Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tired. But the Show Must Go On!

The only news I have to report, is that I have no news to report. Nothing happening job-wise, and bashing my head against two chapter-rocks at once is just like bashing my head against one. Looking around the department, all of the advanced (I used to say “old”) grad students are as disillusioned and cranky as usual, and all of the newbies are just as clueless and imprudent as usual (this new crop --- eh. They’re weird. They need to start looking at themselves and start thinking much more strategically. This is the first time I can remember a cohort being really unable to identify themselves as different and separate from the undergrads.) Meanwhile, the grads in the middle of their program arc are all so overworked they’re sick and sniffly and running around crazily. (I must have been bowled over by three today alone.)

I know I’m spoiled by the California weather and all, but it being January, it would be nice if the dept. could shut off the air conditioning in our part of the building.

I’m liking teaching, as usual (though not the impending grading). I’ve hit a new level of … comfort … with my classes. It may seem odd that I’ve taken 10 years in the classroom to get comfortable enough to banter and make pre-class small talk with my students, but that’s always been the hardest, most awkward thing for me to do. For some reason, this quarter I’ve just felt so much more at ease, able to tease my students a bit (like the one I saw today playing solitaire while I was handing out stuff for the prof in lecture) and also able to call on them --- and harass them when they can’t answer --- in a way that comes off as pleasant and non-intrusive and funny. In the past, I’ve been so unsettled and freaked out about singling out students for tasks by name (Stu 1, why don’t you read this paragraph here? Stu 2, can you tell us about ____ in that paragraph?) that I may do it once and then it feels weird and I shy away from it the rest of the class. I gotta admit, doing a rather cruel icebreaker that put students on the spot seemed to somehow set the tone of the course for me. Maybe them too. It helps that this course is in no way related to my interests or research. It also helps that I like studying everything and love to learn new things, so that I’m still interested and energetic regardless of what I’m teaching.

One thing I still need to work on though is shutting up in class. This has always been my Achilles heel --- I took these huge anonymous gen ed lectures as an undergrad and loved watching some charismatic lecturer showboat his (no --- well, yeah, mostly his) way through a course in some highly entertaining and exuberant performance. I loved that. I wanted that. Coming from a girl who did drama in high school and always longed for but was never quite brave enough to venture stand up comedy, it’s not surprising that I wanted the chance to be outrageous and captivating and educational on some stage somewhere and become a professor myself. That quality of large public performance being primarily associated with professordom in my mind. Upper-division classes, those smaller venues, were alright but since they often became a struggle over who would control the floor, myself or the professor, they didn’t quite draw me the way the Big Survey did --- or heck, even my intro bio and astronomy classes, which I remember as quite entertaining and funny. Those lecturers (and yeah, these were not the tt profs giving the 500-person lectures at my undergrad) were very aware of their audience and its level of attention, and were not only willing to push the entertainment factor to keep students awake but clearly took great pleasure in pushing at students who were not paying attention or being respectful --- poking at them in ways that were funny, not mean.

I suppose that by invoking the idea of entertainment that many times I’ve shocked and alienated a lot of people who claim on their blogs to really dislike that passive, consumerist, tv-style model of education. And I’m sure that all the people who have done or read education research that underscores just how horrible the large lecture format is in terms of actual education quality are shaking their heads at me right now. I dunno. I really liked it. But then I love learning things, so I’m sure I’m a bad example of what people get out of the large lecture courses.

As I was saying ---- I love the performance side of teaching; I love the lecturing and telling stories and talking, just trying to get a reaction out of the students. I’m not good at relinquishing control (and I’m very good at remembering and talking about stuff off the top of my head), so I have trouble shutting up and handing over the reins to the class. TAing is, of course, complicated by the fact that I have no control over the reading schedule or how the assignments are set up, so whatever I do want to do in section has to mesh with someone else’s vision of the class. And often, I’m taking notes in lecture with another notebook open on the other knee, trying to figure out how to triage the material for discussion, particularly when the prof is either a) cramming in way too much information, b) assuming the students have background that I don’t think they actually do, or c) throwing massive amounts of complex theory at them without really explaining it. Sometimes I have to navigate all three. So really, often section is all about figuring out what the prof said in lecture and why it is important and what that has to do with the other stuff we read two weeks ago. In those cases I run class like a bunch of rapid-fire questions, interspersed with my explanations, or, when I have time and energy, I work up group projects and parcel out the various confusing bits of lecture. When I have a tight agenda, and when I need to make sure they actually understood what, say, the carnivalesque is, I can’t really let the students dictate where the discussion goes. And secretly, I’m quite all right with that.

I’d make a new year’s resolution to work on fostering discussion rather than being the center of attention in this course, but the prof’s pacing and the topic of the course are working against me. Plus, it takes more time for me to prep group work or actually write out discussion questions or plan an activity, and I have already vowed to not spend any more time on this class than I absolutely have to — I have my diss to finish, and besides, they’re not paying me enough for me to be a wonderful amazing life-changing teacher, just an adequate one.

Ok, don’t want to end on quite that negative of a note, so here are some cat pictures, and I will close with the profound, informative, and exuberant statement: my cats are cute!

(You little putz --- that was my water you just washed in!)

Monday, January 28, 2008


And insomnia,
That will miraculously inspire you to great heights of creativity in your work,
And unblock your faculties.
This post will be the post to end all posts,
To stop for once
And for all
All whining, malingering, and spinning
Of wheels.
After this, all tasks will seem easy
And the muses of academia
Will whisper you such sweet nothings
As have never before been recorded on a tenure file.
Your reason for being will suddenly become clear.
After reading this post,
Writer’s block will only mean
The display stand for your trophies
And your laurels,
And ideas shall appear faster
Than spam in your inbox,
Your prose flow more prolifically
Than a porn site updating its RSS feed.
As soon as you read
It you will work unceasingly,
Never again counting the minutes till lunchtime
Or hitting the check new mail button
Nor will you ever agonize
Over a forgotten synonym
Or behold, after a day of work,
An empty word file,
And a spotless floor.
The birds outside will go unstared at
And the mailman ungreeted.
This post will make the machinery of your brain
And this marvelous post will say:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Dark and Stormy Night of Revision

It has been cold and rainy here (January is California's one month of winter) and the dark, soggy weather has made me feel disinclined to work. Oh wait --- no ... no, I always feel disinclined to work, rain or shine or earthquake. Well then I really have nothing of news to report, then, do I? Carry on, carry on.

The cold rainy weather does inspire in me certain desires (besides a longing for decent municipally funded drainage systems, as the whole dang town is a puddle): I have cravings for a Victorian gentleman's library. You know the one: crackling fire in a polished grate, big leather armchair and ottoman drawn up to it, the muted colors of a turkish rug underneath and walls of rich mahogany bookcases stretching up to impossible heights and someone cute beside my chair to feed me the occasional bonbon.

(The only drawback is that I hate fine editions and even hardback books; I am a book whore and I don't mix wit de quality, no sir. All my books are dog-eared, broken backed and have cookie crumbs hidden in their creases. And the gaudy rainbow colors of my various paperbacks wouldn't go well with the elegance of the fine mahogany bookshelves. But, whatever, this is fantasy. I mean, obviously. I don't really want to kill a bunch of cows and deforest Sumatra and colonize the Orient for its goods and hire the local working class at exploitative wages to polish my andirons, but, I'm just sayin': it's a tempting fantasy when it rains, innit? But anyway.)

All this thinking about Victorian comfort brought to mind my favorite writer, Edward Gorey, and since I've been in the early stages of chapter-writing lately, I thought I'd share with you my favorite bits of his on writing. Now, I'm at the very preliminary dreaming-up-ideas part of writing, not this next part, revision, but it is still quite appropriate to my overall writing process. This is, of course, from The Unstrung Harp; Or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel.

I've mixed up the description and the pic here because wandering into the kitchen to "think" your way through a PBJ is such an important part of the process ---- I've become a bit more of a sitter than a wanderer lately, but much of my writing is still migratory. I've had to curb the number of migrations to the kitchen, but I used to have a writing circuit alternating the computer and the various destinations of refrigerator, bathroom, and mailbox (as in: please, please let me have contact with the outside world.) Now of course, I blog. More contact with the outside world, even less movement than before. Sigh. I foresee this causing problems somehow in the future.

The next step in writing, if you can make out the text here, involves reading what you have written and making decisions about it, an agony if ever I knew one. I should do that hand-to-the-head pose from melodrama more often; perhaps it helps with writer's block.

And, of course, the pain of actual revision, with or without a decanter of sherry:

As Mr. Earbrass points out, rewriting "is worse than merely writing, because not only does he have to think up new things just the same, but at the same time not remember the old ones." Mr. Gorey, I should add, has a wonderful gift for making lists, as the first sentence on that page shows. I do wish I was writing and being miserable in a large Edwardian (as in Gorey) country estate rather than a graduate-student apartment; it seems somehow more bearable. Or dignified. Or at least you have some spare rooms and a taxidermied fantod under glass.

Anyways, the rain is now a drizzle and some sun is actually peeking through across the way, so I suppose I should go work. Or eat something. Or put on something slutty and big sunglasses and drive my Hummer over some homeless people while tossing out reams of stock options. Because, after all, this is California.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Imaginary Ipod list

In the comments to my previous post, St. Eph says that Monkey Mind is her newest imaginary band name. I like it, except for the part about it having monkeys. Do you think they'd dress like the guerrilla girls? They'd be the only exception to my anti-monkey philosophy. If it could be called a philosophy. Antipathy? Knee-jerk reaction?

So as if in connection to this upswing in imaginary bands, Dr. Zombieswan did a meme where you randomly generate an imaginary band and album. I quite like it, both the idea of the randomness, and the fun of being creative. I tried it, and it reminded me that I still want to learn (well, re-learn) Photoshop.

Here are the meme rules:
The first article title on the page is the name of your band.
The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.
The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
4. Use your graphics program of choice to throw them together, and post the result in your own journal.

Here is an imaginary album off my imaginary shuffle:

Ok, so I tend to lengthen album titles. Other than that I didn't cheat. Who would this band sound like? A bit jangly? Sort of Wilco-ish but not quite? As long as they weren't indie in a precious kind of way, I would probably like this band --- they seem like they might be Norcal versions of The Cold War Kids, who I'm quite smitten by. But why, I wonder, wouldn't they use a picture from their namesake? Maybe this is their second album. (btw, if this is the part of San Jose I think it's from, there's a great little microwbrew, or was, right near the old historic buildings. Delicious as snooty yuppie California food can only be.)

Now when I first heard this imaginary band, I thought I hated their stompy, honky-tonk, bluegrass-meets-Led Zepplin kind of sound:

But they kinda grew on me, raspy lead vocals, cowbells and all. They have such a nasty sense of humor, and some wonderful stompy drinking songs. They make me wish I had the guts to crash a dive bar and pick a fight with a bouncer.

And finally, after getting two non-imaginary album titles and some boring disambiguations on the random click, I was almost ready to give up, but the potential of this album title inspired me to cheat and actively search for a picture, as well as creatively re-spell the name of some Enlightenment philosopher dude:

You may remember the short-lived Situationalist art band Knees von Esenbeck from when they were put on trial for attempting to replace the insides of a nuclear warhead with silly putty during one of the nuclear disarmament protests of the early 80s. This is their exceptionally hard to find second album, released with Djiane Koos on vocals (run through a synthesizer) because Bram Hvardson was still in jail on trafficking charges. Some people have compared them to Devo but I find Devo to be far more cheerful by comparison. Track 14 is always cited as an example of their extreme minimalism because most people did not even notice that it was on the album. Musicologists subsequently discovered that this track is an elegantly balanced tune in baroque fugue style, recorded at pitches that only dogs can hear.

Thank you all for indulging me in my fun. And thanks to Medieval Woman and Dr. Sharna for passing on a link to me in LOLcat form.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monkey Mind

First I must state that I have an irrational hatred or monkeys. I cannot stand them. I hate those stupid 80s movies which had chimps dressed up in various costumes, smoking cigarettes or flapping their mouths to hilariously dubbed dialogue. I hate their whole Gorillas-in-the-Mist- chest-beating, mythological trickster-being, SD-Wild-Animal-Park cavorting, poo-flinging antics. I hate their brightly-colored butts and their wrinkled faces and their long skinny fingers squick me out. Go ahead and accuse me of finding them abject because they are troublingly like humans but so frighteningly alien --- and completely lacking in dignity --- at the same time. Go ahead. I'll agree. And as long as I can have nothing to do with them I will leave them quite alone.

However. I've been thinking about my friend's exercises in meditation lately, and trying to see if it has any connection or relevance to the writing process. You see, she goes to a Buddhist meditation retreat on Saturday mornings, and she was telling me about how hard it is to concentrate, even with the multi-ringed symbols and the chanting and the breathing and the practice. How near impossible it is to truly focus on something, really and truly, even when you think you are shutting everything else out. Concentrating down on one thing in that setting just reveals to you how jumpy and uncontrollable your thoughts are all the time --- I don't know about Tibetan Buddhism (which she practices) but Zen calls this "monkey mind": unlike what we may call stream-of-consciousness in fiction courses, "monkey mind" is this never-still, constantly-wriggling-out-of-our-attempts-to-control-it chaotic motion (a "stream" seems more passive and contained, even if constantly flowing.)

So my mind these past few days has seemed like a tree full of riotous monkeys. Which ones are the ones that make that whoop-whoop sound? Howler monkeys? Gibbons? Whichever --- just picture a big-ass tree completely aswarm with wriggling, climbing, leaping, shouting monkeys. I want my thoughts to move like this:

See? Orderly, streamlined, focused, rational --- productive? Hello!?!

But maybe, I've been thinking, I need to stop fighting Monkey Mind --- or maybe find some different way of dealing with it, because I agree with those people who claim our minds just don't work assembly-line fashion and really are more like a tree full of monkeys. I don't have any actual deep pronouncements or conclusions about this yet, sorry. I don't know if that means that I'm going to start meditation practice (unlikely) or study up on it more or throw out the notion of machine-like productivity or what, but I'm thinking about the way I think and the way I work these days.

Today I tried something I haven't done since I was working on my undergrad thesis: about 30-45 minutes of writing (brainstorming and outlining, in today's case) and then I'd go back to bed. My undergrad roomies used to joke that I wrote papers in bed, as if the mental effort of writing out a paragraph was too much and I had to give up for the day.

But, you know, back when I did this as an undergrad, I would immediately drop off to something like the edge of sleep and just sort of ... float ... there. I wasn't asleep --- I was vaguely conscious of what all was going on in the room --- but I wasn't directly, consciously focusing on the paper I was writing, and I wasn't forcing myself to think of one thing or another. Thoughts would just slowly float to the surface and burst, like bubbles. And they'd be all over the place from what I wanted to do with my life to the interesting color metaphors in the novel I was writing on to the cute guy who worked with me at the paper to a favorite street in undergrad city to a commercial jingle. And then suddenly I'd get up after about 15 minutes of that and start writing something again. (Not a finished paragraph --- it comes out as notes and questions just like when I am consciously writing.) And when I'm forcing myself to concentrate on the project at hand while lying there it doesn't work. There seems to be something important about the fact that it's this floating, waiting process --- reading something unrelated to my writing (or even directly related) or watching tv or even cleaning stuff ends the process.

So, hmm. I don't particularly want to write the rest of my dissertation at home in bed --- for one thing, there is still a huge temptation to not work and just surf the web instead --- but on the other hand, I did six cycles of this today and was able to put in more writing effort than I do when I force myself to focus. So, I'm still pondering this whole thing.

I'd ask about other people's writing processes, but I'm worried that everyone will post descriptions of it all coming exceptionally easy and working like robot welding arms cranking away every day for 10 hours and make me feel bad. Or mock my antipathy to monkeys. I warn you, I'll fling mental poo at you if you do!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

If pushing one rock is back-breakingly impossible, maybe rolling two at once won't be so bad?

I may be crazy; please someone stop me if so. Rather than work to close the deal on chapter 4, today I started brainstorming stuff for chapter 5. Heaven help me. I think I may be committing a grave stupidity. I have a negative model for this, after all ---- Prof. Nonsequitor, who had three books 80 % written when s/he went up for tenure and had a huge tussle of a tenure bid. There are good reasons to focus down on one thing at a time and get stuff signed off right away. (Oh, Prof N. came here from somewhere else on the tt and had a book and an edition already, so all turned out well ---- don't worry that tenure standards are being lowered and people are tenured based on phantom books at our fine institution.)

This means I have personally seen what it is like to create crazy, ambitious, all-over-the board projects or to start too many projects and then try to get through the various hoops of academia. But still, I'm feeling a little stuck on my Ch. 4 draft, and very very blah about it. I went back to it and solved one of my problems ---- with some distance and perspective I could see that I needed to cut a huge chunk anyway and that resolved the way my argument wasn't quite consistent ---- but now it's about 30 pages and I'll need to expand things and flesh stuff out (hopefully not funyunize) and I Just. Really. Don't. Want. To. Look. At. It. Gah.

So I've been beginning the brainstorming process on Chapter 5. If I get really stuck, I hope that it will just send me back to finishing Chapter 4 with renewed vigor. Maybe I can trade off between them and work faster that way. I'm just hoping I don't become one of those wild-eyed grad students skulking through the library for years in subjugation to their architectonic masterpiece but never showing anything written or finished to anyone until the very end (if there is a very end).

(why are there no pictures of Quasimodo in the bell tower on the internet? Come on, people!)

Anyways, warn me if I'm about to do something stupid. Or better yet, volunteer to finish Ch. 4. It's pretty much all mapped out already --- all you have to do is clean it up for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Haha! I have snatched funding from the jaws of ... something funding-related!

Calloo, callay and all that: I am employed!

And no, I'm still up a creek on the "real" job search, but I have a TAship for this quarter now. I am so excited to have my fees paid! Truly, I don't know what I was going to do for rent, considering that the amount they let you take out for subsidized loans is now smaller than your fees here. But all has come through in the end.

Luckily, there was an emergency and they needed to fill something at the last minute ... if this hadn't come open after the quarter had already started they wouldn't be able to "emergency override" my (non)funding status. Really, I think this is more about always having desparate nad docile experienced TAs around than "protecting" us from becoming permanent grad students here, but I am not in any position to complain, or even analyze, the situation right now. Nor can I complain about the subject matter, which I have absolutely no interest in, or the crappy times and locations. But whatever ---- I'm getting paid, and 10 weeks is gonna be up like that! And what ever happens during the first week anyway? I'll get caught up in no time!

This may put some interesting new wrinkles in my "need to get a draft of the chapter done Thursday" deadline, but I'm sure I can work around it.

And so, back to the editing and whatnot. Soon I should have something interesting to tell you ---- whether it will be good or bad, I can't yet say.

In the interest of keeping you amused until then, have a cat picture:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A post in which I avoid doing work by telling you how much work I've done

It's a bright and sunny Sunday morning; I've eaten, gotten some coffee, cleaned up myself and the kitchen, and read some blogs. (Sadly, no one thinks of me out here on the west coast and posts lots of interesting dirt on a Saturday night for my amusement the following morning. What, are you all going out and doing things on your Sat. nights? Stop that immediately!)

Suffice it to say my word documents are open and not calling to me at all. They look much the same as when I left them yesterday. I'm at that stage where the argument is all roughed out and I have dumped lots of quotes right where I want them to be blended in. It's just hard and slow, doing that blending, you know? Particularly because you can see exactly where I am going when you read it, and I have already written the next argumentative point, the fun part, but what needs to be done is actually introducing and synthesizing these four important scholars who have all commented on Interesting Historical Trend #42 and then pick out what little pithy phrase I will suavely and directly quote while boiling down all the rest into a smoothly flowing and lively paraphrase while not, dear god, reusing any of the same exact words Because That is Plagiarism, and that would be bad.

Now yesterday I was trying to do this, and had boiled down a bunch of crap down to a nice half-paragraph, and moved around some other notes-n-quotes because logically they need to come after this other point, and in the course of trying to create a transition between two paragraphs I think I accidentally wrote the nub of my conclusion. You'd think I would be happy, considering how much I hate writing conclusions, but no, I am very frustrated because I'm trying to work through this section paragraph by paragraph and this doesn't get me any closer to moving on from The Paragraph Transition of Hell. So what am I staring balefully at this morning? The PT of H, of course, which looks about as much fun to write today as it did yesterday, which means that if I'm not careful I will unknowingly write my introduction today instead.

But anyway, in the course of pretending to work on this part, I got the idea that I should see how much I have written so far. And now, having played with the "word count" button, I can procrastinate further by telling all of you. So here is what is going on with chapter 4:

part I
6982 words (with some intro section notes and the title and epigraph stuff and whatnot)

part II
2487 words

part III
5317 words

preliminary conclusion
384 words

So I think I can safely say: I have a zero-level draft of chapter 4! I obviously haven't been back to part II since it was a conference paper. Originally there were supposed to be four sections, because that's what dissertation chapters have, I had assumed, but on noting that I don't actually have stuff to put in an argument for part four, plus the word counts I have, I don't feel bad saying that I've just cut that right out. Part I was the section I was complaining had this interesting stuff that I couldn't tie up to my case histories, so I may be growing a wart there and need to freeze off a chunk and turn it into a conference paper or something else.

The $64,000 dollar question of course is: can I get these blobs into a coherent enough draft form that I can show it to my advisor when I meet on Thursday, given the fact that she refuses to read drafts? I have no clue what's going down in this meeting, but I want to push for walking in graduation in spring, and ask her if she would hood me, and I think handing her a chapter draft that's reasonably clean would do a lot towards convincing her I can get all my shit done before the deadlines. Hoo-ah, that all sounds kinda freaky written out in public like that. Nothing like some deadlines to get you moving!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

And how were _your_ MLA interviews?

That has been the question of the week back here at my dept. It's the first thing out of the mouth of all the grad students I talk to, it's the first thing I ask anybody who I knew had stuff at MLA, the jobs placement director emailed us urging us to give him any and all updates and to come in and talk to him, and two faculty members accosted me in the mailroom to check on my progress (plus the one who was anxious to know about Potential Future Star's progress rather than mine).

I tell ya, I thought I was "over" this whole first-round job thing. I had forgotten that everyone is on campus a lot more than usual the first week of the term and, what with us bringing out candidates of our own, everyone is keyed up and excited to get some updates. I think also that the relatively phenomenal success of the people who went on the job market two years ago has wound up the faculty into a higher level of expectation and pressure of how our dept. can do, of the prospect that we might be moving up the rankings in other departments' estimation.

(I'll stop and make a snarky side note here to point out that the two-years-ago group who went out was really really large for us, and the vast majority were on second or third job rounds, although our big "coups" were all ABDs out on the market for their first time. The entire department has conveniently forgotten last year's group completely, because we were a smaller group and none of us got any jobs. So conveniently, in fact, that you'll notice that the job placement page on the web site was just never updated and our year's "stats" mentioned (which would bring down our placement rate). Future grad students, assume that your potential departments are "accidentally" and not-so-accidentally lying on their stats pages to look good for you. You'll really have to dig to get an accurate picture of their placement record. Oh yeah, and the two people who got no job offers at all from the two-years-ago group and who have quit academia are counted under "decided not to pursue academia" not "couldn't get an academic job for five years of trying come hell or high water," But I digress.)

So, at least the people who were all at MLA have been very sympathetic and ask me if I've heard anything since and how Round Two is going; others (ok, read younger) have come up to ask me if I have more or less flyouts than other grad so-and-so, and get this pretend sympathetic look with a bit of a curl to their lip when I have to explain that I was out of those races long before the MLA round; it makes me really want to punch them in the face. It will be interesting to see how these brand-new cohorts see the dept and themselves since all they have heard is about the magic and glory of the two-years-ago job group and they haven't been told much about the crappy job market structure. Now I can see why some of the innocent questions I asked my first year here really set some of the long-time grad students off on a rant; I have already ranted to several of the newbies about exactly how glutted their market is going to be. (You've already heard older versions of these rants on my grad school posts.) But really, someone from here thinking they will be able to play offers from Harvard and Yale off each other really needs a smackdown. Especially when it is implied with this "oh, and I so deserve it" tone and expression on their face.

But we have some odd dynamics in that cohort that run way deeper than a bit of attitude and I already knew that. And expected these types of questions. (I told you about how my mom wants me to stay in the area so I should call up Bk and Stanford to slip in my resume, yes? Yeah, I can handle cluelessness about the market.)

No, the encounters I'm currently worrying about from today are with profs. In addition to the three profs who talked to me earlier this week, I saw my advisor, clearly stressed and in a whirlwind of last-minute copying and juggling piles of books and readers. We said hi I and turned to talk with/get something from a staff person, trying to clearly signal that I was not currently stalking her or waiting to grab a bit of her time. (see? we have our ways of communicating.) I was surprised then, that she slowed down enough in what she was doing to let me know that she was about to go teach, but ordinarily would be having office hours at ____ and _____ and that I really really should drop by next week, once things have settled down. Hmm. This is new (usually I have to very overtly seek her out). She likes her space and expects her students to be very self-directed. So, I guess she just wants a post-job-search update? It's kinda weird, especially when I had to really push at her to get one of these meetings last year. Either she's turned over a new leaf, or I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for the first time in about 8 years, or something has come up. Meh.

Almost immediately after that I get pulled aside by Professor Indomitable. (I think I have talked about this prof before under a different name but don't want to go back and check it.) Prof Indomitable is very sweet and tries to be helpful, if somewhat overbearing. This time Prof Indomitable knew about the results of my job search and wanted to know what I was doing to make my materials better. "Have you had an outside person read your letters? Maybe something is wrong with your letters." Prof I. then suggested a bunch of other things I need to do, and closed with, "because, you know, even if you are finished and have publications next time, if there's something you don't know about that's screwing you up it won't make any difference!" Ah, thanks, thanks again for your usual mix of sympathy and bluntness. Heh. This prof says people have my back and are watching out for me, which cheers me up. On the other hand, I was also roasted for my slow publication record, compared unfavorably to a couple stars from the two-years-ago job group, and had my dissertation topic pooh-poohed. You know, that one-hand compliment/one-hand cutting down to size move reminds me of my parents a lot. Which is probably why I am not working with Prof Indomitable on my committee.

But, anyway, venting over and now I guess I'm back to work. (On that front, I am so tired. But I've been better at taking a break and then managing to get back to a second round of writing on the same day. Let's see if that translates to a faster pace.)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Grant money keeps all the systems humming

It should come as no surprise to you that reading about time management and academic planning is one of my favorite forms of procrastination. It makes me feel like important things are getting done, or at least getting planned, even though none of those important things are those on my to-do list. There is nothing more relaxing than imagining that one has already finished writing one's book in an orderly and time-managed way.

Of course, that means I have a lot of time-management-related things on my RSS feed. One such blog is Getting Things Done in Academia, which recently had a post on advice for grant writing. You should all check it out, although, since it is for science grad students, some of the advice will have to be transposed, such as the comments about a spring season for fieldwork. Some of it, though, is great advice, like the idea to keep a "new projects" folder on one's desktop and toss little ideas in it regularly. Or the point about constantly, gradually building up the material, or the points about audience, or re-using the same phrasings and headings as the application material. But all of these are not the most important thing I learned from reading this post:

What I really need is to find some way of disguising myself as a science grad student and start collecting NSF grants. If only I had listened more often to what Cool Scientist Friend was saying about her research!

Seriously, people, the biggest drawback to applying for grants as a literature grad student is that there aren't any. Oh, yeah, sure --- there's archival fellowship money and the occasional NEH or NEA grant, but none of those are going to kit me out in 150 K and give me shiny machinery to play with. (An autoclave? Sure, I'll take it --- put it over there by the toaster.)

So far, I've come up with the following ways to cleverly camouflage my research and maximize my grant payoff:

- a proposal to study the roosting habits of migratory ILLs in my living room

- a study to determine the nutritional effects of alcohol and ramen consumption on lit grad students (my friends have filled out the IRB forms already)

- a collection and taxonomy of the viewless wings of posy
* note, sample for illustration purposes only. Actual wings will be viewless.

- Experiments to determine the spring constant of various household metaphors

- a longitudinal study on the effects of large sums of money on a grad student's motivation levels (Note: if this experiment is one of the ones where you have to make the subject ingest dye and then kill it and then dissect its brain afterwards, it's gonna be a very looong longitudinal study).

I'm so glad I thought of this. Now all my financial troubles will be solved, solved, solved! PS if you think you see me clinging to the back of some science student's shirt, hidden by the pattern, don't let on. I've got important work to do!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

For only three payments of 19.95, you too can be rejected

I still haven't gotten around to making my new year's resolution or picking a theme for the year (suggestions welcome) or finishing the post I started writing about my plans and goals, but I have read a bunch more chapters in the book I'm working my way through this morning, and now I am making preliminary moves into Job Market Part Two: The Post-MLA Season.

One alternative to tenure-track jobs would be the postdoc track, which I contemplated a while back in this post. Many of the big and prestigious postdocs have early fall due dates; in fact the due dates are obnoxiously, obstreperously, inconveniently early as they fall right about the time when you are pushing to get all your material polished off and looked at by people in your institution, immediately before all the t-t applications are due. Since they also require statements of research plans and often extensive tailoring (or fudging) to meet a "theme" of whatever center is hosting them that year, I decided that they were too much effort and too competitive to deal with. (Ok, I applied to one. There are many reasons why I know I am not really in the running for that one, but I had reasons to apply.)

However, there is a second wave of postdocs, with deadlines to hit soon. And if now I'm desperate enough to hunger after the postings of teaching-heavy rural religious schools founded by the Branch Davidians and the adjunct postings for CCs near my parents' house ("maybe I could just move back home ... how deadly allergic to cats could my dad really be?"), then suddenly the requirements for postdoc apps don't seem so onerous. Well, all except one part.

Now, I don't know much about postdocs, but there are apparently "good postdocs" and "bad postdocs," otherwise known as postdocs that fund you like a fellowship or perhaps make you teach one class, and postdocs that are really adjuncting under a more prestigious name. Did you know that there are huge differences in funding and workload between various fancy-sounding postdocs? Because the average search committee member does not, and seems to think that the phrase "three-year-postdoc" on the CV should also come with some fancy publications dating from that time period. I know this because one of our grads had a hell of a time going back out on the market from a very teaching heavy postdoc (that sounded really fucking exploitative, but I won't give details here), and this person was constantly getting interviews at top places and then grilled about not being able to hack it, publication-wise, on a "cushy postdoc," and now, is currently working at --- wait for it --- yet another postdoc. With a shit teaching load, although not quite as bad as Postdoc Number One.

On the other hand, the big-name postdocs with little or no teaching have a bit of a wrinkle to them as well: consider, for example, the Harvard Humanities Center postdoc, which charges you $60 to apply. Yeah, you heard that right. Sixty bucks for the chance to compete against every fucking poor, desperate and unemployed grad student in every fucking glutted humanities field. Couldn't you ask for my dissertation abstract to be translated into rhyming iambic pentameter epic poetry instead? I've got the time; money is the reason I'm applying to your stupid club.

I'm not the only one grumbling: here's what the people posting on the job wiki are saying over on the postdoc page (each star is a new person chiming in):
Columbia University Society of Fellows in the Humanities

(Deadline: 10/8/2007)


* Sooo... since Columbia charges a $30 "application fee," AND requires that you make and send them 5 copies of your application, what do you think they're doing with the money? Going out and drinking $24,000 worth of appletinis?
* I LOOOOVE the fact that you did the math!

* now if the $30 (for Columbia) wasn't bad enough, Harvard has the chutzpah to charge $60 to apply to their postdoc!! The program is great... but I mean really.... $60 for the honor of being rejected by Harvard??!
* I couldn't agree with you more. I think we should bring it up at the MLA delegate assembly that these fees (especially if you apply, say, four years in a row) become ridiculous.
* I, for one, have given up applying just because of the ridiculous $60 fee.
* Q. Was this discussed at the MLA delegate assembly as suggested?
Sounds like the sheer number of us fools who apply pay for the postdoc itself, no? Or at least the staff member responsible for handling the paperwork for it. (And really, Harvard? Columbia? Don't they have endowments so friggen big that they don't know how to spend it all on their own? Or was that Princeton? Anyway, rich universities taking big fees from grad students who are generally at less prestigious universities seems pretty cold. You couldn't do something a bit more helpful and useful for the profession than that? (now I'm on the idea of the massive endowments) I mean, yeah, I'd be happy if you tied the money to some sort of local teaching support at the CC or high school level, which would mean I would not be eligible for it, but it would be doing a hell of a lot more good for people at that level.)

But I digress. (Which is the point of a blog, but anyway.)

Really, this whole "the applicants will subsidize the winner" thing sounds a lot like a perverse form of the mutualista, or mutual aid society, that various oppressed groups have formed for themselves. Think of those Langston Hughes poems or movies about Harlem where the "insurance man" shows up demanding his dime for the week. Without any governmental safety net, communities would band together and form their own mutual aid societies, where everyone would pay in, knowing that their burial or their widow would be taken care of when they kicked the bucket. (Ok, so it's only uplifting in a very depressing sense.) Why do I mention this?

Well, there's pretty much no way that Harvard would pick me for that postdoc ---- now I'm wishing I'd had this idea back the first year of grad school, to form a school-specific mutualista of our own. We must have, what, 60 or 70 grad students in our dept. at any one time? If we'd each put aside 20 bucks a month (shorting the beer budget but not truly breaking us), we'd have a pool to support one of our own who'd graduated --- and really, I'm not necessarily gonna win the hard-luck story competition in my department, but I'd be much happier about losing out to one of my friends and supporting him/her than tossing my money, and application, out into a void.

So, sum up, I'm applying out for postdocs again now. But only the ones where it's free to apply. I get enough rejection in this profession that I don't need to pay for it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Don't pull a muscle napping; always stretch first

I got back to my place yesterday and the cats seem to have forgiven me by now. Yesterday, while I was cleaning and doing laundry and unpacking things, Loquito was following me everywhere expressing his disapproval ("mreer! Mreeeeeer!") whereas today he has attached himself to my leg like a lamprey, afraid I will leave again, and even Timido is sleeping on the couch near me rather than hiding under it or the bed. They seem to be used to me being back ---- I had someone checking in on them once a day and now they are super-skittish and not used to a person being in the apt all the time, which is a little frustrating.

I am also easing myself back into work and the new year as gradually as possible. So far, I've made some to do lists (which include making late new year's resolutions and, possibly, a Theme) and thought about possibly planning some things, like getting back to exercising. And just like how you don't want to sabotage your new exercising plans by overdoing it too much on the first day, I've been careful with my first-day-back foray into dissertating and bookended a couple hours of history reading with warm-up and cool-down naps on either side. If I were truly shameless I would say that I couldn't work at all tomorrow because the brain muscles need a day off to recover, but I think that may be too outrageous even for me.

I also had big plans for cleaning everything and tossing out old junk --- that's something you do with a new year, right? --- but today was one of those cloudy days where I just can't get moving and even getting the mail seems like too much effort. To top it all off for weirdness, I had an MLA-interview anxiety dream last night. Never mind that MLA is over. And that I didn't have interviews. I guess my brain just wanted to get in on all the fun. Oh joy.

But on the other hand, it's so nice to be back in my own place and I bought a big pile of lovely healthy groceries and am pleased to be back to cooking highly involved and healthy things rather than eating Microwaved Meals With More Meat in Them Than a Week's Recommended Servings at my parents' house. My mom has always had the motto (she hates cooking) that she doesn't want to cook something that takes longer than it does for people to eat it, and with new injunctions for her on lowering sodium and cholesterol, plus the fact that she's smoked her whole adult life, plus plus the fact that I think you just lose all sense of taste when you get old, like the diminishing of one's sense of hearing or smell, and it all adds up to a bit of an ordeal. It's also class based; we've started having arguments over my becoming too snooty to eat her cooking when the rest of the family loves it. But did you know you can ruin green beans fresh out of the garden? Rinse, dump in water, boil at least twenty minutes or until they almost fall apart into a mush, drain, and shake liberally with powdered butter substitute (ButterBuds). Don't spread the butter powder around or rub it in. Sigh. Don't even get me started on the temperature of the house and my dad, whose world of care and awareness has dwindled to long conversations about how hot or cold the house is compared to the frigid 60-degree weather outside.

Hm, maybe I'll try a second rep of that history reading before another round of napping. Or maybe I'll watch one of my Christmas presents, which was this.