Monday, May 20, 2013

I hate paying for car repairs

The post title says it all. Apparently, my car has blown its catalytic converter,which must now be replaced at, ahem, significant expense. It's always sobering to be presented with a bill whose cost outstrips my bimonthly paycheck. No help for it, though: the longer I let this go, the worse it will get. (I, uh, might have exacerbated the problem by dawdling in scheduling the maintenance work.  Oops.). 

So now I'm basically trapped at the mall all day today, while the dealership works on my car. This dealer is out in suburban hell, and there's not much here beyond the mall. I'm going a little stir-crazy already, but I'm trying to keep my mind focused on work as a distraction from my boredom and impending wallet-suck. 

At least I'll get paid again at the end of the month. Sigh. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013


The grading is finished! No more papers, no more tests, no grade-grubbers being pests!  TO THE BAR!!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Making a difference

It's been a heavy day of work over here around CBU.  Since there's something of a rush to get the finals and grading done in order to graduate the seniors on schedule, the administration came up with this cockamamie schedule that only underscores how few fucks they actually give about teaching students to do good work in which the students had one reading day after the end of classes, followed by a day of exams, followed by one more day of reading period, followed by three more days of exams.  For yours truly, this meant that mere hours after my last class, I felt obligated to hold office hours for students preparing for the exam that I had to administer on a motherfucking Saturday morning.  This also meant that I felt obligated to hold office hours today, before I had even finished grading the aforementioned final exam, since my other two classes are writing final papers for me due later in the week.  It's not often that my Saturday turns into a twelve-hour workday, and it's even less often that I wish it were so.

Today, like I said, was also heavy.  Besides finishing the grading of that exam, I saw students working on their final papers.  As it happens, the only students who showed up today were all in the class for which I assigned a final paper with multiple drafts: they had to write the paper, get comments on it, and revise it accordingly for a final draft.  The sessions were a mix of good and bad, although I will honestly claim a bit of optimistic high ground and state that things ended reliably on good notes.  First, the bad:
  • One student failed the first draft of the final paper.  It was a total disaster, which zi admitted was due to a catastrophic lack of foresight and planning. 
  • Another student earned a D on that same draft, due to a similar set of fuck-ups.  
  • One of these students extended hir twenty-minute appointment with me to an hour – as you're about to read, I thought it necessary – whilst detailing not only hir confusion about how to proceed with various technical aspects of the paper, but also whilst explaining to me that this last month has been sort of a disaster for hir after experiencing what I can only describe as an especially violent sexual assault.  (And yes, if you're asking, I understand exactly what that description implies.)  That would certainly explain why one of my most talkative students in class suddenly went almost silent at that time.  Tragically, this fits in all too well with what I know of the campus culture.  Zi has been dealing with some awful shit that I simply never had to worry about when I was a college student.
And now (not a moment too soon!), the good.
  • Every student left my office with a clearer idea of how to approach the revised draft of the final, if only vaguely.  (After all, I'm not a damn miracle worker.)
  • Both students with the very low grades on the first draft left my office confident that they could write a much better second draft.
  • In fact, both of them explicitly stated to me that they were "excited" to write the revised draft.  Excited!!  I cannot help but feel cheered to know that my students are actually looking forward to writing their papers.  In both of those particular cases, I had coached them through a way of looking at the class material that resonated with their personal experiences, and that made them realize one thing or another about their own ontology and how they fit into their web of social relations.  I cannot fully describe the warm fuzzy of hearing and seeing a student visibly excited to go back to the dorm to revise a term paper to account for the breakthroughs they've had in their thinking.
Perhaps you'll understand now why, half in celebration and half in self-medication, I just finished an enormous Manhattan that I mixed after I finished grading the final exam and uploading the grades for Intro to Libel and Slander.  (Last time I have to teach that course for a while!)

I'm going to go enjoy the buzz from the combination of rye whiskey, beautiful vermouth, and a dash of bitters.  And also the feeling that I may have actually made some kind of positive difference in someone's intellectual life.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wringing out the new: on writing theory

I have a bunch of papers to grade and several lessons to plan, and I haven't looked at any of them yet.  I spent most of the daylight hours yesterday crafting a revised draft of that article that my blog mendaciously tells you is finished.  (I want to put a new meter up for it, but I can't figure out how to track my progress in editing down an article, rather than adding words to an initial draft.)  I sent it out when I started to bleed from the brain, and then set all my work aside to go play with my friends for a little while. 

It amazes me that I can be so physically tired out from writing.  I haven't even showered or dressed yet today, and I need to go to the grocery store.  That's the kind of exhaustion I feel.  And yeah, it probably doesn't help that this fucking semester is not yet over, and that just about all of my colleagues are worn down in general.  It should tell you something about my physical and emotional state of mind that I feel the need to go make another pot of chicken soup, even though my allergies have largely receded. 

Writing is hard; no two ways about it.  Writing is even harder when you're trying to push yourself to innovate a theoretical concept.  You and your editor are trying to wring out of your brain something that no one has ever said before, which means that you literally do not know what you're trying to say.  I still find it an odd sensation, and I've been doing this for years. 

I had a moment of "what the hell am I doing here?" yesterday whilst trying to tie up the draft: I was scanning the same three pages of my article over and over, frantically tearing through the pseudology texts I was supposed to incorporate, and a quiet panic began to rise in me.  I have already read these books, I started thinking to myself repeatedly.  I cannot cite them in any other way because I already have elsewhere, and I have already read them, and I already know what is in them, because I have already read them...  You know how it goes.

But then I got hold of myself and reminded myself of the issue at hand: I was developing a new theoretical idea whose contours I only dimly perceive as yet, and this idea meant that I had to go back to the books and speed-read them in a white-hot fury re-read them for a different sort of content than I'd had in mind before now.  The panic didn't exactly recede, but it stabilized at a manageable level.  I didn't entirely feel like a professional, since I was essentially skimming for handy quotations to support my argument – I can remember doing this back in college! – but it yielded usable material that will suffice for the moment, and that can be developed further as I keep up with the project.

There's a bizarre exhilaration to the whole process.  I often feel like I'm right on the edge of discovering that I no longer have anything worthwhile to say, that I'm tapped out.  And even when I don't feel quite that desperate, I frequently have the sensation that I have something worthwhile to say, but I cannot fucking figure out what that might be.  And when I hit upon what it might be, I am humbled by the realization that I barely understand the implications of my own idea.  It'll be back to the books pretty soon, to wring some new insight out of my own mysteriously ordered brain.