Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Comfort of Metaphors

It could be my background in literature, or it could be my secret, corny love of cliches: whatever it is, I love a good metaphor. There's something about its ability to bring unlike things into comparison with each other. And on their best days, metaphors show us something about one thing that we didn't know, all by virtue of its surprising similarity to the other thing. And so last night, I found myself drifting off to a semi-peaceful sleep with the image of a manual transmission.

The story is this: the meeting I dreaded brought about the unhappy decision I knew was coming. It has consequences that are far reaching for two different projects that I'm involved in. To wit, because of some people's complete hubris and narrow-minded ideas of what contemporary intellectual work looks like, two years of hard work building programs (i.e., recruiting students, developing curricula, integrating technology, negotiating with faculty, designing courses, etc.) may well all go right down the drain. My initial reaction was to spend the evening oscillating between terror (I'm not even quite sure why it makes me afraid, quite frankly) and despair. It's not so often that I spend years working on the same thing; the idea of all of that time and energy going to waste makes me sick to my stomach.

So where does the manual transmission come in? Well, on Thursday, I had the great pleasure of drinking with Dr. Marxy, who has the great misfortune of having to watch over a lot of these kinds of decisions without really being able to intervene. That pretty much makes her the impotent goddess of the clusterfuck, in my view. And as we discussed the ever-growing conservatism of faculty decisions, she very wisely said that this was one of the reasons to be thankful for, and nurture a great family life--so that you don't get overly-invested in the crap.

She's exactly right (and was even more right after two G&Ts). I tried to remind myself of that when I heard the news. All well and good, but how do you stop from getting invested, or as I worded it to myself "engaged"? Suddenly, I had the image of a a transmission engaging--the way that you push the clutch in to change gears, and how, with the clutch engaged, the engine revs but won't go anywhere, whereas when you let the clutch out, the car zooms off in fifth. So as I wandered off to sleep last night, I kept visualizing the image of keeping the clutch engaged; just hold it there and let the engine rev without making progress. I haven't quite unpacked all of this yet. Does it mean that avoiding engagement equals holding myself in and letting it all transpire? Does it mean that I'm somehow hoping to prevent wheels from turning elsewhere? I'm not sure. All I know is that the image of the gears being unable to turn was the only thing that let me get some rest.

So there you have it, folks. An unanalyzed love of a bizarre metaphor for faculty engagement. Don't you all have some grading to do, instead of reading this stuff?

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Anonymous Senor Fluff said...

Dearest Kulturfluff,

I love your metaphor (and your love *of* metaphors...).

Sometimes I notice that I'll engage the clutch (in the way that you describe) when I'm just sitting and thinking, or when I'm waiting for something.

Weirdly, it's kind of relaxing.... Something's going on--the motor is running--but you're stationary. At the same time, you know you have the power to move if you want to....


Senor Fluff

Sunday, December 02, 2007 3:11:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

That's helpful Senor Fluff, because I do think it's hard for us to remember that we can move and that each of us was born to lead. I've been feeling a bit impotent with changes sweeping over my program as well. But if I would just give on the clutch...

Good metaphor KF!

Oh, and I have tagged you for a meme.

Monday, December 03, 2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger kfluff said...

I just wandered over and saw that I'd been tagged, Kate! I've been cogitatin' on it. 7 random things have to be better than all this whinging!!

Monday, December 03, 2007 9:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Marxy said...

First, I have to say that having drinks with Kfluff is more than delightful. It's de-lovely and de-licious, as Deee-Lite would say. It was the highlight of my month!

Second, your metaphor is spot-on. As much as I do, indeed, believe that having a wonderful family and surrounding oneself with really fabulous people that believe in you, put up with you, find you amusing, etc. it remains infuriating and deeply disappointing when something the likes of what Kfluff describes occurs on your campus. I wish I had something moving and inspiring to offer in response. I can only advise sex (and lots of it), drinking and bitching with your friends, and discussing with a three-year-old the finer qualities of Batman versus Spiderman versus Superman (capes vs. webs, which one seems angrier and why, etc.). These things, in their own unique ways, help me through the dark days.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007 3:58:00 PM  

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