Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Minor mysteries of pandemic days

  • Why are virtual conferences, seminars, and scholarly get-togethers of all sorts springing up like weeds on my timelines & in my inbox? Why would adding Major Conference Stress, writing a paper frantically amid Covid distractions, and taking the whole circus to Zoom be appealing to so many organizations right now? I get that the lovely people behind all of these are trying to continue a scholarly community, but honestly, having even a small amount of time to think about actual writing WITHOUT Major Conference Stress is one of the few silver linings to this whole situation.
  • I nominate the following as the major genre of writing these days: “Our days are full of despair, and I in particular am completely undone by it. Can’t work at all. And oh, by the way, I’m thrilled to announce that my new 5,000 word article on Vox or Medium or the following journal about my despair and undone-ness has just been published.” 
  • Does anyone share a House Hunters’ Hate-Watch level of interest in what may be called the Scholarly Influencer syndrome? I’m not on Instagram, but my understanding is that Influencers are paid handsomely by ordinary people with apparently oodles of money to show what kind of of pillows and nail polish they buy, or something. The Scholarly Influencer exists, too. I’m not talking about people who share and bond over experiences, liking and congratulating others for achievements and creating a value-added sense of community by posting information that’s not about themselves. I’m talking about the kind that immediately jumps on Facebook or Twitter to announce publications and promote themselves but can’t be bothered to respond to others and be part of the community on either. 
  •  Is anyone else either (1) amused or (2) irritated by the flood of emails telling you of their vast concern from companies you may have ordered something from once 15 years ago but first you have to log in using a password, which requires the whole Password Authentication Dance? 
  • Edited to add: why so many think pieces telling me that baking bread (which *ahem* some of us have been doing for many decades) is pleasurable and comforting? Where’s the follow up piece explaining that water is wet? 
What minor mysteries are puzzling you right now?

Saturday, May 02, 2020

A useful parable, or story, or something, about returning to campus this fall

Dame Eleanor asks about what we're thinking will happen in the fall--online or not?

Well, we are supposed to be back in person. I'm not giving it any more thought than that because summer is when I have to make up for all the writing I didn't do this spring.

If we go back, I will get ready for it, I hope. If we don't, I'll get ready for it, I hope.

One of my favorite ways to think about a situation like this is a joke or parable or story that I heard on a TV drama about Henry VIII decades ago. It goes something like this:
The king--oh, heck, let's call him Henry VIII-- was extremely fond of his favorite horse--let's call him Bucephalus, because that was not his name. However,  he had become really disenchanted with one of his advisors. Let's call him Cromwell, because that is not his name.

Really disenchanted, as in Anne of Cleves disenchanted, Tower disenchanted, thinking about the rack disenchanted. 
 Henry was about to send Cromwell to the Tower. Somehow he got wind of this and sent word that he had a great thing to tell Henry. He met up with Henry walking in the gardens.

"Your majesty, if you give me a year, I can teach Bucephalus to talk," said Cromwell to Henry's back.

Henry turned around. "You can?"

"Yes. If you give me a year, I will train Bucephalus to talk. But it will take the entire year."

"If you do not teach him to talk, you realize that you will be hanged, drawn, and quartered?"


"Very well then. A year from today."

Cromwell bowed his way back from the royal presence. A friend who had been watching stood there with his mouth open.

"Are you insane?" he hissed. "You can't teach a horse to talk. No one can."

"The way I look at it is this," said Cromwell. "A year is a long time. In the space of a year, many things may happen." 
"I may die."
"Or the king may die."
"Or the horse may die."
"Or," he added, "the horse may talk."

So while I can think about the contingencies and the likelihood (or not) of teaching in person in the fall, so far, I'm hoping that the horse will talk.