Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm so brilliant they add letters to the word for me...

Belle over at Scattered and Random gave me an award! Yay! I'm sure it's for bravery in the face of an enemy dissertation. Here are the things I have to do once nominated:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Add links to these blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

I hereby nominate The Age of Perfection, Fretful Porpentine (Quills), Kermit's Log, Clashing Hats, Highly Magnified, Thoroughly Educated, Not Quite Grown Up, and Who Doesn't Love Roses for this award. While not not all of them are showing bravery in the face of a dissertation exactly, they are all undertaking or are about to undertake new challenges and transitions of one sort or another, just like me, and that type of adventure is always interesting to follow.

So go read them! Just don't tell them about the hazing period they have to go through with the paddles and the live goat before being officially given the award.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to Cook a Dissertation

(While working on the finishing stages of my dissertation I thought other people would like some advice on how to start, continue, or complete such a prodigious undertaking. However, you're certainly not going to get anything like that on this blog. So have a recipe instead.)

- You will need the materials from your Half-Baked Idea. (see Prospectus, the)

- FINELY CHOP logic. Keep separate from the garlic and onions for now.

- RE-HASH other peoples’ work on your topic. This will probably turn out overdone, but it can’t be helped.

- generously SEASON dissertation with Theory and some fresh rosemary to taste. You will be adding a lot of thyme later.

- BLANCH at the amount of quote-sorting and filing you’ll need to do. Cut it fine but don’t cut corners!

- SIMMER your key texts on the back burner for a long time, or perhaps longer. While waiting, your advisor will MAKE MINCEMEAT of your previous seminar papers for you.

- vigorously WHIP up the cream skimmed off the Half-Baked Idea until it forms stiff peaks and produces a fellowship. If no fellowship appears, repeat this step.

- STEW over the whole thing until the entire process seems pointless. Repeat.

- ADD a dash of BITTERS and stir. Those of you who are out of funding can skip from this step directly to the addition of bourbon instead.


- CHILL out over the larger ramifications of the project, but don’t let the entire thing get cold.

- AGE all materials in a cool, dark place until the ideas start to gel. You’re aiming for a fine Gruyere here, not Limburger.

- CHURN the dissertation until long. taffy-like sentences form. Pull and pull and pull and pull and pull and pull at the sentences. Then re-knead them and pull them all again. If you start to feel like Brer Rabbit stuck to the Tar-Baby, don’t feel surprised.

- PRESSURE-COOK the last few chapters with a grain of salt. Don’t have a pressure cooker? Your advisor will apply pressure for you.

- TURN the finished mass onto an ornamental platter and serve. Don’t look at it too closely. GARNISH with heartfelt and not so heartfelt thanks and dedications. Then dump the entire thing in the trash and call out for Domino’s. You wouldn’t want to actually eat that shit, would you?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I Luv You Man!

Just got back from a party for some select few grads ---- drinks and gossip, dirt-dishing and more drinks. Let me tell you, I had not realized the extent to which Shit Has Gone Down in this department. The only difference between me and my fellow grads, however, is that deep down I don't think these unethicalities (unethicalities? sure, it's a word) are in any way unique to this department ---- I bet they're pretty par for the course across academia. But I don't want to talk about that now; I want to note how great it was to sit there with a few friends who have had my back for all these years and dish with them and share our stories, and most importantly to see some of them going off to new and wonderful things and feel really proud. It's so weird that I'm so glad to be done here and we all have been so miserable and bitter and anxious to be out of here, and now that some of us are moving I am very sad: Oh, don't leave, I will be heartbroken! I say, despite the fact that we have not hung out in months, and furthermore, I wish them only the best ---- they are going off to exactly the kinds of exciting jobs and lives I want and I am genuinely pleased they are getting these rewards. Isn't it strange? It's not like I won't see them about as often as I do here, and keep track of them by email and internet, and yet I am all maudlin and sad. Yes, isn't the whole thing strange?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thank God for Form!!!!!!

They don't want to write poems for their final paper any more.


(Yes, I am evil. Ha!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Putting it to a Vote

So, someone in class today requested that the final paper --- we're being Introduced to Poetry right now --- be the option of either writing a traditional analysis or a poem. There was much agreement among the class and agitation for us to enact this new option. "What if I don't like your poems?" I asked. They responded that I would like them. "What if they are bad poems, what then? Would I mark you down for not writing good poetry?" I asked. They responded that they could write up an analysis of their own poem explaining it and how they had used all sorts of the devices we were learning about. And besides, who better to explain a poem than its author? I don't know about that, I said. One student agreed with me: "that might be hard. How would we put our own words into our own words, if that's what paraphrasing means?" I said I would ponder the matter and get back to them.

As I see it, this option has its ups and downs:
  • pro: I would have to read fewer essays
  • con: I would have to read student-written poems.

I thought I'd throw it open to the wisdom of teh internets: what do you think? Vote "yes," "no," or "splunge" in the comments box below. Or, if you have other fun/sadistic/confusing suggestions for what they should do in class or in their paper, make those suggestions too. They have hit the "last-week blahs" behavior and craziness a week early, and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them. Beating them with sticks seems like too much work, but just letting them out early every day and having them go off and write poems seems like not enough work. Where's the fun in it without the beatings? Hmm. I await everyone's advice. (lurkers especially! everyone join in!)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Not Another Monday!

Shoot me now. I can't face two more weeks of this. And as soon as I'm done with students being bitchy and lazy, I get to write an enormous amount of my dissertation and then revise and revise and revise and then format the whole thing and file it and get my ass in gear to send out my already-rejected articles again and rewrite my job letter and apply to the fucking adjunct jobs and get back on the fucking job market wheel and revise the diss. into a book and and and and...

Shit, forget the chocolate. I need to go straight to hard liquor. It's after 10 am somewhere in the world, isn't it?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday Academic Productivity Update (Shorter Version: Ha!!!)

Last weekend I went through all my piles of writing and sorta organized them. I found two paragraphs which I had thought I had written but were saved in odd places so I had no idea where they were, leaving me with the conclusion that I was insane or delusional or both and was now fantasizing the existence of dissertation chunks in order to be done more quickly. But with the recovery of these pieces, I know I am no more insane than usual. So I cut and pasted them into the larger draft.

This weekend, today, I went swimming and tamed some of the piles of crap in the living room. Then I ate a snack and moved the laptop to the kitchen table with a virtuous heart, intent on getting lots of work done. Skimming over the front end of my draft, I realized that a couple paragraphs were more of an information dump than an argument, without any clear signposting that would lead the reader along to my next point. "X idea is dropping out of these paragraphs," I wrote in the margin. "And why do I need to give the reader this information in order to get to this new point? What does it have to do with my new point and how will I keep it all connected to idea X?"

It was not long before I had unpicked these paragraphs and was left with a tangle of words, even more confused as to why I needed this information there. Worse, I had the sinking feeling that there was no relevant and interesting connection between all this information and X. It was like making negative progress on the chapter.

At this point my snack kicked in and, like a boxer socked with a KO, all the blood diverted from my brain and muscles to go hang out in my stomach ---- that was where the party was, or at least all the good food. So I dragged my groggy self to the sofa, with the chapter printout, and settled in under a blanket to "work."

Immediately I was dreaming that* I was the only hope to convoy an important shipment of tapioca to Antarctica for use in the rescue of Lord Shackleton. Saddling my trusty Iditarod sled dogs I bravely ventured forth, only to become bogged down in the thick Amazonian jungle. Undaunted I continued on, and the next thing I knew I was fleeing across the ice from giant mutant flesh-eating penguins with laser-shooting eyes. I tried to beat them down using my rolled-up dissertation chapter but in the end had to take a death-defying leap off a snowy cliff, only to land on the back of a giant white whale in the freezing ocean. With my bare hands I subdued it, bringing the giant kraken under my mind control, and it seemed that all would be fine until it submerged itself in the icy waters. When I recovered from the bitter cold of the ocean, I found myself trapped, stuck in an enormous spider web, or perhaps made very very small in an ordinary spider web. "Help meeee, help meeee," I piped in a tiny voice, but the giant Ann Coulter crept ever closer along the web, slavering, madness and death burning from each of her 8 little red eyes. How I was ever going to escape from being chained to the railroad track and save grandma's farm I did not know!

Luckily, at about this time I woke up. Is it any wonder that I'm so tired I need another nap again? I gotta watch out for this whole "writing my dissertation" thing --- it's obviously bad for my health.

* well, ok, no, the dream was totally boring and not at all like this. But where would the fun be in writing the truth?

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Classics Meme

Ok, so I know I've got about 40 memes I've been tagged with and all sorts of teaching type things to update you on or ponder over plus I never did respond to Oso Raro and Dr. Crazy's thoughts on class and the academy (and that post is largely written!) but, because I am a bad blogger who never finishes anything or posts on what she claims she will post on, I'm jumping distractedly onto Horace's meme at To Delight and to Instruct and pondering Entertainment Weekly's list of "new classics" since 1983. (See here.)

First of all, what is a "classic," or even a "new classic"? Horace has a fun time pointing out how weird and inconsistent the category is, as it lumps "deep and meaningful" with "learning about the world" and "massive bestseller" or "full-on cultural phenomenon" (those are my categorizations, not Horace's). I'm a teensy bit more willing to give them leeway, as their subhead is "the 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008" --- but in that case I'd think they should just go straight-up popular lit. (and what is going on with the popularized nonfiction in there, like Gladwell's The Tipping Point? Eh? Oh whatever.)

Is a "classic" something that has a certain craft and density to its prose? Something that creates a transformative experience in the reader? Something that sates our inner desires or panders to our wishes? (I'm lookin' at you, Joy Luck Club.) It can't be something that has stood the test of time as, since it's a "new classic" (an oxymoron if I ever heard one), it has to be from the past 25 years. It seems to me that the more recent you go, the more visible the work of canon-forming becomes, as there is no way academics, other novelists, list-makers-who-work-at-Entertainment-Weekly, and reviewers could be up on top of all the work that has exploded into print in the last 25 years ---- particularly if you're being inclusive either geographically or along the fiction/memoir/nonfiction divide. So books that get favorably reviewed or shortlisted for prizes get read and picked up by more people and included into more classes than those that drop into print with little notice, and then this trend becomes self-reinforcing.

Plus, books that fill certain structural needs or desires get canonized more quickly ---- Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior explicitly focuses on Asian-American and female identity in a way that is both accessible and palatable for teaching in our classes, which means students can encounter it multiple times in English, Women's Studies, and Asian American studies classes and have that be their sole exposure to "Asian American literature." Or writers who do not pick up on "appropriate" themes of identity don't get taught. Which sorta makes sense: if you only have one shot at "introducing the culture," are going to go for something that hits on points A - F about race and racism and assimilation, or teach the difficult experimental work that never even discloses the author's race?

It's always Beloved that gets listed on the "Best Novels of the ______" and never any of Morrison's other work, because it came out and said Something Meaningful About Our Slave-Owning Past at a time that (mainly white) reviewers and academics knew they should be including authors of color in their canons. I have nothing against Beloved ---- it's brilliant and she is an amazing writer ---- but why do they never list, say, Song of Solomon or Jazz or Paradise? For that matter, why is "the" go-to African American novel everyone chooses the one about a former slave killing her own children, a long long time ago, and not John Edgar Wideman's Brothers and Keepers, an absolutely mind-blowing memoir/meditation about family and prison that was an incredibly transformative read for me. Not least because it indicts us on charges of both racism and classism ---- of just plain forgetting and self-centeredness ---- for what is going on right now with the prison system, not crimes of slavery that are safely in the past.

With all that prefatory blather, here is Horace's meme:

So anyway, a new meme: Best books of prose narrative of the last 25 years--that I've read. Which means that many exclusions can be chalked up to the fact that I haven't read them yet. We'll see if anyone picks it up.

Anyway, the rules:
1. Read the Entertainment Weekly List of New Classics:
2. Make a list of 10 or 20 or 25 of the best books of prose narrative (which excludes things like Fast Food Nation, which EW includes) you've read written since 1983.
3. Put it on your blog.
4. Boldface the authors not appearing on EW's top 100. Italicize the authors who appear with a different book.
5. Tag people if you want.

(Me: Ok, don't forget my reading record is really spotty, so don't attack me for omissions! Also, don't read too much into the order here. Unless you like it and approve, in which case it's intentional.)

1. The Known World, Edward P. Jones
2. Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
3. Brothers and Keepers, John Edgar Wideman
4. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
5. Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
6. Fools Crow, James Welch

7. In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
8. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
9. Monkey Bridge, Lan Cao
10. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
11. Zadie Smith: White Teeth
12. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004) (I liked Housekeeping better but it’s before the start date)
13. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
14. The Bingo Palace, Louise Erdrich
15. Jazz, Toni Morrison (just to be contrary here)
16. Mona in the Promised Land, Gish Jen
17. Krick? Krack! Edwidge Danticat
18. Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn
19. Native Speaker, Chang-Rae Lee
20. So Far from God, Ana Castillo

(Ok, anybody who wants to play, come on in! I had to stop at 20, though, because that was getting dangerously near my "I have read it" and not my "I thought it was wonderful" list --- obviously I need to go back to reading contemporary stuff again.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not Working

Ugh. Why do I so not want to work today? Bleah!

I hate this. I have been grading and prepping all week --- keeping up with all that fine, mind you, and with less exhaustion than last summer --- and haven't had any time for the diss. since last weekend. I have piles everywhere and so many strange files on my laptop screen with cryptic notes to myself as the document name and I don't remember where I am in the process or really even what I'm arguing. Sigh. By the time I go through it all and figure out where I am and what I need to do, the weekend will be over and I'll be back to teaching and not working on the diss for another week. It's so disheartening.

On the other hand, if I really go through it all well today and write a new paragraph, even a short one, then I would be making progress. And maybe it wouldn't take me so long to read over everything and organize it up next weekend, so it wouldn't be quite as much like starting over (seriously: I'm flipping through stuff going, I read this? Wait, this dude is going to be in the chapter? woah, that's my handwriting!). So it totally makes sense to tackle the piles even if I'll have to revisit them next weekend. Dammit! I hate when I'm so reasonable.


So far today I have slept in, gotten breakfast and coffee, and transferred all the piles of chapter-related books and notes and whatnot to one location, the kitchen table. And played around on the internet. Now I want another nap, or to do something completely lacking in mental effort.

If I'm not going to do diss. work, I should go swimming, get more groceries, or at least go somewhere nice like the beach or the park. But instead I'm going to sit here on the couch and complain. Maybe I need today as a recovery day and I can do work work on Sat. Mmm, yes, I believe that will happen.


I may have accidentally gotten my neighbors evicted. I certainly hope so. It wasn't just me, though. They've been playing music and/or having loud drunken fights at 4 or 5 am --- it turns out that like 5 guys are there and they all work different shifts (which explains how they can all fit in a tiny 1-bedroom). So their 5 am is like normal people's 5 pm, when they want to unwind and have fun. Unfortunately, the world just is not set up that way, and I don't want to have to listen to insanely loud music or beery fights after I've been sleeping. It turns out that it doesn't bother me so much if it is keeping me from getting to sleep, but if you wake me up and I have a couple hours before the alarm is going to go off, then I'm pissed.

So the time after I pounded on the wall and called the landlord, some people pounded on my door at 5 or so in the morning. It wasn't neighbors, it was people from the next apartment complex over, who were unable to sleep because the music was so loud. No one was answering at Loud Guy's place so they tried my door. I did not appreciate this logic. They then called the police, which I said was fine, and gave them the landlord's phone # too.

I got a very nice call from the apt. manager who filled me in on the situation ---- the Loud Guys have not responded; if they don't respond with an apology and promise to do X, Y and Z, then she will serve them with an eviction notice, but they are guaranteed 30 days to find a new place. I was hoping that the evicting was going through, but Loud Guy was taking down the satellite dish yesterday and then he knocked and apologized to me that evening, so I wonder if this means he's staying. I'm hoping it means he's packing up. I'm so mean. But this is such a cute quiet place and I would love to advertise it to one of my dept. friends, get in some cool (and quiet) neighbors.


Speaking of, I can't tell if one or two people from my school are reading this blog now. Someone has an RSS feed and someone (same one?) is googling my cogliness. I know of one person but am suspicious of additional readers ---- it doesn't help that people reading on campus show up in my Sitemeter stats as "UC OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, _____ CAMPUS" which, especially after my fun with Yudof, gives me a mini-heart attack every time I see it.

But the searches that lead people here are getting ever-more interesting! Now I'm starting to get phrases like these:
i fucked up grad school
Or this one, actually searched from my home campus:
i hate grad school english
Ohhh, yes, be sure that I am looking into that bit of gossip! Expect some fun advice to come from here in the near future! Excellent! (*tents fingers and whispers evilly.*)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Call for Counterculture Course Bleg

If you were teaching a certain angry, countercultural work from the 60s, and were pretty sure your students had hardly any mental images of the 60s or why the work might be shocking, what visual representations might you show them to give them some frameworks?

Easy Rider most closely matches this work's themes, I'd argue, although I've had really interesting discussions where people disagreed. However, Easy Rider doesn't excerpt or boil down well. Neither does Medium Cool, which also works to capture the flavor of anticipation and unrest (I saw the two paired in a course and it really worked for me.)

What might you show students to open up a discussion about the 60s?

(Or, really, make some lists and throw out all sorts of interesting stuff ... I'd love to see an imaginary syllabus or whatever insights might come to your mind ... let's get a big ol' conversation going!)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ask Dr. Cog for All Your Relationship Advice

We've discussed in the past how I'm interested in the search phrases that bring visitors to this here blog. Often some poor soul is seeking advice, knowledge that I feel I should provide, even if it is only "what is the stupidest question ever asked" or "is a B minus a bad grade." And today's question truly inspired me, leading me to wonder if I could not perchance use my 95%-completed Ph.D. to help the afflicted and stricken who so desperately need advice, for my advanced degree to mean something good rather than something irrelevant evil.

Periodically, when my mind accidentally lights on something particularly loathsome I wonder, how does one become a pundit? WTF kind of qualifications does one need to make 100K a year, besides the ability to be convincingly loud and a blowhard on every conceivable topic? Why, I surely could pontificate emptily on all subjects at least as well as any pundit and for only, say, 80k a year to start with even! (*Note: offer is null and void if the President of the University of California job comes through.)

But now I realize my true calling, which is not to be a beacon for the many but a helper, a guide for the few, those unfortunates who have dilemmas, who are lost and confused but can still get it together enough to search the internet, albeit not with any sort of spelling skills.

In the past, I have turned my beneficence towards those who wished for guidance through the tangled maze known as the job market. There are many such helpful screeds in my archives. So, not today will I answer such impassioned pleas as "how to get a teaching job with no experience" or "why can't I get a prestigious postdoc." No, today this Cog has been intrigued by the following, possibly metaphysical, question:
do women like grad students
Hmm. What a fascinating area of contemplation you have opened up here! I am sure you have already considered this preliminary hypothesis, that indeed there are many types of women, and many types of grad students, and that surely some subset of the former does, indeed, "like" some subset of the latter. No no, I understand you have already worked through these preliminary mental maneuvers, and that you have arrived here for the perspective of the Cog, for something straight from the horse's mouth, as it were, if you were to substitute "woman" for "horse" and promise to never, ever again make such comparisons in front of a feminist.

For, in truth, I am a woman! And I do like grad students! Some of them quite a bit! I would even venture so far to state that certain types of grad students I don't just like, but like like, if you can here catch my drift and special use of the "language of the school yard," as it were, which I think you can, considering the situation you appear to be in and your preferred method for seeking out advice. In fact, I like my grad students to be as grad-student-ly as possible, and, considering that I am a 95%-completed-Ph.D. advice columnist who is soon to be famous, I must humbly say that I am quite a catch.

I would even go so far as to suggest that perhaps you are pursuing the wrong subset of "women," or perhaps are falling into the null space between "not-at-all-like-a-grad-student" and "the-epitome-of-a-grad-student," and thus not appropriately niche marketing yourself. Are you presenting your non-grad-student qualifications to the grad-student-liking women, or possibly the mad grad student skilz to the non-grad-student-liking women? Matching desired skills to the appropriate demographics is highly important, you know.

Or perhaps, I delicately suggest, you are not working hard enough on your grad student skills, that you are resting on your laurels, as it were, thinking that mere enrollment or passing some comps would be enough to attract the true grad student fetishist? There is, I might point out, currently quite an oversupply of grad students at the moment, as the many posts here about the job market will testify.

The discerning liker of grad students is a true connoisseur of grad student-ness, wanting to enjoy the subtle variations in research and writing rather than accept simply the mere presence of grad students. Can she be sure that you will please her in the archives, that you know your way around her microfilm machine? (Here, go drop off these ILLs before you start transcribing those fiche.) Can you balance the difficult task of simultaneously meeting her needs in research (you'll need this bibliography) and teaching (the red pen is behind you) while still having the stamina to produce excellent writing for extended periods of time? (I'm on a deadline on that last chapter, you know.) Talk is cheap; CVs are easily compared. You will have to prove yourself, to do whatever it takes (dishes, laundry, dry cleaning? Be creative!) to make sure you stand out from the rest of the pack.

So, anonymous internet questioner, be bold! Dream big! Reach for the skies! Just be sure to have those books highlighted and back here by five, because I that's when I need you to de-worm the cats.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tonight, I ate my graduation money.

Meh. It was all right, but it wasn't ice cream. (or even superbitterfantabulous dark chocolate.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fire in the Southland!

Oh wait --- maybe it's fire in the Northland!

Aw, hell --- with over 1000 fires going right now, you can just say the whole damn state is going up. Forget "The Golden State"; we're soon going to be the "Crispy Burnt Toast State."

Out here we don't have weather --- our seasons are broken out by disasters: Mudslide Season just ended, now we are entering Fire Season (with Incredifuckingunbelieveably Hot Season wedged in a week between there.)

Once again everything is smoky and horrible here. I'm ok. I think everyone I know round here is ok. Do not worry. (Although, we had some power out and if something terrible happens, this blog will just never get updated again, eh? You'll just have to remain in suspense. Or assume that the worst happened. That's what I always do.)

That second photo is actually my beloved Big Sur, neither the north or the south but smack in the middle of the central coast, which makes me incredibly sad. For now, it seems as though they have saved Deetjens and Nepenthe, some of the swanky, hippie little tourist spots Dissertation Buddy loves and introduced me to last year (or was it the year before?). But many homes out there have burned, and some people are missing, and who knows when or if it will be possible to go camping out there in the woods. It will certainly be transformed.

But that's what California, Land of Apocalypse, is all about, eh? The place of the instant makeover, of moving out west and starting anew, a place where history is bulldozed and botoxed under and made afresh, the land of the comeback and the second chance. It's fitting that our landscape has a similar outlook on radical transformation and phoenix-like rebirth. No gradual change for us! We move between unchanging placidity and explosive crisis. Earthquake and aftermath.

By this point, we're kinda inured to ash falling from the sky and the smell of brimstone; we're waiting for some sort of real catastrophe. (True story: there's a row of houses near the freeway by my parent's house that has regular mudslides from under them, sometimes so much as to close a lane or two of the freeway. Whenever we pass them, whoever's in the car comments, oh there's another couple pilings wedged under the far house, oh look, that one has slanted left by another degree. They are all still occupied and still get bought and sold regularly. That's how blase we are. Did I say blase? Stupid could work there too.)

In other news, other than the impending end of the world and potential fiery death, not much is going on here. I'm a little bored, little tired. Been avoiding the diss, nagging my students, the ones who weren't evacuated, doing a little cleaning, loading up my car in case we have to make a run for it, sweeping up the ashes, toads, and plagues of locusts ---- you know, the usual.