Monday, June 29, 2009

Coffeeshop Eavesdropping on Something Totally Different

So this Latino guy diagonally across from me is talking. He's wearing dark blue jeans with a narrow cut, so saturated with color they almost seem black, and a similarly vivid striped button-down shirt in blues and purples. He's very dark skinned, middle-aged, starting a bit of a paunch, with a long face and the prominent arched nose I associate with Mayan paintings. The guy across from him, over my shoulder and mostly out of sight, keeps saying that he must be so proud.

When Not Visible Guy asks, "so what was her dissertation about?" I perk up my ears.

"It's Edu-edu-edu -CA-shun, something, they've got these learning communities, and they track them across schools, but she's pulling them out and tracking things by kids and not by school, hell, I don't know. I keep asking her why she doesn't have something lined up next yet."

Now they are off on a conversation about money. It seems like there are two ways to give money, one is all about the show, it's a way of demonstrating your pride and showing both of you off to everyone; that kind you don't expect the other person to take the help, in fact you make a big show of offering money and they make a big show of not taking it and demonstrating their independence and that's totally cool. But then there is the other kind, where you want to give money because you are genuinely worried and want to help out, and how do you actually get the money to the daughter in scenario two when she's already made a show of refusing it like in scenario one? They're brainstorming methods; it kinda reminds me of when my dad and my brother fight over who gets to pay the check. :-)

* * *

She may be the first person in the family to get a degree but she's not the only one; he got a BS last spring (Not Visible Guy is ribbing him that now he has to go back to school and get more degrees than his girl. The guy groans. "Education is important," says the dad with a wry smile, "but not that important.") I'm assuming he did some sort of engineering thing? He seems to be in construction. These guys are making me cry the happy tears.

* * *

Ok I had thought the other guy was white but he's telling a story about somebody --- a relative? a friend? I missed that --- who is Hopi and Navajo on his mother's side and Cherokee and something else on his father's side. "They were big in The Movement," he says. "The Long Walk, total activist stuff. Totally messed him up because he was pushing all that and overloaded and nearly flunked out."

This is fascinating; I'm having a hard time concentrating on my own work stuff. Ok I missed part of that story ---- did the other guy manage to go back to school and graduate? ---- but the moral is all about the Importance of an Education. I totally love these guys. They are warming the cockles of my heart. Heh.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coffeeshop Eavesdropping

There are these two weird old hippies sitting next to me on the patio. Either that, or medieval religious history/religious studies profs. At one point someone mentioned someone being kicked out of a class, and they keep namedropping medieval theologians. No, wait --- batshit crazy is what they are:

"And then I sent him to the place of eternal torment. I had him struck with the ninth curse, the [missed this phrase]. Which, on the mundane plane of reality, manifested as the development of [______] leukemia ---- which, on the earthly plane revels itself as a whitening of the skin, as pinpoints of whiteness," here he leans forward, jabbing his finger with incredible emphasis, as if he has just clinched his argument. "As a sign of the dematerialization of the skin, of the ... loosening, see, of carnality and a transcendence to a more spiritualized place." He nods.

Here the other fellow leans forward to speak. I notice he has some port wine stains scattered on his head and nose; his head is mostly shaved to hide the balding spots; what's left is gray.

He speaks as if replying to the first man's statement.

"But I, am afflicted right now with women who demand too little of me. And I am freighted with a consuming melancholy, not at the moment of initiating sex, but after..."


Ok, this conversation is wierding me out. I really have to work now. And I lost their conversation in the process of trying to transcribe what I first heard. Funny thing is, they don't look like homeless people --- they're dressed just like any other preppy software engineers in the area.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Be sure to use bullet points to highlight your absolute lack of marketable skills

The problem with being in the same room as my dad is that the power of his nagging is amplified by his clever use of nonverbal body tics, sighs, and grunts. When dad gripes "ya still haven't got a goddamn job yet?" on the phone, I am relatively unaffected, and manage to roll my eyes and distract him by asking if any annoying kids have been on his lawn lately.

In person, however, I am witness to the pathos of his response, which involves him clutching at his heart and looking off into the distance, contemplating, surely, my impending death by starvation followed by being eaten by my cats, which he of course is going to have to clean up dammit why does he have to do all the work around here? He sighs. Then his face sags a little bit and the lines around his mouth come out in greater depth and he looks really old. The piteousness of that last bit is only slightly diminished when he darts an eye over in my direction to see whether I am being affected.

Nothing I say or do serves to dissuade him ---- not assurances that I am teaching/have a fellowship/have money to cover the summer/just won the lottery, all of which, except the last, have been true at various times ---- and indeed I know this is a game I cannot win, for even if I were to get a job he would immediately move down the list for the next point of nagging: filling my retirement accounts, presumably, or getting the next job, raise, or additional job (you can never be too careful!).

But this time, or maybe it is that a lifetime of nagging has worn down my defenses and made me susceptible, this time the constant complaints have raised some worry and I have been looking for "something to pick up" over the summer, even though I could just spend the entire summer writing away at my publishing stuff due to my cushion. (Dad's pay-cash-for-everything, buy- nothing, re-use-tinfoil, you-can-never-have-enough-money-for-emergencies, don't-you-know-I -was-born-in-the-Depression-and-had-to-walk-uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow philosophy of miserliness is another trait of his I've unwillingly picked up.)

But this town is not an easy place to "pick something up in." Or I have become spoiled and formed ridiculously high standards of compensation and effort. Or I should have moved into the entry-level grunt jobs back when I was 22 and it hardly would have bothered me and then I would have moved up to actual money and interestingness by now. You know, there really is something to that, so please tell your students. Anyway, reading local job listings has been an exercise in depressingness. I can see now why so many people on that "applying to grad school" livejournal site talk about their jobs as soul-sucking.

However! Something popped out at me on the list one day as something that might be sorta fun. I might like to try that! And if I test it out I will be checking out a possible plan B if the job market this fall does not work. All to the good.

You need a resume and cover letter to apply, though. Turns out I write those much the same way as I write academic paragraphs: slowly and with lots of breaks. And by stealing about a dozen models off the web and reverse-engineering them. Whoo boy --- have you looked at sample letters over on Monster? They read exactly like the spam that gets left on blog comments. I hadn't realized that spam is actually a paragon of good business writing. This depresses me even further. The one upside is that business cover letters and resumes are, probably because the prose is so soul-suckingly godawful, mercifully brief. And bulleted. Even the letter is bulleted, although ---- and I'm giving you a solid-gold job tip here by telling you this ---- you do not actually use bullet points in your address, greeting, or signature.

The bright side of spending time looking at sample resumes and job ads and advice columns and salary scales is that I get to realize: holy shit, I am smarter and more qualified than most of the job seekers out there, if all these articles about applicants not being able to follow the format of a business letter by cutting and pasting sample key phrases and relevant information into a formatted template are to be believed. Or that being able to use Word and Outlook actually moves me up the pay scale. And that the academic job search is way fuckin' harder than any of the application processes out on the job boards. Truth be told, I've never said that getting a nonacademic job seemed impossible, just that, like Bartleby, I prefer not to.

Ok, I was going to do some funny riffs here on a bulleted list of marketable cog skills, as opposed to marketable grad student skills, as well as some sample cover letter poetry, but I just hit tiredness and promise to have part 2 of this post tomorrow. Except: and this is very important! You need to make me promise that the "side job search," spoofs of the side job search, and the side job itself cannot get in the way of the really important activity of this summer, which is to get out my damn publications and prep for the real job search this fall. I do not need to get some job and then be trapped someplace where "a strong ability to alphabetize and file neatly" is a cutting-edge skill.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cartesian Dualism, Coffeehouse Edition

I'm at a coffeeshop, working on revising my rejected article. Today I decided to get a medium coffee instead of my usual latte or mocha, for a variety of monetary, caffeination, and caloric reasons. And behold! I am wired! jittery!, so physically loaded with caffeine that you can see me shaking when I hold out my hand. And yet, my brain is mush. Not alert at all. Like oatmeal.

Spirit is willing, flesh, etc. etc. Just goes to show you how well one can separate off the body from the mind --- or perhaps how well the mind can barricade itself away from the threat of having to do actual work. I am feeling a little overwhelmed, though. There's something wrong with this artcle but I can't quite figure out how to fix it, or where to begin. It looks a lot like this:

(look ma, I made it all by myself!)

I'm starting to think this whole "interdisciplinary" thing is a crock. A crock of stinking fish heads, no?

I suppose I must go hide out in my attic again and try to work. I hope to either reconnect brain to body or first part of argument to second part of argument. It looked fine to me the last time I sent it out --- I wonder what exactly is wrong here?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Congratulations to all the graduates! May you lead peaceful lives

Hooray for all of you, each and every one who finished, whether you are going on to a fabulous job, a not-so-fabulous job, or don't know what you're doing yet.

I just helped Cool Scientist Friend celebrate her graduation by being at her dinner party, and I am very tired. Really, I could not do it justice --- it had all the intrigue of a Hollywood melodrama, and I'm tired.

First of all, I got to meet her dad ---- who she hasn't seen since she was twelve and who has mostly cut off contact since the divorce. Having only seen him through stories clouded by years of adolescent anger, and one picture of him from the late 70s with a toddler Cool Scientist Friend ---- with the dark brooding good looks and ferocious stare of a young Ted Hughes ---- I was completely thrown for a loop upon meeting him to find him, instead of that old photograph come to life, to be old, decrepit and nearly deaf. (I still haven't met her adopted sister, who was adopted when they thought her mom couldn't have kids, before CSF, and then her mom refused to have anything to do with the sister after the divorce because she wasn't "really" hers, except she still had full custody of her.) I got shuttled back and forth from one end of the table to the other, babysitting, basically, either one parent or the other. I got to explain to both of them (and her mom should know better) that I had been looking for a job all year and was still unemployed, and then got sanctimonious lectures about how I should have been a scientist instead.

Second, The Political Animal, who broke things off with CSF shortly before her graduation ---- this was a multi-year relationship ---- she had just proposed to him ---- and they haven't told this to either set of parents because they didn't want this drama to overshadow CSF on her big graduation day ---- he got up and toasted CSF with a long speech about how wonderful she was and how she was his best friend and he loved her very deeply. And I sat across from her and her face just broke. It was awful. And probably everybody at the table thought she was teary-eyed out of happiness, touched by this gesture of affection from her boyfriend.

Third, a couple who are CSF's friends showed up very late and clearly had had a fight, and the woman, who I know has just been in rehab and AA, drank very large quantities of alcohol, and at a certain point in the dinner it became known that she had brought her pet rat into the restaurant with her. This couple wasn't at the table much; they kept getting up and going outside, presumably to continue their argument and at some point they must have left the rat back in the car. I must admit that no actual scenes ocurred with them, it is merely the principle of the thing I am complaining about.

And then, as is to be expected, we couldn't get people to put enough money in to cover the check.

I certainly hope that CSF had a good time, or, if not that, she at least has relief that's all over. Looking at what I wrote makes me sad that I haven't done more for her, helped her out more, because it's never fun to grow up as the heroine of a Dickens novel or whatever. I'm going to help her with packing and moving and stuff this week, and anything else I can think of. And at least she had a lovely day of beautiful weather and pomp and circumstance that, theoretically, at least, was all about celebrating her. That and she gets to put everybody on planes and send them away tomorrow.

Monday, June 8, 2009

How do you cover your assets if you're hiding your detriments?

Hee! Go over to Acadamnit's place ---- mofo's got a hilarious metaphor for how starting and senior academics have very different perceptions of what's the right amount to cite prior scholarship (and see how I skirted the delicate question of pronouns and gender identity by using a term that theoretically could be applied to anyone in how it is the ultimate insult to everyone? Good times!)

As Acadamnit helpfully points out:
I know you are new to the research publication party, but don’t you want to show up dressed appropriately? It’s like a pool party and bathing suits are required. You simply cannot arrive in Arctic expedition attire. It’s uncomfortable I know. And no, an 1800s style “bathing suit” doesn’t work either. You just have to put yourself out there. You are obligated to cover the most sensitive parts, the delicate parts of your argument that would hurt most to get burned, but the rest is just going to have to be left exposed and open to scrutiny. It’s OK, it just takes some getting used to.
Wonderful! Except.

I'm standing here in the dressing room as a scholar just starting out, wanting to ask for help but also not wanting to come across like a complete dork or idiot from outer space --- what if I don't know which parts to cover and which to let hang out? Which are the naughty parts that you just don't expose and which are the merely risque? If you don't know that by now, I hear academics in my head saying, you don't deserve to be here...

What if I --- ulp --- leave the wrong thing exposed? Or end up looking ridiculous?

And after that long winter of ice cream and self-doubt, I don't think I can handle having my argument hanging by a thread out in public.

(She's saying: You'd have a constipated expression too if you were dealing with floss up your butt, asshole!)

If it's okay with you-all, you go on ahead to the pool ... I think I'll just stay here in the dressing room and contemplate that dead fly stuck in the fluorescent light...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What the kids are listening to these days

I've been hearing the new single, "I love college," by Asher Roth all over my local radio stations these days. I'm kinda likin' it, in spite of myself, as it's simple and catchy in a mellow, funkified beat kind of way. Youtube won't let me embed it here (probably to get accurate playcounts for marketing purposes) but you can go here to watch it. If you're like me and don't want to bother with clicking away to watch something in the middle of reading an article, I've stuck some random screenshots in my post for you. Or you could push play and have it on in the background while reading.

So with this album are we seeing the complete death of hip-hop? Certainly we're seeing an unprecedented whitening of it. Roth's promoters, or the music-mag journalists, evidently are pushing the white rapper=Eminen connection for all it's worth, trying to foment a rivalry between the two, and Roth even has a song taking issue --- cautiously --- with the comparisons and saying he's his own guy. (Side note: Roth --- is that a Jewish name? I haven't seen anybody bring that up in their discussions of "whiteness," which is interesting in itself. I haven't listened to his album to see if that's important to his rapping persona.)

It's not much of a comparison. If Eminem can spit more lines per second than Rush Limbaugh can snort off a hooker's ass, sounding like he mixed meth with his ritalin and about a half dozen other uppers (which, hell, he probably did), Roth ambles through his lyrics with the beatific bliss of the West Coast pothead. Probably why the song's so popular on my campus.

Furthermore, Eminem may be white, but his hardscrabble childhood in a predominantly-black neighborhood gave him the "cred" --- the trappings of "blackness" --- that allowed him to be taken seriously in hip-hop. In contrast, Asher Roth comes from a wealthy suburb and graduated from West Chester University, and his lyrics deal exclusively in the minutiae and privilege of bored college kids. As Zach Baron, reviewing the album over at the Village Voice puts it: "Roth's boy-from-the-'burbs shtick came with a mouthy, complete-sentence cadence and an outsize fascination with upper-middle-class liberals, with whom he self-identified." Completely eschewing the traditional rags-to-riches, clawing-to-the-top narrative of hip-hop, Asher tells Baron "I just want to tour. I want to be able to live comfortably." You can't get much more middle-class mindset than that.

But if he sidesteps the hustle and bling-bling of so much materialistic hip-hop, along with any overt references to ghetto or black-specific culture, Roth also strips it of any anger or politics that has been so central to the genre, and the part I always liked best. No native tongues, no civil rights, no CNN of the streets, this is postracial hip-hop --- if by postracial you mean everyone is assumed to be white and upper-middle-class and mellow about it all. Blackness, black people, the whole history of black and hip-hop (hello?) has been sanitized out and made safe for guilt-free white consumption. It reminds me of that website Stuff White People Like.

Baron writes that Roth's skill is at "describing a whole milieu—white Wu-Tang–loving kids at leisure, we'll call it" that hasn't been seen in hip-hop lyrics before. I might say that Roth has produced some great party music that the white Wu-Tang-loving kids can blare out their speakers without worrying that they'll be called "wiggers" or get the crap beaten out of them on the street. And that's fine, whatever. Eminem himself would tell you Elvis did it to rock-n-roll long before anybody "whitened" hip-hop. I look forward to whatever edgy new musical style will emerge from the street to replace hip-hop now that it's become completely mainstreamed.

What bothers me is that interviewers and journalists are taking the prefab "triumph over adversity" and "breaking historic barriers" and stenciling it over Roth's experience without thinking much about it. To say that a wealthy white guy, through some hard work and lots of connections, became an overnight rap headliner in a largely non-white milieu and to present that as some sort of historic integration or move toward equality? That's just bullshit. Hooray for the overdog, who has returned a piece of black power and prominence to its rightful spot in white hegemony. Baron makes a sly dig at this theme, pointing out that the whole point of his songs is that he's had no adversity, and noting that the song "Bad Day" "is about a particularly rough, iPodless airline trip." Ouch.

But I still haven't even gotten to what really bothers me about this song and the video!

(Hellooo Animal House. The letters on that frat house are his initials, if you were wondering.)

The song is the story of what he's learned at college, why he loves it so much he never wants to leave. What bugs me is that college --- as in classes, learning things, planning what you're going to do with your life, mental work --- is never mentioned! While I guess it's progress that "don't have sex if she's too gone / when it comes to condoms, put two on" is given as obvious advice (though I'm a little worried about how literally we're supposed to take that putting two condoms on bit), this song is selling a generalized vision of college as an endless utopian binge. (The bridge on the video repeats the call-and-response of "do something crazy," whereas on my radio it goes "chug! chug! chug! chug!")

I know that this completely generic image of "COLLEGE" has been marketed to kids for a long time now, but the video really clarifies some nagging doubts I've had. It's like how the marketers couldn't sell the Beach Boys as the beach lifestyle nationwide, so they substituted cars in the lyrics and car culture as something all American teenagers would have access to and understand.

This video is the complete stereotype of wealthy college party life (funny how people only complain about negative stereotypes) and it brought home for me how homogenous "COLLEGE" life is across the country --- how my friends who graduated from UDel and UMich and UConn and WSU and the California colleges can all tell the exact same stories of "COLLEGE" culture and parties, from quarters and beer pong to kegstands and the red plastic cups.

Popular culture has been marketing "COLLEGE" to future students far more constantly and effectively than any specific university ever could. How many of your students do you think wanted to come to a college in particular rather than just "get the COLLEGE" experience? How many of them think of "COLLEGE" with the same expectations and goals that you, the professor, do? This troubles me and even now I can't fully explain the problem. Asher Roth would probably tell me to mellow out, dude, but nope, I am still troubled.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Who had the brilliant idea to only stock healthy food in the house, I ask you?

I get home and am tired and grumpy and in need of a nap and hungry and want nothing more than some sort of overprocessed, high-fructose-corn-syrup laden, fiber-free, oversalted carbs. And what is there to eat in the house? Cherries. And almonds. And stuff like beans and brown rice that will need hours of soaking and cooking before it is ingestible.

Bleah! I can't unwind from a stressful day using healthy food! Ick!

Grumble grumble.

And yes, I know why I put it there --- the laws of physics do not suspend themselves in regards to calories just because I am grumpy and don't want them to exist --- and I have been in a real rut lately with "treating" myself for one reason or another to lots of fancy coffees and desserts and the whole "hell, why not grab one of those insanely rich and sugary pastries while I am in this coffee shop working." --- but that is no reason to actually have to eat healthy food when one is hungry!

Grumble. If you don't wanna hear more of this ranting, ranting that will be even more explexetive-laden in the near future, go away. I'm planning on giving up caffeine for a while to bring my tolerance back down once I've gotten through all my grading. Meh! You have been warned.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dear Academia: Plz Stop Publishing Things. Kthnxbai.

I'm trying to keep up the momentum and move right back into my next item on the to-do list, which is to pick yet another journal for the article I am now calling the Abandoned Foundling:

I made the mistake of deciding I should actually read some of the articles in my next selected journal so I can tailor the Foundling to the fashions of this latest charity hospital ---

Arrrrrgh! Don't make me poke out my eyes! Seriously, how much crap has been published since I last did a casting about for a suitable journal??? Eeeeee! People, stop this, this ... publishing of things. I need to catch up, and there are the huge backlogs of the two journals I actually subscribe to on my table over there, and this means I should be following along in a whole bunch of other journals that are directly or tangentially related to my fields, and interdisciplinary related fields, and arrrrrgh! (pant, pant, pant.)

I feel so overwhelmed now. I think I'm going to go eat ice cream, since you could say that by picking a journal and downloading the last two year's worth of articles for me to look at and "match" my stuff to, I have done enough work for today. And I need some restorative consumables to help me recover from this horrible shock ---- I think I am having the palpitations! Or maybe those are the procrastinations. Eh.

And by the way --- does anybody else think Alice there looks like an anime character?

Monday, June 1, 2009


Last night I hit my self-imposed writing deadline, and proceeded to reward myself with the first of my chosen little prizes. Awww yeah!

The wine was not actually part of the prize, but it is tasty and I figured that I might as well have some. In fact, I may have some more of it tonight if I get my reading and class prep done in time.

I thought I was going to post a picture of me and the wine in the tub, but this bath fizzie doesn't actually make bubbles, and even as an anonymous cog blogger I'm not stupid enough to provoke scandal. So I'll re-post:

I like the idea of rewarding myself with indulgences I'd never usually spend money on. This one? Eh. It was nice, and relaxing, but I have a tub that is so small I can't straighten my legs out in it (and I'm quite short) and it's one of those old ones that even after you clean it never really looks clean. This prevents me from enjoying a soak. Plus, I've lived in California so long and internalized the drought warnings so well that I feel terrible letting the water run more than an inch in the tub, I'm still holding to my original assertion: these would be awesome to bring on a conference where you're staying in the swanky hotel that it's being held at, not least because you can leave and not worry about having to scrub the ring out of the tub.

So, I'll need a different little indulgent reward for the next milestone, but I'm still up for trying beauty stuff --- maybe a pedicure, maybe a massage. What do you think? Next goal I'm getting the new Beck CD. And there's a cute gaudy little costume jewelry necklace that caught my eye; it could go on the reward list. I already have oodles of shiny colored pens. But there must be more stuff that would work. Suggestions?