Thursday, October 30, 2008
Fine. I checked the free weekly rack but it was already depleted. I ended up going into the room with the big screen tv, where the teen waitress who had just taken my order was texting, leaning against one table, and one lone customer sat with a beer and a basketball game.
I don’t follow basketball anymore, and the large screen tv, from across the room, had a vague enough resolution that I couldn’t make out the clock or the score. The large room with its hardwood floors and wooden walls transformed the ambient music and conversations in the main dining room and the play-by-play with occasional crowd roar all turned into a sonic soup, out of which the occasional fragment would bob up to the surface like the odd chunk of carrot or green bean.
I focused my face upon the screen, more out of a sense of duty than any real interest, as if focusing all my attention on the game would make the time pass faster and bring me my pizza. It was also to freeze out the other occupant, the older man with long, stringy hair that seemed as if it could not decide whether to be gray or blonde; soon it became clear that my attempts were wise, but futile.
The man with his soft gray windbreaker that looked as if all the color had been boiled out of it and his similarly nondescript light pants and brown shoes made some sort of jovial comment to the waitress when she cleared the table nearest the tv ---- uh, what, did you just call her a gladiator and warrior queen? Um, she’s a waitress ---- she made some unintelligible noise of demurral and he said, “But that’s what you are, aren’t you? A ----” more garbling, and she shot back “kinesiology major!” over her shoulder as she took the dishes into the kitchen.
Oh, ok. Makes sense now. “I wanna be a trainer for the NBA!” she shouted offscene. That hardly sounded feasible but, whatever. Who am I to piss on someone’s youthful ambitions in the space of knowing her five minutes? At least, not out loud.
But in watching the waitress leave the room my eyes and those of the other customer had met. He had me now. His stare was a little glassy; the way he had turned his whole body, carefully, to watch the waitress pass told me he had finished that pitcher of beer himself. He poured the last of it into his glass even as he started to speak to me. He reminded me of my dad, and of me being sent to go pull him out of bars; he carried his liquor with great practice. Clearly he was in the genial and awkwardly loquacious mood; with my dad, at least, this would quickly progress to belligerent and vicious.
So when he fixed his boiled blue eyes in a weathered, tanned face on me and asked me something about whether I appreciated the competitive streak in mankind (gesturing at the basketball game) I knew I was going to be chatted up until I got my pizza box and possibly afterwards. I politely nodded and smiled and shrugged, alternately, glancing between the tv and the man, the sounds of the two swimming in and out of focus.
“What are you getting, pizza?” he asked me after a while. I nodded. “I’m getting a burrito,” he jerked his head, “down the street.” Then why are you--- my expression asked. “I’m just here for the tv. My tv is broken.” Ah, I looked. “I wouldn’t come here otherwise. I mean, I hate that guy! He’s such a douche.” This said with a nod as the manager came through with a clipboard, almost soon enough for him to have heard.
I smiled, because I know the manager from back when I lived a street away and he and his wife were always having their matching white 4x4 extendicab trucks being powerwashed and detailed back in that alley and I was always having run-ins with them over parking and the dumpsters and the noise from the powerwash compressors and yeah, he pretty much is a total douche. And judging from his cuffed chino shorts and white shoes and polo and Top-Gun-era Tom Cruise haircut, his douchiness hasn’t changed at all since I moved.
Unfortunately my smile was enough for the man to launch into an extended monologue about how bad commercials are and how they control your brain.
Don’t look at your watch. Don’t look at your watch. He asked me something about Obama, and then asked if I believed Obama would actually make the visit to North Dakota. I looked at him: What? “Because Bill Clinton never actually made it that far. He came close, but he didn’t go all the way to Ruby Ridge…” more indistinctness, although now I was perking up my ears. Was there some sort of news thing I’d missed? I agree it would be cool for Obama to go… ok, now we seem to be into something about the spirituality of the Indians…
“But I would never vote for Obama,” he said abruptly.
“No?” I asked. My heart sank in that weird way I have when forced to acknowledge the existence of Republicans, as if it were a personal affront aimed at me.
“No.” he said. “Know who I would vote for.” I leaned in, unable to help myself. Then he turned with an air of great finality and sipped at his beer, musingly. He was silent for perhaps two whole minutes. Damn, you’re good.
I suddenly noticed that the commercial I had been watching was for a video game and that I had been unable to distinguish between the computer-generated and live shots of players.
When the manager asked me if I was doing ok on his way through the restaurant, the man finally spoke again. This time he was the one who leaned over. “Know who I would vote for?”
“No,” I said, breaking my don’t encourage them! rule.
“Skippy.” I looked a question at him. “Don’t know ---- history of the ---- baddest motherfu--- of elephants?” Once again the sounds were a wash and I picked through them vainly. I shot another look of confusion at him. “Over three thousand years of history --- how could you not know ---- on this great ball of dirt --- and I,” here he thumps his chest “I tell you I am not happy to be born here again! Of all the planets I told them to drop me on, this was the last on the list!”
Oh man. This is either crazy burnt-out hippie or homeless man talk. New scrutiny of his pants indicated that they were clean, but also had been worn while dirty for extended periods of time. His shoes were uncomfortably new, still squeaking with a cheap shine. The re-observation was inconclusive ---- the homeless in our area often sport a mix of the old and ragged, clean, and new distributions from the shelters, but on the other hand the long surfer hair pushed back with old sunglasses suggested he could be one of our local New-Agers. Gradually out of the diatribe and past lives and aliens I recognized “Africanus.” Wait, Scipio Africanus?
“Hannibal?” I queried when the elephants came round again. “Exactly! Over the Alps! Over the Alps!” he talked faster and gesticulated more, and happily. We were now on the same side, it seemed. He was now telling me how humble Scipio Africanus was ---- just a regular joe motherfucker, didn’t want to be Caesar, didn’t even need reward, just wanted to get his job done ---- not like that Genghis Khan, who was such a good guy but lost touch with his roots, let the power get to his head ----” This guy is talking like he has a personal relationship with Genghis Khan… Huh. Is that like having a personal relationship with Jesus? Listen, his cadence is even changing, getting more preacher-ly.
Suddenly one of the wait staff materialized in front of me, my coveted pizza box in hand. Food! As I stood to go, said bye, took the box and my purse, the man downed the last of his beer seemingly without even a pause in his oration, got up, and started following me. Almost so subtly as to seem natural, the manager interposed himself between the man and me and began asking some detailed question or other as I booked it to the exit. Ah, I take it all back about your douchiness. You understand people more than I thought.
Free, I started to walk back home, warm cardboard box in hand. Skippy, huh? I didn’t even know he was on the ticket…
Monday, October 27, 2008
Not only is it a competition, but there are cool buttons to commemorate it and to mark your word counts. I love me some buttons! (see right side of blog for my cool buttons and this year's job tally.) Plus, I did it last year and there is something to be said for upholding a tradition.
But... what the hell would I write? I don't have a dissertation rolling back down the hill at me. In fact, I'm sorta at a loss.
Well, not a loss precisely. But while I'm buried under all these frakkin job applications and my R&R, both of these are due, like, immediately and not really over November. Or at least, I need to get all my apps out and over with and the same with that article. Hmm.
Soooo... should I start some sort of new project? But since I don't have any irons in the fire, I'd really be back at reading deeply of things, which isn't really conducive to the whole InaDWriMo structure.
Should I just lay back and relax for a while? I've been feelin' kinda burnt out on academia lately, which I think has been part of the reason I'm totally blocked on that article. But, but ... then I'd be walking away from a challenge! Who can do that? splutter, splutter! I'm not really me if I'm not totally overdoing things!
Whaddaya think? Should I InaDWriMo an article? Should I hang out for a month and have my own private
I had an acknowledgment letter from one of the places I applied (already!) and a second letter from a university among all the junk mail and election flyers. Oh no, I thought, didn't I apply to this school last year? Am I finally going to be given a SCUM letter rejecting me for a job I applied to an entire year ago? And over a month after I finally dug out and immolated all of the other old SCUM letters? At least, I chortled to myself as I ripped open the envelope, I'll have something to snark about on the blog.
But no. There was a long letter with an enclosure, and the letter, roughly translated, said something like:
Dear Dr. Cog,
We are doing this cool new thing and even hiring in this area as a result. We thought that your scholarly interests might be a good fit and so are inviting you to apply. For more information on X, Y, Q, and 3.14~ facets of our fancy new thing, which we have summarized here, go check out our web site and please consider applying. Anywhoo, toodles and kthanxbai.
The Search Committee.
Wait ---- they do this type of thing? And in a world where roughly 47,392 applicants crawl out of the woodwork for any type of job, they would actually recruit for a position? How did they even find me? Look, they called me doctor! Me! And thought my work or the title of my dissertation or something of mine they have heard or seen or met fit well enough with their stuff to send me off a letter! Me! I guess that means I really am a real Ph.D! I'm really in this thing! Just when I was so pissy and bitter and sure that I was never going to get a job or make it anywhere in this fucked up profession and that all this shit had been for nothing how I was just a big fraud and a botch who had only managed to get through the gates because someone blinked, I get a message from the ether: please apply.
Huh. That's right; I'm a doctor and I did make it through all that shit. Well this just made my day.*
*(It doesn't take much to make my day, does it? It would really make my day if I applied for the job and my application actually made it through the process. I know that this doesn't actually improve my chances. But the "Dr." part was real nice.)
Sunday, October 26, 2008
In other news, don't read the newspapers/magazines right before bed. I had McCain dreams last night, which meant a really rotten level of sleep. Gah! I need to get back to that article as well as prep a huge pile of letters to send out Monday (falling behind, falling behind) but can't seem to make myself move. I may just sit here a while, contemplating coffee, until I have enough energy to pack up all my stuff and go in search of it.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that ...
More on Greenspan admitting that his free-market ideology has a "flaw" here at the NYT.
HA! Finally. This is so important. I worry, though, that this one little laugh will be all that us people who have been raising critiques will ever get, while everything slides down into the shitter regardless.
The real question is what are we going to do about it now? And is there even anything that can be done? And of course, where we really need to be focusing our attention as a baseline is not on how the economic crisis is going to make life tougher for you and for me, but for how it will affect those people who are way worse off than our incredibly privileged, computer-using, selves. I think that was a major problem: that Greenspan and the rest of the investor class never had to experience or even consider living while trying to get food stamps, or choosing between paying the rent and the utilities, or holding off on medications, much less walking hundreds of miles looking for work or, say, subsistence farming in northern India.
Ok, now back to the article I'm angsting over.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
- break your phone through the rash and dangerous act of turning it on,
- discover that you only have half a bowl's worth of milk after you pour it on a full bowl of cereal,
- finally decide that the last of the milk had "turned" anyway after you choked down almost all of it,
- find that your "loose, comfy pants" don't close,
- are assailed by masses of incompetent, infuriating drivers (ahhh, you know if I could liveblog while driving this would be an all- bad driver rants blog, all the time. Consider yourselves lucky!),
- visit two phone stores and have to go in to work to sneak phone access because, hey, you only have the one phone!
- endure long stretches of call-holding Muzak and even longer stretches of kindly but confused customer service people who need to enter your address 27 different times,
- dither and worry over the crafting of half an important (think job-search related) email and then send it,
- spend a long time painstakingly crafting the second half of the important email,
- realize the incompatibility of the previous two steps,
- are unable to tell whether you are having indigestion or hunger pangs,
- go by school to check your box and your advisor's box and find nothing. Fret over whether your job letter revising made the whole thing so bad that it is now a steaming pile of crap and your advisor is too sad and disappointed to even acknowledge its existence,
- are informed that it costs you 13 bucks to order an official transcript and have it mailed to your house within a two-week time frame, but it's another 10 bucks for them to hold it and you pick it up from school yourself,
- return home to find you had accidentally shut the bathroom door on your cat while he was exploring the bathtub and has been in there all day. Feel guilty from his reproachful glances,
- know that the impending deadline on a writing project is making you anxious and worried and upset and yet you can't make yourself actually look at or think about the thing, which just makes you feel even worse,
- write the day off as just better forgotten and yet you did not take advantage of the situation and take a nap.
Monday, October 20, 2008
It's like I have turned into this guy --- when I was a kid, I never understood why he started every show by changing his jacket and shoes, but now I do the same, because I have gotten OLD while not looking --- and once I am home and wearing something comfortable (read: old-ladyish) and have made some dinner, I start thinking I'm done for the night. And off I go to read blogs, getting grumpy when I run low on feed material, instead of, you know, actually starting the reading for tomorrow's class! Argh.
For instance, I need to meet with my advisor for the eleventy-millionth time and fix a few final things in my letter (side note: how the fuck do you forecast a future research project without knowing if your topic has been done already? I feel like I need to research and write another entire prospectus (god no!) in the time I have left before sending it out!); I have massive work to do on the Essay of Doom which is Due Immediately and I Have Been Ignoring (EDDIIHBI for short); I need to read and prepare something at least semi-together for tomorrow's teaching; and I have work to do to prepare for a conference. I could easily double this list if I looked beyond my immediate deadlines. But nooo, instead I contemplate watching a DVD or catching up on the news. Stupid gnomes and their stupid mushroom rings of Procrastination Power! (Speaking of, I really gotta clean in here again if the place is capable of sprouting mushrooms.)
But the mushrooms are so shiny, and glowing --- wait, what? Shake it off, cog! Ok, one quick procrastinatory rant before I go do my course reading at least, which may feel enough like procrastinating that I will be able to keep it up:
There's this colleague I work with, who is very nice, perhaps not always so sharp on the uptake --- or perhaps just so uncynical that concepts of intrigue and discretion (or guile) pass over her --- who I was complaining with today. We have similar problems with this program --- most importantly, we're trying to figure out what the program is and what our job duties are, because they're a bunch of hippies who go by the "oh, writing things down is so fascist; we just do what we want" mentality, which, if you come in as an outsider, basically leaves you navigating a landmine field and trying to figure out your job duties through mind-reading. There are other problems with the program too, and practices on the ground that do not match with their professed mission statements.
Now, I'm a cog and happy to be one; I'd rather be exploited as a faceless number in a machine where all the rules are set out in triplicate, the better to squeeze the life out of any of your creativity, than to be left adrift in a fog and then get yelled at randomly for doing (or not doing) something that you should have. I like systems, even when I rail against them. (in fact I need a system there in order to rail against it.) I've also worked political campaigns, in political offices and done union work, so I get that there are power struggles and deep, long-running feuds or past history under the surface of things, that things get done off the record or through compromise, or that you might want to be careful what you say in a meeting before you know who stands where and who your allies are (or that you may need to have premeetings before the meetings to get your allies and coalitions organized into a unified bloc.)
But Guileless Colleague does not recognize this (perhaps because she graduated from a tiny elite SLAC where the rhetoric was all about family and she was largely protected from seeing infighting) and has stepped in it and out of it several times already, particularly on the "wait to see whose pet project it is before you trash it in a meeting" (or more accurately: we're temps. Don't ever trash something in a meeting.) She's so open and above-board, that she doesn't recognize something is told to her in confidence unless you explicitly warn her so, and even then she might make reference to the conversation you had and just not quote you directly.
So today I was talking with her about this and that (I hate this and wish this were different, can you figure out why they do X this way, what do your students react when you do this, etc.) and then I got an email tonight that she had mentioned most of what I said to the principal and then proceeded to relay what his responses were. Ugh. Not okay. I'm a "hands off" teacher, especially as a temp, and I try not to have much interaction with the bosses unless I have a specific problem I want their help or input on, or I need to cover my ass because I think something bad is coming down the pike. I don't want to bring random "here's how my day was" comments to him, and I especially don't want to bring any random bitching I was sharing with the rank-and-file to his attention. Correction: I especially don't want other people to relay my random bitching and chitchat to the bosses, no matter how openly it's done. Please consider anything I say in casual conversation, particularly anything the slightest bit negative, as off the record and not available to be passed on unless I specifically say so. I guess we're just such different personality types I'll have to watch it. But on the other hand to not realize that making negative comments about work around your boss might be bad is just weird. It's like admitting you're lazy or hate your job or snuck off work early to your boss when that's strictly water-cooler talk. Hmm.
Ok, now I must get some prep done. Anybody have some good ways to define and talk about irony?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I guess blogging will be light until I fix this?
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
In other news, I experimented with a new recipe --- fall themed --- and have learned that a small head of cabbage really produces a lot of cabbage. So now I have a lifetime supply of braised cabbage with apples and vinegar, and I was only meh about the recipe when it was hot and fresh. Grr.
Still haven't gotten going on a piece of academic writing with an impending deadline. Argh, why am I so stupid about not working on this? I wish I could say all that energy I'm turning towards my applications is paying off with lots of stuff being finished and sent out, but that is not the case.
And, after a confrontation with my students today, I am left wondering if I am actually a Fascist. Not in a "oh no, I am so horrible to my students" way, but more in the way of a deep and satisfied recognition and sense of rightness about things. Consider it my version of Coming Out Day, I suppose. I am just not a fucking nurturer. And I've never seen the usefulness of all that shit on a college campus. As I like to point out to them, I'm not yer mom, I'm yer boss --- and after about four years or so of hard work for me you will move up to the next level where you actually get paid. And you know what? Nobody fucking gives out an A for motherfucking effort in the work world, awright? You give it your best effort and turn out a shitty product or presentation, you get fired. You need to have both effort and competence.
So why should I give you a break or make an assignment easier just because you want it? When you want something, oh students, I automatically assume that it is bad for you and that we need to do the opposite. Because I am not here to give you what you want ---- using a nutritional metaphor, you want nothing but ice cream and beer and it is my job to get you to try other things that may have nutrients you need ---- and similarly, there's no point in you doing exercises you can already accomplish or lessons you already know. You're here to learn the things you don't know and to be challenged and stretched in different directions.
Hmm. I'm simultaneously using the parental metaphor and the I'm not yer mom claim. Somehow it all seems logical to me when discussing things in class.
And this whole ungraded option? Ungra--- WTF!?!?! Um, no. Why do I instantly think you are trying to put a scam over on me? Seriously, here is where I am embracing my inner Fascist ---- I don't want to be in some situation where I talk and you write a big project and then you hand it in and everything is fluffy bunnies and rainbows. You take the grades out of the equation and other parts suddenly make no sense ---- what does my job consist of then if I'm not grading? How will I evaluate whether you are learning our class objectives if there is no grade involved? Where will the revision and improvement happen if I'm not critiquing and commenting on your work? What is your incentive to work and improve if we are not ranking things and evaluating them on quality rather than on mere presence? You're not producing academic writing then; you're creating fanfic. (and suddenly I realize why I never follow that stuff, aha.)
It was somewhere around this point that I realized I am very deeply invested in grades, and I take great pleasure in beating the shit out of my students through my grading, a tough love style premised on "that which does not kill you makes you stronger" philosophy. A philosophy deeply bound up with notions of punishment, and ordering, and ranking, and quality. You don't like it? Suck it. The first rule is never to talk about Fight Club. Now get up off the floor, quit crying, and do it again. Again, until it's perfect.
Not that I feel the need to do this to all my students ---- my first generation students and students of color, my very young students who have that lost, dazed look on their faces as it's clear they've been pushed in over their heads here ---- I'm quite patient with them and can really enjoy taking the time to baby them along, step by step, slowing down and really going over minute details of the research process that most people intuit or bluff their way through. (I've found that I really love teaching research, but the basic basics of research that other grad students kinda look at me with a raised eyebrow and a look of "oh come on, everyone automatically knows how to do that" but in fact my students don't have a clue about. Like problem solving what to do when the book they need is not on the library shelves.) But those students aren't these students, and I think the most important thing about teaching is not to start with the content or your interests but with the question, what do these students need to know? And these students over here at Alternative Academy need a good old-fashioned ass kicking and rigor. If only their parents believed it. Ah, the joys of working in the consumer model of education!
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Your result for The Classic Dames Test...
You scored 40% grit, 29% wit, 19% flair, and 24% class!
Find out what kind of classic leading man you'd make by taking the
Classic Leading Man Test.
Although, technically, this is Joan in her 30s era look ---- if we really wanted to go with the "Mad Men" time period, we'd need to look at her later films, like Woman on the Beach, or The Damned Don't Cry (surely one of the best movie titles evar. Loves me some eyebrows!)
Quiz as seen at Maude, PhD's.
Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...
You Are a Joan!
You are a Joan -- "I need to succeed"
Joans are energetic, optimistic, self-assured, and goal oriented.
How to Get Along with Me
- * Leave me alone when I am doing my work.
- * Give me honest, but not unduly critical or judgmental, feedback.
- * Help me keep my environment harmonious and peaceful.
- * Don't burden me with negative emotions.
- * Tell me you like being around me.
- * Tell me when you're proud of me or my accomplishments.
What I Like About Being a Joan
- * being optimistic, friendly, and upbeat
- * providing well for my family
- * being able to recover quickly from setbacks and to charge ahead to the next challenge
- * staying informed, knowing what's going on
- * being competent and able to get things to work efficiently
- * being able to motivate people
What's Hard About Being a Joan
- * having to put up with inefficiency and incompetence
- * the fear on not being -- or of not being seen as -- successful
- * comparing myself to people who do things better
- * struggling to hang on to my success
- * putting on facades in order to impress people
- * always being "on." It's exhausting.
Joans as Children Often
- * work hard to receive appreciation for their accomplishments
- * are well liked by other children and by adults
- * are among the most capable and responsible children in their class or school
- * are active in school government and clubs or are quietly busy working on their own projects
Joans as Parents
- * are consistent, dependable, and loyal
- * struggle between wanting to spend time with their children and wanting to get more work done
- * expect their children to be responsible and organized
Friday, October 10, 2008
I can't really tell still why the reviewers find certain new works really interesting and others pretentious and derivative, but I'm getting more familiar with what they look for and how they connect up allusions (intended and unintended). I've seen a bunch of stuff that I like, but haven't really memorized any names yet beyond the ultra-famous Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. I can see why they're excoriated in the art world, though. (They're more like performance artists, commenting on the shallowness and commercialization of high-finance art, than actual content-producing artists --- that is, the critics are more interested in the way Hirst just auctioned off his stuff directly to the public without any gallery or dealer intervention than they are in his mass-produced color spin or butterfly paintings or even his animals in formaldehyde. But this allows him to have his commentary on commercialism cake and eat it too.)
Anyway, last night I caught up on one of the many blogs --- Art Fag City --- oh, and ended up having a weird dream about global art markets (is there nothing I can read before bed?) --- and he posted a Hue test, which was fun to take: Test Your Color IQ. You have to put all the colors in the correct gradation. I didn't get a great score, but I'm going to try again later when my eyes aren't feeling so tired and out of focus and see if the score changes. Here's a screenshot of my color distinctions, with the flat parts being correct and the bars marking mistakes:
So, I don't distinguish greens as well as reds. Interesting, eh? The purple bars could also be that I have the attention span of a gnat and was getting bored and having trouble making my eyes focus on the screen. But now I feel like I need to have someone with a good color eye look at my wardrobe and home decorating patterns ... ooh ... no, no that sounds like a terrible idea. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
So, anyway, I did a bunch of rearranging and cutting and pasting and shifting stuff around, but, in a very student-like way, following the letter of their suggestions, rather than actually resolving these conflicts and presenting a new, unified presentation. I feel kinda passive-aggressive about making all their revisions at this simplistic level while being incredibly resistant and hostile to the spirit of their suggestions, but I'm going to go in and talk with them about this in my meetings later this week and maybe things will get ironed out. Or I will yell and express all this resentment and get it out of my system somehow.
And in reading over my materials I realized that the only decision I made, was the decision not to decide anything. (See all that passivity? That wanting to be told, word-for-word, what to do? Very undergrad of me. Whatever.) This is not at all like me usually, and I was reminded of the princess character in Sondheim's Into the Woods:
He has charm for a Prince, I guess...
I don't meet a wide range.
Did he speak? Did he flirt?
Could you tell right away he was royalty?
Is he sensitive,
As kind as he's handsome,
As wise as he's rich,
Is he everything you've ever wanted?
Would I know?
Well, I know.
But how can you know what you want
Till you get what you want
And you see if you like it?
What I want most of all-
Just within reason.
Is to know what I want.
Like I said, this isn't really my usual style. But, where Tenured Radical posted a song from A Chorus Line as her epitome of the job market ("God, I hope I get it, I hope I get it!") I'm still stuck dithering about trying to figure out what I want, with all this quasi-existential angst and dissonant melodies:
He's a very smart Prince,
He's a Prince who prepares.
Knowing this time I'd run from him,
He spread pitch on the stairs.
I was caught unawares.
And I thought: well, he cares-
This is more than just malice.
Better stop and take stock
While you're standing here stuck
On the steps of the palace.
You think, what do you want?
You think, make a decision.
Why not stay and be caught?
You think, well, it's a thought,
What would be his response?
But then what if he knew
Who you were when you know
That you're not what he thinks
That he wants?
And then what if you are?
What a Prince would envision?
Although how can you know
Who you are till you know
What you want, which you don't?
So then which do you pick:
Where you're safe, out of sight,
And yourself, but where everything's wrong?
Or where everything's right
And you know that you'll never belong?
It's your first big decision,
The choice isn't easy to make.
To arrive at a ball
Is exciting and all-
Once you're there, though, it's scary.
And it's fun to deceive
When you know you can leave,
But you have to be wary.
There's a lot that's at stake,
But you've stalled long enough,
'Cause you're still standing stuck
In the stuff on the steps of the palace.
Better run along home
And avoid the collision.
Even though they don't care,
You'll be better off there
Where there's nothing to choose,
So there's nothing to lose.
So you pry up your shoes.
Then from out of the blue,
And without any guide,
You know what your decision is,
Which is not to decide.
You'll leave him a clue:
For example, a shoe.
And then see what he'll do.
So ... yes. In sum, I have no clue who I am or what I want and I need to successfully impersonate the mental image some search committee has of their ideal imaginary candidate and I must do this by reading their minds and anticipating their needs while simultaneously ... being myself. Whoever that might be. Nothing could be simpler!
Monday, October 6, 2008
Let me start by heading off any complaints about my advice giving and state that there are two basic rules to dissertation writing: 1) do whatever works for you and 2) there always could be another method that works for you even better than what you currently have, so keep one eye peeled for possible ways to improve your system.
So, I had a dissertation topic and felt extremely, anxiously, paralyzingly ignorant about the historical background of my time period and the stuff I wanted to write about. So I read things and tweaked at my prospectus. And then I would read more things and move things around in my prospectus and then my advisor would make me move them all back the way they were before. And then I would read even more things, but then discover I had actually read them once already and just not remembered anything (and I must say I am seriously concerned about accidental plagiarism because of this. Or, more accurately, that there are probably lots of scholars who accidentally plagiarize ideas and don't even know it because they would swear on a stack of bibles that they had never actually checked X Scholar's book out of the library. Yes, paranoia is a large part of my writing process.)
At this point I realized I should be taking notes and storing them somehow, and I somehow managed to "acquire" a copy of Endnote. Which it then, possibly realizing I wasn't it's true owner or maybe just following Murphy's Law to the letter, promptly died after I had entered in all the bibliographic info from about three shelves of my bookshelves and a box of articles. Dammit. It's still on my computer. It still won't open. Grr.
I decided instead to simply create a Word file for each book I wanted to take notes on, and made a Notes on Library Books folder inside my Dissertation Folder, and then as I took more notes and background, I made further subdivisions within the Notes Folder, by topic and theory and discipline and time period and country and whatnot. As I read through the books ---- and I took notes more heavily at the beginning of this process, when I knew less about the basic facts of the case (Shakespeare wrote in English, eh? And this Elizabeth chick was Queen then? Who knew?) ---- I typed in notes and quotes, sometimes some dates and context, sometimes entire paragraphs if they were particularly good and well written, or conversely if I hated them so much I wanted to spend about 20 pages close reading why they were wrong.
I put quotes and page numbers around anything I quoted (and I wish I had put page numbers in when I summarized events, cause I often went back and wanted to turn a side note into an actual quote, and ended up rereading the book). And I wove in my commentary as well, in italics. If I could have figured out how to do dual columns, their quotes and my comments, my notes would have looked like Derrida's Glas. At the end of the document I'd pillage through the bibliography and make a list of "More to Read." I don't think I ever went and pulled all the stuff I thought I should pull from these to read lists, but, hey, it's the thought that counts, right?
About halfway through this process, I figured out that it was really helpful to put the entire bibliographic heading instead of just the title at the top of each note file. To the end of the dissertation writing process, I was still opening up files and going, "I cited this guy for ---- dammit! Now I have to look up this shit on Google!"
Now, the good part about this was that my writing process involved a lot of easy cutting and pasting --- I was the Queen of Many Windows (two or three open at once with my thought process going on, four or five more opened to pull out some background or a quote from my research, another one open for the biblio and every time I copied a quote I'd paste the bibliographic stuff in the works cited, and probably some more open with all my musings and notes on the primary text. Oh, plus the windows labeled Cut From the Draft But Don't Get Rid of Yet! that popped up a little later in the drafting process).
But the bad part about this method is that you pile up a huge amount of quoted material very fast, and then you feel like you have to use it, regardless of how appropriate it is to your argument. You might need something that goes off that direction --- 30 North --- and you have this fantastic block quote that tilts off in a slightly different direction, which is not where you wanted to go, but you use it anyway and then the transition you write to get you to the next point leads even further off track and then finally you fall off an ice floe. Sad. And besides the quotes leading you off in tangents, they can overpower your writing and analysis, leaving your point as the thin mortar holding together big bricks of block quotes. Although, thinking back to my MA seminar papers, they were definitely like this, so I probably got better even at that even before I started writing the dissertation.
I've been thinking that, now that I'm done (hooray! huzzah! Set of more celebratory fireworks! This shit never gets old! Yay!), maybe I need a new system. Or maybe I need a new set of folders on the hard drive, for whatever new project I start. Hmm. Or maybe you shouldn't teach an old dog new tricks and I should just stick to this "electronic notecard" system, which it basically is. (PS I type way faster than I write, which is partially why I like this method.) But then again, my next project, which will use all the old research material, is to turn the dissertation into a book, right? Ugh ---- I don't even want to think about that. Nope! Off to ignore that disturbing thought for a while now --- I think I'll go eat chocolate instead.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
How am I to present myself? In what way should I describe myself so as to actually get a job?
“You are a tiger,” Advisor tells me. “We have worked for so many years sharpening your teeth, and you have, if I do say so myself, such a beautiful coat of stripey fur, one of the best I have seen. Showcase it! Spend more time on describing the oranges and blacks, the gleaming claws — you need an entire paragraph here in your letter on the phenomenology of pouncing.”
“This pouncing paragraph needs to go,” says the Younger Professor. “You’ve already devoted quite a lot to it in the first paragraph. That might look good to the very top Tiger Departments, but you say that you have a lot of small, religiously oriented colleges with job ads this year — shouldn’t you be positioning yourself in a slightly more, uh, traditionalist way? And what could be more part of the great tradition than a Lady? This whole paragraph here should be rewritten to bring out your Ladylike qualities and show them how your research really does wonderfully exemplify Lady Studies.”
“Sisyphus, no.” My Advisor says with a frown. “Your materials are getting worse, not better. They are starting to sound incoherent. Where is the leaping, the gnashing of fangs, what’s at stake in leaping out of the forest at unwary travelers?”
“Don’t you think if I seem too tigerish, I might … scare some search committees off?” I mumble.
“Sisyphus. No!” (Yes, when my Advisor talks to me it often does sound exactly like scolding a misbehaving puppy. I hadn’t really noticed that until writing this post.) I drooped, abashed. My Advisor looked at me sternly. “If they don’t want a tiger, they don’t want a tiger. You don’t want to waste your time and theirs.”
“But I want a job. Any job. I’m not picky; I’m quite an easy-going tiger; I can wear a gown and pointy princess hat…” (wait, did I say that out loud?)
“No!! You definitely don’t want to battle them at tenure time with them upset because they feel they have been deceived as to who you really are!” (Oh my god, she can read minds!)
Fine then. The moral of the job application: be your true self. But who am I?
I went in search of more advice.
“Marsupials are hot this year,” said Professor Nonsequitor. “And you did such a great job TAing for my Kangaroo class. Why aren’t you applying for those jobs?”
“I’m not in your field,” said Professor Traditionalist. “But I want to know more about the important scholars you are responding to. You should include them and how you are intervening in the critical debate here right after your first sentence about the dissertation.”
“You want my entire lit review?”
“Yes, but it shouldn’t be more than a couple sentences.”
“I really don’t see how this is humanist, or literary,” said The Humanist Prof. “Why should I even care about a bunch of savage tigers? You need to pretend this is traditional, at least for the first few paragraphs. Where are the Ladies?”
“We’re posthumanist,” I growled back. “And wouldn’t the mention of antihumanist theorists like Butler and Foucault and Deleuze and Guatarri and Leopold the Lion in the dissertation abstract tip people off?”
“Yeah, those … could you just lose them entirely?”
“But … then I wouldn’t have any argument.”
“Ooh, problem,” he smirked back.
“I don’t know what advice to give you,” said Impossibly On Top of Things Grad Student, “I’m just so busy fending off job offers I’ve got to beat them with sticks.” I felt a rumbling starting in the back of my throat.
Depressed, I held my job letter up to see my reflection. I didn’t even see a hybrid or monster; just a botch. So many people had scribbled words and suggestions over it there were entire passages that were not at all my own.
Where do I belong? Pacing around behind bars waiting to tear someone limb from limb suddenly sounded … disappointing. And boring. Would they even let me near a book ever?
And sitting at the top of a tower, embroidering the world and combing my hair sounded equally dull and limited. And how could anyone really reconcile both?
All I know is that somehow I’ve got to make some sort of decision, and put on some sort of disguise — when are we ever not wearing a disguise? — and wait behind this door. When someone opens it — if someone chooses it — either a lady or a tiger has to come out. And I have no idea what to do or what is going to happen.
These days I feel like mauling somebody, or maybe crying. Maybe both.