Friday, September 30, 2011

Accentuating the...well, you know

I really hate that song, but people around here seem to bring it up from time to time, in an effort to keep me from devolving into a little storm cloud of vitriolic bloggery.  So I'm trying not to be worn down by the little stuff.  And trying to focus my mind on the better things swirling around me.  I'd accept some friendly advice, though, about the small stuff.
  • The pseudology building at Ghosttown U. is under construction repairs right now.  My large and lovely window affords me a fine view of the crane that is hacking, hammering, and beeping all day long.  Now and then, it also affords the workers on the crane a view of me in my office, on their way across the sky to beat the shit out of the roof right next to my office.  It's, um, noisy.  Cranking my iTunes does not seem to solve the problem.  I'm not a huge fan of earplugs for these occasions.  Anyone know a meditation practice that will keep me from feeling like I'm about to be run over by a backhoe?
  • A piece of gravel hit my car windshield yesterday, putting a crack in the center of it.  It's not huge, but it's certainly noticeable in the middle of the windshield like that.  I've never dealt with this before.  Is this the kind of thing that must be fixed right away and damn the cost, or can I ride around without fretting about it?  It's not line-shaped, but a little round flaw, kinda like someone fired a bullet but without the excessive damage associated therewith.  I remember a friend's car whose windshield had incurred some linear crack from debris: that line-shaped crack began to spread one evening when the heating in the car was on, until, in the course of half an hour, it had spread nearly all the way across the glass horizontally.  That clearly needed to be fixed.  Will I be in similar trouble, or can the car live with the flaw?
  • I discovered yesterday that the rubber heel-grip of my left dress shoe has broken off, so the heel is currently a layer of wood.  The rest of the sole is smooth leather.  I was careening around like a drunken figure skater all day; it's a wonder I didn't do myself injury.  Now I'm wondering what my peers would recommend with these eight-year-old shoes: do I seek out a cobbler to re-sole the broken heel, and maybe try to tone up the other parts that have just worn down over the years?  (I don't think there is a cobbler at all in Ghosttown.)  Or do I consign these shoes to dustbin of my personal history, and go shopping for a new pair?  Remember, we're talking about a dressy pair of men's cap-toe oxfords, not something of more transient fashion value.  I've been known to hang on to clothes past their natural lives, but I do so because I don't want to spend even more money that I don't have.  Not sure what makes more sense here.
  • In better news, I've got a fresh nibble from that book press editor!  Can't say I've hooked a contract yet, or even a solid offer to bring it to the board, but there is some progress there.  Basically, I need to write more of my manuscript for the editor to consider.  Where's the coffee, again?
  • It's a new year – for some of us, anyway – and I begin by noting that, all my complaints aside, I'm actually in pretty good mental, physical, and emotional shape.  That's more than a lot of people I know can say about themselves.  I'm lucky.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A short rant about stupid academic titles

All right, listen up, all of you who want to host a conference or organize a panel to showcase your own work, but can't really justify other people's presences except to validate you.  Also, all of you professors who have vague and inchoate ideas of what might constitute a reading group on subject X, and don't have the guts to admit that they're brand-new to the field of inquiry and will need to reduce themselves to MA-candidate level just to begin their reading.  Finally, all of you who want to publish your unexciting (if not actually half-assed) research and don't want to own up to its modest contribution to human knowledge:

Every one of you motherfuckers has to stop inventing bullshit titles like these:

Verby noun, nouny verb: Abusing the English language without mercy

Fucking stupid, stupidly fucking: A history of one-night stands

Asshole of the gods, God of the assholes: Dane Cook in context

Academic jizzing, jizzing on academia: I needed to write something on my travel reimbursement form, didn't I, jackhole?

All y'all ain't fooling no one, as the locals around here might put it.*  These stupid-ass would-be puns are the lazy and confused academician's way to try to tart up an unexciting, uninspired idea.  I've known this for years, but I'm especially aggravated about it lately, when an inexplicable bumper crop of them has littered my email inbox.  The unifying factor in them appears to be the author's unwillingness to say out loud, "I haven't yet worked through all the ideas here, and I cannot claim any authoritative voice here, but I want to enter into the conversation and do what I can."  It wouldn't fucking kill you to be a little humble about your position as a scholar, would it?  You will not dissolve into a puddle of ooze by admitting that you don't know as much as you want to about a given subject, and that is why you want to form a reading group of your peers.  You will not spontaneously combust if you give your unsexy but perfectly respectable conference talk a useful indexical title, a la Analyzing official correspondence between junior Episcopalian clergy in 1820s England.  Yeah, it sounds a little dry, but no one actually sits through a conference panel to be dazzled by CNN-style sensationalism.  You'll just have to trust that the interested parties will remember to gulp their coffee beforehand, and you'll have to work up the courage to ignore the senior scholars who drift off into a gentle, snoring doze after ten minutes. 

And here is the most damning part of all.  All of those faux-clever reversals of words that you think will justify your departmental expense accounts and seduce journal readers?  To the best of my knowledge – literature scholars, please correct me as necessary – those are all a type of rhetorical device called antimetabole.  Do you know with whom all of us who are older than, say, thirty associate with antimetabole?


I hope I have made my point clear.

*I mean, if they gave a goddamn about education past the age of seven.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

RBOC: Colossal foolishness of students

  • My students appear to be prudes, for the most part.  The subject of sex as a social science topic came up today, and people tried all kinds of verbal acrobatics to avoid saying the word.  Several of them seemed almost involuntarily to speak about "marriage," even though I kept reminding them that "marriage" was not the topic under discussion.  What I really wanted to say was, "This is not about people getting married.  This is about people FUCKING.  Do you understand that those are two separate phenomena?"  Some of these students may swallow their own tongues when we get to the gender studies component.
  • I had not one but two students come to the same class today while visibly, audibly ill.  One of them was in such bad shape that zi couldn't fully stand up.  They both came to (attempt to) attend class, and give me doctor's notes to explain why they hadn't been in class for the last quiz.  Kids, when you're so ill that you look like you could keel over at any moment, DON'T COME TO CLASS.  I now fear that I will contract whatever microbes are messing with you, thus causing me problems I don't need, especially due to the fact that you are total idiots.
  • I had a student spend two weeks avoiding class, because zi had done poorly on the first quiz and thought (completely erroneously) that this meant that zi had already failed the entire course.  Stu: read your fucking syllabus.  DON'T PANIC.  I explained this to Stu, who seemed hugely relieved, and promised to start attending class again, now that it seemed worth the trouble again.  Stu promptly failed to show up to the next class.  *facepalm*
  • Almost no one seems to be doing the reading, with or without proper note-taking habits.  Including, as far as I can tell, most of the students whom I counseled one-on-one about this.  In most of my classes, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of students who actually know what the fuck is going on.  
  • Almost no one did the reading for today, either.  No big shock there, I guess.  But I can't help but think it's additionally foolish and counter-productive not to read an assignment for a class that the motherfucking professor wrote himself.  Once again, I learn by experience that the professor's ego is worth very little in this complex equation.  I intentionally scheduled my own reading for a day that didn't matter much, since it's more complicated than the basic this-is-what-your-friendly-neighborhood-pseudologist-does lesson.  But boy, I didn't know how wise that was.  
  • Seriously, I can't get over this in its entirety.  I understand blowing off a reading here and there.  I can even understand a clever, cynical college student figuring out that the professor's own research publication is relatively unimportant for study purposes, and deciding to skip it.  But if you're going to do that, then why the fuck would you show your ignorant ass in class, where I can call on you and ascertain in a public forum that you didn't do the reading?  Why would you scowl at me when I do this?  You could have taken the day off and avoided looking like an asshole in front of the class, and you didn't.  Your fault, not mine.
  • I have to grade the more recent quiz this weekend.  I'm kind of dreading it, based on the responses I noted in passing while collecting papers from students.  Just like with the reading, a select few seem to comprehend the very basic concepts being examined, and the rest are stumbling around in the dark.  Figuring out a fair rubric for these things is bad enough, but I can usually handle it once I reach a place of serenity in which I can see some useful effort in mostly mindless responses.  What is worrying me now is what I will have to do, based on the grade breakdown that I end up with.  Dr. Crazy suggested I send a warning to students by threatening to zero out the grades below C if they don't come in for a consultation, and maybe suggest that they should drop the course if they incur this result.  I like this idea in theory, but unless I get myself in a frame of mind to grade with great leniency, then I will essentially be threatening to zero out a huge majority of the quizzes.  And, if my last experience is any guide, forcing them to come in for consultations accomplishes nothing if they're not actually already on the ball.  I'll look into my options for this next semester, but right now I feel like I'd be overstepping what little authority I have by suggesting they drop a course they're failing.  (The phenomenon seems far too common at Ghosttown U. for a youthful VAP to make some moral stance out of not letting people trudge along to failure.)
  • Depressingly, I keep coming back to the realization that lowering my grading standards through the floor makes my life easier and less angst-filled, despite the angst that I feel at the idea of not really holding my students to a standard of achievement higher than what everyone else the Dumbest State in the Motherfucking Union expects of them.  It actually feels worse, to my surprise, to hold them to high standards, see them fail, counsel them on how to succeed, and watch them fail worse than before.  It's even worse when I, unlike the students themselves, have a clear understanding of the kind of dead-end nothing to which they will need to resort, once they either fail out or drop out of college.  Dead-end jobs in this part of the country are pretty grim.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deadwood students

I'm having trouble getting my mind around how my students think.  On a superficial note, I had to throw out one from class, and issue a stern warning to another about not using cell phones in class.  (I couldn't quite see for sure what the second student was doing until class ended, although she kept looking down to do something in her lap.)  I guess students have always tried to get away with things they know are forbidden, and they always think they can avoid getting caught.  It irritates me that they refuse to understand that using their cell phones in class is disrespectful, but I freely acknowledge that this is partly my own ego talking: they are disrespecting me much more than their fellow students, especially when they oh-so-cleverly sit in the back row and then tack back and forth between looking at me and the iPhones in their laps.  And, as we all learn at one point or another, the professor's ego is largely an expendable item in good classes.

I'm more perplexed by the culture of ignorance that seems to suffuse Ghosttown U.  Most of my students seem totally unmoved by my explicit warning that they failed the first quiz because they didn't know what they were doing, and my concomitant offer to explain all of this to them if they came to my office hours.  I understand why the students who hacked out a good (or at least passing) grade might skip this; I probably would have done the same as a freshman.  But failing?  I'd have been unable to get a decent night's sleep until I found out exactly how I had managed to bomb something like that.  It seems that most of my students are literally not bothered by the thought of failing.  WTF?

I guess my colleagues warned me about this, but I didn't fully grasp the scope of the phenomenon.  It's no secret that education in this entire state sucks the dog's balls, so I expected to see a lot of unprepared students who needed to be brought up to speed pronto.  But I hadn't realized how many of that bunch would be so fatalistic, or accepting, or just plain apathetic that they wouldn't bother to do anything about a class that they had begun to fail by the third week.  To my mind, that first quiz was a wake-up call, a warning siren, a fire under the ass.  To them, it seems to have meant...nothing.  (The number of students who sought me out to discuss the quiz were perhaps a quarter of the total.  Maybe less.)

Trying to fathom how or why a student would approach college in this way feels like staring into the abyss: existentially terrifying.  In a way, it even makes me nostalgic for the previous bane of my pedagogical existence, the grade-grubbers.  Haphazard Musings has a post up now about these and other hobgoblins of her classes, and I am envious of her conclusion that the real problem students are only "a small handful" of the total.  In my case, it seems that only a small handful give a flying fuck about whether or not they fail out of college.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Business cards for profs?

I've never had a strong feeling one way or another about business cards as a professional academic.  I've been getting them printed since my last year of grad school, when I was on the job market for the first time and [foolishly believed that I was] getting ready for a blitz of interviews everywhere.  Obviously, that was not how it worked out that year, and I felt kind of silly sitting at home, filling out online applications that never called me back, a big pile of business cards that announced my identity as an ABD.  They didn't cost too much, but naturally every cost was a burdensome expense at that time.  And of course, since I really had to finish up that year, I did so, which made those business cards obsolete.

Then I got a bunch of new ones made when I got to Research City for my postdoc.  Those, at least, made sense to have: business cards are a very common part of everyday life among professional and artisan classes in RC.  People were visibly pleased to take one from me, in contrast to the times when they asked for my card and I could only offer an email address.  I didn't use them much at all in my job hunt that year, but I certainly made good use of them in my research.

Those cards, of course, are also obsolete now, since they declare me as a fellow of a now-past postdoc, and give my former address in RC.  And, you know, half of them is printed in RC-ish, which almost no one involved in any aspect of my job hunt this year can read. 

So am I expected by hiring committees and conference attendees and/or poobahs to get another set of cards printed up, declaring me a VAP at Ghosttown U. in the pseudology department?  My very limited Stateside experience with such things suggests that they're just window-dressing.  People handed them out sometimes after chatting about common research interests, but I can't quite see the purpose, now that we have and Facebook and websites for every college department in the universe.  But I'd hate to come up short if someone were intrigued by my book manuscript or thought I should consider an open position somewhere, and asked me for a card to keep my name fresh in their heads.  On the other hand, I'd hate to spend whatever larcenous sum of money Ghosttown U. or its local competition might charge for a professional-looking business card, and then hand out about five of the 150 cards I had to order.

Those of you in the know, please share: are business cards useful among academics at conferences and on the job market?  Or are they a waste of money and paper?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Drunken Master Chicken

I've been eating out a little more than I should lately, mostly out of laziness about cooking at home.  I decided to focus on my cooking skills this evening to unwind from a long day at work, since that third class of the day makes me want to bang all of my students' heads on their desks.  (Is there some device that expedites this process for the busy professor?)  Anyway, I had bought some chicken breasts, and I've recreated my usual kitchen-sink-style spice cabinet in my new place, so that seemed the thing to work on. 

The last time I cooked chicken breasts, I tried for a nice soy-lime marinade, and only half-succeeded: too salty, too acidic, and not enough depth of flavor.  I was puzzling over what else I could add to dilute the negative qualities of the soy sauce and the lime juice, and after a while a brilliant idea struck me: WHISKEY.  A few internet searches later, I had an idea what I would do.  And, I am pleased to announce, my latest improvisatory recipe was wildly successful!


1.5 pounds or so of chicken
soy sauce (don't go overboard here)
lime juice (don't go overboard here, either)
1 tbsp. allspice
1 tbsp. ground ginger
rye whiskey (what the fuck, go a little overboard here!)
green onions
garlic cloves (overboard!)
spinach or other greens

Mix the green onions, garlic, spices, lime juice, soy sauce, and whiskey together in a bowl wide enough to marinate all the chicken at once.  Trim the fat and gristle from the chicken and marinate it for at least an hour, turning it over halfway through.  After marination, cook it in a big frying pan with a lid, along with the spinach.  Once everything is laid out in the pan, cover it and check it every five minutes or so.  You want all the veggies and chicken to steam a bit more than they fry, so the moisture isn't all boiled off.  Thick pieces of chicken, like split breasts, may take about half an hour of this, being turned over now and then, before they're cooked all the way through.

Serve with either a glass of the same whiskey used in the marinade, or a red wine light enough to let you savor the delicate balance of the marinade/glaze.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grading drives me to drink

NB: This blog is FERPA-compliant.  No small animals or cute large animals were harmed in the making of this post.  Don't ask about the big ugly ones, though.

Except for a few stragglers who may or may not provide me with acceptable excuses for make-up quizzes, I have graded all of my students' quizzes this weekend.  The scores, to be frank, suck.  I mean, damn.  I've never seen such a bottom-heavy grade distribution, across every class.  One the one hand, I kind of expected this, and intended the quiz as a diagnostic both for myself, and for them, to let them know that they'd have to take the progression of readings and assignments a lot more seriously than they seemed to believe necessary.  (Sure as hell hope that works!)  On the other hand, I was expecting the bulk of the grades to fall somewhere in the C range, not all the way down at F.  If anything, my students appear to have inverted the bell curve — the second largest group was the As.  Bizarre. 

So now I'm a little anxious about what people (my students, my colleagues, my chair, even?) will say about all this.  Am I really so draconian that most of my students were bound to fail?  I really don't feel like that — from my perspective, I've been telegraphing to them exactly what they need to do to excel, and they just stared back at me in a stupor.  I've tallied up more failing grades than all other grades combined.  How can that be normal?

...Is that normal at Ghosttown U.?  Or am I the outlier, the deviant, for expecting students to perform at minimal college level?  Hmm.

Naturally, I'm drinking now.  Apropos of Dr. Crazy's post about self-medication, I am choosing to massage my aching brain and nerves by thinking about things I like to drink.  So, along with my semi-rhetorical lamentations about grading, I'll ask my readership: what do you like to drink as a balm for your academic woes?  I have been known to indulge in whisky, wine, beer, tequila, and rum, and lately I've even discovered a cocktail at my favorite local bar that makes gin palatable for me.  Tonight's balm is a so-so pinot noir, since all the rain has made it feel somewhat chilly for the hefeweizen in my fridge.  If things really go off the rails, I also have a bottle of rye in the house at present.