Shoe bleg

I’m vain, but not stupid.

I like cute shoes. This doesn’t mean high heels. I like a bit of heel, but I can live without it, and I may have to, going forward. I’ve had a bum ankle for years (sprained multiple times since the age of 20), and it seems like for the last most-of-a-decade I’ve been repeatedly rehabbing it from minor strains. I’ve noticed that the ankle feels better in my gym shoes, which start with some built-in arch support and then have added the arch-support inserts I’ve used in all my shoes for the last 30 years. So I can see that I need to spend more time in properly supportive shoes (not stupid). But the gym shoes are hideously neon and I refuse to be seen in them anywhere but the gym. For the moment, I’m wearing them around the house and changing when I go out (vain).

I have very high arches, as you might guess from needing to add arch supports to shoes that already have some support. All I want is a pair of black oxfords, ideally something menswear-like (wingtips?); at least not hopelessly old-lady-ish; preferably not gym shoes; with good arch support and a fairly well-cushioned sole. In other words, something that feels like gym shoes, but looks dressier. It is astonishingly difficult to find such a shoe.

So, gentle readers, any recommendations? Brands, at least?

A fictional dilemma

A friend of mine is considering an opportunity that comes with a catch.

The good news: a course release for work she would enjoy. The bad news: working with someone she does not like. And I don’t mean “can preserve professional decorum though would not invite this person to a party.” I mean “would like to smack this creep and was thrilled when he left the department.”

Not to put too fine a point on it. (She might be more tactful if she were writing this post herself, but I’ve heard what she really thinks, and that’s pretty much it.)

The position is an assistant editorship for an academic journal, with a strong possibility of advancing to editor in due course (probably not too long a course); the current editor is someone my friend gets on with, but the book review editor is . . . not. But he is a good friend of the editor.

Historiann, for one, is emphatic about the drawbacks of being an editor. See also Liz’s comment in another thread related to editing. My friend has edited a couple of proceedings volumes, so she has some (dim?) idea of what is involved; she also likes the idea of doing academic work that serves scholars rather than students. She is good at reviewing and copy-editing and has ideas about where she would like to take the journal, should she wind up as editor. I think the course release is a large carrot for her.

If she survives to be editor, she could presumably pick a new book review editor. That doesn’t mean the old one would go gracefully, or that she wouldn’t have to do a lot of teeth-gritting in the meantime. She points out that if everyone reasonable refuses to work with these Old Doods, only Young Doods will be in the running for the editorship, and that it would be a good thing if a reasonable, not-ancient feminist managed to take over this journal and use it as a way to nurture young (and not-so-young) scholars, particularly those of a feminist stripe. Why leave it to the Doods?

I think life is too short to deal with jerks. I suggested she could make it a condition that the book review editor has to go, but she suspects that if she did, the Doods would take the journal to another school altogether, whereas her department would like to keep it.

So . . . what do my readers think?

Tempest-uous Spring Planning

I will be teaching The Tempest in the spring. I thought I had taught it sometime, maybe ten years back, and had some assignments to draw on. But as I search my files, it appears that I haven’t taught it since I was in graduate school.

Oh-kay. Well. I’m sure it will be fine. Advice would nonetheless be welcome. Even more welcome would be suggestions of one or more short stories with which I could pair the play: stories with thematic connections, or in which characters refer to The Tempest, or are acting in it, or reading it at school, something like that. My idea, if I can get a suitable story, is to read it first, in order to generate questions about its allusions that could be solved by reading the play itself. Thus, I’m not picky about genre. A story that belongs to the SF/fantasy genre, or aims at a YA audience, would be fine. Even fan-fic, so long as it’s tolerably literate and has a recognizable story structure.

Ideas? Anyone? Bueller?

Productive procrastination, or Working when Stupid

I’ve been sleeping poorly, again, which makes it difficult to focus during the day.

I know what’s wrong. My wonky ankle has been acting up, so I’m resting it, which means I’m not working out, which means I don’t sleep so well. This will pass. The ankle will improve, and I will work back up to a decent level of cardiovascular exercise, and all shall be well. In the meantime I try to do more yoga and other relaxing things before bed.

Anyway: what to do on a work day when I have stacks of (well, three) articles to revise, and I don’t feel like I can grasp my own arguments, let alone anyone else’s? Answer: write syllabi and plan spring classes. Tired and fuzzy-headed (or, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid) is the perfect state to work on these tasks. When I’m alert and intelligent, I get over-optimistic about wildly creative, innovative ideas that require lots of energy and a clear head to put into practice in the classroom, and I forget that I may not have those attributes on the future days when I will need them. When I’m tired, I recognize that bad days happen, and that it would be a good idea to re-use old assignments (tweaking as appropriate); to omit or re-schedule that reading that always needs Extra Energy and Enthusiasm!!!; and to leave some flex days on which I can either experiment with a new innovative assignment as a low-stakes, in-class activity so that I can work out potential problems with it, or else, if the flex day is a low-energy day, show a relevant movie or You-Tube clips with discussion of same.

Some more alert and intelligent Future Self will have to look over today’s plans to make sure I haven’t done anything really stupid, like putting all the wrong dates on the syllabus or scheduling two separate sets of readings for the same weeks. Even so, today I’ll get something useful done, and my Future Self will be glad to have a chunk of the work at least drafted.

I play one on TV

I’m not literally a foreign language teacher, and certainly was not trained in FL pedagogy. But since I teach Middle English literature, and since many of my students find Middle English baffling, I often feel like I’m teaching a foreign language, though I am without portfolio (so to speak). Usually it’s the native-born monolinguals who have the hardest time; immigrants, heritage speakers, and students who have minors or majors in a FL pick up ME just fine. They’re used to code-switching, they have a better grasp of grammar, they have a sort of mental flexibility about language and its oddities. I’ve done a lot of reading about FL pedagogy, trying to figure out how to bring those techniques into what is supposed to be a traditional literature course.

Despite my efforts, there are two areas where my current (soon-to-be former) students are really struggling: verb endings (especially second and third-person singulars, thou goest and he goeth, for example), and clauses involving relative pronouns, especially when combined with inverted syntax of a sort common in poetry and even more common in ME (“Ask I you that listen that I say . . .” where the second that, in ME, translates to that which or what: “I ask you who listen to what I say . . . “). Not getting these points means that while my students can get the gist of their reading, they’re often shaky on who does what to whom. Because I’m really teaching literature rather than language, this is a problem. If you’re just trying to order in a restaurant, you can say “Querer un cafe” and the server will probably work out that you mean “quiero.” But if you’re analyzing poetry, you need to understand the forms of words and how they interact.

It’s possible that having a small class, this term, is distorting results: if I had this many students having these problems among a group of 70-odd, I wouldn’t worry about it. In a group of <20, however, the percentage of problems stands out.

If I have any readers who really are FL teachers (Z?), do you have any suggestions?

Orderly transitions

Using “Trump” along with “President” in the same sentence, never mind the same noun clause, makes me want to hurl.

Just so we’re clear on that.

However: the Electoral College exists for a reason. It keeps the more populous states from dominating the more sparsely populated ones. The principle is that the states are just as important as where the population resides. Any individual state can decide how it wants to distribute its electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska distribute them in proportion to the popular vote. That’s their decision. Other states go by the winner-take-all method. They get to decide that.

We have a rule book. We need to follow it. Dictatorships and banana republics change the rules when the game doesn’t come out the way they want it. That’s not how we do things in the USA. Think what your reaction would be, if the vote had gone the other way and Trump supporters were petitioning the Electoral College to cast its votes differently from the way they were pledged.

If you don’t like the Electoral College system, try working in your state to get your electors’ votes cast proportionately to the popular vote rather than as winner-take-all. Work to get Democrats elected in mid-term elections. Let your voice be heard in the new administration. Speak. Write. Register voters. Talk to people. Act. Contribute time, money, ideas, energy to the people and organizations who matter to you.

But let’s do things right. Democratically. By the rules. It’s true, rules can change, and sometimes they need to. Make sure, though, that the rules you ask for are fair to everyone, because next time the shoe may be on the other foot. Do as you would be done by. Do it by the book.

How to tell when an avocado is ripe

Please stop squeezing avocados in the store to see if they are ripe. You’re just bruising them.

Plan ahead, and buy less-than-ripe avocados. At home, place them on a table (not in the fridge, not in the fruit bowl). Don’t move them or rotate them. Just let them sit. When they develop a flat spot on the bottom, roughly 3/4 of an inch in diameter, then they’re ripe. (You can pick them up to check on the development of the flat spot, but put them back where they were.)

Notice the texture of the skin at this point. It softens. Not soft as in squishy/yielding (don’t squeeze; just touch). Soft like a textile, soft like cardboard compared to wood, or vinyl tile compared to ceramic tile. I’m not sure how to describe it (not velvety: if your avocado develops tiny soft fibers all over, something is very wrong; throw it out and start over). But it is noticeable and definite, once you know what to look for.

Trust me on this. I grew up in avocado country. Don’t squeeze. Just let them be till the flat spot develops and the surface texture changes.

On perspective, again

I made such a long comment at Undine’s that I thought I should bring it over here.

Caveat: this is definitely about the individual. If you are in a truly oppressive environment, you may need to work for change, or change jobs, or at least not beat yourself up for not being able to manage your job via managing your feelings. But if you’re in an only ordinarily difficult situation—budget cuts, lots of students, wondering how to get your own writing done, feeling that other people are somehow coping better—then here’s what I have to offer.

Here’s my suggestion for living in academia with less anxiety: don’t be a perfectionist. Just do your work. Don’t feel that everything has to be done right now, or perfectly. Write first. Then prep and grade. Go to the meeting and participate. Fill in the forms when you have time (will your students really not have books if the bookstore gets the order form tomorrow or next week? This is the age of Amazon; your students may not even go to the campus bookstore). If you have to fill in one of those forms saying how you spend your classroom time, guess, rather than trying to figure out what you really do. Appreciate your students, the ones who try, the ones you can help. Don’t think about the ones who are annoying. Similar advice re colleagues. Go home and do something else that matters: raise your kids, read a book, plant/cook/eat good food, listen to music, learn a language just because.

I admit that it really helps to have married out of academe. When I go home, I can hear about big-corporation work hassles instead of continuing to think about beleaguered-university budget troubles. Nonetheless, I think a lot of anxiety about work is self-inflicted. I am not saying “check out mentally” or “refuse committee work.” It’s more “keep work in its place; think about the big picture.” Doing my job is important to me. But I don’t want to worry about doing my job. And I am not going to do it 24/7.

People’s big pictures vary, and this is why academia is tricky—it is, or can be, like artistry. That line about no one wishing on their deathbed that they’d spent more time on the job—I think artists and novelists may well wish that they’d produced one more painting or novel. If you feel like that about your research, then spending more time on the writing job is a wise use of time. If what you care about is teaching, then maybe you do want to write up the detailed comments for everyone, in hopes that it will make a difference to someone. But do you really need to do the detailed comments AND work on research every day AND knock yourself out planning initiatives that may or may not get funded? I think it’s fine to pull your own weight—but no more—and refuse guilt trips and flattery trips.* What parts of your job matter to you? Do those well enough to meet your own (reasonable) expectations—do enough of the other parts well enough so that you aren’t making other people’s lives difficult—and let go of the sense that you have to do everything perfectly.


*Flattery trip: “Oh, you’d be so good at this, we really neeeeeed you.” The answer to that is “We need to give someone else a chance to develop those skills,” if you have already served, or are serving elsewhere.

Maintaining perspective

I’m participating in the TLQ group again. The last two weeks have had suggestions for thinking about maintaining perspective in the face of trouble which, taken together, have prompted me to post my thoughts here rather than in the comments there, because they turned out to be a long preamble to a tale.

Taking care of oneself, and having a home life that is separate from work life, provides space. As JaneB noted, sometimes it’s easier to connect with family (children/spouse) than with one’s own self/ house/ pet/ non-human preoccupation. So pay attention to the people or critters you live with. If you live alone, take care of yourself as you would a friend.

One thing I notice about academics who are very productive is that they don’t seem to entertain doubts about the importance of what they’re doing. They don’t say, “Well, I’m not curing cancer,” or “well, not that many people really care about this.” They think they’re making a difference to the world, and that includes the people who do literary research in earlier periods. Some of them may justify such work by the idea that it makes them, or other people, better teachers, but whatever way they find to think about it, they think their research matters. They think it makes the world a better (more interesting, better-informed, more thoughtful, more enlightened) place.

We’re trained to question everything, including rhetoric and values. But maybe we’re overdoing the questioning. Maybe we need to give ourselves some answers. “My work is important because . . . ” and “Though small, my audience is significant because . . . ” and even just “I love my work and I can get paid for it, so someone thinks it’s significant and I think it’s a good thing to do work I love.”

And indeed, it is a good thing to do work you love. I know there has been a shift in advice for young people, so that it’s now less “Find your passion” and more “Find something you’re decent at and can stand, get really good at that, and see if it becomes your passion, or if you can pursue your passion as a leisure activity.” Even if we give that advice to our students (and heaven knows following your passion to grad school in the humanities is not such a good option these days), why should those of us who are already academics belatedly follow it? Why take on Puritan notions (or are they Romantic?) about suffering and not having fun? Why be a tortured writer (artist, academic) if it’s possible to choose to be a happy one who has fun with writing, who dances with the Muse in the moonlight, who gets to have conversations with famous long-dead writers (artists, whoever)?

So what do you love about your job? I hope there’s something. I love research and writing. I have a lesser but still notable love for teaching so long as I have at least minimally engaged students. I don’t mind committee work so long as I feel it is productive.

What I don’t like: I dislike the climate of anxiety that has clouded LRU for the past few years: less and less money, low enrollments, re-shaping programs, low faculty morale. I don’t like trying to gauge how much I, personally, need to worry.

What I am doing: I am trying very hard not to get sucked into other people’s anxieties. Some of them are very real, especially for those who are single or partnered with other people who work for LRU. Since I am fortunate enough to have “married out,” I think it’s better for me to avoid taking on the anxieties that many of my colleagues feel. I sympathize. I acknowledge that they have real things to worry about. But I, personally, don’t have to worry in the same way they do, so why should I torment myself with their worries? I’m going to do me, and let them do them. This is not saying I have no worries. This is saying I want to assess the things that I need to worry about and not worry about ones that aren’t my individual problem.

I’m also consciously saying, “The work will still be there tomorrow, and now it is time to get some exercise/sleep/relaxation/food—to have a life that is more than work. The students can wait another day or two for their papers. The world will not come to an end if I file that form next week instead of tomorrow.” Along with over-questioning, I think we’re also over-conscientious. Sometimes there are hard deadlines. Other times, we expect too much of ourselves. How much of such expectations comes from our job guidelines, how much from feeling competitive with other colleagues (if you made it through a Ph.D., you are probably fairly competitive, at least about some things), how much from early training in being a good girl?

What I wonder about: can I make people pay rent in my head? That is, if I’m thinking about something that annoys me, can I find a way to make those thoughts productive? Can they spur me to do something differently? Can I learn from people I’m angry at or jealous of?

Finally, I’m reminded of a few bits of advice. Long ago, I had my own copy of Women in Academe: Outsiders in the Sacred Grove. (I gave it to a friend who, a couple of years later, quit a tenure-track job. Hmmm.) I re-read it last year. It’s dated, and yet not nearly so dated as you might expect. The advice given, about focusing on research and networking, is excellent, and I wish I had paid more attention to it when I was in the early years of my career. I was more interested in work-life balance, at the time, when I should have been thinking about work. Anyway, I will paraphrase, since I no longer have the book to hand: what is important is that you get your work done, and make sure that you and your family are fed, rested, and loved. What is not important is that you cook all your own food, clean your own house, or make your kids’ Halloween costumes by hand. Ms Mentor has similar advice: “Be good to yourself. . . . Do not diet—starvation will make you grouchy and boring. Buy frozen foods; cherish the microwave. . . . BE ADEQUATE, NOT PERFECT. Tape that motto to your fridge. . . . Routinize. Simplify.” (Emily Toth, Ms Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia [Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997], p. 75)

As you might expect

I shall tactfully refrain from naming the author or title of the book (published by a highly reputed university press) in which I found the following sentence:

“One might argue that romances, like novellas, were the kind of prose fiction that was closest in interest and narrative type to romances.”

One might argue that; but why would one bother? It’s tautological.

Maybe one or more adjectives is missing, or something else went wrong in the editing process. In the context of the paragraph, it seems like a different kind of statement is needed at this point. I can imagine highlighting and moving the wrong chunk of text.

Note to self as well as others: this is why actual proof-reading by human eyes (and, preferably, voice) is necessary. Do not rely on electronic checkers of spelling and grammar.