Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Well, crap.

Evidently there's nothing like setting a deadline to get me to not work. Yeah, I just don't do well with them. I'm still trying to figure this out. I did great at writing yesterday, then could barely get myself to even look at my materials today. (This may be in part because I received a tip for an outside, nonacadem job, and I've been spending a lot of time today processing through what that would mean and what I want out of my life and what do I want to apply for right now. But still.)

It's kinda like: my brain hates being under pressure, notices a deadline and thinks to itself, "Hey, if I just shut down completely until this deadline passes, I will escape the horrible period I am in." Yeah, thanks, brain. I guess I'm somehow the opposite of the last-minute binge writer; I do better if I plug away at it a teeny bit at a time; once you throw a deadline in where I have to pump out a lot in a short time ---- no good!

Dinner is cooking right now so there is still hope. I will eat and then try to flog my brain back into some sort of productivity this evening. And there is part of tomorrow outside of teaching commitments as well.

In other news, someone has posted some of my stuff to their Facebook account and lots of people are getting to the blog that way. But I can't view this person's profile or see what exactly zie is saying about my posts ---- hey, don't do that! You bring out the paranoiac in me!

So I created a Facebook account. For the other me. The fictitious alter ego. Sisyphus. The other other me already had an account. Confused yet? You ain't got nothin' on what it's like to be inside my head ---- we have to run our committee meetings by Roberts Rules of Order because the consensus process takes too long now. But anyway.

Would you like to befriend the fictitious me on Facebook? Unlike the other me, I kinda want to pimp out the Sisyphus me to befriend as many people as possible --- to be the Tila Tequila of the literary theory grad student set. Except not really like that at all. Well, whatever.

And while we're on the subject, what is the etiquette of befriending people on Facebook? So far, I've been sticking to (well, the other me, not the fictitious alter ego, just to clarify. Sisyphus has no friends at all :( right now.) only befriending people who I actually know and like, to some extent, in real life. Should I befriend everyone in my program? What about the grads who I've barely met? Or can't stand? Or professors? I see a couple of 'em listed.

And I haven't responded to a couple student (former student) requests to be my Facebook friend because a) I find that kinda creepy and like my distance and boundaries with my students and b) I don't want some search committee to look me up and find any hideously embarrassing rather than slightly embarrassing photos of me or my friends. Like giant banana suits or something. Right now we post pictures of ourselves fully clothed and play Scrabulous. The undergrad girls who wanted to befriend me? Not at all the same thing.

Feel free to debate on the intricacies of Facebook mores in the comments below. But do it soon --- as soon as this deadline passes I'll feel impelled to work, and then no more Facebooking for me for a while!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mayday Mayday

So, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that writing from a fairly complete outline is going much faster than I had expected --- that is, when I can spend the day writing instead of teaching. So I'm walking through this draft section and making good progress; I'm at about 6 pages on this text --- drafty, but complete sentences and in the right tone, with relatively few bolded notes to myself.

Thanks for the encouragement on my last post --- I'm not stuck, just want this thing to be magically over without doing the work. Heh. And if it's not written, I can't send it to people for feedback. So I've just gotta do it.

The bad news is that, when a friend invited me to local labor May Day celebrations, I realized that May 1 was the date my advisor and I had agreed I should give her a draft of my last chapter (and circulate the chapters to the rest of my committee soon after). Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!

Well, crap. I'm not going to hit that deadline; it'll have to be pushed back. My plan is to give her a complete draft of this subsection/novel I'm working on by then, which is pushing it a bit but doable.

Plus, I have student papers. I haven't looked at them yet, but I assume they will want me to, you know, grade them or something, in the near future.

This all means that I must work and don't get to go have May Day fun this week! Boo! or any fun! Double boo! Ah well, I'll celebrate tonight by linking a bunch of May Day pics, to be there in thought if not in deed:

(I may have to repurpose those cogs for my blog header...)

A strange spectacle

I just got off the bus and noticed a strange sight tootling up the main street of town:

An old man, possibly 75 or 80, in a full flight-jumpsuit (like that of pilots or astronauts) in a camouflage print, traffic-cone-orange shoes and a red motorcycle helmet, riding on a Segway.

So, if later on you hear about a geriatric, slow-motion invasion of the West Coast, you'll be able to figure out where I am.

I'm writing; I'll update on that later. Just wanted to keep you posted on possible breaking news.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dissertation Update

Well, I still have one. And it is still not done. There are two problems with the "chip away at it a little every day" method to dissertation writing:
  1. it feels like you are making no progress at all, because it is incremental progress, which contributes to the feeling of rolling a rock up a hill every day
  2. it is easy to slip from the "even a little work every day" into not working on it at all for several days, which combines the worst of the incremental method (see point 1) with the worst of the binge-and-rest writing method. Writing in binges is not so great for large projects (at least according to scholars of productivity like Boice) but when you pull an all-nighter of writing, you usually have some pages of material afterwards. Slipping off the incremental method means you're working on the rest-and-rest method, which is quite pleasant unless you think about the fact that you are making absolutely no progress at all.
I'm not in quite that dire of a situation, although I have gotten that way in the past. I have been working at the chapter off and on this week, although there were some weeks before that where I was hardly working on it at all, unless you count worrying and dreaming of when I will be done as work.

(I do that with diets too ---- or at least I did until I figured this pattern out: I will think so hard about dieting that first day that I will feel all tired and worn out and reward myself for what feels like years of not eating by having some sort of fattening special treat. Yes, I can gain wait on diets. My solution, once I found this self-sabotaging pattern of mine, has been to give up on diets and just not care anymore. So far it's working.)

But I'm not giving up on the dissertation, of course, which means I can't count imaginary progress as progress (I'm so smart for having figured that out finally). So I have to keep reminding myself that I need to write first --- first thing in the day as my brain is luxuriating in the coffee, before I have procrastinated the entire day away, before reading blogs or wearing myself out with students. Write first. Write! (note to self, there. Readers are in no way obligated to stop reading and start writing now. Carry on!)

I've also tried something new with this chapter: working up an extensive outline first. I have, probably, about 6 or 7 pages of an outline right now --- although some of those spots look pretty fleshed out and others I dumped some quotes in, so it's not at all 7 pages of bullets.

I'm not sure this method works for me --- I am figuring out some ideas, and I hope that this will help me carry themes across larger chunks of the chapter, rather than try to splice two chapter chunks together near the end and discover that they are not facing the right direction --- but the outlining is making that feeling of no progress feel even worse this time around, and I also have a hard time figuring out when I can stop. In places, it has basically become a draft of at least a few paragraphs long, whereas in others it is a very colloquial series of bullets and questions for myself. I'm back to my problem of not being able to cross my diss work off my to do list, because I can't tell if I'm "done" with my item. Meh.

Even worse, I write to discover things, I think, and so the first "puke everything onto the page" step of drafting is fastest and probably the most fun for me. Revision is slow, partly because it's slow, and partly because I've already figured out the fun stuff I want to say and don't want to bother tying up the loose ends and boring details. I'm having troubles actually transferring from the outline to a draft because I've figured out what my points are and how these themes will carry across the chapter. I'm so screwed. If I ever actually force myself to finish this thing (hmm --- would my committee sign off on an outline? Intriguing...) I don't think I'll use this method again.

So, there you have it: I'm somewhere between an outline and a draft, and am not sure how long it will take me to get from the one point to the other. Of course, I have a little more than a month to get my chapters to my whole committee per our earlier agreement, so that's the amount of time it's gonna get, regardless of how long it wants to take. Too bad that I have two sets of papers coming due in that time, a conference paper to write and give, and my departmental-favor commitments I wrote about a while ago are coming back around as well.

And now I'm going to go have some chocolate. Or maybe ice cream. All that hard work of thinking, you know: I need some sort of reward.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Memes, Musical Memes

I'm doing the music shuffle meme that people like Drs Crazy and Curmudgeon have been playing with, even though I'm terrible at hearing, much less remembering, song lyrics, and the whole exercise has been one of having to look up the opening lines myownself, often going "Wha??? That's what they were saying?" So, consider this an educational experience for me, if you define "educational" synonymous with "procrastinatory." (I also have been over-thinking how one defines "the first line" of a song, since they often look very different on the lyrics pages from how I would divide them up. I guess I could start with shorter lines to make it harder...)

Here are the rules of the game:

Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Strike through when someone gets them right
Step 5: (for the guessers) Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING. So is looking at my feed for the last hour or so (if I had one, that is)

1. Fallin’, fallin’, gonna drop like a stone (Talking Heads, "Sax and Violins")
2. You’re such an inspiration for the ways that I’ll never ever choose to be (A Perfect Circle, "Judith")
3. My tendency for dependency is offending me
4. See it comin' at my head, I'm not running, I'm not scared
5. 4:05 in my neighborhood (Jane's Addiction, "Classic Girl")
6. Shakes me up, to see you walk* (The Cramps, "Save It")
7. Well if you set your mind upon it I know that you can
8. I know I should get next to you
9. I need, I feel, a love
10. Well all the apostles --- they're sitting in swings
11. Back in the garage with my bullshit detector (The Clash, "Garageland")
12. There are no monks in my band
13. Istanbul was once Constantinople (They Might be Giants, "Istanbul Not Constantinople")
14. I’m ready, I’m ready for the laughing gas (U2, "Zoo Station")
15. Laocoon and her two sons (REM, "Laughing")
16. After the glow, the scene, the stage, the set (Pavement, "Range Life")
17. I’m gnawing on the knowledge that I have been burned
18. Peace, I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues…** (Butthole Surfers, "I Had a Dream (Last Night)")
19. Does he kiss your eyelids in the morning when you start to raise your head? (Bright Eyes, "The Calendar Hung Itself")
20. I never wanted anything so bad, I never knew just what I never had
21. Turn yourself around, you weren't invited (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Honeybear")
22. One summer evening drunk to hell
23. Let me take your hands I’m shaking like milk (The Cure, "Let's Go to Bed")
24. I get high on a buzz, then a rush when I'm plugged in you
25. I dropped my anchor in the dead of night; I packed my suitcase and threw it away

* technically, this one starts out "Mwooo hoo hoo hah hah hah hah" and goes on that way for a while, but I'm not sure a) whether those count as lyrics and b) how to phonetically spell deep, maniacal laughter

** Hint: this is not a poetry reading here, but the next line is the title of the song
Huh, well for some reason this is a more accurate reflection of the ex-B's collection than what I've bought over the years ---- I ripped his entire CD collection to my computer when he was gone that spring break ---- so while I see some entries here that I really never listen to, I've managed to escape anything too embarrassing, I think. (If my hair-metal tapes from my pre-teen days had been uploaded, though, it'd be another story!)

So the game isn't fun unless you guess! Guess, guess!

Update: Keep those guesses coming! You're doing great! We need some more 80s alternative fans to step up, it seems, and some angsty emo indie boys to help out with the ex's side of the CD collection. I see at least five or six alone Scott needs could jump on if he'd give up on that writing business and procrastinate with us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Blogfavor: It's a little too pretty in here

I'm sure those of you who have never been to California think it's a place where shark-faced denizens grin maniacally while simultaneously touching up their tan and helping themselves to a hypo or two of botox as they beat their illegal-immigrant housekeepers for missing Fluffy the Pomeranian's pedicure appointment, probably all while driving their gigantic SUVs and shouting into the cell phone tucked in the crook of their shoulder. And if you thought that, I would say to you: yes. Yes, all the people in California are exactly like that everywhere and all the time. Yes. Mm-hmm.

But a little more seriously, I don't know if it was the recent annual Running of the Hippies (ok, that was more like ambling) I witnessed that started me thinking about beauty standards or some of the more disturbing comments my students have been making, but I am in need of some material to pass around in my class.

As part of my Secret Plan to Convince the World of the Necessity of Reading Literature (SPCWNRL), I passed around this book last week and suggested they read it for pleasure sometime, and I think I have the novel-recommending part down, but now I'd like to also hand around some visual documents, just to startle my students out of their very local culture a bit. It shouldn't be a complete mind-fuck to consider that many people do not get cosmetic surgery of any sort done. We won't even mention their reaction to my comment that hairy-legged feminists actually exist. And really, they need to accept the fact that we will all get old and die --- it's the one commonality that holds us all together, unless you're picky and point out all the people who die before getting old.

So what I need are ideally some books of photos that I can pass around while I'm dealing with roll and collecting homework and setting up the class ---- books that emphasize the variety and imperfection of the human body, images that are not tweaked and sculpted and carefully lit and photoshopped into perfection and pressed into service as a commodity, photos that suggest there are other ways of doing things outside of my sheltered students' experience.

Since I just want to devote a tiny bit of time to this --- the whole class is set up as a smorgasboard of appetizers, no more than a taste of each topic --- I want to avoid any collections of art that bring the idea of representation into question: nothing really deconstructive or satirical or layers of postmodern irony or whacked-out performance art that pushes the boundaries of the aesthetic realm. I won't be talking about these books, so they need to be able to get something useful from the images on their own. So no Cindy Sherman or Kara Walker stuff --- at least not in this particular course. (And here I could raise my usual complaint that while I love Sherman's ideas, she, like many female artists working at that time, would never have gotten picked up and lionized as much as they did if they weren't drop-dead gorgeous and thin. I don't see many homely women creating self-portraits as Botticelli's Venus or whatever. )

I would really like to pull an exhibition book or two from the art library and easily hand it around --- something with positive images of older women, perhaps, or disability studies, or those masectomy-scar-and-proud-of-it photos someone did a while back, or something like the BMI Project over at Shapely Prose, which exposes how arbitrary and silly it is to determine health and self-worth by standardized charts and numbers --- unfortunately it is too much of a pain to hook up computers or video in my section classes, which is why I want a book with quality photos (I printed some stuff off the web and color pics just don't show up well enough to bother making handouts with them).

Ideally I don't want them to be all white images either, although I'd be ok with handing around a white-centric book one week if I could balance it in the other weeks. I'm not sure how "world culture" I could go though without risking the exoticizing, National-Geographic-scholar gaze, since I wouldn't have the time to really counter that. Well, yeah, you have the same problem of objectification when you're displaying any woman's body, I understand, but there's no way really out of that dilemma.

So, here's where you all come in: suggestions? Books? Groups to consider? Any other links or resources that might be good? If anybody knows where I can get a good book on the Radical Cheerleaders (hmm, that group looks more clean-cut than the local one, but it's the best vid I can find) or that cross-dressing Bears activist group I don't remember the name of, please let me know!

And all this may put me in the mood to see and blog about art again, since Tenured Radical and Historiann have recently written about the Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition I saw a while ago. So look forward for weirdness forthcoming.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oh, no no no...

Whose bright idea was it to hold all the Earth Day celebrations on 4/20????

If I had known, I would never have tried to come onto campus today. Seriously, I've nearly been in two auto accidents already.

(Yes, I know --- driving to school on Earth Day? For shame! But I wanted to haul crap from the library.)

Helpful hint: if you suddenly think that driving 2 miles an hour on the major street outside campus, driving diagonally across said major street, or driving on grass, sidewalks, or pedestrian-friendly surfaces is a good idea, you're too stoned to be in the car.

This ends the cog's Public Service Announcement.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Random Updates and Questions for You

  • I cleaned my entire apartment today. Whoo! It really needed it. My fingernails/cuticles are now thrashed, but that's what happens. And my bathroom, which needed it most, got the most halfassed, tired attempt as I did it last. But at least I'm not seeing little cat furballs float by on every little breeze that comes through the place.
  • What really sucks are those weeks where you work long, full days but none of it is on your dissertation. I think I may have gotten an hour in this week. At least, I'm currently champing at the bit to get back to it; maybe that will help me really go at it next week.
  • Alas, I am still behind on those various things I did for the department and haven't done any prep for teaching, which I gotta get on. In other news, I have conducted an experiment in a controlled environment and can unequivocally state that it is more interesting to sit in a summarizing lecture without having done the reading. It would be interesting to hear how other people have worked around this --- how they structure their lectures, how much they cover what is in vs what is not in the book, etc.
  • Speaking of teaching, I have now learned that there are definitely not any adjunct positions for me in my department next year --- the chair says that all of the money and "lines" got used up before the department even reached the end of its list of instructors. Money is very tight. And, frankly, the English department is a bigger dog than the other departments I work in, so I bet they were even less able to defend their budgets. I'm pretty sure there's no hope of work for me in anywhere else on campus. Thank you, Governor "10 Percent" Schwarzenegger!
  • And because of the state budget and various other convoluted past history with our department, I don't think there will be any work for me at the local CC, which is going to be under the same 10 percent cuts as everyone else. Gah! I'm starting to get a little freaked and I can't let that happen, as I spend hours freaking out and hours applying for things and no time on my dissertation.
  • Which all leads me to my big question (I hope you read this far): how important is it to you (if you all were on search committees) that an applicant be currently affiliated with a university? If I were to graduate in spring and then pick up office or bartending work (or more likely, for me, a bunch of tutoring gigs), would search committees hold that against me? I've seen how people in the profession treat "Independent Scholars" --- that is, like dirt. Or dilettantes. Or crazy, crackpot, tinfoil-hat type people. After all, if they weren't completely bad scholars or absolutely nuts, they'd have a "real job," right?
I'm just worried that search committees will see my application, sans letterhead or a current affiliation, and just toss me; there are so many hundreds of applicants that they can ignore anyone who doesn't conform to their notions of "normal" and still have a deep pile to consider. Is that it then --- I've managed to accidentally take myself out of the running? Or maybe that already happened long ago and I just didn't notice it?


With worries like these it's very hard to even care about finishing, or publishing, or any of the hundred little academic things you have to plan out a year in advance without knowing where --- or if --- you'll be working.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When Our Working Conditions are Your Learning Conditions

I’m TAing for an adjunct, someone who’s just graduated last year. Right now she’s teaching the large lecture course and two other classes. That wasn’t covering the bills and the student loan payments, so she had grabbed an adjunct class over at the local community college as well --- since they’re on the semester system she should drop back down to three classes before the year is out. It sounds like last quarter was way worse --- she was so swamped with her three classes that she couldn’t grab another, so she just put everything that she couldn’t cover on the credit card, including some medical stuff. The secretary mentioned she saw the adjunct in the office 9-5 every single day over spring break getting the grading wrapped up. She picked the textbooks and wrote the syllabi for this quarter on the Friday before the term started.

Other than the grading for three 70-student classes with no TAs, what could possibly have been taking up all her time? Why is this quarter already filled with canceled lectures, movies, and (bad) improvised lectures by the TAs?

Why, the flyouts and phone interviews. So far, this adjunct is a hot prospect, although the only definite offer so far is yet another visiting position, back across the country. Given the limited number of hours in a day, given the choice between snatching up a tenure-track position and dedicating enough time to poorly-paid lecture work, who could blame her?

Now, even the most teaching-intensive schools and the most student-centered of SLACs could give a fuck about how well you are teaching your current students. They want proof you can be a good teacher, not proof that you are doing a wonderful job with your students right now in your current situation. What are they gonna do, call random students from the current classes? There are no evaluations from courses still in progress.

They also, no matter what they say, never rate teaching evals over an actual degree awarded, publications, conference presentations, and general engagement with the profession. Evidence of teaching effectiveness can be gamed, spun, massaged, anyway. You can put your heart and soul and time and preparation into a couple courses at one point in your grad career and use those as evidence ---- they’ll never know about the semester you let everything slide because you were retaking exams, or fighting to have grad status reinstated, or completely frantic about going on the market, or exhausted and miserable and lonely on some one-year visiting gig.

The UC system has an additional clusterfuck in that everyone who adjuncts full-time accrues credit toward getting a permanent gig, a lecturer with security of appointment. It’s one of those ideas that seems great but inadvertently backfired, as now departments track your quarters taught and simply cut off everyone before they can accrue full-time status. And I guess that makes sense --- who would want to accidentally get saddled with a full-time teacher who you never budgeted a line for? What would you have to cut to make up that money?

This means that at the UC, huge numbers of classes are being taught by people who know they are here only temporarily and who already have an eye on the future and one foot out the door, frantically scrambling to grab a permanent position. Because the adjunct positions are there permanently, only with different individuals cycled in and out of them, what the university ends up with is instructors who are permanently job seeking and distracted. If you put 30 hours a week on an intensive and draining job search, how much time are you going to put in additionally to a job that pays you crap wages? How will that time break down per student given the class sizes?

In short, why invest any more time or effort or collegiality or service into a university that is investing practically nothing in you?

I haven’t weighed in on the tenure conversations all over the academic blogs because I don’t have it. But I can see how decreased professorial mobility coupled with near-lifetime job security* can be beneficial to both the students and the university at large. Even if you asked our adjuncts to do service, they’d have no local knowledge of the university and wouldn’t be around for more than a couple years.

And elsewhere, people like Dean Dad are asking what accreditation has to do with percentage of adjuncts --- how, exactly, is the adjunct situation a question of educational quality for the students?

I was thinking about quality of education the other day when the adjunct dropped an assignment off the syllabus, and then described the other assignment, with a newly-pushed-back due date, as being a five paragraph compare-contrast essay.

A motherfucking five paragraph essay! All they have to do is compare and contrast two excerpts on a blindingly obvious topic when the articles have already been extensively outlined and summarized in lecture?

The students sound excited. Sweet! Easiest A Ever! Let’s go drinking!

Students don’t want rigor or quality even if they know that’s what they should want. It takes not only time and effort and experience as a teacher to push them to what they really can achieve rather than what they want to get away with ---- not only these qualities but also a certain sense of security, a willingness to be tough, to be respected rather than loved. And that’s not going to happen if next quarter’s employment rests on getting great evaluations and next year’s rests on getting out another article and 50 more applications out this month.

Now I can see why I get so much resistance from students when I push them to do better or hold them to high standards. It’s a reversal of holding the line ---- all across the university, instructors at various levels are putting in as little effort as possible or are completely swamped or don’t care or are begging for high evaluations. The instructors who have no investment in the university undermine the efforts of those who do.

And what? What do you want me to do? You know what they call the TA who makes up for this situation by putting in extra time and effort to actually teach the students something about writing and critical thinking and writes lots of insightful, constructive comments on drafts and essays?


* You know that any university can get rid of any professor if they want to badly enough (even if there's a union, even if there's tenure). They just have to prove just cause and go through a huge and excruciating administrative process. And that’s the way it should be ---- it takes a major breach of conduct, like fraud or illegal activity, to convince a university that they want to go through the dismissal process. The easier the process, the more often --- and more lightly --- it will be used.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Well-Wrought Metaphor

As you know, I love a good metaphor, particularly in teaching. A really strong metaphor (or analogy, if you must) concretizes abstract concepts in a way that clearly reveals their function. My specialty, Bizarre Metaphors, involves shocking students into seeing something in a totally new way that makes them completely rethink something they just don't ever think about. A defamiliarization process, as it were.

So I'm reading tons of stuff right now (stuff that is actually a procrastination from other stuff I need to work on, but I'm so overloaded right now that it's all one big gob of necessary work and unnecessary work all at once) and I came across a metaphor so fun, so great, so vivid, that I had to pass it along:
For Marx, "the structural relationships of any society, or at least those in which progressive development is possible, are inherently self-contradictory. Like the shell of a fertilized chicken egg, socioeconomic relationships make possible the growth of forces that will, in time, shatter them."
Isn't that cool? Suddenly I understand how the dialectic cycles of history are supposed to work. It also highlights the organic, or perhaps completely determined, nature of Marx's view of the history of the class struggle: because it's a chicken egg, we know a chicken will have to come out of it. If it's botched or a deformity, it won't ever hatch out. Inside Marx's theory, at least, the progression of capitalism to communism and the eventual withering of the state is inevitable. You can critique or question it, but not from inside his theoretical structures.

Now if someone could justify why one should use dialectical models for looking at history, I'd love to hear it. Neither this author nor Marx nor Hegel give me much of an explanation, and nothing that they do give has really persuaded me.

Dialectics, then ---- what's so great about them?

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Sound of Silence

Hear that? Hear that? That gawdawful chirping sound?

Neither do I.


None of the people I called to hang out with called me back tonight, but that's ok. I'm still a little tired. I walked down and had a wonderful ice cream cone instead. mmmm. Chocolate.

Now I will sit around and not do any of my work. I've got a freakin huge to-do list for tomorrow, but I'm not going to think about it tonight. Ahh.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

High Ceilings

I hate everything.

I hate coming home from a long fucking day when you've been up all night with no sleep, after being forced to miss the bus and wait an hour to take the next one, to discover you have hungry, annoying cats who overturned the litterbox, making a huge mess, no food in the house, and all three smoke alarms chirping that they need new batteries.

So I headed out. After partly dealing with the cat stuff.

Then I came back, with batteries and food. I wrestled a pill and some medicine into a cat and snarfed down some fast food. The smoke alarms were still chirping.

No, they are not synchronized. They chirp the way a junior high band plays a chord in unison. This offends my sensibilities.

Now, there are many things about this apartment I like. Usually, the high ceilings, along with good light, are a major point I appreciate for this space.

But the higher the ceiling the more the room echoes, and these smoke alarms are making ringing announcements of their lack of battery-ness. Two of them go off, close to each other, and the third follows soon after, as if an afterthought.

Which ones go and which follow changes each time, it seems, but the pattern is holding fairly steady.

The other problem with the high ceilings is that the smoke alarms are installed almost at the top. I am quite short. Standing on a chair and stretching has absolutely no effect. Standing on the chair and jumping at them seems many different types of stupid. Throwing a hammer at them starts to sound pretty enticing.

So I have to go down two sets of stairs and wrangle back up a stepladder.

Fucking. A.

Once back with the dirty, for-some-reason greasy, stepladder, I can easily climb to a point where I can read the face of Alarm Number One. Lead chair in the chirping trio. It says "to remove, twist and pull." So, I do.

The whole alarm comes off. I look at it, in my hand. It is no closer to being open. From this distance, the chirping makes my ears ring so hard I have trouble thinking or seeing.

There appears to be no way of opening it. Any sort of pulling or twisting on it or prying at it causes it to go off. Not chirping. The full-on siren effect of a pan of scorched onions.

Luckily I see a depression on the front labeled "Push and hold to reset or to test." Holding it down once sends it into test mode, where it then cycles through the following types of alarms: 1. Scorched onion siren, 2. Four short earsplitting beeps, 3. Beethoven's Fifth as played by jackhammers (short short short loooooooong), 4. A series of beeps so fast it almost sounds like one continuous sound. Each one must go off once before it notices you're holding down the button again, whereupon it moves to the next pattern. Only after it has worked through all four types does it shut off.

Yes, I have had considerable experience within which to learn its ways.

I am now tired. So tired. I have also used up all my swearing and thrown everything except the smoke alarms themselves at my cats. At this point I don't even want to deal with them. I don't care.

The stepladder still stands in the living room. I don't care about that either.

I called the apartment management company and left an angry, incoherent, profanity-laced message for them telling them to come out and deal with this shit.

Of course, it was 10 pm and they won't even get that message until the office opens the next morning. That means I'd have to wait through an entire night of this, after staying up very late to work on my chapter and then not getting much sleep anyway.

To counteract the echoing high ceiling problem, I put the smoke alarms in the closet. It too has a high ceiling, but at least it is technically in another room, with a door muffling the sound a bit. I'm too damn tired to think of any better way to deal with it.

So. FUCKING. Tired.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I have such a headache

I just ate a fried egg, not because it's some sort of folk-remedy for headaches but because I had it in the house and thought that perhaps I hadn't had enough to eat yet today and that was contributing to it;

I've been drinking water like a madwoman thinking maybe dehydration was causing it but to no avail;

maybe it's the windiness today, or perhaps something I'm allergic to is pollinating. Whatever it is, I haven't gotten any diss work done today despite being drastically, frighteningly behind. And headaches make me incredibly grumpy and full of hatred for the stupidity of all human beings.

Supreme irritability is just not the right mindset in which to consider the plight of various fictional characters.

Or else my final chapter might be re-titled "That Silly Bitch Had It Coming!" (taken from a larger work, You All Suck and This Entire Project is A Worthless Waste of Time.)

My cat is naked. More so than usual; he was rolling around on a catnip toy and got his collar stuck on a carpet loop. It was a breakaway collar, so by the time I looked up to wonder why he was writhing around like that, it broke. Now I have to go buy another collar for the little fucker. Gah!

I had a collar for Timido, the Other Cat, but he never got used to it; I had to take it off. He would jump or move and suddenly notice the weight of the name tag and absolutely freak out --- wild wide eyes, all the hair standing on end, he'd rush around the living room frantically trying to claw it off his neck.

So as long as Timido hides rather than runs away everything should be fine. It's his favorite hobby so I think this will work out.

Teaching is looking up so it might just suck instead of being completely unbearable. I'm not sure though; is it normal for soc-sci instructors to read large passages from the textbook and summarize the main points via powerpoint? This method seems so useless; I kinda agree with the students ---- why do the reading and come to lecture if it's the same thing? (Oh, I'm back in a different department, by the way.)

There's also all sorts of other crazy shit going down here that is making me incredibly depressed. Think huge fights over whether something we do is work or not, with some people so desperate to do it and so in love with it that they are fighting to do it anyway, and I'm not sure whether them doing it for free would make TAships and adjuncting more available or less available for the rest of us next year.

I must confess I'm starting to feel really shitty about the notion of adjuncting next year while making another try for a tenure-track job as that just perpetuates the system as it is; forget the arguments about "qualifications," "competition" and the worth of tenure ---- the whole point of the job market is to make me jump at the brass ring while staying right where they want me: shoddily teaching large classes for a mere grand a pop. On the other hand, not getting any adjuncting next year will feel pretty shitty too. I don't know if that would mean I don't bother making another stab at the job market in fall but maybe.

And now for something completely different ---- go read this funny conversation. It's better if you imagine it's being spoken by the characters from Life in Hell.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Coffee Buzz Bullets

  • Good! For some reason I woke up and was on a roll this morning --- as in, I rolled right out of bed and into my clothes and to a coffee place. I've brainstormed up about four pages handwritten and am feeling pretty good about myself. Taking a break before typing them up and working them into some sort of shape.
  • They handed me a double instead of a single today --- I think it was also a latte instead of a mocha. I drank it anyhow. I didn't see anyone around whose drink it might be instead and they did call my name for it, so they snooze, they lose.
  • The Peets was desolately empty at 8 ---- very nice working conditions ---- and then at five minutes to 9 it filled up with throngs of people. I never go there because it's so damn crowded on weekends and I don't remember about it on weekdays.
  • I was winding down after about an hour and a half of writing (I told you I rocketed out of the apartment today!) and starting to go from the "coffee sweet spot" to "overcaffeinated and unable to concentrate," so I packed up and gave my space to the middle-aged blond women who were giving me the stink eye and talking loudly about people taking up tables. If I hadn't needed to pee and walk around I would have stayed there out of spite --- go pick on the people doing the crossword puzzle, motherfuckers!
  • There were people at a table behind me having an erudite conversation about Blood Meridian --- I was confused. People outside of school and not in Kicking and Screaming actually can talk about that in an intelligent way? They looked like your standard wealthy engineering or business types around here, too. I am at a loss to figure out how the students at my school could transform into these people in 10, 15 years or so --- but then again, I don't know where these people went to school. It was just kinda odd.
  • I wish stores would post their hours outside ---- I thought the pet store was open by now but it's not. I need cat food for the little pests and I don't know when to go back.
  • Yesterday I worked inside all day and talked to no one. I think that helped get me out of the house so promptly today --- I was getting pretty stir crazy.
  • Unfortunately, I have shitloads of prep and stuff to do to get ready for Monday, and even if I get all that crap done I'm snowed under for the rest of the week. I may go take a walk and work off some of this extra caffeine before buckling down to tackling my teaching stuff and getting back to more reading. Luckily, I feel like I have accomplished a very small thing for my dissertation and can safely go back to ignoring it for a little bit.
  • Of course, I had made promises to various committee members that I would have finished a rough draft of this chapter by May 1, so, holy shit. It's amazing how I can produce a huge chunk of work and feel more behind than when I started, and before 10 in the morning, no less.
  • So therefore, off again to the salt mines!

Friday, April 4, 2008

I hate you all

It's another whole ten weeks of winter over here. (Ok, we don't have weather here --- but we do have the quarter system.)

All you evil semester people. You are all complaining about having to grade midterms and essays over spring break and having to come back to do a big final push. Well I graded and submitted all my grades over spring break and now I have to go do a whole nuther course from start to finish.

I don't know if it's just me and the final lap or something, but it is really hitting me hard this spring --- going through another two weeks of absolute madness with students wanting to crash or switch, running me down in the halls furious because I dropped them when they didn't show up, no one in the dept. office except a horde of anxious seniors who all need to declare the major right now, another stint of learning a new crop of people's names and no textbooks in the bookstore and these can't be my instructor copies because they have nothing to do with the course topic. I swear, it's a huge hitch --- a two or three week hiccup --- that must make profs' productivity suffer compared to those at semester institutions. Plus the final indignity is that you will all be heading out for summer soon and I will have at least another month to slog. I'll probably hit the piles of midterms about then. I had that with undergrad too --- moving back home to discover all the shit summer jobs had been filled by the local high school students a month before.

There are good sides to starting up a new quarter --- grad students I hadn't seen in at least four years who I had seriously assumed had dropped out show up all of a sudden, and you know you have to find all about this --- but it is eating up all my time in ways I had not put into the plan, people.

Oh, and I've already had to give a lecture for the class I'm TAing ---- this will be a tough class to endure for too many reasons even to begin. Dissertation Buddy told me that if it's gonna be this bad, every time I start to rant about this instructor I have to go take it out on my dissertation, like a swear jar or something. I think that's a good idea.

The other problem with the start of a new quarter is that people start coming out of the woodwork all refreshed and start roping you in to other commitments right and left. When it's your committee members, the chair or high-level profs you want to stay on the good side of, you don't really have the option of saying no.

So I have been running about dealing with lists of teaching errands and bureaucratic errands for my student side and getting distracted by gossip and discussions and this week has been largely a wash from my side of the work. I am beginning to worry. Crunch time has officially begun. If any of you followed other people's blogs when they were desperately finishing up --- like Earnest English --- you will know just how grumpy and miserable it's about to get around here, so be prepared: what posting there will be here will be irked and snarly.

And by the way, what do you do when someone contacts you about a conference paper you're going to give? Do people ... actually circulate them to other people? And not worry about getting scooped or stolen? And how do you reply still keeping yourself in their high esteem if you ... haven't written the paper yet or reread the book? Or, really, not know anything at all about what you're doing?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hail to the Chief, Or, A Cog Makes a Modest Proposal

Doubtless you all know that the UC Regents have made their choice for the next systemwide president --- UT Chancellor Mark G. Yudoff. What you might not know is that the UC system is in California. And California is currently having yet another of its budget crises, with Gov. Arnie-poo proposing next year’s state budget with a 10 percent across-the-board cut. As Berkeley’s budgetary web site puts it:
The governor's proposal would increase funding under his "compact" with the UC system but then apply a reduction of $332 million, or 10 percent – the same percentage reduction proposed for most state General Fund programs. That would leave UC with a net state funding reduction of $109 million, or 3.4 percent, compared with the current year. However, it also would leave state funding more than $400 million below the level in the Regents' proposed budget for 2008-09.
The governor's plan provides flexibility to the university in determining the allocation of the $332 million reduction but anticipates the cut will impact student enrollments, student fees and individual programs. The governor's proposal calls for about 10 percent of the reduction to come from administrative spending and urges that cuts to instructional programs be minimized.
I don’t understand how increasing funding and then cutting it afterward would count as “upholding” the compact, i.e. the promise, he gave the university, but many people tell me it’s because I am not an economics major, so, ok then.

What I do want to point out is how brilliantly the Regents have enacted their plan to concentrate the cuts in administrative spending, or as the SF Chronicle puts it, “New UC president to earn $591,000, plus perks.” The only part they left off this headline is the “holy shit!” on the ending. In the article itself, they lay out the details:
His Texas package made him one of the highest-paid leaders of a public university in the country, with total compensation estimated at $790,000 - including a base salary of $528,860. At UC, his base salary of $591,084 will be a significant boost over the base pay of departing President Robert Dynes, who receives $405,000 a year.

In addition to his salary, Yudof's compensation package will include an $8,916 yearly car allowance, supplemental pension payments totaling $228,000 in fiscal 2008-09, and varying amounts each year after that. His total compensation package for fiscal 2008-09 is valued at $828,000, excluding moving expenses as well as standard health, retirement and management benefits.

The new president also will be eligible to live in a 13,239-square-foot mansion in Kensington with 10 acres of land, Mediterranean gardens and sweeping bay views - all maintained by a large staff at a cost of close to $300,000 a year. It's where Dynes has resided.
The website UTwatch has more information on Yudof's paycheck at his previous job, but it seems to me that this salary bump is way more than just inflation, which is currently about 4 percent.

Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education did a big spread a while back on compensation packages for top administrators, plus another article counting the numbers of presidents and chancellors topping the half million mark, plus another series on UC's past troubling compensation practices that were not getting spelled out adequately for a public institution subject to sunshine laws, but, since they are behind a subscription firewall I can't link to any of them for you. But I remember that all the campus chancellors, mine included, were getting cars in addition to their housing and gray-area raises and bonuses. How do they even spend this kind of money, with no housing or car payment to keep up with?

And here I would like to extend a generous offer to the University of California: dear Board of Regents, I am graciously willing to be considered as a candidate for UC President.

As a soon-to-be Ph.D. from this very University of California, with extensive practice balancing budgets and cutting corners on a TA stipend, exhaustive knowledge of how to push my way through the campus's labyrinthine bureaucratic system, significant experience lobbying the legislature against budget cuts and protesting fee hikes, and considerable participation in union activism, I feel that I am immensely qualified to be the next leader of this great educational system.

You might be worried by the inclusion of union activities in my resume, but to show that I understand how the economics works on the other side of the table I am hereby underbidding the presumptive candidate and declare that I am willing to take his package for only $100,000 in salary. Think of all the money you could save and pour back into making the university even better!

Not enough? Ok, if you keep the house, car allowance, and pension payments in the mix I am willing to work for nothing. Let the race to the bottom begin! After all, aren't the economist-types always complaining that every job should be competed over in a free market to determine its true worth? Logically, the Regents should want to get the best value for their money and hire the cheapest candidate. Aren't the Regents members all business types?

And look at how much this could improve our overcrowded classrooms! If a TA at, say, Davis, makes 32,782 a year ---- ha ha ha! My bad! Silly me! TA's aren't allowed to work full time and still have student status! --- that would mean 16,391 a year, then, if you take Yudof's "base salary" you could hire 36 grad students! Or you could use the whole compensation package and hire 48.1 grad students! (Where you will find .1 of a grad student? I have a grand plan for that as the new UC President and all will be revealed after my official inauguration.) Or, perhaps, give all the TAs a small raise.

It would make more sense, of course, to spread out these gains across the campuses and across a wider range of job titles ---- especially considering that the staffers, custodians and food-service employees are regularly paid 20 percent below market rate for the surrounding area --- or we could work on decreasing the UC's reliance on adjunct lecturers and convert more of them into tenured positions. But yes, I hear you when you exclaim that this one salary, grossly inflated as it is, will never stretch that far. But I am a forward-looking leader, and this is why I am looking at the salaries of the campus's Chancellors, and Vice Chancellors, and Assistant Vice Chancellors, and at all the top staffers up at UCOP. And it is why I am looking at my large group of incredibly talented friends who also did not get jobs on the market this year.

Beware, President Cog is coming. And she has the knives out.