this is just to say...

Thursday, 23 March 2017 08:02 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
... that it has taken every ounce of willpower, Calvinist work ethic guilt and basic Lawful Good that I possess to be actually present at work today, instead of calling in sick in order to stay at home playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which has been peaceably downloading for the last three days and which unlocked at 1am this morning, and towards the playing of which I have just dedicated, with remarkable absence of aforesaid Calvinist guilt, a stonkload of money in order to upgrade my system to the optimal spec.

This is possibly also just to say, by way of public service announcement, that the last six weeks of being basically antisocial because of work exhaustion will probably give way to at least a couple of weeks being antisocial because I am playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is, all things considered, a far better (or at least more enjoyable) reason to be antisocial.

Because at this point? I have damned well earned it.
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Between Friday and today three different students have given me, variously, four varieties of chocolate bar and a small tin of Mauritian vanilla tea. This has been a response to Friday afternoon, which was the site of the last straw: a whole bunch of students arriving five minutes before the end of the last advisor session on the last possible day, demanding everything from a quick change of curriculum to an actual, very late, registration via a form on which they had filled in absolutely nothing. I left campus at a quarter past five after an actual breakdown into hysterical tears, which I was unable to stave off any longer after the failure of my usual containment mechanisms (as a last resort, biting my own arm. Because pain does distract very nicely from hysteria. I am somewhat bruised). Apparently the downside to a chronic fatigue condition which I manage by apportioning my energy very carefully, is that there are simply no spoons left when heedless student selfishness demands that I stay an hour and a quarter after the last dribble of energy has been scheduled to be spent.

I suppose the upside of millenials is that they are sweet kids, by and large, and feel terrible when they realise that they are damaging someone else. And that the instrument of the large, faceless organisation which they are attempting to bend to their particular needs is, in fact, one very real and very overloaded human person who has reached the end of their tether with an audible "spang". I count it a victory that I simply sobbed at students rather than yelling or swearing at them. Far better for student relations, and in itself an extremely effective, if largely unintentional, guilt trip.

By way of "thanks" for the last torrid month, I, along with similar orientation/reg personnel from other faculties, have been invited to an official VC's breakfast thingy tomorrow, during which presumably platitudes will be presented re all our hard work. This is such an empty and beside-the-point response to the unmitigated dementor-infested volcanic hell-mouth of the last month that it is making me homicidally angry, and I am Not Going in a Marked Manner. I think my incipient sinus infection needs the extra hour in bed far more than it needs to be patted on the head by management droids who basically Don't Get It. The chocolate was far more acceptable and at least appropriate to the actual dementors.

My subject line is Belle & Sebastian, a song which is a particularly satisfying Up Yours, in gentle Scottish tenor, to the ingratitude of employers.
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Registration and orientation are always hellish times for me; they're two large, complicated logistical processes in which I have considerable authority and responsibility in how we put 1400 students through orientation and slightly under 5000 through reg. This year was extra-complicated because the colleague who usually runs orientation with me, and who holds its logistics, was absent, having resigned last year. On top of all of the above, in between orientation and reg frantics, I was running a selection committee to replace him. During all of the above we also had to run faculty exam committees, and I also consult to the readmissions appeal committee, which met four or five times over this period.

It's been slightly over a month of seven-day weeks, with weekdays starting at about 6.45 am and finishing, if I'm lucky, at about 6pm, after which on some days I went home and worked until 10. I was putting in a minimum of five or six hours per day over the weekends. I have not seen any of my much-valued friends over this period; life has been wake up, go to work, work, home, work, eat, shower, collapse, rinse repeat the next day. To say I am a piece of chewed string is to gravely overestimate my current levels of energy, functionality and aesthetic appeal.

But, you know, the logistics were horrible, but they weren't the problem. The missing colleague was challenging, but not at all impossible, I've held this dual duty before. The problem, horribly because they've always been the consolation in the past, was the students. Registration has been a complete shambles, with not quite enough advisors and very long queues; reg sessions on some days finished at 6 instead of the scheduled 4pm. The reason for all of this boils down to a horrible equation, which is that millenial individuality + student protests = the breakdown of systems.

I don't want to broadly generalise about "millenials" or pander to howling stereotypes, but the reality is that students now are raised with a much stronger sense of their own individuality than they were even ten years ago. It's in many ways a lovely generation, with very high values in connectedness, empathy and social awareness, but they also tend strongly to the sheltered and fragile. Above all, you present them with a rule or a system which says that they should do something one way, and they immediately feel that their own personal reason for doing it differently is more compelling. Eighteen months of student protests in which student demands have not only been lengthily entertained, but frequently capitulated to, has exacerbated this tendency beyond all reason: students are now conditioned to demand things, and expect those demands to be met.

Thus, given a carefully-planned registration timetable which splits them into manageable groups on different days, they don't see any problem with shrugging and arriving three days later because that suits them better. If you insist that they leave because they are making legitimately-present students wait for hours, they get angry and write to the Vice-Chancellor. If you tell them that curriculum rules forbid them to sign up for courses in the same timetable slot, they immediately want permission to do that anyway, despite missing half the lectures for both courses. Our pile of concessions to break various rules is about three times larger than it usually is. The result of this has been registration advisors overwhelmed late in the process by tardy students, who clog up the system for students trying to register on their legitimate days; and enormously long, argumentative curriculum consultations in which students expect you to juggle their courses around a blockage instead of accepting that the rules prevent them from taking particular combinations. It's been its own particular circle of Hell.

It's also what is making me realise that I cannot carry on in this job. Part of the current horror of my work life is because the faculty itself is becoming dysfunctional, my boss is terrible, the staff are alienated and on go-slow, and we have a high staff turnover because everyone's miserable so more than half of them are new and untrained. But more imporantly, my duties are doable only if I can wrangle the system, and the student component of the system is now resisting wrangling to the point where it's no longer tenable. I also, what with millenial individualist snowflakes and/or student protesters, cannot make students happy, regardless of what I do: they want things which the system is not set up to supply. This role needs someone who is not actually quite as fond of the snowflakes or invested in their success and happiness. It's too damned depressing otherwise.
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I am in the orientation/registration run-up phase, which is horrible and exhausting, already requiring 12-hour workdays, and uncomfortably like being nibbled to death by very small annoying things, possibly miniature vampire ducks (petty and draining and stupid). The preparation part is not materially assisted by the fact that we've been running an online registration pilot throughout, so what with rugby players and online forms I have been registering students intermittently from the 7th January, and will be doing so until the 10th March. No wonder I'm a bit frayed.

The registration process, the orientation prep and the various other admin tasks have been exhibiting an unusually high level of people doing exactly what my strategic, careful, detailed, widely disseminated notices and announcements have told them not to do, often half an hour earlier. Submitting forms without class numbers. Trying to register when they have deferred exam results outstanding. Arriving in my office for curriculum advice for which I am explicitly unavailable at this time of year. Trying to schedule classes which haven't been approved by the relevant committee. (This was a gosh-darned professor and head of department who clearly did not read the detailed email to which she was replying). Trying to schedule my exam checking meeting on top of the orientation talk-giving commitments during which I'd blocked out my time as unavailable. It feels like trying to herd mutant toddlers in earplugs.

On the upside, Robynn randomly sent me a knitted teacup-warmer in the shape of an owl (or, more specifically, in the shape of an owl cosplaying as my journal icon, although without the umbrella, unless the "#STRESSMUSTFALL" tag counts, which it definitely does, thank you Robynn!), and this morning the mountain was wearing two hats under a moon, because it could.

20170214_123506

20170214_063814

I will try very hard not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by reading failure, and will take what consolations I can get.
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Whoa. Seriously narrative dream, cinematically so. I was the middle-aged schlubby white guy who was selected to be an astronaut, with a particularly large group of fellow selectees who were rife with weird rivalries and social undercurrents. I was poddling innocently around collecting the stuff I absolutely had to take into space with me (e.g. my leatherman) when I happened to look up and see the rocket launch against the sky, taking everyone else into space, because apparently I'd taken too long collecting things and had missed it. So everyone went into space without me, including, for some reason, my lover who was supposed to be accompanying me, although the rest of the team didn't believe we were really together and were nasty to him. (In retrospect, I think he may have been played by Riz Ahmed, so score there, although conversely, not a good tactical move to send him into space without me). Back on Earth, I found that every place I usually went had been rigged with explosives, including the home of my allies, who all died horribly. I have no idea who did it or why. It was a very bewildered dream.

It turns out that one of the triggers to me remembering my dreams is going to bed slightly earlier; if I turn out the light by 10.30 there's a massively increased chance I'll remember my dreams. Must be something to do with sleep cycles.

Entertaining, if bewildering, dreams are a necessary consolation, because work, aka the build-up to orientation and full reg and exam committees, is a series of exhausting micro-crises caused by factors outside my control, each of which I negotiate successfully, but the cumulative effect is horrible. (Examples: university residence opening date stuff-up suddenly landed us with a R400 000 bill. Argued management into paying it. Old link on orientation sign-up page registered droves of students for last year's dates. Hunted it down, emailed students. Several students arrived for orientation a month early. Sent them home. Potential orientation leader narked at not being selected, threatened formal complaint on grounds of discrimination. Talked him down. Etc etc etc. That was just in the last week; each instance requires negotiation and discussion and multiple emails. I'm dead).

Tonight, however, I spend a couple of hours discussing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the BBC, which should be fun. Supposing I can find enough energy for coherence. Wish me luck.

(subject line is Talking Heads, because it's been playing in my car.)
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Tumblr is doing a meme where you list the household in-jokes and catchphrases which would make absolutely no sense to an outsider. I have a bunch of family ones for those (my subject line is one, along with more Goon Show quotes than you could shake a sausage at), but actually a really huge bunch which echo around my social circle and which variously date from old CLAW days, the SCA, particular digs experiences, and my own irredeemable tendency to spangle my immediate surrounds with catchy quotes from things I love. If my usual readership has followed me over from LJ, there should be at least one person out there who recognises each of these...

"That grooves my ploons."
"Back, you leechies!"
"Well, you can write that down and stick it to the wall!"
"That's you, that is. That's your girlfriend."
"Magic carpet ride!" (or in fact any decontextualised quote from the Aladdin song).
"I dugged an hole!"
"That's no cat!"
collecting the laundry

My tendency to tell myself "This is not the droid you are looking for" out loud at intervals when fumbling around hopelessly is both far more individual, and far more instantly recognisable.
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Last night I dreamed I looked out the glass door into the back courtyard, and there was a man (twentysomething, coloured, nearly shaved head) lying motionless on the astroturf in approximately the recovery position. And I was wondering if he was dead, or injured, but he apparently felt me watching and moved, so he was just sleeping. In the dream I was vaguely assuming he'd had a drunken rather than a criminal night, but was nonetheless a bit alarmed about finding him in my garden, and asked him to leave on the grounds of being somewhat scary, and he laughed at me a bit and obligingly did so. Possibly by evaporating, I didn't see him climbing any walls. It was all very odd, but as anxiety-related people-are-getting-into-the-house dreams go, relatively unthreatening. I think all the horrible insults to black bodies coming out of the current American fuckwittery are getting to me, there's a sort of subliminal protectiveness that kicks in.

I take back everything I said about Trump being lost and overwhelmed, incidentally. Trump is having the time of his life implementing fascist autocracy and wholesalely castrating any governmental bodies that could potentially restrain him. Even if his inner circle of batshit insane fascist jerks is leading him around by the piglike snout, the current fuckwittery has his big greasy pawprints all over it. Pundits are reading this as a trial run at an actual coup. We are all so fucked.

On the "fiddling while Rome burns" principle, possibly, jo&stv had a dance party on Saturday. This is a thing they do every couple of months, known as the Minimum Viable Party; they choose a day, send out invites, and if a minimum threshold of people is reached, they clear out the living room and hold it. Dancing starts at 8pm and finishes at 10pm sharp, because we're all old. (Even with the strict 2-hour limit I'm unfit enough that I'm usually achy for days afterwards). There's a theme to the playlist, which stv djs with great deliberation and not a little fiendishness. Saturday's was 80s cheese, unabashedly. He borrowed a chunk of my music collection to assemble it. I have a lot of cheesy compilations.

There's something about 80s pop music that's essentially, I think, innocent, possibly because people of my vintage were young when it hardwired our brains. It's also an iconic enough musical identity that it has familiarity value even to younger people, the ones who weren't in their teens or twenties when the cheese was prevalent, and familiarity with the music is a basic tenet of good dance parties. It was the largest MVP turnout we've ever seen, probably 30 people or so, and it had a lovely, joyous, uninhibited vibe which said we were all regressing like mad and completely unashamed about it. I spent a lot of it bouncing around the dance floor in a fit of giggles, because, honestly, Tiffany, "I think we're alone now". Or "Walk like an Egyptian". And my late 80s experience swung heavily Goth, but stv threw sops to the Gothy remnant of us with "Tainted Love" and "Love will tear us apart", and besides, I was also into Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. And it closed with "Wake me up before you go-go", because it had to, and alas George Michael. It was a lovely evening, I had a blast. In the current state of geo-political ramification one has to take one's pleasures where one can.
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I love that Tumblr took a sort of unspoken pact to basically ignore the Trump inauguration; I saw very little in the way of commentary or detail. The day after, everyone blossomed into gifsets and reblogs about the women's march instead, which was lovely. Also, comparisons of crowd turnout, and CakeGate, and a neo-Nazi being repeatedly punched with increasingly baroque soundtrack. (Punching Nazis is a meme I can get seriously behind. My favourite bit: "It wasn't a punch, it was an alt-highfive". Take that, disgusting alt-right.)

And the Nazi-punching has been fascinating, because it seems to go against the very politics which generates it - if you're against Nazis then really violence shouldn't be the answer, because it closes down dialogue. But, you know, if someone is ranting about Nazi beliefs and the How rather than the Whether of racial genocide, then really you're way past the point where dialogue is possible, and perhaps a punch is the only appropriate response.

It strikes me that the world in general has this sort of condescending assumption that liberals are Nice. That because we espouse notions of equality and empathy and dialogue, and are against privilege and discrimination and oppression, that we can be condescendingly ignored as ineffective. And it's true, all of these things put us at a disadvantage when up against the sort of grasping, narcissistic bigotry which can create Nazis or capitalism or Trump; we have socialised ourselves into accommodation because empathy and compromise are core liberal values, and it's a serious disadvantage in political conflict.

But anyone who thinks that liberal politics are Nice has clearly never seen a Tumblr callout feeding frenzy, which can identify, surround and isolate an unfortunate transgressor and skeletonise them in seconds without turning a self-righteous hair. That shit gets nasty, and is about as narcissistic as anything Trump ever pulled. But it demonstrates that liberal values are not incompatible with concerted, violent, self-reinforcing rage; and if ever there was time for righteous anger of biblical proportions, it's now.

Liberal empathy being what it is, I've spend some time over the last couple of days wondering what it actually feels like right now to be Trump. To have lied, bombasted and manipulated your way into the ultimate accolade of power for American identity; to be sitting at the pinnacle of political success, and to know with a cold, sinking, inescapable certainty that it's something you never actually wanted, didn't expect to win, and for which you are completely, desperately, catastrophically unqualified and unprepared. And that everyone hates you and finds you ridiculous. Your ascension has been immediately protested by the largest march in history. Your administration is going to be a long succession of destructive disasters, but it's also going to be a continuous, ongoing, inescapable humiliation. You have the lowest approval rating of all time, the most under-attended inauguration; the media, social media, public both national and international, your own internal departments, will continue to gleefully point out your screw-ups in solo and chorus until you scuttle, shamefaced, from the role. Hell, even your cake is a lie.

Right now, Trump's stratospheric levels of oblivious narcissism are frankly the only thing that is preventing him from retiring to the privacy of his gold taps and quietly putting a bullet in his own head.

And, you know, in his place I'd not just be humiliated and inadequate: I would look at the concerted efforts of crowds in pink pussy hats and the tenor of their witty, punchy, unafraid signage, and I would be afraid.

My subject line is Jabba the Hutt dialogue, translating as "You weak-minded fool!"
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Gawsh, but midsummer has a terrible effect on me. It's been stinking hot for the last few weeks; today's random gentle rain had me leaping out of the house with glad cries, stoked for the day in a way I haven't been in months. (Tracy sent me an email this morning with a tongue-in-cheek closing instruction to "have a sparkly day!", which made me giggle but is possibly more relevant than it's been in weeks). I am useless in the hot weather; my brain shuts down, my energy drops, I pull in my horns and set myself to endure rather than actually living. I don't go anywhere or do anything, and find myself shying away from social engagements of almost any sort.

Part of the Reverse SAD Effect is also, I think, because of the shape of the academic year and the fact that my horrible confluence of orientation and registration duties hits me just after the year begins. It's a bit later than usual this year because of our disrupted academic schedule after protests, but in a way that's simply drawing out the horrible anticipation. Part of the reason I tend to curl up hedgehoggily and pretend I don't exist when a social invitation comes my way at this time of year is because I am internally braced for a four-week period in which demands will be made on me more or less continuously by several thousand people, and some sort of unconscious personal barrier is springing up protectively to husband my energy. It doesn't help that the demands slowly ramp up from the moment I get back, so I've been registering more or less wall-to-wall rugby players since Monday last week. (Rugby players make a really solid wall. And also, for some reason, almost uniformly attempt to register without bringing writing implements of any sort. I assume it has something to do with the size of their hands).

I suppose what all this is saying is a sort of lateral apology to my friends, and to many missed social opportunities lately: I promise I don't hate you. I'm just hoarding spoons.

(Subject line is New Model Army, "Green and the grey", which was playing in my car, but coincidentally also describes today's weather.)

a suffusion of yellow

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 08:43 am
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For some bizarre reason my morning Earl Grey tastes faintly of coffee. This seems both unlikely and a little unfair. I don't think there is actually any coffee in the house.

Today is my last day of leave, which I propose to spend doing entirely self-indulgent things which probably include comfort-replaying something hack-and-slashy. It's been a lovely three weeks of leave, which have been characterised by a nice balance of achievement and goofing off.
  • I examined a PhD thesis, for the first time ever, which was pretty terrifying going in but actually doable, and I think I've done a reasonably fair and conscientious job despite large tracts of it being in an unfamiliar critical field.
  • I should have written a paper, but three days in I examined my conscience and state of energy, thought "Hell no" and withdrew from the collection, which made me feel guilty for about three seconds, and then enormously relieved; the editor was nice about it and the world did not end. (I also have to say that if there's a silver lining to the student protest cloud, it makes a magnificent excuse for not being able to do stuff).
  • I finished Portal, Portal 2 and Firewatch, all three of which were highly enjoyable.
  • I've managed over the holiday period to get back into exercising, which means I've been walking for about 40 mins daily, and am feeling much better for it.
  • And, notwithstanding water restrictions, I have madly grown a batch of gem squash plants and a mango seedling from seed, by virtue of randomly planting the remnants of various meals, watering them at erratic intervals, standing back and let the currently rather fierce African sun and my predilection for compost do their stuff.

By way of some faint point to this slightly vague and wandering post, have some random linkery.

  • This is an obituary for Leia Organa, rather nicely done.
  • This is an Ursula Vernon YA portal fantasy, evincing her characteristic combination of whimsy and down-to-earthness, and featuring a particularly virulent toxic mother figure. I loved it.
  • This, on the other hand, is an entirely adult, very dark, very freaky, very good Ursula Vernon horror story, finishing which made me go "Holy fuck!" out loud. There's feminist fairy-tale rewrites, and then there's ... this.


My subject line is a random Dirk Gently quote for no reason other than a vague association with multiplicity, and the fact that Tumblr has a current sideline in gifs from the new Dirk Gently tv series. It sounds completely off the wall, has anyone seen it?
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Right, so, another year, another crisis. LJ has just relocated all its servers to Russia. This means that LJ blogs are likely to come under Russian censorship, but more instrumentally, apparently Russian LJ users are jumping ship in droves, and there's a fairly high chance that the site will go under for lack of custom. I have mirrored the entirety of the extemporanea archive at Dreamwidth, where it's freckles_and_doubt. (This was because some evil-minded individual has nicked the extemporanea title on Dreamwidth; on the upside, freckles_and_doubt was what I initially wanted to call the blog but was prevented from doing by LJ title limitations).

So I fear that, suddenly and without warning, this has become a Dreamwidth blog rather than an LJ one; I will post from Dreamwidth, and crosspost to LJ with the comments disabled, at least until the point where it's clear my itsy bitsy audience has made the migration. Please update your RSS feeds accordingly! If you want to comment, do so on Dreamwidth, please, and with my apologies if LJ is easier for you. Dreamwidth does cheerfully support OpenID. It's also a fan-created and fan-driven site which has been the alternative to LJ for a while, with any luck it won't have the wobbles of shifting ownership that LJ has had to endure.

I have been on LJ for almost exactly 12 years, my first post was at the end of January 2005. Blogging generally has declined a lot from its heyday in the oughts, and the LJ community has shrunk a great deal, but it was a safe and happy internet home for a long time. Dreamwidth feels very similar, but it's still the end of an era, and I'm sad.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, this is 2017. *looks around vaguely* ... you'd think they'd update the decor. We had the usual lovely New Year's dinner chez jo&stv, with distributed cooking and a metric buttload of champagne, of which I drank very little as apparently I can't drink more than two glasses of anything these days without feeling sick the next day. I made duck. Because duck. I should record for posterity that I made something almost, but not quite, completely unlike the Asian marinade found here - I left out the coffee, added lime juice, and used honey instead of sugar, and the proportions were all different because my invariable principle is not to measure anything and to keep on flinging in bits until it tastes right. But the flavour combination is amazing.

I am still on leave, calloo callay, although it's a slightly hands-on sort of leave. With one hand I am examining a thesis which is forcing me to read more creolisation theory than my non-postcolonial-fondling soul is strictly happy with, sigh, although on the upside it's on Nalo Hopkinson, who is a groovy sf writer. With the other hand I am wrangling orientation leaders, curriculum advisors and random queries from my boss, as I'm apparently constitutionally incapable of going on leave without reading email, and am forced to ritually curse the terminal conscientiousness of my Lawful Good. With my proverbial third hand I am attempting to mend, alter and generally refurbish my wardrobe, and with a fourth hand I am playing Portal, which I had unaccountably neglected to play before despite being absurdly familiar with it via pop cultural osmosis. Dashed through the first one in short order, am nearly finished Portal 2 with enough puzzle-solving panache to have minimal resort to walk-throughs. Both games are elegant, intelligent, darkly funny creations, deservedly classics. I love the goo bits, so creative.

In between all of the above I am lovingly prodding my container garden, which is performing GREEN! with some verve despite water restrictions and the need to amble around with a watering can rather than sloshing about with a hose.

garden1.jpg

My subject line is a quote from Portal, early GLaDOS, before she gets passive aggressive. She gets quite spectacularly passive aggressive. So far 2017 is off to a reasonable start, but I darkly suspect it's also going to get passive aggressive, and possibly actively homicidal.

annus horribilis

Saturday, 31 December 2016 11:18 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's a bit tricky to do a Year In Review for a year which featured the collapse of the South African tertiary education system, America deliberately electing Jabba the Hutt and Britain trying to saw its own leg off in an effort to detach from the mainland. One's personal milestones and experiences seem somewhat irrelevant. On the other hand, Jabba the Hutt isn't in power yet so at least I don't have to write a Year In Review that has to include actual rancors nuclear war. I still think it was prescient of me to have discovered Fallout in the last couple of years.

2016 has been a complete bitch. Academia has become neither safe nor secure; nor, in fact, has the world at large, as the West's ugly underlying bigotries have leaped to the fore in a flurry of political and ideological regression. Some sort of weird demographic, possibly a complicated metric intersecting my age, the bleak political climate, the modern music and film industries and the spread of information in a media age, has absurdly concentrated the death of icons into the last year so that it feels as though 2016 has been prowling the ranks of the particularly beloved with a scythe. And my cats, past and present, keep dying. Looking back, it's the most that one can say that we've survived the year without actually retreating into a bunker or the foetal position under the bed.

In the more personal sense, the student protests, and the concomitant chaos and difficulty in campus administration and teaching, have crystallised my dissatisfaction with my job. Our faculty team has been in a state of flux, with my difficult boss driving change hard enough that people are leaving in droves; I like the team which is emerging (except aforementioned boss, who I still feel I have to placate), but the work is steadily becoming more difficult and demanding, as is the academic landscape as a whole. I don't think I can be here for much longer. In particular, I don't think I can continue to endure my job's drain on me personally: I am socialising less, am continually exhausted and avoiding groups of people, I dive back into my house at the end of every day and lock the door behind me with a palpable sense of relief. I miss my friends. I don't have energy to deal with them, but I miss them anyway. And I am feeling very Zimbabwean under the current university experience: it feels as though it could mean the kind of wholesale political crash which lost my parents everything. Change may mean a change of country, if I can possibly swing it. It may also mean a change out of academia. Academia has not been kind to me for a long time, but this year it's been actively cruel.

So the annual scorecard is a bit depressing, and looks as follows:

Things achieved by me: survival under difficult circumstances. Resolution for radical change in my work life. Increasing political skills in self-protection and boss-evasion.

Things not achieved by me: healthy social levels. Exercise. Job satisfaction. Change.

Losses: Hobbit. Todal. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Sheri S. Tepper, Carrie Fisher, numerous others not quite so iconic to me. The ivory towerness of the ivory tower. The global plot.

Things discovered by me in 2016: Growing flame lilies. A proper phone, and, not unrelated to same, Avengers Academy, Uber and WhatsApp. Stranger Things. Fallout and Star Wars fanfic. MRI scans and cartilage tumours. KOTOR. Gougères (via Claire). Machete Order. Check, Please!, and ice hockey generally (!). Demisexuality. Cornbread. Reading on Kindle. Jessica Jones. OT3s. Feline kidney cancer diet restrictions. Political despair.

Things rediscovered by me in 2016: Star Wars. Drarry. Student protests. Postcolonial despair.

Resolutions for 2017: try to resist various flavours of despair. Change, adapt, survive. Socialise.

The year has been enough of a bitch that it's difficult to say "Happy New Year" without it sounding sarcastic. At the very least, may 2017 be less dreadful than we're all afraid it's going to be.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


2016 continues to deliver, in the sense of delivering pain and loss and the removal of hope. I am surprisingly devastated by the death of Carrie Fisher: I hadn't realised how much her role in Force Awakens had meant to me. Her feisty princess was, of course, integral to our investment in the original Star Wars trilogy, and her role as a female character was uncommonly powerful for the time - the antithesis of a passive damsel, she had both the personality and the political/tactical power to hold her own against the men. (Also, as I persist in thinking of Trump as Jabba the Hutt, there is considerable vindictive satisfaction in imagining her choking him with a chain, the action which was the archetypal denial of the chain-mail bikini and the female role it attempts to define).

But it was the mature Leia of Force Awakens who was most interesting, and whose loss I really mourn. The film created a powerful narrative place for her - a woman who has lost everything, home and family and political hope, and yet who continues to fight. We are given precious few female cinematic icons who are permitted to be experienced, mature, battered by life, wise, flawed, powerful, authoritative, instrumental - defined, in short, by something other than their sexuality. But the role worked because of who she was outside it - a gutsy, unabashed, irreverent older woman who had no truck with societal expectation, who called out misogyny and objectification, and who was frank and unashamed about her own struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. There's a lovely quote from her in The Princess Diarist in which she says about Star Wars that “Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.” In a lot of ways she could have been talking about herself.

I am sad that she has had her life prematurely ended, because she was making a marvellous and inspiring thing out of her own difficulties. I am heartsore that we have lost both her real-life presence and voice as an anodyne to Hollywood stupidities, and her character in future Star Wars films. If we ever needed an icon for continued resistance against fascist, misogynist systems in the teeth of the odds, it's now. Fuck 2016.

(My subject line is from one of Carrie's own autobiographical books, in which she describes George Lucas's insistence that she not wear a bra with the white dress because "there's no underwear in space" and with weightlessness your body will expand but your bra won't, so it'll strangle you. Which is terrible science and everything you need to know about justifying objectification by mansplaining right there, but the point is that Carrie wanted my subject line to be her obituary, so it is.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Ooh. Weird, weird dream last night: looking at self in mirror, while talking, and having my reflection's lips move completely and disconcertingly out of sync with what I was saying. Then I stepped away, and right behind me, perfectly hidden until I moved, was a man in middle-easternish robes and headscarf and sunglasses, looking menacing. Then I turned around, and I was on a huge, futuristic stage in the middle of a dark stadium full of people, all watching. At which point, fortunately, the cat landed on my stomach on her way out the window and I woke up. Somewhat freaked, to be honest.

I didn't do a Christmas post yesterday because the Internets had not vouchsafed me their usual benevolence in the form of a chirpy/irreverent Christmas doodle. But they did this morning, so have a retroactive Merry Festive Wossname! I hope it was a Good Day within the meaning of your personal Christmas act. I carefully arranged it so I didn't have to leave the house, and I noodled around cooking and prodding the garden and Skyping my mother and patting the cat, and it was lovely. And almost completely unlike Christmas, which is kinda the point. We did Polish Jo-consolatory Christmas Eve, with barszcz (for which I still have an unseemly affection) and dumplings, and I'll do a gesture at the Christmas stuff today, having Boxing Day lunch with my sister and niece. About the only thing which reconciles me to the heaving, fixated desperation of Christmas shopping crowds is the smug knowledge that I don't have to participate. Both sets of my Christmas gifts were bought online, heh.



Rogue One is apparently still colonising my brain. I wish I could attribute this, it's bounding unsourced around Tumblr, it may have originated on Elite Geek's facebook, but who knows? Whatever they teach them in schools these days, it apparently isn't referencing.

And my subject line is Wham!, naturally, because the latest outbreak of 2016 viciousness has been (a) Carrie Fisher in hospital in a critical condition after a heart attack, and (b) George Michael passing away quietly in his sleep. Fuck it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


Whedonesque on Tumblr yesterday made the comment that "Rogue One is an excellent Star Wars film and in some ways the best Firefly movie since Serenity." Hah, I thought. Flip, I thought. Smart-arse. Also, in the event, after watching the film this morning, I am forced to conclude: correct. I loved this movie, although in a very different way to Force Awakens: it's a denser, darker, chewier, less swashbuckling thing, all political sweep and gritty, desperate acts of resistance. I very much like this review, which contends that the film basically both rehashes the manifest iniquities of 2016, and offers some sort of potential antidote. But there are also definitely Firefly echoes; ragtag team of jaded misfits and hopeless causes struggling against fascist empires, leavened with one-liners and driven by strong character interactions. Also, spaceships. Spaceships are cool.

The film doesn't merit a Pros and Cons list, because there weren't too many cons, so have a sort of random listy thing. Spoilers! here be spoilers! )
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


Some Things About Doctor Strange:
  • I am resolved to be more organised in my movie-watching experience so I never have to go back to Canal Walk as the only place a film is still showing. Their sound is always cranked up too high, and their projection is always too dark. Even in a 2D version. This does detract from one's experience of the film, particularly the night scenes, in that really one can't see what's going on. Also, my ears hurt.
  • Conversely, on a Sunday morning, even the one just before Christmas, I was the only person in the cinema, allowing me to put my feet up on the chairs in front of me and to apostrophise the screen with some vigour at whim. I love doing this. It's the best possibly movie-watching experience.
  • Significant swathes of this film were tragically miscast. My love of the Cumberbatch is a pure and abiding thing, but he's just wrong with an American accent, it's seriously distracting. The perfect fit of the gaunt lines of his face with the magician archetype wasn't quite enough to carry it. And the character's weird mix of driven egotistical ambition and irreverent one-liners never really gelled. Also, while my love of Tilda Swinton's particular brand of individualistic androgyny is an even purer and more abiding thing, a white woman should not be representing Nepalese mysticism. However elaborate the backstory that claims the Sorcerer Supreme as a global figure, a whitewash in this context has profound implications for representation and it bugged the hell out of me all the way through. Mordo, on the other hand, was great. Chiwetel Ejiofor is always great.
  • My profound fondness for spaceships and exciting techie gadgets notwithstanding, it's clear that, however flawed a film is involved, by gum at heart I'm a fantasy creature. Magic does it for me. It really does. Memo to self, fantastic beasts, eftsoons and right speedily.
  • Notwithstanding which, the film was so busy going "whoo!" at the special effects team as they had at the fractal nature of visual reality with both hands and cool glowing spell diagrams, that it really wasn't paying much attention to the plot. It offered a weird degree of emotional disconnect. I never quite cared about anything. If done properly, an over-arching cosmic threat should explicate and resonate (shut up, stv) with the protagonist's own issues and arc, and... not so much. It felt patched together. I do not think that this was a good script.
  • The Cloak of Levitation stole the show. Flirty thing. Like the best cats - sleek, self-possessed, wayward and pleasingly homicidal when not being affectionate.
  • This film failed the Marvel Test, viz. whether or not I'd sit through the credits to see the final easter egg. In a word: no. Was not sufficiently interested. Tragically, more and more recent Marvel films are actually failing the Marvel test, because, regrettably, more and more they are rehashed, homogenised, money-making artefacts whose actual content is dictated by a marketing committee and thus lacks inspiration, spark or narrative coherence. Yet another in the Giant Commercial Superhero Line, ho-hum. Yawn. With a side order of tone-deafness to issues of race and gender and the like. It's enough to make me, an almost entirely Marvel-fondling comics fan, eye DC edgeways with an awakening interest. The whisper flies around the clubs, could they be worse? I fear they could, yet still I am tempted.
  • Marvel test, failed. Bechdel test, failed. Sexy lamp test actually not failed on the second go (the female doctor's first appearance arc could have been replaced by a sexy lamp with "Doctor Strange Is A Dick" stuck to it on a post-it note, but on the second try she actually did plot-relevant stuff. Her third appearance could have been replaced by a sexy lamp with "SPOILER is SPOILER" stuck to it on a post-it note.). Furiosa test failed in spades, good grief, this was a movie about a man's struggle with ambition and power, MRAs drool at it.
  • I was prepared to love this film, on account of its confluence of several happy buttons, but no. I am disappoint.

My subject line is what happens if your dodgy memory mashes up two Shakespeare quotes, namely "passing strange" (Othello) and "indifferent honest" (Hamlet). I stoutly maintain that the conflation was irresistibly conjured by the quality of the film. Also, while the quote is possibly orbiting my brain randomly as a result of having seen BC in Hamlet (he was great), now I want to see him do Iago.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had to dig back through blog posts to write the Hobbit elegy, and it's both weird and strangely satisfying, to re-visit my own life like that. Words, I get high on them, and that's some good shit at times. Also, given that my personal neuroses tend towards the aargh-I-do-not-exist-or-if-I-do-I'm-not-important end of the scale, it's even salutary and probably good for the soul, to be reminded that my own experiences and feelings and insights do exist, and may be valid. Sometimes I find that hard to believe.

What did leap to the eye, though, was the association of the annual board schedule rant with flanking posts bemoaning my state of health. Because, yes, apparently I do mark the year-end process annually by picking up some sort of lurgi, which then rampages over my hapless form for anything up to weeks. I did three days of board schedule checking over the weekend and Monday with a weird intermittent sore throat, which turned on Monday and Tuesday into a full-blown viral thing that knocked me flat for most of Wednesday, fortunately neatly sandwiched between the unavoidable meetings I had to attend on Tuesday and Thursday. The whole horrible season culminated in a five-hour meeting yesterday, after which I staggered home at 6pm, ate something random, prodded the cat and collapsed into bed. I feel considerably better this morning after, ooh, count them, eleven hours of sleep. I have one final meeting on Monday, after which I go on leave for three weeks, and damn the torpedoes. Anything vital in the way of orientation and registration prep can damned well wait until January. Dammit.

Cape Town is hideously hot, I have stress eczema all over my throat, and the attendant braai smoke from today's public holiday is inflaming my sinuses. But! I have three days in which to do nothing. The garden is burgeoning, my flame lilies are in flower again, the cat is asleep on the sofa making cute meeping noises in her sleep, I have a large iced coffee on my desk, and I have randomly acquired the wherewithal to make cherry chocolate trifle for supper tonight, just because I've bloody well earned it after the last week. It's not all bad. I'll take it.

(My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "Chicken with its head cut off", the title of which is the only part of the song which is actually in any way relevant to this post.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
'Tis the season, by which I mean exams committee season, which means that it's the couple of hideous days during which I check and annotate board schedules while swearing at my life choices. I do not need to go through the motions of the annual rant, I shall simply reference it. Insert rant here. You know how it goes. In the Infinitesimal Department of Up, there are slightly more actual rumblings in the institution at large this year about automating the whole damned thing via the student database, mainly because it would be a side effect of doing it for registration purposes, and two years of student protests have rendered the upper echelons of management strangely interested in registration processes which don't actually congregate students in large crowds for protesters to disrupt. However, that's a Giant Programming Challenge Of Doom, and will take a minimum of several years even if they start now.

In the Infinitely Larger Department of Downside, the two hideous years of protests have generally had far from salutary effects. My weekend and Monday will be entirely full of board schedule checking to a far greater extent than usual, which is the product of discovering, yesterday evening, that academics had pulled out of three of the prelim committees. They apparently did this on Wednesday, and the administrator responsible for the committee scheduling simply didn't tell me. I found out last night in passing, accidentally, during the course of a query about something else. Apparently it hadn't penetrated the administrator's head that we have responsibilities for due diligence in these checks, and we can't simply truncate the committees. Someone has to take up the slack. That would be me. After a bit of a reshuffle, I now have two board schedules, the second being almost as thick as the one I was originally allocated, and which habitually takes me 8-10 hours to check.

I'm very tired and don't have the energy to be properly furious, but by gum if it weren't the end of the year I would be raging. Because, see, I do get it. It's been a year and a half of hell. Academics are exhausted, drained, alienated, pushed later into the year than they would be because of the delayed semester, and they are protecting themselves by simply saying "no". From their side it's justified: the whole protest debacle has been hell on everyone, requiring huge amounts of compensatory admin and emotional energy. But the thing is, the admin processes don't simply stop because everyone's tired. We have a faculty full of students awaiting their year-end coding fates, and we have a responsibility to maintain our processes and standards by doing the proper check. And academics are by the weird caste system of a university the ones who are more able to complacently retire into narcissistic individualism under pressure. They are protected by tenure, and the system always privileges their individuality, which is the realm of their intellectual and research life, over the mundane grind of maintaining the administrative system. So they say "no", and the system does what it always does, which is to make the administrators compensate, because they don't have the luxury of refusal.

It's been a hellish time to be in academia. We are stressing people way beyond acceptable boundaries, and we are going to see things snapping, mostly because people are simply going to up sticks and leave. Which is going to further compromise function and standards, which is going to see more people leaving. I hope like hell it isn't the beginning of the end.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, by processes of (a) alphabetical car music rotation, and (b) they're catchy. Memo to self, acquire more albums, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy them.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My gosh-darned microwave oven is making weird noises. Not, may I add, the kind of weird popping noises you often get from (just as a random example, nothing at all to do with my non-best-practice) reheating rice uncovered. Nope, this is, somewhat alarmingly, a weird noise it makes to itself quietly in the corner of the kitchen when there's nothing in it, no-one has pressed "go" and in fact I haven't used it for days. It's a staticky sort of crackle that sounds like a miniature and slightly meditative geiger counter. It is, I have to say, enormously disconcerting when it happens spontaneously in the silent kitchen next to my bedroom at 4am, particularly when I've been playing a lot of Fallout.

I noodled around on the internet and found a Youtube clip of someone else's oven doing exactly the same thing:



Gawsh, I thought vaguely. Gawsh, that microwave looks exactly like mine. Which it is. The same model. The one you can find by googling for "Russell Hobbs microwave oven fault", which turns up the Daily Mail article about that model being recalled for its potential to spontaneously combust. Gawsh.

Fortunately the noise has always sounded suspiciously like a mini Tesla coil to me, which says electrical short and arcing; I have been following a simple principle of unplugging it at the wall when I'm not actually using it, and that usually settles its hash within a few seconds. (Also a bit disconcerting that it continues crackling for a bit after current is removed, which is very like that weird electrical car problem you sometimes get in older models, when the car continues to idle for a few seconds after you've cut the ignition. Because demon possession, apparently.) But I should probably really stop using it on strict principles of self-preservation and not accidentally electrocuting the cat. It is, of course, out of warranty by now, and the model was clearly never actually recalled in this country. I see a new microwave in my immediate future, sigh. Probably not by Russell Hobbs.

The Dire Straits ear-worm, incidentally, comes free with my subject line at no extra cost. You're welcome.

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