Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I have shed a grad student.

A person with lots of enthusiasm and a great idea for a thesis, but who struggled with writing and organization. A person who could not meet deadlines and who dropped out of contact for months on end. A person who spent a year learning an obscure language in order to be able to work with the required sources. A person whose personal life seemed to be a neverending series of crises, probably all quite real and serious, but all of which coincided with work deadlines.

I tried structure. I tried letting go and waiting. I mixed and remixed compassion and strict guidance. I sent a long, kind e-mail telling this student that a graceful exit was okay, and had no reflection on them as a person; that it was okay to admit they'd gotten in over their head; that there was no judgment. Finish if you can, but get out if you need to; there's no need to punish yourself. All to no avail. Even the impending seven-year up-or-out deadline (set by the university) had, in the end, no effect. There were apologies, and professions of really wanting to finish, but...

And now this student has realized this, just as s/he has run out of time. Yesterday, with my concurrence, the grad director sent a kind but firm "no" to a request for another extension. And I know that's the right thing to do. But I still feel rotten.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saying Yes to Adventure Time

Remember when I said something a while back in my mid-career crisis about how one of the ways we set ourselves up for crisis is by spending 10+ years ignoring what we love in favor of The Job? And how one way to start feeling better, post-tenure, was to reconnect with all that stuff?

Yeah, well, apparently I talk a good line, but am really bad on follow-through. Part of this is that, as I've aged, I tend to like more and more to spend time alone, just recovering my resources. I get easily overwhelmed by too much activity. I can do a four-day conference of nonstop people everywhere (Hello: Kalamazoo?) or go to a party if such is required. But then I shut myself away for a while.

But the other part is that I'm still convincing myself that spending an! entire! day! doing nothing but recreation is somehow going to put me horribly behind on what I need to do. That, given the choice between Something Fun and work, I should choose work.

Case in point: Historiann is in town for a bit. Or rather, not too far away. I invited her & the family down for an afternoon of fun. She countered with "Let's go on a day-long adventure to [fun place I've never been but have always meant to go]!"

My first reaction was to immediately decline. Because that's a whole day. And I should be grading. Or revising my Kalamazoo paper. Or whatever.

And then I remembered that I used to like fun.

So, to sum up: I'm going on an adventure tomorrow, with Historiann! All day! To a place I've always wanted to see but have told myself that I just don't have time, and maybe next month. And honestly, I have this feeling that all will be well. Better than well, even: Fun. Which is not something you're supposed to feel guilty about on the weekend.

But, because I am who I am, I'll be doubling down on the work today.  Baby steps, after all.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Good News/Bad News: Kalamazoo Paper Version

Here's the way my week has been:

Monday: Good news! I've finished a draft of my Kalamazoo paper! Cut it down so it's a clean 10 pages.

Monday afternoon: Bad news: The panel has four people on it, rather than three. So I need to cut 2.5 more pages somehow.

Tuesday morning: Good news! I managed to cut another 2 pages. It's gonna run about 17 min rather than 15, but that'll have to be that. The argument is tight, and I have a great conclusion. I'm satisfied. Even pleased. It's not quite a mic-drop, but it's good.

Wednesday morning: Correspondence from a distant colleague about my paper reveals that an Eminent Scholar Overseas made this very topic the centerpiece of a series of hour-long lectures he presented back in 2013. Nothing published, but they made quite a splash, apparently. And his major conclusion (after having four hours to develop it, rather than my measly 15 minutes) was apparently the same as what I struggled my way to over the past semester and was going to present as my Big Reveal in three weeks.


Is it too late to fake my own death?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

It's like the last post was a jinx...

After oh-so-cleverly titling the previous post "Dancing with Ourselves"... I actually injured my lower back dancing.

By myself.

In my living room.

I have apparently reached the age where I need to stretch and warm up before any booty-shaking. This is intolerable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dancing With Ourselves

We've all been there: It's mid-afternoon at the office. You have grading to get through. Or maybe just the last ten minutes of your office hours to kill before you can go home. So you plug in the headphones and listen to a little of your favorite music to pass the time.

Or maybe, just maybe, you've finished a night class, and you're the only one in the building, and you don't bother with the headphones. Maybe you even sing a little tune under your breath while walking in the hall. Because you're happy.

Or maybe, just maybe, like the guy in the office next to mine, you habitually play music through the speakers of your computer in the middle of the day. Maybe you sing along. Maybe the music is Phil Collins. Or Bon Jovi. Or Night Ranger.

And maybe, when your next-door neighbor comes over and asks you to turn it down, you do. But maybe that request is forgotten the very next time you are in your office.

Or maybe none of this applies to any of us. But for some reason, I seem to have had the lyrics to "Sister Christian" stuck in my head for the past week. And it's not making me happy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Much More Civilized Way to Do It

Today I'm doing work at a research library. And it's an odyssey.
Let me explain: Grit City University is a real, live four-year university. We also awards masters' degrees, but our main mission is undergrad-focused. So our library has always been geared towards the undergraduate audience. Then you combine that with decades of funding cutbacks, and what we find is that most of our books are out of date or just plain inappropriate for serious research above the level of an undergraduate research paper (and often not even that). Sure, we have a fantastic interlibrary loan service, and decent research databases (I've fought like hell to keep the one on medieval stuff, which almost got the axe a few years back), but nothing that I could do real research at -- you know, the kind where you sit down with a multi-volume published source collection from the early 1900s or a run of journals or a hard-to-get reference work and just work in the library all day.

Fortunately, GCU is only two and a half hours away from Major Research University (MRU), so sometimes I just come up here and work for a day.

Except: did I mention the "two and a half hours" thing? Yeah, that's each way. And, for me: on public transit. So, research trip math: 2.5 hours times two plus timing to make sure that I'm not in the rush-hour commute but still home before 10 pm and not up before 6 and... I generally get 4 hours of research time for five hours of commute.

You can see why I don't do this very often. Then, last time I did, I hit on a solution: I would stay the night. MRU is actually in a really nice area, with restaurants and coffee shops and stores and such. And a couple years back I got a tip on a seen-better-days pension-style 1930s budget hotel for a really ridiculous price per night. The first time I stayed there, it was warm enough out that everyone had their windows open, and I could hear, from three rooms down, a very talented person practicing the violin, all drifting in my window with the breeze. I thought: "This is the kind of place that one might check into for a month to finish one's novel."

The Room. With room-key.
So now, I take the transit up. I stop on the way and have breakfast. I settle in. I get lunch near MRU. I work for 5 hours. Nice dinner. Sleep. Morning coffee and pastry around the corner, because the MRU library doesn't open until 9 on Saturdays. And then it's 6-7 hours of work (with a coffee break) before I head back home. And it all feels like a little research vacation in the city. Actually, it reminds me of my life when I'm on research trips in Blargistan. Just like then, I'm not living in the lap of luxury, by most standards. But by mine... yeah. I could like this.