Hi, guys! I'm in Bosstown now! (See photo of downtown Bosstown.)
Bosstown seems to run on meetings. Meetings in order to set up more
meetings. Which pave the way for even more meetings. At some point in
this seemingly endless feedback loop, a job materializes for the job
seeker. Everyone here swears to me that it is ultimately a matter of
acquiring a sufficiently large circle of acquaintances who know me
personally that one of them will realize that zi has a job I'd be
perfect for. The whole thing feels distinctly like the Underpants
Gnomes business model:
Fuck me, new wardrobes are expensive. Here in Bosstown, people dress a lot more formally than in any university I've ever heard of, and that goes double for interview attire.
On the plus side, I've got some nice shirts now, and some killer ties to go with my new suits. I also have a beautiful pair of business-dress shoes.
On the down side, the stupid screen door where I'm staying has already scraped my left shoe a few times. No doubt about it: I'm hard on footwear.
We can put a man on the moon, but we can't develop truly tropical-weight wool for business suits? WTF? It's in the goddamn 90s already; it just isn't right.
Still, the clothes are fun. How do you like today's ensemble? (I know, it's not quite my best angle.)
I feel the nervousness in my stomach and in my head, but I think it's the good kind. I set up mail forwarding today, and started making appointments. I booked a hotel room tonight, and printed out my driving itinerary. Tomorrow, I have to go to campus for the last time ever, and get all the books moved out of the office and return my keys. I need to eat or throw away the last of my perishable groceries by Tuesday. Two days from now, I will drive out of Cornstate and begin the process of relocating myself (and eventually, my stuff) to Bosstown. Eeep.
Stuff is beginning to happen, rather fast. Not just stuff, you know, but Stuff. I'm pretty scared, honestly, but I'm also hopeful. I'm too excited and scared and nervous to say much more than that. But I'm hopeful that all the changes will bring good things.
Someone mentioned to me recently that I should consider obtaining formal affiliation with one university or another in my upcoming locale as an aid to my academic job hunt for 2014-2015. The idea hadn't even crossed my mind, to be honest, so now I'm pondering whether or not to bother. As I hear it, being affiliated simply means that you can put "University of Hoo-hah" on your name tag for conferences and print your correspondence on university letterhead, and sometimes allows you use of the library as well. For sure, continued access to JSTOR and whatnot would be a nice convenience, but is it actually meaningful to be affiliated with a university if you're not, er, employed by them? Would this be the equivalent of a lawyer styling hirself "Doctor X," on the principle that the juris doctor degree says "doctor" — technically true, but essentially bullshit?
For those who have opinions one way or another here, I have a few follow-up questions: whom should one approach at a university to request affiliation? Should I hit up the chair of the pseudology department? A colleague I happen to know a little in said department? The dean? The president? The kid who hangs out by the snack machine in the student union?
How should one make the request? Can I be direct and to the point? E.g. "I would like to be affiliated with you for technical purposes in my job search, but I won't ask you for money or even for anything at all, save perhaps access to the university letterhead." Or must I bow and scrape? I've kind of had it with bowing and scraping for the moment, to be frank. I only have so much energy I can devote to being smiley and glad-handy.
Why am I here, you may wonder. A friend of mine is hosting a small
reception after the formalities, and I didn't want to miss it. And, like
I said, every use of the regalia helps to amortize the cost.
Of course getting here in time to stash a bottle of wine in the fridge
meant that I didn't have time to finish my morning coffee. This will probably become a problem soon.
The more songs, prayers, addresses, and parades that a university
includes in its graduation exercises, the less dignified it will seem.
Having someone do her best Kate Smith impersonation while singing the
entire fucking text of "America the Beautiful" will leave all dignity in
The more the speakers repeatedly emphasize how amazing the students are,
the more they actually index the rampant mediocrity of the school.
Truly elite schools do not perform such inferiority complexes in front
of all and sundry.
Valedictorian or not, 22-year-olds rarely say anything worth hearing in their speeches.
At least the keynote speaker is a better choice than last year's. Pretty bizarre choice, though.
Speaker praises the graduates as the most tech-savvy generation ever.
Apparently no one mentioned to hir that most of my students could not
figure out how to download a PDF from the library reserves.
Clear bonus, though: unseasonably cool day for May. For a change, I'm
relatively comfortable wearing my regalia, even if my hands are a little
Those beautiful shoes I ordered were too tight. Naturally, I cannot
order them in a wider size from the store that sold them to me on sale,
so I had to return them after admiring them on my feet, even as they
shut off the blood flow to my feet. The moral if the story is probably
that I shouldn't bother trying to buy dress shoes in Cornstate.
But hey, I won't be here much longer, so no worries!
Is it normal that CBU has a keynote speaker distinct from the honorary
degree recipients? Not that it's a bad thing, but it strikes me as a bit
odd. Fortunately, all the honorees were short and pithy of words, so
we're none the worse for it.
These folding chairs are desperately lacking in lower back support.
We're only up to the Es in the graduate roll call, and I could already
use a massage.
I am getting
sleepy now. Need coffee. Up to the Js now.
What's with the graduates tossing around beach balls during the whole
affair? Must everything be reduced to a frat party? (As the speaker
hirself cannily noted, a lot of the graduates are pretty hungover
Up the Ss now. My feet are cold and I'm hungry.
Finally, all graduating students named! Now, unfortunately, come the
pompous self-congratulatory administrative speakers. Jeez, how many of
those are on the roster?
Hitting up the fresh graduates for alumni contributions from the stage. Very classy, alumni association douche.
I am not pleased about CBU's habit of scheduling final exam blocks on a Saturday. They do this in order to speed up the grading cycle, since the final grades for seniors have to be tabulated far enough in advance to let the administration work out who is actually going to graduate and who isn't. I get it, but still.
Plus, as I might have mentioned on this blog before, it's total bullshit that they give the students exactly one reading day between the end of classes and the start of finals. Once again, the administration demonstrates that it doesn't really care that much about academic quality, but really just wants to hustle its customers through efficiently. Sigh.
Several students I had this semester enjoyed my classes enough to declare either a major or minor in pseudology. In a school at which most students seek the path of least resistance, I consider this a personal victory.
Thank heavens, everyone is here. A few times in years past, I have had a student all but assassinate hir GPA by not showing up to the final exam. It's really depressing to see a grade sink to an F because the student simply never even walked into the room and threw something together on paper. Even a disastrously failing exam counts for some minimal points, in my rubric. I take my cue on this issue from King Lear: nothing will come of nothing.
I have complex feelings about overseeing final exams this semester. On the one hand, I doggedly cling to my sense of self-worth as partially rooted in being a rigorous teacher, which requires me to spend a lot of energy considering how to grade essay exams. On the other hand, I have the distinct sense right now that I must expect to make my living outside academia, and thus feel like spending more than minimal energy on grading is a waste of effort. (Does anyone beyond the academy even give a shit about my teaching portfolio?)
If nothing else, though, I feel like I still need to be rigorous for the academic benefit of the students who really tried. I may well go to an early grave because of my insistence on encouraging excellence and discouraging mediocrity.
So, have I mentioned that I'm looking for a job outside academia? Long-time readers know what that implies as a start for a self-absorbed would-be bourgeois like me: new clothes! I picked up two of this bad boy, in gray and navy. (Slightly more understated patterns than the stripe pictured, but you get the idea.) These are the first suits I've ever owned for which I actually paid attention to the style and cut to make them look good on me.
And, comme de juste, new shoes! I've become aware that there are dress shoes and then there are dress shoes: specifically, the kind that I have always worn are meant to last for a few years at best before falling apart, but others are built for the long haul. I can't yet consider purchasing a $700 pair of shell cordovan oxfords, but I seem to be inching closer to that. For the time being, I'm sticking with my cheap-ass might-actually-be-plastic black cap-toes from DSW, but I'm adding some good-quality brown shoes to my wardrobe. Check 'em out! (I ordered them in walnut, if you're curious.) I'm told these shoes will last for decades, with a little care.
This class is blessedly quiet and focused. Makes it much easier to geek out about suits and shoes.
Oh, poor soul of a student staring at that blank page! I feel for you, I do, but I effing told you repeatedly that you need to come to class in order to grasp the material. Please do not look surprised, now that you confront essay questions you have no idea how to answer. The look of resigned misery, however, is appropriate.
I feel emotionally torn between the two extremes of my career-seeking advisors: those who are sure that next year will be the year! and those who are convinced that academia is just a con job and I should run. It feels a bit like dueling cults vying for my loyalty. If nothing else, it suggests an exhausting job hunt for the foreseeable future, as I try to live in two worlds at once. I suspect that this will not work out well for me, and I will feel obliged to drop academia as too much time and effort to spend when I have to earn a living elsewhere. But we'll see.
Back on the topic of business dress, I feel like a schmuck right now with my full academic regalia hanging in my closet. I know, I know, it's always there for Harry Potter-style Halloween costumes, but y'know? I bought that outfit as a goad to myself to secure an academic job. Perhaps this is yet another reminder that, whatever effort I put into this business, I am not ultimately in control.
On a related topic, do I really want to march in the graduation exercises this year? I know every use of the regalia helps to amortize the cost, but fuck, people, I don't know if I want to sit there shvitzing for several hours while a parade of idiots old and young speak on the dais. Every encounter with academic ritual right now feels like touching a raw nerve.
Wow, first student to finish took an hour and fifty minutes. And zi is no scholar, either. I think it's a good sign that even the so-so students are taking this seriously enough not to rush through.
Damn it, I'm getting hungry already. I rose earlier than usual today, probably out of the ancient anxiety of sleeping late and missing an exam, but this meant that I had time to cook a proper breakfast for myself. I was hoping that would sustain me until a little closer to lunchtime, but I forgot to factor in the physical effort of standing for three hours. Now I just want the few remaining exam-takers to hustle so I can get some food.
Burgundy/oxblood shoes: too much for ordinary office wear? Opinions?
My shopping habits seem to me an indicator of the kind of employment I need to pursue, in one form or another: research. I can't even buy a pair of shoes without researching leathers and cobbling techniques for several hours. Hopefully, this obsessive tendency of mine will pay off in a good job that uses my geekiness skills to best effect. I wouldn't mind also ending up the best-shod pseudologist at the party.
OMFG, kids, there are only fifteen minutes left, and you've been at this for 2.75 hours. What the hell could possibly take any longer? If you're waiting for inspiration to strike, I have news for you: it's not happening. Just wrap it up so your professor can go to lunch.
Stop sitting there staring at the page. You look like your ass could take root in that chair at any minute. It irritates me.
Did you know that I get cranky when I'm hungry?
Down to two minutes now. Whether they like it or not, in five minutes' time they'll all be out the door no matter where they are with this exam, and I will be in the sunshine heading toward lunch.
Subtitled, "I can't do this anymore. I did it some more."
Out of habit more than hope, I checked the Big Giant Pseudology Association's job board, and saw a newly advertised position at a fancy name-brand school. Most of my job-hunting energy these days is oriented toward non-academic work of various kinds, so I just don't have the strength to deal with the one-year VAP bullshit anymore. But this job is multi-year, and is in a nice place, so...
My point is that I dashed off an entire application for it in approximately ten minutes. And then went back to other, more promising stuff.
In other news, I am deeply relieved that Passover is over, because I ran out of potato vodka on the last night, I'm TIRED of matzo,* and I could make myself breakfast tacos this morning. I am also happy to be drinking lovely wine this evening, although that has nothing to do here or there with Passover. Because, you know, wine.
* Did you know that Blogger considers 'matzo' the standard spelling? I tried typing 'matzah,' and it complained of a spelling error. Apparently, if Blogger were Jewish, it would be Orthodox.
I have posted this song on this blog once before, when I was getting over some very silly heartbreak. That's what the song is about, of course. But I suddenly realized a few days ago that the song is now speaking to me in a new register, in regard to my career drama. It's unsettlingly on point, given that I have had moments over the last month when I actually felt like I was dying. And yes, I know that is completely batshit insane. I don't deny that at all. But it was a real emotion.
A number of people have likened the academic job market to an emotionally abusive relationship with a partner who refuses to affirm you. If I'm in the process of (at least temporarily) breaking up with academia, then it's comforting all over again to listen to Spektor sing this song.
It is hard, so hard to grapple with the reality that I may well never have a long-term job in academia, and that I must perforce look for other work that (also) knocks me down in status to journeyman, if not apprentice. I don't know if this bothers anyone else in this situation, but it disturbs me.
One of the attractions of professional academia to me was that it maintained, or seemed to maintain, the professional model of apprenticeship in training for master status. Somehow this model of job training always made more sense to me than the idea of going to a professional program for a few years, sitting in classes, and then boom, you're suddenly a professional who's supposed to know how to perform a job in the real world. Somehow I managed to overlook the fact that, historically, apprenticeship was often indistinguishable from indentured servitude, but that's neither here nor there now for me.
What is relevant, though, is that I feel either trapped at the journeyman stage as a professor, or forced back into the apprentice stage in any other industry. Maybe I'll get over this once some likely job openings cross my desk or, lord love a duck, I am offered a job, but my immediate impression on looking for work beyond the ivory tower is that most kinds of employment that a pseudologist can seek require the employee to start with an internship — often literally so. My gorge rises at the thought of someone demanding that I serve as an unpaid intern* in preparation for a job that may or may not be there at the end of the internship. I fucking did that for eight goddamn years, motherfuckers. I'm not a college student living in my parents' house who will work for pure experience. I can't work for pure experience. I am an adult and have bills to pay.
I am aware that a lot of my current misery traces to the degree of identity investment I have sunk into academia. I cannot say for sure how much of my indignation is due to that, and how much to the hard calculations of my ongoing expenses. I really don't want to be that person who says that he's too good, or too expensive, or too qualified to start at the bottom. But the reality is that I have bills that I have to pay whether I want to or not, and I need a roof over my head and food to eat. And along with that, I feel deeply ashamed at the thought that some employers expect me to be grateful for the opportunity to learn something in exchange for unpaid labor. It's a variety of condescension that I haven't experienced before. And it hurts.
*Not all jobs require this, and some of them pay their interns reasonably well, but I have already seen some jobs and companies/think tanks/whatever that demand an actual unpaid internship as training, with no guarantee of a job subsequent to that.
I give the hat tip to nicoleandmaggie for the spiffy New Orleans jazz arrangement of "Sweet Child o' Mine." I can hardly think of any other pop song cover that so thoroughly reimagines the song from the ground up. However, I know a few good ones that offer something new, instead of a band just covering a song they like: covers that add to our understanding of the song's possibilities, not just rehashing what has already been done. In the spirit of old standards cleverly reimagined, here are a few more I'm fond of.
I never really loved "I want you back" in the original version; the Jackson 5 were Michael Jackson and four bozos, not a band. But Lake Street Dive slows down the song to a seductively langorous tempo, and all four of them are actually talented. Add in some jazz instrumentation and some tight vocal harmonies, and it goes from gimmick to showstopper.
I always liked this Leonard Cohen cover — one of the few I can say that
about, really. Tori Amos does such a beautiful job retrofitting Cohen's
song (and, really, his basic arrangement too) with her own piano work
that it feels to me like more of an artistic effort than merely paying
homage. I heard this cover before I knew the original, and if I hadn't
encountered it on a Leonard Cohen tribute album, I'd never have known
she didn't write it herself.
Another fabulous and inventive cover of a song by a distinctively voiced singer-songwriter. I almost always feel let down by covers of Tom Waits songs, but Neko Case nails this one the way so few do. The instrumentation is different from the original, but so is the tone: where Waits' narrator is boozily and jovially bullshitting the listener, Case's narrator is heartbreakingly wistful. When she sings, "He gave me a ring," there's an aching hope in the line that Waits himself will never equal.
It was a hard week for me, as you, dear reader, probably guessed. After being seriously depressed for a few days, I'm starting to re-focus my thoughts not on the jobs that seem unattainable, but on those that may be within my reach. Many thanks to you all who have offered a bit of advice on that front — and on, you know, not hating myself.
But more about that later. Right now, for the first time ever, I am on a proper Spring Break vacation. (Wouldn't you agree that I needed one?) Don't worry, I'll be careful not to drink too much; it's too hot and dry out here to booze it up without serious risk of dehydration. That said, I might have had a bacon-garnished Bloody Mary with my brunch this morning. Because when you're hypertensive and in a desert climate, what else would you drink at brunch than salted, grease-spiked alcohol?
But not to worry. As they tell me, what happens here, stays here. See you when I get back!
You are worthless and valueless. You have slid by the skin of your teeth into a book contract, but even that is not saving you from failure. You have a book coming out this year, and no one wants to hire you because you suck. If you didn't suck, you wouldn't be facing the prospect of unemployment this summer. Worthwhile academics who have written books get jobs. Ergo, if you have written a book and do not already have a job, you are not worthwhile. QED.
Everything you have done for the last twelve years of your life is meaningless. You are meaningless. Your own society accords you no value at all, and you have only yourself to blame for your mediocrity and imminent failure. You dishonor everything you care about every time you show your face out of doors. You deserve to fail.
Your increasing economic marginality reflects your irrelevance to your own discipline. To your profession. To your society. To your family, probably. To the universe. You are worthless.
You are a FAILURE who has FAILED because you have NO WORTH and NO VALUE and NO MEANING. Your DISHONORABLE existence on this planet is POINTLESS. You have FAILED as a person. You are a FAILURE.
Brought to you by my psyche and the antidepressants that are holding worse things at bay.
I'm currently pursuing this strategy tonight to finish a research article that needs to be submitted ASAP. I'll let you know how it works out.
Step 1: Get home from the office as soon as classes are over.
Step 2: During Step 1, lay hands on some of the chocolates that your colleague has thoughtfully laid out in the kitchen area. Justify this to yourself by remembering that you have a grueling day of work ahead.
Step 3: Spend the next four hours dealing with unexpected personal drama that saps your energy.
Step 4: Wolf down your lunch at some point during Step 3.
Step 5: About an hour later than your caffeine addiction would require, brew yourself a fresh cup of coffee.
Step 6: Fuck around on the internet for an hour or so, because you just cannot deal. Not now. No.
Step 7: Pour yourself a stiff drink for the dual purposes of enjoying a Friday afternoon pick-me-up and numbing your mind to all that other shit that keeps you from focusing on work. Step 8: I forget what eight was for.
Step 9: Write a blog post whining about how hard writing is. (Meta, right?)
Step 10: Pour a second drink, crank up the music, and return to the goddamned writing. Revise it into motherfucking brilliance.
This is the plan of a responsible grown-up, isn't it?
I am nervously awaiting the deadline for the second paper my students in Introduction to Pseudology are writing. After the unsparing grades came in for the first paper, my office hours went from desolate to chock-a-block. Seriously, last week's office hours looked like finals time: my colleague next door was stepping over bodies sacked out on the floor waiting their turn to consult with me.
So, now that a whole bunch of students who previously thought they knew it all already have been stunned by a poor paper grade, and have responded by carefully consulting with me about how to do better next time, I'm about to found out how well my low-stakes assignment strategy worked. (And, perhaps, how much of the previous poor work was due to learned laziness and how much to genuine confusion.) I'm sure I'm not as nervous about this paper as my students are, but I have a little shpilkes about it. Am I learning how to be a cannier and more effective teacher? Or have I merely hit on yet another solution that doesn't actually work?
My office promises to be a livelier place this week than it has been hitherto this semester. The students in my Intro to Pseudology classes got their grades on their first paper, and they are very far from happy little campers. Why? Well, in a manner of speaking, I sandbagged them for their own good.
I knew their first papers were going to suck, although I was a little surprised by how bad they were in both form and content. (I mean, damn.) But since I knew what was going to happen in a general way, I planned for it in the syllabus construction. The first paper, although just as long and complex as every other paper will be, is worth a trifling percentage of the final grade, making it a pretty low-stakes assignment. This means that, mathematically, students' GPAs won't really be harmed even if they bomb the paper and get, say, a D-. (Which, by the way, was the statistically average grade for this paper.) I believe I have found a strong wake-up call to first-year students who
have been floating through school for the last twelve years, and who
completely forgot – if they ever knew – that eventually schoolwork will
challenge you and you need to work harder than you did before.
Naturally, it wouldn't be useful just to scare the dickens out of them with a low grade without any hint of how to improve. I wrote extensive grading notes to all of them, pointing out weaknesses that they can and should improve on for the next paper. I don't doubt that some of my students will ignore this altogether, and settle into a self-pitying pout about how mean and inscrutable Dr. Koshary is. But if they make the effort to see me at office hours, then they ought to walk away with a better idea of how to write a good paper.
I've used this approach before in other classes, but the last time I did so, the cries of woe were far more muted. That was in an upper-division seminar class in which at least some of the students were on the ball from the start. As for the other students, well...perhaps I indulged in a little bit of grade inflation there to keep them from freaking out about the course. But what I saw after that was the students who should have been scared straight about their poor writing didn't take the hint: I keep forgetting that many students are happy to get a C, and have no motivation to earn anything higher than that.
Let us say I have solved that problem, at least. My email has been blowing up since I released the grades. Let's hope my low-stakes paper yields good results, instead of a bunch of angry, vindictive students. Low stakes is a gambling metaphor with good reason: I'm essentially betting that the students will use this as a learning experience, rather than react unreasonably and shut off their brains out of spite and/or frustration. And no bet is a sure thing.
Thanks again to everyone who offered suggestions on how to beat or whip cream from scratch. For me, pre-chilling the utensils in the freezer for ten or fifteen minutes made a world of difference. For sheer entertainment's sake, I whipped the cream this time, instead of thickening it, just because I wanted to.
At least one genuinely beautiful thing happened on Valentine's Day:
Being the analytical killjoy that I am, I started critiquing this speech almost as soon as I had seen it. Big deal, a wealthy and privileged actress comes out in front of a sympathetic audience. She is accustomed to performing, and clearly waited for applause after making the big statement. But, even if there is some truth in these critiques, the more I thought about it, the more I felt like there was something more significant and valuable here, and I felt bad that I was so cynical at first blush.
Ellen Page is a professional actress who earns her living – and yeah, sure, it's a good living – partly through her desirability: the pleasure that people take in watching her craft as well as in admiring her physical charms. She's also young and young-looking: she's only twenty-six, and has some good years of ingenue parts left in her. Those are exactly the kind of parts that, historically, have paid her bills, and they are exactly the kind of parts that she is most likely to lose in the wake of coming out. Think about it: with all the actors who have come out, how many of them have continued to find work as romantic leads in heterosexual roles? Coming out isn't career-ending the way it once was, but it certainly seems like it still threatens or diminishes an actor's marketability in Hollywood. Page is taking a real risk with real potential consequences, and she clearly knows that. Not a risk quite on the level of, say, Michael Sam aspiring to be the first openly gay NFL player, but significant nonetheless.
I'm a little mystified that a bunch of people immediately reacted with "No big shocker" or "No surprises here." Are you people out of your minds? Page has always styled herself as something of a tomboy, but that's a pretty far cry from telegraphing I am a lesbian to all and sundry. Don't act like you knew, because you didn't. That's bullshit.
And don't act like it's inevitable that a gay actor would come out, either: for a lot of gay actors, everyone around them either knows or suspects it, and they never breathe a public word about it in their lives. Being something and talking about it are drastically different things. If you want to know what made me a little sniffly when I thought about
it, Page was scared and anxious and, poised professional actress or not,
had to fight for self-control when she gave that speech.
Page also indicates frank awareness of how shitty day-to-day life is for a lot of ordinary non-famous LGBT kids, and makes no attempt to aggrandize her own experience as ultimate victimhood. For heaven's sake, she's there at Time To Thrive to support the work of people trying to change those kids' circumstances! She's no clueless self-absorbed celebrity airily offering solidarity. She recognizes her luck and privilege freely while offering empathy, which I think is perfectly fair.
Page's empathy sounded genuine to me because she obviously knows about feeling forced to hide her identity, and, by the sound of it, to sneak around to keep her relationships out of public sight. (Just imagine what that's like when you don't have to worry only about friends and family, but also a troupe of tabloid photographers who want to catalog your every living moment.) It's a privileged version of the horrors that lots of kids fear, but it's no less real anguish for that. It certainly sounds like Page knows whereof she speaks when she mentions the toll it took on her mental health as well as her relationships. When she said, "I am tired of lying by omission," she fucking meant it.
I'm glad for her, and I hope that she goes on to break the cliché of an actor coming out and promptly seeing her roles dry up. And I hope that the young LGBT people that no one will ever see onscreen take heart from her talk.
I have always been deeply skeptical of the big scary machines in which we must all humiliate ourselves when traveling by air nowadays. It didn't take long for people to start leaking the info that these things were bogus, and that most, if not quite all of the TSA security measures put into effect after September 11th, 2001 were nothing more than security pageantry rather than actual helpful measures. Recently, an ex-TSA agent wrote an entertaining and disturbing piece on all of this.
Going through careful security screening is something I understand, but I also want it to be intelligent and effective, rather than some faux-CSI bullshit to impress morons unfamiliar with air travel more recent than the Wright brothers. Since Research Country is one of those places that can set off enhanced security screening all by itself, I understand total ignoramuses thinking that I have to be strip-searched. Real security professionals, though, ought to recognize that I am not a threat. (Thanks for rummaging through my books so thoroughly, though, gang!)
My irritation with the pointlessness of most of these measures reached the point at which I was willing to pull bourgeois cultural capital rank as well as financial sacrifice, and basically pay for premium service. You see, when you try to slip a $20 bill to a TSA agent to keep your shoes and belt on and undergo a more modest search, it's bribery; when you write an $85 check to the TSA, it's advance screening!
Naturally, such screening has its limitations, but really, the whole point of this is to make my life easier when it makes sense to do so. I'm not going to blow up an airplane anywhere under any circumstances, but it seems to me especially ridiculous to fear I might do so on the Thursday red-eye from Cornstate City to Hometown. People, no one is gunning for that flight. If I could gather all TSA managerial personnel in a room and explain to them reasonable suspicion, to say nothing of why you can't hire part-time help and then never give them proper training, I would. Times being what they are, and I being an obscure academic instead of a rockstar governmental advisor, the best I can do is pay for premium and let the TSA confirm once and for all that I'm not a terrorist.
Now, perhaps they have some criteria to determine who qualifies or not that they don't acknowledge to the general public. However, looking over all the criteria they list on the website, the basics are:
Don't be anyone already under suspicion of having committed treason or terrorism.
It's both amusing and worrisome to me that this is all. This suggests that anyone planning in advance to do something terrible just has to keep his nose clean, pay the non-refundable application fee, and wait a week or two. Really, I kind of hope that TSA is being all sneaky and skullduggerish and not admitting to the more complex criteria, just to see if someone dangerous will blithely give himself away at the interview. Or, you know, maybe they just want to see if the applicant is white and of an appropriately high socioeconomic class. (I wore my best business casual, just in case.)
Of course, it's possible that it's at the interview stage when they pull out their bag of tricks for sizing up a person and determining if he looks/acts like a threat, and assuming the answer is no, continue to process the application and deposit the check. That would actually be a pretty good way to run the ordinary security screenings, if only they would invest in the (wo)manpower and the necessary training. (FWIW, my interviewer seemed considerably more professional and thoughtful than the average TSA agent, most of whom remind me of students who earned Ds in my courses at Ghosttown U.) But it says nothing positive about either our priorities or our common sense that we have reserved such examination for people willing and able to pay extra for the privilege.
In short, I'm glad to have the Known Traveler Number, since it will simplify the boarding process when I visit family or go on vacation (ha!). But I don't exactly feel good about the haunting suspicion that all I have really done is to reinscribe class and racial privilege with the blessing of the U.S. government.
Many thanks for all the helpful suggestions for whipping/thickening heavy cream! I'm getting much better at it, now that I prep the utensils in the freezer for a little while.
Since it is going to be damn cold for the next two months, by the odds, I've been fiddling with drinks that suit the weather. In addition to some experimentation with a variety of liqueurs that have thus far not really paid off, I've been making an occasional vice of coffee cocktails: that is, something like an Irish coffee. I never learned to like Irish whiskey, though, so my poison of choice of late is a nice aged rum. Rum goes so much better with coffee than does whiskey, anyway!
For the most part, the drink is hard to screw up. The steps are blessedly simple, if you don't want to get too fancy.
Step 1: Brew some coffee.
Step 2: Get a mug – because who the hell actually keeps Irish coffee glasses on hand? or why? – and combine a spoonful of sugar/simple syrup/agave syrup and a healthy tot of rum.
Step 3: Pour the coffee into the mug and stir all ingredients briefly.
Step 4: Top with thickened cream and serve.
But hark! Step 4 is what has bedeviled me from the beginning. If you're the kind of obsessive that wants to get the drink right, then it just isn't good enough to pour in a little heavy cream and call it a day. The cream must be "thickened," according to traditional recipes; that means heavy whipping cream that has been thickened by beating, but not so much that it turns into whipped cream, per se.
I still can't do it. Not by hand whisk, not by hand-held mixer. I cannot make the bloody cream thicken. I can't even overdo it and make whipped cream. I just don't have the patience to whip the cream long enough for any of this to occur, I think. My best attempt was some very slightly thickened cream that kinda-sorta did what the recipe calls for: it slid on top of the surface of the coffee for a second or two, before melting into the drink. In theory, the thickened cream should sit comfortably in a layer on top of the coffee, and should only melt into it as the drink is consumed.
So, if anyone has any good tips on exactly a) how long to beat the cream, b) how much cream I need to put in the bowl to start, if I'm making only one mug's worth, or c) how to fix whatever other complications I have created for myself, please shoot me an email or comment below.
My other fiddling with the drink comes in the brewing of the coffee. I love to flavor coffee with a pinch of cinnamon mixed into the ground beans just before I add the water, so I sometimes try a spice mixture to bring out different notes in the rum. I haven't hit on any magic combinations yet, but it'll happen sooner or later. If I don't get totally sick of allspice and nutmeg, that is.
You, my good internet friends, have left me in a posting pickle. Everyone who weighed in on my last post asked for something different in the way of fluffy posts, so I'm back to throwing darts blindfolded to decide. For no good reason, here is my first distraction post.
So first of all, I am not a hardcore Tolkien fan, nor am I a rigid purist about film adaptations of books. I don't always agree with the choices that Peter Jackson made in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I mostly understand the artistic motivations behind those choices. (One notable exception: this fucking ridiculous invention.)
I do, however, recognize naked greed when I see it. The Hobbit is a one-film book — two at the very most, and even that is stretching it, if you ask me. It's artistically unconscionable to bloat the thing into a trilogy. The Hobbit is a neat little children's tale: my copy numbers 330 pages, and that's in comfortably large "read me a bedtime story" print. Sure, there are occasional plot holes, and Tolkien didn't spend nearly so much time working out the inner lives of the characters as he did in his later works, but when was the last time you picked up a story written to entertain children that had airtight plot consistency and rich psychological portraits of the characters? There's simply no need to spend more than six hours of screen time telling the story.
(And let's be fair here: The Hobbit is hardly artistically shallow. I'd never have noticed it when I was a kid, but as an overeducated damned intellectual a grown man who knows a little history, I'm intrigued to see the moments in which Bilbo Baggins seems to speak Tolkien's personal feelings about warfare. This is a subject for a post of its own, but for all his Nordic hero-worship and his racist, Orientalist mentality, Tolkien was also a veteran of WWI who knew first-hand how awful war really was, and how far from epic valor day-to-day soldier's life was. Sam Gamgee fills the same sort of role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.)
But that's a general critique of the entire concept of a trilogy of Hobbit films. The matter at hand is the currently screening travesty, The Desolation of Smaug.
First of all, I'll give them this much: Smaug looks more convincing than I expected, even though I can no longer be intimidated by CGI anything. I kind of feel like they should have let Benedict Cumberbatch just work out the voice on his own instead of altering it digitally, but there's a lot of unfortunate historical precedent for using some goofy echo effect on a dragon's voice. He's not a bad job, on the whole.
Just about everything else, though, was a fucking joke. I mean, damn. I can start with one complaint and let the chain spring thence naturally.
TAURIEL. Okay, I get it, Tolkien wasn't much for female characters, and they want girls to go see this film, too. I was willing to tolerate this thinking when they gave the literary Glorfindel's lines and plot functions to the cinematic Arwen; after all, in an epic story that size, there has to be some conglomeration and telescoping if you don't want a sixteen-hour piece of cinema. And, you know, Arwen actually exists in the books. But inventing a whole new character who has no function in the extant plot? Tacky.
You know what else is tacky? Inventing an utterly ridiculous romantic subplot between an elf and a dwarf in a story that depends on elves and dwarves distrusting each other and never really bridging the gap outside of battle scenarios. (See my previous complaint.) You wanna see elves and dwarves learn to trust and care for each other? Read The Lord of the Rings! (Or fuck, I dunno, watch Jackson's LotR trilogy.) Yes, Evangeline Lilly and Aidan Turner are hot, but it's already cheating to let Turner run around in the films looking like his movie-star-handsome self. Where's the huge dwarvish beard, dude? Oh, right, that would get in the way of you looking all pouty and cute. And since elves are apparently incapable of growing facial hair, one has to assume that Tauriel wouldn't be into anyone with more than a five-o'-clock shadow.
Speaking of which: what the fuck is the use of inventing a second romantic subplot with Tauriel? Do elven kingdoms always have such lopsided sex statistics that there's only one female in sight among dozens of dudes?
Oh wait, I forgot: that provides you with an excuse to throw in Legolas, since everyone liked him in the last trilogy, even though I'm pretty sure that Tolkien didn't even begin to create the character until The Hobbit was already in print.
And oh yeah, there's also the convenient heterosexuality that you can drape on Legolas that way. Don't think I haven't noticed the way that the producers are styling and promoting the film in distinctly macho, heteronormative ways. Perhaps they were disquieted by the slow-building friendship between Legolas and Gimli in the first trilogy, uninterrupted by any female character. (Tolkien's assumptions of wartime camaraderie and general homosociality are no doubt puzzling to many younger readers and, especially, viewers.)
(Sidebar 1: I like to think that the last three problems hint at the producers' fears that without the presence of Evangeline Lilly, Legolas and Kili would somehow end up having desperate, furtive sex in a corner of the Woodland Elves' realm, and they had to butch things up to please their audience. Or the audience's parents, at any rate. Sidebar 2: Cue a new generation of gay slash/fic starring Legolas and Kili...NOW!)
All of which is pretty weird in light of the film's seeming insistence that every elf besides Legolas and Tauriel act campy enough to be an extra in The Birdcage. The vocal tone and body language that Lee Pace uses as Thranduil makes me think of nothing so much as Andreas Voutsinas in History of the World, Part I.
I dislike Jackson's choice to make a bigger deal of the Arkenstone than Tolkien himself did, but I get it. I acknowledge that Tolkien's plotting of the burglary and wealth-recovery operation was on the thin side, and that people might start to wonder what the hell a bunch of nitwit dwarves and one hobbit planned to do to get that stuff home. (In the book, this exact concern becomes a plot device; I suspect Tolkien was banking on small children not thinking this far ahead.) Obsessing about a single crucial McGuffin is definitely easier for Hollywood-trained viewers to understand.
But then what am I to make of Gandalf apparently losing his goddamn mind and telling Thorin, "take back your homeland," when he knows perfectly well that Thorin has only the aforementioned bunch of nitwit dwarves and one hobbit as the vanguard? The movie only worsens a problem that Tolkien originated: that there is no sane reason to select Bilbo as the company burglar, except the mysterious charisma of the reluctant/cowardly hero. If Gandalf is as smart as everyone says, then surely he could do something other than to send this pack of chuckleheads off to steal from a humongous dragon.
The revamp of the Master of Lake-Town as a despotic unelected tyrant, rather than a canny businessman elected by his fellows like he is in the book, is fucking stupid. I feel insulted by this entire subplot.
The addition of Bard's little children worrying about being killed is even stupider.
It's totally bananas that a bunch of orcs are able to raid Lake-Town, get ambushed by elves, and have an entire guerrilla battle without any residents noticing.
WTF Kili gets shot!? There shouldn't have been a battle at that point in the story anyway!! Why oh why are you sidetracking yourself with this idiotic subplot? Oh, that's right: it's an excuse to put Evangeline Lilly back in frame. I get it now.
I reluctantly come to the conclusion that the only actor doing a better job than Benedict Cumberbatch in this film is Richard Armitage. How he's managing this, I have no idea.
It kills me to admit it, but much of the original plot in the latter half of the book is so poorly thought out on its own terms that Peter Jackson may well have decided that he had to do something about it, and if that's the case, then why not sex it up with battles and desperate political struggles and, um, sex? Kills me, I tell you.
I'm pretty much too depressed by the moribund state of my job hunt to blog about it. I made it through my stupid little January term course, so now I have all of four days to enjoy before the Spring semester begins. I want to write about something, anything other than my fear of professional failure and depression, but it's hard to get going. I'm hoping that presenting a small poll to my readers will help to focus the next few posts, assuming nothing earth-shattering happens to intrude. Give me a good fluffy topic to write about!
What should I write about? What would you like to read about?
I'm feeling stymied. More job rejections have come in, I'm back to scouring the internet for one-year positions, and I have to teach three courses this spring with a smile on my face while having no idea if I will have any living in six months' time. I have an article to revise and resubmit, a book review to write, and new articles to prepare. At some point this spring, I will have to have my book indexed, if the press ever gets around to sending me the galleys.
And I can't make myself do any of it. I'm starting to feel like the butt of a cosmic joke. If having years' worth of teaching experience at name-brand universities and a single-author monograph to my name can't even get me a campus interview, then what the hell is the point of any of this? I feel like I'm being made to jump through hoops that don't even matter. I have more expenses every year, including some family members who are increasingly dependent on us young'uns. My savings would be obliterated in short order if I had to move to some other state just to look for work. I can't afford not to work. Why is the universe jerking me around like this?
It's too disheartening to think about for long. Easier to think of Shakespeare and pretend that someone besides me gives a shit about my petty problems and my not-so-petty existential fears.
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.
Is there a more pleasant alternate universe that I could get transferred to? This one is getting me down just now.
Good grief, but I am tired. It's been an utterly miserable few days here for weather, as everyone knows from the constant news reports. I now consider 20ºF to be balmy and pleasant, after several days of -15º to -5º. I've been on an online shopping binge for heavy weather clothing: boots, sweaters, socks, wool pants. I'm considering browsing the sites for nice long underwear. (This may or may not be a cry for help. I'll see what the going prices are.)
I'm additionally dragged out from playing host to a friend who just moved to the area and pleaded to come stay with me until the deep freeze and snow had passed — zi was terrified by the prospect of being snowed in when zi had no internet and, really, no local contacts as yet in case of emergencies. The upshot of this was two high-strung, stir-crazy people eating too much, drinking too much, and eventually getting into bizarre fights. I am heartily sick of hosting, maybe even more so than I am sick of this fucking winter weather.
But I am free now, and can enjoy the solitude of my apartment as an asset. Plus, tomorrow is the first day of my stupid little January term course, so I'll be getting out of the house regularly for work purposes. I'd actually be thrilled to be going to campus tomorrow, if it weren't for the frightening road conditions between here and there. I drove to the supermarket this afternoon to replenish my locust-despoiled post-visit refrigerator, and it was honestly scary. My little Beetle has some good qualities, but road-worthiness in snowy, icy weather is not among them. I got stuck once in snow too deep for my wheels to get traction, and I was fishtailing at little about 40% of the time thereafter, even at 20 mph. I've never been so exhausted by quick trip to the grocery store.
On the plus side, a colleague with a sturdy all-wheel drive vehicle has kindly agreed to take me to and from campus tomorrow, so I don't have to fear dying on the road before I even start teaching this calendar year. I'm hoping that Cornstate will get its act together and have the roads properly cleared off for Friday's commute, for my poor car's sake.
Enough of this f-ed-up winter vacation. Get me back to the office!