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Archive for the ‘Moving and shaking’ Category

So today, as with every Tuesday, I was back on campus less than 12 hours after I left it, because I have The Most Awful Schedule Ever for the Third Semester in a Row.  That’s not news.  And yes, most Tuesdays I end with me feeling depleted.

But I’m especially exhausted today because it was the Big Deadline for an internal grant for which I applied.  I also had a couple of other things to apply for internally – one by the end of the week and one by next Monday, so I bit the bullet and completed all three applications (which all required just slightly different information and formats, so it was a total pain in the ass) today.  Depleted doesn’t begin to cover it.

The Big Grant application I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks.  And I’m in no way certain of getting it, even though I was very diligent in formulating the application and making sure I hit all of the items on the rubric that they use to evaluate it.  (Side note: it is SO MUCH BETTER, if more time intensive, now that The Committee that Decides on Internal Grants actually explains what the application requires, what projects can be funded through this grant, and what criteria are used in evaluation.  When I first arrived 10 years ago, there was little to no concrete guidance about what the applications should include, which was… problematic.)  But anyway, even with that diligence and investment of time, why am I unsure about my prospects?  Well, first off, people in The Humanities rarely get this particular award.  I’m not sure if it’s because people don’t apply or if it’s because they don’t understand how to write grant applications or if it’s because there is a gigantic bias against research in the humanities because my colleagues across campus don’t understand it or value it.  Probably some combination of the three.

But I had an idea for the Big Grant (by big I’m just referring to the application in relation to the other stuff I applied for – it will give me personally no actual money, but if I get it then it will pay for some software/work that will buy me time, which would be grand) that I thought I could sell to people outside the humanities, which they would understand as research and not “clerical work” (which let’s note constitutes a lot of what “research” in the humanities involves but no level of explanation seems to penetrate the brains of my colleagues outside of my discipline or the brains of my administration, who value research involving labs and co-authors much more highly than they value the kind of stuff that people in single-author fields do). So I feel like I’ve got a 50/50 shot.  But if I get it, then I will totally write about it here and tell every single colleague who cares in the humanities in my institution about it, because I might have discovered the One True Way to get access to this money.  Maybe.  But it definitely ain’t a sure thing.

And then I submitted another application for professional development money from my College, which I think has a pretty good shot, depending.  Depending on what?  Depending on how many people apply.  Because I got this money last year, and I can imagine them denying me if there were first time applicants in the pool if there were more applicants than there was money.

And then I submitted an application for a course release, which I’m about 99 percent sure I will not receive, mainly because the only reason I was “allowed” to submit the request was because a colleague of mine was told by the provost to submit one, and my chair (kudos to my new chair!) wanted to be equitable and open up the opportunity to others who had expressed interest.  See, my dean has basically said to the chairs (“basically” meaning that all of this has happened not as a policy matter that is in writing but rather as an ad hoc thing he has “told” them and they’ve gone along with since 2010) that course releases for anything other than administrative purposes won’t be considered.  Because, you know, he can’t be bothered to read and to reject applications for release time for other things, I guess.  On the one hand, this is about the budget, and I get it.  On the other hand, how are you going to fight for more money in the budget if you have no clue what faculty are doing and you have no evidence that more resources are needed?  (Note: course releases are available for research in other colleges at my institution).  My dean is “stepping up” to faculty after this academic year (don’t you love that euphemism?).  I’ll let you infer how I feel about that.

So basically I invested about 20 hours of time in composing applications for institutional support for my research, support that would ultimately benefit my institution in a host of ways – student success, getting a woman in my department fully promoted, institutional reputation – and I might end up with nothing for those efforts.  But hey, you can’t get support if you don’t ask for it.  And you can’t bitch legitimately if you don’t get denied the support that you need.

All this work isn’t for nothing, even if none of it works out.  It’s prepared me for external grant applications for next year, and it’s got me started thinking in a systematic way about my THIRD book project (even though I’m not done with the second one).  This is all good.  And it’s also good to do these things because it makes me recognize the quality of my ideas and the high esteem in which my work is regarded outside of my institution, mainly because such applications require you to self-promote.

That said?  I am exceptionally pleased that I don’t need to write anything for a while that waxes poetic about how important I am.  I hate this fucking genre, though apparently I’ve gotten a hell of a lot better at doing it in the 10 years I’ve been on the tenure-track.  And I’m feeling satisfied, because even if I don’t get diddly from all of this effort, at least I know that I’ve communicated what I am doing and the value of what I am doing without apology.  I’d rather dare them to say no than anticipate rejection and fail to try.

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In Which Things Get REAL

So it’s week 6 of my semester, and this means that the first major assignments are coming in (2 courses had papers come in last week, 2 courses had major assignments come in this week) and so the GRADING has arrived.

Also re: teaching, I’m really “in” my courses now, which is requiring more prep, which isn’t bad, but it is work.

And then there’s the grant shit, though I made the decision over the weekend not to apply for the Very Competitive National Thing for I know I won’t get it at this point in the project (because of the Very Competitive part of it) but thinking that I would apply for it forced me to do the work that I needed to do, so by week’s end I’ll be submitting two internal grant (or “award”) applications, and I’ll submit my abstract for Awesome International Conference in Italy to which I’ve been strongly encouraged to submit an abstract.

In addition, the service part of things is ramping up – for the committee that I’m chairing (for yes, I am spearheading getting an actual viable program-level assessment plan in place, because I’m a masochist), for curriculum (because it turns out that now that I’m no longer actually serving on curriculum-related things I’m just taking the initiative to make broad sweeping proposals for the department to consider), and for university-wide stuff (like going to a meeting with our president and provost to talk about the future direction of the college).

In other words, it’s Tuesday and I am feeling tired.

Tired is not necessarily bad.  However, tired is made terrible by the casual sexism of my department, which I had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand because of the very thin walls that divide our offices.  I’m not comfortable saying more than that in this forum, but dude, the casual sexism really makes me less inclined to do all of the work that I do.  And it also makes me wish that I hadn’t overheard what I overheard because it filled me with inarticulate rage, and inarticulate rage really makes me disinclined to grade, or to do committee work, or to complete lengthy applications for money that frankly I think faculty should just be able to expect as support for their work.

On a positive note, my favorite part of the fall semester is finding out how much money I’ll be granted for conference travel in the academic year, partly because, yay, money, but also because that support means so much to me being able to do work not only on research but also that is so important to energizing my teaching.

On another positive note, I really adore the accessibility of our “new” president, and the fact that he really appears to want to listen to faculty.  His detractors say that’s all a show.  Personally? Even if it’s fake (though I don’t think that it is) I prefer fake deference to lack of access or outright hostility.  Further, I prefer that this guy sets up equal opportunity situations for all faculty to have access to him as opposed to limiting access to him to “those faculty who go to basketball games.”  I like him as a leader, and I like the direction in which he seems to be steering us.  And I like that he knows who I am and that I’ve had more contact with him in one year than I had with our previous president in 9 years.  I also fantasize about having a little doll of him sitting on my office shelf to motivate me, much like “Elf on a Shelf” motivates children to be good for Santa.  Which, sure, is weird, but I feel like it would be awesome.  I may need to take a picture of him and cut out the head and put it on Ken doll or similar.  (Again, I know I’m super-weird.  But this would make me happy and remind me of the bigger picture when I hear my department colleagues saying things that make me all stabby.)

As an aside, I think good administrators are crucial to the work of a university.  I actually am not one of those faculty members who is all “down with administration!”  Dude: I long for administration and staff to take care of all of the shit that takes me away from the work that I think faculty members really should do (teaching, research, faculty governance, service to the profession).  I mean, sure, back in the time when that was more the case I wouldn’t have been able to be in the professoriate because of my sex and because of my class origins.  But let’s just ignore that reality for a minute.  Administrators who make my job easier?  Staff to take care of the administrativia of the work of professing? Yep, that’s what I would really enjoy.  I recognize that this isn’t going to happen exactly, but even a little of this as an alternative to the downsourcing of those jobs to faculty would go a long way toward improving my morale and thus the work that I do for students as a teacher and for my discipline as a scholar.

On that note, I’m gonna go knit and watch television until a bedtime that won’t make me wake up at 3 AM.

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So I’m sitting here this morning, trying to organize my to-do list, and in the next couple of weeks I have three applications for funding to complete (and by “complete” I mean “compose from scratch”, though it is true that once I do one then the others will be modifications of that “master” application) and one conference abstract to submit (which is connected to the funding applications).  On the one hand, this is energizing work.  On the other hand, it is also the case that this week GRADING begins in earnest in my courses, plus I have regular course prep to do, plus I have Major Department Committee Activities that I need to switch into high gear.

And none of this connects to finishing my book manuscript, which has been stalled at the 65%-75% “done” place for about 4 months (and which, annoyingly, people keep asking me about my progress toward finishing).

I suppose all of this is to say that I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed, and I’m feeling a lot like I need to set some priorities.  The thing that I’m thinking about, though, is the way that external deadlines both help and hinder that priority-setting.

On the one hand, external deadlines are really necessary to my productivity.  I’m a very deadline-oriented person, and I find that the pressure of external deadlines is (mostly) a positive influence on me getting stuff done.  On the other, external deadlines also interfere with my ability to prioritize what is really most important to me, work-wise, and it stresses me out when external stuff takes precedence over my own idea of what is most important.

Now, you might ask, do you really “have” to do all of these applications?  A Potential Beau asked me a version of that question Friday, in the way that non-academics ask such questions, which usually translates into “Do you get paid for all of this stuff you’re doing?  Is it part of your job, or is it just you pursuing what you’re interested in?”  I always find myself at somewhat of a loss when people ask that sort of question, because the answer is both yes and no.  On the one hand, I could choose not to do any of this stuff, and if I made that choice, I would still have a job.  On the other, if I did that I would not really be “doing” my profession completely (at least as I conceive of what that “doing” means.)

So I guess the answer simply is that I’m doing this to myself – I’ve got all of these projects that are in various states of Not Being Finished, and what I really need to do is to proceed step by step and to finish each one methodically before I take on anything else new.  Kind of like how every now and then you need to refuse to go to the grocery store and force yourself to eat what is already in the house to empty out the cabinets and fridge.  Or kind of like how you have to forbid yourself from buying new yarn until you’ve exhausted (or at least made a dent in) the yarn you already have in your stash.

And I know from experience that I have the power deliberately to move through my list of projects and deadlines and to cross them off the list.  Indeed, just because of the external deadlines, 4 of these things will be done by Oct. 7.  So I just need to stop feeling overwhelmed and push myself to do each of the things in order.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….

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Hooray!  Huzzah!  Yippee!

But what this post is really about is all the things I accomplished:

  1. I taught all my classes – all four of them and all different preps, at every single level of the curriculum (freshmen through seniors, plus a grad class).  My students seem, overall, bright and engaged and like happy campers.  I love this part of the semester when I have the highest of high hopes for each and every one of them!  Though I will say that my English majors are weirdly silent and don’t appear to want to know each other… AND THIS WILL NOT DO!  THEY WILL INTERACT WITH ONE ANOTHER IF IT KILLS ME!
  2. I managed BOTH to indicate a reading assignment by noting the sex scenes that they should have read for next class (I’d forgotten my book so couldn’t give them a page number… but this is one of the joys of teaching a notorious pornographic novel from the 18th century) AND to use the word “motherfucker” in a discussion about word choice with my tiny fresh-peeps IN ONLY OUR SECOND CLASS (they were horrified … and then, after the horror, much more animated).  Tenure has its privileges.
  3. I invented a literature review assignment sequence (which is like 7 pages long), no small feat when I never was taught how to do a lit review myself.  Thank you internet.  Also, thank you people in disciplines NOT LITERARY STUDIES.
  4. I wrote up and submitted a reader’s report for a journal for which I serve as a peer reviewer.
  5. I completed revisions on an article and submitted those.
  6. I’ve faced my fear of double-point needles and have embarked on learning how to knit socks.  (I tried to do socks on circular needles like a year ago and hated it.  So far, I prefer DPNs.  Because apparently I’m a weirdo.  My plan is to do sock knitting in department meetings this year.  The advantage of DPNs is that I have many pointy implements to scare and intimidate my colleagues.  Also, SOCKS!!!!)
  7. I had a very dumb conversation with The Dude, initiated by him, surprisingly.  But I took it to the next level, and I suspect he now very much regrets initiating that dumb conversation, if his silence is any indication.  What. Ever.
  8. I began communicating with two new suitors, and a date is forthcoming with one, who seems quite cool, so far.
  9. I advised a colleague about a Sticky Dramatic Situation with a senior colleague (and felt so lucky that my professional life appears to be drama-free right now!).
  10. I did some researchy stuff for my upcoming MLA paper (because I’m freaked out about it because it’s a highlighted convention-theme panel).

And all of this is not to mention the various collegial conversations and catching up on email and whatnot of the start of the semester.  Oh, and I renewed the registration on my car, and I did some house-related stuff, and went to the grocery store….

I think it’s safe to say that I did more in this one week than I did all summer long.  I am so happy that school is back in session!  (Please remind me of these feelings when I start complaining in three weeks.  Thanks.)

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I appear to have a date tomorrow.

I know, right?

As far as I can tell, I have just about nothing in common with him.  Indeed, this appears to be the sort of date two people go on just on the basis of physical appearance and flirtation. Well, and from my side of it, on the basis of attentiveness as well, because I do like it when they pay attention to me, and he has been exceptionally attentive.

So I don’t think that this guy is going to turn out to be my next great love or something (though, of course, one never does know, but really, I’m not a betting woman and I’d bet money that this particular date is not heading to serious relationship territory), but I do think it’s possible that we will have some casual fun and good times.  And it’s keeping my mind off of The Dude (with whom of course I am still in love) and all of the other things that are stressing me out.

And let’s note that this date would never have come into being had my mother not left early.  So perhaps the universe is actually working in my favor right now, but its ways are mysterious and confusing :)

 

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So, as Chair of the Committee of My Life, I have made the executive decision to table two agenda items until 2014.  I do recognize that according to Robert’s Rules Of Order there should be a vote in order to ratify such a decision, but the Committee of My Life does not adhere to Robert’s Rules Of Order.

1.  Moving in with The Dude

This has lingered as a Discussion Item for weeks, and interminable discussions are, at the end of the day, unproductive.  Would certain things be easier if we just decided and did it?  Certainly.  Just as certain decisions about General Education made life easier, even though they made no one, least of all me, the “spokesmodel of the New Gen Ed,” happy.  But, at the end of the day, The Dude put this item on the agenda, and he has pursued it, at turns with enthusiasm and at turns pointing out all the ways in which The Plan Will Not Work (much in the way of Crazy Colleagues during the Gen Ed Revision Process), and then somehow I get put in the position of being the one who introduced the item (which I didn’t) and of being the one who is “pushing” the process (which I’m not).  Having been put in a similar position in my work with my university’s curriculum, as Chair of the Committee of My Life, I Just Say No.  We will revisit this idea in the new year.  In the meantime, I will happily work on my book and stop giving this any additional mental energy for the time being.  As far as I can tell, all is well with The Dude in the present tense.  He is great, I love him, he loves me, blah blah blah.  But for whatever reason, he is totally irrational on this topic.  So you know what? Let’s not have it be a topic.  Because he is driving me crazy.  (Example: just as soon as I told him we were done talking about it until the new year on penalty of breaking up, and he celebrated that pronouncement, he then brought up something about getting married.  SERIOUSLY? What am I supposed to DO with him?  He makes NO SENSE.  And let’s note, all of this conversation happened while I was at his parents’ house with him.  GOD.)

2. Applying for Promotion to Full Professor

In some ways, I do think that I should apply.  But I have some reasons for not doing it this fall.  1) Our Faculty Senate just voted on new guidelines, which stipulate a “recommended” time in Associate Rank, which I’ve not yet met, before going up for full, and I’m pretty sure that certain of my colleagues will use that as the “reason” for not recommending my promotion, you know, just to make sure I know my place; 2) Our dean (who holds a grudge against me for writing an impassioned email objecting to his claim that “some people just work more than others” when I had asked for support for a terrible service responsibility that became more terrible because of a mandate from the State – indeed, my request for support was “unprofessional” and my explanation that I couldn’t do this job plus teach four courses and do research without support was an “ultimatum,” because, you know, good girls just take more and more shit and like it) has announced that this year will be his last, and I think my application will fare better without him evaluating it; 3) I am confident that the book manuscript will be out and circulating by the Spring, which I think it should be before I apply, plus I’ll have a couple of articles and some other stuff that will enhance my application by then, if all goes as it should.  In other words, yes, I’m chomping at the bit to apply, but the best use of my time right now is not in compiling that application.  And a bonus is that by not applying I should be eligible for some associate professor development money that I wouldn’t be eligible for if I applied for promotion.  So.  As with the Moving in with The Dude, it makes more sense to bide my time than to rush into an inauspicious arrangement, just in the service of having an arrangement, if that makes sense.

Now.  With those two items pulled from the agenda.  I can focus on my book.  Which I really want to focus on, because it is awesome, and also I can bask in the fact that as a thinker people are apparently recognizing me, for whatever reason.  As a result of my recent conference I’ve gotten some emails – one especially awesome, from an especially awesome person, reiterating that she thinks that what I wrote in my book about Underappreciated Author is amongst the best stuff she’s read in the past five years about him, and another from a grad student who took up my invitation to correspond because what he is thinking about will be usefully influenced by stuff I’ve done.  Look, I don’t think I’m anything fancy at all: but it is nice to be thought to be fancy by others, and it’s nice to think that my ideas have an impact on other people’s ideas.

In addition, now that I don’t have to think about those two items above, I can just do my thing.  I will go see HS BFF at the end of July, I will go to A’s wedding in October, I will go to MLA just after the new year and present at an actual special session for the first time (as opposed to presenting at a guaranteed allied panel), I will go celebrate Naomi’s 40th bday with a vacation in January, I will go to a slew of conferences after, all in awesome locales.  I have a plan for the next 12 months or so, and that plan is awesome.  And nothing in that plan is about cleaning out closets for The Dude, and nothing in that plan has to do with postponing ideas in order to apply for promotion.  And you know what?  That is AWESOME.

You know what?  I hate nothing more than being cast in the role of being somebody’s “old lady” who is a “nag” and who is “pressuring” them to do something that they don’t want to do.  Unless we are talking about me being cast in the role of the “bad girl” who is “spoiled” and who doesn’t “do her time” to “prove” that she is “worthy.”  You know what?  I’m nobody’s old lady, and I’m nobody’s bad girl.  I am a person.  And I am a capable and reasonable person.  And I’d rather just tell everybody to fuck themselves than to try to fit into their rubrics for who I’m supposed to be, personally or professionally.

So yeah, with an attitude like that, I might die alone.  And, with an attitude like that, I might not have a job if I didn’t already have tenure.  But you know what?  SCREW that.  I am a person.  And I have my own fucking agenda.

 

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I have returned from my conference, which was wonderful and enriching and inspiring and so productive. I have found the introduction to my book, as well as the path forward to completing a draft of the manuscript, I have been inspired by the work that my colleagues around the world are doing, and I am fuzzily contemplating a next book after this one is all done.  All in all, I really, really needed what this last long weekend gave me.  But it was also a weird weekend in many, many ways.

Why weird?  Well, for the first time it was clear to me that I am officially well beyond “junior.”  And that was a really bizarre feeling, but I realize that probably I have been that for a while, and yet I hadn’t realized it.  My saying this might seem disingenuous, but I promise, I’m not being falsely modest here.  Yes, I know that I’ve been an officer and president of an allied organization of the MLA, but I was pretty crappy at that, and it was a small organization.  And yes, I published a book, but it was not with a fancy press at all.  And yes, I have a good few essays published, but they are, for the most part, in non-fancy venues.  I teach a 4-4 load, and my record reflects that. Seriously: I’m nobody special.  I’m just a person who says yes to things and who tries, in what limited way she can, to contribute.

But anyway, this feeling that I’m this non-entity, this babe in the woods, stretches back a long ways. See, my whole life, I have always been on the “young” end of things.  I started kindergarten as one of the youngest kids in my class (August birthday right before the kindergarten cut-off), and progressed in P-12 accordingly, as one of the youngest ones. That meant getting a job later and driving later than other people.  And then I finished college in just 4 years, so the gap widened… by the time I graduated from college at my regional state university, I was running with a cohort that was 2-3 years older than I was (if not more – given the non-traditional student-friends I’d made).  I didn’t take any time off between undergrad and grad school, and I went straight through to the PhD, so at that point the gap widened again, and my “peers” were typically 5-8 years older than I was, if not older, and I also went to my first conference when i was just 21 years old, and I was a TOTAL baby in that context, both to the advanced graddies there and to the proffie people whom I met.  And then the gap became a giant chasm when I got my tenure-track job ABD, making the vast majority of my colleagues and people with whom I socialize a good 10 years older than I was at minimum.  (Seriously: some of my colleagues, including the person who was my official pre-tenure “mentor,” have been at my institution longer than I’ve been alive.)  In spite of the fact that we’ve done a lot of hiring in the past decade (for, in truth, I started this job a full decade ago this fall), I have just one colleague – who was only hired three years ago – who is younger than I am, and only by months.  My point here is that I basically view myself as a little sister who is doing marginally important things, if they are important at all.

Combine with this the fact that I typically see myself as sort of an invisible scholarly entity, partly by virtue of the institution at which I work (which is fine, but it certainly is a Very Directional State type place that doesn’t have much, if any, of a reputation for scholarship, and which does virtually nothing to support scholarship in the humanities) and partly because I just don’t typically think much about myself as being super important in terms of the scholarly conversation in my discipline.  Yes, I do scholarship, and I care a lot about it for my own reasons, but really, who else does?

It turns out, a fair few people care about it.  And so that was my first weird thing of this conference. I would introduce myself to a new person, and that person would be like, “Oh, you’re DR. CRAZY.”  And then they would either pause in awe (in a way that I vividly remember doing when I would meet people whom I’d cited in my own work as a graduate student – in a way that I still do when I meet people whose work is especially fancy in my brain) or, if they were less star-struck, they would start talking to me about one or the other of my publications, or, if they were VERY FANCY, they would just say they couldn’t believe they hadn’t met me yet, as they know my name, blah blah blah.

Now, I’m still pretty sure that some of this – especially the “I know your name” stuff – was politeness.  But to be fair, there was no reason why anybody needed to pretend they knew my name if they didn’t, so maybe I should be a little more impressed by that? I don’t know.  The point is, for the first time in my career, I’m apparently a Person of Note, which is super freaking weird.  The most dramatic of these moments was at the conference’s opening reception, when I was chatting with a friend who, in the context of this conference, is infinitely more important than I am.  A woman came up to us, and I didn’t know the woman.  I just assumed she was coming to talk to Important Friend (as I suppose she shall now be named).  But no!  The woman interrupted to introduce herself to me!  And she wanted to tell me that she thought that what I wrote in my book about Infamously Sexy Author (ISA) was the best thing she’d read about him, and she wanted to tell me that I must come to ITALY next summer to participate in a symposium about ISA!  And then when I figured out who this stranger was, I realized she was a person whose work I admire greatly!  And then later that night, while still hanging with IF, another person was all, “Oh, you are you!  I am so glad to meet you! I am from Italy and I have cited you!”  (Obviously I’m paraphrasing).  The point is, apparently, I am a PERSON.  What. The. Fuck.

And so this leads to the second weird thing.  I have officially reached the point where I am “old” and “mid-career” to graduate students.  This is profoundly weird to me, as I don’t think I’m far enough along to be that, though apparently I am.  Now, part of my confusion about my status has to do with the way that I interact with my own students and former students.  Yes, I kick my students’ asses, but I never see myself as very different from them, particularly once they have graduated.  And I’ve befriended a fair few of my former students, so I don’t feel too far removed from them.  But I am now officially the person at a conference who “gives advice” to the graddies, as opposed to socializing without hierarchy with them.  WHAT?

You know what’s strange? The fact that other people think I’m important when I so decidedly don’t think that I am.  What’s also weird is that I don’t see myself as an authority when the little graddies surely do.  I think that this is what it means to age in this profession, especially when you’re not some Fancy Person at some Fancy Institution.

I have a lot to say, actually, about the aging of the profession and the casualization of academic labor, and the impact of that on scholarship, particularly feminist scholarship, things I’ve thought about because of my experiences this weekend.  But now is not the time for that as I’m jet-lagged and I don’t have the energy for a big treatise on anything that isn’t totally self-absorbed.  But seriously: can I finagle Italy next summer?  Preceded (ideally) by The Netherlands, and preceded by that by Chicago?  Indeed, that’s my goal.  Even though all of that plus MLA (I was accepted for a special session), which is super expensive?  Even though I’m at a regional institution that doesn’t support research even as it expects it?  The good news is that I am done with my car payment next month, so I can save that money, but dude – who does three conferences in a month?  (I really, really want to.)

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So, I had all these plans about what would happen during this break, and some of those plans have happened, and others of them, well, they have not.  I was thrown a curve-ball by a nasty cold involving (this is gross, just skip to the next paragraph if you are a delicate flower) a great deal of mucus.  Gross.  And inconvenient.

I am a little concerned about the way that writing has fallen by the wayside, but it’s really hard to write when you’ve got a head-cold.  Because, you know, writing involves needing your head to be in the right place.  (You might want to note at this point that what I’m doing – in between blowing my nose and whining – right at this very moment is writing. But this isn’t real writing, in the sense of needing to think terribly hard.  It’s just one long complaint.  It seems that is all I can manage with a head-cold.)

So, while I’ve not been writing, I have been doing some other things that are worthwhile.  I’ve gotten the letters of reference that I owed to students done, I’ve finished two books – the David Foster Wallace biography (not terribly illuminating, but I did enjoy reading about his friendship with Jonathan Franzen) and Gone Girl (FUN FUN FUN!!!!) – and I’m nearly done rereading and annotating The Marriage Plot, which I’ll be teaching for the first time this spring.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the shape of the book, and about how the whole thing works as a complete document, as opposed to thinking just about the parts of the book, and this is work that I’ve needed to do, and frankly it’s not work that is easy to do when you don’t have a big block of unstructured time.  And so I’m trying to be kind to myself about the lack of words getting written, because I can definitely write words during the academic semester, but I can’t really do the kind of deep and wandering thinking that I’ve been doing (while in an over-the-counter-drug haze) when I’m also doing teaching and all the other day-to-day commitments of the semester.

And I also need to be grateful for the fact that I am not at MLA (even though I’m jealous of everybody who is at MLA) this year, because having all this time is a direct consequence of the fact that I’m not there.  And also: how much would it suck to have this cold and to do MLA at the same time?  Totally.

Another thing I’ve accomplished this week is that I made tons of appointments – doctors, dentist, vet, car.  By the by: it seems this is a great time of year to make such appointments, as I’ve been able to get all of these scheduled for within the next two weeks, which I feel like is wonderful.  Something I really hate is making appointments.  I also hate having to go to them, but it’s the making of them that is really my biggest problem.

So, the plan for today is that I’m going to try to buckle down and do a good deal of writing, work out (as I am feeling a bit better and I can at least go for a walk or something), continue to rest up and take care of my evil cold, and do some laundry and stuff around the house.  Will I be able to do all of those things?  We shall see.  I feel hopeful, given that I did wake up at 5:30 this morning with energy and have already accomplished more today than I’ve accomplished in the past two days.

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(For those of you who’ve not been reading blogs since 1912, “RBOC” stands for “Random Bullets of Crap.”)

  • I am so excited about the research paper topics that my tiny honors freshmen are developing.  They are picking stuff that is interesting to them, and they are also totally on top of the fact that they need to have some sort of “primary source” to ground the paper, as well as secondary sources to support their claims.  This is the difference between teaching “regular” comp vs. honors: I really get to focus on the ideas and not on the mechanics of the research process.  It’s really, truly, a gift to have finally gotten myself into the rotation for honors comp (after 9 years).  And I really, really like my students in this class.  They are truly interesting, smart, and thoughtful – all of them.  This is not to say that I don’t get interesting, smart, and thoughtful students in regular comp – I surely do, but it’s usually just a handful (if that) out of 22.  In this class, I only have 14 students, and ALL of them fit this description.  They are a joy to teach.  Also: who knew that it was a “thing” amongst the late-teens to collect vinyl records?  It’s doubly retro, because I feel like that crap was retro 20 years ago when I was in high school/college.
  • Speaking of teenagers, I think I’m going to get to hang out with my little bro C. (half-brother from my dad’s second marriage, for those of you who are just tuning in) when I’m in Hometown over Christmas!  Also: he had an awesome football game last weekend and got interviewed for the local news!  And he was so eloquent and poised – not nervous at all in the video!  He is seriously the most awesome.  It’s crazy to me that every single girl in his high school isn’t clamoring to go out with him.  (He’s cute and tall, he plays football, he’s super-smart, and he’s NICE.  Sure, he seems to share my propensity for breaking up with people with whom he’s not in a relationship, which might explain some things, but DUDE!  High school girls are clearly super-dumb.)
  • In my Joyce and Woolf seminar, my students a) all showed up for library instruction, b) all did the online pre-test and paid attention and actually took notes during said library instruction, and c) so far (I still have to meet with 5 of them) have handled their (compared with what they are used to) low grades on their first papers with aplomb.  Now, partly their ability to handle the grades is probably because I’ve forced them to come to my office to talk to me to get the papers back, which I do think makes the comments sting less.
  • That said, it’s funny: I posted about the papers on Facebook yesterday while I was grading, and who came out of the woodwork to address what I posted but three of my prized students who took the same class with me 4 years ago.  The first, who’s begun his PhD at our state flagship university, just “liked” the post (he’s the only person of all my friends on FB who did); the second, in his third year of law school in a top program. wrote, “This all sounds so familiar”; and the third, who got accepted into Teach for America, completed the program, and is STILL TEACHING in an inner-city middle-school – which just goes to show that not all TFA alums abandon the schools when their time is done, wrote, “Flashback.”  First, I love that they weighed in.  Second, it’s times like these when I want to organize some sort of “Survivors of Dr. Crazy” group for my former students. As I imagine this club, its members would all be super-successful and happy, and they would consume a lot of cocktails at their meetings :)  (I’m not saying that all of my former students end up super-successful and happy: I just assume that the ones who don’t end up that way probably wouldn’t enjoy getting hammered and reminiscing with the ones who feel like they learned a lot in my classes.)
  • My students in my Gen Ed lit class ADORE Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark.  1) Who knew?  2) How fucking awesome!  (By the way, if you don’t know this book, you should totally read it.  For it is awesome, if perhaps a bit depressing.)
  • I had a (first-semester freshman) student from my Gen Ed lit class, who happens also to be an English major, stop me as I was leaving the building in which our class meets to ask me about whether I thought it would be reasonable for him to try to “write something up” about Jim Morrison’s poetry through the lens of Nietzsche, you know, “just for fun,” and if I’d give him feedback about it.  This is also the student who wrote his first paper in my Gen Ed class (a really basic 2-page analysis paper assignment) about George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” parodying the style of that essay, which he did quite well, actually, and which obviously was going above and beyond what the assignment required.  It’s wrong, but I want him to take every single class ever with me.  Why?  Because if this is his starting point, I can’t even imagine where I can take him over the course of the next four years.
  • For the first time ever, my College within the university is going to award professional development money on a competitive basis to assist people who are working toward full promotion.  It’s not a lot of money as such things go, and there are only 10 awards available in this first year, and let’s note that there are like 200 associate professors, which makes this in theory exceptionally more competitive than a freaking NEH grant if everyone were to apply (which everyone won’t, but still).  Whatever the case, I wrote up my application for it today, because you can’t get the “not a lot of money as such things go” if you don’t apply, and, since even “not a lot of money as such things go” is more than nothing, it’s worth doing.  And you know what?  It’s about time the College did something to support my work and to assist me in getting fully promoted.  So anyway, I wrote it and submitted it, ahead of the deadline, and we’ll see what happens.

AND NOW THE GOOD NEWS!!!!!  (As if all of the above isn’t awesome enough.)

Unless something goes stupidly wrong, I will have an updated kitchen one week from today!!!!!  A kitchen with new cabinets and counters and an over-the-stove microwave and a dishwasher and a garbage disposal and a brand new sink that can accommodate my stock pot when I need to wash it and a new faucet!!!!   Now.  I’m doing it on the cheap, the Lebanese way, and so it’s my cousin Nino’s “guys” who rehab houses for him (for he’s been doing the whole “flipping foreclosed houses” thing of late), and so G. is accompanying them down from Hometown, and the dishwasher/faucet/sink/over-the stove microwave/disposal are driving down with them and I need to make sure that the cabinets and countertops are available upon their arrival (I’m doing totally standard stuff for that, all available at Home De$pot/Lowe$, so this is not an issue of ordering of fancy business), and I’m still going to be responsible for painting the kitchen and for doing backsplash business as a whole DIY project sort of deal, but after 2 1/2 years living in this house I will have a DISHWASHER!!!!!  And a GARBAGE DISPOSAL!!!!! In time for Thanksgiving!!!!  I’m so excited!!!!!  (You can tell how excited I am by the exclamation points.)

Life is good.

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Energy

I suppose I should note that I’m writing this post at a moment at which I am entirely drained of energy, having just returned home (after driving four hours yesterday, and then driving back 4 hours today) from The Wedding of the Year in Hometown – A’s older sister (who is also my good friend) married a guy to whom she was introduced by my friend J. at a biker bar – and I am in no way exaggerating or describing this place unfairly in naming it as such. A) It lives in a state with a smoking ban and yet it is widely known that it is fine to smoke in there, B) 90% of the clientele is bikers (male) – the parking in front of the place is all motorcycle parking slots – and C) The clientele tends to be old and/or tattooed and/or military veterans, many of whom have missing teeth.  Quote of the night via a toast that J. made: “Dreams do come true at [Biker Bar's Name].”  If there was ever a place less likely to make dreams come true, I can’t think of one other than this establishment.  DUDE.  But the good news is that I will not go out of town again until Christmas, and I have never felt so happy to be home as I feel right now.  Oof.

But anyway, the post that I intend to write is not about the festivities of last night.  Instead, I want to talk a bit about “energy” as it relates to work.  People tend, I think, to characterize me as an “energetic” professor.  I get this impression in part because of student comments on evaluations (my highest scores tend to come on the question about enthusiasm and energy, regardless of contradictory comments on other questions – they might hate me, but they cannot deny my enthusiasm! and energy!).  I think students respond this way at least partially because I’m fairly extroverted, just in terms of personality.  But it also has to do with rigor of assignments, and the amount of feedback I give on assignments.  For what it’s worth, I don’t see myself as especially energetic or enthusiastic, and it’s not something I try to be in any conscious way.  To me, that level of energy and enthusiasm is “normal.”  I also get this impression in part because of comments that colleagues make to me about how much I accomplish – in teaching, but in service and research, too – or about how I manage certain things in my schedule – like doing 15 student conferences in a single day (as I did last week).  But, as with the way my students regard me, I never especially think that I’m doing anything odd or above and beyond, and so the comments strike me as weird.

If you were to ask me to describe myself, I would not describe myself as a “high-energy” person.  I am naturally a gregarious person, and an extroverted person.  But that, to me, doesn’t necessarily make a person “energetic.”  When I think about people whom I would describe as energetic, I think about A’s sister K, who has a husband and four kids and who managed the day after her sister’s wedding to wake up at 4 AM, to pile three of her four kids into the car, and to drive to Pittsburgh so her daughter could participate in a dance competition.  Or I think about J, who has the discipline to wake up at 5 AM every day to go to the gym, all the while working at a job that requires her to travel something nuts like 200 days out of every year.  Or even about my friends who teach high school or my colleagues who cull together a living out of part-time teaching gigs.  Or about my mom who never seems to sit down in the evening after work – not until it’s time to go to sleep – and sure, she goes to sleep at like 9 PM, but from the moment that she gets up until the moment that she goes to bed, she’s moving.  Or A’s dad, who is retired, and who has 7 kids total, with the sister who got married at 40 the oldest and with his youngest only 15 years old – and yet still somehow is working a 60-hour work-week.

If I were to describe myself, I’d certainly note my gregariousness and my extroversion, but I’d also say that my default “energy-level” is laziness.  I am a person who regularly (like, 5 days of the week) takes an afternoon/evening nap – a nap that lasts anywhere from 1-3 hours.  I am a person who, sure, will wake up at 6 AM, but that’s only so that I have three or so hours to “ease into the day,” which involves watching television and drinking coffee and maybe reading things on the internet – I accomplish nothing during that time.  I am a person who, if her house is messy and her kitchen a filthy mess (in particular) will prefer to live in her filth rather than to forgo her naps or her easing into the day, or even talking on the phone or watching tv.  I am a person who enjoys “taking to her bed” for a day of intermittent sleeping and reading, as opposed to doing anything that has any sort of merit or utility.  I am a person who, at the end of the day, resents meetings and appointments and is exhausted by them, and who will do anything she can do to get out of things that she perceives as “work.”

And yet, apparently, other folks perceive me as having energy.  Indeed, as being highly energetic and accomplished through that energy.

Now, to be kind to myself, I’m going to say it’s probably true that I have energy for things in my job in part because I’m so slack in my non-job life.  It’s easy to have “energy” in some ways if you don’t have kids, or a partner, or an aging parent to care for, or anything to take care of beyond two (fairly demanding, as these things go) kittehs.  I fully recognize that a lot of my energy is due to the fact that I’m a single lady with a totally fine income for one person and two cats.  And who never has to negotiate with other human beings in her personal life regarding the clutter on the dining room table or the fact that laundry hasn’t been done in a couple of weeks.  My life would surely change with the addition of more human beings, which wouldn’t be a bad thing – and is maybe even something I wish I had – but it would cut into my Time of Rest and Laziness, which would be an unfortunate and much-mourned consequence of the addition of more human beings, as great as those human beings might be.

But it occurred to me this past week, as I was forced to reflect on my activities through the summer to report on a fellowship I’d received, that maybe it’s true: maybe I am a person with energy.  Because I did more in the past 3-4 months than I’d ever imagine anybody doing ever in that length of time, and certainly more than I’ve ever done in my academic career.  Weirdly, this was also the most socially busy summer I’ve ever had, so it may be the case that doing lovely non-work socializing (4 weekends of visitors in the 5 weeks before the academic year began, plus additional socializing, plus another weekend of visitors early in the summer and a week in hometown) actually makes me work MORE and with more positive results  – rather than tiring me out.  (See: Definition of Extrovert.)  And I’ve accomplished more this semester, and have been a better teacher, precisely because I’ve been out of town the past three weekends.  (Again: it may be true that I am a textbook extrovert.)

I think it might be true that while I think of myself as lazy, I actually am energetic, when compared with other people.

Or, rather, my modification of that judgment.  I’m energetic when I’m doing crap that I really, really love and believe in.  When I’m doing stuff that matters to me, it takes a lot less of my energy.  Which I should have understood from the time I was a teenager, because, frankly, I was the sort of student who only excelled and invested in stuff she “liked” and let all the rest of it go to hell, even while that stressed her out.  This, right now, is the first time in my life I have been able ONLY to invest in stuff that matters to me, that I “like.”  And, it turns out, I get TONS done under those conditions, and I don’t feel beaten down by the work that those accomplishments entail.

And I also think it’s true that I accomplish more when I give myself permission for fun, as opposed to trying to (or thinking I should) work non-stop.  I was talking to my mom today about all the things (productive) I’ve done since Spring semester ended, and she was surprised: “I feel like you didn’t do any work for half of that time!” she said.  I replied, “No, I didn’t.  I think that might have been the trick of accomplishing that much, actually.”  Because, in giving myself permission not to work – and to totally shut down and not even to think about work – I didn’t procrastinate.  Instead, I worked when I had time to work, and in the meantime, I gave myself over to fun!  I didn’t worry about work, or think I should be working when I wasn’t.  Maybe that was the lesson I’ve needed for the past, oh, 30 years.

So do I have energy? More than most people?  Actually, maybe I do, now.  But only because I’m only expecting myself to have energy for work in about 50% of my waking hours.

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