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 cafĂ©, 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.