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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.

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My recent trip to Big Conference gave me a lot to think about in terms of how academics present themselves. Apparently Girl Scholar has been having similar thoughts.

The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar: Keeping up appearances

“Really, though, my question is: when did academia become a glamour profession? It seems to me that there was a time when professors were expected to be a bit dumpy. Sure, there was That One Professor that everyone had a crush on, but that was exceptional.

One of the funn(i)est things about Big Conference is guessing what people specialize in by their dress and personal appearance. I guess what fascinates me is whether or not it’s a good idea to imitate the dress of important scholars you admire. I’m sure that if you are the student of an important scholar s/he would be flattered to find that you take after them in terms of dress. I’m going to give you some of the obvious categories for my discipline, which I think I will call “head studies” in contrast to my earlier attempts in the field of “hairdressing.” Please don’t think I’m making fun, my observations about people’s appearance do not lesson my impression of them as scholars. I’m just insecure about my place in academia and my identity, so I make these observations:

Old School, Old Boy: This is an older gentleman in a full suit with tie (sometimes a bow tie.) Grey haired and confident, he and his cohort chat while relaxing in the lounge areas of the conference. In “head studies” this person is always a white male.

The Techie: This is our version of the geek. Khakis and a blue shirt, glasses. A neat, short haircut. Also invariably a man, although younger.

The Outdoorsperson: S/he is unconcerned about appearances. Clothing tends towards jeans or khakis and flannel shirts, all slightly ill-fitting. This person doesn’t get haircuts frequently. Her or his hair is long and looks slightly unkempt. Beards are common for men. You can also tell this type by their skin. They tend to have slightly leathery or freckled skin from spending a lot of time outside.

The Rock Star (male): This guy is smart and he knows it. He has lots of hair gel, tight black pants, sunglasses and a leather jacket.

The Rock Star (female): She could be old or young, but she always has a short, spiky haircut, usually covered in gel. Like the male Rock Star, she tends towards fashionable, tailored clothing. She generally wears close fitting pants, black boots, a tailored jacket (often red) and an elegantly tied scarf.

I know there are more types, but those are the ones that stand out in my mind. Each of these types is associated with a particular sub-discipline, but I won’t go into that.