• I just woke up from a nap after having stayed up until 3 AM grading annotated bibliographies.
  • Week seven is hell.
  • I am almost finished taking classes – forever and ever — two more weeks and one of those is the week of Thanksgiving.
  • Apparently some college freshman have never heard of apartheid. I’m adding that to my long list of things students are too young to remember.
  • Also, students only vaguely remember Hurricane Katrina.
  • Lack of sleep makes me want to eat carbs.
  • Grading makes me want a glass of wine.
  • I wrote a draft of my comps questions and sent them to my advisor, but he is sick, so there has been no word.
  • Our comps process takes six weeks. (WTF.)
  • I am so ready to be done with classes and focusing on my research.
  • I don’t have funding for my research, so I need to get moving on the fellowship applications.
  • If all goes well, I will spend April-August “in the field” and be ready to start writing in September.
  • This time next year I could be sending out job applications.
  • I really need to find a post-doc because I doubt I will be “ready” for a TT job by next winter.
  • Some kind of Oprah Christmas present special just came on the TV and the people in the audience are screaming like they won the lottery, which they kinda did. But it is still creepy. Sort of like a revival meeting, only consumerism = god.
  • My Spanish skills are finally returning to their 1992 levels. Between homework and classes I have been spending several hours a day working on this. Too bad that after this quarter is over I have no way to maintain or improve these skills since I need to focus on my comps and dissertation research.
  • I still don’t have down the names of all 66 of my students. How do other people learn their students’ names? (I think it it must be some sort of learning disability on my part.)
  • That is all for now.

There is a debate going around on the academic blog-o-sphere about faculty salaries and whether or not TT faculty have a right to complain. As far as I can tell it started over at Tenured Radical’s. When folks found out that TR makes over 107K many said she shouldn’t complain or that they themselves don’t feel the need or the right to complain. You can read a few different views: HistoriannDr Crazy, another post by TR, Squadratomagico, and undine.

Here’s the thing folks, from the mouth of someone at the bottom of the academic totem pole…(I make 12-14K depending on whether I get the privilege of teaching over the summer.) If Tenured Radical or other full professors in secure positions are willing to unionize or in any way help organize for better working conditions in academia, I welcome their help. I would be happy to discuss with them what organizing priorities the union should have. Although raises for full faculty wouldn’t be my first priority, I wouldn’t be opposed to organizing for such raises. Certainly we could all agree to organize in opposition to increasing teaching loads and larger and larger class sizes. Unions filled with grad students and adjuncts are weak compared to unions that also have tenured professors as members. There is a campaign happening now at Crunchy U. to unionize the faculty – adjuncts and TT together. It seems that many TT faculty are reticent to join, despite their Marxist leanings.

If you can’t unionize in your state, maybe it is time to start organizing to change that law. There are lots of workers out there who are in worse positions who could use your help. If you can’t unionize legally, maybe it is time to organize. Maybe we should start talking to our students about the conditions we work under. Faculty and students could be allies in organizing for improved education funding.  Civil disobedience could be considered. For that matter, you could do something to help K-12 educators who are struggling under crappy conditions. (Our new roommate is a 1st grade teacher at a low income public school.) Or doing something to help improve the working conditions for preschool teachers. Having well trained (and well paid) preschool teachers would make a huge difference in children’s lives. No one values preschool teachers, yet these are the folks that really need to understand developmental stages and how to provide kids with the foundations to do well in school.

Just don’t expect making change to be easy. I’m just saying.

k8 tagged me for this meme.

The Rules:

  • Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog – some random, some weird.
  • Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
  • Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. When I was very small my parents tried to go “back to the land” and be organic farmers.

2. In high school I was a drama geek.

3. I have never done a semester abroad (which I now greatly regret) but as a high school student I spent about three weeks in what was then the Soviet Union.

4. I worked on the most dangerous volcano in the U.S.

5. Recently I bought a PS2 and a DDR mat and have been using it as a form of exercise.

6. I love swimming in the ocean and jumping through waves.

7. I know a lot about medicinal herbs, for a while I wanted to go to herbalism school or become a naturopath.

Since Trillwing was kind enough to write a long update on her recent activities, I feel obligated to reciprocate!

Crunchy U. is on the quarter system, so we are almost half way through the term. My main activities this term are…Taking two different 300 level Spanish courses, being swamped with grading, and trying to prepare for my comps. I am exhausted and behind on my work as usual. The 8AM spanish classes are really messing with my sleep schedule. Since I have been working too much, eating crap, and not exercising, I have been having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep.

However, none of that is important really. I have to admit that since Beorn’s diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis my attitude has been pretty crappy. His illness came along as part of a series of unlucky events in our lives and I couldn’t help but begin to wonder if we were in some way cursed. This brought up a tension within me between the part of me that believes that trying your best and being a good person will bring good things into your life and the part of me that knows that many good people are unfairly burdened with more than their fair share of misfortune. I spent a lot of time feeling angry and bitter for all the things that we have lost.

It is difficult to explain the impact of RA to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Beorn’s case is particularly severe, but he doesn’t look that different. He doesn’t look sick except for the limp and the cane. But the reality is that he is in constant pain and simple things like going to the grocery store can be exhausting. His right knee is basically shot so walking in painful and since the knee won’t straighten it is constantly pulling his back out of alignment, causing more pain.

The point is, I felt as if I couldn’t let myself get too optimistic. I had a negative attitude and was generally pessimistic about the future. Really I just kept going because I didn’t know what else to do and knew things would just get worse if I didn’t keep going. I felt like the Red Queen. I was also just angry at people who didn’t understand, which was basically everyone I knew or met. Hanging out with other graduate students was difficult because the students in my department were leading the kind of lives that I felt I had lost. They were getting outside, enjoying all sorts of recreation. They were traveling the world having adventures.

But over the past few months my anger has been fading. A few nice things have happened recently to lessen my feeling that we are hanging off a ledge by our fingernails. Last spring I applied for and received a trip to Britain for a research related workshop. That felt amazing because it was the first time I had been to Britain and the first time I had been off the North American continent since I was a teen. Then I won a small fellowship. It is enough money to be a help, but not enough to mean I can take time off from working as a teaching assistant. The main thing though is that it will look good on my CV and makes it made me feel like I accomplished something.

This summer I spent taking yet another Spanish class and then teaching a class. I was planning to get some research done, but never managed to travel to get any new interviews in.

In early August a mentor for Big Ag. U. emailed to ask if I was interested in writing a book chapter. He knew I had some background on this particular topic and I guess the editors had been having trouble finding an author. So I agreed to do it, even though the topic isn’t really my specialty. The book was getting close to publication, so the timeline was tight. Writing the chapter and then getting all the editing and formatting done took longer than I expected and caused me a huge amount of anxiety. I just hope that when it comes out it isn’t supremely embarrassing. The topic is sort of a specialty of folks in my discipline, but the book is geared to people outside my discipline and my approach to the chapter was somewhat unconventional, so I’m a bit worried about how people will react. Also, I am concerned that I have missed citing some extremely important works or missed something obvious that would reveal my lack of knowledge.

In September I went (at my advisor’s urging) to a small regional conference and presented a paper. The paper is far from done, the historical research and the discourse analysis of online writings looks good, but I haven’t been able to do any interviewing or the online survey I am planning. Really I wasn’t very prepared, but I went into the presentation thinking I would just try to have fun with it. It turned out that I won a small award for best student paper (in one category). It was nice that people enjoyed my presentation and the money meant that I didn’t have to spend out of pocket to attend the conference.

The latest piece of good news has to do with my future presentation at the big national conference. My advisor was recommending that I present the regional paper again at the big national conference. I’m not excited about the regional paper though. There is another paper (historical) I wrote last year that is both more interesting and closer to my dissertation work and general interests. Well it took a bit of back and forth, but I managed to get the historical paper into a great session. My advisor said he liked it and the session organizer said he was “really excited” about it.

So that is the news. Now I need to get back to all the grading and Spanish homework I have been neglecting over the weekend.

Tonight I am grumpy for some reason. I think it is because I have spent the last six months teaching and struggling through language classes. I like teaching, really I do, but my department doesn’t assign me to teach within my specialty area. This spring I was assigned to teach a gen ed class that has literally been called “the impossible course” because you are expected to cover the globe in a quarter. I got very little done spring quarter. Then the first four weeks of summer I spent in an intensive grammar course for my foreign language. (Two more third year language classes for me in the fall.) The last three weeks I have been teaching the same technical course as I did last summer. Last summer it took me a ton of time and energy to prep that course. Thankfully, this summer it was basically all ready to go. I’m just not motivated to teach. Research is calling me…only it has been so long that I have lost track of what my dissertation is about and what my next steps should be.

I also have a small research project that is related to the dissertation which I am suppose to be getting done for a regional conference in September…problem…the project proposal is stuck somewhere in the office for the protection of human subjects.

Basically I’m busy beating myself up for not getting enough research done. At the same time I would really like to have a few weeks vacation. Instead, I agreed to write a book chapter that has to be done by the end of the month. Publications are good, so I can’t really be picky, but I now have three different projects to deal with between now and October (when classes start.)

I have also been thinking a lot about my research and trying to imagine what my next research project would be after my dissertation is complete. Now it may seem premature considering that my comps aren’t done and I still need my committee to approve my final dissertation proposal, but I have been doing research related to my dissertation project all along, so I feel like I have already learned some things I like and don’t like about this project. Reading Notorious PhD’s series on the fox and the hedghog in research has gotten me thinking. I’m definitely more of a fox. My research interests are all over the place. But the question that keeps bouncing around inside my head right now is how much I want to subscribe to one particular line of social theory. I know what I like, what research resonates with me, but some days I’m feeling postmodern and other days a bit of traditional western Marxism seems more appropriate. Also, how much can I let current fashions social theory dictate the direction of my research? Hopefully all will become clear through the initiation process that is called comprehensive exams. Duh, duh, duh….Epiphanies will abound.

P.S. I don’t know if I will ever get back in the habit of blogging here on a regular basis.

First,  congrats to my good friend Trillwing! She was offered a TT position, I won’t say more because she should reveal that herself but let’s just say that she is fabulous and deserves the best.

Here the hypothetical situation I would like you all to consider. You have an advisor who is smart and well thought of but inaccessible, just very difficult to keep in contact with. This person on paper is the ideal advisor for you, but in reality is difficult to handle. Do you find another advisor? Do you continue to persist in trying to manage this person despite the warnings of other graduate students and faculty? How long do you attempt to “make it work”? Do you talk to this person directly about the issue?

As I have mentioned, I’m planning to work through my comprehensive exams process during the fall quarter and so need to get my advising and my committee worked out. Unfortunately, the available professors are all real people with their own unique quirks.

This term I am in a seminar with an unusual twist. We are using about half the class time for a sort of writing workshop. Each week we turn in a bit of our term paper and get feedback. I should be very excited about this because I have been in grad school a very long time and have rarely gotten any feedback on my writing. The professor for this seminar is a very well know, senior scholar in our discipline so it’s exciting to get help from him. His logic is that normally we would all write our term papers during the final week or two of the quarter anyway, so we might as well just spend some time each week on our writing and get some actual feedback so that the final paper might be publishable. He also laid out which sections we were to turn in each week: abstract, outline, introduction, literature review, and so on.

This all sounds great so far, except I’m finding in practice it’s not. Here’s the thing, that’s not how I write my term papers. It’s true that I don’t get started on the actual writing of the paper until the end of the quarter, but I spend my spare moments all quarter researching, finding “data”, and reading through articles to build my literature review. By the end of the quarter I usually have a good idea of how my paper will be structured. Sometimes I write it from the beginning straight through, but often I start writing and then discover that the point I’m making needs to be moved later. My original intro is usually crap because I have to write some overly general rubbish in order to get to the heart of my argument. I don’t write a complete outline first, although I do write down some sections headings and points I need to make. So getting feedback on pieces of my paper before I have finished doing the research I need to come to a conclusion and make a solid argument is somewhat pointless. It’s also somewhat embarrassing because  it makes me look like I don’t know how to make an argument.

I’m only writing this now because I don’t know how to proceed with the next section of my paper which I’m suppose to be turning in today. My paper is tangentially related to my dissertation, but is something that I haven’t researched at all before this quarter. This specific topic hasn’t been written about much in the academic literature. Historical information about rural parts of this country is not easily available outside of local historical societies, and the one I need happens to be closed for remodeling until next spring. Arg!

It’s now Week 5. Yay, the quarter is half over. I’m super overloaded taking two seminars and finishing up second year Spanish. When I start to feel depressed and overwhelmed I tell myself this is the last quarter I will have a full load like this. Spring quarter I will be teaching a large entry level class and taking one seminar. (That will most likely be an overwhelming amount of work, but I’m trying to convince myself the opposite.) During the summer I will be taking third year Spanish and then take my qualifying exams next Fall! I keep telling myself that I’m making progress because sometimes it seems my writing and thinking is getting more confused rather than less.

Beorn’s health is improving. The Embrel seems to be having some positive effect on his RA.

In other news a friend visited last weekend. She and I went out Saturday night to a concert/dance with some great live music. Since I hardly ever go out or dress up, I decided to paint my nails.  Unfortunately I forgot the depths of my clumsiness. After getting through one hand, I got distracted and suddenly I had spilled the nail polish all over the table, the floor, and the cat. Poor BOK was very upset. We tried to wash him off, but of course it wouldn’t come off with soap and water. Then I decided that the only thing to do was to shave off the affected hair. Beorn held BOK and I used to clippers on him. He wasn’t happy, but he didn’t try to bite us. When I got down to the skin I discovered that some of the polish had gotten onto his skin. I got worried that he might get sick from licking his skin, but it was Saturday night, so I decided to call the animal hospital to see what the vet would say. I think the vet tech was a bit amused, but she asked the vet for me and then reassured me that the cat would be fine, but might have some skin irritation.

That’s all the excitement I have to report for now.

Around a year ago, I posted wondering whether or not I should apply to food stamps.  Beorn has been unable to work since he graduated last spring. Even before that we were barely getting by between my TA salary, Beorn’s part-time work in a student tech support position and our student loan money.

I wasn’t sure if we would qualify or not since we were both students.  It took me a long time to actually get up the courage to apply, but Beorn is now a food stamp recipient. At least here in Purple State, in order to qualify for food stamps as a student you have to be working at least 20 hours a week.  Since officially my TA position is a .40, I don’t qualify. I don’t really know what would happen if I was working more than 20 hours a week, but then my income would “count.” But that means Beorn qualifies because he didn’t have any income. I don’t understand it, but the nice social worker seemed very sure about it.

Since Beorn had no income when we applied he got the full $200 award, which is a big help for our food budget. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food and trying to eat healthy on a budget. Lately we have been eating healthy, but not staying on budget. We spend a lot of our income on food. I’m going to post again soon about some of the changes I have been making in my eating habits, but that’s a long story.

As someone who is now on food stamps, I have to say that I’m a little bit puzzled by all the folks who try the eating on a food stamps budget. Everyone seems to choose the average amount that a family on food stamps receives monthly and then try to stay within that budget. The thing is that the government is assuming that people are going to spend some of the rest of their income on food. It’s true that some families may try to eat just using their food stamps since they have to pay their other bills, but it seems like an arbitrary exercise. I guess I have trouble imagining that so many folks have never had to eat on a small budget.

One thing we have been doing to economize this last year is eating more and more beans. In fact, we bought two huge bags of locally grown organic dried beans for $.75/lb last September. I think they were 25 lbs each (garbanzos and pintos) and we are still working our way through them. This year the local bean farmers had a crop failure, so I guess if we were truly relying on local farms it would be a lucky thing that we had extra stores. Every week I try to cook up a big pot of beans and then come up with creative ways to eat them throughout the week. This week I discovered a easy and tasty way to spice up pinto beans without adding extra sugar or fats (remember, we are trying to eat healthy.)

Cheap and Delicious Pinto Beans

  • 2 cups dried pinto beans
  • salt
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder

Wash the beans and carefully check for stones and bits of dirt. (Our beans came to us very dirty.) Cover beans with plenty of clean water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let sit for an hour. (This jumpstarts the cooking process.) Heat beans on medium heat until very soft. (Undercooked beans are not fun to digest.) You may have to add more water to keep them covered, but in the end you should end up with not much excess “broth”. Add salt and spices to taste.

Note: Smoky paprika is the tastiest stuff ever! The brand we bought, “La Dalia” from Spain, was pretty expensive at $5 for 70 grams, but it lasts us a long time. I find that regular paprika is pretty tasteless. I would estimate that the amount in this recipe can’t cost more than $.25 and it turns the beans into something fabulous.

I don’t play many video games. We don’t have a console and I don’t have much time, but sometimes I get into a gaming mode, especially when I need some brainless zoning. One of the best games I have played in the last six months is called Plants Vs. Zombies by PopCap Games. (I have also beaten all the levels of Zuma, I’m embarrassed to say.) Take a look at this very silly fan made video I found on Wonderland:

Another very addictive game is World of Goo. Here is a little trailer:

I have also been wasting time playing Sims3 and Civ4 Beyond the Sword. These games are very appealing when you feel your life is a little out of control, because you can micro-manage everything. Luckily after a while I get bored with them and want to return to real life.

Beorn has been playing Lord of the Rings Online a lot, but I can’t seem to get into it. We played it a bit when it first came out and then when back to World of Warcraft because we had friends there. Now he has returned to LOTRO, but I get frustrated because I know the WOW commands better. I get confused and spend a lot of time trying to figure out which buttons to push and how to get from one town to another.

I consider computer games a good sort of therapy for my summer burnout. My other hobbies are all productive in one way or another – cooking, sewing, crafting. When I’m very burnt out I lose my ability to be creative and when I try to do creative stuff I just get frustrated by my failures. Computer games are more stimulating than watching TV, but don’t require any real effort.

I should spend more time getting outside, but I don’t have anyone here to hike or bike with, so I have been reticent. Beorn and I have been working on eating healthy  and becoming more active (more on that later). The fall term will be starting next week, so my gaming days will be over.