Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Random bullets of back home

So I’m back from overseas, back to work and teaching shortly...

Some randomness:

- Probably the thing I love the most about being in Europe is the enriched sense of public space. People really feel a sense of ownership of their cities. They understand that their cities are – or should be – for them, and they really occupy them. When I lived in Lyon, my greatest delight was to pass the Opera building on Sunday nights, when its steps and overhang were taken over by a dozen or so really freaking great breakdancers, just doing their thing on the territory of this public building. That was always the strongest symbol to me of a different mindset in this regard. But even the café culture – spilling out onto the streets – is so indicative of it. But Paris’ crazy Haussmanized grandiosity really can actively work against the perception of space as belonging to people – as it was meant to do, of course. The Place de la Concorde – forget about it. That is not human scale. Those are the parts of Paris I don’t like.

- Of course, when I move for the new job, I am moving to a place that has a non-existent public space culture – this is a large part of my apoplexy at this whole thing. I will be leaving a City that actually has some activism around public space, which is one of the things I love most about it. Boo.

- Heathrow Airport has turned into an absolute nightmare since their liquid-bomb-scare. Whoa. It is such nonsense. I was really mad, actually – the dazzling illogic of it all.

- However ambivalent and angst-y my trip was, I was able to take time off from teaching-work and stress, which, as I have mentioned lately, was getting to me. I feel as if I am quite easily able to leave work behind, when I go away. I am grateful for this ability!

- My laptop’s (i.e. my only personal computer’s) 2/@ key is broken. Without it, I can’t do lots of important things, including signing in to Blogger now that I’ve been forced to do the switchover. Boo. I think rather than getting it fixed, I may just get a keyboard for it. I know fixing keys is a nightmare.

- On my last night in London, after going out to dinner, we came home and watched this special about the 100 Sexiest People. Near the top was Blondie. And I realized: here is a route to much-needed joy. Dancing to Blondie. Have to do that soon. (I have a great fondness for Blondie, stretching back to when I was very little and my awesome dad wanted to indulge all my musical interests, which included Blondie and Kiss [obviously because of what, to a little kid, were their provocative names!] He bought me Kiss’s Destroyer when I was six.) Anyway, yeah, dancing to Blondie…that’s a surefire way to bring some joy into my life.

- And today, went back to Uni City. And discovered that the (actually very good, and edited by a student of mine) school newspaper has named me the hottest professor in my department. I was mortified. My colleagues haven’t stopped teasing me all day. What with this, and the baby professor photograph and accompanying crap description of my research, I’m really doing wonders for my image as a serious academic.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fun and the lack thereof

Paris was good, in the end. Of course. Though I gorged on so many pastries that I swear it will take me days to recover from the decadence.

I was interested to see how I would fare, being back in France. I lived there for the better part of a year during my PhD – six years ago. I hadn’t been back since I left, so unhappy. The place, having been the object of my affections for so many years before I lived (or had even visited) there, took on a sort of awful gloss of ambivalence and angst. I wondered how, or even if, that would surface again on this visit.

It didn’t. Granted, I wasn’t in Chambéry or in Lyon, the two cities in which I lived. (I know that I will have to go back to Lyon and have a good cry and a melancholy wander by myself, someday.) But I was happy to find the points of affinity I’d found with French culture the first time, and none of the points of conflict (because I was being a tourist this time, and not trying to build a life there – it makes such a difference). So it was easy, in that sense.

My work went so well…on my second visit to the institution I’d been to the first day, I had one of those exciting moments…I found something in the never-consulted files I was looking through, something important, whose origin wasn’t discernible at all. The lovely woman who supervised the area I was working in called in one of her colleagues. The three of us did some detective work, all contributing bits to this collective effort to detect the source of the document I’d found. It was some real sleuthing. And we figured it out. It was so satisfying, I can’t tell you. I can’t wait to go back for more – probably for two-three weeks in the spring of next year.

I also found a whole bunch of books in the bookstore of the place where I was working – relevant French stuff I hadn’t known about, that is so difficult to even learn of at home…I’m going home happily weighted down with things to read.

And aside from all of that, there was my time with S, the Best Friend. He moved to London for a job almost two years ago. We’ve hardly seen each other since. The one time I was in London since he moved here, just over a year ago, he was visiting Home City – so frustrating! He stayed with ex-GF and I for about five days last summer. Through all this not-seeing-each-other, I’ve had the gnawing sense that we were growing apart…it was profoundly unsettling. This is the person I’ve been closest to in my life, who’s been my best friend since I was twelve years old, who I assumed would always, always be that person, be unconditionally there. That’s felt strained.

And on the trip in Paris, it felt even more so. Our ways of traveling – and even of being – were really in conflict. His looseness, his disorganization and passivity, grated on me. And I was bitchy and peevish. Awful. It came to a head once, and we had a talk, standing in Montmartre, looking out over the city, that cleared the air. Things built up again, though, and I got to thinking. Until yesterday, back in London, when we were out for tea.

I told him that I feel desolated, as I’ve realized over the last couple of days, because I’m not FUN anymore. It’s true that I’ve always been a pretty serious person, but seriousness doesn’t have to mean the absence of fun. Not at all. And I always had a fun streak in me – most joyfully brought out with S. Silliness has always been – until now, at least – the foundation of our relationship. Actually, this great balance between silliness and gravity.

I don’t know where that’s gone. Best I can figure, it’s kinda disappeared over the last couple of years, with me writing a dissertation and then in full-time teaching gigs last year and this year. Something’s shifted in me. I don’t get to see it much, but it became absolutely crystal clear these last few days with S. Traveling, extricating yourself from your rhythms, always does that, doesn’t it? Anyway, this horrible seriousness is what makes me irritable and impatient with this fun-partner I love so much. I don’t want to be that person, too caught up in trivia to have fun.

But when I think about it, I have a real absence of joy in my life. I don’t laugh much anymore. The closest I come to joy is when I’m teaching. But there are limits to that – my students are, after all, my students, and not my friends. I do see my friends, absolutely. But those times aren’t suffused with joy, I wouldn’t say. They are good times, but they’re all of a piece, and I wouldn’t say it’s high on the fun-o-meter: Let’s meet and spend too much money on dinner, and have lots of that very serious drink, wine, and talk about relationships and work. Gravitas/gossip.

I used to laugh more. I used to do spontaneous, odd things. I used to also feel joy in doing the Activity – a dance form – and doing it really well. And being part of its attendant community, which has connections to all sorts of other joyful things, including singing. I can’t tell you how much I feel the absence of that.

My answer is to crave extreme experience. As I’ve mentioned before recently, drugs and sex feel as if they would do the trick in a pinch, though I know they’re not an answer to the question of why I have a lack of joy in my life. Really, I need an ongoing connection to something joyful and FUN. The ballet class that meets once a week provides a bit of that, whenever we move away from exercises that are about precisely articulating the foot at the barre, for example, and into things like galloping around. And I think of camp last summer, which was dance camp, and was the best week I’ve had in a long, long time – joy all day and night. But I don’t think I can go this summer, because the timing is all wrong, with me moving so far away and not being able to afford the extravagance of flying to it. That sucks, is all I can say.

The other thing is that in this conversation with S yesterday, in which I explained this awful fact of joylessness, he gave me HIS reading of it. Which is that the way I was acting with him sometimes – which he characterized as a muting of myself, a shutting down of communication – is very like the way I was with ex-GF. She and I, he observed, were constantly butting heads, making the most trivial of issues into something huge. Daily life often seemed like a chore, for us. That seems true, yes. It is accurate. But it fucking depresses me. One, because it seems to have corrupted me – I’ve brought my part of that awful dynamic into other intimate relationships, now. Great. Also because it was just such a depressing gloss on our relationship. On what feels like its ongoing impossibility, even if I do love her so much. And she’s been making lots and lots of noises lately about thinking she made a mistake, in pushing to end the relationship. And I have been willing to entertain this idea. Have been cautious, but haven’t ruled it out. S’s picture of us made me feel as if that would be just so hard. Brings me back to the truth of things, which that unless both of us changed hugely, organically, we demand too much compromise from each other to make us each happy. Sucks.

And there are probably ways in which these two things – my overall lack of joy, my dynamic with ex-GF – are related, and that seems to be the worst of all.

Anyway. Still in London. Late Saturday afternoon. Today I went for a long run in Clapham Common, and watched a movie (Joyeux Noel, for the WWI-ophile in me) and went to the pub for a cider and a read of a great text I am teaching next week. Tonight we are going out for dinner at an apparently wonderful Japanese restaurant – S and his boyfriend and I. I leave late tomorrow, Sunday, night. Back into the world where I have to really face what it means that I have become this joyless person. And do something to counter it. Though I haven’t the faintest…

Monday, February 19, 2007

Postcard from Paris

Hello to you all. I'm in Paris. There's lots to say but not much time to say it, so I'll have to save the recounting till later in the week.

What is great is that I was feeling pretty stressed about this trip, in the days leading up to it. What with the feeling of constant running about, it honestly just seemed like more running about to fly to London, and then go to Paris. But as soon as I arrived in the London home of my very best friend (with whom I am celebrating twenty years of friendship this year!), all that melted away. I am on vacation.

I do have some research appointments set up, though. Had the first one today. It was great - so exciting. All of a sudden, my book project took on a whole new dimension of reality. My heart was racing. I have another (probably less exciting) appointment tomorrow, and then return to today's place on Wednesday. All of these are half days, so I have plenty of time to eat bread and walk around - which is precisely what I did all day yesterday. (S - Best Friend - was supposed to come with me yesterday early in the morning. But - as is his very disorganized way - he forgot to pick up his new passport at the Canadian embassy in London last week - so had to go pick it up this morning and push his train trip to Paris to today!!!! Good grief!!)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Astonishing plagiarism

You know what always floors me? When a student who is a terrible writer has no idea that when s/he plagiarizes, there will be just a wee bit of a disconnect between her/his unbelievably poor writing, and the polished academic language s/he is plagiarizing.

I have in front me an annotated bibliography whose annotations are mostly plagiarized either from abstracts in journal articles, or from the first couple of paragraphs of the articles themselves - I have checked every single one of them. What alerted me was the interweaving of sentences that contain no subject/make no sense/are full of ridiculous spelling errors (s/he has used the word "ethnics" instead of "ethics" a full six times in this piece of work - and I am not sure s/he would be able to tell me what each word means), with fragments like this: "a process of defining moral personhood as a question that is always already culturally bound and shot through with complicated power relations". Uh, yeah. And "ethnics".

What is so astounding about this is the complete lack of self-consciousness it reveals. Students have so little sense of language that they can't distinguish their own writing voices from the ones they are plagiarizing, and realize that the difference will be glaringly, screamingly obvious to their professors. Even though - as in the case of this student - they are students who don't do well at all, generally. This is a literacy problem, I think. It amounts to a kind of illiteracy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Very, Very Bad Job City

So this morning I woke up from a dream. In it, I was inhabiting some plane of ecstasy. I’d realized that I could stay in Home City and buy myself a condo, instead of moving to Icky Job City and buying a condo…There was a kind of jumping-up-and-down glee upon the dawning realization that there was nothing stopping me from staying. (In reality, of course, there is something stopping me from staying in Home City: the lack of a job.)

Why did I dream this? Because I have learned a few things lately about how difficult this whole moving thing is going to be. And how much I can’t stand the place

One of the reasons I decided to borrow a down payment and buy a place to live was because I had discovered what an incredibly dog-unfriendly place I am moving to. In a city with a 0.5% vacancy rate for rentals, there are really almost no places that will accept pets of any kind. I had been told this by a couple of people, and a look at rental listings confirms it. Most of the times I’ve looked, I haven’t been able to find a single place that would rent to a dog owner. And so, the buy-a-condo plan was born (a condo because I can't afford to buy a house there - a house would be my preference with the dog, of course).

Except, in talking to the person who I thought was going to be my realtor, two weeks ago, I learned that in this city – and it is peculiar to this oh-so-charming city, he told me – most condo buildings won’t take dogs over 40 cms high. I.e. my medium-sized dog, Mr. K (60 cms high), is out. Even if I am buying an apartment.

Add to this lovely information the fact that the gross frat-boy realtor was very obviously not impressed by the modest amount of money I have to spend. In a booming market, with plenty of homes selling for near a million dollars, my paltry sum clearly isn’t worth it to him. He has bigger fish to fry. He said he’d run a search for me and email me the results that day. I haven’t heard back. Asshole. I’m really insulted.

An email this weekend to another realtor resulted in a curt reply telling me that she wouldn’t work with me because I’m not spending the money necessary to get into the couple of buildings that would deign to take my dog. (And it’s not that there’s nothing available in my price range – I have done MLS searches, I can see that there are places…but in a hot and greedy market, my apparently “small” amount of money is not worth the effort to these people.)

I cannot believe it. What hell is this? I have also learned over the last couple of months, through Internet searches, dog advocacy groups, and conversations with people, how incredibly dog-unfriendly the city is in every other way, as well. It’s astonishing, really. As someone with no car, it will be virtually impossible for me ever to walk the (very high-energy) dog off-leash – hell, until a couple of years ago, most parks wouldn’t even allow dogs on-leash. Frankly, a city that micro-manages like this makes my hair stand up on end. I find this kind of thing deeply problematic, I really do. It is so not my kind of place.

I did yesterday find a realtor who is willing to work within my parameters, and was friendly and seems promising. But if it’s true that almost no buildings will take the dog, then I may well end up in some godforsaken area, with a dog who is miserable because he can’t be exercised properly, and me miserable because I’m stuck in a suburb with no access to anything. Spending all of my time fretting about the dog. That doesn’t seem like a life, for either of us.

Tonight ex-GF and I, over dinner, discussed the possibility of her keeping the dog. I think it makes sense on many levels – Home City is such a much better city for dogs than this fascistic gated-community nonsense I’m moving to. But it breaks my heart. Just breaks it. I wish I didn’t have to enter this whole “adventure” already seething with resentment about the place I’m moving to.

Friday, February 09, 2007

February hope

Days like today are why I like February.

February and November are always cited as the months people hate the most. I have never minded either, though - especially not February. To me, January is the month from hell. It's like one long, dark hangover after a not especially fun party (that would be the month of December, with its holiday time). February I can always handle because the days have lightened so much. And because it's right before March, and March is when spring starts! February is an anticipatory, hopeful month.

And then sometimes we are also lucky to have days like today. The extreme chill has lifted. The air is cold, but bearably so. I didn't have to wear a hat. The sky is deep blue and cloudless. And best of all, the sun has gained so much strength! Standing in the dog park at midday today, I could feel it penetrating my deep winter layers - making me too hot, in fact. That sun is really what gives me the most hope.

And at the dog park, I ran into my friend J. I had a huge crush on J when we were TA's together, five years ago. Huge. Then she got together with K, who is still her partner. Like a good girl, I dutifully turned my crush OFF and didn't think about it anymore. I got together with GF soon after. GF and I and K&J became good friends. K&J had a baby in the fall. Today was the first time I've seen J alone since then. She told me my breakup with GF had made her start to think about her relationship. We talked about the challenges K&J are facing, her concerns about their future. My crush? I remembered it, standing in the sparkling, warm sun talking to J. I fear that it's back. Damn inconvenient crushes! (Sigh - would that this were the only one I have...)

Anyway. For this weekend, I have planned very little! Hooray! As I blogged the other day, I am feeling completely overwhelmed by obligations. And the couple of things that I have planned for this weekend are low-maintenance. Tomorrow night my friend Kim is coming over. I'm going to make mushroom risotto, and chocolate mousse, and we're going to drink this really fine bottle of red wine I've been saving since I defended my PhD. This is the way to go to cut the overwhelm but still see my friends...have them over for in-house decadence.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Laughter in the classroom

In an earlier incarnation of my statement of teaching philosophy, I wrote about the importance of being able to laugh in my classrooms, and how that could co-exist with very serious inquiry. Somewhere in the last round of job applications, I rewrote my philosophy, and I cut out that discussion of the importance of humour. I've been thinking about how much I want to write that back into any document that describes my approach to teaching.

There was lots of laughing in my Theory class last night. There were a couple of incidents that were so quietly funny that they have stuck with me into today, making me laugh to myself over and over again - sometimes, embarrassingly, in public, like on the crowded bus this morning. At first I had a niggling worry about whether last night we crossed the line - however sketchily it is drawn - into chaos. (This was connected to my intermittent and, I think, ultimately ill-founded anxieties about just not being any "good at" authority - and whether I even care if I'm good at it. I don't think I really do care.) The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that laughing in the class was inseparable from the intellectual work that we were doing - and there was plenty of hard thinking being done. I can't help but understand laughter as enhancing the class, rather than plunging it into chaos.

I think this happens in a number of related ways. On the most basic level, it is a testament to students' and my comfort with each other and with the material. Every time we laugh, it feels as if we are drawn closer together - and I notice that some people's willingness to speak up in class has increased in this atmosphere of greater intimacy. As for the material, well, it's hard stuff - anxiety- and dropout-producing theory. (I've lost a couple of people who said they just couldn't hack it. Even though it's a required course for the major - eep.) So if the students understand that it is stuff in the presence of which we can also laugh, well, then I potentially have people understanding that it's connected to their lives, somehow, in a way they might not be able to imagine without the laughing. And that's the whole point of the theory that I teach - that it is conncted to people's lives. In that sense, laughter actually helps to instantiate this major conceptual point that is so hard to hammer home.

There’s another intrinsic point that laughter – or maybe, in this case, humour – conveniently helps me make. I think that laughter helps to reveal the fallibility and contingency of knowledge. I know that there is some theory about humour that argues that is inherently relational and context-dependent, demanding that one oscillates between different paradigms or belief systems. I feel that this is what happens sometimes when laughter erupts in the classroom. It is often arising from a sense of irony – the clash between students’ belief systems and those that are being articulated at the centre of the theory they’re reading. Humour calls attention to, interrogates, competing ways of knowing. This is crucial to the work we do in this theory course, which requires a careful attention to constructions of knowledge. In this sense, too, the presence of humour in the classroom helps me do some of the conceptual work that I need to do.

Sometimes when we laugh, we are laughing at things directly related to the theory we’re working on. But sometimes we just laugh at extraneous things…These are the points at which I worry about being too chaotic. (They are also the points that have me laughing my head off still today, I must admit. They are the funniest points.) Upon reflection, though, I realize that even these little moments, which direct us momentarily off our course, are important to reducing the anxiety that surrounds the classroom experience. It is important to know that our attention can be diverted, and that we always return to the questions that occupy us. This, I think, allows us to relax into the task of making theory, to realize that it doesn’t own us.

How do humour and laughter work in your classrooms?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Boring and predictable whine

What was I, on crack, when I decided it was a good idea to change my entire life by breaking up and moving to another area of the city, taking a ballet class, ramping up my running to train for a half-marathon, negotiating and contemplating a job in a far-away place, and starting to look for real estate to buy...all at the same time - and at the same time as I spend half the week in another city???!!!

Good lord. I know I blogged at the beginning of the school year about how the schedule just seemed crazy. I knew nothing then - I was a mere innocent.

Now? Now I feel like I'm on a goddamned hamster wheel. Wanting to be thrown off, but alas...And just as with my over-enthusiastic response to my students, I recognize that I have brought this on myself.

I have one night a week at home. One night. I teach Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday evenings. I now take that ballet class on Mondays nights (twit). My only time to see friends is on the weekends, so of course I see them Friday and Saturday nights. That leaves me Sunday nights at home. I'm a nester, and not a night owl. This is so foreign to my system.

And every day, including the weekend, is about obligations and routine...walk the dog for 1.5 hours, fit in long runs, pick up Mr. K from across the city, go to ballet, download X, do errands, cook for ex-GF every Monday in a 2-hour window, run to ballet, pack late at night for my week...and on and on and on. It is a crushing routine, always the same, already worn way thin after four weeks of this term.

What was I thinking?? What kind of life is this?? I am scheduled and obligated to the hilt...there is no down time.

So now I'm fantasizing about some kind of hedonistic weekend, some weekend full of sloth and sex. Or this: My friend M and I were talking this weekend. He (type A+++++++ personality) revealed to me that he has a fantasy about going out to brunch on a weekend day, and then spending the rest of the day alternately napping and watching TV. I can't think of a more divine plan. It's pathetic - the idea of taking a day off and lying around and watching TV is so far-fetched that it's as exciting as the idea of some kind of truly hedonistic weekend, which is the other alternative.

I know we're all so busy. And I don't have kids or anything, so it could be much worse (though having a dog - even half time - is a huge responsibility). I just needed to rant; I'm so incredibly tightly wound. But I do recognize that I brought it on myself.

It makes me wonder. Because I'm actually not one of those superwoman types, someone who never has any down time. I've always been good at living a balanced life, taking days and even entire weekends off. I do wonder if I did this to compensate for something, or to prove something to myself, in the wake of the breakup. Well, whatever it was, it was dumb. Nice one, Hilaire.

Ever the optimist, I can't help but ending this hamster-wheel rant on some happy notes:

- I am absolutely loving ballet - it is a glimpse of pure joy...my body missed dancing...I only wish the classes were longer, or that it wasn't sandwiched in between all this other stuff, so that I wasn't scurrying there and back so breathlessly...
- Hey, at least I am exercising...I have somewhere to put all the stress that...uh...scheduled exercise adds to. (?)
- And I do get to get off the wheel for a bit, in ten days...I am going to visit my best friend, who lives in London, over my Reading Week. And we're going to Paris for a few days, so that I can do some preliminary research for my book, but mostly just so that we can hang out. Hurray!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The crushing nature of grad programs

So I've been thinking for weeks about what happens to people who go to grad school - especially to particular types of grad school - with a severe tendency toward depression or other mental health issues.

This thinking has been prompted by a couple of very, very bright - let's say brillliant, actually, in at least one case - students of mine, both of whom are struggling with their own issues right now. Both have legitimate reasons for the hanging around of leftover work from last term. One - shy and reserved - has kept this mostly at arm's length from me, though I know the contours of the thing. The other, the one I know is brilliant, has let me in a bit, has come to see me and chatted about things a few times. About the challenges of keeping herself on track when battling severe depression and OCD. This week we made a plan for her to submit her late work. All of her energy right now is directed toward not fucking up this year. She has been in university for seven years, and her transcript is a patchwork, reflecting a couple of years when depression swallowed her up and she couldn't complete her courses. Right now, she is looking toward graduation and the years beyond with such fragile hope.

She has applied to several graduate programs, including a couple of top-flight ones in the US, ones that are so competitive that I imagine the F's on her transcript will disqualify her, even when accompanied by an explanation. That is the first problem, right there. Can grad school admissions even take account of mental health?

She is, as she told me somewhat emotionally this week, in love with theory. The programs she's applied to are theory programs, and she wants to be there, I can see, because this is what she knows. Theory is what she knows she is good - great - at. It is where she feels safe. There's a really charged psychic identification there.

But the hairs on the back of my neck go up when I think of the environments and the expectations she's in for in those programs. I did my PhD in such a program, and it was a vile, noxious place, sneakily competitive and sexist and nasty. I managed because I had my life outside, I kept my distance, I removed myself.

But I worry about this student - and others with similar histories - in such environments. Because I see how expectations - including, most importantly, her own - have crushed her, even at this undergraduate level. Goodness, if the walls closed in on her even last term, in her last year of a degree in which she is clearly the shit, clearly at a level above almost everyone else - well, then, what's going to happen when the pressure is really on, when she's surrounded by insecure people who are as smart as her, but who (try to) work out their insecurities by making other people feel small??

When we got on to talking about the culture of such programs, a couple of weeks ago, I just said, "you'll need to make sure you have lots of support." But I felt panicked for her.

This might be really condescending; she might be able to manage just fine. Perhaps I am re-victimizing her. If I managed by making a life outside, there's nothing to say that she can't, too. But I just see her fragility and her hope so clearly right now, and I so don't want her to be crushed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Time Whine

I have so many things I want to write about, so much swirling around in my head – mostly to do with teaching – and yet I haven’t been able to find the time. Time, time, time. Feels exceptionally pressed right now. Now that I am only in Uni City three days a week, and not four, things feel perilously compressed. And with me writing to a deadline on the weekends (which I’ve decided to stop doing, because it’s making me crazy and it’s unrealistic, even if I do have half the thing written), there has just been no time.

So why don’t I steal a few minutes of that precious time to write about how I bring some of this problem on myself?

I am always enthusiastic about my students. But because I have such a fantastic bunch of them, across my classes – and remember that the preponderance of this kind of student is why I so wanted to work at this institution in the first place – I have taken this enthusiasm to a kind of next level this year, at this uni. But there are drawbacks to that.

So right now, in my Theory class, the students have an annotated bibliography coming up, the first step in a research paper that is due in March. I have been having emails and conversations and meetings galore with students trying to choose and narrow topics to research. These alone have been overwhelming, as they make my head swirl with paper topics and with the task of explaining to so many of them why the topic they have chosen isn’t a theoretical one. And instead of limiting these, instead of trying to curb their spillage into my life and my time, I have been giving too much. So that students tell me they want to research Topic X, and I am, the next day, pulling some material out of my own files and photocopying it for them. Or half-remembering an article on Topic Y, telling a student I have an interesting reference for them and I will email it to them, and spending half an hour searching for it in periodical databases with keywords grasped from a short-circuiting memory. I shouldn’t be doing this, and it is this that is cutting into my time particularly sharply this week. But I bring it on myself. And they see that I will do this for them, and they start asking for it.

And then, what did I do yesterday morning? I met a student in my office at 9:30 – which involved getting up earlier and taking an earlier run than usual, after teaching until 9 the night before – so that I could help her look over her application for an internship. I offered the help, twit that I am. Now, I love this student, I’ve written her a glowing reference for this radio internship, and I think she would be absolutely perfect for the position, which is why I offered the help. But as soon as I'd arranged this, I wanted to kick myself - Thursdays are supposed to be the day in Uni City when the pressure is not on...

I also have lately indulged student requests to come and chat with me and “just ask you some questions” about “issues”, which have resulted in 1-2-hour conversations over tea. I’m very silly indeed. Except that I enjoy these chats.

The thing is that I completely forget, in the moment, about the context. Which is that I have all this other stuff going on and don’t have the time to run a search/edit letters/chat about. So I forget this, and am just caught up in the moment of interaction with the student. I just am. “Yay! A project!!” “What an awesome internship!” “Yeah, let’s chat – what fun!”

The thing is, I wish I didn’t have to be so protective of my time. I like students, especially the ones I have here. I actually learn a lot from them, too. I feel as if some students’ research is going to result in papers I really want to read, because it will teach me things. But I guess I’m bugged by how the university context – that ticking time bomb of a tenure clock – doesn’t see or reward this. It bugs me that I feel pressured to construct interactions with students as an incursion on my time.

I realize that this is just another restatement of the frustrating undervaluation of teaching and working with students – and it is not coming from someone who values teaching “more” than research, as I like them equally. But the thing is, at the beginning of my career, I’m so not burnt out from them yet – I can give my best to them right now. I wish I could indulge that, worry-free. Maybe I need to just do that. I have a colleague/friend who polices her time so vigilantly, guarding against interactions with students because of what they take from her. Her chief, and very intensely delivered, advice to me in negotiating this new job is about guarding my time. As much as I like her, I don’t want to be that person, not ever. I want to be able to see what students give me, also. That is as much a part of why I do this job as anything else.

Rambling, disorganized, self-indulgent thoughts, sorry.


To keep me on track: Posts coming soon, I hope, about how teaching theory makes me a better scholar, about student mental health issues and graduate school, and about why I’m back to thinking I’m moving to HELL and even considered turning the job down, this week. And my relationship with ex-GF.

Happy weekends, everyone.