I am having an exceedingly difficult time figuring out a way to start this blog update– in part, it’s the intense fatigue from all computer-related activity.  I’m sick of staring at my laptop and my desktop and just want to lie down and stare at the sky/ceiling/underside of whatever large piece of furniture I can find to hide under.  It’s been an excruciating week what with a proposal deadline to meet, two classes to prep, and many assignments to think up/write/design.  The proposal especially took it out of me.  Those damn things always do.  As I communed with my computer for hours and hours, eschewing natural light, sleep and meals involving plates, my thoughts would frequently come back to the same futile places.  Namely:

  • “Ummm, is it even possible to finish all this work in time?”
  • “Why didn’t I plan ahead and get this done earlier?”
  • “Am I even writing English anymore?”
  • “I am so tired; can’t I sleep now?”
  • “What happens if I DON’T finish all of this stuff?”
  • “Isn’t it just going to get worse?”

While I did manage to pound it all out, I can’t even guess at what suffered in terms of quality.  I put my proposal in my chair’s paws (Top Dawg) on Wednesday afternoon so he could take it home and review it before signing off on it.  He found one typo and proclaimed the proposal otherwise “fine” in a very dry and unrevealing tone.  That’s all I’ve got in the way of feedback for now.

I knew better than to expect my “A” game in a week where volume of work is so heavy, but nonetheless, it is a little embarrassing to get caught producing things which are not up to one’s usual standards.  Case in point, I administered my second on-line quiz this week (no thanks to you D2L– you continue to be an overwhelmingly RIDICULOUS program and I have my eye on you).  Because I wrote the questions and set it up the day before it went live, I was rushed and didn’t proofread.

A couple of typos (three!) is not a big deal, but I fracked up royally by setting the answer key incorrectly on one of the questions, resulting in several (ok, three) panicked students contacting me.  It’s all fixed and amended, but embarrassing, no?  I wish I was presenting myself in a more polished fashion, one in which I could create an impression (illusion?) of infallibility.  There goes that wish…

But all that aside, I am just so very glad that the week is over, that I am still standing (though I hurt, really, and am worried that treating myself this way is not good for my health).  When the assistant chair wandered in and tried to make small-talk with me on Wednesday, I realized that the sound of my own voice was very alien to me as I’d barely spoken to anyone for two days (barring phone conversations with the ever supportive Mr. Rottweiler, and an excited C. who shared the news of her engagement over the phone with me on Monday night– HUZZAH!).  I had definitely barely spoken to anyone in person for two days.

On Thursday night, as I staggered out of my afternoon class and started dealing with worried quiz takers, I decided to see if Schnauzer and her husband were free for dinner and drinks.  She was happy that I crawled out of my muck of work, as we seem to be on track with a regular habit of going out on Thursday nights, and she thought we wouldn’t make it this week as a result of my zombified state and upcoming travel.  (I caught a 5:10 AM flight and am on the plane right at this very moment).  Though tired, I wanted to speak to someone just to feel like a social animal again (no offense to my computers– but I was sick of being a cyborg).  We had a nice dinner which, incidentally, ended abruptly when some genius sitting at the bar tried to light a cigarette with their friend’s pepper spray, which they mistook for a lighter.  Coughing and sputtering with our lips and eyes on fire, we stumbled out of the restaurant and into the night.  So my fellow academic denizens, I am tired, wrung out, a little chagrined, and, well, slightly peppery.

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Begging your indulgence…

September 15, 2008

It’s a very rainy Sunday.  I’m feeling a little water-logged, but otherwise, on a comparatively even keel if we take my last post as an indicator of my general mood.  Since Tuesday, former advisers have been called, advice sought and yes… inquiries sent out about other job possibilities.  New friends have been made, potentially, research collaborators found, and, most importantly, old friends and all important life mates have made their presence very known.  Professor Rottweiler, despite her panic (barking even) is going to stay put for at least another year or two.

The newness of my current city definitely compounds the issues at work.  I don’t have local friends and so I am not processing at a normal pace.  It leaves me a little more overwhelmed than usual… a little less able to cope.  Generally not a good thing.  On Tuesday, I was partly miffed because of technical difficulties (these are all still difficult… as the week has gone on, my colleagues and I are learning just how cheap Midwestern U. is– they don’t shell out for advanced subscriptions so we what we have is typically the cheap interface that tends to be the least user-friendly versions of whatever service we are offered).  Tuesday was also generally sucky because I gave a crappy lecture.  At least it felt crappy.  It was the first day that I moved from conceptual framing lectures to content-heavy explanatory lectures, if you get what I mean.  From “welcome to the wonderful world of anthropology” to “here is what you need to know about biological anthropology.”

I was particularly nervous about this first unit as it is not my strong suit.  As I have started preparing my lectures for this module, I feel like I am relearning it.  And yet, I know that I know it well enough for the purposes of the intro course.  Still, as my intro class is the big prerequisite for all of the upper level anthropology classes, be they biological anthropology, archaeology or cultural anthropology, I feel some sense of accountability for laying a firm enough foundation that my colleagues will not think I am a nincompoop when my students get funneled into their classes.  Thus, because I was nervous, for the first time I down-loaded a power point lecture from the publisher’s website, and I tweaked it to represent my own approach.  I also wrote out three single-spaced pages of notes in a too small font size (11 point!).

When I got to lecture, someone had dimmed the lights, which I didn’t notice until I was up there at the podium with the horde of 93 staring at me as I squinted at my notes.  I delivered the lecture in a stilted, disjointed and patchy fashion.  When I looked up, there were 20 minutes left to go.  I took two questions, talked about the last assignment, and then dismissed them early.  Overall, I felt quite crappy about the whole thing.  On my way home, I left sad messages for my old adviser, my friends, and two messages for my husband.

The next day, I started to think about what went wrong.  I wish I had the clarity of mind to have this conversation with myself just after the class, as it would have saved me some panic and tears, but I am reconciling myself to the fact that my introspection abilities are dialed down for now.  I realized that the room had been dark, that the print on my notes had been too small, and that the power point presentation, though serviceable, had not been mine.  Usually, when I design a power point presentation, the slides serve as prompts for me.  With someone else’s presentation, I was delivering someone else’s lecture.  Though I had thought this would make me more secure with less familiar material, it was more important for me to make the lecture my own.  Thus, on Thursday I threw the ready-made power points in the virtual “garbage” and crafted my own lecture presentation (on the subject of acclimatization and adaptation) and wouldn’t you know it… it went fine.  They laughed at my jokes.  They raised their hands when I asked questions.  They even asked their own questions.  Then they left the class and took my on-line quiz (thank you, D2L) with relatively few blow-ups.

I did learn that the quiz was clearly not hard enough (the grade distribution was nowhere near a bell curve), but I will pump up the difficulty level on the next one.  As for the job front, I still hanker to be in a department with other anthropologists, but my adviser warned me that I should only really apply for a position that would be significantly better than the one I have, and, as it shouldn’t get out that I am on the market, I should really only apply for positions that are actually going to consider me.

After a day of some leg work, she and I determined that the three positions I had been eyeing were not within my capacity to get for a variety of reasons.  One really wanted a more senior person, another had a specific topic for which they were seeking, and a third, though they did not say so in the advertisement, really was unwilling to hire an Americanist (like me and 80% of the folks who graduate from anthropology PhD programs).  At first, hearing this made me feel sad and trapped.  But after a few hours, I realized that I was glad to have a job at all, and a tenure track one at that.

On Friday, I also finally met another friend of a friend who lives locally and works at another university in town.   In addition to a pleasant afternoon and nice food, she left me with some insight into how one can approach teaching the large service classes which are not really on one’s own area of expertise.  Though she admitted it may not be the healthiest of attitudes, she copped to not caring as much and being less invested and thus, able to get through preparation with less of a time and energy investment.  “Think about it,” she told me, “when you teach your area of expertise, you spend so much time trying to plan the perfect syllabus with the right texts, but when it isn’t yours, you spend less time tinkering with it.”

These words in mind, I headed back home and found that an email had surfaced from another local friend of a friend who I had met a few weeks back.  She hadn’t emailed me since we had met for dinner, and being my paranoid self, I had assumed that she hated me on sight and was avoiding me, but it turns out (silly Rottweiler!) she’s just been busy.  She sent me a detailed email full of tips on places to shop, exercise, and visit (my own city guide) and also invited me to participate in her research workshop.  She also passed my name on to one of her collaborators, an anthropologist I have an abiding respect for– and so her email was followed by an email from him with an invitation to coffee or lunch.

All around, it made me feel less adrift and more optimistic about possibilities for meaningful scholarly exchange.  I keep repeating that I have an abounding fear that having finished grad school and moved on to the professional world, I will suddenly turn stupid.  Of course, as I have been moaning and whimpering all week, I received many concerned and reassuring emails and phone calls from Mr. Rottweiler and other dear friends (HAPPY BIRTHDAY C!)  And to top it all off, on Friday night I was at home chipping away at some work and thinking may be life at Midwestern U. wasn’t totally destined to be one big steaming pile of dog crap…. when someone came knocking on my door.  Mr. Rottweiler flew all the way from his East Coast abode to surprise me just for a two day trip!  I can tell you, my tail was a waggin’ and I was one happy rottweiler after that.

The visit hammered home what I have already known: that it’s hard to adjust to a new and unfamiliar job, a new city (ask me how many parking tickets I’ve gotten since moving here), no friends, a long distance relationship, and everything familiar, dear and precious that formed the center of my life these past few years being suddenly very far away.  I’m not sure how I am going to get centered, and it may get harder before it gets easier, but the “downs” I experienced this week were appreciated more when compared to the “ups.”  It may be a rocky ride, but a ride it will be.

Technical support, please?

September 9, 2008

Professor Rottweiler fears this blog is going to be the lowest of low priorities because, let’s face it, I am EXHAUSTED and WORKING ALL THE TIME.  I shall clutch my brow with one hand and type out this little post with the other.  Two weeks in and I am seriously scanning the job postings and trying to decide whether I should be applying.  Seriously.

Among my major gripes this week is the, err, ‘quaintness’ of my educational institution which encourages us to incorporate on-line teaching and learning into our courses.  This encouragement is strictly verbal.  Heavens forbid there might be actual resources for helping us *actually* use on-line tools for teaching.  There are very few incentives to actually use our on-line resources to their full extent.  Because at Midwestern U., posting your syllabus on-line is considered revolutionary!  This is essentially all they teach you how to do in the two hour class you take voluntarily… after they lure you in promising to teach you how to ‘use’ the system.  Wait, you also learn the on-line course URL, and how to log-in.  And THEN you learn how to post your syllabus.

With 93 students in my class and a strong desire not to constantly give them scantron exams, I want to try to use the Blackboard-type system we have.   And it’s not Blackboard– Midwestern U. is too cheap to shell out for Blackboard… instead, they’ve adopted something called D2L which is Blackboard’s poor half-wit cousin from the Canadian hinterlands.  No offense to Canada– it’s just that when I think Canada, I don’t think “software” or “information technology.”  I am much more like to think “Tim Horton’s,” “maple syrup,” or “gay marriage.”  Canada definitely kicks the U.S. right in the patootie when it comes to donuts, maple syrup products (barring Vermont and some other parts of New England which can hold their own– yessirree bob!) and civil rights for those in same-sex partnerships.  (Am I detecting a gay rights and maple syrup correlation?  Vermont and New England again…).  But when it comes to user-friendly, well-designed software, well… I’m afraid that D2L falls a little short. [*IMPORTANT NOTE*: Since posting this, I have been sternly told by a beloved Canadian peer via an elaborate system of Facebook status updates that Blackberry is a Canadian product and that Northern Telecom is, to paraphrase, ‘foshizzle.’]

I am not a total luddite– so I know that the fact that setting up a 10 question quiz with a time limit, randomized questions drawn from a bank of questions, and randomized multiple-choice options should not require a 50 page user manual to navigate.  The only satisfaction I had when I finished wrestling with setting up the quiz was that I only had five more to set up this semester.  But what should I expect from the university that couldn’t even configure my office computer properly?  I mean, the network doesn’t recognize that I am on campus when I am on campus.  I have to VPN from my office in order to have access to all of the library databases!  Though there may be some more substantive reasons I am eyeing the job listings, I probably could be convinced to apply some place else based solely on access to Blackboard (the devil I know!) and Refworks.

And let’s not get me started on the autocratic despot who is our designated IT help desk guy.  He deserves to be BITTEN.  HARD.  In a very bad way.  I really can’t speak about this condescending unhelpful person without getting seriously upset.  I will just summarize and say here is a person who grossly over-estimates his own abilities, and to make up for his lack of abilities, he refuses to respond to requests for service.  As in, Friday Labrador was LOCKED OUT OF HER COMPUTER and cried for help, and he still hadn’t responded as of Monday morning.

Two weeks ago I would have laughed if I anticipated these problems might wear away at my nerves, but as a new professor in a new institution, I find that getting all of these little glitches ironed out is so durned time-consuming.  Every little setback feels like the drop of an anvil, and I see my precious time frittering away in just spending the semester getting the on-line components of my big class set up.  I suppose if it really becomes too onerous, I can always outsource it to Bangalore…