Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'm a Leaf on the Wind

Where all my Firefly peeps at?

At Senor Fluff's advice, I have taken to revisiting a crucial scene in the feature film version of the sci-fi/western series Firefly--Serenity. In this scene, the ragtag band of plucky heroes must sneak through enemy lines; the pilot guides the malfunctioning spacecraft between hostile and much more powerful ships and finally into a landing, all the while repeating the mantra "I'm a leaf on the wind."

You can follow out this metaphor as you wish. I chose to apply it in the numerous meetings that I've had this week (and yes, it's only Tuesday). Here, several situations in which faculty propose to significantly alter student experience are up for grabs. Because of severe character flaws, I am compelled, in these situations, to speak to the ways in which these alterations have reverberations in other components of student experience that we're not fully taking into account. [My apologies to all for the ambiguity of this post...] I'm not totally in favor of these ideas, but I am willing to bend to the will of the majority (because ethically I think that's the right thing)--as long as we make clear to ourselves and the students how this will change what's expected of them further down the line. What I'm seeing, however, is that no one is willing to take all of the reverberations into account before advocating for the changes. And keep in mind, these are changes that will not affect us as faculty (except for the uncomfortable experience of failing students), but will certainly affect the students themselves (if they have to repeat courses). And for the record, for those of you on the ground here: it's not the just single Monday proposal I'm thinking about--it's happening in a number of places in smaller groups... Perhaps scholars/writers are not particularly systematic thinkers; unfortunately, our role as faculty put us in the position of developing, delivering, and assessing systems (majors, minors, concentrations). I'd like to see us take that responsibility as seriously as we do our own research, and the teaching that goes on in our individual classrooms.

Normally, it would take every fiber of my being to hold myself in the chair as we capriciously decide on changes without examining possible ramifications. If I were 15 years younger, I would be screaming and pounding a table (yup. that's what I was like. still am, on the inside.). Instead, I am a leaf on the wind. What kind of strength can I really exert here? How do I imagine that I can, as one person, turn the tide? The leaf remains the leaf even as is it borne in a direction it cannot control. [And the real question here is: what kind of f*cked up messiah complex do I have that I need to save students from a badly-designed system? Good grief, Fluff, get over yourself!] Ah, grasshopper, finally, you are learning.

I have, my friends, a new mantra. One that will hopefully keep me from bouts of depression and rage over uncontrollable events. I, like the Firefly pilot, am a leaf on the wind.

[Of course, a good close reading of that scene would remind me that the pilot lands the ship successfully only to be immediately impaled by psychotic humanoid creatures who rape, maim, and cannibalize. Hmmm.]

Saturday, September 23, 2006

In Which I Am Too Boring for my Hairdresser

How do the rest of you answer the directive: "Tell me something exciting that's going on in your life!" I'll tell you what--I came up with exactly nothing. This has actually happened to me twice in the last week or so--first in a chance conversation with a graduate student, and again with my toddler of a hairdresser (who, I will say, brought the magic this time. And we've now termed this particular 'do an "ironic citation of Laguna Beach." It's not every hair care professional who can say that and know what it means).

This is a problem, right? When I am struck dumb by someone's assumption that something exciting IS going on in my life? When the first thing that comes to mind is that I'm desperately working on a proposal to get a faculty member for my little academic unit, and being beaten down daily by one of my colleagues? That's not exciting, it's just pathetic.

It has definitely occurred to me recently that work is eating my life, but perhaps nothing has made that so stunningly clear as being faced with these external expectations. And, of course, the ironic realization that if I actually DID have something exciting going on, it might well help me shift my laser-like focus on the wretched parts of my work.

But here's the rub: I have a hard time knowing where to turn for excitement. Surely this is where I'm supposed to turn to a long-lost hobby or burgeoning skill or quirky affectation. But what would that be?!! I'm not a knitter, I'm not going to write the great American novel; I'm not constitutionally able to wander the earth like Cain, helping the weak and poor. I hardly think writing screeds against the return of suspenders and waxing rhapsodic about Project Runway are pursuits that will fill me with joy and a renewed purpose in life.

I open the question up to you, dear readers. Suggest alternative excitements for the Fluff. I vow to consider each seriously--and store them up for my next haircut.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Last night, I effectuated an accomplishment--the completion of a project that was 8 years in the making. I have not had my full attention trained on this goal for 8 years, but it has never strayed far from my mind. At times, I would work toward it furiously, throwing caution to the wind. At other times, I would languish in despair, thinking that I could never manage to make it happen. I have tried innumerable strategies; I have cried and screamed and argued; I have declared that I never should have begun such an impossible task, and yet always have I gone back to it, knowing that it would be worth all of the work and trouble.

Yes, folks, for your enjoyment, here is a picture of one of my most treasured accomplishments:

Lest you think that the acquisition of a coffee table (and a small one at that) is some miniscule thing that practically anyone could manage...well, you're probably right. In my household, however, it has been the Battle Royale--our own Wrath of Khan steel-cage death match. For the longest time, I was sure that I was Khan--that I'd been imprisoned on some glacial planet. But now we know--I'm Kirk, dammit. Kirk! [Mock my geekiness if you must. But give me a better example of a karmic battle to use as metaphor here!] In Mr. Fluff's defense, we have an old house with a tiny living room--I understood the concern that an additional piece of furniture would crowd us out. At the same time, it's damn hard to keep putting drinks on the floor. In the summer, glasses (and, ahem, bottles) sweat, leaving rings. In the winter, I don't want to put my arm out of the blanket to reach down to the floor to get a hot cup of cocoa. In the midst of our melee, the compromise position has been to leave old catalogs about and put drinks on them. Charming choice in interior design, I can tell you. Now, however, thanks to my perseverance, we have a dandy piece of furniture, decorated with a lovely array of sari coasters, given to me by Frenchie--4 YEARS AGO. I choose to think that my ability to locate said coasters is the universe rewarding my stubborn nature.

So here, my friends, is proof positive that I can prevail. Raise a glass (or a foot, if you're that kind of coffee-table owner) to me this evening.

And, if you will be so kind, don't ask why I can't apply this same skill to the completion of my article. Just keep it to yourself.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm the Eighth Dwarf, Pissy

After spending the entirety of yesterday answering emails and going to meetings, in which I utterly distinguished myself by being unable to control my facial expressions (oh, I just can't help it. you know how some meetings play out like roosters strutting in a barnyard? Let's face it, people, none of us have any real power, so fighting for dominance among department chairs is just a silly, silly practice.), I watched the film I had assigned for class discussion today, and fell into bed, trying desperately to enumerate the billions of things I have to get done today.

Why, why do I design days so that I go from class to meeting, meeting to class, class to meeting? Why?

So that tomorrow, I can stay home and do nothing but answer emails, that's why.

Oh, but I do have a haircut from the pop-culture loving fetus to look forward to. That's something. [Can anyone give me a crib sheet on this season of Nip/Tuck?]

Til tomorrow, my little chickens...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Run(way), Don't Walk

In trying to schedule a ten-person meeting, my usual means of working out an acceptable time for all is simply to ask people for an email stating their availability. And when only two of ten do? Yup, I look up eight different teaching schedules, posted across six departments. After making a spreadsheet to calculate a single time block available to all, I was tempted to write the following message:
Bitches! The time you may meet with me is as follows!
The rather aggressive phrasing you can almost certainly attribute to my spending the afternoon blowing off grading by reading this. Holy couture, Project Runway fans--those gay boys can blog!!

I urge you to run to their blog, posthaste, for gems like these:
[On Catherine Malandrino]: "The only way this picture could possibly look any more French is if Catherine Deneuve popped out of a giant croissant dressed like Edith Piaf singing La Marseillaise."

[On Tim Gunn's responses to Kayne's "couture" dress]: "Oh, Tim. Say 'visible boning' again. It makes us weak."

Oh my. Water out the nose for one and all.

Welcome One and (Almost) All

Everyone, meet the newbies who've stopped by this crazy block party of a blog. Give the following a hearty "howdy":
•The rubber-neckers from Inside Higher Ed.
•The fans of Ladette to Lady, a show I blogged about here. H-e-l-l-o New Zealand! (Seriously, a rash of hits from New Zealand. I guess it's not all just Lord of the Rings, is it?)
•Volkswagen enthusiasts (I assume, for who else would be googling "Jetta farf?"
•the person looking for info on a "ball gag"
•the poor soul searching for answers about "panty lines." I feel your pain. Or I assume I do, unless you're looking to GET panty lines, and if so, just let me know because I can make several suggestions.

A sincere welcome to you! Y'all come back now!

Except, and this is a mighty exception, to the person looking for sites featuring "Michelle Wie's panty." Seriously, dude, she's SIXTEEN years old. That's just not okay. You, we do not welcome.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Everything I Needed to Know about Academe...

***Full disclosure: The post below was written earlier in the week, and I've been quaking in my boots about posting it. How safe are we really, out here in the ether? How anonymous can we truly be? I do remember, however, the way that I've been so very comforted reading y'all's blogs; they've given me some powerful ways to understand what's happening in my own life, and that I'm not the only one who deals with these things. And so let's hope I can be somewhat helpful with the rant below...

Folks, it's been quite a week, and it's only Wednesday. I taught through last weekend, geared up for a Monday lecture series (which went quite nicely, BTW), taught classes and attended many meetings. By my count, I've now been working since the previous Monday, which means thinking about school--rather intently--every day for the past 9 days. This, as you may imagine, does not make Fluff a happy girl.

By far, the worst part of the week is dealing with some of my colleagues. I was really holding my breath and hoping that we had all secretly declared detente; we're all real tired of fighting and animus, so perhaps we're all ready to smooth things over.

No dice.

After an inordinately bad set of interactions in an official meeting and a set of emails, I stayed up at night desperately looking for a paradigm that would help me understand how to think about my relationships with some of my co-workers. Here's the problem I'm having: it's not the case that these people are evil and malicious. It IS the case that their ideas and actions have a detrimental effect on me (and my good friend Yogini, who you might remember from earlier posts). In fact, it may be that their responses to the world (eg., students need to have their education strictly regimented; some students, by dint of their major, are better than others; most are unworthy of our curriculum; in actuality, it would be better if they were trained in our field before they got to us; new faculty members, like students, need to ask for permission before suggesting any kind of change; in fact, the training and expertise of new faculty is definitively suspect--too influenced by fads and trends to be real intellectural work; etc.) are not designed to incite depression and anger--they just have that effect as a matter of course. So if they're not purposely creating situations to inspire anger and powerlessness, how can you really dislike them? Better yet, how can you even resist their claims?

And then it struck me--it's all about Harry Potter. Which of the magical creatures in the Harry Potter novels suck the hope, life, and joy out of you, replacing it with fear and sorrow? Which creatures do this not out of malice, but because it is in their very natures?

Ah, the Dementors. Did you get it on the first try? The very comprehensive Wikipedia entry on Dementors features an appropos quote describing their effect: "It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad." Yes, Rowling! That's it exactly!!

The entry also features another of my favorite characteristics of the Dementors; namely, the way in which you oppose them. Perhaps you remember Harry summoning all of his budding magical power to create a patronus charm--essentially a protective spell engendered by a fundamentally powerful, good memory? The beauty of it all is that Harry's patronus is so very effective that it not only protects him and Sirius Black--it also chases away the Dementors. Perhaps this needs to be my model; the only way to resist being sucked dry and deadened is to continue to focus and project good things.

Right. So all I really need is a really powerful good memory, a magical bloodline, and several years' training at Hogwarts.

And now you all know how truly geeky I am.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Saints Preserve Us

A classic scene from my class of eager first year students this morning:

Kfluff: All right, your homework was to go into blogger and use their search function to investigate criteria for good and bad blogging. What did you like? What did you not like? And just out of curiosity, what did you use as your search term? I suggested that you choose something you were particularly interested in--a show, a hobby, etc. What'd you use?

Student 1: Star Wars

Student 2: Desperate Housewives

Student 3: Alicia Keys

Student 4: The Dave Matthews Band

Student 5: tennis

Student 6: Jesus

??!!!! Where do you go from there, exactly? Umm, wow, I bet you found some fascinating blog posts with the word "Jesus" in them. Jesus may put you one step over the line, and he may drop kick you through the goal posts of life, but "Jesus is my blog search term"? That just seems wrong, somehow.

The next sound you hear will be of the sizzle as I'm hit by lightning.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Unhand the 80's!

All right, look. I understand the siren song of leggings, I really do. And it's not just because Sienna Miller was wearing them. I get the return of big hair, Marc Jacobs bringing back grunge. Putting aside many atrocious choices in high school, I'll even give sweater dresses another try; I suppose it's possible that they're now better-made, more flattering, etc., even if I have love handles and more cellulite to hide. So fine, Derek Lam, bring it on.

I will not, however, WILL NOT go back down this road, brought to you care of Ann Taylor Loft:

Not for a free Louis Vuitton bag, nor a pair of Christian Louboutin peep-toe pumps. No no no. I don't care if you send me a coupon, ATL, you just have to know that this is too ridiculous. Only certain things are eligible for a revival, and this look is definitively not.

The lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners called? He wants his outfit back.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Utter Joy

This is really one of those "oracle of the obvious" posts, so I'll keep it short. Suffice to say that it's Friday night, and I have rarely, rarely, been so happy to retire into the ample bosom of the weekend. I'm going to settle in with my now sadly-outdated issue of Elle (the one with LiLo on the cover, looking very Ann Margret. Damn it, LiLo, I know that I broke up with you, but I can't help loving a girl in a marabou coat. I'm just a fool for feathers).

My mind-blowing task for this evening? Trying to understand the use and abuse of "volume" in fall fashion. And maybe paint my nails.

Oh, the hard hard life of an overworked academic!

Be safe out there, y'all.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Aufhebung; or Apparently, I'm It

Well, like the slow fat kid at recess, I've been tagged. Thankfully, Beth is a damn sight more gentle than many of the kids I used to play with. So here it is, the meme of three. I like how Beth thinks of High Fidelity, and I think of Hegel. I'd much rather think of John Cusack, thank you very much!

Three People Who Make Me Laugh
1. Martin Amis (particularly in The Information)
2. Eddie Izzard
3. Mr. Fluff (or Senor Fluff, as he'd now like to be called)

Three Things I Can Do
1. Identify smells from far away (e.g., cucumbers from a two-room distance)
2. Ask "where are my keys?" in Spanish
3. Curse a blue streak

Three Things I Can't Do
1. a handstand
2. write every day
3. speak without irony

Three Things I'm Doing Right Now
1. Drinking my second cup of coffee
2. Resenting going to a meeting later today
3. Enjoying the silence of my neighborhood (elementary school started this week)

Three Things I Want To Do Before I Die
1. Publish one really good book. Just one.
2. Live in New Mexico
3. grow three inches (upward, of course)

Three Things I Hate the Most
1. When people do not say "thank you" (rudeness)
2. When people refuse, despite all evidence, to consider their own privilege (selfishness/blindness)
3. mosquitoes

Three Things that Scare Me
1. tales of the apocalypse (even though I know it's hooey)
2. See #2, above
3. E! News' fascination with Paris Hilton

Three Things I Don't Understand
1. quantum physics
2. the enduring appeal of James Joyce's Ulysses
3. American anti-intellectualism

Three Skills I'd Like to Learn
1. basic home renovation (e.g., wiring, insulation, fixing windows)
2. diplomacy with those you fundamentally disagree with
3. playing guitar

Three Ways to Describe my Personality
1. sarcastic
2. ebullient
3. hot/cold

Three Things I Think You Should Listen To
1. a push-mower cutting grass
2. Nikka Costa
3. Van Morrison's Astral Weeks

Three Things You Should NEVER Listen To
1. someone yelling at you
2. Taylor Dayne (I'm a relentless fan of 80's music, but even I can't stomach this, nostalgia and all)
3. the rat on your shoulder (an old creative writing teacher's metaphor for the hyper-critical voice in your head)

Three Favorite Foods
1. kimchee
2. homemade macaroni and cheese
3. Saba--mackerel sushi

Three Beverages I Drink Regularly
1. water, and gallons of it
2. coffee, and gallons of it
3. Argentinian Malbec...

Three Shows I Watched as a Kid
1. Wall Street Week in Review (an awkward effect of my father's babysitting skills)
2. Hee Haw (again, I'm totally blaming this on my parents)
3. Miami Vice (sick, sad confession: I used to come home EARLY on Friday nights to see this!)

Three Blogs I'm Tagging
1. Lee over at Mostly-Filler, since she's not back at school.
2. Flavia, since she'll need some distraction from her new job.
3. How about New Kid, since she's looking for a meme or two?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Look Both Ways...

Whoa. All of a sudden, traffic to this blog tripled. And why? Why? Inside Higher Ed, that's why. Holy crap. How does that work, anyway? Does someone just troll around on the nets and wait til they hit stuff?

In other news, finally, FINALLY Vincent has been booted from Project Runway. Thank Jebus. I was sure that after he survived the challenge where he sent his poor model down the runway in floor-length flypaper, he had made some unholy deal to deliver fresh entrails to Nina Garcia nightly, but it appears that's soured. Hooray.

Off to bed--and tomorrow, Beth's meme!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tiny Circle of Friends

I'm warming up here to go and take a whack at my article, but I thought I could think a little bit about a conversation going on in the academic corner of the blogosphere. Both New Kid and Dr. Crazy have posts up talking about the particular kind of isolation that comes with academe. New Kid is taking a lot on herself, writing about the ways in which she may be complicit in her isolation. Dr. Crazy, on the other hand, describes it a bit like an occupational hazard; as academics, we engage in a number of solitary activities, and then move around a lot looking for a job. The result? Aloneness. Either way you slice it, both writers are talking about the difficulties of overcoming one of the most personal and least talked about parts of our daily lives, and both are getting resounding confirmations from all over blogademe (isn't that cute? isn't that what we should call it?)

I wrote about this a little while ago as well, in relation to cultivating new colleagues. So, clearly, I'm all on board; it's damn hard to make friends, and it requires work. I'm anxious to add to my small bank of friends, I'm on the prowl for like-minded folks, so I'm certainly not immune to the concerns about creating a comfortable community for oneself--it's one of the most important quality of life factors. At the same time, I'm surprised to hear no one talking about what is for me, the equal and opposite priority: trying to CLAIM a bit of isolation for oneself.

Particularly now that the semester is in full swing, I find myself running from meeting to meeting, sending ungodly amounts of email, interacting with students all over campus, fielding phone calls, etc. That's a whole lotta social interactions. Certainly, this can't be equated with talking with friends; for me, however, it can tap into the same well of good cheer and conviviality that I use to interact with people I know and like. In essence, that's a limited resource that I possess, and sadly, its daily reserves can get expended on those who aren't nearly as deserving or delightful as my pals. Here's a lame metaphor for you: let's say that in daily life, my congenial resources are like our access to mid-East oil. They're there, but they're not the most reliable source, and so I find myself having to conserve and stretch them. (How can I make my daily life run like a Prius? That's a question to take seriously.) Now, in case of emergencies, I have my own little ANWR, but I hate to open it up unless it's absolutely necessary, or it has the chance of refilling the other sources. That last bit is an important recognition in the economy of friendship: the best interactions with good friends have the ability to replenish your resources, rather than drain them. Have a great conversation with someone who you really get and who really gets you, and you can feel refreshed and renewed. What's difficult about developing new friendships, however, is that it often takes a good many interactions before you reach the renewal part.

Where am I going with this? I suppose I simply want to mark the idea that making friends in academe is not just hard, it's also hard work, and it exists in what is for me a larger system of time/energy reserves that get parcelled out all over the place. For my part, I feel as if I often have to choose carefully, or else I risk running out of the steam I need to make it through the other parts of my life: my job, my family, my relationship to myself. Sometimes, the occupational hazard to me seems to be that the field is too crowded with potential friends, and I have to figure out a method of securing some isolation for myself.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Linguistic Aporia

Or, in other words, I think we've got a hole in the English language. Probably several, but the one that is really occupying my mind right now is the lack of a word or words that can aptly describe the full and complete beauty of waking up on a cool, rainy morning, lounging in bed with a cup of coffee, reading for pleasure, knowing that I don't have anywhere to be, or anyone I have to talk to about work. Is there a word that can get at how utterly lovely and fantastic that is? Come on, wordsmiths! Bring it on!

All of this to say that I'm loving life today. Finally, a moment or two to relax, take stock of the world, my week, etc. It's clear from the last few posts here at the Fluff that very specific parts of my job are the ones that get me down, and that those are also the ones that seem to occupy the greatest amount of time. Ms. Flavia has a post about being new to the tenure-track and grasping these expectations for the first time. She describes it in terms of how it occupies mental space, and I think that's a perfect description of it--basically, I am asked to devote a good deal of mental space to completing tasks I'm not all that thrilled about. (And I don't have all that much extra mental space to spare, know what I mean?) Sadly, all of that occupied mental geography also has to have some form of existence in the real world, and that takes up a surprising amount of time. To wit, I sure felt like I sent an obnoxious number of emails this week. Low and behold, after a quick count, I arrived at a figure: 116 emails, from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. Yowza!

The irony of all of this, however, is that I'm realizing the desperate need to nurture those experiences and projects that exist outside of these occupational demands in order to balance those things that sap my will to live with those that make me excited about reading/writing/teaching; it's like a colonial revolution going on inside my noggin. So, after a little rest and relaxation this weekend, I'm going to GASP! read the draft of my article--you remember the devil queen of an article from this summer of procrastination?--and draw up a plan.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Enjoy your weekend, y'all!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rocked Like a Hurricane

Gentle readers, you know it's bad when I have to resort to quoting The Scorpions, those scions of 80's metal, to describe the first week back to school. But, yea verily, hath I been rocked like a MF'ing hurricane--more like Katrina, less like Ernesto.

It may be the case that I have forgotten the pain and panic of prior first weeks--much like mothers who forget the experience of childbirth. But it sure seems to me like someone pressed the damn fast-forward button. Multiple advisees have emerged from the woodwork with questions about scheduling--all of which have to be handled before the add/drop deadline (which is today), all of whom need to meet with me. Several of these are not even MY returning advisees--rather, they're new converts to my darling little ACUN, for whom I'm the sole advisor. It should be noted that many of these students want this major because it's not nearly as rigid as others, and so often the array of lib ed courses they've taken can count toward the major. But who, I ask you, has to figure that crap out? C'est moi, merci.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to help a grad student finish up his project, which is a bloody mess, let me tell you. He's got about a month to do it, and I'm worried. Anyone got any advice on how to gauge how much a student is actually capable of doing? For instance, I've basically given up on asking him to include transitions, but I think I can insist that he learn the difference between Asian literature and Asian American literature, and what is neither of these things. (Just a for instance? Well, if you insist. Sax Roehmer, creator of the character Fu Manchu, is not, to my mind, someone who makes it into the pantheon of Asian American writers. Neither is Bret Harte, creator of the Heathen Chinee and some of the most atavisitic stereotypes we still currently have. I know that in the postmodern world, ethnicity is difficult to define, and we should base affiliations on politics rather than heritage. But these guys have neither the heritage nor the politics, so I'm putting my foot down.)

And, in the interim, our departmental situation is at a slow simmer. Many many things, unfortunately, going on behind the scenes, a situation which worries me greatly. And I suppose we'll have to decide what we're willing to fight for and what we can let go, before we keel over from exhaustion.

Remember that other part of my job? The part where I get in a classroom with students? That teeny tiny corner of my work is going quite well, thank you. A group of first year students whom I'm hard at work on, trying to get their freak flags to fly; and a group of returning lit/ed majors, who are digging into the first book like nobody's business--despite the recurrent theme of gay sex. Bless their hearts.

Hang in there, y'all--it's only 15 more weeks!