Archive for the ‘Taking care of business’ Category

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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I began seriously thinking about applying for full professor maybe about 6 months ago.  I think I’ve mentioned that here, outlining why going up matters to me, but in any case I’ve been sure about my reasons for wanting to go up for a good long while, and the short version of those reasons are the following:

  • No women are fully promoted in my department.
  • Promotion to full comes with a nice bump to my base salary (not a million dollars or anything, but nothing to sneeze at when I wonder whether we’ll ever get a raise again, or whether they’ll just periodically do what they did last year, which was to give one-time merit-pay based on base salary).
  • There’s no reason not to go up: if I’m denied, it carries no penalty, and I can go up again in the future if I’m denied.
  • Being fully promoted will give me more clout in conversations about the future of the university/department, and it will give me more autonomy in terms of determining my workload, especially as it pertains to certain kinds of service obligations (though I know some other service obligations will crop up in place of those, the ones that will crop up are more meaningful and often less time-consuming in aggregate).
  • If I go up for full and get it, I won’t need to think about whether I should or shouldn’t apply anymore.

Beyond thinking about those reasons, and thinking in a general way about what I’ve achieved over the past five years, though, I haven’t been very concrete about beginning the process of putting my stuff together.  Because, you know, that would make it “real.”

But I decided I should set up a lunch with a fully promoted mentor, and once I did that, it occurred to me that if this was going to be anything other than a pleasant lunch I needed to come up with some concrete questions about the process.  And that then led me to the faculty handbook.

The horror.

See, since I was pre-tenure, I haven’t really thought so much about the whole “jumping through hoops and documenting them” portion of this profession.  I mean, I’ve been jumping through the hoops, but I haven’t thought about it that way.  It’s the thinking about it that way that makes me Freak Out.

So going through all of the criteria, and all of the possible permutations of evidence that I could compile to demonstrate that I’ve met the criteria, made me Freak Out.

Here’s what I think right now, having forced myself to confront the criteria directly:  I’ve done so much in the past five years, but I’m not quite sure if it’s enough, even if it’s more than a lot of people do.  I’m concerned that the full professor dudes in my department will not support my application, no because anything is “missing” but rather because it’s my impression (though I’m not sure if this is a totally fair impression) that they see their role as a gate-keeping role.  And the faculty handbook, in all its vagueness, and the fact that our department handbook offers little to no additional insight, can allow that interpretation of the role of the fully promoted colleagues who will decide on my application.  And I’m wondering how much campaigning they will expect me to do in order to garner their support.  And, frankly, I’m wondering what they actually expect me to have done.


Two things would make me feel a hell of a lot better – one of which is only partially in my control, and one of which is entirely beyond my control.  1) If I can get the book manuscript finished (the part in my control) and a contract in hand, I’ll feel secure that they can’t deny me on the basis of scholarship.  (A book is NOT technically required, and I can demonstrate my progress toward the completion of the book even now, plus I’ll have published three or four full-length articles by the time I go up, as well as one short article, all peer-reviewed, and a couple of review essays.  I think that shows consistent scholarly engagement, but will that be enough without a contract in hand?) 2) If I get the Big (for the humanities) Teaching Grant that I applied for, then I’ll feel totally secure about the teaching part of things (about which I already should be secure, but for whatever reason, I’m not).  But if not…  yeah, I guess what I’m saying is that I just don’t trust the people who will be evaluating me to recommend my promotion.

But whatever.  I’ve got like 10 months to get myself on solid ground, and I have to believe that I can do that.  And, even if I end up getting denied, ultimately, then I’ll be well on my way to resubmitting the application in a year or two.

Whatever.  I needed to face the actual requirements, no matter how crappy they make me feel.  Better to face them now so that I can do all the things to put forward the best application possible.


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I’m pretty pleased with all that I’ve done this week, and I’m looking forward to a day that (mostly) involves scholarly business tomorrow and a weekend that involves cleaning my entire house and not doing ANY work.  [Aside, the Man-Kitty totally just body-slammed Mr. Stripey, as if he were a professional wrestler, making such a large boom that it startled me.  Apparently they both enjoyed that a lot, so I’m not going to worry about it.]

So what have I been up to this week?

  • My students and I are 5/6 of the way through Ulysses.  HUZZAH!  I absolutely cannot wait until it’s two weeks from now and we are done!  And I will be done with teaching this novel for another four years!  (I love this novel, and I love teaching it.  The issue is that the teaching of it takes every ounce of my energy, and makes me feel like a zombie by the end.  Which I actually think is what teaching this novel should make you feel like if you teach it as it should be taught, but DUDE.  It’s a lot.  A lot that involves explaining to students what “fisting” and “figging” are… and that was just today, which, frankly, I think we all should be ashamed about.)
  • I finished teaching another novel (Austen) in another class.  I also graded a stack of 21 papers and returned them.
  • I graded another stack of papers in comp, held conferences with each of my comp students, as well as got them set up for their next major assignment.
  • I finished another unit with my intro to the major students, and I did some more talking them through the paper that they will submit next week.
  • I set up a meeting for the department committee that I’m chairing.
  • I agreed to speak to a colleague’s class about scholarship stuff, which involves reading what they are reading.
  • I sent a note to a former student who is in his first semester of a Ph.D. program because I heard from a current student that he’s been having some challenges with teaching, just to offer some support.
  • I set up a lunch date with a full professory colleague so we can talk about my preparations for going up next year.
  • I talked a student out of applying to grad school (in tandem with CC who also counseled the student about the realities of it, a victory, since the student had only considered it because it seems like us proffies have so much fun, and the student doesn’t actually really want to go to graduate school, now that the realities have been made apparent).
  • I met with another student about her upcoming honors thesis, and I gave her advice about money that’s available for student research and I encouraged her to think carefully about who she chooses to direct the project (she “likes” me, and wants me, but I might not be the best person).
  • I agreed to co-direct a grad capstone for a GREAT MA student.
  • I eased the worried hearts of two undergraduate majors who were feeling freaked out about all the things.
  • I spent about 3 hours doing library researchy stuff for an article I’ve got to write by Dec. 1, and I made an outline for the article.  (I failed to write my 750 words that I’d planned to write, but that’s ok.  I’ll get some writing done tomorrow.)
  • I gave a talk at a local library about a book, and it was fabulous!  I always love doing this, but I made a wise, wise choice of book for this time around, and they actually all read it!  That said, Esmerelda is still my teacher’s pet of the folks who go to the library book talk thing 🙂  I should also note that I was very worried about reading out that passage about “cock-teasing” until I learned that a fair few of them had read 50 Shades of Grey.  Indeed, the Senior Citizens can handle it.
  • I submitted a new abstract (the acceptance was like 2 years ago, so the thing I’d originally submitted is no longer what I’m actually working on) for a talk I’ll be giving at my institution in the spring, as well as an updated bio for the flyer.
  • I bit the bullet and decided on switching up anthologies for the survey, which I will teach in the spring for the first time in a few years, and I finalized my decisions about what I’ll teach in my upper-level class next spring, and I submitted my spring book orders.  (I know, right?  I submitted them AHEAD of the ridiculously early deadline of Oct. 1.  ‘Cause I’m cool like that.)
  • I put together a proposal for a catalog change for a course that I teach, and I circulated it to the other people who teach the course as well as to my chair and assistant chair to get their feedback, with the hope that I’ll have their blessing before I submit it to our department curriculum committee.
  • I set up a work-date for tomorrow afternoon with CC (who is still pre-tenure) at which I’ll look at her summer fellowship app and give her feedback, we’ll talk about our research schedules for the rest of the semester, and (ideally) get some writing done.
  • I took a 3 hour nap on Wednesday.
  • I knitted two rows on something I’m making for my mom (which is looking like it will be a Christmas present, at the rate I’m going).
  • I watched television.
  • I bought a giant bottle of wine, and I just poured my second glass 🙂

OOH!  And I teased my colleague who took over curriculum responsibilities from me, filled with joy that I was not in her shoes!  And yes, it’s mean to tease people who are in hell, but, frankly, when I was in hell I would have enjoyed some light-hearted mocking because at least it would have meant that people knew my pain (even if they had taken pleasure in it, it would have been great to have ANY acknowledgment of my terrible plight).  But I didn’t only tease: I also gave her some suggestions for the thing that she was asking the dept. to weigh in on.

But so yes, this was a very, very productive week.  I spent approximately 5 hours on scholarly thingies, I taught for about 11 hours (yes, it should be 12, but I’ll admit I let a few classes go early this week), I spent about 8 hours meeting with students, and I spent 2 hours doing a community service thing, and I spent about 14 hours doing prep, grading, and doing emailing administrative-y service-y stuff.  Yes, I’m going to do probably five hours of work beyond that tomorrow on the scholarship stuff, but this is a reasonable work-week for a human being, given eating and bathroom breaks inside of that 45 hours.  The point is?  We don’t have to work a 60 or 80 hour week – not even during the semester – to take care of business.  When we’re newbies, sure, a 60-80-hour work-week is often real (if not ideal).  But once you’re 4 years out from tenure?  It’s totally ok to work a normal (for non-academic type people) work-week, and doing so typically can result in accomplishing all the things and then some.

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On Balance…

I tend not to believe in the concept of work-life balance.  Indeed, I feel like I’ve written more than a few screeds against it on this here blog (all of which I’m too tired to dig up right now, but long-time readers should remember that this is something to which I’ve objected for a good long while).

Historically, my objections have boiled down to the following: Just like working too much can be bad for the soul, so too can making oneself feel guilty for not achieving some elusive “balance” be bad for the soul.  Further, when people talk about work-life balance, particularly when women are the ones who are supposed to be finding the balance, I always feel like they are trying to impose some impossible-to-achieve perfection of housekeeping, homemaking, and relationship-maintaining on me, and that “work” becomes that “selfish” thing that I’m doing not only to my own detriment but to the detriment of others – indeed, to the detriment of society in general.  Who has balance?  For more than like a day? How dare you demand that I aspire to balance?  I resist!

But, as my last post indicated, I think I’ve achieved a kind of balance in my life in spite of my theories.  (But let’s note for the record: that “balance” does not involve yoga, meditation, or anything that I would describe with the phrase “self-care,” although of course my version of balance does involve taking care of myself, clearly.  I may finally be achieving some balance, but I still hate the ideology of balance.  I haven’t changed that much, at least not yet.***)  And after seeing some of the comments to the last post, I guess I actually want to talk a little bit about what that “balance” means in my version of it, and how I’ve managed to get there, albeit without ever aiming to in a conscious way.

First things first, for any of you readers who feel intimidated by the stuff that I seem to get done, even with my teaching load, I need to communicate some things about how I manage my life.  Once upon a time, when I was in high school, I had a fantastic mentor (who was actually a teacher at a high school 3 states away, whom I met because of my work on my high school newspaper). She was talking to me and a friend of mine (her student), and she introduced me to a concept that I’ve never forgotten and that I embraced immediately: The Wheel of Neglect.  Imagine all the stuff that you have to do as being one slice on a giant wheel that you spin – like the Wheel of Fortune (as in the game show).  There is no way that you can do all of the things on your wheel – well, not if you’re like me and you always take on a whole bunch of things.  So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you spin the wheel.  And whatever comes up, you neglect it without guilt.  Not forever – just until you get some other things done.  And then you spin the wheel again, and then you neglect something different and get the thing you’d been neglecting done.  And so on.

My point is this: I’ve become good at putting things on the back burner.  It helps me not to get overwhelmed, which actually helps me to accomplish more in the long term, even if something has to suffer in the short term.  Thinking about it through the metaphor of the Wheel of Neglect helps me to distance myself from the decision, even though obviously I end up selecting what I neglect – it’s not really random.  This has been true for me since high school.  But what has changed in the past two years is that “life” things now get a spot on the wheel.  They are part of my wheel of things that I need to do, whereas before they were always extras, and that makes a difference.

Going along with my acceptance that I will neglect some things every now and again is that I have learned (and this is definitely learned – not something natural to me) that the perfect really is the enemy of the good, or good enough.

I tend, innately, toward an ugly perfectionism.  The most evocative example of this is a story that my mother tells about me in kindergarten.  Apparently, tiny five-year-old Crazy had been working on some sort of drawing or construction paper project or something, and she was Dissatisfied.  And she threw a giant tantrum and ripped whatever the thing was to shreds, sobbing.  Mrs. McNamara (whom I remember as being the most awesome teacher in the whole world, and I vividly recall – my own memory, not a story – how she taught us the song McNamara’s Band and we marched around singing it) called my mom in for a meeting.  And the conversation went something along the lines of “Crazy is not a kid that you need to push, She’s a kid you need to nurture, because she is really hard on herself.  She will push herself.  You need to teach her that it’s ok not to be perfect at everything.”  (Aside: this was surely a speech my mother needed to hear, as the mantra I remember her repeating over and over throughout my childhood was “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”  She still repeated that over and over after this Incident, but she added the addendum that what mattered was that I tried my hardest – not that I always did the best in the end.  And when I was being a perfectionist freak she would tell the story about Mrs. McNamara and my kindergarten meltdown.)

Now, I’m still hard on myself, and I still expect a lot out of myself.  (More recent example: My dissertation adviser said to me early on in the process, “I don’t need to give you deadlines or ride you about this project: you do that work for me.”  And the same was true the entire time that I was pre-tenure.  So.)  But I do think that I’ve embraced that I can’t always do everything perfectly, and I’m ok with that.  I’d rather be a person who does lots of things well, while doing some things not so well, than being a person who aims for perfection and who never really does anything.

And so do my students get short shrift sometimes, if I’ve got other pressing things for a week or two?  Yes – even if I hate it.  Does research fall by the wayside during especially intense times during the academic year?  Totally – even if I hate it. Do I half-ass service stuff that can afford to be half-assed?  Most certainly I do, and with a song in my heart.  What I think I’ve finally learned is that if you’re intentional about making those concessions, it really all does turn out ok in the end.  The problem is when you don’t consciously decide to say “fuck it” to something that’s not an immediate priority, you feel like shit and you still do a shitty job with the thing.  Much better to be conscious and decisive in your choices, even if they are crappy ones, so that you have a hope of making up for it later.  Or at least that works better for me.

All of this is a long way of saying: I really do not believe that it is possible to work at optimal capacity and performance in all areas on the tenure track all of the time.  The best that you can hope is that you work at optimal capacity and performance in each of the areas some of the time, and that at the end of the day everything will somehow come out ok.  And once I finally accepted that, it really has helped me to forgive myself for my failings, to set some priorities that privilege the things that I do best and that I enjoy best, and to put my life on my list of things to do.

But also: all of that wouldn’t be possible (for me) without the permanence and security of tenure.  What being in a tenure-track position – and then securing tenure – did for me was it allowed me stability – in my teaching schedule, in my sense of the expectations of just one institution, in getting to know an institutional culture, in getting to become part of a community – that I’d not have had otherwise. And being in the same position since 2003 has meant that I’ve been able to find a routine, and to find some consistency.

Here’s the thing: my first 3 or 4 years with my 4/4 load were murder.  I came into my position having only taught one course independently – composition.  In my first few years, I had to develop something like eight or nine different classes.  From scratch.  Which I’d never taught before.  That was motherfucking brutal.  All the while, I was figuring out what sort of assignments and course policies worked with our student population, so in that time I basically abandoned 90 percent of what I’d come in with from grad school (which wasn’t much, but it was all I had!) and totally revamping everything I did and thought I should do.  At the same time, I felt very isolated, I went on the job market, I started a blog because I felt so isolated, I did research that I got to listen to colleagues disparage in the hallways, I got sucked into tons of service stuff that was intense and back-breaking… Yeah, those were not good times.  Not.

The privilege of being on the tenure-track was that I was able to work my way through those rough years and to actually walk into the light at the end of the tunnel.  I learned, first, that once you teach a course a few times over a few semesters that you get some set assignments that work and that you don’t reinvent the course every time that you teach it – even if you make slight adjustments – and teaching gets easier.

I also learned that the more that you publish, the more opportunities come your way, and it doesn’t really matter what your asshole colleagues say in the hallway, because that work matters not just for a line on your cv but because they enrich you as a thinker and a teacher.****

I learned that research can really enhance teaching, and I learned how much that work matters to mentoring students into careers (alt-ac careers, non-profits, and more) and graduate school (law school, library science programs, and yes, even PhD programs, though my former students are so much more aware of the situation of the job market and what you have to be willing to do and to give up in order to succeed than I was at their stage, which I think is the best I can hope for).

I have learned my strengths in service, but also I’ve learned that it’s really ok to say no when you’re not doing something that is working for you, and I have learned that while I’m a great leader, I’m a really crappy consensus-builder and administrator.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to choose the best thing for me to do – in teaching, research, and service – and that I can excel if I’m doing the best things, and that leaves me room for a life outside of work.  I don’t typically work on weekends now.  I don’t typically work at night.  I’m, like, an actual person.  It only took me 38 years.

You know what’s hilarious, though?  I made my schedule for the completion for the second book manuscript today.  It’s really in the home stretch – not that I won’t have to work on it a lot more, but I can see a full version that is ready to submit for review by January (and since I’ve got a good press interested, I’m even more motivated to keep to this schedule).  And that with writing a solicited article in the middle, as well as a conference paper.  But when I made that schedule today, the thing that I thought was: you know what?  This is the absolute most important thing in my life right now.  Perhaps I care more about this than about socializing, dating, whatever.  Because you know what, 4 months is not that long of a time, in the grand scheme of things.  This book can’t wait, and the other things can!

Am I going to be a hermit in that time?  Surely not.  But what I realized today is that I care more about my book than I care about anything else.  And that’s pretty awesome actually, and really a luxury to feel that way – that an idea can be the most important thing in your life.  That there is nothing else that must take priority.  So you know what?  It’s all book all the time for the next four months.  Because my next book is going to be motherfucking AWESOME.  And I can worry about dating once it’s out to readers 🙂



***I am not saying it’s bad to meditate or to do yoga or anything, if that’s what works for you.  It’s just that stuff has never been my thing, if you know what I mean, and I don’t think that balance requires the embrace of those things.

****I can’t thank my dissertation adviser enough for bullying me into writing a dissertation that was “close” to a book, as much as I hated him and resented him at the time.  I could never have accomplished what I have accomplished (which, let’s note, is modest) as a scholar in this job without having been given this leg up at the start of my career.

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Yes, I know that this should be three posts.  But I want to write about all of these things, and they are all sort of connected in my head, and also given the way the frequency of my posts here has gone down in recent months, I figure if I don’t just blurt out all the things while I’m feeling in the mood in one post that I’d never get around to writing the two posts that I would postpone if I were to sensibly separate out the three topics.  So, what you all are going to get is a Big Giant Post Filled with All the Things.

The Past Week, or The Week Before the Official Start of the Academic Year

I used to think that the first week of classes in the fall semester was the most intense week, but I was wrong.  I believe it’s the week before the first week that really kicks my ass most thoroughly.  In part, this just because of the sheer volume of people with whom one has to interact.  Now, I’ve had a very social summer, and I haven’t once felt isolated – you know, where you start planning daily errands so that you at least talk to somebody at the grocery store and you don’t become the crazy weirdo who doesn’t interact with other humans – even though I’ve spent the summer writing.  But it’s one thing to have a very busy social calendar with people whom one really enjoys, as opposed to have a very busy slate of meetings with people who are not of one’s choosing and who actually need you to respond to certain things that you haven’t necessarily been thinking about for four months.  Now, the last week was actually pretty ok, in spite of my fears and anxieties about it in the week or two leading up to it.  Indeed, parts of it were even quite pleasant.  But, all in all, it was exhausting.  So what was the week before the first week like for me this year?

Monday – A day-long teaching conference in which every possible bad teaching technique was modeled.  Lack of preparation?  Check. Lecturing to the point that everybody in the room is checking her phone or iPad?  YES.  But that was the bad part.  The good part was seeing people from around the university that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, particularly since I am FREE AT LAST from my Major University-Wide Service Obligation that hung like a lead weight around my neck for three long years.  And one of the thing that was nice was that all of my colleagues from around campus made a point of complimenting me on all of what I’d accomplished in that time and congratulating me for getting out before I lost my mind totally.  Appreciation plus understanding?  That made it worth sitting through a long day of not terribly useful presentations.

Tuesday – The annual department “retreat,” which is basically a very irritating day-long meeting in a room with no windows.  I’d been especially concerned about how this would go, but I was pleasantly surprised at the low level of pain that it caused in me and others.  Now, to be fair: part of the reason it wasn’t terribly painful was that I was not on the defensive.  I brought my knitting with me, and I kept my mouth shut about a lot of things that I would have flown off the handle about in the spring.  I participated, but I wasn’t chomping at the bit.  Because the knitting, it is relaxing.  Soothing, even.  And at least the colleagues who said something to me about it – including some folks who normally would be kind of mean – were just interested in finding out how long I’d been doing it, asking about what I was making, talking about how pretty the yarn I was using was…. Frankly, I think that they were happy that I had something to occupy my mind other than thinking of come-backs to idiotic comments.  And you know what?  The world did not come to an end when I didn’t explain all the reasons why people were wrong.  First, sometimes other people did that job for me, which was delightful.  Second, it meant that when I did speak I wasn’t that crazy loud-mouth know-it-all that people hated.  I will note that the two things that actually got accomplished at that meeting?  Yeah, both of those were totally my ideas.  Ideas I’d suggested before.  In multiple venues.  But somehow this time around I made it seem like they were not my ideas, and so now they will actually happen.  I won’t lie: this is still one of the things that I find most frustrating about my current job situation: that basically it takes at least 3-5 lengthy discussions that go round in circles, and people (sometimes me, but lots of other people, too) doing work that ultimately goes nowhere, so that then people will see the wisdom in the originally proposed idea.  How is that efficient?  Or reasonable?  Or anything other than irritating?  But you know, knitting.  Knitting makes all of this easier to take.  Also, as a bonus: because I behaved myself at the retreat, CF bought me a LOVELY bottle of wine!  Which just goes to show how much it was important that I behave myself, and how awesome CF is 🙂

Wednesday – My awesome birthday!  But more on that in the Birthday section of this post.

Thursday – I launched from bed with purpose.  “Today I shall complete my four syllabi!” I announced, to kitties who could not care less about my plans.  I quickly showered and dressed, grabbed the netflix video I’d had for two weeks, went to the post office, and then, as an incentive for my day of work, I went to the New Local Awesome Coffee Shop that just opened to see what I’d think, because I’d MUCH rather go to an independent place than to $bucks, but until this moment, $bucks was the closest coffee option.  Best. Latte. Ever.  No, I mean really.  It was delicious.  And then I went to the office, and I finalized not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different syllabi, revised my course policies, and emailed my class that meets Monday nights with a request for Monday.  The request: print out this article and bring it with you.  But if everybody reads it ahead of time, there will be something nice in it for you.  Well, in the email that I sent, the link was broken.  ASTONISHINGLY, like five students emailed me nearly immediately to tell me about the problem.  Bad student that I was, if such a thing had happened to me as an undergraduate I would have just figured, “oh well, not my fault, I shall ignore my professor’s request.”  But NOT MY STUDENTS!  So then I wrote a follow up email with a non-broken link.  Since that time, THREE STUDENTS HAVE WRITTEN TO ME to express their thoughts about the article, which, let’s note, they were not required to read BEFORE THE SEMESTER HAS EVEN STARTED.  I mean, sure, I asked them to read it, for extra credit or so that we could leave class early Monday night or something, but I didn’t ask them to COMPOSE A WRITTEN RESPONSE!  This either bodes TREMENDOUSLY well, or it means that I have a bunch of brown-nosing jerks who are going to try to dominate discussion all semester.  Whatever, it’s still kinda awesome.

Friday – Convocation day; I skipped the morning stuff, but I went to my college lunch/convocation, which was three long hours of pain.  But I am a good department and college citizen, goddammit, and let nobody say otherwise.  Then I had a tough decision to make: do I go to the wine store or do I go to the grocery store?  Where I live there is no wine at the grocery store.  I chose the wine store.  Then I came home, and I looked at the filth, and I decided that as long as I got clean sheets on the guest bed, all would be well.  Because friend from when I lived in Boston (with whom I didn’t go to grad school) was coming over, and our mutual friend, my Best Friend From Grad School, aka Dr. Medusa (for longtime readers know her, too) was going to arrive in a stop-over on her journey from the Northeast to her family in the Deep South, accompanied by one tiny and adorable chihuahua named Bugsy!  So FFB (friend from Boston, who is close to local) got here, but then we learned that Medusa was running late, so FFB and I had a glass of wine, and then we went and got some dinner.  We then checked in with Medusa, who had just received a speeding ticket but who was almost here.  Medusa arrived, FFB only got to see her for five minutes, but then Medusa and I had a lovely evening with wine and a puppy and the entertainment of seeing how my cats responded to the puppy (which I would characterize as “This being, it is so small.  Is it a kitten?  No, it smells wrong and it barks sometimes.  Is it a rat?  Perhaps we should try to use some techniques that we’ve learned from Big Cat Diary about cornering this tiny animal.  Except we don’t understand how the puppy just ran past us.  We did not plan for this.  Why was the puppy not intimidated?  This animal seems sort of ok, except something is clearly wrong.  Why does he want to play with us?  Has he no dignity, with his wagging tail and his squeaking in excitement?  But I suppose he’s fine, as we both outweigh him by at least 7-8 pounds.”)

Today – After Medusa and tiny, sweet, energetic Bugsy left, the kitties and I had some breakfast and then took a tiny four-hour nap.  The rest of the day has been spent cleaning litter boxes, doing laundry, making lists, and lamenting the end of summer.


Well, my birthday, in spite of the fact that it was on a Wednesday, was excellent.  CF and CC took me out to a “ladies lunch” (something that we all enjoy, and we’re always looking for an excuse to do) at a lovely Italian restaurant, where I might have had a bit too much wine for lunchtime (as I was not driving). CC then dropped me at home, and I took a lovely long nap, and then I made myself a little dinner (which I probably didn’t need, but it was nice) and then I discovered that Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth was playing in marathon on cable, which was like a Birthday Present from Cable, and then my friend J. called me and we talked for hours about all of the things.

Let me just say, that I woke up very, very happy on my 38th birthday, and I am feeling very, very positive about the year that is to come.  I think that 38 is an auspicious year.  No idea why, but this is my feeling.  Basically, I’m feeling very centered and productive and happy.  For the first time in I don’t know how long I’m really excited about the return to teaching, and I’m also feeling very proud of myself about the way that I’m managing my professional responsibilities.  Further, I’m feeling very positive about the non-professional parts of my life – like everything is for the first time since I started this job falling into place in all areas.  And I’m excited to continue feeling this way, and I’m committed to doing what it takes to continue feeling this way.

The Academic Year to Come

The year is going to get off to a very hectic start, personally, professionally, and socially.  What’s going on between now and October 1:

  • Two grant applications to complete.
  • One report to write on my summer activities to justify my internal summer fellowship.
  • Recommitting to WW, as I am about 10 lbs. heavier than I was at this time last year, and I need to get back to working out and eating more mindfully.
  • Finish up two chapters that are nearly complete that I did this summer.
  • Stuff related to other grant that I was awarded this summer.
  • Reread Ulysses, while teaching it (which will actually not be done by Oct. 1, but it’s a commitment I have between now and Oct. 1, whatever the case.)
  • Teach my four classes.
  • Give a talk at a public library.
  • Go to Hometown for two weekends, one for a Bachelorette thingie and one for an actual wedding.
  • Go to Chicago for a weekend in between, which will, although I am an old lady, rock.
  • Throw a dinner party, because I haven’t done that in a while.

And after October 1, things don’t actually slow down all that much.  At some point my kitchen is going to be renovated (actually, this might happen in September…but that’s a long story that I’ll tell when it happens), I have two to three more body chapters of my book to complete, as well as an introduction and conclusion, and I have all the usual committee stuff and whatever.  Oh, and I might have another article to submit for a friend’s edited collection.

How will I do it all?  You know, I’m not actually that worried about that.  As far as the book goes, I feel ok if I end up working on it into the spring if that’s necessary.  I don’t want to, but it’s ok if that’s where I am with things.  But this is going to be a big year for me with a lot of things.  I want for it to be a big year for me with a lot of things.  And I like that all of the things that I’m doing are things that I’m choosing.  Now, part of my motivation right now is totally that I intend to go up for full professor in Fall 2013, and so I do sort of need to make it a “big year” in order for that to be a reasonable thing to do.  But really all this stuff isn’t externally motivated by that larger goal – it’s really internally motivated by my excitement and enthusiasm.  And this is a new feeling for me.  So much of what I’ve done in my life to this point has been about doing things that are about jumping through hoops, or doing things that other people want or need.  For the first time, I really do feel like I’m in charge.  

But so what can you all expect over this year?  Probably some excitement, tempered by exhaustion, and spiced with a fair amount of stress.  But I’m into it.  I hope you will be, too.

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This is not my comprehensive New Year’s Resolution post.  However, I had an idea today, that I think is going to be a crucial component of the resolutions that I’ll make for the coming year.

See, I’ve been in a pickle when it comes to the way that my workload is distributed.  And I’ve been scolded by a couple of authority figures that it’s not them – it’s me.  See, my problem is that I am not managing my workload effectively.  Now, I’ve got opinions about that perspective on my workload, but I’ve decided to stop worrying about my opinions and to take the criticism as a just one.  Perhaps I am, in fact, a bad, bad girl, and the buck when it comes to my workload does indeed stop with me.

So today, as I was proctoring a final, and after I’d realized that while I’d brought my knitting I’d forgotten my crucial second knitting needle and so couldn’t work on my current scarf project, I got to thinking about what my workload is supposed to be.  Now, at my teaching-oriented regional comprehensive uni, the party line is that in general, teaching is about 50 percent (though it might be slightly more), and then the rest is divided between research and service (either 25%/25%, or, more realistically 30%/20% in either direction, adjusted for if teaching turns out to be slightly more).

So I thought, let’s think about this in terms of hours per week. Let’s imagine that I’m working with a standard, full-time work-week, of 40 hours.  (I know, but bear with me.)  This would put me at 20/10/10 for teaching, research, and service, or, a more likely distribution for me, 20/12/8.

Except hold on a minute.  I teach 4 courses, so that means that I’ve got 12 hours in the classroom.  Add to that the fact that I schedule 4 office hours, or one hour per course, and this puts me at 18.  Now even if we assume that of those 4 office hours weekly I can use 2 of those for prep/grading (which is a foolish assumption, given the fact that students regularly make use of my office hours), that would only leave me with 2 additional hours per week for prep/grading.  (And I’m totally leaving out of this equation the fact that I’m supervising MA students or serving on committees for MA students.)  Even if I’m teaching repeat preps (I teach 4 preps per semester), I still need to do some prep for each class meeting, in the form of reading (or rereading) or updating assignments, designing new assignments, etc., and all of my courses are writing intensive.  Given those facts, I’m probably going to need some additional time for prep/grading beyond 4 hours (generously) per week.  So let’s bump up my teaching to 24 hours per week (which is still probably way below what I will actually do, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that I can do everything in 24 hours).  That puts teaching at 60%, which seems reasonable given my 4/4 load.

This then leaves me with 40%, or 16 hours, with which to work.  So let’s say that I keep research at 30%, which I think at this point in my career seems reasonable, given the fact that only research will allow me to get promoted to full professor.  That is 12 hours per week.  And that leaves me with 4 hours of service per week*, or 10%.

Once I broke it down this way (which, I’ll be honest, it’s the first time in my career that I’ve ever bothered to do this), I realized that I have never, ever, spent 12 hours per week on research (even when working 60-70-hour weeks) except for when I had course releases.  I also realized that I regularly spend upwards of 10 hours per week on service, which goes unacknowledged and gets me no closer to my professional goals, whether in the broader profession or at this institution.  And, let’s note, that all I get for “managing” (or not) my workload as I’ve been doing is scolded.  So.

I think that I’ve come upon a plan.  I’m going to track my working hours next semester, not for the purpose of justifying righteous indignation – for I have tracked in the past for just that purpose – but in order to attempt to come in at 24/12/4 as my hours each week in each area.  Now, I recognize that I most likely will exceed these targets in some weeks, come in below those targets in others. But if I track, then I can make better sense of when I need to pull back, or when I need to step it up in a given area.

Basically, what I’m proposing is Workload Watchers, the academic’s version of Weight Watchers.  The idea being that if I stay on the plan, I figure that much like with the Weight Watchers I will find a place of peace and tranquility and self esteem, and in addition I will look great and feel like I’m a whole well-balanced person.

I should note, that if I follow this 4 hours per week rule with service, the weeks when I have Major Committee Chair duties I will not have time for any additional service.  In the “off” weeks, when I have Major Committee Member duties, I will only have time for two additional hours per week, which basically takes care of all of my other service commitments.  In other words, I cannot say yes to a single other thing.  Not because I’m a bitch, but because that is what the numbers tell me. It’s worth noting that I spent three hours on service already this week, even though it’s finals week and my two major committees did not meet.  (And I’m not talking about emails or whatever here – I’m talking about actual time clocked in “ad hoc” meetings.)

In addition, I have made the determination that if I go above and beyond, time doing service is what gets cut first.  Research will only get cut if I’m at zero with service and there are service obligations that I must complete.

I have also scheduled my research time for all of next semester, and I am going to post my research time on my office door, along with my teaching schedule and office hours.

Now, the nature of the beast is that I’m going to need to be flexible.  Sometimes, I’m going to go way above my 40 hours, and sometimes, I’m going to work on weekends or at night.  But the point is, much like with the Weight Watchers, Workload Watchers is about lifestyle adjustment.  And tracking is essential to that.  It’s not about tracking out of resentment, or tracking out of a sense that one needs to prove one’s worth.  You track so that you can make better choices.

If only there was an app for my phone for this…. or a points plus system…..

*I would feel guilty about only allocating four hours per week for service, in terms of percentages, if there were equitable distribution of service across my department/institution, but the fact of the matter is that this is not the case.  If everybody were doing 4 hours per week, I suspect nobody would have to do 4 hours per week.

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Actually, that’s been the thing that’s been getting in the way of regular blogging for me this semester.  I’m going full throttle in so many different directions that when I sit down to write I don’t have it in me to write coherently, so then I don’t write here, and then I feel like too much time has passed since last I wrote and I have to catch you all up, and so then I don’t write here some more…. You see how it is.

So I’ve decided to write a post without a coherent topic and just be scattered because that’s the only way to get out of that loop.

Fitness/weight loss

So I’m still doing the weight watchers, but I’m not going to lie: mostly all I do is weigh myself once a week and sort of keep track of what I’m eating in my head.  Apparently, though, the thing with lifestyle change is that you do actually get to a point where you don’t have to spend tons of time and energy thinking about it, because since the start of the school year I’ve lost like 12 more pounds.  Which means that I now have lost the weight of all but year one on the tenure track.  That is super-exciting.  If I can find my way to pre-tenure-track weight by the end of the academic year, I feel like that will be the most awesome thing ever.


I’m really pleased that I’m doing the Another Damned Notorious Writing Group, as it actually has kept writing on my radar this semester.  I’m about halfway to my writing goal for the semester, which is pretty great given the fact we’re just over halfway through the semester.  So I’m slightly behind my target, but not in a way that is making me want to give up and just start over next semester.  That is a good thing.  Also, I’m feeling… well, I really am feeling good about my project as a whole.  Of course I’d like to be getting more accomplished with it than I can do reasonably, but, well, one can only do what one can do with a 4/4 teaching load and ridiculous service commitments.

Ridiculous Service Commitments

I can’t really talk about these.  Suffice it to say that I’m doing what I can to protect myself and my time, and I’m kicking ass and taking names as much as is possible.  I will say that I find it profoundly irritating when people responsible for a great deal of the bullshit with which I have to deal claim that they are “worried” about my workload and yet do nothing to shift some of the burden off me.  I am also profoundly irritated by having to explain the same things to people over and over again, which makes me feel like a crazy person.


So I didn’t actually end up going on that date on Sunday (he had to cancel), and we’ve rescheduled for Friday (in addition to him trying to make plans with me every single day this week, but I’m a busy lady with lots of stuff going on so it does indeed seem like Friday will have to be good enough), and well, I’m glad that I’m forcing myself to have a personal life in addition to a professional one.  My vacation this month was part of that, too, and basically, I’m really seeing that I’m so much better off if I don’t get completely consumed by all the work nonsense.


Anyway, I think that’s everything that is going on with me.  And I think that I should eat something and then grade and maybe go for a walk.  But eating is at the top of the list.

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I woke up this morning with this song running through my head.  Clearly my subconscious was trying to tell me something, because I don’t remember the last time I actually listened to it.  But so yeah, this is pretty much how I’m feeling with six weeks of the semester done.  In a nutshell, I am cranky.  What makes me cranky, you ask?  Well some of the things are my own damned fault, all of which fall under the heading of “procrastination.”  Other things are totally out of my control: resurfacing of the road that I have to take to go anywhere, clueless colleagues, fucked up institutional politics, students who don’t come to class prepared (but it was the Freshmen, and to their credit, they lasted this long – usually I have to give the “I can’t teach people who aren’t prepared” speech much earlier),  the stupidity of texting.*

*Let me interrupt the actual content of my post to provide you with Crazy’s manifesto on texting: The only thing that texts are good for is to confirm plans, to say you’re running late, to communicate some brief thing like “bring home milk” or “I had a good time” that doesn’t require a conversation.  Sending one text every other day to a person with whom you went on a date on Monday, well, that’s just irritating.  Either ask me out again, call me to talk to me, or just don’t bother.  Because what’s the fucking point?  I mean, really!  I mean, I guess the point is that you’re keeping your hand in, letting me know that you’re “thinking” of me or something stupid like that, even though you’re busy, or something, but I’m not impressed.  Texting as part of 21st century dating is b-o-g-u-s.  I think that we should all just say no.  Hell, the days of guys I dated having pagers in the early-to-mid-90s were better, because at least they couldn’t contact me with the pager. 

But so in my funk last night I decompressed, finished knitting a Baktus scarf I’ve been working on, watched Grey’s Anatomy and Project Runway, and had a delightful night’s sleep and I slept in until 8:30, which was lovely.  Then, upon waking, I sprung into action, paid my bills, caught up with some email, made a hair appointment for this afternoon, went to the grocery store and to the wine store, and now I’m going to do some stuff around the house during the next two hours.  And then I’ll get my hair cut, and then I’ll come home and make something for dinner.  And spend a nice evening relaxing some more and then I will do more things tomorrow.  So there!



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Good morning, darlings.  Well, you’ll be happy to hear that I spent the weekend regaining my perspective, I got some necessary work done (for teaching, for a forthcoming publication) but I didn’t spend my holiday weekend working (which in some ways may have been a mistake, but I needed to remember that my life is not my job, that I am not my job).  Let me tell you, I think one of the best things I realized during my sabbatical is how important it is not to let the pressures of the job take over my life.  Which means not working seven days a week.  Which means making myself a priority.  So yesterday I worked out, I did some stuff around the house, I prepared mentally (if not practically) for the week ahead.  What’s on the week’s agenda?


Prep for teaching, teach, meeting, teach, meeting, meeting, work out, email/meeting (8 AM – 7 PM)


Grading, work out, prep for teaching, work on NEH app, teach (11 AM – 9 PM)


Prep for teaching, teach, prep/grading, teach, prep for meeting, meeting, drop paperwork off to dean’s office (8AM – 4PM)


Grading, Work on Chapter, work out, Work on NEH App (10 AM-4PM)


So if we total all of that up, it’s 35 hours, and it doesn’t count any incidental emailing or prepping or thinking or any of the work that I did yesterday.  It’s a work-week.  It’s a work-week that includes down-time.  It’s a work-week that isn’t onerous.

Now, of course, the best-laid plans and all that, and the whole thing could go kablooey depending on what gets thrown at me.  But in truth, things don’t typically go all that kablooey if you don’t let them.  And I feel hopeful, in spite of the horrors of the Curriculum Clusterfuck, that I will stay on track with research throughout the semester.  (It’s worth noting that I am now officially part of not just one but of three writing groups – my Writing Group, which continues, a second in-person writing group, with more senior people, and ADM and Notorious’s Writing Group of Blogospheric Goodness, the Writing Group That Dare Not Speak Its Name.  If between those three things I don’t make progress for the next 12 weeks, then I don’t really know what to say.  (I’ve figured that I need to write just 3 pages a week in order to get to the end of this chapter.  That is ridiculously do-able, even if other things pop up to distract me.)

Ok, time to get in the shower and get started with this day.

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I’m not tired for any particular reason.  It’s that the first week – the re-entry is hard.  I had a number of meetings this week; I met my classes for the first time; I handled trouble-shooting for my courses, and, at the end of it all, I’m tired.  Period.

I went in to campus this afternoon, though I don’t have to come in on Fridays, ostensibly, to make an appearance at a “kickoff to the semester” event.  That was both good and bad.  The good was visibility. The bad was visibility, too, though, as I was talking in a way that was noticed during lengthy talking by our provost, and it was noticeable.  You know what?  This is why I was a “bad student” – though a smart student – as a student.  If boring shit is happening, I talk.  Especially if I’m not right up front (which was why it was totally bad news for me to be forced to sit in the back of the room in Mrs. Nedrich’s third grade classroom, where I talked for a year and got in trouble constantly, because you know what?  If I feel like things are boring and I’m in the back, I talk.  This problem is not unlike my “messy desk” problem: look, I talk and I have a messy desk.  It is Who I Am.)

What was interesting about today’s event was who was there and who wasn’t.  Just like what was interesting at the college convocation was what chairs of departments sat where.  These events – they’re nothing, really.  Except for that who talks to whom, who shows up and who doesn’t, who is “in” and who is “out” – all of that tells a story.  And a story became very apparent to me today, and at the convocation last week, and it explains a lot of things.

Politics should not – should NOT – dictate decisions about resources, curriculum, or the future of the institution.  BUT.  They do.  The academy IS political.  Ignoring that, or pretending that it isn’t true, is a decision.  It’s a decision not to be in the conversation.  It’s a decision to be irrelevant.  It’s a decision to allow one’s future to be dictated by people who don’t give a shit about what you give a shit about. I hate the politics of my institution, but I do them.  I do the politics so that I can do what I want in my job.  There are people who should recognize the significance of the politics who don’t.  They think that they have an option of opting out.  That’s… interesting. And also stupid.  But it is what it is.

So, my report on the first week is that I had necessary and productive meetings, I taught what I think were good classes, I accomplished some writing, I mentored some people junior to me, and I recognized that I need to get my shit together so that I’m not dead come December.  All in all, an auspicious start.

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