Sunday, December 27, 2009

In which Prof. Koshary says something besides complaints

I must admit, I feel pretty good this morning.  After giving myself the day off on Christmas to do the traditional thing -- go out for dim sum, and then watch movies at home all day -- I got back to work yesterday, and cranked out four pages of new material.  Everyone who has ever stared at a blank word processor page and wondered how to get started knows how awesome it feels to put down multiple pages in a single writing session.  As so often happens with me, I managed it partly by bribing myself: I was feeling a little stir-crazy at home, so I went to a coffeehouse and spent nearly ten dollars on fancy-pants mochas.  In terms of my budget, my uncertain income, and my hypertension, such an expenditure makes no sense.  But in terms of writing four pages in three hours, I'd say the expense justifies itself.

Associated points to note, in tangential connection with the movies I rented and things I have cooked lately:
  1. I have to note my disappointment with the script and directorial sensibility in Almodóvar's Todo sobre mi madre.  Maybe I haven't watched enough Douglas Sirk movies, but I couldn't appreciate the loving parody sort of thing that Almodóvar seems to be going for.  I know this will sound like heresy to people, but the more I thought about it, the more the plot seemed just as contrived, ridiculous, and secondary to the movie's conception as in Kill Bill.  (I rented all of these films in one batch.)  A bunch of affecting and lovable characters is no better to my mind than a bunch of vicious, badass characters, if there's really no reason to watch them do stuff for two hours.  Oh, and Don Pedro?  That ending was bullshit.
  2. I'm having lots of fun but only modest success so far in preparing recipes from an awesome cookbook I got recently: Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  I strongly suspect that stainless steel cookware is not ideal for many of these recipes, especially since they're so often home-cooking recipes confided to Roden.  If my kitchen were a little bit a whole lot bigger, I might consider investing in a piece or two of cast iron, which I suspect is a lot more common in Middle Eastern kitchens than stainless steel.  On the other hand, authenticity may not always be a virtue for me: I'm damn near convinced that I cannot use olive oil as a cooking fat, due to its smoking point.  Am I doing something wrong?  I have to heat my stainless steel pan for a bit, since it's on the heavy side, then put in whatever cooking fat, and then add the food.  This almost inevitably yields burned food, sometimes so badly burned that it sticks to the pan and breaks a tiny piece of my heart as I scrub it off into the garbage disposal.  I've just about completely switched to canola oil for a cooking fat in recipes made in a frying pan or skillet, but since traditional Middle Eastern cuisine only knows olive oil and clarified butter as cooking fats, I have to think that I'm doing something wrong.
  3. Apropos of point #2, I have cooked sub-par breakfast dishes so many days in a row that I may have to flee to a diner for breakfast today.  I'm going to try to parlay the outing into another motivational bribe meal for writing purposes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A helping hand to whom?

Dear Old University nearly made me lose my voice all over again yesterday.  I'm in an MA/PHD program, which means that, since I earned my MA a few years ago, I'm now on the list of alumni who can be called to solicit donations.  They hire (generally well-meaning but clueless) undergrads to do this work, and it's usually a simple matter to explain to them that I'm still in school myself, and that I'm not in a position to donate to DOU.  Yesterday, though, I was called by an egghead who thought that emphasizing the important programs in and out of my own college was the way to open my wallet.  This is after I had explained to her that I'm still a doctoral student, and that I am currently on DOU's chopping block, since they're trying to trim costs by cornholing grad students who need TAships.  I was perfectly polite explaining all of this, since I know that undergrads rarely know anything about the economics of grad school.  And when I had explained all of this, she still tried to dun me for money, even when she should have been able to see that DOU is itself the only source of income I possess, and thus that asking for a donation was like asking for a kickback. 

Since I'm currently on a waitlist (again) for a TAship, when I've been a highly productive (and, dare I say it, lucrative and prestigious) student for DOU all through my years here, and the university is simultaneously claiming to be strongly invested in research and graduate education, and it is plainly obscene to ask that I give to the university at large when the only department that can count on full funding is the goddamned football team....well, I blew up.  I consider it an act of tremendous self-control that I did not use vituperative language.  I merely explained at high decibels that I could not believe that she kept on spieling for my money, and that I wanted my name struck from the potential donor list, and that I would not give anything, and that I did not want them to call me ever again.

Since I wouldn't say this to her on the phone, I'll vent here: I have to suspect that she's in our College of Education, because they're the only ones who are so reliable stupid and intellectually bereft as to think that they can sell me on a donation when I'm being rogered by DOU.  Aaargh.

Does anyone have a snappier way to shut up dunning calls than my flailing efforts?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It all comes to nothing

Okay, the title is too strong, perhaps, but I'm annoyed anyway: I have a chest cold that's migrating into my head, despite all my careful attempts to avoid illness at this oh-so-critical period of career prep.  Writing a blog entry is a merciful release for me at the moment, since my throat is so sore and mucus-ridden that I can barely croak, much less talk.  I think I'm approaching overdose levels of echinacea tea; I'm already down to my last bag.  I'd love to make myself some soup -- I've even made my grandmother's recipe for chicken soup before -- but I feel too lousy to hazard getting bundled up to go to the supermarket.

The timing is, of course, brilliant, since I not only have the continuing whirlwind of job applications to crank out, but end-of-semester grading as well.  I blew off my students' papers all week, because I just couldn't bear the thought of reading their banal ideas in their insipid prose when I could be doing something more important to my career advancement.  (There, I said it.)  This, naturally, has now bitten me in the ass, since I need to get them all graded by tomorrow so that the primary instructor can submit final grades.  There's no fucking way I can do all of this tonight and still finish the postdoc app I'm working on; I'll have to spend an indefinite number of hours tomorrow poring over the papers, after I submit the postdoc.

I should explain that being ill does nothing positive for my outlook, which is why I feel particularly snippy toward the students papers as a drag on my time.  Really, they could be worse, in the sense that the assignment itself is highly personalized: they had to do some research on their own families, and explain this, that and the other thing about them.  It's kind of hard to screw that up, though lord knows some of them will manage.  In general, I imagine that almost all of them will end up with something in the A range; it's not like I can go back to the sources and say they misheard what Grandma told them.  I'm expecting/fearing that a few of my most slack-inclined students will have treated this as yet another paper to bang out three hours before deadline, which means that I'll have to wade through pages of nonsense, written incoherently, until I can establish which grade the paper merits.  So far, though, it's been much better than the first paper they had to write.  That one was agonizing to plow through.

I could go on whining about the length of the research proposal this fellowship wants, but I doubt anyone wants to hear it; hell, I don't want to hear it.  I should just buckle down and figure out how to say more without going off-topic. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The long, hard winter to come

I'm hunkering down for a brutal wintertime.  I spent an hour waiting in line yesterday so I could get an H1N1 flu shot (got the seasonal months ago), since I have been warned that the last thing while I'm trawling the job market is to be laid low by the flu for a week and a half.  I've heard horror stories of people's entire careers being stalled out for a year, because they were too ill to pursue job applications and interviews.  None of that for me, thank you.  The shot comes none too soon; it's near freezing temperatures today, although this region of the US is certainly not known for cold.  If we're already seeing weather like this in early December, I suspect that the season is going to run roughshod over us.

I guess I should explain just what I'm doing, anyway.  I'm a doctoral candidate in an unnamed (on this blog) social science discipline, hell-bent on completing my dissertation in time to graduate in May 2010.  I'm also hell-bent on finding an academic job to follow graduation.  The reasons for this intensity of focus are several, but I can sum it up roughly with the following: the economy sucks balls.  As one of the more advanced (read: I've been around a long time) grad students in my department, I am no longer a likely candidate for internal financial aid (read: TAship), and one can hardly plan to win a big writing grant.  Plus, with the economy choking and sputtering as it has been lately, Dear Old University is pressuring all of its departments very hard to shrink their budgets.  Personally, I suspect that this whole cost-cutting pressure is bullshit, but that's a long post of its own.  Suffice it to say that nearly all of the counsel I've received from professors is that I should get out of here while I can, before I'm saddled with unreimbursed and unsupported tuition costs, loss of health insurance, and a general sense of doom.

Of course, that means that I'll soon be turned loose into the most frightening academic job market that anyone can remember.  I'm trying to think positively about this, on the theory that I work well under pressure, and that hard times force a person to think creatively about how to get by.  I also know, though, that theory and praxis do not always mesh.  Stay positive, I know, stay positive.  Sigh.  Frankly, I put more store by the fact that my work has relevance to the United States' engagement with a part of the world that, frankly, we're pretty stupid about.  (Those readers who comprehend my nom de blog will guess where that is.)  Area studies have their failings, no doubt, but if they can help secure me employment, then that's fine with me.

This means that I'll be pretty damn busy during the winter break, when most graduate students can ease up enough to go visit family, take a little vacation, or at least kick back and watch movies while drinking wine at home.  I can't complain too much about that, though; better to busy, I suppose, than indolent and at a loss for what to do with myself.  It would be nice, in fact, if I were super-busy jetting around to campus interviews and so forth; that would be fantastic.  I probably shouldn't get my hopes too high for that, since at the conference I just attended, there were a disappointingly low turnout of interviewers.  To wit: I have applied so far to positions at 26 institutions.  Of those, three of them sent an interviewer to the discipline-wide annual conference.  And of those three, one of them actually was interested in interviewing me.  One.  I'm grateful that they did, but jeez, this numbers game is demoralizing.

I've put on a third layer of clothing so I don't catch a chill in my apartment.  Time to hit the job applications again.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


The time has come, like the Walrus said, to talk of many things. We all need a release valve for some parts of our lives that aggravate or obsess us, but we don't always have the right people handy for a private conversation. Worse, we often have exactly the wrong people to hand: the ones who are implicated or involved in matters we'd like to vent about. I've seen some excellent academic blogs, and I've become a fan of the medium, when it's well executed. It seems a fruitful way to have a conversation about frustrating issues without taking the political heat for it. Since this requires my anonymity, you won't hear much in the way of personal biographical details or identifying names. I get worn out trying to invent good pseudonyms for everyone, but I'll do my best for you. (Assuming that there is a 'you' reading this.)

I'm currently so exhausted from my recent excursion to one of the big annual conferences that I think I need to go back to bed right now, but I'll start posting questions and rants thought pieces soon. If I'm lucky, there will follow some good discussion, if and when other academics find the time to read and comment.