Academic Mission Statementing

I am both repelled and intrigued by Jessica Quillin’s Insider Higher Ed article on writing a career “one-pager.” Repelled because the piece reeks of the business jargon, public relations image manipulation, and pseudo-corporate opportunism that I escaped from, wish never to return to, and believe is sucking humanity’s last juices of creativity and authenticity.  Intrigued because I would very much like a job, please, and this sort of thing might help.  I may not write a one-pager or “career map” (you just heard the sound of my stomach turning), but I did recently compose a “professional mission statement” like some of those MBAs do in their first year of baby-grad school.  The rough draft goes something like this:

I will write meaningful and interesting history about places, people, and events that are important to me and my community, and I will teach other people to do the same.

Ain’t that nice?  But also vague.  So I’ve also written some definitions and clarifications:

“meaningful”= enlightening, in the sense of learning lessons from the past and being liberated by the past–by the knowledge that things can and do change, and that people help make that change.
“interesting” = engaging, fun to read, page-turner, surprising, provocative, stimulating, poignant
“community” = the people I care about, the place where I live, the wider world that I consider myself to be a part of and which affects me

That’s a bit better.  And despite the weekend-corporate-retreat feel of the entire exercise, I think there’s something useful in this.  Namely, that this mission-statement-thingy should act as something of a filter for my actions: if what I’m about to do won’t help me reach that goal, maybe I shouldn’t be doing it.  I’m looking at you, season three of the X-Files; you may be totally awesome in every imaginable way, but perhaps watching three episodes in a row the night before a journal article is due is a Bad Idea.

Now, it’s time to attend to some Action Items to realize the potentialities of my mission statement.


I had ambitions of writing a substantive post today (it would have been a first!), but I woke up with a headache and a feeling of foreboding that I can’t shake.  This isn’t just bad for the blog and its eternally-suffering readers.  This portends disaster for the writing I need to do this week, with a chapter and article revisions due soon.  Yesterday was a barnburner; I wrote about five pages in two hours, which is out-of-this-world for me.  I was hoping to replicate the same success today, but I keep looking for something that will deliver quick gratification, like cleaning up the house, skimming websites, and, yes, writing this meaningless blog post.  But I must remind myself–and sure, you can take this as advice if you want to–that this is just a damn job, and I have to push through like any other job.  In proper jobs, having a bad day is simply tough shit.  Get to work, or get fired.  We grad students (particularly those with $pou$al support) have the unfortunate luxury of being able to whine about our headaches and how we just couldn’t get inspired to write.  Implied threats from our advisers, grad programs, and publishers are too easy to ignore from the comforts of your home office or library cubicle; our independence can be our undoing.  Perhaps I’ll install a webcam pointed at my desk and distribute the web address to my adviser and spouse so they can check in on me.  I’ll add a loudspeaker, too: “Hey, you!  Get back to work!”  This strikes me as a fantastic idea.  I shall spend the rest of the day planning for it.

Thoughts on the US Exit from the Weltmeisterschaft

Some things I would say were I sitting next to Alexis Lalas, McManamanamanaman, etc.:

  1. Enough with the US-underdog bullshit.  Sure, soccer may not be the biggest game in the US, but the men’s national team has plenty of money, plenty of time, and plenty of people to work with.  With all these resources, it’s frankly ridiculous that the US just barely scrape through the group stage, only to get beaten by the 32nd-ranked team (the US was ranked 14th, by the way).  So, to Mr. Donovon, who says that the US “goal should be to get through the group stage,” I say: raise the bar.  The expectation should be that the US get through the group stage; the goal should be, you know, to win.
  2. Thank the lord that we won’t have to hear too much more of the “Will the US finally become a soccer nation?”  I remember back in 1994 when Sports Illustrated ran a special issue trying to convince its readers that the US was “ready” for soccer.  I also remember reading a book for kids, written sometime in the late 1970s, that asserted that soccer was going to get huge in the US because of all the youth leagues.  News flash: soccer is already big in the US.  Lots of people play it, lots of people watch it, lots of money gets spent on it.  Stop moaning about how it’s not as “big” as the other football, and go kick a ball.
  3. In an odd way, I’m glad the US is out.  Now I can enjoy the rest of the games, instead of worrying about how the US is going to do.  Because it was getting pretty bad, folks–restless sleep, bad dreams, the works.  And with the US out, I can get back to proper work.  I haven’t written a sentence in the last two weeks.  Bad grad student, bad.

Reasons I Love This Gig #3: Weltmeisterschaft

World Cup Opener, Zotero, Coffee.  More wages of graduate school.

Thanks to my beloved $pou$e, we have high-def and DVR for the next month of the World Cup, so I’ll be able so sit on my arse and watch most of the games.  I’m making a token gesture at doing “research” during the games (hence my computer and Zotero).  But, like Tenured Radical* (oohh, how I’ve wanted to say those words!), much of my other work (including the blog) will have to work around the weltmesisterschaft schedule.  Unlike Tenured Radical (that one hurts me a little bit), I will, in fact, be cheering on the US squad.  It’d be nice if US victories translated into more interest in the MLS and more opportunities for Yanks like us to see good soccer in person without flying abroad.  And I should probably be ashamed of this, but there’s a bit of patriotism mixed in there, too.  To quote Team America: “America! Fuck Yeah!

*Speaking of whom, you should really be reading her blog.  Really.  Especially the linked post on the World Cup, in which TR gives the low-down on SA sexuality and history.  Awesome.

TV on DVD: Bad for you, Bad for television

[I’m using this fluff piece to get myself back in to blog-writing.  You are warned: this will stink.]

Much to my spouse’s chagrin, I have sworn off watching any new television series on DVD.  Having completed The Wire and suffered through the most recent season of Weeds (please, just make it end!), [hypothesis] I have decided that watching TV on DVD is bad for me and bad for the show.  Or at least that’s true for the way that I watch TV on DVD.  I seem to be unable to exercise any self-control; when a disc arrives, I usually watch every episode on the disc back-to-back on the same night.  This is both exhausting and an utter waste of time.  When I get to the end of a disc, I am tired from doing absolutely nothing.  And so I become frustrated at my laziness and my lack of self-control.  Naturally, I take this out on the television show, in which I find endless problems (see my previous rant on Weeds) and decide that I hate, but which I can’t stop watching.  So I trudge my way through as quickly as possible, missing exactly what makes good shows good: character development.  Mulder and Scully, the entire crew from Arrested Development–these characters evolved, and that’s what the made the shows great.  Some of that change and development is intended by the writers, the directors, and the actors, but I think some of it is imagined; viewers develop a pseudo-relationship with these characters, and imagine them to change over time as do real people.  But when you watch a show on DVD, the characters don’t get that kind of time and play-space in your brain.  All the evolution has to take place on the screen, right in front of you, and it’s usually incomplete or laughably radical.  I did this to The Wire.  My understanding is that people loved this show in large part due to the complexity and development of the characters.  And you get some of that when you watch it on DVD–but not all of it, I think.  By the end of the show, I found pretty much ever character on that show to be an unrealistically insufferable asshole–except for Amy Ryan’s character, who was only an occasional presence in the last two seasons, and so I was able to imagine the development of her character.  (note: Bunk and Omar were also good, so that complicates my theory).

Therefore, [thesis]: TV on DVD is bad for me because it wastes my time and irritates me, and it’s bad for the show because it doesn’t provide the time and space for character development.

And so, to Mad Men, Battlestar Gallatica, and all other shows that I “just have to watch,” I say: nein.  Ich habe die Nasen voll. But it’s not you, it’s me.

Ah, the modern condition.  It’s so stressful, I do believe I’ll faint!