Irritate Your Prof - a MadLib

In order to fill out the story below, please provide the following:
  1. Name of your major
  2. Name of another major or department which feels like the opposite of your major
  3. keyword which has is mentioned in the course description and in every lecture so far
  4. keyword which has never been mentioned in this course's syllabus or lectures so far, related to your major
  5. Noun
  6. adjective
  7. Proper name
  8. Your favorite letter of the alphabet
When you have those answers for each of those, fill them into the story below and e-mail it to your professor, for much hilarity. They'll love you, I promise. And if you feel like it, you can post your answers in the comments, too! What fun!

Hey __________ (5),
I am writing because I have a question about your class. I was under the impression the course would be focusing on __________ (4). But we're now several weeks into the course, and I think the course may be focusing on _______ (3). I am feeling _______(6). I'm a _________(1) major, and thought this course would be useful. My friend, _______(7), said that only __________(2) people would find this course interesting or useful. Is there any chance you'll change the course so that it works better for those of us in _______(1)?

Thanks! See you in class.

North American Calendar Possum

I'm supposed to be writing. Well, editing and adding. Whatever.

Today's the first day in the new term that I've managed to get completely to myself, free from anything but chores and what-not. Naturally, I have ridiculous writer's block, even though I'm editing and adding. Or whatever.

I made the leap at the start of the term to keep better track of my schedule. I'm on a Mac, and I have an iPhone, and it all syncs up nicely, so why not put stuff into the calendar since my school finally has a set-up allowing Macs to connect to things like campus e-mail and such? And I've been dutiful about it, thus far, making sure to plug in events. I've also been trying not to say no to invitations out.

Only now opening the calendar is enough to paralyze me for awhile. I should at least have the decency to fall over and play dead or something when it happens instead of just standing stunned, waiting for the shoe to drop. But no!

First off, I hate that I've hit a point where I can't remember all the details myself anymore. I'm consoling myself that isn't that I'm getting old, but rather that somehow there's more stuff to keep track of. But second, that level of organization feels more than a little confining to me. It was the fascists who wanted the trains to run on time, after all. This much order in my own life feels confining. Certainly, I like a bit of it - no doubt there are folks reading who are laughing a little to themselves thinking of all the amusing moments where I like to impose rules on myself and others. Still, I like the chaos, too (I'll take a picture of my desk sometime if you don't believe me).

So that's the start of the term. My classes are going well, though I'm still struggling to get enrollment for them, but I'm getting there. And if I can get this writing thing (well, editing and adding...whatever) under control, it won't be so bad at all.

Sí se puede

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Remember that without unions and laborers, you'd likely have been working 80 work weeks since you were children for scrip. And don't forget that there people who still are working those long weeks as children from scrip.

And so it begins again...

There is not much to be enjoyed at the start of a new term, truth be told. For whatever reason, the number of meetings that are crammed in to the first two weeks are ridiculous. And, of course, there are the panicked e-mails from students which are like a slap in the face after a quiet summer. And yet, I'm still having a bit of fun here at the start of the second year. Most of it, though, is happening off-campus.

Need a couple things to enjoy? There's the joy that is @feministhulk on Twitter. And I've finally, after years, paid for the full membership to LibraryThing and have been taking the pleasure that only a nerd truly can in cataloguing all sorts of things. Don't be surprised if you see movies and video games appear in that little box towards the bottom of the right-hand column. But mostly I've been plugging along at book edits, and hoping there are no more calamities that get in the way before I can ship the whole thing off to my (rightly-so) agitated editor, and making sense of the conferences I want to head to this year. Among them are one in San Antonio, New Orleans, and maybe Athens, Greece. We'll see how it goes.

You're Leaving on a Jet Plane...She's Not.

Continuing with thinking about the trip, there are a lot of good bits to remember.

I found myself running through the best stories from the trip with a friend on the phone last night - most of them involved airport travel or Americans abroad - and other than running into my old undergrad adviser unexpectedly - the best story happened on the flight back, as I was making a plane change in Shannon, Ireland.

In front of me, stood two American recent college grads - a boy and a girl - and they were chatting each other up in the way that American college kids do (you know, with the assumption on at least one of their parts that if the conversation goes well it equates to them likely hooking up later). And so I hear them swapping travel stories, trying to one-up each other with where they've been or how much they've spent or how long they've stayed. And then flight begins to board.

They call for the first round of regular boarding, and the two kids begin to head towards the ramp, with the girl remarking she's not in this boarding group (evidently the conversation is going well). Neither is particularly bothered by this, no doubt assured by their recent college graduate status and certain sense of entitlement that might come from age or from being American or from having been through so many airports. The boarding guard, an Irish gentleman in his middle years, balding, takes the boy's ticket. Then the girl's. Then he hands it back.

"It's not your time to board."

The boy, feeling his victory close at hand, goes for the kill, no doubt wanting to show both his entitlement and the level of cool control, "Oh, it's okay. She's with me."

The boarding guard looks him over for just a second, sizes up the situation, and says with just enough sense of sarcasm and finality that every young male in the room would've winced and cupped themselves, "Not any more she's not. Get aboard, please."

And with that, head hung in defeat, our young protagonist was left to head alone down the jetway, his dreams of summer fling put coolly to bed. And I must say, seeing it, and hearing the Irish accent and the sarcasm saying it, made the many walks through security well worth the trip.

Reading While Traveling

I read a bit while I was abroad, and thought I'd mention here, by way of catching up a bit, what I ran into and what I enjoyed. So here's the list:
  • One Day - David Nicholls
  • Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann
  • Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby
  • Cultural Consumption and Everyday Life - John Storey
Of them, I'd recommend the first three, with strongest marks going to Let the Great World Spin (I'm sure, not surprisingly), though One Day reminded me a bit of what would happen if you mixed the drama of The Time Traveler's Wife with a Nick Hornby book, and the Nick Hornby book saw him finally returning to the other thing that made High Fidelity such a great book (not the angst of a male lead his both something of a fuck up and a success, though that's there, too): music as a center piece.

As for Storey, it's intended as a history of the idea of cultural consumption, but the history itself feels a bit light. Entire areas are set up as straw men, based on one or two citations, and dismissed in a couple of paragraphs. It made for interesting "in the shade at a conference" reading, but overall, it was a bit disappointing, I thought.

I should probably also note that I'm about 120 pages into A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. I like it, though I do think sometimes an editor could stand to weigh in a little more.

And then, a reminder

I was, more or less, a fuck-up as an undergrad, trying to manage more than I was capable of: a girlfriend I wasn't happy with, two or three jobs, money home to the family (sometimes from student loans), being young and away from home for the first time, and, oh yea, school.

That I made it out of my undergrad career with a degree is perhaps not a miracle, but certainly a testament to will and patience - some of it, even mine.

One of the good bits, though, was that my undergrad adviser actually saw something in the mess that I was, and pointed it out when he could. I wouldn't have imagined being able to go to grad school - a time I'm not ashamed to admit will probably be the glory days I compare other things to for the rest of my life - without that. And for all the things that keep me up at night - fucked-up family, approaching 40 with the potential of looming genetic time bombs, a mountain of student loan debt - I've got a pretty good life that's come out of it.

I say this because, by happenstance, as I was wandering to get a drink of water between sessions in the conference I'm attending overseas, my undergrad adviser spotted me out of the crowd and came over to say hello.

It was nice to be able to say a quick thank you, and to be reminded of one of the things I have to live up to in my own interactions with students.

On Being Abroad

"It struck me that distant cities were designed precisely so you can know where you came from."
- C. McCann, Let the Great World Spin

I Write Like...

And while I'm killing time in the hotel room, waiting for the rain to stop...

I write like
Ray Bradbury

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Overheard at the Museum

Don't worry - I'm not going to do nothing but strange, semi-sarcastic guides. I've got other tricks of banal humor to use while on vacation.

For example, today at a museum, I overheard an exchange between a man and a woman (both American, judging by their accents) while looking at an Andy Warhol. It went like this:
He: So this is Warhol, huh?
She: Yes! Awesome isn't it?
He: Uh, I guess. I don't get it - what's with all copying of labels and stuff?
She: It's a statement.
He: Of what?
She: Just let me take your picture by the stupid thing.
Already hurt by this irony of the exchange, it was then that I saw - as he turned to have his picture taken by it - he was wearing a Superman "S" t-shirt.

Guide for Americans Abroad on the Day of a World Cup Victory

  1. Recognize that there are some things bigger and more popular than anything your country produces.
  2. Decide whether this makes you want to get on the bandwagon and/or expand your horizons or whether you want to try uncharacteristic anti-establishment thinking and/or passively grumbling that you don't get it.
  3. Take comfort in the fact that people from your own country aren't the only ones who lose any sense of public shame or consideration when their team wins. But only a little comfort. And cold.
  4. If forced into conversation, to minimize lack of knowledge (due to being at conference, lack of interest, etc.) simply mumble "Some refs, eh?".
  5. Wear earphones - the honking, cheering, and singing might go well into the night.
  6. Day after, claim blisters that are making you hobble developed somehow while you were running victory laps long into the night. Don't admit they were from getting lost and finding yourself in the meatpacking district.
  7. Buy a drink or accept a drink when offered. It's the right thing to do.

Guide to Conference Attendees Who Have Already Presented

  1. It's never too late to mention your research.
  2. Always wait at least two hours after presenting your research before savaging another presenter. This lessens the likelihood they'll remember the flaws in your presentation.
  3. Interrupting signals not just how much you care but how important your own work is.
  4. Don't worry if they can hear you talking in the hallway.
  5. Your cell phone ring is endearing and witty. Please, please, do let it ring a little longer.
  6. Feel free to generalize about the academic work of people from other schools, genders, or countries. The bigger the generalization, the more insightful.
  7. Always wait two hours after savaging another presenter before going swimming. You'll get cramps.

Guide to Travelers with Cameras

  1. Be prepared to wait for the shot. It will be worth it.
  2. Remember what it feels like to wait for the next kiss after the first one. That's what shooting with film is like.
  3. If there is a fee to climb on top of something, it is almost always worth it.
  4. Bring band-aids to aid with the blisters.
  5. Expect a ratio of one good photo per roll. This is a better ratio than you will manage in almost any other aspect of your life, so don't bitch about it.

Like All the Great Airplane Disaster Movies

Somewhere just before we over the truly deep open water, the five year old across the aisle from me began to experience the joys of a tender stomach. Funny how well the sound of a five year old retching fills an airplane at 11:12 at night. He probably had the fish.

It was then that I realized I'd left my journal at home.

The trip was not going particularly well so far. On the way to the airport, someone wasn't thinking about how public transport tends to lurch and, so, grabbed the pull handle on my luggage to steady themselves. They broke it. There's not really an easy way to address this on the way to an airport: you can start to have the argument, but everyone knows you're on a deadline. And worse, they can always jump off with a shrug and a sorry at the next stop. What're you going to do? Miss your transatlantic flight?

Because of the drama at home, I was already operating from behind. I have two conferences to hit, and two presentations to give, plus a panel to moderate, and I've got very little done on most of that (okay, I've got a PowerPoint mostly put together for one of them).

Still, I'm here now, and it's much cooler than being back in my apartment, plus my family can't reach me except by e-mail (which I'll only have sporadically) for the better part of two weeks. It is, as they say, sweet bliss. Except of course for having forgotten my journal, being unable to actually pull my giant piece of luggage through one of the largest airports in the world, and having to listen to four hours of a five year old hollowing himself out into a bag at 37,000 feet.

Reading in the Terminal

"[he] lay stretched out on a bench as above his head three yellow butterflies danced. Angels, I thought, willing for a moment to give the world the benefit of the doubt."

- C. Smith, Three Delays

In Order of Importance...

Today, I received an e-mail from an incoming student, asking what they can do to prepare for my Fall term class. Earnest, hard-working, painful. Is it two days before the term starts? Oh, how I laughed and laughed.

Roughly speaking, here is some of what's on my mind, in order of importance, and where my Fall term class ranks.
1. New socks which promise no blisters for my European jaunt starting next week
2. European jaunt next week
3. Presentations for conferences in Europe that need to be ready by next week
4. Papers to be turned into presentation for European conferences that need to be ready by next week
5. Why key lime flavored yogurt is so awesome
6. The answer to 5 probably only makes the yogurt unhealthy
7. How long I can continue to go without registering my car in the state I moved to last July
8. Why "How I Met Your Mother" seems to be on every night on CBS?
9. puppies
10. what to do on the 4th of July
12,492. Fall term course that needs to be prepared
You'd be surprised just how far down the list my Spring term course falls. Aside from trying to explain what an article review should do, this may be the toughest e-mail to answer ever.

First Year Progress Report

Somewhere along the line, this blog forgot a few things: first, that it's a blog (see the giant gap in posting over the last several months), and second, that this has been a big year for things other than personal drama.

I'm almost at the one year anniversary of the move to the new job. And while there have been a lot of personal hurdles this year, the new job has been stellar.

The folks I work with, while high strung and needy as any department might be, are also by and large really nice people. Everyone who's invited me for dinner or drinks has turned out to be someone I like to have dinner or drinks with. They don't quite get what I do in some cases, but they've not dismissed it, and in most cases, they're open to hearing about it. Very impressive considering the idea of multidisciplinary stuff wasn't on their radar even when they hired me.

There's funding. I'm about to launch off for my summer conference fest, and I've been to at least three conferences this year. I've got a teaching release coming up, which will make my teaching load a 1/1.

That's right. A 1/1.

Read it again. I'm okay with rubbing it in. Take a few minutes and grumble. I'm okay. I've got time. 'Cause I'm going to be on a 1/1, suckas!

The new town is better than the old town. There are people here. With interests other than hockey (though the sports fans here are still ridiculous). And there's Thai food that can be delivered to my apartment anytime I want. And it doesn't equate "vinegary" with "spicy" as in some places. I've got friends who, even if they do mostly teach at universities, at least don't all teach at my university.

So, for those of you who've wondered: the first year gets an A-.

Updates and Carry Ons

I should note, first, for the record that I'm back. Second, I must say thanks for all the kind thoughts and support, which did help more than I can adequately express.

I did what I could, which wasn't as much as I would like. And then I left, knowing that what was left to be done had to be done by my parents, that it would require them to want to change things themselves. I do not have high hopes for these changes to ever happen. The last visits to my mother in the hospital were tense. On multiple occasions, they devolved into arguments at the thought that some her precious things were being moved. Worse, that some of them might simply not be there.

There's something to note about the logic of hoarding that allows it to completely ignore considerations of the laws of thermodynamics. Somehow, it seems to say, that if you just twist things the right way, everything will fit even though there's only a prescribed about of volume to be dealt with.

I brought back with flea-bit ankles, smoke-filled clothing to be washed, a sense of guilt that I was abandoning my parents - particularly my mother who will have to use a walker for quite awhile - to an inevitable accident, and the secret fear that I'm becoming a hoarder, too. Do I need all these books? These CDs? Is the comfort I take from old photographs just the start of these things? Or am I just a slob? There's a feeling of lingering depression, too, that I can't quite shake. I feel like I'm going through the motions at the moment, and little things that I can usually shake off - like someone pointing out that my eyes shake, particularly when I'm especially focused - cut me to the core.

I've taken the weekend to focus. No work: just visits with friends, swimming through the humidity, sleeping late in bed, reading and listening to music. Thinking about what I can possibly throw out. Do I need a couch? Is there a reverse condition to hoarding? I remember thinking at some point that there should be opposites to every medical condition. I wish, for just a moment, that I had the opposite of hoarding. That I needed more space around me. But then I think that's probably how people wind up in cabins in Wyoming or Idaho, and that's never a good way to start.

Inspirational Speeches

In all the old movies where the hero is leading a group of people away from danger, there's a moment where fatigue sets in and morale begins to falter. Whatever they are running from is, of course, immune to such things and gets inexorably closer. Usually at this moment, our hero makes a speech that recharges the motley group to dig a little deeper, to keep moving and survive.

I imagine there's a good psychological thriller on hoarding for someone who wants to write it. Or at least a really fucked up young adult novel about going to grandma's house and being swallowed up by the mess she thinks keeps her safe from whatever her personal boogie man is. The climactic scene could have our lead character trying to reach a garbage bag. Or the front door. Or even a Broom +2 for all my gamer friends - you know who you are. And the junk, maybe even the walls would be reaching out to take them. That's when the speech would have to happen.

At least now is when it has to happen here, because that's what it feels like is happening. I'm headed back later in the week, and while victory seems impossible, a stalemate would be nice. Otherwise it feels like just going back to wait for some awful accident.


My sister called.

"How's the cleaning going?" She can't come help - she's more or less banned, and no one really trusts her. From my perspective, she's like inviting a little black rain cloud over. One that'll hit you up for cash.

"It's fine," I said. "As good as can be expected."

"If you're throwing stuff out, I'll take the Egg Chair."

There it is. It's the second reference since I've been here. I blame myself for expecting subtlety. It's never happened before, so I don't know why it would happen now.

My family is fixated with things. Once, when I was visiting my grandmother, just months before she passed away, I was sitting at her bedside, having a great conversation about when I'd stayed with her as a child. My uncle appeared at the door and asked - interrupting the conversation - gestured at the things in the room and said, "What would you like?"

"Just more conversation, thanks," I replied. "And maybe a Coke.".

The other evening, visiting my mother, she informed me my younger brother wants the portraits of our grandparents. I didn't know what to say. Evidently, she expected a fight.

"They're just things," I said. "Let him have them."

The Trip, So Far...

Imagine a centipede that's six feet high in steel-toed combat boots. Imagine it has a sense of irony.

Say casually, as if to no one at all, "I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Wait and see.


Time is a little fuzzy right now.

Sometime a little more than a week ago, I flew home because my mother had to have emergency surgery for infections on her spinal cord.

Sometime, about a week ago more or less, my oldest friend's father died.

Sometime between then and now, my father decided that - to help with my mother's mobility when she got home - we needed to redo the floors in the house in addition to trying to clean and move things about.

My mother, have I mentioned, is a hoarder? My father, by the way, enables this.

My older sister and my mother have a rotten relationship in which each takes anything the other does as a personal affront. Also, my sister has a tendency to steal from or take advantage of my parents. My younger brother is 30, lives at home, and previously owned nunchucks. Neither are useful for anything like helping.

For example, when my sister heard my mother was in the hospital, she called me, 1/4 crying, 3/4 angry, because when she'd asked a nurse for information the nurse told her she wasn't authorized.


After a 30 second rhetorical analysis, it was revealed that in fact my mother had not talked to my sister, being unconscious from pain pills and two incisions into her spine. But instead, the nurse had said there were three people authorized to get information: my father, my uncle, and myself.

Sometimes my sister misses the point.

Also, she didn't notice how she said "your mother."

The funeral for my friend's father is Monday morning at an hour which only proves my theory that nothing good happens before 10 a.m. As a child, I spent essentially every weekend at my friend's house, as the battle between my sister and parents began when I was fairly young, and the need to mediate wore out even 8-year-old Curmudgeon. His father was the picture definition of terse. We used to joke about him talking like Yosemite Sam, but he never actually let on if he was rightly annoyed that they had essentially adopted me on the weekends.

My friend took care of his father at home for several months as he battled cancer and a hip replacement.

He also did this for his mother a few years back.

He's my hero.

Tonight, after cleaning up several bags of trash that were not even a dent in the already metaphorical crater that is my parents house, I found myself angry. Angry that I get claustrophobic in the house I grew up in. Angry that bags and bags of trash didn't cut into the boxes and boxes of useless shit that litter this place. Angry that I have possibly done something to my right rotator cuff (a friend's diagnosis) in the process of shifting crap around but not actually getting rid of most of the problem.

Angry to the point that I don't particularly want to go see my mother tomorrow even though she's more or less confined to bed in a rehabilitation facility and most of her God loving church friends stopped turning up two days after she got there. Angry at myself for feeling that way. Angry that I took a job intentionally knowing it was away from my family because after 10 days here, I begin to get claustrophobic and antsy and feel bugs which probably aren't quite so imaginary crawling on me, and yet I feel guilty about it. Angry that I'm not quite the good son my oldest friend is, who found it in himself to clean up his parents and potentially lose his job and who just lost his girlfriend and yet kept on and said, like a made-for-TV-movie hero-to-be, "I just keep on."

I'm tired.

I've Nowhere Else to Put This

List of items discarded in mad attempt to slightly de-hoard my parents house while my mother is away recuperating from spinal surgery:
  • paper grocery bag of expired Jello mixes
  • 30 year old dead-beat brother who lives at home's nunchucks
  • books titled "Clean House, Clean Planet" and "Unclutter Your House," both so dusty their titles could not be seen.
I suspect it will only get worse. Also, I'm discovering a latent allergy to dust.

Food for thought:

I'm loaded.
It's official.
I'm the 54,564,013 richest person on earth!

How rich are you? >>


So I decided to order a CD a friend recommended to me awhile back - the eponymous album by Year Long Disaster. I had a gift card; I made it happen.

"It's got a Zeppelin feel," he said, "without sounding like a Zep cover band who decided to try writing a tune or two of their own."

How could I not try it? Especially when the term's sprinting to a close, and I'm finding myself confused on a almost daily basis about how many classes are left and what's due, etc. Clearly, I need some sort of reward for making it through almost a full year at the new job.

And today, the package arrived with not one but two copies of this.


This Should Probably Be Two Different Posts

Holy hell, how did the term get this far along and who is responsible for all this garbage to be graded?

Still thinking about multidisciplinary departments. Somewhere, I've got notes on it for a longer blog post so expect that someday there will be more on it. It seems to me that this is part of a longer historical trend in (at least American) education. I think the "studies" departments (ethnic, gender, global, American, etc) probably are some good examples of them, and how they've coped with the nature of juggling multiple disciplines is something other departments are having to start thinking about.


Is it wrong that I'm finding all the enjoyment I had of the band She & Him sucked away by Zooey Descanel's crooning in a commercial for the cotton industry?

Similarly, what's with all the angst towards latte drinkers lately? As a non-coffee drinker, I'm usually glad to see smug java drinkers taken reminded that a beverage won't make you cool. I mean, how man conferences have I been at where there was nothing for me to drink at breaks but six kinds of java? I've choked down the rage, and that's tough when your through is parched. Even so, I find it interesting that coffee drinking has become a sign of fiscal irresponsibility. I'm intrigued to see that idea starting to crop up in commercials from Denny's to Jeep. Am I really meant to believe that somehow drinking a latte makes you more of a twit than running out and buying a new Jeep so you can get groceries?

"Nobody exploded" - on Classroom Observations

Middle of the week, office hours, too many colleagues ducking their head in to focus on a music post - maybe that was a bad idea. Just to be nice, though, I'll toss you a little border radio sounding gem that I've been enjoying lately: "My Sugar Blue" as performed by the Texas Tornados.

For as little as I'm trying to get done today, it feels like things are pretty hopping. Maybe that's because I just printed up paper copies of my Google calendar so that I could make notes.

This post picks up the thread of evaluation related worry started here and continued here.

My class observation is done; I don't ever have a sense of how they went, and when people ask, my response is usually something like the title of this post. We'll see what happens when the written report comes my way. The one comment we did get to after the initial observation came down to the question about class discussion. I felt like I had a lot of it, while trying to balance making sure that the students got a good springboard for how some of the big ideas have been used and defined. I suppose, at the end of the day, it'll all be fine. It's not like I haven't done this before - or been doing it for years now before this job.

Still these observations feel like a big deal.

What's been good in the observation process here - so far, at least - is that there's been the opportunity to talk about what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of the class and of my teaching style. One of the things that was a little frustrating at previous institutions was Navy SEALS approach to observations: observer parachutes in, observes, and reports back all under the cover of night and with as little record of their passing as possible. Sure, there was the option to respond, but it wasn't a discussion so much as a deposition. And it was an option that always felt a bit of a danger to actually exercise: are you being combative if you respond?

What I'd really like is for someone to come in and see how I set up a class and then to check in later in the term to see whether what's happening fits the model I gave. I try to be up front with students about who I am and how I teach, and it seems like in the consumer/contract model of universities and course design that we see today, that needs to be factored in somehow.

I try to couch student evals in a similar way. When it comes time for them to be completed, I let the students know, up front, that I assume they feel like there is too much reading and that it's a difference of opinion I'll always have with students. In the current class, I warned them there was going to be a heavy reading load, in part because the course needed some legitimizing externally: it's bad enough students look at the title and see "CAKE;" I can't afford administrators doing the same. But it would be interesting to hear how evals might be weighed differently if the third party considering them knew the set-up of the course rather than just the repetitive student refrains we all know and love.

Evaluation in a multi-discipline department

The day's pretty miserable here, though that's alright. It's been ages since I've posted two days in a row, but today seems like a good time for it. I've got my second in-class evaluation happening next week, and I need to prep for it.

One of the things that is making life interesting here is the realization that I'm one of a few folks who recognizes that this is actually a multi-disciplinary department. That realization, if it happens, is going to be horrifying for some folks (most notably some of the tenured folks who were here back in the day). I knew it coming in - it was part of the attraction - but I also thought everyone here knew it, too. More than once this year - and I'm sure I've commented on it in the blog at some point - I've found myself thinking "didn't they read my CV?"

I've been thinking about this multi-discipline problem as a sort of theme that would likely guide my posts for a bit, because now that I feel like I've got some grasp on the day-to-day here, I feel a bit more comfortable writing about it. The big point, aside from thinking about what's goes into evaluating teaching in such an environment, is that it seems to me that multi-discipline departments are going to become more and more prominent.

From the standpoint of the teaching observation, I'm realizing just how different the assumptions from one discipline and, I suspect, from one generation of a discipline to another really are. There were shocked looks when, in a job talk someone was giving, I asked the more senior faculty to define a term they all using. But very quickly it was apparent that they all used it differently without realizing. There are similar assumptions here about teaching.

I'm a lecture guy in the classroom. I like a little discussion, but I recognize that I'm prone to tangents that way. And I think that if you're talking theory, it's best to provide a workable platform for students to work from rather than hope they'll get there in a 50 minute discussion. I don't think it's an invalid move to emphasize discussion; I just don't think it's the be-all/end-all of teaching. The view here, as it has been recently expressed to me (and as it was suggested in my first teaching evaluation), is that good teaching equates to discussion. In part, the justification is that discussion is what students indicate they prefer. It's a nice bit of vapid hocus-pocus: students also prefer not coming to classes or being told they've done something wrong. If we inch unthinkingly that way - the student as "always right" consumer - we're going to wind up doing a grave disservice to them and to ourselves.

So I'm struggling with what I'll be doing in the class, because there's a conflict between what I think I should do and what I think I'm expected to do.

Donna Haraway: Futurist of Old Age

[edit 3/13/2010 - thanks to that able proofreader for catching the misspelling of Haraway's name. It is truly appreciated and wasn't annoying at all. Much thanks.]

Most of my Spring Break has been spent plugging away on book edits that have been long overdue. I'd like to claim I made more progress - I've managed to get about 12,000 words edited and supplemented - but I'll take it. Still, it would've been nice to have done something truly enjoyable and different with the break.

Part of why the progress has been so slow, though, is that when I was away at the recent conference, I did something to my hand which seems to be the start of carpal tunnel syndrome. It's made getting through tons of edits a pain, because after about an hour or so of typing, my left hand gets pretty throbby. I know; "throbby" isn't a word. I'm an academic though, so at some point each year I have to make up a word and hope that it catches on.

And that has resulted in my second gadget purchase of the break, one much less fun than the guitar.

Yes, I'm becoming more and more the cyborg as I get older - glasses, hand braces, and when I run, it makes that noise that Steve Austin made on the "Six Million Dollar Man." That last one is the only cool bit of the bunch.

(And it isn't true. I'll never be cool-bionic! *SOB*)

I found myself wondering on the drive back from picking the little beauty up this evening what other gadgets I'll be adding to the "aging" collection. How long til bifocals? What gadgets don't I even know about? Is this the start of a mid-life crisis?

Johnny Guitar and other tales?

So it is Spring Break at last, and while I could be worrying about the reaming I'm currently getting as part of my 120,000 mile checkup, I'd rather focus on the positive. Making it halfway through the term certainly isn't a bad thing, though how we got here, I'll never know.

First up - and pictured to the right - is the treat I bought myself to make the new year seem a little brighter. I've always wanted to play an instrument. These days piano is just as intriguing, but it is completely unrealistic on a single person's budget (not to mention space questions), so guitar it is. I've taken guitar lessons before, though ages ago and not for very long. We'll see whether any of it comes back or not.

The other big news is that funding for the first of the summer conferences abroad has come through, so I'll manage some travel this summer even if car repairs keep me from doing anything fun between now and then. This trip will be sending me to England, and I think I'll be able to linger in London for a few extra days, so if you've spots to lobby for me to visit or any great recommendations, let me know.

Smooth Sailing

I haven't forgotten about you, dear blog. Let the first song off the iPod today be my apology for having so neglected you (not to mention the post title).

While I was away at the conference, I did something to my hand. It left two of the fingers on my left hand close to numb, and that's made typing more than a little bit of a pain. The caps-lock key is often much too close to the letter "a."

That said, things have been crazy. I've been working to drum up funding for an international conference, and I went through the first year review process required here (even though, I've only been around a term). That went well, though I'm still feeling a bit bothered by the student evals. But what are you going to do? I also put in for course releases for next year and received them, so as things go work-wise, things are smelling like roses.

When the finger feels better, I'll try to write more. Onward, towards Spring Break.


One should never look at teaching evaluations in the middle of the workweek. Or the middle of the term, really. I don't feel like my evals are ever bad, but they're so contradictory that it worries me how on earth they'd actually be factored into promotion and tenure. I grade tough, it's true. And I explain that at the beginning of the course and what to do to avoid it.

My favorite comment of this round: "[students here] don't agree with 'the class average was a B, and that's above average'." Funny, I wasn't aware that was a matter that the average of your grades was a matter that could be disagreed with.

Really, this isn't so surprising. It happened at both universities I've taught at previously in the first terms, but this feels like - probably because it's the most current case - the most outlandish example.

Back from the conference babble

Really, this is just a bunch of random notes. I'd intended to blog a bit while I was away, but things got too busy for that (which certainly wasn't the plan). So, here's a little catch-up.


Most importantly, welcome to the world, Leif! Can't wait to meet you.


When a conference is bad, it's really bad. This, sadly, is the state of things at most of the big discipline wide conferences, or so it seems to me. I've tried to avoid them, even in job-hunting years, because it feels like talking quietly into a mob.

Fortunately, the conference I've been at recently has been smaller, and the energy of it has been good - I've got a possible project coming out of it, and a little kick in the pants to finish the projects I've been working on.


I love the scenery here - desert and mountains and cool air. I'd been tooling around a bit in the rental car, enjoying being able to take a drive with the window down. If I'd managed a musical entry for the week, it would've been "Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt" which would've been perfect for the winding road and this scenery.

It's a little hard to think about how to discuss the album. It's a tribute, after all, which means it is highlighting the songwriting and the interpretations of the folks appearing on it. Worse, I don't have it all with me when I want it. The rental doesn't have any way to play from an iPod (how demanding we get as consumers), and when I really want the album is when I'm driving towards the mountains. It's got some gems: Emmylou Harris singing "Snake Song," for one. Willie Nelson's heartbreaking take on "Marie" for another. It's not the only tribute to Van Zandt - Steve Earle recently released an album of Van Zandt songs. And his songs crop up here and there across a number of Lyle Lovett albums as well. But it's my favorite of them, and that says a lot considering.

I first heard Townes Van Zandt's music in second grade music class. He was wedged in among a lot of the famous song writers that my music teacher at the time liked: Dylan, Guthrie, and I think - though my memory may be playing wishful tricks on me - even a song by Cohen. I didn't blink much over him then, but heard some of his music again in college. His music has been a fixture of road trips for me ever since. He's got the wanderlust that I so often feel, and sometimes he's cornered it. Most times, however, it's got him instead. I sympathize. Or empathize. Whatever. Part of the joy of his music is the tension that exists in his songs between the heartbreak life can bring and the joy just being in the world can offer.

And who among us isn't wandering down those roads?

In the air

Somehow, improbably, I have dodged snow and nemesis airports. I hate the quest for outlets and the overpriced mall food and the weird realization that walking through an airport provided about just how small the space of awareness - or the awareness of space - truly is.

How very strange to land and check e-mail. I'm trying to decide if it is the inevitable irritation that builds with travel - doubled by being stuck in the middle seat at the back of the plane - that has left me cranky that a good grad school friend turned occassional conference friend has decided the one time outside of a conference it is okay to communicate with me is to hit me up for a donation. Isn't that why I have family?

But there's good news too: I've had a paper accepted at what I now realize is a ridiculously selective conference. If I'd realized, I probably wouldn't have submitted. Now, I guess I know what I'll be working on for the next couple of months.


Often, I'm a lucid dreamer. Lately, however, I've had dreams where I've been aware of the dream nature, but unable to influence the dream or to wake up from it.

The recurring motif is a black cat - more of a very small, very thin (almost emaciated) panther - that is slowly gnawing off my right hand. In some dreams, I'm surrounded by people - in the first, we were playing Trivial Pursuit. In others, I'm alone, headed somewhere. Sometimes I can shake it off for a moment; other times, it has its claws too deeply in my arm.

It starts at the space between the thumb and pointer. Though I swear that it pauses to savor those first bites, it eventually picks up speed, tearing and gulping, almost unhinged and careless. It does not make a sound. Nor do I. I only try to shake it off, for as long as I'm able, before my arm gets heavy, before it stops to look at me, coldly, as if it could stare me into acceptance.

Or worse, as if to let me know acceptance or struggle matter not a bit.

...a solid soul and the blood I bleed...

It's been a productive office hours day so far: a recommendation letter written and sent, tomorrow's lecture prepped, my reservations for an upcoming conference checked and modified appropriately. It's amazing really, since my colleagues are swarming the hall today, having conversations about sweaters and injuries and the like.

I'm tempted to close the door. But that feels a little wrong to me, having complained more than a few times as a student about walking down a department hallway and getting treated to a sublime exhibit of Far Side cartoons, newspaper headlines, and event announcements, but rarely ever actually seeing a faculty member. It was especially acute when I was supposed to catch them in their office hours but found only that well-decorated door. I wonder at what point this happens - is it a change that I'll one day go through? Is it like academic puberty? One day my voice in department meetings will change, and I'll slink off to my office and shut the door, grumbling about how no one understands me? Is the sabbatical nothing more than the equivalent of getting the keys to your first car?

Hipster music may be one of the forms of music that the academic adolescent blasts to drown out crude authority figures who just don't understand. Think about it.

So, it's with some irony and distress that the album I'm listening to today is one that came across on a number of "Best of.." lists recently. Today's disc is "Merriweather Post Pavilion" by Animal Collective.

Let me be upfront: I bought the album because it turned up on so many lists. And unlike many of the things from those lists that I passed over, it seemed like it was worth a listen to me because it wasn't quite like what seems to be the dominant indie/hipster musical preference d'jour: whiny voice, coffee house guitar, I'll try to channel Connor Oberst if you'll tell my ninth grade girlfriend she was a bitch sort of feel. You know the sort. I love lo-fi as much as the next guy, but when it turns into a formula,'s like the anarchist I saw in grad school who smashed out a turn signal while the driver was still in the car, then cried for the police when the guy got out of the car to give him his own version of street justice. I don't care if your formula started out with some cred: once it reverts to type, it's less than interesting. It's I loved you but you jumped the shark funny.

The songs I checked out from this album before picking it up had a sort of experimental feel to them. My suspicion is that Animal Collective would fail the "does the album sound like them live" test that is one of my more trustworthy musical tests. It's all well and good if it flies in the studio, but does it feel the same at the show? I saw Modest Mouse a few years ago, and to this day, feel like I saw someone masquerading as the band who I might have liked better than the band whose album I'd been enjoying.

Maybe it's the same for Animal Collective: the album's got a little bounce but not so much to burst your working quietly vibe, but perhaps the band brings a little more menace to the show. I feel like it's a background noise album, rather than something that has an anthem or a song that I'll find myself quoting or humming or even wanting to sing along with.

Maybe that's why it works so well for moments like this at the office: not just because sometimes you need background noise, but maybe because the pre-tenure process functions similarly. If pre-tenure is your safe time to be produced and made to sooth the masses, post-tenure could be your moment to revisit your menace? That hardly seems the case, but it's an interesting possibility.

Laughter Amid the Ruins

While the Grammy Awardss reminds how much I hate watching the Grammy Awards, I'm finding things that amuse me. So far, this - maybe because of the site name - makes me laugh the most.

Observations from a Faculty Meeting

What happens when you put a large department in room to argue about strategic planning? Chaos, of course, and maybe little fragments of genius.

It occurred to me that one of the things that happens in a moment like this is the tendency to seek out exact languages. In such a large group, of course, you find that every term is loaded. And if there is a term that isn't, then it's almost certain to be empty.

And when it comes to deciding on a mission, ultimately the mission of every department is one that is doomed to failure, as often as not: to educate, to help someone to know themselves, to do whatever it is the department dresses up its mission. We can quibble about those things, but really, we have to step beyond them to recognize that it's the rare moments we do succeed that matter the most.

They sing "I'm in love, what's that song?"

Office hours are a nightmare this week. Actually, this week is a nightmare, and office hours is a angst ridden bit of respite. This says something, because between weird departmental duties (like hosting a workshop and touring a candidate around campus and showing up at a presentation I don't get to voice my opinion on), I am only managing about an hour of my office hours anyway.

Still, that should be enough time for me to delve into a little bit of music to help pass the time. The album for the week: "Pleased to Meet Me" by The Replacements. If you've not heard them - or the album - it's worth checking out, and a fortunate choice on my part for an afternoon where I'm pretty exhausted from the chaos of the week.

The Replacements turn up in odd places these days. They've got a song in "Rock Band II" now - probably more - but I've had more than a couple of friends who've played the game pause because while the song - "Alex Chilton" - was familiar, they couldn't place the band to save their lives.

I was a late comer to the Replacements, having heard bits of them before - I'm sure I saw their (in)famous Saturday Night Live performance - it resulted in them being banned from the show. But I really didn't hear them until a friend introduced them to me in grad school. Critics back in the day loved them back in the day. Like Bon Jovi, who once asked how the Replacements could be the best bands of the 1980s if he'd never heard of them, I missed the boat. And that's a shame, not just because the boys from Minneapolis were a band destined for - maybe even built for - self-destruction, but because lead-singer Paul Westerberg had - no, that's not correct: has - a way with words.

And that great, rock and roll vibe is perfect for the week which has felt like a bus with only two wheels doing 90 mph. It's been a workload equivalent of a flogging. And having limped through a workshop on how one might use technologies in the classroom, I'm inclined to wonder if, in the same way doctors make the worst patients, teachers don't make for the worst students. At least my years of doing tech support weren't wasted: always good to remember how to properly growl the phrase, "Sir, please stop clicking."

One of the more surreal moments of the week came when I mentioned being tagged to lead a candidate around campus for their informal tour, and another young faculty member felt slighted. I guess the grass is always greener: I wish I hadn't had to do it, and they felt bad because they weren't asked to.

And yet I'm here in the office - just down with "Skyway" and onto "Can't Hardly Wait" on the disc - and the little bits of resentment are seeping off, and the day's feeling fine. I'm due for a beer or two with a friend tonight. It's the mark of a good disc, even if it means office hours and the job have been less than successful.

If the Replacements - the 'Mats to their friends - taught us anything, though, it's that you take those bits of success when you can get 'em and don't worry too much about the rest.

Radio Doo Doo

Okay: just so it's out there before I start the office-hour/album posting next week, and because it so desperately needs to be said, let me gripe a bit in response to my brief attempt to listen to radio today:
  1. Any day now, pop music will get over vocals that involve high pitched trilling. Mariah Carey wasn't that interesting after her first song. Clones and derivatives are less so.
  2. While you're at it, get rid of that ridiculous robot voice effect (esp. you, Hip-hop).
  3. Indie music, it's time you get yours: enough with nasal vocals and constant time changes. We get it. You're not a typical pop singer, and it sounds like you're fucking around. Move on.
We clear? Okay.

First Day

Today's the first day. I always forget how important the first week is for getting up to speed. I'm doing a course that's double-blocked (meaning two class sessions back-to-back rather than meeting two times), and after an hour, I could feel my voice giving out. It was the vocal equivalent of standing on quicksand.

I'm not sure if office hours will happen this week or not - lots of faculty meetings cropping up - but I'm trying to decide on what album to listen to just in case they do work. Stay tuned.

"...a lonely island of poverty in a vast sea of material prosperity."

It's an revealing moment to think about Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in light of the disaster of Haiti. It's "I Have a Dream" writ large. For all the progress we've made, there is, of course, progress yet to be made, and it isn't far off our borders.

If you haven't had a chance to make a donation to help out, let me offer you the chance.

And with that, take a moment and enjoy this speech. Take something from it.

"We cannot walk alone."

Identity and the Sexy Research Topic

I've been struggling to put together my final syllabus for the term.

Way back when I was writing my dissertation, I stumbled onto a topic that let me deal with the theory I wanted to and the way of viewing making sense of my field that works best for me that had a certain bit of sexiness to it. Of course, the way these things work is that to a large subset of people who've come into academic contact with me (doesn't that sound like we're talking about a virus vector? Ugh.) are most inclined to thinking of me in terms of that sexy topic rather than in terms of the theory or the way I make sense of my field.

Teaching this course - about the sexy topic - is one outcome of that. Of course, I've forced a couple of weeks of all the stuff I feel a bit more identified with, but there's still a question: which of these things do I really want to be?

It would help, of course, if the last time I'd taught this course it had gone well. It wasn't a disaster - certainly not like That One Course My First Term that actually once made me think about quitting or driving off a bridge or something else reasonably drastic. But it was an absolute slog. Some of the problems have been addressed by the new job, to be sure, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit I'm more than a little gun-shy at this point. And I do like a challenge now and again.

But I do wonder if all this angst about the sexy topic isn't a battle between biting the hand that feeds me. Still, I do wonder.

Planning for the Term

The new term is almost upon us. Or upon me.

I'm slogging under some sort of lingering sickness that has me sore and congested in a manner that only compares with an L.A. freeway. I've been capable of maybe 45 minutes of focused work these last several days.

My syllabi aren't done. I'm teaching a course I've only taught once before - and it was a nightmare. I've applied for a grant, submitted my first year review, and now I'm pressing. Two abstracts due at the end of the week - trying to get to two summer conferences - and one more grant proposal. God help me. Most importantly, though, I've been lamenting how the iPod has stopped me from listening to full albums. And so it is my plan to make office hours useful by listening to as much of an entire album as possible. I think I might even blog about the experience. Because, goodness knows, nothing useful gets done in office hours, so I should at least get a blog post out of it.

It Must Be Something in the Water

Never have so many people worked so hard to get me some play. Yeah, that's right. I said it: get me some play. I was going to say "get me a booty call" but "get me some play" seemed funnier. It was a game time decision. I made it and never looked back.

And besides, it was better than titling this "Pimp That Professor."

I said that, too. And I'm not sorry.

But it just occurred to me that every person who has ever tried to fix me up has some sort of time in the area that I'm now living in. At the last job, there were two professors who'd evidently begun to hatch a plot to fix me up. Both had strong connections to this region. And when I came for a job interview here awhile back, a friend went out of their way to make sure I met a friend of theirs they thought would be perfect for me.. If that's the case, I wonder if there's a point where I'm going to start shoving my single friends at each other.

The other option that seems most possible is that at dinner parties here, it is customary to attempt to hook up the new guy. Heck, maybe it's not even about being the new guy: maybe it's bring some wine, get a prize. If that's the case, I probably shouldn't have been bringing six packs all these years. Whatever the case, it's odd but funny. I've now been to at least three dinner parties where someone has tried - most recently explicitly - tried to fix me up with someone also invited to dinner.

And every single one has been hilarious. They're like the Road Runner stealing birdseed from Wile E. Coyote. At one, I cleverly avoided talking with the intended. At another, a different guest was so talkative that the party broke up before dessert made it to the table.

Who could resist this kind of fun?

Stupid Facebook Trends..

Seriously, let me just ask this of those of you on Facebook: how is posting the color of your bra helping breast cancer exactly? Because since anyone who didn't get the e-mail (really, I'm told there was an e-mail) has no idea what you're talking about, how exactly are they aware?

Worse it doesn't seem to inspire giving or anything close to intelligent discussion. If most of the comments I've seen about this bit of viral whatnot have been adolescent (at best), did it really help a cause?

Maybe I'm missing it.

Liminal Thoughts...

Starting out New Year's Day at an airport. I'm figuring there's a reasonable chance I'll wind up spending the night in one, though I haven't heard any real problems with travel thus far (still, it's only 6:30 in the morning).

The trip home's been about as good as it can go. Last night, my mother mad the mad rush to clear things out of the DVR she wanted me to see, including a dog doing tricks on Oprah. I've managed to keep my wits about me most of the trip - one snap at my brother two nights ago being the only moment I can think of - and so I was fairly glad to have been able to simply leave the room.

It's hard to think positively about 2010. I've got two relatives with major health problems, the one with the worse bout of them refusing to - and in some ways not in the best position to - follow the most important of doctor's orders. I should probably worry a bit that two of my relatives have pulled me aside to explain the rules of bereavement fairs.

And still, it's a New Year, and there are things to be thankful for: the new job, the new city, friends, family. I guess this is probably one of those moments where you have to keep repeating it.