Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What to do with oneself?

I handed out bound copies of the dissertation to my committee on Monday.  I guess the countdown to the defense date can start.

It feels weird not having specific emendations to work on.  The diss has largely filled up my days for a long time, and now I have to find something else to do.  I have partly handled this issue by downloading a version of Risk, so that I can attempt to re-establish order throughout the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty.  Naturally, it wasn't until the diss was ready to send out that a colleague alerted me to yet another book that I ought to know, so at least I have the comfort (?) of having one more diss-related thing to do this evening.  The book is on reserve at the library for a course, so I have to power through it in the next 18 hours.

There's the ten-minute talk to prepare for the defense, of course.  That's pretty small potatoes, although I don't want to be careless about it.  Besides, my supervisor observed that such a summation might serve as the core of a book prospectus, which makes it seem worthy of a little of my time.

And there's always cooking, I suppose.  Many new dishes to experiment with.

Oh, and I seriously need to clean my apartment, which has turned into kind of a sty lately.

And, although I know it's foolishly optimistic even to say this, there's still my backlog of books to read.

I'm going to have to work hard at keeping busy for the next few weeks, lest I lose my mind ahead of the defense.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

RBOC, Sunday evening slacking edition

  • I think I've had it with Jim Jarmusch films for a while.  I remember when some of these came out ages ago, when I had no money to go to the cinema, and thinking enviously that they looked so damn cool: hit man with a samurai fetish!  Johnny Depp and Neil Young doing a Western!  Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni as escaped convicts!  (And, dear lord, some of them hit the big screen before I was old enough to take myself to an R-rated movie.  Jesus.)  Now that I've had the chance to sit down and spend some time with them, I find myself aggravated by Jarmusch's way of slapping together several totally incongruous things, throwing in a bunch of completely extraneous cultural references -- Iggy Pop as the "old woman" in a trapper camp, ha fucking ha -- and thinking that getting fantastic actors to play stupid roles will make everything work.  Can anyone recommend a less self-indulgent director for me to investigate at the video store?
  • I am sick nigh unto death of editing this bloody dissertation.  Even when I am aware of specific problems that can and should be fixed right now, it's a struggle to make myself do it.  Just one week left...just one week.
  • I had to replace my paring knife this weekend, somewhat to my irritation.  (I tend to use it as a utility kitchen knife, so it sees a lot of action.)  I only bought the thing six months ago when I moved into my current apartment, and it's already developed a potentially dangerous flaw in the riveting of the tang.  (Hmm..."The Riveting of the Tang" sounds like some kind of apocalyptic fantasy novel, doesn't it?)  I suppose it serves me right for buying a kitchen knife at the supermarket, instead of spending a little more money and getting one from a restaurant supply or cookware store.  In fact, as I learned today, I overpaid at the supermarket: the new one I got at a cookware shop is not only better regarded by foodies, but it's even cheaper than the one it replaced.  Sometimes penny-pinching grad students can outsmart themselves, it would seem.
  • After too many meals taken out this week as bribery for diss editing, I made myself a nice curry last night.  Well, 'nice' maybe isn't the word for it.  It tastes good, and I'm generally pleased with the seasoning job I did.  However, I went a little overboard with the Thai bird chilis, which I was using for the first time.  Luckily, I began to worry during the prep work that I was overdosing the curry with chilis, so I set some of them aside; had I not done that, I might have ruined the dish.  As it is, it's, um, hot.  "Real hot. Oh, it's fucking hot. Too hot? Not for me, I love it."  ...Except I nearly did myself injury by taste-testing the chili itself, just to see what it was like.  Hey, I like to know what the constituent ingredients taste like, okay?
    Meanwhile, the curry is really delicious, but I find that I have to eat a spoonful of yogurt afterward to douse the flames.  Last night, after both the taste-test and the first plateful, I was so alarmed by the burning sensation in my mouth and throat that I actually drank a glass of milk.  I don't think I've drunk a glass of milk in about ten years, but right then I needed it desperately.
  • I can't tell if it's better or worse being unemployed and writing through spring break than during an ordinary work week.  I think a little bit worse.
  • I feel a little silly and disingenuous complaining right now, because, well, [insert self-deprecating ramble here]...

    I won a postdoc.

    *clears throat* I, uh, won a postdoctoral fellowship.

    I still have
    trouble saying it out loud, because it feels like tempting fate.  No evil eye, spit spit, all that kind of thing.  But yeah, a one-year research grant came through.  And I am happy about this.  At least, now I know that I have something professional to look forward to doing, even if none of the longer-term teaching jobs comes through.  Naturally, being who I am, I could offer a short list of qualifications and complaints about this particular fellowship, but really, the only one that matters is that it's only for the following academic year, so I wouldn't get any break from the job application cycle.  But hey, research money!  Who am I to complain about that?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A good night's sleep

Last night, I had a marvelous night's sleep.  Today is the first day of DOU's spring break, and I could hear my upstairs neighbors clomping around and chattering at 1:00AM.  Lord only knows what sort of debauchery went on last night (or will go on tonight).  But I don't even know, because once I screwed in my earplugs, turned out the light and hit the pillow, I fell into deep, pleasantly dreamful sleep.

You know why I slept that well?  Because I scheduled my dissertation defense yesterday. 


Long story short, after unsuccessfully stalking the one committee member who hadn't given me word of availability yesterday, I met with Dr. Chair to discuss more emendations to the final chapter.  I also asked hir if zi had heard at all from the missing committee member, and Chair then thought to check hir email files -- you know the ones that zi was supposed to forward to me as they came in.  Sure enough, that prof had emailed Chair assuming that Chair would forward to me.  But Chair hadn't.  Sigh.

Anyway, as soon as I got that info, Chair and I agreed on an optimal time and date, and off I went to the internet, and reserved a nice fancy conference room where my committee members not on campus can dial in and participate via video link.  (Like Star Trek!) 

The reservation is set.  The date approacheth.  It's really going to happen.

As noisy as my neighbors can be, I have no doubt that my recent insomnia is due primarily to the awful stress of finishing the diss.  I lie awake at night sometimes, unable to sleep for all the fears that bubble up when nothing else can distract me from them.  And so last night, at that time of day when my mind usually begins to obsess about all the ways my career and life can fall down a metaphorical manhole, I soothed myself to sleep with the thought, It's really going to happen.  It's really going to happen. 

Sure, I've got emendations to squeeze in before the end of March, but hell: revising an already-extant paper with two weeks' revision time, in support of a firm deadline requirement?  Seriously, that's nothing I haven't done before a zillion times.  Simply knowing that this firm deadline really exists now, and that all of us must work toward that, lowers my blood pressure about ten points.

It's really going to happen.  And I can do this.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Much less dread!

I met with Dr. Chair yesterday, and, although zi tried hir level best to rain on the parade with discussion of requested emendations (!) and hemming and hawing, the positive news could not be suppressed: Chair judges the diss more-or-less defense-ready.  And, sweetening the news, later that same day, zi emailed the whole diss committee (and cc'ed me) that it was time for us to organize a defense date, in anticipation of my making the (essentially cosmetic) changes that Chair requires from me.

This means that I can finally press the other committee members to get back to me about dates, which should have happened a long time ago, but what the hell.  Naturally, Dr. Awesome has already said that zi has another defense scheduled for the day I'd prefer, and wants to do the next Monday, but whatever: working through these details is infinitely preferable to sitting around my apartment, full of angst about the uncertainty of my future.

And, in the meantime, the little emendations that Chair wants will give me something to do as a break from scanning the job announcements.  I'm still a little stunned that Chair actually requested that I do something that will generate more work for hir; I was dead sure that Chair would avoid this eventuality at all costs.  This only complicates in confusing fashion my understanding of my supervisor.  Just when I thought I understood hir deal, and could rant appropriately in response on this blog and at happy hours, zi does this.  Perhaps Chair simply has the good angel and the bad angel on each shoulder, like I learned about when I was a kid, and the bad angel is simply the better interlocutor, most of the time.

Case in point: the emendations do not address the final diss chapter, which Chair didn't get around to reading after a solid week.  Sigh.  I ought to hear about those emendation requests today or tomorrow.

Ah, and putting the icing on the cupcake: now that we're openly discussing when I will defend this semester, I feel confident enough about my progress to order my graduation regalia.  I may be a homeless vagabond come the summer, but God damn it, before that happens, I'm going to walk in my velvet tam.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I am to meet with Dr. Chair tomorrow to discuss the readiness of my dissertation draft for the final defense.  Intellectually, I know (for all the reasons I have already explained in the last post) that there is no good reason to expect anything other than general approval and license to schedule the defense.

But my rising heart rate and sense of existential, soul-crushing dread do not originate in my intellect.  My awareness that my professional fate currently lies in the hands of someone who, for reasons I could not even fathom, might choose not even to meet obligations, much less approve of my work, is driving me crazy.

It's not even 4:00 in the afternoon yet, and I'm already drinking the last of my scotch as I try to self-medicate and maintain some level of composure.  I am seeking for some music in my iTunes that will offer some comfort; I find that I am attracted to those British and Irish folk songs that sing of impending exile.  "Matt Hyland," "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore," "Bold Riley" -- ones with narrators about to travel or flee, generally in poverty.  They don't really make me feel much better, but I tend to wallow for a while before I work through an anxiety.  And for fuck's sake, I'm keeping this blog to begin with because I feel like I can't talk to anyone in town about this, school colleagues or otherwise.

...With no one to pity for me
No father dear nor mother kind 
To hold up my head when 'twas sore...

I am looking ahead several months, and seeing dire prospects if I don't land an academic job very soon.  The market in DOU-Town is pretty well saturated with people of my non-academic job skills, and getting a job that would really pay my bills -- as opposed to tutoring, which nets me no more than seven hours of work per week -- won't be easy.  And, if I can't scare up anything by the end of my apartment lease in August, I'll have to leave.  You can't get an apartment without a job, which will leave me homeless in DOU-Town.  Either I move back to Hometown and beg my parents to let me live in their house for a bit -- yeah, that'll be another stiff drink -- or I start living in my car.  It's bad.

..."Oh, must I go," to her he said,
"Must I go without my wages
Not a penny all in my purse
Just like some poor forlorn stranger?"...

Either way, I'll be essentially broke by the end of June, so no matter what, I'll have to do something drastic to pay my rent, since that can't go on plastic like everything else.  If I don't have some salaried income by then, I can only imagine that this will mean selling my car, which won't quite leave me housebound, but it won't be far from that, either.  Guess I'd have to put some panniers on my bicycle, then.

Crap.  The scotch is gone.  I wonder if I should hit the tequila next, or have my "it's good for my heart" daily glass of red wine?

It's probably not a good thing that I also find some perverse comfort in songs that extol the solace of death, but there it is.  Not much else to look forward to in my life at the moment.

I'm so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard

Yeah...for a multitude of reasons, I'm disturbed that this lyric is actually speaking to me right now.  Maybe I should go with wine instead of tequila.  It's going to be a long and sleepless night, no matter what I do, I fear.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Babysitting my advisor

Aaargh.  Making progress, but not as fast as I wanted, and you know whose fault that is?  Dr. Chair's, that's who.  If I had a cattle prod...

So, as my loyal readers will recall (or scroll down to review), I told my committee I'd have the diss ready by Monday.  Please let the record show that I had it ready by Sunday afternoon.  The next step, naturally, would be to give it to Chair, have hir look it over, and proceed from there to nail down a defense date, thereby allowing me to orient my stress and anxiety toward a specific calendar marking.  But, as these things have a way of doing, the path took a detour.

I should explain here that three of my committee members, all of them within my department, are here at DOU.  The other two, though, are not only out of department, but out of DOU altogether.  To my way of thinking, this just made the idea of sending them all a PDF of the diss all the more attractive.  But one of them -- call hir Dr. Sparky, since zi is a very recent PhD who was once a fellow grad student in class with me -- is botching this now.  Zi emailed me that zi would like me to mail a paper copy of the diss to hir office.  !?!?  Excuse me, Sparky?  You want an impoverished, unfunded grad student to mail you a 214-page draft?  What's the expression I learned for this situation...?  Oh, yeah: fuck you.

Ahem.  Back on topic: I was worried about printing/mailing costs for this business, so I emailed Dr. Chair and asked about protocol, lest I embarrass myself in front of the entire committee by sounding cheap and petty.  Chair wrote back on Monday morning that I should send paper to Sparky, since that request had already been made, and that I should email the draft to everyone else and ask if they would like paper as well.  (Oh, fine.  Harrumph.)  So, that's just what I did. 

Later that same day, I went to a talk, and had the chance afterward to talk with Dr. Awesome.  Before I could even ask hir out loud if zi would like a paper copy, zi starts in on me, "So what are you doing, emailing us the PDF?"  I assume (correctly), that zi, as an inveterate stickler for academic formality and hierarchical deference, thinks it's tacky even to email the thing when paper could be generated.  But that's not Awesome's main beef.  "Why would you email that to us in the first place?  We haven't heard anything yet from Chair, and until we do, we can't do anything with it.  Zi needs to tell us when it's time to read, since we will give you our comments at the defense."

Um, excuse me?  "But Chair explicitly told me to email it to all of you!"

Awesome sounded mostly amused but a little peeved at this.  "Ah, so zi's trying to make us do all hir work for hir, eh?"  'Fraid so.

So, once it was clear that Chair has once again done something stupid, pointless, and counterproductive in hir neverending quest to avoid pulling hir full weight as a departmental professor, I seethed for a day at the thought that I now looked foolish and rebellious by emailing everyone directly.  Monday evening was made of stress for me for this reason.

The next day, I visited Chair during office hours.  I explained (very calmly!) that I'd spoken with Awesome, who was, as I put it diplomatically, very confused by the email.  I reviewed aloud all the bureaucratic maneuvers that necessarily hinge upon Chair's reading and evaluating the diss before everyone else, and then declaring to the committee that it was time to swing into action.  Chair nodded slowly, and seemed to grasp for words for a minute, much like a small child who has been caught red-handed doing something forbidden, and can't think of an explanation.  Finally, zi exhaled and said, "Okay."  (Like I was asking for a favor!)  Zi explained -- if that is really the word for it -- that zi had hoped that the entire membership of my committee would read the diss collectively and decide if it were ready to defend.

What. The. Fuck?  Who in the hell does that?  You can't just cede chairing authority on a committee, and pretend it's some touchy-feely consensus-building exercise!  How can a professor with twenty years' experience not fucking know this already?

So, now Chair understands that zi has no escape: all of us, but especially Awesome and I, are waiting expectantly for Chair to suck it up and read the dissertation this week, and be prepared by Tuesday to state hir assessment: either it needs further revisions, or it's ready to take to a defense.  Since further revisions would require further reading on Chair's part of a document that zi is plainly trying to avoid, I highly doubt that zi will take serious issue with anything -- provided, of course, that I'm correct in thinking that I've addressed all the comments I've received and haven't screwed anything up seriously.

Zi thought zi could farm out supervisory oversight to a committee of five people, two of whom have yet to see a chapter of the diss, much less the whole thing.  God damn.