Friday, May 30, 2008

Bullets of the Week in Review: Or, There But for the Grace of Cog Go I

  • I don't always choke on the home stretch, but when I do, I really do: I have 43 more essays to grade by Monday, meaning I did not complete any of yesterday's quota or all of today's, plus I have 10 days to transform 12 pages of crap into a 50-page chapter and turn it in to the departing Advisor. And I'm not doing anything. I'm just not caring. I had a bad habit of hitting the wall in the middle of my undergraduate final exams and just saying "fuckit" and walking out of the middle when I hit a hand cramp. I'd usually get an A or B on the final anyways, but it's not a good habit to have resurface in times of stress.
  • Today I managed to see a lot of lovely fellow grad students and have a nice mix of ranting, gossip, and encouraging cheering-up (go exam takers! You can do it!). And got invited to multiple graduation parties, all of which are occurring, naturally, before the chapter deadline. Of course, I'm going to go to them. Counting chickens before they are hatched much?
  • We got let out, I kid you not, after 20 minutes in lecture the other day. Way to model senioritis for the students!
  • On a positive note, my students are finally beginning to accept that language, social structures, family formations, and the mass media all have a powerful impact on human identity, but only that of other peoples'; they are exempt and make choices wholly autonomously. But at least they can recognize it going on for others!
  • I have fans! Hello! Ok, actually, I have readers. That's so less impressive-sounding though. Story is, I emailed someone who reads this blog and said, "hey, I'll be in your neighborhood! We should meet up!" and we did, and even more people were included. (Ok, that sounds more weird and stalkerish on my behalf instead of me having fans, but it was not like that. Please re-adjust this to reflect my fandom and general celebrity status in your minds.) This meetup was very fun and involved the eating of fine cheese. Way classier than my usual cheese-eating habits; I say this having just had one of those little round cheeses covered in wax from the supermarket. I also tried networking and meeting a lot of other people (some of whom are in the blogging circles), which was of mixed interest and success. On the upside: free wine! On the downside: the overall official experience was kinda meh. I was not jazzed and re-energized into my work. But balance that with bullet 1 above.
  • Oh, in other news, I finally have a copy of our department's placement records; I don't think they've been issued to the grads before in the whole time I've been here. Because of my love of gossip and making lists, I've basically already reconstructed most of it and kept a running tally for at least the past few years on my own, and my reckoning about matches what they have. There's interesting stuff to pull out in terms of diversity and who one's advisor is though, as well as a sneaky little habit of counting "postdocs" as successful placements. The people who went from postdocs to another postdoc or unemployed are only counted once on the successful list, while the few who have transitioned to tt jobs are listed twice. Interesting. But then again, there's a certain point where all the job-market knowledge in the world won't actually translate into getting a job. Maybe I'll work on my Zen detachment again instead.
  • I also heard some gossip from another grad that they are planning a hire in my field in our department. Ah, wistful sigh. I can see no reason why they would want to hire me, considering that I'm from here and I closely match the field and approach of my professors, but it always makes me a little sad to discover a job that I really fit the qualifications for but won't get. Usually it's the case of discovering an ad after its deadline has passed, but this is about the same. There but for the grace of Cog I could be a tt prof here, except I don't know then where I would be from, and the process of getting a PhD from a different institution would probably have made me a very different person.
  • Actually, in a related bit of silliness, my first year on the market I made the newbie mistake of researching all of the jobs I was applying for way too closely, way too early --- I wasted a lot of time googling the area and looking at rents on Craigslist, which just made it hurt all the more when I didn't get writing sample requests from most of those places I had emotionally invested in. But the really silly thing was that I would start dreaming about one great job and then go, "But wait! That would mean I can't have this great job! No one else can have the fun jobs but me! I will collect them all and hoard them under my bed!"
  • The above bullet will probably make you think I'm really weird. So be it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Picky Eater

I am sooo not grading any more essays tonight. Truth be told, I knocked off a long time ago; they're just gonna have to wait until next week because I'm not going to kill myself getting through them by Thursday.

I'm not a complete reprobate though; I've been picking away at my summer syllabus, so I'm doing work. ... It's just not the teaching work that is currently under deadline right now. And it's the fun part I could spend hours and hours on. I'm basically eating my dessert instead of my vegetables. Speaking of, the flavor in the bowl at my side right now is French Vanilla. Hmph. Needs some chocolate with it.

But anyway, the theory is that if I work on teaching prep (even though it's for the next class), then I'm not completely slacking off ---- I'm following the rules in Boice's guide for new profs, right? The trouble with this theory is that it contradicts with the previous plan: re-use the syllabus I made up when last I taught it and therefore not have any prep. Or have as little prep as possible. Well, I am sorta following the plan, honest! Because I have taught this course before (think: hello! Welcome to your major!), I know which stuff taught well and which caused various problems. And which stories or poems I just decided I don't really like. And which ones I don't really have anything to say except "hey, I like this." (To use the pedagogical lingo, I don't "have an entry point" into some of these texts and my students didn't have anything to say either, so we sat there and stared at each other. No fun.)

So my format and many of the larger works are set already, as are the breakdown of assignments (not the prompts, unless I recycle them). I'm just trying to pull out a few of the shorter things and replace them. However, this is the part I can tinker with for hours, just moving texts around, getting one book after another from my shelves, looking up various texts and authors and whatnot in Amazon or the library for availability ---- fun fun. I could dither around on this crap for days and never go back to my actual dissertation or grading work. (ahh, I love the shiny new potential of the future class ---- it always seems so close to perfection and joy, unlike the messy and compromised ordinariness of whatever is my present class, which never lives up to perfection or plans.)

I have a post or three percolating away about how, oddly enough, my intro class is very traditional: no theory or even criticism. We spend all our time learning explication and formal analysis. I have reasons for this (which will be explained in these future posts) but mainly I've noticed that getting our school's students to move beyond summarizing things and to actually quote the text and then talk about what they quoted takes an entire quarter in my other classes, so I feel they need more ass-kicking at the intro level than they're getting.

Compared to the way Brilliant Ex-BF teaches, my class looks mired in the fifties. He taught his class as if he were still at the tiny elite liberal arts college he graduated from. But you're not, I remember myself thinking. Your students are not the children of lawyers and old-monied professionals and they went to crappy public CA high schools not the whole "prep school" thing back east, and two thirds of my students weren't majors anyway, since there's a loophole that lets students in the social sciences take this course to replace a writing class. Hence my questions a while back about teaching to the top or the middle of the class --- raising the bar or and asking them to reach or pushing them up over it from below.

Ah, I'm getting distracted and writing those posts right now instead of what I actually want to discuss --- back to the matter at hand: the reading list. Last time I made the reading list very light and nagged them to re-read each piece multiple times; this time I've stuffed some more stuff in even though the course length is shorter, because I'd like them to write about stuff we haven't talked about extensively in class. They get no credit from me for regurgitating the reading we produce in class; I want them to create their own argument.

I'm also toying with the idea of a theme, but not a super-fancy cutting-edge one like Brilliant (you know, postmodern subaltern diaspora of the simulacrum, or something like that) --- what about food? I like food. I'm always picking food incidents out of texts and analyzing them for culture. I do a lot with how food teaches us about class, as well. (And yes, I've heard that food studies is going to be one of the new hot things; no, it's nowhere in my dissertation and I don't feel like changing topics and starting over a few spare weeks before graduation. Sigh.)

Anyways: food? I've got several good choices, including a lot of stories that deal with the refusal or inability to eat. Trouble is, all these food stories about poverty and death and anorexia and racism and sexism and madness are kinda depressing. Know of any funny or pleasurable food stories? Actually, any good food text suggestions are welcome; please leave them in the comments. Happy would be good though. And I'd prefer newer to older stuff in the vain and foolish hopes that it might make plagiarism a little bit harder.

Last time I did not have a theme but just an aggregation of poems and stories and a play, which had some accidental connections across them but it was clearly a random assortment. I've seen people who do this course under a theme focus their reading list way too tightly and just drive the students nuts with the incredible repetitiveness of the theme, or suffered because each text had too similar a "take" on the theme and students rebelled at the idea that they had to apply X to each text and get pretty much the same result every time.

I think it's hard to do a theme well, but on the other hand, my students last time weren't particularly jazzed or energized with my class, and they said that pretty straight up on their evals. (Sigh. I will have at least one whole post on those damn evals.) I was thinking that maybe a theme might change the way they react on the final evaluation. Or at least the comments would be source-able in some aspect of the course.

Ok, my ice cream bowl is empty ---- got any tasty poems or stories over there instead? I promise to at least taste everything.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Looky what I got.

I was just shopping for something for my niece's birthday, I swear (I got this), and before I knew it I had a bunch of theory in my shopping cart. How did that happen? Damn those Amazon recommendations!

(It always gets worse when I'm looking up ISBNs or pub info or prices for teaching stuff on that site, as they evilly remember everything I have looked at. One curious click onto a, "Ooh, I didn't know so-and-so had just put out a new book" and you're fucked ---- they have your number and begin seducing you with all the recent critical developments that you stopped keeping tabs on when you switched to another dissertation chapter. It's tragic, really.)

Maybe I'll spend some of my free time this summer immersing myself in Marxist theory. Yeah, and maybe monkeys will fly out of my ass. But, on the other hand, you never know. Wanna join me? I could always get back in and finally finish reading Capital. Or, maybe I could just put it next to these new unread books and have them all look pretty together.

Any other suggestions for what I should read this summer, as long as I'm being insane?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grumble grumble thankfully it's the quarter system...

Yeah, I know, when do you hear that coming from me? Well, I'm so ready to not be dealing with this lecturer any more. If I could find some way to just not go to lecture from here on out I totally would. I'll skip the details, but we have just suddenly dropped an assignment from an already cheezy-easy course and totally revamped the take-home final. Great. Totally revamped as in now it is a research project and as of yesterday it was not ---- if this had been consistent throughout the class I would have been a good little TA and scheduled library sessions and given them extra credit to go, and have talked in section about what peer-reviewed sources are and helped them out with finding academic articles. But because she has said multiple times that all they would need to do was summarize the textbook articles, just like the other essays, I haven't been doing that! Gah!!!!

I'm not a control freak; I just want it run like a tight ship. And I hate slackers. I don't fucking care how little you are paid and how overworked as an adjunct you are, I hate slacker teachers too. Don't tell me that because you're feeling tired and burnt out the students should have it easy and not work ---- you could take a rest and still ask them to put their noses to the grindstone, you know. I'm so fed up with this class and how suck-ass easy it is, I don't even care that the students are loving it ---- yes, when you lower the bar all the way to the ground and then tell them they have the option of stepping over it, or not, they love your class. Big fucking deal ---- they love doing Cuervo shots until they puke, too, which doesn't make it a good idea or mean they are learning anything useful from it. And when some, or a lot, of teachers at a school have no standards and a "ooh ooh let's be nice to the poor widdle kiddies they deserve a break not a challenge," they are training them --- like operant conditioning, they are training students to expect a certain level of (completely unacceptable for college) effort and work and then the students bitch like holy hell when they run into an actual hard-ass teacher. Every single fucking thing you do in the front of a classroom, every assignment, every essay comment, every syllabus and reading list, is training the students in how to behave and what to expect. And when you give 10 percent because you just don't feel like it? That means you've trained the students to expect to get away with that amount of effort, that amount of thought, that amount of caring all the time.

Great. Way to hold the line for the rest of us, folks.

And I won't see any of my students next week because of the holiday. And then they have one more class and that's it. If I could I would just fucking bail on all the rest ---- why even read this stack of essays I have? The lecturer is expecting all As to stack her evals; the students want them too. Why should I even grade any of the rest of the assignments if there's no way to spin them towards anything actually useful?

Oh, and in other news, I just got offered a summer course in my department! Yay! Ironic, given the spewing you've just been witnessing, no?

Well as long as I'm digging my own hole and fucking up according to my own system, I can live with it. Control freak, pot, kettle. Whatever you wanna call it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

California Legalizes Communism

At least, that's how Adam's news feed has summarized it over at The Weblog. The Guardian article being linked to, however, is less sweeping (dammit!) and really is about the CA legislature making it so that public employees can't be fired for being members of the Communist Party. Where were they back in the days of HUAC, when people were actually getting fired over this, I ask?

Anyway, I have had to re-sign this loyalty oath every time I lapse in my UC employment or go work for a different department, which is often. It has two parts to sign, one about promising not to overthrow the government and one which I am less affected by but more worried about, that states anything I invent or discover is patented and held by the University of California. Since I'm not a scientist, it doesn't really affect me, but it seems really sketchy, you know? The loyalty oath is just plain silly ---- would someone who was really trying to overthrow the government be stopped by the thought that they would be breaking their word? I mean, come on, like real terrorists or commies or whatever wouldn't just lie and do whatever they had to do to get their job done?

But it's nice to know that, should I ever want to take the trouble of actually joining the Communist Party ---- if that even still exists, post 1989 or whatever ---- I can now safely do that. Or, more relevantly, I can engage in whatever activities my union sponsors without fear of it being mislabled as communism and being fired that way. Although I already had a variety of union protections. But whatever.

What sucks about this legislation is that it doesn't seem to help out the people who were recently fired for refusing to sign the loyalty oath ---- not Communists, but Quakers. And since the Guardian article only mentions making it legal to be a communist, and not to refuse to swear to things, this bill doesn't appear to solve that problem. It's the swearing, not the overthrowing, that these Quakers are refusing, people! Get with the program and fix the legislation! If you want to read about loyalty oaths from the perspective of an actual Quaker academic, go to the Rebel Letter. Or keep reading here for the highlights of the Guardian article:

The California Senate yesterday passed legislation that would delete membership in the Communist party as a reason for firing a public employee, a Cold War-era prohibition intended to root out communists.

Democratic Senator Alan Lowenthal called communism a "failed system," and said his bill - Senate Bill 1322 - was intended to protect "the constitutional freedoms that we have fought so valiantly for," including freedom of political affiliation.

California is the only state that allows public employees to be dismissed for membership in a political party.

In addition, current law requires that any organisation that applies to use a public school facility can be asked to sign a statement that "the applicant is not a communist action organisation or a communist front".


Republican senator Jeff Denham warned: "the Communist party is not a dead organisation ... and [is] actively repressing human beings in Cuba and China in brutal ways.

"The state has every right to hold school employees accountable for their political standing, especially if that employee belongs to an organisation that favours the violent overthrow of the government," Denham said during the debate on the bill.


The legislature cannot repeal California's loyalty oath, which was added to the state constitution by voters in 1952, but its current use was debated yesterday.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My To-Do List, Now in Picture Form!

It's so hot. I don't wanna work anymore. I blew off my exercise class this afternoon. I ate free pastries all morning and may skip dinner in lieu of ice cream again tonight. It would be a lovely day to go to the beach or even outside, if I had the energy. It would also be a good idea to get my work done, but my brain has melted. And then the hot weather turned the melty brain stuff into sticky, possibly toxic, goo.

I also recently realized why I've been having trouble: all of my projects are at the same state of intensive writing, so I don' t have anything on the list to switch over to when my brain hits the melting point halfway through the day: I've pulled the books and made my copies, and I'm not to the point yet where I could proof things and make bibliographies ---- everything's at the "pull it together into a cohesive argument" point. Which is no fun. Especially when it is hot.

So instead of working more on them, I will describe my projects using pictures.

Project #1: The Sadly Neglected Final Chapter

Ooh, the poor widdle thing! How long has it been since I played with it, I wonder? I really need to get back and work on it before it makes my heart break from cuteness. Of course, that's only appearances ---- in reality, when I turn back to it, it will growl at me and bite and possibly take an arm off because it feels bitter about being so mistreated. That will suck, because those rabies shots hurt and then you'll see me around town, one-armed, tacking up "Have You Seen My Chapter?" posters while holding back tears. Tragic.

Project #2: The Light at the End of the Tunnel Project

Thank god this one will be over soon! I have too much on my plate right now. But that's the nice thing about impending deadlines of this sort ---- you can't put off, or fake, a conference paper. After slogging away in the dark avoiding this one for so long, it's so nice to see some daylight at last. Why do I have this nagging feeling that I forgot to do something though? And what's that sound?

Project #3: As Soon as I Know What I'm Doing, I'll Do It

I got an invitation to revise and resubmit an article. At least, I think I did. I still haven't ever actually seen the invitation, or the readers' reports. But they were supposed to be sent out to me a while ago. Maybe I just can't find them ---- can you see the readers' reports in the Magic Hidden Pictures? Just find Waldo, the managing editor, in the picture below and he will give you the readers' reports, and possibly a pot of gold.

Project #4: It Just Needs a Bit More Work Before Sending Out Again

Trust me, what with the way everyone is running out of room around here ---- they're not making any more land, you know! ---- this little diamond in the rough will be a big hit in the near future. Sure, it's a fixer-upper; it needs some work before it gets sent out again. But really, how much time will a lick of paint and a little elbow grease take, anyway? Why, this little baby hardly counts as a project ---- I mean, I could whip this up on the one hand while writing my dissertation with the other! And then, with the mystic arms of Shiva, I will also cook dinner, fold laundry, and write The Great American Novel.

Project #5: Whatever Happened to...

Gosh, remember that thing from way back? You know, wasn't it a chapter, or a paper, or something? Yeah, way back in the day I had that cute little chapter 4 draft and I turned it in to my advisor to get some feedback about finishing it off. Ah, those were the days! The carefree youth, our crazy hair, those outfits... ah, memories! How those little chapters do grow up. Or do they? Anybody seen that chapter lately? It was so cute and fresh-faced, so precocious beyond its years. Somebody told me they had seen it giving lap dances down at the Whiskey on Sunset. I hope not; I don't want to remember it like that.

Project #6: The Hail Mary Dissertation-Formatting-and-Filing Pass

What? It wouldn't be a Hail Mary Pass if it wasn't made at the very last minute in sheer desperation, would it?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pondering about Money

(First, I should say that I am really craving the ice cream in my freezer. But it is mint coffee chip and it made me sick and overcaffeinated and unable to sleep last night, so I shouldn't have it right now. But I want it anyway, and it is probably only a matter of time until I cave and eat it. That is all.)

I haven't been applying to jobs lately --- hell, I'm barely keeping up with my teaching and various writing projects, not including the dissertation. But on one of those breaks the other day when I looked over at The Chronicle of Higher Ed's website to see if there was anything amusing, I caught sight of some private high school job ads. For some reason I looked them up. I hadn't really considered private school as a Plan B, mainly because I am invested in the idea of Making a Difference if I can't be working in my dream career, and the kids at elite private schools seem a bit too spoiled and wealthy to count as Difference-Making. Anyway, I got off on an extended search all evening and I don't have any conclusions really, but I'm just going to think out loud here.

First of all, it's really hard to find private school salary ranges anywhere on the web, which is frustrating. Both job ads described themselves as "competitive" and "in the top 10 percent" of whatever the national private school association is called, but how much is "competitive" then?

Well, I found some data that says the median salary at some private schools is 58k, with 40k being the starting salary and 82 being the "median highest salary." Now, I don't know if that should be higher or lower once you add the "other" private schools 'cause there was no clear explanation of how extensive this data was. But one job ad did point out that the position entailed teaching 4 classes with a course cap of 15 students. So that's 60 students a semester. At 58k that would be pretty sweet. That's for a private school in CA, by the way.

But that would not be Making a Difference nor really Doing Good in a serious way. And how does that compare to public schools anyway? I did some more searches.

This one job search website (no, not Monster) has a salary wizard on it listing all the cities --- or is it counties? --- in California. Anaheim is listed first, so let's go click on that. It's got a bell curve listing salaries from about 46 to 68, rounded up, but it tops out at 77 as a hard limit. In fact, only a couple schools list salary options as high as 80k. So I'm assuming most teachers don't get that high on the scale, and if they do, it's only at the very end of their careers.

Now, a PhD will get you shit in the CA school system, since you have to have a credential. And if you want to teach while using your degree as an "emergency credential," you gotta go where no one else wants to go. That will bring us into Making a Difference territory.

For example, the Oakland school district has some programs to bring noncredentialed teachers into the classrooms (ok, they want math and science people but I'm betting I could weasel my PhD --- or at least the MA --- into counting for something). This teaching fellow web site says you'd start at 38k, which is even lower than the site claims, but perhaps that's because you'd be working at getting your credential at the same time. And what would those teaching loads look like? The site says that Oakland school district's high school classes are between 30 and 40 students, and it's unclear whether you'd be teaching 5 classes or 4.

That would mean teaching anywhere between 120 and 200 students per semester in Oakland for 38k while also taking classes and studying for the credential.

Dear lord.

I haven't even touched on the fact that this would be Oakland, and I assume the students wouldn't want to be there and wouldn't want to deal with me. I would be scared. And that while I have teaching experience, it's as a middle class white kid teaching other middle and upper class white kids (mostly) who are there of their own will. Wow. I don't think I could hack that. I would want the public school kids at the private school class size and paycheck. And let me just state how shitty it is to have the kids who are poorest and need the most help have some of the biggest class sizes in CA, not to mention the teacher revolving door that has prompted this program. Wow again. Clearly I have not been paying enough attention to CA's k-12 side of education and I'm going to be following that more closely now.

But ok ---- there's always the Community Colleges, and depending on which one you work at you could very likely be Making a Difference. (though I think I'd rather teach shit like A Separate Peace in the high schools than do nothing but comp, day in, day out, forever.) I have a friend who got hired TT in a CA Community College and they started her at 74k. I think the scale goes up to 100 ---- it does on this salary scale I downloaded from a different CC. So what would that be? If we assume that their 5-5 load was for 20 person classes, that would be 100 students a semester. Well, at least the starting salaries are high.

By the way, on the job wiki last year they had a page where they asked peoples' starting salaries (in English). Most people listed their starting salaries at 50k or right around there. That doesn't give us any data on top-end salaries for English profs, though. Does anyone notice the irony --- no wait, that's not the word --- the shittiness of a system that puts us through 8 to 10 years of grad school and debt only to have us land smack in the same pay scale as public school teachers who only had to do 1 to 2 years postgraduate work? That's if you land a tenure track job. I'm not saying that there aren't amazing benefits to being a professor, but money is not one of them.

And no one talks about this; why do none of us talk about money in a serious way in the profession, in grad school? I'm just kidding; I know perfectly well why it is advantageous to the system to have us not be comfortable with discussing money publicly --- after all, now the courts have decided women have to file pay discrimination suits within 6 months of the discrepancy happening, meaning people with the middle-class value of not discussing money are all hosed. Or even more hosed.

Anyway, last year I had a blowup with a grad student who I overheard talking in in office hours. This grad --- let's avoid gendering this person and call hir Idealism Grad --- was asking hir student what said student was going to do after graduation. Since this student had no clue, and had just been talking about getting a C on the latest English paper, Idealism Grad advised said student to go to grad school in English, because it is really fun and it's a great job. I proceeded to barge into the office and rip hir a new one. Zie looked hurt, but acknowledged that maybe grad school is more of a commitment than zie was portraying it. "But you know, it pays well once you get out, right? Starting around 60, 70k or so, right?" zie said. "What fucking planet are you on? Did you mistake the E for Engineering and not English?" I responded. We haven't really talked since. But really, the fact that Idealism Grad thought undergrad English majors could just randomly clear 50k right out of undergrad and that profs all made way more than that ---- is that just that Idealism Grad is on extra-strength crack? Or is this a larger part of the grad school bait-and-switch problem ---- that we don't actually have these conversations publicly until, you know, 10 years later when it's time to go on the market crippled by debt.

Oh, yeah, the debt bit reminds me of one more thing. Besides looking at jobs and salaries and such the other day, I looked up the definition of a Roth IRA. Basically, it's a special account designed to encourage ordinary people to save for retirement, because you save money on taxes when you sock it away and let it compound for 20 or 30 or so years. You can put in a maximum amount each year --- usually 5 grand if you don't make boatloads of money --- but if you don't max out the contribution one year, you can't put in more the next year to make it up. I don't have one. That means that I can't make up the money I could have been putting in through all my 20s. I had no clue about this --- sure would be nice if people would have talked to me about this and other financial facts when I went to grad school! Let's compare using this Roth IRA calculator:

Your age: 22
Current IRA balance: $600
Contribute $ 5000 a year until you turn 50 ... then ...
Contribute $ 6000 a year until you turn ... then ...
Withdraw equal annual amounts over the next years.
At age 60 your account balance will be $582,513
You'll then be able to withdraw $36,089 annually for 30 years.

Your (real) age: 32
Current IRA balance: $600
Contribute $ 5000 a year until you turn 50 ... then ...
Contribute $ 6000 a year until you turn ... then ...
Withdraw equal annual amounts over the next years.
At age 60 your account balance will be $322,172
You'll then be able to withdraw $19,960 annually for 30 years.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Right on the Dot

The Cog: Ok, I'm getting started a little bit late today, but that's all right, that's all right, I can recover. (places coffee on desk at 2 oclock. Places folder of notes to left, three pens next to it. Places stack of clean paper directly in front of self. Picks up and straightens stack by tapping it against the desk with a satisfying sound. Takes off watch and sets it down to the right. The desk is now set much like a place setting at the table, only with writing implements.)

The Cog: (consults watch) Ok, ok, fine, it's actually just turning to 9 a.m. on the dot right .... now. Great. I can start right on the dot right now.

(tick. tick.)

(The Cog sips coffee, takes an abstract from the folder and reads it. Sips more coffee. The coffee is now midway between the 2 and 3 oclock positions on the desk. She moves the coffee back to 2 oclock and stares at it. Replaces the abstract in the folder, straightens the pens in their alignment, tilts the stack of clean paper slightly, then tilts it back. Then straightens the stack by tapping it against the desk again, this time not quite so satisfyingly.)

The Cog: Ok then. Where am I starting in this argument? (The Cog gets out the abstract and reads it again. Consults the watch.)

The Cog: Nine-oh-----four. Hmm.

(The cog writes the word "concatenation" on the stack of clean paper, then crosses it out. Then writes the word again, this time in a different color.)

The Cog: Ok. O--K. Right. Right right right. Where am I starting, where am I starting? (Takes out the abstract again, stares at it. Rereads it without seeing any of the words.) (More softly to herself this time:) Right. riiiiiight. right-o. (suddenly:) Where am I starting?

(The Cog glances at the watch. It is now 9:07.)

(The Cog stares off into the distance with an expression of great concentration and slight pain, as if she might be listening to internal intestinal ailments. Then with a great burst of motion, she lists four themes.)

The Cog: Riiiiight. Ok, ok. O.K. That's where I should start. I have these four main things to say. Right. (sips the coffee.) Ok, but what order am I going to talk about these in?

(The watch ticks.)

(The Cog numbers the four themes, then crosses out the numbers, then doodles the numbers into little daisies.)

The Cog: Riiiiiight. Hmm. Right- (a long pause, as if she has forgotten she was speaking) -o.

(The watch ticks.)

(The Cog draws a concept map trying to link the four themes but this does not help produce a numbered order. The watch ticks. The Cog sips the coffee and then doodles the concept map into a large Conceptual Daisy.)

The Cog: Hmmm. Where do I go from here?

(The Cog repeats the coffee-shifting, pen-straightening, paper-tapping ritual. Consults the watch.)

The Cog: Nine ohhhhhhh-nine.

(The Cog looks at the paper, then with annoyance at the watch. The watch ticks helpfully.)

The Cog: It's a good thing I have the whole day to work on this, because I got started a little later than usual. Luckily I have the whole day, so I can get a lot of work done.

(The Cog shifts coffee, straightens pens, paper. The watch ticks even louder.)

The Cog: Riiiiiiiight. Ok, ok, right. (then louder, as if attempting to wake someone up:) Right, ok, righto righto, let's go then, right!

(The Cog repeats the shifting of coffee, pens, paper with much energy and verve.)

(The Cog stares at the paper, flicks a smidgen of definition onto a daisy petal.)

(The watch ticks.)

(The watch ticks.)

(The watch ticks slower and slower.)

The Cog: Right. Riiiiiight. Ok, right.

(The watch ticks ever slower: right, right, right, riiiiiiight.)

(Entire civilizations are born, rise through a golden age and beget empires, then diminish to but a shadow of their former selves, wreathed in nostalgia and a late-capitalist service economy. The watch ticks.)

The Cog: Right. Right-o. (re-orders the list of themes.) Riiiiiight.

The Cog: Now what?

(The watch ticks.)

(The watch ticks.)

(The Cog rearranges coffee, notes, pens, taps paper stack, then re-orders the list of themes.)

The Cog: Right?

(The Cog consults the watch. It is now 9:15.) The Cog: Dear lord!

(The watch ticks even slower.)

The Cog (to the watch) Let's get on with it, then!

The Watch: right, right, right, right, right, riiiiiiiight...

(The Cog angrily crumples up the top sheet of paper and tosses it, then moves the crumpled wad to 10 oclock on the desk. Slightly shifts the coffee so the two are in line, then rearranges the coffee, notes, pens, taps the paper straight, and does the whole process again. The Cog notices the paper wad is now slightly out of place and rearranges it.)

The Watch: right, right, right, right, right, right...

(The Cog stares at the paper. The watch ticks. The paper does nothing. The Cog rereads the abstract, then copies the paper title over onto the clean paper. The watch does nothing. The paper ticks. The Cog pulls on her hair, then rearranges the coffee, notes, pens, taps the paper straight, moves the crumpled wad, and pulls on her hair again.)

The Watch: blight, blight, blight, blight, blight ...

(The Cog looks over in annoyance. The watch behaves itself. It is now 9:21. The Cog ticks, the paper straightens itself and the coffee cools off until it is but a shadow of its former self, wreathed in nostalgia and a late-capitalist service economy.)

The Watch: right, right, right, right, right, right...

(The Cog glares at the watch. The watch smugly pretends to not notice. They now engage in a battle of wills. The paper helpfully remains blank.)

The Cog: Righto. Ok, ok. Rightok. A nap. Maybe a nap will help. That's it, righto, righto, a nap will certainly help. Yes, just a short nap. And then I can get going at 10. That's it, right at 10. Right on the dot.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Little R&R was NOT what I needed right now

I've got about a billion library tabs open in my internet browser right now, each one open to some journal I've never heard of before.

I got home from my long day and much craziness spent with grading essays and the obnoxiousness of dealing with the person I'm teaching for (and here I thought I'd be able to rant about that for you today) to find that I've been summarily rejected by the journal that I've been waiting to hear back from for so long (hereafter to be referred to as Sucky Journal), you know, the one I was emailing every month for an update since for ever. It was a form letter with no explanation except that due to the high numbers of submissions, they wouldn't be sending any sort of readers' reports or give a reason why it was rejected. Those fuckers!

I heard back about a month ago about the other article, which is a revise and resubmit. But I hadn't said anything about it on the blog because they explained they were behind on getting the readers' reports back to me and asked that I be patient until after they dealt with finals and such and would contact me soon. Which is fine, as I've got grading and my conference paper and my dissertation chapter and now this rejection to send off again. So my immediate reaction to the rejection was, ¡pinche cabrons!, you pissed me off so much I had to go find my upside-down exclamation mark! And I decided to follow all the advice I had heard about publishing and pop that article back in the mail so fast it'd leave skid marks.

Only, the journal I had submitted to has a much higher word limit than a lot of the others, so I need to cut it a lot. Only, I'm not so sure what are the other options "in my field" it would be good to aim for. Only, a lot of the journals I can think of are "up" on the selectivity scale, not down. Only, I do weird stuff.

So, since I had promised myself that I could play on the internets tonight, and since I use this blog as a way of thinking through things, I opened another tab.

(And as a side comment, I have to say that finishing a dissertation with no job prospects or even adjuncting prospects has a strange sort of --- closure --- embedded in it, and closing all the publishing folders and conferencing folders is adding to this feeling of an ending, of the idea that a moment of a really clean break is coming up soon and leaving the profession completely, while painful, looks really logical for that moment. All these doors are closing, and there will be a gap before I open them up --- if I open them up --- with the job market in the fall. This is really weird and I keep wondering if I'm even gonna be here doing anything related to this in a few months.)

So anyway, back to the article. As I am trying to explain, I don't really do literary studies. I don't know what I do, but it ain't your typical "read patterns within a text very closely" type thing (I have banned the phrase "close reading" from my vocabulary, as none of us are really matching patterns to find the keystone of irony or whatever was in the New Critical method. It's become a pet peeve of mine that lit scholars use "close reading" and "reading a text closely" interchangeably. I digress.) So one of the advantages of Sucky Journal was its interdisciplinary perspective and openness to allowing work that combines 18th century novels about nose-picking, to use my perennial example, with economic study of the manufacture and circulation of early modern nose-picking implements. (You think I'm odd? Seriously, I love this imaginary topic so much I could almost drop my diss and start over on this new one ---- it has everything! gentility, the rise of the middle class, manners, the democratization of consumer goods, the body, liminality, social anxieties --- what's not to love? Plus, you'd get to say the words "nose-picking " over and over in conference presentations, and perhaps coin noseological words.) It's like that dude who railed like an old fogey in The Nation a while back about how nobody does "real literary studies" anymore; they stray from the neat boundaries of texts and ideas:
The items on these lists are not just different things–apples and oranges–they’re different kinds of things, incommensurate categories flailing about in unrelated directions–apples, machine parts, sadness, the square root of two.
Exactly! How can you not see this list as cool and wonderfully Borgesian --- I would so love to write an article incorporating all of these things! In fact, I think my whole methodology is actually what I dismiss as "bizarre metaphors" on this blog ---- I love to bring together the "incommensurate categories" and have them raise sparks. Mostly because everyone else seems to stay within their disciplines and not read the work of other disciplines, so that when I go tramping across the fields of research without regard to the lines and borders I come back with sugar packets and bits of twine and a rock and some idea some other scholar tossed off and bricolage them up into something rich and strange. And I think they help us see the "canonical" stuff in new and interesting ways. Hmm, metaphysical conceits as methodology. Yeah, it's so me.

But, it's actually not very literary studies-y. Mr decline-of-English can grouse all he wants but I think the profession is way more like his ideals than his fears; from where I stand it's tough to be taken seriously when I stuff rocks and a novel and sugar packets all in a big metaphysical conceit and hit "churn." I have had bad luck dealing with what I call "author journals" and "author people." You know, they ask me to cut two thirds of the essay ---- all the cool stuff that is not a boring retread of Done to Death Novel. They come up to me after conference papers and say, which of Overdone Author's novels are you dealing with in your other dissertation chapters? And then when I start telling them about a chapter with no novels, but with kitchen sinks, their eyes glaze over and they walk away. And, their lit-focused or specific-author focused journals appear to vastly outnumber stuff I feel "a good fit" applying to. I mean, if I cut out all the "yoking together of heterogeneous ideas" parts, you're getting rid of my biggest strength.

So, in sum, I have no clue where I'm going with this. "This" being not only this blog post but my career. Do I even want to write about nose-picking metaphors if they're not going to let me include photographs of antique electric nosecleaners I've been collecting? I dunno. Writing this post has reminded me that I still do love what I do; I just can't get anyone else to love it. Or pay me to do it. Same difference.

Oh, and if you are one of the people who knows what I really study and have any good journal suggestions for me, drop me an email. Hopefully you know of a better one than some of these with a 5,000 word limit.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On the lam from the grading police

Allright, I slaved at the coffee shop this morning, grading, hit my caffeine overload, and came home to burn it off on some dishes and lunch. Then I pounded out another good hour and a half on grading away at stuff. Shit, I feel like I deserve to take me a break.

Unfortunately, the stack of essays to be graded is still HUGE. And I haven't even been able to get to work on my dissertation yet this week, and only fitfully put in time on Impending Conference Paper of Doom. Aigh!

I am so far behind on my shit that even working productively on it makes me get further behind. Sigh. It's making me waver between freezing up completely in terror and shrugging, chucking it all up and walking away from it. In spots like this, something has to just give way, but I gave up my sanity ages ago, you know? And giving up sleep just doesn't help in any productive sort of fashion for me.

I'm thinking that cloning myself is the only option. How else will I get through all the things I need to get through? I'm not even dealing with any of the graduation or get-a-job to do lists at the moment!

(yes, cloning myself will solve allllll my problems...)

Oh, and I'm still hating all you people who are finishing up your semesters ---- Thphpththtpthtphh! I don't actually know how to spell that, I just realized. Never mind --- reading these essays is slowly destroying my ability to spell anything. The "its" vs "it's" rule is already erased from my brain and currently one last brain cell is fighting a losing battle against "student's in the classroom are"-type crap.

Back to graduating nonsense, did I tell you my advisor will now not be there at the ceremony to hood me? You know, to award the degree? I mention that to clarify, because I was grousing about it to Cool Scientist Friend and The Political Animal, and they a) had no clue what that meant (though they made plenty of sexual puns about "hoods") and b) didn't care. What's the big deal if your advisor is there or not at graduation? I only see mine once a year, as they put it. Yeah, well, fine. I'll just sit here and throw a pity-party for myself if you won't join in.

It bugs me because a) my advisor promised to be there back when we laid out the timeline of deadlines for graduating and b) then got tickets to fly out of the country and didn't even tell me about it. I had to find out about this from a random graduate student and then only got confirmation later from Spouse of My Advisor, who is also known on this blog as Not My Advisor. Grr.

Since there are important conferences that run into our academic calendar (back to the people on the semester system: Ththththththhtpththp!), I know that Advisor has often skipped out on hooding the doctoral students. But not always, and so I'm feeling grumpy and slighted, because some people got to be hooded and introduced Advisor to family and got to hear Advisor tell everyone how brilliant of grad students they were, and others, like me, didn't. Or don't. Or whatever ---- I'm just annoyed, you know? Not that there is anything wrong with Professor Second Fiddle, who I wouldn't want to think of him/herself as a second fiddle and all that, but let's just say I am very over-invested in the ceremonial part of this ceremony. Not quite Bridezilla-level control freak over it ... yet ... but I do have certain ideas about how the day should go and what should happen. Remember, our dept. --- I think the whole school --- does not do doctoral defenses, so I'm considering this as my closure moment and big ritual of celebration.

(I had tried talking people into creating a "walking to the filing office" ceremony, which would involve crowd-lined streets tossing rose petals and cheering and singing victory songs as I carried the box of dissertation materials, wearing a crown and ermine-lined cape, to be carried back to the bars on the shoulders of the adoring crowd afterwards, but for some reason this ritual didn't get traction on our campus. Too bad, as I was just getting started fleshing out the songs and speeches, too.)

Anyway, everything is hectic and grumpy-making over here, with lots of work and no time to brood over graduation crap (or even plan it --- I think I have tons of paperwork to do to get Dr. Second Fiddle's name rather than Advisor's announced at the ceremony at this late date). I blame Society. After all, its what my student's are all arguing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Phone Sheep

Swamped right now; will report later.

But just because you're busy doesn't mean you're too busy for art. You look like you need some wonder and surprise. So if these shots intrigue you, go here for even more sheep pics to ponder. (they're much larger and nicer quality on that site, too.)

Baaaaaaa-ring! (which is nothing at all like boring, I'd say.)

Seriously, though, how cool is this? ---- I've added a bunch of arthistory blogs to my reader, to become a more well-rounded cog, and so I'll try and post about cool art stuff more regularly from here on out. Toodles.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

My nemesis

And so it begins...