Monday, December 31, 2012

End-of-year musical wrap-up

I haven't posted lately just because things have been pretty quiet.  Winter break is on: sleeping in, long nights and dark days full of snow – holy crapola, did you know it snows a ton in Cornstate? – and leisurely syllabus planning, manuscript prep, and most luxurious of all, reading.  But since the year is ending, why not post some more music and attempt to construct a narrative of 2012 with it?

January: I listened to this album over and over this past winter, when I had begun the new year on a very low note.  I owe Colin Meloy one for this. 

February: Like I said.

March:  I've been a Gillian Welch fan since the late 1990s.  She and David Rawlings may never really outdo their work on Time (The Revelator), but the album they put out last year, The Harrow and the Harvest, was pretty damn good anyway.  Listened to it a lot as well this winter.

April: Landed my current job, and enjoyed a very brief fling.  Fiona Apple's album wasn't yet released, but what the heck.

May:  Nifty album.  Good tonic for heartbreak.

June: Let us now depart from recent album releases and emotional review.  I just want to highlight some music that I recently acquired, and am enjoying.  But I can tell you a story about this one: when I went to scout housing in Tinytown this summer, I heard a Nashville cover of this song in a restaurant.  Honestly, the cover could have been worse, but I was annoyed not to hear the original, superior recording by Sonia Dada.  I went back to my hotel room and tried to purchase the mp3, to no avail: it did not exist.  I was wroth.  I just happened to check Amazon again this week, and found it, newly transformed into mp3 form!

July: Damien Rice is a strange brew, for my taste.  I question some of his stylistic choices, but his songs are pleasing anyway.  This is probably my favorite from his album, O.

August: Ray LaMontagne is another artist I have mixed feelings about.  I think he falls back on a small bag of tricks a little too often, and frankly, a lot of his lyrics are pretty dumb.  Lucky for him that he has a great voice and pretty good session musicians backing him up.  (Am I the only one who thinks that LaMontagne is in danger of turning into another Van Morrison someday?)

September: Death Cab for Cutie has grown on me slowly over time.  I just bought Narrow Stairs after listening to much of it on Pandora.  This song is what really sold it for me.  Incredibly depressing, but too good and trenchant not to love.  (NB: I really am not depressed nowadays.  My taste in music has always been like this.)

October: As much as I like Sarah Jarosz's work, I must guiltily admit that I tend to favor her exquisite cover versions of other people's songs.  She's got a bunch of great ones, but this might be the most flawlessly beautiful.

November: Finally, a double dose of yet another of this year's musical obsessions of mine, Crooked Still.  I occasionally feel like Aoife O'Donovan should be extraordinarily grateful for amplification technology, since her sweet little voice would be completely swallowed up in a concert setting with a full suite of instruments.  But with the mikes in place, it's a nice combo.  Crooked Still is especially good at arranging old fiddle tunes, in my opinion.  I want to jig around my kitchen every time I hear one of these songs.

December: Seriously, they do fun things with old-timey fiddle tunes!  (Have you noticed that I'm a sucker for cello music?  I've only recently figured that out.)

What will the new year bring, anyway?  More of the good, less of the bad is my hope.  I hope that the unbloggable misery of this past year will soon be a distant memory, and that the little and not-so-little triumphs that I share on this blog will multiply.  And, thinking of some good friends who are themselves on the market for the first time, I hope that others of you will also have some worthwhile triumphs to share.

And for heaven's sake, come and visit!  I have a couch!  It's comfy to sleep on!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Failure, debt, and post-admissions laissez-faire

The New York Times has another depressing piece about higher education in America today, and this one caught my eye more than most of them do.  I have seen more students like the ones described since I began teaching than I could count.  Mostly at Dear Old University and Ghosttown U., as one would expect from big state schools, but I had a few of them this past semester at Cute-as-a-Button University, too.  And they generally did not do well. 

In one particular case, although I will go light on details out of sensitivity, I saw early on that a student – who appeared to be from poor circumstances and, more to the point, very much unsocialized to the norms of either white middle-class collegiate society or even modest academic achievement in college – was tanking.  Stu was already skipping classes just a few weeks in, and tended to sleep through the rest.  (In this case, I knew that a particular extracurricular athletic obligation was probably responsible for Stu's persistent exhaustion.)  Stu didn't even respond to me when I emailed saying that the two of us needed to sit down and figure out what was going wrong, and how to fix it.  Grades were abysmal.  I was alarmed, and let Stu's academic advisor know what was going on.  The advisor said to me, "Yeah, Stu is just lost, I think." 

What I wanted to respond was, "WELL, FUCKING FIND STU, THEN."

Maybe I missed some serious conversations behind closed doors, but from my perspective, the entire university simply allowed a student who needed a lot of socialization and active guidance to drift along.  It felt like the old Herb Block cartoon of Eisenhower as an idle fire chief.  Given the performance I saw, I'd be surprised if Stu were around CBU a year from now.  I expect that Stu will turn into another one of these statistics: a poor student given little or no guidance, unable to figure out how to hack into this racially inflected but ultimately class-structured zone of privilege, and left to leave CBU ignominiously amid a multitude of failing marks and mired in student loan debt as a result of not maintaining the academic credentials to validate the aid package that Stu probably receives. 

Let's be generous to CBU for a moment and acknowledge that the entire institution is struggling to live within its means nowadays, and that every component of student advising and guidance at CBU is chronically shorthanded.  Historically, CBU never worried much about advising, because virtually the entire student body was drawn from the ranks of the unambitious middle classes of Cornstate who went there because Mom and Dad went there.  You don't need to advise students who aspire only to mediocrity.  Now that CBU is trying to pump up its academic profile and compete on the national level, there's a lot of areas that need to be all but rebuilt from scratch.  Advising is clearly one of them.

From what I've seen at CBU, there's yet another problem that the NYT article doesn't address.  CBU has a distressing tendency to admit students who are not properly qualified to go to CBU.  That's not to say that these students are not smart, or that they couldn't be made ready for CBU.  But such students are thrown into the academic milieu unprepared, with neither the necessary catch-up work nor the necessary emotional/practical guidance, and the school seems utterly astonished every time such a student goes down in flames.  I know that those college ranking systems track the percentage of admitted students who return for a second year, as well as those who graduate within four years, six years, etc.  If CBU is so pumped up to act like a nationally ranked SLAC, then why the hell do they stop caring about these students the moment the admissions office sends them the fat envelope?  Even at the most cynical, heartless level of calculation, such a practice damages the school itself, not just the hapless students who fail out of it. 

I'm getting some ideas about how this could be remedied within the institution's practical ability to do so, but I'll hold off on that until I've been here a little longer, and have seen a bit more of the sausage factory.  Meanwhile, I'm frustrated that the university is haphazardly and callously manipulating these students' lives, and leaving them to their fate a year or two after admission, with five figures of debt they can't repay, and no credentials – or even learning – to show for it.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Music to soothe the soul

Before you worry, let me assure you that my soul is actually in decent shape lately.  I just felt like posting some music I've been listening to lately.

(BTW: YouTube has been dreadfully slow at my apartment the last day or so.  Has anyone else noticed this, or is my internet on the fritz again?)

A random chain of links from song to song got me to this gem.  Dare I say that I prefer it to Joni Mitchell's original?  I'm particularly impressed with this cello arrangement for drawing out that mournful Celtic drone.  Now that I hear it, I marvel that I didn't miss it before.

Another fun cover version that I learned about from Pandora.

And this one I just can't stop listening to.  I bought this album a few weeks ago, and I've been obsessing over it since.  People have been tripping out on Fiona Apple's oh-so-sexy voice for over a decade, but I don't think she gets enough credit as a composer.  Not songwriter, mind you, but composer.  Can you imagine what the score for this song must look like?  (Plus, listen for the third repeating lyric that creeps in midway, after the first two have already interwoven themselves: "You can relax around me.")

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Essays for the untutored

I haven't had a drink in a solid week, and I am grumpy.  I'm fighting a rather stubborn ear/sinus infection – with multiple antibiotics, yay! – that has the unpleasant side effect of making me wake up dizzy every morning as my middle ears try to right themselves.  I have to budget extra time in the mornings nowadays if I plan to drive anywhere, since it often takes an hour before my head is steady enough for me to get behind the wheel.  Fun.

I'm trying to distract myself from my grumblings by focusing on my winter break work, since I cranked out the last of my grading a few days ago.  Aside from trying to assemble some reading lists for syllabi, I'm hoping to re-tool the syllabus for my intermediate-level course, Pseudology of Area Studies.  In particular, I want to jettison most of the reading quizzes and replace them with short papers.

Here's the thing: how do you assign a paper on material that you expect students to understand poorly?

The aggravation I feel toward this class is largely due to the fact that it attracts a fair number of students who are interested in learning about the geographical region of my research – after all, it's my Area Studies course – but who are largely or totally ignorant of the discipline of pseudology and how we pseudologists go about things.  Sophomores through seniors can generally register for a class in any discipline they choose, no matter what their major, even if there is a prerequisite.  This odd combination of qualifications means that the prerequisite really applies only to frosh, and once they've taken the disciplinary prereq, they can register, too.  (One of them did exactly that for the upcoming semester.)

In practice, this means that many of my students expect to be given a neatly presented plate of facts that they can digest with little effort — hors d'oeuvres, if you will.  They are then unpleasantly surprised to discover that I am not butlering cheese and crackers, but am instead trying to get them to strap on aprons and learn to do some cooking.  (If I may continue with my cuisinary metaphor.  Did I mention that I'm feeling peckish, as I often do before going to bed?) 

The reading quizzes I gave were, if I may confess to my readership, often a scandal of incompetence in which the students frantically tried to remember a few facts, slap those facts down on the page, and hope that I would be good enough to fill in some ideas around those nuggets of factuality.  For my part, I quickly recognized this problem, but I felt helpless to remedy it in any comprehensive sense.  Never mind my neophyte fears of freaking out my students (and myself!) by retooling the syllabus on the fly.  I just couldn't figure out what the point of Pseudology of Area Studies would be if I didn't make the students focus on both parts of the course title. 

So how do I structure some short papers that make the students engage with the abstract ideas as well as some concrete facts when I cannot guarantee that the students will have already learned the basics of what pseudology is and how it operates at the undergrad level?  I don't want to set them up for failure – gee, déjà vu there – but I want them to understand as well that they have to work, not just absorb.  Surely this is a common issue for social scientists teaching in college.  How does one split the difference so that the students get a decently scaled challenge and the prof gets papers worth the trouble of reading?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gun anger

Fuck you, NRA.

Too angry to say anything else right now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

RBOC: Rants from the Proctor's Chair

  • Stu, when I walk into the classroom to administer the final exam, that is not the time to ask questions about the last test.  You know when it would have been the time?  Last week, when you didn't come to class, or the week before, when you were in class.  Or in my office hours at any point over the last two months.  My sympathy is not aroused by a question that only emphasizes the fact of your chronic absence, either.
  • And another thing, Stu: don't think I don't notice that it is you trying to ask me about the last test just as you're going to take the final.  You, who blew off even the emergency office hours I held yesterday, during exam week, out of sheer pity for my students.  You, who told me that you had something more important to you – although utterly non-essential – to do during those hours, and asked if you could come by after those hours would end, when I distinctly said I would not be available, because apparently you think that you wield the same level of authority in this scheduling situation as you do over your hair stylist.  My patience with your trifling ass is worn down to a nub.  Have fun with that exam, you over-entitled little so-and-so.
  • Seriously, students?  You are choosing to hand in your exam after less than an hour's worth of effort, in a three-hour exam period?  You understand that that is tantamount to throwing away points, right?  And I don't see any academic standouts amongst you.
  • Oh, and you didn't bother even to attempt the extra credit questions?  For realz?  Did you schedule a date midway through your exam period?  'Cause I can't think of any other good reason to hand in that exam without so much as trying to get the extra credit.
  • Did I mention that the extra credit is worth a bump of an entire letter grade?  Every one of you little speed demons could really use that bump.  All right, fine, have it your way.  I suppose your speedy, sloppy test-taking will allow me to grade that much more quickly, as well.
  • Sigh...on the other end of things, it's vaguely uncomfortable to sit in a large classroom with only two remaining students who appear to be writing in microscopic print because they are dead-set on responding to the essay questions with novellas.  Really, I'm glad that they're making the effort, but I wonder how much more they can add, given that they must write on the exam itself, and have no room to expand beyond that.  I may have to pick up a magnifying glass on the way home, so I can read whatever the hell they're micro-printing.
  • I suppose it's commendable of them to take advantage of the entire three-hour exam period to proofread their work top to bottom, but surely they must be approaching a point of diminishing returns.  Jeez.
  • Also, I did not have time for a proper lunch before proctoring this exam.  It would be really nice if I could grab a sandwich or something after this, before I have to run back to my office to meet with more students.
  • On the plus side, I had no time for lunch because I squeezed in a haircut this morning.  Nice to look neatly trimmed and dapper, instead of shaggy and absentminded professor-ish.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Home sick :(

For the first time since I-don't-know-when, I stayed home from school today on account of illness.  It is certainly the first time I have ever done so as a professor.  Maybe it's just my machismo kicking in, but I feel disappointed in myself that I allowed a virus to afflict my sinuses.  I hate getting sick in the middle of things.  It always gives me tremendous anxiety to plan out a semester's syllabus and work in little points here and there where I know I'll have leeway to contract things a bit, if we lose a day or two.  It makes me anxious because I don't want to be the reason for the missed class session.  It feels unprofessional to me.  And yes, I recognize it's insane to think that way about a cold virus.

But anyway, I was already having a little trouble talking yesterday, as my throat closed up and my sinuses went on the fritz.  Apparently, this is one of those slow-acting viruses that just teases you for a few days before really hitting you.  It's the same one that made me bust out the chicken soup mentioned in my last post.  Well, after my colleagues all said to me, "Why don't you just go home?" rather than attend a meeting, I took off. 

On the way home, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up ingredients for some dishes I planned to cook.  As soon as I got to the store and pulled out my list, I nixed the whole thing.  Since my list was on my iPhone, I switched from Notes to Dropbox: I realized it would be easier to shop for groceries if I kept my recipes accessible.  I felt so crappy at this point that I just got the ingredients for another pot of chicken soup. 

When I got home and set about making the soup, I found that my throat tickle had progressed to a full-blown cough.  There was no way I could lecture like this, and I felt so bedraggled yesterday morning that I actually worried about being incapable of driving safely to work.  Head held low, I emailed my students to cancel the class for today.

I hope this day of mild rest and soupy indulgence do something good for me.  I can't really call off any more school days, since this is the last week of classes and I need to administer the evaluations surveys.  It'd look pretty bad if I sidestepped those.

Coughing.  Guess I'd better squeeze another lemon for juice and heat up a bowl of soup.  I have to nuke this fucking bug so I'm functional tomorrow.  Sigh/cough.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Dude.  The last few weeks have been so tiring for me.  Really, the entire month of November kicked my ass.  First I was preparing for the Big Giant Pseudology Conference.  Then I actually attended the BGPC.  Then I endured a week in Hometown.  (Virtually back to back!)  Then I had to get my ass back into gear for the following school week.

Inevitably, all that travel and stress has given me a cold to further enervate me.  Could be worse, though: it's not one of those colds that wallops you, but only saps some of your energy and desire to talk.  As you all know, it's hard not to talk when you're the professor.  Luckily, I have constant access to orange juice and the most potent panacæa* yet discovered: my grandmother's chicken soup recipe.  In an effort to ratchet up the sinus-clearing and throat-healing powers of this formidable soup, I added two tablespoons of cayenne pepper.  Perhaps the soup could have done just fine with only one tablespoon, but it sure cleared my sinuses. 

I'm down to a single remaining week of class, and then there'll be exam week and grading.  I feel like I may have to be carried to work on a stretcher for sheer exhaustion.  You know how sometimes you feel too weak to lift your limbs to do your class prep, even when you're perfectly healthy?  I'm reaching that point now, and my nose and throat are still misbehaving.

But on the plus side of things, part of my exhaustion comes from
  • having enjoyed my best BGPC ever, replete with networking, good meals, and a renewed sense that my colleagues take me seriously as a scholar;
  • having done some things that needed to be done in Hometown, unpleasant as they may have been;
  • somehow keeping my classes running, although I admit this part has suffered as a result of the first two accomplishments.
I am amused to observe that, as personal as all this stuff is, it's structural at a larger level: every one of my colleagues at CBU agrees with me that our asses are dragging as we approach the end of semester.  We all have different stories, but they all have the same conclusion.  Perhaps I really have joined the club in some way.

*I love typing those fiddly letters and diacritics.  Don't you?

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I'm currently gritting my teeth and getting through another tough period in Hometown.  I'm feeling rather vitriolic and ungracious toward a number of people and things right now.  But, since it's Thanksgiving, I thought it would be worth reminding myself of a few people and things I'm actually thankful for.
  • I actually like my job.  
  • I actually like most of my students.
  • I really like my colleagues.
  • I have a job.  (Attending the Big Giant Pseudology Conference and meeting some old friends reminded me that some of my colleagues have never held a full-time academic job with health benefits.)  
  • My book contract.  'Nuff said.
  • The few people in my family who actually make my life easier, rather than harder.
  • My health.  Visiting Hometown reminds me of that pretty sharply.
  • My sanity.  See above.
  • My friends.
And so to bed.  Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

That time of year again

I am bleary-eyed and heavy-limbed right now, and can't go to sleep yet because I have clothes I need in the dryer.  I awoke on a little less than four hours' sleep this morning to give a test in Intro to Libel and Slander.  The insufficient hours of sleep were a product of my trying to finish (ha!) my conference paper last night.  Somehow, late this morning, I managed to hack out a full draft of the paper and email it to the discussant.  (This may be my all-time record: the furthest in advance I drafted a conference paper and sent it to the discussant.)  Then I put together a presentation for a colleague's class.  Then I dealt with some utterly insane unbloggable stuff. 

And now, after treating myself to dinner because the fridge is empty, I can start packing my suitcase as the laundry goes through the dryer cycle.  I have to rise at 5:00AM tomorrow, so it's gonna be an early night.  (If I know what's good for me.) 

Stay tuned for updates from the Big Giant Pseudology Conference!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's being a week

Two more elderly relatives back in Hometown died in the past week.  These were not sudden tragedies, at least; they were elderly and infirm people.  And, in the case of one, it was something of a mercy anyway.  But the mood of the phone calls to and from Hometown this week is distinctly downbeat.

More unbloggable stuff.  So it goes.  Sometimes there's nothing left to do but hold on.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reading; and, refusing burdens

Moria has a great new post up at her place, observing that too much writing and not enough reading can lead to a discomfiting sense of distance and confusion about one's own material.  I'm feeling that hard right now, in fact.  I've been having one of those weeks in which I tried to re-work the journal article I'm revising now to serve as my conference paper at the Big Giant Pseudology Conference, and instead found that this is a futile endeavor: the one will not translate into the other.  Now that I've admitted that, I have about four and a half pages of talk drafted, with more soon to follow.  It's a good thing, too, because I am increasingly aware of how staggeringly ignorant I feel of my own subfield of pseudology – basically, I identify as a Damn Liar specializing in Research Country – at the moment.  A new Annual Review of Pseudology article came out covering the recent developments in my subfield, and it freaked me out to read through that and its bibliography and see all these pertinent, interesting-looking books and articles that I'd never fucking heard of.  I can honestly say that this didn't happen much to me three years ago, when I was writing my diss; there was little on either Damn Lies or Research Country that I hadn't read, and less that I hadn't heard of.  The volume of research published just in the last year blows my mind; how has this stuff not come to my attention before a freaking Annual Review article collated all of it?  And, of course, the thought immediately comes to me: I can't finish writing my book until I've read all this stuff!  Wrong, wrong, wrong, I know.  But it's kind of unsettling to me how quickly I can become ignorant of the latest work after just over a year of full-time teaching.  I may need to start typing reminders into my calendar to check the various journals for new articles.

*                *                  *                  *                  *                 *

Meanwhile, I'm having a moment of hesitation that would astonish Fie Upon This Quiet Life, given how vociferously I have argued in favor of being mercenary and self-interested as an early-career academic trying to climb the ranks.  A student of mine has asked if I would oversee hir independent study next semester, and I haven't actually said no yet.  Let me list the pros and cons:

  • Zi is whip-smart and fun to teach.
  • I have some specialized knowledge in short supply at CBU that makes me a more obvious candidate for the job than most other professors zi knows.  If I say no, then zi may be unable to pursue the independent study.
  • I feel unusually sympathetic toward this student, since zi has confided to me that zi has been having a difficult time due to some of the interpersonal politics of the university.
  • My specialized knowledge is still not ideal for the job, and I am sure that zi is asking partly because the prof who would be a natural is never around, wrapped up in other business.
  • While I am deeply sympathetic to the student's unhappiness, I also recognize that I cannot alter that situation, and if zi continues to rely on me as a confidante, I can do no more than be a friendly ear for hours at a time.  Seriously.  Zi could go on indefinitely, I fear.  Often when I have other work to do.
  • This is flatly NOT MY JOB.  No one is going to give me a course release for this independent study.  No one is going to give me a salary bump to compensate for the lost time.  And certainly no one else will do the supplemental research for my book while I'm mired in extra grading and advising.
  • For real, people, it's NOT MY JOB!  I'm a two-year hired gun here, albeit kindly treated and more or less a full voting member of the department.  I refuse to be burdened like a pack mule without either concomitant job security or financial compensation.
  • And finally, as cruel as it sounds, it's just not my job.  The student isn't even a pseudology major; zi is just taking a course with me.  Someone from Stu's own department really needs to be stepping up to the plate to advise hir, instead of letting hir cast about like this.
Really, I suppose my mind is made up, and I'm just stalling on sending an email disappointing a favorite student.  Sigh.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

RBOC: I'm drunk right now

  • Pouring equal parts bourbon and Vernor's ginger ale over ice yields one potent fucking drink.  I'm sipping on my second one now, and I'm already kinda lit.
  • I have achieved this week what has seemed nigh-impossible of late: I have managed to cook my own lunch to bring to work for the entire week.  Usually, I drop the ball on either Monday or Wednesday evening, in preparation for the fucking Intro to Libel and Slander course.  Today, though, I stopped by the grocery store in Tinytown to see if the offerings were any better than at the grocery store in the painfully anonymous suburb in which I live, and found not only some handsome bulbs of garlic, but also a 3 for $5 special on bunches of fresh basil leaves.  I am inordinately proud of myself that I have a travel pack of 3-cheese tortellini and basil-spiked tomato sauce ready to tote to work tomorrow morning.
  • To explain the above, I am slowly deducing that Tinytown, despite its diminutive size and relative isolation, has a better grocery store than my anonymous suburb.  (Lest you think I'm kidding about the anonymity, I checked: there are towns with the same name as my suburb in more than a quarter of the United States.)  The high proportion of over-educated (and, one might even say, snooty) CBU professors seems to have impelled the grocery store to carry a decent selection of fresh vegetables and herbs, including an impressive number of organically grown produce for a town in which almost everyone I see in a car seems to be smoking and/or advertising their membership in the National Rifle Association.  When I confirmed that the basil wasn't on special because it was about to expire, I jumped on the deal.  I may give up shopping at my local grocery store entirely, if I can buy better-quality produce in Tinytown right on my route from work to home.  (Especially since my local stopped carrying Soyrizo.  Motherfuckers.)
  • Life back in Hometown kind of sucks right now.  I'd be a lot more sober right now if I didn't have to dread going back to Hometown in a few weeks' time.  I've heard enough bad news since Monday to last me for quite a while.
  • Oh, hey!  Did I mention that I'll be flying to Hometown from Cornstate a mere 36 hours after I return to Cornstate from the Big Giant Pseudology Conference?  Or that I have a conference paper to write for said conference that I have only drafted in rough form?  Or that I'm (tremble) going to spend an entire (godawful) week in Hometown before I can escape back to Cornstate?  Or that the World is Ending during my visit?  (Okay, that last part doesn't really apply to anyone except me and perhaps one or two other close relatives.)
  • Spanish Prof suggested months ago that she and Fie Upon This Quiet Life and I all get shitfaced together at an opportune moment.  Has she acted upon this suggestion yet?  Nooooooooo.  In fairness, however, she herself observed that she was "drunk as hell" when she said that.  I choose to live in hope.  And, at the moment, in hiccups.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Good wishes

I'm constantly over-tired and underslept nowadays, and I would like to complain about a number of things.  Right now, though, I can't be bothered: I'm too busy nervously checking the news about Hurricane Sandy.  Almost my entire family is sitting right in the storm's path at one point or another.  I can't even think right now about the property damage some of them will surely sustain; I just want everyone to make it through the storm and its aftermath alive and well.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


  • Dear Student: when you email me less than an hour before class asking to take a meeting with me later that day to discuss material, you should probably show up to class that day as well.  Just a thought.
  • I am sorely tempted to apply for one of the numerous job postings for a new chair for a Department of Pseudology at one university or another.  Permanent tenure and nice salary in a pleasant living location?  Sign me up!  Honestly, if you want to bring in an outsider to serve as chair, then you have some serious internal politics to sort out.  Wouldn't a young PhD only a few years out of grad school be an ideal breath of fresh air to run your department and soothe all fragile egos involved?  Surely there is no strong need for the new chair to have held tenure – or even a tenure-track job – before taking up the post!  Whaddya say?
  • I've never received as many begging emails from students as I have this year.  My Intro to Libel and Slander is one of the staple gut courses for the hard science distribution requirement, as well as a requirement for the pseudology major, so a few people need to take it in any given year, and a whole lot more want to do so.  I'm both amused and a little grossed out by the way they suck up to me in these emails, hoping that I will bend the registration rules for them.  I'm glad to hear, young padawan, that you have always been fascinated by pseudology and long to take the course to satisfy your voracious intellectual curiosity.  However, since you haven't bothered to set foot in a pseudology course until your senior year, and you seem to have no idea what pseudology is except for its convenient timing and fulfillment of a distribution requirement, I remain somewhat dubious of your motivations.  (It's a dead giveaway when they express interest in the fundamentals of Fibbing and Little White Lies while seeming to be utterly unaware of what Libel and Slander are.)
  • By the way, I'm not doing anyone any special favors with this registration process until the students who really have to take the course have had a chance to register, so stop asking me!  Won't do it!!  Kthankbai
  • Oh advisor, my advisor, where have you gone?  That letter of reference ain't gonna write itself.
  • The weather here in Cornstate is a little scary sometimes.  I guess the thunderstorms here are about on par with the ones in DOU-Town and Ghosttown, but they come much more frequently here.  Plus, this is the first time I've had to worry about driving for miles in an intense thunderstorm.  What is more, Cornstate is a good bit further north than DOU-Town, so we're getting less and less daylight by the day.  At 7:30 this morning, I was on the road in near-total darkness, which made the occasional flash of lightning in my field of vision almost literally blinding.  Didn't enjoy that.
  • Oh, that reminds me: Dear Cornstate, the drainage on your highways sucks.  Please do something about that.  Oh wait, I forgot: a large portion of this state seems poised to elect another Tea Party jackass who seems bent on privatizing the entire government and depriving it of revenue, except the part that keeps women from getting abortions.  Because all government is evil, except the part that enforces your personal morality upon other people's bodies.
  • P.S. Fuck you, Tea Party.

Friday, October 19, 2012


A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with a friend about my age, and we were discussing all the stuff we do every day that gives that "wow, I guess I'm an adult" sensation.  We're young enough that we still have occasional flashes of feeling like adolescents impersonating grown-ups, and perhaps we even flatter ourselves a bit that we are so youthful as to be mistaken for mere pups still wet behind the ears.  (In my case, these latter sensations are intensified by being the youngest member of my department.)  But, when we're honest with ourselves, we admit that we have been adults for a while now, even if we don't always feel like it.

Why wouldn't I feel like an adult, aside from being younger than my colleagues?  As my friend and I agreed, it was the sense that we didn't necessarily know the right or best thing to do in a given situation, and we just had to do the best we could to make it up as we went along.  I'm still in shock at the realization that this, in fact, is what everyone does.  No one really knows what they're doing.  Everyone is making it up as they go along.

My friend and I also agreed that this realization had a much more unsettling implication for us: all those adults that we looked up to when we were children, who seemed eternally ready for anything and infallibly knowledgeable about everything important, were actually doofuses just like us making it up as they went along.  I mean, jeez, when my parents were my age, I knew them!  Knowing that my parents were neither more knowledgeable nor wiser than I am now, when they seemed to know everything, gives me an almost terrifying feeling of how fragile and fallible the whole world truly is.

This makes me feel simultaneously better and worse about how I'm navigating my way through some heavy unbloggable stuff relating to my family.  I really dislike wading into situations in which I don't know what I should do, especially when there are real consequences for a number of people no matter what I choose to do.  But, at least, I'm no worse off than anyone else.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stress dream?

This is the dream I had just before waking up this morning:

I was checking into the hotel for the Big Giant Pseudology Conference this year, and since I'd never been there before, I quickly got lost trying to find my room.  (It was one of those floor plans with little mezzanines up and down, so it was hard to know what floor I was on, sometimes.)  I was wound up about looking competent and professional around my colleagues, so I was trying to hide the fact that I had no idea where I was in the hotel, and couldn't find my room.  Naturally, the more that I tried to find the room and avoid making a fool of myself, the more colleagues and friends of friends I ran into, until I seemed to be at the center of a knot of people.  We were having an animated conversation about language and pedagogy – one of them noticed that I spoke a particular language – and I tried to keep up my end of the conversation while sitting down on the floor of the confusing lobby and opening my laptop so I could try to figure out from a web page or something where the hell my room was.  And all the time, more people that I wished to impress favorably kept passing by and stopping to chat.

And throughout the entire experience, I was completely naked, and was constantly trying to hide this fact from everyone by sidling along walls to hide my rear and using my courier-style computer bag to strategically hide my front.  I had no clothes on at all, so I don't know whom I thought I was fooling,  But in any case, I felt pretty much trapped by the time I was sitting (naked) on the lobby floor, since I had taken the laptop out of the bag and had the laptop balanced on my lap.  (Strategically.)  I seem to recall rising anxiety that someone would suggest a restaurant for dinner or check the conference program and try to take the computer from me to get the logistical details.

Now that I'm awake, out and about, I can't tell which fact offers me more relief: the fact that I'm off for all of next week for CBU's fall break, or that I'm clearly wearing trousers right now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I'm too busy gradinggradinggrading to say much right now.  But this post says it all for me

For tangentially related reasons, I'm feeling pretty angry about overly entitled and privileged bourgeois people whining that they are insufficiently entitled and privileged.  *Scowl*  I'll let that post speak for me, lest I start a rant.

Friday, September 28, 2012

RRBOC (Really RBOC!)

  • One of my students has a pair of shoes more awesome than anything that I own.  It eats me up with envy.  I don't want to give him a swelled head or cross any lines of appropriate professor-student relationship, but I'm dying to know where he found those shoes.  I'm also scandalized to think that his shoes might cost four times what I'd spend on a pair.
  • Speaking again of footwear, I continue to despise this godawful trend of wearing black socks and shower sandals.  I have yet to see anyone wearing this who doesn't look like zi just escaped from an insane asylum.  I am utterly baffled that any person in possession of hir full faculties would ever think of putting on such items together, much less walking out of doors like that.  It actually makes those running shoes with toes look reasonable, even stylish.
  • Crickets keep making ill-advised incursions into my garage when I come home in the evening.  They don't seem to realize that they are cutting themselves from their friends and family by hopping in there.  They probably neither realize nor care how much it irritates me when they start chirping in there, and the walls and cement floor magnify the sound half a bajillion times when I'm trying to sleep.
  • It always shakes me a little when a student tells me that they can't attend one thing or another because a hugely traumatic event has befallen them.  I was such a blissfully ignorant college student, I now see.  There are so many awful things that can happen out of the blue that can throw a student totally off-track for a semester or more.  Had I even been aware of them all, I might have become an insomniac by my sophomore year.
  • I used a BB&B 20%-off coupon as a flimsy pretext to treat myself to a new roasting pan, a small saucepan, and a rice cooker.  I am excited.  (I suck at cooking rice.)  I briefly considered going hog-wild and getting a pressure cooker too, but I don't yet have a clear idea what I'd do with the thing, and the trustworthy models all seem to be at least $100. 
  • I think I'm going to use the book contract as a reason to host my first house party in years.  It'll be my first time to have colleagues over to my place.  Maybe I should buy a coffee table ahead of that?  And maybe put up the wall art that I've had leaning against a wall for months now?  And Christ, I should probably at least unpack that freaking vacuum cleaner that has sat unopened as a makeshift end table for way too long now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


My editor contacted me.  The press is giving me the book contract.

I may be too shocked to be elated just yet.  I think I'm going to go home and mix myself a nice drink whilst I ponder the minutiae of deadlines and back matter.  Meanwhile, I'll let Daler Mehndi do the crazy ecstatic dancing for me.  Now, where did I leave my satin robe and turban...?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

RBOC: Who by fire?

There's just no way for me to enjoy 99% of all synagogue services I have ever attended, at least since I stopped believing in God in my early teens.  And yet I end up going sometimes, usually out of one social obligation or another than any spiritual curiosity of my own.  So it was this year that I got suckered into going to Rosh Hashanah services at CBU: I feel more sense of tradition about the dinner than about the religion, and I just didn't have the beytsim to stop by for the food and then bug out before the evening service.  After which, of course, the tiny congregation's leaders said to me, "We'll see you tomorrow morning, right?"  Sigh.
  • The congregation is so tiny that it includes faculty, staff, and students from CBU.  I feel somehow exposed and thrown off by associating in this way with my students.
  • No brisket for Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner?  WTF?
  • Fucking tuna fish as the protein of choice?  What the shit?
  • There's just no way not to be a little intimidated by the newness of people in a new congregation.  Especially when your Hebrew is really shaky/non-existent.  I completely chickened out of going up to the front to participate, more out of Hebrew-language stage fright than my philosophical disagreements with organized religion.
  • One of the more dispiriting things about going to a new congregation isn't so much the unfamiliarity of the faces, but the unfamiliarity of the tunes.  I hate it when I can just about remember the tune to a prayer, only to find that everyone else has some other (usually lame) tune that they all use.
  • Speaking of tunes: Seriously, cantor?  You accompany yourself on a guitar?  On a fucking guitar?  Who the fuck do you think you are, Reverend Lovejoy?  I don't like it a damn bit; the aesthetics are all wrong.  Just like there's no crying in baseball, there's no strumming in services.
  • Holy crap, he has the guitar because he only knows how to play and sing in major scales.  You know what this shit sounds like in a major key?  Anglicanism.
  • Ditto this English-language bullshit.  Yeah, sure, I'm pretty much illiterate in Hebrew, but at least Hebrew sounds like prayer to me.  We sound that much more insane when we intone prayers in English.  If nothing else, harmonic-minor tunes in Hebrew inspire a sense of contemplation and ontological reflection for me.
  • It's incredibly anxious to be in a little congregation for these things, since you perforce feel  more a part of things, even if you'd like to just hang back by the wall in anonymity.  When you grapple with your feelings about personal engagement with religion, it's awfully confusing and unsettling to be thrown into communal engagement with ritual practice.
  • I dislike the people who are more religious than I.
  • I dislike the people who are less religious than I once was.
  • I really dislike the smug senior who can't shut up about his semester abroad in Israel.  No, I really don't want to hear anymore about it.  No, I am not impressed with you.  No, I do not give a flying fuck.  No, I really don't give a flying fuck.
  • I've identified for years as a Jewish atheist, but now I may have to amend that to Conservative Jewish atheist.  This Reform Judaism business is such a weak cup of coffee that I don't even feel anything against which to rebel properly.  Clearly, I have serious identity issues to work on.
  • I find it deeply depressing to read the language of most of these services.  Declaring our group fealty to an especially fickle and schizophrenic Invisible Patriarchal Ideal in the Sky just rubs me the wrong way, even if the leader of the prayer is hippie-dippie enough to re-word some of the language to refer to the deity in the feminine.  Once in a while, though, the language strikes a contemplative chord with me — like the following:
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.
And then I realize that Leonard Cohen said it better in his rewrite.  And then I start thinking that I should write a service based on Leonard Cohen songs.  Because I would totally freak out with excitement if I could come to services and hear/see something like this:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Upgrading my footwear

It may be a questionable move for a man trying to pay down a sizable credit card debt, but damn it, I "needed" to buy some new shoes!  At the very least, I needed to replace my workaday black oxfords, which are so worn out that they give me terrible aches and pains when I wear them for a day.  I bought my last pair of these stupid Dockers less than a year ago, and they're already worn to shreds.  Never again, damn it; I need some footwear with better longevity than that.  I decided to minimize my trips to the shoe store, so I resolved to buy a new pair of brown shoes, too, since the brown Dockers are only a hair's breadth away from the wrack and ruin of their ebony brethren.

And so it was that, partly because I needed some shoes and partly to comfort myself with some retail therapy after finding that my kitchen sink is inoperative and may need to have the entire faucet replaced, I bought some nifty new shoes.

Behold!  My new black Sandro Moscolonis, and my new brown Borns.  The hotness, am I right?

Friday, September 14, 2012

So the student says to the prof...

A brief exchange during a test I gave this week:

Student: (raises hand to call me over)
Me: What's up?
Stu: (points to vocabulary question) What is this?
Me: You have to tell me.
Stu: I know, but this is like, when—
Me: You have to tell me.

End scene.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

In-the-flesh writing group report

Today, I did something I haven't done since I was a grad student: I met up with some colleagues at a café, we took out our laptops, and we worked on our individual projects, but with the support of the group to push us on.  I'm the new kid in the writing group, so I was introduced to a new approach to these things.  We set a timer for 45 minutes, and we worked in absolute silence for that time — no chit-chat or internet permitted.  (They granted me a waiver on the latter point so I could look up submission guidelines at a few journals.)  When the time period ended, we took a ten-minute break to talk, compare notes on things, and get another cup of coffee.  Then the cycle repeated itself.

And it fucking worked.  For me, at least.  I began to draft the journal article that Whirlwind was nagging me to create.  Better yet, when I hit a wall in my analysis and couldn't figure out how to demonstrate that my ideas were not merely interesting data but theoretically relevant as well, my colleagues discussed the problem with me.  They drew out details by asking me some questions about the nuts-and-bolts stuff, and then they totally surprised me by pointing out that an answer I gave them essentially constituted a theoretical counter-argument to a well-known book in my field.  And boom, I gained a theoretical intervention to undergird my empirical observations.

I am actually excited about drafting this article now!  And, for that matter, about continuing to participate in this writing group, even if that means I'll be spending anywhere between five and seven hours each Saturday working.  Lazing around on Saturday afternoon is generally more fun than working, but I just can't argue with good writing results.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Gotta crank 'em out

As the job cycle begins anew, I've got one eye on the pseudology jobs, just in case I see a good one to go for.  There are a few out there, so I'm keeping my CV updated and dusting off my Interfolio account.  And of course, I need to keep my letters of reference current.  That led to calling most of my letter-writers today just to "make sure that they got the link."  While talking with Dr. Whirlwind, zi of the impressive CV, zi said in a slightly lowered tone of voice – which I heard as "Heed what I say now" – that I needed to get serious about putting out some journal articles.  (I don't have any in a major journal.)  Even with the book manuscript that I hope will someday soon be under contract, zi said that all the book could do was buy me some time; one way or another, I have to apply myself to getting some articles out.

In pseudology, at least, it can take years to get an article into print, so this process could take every bit as long as bringing my book to print.  Whirlwind's suggestion was to take a few of my drafted book chapters and re-work them to play around with theory – almost as experiments, really – and send them out.  And, as absurd as it sounded to me, zi recommended putting them on my CV as soon as I send them out as "submitted."  This sounds odd, but it corresponds with Flavia's advice to me to play up everything that I can at this stage of my career, when I literally have nothing significant in publication and need to demonstrate somehow that I can be taken seriously.

Of course, Whirlwind is speaking to me from the vantage point of a very ambitious researcher who has achieved hir goal of full professorship at a bona fide R1 institution.  As I have mentioned before, I have my doubts that I want to follow that exact career path as an academic.  But I don't doubt that even crunchy-granola liberal arts colleges will take the liberty in this godawful job market of judging job candidates partly on their publication credits.  Journal articles have been literally the last thing on my mind within my recent professional development, and I guess that I have to stop letting that slide.

Good thing I'm about to start attending a writing group with some colleagues tomorrow.  We'll see what hours of caffeine and fear of public shame will do for my productivity on a Saturday.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Scraping by

It's been a rough week on me, although I was mostly satisfied with the classroom results.  I have to get myself into physical as well as mental shape to handle the workload here, since there's just so damn much to do.  I'm about one lesson ahead of the students, if that much, in all three of my classes.  Likely to remain so, except for the odd week when we tackle a reading I know particularly well.

To my surprise, I'm not doing as poorly as I feared I would at Intro to Libel and Slander.  It's kind of amazing to me to see that, indeed, I know more about this stuff than my students do.  (I honestly didn't quite believe that, given how much of the course is predicated on relatively simple scientific concepts that one could easily encounter in high school.)  It blows my mind that I'm able to explain this stuff as well as I have done so far.  Sure hope I can keep this up.  I worry I'm going to hit the wall in another few lessons, but we'll see.  But at the moment, I sound more or less like a competent libeler to my students.

The week ended on something of a low note for us new faculty members: the first paycheck finally came in.  That should be good news, but it was complicated by the form: the initial paycheck for a new employee at CBU is always issued on paper, rather than by direct deposit.  It seems that a lot of new hires have not yet had their mailboxes squared away in their departments – how could this be? I couldn't tell you – and thus they literally did not receive their paychecks.  Seriously, CBU?  You couldn't actually ensure that your employees got paid?  I'd have almost expected such neglect at Ghosttown U., but this was a shock to me.  Luckily, I was not one of these unfortunate souls, and got my pay.

At least, I got my base pay.  The moving reimbursements seem to have been roundly delayed, for no good reason that anyone will admit to us.  I personally handed over my form to the next person in the bureaucratic process ten days before payday.  For those of us who not only had to carry credit card balances during our time of non-employment but also had to move house, it's a real hardship to wait even longer for that cash.

But hey, who am I to complain?  At least I got a proper paycheck, and at least it was for the legally mandatory sum.  One of my colleagues suffered the indignity of a clerical error on hir paycheck, so that instead of hir actual salary installment, it was for $300.  After months of no pay, that must seem almost worse than nothing at all — like adding insult to injury.  Sure hope they work that shit out for hir fast.  Rent was due today, after all.

On the plus side, I finally got to act on (one half of) Grumpy Rumblings' advice, and bought myself a cheaply priced used microwave oven.  Assuming it works decently, I'll never find a cheaper one, so I'm pleased.  Oddly enough, its previous owner is the previous occupant of my new office.  Small college in a small town, these things are bound to happen, I suppose.  (You can tell Tinytown is tiny from the fact that the used furniture dealer could recall the microwave's last owner by name.)  I can reheat things without resorting to my regular oven, now!  I'm still debating whether or not to spring for a toaster oven, too.  It's obviously money I don't want to spend, and it would take up countertop space.  But, on the other hand, it's probably an easier and cleaner way to toast bread and heat up things that tend to drip.  I'll think about it.

Oh yeah, money: after talking over the matter with my financial consultants/parental units, it looks like I went a little too gung-ho with saving for retirement.  I decided to throw a full 10% of my base pay into my 403(b), since I've only had one for a year now, and I feel the need to make up for all those years that I had no savings at all.  But, like I mention above, I'm carrying credit card debt from the summer.  A lot, in fact, since I had to buy a relatively large number of household appliances and goods that I had not previously owned for many years.  Those are abnormal and, FSM willin', one-time costs that I won't have to factor in on a regular basis, but the damage is done.  Given the thousands of dollars I had to put on plastic, I might have made a miscalculation in sacrificing 10% of my pay.  As Nicole and Maggie will likely concur, I really need to pay down that credit card debt as fast as reasonably possible, and only then worry about socking away the maximum in my 403(b).  I'm a little embarrassed that I couldn't/didn't figure that out for myself, and a bit annoyed that it might take a few weeks (or months?) before I can alter that arrangement with the Payroll Office.

Meanwhile, I'd better keep a sharp eye on my expenses, since I'll be halfway through September before I can pay any more large bills.

Friday, August 24, 2012

And we're off!

I survived the first few days of the semester!   I'm kind of fried right now, after a whole week of poorly slept nights and constant improvisations of all sorts.  Let me see if I can get my thoughts ordered.
  • Three preps is going to kick my ass if I don't keep to a tight schedule.  I have to do an unusual amount of prep for Intro to Libel and Slander, since the substance as well as the form of the course is somewhat alien to me.  Pseudology of Area Studies requires relatively little prep, thank goodness; I've read everything we're going to study cover-to-cover, except for one text that I've only dabbled in.  (And I've already read the intro to that one.  As any pseudologist worth hir salt knows, the intro chapter of a pseudological monograph is the key bit.)  But it's my baby, Super Awesome Cool Stuff, that may kick my ass the most: I couldn't resist the temptation to assign a bunch of nifty-sounding texts that I have never read.  I'll just have to read them right along with my students, which means I probably won't get a decent night's sleep until December.
  • Being a new faculty member requires an odd balance of enthusiasm and reserve.  On the one hand, I obviously want to do a good job, and as my regular readers all know, I'm deeply grateful to have escaped from Godforsaken State.  On the other hand, I felt peculiar hanging out with a senior colleague yesterday.  Zi is a recently tenured pseudologist and seems to be stepping into the role of departmental mentor to me.  But of course, those who are tenured and have been around a while tend to develop grudges and complaints about some structural issues in any university.  It was, frankly, weird to feel hir dampening (or trying to dampen?) my enthusiasm for the job by venting to me about the administration's vision, the quality of the students, the ignorance of the alumni community, etc.  One just can't be all Pollyanna in the face of such unloading by a close colleague.  But I feel like I can't take on those attitudes, for a multitude of reasons.  First and foremost, of course, is that I'm not permanently tied to CBU, as zi is.  But stating out loud this lack of need for institutional loyalty feels discomfiting, even after we had a frank conversation about the impossibility of my staying past my two-year contract.
  • So far, I enjoy my classes in direct correlation to their academic levels.  The 100-level, Intro to Libel and Slander, may have its moments, but I can't even pretend to be deeply invested in it, nor to think much of the grade-grubbing kids with math anxiety who register for it to get a distribution requirement the easy way.  (I took my share of Science for Poets, but I would like to think that I never expressed to a professor my fear that I would actually have to, you know, like, know facts.)  
  • My 200-level, Pseudology of Area Studies, is much more promising than the intro course, even if all the students have is some native intelligence and the will to learn.  Explaining the basics of my area studies to even the most erudite undergrad can be a frustrating experience, but at least my students acknowledge that they feel out of their depth on some matters.  I'll have to walk a fine line between pushing them to think out loud and freaking them out because they recognize the limits of their own knowledge in some sensitive subjects.
  • My 300-level, Super Awesome Cool Stuff, could hardly be better so far.  I nearly applauded my students today at the end of our first session discussing a text.  It's a famous foundational text that I first encountered as a wee freshman, lo these many years ago, and which, as I ascertained, none of them has ever read before.  It's a doozy: complex and tangent-ridden prose style, littered with references to historical figures and literary quotations totally beyond their knowledge base, and predicated on some very difficult abstract concepts.  With just a little coaxing from me, they took that ball and ran with it.  They mused out loud about its implications, wondered what the author was trying to do, asked each other questions, and occasionally (very gently) critiqued each other's understanding of the text.  I actually had to cut short the discussion when time ran out: they literally talked right up to the end of the class period.  I told them, in all honesty, that I had never taught such a successful first day of class before.  If they can maintain this level of intellectual curiosity and engagement, then the course will be a real treat for me.
  • My kitchen is currently full of dirty dishes and glasses that I just can't be bothered to touch right now.  Something had to give during this first week, and it turned out to be my housekeeping.  I'll do a lot of clean-up tomorrow, but tonight, I'm just going to fall into bed, lulled by a cocktail and a considerable sleep deficit.
  • I suppose I also had to give up a little emotional stability, courtesy of the aforementioned sleep deficit.  When I'm underslept, I get more emotional.  I was reminded of this when I plopped myself down on my couch to listen to this podcast, and found myself sniffling regularly.  Time for bed, I'd say.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So unprepared

First day of classes is tomorrow.  I think I'm going to die.

I would do the most ungodly favors for anyone who will finish my Intro to Libel and Slander syllabus for me and prepare the lectures.

Aaargh...I'd better chug this whiskey and ginger, or I'll never get myself to sleep tonight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trying to be a good kid: Citation for students

I'm sitting in a Panera at a mall, since this is the only way to get both breakfast and wifi out here in the sticks.  I was getting nervous about all the repairs that my car needed, and decided to bite the bullet and take it to a VW dealership so I could get people who know their business to fix it all.  They're probably going to be working on the car through lunchtime, so they gave me a ride to the mall so that I had a slightly nicer place to twiddle my thumbs.  I am smart, though, and instead of thumb-twiddling, I have work on hand, so I went for the wifi and coffee.  I fear that the repair bill will be frighteningly close to $1000 $1300 (fuckfuckfuck), but I couldn't see any way around it.  This is why the devil invented credit cards, right?

Speaking of work, one of the syllabus-related matters on my mind is how to explain thoroughly to students how to avoid plagiarism.  I constantly sit on the fence in the argument about whether these kids nowadays don't properly understand what plagiarism is or whether they're just lying little sacks of shit trying to get away with whatever they can.  In any case, one must assume the former before getting to know them, so I need to walk them through the whole deal. 

What all should I be covering?  Obviously, there's the old-fashioned matter of how one should cite various kinds of sources.  That much is easily accomplished, and I can always tell them to consult the Chicago Manual of Style when in doubt about formatting.  Then there's the larger issue, related to doubt: when should one cite?  The traditional answer that I stand by is "When in doubt, cite."  But how do you explain this to students who do not yet recognize your version of common sense?  I'm trying to think of every situation, reasonable or not, that students could bring up.  Here's what I've brainstormed:
  • A short phrase of two or three words involving technical or abstract vocabulary that they wouldn't have thought of on their own.  "A good idea" is not a phrase that one needs to cite, but "a trenchant paradigm" might be.  The latter phrase is also ugly as hell and likely a smokescreen for a bullshit artist, so it throws up more than one red flag for me.
  • An idea or observation that needs a bit of explanation, even if it is phrased in the student's own words.  As much as most pseudologists are familiar with Benedict Anderson's idea of print capitalism and the effects it had on creole nationalism, I'll eat my hat if most college students know that.  Talking about that stuff without clearly citing the page numbers of Anderson's book so that I can fact-check an argument might not be plagiarism, exactly, but it's shoddy practice.  (Not acknowledging Anderson as the source of the idea at all — that would be plagiarism.)
  • Then there is the occasional student who thinks that zi can copy entire pages of text wholesale, as long as the source pages are clearly cited.  What's a good way to explain to a student that zi must simultaneously cite sources clearly and write for hirself?  I imagine this would be confusing to at least some people, especially the overly cautious ones who distrust their own instincts.  Should I just forbid block quotations of more than three lines?
  • Web pages.  Oy.  I would like to forbid my students from citing them at all, but of course this idea is increasingly troubled by digital access to peer-reviewed scholarship.  Even the idea that some sources are inherently less trustworthy than others can be hard to work with, since pseudologists frequently engage with things that people say and write that are verifiably inaccurate — we need to study things outside of peer-reviewed scholarship in order to do our jobs.  Is there any practical and brief way to explain to students how to be wary of the internet without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?  How do you make undergrads wary of factual truth-claims without making them paranoiac?
What other craziness am I missing?  And what say you, my esteemed colleagues, for solutions?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cows, corn, and trees

A bit of my ongoing acclimation to Cornstate and Tinytown: I'm participating in a workshop this week – my second one of the week, in fact – that meets off-campus at a little nature-y getaway that the university owns.  It's kinda-sorta tucked behind a nature reserve next to campus, and I had the devil's own time trying to find the fucker this morning.  I drove several miles on a sonofabitch of a gravel road littered with deep puddles that ran over several one-lane bridges and eventually dumped me out in...some exurban neighborhood I didn't recognize.  My iPhone's map function completely fucked me over this time: it swore to me that the institute I was looking for was at a particular point along the road, but when I got to that point, there was yet another one-lane bridge.  Google Maps doesn't know fuck-all about these rural locations.

In desperation – for heaven's sake, I hadn't even had coffee yet, much less breakfast! – I called a colleague who I knew was attending the workshop.  Zi has lived in Tinytown for years, and demonstrated it admirably.  When I explained to hir that I had gotten lost while searching for CBU's little institute, zi asked me, "Okay, what do you see in front of you: cows, corn, or trees?"

Five minutes later, zi had guided me over the phone right to the front door of the institute.

Apparently, there are only so many natural phenomena that a person can even hope to witness in Tinytown.  Oh, wait, there was one more: as I got close to the last turn I had to make, zi inquired, "Okay, now, do you see any turkey vultures?"

Strange landmarks these country folk use.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Frazzled: the run-on

OMG I am so tired that I can barely focus my eyes right now but despite that I am drinking an after-work beer at my desk because I'm underslept from trying to work on my syllabi and tone up the response to my readers' reports and all of that was sort of thrown off to the side last night because I had to change my cell phone number because it used to belong to some cheap thug and I was getting scary text messages and so now I'm underslept and had to go to a workshop on campus this morning and don't get me wrong the workshop is actually through Wednesday and then I have another workshop to go to on campus for Thursday and Friday for which I'm even less prepared and all I really want to do right now is finish my response and then think cool thoughts about my upper-division syllabi but I can't really do that right now because I'm a little stressed out because my entire back from my hips all the way up through my shoulders and neck is sore from helping Fie Upon This Quiet Life do a little preparatory moving and also I'm totally stressed out because my car's electrical system is slowly going on the fritz and my car title is totally fucked because the bureaucrats in Godforsaken State fucked up the odometer reading and now I'll have to get a notarized document and mail off the title certificate so that they can send me a corrected version if they feel like it and so until then I'm driving around Cornstate with expired license tags from Godforsaken State and a broken headlight cover and apparently as of last night a burnt-out turn signal and as if that weren't enough my dishwasher is on the fritz for real and I half-suspect that my leasing company will have to replace the whole damn thing so I guess it's good that I've built up so much experience in hand-washing dishes because that's what I'm still doing until they get around to that and that decreases my energy not only to cook but to worry about the subtleties of pedagogical method that this workshop is exploring and as if that weren't enough to fray my nerves I learned this morning that a family friend has died and that creates a lot of unpleasant unbloggable problems for my family so enough about that but at least I suppose I have my own health and I'm slowly figuring out my syllabi although I have four freaking days at the end of the semester for my Intro to Libel and Slander for which I literally have nothing fucking scheduled because I will have completely run out of things to say and again I must remind myself that life really could be a whole hell of a lot worse and hey I guess I've had much worse problems than my new-found difficulty in juggling schedules to go out with the sudden and I mean really sudden and unanticipated rise in women who want to go out with me and hell I suppose that if I have to take the constant low-level risk of driving with expired license tags in a dodgy car in order to have a dinner date when my work life is in overdrive and the unbloggable anxiety is rising once again then I'll just have to do that and be content that my social life is suddenly quite interesting.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RBOC: Arrival in Cornstate

  • I now live in Cornstate!  Seriously, some of these stereotypes of an abundance of maize in the Midwest have some truth to them.  It's everywhere.  The city I live in isn't necessarily defined by corn, but the state at large sure is.  Hence that particular pseudonym.  I'm still working on one for the city.
  • Many thanks to Fie Upon This Quiet Life and her husband for putting me up for the night in their swanky, sophisticated digs!  (Not kidding.  It's awesome.)  I was so tired out after a day of cleaning and driving that I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow — even though there was a big portrait of William Shakespeare staring down at me from the wall.
  • Fie and partner also served me a scrumptious dinner when I arrived.  One of the featured dishes was, of course, corn.  :)
  • It's fucking hotter than a fucking motherfucker.  I continue to despise this heat wave, and global warming in general.  It's bad enough having to haul around boxes of books while sweating buckets, but I'm actually more irritated by having to drive around the area to one furniture store after another, looking for cheap yet not-so-crappy furniture, while the sun beats down on my car and me.  It doesn't help that these stores are all in strip malls, either.  Strip malls are not friendly places.
  • Neither are big-box stores.  Blech.
  • One the one hand, I'm going to move again in two years, so I can't really purchase the most beautiful, durable, heavy furniture around — I really want to limit myself to stuff that I could conceivably haul away with me.  On the other hand, I'm reaching a point of stubborn, bourgeois refusal to buy the cheapest, flimsiest stuff available to spare myself money and time.  Bourgeois consumption appears to be a progressive syndrome.  
  • I'm making the best of this tendency, though.  By forcing myself to comparison-shop, I found a wonderful, lower-back-friendly bed for less than half of retail price  
  • I also bought a discontinued model* of office desk at a big discount.  Since that would require a $100 delivery charge obviating the discount, I figured that I could get a cheap piece or two of living room furniture.  After searching exhaustively with a very patient salesperson, I found a decent enough sofa-loveseat combo for $500.  It's not the leather upholstery that my inner contemptible bourgeois fuck craves, but it looks nice anyway.  With all of that delivered in one go, it's a good deal. Won't have any of it until next week, but such is the way of furniture shopping.
  • On top of all those needs that keep me driving around in the heat, I won't have internet access in my home until next week, either.  My office at CBU isn't air-conditioned right now – I think they turned it down low on the assumption that no one would be in the building until August – so it's not exactly a pleasant workspace.  After hauling a ton of books into that office, periodically wiping the sweat from my face so I wouldn't drip on the texts, I was not inclined to stay there to work.  Guess I have to keep café-surfing for another week.  
  • And work I must!  I have to give my (potential) editor a formal response to the reader reports by tomorrow.  Yikes!  Gonna be a heavily caffeinated evening.
  • Did I mention that it's hot?  How hot is it, Koshary?  Weeeeeelllll, it's so hot that the cover of the left headlight on my car fell off the goddamn car last week before I left Ghosttown, after the adhesive holding it in place melted.  I am not making this up.  I didn't even realize this was possible.  I was frankly astonished that I made it all the way to Fie's house without some wayward dragonfly zooming into the exposed bulb and exploding it.  Gotta find a VW dealership next week and see about fixing this.
*Extra chuckle for you all: the store discontinued the model because it sold poorly in comparison to other office furniture sets: it has a metal frame supporting the wooden top, and true bourgeois consumerist fucks disdain anything other than a pure wooden desk.  Suckers!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

RBOC: The Great Escape edition

This isn't an ordinary house-move coming up for me.  It's an escape.  Sweet, sweet escape.  Details:
  • The bulk of my possessions have been loaded into a trailer and shipped off to my new location!  (The pseudonym 'Balltown' got a distinctly lukewarm reception; I'm pondering upgrades.)  If only I didn't have to clean the daylights out of my old place to get back my deposit, I'd already be halfway there.  But, since I do have to clean the daylights out of my old place, I won't get to ship out myself until Sunday morning.
  • I'm already sick to death of the stupid prepared foods in my fridge that I've been eating since I packed up all of my china and utensils.  It's going to be a while before I get a craving for hummus.
  • Once again, I am homeless (on the internet).  I surrendered my modem to the cable company and closed my account, so I am now dependent on cafés with wifi.  It's odd to have greater internet access on my telephone than on my computer.  It's also odd that the patron with the most inane and irritating things to say also seems unacquainted with the concept of "inside voice."
  • I am constantly dehydrated, since it's motherfucking 8,000 degrees and I have been hauling and cleaning all day.  It's probably not helping that I'm determined to finish off the bottle of tequila, rather than pour it down the drain.  (I know no one around here who favors tequila, or else I'd have given it away.)  
  • Seriously, it's hotter than the devil's nutsack.  I want to lodge a formal complaint about this.  Weather should never be hotter than 87 degrees.  And I fucking despise moving in the summertime.  This might actually be the worst thing about being an academic — even worse than not getting paid in summer.
  • I think I will actually have to use a toothbrush to scrub grout in my shower.  Crap.
  • To end this post on an up note, I get to crash at Fie Upon This Quiet Life's house the night before I move in!  Chez Fie, I do believe, will be far superior to some scary-ass roadside motel along my dismal route.  There really isn't a single place where I even want to stop my car between Ghosttown and The City Formerly Dubbed Balltown.  TCFDB will be my destination on Sunday, come hell or high water.

We are sick f***s when it comes to guns

Gee, I wonder if the horribly common incidence of massacres has anything to do with the fact that our country has somehow convinced itself that there is a sane reason for a civilian to amass a stockpile of military-grade firearms.  Last I checked, the countries that ban such things have not yet turned into totalitarian dystopias.  Is it possible that perhaps Americans have fundamentally misinterpreted personal freedom and political self-governance to mean the right to possess the capability to destroy other human beings in large numbers?


I'm never going to run for office, so I'll say it: fuck you, NRA.  Fuck you for jacking off all over the second amendment and then acting like anyone who wants to regulate any weapon smaller than a nuclear warhead is some jack-booted would-be dictator.  Fuck you for encouraging the paranoid fantasies of disaffected, delusional people who believe that the U.S. government is simply waiting until we're all unarmed to conquer us.  And fuck you twice for fomenting a lack of regulation such that anybody can acquire enough firepower to do such harm to others.  We are not being harmed by not owning military assault weapons designed to blow away a bunker full of heavily armed, armored enemies.  We are being harmed by assholes, crazies, and inhuman monsters who own military assault weapons using them to blow away a crowd of unarmed, unarmored, innocent people.  And you are helping them to harm us.

My beloved grandfather was a lifelong member of the NRA.  He served in the U.S. Army during World War II; he knew a thing or two about what totalitarianism actually looks like.  And if he were alive today, I would tell him all of this to his face.  But no one – including me, I suppose – has the guts to have a serious conversation about this in the national political sphere.  So after you NRA fucks stroke your bones again about not letting any government take away the weapons to which you never, ever should have had unfettered access in the first place, we will try to put all this out of our minds and move on...until the same shit happens all over again.

Fuck the NRA and every person who parrots their insane talking points for endangering our lives.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Gonna get my travel on

I mean, I'm already traveling heavily this month, but you knew that already, right?  Ah, but I got word today that I'll also be doing a bit of air travel this fall: my paper was accepted – along with its entire invited paper session – to the Big Giant Pseudology Conference for this year!  Since I got in on this via an invitation from a kind and supportive senior colleague, I am mindful at this moment of how much academic careers can depend upon precisely these displays of professional and personal generosity. 

In honor of my thoughtful colleague's invitation, please allow the Muppets to serenade you with a Beatles tune.  I've always held a soft spot for this sketch: this was my first exposure to the song, even though my parents sometimes played Beatles records on the stereo in my early childhood.  (Sgt. Pepper wasn't as big with them as later albums were.)  Bonus points for the classic, if Orientalizing and anti-porcine pseudology-laced setting!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reader report 2

The second reader's report on my manuscript came in.  The second, much like the first, recommended extensive revisions to deal with some theoretical and methodological issues that I had not discussed, but said that, once I had dealt with those, the press should publish the book.  So, first of all, YAY!

Now I'm going through the two reports with a fine-toothed comb, trying to figure out where they agree and disagree, and how to thresh out what to do with the conflicting bits of advice.  I need to talk with the editor about all this before the consideration process moves on, so I need to make sure I know – as much as I can, anyway – what I think of the suggested revisions.  (Obviously, all the revisions that the two readers both suggested must be done.) 

Dizzying, but exciting!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Moving destination locked in

I've secured an apartment in my soon-to-be location, and now I can happily, if a bit harriedly, start planning the details of my move and resettlement.  I have a few appliances on my shopping list, as well as some serious needs – I'll have to buy a bed when I get there – and some less-serious needs, like a proper muddler to prepare my fabulous mixed drinks.

First things first: I'm considering the pseudonym Balltown for my new location.  Technically, I'll be living in a small town unto itself, but urban sprawl has long since made the town itself an outlying suburb of the huge regional city, for practical purposes.  You've probably never heard of the small town, but everyone has heard of the huge regional city.  I haven't spent enough time there to form really strong associations, but it has quickly become apparent to me that most people there are die-hard sports fans.  Balltown seems as handy as anything else.  My new neighborhood will be about half an hour away from Tinytown by car, which I'm willing to live with.  Lots of my colleagues make that commute every day, even with little cars that don't seem ideal for snowy weather.  That said, I was told by my chair there that I will simply have to accept the reality that I must buy new tires twice a year: snow tires when winter comes, and all-weather tires when the weather warms up in the spring.

I know, Balltown isn't the most evocative name, but frankly, after the deeply resonant misery of Ghosttown, I'm ready for a touch of blandness.  Just a touch, mind you.

So, questions for those in the know, or who care to toss in their two cents:

1. Is it worth the savings to look for a used microwave oven, or do used models have too high a tendency to break down?

2. On a similar note, what should I do about a washer/dryer?  For some damn reason, the Balltown metropolitan region is the only housing market I've ever seen in which renters are expected to furnish their own laundry machines.  My apartment, like every other one, has hook-ups for the machines, so I could just buy a set for myself that would either move with me to my next location or be re-sold later.  But even a low-end set costs about $1000 retail!  This actually leads to several questions at once:
    2a. In the long run, assuming that I neither marry nor spawn in the next few years, is it more cost-efficient to buy the machines or just do my laundry at a laundromat?
    2b. In the long run, no matter what my family situation, is it too time-inefficient to go to the laundromat?  In other words, are the purchased machines ultimately worth buying in terms of time and convenience as well as money?  There's definitely something to be said for being able to power through grading or other grunt work with only two-minute breaks to transfer clothes from one machine to the other, instead of putting everything on hold for a few hours to go out to the laundromat.
    2c. Is it reasonable to buy a used washer/dryer set?  Who on earth keeps a second set of machines hooked up to demonstrate their efficacy?  How would I confirm that the machines are in working order?
    2d. Since the hook-ups are installed side by side in a relatively spacious one-car garage, does it make any sense for me to search for a stackable "apartment-style" set?  I'm pretty sure it doesn't make sense, but want to confirm with people more experienced than I in these matters.

3. Should I buy a television set?  I've never bought one that had any reception; the last one I owned was, perforce, merely a very large DVD player.  As a consequence, I really don't care much about TV, and I certainly don't feel much like paying for cable access or a dish or whatever to get all the premium channels.  But I would also like to have people over now and then, and I worry that I will seem either too austere and Puritan or just a supercilious asshole without a TV for them to watch.  I will also admit that I know how awkward it feels to drag a chair in front of a sofa so that I can position my computer on it to watch DVDs.  (Particularly on dates.  Yeah, awkward.)  Crap, did I just talk myself into buying a TV?  Fuck.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Brawl ridiculous

This post is especially for Fie Upon This Quiet Life, apropos of our after-dinner conversation.


If you prefer video to cartoon, how about this?

(I recommend starting the video at 5:12, so you don't have to endure Kenneth Branagh's irritating delivery of the St. Crispin's Day speech.  Plus, you know, Derek Jacobi.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Apartment hunting and blogger meet-up!

So, guess what?  It turns out that the greater metropolitan area in which I'm looking for an apartment right now is also home to another distinguished academic blogger.  Last evening, I got to have dinner and drinks with none other than Fie Upon This Quiet Life!  Most exciting, most exciting!  We dined upon pub fare, threw down a few pots of small ale, and enjoyed some sophisticated conversation.  I even caught a photograph of the two of us on my iPhone!  See here: - Let's not do LSD again
*NB: May not be real, or accurate, or a photograph.

It's nice to know that I'll be acquainted with at least one or two people in the area with whom I can get together for a bitch session and a few beers.  

Meanwhile, the hunt for a place continues.  I am quickly coming to the conclusion that I would not be happy living in Tinytown, and it would be worth the commute to live over in Huge Regional City.  That's actually where my department chair lives, and I'm due to have lunch with hir today.  I'll be probing for information on that as I nibble at my victuals.  And, no doubt, driving over to HRC to look at soulless (but clean! and sturdily built! and away from meth-heads!) apartment complexes afterward.