Once upon a time I had a really productive semester. I made a schedule for myself and stuck to it, getting up at 8 a.m. every day and working on my writing in the mornings (or teaching prep on teaching days) and going into the office in the afternoons/evenings. I wrote a long article that had been commissioned for a book project and submitted it in late February. I made significant progress on another research project. I also taught my courses (which were all repeats, to be fair) and did a fair amount of departmental service. My apartment was neat. I went to the gym six days a week. My life was orderly.

Sometimes now I look back on that semester and wonder if I will ever reach that smooth level of productivity again. Now, another story of that time in my life would emphasize the fact that I had broken up with my then-girlfriend two months before and spent that semester depressed, lonely, and sad. I was in therapy. I was planning a life of celibacy.

A few months after that semester ended, I fell in love with my current partner. We moved in together a few months after that. I became a dog mom. And ever since, my life has been much richer emotionally and much less organized. I think that's a good trade-off -- I know I'm happier in deep ways that really matter to me. But there's also that little voice in my head that says I'm a bad academic, that I could be more productive if I just tried harder.

I'm not saying that there aren't things I can do to improve my workspace, my time management, and my attitude. I know a lot of strategies that work well for me. That's not really what I'm getting at.

One of the most important things I learned a few years ago was to stop saying or thinking "I have to do X" -- that acknowledging to yourself that everything you do is a choice reduces some of the resistance or ambivalence: "I choose to...grade, clean the bathroom, etc."

So: I choose to spend time with my partner. I choose to spend time with our dogs. I choose to make our home clean and comfortable. I choose to practice yoga. I choose to be a productive scholar. I choose to be a motivating and generous teacher. I choose to be a responsible member of my department and profession.

It's not a prioritized list. Even as I typed that paragraph, I had to resist the urge to put scholarship and teaching higher in the list, so as to persuade you of my seriousness. Quite frankly, I think my primary relationship and the family we've created comes way before my academic work. Probably keeping the house clean is further down the list. Where's yoga? where's service? I don't know. That's part of my job to figure out this semester, so I can make up some new sort of plan that will work for my new life. I can't go back, and don't want to go back, to my depressed & lonely but article-publishing schedule. Can I be happy and still publish? enough?

(In the interest of full disclosure, and to make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that relationships necessarily reduce one's output: I have published several articles and a book in the years since I've been with my GF. But I've been stalled out for the past year and so find myself looking back to past periods of productivity to see what I can learn.)



It has come to my attention that somehow a Time Vaccuum has been attached to my weekend. Apparently my minutes are continually being sucked away out from under me.


that is all. you can now return to your regular exciting blog programming somewhere else.


B-School intellectuals are everywhere

At a meeting today I met a faculty member from the Business School. I asked a couple polite questions about his background and the organization of the Business School and learned an awful lot. He hastened to assure me that most of the faculty in the B-School did not, in fact, have corporate backgrounds -- most of them were "just academics." He said, laughing, "what people in psychology or sociology don't often realize is that they could have done the same research in a Business School and wind up making a lot more money!" Ha ha. I'm really laughing with you there, buddy, since you probably pull in at least $60,000 more than I do. (We in the humanities are the least-paid faculty at our U). He also tried to impress me by telling me several times that he had been at a lecture earlier today where someone was talking about Wittgenstein and information management systems. Woo-hoo. You guys really are intellectuals.

Maybe he is. It doesn't really affect me one way or the other. But it was interesting to see how defensive he was, how hard he was trying to prove to me that he knew the word "postmodern."

Never once in our 20 minute conversation (we were seated next to each other during the lunch segment of the meeting) did he ask me what I research or teach. Because, of course, the professional school folks usually assume that they already know what "English" means.

Serving in the faculty senate will at the very least provide some anthropological entertainment as I meet people from around the university.


catching up

um...where did the week go? I can't believe it's already Thursday night. Usually that means it's my day off tomorrow, but not this week. I have to be on campus for a meeting, so I figure I might as well take care of other crap at the office tomorrow too.

GF is still horribly sick, hacking cough, fever, joint aches, headache. virus? "the flu"? I don't think it matters much either way, since the treatment is going to be the same. I have been trying to stay as far away from her germs as possible, which is difficult to manage in our little tiny house. Have washed my hands a bezillion times, have been changing and washing all towels, dishcloths, etc twice a day, and I slept out on the couch last night. So far I actually feel OK, though of course I keep overthinking every little thing...was that a little throat tickle? was that a cough? am I feeling OK?

I have been advising dissertation-writing students the past two weeks on various matters, and am feeling a serious need to start taking my own advice. It's so much easier to figure out what someone else's writing issue, psychological block, or organizational problem might be. So to avoid being a total hypocrite, I have to get my ass really and truly in gear.

Films I have seen in the past couple of weeks:
  • In Good Company - - Dennis Quaid is excellent as the middle-aged guy displaced at work by the 26 year old, and also struggling to let his daughter be an adult. It's also about the 26 year old trying to grow up. It's sort of a chick flick for men. Sure, Scarlett Johannsen is in the film (and I liked her better than in other films I've seen) but it's really not about her. She's just the vessel for the mens' fantasies (incestuous, parental, romantic, whatever). I enjoyed the film while watching it.
  • The Woodsman - - stunning, though not for everyone due to its content. Kevin Bacon plays a sex offender released from prison trying to start his life over. What I really admired about the film (which is based on a play) was the way it articulated a complex spectrum of sexual misconduct both within and external to the family unit. The image of the pedophile or sex offender is one of the ultimate monsters in our current popular culture -- and yet countless children are preyed upon not by strange men in overcoats loitering by the schoolyard, but by siblings, parents, uncles, cousins, etc. I thought this film was subtle and real, whereas other movies on related themes (L.I.E. comes to mind) tend to eventually go for (melo)drama. And how great to see Kevin Bacon getting a serious role for a change.
  • Wicker Park (DVD) -- so bad I couldn't watch past the first 17 minutes. I wanted to like it -- Josh Hartnett, Chicago scenery, a kind of wanna-be arty feel to it. But incoherent and not worth my time.
  • Cellular (DVD) -- thoroughly enjoyable thriller -- neatly satirizing the inconveniences of modern life (cell technology first and foremost, but also airport security queues, freeway traffic, etc). And you don't often get to see William H Macy as an action hero...
Late last night I was musing to myself about how the main problem with getting up early in the morning is that it makes it hard to stay up late at night. Then I thought, well if only there was something you could take so you didn't have to sleep. Oh, yeah, that's called caffeine. Though it hasn't quite been doing enough for me lately. Maybe I can catch up a bit on sleep this weekend.


it's 9:48 pm. do I know where my brain is?

not really. If I did, I would put it to work preparing for tomorrow's classes.

very little has gone as planned today.

Not enough sleep plus unexpected household crises equals one alternately overwhelmed or grumpy me.

To top things off, my gf has come down with a nasty cold/virus thing tonight...I've been washing my hands fanatically and gulping vitamin C but of course I've already been exposed to it...

senator Mel

In some fit of civic-mindedness, I agreed to be nominated for our university-level Faculty Senate, now that I'm tenured and all, and then was surprised to be elected. So today was my first meeting of the Senate. I was alternately interested and bored out of my mind, about what I expected.

The reasons I agreed to serve on the Senate were partially my responsibility to my department (as one of the largest depts in our college, we need people on various governance committees to report information back to our own faculty) but also my curiosity about other areas of the university. Large Urban University comprises a variety of professional schools as well as liberal arts and sciences. Looking around the room during the Senate meeting, I realised I hadn't actually seen so many people from the other schools and divisions since my New Faculty Orientation seven years ago. What does the faculty of LUU look like? Older white American men, and younger white European men. In a room of 50 Senators present, there were 7 women: 14%, a bit under our overall representation on the full time faculty -- a lousy 25%, way under the national average. In English, my own department, women make up 39% of the full time faculty (and about 75% of the active engaged members) , so it's easy to forget what the overall picture looks like. In the Senate today, there were only 3 non-white faculty present. LUU has not been very successful in recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, although our city and our student population are extremely multicultural. It's good to be reminded of these things, though it's also pretty depressing.


not yet caffeinated

Well, I'm finally out of bed, after multiple attempts to fully wake up. I've been only semi-asleep since about 5:00. My goal was to get up at 7:00, so I thought that being half awake would make that easier. But no.....I've been running a sleep debt, it's a cold morning, and both dogs were sleeping on me. That makes it really hard to get up. (G grumbled like a teenager whenI finally got out of bed, leaving gf and the dogs all nestled up.)

Anyway, I'm up. The coffee is dripping. I have at least an hour's worth of primary reading to do for my class today, plus an hour or so of skimming some secondary stuff, maybe a hour to write my teaching notes. Have to squeeze in 30 minutes for sweet talking one of the staff to print me an updated roster (we don't have access to the enrollment system) and then assigning students to groups for their group projects.

Plus showering/dressing and driving to campus. So basically every minute between now and when I teach is already spoken for. I hate that. But it tends to be the way I work on teaching days, rather than prepping fully the day before. I do usually aim to have the reading done beforehand, and I could have/should have over the weekend. But I didn't. And I'll just have to deal with it.

What works about doing all the prep on my teaching day (I teach afternoons and evenings, so that's feasible) is that it keeps it limited. Otherwise I tend to over prepare, which isn't good for my teaching or my time management. And it also means that when I walk into the classroom, all my ideas are flowing about the material, since I've already been thinking about it for a couple of hours.

What isn't so good about it is that even though I know it works pretty well for me, I still get a little bit of adrenaline/anxiety (which is probably useful since I'm gearing up to perform)...what if I don't get the reading done? (I can fake it) What if I can't think of anything to say in the time I have to prepare? (hasn't happened yet) What if I can't get out of bed on time? (then I just have to prepare more efficiently). I suspect all of that is also part of my teaching process, too.


RSS follow up

To clarify part of what I was talking about in my last post: RSS technology fulfills the promise of the web in separating content (the text) from display (its formatting & appearance). So, someone with accessibility issues, for instance, can use a feed reader to display content from a range of sources in whatever font size or color she needs. Or, you can use a feed reader to quickly display news headlines from six different newspapers without seeing the formatting and advertising associated with each one. The point of the feed reader is to supply more information faster by separating content from its appearance. (This separation is integral to the core concept behind the web: that it doesn't matter what hardware or software you have, or what kind of gadget you're using -- you can still access the same basic information as anybody else. That's what good web design is all about. (and why browser-specific design sucks, but that's another post topic altogether))

But for me, personally, the appearance or display aspect of a blog is part of how my mind relates to its content. So I miss that when I'm just reading through Sage. Even though I can save time etc, for me blogs aren't just about "information." There's some (ineffable) aspect of "personality" which is partly constructed from syntax, topic choice, word choice, etc -- but inflected through design as well. Would I be able to tell profgrrrl apart from New Kid or Jimbo, if given sample paragraphs all in the same font? probably. But I still prefer, most of the time, to read their posts directly on their blog sites. Because I'm just old-fashioned I guess. And that's what your basic web browser does just fine on its own.

This isn't commentary on the technology so much as musings about reading practices...

reading style and RSS

This post is prompted in part by my realization of how out of date my blogroll is. (I hope to update it later today, but only after I get some work done.) But I've been thinking about reading practices and blogs for a while.

When I first started reading blogs (and writing my own) last May, one of the aspects of blogging that really appealed to me was the ability to design your own look, or at least to tweak the templates provided by Blogger. The colors and layout style of the blogs I read regularly soon became part of the "voice" of that person, part of what I associated with them. Some seem lively, some are more elegant, some are wacky. Whether those designs really represent some aspect of that writer's personality, or were simply a random choice from preformatted templates, I of course don't know, but since in my blogging I'm interested in learning about people's lives and connecting with them, thus I interpret those visual cues as aspects of their personality.

About 2 months ago, maybe a little longer, a good friend recommended that I try Sage, the RSS feed reader for Firefox. I've been using it ever since, although mostly as a super-powered blogroll checker. When Sage indicates that one of the blogs on my list has new material, then I'll go take a look -- first through the Sage viewer, but I'd guess that 8 or 9 times out of 10, I click through to the blog itself. Certainly, you have to do that to leave or read comments, which for me are an integral part of the blog text. Sometimes I'll skim a few sentences in the reader to decide if I want to read the whole post. If I do, then I usually click through. And part of the reason is that I want to "see" the "person" who's "talking." Which means seeing their design, rather than simply reading their "information" or text.

I realize that I'm using feed reader technology in a half-assed archaic kind of way, because my goals as a blog reader aren't the same as those of someone using a feed reader to skim several news feeds, or other kinds of informational feeds. (And I've avoided putting those onto my reader, because I don't have that many hours in the day.) My goal isn't to read 200-plus blogs quickly, but to read 15 consistently and relatively deeply, and maybe 40-50 others semi-regularly.

What has changed since getting Sage is that I don't have to keep hopping to actual blogs all the time to check for updates. It does save time in that regard. And since I have a few blogs on the list that I only look at once in a while, it's easier to catch up or skim this way. I'm more willing to add a new blog to my feed list for a while (since it requires zero effort) to see if I'm interested.

The down side: my visible blogroll in my blog is way out of date, since I don't use it any longer as a guide to reading. If a blog doesn't have a feed, I rarely look at it, unless I'm following a commenter's name back to her blog. If you don't have RSS/Atom feeds activated yet (if you're on Blogger, it's easy to do, and I expect ) the same is true for other services/software), you should. Not because the loss of me as a reader is going to be so tragic for you, but because I imagine that increasing numbers of other blog readers are also relying on feed readers.

Am I right, dear readers? do you use a feed reader? has it changed anything about how you read blogs?



There's a little scratch on the back of my right hand near the wrist. It's been healing quickly, but there's still about half an inch of red, visibly healing, skin on either side of the scratch mark.

Because it wasn't very deep, I'm doubtful that the scratch will leave any permanent scar or mark, although in some ways I kind of wish that it would. For the past few days, this scratch has served me as a useful spiritual tool, a reminder to focus on the inevitable mutability of all things: the change, decay, and loss of lives and objects, and the accompanying sweetness of living in the present moment's fullness, whatever that brings.

Last Sunday, I took our dogs to the dog park, where dog lovers bring their companions to run and play off leash. I saw a guy who I've talked to before a couple of times -- his dog, Ginger, sometimes plays with Gracie, so we've chatted. Sunday he brought Ginger, who's a 9-month-old pit-boxer mix, and he also had a little puppy who he was carrying in his jacket. She was a beautiful little Rottweiler puppy, all black, without the usual brown markings. He'd adopted her from the SPCA shelter, where her entire litter had been given up. She was too little to play with the other dogs at the park, so he carried her in his jacket, and let other people hold her and handle her. She was exuberant and excited, strong for her size, and very friendly with people. I carried her around for a while, and at some point in our playing, she must have scratched my hand slightly.

One of the great things about going to the dog park is that you can play with your companions, but also get to know other dogs and their people. Because they are social animals, happy to form relationships, dogs keep us in tune with some of the basic good things in the world -- love, play, and friendship. When anyone brings a puppy, there's always a cluster of people wanting to welcome the new one into the social world of the park, to pet and handle the soft puppy fur, and receive happy puppy kisses. I've often thought it must be really wonderful to be one of these puppies adopted into a good family early on -- everywhere you go, people are excited and happy to see you and play with you.

I like Ginger's dad*, Kevin, and I really liked playing with the new puppy. So the next couple of times I went to the park, I was hoping to see them again. I didn't see him until Thursday, when he showed up with just Ginger.

The puppy (whose name I never even learned) had come down with distemper, even though the shelter said she had been given all her shots. She threw up her food Sunday night, and had trouble breathing. Kevin took her to the vet, who said either it was a bronchial infection or it was distemper -- if the latter, there's little that can be done for a very young dog. And sadly that was the case. Kevin stayed up with her for two nights as she struggled to survive. He gave her the antibiotics the vet had hopefully prescribed, and CPR when she couldn't breathe. When she collapsed on Tuesday they went to the emergency vet, where she passed away.

Kevin is devastated, and so many of us who know him at the park are sad too. Ginger is sad. All the promise and joy that a puppy brings, lost so suddenly and in such a dreadful way.

It does happen sometimes that even dogs who have their shots come down with distemper. She might have been exposed when she was very little, before getting any shots. Being housed at the shelter exposes dogs to lots of potential viruses. Simply being out in the world exposes puppies too. Because we live in a world of vaccine protocols we think that disease can be completely prevented -- which just isn't true, for dogs or people either. The lesson, as I see it, isn't about being angry with the shelter (as some people suggested Kevin ought to be) but about enjoying the moments that we do have with our loved ones. He and Ginger loved the puppy and gave her the best couple of weeks possible. I know I've been feeling sad about his loss, and extra-appreciative of Gracie and Wendell and my gf who share my life and fill it with love.

*I deliberately avoid using the word "owner" to describe a family relationship between humans and dogs. I prefer either "companion" or the parent/child terms used by many dog lovers.

coming up next...

...Cell phones for dogs .

Actually, it's a collar with phone and GPS capabilities, so you could phone your dog if he's lost and tell him to come home.


first friday of the semester

Well, my first week went by pretty quickly. The stuff with the bookstore was irritating and more distracting than it should have been, but in the end it all worked out: the truck arrived with the books at 4:30 Wed, so yesterday when I got to campus I had a message saying the books were on the shelf. So we can stick with the syllabus as planned, and all will be well.

My undergrads seem like a good group -- we had pretty good discussion yesterday, on an essay that was fairly abstract. I expect it will only improve as we dig into the primary texts. I'm reserving judgment on the grad students at this point. But overall I expect my teaching to be not too onerous (this is my "light" semester) and hopefully fairly enjoyable.

So now I'm trying to set up my writing schedule for the semester. When I actually sit down and map out all the blocks of time that are already committed to teaching, prep, meetings, administration, plus household responsibilities, etc., there's really a shockingly small amount of time left for what is supposed to be the top priority. So I have to do some planning and shifting. Right now, in the first week, I'm feeling optimistic and in control of my choices & time. Hope to hang onto that attitude this semester.

But today is Friday -- my day off. So I'm about to go to yoga (and get my mirror replaced from when my car was sideswiped before Xmas -- my car repair shop is right near yoga, so that's a real bonus when the work won't take more than a couple hours). Then maybe go out to lunch with my gf, maybe a trip to Target together. Play with the dogs at the park. Basically just noodling around and decompressing. Because then the weekend is going to involve some intense blocks of work time.


2 movies

A couple of nights ago we had a double feature rental: Little Black Book and Tiptoes. Both of these movies have been packaged & marketed as romantic comedies or dramedies... but neither one really is. Each complicated the genre in some interesting ways. I should say at the outset that I love a good romantic comedy -- I am fully capable of turning off my critical intellect and rooting for romance. So it's a genre I enjoy, but it's also interesting to see what happens when it gets played with.

Little Black Book pays homage to several earlier 80s films, including Broadcast News and Working Girl. Brittany Murphy plays a woman who dreams of working for Diane Sawyer but winds up instead working at an exploitive talk show in New Jersey, whose host (Kathy Bates) is on her way out. Murphy meets up with Holly Hunter, another of the show's producers. This is a Springer-esque show, flaunting grandma hookers, cheating mates, etc. One of the ideas pitched for an upcoming episode involves spying through your mate's Palm pilot (the new little black book) to find out what he's up to. Murphy is curious about her boyfriend and winds up doing some "research," including meeting several of his former girlfriends. I'll skip over the rest of the plot, in case you want to see it. But what I found really interesting about the movie is the way it centered around women's relationships with other women: Murphy's friendship with Hunter, her attraction to/friendship with some of her boyfriend's exes, her obsession with Sawyer, her mom's obsession with Carly Simon...the energy of the movie really isn't about the romantic plot so much as the friendships constituted in the talking about romantic relationships.

In Tiptoes (a Sundance selection for 2004), Kate Beckinsdale has been wondering why her boyfriend (Matthew McConaughey) has been avoiding introducing her to his family...she accidentally becomes pregnant and he's not excited, even though they've been talking about marriage and family. It turns out his family are all dwarves, and he is the only non-dwarf among them. She knows she wants to keep the baby even though it is likely to be a little person, but he is much more ambivalent. The movie takes some surprising twists and turns, and also features Gary Oldman (playing McConaughey's brother), Peter Dinklage, and Patricia Arquette. I thought it struck a fairly sensitive balance between exploring real issues faced by little people and trying to treat the little people characters just like any other characters -- although some reviewers lambasted the film for what they saw as its "preachy" message that we are all human beings, I think that's a significant point. The little people, like the average sized people, are complicated -- some are nice, some are responsible, some are screwed up. It's a movie that uses conventional plotting to probe issues of social acceptance, genetic technology, and family dynamics. I think on the purely visual level it does a lot of work, too, in creating acceptance within the viewer. What might seem unusual at the film's beginning loses its strangeness. Obviously some viewers will just be embarrassed or amused or disturbed to see so many little people on screen. But the film isn't really for those viewers anyway.

worst rejection line I've heard in a while

I had dinner last night with some friends I hadn't seen in a long time...one of them is recovering from a nasty breakup and had finally reached the point when he thought he "ought" to start trying to meet people & date again. So he set himself the goal of asking out 4 women. When he called the first, someone he knew from his previous job, she said "it's really brave of you to try to ask me out."

People always trade lame/terrible pickup lines...but I guess rejection lines are too painful usually to joke about.

Just glad it wasn't me.



I turned in my book orders in mid-October, when they were due.

I confirmed my book order in early November with the supervisor in textbooks, who assured me that problems I'd had in a previous semester would not occur this time.

Yet the bookstore does not have 3 of the 5 novels I ordered for my undergraduate course. Including the first one that they are supposed to be reading for next week.

I spoke to an underling yesterday at 2:30 who explained that the supervisor, T., was at lunch, and that she would be the only person who could find out what the problem is with getting the books, since there were no notes in the computer. I left my name, number, and relevant course info.

I called again at 4:15 yesterday and was put on hold for 8 minutes. Finally someone said that T. was busy and took down my name and number.

I called this morning at 11:30 and was put on hold for 10 minutes. Eventually I was told that T. was on the phone and I left my name and number.


So I'm going to have to rearrange my syllabus, going against historical chronology (and the carefully planned order of concepts & texts) because only 3 students have the first novel in hand.

I don't know when the other books will arrive. I can't get in touch with anyone in the bookstore who actually knows anything.

The most frustrating part of all is that the three books that aren't here yet are from a publisher whose editions I especially value -- expertly annotated, with good historical context and additional materials. I choose to teach books from their catalogue whenever possible. But this is the third semester that our stupid campus bookstore can't seem to get their books on time. I'm going to have to go back to using less good editions just so they'll be on the shelves.

Meanwhile, I'm just glad I planned for tomorrow's class to be more introductory lecture and activities. So I can give them a new reading schedule. After all the work of setting up secondary readings that would work with each novel and in sequence.

And I really wish T. would at least call me back and tell me something. Will the books be here in a week? in a month? never? should I order something else instead?

Worst part is that until this is resolved it's hard for me just to let it go and focus on other things I need to do.

UPDATE 3:05 pm: I called again and finally reached T. Although they had submitted the order to the publisher months ago, when they contacted the publisher 2 weeks ago to follow up, the order hadn't gone through. So they put a rush on the order, and she hopes the books will be here next week. I'm still irritated but at least I have some idea about what I can tell my students.

I was nice to T on the phone (catching more flies with honey) and it actually sounds like the legions of part time employees at the bookstore are the problem -- they'd left messages with the wrong phone number for me, incomplete messages, etc. I know that by March my students and I will have forgotten all about these problems. It's just frustrating during the first week. Many of my students have to get their books from the campus bookstore because of the terms of their loans/grants, so I'm forced to work with the bookstore even though it's disorganized. (Plus it's state law.) I always provide the info so students who can, can get the books somewhere else. But many of them can't do that.


my first day

My first day went well, I think. I like my undergrads, although there are lots of new names to learn. A lot of male students -- maybe a third, maybe almost half the course -- which in English is somewhat rare. The bookstore is having problems with getting some of the books I ordered, including (of course) the first novel we're going to read...and despite several phone calls, the textbook manager never called me back. First thing tomorrow I'll be on the phone with her, and trying to figure out what to do if the books aren't going to be here. I hate having to violate historical order just because of the bookstore.

I'm tired now, after finishing my last class. I seem to be acquiring a weird pain in my upper jaw -- I've had some congestion in that ear for a couple of days and maybe it's affecting the sinus/jaw? My wisdom teeth were removed many years ago, so it's not that. I'm hoping it's just tiredness and not some evil tooth or gum problem (which would be unlikely as I have a clean record in that department, but I suppose there's a first time for everything). I just looked in the mirror that I keep in my desk -- couldn't see anything in my mouth, of course, but my skin looked awfully strange. I'm hoping that's the lighting and not a rash. What on earth is happening? I must flee my office before my body completely falls apart.

Some weird scenes from my day:
At the copier, 3 or 4 faculty in line. Old Critter starts talking to Middle-Aged Slacker, complaining that he has to fill out a grade change form for a student because she got married, changed her name, and he didn't recognize it on the sheet, so he gave her a W for the course instead of a grade. He told the story several times, repeating "this is the fourth time in my career that this has happened. They get married and change their name. I just tell them now, "Ladies, if you get married, don't change your name. You don't want your first husband's name on your diploma anyway. Make daddy proud of you instead."

About 7 pm, on a pee break from my graduate class. An obviously lost undergrad stops me and plaintively asks where M102 was. I explained this wasn't "M" building, and told him how to get there. "But isn't this the English building?" he asked several times. I said well, yes, but not all English classes were held here. He is much perplexed. But as I direct him out the appropriate exit he says "nice piercing by the way -- it looks really cute on you." ???

I ask my students to fill out index cards on the first day with their email addresses and other basic info. I also ask that if they have any special needs that they note them on the card (learning disabilities, etc). One guy wrote "Just to get an A. j/k!" Not in a million years would I have ever made a "joke" with a professor on the first day. Especially one that is really just blatant pleading or posturing. (The same guy indicated he was an English major but noted "I'm not really very good at it.")

OK, must flee the office. I feel weird but I'm sure it's from breathing stale air all day.

yup. it's 3 frickin 30

I have been up way, way too late. Not entirely necessary, I suppose, but once I got my second wind I couldn't stop.

So my syllabi are done, are posted on my website and in WebCT. All the supplemental readings are scanned and loaded into WebCT. Didn't finish the syllabi in time to xerox them today -- hence the late night posting. So I'll just have to xerox them tomorrow. I should know by now that I always, always wind up writing them at the last possible minute, because I keep changing things around, especially if it's a new course.

I'm psyched about my two new courses. Enough so that the adrenaline has kept me up past my usual hour. And to think that a day ago I was making a plan that I would go to bed by 1:00 every night. ha!

9 hours til I teach my first class.

how many hours til I wake up? how many hours before I actually wind down and fall asleep?


what my day looks like

roughly blocked in 45-60 minute time chunks:
  • draft syllabi
  • work on household budget and financial stuff
  • clean up the yard
  • skim secondary readings to choose for syllabi
  • dogs to park
  • dogs at park and back home
  • clean house
  • gym
  • cook dinner
  • TV/time with gf
  • revise & check syllabi
  • blog and email
  • collapse into bed.
Then tomorrow I can go to campus and pray to the God of Xerography that the copier will still be working (our term starts on Tuesday).
If I can actually stick to my schedule, I'll get enough done. Of course, I'm already 30 minutes late starting it....


the house of les pauvres choux

"Pauvre chou" is one of the French expressions my parents used when I was growing up -- literally, it means "poor little cabbage" but it's used to mean "feeling yucky," "poor thing." It's an endearing term for someone who's feeling kind of punk. (and not in the sex pistols sense, nor the pejorative sense currently noted in Jimbo's taxonomy.)

Anyway, I think that describes all of us tonight. I had a good day out at a yoga thing, but now I have the beginnings of a migraine coming on. (Not yoga related, I don't think. More my damned female hormones.) Gf is also suffering from the female condition. One of the dogs threw up on the bedspread -- looks like she'd eaten grass on purpose to make herself throw up, which maybe means she ate something nasty at the park. Other dog is acting clingy and anxious.

It's time to throw on sweat pants and lie around on the couch. All of us. Well, the dogs don't need sweat pants. But they are happy to watch movies anyway.

UPDATE 10:45 pm: migraine forestalled...ibuprofen and caffeine did the trick. Did not accomplish any of the Unpleasant Tasks I Ought to be Doing, however. I blame the internet. Am calling the evening a wash and will get up early tomorrow to Face the Crap. Hey, it'll be Sunday, my least favorite day of the week. Might as well make it really sucky.


academics and depression

There's an interesting article in this week's Chronicle about a history professor who retired from his tenure-track position while he was suffering from major depression. His early retirement deal included seven years of part-time teaching as a lecturer. During those seven years, after getting to the point of a suicide attempt, he sought treatment for his depression and is now restored to what he thinks of as his fully functioning self. Now, at the end of the seven years, his university has declined to renew his part-time teaching agreement. He first was fighting to have his part-time teaching renewed, but now also is fighting to have his tenure reinstated.

On the one hand, I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for someone who has suffered major depression. Although I've been mildly depressed most of my adult life, I had my most serious period of depression last year and I'm still getting out of it. I look back over the past two years and wonder about some of the things I did, or didn't do.

Yet most jobs you can't just resign and then ask for them back. So I don't really see on what grounds he can argue for his tenured position back. And, quite frankly, the way his comments are presented in the article is sort of insulting --

When, in 2001, Mr. López found himself on the edge of his bed, unable to pull the trigger on his .22, "I saw that this was a no-exit situation and I really broke down," he says. That's when he began taking antidepressants. His doctors experimented with combinations of drugs and finally hit on the right one in 2002. "Within a few weeks, I was kind of breathing again," Mr. López says. He reconciled with his wife and began to enjoy work once more. "My teaching had come back, and I was having a great time," he says.

It was then that he realized he never should have given up his tenured position. "Anybody who resigns from this type of work at 55 has either won the lottery or has some problems," he says. "This is not a factory job where you get up in the wee hours of the morning. It's a very comfortable job, with enormous amounts of free time. We get very hefty salaries for things that are very enjoyable: reading and thinking and writing."

Mr. López says now he should simply have taken a medical leave. But no one suggested that at the time, and he didn't ask. According to Sylvia M. Hall, director of human resources at Binghamton, administrators take professors at their word when they say they want to retire. "I don't see it as our job to challenge their thinking," she says. If Mr. López had requested sick leave, she notes, he probably would have qualified for a whole year's worth.
Mr. López says he is stunned that after his more than 30 years on the faculty, the university will not allow him to continue teaching, even as an adjunct. "They turned me down so brutally and arrogantly, without explanation, it just took me aback," he says. He is so angry that last month he changed his tactics and began asking not just for a part-time position but for the return of his tenured job. A couple of former students who are now lawyers have urged him to sue the university on the basis that his early-retirement contract is not legally binding because he was mentally ill when he signed it.

Basically, as I read this, he's suggesting that because it's a "comfortable job" he must have been "mentally ill" to give it up. And that the university owes him something after 30 years, at least part-time teaching. As the article describes his career, he was a very productive if sometimes erratic scholar and administrator early in his career, followed by a 15 year period in which he withdrew from departmental service. Some of that withdrawal might indeed have been caused by his depression, but should that mean he gets his job back?

I guess my gut response is that he shouldn't. Now, whether the university "ought" to hire him for a few more years of part time teaching (he's in his 60s) is a separate question, and one I don't have enough info to evaluate -- is he a good teacher, are his courses needed, what is the budget situation, etc.

But I thought it was interesting because it's the first case I've heard of in which depression is coming into play as a factor. Because the medical understanding of depression and the popular understanding are often at variance, this makes any legal arguments that might come out of this case potentially interesting.

I'd estimate that at least a third to half of my colleagues have had or are currently experiencing some form of depression. Are academics more prone to depression than other professionals? (Certainly there might be some factors that might come into play with someone's individual internal tendencies/chemistries: solitary reflective work habits, intense competitive pressure with little social or financial rewards, high cultural status combined with low social status, few opportunities for positive feedback, etc...) How could or should this be considered in our employment evaluations and histories?


the last few days

My U doesn't start until next Tues (after MLK) , surprisingly late this year. Which I'm certainly not complaining about. Since most of my blog buddies (you know who you are, I'm too tired to bother linking) are already teaching, I feel grateful that I still have a few more days to tweak my syllabi and get organized. But I also have two other projects I'm focusing on this week, as I cling to the remaining flexibility of the "break." I'm feeling a bit distracted, tugged in different directions. I should try and remember that I never, ever, write my syllabi much ahead of time. Usually 1 or 2 days tops. I'm trying to get them done early this term, but if that doesn't happen, it'll be OK. I can sneak to campus on the weekend and photocopy my handouts.

If I didn't know so many people who were already starting back, I could maintain my "break" mode a little longer. Maybe. The hallways at school yesterday were not exactly full of colleagues, but all who were there were bemoaning the end of the break.

Blech. It's only Tuesday, right? I still have some time left.


disappointing, after all the buildup

Remember the card from an old college friend that was sent to my mother's house? Well, she forwarded it to me, and I got it today. Being that sort of a person who tends to save good things for later, I even waited to open it until I'd have time to really sit down & enjoy reading what my friend J had to say.

It was a conventional store-bought Christmas card, to which he'd simply added "Merry Christmas! J----"

What a letdown. I guess maybe he didn't want to write a real letter not knowing if it would reach me. I'm 99% sure that he hasn't been sending such cards for the past 15 years and I just didn't know about it.

The card itself was kind of yellowing with age. Either he was cleaning out a stash of old Xmas cards (I've done that myself plenty of times) , or maybe he'd addressed it 10 years ago (the card's copyright was 1995) and just never mailed it? (Normally I wouldn't pay attention to such details, but with no text to interpret, this is what I have left to "read.")

Weird. I guess he's tossed the ball into my court, and now it's my turn to respond. So I've looked up his work email, and will write him a note. We'll see if I hear anything back...


housecleaning tips, anyone?

So I spent nearly the whole day super-cleaning our house. Not just the basic sweeping and stuff, but pulling out the furniture, cleaning the baseboards, steam-cleaning the couch, etc etc. Intensive, once-in-a-while type cleaning. So now I'm pleasantly worn out, and the house is in great shape. (The yard still needs some dealing with, but I did the bare minimum out there. Will try to get to that next weekend.)

But as I was working on this today I was mulling over various plans to streamline the cleaning chores. Most of my adult life, I've done most of the weekly chores all in one afternoon, either Saturday or Sunday. For a while back when I lived by myself, I set up a system where I would do a little bit every day, so as to avoid the dreariness of spending all of Saturday cleaning. And as I remember, it worked well for a few weeks, but the habit didn't stick. I'm considering trying it again -- on the idea that 30 minutes a day (not counting laundry, food prep/cleanup) wouldn't be SO awful. And might certainly be better than 3-4 hours on one day.

So, any of you have cleaning schedules you're proud of and want to share? FlyLady is full of enthusiastic cleaning routines, but her site is really aimed at people whose main focus is taking care of a home and kids. That's not me. I'm just looking for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective House Cleaners, or some such thing. How to streamline in a way that makes sense.

I figure right now is the time to start a new daily cleaning habit, since the house is in fairly good shape. It should be easier to maintain that cleanliness if I just jump in this week, rather than waiting a whole week to do any further cleaning. Right?


Million Dollar Baby

So we went yesterday afternoon to see Million Dollar Baby , which both my gf and I thought was fantastic. Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood are both really powerful -- alone and together. The film manages to reference some of the standard sports narratives -- the underdog story, the athelete-coach relationship, the tough coach with heart of gold -- but doesn't fall into any of the usual traps. The substance of this film is so much more complicated and interesting.

Without giving away too much, I think I can say that I found the film really interesting in the way it treats embodiment. This one doesn't take for granted the skills or physical structure of its protagonist as she learns to box. Ultimately, the existential questions that the film probes are about choices, about life trajectories, about finding & creating new families, and about how you live in your body. The last is a question that I think so many people (especially Americans, and especially women, to generalize a bit) really struggle with.

How do you know your body? How do you know what it can do? Do you feel that you are your body, that you are in your body, or that you are simply tagging along just behind or outside it? What relation does your body have to the vision you have of your life? of yourself?

There are other things I wish I could say about the film, but I don't want to give too much away. I recommend it highly, even if you don't like Clint Eastwood and even if you don't like boxing.

my two seconds of fame

I got an email today from someone letting me know that the online component of the Utne Reader had quoted and linked to my blog, in an article discussing how various media were treating the question of Susan Sontag's sexuality.

I don't check my referrer stats every single day, so I hadn't yet realized about the link. Since Sontag's death, however, I had been getting a couple of hits every few days related to my post. In the past week or so, however, the so-called "alternative media" has been questioning the way that Sontag's earliest memorials were written so as to erase or elide questions of sexuality. My blog used to be on the first page of google results (for Sontag+Leibowitz+lesbian); now it's much further down (where, depends on your exact search terms). So it seems a little strange to be cited. But I'm not complaining. That' s my two seconds of blogosphere publicity, right there.


miscellaneous thoughts

For the past several nights I've had dreams involving packing -- needing to pack for a trip, being somewhere and not having packed the right things, needing to get my suitcase that's in some other location, etc. I guess this means my subconscious is getting ready for the semester. Last night's somehow involved a beach that was run by the University of Chicago, and not having the right sunscreen. Weird. Unfortunately I don't have very good dream recall, so that's all I know.

Thursday is hereby declared Date Night for the semester. My gf and I have been trying to figure out what this semester's routine will look like -- who walks the dogs which nights, who's working when, etc. And we're going to try and go to the movies on Thursday nights. Which, since it's the end of my teaching week, makes a nice transition from teaching focus to writing focus over the weekend. We're leaving in 6 minutes to see Cachorro (Bearcub).

Tried my first new recipe of the year tonight -- a vegan Mattar Paneer (using tofu instead of
cheese). It was pretty good, though it needs some tweaking. (Also some of my curry spices were kind of old which might have been the problem.)


absent-minded professor?

Today I put in a recall request for a book at the university library. Tonight I got an email from the library saying that my request was denied because the book is already checked out to me.

I have no memory of checking out this book, but I sure hope I can find it on my shelves somewhere.

I've wondered before what would happen if I recalled a book from myself, and assumed it would be some Kafkaesque situation of having to return it to check it out again. Thankfully the library computer saved me from that.

But it still feels sort of sloppy and embarrassing. Proof again that I don't have a very good memory.

attempting to leave the house

Yeah, well, the title must be misleading, since I'm writing this. But in my mind, I'm almost out the door to go to my office at school for the first time in 2005. I have two Australian friends who always spoke of when they were at "uni" -- which sounds so much better than saying "I have to go to school now." Or "the office." One makes me sound 6 years old, the other makes it seem as though I'm so corporate or something. And neither are true. But since I don't have a charming Australian accent, I'm not sure I can get away with saying "uni." (except maybe here on my blog, where you have no idea what I sound like anyway)

It's really not that bad, what I'm supposed to do today at uni.
  • take a ton (well, ok, 50 pounds?) of books back to the library
  • start planning/writing my syllabi
  • research criticism on the new texts I'm teaching for the first time
  • probably go and get books from the library
  • catch up on administrivia
  • purge last semester's teaching files, set up this semester's.
I have two new courses, and I've been getting kind of pumped up about them. But today I'm really dragging. Slept hard, and have felt fuzzy-headed all morning.

OK, I'm really going now. Really.


Advanced Toast Technology

Our toaster oven shorted out a few weeks ago. Since we got a microwave, I've used the oven feature less and less frequently. So today, we decided to go with a more traditional toaster, which looks stylish and takes up less valuable counter real estate:

The box promised that Advanced Toast Technology would ensure perfect toasting every time. And indeed, the extra-wide slots have little metal grippers that narrow to the width of the bread item. There are special buttons for toast, bagels, and frozen items. I feel like a crusty old-timer marvelling at some new-fangled invention.

But the booklet, the text of this toaster, is really wonderful:

Using the Seven Toast Shade Dial, adjust
your darkness preference.

When toasting one slice of bread
place in the center of either bread slot

Dual, Auto-Adjusting, Stainless Steel Bread Guides
automatically adjust.

Bread Carriage Lever
Toast Lift the convenient and safe way

Your toaster has been designed for optimum toast balance.

recently viewed

I'm really not doing a very good job of keeping track of all the movies I see. Which I'd love to do, as a kind of reference for later in my life (since I have lousy memory for titles etc). Maybe I need to set up a sidebar list or something.

Anyway, to catch up a little bit:
  • Meet the Fockers -- it was fine, I didn't think it was as hilarious as Meet the Parents, maybe because it's kind of sweet at its core. But I'm really enjoying the quirky Dustin Hoffman, whose characters in this one and in I Heart Huckabees seem to have some overlap.
  • The Aviator -- I enjoyed this so much more than I had expected. Since I knew very little about Hughes's life, and I'm not a fan of old movies, I wasn't disturbed by the idea of another actress playing the young Hepburn, or whatever. It's a long movie (maybe the 3rd close to 3 hour film I've seen in the past 6 weeks -- what's up with that?) but it's justified, being the story of a larger-than-life figure. DiCaprio actually gets a chance to act in this movie, too. It was really interesting seeing this one soon after Alexander -- to think about the qualities of "greatness" that make some historical figures interesting to later generations. The film focuses on the Hughes who set out to explore the air -- despite what everyone around him said, despite his losses. Kinda similar to Alexander. And, of course, it raises some interesting questions about the future of privatized space exploration. Hughes's inner demons, the obsessive-compulsive tendencies that eventually led him into deep paranoia, are represented as also part of what let him succeed where others hadn't. (Of course, a family fortune doesn't hurt either.) An interesting individual, and a really enjoyable film.Even for someone like me, who's not "into"airplanes, or Hepburn, or that time period especially.
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- Blech. I should confess to only having seen 95 minutes of it -- we were waiting to get into the film we went to see. But I doubt my opinion would be radically altered by seeing the film's conclusion. I know, most serious film folks (which I'm not) love Wes Anderson -- and I remember liking Bottle Rocket when it first came out. But the rest of his movies just haven't done much for me. In short: this one seemed both narcissistic and misogynistic, without enough concept or humor to redeem those aspects.
  • Code 46 -- I missed this in the theatre, and I'm really sorry, now that I've seen it on DVD (just recently released). Directed by Michael Winterbottom, who has made such an interesting array of films -- Jude, Wonderland, 24-Hour Party People, and many others, each really different from the rest. This one is set in an unspecified future -- an interesting polyglot world, where national boundaries seem to be less important than whether you are registered in the system or "outside." A world (sort of like that in Gattaca) in which IVF, cloning, and genetic manipulation has become so prevalent for those in the system, that individuals must test their genetic code before being sexually active, because you could encounter someone who shared some of your own genetic material. That's just the backdrop, the set up for the plot -- a world with a strongly enforced redefined incest taboo which makes the central love story forbidden. But there's lots more going on in this film. Visually it's really stunning -- bleak and beautiful -- like Bladerunner painted by an Impressionist. Tim Robbins is wonderful as the middle-aged empath who finds himself in the awkward position of evading the system he's employed by. Samantha Morton shines, simply shines. (But, I can't resist a catty fashion remark. In this film, as in Minority Report and In America, Morton has really short hair, which looks fabulous on her. She's beautiful in a punky waifish sort of way. But in the commentary segment included on the DVD, she looks so incredibly bad. Like someone's grandma. Huge blue sunglasses and a frilly housedress thing, and poufy hair. It was truly horrifying to see what she looked like when she dressed herself. Unless she was in training for some upcoming frumpy role...)
  • 24 -- I don't watch a lot of TV, but I love good TV on DVD. Sometimes I don't have 2 hours, but 45 minutes I can spare for relaxing. We finally got around to renting the first disk of this series and got totally hooked. Grippingly suspenseful, and really interesting use of split screen techniques. I'm glad I never saw it on TV (I don't think we get that channel) because having to wait a week in between each episode would be torturous. Am now waiting for Netflix to send us the next disk, and that's only a two day turnaround.


the obligatory january list

I'm actually someone who makes "resolutions" all the time. I'm always looking for a way to improve my routines, change my habits, or simplify my life. Over the years I've developed some pretty decent systems for managing my tasks & information (thanks especially to David Allen) and my space (thanks to Julie Morgenstern), but I periodically re-evaluate, overhaul, and fix the system or space as needed. Right now I'm in the midst of doing that in my home office -- which, if it were just my workspace, would be a lot more manageable. But I'm also the household financial officer and primary domestic engineer, so my office actually is a multi-use space...at any given time there's laundry drying on a rack, books & papers for my work, books & papers for my teaching, yoga stuff, bills to pay, etc, etc.

At the moment, I'm sorting through far too many months' worth of credit card statements, junk mail, etc. I'm usually much better about being on top of the money-related stuff (and all bills have been getting paid, so I'm doing OK) but my struggles with depression over the past year meant that various stacks of paper weren't ever processed, and just wound up in a box. So now I'm cleaning it out, and shredding vast amounts of unnecessary junk, which is satisfying.

But, back to the resolution thing. I might as well tap into the collective energy of early January and announce my current set of resolutions:
  • take all my vitamins every day (this was my resolution about 7 years ago, and it became a strong habit, until the past year when I got sloppy again. So back to the post-it note on the kitchen cupboard for a few weeks...)
  • cook two side vegetables every night for dinner (usually I've been making just one, plus whatever's in the main course)
  • read some current work in my field that's not related to a specific course I'm teaching or article I'm writing -- for at least one hour a week. My research time is so limited, that usually I wind up only reading stuff that's directly relevant to a current project. But that's not the kind of scholar I'd like to be...
  • floss every day (I'm a so-so flosser, usually every 2-3 days. But I'm probably past the age when I can get away with that.)
As you can tell, I try to set really small and therefore achievable resolutions.

And, because I'm a total nerd who enjoys crossing things off lists: I'm setting up a checklist in my Palm so I can check these things off each day that I do them. Every little bit of positive reinforcement helps. (For instance: B.F. Skinner used a time clock to keep track of how much time he spent writing. (The link is to an article by his daughter, describing his basement office. I first learned the story of his time clock from Neil Fiore's book, which I highly recommend to anyone struggling with work habits. Creating some system for recording your productivity is really powerful.)


looking forward

Here's hoping that the new year will bring more creativity to our choices, more thoughtfulness to our actions, more joy into our homes, and more peace into our hearts.

Because you can't have too much of some things.