Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Return of the native


I sent off my book proposal last week, and the next day Cosimo and I hopped a flight to Northwest City. We spent a day in Other Northwest City and a couple of days at my aunt and uncle's house on the Oregon coast, where my brother and his girlfriend met up with us. Then we all headed back to the family homestead.

This is how we do, in the PNW:
  • We go on hours-long hikes in the wildlife preserve near my parents' house. (It preserves cougars and bears. We make a lot of noise.)
  • We encounter slugs. I had forgotten about slugs of this size and in these quantities.
  • We see women in high heels riding bicycles home from bars. Also, we see bicyclists yelling at motorists stopped in traffic about their crimes against the environment.
  • We wonder whether driving a car with Marine Corps paraphernalia (bumper sticker, medallion, DoD tags) means we'll get yelled at, too.
  • We walk for miles on virtually deserted beaches.
  • We drive in and out of tsunami hazard zones.
  • We spend three hours and hundreds of dollars at Powell's City of Books. We have everything shipped back east. We feel depressed about how ill-read we are, and how little reading time we have.
  • We eat lots of seafood.
  • We drive through tiny towns where hand-lettered signs advertise firewood, live bait, and espresso.
  • When we're not staring at the sea, we're staring at the mountains.
  • We miss the west.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Revising the revisions

In a burst of productivity over the past week, I finished writing my book introduction. I wrote a book proposal, revised my table of contents, and updated my vita. I'll be contacting publishers within the week.

But that isn't to say the book is done, or even done for now. I still have to revise Chapter Five and write my coda. And now that I'm re-reading my already-revised chapters, I'm realizing that they're not always doing what my introduction says they're doing; parts of them are still mired in my older conception of the project, and parts of them are just weak. They'll need further revisions before I can send out the entire manuscript.

Since I have nothing else to say, and probably won't for weeks, here's a peak at my deathless prose. (And by "deathless" I mean: "already re-revised out of existence.")

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The jobs crisis, illustrated

The economic logic of replacing tenure-line faculty with contingent faculty isn't hard to grasp: you get roughly the same labor (or at least the same teaching labor) for less money, and you can hire and fire at will. Duh.

But nothing brings that home like calculating one's own "replacement costs," as I recently had to do when applying for a semester's worth of leave. Since my state is in financial crisis, my chances of getting such a leave aren't great--and typing out a sentence that involved telling my institution how much it would cost to replace me made me devoutly grateful just to have a job.

Maybe you've done the math yourselves, with your own jobs (whether ladder or contingent), but just for kicks: what do you imagine an adjunct would get paid for teaching half my annual courseload--and/or what percentage of my six-month salary do you suppose she would earn?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Old technologies

I recently started getting home delivery of The New York Times. Readers of extremely long standing will remember that I attempted to subscribe when I first moved here, but was thwarted--and since it was an expense I couldn't justify when I was living in the big city on a grad student stipend, I haven't been a subscriber for the better part of a decade.

But now, suddenly, home delivery is available in my area. It's been amazing.

I never got used to reading newspapers online, so mostly I didn't. Sure, I'd go to the homepage and read the headlines, or I'd search for things I knew I wanted--a theatre review, say, or the latest coverage of a particular event--but I got most of my news from the radio.

The newspaper is an elegant piece of technology, designed to deliver its particular content in an optimal way, but online newspapers don't mimic that experience. They're clunky and inefficient, difficult to skim, and clicking on a story becomes a commitment: you're locked into reading just that story, and you can only read it sequentially.

But now, in just 20-30 minutes, I can flip through my entire newspaper, read every headline, and dip into and out of stories at will. For the first time in years, I'm on top of basic sports and business news--two subjects that I care about, but not enough to click over to those separate sections in the NYT online, and then click on each individual headline for articles that I probably don't want to read in full anyway. In about 15 seconds a day, I can keep tabs on my hometown baseball team and all the other teams' relative rankings (though given how poorly my team has been doing, maybe I'd be better off without that particular benefit).

There are physical pleasures to newspapers, too. I like the oversized sheets of paper and the ink that transfers to the ridges of my fingers. I like spreading the pages across my dining room table and sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee, a cat or two, and sometimes Cosimo. I like the routine and the ritual, and the fact that reading a physical paper takes me away from my office and my computer, where I spend too much time anyway.

But mostly, I'm marveling at the technology itself. I'm glad it still exists.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan

Once again, I missed my blogiversary: as of May 26th, I've been blogging for five years, four of them in this space.

That's a pretty incredible length of time. It's longer than I've ever lived in one apartment (four years) and approaching the lengths of my longest relationship and my time in grad school (six and six-and-a-half years, respectively).

It's hard for me to comprehend what that even means. I started blogging when I was finishing my dissertation and starting a job as a lecturer. I blogged about my second run at the job market, getting this job, and moving to Cha-Cha City; the end of one long-term and one shorter-term relationship, and the beginning of my current one. And in between there have been writing projects, a couple of fellowships, and conferences, conferences, conferences. If I keep at it--God help me--I'll probably be blogging the process of getting my book published and getting tenure.

And through it all, somehow, my navel has retained its charms.

Thanks for reading, peeps.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Between misogyny and feminism

Fretful Porpentine has a great post, building off her comment in the previous thread, in which she reflects on her undergraduate self's perceptions of her male and female professors. She quotes from one of her old journals, in which her reactions to her female professors oscillate between internalized misogyny and a kind of nascent feminism.

It's a fascinating excerpt, and one I suspect many women can relate to; I certainly can. As I said in my comment to her post (and as I've written here before), I also had a long struggle coming to terms with what being female meant. I spent years feeling that everything would have been so much easier if I had been born male--but to the extent that I kicked against sexism and the double standard, it was more because I didn't feel able to compete within that system: I saw myself as awkward and dorky and unattractive.

Since I wasn't actually resisting gender norms, however, my solution was at least partly to try to meet them: to learn how to "do" female in certain external ways (by which I mean hair, makeup, and clothing--not coyness or helplessness or any of that shit). I didn't experience this, at the time, as capitulation, and I don't regret it now; I'm happier, for a lot of reasons, and frankly life is easier.

I suppose you could think of me as a kind of feminist double-agent--using the weapons of the patriarchy against it! But I'm okay with calling it selling out.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

News you can't use

I picked up my course evaluations the other day, and as usual I was more interested in the narrative comments than the numbers. My grad students gave me a ton of feedback, all of it very good--both in the sense that it was complimentary (lots of comments about my "rigor" and how much they'd improved as writers and thinkers) and in the sense that they provided some smart suggestions for minor adjustments.

My Shakespeare students gave me less feedback, but some of it was similarly useful. Multiple students, for example, identified one day's unconventional discussion activity as their favorite class; based on their comments, I'll definitely incorporate similar activities in the future.

But most of my undergraduates' feedback wasn't useful, as it generally is not. I guess I like knowing that my students perceive me as "enthusiastic," that I can achieve the incredible feat of making Shakespeare "not boring," and that they love love love my shoes and wardrobe--but although I appreciate what are intended as compliments, those issues aren't ones about which I had any doubts or concerns.

Even less helpful were the two students who noted that they were "intimidated" by me. What does that even mean? It might be a (vague) criticism of my teaching style or personality, or it might be an indirect apology for not taking advantage of my office hours or seeking me out for help. Or it might just be an observation: "I noticed you have brown hair. And also, you intimidate me."

Seriously, dudes. What unuseful student feedback have you gotten?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Credit for participation

I'm back from the Institute for Advanced Flavia Studies, and boy: was it an incredible week. Apart from all the scholarly work and hard thinking we got done, I found it interesting to be back in an intensive seminar environment for the first time since graduate school--and to see how everyone's personality emerged over the more than 30 hours that we spent together.

This is the sort of thing that I would have read quite differently in graduate school. During those first two years of coursework, the only yardstick I had for measuring myself--my intelligence, my ideas--was how well I performed in seminar, and I was fixated on how much and how fluently many of my peers spoke: when one of our professors asked them to "say more" or "expand that idea," they could! They could make big connections or assimilate new information on the fly!

I was never a great talker in seminar, and I lived in fear of being asked to "say more"; it was all I could do to get up the nerve to make an observation that I hoped was both relevant and not blindingly obvious. And it was hard for me not to read my limited oral participation as evidence of a fundamental lack: if I only knew more stuff, I'd be able to make more connections, more quickly. And if I were a more confident and articulate speaker, it would mean that I was smarter, that I had it--that thing real academics had.

Of course, as time went on, I learned a few things. I learned, first of all, that verbal quickness is a specific, discrete skill: one that can develop over time, but that bears no precise connection to intelligence and certainly not to originality or depth of thought. I also learned that no one--not the admissions committee, not my professors, and certainly not I or my fellow students--was capable of telling, in Year One or Year Two, which grad students had the most promise or potential, and who was going to make good on it. Intellectual growth spurts can occur (or not) at any time.

And now that I'm a teacher, I value oral participation differently. As a student, I saw it as being about individual intelligence: if I were smarter, I'd talk more. . . but I could learn plenty just by listening silently. As a teacher, I see participation as a dynamic, collaborative form of intelligence: talkative students are not always the best students, but they're actively engaged, and whether their observations are stronger or weaker, they can usually serve to advance the conversation. I now see, too, how much non-participating students (even or especially the smart ones) can hinder a class by depriving it of their voices.

So although I'm still not great off the cuff--I don't process aural information well or quickly--this past week I tried to hold up my end. I spoke rather a lot on the day we were doing material most related to my own work, but on the other days, over the course of 6 hours, I typically spoke only 3 or 4 times, usually rather briefly.

I consider this progress from graduate school, but I still envy the more verbally fluent. Yes, some of my co-participants thought aloud, and at length, rambling a bit until they got to a point--but it was usually a very interesting point once they got there. Yes, some of them recapitulated historical events or literary plots that we all knew, and that probably didn't have to be detailed aloud--but those reminders weren't tedious, and most of the time were generally useful. Yes, there were plenty of dead-ends, comments that no one chose to pursue--but you've gotta float some trial balloons.

I sympathize with my quiet students, of course. But sometimes I wish I'd been forced to talk more, both in college and in graduate school. If nothing else, it would have been useful to have learned, sooner, that it wasn't all about me.