End of the Year Meme

Still getting back into the swing of blogging again, and with a departure for parts homeward happening in the wee small hours of tomorrow (no one on the road but me and the drunks), this might be it for awhile. I saw this over at Maggie's awhile back and it seemed like as good a way of catching up (with where I'm at, with blogging, with whatever) as anything, so...

1. Will you be looking for a new job?

Still. Ugh. I think I've got 11 applications still out there; no word from the two places I did some sort of interview with. And again, I'm thinking about jumping the academic ship (or shark - pick your metaphor) if something good doesn't turn up.

2. Will you be looking for a new relationship?

This question makes my head hurt. Honestly, should a meme make me feel like I'm on the phone with my parents?

3. New house?

Probably. I've moved ever year for the last decade, so why break the trend? And if I get a new job, it'll be a certainty.

4. What will you do different in 08?

This sounds like a sneaky way of asking about a New Year's Resolution (see the next question), but generally, I'll be a bit more healthy than the last half of '07. And I'll try to be a bit better about protecting my time and energy from the job.

5. New Years resolution?

I don't really do resolutions since it seems to me that if you want to do something, there's no need to tie it to the change of the year. Seems like making an event out of them - putting them up for display - just adds pressure to them.

6. What will you not be doing in 08?

Not letting the degree dictate so much of the rest of my life.

7. Any trips planned?

Flying home tomorrow for a few days; hopefully to see some friends in various drivable locations throughout the term.

8. Wedding plans?

I barely plan my meals. Let's be serious. Though if I attend one, I plan to object, just because I want to be at a wedding where someone objects.

9. Major thing on your calendar?

The book submission.

10. What can’t you wait for?

Summertime. Also the return of "Battlestar Galactica."

11. What would you like to see happen differently?

Driving in this city, politics in this country, peace in this world, meaning in this universe.

Also I'd like to be able to find my favorite beers wherever I live.

12. What about yourself will you be changing?

I'd like to have a lifestyle again, as opposed to having a sort of "sleep mode" between teaching assignments.

13. What happened in 07 that you didn’t think would ever happen?

Paris! Also having to get a roommate as Ph.D. to pay the bills.

14. Will you be nicer to the people you care about?

I hope so, which isn't to say I'm not nice to them. But who wouldn't want to be nicer?

15. Will you dress differently this year than you did in 07?

Two words: latex kilts.

Okay. Seriously, no, probably no differently than before.

16. Will you start or quit drinking?

I long for the days of bourbon smoothies in the office with my fellow grad students, but really, I'll probably just keep the same habits here, thanks.

17. Will you better your relationship with your family?

I will if they will.

18. Will you do charity work?

I could argue that teaching this much for this little while having no life is pretty much charity work, but that's not what the question means I'm guessing. So probably a little but not as much as I should.

19. Will you go to bars?

I'm sure sometimes. But probably not much.

20. Will you be nice to people you don’t know?

As with being nice to the people I care about, I hope I'll be nice to people I don't know. I'll start by voting against wars and such.

21. Do you expect 08 to be a good year for you?

I do indeed.

22. How much did you change from this time last year till now?

I'm edging closer to financially stable (albeit at a fairly glacial pace), I've got a good sense of how much I'm willing to take, and I'm starting to get a pretty good sense of what I'm willing to give.

23. Do you plan on having a child?

And miss the only time I'd ever use a hockey metaphor in my life? Hell no. Besides, that's not how my family does it.

24. Will you still be friends with the same people you are friends with now?

I'd like to keep the old ones and add some new ones, please.

25. Major lifestyle changes?

This question made me think of the line, "Looks like a picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."

But really, I don't feel like I've got much of a lifestyle so any change feels like it would be major. I hope they're good ones.

26. Will you be moving?

Oh, I do so hope to move!

27. What will you make sure doesn’t happen in 08 that happened in 07?

I don't think I've quite that much control over the universe. But I intend to allow more time and resources so that I can do things I want rather than just the things I have to do.

28. What are your New Years Eve plans?

Packing to go home, possibly talking to a few drunk friends around the country.

29. Will you have someone to kiss at midnight?

Does a lick on the face from my dog count?

30. One wish for 08?

Three more wishes. And if you're sticklers that say you can't do that, then I'd wish for a satisfying, comfortably paid job in a place that offers me all the sorts of things I like to do with a slice of cheesecake.

And with that, a Happy New Year (and a piece of cheesecake) to you all!

Information Vacation

So much for being good about posting and such, but really, I imagine there's not many folks out there at the moment anyway. Things have been busy in that non-busy holiday way here. I had a guest for a few days, and then I was a guest elsewhere for a few days, and somehow in the midst of that, I managed to pull myself away from the Internet and e-mails and the blog for several days in a row (a near-Herculean feat). I need to remember in the future just how relaxing that can be.

I've read and read and read, tired the pooch out, watched movies (check out "Once" if you get the chance - the story's a little slow but the music is good). And I taught myself to make omelets, a thing that deserves mentioning only because it's so ridiculously easy that I'm embarrassed that I just got to it. Honestly, they're so good, shouldn't they be harder to make? The best one so far: bacon, cheese, and pico de gallo.

The roommate returns from MLA tomorrow, and I'm off to visit family just after that. And when I return, I've got a syllabus to design and readings to copy, and - of course - job applications for the position we're hiring for to go through while stressing the state of the applications I put out elsewhere, so things will be back to the usual mayhem shortly.

Why is it...

...that nothing can spoil a song (or an artist, for that matter) faster than they're being played in a) an iPod commercial or b) an Old Navy? Just walking by one the other day put me off of two different artists the same way iPod has put me off Feist.

Next time, I'm going to have to park in a better spot, I guess.

The Book Meme

So Dr. Crazy mentioned this to me awhile back (and finally posted on it) and it was also seen over at Kermit's and Belle's. And since I'm not doing much this break (so far), I thought I'd chime in since being tagged is now pleasantly opt-in.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the deal seems to be to list five books you've read (or re-read) in the last year that have made a difference to you. I'm going to exclude things I've read for work, though there are some that are probably worth mentioning (maybe some other time). And I'll try and give some sense of why plus - stealing from the other Dr. C. - I'll try to give a good quote from the book itself. But I won't order them because, well, I don't feel like it.

Slam - Nick Hornby
I'm glad there are things you don't know and can't guess, weird things, things that have only happened to me in the whole history of the world, as far as I know...
I just finished reading this last night. And the thing that I think is important and worth considering is that Hornby writes male characters that are reasonably like the males you might know in real life. I've heard from a few female friends that they hate his characters because they're flawed and often stupid in crucial ways. That's how I feel about Bridget Jones. But you know what? Neither one needs to be a hero or an antihero. They manage to be fairly real. In this case, Hornby tackles a late teenaged boy, and while he struggles like most adult writers with the contradictions of writing a young protagonist, he never seems to falter.

And who wouldn't agree with that quote? Who doesn't still have a bit of that teenage need to be unique and mysterious?

The People of Paper - Salvador Plascena
He learned how to graft roses into carnation stalks, cultivating a flower of tight petals but no thorns. On graph paper he uncovered the saddest of all polygons - not the scalene triangle, as previously thought, but the love triangle.
So, I'm a sucker for magical realism and for tales that sound a bit like places I'm from. So let me first suggest that best magical realism isn't just sci-fi written in Spanish but that it carries a romance with it that only a few moments of sci-fi have ever truly achieved. This one has it all, really, and though I read it much earlier in the year, the feel of it more than the words have stuck with me.

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
Part of you thought: Please don't look at me. If you don't, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.
I don't remember why I picked this up, but the story is involving. It is also one of a few rare examples where a young protagonist truly worked for me because it seems to draw on the sorts of logics and impulses so many of us remember and carry over from childhood. It is alternatively heartbreaking and mending in good measure without ever feeling maudlin or saccharine.

Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell
Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?--for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simpel reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable....Money has become the grand test of virtue.
I read this long after I was back from Paris - in fact, I finished it two nights prior to this post. But the reason was that it was a book recommended by a friend or a guidebook or some such while I was in Paris this summer. The attraction, initially, was reading about an author who had a trip to Paris that was seen from the other side (and for the record, one which my last days in Paris could have resembled). But what become truly interesting by the end of it was the number of things his story spoke to in our modern sensibility. As a joke to myself, I began in one chapter about his work as a plongeur (a sort of dishwasher and kitchen whipping boy), by substituting "assistant professor" for "plongeur," and sadly it didn't seem so far off as one might hope. Facetious as it was, it spoke about the specter of poverty in Western society while also suggesting a sort of creep of poverty that means it has to be more real than fear.

A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
Isn't Hemingway's tragedy really that he romanced all the wrong things? I mean, sometimes it's like he wanted to mail a letter but went right past the post office. I read this in my first days in Paris, along with sundry guidebooks, an academic book, and a short volume of Tony Hoagland poems. And of all of it, with the exception of the academic epiphanies that came while I was there, it's this sentence that sticks out. Something about the power of memory, really, and about the loss of the self to things beautiful and beyond us. And I can't help thinking that maybe sometimes we all miss those moments and those realities even when they're right there in front of us.

Curmudgeon at the Holidays

So I'm a bad blogger these days, but there are reasons why. It is the holidays, for one. And I take the holidays seriously, or at least I've attached all sorts of behavior to them like not bothering with e-mail or blogs much if it all. During the term, I'm often chained to the computer. I'm one of those profs who makes it tough for everyone else because (during the term) I love e-mail and respond quickly to it. But when the term ends, I like to take some time away from it, checking maybe once a day. Maybe not at all. And this, it seems, has translated to blogging as well.

And now, having answered the complaints from students about their grades, the requests from colleagues for my holiday schedules, the demands of Christmas cards and trips to the airport, I am relaxing and generally doing my best to forget about things like (what feels like) my rapidly failing job search, my unprepared course for next term, and my third year review. I am trying to be positive, which is not the most natural position for me raised as I was to "hope for the best but plan for the worst" (don't believe me? see this). So I'm reading - yesterday I finished Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" and starting Nick Hornby's "Slam." The hope is to read enough over the break that I forget about how I barely got to read anything pleasurable all term and, perhaps, to build a little cushion for the likely "not reading" that will happen next term. This urge also means that I must not be allowed near a bookstore under any circumstances.

My roommate is gone for a week, so I get to sit at home in my pajamas as much as I like and largely let my beard grow (though I suspect that I'll have to cut it off tomorrow). I can listen to music rather than watch TV. There will be much lying on the floor with my dog. Also I will watch many movies from Netflix (yesterday I watched many episodes of "The Wire" and also "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" which goes to show you that if you "Fatal Attraction" is a uniquely American fear). I'm also thinking of overhauling the blog a bit, as I should probably redesign my personal web page (something that's become a sad sort of holiday tradition and that perhaps there won't be the time for this year because....).

This year, I get to go home, though not actually at Christmas or New Year's - just after. The last two years that hasn't happened, so this year I'm trying to make a production of it, even if I'm not there for all the jingling and fireworks and whatnot. And I'm trying to temper that with the fact that my family has plenty of what they want and little of what they need (or so it seems to me).

The holidays are the one time of year that I really enjoy shopping, though that is more qualified than it would seem. I like shopping for people. I hate shopping where people are. I would be fine with this if I could carry (and occasionally use) a cudgel. People who complain about the cost of baby clothes while coming out of Baby Gap deserve what they get as do people who park their carts lengthwise across the aisles. But there's something lovely about having gifts appear for the person you're thinking of. It is almost enough of a thrill that battling for parking in a place where people feel you can park anywhere seems more amusing than irritating (seriously, kids, if there's plowed snow on both sides of a two lane road causing it to narrow to a lane and a half than you shouldn't park your car there - it shouldn't take an out-of-towner to point this out to you).

So things are good here. I'll try and blog a bit more. I've seen and heard about some memes that I might dive into, just because it seems like those would be more fun and relaxing and appropriate right now. We shall see.

Sunshine enough to spread...

*taps the microphone* Testing...1...2...3. Check...mic check....

Blog-world, I'm sitting here listening to "Sticky Fingers," sipping hot chocolate, and stacking up the books I intend to read over the break. Grading is done and all is right with the world - at least until the grade complaints roll in about a half hour from now. The day is quite lovely, by virtue of finally being finished. The dog is under the table, snow-drunk and content. We're a postcard waiting to happen here, at Curmudgeon Labs.

Were I one to ruin such moments with practicality (I am), I'd be soon thinking about the job search we're doing, about the job search I'm doing, about the book I've got to dive into writing next term, about the student caught plagiarising and what that means, and all manner of other things. But my Christmas cards are done and sent, my ticket home is bought, and right now the hot chocolate is enough to make sense of the day.

Winter interlude

It was enough today to
see Paris dreams in front
and the light setting on the snow
out of the side of my eye.

Finals progress

So grades for one of the four courses are completed and ready to be submitted. And my chapter is off to the editors (as a side note, what rotten planning, putting a deadline right in the middle of what is pretty much everyone everywhere's finals period. Remind me not to do this if I'm ever an editor of a collection).

I think perhaps it's time for a beer and some inappropriate Christmas card message-writing.

How Much I Hate Writing Finals

73) When will this exam end?
A) Never
B) at 2:14 a.m., Eastern time, on August 29th,
when SkyNet becomes self-aware
C) When the professor apologizes for the shamelessly
geeky reference in choice B.
D) Right....now.

RBOThank Goodness the Term is Over

All's quiet out there. It must be the end of the term. Things have wound down here, but I feel like I'm out of things to say at the moment. But the end of the term has largely been a good one. It's nice to have things wrapping up this positively. Some highlights:
  • the wind has died down here. it was already cold, but with winds well into the double-digits, every time I went outside it was like being knifed by God
  • found a cheap ticket home. I won't be there for Christmas, but at least I'll get there this year (well, technically next year, but you know what I mean)
  • my freshmen have ended strongly and favorably. I had some very good conversations with a few of them today, and it'll be nice to take that into the grading of finals.
  • sitting on the table is "Paris Je T'aime" and several episodes of "The Wire" - there's motivation to get things done
  • the book chapter (I think I mentioned way back working on it) is almost done. If only I had the style guidelines....
  • my Spurs are doing well even with Tim Duncan injured (I'll keep my fingers crossed for tonight's game against the Jazz).
  • it's almost time to curl up with good books for the holidays. One Christmas when I was stuck at school, I had all of my friends in the program pick one book that they felt made an impact on their lives, and I read them all over the break. I'm not that ambitious this time, but I'd love to hear those sort of accidental recommendations.
That's probably enough for now. Good luck in finals and job interviews and whatnot.

Cerebral jokes...

Why is it, no matter how much I plan, the end of the term always makes me feel a bit like this?

New moments in the job search

[First a warning: MLA folks, put down your razors - I'm not in your field so this doesn't mean that I've heard from places and you haven't. Oh, and stop looking at the Wiki. What an awful use of technology! This part will vanish shortly, I think...]

Having done the job search a few times, I feel like I'm reasonably prepared for the usual rounds of questions that come up. You know, the questions like, "Why this program?" (I always had to bluff before - no one wants to hear that you applied because you applied for everything that was a job that looked remotely like something you could do. This was the first year, now that I've had a job someplace, that I got to be picky) or "What was your most challenging moment in the classroom and how did you handle it?" (It's too good a story and too immediately revealing to be detailed here, but imagine a Ken doll as an example of postmodernism and you're on your way) or even "What's your biggest weakness as a colleague?" (I love these questions because I love to try out bullshit answers).

This year, though, there have been some new questions that have appeared on the scene in the midst of interviews. In part, they've probably happened because I've been tempted to see whether I could fly on the big stage of a Research I or not. But I think they probably also reflect some new realities and, so, might be worth thinking about.

The first one has been some variation on "What ideas do you have on how you would make our program/your courses/your research more interdisciplinary?"

I think there are a few ways to approach this. But the first question that should come to mind is "what do they mean by interdisciplinary?" because so far, every place I've come across the question has used the term differently. Some of them wanted to talk about how I'd cement ties with other departments while others wanted to know how I incorporate (or feel about others incorporating) perspectives from outside the disciplinary mainstream. This seems like a pretty logical question, particularly in light of the funding crisis most schools are going through. But it's also likely a political moment that will allow schools to shore themselves up by (hopefully) short-circuiting infighting in a time of crisis.

The second question has come in two forms, but they seem intertwined: "What potential for outside funding do you see?" and "How do you see your work/teaching/research reaching beyond the university?"

Again, there are a variety of ways to approach this - in fact, I like to reframe the former by answering with the latter. What type of funding can I get is probably problematic at best, but where I can talk about community ties always suggests ways to bring money in, even if I don't know what they are exactly. As above, I think part of this is about universities trying to find ways to cement their roles in a way that will not only help with legitimacy politically.

The benefit of having been answered those questions once was that I was able to bring them up first in later interviews - to ask the department in question how they saw themselves fitting in outside the university and whether they had plans to move in that direction. One thing I've found very useful in strategizing interviews has been finding moments where I can ask them a question they want to ask me first in the course of other, obvious starter questions.

I'm intentionally leaving my discipline out of the discussion for a variety of reasons. But I'm curious what other new questions people are finding themselves facing in interviews?

A musical aside

I want to offer you a gift, readers. In my dreams, I am a music writer, and sometimes that seeps over into other things (classes, gifts, pillow talk, and now, the blog).

Awhile back, it occurred to me that there was a problem with Christmas cards. For one so curmudgeonly, I'm a sentimental sort, and the ways in which I'm willing to give offense are pretty clearly delineated. Throwing out Christmas cards pains me just a little. How long do you keep them? What's the etiquette? Really, what's the point of them anyway?

My solution was simple - at least, part of it - give the Christmas card a reason to stick around. Write something inside it that people would want to keep around. I started making CDs of the more interesting (if not always great) music I'd picked up over the course of the year, and the card got to serve as the jacket and liner notes. Making the CD is fun and tricky - as making any mix is. Unlike making a mix for one person, where the rules are well-established (see "High Fidelity" for more explanation), making a mix for many people is trickier. How do you make one mix disc that will appeal to 15, 20, 30 people? What songs do you put in and why? Who do you give them to? And once you've got it, how do you make it flow?

I usually try to leave out anything that wound up in a commercial. I also try to drop out anything that had a good chance of being heard by a lot of people. And I don't limit myself to things that have come out this year - anything that I've come across this year that I hadn't heard before is fair game. And I try to include things from artists I've seen in concert because as everyone should know, a good live show is always an indicator of a good band. Anyone can sound good in the studio.

But still, how do you narrow it down? This year's disc has been tough. I've got too much material (I've bought at least $450 in used CDs from one spot alone). Do I include the awesome "Little Cream Soda" by the White Stripes even though everyone knows who they are? Does the Foo Fighters "The Pretender" deserve inclusion because of its loving nod to the Sesame Street "Which of these is not like the other?" So far, the answer's no.

This year's disc has been tough. I've got too much material (I've bought at least $450 in used CDs from one spot alone). But worse is that, at the last minute, sometimes you stumble across something that is perfect. For me, right now that disc is Ian Moore's "To Be Loved" which is great for all the right reasons. It's a solid album. It reminds me of all the best bits of "The White Album" and "Pet Sounds" without evoking any of the things I hate about those albums, those artists, that era. It's layered. It's smart (and maybe, though not necessarily, clever). And I love Ian Moore because I saw him when I was in college and he was just making his bones as a singer/guitarist in the Texas blues style which he eventually stepped back from (though his early stuff is still great). And I saw him, by chance in graduate school, at a small hippie place with good microbrews and a hummus plate that even a barbecue raised kid from Texas had to stop and pay attention to. And he was incredible both times, in two very different ways.

So while I can't make CDs for all of you, I can at least suggest you give this one disc a listen as it's probably been one part of why I've been less-curmudgeonly than usual in recent days.

Sometimes it happens

Let's take just a moment to keep things in perspective here at the end of the term, amidst the crush of grading, the strange end-of-term service commitments, the influx of lousy weather and such. Today, I want - Monday that it is - to ask about what one good moment in your recent academic life has been. Something specific - not just that you're employed or some-such.

For me, it's that as I was grading papers this weekend, asking my poor freshmen to venture their views on art and to offer me an example of something artistic that fits their definition, I had a student lay me out. It was the sort of thing that I had to immediately run to Google to check. How had they seen that? Who on Earth were they, a silly freshman, to like it?

They wrote it. They liked it. They had well-thought-out reasons.

Sometimes they're deeper than I give them credit for. Sometimes they surprise me.

The 7 meme

Belle tagged me with the 7 meme, and since I've nothing good to do today (not to be confused with nothing to do today), I'm definitely up for it though the last time I participated in a meme didn't go so well. I actually don't know that I have enough readers to tag seven who haven't already been tagged. We'll see...

Anyway, here are the rules:
1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog. Check.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself. Brace yourselves.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. On it.

Here's my seven:
  • Roughly once a year, I am convinced that eating Taco Bell is a good idea. It never is. Today was that day.
  • I cannot actually snap my fingers. But I can fake it.
  • At 5:17 a.m., I had the first "I'm not going to get a new job" dream of the season.
  • I like food that makes me cry. Italian food has proved utterly incapable of this and is, thus, highly over-rated in my book. You cannot convince me otherwise.
  • I once had a job opening payment envelopes for an insurance company. Actually a machine opened the envelopes. My job was to push the button to make the machine open them and to stick my finger inside if the machine got jammed.
  • I once invented a fake girlfriend and got her pregnant as a way to convince my family to stop asking me when I would get married and/or give them grandchildren. I did this on Mother's Day. Her name was Ilsa, and I have no regrets.
  • When I was in kindergarten, I cut my finger with a scalpel. I felt no pain until I was given a shot to numb my hand in the Emergency Room. The pain was not from the needle but from being tricked and can best be explained by what my older sister heard me scream from her vantage point outside: "This isn't ice cream!"
As for my seven, I'll choose kermitthefrog, Dance, Maggie, Adjunct Whore, Dr. Medusa (I know you peek over here now and then), Chaser, and Poptart (though I recognize your blog is no more and that the last time I gave you a meme it brought you all manner of hell - consider this a Christmas wish for your return to the Internets, sort of the geek version of "One for my homies.").