Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Go over here and read about Fretful Porpentine's troubles with toads (or frogs, whatever). Heee! I am amused.

And while we're on the topic I'll post one of my favorite poems, which indeed could be retitled "Why I Do Not Go Camping Although I Would Love To In Theory." (Maybe I should quote from Aristophanes's The Frogs, instead? Brek-kek-kek-kek-koax, koax!)

Toads, yum!


All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

© 1987 Seamus Heaney

Thursday, July 23, 2009

School Supplies for Graduate School?

That --- the title of my post --- is what brought someone to my blog recently. I was amused, thinking of course of the little checklists my mom and I would eagerly shop for every fall. They looked something like this I snatched off
  • Glue sticks (at least three for the year)
  • Scissors
  • Ballpoint pens
  • No. 2 pencils
  • Box of tissues
  • A large pink eraser
  • Water-based markers
  • Spiral-bound or composition notebooks
What, I wondered, would the grad school version of this look like? Could you imagine what my (now much older and infinitely less eager) mom would think if I dragged her along to the store to pick up these Grade 13-Infinity School List Items?:
  • Bourbon (at least three bottles per quarter)
  • No-Doze and Redbull
  • Flash drive
  • Box of tissues
  • Antidepressants
  • Portable stapler (because none of your students will ever think to bring their own or to staple their own essays, ever)
  • Uncrushable sense of purpose

More seriously, though, I can’t think of what sort of supplies are necessary for grad school. Rifling through the department’s supply cabinet for various cheap-but-fun office supplies is one of the perks, of course, and I can’t think of anything that grad students, those eager beavers that they are, wouldn’t already be fondling and drooling over and buying too much of without my sage advice. (come on, how many grad students in English only buy the required textbooks and can get out of the bookstore without grabbing at least a few extra “ooh, how cool! I must read this!” type of things?)

Likewise I think the people I know are all such nerds that we like to go out to stationery stores and paw through all the cute notebooks and gel pens and whatnot (I just bought some new ones to reward me for writing). And everybody has trouble getting out of the House of Crack alive!

Mmmm, shiny deliciousness. I must need a new PDA to be all organized and shiny and such. Perhaps the best advice to new grad students would be to not buy all the cool shininess and to make a budget instead?

So, you tell me: what essential back-to-grad-school supplies am I missing? What will the incoming grad students need that they don’t know about yet? Or, alternately, you could add to the Surviving-the-Transition list above.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Files and Piles --- help?

Well, so today was not a thinking-type work day. Luckily, I seem to be at the moment of my projects where I had lots of stuff to download and print, and then piles of stuff cluttering up my little desktop. So I feel like I "made progress" even though that progress was mostly the paper-pushing, non mental type stuff. And I'm afraid I've used up an entire month's worth of busy work and won't have anything the next time I'm tired and can't concentrate.

Anyways, here is where you can help. I have recently been going through a lot of journals and downloading their most recent issues --- you'll remember that I was finding a potential venue for my next (as yet unwritten) article --- and I ran across a lot of things I want to use, save, and/or possibly read someday. I am old and untechnological enough that my dissertation files consist of print articles not pdfs, and I, ahem, "acquired" EndNote but then it stopped working and I just gave up rather than try to update and import all that crap in a second time when I was already halfway through my dissertation.

Plus, there are my "notes&quotes" pages, which are just word documents with all my thoughts and typed in quotations and citations from various dissertation-related books for later use. Those are all saved in a file inside my dissertation file labeled "Notes on Library Books." Clever, eh?

Of course, I don't want to continue saving all my new stuff in a folder deep within a folder labeled "dissertation" as that would soon drive me nuts ---- who would remember where anything is saved? And I don't want to stuff my pdfs into my various project folders and diss-chapter folders because that is a filing nightmare waiting to happen. Will I really remember that the article written by Dude X on Historical Figure Y is saved in my Chapter 2 dissertation folder? In the subfolder labled "Not Used"? Meh.

Ok then, but how should I organize all these file thingys? You tell me.

I've been looking at some programs, because I love to procrastinate by studying anti-procrastination, organizational stuff (I am sick, sick, sick) but there are too many, and I think that all of them do about 2/3rds of what I want them to do and none of them do exactly what I want them to do. So go find me the best one.

There's Bookends, for $99:

There's Sente, for $89:

There's Papers, which may be too science-oriented to work for my stuff? they do have an extended version for the Iphone ... why would I want to work with paper databases on my iphone?)

There's Evernote, which is either free or not-free, depending on whether you want the bells and whistles:

Devonthink seems almost too scarily helpful --- I'm kinda freaked out by the whole "Artificial Intelligence will practically do your work for you" thing.

And Notebook, which seems to have more to-do/organizational stuff than article-managing stuff:

Ok, ok, obviously I got too tired during the making of this post to actually finish it, but whatever. I have the weirdest headache. Go look at some of these products and figure out what the exciting bells and whistles are, or if you use them already, tell me all about them in a highly entertaining way so that I don't have to actually think. Oh, and if you want to organize my files or write a couple articles for me as a way of test-driving the stuff, be my guest!

I think I need to go lie back down now...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lessons for Girls: Don’t Just Ask, Insist on Help (even if it makes you feel weird)

Historiann’s post on mentoring just brought up a wave of weirdly emotional memories. As I have said plenty often before, my department was largely a “raised by wolves” setup, which several grads in my cohort (myself included) really worked to change by instituting our own mentoring, convening our own workshops and training sessions, even giving each other our own mock exams and interviews to practice the skills that our profs told us we needed to have but never taught us.

While I certainly complained about this a lot, I also felt that it was an important facet of the grad school process: the path toward making decisions for yourself as a self-sufficient professional rather than a student. And I’m pretty sure that no one wants new tenure-track profs who are incapable of carrying out basic tasks without getting the approval and signing-off from their colleagues. It would be like our undergrads, who want to be spoon-fed everything.

On the other hand, self-sufficiency can actually be damaging and isolating in many subtle ways. And “self-sufficiency” can uneasily shade into certain assumptions about class and gender and entitlement.

Once, I happened to be walking down my department hallway to the grad lounge/lab when I saw the department IT guy, who I hadn’t seen in months. He stopped me and said hello with some comment on that fact. “Oh, I’ve been around, just workin’ away,” I replied. “You know, I was actually thinking about you the other day, how you don’t ever particularly seem to need anything,” he said as he knocked on the door of a particularly cantankerous, now-emeriti professor. “Well I know to try about 5 or 6 different things before I declare the computer broken and send for you. I wouldn’t want to be a bother.” We shared a rueful smile and he went in the Cantankerous Professor’s office, where he was probably going to show him for the 10 millionth time how to open his email.

I didn’t really think about how this attitude was not just shaped by my undergrad experience at Big Fat University, where nobody gave two shits about any particular cog in that machine, but was also a powerful part of my socialization into my gender and class, until I had a certain grad student as a housemate.

Brilliant Grad knows he is brilliant. People have told him so, and he has wildly succeeded in everything he has ever tried. And he works damn hard so that he can do what he wants to do. He’s a nice guy, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I looked at him and would think, ok, this is why you don’t tell people they are smart like that is a compliment. It shapes them in very strange ways.

Brilliant Grad and I loved to talk and would constantly share stories. It was through him I realized that my parents’ working-class upbringings flavored a lot of my experience, and through me that he realized he was not middle class, but upper class. He went to an elite east coast prep school. I learned that there is an entire east coast class of people who think “everyone” goes to east coast prep schools. This isn’t necessarily the case in California, where so many of us go to public schools and the UC system and go on to do important, high-level stuff in the state that there isn’t this weird “cohort” of movers and shakers who all have the same exclusive schools by their names. CA has its own fucked-up class system, but it’s different. And I’m getting away from my point.

Brilliant Grad also went to a top-of-the-line liberal arts school, one you’ve all heard of I bet (I hadn’t, heh). I know he didn’t work through school; I don’t think he ever worried about how it would be paid for. He constantly told me stories of the cool things he and his friends did, created, wrote, filmed --- everything. And he seemed to have strong, even intimate relationships with all of his professors.

So when he would come home and tell me something that Professor Wonderful said to him in his office, or how he had had this idea and knocked on his door to run it by him, if not daily, then every few days, I was confused. “Wow, how often do you go see him? Aren’t you … bothering him?” I’d ask. “No --- isn’t that what he’s there for, to mentor us? What?” he asked as I continued to stare at him with an eyebrow raised, shocked. Profs are here to do shitloads of research, not shoot the breeze with their grad students. I know I don’t go to my advisor unless I have a specific problem that I need her help with and I have already tried three different ways of solving it on my own.

And yet, if you compare our trajectories, Brilliant Grad has done very well. In and out of a half dozen different profs’ offices every week being friendly and sociable, his name tended to come up when they had “special things,” or little bits of extra money, that he got without it ever being offered up to the department at large. He convinced profs to go to certain conferences where he wanted to go and had them introduce him to eminent scholars in the field. He worked with an up-and-coming prof in another department, then convinced him to share his Special Archive Grant money when he went down to write at the Monolith for a summer.

And most astounding, and completely secretly, after listening to all my complaints about money and lack of funding or support and our so-so job placement rate, he announced out of the blue that he had been accepted to transfer into a world-renowned private university, where he would be able to finish out his PhD without ever teaching again. I don’t know if I was more shocked that he could have spent the entire year I had known him applying out to other programs without ever mentioning it, or that he was much more unhappy than I was in our program when he was getting more support than I ever had.

After he was accepted and flew out for his prospective student visit, he came back and told me all about it. “I’m almost sad I was accepted there, because I would so love to work there some day and now I won’t. The projects! The teaching load! Sisyphus, I was in ______’s office talking to him about [Amazing Archive in Fabulous City] where he had just been a year writing his book, and ... jeezus Sisyphus, his office was the size of this living room! He could hold grad seminars over there on his map table!”

“Damn, I’m just looking forward to the day I get an office with walls that go all the way up to the ceiling,” I said.

“Is that really all the higher you can aspire to?” he shot back. I was cut to the quick.

Be a good girl. Don’t be a bother. Don’t worry anybody, now. Don’t take up anybody’s time. Are you sure you want to pester him with that? Be polite. Good girls raise their hands and wait their turn. Don’t be needy, bitchy, clingy, bossy. And Who are you that you could apply there? We don’t have any Stanfords or Rockefellers in our family that could help you get in. Why don’t you go to a state school, like your brother?

Brilliant Grad, he doesn’t even think about whether he deserves something or not. He just meets people and thinks about how they can help him, what they are both interested in, how to make connections. He befriends everyone and then they want to talk to him, support him, do things for him. I hardly know my advisor or any of the professors in my department because I wouldn’t want to be an imposition on their time. For all the countless little connections or bits of advice that never get formalized or written down, be a bother. Don’t just ask for help; insist on it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There's always one more thing...

Oooog, I am so ready to be done. Proofread? Check. Triple-proofread? Check. Gone over the journal's style guidelines? Check. Fixed all the damn footnotes? Check. Checked up on the bibliography? Check. Assembled the drawings and captions and gathered up all the permissions info? Sigh... check. Let's get it out already! My eyes will start to bleed if they have to look at this damn essay one more time!

Ok, write up the little cover letter.... no problem, it's basically a formality. (Hurry up!) Go to the website thingy ... log in ... no, create a log in ... find the right page ... (Arrrrgh hurry!) ... click on the right checkboxes... Ugh. Abstract. An abstract?

I want nothing more than to cut this albatross from my neck and now you want me to write a goddamn abstract for it?


Now you've done it, you made my eyes bleed. Somebody got a napkin they can hand me?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Death by Footnotes

Excuse me:


I hate this! I am wrangling with footnotes right now --- for an essay that has been written as a dissertation chapter and then revised about 3 separate times. I need to go through and make sure that all the footnotes (and citations in general) I need are in this latest version, in the right place and the correct order. And I'm switching citation styles. Since I have expanded and contracted the piece, not to mention massively reorganized it each time, this is no easy undertaking!

Not to mention the fact that I hate waste and have the urge to include everything once I have found it, so I'm trying to figure out which things I need and which I just want to include because they finally got written down and made pretty.

And right now my nemesis can be summed up in a single word:


I like a lot of things about research and writing, but this isn't one of 'em.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Plate is Full

(Picture taken from The Girl Who Ate Everything's blog. )

Yes, my plate is full --- I have been diligently working away at cleaning my plate and getting all the various projects off of it, and yet, there is much to do in the rest of the summer! I wanted to represent my to-do list with an enormous plate of different fried foods, but the pictures were a little too off-putting. This one looks both inspiringly tasty and sure to induce major indigestion afterwards, which sounds about right.

Just like a plate of 15 or so fried twinkies, my projects are very rich and overwhelming and I can only work at them for a short time before needing to take a breather. But! While recovering for a moment or two I will encourage myself with my progress to date:

- finished, one revise-and-resubmit.
- very close to done, one previously rejected article
- extensively brainstormed, one brand new article idea

Not bad. Not bad at all. I'm actually happy about my work, except for that first five minutes when I sit down at the computer and my brain automatically blurts out, "WTF? You can just climb back into bed, you know. No one is there to stop you."

I also have:

- several small article-idea sprouts,

which I have compiled some crap on and put into a folder on my desktop. I'm hoping that the ideas will germinate completely on their own in my subconscious while I work on the other projects and in a couple years I will just wake up and bust out the entire article in one sitting. I can hope, right?

So you can see, as long as you completely ignore that whole dissertation-into-book-manuscript business, I am working my way through that overloaded plate. I want to finish that damn article revision, proof it up, and send it out next week. That should give me some breathing time before I have to get back on the job-search treadmill.

Anybody wanna revise my dissertation for me? I have no clue how to start! Some people gave me advice (thank you! I owe you an email!) but that was mainly useful advice about some specific publishers who might like my stuff. And other people mentioned the Germano book, which I have. I'm just kinda feeling overwhelmed by ... starting. Like, literally: do I go reread my dissertation and make a list of all the stuff that needs to be changed? do I brainstorm an introduction? How do I even start to tackle this? I mean, I can't unhinge my jaw like a snake, so how do you bite into a humongous burger that is the size of my head like the picture up there?

As a caveat, I should note that none of these projects have anything to do with each other ... so while I have a "research agenda," it would seem, I do not have a coherent research agenda. I like to study everything. I'm just finding stuff that's interesting and working on it, regardless of topic or field. If that's really bad, you might want to let me know.

Oh, and I ordered the gold bottle.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I Want the Shiny!

The shiny what? you may be asking. Anything, as long as it's shiny. I'm not picky; I'm in the mood for buying something shiny and pretty and fun --- something that I can dangle in front of myself when my brain is fried, saying "ooooh, sparkly!"

I missed my first-of-the-month academic deadline (oops). I have revised half of the article instead of the whole thing. On the other hand, I think I need this much time to get it all fixed, so I'm not too upset. Obviously having it done already would be ideal, but then again, so would having a team of handsome models to feed me chocolate truffles while I cogitate. As always, I'll just have to make do with the limitations of reality. Sigh.

Anyway, I was searching for something properly Shiny! and Fun! and decided that I need one of these:
Perty, huh? I like it. And I've been very good about going to my exercise class lately, and feeling grumpy about my workout clothes, which are boring and I'm tired of them, so maybe it is time to get something cute to look at while spinning! (I guess the team of models with chocolate would also work...)

I think I like this orange/gold color best:

But then again I like the red a lot too (I love the color red anyways):

Which do I choose? Help me!

Ok, also ---- I could just buy this now to celebrate the fact that I seem to have made exercise a new habit for myself, or I could not buy it until I send out the article and reward myself with it then. Only problem is if I had to order it and then wait, even longer, after all the waiting to get my article revised! Hmmm. Pondering. If you weigh in on this you also must pick a color! There was also a beautiful green-and-gold flowery type design on their site when I looked a few months ago, but it seems to be gone now. Sad. I guess it makes it a little easier to choose though.

In other silly news, my niece is such a total overprepared weirdo that she shops for Christmas presents early. She just emailed me to say that, at July, this is her latest and most behind she has ever been on her Christmas shopping, so I better get her some suggestions damn quick. I must be getting a garlic press in December. Heh.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I'm Oooooooold!

  • I must be old because my brother has just turned 45. (hi bro) Eeeeek!
  • On the plus side, his favorite birthday food is angelfood cake ... which my mom hates because it is not chocolate. So for the past several years we have had a tradition of making a dark chocolate fondue and everybody dips the cake and strawberries and banana chunks and other fruit in the fondue. Yum! Sadly, while raspberries go so well with dark chocolate, they do not hold up well to being skewered and dipped in hot liquid. It was just a mess rather than making it to anybody's mouths.
  • One neice was talking about something --- music, I think --- and kept talking about "the 90s" in the same tone of voice that I talk about "the 60s." When I commented on how weird it was for me to hear talk about the 90s in this tone of them being totally distant and past and closed down and irrelevant, she goes, "well yeah. That's cause they are --- that was a totally long time ago!" Oh, I am cut to the quick! At least she was born in the 80s and thus can remember the 90s, unlike my other neice and nephews. "Yeah dude, they are starting to talk about "the millenium" in that same way already," another tells me. Sigh.
  • Likewise I rewatched 10 Things I Hate About You today while going through a pile of bills and stuff --- it's still a cute movie, one of my fave teen Shakespeare adaptations, although time has proven that Julia Stiles really is incapable of acting and I had been giving her too much benefit of the doubt in that film --- and since we were on the subject of the 90s I mentioned it. "Ohhh, god, that movie is sooooo mid-90s," said my niece with an eye-roll. "it's cute" I protest. "Soooo dated" was the reply. This whole exchange is funny because I was having warm fuzzies during that movie because the "shrew" character reminds me a lot of this neice, who is blond and sarcastic and individualistic and strong and I wish she read The Feminine Mystique and listened to Bikini Kill like that character. Still, she's good people.
  • Likewise my neices are both talking seriously about getting married and having babies because now that they have graduated, what the hell else do you do with your life? This makes me feel not only baffled by their logic but reeeeeeeeeally old at the thought of them with babies.
  • After dinner and the presents we're all still sitting around the table talking and my various nieces and nephews are telling stories about various cute and crazy squirrels they have seen at their schools and when visiting college campuses. One neice starts talking about a cute video someone shot at Santa Cruz of a big squirrel and a little squirrel and I break in: "Noo! That was UCLA because I have seen that one! Someone posted it on my facebook!" It's here. I explained the "plot" and how cute it was and they all laughed and my brother started talking about some photoshopped squirrel pictures his friend sent him, where the squirrels have been spliced into various Star Wars scenes. My dad shakes his head and drops his forehead into his palm. "My god." he says. "And this is why we're going to lose in productivity to the Japanese." "Yeah," I say, "but at least we'll be happy."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Academic Life Cycle

Here's a little blast from the past, to show you that I was weird and wacky and fond of bizarre metaphors (and apt to get myself in trouble in the department) long before I got myself a blog:

I had a quasi-admin gig at one point and made sure to abuse my powers (and my access to photoshop and dreamweaver). They let me run some workshops as long as I did all the stuff they wanted first, and --- surprise! --- I wanted workshops that would help me learn about the profession as a systematic structure, and how to survive in it.

Funny thing is, I got in major trouble for this poster --- one of the other grad students was very angry about it and gave me such shit. (I remember getting shouted at, or at least her getting way up in my face about it, in the hallway --- I don't do well with loud confrontations. We didn't mesh, personality-wise.) Anyway, she was incensed by the notion that we were spawns --- I am not just a number! I am not a frog! I remember her shouting. I didn't get it. Of course we are; recognizing this is the first step to changing it, or even surviving it. But then again, I'm perfectly ok with saying I'm a little cog in a big machine ---- rather than assert I am somehow special or unique, that I transcend or am separate from the machine, I'd rather take some steps to change the machine itself if it needs fixing. But I'm also very aware of the limits of my power to change things, even if I were to work collectively or collaboratively.

Anyway, like the teeny little mortarboard on the ABD frog? I feel like the tenured frog needs some sort of accessory too, but can't figure out what it would be.

I'm planning on working up some posts that link all my blatherings about certain topics, like grad school and the job search, in one central page list, but it's taking a lot longer than I had thought and so it will be a while before they go up. And someday, I may even write some new posts for the blog! Don't hold your collective amphibious breaths though --- I need to do my actual work too.