Saturday, February 28, 2009

Oof, Thank God That Week Is Over

You know, it's not actually that this whole week was bad. Teaching was actually really awesome, I found out my dean thinks I'm great, I've got really supportive colleagues by and large, and I really do feel like the hard work I'm doing in lots of areas is being acknowledged.

The problem, I suppose, is that all of that this week was sort of overshadowed by what I perceive as the jerkitude of a tiny minority of folks. Now, I think that what I perceive as jerkitude is in fact jerkitude, for a variety of reasons, but I'm willing to grant here that I'm not entirely objective on this matter. I feel personally affronted and disrespected, and that's not so great for the objectivity.

I suppose, now that I've forced myself to chill out a bit (although let's be honest: I'm still really pissed off but it's just that I know that giving in to that anger will only make me look like a tool and what is really in order here is to take the high road) I realize that none of this is life-or-death stuff. Things are going to move forward (I think) with the work that I've been doing, and while I think there is more drama yet to come, I also think that I shall emerge from the drama (as long as I keep my cool) victorious. But see, look at my language there: I'm all in battle mode now, in a situation that I had initially perceived as one that was all about being positive and collaborative. And this shift is actually really disappointing to me. I'm disappointed in myself for not being able to truly take the high road (although I'm pretending that I am) and I'm disappointed in the jerks who have turned something that could have been about productive compromise into something that's really negative and fucked up.

It's not that I expect everybody to be totally happy - or that I expect that I will be totally happy - with any outcome. Compromise means that total happiness for any party is usually unlikely. And it's not that I'm a martyr. I think that (some) people (also known as the jerks) think that I'm either a martyr to somebody else's cause or (when they're less generous) a tool of the system. The fact is, my approach to matters of curricular development and department and university service generally has absolutely nothing to do with me being a martyr or a tool. The reason I care about these things, and the reason why I agree to take the lead in this sort of way, typically relates to the fact that I see these matters as really critical to how the university works. I think that it's important for faculty to be deeply involved in these things, and to get out ahead of mandates that come from above (whether "above" is the administration, accrediting bodies, or the state). I think that it's important to take the attitudes of the "above" into account as we make our plans, and I don't think that entrenchment or retrenchment is ever a solution to protecting or advocating for the discipline or for empowering a department. Put another way, I do not think that there is any moral high ground in digging in one's heels and in clinging for dear life to "ideals" that are out of step with conditions on the ground.

What's funny, though, is that I'm a pretty idealistic person. It's not that I don't have ideals. It's just that I don't believe in platonic ideals. I don't believe in ideals that are unchanging, and I don't believe in ideals that are somehow pure of political interest. I'm fully willing to concede that my ideals are shaped by my own interests and my own context. That doesn't make them bad - it just makes them contingent. And it means that I'm open to doing what's best for a pragmatic end, even if it may seem that I'm giving some things up to get there. And, seriously, I think I'm pretty good at seeing the interests involved, in seeing the big picture and not just my own picture, and in trying to negotiate toward an end that, while imperfect, is better than where we start.

But where I lose patience is at the moment when other people seem to characterize their ideals as in some way "true" (with mine and other people's as being "false" or "wrong") - when they dig in their heels and refuse to see any point of view but their own. That is the moment when I decide that they are foolish and stupid, and that is the moment when my impulse is to beat them down, as opposed to working for a positive outcome. And that is the impulse that I have to fight, or I become the very thing I'm criticizing. And fighting that internal impulse takes a lot of energy, and so then on top of the energy I have to expend on that, I also expend even more energy on being angry about being put in, as I see it, a false position. It's really hard to take the high road when other people are trying to drag you into the mud.

Where I'm proud of myself this week is that I think I've done as good a job as I could have done with staying out of the mud. Now, this wasn't all that hard, as the attempts to drag me there were pretty transparent, and it wasn't like I was totally blindsided by the fact that things have gone sideways in this fashion. The one thing that happened that did surprise me almost made me leap into the swamp of negativity, but that only almost happened for the typical reason that it does happen with me: that I don't have faith that others will see the bullshit that is attempting to be perpetrated. (Actually, this is I think where the other side is coming from: I think that they are filled with righteous indignation and think that it's their duty to show all of their stupid and mystified colleagues how stupid and mystified they are. And you know, people don't really respond well to being treated as if they are stupid and mystified.)

And so. That's where things are with me, and I'm planning to spend this weekend cleaning my house, writing, and catching up with grading. And I'm going to stop ruminating about all of this bullshit and force myself to table it until there's something to be done, which will be the middle of next week. And I'm going to jump back on the workout bandwagon (for with the ear infection and all of this drama I've fallen off for the past couple of weeks), and I'm going to take care of myself rather than letting other crap get in the way. But let me say this: spring break can't come soon enough.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eureka? Maybe - Another Metaphorical Sort of a Post

Yesterday's meeting in the Department of Underwater was enlightening. You know how I was confused about the seeming intractability of some regarding the revision of the curriculum? And annoyed by it? Well, I remain annoyed, but I'm no longer confused, I don't think.

I think that the crux of the problem is how people answer the following question: What is a curriculum supposed to do?

That's right. I think that it's that simple.

Now, the easy answer is that a curriculum is supposed to tell students what courses that they can take in order to graduate. But see, how we, as faculty, choose those courses, and why, come from two different positions. (And I really think there are only two. Seriously.)

One idea of "why" certain courses should be required is that they must be required because students would never choose to take them on their own. In other words, it's basically a "why" for curriculum that is rooted in domination. Students don't know which end is up, and so we need to make mandates to make sure that they don't do something "crazy." I think that this was the reasoning behind my undergraduate curriculum in English when I was a student, looking back over it. Basically, it set it up so that "required courses" indicated what we'd all refuse to take if we had our druthers, and "elective courses" were all of those frivolous courses that we'd enjoy but that were, ultimately, not really for "serious" students (or faculty). I will call this the "Eat Your Spinach!" model of curricular design.

Another idea of why certain courses should be required is that requirements lay out a framework for students to understand the key values of the discipline. In other words, by looking at the curriculum, even before they take the courses, students should get a sense of what the major means and what the whole experience is supposed to be about (just like when you look at the menu of a fine restaurant). It's about presenting a well-rounded menu, in which students will get not only spinach (required courses that they of course would never choose to take) and candy and ice cream (electives) but rather in which students will get a meal that is both nutritious and delicious. This isn't about taking spinach off the menu. It's about having spinach on the menu, alongside a great risotto, some lovely chicken, perhaps a salad, and yes, even dessert and appetizers.

Now, if you go to a restaurant (a major curriculum) where the only entree is spinach, and each person is forced to get like five servings of it, I do think that you'll be inclined to fill up the rest of your order with loaded potato skins, some tiramisu, and perhaps some cheesecake. But if you go to a restaurant with a fully developed, thoughtfully conceived menu, I think that you'll be more likely a) to enjoy the spinach that you do order and b) to choose dishes that give you an experience that doesn't leave you sick and hungry at the end of it.

But, so what is so attractive, then, about the "Eat your spinach!" style of curricular design? Well, to me, not a whole lot. But I've been trying over the past night and morning to think through why others might like the idea, which is a challenge since these people aren't characterizing their beliefs about this as "Eat your spinach!" but rather as "These are the one true courses that make a person an Underwater major! Everything you all teach is junk food!" and so it's hard for me to put myself in their shoes, because they're basically saying that I'm not a real scholar or teacher in my discipline. That what I do isn't foundational to the study of my discipline. And yeah, that irritates me. But I've been trying to get it - trying really, really hard. And I think that what it comes down to is fear - fear that nobody would ever willingly choose to eat spinach unless we shove it down their gullets.

What's weird about this fear is that it seems to me that these people have made their life's work doing something that they think has no recognizable value to regular folks and that regular person would be interested in these type of courses of their own free will. (An interesting mix of self-loathing and delusions of specialness, that.) And part of the reason that I don't understand this is that I teach a lot of stuff that would qualify as spinach, at the end of the day, and yet I don't feel like what I do is totally unappealing on the plate, nor do I think that it tastes like old sweat socks. I think that some people will order the spinach among the other options, and those people will really want to be there. And I'd rather have people order something that they have a possibility of enjoying than order something that they hate because I force them to order it.

What's crazy about this conflict is that the spinach crew seem to think that spinach is being taken off the menu in one of the alternative approaches that's been provided. And that's just not true. They think that the alternative approach constitutes the Revolution of Onion Rings and Soda Pop. They think that this is some sort of direct attack against their beloved spinach, and they think that everybody who wants a fully developed menu is some sort of terrorist. And this is, in a word, insane, and in another word, false. And what's even weirder is that I'm being lumped in with the Onion Rings and Soda Pop brigade even though, if we're going to be technical about this, my general field of expertise is in the spinach family. (It's true: I teach creamed spinach and spinach lasagna - I don't just boil it up and slop it on a plate - but dude: it's spinach nonetheless.)

But so. Some people are afraid of the possibility that if their courses are on the menu next to other courses, and if students have a choice of side dishes, that no one will ever order spinach again. This is practically speaking impossible, but that's the fear. And I'm pretty skeptical that I can make them see that it's just not true, because this is not a rational response at all so no amount of logic is going to sway these folks. Moreover, since they think that they are on the side of the Right and the Just, because they conceive of their position as the moral and ethical position, well, I think that the likelihood of them changing positions is very small.

And can I just note here that I don't think that the "full menu" approach is a more right and just one. I just think it's one that would make it more fun to work in the kitchen for all of the chefs (for, see, I really don't want to spend my career being an underappreciated pastry chef or line cook), and make the dining experience for students more pleasurable and one that let's them get their RDA of vitamins and minerals.

So. That's where things are in the Department of Underwater. And what will happen from here is unclear. But some people are going to be really unhappy at the end of this, whatever happens. At least I feel like I understand the conflict now, though, which does make me feel a lot better, for whatever that's worth.

(In an unrelated note, Hosea is not my Top Chef, and he never will be.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Compromise, or, Home Rule, or, the Service: It Crushes Me

So here's the thing that strikes me today about the committee which will henceforth be known as the Committee That Threatens to Crush Crazy into a Fine Powdery Dust (CTTCCFPD). The thing that becomes most clear to me as I attempt to move things along is the way in which people frame their desire to tell other people what to do (and to get what they want) as Important Philosophical Disagreement on Which No Compromise Is Possible.

I suppose I should admit that I think compromise is possible on nearly every issue in the world, with the exception of things like, I don't know, genocide. Surely most would agree that genocide is probably never ok, and we should probably never compromise on that. But there are lots of things that do not fall into the "genocide" category. I mean, ok, we all have an ethical, philosophical, moral compass that guides us, and that we see as important. Ok, yes. And I can see that we don't like the idea of compromising on those things that we, personally, see as important. But not liking the idea of compromising doesn't mean that compromise is impossible. Painful? Sure. Irritating? Almost always. But impossible? Not so much.

Now, I know there are some gray areas. Take for example an issue like abortion, or capital punishment, or war. Some people believe that each of these things is a "no compromise" issue (whether they are for or against). And I can even get on board with that, as each of these issues involve freedom, democracy, what it means to be human and whatever. There's a range, I guess is what I'm saying, and I'd put genocide at one end, and these other things someplace in the middle (closer or further from the genocide depending on one's level of moral flexibility, and let me note for the record that I'm not saying moral flexibility is either positive or negative as I lay this out). But let's, for the sake of argument, say all of these are "no compromise" issues. Fair enough.

But let's say that you're in a department of Underwater. In this department, you have a major in Underwater that includes three options, one of which is Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving (where you have the most faculty, and a decent amount of students, but by no means the vast majority of the major), one of which is Underwater Studies (a more career-oriented option with lots of student interest and enrollment but not enough faculty) and a third which is Doing Underwater Basketweaving (a creative option, also with a lot of student interest and enrollment, and also without a lot of faculty). And let's say that the Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving faculty attempt to dictate what the Underwater Studies option will include, claiming, just for example, that it's impossible to take Underwater Basketmaking for the Workplace without a core knowledge of Underwater Basketweaving in the 16th Century. Your colleagues in Underwater Studies say that this wouldn't be terribly useful for the students in the Underwater Studies option, and they offer an alternative in which students would choose between the 16th century course and another course that would be more useful for students in their specialization. You, however, in field of Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving are deeply committed to the crucial field of Underwater Basketweaving in the 16th Century. Indeed, it is the turning point in the analysis of Underwater Basketweaving. But is this a "no compromise" issue? On par with genocide? Or even with abortion or capital punishment or war? Really? I think not.

Perhaps this is evidence of a weakness in me? Some sort of lack of a moral or intellectual compass? Am I just failing to understand the crucial issues in my field generally, and even in my field of specialization? I find that hard to believe.

No, what I think is that those Other options should have some autonomy, some say in what is best for the students who want to focus their course of study in their areas of specialization. I think that as a colleague of people who specialize in those areas, within the broader discipline, that I should support their sense of what students who specialize in their area of expertise need. And I don't think it will hurt me to give a little in this area. Because seriously, who made me the boss of them? Uh, nobody. They deserve Home Rule; they deserve not to be colonized by us silly Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving folks. The fact is, they can't just offer a major of their own because they don't have the money for the faculty lines to support it. If they could, all of this debate would be unnecessary. As it is, they are compromising already by including some course offerings from the Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving side of the discipline. This isn't because it's their preference or because they think it's important: it's a practical necessity. Further down the road, these majors won't need to be under one heading, the Major in Underwater. The Underwater Department will likely house them all, but someday, us Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving people won't have a thing in the world to say about what those Other areas of the discipline require of students. Which is where I hope we're heading.

And this is just one (incredibly irritating, because of the tortured fake name for the discipline and courses as much as anything else) example. There are things like this even going on within the Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving faculty, for there is a powerful block (whose courses are all currently required) who want to maintain a status quo that keeps us stuck in 1970, that golden age in which their subspecialties were of utmost importance. And yet, here I am, an Analysis of Underwater Basketweaving person, yet not one of the Privileged Few, attempting to advocate for a good 80% of the faculty in my department, not to mention students (in all three options) who hate the shape of our current major. (Let's just note for the record that the reason that I know students hate it is because I actually do a ton of student advising, unlike some people, harrumpf.)

There's the old cliche in academe that the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low. I've never really internalized that cliche until this moment, where I'm spending hours of my time creating rhetorically persuasive documents, leading tense (and yet productive! because I am grand!) meetings, chatting people up in their offices to allay their "fears" about something that ultimately doesn't fucking matter all that much. I mean, it matters. I would really like for students to have electives. Like that are actually electives, where they just get to pick courses they want, rather than using them up before they realize that they've done so. I would really like for every course in my department to count for something, something beyond elective credit, within the major as a whole (though not necessarily within each option). I want these things because I don't actually understand a major that has courses on the books, within its department, that don't count for a single stinking thing, other than that mysterious "elective" credit. How exactly is one supposed to get students to enroll in a Feminist Theory course if it counts for absolutely nothing, and if students have used up their electives unknowingly? And how exactly are students supposed to graduate in four years, without begging for the chair to give them substitutions that will count for a requirement, if they changed majors, or if they unwittingly took the wrong courses while already declared (because of shitty advising, harrumpf)? So yes, some things in this whole debate matter for me when it comes to thinking about students' progress to degree and students' experience of the major.

But I trust that my colleagues aren't idiots when they say that I need to compromise on something. I trust that even if I compromise, that I will be able to generate interest in my area of specialization. What I do not trust in this process is the argument that Important Philosophical Issues exist on Which No Compromise Is Possible. I think that a position like that, in a situation like this, is stupid and anti-intellectual. It violates the spirit of free inquiry, and it violates the politics of inclusiveness that many of my colleagues (who take these "stands" that ultimately mean absolutely no risk for them) claim to espouse.

So yeah. I want fields within my discipline to have Home Rule. And I want for the people who don't want to participate actively and to engage in productive compromise to shut the fuck up. Because it's just not about them, and I'm sick of people who would, in the words of a colleague of mine, rather destroy than build. You know what? No, none of us will be entirely "happy" with the outcome of this process. But I'm certain that we'll all be happier if this process succeeds than we will if it fails, and I'm certain that change is the opportunity for growth. No, it's not a guarantee of growth, but it most certainly is the opportunity for it. If people would shut up for long enough to recognize it and to make good on the opportunity.

Yay! Procrastination Pays Off!

I just realized that the deadline for those recommendation letters isn't until March! I am a brilliant, brilliant person for not having written them yesterday! Huzzah!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Productivity, Exhaustion

It was, indeed, a long, stupid day. I accomplished a lot service-wise, though now there's only more work to be done. Again, it's satisfying, but it's not energizing. I think I'm making progress, but it's difficult to know if that's true given the fact that I'm not really in control over whether progress ultimately happens. That said, I am doing my best.

Now, I also didn't get those letters of rec written (MUST do that tomorrow), and I didn't get all of my prep done, and I didn't get the bit of grading that I've got to do done. But right now? I'm tired. I also missed a meeting with a student. Ugh. And I've got some emails that I've got to respond to for my online class, which I MUST do tomorrow

On the other hand, I sent an email that's been on my to-do list for a week or two, and I did get the reading done for my one class (just not for the other two).

So it was a long day, and, as days go, not as awful as I'd feared it might turn out to be. That said, this shit is grueling, people. Stressful, slow, and grueling. I cannot wait until this week is over. I need a couple of days to get my life in order. Seriously.

Conferences, Committees, Letters of Recommendation: Sigh

I know I've been a sporadic blogger at best. This has nearly everything to do with the amount of committee work I've had to deal with (a) and the fact that between it and teaching, I've only managed (just) to deal with conference paper nonsense in time that would normally be reserved for things like rest and, I don't know, showers (b).

So I'm back from my conference adventure.
  • People seem to think that my half-baked ideas are fascinating. When shmoozing, one needs to pretend that one is deeply committed to those ideas, and to convince oneself that one is fascinating. However, the voice in my head always wants to reveal to people that I am the queen of fascinating ideas (and I really do think that I am - so I'm not being modest or anything about that) but that I'm lazy and I have huge problems with follow-through. Or that I sometimes just crap some stuff together at the last minute having no plans to do anything else with it. Of course, this would not be nearly as impressive as talking about one's work as being "a new project" that is "still in the formative stages."
  • I ran into a friend from grad school, which was great, but also funny as neither of us had realized the other would be there. When I ran into him, I was already a wee bit tipsy, and it was in a bar. This seemed appropriate. What was strange was that he was flanked by graduate students, who seemed to think that he's quite grand. Which I'm sure he is... it was just very strange being in a scenario with a person with whom I went to grad school wherein we were the glamorous professors at a conference.
  • I think that I have solidified my idea for Book #2. I'm not sure why I think I have to write a second book, but it appears that I do think that I need to.
So, on today's agenda I have a meeting with the committee I'm chairing, a meeting that I hope goes smoothly but one that I think could likely involve some conflict that I don't really want to oversee. However, my thought is ultimately that it would be better for this conflict to play out in the committee than at the level of the whole department, or at least to let off some steam from the conflict in the meeting.

The thing about this committee work is that it's not energizing. It's satisfying... if indeed it goes anywhere... but not something that makes me excited about going to campus or about my job generally. I think I'm doing a good job, and I think that I am doing my best to address the needs of different loose factions. That said, this work requires patience that I don't have, and it requires levels of diplomacy that I'm capable of exercising (perhaps maybe even talented at exercising) but that I don't enjoy (which is why I like being a professor most of the time - it requires very little diplomacy in the day-to-day). What's funny is that this work reminds me most of what it was like to work in newspaper settings - whether as a reporter, an editor, or in the production department. Let's just note for the record that I came to loathe such work to the extent that I thought majoring in and then going to grad school in English was a better option than pursuing journalism as a career. I suppose, though, if I can muscle this nonsense through the process that I will be a hero of sorts, even though nobody will be happy with the outcome. So, there is that.

And then I've got like 3 or 4 letters of recommendation to write. Most are for in-house things, so they should be easy, but man, I don't feel like dealing with them.

And then there is prep for tomorrow and some grading.

It promises to be a long and stupid day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Something That Made Me Giggle on This Wednesday Morning

I would like to note for the record that I find this sign funny for a variety of reasons, but none of them have to do with me making fun of religious people, the Holy Spirit, or even the stimulus package (though I do kind of want to make fun of it). Also, if I lived in the town of this sign, I would totally be compelled to go to a service there, because I would wonder whether it was a super awesome church that knew the sign was funny. You know, I think I'm compelled by signs like this because I was raised Catholic. Our signs typically say nothing more interesting than "Fish Fry in the St. Whatsit's Cafeteria every Friday in Lent from 5-7 PM" or "Bingo - Tuesdays at 7:00 PM." We Catholics are typically pretty lazy, at least in my experience, about trying to attract new parishioners.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oh, and One Last Feel-Goody Thing

I really love teaching undergraduates hard stuff. I love it. I love that I can make really difficult things make sense for them. Today, in spite of the Sickness Hangover that persists, was a great teaching day. Students rule. But really, today, I feel like I rule more than they do, because I made them think about stuff they didn't want to think about, and I explained things in ways that were clear, and I really think that they got it. Like totally.

(Of course, we'll see whether they did when it comes time for them to take tests and write papers. But seriously: I think they got what I was on about.)

In Which I Wonder at My Procrastination

Because what was I putting off? What was I worried about? I've already got 3 solid pages written, two further pages in progress, and I've yet to talk about the scene that is the centerpiece of my paper or to incorporate any criticism. I might be the world's biggest idiot. Especially because I'm really enjoying writing this and it's just flowing from me as if fully formed, totally painlessly. I guess that's what happens when you take a year off from conferencing, and when you are actually energized about research. Who knew? I haven't felt this since I was a young lass in my first year on the tenure track!

ETA: There is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I don't think it sucks mightily, although it's probably not my best work. I don't think I care. And it may be under 20 minutes, but doesn't everybody love a person who gives a paper that clocks in under 20 minutes? I believe that they do. So. Tomorrow, I grade, and I meet with students, and then I am FREE! FREE! I feel like some conference energy may be exactly what I need right now. Exactly.

Because I Should Be Writing My Conference Paper.... A Meme!

As seen at Anastasia's.

BBC Book List

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte X+
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling X+
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible - Well, I've read parts... and I've heard parts, being raised Catholic and all... but not the whole thing, no.
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman X+
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott X+
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy X
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - I've read all of the sonnets, Venus and Adonis, most of the tragedies, a fair number of the histories, and most of the comedies. I think I'm happy with that amount of Shakespeare.
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier X
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien -
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger X
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot - I've always meant to read it... but I've never been able to make myself. I suspect it will remain a book that I own that I do not read. Because I'm lazy.
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell X
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - X
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - This is another one I own, because a boyfriend bought it for me, and it's one that subsequent boy-types have insisted that I read. I suspect I will never read it just because I'm contrary.
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh X+
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy X
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis Not all of them, but some... as an adult, because I felt lame for not having read them.
34 Emma - Jane Austen X
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving X
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - X+ Not only did I read this one, but I read the whole series. Rilla of Ingleside, anyone? Yeah, that's right. I doubted you shared my commitment :)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood X+
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan- Another I own, and really should read.... but having seen the movie... well, we'll see.
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert -
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen X
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - X
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov X+
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt X
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold -
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac X+
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy X+
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding X+
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie X+
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - X+ Indeed, I loved it so much that it was my first casualty in the world of library fines.
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce X+ Though I love it not just for itself, and think most people who would claim that they do are big fat liars.
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath X - I don't love it now, but I did when I was 18.
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt X+
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker - X
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro X It is a GORGEOUS book, but it takes more than gorgeousness for me to love something.
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - X
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White -
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Some of them
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
1 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams -
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare - X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Total read: 44 (if I counted correctly)
Total I plan to read: I think I only asterisked one... and even that I'm not terribly committed to.

I may not be the best audience for this meme though, as a) I'm an English professor, and b) a large number of the books are in my wheelhouse of specialization or right next door to it.

Ugh, But Making Progress

So yesterday I finished grading tests that I'd procrastinated about from the theory class. About a third of the class clearly didn't study. (I'd given them a review sheet that told them exactly what they needed to know for the test.) That third of the class did poorly. I don't think it was a bad test, even with the weird grade distribution. I think it really did show who is working and who isn't. As the test isn't worth much in the overall estimation of things, it shouldn't kill any of them grade-wise in itself. Still, it's weird for a test of mine not to come out with a pretty perfect bell curve, so it was weird seeing all those A's and B's (even one A+ with extra credit) and all those D's and F's. At any rate, it tells me what I need to do in class, and I feel good about where 2/3 of the students are in terms of their performance.

I also began working on my conference paper, which is good, but I've got miles to go with that before I can feel ok. I also still have that R&R hanging over me, though the plan is to get that off of my plate by next week, so that I will be free of research obligations and can clean my house.

I had a personal life meltdown last night, which I think was actually a good thing, or will be ultimately, but which sucked at the time.

And I'm still not feeling great, but antibiotics are a wonderful, wonderful invention, and I am improving steadily.

February is a shitty month. Thank god it will be over soon. I always forget the shittiness of February until it is upon me again. I'm thinking this ability to repress February is not a good thing, for if I just remembered its shittiness from year to year I'd be able to handle it better.

I suppose that's all for now. Sorry for the light (and cranky) blogging. Sooner or later a light will appear at the end of the tunnel, and I'm sure I'll be a much better blogger once I finally see it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sickness, Day Whatever

Well, the antibiotics are having their effect, and I am feeling much better (no more throbbing pain in my left ear and throat is not nearly as sore), but I also had to go out into the world today to procure kitty supplies, and just that small task exhausted me. Well, and I graded all morning. I need to do much more grading, and I need to work on my conference paper that I need to present at week's end.

I hate being so busy and also so freaking out of sorts. It makes me feel crazy, in ways that typically I take out on people who have nothing to do with the things that are actually crazy-making. I'm trying really hard not to do that, but I feel the impulse, and I'm having to use energy to fight it. I think it's about control. I may not be in control of my schedule, the items on my to-do list, or of getting sick, but I sure can freak out one whomever I please whenever I please to do so! See? That's really screwed up. But perhaps this is a breakthrough, that I'm noticing I'm in a state where I would do that.

I don't know. I think it's about time for some antibiotics and a nap.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Some Brief Thoughts on Valentine's Day

Because I have to take my antibiotic in 30 minutes, so I can't just go to bed right now. So, here I sit, with a pectin throat lozenge, a cup of echinacea tea (it can't hurt, I figure, although the fact that I am in need of the antibiotics does make me suspect it won't really help very much), and my thoughts about Valentine's Day.

1. TBS's programming on this day - as well as other programming on cable across the land - totally bummed me out. I'm not sure why "unfunny movie with two people bickering" = "what people watching tv on Valentine's day would like to watch."

2. FB is one of those "Valentine's Day is for losers" people, which I'm actually ok with for the most part, except of course, who wouldn't want to be showered with gifts or something? But still, probably I'd rather have an anti-Valentine person around who has the capability of persuading me - by means of a potent cocktail of guilt, logic, stern talking, and niceness - to go to the doctor and to get myself drugs (and the capability of doing so from thousands of miles away is nothing to be sneezed at - ha! see what I did there? Except actually that's one thing I'm not doing, which is one reason they gave me the hard drugs because it means what I've got isn't just your typical cold). So FB is my valentine. He grudgingly agreed that I could be his valentine, too, but apparently that doesn't mean that lavish gifts appear on my doorstep, which, while not surprising, is somewhat disappointing. Ah well, he didn't get anything either :) (We are both so far from on top of the whole thoughtful gift-giving thing, which I suppose is good, as it means that this is not typically a source of conflict, except of course when it is because I decide that he should be thoughtful even when I'm not.) But FB is nice and he is a good Valentine who yells at me to take care of myself in such a way that I actually listen to him, and I very much appreciate him for that, as I can be awfully stubborn when it comes to such matters.

3. The only actual written valentine I received this year was from my insurance agent. I also get birthday greetings from her. I think this means I'm old, and maybe slightly pathetic. Or just that I have a really nice insurance person.

4. I wish my cats would agree to let me dress them up like Cupid. They do not appear to be very interested in this idea, or in any others that involve dressing up.

Yeah, I think that's all I've got. So happy Valentine's Day to all, and to all a good night.

Sick. Like Antibiotics Kind of Sick.

Life is pain (quite literally, in my ear) and I feel very crappy. Have just returned from procuring amoxicillan and sickie supplies. If I were a baby, I would wail. As it is, I shall hole up with some kittens and hope that the antibiotics do their magic.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Identity and Academic Life

I've been wanting to do a post about this for a good long while, but I've been so caught up in the stupid sore throat I have, teaching four classes, doing ridiculous amounts of service crap, and being tired that I haven't had time to think very hard about "identity" and academics and being an academic, and whatever. On the edges of my tired brain, however, this issue of identity has been cropping up a lot of late, and so, here I am, finally posting about it.

Now, I posted a long time ago about stuff related to this, and I think I still believe much of what I wrote in that post (and in the others surrounding it). This topic has come back to mind in part because of Sibyl's comments to this post, in which she writes:

"My experience is that the emotional and psychological investment in professinal training of this nature is, as a result, much more likely to result in a kind of entanglement that is toxic when coupled with very bleak prospects for success."

I should note that this is a very brief extract of what Sibyl had to say. Perhaps Sibyl says it better in her initial post to which mine was, if only tangentially, a response. Sibyl's point (though I may be putting words in her mouth and/or being incredibly reductive, so Sybil, if you're out there, correct me if I'm wrong or off base) is that to the extent that an academic path binds our personal identities to our work (and, subsequently, to our "success" or "failure" on an academic job market) is ultimately bad for people.

Now, I think that historically I would have agreed with this position. In fact, if you read that old post of mine to which I linked, I think I mostly did agree with it. What's been interesting since receiving the tenure letter and since the publication of my book is that I think that my identity as an academic has been shifting in ways that I hadn't anticipated that it would, and that interestingly have little to do with my intellectual life.

Now, before I go any further, let me just say that I totally recognize my position of privilege in having the resources and support to experience this shift. I think that the shift that I'm experiencing has everything to do with the fact that I ended up in a t-t gig in which I was able to thrive, that I did not experience the adjunct track, and that ultimately I wasn't subjected to a lot of the more dehumanizing practices in this profession. That is an important thing to note, as my experiences have been shaped by this relative position of privilege, and I do not mean in what follows to discount experiences that are not similar to mine.

So, here's the thing. As a student - both as an undergraduate once I decided that I wanted to pursue academia and as a graduate student who was pursuing academia as a career path - I think that my identity was very much bound to my intellectual pursuits and to my "success" or "failure" in those pursuits. In very real ways, I think I saw my scholarship, and then later my teaching, as my identity. A rejection meant that I was a bad person. A bad teaching evaluation meant that I was a bad person. I think that this simple equation of "me" with "my work" was not a good thing. I think that if we felt like doing so we could trace a lot of the "failures" in my personal life to my tendency to equate my self with my work, and I think that we could trace a lot of the dissatisfaction that I felt in my first years on the tenure track to this tendency, too. I think that those failures and that dissatisfaction had a lot to do with me believing that "the work" was who I was, and that it was more important than any other aspect of my life. Why? Well, because the problem was that I saw my "self" as my work, and there was dissonance between that perception and the way that I was perceived in the world and the way that people outside of myself valued (or didn't value) my work. See, if my work was "me" then that meant that I was a loser because I ended up at a no-name university, even if it was in a t-t gig. If my work was "me" and I wasn't moving up in a broader hierarchy within my discipline (publishing my way out of my current institution, publishing my book with the fanciest of university presses, whatever), then I was "going nowhere." After years of jumping through hoops successfully, and having that hoop-jumping success define me in ways that were positive, the crash into the hoops that came once "arriving" on the t-t was pretty sucky. And since who "I" was depended upon jumping through hoops, then that meant that I felt like "I" (in some intrinsic way) sucked.

Now, of course, I didn't suck. And I was still jumping through certain kinds of hoops (annual reviews, etc.) successfully. It's just that the hoops that were now my hoops didn't "count" in the same way, to others (grad school mentors, grad school colleagues) or to me. They also didn't seem to count at all to my students (because seriously, why would they?) or to my current colleagues (I'm not at an institution that has historically placed much value on individual achievement of its faculty). Also, and I think that this is crucially important, my experience in grad school was very much one in which other people - not even necessarily people at my university - valued me for the fact that I was getting a Ph.D. as a primary index of my worth. It was, even to my friends outside of the academy, who I was.

When I became a professor, I think that what shifted was that I "just" had a job. Sure, it was a job that not just everybody has, but it had about the same status as people who are engineers, or lawyers, or doctors, or plumbers. It was an "occupation" and not an "identity" to those whom I encountered. (Aside: this was an interesting shift for my mom, too. She was surprised when people didn't care more that I got a job as a professor, and it really irked her. Of course, she thinks I'm fantastic and that people should be incredibly impressed with me. And they were, when she said that she had a daughter who was going to school for her Ph.D. But once I became a professor, people just started finding her bragging annoying, which I'm sure it is, but I'm also sure it was annoying before, too, only people responded much more generously.) And there was some lag time for me between other people responding to my job as an "occupation" and in me responding to it in that way.

What's been interesting to me over the course of this year is that I think I finally get it now that this job isn't who I am. My book isn't who I am, and tenure isn't who I am. These are accomplishments, surely. But they're not my identity. My identity exceeds these accomplishments. And, perhaps most importantly, it exceeds them in my workplace.

I've learned this in large part through teaching, and especially through the comparison of teaching online vs. teaching in the traditional classroom. My online students, when I do get the chance to meet them F2F, always are surprised by what I look like. As a student said today, she thought I would be "old." In teaching online, I've learned the ways in which I've always relied on my presence to negotiate student-teacher relations. I've always unconsciously relied on certain things - like standing in front of the class, to give a really obvious example - to convey authority. But to my online students, I have to find ways to indicate "presence" that don't carry with them the same assumptions. I've also learned it through service, and in the way that my colleagues react to my contributions on committees and in meetings and such. The thing is, my book, or my ideas, or even my pedagogy, just don't matter there. They are not "who I am" but rather they are "what I do." "Who I am" is a person who can be impatient and talk over other people, a person who can be pragmatic to a fault, a person who cares, at the end of the day, a heck of a lot more about results than about the theory behind them. Now, these things relate to my intellectual approaches to questions and problems, but they are not identical to them. Who I am informs my ideas, but who I am is not equatable to my ideas.

What's interesting is that I think I've always known all of the above - subconsciously, intuitively - about the other "academics" in my life. I've known this about my teachers, my mentors, my advisers, my colleagues, and even my students. The thing is, I didn't know it was true for me. Somehow there was a disconnect between the way that I perceived other people in academic life and the way that I perceived myself as an academic.

But what I've been coming to realize, slowly, over the course of this year, a year in which in many ways you can say my academic identity has been endorsed, both through the publication of my book and through tenure, is that my identity is not bound to my work. I am good at my work, and I would never suggest that I'm not. And yes, my work is very important to me. But I'm also a good cook, and yet who I am is not the dinner that I make. Yes, a good dinner is important to me, and I like that I can make one, and I like eating that dinner. But it's not me. And I'm not a bad person if dinner one night comes out crappy.

What's interesting about this slow realization, though, is how centrally connected it is to the things that I've been exploring in my scholarship, and I think that in a lot of ways my scholarship has gotten me to these ideas about the self and about subjectivity. Because ultimately, I'm really interested in the ways that the self is erased through work, through writing, and in the ways that that erasure is ultimately playful and, if there is such a thing, freeing. That's not to say (obviously) that I don't exist, but it is to say that I am not what I do. Rather, what I do takes me away from who I am, and that's not a bad thing: that's an awesome thing.

But see, here's the thing: the only reason that I can feel that way is that I'm not trying to sell who I am on a market, I'm not trying to "sell" my "self". I can get accepted for publication or get rejected for publication, but I'm still a professor. I can go on the market and get no interviews, and it doesn't mean anything because I've still got a job, and a profession. I can teach a good class or teach a bad class, and that doesn't have to be about "me" - it has no bearing on my reappointment or tenure or getting a job next semester - it can be about the classroom dynamics or the students or about the material. The comfort that I feel in detaching my identity from my work right now has everything to do with the fact that I can do so without negative material consequences.

And that may be fucked up. In fact, I think I'm prepared to say that it is fucked up. Because I do think that the only way to "succeed" in securing this sort of comfort is, under the current conditions of higher education, to move through a period in which one is entirely identified with one's work, because that is what is required to get a t-t job and finally to get tenure. And then one has to go through a period of wondering what the fuck one has been doing once one secures that "success" because it turns out, it's never been true that one's identity was one's work. It might have been one's passion. It might have been one's desire. But it never really was who one was. That was a fiction that one had to perpetuate - and to believe in - in order to get to the point of being able to say - being allowed to say and even being encouraged to say - "oh, actually, that was all a performance."

I think that the people in my department (tenured) who are most unhappy have never gotten the memo that it was all a game, a performance, a ruse. That it was all dues-paying, and that at the end of the day, they aren't their work, and that all people really care about is whether the person in the office next to them is carrying their load - not whether they have Deep Thoughts or Grand Ideas. I think they are holding out for recognition that's never going to come, recognition that endorses their belief that they are their ideas, and, if they are, that this is what gives them value. I think the people who are happiest in my department (tenured) gave up on that long ago, and they came to realize that work is valuable only inasmuch as one values and enjoys and excels at the work, and inasmuch as one can contribute to our students and to the community as a whole. That's not to say that one's intellectual life isn't important. It is, and in crucial ways. But, as I said to my chair in my annual review meeting today, I think that we need to think of it as valuable not just to our personal enrichment and edification, as people like to characterize these things when they talk about the cushy lives of professors, but rather to show how it is so intrinsically important to the broader jobs that we do. My intellectual life is "important" to my institution not because it "is me" but because of what it allows me to do for my institution. I don't expect for "research" to matter just because I care about it: I expect for them to see how it enhances all of the things that our mission purports to value and how my research specifically has allowed me to contribute to those goals.

Now, all of this is new territory for me, in terms of how I'm thinking about "academic identity." In the past, I know that when I thought about these questions I did not think about them in terms of my institution or in terms of the greater good. I thought about them in terms of "me." And I think that this is the public perception of how academics regard their intellectual lives, too - that we're all leading these "lives of the mind" that don't contribute to society. But what I realize now, now that I have the privilege of doing so, is that's total bullshit. And not only is it bullshit for "society" in a general way - it's bullshit for the individuals who have to go through a period of believing that the entirety of their identity is what they do. We don't expect this of people in any other line of work. Why exactly do we expect it of people in higher education? Especially when it was never true in the first place, and when in the fields where this sort of ideology is most pervasive (the humanities) we don't believe in things like universal or true identity anyway? How exactly has it come to pass that we've missed the fact that we're trying to ground our reason for being in something that is totally false?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Random Bullets of UGH.

  • I woke up at 4:30 this morning because my throat hurt when I swallowed. Also my left ear twinged a bit.
  • Oh, and because a certain Man-Kitty was on my chest purring and putting his little fluffy paw on my face to bring me to consciousness. You see, we had gone to bed early because I wasn't feeling all that great last night, although really I just felt tired and achey.
  • I have 10 portfolios to grade, 20 tests to grade, and 16 short papers to grade. I also have 22 short papers coming in today. Oh, and Derrida. Did I mention I'm teaching Derrida?
  • I also am scheduled to give a conference paper next week. I have not begun said conference paper.
  • Oh, and I have that r and r that I said I'd get in by Feb. 15. I can't even talk about that.
  • Needless to say, I freaked out on FB, which wasn't entirely without cause though it was out of all sense of proportion. Poor FB. Except not because if he would just be more attentive then maybe I wouldn't blow up at him like a freak. (Except let's be honest: I probably would, because I'm not sure there is enough attentiveness in the world to surmount all of the previous bullets.)
I've got about three hours available to knock out some grading before I teach. I know that checking that off the list would probably make me feel a little less crummy. However, I am seriously considering returning to bed with coffee and some toast and continuing in reading this series, which has been really making me feel quite cozy in these winter doldrums, but may be compromising my productivity, perhaps.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Does Anybody Dislike Stevie Wonder?

Yes, I'm watching the Grammys (snore). But I am wondering, does anybody dislike Stevie Wonder? Is that allowed? Like, you know, there are people who dislike the Beatles (overrated, blah blah blah) or people who dislike, I don't know other people with longevity in the music business, like, say, Madonna or somebody like that.

And here's the thing. I like Stevie Wonder. But part of me wants to dislike him just because I feel like everybody's supposed to find him fantastic. I think that means that I'm just contrary.

Edited to add:
I am also contrary in regards to Keith Urban and John Freaking Mayer being part of the Bo Diddley tribute. SERIOUSLY?

And I am contrary because of the way the camera people kept panning away from the AWESOME M.I.A. during the whole "swagger" rap medley, even when she was the featured person in the medley. Especially given that she is AWESOME and that evidence of her awesomeness is that she performed on the freaking day that she was due to give birth in a wacky unitard that featured her pregnant belly. Shame on the camera people! SHAME!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Advising to Students about Grad School (in English Specifically, though in the Humanities Generally, I Suppose)

A number of places have had posts about this whole "advising students about grad school" thing lately, from Thomas H. Benton over at the Chronicle to Sybil Vane over at Bitch Ph.D. to Sisyphus over at Academic Cog. Now, Benton is a tenured professor at an LAC, whereas Sybil and Sis are on-the-market peeps who've yet to secure a full-time gig. I'll admit that I haven't read the comment thread to Sybil's post, so let me just put that out there right now. I suppose I want to respond because I advise a lot of undergraduates. I've got somewhere around 30 who are technically my advisees, plus I end up being the unofficial adviser to a lot of the students whom I encounter in my classes (so let's estimate about 20 or so defacto advisees in addition to the official ones on my roster) when it comes to these matters. I'm also in a weird position, in that I'm an almost-tenured English professor in a department at a regional comprehensive with a brand spanking new MA program in English, at a no-name regional institution that caters to a crowd of 1st generation college students (which is not dissimilar from my own experience, attending a no-name regional institution as a 1st generation college student). We're all coming from different places.

So, here's my baggage:

1. I do think that it's unethical to suggest to students that graduate school is anything but one of the most risky options available for "what to do" with their English degree. In fact, it might be the absolute riskiest option, and they should know that, not just because I say "don't do this!" but they should know the how and why of that risk.
2. That said, I am glad that I ended up taking that risk. (Of course, it worked out well for me, so that is a factor here.)
3. I do think that there are many rewarding things people can do with their lives with an English degree that don't involve graduate school in English, and I am careful to suggest those options - to encourage those options, and to explain the pathways to those options - to students. That said, law school isn't exactly a fantastic option for a lot of reasons (so this is not the failsafe that I think English profs often make it out to be) and even going to get trained as a librarian isn't necessarily an option that is filled with jobs! jobs! jobs! in our current economic climate. In other words, I don't think we're off the hook if we advise people to law school or to library science. In fact, English grad school can be a better short-term option, if students can get a fully funded slot. (Note that I say it can be a better short-term option - not necessarily a better long-term one.)

I think that the thing that I resist in the "Graduate School in English - Don't Do It" (and yes, you should be singing that to the tune of "Teenage Suiciiiiide - Don't Do it" tune, and if you don't know the pop culture reference to which I refer, well, shame on you) is that really it's not about telling all people not to do it. It's about telling people who are, variously, working-class or female or ethnic minorities or even middle-class people who don't have family money or spousal support, not to do it. It's about telling people who don't go to Ivies or elite slacs or their equivalents not to do it. It's about reifying an educated elite and telling everybody else to go work in human resources or in administrative sorts of jobs or whatever. Those people should just be happy to get a paycheck, really. Because they aren't part of the privileged class that can strap on a career as an intellectual. They can read in their free time, right? It can be a lifelong and enriching hobby for the unwashed masses, but clearly they shouldn't aim for it to be something more than that.

But if you have family money? Pursue your dreams! If you marry advantageously? Rock it out with your grad school ambitions! If you "fit" into the status quo of our cultural image of what a professor should be? The world is your oyster! (Which of course, isn't true in the discipline of English, either. Those people still might end up being adjuncts, or people with long-term contracts, or people who end up working in student services sorts of gigs. But the reality is that they will still get the support [material, emotional] that they need to pursue graduate school, whereas, these narratives indicate, people outside of the educated elite shouldn't even consider it.)

And this, for me, is the rub, with the "Don't Do It" narrative. This approach to how to handle professionalization in English (whether that's professionalization toward a range of fields with a BA or toward advanced study in the discipline itself) is both lacking in subtelty and ultimately discriminatory. And any student educated in English at the undergraduate level by decent professors should be able to recognize that fact. So what the "Don't Do It" narrative produces is similar to what the "Dancing is the Gateway to Sin" narrative in Footloose produces: a wild daughter who has premarital sex with a jerk who challenges the new guy in town to a game of chicken on tractors and who punches her in the face. Or, alternatively, uninformed students who go to grad school anyway, in programs that don't fund them and that treat them badly and don't prepare them for the profession, which then blame the student for not ending up in a job with health insurance while laughing maniacally as they talk about the "revenue" that these unsuspecting students have generated for the university.

So, no. I don't think that it makes sense to tell students to go to grad school in English only if, as Benton suggests, the following factors are in place:

  • You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
  • You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
  • You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
  • You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.
Let me address each point in order, in terms of my own experience:
  • I was not in any way shape or form independently wealthy. However, I also did not have to support anyone other than myself, and I did have the support of my parents (materially, emotionally) during graduate school. What that meant was that I was hurting no one but myself by trying. I also got good advice about going to grad school funded, so, though I do have student loan debt related to living expenses, I could have paid my bills if I ended up in a lower-wage job (think in the 20s) than my current one (inside or outside the academy). I never considered adjuncting as a career move I'd make - I can type 100 words a minute, and seriously: I would have worked in a clerical job with benefits doing transcription typing on the side before I'd have adjuncted full time, and while I'd not have been flush with funds, I would have been able to survive on that).
  • I made the connections that I have in graduate school, because my "connections" prior to that were with people with high school educations or less. I also dispute the fact that "connectedness" can secure tenure-track jobs these days. I have friends who ostensibly are much more well connected (pre-grad-school) than me who are still doing VAP gigs or who have left the profession altogether. Connections are what you make of them (a), but also (b) connections don't mean shit when over 500 people apply for a job. Dude. With that many applicants, at least 20 will be "well connected." There is only one job. I think that this possibility is obsolete.
  • I actually think it's not always a good thing if you're relying on a partner, as for most people who do, that binds them to a place. The reality is that if you're bound to a place, you will not get a job as a t-t person in English. And so, advising students in this fashion in some ways can relegate them to the adjunct track, particularly in the current economy. Indeed, you might have a partner with a great job, and then you go to a great grad school where the partner has the great job. But then when you want to pursue your own career, they don't have an option to move to rural South Dakota. In which case, you'll be adjuncting at your old grad school, not really pursuing the career that you had in mind initially. This is also why it can suck to enter into a partnership with one's dissertation adviser, incidentally. Do that, and you may well always be the faculty wife who teaches in the department and is never an actual faculty member with faculty pay and faculty benefits.
  • Indeed, earning a credential that your employer is paying for is totally a grand idea. I have no objections to this. In fact, I often advise my English Ed students who think they may want grad school to go into high school teaching in order to get this benefit for their MA. This one is fine to me, in isolation. It's just that those elite intellectuals won't take this option. Students like mine will. And that sucks. Because why should working-class students have to do indentured servitude in public high schools before they even entertain the idea of grad school? That, if HS teaching isn't what they actually want, is wack. This advice is the same as telling a student who wants to be a lawyer, if they go to a crappy undergrad institution, that they have to be a paralegal for 5-10 years before they can think about law school.
But if this isn't what we should tell undergrads thinking of grad school, or, more precisely, what I feel comfortable telling such students, then what to tell them?

Well, here's what I tell my students.

I ask them why they think they want to go to graduate school. If they say it's because they want to teach, I ask them why not high school. If they explain why they don't want to teach high school, I ask them what they think the job of a college professor is. And then I tell them about my job. All of my job. I tell them about the rage-inducing service. I tell them about the various demands of teaching and how much time they take. I tell them about how long it takes to get an article to publication, and the various steps of that, I tell them about the tenure process, and I tell them about the disappointments of things not going how they're supposed to go. I tell them about feeling like you're a loser because you don't end up in a t-t position (based on friends' examples) or in a t-t position at the "right" kind of school (based on my own experience). I tell them about the even worse feeling of teaching piecemeal by course, comp, to make 20 grand a year without insurance. I tell them about the students whom I've advised to grad school who've left after the MA to have great, great lives. I tell them about all of the parts of it.

And after all of that, if they still want to be a college professor, I tell them about the personal sacrifices. I tell them about the relationships that can't survive grad school. I tell them about trailing spouses. I tell them about long-distance marriages and about the biological clocks that stop ticking. I tell them about living far away from dying parents.

And let's say they're not sure that grad school would be for them. I tell them about the careers our undergrads have gone on to secure. (Jobs at the local entertainment weekly, jobs in student services or PR departments of our university, jobs in corporations in the area, jobs in editing, jobs teaching, jobs in non-profits, jobs in HR departments or other local businesses.)

Let's say that they think that they want grad school but that they also reveal that they never want to leave the area and they don't really like research. I tell them all of the other things that they should probably consider, because if those are the conditions, becoming a "professor" is unlikely at best.

All the way along, whatever their situation, I talk to my students about professionalization. Whether that means internships at local businesses or doing conferences (locally, for undergraduates, etc.), doing research projects with faculty members, doing editing projects, etc. I talk to them about the skills that they need to be able to demonstrate with this major. The point is, jobs, whether those "jobs" are conventional or whether they are jobs that lead to graduate school, or whether they are in themselves graduate school, require experience and expertise. School doesn't get those people those things. You've got to be thinking about marketability long before you've got the degree - whether that degree is a BA, and MA, or a Ph.D. Because for students outside of elite universities or colleges, you've got to have more than the degree. Actually, maybe all students need more than the degree, but students at my kind of university don't realize they've got to do those other things, necessarily. Because they don't necessarily have the advising (whether by family or by faculty) that privileges those things.

So, I suppose what I think, at the end of the day, is that "Don't Do It" is as irresponsible a piece of advice as "Do It." First, because if we're doing our jobs then our students should be utterly suspicious of both pieces of advice. Second, because while I don't want to produce a generation of "mini-mes" in the academy by sending my students off to mediocre grad programs, I also don't want to produce a generation of students who get tracked into crappy jobs that are "good enough." Ultimately, what I want, is to advise students in such a way that I give those who might succeed on the academic track the best support possible, as well as the best advice about what to do if it doesn't work out. (One thing I spend a lot of time talking about with my students who end up pursuing grad school is what they'll do if they don't get a job on their first year, or second or third years, out.) And I want to give students who might not succeed on the academic track the best advice possible for them, giving them options that will make for a great life - a life that will enrich them - even if their "dream" is not the thing that they ultimately should pursue - which isn't the same thing as just telling them no.

Here's the thing:

Should anybody pursue an advanced degree - whether it's an MA or a Ph.D. - in English unfunded? No.

Would I encourage anybody who has attained an M.A. or a Ph.D. to pursue the adjunct track? No.

But do I think that we should only encourage a priveleged class to grad school in my discipline? Do I think that only people who went to Ivies or Elite slacs, or who have wealthy spouses, or who have trust funds, should get to think about and teach others to think about books for a living?

No, I don't think that.

Even though we have a huge problem with adjunct labor, even though we have a profession that is not equitable and that doesn't take care of the people that it trains. No, I don't think that the answer is to say that only the privileged few should be granted access. No, I don't think that the privileged few should be trained toward the profession of college professor. I don't say that because I want to exploit the underclass that I teach. I say that because I want to be able, when it is possible, to bring some of those students up out of it. They should, if they want it and if they are suited to it, have that chance.

With that being said, I had a conversation recently with my student whose thesis I'm advising. She expressed that she thinks grad school in English may not be for her. After listening to her, do you know what I said? I told her that if she thinks she'd be happy doing anything else that she should pursue that. I also told her that even if she changed her mind, that grad school would be there whenever she wanted it. I then told her that I want her to be happy more than anything. I will be as happy for her if she gets a regular job and pursues that as I would if she applied to grad school as I would if she did law school. What I want is her happiness. Do I think she could be a great grad student? Yes. Do I think she's a great person? Even moreso. And being a great and happy person matters more. She needs to do what is right for her. If she takes an academic path, I will do everything in my power to help her success. But I won't in any way be disappointed if she chooses something else. Why? Because I care about her infinitely more than I care about me and my ego and my academic lineage. And that's how it should be.

On the Rage, and Its Dissipation

Ok, first of all, I apologize for poofing posts and then writing about things vaguely as if you all read the poofed thing! That is so annoying of me! See, but I needed to poof that post from a few days ago because it just wasn't the sort of post I like to have on this here blog. It was too specific, too unmeasured, too too too.

But so anyway, here is a more measured version of the things that have been making me mad at the world.

I think it's a combination of three things. First, I think that the world in general, particularly a world in which budget cuts are at the forefront of the conversation, is just really depressing right now. If the cut happens that will likely happen in my state with this budget cycle, it will mean that the budget of my university has been cut by a full 15% over the past two years, between the money we've been made to give back (retroactive cuts) and the money that is no longer there in the future (ongoing cuts). We are already the lowest funded regional in our state. We are also the fastest growing regional, and the expectation is that we're being expected to continue to grow, only with no money. This is.... disheartening. And there is no way for cuts this deep not to affect students. So my angst related to this stuff actually has little to do with my bottom line, but more to do with a deep sense of dissatisfaction and disquiet about how my students are going to pay in very real ways for the decisions of our legislature. Second, I have had a lot of service-oriented stuff going on lately that is almost entirely thankless (a) and that is not making the progress that I would like (b). It's service that I care about, but at the same time, I also feel like those who like to express philosophical objections to practical plans should really man up and offer practical alternatives. Either that, or they should keep their mouths shut. This goes along with my angst related to the budget, as the things that I'm attempting to shepherd through actually cost NO MONEY and NO RESOURCES but rather they are things we could do to improve our students' lots without any influx of cash. Those who object, I think to myself in my darkest moments, only object because they don't want to make any freaking effort or to make any changes that would mean their comfortable status quo is in jeopardy. Finally, I think a lot of my problem over the past few days is that I've been "measuring with a yard stick" as my mother would put it - i.e., I've been measuring all of the work I'm doing and the compromises I'm making against other people who aren't doing the work and who aren't making compromises and yet nonetheless expect to have a voice in various processes. I need to stop thinking about what other people are (not) doing, and think about what matters to me and why I do what I do, and stop expecting that others will do as much or being angry when they don't. The point isn't that I'm being abused: I'm not. I'm doing what I believe I should do. So if others aren't, I shouldn't let that send me into a tailspin of rage, as it's counterproductive.

So, as you might gather from all of the above, I'm not feeling quite so pissed off today as I have been lately. Why? I thought you might be wondering. Well. First of all, my students are grand. Second, I gave my first test in theory, and while I've not graded it yet, a number of students expressed that they felt like the test, while challenging, really helped them to get a handle on the material and to feel a mastery over the core concepts that they'll need going forward. I think that's what any test should do, so I'm feeling pretty pleased, even though I've yet to do the grading. I also feel pretty confident that most of them will do fairly well on the test (although I did have a student just turn the test in without answering 90% of it, admitting to have blown the course off to this point and promising to do better, though we shall see). I also have students doing really neat research projects, and I've had really great conversations with students this week about any number of things, and so all of that is awesome.

I'm not totally caught up on grading or prep, but I'm in decent shape and well on my way to being caught up. In terms of my own research, I'm in a deeply procrastinatory place, but that is part of my process, so I'm not feeling overwhelmed. And I've done some service stuff for the organization of which I am president, and it feels good to be on top of that. All in all, I've been incredibly productive, I've been a good colleague, and I've been an excellent teacher. So sure, it enrages me that so many people suck so hard, but really, that should not be what I focus energy on thinking about.

So now I'm done with teaching for the week, tomorrow I have to go into campus for a candidate visit and then go to a candidate dinner, and then I'll be set for a weekend of writing. So sure, the sky is falling in terms of the university's budget, and I hate some people, but really things are quite grand. I've got a post brewing about advising students in relation to going to grad school, but I've not thought it through entirely yet. Anyway. Enough. More on that later.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rage + Headache = Cranky Crazy

Filled. With. Rage.

At a great many things. Have been all day. And now I have what may well be the start of a migraine. But I can't cancel class because we didn't have class last week, and you just can't miss two full weeks of class in a row (it meets once a week).

I really want to crawl into bed and never leave it until it's spring. After I go on a murderous rampage (for one can't crawl into bed with pent up rage - it's just not the done thing).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In Which I am the Ad Hoc Chair of Turf Wars... Because I'm an Idiot

Poof! I needed to vent, and I'm glad I did, but seriously, that venting doesn't need to exist on my blog for all eternity.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Many Things Done

Well, I just submitted a panel proposal for a conference that I thought wouldn't be funded but for which, it turns out, I will get some money, which is awesome, as I'd pretty much decided already that I would go to said conference even without funding, because I couldn't bear to disappoint my students to whom I'd mentioned putting together a panel for said conference. So anyway, that is done.

I also, today, faced head on my comments from the revise and resubmit (I'd been facing them sideways for the past few days) and the plan is that I'll work all day tomorrow on actually starting to knock that motherfucker out. Actually facing the comments and making notes was more than enough for today. (I did attempt on Friday to deal with them - and reread the paper, etc., but then phone-talking and wine intervened, and so today was a bit like starting from scratch, as I'd not done the notes in my own handwriting. Does anyone else find this with comments? That you can't deal with them in their original form, but rather must parse them for yourself in your own handwriting in order to actually address them? This is so my process for this sort of thing. Apparently if the horrifying changes that are suggested are in my own handwriting, I can pretend that it was all my idea all along.)

I read for theory, and did some online office hours for my online class.

I also went to the gym, and I did some shit around the homestead.

So you may be wondering about how the fitness is going? Well. I haven't lost as much weight as I'd wished, though given a) the start of the semester, b) the trip to visit HSBFF, and c) the Apocalyptic Weather of last week, which kept me from the gym, I'm pleased with the results. I went to the gym approximately 2/3 of January, I'm 6 lbs. lighter than I was at the start of the year, and I am fitting into jeans without sucking my gut in that I couldn't fit into without massive efforts (sucking in of the gut, laying down on the bed) that I wasn't able to previously. Or let's be honest: that I couldn't fit into at all. And my face looks less round, which is positive. So, my goal for this month is 8 lbs. Two pounds a week. I'm doing great with the eating (in terms of content - though probably I've eaten more than I should in the past two weeks) - it's just the working out consistently, I think, that is the key to getting there. And if I'm honest, I think I could have done 8 lbs. or even 10 this month had I just kept the food diary up. Everything sort of went to hell in a handbasket at the end of the month, and so I think I've learned my lesson that I can't slack off with the food diarizing and the recording of the working out.

In other news, I'm totally on track to be done with the credit card debt by the end of summer teaching. This is awesome. I think I've pretty much decided that I want to buy a house (in like 2 years) rather than a condo. I will have to watch HGTV religiously between now and then in order to really strap on that commitment. I also may need to watch a lot of the local access real estate channel. The idea of owning something is on the one hand horrifying to me (commitment!!!) but also I want to (I did my taxes, and dude, I'd get so much more money back if I owened rather than rented).

You know, I felt bad because I had this conversation with my mom this weekend in which she expressed that she felt bad that she and G. can't help with a down payment for a house. As I noted to her, they helped me throughout grad school, and I didn't expect that they would. Also, as I then figured it, the amount they subsidized me through grad school would about equal the amount I'll be saving up for a down payment on a house. Which means that they totally did help me with a down payment on a house, as if they'd not given me that cash where would I be right now? Maybe I'd own a house already, or whatever, but I wouldn't be nearly as happy with my life.

Though of course I'm not happy about having to deal with that revise and resubmit. In other research news, I'm also irritated by a recent research-related setback in the life of FB, for whom I've been doing some light editing, who's just had the research-related thing for which I'd been doing the free editing get totally fucked up. Note: I was doing the light editing because I like him and so I am now personally irritated by the setback which is not his fault. And so now I have to hate the person who is fucking him over because I feel personally fucked over. I also now apparently care about the thing he was writing about, even though it's boring, which is just adding insult to injury, I have to say. I would like to tell the person who fucked this thing up to fuck off personally from me. Because dude. It's so uncool for a person whom I do not know to a) facilitate my interest in a boring thing and then b) to pull the rug out from under a person I like, which also makes my editing work mean nothing. NOTHING! SO UNCOOL! I hate the stupid, stupid person who is the cause of this. HATE. And yet, tragically, I'm in this annoying position of being not in charge of the situation, because I've been rocking it out old school and editing stuff behind the scenes. Man, it must totally have sucked for all of those faculty wives in olden times who helped out their fancy husbands with editing and typing and things. Were I them, I'd totally be in a state of rage constantly. Even my own revise and resubmit is less annoying (and hate-inducing) than this. Oh, and this whole thing has made FB annoying, too, as his favorite way to cheer himself up is to be exasperating to me. Except he's actually darling. Which serves further to exasperate me, when he's being exasperating, because I know he is darling and yet he insists on exasperating me. But really, he's grand :) And I do believe we will be discussing making actual plans to see one another in the coming week. And I would really like to see him, though I feel too busy to entertain such notions. But see, here's the thing: just as there was no good time to go see HSBFF, there's no good time to go see him. So I'm making the plan even if it's inconvenient. For perhaps this is an unstated New Year's Resolution: to do those inconvenient things that I will like.

Hmmm.... What else? I think that's probably about it. Until tomorrow, blogfriends!