The Commencement of Freedom

I’ve just returned from commencement — the formal, public confirmation that I have, in fact, completed all of the necessary requirements for the title Doctor of Philosophy (although the diploma itself will not arrive, incredibly, for another three months or so).  It was, as usual, a silly affair; I was on the stage for less than thirty seconds out of the three hour ceremony, which is fine with me, but my family and friends who (foolishly, it must be said) might have found it frustrating, especially since the speeches at the beginning were really very poor.  But it’s done.  And, curiously enough, I do and did feel a little different after getting hooded.  It’s stupid, of course, since I technically finished the PhD a few weeks ago and since it changes absolutely nothing in my state of affairs (still working as a temp for next year!).  But there is a slight change in my disposition.  At first I thought it might be a feeling of confidence — that, yes, I am a historian, and yes, I do know what I’m talking about.  Except that I don’t know what I’m talking about; I possess no more knowledge now than this time last week.  A friend suggested that it was a feeling of competence, but that’s even further from the truth than confidence: I am neither competent nor confident (the lack of each quality reinforcing the lack of the other).  I’ve decided instead that this is a slight feeling of freedom.  Having walked the stage and received, in view of a lot people who don’t really care, a diploma placeholder, I officially have one less institution and one less set of rules and regulations to abide. No more of those particular hoops to jump through, no more of those particular administrators to please/beguile/deceive.  I welcome that, although there will be others.  There’s also a slight feeling, perhaps less welcome, of freedom from my advisers, who have so carefully watched and guided me over the last six years.  I have always welcomed their direction and hope they’ll continue to steer me right.  But they also no longer have a technical obligation to do so, although they have professional reasons — it’s good to get your students jobs — and, I dare say, personal reasons, as my friends.  But I’m more or less on my own now.  And there is some confidence that comes with that, and some realization of competence — perhaps I do know what I’m talking about, at least sometime — but mostly it’s just a feeling of space and opportunity, however terrifying.

 

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Eliminating Timesucks

I’ve just killed my Facebook account.  A little over three years ago, I signed up, allegedly because of Facebook’s alleged professional uses.  But I’ve discovered a few things.  First, I’m pretty sure I signed up for Facebook mostly for personal reasons.  Second, Facebook has offered absolutely no professional opportunities, at least for me.  On the contrary, I’ve seen only potential professional liabilities, what with all of my idiot “friends” posting photos of me looking like, well, an idiot.  And third, Facebook can be, and has been on occasion, a huge timesuck.  And not in a fun, oh-let’s-read-something-interesting way.  Rather, it’s brought out some unseemly sides of my character: some narcissism, a little voyeurism, and a whole lot of laziness.  And so it was time for me to leave Facebook, although other people smarter than me have decided to put up with the trouble.

It’s also far past time to identify and eliminate other timesucks. Most will be Internet-based: Twitter, probably, and a few redundant or useless blogs (not that you should do the same thing, dear reader).  I might find a few outside of cyberspace, as well, although nothing comes to mind.  I need to sit down and give some deliberately distribute the hours of my day.  Which is to say I’m going to spend some time thinking about how I spend my time.  Sounds like a timesuck to me.

And in case you’re wondering: yes, watching Euro 2012 is a timesuck.  But I’m doing it anyways.  As I write, in fact.

Now…where was I?

To the readers who have continued to visit, even as I’ve not posted anything in months: thanks.  It’s been a crazy few months, what with finishing the school year, raising a daughter, traveling outside of the country (twice), and…oh, what’s that other things I’ve been doing…right: finishing my dissertation.  It’s done.  I’m done.  Hard to believe, but I’ll be getting my hood in just a few weeks.  I’d reflect on the meaning and (un)importance of this “accomplishment,” but right now I just want to press the reset button, do a little up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A, and get things going again with body, soul, and mind.  Part of that will be a return to blogging, hopefully once a week on Monday mornings.  See you around.

Meritocracy, My Ass

Just in case there was any confusion on the subject, the academic job market does not reward those who work the hardest, teach well and often, or produce more and better scholarship.  Compared to the advantages of an Ivy League pedigree and its nepotistic connections, things like teaching experience, publications, and awards don’t amount to a pile of beans.  At least that’s the case with many schools — R-1s and small liberal arts colleges alike — that are easily wowed by the names on diplomas and letters of reference.  For those of us without the great good fortune to have been enrolled in courses at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, it’s a game of luck and chance, and the hope that at least one member of the search committee will have the guts to read past the eduction section of the CV and not be star-struck when the Good Old Boys start calling in their connections.

Yeah, I lost out on a job search to an Ivy Leaguer, even though I have taught more classes, published more articles, and won more awards.  So I’m pissed.  And I’m going to use it.  I’m going to take my anger and frustration and I’m going to sink it into my work.  I’m going to get the articles out, go to the conferences, get the book published, get the job, and get elected to professional organizations.  And when the time comes on job, conference, and fellowship committees, I will have my vengeance.  So run, you cur.  And tell the other curs I’m coming, and I’m bringing hell with me.

Reboot

I need a reboot day.  After weeks of balancing precariously on the edge of total disorder in my teaching, research, and writing, I’m just about to fall off the cliff.  I even had to violate my Nature/Nurture Sunday to do some grading that I had put off for weeks. And still I’m not up to the bare minimum of where I need to be.  And that’s a problem, because I am so very, very close to being done with a lot of important things.  Top of the list: finishing and filing my dissertation so I can get hooded this June.  I’ve promised my committee the last round of edits by the middle of March, and that’s going to take some late nights.  When I start to think about that plus teaching plus an article I’m almost done with plus a conference at the end of this month and so on, I feel like I’m just about to lose it.  So I’m calling a time out.  Not a day off from work, but a day to take a step back and remind myself of which work is important and to figure out how to get that done.  The problem, of course, is that every second I take to plan is a second I take away from doing the work itself.  But right now, I need to figure out where I’m going and how to get there.  An important process, I’d argue, for every academic, and especially those just starting to learn how to balance all the fun and taxing work we do.

 

Nature and Nurture Sundays

Another long break since my last post…bad on me.  But that last one got a lot of hits, so I basked in that for a while, and then there’s this whole new baby thing that’s been taking up a hell of a lot of time.  Turns out that many shorties (inspiration: The Onion), including our own, don’t give a damn about when you want to sleep, and that really messes up your work-life-blogging schedule (not that I had much of one to begin with, but whatever).  Anyway, I’ve made one New Years resolution this year, and it’s this: Nature and Nurture Sundays.  I will do no proper work on Sundays: no teaching prep, no dissertation writing/revising, none of that stuff.  I’ll allow myself to read, and maybe even take notes, but that’s about it.  Otherwise, I’m getting out into nature (and I will not think about the cultural construction of “nature” — that would be work) and learn the names of trees and shrubs and such, and I’m going to do a lot of nurturing: of my relationships with friends and family and of my soul.  That means things like playing guitar (which I just did for an hour, and DAMN do I need some calluses!), brewing beer (which I started doing in November), dreaming up storylines for the novel that’s been cooking in my head, and spending lots of quality time with my spouse and daughter.  I hope that this will help bring my stress level down a bit and remind me of what’s important.  I can’t say that it’s worked so far — after the first Nature and Nurture Sunday last week, I promptly had not one, but two, breakdowns, sobbing uncontrollably and repeating “There’s too much to do and I’ll never get it done!”  But even that was a little cathartic.  Distressing, but cathartic.  Anyway, I also hope that this means more regular writing on this blog, which was intended, after all, as a de-stressing activity, not as work.  So I hope you’ll come to expect a bit more of me on Sundays, dear reader — but not too much.  After all, there are trees to identify, beer to brew, and a daughter to be fascinated by.

Chancellor Katehi’s Silver Tongued Bullshit

You may have heard that some bad shit went down at UC Davis yesterday.  Peaceful protestors + police = pepper spray — this is becoming an all-too familiar equation in today’s post-procedural liberalism America.  And while I agree with ZZ and Historiann that the power-hungry UC Davis guard dogs were way out-of-control, I put most of the blame on the person holding the leash: Chancellor Linda Katehi.  She’s the one who released the hounds, and now she’s trying to weasel her way out (apologies for the mixed-species metaphor).  Check out the e-mail she sent to the “UC Davis Campus Community” last night (see below).   Katehi claims that “we [note that she spreads the blame by using the first-person plural, rather than “I”] appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations”; she also “appreciates and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue.”  But because of “serious health and safety concerns,” she had to “ask the police to assist” in the removal of the protestors, at which point “10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used” [again, watch the blame shifting through use of the passive voice!].  This “saddened” Katehi, who evidently had no idea that the cops might, you know, do what cops do and use pepper spray.  Thus did Pontius Pilate wash her hands of these “sad” events.

To point out the obvious:

  • Katehi, you were the one who called in the dogs.  Not “we.”  You.
  • Katehi, you knew damned well what would happen when you called in the cops.  Don’t act so naive.
  • Katehi, what do you mean by “serious health and safety concerns”?  Be a bit more specific — these are the sorts of generalized claims that get my students C-minuses on their essays.
  • Katehi, you may not want to admit this, but you had some choices.  You could have just let the protestors be.  Or, if you were so concerned about “health and safety,” how about using the rent-a-cop money to help the protestors take care of their own health and safety, instead of imperiling their health and safety?  Riddle me this: how does pepper spray improve a person’s health and safety?  Unless I’m wrong, pepper spray is actually bad for someone’s health.  I think that’s the whole point of pepper spray — to hurt someone.
  • Katehi, you should probably quit.  Really — just go.  And while you’re at it, take as much of the bloated UC administrative system with you as possible.  We don’t need it.

See and smell Katehi’s bullshit below:

November 18, 2011

To UC Davis Campus Community,

I am writing to tell you about events that occurred Friday afternoon at UC Davis relating to a group of protestors who chose to set up an encampment on the quad Thursday as part of a week of peaceful demonstrations on our campus that coincided with many other occupy movements at universities throughout the country.

The group did not respond to requests from administration and campus police to comply with campus rules that exist to protect the health and safety of our campus community.  The group was informed in writing this morning that the encampment violated regulations designed to protect the health and safety of students, staff and faculty.  The group was further informed that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed.

Following our requests, several of the group chose to dismantle their tents this afternoon and we are grateful for their actions.  However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.  We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used.  We will be reviewing the details of the incident.

We appreciate and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue as a fundamental tenet of our great academic institution.  At the same time, we have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment.  We were aware that some of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus were not members of the UC Davis community and this required us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff. We take this responsibility very seriously.

While we have appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations during the week, the encampment raised serious health and safety concerns, and the resources required to supervise this encampment could not be sustained, especially in these very tight economic times when our resources must support our core academic mission.

We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested.  We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.

We appreciate the substantive dialogue the students have begun here on campus as part of this week.s activities, and we want to offer appropriate opportunities to express opinions, advance the discussion and suggest solutions as part of the time-honored university tradition.  We invite our entire campus community to consider the topics related to the occupy movement you would like to discuss and we pledge to work with you to develop a series of discussion forums throughout our campus.

I ask all members of the campus community for their support in ensuring a safe environment for all members of our campus community.  We hope you will actively support us in accomplishing this objective.

Linda P.B. Katehi
Chancellor