Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Of COURSE I should have figured that out.

My "three things" list today includes "Revise syllabus error." This is because of the an obscure scheduling issue, regarding Veterans' Day -- a holiday I ignored, because I don't teach on Fridays, so when I consulted the campus holidays calendar while constructing my syllabus, I didn't factor it in. But yesterday, after teaching the first day of classes, the following scheduling policy was brought to my attention:

"(1) Campus is closed Friday. (2) All Friday classes will meet Tuesday, November 8, instead. (3) All Tuesday, November 8, classes will be cancelled."


Monday, August 29, 2011

I may be ready...

...for the semester. First class tomorrow. Today I skipped yoga and got 90% of my course material posted.

My goal for the semester: Stay calm and avoid drama. Do my fucking job. That will be enough.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cuteness, Related to a Relation

I do love all the assorted nieces, nephews, both blood and fostered, who each bring their own brand of awesomeness to the table. But on my most recent visit to Puddletown, the quotable quotes came from the newly eight year-old Mr. B:

Example 1, while he was reading:

Me: So, do understand what's going on in the story so far?

Mr. B.: I think so...

Me: A "looking glass" is an old-fashioned word for a mirror. And Alice fell through the mirror, and found out there was another world on the other side.

Mr. B.: Yeah, that happens sometimes.

Example 2, after handing him his stuffed animals, which he proceeded to arrange around his freshly-made bed as he saw fit:

Mr. B.: Do you like how it looks?

Me: Yeah, it looks good.

Mr. B.: I watch a lot of design shows.

The Unsinkable Mr. B.
(younger nephew sold separately)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Job of a Panel Commentator

Historiann has an interesting post up today about conference etiquette, with much of the discussion in the comments devoted to what is to be done about panelists who go over time, thus making things unbearable for everyone else. The responses seem to be threefold:
  1. Graduate students need better mentoring so they know the ropes
  2. Experienced presenters who ought to know better need to stop being selfish jerks
  3. Panel chairs need to enforce time limits

That third point got me wondering about another job, that of the panel commentator. The chair is there to introduce people and their papers, and hopefully to make sure that they don't go over time. The commentator is not always a part of a panel, but when they are, what is their job?

One of Historiann's commentators mentioned being peeved when commentators simply summarized the paper. Another complained (rightly, I think) about the impossibility of delivering a good comment when panelists don't get their papers in on time. But beyond that, what are we doing as commentators? I've done comment a couple of times, and after a few false starts, I was part of a panel at a legal history conference where I saw a friend and professional acquaintance deliver a comment so good that audience members came up to complement her on it. It really was incredibly productive to the discussion so ever since then, I've tried to model my approach on hers:
  1. Find at least one interesting thing in each individual paper that could serve for good discussion fodder, and ask a question
  2. Find at least one common thread running through all the papers and invite the panelists and audience to think about that thread more deeply

Both of these require some good knowledge of the topic the panelists are speaking about, and both require time to read and really think about the papers, and to write up a well-considered comment. Often, of course, the discussion takes on a life of its own, with purely factual questions, or ones that boil down to "How does this relate to the thing I know about?" But I see the commentator's job as primarily analytical (rather than summative or critical), facilitating a deeper engagement with the papers than that -- and whether or not the audience takes it and runs with it is up to them.

What do the rest of you think? What is the job of a panel commentator? Should there be a recap of each paper's thesis, to refresh the audience's memory? Should a commentator point out egregious errors? And a subsidiary question: assuming the typical humanities panel is 90 minutes long, with three 20-minute papers (plus a combined time of about 5 minutes for introductions), with the expectation of discussion at the end, how long should a good commentary be?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Another Reason to Love Scrivener

I promise I'll stop flogging this software soon. But I've been working on my cat-herdingest syllabus -- the one that requires a syllabus, daily lesson plans, in-class activities, worksheets, workshops, pdf readings, and all of this to be organized in the proper order -- and let me tell you that Scrivener (especially its outliner function!) is making this all fully doable.

I am happy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writing Group Week 12...

...will be posted over at ADM's place later this afternoon. Those pesky campus admins at ADM-U decided to schedule a meeting right in writing group time. The nerve!

[UPDATE: It's up!]

But it's that last check-in, so I'll give you a teaser question and let ADM explain it better when she posts:

What is the name of our writing group?

No, no: don't post it here. Think about it. Post it at her place when the time is right.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To review or not to review? A question of personal bias and professional ethics.

Just a quick question, probably for those who are midcareer and beyond, sparked by an e-mail exchange with a colleague a few days ago, regarding a dilemma s/he is having:

If you received a request from a journal or a press to review a book or article manuscript written by a junior person whom you considered a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance, what would be your response (assuming that you had time to take on the job, and felt qualified to review the material)?

(a) Accept the review job. I am able to separate my personal feelings from how I evaluate a scholar's work.

(b) Accept the review job, even though I know I'm likely to be a bit biased in favor of this person. Publications can be make-or-break for tenure, and this is an opportunity for me to help out someone whose work is solid/good/really excellent.

(c) Decline to review the MS, because I know I'd be biased, and while no review is entirely impartial, this might be a bit too close.

(d) Decline to review the MS, because I'm so hyper-aware of my biases that I fear I'd overcompensate on the side of critiquing more harshly than would a less interested observer.

(e) Review the MS, because even though (c) or (d) may apply, most subfields are fairly small, and we're all going to end up reviewing each other's manuscripts sooner or later.

(f) Pretend I never got the request.

(g) Other.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yes, that's hard work, too; or, the Sunday Style section is a barrel of neverending fish.

The Sunday Style section of the New York Times is the eye-rolling gift that keeps on giving. Today, it's a story about downsized or disaffected white-collar professionals who dropped out to start their own service or labor or artisan businesses, only to discover that this, too, was hard, demanding work. Or, as the article's author puts it, "Many are surprised to find the hours and work grueling."


I think that many of us, ten years or so into one career, have fantasized at least once (and sometimes once a week) about greener pastures where we could pursue a passion without having to bring our work home with us. Just last year, I was thinking about walking away from academia entirely, moving somewhere closer to friends and family, and trying to support myself through writing popular nonfiction.* But there also seems to be an unrealistic component to the fantasies in the article: that somewhere out there, there is a job that provides a decent amount of cash, unlimited personal fulfillment, and lots of free time. Believe me, I've had those same fantasies about the job I currently have, from time to time, and the disjunction between fantasy and reality is what brought me to the breaking point last year. In fact, some of the quotes in the article, with only a few minor tweaks, could easily be written by someone with academic fantasies:

  • "This was supposed to be her Plan B: her chance to indulge a passion, lead a healthier life and downshift professionally — at least by a gear. Instead, Ms. Economou finds herself in overdrive."
  • "He daydreamed of an unfettered life at his kiln, creating Bollywood-inspired teapots and butter dishes. [...] Now, instead of spending his free time absorbed in visions of clay, he spends as much as 70 percent of his day on administration."
  • "She had envisioned a life of 'workouts, getting lots of sleep and blogging every day about health and fitness.' Instead, her classes start as early as 6 a.m. and she feels wiped out by day’s end, which can be 14 hours later."
  • "A few years ago, she moved to Paris to apprentice with a master chocolatier. Visions of decadent bonbons swirled in her head. Instead, she felt like a modern-day Lucy in the candy factory, hunched over in a chocolate lab packing chocolates and scrubbing pots. If she wasn’t doing that, she was sweeping floors, wrapping gifts, answering telephones or shipping orders."
Of course, the article also points out the important positive side: that sense of personal fulfillment is there. And that's true of most academic jobs, too. When I was going through my crisis last year, fellow bloggers and friends Historiann and Squadratomagico advised me (gently) to let go of the fantasy and remember that it's a job. I do love what I do. I just don't love it all the time. I'm coming to it a bit later than I probably should have, but I'm really working now on appreciating the good or even great things about my job, accepting the not-so-great, keeping an eye on the truly intolerable,** and making space to grow the rest of my life.*** And I'm slooowly coming to realize that expecting to love every aspect of even the thing you like to do best is more than a little unrealistic. There's a reason, after all, for the phrase "dream job."

And I think that last bit is what left the sourest taste in my mouth (next to the condescending idea that people who work in non-professional jobs really don't have to work as hard****). Because the title of the NYT piece? Yep: "Maybe it's time for plan C."


*At least I hoped that it would be popular.

**If a job -- if anything in your life -- is making you truly miserable over the long term, then I say it's time to let it go.

***This process of acceptance and boundary-setting is a work in progress, of course.

****This is a common fallacy, and I think it can be boiled down to the laughable belief that pay and effort are always commensurate. Scratch the surface of that idea, and you quickly find the assumption -- and I guess now we're getting at what was really the sand in my sandwich when I read the article -- that people with little to no money are that way because they don't work as hard as their socioeconomic betters.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I like number four.

Behold, the top five search terms that landed people at my blog over the past month:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing Group Week 11: The Home Stretch

Hello, All!

So, here we are at week 11. Time for that last, final push on your projects. Seriously, we've come a long way, yes? This week, let's pause and think about that. How have you surprised yourself? What have you learned?

That's it for the so-called topic today. I'm actually off for a day of crazy errands and appointments, but I bring you the weekly goals list, compiled by ADM from the posts at her place last week. Time to check in!


  • ABDMama [Draft of an article MS]: Cover letters, tightening up Article 2 a little
  • ADM [conference paper for Leeds; revision of paper after]: Get article submitted
  • Cly [revise article for publication & draft chapter for book]: substantial progress on workable draft of chapter
  • Dame Eleanor [Revising a conference paper into article MS turn paper into a book!]: Write 500 words a day – still,
  • Dr. Koshary [work on book MS]: finish the prospectus and send that out to a publisher immediately
  • Eileen [First draft of a dissertation chapter]: find a conclusion
  • Erika [Review-ready draft of an article MS]: work 30-60 minutes per day on my abstract, 60 minutes on making changes to my article, spend 30-60 minutes learning how to be an academic advisor, and 30-60 minutes on preparing lectures for the first three meetings of my lecture course
  • Firstmute [chapter draft; send out article]: integrating secondary material
  • Frog Princess [rewrite Chapter 3; get another draft of the introduction]: finish this second draft of chapter 3; and begin working on the introductio
  • Gillian [an article that needs writing] proofread a book, three book reviews
  • Godiva [First draft of diss. chap.]: Full paragraph-by-paragraph outline of chapter to flesh out, and 3000 *new* words
  • J Otto Pohl: finish book
  • Jeff [Review-ready draft of completed dissertation]: finish polishing and revisions this week and next week
  • Matilda [Draft of a publishable paper]: submitting task 2; writing a plan of task 3, and writing first section of it
  • Mel [Finish dissertation!]: Revisions for ch. 4 & 6
  • NWGirl [Revising a conference paper into an article MS]: Re-read draft and devise a plan to finish remaining revisions. Spend an hour each morning (Mon-Thurs) on those revisions.
  • Sapience [Prepare presentation of full dissertation for department - changed to Introduction needs to be finished]: more on intro, finish job market materials
  • Scatterwriter [Complete expansion/revision of an article MS]: update my image file, write my cover letter, and print out one last version of the manuscript.
  • Susan [Revise & polish two chapters of a book MS]: Fill in a few more gaps in ch. 2, and read through and check argument
  • Travelia [prepare book MS for review]: Excused absence for family trip
  • Zabeel [Complete draft of an article] draft of the third section
  • Zcat abroad (Kiwi Medievalist on WP) [write an article]: take thesis chapter and start article conversion

Awaiting report:
  • Digger [drafts of two book chapters]*
  • Kit: [Write the first draft of a dissertation chapter]**
  • Tigs [Completed diss draft]**

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I wonder how my attitude would change

...if I were to assume that every irritating behavior that I encountered** was actually part of a performance art piece?

I think I'd fret less and giggle more.

In other news, a reminder of tomorrow's writing group check-in, and a picture from my recent travels:

**Not prompted by anything in particular; I'm just trying on new approaches as the chaos of the semester draws nigh.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ramping Up for the Semester

Denial time has officially ended. Yesterday, I started working on my syllabi** for the semester that begins in three weeks. Seems like lots of time, but I'm headed back to Puddletown in a week, so I want to get everything done by Friday.

I've got three courses, all of which I've taught before (yay!), but all of which I'm constantly tinkering with (not-so-yay). Still, I'm optimistic.

**Latin geeks, the error has been brought to my attention (see comments).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In which I get a bit woo-woo

Remember how I posted recently about my plant-killing abilities?

Well, a couple of days ago, I bought two big ol' bags of potting soil, two shade-tolerant and hardy-looking houseplants, and three itty-bitty pots of flowering plants for a hanging basket. And some plant food (which I may have already lost). And I potted the new plants and repotted the two plants that I already had, as sort of a prize for having survived years of my neglect. And I brought them inside, and set them about the house. Three floor plants and one hanging one in the front room, and one brand-new plant in the bedroom, where I'd been maintaining a pot of dried-out dirt (where a plant had once lived) for so many years that I no longer noticed it.

And I swear to god, the apartment feels different. I only added two plants, and replaced another that was looking scraggly. But it just feels like a warmer, happier place somehow. Good energy in the room. Plus, I had the added bonus of falling asleep to the scent of fresh soil and cedar shavings emanating from the newly potted plant a couple of feet from my bed.

Conclusion: living plants -- as opposed to scraggly, dying ones and pots full of dirt and dead roots -- make things better.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Writing Group Week 10

Over at ADM's place, Week 10 of the writing group is up. Yay!

Go getcher updates on. In the meantime, I continue my travels with the Wizard Chimp. Here is a picture I took while exploring:

What can I say? I like rust.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On Technology

Today, my friend the Wizard Chimp* arrived for a 5-day visit. This is a good thing.

Chimpy is one of those people who never met a gadget or social media format she didn't like. Her main packing issues were what bits of technology she should take with her.** Things like clothes were secondary.

She finds my approach to technology... cute. Two incidents from this morning illustrate the wide spectrum of non-technophobes' use of technology:

1. She saw my phone, and it was like she'd entered Amish country. A couple of years ago, I dropped my contract-based cell phone, and it gave up the ghost a few months before the two-year contract period expired, which would seem to have required me to pay hundreds of dollars for a cheap phone from the service provider's store.*** I emphatically did not want to do that, so the helpful person at the phone place suggested I go to the nearest big box electronics store and buy a burner phone. They would then install my SIM card in the new, disposable thingy. I had no idea you could do this. So I did, and paid $30 for a phone, the features of which include: 1) sending and receiving phone calls, and 2) sending and receiving text messages. There is not even a cheap camera in it, which is fine, because I have a real camera. And this morning, I left it at home. "I can't believe my best friend is someone who doesn't have a smart phone, and doesn't even bother to take the phone she has with her," she said.

2. While Chimpy checked in with the gazillion social media things she's on, I paid my bills. While much of this was done online, the process included writing things down in my paper checkbook register, doing the math in my head, and scribbling out a monthly budget on the back of a credit card receipt to figure out how much money Visa got this month. She was agog with wonder.

Now, as you know, I don't have a problem with technology. I, of course, have a bit of web presence. I use things like Scrivener and Zotero to get my work done. I ditched the landline ages ago. But I think our approach differs in where we draw the line between "necessity" and "convenience" (and also, perhaps, "too much of a pain in the ass to bother with"). We find each other's approach an endless source of amusement. And the fact that we can be amused, rather than disdainful, is part of why we're such good friends.

*It's a long story.

**She ended up with: iPad + portable keyboard, smart phone, kindle, and digital camera. I think.

***Seriously, this whole thing about getting sucked into a two-year contract to avoid paying $300 for even a cheap-ass phone? It makes me indignant. There is technology you need, so you pay for it. Then there is technology that marketers try to convince you you need, and they charge you through the nose for it. Grrr....

Monday, August 1, 2011

And now, of perhaps more general interest...

...than the previous post, I bring you a delightful recipe for summer. In honor of the Wizard Chimp, my wonderful vegan friend who will be visiting me for a few days, the recipe is meat- and dairy-free. But in case you think that vegan = flavorless and unappealing, feast your eyes on this (click photo for a close-up):

Look like something you might want to try after all? Okay, here we go...

Truly Excellent Curried Quinoa Salad

1. Get a cup of dry quinoa, rinse well,* and cook.**

2. Mix 2 peeled, chopped mangoes (or 1 if they're large) with 2 tsp. light-flavored oil (I use sunflower or safflower), 1 generous tsp. sweet curry powder, a little bit of salt, a teensy pinch of sugar (this is just to round out the flavor, not to make it "sweet," per se), a dab of chili-garlic paste (if you like spicy, but just a dab, okay? Some of the other flavors could get lost), and the juice of 1-2 limes.***

3. Mix together mango mixture, cooked (and mostly cooled) quinoa, about 2 cups of cooked black beans,**** and 3-4 Tbsp. each of chopped cilantro and scallions (the green part) until the colors look to be in about the right proportions to your discerning eye. Refrigerate for an hour to let the flavors blend. Adjust the seasonings if you need to.

So. Much. Yum. And perfect for a summer potluck, or perhaps as a side dish for a Caribbean meal.

*DO NOT skip or skimp on the rinse, or your quinoa (which has a very bitter natural coating) will be disgusting. My foolproof method for getting all that ick off is to place the quinoa in a really large bowl, mostly fill the bowl with water, let it soak for a few minutes, then get in that bowl and repeatedly rub handfuls of quinoa between your palms. Then drain the water (which should be quite cloudy), refill, and repeat 3-5 times, allowing the quinoa to soak for a few minutes each time, and draining off as much of the old water as possible without losing the quinoa. Be warned that quinoa is tiny and will go through (or get stuck in) all but the very finest strainers, so I find that draining with my hands works out just fine. Sounds awfully high-maintenance, but it's worth the effort: quinoa is high-protien, high-fiber, highly nutrient-dense, not to mention super-tasty when you get the hang of preparation, so you don't want to miss out.

**Most cookbooks recommend a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water, cooked for 15 minutes. I find this results in mooshy quinoa. I recommend 1 1/4 cups water for every 1 cup quinoa. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover tightly, and simmer for 30 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit, covered (no peeking!), for another 5-10 minutes. Fluff with fork. You can add salt at the beginning, or experiment with using stock in place of water, or whatever, depending on your particular recipe.

***If you're not vegan, this is the point where you can, if you choose, add a little bit of plain yogurt. Not too much, though: mooshiness is your enemy. In fact, if you go for the yogurt option, I'd skip the oil, or use only a very small amount.

****If you must use canned beans, then make sure they're well-drained, and give 'em at least one good (though gentle) rinse to get off any excess starchy goo.