Sunday, October 31, 2021

RBOC and some writing inspiration

  •  First, some writing inspiration from Paul McCartney in The New Yorker: "As McCartney recalls, “George would say, ‘Be here at ten, tune up, have a cup of tea.’ At ten-thirty you’d start.” Two songs were recorded by lunch, and often two more afterward. “Once you get into that little routine, it’s hard, but then you enjoy it. It’s a very good way to work. Because suddenly at the end of every day you’ve got four songs.” This puts Sir Paul in the "write every day" camp, and I am here for it. At the end of the day you've got four songs; at the end of the pomodoro, you've at least got more words than you did at the beginning.
  • More writing inspiration, but very vague, I'm afraid: a writer recently posted that he gets up really early to write not despite his being too tired but BECAUSE of it. The fatigue, etc. helps him to stop dancing around and actually get down to writing, because it turns off his inner editor. I saw this and shouted "this is me!" to the cats, except that for me 9 p.m. is the witching hour when the inhibitions put out a "gone to lunch" sign and I can settle into writing. I am still doggedly trying to write in the morning because at 9 p.m. on a teaching day, I am really too tired for any work, but morning writing is never going to be the same as those quiet evening hours.
  • Seeing pictures of modern writing houses, I'm struck by how they seem to come in two styles: stuffed to the gills with mementos, children's pictures, artwork, and various cozy knicknacks; and bare in a pure minimalist style, with just fancy chairs, a laptop, a couple of artbooks, and some inspirational "live laugh love" thingy on the wall, with nary a functional file cabinet in sight. The point is that they have a definite aesthetic. Mine does not have an aesthetic, unless "office for reading and writing" is an aesthetic. To my mind it's the most beautiful (because it's roomy and mine and I love it), but I was ridiculously fretting about its not making A Coherent Aesthetic Statement and that I was somehow shortchanging it because I wasn't making it beautiful enough. Spouse wisely said "it's for your work, not theirs. Work is your aesthetic."
  • My double life of pretending regret about not going to conferences and that there is no COVID or that travel is not a challenge, like the rest of the academic conference world, is making me a bit irritable privately, though I'm still maintaining the public facade. 
  • Was Halloween always such a big deal? When I was a kid, we dressed up and went trick-or-treating on October 31, usually with our parents, but they didn't dress up and the houses were just regular houses, not decorated. Around here everything is Halloween for all of October, and a lot of people decorate and dress up. Was it always this way? Or do we just want more holidays now (not a bad thing)? 

Friday, October 29, 2021

If a crazy donor put up $200M to build a windowless dorm, with tiny rooms, would your university do it?

 UCSB says, "heck, yes!"

Short version: "97-year-old billionaire-investor turned amateur-architect Charles Munger, who donated $200 million toward the project with the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly."

These include the following:

  •  2 exits for a building to hold 4500 students.
  • 1 bathroom per 8 rooms, which is bad for all kinds of reasons I leave to your imagination.
  • Did I mention NO WINDOWS? In a place with a view of the ocean? 
  • And that he's paying 200M but UCSB will shell out 1.5 billion to create & maintain this monstrosity?

When he's not reaching into the past for all kinds of inhumane social experiments for his inspiration, Munger apparently makes this offer to various campuses, and some have accepted (Michigan? Not clear.).

 As is unfortunately typical of some university governance processes when money is involved, this was apparently rammed through without any discussion. 

The consulting architect, Dennis McFadden, clearly a man of principle, has quit, because “in the nearly fifteen years I served as a consulting architect to the DRC, no project was brought before the committee that is larger, more transformational, and potentially more destructive to the campus as a place than Munger Hall.” 

Let's recap: take students stressed out by a year of COVID. Warehouse them like lab rats and force them to interact. Provide not enough bathrooms. And fire drills in that place (how did this ever pass a fire code?) will be a real treat, with 4500 students streaming out the two doors at 2 a.m., unless prank fire-alarm pulling has vastly changed over the decades. 

Wasn't there a lab rat experiment that proved what a bad idea cramming people into a windowless space could be?

And when sleep-deprived students show up in our classes, guess who will get to bear the secondary consequences?

 Nothing could go wrong here, nothing at all.  

P. S. With its steady drumbeat of "no offices for professors is the great future that awaits us all," I'm surprised that CHE isn't cheerleading this effort.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Bad Art Friend: the blue/gold dress of 2021

You've doubtless seen this one: Robert Kolker's "Who is the Bad Art Friend?" in the NYTimes Magazine. 

Here's the short version:

1. A lightly-published writer (Dawn Dorland) donates a kidney, seeks support (praise?) for doing so by setting up a Facebook private group and inviting writers and others to it, including the more-famous Sonya Larson. She posts an open hypothetical letter to the kidney recipient explaining her reasons. 

2. Larson lurks on the group but doesn't post. Dorland looks at her stats, sees this, and reaches out to Larson by email (who does that?).

3. Larson writes a story, "The Kindest," in which a deluded white savior type donates a kidney to Chuntao, who is--unimpressed? 

In the earliest version of the story, Larson, in order to mock the white savior more effectively, uses part of Dorland's letter word for word, telling her group of writer friends, the Chunky Monkeys, that it was too good not to repeat. Later, she changes it slightly. 

Dorland pursues Larson: those are my words. Larson feels pursued but doubles down: oh, you own all the words and kidney situations, do you? Tells her friends, who along with Larson have been mocking the needy Dorland all along. Lies to Dorland.  Lawsuits ensue. 

The reactions, from Celeste Ng and others on Twitter and in the NY Times comments, have been fascinating. 

1. Writers: Dorland was never our friend; we just liked to mock her. Anyway, she was annoying, and persisting in claiming her words is borderline harassment. She was not part of Our Group, the Chunky Monkey in-crowd. We are Creatives and taking those words and Dorland's life situation was creative license--deal with it. And anyway, Dorland shouldn't write about her kidney donation, because she's begging for praise and it destroys the purity of her gift. Only we should write about it. 

Honestly, this is the take from most of the writers I follow on Twitter, all of whom say "it's clear who the bad guy is here--Dorland, duh."  

The Atlantic has an essay by Elizabeth Bruenig saying "get a load of that awful Dawn Dorland" with no hint of the stolen words backstory, which gives me reason 1,000 why I'm glad I am no longer a subscriber after decades of paying money to The Atlantic. 

2. People who aren't writers: "Wasn't that mean, though, to take her words and gang up on her? Why are you mocking her for being needy and for, excuse me, giving a kidney?" 

My take, as a lowly English professor:

Leaving aside everything else: Isn't the appropriation of someone else's words without attribution what we call . . . plagiarism? And call out in student papers?

I get why Larson would attack and get her group to back her with a lot of excuses. I've seen it whenever I've confronted a student about plagiarism, even when I'm sitting there with a word-for-word comparison. They get defensive and angry. 

It doesn't change the facts. I still report it to Academic Integrity or whatever the university unit about that is calling itself this year. 

Would I ever say this, though, on Twitter? Absolutely not.  I went through middle school, and believe me, I knew Mean Girls.  I also know that the Mean Girl syndrome doesn't stop there. 

Larson said that she wanted "The Kindest" to be a blue/gold dress story, where the woman with the white savior complex and the woman who got the kidney were both wrong and right, depending on your subject position. 

But Kolker's reporting, it seems to me, is providing the real test.

What are your thoughts? 

Updated to add: 

Here's Olivia Craighead at Gawker: sure, there was 'light plagiarism' but ewww Dorland. Dorland pitched her story to the NYTimes, which we can all agree was the REAL crime.

Buzzfeed: #teamSonya

Last update: Summer Brennan lays out the whole case, with screenshots, here:


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The two-headed conference Cassandra and other stories

 I know I wrote about this last time, but about conferences: can we just not?

Conference 1. Recently, for a conference in a month or two, I had to tell people that despite being vaxxed I was just not comfortable sitting in a crowded plane/crowded airport/crowded hotel rooms/crowded restaurants just now. Virtual was an option, so why on earth wouldn't we choose that? I didn't mention the $2000 (I added it up) out of pocket cost of going to the conference because there is no departmental travel money.

They looked at me as if I had grown two heads.  Really? Why do virtual when we could be in person and see everyone?

Conference 2. Then, for another conference in a deep red state that's unvaxxed and proud, I decided not to submit a proposal. It would have been another $2000 out of pocket, incidentally, but that wasn't the main reason.

People I talked to: why on earth not? Don't you want to go? Everyone will be there!

Because we're in the midst of a pandemic, that's why. I didn't say this, because again: I didn't need to be looked at like I'd grown two heads.

Conference 3: With plenty of time to spare, I told the organizers of a small conference that I always attend that I wasn't going to be there for a roundtable. No problem, they said, but again: really, you're not going?

I don't know about where you are, but here, hospitals are full. People can't get needed surgery. Oh, and also: people are getting sick and some will never get well. Children under 12 can't get vaxxed yet. There's a large contingent of people doing their "research" about lizard people and microchips and whatever other ridiculous nonsense the right wing is cooking up and deciding not to get the vaccine. They're storming school board meetings and banging on doors and threatening teachers in addition to being general maskholes and behaving badly in public places.

Oh, wait--according to the Washington Post and the NY Times, this is everywhere in the U. S. 

So both of my two heads and I will stay home from at least these conferences for a while. I will hope that everyone is safe from the virus while traveling and that, unlike Cassandra, who predicted the future and wasn't believed, I will be wrong and that COVID will spare everyone.  And unless I have to, I'll keep my mouth shut, because I don't want to be judged for not believing in the COVID-free conference bubble that the rest of academe seems to think exists.


Other stories:

  • Teaching is going really well. It's great being with students again, and teaching and learning with all of us fully masked is not a problem at all. It was even okay that one day when (1) I forgot my whiteboard markers and handouts; (2) the overhead camera declined to work;  and (3) the computer didn't work, either.
  • I am spending so much time on teaching that very little else is getting done. All the work on teaching I do now is work I won't have to do in the future, although right now there aren't hours enough in the day. Everything seems to take twice as long as it used to. I've started keeping track even more closely in my little black book: how many hours to write up this lesson/lecture, this quiz, answer these emails, grade these papers.
  • A lot of the time is going into developing rubrics, which our LMS seems to like if not require; also, some students have written to me looking for them. As you know, I have had mixed--make that very little--success with rubrics, but I'm apparently willing to put 20+ hours into it to try to make it work. 
  • Is anyone else exhausted this fall?
  • On the plus side, our sweet elderly cat will stop braying at the door if we feed her canned food 3 times a day, so that is a win. 



Sunday, August 15, 2021

Ready for conference travel? At IHE, Joshua Kim says "not so much."

 Over at IHE, Joshua Kim asks whether  we're ready to go back to conference travel and whether we have any conference travel planned for this year.

Answering second part first: Yes, I do have conference travel planned.

Answering first part second: No, Joshua. I am so not ready. 

Why? Let me count the reasons.

1. Judging by what I've read and saw when I was on Twitter, travel is a nightmare right now. Expensive flights. Canceled flights. Hours on the phone to rebook the flights. No rental cars. Filthy rental cars that break down. This is all quite apart from the necessity of being Niles Crane and wiping down surfaces, not eating so you won't have to remove your mask--and a significantly higher risk of people acting out in the air. 

2. Somewhat related: all kinds of systems and protocols are changing all the time right now, especially internationally. There's a mask mandate. No, there isn't. You have to quarantine. Well, maybe not, but you have to test within 24 hours.  It's natural that advice constantly changes, and it's right that we get the best information, but planning isn't easy. And--bonus--when you get there, you will not be seeing people's faces, because they will have masks on.

3. Also somewhat related: Did I mention that there's this pesky global pandemic still going on? One with a hugely infectious Delta variant that's getting worse every week? And that kids under 12 can't be vaccinated yet? And that if you're vaccinated you might not get as sick, but you still might get sick? Am I the only one who knows this? 

It's like the options in the "Spam, spam, & spam" Monty Python skit, where they're give options like "spam, spam, eggs, and spam" and "eggs, spam, and eggs" but there is no option without spam, just one "that's not got much spam in it." We don't have a virus-free option, just one that, if we're vaccinated, has "not got much spam (virus) in it."

4. It's expensive. I pay my own work travel, most of the time, since our travel allowance for the year is never enough; sometimes it covers most of one conference, but most of the time not. Figure $1500 minimum for a conference, between airfare, hotels, conference fees, cabs/Lyft/Uber, meals; it all adds up. Those thousands of dollars winging across the country to present a paper? It's mostly out of pocket, from my laughably titled vacation fund.

5. With his authority, Kim says "Zoom conferences are the worst." With my authority, I say, "No they aren't." If the purpose is to schmooze with others and go out to dinner, then no, Zoom can't do it all. If the purpose is lively intellectual conversation, then yes, it can. 

But apart from "Zoom conferences are terrible," I'm with Joshua Kim on this one. 

How about you? 


Friday, August 13, 2021

5-minute post 8/13/21

 Inspired by Dame Eleanor and xykademiqz, a 5-minute post.

  •  Let's see--what's positive? My campus wants people to get vaccinated. I bought more masks and am practicing my death glare for people not wearing them on campus. 
  • Once in a while the temperature goes below 90-100 degrees, although the air quality index hovers somewhere between very unhealthy and "Judas Priest, don't go out there if you don't want to kill your lungs." I really miss walking, not to mention breathable air.
  • I've stayed off Twitter for the week, and in addition to shedding its negativity, I've found more time to read actual books and even some contemporary short stories. 
  • My remaining sweet cat is trying to make up for the absence of her sister and brother by being affectionate and demanding enough for three cats. I also have an elderly cat, whom I love but who spends 16 hours a day within three feet on either side of the back door, either braying to go out or braying to come in. 
  • I am successfully keeping my mouth shut when people say "hooray, no more Zoom teaching!" because that's not our option this year and I want to be perceived as being on "Team In-Person."
  • No Zoom got me thinking about this: did your campus have you designate a teacher who could take over your classes last year? Basically a pedagogical next-of-kin in case, as they delicately put it,  you were "unable to complete the course for some reason"? We had to do this last year, but nobody's asked about it so far this year. 


Friday, August 06, 2021

How YOU doin'? A follow-up to the previous post, I guess.

Seriously, Joey Tribbiani (Friends) & those associations aside, how are you doing? 

 I ask because we're supposed to be all over this COVID drama, right? Right? 

And we're supposed to soldier on, Delta variant be damned. 

Teach in masks, because we're all hands on deck. Back to school meetings? In person, with a Zoom option if you're still harboring some illusions that there's still a pandemic.

People planning in-person conferences for the most COVID-ridden, anti-vax, no ICU beds left at all states in the union as if there is nothing going on. The pandemic is never discussed except as a topic for a CFP.

And then my second cat this year vanished. 

Well, that happens. Search and search and search and put up posters and notify all the sites. 

Soldier on, and all that.

So I'm trying to work. Soldier on. No stress relief of walking or running because it's been 95-105 degrees and "very unhealthy" with smoke.

Keep cooking. Keep writing. I'm a rock of stability. Keep on keeping on.

I started listening to a song--not even a sad song--by the band that's gotten me through the last 6 months--you know, the mental grout band.

And burst into tears.

Twitter didn't help, you'll be shocked to learn. Now, Twitter has only two channels lately: outrage and snark. Today the snark--which, again, I'm only assuming because the cool kids of academic twitter were posting about it but, not being part of the in crowd, I wasn't in on the joke--was making fun of a poem in which someone expressed grief.  I am DONE. 

What I wanted to tweet was "JFC, what is WRONG with you people?" But it would have been pointless, so I just blocked Twitter with my handy apps. 

So my answer to the question in the title of the post would be "not great, Bob!" 

Since we're due for a few days in which the air is only moderately unhealthy, here's my plan:

1. Eat chocolate.

2. Take early morning walks.

3. Stay off social media.

4. Binge-watch some Mad Men or something. 

5. Get some sleep. 

How are you doing?