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? 



Sunday, July 18, 2021

"Why People Are So Awful Online": Roxane Gay, being right once again

In "Why People Are So Awful Online," Roxane Gay pinpoints something that we've been talking about for a while and completely nails it, as usual: 

In our quest for this simulacrum of justice, however, we have lost all sense of proportion and scale. We hold in equal contempt a war criminal and a fiction writer who too transparently borrows details from someone else’s life. It’s hard to calibrate how we engage or argue.

One person makes a statement. Others take issue with some aspect of that statement. Or they make note of every circumstance the original statement did not account for. Or they misrepresent the original statement and extrapolate it to a broader issue in which they are deeply invested. Or they take a singular instance of something and conflate it with a massive cultural trend. Or they bring up something ridiculous that someone said more than a decade ago as confirmation of … who knows?

Gay says "we seek control and justice online" and that's why we want our voices heard. True enough--but at what price? 

 The first paragraph especially resonates with what happens on Twitter. Remember the radical librarians getting all up in arms about Little Free Libraries? 

Today, Twitter is all up in arms again about titles--"should you call a professor doctor or professor or or or"--and though it's an important topic, and was fifteen years ago or so when people first started making an issue of it and talking about it endlessly, do we really need to revisit it quarterly? 

Maybe we do. Maybe this is like the old days of ChronicleVitae, when I used to get frustrated because it gave no new information and finally realized that it wasn't meant to be informative for people past the first year of grad school. The fault was with me for reading stuff I already knew, not the medium for putting it out there. Maybe Twitter is the same way.

Yet I confess that most of the time a subset of academic twitter is too "inside baseball" for me to understand at all. Shade is thrown, and subtweets proliferate like minnows, and knowing references are apparently caught by those in the know, of whom I am not one.

 It's all a bit like being back in junior high and not knowing what the cool girls were talking about, except that now I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure it out. As Gay says, she now has a life and family and can't spare the time. 

I've been writing about Twitter here for 10 years, and while nothing can touch the levels of misinformation and horror that the former guy brought to it, Gay may well be right about the level of negativity it has now attained.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

5-minute post

Long time, no see! Following xykademiqz and gwinne, here's a 5-minute update post:

  • Even if I don't get any vacation again this year (see also: heat dome, smoke, western hellscape), I have an autoreply all ready to pretend that I do, and I'm not afraid to use it. As an administrator, I never felt as though I could take the time to disconnect, but current & past administrators around me all have better sense about work-life balance, and if they're not on duty, they're emphatically not on duty.
  • Have learned that it's totally easy to pretend that you want to go back to in-person conferences and the classroom this fall. Pro tip: Nod enthusiastically when people bring it up, and lie, lie, lie like a champ.
  • Missing the land of no internets and adjacent waterways fiercely this year, which I suspect is standing in for other kinds of loss. Knowing that I might not revisit this region for years, if ever again, is something I try not to think about.
  • My research right now is writing-adjacent rather than writing--necessary but rote work--and my brain needs to get back to writing. 
  • Inside Higher Ed now wants you to sign in, just as the Chronicle does, so the bar of "is this worth reading?" is now a lot higher there as well. 
  • Even a broken clock like Caitlin Flanagan is right twice a day, and she has a point about Twitter. Since the former guy is gone (thank God), it has devolved into a lot of in-jokes and fussy, pointless  fights about whether "best" is too curt as an email closing (previous post on this here). On the one hand, it's a good sign if people are consumed with such trivial stuff. On the other hand--can you say "waste of time?"

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Making it look easy/it's not as easy as it looks

An anecdote, or maybe a parable, about academe. 

If you have a large extended family, and that large extended family has gatherings periodically, chances are excellent that the women of that family have taken turns spending huge amounts of time organizing, cleaning prior to, cooking for, and cleaning up after those gatherings. 

Yes, people bring potluck dishes or rolls or steaks or whatever, but there's still a point person who's in charge of seeing to it that everything actually happens. Maybe you've had to do this yourself (raises hand). 

When my mother--let's call her Barbara-- was the one to do this when we all lived at home, it was . . . strenuous. She'd get up early, get the groceries, start cleaning (and we had to clean, too, or, since we were teenagers, at least heave all the clothes and random stuff strewn on the floor into the closet before everyone arrived), and then start cooking. You know the drill: boil the eggs for deviled eggs and the potatoes for potato salad; peel, chop, and cook some more stuff. Maybe some creamed potatoes, too? A big salad?  Make piecrust and a few pies, maybe rhubarb and apple and lemon meringue? And let's not forget a casserole and some kind of Jello thing with fruit or carrots or (I want to say one time) sauerkraut in it.

Then everyone arrives, and the table is laid, and everyone's ready to eat. 

And my beloved grandmother--truly, she was--says, "You know, Barbara always does this so easy." 

She thought she was giving a compliment, I think, but my mother had steam coming out of her ears every time.

I'm thinking about this because of the various tasks that faculty, and by this I mean primarily women faculty, undertake to keep things going in service and administration. 

And the tasks are always with a "just": 

  • "You'd just have to call X or email Y or look up Z."
  • "You'd just have to call a meeting." 
  • "You might want to take a second and just reach out to these five people to see their thoughts on this."
  • "It's just a report; it shouldn't take too long to do."
  • "It's just a small gathering; it'd be nice to get everyone together to celebrate."

Point #1 is this: if you do it right, and you put the time and effort into it, whatever "it" is as a task, you'll make it look easy. Point #2 is that it's not as easy as it looks, but that no one will ever see that or credit you with it, or care that you've done it well, because see Point #1.

Because you do it so easy, you see.


Monday, April 19, 2021

NYTimes's Adam Grant on Languishing : When you've lost that (writing) feeling

 At first I didn't click on Adam Grant's "There's a Name for the Blah You're Feeling" because I thought it was my friendly companion "meh." But it really does have a name: Languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.


    Last summer, the journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” She described it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we’ve missed during the day. I’ve started to wonder if it’s not so much retaliation against a loss of control as an act of quiet defiance against languishing.


That means we need to set boundaries. Years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. When engineers managed the boundary themselves, 47 percent had above-average productivity. But when the company set quiet time as official policy, 65 percent achieved above-average productivity. Getting more done wasn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.

I don’t think there’s anything magical about Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.

This makes a great deal of sense, especially with a phenomenon that I've been thinking of as "running out of steam." Say you're excited about Project A, you do the homework on Project A, you set aside the time to work on Project A, and then  . . . nothing. 

It's not like usual writing procrastination and anxiety, which are still there for some things. It's more like the excitement dissipating when you have to conjure up the energy to actually put those words down. The energy vanishes.

It's also important to note that not everyone in academia has the luxury of languishing--parents of little kids, overworked instructors, etc. etc. etc. Tanya Golash-Boza of GetaLifePhD wrote on Twitter had published "75 books and articles"* because she sleeps 8 hours a night, writes for 1-2 hours every workday, and doesn't "get in her own way." 

There was swift backlash, and she later revised it to acknowledge her academic privilege of a low courseload and good research funding--and attributed her success to not hanging around Twitter [except to promote her brand] and spending the time writing.

Her basic point, though, is the same as Grant's: set boundaries. Give yourself time to write, and then do it--i.e., get out of your own way. 

In other words, don't languish. Get past the "meh."

 *Edited to add: I just realized that this reminded me of Bachman in Silicon Valley, when he lumps his  his money with Bighead's and announces that their company has $20,013,000, never specifying that the the $20 million belongs to Bighead and the 13K to guess who.