Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Year Reflections

I may not be ready to commit to resolutions, but how can I resist looking back at this momentous and hard year? It's too obvious to me what I haven't done, what is still monumentally screwed up (finances), so instead I'm going to focus on. . .


We moved across the country, so that instead of looking out at the same old Urban Home City I was born in and moved away from in 1995 hoping never to return, I'm looking out at snow. My child is going to be brought up to see snow not as something scary, but as another kind of fun. Not only was the move successful, but we moved twice and now we're in a town that seems pretty damn great actually.

I started a tenure-track job, taught classes, served/am serving usefully, I hope, on committees, volunteered for needed service, and am now getting back into my own scholarship.

My beautiful child is a year older. He's so gorgeous and happy, except for the killer molar teething that's screwed up any sleep schedule he's ever had, that I figure I can't have screwed him up too much, except that he's probably not getting enough structure and outside stimulation, both of which we're working on right now and getting him into a carefully chosen day care will help correct.

I learned some very valuable things about myself, including that I have limited time and energy and need to choose my commitments carefully, what I think is useful in this world of ours, and what I have to say to people.

I've made some goals about getting back into writing creative work, which I think I'm finally ready to get back into.

I've gotten back into cooking in a big way, making my first turkey on Thanksgiving and Yorkshire pudding on Christmas.

I consolidated my student loans.

I taught myself how to single crochet.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

T'was the Day after Christmas

And I am doing very little. Actually Absurdist Tot is in some kind of growth spurt where he's eating a lot, so I only just now got to duck to the kitchen. Right now, he's playing with the toys we found, very luckily, at a second hand kid's place close to our house. So he's had a lovely Christmas with four new presents at this very moment making lots of sounds.

For Christmas dinner, I made a roast and Yorkshire pudding, which I'd never made. Absurdist Lover wants me to make Yorkshire pudding all the time, but of course if you don't make it with drippings, then it's just oil and not as flavorful; that said, I think I'll be making it often this winter.

In the back of my mind is this article due for consideration in a special issue of a journal that I proposed a while back. The editors say they are interested in seeing the whole thing, but as always my article feels like only like a partial fit for their theme -- and it's hard to make myself work on it. The work I'd shape to fit the theme is my dissertation work -- work that should really be out there on its own two feet. I keep trying to fit it into special issues and themes and things rather than just shape it for a journal and get it out there. There's actually another collection to propose another version to. Both are due by the end of the year, which is now less than a week away.

I've been thinking about the new year and goals and such. I need to make sure that this first year on the tenure track is not a total waste, no matter how much everyone says that research typically goes by the wayside. I am going to have to show what I'm up to for an annual review, so I better get something done. I've been thinking that maybe I'll go ahead and try to write through some terrible first drafts of articles I need to write -- just write fast and furious, like Stephen King advocates. Just outrun the damn censor! Also, I want to go ahead and get some creative work done, which is less important for tenure and all that but counts for something and, more important, would be great for my brain -- great for me to remember that I am a writer as well as everything else.

But today it doesn't look like anything is going to get done. Absurdist Tot needs to start getting up earlier so he doesn't go to bed as late (around 11:30pm!). So that's another project I have to get on. I think this weekend I'm just going to be lazy -- and start everything in earnest (partial earnest) on Monday.

I hope everyone had a merry holiday!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's Done!

The quarter is done. Except for one tiny detail that I will have to clear up tomorrow, the classes are tucked in and ready for a long snooze. Or is that me?

Anyway, my students at the end brought up very interesting questions, concerns, and concepts that I want to think more about. The course I've been teaching is a core course, a required course. We even have adjuncts on this course. I like this course because it catches students right as they're walking in to college; it's the pedagogical challenge -- to interest the students and engage them in intellectual and reflective work even when they are least prepared or interested paired with the unfortunate side effect of dealing with people who need firm boundaries because they are so prone to thinking of themselves as exceptional that of course the deadlines will be extended for them. I guess I hadn't realized how unique our students really are, but apparently we get a lot of students who are used to being big fish in small ponds. Anyway, there are all sorts of things I want to sort out, approaches I want to think through. I'm teaching this course again in the spring, when I'm also teaching my elective, another subject I should think about deeply. Soon.

But not too soon.

I need to relax. I need to think in a focused way about the packages I really should be sending tomorrow, but clearly will be sending on Monday. Like maybe what's going to be in those packages. I'm trying to make things this year. And then I'm also sending them Food, Inc. I just have to. So they'll think I'm a crank. So what.

But clearly I can't even really focus on that. I want to be frivolous and watch Julie and Julia again, for the fourth time in as many days, but I guess it really is 2am. Tomorrow I'll wake up and everything will be about the baby and Christmas and shopping unrepentantly. Now if the baby will only let me sleep. Last night he woke up at 1am and I didn't get to bed until 5:30am. Oy.

I want to think about what I'd like to get working on during this break. But before that: the holidays. Amazing to think we're not going to have to balance a bunch of things at the same time. We can focus, for the first time in ages, probably since we moved.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Grrrrr in Grading

Why is grading so hard? Correction: why is getting myself to grade so hard? Probably like most people (except some lucky ducks who are already done), I'm grading myself into a frenzy this week. I knew when I went to bed Sunday night that I just have to hunker down this week and get some serious grading done. The projects I need to grade aren't the biggest baddest projects in the world either. Yet, I'm having trouble getting myself to do them. Yesterday between classes and meetings, I knew I should be grading. And I did, but to a limited extent. Now today when AL is taking care of Tot so I can get this grading week out of the way, I'm checking facebook, email, my favorite blogs (which of course don't have updates -- why? because they are grading too). Bad.

I'm also thinking about what's happening next quarter. For reasons that are unbloggable, I'm not teaching next quarter. I have daydreams about getting massive amounts of work done. I have nightmares that I'll fritter the time away and still not catch up on sleep and doctor's appointments. Clearly I need a goal and a plan. And thinking up goals and plans and what's reasonable and what's not is much more fun than grading. But before any of that can begin, I've got to put this quarter to bed. I really want to have all this done by the end of the week, even though grades aren't actually due until January. But I've got to give myself the gift of finishing them by end of day Friday. Which means using the time I have well instead of procrastinating and procrastiblogging. I think I'm going to have to accountablog and report my progress.


15 projects later -- and I'm beat. I've got something like 8 more tomorrow, then a bunch of other stuff. It's really great progress actually. What exciting blogging. Sorry, everyone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Julie and Julia and Writing

I saw Julie and Julia last night and since I've become so much more interested in cooking and homemaking since the baby, it was great on multiple levels. But the thing I want to hold on to here is how I cried when there were all those phone calls from editors and agents from having appeared in The New York Times. That part was any writer's dream come true. And the important part for me to remember here is that I'm a writer, even when I can barely tell, having not written anything for ages. I can always tell I am a writer (or that the writing dream is not dead and buried, at least) because of how I react to such tales.

Maybe I'm really supposed to outgrow the childhood dream of writing and settle into being a professor and thinker. But that's so sad. Even if it's true, I don't think it hurts anything for me to hold onto the dream. I don't know. Of course, I'd stop kicking myself that I don't write and feel I don't have time to write (which I'm sure isn't completely true, if I could just use those couple minutes a day) if I just gave up. But the thought of giving up fills me with grief. Maybe I'd get over it and live a more contented life. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think I would feel as if I betrayed the only thing I ever wanted to do, even if it was something I'm not suited for. I think I'd regret giving up.

In any case, I'm not ready to tell myself I'm not a writer. Instead, I don't want to lose the sense that writing, even if I'm not doing it now, is still important to me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Almost-Random Non-Bullets of Crap: Mind Muddled Edition

Why am I up? Because I have a crazed one-year old who conked out at 8pm, then woke up to nurse at 3am -- and is now running around the house. Sigh.

I'm so ready for the semester to be over. There's only this week and next week, but I'd rather it were already over. I stand there in class and think: not only is the love affair over, but I hate them and they hate me and we're done, done with each other. My classes suck, I suck, and they suck. None of us wants to be here. Enough already.

The search committee I'm on has been driving me crazy. We got almost 200 applications for one job. All of these people with incredible qualifications and exciting research agendas and publications all looking for a job. I have a job. It hardly seems right. (I'm not complaining.) Now, really only 40 of those met the qualifications clearly listed in the ad. Since we're bound, as I believe most are, to evaluate people on how they meet the job ad, it is just ridiculous that only 1/5 of people who apply actually meet the ad. What are the other 4/5ths thinking? But really the sc is driving me nuts because of the leadership -- we are told what kind of short list to develop, then we're told to do something different in the meetings, basically nullifying a bunch of painstaking work we undertook. I can't take it anymore. I've got a short list that actually has fewer than the requisite names, but they are the only ones I feel good about putting on a short list. And I don't mean to be obstinate or a pain in the butt so early in my career here, but I've worked very hard reading these applications and evaluating what I see there -- and I'm done. I'm just done. I'm not going into another meeting to find that the terms of the game have changed again. Not only is this troublesome leadership, but when we have so much to do and we all would rather be focusing on the holidays and finishing up, it's just. . .rude.

One of the things I've learned in this process is what I think is important in a colleague at this university and what I think, so far, it takes to succeed here. Now, of course, I am new, but I think it's very important to be a reflective teacher who talks with others about teaching beyond complaining or looking for teaching recipes. I want at least one letter of recommendations to talk about teaching -- because teaching excellence is requisite for this job.

Another thing that really stood out to me is how important it is to have someone vet one's letters. I'd always heard about candidates being blackballed by their own LORs, but now I've seen it with my own two eyes -- not just a damning-with-faint-praise letter, but an actual I-can't-recommend-this-person their-research-is-never-going-to-be-published letter. Friends, send your dossiers to a friend who will tell you whether or not your letters are good, and whether the letters all work together, covering your research and teaching (less important, but still helpful for teaching schools).

Over the weekend, my father went in for chest pains and ended up having an angioplasty. He now has two stints or whatever in his heart. I'm only now really coming to grips with the fact that this is a huge deal. At every point, this news was presented to me as not a big deal and intended to prevent future problems, so unlike other members of my family, I didn't panic. I was actually called out a little for not panicking and instead seeing this moment connected to the chest pains he had before I left Urban Home City and warnings about his heart and his lifestyle habits (eating whatever he wants and never exercising) he had when he was much younger. My sibling told me that maybe I wasn't panicking because I was "mature." Maybe it's because I think my father eats like crap and doesn't take care of himself, so I no longer think of him as my invincible dad; he's getting a bit older and there are bound to be problems when someone eats total crap, dismisses any information I have as the ravings of a health food crank, and never exercises. Considering that both grandparents have multiple cancers and problems, I guess my first question is whether someone is dying or not. I figure if Dad is not dying and everyone says he's going to be okay, then I'm worried, but I'm not panicking. All this said, I felt guilty because I wasn't panicking more, like it meant I was a cold person. Really, I know I'm a bit slow to process something big and emotional, which allows me to immediately spring into action if necessary and get things done (like calling half my grandmothers' friends when my grandmother died and answering my grandfather's questions about funeral procedures). But I don't want people to think I'm a cold fish either.

I did talk to Dad. He was complaining about the food and talking about how the nurses came in to siphon him for blood and take his blood pressure every couple hours, making it impossible for him to sleep. Since he's complaining, I know he's fine. Hospitals are terrible places where it's impossible for patients to get any damn rest. Why is this?

My imposter syndrome on this job knows no bounds, making me put on uncomfortable pants on a day I don't teach because I imagine Intimidating Full Professor who wears a suit every day is thinking I'm less than fully professional and professorial when he sees me for two seconds around the department in jeans. The truth is that I'm one of very few women in my department at a school that is mostly male. So as the only young woman with a baby in the department, I always feel like I'm under the gun to prove how professional and together I am, when really inside I am a super-granola absent-minded professor barely keeping things together. I can never really tell whether my concerns are totally ridiculous. Fabulous Colleague who makes the social element of this job bearable for me also feels sort of under the gun, though I should ask her about the jeans, because I may just be driving my self batty. I just don't have a lot of clothes, don't feel like I want to buy a bunch more clothes since many are in storage and I'm fatter than I want to be, and am comfortable in jeans and feel it's not so bad on days I don't teach. On the other hand, no one else looks so casual. All of this is coming to a head right now because we're staring down the Department Christmas Party, where we're trying to figure what is going to be appropriate to wear, especially considering that we're going to have to balance eating and socializing with keeping Absurdist Tot the Wild Monkey out of everyone's hair. They are all going to see me in full mom-mode, so who cares if I wear jeans? All the same, I'm probably not going to. But shouldn't Absurdist Lover be able to look niceish (so no T-shirts) but comfortable? Yes, I'm talking about clothes for the Christmas Party. See what BS ends up taking over one's mind?

I love the holidays. Everyone around here puts up lights and decorations right after Thanksgiving. It's wonderful. I know everyone complains about people getting into Christmas too early (too soon after or even before Thanksgiving), but think about Christmas in European countries, where there is no Thanksgiving to usher in the season. Love Actually starts at 5 weeks before Christmas, which is right around Thanksgiving. Do they not put up their lights and decorations because it's too soon? I used to feel pressured by the early onset of Christmas, but now I want the holiday season to last as long as possible. We've been happy to see all sorts of lights and decorations! We put ours up ages ago! I can't wait until I can focus on the holidays instead of all this other stuff.

The baby finally went back to sleep. So must I. I'm tired. Oh, did I mention that it snowed? That there is a gorgeous blanket of snow (crap, I still haven't planted those bulbs I bought and now we have this early snow!!!) on everything out there. Beautiful.