how did I get here?

So it goes something like this. Someone has an idea, maybe even a good idea, for bringing in a guest speaker. They talk to someone else about finding some funding. The funding has some conditions attached, a particular constituency who needs to be addressed, maybe a particular approach as well. So then one guest speaker turns into two. Then someone talks to someone from another department and finds another source of funding. And now we have a symposium. And then some other people get involved, at least nominally, and it becomes a regional thing, with multiple sessions.

This is all good -- exciting even. But it means that while I'm trying to write my own paper, I'm also dealing with airport shuttles and paper napkins and all of the very non-intellectual details involved in hosting such an event. Next time someone has a good idea, I'm just going to say "yeah, that sounds good" and leave it at that.


dream analysis

Last night I had a dream that I was walking in a large park in my city. And then a wild animal (which happened to be the same one that is my university's mascot) approached. Because it was huge and dangerous, I stood very still hoping that it would pass by. Instead it peed on me.

Now, we have been lately watching the Discovery Channel's impressive new Planet Earth series, which includes dramatic film of all sorts of wildlife. But I have to think that my subconscious might be trying to tell me something?



Like people, individual dogs each have their own particular scent, even when they're clean. Our youngest, aka Speedy, actually has two: when her hair gets wet, from rain or from a bath, it gives off an odd, acrid smell that always reminds me of the old-fashioned beauty parlor my mom used to go to and to which I would be dragged along as a child -- full of horrendous chemicals used to pouf up the gray hair of its longtime customers. But when Speedy is dry, she has a lovely faint sweet smell. Best of all is when she's been sitting in the sun for a while -- the dark hair on her head soaking in the sunshine -- she smells a bit like toasted almonds, maybe a hint of banana, with a little dandelion blossom mixed in. It's the smell of sunshine, of relaxation, of the total present-ness that dogs help us share in.

Today I was able to work at home all day, eschewing the office politics for a day of reading and writing (and, yes, some emailing). Best of all, and what I really need to remember so I can get more days like this one: the many breaks I was able to take to play with the dogs in the yard, to sit and eat a snack with them, to snuggle with them on the couch while I prepped for class. And to bend over and kiss the top of Speedy's head and smell that sweetness that always makes me feel calm and happy.



One of my administrative duties this year involves sitting on the committee that reviews the annual faculty reports submitted by each member of my department. Service on this committee rotates through the department to prevent one clique from having all the power, and of course the Chair can override the decisions of the committee, since he's the one who actually assigns all the merit rankings. Our current Dean doesn't set firm quotas for these rankings, although there is a tacit understanding that there shouldn't be too many people in the top category, and not too many in the lowest. In fact, since an extremely low score triggers a college-level review process, it's pretty unlikely that anyone would receive it -- so a five-point ranking scale becomes a de facto four-point scale. It's not unlike the grades given out for graduate courses, in which a B really means you're substandard, and A, A- and B+ are the only actual grades one can assign.

But unlike course grades, which are usually determined (however subjectively) by a person who is thought to have more knowledge, education, or credentials than the people who are being evaluated, these scores are determined by peers. It's more democratic than if the Chair alone judged us, but there's something inherently repellent about the process too. There are of course pre-existing affinities and disagreements among the faculty, cliques and feuds, and those often color the judgements that are made. There are some set criteria for how many publications are expected, how much certain kinds of publications should be weighted, and so forth. But things like teaching load and service load are much more nebulous, and can be used either for or against a particular individual.

I think the process is as democratic and as fair as it could possibly be -- and perhaps it is the very collegiality of my department which makes service on this committee an onerous task that few people want to undertake. The meetings in which we decide the scores for our colleagues are incredibly draining. Not because making judgments is necessarily that difficult. But because doing this, commiting to numbers on paper, reminds us that we are always judging each other and being judged. This committee takes its work seriously, and what happens in those meetings is confidential. But gossip and snarky remarks are an unfortunate part of academic life. Who hasn't heard, said, or thought something dismissive about a colleague?

I'm as guilty as the next guy. I really try not to gossip about colleagues (except maybe to my GF who's not an academic). But I don't always cut someone else off from saying things to me, which is the next worst thing. I've certainly thought critical thoughts about some of my colleagues. Plus, I hate feeling that I'm being judged. I know that I could always do more, do better -- I'm a pretty strong critic of myself. I hardly need to feel that people down the hallway are whispering about what I did or did not publish last year.

Buddhist psychology reminds me that the person or thing who irritates me is the person or thing who can best teach me a lesson. So I have many questions to think about as I sit in these meetings. How might we learn to accept one another a little more? How can I learn to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of others? What kinds of judgments are helpful and which are harmful? How might I best judge my own efforts -- through the year and in this judging committee?


teaching eve

Well, among the many wonderful things I did do over spring break, prepping my teaching for this week wasn't one of them. I like my students this term, but my focus really isn't with them. I'm worried that I might even have forgotten some of their names over the past 9 days. I got a few emails from students during the break, asking questions about their next assignment -- each time it was sort of a surprise to me, like "oh, yeah, that other big part of my job." I decided several months ago (even before January) that this semester would really have to be a research-focused semester, as much as I can manage that during the year. And I think I've been more successful at that than ever before. But it's still a weirdly disconnected feeling. And it hasn't helped smooth out my usual night-before prepping mode. No matter how many days ahead I start preparing a class, I still usually do most of the work the night before, or the morning of, depending on the class time.

So I have to skim/reread half of a moderately long novel before tomorrow's class. And transcribe my handwritten reading notes from two years ago into readable typed notes. (I haven't yet figured out a smooth system for typing while actually reading from books.) And figure out class plans for this week. It's all doable. And I like the book I'm teaching. But I'm just not feeling very high energy about the task. I have post-vacation malaise.

What I actually did over my spring break (the reality edition):
  • saw three movies in the theater
  • watched some tv shows on DVD
  • redid my study so that it should be more pleasant to work in there now
  • cleaned embarrassing amounts of dog hair out of every nook and cranny of the house
  • 97 thousand loads of laundry
  • spent lots of time with GF
  • bought some new spring clothes
  • slept a lot
  • finished an article
  • kinda sorta started a conference paper
Not quite as impressive as the fantasy version, but mighty nice anyhow. It was a really great spring break, quite possibly the best I've ever had. Now I just have to get through the next 8 weeks until summer . . .



I suppose it's because I'm on spring break this week, but I've been having a hard time adjusting to this year's early time change. I spent my childhood in one of the states that doesn't do time changing, so the whole concept of it has always seemed kind of alien to me, though I've been living in all those ordinary states that flip their clocks since I was 17. Especially calling it "daylight savings" -- it's not really saving anything. It's just a big mind game the government makes us all participate in. The sun still rises and sets. Rrrgh. The whole notion that federal authorities should be messing with Time just sets my teeth on edge. And especially this year, declaring that we now have to do the time change early. Because given that we are no longer primarily an agricultural nation, and given that most modern buildings are designed without much attention to natural light, and given that most of us are plugged in a zillion different ways no matter what time of day or night it is -- how the heck is this really going to make any difference in energy consumption. I just don't buy it. So what is it a cover for?

When I'm not feeling paranoid about the feds messing with the clocks, I've been attempting a much more relaxed approach to time than I usually have, since it's spring break. I've been sleeping ridiculous amounts and trying not to feel guilty or anxious about it. Feeling tired often makes me anxious because I'm never too sure whether I'm really tired, or just depressed. This week I think it's actually been tiredness-- I'm still kind of recovering from being sick a couple of weeks ago, which has been very humbling. I started back to yoga last week, and got into the gym a bit too. But I'm not up to my usual every day workouts yet, except for walking.

I've been relaxing, and having a great break -- and also getting some work done. But still, it's Wednesday and I'm starting to feel a little bit sad already about break ending soon. I don't want to see anybody, or even go anywhere -- I just want to hang out in my house and play with the dogs and work on my various projects.


spring break!

Spring Break List -- Fantasy Edition
  • write three conference papers
  • revise article that came back from editor with comments
  • finish massive home workspace reorganization project begun over winter break and then put on hold during the semester (filing & weeding of papers, Endnote updating, furniture moving, general cleanup)
  • read and prep the 2nd half of the book I'm currently teaching
  • read the next book I'll be teaching so as to be ahead of the game
  • clean, clean, clean the house
  • weed out clothes I don't need/wear
  • do my taxes
  • research/purchase a new printer
  • take car in for maintenance
  • do lots of yoga
  • take a couple of trips to the dog park
  • get back into the gym
  • read some books for fun
  • goalsetting/work planning for the next three months
  • prepare faculty activity report
  • sleep late
  • go to the movies
  • hang out with GF
  • blog
I've got ten days . . . I just have to figure out the delicate balance between doing things and not doing anything at all. I need some of each. The past few weeks have really thrown me off balance -- my schedule's been weird, I was sick, I've been cranky. So this break is all about getting back to myself.