Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Peeking at the Medusa

Self knowledge is so hard. There are so many ways I'll procrastinate before actually working up the courage to look at my writing, my revisions, my comments, even if I already know that the outcome is good and that the revision suggestions are minor. I have to creep up on them, trick myself by circuitous routes, bargain with myself, create calming rituals while polishing my shield to a mirrorlike sheen.

Nobody wants to look at a monster. Because once you find a monster you have to do all that work to slay it, and who wants to get off the couch for that? Risk, too. But what might be worse is if you go looking and discover it's not a monster at all, but something quite ordinary, and the quest is no quest but rather some everyday type of clean-up event. And then who are you, if not a heroic slayer of monsters? You'll have to figure that out all over again.

And so I avoid looking at the medusa, because, even though I know that really she's beautiful and she's laughing, everyone goes on and on about how terrifying, horrible and dangerous it is to look, and I end up paralyzed in spite of myself. I have to work myself up to it, bit by bit, knowing that if I can just make it past the inertia and the shock I will be fine, just like how I hate starting to write like I hate starting to exercise or just about anything else, but once I am in the middle of it I enjoy it all.

Small steps, then. I open the file while heating up some lunch. I print the essay while eating. I download the readers' reports, then write a blog post. All the while I tell myself, "you are doing fine. You have already taken a step towards revising with this little step, so you can stop at any time. But since you have already taken that little step, why not the next one? Why not turn over the page and look into that mirror?"

And then? And then?

Yes, and then. Now.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Difference Between the English BA and MA?

I'm still thinking about the point (and thus implicitly, the structure) of graduate studies in English. I know: dead horse, etc. But a post by Rohan Maitzen over at Novel Readings gave me more things to chew on.

Maitzen points out that the PhD's aims and goals, at least some of them, are so specific to the academic study of literature that they do not easily translate to the world outside of academia:
One goal is to become reasonably fluent in a style of argumentation and writing that is not universally practised, as anyone who has ever coached a student initially trained in, say, Dr. Stainton's field, philosophy, to do work in literary criticism (as I have) would know. A related goal is mastery of, or at least familiarity with, a vocabulary that really has little or no place outside the academic study of literature.
And further on Maitzen writes:
If writing a thesis isn't even altogether good preparation for writing a scholarly book, it is surely disingenuous to discuss it as if it's a reasonable task to undertake if what you are eventually going to do is become a public servant, a school teacher, a lawyer, the administrator of an NGO, a novelist, or a small business owner. As for the seminars and the qualifying exams, again, it seems to me a mistake to talk about them as if they operate according to the same principles or serve the same purposes as undergraduate courses.
And at another point in the post she points out that while practicing critical reading and writing skills are important to graduate programs, on the one hand it's more of what undergrads do, but in more depth, and on the other hand the new and different stuff (see above) is very specialized towards academia --- towards the profession.

This made me think of the people who complain that high school has dumbed down or fallen apart or otherwise "failed" to the extent that college is like what high school was, and that's why you have to teach kids today basic math and communication skills. I'm not sure I buy that "golden age" narrative about high schools, but I'm sure you've heard it before.

So is the MA supposed to be more of the same undergrad experience, or something qualitatively different? Is the MA supposed to "remedy" something that was lacking or deficient in students' undergrad educations, or is it supposed to add new and different skills and experiences? Are students supposed to go to grad school because undergrad has somehow "failed" them?

And depending on how you answer those questions, the next set would be: then should the MA be structured like the BA, as courses and papers and exams, or like the PhD, or what? Maybe the problem is not that the MA in English shouldn't exist, but that it should be totally transformed into something different.

I'm just playing a little thought experiment here.

To quote my own comment I left at Novel Readings,
If [the MA] is just more of the same, then that doesn't seem useful (big heavy scare quotes there). If it is different, then what exactly is different and why is that a good thing?

Maybe it means that our undergrads should be going to grad school, but in a more "professionalizing" field whether that be admin or publishing or technical writing, once they've had the wonderful life-changing deep-thinking experiences of an undergrad English major. (And I do agree that the BA is wonderfully useful, and that anyone with the slightest interest in English should go ahead and major in it. It's just that grad school doesn't seem intrinsically worth it the way undergrad did.)
I've always liked the descriptions of the English major (and the liberal arts in general) as this wonderful, transformative, life-changing experience ----- you read these great works of literature and think very deeply about yourself and the world and the meaning of life and it cracks you like a nut and oh my god! I can feel my mind expanding as I try to contemplate all this craziness and what does it all mean?!??

It's kinda like a secular version of religious rhetoric, in a way, how you're supposed to ask the Big Questions about Who Am I and What Is My Purpose In Life. I mean, living a life without purpose or missing the point of existing is as bad as living your life without thought of saving your soul and the afterlife, right?

I just don't see why you'd need to go and experience this again, after having this experience in undergrad, if it worked. And if you do figure out your reason for being in the world, you should, I don't know, go out and enact it.

I'm perfectly willing to abandon all talk of "usefulness" and "applicability" and "professionalization" when talking about the BA: forget your paycheck; this is about your life! But it seems like MAs in English are both too professionalized and not professionalized enough: if MA programs were very upfront and pushing this rhetoric of, the degree has no economic or professional payoff, only pleasure and transformative self-discovery, then that would be one thing. But most MA programs, when you look at their web sites or materials, actually sell a blending of both this personal enrichment side and how the degree will make you attractive to future employers (considering that for both programs I attended, when I went to the campus career center, the first thing they told me was that I needed to take that MA degree off my resume, this is a bit disingenuous at best).

And I don't think that, say, learning how to write an abstract and then giving a paper at the campus grad conference is actually doing much on the professionalization or the world-perspective-changing side. So ok then, how should an MA be different?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Remember how I used to joke that California has seasons, they're just tsunamis, fire, mudslides, and earthquakes instead of the usual fall winter spring etc?

(pics from the LA Times and SF Chronicle)

I need to stop making that joke.

The cats and I are fine, by the way --- not even a leaky roof. But Let me tell you, they have not learned how to do drainage anywhere in this state, and so getting on to campus or walking anywhere is totally crappy and cold and went and leaky right now.

Grumble. The downside of waiting out the rain is that two days in you start talking like a character from the Shining. Or your cats start to respond in kind when you mumble at them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I found the solution to English-major postgrad employment:

Man Masquerading as Fashion Model Bilks Wealthy Men

from the la times:
For would-be sugar daddies perusing SeekingMillionaire .com -- "the meeting place for wealthy and beautiful singles" -- there was much to like about profile #160127. "Bree" identified herself as a 23-year-old model from Newport Beach, and the accompanying photos showed an emerald-eyed beauty with a mane of silky brown hair and a wraparound smile that seemed both sexy and sweet.

"Just looking for Mr. Right," her brief self-description read. If the pictures -- one in a backless dress at a party, another in a clingy halter top -- seemed somehow familiar, a quick Internet search offered an explanation: Bree Condon, 23, of Newport Beach was a successful model and aspiring actress who'd done a Guess jeans campaign and posed for Maxim magazine's swimsuit issue.

The profile beckoned on the site for nearly two years, and some who responded soon believed they had embarked on a romantic relationship with Condon. There were no face-to-face dates, but there were intimate phone conversations, nude photos and the enticing possibility of a future with a gorgeous cover girl.

None of it was true, a fact that came to light last month when police officers, prodded by a private investigator hired by the real Condon, knocked on the door of a budget motel room in Austin, Texas. Inside, according to police, they found an iPhone that had been a gift from one suitor, a small dog paid for by another and a 24-year-old man with a very high-pitched voice.

Clearly this is the perfect use of an English major's writing talents, basic familiarity with technology and digital publishing, and knowledge of the theories of the performativity of gender. Of course, there is the whole bit where he got caught and is in jail now, but hey, they got Madoff too, eventually. And getting about 15 grand out of each client? There's a job with some serious scalability.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grad school as enrichment exercise?

I know you're all probably sick of the topic from the other day, why go to grad school if you're just going to have to retrain completely once you're out on the other end, but I'm still hung up on this. First of all, I'm disappointed that most of the people who responded to my post were fellow grad student/unemployed types, who largely agreed with what I am saying, and I haven't seen any responses from the tenured-types who posted the original statements about "tough luck but you should have known this going in" yet.

But there is another level of feeling to consider here --- I went back and looked at my posts from years past to find some examples of the proper tone of anger and despair and profanity. And I'm talking about the "finishing the dissertation" posts, not the job market ones. You see, one thing I've noticed about being done is that I no longer live under this immense cloud of doubt and fury and rage and despair that was finishing the dissertation. I think profs forget the extent to which writing and finishing (and worrying about not ever finishing) puts you in a state of intense misery that somehow magically goes away, to a large extent, once you file, even if you do still get depressed about the job market or paying rent or whatnot.

I'm talking about waking up in the morning and feeling like a big weight is going to press the air right out of me. I'm talking about feeling bitter and downright ugly most of the time. Grad students working on their dissertations are miserable, emotional creatures at their best, and tend to respond to everything through that perspective, consciously or no. And then professors write about these same grad students and are surprised when everything that comes out of the grad students' mouths is angry? Hello, dissertation writing is this horrible period of stress and uncertainty even when you have a clue about where your next paycheck is coming from!

So I'm bringing that up just as a reminder to put the recent "attacks" in the comments sections into perspective.

But then when I was rereading my old stuff (a lot of which I softened with humor because I didn't want the blog to be nothing but bile at all times, so quoting appropriately is sorta hard), I found this:
Sorry to return to my usual bitterness but that's what passed through my mind as I was reading the IHE review of Frank Donoghue's The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. ...
I haven't read the actual Donoghue book yet, but the interview goes over the familiar blah blah we all know of increasing costs and corporatization and reliance on adjuncts, with the often-repeated-elsewhere conclusion that tenure and tenured professors are dying out. The keynote is sounded at the end of the article, which I shall post here in all its depressing glory:

"Q: What are key steps that could be taken to restore the tenure-track professoriate?

A: The tenure-track professoriate will never be restored. Two factors seal its fate. First, the hiring of adjuncts continues to outpace the hiring of tenure-track professors by a rate of three to one. It’s silly to think we can reverse the trend toward casualization when, despite a great deal of attention and effort, we can’t even slow it down. Second, the demographics of American higher education don’t help us either. For 40 years, students have been moving away from the humanities toward vocationalism. This trend has been accompanied by an equally pronounced shift in enrollments from four-year schools (with English and History majors) to community colleges, where the humanities have never had a strong presence. Tenure-track professors don’t have a place in this new higher education universe. Much as it pains me to say it, I never considered putting a question mark at the end of my title, The Last Professors."

I don't believe that tenured profs will die out completely ---- there's still room for those few endowed chairs at wealthy, private top universities, for example ---- but I could see the balance shifting as high as 90% -10. What would that system concretely look like? How would it feel on the ground? And is this really going to be a case of that metaphor where you boil a frog in water by gradually raising the temp a couple of degrees at a time?
Just thought we all needed a reminder of this, because I don't think this is a case of having a market and then having a couple of bad years, I think we've been having a terrible situation for years now and this new crash/recession will be what finally ends tenure, professorships, and any thought of a living wage in the academy, permanently.

There are good comments on that post, too, including (if I may) my own, where I point out the university system doesn't even need to exploit any individual grad student or postgrad for very long (so all our big talk about "only doing 3-4 years on the market before quitting academia altogether" is plenty enough to supply all the adjuncts they need, as long as they have a steady supply of new suckers.)

But from my yesterday's post I am infuriated by Rohan Maitzen's comment about advising students on to grad school:
I do try to emphasize very strongly that past the MA level, graduate school in English is currently structured as professional training, but for a profession it is increasingly unlikely a graduate will be able to enter, at least on the terms s/he would like. I say over and over that while you might do an MA for further enrichment, it no longer makes sense to consider a PhD in that light, because all the program requirements are really structured to prepare you to be a "productive" and successful academic.
Seriously??? Two fucking years of "enrichment"? Who does that? Who the hell does that? You didn't, because your programs all helped further you into your current academic job! "Enrichment" to me sounds like something totally unimportant one does for fun --- I did after-school programs for enrichment. I took summer camp for enrichment. Some people go backpack across Europe for 6 months for enrichment but even that is too long for me. Who actually goes and devotes two years of their life to an MA program just thinking it was a fucking book club that would have no impact on their future career or earnings or networking potential?

If all you get from an MA program is "enrichment" then there is no fucking reason to go --- look, novels cost from about 11 to 20 bucks a piece and you can go off and "enrich" yourself by reading them at home, after working a real actual job. What the hell does the MA add to that? A lot of programs have their reading lists online; you can download them and read along without paying 10 grand and while moving forward in some actual career ladder that will work for you, and take a bit of the money you are earning and get season tickets to the symphony.

There is nothing going on in English or MFA or even History MA programs that you don't have access to; unlike the "entry cost" of certain subjects like film production or physics that are not feasible to do on your own, the entry cost of reading around in English or History or writing creatively is practically nil. You want community? Go start a message board with 20 friends who you love and who love to talk about books and link it with your own blogs or video logs and have at it for free! Trust me, it's way cheaper than paying for an MA or getting paid to teach freshman comp for an MA, if you don't plan on being a teacher later. And if an MA or PhD is nothing more than enrichment, somewhere between getting a hobby and going to church to improve yourself, why even go? You're just going to have to retrain for that job-nobody-wants-which-is-why-someone-is-willing-to-pay-you-for-it, anyway.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The PhD Job Market: Rethinking Retraining

As someone said, it is high time for another shitstorm to go down in the academic blogosphere. These things happen in semiannual cycles --- or maybe slightly more frequently.

Today's topic is the whole "well why do people go to grad school in the humanities and what can we do about it?" I actually find Dean Dad's theory persuasive --- that on the one hand, with the 90s and 00s the cultural narrative was that "you must love your job; it must be exhilarating and fulfilling" and at the same time there was a "loss of legibility" on how to get a solid middle class job that would support you comfortably. That is, all of the clearly understandable pathways that seemed to "guarantee" a job disappeared, as did the notion that you could stay at one company for your whole career without being downsized or having it vanish, Enronlike, right out from under you.

With humanities undergrad students having no clue how to do the basic steps of applying for jobs that weren't explicitly labeled with their majors or how to "sell" their major and skills to a wide range of employers, they tended to look to "the professions," which are still very hierarchical and strictly defined --- law school to lawyer, med school to doctor, and then, grad school to professor, the only one that applies directly to humanities majors and even has programs labeled with your own undergrad major program.

Now Tenured Radical and Historiann weighed in on this by talking about what schools and grad programs should be doing about the job crisis and really got a lot of shit for it in their comments. It reminded me of the famous NWSA conference where white feminist scholars were up at the front speaking and then there was a shouting match and the feminist scholars of color walked out ---- why would protesters attack the people who were trying to understand and help them, instead of, say, the Republicans or the religious right? I think part of it is that they can, that they feel the need to speak and will take an opening where they can vent their grievances, and that the "other side" --- whether university presidents and regents or Republican senators --- will not even give them that much of an opening. And I think there is something profoundly infuriating about being half listened to or only partly understood, that brings out the vitriol.

(As a further example I recently watched a black homeless guy randomly really get in the face of my friend, shouting and yelling profanities. My friend's personal history as a really solid anti-racist feminist who does a lot of good activist work didn't matter, as we were in a structural moment where this guy was responding to her race and class position, her place in the whole big structure. Yes, I understand that it's kind of ridiculous to compare unemployed grad students and homeless people.)

But what I really want to untangle are some threads here about retraining. Tenured Radical makes some suggestions about making sure grad students work before entering grad school (at my school it's trending the other way because our Cal State MA students generally had worked before the MA, and now we are able to pull undergrads directly from the Seven Sisters and places like Zenith, which our dept. thinks is somehow better or at least classier) and expanding the sorts of history training PhD students do to while in the program, and also makes this suggestion:
Ph.D. programs should consider devoting at least one year of graduate support to administrative labor.
it's an interesting suggestion, and I can see that having a working knowledge of the university and committee-type work would only be a benefit, but a commenter responds:
Positions in student affairs and enrollment services are not fall back jobs for those who could not fulfill their dreams elsewhere. These days people are choosing careers in higher education administration and assuming that our jobs can be performed in one year by a graduate student on his or her way to other things is offensive.
(In fairness, I was picturing something like a GA administship, if I can make up the term --- a permanent position that rotates a grad student in every year to work under a career administrator and do some grunt work while learning the ropes and getting the same pay as a TA. But then again, our grads do pretty much the same thing for free when we help our profs run our centers and journals and annual conferences, so that wouldn't really be adding anything to our program.)

But I really want to think about this idea of retraining and retooling for a new career after you've missed out on getting a tenure-track job.
Tenured Radical: And yes, to some extent, jobless academics need to do what jobless auto workers, telephone operators and bankers do: retrain and move on.
A while back Marc Bousquet made a comment about the then-president of MLA getting a lot of flack for suggesting that unemployed English PhDs get jobs as journalists, without realizing that there were already departments and degrees that trained people for exactly that. Adding this to the comment that it is "offensive" to treat administration as a fallback option when there are people who choose it as a career, I want to ask: what is retraining exactly? does it work? Do we have any evidence or statistics that these retrained/re-credentialed PhDs actually land jobs in the new field? After all, it's my understanding that in the Midwest, the middle-aged auto workers who are retraining aren't getting any jobs; they are just unemployed for so long that they fall out of the Bureau of Labor's records as no longer "really" looking.

Excuse me while I bring in Foucault. He claims that there is an ever-increasing proliferation of discourses that envelop and map the subject ever more closely. That is, when there is only one definition of subject, you are more likely to not identify with it and just waltz on your merry way. If we have twenty definitions of it, however, no matter what demographic group you are in, you spend the time and effort of matching yourself to all these definitions, scrutinizing where you fit, and will probably find something you do identify with pretty closely that binds you to the state. (Ok, terrible summary, and I should bring in Althusser and interpellation too. Moving on.)

My point? Just as there has been an explosion in the grad populations, there has been an explosion in the kinds of grad degrees and certificates. Having bought the 90s mantra of "more degrees = more success," tons of people have flocked to grad school and universities have happily capitalized on that, offering tons of unfunded master's and even PhDs in every topic you can possibly imagine. Interested in administration? Did you want a degree in educational leadership or administrative management? Want to write things? Do you want the MA in publishing, writing, technical writing, grant writing, or comp/rhet? (to say nothing of the MFA juggernaut.) There are tons more, for everything from librarianship and information management to all the public history stuff Tenured Radical talks about. Plus, all the other majors and areas of the humanities have also been busy proliferating, so there are a variety of journalism and linguistics and communications type programs out there that I am less familiar with.

I see most of these as ads on my facebook page, in case you're wondering. No need to be savvy enough to check out the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed websites to have the idea of these programs put in your mind.

So I see two important developments here: 1) this growth of specialized degree names contributes to the idea of "credentialing" at both the undergrad and the grad level; As students see programs in Social Work and Technical Writing and Hospitality Management, that claim good job placement in careers with the same name as the degree, they are going to be even more confused about why they should get a job in something like "history" or "English" or "philosophy," in terms of how it will translate into a career or how one goes about getting a job afterwards. And no, to disagree with TR, I see tons of credentials and majors and fields touting their great earning potential and placement rates, so those of us who do go on to grad school in a PhD program start to wonder why these programs are falling down on the job. (It may be that the other programs are doing a massive snow job, but we can't exactly assess this. Which is why it works as a marketing strategy.)

2) All this does have a credentialling effect. Or does it --- here is where I turn it around and ask for research. What is our data on retraining PhDs into other fields? If there are PhDs trying to spin their resumes as apt for administration and grant writing, and then there are also a lot of programs in these fields producing brand new graduates who have been expressly trained for them, do the "retraining" PhDs lose out to the "credentialed" grads? And all this brings up the question, if you can't get any jobs with a history or English degree and will have to "retrain" into one of these other fields, why even bother going? Why not matriculate directly into the administration PhD or Comp/Rhet or whatever instead?

Which brings me to my last point, that in all this hand-wringing about undergrads who didn't take our sage advice and who went to grad school anyway, we are forgetting about the people who did. They haven't disappeared. They are off in these alternate programs or breaking into these "fallback," "retraining" fields working away, to later show up as competition for those aforementioned bitter, poor, and deluded PhD adjuncts who finally decide to retrain.

What I want to know is, when the retraining PhDs go up against the credentialed PhDs and MAs and new graduates from these other fields, what happens? And do we have any data that would let us know?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Arhrrrrrgh! Arooooogargh! I don't wanna do anything! I don't feel like doing work! Wah! I definitely don't feel like prepping class or doing the reading or anything work related at all today! Bleah!

I just may find out just how badly I can half-ass my class prep and still carry it off tomorrow. I'm just grumpy. I need a juice box and a nap.

And my earlier comment that our students seem so hyper-prepared and proessionalized when it comes to crashing classes? Never mind. The clueless slackers have come out of the woodwork. I'm getting tons of emails from people who have never yet spoken to me or tried to show up for any of our many class sessions lo these past two weeks, telling me sob stories about how they are graduating seniors with zero units. Now, may be true that the budget crap is so bad that they have been trying to crash courses all this time with no luck, but that is not the effect I'm feeling, what with the misspellings of my name and "yo dude" text style type emails and people sending generic spam email to about 20 different instructors with the salutation "Hello," and then talking about how badly they need my class to graduate and love the topic and have always wanted to know about this fascinating topic and then they leave the recipient list available so I can read it.

So we still have our usual students as well as the on-top-of-things, hyperprofessionalized, hypercompetitive students. But I tell ya, the clueless slackers are not going to remain students for very long around here! We are a big Darwinian fish tank around here and there's chum in the water, kiddies. You're just not going to graduate. I hope all you unenrolled students remember to unleash your snowflakey attitudes and helicopter parents on the legislature once you realize you can't get in the classes. Or remember to tell your parents, at least, that you didn't make it into any classes before you go get drunk and head for the beach.

Anywhoo, I may try eating something a little later (maybe I am fighting something off?) and just go to bed early. Surely I will feel like reading and prepping in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow, right?

Either that, or it'll look like a session of Comedy Sports. "For this next skit I'll ask the audience for suggested topics a college instructor might teach, a kind of vegetable, and the name of an obscure Societ bureaucrat... Go!"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Problems with Pronouns

Really, I can't find the answer for this question anywhere: is it, accepted to Journal X? accepted in Journal X? accepted for Journal X? accepted for publication in Journal X? Forthcoming with Journal X?

I tried getting around the whole problem by listing it as "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Bill Graham Presents" and also as "Live Live! Nude Nudes!"*, while having it flash seven different neon colors, but it doesn't seem to fit in with the overall tenor of my CV.

So, how do you list an acceptance on your vita?

* And no, I don't have the money to take out a billboard with the announcement. But I totally would. I'm thinkin' that 2010 will finally be my year --- maybe because it's the year of the tiger. Forget little black cats, this year is all about Tigeral Studies.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Books! (totally shouldn't have done this)

So tonight I went to my favorite place of all, Delicious (Tho a Bit Pricey) Little Hole in the Wall, and I had wonderful food and big glass of rich red wine, and I did what I usually do, which is take a bit of a walk rather than get in my car right away afterwards. This entails going round the corner to our local independent bookstore and looking around. I know, bad idea. I need to support our local bookstores like supporting our local crack dealers. I need to support our local places of employment and get a paycheck first so that then I can piss it away on books and things, right? Eh.

But the bookstore, as always, made me fuzzy and happy. (Wait, that might have been the wine. Mmm.) They have a huge selection of the classics and literature and new writing in the back of the store, which the front (lots of big cookbooks, mysteries, glossy travel books, large-print thriller novels) pays for. There are soooo many great classics that I feel like I should read. A huge selection of the Russians, for example, which I have almost no background in. And all sorts of familiar friends, except this place always has like 50 different editions and just seeing that on the shelf makes me happy. If I want a specific edition of Frankenstein I wouldn't even have to order it. (Not that I don't already have lots of versions of it, but anyway.)

But when I went in, they had a wonderful spread on one of the front tables that just warmed my little heart. There was some interesting stuff, like a graphic novel about New Orleans right after Katrina hit, a graphic novel about Nat Turner, and all of Marjane Satrapi's works, spread out in a little pile. (Now I am not actually impressed with Satrapi's drawing style, which I find clunky, but I do love learning about different cultures and the film version especially had a lovely wit that I appreciated, but I digress.) I was just talking to someone about how I love comics and visual art and graphic novels but I actually know nothing about them and have no background or learning from which I could teach them, but I do really like the idea of teaching about culture and history through these visual forms.

And this spread was right next to a book titled Why We Need Unions. Awww, little lefty bookstore, you are warming the cockles of my little lefty heart!

So of course I bought some stuff. Because it would be a terrible shame if this store went out of business and no longer tried to entice people into rebellion and unionism through cartoons. And I like the idea of positive reinforcement through purchases; they will know that their attempt to entice people to make impulse purchases about politically radical ideas worked, and that will hopefully encourage them to make such displays instead of ones about the cat who surfed or how to cook California fusion cuisine.

So along with some stuff in my time period (work books) and a collection of short stories (for I love short stories), I bought the Nat Turner book, by Kyle Baker, because I was intrigued by the fact that it was almost completely wordless, and the lovely illustrations that look almost like watercolors. (of horrific events, true. But very striking and savvy visually in a way that I like.)

I may not have any money or places to put these new books, but at least I have something new and exciting to read tonight! As opposed to all my old and unexciting unread books crowding the shelves over there. Eh.

(ETA see some of his amazing images over here.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We can't beat them off with a stick, here, sir...

Foo! Blarg! I have undergraduates coming out of my ears! Like those old movies where crowds pour in like grains of sand! Like the hordes of orcs in a chase scene from Lord of the Rings! (what? what's wrong with rewatching it as part of the holiday tradition?) I keep picking them out of my hair, my nose, my breakfast cereal, my backpack ... it's crazy!

Of course you must realize that having the UC thrown into a massive budget crisis and then having its president make obnoxious comments about the uselessness of such "fripperies" as, say, English and sociology majors, while not bothering to revise the GE requirements out of existence, means that we have a fuck-all of an enrollment crisis over here. Look, President Douchebag, you may not see the "value" of "majors" that aren't glorified vocational money-making programs, but every single damn one of your preferred majors needs X number of humanities classes to graduate, according to the current general catalog.

(You did see that article where Yudof is quoted as saying all majors and classes that don't bring in positive revenue for the university are useless pieces of shit, right? Because I got so mad at that Douchebag that I deleted the notice immediately and I'm too tired to link it up right now.)

Anyway, I have fifth and sixth year seniors petitioning me because they only have one class this quarter so far and they want to finish their GEs and graduate. And I know from watching the craziness in fall that none of this has anything to do with the slackerness or bad-student-ness of these kids, not this time around. I heard stories of students who have no units this quarter and can't get into anything. One of the grad students told me that there were 96 crashers for a full 200 person lecture over in the English department. At that rate, we could just open up a second lecture with more TAs, he said. Well we certainly have enough grad students who've been cut off their funding to run those sections, I replied.

And you know, we probably still have as many entitled spoiled little shits here as we always do. But man, I am not seeing them right now. Polite and desperate, that is what I'm seeing. None of this sending random and rude emails that never explain who they are crap that other profs keep complaining about. Nope, these students are there with twenty-seven million sheets of paper and schedules and whatnot, checking the time, showing up 15 minutes early to try and catch me beforehand, "Dr" ing and "Ma'm" ing me with nary a typo to be seen, asking me what are their odds and carrying a printout of their unofficial transcript so that I can instantly verify that they are in fact a graduating senior, kind of like how people will carry cash and a completed rental info form to a particularly in-demand apartment open house. These kids are super duper organized, walking the line between polite and pushy, all with this frantic little light in their eyes.

It reminds me of me and the other grad students navigating the job market. And this isn't even for something nearly as big. That just really sucks.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year, Decade, and Hot Chocolate!

Yes, it is true; I have finished off the hot chocolate mix and opened a new container. Out with the old, in with the new!

This year is starting out much better than last year --- not that I really remember what last New Year was like, but I have high hopes for this new shiny decade. As my sister, who was laid off when her company was closed, put it, 2009 can't end fast enough. And as my brother, who was fired, said in reply: amen to that. So really it's going to have to get really really bad before it tops last year, not that I want anything like that to happen.

I would love to do lovely and thoughtful themes or resolutions like Profgrrrl, whose annual themes always sound so great ---like "mindfulness" or "renaissance," but I really have to go through something before I know what it's all about (which is why I then do it over again, now knowing what I am supposed to do). For instance, looking back now it is clear to me that 2009 was all about preparation and "putting things into place"; maybe then 2010's theme is "follow-through"? I don't know. I kinda like the idea of making my theme this year be "kicking ass!" but then, I do that all the time. It's like new year's resolutions: how can I improve when I'm pretty much perfect? Just kidding. Except kinda not. (Maybe I should resolve to lower my self esteem?)

That said, I did think of a few things I could work on over this year. I remember being too depressed to face up to new year's resolutions last year, but there are certain areas I'm always kinda working on anyway and I will revisit those once again.

Cooking. "Learn to cook real food" was a resolution of a few years ago that I continue to work with. When not at my parents' house (oh don't ask what I ate for the last few days there) I eat pretty damn healthy, with lots of fresh vegetables and grains. I may eat too much of it, but I've basically cut out fast food and processed crap. I've learned how to cook beans and pulses from scratch, and I've started inviting people over and cooking for them (I need to continue that). I had thought of expanding into baking, but I don't find it nearly as much fun and feel guilty when I'm eating massive amounts of cookies or breads all by myself. However, I am not at all an adventurous chef, and there are many untouched sections of my cookbooks.

Therefore, I resolve to be saucy. Yes, I am branching out into learning how to make sauces for things and combining things with new flavors this year. I want to learn how to pair flavors and change up my basics; right now I have extensive experience cooking veggies and putting some olive oil and lemon on them. And that's quite tasty, but my Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book has pages and pages of sauces matched to each vegetable. I keep saying I should try some of them and never do. Time to get out of a rut.

Fitness. Last year I was really good with going to the gym regularly. I made a promise to myself that if I would get myself there regularly that was all that counted. So while I got myself into a nice routine (uh, except for that whole "gone away for 2 weeks of Christmas break" bit) I didn't necessarily challenge myself there or push myself out of my comfort zone. Nor did I work on losing weight. But since my goal was nice and small and specific, it worked.

Since one of the things I learned at the gym is that it's actually fun to not be a couch potato, I resolve to take it to the streets. Seriously, when was the last time I took a hike? Or even a walk around town? If I like spin class I should try out some actual sports and games, eh? And did you know there's this thing called an ocean over there? I need to get out and be active outside (not that I should drop working out inside) and try new activities. Maybe even with some friends along!

Related to that, this article in the New York times about "procrastinating pleasure" really rang true to me and inspired me to resolve to be a hometown tourist. We have lovely hiking trails and nifty event type things all around me and I never go to them, just like people in the article would move out of towns that they had never toured, always figuring that they would have time to do it later since they lived there. I still haven't been to the zoo or the various museums around here, and they must have student/local reduced price days. Concerts and arts performances are pretty pricey for me to add in right now but in the past I have even skipped the free stuff because I am too busy. I think there's more stuff in this town than my apartment, the library, and my neighborhood coffee shop. I should go find out.

Finally, I resolve to be more patient with my family. Over the past few years I have withdrawn from them a lot, partly because they so don't understand the whole job market thing and get so naggy and accusative, and then I just avoid them completely so that I don't have to hear about it. Also I keep telling myself that time right now "doesn't count," for some stupid reason, and that I'll go spend more time with them when I have "a real job like a real person and not some weird failure." But now is still now, and especially my nieces and nephews don't remember my less-depressed time when I actually hung out with them more and played with them. Plus, I know that often when I am hanging out with them I'm impatient and mean. Especially my parents who are slowing down and getting more confused. I need to calm down and let them do their own things and take their own time because nobody's going to change themselves suddenly after a lifetime of being a certain way. This will involve being strategic --- more frequent, shorter calls and visits is the key, in my opinion.

So, yeah. Sounds like a plan! And you know how I love making plans. Maybe this time I will not only make them, but keep them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Gatos locos en carcel

- Hey ese, we didn't do nothin' wrong! Let us out of this pinche lockup --- you're violating our motherfucking rights! T, help me bust outta this joint.

- I'll burrow underneath this towel where no one will see me, and they will think the cage is empty, and then when they open the door to put another alma pobre in here, we will sneak out without them seeing us. Somehow. Oh Dios, hide me! They can see me!!

- Timido, shut up and try to pretend you still have cojones. Help me chew through this lock!

(I miss my cats.)