Thursday, August 30, 2007


It has been so long since I saw rain I have almost forgotten what it's like. My cats, for example, had never experienced rain, much less thunder and lightning, before last night, so understandably they were pretty freaked out. Timido is still under the couch as of right now, which makes it close to 24 hours. I've moved his food within smelling distance and hope that will coax him out ... and I am not thinking about whether he has needed a litter box yet. (Denial is a wonderful thing.)

It was good to feel cool wet air --- air that smells like rain and not humidity, because they are nothing alike to smell --- and I loved that a chill breeze had blown up for me to enjoy. There was the ever-so-soft pattering sound of rain --- scattered and patchy, of course, and it stopped quickly as would be expected for semidesert California. And then the lightning flashes began.

Began, but no sooner had I seen the huge flash but there was a sound like an echoing explosion. The cats were astounded; even I was frightened. As a kid I had taken a bus tour of the Grand Canyon rim with my family and lightning struck a tree about 20 feet from us. It was so cool: at that distance, the entire sky and all the air around you lights up a ghastly purple, there's a more intense spike of purple jagging down from the clouds and then, with a boom!, suddenly a huge gnarled cottonwood tree near you is completely ablaze. One thing I miss about the West (as opposed to the California West) is the constant thunder and lightning, and random rainstorms that last about a half hour every afternoon at 4. And "sunstorms," when one side of the street is being rained and lightninged-on but the other side is dry and cloudless and sunny. Trippy!

So I thought I knew from thunderstorms. But these lightning strikes scared me! Maybe I'm in a canyon of buildings and it echoes a lot, I thought. Then I heard sirens. Then I heard about 20 times the sirens, and they weren't stopping but getting ever closer. And then I smelled, over the rain, a charred, dirty burning that you get when you're burning something way bigger than a campfire. Or, I thought, the lightning really did hit something, very close. Ugh, there certainly have been a lot of fires lately ---- if the town isn't going up in flames it's my street.

So I went outside to the "balcony" ---- ie the little pathway all our front doors open out on ---- and saw a neighbor who is never around. "It's close; something around here got hit. I smell rubber burning." He peered over the railing and lit a cigarette.

"Wow. Crazy. That must be 10, 12 sirens. Did it hit the hospital or what?"

Just like last time I went and wandered, looking for signs I'd need to pack up my cats and evacuate. The rain was barely a mist now, but chilly. I couldn't see any signs that it was burning down our street so I went back inside and hoped that the rain or perhaps firefighters would put it out, or at least warn me somehow before my dry-as-tinder old apartment complex was in danger.

(I found out today that it hit an electrical transformer and started a fire ---- and yes it was very very close, so my cats and I feel slightly justified in our bestartlement. --- ps that is now officially a word.)

Except for the whole terrified-cat-permanently-under-the-couch thing, I'd love for us to see more thunderstorms, or heck, at least a little rain since we're in a drought even by California standards. But then I'd be confronted with the problem of what to wear when teaching, like today ---- how do you dress for cloudy, 88 degree weather with high humidity and a 20% chance of more thunderstorms?

I went with go-go boots and a miniskirt. Maybe there's something to that whole undergrad fashion of Uggs and daisy duke shorts after all. Nah, I'd never admit it.

Update: I went out to dinner and see people for drinks last night and when I came back the cat was out from under the sofa and demanding to be fed. So all is well. At least, as long as I don't think about what might be under the couch.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Nuh-uh! Job Market Season Is So NOT Soon

This exercise in denial and self-deception brought to you by Dissertation Buddy, the letter X, and the number 3....

Dissertation Buddy: So my advisor was looking at a draft of my job letter and mentioned that the MLA JIL will be out very soon.

Me: Yes, but not for quite a while.

DB: Oh. The end of September?

Me: I think it goes live on the web site on Sept. 15.

DB: So it is very soon.

Me: What is?

DB: When the job list comes out.

Me: No, we've got quite a while yet.

DB: No, that's just a couple weeks.

Me: (sticking fingers in ears) La la la la la la la I can't hear you! Tra la la neener neener.

DB: Ah. Denial much?

Me: (taking fingers out of ears) It ain't just a river in Egypt baby!

. . . . .

So, I guess that soon I will have to deal with the impending job search as it is approaching Market Season. You can tell because the light is changing, the days are starting to get shorter and the Crazy Loons advanced graduate students are migrating back to their autumnal resting grounds to begin a most bizarre and stressful courtship process. Hybrid creatures all, the Advanced Graduate Student's courtship (which much be carried out successfully before molting and becoming an Assistant Professor) involves a gathering of materials similar to the squirrel's hoarding of nuts, an intricate dance of dizzying complexity, and a truly wasteful process of attrition, with only one survivor actually completing the entire process compared to the hundreds of unsuccessful candidates. Strap yourselves down, folks, 'cause this blog's about to go on one hell of a crazy ride!

(Um, ok, maybe in light of the last post I shouldn't be ordering people into restraints ... Oh, hell. Just give me a job already, ok?)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Foucault's Doohickey

I noticed upon viewing my sitemeter stats that at least 5 or 6 people have come to my site from a search for “Foucault” and “doohickey” or some combination thereof. Is it special doohickey season, or the man’s birthday or something, that prompted this veritable run on Foucauldian doohickeys, not to mention thingamabobs? And was this really what you were looking for? (did somebody write something about my site or link to it that people are trying to find? Who’s talking behind my back? Ok, end paranoia.) Well, far be it from me to disappoint my readers or searchers ---- I shall, indeed, give you Foucauldian doohickeys!

First of all, I should point out that if you want an experiment that will demonstrate the rotation of the earth, you’re looking for a pendulum named after the French physicist Leon Foucault, who is not the Foucault you will be finding here. However, Foucault’s pendulum is quite pretty and fun to watch, so here is a Foucault pendulum in action at the “Musée des arts et métiers” … at least for a few seconds before the bored camera-wielding tourist starts looking around.

Here, have a still photo of a Foucault’s pendulum too:

…as you can see they look quite nice, especially when there’s an elegant gold plumb-bob and fancy compass rose inlaid in the floor. If you go look for more pictures, you’ll notice that lots are in beautiful classical or gothic archways with naves and pilasters and architectural details and things. Mmm, architectural details! Tasty! (Can you tell I grew up in the Western US in the 70s? Square white boxes of rooms, people! The “mile grid” and International Modernism and all that puke! I will go off on this favorite rant of mine in a later post, don’t you worry.)

Anyway, if you’re here for truly Foucauldian doohickeys you know that these pretty science toys are not the real deal and you are waiting for me to bust out with some implements of torture, for some good-old-fashioned Discipline and Punish. Aw yeah. Because this blog is not all about the physics of the earth’s rotation, nor, really, about the novel by Umberto Eco, which I haven’t read but I heard it was nice; no, this is a blog for poststructuralist theory, the hardcore, straight-up-no-chaser kind. Especially that by Michel Foucault, French philosopher, historian, and social critic. And I will deliver:

Ohhh, yeah. Isn’t it so … gridded? Doesn’t it give you that little frisson as you contemplate all areas of your life being quantified and squeezed into those little tiny spaces? What? What!?!? That wasn’t what you were looking for? What the hell! Maybe you want something a little more gender specific? Ok, here’s a favorite:

Now there we go… you’re right. You need to bring together a whole arsenal of implements to really get the effect of the power/knowledge system. Some people say the medical gaze is best, but I say the fashion gaze gets that gridding and standardizing and melds it with an internalized Panopticon! Speaking of, have some actual Panopticons:

You’ll note that the internal view is from a contemporary prison in Spain and the external view is from Los Angeles, where they have the largest jail in the world. I love me some Panopticons!

What is your problem? These aren’t implements of torture? They’re not sexy enough? You were thinking something a little more BDSM? Oh. Well, I blame the American translation. See, Foucault’s book in French is called Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, which links back to surveillance, not torture, and his claim is that society threw out all that flashy, spectacular, sexy torture stuff for shit that would be more effective. (I gotta say, I love the guy, but his History of Sexuality, vol. 1 was pretty much the least sexy book I have read. Where were the body parts and the desires? It was all about the diffuse and anonymous workings of power, and how power was to be defined.)

So if you want the bondage and the sadism and the masochism, honey, actually, you’re going for the child’s play. The froofy cocktail with fruit and umbrellas, rather than the straight shot of Everclear that is a timetable. S&M is actually about the stylization, the overtheatricalized performance, of modern workings of power. The more showy, and less effective, dramatization of power compared to the internalization of the Panopticon, both in terms of cost and in pervasiveness. Why spend all that money paying a torturer and inspectors, who can’t be everywhere, and need, you know, pensions and health plans and all that shit, when we can implement a system whereby citizens police themselves and their other citizens! Who better to become a jailor than the prisoner herself? She’s always there already!

But that’s what’s so great about the Bush administration; after hundreds of years of replacing the inefficient old systems of torture and spectacular power with more seamless, integrated, standardized systems of rationalized time and space and regulation of docile bodies, they’re bringing sexy back! They said, tomato, tomahto, why do we have to choose between the great taste of rationalized corporate control on the one hand and the less filling of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib on the other; postmodernism is about both/and! We can have it all! In fact, the very spectacular, flashy nature of torture and all the emotional buttons it pushes can serve as a wonderful distraction from the increasing ratcheting up of pervasive, anonymous power; the largest prison system in the world, the disappearance of undocumented workers or Muslims, stifling of political dissidents, the massive transfer of wealth through mergers, corporate welfare, and the simultaneous unraveling of the social safety net, the atomization of American culture into libertarian-esque hyper-consumerism…

Ugh. I think I made myself sick. Even I can’t handle mainlining that much crap.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I have rocks in my head

I have made it through another week of teaching my intensive summer class (to all you who are starting fall semester: Haha! Neener neener! I have three more weeks of summer session and then, I think, two more weeks before FQ begins. Take that, people who all crowed about being done in May! Ok, kidding.)

The problem with summer teaching (ok , there are many problems, and money is probably more pressing than exhaustion, but what the hell) is how worn out I get and how it becomes The Class That Ate My Life --- leaving me too exhausted to do my diss work or anything fun and relaxing beyond staring slack-jawed at various blogs and mindless websites, too burnt to even post my own ramblings most of the time. You'd think I'd go relax on the beach or see a movie, but I can barely pull myself off the couch to heat up some dinner. You know, if I had a lot more money and was more photogenic, I could afford to check in to rehab for my "exhaustion," or afford the substances our paparazzi teens have been using that produced their said "exhaustion," but, when one is a grad student, one cannot afford the Betty Ford, nor does anyone care if she's tuned in or checked out, so whether or not us cogs suffer from exhaustion is a moot point. Subaltern cannot speak, and when she does, no one cares, and all that. (Dean Dad was musing on "exhaustion" the other day, and this is my half-assed response.)

However, I may have some additional health problems that are exacerbating said exhaustion, and they sure as hell don't include going for three days on only lettuce and Special K. A few years ago I had strange, horrible dizzy spells that seemed caused by nothing ---- just out of the blue I'd turn my head and feel the overwhelming urge to puke. Rolling over in bed felt like I was on the boat in A Perfect Storm or watching The Blair Witch Project. After figuring out that this was not morning sickness (whew!) but also wasn't any normal flu or food poisoning, I finally went to student health, sure I had some mysterious and rare cancer or brain tumor.

In a way, what I had was worse, as it's not treatable and is one step up from complete psycho-somatic malingering. My dr. told me I had labyrinthitis ---- that I had calcium buildups inside my inner ears (who knew!) and sometimes these break off and float through the liquid in the inner ear; you know, the stuff that sloshes around as you move and you use it to keep your balance. Swishing a rock around in your inner-ear juice produces the same effect, to your brain, as riding a crazy roller coaster or turbulent airplane. Yes, I was getting travel-sick off the mere act of rolling over in bed ---- and I certainly wasn't doing anything exciting in bed otherwise, more's the pity.

"Eventually these deposits dissolve on their own," the doctor told me. "There's no way to treat it except wait it out." When I pointed out that I was constantly waking myself up at night and having to fight off nausea (except for the one horrible time I did not fight it off successfully --- your body doesn't know the difference between real seasickness and inner-ear-imbalance queasiness; it'll puke either way), she shrugged and wrote me a prescription. "I thought there's nothing you can do about this," I protested (well no, I gladly took the paper). "There's not; this will just make you not care," she replied. I looked at it, hoping for some Valium or something they popped in Valley of the Dolls; it was Dramamine.

Sigh. If I had any cred in this world it probably dissolved when I told my friends that the simple act of rolling over in bed could incapacitate me. I'm just not cut out for the high life, I guess. This is another of those "my god how could you live outside the protective bubble of grad school" injuries that nonacademics like to mock, like paper cuts.

And why would I bring all this up now? Well, the last time I had labyrinthitis, even turning my head, much less rolling over, made me sit bolt upright and grab for the bucket. But I think that I'm having a much less severe version right now that is messing with my sleep. I think it's enough to disturb my sleep at night, but not to actually wake me up fully, and is adding to the feeling of exaustion and why I feel like I haven't gotten any sleep when I get up in the morning (which is why both Wed. and today involved going back to bed and not doing any work at all --- well, I have high hopes for this afternoon, as I don't have to teach and should be alert by then). So, I have a plan, being a great one for plans:

I'll keep you posted how it goes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Eating Strange Things

Ever have one of those days where you're quite hungry and having a meal doesn't quite make you feel finished? And so you eat a little something else here, and there, and suddenly you think about it and realize you just had one of the strangest extended meals ever?

Today I got home and was quite hungry. And tired. And thirsty (this is post-summer teaching, remember). So I drank the last of the fizzy flavored water and popped a veggie burger in the oven. And got out all the burger fixin's. And, since it was going to take a little while to cook, I rinsed off the raspberries I bought yesterday and ate them all. (yum.)

All well and good; you don't want your fresh raspberries sitting around getting old, do you? But I was still hungry, so I had some olives. Because they were there in the fridge. And then a pickle, since I was slicing up pickles for the burger anyway. And then I ate the other half of the tomato remaining from what I was going to put on the burger.

Then I had the burger, complete with tomato slices, ketchup, pickles, and lettuce. Oh, and a bun. Seems pretty normal so far, eh? So I ate the rest of the salad mix too (if you buy it in a bag and just dump it on the burger it's way faster to make.) Then I got out some carrots and celery and salad dressing, even though I didn't have any more salad leaves, because the salad mix had put me in the mind for salad.

But after the salad-free salad, and some more olives, and a couple crackers, I realized, what I really wanted was chocolate. But I don't have chocolate in the house, so I made some popcorn. Because those two tastes are obviously the same, aren't they? No, actually, they are not, and neither was the strawberry popsicle I had after that. And the juice I drank to get all that saltiness out of my system wasn't filling. At this point, I'm starting to run out of edible food in the house even though I went to the grocery store yesterday ---- I could soak some rice and beans, or eat a raw eggplant, or ---- I went back to the pickles. I'm also eyeing the last crumbs of parmesan cheese that I didn't finish when I had pasta the other day.

At this point, I start to realize that if you had put all of those things on a plate together I would have been pretty put off. What's next, sardines? Actually ... no, stop it!

Ok, that does it. It got cold, so I won't go to the corner ice cream place; I will instead trek upstream back to the supermarket and get me some real chocolate.

Who knows what the hell else I'll bring back.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Psychoanalytic Construction Company?

"Lack Management" ---- I hear they're good but they never finish ...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I have too many clothes

Periodically, I worry about this (the clothes-having) or even plan to not shop for a specified amount of time, but even then I still buy an item here, an article there. Frequently I am moved enough to envision going through my clothes and actually give some to goodwill or something, but never enough to go through with it (it's as if the mental effort of sorting and planning was enough to cure me of my intentions. You know, dieting works the same way for me.)

With this summer class, however, I was inspired to wear nice skirts, and so I delved deep into the back of my closet (which runs the width of my bedroom although there is only a tiny slot door to access it, meaning that anything that is not the five items directly in front of the door is completely inaccessible) and re-emerged with a treasure trove of stuff I didn't really remember I had. Certainly not at the moment when I'm getting dressed, anyway.

The nice thing about swimming regularly is that I'm no longer using my shower at home (the downsides include having to get two sets of everything bathroom-related or else you'll find yourself at school and the conditioner at home; also, there's the problem of running into everyone you know and having them see you, unshowered and schlobbily dressed, on the early bus). But besides avoiding cleaning, this means that I can use the shower rod as an impromptu clothes rack and actually see my skirt selections. So as I've been teaching I've also been slowly assessing my collection. I've tossed four non-fitting skirts into the giveaway pile so far (that closet, in the living room, is directly under the apartment stairs and is no higher than about four feet at any point. It's a cute place, but not closet-convenient.) and one skirt that fits but I reluctantly decided was looking a little too well-loved. Another, that I haven't worn for years because it didn't fit, lo and behold, did, (yay swimming!) so I wore it and am keeping it despite the fact that I will probably not fit in it the next time I get the urge to parade about in it.

Of course, it feels strange to have five black skirts, but each is a different texture and length, so I'm tempted to not get rid of any. And I have a couple beautiful satin (silk? dunno) skirts that are ankle length, holdovers from when I was trying to "dress old" because I was younger than many of the students I was supposed to be teaching. They're pretty colors, but possibly too out of style. (Side note, I have a pair of jeans that still look perfectly new, because they are high-waisted, tight and uncomfortable. And they made me feel self conscious because they are skinny-legged. First I wouldn't toss them because they were in perfect condition, now I feel obligated to keep them because the fashions have swung all the way around to them again. Instead of feeling prescient I only feel old.)

This experiment has been fun and so today I was inspired to go through my drawer full of shorts. Many many did not fit, and I have known that for years. Of course, leaving them there in the bottom of the drawer until you forget all the psychic anguish you fought when you were struggling to still fit in them is one way of getting beyond it enough to toss them. I'm keeping all my schloppy short drawstring shorts on the grounds that I need to wear something when I clean or am sitting around in my nightshirt blogging, but pretty much everything looks ratty, has unflatteringly placed pockets (hello, Gap! looking at you there! Why design pockets to gape open right at the widest point of my hips?) or otherwise has to go. Now I must go out shopping and get me some more comfy jean shorts and some khaki ones too --- suggestions for where to go? (the problem of throwing out wardrobe staples. My brown boots are worn out too, but it's not like I never wore them, so I must replace, and then I still have too many clothes.)

You'll notice, if you have read this long through a dull post, that I haven't mentioned tops. I love them. Those I have too many of. Shopping for pants or shorts is an ordeal and I will probably, on a jeans-hunting trip, bring in to the dressing room five or six cute tops for every pair of pants. So I guess this is a warm-up for the true test: culling out beloved old favorites that no longer look nice, and tossing tops I never really warmed up to but feel like I should get my money's worth out of, you know. I'm having trouble getting that drawer to shut. Or, on the other hand, I could just move some down to the shorts drawer; I have room there now.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Random Bullets of Friday

  • Hello!
  • Yeah, I'd say TGIF but my plan is to either get ahead on my teaching prep or reconnect with my dissertation ("hey, baby, haven't seen you in a while") this weekend, so I'm not particularly excited or thankful.
  • Last week I was so exhausted by everything about the summer class that I took all Friday, Sat and Sun to recover ... and I mean, I couldn't even muster the concentration to pay attention to my newspapers. This week ended much better, kinda like when you get out of shape and the first week or so back into your workout just exhausts you, but then you get into the swing of things again.
  • So, nothing really exciting to report for this weekend, or having happened this week. I'm treading water, but with a little more stamina than I had before. (and if teaching was a muscle, man, I'd be ripped by now! But anyway.)
  • Everything is on fire again. And by "everything," I mean part of California's backcountry. It's an annual thing --- August is the month of wildfires and the Santa Ana winds for SoCal. We're currently getting blanketed by ash from a big fire about 40 miles away, which, with the strange underlit cloud cover and eerie blood-red sun, is making me have unsettling premonitions of Vesuvius, or maybe the end times of Revelation. So if I don't post for a while, it might be that teaching has gotten heavy again, or it might be that my entire town has been buried by the ash of a newly-discovered active volcano. I'll try to strike an interesting pose for posterity.
  • This morning I was skimming through some diss-related books ... not quite as meaty as actually writing a page or two, but since I don't really remember where I'm at in my chapter-planning thing, I figure I've got to get back in the groove any way possible. I'm torn over whether skimming a book and proving it is definitively not useful for your chapter is exhilarating (book recommended by advisor out of the way!) or heartbreaking (I just put in x number of hours to get a negative result!). This is why my footnotes are as crazy and long as they are ---- dammit, I want to show off all the reading I did, whether or not it was directly useful!
  • Yeah, I know. I'll get rid of those in the book version. Right now it's faster for me to write them up and psychically process them that way than not include them, and feel strangely obsessed with trying to force them into my argument regardless of usefulness. It may be some weird "mourning and melancholia" thing specific to dissertators.
  • Speaking of, I hate when I read about a theorist and discover a whole side-line of thinking that I know nothing about because I had written it off so long ago I forgot I had done this. Sure hope you can understand Butler while thinking Freud is a schmuck and melancholia is boring! Oh well. I hate how every theory is so tangled with every other that I can never find a starting or an ending point and have to constantly go back further and further into the ranks of philosophy to understand what the first theorist is saying, if I haven't forgotten already who I was originally reading.
  • Also on a theoretical note, I just read something that described a theorist as drawing "not only from poststructuralist theory, but Marxist theory, psychoanalysis, and feminist theory as well." Those aren't poststructuralist? Dude. I had been using poststructuralist as a wider umbrella term than just all-Derrida, all the time. Maybe I'm not poststructuralist. Or maybe Marxism, psychoanalysis, and feminism (!) have actually integrated poststructuralist thought more than this author is willing to believe. Maybe I have to recaption my picture of little Timido on the blog. What say you?
  • I say I want my own _____ist label and my own brand of theory based on my name. I keep trying to work my real last name into some iteration on the model of "Derridean" or "Foucauldian." I have no idea what my brilliant and world-changing strand of theory would be, but I want the obscure trappings of academic fame anyway. I can't really get my name into a cool-sounding _____ism, but Sisyphean theory ... yeah, I can already tell you what that would be about.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Better than a coffee shop

So it's hot here, and I don't have air conditioning. Back in the pre-global warming days, it hardly ever got hot here, so it's quite unusual to find places with AC (last year's heat wave I decided to go to a movie, my childhood escape from summer heat, only to discover the theater was not air-conditioned or even with a fan, and I watched an art film surrounded by sweaty elderly people. Not a fun smell.)

But last evening it cooled off and got really nice, although not inside my apartment, and I decided to venture outside to work. I was having a craving for ice cream. Like an electrode planted within my brain that kept going off at random intervals, impervious to my will or attempts to concentrate, I had sudden flashes of frozen dairy need. Reading about rationalized control of the body in a Foucauldian system (ice cream!), reading about Dr. Crazy's weight situation, which sounds just like mine, and her vow to diet and exercise (ice cream!), correcting comma splices and improper subject-verb agreement (chocolate raspberry truffle, now, damn you!). Even my cats seemed to be meowing in the key of creamery.

So I walked down the street and up the other street and into a long line at my local ice creamery, which makes its own ice cream locally but I don't know if they are a chain or not. They have the loveliest chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream, and I'm sure they have other wonderful flavors as well but once I find a good thing I stick with it.

But what should I notice when I excited with my cold and drippy prize was a well-lit patio area with little tables and all-around comfortableness! There weren't too many gaggles of loud annoying pre-teens in and out, and I think next time I could bring headphones and work for hours. I worked for quite a while last night, getting my chocolate fix, doing my course reading, enjoying the breeze and crickets (not the SUVs so much, but whatever). And no one got in my face to order another drink or move. I should work there more often.

And if I should need a pick-me-up while I'm working, you know what my source of caffeine will be: macadamia brazilian coffee chip.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Higher Education and Access

In the course of clicking around on the UC office of the president website for some info (“State Budget Still on Lockdown! Education System to be Folded into a Shape Smaller than a Handkerchief and Funded with Pocket Lint!” --- hmm, yes, but will there be any exploitative TAships this year for me?) I ran across a truly --- unsettling --- tidbit in a survey of UC undergrads.

Now this is UC-wide and I’m not bothering to see how it breaks down by campus or major or astrological sign, but among statements like “23 percent of UC undergraduates were born outside of the United States” and “87 percent of lower-division and 89 percent of upper-division students report satisfaction with the quality of faculty instruction” (heh) was this little gem:
78 percent of [UC] juniors and seniors plan to earn a graduate or professional degree.
Hmm. Ok, I’m sure this includes all the med- and law-school hopefuls and maybe MBAs, and I also know that what undergrads say on a survey and what they actually attempt to do --- much less succeed at --- are two very different things. But this number seems frighteningly huge. So I thought, I wonder what percentage of college graduates actually go?

I was also prompted to look into grad school statistics because of the “tell me about yourself academically” narratives I had my students write. Their answers shocked me, because 7 out of 20 of my upper-division-required-for-this-major-but-it’s-not-English course are thinking of doing a PhD or some sort of vague “grad school/I want to be a professor” goal. In addition one is thinking law, another an MS (I’m not worried about job prospects for that one) and another an MFT. So that’s half of my class is planning some form of grad school. That blew my mind until I saw the 78% number up above. I guess my juniors and seniors are behind the curve.

Now, when I went to look up the numbers of college grads who actually do go on, I couldn’t find a straight answer. (Can anyone else find a good source that breaks it all down for me? Is it that no one has bothered to track these numbers or that I need to retake Googling 101?) I did find a quote from a University of Iowa publication that said only about 9 % of graduates go on to “grad school” nationally. And that didn’t break it out by degree or discipline.

Now you know I am not rosy and bright on grad school ---- a PhD program is no fuckin’ rainbow and I have yet to see any value whatsoever to a MA in English ---- but I am very ambivalent about what, if anything, I should tell my students about it. On the one hand, I should do my job of getting them to understand difficult material and become the best writers they can be; that would help them regardless of whether they do a job or a grad school application. (Our major lesson for next week: specific is better than vague!) On the other hand, it’s clear that quite a few of them don’t know the first thing about what grad school is like or why you should go, and a wake-up call might be beneficial. And, while I haven’t gotten their papers yet, I’m not sure they have the stellar skills of writing and analysis and reading speed that would keep their heads above water in a grad program, or help them make the cut to get into a top grad program.

On the other other hand, this is the largest group of first-generation-people-of-color students I have yet to teach in a single classroom.

You can see my ambivalence here. I come up against this every time I want to rant that two-thirds of all PhD programs in the humanities and almost all MA programs should be shut down. If we were more like, say, the American Medical Association and did more gatekeeping at the entrance to grad school, we wouldn’t have quite as bad a job market problem. But every time I start to say that, I realize that this gatekeeping would have disastrous effects on our attempts to create diversity in the professoriat in terms of race, class, sexual orientation, even public school attendance vs. ivies for undergrad. If the immigrants and single moms and first-generation college students and ESL writers and people who were told they’d never make it in college because of the color of their skin do go to college, they don’t get into the ivies and elite SLACs. And when they graduate as #4650284 from Big Public Anonymous U, they don’t have the same writing skills and benefits of one-on-one advising that I see, for example, in some of my fellow grad students who went to fancypants places. And they definitely don’t take a year off on their parents’ dime to retake the GRE and take test prep classes until they have really high scores.

Sigh. Maybe I should just inform them that they can get profs to write a letter of rec now and the career center will store it for them for 5 years, and that they should try working first. I don’t know if that’s feasible if you’re funding yourself through undergrad. I also don’t know how grad programs in this subject would work or their job prospects --- much less the professional degrees I mentioned up above. I don’t think this dept. ever does any “advice on jobs with this major” or “how to go to grad school” workshops though. I just don’t know.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tarty Pictures

Tomato, red pepper and basil tart. This was my most complicated cooking experiment yet (ignore all the crap on the stovetop in the fist pic, ok?). I learned several things over the course of this project:
  • peeling and seeding tomatoes is way more work than you might think. And kinda gruesome, with all the steaming, red pulp all over your hands (obviously I couldn't figure out how to take a picture of that).
  • I am not a patient enough person to roast the peppers over my burner with any sort of evenness. Ditto keeping up the effort of "finely chopped." On the other hand, fresh organic basil rocks! I could chop that all day.
  • Dough? Yeasted tart dough? Ok, this was not something I've had any experience with before. The book also assumes that its readers are not complete dummies, which works against me. After letting the dough rise (that actually works? No way! I thought that was just in novels and stuff), I tried kneading it and quickly became entangled in a sort of cross between The Blob and the story of the tar baby. I wish I had pictures of that ridiculousness, too, but obviously don't.) It occurred to me, right after disappearing up to the elbows in olive-oil-scented quicksand, that flour might help my problem. There was the flour, an arm's length away from me ... with the top of the jar firmly closed. Imagine my indecision. Imagine an I Love Lucy episode. Now think messier and less funny.
  • Once I got everything in the tart pan (btw, "unmolding" the tart was so confusing to me I had to enlist the help of my guests), the book said to cut the overflow dough off --- "there would be an excess." Standing there with a hunk of dough in my hand, I thought, "I can't toss this motherfucking dough! I won against this shit!" But then I had the realization that this was probably where the idea of breadsticks came from (see the last photo for my first attempt at rolling out breadsticks). There are no breadsticks recipes in my cookbook, surprisingly, but Google came through for me. They weren't bad, but I was hungry and my friends were a bit late, so they didn't get any. Heh.
  • Post-dinner wrapup: dishes. Ugh! This was too depressing to photograph. I washed and washed and washed, and then the next day washed and washed and washed, and still today I am finishing up the last of the washing. I see why automatic dishwashers are so wonderful, though I've always said that living alone makes them useless. But that's only when you make yourself a can of soup for dinner and that's it. I hate washing things. Gah!
But, on the other hand, I love love the leftovers.

Friday, August 10, 2007

So Tired

This morning I woke up just in aches and aches. So I did the smart thing: went to the bathroom, had a little breakfast, and went back to bed. I finally got up but decided that swimming was out for the day, and maybe any other work too. So I've just been doing mindless resting stuff --- I did a buncha loads of laundry (not completely necessary as I've just transitioned from schlobby summer clothes to nice teaching clothes, but it was pleasant and mindless and better than only reading blogs all day) and a halfhearted start on the kitchen, but basically I've decided to take my Saturday today and have tomorrow be a work day.

I hadn't realized that teaching would just physically wear me out so! (Summer session is intensive here, which means your class meets every day for a couple hours and is over in 6 weeks.) I also think it's the fancy shoes ---- I have cute little pointy-toed mules but I think I have to walk funny to keep them on my feet. And I have to do a lot of walking ---- we figured out that the campus express bus stop is almost a mile from my house, and of course it doesn't stop anywhere near my building on campus. Add in the fact that I stand when I teach ---- er, and often leap around gesticulating wildly ---- and it starts to make sense why the front of my shins are hurting so. (When I swim, the calves ache, so a workout today would have just spread the yuckyness around)

It reminds me of the first day I worked at the university center food court, way back in undergrad one summer, and I discovered how completely unprepared I was to stand on my feet at a cash register for an 8-hour shift. It got better, or at least tolerable enough I didn't really notice, but that first few days I went home at 3 and crawled right into bed, legs throbbing. Oh, I thought, I've been so sheltered. This is why I've gone to college ---- lots of people do this as their only work, day after day, and don't get to sit down except for their 15 or 30. It hadn't really occurred to me before how our bodies are shaped by our labor. Or that the opportunity to move at will ---- shifting around, sitting, standing, taking a short nap on the couch, all whenever one felt like it ---- was in some senses a privilege that not everybody had, one that of course as an eternal student I've had the opportunity to luxuriate in for quite a long time.

I'm working under very different conditions and tired in a very different way now, but it's finally starting to sink in that this summer class will probably eat my life for the next few weeks. I've taught one here before, so I knew that, and I've definitely heard everyone else complaining that they haven't gotten any diss work done, but I had deluded myself that since I was so on top of things and organized usually and really really wanted to get this chapter moving, surely I would be the exception.

Unfortunately, my plan to dissertate for the first few hours of the morning and later plan my class does not work --- I can't focus on the diss when I'm completely unprepared for class and anxious that I won't be ready in time, so I end up prepping the class first, though it's at the end of the day, and then feeling tired and moody and unable to change gears from the class topic to the diss topic. And then when I get home and cook myself some dinner (I have been taking up too much time learning how to fix fancy food) I'm too tired and brain dead to do either diss or course work. (Of course, it's been like that all year; I forced myself to relax and vegetate in the evenings so that I don't have strange dreams where the authors in my dissertation have lunch with me and explain why my argument is wrong.)

And while I have this weekend, where hopefully I can recover and perhaps get a bit ahead on prepping, I am getting the first assignments on Monday, so soon I'll have grading on top of prepping and (theoretically) dissertating. The other problem is that I don't like preparing too far ahead, as I only have about a two-day window to actually remember what a boring article is about, and my classes go haywire so frequently (sometimes in useful and productive ways, I should point out) that I want to build off of what happened or change gears or tailor the class to what the students' need to know. I guess the alternative would be to pound away at the diss all weekend ---- you can see how excited I am about that prospect. Watch me raise my eyebrow in scorn.

But as for tonight, I shall eat delicious leftovers and watch a mindless movie, recharge those batteries, you know. And the shins. Any suggestions for my shins?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Stupid Question Game, Poetry Edition

So I have started teaching again ... I must say I'm getting (some) diss stuff done, but I'm tired. We'll see how long I last being productive on multiple fronts at once. If I keep my energy up I may post more stuff about theory and teaching theory in a bit, but I feel inspired to post teaching stories at the moment. Why talk about "kids these days," however, (especially when I'm still in a grading/evalutating relationship with them) when I have so many old tales to draw from? Thus, I'm bringing back an old activity from when I was teaching poetry.

I asked my current students for some information about them and their academic trajectories, and what they knew about our class. I don't know if it is the class reputation or my preliminary remarks about what we would do, but they are terrified. "Anxiety," "worried," "heard this is a hard class," and "I put off this class" appeared in their descriptions. This reminded me of some of the horrible class sessions I've had trying to teach poetry --- just getting people to open their mouths and say anything, tell me the page number even, was a tough task. I felt that more than apathy (an emotion I see quite often in students) I was dealing with real terror or antipathy to the very notion of poetry.

So, I said as I brought in a pack of index cards. We are going to have a game. You don't seem to believe me when I say I want you to talk and ask questions, and that I mean it when I say there is no question too stupid to ask in section. Let's have a contest --- everybody take a card and write the stupidest question about poetry you've had in this class (or any class) that you were too embarrassed to ask. Put 'em in the hat when you're done. Seriously, I said, as some of the shy ones, who I never got to speak up, smiled. Seriously, I bet what you think are stupid questions are really good ones, or at least ones that other people in the class share. And just to show you that, while I may laugh, you will not be punished for asking stupid questions; you will be, in this instance, rewarded. I have a prize for the best stupid question.

(related to my previous post about teaching theory, in future uses I would connect their answers to ideas about theories and methodologies; as you will see, they were unknowingly little theorists-in-training. I'd also like to have time to revisit their answers in a bit more detail throughout the rest of the quarter, but this first try was an eleventh-hour last-ditch effort.)

What did we find in the hat? Brilliant questions! Questions I never got from students usually, that I would give up a limb for from students! Why do we read poetry at all, asked one. Really, that's important because if I can't answer that for you, we shouldn't even be in this class. Are there wrong meanings to a poem? How do you find stuff in a poem --- what should I be doing? Why are poems all broken up on separate lines like that? Who gets to say whether a poem or a meaning is good or not? (a question that warmed the cockles of my little Foucauldian heart ---- or at least the nexus of discourse and expressions of power that are usually referred to as a heart) Why do we put little slashes between lines when we quote them? (Short answer: because MLA says so. Longer answer: I don't know, but I'm sure there's a whole tradition and set of conventions behind it and it was probably a controversy or scandal or something interesting happening when it came about.) Why don't poets just write a letter instead of a poem? Who cares about feet and syllables and all that shit? (which doesn't take much massaging to become: why do some poets care about form and meter and others don't?)

Look!!! I cried to my students at the end. You have valuable, important questions to ask. Even if you don't know things, you do know which things you don't know are important, if that makes any sense. Have some confidence and actually ask these things in a class! You have now asked The Stupidest Question About Poetry You Can Think Of, and nothing bad happened. How tough was that? Not the end of the world. Go forth and ask Brilliantly Stupid Questions wherever you may go!

Being as we now knew that we all had a lot of expertise on asking stupid questions and non-stupid questions, we voted on the winner. Coming in as the clear champion and garnering a celebratory Twix bar was the entry: What's a stupid question again?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

In Theory...

Purely hypothetically speaking, how might you introduce undergraduate students to the existence of theory? (oops, sorry: Theory.) I'm not talking about a theory survey or methodology class or senior thesis group that would be primarily focused on Theory, but bringing it into a "regular" course in small and managable doses. How do we spend at least a small amount of time making students aware of theory in a way that would help them navigate future courses and critical articles and writing research papers or even (god forbid) thinking about grad school? How might you give students a "heads up" or some ideas that might prepare them for a theory survey? Or heck, I have this friend (cough) who is teaching the first course of a three-quarter sequence which might be called Critical Analysis-Theory-Methodology. It's not in a literature department. What should this teacher teach to help students move into the Theory course? What do students need to know or be able to do by the time they hit a Theory course? What should they do to prepare?

I'd love to hear your suggestions, ideas, funny anecdotes, representative assignments, citations of education articles --- just anything that might get a lively conversation going here about Theory in all its theoretical-ness or practical handling. (We may or may not want to take note of types of theory and what types of disciplines we are working in.)

You know, I think discovering theory and grappling wth it, along with its many specialized languages, is a major part of the struggle --- the agon, even --- in transforming from an undergraduate to a graduate student. And I certainly didn't feel like I got much help or guidance about what to read or how much to know, so I'll be revisiting this off and on at both the graduate and undergraduate level for the next few weeks.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dissertators, has this ever happened to you?

Leftovers: A Play in One Act

Scene: A small grad student kitchen, filled with bags of groceries. The sink is full of dishes. Two people, or possibly one person and her alter ego, are unpacking. One is emptying bags, the other moving things around in the fridge.

Me: I am so glad we finished off the last of that Project 2. It hadn’t gone bad, exactly, but I was so tired of leftovers.

Other Me: Unh huh. (Pulls a large book out of the bag.) Hey, why did you get more Adorno? That wasn’t on the grocery list. We have no need for it.

Me: Oh, well, Adorno’s a staple; it never goes bad and we can always use some later. Just put it up on the high shelf by the flour and honey. (Starts sniffing in Tupperware containers, dumping some in the trash, others she shakes out and puts in the overflowing sink.) Why do we have empty dishes in the fridge? (turns to the other brandishing a near-empty bowl.) I’m not gonna save this. Why is this even in here? It’s like one little quote we ended up not using for Project 2. We should have tossed it long ago.

Other Me: Hey, if you wanted the fridge clean before, you could have dealt with it. (Finishes folding a paper bag, then moves to the next.) What’s here … theory … theory … Oh, could you put this novel in the freezer for me? … theory … Ooh, Bourdieu, that looks tasty … Ok, let’s put the historical context books on the bottom shelf … context … context … Huh. Is this biography for the other Article?

Me: (turns from fridge to glance at it) Biography? Honestly I don’t even remember putting it in the cart. That’s so weird. Well, we’ll try adding some to the Article, I guess… who knows what that’ll end up like. I hope we have enough Fresh Ideas to add to the Conference Paper I want to make next week.

Other Me: Those can go bad pretty fast; we may have to head back out again before then.

Me: (reaches back into the back of the fridge, then freezes.) Oh. My. God.

Other Me: What? What???

Me: This. (holds up some very suspicious looking Tupperware.)

Other Me: Is it—

Me: I think … I think it’s the dissertation. Remember Chapter 4?

Other Me: Oh God. (holds nose. Proffers the trash can to the other.)

Me: What? We can’t throw it out! We haven’t even used it!

Other Me: When did we start that? When was the last time you even opened that?

Me: But you can’t just let all that work go to waste!

Other Me: If I recall, it was half-baked anyway.

Me: (whimpers) Oh. Dammit dammit dammit. (starts opening cupboards) Oh but there’s this, and this, and this — I have all this other material for the Chapter. Dammit, I wonder if all this is bad too… No, I am not starting over.

Other Me: Do you even know what’s in that Chapter? Honestly, I think it’s just better to start from scratch.

Me: Ugh, I don’t even want to think about it. And I was all excited to cook up some great new stuff, use my Fresh Ideas, try out some innovative tricks.

Other Me: (gently) Here. Let me.

Me starts slamming critical and historical context into the bottom of the fridge with much force, occasionally scrubbing at her face with her sleeve. She smacks the door closed and looks at a grocery list stuck on the front. It reads “Chapter 5.”

Me: Guess we’re not gonna need this for a while. (she rips the list down and crumples it.)


Deconstructionist Superheroes

Some people are impervious to satire. Or maybe just so postmodern that they can enjoy with ironic detachment any attempts to make fun of them. I don't know that I can always handle being mocked, but I love not taking academia seriously at the same time I take it seriously. For example, for a long time I had this on the door to my TA cubicle (back when I had a cubicle):

Is that cool or what? I wish we could throw around real powers instead of just the ability to sardonically raise an eyebrow or tease out multiple overdetermined nuances.

(What? You don't think those are superheroes? Are you kidding? Anyone who attacks students who don't read and skinny blonde women (check out the King Kong grip) is a hero in my book; I'm in California, and getting pretty sick of those.)