Things I Should Not Be Doing

  • Sitting in office hours, playing this game
  • Mixing up dates on my calendar. Seriously, I feel like I'm developing some scheduling-centri version of dyslexia
  • getting frustrated at my ill sister to the point that I had to say (in an attempt to get her to focus and abandon a little of the melodrama): "Just write a note and tack it to the refrigerator about what we should do if we find your body."
  • looking this forward to this, and its soundtrack by Karen O

The Great Twitter Experiment or...

...the Trouble With On-line Identity


...Climbing the Ladder 140 Characters at a Time


So, as I mentioned previously, I'd been quietly encouraged to think about starting a Twitter account. It's seen, in the current university climate I'm in, as a way of promoting one's self to the broader world. And I, suffering from a whole range of insecurities with this new job (though not just related to the new job), could think of no truly compelling reason why I shouldn't. If having an account might help a bit, so be it.

Except that I forgot about the delicate dance that is juggling dual (or dueling) identities. I mean, if keeping my voice distinct here while not ponying up revealing details was problematic, what would it mean to welcome into the now budding constellation of voices one that has only 140 characters to convey itself? I like to think there's a flavor to how I communicate - or at least some consistency to each medium. I mean, there are things that I've adopted as rules for e-mailing students; there are things I do and don't allow on Facebook. There's the whole host of hoops involved in posting here.

Throw into the mix the fact that, this week, an ex who I think may be well and truly crazy now - the kind of crazy you imagine when you're splitting up with someone to make you feel better about it, the kind you make jokes about while locking the doors and thinking about firearms - actually found not just the Twitter feed I'd created but, worse, my private, non-work-related e-mail address. I am, I think it is safe to say, a private person. The possibilities raised by this - ignoring the visions of said ex doing her Glenn Close impression, manically turning off and on a light while thinking about boiling my bunny - are more than a little distressing.

So, Twitter? How do you help one of those voices? And how do you help someone who is fundamentally private market themselves.

The answers, respectively: you don't, and you're not sure yet.

But there are other benefits, even with my meager following and my slightly less meager feeds followed. For one thing, I'm able to keep a little bit of track of what the public intellectuals I have so admired and wished to be like are thinking about. And thus far, what I've seen suggests one of the following possibilities:
  1. Public intellectuals are assholes, and Twitter exposes this
  2. Twitter makes assholes of even public intellectuals
  3. I only like public intellectuals who are assholes
Twitter, for the public figure, seems to demand focus on the thing that made you public. And that, sooner or later, comes across badly. If you're not careful, Twitter helps you to believe your own press in the same way that getting interviewed by a network might. I should note that this experience hasn't made me like these people less intellectually. It has just made certain that I am no longer in any hurry to communicate with them. I mean, if you're going to show what a twit you are, at least take your time doing it, I say (hence, the blog).

At the same time, I've found some people and sites that don't do exactly what I do, but that have information and interests that intersect. Twitter has become a useful scratchpad for me that way - rather than trying to talk about what I'm doing, I'm starting to use it as a means of archiving things that seem interesting to me, in hopes that I can come back and draw some meaning from particular postings or groupings of them. And that it might help someone who's reading is great. Even better if it might get them to send a little something back my way.

Wednesday Night Fortune

One of the benefits of the move is the decent Chinese available for delivery (it's not great, but then that's sort of how I like my Chinese food). And in the midst of all the little attacks of insecurity that have been plaguing me of late, my fortune was - for a change - not some trite aphorism but actually advice:
Welcome change.
Good advice, though probably not what the delivery person wanted me to read.

The Reading List

Still making sense of the week and the push towards Twitter from colleagues and various sundry other career-related sources. So, while I get my head on straight, here's what's being read or in the chute to be read:
  • Quantum Lyrics - A. Van Jordan
  • The Interrogation - J.M.G Le Clezio
  • Naked Economics - Charles Wheelan
  • Shoplifting from American Apparel - Tao Lin
  • Push Comes to Shove - Wesley Brown
  • The Painter of Battles - Arturo Perez Reverte
  • Smashing Open the Door - Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno
  • Let Fury Have the Hour: the Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer - Antonino D'Ambrosio
So if you've read any of them, or you're dying to talk about any of them, let me know, and I can put some period posts up about them as I go. And, of course, if you've got some great recommendations, I'll take those, too!

New Job, New Media?

Guess I really wasn't thinking about some of the bigger differences going.

In a meeting last week, one of the things that came up was the desire for faculty to find ways to use all these new fangled media devices to promote themselves - and hence, the U. - better.

"Consider running a blog," someone said. I snickered and tried to look aghast. But worse, they want us to do things like Facebook (Okay, I'm already there) and Twitter (which I'm less than convinced is useful for me to promote myself, and hence, the U.). I don't think I'm at the point in my career where I have profound things to say every hour. Honestly, there are days where I find myself stretching to complain in this blog.

Really, though, what I wanted to ask was: what's the model you're thinking about here? Because it seems to me a half-assed attempt to use something like this only looks bad (I was going to say makes one look like a whole ass, but isn't the phrase "half-assed" implying that a "full-assed" attempt would be the way to go? I don't know...). Is there any evidence that prospective students are using presence of a Twitter account to make their decisions? Are grant givers factoring it into their assessments on whether or not to give funding?

Because on some level it feels like that, best case, we've become convinced we need Twitter because we hear the word so much. Thoughts? Is this happening elsewhere? In particular disciplines?

Many Forms of Panic

I am in my office, reading a book of poems I ordered to help lessen the trauma of reading all the books that will hopefully catch me up so that I can appropriately mention names at parties, and many forms of panic begin to visit my lonely office vigil.

First, the colleague the chair talked to in the office next door about her loud study sessions. I've heard much about this in the last week, though as a music listener, I'm largely unfazed. Does she, with all her tenured might, think it was me?

Second, a parade of faculty down the hall, muttering about a conference room. Am I missing a faculty meeting? Why can't I find it in my e-mail? Who can I ask without exposing my horrible skills as a new colleague?

Third, the realization that my old lecture notes are all in a format that Microsoft Word for Mac refused to admit exists. Will I spend my whole term reinventing the wheel of my thoughts?

Excerpts from the Weekend

"I don't understand how you could not like networking," she said. "Meeting people is fun."

"Networking isn't meeting people. Meeting people is meeting people. Networking is meeting people with the express hope of bettering yourself. I find that more than a little sad."

"It isn't that calculating. Anyone can do it."

"Given many homeless people your business card?"


And, lo, it was fated that not long after our hero began his new journey that doubt crept in. Like a thief in the night. Like a boorish party crasher. Like a bug in your bed sheets.

Having wandered through a couple of get-togethers in the past few weeks, listening to people name drop and conference-check, I began to wonder whether I'm about to be out of my research depth. Four years on a 4/4 didn't exactly do wonders for my knowledge of the field. Over the course of the term so far, I've been read by colleagues as working in at least three different areas - all close to theirs - none of which are the areas I actually work in.

This is what I love about academia - no matter how good things are going, you can always find a reason to believe you're there on a loophole.

Random Thoughts From Office Hours

So, I've been made aware that no students know me. This made them less likely to take my classes., and it seems to follow that they won't be beating down my door at office hours for awhile yet.

Okay, they really probably won't ever. I do want to be realistic. But the office next door is learning French loudly. I have to do something.

In theory, this means office hours can be productive (or at least a productive as I'm capable of since the thought that students MIGHT come by and interrupt stops me from doing any truly intense work). Instead, of course, I'll spend my time thinking of random things. And since I haven't blogged in ages, today I am compelled to try to make your lives better with some of the things that have made mine better:

First, Kathleen Edwards. Her most recent album, "Asking For Flowers," is probably the most consistent listen for me over the past six months. It haunts me. In a dream the other night, I was back in class, and when it was my turn to present, I tried to start a sing-along of Johnny Cash's cover of "Pocahontas" and Kathleen Edwards' "Goodnight, California." I closed with her song. That's how impressive she is. You should check her out. And if you don't like her, you should check yourself in. To a mental hospital.

Second, cayenne pepper on corn, especially corn on the cob. Especially when it's been grilled. Especially at summer barbecues.

Third, Breaking Bad. Think of it as "The Sopranos" meets the health care debate. I wish there were more episodes in a season, and I need to figure out what the first episode of season two is so I can catch up, but it's good. I'll also plug "Dollhouse" though it took me an age to get into it. TV is getting tough to enjoy as I bought an HD TV, and I'm convinced that everything looks awful on it. I'm not swayed by those people - typically sports fans - who rave about how clear it is. "You can see the grass on the field," they gush. Newsflash: I don't want to stare at grass on my TV or elsewhere.

So that's it. What am I missing?


In my experience, the first truly bad experience with any new academic job is orientation. Think back to your own, and I'm betting you'll agree with me. While there's a ton of things to complain about - there is, for example, invariably someone with hyper-specific questions and tedious back story to the question. Really, it's like any class you've ever taught or attended, ever. That might explain why it's so frustrating to attend them when they often seem so poorly thought out.

But rather than spend much time worrying about those things, I want to offer some quick suggestions to make orientation a bit more useful, rather than the enormous time-suck that they so often are. So with that in mind, here's what I need from an orientation:
  • enough time in advance of the term to make use of the information given
  • a comparison of the benefits and costs of each
  • someone who can actually answer my benefits questions (it's interesting that at every orientation I've had, the HR reps seem to actively fear answering benefits questions - is it a legal thing?)
  • any specific language that's expected in my syllabi (for example: plagiarism policies, disability policies, departmental objectives, etc)
  • how to get my parking decal and ID
  • my e-mail id and how to contact IT
  • a brief profile of the student population
  • a copy of the faculty handbook and an explanation of who to go to with questions
  • a copy of the campus directory
What I don't need from an orientation:
  • a parade of people
  • a meeting with different groups whose benefits options differ (honestly, do you need to rub adjunct noses into discussions of health care, etc?)
  • meetings that involve decision making about long-term university projects or anything that has a context an incoming freshman couldn't intuit
  • people talking about things that I won't be dealing with in the first two weeks (for example: study abroad). And if they must be there, then they should speak for a minimum amount of time
  • acronyms and buzzwords
  • references to policies that are no longer in effect
  • references to web pages without a written URL
  • references to forth-coming e-mails
  • discussions of teaching that include the phrase "I'd never do what I'm doing now in the classroom" or anything similar
I think that's a pretty good start. I'm probably missing some, though. Thoughts?

Notes from (A Bit After) the (Now?) End of the Road

It's been awhile.

Sometimes I've felt a bit overwhelmed, sometimes a bit lazy. I've jotted notes - a few of lines of which made it into this in different points. Really, I've been writing and rewriting this post for a bit. But it feels overdue.

So let me catch you up.


After the move was so crazy, the arrival was much easier. On each end of the trip, I'd hired someone to deal with getting things moved between the truck and the apartment. In the old town, as you may recall, they didn't show. In the new town, they turned up 15 minutes early, finished a half hour early, and were polite, smooth, and funny the entire time.

Getting unpacked, however, has proved less than compelling. There are still boxes which I simply can't bring myself to get to. The couch, which I spent awhile worrying about here, does indeed go okay with the carpet. Here's a picture, as promised somewhere in the distant past. But the apartment is set up for the most part, as is the office, though it needs some artwork to deal with the tremendous amount of blank, white wall space. The bright side there is that it means I've got a bigger office than I ever had before since my usual calamitous mess hasn't been enough to fill it.

The expected fireworks over Tupperware never happened with the former roommate; instead, we spent nearly a month haggling about how the deposit should be split. It was tedious and a little ridiculous; in the end, I gave him close to what he was asking simply to make sure that he didn't bad mouth to me former friends and colleagues, as he's never had much of a poker face about his grudges. Honestly, I had bigger fish to fry.


A week or two in the door, I had to leave for a conference, which meant that the week or two I was here were spent not just wrestling with boxes, but trying to figure out how to get funding through the system double-time.

It was, I must say, one of the nicer surprises to see that not only could it be done, but that no one blinked, everyone said "please" and "thank you," and I didn't have to pay a dime out of my pocket.

Until recently - IT again my nemesis - that has been the experience here.


I haven't explored much. The drivers frighten me a little. Once, driving to help a friend unload his U-Haul (I've moved two people since I've been here, plus a trip with another to buy furniture), a police officer stalked up to my window and seemingly wanted to pick a fight because I didn't get a local driving queue (I still, frankly, don't know what it was that I missed, but he made it clear that I did something).

Where I have spent time has been with some of my dear friends from grad school. While we haven't been going to a bar the way we used to, I've probably had more drinks in the past month than in the last year and a half at previous job.


At my first real meeting in the department, I was caught unaware. It's what I get for focusing on my cake and thinking that birthday get-togethers would be staid affairs.

An older colleague looked up over her cake and mentioned her son going to a strip club. I blinked a little - about the same way I did when a friend in grad school announced they liked to go to massage parlors. Then, my horror was that "massage parlor" was, where I came from, a gentle euphemism for brothels and gun fights, while around my grad school, they were simply another form of hippy delight.

Evidently, strip clubs might be seen somewhat similarly here.

As the only male in the room, I wasn't quite sure what to do. So I looked down at my cake and tried to move on. Obviously there was nothing I could say to this. But everyone in the room began to offer up stories. One of them told of the time HR at their school organized a trip for faculty and staff that ended up at one. Another told a story about their favorite club in a nearby city. They swapped brutally punned club names they'd gone to. In short order, every possible thing I might say began to feel like it would be taken wrong. Even complimenting that tasty cake seemed like a bad idea.

But the conversation was funny.


At night, in the hotel room at my out-of-the-country conference, I received an e-mail: "No one has signed up for your class. Please advise." My time, attempting to speak the language, slowed me a minute. Was I supposed to know enough, two weeks in, to advise?

If so, I was in trouble.

Evidently, promoting my class at the end of the Spring fell a bit by the wayside, and so I was offered a choice: teach "horrid freshman class" I've never taught before and that no one ever wants to teach, or teach a single course in Fall and three in Spring.

Easy choice.


At orientation, the History faculty member began to detail for us, in rapidly devolving tangents, about the time classroom technology let us down. She told the tale earnestly, as though she had made a great discovery that all professors should be aware of: technology fails. The Accounting professor was not to be topped. With each item related to health care, she offered a story of her teenage son's clumsiness. With each retirement option mentioned, she spiraled about her ex.

It was, as most orientations are, a tennis match of boredom. Only later would I be tossed into the deep end of acronym heaven. The VP of Something Or Other spoke for six minutes using only simple verbs and acronyms. Everyone nodded sagely. It seemed like we might make it out only 45 minutes late.

But then the History prof had an epiphany.


Sitting at the closing reception, the Latin American journalist who'd crashed the party looked at me and proposed a strange question. We'd been talking about H1N1 and about our favorite authors, and it didn't seem so bad, until that moment, that I didn't have full command of the language. He told me how he feels people from his country have a block - a sort of psychological vomiting reflex - that keeps them from ever wanting to learn or speak English. I explained that I think for many people from the U.S., to learn another language seems like a sign of weakness.

But then, across the table from a group of older, established Australian scholars I'd been giving a slight effort to impressing, he asked me if I wanted to drive out into the desert and do some peyote.

I paused. Maybe I'd missed something in my translation. Just to be safe, I declined, and mentioned that I'm really only into alcohol.

He was incredulous. And persistent. The Aussies could only manage awkward silence.

But we recovered. We went back to discussing publishing across the Americas. He suggested he could get me published in Bolivia. Then he gave me his blog URL, so I could read his theories about the CIA and various pandemics through the ages. And then, because perhaps the Ausssies got too comfortable, he returned to peyote. And when I didn't bite, he went a step further.

"You like the women here?"

I did. I like the women everywhere, really. But that wasn't what he was asking. Oh, to understand the nuance.

"They're not too expensive. We should get some, and have a good going away party before you head back."

The Aussies, it seems, spoke the language better than I did. They all looked at each other and left the table as a group. It seems, in addition to being a journalist (of sorts), I may have been drinking with a pimp.

Swigging my last shot of mescal, it seemed time to leave the table. And so I did.

And so I am doing now.