Sunday, November 12, 2017

Holding academia to account, Bingo version

You know those bingo cards that appear every so often on Twitter or Facebook? The one I usually see is for department meetings.

I wonder if we could have a scorecard with Bingo squares or points for the times we hear and see things like the following, either stated or implied:
  1. "He should still get the award, because his personal life has no bearing on the tremendous contribution he has made to scholarship. Aesthetics and the life of the mind is important; what happened to that grad student was beside the point. Besides, that incident was years ago."
  2. Woman faculty member is interrupted and talked over.
  3.  Woman makes a point,  and it's ignored; man makes the same point two minutes later, and it's brilliant.
  4. "It wasn't such a big deal. She should get over it." 
  5. Faculty of color asked to be on a zillion committees or outreach projects and then criticized for producing less scholarship.
  6. "He's going to retire soon, anyway. There's no point in pursuing it."
  7. "That's just how he acts; the bullying and yelling isn't about you personally. Stay out of his way and you'll be fine."
  8. "This whole process will be a lot easier if we just give Professor Y what he wants in terms of this time slot/this course assignment/this committee assignment/this candidate for admission. Otherwise, he'll pitch a fit and make our lives miserable. Professor X won't complain about teaching at 8 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. MWF, so let's give that schedule to her."
  9. "If he leaves the department, he'll take that big grant/that journal/that prestigious reputation to another university. He brings prestige, so we can't make waves."
  10. "[Women faculty] should be in their offices more, in case students need to talk to them; they need the emotional support.  As for me, I'm not going to the meeting. I have writing to do." 
 Any more for our scorecard?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Things that will make you feel better for a moment

  • Get fresh air. Run, walk, bike, or whatever in the fresh air. More fresh air. More nature. More beauty. More air. Give your brain something else to think about and some oxygen to help it do so.
  • Mueller time! Things are happening out there, so don't give up hope.
  • Check social media--well, FB--only for an hour every other week. That way, you can wish everyone happy birthday. Don't post anything, or you'll want to see what happens.
  • Skip over every single political outrage post, no matter how righteously angry it will make you and how virtuous you will feel to be on the right side of history. If you think this is irresponsible, it's not. You'll still see and do things. (I voted this week. I gave to Hurricane Maria relief.) But use your energy, money, votes, and power where they'll do some good. Facebook isn't it.
  • And those people pumping out political outrage who you know are bicycling through France on a holiday you can't afford? Unfollow them. Enough's enough. 
  • Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. If you don't get or don't want to watch the show, watch some videos. Parodies but hilariously true ones of song genres, like "Settle for Me" or "Greg's Drinking Song" or "Let's Generalize About Men" or a Gene Kelly-esque tap dance number whose title I can't print here.  They will make you feel better.  
  • Make up your own mental Bingo card for meetings and presentations. Call it the "Neoliberal University Assessment Intersectionality Excellence" card, or whatever five words (in random order) you hear the most at your university.
  • For a little while every day, if you can, read a book just because you want to, and leave the screens behind. No phones. No computers. It sounds impossible, but for 30 minutes at lunch, just try it. I used to read The Chronicle at lunch but realize that (1) we've all read these articles before, pretty much and (2) it wasn't exactly a break to read more stressful things about work. Some of you do yoga or meditation, so this is probably my version of that. 
What temporary measures make you feel better? 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reading irritations for a Saturday morning

The good news about being an academic in the humanities--okay, literature--is that you get to read a lot.

The bad news about being an academic in the humanities is that you get to read a lot, and you don't always get to choose what you read but you have to find an interest if you're going to write about it.

Right now, this never-ending story of a piece that I am working on has me reading some things that are worthy, even brilliant, but are a little . . . trying. Here are some additional irritations to add to last year's post.
  • Religious doctrine, religious reflection--very important, I know, but reading this stuff is a slog for me.  "Be a good person, the end" is my medieval-peasant style level of understanding, if that's not an insult to medieval peasants.
  • Travel writing. I love the blog entries that you all post from travels in other countries, but straight travel writing, 19th-century style, reads sort of like this: "As we meandered down the [word in another language], we were greeted by the [ditto], with their charming [ditto] beside them as they [ditto] in happy expectation of our [ditto]," followed by a paragraph describing the local flora and fauna in exhaustive and exhausting detail. It's Mad Libs, international style.  I don't lose my will to live, but I do lose my will to read. 
  • Modernist texts that like to play hide the person's name, or the pronoun reference, or the central defining event of the book by mentioning it once in 400 pages. I understand why that's important and representationally sophisticated and the rest, but for trying to slog through, please give us a name. Please. 
  • Cruelty to animals and children. If they show up in a contemporary text, you need to look out, because often they won't last long and will be dispatched in highly unpleasant and lengthily described detail to prove that the author isn't "sentimental." I gave up on John Updike's Roger's Version because of this, and you have heard me rant before about Lolita. "But look at the wordplay and the language," I was told. "Lolita herself is just a girl, just incidental." Not to me, she's not. 
And now back to reading my religious-doctrine-centric book with lots of travel and name-hiding and, I fear, some animal cruelty coming up.

Edited to add: Nope--child cruelty and death. Modern fiction, you never disappoint in your predictability.

What kind of reading do you find tough to get through?

*Updated to add: The Man Booker Prize this year goes to George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo, which is by all accounts wonderful, and which I want to read--but it features #4 (Lincoln mourning his dead child) and #3 (a surreal, experimental style that one account said will leave you not understanding what's happening for chapters at a time). Just . . . leaving that out there.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Writing by the numbers: was it worth it?

This is basically a reminder post, to future Undine, not to promise things as past Undine has done. It's a short record of time spent versus actual benefit, and it contains the valuable "Was it worth it?" test.
  1. Recent book review #1: read book carefully, made notes, spent at least 10 hours writing for 1200 words. Was it worth it? Well, I learned something. But was it worth it? Not really. 
  2. Recent book review #2: read book all the way through three times because I kept getting pulled away by other tasks and forgetting the details; made notes; spent at least 10 hours writing the 1200 words. Was it worth it? See above.
  3. Work on long-promised article project: spent all of summer 2016 reading for this project and making notes for it but not writing it up. Have now spent at least 10 hours each day to get to my 750 words, in part because the ratio of looking up & reading:writing is about 3:1 or 4:1, in terms of time, because it's a little outside my usual wheelhouse. Was it worth it? I'm learning things. But was it worth it? Time will tell, but it's clear I'm spending way too much time on this. And this doesn't even count the extensive editing and cutting down and stitching together I'll have to do.
  4. Spending last fall sending out those articles instead of working on the above? They were a combination of old and new research that I found exciting. Worth it? Yes, indeed.
  5. Refusing, on three separate occasions with three different subjects, to contribute to a prestigious bibliography project. Worth it? Yes, indeed.
  6. Doing a tenure review, with the many hours of reading & writing the letter that that implies? Well, worth it because we all need to be good citizens. Ditto for writing letters of recommendation for jobs and grants--grants that I haven't applied for, in part, because see #3. 
  7. Rummaging through my computer until I found a good 10 pages or so on the subject of another promised article project? Totally worth it. Gold, in fact.
  8. Being very choosy about the conferences I submit to, and only submitting if I actually have an ongoing project in mind? Very much worth it. I've stopped my membership in some organizations, and it feels so good not to have them nagging at you to submit proposals, not to mention that they rarely accepted them anyway. (Not MLA, although a friend of mine said once that instead of submitting a proposal to MLA she could just set fire to it, with about the same results as far as an acceptance went.)
 So, what that I actually did was truly worth it just for me and not just for the sake of being a good citizen? #4, #7, and #8. Future Undine, take note.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Chocolate and control and writing, oh, my!

Dame Eleanor has a post up with normal news, and JaneB has one that's funny and heartwarming, and John Scalzi has one about why it's hard to write  that's much more eloquent than my similar rant of a few weeks back.

So if you've already responded to the news and donated, etc. etc., here is a different question: how are you granting yourself a feeling of control when the world seems out of said quality--i.e., "self-care," as people say now? I've never had a mani-pedi or any of that salon stuff, but here are a few things:

1.  Eat more chocolate. I used to get this for special occasions, but now I keep a bag of my beloved Guittard chocolate chips in my office and eat them when I finish something especially administratively boring. Or feel more stressed than usual. Or after lunch. I'm trying to taper off, but maybe not right now.

2. Take another FB break. At first I was all "but--but--I won't be able to wish people whose emails I don't have Happy Birthday!" and then realized that they would survive. As to missing out on scholarly stuff that gets posted to FB--well, if you post a CFP there and there only, you've already limited your range considerably, so capturing the attention of a broad range of scholars clearly isn't what the organization is going for, and it doesn't need my attention.

3. Change office hours and meetings to suit the times I'll see the most people and that suit me the best. The corollary is that I've stored up enough rage courage to respond politely but with some heat to the people who are never in the office or attend meetings if I hear even a hint of "where were you when I looked for you at 4:30 on Tuesday?' or some such thing. *Yes, I keep track when I'm in a meeting and my colleagues are consistently absent, for exactly this reason. No, I probably shouldn't care.

4.  Figured out an academic version of the Serenity Prayer. As in "grant me the serenity to hear about another time-sucking initiative on which they claim to want our input, the strength to read between the lines, and the wisdom to know that it's already a done deal and I don't have to pay any attention to it."

5. Start writing again. Between travel and research trips and the news and writing conference papers and house renovation, this was a chaotic summer for writing; added to this is a series of things I promised to write and that are not exactly flowing from my pen. So: back on the horse, I say. I've actually written at least something every day for a few weeks, with the help of my old taskmasters Strict Workflow Pomodoro  on Chrome (which only lets me go to Twitter, my noncaloric chocolate substitute, when the apple turns green),, and my black notebook where I record progress and cross things off. *My accountability group helps, too.

How about you? How are you gaining control over your life?
*Edited to add. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Patience, or the lack thereof

I'm still patient with my students--very patient. I want them to succeed. And I do like my colleagues. Everyone else is getting a little more, er, directness, though.
  • The sorority pledges (I assume because no one else is that gussied up, usually, on our campus) walking five abreast on the sidewalk, teetering on heels, who initially didn't move an inch and expected me to step into the street? Dream on, ladies. Ditto for people texting.
  • The person who emailed to say "why don't you do X?" when I had explained, twice, why that didn't work? Ze got a return email with my previous answer, this time in bold. The end.  You don't listen to my messages or explanations, so guess how I'm going to respond to yours?
  • Would I mind not moving into my new and at that time empty office for a month or so, so another faculty member could hang out and have meetings in it instead of in his own office? Would I mind? Like an idiot I said, "sure, whatever" but then got furious at myself, moved everything into the new office that day, and turned in my old key. Either my interior fuming or the stuff in the office must have gotten the message across, because I didn't hear any more about it.
  • You can shoot all the emails you want at me after 5 p.m. on Friday, if that's what your heart desires, but to me they're just silent snowflakes drifting down to settle into my inbox snowbank  until 7 a.m. on Monday.
I now see that this is sort of a companion piece to the previous post; thanks for helping me work this through. 

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?