on group work

As I walked up to my office just now after class, I thought "well, I guess I can blog about how group work saved my sorry ass today." Because it did: I have been really busy with other work and so my class prep suffered this week. Then, when I arrived at my office this morning, I realised I'd left a lot of my notes on the book at home -- my notes about specific passages on certain pages. So I really had to pull something out of thin air in a hurry.

But to say that (and yes, we all do group work on the fly sometimes) implies that group work is a fallback, a slacker thing to do, a time-filler. And if it's poorly thought out or badly executed, it can be all of those things. But pedagogically I really believe in the value of group work, if it's handled well. I've learned a lot of things over the years about what works and what doesn't, and I've read some of the theoretical research, and so I'm fairly confident in my ability to design an activity that will take the students to a new level of learning and engagement with the material. But good group work isn't just about clear expectations, clear outcomes, and so forth. It also depends upon the foundation you've already laid down in the class. If students know you expect them to come to class prepared to discuss, they're not freaked out by a group activity. If your activity builds on concepts already discussed in previous sessions, then the students begin at a point of confidence, on their way to something new. I use brief regular group work sessions in all of my classes; and then sometimes, like today, I use groups for more extensive things.

Today's class worked out really well. The activity looked as though it was something I'd carefully planned to follow Tuesday's lecture on critical strategies. I discussed the critical framework we'd set up on Tuesday, assigned topics to the groups, had them discuss the topics in the novel (all related to a particular character), and present passages for discussion to the class. Then I extemporized some pretty good lecture material out of what they brought forward. They worked hard, I worked hard, and we all came to a better understanding of what's going on in this book.

Days like this are really some of my favorite teaching days -- days when I surprise myself. I usually teach in a fairly free-form manner, rarely from a scripted lecture. But it's extra nice to hear smart ideas coming out that I didn't quite realise I had. Days I wish I had a tape-recorder, since I won't remember this in two years when I teach this course again.


I've been thinking about academic hierarchies lately, and my deeply ambivalent relationship to them: not so much the hierarchy of rank within a particular institution, but the list of schools we all carry around in our heads, tailored to our specific discipline or field. We all know, or think we know, which are the best schools, which are the second best. When confronted with any school name, even the less-familiar ones, I generally have an intuitive sense of where it falls in that list. And mostly, it's an easy guessing game: there's lots of agreement about which are the top ten or fifteen schools in a given field. And after that, the second tier is easy to fill in. Past second tier, and nobody really cares, except for the people in those institutions. And the people who might be hiring them, or reviewing their tenure files, or selecting papers for a conference.

I've been selecting papers for a conference panel recently, and even though my conscious mind knows it's a very flawed way of making judgments, I still recognize that the internalized hierarchy plays a role in how I read a proposal. Even though I'm trying to only read for the content, I also know that a session with some well-published, if not well-known scholars will more likely be approved for the conference, and more likely to draw some attendees. And unfortunately, the degree to which you're published usually reflects either the length of time you've been in the profession (i.e., you don't expect the same from grad students as from assistant profs) or your institutional location. People who are teaching 4-4 or 5-5 don't have time to publish, nor are they usually required to.

There are several things I find so pernicious about all of this. First is that in today's market (which in English has been this way for at least 15 years), the 3rd- and 4th-tier places are frequently staffed by people from top-ranking PhD programs. Like my institution, for instance: we are a research U, and we offer PhD and MA degrees. But we are not nationally known, at least in my field. We serve a regional student population, and we do that quite well. But we are definitely down in the 3rd or 4th tier, depending how you're counting. My colleagues include people with degrees from Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Chicago, UCLA, etc etc. So judging someone by their letterhead doesn't necessarily tell you anything about their individual caliber. (of course, neither does their PhD-granting institution -- but it usually tells you something about their training, if not their brains).

Secondly, there's this weird inflation of institutional self-importance. For instance, for my tenure review, I was told to list external reviewers "who would have good letterhead" -- by which my chair meant Ivies. Because to the College-level committee (not even humanities faculty, mostly) the letterhead meant more than anything else. I didn't actually have any Ivy reviewers, but I had people at tier1 and tier 2 schools in my field. What this means, multiplied by all the other tens of people trying to get tenure, is that a very small percentage of the published scholars in a given field wind up acting as the gatekeepers for the profession as a whole. (Plus it overloads them with work: MS reviews, P&T reviews, etc.)

Thirdly: the ethics of this profession are crap. Realistically, half of the PhD programs ought to shut their doors -- there's no point in churning out so many PhDs (a particular problem in English) when there aren't enough jobs. If people like me are working at places like this, and feeling damn grateful to do so -- where are the people from 3rd, 4th, or 5th tier places going to go?

Fourth and Most Pernicious: the myth of meritocracy. The myth that it's really just about your ideas and your arguments. Because at the end of the day, academics are making judgments all the time not about content, but about status.

Who knew I was so bilious today? this post actually relates to a much larger post that's been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, but I haven't been ready to write it yet.


balance sheet

Bad Prof: hadn't finished the reading assignment this morning before class
Good Prof: figured (rightly) that the students hadn't read that far, either; rearranged the syllabus to extend the time we talk about this book.

Bad Prof: is counting the days til the semester ends
Good Prof: enjoyed class today once she was actually there

Bad Prof: is eating potato chips
Good Prof: is staying late at the office to order next term's books, grade rewrites, print articles, answer emails.

Bad Prof: decided to blog
Good Prof: is going back to work now


thoughts about summer

I have been thinking a lot about the upcoming summer. Yes, it's only 7 weeks away (not that I'm counting or anything.) (Or that April truly is the cruelest month for academics; can we just say committees?!)

I put my name into the lottery for teaching summer school during June. We haven't been informed yet who will be teaching -- so it's possible that I won't even get an assignment. (As a publicly funded institution, we are dependent on the legislature for funding for summer school. We don't get much.) But if I'm offered one, do I really want to take it?

I've never taught summer school before. So those of you who have, please tell me whether it's really worth it.

The only real reason, of course, is the money. I'd pull about $2500 after taxes etc, which would take care of a hefty chunk of debt. My 12-year-old car has a terminal illness of the engine which means that I will have to get a new car some time in the next 6-10 months. So clearing some debt would make that easier to manage.

Other factors to consider: I'm going to be moving offices this summer -- I'm taking on an administrative position this fall, so I have to move up to the big house the main office. I will get a window (2 of them, actually) and larger space, which will be grand. Downside is the expectation that I spend more time there and be generally available to deal with crap. So, I'll have to be in the office a fair amount this summer, first moving offices and then sorting through the files of my predecessor and trying to learn my new position. So maybe the structure of summer school wouldn't be so bad -- a couple of hours in class every day, a couple hours in the office, then go home to read for the next day's class.

And when I put it like that, I feel the dread. Because I also want to do some serious writing and research this summer. My spring break was so great -- both relaxing and productive -- I'd really like to try and pick that up again this summer. Realistically, it's hard for me to produce sustained writing during the academic year. And next year, when I'll be taking on this half-time admin post, I'll have that whole learning curve. Do I really want to give up a month of my summer to teaching?

Any advice from those of you who've taught summer school? (NB -- the course I'd be teaching would either be a modified version of a course I teach often, or a new sophomore-level course that I could put together using texts I'm pretty familiar with.)


free reading recs, anyone?

My gf and I are going to the downtown library later today -- I've been out of "free reading" (as my 1st grade teacher used to call what we could do when we finished our worksheets) for over a week -- I have books on hand, but none of them were very satisfying.

Allconsuming.net has been down whenever I tried to update my current reading -- honestly, I haven't been reading Jonathan Norrell for four months.

When we went out of town I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and really enjoyed it far more than I'd expected. I'd picked it up before from the new fiction shelf, and thought it wasn't my sort of thing. It was at the library in paperback, though, when we were about to leave for our trip, so I got it, and I'm really glad I did. I'm not autistic, because I'm actually pretty empathic and good at reading people's faces. But because of my migraine sensitivities, I have a hard time in certain kinds of environments -- too much noise, flashing lights, or strong odors can easily overload my brain's circuits and make me feel or act weird. So on that level I could really understand and sympathize with the novel's narrator. I can also understand the impulse to want to obsessively organize one's environment and activities (although I mostly don't actually follow through with this, because planning a system is way more fun than the tedious work of putting it together).

I've been working a lot lately -- writing, reading, and more reading for my classes. But I need some good fun reading --nothing too challenging for my brain, but not badly-written dreck, either.

I always knew she was smart...

Guess who else in our house has been reading the Chronicle?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

(Seriously, that wasn't staged or anything. She collects things and takes them to her nest sometimes.)


my Luddite moment

Now, I am generally comfortable with new technology, and willing to adopt it readily if it improves the quality of my life in some way. My lifestyle doesn't require some kinds of technology currently available, and my budget can't support them without a real need, so I don't have internet access always on my body, I can't post to my blog from my phone, or some of the other things that I see people doing. They're cool, but just not really part of my life.

Then, there are the non-optional technologies -- those that are encouraged or even mandated by the various institutions I have to deal with occasionally. In 1989, I moved to a new city where the bank would charge you to make a deposit or withdrawal with a human teller, so I used my first ATM and adapted to it no problem. Electronic tickets for air travel, concerts, and so forth are an excellent development of the past few years. I've never had a problem, never had any doubts or irritations.

Well, one now non-optional technology that is really irritating: the automated check-out machine at The Home Depot. Today I had to go and pick up a few things, and none of the human-run checkout lanes were open -- only the 4-stall automated lane. There's a slack-jawed clerk supervising the auto lanes, because the badly designed machines don't work very well. I don't mind automated check out at the library (books easily lie flat on the machine and you can easily see where to place the bar code). Even at our grocery store (where it's still optional) the auto check out works decently, although weighing the produce can be a pain. But at Home Depot, the laser beam of the scanner is in the flatbed of the machine, not above the surface. So you can't see precisely where it's located, so you're forced to keep waving your item around, hoping it will scan. Inevitably, I'm buying small little parts in plastic bags, which are rumpled and the codes don't scan well. To reduce theft, these machines are weight sensitive -- if you scan a small item and put it in the shopping bag, it keeps telling you "place item in bag" because it can't sense it. Today, I was buying three identical furnace filters -- two scanned OK, but the third wouldn't. So I tried to rescan one of the first two -- and set off all kinds of warnings about "item removed from bag area." I had to get the clerk to help me, and she couldn't scan it either. Then typing in the code didn't work. This went on and on and on.

Now, I love technology when it works. But this was really frustrating -- not only because I wanted to pay for my three items and get out of there, but because there were people lined up behind me watching me. I don't want to be judged on my lousy scan technique. I'm just buying some filters. (It was, of course, gratifying when the clerk couldn't scan the code either, so that my incompetence was at least as bad as hers.) I nearly just ditched my things and walked out of there. And I rarely get that frustrated.

I'm young(ish, anway), I'm techno-friendly, & I speak English. Today I felt like a confused old fart visiting a foreign land. How do the real oldsters manage in HD?


true confession

I actually wrote something yesterday.

Something new, something not just cobbled together from work I've been doing for ages.

Something that isn't a memo, slide notes for class, a report for a committee.

And once I got started (it only took three days of thinking, outlining, and laundry, vaccuuming, etc) it actually felt amazing. How is it that writing feels so great when you're doing it, but getting started is so incredibly painful?

Why am I confessing this? Since this is what we are supposed to be doing all of the time anyway? it shouldn't be a big deal, right?

Well, it was and is. This was the first writing I've done in 18 months that has felt good. The first writing in 18 months that made me feel that my brain actually might work again. That reminded me why I actually got into this business in the first place. I like thinking, I really do. It's just hard to do when you're depressed. The further I come out from my depression, the more I realise just how hard it's been.


note to self

Assigning three long novels that you have never taught before in one semester is not a great idea. Sure, you learn a lot and stretch yourself and expand your teaching resources. But it's a heck of a lot of work. And you thought you'd read them all ahead of time over Winter Break, and you didn't. You did read the one you'd never even ever read before (well, 85% of it anyway) and that was something. But not quite enough. And then you thought you'd read the second new one over the Spring Break and get ahead. But you didn't. In fact, you didn't even read the first week's reading ahead of time. You were still finishing today's reading this morning before class. It would be nice to think that this was just a momentary aberration, but deep down you know you are always this way. Doomed to prepare things right before class. And doomed to only read & teach new things by forcing yourself to do it by assigning the books. So this afternoon, when you are putting in your book orders for next fall, how many new novels are you going to choose?


writing & games

So, one of the achievements of my spring break was moving forward on two separate writing projects. And the success of that kept my brain feeling sort of awake and ticklish today even though I was busy writing memos and dealing with bureaucracy and simpering secretaries for something like six hours at the office.

One of the ways I know that I'm really working, really writing, or at least getting awfully close to putting real draft words on the page (as opposed to all those pretend freewriting, notetaking, outlining words) is that I start playing computer games. (Not role-playing games or anything complicated. Just puzzle, arcade, or board games that you can stop & start easily.)

That might sound counterintuitive. But when I'm depressed or on vacation, I rarely play games. If I'm working, I use them as a way of taking little breaks that energize my logical circuits. At least that's my theory.

It's been different games at different times. Tetris, on my old DOS computer, got me through my first few years of graduate school. When I had to get a new machine, I wound up playing FreeCell. My writing buddy was addicted to it, and she got me doing it too. That was the main thing for my dissertation writing years. A few years ago I went through a Reversi phase on Yahoo games -- I still play sometimes, but it never really worked as a writing break, because of the distraction of having to wait for a person to play with in real time. Then I downloaded Clickomania, a completely addictive freeware game. (There are other variants of it -- JT's blocks, which is on Yahoo, is basically the same thing, with different scoring.) That's mostly what I've relied on for the past few years. Oh, and Snug, a great little puzzle game.

I'll write for 45 minutes or so, then play a game for a few minutes. If I get stuck on an idea or a paragraph that just isn't working out, I'll go play a game to distract my mind. When I come back, it's usually clear what I need to do.

I was thinking the other day about my game strategy for writing, and about how great Tetris was. There have been lots of experiments to discover how the brain processes Tetris, and why it's so addictive. I was relieved to learn that something like 60% of people who play regularly dream about it -- I used to, when I was writing & playing a lot. Tetris is apparently a real workout for your brain. (A good article with references to others is here.)

Since I have frequently lamented the fact that I think I used to be smarter than I am now, maybe it's all in the games I'm playing. So I downloaded a Tetris clone two days ago...we'll see what happens.


last day of spring break

This spring break has been great. Definitely better than 2004, when I had to travel to my home town to begin cleaning up and packing my mother's house in preparation for her selling it and moving. (That was not relaxing, it was more like a trip to a prison labor camp.) Definitely better than 2003, when I had my arm in a cast and yet was frantically trying to write in preparation for turning in my tenure file that August. Definitely better than 2002, when we were in couples therapy wrestling with some big issues. I can't remember further back than that in detail. But 2005 rocked, in comparison:
  • I broke through my horrible terrible embarrassing psychological block on a particular writing project (with help from my friend)
  • I began writing a short talk for a conference that needs to be done in two weeks
  • I only went to the office one day and didn't let the administrivia take over any more of my break than that
  • I cleaned up piles of stuff in my study at home
  • I got to talk to a dear friend twice, after months of separation. I caught up with some other long-distance friends, too.
  • I watched movies, did yoga, caught up on sleep, played with the dogs and generally lived a pleasant and sane existence.
I wonder if in part this year's break was so good because I'd taken that long weekend so soon beforehand -- started the relaxation response and just kept it going.

Even today, as I inevitably consider all the things that have to get done tomorrow, Tuesday, the rest of the week, I'm just not feeling too stressed. Yes, it would have been nice to been superhumanly productive. But I wasn't and I refuse to get all crazy about it. Tomorrow will be time enough.

My plan for the rest of the day: I'm going to meet a friend for a matinee, take the dogs to the park, make lasagne (which will take care of meals for a couple of days), and get ahead on the reading for my classes this week. I refuse to make this a grumpy last day.


happily dancing around the room

Woo-hoo!! I got accepted to a Super Big Deal conference!!

Or, more precisely, the potentially edgy paper proposal I wrote for this conference (which relates to what I think the topic of my next book will be, and therefore most of my research for the next two years) got accepted. Which is super exciting not only because I get to go and network with people who are really the tops in my field, but also because it means my ideas about this next project (still in very early stages) have received at least some validation. And this is good motivation for moving forward on that project. Plus, Super Big Deal conference is being held this year at an institution where I have several important connections and many fond memories.

But mostly right now I'm just grinning from ear to ear that I actually got accepted. I really didn't think I'd have much chance at this one.


blogs & nondiversity

Bitch has lots of good thoughts and links today about women and argument. More specifically, about (yet again) why the representation of women in political blogrolls and op-ed pieces is so skewed. I also just saw a good piece by Stephen Levy in Newsweek about the fame logorithms and striking nondiversity of "the blogosphere," which led me to Global Voices Online,one effort to try and make blogs by nonwhite and non N.Amer/Euro voices more visible. It's all interesting stuff worth looking at if you haven't already been reading it.

Of course, a lot of these concerns operate from a very narrow definition of what constitutes "the blogosphere": politics as only having to do with governments, laws, violence. It's basically a white male definition of the public sphere, and of public discourse (following from the 18th & 19th century newspaper model). In newspapers, ideas are generated by a small group of people and controlled by financial interests. Newspapers did provide many more people with information and entertainment, and the growth of newspapers in the 19th century accompanied the rise of both the middle class and a mass reading audience. Newspapers were also crucial, as Benedict Anderson suggests, in fostering a sense of community that helped solidify national interests in the modern period.

Yet historically speaking, even within that capitalist-modern period, other kinds of groups & communities have fostered other kinds of communication networks, other modes of discourse. I'm thinking about everything from quilting groups to Quaker Meetings. There are so many already-existing alternatives to the newspaper op-ed format (which has to be one antecedent to the Crossfire type TV shows), that I have to assume that there are other kinds of communication models similarly growing on the web. The really interesting question for me isn't "where are the women/people of color in mainstream technorati-top-100 blogs" but "what have the women & people of color already begun to create as an alternative to that hierarchy."

The great thing about blogs is that they have the power to overturn the newspaper model, by giving many people the power of framing their thoughts in language and publishing their ideas to an audience. Our very sense of what the public sphere might look like, of what community might look like, has already been expanded and altered by the rapid growth of the web and specifically of personal-publishing options like blogs. But we're in a transition stage right now -- as one media dinosaur species slowly dies off, it struggles and makes big splashes. And it tries to make the future awkwardly fit its own model (like Newsweek's little list of "blogs to watch"). Who knows what the future of information access and shared discourse is going to look like. But I would be willing to bet that it won't look much like the NYT or Newsweek.


We rent a little house in one of the oldest inner-city residential neighborhoods in our city. It's a mixed-race, mixed-income neighborhood and we've been really happy living there. We're on the shabby side of the main boulevard, where the houses are smaller, the yards are scruffier, and the dogs are bigger. Over the past two years or so, housing values in this area have been rising rapidly, and the developers have been moving in, buying up and tearing down older homes to put in townhomes and hugely bloated neo-Victorian houses.

Our block has been a townhouse-free zone, in large part because six of the houses on our street have been owned by two families who have been here for generations. There's three generations of each here on this one block. That kind of rootedness, that kind of local history, is increasingly rare in a large city these days - - and it's so completely different from my own family's trajectory. I've been sort of fascinated by our neighbors, who have this kind of local existence in the middle of what is a very urban setting.

We'd heard some disturbing rumors a week or two ago, and today our concerns were realized: the brightly-colored signs of one of the major developers dot two of the yards across the street from us: the parents and grandparents of the guy who lives two houses down from us. They've sold their adjoining lots and their two older houses will be torn down to make 5 or more yuppie homes.

It's a sad day. They won't be closing until June, but then we'll have a long summer of noisy construction going on all around us. We'll never have another Christmas with Sylvia's super-bright lights and crazy decorations in her yard. Rich people are going to come into our block with their fancy cars and their babies and their immaculate tiny lawns. The flavor is draining away.


good omen?

I don't often dream very much, or at least not so that I can remember my dreams when I wake up. Sometimes I'll get little fragments of nonsense, but rarely do I have the clear narrative and vivid detail that other people report.

But last night I did have a dream (actually two of them) that I remember, and one was the first flying dream I have ever had. I've known many people who report flying in their dreams and this seemed like one of those excellent fanciful experiences that just wouldn't ever happen to me. And now it has.

In the dream, I was running down a grassy slope and then my feet lifted off into the air. The first time I was kind of nervous, but then I tried it again and figured out how to navigate -- if I lifted and turned my hands I could steer, rise, and lower. It was amazing.

A brief online search suggests it's usually a good thing to dream about in most cultural traditions. And it certainly felt like a good sign. I'm going to try and hang onto that feeling for a while today and see how it affects my outlook.



Plans/Goals/Wishes for Monday:
  • I will wake up feeling refreshed and focused.
  • I will work on my article.
  • I will enjoy the sense of time expanding before me for the next few days rather than feeling anxious about the time that has already slipped away
It seems crazy to have time anxiety at the beginning of a break. But I do. I have a lot I want to accomplish over the next week. I had to spend Friday at the office, and I should go in tomorrow or Tuesday as well to make arrangements for two upcoming events. Maybe I'll put that off until Tues, and make sure I focus on my own work tomorrow. The weekend was good, but Saturday was all about yoga (there was a special workhop I attended plus my regular class), Saturday night we were out with a friend, and today I cleaned up the house and talked on the phone. Erf.

Things I'm feeling grateful for: my partner, our dogs, my friends. Being able to breathe, move, hear, see, and talk with ease. Having a life of relative comfort.

It doesn't take much to be able to step back and realize how small my issues really are. There's no real blood or suffering involved, for me or others.

questions to ponder

  1. Is a Sunday at the beginning of Spring Break still a Sunday, complete with chores and grumpiness?
  2. Am I ever going to get back into regular blogging?
  3. Does listening to the Alt-80s shoutcast radio stream improve my chances of cleaning up my study, or will it make me feel more melancholy than the day really deserves?
  4. Did my third eye really open up in the yoga workshop yesterday?
  5. Should I teach summer school in June? (I put in for the lottery, but it's not a sure thing whether a course would even be available for me to teach.)


Spring Break Fever

Our Spring Break starts Saturday...which, if you're a student, means it starts tomorrow, or today, or whatever. I actually had more students in my class today than I had expected. But here are some of the day's communications, suggesting the scattered minds all around me.

(1) In a conference about a paper that I'm offering a chance to rewrite. Student: "well, I lost my paper. I think I must have left it in the room when you handed them back. But I printed another copy." Me: "What are your thoughts about rewriting it?" Student: "Well, I never read your comments. And I didn't read the paper today before coming here, either."

(2) Before class. Student:"I just wanted to apologize about missing class. My life has been really terrible lately. I just want you to know that of all my classes, yours is my favorite, so I'm the most sorry about missing it."

(3) In an email, from a student who missed her conference: "I am sorry that I am not in school today, and therefore will not be in attendance at our meeting. Of course I understand that this is to my disadvantage, but the truth is I have Spring Break fever. "

And me? I'm glad the teaching part of the day is over. I have to spend tomorrow at the office dealing with administrative crud and clearing off my desk. Then I will really and truly be free to focus on the article that I'm writing. I already had my vacation days last weekend, so Spring Break is going to be all about work, yoga, and cleaning up/organizing/purging the house.



A few days ago (yes, I'm slowly catching up on all my blogreading) BitchPhd posted this call for papers for this year's MLA, on women writing about academe. The organizer of the proposed special session was requesting submissions from bloggers who might be interested.

I agree with her comment that some of the most interesting writing about academe is happening on blogs -- I read so many insightful pieces every week which are far more useful and interesting than most of the so-called advice manuals and Chronicle columns that get published.

So, on the one hand, I was immediately imagining how great it would be if BitchPhD did write a paper for that panel, and I would get to see the panel at next year's convention, etc. But part of me wants to keep the academic blogosphere small & cozy. It's already grown tremendously over the year or so that I've been blogging. Sure, there's room for more people to get on board, and smaller sub-groups to form, as they already inevitably do. But I sort of like feeling like I'm in on something that not everyone does. Not everyone reads blogs, and I like it that way. Is that wrong? I don't want to be like one of those pretentious kids in college who would always wind up arguing something like "well, REM (U2, the Cure, the Dead Kennedys, whoever) were so much better before they sold so many records." It's not that I think I'm cool for reading blogs. Certainly I wasn't in on this from the beginning, because it wasn't appealing to me until there were more of my sort of people on board (i.e., humanities-type academics) . It's more that I don't want it to get messed up, diluted. And it's felt really nice to have this quasi-academic space that is separate from my department. No one comes up to me in the hallway and says "did you see what New Kid wrote today?" And I like it like that. I don't really want to share this world with the whole frickin' MLA.

vacation bubble

My transition back into "regular life" has been sort of odd. I still feel like I'm enclosed by a protective bubble that keeps me from taking anything here at the office too seriously. I guess maybe that's relaxation? This is the last week before spring break, and the weather is getting nicer, so I'm not expecting great attendance in my classes tomorrow. But here in my department things are busy, busy, busy because we have three job candidates giving presentations. It's for a joint position with another program -- an awkward setup in which we would be the tenuring dept, but the person would be teaching mostly for this other group. I don't envy the person coming into that situation. It was supposed to be an open-rank search, but all of the candidates have wound up being new PhDs. Maybe the terms of the search changed somewhere along the way. I'm not on the search committee, or on either of the committees in my dept who will have voting power for the hire. But we are all encouraged to attend the events and make our opinions known. It's been nice for once not to be deeply involved in this hire -- I've served on several hiring committees over the past few years (two of which wound up in no hires at all due to an evil dean and political wrangling). It does matter to me, who we hire; but I'm also feeling kind of detached this time around. But I think that's a good thing.

I am really glad to be back with the dogs -- and they are really glad to be back with us. Several of you suggested that we get someone to stay with them in our house next time, and I think that would be a good idea. The problem is that most of our friends have pets, partners, or children, and wouldn't be able to stay at our place. But we'll have to work on this for the future.

Plus, I have an (irrational?) paranoia about someone staying in my house, potentially messing with my stuff, going through my personal things. Sure, I could hide anything really personal or incriminating. But it's just the feeling. My house is my personal zone. I don't even really like having friends over that much. (If we had a little more space it might be different -- in a larger house you could have a room that was more "public" space, like a living room, and other, "private" bedroom & studies. Our house is about as big as your elbow, so there's really not much distinction.)

Luckily, G. (aka Houndini, who escaped not once but twice from the groovy country boarding farm) has relaxed and settled back into her old routine just fine with us. I was worried that she would be trying to escape from our yard too. But she's been happy to patrol the yard for squirrels, sleep on the couch, and play with her toys. I feel so bad for her, how scared and nervous she must have been. W., our other dog, was there with her, but apparently that wasn't consoling enough.

Now if I can just get through the next 3 days, it'll be spring break! I am really looking forward to writing, reading, and cleaning up my house.



We had a great trip -- it was wonderful to spend time with our friends. And we saw some amazing art & ate great food. Thoroughly relaxing.

And now, it's back to the routine. Just for one week, and then it's spring break. But today's a teaching day for me and I'm just not really in the mood. We got back yesterday evening after a long day of airline delays etc. So I really didn't do anything besides answer urgent emails and fall into bed. So this morning I have to prepare the week's material. I feel like I really need one more day -- to unpack the suitcase, do the laundry, all that tedious transition stuff. A compression day -- since I'm already relaxed, I need to get stuff done, wake my brain up, maybe drive the freeways to charge up my adrenaline. But I don't have that luxury, so I'll just drink coffee and maybe come up with a group activity my classes.

And then later on I can finally catch up with blogworld. Oh internet, I've missed you so much.


what I have learned

What I have learned on my vacation:
  • It is really hard to type on a laptop with a 70-lb dog trying to sit in your lap. The friend we are staying with has a sweet big dog who thinks she's toy-sized. I love cuddling with her, especially because I miss our dogs so much, but she just caused my brilliant, witty, almost-finished post to disappear into the ether. So I have no wits left: you'll just have to be satisfied with bullet points.
  • When you are as old as we are, you spend the first day of vacation being really, really tired. Not just from travelling, but as a kind of reaction to the weeks and months leading up to the trip.
  • It's great to have time to just hang out with old friends. And newer ones too.
  • Even though I haven't been blogging much in the past 2 weeks, I still spend a lot of time daily on the internet. It's been tough not having that opportunity -- two whole days offline was weird. Corollary lesson: downshifting to dial-up makes me grateful for my setup at home.
  • I didn't bring much work--just the books I'm teaching next week. (And I have started reading & taking notes from those.) Being away from my work, from my routine, from the daily distractions is really an unusual experience. I can go for several days at home without working, but that's procrastination or slackness, not relaxation. This really feels different. I can already tell I'll be really glad to get back to work when I return Monday night. How do people go on vacation for a week or more? The best part is that I'm actually having good feelings and thoughts about my writing projects -- the important work that too often gets shifted aside by the pressures of teaching & urgent crap.
  • I wish we could do more of this sort of thing. It's a real luxury.
  • Our dogs are not doing well at the groovy boarding place out in the country. I talked to the owner last night and they have turned into digging escape artists. Especially our nervous younger dog. I'm worried about her. They have taken extra precautions to keep her contained and safe, which is the important thing. But she isn't having the fun time running around and playing with other dogs that we'd had in mind. She's a nervous little girl anyway-- and this is only the third time that we've boarded her, so maybe she doesn't understand that we are coming back. I talked to her and sent her mental pictures, but she gets overwrought when she's really scared.
  • So if you balance good vacation and expense plus dog anxiety, I don't think it comes out on the side of many more trips in the near future. But I'm trying to squeeze what I can out of it.


and we're off

going out of town....not sure what my internet access will be...


elevated spirits

Woo-hoo! I'm done teaching for today. I finished all the grading. And tore through the reading, and even taught pretty well, considering how underslept I was. I've been ready for spring break for a week and a half already. Ours isn't for another two weeks, but I've cancelled my classes for this Thursday, because I'm going out of town for the weekend. So it's like Spring Break Part I. Yay! (Spring Break Part II will involve staying here--writing an article and reading a frickin' long novel I'm teaching in the second half of term.)

Though now that I'm through that little teaching flurry, I have a zillion things I should/want to do before leaving town. Why is it that all of a sudden, if I'm going somewhere, I feel like I have to do the errands and chores that haven't been done for two weeks? Some errands, like cash machine and public library, are essential. But some of this stuff could probably slide. They probably sell my face lotion in the place I'm going to, if I don't get to the drugstore. Etc.

This is the first trip out of town longer than a 50-minute drive away that my partner and I have ever taken that doesn't involve either work or family. That seems kind of momentous.

I'm not really much of a traveller, though. I've never had the luxury of time and money coinciding to indulge in travel just for the heck of it. I've never even had the time or money to take some of the research trips I ought to. (That's one of many reasons I am an Imposter, if you listen to my inner critic.) Plus, having been emotionally and existentially rootless for many years, I've spent a lot of time creating my home base. I like hanging out at home. It's nice to have time off, but I don't feel the urge to flee this city.

My biggest concern in recent years has been about who will take care of the dogs if my gf and I are both out of town (which has only happened once or twice in the four years we've been together.) For this trip, we've found a woman who boards dogs at her place out in the country -- it's quite a drive, but I think it'll be worth it, to know my babies aren't in cages and are running around having fun. But I will still miss them, and worry. Just writing those sentences makes me feel anxious about leaving them.

The questions now filling my mind:

How much work should I take with me? It's not really spring break, after all. I definitely have to bring the books I'm teaching next week, so I can get that reading done. Is that enough on the work front? We're going to be busy with seeing friends and I don't want to schlep 20 pounds of books and never read them.

Can I get by with just taking running shoes and one pair of street shoes? or do I really need two different pairs of real shoes. (I don't really know all the activities that might be involved for the weekend.)

How long am I going to stay here in the office tidying things up? How much can I really accomplish workwise tomorrow, aside from the meetings I have to attend? Am I totally distracted and braindead?