Saturday, September 29, 2007

Finding myself: meditations on the job market

[Note: edited to take out the Word automatic tags that screwed up how this post appeared in Bloglines.]

I haven’t talked about this on the blog yet, but in the past few weeks I’ve been actually contemplating throwing my hat in the ring for the job at Homestate U (despite Mr. Jerkwad’s presence – since he’s in another discipline, he’d be mostly avoidable, and for all I know he has reformed his jerkwad ways). I gave myself until yesterday to decide, and ultimately decided not to. Since I’ve come to that decision, I feel like I can blog about it now. Had I decided to apply, I wouldn’t have blogged about it until the process was all over, given how thin my veil of pseudonymity is.

The reasons why I thought I might apply for this job were manifold. It’s an R1 and a flagship U, and though it’s not on the top of the heap of such institutions, it would still mean a step up in prestige compared to my current job. It would also mean a bigger department and Ph.D. students, both of which have their appeal to me. And though it’s not a department with multiple medievalists – and there’s no center or institute for medieval and/or early modern studies – there are a number of early modernists in the department whose general interests overlap with mine more so than in my current department. It would also mean more money in an area where the cost of living (at least judging from the real estate – yes, I checked) isn’t any higher than here, and where Bullock and I could get a place with some acreage not too far from work, or else a house like our current one closer in. And its location in terms of lifestyle would be a step up from Rust Belt, too. It’s a very cool college town and it’s a reasonable short drive from there to my home metropolis, which has boomed in the last twenty years and become much more interesting culturally since I fled its sleepiness in the late ‘80s for the excitement of big cities. And HU’s town is really close to the western and southern suburbs of the city, where Fast Fizzy (and family) and Dad live (though farther from where Nephew and Eldest Niece live in the center of the city). And Bullock has relatives in the greater metropolitan area, too. This means I’d be more available to help out with Dad and Dad-related things (downside: dealing with Dad more!), and we’d both be closer to parts of our families. And I still know people in the area in addition to my family, including my best friend from high school.

Now, none of this would mean jack if it weren’t for the fact that the arts and sciences college of HU also has going for it an open and fair policy regarding the hiring of domestic partners in faculty positions, all posted clearly on their website. And their tenure, promotion, and hiring policies are also accessible. All of this told me that it was possible that they could hire Bullock and with tenure. Not hiring Bullock or hiring him without tenure would be a deal-breaker, because I do not want to go anywhere without him and he doesn’t want to slide back down the tenure ladder. We’re among the lucky ones: we have jobs in the same institution and never had to go through the long-distance thing like so many of you have done or are doing, and I don’t want to start doing that. (This is because we luckily met here at Rust Belt U. Of course I paid my personal relationship dues in other ways: I was unattached for 9 long years in graduate school!) But the possibility that they could hire Bullock means that I could ethically apply for the job, since it opens up the possibility that I could actually take it. Or, if were to get an offer than didn’t meet my needs – didn’t give me enough time to meet their tenure requirements or didn’t come with a tenured position for Bullock – I could have used such an offer to negotiate both with them and with Rust Belt, since I’m applying from a place of relative security and confidence. (No, I don’t have tenure yet, but I have confidence. Knock wood.) I would never, EVER apply for a job that I had no intention of taking, just to negotiate with Rust Belt, because I wouldn’t want to dick around with the prospective department. But the Homestate U job is one I could take if the conditions were right.

And I have people I can draw on for letters of recommendation without having to go back to my dissertation committee, other than my director. Had I decided to apply, I would have discussed it with the awesome chair and with Will, the senior faculty member who has been a great unofficial mentor and cheerleader for me from the hiring process through the tenure process and in between. (He has magically been on or the head of the hiring commmittee, the Department Personnel Committee at key times including this year, and also the university research committee that awards internal grants.) He’s also been a friend and he and his wife have literally fed me, housed me, and entertained me on many occasions since I moved here. I’m confident that they’d understand that the particular job offered a rare combination of professional and personal benefits that made me think I needed to apply for it, and that they would’ve written glowing letters of recommendation for me. And since both have seen me teach and give public talks, and Will knows my research and has the expertise to judge its value, those letters would have been weighty and valuable ones. And there are other people elsewhere I could have hit up, too.

Meanwhile, there are things going on at the university level here that give me pause, that make me feel like what we do in the humanities, or even in the arts and sciences in general, is not valued. I’m not sure that such an atmosphere would be different in kind at another state-supported institution, but it might be different in degree, and that would be an improvement. So would merit raises, which Homestate U gives. I work hard and I have accomplishments to show for it, only to get the same measly percentage raises everyone else gets, which ends up rewarding those with mere longevity and a stubborn refusal to retire, because their base salaries are higher simply because they’ve been around longer. And Bullock figured out that our tiny promotion bump amounts to about 25 cents per hour. Oy. That said, my problems with my current institution weren’t the primary reason I was thinking about this other job, which is a good thing: better to move for positive reasons than negative ones.

So, with all that said, doesn’t it seem like applying for this job is a good idea? Yeah, I thought so, too. Until I thought some more. And talked some more with Bullock and others. For one thing, all the reasons I gave for applying were largely about the lifestyle and conditions of work that Homestate U represents, rather than the job itself. When I saw the job, I didn’t say, “Ooh! I want that job!” I said, “Ooh! I want to live in Homestate’s town and yeah, also, that would be a good job to have.” That’s a little back-asswards. And Bullock said he could tell I was trying to talk myself into applying, which also isn’t a good sign.

Then I started to do a comparison of my job here, on a day-to-day level, with what I’d likely be doing there. Here I have a 3/2 load, but with the course release for being the grad director, that takes it down to 2/2. There, I’d have a 2/2 load and dissertating students to advise. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Here I have a lot of first-generation college students who are eager and don’t always realize how smart they are and where that could take them, and who are really struggling and working hard to make something of themselves and their lives. Yeah, they sometimes frustrate me with their fear of leaving Rust Belt, but every now and then I get to convince one to do study abroad or apply to graduate schools around the nation and get to see their worlds open up in fantastic ways. There, I’d still have some of those kids, especially from the small towns and from the working class county that’s part of greater hometown city, but I’d also have the kids from the county I grew up in, which I often refer to as a “land-locked Orange County.” Let’s just put it this way: I’m not sure I want to teach swarms of kids who drive better cars than I do. Here, I teach almost all medieval classes plus Shakespeare and intro literature and research classes thrown in, and since I’m the only medievalist, I get to run the show, teaching what I want. Maybe I’m not the *best* person to teach Old English, but I do like it and I throw myself into it. There, I’d have to share. And I wouldn’t get to teach Shakespeare again which would be too bad, because Shakespeare is *fun*! Here, I have the institutional support, resources, and time to do my research, even if it requires a month in England, for example, but I don’t have the same pressures that an R1 would, and so now that I’ve written my first book, under some pressure, I can let the next project take the time it needs to develop, and not push it out there too soon just for the sake of a second book. Here I have quick access to all the library books and research resources I need through a statewide lending system or through a quick trip to a nearby R1 with its fabulous library, open stacks, and rare books library that doesn’t care that I’m not one of their faculty. At HU I don’t know what I’ve have. Maybe just HU’s library, but even if they had a statewide system, theirs would be the best library, and without a center or institute for medieval and renaissance studies, they might not have what I’m used to.

And what’s more, I’ve got a community of medievalists here. I may be the only one in my department, but through connections I had from graduate school and the medievalist community there, I’ve become active in reading and working groups at the nearest R1, which is an easy drive away from here and includes multiple medievalists on the English faculty, as well as a scary-smart bunch of graduate student medievalists who have asked super smart questions about my works in progress. And these groups draw in the medievalist from the other regional universities and colleges that dot this part of the country, so the group is pretty big and friendly, and I never feel like a charity case given the presence of the other “outsiders.” And no one’s ever snobby about rank. Plus there’s another big, vibrant community of medievalists at the next nearest R1 a further drive away. It’s too far for me to be involved in the more informal groups, but I sometimes make it to their public talks. As for the closer one, I just spent a day there yesterday for an annual mini-conference on medieval subjects, for which the papers, presented by prominent medievalists from around the country, are pre-circulated to all attendees. It’s a fantastic event because it’s like being in the good part of graduate school again – the fantastic seminars where you learned so much from each other and from the hard but worthwhile work you did preparing for it – and then everyone goes to one of the organizer’s houses for dinner afterwards and just socializes. It’s awesome.

I really wouldn’t have that at Homestate U. Since there’s no med-ren center (as there are at both of the above mentioned R1s), there’s no critical mass of medievalists. There’s one medievalist at the other land grant university about an hour or so away, and two at the metropolitan university in the nearby metropolis, and I think that’s about it for medievalists in English. And I think I’d just feel frustrated trying to mentor English Ph.D. students interested in medieval topics without other medievalists to turn to as well. I’m fine for teaching undergrads and MA students most medieval lit topics, but not for Ph.D. students, and I’d be the only late medievalist there.

Plus, Rust Belt just hired a new person in the theater department who actually gets and likes medieval drama, and he and I are going to propose a team-taught honors course on medieval drama for Spring 2010, tied to a student production we’re proposing for the 2010 performance of the Chester cycle in Toronto. How fabulous would that be? How can I leave something like that behind? While this is all still in the proposal stage, just the thought that I’ve got a kindred spirit in the theater department who doesn’t think medieval drama is “primitive” “folk” drama is *awesome*.

So professionally, as good as Homestate U looks, I think I’ve got it pretty good here at Rust Belt. And there’s the fact that I’d potentially be trading tenure (knock wood!) for being back on the tenure-track in a department where I don’t really know their expectations and wouldn’t fully grasp them no matter how many questions I asked in interviews and visits. As for the personal, while Rust Belt has its frustrations and its sleepiness, Bullock and I do make some use of the fact that we’re near other places with more potential for excitement (not to mention better dining and shopping). And Rust Belt has its own good qualities, including a fabulous and well-endowed museum, great parks, a symphony, and an opera. We’ve put a lot of energy into trying to build a social network here and to enjoy what the area has to offer and we’re succeeding to some extent. And Bullock’s put a lot of sweat into our house, which isn’t going to pay off in the sluggish housing market here if we were to sell. Just this morning we were talking about bamboo flooring for the master bedroom (sold at our fabulous new neighborhood Costco!).

The thing is, I’m happy here. I think a lot of what was driving me to think about the market at all, and the Homestate U job in particular, was the culture of striving that I’ve been a member of at least since I took the entrance test for my private girls’ high school. Onwards and upwards. Bigger and better. Achieve! Achieve! Achieve! And though I never heard anyone at my graduate school or among my direct mentors express disappointment when their students got jobs at anything other than an R1 or a few select SLACs, I know from what people told me that it happened. (It was a big ass department. Sometimes you had to rely on reports from the various segments of it.) And so I’m sure I internalized some of that. And everywhere I’d ever been associated with in higher education prior to Rust Belt was a prestiguous R1, so it’s not surprising I picked up a lot of that ambition for prestige.

But what finally settled that slightly shrill voice in my head that was trying to convince me I was on the verge of “settling” was something Bullock told me today. He talked to his good friend from grad school who coincidentally went to the same fancy-pants undergraduate college I did (same year even, but weirdly, we didn’t know each other) and is a big mucky muck in her subfield (prestigious awards for her first book, already tenured, just got a big fat raise because another school offered her a job which ultimately she decided to turn down, etc., etc. – but unlike Mr. Jerkwad, she never called me a slut in college, so I still like her), and told her about my contemplating applying for this other job. And she said something along the lines of, “What does she need to move for, when she’s already making a national reputation for herself where she is?” And that calmed the over-achieving Lisa Simpson in me. While I wouldn’t say exactly that I have a national reputation, people I’ve never met before do tell me they’ve read my work and compliment me on it. Academia has changed. Once upon a time you had to be at an R1 to be “someone,” to contribute to the wider field. You needed their libraries and their resources and their connections. But now you can be “someone” just about anywhere. Smart research and smart teaching gets done all over the place. What matters is what place – both institution and location – is right for you. And what’s right for me now is my life, all of it, here in Rust Belt.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A smart blog for my churchy friends ('specially the 'piscopals)

I thought I'd introduce you all to and give a big blogospheric welcome to Last Protestant Dinosaur, a blog by the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel. When I finally get around to doing my "Thinking Blogger Award" post, Jarrett's blog is going on my list of award winners. He's got a bit of a John Donne for the blogging age quality to him. He only just started, so there's time to catch up on all of his thoughtful, theological posts. My favorite so far is the one on his problems with the theology of the crucifixion and atonement (though he really needs in the future to avoid using the phrase "imperial Roman church" -- good god, is this 1607 instead of 2007?!). And those of you who are specifically members of the Episcopal church, as he is, may appreciate his musing on the possibility of mainline church survival in this essay.

Anyway, I know a number of you would be interested in Jarrett's blog, and I know Jarrett needs more of an audience and a community and a conversation, so I'm spreading the word (heh). Plus, he's a friend and, despite his occasional use of Reformation-era turns of phrase, he's a truly good man.

Naked Beowulf? WTF?

This week's Entertainment Weekly features an article on the mini-trend in recent movies of men fighting for their lives in the buff. One of the upcoming instances of nekid wrasslin' they cite is the CGI version of Ray Winstone in Robert Zemeckis's adaptation of Beowulf. Winstone plays our eponymous hero and the nakedness, er, reveals itself in the fight with Grendel.

Um, why? Well, explains co-writer Roger Avary in the ET article (#956, Sept. 28, 2007, p.55):

In the original epic poem, Beowulf decides that swords and armor are just going to slow him down. So, he strips and waits for Grendel to come and then does some medieval ass-kicking in the buff. When we were first working on the script, Robert Zemeckis said, "Guys, does he have to fight him naked?" We were like, "Yes, actually he does -- it's in the poem!"
You know, I always half suspected that Avary was just riding Tarantino's coat-tails with his co-writer credit for the Pulp Fiction screenplay (and the Oscar it won) and now I'm more than certain. Where on earth does he get "naked" from without sword and shield (or armor, as he mistakenly claims)?? Does he think that because the men are sleeping when Grendel arrives that they're necessarily in the nude? All I've got at home is the Roy Liuzza translation, so if there's something in the Old English that suggests nakedness let me know (though somehow I doubt that Avary was reading Old English!). Or, more plausibly perhaps, is there a bad translation or adaptation he's getting this from? Or is it from one of the looser and interpretative parts of the Heaney translation? Here's what the Liuzza translation has in the relevant passages:
I have also heard that this evil beast
in his wildness does not care for weapons,
so I too will scorn -- so that Hygelac,
my liege-lord, may be glad of me --
to bear a sword or a broad shield,
a yellow battle-board, but with my grip
I shall grapple with the fiend and fight for life
foe against foe. (ll. 433-40)

[H]e knows no arts of war, no way to strike back,
hack at my shield-boss, though he be brave
in his wicked deeds; but tonight we two will
forgo our swords, if he dare to seek out
a war without weapons (ll. 681-5) know, maybe Avary thought that "so that Hygelac, my liege-lord, may be glad of me" could mean something a bit more risqué than the usual lord-thane bond.

In fact, I'd have no problem with Avary and his Beowulf in the buff if he'd said something like, "we wanted to emphasize the hyper-masculinity of this society, right down to male bodies, so that when Grendel's Mother appears and they're not ready, it's clear they didn't think a female creature was a threat" or something cool and interpretative like that. That I could buy. I could even buy a total queering of the poem if the interpretation had the courage of its convictions (and that would totally surprise me, too, coming from a mainstream Hollywood movie!). In other words, Roger, dude, don't be a boring literalist and a slave to your source material while also getting it literally wrong! Don't claim "it's in the poem!" if it's not; or, if what you mean is 'the poem suggests this' then say so. Learn the difference between text and subtext, if only so that those of us who teach the original poem won't have to deal with a generation of fan boys and fan girls who think they read that Beowulf was naked in those fights because he was in your movie version and you claimed "it's in the poem!"

But I have to say, now having gotten that rant out of the way, I'm really intrigued by Avary's misreading. Maybe it even falls into the category of Harold Bloom's "strong misreading." I mean, as I suggest above, it could work. (It only really bugs me that Avary lays the 'blame' on the poem, instead of taking credit himself -- though that's kind of interesting, too, in an arm-chair psychologist way. Roger, dude, why are you afraid to take credit?) Heck, I may end up using all of this a way to teach my students the difference between summary (whether accurate or inaccurate) and interpretation. Like many teachers, I spend a lot of time reminding them that they have to back up their arguments with the text, so that what I often get from the less strong students is an "argument" that "proves" the plot, and they end up doing something like Avary and saying "It's in the poem!" (albeit usually more accurately than he does). I could someday take the movie and say, "Look, naked Beowulf is not literally in the poem, but how might this make sense as an interpretation?" And then maybe we could talk about the hyper-masculinity of the poem, of the nakedness of Winstone's really buff body as the cinematic equivalent of the boasting, etc., etc. Who knows. As long as they know that the nakedness is not literally in the poem!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Random bullets of Bullock's out of town and I'm home alone so I'm blogging twice in one day

  • For those who want an update on the dizziness: it has subsided, but I got a doctor's appointment for Monday anyway. I think it's related to how congested my ears and sinuses have been lately, even with allergy medicine, and I think I may need something stronger. I'm also always tired, even though I'm sleeping 8 hours during the week and 10 on weekends. So clearly, dizziness or not, I need to see someone about all of this.
  • My dad has always been a malaprop, and one of the words he can't get right is "tenure." Even now that I'm going through the process and repeat it frequently when talking to him, he still calls it "tensure." I always thought of his word as a combination of "tenure" and "tonsure," and since I'm a medievalist, and the university has medieval origins, and monks have played a big role in the survival of many of the texts I teach, I always thought it was weirdly appropriate. But then, while looking up stuff for the text I'm editing, I discovered that "tensure" is a word, too, though an obsolete one. It means stretching, strain, tension. Yup, that'll do, too. :)
  • So what am I going to do while Bullock's away? Well, first I have about 40 more lines of text to modernize the spelling of, then I'm going to go for an evening run (which is something I don't often get to do, but love), and then I'm going to watch Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her and maybe have a glass of wine or two. And tomorrow morning I'm going to catch up on personal e-mails and phone calls to friends and family. Yeah, I know, I really know how to play while the cat's away, don't I?
  • So what do I love about evening runs and while don't I get to do it often? My biorhythms just work better with afternoon and evening exercise. I am *so* not a morning person. But evening runs are hard if you have any kind of plans or commitments. If Bullock were here, we might have social plans, but even if we didn't, if I went out running right now, I wouldn't be able to help make dinner, or else he'd have to wait for me to finish the run and take a shower before I could, which is too late for *his* biorhythms to eat. So I'm treating myself tonight. See, I *do* play when the cat's away!
  • And by the way, all the Spinning and PiYo has made running seem so *easy*. It's awesome! OK, gotta run!

The (lost) art of textual editing

I've recently taken on a smallish editing task -- that is, editing in the sense of producing an edition of something -- involving two short Middle English texts to be included in a future printing of an anthology of English literature. They're texts I consider myself intimately familiar with, they're short (just under 700 lines all together), and their introductions won't require any new research from me. And as a bonus, the accepted scholarly edition, which I'm using as my base text, is available electronically, so I don't even have to retype those 700 lines (so I do have to clean up formatting). So the task is relatively simple for me to do, plus I have until December to do the first one and until June for the second one. And I'm also getting paid for the job! Cool!

But that's actually not the best part. Turns out that I'm finding the task much more fascinating that I thought it would be (I thought it would be relatively rote -- easy money for a tedious task). The texts I'm editing are each unique -- no multiple manuscript versions with conflicting text, so no complicated job of deciding what's the "most true" reading -- and they've been edited many times before without controversy, as far as I know. But still, I'm finding some little differences between the scholarly edition and the next-most-scholarly classroom editions. Most of the differences are in the glosses (or glossary), but sometimes the classroom editions silently edit things suggesting that the editor thought the manuscript reading must be a mistake (although often there's no mention of it, not even in the textual notes in the back). When I find these differences, I could just go with the scholarly edition -- that's my base text, after all, and I'm editing for a student anthology, not a scholarly edition of my own -- but I find myself drawn into figuring out the choices the different editors made and their (implied) reasons for doing so. It's fascinating and sometimes puzzling to see the editing and glossing choices made by serious and impressive scholars and to realize that sometimes I have good reason to think they're wrong. And it makes me realize how opaque all of this is to our students, how they read one edition of an older text and think of it as "the" text, authoritative and complete. I try in all my classes to give them some idea of how The Riverside Chaucer and other such editions are total fictions, the work of editors trying to determine the Platonic Form of Chaucer's oeuvre based on many multiple manuscripts, but I may start bringing in more concrete details to show them. (I also may start doing translation assignments like Jeffrey Cohen does, instead of the usual ME reading comprehension quizzes I used to give.) And I'm going to do the same with select texts in the medieval survey class, too. I'm definitely going to bring this up more in my Old and Middle English classes (though I already do some of this).

There are other ways this little project has become fascinating to me. Like I said, I took this on because I'm intimately familiar with these texts. But as I go through them literally word by word, deciding what needs glossing, I come upon details and moments of interest that I'd overlooked before: plays on words, multivalent meanings, regional linguistic variations that give life to the text's moment in time and place, and so forth. I also realize that to gloss and to edit -- including providing punctuation -- I have to think about the syntax, grammar, and structure of the language in a microscopic way that I hadn't done before. And sometimes that's led me to moments of interpretative richness as well. And so hence this post's title. It's kind of a shame that the dissertation that edits and presents a previously unavailable text has gone the way of the dinosaur, because there's a lot to be learned in a task like that. The intimacy I thought I had with this text was only just familiarity. And I'm thinking that next time I do the graduate research methods class, in addition to having a session and an assignment on determining what the scholarly edition of a given text is, I'll create some kind of assignment where they have to edit a passage of something, or do a more micro-level comparison of editions.

By far the biggest challenge in all of this is meeting the requirements of the anthology publishers that I modernize and regularize spelling. I've looked very closely at the other Middle English texts in the current version, and there's a variation in how this is done -- a very telling one. Chaucer is only lightly regularized -- "hym" is changed to "him," for example, but all word final -e's seem to remain, even when they're not needed for the meter. But in anonymous poetic texts, especially ones with a variable meter (and not Chaucer's careful iambic pentameter), final -e's are mostly gone. Archaic spelling is preserved in rhymes, however, when modernizing it would disrupt the rhyme. But even that can't always be helped, since "food" and "good" are often spelled that way in Middle as well as Modern English, but doesn't tell the uninitiated reader that they rhymed in ME. Anyway, the special consideration that Chaucer gets in these editing techniques -- and that the anonymous writers don't get -- just goes to show how much we still fetishize the author on some level, despite Barthes and Foucault and the "intentional fallacy." (Wikipedia links provided for my non-academic, non-literary readers' quick reference.)

Word final -e's are just one challenge I have to face -- do I change "muste" to "must" throughout or only when it doesn't disrupt the meter? Or in this particular piece does that even matter? -- but there are others. One of the recurring one is how to "modernize" an archaic word. Often enough these words survived the Middle Ages and have early modern and modern spellings that are pretty regular. House style for the publishers is to use the OED, so if the OED has an entry for the word, I use the spelling of the entry heading, where, again, it doesn't disrupt anything like rhyme or meter.

But what about a word like "nemely"? I hit it just before beginning this post. It means "quickly" or "nimbly" and in the OED it shows up as a variant spelling for the head word "nimbly." Changing it to "nimbly" wouldn't actually disrupt the meter since "nemely" in the original must scan as two syllables, with the second -e- syncopated: nem'ly. And it won't disrupt the alliteration, either. But I feel like "nimbly" loses some of the flavor of the time and place. This is a Northern English text and "nimbly" sound too fastidiously Southern English to me, too posh and prim. (Those colorings of class and culture between the south and the north are just beginning to develop in the 15th century -- if the Towneley Second Shepherd's Play and the character Mak, who puts on a "southern tooth," claiming to be a yeoman of a lord, is any witness. And my text is a 15th century text. If it were any earlier, I might be anachronistic in wanting to avoid the hint of the posh privilege of the south. And even as it is, it says more about my own predilections than anything else!) I'll probably be a rebel and retain "nemely" but gloss it as "quickly, nimbly." In other cases I'll submit, changing "werk(e)" to "work," for example, even though in Middle English that -er- would be a distinct sound from -or-. But some sound needs to be preserved; this is a poetic text after all, and poetry lives in sound.

I need to bring details like this to my students' attention more often, let them know how much comes between them and the manuscript versions of these texts. I do this kind of thing plenty when we read texts in translation, giving them passages from the original or multiple translations to compare. Although at least once a year there's a student (sometimes even a graduate student!) who stuns me by demonstrating that they think reading a translation is the same as reading the original, I think I manage to get through to most of them that translation is always interpretation. But so is editing, especially when you're talking about medieval and early modern texts, and I need to make that clearer to them. I don't have to focus on it all the time, but I should plan at least one exercise around it in each pertinent class.

I'm so glad I took on this project -- even if I weren't getting paid for it!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

OMG! A total rock star likes me!

OK, not a rock star, but close enough in the academic world. I'll explain best I can without revealing identities

So the final outside letter for my tenure finally came in -- too late for the department personnel committee, but in time for the chair to mention it in her letter, and for all the subsequent levels up the hierarchy. Anyway, it's from someone in my immediate specialty and it's someone I was a little afraid of because I thought she wouldn't like my work because she's all fancy-pants theoretical and I'm knock-off pants theoretical at best. So I actually didn't put her on my list of potential reviewers. But my senior colleague did, and she ended up being one of the people solicited, and since her letter was late in arriving I was especially worried about it.

Well...It. Totally. Rocks!!!!! (Yes, I got to see it. As you may recall, we're a public university in an open-records state. When my chair said it was "absolutely glowing" I just had to read it!) OMG, she likes me, she really likes me! And get this: lo these many years ago, I was an admitted, prospective graduate student visiting Rock Star's campus and department, back when she was still an assistant professor, I think, and in the letter she makes it clear she *remembered* me. And she mentioned that she knew my work from my articles even before the book! It's like she's been following my career or something. How awesome is that?!

I think I may faint, and this time it's not from whatever's in my head causing my dizzy spells! This is definitely something for the "love file"! Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


OK, so I'm a little late, but today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. I did, however, point out to my students last week that one of the Old English verbs for "to be" (there are two sets) -- bēon -- is a little like talking like a pirate: Iċ bēo, þu bist, hē/hēo/hit biþ... (You had to be there.)

Anyway...the "woah" of my post title refers not to some Keanu Reeves-ified pirate, but rather, to the fact that I've been feeling a little dizzy for the past two days, especially any time my head is below my heart (e.g., bending over to pick something up, flipping my head over to wrap my wet hair in a towel, etc.), or even if I turn around too quickly. I'm not sure what's going on, but I'm starting to wonder if I have some brewing inner-ear problem like Wiley had last spring. OK, so I'm using my experience with a dog to diagnose myself. Is there a problem with that?

Yes, yes, I'm going to take myself to a doctor, but right now I'm too busy, dammit. I've got a grad committee meeting to run tomorrow and two classes to teach after that. I won't be able to get to the doctor until Friday at the earliest, which means my students will just have to deal with a dizzier than normal prof.

Argh. Er, arrrrrr....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

K'zoo preview

Now that all the last-minute abstracts for K'zoo papers are in, and panel organizers are making their decisions about who's on their panels in May, I know for sure that the panel I've co-organized is a go, and also that I'm presenting on another panel. It's not the first time I've worn two (or more) hats at a conference -- at MLA one year I was presenting, presiding/organizing, *and* interviewing job candidates as part of a search committee -- but it's the first time at the Zoo. And my co-organizer is doing the same. Let's hope they don't put our panel on Sunday morning or we'll be exhausted!

Anyway, just wanted to give y'all a heads up because this means that someone else will have to take over any blogger meet-up festivities. You don't have to decide now, but just know that I'm not really the best person to do it this year.

But that's not until May, so we don't have to worry about that just now.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Happy happy joy joy -- good news

My department voted unanimously to promote me and give me tenure! And rumor has it that unanimous votes in my department are a rarity. Wow -- cool!

But now I must knock wood -- KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK -- because there are all the other levels my dossier must still go through.

Meanwhile, my fingers are crossed, I'm not counting any unhatched chickens, I'm knocking on wood, and, just for the heck of it, I'm throwing salt over my shoulder, too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The internet is evil

OK, I know there's something ironic about titling a blog post with that blanket statement, but hear me out.

So. I was just doing an exploratory search of the job listings in the Chronicle so far -- just exporatory, mind you -- and fantasizing about jobs I can't/won't apply for or don't qualify for, and I found a job in my field at the flagship university of my home state. Now, that particular university is in a pretty damn cool town, not far from my home metropolis (which is getting cooler every day, it seems) and really close to the suburbs where the Fizzy Family live. (One drawback: also close to crazy Dad, but he doesn't drive far any more, so at least I wouldn't have to worry about unannounced visits. Yes, I worry about these things even in a fantasy.) Plus, it's a solidly good flagship with a lot of smart kids (Eldest Niece is an alum, after all). Alas and alack, however, it did not have a job in Bullock's field.

But that's not the evil part. See, I started doing this "oh how I wish I could be there instead of here" thing I sometimes do on the 'net, where I start clicking around as if I'm exploring a place I'm actually considering moving to. Sometimes this is pure fantasy, and involves taking virtual tours of the 4 million pound house for sale next door to the Dickens House in Bloomsbury. In this case, it involved clicking around on the Homestate U web site to see my future fantasy employer and colleagues.

And that's when I was blinded by the face of evil. OK, maybe not really evil. Just incredibly annoying. See, it turns out that someone I thought was a total jerkwad in college, who told someone I was interested in back then that I was a slut (I know! what a jerk!...but lucky for me at the time the guy didn't listen to Mr. Jerkwad), is now the freakin' head of an institute at Homestate U and has multiple books, which won multiple awards from This, That, and The Other Professional Society. And he's only a year older than I am! Ooh, that's so not right. Why can't life be like a moralist novel and punish the jerks?! And the worst part of it was seeing his smiley smug face on the web page, as if to say, "Ha ha -- I can call women sluts and still be called a 'scholar' and win scholarly awards from here to the end of the universe!" It's like he's an allegorical figure of Patriarchy itself.

So, see, the internet *is* evil, because I really didn't need to know this. And had I not followed the clicks, I wouldn't have known it unless the alum magazine had chosen to profile him (which I supposed is possible, I guess, but he's not *that* exciting compared to some of the more obviously famous and interesting alum). Dammit, how can I get any work done tonight with the image of Mr. Jerkwad in my head?

On the bright side, however, I no longer covet the job at Homestate U. Of course, envy and general malice have replaced the coveting. Hm. Excuse me while I go do penance of some kind.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Oy. I have 780 unread blog posts in my Bloglines subscriptions, so if I haven't commented on your blog in awhile, that's why. I've fallen way behind, and some of that goes all the way back to when I was in England in July.

Speaking of which, I'm "behind" on my own blogging -- there are stories and issues and ideas I wanted to post from my month in London, not to mention the vague promise I made to tell you what I was doing with my graduate research methods class (which, btw, is going OK, but I think it needs more substance next time -- there's a whole post brewing there, too). I also have a half-written post on the vast differences between various archives and libraries, and what one gains from working in them. I started that post while I was actually in one of those places!

I'm starting to wonder if I have time for blogging, but I don't want to lose touch with the friends I've made while doing it over the last two years (just missed my blogiversary a couple of weeks ago). This isn't an announcement that I'm going to quit, but just an explanation of my relative absence in the blogosphere lately. I may just settle into a once-in-awhile posting pattern, and rely on readers who've put me in their RSS feed subscriptions. It all remains to be seen. In the meantime, even if I'm not commenting, I'm trying to catch up and I'm thinking of you all -- especially those of you I know who have started new chapters in their lives or who are going through hard times, personal or professional. And if it's any consolation, I'm kind of lame at keeping in touch with friends I know IRL, too.

PS -- I really want "blogjam" to enter the idiom (if it doesn't already exist). Feel free to use it frequently and disseminate it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Woo-hoo for me!

In graduate school, one of the senior TAs, who had this special TA position specifically designed to mentor the newer TAs (a good system, btw), told us to keep a "love file" in which we put copies of the kick ass teaching evaluations, cool professorial comments, and all other commendations that made us feel like we were doing this thing we do right. I never took that very good advice literally -- never created that file -- but now I have a blog. And here I can say "Yay for me!" to the whole wide world.

So, two little things made me feel good this week. First, one of my new graduate students, a mere two weeks into the program, wrote me an e-mail telling me how grateful he is for my mentorship as graduate adviser and as the instructor of the research methods class. I don't *live* for such notes, but they sure do make my day!

And then, in the last day, I e-mailed the organizer of a panel at K'zoo and asked if there were still open spots, because I thought I might have something for it. Not only was there an open spot, but the organizer said she was familiar with my work and looked forward to getting a submission from me. Awesome! Someone's reading my work!

I love the little things like that. They really matter and they really make my day. They let me know I'm doing things right, that what I do in my job matters at least to some people, and that therefore my existence matters beyond my circle of loved ones. (An aside: one of the cool benefits of being an academic is that people you've never met, in far flung places you don't live or have connections, have read your work, know your name, and value what you do. Even if it's only 5 of them it's still cool.) These little things *especially* make my day when there are other, crappy, unbloggable things going on around me that I can't do much about, that involve systemic problems a helluva lot bigger than me. I can play my little part in those things, too -- make up for the inadequacy of others, perhaps -- but those are the kinds of things that get me down, and have I to look to these other things I've done that somehow brought others pleasure or value of some kind. It's all I can do.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A quick life-in-Rust-Belt observation

There are only 4 movie theaters in this town (5 if you count the historic single-screen theater that shows second-run but mainstream movies) and other than that historic one, all are owned by the same company.

Until moving here I'd never lived anywhere without independent and art-house cinemas.

RBoLDW: Random Bullet Points of Labor Day Weekend

  • The tenure file is done and turned in! Woo-hoo!
  • To celebrate, Bullock and I did our first shopping trip to Costco last night and got some yummy wild salmon which Bullock grilled. We picked up a number of other things, but we're being pretty judicious about what we'll actually consume before it goes bad, and what we have space to store. There are only two of us, after all. But I quickly realized that if all we ever buy at Costco are Clif Bars and giant bottles of generic loratadine (the drug in Claritin), we'll save a decent amount of money over the course of a year and more than make up for the $50 membership fee.
  • Because this Costco is the only one in Rust Belt, and therefore also the only one in this part of the state (because Rust Belt is the only city), the large crowd there produced a pretty good cross-section of the region. However, according to our local newspaper, some of the higher end shoppers of the area, the ones living in close proximity to this Costco (the reason why it chose that location) have not yet realized that Costco carries goods they'd be interested in. (Apparently they don't read all the stories in national newspapers about the Costco yuppie phenomenon.) Some of them are even vowing to boycott it because it's not high end enough for its location. Oh good god. It makes me want to hit them over the head with a lovely bottle of 2004 Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon (about $2 cheaper at Costco than on!
  • OK, enough about Costco. Btw, Turnbull Cabs are to die for. Not cheap -- usually about $45, depending on the vintage -- but wonderful if you like big, rich red wines. And they're good wines for collecting and aging.
  • Tonight Victoria, her sister, our friend who needs a pseudonym still, and I are having a girls' night out. We're going to see Becoming Jane. I'm really excited, but not nearly as excited as the two mothers of young children in the group, who are really, REALLY excited.
  • I'm managing to keep up in spinning class now and do all the standing exercises! Yay! Now I need to work on form so I'm not putting my weight on my wrists and arms, but holding myself up with my legs and core.
  • Speaking of core work, Victoria has also convinced me to do PiYo -- an upbeat version of Pilates with some yoga -- on Fridays, so now we have Spinning MW at noon and PiYo on Friday at noon, plus I'll still be doing a long run on Saturdays and an easy one on Sundays. I'm going to be SO fit this semester. Here's hoping I can keep up with it all.
  • Bullock and I are talking about having Thanksgiving here this year. His mom and sister are coming, which also means his sister's kids, two dogs, and, possibly, a hedgehog will be here. Virgo Sis said she may be able to make it, too. Word is Fast Fizzy and the Fizzy family are staying put this year (Fizzy, tell me if that's not true!) since they traveled last year, and my dad doesn't travel on Thanksgiving (or much at all these days), and though I'll invite Eldest Niece and Nephew, they probably can't afford it, so it won't be the *whole* family. Still, even with just the members slated to come, that means we'll be making dinner for two vegans and a celiac! It's going to be a complicated meal. Any suggestions for vegan or gluten-free (or both) recipes are welcome! (I'm looking at you, Pastry Pirate!)
  • Speaking of grown-ups and families, about 2/3s of the new graduate students are roughly about my age, give or take a couple of years, and a number of them have kids, some of whom are in college already. One of the students, who is only 41, is a grandmother already. Some of the younger ones have children, as well, with or without spouses. It's a demographically interesting group. I find this all very fascinating, and dealing with grown-ups is such a pleasure, but I also worry for them, since they're entering a profession that still assumes everyone is young and single and child-free, or, if married, a man with a stay-at-home wife. These students can't simply pack up and move for a Ph.D. program or a job, or if they do, it will be that much more difficult for them. Any advice for assisting them -- resources to point them to, for example -- would be greatly appreciated.