Sometime around mid-afternoon, my crappy bad attitude finally lifted. There are various external factors I might credit with this change, or it might be the ever-shifting sea of neurochemicals in my skull. Whatever, I'm happy to be feeling better.

And my afternoon class (the ones who were turning in a paper today) were great. This is my first year using turnitin.com -- my U has been a subscriber to it for several years, but I preferred to nab my plagiarists by hand. (And, of course, to design weirdly unique assignments that wouldn't be so amenable to plagiarism.) But this year I thought I'd give it a try -- if for no other reason than that an extra dose of Plagiarism Prevention couldn't hurt. Plus, I wanted to be able to mix in some more conventional types of essay topics, and those tend to cause even good students to get distracted by Spark Notes.

But what I didn't realise is that one of the other benefits is that my students weren't literally handing in their papers to me today. I had set the deadline as today, up until midnight. Which meant that there was none of that exhausted up-all-night, haven't-done-today's-reading behavior in class today. If anything, my students were kind of pumped up because they were mostly in the midst of writing their papers. With an online system like turnitin, there's actually no reason to make the due date a class day, even. Maybe next time I'll just have them due at 6 pm Friday or something.



Although I wouldn't wish it on anybody, there is some small consolation in the fact that other people are also having a cruddy time of it lately. It's not just my individual failings as a person and as a teacher, or the failings of my colleagues, university, or climate. It's just that time of semester. Blech.

One of the things I always have liked about my job here at Large Urban is that my department is quite astonishingly collegial, for an English dept. No hokey picnics or forced get-togethers (except for the holiday party) -- we're not all friends, after all -- but we manage to speak civilly and behave ourselves.

Or at least we did, until last spring. And thus far it seems as though this fall term is not going to be any better. Apparently the only thing bonding us all together was the terrible administration we used to have. Without that common enemy to fight, we are now attacking each other. I'm staying clear of the fray, as much as I can; luckily it's mostly about territory I'm not that interested in. (If you want to debate the finer points of department bylaws for six hours, go ahead. Just send me the memo afterwards.) But the atmosphere at work is pretty lousy, and it's starting to affect me.

Working at home today was a great relief, except for when I checked my email and had to shuttle 10 emails from the current pissing matches into my "Department Crap" folder. I'm not even reading all the stuff from the department listserv these days, but just seeing the names of certain Self-Righteous Old Farts appearing over and over in my box is disheartening.

So here's hoping that tomorrow's students will brighten my mood. Although, since they're turning in papers, the chances for lively discussion are probably kind of slim. Time to create a more structured exercise...


Bad Attitude Tuesday

It's week 6 of the semester. Around these here parts, it's also Bad Attitude Tuesday. How are you going to mark the occasion?

Based on the class I just finished teaching, my students are celebrating the day by not doing the reading. Some are taking their observation of the day to the next level and just not showing up at all.

Me, I'm not going to finish the grading I was supposed to hand back to my evening class. F* it. They should feel lucky I'm even here today.


what time is it

Clear and abundant proof that something is up with me: it's Sunday morning and I've been awake since 4:00. Now, I woke up because we were having some strange weather and the dogs were restless. I let them out, got some water, tried to go back to sleep. Was hungry, and awake, so then I got up again and ate a snack and tried to sleep. And then I decided I'd take advantage of being awake and get on the computer -- since I'm not supposed to be awake at this hour, it's ok if I read blogs for a while. (Of course I did actually have several student emails to answer, since there's a paper due next week and I hadn't checked email since 9 am yesterday.) I'm still feeling pretty lively, and I guess soon I'll have to decide whether I'm committing to being awake (and therefore can start drinking coffee) or if I am going to try to go back to sleep.

So that's the external-trigger version of events--all true, and relevant -- but not the whole story, I don't think.

The past 6 weeks or so have been kind of strange -- partly, because I've been having a tough time adjusting to the semester after such a relaxing and wonderful summer. (Previously, I'd had several not so good summers, after which the semester felt like a relief.) Having suddenly to respond to other people's demands after being mostly on my own schedule and having only myself to blame is an adjustment. Being around so many people has been an adjustment too -- by the end of the week I feel really tired mostly because my introvert batteries aren't getting enough recharge time. My classes are going well, but even though they are repeat courses, I've built in a number of new things --new material, and some new kinds of assignments and study guides -- all of it working out pretty well, and I'm pleased, but I'm also putting in a lot of prep time. I knew I was choosing to do that when I planned these courses -- I had been feeling a slight whiff of staleness with some of my teaching and I wanted to re-energize that area of my work. So all that is good, but it is taking up a lot of time.

And then, my gf's work schedule changed dramatically and we are now in week 4 of a household Sleeptime Reassignment Operation. We are now both getting up much, much earlier than we used to -- which I mostly like. At differnet times in my life I've been a late-night person (which I think I am by nature) and a get up early person (though note I'd never call myself a morning person-- I'm really not one, but I realise that it's beneficial for managing my depression if I can get up before sunrise.) So for now it's back to getting up early. Which is fine -- but it has also meant adjusting mealtimes, dogwalk times, and bedtimes. So everyone's been adjusting -- the dogs were none too happy the first day I offered them a walk at 6:30 am. The Boss didn't poop normally for three days, I think out of protest. By now they've adjusted pretty well. But it's been tougher for the humans in the household. Somehow by adjusting our schedule I seem to have lost 2 hours out of every day. I realise this must be an illusion -- but getting home in time to get dinner ready for a much earlier hour has been tough, especially combined with the start of semester.

And then, of course, there was the big conference I went to-- completely disrupting the nascent routine of the semester, and making me feel like I've been playing catch-up ever since. But at a deeper level, it was also disruptive, in a good way -- a reminder about some of the things I might prefer to be spending my time on, a set of different priorities that don't fit so well with my days of teaching and administration. My local environment isn't really supportive of research, so going to conferences is really energizing -- but there was a real sense of let-down as I came back and had to face the reality of the semester once again.

And I haven't been around the blogosphere much at all -- which adds to my feelings of isolation or out-of-syncness. I've been so busy dealing with the "urgent" rather than "important" things that I've gotten a bit offkilter. My yoga practice suffered for a while, though I've been doing more at home to make up for the classes I can't seem to get to with the new time shift. I didn't realize just how important blog time might actually be for me, until I just didn't have it any longer. (The feelings of not having anything to say are a separate issue, mostly also a factor of too much busyness.)

These are all, in different ways, timing issues. I feel as though I'm on the verge of making some changes and figuring out some things -- it's never time management, but self management that is the real area to focus on. My academic values are shifting a bit in a somewhat surprising direction, and I have to figure out how to integrate them into my daily life.


small comforts

Somewhat comforting truths about academic life, especially for those of us who have to complete annual reports of our activity:
  • you don't have to list the number of persons in the audience during your panel at the conference;
  • you don't have to specify whether the search committee you served on for 11 frickin months actually wound up hiring anybody.
Sigh. All those meetings during the summer for this university-wide administrative search? Down the drain. But hey, I got to know some old guys from over in the Sciences.


The Covenant

There's a restaurant in my neighborhood where we can go to get a vegan soy burger fixed up on a bun with all the trimmings, plus a big pile of french fries. Now, I love french fries (who doesn't?). But obviously, they're not something I can eat all the time, or even that frequently. And the indulgent delightfulness of eating french fries would be lessened, in fact, if I ate them all the time.

The Covenant is like that pile of salty, fried potatoes. You love it, partly because you know it's not healthy or righteous or defensible, and because it tastes so damn good.

Take the classic Lost Boys, add in one of those "decadent rich teenager" films like Cruel Intentions and stir well. Mix in a little bit of The Craft, a dash of Swimfan, lightly season with both straight and gay soft p*rn, and you get something like this movie. I mean, it's got everything: hot naked rich boy-athletes at prep school who drive fast cars and oh, yeah, happen to be witches; cute girls in the showers (maybe being stalked...); the classic have and have-nots school movie conflict, the creepy half-undead guy; drunken rich mom; sexy scenes of library research! in old moldering books; and oh-so-beautiful scenery. Ya gotta love it. (and there's plenty of teasers for a sequel. In fact, there was probably a whole plot thread that could/should have been amplified (maybe in the director's cut?) because I kept waiting for the smart-but-poor heroine to start, you know, kicking some bad-witch-boy ass. Maybe in Part II.)


noise pollution

In my department, there is an unwritten doorway semiotics: if your office door is open, you are friendly and open to students. You are available for interruptions, from colleagues or students. You are, in short, visibly present in the department, even if you sit behind your desk all day. I don't work at a small college, where the demands for faculty visibility are often more explicit and more strenuous. Some of my colleagues are only on campus for a few short hours each week, disregarding the administration's call for faculty to be more available. But most of the faculty use the open or shut door to signal when they are working intently, (or doing whatever else they might want to be doing without interruption) and when they are available.

As a part-time administrator, however, I'm expected to be available whenever I'm on campus. (And I'm also expected to be on campus more frequently, although it's not spelled out in detail.) I get the use of a windowed office during my time as an administrator, and it could actually be a pretty good work environment. Except for one thing. A very, very loud person inhabits the next door office. She also leaves her door wide open in order to signal her readiness to jump into other people's business. I can hear every. single. word. she says -- on the phone, in face to face meetings, whatever. Even with my door tightly shut (which then means people don't realize I'm inside) I can still hear her. I have been accused of "not being around" when in fact I am in here, desperately trying to think. Because of the open door ethos for the Chair and other administrators, it's important that I be seen, and be available, but it's hard to get much done when she's having a day of student conferences or long phone calls. I tried playing music on my computer, but I would have to blast it pretty loudly to drown her out -- thereby dragging my professional image down a few points, and irritating the person on the other side of me.

So now I wear headphones. (Which aren't so professional, either. My Chair gave me a quizzical look when he came in here recently for an impromptu chat.) But even so, I can hear her voice, around the edges of my music. A particularly grating, irritating voice.

It's partly her inherent loudness and partly the way these offices were constructed. But how are we supposed to get any work done? It's made me wonder about open door customs at other institutions. Can you/do you shut your door? Obviously, I assume and support everyone's need to have doors open while meeting with students -- it's protection for both students and faculty. But this then means a certain amount of inevitable noise pollution for everyone else within earshot. How do you handle this?


still a wee bit girlish underneath it all

One of the great things about getting older is that I'm less self-conscious about certain things. Changing in the tiny crowded dressing room at yoga doesn't faze me, and I know it would have made me uncomfortable when I was in my early twenties. I'm quite sure no one is looking at my almost-40 butt, and if they are, I don't really care what they think. That's a kind of self-acceptance that I didn't have 10 or 15, or possibly even 5 years ago.

Sure, I do care about how I dress, how my hair looks -- but I figured out my basic look many years ago, and it's just a question of maintaining it. A new black jacket to replace the old one, a slightly different variation on my hairstyle. I have some social anxiety, but that's about actually having to interact with people, not about what they might think about how I look. I watch my younger students posturing and posing for each other -- the carefully calibrated spectrum of fashionable-trendy-cool-alternative -- and I find it anthropologically kind of interesting, and kind of charming, but I'm also thankful that I'm now almost 40, and pretty much immune to such issues. I am who I am -- a bit more stylish than some of my colleagues (not hard to do on my campus), less stylish than some other people in my profession. Right in the middle somewhere, I'd guess.

Earlier this week, some photos were posted online from the infamous high school reunion (which I did not attend) -- I looked through a bunch of them, and was really surprised to see how old a lot of people looked. The men in particular had not fared so well. Big paunchy bellies and a lot of gray hair. It was sort of reassuring that I couldn't even recognize many people, unless their name tag was readable in the photo. There are a few faces who look basically they way they did in 7th grade, but everyone else is sliding pretty quickly into middle age. I have to confess to feeling a little tiny bit of schadenfreude while looking at the pics -- not because I want to look the way I did in high school, but I'm certainly glad I haven't gone completely gray.

But then the universe taught me a little humility, when I went to go see my piercer about something later the same day. Now, I love my piercer -- he's experienced, careful, and a truly gentle personality. He has a beautiful calming voice and creates a mellow atmosphere even in a place full of needles. He's also so much cooler than me that we might as well live on different planets. I go in there to see him, and I instantly feel incredibly boring and square. He never says or does anything that would make anyone feel uncomfortable (and after all, plenty of his business is piercing cheerleader girls' navels) -- but he has metal spikes sticking out from all over his face, elaborate tattoos, and extremely Gothic hair. I go in, and I'm suddenly teleported back to junior high, when my friends and I would hang out at the arcade playing video games and hoping that the punk high schoolers would notice us. I'm awkward and tongue-tied, and I don't think it's just the "doctor's office" nervousness elicited by the smell of the latex gloves. It's sort of oddly rejuvenating, though, to feel that wish to be cool, at least for a few minutes.

still here

Whew. This was a week of ridiculous levels of busyness, for this early in the term -- most of it caused by the long conference I went to last week, and my not having everything prepped for this week before I left for said conference (since I was busy writing the paper I had to deliver) -- so I got back on Monday night and instead of being able to just collapse, I had to prepare my courses. Which are shaping up pretty well, and my students don't seem to have felt as disrupted by my conference travel as I did, but I felt a bit rushed in my prep this week, and I'm not yet a week ahead of the syllabus as I'd like to be. Add to the mix a stressful faculty meeting, a one-on-one meeting with my chair, a regional group planning meeting at Nearby University, and a welcome back reception thing that involved politely ritualized public humiliation, and you get four really long days on campus.

On top of all that -- my partner's work schedule changed fairly dramatically on Tuesday, and so we're trying to rearrange a number of things in our domestic habits -- mealtimes, bedtimes, etc. I think the end result will be healthy and productive for our entire family, but this week was tough.



Once upon a time, when I was a graduate student, I wrote a chapter of my dissertation. Later, I turned it into a job talk. And then after that, I turned it into an article. It was an article I enjoyed working on, one that brought together some traditional texts and some nontraditional ideas. But it didn't fit any longer in my larger project, so I sent it off into the world as an article and let it go.

Many years later, it seems that this particular article has actually been read by a few people. Three years ago, an old teacher of mine emailed me to say he saw a citation to it in a book by a Famous Nonacademic Writer. Last spring, a colleague told me that he was at a conference panel about a related topic, and someone there recommended to one of the speakers that she read my article. These incidents made me feel kind of odd, since I don't really expect anyone to actually read the stuff I write. I work in a field that is both very specialized (sometimes) and potentially very broad, with a lot of people writing a lot of things -- no one can keep up with every journal.

And then today It happened. I was listening to a presenter on a conference panel, enjoying his talk, and I heard my name. It was a passing reference, "as Named Scholar and Mel LastName have argued," but it was enough to derail my brain. I tried really hard not to blush. I tried to not make eye contact with my conference buddy, who was looking at me to see what I would do. I tried really hard to focus on what he was saying, but with little success. I felt like someone had tickled the inside of my skull with a feather. And then it got worse. (Or better, from some angles, I guess.) He actually quoted me, in his paper. Of course, at this point, I was completely unable to process the words coming out of his mouth, and so I missed the last third of his talk, because it seemed suddenly to be spoken in some ancient Mesopotamian tongue.

It's exciting, but it's also a strange reminder of the persistence of one's old ideas -- if you asked me, I don't think I could give you a detailed account of that article, without re-reading it -- it was so long ago that I wrote it, and it's so distant from what I work on today. And yet one gets quoted in the present tense. I don't feel like I need to disavow the essay -- it's solid work, and I don't disagree with it. But it no longer feels like my big toe, the way that my current work sometimes does -- kind of ugly, likely to get bruised or stepped on, but capable enough to do the important work of holding me up. That article is more like the hot pink nehru jacket from 1985 that I still have saved for sentimental reasons, even though you couldn't pay me to actually wear it again.