Monday, March 31, 2008

I Am Truly An Adult. Well, Half An Adult.

For I am (probably) buying a car. I will take out a tiny little loan and everything.

So why only half an adult?

Because I'm buying it from my dad.

Hell, it makes things easier, and it's a nicer car than I could afford otherwise. Besides, there was seriously like no chance of my ever buying a car unless one fell into my lap like this. I mean really. Didn't I go through this same rigmarole of indecision last spring/summer? And look where it got me: schlepping my ass to the IGA with a canvas bag every weekend and begging airport rides from all and sundry. Not that I'll stop walking--I like walking--but it would be nice to be able to buy milk AND flour AND ice cream in the same trip, rather than determining what I'll eat that week based on the cumulative weight of my groceries.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Being a Professor is Weird

I'm really not used to this--I mean, this whole new way of relating to people, where I'm the professor and they're the students, and therefore I don't seem to exist as a normal person but am instead some object of fascination. It's strange as hell. In the classroom and during office hours, or even around campus, that strangeness is somewhat contained: they think my self-deprecating jokes are funnier than they are; they're sometimes skittish or shaky in meetings that I can't even fathom as intimidating. But I can remember feeling that way as a student, so these behaviors don't strike me as terribly odd.

However. Twenty-six hours with a pack of undergrads, a good deal of which was spent in a large, noisy, and overcrowded van, has impressed upon me just how weird this new position is.

There were three faculty members on the trip, including me. And my god! We were so in demand! We'd go one way, and like obedient ducklings six or seven students would trot into line behind us. We'd slow down to let them get ahead, and they would lurk around a corner to leap out and surprise us. (Not all of them behaved this way, obviously, but a good--and consistent!--handful did.) Every lame joke we made--or anything that we said that could be perceived as non-professorial, for that matter--met with incredulity and laughter. Things that I mentioned in a quiet, conversational voice to a colleague at dinner were overheard and noisily commented on by people three tables away. It's weird, I tell you! Weird!!!

Oh, and I have a nickname now. Perhaps because of the way I sign my emails, I have become (the equivalent of) H-mihi, where "H" is my first initial and "mihi" is my (actually monosyllabic) last name (accent on the "H"). Admittedly this isn't much of a nickname, but realistically it's about as far as they could go within the bounds of the titled decorum that constitutes the professorial address at Field College.

I am simply not used to getting this much attention from people I don't know particularly well. Yes, the ego likes it a little bit. But it's also kind of freaky. And honestly? I do like my space, now and again. Twenty-six hours was a long time.

I'm glad I went, though. It was a good chance to get to know some of our majors better and it brought me a little bit deeper into something that I'm trying to cultivate right now, which is an actual investment in this place. I need to start getting invested, and I think that I am. I've even come up with some things that I want to change around here--though I suppose that I need to make sure that I don't overstep my untenured bounds! Luckily, my departmental colleagues are eminently reasonable people who also happen to be delighted to pass of a little of the responsibility for this place onto someone else--they've had a lot to carry for an awfully long time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Off and Away, Tra La

It'll be a long day, oof. Here we go. What am I doing?
  • Teaching 4 classes (and showing a movie clip in 3 of them, which will INEVITABLY result in technological failure and humiliation, so I'm bracing myself for that)
  • Holding 1 office hour (which no one will attend, so that's okay)
  • Escorting--along with two other professors--21 undergrads to a conference a couple of hours north of here, not to return until tomorrow
  • Beginning to look through applications for the search committee that I'm on--
--for yes! I'm on a search committee. That was a pretty quick hop to the other side of the table, wasn't it? I'm looking forward to it, actually. In my wide-eyed naivete, I think that it'll be interesting.

But this conference dealio is the weekend's big thing. Although I know and like a lot of the students who are attending, and the other profs and I have plans for a private wine and cheese party in our hotel room tonight (i.e. no students), I wouldn't strongly object if I could just come home at the end of the day and chill instead. Oh Well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Was It Always This Easy?

Something has...happened. The refrain around here has been "I hesitate to blog about this," and I could repeat that in this post, too, but for entirely different reasons. Whereas before I didn't want to divulge too much about my personal "situation," now I'm afraid of jinxing it. Or embarrassing myself with corniness. Whatever--suck it up, heu!

So I was feeling really awful last week, and for most of the week before that. Really, really awful. Teaching on the verge of tears awful. (That was only one day, thank god.) Not awful all the time; I felt okay sometimes, but there was this terrible fragility and that awful feeling that my future had been emptied out, lost, rendered meaningless. It took work, serious work, for me to feel okay enough to function. Then I had that realization on Saturday, that my life isn't in that mythical fantasy apartment in Brooklyn or whatever the hell I imagine it to be, but is this thing, right here. And that night I went out with some colleagues and had a wonderful time--I was looking at them, and the restaurant, and the band, and feeling what I might describe (if I didn't fear flakiness) as a transcendent joy--these were good people, this was fun, life was good.

Here's what's weird. I haven't really lost that feeling. It's Wednesday, and I have been so happy for the last--what is it--five days? I honestly can't remember when I've ever felt this happy before. I mean, I've been happy in recent memory--joyful, even; I'm usually a pretty happy person--but there's something about this happiness that makes it different. The thing about it is that it isn't based on anything. There isn't some circumstance that has made me happy. It's precisely that lack of specific, external circumstance that's important. The circumstances are just circumstances, and my circumstances now aren't all that fabulous (same busy job in same middle of nowhere, same long distance relationship, same distance from friends and family, same--well, technically different, but essentially same--stack of grading to do), but that just doesn't matter. And honestly I no longer feel that my situation is so bad.

And as a result, I'm suddenly much friendlier. I'm not bitching all the time. I'm talking to my colleagues, and honestly I like a bunch of my colleagues. A lot. And they'll be my colleagues next year, and I can keep being friends with them.

But that's not the point. It's not that I've found some light in my situation, it's that I've quit fighting against my life.

A Buddhist teacher I knew years ago once gave me an image to understand the idea of letting go--and I'm sure this isn't original, but it's apt: Imagine that you're hanging off a cliff, clutching a small branch. You're terrified of falling and so you cling to that branch with all your might, struggling to pull yourself back up. This goes on for a long long time, until you're simply too exhausted to hold on anymore--and you let go--and discover that you were only an inch or two off the ground the whole time. Yeah. That's what this feels like.

Of course I've thought about that a lot before, and I think that I understood what it meant. But thinking it and feeling it are different things. I don't think that I ever felt it before--not in a sustained way, not through the ordinariness of showers and meetings and work and dishes. This is new.

Unfortunately, I can't really talk about it without resorting to horrible platitudes and words that I hate--like "breakthrough"--but something good has happened, and all of a sudden my life seems vast and spacious again, and I feel wonderfully free from so much of the anger and fear that I've been carrying around for quite a long time. Maybe the two weeks of emotional wreckage has done me good. I fully expect to get over this delight and return to my usual belligerence within a couple of weeks. But with luck, I'll remember how this has felt, and even when I'm not feeling it, I might know that it's possible.

If nothing else, I'll have this post to remind me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Meme At Last!

A few days ago, maude lebowski tagged me for the six-word memoir meme. I've been putting it off because, of course, I need to come up with the most ideally brilliant and sparkly sentence possible. But you know, now is the time to Get Over Myself. So here goes.

First, the rules:

1. Write your own six word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illus
tration if you’d like

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your p
ost and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4. Tag five more blogs with links (or issue a blanket tagging, which is what I'll do--try to stop me!)

I need to take a walk.


(--with a picture from my very favorite place of 2007, Edinburgh's Holyrood Park.)

And here's the blanket tagging. I can't remember who has/hasn't been tagged--so if you haven't, consider this your invitation!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Thought

Here's the thing.

This right here is my life. For better or for worse, this is. Not that thing that I want my life to be--that isn't it right now, and maybe it won't ever be.

So maybe I need to stop trying to do something about my situation and try, instead, to do something with my situation. If that makes any sense. All of this is not to say--at all--that I'm resigned to living the rest of my life in exactly this way, and I'm certainly going to be working my ass off to get some more publications and whatnot so that I'll have more options down the line (two years on the market and I still believe that sheer hard work will give you options in academe--hope springs eternal, evidently).

Here's the thing: I've been so intensely focused on what I hope to be doing later--as in, years from now--that the reality of the present and the immediate future have been kind of frightening. In a way, I haven't let myself accept that I'm living here. Maybe that's just an inherent problem with the VAP thing: you can't--and shouldn't--commit to where you are, you spend the whole year trying to figure out what you'll do next (and where you'll do it), and all of your energy is focused on how to get yourself a new job. Ironically, then, landing a t-t job at the VAP school can be a little distressing. I've been completely focused on getting out of here, and now I'm staying here. (There are other issues, of course, but this is a big one.) I haven't really made any effort to settle in here because a) I didn't want to and b) I didn't think that there was any point.

But I've been having a pretty good weekend. I'm getting some work done (on the book manuscript!!!!) and thinking tentatively about doing something this summer that I've wanted to do for a really long time. I've also discovered the therapeutic value of helping a friend clean his basement, and I have dinner plans. In fact, I've been a lot more aggressive this week about scheduling social activities (even things like cleaning basements) than I have been all year, and have found that I sort of have friends here, in a way. (One of them, who was in my situation--a VAP applying for a t-t job--just got the offer and will be here next year, hooray!) The knowledge that my situation isn't going to change anytime soon is therefore a little less scary than it has been.

So: here's to reality. For now.

(I'm sorry that I'm being resorting so heavily to abstractions in these posts. I'm just not altogether comfortable being more concrete. Besides, most of you have probably figured out what the situation is; it's not like it's really that obscure!)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Hard Time

I'm still going through kind of a hard time. I still don't want to blog about it in any kind of detail--I might never blog about it in any kind of detail; you're not missing much--but I do feel like I need to just...I don't know...blog about it vaguely? Because I'm not feeling so great over here.

Basically, there are personal issues that shall remain nameless. These personal issues might resolve in a perfectly good way, the way in which I'd imagined all along they would resolve. But they might not. It's that "might not" that's a new development, and that has left me much more ragged and wrecked than I would have expected it to. And bound up with it all is my total ambivalence about this job, and all the unhappiness about being here that I've been trying to suppress for the last couple of months. I'd started to do a pretty good job of convincing myself that being here next year won't be so bad, and that there's productive, meaningful work that I do actually care about, and etc etc. And really, the job itself isn't the problem, I don't think. It's my life here that's the problem. Confronted with the possibility that the (personal) future I'd projected for myself might never materialize, I'm left feeling like--well, like I don't know what the point of what I'm doing is. At all.

I know that that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But I've been walking around feeling like I've been scooped out, and it's really scary. In the last year, I've had to give up (temporarily, I hope) a number of things that have been meaningful and important to me, and now it looks like I might have to give up some much bigger meaningful and important things. What I'm left with is my career, and--guess what!--it turns out that my career simply isn't enough. That, as much as I want to do well in this career, it loses all importance when it's put next to the things that I may have to give up as a result of it. But hey, the career is what I've got, and...not much else.

Okay, yes, this sounds highly melodramatic. And of course I'll find other non-career things to fill up the other parts of my life, eventually. (Maybe. I mean, I look at the female professors that I had in grad school, and I don't necessarily see lives that I want, but whatever--one must hope.) It's just...hard to go through this, even if it is temporary, and even if everything might turn out okay and I'm getting all worked up over nearly nothing. But I'm lonely, and sad, and I don't know what to do with myself over this wonderfully long weekend when I'd planned to get a whole lot of work done, but find that really I don't feel much in the mood for anything.



I need it to be summer so that I can get the hell out of this town.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why I Prep at the Kitchen Table

I don't have to be anywhere in particular today, astonishingly (other than office hours at 2, but we all know how vital those are), so I'm sitting at my desk in front of my laptop prepping for tomorrow. Normally I don't prep this far in advance anymore--only 1.5 semesters in and I've developed the habit of prepping at 7 am the day of class--but I (again, astonishingly) don't have much vital work to do today, so I'm trying to do what I can ahead of time.

Normally I prep at the kitchen table, because normally it's 7 am and I'm eating breakfast and drinking my coffee as I work. And at 7 am, that's the only spot in the house that has access to any kind of natural light, which makes it a little more pleasant to be up and working.

My god! I can't prepare when the computer is available. I write down a discussion question, note a single passage, and then go through the Internet Cycle (two email accounts, bloglines, statcounter, blogger comments). There's nothing new in any of these places, or very rarely anything--I'm running through the cycle every 5 minutes, after all. When I do get an email, I am now replying with shocking alacrity, for normally I am not a good email-responder. This is wildly unproductive. No wonder it used to take me 4 hours to prep for a 50-minute class back in the early days, when I did all my prep at my desk.

Part of my problem, too, is that I still have it in my head that I need 4 pages of notes (handwritten, peppered with questions) to get through a 50-minute class. I established this ratio back when I adjuncted my first class in 2005. I probably established it, in fact, the very first time I prepared for a class: that was what I needed that one time, so that is what I have needed every subsequent time. Never mind that I've now clocked in more than 250 class hours at this new gig (a 4/4 load does beef up one's experience pretty damn quick). And these days, in this class in particular, 2 pages of notes really seems to get the job done--I rarely finish up everything that I want to cover anymore. But I still have the 4:50 ratio in my head, and I don't feel at peace until I have all those pages filled and/or an Emergency Backup Group Activity jotted down in the margins. (I almost never need said activity--which is good, because they're usually kind of stupid.)

Here's the thing. I have no idea how other people prepare for classes. I have no idea what their notes look like. Now, I'm sure that different things work for different people, and that modeling my prep on someone else's wouldn't be a good idea. But it troubles me that I'm essentially working from an only slightly evolved version of what I did the very first time I ever taught (by which I mean the first *day*, not the first course). True, I have more discussion questions now and a whole lot less leading the students through the narrative, unless we're dealing with something particularly tricky. And this class is going really well, so I think that my discussion/lecture method is working--it's the literal preparation, what I'm putting down on paper and how I'm organizing myself (and how much time I'm putting into it), that I sometimes suspect could use some improvement.

So, what do you guys do when you're prepping a class? Literature classes would be most obviously relevant to my own needs, but I'm interested in whatever you've got.

On a related note, I haven't been to very many undergraduate classes since I was an undergraduate (as a TA, I just attended lectures, which is not what I'm doing), so I've completely forgotten what kinds of things my professors used to say to get us talking. Once in a while I find myself asking a question that I really don't endorse: "What does this poem mean?" "What point is the author making in this story?" "Why did the author choose that particular image?" What I'm getting at is legitimate, but the questions themselves (as I phrase them) make me really uncomfortable, as they seem so...reductive. And based in authorial intention in a way that I find troubling. But often I can't think of another way to phrase them that the students will understand. (When I'm working off the cuff, I have a tendency to ask really wordy, convoluted questions that utterly baffle my students (and they should baffle them--they baffle me half the time), so I usually end up rephrasing them in a way that goes too far in the other direction, as in the questions above.) So, as a secondary, extra-credit question, what kinds of questions do you ask students to get them talking about the "deeper" levels of a literary text?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blah

So I'm having a bit of a tough time over here. I don't really want to blog about it. Well, I sort of do, but I'm also trying really hard not to dwell more than I already am on things that are making me unhappy right now, so I'm not going to. Maybe later, when I'm on a more even keel.

K?

Friday, March 14, 2008

What's with the All the Hating, David P?

In an otherwise inoffensive Chronicle article ("Get Another Life"), David Perlmutter makes the following two derogatory references to the Middle Ages:
  • The university is the site of a perfect storm of 21st-century expectations and medieval bureaucracy, and the promotion-and-tenure process is the clashing point.
  • The tenure track may feel like the medieval torture of having each limb pulled in a different direction by whipped horses.
Without any genuine outrage, I nonetheless ask: What's the deal? Yes, everyone knows about drawing and/or quartering; no need to be all elliptical and toss the "medieval" in there. (According to Wikipedia, by the way, the horse-related torture is actually French quartering, and occurred as late as the 18th century. Medieval, I ask?)

More baffling, however, is this "medieval bureaucracy" of which DP speaks. Okay, this might be legitimately outside of my field, but I had no idea that the Middle Ages were particularly known for their byzantine bureaucratic processes. When we think of awful bureaucracy, what usually comes to mind? That's right--Kafka! Not even close to the M.A., my friends.

I sometimes wonder whether periodism is really as legitimately charged an issue as I often make it out to be (if only in my thoughts), but I can't help rolling my eyes--even with a well-maintained sense of humor--at this kind of thing.

Oh well. It's a losing battle.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Observation

A startlingly large number of people reach my blog by doing an image search on "let the cat out of the bag." Now granted, I too once did such an image search for the purposes of this post (and resulting in its rather awesome illustration), but that seemed like a somewhat unusual quest. What, I wonder, are all of these people looking for?

--I do mean to post some more pictures of my trip sometime, by the way. I just need to reduce the file sizes and whatnot and I'm horrifically lazy when it comes to doing things like that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

By the Way

--I saw Juno over the weekend. I found it extremely depressing, for some reason. And also kind of dull; the soundtrack was totally overdone and it was kind of like one long indie-rock video. Maybe it had been talked up too much for me to appreciate it on its own terms? Anyway, I was pretty disappointed--it looked so cute in the previews. Oh well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Better


(I'm leading this post with a picture from my trip--one advantage of jet lag is plenty of odd middle-of-the-night hours to do things like download your photographs. This is a stretch of the Great Wall that we hiked along.)

I haven't really slept at all. I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 2:30; I finally got out of bed at 4. I had all four of my classes today, too--luckily I had three of them doing a totally student-generated discussion thing that didn't require much of me, but my 2:00 class, in which I lectured/led discussion, was dismal. Oh well. That class usually rocks and I told them ahead of time that, to me, it was 3 am, so I think they were okay with it. Plus I let them out five minutes early.

Anyway, despite the sleeplessness, things are looking better than they did yesterday. Just having a work day and remembering that it isn't totally horrible here helped a lot. I've stopped rehearsing my misery in my head--which I'd been doing on and off for two full days, with particularly forceful dwelling during the 19-hour journey home. It's good to shut down that conversation for a while.

To that end, I'll change the subject altogether with a couple of pictures from my trip (I was in Beijing). I'm too tired for extensive writing, so the images will have to speak for me for the time being.

The very coolest thing that we did was a rugged 10k hike along the top of the Great Wall.


A bit of the view:

Here are some monks at the beautiful Lama Temple.


And these are some doors that I liked.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Drained

I just got back from the Other Side. I have some pictures and things that I'll post later--it was a great trip on the whole--but right now I'm feeling, as the title suggests, drained.

I'm exhausted, of course, since I'm in a time zone that's 13 hours ahead of this one and I have to teach at 9 am tomorrow. But the drainage is primarily emotional.

There was a lot of serious talking over the last few days of my trip and, while I'm not going to get into the details and nothing really traumatic is going on, none of it made me look forward to coming back here. In fact, I spent most of my layover in Big Nearby Airport on the verge of tears. Because I don't want to be here. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have never felt any real delight at the fact that I now have a tenure-track job at this school. Any. And I don't think that that's entirely the school's fault. It's just that I'm filled with resentment--in an undirected, targetless way--at how much this profession is asking me to give up, and at how very much I stand to lose. I may well lose a lot to this career, such as it is. And I don't know that it's worth it.

It's hard to know what to do when a success feels like a failure.

I'll feel better in a day or two, I know. But right now things are just kind of rough.