Reflections on the First Week

So I'm pretty tired after the first week. This owes mostly to the fact that I agreed to do too many things and they're all coming to a head right now. Also, I suppose, it could have a little something to do with the fact that I still try to sleep like I'm in college with all my classes starting after 1 pm.

The term itself is going to keep me busy. Just to help everyone keep future grips in perspective, I'm teaching four classes. But due to high numbers of transfer enrollment and such, two of the courses - which are mandatory and only offered this term - have been forced to take in more students than is normally allowed, enough students to warrant another section if only there were someone else to teach it. They're targeted at seniors. My other two courses are primarily freshmen level intro courses. The freshmen intro course will likely be the only academic joy of this term.

The first week's courses went well. The freshmen are starting to loosen up, and the seniors are starting to clamp down. I got to give another version of the "why I believe in education" lecture, and that alone gives me a little extra joy for the term. I like the freshmen class here because I get to do a lot - this week we didn't actually approach the subject matter of the course, but instead spent it on how to take notes, expectations of the hypothetical (and not-so-hypothetical) professor, how to start thinking about citations, and then, why education might matter.

The seniors are tougher. Each year's bunch arrives in a different state. Last year's were panicked about the real world. This year's seems largely indifferent. I've begun forming a list of which ones I expect to see mentioned in the police blotter. And that's a shame, because there are a lot of good ones in the group, but right now, there's just a feeling of dread that comes with the course. Let's hope I find some ground with them shortly.

Our new faculty member has arrived, and I've been trying to make sure to check in on them. It's odd to think about myself as somehow senior in this moment, and I'm struggling to remember what it was that I struggled with my first year. I was fortunate, having had a good friend here when I arrived. Any advice on things I can help with?

Obviously, as recent posts have shown, I've been thinking about the election. Part of the fascination has been due to a feminist colleague who was a Hillary supporter, and who told me - prior to the Palin nomination - that she still wasn't sure she could vote for Obama. I cannot explain to you the need I have to poke at this.

I've also decided that because office hours are such a huge waste for me - I can never quite get real work done because I'm always thinking someone's going to come in and interrupt me - that I'm going to try and use them to read things that are work-related but not quite on the immediate research radar. It'll be my time to read non-fiction, the way a half-hour before bed is when I read fiction. We'll see how it goes. My first book for the experiment - possibly my last - will be Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. I expect it will make me angry in about six pages, and we could bet whether I'm able to get through it without getting completely apoplectic.

Anyone read it? Anyone want to read it with me?

Nothing's jumping out at me fiction-wise, which is probably alright since I don't usually get as much read during the term as I'd like. There are a few on the list though that I'm waiting to find in paperback that might well have what it takes.

All in all, it hasn't been a bad week. Now if only I can finish a few things on my list that aren't about bringing in tons of guest speakers.

Only in America...

...could we go from a speech like Obama's which I loved, to a news cycle that happily admits the Republican nominee doesn't actually know his VP choice. They've met twice. And even though her party has been screaming about lack of experience, they admit she has no national (let alone international) experience. And she says she hasn't given the Iraq war much thought.

Excellent.

But Pat Buchanan has just assured us she's a feminist because she had a baby, has a job, and was a beauty queen. That Pat Buchanan can say the word "feminist" without going up in flames is, in itself, pretty damned mystifying. But it's the weird brazenness of this that is the funniest part. I mean, really, what intrigues me is that between his wife and the VP, John McCain moments are shaping up to be like a mid-1980s Robert Palmer video.

I think it is an awesome statement on our country that it is entirely possible the election will boil down to whether there is a subset of America for whom having a vagina in the oval office is more important than what the brain attached to the genitalia in question actually thinks. I sure hope that's not what has become of all the progress feminism has made.

What great theater. Fight on!

Techno-porn

Oh, I'm lost.

Today, I got my MacBook Pro. It has nothing installed on it, but oh my goodness is it pretty. So if you don't see me around for awhile, you'll know some reason why.

I've got to say - and I'm sure it's been said before - that Apple could teach the world a thing or two in terms of presentation. Even the stupid styro-foam packing for the computer was pleasantly designed. The package was neat and compact and contained everything I needed in a couple of neat little bundles. The setup was ridiculously easy thus far; it took about three minutes to get Firefox running the way I'm used to it on my other computers.

The test, of course, will be seeing how it runs my PC programs once the emulator is on here, and how well it interfaces with our funky campus network, but right now, I'm teetering on convert.

Thoughts on Last Night's Speech

Good speech by Hillary Clinton last night, I say. There were some sentiments there that I wish I'd heard more of during the run up to things. I think the best line in it was "This won't be easy. Progress never is."

If you missed the speech, it's worth checking out. You can find the full text here.

In conversations with friends and relatives over the past several years about politics, one of the things I've told them about my views - because that fear of taxes pervades American politics in such a strange and profound way - is that I don't mind taxes if they're paying for things I need. I'm willing to pay, to pay a little extra if it helps, so that there are services out there. I don't expect that the things I want in society will fall from the sky or that the country I believed I lived in just happens. Or that it, if it ever existed, it wasn't a rare thing that needed to be cultivated and cared for.

One of the interesting things about how politics - and religion - has worked in the U.S. is the strange relationship between earning money and helping those around you. It's funny to see what religion becomes when filtered through capitalism. And it is equally funny to realize that, like it or not, neither are systems one can completely reject, no matter the objections.

What I'd like to see in these discussions, in elections, in the world in general maybe is a little less of the golden age mentality. How do you "take back the country you love" if it was an ideal? Doesn't it make things more interesting if we think of it that way anyhow, as something that hasn't been reached but that must constantly be reached for?

RBOC: Nothing to Get Hung About Edition

Second day of classes, first day of office hours. And as you may know, I don't even attempt to do anything productive in office hours. I do not regret this in the slightest. Other things I do not regret:
  • telling Pandora that I don't, in fact, like "Strawberry Fields Forever." Pandora, by way of apology, followed up with James Brown and Ray Charles.
  • my new "I Don't Care If Your Grandmother Died, I Only Care About Official Notices From the Dean" policy which has already (by the third hour of day 1, mind you) been put into play twice.
  • that I am out of Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Wheat Thins, which are like crack, but also reminiscent of 1970s Taco Flavored Doritos.
  • that my friend T. is going on a sailing vacation and I am not. I am, however, envious and insistent that at any given moment someone on that boat must wear an eye patch.
And with that bit of time wasted, I must away. Sail on, dear readers.

I Know I'm Going to Regret This...

I know my own distrust of slogans and group reaction and such. It's why politics inevitably makes me think I'm about to break out with a rash. But honestly, isn't the phrase "the world as it is and the world as it should be" just great?

Even though I support 'em (and if I didn't before, the conversation with my uncle would have assured it: I'd vote for someone for spite), I know when it becomes bumper-stickerized (or whatever the word is), I'm going to almost instantly hate it the way I hate things like "thousand points of light" or "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

RBOC: Start of the Term

Too little time left to be bothered writing a long post. But, here's a bit of foreshadowing and random thoughts.
  • my syllabi are done! This probably shouldn't have been an ordeal since I've taught the courses before, but in one of them, some updates were needed. The problem was that these really needed input from the department, and there was virtually none. I'm reasonably satisfied with what I came up with, but I do wish I'd been able to get a bit more help. Which leads to...
  • I'm thinking about setting up a blog/website to try and attract people in my discipline from outside the University to talk about this, and I'm wondering if anyone has tried similar or can refer me to similar so I can give it a look.
  • I'm effectively teaching five classes this term.
  • I informed my Chair that I'm hitting the market again. He somehow seemed a little surprised. And frustrated. There were job epiphanies while I was home, and now I've got a few more ideas about where I might apply outside of academia. The question is when should I start those applications?
That should do it for today.

Vacation's end

Greetings from the Charlotte, NC airport, where the southern hospitality thing (maybe NC doesn't consider itself southern...) has prompted the airport to offer free wi-fi. This earns them mad props, even though there are giant sections of the airport that don't have any of the flight information screens, forcing passengers to head towards the center of the airport often for no reason.

The vacation was a good one, by and large. Most of it was spent playing with babies that friends and relatives continue to put forth (while I'm mentioning babies, a shout out to young baby R. who had his second birthday). The kids here ranged from 8 months to almost four years old, so the games included making stupid noises, playing full contact peek-a-boo, and teaching the four year old what it was like to be the Grasshopper Princess.

When I wasn't playing with kids, I was playing with puppies, watching the Olympics with the family, or out celebrating one of my oldest friend's birthdays. There was a nice cookout in Austin, where I made some salsas and dessert to go with the steaks and burgers my friend grilled up. There was a lot of Mexican food.

I thought about posting about the nights of uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. Even the night on a friend's couch sleeping in Winnie the Pooh sheets didn't bring with it the comfort and quality sleep I'd have imagined. And I'd considered a post about dumb bar games that friends and I talked about after I explained the Former Child Star Babysitter game. There were some good ones including "Name Your Favorite Three Robots of All Time" and "Which Two Characters Played by the Same Actor Would You Want to See Fight." If your answers to the first one didn't reference R2-D2, you have problems.

There was the possibility of issuing a rough time estimate about when certain questions were asked, such was "Are you seeing anyone?" (Time: 6 1/2 hours); "Why can't you get a job here?" (Time: 45 minutes); "Can I borrow $50?" (Time: 1 day, 9 hours); etc. But it just seemed silly, really. On some level, they probably should ask some of those questions because otherwise, all of our conversations would have been about t.v. So somehow I didn't mind quite so much.

But part of what made the trip good was my game-time decision to cancel the "Come to Jesus" lunch with the family and to simply go do something I wanted to do instead. These discussions tend to largely cover the same ground over and over again, and honestly, watching things that happened over the course of the trip, it seemed a bit like a circle-jerk of enabling. And I probably fit in there somewhere, so I decided to just do something different this time.

We'll see how it goes.

But no trip home can go by without some difficulty, and so it was last night - the last night - that I spoke with my crazy uncle who, after I'd helped him book a trip, asked me who I was going to vote for in the Presidential election. You can be sure he didn't like my answer. He explained how he had a birth certificate proving the religious affiliation of a particular candidate and how anyone of that religious affiliation wants "us" dead because it's in their holy book, and goodness knows anyone of a particular faith must follow every teaching of their holy book to the letter.

I tried, dear readers, to let it pass. Really, I did. I sought out the most pleasant distractions I could while he railed. But eventually, I couldn't let it sit anymore though it no doubt means I'll have the full prayers and concerns of the fundamentalist right on his side.

What did it though was the statement, "I knew you'd say that. All academics are liberal. "

I pointed out that one of the largest groups of faculty out there represent the business world, and so probably are closer to his world-view than he thinks. I also pointed out that if, in fact it was true that academics are liberal, it might suggest something what with how much time they give to, you know, studying things. Then I tried to explain to him that liberal doesn't equate to Democrat, that being a member of a religion doesn't have to mean you're inclined to behave the same as the worst that religion has produced. I even offered examples of rules from other holy books that suggest violent action that members of those religions don't follow. All to no avail. In the end, he bowed out of the conversation, noting "I know I should never talk about politics or religion. It only leads to trouble."

Word of the discussion, though, spread like wildfire through the house. My uncle is not exactly the head of the family, but he's the most well off, and in our family at least, this has equated to a small amount of freedom from disagreement. I think my brother put it best when he said, "I guess I'm the nephew in the will again."

But I'm feeling pretty good about it as it prompted a conversation with the rest of the family, and while they may be close to the crazy uncle's views in some ways, they're at least not convinced of the truly outlandish claims shot my way in the phone call. And selfish as it may be, I'm hoping that having heard someone stand up to my uncle and disagree with him might actually prompt a little groundswell of disagreement from the rest of the family, as well.

We Interrupt This Vacation...

I probably should be either more offended by this or more concerned with the implications of it, but mostly I'm just amused by how silly - and what a weird statement about priorities - it seems to be.

Today's the last day of my vacation. I've spent the morning sitting with my family watching DVR'd Olympics - more on DVR and my family soon, thee I do assure - when the phone rings. It's a colleague (and not my roommate) calling. Evidently, there's some confusion about the event I was tricked into attending. Now, it appears, my services are no longer required; some university official whose name I don't know (and so presume to be tucked away in some higher-up position) would rather my colleague make the appearance.

This is all fine by me, as the event is both a pain in my ass and a waste of my time, being as it is poorly ventilated, spottily attended, long, and involving multiple prayers. But it is intriguing to me that it was deemed important enough that they made said colleague seek me out, find my number, and do his own hatchet job while I was on vacation.

Of course, this is from the folks who ask junior faculty to RSVP for things they won't be attending ('cause that's a nice list to sign your name on when you're worrying about tenure and promotion), so I probably shouldn't be surprised.

Play the Home Version

[written August 14, 2008]

Today at lunch, my father was telling me about a math book he'd read written by Winnie Cooper from "The Wonder Years." This resulted in a conversation about child celebrities who turned out well. Obviously, Winnie Cooper was a success story - my parents, whatever faults they have, have always placed a premium on education. Ron Howard got a thumbs up from my father. And then my mother tossed out her nomination.

"You know who turned out well?" she said. "Kirk Cameron."

Longtime readers of the blog can probably guess how I feel about "Mike Seaver," but for anyone who is wondering, my response - another shining example of a mouth that works faster than the speed of thought - should clarify any misunderstandings.

"Really?" I blurted, my voice one notch too loud, "I just figured he'd gone fucking crazy."

Yes, I dropped the f-bomb on my mother. I'm a horrible son, and if there is a hell, I'm likely going to it. Thanks for pointing it out.
But what actually stopped the conversation dead in its tracks was the implication to my mother, herself far more religious (and fundamentalist) than I am often able to look directly at (or, as this comment proved, able to actually fully register), that anyone could think the star of movies like Left Behind could be crazy. The real story though - to my mind, at least - is what followed in the ensuing silence.

Realizing immediately that I'd effectively stood on the table and shouted "CHECK PLEASE!" in nothing but my undies, my mind began to try to justify the comment to myself.

"Well, it's not like you'd let Kirk Cameron babysit for you." Only, probably, my mom would've.

And then it turned into a game. In the game, I imagined that you'd pick two former child celebrities, and you'd have to choose: which of these two would you let babysit your child? Base it on whatever you know about them. Think about whatever True Hollywood stories you've seen or VH1's Where Are They Now moments. Shake it up and see what you come up with. Dana Plato vs Kirk Cameron? Danny Bonaduce or Kirk Cameron? Corey Haim. Tood Bridges. Fred Savage. That kid from E.T. In almost every case, I think, Kirk Cameron would not be my child's baby sitter. Even in the cases of the coked up, gun toting, felons, it's a toss up for me.

Don't believe me? Try it in the comments. It's pretty useful to see where you land ideologically.

Vacation Interlude

There are vacation posts coming, but not just yet. Since I've been spending a ton of time with friend's children, this should give you the approproate feel for the trip so far without me actually having to say much.

Enjoy!

Don't Call It a Comeback...

It's time for my annual Come-to-Jesus meeting with the family.

There should be a word for a trip home to see family like this. It isn't quite vacation, that's for sure, though it doesn't seem to qualify as anything else.

I've got a more-or-less common middle-child job in the family. I'm the one that has to negotiate the other family members' crisis-personae. For years, my mother and sister have had a feud happening that simmers quietly beneath the surface of everything. My younger brother has elevated directionless to an art form. And my mother and father have a weird relationship that'd make a good episode of some TV show if we were the sort who'd air our laundry out where anyone (let alone anyone else) could actually see.

The family question is a two-headed devil where jobs are concerned. My parents are coming up on their 70s, and they don't take particularly good care of themselves. My siblings are reasonably useless in regards to taking care of anyone, and they're prone to giant explosions besides. So while I feel like I need to be close to my family to help take care of them, particularly as my parents get older, on the other hand, the need is to not get too close. Maybe it's fortunate that academia hasn't seen fit to do anything kind for me in terms of location so far. At least this way, it's not my fault I'm nowhere near, absolving me of the guilt of not being there and the guilt of not wanting to be right there.

Part of the annual trip home has become a lunch with the family that devolves into something like professional performance reviews. This is me taking everyone out, then taking everyone aside, and telling them what the others won't/can't say, and how I think they might want to try and deal with these things. I'm particularly proud that I eventually realized that saving this until the very last day of the trip had many benefits - a largely pleasant visit, a largely quiet return while everyone (myself included) adjusts to uncomfortable truths.

There are benefits to going home, of course. I've still got friends there. There are still restaurants I love. And, of course, it's mostly good to see my family. And getting to scoot away from them is almost as nice.

So if I don't appear on here for a bit - though I'm sure I'll need all my usual spots to vent - have a good one, dear readers. And wish me luck.

Curmudgeon's Olympics Conundrum

I like the Olympics.

I like watching them. I can remember watching the Olympics when I was four years old; I saw Nadia Com─âneci score the perfect 10 in 1976 (fun fact for you kids: that was the first ever; 32 years later, the perfect 10 score is obsolete). I was probably one of four people in the U.S. who was bothered when the split the summer and winter games up. I'd have been more irritated, but they left the Summer Games alone. I mean, really, who cares about the Winter Games?

The Olympics are, generally, more interesting to me than Presidential elections, so you can see where my attention goes in these years. And this is from someone who isn't particularly interested in most sports.

I hope you can see why there's a little bit of personal conflict for me over these games. I know about the human rights violations; I'm bothered by the creepy nationalism (really, did I need a scoreboard of how many medals the U.S. won starting yesterday?). It is one of the things I sometimes talk about with students. And I do believe that individual choice is the start of social change. So I could put my money where my political mouth is, right? Still, I'm still pretty compelled to watch, and I think I probably will see a lot of these games because I think the moment is more complex.

Part of it is clearly the history of the games for me. It isn't just that I've watched the games every chance I've had since I was old enough hold my own head up, though that in itself might be significant: I mean how many of you can't leave the house when your team is playing or "Desperate Housewives" or whatever is coming on? My father, who'd been overseas in the military, had part of the summer games off, and I remember watching some of them from the excellent vantage point of his lap way back in '76. So memory, too, plays a big role in this. But I think there's more than that.

More and more, I'm realizing that I was blessed with great teachers (in school and out) as I grew up, and one of the places that this was seen was in how they talked about ideals in relation to things like the Olympics. They did a nice job of cutting through the nationalism, even back in the '70's and '80's (again, for any younguns, that was when the U.S. was squaring off against its former arch-enemy, the U.S.S.R.). The way they talked about the games cut past those things, to talk about moments where group-think politics could be set aside and individuals could compete - and could express their own views. Before the 1980 games, I remember one of my Social Studies teachers making a point of talking about Jesse Owens and the political role he played (and what his presence dared, considering the life he lived when he was back in the States). And then, as well as you could with kids that age, we talked about the ironies of it in relation to the American Civil Rights movement's biggest successes coming significantly later.

And I know it smacks of Protestant work ethic/American "up by the boot straps" ideology of the self-made success, but I do like hearing about individuals who manage to do something out of whatever their national circumstances might be. Granted, the NBC dramatizations of the last few games were too much, but there's something to be said for the individual as narrative, don't you think?

And I liked that in those heady anti-Soviet years that sometimes we lost, though maybe I only like that in retrospect. If you want to make it a nationalist moment, to each their own, but please do be sure to note that the "us" you're subscribing sure does lose a lot. There's a lesson in that worth considering.

Maybe that's part of what I love: the Olympics often serve - and can, if talked about - serve as an interesting educational tool. And while I certainly hope that there will be boycotts, I also hope that people take a moment during them to see something "not us" and to think about it. That's part of why I'll be watching.

A Sentence Meme

Feels like it's been ages since I've done a meme, and since there isn't much happening (because I'm vacationing!), this seemed like a decent way to kill a little time. So, as seen over at Girl Writes Words, the sentence meme:

1. My uncle once: pulled over on the side of the road, leaned over a fence, and made moo'ing noises until he irritated a bull.
2. Never in my life: have I gone sky diving.
3. When I was five: my image often appeared out of nowhere on blocks of wood, items of food, and in the dust. I was often compared to the Holy Mother and her also-noteworthy son. I was so god-damned adorable, however, that no one called it a miracle. [See picture, which may vanish]
4. High school was: neither bad nor good enough to dwell upon.
5. I will never forget: that questions like this scare the crap out of me. Not enough wood to knock on.
6. Once I met: Lyle Lovett. He was so quiet and polite that I instantly forgave him for seeing something in Julia Roberts.
7. There’s this boy I know: and he isn't ready for summer to be over.
8. Once, at a bar: a friend and I tried to make it as far as we could through the drinks menu. We made it to the letter I.
9. By noon: I’m usually: one class done and ready to get the hell out.
10. Last night: is a song by the Strokes. The real question is what's going on tonight?
11. If only I had: enough money to pay for my student loans and a cabin in the mountains...
12. Next time I go to church: someone's going to owe me big time.
13. What worries me most: is what happens if I miss it so how can I make it happen faster.
14. When I turn my head left I see: my dog lying on the floor, staring into the kitchen, and hoping for something to fall on the floor.

15. When I turn my head right I see: a lamp, a couch, a map on the wall.
16. You know I’m lying when: you catch me. Come on, I'm not going to give you my tell.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: old school Mtv and music stars you could have crushes on without fear the thought alone would give you the clap and drop your IQ by 40.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: speaking in couplets and vexing the queen.

19. By this time next year: I plan to be somewhere else.
20. A better name for me would be: Zach Power
21. I have a hard time understanding: the state of the men's room. Any men's room. Gross. Honestly, it's line of sight aiming so what the hell?
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: love it.
23. You know I like you if: I let you into my apartment.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: well thanked.
25. Take my advice, never: take the first offer.
26. My ideal breakfast is: chorizo and egg breakfast tacos. Or something from a greasy spoon diner that comes with hash browns.
27. A song I love but do not have is: "The Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson.
28. If you visit my hometown: enjoy some Mexican food for me. Lucky bastard.
29. Why won’t people: use their turn signals?
30. If you spend a night at my house: be prepared to sleep late.
32. The world could do without: reality tv.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: lick its armpit.
34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: defined by something other than just their hair color.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: listing general education goals on my syllabi.
36. If I do anything well it’s: either sarcasm or sleep. I rock at those.
37. I can’t help but: try to make a joke out of anything.
38. I usually cry: havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: always ask questions and distrust (and laugh at) anyone who tries to discourage you from doing so.
40. And by the way: don't just stand there. Get me a drink.

Sometimes You Get the Honey, Sometimes All You Get is the Sting

So somehow I got outflanked today, and I think I got suckered into having to attend one of the dog-and-pony show events I was complaining about in the previous post. Of course, it took one of the secretaries to do it, so I don't feel so bad since they are, by and large, smarter than any two faculty and administrators put together.

But I've suddenly got the possibility of switching from my crappy IT-chosen computer to a Mac (though when they see what I say I need for it, that may evaporate). I'm still not sure whether I want to make the switch since all my software is currently PC-based. But it's damn tempting, I've got to say.

Things From My Inbox: Big Brother Says Watch Yourself

Haven't done this in ages, but here are a couple of juicy moments to juxtapose about life as a junior faculty member.

First is a call urging me to come up with a paper to help out the friend of a colleague's conference:

...the calll for papers only went out two weeks ago. So there will be a shortage. Its a refereed event - although I don't see it in the call below, that is according to Prof. Z.) and would look good on the Tenure presentation (local; has a prestigious sounding name etc.)...
Who knew local, snazzy sounding names were what tenure committees look for?

And then, there's this, from the office and VP who oversee tenure here at my fine institution, in regards to an upcoming student event that happens before our contract dates begin. This particular sections comes after a long explanation detailing how crucial it is we be at these various events:

...I know it’s a busy time of year, but please mark your calendars and plan to attend. For purposes of planning seating and food for the convocation and dinner, Assistant Hoodoo also will be asking you to RSVP to our office if you are NOT planning to attend either or both events...
You're reading that right - the person who heads tenure decisions wants us to alert them if we're not planning on participating in their event, an event that typically in no way acknowledges the educational aspect of the university (ironic that it's only an aspect, don't you think?). Do you think I could just say that while the event is local, its name doesn't sound prestigious enough?

"Us" and "Them" - Pondering Academia

This evening I played croquet.

I didn't particularly want to play. I'd never played before that I can recall. I know the rules of the game, but it didn't seem interesting. And I wasn't particularly looking forward to it because, honestly, it seemed like an affectation. I mean, I grew up with folks who might play horseshoes or "Smear the Queer" (sorry...). I guess croquet would be alright if there were kids there or all the adults were drinking. Where I grew up, nearly any behavior is made less of an affectation if the adults are drinking. But it's also true that where I grew up, you don't diss the host, and since they wanted to play, I played.

And despite the fact that I won - largely due to how the game was played and that I was so sucky that I was able to sneak past all the players trying to do strategize around each other - the game still seems like an affectation. So, in spite of the fact that someone actually got annoyed in a game of croquet, it has me thinking.

What I'm thinking is this: I wonder what other affectations go along with academia? And maybe affectation is too strong, but there are certain behaviors that I'm thinking about that people seem to expect within the career more than outside of it. Or maybe they're assumptions. For example, wine drinking. I have no empirical evidence of this, but I'm pretty sure there are more than a few people who became wine drinkers because it seemed like what people "like us" do.

When croquet was mentioned to me before the dinner, I said, honestly, that I'd probably pass if given the choice. This was greeted as shocking. But really, it just didn't seem like something I would do.

I think there's a tendency, too, to assume that academics have traveled abroad extensively, that we all went to Europe in high school or college. I don't think I've ever been to an academic get-together yet where someone didn't drop a story about their time in Europe the first time, and almost inevitably, it came with the tone that I'd clearly been there, too. But it makes me wonder what else the "academic-us" carries with it that I'm not thinking about, and maybe, just maybe, whether this isn't somehow tied to why academia isn't working for me?

Summer Begins

I knew it must be summer vacation by the need for music and the car windows down.

Truth be told, I've never understood anyone who drove with the windows up and the air conditioning on. Even though that means I arrive places sweaty and gross, having the windows down seems like an utter necessity when I'm driving. And so today, when I went out to drop some things at the post office and to pick up one or two things at the grocery store and instead found myself driving aimlessly with every window down and the stereo up, I knew.

Sometimes this need hits the way it did when I was a kid. The way the last days of summer brought a sense of desperation and laziness at the same time. It hits me like the perfect word. It hits me the way people in movies realize something true about their lover. It stops me from doing things. It makes me do other things instead. Examples: I could not clean my room today, try as I might. I could drink a beer. I could not work on my C.V. I could dream about living other places. I could not pay attention to the documentary about Joy Division. I could turn the stereo on, not so loud as to drown out the breeze.

At the back of my head, there's an itch that says if the book is done - when it is done, since I'll have at least one more round of edits to do, I'm sure - that it's my last academic obligation, and I can apply for anything I want because I won't have a writing contract hanging over my head. I could go places. I could sell out and pay off my debts. I could sink in them, give it all up, and become a painter.

I could doze off in my comfortable camping chair on the patio, the dog half-asleep but watching for suspicious walkers on the street below.

I'm refusing most anything that requires me to schedule. I slept too late this morning, and I'm not sorry. I've got a running list of books to try and read before it starts again. I will not RSVP to say I'm not RSVP'ing, no matter who the university official is. I'm dreaming up silly schemes and forgetting about syllabi.

I declare vacation.