Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You know you need to take a break from writing when...

You know you need to take a break from writing when....

1) You start to use the same phrases, adjectives, and verbs over and over and over again. You get the idea.

2) You write a chapter's concluding remarks around Kafka's ideas of human-animal relations. This would be okay if you are a literary criticism Ph.D. candidate focusing on the existentialist movement...but not when you're an archaeologist.

3) Suddenly everything becomes way more interesting than your writing. Cleaning the fridge out never seemed so appealing until now!

4) You develop an unusual interest in horribly bad tv - reality tv shows that involve washed up rock or hip-hop stars on VH1, for example. And you don't even like tv.

5) You are up until 2am writing this list.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Limitations of Democracy

Recently there has been an uproar at Stanford regarding Donald Rumsfeld's appointment at the Hoover Institute, which is located on Stanford's campus. The Hoover Institute is a well known conservative think-tank that has housed such crazy right-wing scholars as Dinesh D'Souza, so Rumsfeld's presence isn't exactly shocking.

Numerous Stanford professors, including the famous "Prison Experiment" psychologist Phil Zimbardo, have started and signed petitions of protest, requesting that Rumsfeld (who serves on Hoover's board of advisors) stay far away from Stanford and the Hoover Tower. I agree that Rumsfeld's war crimes are unforgivable, and I do feel he doesn't belong among the ranks of other Stanford "fellows" intellect wise. But when forwarded the circulating petition and asked to sign it, I thought twice and decided against it. Why would a democrat like myself do so?

This question of what are our limitations of democracy has been plaguing me for quite some time. I believe in free speech, whether it be litigious, lascivious, or, believe it or not, downright sexist. That doesn't mean I agree with it. In fact, I denounce it in my dissertation. But what does democracy really mean if we don't permit freedom of speech?

If we ban Rumsfeld from our campus, we may miss out on an opportunity to educate him, to sway him to our side of the debate. Okay, so perhaps that is SO optimistic and naive. But if we force him off campus, we are limiting an individual's civil liberties. We are banning him from a certain space, criminalizing him for trespassing on the basis that we are "academics" and take the high road. In limiting his ability to freely move about our campus, we are doing the same thing this administration has been pushing for: tighter borders and the delineation of citizenry based on national borders. Most liberal academics believe in the idea of a global citizenship - that democracy, in fact, really means that EVERYONE should be able to move about the world equally.

Obviously this isn't going to happen anytime soon. And it certainly won't happen in my lifetime if we police our own citizenship. So let Rumsfeld come to campus. Protest his presence by standing outside of Hoover Tower, but let him go about the campus as he pleases. This is a democratic society, right?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Career Paths

Today I had an important meeting with one of my dissertation committee members, who is arguably the world's most influential and famous professor in my discipline. It may sound like an overstatement but it's not. What's amazing is that he is actually a really nice, humble person who likes students. A rare combo in academia.

Anyhow, he told me I need to get out some peer reviewed journal articles, which I already knew and am working on as I write. I told him the whole process of going through journal article publishing was intimidating, and he looked at me with a puzzled look. "What do you mean by that?," he asked. I looked back at him a bit taken back by the fact he had no idea what I was referring to. "The rejection," I said, "I appreciate feedback but it's still hard to stomach at this level of the game." He smiled and remarked, "You'll be fine. We've given you all kinds of critical feedback here." True, but it's different when your advisors give you feedback - you expect them to be hard on you. But when you start sending your things off to people you don't know and get rejected, it makes you wonder if you somehow got into [insert famous university here] as a fluke.

Another issue that came up is my job application process (cringe). He doesn't want me applying to little colleges and universities because he'd "hate to see me at a small, unimportant school for the rest of my academic career." I'm flattered that he thinks I belong at some big important university but on the same hand, I have no problem working at some small school if that's where the job is. He also wants me to apply for fellowships in the UK, which I would absolutely love to do if I didn't own a home, have pets, and have a husband. I know he'd pull some strings to get me one of the fellowships there (he's from the UK) but do I really want to spend a year in London living on pennies? I dunno.

Once again, I am faced with the question I have been dreading: do I want to be a full fledged academic at a famous university? Or do I want to be at a lower tier school living a semi-normal life? The crazy, anal perfectionist in me revels in the idea of being well-known in academia. For the past 8 years, I have had professors pushing me in this direction. My friends in academia say I'm the "archetypal" academic...which is probably a backhanded comment. But the pragmatist in me says to slow down and enjoy life before it passes me by.

The answer to these questions will partially be answered for me when I apply for jobs over the next two years. But I may be faced with this question soon and I'm not sure how to answer it. I love my family, and I know that they will continue to suffer if I end up becoming Ms. Famous Professor. I know how much time goes into being a good researcher and I'm not sure if I am willing to give up all the good things I have just for my work.

Otherwise the meeting went fine. I really admire him - I wish there were more people like him in academia. But I have to admit that I always feel like I am going to have a mental breakdown when I'm awaiting his feedback on my writing. I mean, he's super famous and I don't want to let him down writing wise.

Okay, back to grading my online times!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Writing = Frustration

When I write (which is all the freaking time), I keep a log of all the time I've spent editing and composing it. I do this to remind myself just how long it actually takes to write a piece from start to finish so I won't over-commit myself to publications and conferences. It's a bit anal retentive but what can I say...that's who I am anyhow.

My log from this summer is depressing. It has taken me close to three months to write one, 30 page chapter. Okay, so this isn't any ordinary chapter - it's the first chapter of my dissertation, which is sort of a big deal. But usually it takes me anywhere from 3 weeks to a month to churn out a well edited article or conference presentation. Which is exactly why I am going BONKERS with this first chapter: it is still in the "shitty first draft" stage where things make little sense and I repeat the same words and sentence structures over and over again trying to figure out what the hell I'm writing about.

And guess what? This shitty rough draft (using Ann Lamont's words, I believe) needs to magically turn into a beautiful, well composed dissertation chapter by this Friday since I have a meeting with one of my committee members. He is like a God to me and I hate to let him down or lose his respect.

I told my advisor about my situation and she said this is what happens when you go to write your first chapter...and the reason why a lot of people drop out at this point in the program. That is definitely not my plan, but I can now see why people give up. I will push on as I always do but still, I hate not being in top form. The perfectionist in me wants to strangle the writer in me right now.

And to top this off, I just read through a draft of a chapter I submitted to a hiring committee...only to find some minor errors in it. ARGH. Writing sucks.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Finding life in broken things.

Oh-my-GOD. It has been one of those weeks. Thank goodness it is Friday because I was beginning to think this week would never ended. Or at least it seemed like that.

It all started last week when our dishwasher started to give out. We replaced that thinking we wouldn't have to buy another new appliance for awhile. Then comes the weekend and our washer and dryer BOTH conk out. We have a Sears guy come and give us an estimate to fix the darn things. That costs us $75 bucks, and by the time he leaves, he has given us a quote for $834 in repairs. So that means the washer and dryer have to be replaced. We look and look at a 100 different appliance stores and find a cheap, new pair for $200 under market value.

Then comes Tuesday and I spill water on my laptop. An entire glass of water. Yes, I am a klutz. I rush over to Fry's and have them take the darn thing apart. I let it sit to dry for two days, only to turn it on last night to a blank screen. However, the hardrive is working as is the motherboard so it's not a complete loss. The techs at Fry's didn't charge me for looking at it and letting me get data off my hardrive to work on while my laptop was drying for the past two days.

In addition, I've been reading the Wall Street Journal as of late and freaked out when I read about the supposed upcoming recession in the US economy. My dad's biz is already feeling it, as is the housing market in our neck of the woods. We are on a five year fixed mortgage which expires in 2 years...which we may not be able to refinance if a recession occurs. I immediately freaked and talked to our mortgage broker a few weeks ago about refinancing it. He thought that our house might not appraise for the purchase price right now because of the economy, sending me into major panic mode (see below for current status of this dilemma).

Yesterday, I took little dog to the world famous UC Davis' Animal Hospital where she was poked and prodded for 3 hours straight by nearly 6 different residents and 2 faculty members. Luckily, one faculty members has taken an interest in her because she has a very rare disease the faculty member is researching. This faculty member thinks we might be able to cure her of her immune disease with the right medications and foods. This includes me cooking home-made pork and sweet potato meals for little dog for two months...maybe the rest of her life. The spouse has to give little dog her medications (creams) twice a day while wearing gloves because her meds can mess with my immune system. And since I'm trying to get preggers, that is definitely not a good thing for me. Little dog is feeling very tired from yesterday - she's been sleeping all day and doesn't want big dog to bother her. I hope these meds and her new food make her feel better soon.

I spent most of the week worrying about these things and money. On top of that, I thought I was pregnant because my period was late....not something I was really expecting at this moment in my life since all of these things were adding up to a lot of money. I was quite miserable...went through the regular cycle of wondering why the heck I'm in graduate school when I could be making good money and why the heck these things happen to me.

But these things don't just happen to me. In fact, everything turned out okay. When the water spilled on my laptop, I immediately tried to think about "why" this had happened. Taking a few days off from having my laptop constantly in my lap reminded me just how unproductive that is. Maybe this whole thing, as well as the chain of events related to my appliances, was meant to happen to me for a reason.

I took off a few days of work and enjoyed myself. I needed that. I went over to my neighbor's house and brought her and her hubby dinner with my husband. They just had a baby, which they had been trying to have for three years. We enjoyed the evening and forget about all the electronical craziness in our house. It was nice.

These crazy experiences has also made me appreciative of the fact that nothing truly BAD has happened. No one is deathly ill or sick. While my dishwasher, dryer, computer, and washer are all important things, they are ONLY things. They shouldn't determine my happiness as a person. But having faith that things WILL be okay is also important. I tried to keep that in the back of my mind the entire week as I was simultaneously freaking out. Things seem to always turn out okay, and they did this week. Examples of this in action:

LAPTOP: I didn't have to pay for my laptop to be fixed because the Fry's tech was sympathetic to my lowly grad student status. My best friend's husband knows how to fix computers and gave me advice on how to proceed with the screen issue. It shouldn't cost too much...probably the amount I would have had to pay Fry's if they charged me.

WASHER/DRYER: We shopped around and got them for $200 under market value. Free delivery and installation!

DISHWASHER: We used a gift certificate for Home Depot we've been holding onto for a year or so to purchase 90% of the dishwasher. We got a $50 rebate on it so we didn't pay a cent for it. Free delivery and installation, too.

MORTGAGE: My mortgage broker thinks he'll be able to lock us into a 30-year fixed mortgage in the next week or so. And we can afford the payment.

LITTLE DOG: They think we'll be able to cure her with the proper diet and meds. Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Up late. What's new.

Whoever told me that "Type A" personas don't exist anymore today has not visited my campus. Today, as I was walking around it's semi newly renovated grounds, I thought about how so many people would kill to be here. It's gorgeous, the funding is amazing, the library has books most other institutions dream of, and the professors are first rate. Then I thought about how many people have killed themselves in the last year due to "being here" and realized that nothing is worth killing yourself over. Even grad school.

Yet here I am, up at 1am, proofing a cover letter because I feel as though that's what "insert name of very prestigious school here" students do. According to the grad students and professors who surround me, to get to the top, you are supposed to sacrifice things - your sleep, your friends, your vacations, your family...your sanity. At this point in my life, I have come really close to questioning just what is at the "top" - is the cheese at the end of the maze REALLY that tasty?

I suppose the prestige is lovely, at least momentarily. If I get that amazing position at a famous teaching or research institution after grad school, my advisors and fellow graduate students will praise me. But then comes the 3-5 years of grueling work trying to achieve glowing teaching evaluations and peer-reviewed journal publications. At a time when most women are trying to conceive, I'll be downing caffeine and anything else that'll keep me awake long enough to grade my papers, write those articles, publish a book, fulfill my committee responsibilities, organize conference sessions, and develop new coursework and lectures.

The sad thing about this whole process is that I love teaching. I love writing. I love all those individual things...but when done at the same time life becomes miserable. I've seen it in the tired faces of my advisors who have gone through the tenure process. And these are people who are robots in my eyes!

But I'm still sending off my job applications because I know I can handle the workload. I have never been one to back down from a challenge. But therein lies my problem - I am drawn to huge obstacles, so much so that I often neglect everything and everyone around me to prove to myself I can do it. In fact, I do better working under pressure. For some reason my writing and teaching is better under time constraints.

Sigh. I just hope I am not crazy for wanting a career that means I neglect many other aspects of life. My spouse has come to accept my grad school schedule (waking up early, going to bed late, being cranky due to these things) and my book spending habits (thank you spouse, you are wonderful), to the point that he knows when I should be up working because he can see it in my eyes when I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. I hope this is the life I want.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Deflecting Negativity

This weekend was great - I celebrated my wedding anniversary, had an amazing dinner at the best French restaurant ever, and enjoyed a baseball game with the spouse. But this blog isn't about my lovely experiences. Heck, what else are blogs good for if not to vent?

I have worked very hard to keep people who give off "bad vibes" out of my life. In fact, I lecture my friends about staying away from these types of people on a regular basis. It's amazing what draw and lure these sorts of people have, though. I have one "friend" in particular who fits the bill. She is rarely in my life (none of you who are reading this are this friend! duh!) and has very little influence on me.

But I admit it - I am drawn to her like a bee to honey. Her drama is infectious. Perhaps because I do my best to keep all drama out of my when someone has so much of it it's just too much to look away from. Sort of like my addiction to or Everyone's trash is so much better than my very quiet life.

This week I shared dinner with her. I went into the affair chanting to myself, "I will not let her effect my state of being." But as the conservation wore on, I found myself complaining about things I don't normally complain about, and listening to her gossip with nodding approval. When I left her, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why did I feel so bad about seeing someone who is supposedly my friend? What is it about her that makes me feel worthless?

I asked my spouse what he thought and he said he doesn't think he would be friends with her because she's selfish. My best friend, who has met her, also said she's bad news. Which is why I limit my meetings with her to one or two a year. She is somewhat of a colleague so for it's important we hang out. But on the same hand, I also don't want to look like her "best friend" because I think other people see her in the same light. One of my other best friends on campus avoids her like the plague, and she is someone I hold in high regard.

So what did I learn from this week's dinner date? That I need to be a stronger person and not get sucked into other people's dirt. It's so very hard to say to someone "look, let's talk about positive stuff" when they're in the middle of bitching about their financial situation or coworker. It's not that I mind if my best friends are complaining about these topics...but with her, everything is so one-sided. Part of me also thinks that I need to cut her out of my life completely without making it obvious (ie saying I have other commitments if she asks me out).

But I won't. Why? Because I also need to learn to deal with people like her...because in my field, that's how the majority of people act. I simply need to hover above all the drama and learn to deflect negativity. To walk out of dinner dates like that unscathed. I need to toughen up! So here's to yet another 2007 resolution that hopefully I can keep.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I have no "patients"!!

I don't normally make fun of students' or others' grammatical/spelling issues because Lord knows I am not a genius when it comes to mastering the English language or any other language for that matter, but seriously, why does it seem like everyone as of late has been spelling "patience" (i.e. "I have no patience for lazy students") as "patients." I received three emails from 2 students and 1 professional person who I'm working with (I won't name names) who have signed their emails with "Thank you for your patients" in the last two weeks.

At first, I thought perhaps the OED had decided to change the spelling of the word because the term had become common slang. So I went to and found out that clearly that isn't the issue. Sigh. I guess it's just our super crappy educational system that has let these students slip by with lazy grammar and spelling.

But then I'm left wondering about my role as a teacher when I get these sorts of emails. Do I email them back, play the part of Super Snobby Professor, and tell them it's "patieNCE" not "patients?" Or do I just let them go through life unaware of the fact they sound incredibly ignorant when they sign their emails with that phrase? I certainly appreciate being corrected if I'm spelling something wrong, using the wrong phrase/word, or grammatically incorrect. But I think I might be the exception.

So for now, I guess I'll just let them continue signing their emails with "patients." Hehe.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Musings of an Insomniac

Here I am, up again at nearly 2am WIDE AWAKE. This is a good thing tonight because I actually wrote a significant portion of my first dissertation that didn't really come to me until today. This frightens me because somehow between now and late December I'm supposed to churn out 2 more chapters in addition to teaching my own course, developing my own course and lining up speakers for my own winter course, TA-ing a course that I wasn't planning on TA-ing this quarter (yay for departmental requirements!), applying for jobs, writing two grant applications, and preparing three talks for conferences in November and December. This chapter has been in the works for nearly 3 months. I cannot be this thorough with other chapters or else I'm never going to graduate.

Yes, I am a tend to be a self-imposed Type A personality (which is a psychological category that ceases to exist nowadays according to my psych friends..but anyhow:). But this quarter I really thought I had everything planned out and somewhat manageable...and then this TA-ing responsibility gets thrown into my lap which I honestly didn't expect to happen. It's my fault for assuming such a thing and I take full responsibility for my naivete, but nonetheless this quarter (which starts September 29th I believe) is going to be a killer. Probably the most challenging quarter of my academic career...of course, I thrive on these sorts of challenges but I really didn't intend to spend my 5th year of grad school sleepless and exhausted (wasn't that what years 1,2,3, and 4 were for??). At least that's how I feel right now and school hasn't even started.

The sad thing about my schedule is that I love all these opportunities. I like writing job cover letters and CVs - this process forces me to clarify my research objectives and dissertation project. I love teaching and I've been assigned a great course to TA. I love researching for and writing my dissertation. I enjoy the conference environment because it's great place to network and hear new ideas/schools of thought. Plus it's a free ticket and hotel room in a new, exciting place. I absolutely love having the freedom to develop and design my own course...that's what I've been going to school for. I'm not so much into grants but I can handle them if I don't have a gazillion things going on...oh wait, I do. Ugh. All these things combined add up to misery and stress. Thank goodness I'm exercising and eating right or else I'd be a nutcase by now.

Other than work, life is good. There isn't much time for non-work activities but I did get in a number of hours at my pool with the hubby this weekend which was great. We also ventured out to the city with the hubby's good friend who visited for a night last week....and enjoyed some amazingly garlicly food at The Stinking Rose. It was great.

Oh yes, and my new life motto is "be the person you imagine yourself to be." Lame, I know...but I spent a lot of time last year lamenting about how I "should" be doing this or working on that, which added up to a ton of hours wasted on procrastination. Now I try to keep to the schedule I set for myself because if I do, I know I'll be proud of myself and not regret wasting that time. So far it's working out well. I reward myself for sticking with the schedule by going out to lunch (nothing big - just a Togo's sandwich instead of my home-cooked lunches). This allows me to get out of the house for once as I spend only 1-2 hours a day outside of it. Despite having my doggie companions, it can be a bit confining to say the least!

Okay, I am tired. This is a sign that perhaps my body is giving up the idea that I'm an insomniac. Goodnight!