Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Well, it's Wednesday. We're about a third of the way through the semester, and I am.... ugh.

The good:

  • I'm caught up with grading in two of my four classes.
  • I had a lovely 2-hour-long lunch with MC at Bob Evans. We both ordered breakfast. I think I was one of only three people there who were under the age of 65.
  • $700+ later, the bumper of my car has been replaced with a shiny new bumper, after the accident earlier in the month. Did I mention it was a former student who hit me? Classic.
  • The changes to our major passed without incident through the department.
  • The kittens are having a little post-dinner bathtime wrestling match at my feet. I do believe that they missed me today.
  • I bit the bullet and stayed at school until 7 to finish and submit applications for: release time in the spring (as if I'll get it - ha!), a summer fellowship (money without teaching! please, please please let me get it, though I'm not optimistic), an internal grant for money to travel and to hire a research assistant to do grunt work (also please, please, please, but unlikely), my sabbatical (if I don't get it, I will raise holy motherfucking hell).
  • I've made tentative plans to have lunch with New Colleague, whom I like a ton.
The bad:
  • I'm way behind on grading in two of my four classes. Tomorrow is another day, I suppose.
  • I'm booked solid tomorrow with meetings and teaching, and also I've got to get that grading done in the AM. Looks like I'll arrive at the office at 10 AM and be booked solid until my class ends at 9 PM.
The ugly:
  • Now that the new major has passed through the department, I have to spend the weekend doing all of the curriculum forms to put the changes through the university curricular process. Because we've entirely restructured the major, this will involve doing a separate curriculum form for each and every course we have on the books. I want to die.
  • The rest of my weekend will be consumed with minor revisions to two articles.
  • I hate everything.
The I don't know:
  • I just got my "royalties" statement from my publisher. Of course, I don't actually get royalties until the book sells 500 copies, and thus really this is just a statement of how many copies my book has sold, and how much money the publisher has made off of my little book. So it's sold 144 copies in the 10 mos. or so that it's been out. Is that good? I don't think any reviews have actually appeared, though I've heard good things from people via word of mouth. But seriously: what would "good" sales figures look like? Because I have no fucking idea. I'm honestly pretty surprised that without reviews 144 copies have been sold. Also, the thing still isn't listed in the MLA bibliography. I suppose I need to do something about that. Right?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Downside of Thinking

In my first year of college, when I read Virginia Woolf for the first time - I mean really read her - I descended into an irritable funk. This was not because I didn't "like" what I was reading. It was a whole lot more complicated than that. I descended into the text, and I was uncomfortable, and absorbed, and the intensity of my emotional response was such that I vividly remember picking a fight with my boyfriend, not because of anything that he did or did not do, but because I couldn't really handle what I was feeling in response to the text, or translate what I was feeling to who I was. I figured (I guess) that what I was feeling must extend outward, or have some "real" cause, and so I freaked out. I lashed out. This is a really visceral memory. I remember sitting on the floor of my dorm room, about a hundred pages into To the Lighthouse, and on the one hand really feeling like I was getting it - getting everything - for the first time, and I remember stopping reading and calling FL up and losing it on him. I remember in the aftermath of that really freaking crazy outburst thinking that I probably shouldn't let myself interact with the world without a few hours of a break after reading. That I needed to come down off of the book before I did stupid things.

Now, as much as I realized this at the time, about 17 years ago, I can also recount many examples of this pattern recurring. Because I still have those kinds of responses from time to time, and sometimes I don't have enough critical distance to realize that my problem is a problem of absorption, and not a problem with an actual person. Sometimes I can't find the line that separates my aesthetic responses from my everyday life.

Last night I felt this, but luckily I actually was able to identify what was going on and I didn't direct all of that energy outward. I was able to stop myself and to think about what was actually happening.

I think the issue is this: I'm fine when I'm just sort of floating along, reading around, reading for teaching, reading for something related to something of minor interest. But sometimes, I'd estimate about every 7 years or so, I embark on a path. I come upon an idea or set of ideas that really overwhelms me and intrigues me. I'm not just screwing around, floating, but rather I commit. And that commitment produces an excess of energy. When I'm really having big new ideas, when I'm really working through tough intellectual questions and really in the process of formulating my position within and relation to a text or texts, I go a little crazy. And because I don't know what to do with all of that energy, my go-to response is to translate that feeling as being pissed off.

However excited I am about a project - and really, there's a lot of excitement bound up in this - there's also an angry, upset edge to it. It's intense, and it's difficult for me to control. It's this mix of obsession and fear, of passion and insecurity. It's important, but it's not pleasant.

Luckily, I know, because I've been down this road before, that this phase passes. Ultimately, once I'm out of this initial phase, I will settle into a routine of boring and regular tasks. I will put the thing together, piece by piece, and I will turn all of this chaos into some kind of tangible product. But I have to move through this phase first. I understand that, but I'm irritated by it. I wish I were the sort of person who didn't have this phase.

So, as you might have gathered, this is all bound up in the Next Book. (Referred to from this point forward as NB. And yes, you can expect to read about NB for like the next five years.) On the one hand, I know it's really happening now. It's not just something I'm playing with anymore, or something I'm just devising toward the goal of getting a sabbatical. Somewhere over recent weeks, I've committed. I've gone down the rabbit hole. And I haven't been this excited or this focused on a project since I devised my dissertation project which then became the first book.

I think I knew that this was really happening yesterday when I started a research journal - something I've not kept since I was in the drafting phases of the dissertation/book. You know, I don't think I've looked at that journal once since I finished drafting - and I'm not even sure I looked at it all that much while I was writing. But there's something comforting in having a place reserved for all of my errant ideas, for all of my angst, for all of the things that I don't know what to do with at this early point.

You know, I always tell my students that really thinking should cause some discomfort. That there's a price for really thinking, for seeing things in a new way. And I really do believe that. But as much as I believe it, wow, I hate experiencing it. It makes me positively cranky.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some Thoughts about Course Policies and Class Management

I got to thinking about this because of a tale told by Maude, a tale of a student challenging a fairly meaningless grade, as well as because of how a student responded to me recently when I reminded the student that zie didn't need to notify me regarding absences, for I don't do the whole excused/unexcused thing.

First, let me just note for the record that my course policies used to be way stricter on paper than they are now. Deadlines? If a student didn't get it in by the deadline they'd get a zero. Tardiness? A student who was more than 10 mins. late would get charged with an absence, a zero for the day. Can't be in class on the day of a test? Zero. Zero Zero Zero. I was the "You get a zero, you do not pass go, you do not collect 200 dollars" lady.

But the thing that I realized, after maybe a couple of years on the tenure track, was that though I was the Dragon Lady on paper, I wasn't actually enforcing my policies properly. Why? Because it took so much energy to do so, and because whatever the theory behind them, they just weren't working - for me, or for my students.

I mean, I'm a Mean Lady and all, but I couldn't find it in my heart to be the Enforcer. It took the joy out of teaching for me, and it really wasn't producing the desired effect - engaged and invested students. And so I made some modifications.

Now, I don't say this to quarrel with anybody else's policies at all. I think that when I first started on the t-t I felt like I had to show who was boss. I don't think, though, that I really believed that I was the boss, and so my policies weren't really my policies - they were policies that I cobbled together that I thought would make me the boss. The problem is, if one isn't comfortable with one's policies, the whole boss-lady thing falls apart. You're not the boss, you're a jerk. So the thing is, I don't think that there was anything wrong with my more strict policies in themselves - it's that those policies just didn't work for who I am as an instructor.

So I've been operating under a revised set of policies for about the past 4 years. The policies that I have, I follow. But they offer me much more flexibility than I had previously, and that flexibility (which fits much better with my style as a teacher) has resulted in a happier me and in happier students. Here are some examples:

1) When I said that I'd give a zero to any paper not in by the deadline, I found I didn't follow that in all cases, which was pretty fucked up. So my policy now is, if I choose to accept a late paper (which I typically do, though I reserve the right not to do so) it gets docked a letter grade for each calendar day that it's late. Because I've spelled that out, I get many fewer students trying to beg for clemency or for an exception to the rules. Instead, there's a policy clearly stated, and I follow it, and they know what's coming if a paper comes in three days late.

2) I used to say that I wouldn't accept any papers via email. Except students would still email them. And I'm a softie, and so I found myself accepting them and printing them out. Now (in face-to-face classes) my policy is that if you email it by the deadline, I'll count it as in by the deadline, but it's the student's responsibility to get me the hard copy within one week of the deadline. You don't get the hard copy in, without me hounding you, you get a zero. Never have I had to give a zero for that reason. At the end of the day, they're thankful that I'll accept it as in on time, and they're sure to get me the hard copy. Less scrambling for me, less having to listen to tales of woe about printers that don't work and tragedies related to papers left in the car/at home/at ../*boyfriends houses, etc, and ultimately, less hassle.

3) It's cool with me as long as students get me a paper on the day that it's due. Again, I'd rather not listen to tales of woe and judge whether I'm being manipulated or lied to. Nobody tells me a tale of woe with this policy in effect.

4) While I still have policies related to absences/tardiness (which affect the participation grade, I also have added language that says that if you are tardy x amount of times or absent x amount of times, I'll just ask you to drop the class. This makes my life so much easier than when I was trying, day in and day out, to play the role of Enforcer. Students do, on occasion, refuse this request, but it's very rare, and when they do, if they don't get it together, they're not surprised when they do poorly in the course, so at the very least I don't have as many grade challenges on my hands. Dude, even they get that if a professor asks you to drop the class that you may very well end up doing poorly if you remain.

Those are the main things.

Now, the interesting thing, though, is that some students actively want me to be more hands-on in my approach, and this brings me to the student who seemed actively insulted when I reminded hir of my absence policy and when I indicated to zie that it wasn't necessary to email me with excuses for each absence. This student has been ill, and I don't doubt that, but dude, I'm not the Judge of Acceptable Absences. You get a week free. I assume you're using those absences wisely. Once you go beyond the freebies, it affects participation. I don't think less of you if you are absent more: I just grade you accordingly. But there are students who really think that I stay awake nights thinking that they're slackers. FYI: I don't. I seriously don't care. It's their education, not mine. But some students really, really don't like this. They also don't like that even if they have a "good reason" for getting work in late that they still get penalized. Ultimately, they don't like it that I refuse to treat them like children.

In that regard, you're kind of damned if you do (choose very strict policies that require a lot of time and energy to enforce) and damned if you don't. But my thought is this: if you're damned either way, why not choose policies that require less time and energy? Especially if you can get better results doing so?

But some other things I've learned regarding this enforcement business:

1. If a student sends an email that does not require a response, I don't respond. So the student who seemed insulted at the email reminder of the course policies? Yeah, zie didn't ask me any questions in that reply, and I didn't respond. Email takes time. I've got precious little of it. As long as zie is aware of what's going on with hir grade, we're square. If zie were to email me again, see #2.

2. I don't conduct business over email that would better be conducted in person. If you want to challenge a grade or a policy? You need to make an appointment to meet with me in person. Something that can take 15 minutes in person can totally take hours and days over email. Not worth the hassle.

3. It's not how strict your policies are that gives you authority: it's how well you enforce the policies that you do have. And it's a hell of a lot easier to enforce policies that mesh with your general personality and teaching style than to enforce policies that are contrary to those things.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


So I've got a studentwho is... well, this student clearly has a lot of things to say. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. We all hope that students have lots of things to say and have a desire to contribute. But from the first day, this student has been trying to shout me down. And to shout the other students down. Clearly the loudest voice wins, right?

Well. Not on my watch. Not in my classroom. Not since my first semester on the tenure track, no way.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned, as a youngish (still the youngest, as far as I can tell, many hires in) professor in my department in that first year on the tenure track, was that I could never afford to let a small group or an individual within the class dominate. Because the moment that I did that my authority was compromised; the moment that I did that , all those students who don't seek to dominate would be silenced. My mistake my first semester in was that I thought if I ignored it that it would go away. It didn't, and the other students hated me for it (or pitied me for it, which may have been worse).

So I'm no longer the naive young lass who tried to ignore the dominator (or dominators). I talk back. I refuse to accept that person's (or group of people's) opinion, if it is wrong-headed. My hope is that I model how to resist, for those students who feel dominated. My hope is also that the person who attempts to shout me down realizes a) that I'm the motherfucking professor and that no matter what their assertions are that mine count more, because, you know, I've got a PhD and I'm the motherfucking instructor of the course and I give them their grade, and b) that other people's voices in the class matter exactly as much - if not more - than theirs does.

But you know what? If I could wish for one thing and one thing only? I would wish that those who think they are going to dominate, or that they have the right to dominate, or who think that I'm not up to the challenge of managing them and indicating that they should fuck right off, would just go take a class that is not mine. I do not relish beating them down - I don't enjoy it, and I don't think it's good for the other students in the class to see it, really. I wish all of the dominators would congregate, would fight to the death, and that would be that. I hate having to show them who's boss. Mainly because it's a waste of my motherfucking time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Radar

My duties as spokesmodel continued today, and I think I have to face that I'm no longer an unknown faculty member. I know, right? You'd think that I'd have faced this by now, given the fact that I've been steadily becoming more public since summer. But today, well, both my president and my provost expressed directly complimented me on my performance. It's safe to say that they both know exactly who I am, at this point. Not sure how I feel about that, although I'm sure in the long run it's probably not a bad thing?

In other news, I took the fact that I had spokesmodel duties to perform as an alibi for accomplishing not a single item on the lists I made in the previous post. As long as I get it all done by the end of the week, I'm sure it's fine. One cannot be a highly efficient professor as well as a spokesmodel all in the same day. Or rather, one should not have to be.

Monday. Sigh.

My very relaxing weekend is over. I can avoid work no longer.

On the one hand, I'm glad that I pretty much took the weekend off. On the other, well, now I've got a lot of things to accomplish. And even though it's boring, I need to make a list. Here's everything that I think is on my plate:


  1. Revise and send off reader's report for an essay I reviewed for a journal.
  2. Look over proofs for collection essay on the most ridiculously stylish show on television (and it may well be that the show's creator will be adding a forward to the collection! Huzzah!), add in a note or two referencing the current season (which had not yet begun airing when I submitted the essay to the editor).
  3. Look over readers' reports for accepted essay and figure out exactly what I must do in order to get that revised and sent off before Oct. 1. (I have fantasies that I will get this sent off Wednesday.)
  4. Return to sabbatical application and finalize it and condensed cv. Also complete applications for two other sources of potential funding. (These are due in 2-3 weeks; I want to get them done so that I can run them by some peeps for feedback.)
  1. Grade for online class and get feedback sent off to students.
  2. Grade tests from survey.
  3. Grade presentation from other gen ed class.
  4. Grade presentation from grad class.
  5. Check in with syllabi and get copies of any assignments, etc.
  6. Report non-attendance.
  7. Upload syllabi into university data management system.
  8. Watch one of the movies I'm showing this week in order to make list about things that students should be on the lookout for in their viewing.
  1. Continue with spokesmodel duties for MUWCI.
  2. Prepare for two department committee mtgs. on Friday (though let's be real: I won't actually do this until just before the mtgs on Friday).
  3. I've also got some mtgs. on Thursday for which I should prepare, though I also probably won't do that with any sort of focus until just before they occur.
Huh. I actually don't have that much that I must do, looking at the above. The biggest time-suck will be the grading, followed by the revisions on that accepted essay. I so love that I had the foresight to sync my syllabi for two of my classes so that this week is a movie week in both. This was exceptional planning on my part! I am a genius! (Well, actually, it was an accident, but wow is it a happy one.)

Well. Now that I've got a list, perhaps I shall go do a few things on it. I hope you all have a great week!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Which I Heart Mentor Colleague

Mentor Colleague (MC) has been at my institution since before I was born. Literally. Like I'm not exaggerating or anything. I chose him as my mentor because, really, when I looked at all of the potential mentors in my department, I looked at what he's accomplished and just who he is, and saw a career to which I aspire. He is an exemplary teacher, a nationally recognized researcher who continues to produce, he's super-enthusiastic and positive and genuine, and he continues to remain engaged in our campus community and to fight for what those junior to him (which involves pretty much everybody, these days) need to thrive here. He's never been pulled toward administration, and he's turned down offers to head off to greener pastures higher up on the academic food chain. Ultimately, he's "just" a faculty member. But one of the most amazing ones I've ever met.

He forwarded me an email that he sent after Friday's MUWCI event, in which he spoke about me, and I am just so... almost choked up having read it. I don't even know what to say.

I was chatting with somebody on the phone today, and I noted that I'm not at all motivated by negative consequences - that motivation for me comes from believing that I've done well and from affirmation that I've done well, ultimately. I just... I am so motivated to continue doing well right now, to make sure that I continue to deserve MC's high regard. And I feel so proud and so lucky that he's my colleague and my friend.

Day Off

So yesterday I took the day - the whole and entire day - off. From all things. I was up late Friday night (after falling asleep on the couch for a couple of hours), and other than waking to feed the cats, I slept in until 1:30. Then, I went to the mall (needed a pair of jeans, and also bought two tops at 70% off), to the pet store for litter and food, to Borders for two totally frivolous books (Tana French's novels In the Woods and The Likeness) to Panera for dinner, and then I returned home and read In the Woods in one great gulp. It was a day almost entirely free from the computer (I checked in with email and bloglines for a couple of minutes a couple of times, but otherwise - I was powered down). Today my plan is to do lots of things around the house, and in theory I should attempt to get some grading done, but if that waits until tomorrow, that's fine.

A side note: I'm really intrigued by the fact that I seem to have become a reader of crime fiction, although there is nothing obvious in my reading past to indicate that this would be something that I enjoy. Somewhere in the last 6 months to a year, though, this seems to have become my favorite pleasure-reading genre (though I'm pretty specific about the books that catch my attention in this genre). It's an interesting new development in my life as a reader, and I think that it does connect to a turn that's happening in my research, too. Hmmm. Not really much more to say about that, but it is something that's captured my attention and that's causing me to reflect on my development as a reader. I think I'd believed that my taste in books was pretty much determined. This new path is a surprise, and a pleasant one.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

If Only I Could Put This on My CV

"Spokesmodel for MUWCI."

It would be so much more fun than the list of 14 committees I'm going to have on there by the end of this fiasco, and it would really reflect my role better than that big long list. Dr. Crazy, Star of Stage and Screen, indeed.

Another Day, Another Dollar

So I could have been accomplishing things this morning, but I decided not to. Must get ready to go to school, though, momentarily.

A bloggy administrative note: some have continued to comment on The Post That Shall Have No Name, and because it's now an old post, those comments are going into moderation. I've been deleting those comments without reading them because I want that particular comment thread to be done. The "not reading them" thing is because I don't want to be tempted to delete comments that irritate me and to post ones that don't. So if you're not seeing late comments appear, this is why. Also, let me just say that this is not because I don't want conversation to continue around the issues in that post and comment thread - just that I think everybody needs a bit of a breather after the hullabaloo of last week - or if everybody doesn't, I totally do. I've got something in the works with a couple of other bloggers that will be a continuation of the conversation, but it will take a few weeks to get it together because we're trying to be more thoughtful about how to get the conversation going - both between ourselves and ultimately within the comments - than I was in The Post That Shall Have No Name. If you don't know what I'm talking about in this paragraph, lucky you :)

Today promises to be a long one for me, as Thursdays always are. In contrast, a certain Mr. Stripey will have a relaxing and awesome day, as this is what he has had every day of his privileged life. He's a totally low stress sort of cat. Just check him out:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Some Substance Plus a Kitten (Well, I Suppose He's Technically a Man-Kitty, But He'll Always Be a Kitten to Me)

So, I decided today that I would not worry if I didn't take care of all manner of business, but that I would try to sleep in and then see how I felt. Well, I totally slept in, and now I have the energy! And I have indeed taken care of at least one deadline-related task! Huzzah! I've decided to postpone grading until tomorrow and Friday, and for today to be all about research and just doing odds and ends around the house. I think that's completely reasonable, given the fact that I haven't had a day totally without any work since.... a week and a half ago? But if I accomplish some things today, and if I use my time wisely over Thursday and Friday, I really do believe that I can take at least one day free of all work this weekend, if not two. This would be fantastic.

In other news, I'll be serving on a search committee. Because as much as I like to pretend that I'm not going to say yes to things, we're hiring in a field for which it completely makes sense for me to be involved with the search. And since I'm going to MLA anyway.... well, you see how it is. So it promises to be a wicked-busy MLA for me, but since I took last year off, I'm sure I'll survive. All of that said, don't we all wish we had the life of the glorious feline pictured below?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So Tired

I've been working so hard on so many things lately that I'm about at the point of collapse. Tomorrow I have a sort of free day - or at the very least, I have no meetings scheduled and no teaching scheduled. Now, I have about 3 different research-oriented things that I must get done by Oct. 1, so I could use tomorrow for that. Or I could use tomorrow for grading. Or I could use tomorrow for cleaning my house (which totally needs it). But I'm tired. And I'm only at week 4. Oof.

Substantive posting will resume when I find some extra reserve of energy. Until that time, I'm thinking I may just start posting cute pictures of my cats.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Knocking Wood, Making Sign of Cross

Because I'm ultimately nothing if not superstitious and religious (in a very lame way - not because religion is lame, mind you, but because as a girl who was raised Catholic I know that invoking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit only when I fly on airplanes or when I want something is not how the whole set-up was intended) when it comes to situations such as these.

I do believe, after all the meetings, and after spending this entire day (and a good part of yesterday) in a flurry of emailing, and after all of the political maneuvering and compromise, that Major University-Wide Curriculum Issue has reached the conclusion of phase 2. You will note that this is only the conclusion of phase 2, and not the ultimate conclusion, for we still have phases 3, 4, and 5 to go.

So why am I crossing myself and knocking wood? Well, because in many respects this was the most delicate of phases. This was the phase in which it was necessary to turn disparate things into one unified thing; this was the phase in which it was necessary to engage the faculty as well as to battle over major philosophical differences and personal agendas, with the aim being that as things move forward that there won't be quite so much bare-knuckled brawling over these things. (There will still be some - I may be an optimist but I'm also a realist. I just am hoping that those who want to brawl will be outnumbered by those who see the big picture and thus the brawling will be kept to a minimum.)

How am I feeling? Well, I'm feeling very proud of myself, quite frankly. I'm feeling like I held my ground where it was necessary, and I'm feeling like I was the very essence of compromise when it counted. I'm feeling majorly respected by my colleagues (and yes, that includes some of those to whom I referred in my dick-slapping post), and I feel a tremendous amount of accomplishment for my very central role in this process. I feel tremendously brave for taking this on and for daring to play an active and visible role in the proceedings. I feel tremendously capable and smart. I feel like this is exactly what it should feel like to be a faculty member with tenure.

Now, I've got miles to go before I sleep. I'm on another committee that will see all of this again (phase 3), as well as a subcommittee of that group who will deal with some details (phase 4), as well as potentially another two committees that will figure out administrative shit (phase 5). I joked with the folks on yet another committee recently that this MUWCI was going to add a page to my CV. Seriously, this is not at all an exaggeration. (And yes, I know the value of saying no, but I'm much more about saying no to things I don't give a shit about and that I think don't mean shit. This MUWCI really matters - both to the education of our students generally, but also to me personally. I volunteered for this at the start, and I'll likely keep volunteering as things move forward.) Today I feel like a major potential roadblock in the process has been passed with finesse, and that feels really, really good. Now, if all goes according to plan (knocking wood, crossing myself) all that needs to be worried about is the crossing of t's and dotting of i's, and the implementation of the thing. If you could all knock on some wooden things, it couldn't hurt.

So, now after all of that self-congratulation and pride and such, let me digress in conclusion. Not a few people in recent weeks have noted to me that my exemplary performance in this endeavor makes me a target to be wooed into administration. On the one hand, I take this as a total compliment. (Not in the least because some of the people who've indicated this are administrators whom I really and truly like and respect.) And I like that I've demonstrated that I would be capable of such a move, and that people believe I could make such a move successfully. This gives me options, and options within academia, once one has achieve tenure, are few and far between. On the other hand, at least for the time being, I'm totally not interested. I'm not motivated by money (dude, I make more than my mom and G. put together, so I'm cool on that score), and I'm not motivated by weilding power over other people. What gets my rocks off is having a voice in things I care about, and not having to deal with shit that I think is stupid. As I see it, there is no better job in the world for fulfilling those desires than tenured faculty member. And also, I really love teaching and research. Sure, this kind of service satisfies me mightily, and isn't it great that I get to do it in my current job? But that doesn't mean I want my job to be managing this sort of thing. That doesn't mean that I want my job to consist almost entirely of meetings (which I loathe - even when they are productive and even pleasant.) What I care most about right now is making full professor rank, so I will have even more ability to pick and choose to do what I care about and so that my opinion will have even more weight when I decide to voice it. My reluctance to take the administrative path isn't about not wanting to "cross over to the dark side." It's about wanting to be a strong advocate for things I care about, and to be a strong advocate for those administrative initiatives that are on the right track. That said, if I could go directly from the position of tenured professor to the position of provost? I'd do that shit in a heartbeat. And then I could awesomely rename myself Provost Crazy. Mwahahaha!

So don't forget: knock on some wooden things for Crazy. Don't let this whole thing implode in phase 3 because of YOU!

Thoughts on Theory - Teaching It, Reading It

As you all know, I've taught theory courses before. I've taught a feminist theory class to undergrads, as well as the undergrad required theory class for majors. This semester, though, is my first time teaching theory to grad students (a) as well as my first time teaching in our new-ish MA program (b).

Now first, let me say a few things about our MA program. Some might say that it shouldn't even exist, what with the state of the profession and the realities of how things are in my discipline. Now, I'd agree, except our program is clearly targeted to high school teachers looking for a bump in pay grade and to people who are not interested in pursuing academia full time. So on the one hand, I think the existence of this program is justified and justifiable. I also think it was the right move for our department, because prior to having our own MA program, our department was expected to serve other grad programs in a way that was invisible, which meant we had little control over curriculum/the administration of the courses that we offered.

That said, the above facts dictate the kind of students that we attract and the kind of program that we offer. For example, the entire program has to run at night because the vast majority of our students work full time during the day. This means that even the full time students are not really full time grad students - they are people going to grad school full time while they work part-time. This is a challenge in that if one is going to teach in the program, one can't just design a grad seminar that looks just like the ones of one's own misspent youth. On the other hand, one has to do one's best to offer a course that really is graduate level - if the program is going to have any integrity.

So anyway, I'm teaching a seminar in theories of gender and sexuality, and now that I'm about a month in, I feel like I have some things to say about it.

First, and I think this indicates some things about our student population, the students in the course are all women. To be fair, the vast majority of the students in our program are women, but I also think that in another context, you'd get one or two (at least) men in such a course. So I didn't design the course thinking that I'd be teaching only women, and the fact that I am has been interesting, and in many ways I think a really positive thing. I haven't had to deal with some of the classroom management things in terms of interaction that typically occur in a class with one or two men, and I think that students have reached a comfort level with one another more quickly because we are a group of women talking about gender and sexuality. So far so good.

Second, in designing the syllabus I felt very aware of the fact that I needed to hit a sweet spot between very challenging and manageable enough for them to do the work. This involved thinking very carefully about which readings I should choose, the order of the readings, and what things I could only afford to include as recommended readings. In terms of choice of readings, I couldn't expect that students would have very much theoretical background, if any at all. So I had to include some foundational things that I probably would not have done were I teaching in another sort of program. I also felt very aware of how the readings would fit together from week to week, which I suppose we always should do when designing a course, but in this case to pay very close attention to that seemed crucial: I needed to make sure that the momentum of the course would make sense to the students and would keep them on board even if during a particular week they felt daunted or weren't able to get through all of the reading. This involved thinking about how readings would reference one another, as well as building in weeks that would be more and less challenging in a way that was very conscious. In many ways, this dictated what ended up on the "recommended" reading list, and, contrary to my own experiences, I very clearly link the "recommended" readings to a week on the syllabus, so that students are totally clear about what relates to what. (In my own experience, a big long list of things were just put on reserve and we were expected to have at them. This, I think, would be a totally unrealistic way of handling supplementary readings in my context.)

Third, while it is clear that my students don't have the sort of background in discussing theory and the sort of familiarity with theoretical trajectories that I would expect from people at the grad level, I'm seeing that they are very smart, and I see them quickly getting up to speed - much more quickly than I'd anticipated. This is incredibly rewarding, and it's making the class a joy to teach and to attend. There are still some kinks to work out (especially in terms of how they manage their presentations) but I'm not feeling discouraged, at least not yet.

Perhaps more interesting to me than any of the above, though, is my relation to the material as I'm reading along with them. See, I've not read any of this stuff in a concentrated way - in its entirety - since graduate school. I made the conscious choice not to choose an anthology for this course, precisely because the excerpts included in such anthologies generally offer very slim representations of the theoretical pieces with which I'm expecting students to engage. To my mind, if you're a graduate student, you should read ALL of Gender Trouble - not just an excerpt - to give just one example. So this course is forcing me to sit with the theory in ways that I have never had to do since graduate school. It's also forcing me to learn how to be quiet and to let the students direct the conversation - rather than spoon-feeding them the "this is what this means" stuff. All of this has been really exhilarating for me as a teacher.

But going through the readings with them has also been really exhilarating for me as a scholar. First of all, as I do the reading for each week, I find myself congratulating myself on the syllabus design, because the readings are really interconnecting in fantastic ways. I'm talking about the kinds of interconnections that make little explosions of insight go off in your head. I didn't really know that this would be the case ahead of time, and it's been a sincere pleasure to read this stuff as I've organized it (and I didn't organize the syllabus with reference to anybody else's, so this is a very happy accident). But also, as I'm doing this reading, I'm also discovering a lot about how I think as a literary and cultural critic. I'm seeing the trajectory of my own intellectual development, and I'm seeing the foundations for how I view the world - foundations that are surely informed by the theory that I've read.

This has already contributed in substantial ways to the project that I'm envisioning for my sabbatical (for it turns out I'm reading all of this with an eye toward that project), and for the first time I understand the difference between teaching your scholarship to an audience of undergraduates vs. teaching it in a grad school context. I still think I enjoy teaching undergrads more (there's something about introducing ideas/concepts for the first time, as opposed to socializing already introduced students into a particular discourse), but I also see how the work I'm doing in the grad classroom is infinitely more useful to my scholarly endeavors. Basically, it's like I'm getting the opportunity to take a grad seminar again, knowing now what I didn't know then, and I'm remembering the feeling of having bursts of ideas while a conversation happens and I'm remembering what it is to be passionately excited about my ideas, without having to tamp down that excitement to make it palatable and understandable to an undergraduate audience.

Also, and this was unexpected, I'm realizing where some of the misunderstanding on this blog last week came from. I'm realizing that I've been operating under the assumption that you all are in my head and that you're all reading the theory that I'm reading and that I have this (unwarranted) expectation that readers of this blog come to my posts with some sort of a handbook for understanding that when I post about various things I'm doing so with a particular theoretical underpinning. I'm not part of any "Mommy wars," yo. I'm not out to attack anybody. I'm thinking things through. But because I'm not "showing my work" (as I always describe the use of theory to my students - that it's like offering a proof for a geometry problem) that's not what people are reading. People aren't seeing the discourses that I'm (unconsciously) engaging, and so they can't engage with those discourses. So to some extent, any misunderstanding that occurs is my own damned fault. This is only to some extent, though. Last week I think that there were a slew of other contributing factors in play, only some of which had to do with me or what I wrote here. So I take responsibility for my part, but in no way do I take responsibility for all. But so anyway, I've got a plan formulating that will address my part, though I'm not sure when I'll get to it.

But anyway, these are all of the things that teaching this theory class is bringing to the surface for me. And it's really exciting, as nerdy as that sounds.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So. Freaking. Much. To. Do.

Well, I've come off my high from what had seemed like an excellent and victorious meeting on Friday, only to realize that a certain individual will continue to obstruct things moving forward. I've yet to respond to an email in which this person actually suggests that we just go back to the drawing board and ignore all of the work that primarily I put into what we had AGREED upon on Friday, but, well, if I learned anything last spring from the nonsense with trying to revise our major, I learned that sometimes it is best not to respond immediately to such things. So I have not, and I'm kind of dreading looking at email later today, for fear that anybody actually agrees with this guy.

Speaking of that revising the major thing, I've got to put together all of the catalog copy and new course proposals for that today. Now, by "put together" I really mean put together - everything is written in some form or another, so it's a matter of just making it into a package that can go through the curricular process. Annoying.

I've also got to write an abstract for a conference panel (and I've just accepted the fact that I will likely not get any of my other research things done this weekend, which totally sucks), do some stuff around the house, and then tomorrow, I'm hoping to get my car in for an estimate from the accident as well as to deal with any/all grading crap I need to do.

You'd think from all of that that I got nothing done yesterday. Not so. I reread a book for my theory seminar. That's right. I basically read theory all day, which left me exhausted and in a funk, if I'm honest. More to say about my experience teaching the theory seminar soon. I have a lot to say about that, actually.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I need a break from the work I'm doing (stupid, boring editing and revising work, and not for anything related to my own writing). So let me tell you a story about a meeting.

Young Crazy arrived, and the door was locked. She knocked, and she realized for the first time (although she'd known who would be in attendance) that she would be the lone person with a vagina in the room. This combined with the fact that she was the lone newly tenured person in the room made things interesting, indeed.

I will say this, first, about the Meetings of my past, the majority of which have happened within my department, where people know I'm an opinionated and outspoken lady. I have not typically been the lone woman, and I have never been an unknown quantity. And people always, without question, respected my contributions. I've never been assigned to "important" service before because I was untenured. And the "important" service at my university, as far as I can tell from recent experience, is primarily about the d00ds.

Now, in the context of the meeting that I will describe, I knew these people to say hello to and to socialize with. We've chatted over wine and cheese and coffee and cookies. And I will go so far as to say that socially I've liked these men.

So I was shocked today to feel as if they had expected me not to contribute to the conversation. I was stunned when it became apparent that they didn't actually respect me.

Now, I know I'm an unknown quantity to these people, having not served for years with the d00ds on committees such as this. And I also get it that I'm from a humanities discipline, whereas the majority of the d00ds in attendance were not, so that means I'm squishy and silly, at least in their eyes.

But I'm really not squishy and silly. Indeed, I've got Ideas and Agendas. This is why my department chair wanted me to do this gig, people, because I a) am a girl who has a response at the ready and b) I'm a girl who will fight to the death for something she believes in.

So here I am, in the meeting of d00ds, and about 15 minutes in it becomes apparent that they think I'm a non-entity. And I notice their shock when I don't accept that. I notice that they are actively surprised that I'm advocating for not only my position within the group but also for the position of my discipline and larger area.

I think the moment that I really realized what I was up against was when I challenged one of the committee members about an item of a proposal, and he had the gall to offer a rejoinder that ended, "So I just want you to understand that this is what you're saying when you make this objection." As if I don't freaking understand what I'm saying! As if I don't understand consequences! As if I'm I clueless little girl who needs to be schooled!

I know you're dying to hear my response to that. I paused for a moment, and then I said, "You know what? I'm a mean lady. I'm completely comfortable with that result. And yes, I totally understand what I'm saying and what I'm suggesting."

He was like, "Oh. Well if you understand what you're saying."
And I was all, with a big, broad smile, "Yep, I understand that's what I'm saying. And I'm totally fine with it."

This was one turning point in the meeting. The other turning point was when another d00d suggested that the objections that the humanies disciplines had to a particular thing were just about people fighting for turf, with the implication that the humanities disciplines are just a bunch of short-sighted ninnies who don't understand the broader considerations in play. I responded the following: "what you need to understand, d00d, is that these objections are about deeply held values and beliefs. Ignore them if you wish, but the reality is that if you do, then this proposal doesn't get passed."

Again, the d00ds looked at me like I was an alien life form, but they also started paying attention.

I spent two hours in a meeting, and for approximately an hour and a half I had d00ds swinging their dicks in my face, believing that I would bow in submission and give up. And for approximately an hour and a half, I made it my job to slap those dicks, hard, so that they would listen to a fucking word I said. After that hour-and-a-half of dick-slapping, we had a real and practical and pragmatic conversation. And ultimately we arrived at an agreement about how to move forward to which I would have agreed after 10 minutes. I suspect that they thought going in that this isn't the agreement that we would have reached. Although I made one small compromise, this was exactly the agreement that I'd envisioned.

And by volunteering for a task that no one wanted to do, I've pretty much ensured that what I envisioned will be the ultimate result.

1- Crazy, 0-d00ds.

Let's Talk about Something Else, Shall We? How about My Sabbatical Application?

So I've been trying to work on the monstrosity that is my sabbatical application for the past week or so. I need to finish it in order to then cannibalize it for 3 other applications for smaller institutional awards, and then refine it for some other external support. What is very difficult and annoying about putting all of this together is that I don't feel like I've really had the time to think deeply about my project, so it feels premature to try to pin it down, as such applications make one do. Problematically, I will never have time to think deeply about my project if I don't pin it down which requires deep thinking. You see why this is frustrating.

Also frustrating is hitting that sweet spot somewhere in between sycophancy and authority, while retaining a certain scholarly joie de vivre and at the same time using institutional buzz words like "talent imperative" and "community outreach" and "student-centered," whether they apply to one's topic or not.

And more frustrating than all of this is that I can't keep thinking about it (or even blogging about it) because I have to go revolutionize general education for the next two hours. I am *cranky.*

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Daring to Express Opinions As a Woman Without a Child

During my first semester on the tenure track, I recall leading a discussion in one of my classes. It was a lower-level course with a wide range of students. We were discussing that day's reading, and the conversation was going along great. I then made an assertion about the reading (don't recall what it was) and a student raised her hand. I called on the student, and the student told me that the interpretation that I was offering was completely wrong. That's cool with me if a student challenges me in that way, but I do expect a student to back it up. So I ask the woman why I was completely wrong. Her response? "Do you have children?" Naive lass that I was, I actually answered that question. I told the woman no. And she responded, "Well, if you're not a mother than you just won't understand." I don't remember my exact response. I think I just called on another student. I was stunned. I mean, I've got a PhD in freaking English. It's my job to understand. I have trained for years in the study of literature. But apparently, the fact that I haven't given birth to a child or mothered a child, at least in this student's eyes, meant I wasn't qualified to do my job. (Funny side note: I've also been told by a student on an evaluation that I wasn't qualified to do my job because I'm a feminist.)

I've thought about that moment a lot over the course of my career since, and it's not the last time I've had a student indicate that the fact that she has given birth to and mothered a child makes her specially qualified in the interpretation of literature. I no longer reveal whether I have children to my classes, and when those comments come up, I now respond directly in a way that indicates I don't agree that motherhood has anything to do with one's ability to read or to understand literary texts.

Now, you might be thinking, "But these are students! It is your job to teach them! What do silly and uninformed comments like these have to do with your life outside of the classroom?" Well, I'll tell you. I have finally made the connection that the above feels in many ways identical to what I feel when I read some comments to recent blog posts, here, but also elsewhere. It's not just uninformed students who believe that parenthood operates as a special qualification that trumps all other things. It's not just uninformed students who believe that people without children should change what they think to better accommodate the feelings and needs of people with them.

Take my post about academic casualties, a post that was all about how the choices of women across experiences are shaped by a career in academia. I had the audacity to refer to my childless status as "unencumbered," and to take pleasure in thinking of it that way. How dare I? Well, never fear: I was upbraided:

I get your point, but honestly while I don't care for "child-free' or "childless," I equally don't care for "unencumbered," because it implies that those with children and/or partners are encumbered. Ick. As if my child were a burden, a limit, a restraint. NO WAY.

Sure, I don't have all the time in the world to myself, and I definitely miss certain aspects of my life pre-child, but I don't see my life being limited or restrained by my child. I'm on the tenure-track and, while I might not be as productive as my "unencumbered" colleagues, I don't see that as a problem. It's just the way it is. (Of course, check back in a few years: if I'm denied tenure because I demonstrated limited scholarly engagement, well then maybe I'll rethink this position, but I still wouldn't consider myself "encumbered." Again, ick.

Great post otherwise!

Here's the thing. When I used that word, I wasn't saying anything about anybody else's situation. I was talking about my own. And I'm a person who wants children, but I'm also a realist. I will not have the freedom that I have now if I have a child. Period. I will be tied down in a way that I am not tied down right now. Raising children, as parents so often like to remind non-parents, is the "toughest job you'll ever do" and this is the reason so many parents need so much accommodation from us empty-womb types, right? So yes, having internalized all of those messages, I think that right now I am relatively "unencumbered." And it's my blog, and it's completely fine for me to use that word and to feel that way, right? Except it isn't, because apparently I'm not qualified to pick my own words. I'm not a mother.

Or take Tenured Radical, who wrote a brilliant post about service obligations and saying no. The post is quite lengthy, but TR dares to include three offensive sentences:

"At the risk of the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I'll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream."

How dare TR have an opinion? How dare she, even though she is careful to acknowledge the hard-working parents who do not fit into the category she describes, have a problem with doing parents' work for them? Well, never fear: she was upbraided:

"At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us,"

Yes, you certainly annoyed this one, even though I like much else about this post, and I usually love your blog. Are people with kids really the problem here? And note, when 'people with kids' are attacked, it's generally 'women with kids' that is heard. The rest of the post identifies much of the real problems of organizational culture, deliberate incompetence etc. I'm sure people with children are part of that, but I really don't think we're disproportionately so. Maybe we're just a disproportionately easy target.

Or maybe this is not just an illusion. Maybe Tenured Radical was actually stating something that was a "real problem." Why is it that when people without children have the audacity to note that in their experience they have to pick up the slack for people with children that the counterargument amounts to, "surely that one group, of which I am a member, isn't more of a problem in this regard than any other group! You clearly are exaggerating out of a prejudice against parents!" Why is it that the opinion of child-free folks about this issue has absolutely no validity and is always dismissed? Why do parents get to define the "real problems of organizational culture" and not people without children? Look, some parents use their children to get out of work. People without children often have to do that work in the stead of these parents. That happens, people. It is really annoying, and it's not fair. And it is totally ok to speak that truth.

Except apparently it isn't. If it were, so many parents wouldn't sweep the internet policing any opinions that they perceive as anti-parent. I read a good number of blogs by parents, and I don't go over to their places and tell them that all of their opinions and experiences are wrong. I don't tell them what words they're allowed to use, or what they're allowed to post about. And yet, if I dare to utter a word about attempting to negotiate a workplace (mine) that typically bends over backwards to accommodate parents while it does not offer similar accommodation to non-childed workers, people do not extend me the same courtesy.

Even more weird is that whether one is actually a mother is kind of beside the point, it seems. What matters is whether one defines oneself as writing "as a mother" or not. Nobody knows whether Historiann has a child or not unless they know her in real life. But every time she dares to have an opinion about something related to motherhood or parenting, you can guess what happens.

Recently, Historiann wrote a post in which she considered discourses on breastfeeding in relation to patriarchal equilibrium. She concludes the post:

The B.I. [Breastfeeding Imperative] is brilliant: it links women with children once again, and because of the time and work involved, it prevents women from engaging in paid employment. It’s a patriarchal equilibrium twofer! Awesome. Let’s change that old expression, “barefoot and pregnant” to “nursing and topless,” shall we? (And, let’s try to keep things civil here, folks. Whether you have experience with nursing or bottles or none of the above, they’re all different legitimate experiences. There is no one right way to feed a baby or to raise a child–as a feminist philosopher friend of mine used to say, “that kind of thinking only makes sense if all women and all children are exactly alike.” And, of course, we’re not.)

But you know where this will lead, right? Because nobody knows whether Historiann has birthed any babies, she's not really authorized to have opinions about breastfeeding. And on top of that, she uses the word "breeders" at one point. How dare she? Well, never fear: she was upbraided (and actually, I was, too! Even though I didn't even leave a comment to that post!):

I think the reason my hackles end up getting raised in these conversations (here and at Dr. Crazy’s, where because I love her so much I couldn’t even bring myself to comment) is that there is always an edge to these posts when written by folks without kids, as though you are resentful of the choices those of us with kids have made. I’d love to be wrong, I’m just saying that’s how I read it. I would love to read a post about mothering from someone who isn’t a mom that doesn’t feel like an attack. Maybe it’s because I always knew I wanted kids, but I never felt derision towards women with children (maybe the kids at times, but never the moms or dads), and it wasn’t long ago I was in that category.

Let me state some things clearly and for the record. I resent being told that my opinions don't matter. I resent the fact that if I have an opinion I'm seen as waging an attack. I feel derision against people (women, men, whomever) who suggest that my opinions are the result of not "always" knowing I wanted kids, as if somehow "always knowing I wanted kids" would make me compassionate, kind, accepting, etc., and as if not knowing that means that I'm the opposite of those things. You know what I don't resent? The choices that other people make. Make any choices you want. Have opinions that you want. Do what you want. I don't actually understand why I'd resent parents' choices, unless those choices directly affect me. Similarly, I don't understand why parents would resent mine, unless my choices directly affect them. To each her own, I say.

But don't tell me what I should think or what words I'm allowed to use. Don't expect me to believe that the needs of parents are somehow more important than the needs of other workers. Because I just don't believe that. The fact of the matter is, I don't identify as "child-free" and I've not chosen not to have children in some sort of decisive fashion. I think that I'd like to have a child. But I don't think that having a child would be some special contribution to the world. I don't think that it would be an accomplishment. I don't think that it would somehow mean that my opinions or beliefs would be more valid than those of people without children.

Further, I don't believe that because I don't have children that my opinions or beliefs are more valid than those of people who do. I think that, ultimately, if we're going to have an honest conversation about parenting and the workplace, it's probably more important to listen to a variety of perspectives rather than policing those perspectives that differ from our own. I think it probably makes sense to consider that people without children who note the ways in which their professional lives are affected by colleagues with children may be talking about something that is real. I think it probably makes sense to consider the ways in which women - whether they have children or not - are inscribed within discourses about motherhood, and the negative consequences of that inscription. I think it probably makes sense to agree that if a person writes a blog, she probably has the authority to make decisions about that blog's content, about the words that she will use, and about the ideas that she explores. I think it probably makes sense to agree that when we comment on other people's blogs we probably should engage with what they wrote, we should not resort to ad hominem arguments, and we should not assume that people who are writing for a public audience are attacking that audience and attacking that audience's choices.

I don't feel like I'm incomplete because I don't have a child or partner, and I don't think that women who do have those things are complete because they have them. I don't think that children should be used as an air-tight excuse for getting out of unpleasant tasks, and I don't think that colleagues without children should be expected to look the other way when colleagues with children do this. I believe that if we're going to talk about equitable workloads in universities, we've got to address the needs of all workers, and I don't think that the needs of parents should come first. I don't think that it's my responsibility to talk about parenting or motherhood in a way that parents or mothers approve. I'm not hostile to parents or to children or to helping to accommodate colleagues. I'm not judging women who have children, or attacking them. I'm not resentful of them, nor am I envious of them. I don't look down on people just because they have children, nor do I admire people just because they don't have children. I don't, ultimately, judge people by whether or not they've procreated. All I'm asking for is the same courtesy. How dare I?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In Which I Whine about How I Hate (HATE) My Schedule This Semester

Because I am a good department citizen and because it's good to pick one's battles and because life's too short to fight about every single thing that is unpleasant, I agreed a year ago that this fall I would teach just two days a week.

What a sweet schedule, you say! How dare you complain about this schedule? Are you crazy?

Well, I am Crazy, but I'm not crazy. This schedule sucks.

I can, if I'm honest, imagine a way in which a 2-day-a-week schedule would suck less. If, for example, I weren't also teaching two night classes. But because of the night classes, that means that both teaching days (which also often have meetings scheduled in the morning) are long as shit. I've got to be on campus for no fewer than 9 hours - during four of which I'm teaching - on each of these days, and if I have meetings before teaching, which is not at all as unusual as I'd like, that stretches to 10-12 hours. And that's only with three classes spread out over the two days - the fourth class I teach online.

On paper, this doesn't seem that awful, I'll admit. Normal people are at work 8 hours or more a day five whole days a week On paper, you look at the Five Whole Days on which I don't teach, and you say, but that's five whole days! Four of which are in a row! Where you don't have to go to your job! This is excellent!

Except no. What this means is that 2 of the five days that I don't teach I pretty much feel like I've been run over by a truck. Also, because I'm not a shirker, even that on paper 5-days-not-on-campus is a lie, as just because I don't teach doesn't mean there may not be a meeting that I must attend. And I'm not including any reading or prep or grading, little of which I can accomplish on the teaching days, for they are booked pretty much solid with teaching and office hours and meetings. And to add insult to injury, one of my classes is an entirely new prep and I have to do the reading for it each week, for most of what I'm assigning is stuff I've not read in its entirety since graduate school. I suppose we could say that this part of things is my fault (the not having read the stuff on the syllabus more recently) but I teach four courses a semester and I really do not want to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Teaching stuff that I haven't read or haven't reread recently is one way of actually making my life manageable. Or used to be, anyway.

But so anyway, I'm hoping that I can get into a rhythm as the semester progresses, and that maybe I will come to hate the schedule less. I think what's difficult, though, is that it's difficult to establish a rhythm given the fact that each week has (so far) had a different set of meetings and time commitments outside of my teaching. And so I find myself looking back fondly on when I had a shitty five-day-a-week schedule, which did suck, but at least I had more of a routine. And I was done with teaching by noon each day, which gave me, in some ways, a lot more flexibility than I currently have.

I guess the thing that is bothering me most is that I feel like this schedule is having a negative impact both on my scholarship and on my teaching. By the time I reach the halfway point in my second night class, I'm positively fried. Not cool, as the second night class is the new prep and the class that I really need the most energy to teach. And scholarship? What is that? I've got all of these big plans for it (worked on my sabbatical application this weekend) but I've got no energy to follow through on the plans (even in the most preliminary of ways) right now because I'm so beaten down by the schedule.

But enough of this whining. I've got to find a way to cope. The first step to that, I think, was actually cooking all day yesterday. At least now I've come to terms with the fact that this schedule means that I really need to plan out meals and to have the daily living parts of my life much more regimented so that they don't seem like an additional burden. Also, I think that I need to make a commitment this weekend to tying up loose ends on a bunch of researchy things (I've got a reader's report that I need to polish and send off for a journal; a book review for another journal to revise and send off; minor revisions on an article for yet another journal to complete; two more funding applications - to be submitted by the same deadline as the sabbatical app - to complete; a conference abstract to write - though this is silly, I won't get travel money for it, and really it's just an excuse for a long weekend with BFF and FBA) and I think getting all or a good portion of that done will make me feel less swamped. And you know, if teaching suffers next week because of that, so be it. I can only do so much.

And finally, as I've been writing this, something occurred to me. It's somewhat typical in my department, and I imagine in a lot of other departments, for at least some faculty with children to lobby for a two-day-a-week schedule. In my department, these people intend to teach 4 classes back-to-back on those two days, so that then they can be around for childcare stuff on the other three days a week. In the case of academic couples, they try for opposite schedules - one partner teaching 3 days a week while the other does two days a week, thus meaning that one parent is available full-time on every day of the week. As I look at the way I'm managing (or not managing) my current schedule, I've got to wonder about the wisdom of this, especially if the people in question don't teach anything online and if the parents in question don't have at least a few hours of childcare on each of the days that they aren't teaching. This is a full-time job no matter what one's teaching schedule - and loading all of one's classes into two days, and attempting to limit one's time on campus to those days, with a 4/4 load, can actually make the job harder and more time-consuming as opposed to the opposite, if one actually meets all of the full-time responsibilities of the job. This isn't an attack on faculty parents at all - it's just an observation. And, assuming I stay in the world of the 4/4 load and if someday I end up having a kid, I'm filing this information away in my noggen. Because, dude, teaching two days a week is beating me down, and that's even with the luxury of collapsing when the time in the classroom is done.

(Note: I think the 2-day-a-week schedule is entirely reasonable if one teaches a 2/2, and maybe even ok if one has a 3/3 or a 3/2. It's the fourth class that makes this ENTIRELY unreasonable.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sure, I Could Be Working, But....

'Tis Labor Day, folks, and if a girl can't have a holiday from work on a day that recognizes labor, when exactly can she have a holiday?

Actually, I've been very busy, just not with stuff related to my job. For the past four hours or so, I have been cooking. That's right, I am spending the day cooking. See, with all of the craziness of the school year to this point, I haven't really had time (or, probably fairer, taken time) to cook. I've been eating ok (lots of stuff in the freezer, buying salads and wraps at school for lunch/dinner on the long teaching days) but nothing I've been eating has been tremendously inspiring. Since I'm trying to lose weight, I really need to be inspired by food or I will totally fall apart in about two weeks and start eating garbage. And so, today has been a day of cooking. What have I made, you ask?

1. Chicken and Brown Rice, with mushrooms, carrots, red pepper, onion, garlic and some sour cream (for the creaminess, and I love how sour cream goes with mushrooms). Delicious! Half of it is frozen, half of it will be lunches this week.

2. Extra rice to freeze.

3. Baked boneless skinless chicken breasts, seasoned three ways. (Italian, Indian, and Mexican, respectively.) The Indian and Mexican versions have gone into the freezer to be pulled out when I need to make dinner with little effort. The Italian version will be dinner over the next couple of days - with what comes next....

4. Roasted butternut squash, mashed with scallions. YUMMY.

5. Roasted butternut squash soup with bacon (cooking now, and will freeze half of this, too).

No more sad sandwiches at school! No more stupid dinners of leftover chili (ugh, am sick of the chili) or other sad dishes.

Of course, now that I've cooked all of this stuff, I'm kind of tired. Perhaps I should take a nap and then have some dinner?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

RBOC: NOT the Thursday I Wanted Edition

  • As I was leaving campus tonight, waiting at the stoplight to exit the campus, some jacktard rear-ended me. I'm fine, the car seems mostly fine (some scratches to the bumper) but this is a hassle that I do not need.
  • My grad students don't seem to get that "grad school" means "Dr. Crazy doesn't make class happen." I gave them some tips, as well as some threats, that may improve this situation next week, but dude, it was a long 2 hours and 45 minutes tonight.
  • I went to my first mtg. of a University-Wide committee mtg today and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not sure what this makes me.
  • Have I mentioned that I'm pissed that my car got rear-ended? LAME.
  • I have so much that I need to accomplish tomorrow and over the weekend. ALSO LAME.
  • Am tired. Shall stop posting to my blog now.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

How to Avoid Becoming a Casualty?

A new reader (I think... hi there!), Kiki, left the following comment to my last post, and I thought I should probably respond in a post, because it really deserves a response, but I don't have a short pithy answer:
"With all this in mind, what advice do you have for up-and-coming academics on how to create the balance that you feel is missing? I'm in the last year of my Ph.D. and this is a key issue for me now at the crossroads of moving on.

What mistakes do you feel you made? What choices could have made differently? What decisions would you not change?
My instinctual response when I first read the comment wasn't terribly productive or positive. It was something along the lines of, "Don't you see? It's not about mistakes or alternate choices or any of that. None of that makes any difference. And this idea that we've got the power individually to create balance is actually part of the problem."

But see, that's me being a vortex of negativity, and I don't really want to be that. So I thought it would be useful to really take Kiki's thoughts as they were intended, and to try to give an honest a response as I can, while still offering a productive one.

So let's begin with the "balance" question. I think I decided a while ago that looking for this elusive balance was ultimately going about things the wrong way around, at least for me, at least on the tenure-track. The tenure track is not about balance. The tenure track is about investing the bulk of your energy in one thing: your job. This is not to say that you can't invest energy in other areas. You have to, otherwise you won't be able to do your job well. But in a career where you've got 6 years and then you either get promoted or you get fired, and in an academic market where those jobs are few and far between, the job, at least for that time, has got to come first. I think if you set "balance" as your primary goal, you'll often feel like a failure. At least I have when I made resolutions about balance. When I've been happiest, I've allowed myself to accept that "balance" might not always be possible, and that really, "balance" isn't something that's entirely in my control to create or to achieve. Other people get in the way of that, personal life circumstances get in the way of that, and yes, the job can get in the way of that. At least for me, I've come to the point where I've stopped trying for "balance" and instead tried to focus on trying for "fulfilled and happy." No, those things aren't opposites. But I've found that "fulfilled and happy" doesn't necessarily equal "balance," though sometimes it might.

I suppose here's the thing: I don't think that it's fair to myself to see my life as a balancing act.

One of those mice is always in danger of falling and getting run over by the tricycle. And at least for me, that's no way to live, though I did give it the college try for a good long while. I do however think it's important to have a range of priorities that address one's needs as a whole person. No, you may not be able to manage all of those priorities equally, but it's really important not to focus all of one's energy solely on the job. This has also been a struggle for me, but it stopped being as much of a struggle once I accepted that I couldn't do everything all at the same time. Sometimes you've got to just focus on riding your tricycle. Sometimes, you'll get off the tricycle and balance a cat on your head. You don't necessarily need to do both at the same time, and giving yourself permission not to can be a really liberating and powerful thing.

I also think avoiding the language of balance is important for women - generally, as well as in the profession - because "balance" for women often translates into something like "taking care of everybody's needs but your own and trying to be superwoman." It is rare that I hear men in my life talking about "striving for balance." That's something that the women in these men's lives do, while the men are busy prioritizing demands and taking care of business. When men do talk about balance, in my experience, they most often talk about it in terms of childcare or housework - balancing that they need to do with a female partner. They don't typically conceive of balance as something that should be a primary goal for all parts of their lives. Rather, it's a word that means something closer to "negotiation." That's the definition I'm much more interested in embracing and advocating. (Aside: I think the issue may be this. When women use the verb "balance" they use it as an intransitive verb. "Balancing" in and of itself is the point. When men use the verb "balance" it is most frequently transitive - it takes an object. I think I like the transitive version of the word better, much as I prefer to use "write" as a transitive verb, as opposed to an intransitive one. And yes, I'm thinking of the Barthes piece as I write this.)

So, I guess to actually answer the first question, I don't think that "balance" is missing in my life, or if it is, I'm glad that I've stopped seeking it. I think that for a long time my first priority has been my education and career, and that at this point my priorities are shifting. My education and career are still on the list, and still matter to me incredibly deeply, but I'm now at a point where I'm reevaluating priorities and thinking about other priorities to add into the mix, which means that the job will probably go a bit further down on the list than it has done once I figure out what else I'd like to pursue. And right now, I'm not quite there yet. In the abstract I think I am getting a better idea of where I'm heading, but I don't yet have concrete plans or objectives. I think that's probably ok, but I also feel a greater urgency right now to figure it out, perhaps in part because I feel like tenure has given me that luxury. And here's the thing: what I'm describing as my path will not look like everybody else's path toward this stuff. The specifics here matter. It matters that I went straight through undergrad and grad school. It matters that I've not married and not had kids. It matters that I got a t-t job right out of the gate. Those specifics made my trajectory, and not everybody is in the same boat.

And now to the second part of Kiki's comment. I think it's a mistake to characterize choices along this path as "mistakes." Are there things I might have done differently? Sure. But who knows how things would have turned out had I done so? Those alternate choices might have been bigger mistakes, but there's no way to know that. Also, it's not like our entire lives are totally within our control. Other people get a say, particularly when it comes to things like marriage and kids, and so it's not like you can just make all of the decisions and choices and have things your way. With all of that in mind, I'm reluctant to give the "do as I say and not as I did" advice. And further, I'm reluctant to say, "this is how I did it and these are choices will be good ones for my readers." Maybe they would be, but that doesn't mean that new problems wouldn't crop up if people made them.

So with those caveats in place, I'll make some observations, which are in no way meant as advice.

  • I think that it was easier in many ways for me to deal with the demands of tenure-track employment without kids and without a partner, at least for the probationary period. My time was very much my own, and I have been the only person who's had to deal with the consequences of those choices. This has meant that I haven't had to structure my work time around other people, and when writing under a deadline, or teaching 4 preps for the first time, that can help to minimize stress. That said, I also didn't get the benefits that come with kids and a partner. When I'm sick, it's on me to go to pick up prescriptions or over the counter meds for myself; when I'm out of milk, it's on me to go to the grocery store; when I'm feeling overwhelmed, there's nobody home (except for the tiny kitties) to take my mind off things. But my time was my own to use as I wished, and I think that was a help more than it was a hindrance.
  • It's been important for me to have support networks, not only elsewhere (the blogosphere, long-distance friends/relationships) but also where I am, in whatever form those networks have taken. Isolation is in many ways something that this profession produces, but it's not good to be totally isolated.
  • It's been important for me to take care of my whole self - not just my work self. This is something that I've struggled with, but things like healthy eating, exercise, and leisure shouldn't be seen as unimportant or negotiable parts of life. Scheduling those things in makes a huge difference in my overall well-being.
  • It's been important for me to realize that I'm not the master of my own destiny always, and to learn to forgive myself when things don't go my way, whether personally or professionally.
But with all of that being said, are any of these observations really a guide to not becoming a casualty of this profession, or, as Historiann noted yesterday, of patriarchal equilibrium? I'm going to be a total downer here and say no. Yes, we can all fight the good fight, and we can all try our best to resist the ways in which the profession and the culture back us into a corner. But at the end of the day, I really don't believe that there is some prescription for how to do this resistance, nor do I think there is a perfect set of directions to follow for how to make it all work. That's the thing about structural inequality. Being a "good girl" or a "good professor" or "making all the right moves" (whatever any of those involve) doesn't mean squat when the entire structure of the world in which we work and live is organized to turn us into casualties. And all of these things are made further complex by the hiring practices in higher education, but the funding cuts that are happening across universities, and by the corporatization of higher education. This profession is not a meritocracy, but it also is not, at its very heart, egalitarian.

The best that we can do is to make the best decisions we know how to make at a particular moment, to try our hardest to negotiate in both our personal and professional lives the many competing demands on our whole selves, and to be strong allies to each other, attempting tactically to resist, both locally and in a more wide-ranging way.

I suspect these aren't the answers that you'd hoped for, Kiki, but they're the only ones I've got.