Friday, December 24, 2010

Say what?

I cannot go into detail here, but there appears to be a little bit of forward movement with my application for the job at Random-Ass University.  I can't help but be surprised every time I find another correspondence from them in my inbox.  It's all so strange and hard to read, although I'm beginning to put a few elements together of how the committee is thinking.  Too early to tell if I'm right, though.

Anyway, I'm pleased!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

DADT repeal: also kind of a big f*cking deal

Let us now toll the death knell for Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  I am not a scholar of the US gay rights movement, and am not positioned to say how significant of a milestone this is in that history.  It seems to me, though, like a big fucking deal, to borrow Joe Biden's health care quip.  I am no militarist, and have a laundry list of objections to how the United States government thinks it should deploy its military power in various parts of the world.  But I'm also realistic enough to see that the fact that great military strength and powerful economic and political motivations to throw weight around cannot be made to heel simply by saying "We don't like war and want to stay as far away from its instruments as possible."  And, for a number of reasons both so obvious and so personal that I see no reason to detail them here, I find it absurd and dangerous to say, no matter the rationale, that some perfectly capable, willing, and eligible US citizens should be forbidden to join the armed forces voluntarily.

A comment that Tenured Radical once made – I'm too lazy to search her archives for the precise link at the moment, sorry* – rang very true for me: the desire to forward political aims by staying away from military service is in some ways a class privilege that not everyone shares.  For a lot of young people without many economic (or, for that matter, social) opportunities, military service has long been a way out of otherwise dreary prospects.  Yes, that brings up good questions about race, class, and the composition of the armed forces, but that is the case nonetheless.  Sheer probability dictates that a proportional number of those recruits are queer — I was about to write GLBT, but I suppose the T there is a bit more unlikely in this particular context.  Some kids have more than one really good reason to want to get the hell out of their dead-end town, is it not so? 

I acknowledge that this seems less of a step forward if you are intent on seeing military service as a cannon fodder factory, and a grimly cynical way of disposing of Americans of comparatively low social status.  In the context of the misbegotten current US engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can understand this concern.  But this ignores the fact that the bulk of the US population, to say nothing of the military itself, regards service personnel as intrinsically valuable (or, if you prefer, high-status) people who personify a host of positive qualities, not least of which is a spirit of self-sacrifice in the service of the country's welfare.  Given that a lot of gay and lesbian teens who have been literally and metaphorically kicked around lack a sense that others around them value them, that others around them consider them worth having around, it seems plain to me that those who are equipped to do so might consider joining up, even at the cost of having to talk about pretend SOs or switching the gender pronouns for real SOs.  They probably had to do a lot worse than that just to get through their day in their youth.

The benefits of joining the military are no doubt that much greater if you have the chance to become an officer: more money (not a lot, but still), more status, more opportunity to rise even further.  Don't underestimate the attraction of that possibility to anyone who believes, rightly or not, that other status-advancing career paths are not open to them.  That's why we often associate the armed forces with blue-collar backgrounds: nowadays, there are simply more people from such backgrounds than those from elite military-caste families (like, um, John McCain) who are on hand to staff the military, and have some compelling reason to do so.  The US Army is a lot bigger than its West Point alumni; the Navy bigger than its Annapolis grads, and so on. 

And jeez, it's not as though there aren't queer military personnel training in elite officer colleges, either.  If you want to lecture officer-students about the implications of their career choices in terms of US foreign policy and so on, go ahead.  But don't tell the gay and lesbian ones among them that they should either hide their sexualities, or that they should simply avoid the military.  Such avoidance only reinforces the discrimination and lends weight to bigots' assertions that non-hetero people just shouldn't be around, no matter how they dress up that assertion with claims of military readiness and unit discipline.  That's a much larger claim than just 'in the military' — as has been observed elsewhere, queer youth hear the larger message of "We don't want you around in the first place" within the seemingly milder claim of "We don't want you in this particular position." 

I do not doubt that, at least at first, there will be an upsurge in hazing and gay-bashing in the ranks.  Ending DADT means that queer military personnel need not misrepresent their sexual orientation in social situations.  (Presumably, they need not represent their sexual orientation at all from now on, in official contexts.)  And openness about that will, I fear, lead to some backlash among the more bigoted and hateful in the ranks.  But the same thing happened, I would think – by all means, fact-check me if you have the history at your fingertips – when the military ended racial segregation, and yet the military did not collapse in an orgy of racial violence.  Plus, a big component of gay-bashing and bullying in such institutions relies on the implicit understanding that the object of the bullying cannot lodge a full complaint with superiors, because they are not 'supposed' to be gay in the first place and thus could only indict themselves.  Removing that official stigma won't wipe out prejudice and bullying altogether, but it will, I suspect, sap a lot of what fuels the bullying.

Finally, I want to declare my distaste for the desire to keep the armed forces segregated, whether spoken out of radical leftist politics or right-wing quasi-religious politics.  The United States is going to have a large professional military, whether you like that idea or not.  It has become an unavoidable reality for our country.  Critiquing where the military goes and at whom it shoots is an equally valid and necessary part of our body politic, but expressing the desire that people would simply no longer join up – as if we were discussing a boycott of a brand of shampoo – is a stupid and dangerous fantasy.  It's not stupid or dangerous because the military could be left too short-handed to defend our borders.  (That would be the fantasy part, there.)  It's stupid and dangerous because it leaves the military personnel with the belief that some people either are above military service or beneath it.  That builds both class-based resentment among serving personnel against those who can choose a less physically dangerous career and gender-based hatred of those who are deemed innately incapable of doing a job that has nothing to do with sexual orientation, and thereby creates a bullying atmosphere that feeds on itself and its own obsessions with validating the worth of military personnel at the expense of someone else.  I can tell you with great personal and professional authority that I do not want to live in a country where only 'those people' are in the military, no matter what the term might include or exclude.

I take no joy in seeing my government accepting convicted violent felons into the army for lack of better recruits who meet the stupid 'not openly gay' criterion.  The fact that the US Army thought it made more sense to recruit a man with a history of using firearms in pursuit of criminal activity than a man with sterling credentials, the capability to lead soldiers well and judiciously, and happened to have a boyfriend is head-slappingly frightening to me, and indicates how far down the wrong path the military was already going.  Rest assured that decisions like that would not have made it any easier for critics of US military engagements and foreign policy to persuade the military to exercise restraint or forbearance in its conduct at home or abroad.

RIP DADT.  I'm glad to see it go and I'm not ashamed to say it.

*ETA: I can't find TR's comment on this to save my life: I think it may have been a response comment, rather than a post of its own.  In any case, she has since written her own post on the DADT repeal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Don't wanna, don't wanna: Research Edition

A rant is coming on, I fear.  It's becoming clear to me that, despite my fervent wishes, I'll have to spend a lot of time reading and thinking about Someone Else's Subject.  I phrase it that way because that's kind of how I think of it, and why I wanted to avoid it.  I think my primary research is fascinating, thank you very much, and I'm not about to drop it or anything crazy like that.  But I'm finally admitting to myself that I cannot competently present a thorough analysis of Koshary's Favorite Subject without taking into account its many links subtle and obvious with SES.

This sucks because I find that SES is pretty much done to death.  A lot of very fine scholars have devoted serious attention to SES for years – decades, even – and that's bully for them.  Hell, some of my favorite books in my larger area of pseudology are on SES; the better ones have been instrumental in my thinking on KFS.  I'm glad those works are out there; I still refer to them often.

< rant>
But give it a fucking rest, people!  SES is well studied, well known, well understood, and yet people still trip over their own feet running to do yet another motherfucking study on that shit.  Seriously?  Do you think that if you turn that entire boatload of data on its side or look at it through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars or something, you're really going to reinvent some wheel or other?  Uh, no.  No.  It's not going to happen.  And if you're not an increasingly senior scholar pursuing follow-up research to the stuff you started doing a long time ago, you do not impress me.  Every scholar at the doctoral level who thinks that somehow they will magically create a piece of research worth having because "I take SES and examine it critically [they always inflect this word heavily in conversation, as if they're the motherfucking Star Child who has just invented critical thinking where every previous scholar in Earth's history has missed this concept] by using Body of Theory I Read About in Seminar Last Semester" makes me want to fling a hot cup of coffee in their faces.  It feels disturbingly to me like that Xtranormal video where the wannabe grad student says "I will write smart things about death in literature."  NO, YOU WON'T.
< /rant>

All of which to say, it's really burning my toast to admit to myself that my research on KFS will not only be stronger if I address SES directly – instead of just citing the good publications in the background lit review – but that my work might actually lack legitimacy without SES worked into it.  Fuck.  I will admit that there is a certain lazy attraction in some aspects of SES research; I mean, gee, would so many shallow idiots try (and, usually fail) to scrounge a project out of it if it didn't seem really, really easy on the surface?  But the stuff I'll need to do is neither easy nor interesting, at least not to me.  It's actually dead boring and tedious.  When I was a bit less thoroughly knowledgeable about KFS – one might even say a trifle ignorant – I occasionally positioned KFS to colleagues as at base distinct from and only analogously similar to SES, rather than essentially connected in a variety of ways.  On one memorable occasion, I made this argument to an assemblage of potential colleagues, whose shocked reaction, as I flattered myself, was due entirely to their being unable to process the awesomeness and critical perspicacity of my thinking.  Hmm.  Maybe that's why I didn't get that job.

So I'm steeling myself to leap into this SES portion of my research, since being set up in Research City and all gives me the perfect opportunity to do that.  It's just a colossal pain in the ass.  But, when I contemplate the kind of nasty, sarcastic opprobrium that I will genuinely deserve if I try to publish my work with no serious discussion of SES, I quail.  Once you admit to yourself that your work will be fundamentally bad without doing something, you have to do it.

Oh, and here is something trivial for me to whine about, after all: the weather has sucked lately in Research City.  Ugh.  The sky was the color of an early 1970s shag rug today.  Picture the sky being colored like the ugly-blond-wood half of the décor in the Brady Bunch house.  I am not pleased.  I think I need to go shopping for a few winterizing household items; I'm getting tired of wearing socks to bed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interview success (I think)

My freakishly inexplicable phone interview ended up going about as well as it could have, I think.  I mean, given the fact that I am inescapably an outlying candidate for the avowed nature of the hire.  I took the advice of my good readers, and ducked the awkwardness as long as I could, emphasizing how good I am at what I actually do.  I even had clever ideas about teaching grad students and research integration, if I say so myself.  And I summoned the bravery to ask the committee if they had anything they were holding back about asking me, which successfully drew out the question: " do you see yourself fitting into our department's desire for a Thursday-purple-hat-wearing, Latvian-transsexual-dating Statistician-cum-Damn Liar?"

Well, I had to field it some time, didn't I?  And I think I fielded it as honestly and yet as self-promotingly as I could manage.  Don't know if that's sufficient, but that's all I could do.  Given that I was always on the verge of throwing up my hands and saying that I was a preposterously strange candidate for this job and couldn't fathom how an entire hiring committee could sit down to talk to me about it without laughing, that's something.

I feel a bit more confident about the other phone interview I recently had.  (Yes, two phone interviews already!  Took me much longer to get that far in last year's job cycle!)  That one was much more oriented toward what I do without the need for semantic acrobatics, so I felt like I had something of a home court advantage.  I know, it's insane for an unemployed new Ph.D. to have any such feeling, but that's the best way to put it.  I knew the terrain well.  It felt good, and I felt like I acquitted myself quite well.

Nothing to do for the moment but put them both out of my mind, assume that I'll never hear from either one again, and press on with the applications.  I've knocked out everything due in 2010, so I can start working almost a full month ahead of things.  (Except for all the letters that my referees are sending absurdly late, but whatever!  Par for the course, right?)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Being a good kid

A friend of mine who quit smoking after over ten years of being a smoker told me that what annoyed hir the most was that, shortly after zi quit, and zi was dithering in addiction-influenced uncertainty about whether or not to go back to it, zi noticed that zi actually felt better: more lung capacity, less lethargy in the latter part of the day, etc.  It irritated hir to admit that zi was actually happier and healthier not smoking, because of course that meant zi had to stick to it.

I know the feeling.  For the second day in a row, I got up earlier than I wanted to, and made myself sit down at the computer with a fresh pot of coffee and write.  No shower, no changing out of my pajamas, lest I feel ready to present myself publicly and hit the streets/walk away from my work.  No dithering for half an hour thinking, "What would I like to eat for breakfast?" before throwing on some clothes (see above) and going shopping/out for breakfast.  And – this is key – no turning on my internet for at least an hour.

Result?  The manuscript chapter I'm working on at present has more than doubled in size over the last two mornings.  I'm pretty happy about it, except for the inescapable conclusion that I am more productive when I wake up early than when I sleep in.  Which kinda sucks.  'Cause I love sleeping in.  But I guess that's not what research postdocs are for, are they?

I'll sleep when I'm tenured.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ornery pseudologist

I had one of those meetings that never seems to end yesterday.  Not the administrative kind, but the one-on-one encounter kind, where you just don't know how you'll get away.  It ran over five hours, and my brain was pretty well shut off by the end.  I may have need of this contact at some point in the future, so I tried my best to be polite and deferential.  Somewhere around the fourth hour of conversation, I kicked deference out the window and replaced it with the arrogance of the university-trained postdoctoral scholar.  I should be a little sorry for this, but I'm not.  He deserved to hear a few things that no one else around here will tell him.  I hung on to politeness, but just barely.  I'm really grateful for that Ph.D.; it gives me a surprising amount of street cred here in Research City.

This is kind of how I operate, I've found.  I can't be one of those people who keep their mouths shut at all times while collecting data, and simply smile and nod and occasionally ask a question of clarification.  I make my interlocutors back up what they say.  I argue with them, I disagree with them, I occasionally may or may not tell them that I think their ideas are dangerous and counterproductive.  I sometimes wonder if I'm doing research all wrong, or if I just have a very different approach than has the ordinary pseudologist.  I also wonder what my colleagues will say at the conferences, once my papers and talks make clear what an ornery SOB I am.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I think I have walked into a job-hunting disaster in the making.  Way back at the very beginning of this academic year's job cycle, I applied for a job at Random-Ass University.  I applied only because it was the start of the cycle and I was fearful that this year would have so few openings that to neglect any was to hurt my own career in an immediate and scary way.  I was unimpressed with the job, the location, and even RAU itself to a degree.  The job, to be perfectly frank, makes only a modest amount of sense for me at best.  Let me see if I can explain.

So, I'm a pseudologist.  In real life, there are many sub-disciplines of my field, but for the moment, let us hew to Mark Twain's parsing of pseudology as comprised of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.  (Statisticians reading this blog, please don't jump down my throat.  It's all in good fun.)  Let us say, for hypothetical purposes, that I am a Damn Liar.  Well, in that case, RAU is in search of a good Damn Liar who moonlights as a Statistician, wears funky purple hats on Thursdays, can sing the entire Englebert Humperdinck songbook from memory, and only dates transsexual Latvians.

(My metaphor is clearly inadequate to this task, but one can only ask so much of a pseudonymous blogging identity, you know?)

Point being, it's not that it's impossible for me to fill all the desired criteria, given the proper circumstances.  However, the odds of that happening are really, really unlikely.

So I was pretty much shocked as hell when RAU got back to me and requested a telephone interview.

What in heaven's name am I supposed to say to these people?  Is there any way for me to sound enthusiastic about trying to re-package myself as the ideal candidate?  I mean, jeez, I don't even like the location of RAU, and I'm applying to jobs in some pretty out of the way and not-so-hot places to live.  And, without casting any aspersions on Joey Jojo Junior Shabadoo who fits the job description to a T and is no doubt reading this blog with rising indignation, I don't want to be that candidate.  If it didn't seem positively absurd in the current job market, my preference would be to tell them candidly on the phone
  • that I am a far cry from what they're looking for;
  • that I have not the slightest intention of morphing into a purple-hatted, Humperdinck-singin', Latvian transsexual-datin' Statistician for anyone;
  • but that if they want me as I am and the ideal candidate has yet to appear, then they are welcome to consider me on my own genuine merits.
In a perfect world, I would then burst into a chorus of "I am what I am" with full backing orchestration.  So come take a look/Give me the hook/Or the ovation...

Ahem.  So, I really have no fucking idea what I'm going to say when this interview rolls around.  A part of me honestly wonders if the entire telephone interview isn't RAU's passive-aggressive way of saying "Fuck you for wasting our time; now we can waste yours!"  Do schools ever do that?  Is it conceivable that they would go to this trouble for someone who is almost certainly an outlying candidate, rather than an obvious short-lister?  I feel kind of like RAU is pranking me with this whole business.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Workin' on Turkey Day

Thanksgiving Day, being the secular national holiday that it is, is not only deeply resonant for most Americans, but totally irrelevant to almost everyone else.  Here in Research City, no one gives a crap besides American expats, and the beat goes on as usual.  Good thing, too: my Blackberry is acting all screwed up today, and I need to run over to the store and see if they can beat some sense into the thing.

Meanwhile, I tried and failed to submit a job application due very soon, because something else is screwed up with the login process.  And the small children who live either above or below me (I hear them through the inner windows, so I'm not sure) appear to have only two utterances at their disposal: crying and shrieking like enraged air-raid sirens.  How these two children could possibly think themselves so miserable all of the time in a country that absolutely fawns on small children is beyond me.

And, of course, it's Thanksgiving today.  This evening, I'll be having dinner with some good friends at their house.  And I shall feel deeply and sincerely thankful for that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Going local, going global

As is my way with beverage consumption, I'm taking the opposite tack of what I did earlier in the day.  I had a brutal late morning of big-box store shopping, and my nerves were hanging by a thread by the time I got home.  I felt the appropriate thing to do was to have a beer.

To understand the implications of this act, you, dear reader, must put several facts together.
Fact #1: All the beer in my apartment is packaged in 500ml cans.
Fact #2: Some of the aforementioned beer is 4% ABV, but some of it is 10%.
Fact #3: I had one of the 10% 500ml cans.

Very little has happened in the hours since that beer was cracked open.  But, since the torpor has worn off, I flipped to the opposite end of the potables spectrum and brewed some coffee.  (Side note: I just found out today how to say "brewed coffee" in RC-ish.  I never missed the phrase before, because most coffee shops around here deal almost exclusively in a single kind of coffee preparation, and such specification is unnecessary.)  So now, since it's a weekend evening and I have absolutely zero desire to work on these miserable job applications, I'm treating myself: I have given myself leave to work on my book manuscript without fretting about the applications coming due at the end of the month.  Yay...procrastination?

So as I puzzle over which bits of my dissertation can be beaten into a new and pleasingly bookish shape, I have both the local (the specifics of my research) and the global (the analytical implications thereof) in mind.  Why, that sounded like a musical cue!  Gogol Bordello, take it away!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cartoon summary

In my head, this is how my last blog post and its comment responses went in summary:

Obviously, my graphic style needs some work, and I have to figure out the relative size of text for the bubbles.

And, uh...thanks, everyone.  :D

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Proposal. Help. Please.

I feel like a deer in headlights right now.  The book editor I've been in contact with wrote to me and asked for a full book proposal.  We tend to see months go by between emails, so I don't imagine that this means "by the end of the next weekend," but it seems to me that the responsible thing to do, having described my project in a bit of detail already for Editor, is to email a proper book proposal, rather than an email stalling for time.  My postdoc, after all, affords me writing time that I may not see again for a while.

It's times like this that I envy Roman Catholics for their nifty oaths for times of stress: Jesus, Mary and Joseph!  Holy mother of God!  

All I can think right now is: Fuck me, what the hell should a full book proposal look like?

Obviously, one should have an outlined table of contents, and a few chapters in shape to send.  On the marketing end, I have to include in my cover letter a pitch describing why my book is right for the publishing house, and why a certain target market will buy this book and, lord willin', assign it to their students.  What else should I include in the proposal?

Please, all of you who are published academic authors, give me the benefit of your wisdom of experience!  I don't want to blow this.

P.S. Dr. Crazy, don't think I ignored your sage book-buying advice!  I bought and read Germano's book on this stuff, but now that's packed up in a box in the United States, and I am in Research City, far out of reach of my books.  I fear I need a refresher.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Area studies courses — how about a sow's ear silken purse?

Thanks to all who offered me encouragement/a much-needed slap in the face for the last post.  I know it's annoying to read someone else's self-pitying blog posts; they annoy even me.  Hearing such things from all of you actually helps get me back on track.

Speaking of back on track, it took three days for the water to really return to my apartment building.  (Happily, the water is back on this morning, and I am now clean and, increasingly, caffeinated.  Got my socks on the spin cycle now!)  I spent as much of that time as I could away from the neighborhood, particularly at the one café with both free wifi and good coffee.  I logged a marathon session there yesterday of about six hours, during which — stung by my own sense of inadequacy and eager to compensate — I applied to three jobs.  I've also begun to jot down ideas for papers that I could develop, since I feel a distinct lack of publication credits on my CV.  I feel this is promising, although of course I'll have to follow through on the ideas, which, as we all know, is the hard part.

As part of one application, I finally was cornered and forced to draft a syllabus for a geographic area studies course pertaining to my pseudological expertise.  I'm trying to work out now if I really never had to do that before, or if the light bulb never went on and I merely thought that other syllabi up my sleeve would serve because they involve the geographic area without truly focusing on it as a thing.  Hmm.

Anyway, it was a surprisingly difficult matter.  Usually, when asked for sample syllabi at this point, I have a few favorites that can be either sent as-is, or adjusted subtly to fill one need or another.  And, when I am asked for something that I simply don't have yet, it takes me about an hour or so to riffle through my notes and citations, sketch out a useful set of readings for the purpose, and slap a blurb on it.  This sucker took me at least two and a half hours of concentrated effort, and it went that fast only because I felt under the gun to provide the syllabus as part of an application.  It was hard!  Great big area studies courses, by their nature, offer too many possibilities to sort through them quickly.  Plus, in my case, I have theoretical or methodological objections to some texts that have become popular standards, and I felt obliged to seek for something better.  Finally, it's the sort of course generally offered to lower-level majors, if not first-year college students who don't know methodology from shinola, so one can only get so technical before sending one's students into brain death.

Area studies courses, more often than not, suck.  I'm not saying this in my bloggy, oh-please-reassure-me-that-I-do-not-suck way.  I am saying this in a measured, considered, professional opinion sort of way.  They usually suck.  They suck because, as much as the academic discipline of Pseudology depends on them for much of its bread-and-butter coursework, they don't sit easily within a lot of the theoretical ideas that Pseudology runs on.  (This is so for a host of reasons that pseudologists discuss ad nauseum elsewhere, and you don't want to hear that whole freaking story anyway.)  In other words, the theory and practice are a poor fit.  I suppose one could make a reasonable argument that there is a larger disciplinary utility to this pedagogical method that aids even higher-level theoretical work in Pseudology.  Maybe so.  But nevertheless, the kind of area studies courses that one is likely to encounter as an undergrad have a tendency to feel uncomfortably similar to that shitty social studies class I had to take in the ninth grade in which the histories, philosophies, and cultures of EVERYONE ON PLANET EARTH outside the United States were compressed into just enough sound bites to fill a 120-page textbook.  Such a course is, to say the least, not a professional goal of mine.

And so I struggled with a readings list as quickly as my finicky nature would allow.  I was desperate to avoid a syllabus that ended up essentializing everyone, a la "These are the people of Kuzban.  The Kuzbanians are known for their distinctive dress and melodious tongue."  (I think I'd rather receive a prostate exam in front of a lecture class than work with such a syllabus.)  I also wanted to avoid the cheap and heavy-handed Marxist style that some people deploy as a redemptive maneuver for teaching area studies: "After thousands of years of a rich history that I won't bother to tell you about, we took over their country, shot their president, and completely colonized their economy because we need some minerals in the ground there.  Kuzban now sucks ass, all the distinctively dressed Kuzbanians hate our motherfucking American guts, and we will deserve it when their proletarian masses rise against us next week."  (Maybe a prostate exam would be a little much, but I'm pretty sure that I'd opt for a public hernia check before going with that syllabus.)

I think I cobbled together about as good a syllabus as I possibly could, given that I haven't had a chance to read many of the better materials yet.  (I should point out too that, because I'm a stubborn cuss, I never seriously considered using an anthology or, heaven forfend, a textbook reader.  Primary texts or bust, goddamnit!)  I took a hard look at all the stuff that I instinctively wanted to use, shaped the mass of texts into a set of themes that students could grasp, and then started swapping out longer, more complicated readings, especially books, for shorter articles that often made the same point anyway.  By the time I finished, I was pleased.  The unintended consequence of all this work, though, is that now I feel uncertain about the state of my other syllabi, which have much shorter reading lists and a stronger emphasis on book-length texts rather than journal articles.  This is as it should be, though, right?  Intro-level courses need a wide variety of readings to explain the basics, and then more advanced courses can focus on deeper readings of fewer texts, right?

I know this is how I think, and yet I am nervous looking at the difference in composition of my syllabi.  The funny part is that I worry about my upper-level course syllabi looking thin and shallowly thought-out, when in fact I toiled over them, weighing the merits of one reading versus another, over a much longer period of time than one afternoon.  And those are courses that I think have intrinsic theoretical and methodological value!  My area studies course?  I hope it's good, and I hope I get to teach it soon, but I fear that even the best area studies course is still, by dint of professional necessity, a hack job.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the merits, I suck

Well, it's been quite a day.  Due to some ongoing work on the municipal water system, my apartment building had no water for some hours, and even now, ten hours after I discovered this, it's kind of weak, and the hot water is still only thinking about working.  I feel grimy.  Worse, I can't brew my own coffee, which makes me anxious.  I keep coffee close to hand at all times; it's essential work fuel.  I hate feeling like I have to go out just to get my fix.

I schlepped my ass all over Research City today, with some technically positive results: I got a very necessary bureaucratic signature that will make my life easier.  But really, that's all I got done today, aside from a little grocery shopping.  No job applications created; no articles drafted, no book manuscript worked on, no research done, even.  I suck.

Last night, I was chatting with an old friend and colleague at a university here in RC where I've applied for a job.  My friend, who had sent me the job posting months ago hinting that I should apply, mournfully let me know that I probably don't have any shot at this job.  It's not a total shock: there's a thing with some people about some things, all of which I already knew or guessed at.  It's never fun to hear, though, that the hiring committee is likely to throw me into the trash immediately for reasons totally beyond my control.  It has a way of coming through as: You suck.

On a whim, I looked up the CV of another colleague, who is still in graduate school at Hugely Endowed Famous University.  Zi was always something of an overachiever, even compared to our circle of overachieving friends, so I wasn't surprised to see an impressive CV.  I was, however, a little taken aback to see a CV two full pages longer than my own.  More grants, more publications, more organized conferences, more awesomeness.  And zi is still in school!  I fucking suck.  I mean, I feel like I did pretty well for myself at DOU, which has only a fraction of the funds that HEFU has, but...jeez.  When I look at that CV, I can only think: I fucking suck.

So there's the news: I suck, I'm caffeine-deprived, and I'm dirty.  How are you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

No, really, what do you do? (wink, wink)

One of the joys of being a pseudologist is that I actually get to pursue scholarly research of a sort that most people have never heard of, or that they never considered seriously could be someone's job.  This leads to zillions of strange conversations during which people attempt to wrap their brains around the idea that I pseudologize for a living.  The idea itself is staggering to most people that "I coalesce the vapor of human existence into a viable and logical comprehension" as a day job.

I was a little unsettled, though, to hear about what someone was saying about me out of earshot the other day.  I had met some other Americans in RC at a party, and they — not being, shall we say, the very smartest people I have encountered in my travels — had some trouble understanding what I did at all, much less why.  A week later, a mutual acquaintance told me that he had heard them elsewhere guessing that, since my actual work sounds so implausible to them, I must be CIA.

Eeek.  (Holy misidentifications, Batman!)  It's a lucky thing for me that those people and I don't really move in the same circles, because that is not at all the kind of thing I want anyone saying about me in Research Country.  I'm also hopeful that most of their other acquaintances have also noted that these people are kind of idiots.  Fortunately, no RC citizen has ever accused me of this, which would be way worse.  They marvel that I could possibly give a damn about my research, of course, but at least, after I explain my reasoning, they usually see how that could be worth knowing.  The incident is a reminder, I suppose, that some of my fellow Americans over here can be unwittingly dangerous, especially dumb ones who live inside their little expat bubble and don't recognize that things they say idly can land someone else in prison....or worse.  Remind me not to hang out with idiots.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Work? What work?

Ever notice how the practical issues of getting yourself set up in a new home, for howsoever brief a period of time, tends to push your work aside?  I'm trying to do some actual professional work for the first time today in almost a week, and I haven't exactly succeeded yet.  (Commented on a bunch of academic blogs, though.  Do I get partial credit for that?)

What I have been doing is:
  • Shopping.  Since I don't want to eat out every meal, I had to hit the streets and do some housewares shopping, particularly some key kitchen items and some basic groceries.  I may have to do another serious round of housewares shopping, since it's looking increasingly likely that an old friend is about to fly into Research City to visit Yours Truly.  I've rented a furnished apartment, so I didn't need to furnish the place from scratch, but some things could use some updating.  The bedsheets in particular leave something to be desired, and I don't want to show my friend less than fantastic hospitality.
  • More food shopping!  On a tip from a friend who lives here, I stopped in at a cheese shop this morning, and stocked up on some yummy, oozy goodness.  I now have four kinds of cheese in my refrigerator.  Somebody stop me.
  • Registrations.  RC offers limitless opportunities to prove one's identity and declare oneself as Dr. Koshary who lives at such-and-such place and is connected with institutions X, Y, and Z...and so on.  Some of these are inevitable governmental matters, and others are optional, but offer worthwhile benefits.  There's a fairly extensive community of US expatriates based in RC, most notably in the neighborhood in which I now live, and they have a nice community center with a lending library.  Cost me $23 or so to join, but it's worth it: they have scholarly texts!  I mean, they have all manner of trashy novels, too, but they've got some books that I can work into my research!  They have a good selection of literary fiction, too, which will serve well for those evenings when I'm sick of dealing with my somewhat unpredictable internet coverage.
  • Internet!  Oh yes, that's right: didn't take me twenty-four hours in my new place to arrange for internet.  Research Country is, compared to the US, a johnny-come-lately to teh internetz, although they've been working hard to get their telecom network up to speed.  Since I was last here, the latest rage to sweep the world of web junkies has become the USB modem.  It's not quite as fast as a grounded connection, but it's not bad, and frankly, it's not like the ADSL here was ever any great shakes.  (Broadband cable connections are, to my knowledge, unknown here.)  I've been getting to know my new little friend, a USB stick that, rather than hold data, transmits it through the telecom cloud.  Except for the slowness of video streaming, it's performing well.
  • Arguing.  Oh, Research Country, I love you but your stupid governmental regulations can go fuck themselves sideways with a roll of red tape.  You don't want to know the details, and I don't want to write them, but there has been a mild, shall we say, argy-bargy about a particular matter to which fellows holding my postdoc have to conform.  I fear that I won't get it sorted out for another week or two.  Still, it's nothing crucial, as far as I can see, although it's hard to convince professional bureaucrats that every sheet of paper isn't crucial.  My strategy, having been through this particular wringer before, is to take the attitude of "All is well, all shall be well," and patiently go through the motions with a bunch of ninnies who understand nothing but signatures on documents in triplicate.
  • Eating bad food.  I always do this when I'm first setting up a household, so I'm not surprised.  Despite myself, though, I'm still surprised about how terrible the restaurant food in RC is.  WTF is it with these people that they do not understand how to add herbs or spices to meat or vegetables?  Human beings have been messing around with the art of cookery for at least 10,000 years; you'd think someone would have taken the hint here by now.  I made the mistake of grabbing breakfast at a café on the way to the cheese shop, and they managed to make a scramble of eggs, onions, peppers, and sausage taste like....nothing.  That shouldn't even be possible!  I ate out way, way too often during my last sojourn in RC, and now I have sworn not to fall into those old, bad ways.  Breakfast today steeled my resolve.  Now that I've burnished my cooking skills during my last few years of grad school, it's time to put them to use!  
  • Applying for jobs.  It's kind of sick that one of the first things I need to do while taking up a research fellowship is to keep on working through the applications pile for this fall's job postings.  There's no help for it, though; a year from now, I'll be back on my butt if I don't land a job during this year's cycle.  Research, irony of ironies, will just have to wait.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dreamland plaudits

I was pretty disappointed to wake up this morning.  I dreamed that I had won a Nobel Prize — it might have been for Peace, but the exact category was actually a bone of contention that never got worked out.  I was pretty well pleased, as you might imagine, but my strongest thought before waking was, "Wow, this will TOTALLY enhance my job prospects for a tenure-track position!  I can't wait to add this line to my CV!"

I think I deserve some respect for not letting the worldwide fame go to my head, don't you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Itinerant academic

I've gone itinerant for the moment, although I couldn't say that I'm sleeping rough on the streets of Research City.  (And thank heavens for that.)  I'm currently bunking in the spare bedroom/office of a colleague here in RC, and feeling embarrassed at the hospitality that zi and hir partner have shown me.  I really hope I get to pay all of this forward one day.

The first order of business — aside from fiddling with the Blackberry I've purchased as an experiment in pushing my technological boundaries — is, naturally, finding myself an apartment of my own.  Since part of the practical purpose of this fellowship is to give me time to write, I'm trying to acquire a place where I can live solo, even though I could do much cheaper by splitting a place with a roommate.  Historically, I have poor relations with roommates, and I find them a stressor that I would rather avoid, finances permitting.  RC is cheap enough, by US standards, that this is a viable possibility for me — although, funny story!

So, RC is so named because I did my doctoral research here, as well as this current stint.  The housing prices here tend to rise pretty swiftly from year to year, so I had sticker shock when I started looking around: I remembered prices several years out of date.  Once I adjusted for inflation, I started looking for a place pretty much like what I had last time: small, relatively cheap, nothing not too okay-maybe-just-a-little-bit fancy.  I actually wanted to get a slightly nicer place than last time, and especially a quieter one.  (I lived in the heart of downtown RC as a grad student.)  This means probably paying a little more than sheer adjustment for inflation, but so be it.  Still, I was having trouble finding anything reasonable to pay; the rents I was hearing quoted to me sounded totally bananas.

Until this morning. 

While walking down the streets of my favored potential neighborhood, searching the landscape for signs of apartments for rent, I had one of those very belated moments of clarity.  I calculated the value of my monthly stipend in RC money, and realized that I could pay nearly twice what I had set as my price ceiling before, and still do just fine.  Not buying rounds of champagne for the whole house, but fine.  And it occurred to me that I was still thinking about my finances like a grad student.  "Remember, half of your money really goes to tuition.  Remember, you can't spend more than X on rent or you won't be able to feed yourself."  And I'm not a grad student anymore.  (I mean, duh, you knew that.  But as I've said before, I'm really not that smart.)  I realized that my stipend is intended to fund a postdoctoral scholar who expects to live slightly better than a Dickensian grad-student existence.  When I almost double (not quite, that's still hard for me to choke down) the original price ceiling I set, I wind up with approximately a quarter of my monthly check.  It's been a long, long time since I made that much money, relative to my rent expenses.  I'm still kind of staggered by it, wondering if I haven't hit the right keys on the calculator.

I'm hopeful that I can find a place that I like with room and quiet to write and think in the next few days, now that I have my head straight about the relative costs.  My friends here have already fed me so many nice meals, I want to cook something impressive for them (...and their kids?) when I have my own kitchen.

For now, to bed.  Tomorrow: the search continues!
"Well, sure, kid, it's got three bedrooms and the neighborhood's quiet.  But does it get any western sunlight in the living room?"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My bags are packed...

...and I'm ready to go...

I'm pretty psyched.  Research Country, here I come!!

This blog to be continued very soon from Research City!  Stay tuned, people!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pre-departure to-do list

I'm almost delirious right now, between the demands of keeping my family more-or-less happy about my leave-taking procedures, the demands of job applications, and a mild physical reaction to the flu shot I got a few days ago.  I'm fighting through it, though, and plan to go to bed early to give myself a little extra strength.  My mind is fuzzy, though, so I actually feel compelled to write down all the little things I have to do before I fly.
  1. Post all these applications I've accumulated, since I forgot that today was Columbus Day and the post office wouldn't be open.
  2. Return book to Alma Mater Undergrad.
  3. Get a haircut.
  4. Do a fuckton of laundry so that I don't have to travel with smelly clothes.
  5. Pick up a research-length supply of my favorite pens.  (Yes, I have a favorite kind.  No, I will not apologize for this.  You can't use just any writing tool on those gorgeous — and carcinogenic? — Moleskine notebooks.)
  6. Buy one of those all-in-one tool thingies.
  7. Pack — carefully.  I checked the luggage restrictions on my ticket, and discovered that I have to adhere to what sounds like a rather strict total weight requirement.  I fear this means bringing one suitcase less than I had planned, unless I measure the total bag weight to the ounce.  My postdoc will actually comp me for overweight baggage fees, but why take chances on the outbound flight?  All of us who have conducted research trips know that new reading materials have a way of coming home with us, driving the overweight bag fees through the roof.  (Coming home from my last trip, I got reamed for $300 in overweight bag fees.  No joke.)
Meanwhile, to bed.  Three days until I fly.  I'll need my beauty rest.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To-Do list, pre-research edition

Holy crap, somehow time passed quicker than I realized, and now I have a bare week before I pack up and head out to Research City.  I'm beginning to get that beheaded-chicken feeling, so I'm imposing my to-do list on all of you.  I know, mea culpa, yadda yadda.  I'll do something interesting later.
  1. Go to the store and pick up this little guy to create a secondary back-up of my computer.
  2. Crank out the remaining apps for everything due in the next week or so.  (Yeah, it's not good that these still remain undone.)
  3. Pick up some dental care sundries.
  4. Fill out and mail off the insurance 'reimbursement' form for my last check-up, which won't actually reimburse me because I'm no longer in DOU-Town and thus my out-of-pocket costs are way higher.  (Tell me again: why can't we just re-tool the health care system to resemble the French system?)
  5. Buy a present for a friend in Research City.
  6. Arrange for a bound copy of my dissertation as a gesture of gratitude to a colleague in Research City.
  7. Drop by Alma Mater Undergrad College library (hooray for alumni resources!) and borrow the book I ordered for last-minute catch-up reading.
I'm probably forgetting something, but that's everything I can think of at the moment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oh Dad, poor Dad

My poor father is betraying some of the fear and concern he feels for my career, despite his general nose-to-the-grindstone attitude.  After several martinis, he unexpectedly asked me, "If you get one of these jobs, what will you do?"

I didn't know what the hell he meant, either, so don't feel bad.  It eventually became clear to me, after a few more questions, that Dad is still processing a fact of academic life that I have already accepted: that I have little choice but to accept any job that comes my way, no matter where in the world that might be.

My father is a homebody by nature.  Every now and then, he gets up the gumption to go on vacation somewhere far from home, but for the most part he is comfortable staying close to his usual stomping grounds.  He lives in the same city in which he was born, raised, and attended college.  His father did more or less likewise.  And, although this wasn't apparent to me until recently, he had simply assumed — much like the rest of my family, I suppose — that I would do the same.  Oh sure, maybe one can save a lot on taxes by moving from the city itself to the near suburbs, or perhaps one gets a job in the next town over, but overall my family has stayed remarkably close to the home base established by our immigrant generation.

I broke the mold with a sledgehammer by going to Dear Old University for grad school, further from home than Dad has ever contemplated living.  It took the family a little while to get used to that, but they did.  Then again, perhaps they maintained the hope — although lord knows I tried to disabuse them of this idea — that all those years far away were an investment to be paid back in a good job back home in Hometown or thereabouts.  Whenever I mention a particularly attractive job that happens to be halfway around the globe, some of my relatives actually react as though I'd insulted them.  Dad never took it like that, but I guess it's still harder for him to accept than he usually reveals to me.  After a stiff dose of vodka, it comes out that he's scared of my moving far away, perhaps never to return, and almost certainly never to lead a life in any way similar to his.

In his worldview, a man* should be financially established by the time he's in his late twenties, with a career and long-term security at least visible on the horizon.  The fact that I'm now in my thirties and not yet in the permanent employ of any institution, and have essentially no liquid assets, terrifies him despite all my reassurances that this is what academics face on a regular basis.  As I've noted before in this blog, my parents don't (cannot?) truly understand the economics or the market pressures of academia, and so my whole career plan is a little murky to them; I wonder also if perhaps the relatively simple achievement ideology that my father absorbed decades ago has ceased to exist.  I guess it hasn't; one could always become an investment banker on Wall Street and make lots of money at a young age even when one's whole industry has collectively fucked the entire country in the ass.  But from where I'm standing, it seems difficult to believe that a 27-year-old person can possibly call hirself financially settled.  Industries die; jobs and investment capital move around the globe; life is fundamentally uncertain.  I can't help but suspect that the entire ideology revealed in my father's boozy anxieties is a relic of the past, a hangover from the post-WWII prosperity that provided the backdrop for my father's first interactions with the world.

Sorry for thinking through all of this in longhand.  Shorthand version: Dad expected that I would enjoy a nice middle-class existence like he has done.  I have ambitions right now only to survive, no matter where, no matter how.  I'll be a little staggered if I ever achieve anything that resembles previous generations' middle-class prosperity.  And even more than this intimidates me, it frightens poor Dad.

*Yes, there's a definite gendered element to this, but since I don't have a sister, it's a moot point.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two minutes' hate

I hate the application I'm trying to write now.  I'm applying for a postdoctoral fellowship.  This fellowship has a theme.  This theme has zip-a-dee-doo-dah fuck-all bobkes mit beblakh to do with my work.  But, hypothetically, my work could be seen through the lens of this theme, if one wished to twist oneself into a pretzel to accomplish that.  And this fellowship, if granted to me, would be another year that I stave off the shame of taking a job at Starbucks as a PhD barista trainee.  So today, I made myself a strong cup of coffee (see? back-up skills!) and began the unpleasant work of pretzelifying myself.  Because a man's got to eat, damn  it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Access denied/Giving 'til it hurts

I didn't think this would happen, now that I'm out of grad school, but I'm feeling a fresh surge of hatred for Dear Old University.  I tried to log in to JSTOR to look up an article, and found that I no longer have access to JSTOR through my DOU affiliation.  This wouldn't be surprising if the alumni association hadn't given me (along with all other new graduates) a free year-long membership which is supposed to include access to the library resources.  Now that I look at the alumni association's website, it looks like I might be able to gain access to individual journals through them, but that would be a different login procedure, one which has to wait until they respond to my request to activate my online access to the alumni association at large.  I don't think it would let me log into JSTOR, per se, but the list of participating periodicals seems to include everything that I commonly check in on.  (I'm in a few professional organizations that grant me access to their own publications, but no pseudologist worth hir salt restricts hirself to publications of disciplinary affiliation, unless zi has either boringly narrow interests, or a lot of cash to blow on annual memberships.)

This raises the sickening prospect for me of potentially being forced by circumstances to pay even more money to DOU over the next few years, in the form of alumni association membership, in order to maintain my access to all those professional resources that usually require university affiliation to use.  It's not that the money would be so dear — it's actually a good bit cheaper than some other affiliative methods by which some people can tap into JSTOR.  It's the principle of the thing; those of you who have read my blog from the start, or have rummaged through my archives, may remember the choking rage I felt when, while being denied financial support and health insurance by DOU, they solicited donations from me.  I've never planned to give DOU a nickel if it couldn't be earmarked for whatever I wanted, and alumni membership dues go into the general kitty for frittering away by the troglodytic administrators administrative discretion.  And you know, it's not like I didn't pay them tuition for eight fucking years! 

It's not like I have a moral objection to giving a little money in recognition of what a college or university has done for its alumni.  I've been a pretty consistent giver to my undergrad alma mater, except in a few years of extreme penury.  But, to be fair, I didn't pay for that; my parents did.  I'll wager a guess that they've never sent a check to Undergrad since my last semester there.  And even for Undergrad, I always tick a box to make sure my donation is directed to the fund for need-based scholarships; hell if I'll give them money to do something foolish like build another crappy snack bar in the campus center.

But now DOU may have the last laugh on me, since I don't know when I will again have an institutional affiliation that grants me online periodical database access.  (And what if I get a job, and then get denied tenure?  It will feel even more shameful to come crawling to DOU's alumni association again.)  It's repugnant to me to slip them even more money that they will use wastefully and in violation of everything that I hold dear about academia and educational missions.  But it may an unavoidable moral compromise; I'd be cutting off my nose to spite my face, if I refused a cut-rate deal to maintain access to a bunch of journals I need to do my work.  I'll probably do it, at the very least until I get a job at a school or institute of some sort.  But I feel tainted giving in to it.

I don't suppose any of my readers has a better/cheaper idea for me to regain access to JSTOR?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Major announcement

Okay, it's actually pretty trivial to readers, I guess.  But I'm dorkily excited: I've finally settled upon a proper blogging term for my professional discipline.  Clearly, if I am to maintain my oh-so-thin veneer of anonymity/pseudonymity on here, I can't say what I actually do.  I've attempted to speak about it in terms of Harry Potter's curriculum; I've tried dancing around it in English studies lingo; I've even stolen a page out of another academic blogger's playbook with a borrowed term.  No more, brothers and sisters, no more!  I finally hit upon the ideal term for what I do, as befits a blog-reading public:


I am pleased.  And probably should go back to fretting about my book manuscript now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Humble progress

First of all, thanks to everyone who has stopped by in the last week to read my last post!  It generated a lot of good comments and advice, and I have some pots simmering on the back of the stove of my mind.
Thanks also to Sisyphus for linking and reposting to spread the word.

Despite the gnawing, grinding emotional pressure of spending so much time with my family lately, I've been chugging along with my job/postdoc applications.  I even managed to keep up (sorta) with my theory reading.  However, my writing has been neglected of late, particularly the article that feels like it's in permanent drafting mode.  Now that I've got about three weeks of lead time before the next application deadline, I feel free to think about other matters for at least a few minutes.  I finally paid some attention to my article draft, got it to a reasonable point, and sent it to a few of my grad-school advisors for their review.  Yeah, I know, that should only take six months to receive, but even so!  Maybe now I can work on something else with a clear maybe a book manuscript?  I have my little chapter outline that I've been showing to potential funders and employers; perhaps it's time that I actually began to create chapters to match.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to distinguish courses?

You know, I'm not sure why this question never came firmly into my mind before, but I'd guess it had something to do with being an advanced grad student a year ago who couldn't really imagine teaching anyone except undergrads.  Here's the question:

How do you differentiate between courses you'd offer to undergrads, and those you'd offer to grad students?

Aside from a few basic meat-and-potatoes courses that one expects to teach in most departments — Introduction to Complexification Studies*, History of Complexification Theory, etc. — I'm not sure what hiring committees expect candidates to display in their syllabus portfolios.  I've designed a bunch of syllabi that, for the most part, I envisioned as courses for undergrad majors who had already taken intro-level stuff.  The trick here is that I have a fantastic undergrad alma mater (if I say so myself), where major-level course material was reliably challenging, and professors expected us to sweat out tough readings and essays.  But that was a tiny elite school at which such work was par for the course.  My experience at DOU has taught me that not every place can (or even should) operate like that.

So now I'm wondering: how do other academics decide that one syllabus is a doughty, drink-your-coffee advanced undergrad course, and another is sufficiently difficult and weighty that it should only be offered as a graduate course?   I really don't know how much material is too much to expect for one group or another, not having actually taught these syllabi yet.  The only comparative example I have seen is History of Complexification Theory, which I took as both an undergrad and a grad student.  The difference there — sharp as it was! — was mostly one of degree rather than kind: more readings, more primary sources, more reaction papers, more participation at the grad level. 

I don't know if other disciplines will recognize this trend, but in my world, I also note that grad courses often sound way sexier and cooler than undergrad offerings.  Look at the catalog, and you'll see undergrad courses like:

Complexification Subfield A
Topics in Complexification Subfield B
Survey of Complexification Subfield C

Flip over to the grad courses, though, and you'll see:

Two Apparently Unconnected Things Juxtaposed to Suggest an Insidious and Fascinating Structural Relationship
Going Beyond All This Subfield Shit
Broadside Critiques of Complexification Studies by Its Own Practitioners

And so on.

So how do I figure out what I'm working with, anyway?  I worry that my inclinations lead me to structure undergrad syllabi that seem too difficult for even driven majors to work through.  But I've never even seriously attempted a graduate syllabus.  What does one attempt to do with such things at each level?  I just want to read, listen to, and watch cool stuff and discuss it all with my students.  Where does the undergrad-appropriate level end and the grad level begin?

*Yes, I am outright homaging/borrowing/stealing Profgrrrrl's handy term, since I continue to flail uselessly in my attempt to establish my own pseudonymous term for my work.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Yesterday evening, I uploaded my application to a postdoc at one of the Oxford colleges.  It took me hours to prepare a research proposal just for them, since I would generally prefer to keep my research options open to ethnography as well as archival work, and this postdoc would require me to park myself in Oxford for years.  Then I emailed my referees with my statement of proposed research, and explained to them the particulars of this fellowship.

Oxford emailed me a rejection letter before I even woke up this morning.  I'm sure that's a personal best (?) in my career thus far.  At least it came from a school that I associate with snootiness and haughty self-regard.  It would suck if the insta-rejection came from almost anywhere else.

I guess I may as well get started on another application now.  Sigh.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting back on track

On multiple levels, I mean.  For one thing, I need to keep my family from sidetracking me completely from my work.  (See the last few days.)  For another thing, I would like to keep my family concerns from hijacking this blog altogether.  Not that I won't occasionally post about them.  (Hell, everyone else does on their academic blogs!)  Last post, though, made me feel kind of wrung out, and it's not what people steer their browsers to this blog to see.  (I think...?)  Still, I guess it had to bubble out of me somewhere; nowhere else on the internet is safe from family: not the other blog I keep, not Facebook, nothing.  Sometimes you just have to vent in a safe space, you know?

Anyway, my main comment at the moment is: Phew!  I feel a combination of exhaustion and relief for all the things I accomplished lately.  I survived cooking for my family — I was disappointed with the vegetables cooked in the chicken jus, but the chickens themselves came out great — as well as the time spent with them.  I even made it through a rather long day of road travel to help my brother acquire some furniture for his new apartment.  (I'm humbled by how bad I still am at navigating some of Hometown's highways.)

Today, I finally got my mojo back and made myself exercise before breakfast, which gave me a surprising burst of energy.  (And — no exaggeration — worked off two pounds of the spare tire I've been carrying for the last few months!)  Even better, I made it through emailing at least a semi-coherent summary of my book project to a potential press editor.  That particular duty scared me so much that it took me four days to set it down in black and white, while the ideas fermented in the back of my mind.  On the advice of Dr. Crazy, I spent some time poring over a few how-to books on turning a doctoral dissertation into a good, publishable book, and now I'm a little paranoid that my sketches and thought processes are still hidebound and dissertation-like and no one will want to publish or read such nonsense, and I will only run around in pointless little circles and wail piteously alone in my room until some kindhearted editor takes pity on me and takes my publishing virginity.

Ahem.  Now you have some insight into my nonexistent dating life in high school.  Whoops.

The point is, I emailed the editor.  And I fancy that I even sounded realistically confident but self-critical, rather than unrealistically self-deprecating or bragging.  And now I kind of want a drink as reward.  Maybe I should make myself wait until this evening when I'm actually supposed to go drink with a friend.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Family-intensive week

Sure enough, after two weeks of being around my whole family, they're beginning to try my patience.  I'm more chill about this stuff than I used to be, but I'm redoubling my chill-out efforts: it is increasingly clear to me that some of the things that could perhaps hack me off a little aren't just personality quirks of my relatives, but practical effects of aging.  My loved ones, for the most part, are getting old.  There aren't many of my generation, and even fewer of my hypothetical children's the succeeding one, but there are lots of people in my parents' generation, and even a few left of my grandparents'.  The latter, obviously, is pretty damn old now, and to a certain extent you have to accept that people in their eighties are going to say and do some peculiar things that you just need to let pass. 

What's surprising me more is the realization that my parents and others their age are getting close to old-person territory.  When I was a kid, sixty seemed really old to me.  It didn't compute back then that my maternal grandparents, who were always old to me, were still in their fifties when I was born.  (My paternal grandparents were way older.)  When I was just old enough to recognize and speak with my mom's parents, they were both younger than my parents are today.  Now sure, baby-boomers generally take better care of themselves than their parents did, and at least some of my baby-boomer relatives are a lot fitter at sixty than their parents were, but still: sixty is not young.  Sixty is, realistically speaking, not even middle-aged.  In some ways, my parents wear their ages lightly, but I'm beginning to mark the conversation tics, the aching-hip gait in the morning, the memory lapses. 

And, when I think about it, all of my parents — I have 2.5 or 3 of them, depending on how you count my stepmother — dye their hair.  (My father maintains that he does so strictly to please my stepmother, who doesn't want him to have white hair that reflects on her own relative age.  Apparently it doesn't bother her that he now has a ridiculous orange tint to his hair that everyone knows he never had in his life.)  I would probably jump out of my skin if I were to see my parents' hair colors as nature now produces them.  My grandmother has dyed her hair for years, but somehow that doesn't bother me: in the first place, she's very plainly an old woman now, no matter what color her hair is, and in the second place, she's been doing that for a really long time.  I'm pretty sure I haven't seen my grandmother's natural hair color in at least twenty years.

So it is that I'm trying hard to be patient with the exasperating things that my relatives do.  My grandmother in particular can be a trying character, but I recognize that her awareness of mortality is much keener than I could know personally right now.  Her brother-in-law is in the hospital right now, recovering from a difficult surgery, and no one knows how much we can even expect him to recover at all.  He's ninety years old, for heaven's sake!  Most of the people she talks about with me are dead now — she's better acquainted with the dead than with the living.  Part of me would really like to speak with her about her own thoughts on mortality and how to live when you know you're near the end of your life, but my grandmother is not an introspective sort.  Actually, she's one of those people who seems like they want to avoid conscious realization of mortality altogether until the day they drop dead.  Little wonder that she seems perpetually freaked out by the reminders of death that she must see in various friends' and relatives' health problems.

This is partly why I took on cooking duties this week for the big family meal.  It's Rosh Hashana*, and my family can be particularly depressive at such times, because they insistently — one might even say pathologically — compare the present to the mourned-for past.  When I got to Hometown, I heard that they were planning to just go to a restaurant for a completely non-ritual meal, and I was appalled.  I know they've done this once or twice in the past, and inevitably I hear my mother and grandmother sighing or sobbing on the phone afterward that "It's not like it used to be."  Well, yeah: the elderly generation is dying off, the younger generations live further apart, and my generation (read: ME) hasn't produced much in the way of offspring yet.  To my somewhat shortsighted family, this looks like the incipient death of the family.  Hell if I was going to sit through those conversations again this year.

So now we're going to uphold family tradition as much as pragmatically possible, by my own conscious efforts to keep my family from sinking into holiday-time funk.  We're having the Rosh Hashana dinner at my grandmother's house like usual, but this time, the roast chicken — traditionally my grandmother's responsibility, since it's the centerpiece dish — will be my handiwork.  My grandmother is simply too physically weak to handle cooking a whole chicken; she's been burning herself lately on the oven racks trying to wrestle much lighter items out of the oven.  My mother is herself in bad physical shape, and can't do it.  For a variety of reasons, no one else who would attend such a dinner can (or, to be really bitchy, I could say "will bother") to roast a chicken. 

Except for me, that is.  I'm usually not around for this meal, but since I'm out of school and the postdoc hasn't started yet, I'm on hand.  In a horrified gut reaction to the idea of a restaurant meal for Rosh Hashana, I actually said out loud to my grandmother, "I'll roast the chicken myself, if I have to."  I guess now I'm going to put my money where my mouth is.  I'm even doubling down: I couldn't find any kosher chickens the proper size for the gathering, so I'll actually cook two kosher broilers in my grandmother's kitchen while fending off her well-meaning but territorial instincts to take over.

I'm going to be thoroughly worn out by the end of this week.  It'll be worth it, though, if I can give my aging Hometown family the sense that we're not living in the Last Days of Koshary, and that life might go on even if they themselves won't forever.**

*A big religious holiday for us Tribespeople: the start of the new year.  In my family, spending the day in services is optional, but the meal is non-negotiable. 
**There's an even longer post in me somewhere about all the resonances of this line of thinking for young unmarried Jewish people, but I'm a little wrung-out emotionally just from writing this much.  I can't handle breaking down right here in the café.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quick chuckle

And this is why we love The Onion.  (Well, we love it for this, too.)  I'm still astonished in spite of myself that yahoos like this keep turning up on news broadcasts and having their ignorance and bigotry given airtime as if it were somehow elucidating to viewers.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Surprise! Productivity!

I genuinely did not expect to be doing as well with my work up here in Hometown as I've been doing lately.  Usually, when I need to tune out my family's yammering for a bit, I hole up in some corner and passive-aggressively alternate between checking my email repeatedly and playing computer games and haughtily tell my family that I'm working and whatever it is will have to wait.  (There, I said it.  Now you all know the sort of scum that I am at base.)  But this time, I think the realization that I have to be, as it were, my own supervisor, has sunk in: if I screw around, I no longer have an advisor or departmental mentor to get on my case and remind me of my professional future.  That realization, coupled with the close-up view of some of my relatives whose professional fatalism ("I'm not gonna think about that now, it'll work itself out somehow, won't it?") has essentially trapped them in jobs (if not entire lives) that they hate, may have jump-started my ability to pursue academic work while hanging around Hometown.  I suddenly remember much clearer than I have in a while how all this quiet desperation spurred me to apply to graduate school.

There are jobs to apply for! articles to draft! editors to pester!  There are even travel plans to make, now that I have my ticket purchased for Research City!  There are also some out-of-nowhere family obligations to keep, but I'm optimistic that I can juggle those successfully.  As long as I regard my family stuff as another task to be completed thoughtfully and carefully, like everything else on my to-do list, I should be relatively okay.

...On the other hand — to give you all a little bit of literary foreshadowing, should it become necessary later — it could all blow up in my face, given that I have agreed to spearhead dinner preparations for a large family meal a few weeks from now.  That will, no doubt, be a post all its own.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No title today; I can't see a unifying theme in my thoughts.

So I've settled into a long visit with my family here in Hometown.  It's always a little hard to be a guest/child in the house, when I've long been accustomed to living on my own and having everything tailored to my tastes and desires.  I don't even have drawer space for all my socks now.  Sigh.  I can live with it, though, because my airfare to Research City has been booked and confirmed, so I can look forward to starting my research promptly.  (Or, in other words, to not hanging around indefinitely in Hometown while waiting for bureaucratic authorization — a very unpleasant experience I already have under my belt.)

I'm a little nervous about how I'm going to proceed with this year's round of job applications, since Dr. Awesome has just gone abroad for a year (...or more?).  Zi is a little hard to corner at the best of times, and now zi is distressingly far away, making it functionally impossible to stalk hir.  Although zi is, historically, very good at sending off letters of reference, it remains to be seen how attentive zi will be to such matters when nothing more than good will binds hir to me.  I'm actually entertaining the possibility of substituting another professor altogether for Awesome, even though Awesome has by far the most comprehensive understanding of my research of anyone in my former department.  I simply don't yet know how to weigh the varying merits of someone friendly and reliably accessible versus someone thoroughly familiar with all the scholarly and theoretical concerns of my work but very far away and potentially distractable.  Have my readers anything to suggest in this regard?  I really should send out my requests for referee letters now, so I'm going to have to come to some sort of answer in this matter pretty fast.

Meanwhile, I have lots of publications to develop, and this morning I have done none of them.  For some reason, while in the first flush of my coffee high, I shunned all productive efforts in favor of downloading music.  Want to know a dirty, dirty, secret?  Here's the first song I bought:

And, because I'm a strange creature, I followed that up with the new album by the Unthanks.  (I admit, although I should know better than to buy into dichotomies of high/low culture, a part of me felt like I had to compensate for buying a dance-hall track.)  Check out what seems to be an emerging breakout single from the album — of all things, a song based on a real-life 170-year-old testimony of a child laborer taken by English labor reformers:

Maybe the caffeine has reached a mellowing point that will allow me to concentrate on work, instead of rummaging through online mp3 sales.  Maybe.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Road warrior

I am ever so slightly in shock: I have moved away from DOU-Town.  I'm keeping most of my books and a few household possessions in a storage unit in town, but I myself have moved out.  I hit the road yesterday morning, and I've made a fair number of miles by now.  Despite some torrential rainfall near the end of my driving day, I made it to my motel in East Boondock, which is no great shakes, but at least there is free wireless internet, which allows me to sit in bed in my underwear and type this entry in comfort without rummaging in my bags for dry clothing so I can buy something overpriced at Starbucks.

Dude, I'm really out of DOU-Town.  I am really moving on.  It feels...almost fantastical.  I wonder if my sense of going on a near-magical journey of uncertain conclusion is related to the fact that I brought along the whole huge Lord of the Rings trilogy (used purchase price: $3.00!) for relaxation reading.  (Reading it afresh brings up numerous discomfiting realizations about the social and moral underpinnings of much of Tolkien's imagination, but that's a whole other post.)  I'm still struggling with the idea that my life is now a big series of question marks, as opposed to the relatively clear path of marks to hit presented by grad school.  I'll be fretting about that soon in another post, no doubt, but right now I'm just enjoying the sense of trekking off to find my destiny far from the place in which I lingered for so long.

I should probably end this post here, before I'm tempted to quote Bilbo's song like every Phish-following loser who puts a bumper sticker of the money line on the back of their car.  Besides, I can't really claim to be wandering when I'm following the interstate highways toward a very specific destination.  Moreover, some of the romance of the open road, I feel, is lost when one has to go back out of the motel room in the driving rain to bring the case of files up to the room, since one apparently can't bear to live without taking a portable filing cabinet of personal documents from city to city, and since one is too paranoid to let it sit in the front seat of the car for the night as temptation for really stupid burglars to smash the window and grab the paperwork.  My concept of 'traveling light' remains a work in progress, it seems.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Want to leave, want to leave

It's boiling motherfucking hot in DOU-Town now.  It always is in summertime, but this year is especially awful.  Over 100 degrees every day.  Walking around in daylight is like walking into a ceramics kiln.  The obvious solution would be to remain indoors until the weather breaks, but it's hard to reconcile that goal to packing up/throwing away my possessions and moving house.

My apartment is now rather inhospitable, since my bed is the only thing left above the floor on which I can sit.  It's not at all pleasant, I have found, to try to get work done while propping myself up on the headboard and the pillows.  It's hell on my back and neck, and it's probably not fabulous for my computer, either, since my lap and the bedclothes are hardly conducive to maintaining a cool workspace.  I find myself slipping out to cafés with more than my usual frequency, so that I can enjoy the comfort of an actual chair while maintaining internet access and air conditioning.

I tried to do just this a bit earlier this evening, and in a tragic irony, found that the café I walked into had a busted AC system, and was relying on the combination of two weak-ass fans and the weak-ass breeze blowing in from the propped-open back door.  (Of course, I'd already ordered my coffee before this became apparent.)  Dudes, it's about 98 degrees right now; call the motherfucking AC repairperson!  I was bathed in sweat just trying to type this blog entry; I had to flee the oppressive heat and the almost-as-oppressive shrieks of the hipster douchebags who had colonized the back patio.  I seriously hate those narcissistic, tattoo-covered, attention-whoring shitbags.  They are steadily poisoning what used to be a really fun part of town.  I may develop a physical allergy to tattoos any day now.

Compounding my sour mood at the moment is my first foray into arranging for overnight accommodations on my upcoming road trip.  Maybe the instinctive snobbery of my Hometown upbringing is expressing itself, but I find it hard to understand why the roadside motels in Bumblefuck and East Boondock — my two appointed stopover points, you understand — are demanding over $60 (at minimum!) for a reservation, even if it's a weekend night.  $64 for a shitty room in a goddamn Super 8?  WTF?  Could it be that I would get a better rate just walking in, when I'm vulnerable and obviously need the room more than they need the money?  I'm sure I didn't pay anything like that on my last road trip to DOU-Town, but I don't know if that's because walk-ins are cheaper, because rates have gone up significantly, or because I stopped for the night in really shitty small towns, rather than the shitty large towns I've planned for this time.  (Sincere apologies to all my readers who are in fact natives of either Bumblefuck or East Boondock.)

Altogether, I guess, I'm emotionally ready to get the hell out of here.  I often find myself detaching from a location before I move away: I start getting annoyed easily by this or that, I feel alienated from the place, I start looking forward to my next destination.  I haven't actually felt this much in that mode since I left Hometown for DOU-Town lo these many years ago.  Of course, I've maintained a certain baseline level of alienation from Hometown since then, but I think I may have internalized that attitude permanently.  I can't locate the quotation at present, but I once came across some long-dead person's observation that there are three kinds of travelers: parochially minded ones who feel at home only in their own village, more worldly ones who feel at home everywhere, and the most worldly ones who feel at home nowhere.  (Who said this, anyway?  I'm sure it was some sort of religious thinker whose point was that sophisticated people should recognize the temporality of their earthly lives in comparison to divine eternity.)  I think I'm approaching that latter extreme, if only because I never feel rooted anywhere anymore like I did when I was a kid.  At this point, I can't imagine feeling rooted anywhere in which I haven't acquired tenure.  And that's without even taking into account the reality that even people with settled middle-class lives can be uprooted by natural disasters, wars, etc.  (Although I admit that these latter possibilities are long shots for me, thank goodness.)

I'm rambling, I know.  My point is that I'm sick of knocking around my half-empty and never-very-homey apartment, and impatient to get out of town.  I'm also annoyed that I can't find cheaper motel rooms so far.  But the night is young, and I have coffee in my system now.  Sigh.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In my mind, I'm already gone

I have enough stuff in storage now and enough items sold off or given away that my apartment no longer feels very home-like.  My dresser is history, so now all my folded clothes sit uncomfortably crammed into several suitcases, so I can rummage like some wild animal looking for picnic scraps when I drag my ass out of bed in the early morning and need to locate underwear, socks, etc.  It's painfully difficult to that when I have to shake off the urge to fall back asleep and coffee lies tantalizingly far downtown.  (Don't tell me to make coffee myself.  I do that as a rule, but this damn office job starts too early for me to pull that off.)

Because I'm stubborn, and because I have acquired a sense of principle in how I sell used items, I refuse to drop the prices I quoted on Craigslist just because some yahoo doesn't feel like paying the (very small! very reasonable!) sum I requested for an item.  I've absorbed the lesson that, whenever possible, one should never get into a transaction without being willing to walk away from a bad deal.  This means, of course, that I'm not successful yet at selling my used stuff on Craigslist, because the few people who contact me about the stuff are cheap assholes who think that saying they would buy an item for half the price I quoted is going to push negotiation forward.  I've decided that, if I can't unload the items via Craigslist, I'm just going to donate them to Goodwill or some such.  I don't mind giving things to an organization that will make good use of them.  Underselling to some cocky douchebag who doesn't understand how to bargain is what I mind.

Meanwhile, I'm tracking down all the bills and so forth that need changes of address, while glaring resentfully at the kitchen stuff that should either be packed up and stored or given away.  I have to admit that I have some dishes and cooking devices that I cannot recall ever using.  Probably not a smart idea to hang on to them any longer.

Moving is a big aggravation, but at least there's the partial consolation of a road trip from DOU-Town to Hometown.  I'm trying to focus on the bright side — the open road! beautiful vistas! little roadside diners and barbecue shacks! — rather than my constant companion, the down side — long hours sitting in the car, aching back at the end of each day, no one to keep me company.  Traveling solo has traditionally been a great pleasure for me, but I find that my tastes are changing, and I increasingly find solo travel a bit burdensome and lonely.  The greatest road trip of my life was when I moved from Hometown out to DOU-Town, and two close friends accompanied me.  It'll be a long time before anything comes close to that.

I'm trying to make the best of it, though, by scouting out cheap places to sleep and good-sounding places to eat.  I made the tactical decision on my more recent road trip from Hometown to DOU-Town to drive and drive and drive, and stop at a roadside motel only when I felt like I was going to run off the road.  (Not that smart, was I?  It wasn't cost-effective, either.)  This time, since I don't have to show up in time for classes, I can take it a little easier: I'm looking for good deals on places to spend the night so that I break up the trip into eight-hour or nine-hour legs.  I'd much rather stop driving in the early evening, enjoy a leisurely dinner and spend a few hours on the internet at a Starbucks or something so I can get up well-rested the next morning, as opposed to driving until I'm bleary-eyed and have to stop at a scuzzy motel out of a B movie so I can pay $50 to avoid becoming an auto insurance statistic.  This also gives me the chance to explore a little bit around each stopover point, so I can go to the great BBQ joint or roadside cafe that other road warriors recommend, rather than the first IHOP that I see.

I'm trying very hard not to listen to the CDs I've loaded in my car stereo.  They're my (nearly) full suite of traveling music, carefully arranged for jarring segues that keep me from being lulled out of concentration on the road, and full of catchy hooks and lyrics that I can't help but sing along to.  Plus, the total length of time to listen to all of them in succession is approximately eight hours, so I have a yardstick of how long I've been on the road without having to consult a clock or the odometer.  I feel like listening to that stuff when I'm just tooling around town is not only going to make me yearn even more to be out of here, but it will take some of the power out of the CDs; after all, their purpose is to keep me full of energy and focus to drive long distances.  I feel that one shouldn't pull out the heavy weaponry until one is ready to use it.

*Daydreams about road food*

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Work vs. "work"

I've mentioned before that my family doesn't fully understand what I do professionally.  Never mind the details of my disciplinary work — fucking no one understands that, outside the academy!  My family, in fact, doesn't fully grasp the nature of academia as a professional enterprise.  This has led already to many repetitious conversations with my relatives, and no doubt the streak will continue. 

Coming up, though, I'm a little concerned about what my parents expect of me during my visit to Hometown.  To explain: my nifty little postdoc in Research City won't begin until mid-fall, so I'm getting ready to drive out of DOU-Town in a few weeks and road-trip up to Hometown, where I will spend a few months catching up with my family.  As has become my practice, I stay with my dad and stepmother when I'm in Hometown, for a number of pragmatic reasons.  Among other emails back and forth about the planning of this visit, my stepmother — a nice woman, not some Märchen-style villain — mentioned that the temp agency managed by a friend of hers might have some work, and I should email them now to get a jump on things for when I'm there.


My instinct was to fire back an email testily explaining that I have much, much better things to do than fuck away days at a time driving hours on the highways so that I can do a few hours' worth of envelope stuffing or data entry that barely covers the gas mileage.  (You should see the stack of books I'm going to mail ahead to Hometown so I can keep on with my theory reading!)  I have theory to master, a book proposal to draft, various articles to draft, etc.  That's work.  That's professional development.  That's my career.

As far as I'm concerned, temping is just "work" — essentially a waste of time and energy that should be spent elsewhere. 

But I reined in my instinct, because this woman, as well as my dad, are playing hosts to me for about two months' time, rent-free.  (Although they're already in the house themselves, and it's not like I'm going to eat them out of house and home.)  I can easily see that, from their perspective, it's unseemly for a grown man to be loafing around the house all day or in the coffeehouse up the road, soaking up caffeine and wi-fi while doing various activities for which no one is paying him.  That's not at all my perspective, of course; pounding through texts on heavy-duty theory and trying to force my ideas to fit into a book-shaped form hardly feel like feline laziness!  But since these same loved ones of mine have asked me to explain the basics of my line of work at least five different times to them, I'm guessing that the relative value of work vs. "work" is lost on them as yet.  (And it's worth pointing out that both my dad and my stepmother are college-educated professionals — this is not the quandary of the working-class academic whose parents expect him to find summertime work as a welder or a stevedore.)

So how do I handle this appropriately?  I really don't want to come across as a selfish man-child who thinks he's too good to pick up some real "work" while he has the opportunity.  But for fuck's sake, I've been working nine-hour days in an office here in DOU-Town!  I'm making way more money right now than I could possibly get in Hometown, even if I didn't have to factor in practical expenses of getting to and from temp jobs.  Do any of my readers have good suggestions for how I can delicately yet plainly put it across to my folks that work is much more important than "work"?