Sunday, December 31, 2006


As you realize by now, I am sure, your Dr. Radical has left the building: not just the building, but also the state, the continent and – I believe -- the hemisphere. I am approximately half way between North America and Australia, on one of the smaller islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago, Kaua’i. It took twenty-two hours to get here from New England – but then, if you compare that to how long it took those whaling ships to get here from New Bedford in the early nineteenth century, that isn’t very long.

There are lots of reasons not to come to Hawaii as a tourist, chief among them colonization, genocide, land theft, and the warping effect that tourism has on an economy and on an indigenous people. The illegal occupation by the United States dates from the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy by Sanford Dole and his associates, most of them the children of missionaries who arrived in the 1830's and then made it big in the sugar and fruit industries. The illegal regime was recognized by the American government in February, 1893, after a short political blip in which Grover Cleveland almost returned the country to its rightful owners, and the reorganization of the islands into a US territory was completed in 1900. The Hawaiian people have never conceded their sovereignty, having been recognized as a nation by the international community for several decades before the overthrow, nor have they assigned any treaty rights to the United States government since the writing of the 1887 “Bayonet Constitution” signed by King David Kalakaua while Sanford Dole was holding a gun to his head. This treaty was then repudiated after David's death by his more right-on sister, Liliuokalani, who was then deposed and held under house arrest for many years thereafter for having stood on principle rather than on the practical, and probably unworkable, business of staying in power to see what evils she could hold off (see photo above.)

The story of US colonization in Hawaii is a long and ugly one, which intersects with the extension of U.S. power beyond the continent in 1898, the last phases of the displacement of indigenous peoples in the continental 48 states, and the rise of new forms of scientific racism that emerged during the period known as Redemption, during which southerners and northerners came to tacit agreement about the supposed superiority of white people, and were more or less able to end the Civil War and the bad feelings that remained from it by agreeing to oppress both African Americans and other peoples of color in the hemisphere in the interests of “civilization” and “progress.”

Only small amounts of land have been returned to native Hawaiians over the years under the arcane and racialized provisions of something called the Hawaiian Homes Commissions Act, passed by Congress in 1921 to stem the disastrous depopulation of native Hawaiian communities. Thus, throughout the islands, there are small amounts of land set aside as Homesteads for people who can certify that they are at least 50% native Hawaiian. Many more people than this claim a Hawaiian identity, since Hawaiian cultural history recognizes genealogical descent rather than modern notions of blood quantum. Thus, a legally enforceable claim to “Hawaiianness” continues to rest, erroneously, on the question of whether one's ancestors had, and acted on, a concept of racial purity that would have been foreign to them (Hawaiians welcomed exogamy, in fact), and which many sane people now understand to be utterly constructed.

The Akaka Bill, which is currently floating around the Senate and is sponsored by Daniel Akaka, proposes to right this wrong by making Native Hawaiians self-governing in the same way that Native Americans are, thus, among other things, ratifying “Hawaiianness” in blood quantum terms as other federally recognized tribes currently must do. (By the way, this is a very big issue among Native American activists more generally, some of whom refuse to enroll and claim tribal status because it involves accepting the notion that you are only a real Native person if United States law says you are.) Hawaiian Homesteads on all the islands would thus become the legal equivalent of Reservations on the continent, although one important difference would be that at least Hawaiians would be in their historic homeland, whereas many indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada are in places to which they were forcibly removed, or forced to flee.

There are many things wrong with the Akaka bill, but chief among them, as I understand it is that this bill would ratify Hawaiian dispossession, making US occupation legal and the ownership of the bulk of the land in the archipelago a moot point. Currently, it is contestable because of the international recognition that predated the overthrow of the monarchy, the illegality of territorial status and statehood, and the legal possibilities for reviving all these matters since President William Jefferson Clinton’s apology to the Hawaiian people several years ago for US collaboration in the illegal Dole coup.

But then, why is Dr. Radical in Kauai? I am working on this problem. There are several important things to say, one of which is that your Dr. Radical needs a little peace and quiet to get her writing (and her head) organized before going back to work at Zenith, and a little sunshine, sleep and fresh fruit don’t hurt. But more serious is a fact worth knowing – I am not ideologically pure as the driven snow, and mostly do not do symbolic politics because inevitably they are false to some degree. Another is that I somehow don’t think we deal with the effects of American colonialism by not looking at it – it’s a little like thinking you are coping well with your alcoholic brother by not visiting him or answering when he calls completely sloshed in the middle of the night.

The most important answer is that I am an historian, and history is a messy business. Whether any of us like it or not, we are snarled in our connections to the past, which does not mean running around whining about our guilt over things we never did (although our ancestors may have.) It seems to me that if native Hawaiians whose great grandparents were dispossessed by Sanford Dole and his cronies in Washington can grapple with history in the intricate ways that they are doing, those of us whose great-grandparents ate the sugar (or came here from Italy and Poland in hopes that they would) could pitch in and grapple with them, even if it causes us a little discomfort.

So my grappling will consist of a few posts from the former domain of Prince Kuhio, a relative of the last Queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, who fought the process of colonization until her death. Oh yeah, and N. and I are writing a big check to the American Friends Service Committee, which does powerful and thoughtful work on behalf of Native Hawaiians.

Books to read: Noenoe Silva, “Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism” (Duke, 2004); and a forthcoming volume to keep your eye out for in 2007, also from Duke, by Kehaulani Kauanui, which has taught me, or caused me to learn for myself, practically everything I know about Hawaiian sovereignty and its history. And if you want to think about the politics of tourism, try Jamaica Kincaid, “A Small Place” (1988).

And have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006


News Flash: I am in receipt of a forwarded email from John Edwards saying he is getting ready to launch his presidential campaign, which will be centered on ending the war and helping the neediest among us (hell, that might even mean graduate students, since the government has been robbing education about as fast as it has been robbing the poor.) Word on the street among active Democrats here in Shoreline is that he is announcing next week in Chapel Hill. Anyway, if you want to identify yourself to the campaign as a potential supporter, write him at

And have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.


Dr. Radical

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Taking Stock Prior To My Return To The History Department

Everyone in the academy of a certain age remembers that great line from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” where the young mathematics professor asks George what department he is in, and Martha lurches over and sneers, “Ge-o-o-orge is in the….HISSS-try department.” Well, much as my spiritual home is in American Studies, so am I, and soon I must return to my duties in the Zenith University Department of History, site of the Unfortunate Events. It had to happen someday, no? So the past week has in part been occupied by putting my mental house in order in preparation for my Comeback Tour.

But here’s the good news: I probably haven’t explained that we don’t live in Zenith anymore – we did until about three years ago, when I began to worry that I would start to rot from the inside out if we didn’t move (N was still based in Big City, and I was feeling more like an exile than the moderately well-known and successful scholar that I am.) We bought a house in Shoreline, home to four or five other institutions of Higher Education, one of which is the prestigious Oligarch University. Moving was a far bigger struggle than it should have been or that I can possibly say; it included a house renovation from Hell, putting things in storage, massive loans taken out, and so on. But it is done, I love living here, N is starting to feel at home outside Big City, and this holiday season we are beginning to know that we are truly settled for the first time in years. Maybe ever. And one way we know that is that we are having quite the social season this December.

Last night we had a small dinner party with a nephew, his wife and their three children, who came from the north en route to their destination, which was to spend Christmas in Big City. Then we also had DJ, Extravaganza’s middle brother, who was invited by special request of one of his cousins, but is the sort of person who should be on the top of the guest list anyway because he – like his brothers -- fits seamlessly into any group. DJ is an incredibly good-natured, sparky boy of eleven who is liked by nearly everyone he comes in contact with and could have a conversation with a complete stranger who only spoke Bosnian if they were suddenly thrown together. The most insightful thing I can say about that is that he is incredibly nice, but that doesn’t explain his almost universal popularity and excellent social aplomb. He’s kind of got the Bill Clinton appeal without the Bill Clinton ego. And frankly, they could really use him in the British Royal family, except that we all have higher ambitions for him than performing one of those useless prince jobs.

Anyway, as the children thundered around the house with Sailor (and then occasionally fell ominously silent, although mostly I think they were playing Scrabble, devising elaborate standardized tests and searching my study for clues about my mysterious life) the grownups sat downstairs and talked about Work. Two of us had physicians for fathers, and we both agreed that the major lesson we had learned from these semi-absent men was that working hard could be fun. All the adults sitting at the table agreed that our own lives had pretty much replicated that model, and that because we all really had work we loved, it wasn't a burden. The next part of that conversation was: how do you communicate that to children, in a world where so many people seem to do work that they hate -- or work that is so alienating they are not wrong to hate it? How do you teach kids that no matter what it is -- Chaucer or plumbing -- work isn’t something you just do so that you can finance small amounts of fun – go on vacation or retire early – but rather that it is part of a life that is more generally satisfying, where work, leisure and relationships all complement each other? Or that you might choose not to be as prosperous so that you can be a writer, scholar, or artist? Or a gardener?

This seems important to remember now, when the blogosphere has recently been jammed with the burdens of teaching. Reading other people’s often hilarious reports on grading, students from hell, and grad programs that may be more of a burden than a blessing, as well as getting re-involved with Zenith prior to my triumphant return to the History Department, has reminded me a bit too much of the Dark Side. There is a Light Side as well: the fun of this. Making a life with books. Days in the classroom that really do seem to make a difference. Really finishing a piece of writing rather than just grinding away at it. And the fact that more people read my blog every week now than have probably ever read one or two of the articles I have published.

And the children clearly ruffled through all the fabulous history books I left around the study in neat piles in hopes that they would snoop. The books are now in heaps, which is how I know. And someone was clearly fishing around in the book manuscript I “forgot” to put away. Hah.

So Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night: the next time you hear from me, I will be broadcasting from a house on a beach in South Sea Archipelago. N and I have invented what we call “the writing vacation” (see my Paul Fussell post) – both to get away from the distractions of home that do inevitably interfere with finishing things and to celebrate the other fabulous thing about our chosen work in scholarship and teaching: the month long winter break!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dean, Dean -- Who's Got The Dean?

One of the biggest laughs I ever heard in a Zenith faculty meeting was several years ago, when a member of our administration was explaining a number of strategies the institution was exploring for raising extra cash. The final one was a patent on discoveries made under the auspices of the institution. A colleague from one of the humanities departments said she didn't understand (thinking, "Hmmm- I wonder if my examination of the Lack in contemporary French poetry is worth more than I know?"), and the administrator said, "Well, for example, the discovery of a new gene." Drat.

At which point the semi-comatose Dr. Grumpo awoke, came to full consciousness and shouted from the back, "WHAT? CAN'T HEAR YOU!" The administrator repeated himself. And Dr. Grumpo shouted, "AH! I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU'D DISCOVERED A NEW DEAN!" Needless to say, everyone howled and added to the fun while the administrator fidgeted and waited out our capacity to act like your average eighth grade. We haven't heard of *that* plan again.

But here is what is not so funny. As followers of this blog may recall, the Zenith faculty is organizing for better pay and benefits, and finally doing a good job of it. We may even start an AAUP chapter which, as denizens of other schools know, can -- despite the Supremes' precedent setting decision in re. Yeshiva -- serve as a bargaining unit when a school or university agrees to treat it as such. Despite constant reassurance from Zenith's top brass that we really are paid fairly because we are paid what they can afford and not what the market might establish as fair, a newly organized faculty continues to push forward in its efforts. We had a big meeting the other day at which the university continued to insist, despite the fact that they have come up a little in next year's offer, that they simply haven't got the money to pay us decently, nor have they got the money to give administrative staff a raise that will even cover inflation next year. And they say this even when presented with figures that suggest the longer all of us have to work at Zenith to ensure that we aren't living off dog food in our nineties, the more it will cost the university in the long term. In fact, according to members of our math and economics department, it will cost them about half a million dollars per tenured faculty member not to pay us more now so that we can retire decently when we are 67.

Sometimes they also say that if they pay us more the only place they can get the money is from the financial aid budget, and if they want us to admit stupid, rich students we should just give them the word.

And here's the kicker: they seem to create well paid administrative positions a mile a minute. This fall they hired two new deans in Student Services, brand new positions, probably at 80-100K each. Now, everyone knew they were hiring one new dean, a much talked-about position to try to stop the students from pulling racist and homophobic pranks on each other, and talk to them sternly when they do. But it appears, as I see from a recent announcement, that they have broken this position into two positions-- one for co-curricular programming and workshopping, and one for what they are calling "academic support."

Hence, I would argue -- they do have money. They are just spending it elsewhere.

Can I say that this pisses me off a little? Heck, it's my blog -- I will! And it isn't just these deans -- we have added vast amounts of staff in our development office, in academic affairs, in admissions (because Zenith has so succeeded in making itself sought after *and* exclusive that we are barraged with applications every year), our continuing education department and in our finance section. If I were to guess, I would say that our administration has doubled in my 15-plus years at Zenith, while the faculty has not only not expanded but our salaries have slowly crept to the bottom of our comparison group.

Meanwhile, all these bureaucrats have raised our quotient of busy work unbelievably. Almost non-stop, we file reports, requests for research money, justifications for spending the research money they gave us, course justification forms, and we write endless "recommendations" for our expanded study abroad programs and the internships prestigious universities make available through alumni. An untenured colleague, who has courageously joined our movement, observed, "Of course they give us more to do for them -- they have to justify their own jobs. And it used to be you had to stuff envelopes to require the faculty to do an administrative task. Now you just hit a button and send them an email. There's no pain for them in that." On top of all this extra bureaucratic hoo-ha that comes our way, a great many faculty I know are also teaching extra courses because the cost of living ordinary middle-class lives is not keeping pace with salaries.

In a big meeting the other day which, I am proud to say, about 95% of our faculty attended, the current VP of Finance (yes, everyone has a corporate title now) berated us by asking how we could dream of asking for a bigger raise when the university had to pay such unexpectedly high energy bills last winter. What nobody said was -- so did the faculty! With the result that several people I know had to teach a summer course because they used their property tax money to pay the oil company instead. That is how little money people can save because they are not paid enough, and because the prudent among us are committing as much as we can afford to pensions that the university hasn't committed enough resources to.

Can you tell that Dr. Radical is getting revved up for a return to the trenches?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hillary vs. Obama: Why?

I was at the gym this morning, cycling away in place and reading a story in the New Yorker about the Bratz doll, which is currently cutting into the Barbie market like no doll has done before because little girls are increasingly identifying with multi-racial sex pots who shop, rather than strangely proportioned but highly educated women with perky tits and perma-loft heels. I was musing about the Christmas I spent driving around my state of residence looking for Barbie's Mini-Van because four year-old Extravaganza wanted it (and because no one else would buy it for him), when I saw the topic of a related CNN discussion on the television above me: "Hillary Vs. Obama." And it made me think of a few other things that have been on my mind.

1. Why do we use *her* first name and *his* last name? How has she just become "Hillary"? It is true that unless you are George W. Bush "Barack" rhymes with "Iraq" but so what?

2. More importantly, why is this the race that is so talked about, when there are a number of serious Democratic candidates out there who actually represent what the voters asked for in the last election? Granted, having a woman president would break the barrier, but this woman president would not necessarily be a mark of progress (more on this below). The first black president would also break a barrier, but this one -- although clearly smart as a whip and as quick a learner as either Bill or Hill -- has even less experience in government than George W. Bush did when he came to be president. And that if your guiding assumption is that with all the problems we have now, what matters most is to elect someone black or female -- well Sister, let me tell you that there are highly experienced, thoughtful, effective candidates who are women, black or -- my god, black women! -- who are never going to get the call because for some reason all we seem to care about is star power.

Race and gender do not policy make, my friends, which is lucky for us, since my conspiracy theory is that "the woman" and "the black" are being put up against each other so that one knocks the other out, and whoever is left will still lose against whoever the white male candidate is because -- ta da! -- s/he is a woman or black. My best hope for '08 right now is that more progressive candidates (Vilsack, Edwards) than either Hillary or Barack are hanging out offstage waiting for each campaign, or one of them, to implode.

3. My current least favorite question is, "Why don't women like Hillary?" And I'll tell you why: first of all, I do like Hillary. In many ways, I think she is a class act. I just don't want her to be President because she is too conservative. Is it too much to ask that this distinction be made? She cleaves to the most regressive feature of the Democratic Party, which is being willing to alienate progressive voters like me by promoting these idiotic values agendas that the right put into play and the Democrats have now latched onto to try to pry conservative voters away from the Republicans. Hillary Clinton has made a point of positioning herself as a person who can make deals with conservatives (the Lieberman strategy) but not with progressives: like, for example, putting every possible obstacle in the way of gay and lesbian people to have access to the rights that accompany marriage, or not coming out and saying that No Child Left Behind is a disaster as a concept, not as legislation poorly implemented by Republicans. Through Bill, Hillary is also linked to some of the worst Democratic initiatives we have seen since Woodrow Wilson segregated all federal facilities: the Defense of Marriage Act, welfare reform, the reconfiguration of health care around HMO's, the restriction of abortion rights, expansion of capital punishment and the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy. Unless and until she can explain how she is going to reverse these things, I do not want Hillary to be president.

4. Unlike Hillary, Barack has done nothing. Nothing. Not sponsored a bill, not co-sponsored a bill, not put his name on any initiative whatsoever. All he does is write books and run for office. This doesn't mean he is a bad person -- it means he is a blank slate who doesn't want to be pinned down (in this department, I find much of his hemming and hawing about racial identity disturbing too.) Remember the last time we elected a blank slate? I remember citing experience as an issue when Bush was elected, and people would say, "How bad can he be? He's a blank slate!" And I kept saying, "Yeah, but don't you worry that someone who signed off on an execution every week or so and says he never lost sleep over it has no capacity to care about other human beings? Don't you think such a person might be dangerous?"

And why would we elect someone president who, when asked by a reporter why his way of speaking shifted depended on whether he was speaking to a white or a black audience, could not come up with a better answer than that he adapts to whatever environment he was in? If it is true, it is disturbing on a number of levels. But what is more disturbing is that the answer should have been something like: "That's a really racist question and it doesn't belong in politics."

This Radical is backing a white, straight man right now: John Edwards. Why? Because he can use the words "poor" and "people" in the same sentence, which neither Hillary or Barack seem to be able to do as they weave and wander through the polls and focus groups that politics has become. I have raved about a number of topics in this post, many of them queer and feminist, and in neither case are these issues on the top of "John's" list. But despite what you read in the newspapers, the biggest problems facing LGBTQ people today are economic justice issues: escalating debt; the wage-income gap; access to housing, education and health care; the right to organize in unions.

And -- BTW -- what would it be like to have the voters decide who the candidate is in the primary, rather than CNN or the DLC? This is an important question, with historic implications. Back in 1964, the radically conservative Republican Phyllis Schlafly wrote a book called "A Choice, Not an Echo," in which she articulated a conspiracy theory that East Coast "kingmakers" were manipulating the nominating process to produce liberal national candidates who did not represent the wishes of the party base. OK, so she didn't get Goldwater elected. But this book -- distributed out of her garage -- and the insight it contained is seen by many to have inspired the birth of the modern conservative movement. Unless we are going to just put up with this "Hillary vs. Obama" nonsense for the next two years, progressives need to make a similar move. Because say what you like about my gal Phyllis, the little book worked, didn't it? We should send everyone in Iraq a copy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tenure Party

Two nights ago we had a Tenure Party.

Tenure parties can be a lot like weddings, actually – all the younger folk were yucking it up and celebrating; a few undergrads were there, thrilled to be drinking with the faculty; and the older folk made witty toasts, smiled benignly, and huddled in the corners reminiscing about tenure parties past, noting that suddenly they had become the Senior People in the Room -- and when did that happen? This party was a double whammy of reminiscing for me, since it was held in the house of a colleague who was for many years really famous for the parties she held – sometimes one or two a month – and it was at her house that I met most of my friends in my first few years at Zenith. She hasn’t lost her touch, and we fell back into old habits easily. I served as sub-host, which I often did in the past because N was living in Big City so I was temporarily uncoupled, and my friend is single so she doesn't have a partner to help so that she can enjoy her own parties. Every once in a while I policed dirty dishes, refilled empty bowls of olives, and circulated to make sure people didn’t get stuck with someone they didn’t want to talk to all evening. This also allowed me to get out of conversations: "Oh yes -- hold that thought, will you? We seem to need more crostini!" And as she always had in the past, the hostess muttered sotto voce as I entered, “The good stuff is in the freezer,” meaning a really fine bottle of ice-cold vodka was stashed away from the madding crowd for our exclusive use.

One of the best-remembered parties was for a colleague in the history department: another untenured person threw it with me. We had everyone bring a bottle of champagne – the theory being that this provides enough champagne for everyone, and there is No Mixing (Remember the Albee lines from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf": Martha -- “Never mix, never worry!” George -- “Rubbing alcohol for you, Martha?”) At any rate, the party was just starting to wind down around 11 when our newly promoted colleague’s fabulous new boyfriend showed up from Big City with – a case of Moet White Star! Needless to say, the party acquired new life, and everyone untenured was skulking around campus the next day mainlining H20 and aspirin, looking as though they had been run over by trucks.

December used to be the season of tenure parties, and it no longer is for several reasons that my friend and I speculated about as we sipped vodka on the porch and she "snuck" a cigarette. Tenure cases seem to take longer than they used to – our T&P committee has morphed into this weird Spanish Inquisition, which means that you now send in a perfectly good case that ought to zip through and they start getting stuck on all kinds of things that are tangential and unimportant. Better you should send in a plagiarized manuscript and hope it will fool everyone than to have one or two students write in their teaching evaluations, "I sometimes felt my opinions were not important enough to the professor." Nowadays no case is complete until the committee is done requisitioning documents, asking endless questions that have to be answered in writing in 48 hours or less, asking for new letters, and so on. So this means that very often when you have a great case what used to be a sort of gathering celebration of the younger colleague that culminated in a party is now a grinding struggle fraught with anxiety and unpleasant, unnecessary conflict, and you are just mighty glad that sie wasn't burned at the stake instead.

This is Zenith’s version of No Child Left Behind: that if you pummel the bejesus out of a candidate, and sie stills look good at the end of it, then you have assured yourself of excellence.

What this also means is that, as far as I can tell, the untenured faculty have distanced themselves from an admittedly vile process as much as possible, to the point of also detaching emotionally from colleagues who are up for tenure. As my friend pointed out, these parties used to be hosted by the candidate's friends, and the senior people came by invitation – a kind of Mardi Gras-like moment in which the bottom rails got on top and everyone had an evening of being “out of rank” because of course only the senior people who were liked and trusted were invited. Now the parties are held by the senior folk (the parents!) when they are held at all, and I was shocked to see that a lot of untenured colleagues we expected to see there didn't come. The only explanation we could imagine is that they are up for tenure too and going to someone else’s tenure party was incompatible with however they are managing their own anxiety about their own process. And that they didn't want to see senior people, much less eat and drink with them. And none even called their friend to say “I would like to come, but I just can’t bear it – can I take you out to lunch?”

But things change, don’t they? When they put me in charge of the world, perhaps we can return to a saner time when we don’t terrorize untenured people so completely and unnecessarily, and tenure seems like an accomplishment again rather than the end of a marathon that you have barely survived. Those who came to the party all had a wonderful time, and everyone got sloshed as in the old days – your Dr. Radical almost never drinks anymore, and was quite under the weather yesterday. And no, I will not be posting pictures of our newly tenured colleague in the tiara and scepter.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Morning Blogging Down

Excuse me, but did anyone else see in the Newspaper of Record today an article about books that have been written and published (on paper, mind you) from cobbled together blog entries? And that people are calling them "blooks"? Why not call them books? I ask you.


Virtually the whole day stretches out before me as a possible theater for changes, great and small. Will my attempts to return to The Book remain a series of forced, semi-artificial acts (transcribing notes, translating files, fiddling with punctuation and topic sentences), punctuated by the kinds of events that make a Radical feel like she has really accomplished something (for example, going to the supermarket)? Or will I cross the line into Real Writing, productive hours that result in Pages that can be Printed Out? Pages that are ready for my audience (“Mr. De Mille, I am ready for my close up!”)

Only time will tell. On top of re-tackling the opus, I have to prepare to return to teaching like the rest of you, something I have not done in close to two years. The closest I can come to imagining this, as a reality, is in the form of a variety of anxiety dreams that are particular to academics. No, not the underwear one. The ones in which:

1. I have to take an exam, usually in math or science, with the knowledge that I have not attended the class all term and will probably fail.
2. I am getting ready to graduate, but realize to my horror that I have not signed up for enough credits in my final term and will have to explain to my parents why I am not marching with my class. My parents, God love it!
3. I have come to the point of graduation and realized that I have failed to complete sufficient credits in – you guessed it! – math and science to meet the distributional requirements.
4. I am desperately trying to go to a class I have been cutting, but cannot find it: nevertheless, I wander a maze of complex halls, unable to find the right classroom, but sure that it is right around the corner. Eventually I realize I am hopelessly lost and the class is almost over anyway, and I wander out of the building with sinking heart.

By the way, this last dream – which, like all the others is one in which I am dealing with Fear of Failure for reasons that probably have directly to do with The Belated Book and my reasons for putting it aside for so long -- is a reflection of real life experiences. Not only did I cut a fair number of classes as an undergraduate, but the buildings at nearby Oligarch University, my alma pater, are gothic and labyrinthine, having been built by ambitious captains of industry to resemble the old European universities. Compared to the neat, rectangular brick squares of Zenith University (built by tidy little ministers on a budget) they are a horror show of interlinked passageways, towers, and peculiar numbering. One monstrosity I took many classes in had two halves, since an older building had had a second glued on to it at a later time, and the floors on each half were numbered differently. Therefore, thanks to the generosity of Donor #2 and the ineptitude of Architect #2, you could pass horizontally through a door and suddenly find yourself facing a new set of room numbers altogether. But some buildings were just designed peculiarly from the get-go. The other day, I went to look up an Oligarch American Studies colleague for lunch, got into an elevator to get to the second floor, and suddenly found myself in a dormitory.

You’ll notice that I have no anxiety dreams about showing up in class with no lecture, or trying to teach but having no words come out of my mouth when I speak. This confirms my belief that it is not teaching I am concerned about.

Nevertheless preparations for the classroom must be made: syllabi drawn up, books ordered, reserve librarians to wrestle to the ground and berate into violating copyright law. Yesterday was the pleasant task of buying back to school clothes: two pairs of Levis 501’s, pre-faded and preshrunk; four black tee shirts from Banana Republic; and a pair of waterproof cowboy boots – brown Durango ropers, to be precise, for wading to work in the driving rain and snow. If you can think of anything else I need, just leave it in a comment.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What Would Paul Fussell Do?

First: thanks to all of you who left comments on my last post. You are nice people, and I appreciate it. And as I look at your blogs, I must say I am very happy not to be grading as you are right now. The idea of having a task that has a real beginning -- more importantly, a real end -- is so seductive. But I guess I'll have to experience it vicariously for now as I re-tackle this project that, as several of you pointed out, will put a final stake in the heart of the Unfortunate Events.

So yesterday, with nothing left to clean and No Laundry Left Behind, the larder packed with groceries for a long winter, my hair cut, and the bills paid, I started in on the Final Revisions. I think there are going to be several weeks of good days and bad days before I get into a rhythm, but yesterday I did a few things to get the old engine running.

I discovered that having switched computers over the summer -- nay, switched systems, to a Mac, I need to translate a great many research files on the old computer into Word so that I can use them without re-typing everything. So I sucked it up and began translating three of the most important folders of archival notes and put them on my new computer. And no, I can't use the old computer, because it is so slow it drives me nuts. And every once in a while I think it is going to crash completely and require a surgical intervention.

I then lit into a stack of books that I have read since the last revision and transcribed those notes where they still seemed pertinent, larding them into the end of chapter files so that when I can once again bear to read my own writing they will be there to help me. This is, by the way, a modification of a trick I learned from a Paul Fussell essay many years ago -- if for some reason you can't write, for example because you have no time or no peace of mind, or you are getting divorced, you can probably still read. In my case, reading is actually therapeutic, so I am likely to do more of it under conditions which pretty much preclude writing.

But Fussell's real point about reading is not that it is therapy, rather, his point is: improve the day. Make use of time in whatever way you can, and for God's Sake keep moving forward. Fussell has written a great many books, and as I recall it from that essay, for much of his career he read during the school year and then went to the Cape in the summer, ignored his family for a chunk of each day (if he was like my father, probably all of it) and wrote for three months, gradually using all the notes taken during the year. This doesn't really explain how he wrote so very many books, but there you go.

In the meantime, the Evil Book Gods are trying to stop me, and in each case I have said to myself, What would Paul Fussell do? Since I resolved that I would re-launch this project which is 90% done, the following obstacles have appeared in my path, and I have attempted to resolve each, using an imaginary conversation with Paul Fussell as a way of finding a way to step nimbly around them:

1. Some details of a personnel case were directed to me because of my expertise in the field. I fended off this request for assistance successfully with an email that said "Can't ANYONE else who is NOT on sabbatical handle this?" Someone could, of course. And did. I am sure that is what Paul Fussell would have done under similar circumstances.

2. A much younger historian has called me in tears to try to schedule lunch, where there will probably be more tears because *this* career at *this* institution is about to end (this is one of those institutions where one's career always ends, so that one can go on to a Higher State of Being Elsewhere. My task? To persuade in a finite amount of time that it is time to Move On (sometimes it is wise to do as I say children, and not as I do.) I have accepted this challenge, even though I am not sure Paul Fussell would have done so, because I have to take time off and go to school next week anyway to see if the IT folks can translate the rest of my research files for me. BTW, you wouldn't find Paul Fussell sitting at home cutting and pasting between WordPerfect and Word screens. Two problems solved!

3. I received a peculiar document in the mail that calls itself the "Zenith University Strategic Objectives Matrix," in which there are four boxes labeled faculty, students, finance and administration -- as Paul Fussell would tell you, this is bad news already because only three of these boxes (or two maybe) represent people, and one represents money as if it was a person. This is also the kind of document calculated to launch a string of phone calls and emails designed to derail writing: an administration that really cared about scholarship would issue no documents or reports at all. Anyway, there are two objectives in the faculty box which boil down to "hire good faculty and pay them whatever" and "faculty should teach well;" and five in the administrators' box which support the already popular idea "hire more administrators and give them more control over everyone." None of the boxes address the fact that our faculty is close to the bottom of its comparison group for faculty salaries, and that a third of the faculty teach about two-thirds of the students. Or that the students are all on Ritalin this time of year whether they have ADD or not. But never mind! I know -- and Paul Fussell would know -- that this is just a ploy on the part of the Evil Book Gods to persuade me I should go to the faculty meeting next week instead of staying home to write. No way baby! I am so on to you guys. I threw it away. As Paul Fussell would have done.

4. It has snowed, so Sailor the dog comes into my study repeatedly pretending she has to pee, but when we go out what she really wants is to drag her snout along the sidewalk, whuffing up new snow and sneezing it out again, and to snag the odd frozen roll left out to help the various urban vermin get through the winter. Here I am stumped. I do not know what Paul Fussell would do, except perhaps set the dog to doing something more useful like checking footnotes or looking over the entire manuscript for the proper use of "who" and "whom."

Ok. So Paul Fussell would not be writing this blog. But I had to write something this morning, and I'll get a fresh start after lunch.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Going Back to the Book

So here are the critical facts about the Unfortunate Events that led both to my acquisition of altered consciousness about academic life and the idea that I might write a blog.

1. Fact: the Events happened over the course of three years while I was coming up for full professor at Zenith, a promotion which was opposed by people in my department who claimed that since tenure my work had suddenly become shoddy and my "pace" was off because I had not yet published a second book.

2. Fact: until my promotion process, almost no one in the Zenith History Department had ever had a second published book as part of their case for promotion to full professor; rather (as the department hand book says) one is supposed to have written a few articles and present a big chunk of book manuscript.

3. Fact: there are aged and not so aged full professors in my department who have published little and/or not for a long time, but that is another blog for another day.

4. Fact: the first time I tried to come up, because my counselor did not bring my materials to the meeting, several full P's declared they did not believe that there was a second book mss. (which there was, a fully revised one), and ruled that I could not be promoted that fall. She asked if she could return to her office to get it, and they said no, called the question and voted in the negative.

5. Fact: the second time I came up, my counselor took the book (a second revision now) and articles, published and in draft, to the meeting, and these same people voted to give me "advice" that I not come up until the book was actually published.

6. Fact: I declined their advice and came up anyway, winning a majority vote because actually the referees liked my book a lot. The bad news was that a minority of the full P's declared that it was their right to disregard the letters, as well as advice from colleagues in my field, and use their own judgement. None of these P's were in my field.

7. Fact: they fought the case through many stages of the process, causing many delays and many reviews and appeals to be convened. This made the next year very unpleasant, in part because it was clear that the entire thing was personal, and in part because, when fighting injustice in universities one must constantly be producing documents, which is time consuming and useless work.

8. Fact: In the end I was promoted by administrative fiat, and received an extremely large raise from Zenith which helped assuage pain and suffering incurred as well as a long sabbatical.

You may ask, Why do this over a promotion to full professor? Everyone who does not work at Zenith asks me this. The answer is that these are very small people, with very small minds, and they were punishing me for flouting their will on a variety of matters on which, as they perceive it, my behavior was Very Radical. Like paying attention to the university's adherence to EEOC in hiring matters, and teaching classes in queer studies in my post-tenure incarnation.

OK, but here is why I finally decided to stop being a tease about the Unfortunate Events: because vicious and unfair criticism of my book became the mode for attacking me, I have been unable to look at it much in about eighteen months. Blame the victim, eh? A manuscript that I researched and wrote for five years has just sat there in the corner for my entire leave. I have written several articles, finished a couple more in the pipeline, done a wad of research on a new book project, gone into motion to get a contract on a neat little textbook on the ERA. But I haven't even been able to look at my book.

I know this isn't what Marx meant by alienated labor, but that's what it has felt like. This morning, after sticking the last article I had had in the pipeline in the mail, I realized I could either write a new article or finish the damn book. I chose the book.

So tomorrow I am going to start final revisions-- two months from sabbatical ending, I am going to begin the final revisions so I can get it to the publisher by May.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm Rubber, You're Glue: Tenure, Privilege and Reputations

Combat Philosopher has a provocative post up this week about crazy colleagues: he apparently has one, who is currently torturing one of his friends. You can get to CP's blog from mine easily, and I recommend that everyone read this for three reasons. First, he raises the question: why is it that a woman, no matter what her reputation for lunatic behavior, can make charges against a man of a sexual nature, and have them stick instantly? Second, it is a good reminder never to have sex with a colleague without thinking about it for a very long time and getting advice from at least two friends (I'm just saying, CP). And third, I think it raises the more general question: we all have at least one, probably more, colleague who is erratic to say the least, maybe crazy, maybe senile, maybe an alcoholic. And no one ever does a thing about it, even to the extent of saying to that colleague, post-egregious behavior: "That was wrong."

This is not just on my mind because of Combat Philosopher's pal, who is in a tight spot and I wish the fellow well in his ongoing struggle to get rid of a woman who is clearly remaining attached to him by the simple strategy of calling various police agencies to complain that *he* won't leave her alone. She is, I am sure, doing this in the desperate hope that he will begin to contact her to try to work it out, and from that, their relationship will somehow flower - or she will be able to stem her grief about the loss of a relationship that is probably standing in for *some other relationship in her life.*

The point, however, is that CP's pal is in a struggle to save his reputation, and it is a terrible position to be in, particularly when someone else holds all the cards. This reminds me of a tough situation that arose this week at a friend's institution, which a number of people there are scrambling madly to cover up. Thank the Goddess for email attachments! Apparently there was a nasty letter from one person who voted on the case accusing the candidate of being unsuited to the job because s/he is a bigot. And when asked by a colleague why, the author responded that there was no damage intended.

Oh. OK. I get it now.

Character assassination in the university is not a new thing, it's just that it is usually done where it belongs, in the bathroom or in a department meeting. It is almost unheard of that anyone writes such a thing down and makes such an evil, stick-to-you-like-gum charge part of an official report. My friend does not think it will do any damage -- apparently the department, one and all, was appalled across political and ideological lines, rallied around, etc. And I'm sure they are eating baskets of Tums over at the various administration buildings, praying that the case just zips through and that all is forgotten. But here is the thing: at the risk of the candidate finding out this horrible hurtful thing, I don't think my friend's department should forget about it or hide it. And I think there is something very wrong about the tenure system that practically everyone I have discussed this with has said, Yes, it was dreadful, but nothing can be done in such a situation.

It is also worth saying that it is my friend's view that this is one in a long string of horrible things this crazy man has done, and when called on it, he claims that he is only being attacked for his conservatism by liberals who want to marginalize him. Ergo, he also believes that it is his task to go after "liberals" (your Dr. Radical is actually referred to publicly by a colleague as "the department radical," acompanied by similar claims that this is merely descriptive.) My feeling is that we all have tolerated such bad behavior because it could be managed, and because it happens in private. And because everyone acknowledges that such people are crazy, we lose perspective on the damage done.

What say the rest of you to this grisly tale? And how do we reconfigure the idea of tenure to link its privileges to a set of ethical responsibilities?