done! or at least semi-done!

I'm done with teaching for the spring term, and I am so happy! This weekend is a nice little happy transition type weekend -- final papers don't roll in until Monday, and then we have this tremendously long exam period -- with my final exams unfortunately not scheduled until the last day, which would be the 10th. So I have two weeks of grading and meetings and graduation hoopla coming up, but I do not have to think about my students at all for the next three days. And that is very nice.

This weekend I plan to do some massive house cleaning -- we have an out of town visitor coming the middle of next week, and my conference trips this month meant that I was just doing basic sweeping and surfaces. So a lot of cleaning, which is not my favorite thing, but it's also kind of therapeutic and part of my transition into summer. Also some sorting and returning of library books, sorting some files, getting things ready for my summer work plan.

I'm really looking forward to the summer - - I've done enough writing and conference presentations this semester that I'm already primed for digging into my research. This is probably why I've been so indifferent to my students this term-- they weren't particularly bad or irritating, and my teaching was OK I think -- but it wasn't where my focus was, and I'm glad to be wrapping it up. My administrative responsibilities lessen during the summer months as well, and that will be a real relief. I'm ready to not have to see my colleagues for a while.

So, cleaning, some moviegoing, some cooking and relaxing. An excellent weekend ahead, to be followed soon enough by two months of relative freedom! No wonder I woke up feeling so happy today!


First Snow

The most interesting moments in First Snow are fleeting ones -- the glint in J.K. Simmons's eye, and the expressions on William Fichtner's face as his character falls into the little brother wannabe role with Guy Pearce's overladen badass character. At its best it's a movie about men's relationships with other men: Pearce tells Fichtner "I love you" twice and his old buddy Shea Whigham kisses him just before blowing his own brain to bits. Despite a steamy bathtub scene with Piper Perabo, it's Pearce's male friends that have the most power over his life. But the movie drags, and by the time Pearce has his paranoid breakdown holed up in a motel room, I just didn't care very much about his existential problems upon hearing from a fortune teller that his days were numbered. The noirish feel was neither fresh nor self-aware -- just a collage of predictable ingredients: highway, liquor bottles, desert, etc etc.

I was interested in seeing this movie, though, because I think it's part of a larger Zeitgeist, a trend I've been noting in recent films that are concerned with epistemological or philosophical "what ifs" -- what if you could foresee the future (Next, Premonition), or what if the future is
just a repeat of the past (Deja Vu, the short-lived TV show Day Break). I think this rash of quasi-fantastical, quasi-realistic stories can be seen as cultural responses to the war in Iraq and the epistemological crises that even the most mainstream newspapers have been recognizing: what if we/they had known then what is known now; what if we could foresee the outcome of our current actions; what if the future is only a doomed repetition of the past.



Last night at the keynote speech for the conference I'm currently attending, I was sitting behind a guy whose pen started to leak ink all over his hand. I was so impressed with his calm reaction as he put down the leaking pen, reached into his book bag, and pulled out a moist towlette packet and cleaned his fingers. Then he got another pen and continued taking notes.

Talk about being prepared. Moist towlettes are one of those things I sometimes think it would be nice to have in my bag, or in my car. Occasionally I've purchased some, like before a long road trip. Usually I use a couple, and the rest sit in the glove box for months, until they are so dried out even inside their sealed packaging that when I get grunge all over my hand from airing up my tires, the towlette is useless. Or, I stick a towlette packet in my book bag's zippered pocket and it slowly gets frayed and dusty, until again, by the time I actually need it, it's no good. (The same thing happens with cough drops, except that they have a tendency to go soft and gooey and stick to things-- again a situation in which one would like a towlette, if it weren't caught up in the dust ball of cough drop ooze.)

Basically, I've resigned myself to being somewhat less prepared than I sometimes think I should be. Although it would sometimes be nice to have easy access to a needle and thread, scotch tape, stapler, hole punch, scissors, pliers, flashlight, shoelaces, and of course moist towlettes -- I do not, in fact, carry those items around with me on a regular basis. Some of them can be found in my desk at home or work, and some in my car. But I rarely have all of them at hand at the same time -- or at such a time when they would actually come in handy. If I have my bookbag, I do have nail clippers, ibuprofen, kleenex and probably a paper clip or two, which you can do a lot with. I've also resigned myself to the fact that I don't completely empty all the pockets in my bookbag on a regular basis so as to clean out the no-longer useful or fresh things. My inner safety officer personality is disappointed, but I just can't make that sort of thing a priority.

This prepared guy did have an awfully large bookbag/briefcase with him -- as I sat there I started really wondering what else he had in there, just in case any of the other academic emergencies occurred: paper cut, loose eyeglass screw, coughing fit, malfunctioning projector...


what I got out of last week

  • A new model of generational differences in my dept. Forget theoretical modes, or graduate mentors. Here's the distinction that really matters. When searching in the online registration system for information about next year's courses (like time, day, room number) there are those faculty members who see a link around their section number and know (or try) to click on it to get the screenful of detailed info. And then there are those who prefer to send off five emails to two secretaries, one faculty administrator (me!), the chair, and an assistant dean. (And then, of course, there are those who don't even use computers, but we've whittled that list down to just a mere handful and are waiting for retirements to thin their ranks).
  • A theory about contemporary film and cultural anxieties about the war in Iraq, based entirely on the previews I've seen for recent movies. I think it holds up but I haven't actually watched any of the texts I'd use as evidence. (But considering that I once had dinner with an Eminent Critic who confessed to only having read the epigraphs to Moby Dick -- a novel he teaches regularly -- I don't feel so bad.)
  • New respect from my students because I calmed a yelping student by scooping up a spider in my hands and taking it outside. Who knew it would be so easy to make them applaud?


post conference recovery

Well, despite my grumbling last week, our little regional conference was a tremendous success -- all the invited guests were charming and smart, the panels came together well, and everyone had a good time.

It's odd that I enjoy conferences (large or small) as much as I do, given that I'm fairly anti-social and not an academic superstar or anything. But being around people who work on things I'm interested in is very energizing. My day to day experience doesn't really include that kind of intellectual engagement and camaraderie. I had the chance to talk with people whose work I really admire and get some good feedback on my own projects.

The only downside to the weekend was that I. am. so. tired. I mean, really tired. So tired that one of my old crusty colleagues even said something to me today in a meeting about my not looking very chipper. (Why do people think that's an appropriate or nice thing to say?) And for someone like him to notice, I must really have looked like the walking dead.

So I gave up on getting to yoga tonight and came home early to do my reading while lying down. Hopefully I can get some extra sleep tonight. I've got to get my post-conference recovery plan fine tuned, though, because I've got two more conferences coming up this spring. It's a crazy season, but it might actually help me feel more grounded intellectually --even if it means I'm slacking off a bit on my teaching prep.