. The reality, though, is that I'm not willing to do 100% of the work of this course if I'm only making 70% of my summer salary for it. The amount that the course would contribute to my research wouldn't make up for that 30% pay cut.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Shmedagogy, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to BES's Thesis

So earlier today I bemoaned the fact that I've become that professor - the professor who does shit to fill time, shit that involves watching movies of books we've read and stuff on youtube - but what seems apparent from the "experiments" (if you can call them that) of the past couple of days is that both have pedagogical value. I'm not saying I really believe in doing this shit as a rule, but in both cases these were really valuable in terms of bringing the material to my students. As opposed to just giving me time that I needed, although both things did that, ultimately. In other words, maybe I really do need to be less hard on myself, as even when I think I'm slacking, I come up with things that are really worth doing for the students. A. said tonight that she wishes she had teachers like me when she was in college. I replied, "I know I'm supposed to be modest here, but so do I!"

I really am a great teacher. I didn't come to academia caring all that much about teaching, but seriously: teaching is the thing that I'm most proud of. The fact that I didn't come to academia for teaching is part of why I beat myself up for trying things like the short-cuts of this week, but it's also why my short-cuts are also totally awesome - because I really don't take teaching for granted as "the thing I do" or "the thing I'm best at." Even when I am short-cutting, I do it with thought. This week, I think that worked out in really positive ways. In ways I think I might even incorporate in future, regardless of the biases that I hold near and dear. Dude, sometimes teaching the movie makes absolutely perfect sense. And sometimes having students watch a theorist on youtube is a really great idea. I'm glad I learned that.

And the bonus is that I've got one stack of overdue tests graded. Life is good.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to BES's Thesis

So you all know that BES is determined to go to graduate school. This has caused me no end of internal pain, as I've feared that she was dead set on my field, one of the most competitive in the whole world when it comes to jobs. Now, BES is awesome and there is no way that I wouldn't support her in her grad school ambitions. But have I wanted - for some time - to advise her away from my field? Uh, yeah! But how to do that when she's writing a thesis with me? How to do that when she's been so passionate about the things about which I'm most passionate? So we had a meeting today about the Thesis That Will Never Be Finished (though of course it will, though for me it feels like a lifetime will go by before she'll get there). We talked about the thesis, we talked about grad school applications (she'll apply next year), and we talked about the advice that she got from Most Awesome Colleague Who Was My Mentor Toward Tenure and Who Is Fabulous and what he said to her about the whole shebang, as well as about Other Colleague Whom I Love with a Love that Is Pure and True who will be her other recommender. Here's the thing: we (my fabulous colleagues and I), in attempting to advise BES, in ways that are supportive of her "passion," have been stupidly advising her against what she really wants to do and against what she'd really be most happy doing (I think).

See, here's the thing. One book that "changed her life" is the book that is featured in the first chapter of my book. Another book that "made her see everything differently" is featured in another chapter of my book, and is a book that she is using in her thesis. All roads would point to her specializing in my specialization, right? That's why Other Colleague directed her to me for her thesis. Except she really thinks that she wants to do American literature. And she really wants to love the two aforementioned books - as well as the others that I work on - with a love that is pure and true, and not with a love that is compromised by criticism. And except she is sick of the things in my wheeelhouse and hates that she's "ruined" things she once loved and that meant so much to her with the criticism. So she (following our advice) thought she should emphasize literature of my period, except American. Except. She doesn't really care about American literature of my historical wheelhouse. And (as I told her today) that's actually a worse choice than my field, as far as job prospects.

And so then we had "the talk." She actually loves American lit of the century before. Like really. She's just not in love with it. It was at this moment that I realized that I didn't choose the thing that I was in love with as my field of specialization. I mean, I knew it before, but I never knew it in the present tense so viscerally. See, the literature that I most love - uncritically? It's so not what I work on. I read Jane Eyre like it's the best book in the world, but I'm not a critic of it. Even having taught it - in like an intro class or a survey class. Sure, I've read some criticism, but I love that book - I don't interrogate it. And that's because at a certain point I realized I never wanted to be a critic of it. I thought that really interrogating it and living with it as a critic would ruin it for me.

BES feels that way about the stuff in my field. For real. And so if she's going to do grad school? She so needs not to do my thing - not because it's a bad market in that field but because she'll be miserable if she does.

And today? When I told her that my field was not her field? On her face? In her heart? Relief, total relief. She was totally excited to be given permission to think that what I do is not what she really does or has to do.

BES is awesome. But she's no mini-me. She's her own lady, for real. As much as I've shaped her ideas, and influenced her approaches to texts, she doesn't want to do what I do, and that is cool. It is so not about me, and not about me replicating myself. And she thanked me for showing her that she didn't want to spend her life on Thesis Author. And I loved that, because seriously, I love her. I want her to do what she should d0 - I don't want to replicate myself.


So those are my things tonight. BES is awesome, and so is my Shmedagogy :)

Pedagogy, Shmedagogy

I am typically not a teacher who does things just to fill time. When I do group work, I do it because I think students need practice doing certain tasks, and that they learn by doing, as opposed to me doing for them. When I show films, I do so with a pedagogical purpose, typically forcing students to fill out worksheets and such and to really engage with the film as a literary text. In other words, I don't just show the movie version of the books that I teach, or whatever.

I don't cut corners by showing a movie instead of teaching, or give group work because I don't feel like actually teaching.

Except this week.

Because with the death of my father, with an upcoming conference for which I've not even begun the paper, with student research projects I'm supervising, I'm so ridiculously behind that I find myself having to fill time as opposed to teaching in the way that I know that I should. And I hate it. But I'm trying to cut myself some slack and to give myself permission to do this in the service of getting my shit together.

But it does make me loathe myself just a little bit. I'm a better teacher than this. I hate feeling so at loose ends that I can't do my job well.