Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010


  • One of the students I tutor blew off hir third appointment in a row this week.  That is, zi has blown off three appointments this week, on three successive days.  On Tuesday, zi forgot to show up, which I suppose can happen from time to time.  But then yesterday and today zi called in to cancel the appointments only a few hours beforehand, which means that the tutoring company can charge hir for missed appointments.  I suppose I should be happy that I got paid for three hours' worth of work that I didn't actually do, but that affords me little joy.  What the hell is wrong with a person, that zi would screw hirself out of three sessions' worth of money for absolutely no benefit?  May as well flush the money down the toilet at that rate.  My father would have killed me, had I been in this student's place.  Once again, the old lesson is reinforced: some students are simply hellbent on fucking themselves over in all kinds of incomprehensible ways.
  • In the continuing clusterfuck of DOU Meets the Recession, my (soon-to-be-former) department was informed yesterday that its summer-session courses were insufficiently enrolled, and therefore the university was cancelling all of them.  Cancelling the courses, naturally, means withdrawing every last TAship relating to the summer classes.  A whole bunch of my colleagues had planned to be here in DOU-Town for the summer, holding those TAships and supporting themselves while they took coursework of their own and, you know, paid DOU for the privilege.  (Albeit at highly subsidized rates.)  Some of them turned down opportunities for research or other summertime work.  All of them are now furious and completely over a barrel.  I know this is the sort of thing that happens in a big university in the context of budget cuts, but fuck, the timing is horrible for my poor friends.  At least DOU could have told the department ahead of time that it was changing its rules on course enrollment!  I taught a course last summer with a total enrollment of 25, and even had my own TA to help out with discussion sections.  This week, everyone suddenly learned without warning that even twice that number of enrolled students would get a class nixed.  Morale is plummeting, and I am glad to be jumping off the sinking ship leaving.
  • My whole family is coming into DOU-Town tomorrow in preparation for my graduation on Saturday.  Dear God in heaven.  My parents got divorced years ago, and I think it's been at least three years since they've said a word to each other.  I've ordered everyone to be on their best behavior, since I can call at least some of the shots at this particular family gathering.  The trick will be keeping my mother and (maternal) grandmother from letting fly with any bitter remarks to/about my father and stepmother.  I've drafted two close friends of mine to come along with me as my father's my invited guests, and my brother will be there as an additional buffer.  They're all in town for a mere 36 hours or so, but I won't really be able to relax until they leave.  I used to mourn the fact that the two sides of my family can no longer converse civilly for long, and I used to wish that they could put all the bad feelings behind them and be like the more amicably divorced families I've seen.  I still privately mourn that reality, but I've stopped wishing they could put all those feelings aside.  They can't and they won't -- my mother's family being especially guilty on this score, I'm sorry to say -- and now I find it much less stressful to see them in moiety-segregated circumstances.
  • I have some serious apartment cleaning to do tomorrow before they all fly in.  I'm a lazy ass about housekeeping in a lot of ways, but it's really overdue.  (Did I mention that I recently finished writing a dissertation?)  Plus, focusing my attention on mopping the kitchen floor and vaccuuming my lint-ravaged bedroom carpeting will take my mind off my anxieties about family.
  • Why don't I ever learn that baked and roasted chicken is much more delicious when you marinate it first?  I was kicking myself tonight after wasting a lot of lovely seasonings by sprinkling them on top of the chicken breasts with some olive oil, rather than mixing everything up in a bag and letting it marinate for an hour before cooking.  Top of the chicken: overly seasoned and almost painful to eat.  Underside of the chicken: nearly flavorless.  I should put a "MARINATE" note on the refrigerator to yell at me. 
  • Maybe it's just as well about the chicken, though; my homemade harissa was kind of terrible anyway.
  • On a more positive note, I've already gotten started on cleaning things up, and I had the tremendous pleasure of throwing out a bunch of grad-school documents that are no longer relevant to my life.  It also felt good to throw out the chaotic collection of half-baked ideas that I charitably filed as "Dissertation, Draft 1" and replace the file with one neatly bound copy of the completed diss.  (Why did I even get started with this nonsensical filing of hard copies of successive drafts?  Ah yes, that was before my last computer died and I upgraded to a much more spacious laptop and external hard drive combo.)  It also felt good to toss all the failed grant proposals I've saved over the years.  I think I once believed that I might consult failed grant applications as a means of strengthening later efforts.  I suppose I actually do that in some ways, but not in hard copy!  Bad enough that I'm accumulating filing cabinets full of photocopied articles and book chapters; I need to put the brakes on how much other stuff I print out.
  • And yes, I know this sounds like I'm leading up to a bourgeois consumerist whine of longing for an iPad, but it isn't so.  Frankly, given that I'm going to Research City later this year -- a city infamous among my colleagues for the rigors it afflicts upon digital hardware -- I can't see how I would handle caring for (or even carrying!) my MacBook and an iPad.  For God's sake, there's only one Apple repair shop in all of freaking Research Country!  Of course, that one shop is right in Research City, so it's not much skin off my nose, but still: not exactly a Mac-friendly hotspot.
  • I can tell that my intellectual muscles are getting twitchy after a few weeks of indolence.  An idle thought while watching a movie the other day led me to call my grandmother to ask a question about what her father did in the Old Country before he immigrated to America.  This, in turn, led me to consult my brother, who knows more about our family's genealogy than anyone, who wrote me a fine little email telling me what he knew about all of our great-grandparents' occupations, and he even threw in their home towns.  Home towns!  Things you can google and look at on a map!  AVOCATIONAL RESEARCH!!  All right, so Bro has already done that research; no need to reinvent the wheel.  At the moment, all I want to figure out is how I can create a PDF file of the map showing the large region whence the immigrant generation of my family sprang, with little markers -- you know, the digital equivalent of pushpins in a real map -- that flag each town.  I've gotten as far as zooming to that region on Google Maps, saving that as a PDF, and then marking the towns with Stickie Notes, but I find this inelegant and actually clumsy for perusing.  Plus, I keep getting a wasted page before the map, and I'm actually so technologically inept that I haven't yet figured out how to make that go away.  Any ideas from the tech mavens out there?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I picked up my graduation regalia yesterday.  I brought it home to hang it up, and then decided to try it on, just for size.  (I don't think I've ever used that phrase literally before!)  I looked at myself in the mirror, and it felt weird.  As in, do I really get to be the spiffy kind of person who can wear this stuff at ceremonies now?  Also, the velvet tam is kind of stiff, and doesn't look as dorkily bad-ass as the tams I recall seeing on my professors at my undergrad graduation ceremony.

I feel a mild degree of shame that I really wish I could buy my own regalia, but then I've already mentioned my bourgeois consumerist impulses.  I have my eye on tropical wool, which I'm guessing would be the most versatile.  (Lectureship at Cambridge?  Check.  Endowed chair at the American University of Beirut?  Check.)  Someday.

I think looking at myself wearing the whole get-up spooked me a little, because a few hours later, I felt goaded into calling DOU's grad school office and double-checking with them that there remained nothing else for me to do.  No more forms to fill out?  No more bills to pay?  (I really asked this!)  I was frank with the receptionist about my paranoia of running afoul of the bureaucracy, and she kindly examined my information on the computer and assured me that I was fine, and there really wasn't anything else to do but show up to the ceremony.


The last eight years of my life have been devoted in one way or another to satisfying the demands that DOU placed upon me.  It's a little hard to adjust to the idea that there's really nothing else to do but attend the party, and then leave.  (And, of course, carefully return the regalia a few days after the ceremony.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I can't get started

I've flown around the world in a plane
I've settled revolutions in Spain...
So, how, exactly, am I supposed to take my dissertation and turn it into a book manuscript?  How does one invent a book prospectus?  What the hell am I supposed to say and do?

No doubt I'll eventually hear some answers to these questions, but for the moment they're stumping me.  I feel especially lost right now, since the two advisors whom I most need to consult are unavailable until next week.  Even my favorite writing trick of bribing myself with a nice breakfast and coffee failed miserably this morning: by the end of breakfast, I just felt bloated and stupid.

I'll be able to deal with at least some further research questions this coming year on my postdoc, but I honestly don't know what those questions are yet.  How does one determine the strengths and weaknesses of a book that doesn't yet exist?  It's not quite as simple as saying, "This house could use a fourth wall."  Somehow, I have to figure out what my dissertation manuscript crucially lacks, then figure out the degree to which I can conduct research to rectify those areas of weakness.  And then, insanely, I have to start laying out an unfinished book before I even go off to Research City to dig into those follow-up questions.

It's all making me rather anxious, and I find myself staring over at the liquor bottles in the corner, and it's not even noon.  Get hold of yourself, Koshary!


Friday, May 14, 2010

Idiot student

The above title is precisely the sort of situation for which I devised a pseudonym.  Ahem.

So, I've been tutoring a student in Subject X.  Subject X is far, far removed from my areas of specialization.  Please understand, dear readers, that this is not like a scholar of Shakespeare and Marlowe saying, "Well, sure, I could teach a course on Milton, but it's not really my specialty..."  This is the equivalent of our Shakespeare and Milton scholar being asked to teach classical physics, because both subjects are old. 

I know that some of you are doubting this, but it's the truth.  I mean, pseudonyms and intentional blogging misdirection aside.

I didn't even want to teach Subject X, but as it happened, my tutoring company had absolutely no one on staff who truly knew the subject.  Incredibly, out of all the tutors on their roster, I was the one who seemed the best fit.  Totally absurd.  It's like asking....well, fuck, just look at the comparison I outlined above!

This means that I was only a few steps ahead of my student at any given time; to be brutally honest, at least half of the time, I wasn't explaining anything that I knew, but reading over hir shoulder and condensing the information into colloquial English.  And my student was...oh, dear god, there's really no polite way to put this.  My student is dumb.  Seriously, mindbendingly dumb.  I actually suspect that zi is mildly retarded.  If that's not the case, then there has been a colossal breakdown in the elementary learning process -- which, given the abysmal state of our state government's approach to public education, is entirely possible.

After blowing through an entire semester's worth of review over the course of a month, since Stu (thanks to Heu Mihi for that generic pseudonym) apparently absorbed nothing throughout the semester, we had one more review session today.  At which Stu asked me questions about stuff we covered.  As in, zi asked me to explain things as though zi had never, ever heard them before.  Because the stupid motherfucker didn't write down anything I explained to hir.

Jesus fucking Christ!  What kind of idiot doesn't write down what the tutor says, when the whole reason that the tutor is needed is that the abovementioned idiot didn't understand anything the professor said?


I refused on principle to take another review session with Stu, an idea which zi brought up at the end of today's session.  I can't stand to deal with hir any longer; the stupid hurts me too much.  Zi is the first student I've ever had as a tutor who, I'm convinced, is actually likely to fail the final exam after all of my efforts.  Zi absorbs almost nothing; zi makes no effort to absorb anything.  Zi rarely writes down anything I say, if I don't actually order hir to write it down.  Zi gets absorbed by picking at hir cuticles while I boil down textbook chapters.  Zi seems highly absorbed by the effort of picking hir nose while I ask hir questions, and then seems surprised when I ask, "Are you with me here?"
One brief anecdote to illustrate what I've been dealing with here, which I admit might reveal some of the actual subject material.  (Big fucking deal; you know neither me nor my student.)  Stu's textbook has a section on violent thunderstorms: how they form, the geophysical processes that come about, etc.  In my neverending attempt to get Stu to recognize that zi actually knows this stuff just by being alive and having lived through thunderstorms, I asked hir, "So, lightning.  What is lightning, Stu?  Never mind the textbook!  You've been in thunderstorms; you've seen lightning.  What is it?  What is it made of?"

Stu wrinkled hir face as zi thought this puzzle over.  After an interminably long period of cogitation, Stu said to me in a questioning tone, "...Water?"


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The toothache

Sigh...all good things must come to an end, and that includes my Vicodin scrip.  I'm hoarding the last two for nighttime purposes: the dentally well informed among you may know that, even after suffering through power-whitening, the dental patient has to use some nightguard-type impressions with some bleaching stuff smeared inside for about two weeks each evening before retiring to bed.

What you may not know is that this bleaching stuff will make your teeth ache just like the original bleaching session.  I woke up this morning with my lower jaw throbbing.  It's really too bad that the world can't just give me a pass to be wacked out on Vicodin for days on end.

On the plus side, once the Vicodin has been out of my system for about a day, I can return to alcohol.  I even bought a few bottles of white wine to experiment with*, since I should minimize tooth-staining red wine for a few days.  I'm particularly interested to try out the bottle of retsina that I found on the shelf at the store.  But even a bottle of beer would be nice; I find it rather uncivilized that I can't unwind at the end of the day with a glass of something potent.

During and after my little vanity procedure, the thought came to me that it's much easier to bear pain that you know is coming -- that is, not only knowing that it will hurt, but how it will hurt, and for how long.  This is how people survive episodes of torture without revealing sensitive information.  To little surprise, this thought is not originally my own: it comes to me from my first point of reference with recurring tooth pain as something to talk about: one of my favorite novels, Darkness at Noon.  The difference (I hope) is that Rubashov's pain has entirely different psychological implications from mine.  Allow me to excerpt a few little bits here for your reading pleasure.
Rubashov...had learned that every known physical pain was bearable; if one knew beforehand exactly what was going to happen to one, one stood it as a surgical operation -- for instance, the extraction of a tooth.  Really bad was only the unknown, which gave one no chance to foresee one's reactions and no scale to calculate one's capacity of resistance.  And the worst was the fear that one would then do or say something which could not be recalled.


The night was even worse.  Rubashov could not sleep until dawn.  Shivers ran over him at regular intervals; his tooth was throbbing.  He had the sensation that all the association centres of his brain were sore and inflamed; yet he lay under the painful compulsion to conjure up pictures and voices.


"There it is!" said the doctor.  "The root of the right eye-tooth is broken and has remained in the jaw."

Rubashov breathed deeply several times.  The pain was throbbing from his jaw to his eye and right to the back of his head.  He felt each pulsation of the blood singly, at regular intervals.  The doctor had sat down again and spread out his newspaper.  "If you like I can extract the root for you," he said and took a mouthful of bread and dripping.  "We have, of course, no anaesthetics here.  The operation takes anything from half an hour to an hour."

Rubashov heard the doctor's voice through a mist.  He leant against the wall and breathed deeply.  "Thank you," he said.  "Not now."  He thought of Hare-lip and the "steambath" and of the ridiculous gesture yesterday, when he had stubbed out the cigarette on the back of his hand.  Things will go badly, he thought.
(pp. 41, 60, 62-63)
 Not that I ever doubted this fact, but re-reading these passages certainly reiterates for me the reality that I would not cope well under torture.  Note to self: don't get arrested for political crimes.

*Cheap, of course!  I force myself to spend no more than $10 on a bottle of wine, except in very rare circumstances.  It's not like I have a salary yet or anything.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Ah, the drugs are working much better today!  Actually, the pain is receding all on its own -- I took one pill today after breakfast, partly because my teeth were starting to ache a trifle from eating, but mostly because my schedule allowed me to be high on painkillers through the mid-afternoon.

I have been decidedly floaty through much of the day.  It's not much use for writing or organizing, but it certainly makes it easier to rest and not focus on how much I'd like to eat something that isn't white.

I'm enjoying the legal high, but I'm still counting down the days until I can go back to wine.  In the meantime, I believe it's time for grandpa's next dose o' pain pills...

Fine print: Look, kids, I'm not recommending the recreational use of drugs.  Unless your doctor specifically wrote you a prescription, and expects you to take it like a good compliant patient.  I mean, in that case, it would be silly not to.  Just don't drive or anything.  Trust me, it makes the bus ride more entertaining anyway.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Masochistically foolish vanity

Moooooooooooooooooooan.  Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.  Kveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch!

My mouth is killing me today, because I'm even more vain than I might have guessed mere months ago.  All the months of coffee-swilling and curry-cooking during the final push on the dissertation have had a less-than-attractive effect on the coloring of my teeth.  (To say nothing of my increasing predilection for drinking red wine at home as a cardiac restorative.)  I was a little irked to notice that, amid all the celebration on display in the photos of my post-defense party, my teeth are disturbingly yellow.  I was so bothered by the idea that the photographs of me in my doctoral regalia with my family would also feature gnarly-looking teeth that I took drastic action: I had my dentist do a power-whitening session on me today.

There, I admitted it.  An unemployed grad student paid an absurd sum to have his teeth temporarily brightened so he could look a little nicer on Graduation Day.

As if the pain of paying for the procedure weren't enough, almost every tooth in my head hurts right now -- not the gums, but the teeth themselves.  The lower set in particular are throbbing, as though some really terrible sonic frequency were making them resonate.  I was impressed by how painful this would be when the dentist explained that he would write me a prescription for Vicodin.  I was further impressed -- among other sensations -- to discover (about an hour ago) that Vicodin IS NOT FUCKING HELPING ME.  I seriously don't know what the drug is doing right now, but it's certainly not making me any less sensitive.  It's not even zonking me out: look, everybody, here I am, typing away on the computer without generating loads of gibberish! 

Just exhaling hard, for fuck's sake, actually makes my teeth sing with pain.  I'm going to have to think about this for a while, next time I'm inclined to mock someone for getting Botox or a boob job.  It occurred to me in the dentist chair that this isn't even the first time I submitted to cosmetic dentistry: technically, the entire first set of braces I had as a kid were cosmetic, since they were mostly on my baby teeth and wouldn't have much effect on the eventual adult teeth that came in.  (A fact that my family and I even knew at the time.)  I had such snaggly teeth, though, and such a low opinion of myself in general, that I chose to get the braces in an attempt to seem -- if only to myself -- less like a freak.

Plus ├ža change, I suppose...

So now I'm afraid to try to eat, since fucking breathing is already presenting pain management problems.  While waiting for my scrip, I stocked up on eggs and those little balls of fresh mozzarella, so that I'd have something on hand that didn't really need to be chewed at all.  But good heavens, any kind of contact might send me through the ceiling right now!  I haven't eaten a morsel since breakfast, and I'm just terrified of how it's going to feel when I try to get a little cheese past my teeth.  I'm also frustrated that my damn painkillers aren't working, and they're the kind where you can't just try other stuff.  (If this is all Vicodin does, then I'm stumped as to how my druggie acquaintances make an evening out of it.)  No doubt a glass of tequila right now would induce some collapse leading to hospitalization, even though the Vicodin may as well be placebo on its own.  (Holy fuck, my dentist wouldn't write me a placebo scrip, would he?)

So, looking forward to the next three days: pain, pain, pain.  No coffee.  No red wine.  No dark-colored food of any kind.  (Do you suppose I can freeze the huge mass of curry sitting in my fridge?)  Probably some more pain on top.

Well, good thing I don't have to tutor any students.  Oh, wait: yes, I have tutoring appointments!  I actually made it through a two-hour review session today with only a few moments in which I was in too much pain to speak.  I don't know if I'll have the same, er, luck tomorrow.  

Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooan.  Ow.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Now that I have finished, what do I do with myself?

There are all the annoying sundry tasks that we all have to do, of course.  (Organizing the unholy mess of papers littering the corner of my office living room that used to hold a recognizable filing system is way up there.)  But, as we know, these tasks kind of suck, and easily repel a person.  Still, I'll have to get around to it pretty soon: now that I'm graduating, I need to sort out what I'm going to do about my student loan repayments.  To consolidate or not to consolidate?  That is one among many questions.

There's also looking for a summer job, so that I needn't burn all the way through my savings.  I thought applying for unemployment benefits might ease this burden a little, but since I managed to fill out the forms wrong, I now have a freeze on the benefits until my hearing (!) later this month.  Nothing could put me back in my place so well as the realization that I'm too stupid to fill out a government form, and the corollary realization that I need to explain this fact to an investigator who, by the look of the scary 'appeals packet' sent to me, can barely write English.  Back to Craiglist I go!

In more professional matters, I suppose there's no time like the present to start revision work on my dissertation book manuscript (hee hee!).  But after the defense, I don't feel at all confident that I know how to structure a book that people would even judge worth reading, much less appreciate at the end of it.  I seriously don't know which bits of the diss will make good reading, which are dross, and which have yet to be written.  I'm hopeful that a coffee hour with Dr. Awesome will help me sort through these things, but zi is away for a few weeks, so I'm in the dark until then.  I feel like I'd just be jacking off by trying to organize a book prospectus all on my own, but I suppose I'll have to start somewhere.  Theoretically, there is an academic press that has expressed a nibble of interest in my work: they told me they'd give me a call by the end of April to talk about the idea.  Naturally, ain't nobody been blowing up my phone of late.  This is probably a good thing, since it gives me more time to cook something up, but it would be sort of a letdown to whip up a prospectus, only to have the press decide it would rather file its collective nails than call me.

In kinda-sorta academic but mostly fantasy matters, I could also try to figure out exactly where I'll be moving to in Research City.  But, since that won't be for some months, that activity is only slightly more useful than dreaming of unicorns.  There are more immediate questions to answer for my research prep, but only my colleagues can answer them, and we all know how available our colleagues are when we need them to spit out an answer.

And, now that I no longer have an imminent life-determining paper to complete, I'm curious to explore this new activity I've heard about: "dating."  Apparently, people pursue sexual and/or emotional needs by going out on "dates," during which they form and test a number of sociological and psychological hypotheses about their fitness as a couple.  I would like to try this out.  Anyone know how I should start?

Monday, May 3, 2010


Dr. Chair gave me the high-sign to submit the final version of my dissertation to DOU today.  I actually spun around in a joyful, vertigo-inducing dance in the department office.  Then I combined all my Word files into a PDF.  Then I realized that I'd forgotten to update the page numbers for the table of contents.  Then I spent a while doing that.  Then I submitted the sucker.

I do believe it is time for alcoholic beverages now!  Barkeep, shoot me a tequila!

I think my mood at the moment is encapsulated quite well by the guy dancing in this video at 1:07.