Saturday, August 30, 2008

Notes from the First Week; Tabulation Edition

On Teaching
  • Scheduled for new, snazzy office computer (+3)
  • Said computer does not arrive until halfway through the first day of classes (-2)
  • When computer arrives and is set up, it doesn't print (-2)
  • Did not finish syllabi until hour before individual classes began (-5)
  • Students in first class notice not in the least (+3)
  • Students in first class, while a bit reticent to speak, have a collective sense of humor and exhibit ability to engage in something they nothing about (+3)
  • Students in second class are a mixed-bag, consisting of various majors with widely-divergent skill sets and expectations (-2)
  • Students in second class also willing to go with me, and have good things to contribute to discussion on first day (+3)
  • Teaching a second time makes me realize that I know what I want to say and pertinent concepts to signal to them (+5)
  • Having filed all handouts and originals from said class, it didn't matter that I couldn't locate the book that I would have needed to photocopy (+5)

On Extracurriculars
  • PR "loses email" with details about flyers for pedagogy series, for the second time in two years (-3)
  • PR pulls it out of their collective asses, providing flyers in time to hand out (+4)
  • Print shop unable to print said flyers (-2)
  • Colleagues back out of first session of series, due to emergency surgery (-2)
  • Different colleague, often the crankiest one ever, agrees to fill in (+3)
  • In turn, cranky colleague twists arm to guilt me into serving as faculty rep for athletic team. Me. (0)
  • thought there was a meeting scheduled on Wednesday, only to discover that there wasn't, and thus was done at 2:30 in afternoon (+7)
  • 2 hour department meeting on first day of classes, in which granny mafia asserts its dominance by a) interrupting and dismissing new colleague 5-8 times b) trying to pressure me into taking on the KRAZY grad student c) whinging on d) ignoring the result of a hard-won battle from last semester because it didn't like the results (-20)
  • consistent air of rebellion and barely-hidden mocking amongst members of department during meeting (+5)
  • bringing itouch to meetings, so that everything is one step removed (+5)
  • saying no to KRAZY grad student (+3)
  • New colleague is already thinking up ways to confuse/annoy granny mafia, including but not limited to the singing of Billy Idol songs (+5)
  • "volunteered" to be on search committee, which will have 300 applications (-3), one of which from an internal candidate (-7), includes a number of sane people (+3), and will involve a trip to San Francisco (+7)
  • delightful happy hour with colleagues, in which everyone played nice (+5)

Okay, I'm not going to bother to add all of that up. Just from a quick scan, it's clear where the major suckfest of my week comes from, but it's also clear that there are any number of things that ameliorate its effect, somewhat. In true procrastinatory form, I put off finishing syllabi and prepping for class because I wasn't feeling it; for the first time in a long time, I had no jolt of excitement about getting back in the classroom. That lasted through my first classes; I was rough around the edges, babbling, etc. But once they had read a bit, things started to change. I'm utterly amused by some of my students already, and the ways in which they are reluctant to engage with some of the materials is an engaging conundrum for me too. So, yay teaching.

There are a number of zeppelins on the horizon: the search committee; the departmental situation; new administrator; tenure file; request for sabbatical; and the ever-present "who am I? What do I want to be when I grow up?" trauma, but there's no use rushing it. Plenty of things to blow up in their own time.

I'd say that as first weeks go, I came out slightly ahead, and I'd like to maintain that lead for as long as I can. Hello, labor day!

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Friday, August 22, 2008


At one of the many pre-semester events yesterday, not one of which included a visit from the syllabus-writing fairy, I found myself in a cheery little conversational circle with a bunch of boyz (some of whom would revel in this designation, and at least one who would probably resist it). All of them were hamming it up to some degree; someone had made a comment about how he might be called upon to dance while giving a presentation in Big Sky Country next week, and that kicked off a series of jokes about everything from the Cabbage Patch dance (remember that one?), to Brokeback Mountain. A VERY senior faculty member walked as we were hamming it up and remarked: "I love this! One, two, three, four, five (counting the menz) to one!" and walked away. My just-hired colleague turned to me and said: "I don't think she meant that the way it sounded..." Another remarked: "She thinks we're your posse!!"

It's certainly the case that there is a surplus of women on my campus. It's an issue in the student body (almost 80/20 women/men), and it's also reflected in the faculty---particularly in my department. When I first got hired, I remember thinking that this was a great thing---such a woman-centered department! Since I'd just left Cornfield College and it's network of old guys in blue blazers, I thought I'd arrived at Amazon Island. Five years and many bruises from the granny mafia later, and I've revised my ideas. A female-heavy faculty does not make a female-friendly faculty. I've got friends and colleagues here who are sisters of the first order; and I have colleagues here who run the gamut from "my feminism says you're bad" to "I'll throw you under a bus to make my own star shine brighter. Bitch."

And so I have to pause for a moment to give the boyz some love. They are bringing an energy and an irreverence to my academic life that is sorely needed, and in doing so, letting me be less focused on the number of upcoming shitstorms and more on planning happy hours in the coming weeks. Huzzah for the y-chromosome in the xx pool. Now someone get me a beer.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Internal Time/External Time

On Wednesday, I met with a colleague to discuss our capstone course, since both of us are teaching it in the fall. Er, in a week and a half. When we had set the date for our meeting, he mentioned that scheduling it would inspire him to work on his syllabus. Two days later, he arrived at my house with a draft. I, on the other hand, had to search for my book order to remember what I planned to teach.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this that I'm no good with deadlines. What I excel at, really, is the performative self-flagellation and denigration that precedes finishing any task. I've got varsity letters in the "waking up at 4 in the morning" event; and I could compete at the Olympic level in the "number of ways to call yourself a loser/punish yourself rather than actually do the work" race.

As my colleague left, he was quick to console me about my as-yet non-existent syllabus: "you have plenty of time, don't worry." And strangely, I wasn't. I know that I have about 8 days to produce three syllabi. One of those is a repeated class with minimal change-ups, but the other two are new, and so will require some work. I can fuss and overthink syllabi as much as any person I know, and yet I just can't get too worried about this. The syllabi will happen, and I'll be damned if I'm going to waste my last few golden remaining days of summer wearing the procrastinator's hairshirt. Remind me that I said this, of course, next Sunday when I'm up til 3 finishing the class schedules.
While I'm grasping at the final days of summer, of course, I've already received two emails from my department chair about meetings and projects for the upcoming year---one of which apparently needs to be discussed on the first day of the semester. I am fully aware that administrators and chairs run on different times than faculty. HOWEVER. I am steadfastly refusing to respond until the beginning of next week. After 7 years as a faculty member at different institutions, I've only now resigned to the idea that the week before classes is work too---filled with obligatory meetings, social events, etc., in which I need to put on my dust off my happy mask (which has been moldering in a box all summer long, since my actual happy face has been working for me) and interact with people. I can accept that, with minimal grumbling. But that's the limit! No more! I refuse to relinquish the TWO weeks before the start of the semester! You can't make me! [throws self on floor, kicks and screams.]


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere

Right, just a quick follow-up to the whole "I think I'm a swimmer! That's the exercise for me!"

I'm in that charming part of the northeast that's got more water than it knows what to do with. While the flooding hasn't been too bad, it does smell like a swamp in my basement, and the low lying areas around our house are getting washed out, making the task of getting across town a test of my internal GPS.

Who would have known that so much wet outside would disqualify getting wet inside?

First, the indoor pool at the gym was closed because their pumps were overloaded (water damage at a pool; who knew?). It opened yesterday, and I trotted down there, put on the suit, the cap, the goggles. They delayed the opening for 15 minutes, but then, miracle of miracles, I had arrived at the natatory nirvana: three people, six lanes, and my fellow swimmers were actually going to do laps. The long way, rather than walking across the short length of the pool. [Don't laugh: that was my last experience. And the biddies were all huffy, like I was getting in their way and wetting the polyester petals of their caps.]

All right, so I was about 20 laps in, had worked up to heavy breathing, and was beginning to think about how I might configure strokes and drills for the remaining 50 laps or so of my workout, when the lifeguard ordered us all out of the pool. Because there was a thunderstorm. ???!! Last time I checked, thunder and lightning happened OUTSIDE. They were expecting, perhaps, some sort of freak accident, all Final Destination style? Like someone left a metal rake on the roof which is just touching a support beam which leads to the shower wherein someone will drop the golf club she happens to be carrying which will allow a stray lightning bolt to enter the building and arc into the pool? WTF, my friends.

So apparently, the rule is this: whenever a clap of thunder is heard, the lifeguard clears the pool. For 30 minutes. Unless more thunder sounds, at which point they have to wait 30 minutes from the last incident. And the pool closes in 45 minutes. Needless to say, I was back in the car and at home 10 minutes later.

Thinking that I was willing to shed my last vestige of pride (because students + me in a bathing suit=end of any and all authority) , I called the campus aquatic "center" (think: pool and office), only to discover that the pool is closed for maintenance until classes begin.

It's a horrible thing when you're willing to prostrate yourself on the altar of exercise only to be rebuffed.

And so my dreams of phelps-like similitude are on hold for two weeks. I have to assume that my mutant body will still be there to take up the challenge.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

In Which Michael Phelps Gives Me Hope

I've never really been one for Olympics mania, although this year is a bit of an exception; if all the buzz about Dara Torres and her sick, 41 year old, post-baby body can't do it for you, what can?

My current interest in Olympic swimming isn't, I suppose, a huge surprise. Once upon a time, I was a competitive swimmer. In sixth grade, I joined the swim team for the best of all possible reasons: because the cute boy that I liked was a swimmer. Of course, he had been doing it for years, and so it's not as if I got to practice with him, which is just as well. What kind of love-struck pre-teen strategy puts you in close contact with your objet de amor while you're dressed in a swimsuit, for crying out loud? [Also quite sadly, the cute boy went on to set regional records, attend two practices a day, and develop a wicked case of tendonitis as a teenager. By the time I met up with him in high school, he was doing coke on weekends with friends.]

I stuck with swimming through junior high. Looking back, I think I approached it in a totally uncharacteristic way; I had little interest in winning or competing. I went to the pool, ground out my 100 laps, went home, showered, ate, and fell asleep doing homework. I was utterly surprised when I went to meets and won, and didn't think much about it afterwards. I was generally too caught up in what a complete spaz I was: in one meet, I managed to cut my knee open on a lane line during a 100 meter backstroke (I'm still not sure how that's possible). At the end of the race, I was standing on the lip of the pool, panting, and one of the judges asked me to get out because I was bleeding in the water. In freestyle, I had a wretched dive in which I always managed to lose my goggles in one way or another---they'd either end up around my neck, or better yet, they'd flip down, fill with chlorinated water, and flip back up onto my eyes again. These incidents loomed much larger in my mind than accumulated medals, and so once I had satisfied my high school phys ed requirement, I happily quit.

I didn't start exercising regularly again until I was studying for my qualifying exams in college, and thus began a flirtatious affair with elliptical machines, weights, kickboxing classes, at-home walking tapes, running, and yoga. Some of these have been more long-standing than others. I caved to some sick form of peer pressure when I was at Cornfield College and surrounded by runners. In successive years, I ran a 5k and a 10 mile race. After the second, I promptly discovered I'd depressed my immune system so badly that I broke out in hives eating things that I'd always liked (jalapenos). Note to self: not a runner. Don't love it, suck at it, although given the appropriate motivation, I can make it work.

Yoga was the same way. Urbania is rife with yoga studios, and with enough urging I was convinced to go for two years. Thought it was good for me, felt pretty good doing it, but never quite committed all the way. There are certain things about yoga that make me frustrated: my arms are too short to bind well; I don't love the idea of other people breathing around me (I hear that misanthropy may go against yogic philosophy); then there's all the touching---hate the touching.

So where does swimming come in? Well, I picked up my cap and goggles a few weeks ago, and took myself to the indoor pool at our gym. It's a short pool, but mostly empty (since the outdoor one is the big draw). After a session or two, I've managed to work up to a mile, which seems like a decent distance.

Swimming as an adult is deeply solitary; there's no noise except that sound of your breath and the water. It involves both monotony (lap after lap of the same view) and constant attention (to form and the relationship of your limbs to the water). Then there's this description of Phelps, from the NYTimes article "Built to Swim":
But he is a type within that type, with a bizarrely long torso and short legs -- an inseam of just 32 inches -- that help him ride high in the water like a long, thin sailboat. The body below hip level is what tends to sag in the water, creating drag, or resistance, so Phelps, relative to his overall height, has a short lower body to keep afloat. ''He has the upper body of a man who is 6-foot-8 but not the legs to go with it,'' says Jonty Skinner, USA Swimming's national team director of technical support. ''It's an advantage.''
I hereby nominate Michael Phelps as an honorary Asian. This is the body type that has plagued me forever. Why do I wear heels, people ask? Because my legs are freakishly short. From hip to head, I'm 5'8", but from hip to ankle I'm 5'. As my favorite colleague (NOT) has said to me: "Well, that's just the stereotypical Asian body, isn't it?" Perhaps, and fuck you.

Regardless, it's delightful to think that the body type that I've always perceived as freakish and unsuitable for sports (believe me, it makes running and biking that much more difficult) actually gives me a leg up somewhere. I'll let you know when I'm breaking my own world records. And in the meantime, it's nice to see that Phelps and I share one more quality:
Phelps has one glaring weakness as a swimmer, and predictably, it is a land-based movement: he is consistently slow diving off the starting blocks. At the Santa Clara meet, the crowd gasped as he slipped off the block on one start and all but belly-flopped into the water -- a typical racing dive for an 8-and-under in his first Saturday morning meet but shocking for someone at Phelps's level.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

External Validation (or early onset Alzheimer's)

I tried to log in to the U's secure site today to look at a document, and found that I'd forgotten my school ID number.

I like to think that this is the sign of a summer vacation well spent.

I'll ignore its potentiality as a sign of my genetic inheritance sneaking up on me.

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What NOT to Do After Finishing an Article

Oh, so many things not to do. Consider the following:

Minutes after finishing an article, DO NOT:
  1. Save and send to the editor.
  2. Write a 100 word biography.
  3. Hit "send" without attaching the latter.
  4. Write new email apologizing for not attaching your bio, and then send AGAIN without attaching.
  5. Throw clothes in a suitcase for a weekend in the Big City with your husband's family.
  6. Get in the shower and try to shave your legs quickly, thus necessitating extra time spent staunching the bleeding.
  7. Drive in a frenzy to the train station, park in the overnight lot, do a funky run/walk through the parking lot to the station, only to arrive 20 minutes before the train leaves.
  8. Get to the city, walk to hotel, check into two very expensive hotel rooms for husband's family.
  9. ***do all of the above without eating.***
In the days following finishing an article, DO NOT:
  1. Spend two days in the biggest tourist destination in America with four children.
  2. Take them to the tallest tourist attraction in said city, which involves several thousand people all trying to get up or down in 6 tiny elevators.
  3. Forget to do research on kid-friendly restaurants in said city.
  4. Drag them all through the major, massive train station in said city with their panoply of luggage, and then onto the train, to convey them back to Urbania.

In the calm psychic space that follows from finishing an article, DO NOT:
  1. Try to become a different person around your husband's family, who are genetically pre-disposed to being happy, positive people who see the best in everything while you are genetically determined to be an evil, cynical Eeyore.
  2. Try to convince yourself that you like children.
  3. Be overly mindful of your relatives' Christian values, because you can't control where the Museum of Sex is, nor the fact that its window displays feature hippos and rhinoceri humping, sometimes in groups of threes.
  4. Obsess about your own fears of bacteria, as everything you consume is available for others to taste, sip, or try.
  5. Imagine that any semblance of a time table will be cohered to.
  6. Continue to collapse into bed every night, with the thought that it's only a few more days, and you can tough it out.

And WHY should you NOT DO any of these things? Because they depress your immune system, yo, and then you end up with a sore throat and body aches. On the positive side, this does excuse one from visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is DEFINITELY on the NOT DO list. One bullet dodged, many more to go.

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