Monday, March 31, 2008

And a New Week Begins

So I had lots of dreams last night, and each (though they covered different topics) featured me ending up in cars that were barely drivable (a blue, rusted out corolla from ca. 1984; an orange Dodge - maybe a Charger - with brown interior from ca. 1978 until finally by the last dream I ended up having no car at all and just ended up having to walk along the highway and yet still somehow got lost.

Now, I've been dreaming about cars since I was a small kid. The first car dream that I recall was a bad dream about somebody making me drive a car (a VW Beetle) but my feet couldn't touch the brakes or the gas, and I could barely see over the steering wheel. So yes, car dreams have historically for me been about anxiety of some kind.

So why am I boring you with my dreams of cars that barely work (and then which I'm being investigated for potentially having stolen), cars that won't get me to the job interview I'm supposed to have, and walking around roads that lead nowhere? Well... my layman's interpretation of this is that I have a lot of shit I need to get done and I'm not quite certain how I'm going to accomplish it all. Though, of course, I suppose it could mean something else entirely.

This weekend I got good work on the article done, and I anticipate I'll be able to get it done by next weekend. Today, however, I really need to work on it for approx. 3 hours so that I'm in a position that most of what I'm doing between now and next week is revising - not writing from scratch.

Also on today's agenda is:
  • Read the syllabi and assignments of my new mentee to prepare for our meeting this week.
  • Spend like 20 minutes prepping for class (I've already done the reading, so really there's not much to be done)
  • Pay bills (well, or at least rent).
  • Do laundry (although I'm not really going to do this. It's just I should).
  • Look at my calendar for the week and make the Big List of Things to Do.
And actually, there's probably more I should do and maybe even will do, but writing it all down is exhausting me. And thus, I will stop whining and blogging and start doing stuff so that I can check the stuff off the list, which is satisfying indeed.

Edited to add: Ok, so I decided it would motivate me to add a list of what I've done so far and to change the above list as I go. If I had it in me to figure out the code to do striking through, that would perhaps be more efficient, but I'm procrastinating, so why not go whole hog with that? Also, I'm noticing that I actually do stuff that's not on the to-do list, and so it's worth seeing the difference in the list that I devised originally and what I'm actually getting done.

Done So Far:

  • Write correspondence related to Book stuff.
  • Finish writing the annoying letter that I must compose for my admin. gig.
  • Survey thingie that I needed to get done.
  • Reschedule meeting because I'm an idiot and I don't look at my calendar before I schedule things.
  • Wrote for about an hour and a half; got done with a major section of the article.
  • Signed up for a Twitter acct and attempted to add the widget to the sidebar, but can't figure out how to get it to show up without it forcing you to click through, which is annoying. Not that you care what I'm doing from moment to moment anyway, or like I don't spend enough time detailing it without the need for such a gadget.
  • Got dressed. I know, pathetic that I'm including that on this list.
  • Go to the post office and send book correspondence (because even I can't justify giving that two bullets).
  • Go into the office briefly.
  • Wonder why my cat insists on knocking the lampshade of the lamp in the living room off balance and marking it as if somehow it refuses to stay his territory. Wonder whether he has this habit because he actually wants me to shoot him with the spray bottle....
  • Schedule a meeting with a student that I've been needing to schedule for a couple of weeks.
  • Think about taking a brief nap.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thoughts on Tenure from the Tenure-Track

Lots of people are (and have been) talking about tenure, and so I figured, "what the heck? I might as well put in my two cents!"

I've actually been thinking a lot about tenure lately, and what tenure will mean to me when I (knock wood, cross fingers, etc.) get it. On the one hand, I really don't think I view tenure as some sort of brass ring that's going to be my crowning achievement within the profession. I have a friend who did see it that way, and this friend is still recovering from the let-down of tenure in reality. Indeed, tenure doesn't really change one's day-to-day life much. Most people I know don't have wildly different research agendas after tenure, nor do they make much more money, nor do they spend their free time much differently, nor do they all of a sudden become different people. So in one respect, I think that tenure's not going to make that big of a difference in my day-to-day world.

And yet, recently, I've started really looking forward to getting tenure. Why?

Tenure will mean the freedom not to worry about how what I do service-wise appears.
One of the reasons that I've been ambivalent (at best) about service over the past five years is because I've often felt like there was a mandate to serve in ways that had nothing to do with what I'm good at, what I care about, or what is interesting to me. But knowing that I needed to demonstrate performance across certain areas (regardless if it just meant sitting sullenly and silently in meetings and contributing nothing - all that mattered was the line on the cv, and a line indicating x kind of service was more important than a line that replicated y kind of service, if that makes sense), I often felt like I often sort of sucked at service things I took on, and I felt like I wasn't really engaged in the service that I took on. With tenure, I won't need to pay attention to those sorts of categories anymore. Now, that's not to say that I won't have to do crap that is annoying or frustrating, but I'll have the freedom to choose which annoying and frustrating things I do based on my own inclination as opposed to some weird chart where one has to fill in boxes for different kinds of service.

Tenure will mean that I can take a more active role in shaping the university.
Now, I've never been one to keep my mouth shut, and I have not conducted my time on the tenure track as a silent, inoffensive shadow who smiles pleasantly and keeps her opinions to herself. I know that's the advice that a lot of people get about how to conduct themselves on the tenure track, but my feeling was always that they hired me and not some wallflower, and well, if they didn't like that I speak up then maybe this wasn't the job for me. And my colleagues have been very supportive of my tendency to speak up and of my active engagement with issues of the day in our department. That said, I'm not insane. One does need to be strategic and to protect oneself while on the tenure track, and that means it's best not to serve on certain university-wide committees before tenure, and it's best not to take a leadership role in certain initiatives or programs, and it's best not to agitate for certain kinds of change. It's one thing to have a voice in my department and to do behind-the-scenes stuff with tenured colleagues on the front lines. But it will be nice to be confident that I can step out front and center and be more visible across the university without worrying that I could jeopardize my job. I want to be on the front lines. I want to be involved in the changes that will take place in the coming years at my institution in a visible and concrete way. And I'm looking forward to that opportunity and to the challenge of that kind of work. I'm looking forward to a situation in which covering my own ass isn't quite so central to the roles that I play.

Tenure will mean (I think) a certain confidence boost.
One of the most palpable things that I noticed upon starting on the tenure-track was how much more centered I felt about my abilities than I did as a graduate student because the tenure-track job "authorized" me - both in my own estimation and in the eyes of others. I suspect that something similar will happen with tenure and promotion. And yes, this is sort of a vague feeling that I've got, and I don't know that there's anything concrete to back it up, but it is a sense that I have about how I'll feel once tenure is achieved. I could be wrong.

Tenure will mean (overall) that my investment in this place will grow because I will be in a position where it makes sense to invest more.
I realize that's kind of a circular claim, but I think that this has been a primary thing with which I've struggled over the past five years. On the one hand, I'm the sort of person who likes to invest her energy in a social context, for lack of a better way of putting it. But during this time on the tenure track, I felt like it made sense to invest most not in what surrounded me but in the "me" that might not stay here. What investments I did make here were about my personal professional development, and I didn't really invest freely because I wasn't sure that this was where I'd be in any sort of long-term way. This had personal repercussions as well as professional, positive and negative. I'm looking forward to investing without thinking quite so much about whether it's personally advantageous to do so.

You'll notice in this list of thoughts that I've not once discussed "academic freedom" or the usual things that come up in discussions of tenure. Well, here's the thing: I do believe that tenure secures academic freedom, but not in a simple cause and effect sort of way. I do not see the majority of scholars running out after tenure and setting the world on fire with their controversial course offerings or their dangerous new areas of research. Also, I already feel like I have academic freedom where I work, and I don't have tenure. So if those two things are true, what does tenure have to do with academic freedom? Well, look at the list of things I'm excited about related to getting tenure. All of those things are about participating fully in shared governance, in developing the curriculum of our university, in having a stake in the values and goals of the university, and in helping to shape the kind of institution at which I work. And so let's say that all tenured faculty (to different extents, obviously) take on this sort of a role when they get tenure. They then are in a position to foster a culture of academic freedom at an institution and that culture affects everybody connected with the university - tenured and untenured, students, administrators, staff, adjuncts, you name it. Now, no university is perfect, and sure, there are hierarchies that put limits on freedom, but without a core of employees invested in the future of the institution - because that future of the institution is intimately bound to their own future - fostering a culture of academic freedom takes a backseat to looking out for one's own interests and to putting the bottom line ahead of more abstract concerns like, say, "freedom." The fact of the matter is that no multiyear contract would inspire me in the way that tenure does to want to invest myself in this institution. How do I know? Because that's what I've got now, and for the past five years, my own self-interest has driven all of my decisions about my professional life. With tenure, it's not like my self-interest flies out the window, but my self-interest will become bound to the university in a way that it currently isn't.

Ultimately, this is the allure of tenure for me, and it's what I think is most positive about the way I see tenure working at my institution. This is not to say that the tenure process at some institutions isn't screwed up, or that even at my own institution that the tenure process plays out this way for all people. Tenure can mean that people check out entirely, or it can mean that people spread their poisonous negativity around because they no longer fear retribution or negative personal consequences. Tenure can mean that a university is filled with dead wood faculty who no longer give a shit about their own professional lives or about the university. Sure, all of that is true. But ultimately I believe in the tenure process because I see tenured colleagues who have not checked out, who are deeply invested not only in their own professional achievements but in our university and the surrounding community, and who do a lot of hard and often invisible work to continue to make our university better. It's tenured faculty members at my university who've fought for partner benefits, who've fought for benefits for adjuncts, who've fought for greater transparency in the tenure process. It's tenured faculty who make sure that things other than the bottom line go into administrative decision-making.

Would faculty have a similar investment if they were all on multiyear contracts that stipulated provisions for "academic freedom"? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. Would unionization provide the same sort of protections that tenure provides? Perhaps, but a) laws in my state stipulate that the state doesn't have to negotiate with unions, so that certainly wouldn't work here and b) it also wouldn't provide the inspiration that tenure can provide to give back to the institution. Would there be problems with the pay scale in academia if the tenure system were not in place, particularly in historically low-paying disciplines like mine? There sure would be, because the only saving grace for me with the coming recession is the job security that tenure will (fingers crossed, salt thrown over the shoulder, a quick Hail Mary) bring. There would also be problems with the national and highly specialized job market in academic fields, as if your contract wasn't renewed, it isn't like you could just get the same job down the road, which is how it works in other professions, and which also would be a huge problem in times of economic downturn, as the easiest way to deal with budget cuts would be to eliminate some of the people on multiyear contracts, and it could actually amplify the adjunct problem because ultimately, why not just have ONLY adjuncts and get rid of multiyear contracts altogether?

Maybe I'm just not seeing the big picture here. Or maybe I've been brainwashed by a system that has to this point been pretty good for me personally. Or maybe it's just that the tenure process at my university is really pretty good. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo. Hard to say. That said, I suppose I wanted to speak on behalf of tenure from the perspective of somebody who's nearing the end of the process and who doesn't feel brutalized by it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Today I....

  1. Taught for an hour and fifteen minutes.
  2. Worked at the admin gig for two hours (mainly composing an annoying communique related to a program change).
  3. Went to my office and caught up on some email, ate lunch, had a conversation related to book permissions, read stuff for a writing award I was judging, did summer book orders, met with a colleague related to the book contest, worked on a syllabus for fall, chatted with a few other colleagues about items various and sundry.
  4. Did time at a grad programs fair (did I mention that we're starting an MA program? I'll have more to say about that in future).
  5. Came home and talked to Medusa and to my parents on the phone.
It's been a long freaking day. And tomorrow I need to work on the article, and I also need to take care of some book nonsense. Note to any people considering writing a book or in the process: The Book never is finished. Not until it's published, and I suspect I'll somehow not be finished with it even then.

Some random thoughts:

  • Wine is lovely.
  • I love my department. I really do. And I'm actually really happy here, and excited to make my career here should I end up never leaving. I feel at home in this place and I feel a loyalty to this place and I love the loyalty that others feel to this place - and those others include both colleagues and students.
  • But I don't think I've mentioned it... BFF is moving on. Indeed, she's gotten a GREAT job closer to her family. I could write about this more in future as well, but for now, Rock On! BFF!
  • I laughed at the grad program thingie when a colleague told a former undergrad (before my time) who's also a prospective grad student that I'm "hardcore." What an awesome compliment, and yet also, hilarious if you know me, I think.
  • I think my great talent in life is that I'm very charming to assholes, cranks, and otherwise dotty and curmudgeonly fellows. I'm not sure whether this is ultimately positive or negative, or what exactly it means about my own personality, but the cranks? They love the Crazy :)

So I've Not Talked Much about This Admin Gig of Mine...

In large part that's because there just hasn't been that much to talk about. I mean it's fine. Whatever. I'm not totally passionate about it or anything, but I do think I'm quite good at the work that I'm doing. But you know what I think I'm most good at actually? I'm good at the fine art of appearing busy. An art of which I became a master when I worked as a temp throughout college and grad school. And that is the reason why I sort of hate administrative stuff (for whether one is an administrative assistant or is doing program administration, well, the same skills are required) but it's also why it's sort of weirdly relaxing. I mean, what matters more than what I actually accomplish most days is just that my ass is in the office and available to other people. And sure, I do a little work while my ass is in the chair, but it's not like I actually have some sort of pressure on that work, as long as it looks like I'm working, if that makes any sense. This is so different from the "professor" part of my job, where I don't really have to be much of anywhere in terms of doing time and clock-watching, but I have to produce a lot more.

I don't know. Maybe part of the reason that I equate this experience to temping is because I'm basically doing this job as a temp - it's a one-semester dealio. And perhaps it would feel different if I felt like it actually were my job. I kind of doubt it, though. I kind of think that this is how I'd feel whatever the case. And maybe there will come a time when that seems enticing, but for now? Well, I'm pretty excited that my time in this clock-watching prison will be up at the semester's end. I may be good at looking busy, but it drives me out of my mind.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meow! I'm Still Here! Hurrah!

You may wonder what I've been doing these days. I realize that I am a very Mysterious Man-Kitty, and that people are always very interested in my activities. Well. Living in the House of Crazy isn't so easy, I must say. There's the stress of writing, the irritation over house-cleaning, the many, many phone calls, which typically wake me from my most essential beauty sleep. That said, one thing I have realized through these turbulent times is that a thing I love most is lounging on my back. I often flop onto my back even when not asleep, and my Mama thinks maybe because I have a hot belly? It is hard to know. Although she doesn't believe that this sort of position is a normal position for most kitties to choose, when not asleep. But this is the position that I choose. Indeed, I am most adorable when in this position. You do not believe me. Take a gander, my friends:

How can you resist me? For I am glorious, am I not? And indeed, this is how I lie at my Mama's feet when she is busily working at the computer. Don't you wish I lived at your house? Don't lie. I know that you wish this. For I am the Man-Kitty. And I am, indeed, the most fabulous of kitty-cats. Imagine petting my exposed belly. Imagine the joy of the purrs that I shall offer you. You cannot resist. For I am the Man-Kitty.

(Although I should probably note that if I lived at your house I would wake you before sunrise, I would attack people whom you love, and I would also whine for treats every morning just before you leave for work, as if treats were a prerequisite for you leaving. Just FYI.)

Service about Which I'm Excited

The colleague who's responsible for administering adjuncts asked to meet with me today, and the short version of the situation is that there is a relatively new adjunct who needs some mentoring. He wondered if I'd be willing.

The service in question has to do with mentoring an adjunct. Now, does Crazy need more service? Indeed, no. But I said yes. Without thinking twice. Why?

(I should note that saying yes to any service without a waiting period or at least a second thought is NOT my M.O., and I think that this has served me very well.)

Well, I'm a fan of the fact that we really try to mentor our adjuncts in my department. The goal of this colleague and others is that people won't stay lifetime adjuncts at our institution if they don't want to do so. And so we agree to observe classes, to write letters of recommendation, to give advice on CVs - in short, to do a lot of the work that graduate advisers (should) do for their students. We've offered open meetings to talk about stuff like going on the market, and we do, as much as it is possible, take care of our adjuncts, not to keep them underemployed but rather to get them out of underemployment. And we celebrate it when they get full time employment outside our institution. It goes out as "faculty accomplishment" on our listserv, which the administration sees. So not only do we value this stuff and do it, but also we advertise it. Not because others necessarily value it, but because they should.

I don't want to say much about this particular adjunct's situation, but let's just say that there have been some transition issues related to our particular student population, among other things, and that those Issues were brought to the attention of our chair. I love that I work at a place where the chair doesn't just tell the person who handles the adjuncts to fire the person when the semester is done. I love that the first step isn't, "hey, it's easy to find cheap labor! cut our losses!" (which we could do in this location) but rather, "what can we do to salvage the semester and to help this instructor, this person?"

And so, I met with my colleague. And we chatted, and I enthusiastically agreed to mentor this adjunct. Not because I need the service, but because I like that I've got the opportunity to serve in a capacity that is meaningful to me. This is one of the things that kills me about service in tenure-track gigs. There's so much service to go around, and it should be easy to apportion it in such a way that people do what moves them. And yet, in my early years on the tenure-track I didn't feel like I had any options. I felt like I just had to do mandatory service, which isn't really "serving" at all. Thank god I've found my way out of that. Jesus. But I digress.

Why did I say yes with such immediacy? Well, the first reason is just I love the fact that I can perpetuate an institutional culture that does value adjunct labor (even if logistically it's impossible to compensate it adequately). Second? Well, I suppose I wish I'd had a similar type of mentor in my first semesters on the tenure-track (for I never adjuncted). I know I could have asked people, but I felt insecure precisely because those people could be on my tenure committee and I didn't want to betray weakness. And so because of that, I figured my shit out on my own, which wasn't the easiest way to go about it but it was the way I chose, because I was uncomfortable choosing otherwise. The thing that's great about this situation is that this person will be able to feel comfortable with me because I've got absolutely nothing to do with her employment - present or future - other than that I'd be able to write her a very specific letter of rec. later if it goes well and if it comes to that - I have absolutely no power over her, but I also am an experienced person who can offer her advice and who can mentor without... well, without the static of it mattering to me either. Not that how she does won't matter to me, but my professional status won't be on the line because of it, I suppose is what I mean. And I feel like that's what true mentorship is. It's something that's not about "doing one's job" but rather about offering advice freely and without some weird power dynamic. I'm not saying good mentorship can't happen within a power relationship, but I think it's more uncomfortable - or can be more uncomfortable - for both parties. In this, well, I just get to be an ear for somebody. Without an agenda of my own. And that's awesome.

Finally, well, I'm excited that I'll (I hope) be able to use my experiences at this institution to help somebody else. I do what I can with people hired after me on the tenure track within my department, but I'm at a biggish institution with a heavy teaching load and this isn't something that I've done as much of as I'd like to do. I suppose the content of this blog is evidence of my love of advising people, actually, and perhaps I've turned to the blog in some ways because I want to help people to navigate the fucked-up-ness that can be this profession. So I don't know this person, nor do I know how it will go, but sure I jumped at the opportunity to pass on any help that I might be able to give.

I post about this in part because it matters to me, but also because I really do believe that my department is stellar in the fact that it handles adjunct labor in this way. This is how it should be everywhere - and I'll tell you what: it's not that hard to do this. All it takes is believing that adjunct labor is labor and that adjuncts are workers, as opposed to slaves in a fucked up system. I'm not saying we're perfect in how we handle things, but I do think that we've got the right idea. And I wish that every single institution that employed adjuncts took this attitude to the adjuncts that they employ. Does that make up for the fucked up compensation structure? No. But I think it does make at least a little difference in the quality of adjunct employment.

Aw Yeah Aw Yeah!

Today's been great, in spite of my anti-media-no-water start! But I really can't talk about any of it! This is horrendous for me! I hate not being able to blab my news! Let's just say, however, that the book edges ever closer to publication!!!!!


So This Is the Kind of Day It's Going to Be

I just finished composing an email of disgust to a news organization about some of their morning coverage. I've never done this before. I'm not quite sure what's gotten into me.

Oh, and when I woke up I found I was without water. I've yet to discover whether this is some sort of water main break or something else, though I strongly suspect it is that as a couple of weeks ago there was the same thing. Luckily, I keep water in the fridge, so I did not have to go without coffee.

God! And now I just saw a teaser for another "female teacher screws male student" story on the Today Show. Now, is it just me, or does it seem highly unlikely that only female teachers screw students? If this is the case, then how come we never see male teachers screwing students as a lead story on the freaking Today Show? I've got a theory about this, but I'm too irritable to elucidate it.

So I've got a ton of work I need to accomplish, but what with the no water and with the lack of motivation, I feel like returning to bed. In good news, I am close to caught up with grading. The article languishes, but I feel like when I finally settle down to it that it will go pretty swiftly. Or I hope that.

What else? Well, not much, I suppose. I am cranky, I hate the news, I have no water, and I lack motivation. Welcome to Crazy's World of Negativity :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Slow Moving

I really don't feel like going to work today. That is all.

(Is this spring fever? Exhaustion? Just "that time of the semester"? Whatever it is, I've been in a slump about going to work lately. I feel like I just want to stay home constantly. Ugh.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ok, So Maybe This Isn't Going to Be As Easy As I Thought....

So, in one of my classes, I've assigned what I think I will call The Paper Assignment from Hell (TPAH), both for the students and for me. Now, in the context of the course, it makes sense to have the students do TPAH. It's really the only way for them to demonstrate that they get the point of the whole freaking course. That said....

Well, I'm reading the proposals for TPAH now, and in spite of my best efforts to be incredibly clear about the expectation for the assignment, well, let's just say that there are some cognitive roadblocks that I'd not really anticipated. Or, rather, I guess I did anticipate them, which is why I designed the assignment as I did, but the assignment design didn't necessarily knock those roadblocks down for all students. It occurs to me that this is why one might avoid such assignments, however valuable they are and however intrinsic they are to certain courses, because motherfucker is it going to be hard for me to get some of them where they need to go with TPAH in order to do ok. Now, I anticipate that I will be fairly lenient in my grading for this assignment, and I also am thanking my lucky stars that some of them have withdrawn from the course before embarking on this assignment. But even with that... there are certain compromises I just can't make in order for the assignment to have any meaning.

Here's the thing: the ones that aren't getting it.... it's because they really don't get it. Not that they didn't do the work, or that they don't have an intuition about what my expectations are. It's just that they're cognitively not getting what they need to do. It's quite literally just not clicked into place. And they *know* they're not getting it. So I suppose that's something, but in some ways that's even more horrific for me as an instructor because how do I get them there?

I suppose I may just have to accept that I won't be able to do so. Maybe it's not about getting them where I want them to go but rather about getting them as far as they can go. We'll see. But I'm feeling daunted, and that's not at all a good sign. Not at all.

Productivity Monday

Well, or at least I'm hoping that it will turn out to deserve that name. This weekend, I avoided job-related work (for the most part) and instead relaxed and did some things around the house. You know, like most people do on the weekends. While obviously there were things I "should" have been accomplishing for work, I decided that what I needed most was some time for *me* that wasn't about checking things off of my to-do list.

What this means, however, is that today needs to be *all* about the to-do list. I'm devoting the morning to some prep and to grading. Then I'll break for lunch, and work on the article for 2 hours. (I may end up working on it for more, but two hours seems reasonable as a minimum.) Then I'll go for a walk (sunny and a high of near 50), and then I'll make my to-do list plans for the week and decide what else I'll do or not do with this Productivity Monday.

I think that the above is reasonable, and shouldn't be too terribly stressful to achieve. As with all days like this, expect periodic and boring blog posts to punctuate my day :)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

RBOC: Bad Mood, Lifted!

  • A colleague of mine and I estimated that my binder with all my crap weighs in at the size of a fat baby. The moment I dropped that square fat baby off to the administrator to whom it needed to go, I did feel a weight lift off of me, though I was still somewhat cranky.
  • So I decided that the only thing for it last night was to give myself permission just to chill. I didn't look at the computer (or even turn it on), I didn't talk on the phone, I allowed myself to eat chips and dip and reese's peanutbutter cup eggs for dinner (for which I will pay at the gym today) And I watched parts one and two of John Adams (awesome!).
  • And today I'm also not going to do work, but rather I'm going to clean, make a detailed grocery list, go to the gym, and go to the store. Because with all of the stress, what's gotten a bit out of control has been the "life" side of things.
  • See, this has always been the problem I've had with the advice to strive toward "balance." Balance for me doesn't look like "well, if you just do a little bit every day then you'll never feel stress!" Part of this is because I developed my work habits in a way that means I can't work effectively that way and such evenness actually stresses me out. But what I'm realizing is that while my natural tendency is to have some extremes - especially when my plate is really full - between intense work focus and intense laziness, that if I make sure to stop and think about what I need, and if I pause to take care of myself, that I don't need to become a lunatic every time the plate is full to overflowing. It's not either be a lunatic or be this mechanical workhorse. Instead, it's about recognizing that extremes are part of my makeup, but not to give too much sway to one extreme (the workaholic tendencies) or to the other (the laziness). I think that keeping in mind that there needs to be a third part - taking care of myself - is a huge breakthrough for me.
  • I also think that the process of putting the Binder of Tenure added some weird stress to the mix that I'd never really realized it did before. On the one hand, looking at what one's accomplished and giving oneself credit for it is a good thing. On the other, when I do that, I always end up saying, "Oh my god. Is this really all my life is? Is this really my past five years?" This line of thinking leads down a dark road indeed. So it's good I made the push and got it done more quickly than I'd originally anticipated I'd do. Now I don't need to think about it.
  • Except, of course, I'm still thinking about it a bit in a residual way. That is neither here nor there.
  • Random thoughts: when were umbrellas invented? And mustn't it have sucked to live in a time before the umbrella? And (random thought that is not my own) why do we call it "birth control" and not "pregnancy control"? Because really, isn't it the latter?
  • My kitty cat is very adorable.
  • Yes, I think that's about it.

And so, now on to begin my day!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Grumble, Frown

You ever have one of those days that's just been sort of shitty from the moment you woke up?

Yeah, that's the kind of day I'm having.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the Impossible

A thing about me is that I really don't believe - in spite of evidence to the contrary, in spite of facts, in spite of experience - that anything is impossible. Now, surely, some things are more likely than others. But I'm a "never say never" sort of a girl, with things both positive and negative. I, ultimately, believe in miracles. (And tragedies, but that's not the point of this post.)

Perhaps my Catholic upbringing is to blame for this (or deserves credit for this?) - who knows?

But I've had a number of conversations with friends lately that have gotten me thinking about this whole "impossible" thing that I have such a hard time understanding. Friends who are talking about getting pregnant on their own ("I'm sick of waiting around for a relationship"), friends who are talking about the impossibility of finding true love ("At a certain point you just become invisible"), friends who think it's impossible to be happy ("Maybe this is just as good as it gets?")

Now, I have many (many) moments of self-pity, but at the end of the day, I truly think that the impossible might happen to me. Like it might not matter that I work where I work and yet I'll still become a really important person in the discipline. I mean, I'm realistic. I know I'm not going to be Helene Cixous or anything, but dude, I could totally be a 21st century Elaine Showalter (without resources, without prestige, but whatever - those are just details). I truly think that I won't have to have a kid on my own because of course I'm going to end up getting married and having a baby the good old fashioned way. Even though, dude, I'm 33, and I live in a place where most people get married under 25, and the chances just aren't that great. I totally believe that not only will I find a person and marry them but that we'll be totally compatible and in love and we will never get divorced, all experience with my parents' marriage, and with most other marriages, to the contrary. I totally believe that it's possible to be happier than I am, to be more satisfied than I am, even though I have no reason to believe that's true.

I'm pragmatic, I'm a planner, I'm a realist - but, apparently, I still have faith in the most Catholic definition: I believe in things for which there is no logical foundation for belief.

And I try to curtail this impulse to believe in the impossible, to desire it, to seek it. I mean, isn't that the recipe for dissatisfaction? Isn't that the recipe for pain? I'm sure it must be. Sometimes it has been. If one is always looking for the next possibility to the point that one starts seeking the impossible, well, that's not good, right? Except, well, I've done a lot of things and felt a lot of things and thought a lot of things that I had thought were impossible. And, sure, I struggle with not feeling satisfied a lot of the time, but that's also because as soon as I satisfy one impossible thing another impossible thing crops up in its place. So if the one impossible thing happened, why might the next one not?

The problem is, I know that sometimes this belief of mine, this faith, in the impossible... well... sometimes all doesn't go according to plan. And I know I can't just make other people have the faith that I've got.

Tonight I was talking to a person about topics edging toward this one, and I told him it was hard because I know that he talks about the things that he does with me because I'm a good advice-giver and such - he interrupted that it's because I'm smart and insightful and.... then broke off - and then I said, well yes, those things, and I love you, but... well, it's hard, because I have a clear idea of what I think you need to do, but I resist telling you that - I don't tell you that - because that's about me and it's not about you. I'm involved, and I can't tell you what to do objectively - anything I would tell you would ultimately be about me and not about you. And then he said, "And that's why you're my friend before you're anything else." And I said, "What do you mean?" and he said, "Because you could take advantage of the fact that I'm asking you and you don't and you wouldn't," and I said, "Well, even if I were something beyond your friend, I'd be an asshole if I did that..... And I know you would never do that to me." And he replied, "No, I would never do that to you."

This is a dumb portion of a conversation to recount, but ... Well, here's the thing. I love him, and he loves me. We've said it back and forth, and even if we hadn't I'd know that was true. And yet, him and me? We are, for a variety of reasons (emotional, geographical), impossible.

And I can't stop wanting the impossible.


Ok, so I mentioned a while back that I've been nominated for an award (a nomination that continues to be very exciting for me), but that this requires me to do a bunch of crap.

The crap that it requires me to do is basically to put together my tenure materials a full 6 months before they're actually due. Now, at my university, we've got an annual review process, so it's not like I'm doing all of this from scratch. Really it's just a matter of going through what I've already got and updating and revising some things. This has been the task that I set for myself this afternoon and this evening. Well, and it will carry over into tomorrow morning, but I'm hoping to get all of the big stuff done today.

This task, my friends, is both interesting and totally sucky. First, for the positive:

1) It's strange to be able to look in one three ring binder and to be able to see evidence of one's professional development. Strange, and sort of nice. I mean, it's not often that one gets such opportunities for navel-gazing on such a broad scale, in which such navel-gazing and self-congratulation is actually rewarded.

2) I like playing around with what is included and organizing all of it. This is because I have mental problems.

3) I am sort of enjoying the fact that this means I'll have almost nothing to do when the time comes to submit the thing finally for the actual tenure process. You know how I love procrastinating by doing stuff that I don't necessarily *have* to have done immediately. This is the perfect pastime for not finishing my draft of my article, I've got to say.

4) I *really* want to win. Like *really*.

What sucks?

1) It will suck if I don't win. I'm trying not to think about that.

2) Why is it that there are always weird items that you know you need to include but that somehow have been utterly lost in the mountains of paper that accumulate around one? Nothing essential, but still - why? Just why are there missing links?

3) Why is it that I always lose steam just as it's time to get to the "service" portion of the materials, the portion that needs the most work precisely because I always lose steam as I embark on working on that portion? And every year I tell myself that I should work on that part first, and every year I don't do that. Why? Because that portion of the binder is basically filled with thank you notes, and that is totally annoying to try to organize. I feel like there's nothing interesting in terms of self-presentation in that part of the binder. Totally annoying.

4) Why have I managed to include so much crap that is obviously just filler? Even after trying to edit for two years in a row?

5) Why is working on this so frustrating, ultimately?

So I keep trying to keep my eye on the prize (which is a cash prize, not just a token of esteem) and to stay motivated. But all I want to do is to nap with my lazy kitty-cat. That said, I think I will be better able to work on the article once this is done. This is my hope, at any rate.

In other news, I really gave an amazing lecture today in my one class. It was like somebody else was using my body to say smart things. And I didn't even do this from real notes: again, it was like some sort of divine intervention occurred and turned some marginalia into a brilliant hour-long lecture. Who knew that this was possible?

Ok, back to it. Annoyed to have to get back to it, though.

Crazy in Six Words

Via Medusa, one of the cooler memes I've come across in a while....


1. Write your own six word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4 Tag five more blogs with links

5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I can't stop wanting the impossible.

René Magritte. Attempting the Impossible.

René Magritte. Attempting the Impossible. 1928.

Sisyphus, Maude, Curmudgeon, Maggie, and New Kid.... you're it!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On Ledges and Students

This week, an assignment of mine (well, not just the assignment, but the course itself, really) caused a student to have a panic attack. For real.

Now, I'm no novice to the freak-outs of students. I do a lot of talking off the ledge duties in my role as professor. There are a variety of reasons why I have this... effect on students - probably at least 1 out of every 10.

  • In the way of the Tina Fey teacher character in Mean Girls, I'm a "pusher." What is most rewarding to me in teaching is not so much seeing students attain goals that they know that they can attain but rather seeing them attain things that they'd never imagined that they could.
  • I teach material, based on personal inclination and interest, that fucks people up. Hell, it fucked me up. That's why I was drawn to it. The things that I'm a specialist in, and the things that interest me intellectually, tend to be things that normal people find really intimidating and hard. So it's not all me, or my demeanor, or even the fact that I have a tendency to want to push my students: it's also that the material itself can induce panic.
  • You know that fucked up material that I teach? I expect people to actually work through it and to engage with it. It's not enough for me that they read it: I expect them to present on it, to write on it, to deal with it. Even if it hurts to do so.
  • Many students enter my courses never having been faced with such a professor, with such material, or with such assignments. I'm not necessarily invested in getting them to "enjoy" what I teach them so much as I'm interested in getting them to appreciate its significance, even as they may hate the material and as they may hate what they have to do with it. This is not a common experience for students at my university, to have a professor who values that sort of thing over getting them excited about it. (I'll say, I think that the excitement happens as a result of what I do, a deeper excitement than they'd otherwise experience because they actually own it. But my aim isn't so much to make them like it as to get it.)
All of these things mean that students freak out. Freshmen through seniors, experienced students, non-traditional students, newbies - they all freak out. And sure, some classes elicit more freaking out than others. Some assignments elicit more freaking out than others. But the freaking out? It's part of each and every one of my semesters.

Reasons students freak out:
  • They know how to react but not how to respond critically. Best metaphor I gave to a student, in an attempt to talk her off the ledge: "You know how some little kids are happy to just spin around in circles and fall down, that this is total entertainment for them? But then there are other kids who are really into doing something like building the Empire State Building out of Legos? The people who decided what good writing about literature is were Empire State Building people. So it's not that it's not fun or enjoyable to spin around in circles, but in order to participate in the conversations that you want to have, you've got to learn to build that Empire State Building out of Legos.
  • They're afraid of being confused. To this, I tend to talk about my own feelings of confusion and fear as a student. I tend to talk a lot about my own initial responses to the texts that we're reading (most of which were ambivalent at best). And I talk about my own insecurity a lot, and I explain to them that the only reason I'm not insecure now is because of having had guidance at important points and because of having more experience than them at the point that I'm at now. In other words, it's not about smarts or about getting it. It's about moving through the tough stuff with somebody who will take care of you as you go. That's the whole point of paying to take a class in order to learn this stuff.
  • And this goes along with the above. They're afraid of fucking up and of not getting it and of something that's ultimately scary - being challenged out of their comfort zones and of being challenged to think in new ways. A metaphor I used recently to address this: "Ok, when you ride on a roller coaster, you're scared, but it's also fun. You know it's safe; you know that somebody will turn off the roller coaster if it threatens to get out of control. And when you're on the roller coaster, you're scared, but you enjoy the ride. It's awesome. I'm the person who's running the roller coaster. I'll make sure that it won't run off the rails and that there won't be some tragedy. Your job is just to go along for the ride. All you have to do is accept the experience of this stuff, do your best, and feel it. I'll help you if you get into trouble. I'll stop the roller coaster if it gets dangerous. You just have to trust it will be ok, and that I'll make it ok, and that at the end of it you'll feel exhilarated."
So in some ways I build the ledge. I build it with my assignments, I build it with the material that I force them to read. And they end up on the ledge because those things make them insecure, afraid, and just generally freaked out. And so then it's my job to talk them off the ledge that I've built.

And the only way that I know how to do that is to emphasize the fact that they're not alone (I've felt this, others in the class feel this), that all that matters most to me is that they do their best, and that ultimately this experience is one that will stretch them and push them into a new way of thinking and that this is ultimately the point of education.

Because I believe this is the point of education, I keep building the ledges, and keep being committed to talking students off of the ledges that I build. And sure, it's exhausting work. It's hard work. But for me, that's the point of the whole enterprise. And do all students respond well? No, they don't. Some students resist even after my pep talks. But the ones who make it through the pep talks? The ones who make it through to the other side? They see the world in a whole new way. Not just the texts, not just the material of the course or the topic of the course - the whole world.

And that is freaking cool.

Still Falls the Rain

I know that the rain technically signals spring and all that, but there's rain, and then there's rain. And this has been one hell of a lot of rain.

I've got a busy day ahead of me. Here's what I'm looking at:

10:30 AM - prep for meeting with students.
11:00 AM - meet with students re: the thing that they're doing that I'm advising.
11:30 AM - finish up comments on the beginning of the draft that BES submitted.
12:00 PM - meet with BES about her thesis. I have a dream that this meeting will take just an hour, but if past meetings are any indication, it's probably going to take two.
2:00 PM - Another meeting with a student.
2:30 PM - Grade student research projects; prep for class; make some copies, etc.
4:45 PM - teach for 3 hours.

I wish I owned rain boots. Or that the sun was out. I did get a very nice night's sleep last night, and I'm feeling fairly energized, so at least that's a good thing. And another good thing is that I already did my prep for tomorrow, so I don't need to do anything once the day is done tonight. I mean, obviously there are things I *could* do, but nothing that I *must* do.

So now I must get together library books to return, find the film I'm showing in class, pack my lunch, shower, make sure my bag is fully packed, dress, etc.

[By the way, I'm not posting all of this stuff because I'm trying to say that my life is harder than anybody else's, as I think was implied by the staff person - I think his name was Josh? - who commented to the last post. I'm posting it in large part to give myself credit for all of what I'm doing (as opposed to my instinct that leads me to beat myself up for not working on the things that there just isn't time to get to) and then in small part because it's often this time of year when students start seriously thinking about the possibility of grad school and becoming a professor and/or that people are getting ready to embark on their first tenure-track jobs in the fall. When I thought about grad school, and when I got to my first t-t job, I couldn't really imagine how the days would be filled. Now, in grad school I'd taught, so student meetings weren't foreign to me, or grading, but no, I had no clue how much more time and energy 4X the students I'd ever taught in a semester would take, nor did I have a clue about a lot of other things. So this isn't a series of posts that's about moaning and whining about how tough professors have it. It's a series of posts that's about taking some credit for myself, venting some spleen, and giving a wee little window into what some days look like.]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Day in the Life

A lot of times, people assume that a professor's professional work consists of that time that they spend in the classroom. You know the claim: that we work 6 hours a week or whatever, while we ramble about whatever our area of specialty is, and that otherwise we're off eating bon-bons and mowing our lawns and knitting and playing with our cats or something. So toward a goal of demystifying the life of the professor, I shall give you a play-by-play of my day:

7:00 AM: The alarm goes off. Motherfucker.
7:10 AM: Make coffee. Feed Man-Kitty. Mmmm, coffee.
7:15 AM: Set timer on stove so I'll be sure to get ready at a reasonable time. Turn on the today show, and drink coffee and then doze a bit. (I showered before bed last night, so as not to have to worry about that this morning.)
8:15 AM: What the fuck am I going to wear?
8:30 AM: Pack lunch, appease Man-Kitty with treats (meOOOWWWW, meOWWWW), grab bags, etc.
8:40 AM: Drive to campus, curse people who don't know how to drive.
9:00 AM: Power up computer, feel anxiety about the fact that I've not heard back about the final permission on my book, check email, etc.
9:25 AM: Teach class. First, comfort students and answer some questions about their paper proposals that will be coming due. Two students are supposed to give presentations, but only one is there. After 10 minutes, get on with the first presentation. The second student never shows. Return midterm exams. Lecture and lead discussion on the reading for the day.
10:45 AM: Head over to Administrative Gig Office in order to work over there. Chat with office admin. person, talk with "boss" (although there are no real bosses in academe), work for an hour on duties, chat with another office person whom I think is fabulous, work for another hour, say goodbye to "boss" on the way out.
1:15 PM: Lunch. Lunch is glorious.
1:30 PM: Email student who apparently had a major meltdown and that's why she didn't show up for her presentation. Attempt to console and offer solutions.
1:40 PM: Update CV for award thingie. Also work on revisions of cover letter thingie for same award thingie.
2:00 PM: Deal with Annoying Email Thing related to a registration issue with a student, which was very annoying mainly because I had thought this was resolved a month and a half ago (a) and because the only reason I'm in this situation is because I only allowed it to exist in the first place because I was trying to be a good department citizen and apparently no good deed goes unpunished.
2:20 PM: Work on conference abstract.
2:40 PM: Chat with a colleague.
3:00 PM: Department meeting, in which I participate periodically and when not participating I a) write notes back and forth with my dept. peeps and b) comment on a student's thesis.
4:30 PM: Fuck, that meeting took an hour longer than it needed to take. Email my chair in frustration about reply I received about 2 PM item, and then drive home, in which I have serious road rage at two vehicles piloted by idiots and buy wine.
5:00 PM: Talk to A. on the phone for two or so hours.

And now here we are. And I should grade, or work on the collection essay, or something. But I'm planning to drink some more wine and to go to bed at a reasonable hour. I will be on campus tomorrow from 10:30 AM to 7:30 PM. Yeah, this is a cushy job. Totally.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday, Sigh

Well, looking back over the past week, I got a good amount done, although obviously I didn't do all the things I'd hoped to do. I've got a messy 30 pages, about 10 of which are actual solid draft - of the article. The rest is notes and quotes and a hodgepodge of things that is in no state to be seen by anybody but me. The realistic projection is that I can't get a complete draft done until Friday at the earliest. That's ok, I suppose.

But so then that means that I need to decide whether my time is best spent today working on it a bit more or whether it would be better spent doing some other stuff that I need to get done. Hmmm.

Need I note that I would like to laze about more than I'd like to do either of the above? I blame a certain Man-Kitty for this laziness, as when you live with somebody who sleeps for about 20 hours a day, well, it really does have a negative impact on your motivation.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thank You, Kennedy Family

For I wonder whether I'd have accomplished as much without the drone of the 2-hour-long documentary on your clan that just so happened to be on the History Channel this afternoon. I got about 3 solid hours of writing done, and in addition I did reading for one of my classes. Oh, and I cleaned the bathroom and took out the trash and things. I still have dreams of accomplishing more things, but first I'm going to cook some dinner. Which I suppose is also accomplishing something.


It's true. Yesterday was a wash. I couldn't make myself do anything I needed to do. And that sucks.

But then I think that everybody needs a break every now and again, and I should forgive myself for accomplishing absolutely nothing yesterday. I mean, heck, I only procrastinated because I knew I could get away with it. And today is a new day.

So. Here's the plan. I'm going to make a detailed to-do list, complete with how long each task is likely to take. And then I'm going to try to get the things on that list done. It's really the only way.

(All I want to do is to go back to bed. Or lay around and watch TV. I must fight these impulses.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Being Reluctant to Call Myself a Sex-Positive Feminist

I'm writing this post in response to Lina's call, though I'm not entirely sure whether it fits exactly with what the call is calling for. I'm writing it as a person who does scholarship on sexually explicit scenes in literature, and as a person who teaches a lot of literature that includes explicit sexual representations. I think it's both important to be open to this stuff and to analyze it. And I'm writing it as a person who identifies as a feminist.

You'd think, with all of that, that I'd have no reluctance in identifying as a "sex-positive" feminist. So where does the reluctance come from? What exactly is my issue here? I like sex, and I like being a feminist. How could I not be positive about sex as a feminist?

Well, obviously, I'm positive about sex itself (anybody who isn't, well, that sort of sucks for them, doesn't it?), and I'm also positive about the sex in representation (for I think that it is a really interesting site of aesthetic experimentation, which is why I work on it). And yet, I resist the "sex-positive" label. Why?

Well, before I answer the "why" explicitly, let me take a detour into my academic past. Let me give you some context.

Age 21: I attend my first academic conference, and I end up in a conversation with a Fancy-Pants man whom I didn't realize was a Fancy-Pants. I begin telling him about how I'd like to examine representations of sexuality in X and Y, and he offers to buy me a drink. I demur, and we continue talking, though I notice that others are responding negatively to the attention that I'm being paid. We're interrupted when some need to say goodbye to him, and I attempt to join the conversation of my mentor. She tells me "don't talk to me - keep talking to him!" and I say, "but..." and she says, "I'll explain later!" [She does, and it becomes clear that she was all, "he's a Fancy Pants and if he's paying attention, you keep that going, sister."]

Age 22: I'm working on my MA thesis, and my second reader is a youngish male professor. I was looking at representations of sexuality in a Notorious Text by an American Author (one featured in a Seinfeld episode). We were looking at the draft of my thesis, and the only passage that he wanted to discuss with any specificity was a very explicit one, with the office door closed, and with mood lighting as opposed to florescent, and I felt extremely uncomfortable, and then he handed me his copy of Norman Mailer's Prisoner of Sex, complete with marginalia, to read between then and the next reading - which let's just say freaked me the fuck out as I perused it).

Age 23: Let's return to Fancy Pants. Another cocktail hour, and a discussion that detoured into the area of Victorian porn. (From this point forward in my academic career, I worked only under the supervisory of gay men and women. I don't think that this is a coincidence.)

Age 27: Fancy Pants again. A weird hug after an MLA party, and then he called my hotel room, when I'd not told him he should or could call me, saying that he wanted my contact information. (I should say, I don't think Fancy Pants is some sort of sexual predator or anything, but I was freaked out by these things. This is partly because I'm weirdly suspicious and Victorian. This is not to minimize what I felt, but Fancy Pants is actually a very nice person and a good colleague now, but at the time, yes, I was freaked.)

Age 32: A comment from a review of my book manuscript: "Furthermore, the author believes in sex. She is not afraid of it; she is interested in its power, its fun, its pull. When so much talk about sex ends up being talk about either danger or ethics, it is wonderful to read a feminist account of sex in X that does not see sex itself as the problem but rather analyzes the pleasures of sex and sexuality and shows us new ways to think about X and sex." (And yes, I realize that this is a totally glowing comment, and part of me really loves it, but another part of me feels like it's an uncomfortable evaluation of what I do.)

Why did I take you on this little journey through my academic past? I suppose it's because I believe that my history demonstrates why I'm ambivalent about the label. I have felt, at various times, that my interest in sex either puts me on the wrong side of other feminists or it puts me on the wrong side of lotharios who think that my interest in sex generally is an interest them. I'm positive about sex, and I'm a feminist, but I'm not uncritical about sex, nor do I think that the label "sex-positive feminist" is one that is altogether positive.

In part, I think my difficulty with the label stems from the fact that it preserves a virgin/whore binary. Either one is anti-porn or one is sex-positive. How is that any different from being a prude or being a slut? How is that any different from being a good girl or a bad girl? What if I'm a good girl who has an intense interest in representations of sex? What if I'm a bad girl who doesn't want to be defined by the academic work that I do on sex? I might be all of those things, but the label "sex-positive" puts me in a category. Either I'm a "bad" feminist (according to some) or I'm a "good" feminist (according to others). But what if it's more complicated than that? And what if my work on sex doesn't define my feminism? Or define me? What if I wish that reviewer of my book, as positive as that review was, wouldn't have called me out on how feel about sex? Would that reviewer have responded in the same way to a monograph by a male author? What the fuck does it matter that I think that sex is "fun" or that I'm interested in the way that it's "fun"?

And then I think that I'm an asshole, in some ways, for resisting the label. Is this just me not wanting to be "bad"? Is this me wanting to say that I "work on" sexual representations but that I'm "not a whore"?

I suppose the difficulty for me is that I'd like to be able to be interested in sexual representation without it defining how I am regarded as a person and as a scholar. I'd like to be "Crazy" first and foremost - I'd like to be regarded as a person - and not to be regarded in terms of sex or gender. That's a ridiculous thing to want, but that's the thing that I wish for. Or at the very least I wish to be regarded as a woman - without reference to how I regard sex or how I engage with sexuality.

The fact of the matter is, I'm only regarded in relation to my attitudes to sex or sexual representation because I'm a woman. And that's fucked up. And so no. I don't want to be seen or judged because of my interest in sex or because of how I evaluate its representation. And I don't want my feminism to depend on how I evaluate sex either. For me, feminism allows me to think about what I want to think about. And I shouldn't have to choose a label within that - "sex-positive" or "anti-porn." The fact of the matter is that I'm more complicated than that. All women are. All people are.

On Placement of Scholarship

Dr. Virago posted earlier this week, and Horace followed up, in a discussion about publication and making one's work visible, within one's field, in terms of tenure prospects, etc. I thought about commenting to both posts, but the discussion is pretty narrowly happening among Medievalists over at Virago's and so I wasn't sure how much I could say that would be of use there, and I felt like I wanted to go off on a tangent about what Horace posted, and so here I am, posting about this here.

Now, I'm a weird case. Of all my publications (appearing in collections, conference proceedings, journal articles, a review, the book), only one - a weirdo article in a collection that is outside my field of specialization and that is an edited version of a seminar paper that I wrote in graduate school - happened out of me sending off something cold, with no professional contact in place to get the work a special look. I've never just sent an article off to a journal and had it accepted. Even the book manuscript ultimately found a home based on some correspondence I had with an editor. (Or perhaps not based on, but I do believe that having the contact helped.) So at least in my publication history, getting my work an audience has had everything to do with other kinds of visibility that I've cultivated, particularly through the work that I've done at conferences (presenting my work but also networking).

Now, I'm not saying that this is how people should go about conducting their research agendas. In fact, it's probably sort of a stupid way to go about it. I should probably be more calculated about things like where I'd like to "place" my work and about thinking of what I'd like to publish and when. One of the luxuries of being at a university where research expectations are very low is that I haven't had any pressure to do that. But I suppose that's also a pitfall, as it means that I've not been very conscious of how to get my work seen, or about where and how it gets seen.

BUT, and this is important, however one gets one's work seen, once the ball gets rolling, more people want to see your work. And so it's a circular process, in which if you just keep taking the opportunities that fall into your lap, at a certain point it's not really work to get more opportunities. This is sort of the position that I'm in now, or at least it's beginning to be my position.

And this is where I diverge from Horace in his discussion of how he values certain kinds of publication venues, and where I diverge from the discussion at Virago's about aiming for a Trifecta of Journals that are the gold standard in a specialization. (Obviously my specialization is not Medieval lit, and so my 3 would be different, but if I wanted I could probably list off 3 journals that would be most advantageous in which to publish.) See, the thing is, at least in my experience, publishing in less advantageous venues (or presenting at less advantageous conferences) can lead to other, bigger things, and often it can forge a path to those other, bigger things that takes a lot less effort if - and this is key - you make sure that even the less advantageous placement is, although this may seem counterintuitive, advantageous.

What do I mean? Well, let's say that you lock into a professional network of people who are all intensely interested in Star Trek. You attend the Star Trek Conference regularly, and you make a name for yourself in the community of Star-Trekians. This then leads to a small publication in the Annual Star Trek conference proceedings when you are in graduate school, which establishes you as a Star Trek scholar. Then, later down the road, a colleague who knows you as a Star Trekian invites you to participate in a panel on Star Trek and Lost in Space at the Lost in Space conference. Now, you've never worked on Lost in Space, so you decide to do a paper just on Lost in Space at another less focused conference first to get your feet wet. Because the person who founded the Star Trek conference knows you from Star Trek Studies, he shows up at your panel and asks some tough questions, which you answer with aplomb and your ability to do so makes you look like you're really cool. Also in the audience at that panel is the President of the Lost in Space society, who, impressed with your performance, suggests that you submit a proposal for the Lost in Space Society's MLA panel. You do, and you are accepted for that panel. In the meantime, you present on the Star-Trek-Lost-in-Space panel, and your paper is well received, and that then is accepted for a collection on Lost in Space which promises to be very important and which will include all of the top Lost in Space people. Then, you give your MLA paper and it just so happens that an editor of a prominent journal has been a Lost in Space person in the past and so was at your panel and invites you to submit the full-length version of your conference paper or that prominent journal, and it is accepted.

To make a long story short, what happens out of all of the professional networking is two publications, one in a top journal and one in what will be a great collection (if it ever comes out). This then establishes you as a Lost in Space scholar, and it also raises your profile in the Star Trek community. You get 3 more publications in smaller venues, as well as the chance to co-edit a special issue of a smaller, very specialized mini-journal. And you get the chance to chair two MLA panels, one of which then results in another invitation to submit to another prominent journal. Also, the CFP for one of the MLA panels generated interest from a publisher, which you then parlayed into a book contract or your unrelated book project on Star Trek, Battlestar Gallactica, and Heroes. And in the meantime, somebody you don't know read the article in the first prominent journal and became aware of your work and invited you to put together a panel for another big conference in your specialization.

So why do I tell this convoluted tale of networking and publication? Well, because technically only one of my articles is particularly well placed. And yet, people are seeing my work, and my stature in my field is improving. This isn't because I've been terribly conscious of where I'm placing my work or because I've had a concrete agenda about what to publish and where. Instead, I started with the network and have taken opportunities when they've arisen.

Now, would this work if I were at a university with more stringent tenure requirements? Probably not, or if it would, it would not work as well. But this has worked particularly well for me in my current situation, in part because it has meant that I have managed to keep a really active scholarly agenda without a lot of anxiety, and anxiety is often very time-consuming. Also, and this is important, even my less advantageous placements of my work tend to be very focused in my specific area, so all of the people who are interested in the things that I work on specifically see those things. So I'm not publishing in minor venues that are so general as to do nothing for my status (online journals without a strong reputation, for example, or random conference proceedings) but rather in minor venues that get an audience that matters in terms of my specialization. If the 200 people reading your work are the 200 people that count, that can count more than if you have 200 people reading your work who don't count and/or who don't care about what they're reading.

It's funny, though, because I often feel a little bit fraudulent because this is how my publication history has gone. I have moments where I feel like a paradigmatic example of the ways in which this profession is not at all a meritocracy and in which it's not about what you know but about who you know. But then I think about some of the scholars whom I respect most and who are most prominent in my field, and I think about the fact that part of the reason that they publish so much is because they've built a name for themselves and so they are invited to publish to increase the status of whatever journal or collection or publication list. Is that really so different? And if the work weren't good, my connections wouldn't matter a hill of beans. I suppose what I'm saying is that in part I do feel like some of this is about playing the game well, and not so much about where one's work is placed, at least not initially. I think, at least in my experience, that the strong placement follows from the other stuff, or that it can, at any rate. It's sort of like how entry level jobs require experience, but how do you get experience if you can't get the entry level job? It's about getting one's foot in the door, and probably it doesn't make sense to beat oneself up for how one manages to do that.

And a final thought: a lot of how one proceeds with this sort of thing also depends on what one values and what one's ambitions are. I've realized that I don't care terribly much about being at a different kind of university or about jumping through certain hoops in this profession. I care a lot about how I'm regarded by the people whom I respect and know, but I don't care really at all about achieving certain kinds of status. I'm ambitious, but that ambition is very internally driven and isn't terribly competitive. It's really about doing the work that I want to do and about exploring the ideas that I want to explore. And with some of the stuff I work on, I'm only going to be able to do that in smaller venues. So getting some magical trifecta of publications isn't really high on my priority list. If it happens, great, but what I care about isn't that. Just like I don't care terribly much about lengthening my CV with a certain number of publications a year. I care about being an active scholar, and an interested and interesting scholar, but I don't care much about the measuring of that. Again, this is both a luxury of where I work and a potential pitfall in my marketability if I ever want to leave for another kind of institution.

But so anyway, I'll conclude with this about collections and smaller publication venues: I've come to regard these as serving a dual role, in which only one part of it is about getting an audience or my scholarship. The other part of it is really professional service. That collection essay that languishes - the primary value of that collection is that it invigorates the tiny little field that it explores. It's good for Lost in Space Studies as a whole - much better for it than it will be for my own professional development. The journal articles are good for Lost in Space Studies, too, but they are much better for me than the collection will be, in terms of how I'm evaluated for tenure and by those people who regard scholarship more competitively than I tend to do. And so do I see myself seeking out a lot more opportunities to publish in collections? No. But am I sure that I'll do so again? Well, yeah, but not because it's terribly beneficial to me personally at this point in my career. In fact, the more "minor" journal publications are more beneficial and less time-consuming.

So this was a long and winding post, and for that I apologize. But it's felt good to reflect on this stuff, especially as I am about to head back into the article I'm working on throughout the day today. It's rare that I think about the broader context of my scholarly activity, given the way that I sort of flit from thing to thing that just happens to fall into my lap. To put it into context reminds me both of how lucky I've been, and also how good I've been about taking lucky breaks and turning them into something tangible. That's a good way to start a day of drafting.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Afternoon

So, last night I managed to get myself to 8 solid pages of the draft. Today, I've not even looked at it. Well, I did print it out. It's a gloomy day, and I felt like I needed a break from the draft, so this morning I ran some errands and then I finished grading those midterms that I had hanging over my head. Exciting things about the midterms: 2 students dropped the course so I had two fewer to grade; all but two of the remaining did VERY well on the exam. And the exam itself was a good one - it really showed me what they're getting and what they're not getting, and it also showed me how good they are with synthesizing material that's pretty difficult even taken on its own. So yay.

Tonight I've actually got social plans, which is exciting, and then I tomorrow my aim is to pound out more of the draft (all of the rest of it? is that possible?). I'll then spend Sunday cleaning my house, and then Monday I'll prep for the week. Ah, break has not been long enough, but I have accomplished a great deal.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

RBOC: Plugging Right Along

  • Well, you all asked for it :) Since you seem to enjoy watching my "process" so much, I shall entertain you with a wee update. Thanks for the comments, by the by. They are very, very motivating, which I suppose is one of the benefits of blogging - having some supportive peeps that one feels like one can't let down.
  • At any rate, I think one of the reasons that things were coming so slowly was that I forgot how to draft from scratch. See, I've not written anything longer than a conference paper that was brand spanking new in.... yeah, like two years. And so I was attempting to draft the way that I draft a conference paper, or to write as I write when I'm working on something that's already in progress, and that's no good for this sort of thing. I guess when I'm working on something already in progress or on something short that I'm a bit more... meticulous in the first go around. I forgot that I like to do things like put "add stuff about x here" in bold and just keep going. After a few hours, though, I remembered that I like to do that, and so now things are fairly solidly underway.
  • One of the issues, too, is that I'm a beginning-to-end drafter. That's not to say that I don't go back and change the beginning parts, but I can't launch into an easy section of the outline first because I've got to work through the tough stuff in order to know what to do in the easy sections. So, for example, if I were actually talking about the novels I'm discussing and analyzing them (which I just realized is the bulk of what I do in a conference paper, which may then be why I can write more smoothly in that genre), this would be going much faster.
  • Instead, though, I'm working on the introductory stuff that leads up to all that - a combination of lit review, some theory, some engagement with the field, and that's all stuff that comes in 1-3 sentence bursts. In other words, I find myself writing a sentence, or a half of a paragraph, or when I'm really in the zone a paragraph, and then I have to stop and figure out what to do next. This is annoying and time-consuming.
  • But I think I'm doing something really fricking cool. And let me tell you, I was not so sure of that this morning.
  • Though I'm still trying to do too much.
  • And I don't think it's a good sign that for the past hour I've been debating about when is an appropriate time to have a glass of wine. As in, I'd really like a glass of wine right now but it's only just after 4 PM and I've still got it in my head that I'd like to write some more and so that's probably not a good idea.
  • It does help that I don't have wine in the house, though I'm thinking now might be a good time to go and procure some.
  • What's disgusting is that it's like this gorgeous spring day outside and I've been chained to my computer for all of it.
  • Which makes me think that I really should break and go buy some wine. (Though really what I should do is break and go for a walk or something in the outdoors.)
  • The kitty had a disgusting hairball earlier. That was gross, but it was nice because it was a legitimate excuse to take a break.
  • As opposed to all of the illegitimate excuses that I usually use for breaks.
  • So yes, that's the latest. I've got about five solid pages. I'm hoping to get about five more before I collapse. I'll be happy with only 3, however. We shall see.
  • Which also means (and this is annoying) that I'll be writing again tomorrow instead of cleaning my house. Is ok, though, as I'd sort of known that would be the case when I began this week.
  • Until later... and I may try to get Medusa over to the Lounge this evening. Will keep you posted on whether I can make that happen.

Ugh - An Update

This is not going quickly. Not at all. That said, I think I've managed 3 mediocre pages, and it does seem to be coming a bit faster. Part of the problem, I think, is that I'm trying to do way too much. I'm not focused. I think I've decided, though, that I should just do what I can to get what I'm trying to do down in a loose way. I can always go back and tighten (as I always have to do anyway) and so the point is not for this draft to be perfect but rather for it to exist.

I'm having one of my typical moments of writerly insecurity, though, where I feel as if I'm being too... I don't know. Like I'm not rooting what I'm talking about in scholarly conversation enough. Like I'm just yammering on in an engaging though unsophisticated way and that ultimately that means that what I'm writing lacks substance and depth and that it's not ultimately very good.

I should note that all of the above is probably, at the moment, true. But I should also note that I know that it won't always be true, and so really, I need to just stop feeling like a loser and get on with it. Perhaps I will make myself a cup of tea.

(And thank god I put on the running shoes when I did or I so would have decided to take a nap by now.)

I Warn You Now: It's Going to Be a Heavy Blogging Day

And a day in which the posts are interesting to no one - not even me. I'm posting again because I need to get on with the writing. And I'm not at all in the mood. And so I've put on some Sufjan Stevens and I figure if I blab here while listening to it that it will get me in the mood. Or if not, I'll just become so bored that I'll get to work on the article because that will be more interesting than if I keep writing nonsense. It is wrong to blab all of this at you, my readers, but I feel like it will be therapeutic for me, and well, it needs to be all about what gets me to actually writing today. Hmm.... Perhaps I need to put on some running shoes.

Ah, that's better.

As Medusa explains much better than I ever could, in writing, wardrobe is all. Now, she and I tend to veer in different directions in terms of our fashion aesthetics for writing, but we do begin at the same place - with the strange sweater/nightgown combination. I tend not to find my inner dancer as the day continues, however, but rather to embrace my inner Spice Girl, usually ending up with some combination of Sporty, Ginger, and Scary being the end result. Currently, I have settled on the following:

  • Hot pink and white Adidas gym shoes
  • Black terry cloth shorts that I've had since 2003 (which are faded to a kind of brown/gray/black
  • What A. calls a "bralet" but by which she actually means a tank top with some sort of built in bra support (burgundy).
  • a "Gettin' Lucky in Kentucky" t-shirt (green).

I have yet to reach the desperate stage where I break out the dissertation tiara. At this point, my hair is just in a ponytail. Might I just note that I'm very excited that my hair can go into a ponytail again?

So why am I not writing? WHY?

I've done the research. I know (roughly) what I want to say. I've done the thinking that I needed to do. So why am I sitting here resisting getting to work? Why????

The fact of the matter is that I don't feel like writing. I feel like being a lazy person. And it sucks that I am not allowed to be a lazy person. Well, I suppose I'm allowed - who's here to stop me? - but I know that I cannot afford the laziness.


I may need to set the timer in order to get anywhere with my day.

More soon, I'm sure. I know you can't wait.

RBOC: The Break, It Is Not Long Enough, Edition

  • It is Thursday of my spring break. I feel, even though I've done work, like I've not really accomplished anything. Today I'm going to make a big push on the article, and I have high hopes that I'll get 3/5 of it knocked out. 60%. Approximately 20 of 30 pages (which since I've been typing stuff into my outline for two days means I only need to write somewhere around 10-15 pages, some of which was already in the conference paper). I hope this isn't overly ambitious.
  • Speaking of being overly ambitious, sometimes I really do wonder what's the deal with me and work or how others react to me and work, because I don't feel like I accomplish much at all, and it's not like I'm not lazy and like I don't take naps and watch TV and play video games, and spend way too much time reading blogs, and read books that aren't for work. Still, it's not entirely unusual that others will draw attention to the amount of kind of work that I accomplish when I'm taking care of business in certain ways that annoy the crap out of me, even though I know it's that they envy the fact that I am getting shit done, but dude, it's not my fault that I'm actually pretty good at getting shit done and I don't know, this is all over the place but the point here is that I hate being made to feel like a weirdo for accomplishing things.
  • Coffee. Mmmmm.
  • I've been really bitchy lately. I'm hoping this lifts soon.
  • It's been feeling like spring's arriving over the past few days. That's awesome.
  • I don't know what else. I think I'm tapped out at the moment with this post. I'm going to go off and ease into my day, and the plan is to start with work in earnest at 9 AM.
  • Expect periodic boring updates.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Inauspicious Start to the Day

I was just awakened by a maintenance guy ringing my doorbell repeatedly because they thought my water heater had busted and was leaking into the unit below. As you might imagine, I was disoriented. It became clear that it was in fact the unit above mine that's the problem. Anywho, in my disoriented and sleepy state, all I could think about was that the maintenance dude looked like Don Cheadle. Like really a lot. Like, I kept wanting to say, "Hey, has anybody ever told you that you look like Don Cheadle?"

No point in going back to sleep now, really, so have decided to make coffee.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Some Reflections on Writing

In spite of my earlier... lethargy... I did motivate myself to do a great deal this afternoon, including getting a fairly detailed out line together for the draft that I am to complete this week. Now, as I was working on the outline, it occurred to me how much easier this whole process has been than the previous times I've put something together to be considered for publication. (This sense of "easiness" may end up being a big fat lie that I'm telling myself, but I'm hopeful that it's not. So for the moment, I'm going to allow myself to believe that this time really will be easier, although that doesn't mean I won't bitch throughout the writing of this thing, never fear.) I think I've finally reached the point where I know how to write an article.

Now, this is an interesting thing to discover, as I've published more than one article, I have read hundreds of articles, and on top of that I've written a dissertation and revised it into a book, so you'd think that I'd have felt like I knew how to write an article before now. I mean, if I didn't know how to write one, how did I manage to do it previously?

Well, with lots of anxiety. Because I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. Or, more accurately, I sort of knew what the fuck I was doing. I knew the theory of it, and I knew the nuts and bolts stuff about how one was supposed to go about doing it and what an article had to include, but I didn't know - like, deep down - what the hell I was doing. And so there was a lot of freaking out, a lot of beating myself up, and a lot of hand-wringing, with each and every publication. But with this? Easy-peasy! See, there are just these blocks that you've got to fill in with stuff! It's not rocket science!

See, ideas have never really been the problem for me. I've got tons of ideas - some better than others, admittedly - for conference papers, for articles, for books.... I've always been good with the "coming up with a topic" part of things. If you were to look at my notebooks from undergrad, what you'd find interspersed with notes would be actual titles for papers that I might choose to write (for ideas come in the form of titles for me). I credit my experiences working for my high school and college newspapers for developing my "idea generation" talent.

And writing - in the sense of churning out pages - has never been the problem for me either. I'm pretty loose when it comes to the whole put-words-on-a-page thing. That, actually, also probably has something to do with the newspaper background, for there's nothing like writing for a deadline that's only hours (or less) away and knowing that one has to fill a certain number of column inches to get one used to the idea that the words one puts on a page need not be perfect in order to get the job done. So yes, I'm pretty fast and loose when it comes to getting words on paper, which is probably why setting writing goals involving word counts or page counts isn't really a meaningful measure of work for me because I can just blather on about anything and less than half of it will be of any sort of use. And yes, I would screw myself over by writing whatever in order to meet the goal, even if it sucked. That's just how I roll.

But so if it's never been the writing and it's never been the ideas, then what has caused me such anxiety related to article-writing?

Well, I think the biggest challenge has been organization. An article requires a weird size of an idea. Conference-paper-sized ideas are pretty manageable, ultimately. You have exactly the space in which to fully develop one - or at most two - small-ish ideas. But an article has to be more than that, and yet not too much more or you won't achieve the depth that you need in order for it to work as a publication. Also, I think that my dissertation/book got in the way of me thinking in terms of article-length ideas because I had to think so broadly in relation to it. (I never saw my diss as anything but a book - there was no way that it could work as a series of articles, and so being in that head-space for that length of time compromised my ability to think in smaller chunks.) And so, because the size of the idea was not natural to me, I never quite knew how to fit the disparate parts together. How could I provide critical context, theoretical context, and make an argument about the literature and make it all work together? How could I quickly transition from one part to the next without it seeming weird and forced? How could I make such a monstrosity readable? (For there are a lot of unreadable articles out there, and I really hate the idea that I would contribute to that pile.)

And so where I'd get stuck wouldn't be in step 1 (the idea phase) or in step 3 (the actual writing phase) but rather I'd get stuck in step 2 (the planning phase). How to begin? Where to start? How the fuck could I translate all of the ideas into prose that made any sort of sense? And so I'd first try outlining, but since I didn't have an intuitive grasp of what such an outline should resemble, my outlines always ended up being pretty screwed up at the beginning. And then I'd try writing my way in, but that generally wouldn't work because I didn't know where I was going. An article requires one (or me, perhaps this isn't true for all) to think about both details and the big picture simultaneously. You can't just think small (as in a conference paper), because you've got to be in conversation with the whole field. And you can't just think big (as in a book), because you don't have the space to address every single thing. And so I'd always end up feeling a bit confused and lost and then - somehow - the thing would come together. (This is not unlike what it felt like to write seminar papers for me.) But I wouldn't really know how.

But somehow, from doing this enough times, I have developed a sense of how I write an article - not just a sense of theories about what articles are supposed to do or what they include. And now that I've got that sense, the whole thing doesn't seem so daunting. (You know, I remember somebody leaving an ungenerous comment on the blog once that said that if writing articles caused me so much angst that perhaps this wasn't the right profession for me. I remember responding that it was my blog and I'd bitch if I wanted to, or something along those lines. What I'd respond now is that the reason I felt such anxiety was because nobody ever taught me how to write an article, and articles in my field don't have a hard-and-fast format as they do in some, and so every time I had to write one I felt completely clueless and like an impostor, and I didn't have much faith that I'd ever get it together enough to complete any article that I started. The problem wasn't with my fitness for the profession - or even with writing generally - but with this particular format in which I'd had absolutely no instruction at any point in my education and yet upon which one's success in the profession depends.)

So how does Crazy write an article?

  1. Crazy devises some idea that has legs. Every time this has started out as a conference paper idea. Indeed, some conference papers do grow up to become articles, something I'd never really understood when I started giving conference papers, as when I started doing those, I'd always cut them down from longer seminar papers. I didn't understand that a conference paper was a beginning of an idea - not a distillation of a larger work.
  2. Crazy realizes that she has to write an article, and so thinks about how she'll flesh out that baby idea that was the conference paper. The result is usually that she needs to read or reread a substantial amount of theoretical and/or primary text material.
  3. Crazy reads the criticism that she didn't read or only skimmed briefly when writing the conference paper. Yes, it's true: I don't read all of the criticism that exists for an 8-page conference paper. Sue me.
  4. Crazy jots down bunches of notes, and thinks through what she's going to do more fully.
  5. Crazy comes up with an outline. The outline usually looks something like this: introduction, general theoretical/critical context, primary text stuff with additional critical context, theoretical interlude where I more fully develop the general theoretical stuff from before in relation to the primary text stuff, more primary text stuff with additional critical and theoretical context, conclusion. You will note that this outline has five parts. It's true: I learned to write in an academic context with the 5 paragraph essay format. You will be happy to note that my articles have more than five paragraphs.
  6. Crazy types in quotations under each of the outline headings. (Also, there are usually subheadings within the main five)
  7. Crazy writes around the quotations.
  8. Crazy prints the thing out and does editing and revision on the hard copy, making notes about places to add, to cut, etc.
  9. Crazy finishes the draft.
  10. Crazy lets the draft sit for a couple of weeks, returns to it, makes final edits and revisions, and then deals with the bibliography, which is a thankless task and that makes her cry when she thinks about having to do it. (Side note: I really hate alphabetizing. Like really, really hate. It's a dumb thing to hate, but it's true: I loathe the alphabetizing. Passionately.)
And that's it. I think in the past I would get bogged down first in steps 4 and 5, and then I didn't believe it was "right" to type in the quotations once I had an outline before writing, and so I'd try not doing that and get angry at myself and finally "give in" to "cheating" by doing step 6, and then things would go smoothly once I'd done that (or relatively smoothly). This time around, I'm sailing through the steps, and I'm not chastising myself for liking to choose the quotations first and to type them in first. I mean, hell, if they are what I'm examining, why is it *wrong* to type them in first? That just makes no sense.

I am not at all saying that this is the one true way to write an article. It may be a really dumb way to go about it. Who knows. But I think the reason this process is easier for me this time is that I'm accepting that it's my way and going with it rather than trying to do it in some imagined "right" way and finding myself stuck.