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.