Thursday, December 13, 2012

Student paper mad libs!

Okay, well, not really.


I'm not dead, but I've just not been inspired to write much lately. Which, you know, happens.

But here I am, proctoring the last exam of the semester. And while I do so, I'm grading the very last undergraduate paper of the semester.  And right there, at the top, are these immortal and undying words:

"Since the beginning of time..."

It's nice to see someone go for the classics, yes?  This one happens to be about religion and science, so it's medium-silly. But since we're all in silly season, I invite those six of you who haven't given up on my blog entirely to complete the sentence above, using something that might be appropriate to your field.  Extra points for scientists!

Friday, November 9, 2012

It's that time of year again! (AMIW, day 5)

Time for the invitations to the Hawaii University International Conferences* to go out! I got mine this week; did you? If not, I'll share mine with you, so you can apply.

There are categories for Math, Engineering, and "Education," this last "including, but not limited to":

  • Academic Advising and Counseling
  • Art Education
  • Adult Education
  • Business Education
  • Counselor Education
  • Curriculum, Research and Development
  • Distance Education
  • Early Childhood Education/Elementary Education
  • Human Resource Development
  • Indigenous Education
  • Kinesiology & Leisure Science
  • Language Education
  • Music Education
  • Reading Education
  • Rural Education
  • Science Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Social Studies Education
  • Special Education
  • Student Affairs
  • Educational Administration
  • Educational Foundations
  • Educational Measurement and Evaluation
  • Educational Psychology
  • Education Technology
  • Education Policy and Leadership
  • Health Education
  • Higher Education
  • Teacher Education
  • Second Language Studies
  • Sociology
  • Social Science
  • Speech/Communication and Translation
  • Theatre
  • Urban and Regional Planning
  • Visual Arts
  • Women's Studies
  • Inter-disciplinary and other areas of Arts and Humanities

Rarely have I seen a conference so refreshingly broad in its interests (And we should note that this ecumenical approach isn't just for humanities/social science types; math and engineering conferences are each almost as broad themselves).

Conference papers are peer-reviewed, and  "reviewers are selected among the academic members of the institute and are not related to institute academics and researchers." I'm a little fuzzy on what that means, but the word "academic" appears twice, so I assume that it's a good thing.

Also, there is a publication opportunity, open to papers accepted. You can download the papers included in last year's publication here, or buy your own CD-ROM. Last year's publication includes such diverse offerings as: an abstract/outline for a Ph.D. dissertation, a conference paper (its 11 pages uncluttered by footnotes), an article-length manuscript, complete with notes and bibliography, and a three-page paper proposal (or perhaps an introduction). There is, in other words, something for everyone.

Best of all: the registration fee is only $350!**

Admittedly, today was yet another day where I managed to get my 90 minutes in, but at the expense of everything else. Yet, if I keep working, maybe I'll have enough for a proposal. Deadline is December 1st!

*Warning: link to conference website comes complete with soundtrack of ocean waves and Hawaiian music; site contains no option to turn the sound off.

**Registration fee does not include airfare, conference hotel, food, or recreation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How a Day Goes (A month in writing, day 4)

6:30-7:00: Wake up/snooze alarm/meditate

7:00-7:15: Make coffee while eating... weaken and turn on the news beforehand. Am saved from getting sucked in by the fact that it is pledge week on NPR. Normally I would be annoyed. Today I am grateful.

7:15-9:00: Work on article-related notes. They go slowly, but I do get the work on.  Best of all, I resist the siren song of the internet. A sense of accomplishment swells within me. The morning light slants in beautifully and lights up the oranges to the point that I am compelled to stop and take a picture. This looks like it's going to be the perfect day, the antithesis of yesterday's mnyeh.

Then, it all goes to hell...

9:00: Begin to work on lecture, powerpoint and quiz for 11 o'clock class.

10:00: omigod I have to be in class in an hour and I'm still home, in my pajamas, and not showered!

11:00: Arrive in class (miraculously, on time) and give a bang-up lecture. If only more than half the class had bothered to show up. C'MON, FOLKS!  I've got war, famine, and plague! What more do you want from me?

12:30: procure lunch (since I ran out of time to make it)

12:30: Wolf down two-thirds of lunch while answering e-mails.

1:00: College-level committee meeting. I feel vaguely competent.

2:30: Grade quizzes from class #1. Check e-mail. Prep for class #2. Eat last third of lunch.

3:30: Class #2. Also went well. Strangely, they were not prepared for the quiz, even though a simple glance at the syllabus combined with being able to count to two (seruiously: that's all the math that was required) would have told them that this "surprise" quiz was, in fact, an inevitability today.

5:00: Grade quizzes from class two while counseling two different grad students who "just have a quick question" that turned into half an hour apiece.

6:15: Ride bike to off-campus non-work-related thingy.

6:30: Thingy, plus grocery shopping

8:00: Ride home.

8:15: Dinner. Some TV. Check e-mail again.

9:15: Realize that, though I got my 90 minutes of work on my article done, nowhere in the 12 hours since then did I find two freaking thirty-minute blocks of time in which to complete the other tasks.

9:30-10:00: Blog about that. Because everyone likes to read about self-pity. Resolve to do better, and try to realize that today, I did the best I could with the time at my disposal. But that's not very much time at all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I know what works (A month in writing, day three)

... I just need to actually do it.

Here's what works for me:
  • Go to bed at a decent hour (before 11) so I can get up by 6:30.
  • Meditate
  • Make coffee, then go straight from there to the work that I have laid out from the night before
  • Avoid internet and news until after my work session.
If I do these things, I knock out 90 minutes easy, and still have plenty of time to shower, have breakfast, and get to work on time.

Here's what I did instead::
  • Stayed up until past midnight, waiting for election returns
  • As a consequence, overslept by an hour
  • Skipped meditation
  • While coffee was brewing, thought, "Oh, I should check to see how [critical state ballot measure] did.  Yay! I should see what the news is saying about..."
Then, suddenly, it was 9:30, and I'd gotten nothing done, but had to get to a doctor's appointment.

The good news? I got in my 90 minutes -- a little more, in fact -- reading a single 30-page article (written in Blarg, no less).

The bad news? That was all I did.

So, with that in mind, I'm logging off now, laying out my work, and going to bed with good intentions for building more good habits.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I am here. (A month in writing, day two)

I am here.  But that's about all I can say for today. I'm almost too tired to update... though if I'd done it earlier while listening to election returns, I'd be done by now.

Today was... less than optimal, in terms of writing. I can blame having to go vote first thing (and you'll be relieved to know that I voted for the Good Guys, and the right ballot measures, but against the bad ones). But the fact is that I could have done better. 45 minutes of note-taking in the morning is sub-optimal.

But, as friend told me when trying to motivate me to exercise: No matter how slow you're going, you're still lapping everyone on the couch. So I'm going to lay out my books for tomorrow and take that as my inspiration.

Being here; that is the first step. Everything proceeds from that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A "Month"* in "Writing"**

So, as many of you undoubtedly know, this is National Novel Writing Month (popularly known as NaNoWriMo), which people have transformed into "poetry writing" and "blogging" and "digital writing" and any other damn thing. And we academics... well, we're just trying to crank out an article or a conference paper or something.

And I swear, I've been working on it, but there have been obstacles, not the least of which is that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I started over at Dame Eleanor's with a goal to get an article draft hammered out. But considering that it took me three full weeks to meet the relatively modest one-week (ha!) goal of finishing one last book on Big Background and then write 300 words on that topic, I've decided to revise my goal.

To wit: I'm chucking the damn goal, and just working.

I'm going to try to observe NaNoWriMo in my own way, by working 90 minutes a day on this project. And if that translates into me writing 500 new words, then yippee!  If it translates into me reading an article and taking two pages of notes on them (which is what I did today), then that's also good.

Most of all, I'm going to try to be accountable for each of these days, for the next four weeks (And yes, I will insert some non-writing-content in here, too.). Of course, I said something about that back in my first-ever post on this blog, then realized it was a dumb thing to say. But since no one has the authority to fire me from my own blog, what have I got to lose?

Just lay out the damn pattern and follow it.

*Not really a full month, since I'm starting five days into it.
**Not always writing new words; just working on stuff that will become writing; rebuilding my writing habit.

In Which I Adopt a Contrary Position (updated with a Very Special Link)

[UPDATE: Anticipating the reactions coming from Comrade PhysioProf and others who may occasionally find my turn into the hippy-dippy a bit gag-inducing, I promise you that I have many sides to my personality and, as proof, invite you to click here while I put on "Free to Be You and Me" for those who wish to continue reading.]

You know what I love? The end of daylight savings time.

Okay, so everybody loves that "free hour" of sleep we get once a year (though we're also acutely conscious that it's gonna get taken back in another six months). But after that, it's all bitching and moaning about how it gets dark so early.

Except for me. Because, as I've mentioned, I am a lapsed but aspiring morning person. The big problem is that my body is more and more light-sensitive when it comes to waking up early. The body only wants to wake up once the sun is coming up. And since my bedroom windows face west, this makes things difficult.

Not so this morning.  Up at 6:15, and... well, I won't say I got right to work, but it's a start.

Oooh!  You know what's also cool? I got a tiny cash windfall and bought myself something that I've been wanting a long time: a zen chimes alarm clock:

Seriously, I've been longing for this ever since my friend Dr. S. got one. Can I tell you how nice it is to wake up to? The tone is wonderful, and I can use it as a meditation timer as well. Plus, it's small enough to travel with.

Mornings just got better for me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In which I fact-check my own post

Pedantic Prof. weighs in:

I don't know what plans you perused, but one of our emeriti was on the original planning committee and he hates hearing the parking-garage story. According to said emeritus, the story of why the funds ran out and a new design had be sought (before the foundations were laid) is because an administrator had neglected to make a bid for matching federal funds for the project. This is sadder than the urban legend...

So, I went back to my source material. And it seems that there are bits and pieces of potential urban legend indeed mixed in with my recollection. So, for the first time, I'm fact-checking one of my own posts.
  • The building, currently a nasty squat-looking thing, was meant to be a big (and probably equally ugly) skyscraper, a veritable brutalist beacon: True. There are extant drawings for the mega-skyscraper original, and for the slightly scaled-back skyscraper building. 
  • The underground offices were originally supposed to be parking spaces: Uncertain, given the evidence at my disposal. There were indeed plans for 150 parking spaces in the originals. My source material doesn't note whether those spaces were the same as where the faculty offices are. But if you ever worked in one of these, you'd understand why anyone would come to that conclusion. 
  • The tower project was abandoned because the whole thing was sliding down the hill under its own weight. False. The cap-off was, as Pedantic Prof. has heard, a result of underfunding. The rumor that it was due to a slipping building is a natural result, I think, of the fact that the floors and ceilings are so wildly canted (see previous post), and are more so the further you go underground. 

I think that covers it. And I maintain that the current building serves as an Ozymandias-like monument to hubris. One last question to Pedantic Prof., who appears to be on the ground: So, does your source say why everything is so twisted? Is there movement going on? And more importantly: have structural repairs been made?

Most importantly: Do you have a window?

Monday, October 15, 2012

A couple of pictures of that building

I really wish I could post pictures of the outside of this building, so you could see it in all its cheap faux-brutalist glory, but that would identify it.  Instead, I bring you a couple of interior pictures, snapped a few years back. Both of these come from the floor where I had my underground office for 5 years.

The floor:

...and the ceiling.

Grim, no?  I understand that some of this has been abated. One can only hope.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Ugliest Building on Campus

Note: Prompted by a comment by Pedantic Prof, I have just fact-checked the holy hell out of my own post. Results are here.

Thesis statement: the ugliest building on campus is almost always the Humanities building.  And if it's not, then Humanities is usually in the top 3 ugliest.

Historiann mentions her building in her post today on why national reputation for scholarship may (::gasp!::) be even better than a winning team. Yet in spite of this, which gets the better facilities?  Here's her aside about her own building:
Let’s just say that although Clark is a notorious eyesore and menace to the health, safety, and comfort of its denizens (who include faculty, students, and staff, as it is a building with both classrooms and departmental offices), we didn’t get a $250 million renovation.  All we got was an exterior paint job (which helped to a surprising degree), a new HVAC system (because the old one kept flooding faculty offices!), and new carpeting in some corridors that looks like it was a remainder from the Carpet Barn.
 Yup, sounds about right. And it's not just Baa Ram U., is it? Humanities buildings seem to have been designed by someone conducting an experiment on how architecture can drain your will to live. Permit me to illustrate with a tale from the horrific humanities building where I was a grad student. It will sound like one of those academic urban legends, and that's what I thought it was, even though I was there... until I saw the actual historic documentation of the original plans.  Fer reals.  So, here goes:

Way back in the 60s, the University of State decided that they were going to build an impressive building according to the model of the time. It was going to be of the most modern concrete! It would have its own underground parking! There would be a plaza out front, and a skyscraper tower with commanding views of the town and beyond! Yay!!! So they dug the foundations, and the two underground garage floors, and built the plaza, and the mezzanine, and got to work on the first tier of the skyscraper above.

Except... they didn't consult a geologist, so it came as a huge surprise when the building began to twist and move down the hill because the rock below turned out to be not strong enough to support even one story of concrete skyscraper.

What to do?  Why, cap off the one-story "tower" and convert the underground levels into faculty and grad student offices, of course!

Now, capping off the tower helped, but it didn't completely solve the problem.  No, siree. See, the thing was already pretty heavy.  So ever since that time, it's been ever so slowly continuing to twist and move.  This has resulted in (among other things):
  • Torqued elevator shafts: you could count on getting stuck between floors at least once during the course of the semester.
  • Twisted supports for the acoustic tiling on the ceilings, and wildly canted floors, even two stories underground.
  • Freakish plumbing: my office mate had a urinal shoot water outwards at him (right before class!), and one memorable summer, all the sprinklers on the T.A. floor turned on, soaking everything.
  • One result of the soaking was that the threadbare carpet rotted away. Once it dried out, the cut away the rotten bits and patched it. No mold/mildew abatement was ever done.
And, of course, we all grew into pale troll-people.

And, of course, it continues to be ass-ugly.

So, how about you? Share your architectural horror stories in the comments below! And bonus points to people who don't know who I am who can identify (in code, please) the building I describe above.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dear Internet (a request) [Updated: the internets reply!]

Dear Internet,

Do you take requests? Because I would very much like you to make a photo-based website called: "What the hell is wrong with my houseplant?" Because seriously: I go to the nursery and say, "Show me your indoor plants that cannot be killed." Then I take it home and give it fresh potting soil, water (once a week), sunlight, misting the ones that seem to call for it, even plant food. And still, in a matter of weeks, my plants look like this:

No, that's not flash glare.  The middle of the leaf is corpse-white.

Or this:

Note the curled, dry leaf edges, as if I'd been holding this plant near an open flame.
The rest of the leaves mostly aren't doing this, but they are rolling themselves up like 
little hedgehogs, which worries me.

I like living things! I'm a yoga-practicing vegetarian daughter to a woman who had a house full of thriving plants and a vegetable garden! I even went out and bought a water meter... but the damn thing insists, two hours after I've watered a plant, that they are bone dry, so I have little faith in it.

Seriously, internet.  Please send me a website (or, failing that, one of those reality show makeovers where a host and a film crew comes in, makes snide comments, makes me cry, then shows me how to make everything better and I cry again at the end but this time happy tears) and I promise to be extra-good for the rest of the year.

Yours truly,

Notoriously Phytocidal Dame.


Dear NPhD,

Thank you for your inquiry. Yes, we do do requests, but as we are currently swamped with requests for pictures of cute baby animals, and politicians or celebrities doing horrific things, it may be a while before we get to your request. In the interim, we have forwarded your request to the publishing industry, which points out that people never appreciate it any more, and this is why it's going out of business, and even supposed "scholars" just want a quick fix... well, you see why we don't contact them much. But after they got finished kvetching, they mentioned (with a deep sigh and an eye-roll) that this book has existed for three years now.  It seems to be more about outdoor plants than indoor ones, but you should look at it. And you might tell them thank-you for making the book... though I'd recommend you send them a note, rather than call. 

Best wishes,

The internet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Another Week in Writing, days 2/3: What's that that goeth before a fall?

Figures. As soon as I start trumpeting the virtues of daily writing, I miss a day. In my case, it was Sunday: I have yoga class at 8:30, and decided that getting up at 6:30 on a Sunday to work for two hours when I couldn't even eat (eating before intense yoga, especially in the heat, can make you feel a bit oogy) was obscene, so I thought "I'll do it later today."

You can guess what happened to that.

This morning was a new chance to start over.  Got up, made coffee, put some food and a vitamin in me, fumbled around for a bit longer than I should have (damn you, home internet!), then got to work. Nothing new on the actual paper, but I do have another reverse-engineered outline, and I'm starting to feel like something might be emerging from the fog. That alone is worth the 90 minutes this morning.

COMPLETELY UNRELATED UPDATE: thanks to Historiann (via e/j), who posted a link to a new-ish tumblr that translates MLA job ads for you.  Now, if someone would just get on with doing one for AHA ads as well...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Another Week in Writing, Day 1: A Mantra for Daily Writing

I posted on my Facebook account recently the following (provisional) mantra:

250 words a day is an article a month.

Now, we could nitpick the holy crap out of this, of course.  If it were really that easy, we'd all be doing that, and the academic world would be drowning in articles.  We know that anywhere from 15-85% of the words we write go straight in the shredder. And once you reach 8,000 words that are "keepers," there's still the business of revising. Fine. Granted.

But that mantra reminds me that I can set an achievable goal for a day, and if I stick to it, I'll be at my big goal more quickly than I'd believe.

Some reaction to my post echoed my thoughts for so many years: How can you write every day? What if you don't know enough yet?  You'll just waste time writing crap. I'm here to tell you: Writing crap every day is never a waste of time. And here's why:
  1. In that crap, there will likely be some good stuff that I'll come back to months later, after having forgotten I've written it.  
  2. Even writing crap every day is part of forming a habit. And that, in the long run, is what's gonna get me to my goal.

Or so I keep telling myself. But the fact is that I've found some of that old freewriting, pasted it into the draft of what I already have. It's now a Franken-Article, with bits and bobs and holes and behavior issues.  But it's over 6,000 words long, which is enough to make me think that this actually could be a grown-up article by the end of the semester.

And it's 9 a.m., and I've accomplished my writing goal for today.  Time to get on with my weekend!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Week in Writing, Day 4: Back to the Drawing Board, and Back on Track

This morning, I reset my word counter for the week to zero and dove back into the old conference paper manuscript. I squished down thoughts of how much or how little I was excited about the paper as it stood, and instead honed in on one area that I knew I could actually improve on. I've already related the story of my discovery here.  But I never plugged it back into the conference paper, because I thought that line of inquiry was dead.

So, today I did the plugging, and about 50% of the explicating.  That got me to 752 new words for the day (about half of which, I'll admit, lies in two rather chunky footnotes -- so much for writing with a non-egghead audience in mind). It's significant.  And it's just shy of the 800 I should be at if my "write 200 words a day" goal had been a straight line of progress.

I don't know if this track is leading anywhere, but I'm on the train, and it's moving, so I'm just going to ride it for a while.

(Still, I'd like to be inspired.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Week in Writing, Day 3: Ebb Tide

Today is international Talk like a Pirate Day.  Arrrr.

Coincidentally, pirates figure big and important in my paper, which ought to make it inherently exciting. Yet my paper is not.  In fact, in my musings today (which was really all I wrote), I wrote this sentence: "This is full of pirates, FFS!  How on earth am I managing to make that boring?!?"

And then I heard an interview with Jill Lepore on NPR, and I thought, "Love her work or hate it, but she knows how to write in a way that people want to read."

(I should note that this comes one day after I found out that my sister-in-law found my book less than gripping, and two days after receiving some rather dismal sales figures for the book for the last year.  My confidence in my ability to interest readers is pretty low right now.)

And so I once again trashed what I had written, and went back to the conference paper I presented.  And tomorrow, I get up, and try to think like a reader, like my sister-in-law, like Steve fucking Inskeep.  Because I know this can be interesting.  I'm just not there yet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Week in Writing, Day 2: À la recherche de l'écriture perdue

As I noted in an update to my previous post, my "Week in Daily Writing" got derailed early on: no sooner had I triumphantly announced that I had hit my goal, completed a section, and logged almost 800 words (including 350 or so from the weekend) than I, in a laudable attempt to Back Everything Up All The Time, managed to delete everything I had written. To make matters worse, I deleted the thesis statement that had finally come to me over the weekend, after wrestling with it for so long.

My reaction went something like this:


"Oh no." 



[dramatic pause/several fruitless attempts at recovery]


It was like that.  I missed the words less than I did the thesis. Because I have been struggling pretty hard with the "So what" question about these very neat documents, and I thought I finally had something.

Eventually, I came to two conclusions:
  1. Sometimes freeing yourself from old writing lets you escape an unproductive rut. [corollary 1a.: If I can't remember a thing about it, the thesis may not have ever been that great]
  2. I've lost some words, but it's not that many, and if I just sit around moping, I get to stay at zero.
So, this morning, though I didn't get up "early" as I wanted to, I did manage to write for over an hour, and knocked out the first 650 words... again.  I still don't know where I'm going, but for now, I'm just going to try to write my way in and see what happens.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Creaky: A writing post

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a writing group, because I wanted to get an article cranked out.  Did I mention that I haven't published anything on the new project yet? At all?

In any case, my goal for the last week was simple: read/skim three "classics" on the Big Picture Topic, and write a 400-word synopsis. The reading took a while, five of the seven days. And then, for the last two days, I sat down to write.  400 words.

And I couldn't make it.

What the hell? When I came back from my first big research trip, I was habitually setting daily goals of 600 words and whizzing past them without even trying, doubling that on most days.  This week, I couldn't get a lousy 400 words in two days.

Is it because it's new material? No, it was even newer back then. Is it because I'm trying to Write An Article, rather than shitty-first-drafting? Well, perhaps that's part of it. But mainly, I think it's because I'm creaky and out of shape. It's been a long time since I've written every day.  And yet I know from experience that "Write Every Day" actually works. Just let go of the need to be perfect, and write.

So, in the spirit of an Autumn of Modest Goals,[1] I've set myself three goals, provisionally for this week only:
  1. Get up early
  2. Write 200 words first thing every day -- even if they're crap.
  3. Make sure before going to bed that I have the next day's writing task laid out for me.

And this morning, I got up early (for me, anyway), meditated, made coffee, and wrote 260 words -- plus scratched out a few notes for a later section.

Let's see how this goes.

UPDATE:  Crap crap crap!!!  I went to back up the writing, and somehow... I managed to overwrite my copy with something last updated ten days ago...  And the newer copy, with all that work, is nowhere in sight.  Nowhere.  What. The. Hell.


[1] Autumn of Modest Goals appears to have happened accidentally. In August, I quit smoking.  Nothing else but that. In September, I appear to have managed to cut my diet soda consumption down to one 12-ounce can a day. It's actually kind of satisfying.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Show me your largest, heaviest books, please."

No, that's not quite what I said in the library today.  Yet I came out with four books, two of which are 800+ pages.  They are both, by the way, by early medievalists (Wickham [2005] and McCormick [2001]).  So, ADM, Jonathan... If I throw out my shoulder, can I blame you somehow?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Encouraging Conversation with Voice of Reason

Voice of Reason [1] stopped by my office today. She has been, like me, working on an article project (though her work is about three to four months more advanced). And like me, she's apparently been producing a lot of words with very few great thoughts to hold it all together.

We've been talking a lot about our frustrations with writing, and how they're producing doubts about the new projects we're working on, respectively. The underlying theme to all these discussions is: "Why can't I be smarter?"

And somehow, over this weekend, we both realized an important truth: the first book project -- the one that made us feel like we knew something -- didn't start out as a first book. Before that, it was a dissertation, and an article or two along the way. And before that, it was three years of research, reading, fumbling, and following dead-end roads. The lesson here is that bumping into walls is part of the process.  And it's part of the process that you have to repeat with every damn thing you write.

"You mean I have to keep feeling dumb every time I do this?" I ask myself.  Well, yes. And that's going to suck.  But knowing that it's part of the process is kind of like the doctor saying, "Now, this is going to hurt." It doesn't stop it from hurting, but it lets you know that the pain is normal, expected, and most of all, temporary.

[1] To those new to the blog, Voice of Reason is a friend, colleague, and former neighbor who reacts to situations with an equanimity and grace that I stand in awe of. She is who I want to be when I grow up.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Union Makes Us Strong

My faculty union is far from perfect. It often focuses on the wrong things. It misses crucial opportunities. It's sometimes tone-deaf. But it has managed to bind together several campuses, embrace lecturers as well as tenure-track faculty, and make us a force to be reckoned with, rather than steamrollered over.

In the roughly ten years since I have been at Grit City U., we have had two contract negotiations.  Both times, the union has had to vote to strike before we could get a serious contract.  But still, at least we could organize. We are currently ratifying a contract that doesn't include any raises at all, or really, anything to make up for the last three years of stagnation. But we're also protected against losing anything that we've gained, even though the state economy has been in serious trouble for a long time.  In this situation, no loss is very close to a win.

As we celebrate this Labor Day, I think of my friends working in Florida and other states like it -- states where somehow, state university employees have to work on the one day a year dedicated to the worker.  I think of the struggles of the twentieth century, and hope they won't be undone. And I celebrate and support workers (yes, even intellectual laborers!) everywhere. 

The fight is beginning again.  United we stand.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Morning Person, Redux

Reflections on the first week coming soon, but here's what's on my mind today:

I have always been a morning person by nature.  When I lived in an apartment in downtown Puddletown, I loved getting up at six to walk the mile to the gym before school, or at seven to walk around, latte in hand, in the morning drizzle and quiet before the city woke up.  I liked already having accomplished stuff before most people were awake.  I liked having the city to myself.

Something happened during my 2007/08 year in Fellowhship City, though: I became the kind of person who sleeps in.  Maybe because it was cold.  Maybe I stayed out later.  Maybe because I was, at that time, sharing my mornings with another person who was anything but a morning person.  Maybe because the "I need to sleep more to recover from the last four years of pushing myself" became a habit.  Whatever it was, it became a struggle to get out of bed before 8, and things kind of stayed that way.

This month, the good habit to cultivate is to create a good morning. For me, this means getting up early, meditating (even for 10 minutes), and working on my writing.  Maybe not every day, but five days out of seven.  Why do this? Because I've done it before, and I've noticed that it makes me a happier person. Also, because I've joined Dame Eleanor's writing group, so I need to make sure to carve out time for this.

So, maybe taking on one thing at a time is good for me.  Last month, I managed to quit smoking.  True, I managed to gain 7 pounds in a month, because I mostly sat on my butt watching TV (distraction!) and stuffed my face with carbs and sugar to smother the cigarette cravings.  But I'm okay with that, and I've turned the corner a bit, I think. Now, I'd like to see if I could do it again.  We shall see.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

So... wanna try this writing thing again?

One thing I learned by running a writing group?

Thing one: If you were to look at my CV, you would notice that I have a ton of conference papers, but very few published articles.  Conclusion: I am spending too much time writing conference papers, and not doing anything with them.

Thing two: I have to file for promotion in a year.

Thing three: I need accountability.  But I have time to either run a writing group, or to write, but not both.

So here's the deal:
1. I've dug out my copy of "Writing your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks," and I'm going to follow it here, every Friday, starting a week from tomorrow. Gonna stick to the book like glue.

2. If you want to do the same thing on Fridays (either here or elsewhere), you're welcome to do it. I'm not going to be leading discussions or responding to every check-in or tracking and posting everyone's progress, because that's what made it hard for me to keep up with both the group and my own writing.  But if you just want a bit of structure and accountability, Stop by again this Friday, when I lay out the week 1 project, and next Friday, when I check in and lay out week 2, etc.

Just an idea.

UPDATE: Dame Eleanor is a saint, and she is running a group over at her place.  So let's meet over there instead of here, yes?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ahimsa for the High-Strung Scholar

[NB: in this post, I am all introspective-meditative-blogger again.  So if that's not to your taste, you might want to skip this post.  I'm sure I'll be back to something bizarre and random again very soon.]

As long-time followers know, I have a few extracurricular passions that ebb and flow with my schedule.  And as even more recent followers know, my post-tenure life sees me constantly struggling to carve out time to devote to them, to be a more balanced human being.  It's tough.

And it's been even more tough of late to maintain balance in the mind.  Grit City U., like every other public university out there, lately is living and dying by nickles and dimes. I shan't enumerate the many things we've lost over the past few years, but it does seem that just when I find a bit of peace with the "new normal" (are we all getting tired of that phrase yet?), a place where I can, as the yogis preach, not struggle, something new comes up, and I'm fighting tooth and claw again.

Add to this the fact that my body is now betraying me.  Nothing horrible; just a combination of age and mileage. But it means another two weeks of near-inactivity for me, and accepting that short-term frustration (two weeks of very limited activity) will prevent long-term injury.

One of the things I'm having to give up for those two weeks is yoga.  This is a blow: yoga not only keeps me physically fit, it was helping me counteract the eight or so pounds I put on when I quit smoking.  And it has the added bonus of keeping me from killing people.  Plus, there's the vanity thing: there's some thing very cool about having a perky butt and awesome shoulders when you're forty-something and used to being slightly pudgy.

So, I'm putting into practice one of the yoga principles: Ahimsa. It's usually translated as "non-injury." Now, I haven't killed anyone yet, though sometimes it's a close thing. But I tend to forget that non-injury has to be directed inward as well.  And like most scholars, I demand a lot of myself. And it makes me cranky, and makes me feel like a failure, which results in more self-directed violence, etc.

So, I'm going to try to practice Ahimsa the first week of the semester.  It seems like a good time, especially since the word can also be translated to mean "compassion," and I've been tapped to be an undergraduate adviser this year. I'm also going to tell myself that it's okay to not exercise like an amateur athlete when you're injured, ferthaluvagod.

How I will manage this without giving up on standards altogether remains to be seen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I don't wanna wake up

Here at Grit City U., we don't officially start for another week, but this week-before seems just as hard: it's the week where you wake up from that beautiful dream you call "summer" and realize that, yes, you do have to finish your syllabi, and post them online, along with the other course materials, and call the bookstore to make sure your books are in, and figure out where your classrooms are, and try to find out why one of them appears to be completely gutted and whether it will be operational in time for the first day, and get your books on reserve in the library, and get certified for the new service assignment you just agreed to last week, and wonder why you still haven't cleaned out that one drawer in your desk (you know the one), and start running into people you haven't seen all summer and realize "Hey, I actually have some pretty cool colleagues here!" and resolve -- once again -- to avoid negative people and complain less and accentuate the positive and not get emotionally involved when something falls apart and devote all hours before 10 a.m. to writing and to treat your non-work-life as a priority and maybe this will be the semester you learn a language or meditate every day or...

Note to self: take one of these and chill the fuck out.

And then you realize that you're setting yourself up to make yourself crazy yet again, so you pick one of these things as a must-do to focus on right now, and a second one as a thing to aspire to, and breathe, and know that even if it's not different this time, it will be the same in a different way, so  maybe this time you can have a good giggle at it, all the while keeping that one tiny corner of your brain labeled "summer" (the one where you made new friends and swam in the ocean and drank espresso with sweetened condensed milk) as a little internal refuge for just a while longer.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Feeling good about this

21 days since my last cigarette.

I still have a residual sore throat, but I think I'll survive it.

Yay, me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I have to *what*?!?

A while ago, I decided that this would be the year that I started taking advantage of our university's tuition benefit for faculty and staff, according to which we can take up to 6 hours of coursework per semester at a drastically reduced rate.  I wanted to take a year of Italian, which would help me in my research, and would prepare me for a possible yoga retreat in southern Italy this summer. I had visions of taking courses in the future on Art History, photography, etc.  Lifelong learning and all that.

I assumed that, as a professor, I would be given last priority in enrollment: I go to class on the first day, along with all the other non-matriculated students, and see if there are seats available. So two days ago, I went down to enrollment services to get the ball rolling, and it turns out that all my assumptions were wrong. 

I need to actually be accepted to the university as a student matriculated in a degree program.

Well, the deadline is passed for that.  But I thought it might be fun to try to get accepted as an undergraduate in my own university. The irony is that I may not meet the requirements for admission.  I've apparently got to, like any other student, get high school transcripts, and my high school GPA was a whopping 2.81. 

This should be interesting, no?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fun with carcinogens!

No, not the cigarettes.  Yes, I'm still not smoking. 16 days.

Nope, I'm talking about the ones in my building. Specifically, the asbestos that is there when I have a maintenance request (hole in my window), but isn't there when I ask for health concerns.

Well, this summer, my department miraculously had some use-it-or-lose-it money that had to be spent on "durable equipment," so they decided to remodel the conference/seminar room in our forty year-old "temporary" building.  You see where this is going. Walls were painted. Projector was installed.  Large plasma screen, too. New bookshelves. As a final step, an expensive security system was purchased.  And as they were installing the latter...

Yup.  The asbestos is back. And we are now barred from our conference room (though not, of course, from our offices). And to keep us safe, they have sealed off the areas around the edges of the door and the vents... with blue painter's tape.

Sometimes, I just have to shake my head in wonderment.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just so you know...

...the fever I referred to in my last post didn't kill me dead.  I've just been... well, part of it is that I've been having those zombie days that I was talking about a while ago. But here's the other thing: since a few days before going home, I've been trying to quit smoking.

Yup.  Again.

How is this keeping me from blogging, you ask?  Well, it's complicated.  See, I managed to make it through the ugly first few days of withdrawal because I was alternately a) sick with a fever; b) preparing to leave Blarg City for home; c) on a transatlantic flight.  So that's good.  But there's that psychological thing that tells me, whenever I'm home: "Hey!  Isn't it about time for a smoke?"

So, I've been attempting to distract myself by gorging on sugar, starch, and a couple of TV series that I'd been wanting to check out (11 episodes of "Justified" in a single day?  Check).

Why, you may ask, not do something healthier? Don't I do yoga?  Well, the other thing is that I've got a nasty case of "quitter's flu." That's when your body starts to turn traitor on you.  And the unkindest cut of all is that the symptoms it involves are the ones that you would think you'd suffer if you were smoking: persistent sore throat, sinus congestion, and a hacking cough.  It's disgusting.  And the congestion means that I can't do stuff that has my head below my heart, or that requires any sort of balance. Which is about 95% of yoga. So I'm stuck with sugars, carbs, TV... oh, and I've found that sugared fennel seeds are working for me as a sort of weird substitute. Probably nothing magic about the thing in particular; it's just what's working for me at the moment.

In any case, Mr. B. is landing for a four-day visit in a couple of hours. That should provide a good distraction.  And when I return, I'll tell you tales of how I've already overcommitted myself for the upcoming semester.  'Cause that's how I roll.

Monday, July 30, 2012

37.8 the centigrade equivalent of 100.4 farenheit.  Which is precisely the temperature I found that I'm  running, once I decided that two days of apathy plus one day of complete physical exhaustion was not normal, and decided to take my temperature.

No wonder I've been exhausted.

Not to worry, though: I'm in a friend's home, his mother is fussing over me, and I'm drinking juice and eating watermelon and pears.  And I'll likely sleep at least 10 hours tonight. But I'm leaving Blarg city in just over 72 hours, and I really wish I was fit enough to be out enjoying it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zombie Days

The seminar is over.  All but a few of the participants have left.  I'm still in Blarg City, which is a wonderful place, and have another 4 days before I leave.  And do you know what I want to do?


I could write a long blog post about my adventures in the seminar.  I could upload photos.  I could take more photos (something I've been frightfully lax about, given how photogenic Blarg City is). I could begin to pack (I have to leave the place I'm staying tomorrow and move my stuff across town to my friend's house). I could organize my notes from the last couple of weeks. I could go sightseeing, or swimming, or make myself lunch.

I don't want to do any of these things.

I call these "zombie days." Days when you are capable of nothing other than sitting alone in a room, and that's really all you want to do.  I usually plan for two full zombie days when I get home from a trip, where I do no more than unpack, laundry, and perhaps a trip to the coffee shop.  I may or may not get up the energy to buy groceries.  Zombie days are also blocked in for the first few days after a semester ends.

I find it really relaxing.  And I'm learning to let go of the "You should be doing stuff!" guilt.  I've decided that if I have an unclaimed day, and this is the way I want to spend it, I should be able to do it that way.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Answers to the Homeless Adjunct's Questions

There's a post up at the Homeless Adjunct that's well worth a read.  Actually, since hir points about the harms that overreliance on undercompensated adjunct labor has done to universities, professors, and students alike will be of no surprise to any of my academic readers, it's one that is well worth passing on to your non-university friends with offspring about to go to college, or who are about to choose a university for themselves.

The post provides a list of questions that people in this position might consider asking on their campus visits.  What's below is just a list of the questions, with my own answers.  Note that the original post explains and explicates each and every one of them very nicely, and brings up some excellent points.

My answers about my own institution (mid-tier four-year state school):

1. What percentage of the faculty teaching your undergraduate classes is full-time? What percentage is adjunct? About 45% a couple of years ago; surely more than that right now, for the simple reason that, with each round of budget cuts over the last few years, another batch of adjuncts lost their jobs, or had full-time cut down to part-time. I don't think this is the way we want to go about "increasing tenure-track density."

2. A related question: what percentage of my child’s classes will be taught by Teaching Assistants?  None, at least not in my department, but that's because we aren't a Ph.D.-granting program. I think that some classes over in Natural Sciences and Mathematics may be taught by TAs. (Note that HA does talk about the problematic nature of applying the term "assistant" to someone who is, in reality, fully responsible for a given class.)

3. Are undergraduate students guaranteed full access to their professors on campus?  Faculty, whether TT or contingent, are required to hold office hours, but there's no minimum or maximum.  I'd guess that 4-5 "official" hours a week are about average, with more random hours when we're between classes. 

4. Are undergraduate students guaranteed private meetings in their professor’s private offices? Up until recently, most faculty shared offices, but usually not on the same days.

5. Are undergraduate students guaranteed advising from their departmental faculty? This is where I get cranky. There were hours available with one of two departmental advisers (both department faculty) every day of the week, staggered times so that any student could make them. We also scheduled mandatory meetings for new majors, whether transfer or freshman.  But advising funding has been slashed.  We now have one person tasked with doing the job that, until now, it's taken two people to do... and there may be a 50% reduction in hir compensation for that work.  There is university advising as well -- important for general graduation requirements, but problematic when they try to give advice about the major. One, last year, advised at least a couple of majors to delay taking our (required for majors!) core course because it was "too hard."

6. What is the number of “general education” or “core” classes required of my student’s major, or of the general university degree? Good lord, I don't know... they seem to change this every two years or so.  I'd direct you to ask our departmental advisor, but... (see above, #5)

7. Will undergraduate students be given ample access to the courses required for graduation within four years? Probably not. Too many students, too few faculty, too many budget pressures to cut "underenrolled" courses within the first couple of weeks of registration.

8. Will the university be willing to guarantee that my child’s classes will be taught by faculty who are compensated equally, provided with private offices and professional support, who will be available to mentor and guide my child outside of class as well as in?  Hmmm... no, no/no, and... I'm supposed to do what?!?  (Unless the author means that I'll be available to mentor outside of class hours? Because I'm in no way qualified to handle the many personal issues that my students have. Sympathize, yes.  Direct them to the correct resources, certainly. But I have no business guiding their personal lives.)  Honestly, while this is a lovely thought, I doubt that any but the highest-ranking SLACs could say yes to this one.

9. Where does the tuition go? Will universities provide a full accounting of... [and here there's a bit about various salaries] Actually, for my state, all public employee salaries are searchable online; if you know my name and institution, you can find my gross salary for as recently as last year.  You can also find the gross salary of any adjunct or staff member or campus president.  What you won't find is an accounting of the extras.  For example: faculty members have (until recently) had access to about $800 per year in money for travel to professional conferences.  Campus presidents in high-cost areas get a supplement to their salaries that is a "housing allowance" equal to about what our most recent full-time faculty were hired at.  Lecturers get bupkis.

10. Finally, you might want to ask them about their corporate partnerships. I don't think our uni is allowed to have those (unless you count the concessions contracts).  But I could be wrong.  And I imagine that this makes more of a difference when you dig down into the corporations that are funding individual or group grants.

That's a longish post, and the original is even longer.  But I thought I should make a full accounting.  As you can see, my colleagues at Grit City U. are doing our best.  But the odds appear to be stacked against us, and I might want to revisit these questions at the beginning of next academic year.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

That Gut-Wrenching Tipping Point

The summer seminar I'm taking part in is drawing to a close, and that means getting a presentation of work accomplished together.  I'm trying to synthesize it in some way, and have some focal point, all while tying it in to the themes, large and small, of the seminar.  Herding cats, I tells ya'.

In any case, today marked another ka-chunk step forward, where I began grappling with the Big Idea.  And here's the problem: I really, really want this big idea to work.  But I'm at the stage where I'm pushing it ahead of me and pretending that I'm following where it leads.  And it's at that kind of tipping point where you get a wrenching feeling in your gut that comes from knowing that the next big push might see you either break through and really understand what you're trying to do, or fuck it up beyond all recognition, and not understand that you've done that until you're too far into the process to remember where you were, and what you thought before you started flogging the Big Idea.

I've been through this before, with First Book.  At one point, pushing the idea out in front of me before I really believed in it -- the "fake it 'till you make it" school of writing -- actually helped me get the big idea that the book would eventually be based on.  At other points, it ended up with literally months of research and writing being thrown in the trash.

((deep breath))


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ignorant Twaddle

Has this happened to you?

You are walking through your Research City, when you come upon a tour group.  You stop for a moment to listen in... and hear the tour guide assert something so patently ridiculous that it's all you can do not to shout "Oh my God.  What a load of ignorant twaddle!"

This happened to me today.  I did manage to restrain myself, but only just barely.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Starting to think that I've found something really interesting

Remember that obscure book of privileges that I mentioned a couple of posts back?

Well, I finished transcribing the privilege I was working on, and I thought I'd see if I could find some book or article or a even an entry in a reference book to give me some background on it, and there's nothing. There's a book with the same title for a different location that is a music manuscript.  And there's another one that has something to do with plants.  But absolutely nothing out there on the book I'm working on. 

On the one hand, this is frustrating, as I'd like to know a bit more.

On the other, there's that really cool feeling that maybe I've stumbled onto something that almost nobody even knows exists, and it's a really big something.

There's likely a doctoral thesis from some Blargistan university floating out there somewhere.  And there are a couple of people I can ask.  But I'm still quasi-giddy about this whole thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In an effort to do my part to help rescue the European economy...

...I bought this shoe, plus one more to go with it.

Also, a stripey shirt.

And lunch.

And then, I rested.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Archive discoveries

Technical archive geekery ahead.  You have been warned.

#1: I found the urban privilege I have been looking for off and on for over half a year. It's kind of the key to the paper I've been working on, and I'd started to believe that the informants in my document were just making it up (they do that sometimes) to bully the other cities around them (they do that a lot). But it exists, and in a minor book of privileges that seems to be little known except among real specialists; it's been completely overshadowed by its more important sibling book of privileges.

#2: The person whose reference I used to track back to this privilege (thank you!) has the date just a bit off, and doesn't seem to have looked at the whole document.  It's not that they got the interpretation of the part they looked at wrong, but...

#3: ...the whole document is ever so much more interesting than I could have hoped for.  I was expecting a terse paragraph saying "city X gets to do this crazy-ass thing." What I got was five full pages, in which this privilege was nested within a narrative about how city X did this crazy-ass thing, then city Y (which was harmed by this action) retaliates against city X, at which point the king explains the privilege to city Y and orders them to make city X whole again and furthermore to publicize among their officials the fact that city X gets to do this crazy-ass thing that looks like flat-out theft but in fact is totes legal, and then city Y just plain ignores the king's order and goes on retaliating... and that's just the first page and a half.

It's nifty.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Update: On being a student again yesterday's post, which alluded to me being a student again.  And here's my student perspective from this morning:

If you assign 100+ pages of pretty complex reading for a week's discussion, the students will take a deep breath, and struggle through it.

If you announce at the beginning of the week that you will be posting the primary texts  that that seminar's discussion will actually be based on, your students will groan, complain to each other, and mentally rearrange their schedules for the week.

If you actually post those readings less than 12 hours before the discussion? At that point, expect things to get interesting.

[Explanatory note: Yes, I'm bitching and moaning here.  I'm also reading.  But really, being a student again is causing me to reflect on things I can improve in my own teaching and structuring of classes.  It's been a long time since I've been in this position, so this is super-helpful to me.  Anyone else want to chime in with some learning experiences?]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Junior Year Abroad... the Sequel

Hey there, all!

Betcha thought some big beastie had swallowed me whole. But that's not the case.  Unless you count this seminar as a beastie, in which case, it's a pleasant one, full of smart and interesting people and a lot of great food. Also, many interesting excursions.

In some ways, it's like revisiting my junior year abroad:*
  • I've been thrown in with a group of people I don't know, and we work out interpersonal relations quickly.
  • I'm staying in a dorm room (though with my own efficiency kitchen).
  • We're in a foreign country, and participants have varying degrees of knowledge of the local language
  • There are many interesting excursions planned for the group.
  • There is homework.

The first week was packed with group activities, both those put together by the organizers, and those we came up with on our own. These activities have also meant that many of us finished week one with the sense that we really hadn't done nearly enough work on our major projects. In fact, last night, I gave away a ticket I had purchased to a really excellent cultural event because I felt rising guilt that would have prevented me from enjoying myself anyway.  So I stayed home and worked -- which turned out to be the right decision, at least for me.

Anyway, these are general observations.  I'll let you know how I feel about this at the end of week two, which I consider to be my first "real" work week.  And I'll leave you with a cool picture from one of our excursions:

faith never sleeps

*The one major difference? I'm sober enough to remember the experiences I'm having.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Seminar Begins Tomorrow...

...and I've been enjoying my role as helper/guide/ZOMG where do I buy a colander on a Sunday? answer-person for the new arrivals in Blarg City.  And the accommodations are just ducky.  And there's likely more to say, but I'd like to get to bed at a decent hour, since tomorrow is our first day.

So I'll just leave you with this picture of something that I was working with the other day in the archive.  A scroll?  Really?  I now have lots of sympathy for all those folks who work in the rolls series...

Friday, June 29, 2012

After eating all that food...

After all that eating, I've spent the past several afternoons in a stupor.  "I will never eat again," I tell myself.  Ugh.

Why didn't somebody tell me: "Hey, Notorious!  Dontcha know that that tourist attraction on the edge of town is a nice hike, with enough vertical for some exercise?  And that once you're there, you'll have a bit of a breeze, and also cool views?" 

  And there will be cool old crumbly stuff, like this:

And you will at first be confused to see seashells so far from the ocean, and even when you eventually you'll figure out that they're the abandoned homes of snails, you'll still be so amused by your own idea of sea creatures on a land-based vacation (kind of like a cruise, in reverse) that you'll get way down on the ground to photograph them...

  ...though you will get some wicked burrs in your hair in the process:

And, BUM-BUM!, staggeringly! large! things! that force you to practice "photography-pilates," which is when you lie mostly on your back but with your upper body slightly curled, focus, exhale, and try to hold the camera steady.

And this whole "looking up" thing will inspire you again to try to shoot the moon over all this gorgeous stuff, and even though you know for a fact that your camera and/or lens can't handle it, you'll still try anyway: 

And then it will be getting to dusk, and you will decide to come down before it gets too dark and you twist an ankle.  And when you get home... you'll be hungry.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What I Ate in Deltaville

I love food.

I always tell people, when I'm off to Blargistan, "I'm going to eat my weight in cheese."  And I always come back a good five pounds heavier.

Deltaville has been a challenge.  It's a town of about 30,000, so there aren't an abundance of good restaurants.  The night I got in was a Sunday, and I scoured the town in vain for a place to eat.  I finally ended up at one of those bar/cafés that serves a meal, and what I had was so disappointing (iceberg lettuce salad, followed by seafood and french fries that had obviously been frozen) that, since then, I appear to be attempting to make up for it.

Fortunately, the hotel I'm at is just down the block from what may be the nicest restaurant in town, and I've been eating lunch there every day this week (except for the day I spent the lunch hour heading to Blarg City to fetch my camera battery).  Here's what I have had:
[1] Yes, you read that right.
  • A prix fixe lunch menu that consisted of a first course of a room-temperature vegetable couscous, a second course of grilled tuna, and a dessert of three two-inch squares of fried custard-like substance[1] (though dense enough to pick up with a fork), served with cinnamon ice cream. =>
  • A truly outlandish lunch of a first course of a green salad, and a second course of squid-ink papardelle with lobster meat and shaved black truffle (no dessert this time; too full).
  • What I'm calling my "black and white meal": Black Rice (a sort of risotto/paella thing, made with shellfish and artichokes and colored with squid ink), and for dessert, a local variation on blancmange. I tried to go without a first course this time (I was stuffed all evening after the previous day's meal, and I knew the rice would be bulky), but apparently they felt bad that there was a 20-minute prep time on the rice, so they brought me out a dish of steamed mussels.
  • tomorrow... who knows?  I think I'm going to try to have a salad. Though there may be cheese involved.
Now, this is not a cheap way to eat.  In fact, it's about 50% more than I would ever pay for a table-for-one meal in the U.S. (though perhaps that should change?)  And I've been doing it every. single. day. How the hell can I justify this?  Because I'm totally a backpacker the rest of the day:
  • Breakfast comes with the hotel price, which at about $35 a night, is a bargain.  I get an egg, a yogurt, juice, and a coffee.  I also surreptitiously pocket a piece of fruit and a couple bits of cheese and stash them in a plastic bag in my room.[2]
  • Midmorning, I treat myself to a coffee and pastry (these are also delicious here) for a 30- to 45-minute break from the archive.
  • Evening, I hit the supermarket and buy a roll (to eat with the cheese), some vegetables to be eaten raw (green beans work well for this), and a bottle of water. Dinner is bread, cheese & fruit from breakfast, raw veggies, and water. And a granola bar for dessert.  Oh, and last night I added a limeade slushie (don't know how else to describe it) to my evening eats.

Total food bill for the day: about $40.[3] Over three-quarters of which is lunch.

So, I'm eating well.  But probably way too much.  And don't you tell me "Oh, you're walking everywhere!"  I walk and bike everywhere at home.  And here, it's so hot that all I can do in the middle of the day is retreat to my air-conditioned hotel room and write blog posts.

Five weeks = five pounds, here I come.

[2] Because this is an out-of-the-way town, and the hotel might be best described as "economical", the price is about $35 a night.  Which made me feel extra-special bad when I woke up after 6 1/2 hours of sleep to discover that I hadn't shut the bathroom tap off all the way, and somewhere just a bit more substantial than a "trickle" of warm water had been running all night.  I'm an asshole.
[3] I save a bit because of the near total lack of tipping. Any other Yankee researchers in Europe who still feel weird about this? My friends here reassure me that it's totally optional, and that half a euro per person for lunch is fine, a full euro for a nice restaurant, and the leftover 10-20 "cents" for coffee.  So that's what I do.  But I still feel very weird walking out with what amounts to a 5% tip on the table.