see what you made me do?

oh, internet - - I know how I went on and on to my friend the other day about how I have nothing to say and how I never have time to blog any more, blah, blah, blah. And then I thought I would just try to scribble something, anything. Which of course led to reading other blogs, and generally having a Grand Ol Time online, which I haven't done in ages because my study is the coldest room in the house at night time. So now it is almost 1:3o in the a.m. and I have to get up at the veritable crack of tomorrow because I have a frickin 9:00 a.m. meeting, which is something I Do Not Like but since I am not a full prof (like one I know) I can't just say that I won't be there.

But gosh, it's been fun.

what not to do

When you are on a campus visit for a faculty job:
  • do not announce at the beginning of your job talk that you wrote it on the plane;
  • if you use visuals, make sure they are relevant to the talk and actually necessary, not just decorative (note: I'm in a field that is strongly biased against the use of Powerpoint etc)
  • do not look at the person(s) of color in the room every time you mention "diversity" or "difference"
  • do not insult the person who's interviewing you by suddenly interrupting and asking "do you have tenure?" and "where did you go to school?"
Sigh. To continue the analogy from my last post: sometimes you wind up on a bad date that just seems like it will never end.


my department is dreaming of a wedding...

No, not literally. But we're doing some hiring right now -- or rather, we're bringing job candidates to campus for visits which are something like the equivalent of Really Over Wrought Second Dates. Blind dates, for some of the faculty who weren't part of the search and didn't even read the files of these visitors beforehand. But for the department as an entity, who has already invested some care in choosing this person and is now engaged in fantasies about what the future might hold, it feels sort of like a second or third date -- about that point where you have to figure out if there are any deal-breakers, if you think you want to go to bed with this person, etc etc. And when some people go all overboard thinking about the future, while others are just having fun.

I never really liked dating -- I've always been a relationship person. Dating was just what you had to do to get to the relationship stage. (and thankfully I don't intend to be doing any more of it!) Dating involved too much uncertainty, too much processing, too much distraction. (Can't really say this to anyone in my professional life, but you know those couple of years on my cv where I don't have a lot to show? I was busy finding my life partner. Which was really important work for me -- just not resume-building.)

So anyway, one of the visitors (and we have more to come, for another search) was so fantastic that we are all, individually and as a department, completely in love with him. He's smart, accomplished, thoughtful, energetic, nice, good-looking -- basically he seems like a completely amazing person, who's perfect for this position. Fantasies abound about how he will revolutionize the way we approach a certain area, how he will help us do more hires in the future, how he will be a wonderful resource and colleague, how he'll be my new buddy I can drink coffee with. (Well, that's mine, the last one.)

Now we just have to find out if he wants to get married to us...and only then will we find out all of his baggage...


this week I'm going to finish...

I've always been more of a starter than a finisher. I like beginnings -- I like planning things out, imagining possibilities, setting up systems or structures or spaces that will make something happen. One of the many things in the Myers-Briggs system that really resonated with me when my profile was analyzed was that one of my traits as an N (intuitive) is that I'm good at seeing the larger picture -- and not so interested in the smaller details.

When I was much younger my interest in starting things sometimes resulted in never-finished craft projects, or supplies bought for a project and never used. This wasn't always true, though -- I went through a phase of sewing my own clothes for several nerdy years in junior high -- and those things I always finished -- probably because the real-world usefullness was so evident, and because it doesn't really take that long to sew a jumper or even the most complicated kind of shirt or jacket. Nothing like a knitting project, for instance. (These are some of the many reasons that I'm not a crafty person these days -- my fear of unused yarn sitting around and reproaching me is pretty strong.)

I may be a lousy finisher, but I'm also judgmental -- so I dislike my unfinished things, and feel guilty about them.

But I realised tonight in yoga class that some of my problem might be a perceptual tendency. At the end of class, my teacher said "congratulations to the new students -- you've finished your first Bikram yoga class" -- this is something they often say when there are new people in the room. During your first Bikram class, your main goal really is just to stay in the room and try as many poses as you can. The heat alone is a real challenge for some people. So at the end of the session, the teacher usually acknowledges that achievement -- before encouraging everyone to come back again the next day. As a more advanced student, I usually focus on the coming back part. I think of my yoga practice as a continuing practice, an ongoing process of growth and change. But, after all, that ongoing practice does involve finishing class every day.

As a GTD user, I routinely break down my projects into smaller actions. But I don't usually think of completing those actions as "finishing" anything. Maybe it's a small semantic difference -- but in my mind it seems large. So much of my work, for instance, never really feels "finished" -- there's always more to read, more revisions that could be done, more classes to teach.

So this week, I resolve to try and pay attention to the things that I do finish. See how that changes my perceptions of my actions.


to my colleague

Dear Colleague,

I know you care about your students and only want to help them. Many of your students really like you in return. I know that you frequently chat with them at the coffee bar, the rec center, and the post office on campus. That's great.

But please, please, please -- would you stop giving them incorrect advice about the rules and requirements of their degree plans? Since you're not an advisor or administrator in the program, it's fair to say that you're not fully on top of all of the details that make up our large bureaucracy. When students have questions, why don't you simply suggest that they make an appointment to meet with me, or with one of our staff members -- the people whose job it is to know this stuff.

I don't like to disappoint students -- but it is my job to make sure they know what the rules really are. When a guy comes in all pumped up from his workout at the rec center and says, "I saw Dr X at the gym and SHE said I could substitute a weekend workshop in basket weaving for my language requirement" I'm the one who has to say "well, no, that's not possible. " (For SO many reasons.)

So, concentrate on your reps and sets and leave the advising to those of us in the front office.



graduate education

Our semester officially starts tomorrow -- I have a couple of days to continue creating my new graduate course, since it won't be until Thursday. It's an entirely new seminar, designed to dovetail with my current research interests --which makes it more interesting to create, but also means I keep rethinking the organizational structure.

I think there's a reigning assumption in the academy (at least in my field) that teaching graduate students is the privilege/luxury we all desire, or aspire towards. And if I were teaching top notch graduate students in a real Research U, maybe that would be true. Mostly I have really enjoyed my graduate classes here, but it's not a form of teaching that I privilege above all others. In fact, I think I'm a better teacher of undergraduates -- and there are many things about undergraduate education that I understand and enjoy much more. The goals for a senior-level course are much clearer to me, for instance, than the goals for a graduate course that will include everything from novice MA students to PhD students in non-literature subfields, to PhD students in my subfield.

One of the pervasive dynamics of graduate education (both postitive and negative) is that of replication: graduate advisors are often thought to be (or think of themselves as) turning out younger, newer, fresher versions of themselves. Or the department is thought to stamp you in its mold, to be turning out X number of new units per year.

But the graduate students I have here at Large Urban U are nothing like the graduate student I was, just as this department is nothing like that department. I couldn't replicate myself and my peers even if I thought that was a good thing to do (which I don't).

Our graduate students are here for very different reasons; they have often indifferent skills, & mediocre preparation upon entry; and their career possibilities are radically different. So replication of my experience would be all wrong for these studnets (although I think several of my colleagues still feel that to be their personal mission). What I find challenging is figuring out what exactly is the right thing to give them in a course.

No one ever discusses graduate-level pedagogy. We had training as graduate students in how to teach freshmen; the faculty in my dept sometimes have discussions about the majors. But graduate seminars are vested with the tweedy cloak of Tradition, of Venerable Practices that are assumed to be handed down through the academic generations.

Truthfully: I had one teacher in graduate school who was actually a good teacher. I had courses with many brilliant people, some of whom were good mentors or conversationalists -- but I mostly experienced graduate seminars as negative examples, as models of what NOT to do in a class. Graduate education in my experience was largely a process of self-education. And at some level, that's how it should be -- what students should be learning are the skills and background knowledge to enable them to do individual autonomous research. But it's hard sometimes to even know where to begin. Especially when you only have 45 hours with them in the semester.


random bits

Attended the first meeting of the year today -- because the semester hasn't actually started yet, everyone was in relaxed attire and fairly cheerful attitudes -- jokes and smiles all around.

I'm *still* tinkering with my graduate course (it's an entirely new seminar) -- I have until Thursday and I fully expect I'll be messing with it until late Wednesday.

I'm driving tomorrow to visit a friend of mine who teaches in Nearby City. We usually get together at the end of semester, but December was too hectic. I don't quite feel like taking time off, but it will be good to see her and it's only two days.

We got take out food tonight and there was something wrong with my honey's dish -- she only had a couple bites but much yuckiness is on the horizon for this evening. I think my food was fine but it kind of put me off from eating too.



This week has something of a split personality.
It's a regular work week: you spent 6 hours Monday wearing your administrator hat, dealing with psycho student, worried instructor, and confused advisor.
No, it's still vacation: you spent Tuesday at home, sorting and organizing, working out, having lunch with gf.

Pleh. I function much better when things are more clear, once I get a schedule set up, once I face the sad end of the winter break. The nebulousness of this week always makes me kind of irritable.

I have two main goals for the next couple of days: plan my weekly schedule for the term, and set up my graduate course. So I have to make a number of decisions that will impact the next four months, without fully knowing all the possible consequences.

I've been inspired by the discussions a few days ago at Dr B's and Dr C's (and then elsewhere) about writing habits and work schedules. It's always helpful to see the concrete details of someone else's day.

My challenge today is not to think back to times in my life when I was particularly productive (that one spring semester six years ago; my last year as an undergraduate) but to think about what's actually working and not working in my schedule right now, as my life is now. My daily life is so much more complicated -- in good ways -- than it used to be. But it also means I need to make room for blocks of time to spend with my partner and the dogs.

My dream goal: to come up with a schedule that would give me evenings off. Or at least no work after 9 pm.



I've got a great new arrangement of the furniture in my study now:
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And I'm about one-third of the way through sorting my stuff. Cleaned out all the storage drawers, and got rid of two big bags full of things. I've been dealing with objects first, then I'll tackle the paper filing, which is much easier than all the weird miscellaneous stuff that somehow winds up in my study.

boring, isn't it? but I know it will make this a better year.

Meanwhile my gf is cleaning out the garage. We are Industrious and Highly Caffeinated this weekend.


that feng shui book

Yeah, I know, it's pretty ironic that there's a feng shui book visible in the picture of my piled-on desk. (Which is now completely cleared off!) But there's a reason. I think one of the problems I've been having in this study has to do with its arrangement. I've never been fully satisfied with it, and it's not a room that feels good to spend time in. So I figured that I'd consult a couple of books for ideas prior to my moving the furniture. (The arrangement it's been in has mostly been due to the semi-random placement of the filing cabinets as we were moving in -- that plus the windows didn't seem to give me many options. But I can move the files, if I have to. And I think I will.)

I own a feng shui book that I've found helpful -- clear and easy to understand, even if her writing style includes a few too many jokes for my taste: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter. But I picked up a few others from the downtown library yesterday just to compare and see if they had workspace-specific tips that could be helpful. Anyway, it turns out that because of the shape of our house, there might be an energetic reason that my study has never been a great work spot. So there are some things I'm going to try that might help me transform the room.

I didn't even own a desk for something like 15 or 20 years, because I feared that it would just wind up covered in stacks. I don't usually sit at a desk -- I'm either at the computer table, or I'm reading/grading on the couch in the living room. But there are certain kinds of tasks that I do like to have a work surface for. So I got this desk a couple of years ago and I did try to keep it clear. But ever since we moved to this house last summer, it's been a disaster.

But all this can change. And I'm starting now.


Today is the beginning of Super Clean Up weekend at our house. My study is in a Frightful State, so bad that I have been finding myself procrastinating on even going near the stacks of stuff I have to weed through, recycle, shred, and file.

via Lisa I saw Jennifer Crusie's picture of her workspace, which was mildly cheering. Though if you're an incredibly popular bestselling novelist it really doesn't matter if your office is a mess, now does it?

But it inspired me to my own bit of public humiliation. This is my study right now:
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which includes the horrifying mess that is the desk:
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and large amounts of paper crap that can probably be gotten rid of but all needs sorting through:
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Tasks for today:
  • deposit check at bank
  • answer work emails
  • pay bills
  • clear the work surfaces in the study: books to shelves, papers in crate for temporary holding, random items where they belong
  • sweep the floor
  • rearrange the furniture (one of the many things I don't like about my workspace)
  • go through stack of mail and shred/file/recycle as appropriate
  • 20 minutes of sorting and filing of the work surface papers
  • take dogs to park
  • yoga class!


post MLA post

I'm a bit late in my post-MLA post -- I'm finding that these past couple of days have been some kind of time sinkhole -- I've been working out like 3 hours a day and playing with the dogs and cleaning the house and cooking and starting on my Monstrous Reorganizing Project -- and whew, there's the day. Obviously, this can't go on much longer, since I have to finish an essay in the next 10 days and prep courses and all that other brainwork.

I really enjoyed MLA this year -- as I usually do. I know so many people who are still wounded from the job market and who loathe MLA -- but oddly enough I always really like it. I've been thinking about why that is, and I think it's something tribal. MLA is the one place where I feel like I'm part of something bigger, like I belong with a group of people. Of course, as a second-generation academic, this might make some kind of sense (supposedly I attended an MLA with my parents when I was 2 1/2 but I don't remember it). But at a deeper level I generally have a strong distrust of groups, of seemingly artificial communities. I was raised without any kind of religious community, youth group, sports team, or other such organizations that probably promote social skills and a sense of belonging. I'm an introverted, overeducated nerd -- so mostly I don't walk into a room of strangers and think "ah, I fit in here."

But at the MLA, I know I fit. And I know that I fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum -- I'm not the nerdiest, the smartest, the ugliest, the leftiest, the most fashionable. I'm right in the middle. And I very very rarely get to be middle-of-the-road average. It's kind of relaxing.

Sure, I enjoy the anthropological aspect of the convention, playing the game of "Spot the MLA people" while walking around the city, and laughing at, hugging, or hiding from various people from my PhD dept. But I'm allowed to gently mock our sartorial habits and our social skills because I'm one of the crowd. There are plenty of people at MLA who look like me, think like me, who are basically somehow kind of like me. And I guess that's why I always enjoy the convention.

Plus, of course, the obvious enjoyments. Even though I was on a hiring comittee, I was able to see old friends from grad school (this year I saw folks I hadn't seen in 10 years or more!), see old college friends who live in DC, go to some interesting panels, browse the book exhibit, and even do a little networking. I had a great time and came away feeling much more energized about this profession than I usually do here in my local territory. If only I could bottle that feeling and dose it out once a month during the semester...



I'm really looking forward to the year ahead. Of course, for me the academic "year" is the one I tend to think with -- when I have to remember a particular event, I usually have to think about which year in school I was. But I'm a big believer in fresh starts (being an academic allowing us three of these per year!) and setting goals, and rituals. So the new year is always worth noting.
Looking back at 2005, I can see that it was a time of change. All of it now seems preparatory, anticipatory of the bigger changes I'd like to make happen on the horizon. But, among other things:
  • My gf and I got married in February as part of a Marriage Equality protest -- a group wedding ceremony for 80 couples. But it was also much more than just a political act -- it crystallized our commitment to each other and the stability of our relationship. Looking back, it was one of the most significant moments of the year, even though it was something we decided to do only a couple of days before, without the party and planning and hoopla that usually would accompany a ceremony. Someday it'll be nice to have a big party for our faraway friends, but that's not in our budget or our priorities right now. And doing it just by ourselves actually intensified the experience.
  • We moved to a new house in June -- again, another major life decision we made very quickly. Things in our last place became increasingly untenable (crazy landlords, construction across the street, etc) and we found this great new place very quickly. The move was chaotic and it took us many weeks to finish unpacking, but it was one of the best things we could have done. We've all been so much happier here -- we have more space, the dogs have a better yard, and the energy of our home is vastly improved.
  • I taught summer school for the first time in an effort to come to terms with my debt load. Of course, some of the all-too-small extra stipend went to cover the deposit on our new place, etc, but it was an important act in trying to remedy a situation that makes me feel anxious and guilty.
  • I took on a half-time administrative post in my department -- which is expected once you get tenure, but I'm doing it not simply out of a willingness to be a good citizen. I'm looking at these three years as a chance to learn how the university functions and to discover whether I'm interested in an administrative path in my future.
  • I made a difficult and important decision about letting go of an old research project and moving forward with two new projects that reflect my current interests and expertise.
Thinking about these decisions and events shows me how much of 2005 was consciously or unconsciously about getting ready for a productive and energizing future. I had a lot of things that were weighing me down in 2003, 2004 -- the tenure process, some personal stuff, some blockages. And I've cleared through a lot of that and opened up some new gateways.

So, for 2006, I have a number of goals, and a couple of resolutions -- which I've always distinguished as the small daily actions that can create change -- and thereby help towards my goals.
  • make my physical health a priority -- which means stepping up on my gym training schedule as well as my yoga commitment. Luckily, I enjoy working out -- that's never the issue. But the time scheduling hasn't always been easy and over the past couple of years I scaled back on the lifting in order to fit in more yoga. This year I will make more time for both.
  • taking care of physical health also means getting back to my supplement routine. I feel better when I take vitamin and mineral supplements but ever since I changed my morning meal to all liquids, I've been less likely to take them because of stomach upset. So, duh, I have to take the supplements at midday instead. With a little planning and 28 days of effort I should be able to make this a habit.
  • try cooking some new recipes -- maybe one a month.
  • I'm really going to make the 28 day effort to do small daily writing sessions (a method I've recommend to others and watched them succeed with. So it's time to take my own advice).
  • blog more! I'm always happier when I'm reading and writing more.
I'll write about my outcome-oriented goals some other day. But these steps are simple daily actions that would help make this next year a better one.