Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Work? What work?

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dreamland plaudits

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Itinerant academic

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

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

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

Until this morning. 

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My bags are packed...

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

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

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pre-departure to-do list

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To-Do list, pre-research edition

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

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oh Dad, poor Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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