Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On Writing and Time

"Write first."

That's the advice that one always gets when one talks about the struggle to make one's research a priority and to be a productive researcher. It's advice one gets from the time one begins teaching in graduate school, and it's advice that recurs as one enters a position as an assistant professor. The collective wisdom is that one must privilege one's writing time and that the best way to do that is to put writing before all else. If one waits until later in the day, those wise ones might say, the day will get away from one and one will make excuses and the research and the writing won't get done.

At various times, I've tried to follow this advice. In my experience, it does not work. Similarly, the advice to exercise first thing in the morning does not work for me. When I wake up in the morning, I am barely able to get my coffee and get in the shower. If I'm really in a bind, I can grade. Or maybe do a little class prep. But any task that requires significant motivation will not get done and done well first thing in the morning except for on a fluke. (And even then, only if the writing/research work is merely making editing sorts of changes that are pretty mindless.)

So how does one make time for research? Time for writing? If one just can't write first? And if one's course load is such that it's really not easy to work a schedule where one has to teach only two or three days a week?

It was funny: when I was talking to a good friend of mine who has a t-t job at a Very Prestigious University at the Very Fancy Conference I attended this summer, he was astonished at my productivity over the past three years. (That said, he is very productive himself, and he's one of those people I admire and even envy a bit for their productivity and accomplishments.) What this made me think about is how people talk about a 4-4 load as if it's a death sentence for a research agenda. I know I worried that it would be when I got this job. But it hasn't been, even though I can't do the whole "write first" thing. So perhaps this is a good time (as I'm taking a little break from the book proposal) to write about how I work in the research/writing aspect of things in spite of my heavy teaching and service loads.

First of all, I think rather than following prescriptions about how to fit writing in, one has to go with one's natural inclinations. All of my writing life, I've tended to write and to think and to do all of those complex things in the afternoon and at night. If that is one's natural rhythm, trying to go against that can actually hurt productivity. I always tell my writing students that there is no one right way to write a paper - and that's good advice for us as scholars to take as well. Things I know about myself:

1) I tend not to be able to write in silence. (Unless I've already begun writing and the cd ends or something, which of course never happens now that the iPod has been invented. I also tend to write with the TV on, if I'm not listening to music. I need background noise in order to focus.)
2) I often need to start any writing I do long-hand. I think this comes from the fact that I didn't have a computer until I started my PhD program. My process developed with long-hand as the first step of all writing, and so getting going often requires that I start with writing by hand. I can compose on the computer now, but if I get stuck, or if I'm just getting started, I need to bust out a pen and paper.
3) I need to edit on paper, not on the screen.
4) I need to allow myself to write when I feel like writing. That is not the same thing as waiting for inspiration to write, but it does mean that I need to write at night if necessary, even if it means napping for two hours when I get home from work (which I did today).
5) Try as I might, I can't write in the morning. I can teach in the morning. I can grade in the morning. But if I have a schedule where I'm meant to be accomplishing writing things in the morning, it will not happen. and if I teach late in the day, I will not write at night.

Other factors to consider:
I have a 4/4 load. Now, technically this year I've got a 3/3 load, but the course reduction is filled up with the quasi-admin position, which really is as much work as a fourth course. It is not a true 3/3 load. At my institution, teaching is number one, with service coming a close second. Research and publication runs a distant third, in terms of what my institution values. It is very easy to let teaching and service eat away at one's time.

The response of many to this problem is not to do research during the academic year. Research is what happens when one is "free" in the summer. This does not work for me. Unless I have an ongoing research agenda, I don't do crap when I'm "free" when the academic year is done. It's too hard to switch gears. I need to have an ongoing research agenda in order to produce. But how does one have an "ongoing research agenda" when one teaches five days a week?

I do not relegate research to weekends. Often, on weekends, I do no work whatsoever. I may not have a life, but I do have leisure time, and I protect that leisure time.

So how do I do it?

1. I teach in the morning. My teaching day is done at noon. The idea is that I will then (in an ideal world) get the hell out of work by 2 PM at the latest. This doesn't always happen, but it's always the aim. I'd say that I manage to leave by 2 PM or before 2 PM 2-3 days a week.
2. I spend as little time on teaching as I can do while still doing a good job. One thing I've noticed about my colleagues who've never taught at teaching-intensive universities is that they spend FAR more time on grading and preparation than I now spend. I realized very early on in this job that this use of time did not make sense. When I taught in grad school, I spent a HUGE amount of time on grading and prep, and I think it actually was because I taught less. Teaching more, I've learned how to streamline a lot of what I do as a teacher. The thing to remember is that as the professor, one is better prepared than the students by definition. There is no reason to let that suck one's time away. (Now, I care a lot about teaching, and I do spend a lot of time on it. But I'd argue that I spend much less time per student, per course, than many of my peers who teach fewer courses. The point is to make every bit of time that one spends "count.")
3. Service is a time-suck, and I need to learn how better to manage my service load. That said, I do try to do service that is high-visibility/low time-commitment. I think this is good advice for any junior faculty member.
4. I send out proposals for things. And I don't fret too much about them. Without deadlines, it is really hard to motivate oneself, and conferences are a great way to self-motivate. And if something gets rejected, so what? If one never sent something out, then one would never get an acceptance.
5. I make sure that I do new work by doing "variations on a theme" conference proposals, which means that three or four presentations equals roughly one article. Those presentations that are not moving toward an article are still variations on the same theme, and those will be part of the Next Book.
6. I teach what I'm working on research-wise, and I research what I'm teaching. Research is not "my work" separate from my teaching, but rather the two are intimately related. I do not have the luxury of working on things that I do not teach. There are not enough hours in a day.
7. I have no problem letting things like laundry, cleaning the bathroom, etc. go. Luckily, my cat does not mind my filth, and I don't tend to procrastinate by cleaning. (Though clearly I procrastinate by blogging. But at least I'm writing, right?)

I suppose my point here is that a research agenda is possible when one has a job like mine. No, you won't produce as much as people at research universities. My book is not already under contract, and I've only done two full-length articles, two shorter articles, and about two (sometimes three) conference presentations per year. I say "only" but I think that's actually probably a lot, considering.

This is one of the reasons that I'm on the market. I wonder what I could do, with the experience I now have behind me, if I were at an institution that valued research more. (But then I also fear that I'm one of those people who does better when she doesn't have adequate time to do things.) I also know that I can't keep up this pace if I stay in this job. I'll need to make a choice: research or a more vibrant personal life, as research is the least valued thing that I do, so obviously it will have to be the first thing to go. I suppose as I hear back from places to which I've applied, I'm both motivated to do research right now, and I'm afraid of how things will change, whether I get an offer or not. I know how to do this thing in this job as things now stand. How will I do if I'm somewhere else? How will I do if I need to cut back in the service of other important things (like someday having a family)? And if I have to cut back, is that a compromise I really can make, as research and writing is really the primary thing that made me choose this profession - more than teaching, more than anything else?

But for now, I'll start doing my research work around 9 PM. And I'll keep juggling all of my projects, and I'll keep hoping for the best.

On the CHE Forums again.

And this thread is talking about timelines for hearing back from journals in different disciplines. Another situation in which I'd not post over there, even if I did, in fact, do anything other than lurk. As my journal article that came out this year was accepted (with some very minor revisions) within one week of me submitting it for review. Now, I was invited to submit by the editor after the editor heard my talk at MLA (another bizarre thing, what many regard as an urban myth about what can happen from and MLA presentation), so I suspect there was more motivation than there might have been for an article submitted without solicitation. My point here is this: these forums are stupid. There is no rhyme or reason to this profession.

Oh, and can I just also add that I'm not sure how I feel about the whole introduction of the wiki into the academic job search? When I went on the market the year I got this job, there was no job search wiki. And I think that the not knowing (and not caring) once applications were sent off was preferable to wondering whether there are wiki updates. Because again, there is no rhyme or reason to this profession.

That said, I've gotten some response from 5 of the 9 places I've applied (in the form of yes, we received it and here's an EEOC thing for you to fill out for the most part). I'm kind of impressed with this, as the first deadline for any place I applied was today. Maybe applying before the deadline does have its merits?

(I still haven't done any prepping for tomorrow - including post-it-ing. I may be a slacker.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Now Energized (although it's not the time for such things)

Ok, so since last I wrote, I did the following:

1) Ate dinner.
2) Took an hour-and-a-half long nap
3) Talked to A., a very good friend whom I've known for like... 12 years? Longer than that actually, but we became good friends like 12 years ago.
4) Talked to Friend in Crisis. (Friend is ok, but a series of unfortunate incidents have happened lately, and there is working through it that is being done.)
5) Finished my novel for my class tomorrow (yay!)
6) Decided not to grade those papers to return tomorrow. They can wait until Thursday. I don't care.
7) Worked in earnest on polishing the Book Proposal.

#7 is what has me energized. I don't know whether it's good or whether it sucks, but I'm interested in it. And I refuse to obsess over it: the point is to get it out there and to see what happens. It makes little sense to hang onto it longer and longer only to need to fuss with it more. I have, to this point, gone through one revision of one sample chapter and finished revising the others. With the sample chapter revisions not yet completed, I need to condense some quotes, add in some criticism, do a bibliography for just that chapter, and fuss with the notes (i.e., delete the Horrifyingly Obtuse Notes of Dissertating). I also revised the proposal itself, and the letter to go with it is ready to go for all but addresses. So the thing is to get the sample chapter that is in need of one more go-around done. My goal is to do that tomorrow. And to get the thing to the post office tomorrow. The reality is that the post office will probably happen on Wednesday, as I've also got to go run some Important Errands tomorrow that Cannot Wait. The point is, I want this out so that there is the remote possibility that one of these publishers will want to meet at MLA, which would make going to MLA about something other than interviewing. Also, if I send the proposal out, this will be motivation to do the (basically minor, except for in the new introduction) revisions that I need to make to the rest of the manuscript. And I need that motivation, as unless I send things out, I'm not motivated. I mean, sure, I think about self-motivating, but the whole thing about letting other tasks expand to the time available is true, thus I need some external pressure in order to keep the research chugging along. It's not that I don't love my research - I do - but it doesn't feel "necessary" in the way that teaching and service can. The fact of the matter is, the teaching and research stuff isn't as necessary as I make it out to be, or it is, but it really doesn't require the time that I devote to it when I'm not doing research. So I need to send shit out. Period.

And maybe this will just set me up for rejection, but maybe, like the article that was accepted at summer's end, just sending something will result in an addition to the CV. The fact of the matter is that while I love my dissertation-turned-book-manuscript, I'm done with it. I want to start working on the Next Book. And I can't do that until I deal with the First Book. (God, I totally have too much ambition for my current job. Research-wise, that is. Though the job shouldn't determine one's level of ambition. So maybe I'm just being a snob. In fact, I know I am, as my mentor in my department is a super-researcher, so I'm being dumb.)

I should make some notes for class tomorrow re: the Final Day of Discussion of the Novel. I don't really feel like it. Maybe I'll just post-it some relevant passages.

The point here, though, is that I'm feeling really good. After the Dark Night of the Soul that was Saturday, I'm in a motivated groove. Work may not be everything, but work is really fulfilling. Remind me of this when I complain tomorrow about the 85 students with whom I need to meet. (That is a total exaggeration. It's really like 4 students.)

Oof. Am Exhausted

So I realize that we gained an hour, but I do not feel like I've gained an hour. My body is still on Daylight Saving Time. I know - what's an hour? My the time change every fall and spring always does a number on me. And it doesn't help that I'm trying to do too many things, so that I really needed like 14 extra hours (all of which I'd spend sleeping, if I had my way). So what's on Crazy's agenda this week?

1. Mail off late entry into the application sweepstakes.
2. Check to make sure letters of rec are sent off.
3. Meet with 472 students, some for advising, some to talk about papers.
4. Finish up with the novel I'm teaching in my upper-div. class.
5. Grading (oh yes, It's round...three of grading in the semester.)
6. Finish polishing book proposal and send the blasted thing off.
7. Cross fingers that some jobs want additional materials.
8. Cross fingers that some jobs will want to interview me.
9. Teach bunches of things, most (but not all) of which I've taught before.
10. Watch Man-Kitty take a bath. (Ok, so that's not really on the to-do list, but he's cleaning his little kitten toes right now and is very cute.)

I'm sure there's more, but I just can't take in any more than what I've already written down. Tonight I'm going to do the following: work on the book proposal, in the hope of completing it and having it ready to mail off tomorrow; prep for the final day with the novel I'm teaching; think for a moment about the texts I'm teaching in my other class.

Sorry about how boring this post is. I'm just tired and overwhelmed. Incidentally, though, I did drag my ass to the gym today, so that's a good thing. Must go eat some dinner. Perhaps that will give me energy and focus.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cooking Sunday

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten into a habit of doing a lot of cooking on Sundays. Part of this is because I've been committed to packing lunches and eating like a sensible person. If one hopes to stay true to such commitments, and one is a busy person, one must plan ahead. It's also that I've been so busy during the week that I come home exhausted and don't feel like cooking. So I cook like those women you hear about who make a week's worth of meals for an incompetent husband before they go out of town to visit their ailing sister or something. I make vast quantities of food, enough to feed multitudes, when really there is just me.

Now, the funny (funny odd, not funny haha) thing about me is that I much prefer cooking for myself than cooking for other people. Most people I talk to will say that they can't be motivated to cook when it's just for themselves. They need to cook for someone to be motivated. For me, though, cooking for others is not generally ideal. I find myself afraid to experiment, concerned that the food I'll make won't be well received. I tend to stick to recipes of which I am certain. And this takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. But the cooking I've been doing on Sundays has been of the more inventive variety. While I may start with a recipe, I find myself tweaking it as I go. I don't follow directions precisely; I make adjustments according to my own whims. Or I just make up recipes, and try them out. I've never been in a position where I felt comfortable doing such things when I've cooked for others. When I cook for others, I tend not to try new things. I go with what I know will please.

The liberating thing about cooking for yourself - cooking really delicious things for yourself, rather than just making a stupid frozen pizza or eating cereal or something - is that if you screw it up and the food comes out bad that it's no big deal. There's nobody to complain. You can throw the bad food out if you don't like it, and nobody will be the wiser. And so that then allows you to take risks in the kitchen - to try out something that you've never tried out before.

I love cooking. I think cooking might be my one and only actual hobby. And I think I do make yummy food.

But I'm not a gourmet cook. No, not at all. I don't have the patience for recipes with too many ingredients; I don't have the interest in learning complicated methods of preparation. Instead, I tend to gravitate toward foods that are simple and comforting.

So today, the cooking began with brunch, after I'd gone to the grocery store. I made myself scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and ham and a piece of wheat toast with blackberry jam. (By the way, I will only eat my own scrambled eggs and my mother's. Why? Because I hate scrambled eggs that are not fluffy (a), that are too dry (b), or that are too runny (c). I NEVER get scrambled eggs if I go out to eat - only over-easy.)

Then, this afternoon, I made a delicious roast. A roast, you say? For one person? Well, yes. But I did something with the rest of it later. At any rate, I made a 2.5 lb. roast, and I made some mashed turnips to accompany it. Mmmm. Love turnips.

After I had my dinner, I then took the remaining roast beef and cut it into bite-sized pieces. And I made some beef, barley, and mushroom soup. While that was cooking, I then took some apples, cored them, and sprinkled them with splenda and cinnamon, used some of that "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" stuff that is no calories, and baked them.

When the soup was done, I put it in individual serving-sized containers, and I freezed half of them. When the apples were done, I put all but one portion in individual serving-sized containers and put them in the fridge. Then, I had my dessert: the baked apples with a dollop of sugar-free cool whip. Delicious! Like apple pie without the crust! (Though I've got to say, I do make a wicked-good pie crust, and I did miss it, but as it is about 7,000 calories per bite, I will have to wait until thanksgiving for that treat.)

I am really excited for all of my meals this week. And on one night when I'm feeling some cooking energy? I'm going to make one of my favorite things - cabbage and noodles. (I know, it doesn't sound all that great, but trust me - a better comfort food there never was.)

No Longer Whining, and Finally a Post about my Father

1. So I watched the Sixteen Candles, and it was awesome. Love that Long Duck Dong. Love that muscle-relaxed sister. Love Farmer Ted and his Dipshits.
2. I played some Sims 2 - (with the Pets expansion) the Dogradorias - Sally and ... I forget her husband's name... their dogs Peanut (the Poodle), Bagel (the Labrador), and Noodle (the son of Peanut and Bagel, a Labradoodle), and twins Dashiell and Henry, are all doing fantastically.
3. I got an email from Awesome Mentor who agreed - in spite of being wicked-busy - to write me a letter of rec., and she attached the letter. I generally don't want to know what my recommenders say (I'm totally motivated by thinking that I kind of suck), but reading what she wrote about me really did make me feel great.
4. I watched most of 4o-year-old Virgin, which made me laugh my ass off, even though I don't think it's the greatest movie ever. In fact, I think it's kind of sucky, but parts are hilarious.
5. I finally wrote an email back to my dad. Not my step-dad - my actual dad. I've been promising a post about him, and so I suppose I will do that now.

My relationship with my dad is fucked up. Part of this (most of this) is his fault. He and my mom separated when I was 11. He got married to an Other Woman. (I say "an" because apparently there had been more than one indiscretion on his part during the marriage.) He's been married to her for 20 years this Christmas-time. Basically, from the time of his marriage to her my relationship with him has been... fraught. (At first she did have something to do with this - she was very threatened by me and treated me like shit - but she and I have made our peace. No, I'd never choose her as a friend or anything, but she's not a bad person. She just sucks.) He was not a part of my life during high school, even though there was supposed to be visitation. He did pay child support (though it was really more a gesture than real support). He did not help with my college tuition, nor did he help to support me through grad school. Nevertheless, he's very "proud" of me and likes to take a great deal of credit for my accomplishments (pretty much none of which he deserves).

Now, my father... he's fun. He's a fun dad, good for fun times. When I was a kid, he was great with playing games, being a chaperone on class field trips (and ours was always the "fun car" where he'd let us all scream and be crazy), and just generally being the fun-time dad. When I was in college, when we developed something of a relationship after the high school gap, he was also a good fun-time dad - the kind of dad who would take a 19-year-old Crazy to see Buddy Guy and B.B. King in concert for her birthday like three days after she'd had her wisdom teeth out and was taking percoset for the pain and then buy her beers, which was really fun, I've got to say, even if not exactly smart. He is NOT somebody I can count on in my life. I have not seen him in over two years. Nor have I talked to him.

There was a falling out about four years ago, related to a commitment he'd made to me that he did not honor (because he went to Pittsburgh to see a Steelers-Browns game). The full story isn't really important. The point is that prior to that point, I'd always felt a weird kind of guilt about my shitty relationship with my father. I always felt like our shitty relationship was my fault, that I was not a good daughter to him, and that if I was in some way responsible for how things were with us. NOT that I was responsible for the divorce - I never felt that, for I squarely placed the blame on both of my parents' shoulders - but that I wasn't a "good daughter" to him. When the falling out happened, it forced me to reconcile myself to the fact that he is who he is and that our relationship is not solely my responsibility.

I know my father loves me, and I know that I matter to him. BUT. He is not equipped (for whatever reason) to be a parent to me. And there is absolutely nothing that I can do to make that change. That's what I've grown up to understand. Or if not understand, to accept.

But this isn't only about me and my father. He has two sons with my stepmother. And one of the things that's fucked up is that because my relationship with my father is so fucked up, I can't really have a relationship with them - or not the kind of relationship I'd want to have with them. But so the falling out happened, in the fall of 2002. At Christmas 2003, I sent him (and the family) a card, which I addressed to him, and in the card I enclosed a letter to him, saying that I wanted a relationship but that the ball was in his court (to sum up). He did not respond. Months later, I got an email from my stepmother. She said that she had read the letter and that she had waited for him to do something. He didn't. But my little brother C. talked about me all the time and wanted a relationship with me, and she wondered if I'd email with him. Now, I LOVE C. My other brother, K., I love, but he's kind of stand-off-ish and just isn't that into me. C. and I have had a bond that is entirely unexplainable since he was born, and I was totally excited to have any kind of contact with him. So C. and I email. And I actually see C. and the whole family (including my father) in Summer 2004, though it's weird, because only C. and I have anything to say to one another. (Incidentally, he was born when I was 22, so imagine the madness of him being the only person in that branch of the family with whom I've got a relationship and with whom I can have a decent conversation.) C. and I continue to email, but still, nothing from my father.

Until this fall. I got an email from him. Out of the blue. This initial email was written in the ALL CAPITAL LETTERS OF SHOUTING and was about three sentences long. (Clearly, I realize, I've gotten my writing abilities and talent from my mother. Though I will give him that after I wrote back, he reverted to standard English capitalization.) Anyway, I've got to say, I was really happy to have heard from him. He reached out. I don't know why.

But then I felt some ambivalence. What if I went back to how I felt before? What if I went back to feeling like the "bad daughter" just because we were back in contact? But I wrote back.

Now, I was kind of an asshole in my reply to him. Of course, he didn't know I was an asshole. I was really (on the surface) welcoming to the idea of renewing the relationship. But I also attached my journal article that had just come out. And that was a dick move. Because my father doesn't really have the education to read it and get anything out of it, and I attached it aggressively - "Look at what I did that you can't understand! Look at how dumb you are and look at how you've not supported me!" But then there was also the other message, which was "Be proud of me! Pay attention to me! Look how awesome your daughter is!" (See, the fucked-up-ness of our relationship, while mostly his fault is not entirely his fault.)

But so he responded. He read the article. He mentioned he'd had to look up some of the words in order to figure out what the hell I was talking about. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but my mother has never read anything I've written. She's responsible and deserves credit for everything I've accomplished, but she at the same time has never made that effort. I do not have any resentment toward her because of that - neither she nor my father have education beyond high school, and I get that what I do is entirely foreign to them and that there's no reason why they'd ever read my work or be interested in it, as they've also not read the books I write about. But the fact that my father made that effort, well, it means something.

Now, one reason my mother doesn't feel she has to read what I write is because I translate all of it into English for her as I'm thinking about it. She knows all about my work; she just doesn't read it. And she knows about every single thing that goes into producing it. My father doesn't have that part of me. I don't do that for him. In order to know me, he has to read the article. And I've set it up that way, I guess. And so has he, maybe. But it was weird, that he did read it. I only realized after the fact that I'd attached it as a challenge to him, a way for him to prove he gave a crap. And he actually did it. I don't know what to think about that. (About the challenge I made or the meeting of it on his part.)

But what was weird about his email was that he said this stuff about me that wasn't at all like me (like about me as a kid). It was part of the "I'm so proud of you" schtick he does, but I felt like he didn't remember who I was. And I didn't know what to make of that. I still don't. Maybe I never will. Maybe I am for him somebody whom I don't recognize. Maybe that's what happens when you aren't really in a person's life. And maybe that's true of him for me, too.

But so tonight I finally wrote back to him (after almost a month, because I've been busy and because I'm a jerk who just let it slide, though I'm not a "bad daughter" - just a jerk). And it felt good. The truth is, I want a relationship with my father. Maybe it won't be the relationship I think that we should have, but I do want to know him and I want him to know me. I want for us to be ok. Maybe someday we will be.

I haven't felt that in a long time. It feels good to feel that - that maybe we will be ok.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"I'll Bet You a Dozen Floppy Disks..."

I just got back from dinner out with BFF at our favorite little mexican place that we affectionately call "La Cucaracha." And now I'm home, and Sixteen Candles is on one of the HBO channels, and so that's my Saturday night.

Probably not good that I'm watching the Sixteen Candles, because I'm feeling kind of... somber. Somehow watching this movie makes me feel like I'm about 14 years old and really lame when I'm in this sort of a mood. Add to the fact that it's Saturday night, and, well, you see.

Part of the problem is that I hate Halloween. I especially hate the way adults have co-opted Halloween and run around in couples costumes. Or maybe I just hate couples.

Part of the problem is that some whippersnapper got my attention (sort of touched my arm) as I was going into La Cucaracha and told me to "smile," which I hate, because when dudes tell me to smile I can't stop myself from doing so (a) and also because I felt kind of flattered even though I shouldn't (b).

Part of the problem is that I'm sick of my stupid, dumb life.

I may be as big of a loser as Farmer Ted when he gets trapped under the glass coffee table at Jake Ryan's party. Only I don't suspect I'll then get to lose my virginity to the prom queen or similar as some sort of redemption from my loserdom.

- end whine -

But don't you love the floppy disks quote? How old this movie is! How old I am (frown).

Extra Credit

Ok, so as part of being on the market, I have become obsessed, once again with the Chronicle of Higher Education forums. Back in a pre-wiki, pre-blog world, those forums were my first experience with an electronic community of academics, and apparently going back on the market in earnest has sucked me back into lurking there obsessively. So anyway, I don't only lurk on the job search experience forum, but I peruse the other forums as well, and on the in the classroom forum, there's a thread going about extra credit. As I only lurk on the forums, I'm not participating in the conversation there, and even if I wasn't only a lurker, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable participating in this particular thread. Why?

Because I give extra credit. What students might consider "good" extra credit. Not in all courses, but in some. Consistently. Does this make me a bad teacher? A grade inflator? Not rigorous? I don't know.

The consensus on the forum thread seems to be that "extra credit" is an atrocity. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. But basically most (though not all) posters seem to agree that to give extra credit is just plain unethical or at the very least bad policy. Some sample comments:

"For me extra credit is a bad idea at any level--it makes some students aggressive or whiney (demanding more extra credit) and sometimes it devalues/makes students lose their focus on the original material."

"Personally, though, I wouldn't give them extra credit just for the sake of raising their grades. Not only does it invite whining, etc, as arugula pointed out, but it also lets students know that they don't have to try too hard, since there will be a back up of some kind."

"I don't give extra credit. I give credit. They can have all they earn."

"I never give extra credit and am very against it. My current course is a pre-req. for another. If a student does not understand my material well, hu will not be ready for the next course."

(Incidentally, "hu" is the gender-neutral pronoun of choice on the forums. It sucks.)

But so at any rate, it got me thinking about when I started giving extra credit and why. It all started in my Survey course. In my first semester at my university, I taught the course for the first time - ever. I basically modeled it on what I remembered from my undergrad experience. A midterm (in class), a final (in the regular final period), and two 3-5 page analysis essays (equally weighted) - oh, and "participation" which included quizzes, discussion, etc. My evaluations were... well, not the best I've ever received. Many students thought the course was "too hard." Some of the more constructive comments asked that the grade be broken down into more parts or that the first paper be weighted less than the second. More than a few students said that I expected them to be grad students.

Now, part of this was the learning curve of me going from the high-falutin' institution where I did the bulk of my teaching as a grad student to a regional comprehensive. Part of it had to do with the fact that students challenged my authority in the classroom because I'm female, young-ish, etc. Part of it had to do with the particular dynamic of that class. And, I believe, part of it did have to do with the fact that this class does require more of students than some other courses of a similar level, and yet it is still a general studies course and so many are taking it just because it fits into their schedule and fills a graduation requirement, even if they don't have any passion for literature (or even enjoy reading).

Basically, I had a lot of kinks to work out.

So I did make some changes to the regular syllabus.

1) I developed two paper options, one recommended for majors/minors, one for non-majors/minors, which ultimately require the same amount of writing and for students to develop the same analytical skills, but with the non-major/minor option requiring slightly less abstract thinking related to the assignment. The papers are also weighted less toward the beginning of the semester now.
2) The midterm is now a take-home.
3) The quizzes are now their own separate grade.

But still, something was missing. And then it dawned on me: maybe I need to give them extra credit opportunities?

I'm not sure what I thought about extra credit in grad school. I only taught comp, and since I have a "revise everything but the last paper for a totally new grade" policy, it never was necessary. I suspect I might have thought that it meant I was "caving" to "grade-grubbing students." But I don't really remember.

But I decided it was worth a try for a number of reasons at my current institution. And at least for me, it has worked. My reasons for continuing to make extra credit a part of certain classes (my "service courses" in literature and the course in which I teach Notoriously Difficult Novel) are the following:

1) I actually find that having specific extra credit assignments that I open up to the entire class actually decreases whining. My students don't haggle over points on exams or papers any more. I'm a tough grader. And I assign a lot of work, and difficult work, compared to some of my colleagues. Having extra credit as an option softens the blow of that for some of my students.

2) Extra credit options allow me to assign students some "enrichment" assignments that I think are cool but that I don't feel necessarily should be a part of the syllabus. (Incidentally, these "enrichment" activities always require a good deal of work - things like reading an extra novel or watching an unfamiliar film (or films), writing careful analysis, connecting the extra credit work to the work of the course. They are time-intensive and they are graded, so while the potential exists for students to raise their grades significantly, that raising of the grade is not guaranteed.)

3) I have never had a situation where a student who didn't "deserve" a particular grade got one through extra credit.

Now, the way that I handle extra credit is that it doesn't become available until after the midterm. (I may mention that there may be some extra credit coming, I don't necessarily do so. This is not mentioned on any course document.) Students need to see where they are after the first paper assignment and after the first exam, and they need to have a sense of the level of work that I expect from them - on all assignments - including what I will offer as extra credit. The extra credit is not easy. If you are doing very poorly, the extra credit will not save you. If, however, you screwed up on something early in the semester because you underestimated the level of attention you needed to give to an assignment or test, it can give you a boost to where you would have been had you known that I'm not an easy teacher. (I do make my expectations clear, but it's difficult for students to really internalize those expectations because they have so many other experiences that tell them that teachers don't really mean it when they state similar expectations.) Most often, extra credit helps the "plus" students - the students used to getting B's who earn a C+ or students used to getting A's who earn a B+. Extra credit assignments have a specific deadline, and just because you submit something for extra credit does not mean that you will necessarily earn extra credit. Because yes, you've got to earn it.

Now, I'll be honest: part of the reason that I've gone the way of extra credit in some classes is because I do care about my evaluations, and the extra credit addition allows me to give "real grades" while still to make students feel like they have the chance to excel in my courses. It gives them the impression that I'm tough but "nice." But am I giving real grades if there are unstated grades that are available? I think so, but I suspect that those on the forums would disagree.

Do you give extra credit? Why/why not? Am I wrong to think that it's just not that big of a deal? Have you had bad experiences with offering extra credit?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Poetry Friday - W.B. Yeats

A fun Yeats poem that I do not teach because there are so many poems by Yeats they "should have read" that I couldn't justify it. But a fun one for Poetry Friday.

"The Scholars"

BALD heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’s despair 5
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.
They’ll cough in the ink to the world’s end;
Wear out the carpet with their shoes
Earning respect; have no strange friend;
If they have sinned nobody knows. 10
Lord, what would they say
Should their Catullus walk that way?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Following Your Bliss"

It's that time of year. The time of year that students - some promising, some less so - start wanting to talk in earnest about going to graduate school. Now, I'd never suggest that a student should make this decision based on the "bliss" that he or she feels in the study of literature. Others would disagree with me on this. But once again I find myself thinking about how I do approach this issue - in part because I did the radical thing of actually suggesting the idea of grad school to a student (something that I normally would never do) and in part because I've heard from a student of mine who began grad school in English this fall. Also, I attended an event that a colleague puts together every fall to talk about going to grad school with majors in our department. So once again I'm thinking about the ethics of encouraging students to pursue graduate degrees in English (given the glutted market, the years lost to graduate education, the havoc that grad school can wreak on one's personal life), and I'm thinking about my own position on such things, and whether I'm really doing it any better than those that I would criticize.

Now, my general position includes the following tenets:

1) I think that professors need to be very careful about suggesting to any student that he or she should consider graduate school. We have a lot of influence, and to make that suggestion to a student who isn't otherwise thinking about it is a very big deal. We've got to take that seriously.
2) If a student is considering graduate school, it is our responsibility to try to educate them about the realities of the profession and graduate education generally - including the negative aspects.
3) If after getting all of the information a student remains interested in pursuing the grad school path, and if we feel that this student has promise, I do think that it is important that we give the student strong support and good advice toward making the best decisions in this process possible.

As a professor at my current institution, I believe that these things take on even greater significance because of the student population that I teach. Many of my students are in the first generation of their families to go to college. If they choose graduate school they will not necessarily have the understanding and support of their families, and they will face a significant learning curve when it comes to being acculturated into academic discourse and culture. My students tend to think that going to grad school is a "safe" choice - one that will guarantee them stable employment. They also tend to think that the higher the degree that one attains the more money that one will make. They also tend to think that grad school will just be an extension of undergrad, and this is somewhat problematic, especially given their undergraduate experience at my current institution.* Part of the reason that I am sensitive to these issues is because when I started on the path toward this profession as an undergraduate, I suffered similar delusions.

I'd also say, though, that I think that it's important that students from this kind of background do have support in entering the academy if they have the ability and want to do so. One reason that I think that this is important is because students need mentors who understand where they're coming from - if all professors come from professor-families, moneyed backgrounds, etc., then undergraduates can have difficulty finding role models for exceeding the expectations of their families and social circles. I also think that it's important to bringing new perspectives to the research that is produced in various fields.**

But. The important thing here is that the student can't come second to a desire to bring a certain kind of diversity to the profession. And it's important that we don't do a bait-and-switch with students - emphasizing all of the positive aspects of the profession and/or graduate study for them to get a rude awakening when it's too late. Now, students are still going to delude themselves, no matter how much information we give them, otherwise nobody would ever go to graduate school. And yet I do think that being honest about the realities of the choices that they are making will help them once the scales fall from their eyes a few years down the road. At least that's what I hope.

So. As I mentioned, I made the radical decision (not without some angst) to present a current student with the idea that he could consider graduate school. This student is currently an English Ed student, but he's not the typical English Ed student. He is the one student in my survey who chose to write on the "literary criticism" topic for the first paper. In class, he's fairly quiet, but every time he comments, he produces insightful and incisive analyses of the texts under discussion. His first paper demonstrated a considerable aptitude for beautiful academic prose (though he's clearly dazzled his professors before me without really revising, and so he does have some work to do with his writing if he does choose to go on). He earned the highest grade I've ever given on a midterm. In fact, it was the midterm that sealed it for me. This is not a student who is just going through the motions. Nor is this a student who appears to be the typical over-achiever who gives the "right" answers but doesn't really care about what answers he's giving and only cares about the grade. No, this is a student who has a spark of something that tells me he'd really shine if he were able to study literature at a more advanced level.

But. I was worried. If I suggest this to this student, who clearly has a plan to teach high school, am I doing harm? What I decided was that I would give it to him straight. I'd tell him that I do think it's an option for him, but also I'd tell him that it's a risk. I'd give it to him straight, and I'd tell him to come and talk to me about his options. Part of the reason that I felt comfortable doing this, honestly, is because he's an English Ed major. I figured that he does have a back-up plan, which is one of the things that I encourage ALL of my students who talk to me about grad school to have. But I still might have done the wrong thing. I don't know.

Anyway, he (shyly) came to talk to me about it yesterday. It's the first real conversation I'd had with him. He's in the first generation of his family to go to college. He's very concerned that his family will not have the resources to help him, and he was most interested at first in just finding out whether it could really be possible for him to even think about doing this thing. He then expressed concern about how his family would take the decision. (I remember this was something that plagued me, too. I was really concerned that my family not think I had "wasted" my education and think of me as a "lifetime student." They thought those things anyway, but I had to come to terms with it before I changed my major to English. I remember a particularly emotional conversation with my mom, and I remember worrying that she'd be disappointed that I wanted to keep going to school.) I talked to him about my own background, and I talked to him about the fact that I did not think anyone should pursue grad school unfunded. I talked to him about the length of time that it would take, and I talked to him about the horrible job market. I directed him to my website, where I have links to things about making the decision to go to grad school. And that's where the conversation ended. So for now, it's up in the air. I wonder what he will do. But I think all in all I'm glad I put the idea in his head. Even if he chooses not to pursue it, I think that it was a nice compliment to pay him, to give him the option. I think that if it were me, I would like that someone had expressed that kind of confidence in me, even if I chose not to pursue the option.

Now today I heard from my Favorite Student Ever, who began a very good MA program this fall. This student has kept in touch since graduating in the Spring, and I have really high hopes for her. That said, it's been interesting seeing her transition into grad school. I don't know a whole lot about what's happening with her, but I do sense that she's going through a bit of culture shock. First, she's young. And she's been thrown right into teaching. (Again, not unlike my own experience.) I heard from her at the beginning of the semester, and she emailed to ask me why people in her teacher-training program "couldn't just spit it out" when they had questions or comments, but rather went on and on using a bunch of jargon. This is something I'd forgotten about: learning the language of performing one's intelligence; demonstrating that one "belongs in the club" by refusing to speak plain English. At other kinds of institutions, students begin to learn this as undergraduates. Not so here. So this has been a challenge for methodical, straight-forward FSE. (Aside: FSE refuses to call me by my first name, even though I tried to explain to her that she's my colleague now :) I wonder if she'll ever do it, though I did tell her that when she gets her Ph.D. if she still persists in calling me Dr. Crazy that I will insist on calling her Dr. FSE.) In her email today, she expressed concern about her comp. class. First of all, she's really been thrown to the dogs. She's got a 7:30 AM class, at least 75% of the students are male, and those students are primarily engineering majors. Oof. They're not coming to class; they're pissed off that she's not using rubrics for papers; basically (though she didn't say this) I sense that they are totally challenging her authority. Nothing prepares you for that. And in some ways it's just something you have to get through. I tried to give her some advice that I thought might help. (Actually, I wondered whether I should reveal my blog to her, as I think she might find it helpful, but I ended up not doing it. Maybe I'll tell her someday? Or just direct her to some other blogs in our little circle?) So it sounds like she's having a bit of a rough entry, but it also sounds like she's doing well. I'm trying to encourage her to go to her first conference this summer. We'll see if she's up for it.

So I don't know. Am I doing the right thing by these students? Should I be more discouraging? More encouraging? It's easy to figure out what to do with students who don't seem like they could make it. What's hardest for me is figuring out what to do with those students who seem like they maybe could.

But in any case, choosing this path is not, as far as I'm concerned, about "following your bliss." It's work. It's hard. It separates you from your origins, and it really can fuck with your sense of yourself. If things go well, yes, you get to pursue ideas that are interesting to you; you get to spend your life doing something that is meaningful to you. That's a pretty big pay-off. But that's if things go well, and we all know that things don't always go well for people who take this path. And so it's hard, as a professor for whom things have gone well, to know how best to help one's students navigate these dangerous waters.

*I do believe that students get a decent education here, but it isn't as rigorous as the education they might receive at other institutions. They don't tend to read as much as students at other institutions; they don't tend to have the experience with research writing or with critical theory. This doesn't mean it's impossible for them to do well in graduate school, but it does mean that it will challenge them in a way that students in other departments may not be as challenged.

** But part of these views may be my own narcissism. I feel like I add something to this profession because of my decidedly outside-the-intelligentsia upbringing, so I'm not sure how much validity my claims here have.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fun Meme - Guess the Text

As seen over at Anastasia's:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

"Death, a cause of terror to the sinner, is a blessed moment for him who has walked in the right path, fulfilling the duties of his station in life, attending to his morning and evening prayers, approaching the holy sacrament frequently and performing good and merciful works. For the pious and believing catholic, for the just man, death is no cause of terror. Was it not Addison, the great English writer, who, when on his deathbed, sent for the wicked young earl of Warwick to let him see how a christian can meet his end. He it is and he alone, the pious and believing christian, who can say in his heart:
O grave, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?"

A kind of strange thing for me to post but I did pick the book nearest me. And it is a "cool" and "intellectual" book - but this isn't what I'd have chosen as four sentences to post from it. Hmmm. Shall anyone guess it?

O, For a Schedule Free of Meetings

Today is one of those days when the idea of cancelling my classes and returning to bed sounds like the best possible way to spend my day. In days of yore, I might have done such a thing. But you know what? As much as I want to do that today, I won't. This is not because I have some sort of heightened sense of responsibility but because it would be too much of a pain in the ass to reschedule the meetings with students that will fill my afternoon.

I hate meetings. And the longer I'm in this job, the number of meetings doubles - quadruples. It's like the meetings are breeding.

Maybe it won't be as long a day as it seems like it will be?

(What makes it worse is that I've got another afternoon of meetings on tap for tomorrow. Such a time suck, meetings are.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Grand Confession That Wasn't

I just had lunch with my chair, who is awesome. Yeah, so VSC had mentioned the whole "going on the market" thing to him, but that was ok. I still felt good telling him, and I think he was happy that I did.

I am very, very lucky to have this kind of support from people in positions of power in my department. I am very, very lucky to have the kinds of relationships with them that made me feel ok being open about my decision to look. I also feel like even if I do change jobs I will be able to maintain friendships with some of the people here and that they will wish me well, and that makes me happy, too.

I know they don't want me to go. Sometimes I think I don't want to go. It may be that I don't have to decide to go because nobody else will want me. But going through this process has made me see some really good things about this place, and even if nothing comes of going on the market, the fact that I can see the good in this place a bit more clearly is a really good thing.

What is not a good thing is the huge lunch I consumed and the fact that I did not remember to throw my gym bag in the car. Oh, and the fact that I saw what I think were snowflakes outside.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


As I think I've posted here before, in my reading-for-pleasure life I'm a compulsive rereader - and generally what I reread is not particularly amazing writing. I reread for pleasure precisely because if I'm reading something new - whatever its quality or lack thereof - I find it very difficult to close up shop for the night and to go to sleep at a sensible bedtime. I read in great big gulps - hours at a stretch, through meals, through whatever. I find it difficult, when reading something new, to put a book down.

That said, when it comes to work reading, I don't tend to reread very much. I'm not sure if this makes me unique among people who work on literature or not, nor am I sure if this is an entirely positive thing. I suspect that more of my colleagues in my discipline probably do reread more than I do for work. Part of the reason that I don't tend to reread is because of the compulsive fashion in which I take notes on things that I use for teaching or research. While of course I could reread things in their entirety anyway, I generally don't, as with all of the notes it's just not necessary. In some respects, this habit has served me particularly well, especially given my teaching load. It's an efficient way to work - to spend a bunch of time in the first and maybe second go-arounds annotating, and then to just do a quick skim when one picks up a book to teach it again or just to read relevent sections closely for one's research. If I had to read every single thing that I teach in its entirety every time that I teach it - or to read every single thing that I write about in its entirety every time that I do research on it - I probably would have died of exhaustion long ago. (Though, of course, perhaps that has to do with the compulsive note-taking, too, so maybe this doesn't kill other people.)

But so I've been rereading To the Lighthouse, because my original copy is hiding from me or lost forever (hard to know which), and this has been a revelation. It is very strange to read something with which one is very familiar and which at one point had compulsively annotated and yet to read it clean, as if it had never been touched by me or read by me before. (This is not the same thing as buying a new copy of a book when one has the old copy as well, for even if one does reread, one can turn back to the "original" and either copy in notes from it or enter into conversation with those notes.)

The experience is bizarre for so many reasons. It's bizarre when I hit upon a passage that stood out to me in the past and I can remember what I thought about it (and wrote about it) but where now my interpretation is slightly different, and so I find myself transcribing notes from memory and then adding nuances to those semi-remembered ideas. It's bizarre when I hit upon a passage or image that is so clearly crucial to me now but to which I didn't give a second thought on previous readings - as if I'm reading a different book, at some points. It's also bizarre to read this in preparation to teach it - this is a book that I read as a student, and on which I wrote as a student, and coming to it from this vantage point seems foreign. I find myself anticipating student responses - trying to connect the text to other texts we're covering this semester - and so I can't get lost in the book in the way that I remember getting lost in it as a student. Finally, it's bizarre that I don't find the book at all difficult, which was one of the key attractions of it for me when I first read it. I wanted to figure out the puzzle with which I felt it presented me. Now, I no longer feel like it's a puzzle. Now, it just makes sense.

I don't know. It's odd, because one might trace my path to becoming an academic directly back to my experience with this book as an 18-year-old college freshman. And after I wrote on it as a graduate student, I pretty consciously chose to abandon it because I loved it too much and I didn't want to spoil it for myself with working on it more. (This, at least in my experience, has been a key consideration in choosing what to teach and what to do research on. I find that if I love something too much, I feel like the experience of taking it apart does a violence not to the book but to my love for it. I also have a hard time getting outside of my own perspective enough to do any truly good critical work on those books that I love wholeheartedly. This is not to say that I've not written on or taught books that I love wholeheartedly, but doing so changes them for me in ways that I sometimes resist and resent.) But so on this reading, I am in love with this book again, but I'm in love with a different book from the one that I first fell in love with, if that makes any sense.

I remember, on first reading To the Lighthouse, being very preoccupied with the parent-characters - Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. I remember also being very preoccupied with Charles Tansley, whom I despised. I was intrigued by Lily Briscoe, and I tried very hard to figure her out, but I didn't really "get" what Woolf was doing with her.

On this reading, though, at 32 years old to the single Lily Briscoe's 33, this novel is making much more sense to me. I'm noticing the children more, noticing William Bankes more. I'm seeing why it matters that Lily sees Mrs. Ramsay as a dark violet wedge of paint. I'm seeing why it matters that Lily is trying to paint but can't allow herself to think of herself as a "painter" or an "artist" (and I'm seeing that this is not only because she is an oppressed woman). I'm seeing this novel and its characters more fully in part because of my own life experiences but perhaps more importantly because I don't have all of the marginal voices - of my younger self, of my teachers, of my classmates - shouting in the background. I can still hear those voices in whispers, but I don't feel like I have to answer them unless I want to. And this time around, this novel is not so dark or so dense to me. It is not nearly so earnest.

So perhaps the novel that I loved so much that I put it to the side was not, in fact, the novel that I'm reading now or even the novel that it is. Maybe I should do a bit more rereading that has nothing to do with wanting to be able to go to sleep at a reasonable time. Who knows what I might find?

My Parents are Getting Married!

Ok, so my biological parents were married in 1974. March of 1974. As I arrived in summer 1974, you can see that time was of the essence in getting them hitched, yes? Well, they then divorced in 1986. (I've got a post brewing about my relationship with my dad, but this is not the post for that. My dad got remarried about five seconds after the divorce was finalized and I was not told until after the fact and I was not invited. Classy guy, my father. But I digress, and again, this is not the post to deal with him.)

Now my mom and my stepdad met around the time that the divorce was finalized. They met because she parked in the parking lot where he worked. He would see her every day, and I guess he liked what he saw, and so he checked around to see what her status was with her friends from her job. (Remember: my stepdad is an immigrant. And people can be mean to immigrants, so it made sense he'd do some legwork on the front end of things. Oh, and he totally wasn't into the idea of getting involved with some woman who had baby-daddy-drama or rotten kids. He had never been married, and as far as I can tell, he had decided that he wouldn't marry at some point in his 20s.) But so, to make a long story short, my mom said she'd go out with him.

[Aside: if you wonder from whence Dr. Crazy gets some of her craziness, Dr. Crazy's mom asked the following oh-so-attractive-to-one's-date questions on her first date with him: 1) are you a United States citizen? 2) are you a Christian? It's a wonder they've been together 20 years with that kind of beginning, I think.]

But so anyway, to make a long story short, something with the two of them clicked, and they've been together ever since. Well, there was a breakup scare when I was 14 (my mom and I moved, and a stressed out Crazy's Mom is kind of a shrew, and my stepdad isn't going to be walked over by a bitchy woman, and so he almost ended it. But he missed me (or so he says - I think he missed her, too, but I was a good excuse). But that's ok, I'll take the credit. And so I am responsible for their relationship! I am awesome!

At any rate, the thing that is so great about him is that when he first started dating my mom and then when he moved in with us (just sort of by osmosis - there was no grand moving in day - just he sort of slowly imbedded himself in our lives) he didn't try to boss me around or to bribe me or to whatever. He never tried to take the place of my father, but at the same time he's been more of a father to me for the past 20 years than my biological father has. All through high school, we would fight about politics and stuff going on in the news, and I rebelled against him. (It turns out, he's probably the most well informed person I've ever seen about such things, but when you're 15 and a passionate girl, political fights with any authority figure devolve into screaming matches and tears - yes, I cried all the time when I talked to him about the politics. Now it turns out we agree on a bunch of things, though whether that was me changing him or him changing me I'm not sure.) He knows what's going on in my life; he yells at me if I don't "do my duty" and call once a week (at minimum). He's the one who moved me to grad school; he's the one who told my mom that they could manage to help me financially during grad school. He's been at all of my graduations; he's in the acknowledgments of my dissertation. He's the one who was there in October 2003 for both my mom and for me when my grandmother died. I guess what I'm saying is that my stepdad has been my father for a really long time.

So it's exciting that he's finally going to be my mother's husband - even if it's taken them 20 years to get there.

(Incidentally, they are both totally freaked out and they claim they're doing it so that my mom can put him on her health insurance. My mom keeps worrying that he doesn't really want to do it, but then she keeps saying that she doesn't believe it's going to happen and she had never really thought about doing it... They're both pretty funny, I've got to say. I wish I could be there, but I think they'd both be embarassed - I'm the only person they've told, and they're just going to quietly go to the Justice of the Peace. It'll be interesting to see how they tell The Family. Oh, and I've not been calling back my one Real Life Non-Academic Friend who reads this blog because I'm afraid I'll tell her about it and I know there's no way that she could keep it inside and not spill the beans to her sisters if she knew - just as I couldn't not tell her if I talked to her now that I know - so A., if you're reading this (on Monday, as she does not do internet at home, which is why this post is safe), I'm sorry I've not called but the deed will be done by tomorrow afternoon, so I can call you after it's official!)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Poetry Friday - T. S. Eliot

I know, the Eliot again. Today, some lines from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday - When Pleasure Becomes Work

Ok, so when I invented this thing - Reading for Pleasure Wednesday - one of the stipulations was that we couldn't write about things that were work-related. This was a very nice summertime idea, but today I've been thinking a bit about how things that I think are pleasure-reading at the time have a way of seeping into my work (unless of course they are total crap). This is one of the potential pitfalls of specializing in English Literature as an academic: one decides to read something - at an airport bookstore, even - and the next thing one knows, one realizes that it would be the perfect thing to teach. Or one reads something - on the recommendation of a professor when one is an undergraduate, not for a class but just "for fun" - and then the next thing one knows that thing one read for pleasure 13 years ago is now a central focus of her research.

In some ways, I suppose this is a good thing. It means I'm working on stuff that I enjoy - truly enjoy. It starts off as pleasure and then I turn it into work because it seems fun to work on. But at the same time, this makes it difficult to distinguish what "counts" as pleasure-reading. Part of the difficulty is that my field encompasses literature that one might reasonably expect to read for "fun." (That said, I also work on things that are decidedly "work" and not fun and that I'd never have considered fun, as I'm a frivolous person.) But it's weird, especially when I talk to people outside of my discipline because it's not unusual for them to mention things that I have transformed into "work" as pleasure-reading, and I don't quite know what to do with that. Have I made these things un-fun by teaching them or by writing about them? Or are they still fun, only work, too? I don't think I'd have this problem if I worked on, say, George Herbert. He's just not a "popular" writer. But the writers whom I tend to teach and whom I tend to do scholarly work on? Well, lots of people choose to read them, for pleasure. Except it seems that I choose not to read these things for pleasure - as soon as I start feeling pleasure in them I transform them into something I have to figure out. Perhaps this is a bad quality in me.

But so I'm going to try really hard to read something that is definitively pleasure-reading in the coming week or two. Even though I'm trying to get the book manuscript together, and even though I've got a bit of non-pleasure reading that I've got to accomplish in that time as well. I'm sorry for falling down on the job here (look - I've even made talking about books that I read for pleasure a job), but it's really hard to figure out what "counts" as pleasure when, really, my entire job is based on reading books I like.

Break-time's Over

So far today I have:
  1. Taught a class.
  2. Printed out stuff related to the book proposal, ordered stuff via interlibrary loan for the polishing of the sample chapter, printed out a couple of journal articles related to the sample chapter.
  3. Forgot to "apply" for my reassigned time for spring. Must put that on my to-do list for tomorrow.
  4. Scheduled two advising appointments with students; rescheduled a meeting related to my quasi-admin. position.
  5. Worked out.
  6. Officially scheduled lunch with my department chair.
#6 is the thing I really want to talk about in this post. I have yet to tell my chair that I'm going on the market, and that's the main reason why I asked him to meet. I had intended to tell him at the end of the summer - after I told Very Supportive Colleague, who is writing me a letter. The problem was, the end of the summer kind of ended before I got around to making my Grand Confession. A lot was going on. My department chair was dealing with some health stuff, the university appropriated some money that the department had been depending on, the university approved two t-t searches, I was getting acclimated to the quasi-admin position, there have been some new administrative things that I along with the entire department have had to deal with.... So yes, rather than force the issue about going on the market when all of that was happening, I allowed myself to put it off. Now, this isn't a big deal in some respects, in that I've got a letter from a VIP in the department. And it's entirely possible that the VIP told my chair about my intentions. But as I got stuff ready to send out, I realized that it was really important for me to tell my chair about what I'm up to.

My relationship with my chair is a really good one. He has been nothing but supportive of me, and I really do trust him to understand my situation when I explain it to him. The reason I'm a little anxious is because I don't want him to be upset by what I'm doing. I don't want him to fear that I "hate" my job or something. Because I don't. But so yes. I'm going to be having lunch with my chair. And while I'm sure it will be fine, I'm also kind of nervous.

[Aside: we're going to the same place for lunch that I went to with my other colleague in the summer, and this gives me a weird sense of deja vu like when I was in grad school and went on two consecutive first dates at the same restaurant. Maybe some locations just inspire certain kinds of meetings. Jae's in Boston? Apparently the place to go on a first date. Restaurant Here? Apparently the place to tell senior colleagues that you're looking for another job. Who knew?]

But so now, I need to turn off the computer and work for two hours on stuff for my book proposal. My aim is to send the thing out by Oct. 31, so I've got some pretty substantial work to accomplish between now and then. In other news, a panel that I proposed for a conference in the summer was officially accepted, so now I need to begin doing some things related to the paper that I will present in earnest (like actually reading one of the novels I claim that I will discuss) as well as to ask a few different sources for some money to go. And then I've got to come up with an abstract for another conference, but that will be related to something I'm teaching in the next couple of weeks, so that's kind of on the back-burner at the moment.

So that's the research stuff going on.

And then with teaching, we're moving into the modernist period in the Survey and we're finishing up with a Novel Many of My Students Do Not Like in my upper division class tomorrow. In my writing class, we're edging ever closer to their second formal paper.

In other words, I'm wicked-busy. But I'm feeling pretty energized about it all after the four days off, so maybe fall break has done its job?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Productivity Resumes - While Slackerdom Continues... As Impossible As It May Seem

Well, today is my last day of freedom, and then it's back to the grind. For most of the day, I allowed myself to continue in relaxation mode. I slept in, I read some Potter, I took a nap with my kitty-cat. Yet, I also did some things that needed doing.

  1. I went to the grocery store to buy milk. I cannot drink coffee black, so this was imperative. I also bought a few odds and ends so that I could chef up some healthy meals that will get me through the next week or so of lunches and dinners. Since being back on the healthy eating bandwagon, I've found that it's KEY to make some things in large portions that I can then put into individual serving-size containers so that I don't fall into the "I don't want to cook/pack my lunch" trap and eat garbage. So I've started making things - big pots of chili, casseroles with whole wheat pasta, etc. - that would feed a large family, and then I freeze most of it, so I can have variety throughout a given week, eat things that taste delicious, and yet also don't have to cook. Which leads to #2
  2. I cooked myself up two casseroles - one tuna-fish, and one a sort of modified cheeseburger casserole. Now, I know what you're saying: How can these seeming comfort foods be healthy? Well, first, there's the whole wheat pasta. Let's say that you have a package of whole wheat macaroni, and it's supposed to be the equivalent of eight servings. Well, instead you make that pasta stretch to be like 12 servings, and you supplement it instead with a TON of vegetables. You use lean meats. You use lowfat cheese (not nonfat, because the texture is like plastic). And yes, I do use the condensed "cream of" soup, which isn't ideal, but it's easy, and for the little of it that one eats per portion, I feel like it's ok. At any rate, I suppose I'm eating like people who don't have a lot of money but who try to make pasta/meat (the expensive stuff) "stretch" by using lots of veggies, but it gets the job done. Not as delicious as a full-fat casserole, but delicious nonetheless. I do miss butter, though. I love butter.
  3. I ordered 2/3 of the books I need to order for fall, as the book order deadline just passed. I can't order the books for one class yet as I'm still deciding whether it would be wise to do a custom text-book thing. On the one hand I like the idea (will make things cheaper for my students, the one I'm considering has 99% of what I'd want it to have for the class, excepting the novels) but on the other I feel like it's risky - what if somebody buys the book, drops the class, and then doesn't return the book? They only will order as many as needed for the class. Hmm. Must consider what to do.
  4. I dealt with some email stuff, and thought a bit about the class that I will teach tomorrow.
  5. I'm continuing to reread To the Lighthouse, which is just lovely. I ended up buying a new copy because it seems that I lost my old one somewhere along the way (or it's hiding behind a bookshelf or something). In some ways this is good, as I really did need to reread, and to make teaching-style notes. On the other hand, I'm kind of wistful about the seeming loss of the old copy, as it was the copy I used for my first research paper in college, the copy I used for the paper that I wrote and used as my PhD application writing sample, the copy that I used for my very first ever publication. I do hope it's not lost and gone forever.
So yes, I am both productive and lazy. I wish I could have this balance all the time. Sadly, this is not to be. Things will continue to be crazy over the next couple of weeks with meetings, and things promise to be pretty intense in each of my classes in terms of the material that I'm teaching. Then, when that couple of weeks is over, more grading. Sigh.

But for now - the riveting conclusion of Flavor of Love. That New York, she doesn't know what time it is.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Have Many of the Men with Whom I've Had Sex Been Using Aliases?

Because according to this website, a number of them do not exist in the United States. Either I have an incredibly active imagination, or that website is wack.

(Also, they say there are two people in the U.S. with my name, which I actually find hard to believe. I truly think I'm the only person in the whole world with my name.)

Edited to add: I also have a number of family members who do not exist, as well as some friends from graduate school. Common denominator in all of these cases? The names tend to be more "ethnic" than not. Perhaps people of various ethnicities just don't exist?

Crazy Cat Lady Enters Man-Kitty in Beauty Contest

Ok, so I caved. After spending some quality time voting on kittens in the Kitten War, I decided that the Man-Kitty really should have his shot at Kitten War Glory. So far, he's one 5 battles, lost 4, and tied with one. I've got to say, it's really not his best picture, but still - it's early.

Taking a Break

At my university, we have a 16-week semester (not including finals week). This is a long haul. It is an especially long haul when one considers that the institution at which I received my PhD had a semester that was about 12 weeks long with a huge number of holidays. But so yes, this semester length has taken some getting used to. It is a marathon, for sure.

The fall semester seems especially long compared with the spring - maybe because there is no spring break? Maybe because the weather is getting crappier rather than getting nicer? Who knows.

But one thing that makes it possible to make the long march from beginning to end is that we have a fall break. Now, the fall break is just two days long - two days that are acquired by having the university stay open on Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Two days, back-to-back, right around midterm. The equivalent of having two weekends in a row.

I never have gone away for my fall break. I suppose I could plan some sort of weekend trip or something, but the fact of the matter is that I'm too exhausted at this point to imagine doing so, so I never end up making such plans. Instead, I always plan to "catch up" over the fall break - whether on research, or housework, or reading for my courses, or whatever. But you know what I end up doing every year?

I end up lying around. Sleeping. Thinking about making to-do lists and yet not making them, for if there is no list then there is nothing to do, right?

I spend quality time with the Man-Kitty, who misses me during the semester when I'm away from home far too much. (That said, the Man-Kitty gets annoyed with me in the summers because I'm home far too much. You can't win with that cat.)

I'd feel guilty, but I'm far too relaxed right now for guilt. I've accomplished four things this weekend: I finished grading a stack of midterms, I mailed off my job applications, I went to dinner and the movies with my BFF here, and I posted midterm grades for my freshmen. Other than that, I've taken naps, slept for more than 5 hours in a row, which means that I've actually had dreams, watched TV, talked on the phone, eaten non-diet food, and avoided working out. Tomorrow I'll get back on the wagon. I'll get back into the groove of things. But for now? I'm just reveling in having gotten a break from the grind.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Number of Things

Item One
I haven't written much about the diet/exercise since the beginning of the year, when I joined a gym and began paying attention to those things as part of a whole resolution-related thing. I want to write about this because I haven't abandoned the project. Now, I'm hovering around the weight I achieved at the beginning of the spring (though am losing again! as I'm back on the wagon! and packing one's lunch seems to be the main key in doing this!), but I have succeeded in that I DO continue to go to the gym and I AM in better shape and I AM one size smaller than I was when I began 2006. My aim is to lose one more size by the end of the year. We shall see. (As you see, I'm not a very hard-core diet/exercise person - for me it's all about being able to live with myself as I try to do this, which means that a) I eat real food and b) I have one total cheating day a week.)

Item Two
So speaking of real food, on today, what I like to call "Cheating Friday," I made an awesome dinner (after indulging on potato chips and bacon and onion dip). The first part of it actually is in line with phase two of the South Beach Diet (I was being good given the whole "chips and dip" fiasco), and I want to post the recipe, as I totally enjoyed it.

The dish: stuffed (that's right, stuffed) pork chops.

  • Boneless center-cut pork chops, with fat trimmed. The ones I used were about 3/4 of an inch in thickness, maybe a little less. As I'm a single person, I only made two, though the ingredients I will list for the stuffing would definitely make enough for four, if not six. I chose just to make what was left of the stuffing separately to use as a side for some other meal I will make this week.
  • Pam cooking spray. (Original recipe called for two full tablespoons of oil.)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped.
  • 1 cup of chopped mushrooms. I just bought one of the pre-sliced/cleaned packages of mushrooms that measures to a cup, and gave them a rough chop.
  • 1 cup of bread cubes. (I used whole wheat bread, and it was yummy. I just cubed three slices. Incidentally, this is a great use for the heels of loaves of bread. Also, I like the Brownberry Double Fiber 100% Whole Wheat Bread, so that's what I used.)
  • (The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, but I didn't have any, so I just eliminated it from the recipe. I didn't miss it. Does parsely have any taste in any dish except tabbouli?)
  • Salt, pepper, sage to taste
  • Two tablespoons of reduced fat-sour cream (I suppose you could use non-fat, but I find that reduced-fat has a texture that's preferable.)
  • 1/4 cup of water.
  1. Cut side pockets in chops and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sautee onion (spray a nonstick sautee pan with some Pam) until transparent. Add mushrooms, stirring often, and cook for about two minutes. Add the bread crumbs, parsley, sage, ground black pepper, and salt. Mix well.
  3. Add the sour cream, again, mixing well. ( I turned off the heat when I added the sour cream.)
  4. Stuff the pork chops, using toothpick(s) to keep the stuffing in. (I've got to admit, I used like one toothpick. I'm just not anal about such things.)
  5. Arrange the pork chops in a baking dish, and cover with 1/4 cup of water. Bake covered for 30 minutes, and then bake uncovered another 30 minutes until the pork chops are all delicious and browned.
The prep time is only like 20 minutes total (if that). Yes, it takes a while for it to cook, but virtually unattended. If I make this again, I suspect I'll add some celery to the stuffing, but even as it was it was really yummy.

If this weren't Cheating Friday, I think this would be lovely with either broccoli or asparagus. As it was Cheating Friday, it was AWESOME with mashed potatoes made with asiago cheese :)

Item Three
I finished grading my exams from the lower-division class that I received yesterday. Can I just say I love grading exams? Compared to grading papers? Because I do not comment on them? At any rate, I have to say, I think I write a really good exam. I did curve it up three points (I tend to do this with the midterm, showing them what they would have received, but then bumping them up in part to account for my tendency to be pretty hard on them - the highest grade but one who would have blown any curving were I a meaner person was a 93 - and in part to avoid any haggling over points - I've already given you three, so don't come to me wanting an extra one) but here was the range of grades: 5 A's, 7 B's, 5 C's, 4 D's, and an F. How much better of a curve could there be for a take-home? I mean, it takes some effort on the part of a student to actually fail a take-home exam.

Item Four
Ok, so for the past couple of days I've been kind of super-stressed and freaked out and a little bit nuts. I suppose it had to happen, what with going on the market and all. All I have to say about it, now that I've chilled a bit, is this: 1) thank God that Job Search Mentor is very mellow and is able to talk me off of ledges, 2) love the lovely Man-Kitty who is a total alleviator of stress with his awesomeness, 3) love my funny mom, who doesn't really get it but who listens, 4) (though this is actually kind of mean) thank god for my high-school/college ex-boyfriend, because things are so screwed up with him right now that it was able to take me out of my own head when I finally talked to him at length last night, 5) am very happy that IB (a person with whom I kind of correspond via email) didn't think I was a weirdo last night (a) and also that we didn't talk so that he would have seen first-hand what a weirdo I am (b).

Item Five
I'm sending off the remaining application packets tomorrow. I'm kind of psyched, kind of freaked out still, but also kind of relieved that this initial phase of things is over.

Poetry Friday - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ok, so she's kind of old fashioned. And ok, so Robert Browning is more "interesting." But my grandmother bought me Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Love Poems when I was in high school, and I really do love that book. So here's some EBB for your reading pleasure.

Sonnet XXXV

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
And be all to me? Shall I never miss
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,
When I look up to drop on a new range
Of walls and floors, another home than this?
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change?
That's hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,
To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove;
For grief indeed is love and grief beside.
Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me - wilt thou? Open thine heart wide,
And fold within the wet wings of thy dove.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nevermind How Do You Get a D on a Take-Home Exam

How do you get a 34? A 34 out of 100%?

I'll tell you how. You don't do an essay worth 25%, you don't answer all of the non-essay questions, and even those questions you do answer you don't answer them completely.

They had a week with this thing. WTF?

In other news, I continue to be a stress-monkey, and this has resulted in me sending random emails to people, calling my high-school/college ex-boyfriend, who was too busy watching football and drinking beer to talk for more than five minutes, but in that five minutes did manage to re-propose marriage (as in, a pact that we will marry if we're still ALONE in 6 years- because in a previous conversation I'd bargained up to 38, as I couldn't imagine agreeing to anything such as this at a younger age but really, I'm not marrying anybody because of a pact).

At any rate, I am sick of this stupid job search. I am sick of the stresses of my current job. I'm sick of being the sort of person who's big excitement is finding out a new food that my cat enjoys (for it has become apparent that the Man-Kitty enjoys the fish-flavored wet food, even though he's the One Cat in the World who turns his nose up at the tuna).


Random Crap

1. I'm always surprised when I give a take-home exam that every single student doesn't get an A. I suppose that means that I write a good take-home exam, but I don't get how, when you've got all the time in the world, all of your notes, and all of the books in front of you, how you can get a D-. I just don't get it.

2. Yes, students everywhere, there are stupid questions. For example, it is stupid to ask your professor whether she can "point you in the right direction" on one of the questions on the take-home exam.

3. I've got a student who is basically homeless and carless. (This is the problem with students commuting from home - sometimes parents decide that it's not the kid's home anymore.) I wish there were more I could do for the student, but it's almost too late for me to do much. Damn.

4. I sent off my first couple of applications!

5. I've got a meeting in a half hour. I don't want to go, partly because I'm very intimidated as I'm standing in for somebody much more senior than myself (in life, and at the university). Also, I should remain silent throughout as I'm not really a delegate to this group, and I hate remaining silent for any length of time, especially in late-afternoon. This meeting is scheduled to last 1 1/2 hours. Sigh.

That's all for now. I'm sleepy. Maybe some more caffeine would be a good idea? Perhaps I have time to get a latte....

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dr. Crazy as Stress-Monkey

I don't really even know how to write this post. All I know is that I want to write, in an effort to expel some of the half-thoughts that are swirling around, to ease some of the tension. So what's the dealio with Dr. Crazy?

The Job Search

It's about time to start sending things off. Job Search Mentor has reviewed my main materials - twice - and once I make the last set of changes, they'll be ready to go. On the one hand, this is good. As soon as they're sent, then I can stop worrying about it. The weird thing is I haven't really been worrying about it on the surface. Unlike my initial time on the market, this time around the prospect of the whole thing hasn't been all-consuming. It's not the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, nor is it the last thing I think of before I go to sleep. But at the same time, it's been hovering in the background for months now, so while I'm not overtly stressed I've been feeling a kind of low-level stress ever since I decided to do this thing. Now, the thing that is leading me to make this run at the market is still true: I do still think it's the right time to do it, and I do think that I am as strong a candidate as I can possibly be right now. But that somehow doesn't make it easier or better. In some ways it almost makes it worse: if it is true that I am as strong a contender as I can be at the moment, and if nothing comes of this effort, then it's going to be really hard for me not to feel like shit about it. When I went on the market the first time, I went in expecting to fail - I was ABD, and while I was an ok candidate, I really thought that it would take a couple of years to land the elusive t-t job. The problem, to some extent, is that I succeeded. I don't know whether my sense of it now - that I thought I would fail - is really true. That is the story that I tell myself, and it's to some extent the story that I'm trying to tell myself now - that I won't be surprised if I don't get any interviews, that I won't be surprised if all of this is an exercise in futility. Except this time, I don't actually think I believe that. I think that I will be surprised if nobody is interested. And I think that's dangerous. But as much as I tell myself the story that I don't expect anything, I can't seem to make myself believe it, not as I think I did succeed in making myself believe it four years ago. So there's that.

Then there's this thing I'm doing, where in order to repress potential hopes about success on the market I'm telling myself another story, the story of how I really have the Greatest Job in the World at the Greatest University. Part of that comes from guilt - I don't want to want to leave. This place has meant a lot to me, and the people here have been fantastic colleagues to me. But the problem is, clearly, that this isn't enough for me. If it were, I wouldn't have considered doing this for real. I would have maybe sent a few things out without thinking about it, thinking that it was a good time to do so, half-way to tenure, etc., but it would have been half-hearted. The problem is that I don't feel half-hearted about this. I feel like I'm in it, and like I really want for it to happen, to get interviews, to get an offer. That kind of wanting, given the state of things in my field, is dangerous.

And if things don't go my way, I don't want for that to make me feel like I suck or like I'm stuck with what I've got. I don't want for this to make me the sort of person who doesn't try for things. I'm afraid that could happen.

Maybe that's what this whole thing about: fear. I'm afraid of not knowing what's going to happen, and I'm afraid of not having control over it. I'm afraid of screwing up, but I'm also afraid of doing well. I'm afraid of being out of my comfort zone. I'm afraid of disappointing people (my dissertation adviser, for example, if I get nothing; my colleagues in my current department, if I do, and if I take whatever it is I get; my family, if I end up moving significantly father away; my family, if I end up here and unhappy and ALONE and I never have a kid and whatever).

But all of this is dumb. All I'm doing is writing some letters, printing out some cv's, and sticking some stuff in the mail. This is not that big of a deal. Except, of course, it feels like a big deal.

Once again, I wish that I could see the future, just so that I could be more prepared for it, you know?

And I haven't felt all of this particular stuff since grad school, and I hate feeling it. I hate that it all comes back the minute that you put yourself out there. I think it's the feeling that I'm going to be judged, scrutinized, and that's horrible, and yet I'm asking for it. (You might think I should feel that at my current job, what with being evaluated for tenure, etc., but I don't. I feel entirely comfortable about how I'm doing at this job and with how I'm regarded in my institution. I never feel judged or scrutinized. I never feel so fucking potentially inadequate.)

And you know a weird thing that has been stressing me out? I'm kind of freaked that I'll interview someplace where somebody on a search committee or in a hiring department reads this blog. I've been thinking about this, and considering different scenarios for how to deal with it if it should come up, more than I'd like to admit.

So I'm applying for eight jobs, at least 3 of which are probably total long-shots that will realistically result in nothing (and I'm not being modest in saying that). So that's five maybe-chances. I just hope I get at least one interview. Otherwise, well, I'm going to be disappointed. But whatever. Whatever will be will be. I'm going to send all of my stuff out this weekend. Maybe once that's done I'll have the sense of "it's out of my hands" complacency that would be a welcome relief after all of this worrying.

The Actual Job

I'm also feeling a lot of stress (less under-the-surface than the job market stress) related to my actual job. More and more responsibility keeps landing on my shoulders, and while I'm handling it with ease, it means meeting after meeting (and I hate meetings), and more and more smiling and making nice with people, and more and more productivity on all fronts. What all of this reminds me of is not graduate school but of what it was like in my junior and senior years of undergrad - when I was working like 20 hours a week, in the honors program, editor of the literary magazine, double-minoring, taking credit-hour overloads so as to finish in four years, etc. One of the things about me is that I'm really good at handling a lot of different tasks simultaneously. I'm really good at being involved in projects and in having a vision for things and having my hand in a lot of different activities. This is a strength. But it also leads to stress, as much as I'm good at doing it. Because part of me doesn't like that I'm this way - I wish that I could not want to do as much as I do want to do, and I wish that I could say no to things that I want to do more easily instead of just adding another thing onto the already full plate.

So it's weird, because all of this makes me feel competent and confident and proud of myself, and I like that others then view me as being confident and competent, but then I also feel like I lose myself in all of the to-do lists that I make and all of the moving and shaking that I do. I feel like I lose myself, and yet then I think that maybe this is really who I am. Maybe I want to be a "scholar" but what I really am is a worker-bee. (And yes, I realize that those things need not be mutually exclusive, but whatever.) I don't want to be a worker-bee. I don't want for people to respond to me based on my personality and my Grand Ideas for Improvement and not for the more... backstage stuff that I think about. I guess that's the thing: because this stuff comes easy for me, I don't really value it. And yet, because it makes me feel good to get acknowledged for things and to see myself taking care of business, I do it, and it feels like a cop-out in a way. It feels like I allow this shit to take over, not because I really care about it but because it gives me a kind of superficial high. If I believed in the outcomes of all my projects, I think it would be one thing, but sometimes I think I just do it all for praise or attention. And that's not the same thing as believing in something.

But then I don't know why I run myself down because of it. These things that come so naturally to me are necessary to making institutions of higher education run, and the particular quirks of my personality that allow me to have strong opinions without alienating people are very useful tools in negotiating the politics of higher education and actually making things happen. But I don't want to be this person. I don't want to be a born administrator. I fear that I am. (It all goes back to the fact that I like to be in charge - and that's also a thing that works for me in the classroom. The problem is that this liking to be in charge does not serve me in other areas, and those are the areas that I care more about, maybe because they don't come naturally? Who knows.)

And the Area in Which There Is No Stress, As It Barely Exists

So I've got no personal life, unless you count talking on the phone, writing emails, and hanging out with my cat. All of these things are pleasant, but a personal life they do not make. But do I really have the emotional energy for more than that right now? No I don't. So thank god I don't have personal life drama to add to the mix. That is, actually, a bright spot, as when I went on the market 4 years ago, I had TONS of personal life drama, and it all ended in tears. Much better to subject no one to the me that I am right now.

In Conclusion

(I had to include this last subheading in honor of my students - hee!) But so yeah, that's what's going on with me right now. I apologize for the long, self-indulgent, whiny nature of this post. But I actually do feel better for writing it, so I suppose that is good. I think this also means that I need to make a commitment to write in my diary more regularly, because it is wrong to subject an audience to much of this stuff. That said, I wanted to post this because it's been a long while since I've written anything that's really about me on this blog. And I wanted to post this because I think there's some value in having an account of how it feels to be mid-tenure-track and in this particular position.