Thursday, August 31, 2023

Back in the saddle again, school edition

Gene Autrey’s voice is singing this song is in my head as I write this, so here’s to riding the range once more with reminders I’ve forgotten over the past year. 

1. Teaching

Is it good to be back? Pretty much. 

Did I spend too much time preparing syllabi? Yes.

Too much time writing up a lecture? Yes. 

What is it with power dynamics in the classroom, by the way? If I go in with puppy-like enthusiasm for the subject and with lots of additional information, they respond coolly—“whatever”—as though they know it already, which they definitely do not.  

But if I tone down the friendliness and am more distant and authoritative, they warm up. It’s a power dynamic in classrooms that I forget about when I’ve been away from teaching for a while. Friendliness is fine, and so is the decentered classroom, but the whole “make sure you give away your authority so that they trust you” trend of a few years back always seemed false: you are the authority in the classroom, and to pretend otherwise seems disingenuous, not to say dishonest. The students sense this and respond accordingly. 

It’s a way of showing mutual respect, I think.

2. Writing

I’m excited to get back to writing: I turned in a conference proposal today for research related to my next book. And I haven’t even bought the all-important new notebooks yet, which is sure to create more writing inspiration. 

3. Meetings

Since I’m not doing admin, all I have to do is (1) show up and (2) contribute if there’s something to say. It’s not necessary or desirable for people to hear every thought that’s in my head, nor is it necessary to smile all the time. Show up, be respectful, and be done. 

Here’s hoping you have a good beginning of the semester!

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Random bullets of early August

1. New College in Florida is dismantling its Gender Studies program, and West Virginia University is carrying out the draconian cuts promised in this article from June. It's behind a paywall, so I can't see it, but the board doesn't care if it destroys the university. 

2. Nicole and Maggie have resurrected the "life after tenure" meme from 2013 and aww, nostalgia. Here

s what I said then:

Short version: pretty much the same, with more job security. Here are a few more posts about it.

3. Xykademiqz is coming out with a book!

4. I'm once again summoning the spirit of the dog my family had when I was a child:

Our family used to have a dog that did this: If she didn't want to acknowledge the presence of something she was afraid of, like a cat or something she'd chewed up and knew she'd get in trouble for, she wouldn't look directly at whatever it was but would turn away and look at it out of the corner of her eye.

I am that dog, and the semester is what I'm seeing out of the corner of my eye. 

5. It's like living in a science fiction novel, being the last person on God's green academic earth not to be away vacationing somewhere and sending autoreplies in response to my responses to their queries. What did I do? I set one up myself, a perfectly polite one. Only you and I know that its secret message comes straight from my inner Logan Roy. 

6. This seems to be a lesson that I have to keep failing at learning over and over again: if you respond too quickly, or include an answer both to A (what they asked) and to B (the next logical step), it's all so many electrons wasted in the ether. Your reward may be to be ignored, or, worse, lectured about it. I've posted before about imaginary cranky responses to email, but maybe the autoreply and an information diet for the requesters is a much better response.

7. But it's still summer for a few weeks yet. Walking in some glorious cool weather, eating ripe tomatoes, watching the bees in the lavender and bee balm--all are there to be enjoyed now. 

P.S. I haven't seen Barbenheimer (as xykademiqz posted about), but the new season of What We Do in the Shadows has a scene with the energy vampire council that made me fall off the couch with laughter. It's every Zoom meeting ever. Context: energy vampires feed on the negative emotions of others.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Random bullets of July

  • It’s summer, it’s hot, and it’s going too quickly. Although they’re pretty, I always dread seeing Queen Anne’s Lace flowers because they mean that the second half of summer has begun. 
  • Traveling from a dry climate to a more humid one is a shock to the system. People joke about “it’s a dry heat,” but there really is a difference. I got off the plane and felt as though I had walked into a wet sponge. 
  • Despite all the weather & other stuff (waves at the world), people where I was and in the airports seemed—what’s the word? Happier isn’t exactly right. Maybe more resigned? Patient? They seemed less frantic than before the pandemic (or the panini, as they say on Reddit). I was in a city where I’ve been several times, and, quite unusually, people even said hello once in a while and smiled and held doors for each other—things like that. 
  • Not everyone, though. On the plane, a woman swept her long hair back over her seat back so that it was hanging over onto my screen—and I swept it right back over the seat back without thinking twice about it, and that was the end of the matter. My action was instinctive, but my thinking is, if you don’t want me to touch your hair, don’t put it in my space. Who does this? You are not Rapunzel, and I am not a handsome prince. Still, that’s a pretty minor thing to deal with.
  • Work is going well.

Monday, June 26, 2023

June: Thinking positive thoughts about everything but email

It's June! This is the time of year when the apple & plum blossoms turn to tiny green fruit, when the butterflies entice the cats into trying to catch them, and when the sky stays light well past a tired person's bedtime. How can you not love the summer solstice? I'm trying to be more positive and less critical, and this time of year can be a big part of it.

Work (though not writing) is going along well. It's a kind of work that must be done so that other work can be done--think sorting index cards or classifying and writing down types of paper clips or figuring out what an author means when she says "about that other matter" or dates a letter simply "Tuesday afternoon." But since I'm the one who has to do it, I'm finding it fascinating, or if not fascinating, all-absorbing. It seems like rote work, but it will pay off down the road. It already is, really, in overall connections I'm making in my head about the bigger picture of the project.

June is also the season of non-reciprocity, though. It's the month of the almighty auto-reply, when academics on vacation send you requests, you respond, and you get an autoreply in return, or get invited to subscribe to their substack, or added to their publicity mailing list. And sometimes, you get lots of emails from someone who pays absolutely no attention to the carefully thought-out replies you've already sent. It's communication, all right, but it's neither collegial nor reciprocal, because you've become an instrument, an entity of solutions that require work on your part and will benefit them. The solutions: wait before responding; provide minimal responses; or just don't answer at all. 

Also, you can draw your personal boundaries to maintain focus on your own work. There's a lot we do--reviewing articles, manuscripts, etc.--that counts for very little, and before you say yes to something, think about what you'll learn from doing the review as well as how it services scholarship and the larger academic community. I say yes a lot--most of the time, in fact--but then, I almost always learn something when I do. Other types of service might not be as rewarding, such as writing book blurbs. I used to do this if asked, to be collegial, but last time, I put some significant hours--writing time, remember--into one, and it didn't get used. The publisher can use whatever blurbs are going to best sell the book, of course, and aren't obligated to use what I wrote, but similarly, I'm allowed to spend my time where it's not going to be wasted: on my own writing.

To get back to positive thoughts: June! Early morning air! Lavender! How's your summer going?

Saturday, May 13, 2023

At the Chronicle: Kevin Dettmar gets it right about summer service.

Over at The Chronicle, Kevin Dettmar answers a department chair's question--"How do you get professors to respond in the summer?" with some words of wisdom: His answer is, basically, "pay them," and it is so good to hear that. 

From the piece (behind a paywall, sorry): 

For scholars, summers represent what the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are to the retail trade: the time when we move, if barely, from the red into the black for the year’s writing and scholarship. And as someone who has tried to remain productive, I guard that time jealously — no, viciously. So I’m in full sympathy with your faculty colleagues, as perhaps you are as well.

Other good advice: "plan ahead" and "show them the money."

Dettmar's analogy about the retail trade is a good way to look at it, too: it's not so much the time that you spend in answering an email as the loss of focus and time that answering a request represents. Northern Clime and its administrators have been good about this, even if you don't leave a scorched earth out-of-office message as I've seen elsewhere on the web.

But I needed the reminder that Dettmar provides and that I wrote about in 2018 to push me into applying this principle to another time-sucking practice, not from university departments but from faculty who are heading off for three weeks on a fabulous research grant or vacation and will eat up all your time on either side of their time away by impinging on your time with a flurry of emails and requests, especially if you haven't set a firm boundary.

You don't have to have a fabulous grant, or a destination further than your own back yard, to ignore these requests. As Dettmar says about department chairs, their timetable is not your problem, and you don't need to make it your problem to be accommodating. 

An example: in Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar, the mother tells Majorie, who's working for free at a summer camp, something like "they can wait for a while for what they're paying you." It's not always true, but it's worth keeping in mind.

Maybe this isn't a problem for you, or you have a scorched-earth out-of-office message doing that work already. But if you don't--if you're inclined, like me, to respond too quickly and be too accommodating--this is a reminder that you're paying yourself to write or research or relax this summer, and that anything work-related that interrupts might be able to wait a while, for what they're paying you.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Taking Stock: Random Bullets of an end-of-semester retrospective

 For academics, it’s natural to think of the beginning of May as the end of the year, because, well, it is. 

  • Was it a good year? Pretty much, yes. Yes, I got Covid (not too badly) despite all the vaccinations, but approximately 100 percent of the people I know who have traveled by plane got Covid, so by that metric, only having it once was not too bad.
  • Did I get the writing done I’d hoped to do? No, but I did get some done, and some previous articles were published. 
  • Being on sabbatical and away from campus and its various dramas may have made me a little less diplomatic. I was talking with a colleague at an event recently about a Big Initiative that some were promoting in the department, one I’d read about. “What did you think of BI?” Asked my senior colleague. “It’s bonkers,” said I. “Oh, it was my idea,” he said. “Um, well, it's still not a great idea, and I’ll tell you why—“ and, Reader, I told him. The old administrative me would have been more circumspect, but come on—I’m senior faculty, too, and if the tenured people don’t stand up against a bonkers idea, who will? At least the debate will spur some thoughts on both sides, and if there’s a reason that it is sensible instead, I’m willing to be convinced.
  • Speaking of administrative work, I see in the trending posts sidebar that the “To Resign or Not To Resign?” Post from 3 years ago is on that list. I did resign, and it was definitely a good call. Having the responsibility without the power to put plans into action was making me lose sleep and perspective, and just letting go was a huge relief.
  • Speaking of letting go, I've realized that one of the collaborators in the long-term project ignores my emails explaining things or answering questions and that it's a waste of time to give a substantive reply because ze won't read it. Solution: diplomatic responses along the lines of a telegram (10 words or less) if absolutely necessary to reply and saving explanations for meetings.
  • Apologies for random capitals; I can't seem to get rid of them.
How was your semester?

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Random bullets of tech, etc.: working hard or hardly working?

  1.  Mostly working hard. I've completed some writing & received editorial compliments on a forthcoming article, which makes me happy. Judgment: Working hard.
  2. My on-again, off-again love affair with Endnote is on again after I discovered how easy it is to attach and read .pdfs in it. Yes, it's more expensive than Zotero (which costs $0), and definitely more glitchy, but I understand it, which goes a long way when you don't want to reformat your brain to learn a new kind of software. One of its most touted features blows up my computer in a spectacularly awful way if I dare to try to use it, so I won't be doing that again any time soon. Judgment: Hardly working.
  3. Does anyone else do this with new technology? My iPhone had gotten so ancient that Apple had done the tech equivalent of telling me to send it to Shady Pines for a good long rest, so I bought a new one a month ago. Why did I wait a month to set it up? Because I knew there was a good chance that the "Setup your new phone in 15 easy steps" would go wildly wrong and that I would have to sit on hold to get it straightened out. It didn't go wildly wrong, just a little wrong (problem: too ancient an iPhone to do the new kind of setup), and yet, I did spend time talking with tech support to get it set up. Judgment: Hardly working.
  4. It's funny: I used to read The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed fairly religiously, the latter more than the former, but since they're both paywalled now and you can't read more than a few words, I've mostly given up. Yes, IHE gives you some free articles if you sign in, but by the time I've tried to log in, been told that my password is wrong (and it always is), I kind of lose interest. Same is true for CHE, which I can get months-old versions of from Northern Clime's online library, but by the time I've logged into the library, done the two-factor authentication, found it, etc. it doesn't seem worth the bother. I feel about those the way I feel about games: if it's more work to play than fun to play, forget it. Judgment: Hardly working.
  5. Same holds true for article links posted on the dying hulk of Twitter: if you have access, use a gift link in your tweet, for heaven's sake; otherwise you're just tormenting us with something we can't read. The whole "whither goest thou, English major?" set of articles recently were probably good, but except for the one in The New Yorker, I couldn't read any of them and, yes, gave up. Judgment: Hardly working.
  6. For one brief moment, in wrestling with images this week,  I wanted to go back to an easier, simpler time when departments had People to whom you could say "I'd like .TIFF files of X, Y, and A," and they would make it so. Or is this simpler time a complete illusion? Were there ever such People to help professors in this way? Anyway: hardly working. 
  7. For a brief moment, Northern Clime had some screencast system where students and instructors could project stuff on a screen, if you downloaded it and learned the intricacies of the program, but then it went away, to be replaced by something else, maybe.  Time spent learning software that gets replaced frequently = time spent on hold with the phone company, working your way through the bots and the automated systems until a real person can fix the problem. Hardly working.
  8. Wordpress hates me again this week, so I couldn't comment at nicoleandmaggie's or any of your Wordpress blogs. I fill out the info, and WP tells me, "I'm afraid I can't do that, Undine." Congrats on DC1 going to Carleton! Hardly working.
  9. On the other hand, this whole process of frustration at not being able to read or access stuff means more time to do actual, you know, reading and writing, so here's the good news, related to point #1: working hard.