Sunday, August 24, 2014

Update from the Other Side

I opened this blank post and am confounded.  So much has changed.  And I feel like I can only speak in declarative sentences -- telegrams really -- because I finished my tenure materials today.

Yes.  Done. 

Thank goodness.  I don't ever want to see those binders again.  I know I will -- responding is, of course, part of the process -- but I don't want to.  You know what?  People will promise you letters and then not deliver on time, even a week late.  I didn't realize that.  I thought mostly people did what I did, which is do everything -- or at least way too much (notice that I finished my tenure materials on Sunday afternoon, not late the day they were due, partly because I just had to finally finish the damn thing) at the very last minute.  But when presented with a reminder, I'd haul a** because I don't want to screw anyone else up.  Anyway.  One person is someone who regularly wants something for me and wants me to jump like right now and could I please have this thing done in two days even though I'm swamped with other work?  Such is the BS that a tenure-track person puts up with.  Has to put up with.  Ugh.  Well, I may not be available for that anymore. 

We're in our house, and Absurdist Partner is just a wizard at getting us moved in.  We didn't have internet until yesterday, so that was troubling -- and I kept on thinking of blogposts that right now totally escape me, of course.

But here we are!  Finally!  At the beginning of a thousand home projects to get this place to what we wanted it to be -- somewhere between a farm and a very productive kitchen garden with chickens.  It's lovely here.  I just stare out the window at the pond and feel so at peace.   

Absurdist Child had his last day of camp -- and it was sad because it was the last day of the school he's been at for the last two and a half years.  We're going to miss them -- and they are going to miss him.  He's a very special kid.  They're constantly noting how smart he is.  (And no one could miss him because he talks all.the.time.  He comes by it honestly.  I was like that too -- so much so that my mother played me a song that went "you talk too much.  You worry me to death.")  Now, he and I are going to be together for the next five or so weeks before my quarter begins.  We'll see how that goes.  For the record, AC just addressed his letter to Santa because he wants to make sure that Santa knows what he wants.  (This is because we won't get AC absolutely every Pixar Cars and Planes toy ever made.)  We're also watching Finding Nemo, which I think is far and away the best Pixar film.  It's about parenting.  And Ellen Degeneres as Dory, who I take as my personal guru.  Just keep swimming, I've been telling myself through buying a house, moving in, and tenure madness.  (When I am totally depressed and really need to laugh, I watch Ellen Degeneres' stand-up.  Even knowing all the jokes, I find myself laughing so hard it hurts.  I recommend this to anyone who is sick or down.)  And did you know that there will finally be a sequel?

So expect that there will be posts about homeschooling and homesteading/gardening.  And tenure as my materials move through the process.  Ooh, and I want to write about Wild Kratts! 

Happy Sunday!  Happy first day for many of you, Semesterites. 

I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.          


Monday, August 11, 2014

Can We Panic Yet?

Tenure stuff due in two weeks.  Big move to our new house in six days.  Absurdist Partner is a wizard with packing, so we'll be ready for the movers, no thanks to me.  But each day this week is a jumble of tasks from both lists -- and then there's all we don't know, like when exactly the sellers will move out.  Tenure wakes me up in the morning.  It also makes me incredibly grouchy and short-tempered.  Just tenure me already.  Or don't.  I no longer care.  I just have to get this dossier into some kind of shape, and once that's done (which includes an emergency shipment from Amazon because it turns out I can't find a particular journal with a piece of mine in it -- even with AP's amazing packing and repacking abilities), I get the infinite joy of wrangling with tabs and printers and making things look nice.  The printer in my office decided that after I bought new ink cartridges (four!!) was the perfect time to develop a hiccup in printing, so now I have this big hulking thing on my work desk that is good for nothing.  When I see it, I want to hurl it out the window Julia-style.  (Lillian Hellman was so frustrated she threw her typewriter out the window.)  So I'm bringing in our home printer, which is small enough to be portable.  This brings up the good question of why I need to be on campus in the first place -- after all, being on campus during the summer makes me grumpy, but it's another half hour back home (at least this week -- next week it will be longer), and I need that hour. 

To show for this summer, I will have tenure binders and a new home.  But so far I haven't prepped my fall classes, and, sadly, I haven't been able to take any real time off.  (I've taken off a day or two when I've felt too awful to go on, but what I mean is the very image of summer:  spending the day reading or watching TV or doing something else that has nothing to do with being productive and everything to do with just being.  Oh dear angels of tenure, please let me get a day or two like that next week.  After next week, Absurdist Child is home and we'll have to figure out how we're going to homeschool while giving Mommy some time to prep her classes.  We will have a couple weeks off -- two or three -- before his art and music classes kick in, so that's good at least.)  I really would've liked to have felt refreshed before the term started.  Maybe the new house will magically make me feel refreshed rather than inundated with tasks.  Here's hoping.

Have a good week everyone.   

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Long Dispatch from the Summer of Change

This is the summer of change.

First, a house update:  we bought a house!  I'm on the title and loan and everything.  It's crazy.  Two years ago, I couldn't qualify for a home loan.  I felt like they were wagging their fingers at me and saying yes, you can do the bills, maintaining Absurdist Partner's good credit rating, and work your ass off as a professor and do all the mom stuff on top of it, putting all your own needs and writing on the back burner, but still:  no house for you.  So this year it was amazing when I found out I qualified for a loan.  We did finally see a house that wasn't totally hopeless, though it had no fireplace, which is huge for us, and. . .get this. . .bought it.  It wasn't that easy, of course, and we were walking on eggshells every moment the underwriters were staring at our accounts (though the most amazing thing happened and my credit card limit got doubled, so that saved us), but finally we closed on it and everything.  We're homeowners!  AP and I look at each other and say this occasionally just to remind ourselves.  And we need reminding because we have not been able to move in yet.  When we closed two weeks ago, the word was that they would probably have more news in a week but we haven't heard one word.  Our agent is on the case, so it's not hir.  The sellers just haven't even gotten back to us  -- even to say they are not sure.  I mean, I'm sympathetic -- moving is tough and they are moving out of state and it's super-hard to arrange all that, having done it myself several times.  But picking up the phone and saying sorry but we don't know isn't that difficult.  Luckily it's unnecessary to like the previous owners of one's house.  I'll be smudging the place with a super-powered smudge stick to get rid of their mojo anyway -- they had some sayings on the wall that I find completely wrong-headed.

No matter:  we will eventually move in and the house and its land (two acres with a pond) will allow us to indulge our homesteading fantasies!  It's also small enough to keep us from getting too crazy.  We probably can't keep sheep, for example, which I was totally thinking about because I love to crochet (poorly).  (And I LOVE lamb, though I think I'd have a really difficult time killing any animal I'd raised, which is why we're really focusing on laying hens, super-gardening, and self-sufficiency issues like solar powering some of our power use.)  So coming soon on Absurdist Paradise:  adventures in homesteading!

All this just in time for Absurdist Child's transition from Montessori to homeschooling!  So expect more on that as well.  (Believe it or not, I got really into reading about homeschooling gifted kids and gathering resources and stuff last year, so I feel pretty prepared for this.  I'm excited about this adventure.)

So last week, I finally finished moving into my new office at work, complete with windows!  And I'd been listening to David Allen's Getting Things Done for two or three months already so instead of moving the way I usually do -- throw it in a box and deal with it later, an unspecified date that doesn't necessarily exist in this reality -- I was inspired to organize all the loose paper in my office into one alphabetized reference file.  So basically, excepting the usual piles of student papers and the file folders of individual classes I've taught (what can I tell you:  I love file folders), my office stuff is completely organized for the first time in five years.  It looks pretty nice (though it could use a rug and some nice wallhangings and a couple very long cords for routing cords along the wall rather than through the middle of the floor where someday I will klutz out and trip and fall and break my neck).   

Then, in the evenings after AC was asleep when I usually do a whole lot of nothing or watch the same movies over and over, I decided I wanted to organize all the papers at home, which had been accumulating into a pile.  It took me three nights, but I finally organized three years of bill stubs and random papers into a file folder box.  My organization level has reached insane proportions.  I think I have earned a proficiency in file folders.  (For the uninitiated into such geekdom:  that's a D&D joke.)

Oh, and I've been vegan for a week (and plan to continue) to detox my system because of health issues.  I had gotten to the point where I needed a couple chai lattes just to manage normal life and still felt awful -- and I'm sick of feeling awful.  I'm super pudgy now and uncomfortable in my body.  When I was in grad school, I did Marilu Henner's Body Victory, which is actually very health-oriented, and I went from pudgy to svelte.  I went vegan because I'm concerned about these chest pains (Tietze syndrome, but scary just the same), and I saw Forks over Knives and thought if there is any heart/circulatory issue (suggested by this terrible leg pain I'm having that could be neuropathy, but may also just be tarsel tunnel, which I had two years ago) I'd be best off giving up meat and dairy and most processed foods.  But this is not permanent, and I know it.  I will definitely eat Ben and Jerry's again, especially now that they've gone GMO-free.  For the first couple days, I felt awful, but then I got through that and now I just find it difficult to find things to eat considering that I live in let's-put-cheese-sauce-on-everything-and-get-fat midwest.  There are just few Cheesecake Factory kinds of places (yes, the cheesecake is verboten, but just one of their salads would make me so happy) here.  It's all cheese and meat and heaviness here food-wise.  I saw a wonderful organic place close up shop in the time I've been here.  There'll be even fewer food options when we move because we've moved to the country where the liquor store closes at 7.  On the other hand, we'll have the ability to grow our own fabulous salad -- and we'll be close to two organic farms as well.         

Finally, there's going up for tenure.  With all this other stuff going on, it feels a bit like another hoop instead of a momentous fraught event I should freak out for.  My materials are due soon, right when Absurdist Child's camp ends, so I'm highly motivated to get everything done early so I can have a little vacation of my own.  I really need it because I've been working so hard and would like to feel refreshed before classes start again.  I've been thinking and working on tenure things for six months, so right now it mostly feels like just putting things together.  I do need to write up some important stuff too, but I have a draft and some ideas still in my head.  Some of the things I'd wanted to do that are not required I've given up on.  There are a number of factors for my present feeling about tenure stuff:  with all this other stuff, it's just one more thing I need to get done; I kind of rocked the last year and everyone I talk to seems to think I'm a shoo-in; even I, who am afflicted with low self-esteem and a lifelong abhorrence of counting my chickens before they're hatched, sort of feel like they'd be idiotic to not award me tenure because then who'd they get to do all this crap; but finally I've been thinking a lot about writing and how I picked this career so I'd be able to write more but after five years I still haven't gotten the project done that I want to, so I wonder if I wouldn't be better off -- more fulfilled if less financially secure -- if I don't get tenure.  All this is keeping me from panicking, which is good, because I'm prone to panic.  (I'm not so crazy that I'm shooting myself in the foot though, not to worry.  Something in me loves hoops, loves the feedback, so unlike writing where the only feedback you get is cold businessy rejection letter.)  So tomorrow I embark on cranking out everything I can crank out with the hopes that in a week or two I will soon be able to hang out and watch TV until I'm sick of hanging out and want to get back to something real and important.  For now, I'm just tired.  AP is rocking the packing, and I am just sitting here writing.  How lovely.

Hope you're all having a lazy Sunday!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Grades Are In! What's Next?

So. . .grades are in.  I do have a bunch of end-of-year stuff to do, including my annual report.  I also got too busy and didn't do Committee Report, so I can't forget about that. And then after that:  go up for tenure.  Wow.

We're also, it seems, in the process of buying a house.  But those of you who have bought houses know that the process is so long and arduous and a zillion things can go wrong along the way that it seems courting disaster to even really talk about it as if it's going to happen.  So stressed.  Absurdist Partner and I keep freaking out, even over good things, and wonder what's going on with us, and then one of us reminds the other:  oh yeah, this is one of the most stressful things that can happen to you.  No one ever says, hey I can't wait until I buy a house -- being in escrow (no, not yet) just sounds like so much fun!  In fact, Absurdist Partner had a teacher in school who had a pin that said something like:  Be kind.  I'm in escrow.  I want that pin!  I'd like it on my car also, since I've spent the week driving to Faraway Upscale Suburb of Super Sprawl City for a special camp for Absurdist Child.   

Part of me has been working so long (I taught during summer last year) that I haven't tapped into my deep and abiding laziness. . .yet.  So I'm still in work mode.  It's probably tenure staring me in the face.  But another part of me has already made the shift, the part of me who wanted to give everyone As rather than actually grade -- and wants to get back to writing.  Which is good, because I haven't been writing much this entire year.  I'd love to be really productive this summer, but I think I'll be happy if I can just get back into writing.  Or maybe I should have lower expectations because I have important things to do this summer:

  • Move office
  • Write annual report
  • Write Committee Report
  • Go up for tenure
  • Move
  • Prep fall classes (am really reworking the class with new texts, so this will take time)
  • Research and write paper for Cool Conference 
  • Act as shuttle service for Absurdist Child, who has cool camps he's going to 
  • Get back into writing
Uh yeah.  That's plenty.  Next week none of Absurdist Child's camps are open, so any ideas I have about getting things done in the next week are ridiculous.  So of course the page proofs of a chapter I wrote have just been sent to me!  I should add that to the list.  All my lists and organizational tools are out of date.  I guess that's what I should do.  Then I'm going to read.

I'm reading a lot of your blogs -- in fact, that is part of what gets me through the day lately.  Thank you for writing.  Also my newest obsession:  sudoku. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Househunting Adventures

Dear lord.  We've been running around looking at houses -- six in two days -- and I feel like I'm neglecting everything.  I'm at that point where I've had so many distractions that I really long for a time when I can sit and just focus on some. . .oh I don't know. . .grading. 

But it's been a nightmare.  Absurdist Child is full-on all the time.  He wants to run around, he wants to explore and ask questions -- and when we're trying to look at houses, it's just quite stressful for me.  I can barely hear the real estate agent's discoveries and explanations while I have to reprimand AC for basically just being himself.  All this after work when I'm tired and potentially short-tempered.  (I've mellowed recently.)   We go to the zoo tomorrow, but really I'd like to sleep.  I should sleep.  Probably right now.

The real estate agent did something I don't find to be very principled.  (Yes, I'm a stickler.  An idealist.  What can I tell you?  I teach ethics now.)  He tried to upsell us and wasted our time.  And from that I realized that this is just super-stressful on me to try to take care of AC during these outings and I also resent the missed family and relaxation time.  So we're thinking of having Absurdist Partner vet them first and then we'll bring the whole family to see the more hopeful properties.  (We've seen one after another of unworkables.)  I don't really feel great about that solution, like I'm copping out on the process, copping out on the work.  We'll see.  

Lots of work.  Lots of changes afoot.  My quarter isn't over, but we're near the end.  You know, it's slog time.  And Absurdist Child's graduation.  Craziness.  It is truly amazing how the days are long and the years are short.  I hate to end with a cliche, but end I must.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Conference and Career Musings

So I've been at a conference.  During the run-up to this conference, like the run-up to all conferences, I didn't want to go.  I started thinking about all the excuses I could manufacture to avoid going.  (Certainly with the death in the family that has caused the Great Family Implosion and Ensuing War, the only place I should be on a plane to is City of My Birth.  The fact that I, a decision-maker, am not there causes no end of trouble.  I will have to go there when the quarter is over.)  The fact is that I, who used to love to travel, hate leaving Absurdist Family.  I just hate it.  It leaves me fearful and shaky.  I always feel this way, which is why I've gone to so few conferences recently -- none last year, for example.

And then there are conferences themselves.  And I think if I'm honest and I dig through this blog, I'll find that my first posts were about going to Big Dreadful Interview Conference and hiding in my hotel room.  I'm just a hider.  Especially at the big conferences where I feel like I don't know anyone and everyone's on the make trying to sound smart with big words.

But today I feel pretty good about this conference because last night I presented and then our little group had our business meeting.  And so I'm leaving on a high note, full of panel ideas for the future.  I think I just have to make sure that I have some social element that draws me out of my shell as early in a particular conference as possible -- a real moment where I feel I can be some version of myself, not someone trying to network and all that crap that I hate.  I'm writing this here for the world to help me remember.  And, note to self, talking with new people is not bad.  I got two great ideas/sources from a woman I sat next to at the luncheon where I knew basically no one.  It was great.

Here's a more important thing I want to reflect on:  when I look at my Starbucks cup recently, it says things like you need the courage to live the life you want.  And when I think of the life I want, I don't think of academia, much as I love my students, sometimes, and I enjoy, sometimes, doing my scholarship.  I get a more writing, homesteady picture when I think of the life I want, the life I dream of.  And so I don't think of myself as very ambitious.  I want tenure because without it I won't have a job.  So I jump through its hoops (at first I wrote "hopes"), substitute for people on university-wide committees, am nice to people who should be flipped off (okay, I do that also because I begrudgingly admit that it's better to be a nice person than a shitheel, though not everyone at my institution seems to think so).  So I want tenure and then, I think, especially at my institution where full could only come with university leadership, I'll probably be one of those people who stall at associate while I pursue writing more in line with my dreams.

So it's a strange thing to me when I'm sitting there at a business meeting and we're talking about this task we need to delegate that would help the delegatee get his/her name out there, which, of course, is part and parcel of developing that national reputation so important in going up for promotion to full.  And I'm sitting there thinking, I need to do this, I need to do this.  And luckily my natural reticence kept my arm down and my mouth shut.  Also that it was framed as something that would be good for a new faculty member (and I'm not!!!  in a few years, I'll be considered mid-career!).  It occurred to me later that I don't need to take this on because a national reputation and full is not my goal.  My goal is to write the various projects that I want to write, whether scholarship or otherwise.  I have things I want to say in multiple venues.  I don't want to be a big name in my field, however much I love some of the big names in my field.  But I seem to have this amnesia about that in the moment.

So all that to say, I'm naturally ambitious.  If there's a hoop ringed with fire, I'm drawn to it.  This is why I have a PhD that I managed in normative time.  This is why I work pretty hard and engage in so much service.  This is why the only person at my institution worried about my getting tenure is me.  But what I really haven't done so well is pursue my own goals.  Wait, is that true?  When I have a goal to learn something or do something for Absurdist Child or whatever, do I struggle?  No.  I think I'm really talking here about my own writing.  I just don't pursue my writing goals with the same kind of driven seriousness.   Part of this is low self-esteem and my own crazy-making about writing.  ("I don't have the publications or connections or luck that X has.  Maybe I'm just fooling myself.  Maybe I don't have it.  If I cared about it more, of course I'd get it done.  Maybe maybe maybe.")  And truth be told, I don't pursue my scholarly goals in a dogged way either, though I'm dogged about the research.  I've an article I've wanted to get out since I finished my dissertation, and though I've started working on it several times, it hasn't gotten done.  Yet.  I don't want unfinished projects to be the story of my life.  I think maybe those hoops ringed with fire are just more knowable, less scary (other people have managed them; so can I, while in contrast no one has put forth my ideas in the way I want to yet, though if I don't get going someone may beat me to the punch here).

So here's what I want to say:  I get caught up in the promotion to full requirements because, assuming I make tenure, that's a tangible goal that is knowable and supported by my community.  Perhaps what I need to do is try making my writing goals (all of them) more tangible and supported by my community.  But I think I also need to think about the issue of knowable requirements.  I know what the tangible requirements are for promotion.  But what are the tangible requirements for my projects to be successful?

All this is good to think about, though summer is still a month away and that summer will be taken up with other things like putting together my tenure case (for associate -- talk about putting the cart before the horse!) and, hopefully, buying a house!    

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Catching Up: With Blogging and Myself

This time of year always makes me grumbly, as most academics on the semester system are finishing up or done and starting in on their beach reading.  I envy you!  I'm on the quarter system (grumble, grumble).  Graduation, which I have to attend so I'm thinking about it as the end point even though I won't be done with grading by then, isn't for another month.  I have stacks and stacks of grading, not summer reading with sand stuck in the binding, not mission impossible research and writing plans scented with the promise of overseas research sites and fusty libraries.

But!  After that terrible winter, Spring.  Sun.  Warmth.  Growing things on my balcony.  Yes, I put in the peas too late and the chard will probably bolt, but I don't care!  Somehow I'm made calm and happy just looking at my seeds coming up, all that new growth.  I really think there must be some chemical released into my brain when I see them.  Even though the sliding glass door.  I could stare at them for hours.  

Despite all the busyness, which has been intense and is dying down just as the quarter, after Memorial Day, starts working itself up to fever pitch, I've managed to be really productive in the area of conference proposals, which is something I often fall down on.  (Case in point:  I've done only 4-5 conferences in the last 5 years.  That doesn't seem too shabby written out like that, but I can't tell you how many times I've thought I should propose something for Big Conference in My Field or Smaller Conference in My Field or Neat Small Conference in My Area only to find out that I just missed the deadline by days.)  Today I'm having a difficult health day -- I woke up with a migraine -- so it's easy to be negative.  (I'm so lucky it was today rather than yesterday, a big day for meetings and helping others, or tomorrow, a day I'm spending with Absurdist Child.)  Actually, I've been really productive in many areas, but it never feels like enough, never feels like I've been productive when I have some of the same impossible sticky notes up on my computer day after day, week after week.  Of course, some of this is just that long multi-step projects are just like that.  And I know that.  Some of this is just self-image based.  The truth is I'm at the early stages of two incredibly stressful things that everyone in the world knows is incredibly stressful, going up for tenure and buying a house, so I must be kind to myself instead of down on myself when I don't feel good.  

To help with getting more organized, I'm listening to David Allen's Getting Things Done in the car and reading Steven Covey's First Things First, incredibly slowly, at home.  These, at least at the big-picture level, couldn't be more different.  Allen is all about organization of tasks and projects and developing a system for all that, including his five-stage process.  He often uses such business-y language that I'd forget all about it except that he talks about "stress-free" and "balanced" productivity.  Since I've often used my stress and anxiety as the motivation and energy to get things done -- with not-so-great effects on my overall health -- the idea that I could get things done and not be a stress case about it keeps me listening.  He makes it seem as though getting on top of things is possible.  I can see how motivational speakers make a living -- just giving people hope that they can handle what's in front of them really is worth something.  (Though I'm not sure it's true; do we ever get on top of something?  Don't we just find that something new comes to topple us?  That what we really need is to learn flexibility and resilience and peace that we're not in control?  I don't know.)   First Things First is much more my speed, focusing on what makes life worthwhile in a big sense and then, I suspect at some point since I'm not there yet in the book, drilling down to what this means on a daily or weekly basis.  

Are you getting the feeling I'm avoiding something?  So am I.  And so I am.  It's that I'm going to a conference.  Here's the thing:  I hate leaving.  I'm always afraid of something terrible happening.  (You understand -- I can't say what exactly I'm afraid of partly because I'm superstitious and partly because it's just so so dumb and unreal and unrealistic because the truth is I just don't want to go and am manufacturing reasons to match my feelings, not the other way around.  But you know -- the plane.)  I just don't like to leave home anymore, which is kind of crazy because I used to love to travel.  Maybe I'd like it better if the family came with me.  And then there's the usual reason:  I hate networking, hate having to try to sound smart, hate thinking on my feet.  Luckily, this conference kind of forces me to not hide in my hotel room because they have luncheons and things -- so I end up meeting people which is great.  (People used to sort of take pity on me because I was a grad student, but now I'm just a shy faculty member -- will people still be as kind?  Probably, I hear a wise part of myself saying:  so much of it is just attitude, Earnest.  You'll be fine.  Meet people.  Talk to people.  You have interesting things to say.  Half the time you won't shut up.  Jeez, get a grip!

Did I mention that I was diagnosed with Tietze Syndrome, which are chest pains and inflammation of the breastbone cartilage?  I can tell you it's pretty scary to have chest pains.  I keep going in for EKGs and they find nothing nothing!  But what I notice now is that sitting here on my bed, the first day I haven't had to go into work in weeks, just being mellow and stress-free and alone. . .no chest pains.  Interesting.  I have things to do (the laundry is going as I write), but I think I'm going to have a nap.  I never get enough sleep.   

Wow, this post is all over the place.  Just finding my footing.  It's more difficult to start blogging again than I thought.  I'll get the hang of it again.  I hope.