Monday, July 30, 2007

Living in the 80s

You may have expected this post to be about Ingmar Bergman, as he died today, but I haven't seen any of his films. I should, though. I'll go put some on my Greencine queue, which never gets below about 380 titles and usually rests at about 400. Stupid people and their constant production of new and interesting movies and documentaries!

No, this post is much more low culture than that, about re-watching old favorites, and so I ask you, the blogosphere (blogospherians?): if you were to host an 80s movie party, what films would be absolutely necessary? Would you want a sub-theme within "80s" or would you mix it up with some variety? I'm thinking of possibly going in the direction of "lesser-known 80s comedies," like Valley Girl, and Better Off Dead, as I haven't actually seen that. There's also, in my mind, the important point that there was an 80s split, with early, new wave-style 80s being in some ways separate from big-crunchy-hair later 80s.

And I would hate to contribute to global warming/ozone hole widening so I probably would not bring out the cans of Aqua Net, but perhaps costumes would be required and/or rewarded with door prizes. That might be tough as I'm not planning a full-on "Party" party with tons of people though. But want to know a sad and shocking secret about me? With the return of the "skinny drainpipe pants" to fashion, I rooted around in my closet and found my skinny leg jeans ---- that are actually from about that time! Yes, I still have jeans from the odd fashion of wearing skinny jeans with big blazers and ballet flats --- Ooh, that reminds me of one: Can't Buy me Love.

And what would be the appropriate drink? (Ohgod, you're going to say Bartles N James, aren't you? Freakin' 80s wine coolers!) Ok, what would be the requisite non-wine-spritzer drink? Or drinks? Please tell if they need to be keyed to a specific movie.

I promise to update you all on the success and shoulderpads of said party, but actually some other travel stuff may have to come up first. But, that just gives me more time to plan the plan! So, post some fun suggestions below.

(PS, a friend is teaching right now and he says the students have absolutely no interest in the 80s or carrying the themes of the class into 80s literature ---- how shocking is that??? How can they not see the relevance of Ronnie and Thatcher, and Afghanistan, and the cold war, and Japanese businessmen trying to buy Rockefeller Plaza and what that meant to cyberpunk, and godhelpusall the effect of the Clash and post-punk??? Kids these days.)

Sunday, July 29, 2007


In my continual quest to 1) get out of my house and 2) eat tasty things, I went to a local fest-type thing ... not a county fair, not a party, not a wine tasting thing, but sorta a combination of all of the above, but small rather than big and overwhelming like the Gilroy Garlic Festival. (ooh, I've just reminded myself of that festival's existence. I totally should go. Must look it up.)

It was a lovely day and I got to eat lots of Greek food and people watch. The lines were a bit more well-run this year but I was still in the food line for maybe 30 minutes. Last year I went with friends and we got into a conversation/altercation about flaming cheese. It is my assertion that, if flaming cheese is not in fact a staple food of Greece, it was sold to me as such at a big Greek restaurant outside of LA. The people in front of us in line were actual Greek-Americans and had never heard of such a silly thing. I should point out however that they were not dressed as thin voluptuous belly dancers, nor did they dance while lifting a table in their mouths, both of which happened so frequently at the Greek restaurant I visited that we were assured it was a mark of their complete authenticity. Or something like that. Anyway.

The lack of flaming cheese and belly dancers aside, I really love this annual event, especially since I have to drive quite a way to find a Greek restaurant otherwise. I had their "special plate," which had those grape-leaf-wrapped tasty rice things (dolmas ---sp?), spanikopita, and a roast chicken the size of a small horse. Mmm tasty. I walked around and looked at all the tchotchkies for sale and then drowsed on a bench until I was hungry enough again for dessert: baklava, sweet, decadent baklava.

(no, that picture's not mine! It would take me at least two meals to eat that much baklava!)

While I waited on the bench, two people with tiny dogs proceeded to sit on the far ends of my bench and have a conversation around my head. (If the dogs' leads had been any longer I would have been ground zero for a fight or at least a butt-sniffing contest.) I would have to lean forward, then back, like we were all playing dodgeball but were too lazy to get up and run. Then the guy with the itty-bitty poodle ran into someone he vaguely knew from the hiking club and they started chatting about hikes. The new woman kept drawing me into the conversation (which had that odd, awkward quality: "You know X hike?" "Yep, went up there two weeks ago." "...You been on Y hike?" "No, I don't think so..." ... long awkward pauses all around.). Being as I'm not really good at, or fond of, polite conversation with complete strangers, I looked very confused and did a lot of smiling and nodding. Eventually it came out that she thought we knew each other. No, no, we're just complete strangers sitting on a bench. I decided this was an opportune moment to get the baklava. This whole we're-so-friendly-we-talk-to-strangers thing throws me off. Like the elderly people who say hi and then proceed to chat me up as I take a walk. Theoretically I'm all for community over the soul-sucking separateness of suburbs and gated communities, but I don't know.

On the plus side (baklava!) the people-watching is so fun at these local community events because a lot of them look like real people, and not skinny bleached betanned beplucked and beBotoxed within an inch of their lives Stepfordians. (To be fair, although body construction is the number one hobby of Southern California, to be overtly plastic and fake is So. L.A. and makes a huge class statement in this town, where most people pride themselves on having "work done" on themselves that is very subtle and hard to distinguish.) It was nice to see people who were old, or visibly middle-aged, or fat, or homely, or were wearing their pants directly under their armpits, or had a t-shirt with appliques of animals and wildflowers on them. There were also a surprising number of people with physical and mental disabilities in the crowd; I think there are some special half-way houses around here. There were also a sprinkling of the aforementioned Goldie Hawn lookalikes, but they were suitably outnumbered by us normal looking types. And when you're watching some 90-year-old grandmother with her wig askew babbling delightedly at her infant grandchild while next to her a couple of college-age girls chatter in Korean, the Stepfordians don't seem all that cool or important. It takes special days like this 'cause a regular day out on the main drag can make you think this town has no pudgy people, or poor people, that it's not 40% Latino, and that I am singlehandedly the worst dressed person in the world. But like I said, on certain days you can look normal and feel totally the richer for it.

And, like I said: baklava. Kalinichta!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Revising an article is like...

watching paint dry. To wit,

1) it is boring as all hell.
2) it is slow as all hell as well,
3) I can't make myself stay awake during either project,
4) it makes a complete mess of your room or work area,
5) if you get frustrated and jump the gun you have to do the whole damn thing over again, only this time while leaving painty fingerprints everywhere you go,
6) people's eyes glaze over when you describe either process and begin simply asking you, "is it done yet?" the first thing when they see you in the halls.
7) it's necessary, but people will only really notice and comment on it if you end up doing a bad job.

And with that people, screw the diet ---- I'm going off to eat decadent food at a coffeeshop and hope that it keeps me at least semi-alert. I had originally promised myself that I would go out to my friend's birthday party tonight if I finished. Now the goal is to get it up to everything but proofing before hitting the bar ---- I'm not going to catch any editing mistakes when I'm this lethargic.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Visionary Confidant

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Ok, I'm not sure I buy this, as I have never been an INFJ before. Or maybe I have, and just don't remember it ---- my family's the type that thinks it's fun to take these kinds of tests periodically, so I've taken it a lot. In the past, though, I frequently have come out as a INTJ, the strategist, the "natural leader" who leads from the background. (Excellent! my minions shall do my bidding for me as I stand in the shadows.)

But it's cool to have "one of the rarest personality types," to be called a Visionary (!!!!), especially since I would share the type with cool visionary-world-changers like MLK, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa ... not to mention Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So, I will take over the would through peace and justice rather than manipulating vast corporations behind the scenes or commanding armies from some underground bunker. It shall be so.

One thing's for sure, I'm definitely in that "introverted" and "judging" category ---- I think those are always consistent. It's funny that I always pick c) would rather chew my own arm off in the bear trap than make small talk at a party, and yet dissertating all alone for hours every day makes me completely wig out! Heh ........

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Random Bullets of Waiting for Caffeine to Kick in

1) Sigh.

2) Have been having trouble sleeping, I think. Day before yesterday I got to bed late after watching a cool but not very scary movie about vampires. Then, of course, I couldn't sleep. ("Ooh, I could write a much scarier vampire movie" is not a good meditation for drowsing off.) That meant yesterday I was in such a fog that I gave up and went home in the early afternoon (I should note that I did get a couple good hours out in the morning.), and I was unable to work or read all evening, and went to bed early. That meant that at about 3, and then 4, and then more permanently at 5 in the morning, I was wide awake and tossing in my bed. Now I am tired and worn out and off my sleep schedule.

3) Number 2 means, of course, that I needed a nap this morning instead of going straight off to school. I had to go put the cats on my head myself instead of them wanting to come nap with me. I tell you, it's a sad day when your own cats don't want to sleep on your head.

4) I can't tell if my room is making the sleeping worse. Can it be both stuffy and cold? Cause I was going back and forth by the minute last night, covers on and off. I don't know that the fan will help, but I might unearth it from the closet.

5) I saw the movie Goya's Ghosts over the weekend and loved it. Then I noticed in the reviews online that I was probably the only person who did like it. Either I have no taste or I just love Goya's etchings so much I would be happy with any movie based on them, whatever the quality. Maybe I'll do a later post about what I liked about it.

6) Still not done on Project freakin' 2. Where are the helpful elves who do your work when you sleep when you need them? Oh. Stupid sleeplessness --- it's messing everything up.

7) Good teaching is all about recovery, how fast you can adapt to whatever craziness explodes into your classroom and messes up all your plans (it's kinda like olympic ice skating in that way). I guess writing is all about recovery too --- let's see, how can I salvage today and get some more stuff revised? Maybe iced coffee and a cool(ish) coffee shop would help.

Ok then, time for still more caffeine! Wish me luck and don't let the cats eat the dissertation elves if they decide to come over.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Serendipity, Or, When Search Engines Work Strangely

I'm sure you've had the experience of typing in a search in your library's catalog and getting back a strange result ---- where you search every part of the entry and can't for the life of you figure out how the program pulled up this title. I just did this and found an interesting book that has none of my search terms anywhere in it, and has absolutely nothing to do with my Project 2, but I must get it out of the library all the same, because of this chapter title:

"Matthew Arnold Meets Godzilla."

(PS the book is Trash Culture: Popular Culture and the Great Tradition, and I know, I know, I should be doing my work or reading actual things related to my projects or just get off the damn internet 'cause it's not 5 yet and I should be working, but really, who can resist the title?)

(PPS if it has pictures I will surely post them.)

Update: Alas, alas, the book was not on the shelves, nor anywhere near the shelves it should be, even though it said it was checked in. If this was for my diss work I would hunt it down in all the ways I know how, but I already feel guilty for doing this much procrastinating. Considering the title I have my suspicions of who might have it stashed in a grad carrel, but how can I really email the grad listserv after posting about it on my blog?

(PS maybe I should make myself feel guilty on the way home more often --- I put in another half hour or so going through my old notes and pulling more material for Project 2.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

So, You're Heading off to Grad School, Eh?

Inspired by Tenured Radical's Ten Commandments of Moving, along with her comment that the end of summer is fast approaching (although that's not quite true for those of us on the quarter system, which starts the end of Sept. rather than Aug.), I thought I could continue in my time-honored tradition of bossing the hell out of people giving useful advice and make some suggestions for those of you who are foolish to off to grad school. (You have been warned about the crappy job market, and the exploitation of adjunct and part-time workers, and the fact that it will take about 10 years to get a Ph.D. in English despite what they tell you on the brochures, and that 50 percent of the tenure-track jobs in English these days are at the community college level teaching comp, yes? And you have figured out what this will mean for you? Ok then. Carry on.)

1) Suggestion One: Move Early. The temptation is to drag out the paying job or hanging out with friends or family visits to the very last moment, which seems smart since you'll need to store up the money and sociability like a camel preparing to cross the desert. But remember that not only moving but finding a good apartment takes time. If you get there and unpack and start orientation stuff all in a flurry right as school starts, you will not have much time to discover that your apartment is really a slum. It takes about 3-4 weeks for the cockroaches to overcome their natural shyness and really take a liking to you, their new roommate, and that will be right as your seminars go from "this is fun" to "oh, this is a lot of reading!" Likewise it will take a while for you to realize that the reason one apartment is so cheap is that it takes four bus transfers and an hour and a half to make it in to campus, or that really, living in a neighborhood the locals have nicknamed "the war zone" is just not gonna work for you. You should also think about signing a lease vs. month-to-month if it's available. Sometimes taking an extra week or two sleeping on someone's couch while apartment hunting can prevent you from making a bad apartment choice, but if you do, moving a second time during the first week of school is way easier than right when your students turn in their first batch of papers.

2) So what do you do now that you're here so early? Get to know the place. Not only will it help to learn the bus (or car) route to school, find the buildings and your mailbox, introduce yourself (perhaps several times) to the dept. secretary, and wander around the library and bookstore (ooh fun!) but you can take the time pre-school to find great little places to eat, good coffeeshops, hopefully some interesting nightlife (don't think you're going to be going out like this on a regular basis though). See, your last "vacation" days can be fun adventuring through your new place and you will feel more settled and sure of yourself when it does come time to start. Just think how much better it will be to devote a day to just getting lost and navigating terrifying, confusing freeways, for example, rather than dealing with all that and the knowledge that you are half an hour late for your first seminar.

3) But I'm deathly bored, you tell me from the patio of the only decent coffeeshop you've found here so far. I have yet to see a single grad student on campus and all my friends are across the country. Really? Brilliant! 'Cause the next step is to meet some people not affiliated with grad school. It doesn't matter how ---- volunteer somewhere, show up to the local Dems. service club, take a pottery or cooking class or just look around the park for a pickup soccer game ---- you will really appreciate having a window on the town and some people to give perspective to your life once you start grad school. Yes, you may lose these friendships if they don't understand that grad school means periodic periods of intense work followed by a much lighter schedule, but it will be so nice to talk to people who don't want to only dish about the program or talk about how miserable they are or scoff that So-and-so had no clue what cathexis was in seminar. I'm not always so good at this myself, but keeping outside friends will help keep you sane. (PS the grad students are either gone for the summer or hiding in our library carrels. You'll just have to wait until the weather changes and we come out of dormancy. You'll meet us soon enough.)

4) Besides, you have to set up your work space in addition to familiarizing yourself with the locale. If you're like me, this is too fun for it even to count as advice --- did you love getting new school supplies and smelling the erasers every fall back in grade school? Well, you get to splurge and do it again starting grad school --- all the potential! All the excitement! All the new stuff in its new crinkly cellophane! Ok, seriously, make sure you have a work space set up --- desk, table, corner, whatever. Something where you can type and write and read and work with concentration. And that's the only thing you do there. Get yourself a filing cabinet and set up your books. Figure out what supplies you will need and organize them nicely. Reading dull critical articles (or even interesting critical articles) on the couch with the tv going will not really work well. In the same vein, making constant trips to get paper and toner and whatnot or rummaging through a desk disaster area can easily become procrastination methods, bad habits you don't want to start.

5) And now that you have a work space, start working! What? No, this is grad school --- remember, the unofficial motto is "Catch up" (or "shit, that's already overdue?") and the biggest single difference between undergrad and grad school is that you have to self-motivate. I know, I know, you're already feeling lost and stupid and like a fraud and hyperventilating at the prospect of grad school. So, start small. Planning is always better than cramming. You are enrolled in classes already, right? Go see if the books are in the bookstore, or listed on the web, or email the prof. Pick a nice juicy one that seems fun to read and go find yourself a good reading spot. Sure, take a leisurely pace; have some naps. Don't bother with what comes when on the syllabus or worry about the course reader ---- even if you only read two novels early you should chortle at the joy of being ahead in the reading. Another possibility is to start reading for the class you are teaching, if you are teaching. The other important way to jump start grad school is:

6) Plan out the requirements. Do you have the grad handbook? Have you read it? Have you started to figure out the things you are required to do this year? (No, calm down, just work it on one year at a time. Small bites, ok?) If your program is anything like my program, you have a couple major projects that will be due eventually, completely separate from taking your classes and possibly teaching.
  • Qualifying or field exams.
  • A language requirement (or two).
So those language exams have really been throwing our grads for a loop the past few years. We have a translation exam and, while it you sure don't need to be fluent in any way to pass, you won't be able to pass it just knowing how to look up words in the dictionary really quickly. Trust me, you don't want to get a year behind because you keep failing the language exam and they won't let you move on to the next stage. (At our school, you can keep retaking the exam; at others, repeated fails can get you kicked out. Ask a bunch of different people at your school which is the case. And don't necessarily believe the first answer you get.) Do you have a foreign language? How well do you read it? Go buy a grammar book and a dictionary and some sample stories to practice translating or maybe some audio tapes and a CD. Even if your language requirement is passed by courses and not an exam, you have some free time right now to refamiliarize yourself with the language and it will only make things easier. If you have no language requirement: Tphhphphphphhphphphhphph! Oh, and if you're planning on becoming a med or a mod (medievalist or early modernist) I think you'll have to learn oodles of funky language crap regardless of what the "official" requirement is. Get a head start.

For the qualifying exams, you might have a required "Beowulf to Virginia Woolf" list or you might get to pick two or three historical periods. Or, you might be supposed to write your own lists with the help of your advisor. I had a general list at the place I did my MA and "fields" at my Ph.D. (If you have a fixed single list --- the "Beowulf to Virginia Woolf" --- start tracking down the material, assembling it and see how much of it you can pound through before school starts. Go for it.) But if you have historical periods or get to create your own, I'm going to actually advise you not to pick your fields right away. At my current school, the fields are (a very early) part of your professionalization. They will help declare who you "are," academically. Your fields will tell search committees what you can teach and will tell you which jobs you will apply for. The lists you choose should not be random. You'd think I shouldn't have to tell people this, but I just overheard someone in my dept. say they were doing Shakespeare and Postcolonialism and American Postmodernism, "just because they sounded fun." This person hasn't figured out what area or even what country s/he will study, which means s/he will probably have to re-take a list or two. Don't do this. A lot of grad school will be making sure you are well-rounded, but the time for being a dilettante and just reading for pleasure is over. The lists have nothing to do with pleasure and everything to do with grounding yourself in your field. You can always pick up the occasional book or sit in on your cohort's reading group in a different field. That is why I say: wait. Look at the lists and think about them very hard, but don't pick any yet. (see? it's even less intimidating this way.) Part of the point of taking all those seminars and meeting as many profs in your dept. as possible is for you to figure out (and hopefully be sure) what you want to study and when. You may discover you love something you didn't really know about before you got here. Or you may discover that what you thought you loved isn't fun to study in the way we study things in grad school. So the point of that first year is to figure out what kind of scholar you want to be, and to begin to lay a groundwork. That and get your damn translation requirement out of the way.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sisyphus’s Dissertation Diary

Day six million, one hundred ninety-seven thousand, three hundred. And two.

Dear Diary,

Chatted with Tantalus at the water cooler this morning, before my shift. How’s it moving along? he asked. Oh, you know, I said. I’ve got my routine pretty much down now.

Today I pushed the big rock up the hill. It was heavy. And I never know where to get purchase on it with my hands. It nearly crushed me when it slipped out of my grip and rolled back to the bottom. But I think I got it further up the incline this time. Better than my previous record, I’m sure.

Ixion was complaining about the heat again. Still no response to all the work orders he put in about the broken air conditioning. They’re giving me the run around, he said. Oh, cheer up, I said. It’ll get better. Why, Thanatos promised he’ll put me on the tenure track any day now, and things’ll be totally different then, I’m sure. Ixion just grunted.

Afterwards Al invited me and a bunch of the guys out for beer, but I didn’t have the coin for it. He said to tag along anyway. You’re a funny kid, Sisyphus, he told me. I like your style. He introduced me to this great guy who works in the next division over, Jean-Paul. Boy, he can talk. You’re amazing, I tell him. How do you keep that great attitude?

Well, he said after considering the dregs of his warm beer. Really, it’s all about the people.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kill Me Now

People, I am so bored. I think everyone in my town has left for bigger and better things ---- or is teaching an incredibly heavy load right now and not returning my calls (I'll ignore the nagging suspicion in my head that everyone is in town doing nothing and partying without me).

I have nothing to do except revise Project 2 into an article, which I had originally planned to be done with Friday (gasp, tomorrow!) and instead of progressing, it is turning backward as I find more and more things I really should address or fix. By the time my entire article is in bold and all the paragraphs broken, with little bracket comments to myself [no! move this over here to * stupid!], I can start over with a completely new essay. Or maybe I win a pony.

I would wish for one of those magic remote controls that allow one to fast forward parts of one's life, to get past this sense of waiting, and possibly speed through the summer teaching, but that will then get me right up into Job Season and, well, I don't want to deal with that any sooner than I have to. It occurs to me that not only am I pissy and irritated when revising, but also when writing. And usually during grading too. Tell me again why I decided I should be in this profession again?

And today I continued in my nefarious plan to remove all books from the campus library. Why do I do this? I know I will be tired and unable to cope with reading critical works (or god help me theory) at 10 pm after I've had dinner and unwound. Why do I plan to read five essay collections at home that I will need the following day back at school? For the past month I have been reading a book for the project on the bus as I go homeward. I do get a good 10-20 pages done, which is good. But I don't want to haul the book back with me (I'm certainly not going to read it in my pre-caffeinated state in the morning on the way in) which means, come the next evening, I am taking a different book back on the bus. If you come across the shelves for my time period, the library's not transferring them to another spot; I am cleverly denuding the library of books and building a simulacrum of it in my home.

So, get with the program, people! As I have told you, I had to choose between tv or internet for budget (and procrastination prevention) reasons. Some of you (not naming names but looking in, say, your direction) are slacking in your posting of funny and amusing or personal drama-type things. So, provide me with something not too difficult for my singed brain to follow and keep me entertained, chop chop.

Oh, and, got any other good virtual places to procrastinate? I know all about the lolcats and cuteness memes. I can't handle anything too depressing, so no news sites. I'm thinking zany. Or interesting shopping that I wouldn't actually buy, cause Target and I have been having too much of the torrid romance lately.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Circadian What-now?

Sigh. You would not think that it is possible to sleep in a tiny, florescent-light-buzzing cubicle with a hard chair and a hard floor (and ugly industrial carpet), would you? You would think.

Sadly, you'd be wrong. I had two naps today, and very little of the day was spent in a mental status that could be characterized as "alert." Isn't the whole point of knowing one's circadian rhythms to be able to work productively during one's "up" times? Careful attention today to my own ebbs and flows of natural and caffeine-induced wakefulness proves that, if you were to chart out said patterns, you would only see ebbs. It's like the tide is permanently out. Perhaps it is a longer-term weather pattern. Could I blame it on El Nino?

Times of sub-par productivity in this cog's life include: immediately after eating; immediately before eating; when thirsty; when drinking; when in need of a bathroom break; five minutes after any actual slice of productivity has been accomplished; any point, anywhere in the world, a blog feed has been updated; when the moon exerts gravitational pull.

The worst part is that clockwatching, as opposed to in an office job, produces absolutely no effect. Or even a negative effect. Sure, I could go home at five (ok I walked out at 4:30) but all that time spent flipping between various windows and rereading the same passages and taking bathroom breaks counts for nothing. Not only I have not, a la De Certeau's notion of la perruque,* stolen my salaried time back from my employer ---- hey, wait! I'm not even getting paid this summer! Why am I doing this? ---- but the less I finish today means the more I have to work on this project tomorrow. And that damn paper is not writing itself ---- believe me, I checked on the way back from every bathroom break.

Isn't it funny how academics practice so much self-imposed, rather than external, discipline? Especially the ones who study Marxist theory and take anti-exploitation stances on various labor topics. And yet, we're so honest. Why is it, that with so little external oversight, we have set up a system that takes to heart the worst aspects of the corporate work world: mandatory unpaid overtime, constant immersion in our work topics without regard to vacation or mental time off, academic speedups in terms of the ratcheting up of tenure requirements, the increasing difficulty and complexity of our research itself, and the increasing use of a "casualized labor force," i.e. poorly-paid adjuncts with little to no job security? If we're so smart, why didn't we set up a scam to freeload off the system? You know, like how corporate executives make millions sitting on each others boards and voting each other stock options and retirement packages, "promoting up" the occasional colleague who gets caught not doing any work. And what do we do? We deny each other tenure based on ever-rising standards we ourselves often have not met. And our solutions for improving the system involve even more work, i.e. organizing, rather than, say, a general strike. No wonder the "tenured radicals" haven't been asked to leave the building. We're excellent role models for teaching corporate underlings how to internalize the proper work ethic. (And before you come down on me I admit I'm one of the worst of the lot; my classes are like boot camp.)

I don't know where I'm going with this; really I feel as if I should be manning the barricades after that outburst, but I also just ate dinner. So I shall decide between going back to my ILL reading or taking yet another nap.

*The above linked site has the best and most concise definition of la perruque I could find (why is this concept not on De Certeau's wikipedia page?), and furthermore, I couldn't quite tell if the article was a spoof or not; please enlighten me.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


(Hey, it's a word for when it's both humid and polluted out ... what, stop snickering! It is.)

I am pleased to announce that Cool Scientist Friend is back! I was feeling vaguely unloved because she hadn't responded to my phone message, and was wondering if she had been lost on a field expedition and I'd have to go find her (lotsa luck there). But no, she was in Europe and her cell did not work there.

Of course, I was not in Europe, nor do I get to jet off to see exciting vistas on the university's dime. Sigh. Neither am I presenting my brilliant research at an overseas conference and then touring the wine country of France, as is my Dissertation Buddy. Stupid people with reasons to go to the Continent! I'll show you! I'll ... write my chapter, dammit! That'll teach ya! Sigh.

Not that I'm sure I'd want to change my lot with Cool Scientist Friend, though. She's very cool, and smart, and has great politics (we met through cool political stuff, although we first spoke at the school bus stop because she was reading --- if I remember correctly --- Bukowski). But, having interests outside of a very narrow scientific range and having progressive politics and, oh, you know, being a girl, all combine to cause trouble for her in her department and make her feel like she doesn't fit in. It's so great to have friends in academia but outside your discipline, because our conversations make me really aware of the positives and negatives of study in the humanities. I may not get, you know, money, or summer fellowships, and have to teach, unlike some of her colleagues who have yet to step out of a lab and teach something, but I am reminded of how much in other ways I am in a wonderful and protective little bubble, particularly in regards to gender. Case in point? Cool Scientist Friend was one of maybe 10 women at this huge international conference that lasted a week, most of whom were younger than she was ---- a sign that change is only barely moving up through the ranks. One woman who was presenting on a panel was introduced with, "And here is the speaker ---- oops, I should say, speakeress, now!" Gahh. And Cool Scientist's Friend's department brings in one woman candidate every year they have a job search (they have yet to bring in anybody nonwhite, including Asian, the whole time she has been here --- Russian is their closest move toward diversity) ---- and they refer to each year's woman candidate as "the woman," including to her face, throughout the search. And then, of course, don't hire her.

So, I'm pretty glad not to have to deal with that. Not only do I have women role models in our dept (it being about half women on various levels of the tt), but I have at least four different styles of crazy to choose among. A recently graduated member of my dept. once made the argument that the effort of blazing a trail through misogynist male departments back in the 60s (even 70s and 80s) kinda warped a lot of the women profs, making them decide that they either need to destroy the women grad students who seem most like them, as potential threats, or treat them harshly and "haze" their students to make sure that, no matter what happens to you out in the real world, you can take it because you've survived worse here (that last is verbatim from my advisor, btw). But we have a couple profs who manage to combine 1) sanity, 2) decent productivity, 3) personal lives and 4) niceness, so I think us future profs have a high chance of getting out not much more crazy than how we came in.

Cool Scientist Friend had a woman advisor ---- only woman in the department ---- who combined the worst aspects of the sabotager and the hazer, who then died in the middle of her project (actually, somewhere between the MA thesis and diss prospectus). Now she is working for the Kindly Old Men committee, who are supportive if a constantly a little startled that she is, still, a woman, and wouldn't it be politer to just get over that identity and be "normal," i.e. a white male? I think she will make it out without becoming crazy, but she's not going on to be a prof --- she has already decided she's not worth it and not capable, and really I can't undo years of an evil advisor's training. Luckily, scientists can go into industry, or, what I'm really hoping, politics, where someone who appreciates both Bukowski and Lenin can really get in there and do some good boring from within.

But I didn't want to talk about that! I wanted to say that Cool Scientist Friend called me and we had a lovely, if smuggy, day where we got sandwiches and then went to the beach and caught up with each other. There were stupid tourists everywhere, but other than that it was a lovely day. Heading back we got thirsty from all that inability to sweat and had to stop off for drinks --- wine for me, a mojito for her --- and we talked the whole afternoon away. She still has to show me pictures, and I still have a pile of books and clippings ('cause, yes, I am a dork, and yes I am also turning into my mother) to show her. But she's back! And she brought cheap Grappa and turkish cigarettes! The fun is just about to be starting here in Cogsville! At least until she has to go out into the field again. But still, good times!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"In the Pipeline"

As you all may know, I am leaping headfirst into The Summer of Progress and Productivity, 2007 edition. I was looking over my summer to-do list and making preliminary plans when an email caught my eye (note to self: you still need to clean out the inbox too). It was an email from a conference I had been to earlier this year, reminding me that the deadline for next year’s conference was fast approaching. This reminded me that I haven’t finalized anything for my other conference, which is soon, and from there I made the brilliant deductive (or is it inductive?) leap that there were other conferences in the world, some of which I really want to go to but haven’t been with-it enough to apply for, and that these deadlines, likewise, are either immanent or immediately past, unless they are long past, at which point it’s pretty much moot.

And combined with these submission deadlines is the problem that I haven’t got new material, having just presented or submitted what I do have. So I need to not only try to publish things but think ahead about a year while writing abstracts and figure out what I will be working on or finished with then so that what I need to write and my conference deadlines actually have something to do with each other. This leads me to only one conclusion:


Seriously, how do you manage long-term academic deadlines? On top of, or perhaps I should say, completely separate and independent of, teaching deadlines, academic calendars and the tenure clock, there are all these conference and publication timelines which seem to require more than just juggling (as if there was any “just” to that ---- I still can’t juggle even with a Juggling for Dummies book). The process of submission, revise-and-resubmit, the slow turning of the millwheels of publication under which all is ground to dust (sorry; I never can resist hyperbole), the strategic thinking three steps ahead of the game to always have something “in the pipeline” for every stage of research and publishing ---- this seems to require a different sort of metaphor.

Except I'm not at all sure whether the position I'm in here is that of the player, or of the ball.

(and I thought cogs had it bad. This is the stuff of nightmares.)

It seems to me, as I attempt this research-writing-conferencing-chapter finishing-job market (again) process, that this all seems similar to firing off some pinballs and watching them ping their way through the system, eventually dropping back to me (with a revise and resubmit, perhaps, a rejection more likely) to be caught and shot back out with a well-timed flip of a paddle before they drop into the Gutter of Oblivion.

But instead of simply pulling the plunger to propel another ball out of the chute, I have to hand-carve a new one first, all the while not taking my eyes off the various strange little objects pinging and ringing up at the top end of the playing field. Oh, and standing up in front of a class, teaching, simultaneously. How the hell am I supposed to do this?

Ok, this is too over-the-top; this metaphor is completely inappropriate. I actually know some people who can publish, and there are books in my library, further proof that this sort of balancing is possible. When I describe it this way it sounds as though no mere human could accomplish this. Maybe it gets easier with practice? Heh, yeah, but they said the same thing with juggling and most of the sports I've tried.

I'm just the opposite of a multi-tasker; I really can do only one thing deeply at once (maybe two if one of those is teaching a class I've done before. I'm pretty good about not letting teaching eat my life like some of my dedicated colleagues who throw their heart and soul into teaching and then get kicked out of the program cause they haven't produced a chapter in 10 years.) But this whole planning out a year so that I'm writing and knowing where to send stuff out (or back out) and lopping off other stuff to send to conferences, well, it just kinda overwhelms me. And, I'm not sure I should say it out loud, but you can see it in my CV if you look carefully; there are "writing" years where I get chapters done, and there are other years where I get "professional" things done. Yeesh. I don't wanna even confront it. Anybody got any good advice?

If you're a grad student or prospective grad student, the only advice I've got is: you need to be able to constantly see and plan grad school in year increments. Further on you seem to have to plan in even larger time frames than that.

(PS please stop by photographer Kevin Tiell's fine page and order some of his gorgeous prints so I don't feel bad about snagging them. I never knew that fan clubs for restoring old pinball tables existed, or that I loved the look of retro tables, before I wrote this post.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Ok, I know I have sworn to myself not to check my email, blog, or bloglines while in the library, but I feel justified --- or at least I don't care --- because of this very important announcement to make:

I sent it off! Yippee! Yahoo!

The article, that's what! I have officially submitted and now only await the future crushing defeat of rejection. But that's all in the future and I am a presentist kind of person, so: Yaaaaaay! I have submitted my article!

Its kinda sad not to be able to post a picture of a nice official and important looking manuscript envelope, but the upside is that it is much faster to send it electronically. Yes, now, even now, my article is broken up into a gajillion little pieces and, like Mike Teevee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is whizzing along above your very heads. Hmm, maybe I need to take a memorial photograph of my mouse button, clicking on the all-important "Send."

Or I could go back to work. Your choice. I don't feel like actually doing anything else today, but I still have a long long list of Stuff for Summer (and job market) (shh! we don't say those words around here.). Maybe I will treat myself to a fancy coffee and then see if I can trick myself into doing some work.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Junk Mail I Don't Need to See...

This came in the mail today. Inside (you know I had to look as soon as I decided to blog this) there is a blurb that tells me I could WIN a pre-paid cremation in their monthly drawing if I just fill out the enclosed form today.

I think I'll wait.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Not much of import has been going on recently at Chez Cog, save for a recent incident where my cats, mighty hunters that they are, tracked a large wild spider.

Here is said spider, intrepidly trekking across the white wasteland of my ceiling. You'll have to trust me that, in real life, it looked like a nice fat spider and not a blurry blob.

My cats tried everything in their vast arsenal of attacks. They tried meowing at it.

They tried standing on their hind legs. They tried jumping. They tried to enlist the help of furniture (spider is the tiny blot in the upper right of the pic below).

Eventually the spider made its way across the ceiling to hide in the molding at the other side, and my cats went and slept on my head instead.

Like I said, the fun never stops. Now I must decide whether to do dishes or copy edit my article.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Conferences: Getting the Word Out, Cog Style

So Acephalous is drumming up audience members at his next panel, wanting a crowd, but anyone who's been involved in politics knows that crowds, like any event, don’t just happen --- it takes organizing. There are also a lot of studies demonstrating that an online appeal, like email, is nowhere near as effective as face-to-face contact at changing minds or getting turnout. So, with that in mind, I decided to come up with the top ten best ways to guarantee yourself a crowd at your next presentation panel.

10. Phonebanking. If it works for political campaigns and the AFL-CIO, imagine what it can do for you. Get a phone list of your organization, write up a short pitch for attendance and press all your friends into calling for 3-hour shifts every evening for a month or two before the conference. Or splurge and get one of those “robo-callers.” If you can convince people to donate money as well, so much the better.
9. At the other end of the spectrum, if you just want bodies in the room, you can follow the time-honored American tradition of hiring substitutes. Perhaps you'll follow the lead of our Representatives and corporate lobbyists who hire homeless black men to wait in line for Congressional committees (scroll way down, it's a long --- but good --- article).
8. If you’re a man, try disguising yourself as Al Gore. If you’re a woman, it may take more effort to pull it off. But whatever works!
7. Pay your friends to circulate through the conference crowds, passing out buttons with your panel information on them (if you want the subtleties of viral marketing, you can have them just talk about your brilliance).
6. Slip an “errata” page into all the programs at the registration desk that says the Norton’s free wine bar has been moved to your room and time slot. Be prepared to shout your paper while standing on the top of the podium, brandishing a wine carafe.
5. Post a sign on the door that reads Book Sale ---- Clearance. All Paperbacks 70% Off.
4. Kidnap passers-by from the hallways at knifepoint and force them all inside the room (you may or may not want to use the ski mask. I would suggest you definitely don’t use the leather mask.)
3. Tape a copy of your panel listing (maybe with stars and arrows on it) above all the urinals and women’s toilets (don’t forget to put the ladies’ signs on the stall doors instead).
2. Have swimsuited beauties (of whatever gender you choose) stand outside the door carrying “Live Live Nude Nudes” signs. (PS --- there's that really famous sign off of --- shit, I don't remember, Sunset? --- how is it I can't find any pictures of it on the web?)
1. Traverse the halls dressed in costume as Nero, preferably on a litter or throne or something like this with people parading in front of you casting rose petals and blowing trumpets to herald your passing. While this tactic might be the most effective, it is also most risky; if someone else shows up in the same Nero costume, all you’ll hear is, “God, it’s those obnoxious Nero people again. Isn’t everybody going as Nero this year?”

This is at least partly inspired by my first semester teaching ever, which was also my first time presenting at a conference (on-campus, a graduate conference). I let my students out early so I could attend and told them what was going on. One student promised he'd get everyone in my class to show up in the back of my audience painted in the school colors, flashing pom-poms and spelling out my name in initials on their bare chests ("Sis-y-PHUS! Sis-y-PHUS!"). It's a nice thought, diminished unfortunately by some creepy behavior of his that kept trying to breach the teacher-student boundaries, but whatever.

It taught me I should think big when it comes to making conference plans.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Another Brilliant Attempt at Productivity Backfires

Ok, I should begin by looking on the bright side and point out all the things I did accomplish today: I got my swim card and went swimming, for example. I only did a half workout because it has been ... oh, I haven't swum all this year. Huh. For some reason I was on a permanent "it's March" thing lately, refusing to believe that time passes; I forgot we're halfway through 07 (the California weather helps with that effect). Which means it's been 6 months at least since working out. Ouch. With this kind of backsliding, my goal is to get into the water, and then get in the water again on Wednesday. No need to overdo it on the startoff.

After swimming I did indeed work on chopping down my article for the rest of the morning. It is coming along, bit by little bit. And then after lunch my brain melted and I wanted a nap. (yes, I did take a short nap in the grad lounge. shhh.) But still being melty and unable to concentrate on cutting or fixing the bolded parts of my article, I did a whole buncha' crap: errands, mailed some stuff, fixed grading snafus, sent emails to Important People, did summer teaching paperwork, etc. I'm thinkin', great! Crossed stuff off the to-do list and made it through my early-afternoon low period! I am brilliantly productive and will undoubtedly finish my dissertation, next three books, and solve world hunger within the week. Maybe two.

With the help of an iced coffee (oh sweet nectar of the gods!) I began to perk up and have actual thoughts running through my brain. I might even be able to work, I thought, so I printed out half my article to look at some bolded spots. I have about ten bolded little fix-it places, and about another ten that need recasting ---- these are sentences that make sense, on some subliminal level, but have eight million dangling clauses and 17 different forms of punctuation, and possibly change from active to passive voice as well. Hell if you've read any of my other blog posts you would recognize the style immediately.

Things are going well, I'm in a good mood, I have half a coffee to go --- hey, I think. I should do this outside, it's such a beautiful day. Oh, look, there's that view over there; I should go look at it. So I do. It is a very nice view and I am in part sun, part shade. I fix a big tangled bolded passage and clarify the section. So I notice that there is also a walking path. I'm going to walk along that little path, I think to myself, as a reward. I'll follow it down to the Big Beautiful View over there and then circle back around to the library. Off, like a stupid person, I go.

Well I walk along the path, I see the view and the joggers loping past, and I continue further down another path. Except this path takes me far off along the edge of campus and appears to be a nature preserve, and maddeningly, the path takes me further and further from where I want to go. Each fork I take that appears to lead back to civilization instead sends me off in strange side directions. --- What, you've been there how many years and you got lost on campus? You ask. Well, no. That's the worst part. I could see the student center, and a little beyond that, the other main buildings, the whole time. Like mirages on the horizon they kept bobbling along to the right or left as I faced them, but never came closer. And this is a "don't trample the native grasses" place so I can't just take off cross-country towards them, though I thought about just striking out through the fields of burr-filled plants and swimming across that big ditch anyway, until I remembered that I had my backpack with the laptop ---- don't want to ruin that. In truth, I hadn't really ever forgotten that I had the backpack, as by now I was getting hot and sweaty and annoyed and the laptop was getting heavier by the moment.

Eventually the path connects up to a service road and I take it the direction that points directly towards the student center. But it immediately doubles back and soon I am on the nature path again. After a long long trek I regain the same point on the service road. This time I go the other direction and get dumped out, at last, on a side street off campus into the local town. Now I am beyond grumpy. Screw it, I think, and I start back to my car. I'm going home, dammit. Once at the car I realize that I have circumnavigated the entire campus. Accidentally. Dammit! The whole debacle took an hour. And the worst part is that I was never lost ---- the whole time I knew where I was, I just couldn't get where I wanted to go. I really need a teleporter.

So, the moral of the story is: don't try to do your dissertation work in exotic and beautiful locations! Stick to the sensory deprivation chambers in the library. Ah well ---- I've been out of dissertating practice, what with all that relaxing at the parents'. Best to ease back into these things slowly.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

No fog, just little cat feet

Isn't it the cutest thing ever? By the way, none of my friends have actually seen Timido in all his fuzzy glory. They think he's a figment of my imagination. But you have! Consider yourselves special.

Very important napping is going on here. So important that he makes little chittering noises as he sleeps.

Finally I leave you with a self portrait, taken while relaxing outside my parents' house.

Do my ankles always look that fat or is it just the angle? Anyways, sorry I didn't remember to take pictures of, you know, interesting stuff. Maybe I will remember to actually take my camera out with me next time.