five remembrances

There's nothing to say. Nothing that would comfort Badger. Nothing I can write here that would help anyone in New Orleans. (The link is for donating material help, for those of us able to.)

I've spent a lot of time today reflecting on loss and impermanence. It's such an essential component of our human lives and something that we tend to try to deflect, defer, or block out. It's impossible not to think about what I would do in these situations, and impossible not to think about how small my concerns this week really are.

Paradoxically (from our distracted everyday mind's view) it is only by focusing on loss -- the core of being human -- that we become more free. It takes tremendous energy to constantly be blocking out reality. The blunt language of this text is the tool that helps free up that energy and bring more awareness of the present moment. How things are now. Because they will inevitably change.

The Buddha's Five Remembrances (Thich Nhat Hanh's version)

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.


what the stars know

My gf suggested, during one of my spells of sprawling on the couch and bemoaning my lot (as I pull an article slooowly out of my fingertips) that I check my horoscope for today.

So, from yahoo.astrology.com:
Your understanding is at an all-time high. You're an absolute wealth of ideas and information, and your ability to deliver this knowledge to those around you is also top-notch. You may get nicknamed The Professor.
A-ha! Woo-hoo! I can do it! Yes I can!

if you were a scientific spider on my wall

  • increased caffeine intake
  • drinking 24 oz of water per hour
  • eating crunchy foods
  • limiting blog reading to 10-minute blocks
  • desire to play Tetris in other 10-minute blocks
  • allegiance to the timer
  • alternating periods of fear and exhilaration
  • Subject must be writing something with a deadline.


on making space

Over the past couple of weeks, I've embarked on a long-thought-about project, with great results. I've been selling off a bunch of my books. Yes, I know, that's nigh unto heresy for most humanities academics. But it's been really positive for me. These aren't books directly related to my field of specialization, or books that I love so much that I would re-read (which is a VERY small category -- I just don't have that much time to read, much less reread, unless it's for research/teaching). These aren't valuable, rare, or scholarly editions. Instead, these are paperback books that I used in college, or in grad school, and have been carting around for years. Schlepping them across the country, and from apartment to apartment. Plus some books given to me that I've never read. Etc.

I'd gotten rid of some books before, during various moves, but always by taking them down to the 2nd-hand shop, where they give you $5 for an armload of books, sneering "well, these are very academic." Too depressing. But lately I've been selling them on Half.com, where people (mostly students, I would guess) who are looking for the specific book you're selling can find it. And it's been great. I get to make some desperately-needed space on my shelves, distribute my books to people who presumably will use them, and even make some money so that I can buy the books that I actually need and want now. I'm not the person I was 15 or 20 years ago. Why do I need to cart around all of those books? I used to be more invested in the idea of a personal library, but I never had the money to really spend on such a thing -- so my bookshelves are more like a bloated version of my academic transcript: the American Lit class from undergrad, the art history classes, the history class over here. . . That used to be comforting, but over time it became somewhat oppressive.

A student came into my office the other day and admired my new digs. He noted the extra bookshelf (the perks of an admin office) but said "your books actually look kind of sparse." Music to my ears. That means I have space to grow, space to go check out some more books from the library, maybe do some searching for the rarer books I'd like to own. Thinning out some plants is what helps them breathe, helps them grow. I'd like to think that's what I'm doing for myself by getting rid of some books.


first impressions of the semester

I'm excited about my classes. I'm teaching material that is fairly fresh to me, and which usually gets students engaged. My students seem pretty good, based on the first week's discussion. At least they are enthusiastic. One of my courses is completely new material, in a small-format course, so it will be a great learning experience for me. And, lest my previous post give the wrong impression -- I'd learned 95% of my students' names by today. It's just that those names slip away from me once the semester is over, replaced in semester-term memory with the next group of students.
Being an administrator isn't so bad, at least so far. I know that it will be tougher at other points in the semester, but my job isn't as hard as some of the other admin posts in the department. The strangest thing to adjust to is having my office be up in the main suite. I feel simultaneously a bit disconnected from my colleagues (not that I necessarily chatted that much in the hallway, but I saw more people when my office was there) and also under scrutiny -- there are staff watching me, every time I leave to go to the restroom or to the library or whatever. And I'm not fully up on the finer points of office etiquette, either (when do I have to mention where I'm going or not). So I try to remember to make eye contact and smile (which I can be bad about doing when I'm busy thinking about other things).
First week has been HELL on my Improve My Life routine. I accumulated a massive sleep debt, missed several yoga classes, and basically felt all out of sorts this week. I know that I usually get into the groove of things during week 2, and that first week is usually full of adrenaline. But it's disheartening all the same, since I'd been making good progress.
I need better calendar software. I've never been really satisfied with the built-in Palm app, even though recent versions are better than the original. Here's my wish list, if any of you are Palm users with a recommendation: weekly & monthly views, preferably with graphical blocks that you can color code; integration with To Do list; printable. (I love Shadowplan for listmaking and outlining, but I'll return to built-in ToDos if I get a significantly better calendar app.)
I can feel the semester rhythms starting. That is, tonight the "weekend" begins, since I'm done with teaching for the week. The challenge for me is to try and resist that -- to do some teaching prep every day, instead of waiting until Monday for Tuesday's classes. To do some writing every day, not just on the weekend. I really do believe that this shift will improve my attitude and productivity -- but it's a big shift for me, after years of doing things the night before. A whole lifetime of doing things the night before.



  1. I'm in the hallway talking to a colleague, and a student who took a class from me 2 or 3 semesters ago walks past, sees me, and deliberately puts her head down so she misses my smile and nod. I can't remember her name, but think to myself that I should check my roster from that class so I can say her name the next time I see her.
  2. Same student, 5 minutes later, is outside the building when I walk out to go to the library. She calls me by name and says "I was in your class a couple years ago" and I say, "yes, I remember." Then she says "I saw your class on [Fascinating Topic] that's at 1:00 on Tues/Thurs and I really wanted to take it. But I have a lab on Thursdays from 1:00-5:00. So would it be OK if I just came on Tuesdays?[No. What planet are you on that you think I would agree to this?]
  3. Leaving the library, I see a woman who looks familiar, and I smile and say hello and get an answering smile, all the while frantically searching my memory to figure out who she is. I'm 5 feet past her on the sidewalk before I realize that she sometimes teaches class at my yoga studio.
  4. I see Squirrely Grad Student who wants to talk about the comments I gave her 3 months ago on a paper she wrote at the last possible deadline to fulfill the incomplete I gave her in a seminar she took a year and a half ago. She says that someone smashed in the window of her car and stole her furniture out of it, but left the paper with my comments.
  5. I go to the big post office that's open until 7 pm. The tension in the air is almost palpable. Everyone is trying not to look at the well-dressed woman in the middle of the room who is berating another woman, apparently a stranger to her. She's yelling about how she's 45 years old and young people today don't know how to wait in a line, and should have brought a pen with them, and have been prepared for the post office. When I get up to the counter, the clerk says to me under his breath "she's been yelling for 10 minutes already." As I leave, an older woman says to me "I don't know why they didn't call security. Can you imagine her poor husband she's going home to? That was just embarrassing." [hmm, embarrassing hardly describes what it feels like to be standing in a post office with someone causing a huge scene. If she'd been a large male, no doubt security would have been all over her.]


why I am an idiot

  • Look what time it is. One frickin thirty in the morning. Which in my old life wouldn't be a big deal, but considering that I have to get up early tomorrrow (today) for morning meetings it's stupid.
  • Why have I been up? in part because I'm tweaking tomorrow's (today's) syllabi. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
  • Why didn't I hem my new pants over the weekend, so I'd have something new and good to wear? I actually thought I'd do it tonight. Stupid.
This is not an omen for the semester. This is not an omen for the semester. This is not an omen for the semester.



the Sunday of all Sundays

Tomorrow is the first day of the new semester. So today is a Sunday overloaded with more of the catching-up burdens than even my usual Sundays tend to be. But because I'm trying to be a saner person, and because I believe in rituals, my gf & I have already set a firm plan to go to a movie later on this afternoon. (We have fallen in to a terrible pattern of saying "we'll go to a movie in the evening" and then just doing work or watching a DVD at home.) I already know that I can't do everything today, so I might as well also do something fun.

My parents used to always take us out for ice cream cones (which was a very unusual treat in my childhood) the night before the first day of school -- it was sort of a combination event, meant to assuage our sadness about the end of vacation, to soothe our anxiety about the first day of school, and probably to celebrate the start of school on their part.

Thankfully, I don't feel that anxiety any longer, since starting the semester at the University doesn't involve skirmishes with bullies (or at least not of the physical kind of skirmish that used to scare me as a kid). And, frankly, although I would love to have more time, I'm not especially sad about the end of summer. I find the summer a real challenge for me -- both in organizing so much unstructured time and in setting realistic goals. The fantasy version of my summer never quite works out in reality. Once I can settle into the groove for the semester, I usually function a bit better.

I've drawn up a plan for my weekly schedule for the fall term -- the real test will be in the next two weeks. Can I commit to getting up early? can I fit in at least three 20-minute blocks of writing every day? (I know that sounds small but the 20-minute timed block has been working well for me as a first step towards incremental daily research productivity, rather than the exhausting writing binges I've done for years.) The beginning of the fall term always seems just as much of a New Year, and a time for resolutions, than January.

My resolutions, then:
  • take my vitamins every day
  • get up early and go to early morning yoga, even on teaching days
  • go to the gym at least two days per week
  • fulfill three 20-minute writing blocks every day
  • spread out my teaching prep so I don't have to stay up late the night before (I've been re-reading Boice's admonishments about applying the same principles that work for writing to teaching prep, and recognize that I have some bad habits)
  • commit to the weekly review
Now I'd better go finish up my syllabi . . .


dog (and cat) love

I just started reading Caroline Knapp's Pack of Two: the Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, which I picked up at the public library this afternoon. I'm only about halfway through, but I'm really enjoying it. It's a kind of memoir about Knapp's relationship with her young dog, Lucille, who she adopted as a 10 week old puppy, interlaced with observations from interviews she did with other dog owners, trainers, veternarians, and psychologists. Her willingness to be honest about the depths of her affection for her dog, and the meaning of that relationship in her life, is refreshing, since, as she notes, it's not always easy:
Fall in love with a dog, and among non-dog people, you will see eyebrows rise, expressions grow wary. . . . You'll say something that implies profound affection or commitment, and you'll be hit with the phrase, dreaded words to a dog lover, "Oh please, it's just a dog." . . . Attitudes like this can make dog lovers feel like members of a secret society, as though we're inhabiting a strange and somehow improper universe.
In its description of Knapp's emotional connection with her dog, her book reminds me a bit of Jon Katz's A Dog Year, although I think Knapp is a much more compelling writer. The book jacket mentions her previous memoir, about giving up alcohol, and she's pretty up front throughout this book about her difficulty with intimacy and relationships that she had covered up for 20 years with drink. The solace she finds with her dog is interspersed with self-questioning and doubt about the healthiness of her feelings.

Her interviews with various experts echoes one of Katz's other books, The New Work of Dogs, which makes some similar points -- that Americans today treat dogs very differently than they did 1 or 2 generations ago; that people lead fragmented, isolated lives, and that dogs provide love and companionship; and that people draw the boundaries of their relationships very differently. Bring up almost any topic about dogs, and everyone will have an opinion: what kind of training, collar, food, toys, etc. There are a zillion dog books, classes, and experts who espouse very different philosophies -- but all of this points to the increasing attention we give to our dogs, and the role they play in our families.

I wasn't always a dog person. I grew up with three elderly cats, who had all passed on by the time I was 11. Our family adopted a kitten a couple of years later, despite my mother's misgivings that we would all grow up and move away -- he was an irresistably cute (though not too bright) Himalayan, who lived into his 16th year. And for all the ways that cats and dogs are different (as are the people who love them) I grew up thinking of the cats as part of the family. It was customary to give them bits of our leftover food, to drip the water from the faucet for the one who liked to drink from it, to let them sleep on whatever furniture they wanted to.

When Mackerel passed away, I was in the second grade. I came home from school at lunchtime (because this was small town life, and I walked home for lunch) to learn that she'd been hit by a car, and taken to the vet, but hadn't made it. My parents brought her body home with them, and we dug a grave under the pine tree in the back yard. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry.

My parents kept us home from school the rest of the day so that we could mourn her together. The next day, when I went back to school and one of my friends asked where I had been, I explained about our cat. And later I heard her telling someone else how weird our family was, how silly it was to be sad about a cat. Right then, I learned that some people just didn't understand that love came in lots of flavors. Why put rules on it? I knew that Mackerel's death revealed to me depths of emotion in my parents that I never knew existed. I knew that my parents loved the cats in a way I could never understand. They'd had our cats before I even entered the world. Learning that they could feel sad, too -- sad enough to cry -- helped me understand them as real people, not just as my parents.

I haven't really thought much before tonight about how my early years with cats shaped the way I respond to our dogs. The differences between cat & dog lifestyle are so obvious, so overwhelming. But my parents never made a strong distinction between us and the cats, between humans and "pets" -- the cats were part of the family, each with her own preferences and personality, just like its human members. And that way of thinking lay dormant in me for all the years when I didn't live with animals, ready and waiting for me to let dogs into my heart.

working at home

So I've decided to work at home today. Most of what I want/need/ought to do can be done from home, and some of it has to be. I like the structure of going in to the office, but sometimes it can be distracting. It's just a different set of distractions than there are at the house. Plus, this is my last chance for a sort-of rebellious day (classes start Monday). Tomorrow I have to have my syllabi finished so I can photocopy them before the machine breaks (which it always does on the first day of classes). So tomorrow I'll be all professional at the office. Today, I'm home, unshowered, in t-shirt & shorts, trying to balance out the course prep with article writing and general organization. Having spent a lot of time at the office lately, it makes working at home seem more pleasant (and the reverse is usually true too).

good things worth remembering about working at home:
  • snacks! and caffeinated beverages of all sorts, ready to hand.
  • I get to be with the dogs -- one's snoozing on my foot right now as I type.
  • I can take care of some irritating life maintenance tasks that are weighing on me (bills, dishes, etc)
  • all my research materials are stored here
  • writing is the greatest thing to be doing, when it's going well. (at the moment I'm still gathering speed for the day, because I stayed up too late working last night and threw off my Virtuous Change My Life plan)
The trick for me is to figure out the right time when I need to get out of the house so as not to feel too squirrelly. I have to go to the post office & the bank, and maybe I'll gather up some reading and hit a cafe too in the late afternoon. But for now, I need to start setting the timer and focusing on the tasks at hand.


travel tizzy

My long-time readers will remember that this fall I am going to a Big Deal Conference. So now I am experiencing a lot of anxiety:
  • I have to write a paper on totally new material. A paper I thought I was going to work on earlier this summer, but didn't. New material that I'm excited about but not yet fully immersed in so as to be super confident. New material that, if it goes well,will be a big boost to my New Research Project.
  • I will be seeing old mentors, Big Deal scholars, and assorted people I Ought to Network With. Plus a couple of old friends who live in the area.
  • The conference includes various meals (like a banquet you have to pay for) and events. Are these for losers? or will I be the loser if I don't go to them? (Bear in mind I'm shy and none of my close friends will be at this conference -- a few people I kind of know, that's all) The ones you have to pay for in advance are the worrisome ones because I have to fill out the general registration form.
  • I have too many travel options. Fly into city A, B, or C? rent a car from B or C and maybe even in A? how many nights stay? etc. At least it's a part of the country I am familiar with, so driving between cities would not be too stressful.
  • do I stay in one of the conference hotels, thereby encouraging random socializing on the conference shuttle bus? or do I stay somewhere else and pay for parking when driving my rental car to campus? (which, if I rent a car, I might do anyway if I feel the need to skip a morning session or something)
  • I'm vegan. Preplanned conference meals are almost never suitable, even when they have so-called "vegetarian" options. So I pack my suitcase full of Clif bars and feel kind of shaky and undernourished much of the time. Or I spend time getting away from the conference and eating better food, but thus not networking.
  • did I mention that I haven't been to a non-local conference in a couple of years?
  • would you believe that I usually like conferences? and that I expect to like this one, once I just make up my mind about these many options.


psst...I played hooky today. It was the last Monday that I'll be able to, after all. And I've been working an awful lot lately. Plus,my gf had the day off for the first time in 3 weeks. So we went out for noodles, saw a movie, and went to Target. Woo-hoo! school supplies, paper products, and a laundry basket! It was actually a really great day, enhanced by the slight guilty feeling as we go off to a matinee when everyone else is working. (Well, except for the 6 other people also at the 12:30 movie.)

We saw The Island and really liked it. (Yeah, big surpise, I disagree with most reviewers-- again.) If you like this genre of movie (think Dark City, Gattaca, Logan's Run) then you will like this one. If you don't like paranoid SF escape what-is-reality movies, then don't see it. I think too many people saw it because of MacGregor and Johanssen (sp?) rather than being fans of the genre. I actually found Scarlett less annoying than usual (she doesn't have much "acting" to do) and she almost (almost) looks old enough to be the romantic interest of the male lead (unlike so many of her other movies). But luckily clones have their sex drives suppressed so there isn't too much of that. Instead, there's lots of running, fast driving, and explosions. Plus a critique of capitalism, slavery, and unethical medical exploitation. For me, it worked well, since I find the whole notion of organ transplanting icky enough to begin with.

In other news, I appear to have screwed myself for tomorrow's getting up early since it's already midnight. But I've been really good the past few days . . . it's just not fully an ingrained habit yet I guess.


pro java

Why doesn't Starbucks come up with a blended iced coffee drink with a protein booster? Or do they do this in other cities and I just haven't seen it? I made a pretty awesome coffee smoothie (coffee, soy milk, ice, soy protein powder) this afternoon which made me feel pumped up in both body and spirit. I can't be the only one who'd drink such a thing, right?


more thoughts on clothing

After I wrote my post last night, I saw that Profgrrrl had spoken pretty emphatically against the Chronicle's perennial reconsideration of the whole topic of academic dress. I agree with some of her criticisms about particular comments in one of the essays, but I think the topic is important, even if it feels recycled to long-time Chronicle readers (or, dare I say, long-term bloggers).

Academic jobs are a strange mixture of private reflection and public performance. In any performance-based situation, how you present yourself is worth considering. And for those of us inclined towards the solitude and intellectual pursuits that are part of what we do, thinking about dress and performance may itself be a way of theorizing our academic selves.

The best teachers I know are definitely aware of what they are doing -- how they use all the resources at their command to reach their audience and achieve their goals. Voice pitch, volume, and speed; word choice; body language and movement; the selection of media; the pace of activities; and numerous other things are all part of the equation. And for many of us thinking carefully about how we dress for teaching is also part of creating a teaching persona. Who I am in the classroom is only one of several personae I adopt throughout my week as suits the context. I don't believe in hard and fast rules about "what to wear" that can be universally applied -- but I do believe in talking with new teachers (when I train GAs etc) about the impact that their choices can have. To claim that our dress and self-presentation has no impact on students is as false I think as it would be to say that it is the only thing that matters. It's one of many things that mix into the equation. But it is something that we have control over (I can't change my height, for instance) and is therefore worth thinking about.

Outside the classroom, our self-presentation inevitably affects how we are perceived by colleagues and administrators. The wearing of super-casual clothing (as James Lang's Chronicle piece details) is one conventional mode of self-presentation on academic campuses -- one that has claims to higher intellectual pursuits (too busy to care about clothes) and also maintains the cherished rebellious stance of many academics (not going to wear suits because they're associated with Power and Capital). But to adopt that mode (if it is not the dominant mode for your entire institution -- some small colleges, for instance, are very casual) requires a certain level of privilege -- of skin color, of class, and/or academic rank.

On my campus, for instance, only 20% of tenured or tenure-track faculty are women, and only 25% are non-white. Non-white faculty and women faculty definitely receive greater scrutiny from everyone -- administrators, colleagues, and students. When I say scrutiny, that's what I mean -- not necessarily positive or negative reactions, but definitely more attention is paid to you in every situation. Very, very few people of color on my campus wear super-casual clothing of the sort that Lang describes. Few women do either. (Frumpy, maybe, but that's a different issue.)

Do students make comments about teachers' appearance? Yes. Do faculty sometimes comment on collleagues' appearance during merit reviews or tenure discussions? Yes. Do we occasionally comment about our students' appearance? Of course. We're social animals and we inevitably make judgments about each other based on appearance. To pretend otherwise is to participate in that old grand illusion that academic life is only about the life of the mind, detached from the messy real world. That's not the academic life I live. I work in the world and get paid to think about the world. A nice combination.


what (not) to wear

As summer winds down, and we get ready for the fall term to begin, I'm apparently not the only one thinking about what to wear. And look, for once these are Chronicle articles that don't make me fume! I don't agree with everything in any of these pieces, but the issues are real ones. Casual dress reads differently in the classroom or out of the classroom; on male bodies or female bodies; on white instructors and those of color; on older teachers or younger ones. It's never just a question about "can you wear X" or "you should wear Y."

I've been thinking about these questions in relation to my own closet as I try to get into the right frame of mind for the fall term. It's always hard, after a summer of slouching around in t-shirts, to even remember how it is that I usually dress for the classroom. I taught summer school this year, but I definitely relaxed my usual dress code out of a mixture of tenured defiance, the enforced camaraderie of meeting every day, and out of respect for the weather. So I even taught in jeans, which I usually reserve for Fridays or the occasional meeting day, but never a teaching day. And the thing is that I love wearing jeans. I have jeans that both feel good and look good, and when combined with boots and a jacket, look quite presentable -- definitely within the spectrum of casual professional dress that's typical on my campus. I have a lot of male colleagues who wear jeans every day -- mostly with a button down shirt, sometimes a tie. And it doesn't seem to detract from their authority in any way. And quite frankly, I don't think my classroom authority depends on my clothing -- if I only had to teach and meet with my colleagues, maybe I would wear jeans every day (with button shirts or jackets).

But now that I'm in a halftime administrative role, I have a lot more meetings to attend, with deans and faculty from other departments & colleges. On our campus, the more money you make (i.e., the higher up in administration you are), the more conservative and formal your dress has to be. So the President's office is super-corporate, the Deans are in jacket & tie but not always suits, and our department Chair wears a tie every day, mostly with jacket but not always. Faculty from some other departments are worse dressed than we are in the humanities (i.e., the chemists and physicists) but the professional schools have much more stringent codes. (Of course, those faculty also make way more money than the rest of us do.) When I'm meeting with these people, I still am trying to prove myself in certain ways -- and it's easier to do if they're not also judging me on my appearance.

When I first came to this campus as a new assistant professor, I definitely cared more about what I wore, and I created a sartorial persona which helped me mark clear boundaries between myself and my students (who were and are often my age or older). I looked younger than I was, and people often commented that I didn't "look old enough to be a professor" -- which I found incredibly demeaning and irritating. So wearing a jacket every day helped me look like a professor, and more importantly, it helped me feel like I was at work. Having clothes that are for work, and clothes that are for play, helps me organize my life. And for a long time that's how I've wanted it.

But lately, my jeans keep calling to me. Is it because they're comfortable? Because I am older now, and I have tenure, and I care a lot less about what people think? What would it mean to wear jeans more frequently to the office? I don't really know. But after mulling it over for a few days, I think that I want to keep my jeans for Fridays and my days off, and the occasional rainy day when I feel crappy and need something extra fun. I think I still need to have separate categories of clothes.

But my wardrobe still needs some overhauling. Too many things that I don't really like any more, or that I still like but suspect that they are too worn or too far out of style. One of my colleagues wears these high-waisted jeans that make me crazy because they look so painful and so ugly. I don't wear high-waisted pants, but maybe my students or colleagues think something similar about one of my favorite old outfits.

So I think I need to go shopping and get some new clothes in honor of the new school year and my new older tenured semi-admin persona, whatever that's going to look like...



Well, my getting up early plan is going pretty well. I just have to be careful not to start thinking about anything after 10:30 pm, because then I'll wake up and not be able to go to bed early enough to get up so early. (I'm really looking forward to that part of old age when you don't need as much sleep-- there are so many things I like to do when I'm awake.) It hasn't fixed all of my work issues, but it is helping with depression and my general attitude, so that's good.

The baby birthday party was kind of awkward and kind of fun. Thanks to all of the good suggestions for a gift, I brought a board book that apparently they didn't yet have, and which even got the approval of two of the Moms who were there -- who had completely ignored me for two hours previously. It's rare that I'm the only childfree person in a room, as well as the only gay person. When I first arrived at the party, L, the husband half of the host couple was there, plus 3 Moms and 4 1-year olds. The Mom women just kind of looked me up and down, I didn't fit any of their categories of people to talk to, and they decided to ignore me. Which was OK -- I played with the dogs (who I know from the dog park) and hung out with L. Then two more Dads arrived, who were more friendly to me but were so busy with their cell phones and Crackberries that they were only half present. It was all really interesting anthropologically speaking -- I'm not usually around that many upper middle class conventional people. It definitely seemed that in this really gendered atmosphere, I was being treated more like a guy. And that's fine, but funny to me, since in an all-lesbian setting I'm definitely on the girly side. Gender is a fluid spectrum, for sure.

And then on Monday I had lunch with someone who might become a new friend! This is very exciting since I've been in a kind of hermit state for a long time. Suddenly this week I wind up with 3 lunches, two of them with people I don't know very well.

13 days before I teach my first class of the fall term. That's plenty of time, right?


etiquette question

I've been invited to a 1 yr old's birthday party by her parents (obviously) who are people I like but don't know very well. It's also a party to celebrate their new AC, and is I think mostly geared towards their adult friends, but it is being called "[Baby's] Party."

Here's the question: do I bring a small present? I've sort of assumed yes, since it's a kid's birthday, even though she's little enough not to really understand all of that yet. But I don't know them well enough to know how they feel about consumerism, or what kind of toys she likes or has, etc. Or enough to spend much money. If she were at little bit older I'd bring one of several kid's books that I often give. Maybe I can go to Borders and see if there are 1-2 yr old appropriate books that aren't expensive. As an English teacher I can always make a joke about spreading literature early or something.

And, then, on the other hand, if you're not supposed to bring a present and I do that looks excessive. But if I email the dad and ask him, then he will undoubtedly say "no, don't worry about it" but then if everyone else brought something, I'll feel awkward. Which, since I don't know these people very well (they are dog park pals) I already expect to feel.

Can you tell that I have social anxiety?


Change My Life plan

Well, I didn't get up early yesterday morning (after my previous post) , and then I felt all grumpy about it.

But today? I got up before 7:00 and I made it to 8:00 yoga. Virtue and happiness are shining out of my pores.

I actually prefer to exercise in the afternoon or evening, after I've had the chance to stretch out during the day. My focus is better, and I can rid myself of any stress from the day. At 8:00 a.m. I don't yet usually have any stress. But I've realized that the stress of not being sure if I'll be able to make it to class in the afternoon is worse than the drawbacks of morning exercise. Plus I'm a much nicer person after yoga, so why not have that throughout the day?

At another level, too, trying to get up early is part of my ongoing struggle with depression. If I make a commitment to get up early and follow through on it, it really helps set the tone for the rest of the day. Not to mention all the good effects of a hot yoga class. I know that there really isn't any moral virtue to what time of day you get up. Many of the most productive people I know are night owls. I used to work late into the night myself. But the flexibility of an academic schedule (particularly in the summer when I'm not teaching), which I prize greatly, can also be really problematic and overwhelming for me when I'm depressed. I get up kind of late, and then have a hard time organizing my time productively.

So my Change My Life plan looks something like this:
  • get up early to go to 8:00 yoga at least 4 days a week
  • try to wash dishes and do all the kitchen chores before bed so I don't wake up to them
  • work on writing projects 6 days a week
  • take one day totally off each week
  • eliminate piles of paper, books, and miscellaneous stuff
The last point will be the hardest one to achieve, but actually might improve my mind more than anything else. I've been really loving my new office on campus -- because I just moved into it, and because the semester hasn't started yet, my desk is still totally clear. I put everything away each night and when I walk in there I feel so calm and happy. Achieving that at home will be much harder (there are more surfaces to watch out for, and more kinds of things that accumulate). Piles create stress for me, even when I'm the one who created them. One of the best organizational books I know is How To be Organized in Spite of Yourself which I found at the library many years ago. It's sort of the Myers-Briggs of organization -- you take a few little quizzes and figure out which space & time profile fits you. Unlike most organization books which proclaim one method as the only way to do things, this book offers you different strategies. Some people need to see everything in front of them to understand their work; some people feel happier having a clear desktop. I'm definitely in the latter category. Having my beautiful clear office at campus has reminded me of how important that is, so it's something I want to actively work on at home.

If I can put this plan into effect for the next two weeks, I'll be halfway to habit formation when the semester starts. Hopefully then it will stick.


dear internet,

Why do you keep me up so late? I know, I know, it's not really late by my usual standards. But I'm trying to get up early these days. Why? Because I want to change my life. Because I feel all virtuous 'n shit when I get up at 6:30 or 7:00. Because I can be sure I'll make it to yoga even on days when I have meetings in the late afternoon and have dog duty during the summer's extended evening. Because I've done it before, and it worked out OK -- didn't I write my BA thesis when I used to get up to meet my then-gf for frickin breakfast before she taught at 8:00? Didn't I used to get up awfully early to walk in to campus at 7:15 when there'd be other foot commuters when I did my MA in Rather Dangerous Neighborhood? I know I've gotten up early in the past, and if I can just get into a daily routine, it'll be easy. Didn't I impress myself on TWO weekend mornings recently by going to 8:00 yoga?

But internet, it's your fault that my Change My Life program keeps hitting speed bumps. I was falling asleep two hours ago -- but could I actually just go to sleep. Noooooo. I had to wash face, brush teeth, and then I gave in to the Demon who whispered "just check email and a couple blogs for a minute -- you're awake from the face-scrubbing anyway." And here we are 1 hour 48 minutes later. I'm going to get up early tomorrow anyway, just to spite you, internet. Because maybe eventually I'll really be able to reset my internal clock. Or at least I'll be so tired that I just won't care anymore...


on trying to find friends

Camicao writes a good post about the difficulties of finding friends once you're out of graduate school. I know I've touched on this topic myself several times in the past year, but it's definitely been on my mind lately. His post focuses on the issue of boundaries: (how) do you form friendships with people across the tenure line? with students? with staff?

In general, I'm a big believer in social boundaries. And I think most junior faculty, and anyone new in a job, would do well to avoid crossing most of those category lines until they have been at a new institution for at least 6-12 months. It can take that long to really understand the culture of a new place, and to learn who you can really trust. There are some departments where faculty and graduate students routinely play basketball together, socialize at parties, and even form romantic relationships. There are some where the slightest appearance of faculty-student friendship would be cause for gossip. You are in the fishbowl during your first year at a new place -- everyone really is watching you. And yet, you are new in town and probably desperate for some social contact. It's a really tough situation.

And now 8 years later, it's easier in some ways (I'm not under the threat of tenure any more, and I know who of my colleagues are paranoid, who are the gossips, and who are OK) -- but the basic problem of finding friends -- real friends -- remains. Part of this is my own fault -- I don't attend church, I can't muster enough idealism to get involved in political campaigns in this Red state, and when pressed to think of a hobby that would somehow introduce me to people, I really can't come up with much. I have met people at the gym, and at yoga, though those are just casual "say hi" acquaintances.

Two of the best friends I've made since living here required me to loosen my own sense of propriety and boundaries. Because many of our students are working adults, they are often my age or older. A couple of these former students and I have, once they are no longer in my class or potentially in my class (i.e., graduated, or they were never in our dept to begin with -- I teach several non-specialist courses) carefully negotiated the shift from student-teacher to friends. It doesn't always work out, but when it has we've been able to get past the institutional hierarchy that once existed. But that was a risky-feeling step for me as a junior person, one taken only very carefully. My friend M is now one of my best friends. The sad part is that he and his partner moved away a couple years ago, so now he's another long-distance telephone friend. I have several of those -- it's harder to find someone you'd want to share a meal with, or go see a movie with.

I've never wanted to become close friends with any of my colleagues -- my awareness of that professional relationship prohibits the kind of trust and sharing that is part of a real friendship for me. I'm friendly with some of them, sure -- but our friendship won't ever get to a very deep level. Even the best of them share a lot of things with other people (gossip is an academic vice I think) and that makes me feel cautious.

And, as adults, it can feel very risky when you try to meet new people, or try to move a casual acquaintance to a new level. The dog park where I take our dogs to run every evening serves for me like the neighborhood bar -- if you feel like chatting with the other regulars, you can, but you don't have to have any very involved relationship with anybody. Plus, there are always the dogs to talk about. Recently, two different people at the dog park made overtures of friendship, suggesting that we arrange to get together sometime for coffee or a meal. I responded enthusiastically in both cases -- surprised at one, but not at the other. And yet, nothing has come of it. Maybe we're all just too busy. Maybe they had second thoughts. Maybe we're concerned about what would happen to the easy casual chitchat at the park if we tried to have a more sustained conversation and it didn't work.

The only consolation is that everyone I know who is in my age bracket (30s/40s) and who doesn't have kids feels the same way. It's hard to meet people who you'd want to be friends with, and who have the time or energy to be friends. Because, quite frankly, my own time and energy are pretty limited -- which tends to cut off potential friendships before they can happen. College is easy because you have a lot of hanging around time. Even graduate school involved long coffeeshop hours etc. Who has that kind of time these days?