Friday, January 29, 2010

Amusing interlude

I'm in a good mood today, since I just went to my tutoring orientation, and I'm savoring the prospect (no evil eye!) of earning some money again in the near future.  Since little has happened with me otherwise, I thought I'd take the opportunity to tell a good story from my recent disciplinary conference.  Things like this are part of this blog's raison d'etre.

So.  At the time that I attended the conference, I had applied to some twenty-six positions (a grab-bag of postdocs and teaching jobs).  Usually, as we know, a whole bunch of the schools that are hiring professors will send interviewers to the conference and blast through a series of preliminary interviews to narrow their searches.  This year, though, of all the schools to which I had applied -- I'll guess it was around fifteen -- three of them had actually sent someone to interview candidates, and the rest of them apparently had no budget to do so.  And, of those three, one of them wanted to interview me, and the others apparently had already decided that I suck and bear no further investigation.

So you can imagine how nervous I was when I met with my sole interviewer, even though I already understood that this is my first year on the market, the odds are bad in any case, blah blah blah.  Zi was very polite and, while not exactly warm, then not the terrifying presence that such people can be.  For my part, I was doing my best to be on point, with a professional yet humble demeanor -- you know, that impossible ideal for interviews that communicates: "I am a motherfucking genius, and I shall help your university ascend to stardom, but at the same time I am humbler and meeker than a lamb, and will never, ever create ego-clash problems with other members of the department.  I am the alpha and the omega; I am all things to all wo/men."  You know how it goes.

I had done a good bit of research on all of my likeliest prospects, and I knew that this was one of a number of departments I'd applied to at which I would be a little different from most of the other profs.  Thinking of it in Harry Potter-esque terms*, I've been trained primarily as an Auror: I know a fuckton about tracking, subduing, and capturing wizard criminals.  Auror Training is my primary area of study within my department at DOU, although they train wizards of all kinds.  As a matter of disciplinary breadth and basic knowledge, I could fill in at need as, say, a Potions Master or even an Herbalist -- both of those fields of study have some meaningful and valuable connections to my specialties -- but Defense Against the Dark Arts is clearly where my heart lies, and where I would serve best in any good wizarding department.  As it happens, many departments I've applied to have never employed anyone trained as an Auror; they have traditionally focused on training, say, historians of magic, or seers, or future Ministry of Magic bureaucrats (ugh), and other such things that I consider relatively far removed from anything that I do.  They often give the impression of wanting to bring in an Auror as a way of rounding out their faculty, rather than as an index of the department's focus.

Anyway.  The interview was for a place at one such school of the latter kind, where Aurors had long (perhaps always) been scarce.  Thus, I wasn't surprised when the interviewer asked me, "How would you feel about being the only Auror in our department?"  This is the sort of interview question that I had anticipated, and I launched into a thorough explanation of why this didn't faze me: I like and respect the work of historians of magic and MoM employees, and I would certainly teach my students about the common roots of these fields and how each specialty has developed.  But, as an Auror, I would make clear that they would be learning DADA from me, and that those interested in the other stuff could and should take courses from the other profs, et cetera et cetera...  I went on like this for what felt like three minutes before the interviewer, with an ever-so-faint hint of a sarcastic smile on hir face, observed to me, "Actually, we're all Potions Masters."

Oh.  Ahem.  Oh my.  Gee, is it hot in here, or is it just me? 

I recovered the best that I could.  Luckily for me, I had phrased my comments in positive ways that applied as well, and even more, to Potions Studies, and I could even speak a bit about some of the excellent and innovative work that some of my friends do in Potions at DOU.  But I felt like a tool regardless.

*I know, the analogy isn't nearly as inspired as Sisyphus' Stockton-inspired lady-and-tiger motif, but I'm not a lit person, and I don't want to spend five hours brainstorming my own brilliant motif.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Soliciting advice

Okay, wise and worldly readers, help me out here.  Part of my job application process nowadays (no doubt for most of us on the academic market) is offering proposed syllabi for classes I could teach at one level or another, depending on the needs of the institution.  Since this is an anonymous blog, I'll be perfectly frank: I swiped a good idea for a course from a professor of mine from my undergrad days.  Approximately a quarter of the suggested readings are ones that I recall reading for hir course; the rest are ones I have selected anew.  Indeed, some of my more inspired selections hadn't even been published when I was an undergrad.  Most of the concepts that I intend to tackle are tolerably similar to those I encountered in that course; there is some different emphasis on geography, case studies, etc., due to my own research interests and the texts I know and like best.  And, in a final bit of thievery, I would like to use the same course title, since I am unable to think of anything better.  (The subject matter doesn't lend itself to a lot of creative titles, like some courses do.)

Here's the question: am I ethically obligated to contact this professor, who is still at my alma mater, and request hir permission to borrow/adapt the course as my own, before I send it out to anyone?  Alas, I must admit that this is now something of a moot point, since I have already sent it out to a few places to consider.  But pangs of conscience worry me, and I most certainly wouldn't want hir to hear about this somehow and decide that I was a thief of intellectual property.

What is the proper course of action, given that I
  • was myself a student in hir course;
  • am plainly using the same title, if one were to compare syllabi;
  • have suggested some of the same materials, but also many others that zi did not; and
  • am putting this syllabus forward as a form of intellectual creativity, in that it's not a humdrum "Introduction to Blahblah" or "Topics in Whatever" kind of course?
I'd be particularly interested to hear from those of you who are in a position to see things from my former professor's point of view.  I'm leaning toward sending hir an email about it, but I don't want to strike a wrong tone without realizing it.  What say you all?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Did someone say 'hire'?

I may have a job!  No, not one of the super-spiffy things we apply for through our professional association web sites and beg for at the annual conferences, but something to help see me through this semester.  (And, let me make clear, I'm not complaining about this!)  One of the local tutoring companies called me today -- six months after I submitted my application and CV -- and asked if I were still available.  Hell yes! 

I have to wait for a few days while they go through the available pool of potential hires, but I'm hoping to hear good news from them by the end of the week.  How nice it would be to earn money again!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Accept no substitutes

Since I knew Burns Night was approaching, I bought a frozen, US-produced haggis that represented the closest I could get to the original article.  I hadn't really thought about this beforehand, but the mushroom barley soup I made yesterday makes for a reasonable approximation of scotch broth, and I am fortunate enough to have some scotch whisky on hand.  So I heated up some soup, I carefully defrosted the haggis, I fired up my recording of "Is there for honest poverty," I poured myself a nice tot with a splash of water, and I had myself a one-man Burns Supper while reviewing job application materials.

Verdict on the haggis: BLECH.  Surely this is not the "warm-reekin', rich" flavor that Burns contrasted with other "skinking ware!"  It tastes like old liverwurst mixed with sawdust.  I know that several of the key traditional ingredients are unavailable in the US -- namely, the minced sheep heart and lungs, and the sheep stomach serving as sausage casing -- but I didn't imagine that they would be so sorely missed by one who has never tasted them.  As I gather, the sheep offal that the US has banned for twenty-one years is replaced in the US-made attempted haggis with beef liver.  This turns out to be an extremely bad idea.  I'm just aghast that homesick Scots expatriates here have had to make do with this trash.  I'm never buying this ersatz nonsense again.

At least, as I read today, the ban on these ingredients is to be lifted soon, and everyone on this side of the pond will be able to purchase the same stuff that (non-vegetarian) Scots have been enjoying for many years.  Money quote:
"It was a silly ban which meant a lot of people have never tasted the real thing," said Margaret Frost, of the Scottish American Society in Ohio. "We have had to put up with the US version, which is made from beef and is bloody awful."
NB: She's not fucking kidding.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Self-medicating with home cooking

Eating out is something of a vice for me.  It's not cost-effective for most kinds of food that I like to eat, and it frequently comes with more salt, cholesterol, additives, and so on than I generally like to put into my body.  But really, what's more luxurious than eating a meal you didn't have to cook yourself?  And, for the kinds of things I simply have no idea how to make or am unwilling to spend the time preparing -- Thai dishes, slow-cooked stews, just about anything involving couscous, mussels, etc. -- it's an awful lot easier to go out for dinner than fiddle with a cookbook.  (And that's not even taking into account my tiny kitchen!)  It's not that I enjoy parting with money; I'm pretty careful with it, as a rule.  But every now and then, it's wonderful to sit down and survey the menu, rather than root through my refrigerator for usable bits.

The problem, of course, is that I have to be very tight with money, unless circumstances change drastically.  An additional problem is that "every now and then" has a way of turning into "fucking constantly" when I'm in a bad mood and frustrated with work (or the lack thereof).  Vices always present the threat of turning into addictions, you know?

So I'm trying to kill two or three birds with one stone by increasing the home cooking I do.  A corollary to this effort is to expand my repertoire, since it's all too easy to dismiss the recipes I've already mastered as played out and boring.  My mouth and stomach are so much more frustratingly finicky than my mind!  (Would that I were ruled more by my brain, which knows very well that complete proteins and other essentials of a healthy diet are easily and cheapily obtained.)  My biggest resource for new and appetizing recipes, as I've mentioned, is Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern cookbook.  The drawback to this is that many of the enticing recipes require buying either things that I don't ordinarily need that then sit in my pantry, or relatively expensive things like cuts of meat.  There's always the internet, of course, but I don't always trust to the medium that spawned Wikipedia to give me good ideas.

Those are my two main founts of culinary knowledge nowadays, but I also have a few tried and true warhorses to learn for myself: recipes that I acquired from my grandmother.  For the foreseeable future, I have to leave the pastry recipes for a time when my cooking space supports such an endeavor.  But the soups and entree recipes are relatively easy to prepare in my little apartment, and they're so comforting!  I have been known to self-medicate with alcohol on various occasions, but as we have all discovered the hard way at some point, you can't really do most kinds of academic labor when you're trashed.  (Perhaps mileage varies for creative writers, but this is certainly my experience.)  How much better is it to self-medicate with a big pot of chicken soup?  Or, as I currently have simmering on the stove, mushroom barley soup?  Assuming this stuff turns out like I remember, I can enjoy a bowl or two, then freeze the rest of it for whenever I don't really feel like cooking.  Dropping a big frozen cube of homemade soup into a saucepan to heat up is almost as luxurious as going out.  More so, really, if it turns out as good as my grandmother's soup.  (Unfortunately, I have yet to find a luxurious solution to washing up.)

(Just to give you an idea of what I'm working with, some of these recipes are things that my grandmother jotted down for me, because she never needed to write them down for her own purposes.  I had to call her this afternoon to find out cooking times for the soup, since she specifies neither how long to cook the barley before adding the veggies, nor how long to cook the soup ingredients together.  She just knows.)

As ways to kill an overabundance of time go, I'm hard-pressed to think of a better one than cooking good food from scratch.  I find tremendous comfort and emotional support in mastering such a recipe myself.  And, with comfort and emotional support in such short supply nowadays, I'll take all I can get.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rallying for real

I'm starting to think that the universe really wants me to stop pitying myself so much.  My colleague who survived the Port-au-Prince earthquake has returned to DOU-town, and she gave a lecture last evening to help raise awareness and funds for everybody in Haiti trying to put their lives back together.  I, however, have already made a donation, and I was in no mood, frankly, to hear about other people who had it worse than I.  I wanted to wallow.

So I stayed home, felt crappy, and after a while, I called my dad to talk over some short-term health insurance strategies and get some moral support.  Before I could even start bitching to him, he told me that a family member has just been diagnosed with a resurgence of cancer.  The woman barely survived her last round, and it took a serious and lasting toll on her.  And now this?  Fuck.  It's horrible for her and her whole family to have to go through this all over again.  And that, my friends, kind of took the wind out of the sails of my Good Ship Self-Pity.  It kinda sucks to worry about how to cover my ass for insurance, but it's a hell of a lot better than having insurance but also having a persistent life-threatening betrayal of the body.

So, when I woke up today, impoverished but reasonably healthy (knock on wood), I swallowed a good bit of pride -- I have my class-based resistances, I admit it -- and starting applying for jobs that might help me keep my health insurance.  Want some whipped cream on that, sir?

Oh, and speaking of health conditions, the stress can definitely turn physical if one doesn't go all Zen after a while.  I went to the dentist on Thursday, and he noted some slight inflammation of my lower gums, even though they're not much in the way of anything.  He asked me to move my jaw this way and that, and then guessed that I'm grinding my teeth -- I had already explained to him that I'm trying to finish a dissertation -- out of stress, and that the motion is bothering my gums somewhat.  Later that day, I suddenly became aware of doing exactly that.  Hm.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Need some coping skills

I have to admit that I'm not handling this whole funding/job situation very well, from a mental-health standpoint.  It's throwing me into a minor depression.  I have to remind myself to eat sometimes; this is not at all my usual style.  I had a brief rally when I authorized the tuition payment from my bank account this morning, a feeling of "well, at least that's over and done with!"  The rally has ended.

I find that, when I go to my department of late, I feel this unexpected sense of shame and humiliation.  The only thing I can think of as a comparison is the sensation of having been publicly abandoned or cheated on by a lover, and having to explain the situation to those colleagues who knew me (us?) before the bad stuff happened.  It feels awful.  And that kind of experience is essentially the only one left to me as a reason to go at all.  No TAship, no classes = no reason to drop by the department at all.  Oh, I forgot, there's also the possibility of checking my mail folder.  Today, it let me know that another fellowship program rejected me.

What on earth am I supposed to do with myself all day?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I stopped by my favorite committee advisor's office today to beg him to let me know if he found out about any positions I could fill.  He had been away with his family during the break, so he wasn't even aware until I told him that I had no funding.  His face looked like I'd just said that my family was wiped out in a house fire: deeply sympathetic of my troubles, but somehow not encouraging.

I also spoke with my supervisor.  (Yeah, totally not my favorite.)  He tried his best to be helpful, and wondered aloud if the anticipated health reform bill might aid me by letting me rejoin my parents' insurance.  I observed that I'm way too old for this.  "Ah," he said hopefully, "I heard they're raising the age limit to 27." 

Please let the record show that I have not been that young for some years now, and that my supervisor was unaware of this until I told him my age.

I'm drinking now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


English Adjunct has requested that I do an internet meme.  Since I have a distressing amount of free time on my hands right now, why not?

The theme, it appears, is "Seven things I haven't said on this blog."  The trick is thinking of seven things that anyone who reads this blog could possibly care about.  Oh, and Catty in Queens, you're on notice as my sole tag -- ante up a post!
  1. I love using Zotero and adore the fact that it costs nothing.  I also appreciate that Zotero won a court fight against Endnote, who tried to sue Zotero for doing what Endnote did, only better and cheaper. It frightens me, however, that this further ties me professionally to the internet.  Somehow it reminds me of those people in Dune who got all the cool powers from the stuff that turned their eyes blue, but then they were addicted to it forever and couldn't be without it.
  2. When Jessica Cutler was outed as the author of Washingtonienne, I read about her and decided that she was a sleazy ho-bag.  When Brooke Magnanti was outed as the author of Belle de Jour, I read about her and decided that I didn't blame her in the least.  I can't tell how much of the difference is due to the fact that Cutler is a lousy writer and Magnanti is a good writer, how much to the fact that Cutler seemed not to own up to the fact that she was basically a prostitute while Magnanti was up-front about it, and how much to my recognition, after many years of graduate school, that prostitution seems a more reasonable economic decision than anything I have done in my life.
  3. I don't understand the rules of American football, no matter how hard I try.  (Frankly, I'm not much better at football/soccer, but at least I have most of the basics down on that, and can sometimes enjoy watching it.)  I care so little that my brain refuses to retain or process anything well-meaning friends tell me.  This makes me a virtual freak of nature, in my football-crazed university community.  I try to avoid the topic, because just about everyone around here who tries to chitchat about the team looks at me like I've grown a second head, when I am forced to explain I don't even understand what the hell they're talking about.
  4. I'm a great fan of alcoholic beverages, but I've never really learned to like gin.  I can occasionally tolerate it, if necessary, in a Tom Collins, but the taste is fundamentally nasty to me, even through a haze of mixers.  ("If necessary" in this case means in college, when I might find myself at a little party in someone's dorm where there was no booze to be had but gin.  Hasn't been a concern since then.)  An innovative and very talented bartender in town who also dislikes gin has come up with some wonderful creations that he invented specifically to find a good-tasting vehicle for gin, and I can appreciate the artfulness of his craft, but he has yet to build a gin-based cocktail that I could choke down of my free will.
  5. I very rarely fail to finish a work of fiction that I have begun to read, especially since they're such rare pleasures nowadays.  The only exceptions I can think of are Atlas ShruggedCall It Sleep, and The Idiot
    My mom gave me Atlas Shrugged in high school, and seemed astonished that I hated it so passionately that I couldn't bear to read another page of shitty prose when I was around the halfway mark.  I still can't fathom what she could have been thinking in giving me that piece of crap. 
    I've started Call It Sleep three different times, and each time it loses me somewhere about 50 or 60 pages in, and I never figure out why. 
    I found a dirt-cheap copy of The Idiot at a thrift store years ago, and picked it up out of nostalgia for a Russian lit class I had back in college.  (Oh, and also because of a passing and hysterical reference to it in The Producers.)  It turns out that, while I don't hate Dostoyevsky as much as I hate Tolstoy, I pretty much hate Dostoyevsky too.  The fact that I enjoyed the last 100 pages or so of Crime and Punishment isn't enough to make me suffer through anything else the dude wrote.
  6. I sometimes feel like I have one of the ugliest accents in American English, due to where I grew up.  DOU is a very long way away from that place, in a different region of the country, and I have learned to speak passable Network English, since I'll never be able to replicate the local dialect.  But whenever I hear the dialect, I am struck by how soft and friendly it sounds to my ear, whereas my native dialect sounds like a chainsaw on steel.  My recognition of this as a common phenomenon in sociolinguistics does nothing to alleviate the suspicion that I sound unpleasant.
  7. I strongly dislike raw tomatoes.  I think I must have been well into my twenties before I could bear the idea of letting even a morsel of raw tomato into my mouth.  That nasty-ass seed-ridden goop inside is what truly freaks me out; I could learn to deal with it if tomatoes consisted only of the exterior flesh.  Whenever I am forced by a recipe to cut up raw tomatoes, it requires an act of will not to gag at the smell. 
    When I was a kid, this dislike extended to every form and derivative of tomatoes; I used to do horrible things to slices of pizza, in an attempt to exorcise the sauce.  Since then, I've learned to enjoy various cooked preparations of tomato of almost all kinds.  But the raw ones still freak me out.
Will this do?

ETA: Ah, YouTube!  For those who are interested, I found a clip of that Dostoyevsky reference in The Producers.

Rejoining the living

I think the experience of completing that massive deadline date on Friday sent my poor overtaxed brain into a zombie-like state.  I haven't been able to do fuck-all for work since Friday; I spent measurable hours this weekend screwing around on the internet like a cubicle drone whose boss is out.  Perhaps I should deal with that.

But in fact, there's more pressing stuff to deal with.  Today begins the spring semester, and as of this writing, there is no funding forthcoming for Prof. Koshary.  I don't see any point in sitting around, hopefully waiting for a call from our coordinator that something came up, so I've taken to the first refuge of the desperate (read: Craigslist) to find some kind of non-academic work.  If I can score health benefits, that would be awesome, but at least I'd like to earn enough cash to cover the cost of an individual plan, and maybe sock away a little so that I won't be thrown out of my apartment in June.

I must admit that I barely know what normal-world resumes look like by now, although I have some old ones from my pre-grad school days that I have continued to tweak as needed.  Do employers want to know about my publications?  Probably not.  Do they need the full list of languages I read?  Eh, depends on the gig.  Service work?  Not a chance.

More seriously, I barely know what the hell I'm qualified to do, and that I could reasonably get.  DOU is a huge public university that, in many ways, dominates the town.  One side effect of this is that there's a pretty constant supply of recent BAs, MAs, and even PhDs who need to put food on their tables, and have essentially the same sets of skills.  It chills the blood to see that, in the eyes of those who don't stalk the halls of academia, English majors, an MA in sociology and a prize-winning philosophy PhD are all variations of the theme of potential "office drone."  My jaw drops when I calculate how many people in town could probably do the same jobs just as well as I could; I believe that I actually have better odds of landing a tenure-track job in my field.  Jesus fuck.

In my life before grad studies, I worked in law offices as support staff of one sort or other, so I'm looking at those.  But I have to think that they'll be curiously unsympathetic toward that bizarre years-long gap in my employment history.  Actually, 'gap' isn't really the word, since I haven't held a non-academic professional job, let's call it a bloody long time.  (I'm assuming that my years of teaching as a grad student get me nowhere outside an educational setting.)  There's a publishing job or two out there, which is actually more in line with academic work, but again, I'm hardly the only smart young thing in town who could handle the work.

So, as I comb the want ads, does anyone who has been in a similar position have any good advice for me?  What fields should I be looking at that I may have ignored unfairly?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Close-enough-for-government-work done

Sometimes I surprise myself.  I was harboring serious doubts that I'd get everything done by tomorrow's deadline, particularly several postdoc apps for fellowships that, for various reasons, I'm not wild about.  Really, the only thing that consistently pushed me to work on them were the facts that I had already requested letters of reference for them, and that I had already spent the money on transcripts for them, and can't get my cash back.  May as well email the fucking apps, you know?

But I managed it, and now my next deadline is February 1st.  As it shall be as well for my dissertation, since tonight, mere minutes after sending off the last postdoc app, I completed the first full drafts of my introductory and final chapters.  They sit on my desk now, awaiting tomorrow's delivery to my supervisor.  Assuming he doesn't tell me to go back to the drawing board on these, I'll have to get the entire dissertation assembled to ship out to the committee by February 1. 

Oh, and in good news that does not index me directly, my colleague in Haiti called in to let us know that she's alive and well, if a little bruised.  General sigh of relief!

I'm a little too tired to be giddy, but I feel good.  And now, I believe, it is high time for a good drink.

A little perspective

So, I said that I'd post about my conversation with a friend and colleague, whom I shall call Surly.  (Good thing my departmental colleagues don't read this blog!)  Surly and I met for drinks at a nice little wine bar in town that, thank heavens, offers happy hour specials even on Sundays, so we could afford to get something besides water.  I enjoyed the pinot noir more than the malbec, but that's neither here nor there.  The point is the conversation.  I am, I must admit, a little humbled by my own good fortune, after talking with her for a while about our department and its funding issues.

In a nutshell, I've been grumpy and bitchy because I anticipate having no departmental funding this semester, which means that I must subsist on student loans and what remains of my bank account after paying tuition.  It also means that I will lose my university health insurance, and thus have to pay a fair amount to keep some kind of health insurance around and avoid the ever-terrifying prospect of engendering "pre-existing conditions."  I think you all know what I'm talking about, after all these months of debate about national health care policy.

I've also been wrestling with my long-held understandings of how funding is distributed, which clearly no longer hold within the department.  More or less, I understood funding to depend primarily upon one's proven worth as a student, i.e. being a good investment of time and money.  Spent a whole year writing no chapters at all, thinking about doing some more post-research reading?  Well, that's great; go apply for a part-time job at Kinko's so you have lots of time to fuck around like that; our funding will go to someone who actually made measurable progress.  Now, as I've detailed in previous blog posts, that system appears to be discarded, at least for the foreseeable future.  Now even a slacker, in extreme cases, can acquire funding by seeming more financially pathetic than someone who made some progress, since dire economic need outweighs productivity.  Each system has its merits and demerits; it's frustrating to experience the changeover, though, and to my detriment as well.

Surly, however, has a very different take on all of this, given her own circumstances.  She is, like me, a US national, and has no family to provide for, which is why we were both at the bottom of the funding list.  Unlike me, however, she entered the department with no funding guarantees at all, which still astonishes me.  For years, she went without any funding from the university; sometimes she had a job that she somehow managed to juggle with classwork, but when the job ended, she was left with no options but student loans.  She scored a good research grant that made that end of things much easier, but finishing her field research also exhausted her savings.  She has had departmental funding since then, but it has always been a struggle, and she has had to beg, plead, and argue with the department to cough it up.  And in fact, this time around they wouldn't even listen, and she had to find herself something on her own through another department.  Eventually, our department scrounged up something, but she already had her TAship, so the scrounged item has (apparently) gone to our other colleague at the bottom of the list.  (Call him Guevara, since it requires fewer syllables than Pretentious Asshole.)

And, although I didn't inquire into this, I assume from those circumstances that Surly has experienced stretches of time during which she had no health insurance.  Surly has worked in the health care sector, and she knows exactly how dicey that proposition is, but like many a colleague who has never thought seriously about what a poorly timed illness or broken leg can do to one's finances, she probably went without.

All of which to say, Surly has had a rougher ride than I've had, by far.  If I don't get funded this semester, it will be the first semester in eight years of graduate school in which I had neither internal nor external financial support for my work.  I've paid out of pocket for health insurance at times, and it's a bitch, but I have survived.  I've never had to eat the cost of my entire tuition bill before, but I believe that I can survive that, too, if this semester comes to that.  And, to the best of my understanding, none of this is because the department lacks faith in my work.  (Or, for that matter, in Surly's, at the very least not now that she has proved herself a capable researcher and analyst.)

It's kind of hard to pity myself in light of this knowledge.  And I really want to pity myself, mind you.  I'd like to feel put-upon and somehow persecuted; it offers the cold comfort of ennobling martyrdom.  But it doesn't take; I'm increasingly aware that, by the standards of many graduate programs in the social sciences (to say nothing of the humanities!), and in comparison to some of my own friends and colleagues, I'm even a little coddled.  So, even though I'd like to cry on the shoulders of my friends in the department, I'm now aware of the fact that they might not hear my bitching with a sympathetic ear.  And, compounding the realization, perhaps the departmental staff takes account of all this data and judges me overdue for the kind of semesterly rogering that some other students, like Surly, have been enduring for years.  That really doesn't bode well for my funding chances, but I suppose it's all down to luck now anyway.

And, to really make me feel like a shitheel for feeling abandoned by God and man over a TAship, one of our colleagues is currently missing in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake.  No one has heard from her in days.  From what I gather in the news, there's not much left standing in the city, and no one has any clear idea how many thousands of casualties there may be, much less who they all are.  Here's hoping that she phones in, once she can get to a functioning line.

Meanwhile, I'm going to shut the fuck up about my comparatively unimportant problems for a post or two.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Once I tried to e-chat with Netgear tech support and found that no such option existed for real-time help, I caved.  The thought bubbled to the fore: the entire problem with my crappy wi-fi connection at home has been the fault of the router from the beginning.  And now it's past free warranty period, and even the tech support home page basically says, "If you have a Mac computer, go fuck yourself."

And that was that.  I went to the store this morning and came home with an Airport Extreme.  My connection is now very solid and, as far as I can discern, actually a little bit faster than the cable itself plugged directly into the laptop.  Sure, it's another charge on the credit card that I'll have to pay out of my ever-reduced savings, but like I said on Monday, I'm fed up with substandard tech equipment.  I'd rather eat rice and beans while surfing at high speed than eating filet mignon while tinkering with a broken connection.  (And too much filet mignon isn't good for me, anyway.)

I have another post to write that I promised to do, but first I need to tend to some postdoc applications and diss editing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Long live the internet

I will spare you the second-hand irritation of reading the travail that the Mac store put me through before I could actually get someone to examine my computer.  Suffice it for now to say that my computer's little software hiccup has been fixed, and my wi-fi access is restored.

Except, of course, that I don't have wi-fi in my apartment right now.  The router's kind of fucked.

After the day I had, I didn't have the strength left to go online (no phone support for me, since I'm exactly 95 days past date of purchase!) to see if Netgear's tech support could walk me through trying to re-establish my connection.  (The Mac tech support wiped my network preferences, so now I suspect my computer doesn't know how to log in to my home network.)  I'll deal with that tomorrow.  But, since I am only now figuring out that the underlying problem is that Netgear is kind of a piece of shit, I'm already planning a new router purchase, in case their tech support pisses me off. 

I'm mildly ashamed to admit that, despite my uneasiness about the Cult of the Mac and the resulting price differentials, I'm tempted to get an Airport Extreme.  A friend observed that I could just buy a used Linksys router or whatnot through Craigslist for much, much cheaper.  But what about the warranty?  What if something goes wrong?  Ah, he smiled, then you can just buy another cheap piece of crap on Craiglist!  I find this neither comforting nor, in the long run, reasonable.  I can cheap out on a lot of things -- you will never, ever hear the phrase "Prof. Koshary, the fashion plate" at a conference -- but increasingly I refuse to do so with the high-tech equipment that relates materially to my profession.  I need a smart, efficient computer to manipulate my multimedia research files and store a huge amount of big things.  I need an equally adept hard drive that can easily store and retrieve all that stuff upon request.  I need a relatively fast internet connection so that I can keep up with my email and a number of media web sites that bear upon my work, to say nothing of Skyping with friends and family far away.  (Dear Old University is a very long way away from where I grew up.)  And I need wireless capability both for travel and for home, since my apartment's absurd layout places the only cable jack near the front door, where it is physically impossible to arrange a work space.  My computer desk sits across the living room from the jack, and so wi-fi I must as a matter of course, if I want to be within arm's length (literally!) of any book, piece of paper, or whisky glass coffee mug while working at the computer.

Spiffy computer? Check.
Good hard drive? Check.
Fast internet?  Well, TimeWarner's all I can get in my apartment complex, but I suppose it will do.
And good wi-fi?  Uh, not so much, I'm afraid.

I sometimes wonder if this isn't the vanguard of middle-aged bourgeoisification, rationalized as professionalism.  I admit that sometimes I fantasize about buying the ultimate commuter bicycle or ideal cookware set, and browse stuff online and in stores that I couldn't possibly afford even if I had a real job.  But the difference is that I look at that stuff, then get a cheap frying pan or hoopty used bike that gets the job done.  Not so with my tech: these are fucking tools of the trade!  If my frying pan warps, I can get another; if the bike breaks down, I can get it fixed or, hell, just walk to campus.  But I know from scary personal experience that my computer and related devices matter a lot, and I've almost completely lost the will to sacrifice quality for price in the way that I can do for almost anything else.

Wow, see how neatly I just talked myself into getting the Airport?  Hmm, better e-chat with Netgear tech support before I rack up any more credit card charges...

Cut off from outside world!

Okay, I admit it's not as bad as all that yet, but few things strike terror in my heart like the thought of losing my internet access at home.  For reasons that are probably could possibly maybe kinda-sorta could be my fault, the wireless internet capacity on my beloved little MacBook Pro is not working.  I got tired of the wireless connection dropping randomly while I was in the middle of doing stuff that doesn't reload easily, so I unplugged the cable from the wireless router and plugged it directly into the computer.  I had to spend a few minutes reconfiguring stuff, although I can't say why -- shouldn't the computer automatically recognize its home network flowing through the cable? -- and then I was in business.  Hours later, when I finished up and wanted to restore the wireless connection so the computer could sit in a more convenient place than the middle of my living room on top of some portable file cabinets, I got nothing.  I mean, nothing: not only could I no longer connect to my router, but I couldn't even connect to any of the surrounding unsecured networks in the apartment complex. 

Hell's. Bells.

So now that I may have bollixed my computer's wireless capacity by a combination of reckless impatience and exhaustion with Mac's substandard wi-fi abilities, I'm doing penance: I have an 8:30AM appointment tomorrow at the Genius Bar.  I seriously hope they can figure out a solution, because it won't be much use to have a lightweight notebook computer with no internet capacity outside my living room.  I kicked out a postdoc application today under these less-than-optimal circumstances, but it's hardly practical to keep this up -- especially when I get through the latest round of application deadlines and can turn my attention to the diss again.

All of this is to say that I may be off-line for a bit, depending on what sort of mischief I have brought upon myself.  Meanwhile, I'm writing myself a note here: next time I can attend to the blog, I should write about the conversation I had tonight over wine and a disturbing amount of cheese with a friend and colleague.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Good book/boring book

I was having a fine time with my work until I finished reading a very fine ethnography and started on a second that has begun to bore me seriously.  I don't quite know what the problem is.  I find the topic interesting, the writing style readable, and the methodology...oh, that's it.  The methodology bores me shitless.  (Oh, snap!)  I appreciate ethnographies about music in which the writers participate in production as tag-along musicians, really I do, but enough!  There's more to musical flows than producing!  In the last book, the author did the same, but he struck a much smarter balance, in my opinion, between talking to musicians and talking to music fans.  (In fairness, I believe that he had access to his field site(s) for way longer than most ethnographers could ever manage; he had the cleverness to do his research half an hour's drive away from his university.)  This new one...sigh.  If only he weren't such an undercover groupie.

This impatience of mine might even turn into something for me to mention in my introductory chapter.  The fact of the matter is that it's easier to write about production than reception.  A lot of musicians in almost any genre anywhere are eager for publicity that might somehow increase their visibility, especially if that visibility is in the bottomless gold mine of the United States music-buying public.  This means that, once you have arranged proper contacts and introductions, musicians like to talk to ethnographers.  They like to have them come along to shows.  If the ethnographer is at least semi-competent in a local musical practice (knows how to sing in Tagalog, can play the rabab, whatever), then there's a good chance that he or she can even perform on stage with the musicians.  For the musicians, all of this represents a chance not only for greater potential market sales and concert revenues, but for enhanced prestige that may lead them to play more lucrative shows for richer folk, as well as an increase in social dignity that, in many societies, musicians chronically lack.  For the lucky ethnographer, it represents a trove of data that translates easily into good stories to tell and expansive chapters that demonstrate expertise in the technical details of musical performance.  It's also lots of fun, even if you're not a starfucking type.  (And frankly, anyone who takes music seriously is going to have a streak of that in them.)

Now compare that to reception.  Sometimes you meet music fans who can't shut up about how and why they love XYZ; other people get freaked out that you're questioning them about any aspect of their private lives, start to wonder if you're an intelligence agent for one agency or another, and won't come within ten feet of you.  Unless they take pleasure in talking about their ideas and opinions to people they don't necessarily know well, or have some other compelling reason to care about your research, they have no reason to talk to you at all.  You have to get them to warm up to you the old-fashioned ethnographic way: by hanging out and getting to know them.

Of course, part of the complexity of this is that neither I nor anyone else in my field cares only about the music in and of itself.  Culture is political; we want to know what else goes into cultural consumption besides the potentially idiosyncratic matter of "I like this sound; I dislike that sound."  And if one is careless, then one can end up simply discussing one's own tastes and perceptions; a few particularly solipsistic writers actually pass off this sort of thing as thoughtful ethnography, which nauseates me.  YOU are not THEM, I wish I could yell at these people.  In my experience, the cultural politics that the ethnographer subscribes to rarely maps well onto the cultural politics of the people he's talking to.  And, just as importantly, the masses don't always see musicians the way musicians see themselves; you can go badly wrong by hanging out with the band for a few months, then imposing your analysis on what they say and do.  Part of good ethnographic practice is learning to recognize and delineate where all these fields overlap, and where they diverge.  And that, in my experience, takes a lot of time, patience, and willingness to fail for a while before succeeding.

But it's much more facile, I know, to glom onto the band and treat production as the whole of the matter.  (Oh damn, did he just say that?  Yeah, I think he said that.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Keeping my chin up

It's not easy, people.  Every day that goes by with no word from my department's administrative coordinator about an open TA position for me ages me a little.  It's hard not to feel abandoned by my department, even though I know, in their minds, there's probably no idea of the sort.  I'm sure they feel that they're trying their best.  But, um, their best is kind of pathetic.  But hey, last time they did this shit to me, I ended up getting something at the last minute, which I suppose kinda compensated for such frighteningly high stress levels that I actually became hypertensive and had to go on medication.  (Still on it.  Thanks for checking.)  By comparison, I'm way calmer this time around.

Not that I'm taking this line, necessarily, but a friend of mine in a very similar position -- literally, she was two places above me on that list of students to fund -- is of the opinion that this situation represents a colossal failure on the department's part, at the level of planning.  As she views it, they never should have instituted that triage system I discussed in my last post, and thus de-privileged some of the more productive students (I know, that's a pretty relative term) while giving a boost to some colleagues of ours who lean dangerously close to being deadweight.  Knowing this friend, I can write off some of her fury as the way she is; she fires up the jeremiad pretty fast whenever her personal circumstances are less than optimal.  You know you have an angry feminist scholar on your hands when she begins to grumble about other people's reproductive choices as a burden she shouldn't have to bear.  I mean, jeez, I get what she's saying, but as I've said before, I might have done exactly the same had I had administrative responsibility to sort this out.

But her larger anger is reserved for the staff and chair, who, as she claims, have always been kind of half-assed about doing their jobs thoroughly.  She's especially steamed at the staffer in charge of grad student placement in available TA positions, and here I have to cede my colleague the point.  The coordinator, although a very nice person, has always been incompetent about confidentiality matters: as far as I can tell, she's too lazy to hide her email recipient lists when she ought to, and therefore a few of us knew that we -- all of us, by name -- were in this particularly unsavory position at the bottom of the list.  So that clues me in that she's verifiably doing part of her job wrong.  (I know of other confidentiality breaches, too, because colleagues have dished to me in private.)  As my friend argues, part of the coordinator's formal duties ought to be searching for every available position in every department in the university, whenever our own department comes up short.  And lord knows, I can see her point, especially at the moment!  But I wonder if we could really hold the coordinator to this -- which I suppose in this context would mean going to the chair to lodge a complaint against the coordinator for slacking at her job by leaving us in the lurch.  Honestly, would this stick?  As much as I would like to believe that the coordinator is supposed to search high and low for TAships outside her own department as an advocate for her grad students, it doesn't quite sound reasonable to expect this.  Especially when all of Dear Old University's administrative employees recently had to swallow pay freezes and back-end cuts to their health care benefits packages.  My gut instinct is that asking a staffer who herself feels dicked over by DOU to exert herself strenuously to find money for people who are
  1. not, in any technical sense, her hierarchical superiors on the job, 
  2. not even potentially hierarchical superiors in the way that faculty are, 
  3. in her eyes, coddled and privileged in comparison to the admittedly shit-upon administrative staff, and 
  4. despite items (1), (2) and (3), often high-handed and peremptory with her as though (1) and (2) were true and (3) were false
is simply not going to pan out well.  But of course, my friend's point pertains even if the budgetary situation were otherwise.  And so I wonder: am I giving our coordinator too much credit?  Am I just being foolishly easy on her by thinking that it's normal for me to have to search out potential TAships on my own when she might, perhaps, you know, know what the fuck I do after I've been here since before she even took the job?  Does this sound normal to everyone else?  Is this just a function of attending a state university with fewer economic resources than an Ivy League school?  Or are we just saddled with incompetent, lazy staffers that would make any other department's collective jaw drop?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bottom of the heap

I am now the only graduate student in my entire, huge department who has no funding yet for Spring 2010.  I feel the love, guys.

I certainly can't say this out loud around there, because the last thing I want to do is validate any system that fucks me over, but I might have made exactly the same decisions as the department did for funding its grad students.  As I hear it from the staff, who are more inclined to dish than the faculty leadership, when the funding crunch hit last year, they decided to deal with it by arranging a triage system, i.e. who is most likely to die of starvation if we don't fund them?  The practical effect of this idea was that the first people to get TAship offers were the people with families to support, and foreign nationals who are forbidden from taking any kind of ordinary job in the US and often need departmental support to validate their residency status.  (I believe that the family people came first, followed by the foreign nationals, but I'm not sure.)  Then they worked their way down the list, beginning with students still within the time period of their guaranteed funding years the department promised them upon admission, and ending with more advanced students whose guaranteed years had elapsed.  And, as it appears, mine is the very last name on the list that they composed.  Right at the bottom of the heap: Prof. Koshary.

Like I said, this system makes a certain amount of sense.  I get it.  Somehow, though, that doesn't really make me feel any better about being identified as the weakest link. 

I guess that, since DOU is a public university, I should be thrilled that things aren't worse.  (The low point of comparison is, of course, the University of California system, which is so fragile and unstable right now that we look rock-solid next to them.)  I was one of three students still unfunded when the department office closed for the holidays, and now that they've re-opened, the other two have jobs for the semester.  I even understand why I rated below those other two: one came back from research a semester after I did, so she needs at least a modicum of support to get her dissertation prepared to defend it in May, and the other guy is a foreign national.  He's also a dreadful pain in the ass to administration, since he's a wannabe revolutionary permanently on the look-out for causes to champion against the way the department and university are run, and they probably figured that he'd be more irritating than I to deal with, if he were the last one to hear about funding.  (They're probably right.)

I've put out calls to all the other departments at DOU for whom I would make a reasonable TA; only one of them hasn't already told me no.  Meanwhile, I have nothing else to cling to but the hope that, if I'm the only one left now, something will materialize in the next few weeks and come my way.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My feet are cold...

...And so I sit here in bed, with my laptop, surfing the internet, because I feel mentally exhausted from yesterday's whirlwind job application.  I invented what I like to think is a clever idea that could potentially qualify me for a postdoc for which I am otherwise completely and utterly unqualified.  The state of the job market is forcing me to think as creatively, and to stretch ideas as violently as possible, which means that I'm applying for positions that refer to areas of the world that I do not study, fields of inquiry in which I do not specialize, and once in a while even entire professional disciplines with which I am unacquainted.  I fully acknowledge that this is all ridiculous, and that I probably deserve to be rejected from all the reaches, but Christ on a cracker, what else am I supposed to do?  The sheer odds of landing any particular job means that I need to apply (effectively) to as many as I can cram in.  Sooner or later, one is bound to run out of job opportunities within one's usual disciplinary parameters, and one has to start trespassing onto other people's turf.

Alas, I can't sit here in bed all day.  My feet are only mildly warmed under the covers, and it's impossible to reach the kitchen -- let alone go out for a coffee -- from here.  And I'm going to need both food and coffee because I have another postdoc app and another job app to crank out today.  (Ah, working against rapidly approaching deadlines!)  At least both of those actually make sense for my areas of expertise, so I won't have to repeat yesterday's stunt of brainstorming "Hmm, how could I possibly mount a reasonable argument for them to hire me?"

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to the new year

I feel like New Year's Eve always inspires a false sense of negativity toward the ending calendar year in me.  I always manage to focus on major grievances I had with one thing or another, and look forward to a year in which none of that will happen.  And later on, after the champagne bottles have been recycled and my head clears, I realize that the past year was rarely as bad as this odd little mandatory holiday made me feel momentarily.

Come to think of it, in professional terms, at least, 2009 was a pretty good year for me.  It couldn't top 2006, when I had a bunch of grants come in, but that's a hard act to top.  So I can't bring myself to spit on the corpse of 2009 as 2010 begins.  I just hope that my professional life continues apace this year.

In terms of my family and dating life, 2009 definitely could have used some improvement.  But, since this is a career-related blog, I'm not going to burden you (or re-depress myself) by dwelling on such matters.  And even in those areas, things have been worse.  Wow, honestly, the more I think about it, the more 2009 seems to have been a good year for me, at least on the personal level.

Now I find myself hoping merely that 2010 doesn't turn out to suck.  (And if it turns out to be okay, then I'll enjoy the pessimist's pleasant surprise.)  To get psyched up for the new year, here are the perennially apropos thoughts of Loudon Wainwright III:

This Year
Another year has gone, here comes a new one
What's gonna happen this year
We're gonna make it, not gonna take it
Make no mistake-its this year

Last year was a fiasco, a real disaster, so full of sorrow
This year will be a great year, I just can't wait, dear, until tomorrow

Forget the old pain, sing a new refrain
Uncork the champagne this year
No, it's not too late, we've got a clean slate
The future's our fate this year

 It's after midnight and I'm just a bit tight
Hey, but I'll be all right this year
The year is brand-new, the old one's all through
It's time to kiss you this year