Monday, June 30, 2008

I Be ILLin

To ILL or not to ILL? That is the question, my friends. Does anyone have a reliable litmus test that determines the books that they order from ILL and those that they order from Amazon?

I'm gearing up to write this article---which I think I finally have an angle on, for which I am eternally grateful---but I find, like many projects, that it involves a number of sources that I don't possess, and neither does our library. (To put in a different way: there is a vast and useful library that is made up of everything that our own library does not have.) And so I find myself in a quandary: which do I want to own, and which can I just borrow for two weeks? In the past, I've been pretty loose with this: I like to own my books, dammit. I like to write in them, to have them on hand, and I've never mastered the trick of copying just what I need from a book and then returning it. In fact, when I do that, I have a terrible tendency to return it and then figure out later that I need something else, only to borrow it again.

Thus, in the past, I become a glutton of Amazonia, ordering willy nilly. This has, of course, resulted in books that I use for a particular project and never turn to again. Given the economic downturn, and a concurrent (although seemingly not a cause and effect relation) desire to de-clutter and to use what I have, I'm wary of replicating this pattern. I've bought a few books used, and I've been trying to be good about using ILL for articles, and to try out books before I decide to order them.

But time is short, my friends. I don't have the weeks it takes for ILL to come in, and then to decide whether or not to order a book. Lay it on me: how do you know when a book wants to live with you, and when it wants to live in the library?


Sunday, June 29, 2008

RSS Burp?

Assuming that anyone still uses Bloglines as her reader, and not some new-fangled thing that will let you access every blog in the free world, launch the space shuttle, and establish new life on Mars, did anyone else's feeds have a recent burp? I just looked and at least three of my feeds suddenly list 200 posts (exactly--on the money, 200), dating back to 2004. And I'm a spotty reader, sure, but I have read posts between 2004 and now.

Just wondering.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

So Easily Daunted

3 a.m. revelation: the difference between school year sleep and summer sleep (other than sweatiness) is the frequency of the wide-awake fretting sessions. During the year, I have these at least once a week. This summer, there have been relatively few. Until last night, wherein I realized that I'm quickly backing myself into a corner with this research project. If I don't get it off the ground soon, I'm going to have to offer the editor sexual favors. Normally, I'm not above that kind of thing, but it does put a cramp in my professionalism (and other parts, depending on the favor...).

So, I finally lowered my 4 a.m. pulse rate with the promise that I would start today, even if it were something small. One page of text, regardless of how good or bad it is. Start with the primary text, just to see what you're dealing with.

Now, I should note that my primary text is a set of videos. No, not like the Truffaut collection, but rather a collection of YouTube videos. When I first proposed this article, there were a small set of them (maybe 15). I've been sporadically favoriting them all spring, with the idea that I'd return to them as a data set. Well, well. I looked at the folder this morning, and realized that 3 of the 15 had been removed. Horror! So I typed in the keywords to the YouTube search, just to see what else came up. 373. !!!!!!! Guess what I'm going to be doing this morning?

You know, when I was but a nervous and wary graduate student, my plan was to become a scholar of British Modernism. Somewhere along the way, that morphed and morphed again. There are times when I'm happy not to be writing about something that has been written about by thousands of other researchers who are undoubtedly better readers and writers than I of those canonical primary texts. But occasionally, I just wish that my new/emerging primary texts would stand still.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Advice to Blog-eagues

At least two of my colleagues (probably more) have blogs. Neither is particularly psuedonymous, which is fine, and their choice. In a bizarre twist, I actually found the first one via a mutual student, and the second via the first.

Now, there's no denying that reading a colleague's blog creates a kind of frisson of voyeuristic pleasure. I know both of the bloggers---one is in an allied department, and we're passing friendly, the other is a new faculty member with whom I sit on a contentious committee. What's interesting, of course, is to see the ways on which they reflect on particular events at which I was also present; how they characterize their own involvement, etc. For all of my years of blogging and reading blogs, it's really difficult in these moments to remind myself that everyone sounds like a narcissist in this format. That being said, it is definitively the case that the first blogger exhibits these same tendencies in her daily activities. [To wit: when she writes a post about how she alone worked her ass off to put together an all-campus event, ignoring the hours of work that other faculty and staff put on, it's not just a convenient writing position. It is, in fact, the way that she represents that work to her colleagues and administrators.]

There's little advice that I can or would offer to Blogger #1; she's not one to listen to advice, let alone take it. Blogger #2, however, is a different story. Here's the situation: her blog is not only NOT psuedonymous, it's easily googled by her name. She's got prominent pictures of herself, her children, etc. on the blog. None of this is an issue in and of itself, of course; lots of people have professional blogs. But the content of this blog---that's what scares me a bit. I've read posts where she logs her daily activities (down to loading and unloading the dishwasher). What's the big deal, you ask? Well, if we were a different kind of institution (e.g., one that actually placed a good deal of emphasis on faculty research), this kind of log could be read as a "lack of commitment." [Don't laugh; a well-known practice at my previous institution was the dean's habit of driving by the faculty office buildings at night to see who was still "burning the midnight oil.]

More pressing, however, is the other kind of information that she includes. Marital issues, mental health issues and documenting of her various experiences with different kinds of medication... For the record, none of these things are bad; in fact, the blogosphere is a great place to share these experiences. And maybe she's invested in all of that being public. But I fear for her. I'd be worried about my colleagues and, in particular, my students, capitalizing on that information. [In my eyes, it's made her more sympathetic, for sure, but I've also begun to seriously doubt her when she discusses the impact of the internet on students and teaching.]

Part of me wants to pull her aside and just double check: "hey, so I came upon your blog. Have you thought at all about who might be reading it?" And then part of me thinks that I should just leave it alone. I have no desire to open up a more friendly relationship with this blogger. And who says that she wouldn't resent it?

Still, I can't help but think that SOMEONE should check with her...

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Dean of Rub

[Note: this post is a desperate attempt to get some real work done. Does blog writing inspire that? Let's see!]

When last we spoke, gentle reader, I mentioned a rather physical run-in with a certain administrator at another school. I'm feeling very ambivalent about it; I think I should be irate, and I'm reaching for that. In actuality, however, I feel sort of perplexed, a bit amused, a skosh grossed-out and surprised. Here's the story:

Two years ago, Yogini and I trotted off to a conference that was closely aligned with our collaborative service project. Of the many panels that we took in there, one was a keynote presentation by a group from a small college that has really pioneered the use of a particular technological tool. We weren't the only ones who were interested: the room was packed to the rafters with at least 75 people, all oohing and ahhing over the examples they were showing. As we watched the presenters, Y. and I got more and more excited; this seemed to be an tool with potential for many of the things going on on our campus! And it could help students! And it was right in line with things we'd been toying with for awhile! Yeehaw!! Because we had come in late, Y. and I were sitting across the room from each other, but the mind-meld was in effect and we were already decided: these presenters were only about two hours away from Urbania. If we could hook our wagon to their star, we were all over it.

[I fear that this next section is going to sound like I'm some sort of egomaniacal narcissist. That may be true, but it's also the case that these events have external verification. If you think I'm getting too full of myself, I'd be happy to create a bulleted list of my shortcomings and physical deformities.] As the presentation wore on, I made with the smiling and the nodding and the obvious note-taking. And the main presenter--then the assistant dean of the college--made eye contact with me. And continued to do so for the rest of his portion of the session. Which was weird, but I attributed it to my enthusiastic listening face (really, I fear that it's quite aggressively enthusiastic; I like presenters to know that I'm paying attention).

When they finished up, Y. and I met up and planned strategy. She's the networker, I'm the clean-up crew in these situations, so she approached one of the women in group and began to tell her how interested we were, asked some good questions [you know, she did the networking thing. How does that work? I have NO idea, but she rocks at it]. As we're talking to the woman (okay, Y. is talking, I'm wearing my enthusiastic listening face), Dean-Dude finishes up his own conversation and comes over. He introduces himself to me, I take the "we're so interested" page out of Y's book, and awkwardly try to network. Not necessary! He's all over it---he finds out what I do, let's me know that he was a co-founder of a ground-breaking project in my field, offers to lead a team to little Askesis U. "if it could be helpful to us" and then hands over drink tickets to Y and me for the reception that evening.

I prefer not to think about how that could have played out if we had gone. Needless to say, we holed up in our hotel room and compared notes.

Last year, we contacted the school about making a site visit; after much wrangling, we made arrangements. At the last minute, Y. had to cancel because she was sick. I ended up going with Senor Fluff, actually, because of a kink in his job description. We spent most of the day in workshops with the school's faculty, and met briefly with Dean-Dude in his office over lunch. While there was a bit of sizing up, the tractor-beam gaze/hard sell thing he'd had going at the conference was gone. I figured that perhaps that was only his conference persona/behavior. Once he was in the office, he was the administrator dude.

Oh-ho! She speaks to soon! Last week, I attended a conference at the school; a part of their grant program to teach people how to use this tech tool. There's a team of peeps from my college---once again including Senor Fluff---that have been going down to the school once a month, but this time they needed others to whom they'd present their work. So an additional three of us showed up for the morning session. Dean-Dude gave his presentation to all, and I thought there might be a bit of the tractor-beam going on, but maybe I was imagining it? Who knows.

How about I shorten this up? At the end of the day, we were supposed to meet with our group, come up with a plan, and then report out to the rest of the groups. We were the last group to go, and I read our mediocre brainstorming. Break for lunch is announced, and as people start to break up, Dean Dude comes over to me. Well, perhaps that's an understatement: more like, "sidles up to me so that we're standing shoulder to shoulder." We have a strange conversation in which he tells me that he purposely put us at the end, because he knew that we'd have good ideas to share, that he was impressed with what I had said in a certain point, that our team was very smart. And I assume that I said the right things in response, but I was going on auto-pilot, because I was totally distracted by all of the touching that was happening. There was the initial handshake--all within the bounds of propriety. But as he talked, there was arm-rubbing, there was hip-bumping, there was more arm-rubbing. I couldn't help but look around in wonder; is this just how these kinds of things go? Am I the only one who is freaked out by this?! Is everyone else getting the rub-down, and I'm just hopelessly naive?

Note to the uninitiated: I don't like it when people invade my personal space, and that extends doubly to touching. I don't like hand-shaking, I don't like hugging, I hate the fact that the chairs in the college auditorium are so close together that I can't help but brush a colleague's shoulder with my own. If I could, I'd exist in a bubble with a two-foot radius all the way around me.

Why all of this didn't send me into a paroxysm of screaming I have no idea. I think was paralyzed by disbelief. This can't actually be happening; this is a professional environment; you're touching my arm. No, seriously, you're rubbing my upper arm---for an extended period of time. Is anyone else getting this?!

So that's the story: my association with this school, and in some ways with this tech tool in general is that of getting felt up by the internationally-known administrator who is the mastermind behind it all.

I feel as if the appropriate sentiment is outrage: who is this guy?! Why does he feel entitled to touch me?! Instead, as I said, I'm just sort of bemused. As in "really? Seriously, dude? This is what you're going for?" And the larger question: why?
And the second larger question: why me? [Oh, the therapists I've had that would tell me that my inability to create boundaries are visible...] Is it me, not him?! Am I sending the "please come and give me the academic rub-down" vibe? Is my enthusiastic listening face interpreted as "she wants to get with me and my tech tool"?

And finally, there's a special kind of weirdness to being at a conference and getting felt up on one side while your spouse, engaged in a different conversation, is on your other. That, my friends, is a post for another time.

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Friday, June 20, 2008


Oh sure, I could tell you all about spending three days in Metropolis. I could talk about how I fully intended to work on the article of impending doom, bravely lugging 80 pounds of photocopied articles and books down to the city with me, only to spend my time walking around various neighborhoods. I could even tell you about being inappropriately touched by the Dean of a school sponsoring a big grant initiative that my institution is taking part in. I could do lotsa things.

Instead, however, since it's midnight, I'm going to ask a question that betrays how fully behind the curve I am. Here it is: what the crap is up with Vampire Weekend? I know they're getting press in the Times and even NPR, but seriously, anyone want to give me the skinny? I mean, I get the whole "we're preppy, Ivy League dudes who play faux reggae with clever lyrics" and I'm all about the cheap pop hook. I'm down. Really.

More specifically, what to make of the lyrics to "Campus"? Assume, for a moment, that they're not just throwing together phrases that sound cute together (and the oft-quoted "spilled kefir on your keffiyeh" might contradict this idea). Is this seriously a song about having an affair with your literature professor with a penchant for Arab fashion? Really?! Or is the more tame NPR interpretation correct: "the thrill you get from seeing your crush walk to class..."

I don't know whether to be stiff with shock, winking at the cleverness, or amazed that it's taken this long for someone to immortalize the professor/student hook-up taboo in popular music...


Friday, June 13, 2008


Slack. noun. Origin: Latin. def 1: part of something that hangs loose, without strain. def 2: something of which I've been cutting myself too much. def 3: a paticularly hideous word for pants, associated largely with polyester stretch, which I avoid at all costs.

Slacker. noun. Origin: Southern California/Valley. Def 1: my current identity, particularly in the face of the things that I should be doing/have done. Related words: loser, lazer, irresponsible...

Somewhere post-April (and after the article/conference paper/grading bonanza blowout), I lost my will to care about deadlines. I used to feel terrible about these kinds of things, and the idea that I would be late, and thus be revealed to others as someone who is irresponsible and doesn't do things would be all of the motivation I needed to get stuff done. I'd wake up in the middle of the night worried about deadlines, about getting things to people, about all of the things that I hadn't accomplished.

I think April broke me.

It's the 13th of June (hello, Friday the 13th! Welcome to M. Night Shyamalan's world!). I have an article due for a collection in 17 days, and I just started the research for it yesterday. [In my defense, I laid out a preliminary outline that makes use of a number of sources I've been using in papers and my last article, so I'm not starting from scratch. Still. Procrastinate much?]

Meanwhile, I have yet to order books for two of my fall classes. The bookstore guy, who is the chillest human ever, is going to have my head. I'm going to have to turn in hard copies of the order forms with a dime bag stapled to each of them. At 5 this morning, I was worried about this. Right now? I'm realizing that it's noon on Friday, so I might as well plan on getting it to him on Monday---hell, he's not around on the weekend!

I can't manage to work up enough mojo to get worried that I'm not worried enough: I'm so meta, it hurts! I think I have to assume that this is the natural consequence of doing too much for too long. Last year at this time, I was attending a summer workshop in the Midwest after having taught a summer class after having attended a tortuous graduation ceremony aftern having taught new courses for the full year. Next week will mark my triumphant return home, and the anticipation of the nasty, itchy skin condition that lasted for a month. Basically, it boils down to this: I'm tired, bitches. In fact, if I could incite myself to move, I'd channel the queen of tired, Lily von Schtupp, linked here for your viewing pleasure.

I'm off to locate my motivation. If you see it anywhere, send it packing, will you? I don't want to have to put its picture on the back of a milk carton.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Zombie, Minus Hunger for Brains

As you can imagine, I finally got over my "I'm bored now and need to work," and thus managed to fritter away the rest of my time at my parents' house by eating, seeing a number of summer blockbusters (all of which were mildly disappointing), and doing the occasional sudoku puzzle. And on my return home (to the sweatbath that is the Northeast right now), I have undertaken the requisite zombie time that is a consistent feature of my west-to-east travels.

I don't know what kind of f'ed up circadian rhythm problem I have, but at least it's predictable: going east to west, it takes me two days to get onto a regular sleep schedule. After a day or so of getting up at 5 EST and falling into bed at 8EST, I fall quite happily and naturally onto a more reasonable (and adult) time frame---say up at 7, asleep by midnight? Coming back, however, is a more painful experience. I'm now on day two of a planned and semi-rigid sleep adjustment schedule, which required caffeine ingestion by 7:30 so as to assure semi-wakefulness. This is despite the fact that I'm going to bed at 3 a.m., give or take an hour. The heat and humidity are enough to make me Mrs. McGrumperson, but with sleep-deprivation, you can multiply that by a factor of 10. I'm wandering around the house glassy-eyed, pulled to soft, flat surfaces. No brains for me, thank you very much, but I'd say that any outside observer might be reminded of Shaun of the Dead. Get out your cricket bats, just to be safe.

I've never understood why it's so easy following the sun, and so difficult following the jet stream. What the hell? It's three hours, either way. I tend to chalk it up to having spent 22 years of my life on the left coast, but then again, I have a habit of using that as a reason for everything that I don't want to change...

Despite that, things must be accomplished! I'm setting the bar rather low today, thank you very much: a trip to Target; some easy, entry-level reading for an article; sending some overdue emails and a perhaps a trip to the Apple store to exchange an item that was purchased during my trip. [Note to self: when the horoscope expressly makes the point that you should not buy any big ticket items, particularly electronics, listen, will you?!!]

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Get a Job!

So for weeks, nay months now, I've been whining and complaining about work. "It's too much!" "It's too hard!" "I don't have time to think, or read for pleasure, or do anything I want to do!" [Cue the orchestra of the world's tiniest violins.] So it was with great pleasure and anticipation that I was looking forward to coming to my parents' house. My plans included: eating, sleeping, watching movies, eating, and perhaps some shopping. Then maybe some high-intensity laying around.

So I've been here for three days, and I've done all of the above. I've done the laying around bit at least 4 or 5 times. I finished the new Joshua Ferris book. I've read the paper. I saw the incredibly mediocre Indiana Jones movie (it was my parents' pick, y'all). I've eaten God knows how many 3,000 calorie meals (thus precipitating the laying around).

And now I'm bored.

What's up with that, my friends?!! I thought I'd love this kind of torpor! I'm all about the laziness and the time-wastage and the doing nothing!

But damn, I'm bored. Who knew I'd miss being productive? How is that possible? Yesterday, in fact, I found myself wanting to get home to DO things (work in the yard, get started on my article, etc.).

If y'all see the pod that my real self is stored in, feel free to break me out of it, will you?

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