Thursday, November 30, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different

This week, the world turned funny on me, which it does every once in a while, mostly when I am finishing up a piece of writing and not exercising complete control over the universe. After I finished a set of revisions and turned in the article, I discovered, in this order, that:

- A parking ticket that I paid several weeks ago never made it to the parking ticket center, so now I owe them $100 rather than $50. And the problem is -- there's no way to prove I ever sent it. On the other hand, since the check is still floating around out there, if they ever get it, they will cash it, which will mean that the ticket will cost me $150 total.
- I sent Mastercard a check for $400, and they have credited me $4000.00, meaning that I now have a credit with Capital One of 3,857.87. What's in your wallet?
- I discovered that my neighborhood zone parking passes had expired. How? I got a ticket for parking in front of my house. But the ticket was not for parking without a pass, it was for overstaying a two-hour limit. But there is no two hour limit on my street.
- I had to run off to a meeting at the Program, so N went down to renew the parking passes, lest we get more tickets. She discovered that she could not complete this task because of the overdue unpaid parking ticket. She went and stood in line to pay the $100, and found out that they do not take cash or a check, so she put it on my Visa card (they also don't take American Express. Priceless.) Then she went back to get the parking passes to discover that they do not take cash or Visa, but only a check. Even though this is the same department. Then she asked what was up with the parking ticket we got today, and the policeman behind the desk listened to the story and said, "I'll take care of that," and threw it in the trash. My view is that it is in a computer somewhere, and this will come back to haunt me.
- I got a notice that my subscription to the New York Times had been unpaid for several months and they were about to cancel it because their computer tossed my Visa card out of the system. I asked how this could happen, and they said it happens all the time.

Now, here is the strangest thing of all. N went to the dry cleaner, the one we use because she favors it (I like the one next to the highway entrance ramp), and it turns out the young fellow who has worked there the entire time we have been going there has been doing all kinds of weird stuff, primarily not giving people all their clothes back, only some of them. N came home with a variety of clothes that we didn't know we were missing, but which were still in the computer and going round and round on the rack for months: there were three wool dress jackets that I thought I had given to the Goodwill by mistake, but which are very nice and I am pleased to have back. Of course I never missed them, as I have been on sabbatical for eighteen months, and mostly I wear athletic clothes or jeans. Or pajamas.

But you might ask, How could such a thing happen? The truth is, I never remember from one visit to the next what I have left at the cleaners and I just take whatever they give me. I think everyone else must too. New Kid on the Hallway asked today what the definition of bourgeois is? This is the definition of bourgeois -- you have so many clothes you lose track and take whatever the dry cleaner gives you, and buy new ones if you run out.

But there is even more to the story. As it turns out, the clerk disappeared on the same day that a woman came in, completely hysterical, saying that she had brought in a jacket with a $10,000.00 brooch on it. He was gone, the jacket was gone, the brooch was gone. So then the manager had to come work the desk, because the other clerk who had been called in to replace him also became completely hysterical because she was being accused of Grand Theft. The manager discovered all the hoarded clothes, and now every person who comes in has to wait while she searches the computer for all the old clothes they never took home and had forgotten they owned.

And you wonder -- has that quiet, unassuming clerk just gone on to another dry cleaning store, in another state, to perpetrate his dastardly deeds under another name entirely?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Public Relations: The Diva-Doormat Debate

I want to pick up on a post by the excellent Flavia on Ferule and Fescue, which if you have not yet been moved to do so, you should check out. Flavia is funny as all get out, but also has a skewer-like capacity for cutting to the heart of things. This week she has posted an important question: when you feel that you have been taken advantage of, do you act or not? Do you complain, on the theory that squeaky wheels get greased (the Diva position), or do you keep your mouth shut in the hopes that your seniors will keep their promises to you and perceive you as a team player, thus risking becoming the Doormat, a.k.a., the person in the department who picks up after everyone else, a.k.a., "the girl" or "the wife"? And what are the attendant risks to not accepting the jobs others in the department wish you to take?

There were several great responses to Flavia's post that suggest this struggle is an almost universal concern for untenured people, although I would like to add that it is a choice that remains, and is often hard to make, long after tenure is achieved. A couple comments pointed out that Diva and Doormat are the extremes, and that there are a number of positions to take in between. And then there is the question Flavia also poses: "I hate divas! Why would I want to be one?" Good point, pal. I weighed in on this yesterday, but thought about it a little more overnight. So here goes.

The great unspoken here is: what will people’s informal perceptions of me have to do with my eventual evaluation for tenure? If I am seen as “difficult,” will that cause people to represent my scholarship and teaching as flawed, no matter how hard I have worked and no matter how “good” I really am? If I am seen as subservient, on the other hand, will people perceive me as someone who will perform any kind of drudgery, causing more drudgery to be sent my way and ultimately at tenure time, causing me to be perceived as a drudge, and thus not a potential jewel in the crown of the department like the Divas, whose scholarly abilities soar above the petty, diurnal concerns that drudges are taking care of anyway?

Because the answer to these questions is “yes –uh, no, well maybe you're right – hmmm,” and because I would be lying if I said I haven't seen this scene play out in tenure meetings, I would like to offer some narrative context rather than answers to these questions.

First of all, the Unfortunate Events, which I have yet to describe, were exactly caused by several full professors’ perceptions of me as a) a troublemaker and b) a drudge (word of advice: if offered a teaching award, refuse it. It is the kiss of death.) Until the Events, however, and certainly up to and through my tenure review, I lived a charmed life. Subsequently, I actually did several things of which I am still quite proud that earned me the sobriquet “troublemaker.” Your Dr. Radical is far more of a screaming pain in the behind than has yet become evident in these posts, and because of her many successful forays against evil in the History department, she was briefly given a Very Hard Time. So I would never say that perceptions do not matter. But I would also argue that structural questions – racism, sexism, homophobia, perceived class status – matter a great deal more, and often in ways that cannot be predicted in advance.

But back to Diva-Doormat. These two things I know for sure:

1. Divas do prosper. They do so for two reasons. One is that they are able to identify the conditions under which they do their best work, as well as what will compensate them adequately for how good they are, and are then able to pull themselves together to say what they want. The key phrase here is: "I need..." As Deborah Gray-White, historianness extraordinaire and longtime chair at Rutgers once said to me at a restaurant in the nation's capital, "People who don’t ask, don’t get." So true, Miss Thing. The second reason is that when you feel treated fairly, you put yourself in the best position to be happy, which then creates the conditions to do your best work. When you honestly believe you are doing your best work, you then begin to act like the confident soul that everyone mistakes for a tenured person.

2. Doormats work harder and have more low status work. Doormats often feel like they make the life of Divas possible, developing a Cinderella complex that can be truly debilitating when the pumpkin never turns into a carriage after all. Doormats endure teaching and advising too many students, managing vast surveys, and accomodating bad schedules. Their complaints about workload are often dismissed because “your field is so popular” or "you are such a wonderful teacher!" Because they have more students, they have more office hours, papers to grade, letters of recommendation to write -- aaiiiieeee! Sometimes other doormats reassure them that “this is the way life is” and “only bad people” cap their classes or set boundaries around their work. This puts the “doormat” in a position to be constantly anxious about how s/he is viewed by both doormats and divas, resentful of others who seem to be doing better professionally, and sometimes becoming virtually unable to write, so exhausted is s/he and so conflicted about the possibility for happiness in this job. The answer often seems to simply apply for another job – or to make a life away from your department that offers the positive feedback you crave and deserve. But think for a moment: what would it take to improve your situation where you are? Applying for jobs can be time-consuming, hinder the completion of major projects, disrupt domestic life, and broadcast your unhappiness to the department in an indirect way that isn't possible to address because the "doormat" pretends publicly that everything is FINE. And making a second life elsewhere – in a program, or doing an endless round of conferences – actually increases the burden on your writing time, not to mention your life away from work.

And have I said that doormats are usually, um -- women and gay men? People among whose best qualities are often that they care deeply about relationships?

So what ARE the alternatives? They may be obvious by now as you compare the above, but let’s summarize anyway. First of all, figure out what you need to do your work, and know that some semesters may tip the balance towards your writing, and some may require more attention to the requirements of others. Second, ask for what you want and know you may not always get it, or you may not always get all of it. For example, Flavia suggested that in return for having the small class she wanted to teach cancelled, she should re-negotiate her spring to have two large classes be two sections of the same course so that she has one prep. This is an excellent response. I would also push it to say that she needs some guarantee from the chair that she will get a grad course in the fall, and work with the chair to figure out a course that will fill up enough to be kept on the schedule – this might even mean taking that course away from a senior colleague (gasp). Take the risk that the colleague might graciously concede it, and have the chair negotiate it.

Your Dr. Radical has not only been an untenured person and a woman, she is still a woman and occasionally is mistaken for a gay man, and she has raised several untenured folk from pups. I seek to cultivate a colleague whose financial, scheduling and scholarly needs are taken care of to the best of my ability. What I ask in return is a colleague who tries to develop an awareness of the needs of others, and when I am in charge – as American Studies chair, or field advisor in United States history – those needs would primarily be mine, since "my needs" either reflect those of the students or orders being dictated from above that I have not yet found a way to undermine. I try to cultivate a confidence in my untenured colleagues that I will not ask for something unless it is important, and that I will always do my best to distribute work equally. I try to protect them from the unreasonable demands of others, and to never ask them for anything I would not do myself. I try to anticipate what will make my group tick best as a unit, but I also depend on my untenured colleagues to speak as openly as they can about what they need.

And by the way, the reason I think this works is because during the Unfortunate Events, no group of colleagues was kinder to me than the untenured folk.

You may say, look Radical, good for you and your little gang of thieves. But what about me? OK – I guess I am trying to communicate several things. One is that we all need to ask and we all need to give. Another is, you may have senior colleagues who will be more responsive, and less judgmental, than you think. And the third is an observation, gleaned in part from the Unfortunate Events: in the end, you may have to be the person you are regardless of what the potential consequences are. This is called “living with integrity.” But what you also need to be is aware, and you need to think, not react: don’t replicate what are ubiquitous and bad management practices either by submitting or by “getting yours” and letting others fend for themselves. You will be a tenured person yourself someday, and in charge of people like you. Start preparing now by figuring out how you want to live and getting as close as you can to it.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Education of a Radical: Memorial For Madame

My Zenith email account has been buzzing all day because Madame, one of the veteran teachers from my secondary school died of lung cancer last night. She was in her eighties, so she had a good run, which included a stint in the French Resistance during World War II. She was, of course, a French teacher, and I went to a school my parents paid good money for, which meant we began languages in the second grade. Developmentally this is supposed to be a good thing, but I don't think that's why we did it -- I think it had something to do with refinement (you can see how well that turned out for Dr. Radical.) We took only French through seventh grade, adding a second language in seventh grade (Latin or German). Spanish was not offered, as this was a school originally founded for Young Ladies in the nineteenth century, and by the third quarter of the twentieth century the school had not yet figured out that Spanish was the language of the future. Oh well. I picked it up later, which you can do if you had ten years of French and six years of Latin.

Take that much French and your brain gets so hard-wired you can also replace a lost credit card in Geneva having not spoken at all for twenty years. It's shocking how quickly it comes back.

Anyway, multiple emails have come across the school listserve with fond memories of this teacher, and they are very vivid, causing me to think about good teaching and why it was important to the Education of a Radical to do languages in school.

The first thing that leaped to mind was that because I went to a private school in the 1960's and 1970's it was very segregated. I never met a black person my own age until I was in the seventh grade, when three young African-American women were recruited to the school as part of a program that creamed kids out of urban public and parochial schools. There was almost nothing in my life for a very long time, until I became aware of social movements as a teenager, that suggested that other people were different from me, which stuns me even now, except if you grew up white in the 'burbs in the sixties and seventies you will understand.

The only thing that provided a cultural contrast of any kind in my early years was learning French. The French teachers were all, well -- very French. And as we studied, they spent a lot of time talking about France, growing up in France, and why French children would chew us up and spit us out if given the opportunity. And part of why I know they were great teachers is this: because we were all fascinated with Nazis and World War II, several of them developed a strategy for when conversation was lagging in class that consisted of this: they would tell you anything you wanted to know about "La Guerre Mondiale Deuxieme" and "La Resistance" - but all questions would be asked and answered in French. "Comment fait-on une bombe?" "Combien des Allemagnes avez-vous tue?" OK, for the sake of the dignity of the German department not all questions got fully answered, but many Hair Raising Tales were told about brave deeds done by women only a few years older than we. And we actually learned French, as well as valuable strategies should we ever have to go underground with nothing but a candle and a baguette "pour sauver la patrie."

The thought this memory prompted was that this was my earliest encounter with oral history, or rather, the idea that History wasn't just in books (which I loved, don't get me wrong), but was walking around among us waiting to be discovered, and that the more languages you knew, the more potential there was to figure out exactly what had gone on in the past all by yourself. This was followed up by the stunning discovery, several years later as I was preparing a second year Latin translation from a volume of Caesar's Gallic Wars, that a) I was actually reading it, not plodding through it word by word; and b) Caesar actually wrote this s**t! Caesar! Hundreds of years ago! And here it was in my bedroom and -- well, Caesar might as well be letting ME know what was up in Gaul. In addition to primary Latin texts, I then discovered French novels by Hugo, Zola, Stendhal and such, that let me know there was more to French history than WWII. I learned that feelings and instinct have a place in historical study, and that culture matters -- if you don't understand the imagination of a people, you can't really understand their political history either.

Of course, after all this French and Latin I went on and became a US Historian. Go figure. When I could have been spending my sabbaticals in Paris.

But because of this French teacher and her colleagues I learned something that is now central to who I am as a historian, and that I tell my students at the beginning of every semester in every class: that history should be familiar and strange at the same time. Understanding that is critical to working out historical problems in my view, and certainly critical to the intimacy and distance that produces some of the most engaging historical writing.

My last thought is this: strangely, even in schools like mine, they pretty much stopped teaching English grammer in the mid-1960's in favor of letting us intuit how to write clearly as we allowed our creativity to flow freely. Therefore, the only reason that I can teach students how to write today is because I learned Latin and French grammer. Etrange, n'est-pas? And it wouldn't even have mattered if I hadn't become a teacher: I just would have written passably well and not been able to explain why, like most people my age.

So I guess the moral of the story is: people contribute to who you are in ways that don't get reckoned with for a very long time. And maybe one kind of good teaching allows students to discover something entirely different in themselves, or in the world, that isn't about the "subject" at hand -- that is only unlocked by it. And that good teachers have had good teachers.

Au revoir, Madame.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks: An Essay On Acknowledgments

I have been thinking a lot about acknowledgements lately because I am finishing the final draft of my second book, and it feels very different from finishing my first book in several ways. One is my gratitude to others is taking a more restrained form: I was not well supported by one and all in writing this book, and yet it was written, more or less successfully. So the obvious reason to think about acknowledgements is that soon I must compose some, figure out who to thank, who to ostentatiously *leave out, * and so on, using a less inclusive model than I did the first time.

But there is another reason I am pondering this as a professional issue that needs to be re-thought for the benefit of others: acknowledgements have metastasized in the past few years. I noticed this because my new book relies for some of its evidence on published work in the early years of the "professional era" of historical writing, books mostly published before 1930. I have been checking my quotes, and as I have done so, I have noticed a striking lack of thanks to others in these books -- striking because nowadays there is often a whole separate chapter for thanking large numbers of miscellaneous people. And I am very up to date on this because part of the reason I haven't finished my book earlier is that around this time last year I was reading for a Big History Prize, which meant I had roughly 400 books in my field published in 2005 that were sitting around my study: I had to sift through them in some systematic way, which meant reading their introductions first, introductions which often ended in, or were followed by, endless lists of acknowledgements.

In summary, I have noted three characteristics in the history of acknowledgements over the last century that I am taking into account as I contemplate writing them again. The first several generations of professional scholars never thanked anybody personally for helping them, even though they had lots of friends -- even wives! -- who read their work and critiqued it. A book might have a dedication, but that was it, and it was usually to a mentor, a parent or a spouse. Historians, at least, seemed to consider acts of friendship or colleagueship to be mostly private business. After 1945, this changed: a historian might make an acknowledgement to a reader or two, perhaps a colleague or a dissertation director and to sources of funding for research and sabbatical. But the most personal acknowledgement was either "to my wife" or "to Mrs. Harriet Bazooka, our departmental secretary" who "typed the manuscript." After the 1960's, however, acknowledgements became more elaborate but were still prim: sources of funding, colleagues, typists, research assistants -- and then by the 1980's, the acknowledgements section increasingly became a telephone book of family members, one's graduate student cohort, members of an undergraduate seminar taught in the spring of 2000 who wrote helpful bibliographical essays or who just talked a lot, every person who laid eyes on any piece of the manuscript, ever, from proposal stage to indexing, and everyone who cooked or cleaned for the author.

I am quite sure there is something more at work here than meets the eye. One theme of the academic blogosphere is how many conferences and presentations young scholars must attend or do at this point to be considered favorably for tenure. I'm sure this has something to do with what I am suggesting is an overwhelming recounting of attentions bestowed that is in inverse proportion to how much any reading audience cares about these favors. In that sense, acknowledgements are merely evidence of the state of The Profession: there are simply many more people who have contact with a piece of scholarship, who offer critique, and so on, because young scholars are expected to be out and about constantly. And those young scholars are, in turn, trying to give credit where credit is due. Fair enough. But this doesn't explain why people of my vintage are doing it too.

I wonder if there is a kind of reality TV thing going on -- that there is no realm of relationship that we automatically feel comfortable keeping private any more. I wonder whether anyone ever looks back on those endless, sometimes gushy, acknowledgements and says, "You know, I went too far." Aren't some people embarrassed from some of the declarations of love made so thoughtlessly at a time when the relief at being finished with the book was so overwhelming everyone and everything seemed dear to them? I think publishers are -- have you noticed that acknowledgements are now often found at the end of the book, as if the editor is hoping readers will miss them entirely? And I wonder what was going through the editor's mind when s/he signed off on the acknowledgements published by a famous cultural studies wallah some years back, where he listed the people who had *hindered* the completion of the book?

So here are a few categories I think should be easy to either eliminate or trim. I leave it up to you to guess which ones I actually included in the acknowledgements section of my first book.

1. Pets. Don't thank your dog, no matter how much you love her and how many times you wept into her fur. Many of us have wonderful, wonderful dogs and cats, ferrets and what have you, but you know - they just do pet things, important pet things, cute or soulful pet things, but not people things. Like read. And if this doesn't discourage you, when I was a grad student there was a rumor that a young historian, who had named her dog Gertrude Himmelfarb, was actually sued by Herself because of an acknowledgement "to my dachshund, Gertrude Himmelfarb." Herself and her attorneys allegedly made the publisher withdraw the first printing and retract the offending page. (Note that I am not printing this as fact, Dr. H.)

2. Manicurists, personal trainers, the rowing club, your yoga instructor, your shrink, your neighbors, the food co-op. Yes, these people probably kept you from having a breakdown, but you don't need to tell everyone about it. And these are ordinary human relationships, not contributions to scholarly thought.

3. Any of your in-laws or family members for doing what family is supposed to do under ordinary circumstances to show that they love and value you. Did they offer to take care of your children? Great. But news flash -- that's what grandparents are supposed to want to do, and they wouldn't have offered if they didn't, because they don't have to. Think how hard they pushed you to have the kids in the first place while "we can still enjoy them." Inscribe a personal copy of your book to them instead. And that goes for your partner too -- when two people have children, two people should care for them, sometimes in a temporarily (if you are lucky) unbalanced way. It's Not a Big Deal -- and if it is, not only does the public not need to know, but you might want to consider couples counseling because an acknowledgement in your book ain't gonna do it.

4. All of your friends, and everyone you were in graduate school with, and everyone who was untenured while you were and threw great dinner parties and provided sustaining fellowship. It is true, common oppression is an important bond, but personal bonds are not always meant to be shared. I sometimes think I am reading these endless lists because a) no one can afford to give everyone a book; and b) we are all afraid to leave someone out and hurt their feelings. So leave everyone out except the people who really read your work, and don't worry about it. Indicate that there were "too many to mention." Then have a party, invite them all and make a pretty speech.

5. All the most important senior scholars in your field who you ever spoke to or were on a panel with get where I am going with this. It's called Name Dropping. No, no, no. My least favorite are the lists of people who you have never even met, and who have never read your work, but whose *work* was incredibly important to *you. * It is utterly shameless to list these people.

6. OK, so it takes a village -- but do you have to list the same people numerous times in different categories of acknowledgements? That there are so many categories of aid rendered in modern acknowledgements is absurd -- people who read my work, people who cooked me dinner, people who hiked the Appalachian Trail with me, people who critiqued chapter 3. Eliminate the non-essential categories. On the other hand, make sure, if you are going to thank people promiscuously, that they are in the right categories. I have rarely been so miffed as I was when I received an offprint of an article I had given several critical readings to, to find that I was listed in the acknowledgements in between someone whose contribution was to give birth to the author and the boyfriend, who hadn't even done that.

7. Eliminate any references to a dinner club or jogging group that you all came up with a cute name for. No one else will know what you are talking about and it's pretentious to create an in-group in your own book. It's a little like being an undergrad at a certain Ivy League University and waiting for someone to say "Bones" and then walking out in a huff as if you were really going to spend the weekend with W on a Canadian island talking about your career in the CIA and subsequent role in world domination.

8. Your children. You love them, but they did not help you, and the things they said when they were mad at you for writing your book instead of going to Disneyland are not cute, they are hostile, and should be forgotten, not memorialized. Also other people have printed them all before. Many times. Yuck.

So on this fabulous note, Happy Thanksgiving -- safe home, and don't bother to take your grading with you. There are too many fabulous football games to be watched and hors d'oevres to be eaten to even think about grading.

Happy holidays, y'all.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Coming Home...And Choking

Returning from a research trip reminds me a lot of how I felt about slumber parties when I was a kid. I always looked forward to them, I always had fun, I never got enough sleep, around the middle I always wanted to come home and sleep in my own bed, I ate too much, and when I got home I was very relieved and a little sad that they were over. But of course, back then my parents would just tell me to Shape Up and Get My Homework Done: life is not directed by the parental units now and my domestic companions are far more welcoming. Sailor the dog was delighted to see me, and has clung to my side ever since, which is actually what Portuguese Water Dogs always do whether you have been away or not. N was more restrained, but she picked me up at Teenie and had already bought a pre-made dinner so I think she thought it was a good idea to have me back too.

But lucky for me, there is so much going on at home I am motivated to pull myself together lest I wake up one day to find I am President of the University, all because I haven't paid attention to my e- and snail mail.

One feature of being me right now is that I am soon returning to work at Zenith after having been on sabbatical/leave for over a year. Therefore, when folks are looking for someone to fill a need they think automatically of me. "Search committee? Hey -- how about Radical? She's been gone and doesn't have any committees!" LBGTQ students getting a little restless? "How about a special committee to investigate homophobia -- maybe Radical will chair it!" Therefore, all emails from the dean's office, the teaching center, and all groups and offices doing social justice organizing on campus are, for now, going automatically into my Junk file.

Ironically, my worst problems right now are connected with my life as core faculty in the American Studies program, a bunch who really were steadfast allies during the recently resolved Unfortunate Events (about which I will come clean one day when I have nothing better to write about.) I am supposed to become chair next fall, which is all good because a) there is a course relief; and b) it means I will not be available to chair the History Department, which I would rather not do until at least two or three of my enemies either retire, die or admit their crimes publicly. Fine, that was settled.

Then Dr. Victorian, my dear friend and ally, asked if I would be willing to take her administrative job as Center Director (the Center houses our program and another one), in addition to being chair of American Studies, should another viable candidate not appear in the next month or so. Advantages: another course relief, and summer salary. So I said yes -- more money, less teaching, and actually I am a good administrator when the folks I am ministering to are civil and decent (this does not describe a significant faction in the history department, who as you might be beginning to guess, were responsible for the Unfortunate Events.) I felt this was a good decision, and put me in a strong position to walk tall as I return to Zenith.

Now, along comes the current chair of American Studies to say, Might I consider being part of the team teaching the core course in the fall, with an Untenured Person To be Named Later? And while I'm at it, teach the methods colloquium in queer studies in the fall since, for reasons far too icky (and wacky, and litigious) to discuss, the person who was scheduled to do it may be gone. Not so good -- now what was coming in was Hard Work for no compensation. I do not dislike teaching with less experienced folk -- and I love team teaching, and teaching methods -- but you cannot do any of these things lightly. They require planning, responsibility, and mentoring -- none of which go well with snatching an old lecture out of a file and running into the room, which had been my plan. And for reasons known only to themselves, young teachers really freak out when the person who is supposed to be running the show seems to be leading her own life -- and theirs too -- by the seat of her pants (I would use an emoticon here to indicate an ironic moment if I used emoticons.)

Needless to say, upon receipt of these requests, I felt the balance tip: I had gone from being predator (my preferred position at Zenith) to being prey.

N thinks that saying yes to the American Studies requests is a wonderful opportunity to tell the History Department to go f**k itself, but the truth is, the only people in history who will get screwed by this is the new chair, a lovely man who never harmed me, and what remnants of the U.S. wing as will be available next year: a tenured colleague in U.S. history who will also be returning from leave and is probably fielding similar mail from the African-American Studies program; an even younger colonialist who will be preparing his tenure case; and a player to be named later who will be hired in the spring. And word has it that there will be another U.S. search in Fall 2007, which I will probably have to chair regardless of what else I am doing.

So to buy a little time to work this out, I shot back an email to the American Studies chair to say that I had become apprehensive about the many things I was being asked to do. I listed them all, and said that we had to have a conversation about the needs of the program. So far, silence. I don't know whether this is good or bad.

I had a friend in college who was a great physical comedian, and at moments like this he would gag, roll his eyes up into his head, and claw madly at his throat to demonstrate that he was choking under pressure. If only there were an emoticon for that! But calm down Radical, you might say, You are a full professor -- just say no! I have to tell you -- it isn't that easy at Zenith. Staffing problems are just intense, in part because we probably need 20 to 40 more faculty lines across the board, and in part because student demand has nothing to do with how resources are distributed. And I never let down my pals if I can help it. So I do need to say no -- but the question is to whom, and to what? Am I avoiding my inevitable election as chair of history at too high a cost?

Stay tuned. And I really will describe the Unfortunate Events one day, as soon as I can figure out a suitably comedic narrative.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Marching Through The Archives

Well, there was less for breakfast this morning because the entire Clemson swimming and diving team, men and women, are staying at the Hampton Inn. They are all incredibly tall, except for the women divers, who are incredibly short, and they all hoover up food. My theory is that that the "Lady Tiger" divers are gymnasts and figure skaters who, to someone's dismay, actually went into puberty, with the result that they look healthy and happy.

But this leads me to another issue: manners of the young. Every time I leave the Northeast, which I experience pretty much through the student populations of Zenith and Oligarch Universities, the young people are nicer, cleaner and more respectful of total strangers who happen to be adults. Perhaps it is a sign of middle age that I have come to value this, but I don't care. For example, the dining room this morning was really crowded with very big kids. And yet they managed not to take up all the room, made space for other people (two athletes actually crowded in with their friends at another table so I would have a place to sit), and cleaned up after themselves.

My research -- which is on feminists and the modern conservative movement in the Reagan eighties -- takes me to all kinds of places where I actually, for a short time, live among people whose parents I am writing about. Last year I went to a Christian college in the Midwest to work in the archives of a prominent national evangelist, and the students there were unbelievably sweet and decent people. They held doors for each other and for me, they were affectionate and polite with each other (do you know Christian boys hug a lot? They do.) They didn't run around making noise to get attention, like the kids at Zenith often do. And they were extremely courteous in their speech, and dressed neatly without large parts of their bodies hanging out (what is it about stomachs hanging out all over? And tube tops in Northeastern winters?)

When I came home from the Christian College, people asked me if I didn't feel weird there -- and you have to get it that I am the kind of lesbian you can not only pick out of a crowd, and I am not infrequently mistaken for a man, depending on what I am wearing and how short my hair is and what the gender conventions are in the location I am in. And the truth is I did feel weird, to begin with, but honestly -- I think it was me, not them, and it was a reminder that good manners go a very long way to put differences on the shelf and create superficial, comfortable relationships. Which is also, by the way, a reminder of why in many of the local cultures that make up "America" people regard folks being publicly gay as more or less bad manners, since if you didn't insist on being "in their faces" they could treat you as if you were a normal person like they really want to. This is how people like Mark Foley, and other highly placed Republican queers get along happily for years. It is a contract of sorts, although not one that sits comfortably with civil rights or the kind of full, personal disclosure that the culture is often simultaneously demanding and saying it values.

Combat Philosopher said in a comment I should go further South --- indeed I will, since part of what I am interested in is southern left feminism and right-wing feminism (no, this is not an oxymoron, people -- leave Chicago and the coasts and you'll see.) In the next few months I do a reverse of the March, and go to Clemson, then Atlanta. And yes CP, I haven't been to New Orleans since Katrina, and I miss it. Hope y'all are well down there and I'm very glad the hurricanes didn't show up this year. And here comes another truck of archive boxes.....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Little Boxes

Ok, so here it is, day 2 of the research trip, and I am going full-tilt boogie in the archives, having called up about thirty boxes of documents that I am now morally bound to finish by Friday since they were brought especially for me. Never let the archivist see you weep.

I am working in a particularly amazing collection where the subject of my inquiry -- a very famous feminist -- never threw anything away. The ephemera is amazing -- conference programs, protest announcements, mimeographed radical publications still bleeding purple ink. Also a lot of catalogues for sex toys (tee-hee.) This mania for collection and preservation on her part means that organizations that never archived their records (these are organizations in name only, you understand -- the records were probably kept in a shopping bag under the kitchen table) are revealed in astonishing detail, even though I have to piece the evidence together across the collection. It also means I am finding all kinds of stuff that no one would ever tell me about, or perhaps remember: a complete list of members in a radical collective, for example, or why so-and-so resigned from a certain organization (no, it wasn't about homophobia after all -- it was about supporting a crazy "sister" accused of a murder she really committed! Yay!) So it's all good. The archivists are very helpful and, although there is a big sign up saying that we are all being observed by surveillance cameras, I can't see them anywhere. I think they are fibbing about the surveillance. All the same, I never write with anything but a number 2 pencil, just to be safe.

But can we talk about the South? One of the things I teach is southern history, and on the first day of the term, when I ask students why they are taking the class, the white students often say dreamy things about having seen a movie, or a relative they once visited, or a vacation they took on Hilton Head. It is a modern version of moonlight and magnolias, and the African-American students, who often actually do have southern relatives, never say a word. Nor do I: after 16 years in the classroom, I've never learned a way to say "You are so full of s**t" in a way a student can really understand as constructive criticism. On the other hand, I have to admit, having not been south for some time, I had forgotten the tell-tale signs of crossing into the land of nullification and secesh, despite the fact that all the same food chains are here as are in Zenith and no one has yet discussed the War with me (or as Scarlett says it in GWTW, "the wo-ah.")

People are not ashamed of smoking. In fact, there is a sign up asking people NOT to smoke in the library, which suggests that from time to time they do. The lobby of my hotel reeks of smoke, and in the restaurant tonight people lit up at tables all around me without a thought.

They post the Homeland Security alert level every day in an obvious location. Today was orange, so I kept an eye out, but I think enemies of our freedoms probably wouldn't come to the archive anyway because they would be caught on the security camera.

People smile and say hi as they pass on the sidewalks. People who DO NOT KNOW ME.

I met a girl going into the library who had a hair-do with two bows cleverly set into it . A bouffant hair-do, and it was not an ironic statement because a) she was a real girl and not a drag queen; and b) she was wearing a very pretty dress and high heels too.

I bought a copy of E.L. Doctorow's The March, which is about Sherman's March through Georgia and the Carolinas, and suddenly realized when I was reading it in the student union over lunch that it was a dumb purchase for public reading in a place where Sherman actually pillaged folks' stuff.

At the Pan-Pan fish restaurant (a national chain) you could substitute hush puppies for french fries.

Students wear Campus Crusade for Christ tees.

I am very aware that I have a strong Mid-Atlantic accent (for "Philadelphia Eagles" say "Phildelphya Iggles" and run it all together) because I have to repeat myself a lot.

So I'm having lots of fun seeing the sights and being mildly touristy, even though I've decided I don't have time for the Tobacco Museum. O yeah -- and the Hampton Inn is the bee's knees. My guess is it was built after Sherman left, because there's lots of breakfast choices in the morning and none of the furniture has been bayonetted. But it's just a guess.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Research Trip: Day 1

Dateline -- Teenie Airport, Zenith, 4:45 A.M. I decided to fly out of Teenie Airport instead of Regional, because Teenie is quite near my house and Regional is about a forty-five minute drive. Regional is very reliable: always one of the last to close when weather hits the northeast, and Teenie, in my experience, is notoriously unreliable. The last time I booked out of Teenie, my return flight was a horrendous mess, and I ended up re-booking into Regional in the middle of the night and getting home about 4 a.m.

Today is no exception: I arrived at Teenie for a 5:30 flight, and it has been delayed until 6:45 because of crew rest. This means the crew got in very late last night (there was a lot of rain) and their union says they need a minimum amount of sleep in order to function. This is why assistant professors should also be in a union. On the other hand, one wants to ask the airline: surely there is a spare crew, maybe based at Regional, who you could bring in? But no: the airlines are going down the drain faster than the Iraq war and George W. Bush, and they wouldn’t dream of paying a spare crew to be around in case they were needed the day after an obviously rainy and windy evening. Instead, it is a planeload of passengers who will pay, by missing meetings they were supposed to attend, or having gotten up at 4:00 when they could have gotten up at 5:00. This, sports fans, is the state of capitalism after six years of Republican rule.

And of course, there is no coffee, and the overhead lights are so bright that no one but the student from nearby Oligarch University can sleep, and he’s curled up on the floor with his hoodie pulled down over his face.

I don’t even want to think about the microbial status of that floor.

On the plus side, there is time to blog. I am also looking ahead to a fun week of research, not to mention several interesting events I have scheduled in advance -- people to see, places to go. I am giving a talk on my new book, which gives my research budget enough relief for me to rent a car while I’m down there and make the whole trip more relaxed (try taking a taxi in the South, ok?) And I am having dinner with two colleagues, one of whom I have known since I was a wee thing, and the other of whom I don’t know at all, but who seems interesting and smart. She also directs the women’s studies program at the university I am visiting and has A Budget – for example, should I want to give a talk at Dixie University in the future, which would, of course, require an invitation.

Have I mentioned that I am in one of those periods where I am trying to buff my career and accumulate some invitations -- er, I mean, tangible accomplishments? I go through this periodically, and in the last several years, during which I experienced Unfortunate Events at Zenith, it was all about having the option to leave (which almost, by the way, worked – or at least, it resulted in some interest from a big research university that helped give Zenith the incentive to resolve things.) Now I’m not so sure about the leaving thing: at present, it may be about having the option to stay without being so annoyed all the time. Last week I pitched a small book on the ERA, which I am now sure I can get a contract and a decent advance for if I can pull myself together to write the proposal in the next couple weeks. I strongly urged a dear friend to invite me to her university for a talk, which I have never done before, but have decided to start doing because I have invited about a dozen friends to Zenith who have never reciprocated, and I think it is time to call in my chips. She capitulated gracefully, as she is a very good friend. My next move will be to call one of my former undergraduate advisees, now an associate professor of history, and strong arm her into “inviting” me. It's all in a day's work.

No goal or achievement is too minor for to be part of my progrma of self promotion and will to accomplishment. The director of the archive I am visiting said to me brightly over the phone that she hoped I was applying for a grant to come back, as it is clear I have about a month of work to do there, and this week will only scratch the surface. Could we talk while I was down? Love it, I replied brightly; Let’s have lunch! (Translate: Wouldn’t you like to take me to lunch?)

You know I forget this for months, even years, at a time, but about a quarter century ago, when I was an undergraduate at Oligarch, my best friend (now a full professor at a fancy private university) said to me, You know Radical, the way the world works is this: Those who get, get more. And while I don’t exactly approve of this, I have to look around me at the world of higher education and agree, so for the next months I am going to behave as though this were true and see what happens.

Evening addendum: my program is working without me even having to try! My rental car was upgraded for free to a large purple truck by the rental agent, on his own initiative! Do you think he could tell I'm a lesbian?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Road Tripping

I am just back from two days in Big City, where N and I are starting to experiment with what it means to cultivate our life there without the apartment. She has found two bed and breakfasts that are clean, convenient and affordable, at least one of which I suspect is illegal. The one we stayed in last night was particularly interesting, as it was five blocks away from our old apartment and in a part of the neighborhood that was grossly unsafe when I was in graduate school but is now not only livable but also too expensive for us ever to live there again except in the unlikely event that Fox Searchlight Pictures decides to option my next book. One permanent effect of having lived in Big City for twenty-plus years is that I am always checking rents and real estate prices everywhere I go: it now costs $2500 a month minimum to rent a one-bedroom in this neighborhood, close to $700K minimum to buy one. When I first moved there in 1983, my rent was $200 for a two bedroom with eat-in kitchen. And you could buy drugs right outside the front door!

However, things have changed, as they have in cities all over the Northeast, and the only drug dealers who now rule in this part of Big City are the psychopharmacologists. I suspect that the owners of this building -- actually two buildings cobbled together -- are around my age and originally inhabited these properties as a squat, or as shells purchased from the city for a pittance. It has the look of something renovated over the course of decades in, shall we say, a thrifty way. It also looks like an old-law tenement: doesn't have the weird dumb-bell shape that builders adopted after 1890 to conform to reformed city regulations that required each apartment to have windows. This is where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: we walked in the door and I thought, Firetrap! As a historian of the modern United States, visions of the Triangle factory are never far from my mind when I enter converted nineteenth century spaces in Big City, and I always spend the first few minutes looking for at least two ways to get out. My verdict: if the building had gone up we would have been toast. But aside from that it was great. The space which contained our room was a huge, opened-up storefront (the second building), with what looked like large packing boxes (the private sleeping lofts) on stilts down one wall and the rest of the space devoted to the sculpture career that I think the B&B supports. It looked a little like one of those Thai villages built on a flood plain, but inside. Tres funky, but surprisingly clean, furnished with IKEA and, given the fact that the others staying there that night were twenty-something men from Australia, surprisingly quiet. So it was very nice & we had fun being home in the place we lived for decades, together and apart. And I only thought once or twice, Why am I sticking to my guns about being a tenured professor in Zenith, dealing with picky, cranky senior colleagues and over-privileged students, when I could probably find a well-paid administrative job in Big City and never mark a paper or sit on a tenure case again? Could I still write books and have an intellectual life as an administrator? Or would I turn into a "suit," a hideous simulacrum of me, slashing people's budgets, trumpeting new standards for others to meet, and whining about "the faculty" behind their backs as though they were unreasonable children who were too selfish to understand that Expanding the Physical Plant and Marketing Our Image is more important than salaries, pensions and benefits?

At any rate, now I am home for a hot twenty-four hours before charging off to Dixietown for a week of research. There is a lot to do, since I always leave home on a trip, no matter how short, as if I might not return for years -- if at all -- and everything must be Just So before departure tomorrow morning at 5 A.M. Imagine how exhausting commuting must have been for me! Aside from getting together all the stuff I will need for the archives, I must: pick up my dry cleaning; make sure I have the telephone numbers for the colleagues I am seeing down there and send them emails to remind them we are having dinner; put the new registration sticker on the car; pay the bills; re-do my Netflix queue; do the laundry; finish the bookcases; back up my hard drive; plant the tulip bulbs I bought six weeks ago; pick up my study; do the laundry; go to the bank; schedule a cab; pay the bills (did I say this?); call the dog sitter; call my mother; and make sure I don't leave without something vital, say, the electric plug for my computer, or a pair of good shoes I can wear to a restaurant. Oh yeah, and I am supposed to give a talk while I am down there and while I have a clue what I am going to say, I haven't prepared it, even though my hosts called me last week to ask if I need audiovisual support. Oops. But that's why God made plane travel, right? That and reading the papers you are supposed to comment on at the conference, that were supposed to arrive weeks before, but which actually arrived last night.

I love research trips, really I do, and I actually love giving talks too, because in my mind writing history doesn't count unless I can get it to more people than would ordinarily bother to pick up my book or the journals in which I have published. But research is probably the most fun part of my job. First of all, it is a lot of work compressed into a small amount of time and second, because the point is doing things that prepare me ot write, it precludes the vexing task of actually writing. Hurrah! So writing avoidance can be transformed into something resembling virtue that will actually, in the end, lead to writing. Writing cannot occur without research unless you are really sought after for your opinions about history, or your view as a historian on current events, like Simon Schama or Tony Judt. And I also love reading other people's mail, something I have to remind myself forcefully not to do when the opportunity presents. Archival research is the only context in which going through someone else's stuff is work and not -- well, snooping. And the documents don't have old banana peels soaking through them, they are arranged in lovely clean folders by well-trained librarians who want nothing better than to bring you more of them!

And did I mention the Quality Inn? And the rental car? And eating out every night on Zenith's tab? Fabulous. Just fabulous.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Woman's Place is in the House

Ok, I just needed to say that: if you are a feminist who has tenure or is even older, you used to own that tee shirt. Yes, in order to win the Democrats had to float more conservative candidates, but look at it this way: our new speaker represents the Castro district in San Francisco! Yes, I am just as worried about the future of a woman's right to choose as I was yesterday -- but THANK YOU South Dakota, thank you Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood (daughter of the late Governor Ann Richards), thank you, you brave organizers who knocked on doors to stop a referendum that would have put Roe on the line in the Supreme Court, and was intended to do so, since you can't get an abortion in South Dakota anyway. And all those anti-gay marriage referendums are pointless and nasty -- but what about the minimum wage referendums that got passed all over the country that are pinned to the rate of inflation? Yeah, baby! This is critical for two reasons. First, it is the only thing that has been done for working people in this country in years -- those people who have three or four jobs per family, and still have to join the military to pay for college or a trade school. Second, it means that the business class may begin to hold the party in charge accountable for ruinous fiscal policies that drive up the cost of living, a move that could alter the political landscape significantly.


In other news, my partner read my blog yesterday, which is only because I told her about it just the day before. The good part is that, although she does not like blogging as a form (this may be related to coming from a very literary family, but I think is more related to questions of privacy), she likes the blog and she still likes me. The bad news is, she doesn't really want to be in it and didn't like the pseudonym I had chosen, so I needed to go back and do some editing, and also explain to the few of you who know me what has changed and why, thus risking putting her in the blog again. But ars gratia artis, as they say out in California.

Permission to blog about others is a tricky and interesting question, because actually no one in my blog has given me permission to write about them, but as I pointed out to N, a great many of our friends do write and publish about their families. And if and when Extravaganza finds out, I am confident he will be thrilled, as he aspires to be a superstar and he understands already that good publicity is critical to his career. But back to my conversation with the love of my life: we agreed to some changes. One which you will note is that I changed the pseudonym to an initial. We picked N, a letter of the alphabet that is in the middle, and relatively uncontroversial and uncoded as, for example, a letter like "X" might be (would you want to be described by the love of your life as X? Not.) She also doesn't want to be called an academic, despite the Ph.D., and we agreed on "teacher" which is true, and also reflects her real modesty about her intelligence and what I think is the great work she does in the world.

But as to her presence in the blog, this is a real personal, ethical and artistic dilemma. My initial reaction was that I didn't want to blog as though I was single (as in unpartnered, unmarried) because one of the things that was tricky about commuting all those years is that in a variety of contexts people treated me as though I was single. I disliked this increasingly, and when it appeared we were going to live together, I looked forward to ironing out this irritation. Back in the day, when I corrected people's misapprehension about my relationship status, I usually had to do it in terms that were less about us and who we were than about what my audience already understood about conventional relationships. And this meant, in turn, that I often had to describe my intimate life to people in ways I found intrusive, burdensome and inaccurate if not incorrect -- why we commuted, how we did it, that we didn't consider our bond to be "the same as" being married (an explanation I usually had to provide, not to conservatives who were "defending" marriage, but to liberals demonstrating their ecumenicism about the institution and about me.) But that we WERE deeply committed. In other words it was a big drag, and usually an unintended invasion of MY privacy. And I suspect it was less of a drag for N all these years, because I was living in Zenith, a place where LGBTQ people are not exactly invisible, but not exactly movemement-oriented or diverse either, and she lived in the highly urban and diverse Big City, traditional home to many kinds of queer folk, ranging from married to free love types. So even though I know this is not going to be a huge issue in the blogosphere, I wanted to start off on the right foot.

But the other dilemma is a real one for abstract and practical reasons. The practical is that N doesn't think this blog will remain anonymous for long, that I have utterly blown my cover and that anyone with half a brain can use the information I have provided to discover my real identity if they try (I would say my characteristic typos are a likelier clue for those who know me.) I didn't tell her that I already blew my cover with Dr. Virago when I tested my Gmail account, because she doesn't know Dr. Virago, and Virago has better things to do than out me (love the apes, Dr. V.) But I also think this would presume that anyone cares who I am, and that I can restrain myself from being egotistical enough to urge my friends and allies at Zenith to read my blog. This last is dicey, given that I am well-known for enjoying the payoff of a quick laugh and not paying enough attention to the consequences of my snarky and perverse behavior. I admit this is a personal flaw and a vulnerability, but it is also probably a good test of character to not make such a spectacle of myself until I consciously decide to NOT be anonymous.

But there are other reasons I am glad that N raised this issue. The ethical question is, what are your obligations to those you write about, aside from doing it honestly and restraining yourself from being out of control critical or making judgements that are likely to wound others? This is something N thinks about all the time, as she is a social scientist of sorts, and a radical person in a research world that is often very exploitative. As a historian, I haven't thought about it much at all until recently because all the people I wrote about were dead. I realize that this isn't a good excuse, but the chances of a nasty phone call or being shunned are smaller when you write about the dead, you must admit. However, my current research is about people who are by and large alive, as well as still really pissed off at each other, and I think this blog question overlaps with the ethical questions and risks attendant to doing that kind of recent history. And what is blogging as a literary form, anyway? Is it memoir, current history, news, gossip, critique, commentary, all of the above? Each of these genres has different, although overlapping, conventions. Which ones help me navigate? At what point do my own thoughts and experiences borrow, or steal, the thoughts and experirences of others? When do they cease to be mine alone?

So I have to think strategically as I sort these things out. One thought I did have is that I have noticed a modern genre of gay male writing -- Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris and Bob Morris -- where the writer is kind of an abject, insecure sissy and the "boyfriend" is always self-assured, masculine, nurturing, confident, and slightly condescending about the author's insecurities (not that there's anything wrong with that!) But I have wondered -- why the pattern? Is it because making fun of themselves then insulates authors from worrying that the Significant Other will object to his/her representation in the essays as the inevitable foil for what must be a more complex, interior narrative articulated by the protagonist? Yo, English professors -- chime in here.

Ok, enough, enough. I managed to bring this blog back to intellectual issues for a hot second. Now it's your turn.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hey Joe, I Thought That You Were Dead

Today is election day, and N and I are going to go down and vote together for what I think may be the second time in our lives. I mean, we both vote a lot, but not together, since for years we were registered in different places. I love voting, but for the last decade or so, election day has been a source of great anxiety, because I always feel like things like civil rights, women's right to choose and peace are hanging in the balance. N and I live in one of those states where three congressional districts could flip to the Dems, and maybe a Senate seat (although I don't think so.) The only critical ballot we will cast will be for the Senate, since our progressive Congressperson will win in a landslide (s/he didn't even bother to put up signs until day before yesterday, and has spent all of hir time stumping for others.) Our airhead Republican governor should win in a landslide too, but s/he is probably the only Republican candidate at the state level who will. So I will spend tonight gripped by PBS's election coverage, with another eye on the computer to see what races CNN is calling.

Do you think I can write at the same time? (Just kidding!)

Since all politics is local, I have other news to report. The faculty at Zenith is very grumpy right now because of our low, low pay and diminishing benefits. We have also suffered under somewhat autocratic leadership for the last few years, and then those people, sensing that they had failed to implement their draconian programs with much effectiveness - or perhaps responding to the fact that others had sensed it - resigned abruptly, and were replaced by flacks drawn from the Zenith faculty and administration who are trying to pick the pieces up. So there are multiple searches going on, there is basically no leadership, and meanwhile life is supposed to go on as usual. On top of all this, one of my colleagues discovered that the Provost had been altering the faculty regulations without telling anyone, and according to the rules, the faculty is supposed to approve altering its own regulations. In other words, when a new book came out, some things would just be different. How did my colleague, let's call her Dr. Victorian, know this? Because she trusts no one and compared the new pages, word for word, with the old pages. And, as it usually turns out, she is right more than half the time that you should trust no one.

One of the things that had been changed is that Zenith no longer pays its share of TIAA while we are on unpaid leave. And those of us on unpaid leave had never been notified of this fact.

Now, as it turns out the Provost did all sorts of ugly things, some of them only a week before s/he left town, but that is another story that may or may not get told another day. But in response to these things, and to the fact that the committee system seems to be strangling under administration-sponsored busy work and faculty apathy, we have formed a rump group, which gets more people to its meetings than any faculty meeting ever did. The excellent Dr. Victorian is on the steering committee (having never served on any major committee, because like many women she is considered TOO DIFFICULT by the reasonable people who run things), and she brought in an AAUP organizer, and as it turns out, there are fifteen of us who are already AAUP members (including your Dr. Radical) and you only need seven to form a chapter. So we are going to do it (I think maybe my speech about the free lawyers who helped me during my recent Unfortunate Events helped. Academics love things that are free -- free books, free plane rides to conferences, free legal advice.....). But even without that, it was an exciting meeting because finally I think we are going to do something. And just like Professor Bill W tells his alcoholic friends: Yo Peeps, the first step is to admit that you are powerless as an individual.

The great thing about an AAUP chapter is that it functions like a union, which we are not allowed to have, because of the Yeshiva decision. Or rather, we can have one, but we can't be certified by the government and so if we act as a union they can fire our butts. Whereas the AAUP, when the university does something screwy like cutting our benefits without telling us, comes in and shames them publicly, which places like Zenith fear far more than a job action, since in the latter case, our Very Privileged students and their Helicopter Parents will get into the action and accuse us of not taking care of our responsibilities as educators. Remember the GESO strike at Yale, where the TA's withheld grades for a week or two? You would have thought the next generation of lawyers had been banished to beauty school. So this is to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, having former university presidents and provosts come in to shake down your own administration sounds like a very satisfying scenario indeed. It also addresses the doubts of many of my colleagues who seem to think that "professionals" don't need unions, and that if you join the United Auto Workers (like Miss B has) you will actually BE an auto worker, or people will think you are, and maybe send your job to Tennessee or Mexico.

So as you can see, it is only Tuesday, and my life as a citizen is starting with a bang. Oh, and by the way, if the Dems do not win this election? Do not mourn. Organize.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Good Start

Well, yay. I got home from a shopping trip to Ikea with N and found that I had been visited by Dr. Virago, Combat Philosopher and New Kid on the Hallway. Also an email from the good doctor. I felt a little like Sally Field at the Oscars twenty years ago, after she won her second statuette for "Places in the Heart" - "You-you LIKE me! You like me! You really like me!" Actually that would be a little over the top, when all I am trying to do it fit in, but you get the picture. My fellow bloggers are a lot more restrained than I am, and they gave me a warm welcome and some helpful advice. So back at ya, colleagues: tomorrow I'll learn how to link, and then I'll really be on my way. You'll be proud.

So guess why I was at Ikea? Bookshelves, of course. I keep the majority of my books in my capacious office in one of the lovely Federal buildings at Zenith University, but N works for an urban university where six or seven people share an office. And these are the people who really have permanent jobs. The contingent faculty meet their students in coffee shops or on stoops. I dunno where they keep their stuff. Probably shopping carts stolen from Ikea.

Anyway, since we sold our fabulous urban apartment last February and N moved here to live with me full time after many years of living in some kind of peripatetic sin, her books have been in boxes in the living room (which hasn't really functioned as a living room because of the boxes of books.) We had elaborate built-ins installed, which were finally completed last week and we realized instantly that there was nowhere near enough room. So off to Ikea, where for a fraction of the price we paid the carpenter we can finish the job. This is a good thing, since when Extravaganza came over last week I said, "Have you noticed the living room is starting to come together?"

He said, "Have you NOTICED that I haven't said anything about those ugly boxes piled up in front of the window for six months?"

Oh well.

At any rate, Sunday is the worst time to go to Ikea in terms of crowds, but the best for people watching, since very large families go and bring all their collateral relatives and it all feels very Global. I always end up steering the cart, which, as we moved through the market place section became filled with all the lovely little things you forgot you needed until you saw them. "Oooh! A travel coffee cup! Mine broke last week!" "Six tea lights for $3.00? A steal!" "Aren't we out of orange cocktail napkins?" But also because of this I am constantly losing Miss B, who is famous for cutting through the crowd in a way guaranteed to lose all but the most dedicated stalker. Her best move today was shooting through a space between two elderly people on wheeled walkers. Tiki Barber couldn't have done better.

As we were loading the large, flat packages of Billy shelves onto the second cart I obtained in the Warehouse, N said, as she always does, "Do you think this will all fit in the car?" Because I had now added a large fluffy green plant (19.99) and a decorative pot, and a lamp to replace the one that only turns off when you pull the chain horizontally. "Of course!" I said, as I always do. Because everyone knows that God (and I mean this interfaithfully and atheistically, people) loves Ikea and extends Her special blessings to those who shop there. Then we stood in line for about 45 minutes, which was fine because you can buy hot dogs for .50 and ice cream for a dollar, and we had a lovely snack the likes of which we would never eat at home because I believe firmly in Organic and Free Range foods.

And it did all fit. So now, as extra incentive not to write this week, I have five book cases to assemble and level, two end tables to put together, so that all of N's books, now in tottery piles on the living room floor, can be alphabetized and shelved. How fabulous is that?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blowin' In The Wind: Reflections On The First Week of Blogging

In the past week, I got determined and went out and looked at other people's blogs. Why, you might ask, did I think I was the only person who had the bright idea of blogging about the academy? Sheesh. I have come upon fabulous blogs: they range from the serious (zapping David Horowitz, sharing ideas about teaching and publishing, getting through your dissertation/job search/new job) to blogs that are reaching real highs when it comes to ironic commentary on the State of the Profession. Every day I now check Quod She (the famous Dr. Virago), A Ianqui in the Village (currently trying to figure out a difficult commuting situation that might result from her partner accepting a dream job), and my current favorite, Ferule and Fescue. Will I always do this? And how dare I claim the name Tenured Radical, when Michael Berube is out there blogging away as Professor B?

I mean, of course I am late to the game. I am late to every game. I just learned about blogging at all because a woman, who is related to me by -- well, given the state of gay marriage, shall we say "partnership"? -- started a blog about her family. I started reading it obsessively because she was writing about people I knew, and I wanted to know what her latest news was and about who. Members of our extended family fall into two categories: those who read and those who don't, and I sense a vague suspicion of modern forms of communicaiton among those who don't. So I don't tell them about me so they won't worry, you know what I mean? The most avid readers are me and my 13 year-old nephew Extravaganza, who has his own blog, where he hopes kids he knows will write with love dilemmas. Through this method, he hopes to learn all the secrets of the eighth grade, and ultimately attain power over everyone. One thing led to another after Extravaganza announced his blog on a family-wide email. I found myself looking at templates, and suddenly I thought, you know, what if instead of writing lies (not that there's anything wrong with them!) or collecting the love secrets of the history department at Zenith University (eeeee-yew) I wrote about -- the Truth? I could be a Hypocrisy Buster!

Now isn't this silly? But the good news is that since then I have also been reading other academic blogs, and have gotten my head right straight. I am working on a better mission statement than the one I started with. In the meantime, I have discovered a new community of intellectuals who don't work with me at Zenith, and who aren't going to read my scholarship to decide whether I'm smart enough to live. Because I'm done with that since my promotion to full professor, if I have not made this clear in previous posts.

I have learned so much. I have discovered new conventions of naming, and ways to reveal myself while cleverly concealing my identity. It's so much better than internet chat rooms, which are very superficial. As far as I can tell, people log on and say "hi" and "bye" a lot - or they tell you with an acronym that they just got up to get something from the refrigerator and walk the dog and pee, but they are BACK NOW. My feeling is that they are all in their twenties and either in the military or working the night shift. Or maybe they are FBI agents trolling for pedophiles. But on blogs, I can fully engage! I have new heroes like Ianqui, Super G, Dr. Virago, Professor B, Historianness -- I've had to trim my reading list to make sure I start writing before eleven in the morning. And to preserve my anonymity, but try to seduce people into actually getting in touch and reading my blog, I have established a new Gmail account (it's which you can get to via my profile -- but oh gosh, I just told you the address, didn't I?

The other way I try to get to people is by commenting on their blogs. Which is not too hard, except no one except Dr. Virago and Professor B seems to be my age, so I have to work really hard not to sound like a windbag. Only one person has commented back and added my link, but it's early yet.

I've also thought that at the next conference I go to I could get cards printed up with my blog address, and leave them in the toilets, on chairs, at cashbars, and so on. That would be so Not Done, I think it would please me enormously. I have always been a Not Done sort of person, because the beauty of it, is if you are going to do what is Not Done you have to have a perfect sense of what IS Done.

If I thought Extravaganza could keep a secret, I would take him with me to the conference so he could distribute cards in the men's room too. But I can't, because he is too busy keeping the eighth grade under control and he trades in information as I do.