Friday, July 31, 2009

Should Have Been On the Road about 4 Hours Ago

And yet I'm barely packed and am still not in the car. Off to Hometown for a long weekend that I don't really feel like doing (though I suppose I'll like it once I'm there....)

Wish I could just stay home and sleep for about 5 days.

Also realized there's no way I can make a deadline, but am trying not to freak out over it and emailed the people whom I had the deadline for about my lateness. I suck.

Ok, really need to get in the shower (haven't done that yet today either!) and then in the car. Seriously.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No Great Ideas for a Title: RBOC

  • The 5 Days of grueling committee work is DONE. I love my smaller group within the committee. We rule. As for the committee as a whole, well, I believe everybody had their hearts in the right place, even if I think the work my smaller group did rules more.
  • Apparently I have a future both in voice-over work and as a professional power-point presenter. Who knew?
  • I volunteered to be on the Next Grueling Committee. Yes, I'm a dummy.
  • I talked to BES tonight, who confessed she's been reading my blog religiously since I revealed it to her (which I knew she would, so it was hilarious that she felt like this was a confession) but she also wanted to let people know that what I said about forcing students to be mentored is, from her experience, exactly what I do, and that it works. In other news, BES ROCKED her GREs, and she deserves congratulations. I also informed her that if she was going to be reading over here she should also be commenting over here, so if you see BES, yep, that is exactly who you think it is.
  • I told a colleague about the blog. The reveal happened in part because we knew somebody in common, but seriously, I'd figured I'd tell her for a long time. Anyway, welcome to colleague friend who's probably reading!
  • What else? I don't know. I'm fried from the committee I've been serving on. At some point I'll talk about it, but at this point it's too close to the process. So since I'm fried, I'll just shut up for now. Suffice it to say I'm so glad I volunteered to serve for this. A SUPER experience. SUPER.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Love Having Tenure and I Love My Colleagues (University-Wide)

I love having tenure because I wouldn't have the opportunity to serve in the way that I have in these meetings for the past days and into next week if I didn't. And, as I'm bleary-eyed with the service, I'll just put it out there: I'm the right lady for the job for when it comes to this service, and it's great that I have tenure so I feel comfortable doing it (and was even a candidate for doing it).

I love my colleagues across the university, i.e., the ones with whom I'm working closely for these meetings, because they're all so smart, so thoughtful, and so no-bullshit. I really do believe that we are doing work that is practical and positive and right-the-fuck-on.

I know this whole post is pollyanna-ish, and I do try to avoid that, but I love it when I'm accomplishing good things and when I have the experience of being able to feel that with people whom I respect and who have the same goals that I have. There have been no arguments or intrigues (which a slew of people insisted would be the case when I took on this assignment), and we are all working toward something that has the potential to be awesome. The only snag could be if somehow the awesome thing that we are producing doesn't actually make it to a public audience (which I think some other people want, for various reasons) but my little group here is pretty attuned to that and I know we're all people who are willing to fight to get our proposal an audience. We care as well as being practical as well as being a really freaking smart collection of people, with different areas of expertise that are contributing to some pretty awesome - and implementable - ideas.

And yes, I will be mightily disappointed if what we're doing isn't what is chosen. But I do think it's going to be what is best even if it isn't. Seriously.

And you know, that's the kind of service I'm after. Service that I feel is the best and that is rewarding and that isn't just adding a line to the CV. I'll admit it: I love this kind of service. I'll bend over backwards to do it. I feel like I have a valuable purpose and like I'm doing what I'm talented at and exceptionally qualified to do. Let's just note that lots of types of service do not fit this bill. Tenure to me means I don't have to do those types of things anymore. Huzzah!

And it means that I get to do this really important stuff from which I needed to be protected before (though I decidedly wasn't protected from service generally, far from it). Double huzzah!

You know what else I love, even though it's not in the post title? That my chair is so freaking awesome. Had a chat with him after the meeting today, and he's phenomenal.

AND I love that I've got two days off. Because I'm beat, people. BEAT.

Not a Fan of this Whole Early Rising Business

Another day-long meeting today, and so here I am, awake. I do not like this. Summer is NOT over yet, and it is uncool in the extreme that I am awake and that I need to leave the house by 9 (only to just be on time). Not much else to report, nor will there likely be until approximately a week from now. I've got these meetings today and then at the start of next week, and then I'm going to Hometown to visit. I'll then be back here for about a week (where I WILL. NOT. WORK. Must not work. Must rest and rejuvenate before the semester begins) and then to NC for my birthday weekend, and then back here for the start of the semester. Oh, and did I mention that I have to do grades for my summer courses? I have to do grades for my summer courses. If I were a wise and efficient lady I would be doing that now instead of posting here. I am not a wise and efficient lady. But how can I possibly grade before being in a meeting all day? Just how?

So yes. Anyway, you can expect regular whining from now until I take off to the land of my youth. You can't, however, expect me to write about anything I'm actually doing with any specificity, for I'm in the midst of an all-consuming and yet also Unmentionable Thing.

So the question is, what am I going to wear today? And is it wrong that I really totally want to wear sweatpants? Although of course I won't because that would not Make the Best Impression? Ah well. I suppose I should go and prepare for the day ahead. Also perhaps look at the lunch menu, as that may give me something to look forward to.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oof, Very Tired

Day-long meeting + revising and administering a final + grading a stack of essays + knowing that I have a day-long meeting tomorrow = not very much to say.

I will say, though, that my chair freaking rocks. Yesterday's scheduling situation is no longer a scheduling situation. Hooray! Well-placed righteous indignation once again saves the day!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In Which I Attempt to Nip Something in the Bud

BFF often jokes with me that I am "wombist." This is a term that she coined for the outrage that I feel every time (and let's just note, it's been a lot of times) I'm expected to adjust my schedule to accommodate people's child-rearing responsibilities. (In other words, this is not just directed at women. In fact, my rage is regularly directed at men.) Before people get their panties in a twist, I'm not talking about being angry at having to adjust my schedule when someone has a sick child, has a childcare mishap, or even an unusual circumstance (the first day of school, a medical appointment, child's Christmas play, eighth grade graduation, field trip, or recital). I've also had a number of pregnant students in my classes, who were to give birth during the semester or just at the tail end of it, for whom I've been happy to arrange accommodation. So my issue is not that I should not have to accommodate anything to do with kids or something like that. Dude, I like kids. I like parents. I want parents to be able to be there for their kids. I'm on board with that whole thing.

I'm talking about being the first person who is asked to change her teaching schedule in order to accommodate a colleague with children. Or being expected to teach night classes on multiple nights (I'm ok with one night class a week - not more) because I don't have kids. I'm talking about being expected to meet at 3 PM on a Friday because Mondays and Wednesdays (the only other days this colleague is on campus, because of the kids), which would be more convenient for me and for the rest of the committee, that colleague takes hir kids to gymnastics at 3 PM. Not to meets, but to practice. (And yes, I know that kids need activities and whatnot, but if you work, I feel like you sign the kid up for the 5 PM or 7 PM class, not the 3 PM class, especially if it meets multiple days a week, and when you're only on campus three days a week in the first place. Or shit, sign the kid up for lessons that meet on the days you don't teach. Don't put me at the mercy of both your reduced teaching schedule and at the mercy of your kids' activity schedule both.) I'm talking about the fact that for my first four years here I taught 5 days a week precisely because I didn't have kids, and it was made to seem like I had to because I didn't, while colleagues with kids got to teach 2 or 3 days a week. I'm talking, basically, about feeling like I don't get the same bonus things as other people, not because of anything to do with my productivity or my value as a worker (because let's note for the record I'm a higher achiever work-wise than these people), but rather because I haven't happened to birth any babies.

[Caveat: actually this isn't even entirely true. I notice that my women colleagues with children who don't also have husbands in the department do not get the same benefits that couples in the department with children, and even without children, get. In other words, accommodations are made for people who are in heteronormative university-sanctioned units.]

Now, look. I get it. Parenting is hard. There are lots of responsibilities. I don't want to be an asshole to parents, and I understand that kids (especially young kids) require a lot of time and attention. I'm not anti-kid, anti-parent, or anti-family. But I think my issue is not with parents as a monolithic group. I think my issue is rather with the fact that a pattern has emerged where I'm expected to be a "team player" - in ways that actually do harm to my ability to be a good teacher and a good colleague, as well as do harm to my individual courses and to my students, ultimately - when I never see a return on the "team player" investment that I make. Also, I do not think that it's all parents who do this. Actually, people who are inclined to take advantage anyway and who are entitled assholes anyway use the parenting card as just one more weapon in their arsenal of assholery. And it's a pretty effective weapon: if you say no when you're asked to accommodate one of these people (and typically it's not the people themselves who ask you - it's somebody at one or two removes who's got to deal with the fallout caused by the entitled person), then it makes you look like a shitty anti-kid person. I'm not a shitty anti-kid person. But I am a person who feels... affronted... when I feel like I'm being taken advantage of.

So. One of these situations arose this week, and I took two full days to think about the request that was made of me before I responded. And while I did agree to be a team player (this in itself was a very fair request - the issue was not this request in itself but the fact that my entire teaching schedule for 2009-2010 has been determined by such requests), I made it as clear as day that I should not be asked again anytime in the foreseeable future to change my teaching schedule/course rotation around for any reason. I made it clear that I want my name moved to the bottom of the "this person is very accommodating and nice" list, and if it's not, all that people can expect from me is a big fat no.

Tenure has its privileges.

Monday, July 20, 2009

RBOC: Things in My Head on This Monday Night

  • I've got about 10 posts I could properly do if I had the energy, but I don't have the energy, so I'll be doing some bullets. It's been a while since I've done that, right? Might as well.
  • I've been obsessed lately with thinking about the Next Book. Thinking about how to frame the project for the sabbatical application plus the other things I'll apply for alongside it, thinking about the project itself and whether it's too broad or the right size or even interesting, etc. I haven't felt so obsessed about any research-related thing since I was in the dissertation proposal phase. On the one hand, this seems like a very good sign for the project. On the other, I also know that when I was in the diss proposal phase I was WAY too broad for producing an actual cohesive manuscript. And now I can't count on Diss Adviser to stop me from making poor choices. Instead, I have to imagine that I am DA and stop myself from making poor choices. This sort of blows.
  • Let's just note that part of why I'm obsessed with this is that I don't feel like doing the actual things on my to-do list and this feels like work. That said, I think all of this plotting and planning is a good thing. It's not like I'll have time once the academic year starts for these sorts of Deep Thoughts. I need to do all of this work now, really, so that during this academic year I can start doing preliminary reading/research and things.
  • One thing I've decided, related to the Next Book, though, is that I'd really like to make a persuasive case for money to hire a research assistant. One thing that's clear as I'm thinking about this project is that with the help of an RA, I'd be able to have a complete manuscript polished enough to send out within just over two years. Without that, we're looking at 3-6 years for me to be in that place. The fact of the matter is, I need support to do this thing quickly. And I so want to do this thing quickly. I can't count on course releases, and I am not in the financial position to take a full year sabbatical. This means I need help. Sure, I know more now than I knew when I started the diss, and this will make certain things go more smoothly. That said, I do not have the time now that I did then. This is where an RA would be key to getting this thing knocked out. And I'm not in the financial position to pay for an RA out of my own pocket. So the trick will be trying to convince those who have the power over such decisions that they should fund such a thing for me. I could probably wrangle some help by agreeing to do an independent study for a student, but then I'd be obligated not to have the student do busy-work type things, which are really the things I need a student to do. It's not that I don't see the role of an RA as one in which I will teach them things, but I also need an RA for grunt work that isn't terribly interesting, though it would teach a student a lot in terms of the grunt work that this field requires, even if what they're doing is xeroxing and data entry. So, let's hope that I can make a good enough case.
  • In other news, I finished the third of my four syllabi today. I may tweak it a bit, but the course schedule is basically done, which was the thing that had to happen. If I tweak, it will be to eliminate one paper assignment. I'm trying really hard to make choices in my teaching right now that make me less overwhelmed by it. Yes, this means that students will get less from me in a lot of ways. On the other hand, with the possibility of course releases seemingly gone for the forseeable future, I cannot do the other things in my job that I need to get full if I devote so much to my students. One of the issues here is that there is inequity between my teaching load and the teaching load of people in other colleges at my university. A&S is still on a 4/4 (again, with no course releases, as far as one can tell) and other colleges at my university are on a 3/3. The problem is that research expectations and service expectations at my university across the board do not account for this inequity. So guess what? If you've got me teaching 4/4, and 3 of those courses are service courses, the most realistic thing for me to do is to cut back on grading within my classes, if I hope to achieve under the current system. Let me just say for the record that I think this is bullshit, and I think this is most notably bullshit for my students. But let me also say that these are the consequences of excellence without money. And now that I'm in a position of total privilege (having earned tenure) I can make choices that make it possible for me to do my job without totally killing myself (though I'm sure I'll still kill myself a little bit).
  • Can you believe the 5-0 nabbed Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for going into his own house? Seriously?
  • My friend's cat Kittenface (and no, that's not actually a pseudonym but rather his at-home name, though he does have a much more officious name for the vet) is totally the skinny twin of my Mr. Stripey (though he's like two years older than Mr. Stripey). Complete with black spot birthmark on the back paw. It's a little freaky. That said, Mr. Stripey clearly is not skinny, and his face is a little pointier and his ears a little more batlike, so nobody would ever confuse the two, really. But seriously Kittenface = Mr. Stripey. And that is totally strange.
  • I'm going to be 35 in just under three weeks. I'll need to reflect on that at some point. At this point, I just think it's totally weird, as I feel about 10 years younger in a lot of ways.
  • I'm so jealous of everybody who's done Major Travels this summer, although I am also feeling very awesome about the fact that I've not done Major Travels, for the first summer in 3 years. As much as I wish I were off "traveling the world" (as a gradeschool friend of mine put it), I really needed this summer to regroup and to take care of business. That said, I'm itching for real travel, and I'm hoping I can find a way to make that feasible if not next summer then the summer after.
  • But speaking of business, I've YET to get my glasses, and it's been two freaking weeks. I sort of hate my eye doctor place. I keep calling, and today they were a bit more attentive to my concerns, but dude - I paid 240 bucks two weeks ago and STILL no glasses, and they said it would only be like a week initially. I'll be calling every day from now until I get them. Bastards. Don't they understand that I really need them so that I can do some self-portraits and change my facebook profile page so that I am the sassy lady with glasses? (And yes, this is the main reason that I'm irritable about this, aside from the whole "I'd so like to see better" thing.)
  • I really need to lose weight. I've gained like 20 lbs. since January (death of father, hellish stressful things at work) and before this recent weight gain I already needed to lose like 20 lbs. I know, I know, it's about being healthy and not about how much one weighs. I've actually got a really good self-image and body-image and stuff and always have had. But DUDE. I'm at least 40 lbs. heavier than I should reasonably be. I'm back on the good eating wagon, but I've only been sporadic about the working out. I'm thinking that my birthday marks the day that I make the real commitment to dealing with this. And seriously, this is my top priority for the 2009-2010 academic year - not scholarship, not teaching, and not even research. I've got to get this shit under control before the next book turns me into a 300 lb. lady.
  • I am horrified by the fact that school begins again in a month's time. I've accomplished a lot this summer, but I'm also feeling pressure now about all I've not managed to do. Whatever the case, I know I'll get done what absolutely must get done. And whatever the case, I really am taking off between Aug 1 and Aug 17. I need that in order to feel like a human being, and so who cares if I don't get x things checked off in that time.
  • And finally, I've been reading Historiann's post today, and the comments, about the way that teaching is valued for tenure with interest. That said, the comments have veered into the territory of hating on student evaluations because of how those evaluations undervalue women faculty and faculty of color (which I entirely agree with, actually) and not toward actually talking about how to evaluate teaching well. So I'm wondering: taking the student evaluation bullshit out of the equation, what makes good teaching? How do we determine that? I have my own thoughts, but as I noted at the beginning of this post, I'm lazy today, and I can't be bothered with my usual diatribes :)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Force Students to Let You Be Their Mentor

I've been thinking about this since Sisyphus's post about insisting on mentorship. See, something one sees professor-types complain about all the time is the whole, "students don't come to my office hours!" and "how can I help them if they don't come for help?" thing. Well. Lemme tell ya. My students fill up my office hours, and I do not have a problem with this. This may mean that I am pushy. It probably means that I'm pushy. But here's the thing: I remember being a student (oh, lo, those many years ago) who was worried about "bothering" my professors. And I remember that I got over this not because I just had an epiphany one day and realized it was ok to bother professors: rather, I had some professors who made it pretty much mandatory that I bothered them. So that's what I do.

Step 1:

The professor tells the students in the class when the office hours are.

This is when most people stop their attempts to get students to show up in their offices. They think, for whatever reason, that students will take this to heart. Most students don't. This is great if you don't actually want to develop relationships with your students. If, however, you do want to develop relationships with students, and especially students who aren't jerks, you've got to do more.

Step 2:

Grade the first assignment mercilessly.

This will get the smarties in. They don't like the harsh grading that results in them getting the first B's of their lives. That said, do you really want only the B+ students to come to office hours? When there are C- and D+ students who really need to show up so that they can really make improvement? Probably no.

Step 3:

If you're ambitious, require all students to come to see you in your office.

But this is not realistic depending on your teaching load and/or circumstances. It is, however, effective, if you're in such a situation as to make mandatory conferences happen. I do recommend, if you're going to do this for all, cancelling class to give yourself time to do it. If your teaching circumstances allow such student-centered practices that is :)

Step 4:

Write on the student's paper that they should come see you, and don't leave any comments for them to follow for the next paper. I've done this on B- papers, I've done this on F papers, I've done this on papers that I probably could have given an A- to but it was clear that the student phoned it in. This is a good strategy if you can't do conferences for a whole class.

Step 5:

Did I mention that you should scare them? And tell them to come to your office before you'll give them real advice on what they need to do to improve?

You know, we spend a lot of time blaming the victim when we talk about mentoring. What do YOU need to do to get mentors; what do YOU need to do to get attention. But in my experience there are a lot of profs out there who want to be mentors who hear crickets in the hallway when they have office hours. They ask themselves, "where are the students? Why do they not want my help?" I'll tell you what. In my experience, if you get them in your office once, they come back. If you help them once, they will then ask for help in the future. It's not that students don't want mentors - it's that they think that their professors don't want to mentor them. A good mentoring relationship depends not just on the student showing up. A good mentor is not just one who is there when a student shows up. At the end of the day, good mentors insist that students get mentored. A good mentor makes it happen. Why do we think that students should be the ones who make mentorship happen? When at the end of the day, it's the mentor who has the power?

In Which I Struggle with Writing a Book Review

So as you know, I've agreed to write a review of a book for a journal in my specialization. I agreed because my first thought was, upon seeing the title, "Hey, I'd like to read that book!" and "Hey, I'm fancy and they want me to review this book!" and finally, "Hey, when you write book reviews you get the book you're reviewing for free!" In other words, I didn't think all too carefully about the consequences of taking on this assignment.

The fact is, it didn't actually occur to me that I could hate the book with a fiery, burning passion. And it also didn't occur to me that the person would make a Huge Error of Fact about a novel on which I am, modestly, an expert. When I say Huge Error of Fact, I mean that the author says that a portion of a novel is about tomatoes when it's actually about sweetbreads. I'm not talking about a misinterpretation here - I'm talking about saying the content - the actual plot - is about one thing when it's really about something entirely different. There is no way that I can write this review without mentioning this Huge Error of Fact. (Can I just note that this Error of Fact is so eggregious that it made me question whether I was just on crack and had never read the novel properly? Note, this is a novel that I have taught multiple times, and it's a novel on which I've presented countless conference papers and published a couple of articles. I actually went back to the novel to make sure that I knew what I was talking about, so astonished was I that something like this could make its way into print. And with a quite good scholarly press, too.)

Now, you might be asking why I'm agonizing about this. Why I'd even consider not wanting to mention the Huge Error of Fact. Well, it's because I need to think about how I will be viewed in relation to this review that I write. I can't write the scathing review that I really want to write because that would amount to Burning Bridges and make me look ungenerous and mean-spirited. That's not good for a lady whose own first book is likely out in the world being reviewed as we speak. That could lead to bad things for me. On the other hand, I also can't fail to mention the Huge Error in Fact because I am a modest expert on this novel and if I left out this Major Criticism anybody who read my review and who then read the book and who is also familiar with the novel about which this Wrong Assertion Was Made would also think negatively about me as a scholar. In other words, I'm damned if I do, but also damned if I don't.

On the one hand, as I think about this issue, this Error is Huge, but on the other hand it is also a tiny, passing error. Nothing that should have made it through the peer review process, surely, but it does not damn the entire project, or even the entire chapter of which it is a part. The problem is that once I include this criticism, it colors the entire review. As much as I'm trying to find the good in this craptacular book, no amount of good outweighs the fact that this author published a book and got the plot of a freaking novel wrong. I can easily stop my urges to write about the irritating writing style, to wax poetic about the sloppy theorizing, to bemoan the failure to engage with scholarly conversation. I mean, that wasn't this person's project, and as much as I might expect that it would be, I can get over those things. But the moment I write about the Thing I Cannot Get Over or Ignore, the entire review turns into a scathing critique. I've thought about where I should place this Thing, thinking that maybe burying it in the middle will help, but I really don't think that it does. I mean, it's embarrassing. I'm embarrassed for the author, and I'm embarrassed at having to point this out.

I've considered renegging on my agreement to review the book, but I'm not going to do that. I feel like solving this problem is a learning experience, and I don't want to be the person who backs out of doing something that she's agreed to do. Also, I hate the idea that I should be worried about writing honestly about another scholar's work in an effort to cover my own ass. I acknowledge that one needs to cover one's own ass in this profession, but I also believe strongly in scholarly conversation, and I cannot get past the fact that there is no point in book reviews if people don't review books honestly, or only review those books that they adore. If the point is the conversation, and if book reviews are part of that conversation, then the goal should be to provide a generous and yet rigorous reading of the book under review. And if I believe that, and I do, I've got to find a way to do that for this monograph.

I suppose the issue is this: I would die if somebody pointed out a Huge Error of Fact in my own monograph. DIE. And yet, I would also hate it if people didn't review my book honestly. And thus, my dilemma as a reviewer. Ah well. Back to it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Comfort of How Much People Stay the Same

Today was an interesting day, as days go. I'd known I had plans with a friend from high school who actually lives in my town but whom I don't see very often (she's working on her PhD with all of the insanity that this entails) for this afternoon/evening, but I ended up unexpectedly talking to a couple of friends from elementary school on conference call before that. This might not seem weird to some of you. Maybe you've stayed in touch with people with whom you went to elementary school, or maybe you were in the same school system from K-12, so there wasn't a major break with your friends from elementary. For me, though, well, there was a major break between elementary school and high school.

See, I went to elementary school at a small inner-city catholic school - the same one my mom had gone to as a kid, incidentally. But in 7th grade my parents got divorced, and in 8th grade my mom let the house we'd been living in go into foreclosure (it was in such a shitty neighborhood there was really no way to sell it, and my father, well, I don't quite know the ins and outs of everything, but I do know that part of the reason why my mom made that choice had to do with his choices in that time). So the deal was, we moved as soon as my 8th grade year was done, to a border suburb, and I moved on from my grade school crowd. I kept in sporadic touch with a couple of people for a year or two, but then that was that.

Now, I've thought for a long time that it was lucky my life went that way. Of my 8th grade class, I was the only girl who didn't get pregnant in high school. I was one of only 3 or 4 (of 18) who went to any college at all, and one of only two who actually graduated from college. Of those who stayed in the neighborhood, 3 or 4 (that we know of) did time in jail, some for some pretty serious violent crimes, and many more dropped out of high school. So yes, my mom getting me out of that neighborhood and into a world where I thought it was cool to be in choir and on the high school newspaper was crucial in the path my life would take. But so, via the miracle that is facebook, I've reconnected with a few of the grade school folks, and through this connection, I talked to two people today - my best friend, S. (who's had a very rough life, but now is happily married with four kids and is a stay-at-home mom), the Vietnamese boy T. who was, along with me, probably the only one anybody ever expected to achieve anything (and he did - he's moved out of state, graduated from the flagship U. of our state, and is married with two BEAUTIFUL children).

Obviously my life has taken a different path from the people with whom I went to elementary school, but what was most amazing about this conversation today is how simple and easy it all was. There was no weirdness, even though I hadn't talked to T. and S. in 20 years. No, it was just like we were 12 years old and students at St. B's, having a three-way call. Sure, kids interrupted the conversation at certain points, and sure, all in all people don't understand what the heck I actually do, they're just Very Impressed at how I've ended up, and yet also slightly confused that I'm not married. But still, we're all the same people, for all of the disparate experiences that we've had.

And the same is true with me and the high school friend with whom I hung out.

You know, there are certain people who you encounter in your life who just KNOW you. You may not talk for 20 years, you may not have anything currently in common. But there are people who are forever your people, whether you keep in touch or have things in common or not. That is astonishing to me in a lot of ways, but it's also just awesome.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scripts for Getting Mentorship: Crazy's Version

This post was inspired by a comment that Dame Eleanor left over at Sisyphus's place to her Lesson's for Girls: Don't Just Ask, Insist on Help (Even If It Makes You Feel Weird) post, which Sis wrote out of inspiration from this post about mentoring over at Historiann's. How's that for a chain of inspiration? At any rate, Dame Eleanor writes in her comment to Sis:

"It's one thing to say "Speak up," and another to explain how to do it. What do you say? What tone do you take? How do you portray yourself as junior-equal rather than as meek suppliant or righteously teed-off young Turk? These things are not easy, and for many of us, personality factors like introversion make them harder still."

Now, I don't often think about this part of the whole "seeking mentorship" thing because it has often felt like this part of things comes fairly naturally to me (I'm an extrovert more than an introvert), and because I tend to be more of a big-picture sort of thinker than a nuts-and-bolts-details sort of thinker (and my challenges in my scholarly work are a testament to this). In other words, before I read Dame Eleanor's comment, it had seriously never occured to me that one needed to do more than to say, "Speak up," because when I think "Speak up," in my head that includes the script that I would use. I know that's silly of me, thinking about it now, but really: it had never crossed my mind before that it would be useful to outline potential scripts for seeking mentorship. At any rate, now that it has, I do feel like it's worthy of a post.

As I begin, though, I feel a bit stuck. To some extent, all of these things depend on context, upon the power differentials in play, and upon the personality of the person who's doing the asking as well as upon the personality of the person whom is being solicited for mentorship. They also depend upon the particular circumstance for which one needs mentorship. In other words, what I'll present will in no way be exhaustive, and probably other people should weigh in (whether on their own blogs or in comments here). So with all of that being said, perhaps before I proceed to any scripts, I think I'll first address some general "rules of engagement" that have served me well.
  1. I think it is always best, when one is asking another person for advice or help, to bring something of one's own to the table. In other words, if you need a strong letter of recommendation, provide the potential recommender with lots of material that will enable them to do that job easily for you. If you need an answer to a particular question, work on potential answers to the question yourself first, and only go to the person after you've done that work. This doesn't mean that you don't still need to go to another person, if you've don't that work: rather, it shows the other person your level of investment, and they still might be able to offer supplementary advice that will help.
  2. Be polite. I know, obvious, right? But you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you knock on somebody's door with a demand, they will be more likely to blow you off. If you knock on somebody's door with a polite request, unless the person is a jerk, they will likely be more receptive.
  3. Being polite doesn't mean being fake. You don't need to have read everything the person has written, or to agree with everything the person thinks. What you do need to be is genuine and respectful. Good mentors aren't always people who see eye to eye with you: sometimes they are people with whom you disagree mightily, but who nevertheless have something to offer.
  4. When people ask you about your work, or if they ask you if you need help with anything, or if they ask you what they can do to make something work more efficiently for you or to make your life easier, assume that they are asking in good faith. This is a really important one, I think. The first response that might come to your lips is "I'm fine." The way you get mentors, though, is to say, I'm managing, and I will do fine regardless, but you might be able to offer wisdom or advice in regard to this particular thing. When people ask you about how things are going, more often than not they are offering their mentorship. Don't dismiss that.
  5. Demonstrate that you are capable, independent, and autonomous the majority of the time. Then, when you need assistance, people will not think that you are entitled or expect them to do the work for you. In other words, know your shit, do your shit, and then, if you need help, when you ask for it people won't think you're taking advantage of them.
With these rules of engagement in place, I will offer some scripts from my own life. I think this is better than me trying to manufacture examples that might not fairly represent how I've managed mentorship in my own life.

Example 1: The Undergraduate Trying to Find a Person to Advise Her Senior Thesis

When I was an undergraduate at a regional university (mediocrely research-oriented) with over 25K students and where I very much felt like a number for most of the time, I was also in the honors college, and to graduate with honors I needed to write a thesis. I had no idea of how to go about choosing an adviser for my thesis, other than that I knew what I wanted to do my thesis on, and so I chose the faculty member with whom I'd taken a class where I'd read some of the books I wanted to study. This person also happened to be my adviser within the major. Let's just note that this person had actively dissuaded me from pursuing grad school ("your gpa isn't good enough and you'll never become a professor") but she was all I had. So I asked. She said no. She recommended that I ask a person who was not on the tenure track in the english department at my university, but who taught at a branch campus part-time and who had a full-time position at a center on campus for an author of the same period. Now, I could have been dissuaded by this "adviser" (who, incidentally, I now see regularly professionally and who claims me as her "student" - as if!) and given up on this particular thesis project, or on a thesis altogether (it wasn't required to graduate). But I took her advice. And I contacted my Awesome First Mentor, Thesis Adviser. This was in the days before email, so I wrote her a letter. A very carefully crafted letter. I explained the project that I had envisioned, and I politely asked whether she would be interested in supervising me. I did not just show up at her office one day demanding mentorship. I politely presented my project (something into which I'd put a lot of time, thought and effort), and she politely accepted me as her student. And once that arrangement was made, I was entirely open to her criticism, her challenges, and her advice. In other words, I respected that she had a certain authority as my adviser, and a hell of a lot more expertise than I had, and I trusted her expertise. She was my mentor, my guide. I never thought of her as a hoop I was jumping through, even if the thesis itself was. The relationship that I developed with her ultimately led to my first conference presentation as well as to my first publication. This wasn't because I was entitled to that, but rather because I nurtured the mentoring relationship that she offered. (In an awesome "it's a small world after all" quirk of fate, she met my thesis student, BES, a couple of months ago. When who she was, and who BES was, was realized, it was a festival of hugs and academic lineage. Note: I was not there. I only heard about this weeks later. This was totally a happenstance thing. And I'm so excited that BES meant First Ever Mentor! Especially since I had showed BES my undergrad thesis - BES was totally blown over by the whole thing.)

Example #2: Choosing a Dissertation Director

I chose my dissertation director because I knew that he would push me like I'd never been pushed before. He was a person (and I imagine still is) that most grad students in my former program shy away from, when it comes to this particular gig. Not because he's not cool (he so is cool), and not because he isn't the most incisive and responsive reader (he is), but because he is a total hard-ass. He writes your comments on seminar papers like he's writing a reader's report for a journal. Complete with referring to you by last name. He sees flaws in what you write that most experts won't see. He's, well, omniscient and brutal. Those are the two best words I can think of for him. I, however, as the person that I am, sought him out. The first time I remember approaching him for something specific was when I was accepted to a conference for a paper that would be based on something I wrote for him. I remember going to his office to tell him about it, and he was dismissive. But, whereas my undergrad thesis adviser was supportive and welcoming, I also trusted DD (Dissertation Director). He was dismissive because he *expected* excellence from me, rather than encouraging and nurturing it. He was dismissive because the fact that I was accepted, I now realize, was *obvious* to him. It was after that experience that I asked him to be the director of my dissertation. Again, I came to him with clear goals. In fact, I came to him with not one but two proposals. And I asked both would he be my director as well as for his advice about my ideas. Now, we never had a warm and fuzzy happy relationship where he designed conference panels on which I would present or whatever. He was not that guy. He was the tough love guy. He was the guy who would give you feedback on your work that would leave you curled up in a ball on the couch for weeks. But it was amazing and insightful feedback. And if I wasn't good enough? He'd never have taken me on as a student (which I realize now). He taught me how to handle BRUTAL criticism, and he taught me how to believe in myself in spite of it. And I took it. Because part of getting good mentorship, I now believe, is in taking it. Sure, I cried bitter tears and whatever, but I believed in what he was advising. And I took it to heart. I think a lot of the teacher I am now, and the mentor I am now, is a reflection of him. This may be why many students are afraid to take classes with me. But the ones who do take classes with me? They get it. They get all that I have to give them, ultimately because they want it. And I think that's the thing with a lot of mentors. I think a lot of mentors need to believe that you want what they're giving.

Example #3: Oh My God, I Ended Up with a Mentor!

This example came after I was on the tenure track. I presented a paper at a mediocre conference as a preparation for a conference that I was worried about. It was a preliminary idea of the thing that I would present at the later conference - not the same paper. It turned out, however, that one person in the audience was in a Position of Power at the later conference (something I'd not anticipated). So this was a new way of getting a mentor. I presented something I was totally work-in-progress on, and a Person of Import happened to be in the audience. In this instance, I basically was open to the PoI's interest, and I nurtured and fostered the interest of the PoI in my work. I took the opportunity, and I forged a friendship - not because I had intended to seek a mentor in that instance, but because a potential one popped up. I was polite, I was respectful, I was interested. And then I saw PoI at the Scary Conference, and we became friends. And I presented on an MLA panel as a result of her mentorship, and then got my first Awesome Journal Publication as a result of that panel. And another less important publication. And another publication in a collection that she was editing. And I became a president of an allied organization of the MLA. All I was was myself, but I was also respectful and interested. And I was open to help. And I was open to advice.

So what do you say, when you're trying to get mentored? I don't know that I've really given a script, after all. I think the first thing that you probably say is, "Hi, I'm Crazy." Actually, that just made me think of a mentoring relationship that began while I was in grad school.

I was at a conference (awesomely) in Italy. I was on a balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea, at sunset. I was in a Hapsburg palace. And a few feet away from me, I saw a person I was citing heavily in my dissertation (which would later become my book). I said to this person, "Hi, I'm Crazy. You're Fancy Lady, and I just wanted to introduce myself because your work has been so important to me."

This person ended up writing the blurb that's on the back of my book. And that blurb uses the word "prickly" which in the context of my scholarship? Makes me giggle every time. The point is, the basic script is to talk to people you are interested in talking to and to talk to those people about real things, having done the work on your end to have things to talk about.

I'm not sure if this post really provides a script, and I fear it doesn't. But I hope it at least provides some sort of a map for this stuff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where Exactly Has the Summer Gone?

That's what I'd like to know. Indeed, all of a sudden the fact that I'm well past the midpoint has come to my attention, and I'm not so sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I have been ridiculously productive this summer:

  • I finished that revise and resubmit, and found out that the journal would like to pursue publication.
  • I finished an article for an essay collection and submitted it.
  • I read a book for which I need to write a review.
  • I finished 2/4 syllabi for the fall, one brand new course and one course to which I've done some major tweaking.
  • I've been ruminating about my sabbatical project and letting ideas percolate and form, and I've been beginning to consider how I'm formulating the project in earnest.
  • I've completely weeded out my second bedroom (office) and taken a bunch of crap to goodwill (front closet actually has usable space for the first time in over a year!).
I've also been taking care of business on a personal front:
  • I've taken care of various doctor appointments and such.
  • I had a nice visit with A. to kick the summer off.
  • My parents were here this past weekend and I had a nice visit with them.
  • I've done a good bit of relaxing and reading for pleasure, as well as a moderate amount of socializing (perhaps I could have been more social, but seriously: it's been kind of nice not to have a lot of face-time with people - rejuvenating).
  • I visited my aunt in NYC which was amazing.
  • I've planned trips to Hometown (beginning of August) and to visit FL (First Love) at mid-month.
  • I'm finally back in the groove of eating properly, and I've really been enjoying cooking again, after months of being too stressed to allow myself to eat properly and to enjoy cooking. (When my parents were here I made lovely chicken breast marinated in yogurt, lemon, and various spices, as well as a squash gratin. My mom joked that I'd really make somebody a good wife - to which I responded that people really need to put up with a lot of crap in order to get the food that I make, so I'm not so sure about that. She laughed in agreement, but added that my food might make up for it.)
  • I've cut myself a good bit of slack with my summer teaching, and it's really gone a long way to making me realize that I don't need to kill myself in order for me to be a good teacher.
All of that is a good bit of stuff. But, as always happens at this time of year - about a month before my birthday, around the time of my anniversary of beginning blogging (it's been 5 years!), about a month before the academic year starts getting rolling - I'm thinking about the to-do list that I'd set for myself at the beginning of the summer, the things left on it that I've yet to accomplish, as well as the new things that have somehow cropped up (as new things always seem to do), and how I'll possibly make a dent in that list between now and the start of school.

So, what's remaining on the list?
  • Make pdfs of readings for the new class I'll be teaching this fall. I've figured out all of the readings - it's just a matter of taking the time to scan everything, which I really do aim to get done in the next week or two, and then to put all of it up on blackboard.
  • Write all of the assignments for that new class, so that I'm not scrambling around to do it during the semester.
  • Finish 2 remaining syllabi (perhaps I should knock at least one of those out today?) and revise assignments to make my life easier (one of my resolutions post-tenure is to take care of myself more when it comes to teaching, which includes recognizing the value of assigning as much as I can reasonably and with quick turnaround time grade).
  • Write the book review.
  • Do minor revisions on one collection article.
  • Do minor revisions on accepted journal article.
  • Deal with proofs for MLA panels as well as with some other Society business. Make reservations for MLA.
  • Collect more sample successful sabbatical applications, and begin drafting my own sabbatical application (not due until October, but better to begin drafting early rather than at the last minute).
  • Write catalog copy for the overhauled major (my goal had been to have this finished by August 1, which will not happen, but it really does need to be ready to go by September 1.
  • Finalize dates for conference I will host in 2011, get at least some rooms reserved (ideally), and come up with a budget and a timeline for all of the things that I need to do in relation to that. This also means scheduling a meeting with a colleague who organized/hosted a conference here a few years ago to get her insights and advice.
  • Serve on Very Important Committee (meets at the end of the month).
  • Make a dentist appointment and an appointment for a full physical.
  • Seriously take July 30 through August 16 off of work. Yes, this means I've got one hell of a lot to do in the next couple of weeks.
In other words, although I've already done a lot with my summer, I've also got a lot to do. That said, and what may not be apparent from all of the listing that I've done, I'm actually feeling like this summer has been a very relaxing and calming one. The small trips have been good for my morale, and they've been so much less stressful than a major trip would have been. And getting all of this work done makes me feel like my academic year won't be so nutso in 2009-2010, which is a good feeling to have after my 2008-2009. Also, and this wasn't something I really expected, I'm feeling very energized by tenure right now. I know that I may well hit a post-tenure wall or slump or whatever, but right now, I'm sort of reveling in the freedom to do what I want professionally and in the certain knowledge that I don't need to prove my worth with a binder of materials this year! Or next! Or the year after that! Huzzah!

I've also been doing a good amount of thinking about personal life stuff and how I want that to work in my newly tenured life, but I think I'll table a discussion of that for the moment. For now, I'm just happy to be feeling so centered and focused, after feeling decidedly unfocused and scattered for so much of last academic year.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saying What You Mean without Really Saying It

So I find myself in the position, currently, in two very different situations, in which I need to communicate a particular point of view in such a way that I don't come out and say it point-blank. This is not my strong suit. I'm a pretty direct person, sometimes to my detriment. I'm not much of one for beating around the bush, nor do I particularly like it when people beat around the bush with me. But after some huge missteps during my teens and 20s, I think I've become slightly better at recognizing at least some of the time when I shouldn't just blurt out exactly the thoughts that are in my head.

Situation #1: I'm currently reading a book for which I will need to write a review for Crazy's Specialization Studies. I'm actually pretty excited about this task, as the editor contacted me about the review without me ever having offered my book-reviewing services. As an aside, I've been plowing through the book because, it seems, after years of plowing through academic books and articles, I don't know how to make my way through one at a leisurely pace. This means I have just 1 1/2 chapters left to read, after only having received the book on Thursday and even though my parents were in town this weekend. So here's the thing. I hate the book. Hate. It. But you can't just write a review in which you hate on a book. That's not cool. It's not useful to readers of the review, nor is it necessarily good for one's own as yet not terribly fancy professional stature. Now, I've not done much review writing in my career thus far - just two previous to this, both of which appeared in tiny venues. One book I really enjoyed; one book I felt somewhat mixed about although I did find it incredibly interesting and ultimately useful. (The mixed feeling just had to do with the fact that the style of the book doesn't really fit with the kind of scholarship that I myself do - it didn't have to do with the quality of the book.) This current book I'm reading, though, well, I have some fundamental problems with it. I cannot, however, just say, "don't read this book, for it is boring and stupid." First of all, it occurs to me that not everybody in the whole world would agree that it is boring and stupid. Second, I really want to be fair to the book, even though good reviews to my mind aren't "objective" per se. And so I find myself as I'm reading on the one hand giving myself free reign in my marginalia to write really mean things but on the other hand annotating the book toward the review itself, using language that is more measured and that really engages with this book that I hate (something, incidentally, that the book itself does not do with things it really hates). This is an interesting process, as it's not the way that I read when I'm using a book for my own research. I also wonder how much of my negative feelings about this book come from the fact that it's only the second time I've witnessed my own work cited in a scholarly book and yet the person basically treats my work like shit (though admittedly does put me in the company of people whose work I deeply admire, treating those people like shit, too, so that's sort of awesome). At any rate, I don't want to let that influence the ultimate review that I write to the extent that it calls my authority as a reviewer into question. So, as I read and annotate and think, I find myself in a position where I want to be true to my interpretation of the book while at the same time exercising more... subtlety... than it is my first impulse to do. I find myself trying to say what I mean without coming right out and saying it. This is an interesting exercise.

Situation #2: This one involves negotiating university politics. See, I'm on this committee that has the potential to become a festival of contentiousness. The last time a committee such as this convened, like 15 years ago, it generated all sorts of bad will. There are people who served that last time who still don't speak to one another. For real. The first tasks of this committee involve responding to some questions in writing, and I find myself measuring my words carefully, and presenting my position with what I hope is more diplomacy than I actually feel. To be honest, I feel like one of my responses in particular borrows a lot from Dolores Umbridge's initial speech at Hogwarts when she is hired as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and that is very strange and a little bit troubling, to see oneself as like Umbridge. At the same time, I did avoid reaming somebody out for refering to students as our "clientele," so I suppose that is a victory (albeit a small one).

Whatever the case, these two very different situations are both forcing me to be careful with my words, to think about how to say what I mean without actually coming out and saying what I mean. This obfuscation does not feel comfortable to me, but perhaps it's a good skill to practice. In both cases, I'm thinking it's better both for my ultimate goals as well as for me personally to refrain from just putting it all out there. We'll see, however, whether my attempts will actually work. Because see, this is not my nature. And I really want to say exactly what I mean instead of beating around the bush.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In Which Crazy Contemplates a Next Book

So, it's a funny thing, this idea of a "next" book, as opposed to a "first" book. As recently as the start of this year, I really had no ambitions toward a "next" book. Or rather, I actually felt a real antipathy to the idea of writing a "next" book - haven't I done enough for Jeebus' sake?

This resembles not at all how I felt about turning the dissertation into a book, which I was highly motivated to do. I really don't feel a great compulsion to write a second book, nor do I think doing so or not doing so bears any real relationship to my worth as a professor or scholar or person. With the "first" book, I felt, deeply, that I would suck if I didn't get the thing done. A lot of that had to do with lingering grad school demons about what it means to be a worthwhile person. A lot of it had to do with proving that I was a worthwhile person in spite of the fact that I didn't land at an R1 university for my tenure-track job (and combine with this my desire to be a viable candidate those few times when I sent out applications for other jobs over the past years). But it's interesting, now that I'm post-book, post-tenure, I don't have the same kind of self-worth things bound to my scholarship.

Part of this is because I do have this feeling that I'm done with jumping through hoops. I mean sure, there is that final hoop of going up for full, but even if I never did that, I would still have a job and a professional life. Part of it has to do with finally - after the final tenure decision - coming to grips with everything I've achieved to this point. That's actually something I've been spending a good deal of time processing this spring and summer. Most recently, I've been working on updating my cv, and what is more than clear in doing so, and which probably should have been clear to me before now, is that I have a very respectable profile as a scholar. Period. Not "oh, I'm good enough for this place," or "well, I guess I have a few publications," but rather, no, I'm a respectable scholar by anybody's estimation. I've done good work that has been received well by people whom I respect, and if I just keep a steady pace, I will continue to do good work, not because I've got a gun to my head but just because it is fulfilling to me to do good work. No, I will not publish at the rate that people at research universities publish. No, I may not transform into some kind of superstar (although I'm not willing to give up on that silly possibility yet, even if I don't actually care about it really). But I will continue to have ideas that matter to a small group of people, that continue to make a difference in how I teach literature, and that continue to make a difference in terms of my ability to help my students navigate the field of literary studies, should they choose to navigate this field in their own professional lives.

So I suppose there ends the context of this post.

Where I really began thinking in earnest about a "next" book was with the idea that I really, really want a sabbatical. Sure, it will only be a semester long (for I cannot afford to take a full year at half pay), but I think that a break like that will really go a long way toward rejuvenating me. I feel kind of... out of gas... after the past, oh, 30 years without a break. That's right - I went straight through - from kindergarten through the tenure track - without any time off doing anything else. I mean, sure, I temped in the summers and such things, but I never had sustained time where I wasn't teaching or in school or whatever. I think I'm about due for 6 months away from teaching and service (it would be eight, but I'll need to teach summer school next summer to make a house a reality). And the best way to ensure that I've got a project worthy of a sabbatical in these tough economic times is to design a project that has a book-like weight.

Now, when I ended the spring semester, I wondered whether I might be able to do a sabbatical that would involve multiple journal articles and have that be a substantial project that would get me to full. The problem is that nobody in my department has ever gotten full without a book. Now, let's note, I've got a book. But I'm the only person in my department in the past 20 years (or more - I believe the only person who may have had a book before tenure is my mentor in the department, who, we should note, got tenure in the 1970s) who's ever had a book out before tenure, and going up for full does require only counting those things one does once making associate. The guidelines for full do not stipulate that a book is necessary (either the university-wide or department guidelines) but this is past practice. Now, I should note that "book" is a pretty loose term here in these parts. It could be a textbook. It could be a novel. It could be an essay collection. So it's not like my institution would require me to write a second scholarly book. And I have toyed with the idea of trying my hand at those other types of books. But I keep coming back to the idea of a "next" book, as opposed to a textbook, or a novel, or an essay collection.

Now, why do I keep coming back to a "next" book? First and foremost, probably, it's because I feel like I know how to write a scholarly book now. I feel like I've found my voice as a scholarly writer in literary studies, and I think I understand the scope of such a project. I'm not trying to minimize the hard work that would go into a "next" book, or to ignore the fact that I will encounter new roadblocks in writing one. I have, however, gone through the process of shopping such a book to presses, I've written a book already that is, as far as I can tell, doing decently well for a newly published academic book, I've been through the process of getting copyright permissions, and I've been through the process of refining a scholarly, book-length manuscript. In other words, this is familiar territory. And for me, that is a good thing. Second, I actually do have an idea, and an idea that I think is really interesting. In some respects, it's the flip side of the idea of my first book. My first book was all about analyzing the representation of pleasure (generally), and this next one will be all about (generally) looking at the representation of violence and shame. (Funny aside: I told my mom about this, and her response was, "but that's so dark, Crazy!" When I noted that this was just the flip side of what I'd already done, she said, "but it's so dark! But I guess if you want to do that....")

Here's the thing: I know that nobody else has written about the "next" book idea in quite the way that I plan to. And I do have a plan. Sure, it's rough at this point, but I start with a title and an outline - this is how I start all projects - and so I'm not just meandering through a hodge-podge of ideas. I should also note that who I am as a scholar is that I tend to start where I'm comfortable - with authors whom I've taught or written about previously, and then to throw one new thing into the mix. I do not chart entirely new waters - ever. I build on what I've done before.

This practice has developed in part out of self-preservation: this is how you have new ideas with a 4/4 teaching load. But it also feels very organic to me, and is something that I've "always" done. For example, I wrote my senior thesis on Famous Feminist Woman Author. I then did a master's thesis on Manly Man authors of the same period. I then went on in my dissertation/book to return to Famous Feminist Woman Author (FFWA) and Manly Man Authors that I'd studied extensively in coursework, also of the same period, but different from the Manly Man Authors I worked on in the thesis. So now, I'm going back in another direction, not in terms of my authorial choices so much, but rather in terms of the themes that I want to think about. I'll talk about FFWA (whom I now realize may be the reason I decided to become an English professor and who may really be central to any interesting idea that I have, in spite of my resistance against being categorized as an FFWA scholar), as well as about FFWA2 (the author on whom I started working intensively, and on whom I've published some, since getting this job) and then finally on FFWA3 (whom I've not done any work on nor taught ever, but just totally love). There are also a few others I may or may not throw into the mix. But the point is, I want to explore what lies on the other side of pleasure, and, in particular, where those other things are housed. And the things that I have to say would require me to engage deeply with theory that I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to before now, as well as to see authors whom I love in ways that are challenging to me. This seems like a very exciting project.

And, indeed, this may be why I've chosen this project as opposed to others on which I've might have embarked. I really want to figure out why this idea is interesting to me, and I really want to figure out a way to make it interesting to other people. I also think this idea connects deeply to my teaching and to how my field is transforming in general. Also, and maybe this is most important, I'm excited about undertaking such a project without a committee to direct it. Yes, I need to think about audience and editors and such, but I don't have to worry about this being a "job-seeking document," as my adviser rightly told me my dissertation was. My mentors in grad school made a big deal out of the fact that I could write what I wanted to write after tenure. That the dissertation (the draft of a first book) was about getting a job, not about defining me as a scholar. Well, I feel like that was great advice, and I want to believe that it was true. I want to believe that I can write the book I want now, and now with a first book under my belt, I feel like I might know how to do so.

That's really the exciting thing. You don't get another bite at the apple with a dissertation or a thesis or a seminar paper. You don't get another bite at the apple with an article, even, or at least not in as substantial a way. You do get another bite at a book. You do get to decide things based just on your preferences with a second book. I don't have a committee telling me I shouldn't just write about women, or that I shouldn't write about authors across periods or countries. I get to make those choices, based on the things that are interesting to me now. Yes, I have to be aware of the market for a book, and I have to be aware of how to get publishers intersted in it, but I don't have to be aware of the job market as I conceive the book. I don't have to prove that I can teach x,y,z courses through my book. I can just write a book that matters.

Now, I'll say this about the going up for full business, as it relates to this. I'm going to do my damndest to make sure that my department addresses the question of what is required for full in a more specific way in our handbook. I think this whole, "in the past people write a new book for full" is crap, given the fact that with the current market saturation it's entirely possible that many new faculty might have a book before tenure. I think that we should have criteria that are more clearly flexible, that are outlined, about the kind of achievement that merits full professor. I think that we should state clearly that it can be a scholarly book (a), an equivalent number of journal articles in peer-reviewed venues - like 4-6 - thinking that some of these would be pedagogical pieces (b), a textbook (c) a novel or collection of poetry (d), or editing a collection plus 2-3 articles (e). I think that such specificity would result in greater fairness, and it might encourage more people (and in my department, women) to go up for full professor, which is a huge need, since we do not have a single female full professor at my university, which, in a feminized field like English, is an abomination. (Patriarchal equilibrium much?) Because here's the thing: it's ridiculous at a university like mine to expect two fucking scholarly books for full professor. Whether we're talking about men or women or whatever, but particularly if we're talking about women, who may feel (or experience) the need to write a book just to be secure in getting associate.

In other words, I'm not certain that this new book, this "next" book, will be the thing that I need to get full. In all honesty, I hope that I can work (as a tenured professor) to make sure that it's not the prerequisite for that. I want, if I have other kinds of productivity, for those things to count for full. That's not to say I don't want to write this book: I do. But I want to write this "next" book for me and for people who will care about what I have to say, not for a promotion. That said, I'm not going to use this sabbatical for something that won't get me full, if that makes sense. I care about making full professor, and I want to use what benefits I have wisely toward that goal. I guess what I'm saying is this: I don't think that I should have to write a book at my institution in order to make full professor, given the fact that I have already done. That said, I'm not going to organize my career as if I don't have to do so, given the fact that this is the common past practice. So yes, I'll use my sabbatical for a book project, because it's the best insurance that I've got for getting full most quickly. That said, I'm not going to wait for the book in order to go up for full. Rather, if I think that I've done the equivalent pre-next-book, I want to be in a position where I can go up with a reasonable assurance that I will meet the full professor standard.

So. I'm fairly committed to a "next" book. I think it's a good idea, and I'm excited about the prospect of it. I'm not entirely sure what such a project is going to mean, though I do feel confident I can manage it because I've already achievced a "first" book. At the end of the day, though, I do know that a "next" book isn't me. It's just what I'm thinking about.

Sorry about the Failure to Post

All energy has been diverted to a) grading (sigh) and b) making plans for my second book, which is a necessary prerequisite to working on my application for sabbatical. Stay tuned for a real post about b) coming soon.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Crazy Eyes

I just went to the eye doctor after far too many years because I'd noticed I was holding books closer to me when I would read aloud in class.

I apparently have one farsighted eye and one nearsighted one. No, I'm not kidding.

And, in about a week's time, I shall have these glasses:

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Bombs Bursting in Air

Happy fourth of July one and all!

In my neck of the woods, illegal fireworks are king, and so the kittens and I have battened down the hatches and we will not emerge until the loud booming noises stop. (You think I'm kidding, but seriously: it's like world war three by afternoon.) I have high hopes that I'll finally tackle my closet as well as the boxes of paper that I need to shred.

In other news, my parents are coming to visit next weekend (because of the store, G. can't really leave on holiday weekends) and I think I have my next book project slowly coming together in my mind. More on all of these things when the holiday weekend is over.

Have a happy fourth!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Facebook: Some Positives

So, I've posted a bit about my ambivalence about Facebook. It's a time suck. You end up becoming "friends" with a lot of people who you never really liked very much in the first place (I'm thinking the random people from high school who I only vaguely remember) or people with whom you don't need to be facebook friends because you are real life friends with them. You can, if you allow yourself to do so, come to feel like a loser either because your status is not as interesting as your facebook friends', or, conversely, because your facebook friends' statuses are deeply lame, and if you're "friends" with these people, then you must be lame, too.

But over the past few weeks, I'm coming to see that Fb has its benefits. I've gotten back in touch with family (esp. my dad's side of the family). I've been found by my three best friends from kindergarten. I'm able to keep in touch with grad school friends more easily, as well as with former students of mine.

But the best part? I've got a friend from high school who works in the wine industry and lives in Napa Valley. And because Fb is so impersonal, it has turned me into the sort of person who has no qualms about inviting myself for a visit! At any rate, Crazy shall be going to wine country over her spring break! Huzzah!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Shaping Up to Be a Wonderful Day

Dr. Crazy's own Personal-Style Laptop was not dead! It has been revived by a colleague (whom I actually met through this here blog, which just goes to show you that it pays to reveal the real life identity upon occasion!) who deserves all manner of praise!

One of My Best Qualities: Ability to Meet (Ish) Deadlines!

So, the collection article is sent off! Hooray! I'm sure that I will need to do things to it in the coming months (for the road to publication is long and winding, and done is never done until something appears), but I sent the thing off! I am so pleased with myself! This means that I can return all of my overdue ILL books!

You know, I've written about research and publication a fair bit, but you know what I don't acknowledge enough? That one of the reasons that I have as strong a publication record as I do is that I'm good with deadlines. Now, without a deadline, I don't accomplish very much at all. Let's be real about that, first of all. But once I've got a deadline in place (whether real, as this one was, or perceived, as when a journal invites one to submit something based on a conference paper with an open-ended deadline, but clearly you need to submit it soon-ish so that they don't look at it like it's from outer space when it arrives three years later) I am very motivated to get the thing done. I can credit my humble beginnings writing for my high school and college newspapers for this, I think. See, for me, once I've got a deadline, there is just no option of not getting the thing done. And since I know that I don't do diddly squat without a deadline, I tend to put myself in positions where I've got them. And I don't really think this is a chicken and egg thing for me - I think that without deadlines I don't actually have ideas. Or not ones that I pursue anyway. I am not a person who keeps up with the scholarship in my field without it relating to something I'm working on, and I'm not a person who just has great ideas that I pursue without an end (publication) in sight. I think the deadline comes before the research for me. This may be why I've never been so stellar with the sending stuff out cold to journals or whatever.

But at any rate, I think this quality has made a huge difference for me in terms of racking up the publication lines on my cv (for publications big and small) in part because now I've developed a reputation as a person who gets things in by a deadline. When you do that, people then ask you to do more stuff because they know that they'll get the stuff from you when they need it. Or they tell other people that they should ask you to do stuff for the same reason. It's really quite something. But I suppose it also helps that deadlines don't freeze me up - rather, they actually make it possible for me to produce things. In part because I can't stand the thought of blowing off a deadline, and so that stops me from hemming and hawing (the initial part of my creative process) and gets me actually working. The ability to meet deadlines isn't a very fancy quality to have, but it is a very useful one.

See, the deadline for the essay was actually yesterday. And when I was unceremoniously awakened this morning by some idiot who was blasting country music below my window at 5:30 in the freaking morning (Loading the car for a holiday weekend jaunt? Just a jerk?), I felt a burning desire to finish the article. Well, after I thought better of my burning desire to yell expletives out the window at that person. Because I knew I didn't get it in by last night, and it was KILLING me. So, now the thing is done, and my editor was pleased to receive it, and sure, there've got to be things that could be better about it, but whatever. No point in drawing out the agony of this stage of things, when I'm sure my editor will have suggestions that I'll have to deal with later anyway.

I suspect that one of the challenges for me post-tenure will be to maintain deadlines for myself. Because the thing about the tenure-track pre-tenure is that Going Up is like it's own Huge Deadline. I'm sure that's the only reason why I got my book proposal circulated when I did, even though there technically wasn't a deadline for that. Now, no more Huge Deadline. I mean, you can really go up for full whenever you like, right? In theory the soonest I could do it would be after five or six years, but that's not a deadline really - just the point at which the window opens. I suppose I do have the deadline for sabbatical applications to start me off this year, but realistically, after that? I don't have any institution-specific deadline for like another 7 years (when I'd be eligible to apply for another sabbatical). That said, maybe I don't need to worry about this because I had no deadlines for anything this year, and all of a sudden they materialized before me, spurring me on to ever greater research productivity over the past couple of months.

Eh, whatever. For now, I am just going to bask in my conscientiousness, have some lunch, and take a shower. Life is good!

Writing, Because There's No Time Like the Last Minute

So, I'm working on polishing the invited collection article, and I have been doing so since about 5:30 AM. On the one hand, it's going fairly smoothly. On the other, god, why is this end part of things such slow going? I've been dealing with the works cited, primarily, which has been kind of annoying because I've somehow lost MLA style from my brain because my last however many projects were in various versions of Chicago. (I know, I know, use bibliographic software, but I don't trust it, really, because it always seems to fuck things up, and I'm using a lot of weird sources, and I don't tend to be very good about keeping all of my sources in my refworks anyway. I suspect that I will cross the bridge of really using the stuff when I write my next book. For indeed, I'm thinking that I'm going to start a next book project with my sabbatical. But then maybe not. I don't know. I've been doing a lot of background thinking about it, but I haven't really solidified my thoughts yet. I think my primary block about the bibliographic software is that it feels like an extra step, since I take notes longhand.) Anyway, I have high hopes that I'm going to get this final crap knocked out today and that I'll send it off and be done with it.

In other news, I don't really have much other news. I've just been teaching and trying to organize my schedule for the month of July so that I really can take three weeks off when my obligations in July are over. This is going to mean lots of productivity between now and then, though, including drafting 2 versions of a sabbatical application (to help to decide which project I really want to pursue, though I think I am leaning toward another monograph and not toward the textbook idea), working on the catalog copy for our revised major, finishing up odds and ends with research stuff, initial planning stuff (mainly a timeline) for the conference that I'm going to host in the somewhat distant future, stuff for the professional society of which I am president, getting stuff in PDF form and up onto blackboard for my new grad class, cleaning my office at work, and doing my two remaining syllabi. The idea here is that if I do all of this I shall really be able to relax through most of August, and I shall start the new semester in fine form.

I suppose I should be proud of myself that I've done about 2 1/2 solid hours of work already today, but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and like I'll never get all of my things done. Ah well. I will get all of my things done, and then I won't feel overwhelmed anymore. Annoyingly, I've also got to do some grading today, but I plan to confine that to the hour or two before class starts.

So anyway, that's the boring update from the land of Work.