Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hello! I'm Still Alive! (RBOC)

  • Awesome: "Don't Stop Believing" just came on my direct TV 80s music channel. I love Journey. Seriously. Suck it.
  • Ooh, and even cooler: "Fire and Ice" by Pat Benatar. I HEART Pat Benatar.
  • A last word on the spousal hire thing: I'm done with talking about it. Why? Because the whole thing made me feel like I wanted to take a sabbatical from blogging, which I don't actually want to do. And also because the whole spousal hiring thing was NEVER my point. If you thought it was, you don't know how to read. And yes, that's a bitchy thing to say, but that's exactly what I think.
  • In other news, I'm totally moved out of the Shitbox Apartment, which I called home for 7 years. The keys are returned, much stuff is donated, and the stuff I want is in my house (or, well, mostly - there's a bunch of shit in my car that I just don't have the energy for right now).
  • In addition, I got a delivery of My Awesome New Bed Which Feels Like a Cloud To Sleep On, as well as my awesome desk for the living room, and a chest of drawers, yesterday. All of this made me realize that my new house is for real and for true like twice the size of my stupid apartment, in spite of the fact that it is technically the same number of rooms. I LOVE my HOUSE!
  • You know who else loves my house? Man-Kitty and Mr. Stripey. Pictures (of both the house, and of the kittehs in the house) will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heteronormativity: Not Just for Straight People!

This post might also be titled, "Patriarchy: Not Just for Teh Menz!"

I've been thinking about this post for most of today. I wondered whether I should write it. I thought to myself, "Self, if you write this post, you're probably going to end up in the middle of a shitstorm when that's not your intention." I thought to myself, "Self, seriously? You need to unpack! You've got other things that are so much more important to you right now!" But. It's still on my mind, and so I'm posting.

Let me back up a bit. In a class that I teach that relates to issues surrounding sexuality and its representation, I spend the first few class periods dealing with definitions. Some of the definitions are necessary because of the essays I have them read at the beginning (words like "onanism" and "ontology," but also things I'm shocked they're not familiar with, like "vanilla" and "queer" and "sadomasochism"). But we also deal with other things. Like the difference between "transgender/transexual" and "transvestite," for example, or the difference between "sex," "gender," and "sexuality." And finally, I make sure to define for my students the terms "heteronormativity" and "patriarchy."

Those last two are especially important, even if students have taken courses in women's and gender studies previously. A lot of them come in thinking that "heteronormativity" means "heterosexism" and that "patriarchy" means "misogyny." In other words, that the perpetrators of heteronormativity are straight, conservative people, and that the perpetrators of patriarchy are woman-hating men. I spend time on these definitions because I want to make it clear that some "evil other" is not the source of either heteronormativity or patriarchy, but rather that both of these things are something in which all of us participate and in which all of us are complicit. And yes, I really do believe that. I really don't believe that anybody alive today could claim that they are outside of heteronormativity or patriarchy. I think people can legitimately claim to resist those things, but resistance isn't the same thing as being outside of those things or beyond them. In other words, even if we don't embrace homophobia as a worldview, even if we are feminists, we still participate in heteronormativity and patriarchy. There is no outside of power. (Insert Foucault Here.)

So ok, let's start with very basic definitions for heteronormativity and patriarchy. Both of these terms are inclusive: one can be heteronormative and identify as queer; one can participate in patriarchy and identify as feminist. Again, this is not to say that individuals might not tactically resist heteronormativity and patriarchy - they might and they do. BUT. We cannot (I don't think) deny that resistance to those structures does not equal their eradication, nor can we pretend that those structures don't inform our experience of the world.

Thus, I might identify as GLBTQ, and yet I may still participate in an economy of heteronormative privilege. I might be a woman who nevertheless participates in patriarchy.

This all makes sense, right? I mean, we all have the best intentions, but we live in the world in which we live.

But so. Let's return to the issue of "spousal hires." Or let's even expand it to "partner hires" (in other words, we're not requiring legal marriage for the perk.)

What does a partner/spousal hire include?
  1. Monogamy
  2. Commitment to the partner who is "really" hired, at least at the time of hire, for life
  3. "Commitment" to partner that apparently without dissonance translates into commitment to institution and its surrounding community, as if a lone person couldn't commit to the institution and surrounding community in the way, forever
Item the first:I know a lot of people who've cheated on their spouses, or who have been cheated on. In what fucked up universe do we think that academia is somehow exempt from extramarital sex, and all of the fucked-up-ness this might entail? Enough to hire people on for life on the basis of the fact that they got married?

Item the second: Um, academics, even those who don't cheat, get divorced too. The effects within a department, if two tenured people get divorced? AWFUL.

Item the third: Just because a spousal hire works out it does not mean that one or both partners will actually commit to the institution or the place. Lots of times they will suck it up (without grace) in order to remain together in the same place, but this doesn't necessarily equal commitment to the institution or the place. Lots of the time, it might just mean commitment to getting two salaries and to live together. Neither spouse will look for another job because "we'll never find another place that will hire both of us." Which sticks a department for 30 years with people two people who aren't into the job, or the place, or the students, but who are willing to put up with all those in order to be together. AWESOME.

Here's the thing: saying that "oh, but at my shop we offer 'spousal hires' to same-sex partners" makes it no less discriminatory. Ultimately, spousal hires, or partner hires, work within a heteronormative economy of privilege, in which we offer institutional endorsement to those employees who are in monogamous, committed, socially sanctioned relationships, and we give those people benefits that we don't give to other employees. Now, you might say, "those other employees don't have people who are as super-special to them as my partner and so they lose nothing!"

I also know some readers will say, "but this lets women into the profession!"

Here's what I say to that. It does. But it, at least in my world and at my institution, lets them in as second-class citizens. It sets up a two-tier system of professorship, which weakens the faculty as a whole, in terms of shared governance. It means that "feminized" departments (like Women's Studies at my institution, which has not a single tenure line ever but which has housed many a spousal hire in its day to serve now defunct general education requirements) are cut more than others when budget cuts come down the pike. It means that women in those "second-class" departments, whether spousal hires or not, are treated like they're not "real" professors. Even if they published a motherfucking book before tenure with a 4/4 load.

Here's the thing. Hiring legal opposite-sex spouses to ease their burdens or hiring same-sex partners - it's ALL heteronormative. And it all SERVES patriarchy. I'm not saying that there aren't ways in which I could approve of these practices - there are. But let's not kid ourselves that anything in this arena is somehow outside of heteronormativity or patriarchy, or that it doesn't exclude people who are not in monogamous, long-term, committed sexual relationships. And if we don't kid ourselves about those things, how can we talk about such practices as liberating or supporting women as a group? I don't think that we can. I think any claims to such provisions as supporting women are revealed, if we really think about them, as reinforcing the systematic dominance and subjugation of women. But maybe that's just me.

**Note: In saying this, I'm not saying that marriage/partnership with another person is bad, nor am I saying that I don't understand why people take the opportunities/advantages presented to them. I'm ONLY saying that we need to recognize certain kinds of privilege that exclude other people, and, in this case, women as a class.

All Packing/Unpacking All The Time

I feel like I haven't had an idea in like 2 months with all of this moving stuff. I mean, I guess I have, but you know what I mean. And while I'd like to write something of some sort of intellectual or academic interest, all I really have to write about is packing/unpacking.

Why packing, you ask? Well, because I've still got some odds/ends at the old place that need to make their way to the new place between now and the end of the month (the plan is to go over every day and grab a few boxes - should be done by Friday). Unpacking I should think would be obvious, but it's in some ways the most frustrating thing because since I'm waiting on furniture deliveries and need to do some painting, I feel like I can't unpack. This is actually pretty stupid, because there are loads of things that I can totally unpack, but I'm having trouble figuring out where things go.... You see.

The kitchen is nearly totally unpacked and organized, however, and I'm very happy with that. Today I think I'm going to tackle the bathroom (well, what I can tackle in there.... I really need to buy some sort of cabinet for bathroom storage, but until that happens, I'll only sort of unpack in there). And then, I suppose I can begin with the books.

See how boring I am? Oh, though I suppose I also have begun to think in earnest about my conference paper, which I plan to draft over the weekend.

All right. I guess that's all because I'm even boring to myself.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Random Bullets of Moving and Whatnot

  • So I'm living in my new house, but I'm still not entirely out of the apartment. The Salvation Army came today to take a bunch of stuff, but somehow I still have some things that need to be moved over here and some things that need to be thrown away. I got a lot accomplished this morning, but I could not make myself stay there after the SA guys came. I suppose it's a good thing that I've got a full week before I absolutely have to be out of the apartment.
  • You may wonder how the kitties handled the move. Well. The Man-Kitty is a sensitive soul who finds any sort of upheaval very disturbing, so upon being brought to the new house, he proceeded to yowl for approximately 45 minutes as if in some sort of horrible agony, and refused to come out in the open but instead hid first behind boxes and then in the front hall closet. Mr. Stripey seemed to feel better about the change of scenery, but did face a difficulty in that he had no clue how to use stairs and so I had to try to model stair-climbing for him. So anyway, at one point he was trapped in the basement mewing, and Man-Kitty was hiding on the first floor and yowling, and I really was deeply concerned that we would never be at peace again. After a bit, though, Mr. Stripey was totally chilled out and back to normal, and the Man-Kitty is now mostly his usual self, though remains a bit skittish.
  • I got new upgraded internet access so now everything is wicked fast! Huzzah!
  • I also now have a DVR, and I feel like on the one hand it's a very cool thing to have but on the other hand it seems a little overrated? We'll see.
  • I bought much new furniture on Saturday (new headboard/footboard, new mattress/boxspring, new drop-lid desk for living room, new chest of drawers) and have also bought a lot of new house-holdy items (sheets, towels, closet organizers, coffee pot, microwave) and so on the one hand I'm feeling like a shop-a-holic who is irresponsible but on the other hand I'm really excited for my house to be put together for once and for all.
  • I have to give a conference paper in just under two weeks. Ummm....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Um? and Argh! and Yay and Ugh

1. I find it really weird when I read about myself as being part of a dust-up or controversial conversation of some kind when I had no idea that I was participating in (or starting) some sort of controversy.
2. I find it really fucking irritating that when Woman A disagrees with Woman B, Woman B feels comfortable characterizing that completely legitimate disagreement as "hatred" and being anti-feminist. Part of what feminism allows women to do is to have their own ideas that might not be identical to other people's. Further, feminism means that women have the authority to have perspectives that don't have to match with other women's perspectives and to talk about those things in public. Expressing disagreement or anger isn't anti-feminist. So I'm really over the public hand-wringing about how women who disagree or express anger (against things that other women are for- oh no!) aren't in solidarity with feminism. Not only is that intellectually weak, it really shows a failure to engage with people who disagree with one's own position.
3. I live in a house. I have one kitten in a window-seat and another kitten next to me on the couch. All kittens are intrigued by the sounds of rain outside and the gorgeous views of this rain that are available to them. My house rules.
4. Ouch. Moving is physically and emotionally exhausting. Don't do it if you don't have to. More on the move in another post - I'm too traumatized right now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


So, I was exhausted from the packing last night, so have some final packing things to achieve this morning. (By the way, after two glasses of wine I switched back to diet coke and actually accomplished a great deal. That's why there were no further posts last night - I packed and then I collapsed.) The movers won't be here for a minimum of 4 hours, so the situation is not at all dire, but I do need to get my ass in gear.

Left to do:

  1. Finish packing kitchen.
  2. Finish packing remainder of bedroom (like 2 boxes).
  3. Move shelves and desk from 2nd bedroom into living room, so that second bedroom can become the land of kittens and things that will go to Salvation Army, as well as of things that I'll discard after the move (I decided that the house was not on fire to take all of my old notebooks from grad school and before to the dumpster before the movers came).
Surely 4 hours is enough time in which to get those things done. Surely.

(All I want to do is to go back to bed.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Packing Update #2

Since last I reported, I have
  1. Talked to my mom on the phone.
  2. Talked to A. on the phone.
  3. Texted with BES (who will call when she's done with dinner).
  4. Talked to Medusa on the phone.
In addition to all of the phone talking, I have:
  1. Had a glass of wine. (expect updates to become slurred as the evening progresses)
  2. Cleaned off TV and TV stand.
  3. Unplugged and put in a safe place the lamp from the one end table.
  4. Removed and cleaned tiles from the top of my coffee and end tables and boxed them.
  5. Thrown a bunch of piddly shit into a basket, which I suspect will end up either in a box or in the back of my Awesome Hatchback of Moving Goodness.
  6. Moved coffee and end tables to less central locations, so that I can commence with some vacuuming.
Once I have finished with the vacuuming, on the agenda is to pack my nightstand (books, random crap), and all remaining clothes/linens, at which point the bedroom/bathroom will be totally done (linens are in the bathroom) will be done.

Onward, ho!


Packing Update #1

Because at this particular moment, I need to take a break after each box is completed. Expect more of these to follow.

I have nearly finished packing the kitchen. Well, I'm about 2/3 done, really. But I see that I'm getting closer.

Now it's time to take some more trash out to the dumpster, and then to take some more small things over to the house. And then I shall return to continue with the Great Packing Extravaganza of 2010!

I Think I Can, I Think I Can....

I can't even talk about the state of the packing. The good news is that I do not have nearly as much squirreled away in hiding places. The bad news is that my house looks like the definition of chaos and I can't even tell whether I'm making progress anymore. I think it's time to call in reinforcements.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gender, Equity, Mobility

Yes, I need to continue packing. But before I do, I wanted to write a post.

Last week, the Chronicle published this piece about spousal hiring. And Bitch PhD wrote this, discussing her situation, having left a tenure-track position and now having "'mommy' [be] where most of my identity lies these days." And then Profgrrrrl writes about the practice of spousal hiring in response to the Chronicle article and her upcoming transition out of a commuter marriage and into a dual-academic couple working at the same institution. And then Historiann posted this in response to this post over at Female Science Professor.

Let me state some things up front, just so nobody gets the wrong idea:
  1. I'm not totally against spousal hiring.
  2. I do think that the structures of academia are inherently patriarchal, and that those structures systemically do benefit men and not women.
  3. I do believe that women academics should be compensated equitably with their male peers, based on job performance.
In other words, I'm not actually in disagreement with any of the posts to which I'm linking.


Something is sticking in my craw about these posts and about some of the comments that they've generated. I'm trying to figure out how to write about the discomfort that I've been feeling in a way that is systematic and that brings it all together, but I'm not sure if that's possible. Hmm. Ok, I think I'll give up on that and just write about each piece of the puzzle individually, and then maybe after doing that I'll come to some sort of general conclusion where it all comes together? Or maybe I'll just leave you with all the pieces. We'll see.

Spousal Hiring

As I noted above, I am not unwaveringly against this practice. That said, I think the thing that bothers me when we talk about "spousal hires" is that the conversation often leaves out discussions about how "accommodations for spouses" are made at poor, non-research institutions. At elite institutions (like Johns Hopkins or Princeton, where the Chronicle author is writing from), or at major research universities, the practice of spousal hiring, or "opportunity hires," strikes me as a reasonable practice. Typically it is true in these contexts that individual departments don't lose a line when they make these hires, and typically it does seem to be the case that the "opportunity hire" is a candidate that is excellent and which the department would be lucky to have. (Note: I'm just talking about faculty spousal hires here.)

When we get to an institution like mine, though, my sense is that the issue becomes much murkier. The murkiness comes from the fact that my institution does not have a history of making "opportunity hires," whether they are spouses or just people who would come and raise the profile of the institution. Instead, any such hiring has historically been done in a back-door fashion. So, for example, let's say that we made Candidate A an offer. Candidate A, whether male or female, had a spouse who is an academic. (Note that I say spouse here. This is crucial. We are not talking about partners - we are talking about legally married people.) Historically, if we really wanted the candidate, the chair might agree to "find something" for the spouse, and that "something" would be something off the tenure track. Then, once some time passed, a hiring line would open up in the department. An ad would be written to fit the trailing spouse, as long as the couple had played nicely and sucked up to the right people. And then, under the auspices of an open search, the trailing spouse would be hired into a tenure-track position, regardless of the coverage needs of the department and regardless of the quality of other candidates being interviewed for the position. (Note: I am putting all of this in the past tense because I feel like the days of such practices in my department are likely behind us given the current make-up of my department and the ways in which the university is changing, but this is the way "spousal hiring" worked in the past.)

So I guess what I'm saying is that in my context my problem with spousal hiring is as much a problem with "inside candidate hiring" as it is anything else. And, looking at the history of my department, I don't see where either practice has worked to benefit women (either as a group or as individuals).

On Working in a Department with Colleagues Who Are Married to One Another and Who Have Children

The proponents of spousal hiring often talk about spousal hiring as a way of promoting gender equity in the workplace, and of supporting women's prospects in academe more specifically. The logic of this, as far as I can tell involves the following suppositions: a) women are more likely to give up an academic career in the service of family, so hiring spouses makes more opportunities for women in the profession; b) women, who typically serve as primary caregivers for children, benefit from not being put into the position of having to live apart from their partners, i.e., if we make sure that both parents are in the same location, then the work of parenting can be shared more equitably, which is good for women.

I get the logic. But how I've seen this play out on the ground is a whole lot uglier. In my experience, the patriarchal constraints of marriage and child-rearing can be reinforced by the practice of having both spouses employed in the same department (and this is whether the initial trailing spouse was the female half of the marriage or the male half). So. Let's think about what the situation would have been if both partners hadn't been hired and granted tenure. According to the logic above, the woman would have felt compelled to abandon her career in order to follow her husband, and then the husband would have the benefit of her uncompensated labor and would be able to outperform his female colleagues, while his wife would have given up her own career ambitions in the service of her husband. Bad. Patriarchy. I get that. But. What I've seen happen when both spouses are hired is not that you get two great colleagues. Rather, you get one colleague for the price of two. Only one colleague will be present at any given meeting. The Parent-Colleagues expect that their teaching schedules will be organized so that neither is on campus at the same time. The Parent-Colleagues form a voting block, and one speaks for the other. And, since research isn't a high priority at our institution, one of them doesn't actually do any research post-tenure, and instead cruises along at the associate level getting paid a full-time, tenured salary, while performing all of the duties of a stay-at-home parent. Who makes up for the work that this person doesn't do? A lot of times that falls to women colleagues without children. So, this "feminist solution" that keeps families together has the potential at an institution like mine to reinforce an inequitable division of labor in the home and to exacerbate in inequitable division of labor in the workplace.

And Then There's the Issue of Equitable Pay

So now I'm turning to FSP's original post about her salary situation, and then to Historiann's post about it. In this profession, the reality for both women and men is that raises/resources are scarce, particularly once one achieves tenure. Salary compression sucks. Compounding that suckitude is the fact that women face barriers to negotiating salary at the time of hiring, which puts them behind before they even start. I'm not disputing any of that. Actually, I'll go even further. It's also the case that women are often not given commensurate rewards for performance while on the job, or incentives commensurate with those given to male colleagues to perform at higher levels.

I think the thing that gets me, however, about the conversations about salary is that the playing field within the profession - which demands that one, whether male or female, either get a new job, get an offer that your current institution will counter in order to keep you, or to move into administration - disadvantages women (as a group) more than it disadvantages men (as a group). Here are some reasons why this bugs me: 1) it seems to assume that all women in the profession are place-bound, married mommies (and that being a married mommy means that one is place-bound) or have a strong desire to become place-bound, married mommies, and that the status quo in terms of how to get a raise is an obstacle to women's one true vocation in life - wifehood and motherhood; 2) it assumes that all men, even if they have children or are married, are free and mobile and that they can just pick up and move without a second thought; 3) it assumes that all single and/or childless folks have no commitment to place or reasons for not wanting to uproot themselves in terms of location or job. The fact is, place-bounded-ness is a problem in this profession whether one is male/female, gay/straight, parenting/child-free, old/young, tenured/untenured/unemployed, married/unmarried. This is not some dirty secret that is hidden from people until after they get tenure. When you choose the profession, this is one of the things that you choose.

This is not to say that salary inequity is excusable or that we shouldn't fight against it. I think that we should. But in terms of negotiating strategies, saying something along the lines of "colleague X makes more than I do and it's not fair" is not a great one. Now, if one can look at the salary data for women vs. men across an entire department or institution and show that there is across-the-board inequity, that's a different thing. Or if one can demonstrate one's market value beyond the institution, and then use that to leverage for a raise, that's also another thing. But to say, "I'm a woman and so for that reason I can't go on the market or move or go into administration, but I want a higher salary because Joe Blow has one?" Yeah, if I were a person doling out raises, I don't think I'd find that too compelling an argument. And the reality of the profession is that nobody - male or female - can walk into an administrator's office and say, "I did really amazing work this year and I deserve a $10K raise" and expect anything but laughter. I don't know how it works at your shop or in your discipline, but at/in mine, when there are raises (which there aren't now), it's done by percentage, and the difference between people who get the baseline and the people who get a bit more for merit is negligible. And with promotion, the bump is a set percentage - no room for negotiating there.

Let me make this clear: I believe in equal pay for equal work. Without a doubt. Individually, I'm a victim of salary compression, and I just bought a house and am in the most glutted of all glutted fields and probably will never be competitive for another job again, so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon and I'm never going to see some huge jump in salary. I'm place-bound, and at least for the moment I have no desire to move into administration. But none of those things relate to my biological sex or to the constraints of gender. This is not about systemic inequity, at least in my case. It's just one of the (many) opportunity costs of pursing an academic career.


Having written all of this out, I'm not sure what to say in conclusion. I know that the personal is political, and I realize that all of these broader issues relate back to individual women's lives, and thus are feminist issues. And let me state again that I'm not actually "against" any of the posts to which I linked or to the issues that they raise. But I do get frustrated when I feel like when we talk about "women's issues" we're really talking about "issues for women who either are now or who will most certainly become married and/or mothers." And I get frustrated when we talk about "issues in the profession" but we're really talking about "issues at research institutions that are well-funded." I'm not saying that we should substitute my individual situation (unmarried, childless, at a regional, public, primarily teaching institution) for "the situation of all women" or that such a substitution would be preferable or good in any way. I am just looking for a little more complexity when we talk about "women's issues in the profession."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Packing (Just Skip This. Seriously. I Know It's Boring.)

So I've packed one box so far today. A box full of bathroom stuff. Blah. I figure I'll pack another box of bathroom stuff and then I'll be done with everything I can pack in the bathroom. While I did manage to get my bedroom closet totally emptied out yesterday, I do still have more bedroom packing to do. I lack enthusiasm. Sigh.

I feel like the unpacking will be easier and less irritating than the packing, but I think that's a lie I'm telling myself in order to motivate me to pack.

Ok, guess I should go pack another box. Then maybe I'll take a nap (even though that would not be a wise decision).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Clothes, Purging, Moving

I have more clothes than any one person reasonably needs. This is what today's packing adventure has demonstrated to me in no uncertain terms. I've amassed two huge hefty bags that will be donated, and I suspect that before the night is through I'll fill 1-2 more. Lest you think that I never get rid of anything, I donated a bunch of clothes last year. One of the things about not moving for 7 years, though, is that I've kept a lot of clothes for a lot longer than I should have done.

But you know what? I'm still keeping clothes I wear only infrequently. Example: I own five suits. I only wear these suits at MLA, and then, only if I'm presenting or if I'm on the market. It seems stupid to get rid of them because suits are expensive and the ones that I have are pretty boring and basic and have yet to go out of style. And they do all fit (well, ish. two are slightly smaller, three are slightly bigger, so depending on my weight at any given MLA, I always have two suits that fit that are appropriate for fall/winter/spring weather). But I don't wear them with any sort of regularity. I similarly have like 5 or 6 dresses that I only break out for special occasions, some of which don't actually fit, but I can't seem to bring myself to get rid of the ones that don't fit, even. And then there are the Clothes of Boyfriends Past, a collection that I started in the last century, and that I've had squirreled away in my closet for I'm not sure what reason. (I am tossing all of these this go-around... well, or mostly all. I don't know how I could bring myself to get rid of this one tie-dyed t-shirt or this other really warm sweatshirt....) And then I have this long-sleeved sort-of-sweatshirty thing that I got for my 15th birthday with which I can't bear to part.....

But I am making some headway in getting rid of a lot. Even though it hurts my feelings to let some of these things go. Like, for example, I've already put in the "donate" pile 4 pairs of jeans. I never get rid of jeans. I mean, they're jeans. But I keep buying more, and I stop wearing certain pairs when I do, so seriously, I should get rid of them, right? I think I'm going to limit myself to keeping 5 pairs total. If I do that, then I will need to purge like 8 more pairs of jeans, some of which date back to the early '90s and that I haven't worn since the late '90s. I'm also doing a major t-shirt purge. Because you know what? I have all of these t-shirts (some of them "nice" ones to wear with skirts or slacks, and others "scummy" ones that are reserved for working out or sleeping or lounging around the house). And you know, of those nice ones, there are ones I've not worn in years because when I bought them shirts were cut shorter, and now they look totally out of style and weird, even though they're in just fine condition. Same thing goes for a number of my ribbed turtlenecks. I don't wear them because they look stupid, but they're "still good" so I've hung on to them for long past their fashion expiration date.

I really wish that Stacy and Clinton would come to my house tonight and just throw everything in a big trash can and then give me $5K to spend on a whole new wardrobe. Because seriously? That would at least make the purging more fun.

And you know, I could take this moment to vow that I will never allow myself to get into this predicament again. But I won't. Because I think such a vow would set me up to feel like a big fat failure. Two ginormous walk-in-closets in my new house make it almost a certainty that I will, again, be in this position.

However. If I can just get rid of a ton before moving, I should have at least another 7 years before I'm in this predicament again, and who's to say that I might not improve? I mean, I'm getting rid of most of the Clothes of Boyfriends Past! That has to be a sign of a turning point! I mean, I've got t-shirts that I've hung on to for nearly 20 years! And I'm finally ready to be done with them! This is a good sign!

So. Tonight I shall finish with the bedroom. This is my goal. And then, tomorrow, I'll take some more stuff over to the house (more shoes, some more laundry baskets filled with blankets and towels and things, some closet organizer things, some things that might easily be broken by movers, etc. - and by the way, I love my tiny little hatch-back car with all of its spacious seat-folded-down goodness!) and then I will get everything out of the second bedroom that will be moved (book-shelves, crates of old journals, all of my research files, etc.) and transfer in all of the things that will be donated and then pack up all but the most essential things in the bathroom. That will then leave Monday for any remaining items in the living and dining room, and to begin on the kitchen, if possible. Then Tuesday I will finish the kitchen. (Sometime between Monday and Tuesday I will need to be over at the house so that the guy can come clean/stretch the carpet upstairs, so that is where things will depend in terms of when I embark on the kitchen in earnest and when I complete it). Assuming that all of that goes according to plan, Wednesday will be a "free" day where I can finish up packing odds and ends, finish cleaning stuff around the new place, etc. And then, Thursday morning I can continue doing odds and ends sorts of things, and then Thursday afternoon I move!!!!!!

While I am not at all excited about packing, I am very, very excited to be at the point at which I will have already moved into my house.

Packing is for Losers

And no, I'm not cleaning that refrigerator today, nor am I mopping any floors, because seriously? It's a lot more important that I begin drinking wine in order to make this packing less painful.

In other news, I met some neighbors today, and I have secured a person to mow my lawn for me for a completely reasonable price.

Ok. Off to take some crap over to the house, and then to go buy myself some wine, and then home for Packing - Round Two.

On Today's Agenda

Ok, it's crunch time. I am moving in less than a week, and it occurs to me that I am so far from being packed that it's ridiculous. So. On today's agenda:

  1. Pack the books in the bedroom.
  2. Pack all unnecessary clothes and all linens.
  3. Pack all unnecessary shoes/boots.
  4. Organize all bedroom-related items to be donated or pitched.
  5. Go over to the house, do a load of laundry.
  6. While doing laundry, clean refrigerator, stove, and sweep and mop kitchen floor.
  7. Do touch-ups on Nook as necessary, and clean up painting mess.
Yes, this is an ambitious list, but it shall be completed! It shall! (Because time is of the essence and I need to get at least one room done in order to feel like I can be ready to move by Thursday.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Growing Up

There are lots of great things about pursuing an academic life - about going to graduate school and then becoming first a tenure-track and then tenured professor. Not among those things is the fact that pursuing an academic life can actively get in the way of one growing the fuck up.

I spent most of my morning "taking care of business." This involved 1) setting up phone, internet and cable for the new house, 2) setting up the discontinuation of service with my current cable company, 3) calling about getting my carpet in the upstairs stretched, 4) setting up an appointment with an accountant regarding tax stuff. Upon completion of these tasks, I thought to myself, "Self, you're actually doing grown-up freaking things. How totally weird." (Of course, BFF noted that I'm not really a grown-up because I have neither written a will nor contracted hemorrhoids, and those are the markers of truly being an adult. I say, if hemorrhoids are required for true adulthood, I hope never to be an adult.)

Actually, that's been something I've thought to myself throughout the home-buying process. That suddenly I'm actually a grown-up person, when really for most of my 35 years on this planet I haven't been.

One of the things that resulted from my choice to pursue an MA and PhD and then tenure-track employment back-to-back (though obviously the t-t gig was partly luck and not totally "choice") was that I made choices (sometimes conscious and sometimes not so much) that kept me from growing up. In order to achieve my academic goals, I postponed or avoided things that might tie me down or root me in ways that would be difficult to change. The reality of this profession is that we need to stay mobile in ways that are often contrary to embracing adult responsibilities and adult roles. It strikes me, now that I'm finally putting down roots through the buying of a house, that I'm also finally becoming an actual adult.

One of the prices I paid (and I'm not saying that all people in academic careers pay this particular price - just that it was the price that my academic career exacted in my own life) in order to excel in this profession was to avoid the sort of milestones that typically signal that a person has grown up. I didn't marry. I didn't have children. I didn't buy a house. I didn't take vacations - like real vacations paid for out of my own hard-earned money, as opposed to those subsidized by piggybacking them onto a conference or by my parents. I didn't work at a real "career" until I was 28. Even once I did work at a real "career", I kept myself mobile in order to have the potential to change jobs. The reality is this is not a "normal" trajectory for growing up. Most people grow up by the time they're in their mid-to-late-20s, via one or more of those markers. And growing up means things like putting down roots: being place-bound, being bound to other people who are not hundreds and thousands of miles away.

Again, I'm not saying that my experience here is identical to the experience of all people who pursue academic careers. Lots of people get married, have children, take vacations, work in real careers, buy houses, before they go to grad school, get tenure-track jobs, or achieve tenure. Or they do so during that time. But I didn't. I couldn't. Not if I wanted to be a professor, not in my particular situation.

So here I am, at 35, growing up, when many of my friends already accomplished that 10 years ago or more. (Seriously, by the markers I've noted, I have friends from elementary school who were grown up 20+ years ago.) And it's a weird and daunting thing to do, after having lived for so many years avoiding attachments, responsibilities, and obligations - avoiding, totally, growing up. After so many years of knowing that "growing up" could be a significant hindrance rather than an accomplishment. It's a weird thing to do to put my growing up ahead of the job, or ahead of the profession. It's a weird thing to think that doing these things isn't, in some weird way, breaking the rules.

Getting to hang with my former student today, let's call her E., and befriending BES... through those friendships I see the ways in which I've stunted certain kinds of growth in myself in the service of academia. And while I try to counsel them in ways that show them that they shouldn't do what I did, I do kind of feel like I'm in no position to advise them, since I'm only becoming a motherfucking grown-up like right now.

That said, there's something kind of cool about growing up and knowing that this is what I'm doing. There's something cool about growing up consciously, rather than having it happen without me realizing it. It's nice to be able to experience all of this now, knowing that I'm not just doing the "done thing" but rather that I'm making choices and decisions and things that are making it happen.

That said? One probably would be better served by growing up a hell of a lot earlier than at 35 years old.

Loves Hanging with Former Students Who are Now Friends :)

So, I didn't go over to the house today. I had the best intentions, but I had a lunch date with a former student which turned into an afternoon of catching up. Totally worth the time away from packing/cleaning/painting. Yes, this means I'll need to be highly productive tomorrow and in the coming days to catch up, but whatever. It will all get done.

At any rate, my lunch date was with my student who, before BES, was my One True Awesome Student. She had gone on to a great MA program after graduating with her BA, and she did very well and then, smart cookie that she is, she chose not to go on for the PhD immediately but rather to get a good job doing Other Thing about Which She is Passionate, and she is doing so incredibly well. In the time since I last saw her - which is like 4 years now, I think - she's totally come into her own. She's come out to her parents, she's thriving at her job, she's just... awesome. And it was so totally great to get to catch up and to learn about her life and who she's become. You know, one of the things that I love about my job is that my students stop being my students. At a certain point, a transition happens where they just are these awesome people I know, and who I really like and enjoy hanging out with. That transition takes some time, and it's always a little weird at first, and obviously it doesn't happen with every student, but when it happens, it's totally great. And you know, the fact that such transitions are possible is really wonderful - and it shows me that even teaching at a large regional university I really do develop strong connections with students that I teach. I know that's not true for every student, or every instructor, at my institution, but it's so awesome to know that it's possible.

In other awesome news, the panel that I proposed for MLA was accepted! It was proposed as one of the allied organization non-guaranteed panels, and I have to say, I'm really stoked that we didn't get rejected.

I've actually got a substantive post brewing about an actual topic, but I wanted to bask for a moment in the awesomeness of today before embarking on that enterprise. Not sure when that actual topic will turn into a post, but soon. I'm mulling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In Which I Cut Myself Some Slack

I accomplished VERY little today. By "very little" I mean I made a list and packed two boxes. You know what? Sometimes you need a break, and the thing to remember with moving is that, like grading at the end of the semester, moving day will happen and somehow I will get everything done by the time that day comes.

But so anyway, I'm boring. I thought about all the stuff I wasn't accomplishing, and I took a nap. Ah well. Maybe I'll get a few more boxes packed tonight and then I will feel less like a slacker.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Officially, and Totally, DONE

I submitted my grades, I attended the final meeting on a last-minute committee assignment, I cleaned out my mailbox, and I put a sign on my office door that reads "Dr. Crazy is on sabbatical until January of 2011. If you need assistance, please go to the English Department Office." I have updated the outgoing message on my university email similarly, including a caution to people who email me that they may need to wait up to a week for a response to any email that they might send me. Let the Wild Rumpus Begin! Sabbatical is HERE!

Well, I suppose it's more accurate to say that my summer fellowship is here, and it will be followed by my semester of sabbatical. Seems like splitting hairs to say that, though.

Today, I continued with the Painting of the Nook (of ideas? of motherfucking Jameson? Of Ideas and Delicious Whiskey? That last one sounds absolutely delightful, although it is true that ideas had while drinking whiskey are often quite disappointing when viewed in the sober, bright light of day....) and I went to a 2-hour-long meeting, still somewhat paint-spattered, but at least I did change out of the clothes in which I painted. Because Comrade Physioprof lacks patience, I will reveal that the color of the walls is "dusty plum" - and I'm really loving it and I feel like it's going to be utterly fantastic (though I am sad that I was advised to buy what still seems to be an excessive amount of this paint color, for I cannot have the rainbow bright house of colors, as it would make me sad; ah, well, you live and you learn). In other news, I'm fairly certain that I shall paint my dining room a color called "California Roll," and I'm still undecided on what color I shall paint the room that will ultimately become my bedroom. I'm leaning toward a color called "June Morning," even though I'd thought I'd want a color called "Sea-Salt Blue." It turns out that Sea Salt Blue really reminds me of toothpaste. I'm taking the painting of the Nook slowly, as I've had other things I've had to accomplish as well and it's not like the house is on fire for me to paint the room in one day. Tomorrow, I'm going to spend most of the day packing, but I also plan to finish up with the parts of the Nook that require a ladder and I'll do the windows and ledge thingie (you'll understand this when I post pictures once the room is all finally done), and then Thursday afternoon, I'll do a second coat on the entire room, and then it will be finished.

Also on Thursday I'll clean the bathroom and the kitchen except for the fridge (in the morning), and then I'll go have lunch with Fantastic Former Student. (This is my first student whom I loved and mentored in a real way, before BES. This student went to a top-25 MA program, but then chose, against her grad school mentors' advice, not to go on directly to the PhD and instead to go and coach a college softball team, which I think was a fantastic choice for her. Actually, I feel like one of my greatest accomplishments as a mentor of her was making her feel like it was totally ok to make that choice, and not to go on to the PhD. And she's totally happy and great, and I'm so excited to see her, for while we've kept consistently in touch, I haven't seen her since she graduated! And I love where we're going to lunch! Yay!)

Anyway, though, while Thursday will be dominated by the new house, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be dominated by packing. Though tomorrow I also need to call on some things (accountant, making sure all of the phone, cable, lawn care stuff is set, as well as to cancel on my July conference). My goal is to get nearly the entire shebang packed by Sunday, so that I can do more cleaning (the fridge, mopping the floors downstairs) and preparing stuff (getting somebody in to restretch and clean the carpets before I've moved in, primarily) early next week before I MOVE on Thursday. Can I tell you how excited I am to move? There are no words.

But so then I'll move next week, and do what necessary unpacking I have to do, and then I shall begin working in earnest on the conference paper that is looming in the ever-nearer future. Once that's done, my mom's coming for a week to help me paint two rooms, to help me with shopping stuff, and just to spend some quality time. Once THAT is done, I can begin working on research in earnest for a few weeks, and then in the second week of July my cousin is getting married so I'll go to Hometown for that. But wait. There's more to that than it seems. I think that FB is going to go to the wedding with me. Like he'll come see me for a couple of days here, then we'll drive together to Hometown and I'll show him the sights and introduce him to my parents and stuff, and we'll go to the wedding, where he'll meet my entire extended family on my dad's side, which is pretty crazy as there are a lot of them but not really crazy as it will be fun and low pressure because he will so not be interesting compared with the event itself, and then come back here. Is this a good idea? Dunno. But whatever. He's been hanging around for 3 years and he should meet some people. I'm more excited about him seeing my new house than about introducing him around, though :)

Anyway, once all of THAT is over - say, in mid-July - I'll REALLY be in research mode, and I'm really looking forward to that. I've been lining up a writing group with some of my colleagues that will begin then, and I'll be completely free to focus on the Next Book, about which I'm excited but on which I've not really been able to focus with all of the real-life things that I've had going on.

So on top of all of this, I want to write something about Dean Dad's post today, but I can't get it up to give it its own post. So. Suffice it to say that I think that I think of thinking of certain subjects as "serious" vs. others as "frills" is, at its heart, anti-intellectual. Now, this is not to say that we will all excel in all areas, or that we all should. Rather, I think that it makes sense to realize that all subjects - all disciplines - are valuable and important to becoming a well-rounded person. No, I never really loved science in the way that some people I know love science. But that doesn't mean science was a "frill" I could do without. The idea that subjects at which we don't excel or in which we aren't innately interested are in some way a "waste of time" is totally one that comes out of a business model for education, in which the only subjects that matter have a clear connection to a narrowly defined career path (and, at an institutional level, the ones that make money, through enrolling students pursuing those narrowly defined career paths). I think the job of professors is to show students who come in resistant that even that thing that they think is a "frill" or a "waste of time" is meaningful and "serious." I think finding a subject "boring" or "hard" is more about a lack of engagement than it is about anything else. (Note: I found some subjects boring (calculus) and hard (physics). But I blame myself for that, and maybe even the teachers that I had for that, but not the subject itself.) I think when educators (administrators or faculty) start talking in terms of "serious" subjects vs. "frills," as if these are actual categories that we've totally given up on what education is supposed to be about, which, at least for me, is learning even when learning is uncomfortable. Note: I taught a general education course in literature this term to students who were primarily outside of majors anywhere near to English. The vast majority of these students communicated to me that they came into the course "not liking" reading or thinking that they "sucked at English" or thinking that "literature was boring." You know what they came out saying? They came out saying WOW! I never knew that literature could be so cool, or that I could analyze it, or that many interpretations were allowed - and indeed encouraged! I would be shocked if any of these students became English majors. That's not the point. The point is that they learned that something they thought was lame can actually, for them, be something that is enjoyable and cool. Is that a "frill"? Something that isn't important, or a serious moment in their intellectual development? Even if it doesn't lead to a job? Really?

I guess you can imagine how I'd answer those questions.


I'm a lucky, lucky lady. And I am so excited about what these months hold in store.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Productivity is Really Exhausting.

Accomplished today:
  • Bought cleaning supplies and some other odds and ends to keep me busy at the house.
  • Waited around for hours for the gas company to come and read the meter.
  • While waiting, graded finals and tabulated final grades for two of three classes. Also, wiped down baseboards and window sills, cleaned windows in dining room and living room. (For those keeping score, that was 9 windows plus the glass front door, and yes, that was only two rooms of my house.)
  • After the gas company showed up, I then came back to the apartment to grade my 3rd class and to post all final grades. Aside from one straggler, I am DONE with grading until January of 2011!
  • I then went to Lowes, where I bought things for painting. I fear that the old man at the paint counter sold me a gallon more of one color of paint than I needed, and in addition, the guy who mixed up my paint samples for other rooms gave me two of one sample and failed to give me another sample I'd requested. Whatever the case, it's all fine, because I really like the one color so didn't really need the sample that was forgotten anyway, and, well, it sucks to have a gallon of paint that one doesn't need, but I'm sure I'll find a use for it or find somebody else who wants it or something.
  • Oh, and I've begun the project of painting the Nook. I got about 1/3 of the way done, and then decided I was tired and would continue tomorrow. I feel like there might be some rule about not doing that, but if there is, don't tell me about it. Was just too exhausted to continue on.
So all in all, a very busy day. Tomorrow I've got a meeting at school, and then I'm DONE with my semester! D-O-N-E. The time of my summer fellowship will officially have begun, and then, in Fall, sabbatical. I just have to make sure that I get all major crap that *I'm* doing with the house done in the next month or so, so that I can focus on other things. (I'm not saying all things that will be done on the house will be done in 1 month, but I'm saving the things that I'll hire other people to do for me for after that time.)

Oh, and you know what? I am so not used to living in a house with stairs! I think I'm partly so exhausted just because I went up and down so many times!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ah, Home Sweet Home!

Well, actually, I'm writing this not from my house but from my stupid apartment. My house is empty and doesn't have internet yet. But that's right, it's EMPTY! I went over as soon as I heard, and it is fantastic and everything is as it should be. I do plan to spend a day cleaning before moving in, for while the refrigerator was emptied out, it was NOT cleaned, and the kitchen and bathroom floors seem like they weren't mopped, and I noticed some dust and stuff on window-sills... you know, I'm filthy in my own life, but I cannot stand the thought of moving into somebody else's filth. When I looked at the refrigerator, all I could think of was that episode of John and Kate Plus Eight when they moved into their "forever home" which turned out to be more like a "six months and then we'll have a very messy divorce home" and Kate scrubbing out the refrigerator for hours like a maniac.

In other news, I packed a couple more boxes of books today (and I still have more to pack - I'll be shocked if I don't have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 full boxes of books), and I avoided grading. I think that grading will be my task for the day tomorrow (other than calling on a few different things - like to transfer the garbage pick-up into my name, for not only do I live in a place with weird things regarding transfer of property, it is also a (former?) mafia stronghold where "sanitation" and "waste removal" are handled by a private company and not by the city. Once the grading is done, I can devote myself to Project Move.

In other news, I think that I have decided - at least I'm about 90% of the way to this decision - that I'm going to bail on my July conference. I'm not going to get any money from my department to go, it's happening all the way across the country, it falls at an AWFUL time (it ends the day before my cousin's wedding), and you know, I just don't really want to go anymore. I feel badly about backing out, but at the same time, you know, I'm doing another conference already this summer, and maybe I need to focus on things on the home front more than I need to focus on going to conferences right now.

So. Tomorrow: Grading, as well as taking a few more things over to the house and maybe mopping some floors. Oh, and calling on bunches of things that are house-related. And then Tuesday, final meeting of last-minute search committee and more house-related stuff. Wednesday through Friday, PACKING. And then we'll see where I am.

It's all happening! It is, it is!

In Which I Must Grade, and In Which I STILL Haven't Gotten into MY House

The last part first. The seller still isn't out. She was supposed to be out yesterday, but as we all know, moving takes longer than one thinks it takes. You might say, "Um, what the hell, Crazy? How can this person not be out even after your close without some sort of agreement?" Well, what I've learned is that this is "normal" (and totally legal) in this area and that there's actually nothing to be done about it other than to suck it up. Annoying. I'll say this: the next time I buy a house, I totally am going to ask that we write into the offer that the person be out by the closing, because this waiting around is no fun at all.

That said, she's mostly out and SHOULD be out by today. I went over there yesterday unannounced and chatted with her for about 10 minutes to get a sense of where she was with the moving, and while I was nice, I do think it was good that I went over and didn't just call her on the phone. She's supposed to call me when she's totally out of the house, but I intend to go over late this afternoon again if I haven't heard from her. I mean, I may have to put up with this, but I don't have to make it comfortable for her.

At any rate, what I should do in the meantime is finish up with my grading for the semester, which shouldn't actually take that long if I just set my mind to doing it. It's not really what I want to do with my day today, but I know that if I get it done, I'll ultimately feel very happy and like it's not hanging over me.

So that's the latest. Perhaps another real post later.

Friday, May 07, 2010


Ok, so I'm feeling less whiny and bitchy and so now I can really embrace writing a positive post about my life.

What's awesome in my life?

  1. I'm a tenured professor at a job that I (mostly) love.
  2. I have administered my last final, and thus I'm not going to be in a classroom again until January of 2011, bitchez!
  3. Speaking of the previous, I have a summer fellowship, which means that I will not be teaching this summer and yet I will also receive ~$3500 after taxes on top of my regular salary after taxes in my very next paycheck, and also I have a freaking sabbatical for the fall, which means that I will get paid not to be in the classroom (see above) and not to be on any motherfucking soul-sucking committees, until January of 2011, bitchez!
  4. As of May 20, I will live in my own freaking awesome little fantastic house! A house on which I got a very good deal, which does not require me to share walls with any other people! A house with an upstairs and a downstairs and a basement! A house with a Nook of Ideas and a HUGE freaking bathroom! A house that now has a porch that will survive the apocalypse, given the repair that the FHA inspector insisted upon!
  5. Because I bought said house, I will also get $8K from the government! Just for buying a house that I wanted to buy and was ready to buy anyway! $8k! And in addition, I will no longer be edging ever closer to having to pay mother fucking taxes at income tax time! And even beyond that, my mortgage (minus taxes, insurance, etc.) is only $84 more a month than the rent that I currently pay! (And yes, I realize that taxes, insurance, etc. add up to more, but the point is, I am a very smart lady who bought a house that she could afford! Huzzah!)
  6. Tomorrow is graduation! Graduation! Where I will get to watch students whom I love walk and we will celebrate not only their accomplishments but also my own accomplishments as a teacher of them! Wearing my awesome, awesome regalia! (Regalia that now is only costing $85 per wear, and the cost of which will continue to reduce the more years I wear it! Three cheers for Mom and G. buying my regalia as my PhD graduation gift! Especially since it's, in my humble opinion, the prettiest of all the regalia of all of the professors who go to graduation, for most of my colleagues have lame black robes and my robes are a gorgeous sky blue!)
In other words, my life fucking rocks.

I have to say, I really enjoyed my closing. I felt so empowered and so amazed that I've gotten myself to the point where I could embark on the adventure of home ownership. Remember, just 2-3 years ago, I was near 20K in credit card debt (which lingered from grad school and before and after) and this would in no way have been a possibility for me to do if I hadn't paid off that debt. Also, and this was something that I hadn't expected, I loved that this was something that I did by myself and for myself - that I didn't wait to be partnered up to buy my first house. I had never thought I'd buy my own house - I'd always thought I'd do it with somebody else. I never had home ownership as a personal goal of my own. The fact that I could do this on my own, that I did do this on my own, well, I'm astonished by that. And you know what? It feels totally freaking amazing! As much as I've wished throughout this process that I had a person with whom to share the stress of the process and the burden of the financial risk, I love that I am totally on my own in this! It's MY house not OUR house, and that freaking rules. (Well, I guess it's "our" house if we consider the Man-Kitty and Mr. Stripey, but seriously, they don't help with the bills or with the upkeep, so I think I get to call this "my" house even if they are my roommates for life - their lives, not mine, hopefully!)

So. Some things that I've learned throughout the process.

  1. I think that it was a really good thing that I waited to buy a house until I felt very ready to take it on. Yes, I lived in an apartment I didn't (don't) love for 7 years. But it gave me time to get to know the area in which I live, to know where I'd like to buy and to know what mattered to me in an area in which I would buy.
  2. As much stress as this process involved, it was made a whole lot less stressful because I waited until I had tenure to do it. I had a really amazing mentor in grad school who counseled me that waiting until tenure to buy was the smartest way to go. At the time, I thought that didn't necessarily apply if one ended up in a non-high-cost-of-living place (and I don't live in a high-cost-of-living-place). But I'm really and truly glad that I didn't buy until I had tenure. a) I am glad that I felt totally and completely free before tenure to apply for jobs without having to worry about selling a house and b) I am very glad that when I decided to buy a house that I could feel secure in my ability to pay the mortgage - even if I never got another raise between now and the end of time. (This is not to say that one's salary in academia might not go down, what with the trend toward furloughs, but this is also why I bought below what a bank might say I "could" afford - even if I were furloughed, I could manage, even if it meant some more strict budgeting.)
  3. I've learned that patience really is a virtue, and that it really makes sense not to freak out over snags in the process, in that there are inevitably going to be snags in the process. And while I've definitely had some freak-outs, it was good to learn that "freaking out" wasn't actually going to fix anything. I'm not a patient person, naturally, but I have learned (at least some) patience through this process. I've also realized that I'm a smart negotiator and that I have the tools to deal with things that come up at the last minute, even though none of us want to deal with those things that do come up at the last minute.
So. I don't think I've been so proud of myself, well, ever. And I think part of why I feel so proud of myself is that I did do this on my own. Obviously I've had the support of my parents, and I don't want to diminish that, but I really made this happen for myself. And that feels motherfucking awesome.

You might say, "what, Crazy? You didn't feel this proud of yourself when you got your PhD?" You know, I don't think I did. I think I felt like I wouldn't have achieved that without my adviser, without the professors I had during coursework, without the "luck" of securing a t-t job in an abysmal market. This? I feel like no luck was involved, like no legs up were given through mentorship. I feel like I did this totally myself. And that feels amazing.

So, sure, it sucks that I have to wait a day until I can go wander through my house and be all, MY house! MINE! But seriously? This was like the best day ever.

In Which Crazy Owns a House!!!!

Which is very exciting.

Except I'm kind of annoyed. The seller still isn't freaking moved out. So I have yet to go into the damned house that I just signed away my life for. Sort of an anti-climax given the fact that I made the offer on the house a full two months ago.

I know, I know. I'm being kind of a baby. She couldn't get into her apartment until today, and she couldn't get people to move her crap until tomorrow. And her life sucks, because she just lost her house. So I am trying to be compassionate. But it sucks!!!!! I want that bitch out of my house!!!!! MY house!!!!! NOT her house anymore!!!! Waaanh!

I want her OUT.

And I also want for her not to be such a dummy that she couldn't even figure out that she needed to be home (or to leave a door open) in order to get the meter read so that the utilities could transfer, and so now I'm dealing with the hassle of dealing with the gas/electric company and rescheduling and blah.

But, clearly she is a dummy or she wouldn't have mortgaged her life away only to lose her house. So. Whatever. All of this will be over soon, and I will change the locks and make that little sweet house MY home. And tonight I'm going to drink wine and pack. Not exactly how I wanted to spend the evening, but still, at least it's for real happening and all the things have been signed and all is done that can be done for now.

Perhaps more later, when perhaps I'll stop being a whiny little bitch and start being as positive as I really do feel deep down.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On NOT Taking Time Off between Undergrad and Grad School

I've been trying to write this post for days, but it's been a struggle. Because, as Tenured Radical's offering over at her place suggested a few days ago, and as many who commented agreed, there's absolutely nothing wrong with taking time off between undergrad and grad school and, in fact, doing so is more often than not a very good idea.

Let me first note that what I'm about to write isn't advice against taking time off. If one has the ways and means and desire to do so, then I do really believe that a gap between undergrad and grad school can be a really positive thing. I certainly don't believe that it's a bad idea. All I'm trying to do over here is to explain why taking time off might not necessarily be what all students would choose, or something that all students would see a clear benefit with no drawbacks from doing. So, let me state this clearly and for the record: it can be a really good thing for a lot of good reasons to take time off between undergrad and grad school.

As I and a few other commenters noted, though, this "take a few years off to find out who you are and to decide if grad school is really what you want" advice has the potential to alienate students from working-class/minority backgrounds and it assumes a couple of things: a) a certain kind of homogeneous experience at the undergrad level for students who would be in the group that would pursue graduate school, and b) (and this is what I've been having such a hard time articulating which is why I haven't been able to get this post written) a certain kind of worldview in which education itself is understood as a good and in which individuals with the ambition and the talent are entitled to leave full-time work to pursue it.

I did not take time off between undergrad and grad school. I graduated from undergrad at 21, I earned my MA at 22, and I earned my PhD at 28. I got a tenure-track job in English in my first year on the market, while ABD, at 28, and I was 34 when I learned that I got a positive tenure decision. In other words, my feeling that it's not totally and unequivocally necessary to "take time away from school" in order to work at a "regular job" in order to have "greater likelihood of success" at getting into graduate school, doing well once admitted into graduate school, or getting a job after grad school, is heavily influenced by my own trajectory in my own career. And I'm fully and freely willing to admit that if things hadn't worked out so neatly for me that I might feel differently. And I also know that there was a good amount of luck involved in things working out as they did for me, so let me make it clear that I do NOT talk up my experience when I advise my own students about graduate school.

So why didn't I consider taking time off in between graduate school and undergrad? At the time, I had expressed reasons that looking back weren't terribly valid. I didn't want to go into repayment on my loans from undergrad (which were not extensive - less than 10K); I knew that grad school would be a huge commitment of time and emotional energy on my part, and I did not want for that to be my life into my 30s or beyond. Those were the major ones. And knowing now what I didn't know then, those were not terribly compelling reasons. But, what I also said a lot, at the time and after, was that I knew that if I took time in between that I'd never have gone to grad school, although I never really examined what I meant when I said that. I think in trying to formulate this post, though, that this was the biggest of all my reasons, and I think it was actually a good one.

If I'd taken time off, why am I so sure that I'd not have thought grad school was an option later on? Let me present some reasons in no particular order:
  • I was very much raised to believe that once one is working full time that doing so is a life sentence and that if you are "lucky enough to have a job" that the only good reason to quit it is because you got another job that pays as much or more than the one you're quitting. Being "out of work" was a bad thing, and even not working full-time and being self-supporting was a bad thing, and being those things would mean that you were lazy, irresponsible, selfish, or a drain on other people (in your family, if not on society as a whole). I have aunts and uncles and cousins who've failed to hold down jobs, who've been on public assistance, who've been homeless. Their situations caused stress in my family, and there was very little compassion about the plight of these people. It was always very clear to me that once I started working full time that if I for whatever reason "stopped out" of full-time work that nobody would think this was positive. And if I did that after having earned a college degree it would actually be even worse - why go to college if you're going to be a deadbeat who doesn't work? (I should note that my mother has always worked, and both of my grandmothers worked. Not for "extras" but to make sure that the utilities didn't get turned off. So the idea of "staying home with kids" didn't even occur to me as something that a person would do and that counted as work. Work was what one did for money, and not working was a failing.)
  • School was never presented to me as something that counted as work, although I was expected to work hard in order to do well at school. In other words, quitting a job to pursue school would have been akin to quitting a job to be a bum. School was something that would increase one's opportunities in the world of work, but it did not count as a replacement for work.
  • I've worked pretty steadily from the summer that I was 15. I can tell you two times when I did not hold down a paying job: 1) in my final semester of college, 2) during the summer that I wrote the bulk of my dissertation. And aside from those jobs that worked in high school (working at an ice cream place and a frozen yogurt place) all of the jobs that I held down are ones that used my skill set from my undergraduate years, so if I'd gotten a job after I got my B.A., I would not have landed a job in an unfamiliar work environment. I knew what it was to work in an office, to do editing work, to write for publication (newspapers and newsletters), to run a continuing ed program for senior citizens and to develop the advertising materials for it and to write the program handbook for that program, and to tutor. I knew what it was to come home after work and to feel totally intellectually dead inside, and I knew what it was to earn a regular paycheck and to pay bills. I suppose all of this is to say, I could see very clearly that if I went into that world after my B.A., I understood how difficult it would be to leave it.
  • The only real support I had in terms of continuing my education came from people with whom I came into contact at college (and at my crappy regional university, that was mostly professors: not very many of my peers had grad school (or professional programs) on their radar as a possibility). I remember when I decided to change my major to English as an undergrad, and confessing that I wanted to do that to my mom. It was a lengthy conversation that involved a lot of crying and yelling. On both sides. I think about what it would have been like to leave the place where I had any sort of support, guidance, and encouragement about the study of literature, to return to my hometown to get a real job (and an apartment: my mom would never have let me continue living with her rent-free so that I could pay off loans and do things like study for the GRE and write exemplary statements of purpose and writing samples), and I really don't think that I could have kept the idea of graduate school alive in my head for 3 years under the pressures of those conditions, and without the support of people who "got it." You might say that I could have kept in touch with former profs, but coming from the crap regional place I went to (and now teaching at a crap regional place) I can tell you that I don't think maintaining those sorts of relationships is something realistic to expect. (Although I do try to do this with my own students, most of them disappear after graduation for exactly the reasons I'm outlining.) When you teach at a place like that, and when a student leaves to go "live their lives" for a while, it's commonly assumed that the student is not serious, or that their "real life" will get in the way.
  • I look at the women I grew up with, and at some students I've taught, and I think that the whole "real life will get in the way" concern is one that can't be ignored. You know what happens when girls from backgrounds like mine stop out? They get pregnant. Or, if not that, they get boyfriends/husbands who are place-bound and who don't support their ambitions to go on. Of course there are exceptions to this, but those exceptions are rare. If I had gone to live and work in my hometown for 2 or 3 years, I'm pretty certain that I would have ended up in a bad marriage with First Love, just because there would have been a whole lot more support for me to do that than to go to graduate school. And I think by the time we fell apart, I would have been place-bound. And you know what? Worse than not taking time off in terms of one's potential for success in this profession is becoming place-bound.
But so anyway, none of this is to say that taking time in between undergrad and grad school is a bad idea. I think it can really be beneficial. I just am sympathetic to students (the students I teach, the student I was) who feel like doing that means that they will never get to pursue the thing that they want to pursue and that they'd be really great at doing if only they could get the chance to do it. I suppose that people could say that those students (the students I teach, the student I was) are just clueless about what the possibilities are, that taking time off wouldn't hurt them and could only help.

But you know, this is the thing: these students are clueless. I certainly was. And the only place I was ever going to get a clue that I didn't have to settle for a job that paid the bills was in an academic context. I certainly have never heard that from anyone in my family (my mom is the only one of her siblings - 10 of them total - who graduated from high school; my Awesome Aunt is the only one in my father's family (7 kids there) to graduate from college - the local university, and she went part-time while working full-time with no family support in order to do it) or even from any of my friends from growing up.

Here's the thing: if you come from a background where "education" means that you get a piece of paper to get a job, if you come from a background where thinking is set up as opposed to "real life" and "what really matters," if you come from a background where the "done thing" rarely involves a B.A. let alone an M.A. or a Ph.D. - sometimes those three years off can mean that you never pursue the thing that you want most and that you'd be best at and most happy doing. Now, you might say that those students don't "really want it" if they can't stand up to those pressures. But I think a person who said that would be willfully looking away from the real difference between a student like the one that I was or the ones that I teach and students who have a great many more resources (emotional, financial) and a great deal more privilege, in terms of their ability to negotiate academic conventions and culture.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Two Unrelated Items

1. First, blogging the lost: Where, oh where, are the two books that are now overdue that I'd checked out through ILL? Did I return them? Did I take them to my office? Are they in a bag somewhere?

2. I am sick of when people, in a conversation about the crappy job situation in the humanities or reasons not to go to grad school in the humanities, trot out the "you know, that dummy who majored in English could have become a plumber/HVAC guy/mechanic/ etc. and would be making twice as much money blah blah blah" line. People either say this when they are anti-humanities (why wouldn't you get a degree in something that has value?) or when they are pro-humanities (why don't people value English professors as much as they value people who unclog toilets?! What is this world coming to?!). Why does this bug me? Well, first and foremost because I grew up knowing a lot of dudes in trades or unionized jobs (and we are talking about dudes here for the most part because all of these are highly masculinized professions) and the reality is that those people work really hard at those jobs in order to send their kids to college so their kids will not have to work in those sorts of jobs. If those jobs are so great, then why would people in them not want those jobs for their children? Second, it bugs me because it totally romanticizes these sort of trades as if there is no unemployment, no being laid off, no inequality, etc. My friend A.'s boyfriend is a pipe-fitter. In a union. Guess what, people? He just got a job after over a year of being unemployed. And because of his being in the union, he could not just go out and find a non-union job unless he wanted to give up all of his time clocked in the union, etc. I could tell you similar stories about my dad, my uncles, my grandfather - all guys in union sorts of jobs, in trade sorts of jobs, with no higher education. So you know what? The next time anybody trots out that example, I am, I warn you now, totally going to go ballistic on that person. I hereby declare that I think this is stupid and anti-intellectual rhetoric and that academics who resort to it should be ashamed of themselves.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

My Mom, Hilarious and Ungrateful :)

"I don't know what's wrong with Betty [younger sister of my mom]. You know her. She always buys me these crappy figurines that are like an angel or something with some slogan like 'sisters are friends forever.' Gag. It makes me want to stab myself in the eye! Why can't she get me a present that is good for something? I mean, what am I supposed to do with this stupid thing? Display it? I think the bag she put it in cost more than that dumb angel."

Yes, this is a direct quote.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Mother-Daughter Relationship from An Adult Daughter's Persective

Thanks to various voices across the blogosphere, I've been thinking about the relationship of mothers to daughters a good amount this week, but I'm compelled to post something less because of those conversations than because today is my mom's birthday. And you know, mother's day is coming up, too, so the timing seems to be right.

But so yes, my mom is 56 years old today. (For those of you keeping track, yes, that means she was just 20 when she had me, 19 when she got pregnant. No, that pregnancy wasn't planned and yes, my parents had a shot-gun wedding.) Now you might think that because I've got such a young mom that our relationship would be more friend-like than mother-daughter-like. I mean, you've heard the narratives about young mothers and their daughters, which usually are something like, "it was like we grew up together" or "my mom is my best friend because she was so young when she had me."

But you'd be seriously mistaken if you thought that. Yes, now that I'm an adult, I do have a friendship with my mom, but it's unlike any other friendship I've got. I would not call my mom my "best friend." I'd call her my mother. She's one of a kind and in her own category. I've got "best friends" but my my mom is not who I call when I want a "best friend" sort of conversation. My mom is who I call when I need a mother. That's how both of us like it. The fact that she's my mom totally comes before any friendship we have developed. Which means that there are things I don't tell her, or don't tell her in their entirety, and there are things that she doesn't tell me. We don't hang out or go out together in the way that I would with my actual friends. (Which is not to say that we don't spend time together or do things together, but the shape that takes is a mother-daughter shape.) She has Opinions. She makes those Opinions very clear. She is bossy. She is protective. She's sometimes overbearing and nosy, in a way that I wouldn't accept if she were not my mother. I don't say all of this to indicate that we're not close. We're tremendously close. But not in a way in which we "honor the friendship that we have" if you get my drift. Her philosophy of motherhood, if I give myself license to describe it, would not include the word "honor" at all. Instead, it would include words like "raise" or "teach" or "discipline" or "encourage" or "sacrifice," but not "honor."

I suppose one could say that we have a "special bond" or something, but I've always felt a little... I don't know... resistant to the discourses about the "special bond" between mothers and daughters, mainly because my relationship with my mom doesn't actually feel like how that "special bond" is usually described. (At least not to me. You'd have to ask my mom whether those accurately reflect her experience, though I bet if she were here to speak for herself she'd say something along the lines of, "um, all that stuff about mothers and daughters is 'shit-sweet' and isn't real life.") The dominant discourses about mothers and daughters tend to feel very greeting-card and pretend to me, and don't really talk about my relationship with my mother in a way that resonates.

So here's just one example of what it's like with me and my mom. I was awakened by the phone ringing at 8:30 this morning, and it was my mom. The first words out of her mouth were, "I've been waiting for you to call me to tell me happy birthday! Why haven't you called me yet?!?" And then I said, kind of groggily and bitchily, "I'm not even AWAKE yet! You need to hold your horses!" And then we laughed, got off the phone so I could go make coffee, and I called her back. Not exactly a Hallmark moment, but that's what we're like with each other. And no, I didn't even send her a card (because I'm a jerk), but she doesn't hold that sort of jerkiness against me, because she's my mom, and not my friend. (But, to be fair, my friends don't hold that jerkiness against me either. I'm a lot of great things, but thoughtful in the way of sending greeting cards is not one of them.)

But so anyway, what does all of this have to do with the two posts to which I linked? Well, I think the first thing is that I don't think that my mom was ever terribly thoughtful about what it meant for her to be "a mother" in the way of things like, "can I be friends with someone who doesn't like my kid?" This is not to say that she didn't think about what it meant for her to be my mother, or that her identity isn't really powerfully shaped by having become a mother at 20 years old. But I think that she just sort of saw me as part of the package that came with her, and so whether or not people "liked" me they would have to deal with me. I'm not sure it ever occurred to her that it mattered whether people liked me or not (or that it ever occurred to her that it mattered whether I liked or disliked a particular grown-up). As a corollary to that, she (and my dad, when I was little) expected me to suck it up and to behave appropriately in whatever context they dropped me into. It was a two-way street: people had to deal with me, but also I (as a kid) had to deal with people. And I was put into a lot of situations that weren't necessarily "kid-friendly" in the way that I think my friends with kids now would describe "kid-friendly" environments. I was often the only kid present at grown-up parties, my father took me to the bar with him after his softball games, I remember my mom hanging out with people who didn't have kids and I was expected to keep myself busy and not to interrupt them, etc. And if I didn't behave appropriately for the situation, that was on me - not on other people for not making allowances for the fact that I was a kid. (This is not to say that I was expected to be a 'little grown-up' or something at all times - totally not the case - but when I had to be in grown-up environments, I was expected to behave accordingly.)

Now, I think some might say that my parents' expectations for me to deal in these non-kid-friendly environments were somehow unfair to me, but you know, I didn't know that it could or should be different, so I rolled with it. And if I had a melt-down, they took me out of the situation so I could calm down. It really wasn't some big philosophical thing, from what I recall. Now, of course, it was also the 1970s and early 80s, and it was much more normal for parents to just send a kid off to play unsupervised, or to expect a kid to be able to handle more things independently. I mean, I walked to school without adult supervision from about 7 or 8 years old on (though we knew both crossing guards, and it was only a few blocks to my school), and I was a latch-key kid from about 9 or 10 years old on. I babysat from the time I was 12 or 13 (so yes, me alone in a house with a kid or two under the age of 7). If "play dates" had been invented, I don't think that my mom was aware that they existed. Playing was something that you did because you were a kid and the adults wanted you out of their hair. I doubt that these would be typical childhood experiences for most kids today, but I don't think they were negative, at least in my experience.

But anyway, I think one result of this is that my mom's parenting style was such that it was in some ways more authoritarian than what many people I know with kids today might find palatable. She was the grown-up and was in charge, and I was the kid and I had to mind her. This didn't mean that she didn't encourage me to be creative, to have my own ideas, or to have my own feelings. She did. But she encouraged those things in a context in which it was always understood that I was the kid and I didn't get to run the show.

And so this is the thing: the power relationship between me and my mom was always explicit. She had the power. As I matured, I then acquired power, until now we've reached a point where most of the time she realizes that I'm in charge of my own life and that I don't have to do things her way. And the road toward that hasn't always been smooth, but she gave me the tools to challenge her, so that's ok. So now we both have the power, but that certainly wasn't the case when I was little. Basically, and I think that my mom would agree with my description here, her job was to raise me until I had the skills to make decisions and to function independently, and that meant that a lot of times when I was little she didn't think of me as an autonomous person with agency. She thought of me as her responsibility. As I grew up, I became an autonomous person with agency. And now she gets to enjoy the person I've become.

But so this is the interesting thing about Bardiac's post about the mother-daughter bond, which she concludes with the following:

"but mostly there was a romantic sense that of course the mother knew best and should tell the daughter what is what. And suddenly, that sounded lined up with patriarchy in strong ways: women's limited authority comes in having power over children, and lasting power over daughters, and so the patriarchy will support their exercise of that limited authority. And if we romanticize that power relationship, then it can be enjoyed, at least by one, and the other voice can be silenced. And it can't easily be questioned or critiqued."

When I think about my relationship with my mom, I think it's true that she was very much the subject with the power when I was little. But I think what's great about my relationship with my mom is that she never wanted "lasting power over" me as her daughter. She never romanticized our "mother-daughter bond" as this special, irrevocable, everlasting thing - maybe because of her own relationship with her mother, who had five daughters, maybe because I was unplanned and she didn't have much time to construct an ideal of perfect motherhood on which to base her mothering efforts, maybe because she really looked forward to being unburdened of the responsibility of me so that she could get to focus on her own life for really the first time in her adult life, or maybe just because my mom just doesn't tend toward romanticizing much of anything and isn't terribly introspective.

My mom isn't the sort of person who says, "you'd understand if you were a mother." She's said more than once that she doesn't think that the fact that she's a mother makes her any more capable of "understanding" anything than anybody else, because, as she says, she only knows what it was like to be my mother, and also, that she knows a lot of mothers who don't have a clue about much of anything. While she's incredibly proud of my accomplishments, and while she is very proud of the work that she did in raising me, she doesn't take total credit for the person I've become. She doesn't say things like, "Crazy's the best thing I've ever done." She likes that I am independent - not only in my everyday life but also in terms of my relationship with her (even though that independence does sometimes cause conflicts between the two of us). She likes that I don't call her for every little thing, and she likes that I am confident enough to make decisions and choices on my own without her input, or even the input of anybody else. Yes, I'm her daughter, and she loves me as her daughter. I think that's been true since the day I was born. But the way I feel now is that in addition to loving me as her daughter, she also loves me as a unique and separate person from that relationship. I know that's how I feel about her, now. Sure, I love her as my mother first and foremost. But I also love her because she's funny and smart and honest and silly and, yes, even because she can be a bit sharp-tongued and bitchy. I think we both love each other now as "whole people," and I kind of think that's possible both because she explicitly and consciously wielded the power when I was a kid and because she explicitly and consciously relinquished that power (even when I didn't want her to do so, sometimes) once she knew I was able to operate under my own steam.

So happy birthday to my mom. She may not be perfect, she may not be exemplary of ideal motherhood, she may not have mothered the way that any of you would choose to mother your own children. But I think she, as my mother but also as a person separate from her status as my mother, is exceptional.