Saturday, September 16, 2017

Burned out on being accommodating

One of the truisms of our profession is that assistant professors have to protect their time and learn to say no so that they can get promoted and tenured, and that senior scholars have to make this happen. Fair enough. (Yes, I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have a t-t job.)

Another truism of our profession is that associate professors have to protect their time and learn to say no or else they'll never make full, especially women faculty, who often do a lot of service. Senior scholars should make this happen, too. Fair enough.

A third truism of our profession is that senior scholars and full professors are--to judge by the Chronicle and other chatter about the web--pretty awful: self-absorbed, selfish about their time, and generally interested in making life miserable for their juniors. All that NYTimes kvetching about millennials and their avocado toast is nothing compared to how the press sees professors.

I want to be accommodating and helpful.  I'm a full professor and happy to step up, right? To write letters and reviews of all kinds, right? To go to campus for an hour-long meeting that completely kills a research day or show up to warm a chair at an event, right? After all, where am I going to go from here?

Here's the problem. Because I technically can, and because I don't want to be THAT guy, I say yes to obligations. And I think I am happy to do so, at the time.

But it's taking me longer and longer to do the reviews, letters, and the rest, because I procrastinate about writing them. Why? Because I don't really want to but feel that I ought to, so I do twice the amount of work on them that I would normally do in an effort to feel enthusiastic about it.  I can't seem to just wade in and git 'er done (which, in academic terms, is still a lot of hours).

For every article review, I think of my own articles, all things that are not getting done because I'm doing work on someone else's work. Peer review is important, and we should all do it cheerfully.

As I should. Or should I?

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Random bullets of a breathable Saturday

  • Yeah, Scalzi said it best; doesn't he always?
  • Being on a Facebook break is great. Checking in on FB and seeing all the perennial outrage and demands to march right now--much of it coming from people who are on a leisurely European vacation bicycling through France or whatever--not so much. I believe the young folk call it "virtue signalling," and if you want me to ignore your posts when I check in again in two weeks, that's a good start. 
  • Twitter thrusts its outrage in my face every day, but then, I ask for it by going to Twitter. Ditto for NYTimes and WaPo. I go to FB to see what my cousins and friends are up to, not to have my face ground in the awful news redux. Maybe my cousins and friends can write a letter instead, since I can't see them through the fog of awfulness.
  • We have finally gone from "this air WILL hurt you" to "this air might bother you," so I can't wait to get out and move for a change.  Fresh air and walking (and maybe Diet Coke) are the only drugs I really crave, and being told that both are hazardous has been hard--not Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma awful, but still. 
  • I am also ignoring email on the weekends. Nothing good ever comes in on the weekend. Here's what I would cross-stitch on a pillow: Email is always someone else's idea of what you ought to be doing, not your idea of what you ought to be doing. Respond accordingly.
  • I am reading for work again. I am getting ideas. I am writing. I am happy about it.
  • Is it a coincidence that the FB & email break coincides with wanting to work again? I'm betting it's not.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Writing inspiration, sort of

  1. From Air & Light & Time & Space: "Studies by Hartley and Branthwaite (1989) and Kellogg (1994) suggest that the most productive writers typically write several times a week for one to three hours per session. (Sword, Helen. Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (p. 50). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition).  
    1. Do you count reading and research in that time?
    2. How about visits to the library?
    3. Or making a bibliography?
  2. Do you keep track of the hours you devote to class prep (including reading and grading) and to administrative tasks?
  3.  If so, do you keep track of your writing hours in the same space, if you keep track of them? 
  4. The big question: 
    1. Do you set yourself a number of hours each day to write?
    2.  Or do you write until you have a certain number of words?

The writing formula for a piece of writing that you promised but don't want to do: twice as long to write and at least four times as much procrastination beforehand. All this means my time is up and I have to try to write tonight what I could not write all day. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Addendum: I'm also tired of "if you can't effect major social change, do nothing," or a Twitter attack on Little Free Libraries

An LFL heinously upholding neoliberalism.
Okay, the next post will be about writing or something, I promise.

But I came home after a full day and a long drive to see this on the news and on Twitter--on the traditionally slow "news dump" time of Friday afternoon:
  • Against precedent of having the Justice Department vet pardons, Trump throws yet MORE red meat to his base and pardons the convicted Joe Arpaio.
  • Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on Texas and Louisiana, drenching it in torrents of rain and wind so strong it's swaying concrete buildings.
  • Trump disgracefully issues an order banning transgender service members, after the Joint Chiefs had individually indicated it's a terrible idea on so many levels--not just rights but fighting strength.
  • He also might deputize school safety officers to enforce immigration arrests in the schools, where children are supposed to be safe. 
  • This is on top of threatening to hold U. S. hostage, via the debt ceiling, to pay for the ridiculous, racist, and unnecessary wall that he swore to the Trumpettes that Mexico would pay for. With no sense of irony, one of his cabinet said "It'll be like the Maginot Line." Uh, yeah. Ask France how that one worked out.  Maybe they ought to go for Hadrian's Wall instead.
 And this is just an hour's worth of news.

But what's most important? What's A#1 on the radical librarians' agenda this evening? (Google them if you want to. I don't want to give them the link.)

Little Free Libraries.

That's right, the little free-standing book houses where you can take a book and leave a book. Where little kids can get books for free (and so can adults).  Where someone in your community cared enough to put the time and effort in to reach out to neighbors.

They don't solve the problem of inadequate library funding, say the rad librarians. True enough.

They make people feel good without a radical tearing down of the oppressive structures that enable systemic privilege and you can fill in the rest of this speech yourself.  True enough.

But shouldn't a small good get the benefit of the doubt?

Apparently not. 

I'm tired of the false equivalence thing not only because in the media it gave us Trump (Hillary's emails! Hillary's emails!--remember that?) but because in giving equal weight to horrible things like white supremacy and the trans ban and things that just aren't quite correct enough, like the Little Free Library, we're squandering an opportunity.  And with things the way they are, we don't have the luxury of wasting opportunities to set things right.

Friday, August 18, 2017

How can we write in the current environment?

I saw a tweet the other day that said something like "I hope I can put the 6 hours a day I spend watching the news about the U.S. destroying itself on my annual review."

Amen to that.  I know that this is a first world/academic world problem, and it's insignificant in the face of what Charlottesville has suffered and what continues to happen throughout the country,  but it's a problem nonetheless.

How do we keep calm and carry on, as the Brits say, when there's a fresh !@#$show every time we open our laptops? How can we develop consecutive thoughts about research when the country is being run on the reality show principle that every day is an escalation of the worst of the day before? When Nazis are back and racism is horrifyingly endemic? I might be ripped apart for saying this, but we were making progress on racism. Obama did give us a sense of hope. Now the president endorses white supremacy, and the Congress does nothing? Is this the United States?

And what if we are horrified by what's happening but express ourselves incorrectly? For example, Tina Fey did a sketch recently about eating sheet cake to drown out stress or to satirize people's desires to turn away rather than to protest. I didn't think it was hilarious but thought it was okay--until social media tore her a new one, pointing out the parallels to Marie Antoinette, branding her with the most heinous of insults--"liberal" and "neoliberal" and "racist"--and generally taking her down.

It feels disloyal or traitorous, somehow, to write about something other than the events that are happening around us. About the only non-news things on Twitter, for example, are those that are put out by twitterbots, which would churn out tweets if the sky was falling, which it kind of is.

If we need to write about our actual research, we seem unfeeling or uncaring (we're not). Ditto for teaching, with each fresh tragedy appropriately bringing with it a "syllabus" to teach resistance to the Nazis. Yet we have obligations that demand other kind of content, and we have to consider that, too, don't we?

I have research-related posts and writing that I want to do, but I keep thinking I'll wait for the !@#$show to end or at least die down. Like the never-ending heat this summer, though, it never does.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Off-topic: Some Sears homes

The Westly, apparently one of the top 4 models.
As a chaser from current news and the last post, I give you some Sears homes.

With Sears in its current cratering state, it's possible that people don't know that it once shipped not only girdles, engagement rings, and farm equipment, but houses. From 1908-1940, you could have all the pre-cut materials shipped to you on a rail car (plumbing and heating extra) and build the home on your own lot. The lot sizes were included so you could decide.

This fancy model has a servant's room.
These were well-built homes, and especially if you live in the Northeast or Midwest, you've probably seen them. This site ( has pictures and floor plans, and if you're looking for distraction, it's a great place to visit. Here are the most popular models.

Floor plan for "Modern Home #115" from 1908-1914.
It's an interesting tour through the early twentieth century, too. The earliest plans don't include bathrooms as a matter of course; the later ones do.  The one at left has a pantry, parlor, 3 bedrooms, and an attic but no bathroom.

You can see the trend toward neo-Colonial versions emerge in the 1930s, with names like "The Salem" and "The Lexington," but the majority continued to be bungalows.  One defining feature seems to be whether the homeowner was willing to pay for extras like dining rooms and hallways--not so different from today, really.

By 1940, the homes are virtually all two-story or 1 & 1/2 story models, more Cape Cod than bungalows.

After the war, one of the hit movies celebrating/satirizing  individualism in home ownership was Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).  You can see a clip from it above. (The completely blank stare from Cary Grant when he doesn't have the faintest, foggiest notion what the builder is talking about is priceless. I have so given that blank stare at being given a choice between two options when I didn't even know there were options to be considered.) There were a lot of these houses built, too, all over the country, including Northern Clime.

Do you have any Sears homes in your neighborhood, or have you seen any?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Catching up and current events

I've been gone again with travel, and more travel, and still more travel via planes, trains, and automobiles.  I'm home for now, though.

While away, I barely looked at the news. It is always depressingly the same:  the President is a crazy person who threatens all our lives with his stupid, showy, dangerous posturing, the only certainty of which is that he times each new outrage to the daily 24-hour news cycle before moving on to the next. In the meantime, his administration guts the hard-won protections (EPA, health care, women's rights, voting rights, the social safety net for the elderly, immigrants, the poor, and the rest) that keep  us functioning.

And then the white Nazi terrorists at Charlottesville, and seeing the brave students standing up against Nazis. In this country. (And the President, who uses Twitter as a flamethrower against movie stars and dictators as crazy as himself, says nothing lest he disturb his Nazi followers, but enough about that.)

How is it that random violent idiot terrorists--er, "low-information voters for Trump"--can dress in camo and patrol the streets with assault rifles, which we're not allowed to call assault rifles officially because the NRA has a fit, as if this is a normal thing to do?

And, while we're at it, why can't the CDC track gun violence as a public health issue, which it definitely is? And why is concealed carry in classrooms permitted in ten states? (Wait! I know the answer to that one, and I'll bet you do, too.)

People are being raked over the coals on Twitter for asking questions like "how did we come to this?" and "what can we do?" so I won't ask those. 

But I do think about people of my parents' generation, the older ones of whom fought in World War II. A close family member was a pilot and flew during the D-Day invasion and the Battle of Remagen. Other families have heard stories from Holocaust survivors.  Did we really go through all that to have Nazis here in this country?

I know that the U.S. has a fraught history of racism and isn't close to perfect. But we are better than this and need to show it.