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.
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.
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:
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.
While you're at it, get rid of that ridiculous robot voice effect (esp. you, Hip-hop).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.