Friday, February 24, 2006

the Mike happenings update

Next week's happenings:

Wednesday 3/1:
related birthday drinking, time and place TBA
Thursday 3/2:
Stimmels tasting: wines from weird places, cider,
and mead. Most likely drinking afterward.
Saturday 3/4:
WAR Wrestling's "March to Glory" in Lima
Sunday 3/5:
Academy Awards viewing party at The Mad Doctor's Laboratory (my place)

Yes, it's a surprisingly full social calendar for me; I'm generally used to sitting in a dark corner of our attic, curling up in the fetal position, and sucking my thumb, so this will be monumental. Let me know if you want in on the action.

beer reporting

The beer tasting last night was a success. Got two of mine and Lori's friends to go with us, and they seemed to enjoy themselves. It was also a nice break from the normal yuppie-ish crowd that the tastings seem to attract. Plus, my wife actually stayed with us instead of wandering around the store, contemplating the various varieties of mustards.

It was also nice to have another level of commentary save the standard beer snob fare. My favorite highlights: of a very nice British ale..."it kind of has an institutional scent" (on a beer I liked); of a stout..." it kind of smells like when you get home from a bar...smokey, with a hint of cigarette ash."

We then went to a local sports bar and downed a few pitchers of Labatt Blue out of plastic cups...just so we could have the baseline comparison.

Next week, they're doing a mead and cider combo or wines from weird places (such as India).

Thursday, February 23, 2006

a good student quote

One of my students referred to Appleby's as "the Wal-Mart of the restaurant world.

Every so often, I just love my job.

sampling and snobbery

In Bowling Green, we have a gourmet grocery market place. On Thursdays, they have a beer and wine tasting. I'm trying really hard to make it a normal event with my friends. I really like the concept, but so far, it's mostly drawing middle-aged yuppies. We need to bring some serious drinkers there and undermine the snob potential of the whole schmeal.

Three weeks ago, they did IPAs. Me likee IPAs, and I really liked the one from the Brooklyn much so that I picked up a sixpack.

Two weeks ago, they did Belgian beer. I hate Belgian me, it proves why the word "Belguim" is the dirtiest word in the offense to any actual Belgians who might be reading...

Last week, they did Doppelbocks...which I just thought were gross. The only one that really did anything was the Sam Adams, and that was simply less sour than the others...some of which tasted downright vinegary. I really craved salt afterwards.

This week, they're doing Italian wines and Gold Medal beers, in honor of the Olympics. I have high hopes...and I've actually got some people tentatively agreeing to come!

I will report back.

hair today...

For whatever reason, I have noticed an increasing amount of undergraduate women with their hair pulled back into a "Pebbles" ponytail. While I can understand the desire for low maintenance, I can't really understand why someone would want a ball on the top of their hair.

Personally, I'm hoping for a comeback for the "bedhead" look...or "the claw" from my high school days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I look like what?

My "friend" Bob (and you'll see in a minute why I put that in quote marks) came to my office to tell me that I remind him of Ted Furguson, Bud Light Daredevil...the guy who does "stunts" such as go shopping with his girlfriend or stay at work two minutes late on a Friday.

Personally, I think he's been doing student conferences too long, but I'm open to comment on this one.

For the record, I've also been told that I look like John Denver and Jay Farrar. Any others I'm missing?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

10 years gone

A leaked Guns N' Roses demo is floating around online. My review: ish.

make some nnnnooooiiiizzzzeee!!!!!!

"When I grow up, I want to be a rock guitarist."

That is what I would've said if you asked me at age 15...or 18...or 21...or nowadays, for that matter. I love being a teacher, I love being a thinker/scholar (when I can find the time), but I would much rather be a guitarist any day. I'm reminded of this whenever I hear the crunch of Slobberbone, Green Day, Grand Champeen, or a slew of other bands.

This all started a long time ago. When I was in elementary school, there was a teacher who hated me. It worked, because I hated her. I refused to do any of the work or take her seriously. She reacted by sending me to the guidance counselor to be see if I needed to go into the "special" classes.

I did the IQ test and blew its doors off. The counselor suggested to my parents that (1) I enroll in the "gifted" program, and (2) I take up some kind of intellectual interest, such as learning how to play an instrument.

My dad had a violin...apparently, he was forced to learn some while a kid, and the violin belonged to his stepfather. So I learned violin. I played violin for 3 1/2 years, and technically, I got pretty good. I had a good ear (a must for an unfretted instrument) and could pick up new material pretty well. And it was a fun enough activity.

I never really got the music, however. While I could appreciate it, I couldn't really "feel" it. It showed in my playing, which was rather precise but sedate. It also showed in how little I played once we moved away from my teacher and a school system which funded music programs. Soon, the violin went into the closet.

While I never really "felt" most classical music, I grasped rock at an early age. The first real album I ever bought was AC/DC's live album If You Want Blood (You've Got It), which I bought while in fifth grade. "Let There Be Rock" clicked immediately, as did "War Pigs"...and I knew I wanted to play guitar.

I never really got the support with guitar that I did with violin. I wasn't given an instrument...rather, I had to save up money (which I did by largely skipping high school lunches) and buy my own. I chose a Chicago brand Les Paul copy, which I no longer mother made me sell it when I got a better instrument. I had to buy my own accessories (strings & such). As only so much could be funded with lunch money, I eventually had to get a job.

(of course, parties and a car also played a role in my decision to find work, but that's another post)

When I started working, I got sucked in by the money. I worked a lot of my senior year, I was doing 35 hour weeks at Little Caesars. As a result, my guitar practice time went down from the pre-employment days of pretty much whenever I wasn't in school to maybe a few hours a week. Where I used to improve steadily (and rather rapidly), I moved to barely keeping from getting rusty. College cut into my playing time even more.

I also had problems getting in bands. I didn't practice enough, and whenever I would get a chance to play, it would often come after a week or two where I didn't touch my guitar...and as a result, I sucked, and everyone would just think I reeked as a player. Some friends still think I'm really mediocre because they always heard me when I was at my most out-of-practice.

When I did get auditions that I did well, the band would either be full of loonies (I will share some stories later), or the band would chug along until a key member quit, or the whole mess would disintegrate for reasons unknown. I had the worst time getting a drummer and a singer in a band at the same time. In short, I never played out, mostly because I couldn't keep a band together long enough to get a gig. This caused me to neglect the instrument even further, which kept me out of was a vicious cycle.

I moved to Ohio to do my doctoral school, and changing my environment was the biggest marker for me that drove home the fact I would never actually be a professional musician. Strangely enough, my playing got better (particularly on the acoustic) after I gave up on my dream to play professionally, which I still don't understand.

But over the last few years, I've been neglecting the guitar again. My adjuncting period kept me way too occupied to play on any normal basis. My wife, wonderful though she is, doesn't really care for my singing voice, and mindless noodling, plunking, and practice drives her I tend not to play much around her.

I have several friends who are both musicians and academics, but I can't seem to get them to play with me either. There was one or two times where I started playing with some friends, and we got a makeshift band together. We got about 15 songs down, including a really hip country version of "Shout at the Devil". I was elated, felt unbelievable, and I wanted it to continue. The singer got busy, and we couldn't schedule any more practices...and then he moved. The bass player we were trying to recruit wouldn't commit. The drummer, while still friendly to me, quit calling me and inviting me over, for reasons I've never fathomed. I have other friends who are musicians, but I've only been able to arrange one jam session...everyone claims they are too busy.

Meanwhile, my guitars sit either in their stands or in their cases. When I do actually play, I mostly use my acoustic, because I can accompany myself on the strings last longer...if I break out the Les Paul or Tele, I only get a few touches on the instrument before the strings die.

I've been neglecting my music again, and I don't like it...but picking up a guitar mostly just reminds me that creating music remains a solitary activity, and that's I'm slipping back into the role of being a guy who still thinks of himself as a guitar player but no longer plays.

The times I've managed to have normal jam partners were among the happiest of my life. There's something about creating art, and doing that with other's indescribable. I hope my friends who are either in bands or have been in bands in the past appreciate their connection to music. They have created art, performed it for a hungry public, and have felt the gratification of instant feedback to their artistry. People have clapped, tapped their feet, sang along, made some appreciative noise.

I have never experienced such things and probably never will. While I will always think of myself as a musician, I realize that actually being a musician will only ever be a fantasy...which is somehow unbelievably sad. It also makes me feel hollow inside, somewhat.

I think I'll make the effort to take the guitars to the shop, get them tuned up, and make an effort to play again...if only for myself, so I can be a musician again, at least a little.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

it's us against the world...literally

The Guardian had an article on the US military's announced plans for future conflict strategy. You should all read this, because it's truly enlightening. Some relevant/scary quotes:

  • US commanders envisage a war unlimited in time and space against global Islamist extremism. "The struggle ... may well be fought in dozens of other countries simultaneously and for many years to come," the report says.
  • The Pentagon does not pinpoint the countries it sees as future areas of operations but they will stretch beyond the Middle East to the Horn of Africa, north Africa, central and south-east Asia and the northern Caucasus
  • To wage the long war, the report urges Congress to grant the Pentagon and its agencies expanded permanent legal authority of the kind used in Iraq

This of course means:

  1. To qoute Kafka (who keeps coming up in my life): "The best you can hope for is infinite postponement."
  2. We're fighting everywhere except for Antarctica...and those penguins better watch out.
  3. Law? What law?

Am I alone in not having heard any of this from the US press?

I need to set up my computer to play Darth Vader's theme whenever I look at news sites.

another stupid observation

The hosts of exercise videos seem to think that people are morons who can't count on our own. They also won't shut up. This probably makes them very annoying in real life. Imagine them at a bar? "And, drink, two, three, feels good to drink, yes? C'mon, work out those biceps. This is power drinking...feel that burn. Now, I want you to go get our special workout bar munches and chew. C'mon, chew! Let's get four more...and three...and two...."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

seating, Kafka, academics, and class...a treatise

Life never fails to suprise. Just when I think that there's no real order, rhyme, or reason, something happens that makes it clear there is an ultimate plan...unfortunately, that plan is hopelessly twisted and deranged.

When I got my full time position, I was happy for many reasons. One thing that I really was looking forward to was having my own office...a place where I can work (or, more accurately, avoid work) in privacy, that reflected my own sense of style...albeit in a more professional, sophisticated setting than normal.

I struggled to get the office the way I wanted. Me and one of the department secretaries hunted the hallway for furniture, and I found a nice blonde wood table. I got the walls painted, abandoning the typical institutional off-white for a color which a colleague says "looks like a McShamrock shake exploded"...but I think it works. After lots of hassle with physical facilities and carpentry I got proper shelving installled. The office is nicely decorated with 8x10 blowups of cool, artsy photos.

My chair, however, sucks. I've been using an office/waiting room chair, which can be comfortable for unfortunately only minutes on end. It is also way too short, completely unadjustable, and whenever I get caught in grading binges (you can tell when I'm in one by looking at the blog, because the posts get more depressive and rant-like), I begin to feel the telltale twinges of backaches and carpal tunnel.

So I started negotiations with the powers that be. After bugging our deptartment secretaries and my union rep, I went to my chair, who gave me money for a new chair...if that makes sense.

So I went to purchasing, and their cheapest chair started at over $400...which means they must be dealing with the same contractors as the defense department; unfortunately, it took about ten e-mails and a missed appointment to find this out. I went to OfficeMax, but they didn't have anything over $170...and why go cheap if someone else is footing the bill? Purchasing refered me to an office supply store...and this is where it moves from Kafka "the best you can hope for is infinite postponement"-esque to weird in a class-based "the working classes must rebel" kind of way.

The office furniture supply people were falling over themselves to take care of me. They've called four times since last Thursday. They've negotiated a fair price and have faxed a spec sheet. In their mind, I am fully a "player"...and I'm not sure if that's just because I have a company credit card or if it's because I have a business card, a title, and all that, but it's clear I'm a person of importance to them.

Maybe this is a sign that as an academic, I immediately have a certain class standing in the eyes of the outside world...possibly so...but the reality of my situation is that I really don't have that much status or importance within my world. College teachers are assumed to be a priviledged class by many, but this is usually by people who (a) assume that class=status and (b) that don't really know about the complexities of class within the academic world.

When I was teaching sociology as an adjunct, I used the internal class structure of university employees to demonstrate how class as a construct--class being related to the nature of work in this sense--operates in the world at large. Most students, it seemed, had very little idea that part-timers were basically the grunt-work laboring slobs of the academic world...more packmules than anything else. They normally thought that as teachers don't work an assembly line (which is often debatable) or physically make stuff, they must be middle class.

But within academic professionals, there is a very real class (work structure) system in operation, if we see "teaching=work." As you rise in title, you do less "teaching=work" and thus rise in class. Deans rarely if ever teach, therefore, they are much higher on the class ladder than the standard prof. Tenure track teach less and do more research (leisure work) than do Lecturers (who bust out classes and thus are assembly line workers), so tenure=middle class.

Of course, no one actually says this, and I've never really heard anyone consciously downgrade the academic underclass. Class consciousness in academics is usually unconscious on the part of those at the top end of the class scale. As someone who spent two years in adjunct hell, I certainly don't mean "packmule" as a derrogatory term, because it adequately describes how I felt while teaching five classes in four disciplines at three institutions, all in one semester.

Elsewhere, Jen asked if I was suggesting that Adjuncts have become an academic underclass...and this is spot-on. Really, outsiders to the academy wonder why us academics are always all about politics, and after really thinking about class within academic employment, I have to wonder why there aren't more politically active thinkers least in terms of worker's rights.

When I got into academics, I did so because in part I wanted to avoid the petty political garbage that seemed to dominate every other job I've ever had. I understand that you will always have to deal with the powers that be, so politics are always there, but when I was at Little Caesars, I always hated people who would kiss up to the supervisor to get better shifts...which was all too common. I hated having to tell bosses what they wanted to hear in order to get ahead. Granted, for the most part, I had good superiors, but every so often, I ran into a manager who ran a pizza place because it gave him a setting in which to unleash his inner tyrant.

Academics was supposed to be a place where ideas, thinking, and merit overcame all that. But while I've had pretty good bosses and colleagues in academia and have experienced none of that kind of office politic, I realize a little more each day I work here that this place, rather than being a refuge from politics, often can act as a microcosm of politics.

I'm at the lower end of the scale, so I notice this a bit more. Those who are in positions of priviledge in the academy never really talk about these matters as real-life least, I never heard any such talk when I was getting my degree. My ideals are being disillusioned, which would be no big deal...happens to everyone...but this disillusionment always hits hardest when I've been grading for hours.

In the past, I've mentioned that "I got into this field because it was supposed to be a place where I could feel unbound by the real world and its requirements...." What I wanted was to somehow be in a situation where politics and games didn't exist. Unfortunately, I am in a situation that instead reminds me daily that I am that much more of a victim to these politics and games than ever, where my very position may limit my mobility and maximize the amount of class-based games I have to play.

I know that I have working class roots. I want to maintain those working class roots. I don't want to become an oblivious professor who doesn't realize that he's holding a position of priviledge. However, I want to do this while attaining that position of power, of privilege, where I can do that leisure work of research (which isn't really leisure at all) which makes me feel that I'm trying to balance to irreconcilable extremes.

Either I'm very weird, or the world is very weird, and I've been very oblivious to this weirdness...maybe Kafka is still the model by which I need to live. Maybe I've been monumentally naive, but I kind of doubt I was the only one still laboring under the impression that I was in an intellectual meritocracy. I wonder if I would've still gone into academics if I would've known I might get locked into a class position due to circumstances beyond my control.

I probably would've persisted in my academic dreams, though, as all other jobs suck. I'm not going back to killing rats with a nail on a broomhandle.

a holiday observation

When I was single, I thought about marketing black armbands for sale on Valentine's Day.

yet another observation

Out of all the bands that the "kids" like, My Chemical Romance is the best.

Monday, February 13, 2006

another observation

Although I've taught for years, no one has ever brought me an apple. If they did, I'd probably suspect poisoning.

brief observation

It is incredibly satisfying to hit someone repeatedly over the head
with a cookie sheet.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

incommunicado and woozy

In case you're wondering, I'm suffering from a cold. I feel dizzy, lightheaded, and I am unable to concentrate on anything. I know people pay good money for drugs that make them feel just like this, but I'm not really digging it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Just got into my office to find out that they "updated" my computer. Jeez, thanks. In the process, they lost all my bookmarks (they assumed I used IE and copied those over my Firefox bookmarks), all my backgrounds, all my Word settings (new version...yay), a few different programs. Now, instead of doing all the work I need to do, I get to correct everything they screwed up while updating my computer.

I think I'm going to leave a note on my computer telling them not to touch it without asking me first. I am very bitter now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I feel like a Rick Springfield album

So a good friend recommended a book called This Fine Place So Far From Home that I've been reading when I get a chance. It's a collection of essays from academics from working class backgrounds, and this should really be required reading for anyone moving into upper level higher education. Plus, it's very cool! You've gotta love any academic book where the opening essay is entitled "Stupid Rich Bastards."

I'm really enjoying the read, but it's making me think not-so-uplifting thoughts about my current job, the state of my career, and the general state of university teaching as a profession. So I'm torn about how much I should really keep reading.

Here's the deal: I really am happy to be a full-time faculty. I like my department, I like the people with whom I work...and as anyone who was reading this blog last year can tell you (see my post on trying to become a security guard), I am much more at peace than when I was part-timing. I'm definitely not knocking my job security...I don't know how I survived without it. My students, for the most part, generally really try and are open to new thoughts. But this book is, in part, making me really question why I'm here.

Rather than rant primarily about my own class background (which I'm sure is a factor somewhat), I need to tell you how I've started to become hyper-aware of my class status within the University structure.

When I got my Lectureship, I noticed that the wonderful office staff seemed to know me a bit better than they did when I was adjuncting. I've noticed since then that I now know many more faculty than before, when I knew the person who hired me and my office mate. I talk to fellow lecturers in the halls. I have friends on the staff. This is definitely a step up from where I was.

It seems, however, that I've only moved from the academic underclass to the worker-bee class. I've started to notice that I really only know two tenure-track faculty, both of which are my bosses. The profs seem to hang with the other profs, while us non-tenures tend to hang together.

And who can blame us? One night last fall, when I was leaving my office after another marathon grading bout, I walked past the prof offices, and I noticed that they only taught two courses--that's 6 credit hours--while I was teaching 16 credit hours. I drifted off into deep thought, trying to focus on the glorious accomplishments I could make if I only taught two courses (in my major, even) rather than the load I carry...I felt this was better than getting violent and angry with the profs, especially since they all do seem like nice people.

I could publish. I could not only do my book revision but also do my book. I could keep up on new theory and trends. Hell, I could even start my own journal.

Really, the professors seem (from my perspective) to lead a life of luxury, of envy. I wonder how they got there. How many of the tenure-tracks in this department worked up from the non-tenure (or, even worse, the part-time) ranks? How did they do it? Everyone tells me that publication is the key to getting a job, but how does one publish while teaching 18 credit hours at three institutions? Can you even do it if you're not from a "name" program?

All I seem to do is grade and plan, plan and grade. It's worse when papers are due, but when one teaches comp classes, papers are always due.

I thought about this last night while driving home after a 12 hour grading/teaching marathon. The saddest thing about it all is that while I love teaching, I love interacting with students and helping them learn, this really isn't the main reason why I got into this career. I started grad school because I loved learning, I loved reading, I loved creating thought. And as much as I seem to procrastinate in the drafting process, I love writing...I love the sense of being involved in a big project that might make a difference to someone. It makes me feel smart...which makes me feel worthwhile and quiets the voices in my head accusing me of being a loser...or a fraud.

I am not as good of a teacher when I don't get to think. But the only time I get to read now is when I'm waiting for someone who's late to an appointment. Since I don't get a chance to read, I get very little chance to explore new ideas. I'm not a creator of knowledge anymore, and I don't really know when I will get time to get back into the game save summer break...and if the past few summers is any indication, I will then have to fight sheer semester exaustion.

In short, I feel like a working stiff. I didn't get into academics to be a working stiff. I got into this field because it was supposed to be a place where I could feel unbound by the real world and its was supposed to be a place where I could freely think and create.

Yes, I know I'm expressing class envy, but I'm beginning to wonder how anyone is supposed to grab that mobility from academic working class into the realm where thinking is as much a part of your job as teaching. As is, there's a little part of me that says: if I wanted to feel like I was just busting out product, I could've stayed at Little Caesars. I have to be careful I never treat my students as if they were product, and I have to really fight against feeling like a working class dog. It wouldn't be doing any good to my students, and it definitely would scar me if I started believing that.

The thing is, I wonder how many of the Lecturers and Adjuncts here feel exactly the same's not a healthy feeling to think yourself has the potential to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. I know that higher education increasingly relies on non-tenure teachers, and that this is probably never going to change...but is it possible to get that upper-class academic gig if you're in the lower ranks? Does the current system allow any class mobility? Or are we stuck here?

I've been considering limiting myself to "happy" culture until things improve. However, this ranting is the only real thinking I seem to get done anymore. Can I use it to my advantage, as motivation? Or will it use me?

Is it better to think dank thoughts than to not think at all?