Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Your bottom cover may fall off at any moment", and other interesting odds and ends

  • Thank you to all of you who popped in with suggestions and sympathy on my recent tech crisis. Through the fortunate fact that I had the content (if not the system) backed up on a flash drive, I have suffered no data loss, and the efforts of my college's tech person preserved the framework as well. My computer appears to be resurrected from the dead, but in a way that provokes questions about the nature of existence. First, he replaced the OS. Then, a week later, he gave me a new hard drive. Then, when that didn't work, he took out the new hard drive (with the old data and the new OS) and installed it in a computer body (same model as my old one) that had been returned by a departing faculty member. So I've got the same memories, implanted into a transplanted brain, which was then transplanted into a new body. The philosophical implications of this are interesting: if your brain and body are different, but you remember the same things, are you the same entity? I think I saw this movie.
  • Also: somewhere between brain transplant and body transplant, I got an e-mail from tech guy, ominously titled "extra parts." I quote it here, for your amusement: "I just realized that I left out REALLY important pieces from your laptop before you left. Your bottom cover may fall off at any moment because in the rush I forgot to put the screws back on. Please come to my office as soon as possible." It is a comment on my mental state that I found this hilarious.
  • Three of my four February weekends have been claimed by conference/seminar/workshop thingies. Apparently this is going on all over the place lately. I think that all conference organizers suddenly thought, "We should plan things early in the semester, because late semester is always a really crowded time for academics." Which would be well and good if they hadn't all thought this simultaneously. Or even if fools like me hadn't thought, of each one individually, "Hey, I could go to this. After all, it's February, and that's a slow month." And now all the slow months are gone.
  • What else have I been up to? Oh, teaching the usual three classes, trying to keep up with reading for two students prepping for M.A. exams, applying for a Amazing Seminar Thingie (hat-tip to Dr. Crazy for the terminology), trying to prep another for a prospectus defense, writing lectures, doing readings, and devising writing assignments for a new course that is only Medieval-Adjacent, trying to continue with a good meditation and yoga schedule, attempting not to descend into a life of household squalor in which I crouch among the dustbunnies, hair unwashed, wearing dirty clothes, and subsisting on mustard packets found in a corner of an empty fridge...
  • Here's an awesome thing: my financial life appears to be in order, for the first time in ages. More details in a real post. But even though it doesn't involve any sort of fabulous inheritance or anything, I promise you that you will be in awe when I tell you about it.
  • What I haven't been doing: working on my kalamazoo paper. At all.

But... I want to leave you with a little piece of awesomeness to brighten your day. This morning, while walking home from a breakfast I treated myself to, I saw this on a telephone pole near where I live:

Go ahead. Take one.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Conversation

We join our heroine at the tech support center for the college. Her laptop is still acting up, but now things have gone from bad to worse, as the computer, when it deigns to turn on, no longer seems to "see" the external hard drive that she's been frantically doing backups on...

TECH PERSON: Okay, plug the external drive into the computer for me, and I'll see about reformatting it.

NOTORIOUS [plugging things in]: Thanks. It doesn't see it, and it's been making a weird noise. But the port itself seems to be working fine.

EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE: Click. Click-click. Click.


NOTORIOUS: What is it?

TECH PERSON: Oh. That's bad.

NOTORIOUS: What is it?




Friday, February 17, 2012

Technology Terror

Today, through no fault of my own, I nearly bricked my laptop.

Isn't that an evocative phrase? It means pretty much what you'd think it means: to turn an expensive piece of technology (computer; smart phone) into the functional equivalent of a brick.

The thing had been hinky for a while. Slow, outdated OS, and all that. This is pretty normal -- we usually get scheduled for computer replacement around here about once every four years, and the last year of that tends to limp along. I'm one year out, so this should have begun my limping year. But a year ago, if you'll recall, I got caught between a moving vehicle and a parked bus while out on my bike, and treated like a pinball until I finally hit the ground. And yes, my laptop was riding along with me. Cushioned, sure; but still. But it still worked! It seemed to be undamaged, except for a bent port. ("I never use that one anyway!") But apparently these things can sneak up on you.

And so, I have become acquainted with Mac's Gray Veil of Death -- four times in the last two weeks. And the most recent of these was at 4 p.m. today, a Friday. Our technician performed some Mac-Fu and perhaps even sacrificed a small mammal, and it appears to be running again.

And yes, I have backups. But without a machine to load them on?

And you know the other thing I have? Deadlines. Things I've promised people. Et caetera.

So light a candle, do a chant, help me make it through here. And if you don't hear from me for a while, I'm not dead. But my computer might well be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Moment of Reflection on Where I'm At

Please note: the following is a personal musing. It implies no judgment on anyone's aspirations or choices but my own. Really and truly. If you quote any of this, please don't leave that part out.

Like many academics, I have dreamed of the Dream Job.

The Dream Job is different for everyone. Maybe it's at a big research university. Maybe it's a small liberal arts college. Maybe it's in a part of the country or the world that you want to live in, for whatever reason is important to you. Maybe it's just a case of Anywhere But Here.

These things can all be compelling. For people with family considerations, or who are in toxic departments, it can take on a real urgency that I will in no way deny. I will just say that, for me, the Dream Job had little to do with the actual job I have -- a very typical mid-tier public four-year school -- and more to do with where I thought I would be happier, because... well, I was just pretty sure, let's put it that way.

I struggled with this a while. I knew how fortunate I was to have landed a good job in my field, in a place I liked well enough, and with good colleagues. Yet still, there was always the shiny promise of Dream Job, where I would be truly happy and fulfilled.

But over the past few weeks, a switch has flipped, and in a big way. It's not even a matter of "acceptance"; I think I've actively embraced where I'm at, and I think that's ultimately going to be a very good thing.

Here's the deal: My school is ridiculously under-resourced, and it's not getting any better any time soon. My students are often less prepared than the mythical students that I have imagined teaching at Dream Job. They keep working to the best of their ability; I keep pushing them to dig for just a bit more. But over the past few weeks, I've focused more intently on the content of our conversations outside the classroom: the things they're learning about in class and in the readings that are exciting them, their struggles to pay for tuition, their frantic balancing act between work and school, their efforts to translate what they are doing here to family members who never went to college -- their struggle, in other words, to live in two worlds and try to figure out how those two identities are going to work together, or if they're going to have to make a painful choice.

And then I think about my own experience: One parent with a Bachelor's degree, the other with two years of college. Underfunded public high schools, and the academic hole I dug myself into there while I struggled to reinvent myself as a rebel who disdained all manifestations of authority, including things like "homework" and "attending class." A reasonably fancy undergraduate degree that was in no small part financed by outside jobs and lots of loans,[1] and that included a necessary year and a half at community college rehabilitating my GPA. The experience of seeing one of my undergraduate professors visibly wince when I mentioned the part of town I was from. But also an upbringing that featured a strong focus on learning and self-improvement, as well as regular visits to the public library, and my parents' unwavering belief in my potential (once I stopped screwing around) and unconditional support for what I was doing. Parents who wanted to know about my research.[2] A little brother (okay, he's 30 now) who asked for a copy of my book for Christmas.

And I realized that, even though I'll probably always still dream of research funds, or small classes of motivated students who write beautifully, or even unlimited printer paper, the fact is that right here, right now, I'm doing good work that I'm actually quite suited to, for a group of students who I understand fairly well,[3] maybe better than some others might. And maybe people at Dream Job, wherever that may be, are better suited to the kind of work they're doing than I would ever be.

In other words, I've started to believe that, for the moment at least, I'm right where I need to be. And that's a very nice feeling.

[1] For what it's worth: my family was able to cover my rent, plus a supplement every term to cover estimated costs of groceries and books; I worked out tuition and whatever else I felt I needed to make it through my days.

[2] And because I was going through my own prolonged identity crisis, I'm ashamed to say that my answers were occasionally high-handed. But that's a post for another day -- or, most likely, never. Let's just say that I probably owe some humble apologies.

[3] I will admit that many of my students have additional burdens that I can never hope to understand. But I do what I can.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Long January

I have a meta-project.

This, of course, is in addition to all the things I'd like to get done over the next semester. But in general, I started out 2012 with the feeling that it's going to be a good year, and I'd like to make sure that I don't get in the way of that happening.

To that end, I've got a number of monthly projects. Or rather, I have the first few months' projects, and am letting the rest appear to me as they do. And the reason that I haven't been blogging is that the first month's project has been:

Clear the Way

In other words, declutter as many parts of my life as I can, get rid of nagging projects, and on and on, so that I can move forward.

This, as you can imagine, is no small feat. I have an astounding capacity to put things off, leave projects until later, procrastinate, accumulate stacks of unopened mail and unanswered e-mail,[1] and then it nags and me from the pit of my stomach, and the only solution is more aggressive procrastination,[2] until I'm lying in bed with my stomach in knots. I can't sleep, much less move forward with my many ambitious goals. Getting rid of the nagging projects and just generally decluttering will give me one less ball to juggle.

So, January was "Clear the Way" month. And it seems that January has stretched into February. Which is disappointing, but not unexpected, given the crowded nature of the semester "break" I had.[3] But today I managed to read another book for a grad student exam, and make more progress on getting my course websites done.[4] And last weekend I took down the mini-blinds and cleaned them, for the first time in I'm-ashamed-to-say-how-long.[5] And I'm organized in terms of the three grad students I'm supervising this semester. And I've got the e-mail inbox down to two dozen items. And finished two letters of recommendation. And other stuff.

In any case, I guess "January" is now "the Long January,"[6] and promises to last until the end of February. But I'm okay with that, so long as it produces the desired result.

Cleaned the mini-blinds, I tell you!!!

Regular sardonic blogging will resume shortly.

Ooh, look -- I took a picture!


[1] Can you stack e-mail?
[2] No, "aggressive procrastination" is not an oxymoron. As I'm sure some of my readers know.
[3] For those who care: my AHA paper was well received. And I got to hang out with cool people. And Chicago was unseasonably gorgeous.
[4] Yes, I'm aware that we're three weeks into the semester now. Shut up.
[5] Hint: the time should be measured in years, rather than months.
[6] For non-historians: Historians sometimes talk about things like "the long eighteenth century," which just goes to show how hard we will work to maintain arbitrary periodization, even while critiquing it. Don't expect any more consistency from me than you would from the historical profession at large, 'kay?