Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Hallowe’en Effect

So today, I lost it at an administrator about how impossible everything was and he said, unbelievably: I see. How can I contribute to fixing this?  I could hardly believe he was saying that, but he was.

People for years have been suggesting to me that I might be In Denial about the lack of administrators who might say such things, but I was not In Denial, it was true. It is not that I have not tried.

Somehow related is the fact that my language students never have any adventures to talk about. I do not have a great deal of Life this semester, as I am working 100 hours, but among 95 language students and myself only a select few had a chance to do anything at all for Hallowe’en, for example.

So I thought back on my own undergraduate life. How much had I, myself, actually done beyond study and work? Not a great deal, I realized, although I was articulate enough about study and work to converse in language classes. But the adventures did not really start until later.

How are these two events related? They involve, I suppose, the revelation of facts heretofore unperceived. We will call this the Hallowe’en Effect.

Axé.

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More on Fashion

There was this character Huipil Woman we promised each other, when young, never to become. She is middle aged, just slightly out of shape and slightly faded, and despite not being Mayan she wears a bright huipil with her denim skirt and sandals. The idea is that the huipil, so fine and shining, will hide a multitude of sins and distract from others.

The problem is that it does not hide or distract, it merely remains beautiful. And even if you believe in huipil wearing as a non Mayan, most people should still not wear denim skirts with bare legs and sandals in any but the very most informal settings once they have reached a certain age. I really understand why people want to wear huipiles. I know what it is to  imagine that if one wears one of those, people will not notice the fatigue in one’s face – but still I say no.

If you do wear a huipil, try it with straight black pants, or a straight coordinated skirt; wear stockings and heels, makeup, hair gloss or whatever you normally put in hair, and all of that. A huipil is a fancy garment and it needs a fancy context.

If going exotic rings your bell – and it does mine – a Ghanaian costume or a sari may hide figure flaws better than a huipil, especially if they have sleeves, and even if they are out of field for you. But there is a very great deal to be said for a well cut camel’s hair jacket, I still say.

Axé.

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Lorca Sighting

I was standing in line behind a young man who suddenly turned around so that I saw his face, and it was this face.

He turned out to be from Saudi Arabia so it all makes sense, but it was still quite a singular experience.

Perhaps that is my visit from the other world this mid-fall evening.

Axé.

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J’ai compris

People come to cry on your shoulder to spread discouragement, but their  more important goal is to invade your space and attempt to create a kind of intimacy just beyond your level of comfort or interest. Once you have accepted this level of discomfort, even for just a few minutes, they know you can be induced to accept more.

They are also hoping you will say you understand their position, and that in sympathy perhaps reveal something you might not have otherwise. This will increase the false intimacy which they can then use to address you as a fellow sufferer.

At that point they will start trying harder and harder to characterize you in that way to yourself, so as to catch you in their net; they will press closer and closer.

Axé.

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More on Academic Advice

All right, to sum up, here is what I don’t like about it. I got all this advice but the cognitive dissonance was that from what I could actually observe, things were not really this bad. I always thought there was something wrong with me, that I could not see it, and feared what might happen if I could not see it was true. But I think it was a great distortion, and that it really is not.

I always heard: don’t spend time teaching, get out of service, and write as fast as you can without too much regard for content – all that matters is placing your piece somewhere; whether or not there is any interest or passion from y0u in it is utterly immaterial.

I always heard: you probably won’t get a job and if you do, you probably won’t make tenure; if you do that, you will still be living in an awful place, and research is just a scam anyway; on the other hand you will at least have job security so try, try, write as fast as you can and ignore everything else, and then you’ll have job security.

Writefastanddon’tspendtimeteachingwritefastanddon’tspendtimeteachingwritefastanddon’tspendtimeteachingwritefastanddon’t
spendtimeteachingwritefastanddon’tspendtimeteachingwritefastanddon’tspendtimeteaching.

I also always heard: Do not do this. It is not going to be fun, you know. It is going to be terrible, because you will have to write.

Donotdothisitisnotgoingtobefunyouknow. Donotdothisitisnotgoingtobefunyouknow. Donotdothisitisnotgoingtobefunyouknow.
Donotdothisitisnotgoingtobefunyouknow.

And I heard: You are doing too well, and it hurts our feelings.

Youaredoingtoowellithurtsourfeelings youaredoingtoowellithurts youaredoingtoowellithurtsourfeelings youaredoingtoowell youaredoingtoowellithurtsourfeelings youaredoingtoowellithurtsour.

These things were repeated a lot and concrete answers to concrete, how-to type questions were not recognized by this crowd; they would not take discussion.

So, I feel I am already all too well advised not to spend time on teaching or service, to write as fast as I can, to not really care what I say so long as it is published; I am already informed that it is a difficult race and that I, if I make it at all, will be one of the last chosen. I think this is all very misleading advice and I do not wish to hear it again.

Advice from me:

Because of the market, we were always told to not to be critical of the appropriateness for ourselves of any particular job and that if we were, we would prove we were not serious. This is more wrong advice.

Institutions are really different and you have to really look at what you want your life to be like before you leap. And yes, you do know (we were told we were “too young,” at 30 and 35, to know our own tastes and orientations).

The idea that it is “arrogant” to “imagine” that you know is a strange one, with roots in – some obscure monasticism, perhaps. In bright Aegean light, self knowledge is a good thing.

Axé.

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Afroman

At the Hallowe’en party I learned this song and I have a question: was the video shot in New Orleans? It looks like it.

The party was on the side of a bayou off the old U.S. 190, the back way to Maringouin. I first drove this road twenty years ago, on the way from New Orleans to Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki. It and what is on it seemed amazingly and charmingly old fashioned to me then, and somehow enchanted.

The bayou is beautiful. Mist rose from the water, up through Spanish moss to the clear stars.

Suffer, suffering bitchez; suffer if you will.

Axé.

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On Academic Advice

This blog is about getting over Reeducation, which had several elements – one of which was the academic advice given advanced graduate students and assistant professors, advice I misunderstood because it didn’t really apply to me. In the same period I had a psychotherapist who, unbeknownst to me, was also an AA sponsor; in AA, as I learned after doing research on it when I discovered I was being taught a series of dark formulae, an important mantra is “don’t think you are different from anyone else.” I learned to feel guilty about what I am sure is actually a really normal thing to do, namely decide what advice fits your situation and what does not. Here, then, are my views on some standard academic advice.

Wrong advice #1: Do not put time into teaching and especially not into lower division courses; find ways to reduce time spent; it will not be appreciated and you will track yourself into teaching jobs, especially if you are a girl.

And I answer: When did I ever put excessive time into teaching? When I first started receiving this advice, I was putting in exactly the amount of time that was specifically prescribed, and everything was going well. But I was perceived to be putting in too much time because of the quality of the handouts and other materials I could prepare within that time. I also got scared: the advice was given in such passionate tones that even now I am nervous preparing classes because I feel at a deep level that I am writing my death warrant. If I am discovered doing this it will not be appreciated; I will track myself into teaching jobs; I will become known as a research slacker.

Managing the fear makes preparing and teaching classes slow. I dissociate and lose focus, have trouble making decisions, and spend most of my time battling the twin demons of fear and guilt.

Wrong advice #2: Avoid service.

And I answer: If you have no administrative support or negative administrative support and you avoid service, then the fact of things not having been done will come back as obstacles to what you need to get done; you will spend more time stepping around the service you did not do and managing the results of your not having done it than you would have spent doing it, and it will take far more time and energy than it would have done to step up to the plate be the administrative support you need in the first place.

I know that is disappointing to hear, and I know things should not be that way. But when they are, they are, and reality must be addressed.

Wrong advice #3: Have social life and recreational time but do not develop regular hobbies or have regular civic involvement. That occupies time that should go into research.

And I answer: No, it doesn’t. It’s time that will renew you as the person who can do research. Especially if you are working without administrative support and/or in an uncollegial environment, you really need an alternate work-like atmosphere where you can rebuild your sense of yourself as a professional person. After this healing experience you will be able to come home and write, as opposed to come home and wonder why a nice walk and so on do not do enough to help throw off the pain.

Wrong advice #4: Write before doing research, write really fast; write really bad first drafts with plans to come back an “fix” them later; realize that writing is pain and put timers on to make yourself do it.

And I answer: Having a PhD does not magically transform writing into torture. Nor do you forget how to write once the degree is conferred. These are two important misconceptions professors seem to have. I do not know where they acquired them, but these are highly irrational ideas. I know that now the proverbial wolf is at the door: if you do not write, you will not get tenure. But wasn’t that always the case? If you did not write, you would not get your degree; you would not pass your examinations; you would not pass your courses. If you got a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D in the Humanities, and you wrote these while working and taking courses as most of us did, then you may already know everything you need to know about how to plan projects and get things done. You might consider simply carrying on.

Misconception A: It seems to me that most academic advice assumes much less competence on the part of new Ph.Ds than most of the ones I have met – and I have met quite a few – really have. In that way it is condescending and infantilizing, and it projects into them a fractiousness and a state of unknowing that they do not possess. Actual questions they have are ignored while principles they already know by heart are tiresomely spelled out again and again as though they were not who they are.

Misconception B: Academic advice appears to assume that the advisee is a very green assistant professor in a very well run R1 environment. It is discouraging in that way because it asks most advisees to operate as though they were in environments they are not. It also asks them to assume that issues such as lack of administrative support, hostile or volatile workplaces, and so on, are simply epiphenomena of their own alleged “poor time management.” This call to misconstrue one’s situation and internalize as something else situations one did not create but must address and not ignore if one is to move ahead, is more destructive than I can even begin to describe.

Advice from me:

1. If you are one of those who relaxes by complaining and venting, and I know such people exist, find other new people outside your department to do it with. If you have a problem you actually want addressed, bring it to your department, but if you only want to bond by letting off steam, find other people in your situation. Explore the new area with them rather than asking older hands to act as tour guides and shoulders to cry on.

2. If, on the other hand, you are one of those who relaxes by getting problems solved and moving on, do not discuss these problems with peers unless you have a peer whose attitudes and goals truly resemble yours. You do not want to get involved with people who will bring you down! For advice seek out a friendly Full in your own department or another, who is not your assigned mentor and who does not currently have an administrative role. They will be able to contextualize things for you in useful ways. They will also project into you some of their calm, full professor energy instead of the desperate, assistant professor energy with which any peers you may have who are committed to suffering may wish to imbue you.

Axé.

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On Required Courses

I know the reasons why there should be breadth requirements, but when I was in college there were not nearly so many as now, and there were many more courses allowed to fulfill them. And in the end, I do not like required courses beyond prerequisites and corequisites for the major. Am I terribly left wing?

Axé.

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High Stakes

The students are desperate to know if they can pass the course and how much work it will or will not take. What easier work can they substitute for the required work, they ask.

The instructors are desperate to teach in as expedient a way as they can. This is so they can avoid considering research in second language acquisition, teach the maximum number of courses, make the maximum amount of money, and have the maximum amount of time to themselves.

The tenured faculty are desperate to conserve time for other courses, research, and administrative work. They feel a professional responsibility to teach this course “right,” but at the same time know that this cannot be done one hundred percent.

The assistant professors know they will be observed and judged as to whether they are teaching modern, well run language courses. They are desperate to get the students functioning in such courses so that when observation day comes, their courses will be running well.

Four groups are participating and each group has its own requirements and goals. These do not necessarily coincide, yet all are high stakes. That is why there is so much conflict and stress, and that is why the foreign language program is so riddled with strife.

Axé.

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On Rest

It was for a while the case that rest did not rest me but now it does because I am in serious resistance against Dat Whiteman, the result of which is that rest really is rest. Ergo: resistance enables rest and does not disturb it.

Axé.

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