Monday, August 30, 2010

Surprise! Productivity!

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

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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Road warrior

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

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

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

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Want to leave, want to leave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In my mind, I'm already gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Daydreams about road food*

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Work vs. "work"

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

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Anecdotal musing on race

I've had racialization on my mind a good deal lately from some research I'm developing.  Specifically, I've been kicking around questions of how we figure out what qualifies as a racial marker, and what criteria people can use to establish a notion of races among a given group of people.  (By way of example, Americans love to use skin color as a strong index of race.)  I'm especially intrigued by non-somatic racial criteria in non-somatic racial categories.  What can racialization be and how does it operate, when the body only obliquely comes into play?

I bring this up because I had one of those little incidents yesterday evening that got me thinking about academic stuff when I didn't mean to.  I was grabbing a quick dinner at a small restaurant whose personnel are mostly -- maybe all of them, but I couldn't say -- native speakers of Spanish.  They can all speak English well enough, but when they have their druthers, they speak in Spanish to customer and co-worker alike.  (I've been there a lot, so I've noticed the pattern.)  Generally, when someone enters the restaurant, a server will greet them in Spanish and take their order the same way, unless it appears evident to the server that the customer would rather speak English.  As it happened, I was feeling a little uncertain of my Spanish, so when a server greeted me in Spanish, I responded in kind, then intentionally said something to her in English as an experiment.  She kept up with Spanish throughout my time there, even after I slipped in a few English utterances that might trigger a code-switch.

While I sat in my booth, I looked out the front window and saw a customer riding up on a road bicycle that had been fitted with several large panniers -- I can't remember for sure, but he might have had them fitted over both tires, and I know I saw them over the rear tire.  I also noticed that he was wearing hipsterish-looking rainbow-colored high-top sneakers.  (Where did he even find such shoes?)  The thought came to my mind as he parked his bike: That guy is not going to speak Spanish in here.  When he walked in to give his order, the cashier immediately addressed him in English, which was the only language the two of them used in the transaction.

How did I know that would be the case?  What is it about a loaded road bike and funny-looking sneakers that indexed gringo to both me and the cashier?  (And, for the record, I am probably just as gringo as the bicyclist.  I just happen to speak Spanish.)