Friday, August 21, 2009

This Ain't No Garden of Eden and I Ain't No Eve

It was one of those weeks, kiddies. In the immortal words of Pearl Bailey, “I’m just tired.”

Each day seemed designed to put me in a deeper shade of blue. Sometimes the cosmos just drives me to drink. Of course, I really wouldn’t drink at all – It’s just that I can’t think of another way to get the alcohol into my bloodstream.

My week’s highlights start and end in my garden. At the start of the week, I finally admitted to myself that I am 90 percent certain that the amaranthus cauditis seeds that I planted last spring never really sprouted. Or if they sprouted, they were quickly devoured by the voracious vampire rabbits that inhabit my property.

But, you see, I thought the seeds had sprouted many months go. In the general area where I planted them there were many little buds coming out of the ground. So, for over eight weeks, I have been faithfully nurturing a patch of weeds. They are now quite robust.

Heading out of the garden and to my mailbox, I found some timely correspondence from my credit card companies. Since that mean ol' government is forcing them to at least try to play fair, they have decided to jack up their interest rates on existing customers. Will I ever get out debt? It seems unlikely.

In addition to my horticulture and financial failures, my romantic life made it a perfect hat trick. This week brought not one, but two separate rejections. Neither was major, but it doesn’t help a boy’s ego, you know? This has not been a week where I have enjoyed my singledom – at all.

So those stings probably only magnified a comment from an oh-so-precious graduate student. With little warning, ze decided to tell me, “I just can’t wait until I am as old you! I am really looking forward to being thoroughly middle aged.” Wasn’t that sweet? Cuz, you know, I wasn’t already feeling like Quasimodo thanks to the unending torrent of rejections coming my way. Nice. I would look into a bell-ringing gig, but I am apparently too withered and aged for that type of work.



Sometimes I wonder, where did such graduate students learn their manners? Did their parents/guardians make some type of calculated decision during their childhood? Did they decide to forgo the time it took to teach basic conversational etiquette so that they could cram in more grammar rules? All I can say is that I better never see a dangling preposition in this student’s papers.

Project Runway returned to the air this week. That might have been a bright spot, except now they film it in Los Angeles. Let’s be honest: it just isn’t the same show outside of New York. It’s over.

To bring the week to a close, this morning I headed out to check on my weeds’ progress to seed (‘cuz I am sure that all the Miracle-Gro© that I have been giving them will insure that they spread like wildfire next spring. My neighbors will be so pleased.). As I stepped off my deck and into the lawn, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. In the lawn, there was something dark blowing in the breeze. Only there wasn’t any breeze. And then I realized, it was a motherfucking snake.



My reflexes had me jump backwards three feet. I thought that snakes only lived on planes! Where is Jeff Corwin when you need him? It wasn't the first time I asked that question this week . . .

Before you all go thinking that I am easily rattled (no pun intended), this was no simple little garter snake. I am from New Mexico. All sorts of reptiles have crossed my path. We are talking about a snake, though, that was at least sixteen inches long and two inches wide.

He wasn't one of those charming, Disney snakes either. Trust me, he had neither an ermine cape nor a captivating way with words.



What he did have was half a frog hanging out of his mouth. Yes, I surprised the snake during his breakfast hour. It was a horror show. The frog’s little legs still twitching as the snake reared its head towards me in an attack posture. Apparently his parents didn’t take the time to teach it proper attack etiquette. Didn’t he know it was rude to look menacing with its mouth full?

Being superstitious (or maybe I just want such a disturbing scene to have some meaning -- any meaning), I thought it must be a bad omen. Then I realized something important. My week may have been an unpleasant one, but it wasn’t worse than the week that the frog had.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy

My week of living blogfully concluded with a bang. I enjoyed a long weekend of visiting with VUBOQ. It’s interesting that two of my favorite bloggers, Dorian and VUBOQ, both happened to appear in Midwestern Funky Town in the same week.

Unlike the rest of you forgetful bitches, VUBOQ actually remembers the things that I wrote on this blog! He is a loyal disciple of GayProf and will inherit the earth – or the blogosphere – or whatever I have that is inheritable.

Kidding aside, VUBOQ was totally the awesome. He was the awesome and another half awesome extra. And his DC haircut attracted quite the attention in MFT. You can read about our hijinks over at his place.

His and Dorian’s visit reminded me of two things. First, there aren't that many bloggers left around from when I first started this blog (They are two of very few who are still publishing original content). Second, MFT offers only modest entertainment for visiting guests. While the town’s funkiness is readily apparent, so is its midwesterness.

Have I ever mentioned how annoying it is that there is only a single gay bar in a town this size? Well, if I haven’t, it’s really annoying. During the summer, things aren’t so bad because they have patio seating. Come winter time, however, things get much more bleak.



Speaking of the impending winter (**non sequitur alert**), it reminds me that the academic school year is about to start for most of us. Now is the time that those lucky few who obtained a job are settling into their new towns.

Some of the best advice that I think I have seen on blogs came from Rebekah. While I am paraphrasing, she once noted that it was important to act like the colleague that you would like to have rather than the colleagues who might actually surround you. I am lucky to have really fantastic colleagues at Big Midwestern U, but, as you might recall (Well, you might recall if you are VUBOQ, who actually remembers what I wrote on this blog), that was not always the case at my other gigs.

GayProf is far from being a perfect colleague (trust me), but Rebekah's words are sentiments that I generally try to follow. Since some are new to the whole working thing, I thought it might be helpful to outline some key difference between colleagues. Here is a simple guide to help you know what makes a good colleague, a bad colleague, and a crazy colleague.

***

    When preparing a syllabus:

      A good colleague will consider assigning material written by their fellow professors.

      A bad colleague will assign hir own book.

      A crazy colleague will be thinking about ways to sleep with hir students.




    ***

    During a regular department meeting,

      A good colleague will listen intently to other people's views and weigh in only when ze has direct experience or knowledge of the issue at hand.

      A bad colleague will start a fight with another faculty member over a trivial issue.

      A crazy colleague will give a monologue of no less than twenty minutes expounding on why they are under-appreciated within the department.

    ***

    When a junior colleague explicitly asks a favor of a senior faculty member:

      A good colleague will do hir best to fulfill the request, remembering how vulnerable junior faculty can be.

      A bad colleague will ignore the junior faculty member’s request entirely and then complain that they are too busy and over extended.

      A crazy colleague will use the request as evidence that the junior colleague doesn’t “deserve” tenure.

    ***

    When a junior colleague explicitly asks a fellow junior faculty member to read a piece of work:

      A good colleague will budget time to give a thoughtful reading and feedback of the piece.

      A bad colleague will declare that they have more important things to do than to read anything from a junior person.

      A crazy colleague will try to publish the work under their own name.

    ***

    When passing in the hall,

      A good colleague will say hello in a cheerful manner.

      A bad colleague will avoid eye contact.

      A crazy colleague will campaign to be made department chair.

    ***

    In the department kitchen,

      A good colleague will make the next pot of coffee if they take the last cup.

      A bad colleague will empty the coffee pot into their personal thermos and walk away.

      A crazy colleague will advocate replacing all coffee with Postum©.

    ***

    When interacting with the department staff,

      A good colleague will remember that they are peers, but simply doing different types of labor.

      A bad colleague will treat them like servants.

      A crazy colleague will have had to go through a dean-ordered sensitivity training from HR.



    ***

    While in your office,

      A good colleague will keep music or other media at a low volume, remembering that the walls are paper-thin and that other people are trying to work.

      A bad colleague will blast Bon Jovi’s greatest hits over and over again.

      A crazy colleague will be singing hir heart out as if at the London Palladium.

    ***

    With graduate students,

      A good colleague will allow students to gravitate to the faculty who they find the most helpful to their project.

      A bad colleague will have graduate students mowing hir lawn.

      A crazy colleague will jealously guard graduate students as if they were made out of gold. They will have an ambition to create a small army of drones who all speak the same as themselves.


    ***

    During a job search,

      A good colleague will dutifully read the application materials and attend the job talks.

      A bad colleague will assume that “somebody” will read the materials, but that they are really too busy to care.

      A crazy colleague will hire whoever fits their political agenda without reading a single word of the application.

    ***

    When a visiting professor arrives,

      A good colleague will be a cordial host and attend meals with the visitor.

      A bad colleague will ignore the event or whine that their friends weren’t invited instead.

      A crazy colleague will corner the visitor and plead for a job at another university.



    ***
    When scheduling next semester’s classes,

      A good colleague will consider the needs of the program as a whole.

      A bad colleague will teach whatever they want, whenever they want to teach it (even if they only ever get eight students at a time).

      A crazy colleague will declare that all courses outside hir own field are “silly” and “boutique classes” that shouldn’t be offered at all.

    ***

    When an important policy document is circulated,

      A good colleague will read it and give feedback by the date requested.

      A bad colleague will read it several months after the policy change went into effect but still demand that their opinion “be heard.”

      A crazy colleague will declare it part of a mass conspiracy to deprive them of their basic rights.

    ****

    On the road to tenure,

      A good colleague will recognize that everybody is under the same stress and try to create a sense of community.

      A bad colleague will believe that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world and every professor is out for hirself.

      A crazy colleague will complain that their work is soooo much more difficult and special than everybody else’s and therefore deserves “special consideration.”


    ***

    In terms of personal hygiene,

      A good colleague will shower at least daily.

      A bad colleague will arrive at department meetings straight from the gym.

      A crazy colleague will have spiders living in hir hair and/or beard.

    ***

    In terms of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other institutionalized patterns of discrimination,

      A good colleague will educate themselves on the issues and think about ways to change the status quo.

      A bad colleague will declare that such things aren’t their problem.

      A crazy colleague will advocate revoking the department’s non-discrimination clause because white straight men are the “real victims.”




    ***

    When a colleague publishes a new book, article, or wins an award:

      A good colleague will send a short note of congratulations.

      A bad colleague will say that there were “better” journals/presses/awards where the work could have been placed.

      A crazy colleague will call up the editor/awards committee and ask why their own work wasn’t considered.


    ***

    When a newly hired professor arrives in the department,

      A good colleague will invite hir for a meal and show hir around to feel welcome.

      A bad colleague will remind hir that not having tenure makes them “temporary.”

      A crazy colleague will tell hir just how many people voted against hiring hir.



    ***

    When talking about research,

      A good colleague will suggest helpful texts that might enhance their work.

      A bad colleague will recommend their own work as a helpful model of "true" scholarship.

      A crazy colleague will talk wistfully of the good times in graduate school when they were able to have “real” intellectual conversations and how disappointing it is to not have that in their current department.

    ***

    After a department function off-campus,

      A good colleague will offer a ride to anybody without a car.

      A bad colleague will not have shown up in the first place.

      A crazy colleague will trap a junior faculty member in the corner to discuss hir recent diagnosis of leaky bowel syndrome.


    ***

    During an external review,

      A good colleague will outline both the strengths and weaknesses of the department.

      A bad colleague will complain that they are underpaid and deserve a massive raise.

      A crazy colleague will declare that all of the department’s problems only started once they hired "all those women and minorities."




    ***

    After a rocky department meeting,

      A good colleague will try to put it in perspective and move forward with no hard feelings.

      A bad colleague will carry a grudge for the next twenty years and have an "enemies" list longer than Nixon's.

      A crazy colleague will write a blog post about it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Inside the Blogging Studio with HistoriAnn

My week of living blogfully continues. For those of you who are following along at home, remember that today is the day that you click over to HistoriAnn for Part II of our conversation about blogging, life, death, and life. If you haven't read Part I, you are missing out. All the cool kids are reading it, why not you? Do you think that you are better than us?

In the meantime, you might have been wondering what GayProf would look like in the Mad Men universe (hat tip to VUBOQ). It turns out, given my already-existing love of retro, that I look basically the same -- Only I don't drink Martinis at the office. I mean, everybody knows that bourbon is the appropriate drink for faculty offices. You can make our own version here.



Now, if you will excuse me, I need to create a new SSD for my Dreadnought.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Inside the Blogging Studio with GayProf

Greetings, loyal readers and true believers. GayProf is having a week of living blogfully. My good fortune allowed me to finally meet (in RL) one of my favorite bloggers of all time: Dorian from Postmodern Barney. He and his friend John made a rest stop in Midwestern Funky Town on their cross-country journey.

When I first started this blog, Dorian was an early inspiration and a really generous reader. He was just as rockin' cool as I imagined (and pretty darn sweet). It was also a pleasure to meet John, one of the few other people I have ever encountered who played Starfleet Battles as a youngster (Yes, I was that type of nerd).

My week of living blogfully will include another blogger visiting Midwestern Funky Town later this week. Dare to guess the identity.

Today, the blogfully week continues with a the conversation that I recently had with HistoriAnn over blogging, academic priorities, and the solution to world hunger. Okay, maybe we didn’t quite tackle all of that. Still, read Part I of our conversation here today and then head over to her corral tomorrow for the conclusion.

***

Part I: Blogging the academic life

GayProf: It’s great that we are finally getting around to a joint post. Of course, my first choice would have been to debate the intricacies of the Wonder Woman episode where Formicida, Queen of the Insects, brings an environmental message to evil and polluting U.S. corporations. I suppose, though, discussing academia is good, too.



The relationship between blogs and academic life seems tricky. Some suggest that it should be construed as important as any other type of intellectual inquiry in tenure/promotion files.

I guess I am conflicted about what I think of that. For me, I liked my little bloggy because I could write about things that I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to write about in more narrow academic circles. Also, it gives a chance for academics to reach a much wider audience. Not many people outside of universities, for instance, would care to pick up a film journal. On a blog, though, they can read a quick post that contemplates the racial meanings of Ricardo Mont├ílban’s roles in film and television (I was sad that he died, but I take comfort in knowing that his casket was upholstered in the richest Corinthian leather possible). Alas, I think more people will have read CoG than will ultimately ever read NERPoD (even if NERPoD is a bit sounder and has fewer typos).

HistoriAnn: I agree with you GayProf: My instinct is that my blog is not something I want to submit as part of my annual report or for my salary exercise.

GayProf: At a talk by Benedict Anderson I once attended, he speculated that the moment that a text becomes something that college students can be tested over it more-or-less loses its revolutionary potential. Maybe the moment that a blog becomes part of merit metrics, they also lose their fun. Then it’s no longer a way to pass the time cracking jokes, but actual work.

HistoriAnn: I also enjoy blogging because of the new people I've met (well, most of them, anyway) and the large audience who will read my blog and engage my opinions who will in fact never, ever pick up my books and articles. A lot of people -- mostly historians or feminist academics outside of History -- have let me know, either on the blog or in person, that HistoriAnn has been really professionally or even personally useful to them, and I'm thrilled that so many people seem to appreciate the community that we've built there.



GayProf: It seems like community is the most important aspect of blogging. Certainly one of the reasons that I started my own blog was that I was feeling a lack of community in many aspects of life in the dreaded state of Texas. Blogging allowed me to connect with different groups of like-minded folk: The queer, other scholars, those obsessed with seventies pop icons. It turns out that those are some rather overlapping communities.


HistoriAnn: Yes. At least, for feminist bloggers and most academic bloggers I think community is the most important thing. There’s a similar interest in creating safe spaces in which we can have conversations across vast geographies, and pretty much in real time. Although friends of mine have commented recently that they think that the historical profession is just too ‘nice’ these days—in that no one really wants to attack anyone’s ideas, they just ignore them instead—I think ‘nice’ is just fine by me in terms of the space I have in the blogosphere.

GayProf: Too nice?(!) I am not sure what conferences they are attending, but I see lots of meanspirited folk become sharks at various panels. Geez – Are they hoping for an Alexis-and- Krystal-in-the-pool sort of moment?



HistoriAnn: Well, who isn’t, so long as it’s not you getting wet? (Just kidding.) But, to return to the question of blogging on the clock versus for fun: blogging is a choice that I think of like a hobby, although "hobby" seems like I'm selling myself short--should I say "avocation," as opposed to my "vocation?" I never dreamed that my avocation would be something that would attract more than a few hundred regular readers. If I put it on my annual report, it would become another obligation, and as a middle-class woman in the early twenty-first century, I've got plenty of obligations to work and to other people in my life. Maybe it's illusory, but keeping it off the books makes it feel more like fun than work.



Realistically, even if I included my blog in my annual report, I'd only get a fraction of credit for it anyway. In my department, our effort distribution is 50% teaching, 35% research, and 15% service. Since blogging is neither teaching nor research -- although it may serve to facilitate both of these aspects of my work -- it would doubtlessly fall into the catchall category we call "service" (as in service to the department/university/profession/community, etc.)

So, all things considered, I like the fact that Historiann is "space off," although it's clearly linked to who I am and what I do professionally. It has brought me into contact with scholars like you, with whom I have a lot in common but who otherwise don’t attend the same conferences, generally speaking, and it’s always good to have more friends and connections than fewer, right? I don’t mean that in a careerist sense, but rather in the sense that it makes me feel connected to a broader community of likeminded scholars. (This is something I think I value more now from my wifi connection in the Colorado Territory than I would if I still lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts or even in Oxford, Ohio.)



GayProf: Yeah, I think blogging could only fall under the “Service” category, which nobody really counts towards anything anyway (No matter how many nifty percentages or fractions that they attach to it. While I have occasionally heard people complain that so-and-so doesn’t do their fair share of service, I have never seen it actually impact their status or potential for raises).

HistoriAnn: Me either! Funny, that. I also don’t see people punished enough for being jerks, but I guess that means I can always reserve my right to be a flaming a-hole should I feel so inclined.

GayProf: Ah, the privileges of tenure. . .

Still, I do think that academics are going to have to engage with internet publishing, including blogs, in more serious ways. I think there is a potential for blogging to be akin to the very early writings of second-wave feminists or African-American and Latino activists in the sixties and seventies. In those instances, most trade and academic presses didn’t want to have anything to do with those works. The ideas, however, were so important that people published them anyway that they could: small independent presses (a thing of the past), self-publishing, or even just mimeographing them so that they could circulate. I think that blogging has allowed a comparable opportunity for people to articulate views that just don’t get traction in the mainstream.

HistoriAnn: This is a great analogy—or, maybe like feminist ‘zines from the 1980s and early 1990s?

GayProf: Blogging also gives academics a chance to have a sense of humor about things. Working in academia, maybe especially in ethnic/race studies, I find that everybody tends to be a little too earnest and serious. Given that ethnic studies professors stand a chance of being arrested in their own home, that lack of humor is probably understandable. Nonetheless, I like to think that we could be irreverent more often, even if we are talking about really serious issues.

HistoriAnn: Exactly. What would you do with your Wonder Woman memorabilia, and what would I do with my Barbies and cowgirl pinups, if we didn't have blogs?

GayProf: Well, I would probably still send my Mego Wonder Woman doll on adventures.



HistoriAnn: Our students get to know us (within limits, one hopes) and we can't help but share a little of our personalities with them in the way we dress, talk, move, organize a class, etc. But academic publications are not about "us" as people -- rightly I think. Blogs even permit us to create alter-egos like a superhero who disguises herself by day as a naval secretary, or like a cowgirl on the High Plains Desert with an amazing library of sexy pin-ups by Gil Elvgren. I think your fascination with Wonder Woman -- bespectacled naval attache by day, superhero of the Allied Powers by night -- captures the fun of blogging. We can develop playful alter-egos who probably have very little to do with our actual everyday professional lives. (And I hope I haven’t disillusioned too many readers for suggesting that I may not actually be a cowgirl who owns a ranch with horses to tend to, fences to ride, and stalls to muck out.)

GayProf: Right, though my secret identity is the worst kept secret on the blogosphere. Diana Prince made it look so easy. Just toss on some glasses and wear a bun-of-steel and nobody second-guesses that you might be wearing a red-white-and-blue playboy bunny costume under that uniform. As there are only a dozen gay-Chicano-studies scholars in existence, you don’t have to be Angela Lansbury to figure my real identity out.



HistoriAnn: That’s another reason I decided to be “out” from the start. I was already tenured, but really—how many other people in the world are there whose research interests are exactly what I do? And how many of them live in Colorado? Anyone considering starting a blog should consider how likely it is you can remain anonymous or pseudonymous if you live in a small state or small metro area. If you live in L.A. or New York, you’ll probably hold onto your anonymity longer, but since most academic bloggers end up in small-town America and Canada, that’s probably unlikely.

GayProf: I never really thought anybody would actually read the blog. When I started, there were just things that I needed to express about my life that wasn’t possible in TexAss.

Setting aside my shaky decisions, and to harp on my previous analogy to the sixties writings (because I tend to like it today), I think that pseudonyms and alter-egos can reignite that previous generations’ notion that the ideas were more important than the individual. They believed that the identity of one particular author was less critical than getting a discussion going.

Still, blogging is simply not the same as other intellectual work. Blogging definitely rewards quantity over quality. The more one posts, the more readers one collects. Indeed, I have seen some really great blogs lose their sense of purpose because the authors wanted to increase their readership. In place of thoughtfully written pieces written every few days, they became a clearing house for news feeds posted dozens and dozens of times per day. It works, too. They have thousands of readers who are willing to comment on a post consisting of nothing more than a picture of a cup of coffee.



HistoriAnn: Yes -- even some academic blogs -- or rather, blogs by people who were once academics -- have fallen into this trap. I try to walk the line by posting pretty much every day, and levening the history geek posts with the political commentary, and the professional issues in academia posts with Barbies or other doll-related posts, just to lighten the mood. (Depressing blogs are to their readers as Kryptonite is to Superman! They will sap your superpowers.)

But there's no question: it's easier to just link to someone else and say simply "heh" or "interesting," than it is to analyze something and open up a question for your readers to reflect on. But then, that's in part why I linked my blog to my real life identity--I thought that people should know where I'm coming from, and that it might curb any temptation to become intellectually lazy.

GayProf: I agree – After all, I can read a newsfeed just as easily as anybody else. Why go to a blog for that?



And there are some topics I won’t do on my blog. People’s murders, beatings, or personal humiliations just don’t seem like appropriate content for a blog with campy comic book covers and jokes about having sex with a car.