Signs of the times

So it’s lovely to hear from Notorious, and to enjoy, vicariously, the notion of a big mostly-empty office in which to work on a new(ish) project. My home study is pretty big, actually, but it’s also the site of many old projects, some of which are still pending (revisions . . . ), plus household files, and pickle dishes or their equivalent that I’m sorting out, and usually a cat or two, plus it’s my dressing room. Thus, even though I am better equipped for space than many academics, I still enjoy the fantasy of a fresh start.

What really hit me in this picture (click to enlarge), though, is the telephone.

At LRU, we’re losing our office phones. And cutting the library budget drastically. There is no travel money, though some may be pulled from some dark place for the untenured. And we are to expect further mid-year cuts, since the fall semester had to be scheduled before we knew what the budget would look like (besides dire).

It’s not that I use the phone so much. I can live without it, and I’d rather give up the phone than the monographs budget (not that that’s a choice: they’re both happening). But it’s a sign of faculty status, even tenured faculty at tolerably respectable universities. I frequently run into people in my area who went to LRU, or whose kid or nephew or cousin’s daughter goes there, and they think highly of the school and they think I have a good job. (Mostly I agree with them.) I think these people, whether they work in sales, accounting, law, nursing, programming, or office support in any of these or various other types of work, would be surprised that I no longer have an office phone. And I’m pretty sure that that’s not what they think they voted for.

Timing

While we’re on the topic of nostalgia, in my totally unscientific and undoubtedly observer-biased surfing around, it seems to me that a lot of people gave up blogging around 2008-09.  Was this part of the growing hegemony of the Book of Face, or did it have something to do with the financial crisis?  People also identify 2008 as the Year Things Changed in the job market, due to financial stuff.

Because of family problems, I paid very little attention to the outside world in 2008-09.  I sum these things up, briefly, by saying “My parents were both very ill and my mother died.”  Although the death belongs in the “blessed relief” category, the grieving process takes its course regardless of one’s actual feelings.  I hadn’t grasped that before.  Grief isn’t necessarily about sadness, but about adjusting to a new reality.  Anyway, I remember vividly the day that Lehmann went under, because I was in FamilyLand, on the phone with a friend in New York who was stunned by the whole thing; she reported on the financial people wandering the streets in the middle of the day looking shell-shocked.  But it was late morning on the left coast, and, in a brief respite from attending on my mother, I was sitting in the sun in a hemlock grove, on a redwood deck built by my nephew from trees he had felled, enjoying the peace and the sunlight, enjoying hearing from a friend I loved but rarely saw, and who was a tremendous support during my mother’s last years.  It was a rare moment of comfort in a difficult trip.  The bankruptcies and the Dow’s slide seemed remote, unreal, impossible, a matter of pixels on screens; reality was wood, slate, glass, concrete, a whole house that was not there before my nephew built it.  This would continue, I thought, people would make things, the world would go on.

Well, it did.  And it didn’t.  People who move pixels on screens spend actual money on houses and other objects created by the people who make things.  My nephew and his wife spent awhile living in their own basement apartment while they rented out their beautiful house, though eventually they reclaimed it for themselves and, now, their children.  I tell the story to illustrate my state of mind at the time.  I’ve rarely blogged about world events of any sort, preferring to ramble on about writing, cats, and the academic life, but I was especially self-absorbed that year.  I have no idea what the job market was like, or whether jobs were advertised and then yanked, or what else might have happened.

So, did junior faculty and graduate student bloggers get spooked and feel they’d better be more circumspect, shut down, go away, not be available for hiring committees to observe online?  Did they decide to buckle down and write more on their dissertations or books so they’d be more hire-able or tenure-able, and give up on blogging as a time-waster?  Or is this pure coincidence (how many academic babies were born in ’08-’09?), or simply that I haven’t actually counted up how many of the bloggers I once read quit in particular years?

On giving up

I’m a little amused that a five-year-old meme has caught on again, at least in a small way, thanks to my propensity for re-visiting my past, and thanks to bloggers like Clarissa and Z.

Because I was feeling so rotten last week, spending much of several days asleep, when I was awake I spent awhile re-reading Squadratomagico’s archives, which I greatly enjoyed.  Hers is a blogging voice I miss; but given the range of her interests, I’m sure she’s having a fantastic time doing whatever took the place of blogging in her life.

Since she’s not around to speak for herself (so far as I know—do speak up in the comments if you’re out there, Squadro!), I feel a certain responsibility to speak for her, since I’m the one who returned to the old topic.  The original post, http://squadratomagico.net/2008/02/15/how-much/, responded to changes in the lives of several members of the academic blogging community, some of whom are still with us, others of whom either stopped blogging or may have re-named themselves in moves I have lost track of: New Kid, before law school; Medieval Woman, while still in a long-distance relationship and before the twins; Heu Mihi, before her translation to the cornfields, the advent of the Minister, and Bonaventure; the bloggers who are now Maude and Moria; Hilaire, who I hope is now enjoying a happier life than the one I used to follow.   These potential (at that time—now actual) changes provoked a lot of soul-searching, and those of us who were already enjoying stable positions both empathized and took the opportunity to think about our own lives.

In particular, I want to let Squadro respond to the first line of Jonathan’s post on this topic.  In teaching meme, she explicitly values the contrafactual:  “I love teaching history because I believe it implicitly raises the possibility of counterfactual narratives. I don’t explore counterfactuality in the classroom, but I know some students are thinking about these issues on their own. The ability to imagine alternate social, political, economic, religious, etc. directions within history can, I think, lead to the ability to imagine alternate configurations for current social, political, economic, religious, etc. conditions. The study of history can train the individual to question reality; to question the authority of received cultural (and parental) expectations, hopefully in productive ways. I believe this can be empowering.”

The political is the personal.  Exploring counterfactuality in our own lives can be empowering.  It need not be a sign one should leave academia.  And one’s own contentment does not invalidate others’ struggle.  At the very least, people contemplating entering academia need to know the opportunity costs, the likely starting salaries, and the problems of salary compression.  My own students think professors make “good money” and are astonished that they could earn more teaching high school, but that is the situation in these parts.  YMMV, of course.  Personally, I think academic life has given me more than it took away; my losses have more to do with health and family situations that would almost certainly have arisen in any case.  I still think it’s worth evaluating the gains and the losses.

Random bullets of November

I’m feeling unimaginative lately, which is why I haven’t posted anything. I’m not even desperately busy; indeed, if I were, I’d probably have more heretical ideas about teaching, or more updating about writing projects, or whines about committee meetings. But we’re just chugging along here. Nonetheless, just to prove I’m still alive in the blogosphere:

  • The Grammarian is a very strange sort of picky eater. He meows piteously for food. I put down a plate with his usual food on it. He stares at it in horrified disbelief and informs me that I am trying to poison him, he can’t eat this slop, he has been miserably betrayed by someone he had trusted to have his best interests at heart, etc. etc. I run my finger through the food, force his mouth open and smear it on his tongue, whereupon he says, “OMG cat fud!!! Why u not SAY so?” and sets to.
  • Why is it so hard to find a financial-advice book that will just answer some simple questions (or at least run through a list of things to think about when considering various situations) without a lot of touchy-feely claptrap? With all due respect to the Grumpy Pair (and that’s quite a lot of respect) and their enjoyment of Your Money or Your Life, I’m quite clear on my values and my risk tolerance, I am very well aware of the costs of my commute, and I don’t want to live in jeans and thrifted clothing making my own bean soup like some damned hippie (grumble grumble), except on maybe one weekend a month, because I do, after all, hail from hippieville and the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree. Suze Ormond, a recommendation from someone else, also has a lot of “spiritual” blah-blah. I just want to know, hypothetically, how to balance the tax advantages of having a mortgage plus a larger lump sum in the bank against not having a mortgage and having a smaller lump in the bank. Sure, it’s a nice hypothetical problem to have. How do I approach it?
  • In these days of miracle and wonder, the long-distance call and e-mail, it is a complete delight to get a hand-written letter from an old friend. Such a sense of intimacy and connection! It’s enough to make me contemplate sending a few Christmas Solstice cards.
  • One more week of classes. Just three days of actually meeting students. But OMG that means I have to invent a final exam right quick.
  • I am never going to get involved in conference-organizing again. Be it resolved.
  • Writing update: I have now drafted two chapters of the Unexpected Book. Both need work, especially with source material, but the basic argument is in place. I think I am going to use the winter break to try to finish an article (the MMP) that should have been finished a year ago; my library now has a reference work I need, so that should help a bit, except that the library will be closed for a couple of weeks (where are the foreign/broke graduate students supposed to go???). I will need to cannibalize that chapter for a conference paper this spring (and I think I should get at least some of the source material worked into that paper), and I have another conference paper to write, so making this decision makes me a little nervous: I’d rather like to do those things first. OTOH, conference papers don’t have to be as complete or as polished as full articles, and I do have the chapter as a base for the one; so I think I can do those things while teaching, whereas the MMP needs some undiluted thinking time. And it would be so great to get that particular monkey off my back.
  • Now that I mention it, getting the MMP out ASAP is a great idea because if I can get an R&R within six months, I can work on it in the summer while I will have access to the relevant manuscripts. Be it resolved.