freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.

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)
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.

children of the corn

Saturday, 22 October 2016 03:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not at all wish to think about the campus situation, given that library and lab access was, in fact, disrupted by protests all week, and that clashes with police and security have become violent. My inbox is filled with panicked and plaintive queries, I am exhausted and despairing, and I am forced to contemplate the need to produce four weeks of teaching in virtual form by the end of this weekend. I am therefore going to distract myself with cooking, mostly because I have recently discovered American-style cornbread, and both Jo and Claire are badgering me for the recipe.

I have wanted to make American-style cornbread for years, because it sounds cool, but we don't actually produce cornmeal of the requisite grade in this country, so I've never pulled it together before. However, a couple of months back one of the Tumblr bloggers I read posted a recipe for skillet cornbread with caramelised onions, which looked so good I was moved to do five minutes of internet research, which revealed that you can substitute the cornmeal in cornbread with polenta, which is, in fact, apparently identical to coarse-ground cornmeal. As I retain my pathological inability to follow a recipe with any degree of fidelity, I am posting below my version, rather than simply linking to his, although you can have the original link as well, here. My version doesn't caramelise the onions with actual caramel, but compensates by upping the butterfat quotient of the cornbread itself to more civilised levels, i.e. decadent ones. I will have no truck with skimmed milk. It also reduces the amount of maple syrup, because I think this is better if it's not too sweet. It doesn't seem to make much difference if you use real maple syrup or maple-flavoured golden syrup, you just need that touch of sweetness and flavour.

SKILLET CORNBREAD WITH CARAMELISED ONIONS

Onion Topping:
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1 medium-sized red onion, diced (or sweet white onion if you can find them)

Cornbread:
1 egg
250ml full cream Greek yoghurt (you could use low fat if you prefer, but why?)
125ml buttermilk (or normal milk if you must be health-conscious)
3 Tbsp melted butter
3 tblsp maple syrup
250ml polenta
60ml flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 a tin of whole kernel sweetcorn (this is optional, but works very well).

I make this in a weird but magical handle-less stainless steel pan thingy I inherited from Jo(ty) when she and Phleep fled the country - it has a nice heavy base, which I think is the important bit, and you can bung it in the oven owing to the lack of handle. I've also made this in a Dutch oven, i.e. my heavy cast-iron Le Creuset knockoff. You don't need anything with a lid.

  • Preheat oven to 425oF
  • Caramelise the onions: on medium to low heat, melt the 3 tblsp butter and add the chopped onions. Allow to sweat gently and soften for about 20 mins, stirring occasionally, until they start caramelising properly. Cheat and add 1 tsp brown sugar and a little water. Cook another 5 mins or so.
  • Mix dry ingredients (polenta, flour, backing powder, baking soda, salt) in a mixing bowl. Mix yoghurt, milk, melted butter and syrup with the egg in a measuring jug. Fling wet and sinfully fatty ingredients into dry ingredients and mix.
  • Mix in the sweetcorn. You can also fling in things like bits of chilli, chopped peppadews, crispy bacon bits, grated cheese or chopped spring onion, although I wouldn't put them all in at once. I like the spring onion/peppadew version, although the whole corn one is my favourite.
  • Tilt the onion pan to run the butter up the sides, for greasing purposes, and spread the onions vaguely evenly over the bottom.
  • Pour the batter over the onions and bung into the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch and starting to brown. Let it cool for five minutes or so before loosening the sides and inverting onto a plate. You'll end up with a flat round loaf with caramelised onion topping, like a savoury upside down cake.
  • This is damned good with chili, or soup, or in chunks all on its own, and would make a superb and wildly cross-cultural accompaniment to braai. It's also, I warn you, absurdly moreish, I can flatten a whole loaf unaided in 24 hours. If eating it over a couple of days, it works to microwave slices for 20 seconds or so on Day 2, it freshens them and it's better warm.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My car's music system is wandering through the alphabetical mid-section of my Bowie albums at present, currently in the middle of Let's Dance, which gave me, in rapid succession this morning, "Criminal Minds" followed by "Cat People", which has the line about putting out fires with gasoline. This was somewhat apposite as campus re-opened this morning, with the expected protest action following as the night does the day. This gave me a morning shaped thusly:
  • General headless chickening about whether or not we should try to be on campus, with contingency meetings in coffee shops first. Rumours of protesters massing on lower campus, but we resolved to give it a try anyway.
  • Arriving at a quiet middle campus venue for an online reg training session to find that technological mishap is no respecter of protests, and no-one could log into any of the computers. The organisers took an hour to ascertain that, yes, no-one could log onto any of the computers, during which time no training transpired. Then the protesters arrived.
  • Protesters set off fire alarms, bounced around the building singing, shouting and beating drums. About a million policemen arrived. We were told to leave our training venue by a protester, who was fairly polite but who also took away with him, presumably for communist redistribution, the bowl of peppermints set out on the coffee table for the trainees.
  • The building locked down. Fire alarms blaring, all doors locked. One entrance only opened, up three flights of stairs from our basement venue, and at the other side of a mass of police and protesters and news cameras. The protesters flung a bucket of human excrement across the threshold of the only open door and then departed for points upper, hell-bent, presumably, on further disruption.
  • We huddled in the basement until the crowds had dispersed, and then left, gingerly. The direction of the protests meant that my boss texted me almost immediately to say not to bother coming up to the office, since the protests were clearly headed that way, Today We Will Work From Home.
  • I could have done with that decision at 8am rather than 10am, as I find the panic attack/hyperventilation at being trapped behind locked doors to be inconvenient and annoying and would prefer to have avoided it entirely. Also the poo flinging. It came nowhere near me, but I still feel unclean. Presumably that was the point.

The Powers That Be have decreed that we will finish the semester remotely, i.e. no face-to-face lectures or tutorials. Exams will take place in November. We will finish the semester by hook or by crook, mostly crook in the sense that we will examine on eight weeks of work rather than twelve. Apparently academic standards and the integrity of our qualifications are only immutable until they aren't. It's also debatable whether or not the protests will allow us to keep the necessary library and computer labs and buses running for students without home internet access.

I am sick at heart. On the upside, Hobbit is responding well to the cortizone and, while still slightly subdued, is contriving to fight being pilled, leaving me with scratches all over my hands and, after one more than usually athletic wriggle, my left nipple. He is eating like a small ginger horse and has resumed his playful finger-nipping and butt-clawing habits. Pandora is in a massive hissy fit, I think she imagined she was an Only Cat Now after five days without him, and is resenting his return. They sit on either side of me on my bed at night with Pandy's tail lashing like a particularly miffed leopard's. On the whole, I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus continues closed, which does mean the personal introvert box labelled "is stressed by traffic and crowds" is not, in fact, being ticked on a daily basis. Being quietly at home is a good thing, and conducive to being able to craft gently reassuring emails to stressed students. If only everything else in the world weren't exploding. I woke up yesterday at 8.15 with the sudden, horrible realisation that I'd booked my car in for a service that morning and promptly forgotten about it in all the cat and campus crises, and had to rocket out of bed and through the tail end of rush hour traffic to squeak it in a whisker before the 9am cut-off. On the upside, I am rather enjoying the chats with the Uber drivers. Is it just me, or are two-thirds of Uber drivers actually Zimbabwean? We play odious comparisons between Trump and Mugabe and shake our heads sagely about the SA parallels to the Zimbabwe university melt-downs, it's very satisfying.

Not everything is, in fact, exploding. A quick Hobbit update, with grateful thanks to everyone for the good wishes and moral support. I have been talked down by various vets from my somewhat knee-jerk reaction against chemotherapy. The vets, and a fair amount of googling, reveal that cancer treatments in cats and dogs are very much less aggressive than they are in humans, with quality of life being carefully balanced against an actual cure. I've been offered two levels of treatment for Hobbit, either a cortisone pill one, or a more complex/powerful one. The cortisone one is palliative and would give him at least another six months before the cancer developed a resistance to it, the second one has a chance at an actual cure, but has an increased risk of side effects and renal failure. Given that it's kidney cancer, I'm worried about the renal failure risk. He has, however, been in at the vet's on a drip since the weekend, and is apparently responding well and eating OK, so it seems fair to give him a chance with the treatment. I'll bring him home this morning, with one or other of the treatments started, I still haven't decided which. Any input valued! I am still going to lose him, probably by euthanasing him as soon as he starts being uncomfortable and unhappy, but we have more time. I'll take it.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Days", off Reality, which seems to be a theme at the moment. Other lyrics from that particular song: "going mad, don't know what to do"; "my crazy brain in tangles". Word.)

the c-word

Sunday, 9 October 2016 10:00 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Back in the days of the Osborne Rd digs with Dylan, Mich and Mykal, we had an ongoing joke about "the c-word". I actually can't remember what the C in c-word referred to, I suspect it may have been a post-break-up cynical rant about commitment-phobia from Mich, but I don't think its genesis was obscene. The point was that you could use it to refer to anything you didn't want to contemplate, regardless of whether or not it began with C. Love. The Masters thesis. The cat throwing up on the carpet. The washing up.

I've needed that word this week. Particularly since everything that has rendered this last week a c-word does, in fact, begin with C.

Campus. Is still closed, and will be tomorrow, and we are seeing the possibility of actually finishing the semester slipping inexorably from our grasp. The protesters won't budge, and our attempts to lecture last week were futile. I don't know where this is all going to go, but nowhere good. The destruction to the fabric of the university is already incalculable.

Car. Dead battery for two days running, necessitating waiting around for jump starts and things. It's on a maintenance plan, so I can't get it sorted at the battery place around the corner, I have to trek out to Paarden Eiland. Where it transpired that the battery is, in fact, dead, and out of warranty, so that was an expensive replacement noise.

Cat, and, in fact, cancer. Hobbit is currently in at the vet's, on a drip. He's been increasingly subdued and thin, and this week spent several days not moving from one spot on the living room carpet, eating little or nothing. On Wednesday the doctor found a lump in his kidney, which tests and things have revealed is almost certainly cancer of the kidney, which has spread into the liver and lymph nodes. We are waiting for one last round of test results tomorrow to narrow the kind of cancer it is, but basically the options are chemotherapy or euthanase, and I'm fucked if I'm putting him through chemo to scratch out a last few months of unpleasant life. He's been miserable enough this last week as it is. I am almost certainly going to have to put down my cat on Monday. The effect of this has been to muffle all the campus disasters, which I really should be worrying about, but am not, because I am devastated about Hobbit. I am not coping.

Fuck this week. I'd like to return it to sender with extreme prejudice. You can keep it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We have Schrödinger's Protests, apparently. They only exist if they're observed, or possibly if they observe you, i.e. if you happen to be in the building at the time that the protesters happen to be congregating. Up until then, we are not in a state of protest: campus is quiet, and somewhat short of students as many of them are confused, terrified or grabbing the opportunity to bunk and haven't come to campus at all. If protest happens, dozens of students singing harmonious protest songs erupt into the building and set off the fire alarm, at which point either lock your door and pretend you don't exist, or if you choose to submit to observation, are gently but firmly escorted out of the building, briefly, to stand around for a few minutes until the focus point shifts again and you can drift back indoors and resume the placid course of non-protesting life. It's a bizarrely intermittent existence, and is playing merry hell with teaching, which is exhibiting equal parts distraction, confusion and uglification. (Tracy: hugs).

The whole has not been materially assisted by my techno-jinx, which is attacking my car. Two weeks of intermittently closed campus has led to a number of days at home, going nowhere and feverishly refreshing email, the website and my fast-compounding WhatsApp network. As a result I haven't driven the Beastie much, and her battery isn't charging. I was very tense about Monday, and braced for protest horror horrors (which fortunately didn't actually materialise), and climbing into the car to have it make a series of unpleasant coughing noises in lieu of starting, really didn't help. Except when it did, as waiting for the jump-start people ended up delaying my arrival on campus by a couple of hours, thus neatly avoiding the road closures, which all packed up and went their merry way at about 10am. I have had a rinse and repeat this morning, and have just returned from an expensive little trip to the Hyundai service people, who replaced the battery and, it being six months out of warranty, charged me merrily for it. Now at least I can reliably arrive at campus on time tomorrow to be turned back by the barricades. Yay.

By way of distracting myself from the political insanity of my current context, a word on the political insanity of America. Not even Trump, although I have to record for posterity my glee at Trump being pwned by Clinton in the debate. (See also: Shimmy Song). Do you know that the US gun laws, in their NRA-funded money-grubbing madness, prohibit the use of any computer database to track gun ownership? So everything is on hard copy or microfilm, and has to be searched manually. There's an amazing GQ article which chronicles the bloody-minded determination of the gun ownership records office to be halfway functional in the teeth of one of the world's most warpedly biased constraints. It warms the more administrative cockles of my heart. The rest of it (the non-administrative cockles) are being chilled by the sheer number of unrestrained firearms in America.

(My subject line is Bowie's "She'll Drive the Big Car", which is one of his more melancholy and contemplative numbers off Reality, and something of a favourite of mine.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I was right about the "too quiet" thing, an attempt to be on campus on Wednesday inevitably ended up with protesters setting off fire alarms, and we all scurried home quickly before they could attempt to pointedly escort us out of the buildings, which has been the technique thus far. The Dean finally decreed that everyone should remain off campus for the rest of the week. We are at a deeply unpleasant pivot point where the university leadership is insisting that lectures must start on Monday come what may, which means increased security, which means confrontation and escalation and violence, and more damage and trauma all round.

The whole thing still hinges on the demand for amnesty by protesters who were interdicted or expelled or prosecuted for criminal damage. The students remain immovable about this as a condition of allowing the university to continue; the VC insists that there can be no compromise. (Apparently he's under pressure from a particularly punitive faction in Council). I have changed my mind about this, in contemplation of the inevitabilities playing out, and in wincing, braced anticipation of things going horribly downhill on Monday. At this stage, amnesty is going to be the least damaging of a range of dreadful options. The best suggestion I've heard thus far, after a surprisingly civilised and productive faculty meeting this morning, is that the university issues amnesties while requiring an address to criminal activities, and some resolution in terms of justice/reparation, as part of an independently-run TRC.

And if nothing else, it might work to repair trust to some small extent: we cannot function with a student body with a large number of perfectly legitimate grievances feeling utterly unheard by an implacable admin. It's horrible to realise how much damage has already been done - not just to our credibility and donor funding and academic project, but to the institutional psyche. Students are angry and afraid and anxious about all the confrontation on top of the already high levels of inherent angst in being a black student on a campus whose culture is opaque and elitist and alienating. Staff are devastated and betrayed by the assaults on their competence which student dissatisfactions inevitably represent, and are increasingly angry about all these demands that we "consult" with our students while management goes ahead and makes unilateral decisions regardless of the outcome of consultations.

I am not designed for this. I have a pathological need to see all sides of an argument, and far too much empathy with all of them. I am tending to keep fairly quiet in the faculty context in a desperate attempt at self-defense, while I silently build walls to stop myself from disintegrating. Because that's what it feels like. A lot of my Useful Stuff Learned In Therapy suggests that giving people what they want is one of the ways I validate my own existence. No-one can get what they want in all this. I can't help, despite the fact that my job requires I integrally help both students and the faculty. I therefore may not actually exist.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Lectures are suspended today, and the faculty sent all the staff home on the grounds that they'd rather not have us tangle with protests, which I welcome, even if it does mean I suffer momentary setbacks like a sudden Hobbit to the touchscreen at a psychological moment, causing me to, e.g., randomly leave a Whatsapp group I'd just carefully created. (In other news: Whatsapp! I resisted it with all four feet for years on end, but it's seriously great for keeping contact with people during, I dunno, massive campus meltdowns or whatever. I am industriously proliferating groups.)

If nothing else, being formally at home to work means I don't have to attempt the classic student protest manoeuvre, namely swearing my way through rush hour traffic for twenty minutes only to fetch up against a barricade and have to turn around and swear my way all the way back home. Not good for the fatigue. In addition to rush hour traffic as a fatigue trigger, recent discoveries of other, more exciting triggers include continuous fire alarms, crowds singing in the foyer, and faculty board meetings during which the assembled academics of the faculty bombard the VC with complaints, questions and thinly-veiled ideological harangues, mostly conflicting, for two hours. I staggered home yesterday in a state perilously close to collapse.

Of course, the inscrutable workings of Sod's Law dictate that this week is my most congested teaching-wise for the semester, with a batch of lectures as well as my usual seminar. I am scrambling to find ways to catch up, with the uneasy awareness that I have it desperately easy given how little I teach in comparison to most academics.

Among the considerable advantages of working at home: decorative kitties.



I have a dark suspicion that Pandora may actually be giving me the finger as a side effect of that adorable flumphed paw-to-nose pose. Also, winter didn't quite generate the puddle of cat I'd hoped for, but the two of them are getting on surprisingly well. Mostly. Half a second after this photo Dorable rolled over and almost touched him, and a startled Hobbit leaped about two foot backwards and into the water bowl.

(Subject line gloss: Bowie, natch. "Beauty and the Beast". Although possibly something from "Diamond Dogs" might have been more appropriate to the faint air of apocalypse.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am slightly saddened that the Great Year Of Subject Line Bowie Mourning is still in force, as really this post should be entitled "Into each life some rain must fall". On the upside, the actual subject line I chose does come from possibly my favorite track on Blackstar, "Girl Loves Me", which is bouncy and catchy and written in a sort of frangled Clockwork-Orangesque mad post-apocalyptic vernacular1, which is not unapposite to my week.

The Cosmic Wossnames are gonna mess with me, is who. I am on leave. It's lovely. I'm catching up on sleep, and apparently all I need to do is to leave work for my dream-life to swing back into nightly focus with an audible click. And in my personal value system, shaped as it is by a drought-scarred Zimbabwean childhood, actual rain falling into my life, as it has done for the last few days, is cause for rejoicing. It's been bucketing, and cold, and the cats and I have been congregated around the contented purr of the gas heater for large swathes of time. I would prefer, however, if the otherwise much-enjoyed precipitation could refrain from precipitating actually inside the house.

So the bathroom sprang a leak on Tuesday. A little one, in the corner, where it rained gently on the towels. My nice landlord came round on Thursday and spent several hours tromping around on the roof, doing mystic passes with sealant and cloth coverings and what have you. This appears to have been something of a catastrophic fail in the DIY department, one of those epic fumbles that made everything worse, because Saturday's heavy rain revealed that the original leak had multiplied its output by a factor of ten, the bathroom had sprung two additional leaks in solidarity, and there were another series of sinister plopping noises in the living-room ceiling. Plus one small, diffident leak from the skylight contributing intermittently and with mathematical accuracy to the center of the carpet. I have no idea what the hell he did up there, but the roof really didn't like it. I await, somewhat damply, his no doubt shamefaced return to make good.

In retrospect possibly the leaking roof was inevitable, because I've been playing Fallout 4, which is littered with destroyed houses and makeshift shacks all with gaping holes in their roofs. But I can't even retreat from the deluge into more literal, if abstracted, postapocalyptic ruination, because the Cosmic Wossnames' two-punch sabotage followed its own inexorable logic: if I take ten days of leave and download Fallout 4 as the gaming project for said time, two days into the leave my computer will awake bright and early to an existential crisis in which it has convinced itself that it doesn't have a graphics card. Crawling in emo denial under its metaphorical bed, it will paralyse its own functions to the point where it not only wholesalely refuses to admit the existence of the graphics card on which it has been happily playing Fallout for two days, it will also reduce its screen resolution to a lowly 800x600 and refuse to change it at any price.

I dunno. It's distinctly possible that my computer is hallucinating it's Kylo Ren; if this is the case, hopefully the nice geeky types at my local computer shop will apply sufficient therapy to disabuse it of this misapprehension. If it's not, in fact, hallucinating and the (brand new, circa two days after the Inquisition release date) graphics card has in fact died, I apologize for the Kylo Ren slur and reflect, with some satisfaction, that at least the damned card is still under warranty. Either way, hopefully my computer returns to my bosom today, and I can stop this ridiculous half-existence where I experience the world through an IPad and my phone. Blarg. Any errors in this post are entirely attributable to the IPad's over-zealous and unduly American auto-correct. The verbosity is, however, absolutely my own. It's been over-watered.

1 Actually, subsequent research suggests it's half Nadsat and half Polari, which is something of an enchanting mix.

spiders from Mars

Monday, 13 June 2016 12:36 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
When I left to do some shopping early on Saturday there was a small flock of hadeda ibises (ibi?) posed dramatically along the roof-tree of my house, against the morning sky. Rather like a boy-band album cover, in fact: studied poses, all carefully differentiated, positions and distances calculated to hint at relationships. A deliberate construction of unity and individuality. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't take a photo, if only as documentary evidence so I can pick the right bird out of the line-up for punitive purposes. Because in retrospect that was a sinister little flock loitering with intent.

During the course of Saturday, while I was in my study innocently ambling through the Shivering Isles1 one or more nameless hadedaean perpetrators spent several hours wreaking wanton destruction in the back courtyard2. My container garden has a terribly tendency to cutworm, who drowned in droves in the heavy rain last week, and the Hadeda Boy Band obviously had a field day noshing the little surface-floated squishy corpses. Which is fine, and would cause me fist-pumps of vindictive satisfaction, except that hadedas are large birds who (a) trampled several plants nearly to death, and (b) half dug up others - the soil in the pots is basically harrowed and drilled by the multiple stabbings of hadeda beaks. Have you seen the beaks on those things? like bloody ice-picks. And, crowning insult, they crapped (c) all over the back courtyard, with that excessive bowel enthusiasm characteristic of their kind, and (d) all over the kitchen, because I leave the courtyard door open for ventilation during the day, and they clearly wandered in like they owned the place. I basically had to hose down and disinfect the whole room. I'm not sure the cutworm decimation is worth it. Seriously, One Direction would definitely do less damage, or at least damage that was somewhat less scatological. Probably.

I'm feeling a little besieged, is all. The neighbourhood tomcat who beats up Hobbit is still prone to coming into the house at night to beat up Hobbit, play with his cat-toys, steal the catfood and spray all over the passage. (Where the hadedas crapped. I'm sensing a theme.) I'm sleeping with the bathroom window closed, which means my cats trying to get out or the tomcat trying to get in have to go through my bedroom window and over my recumbent form. This does seem to be excluding the tomcat quite usefully, hooray, even if it does necessitate 2am wake-ups as Hobbit launches heavily from my midriff. But clearly any open window is an invitation. Last night I was lying in bed playing Avengers Academy on my phone3, and I happened to look up at the curtain because my eye caught a slight movement of something dark against the dark green. And a massive spider, must have been 8-10cm across, came moseying out from behind it and across it like the hot contender in the World's Most Nonchalant Arachnoid heats.

This is, quite frankly, rude. Because one's body does that complete muscular lock-down thing, frozen in horror and with faint echoes of Dragon Age dialogue drifting across one's cerebellum4. During this involuntary play-dead manoeuvre the spider ambled unhurriedly on a dead level path across the curtain, and disappeared behind it. Then I lay there for the next hour, staring into the dark with eyes like the third dog from the tinderbox fairy tale, every fibre of my being tense, while scenarios play out endlessly: spider has fallen on the floor and is climbing up the bed leg and under the blankets. Spider has fallen on the floor and is climbing up the mosquito net to drop on me. Spider is climbing up the wall so it can fall on me from the ceiling. It's lurking on the curtain so it can fall on me when I forget about it and open the curtain in the morning. It's fallen on the floor and will run up my leg when I get out of bed. It's moseyed on out into the courtyard and I can go to sleep now. Really. Really. I can sleep now. Any time.

I eventually did, and it didn't leap out at me at any point during the night, but I find the fact of its complete disappearance suspicious. With any luck the nice cleaning lady will find it and chase it out into the courtyard, where a hadeda will eat it. Because apparently I have an ecosystem.



1 Oblivion re-play while waiting for Fallout 4 to download. The Shivering Isles are perfectly demented, but I'd forgotten how pretty they are.

2 Which in retrospect does explain why the cats spent the day attached to my ankles, lily-livered beasts.

3 This is a deliberate attempt to try and connect me more with my phone, which I forget to check or charge or bring half the time, and which would be long since dead if it were a tamagotchi. Judicious experimentation suggests that being able to make teen superheroes dance or fly or take selfies does indeed foster attachment. Go figure.

4 Cole: "Too many legs!". Dorian: "Just once, we should see normal-sized spiders!"

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Class of 16 third-year students, and only two have seen the new Star Wars. The fuck? what's with the youth of today? the movie was huge and mainstream and seen by bazillions of people, but apparently senior Humanities students are not among them. I despair. Genre-shamed by my own students. Particularly because I'm trying to teach fanfic, and it transpires that I no longer have mainstream popular texts in common with my class. They grudgingly admit enough of a passing familiarity with Avengers or Sherlock that my burbling wasn't entirely opaque. I suppose it's not technically genre-shaming because they all watch Game of Thrones, but I refuse, basically on aesthetic grounds. I am unable to admire nasty people.

I am Disgruntled. Fortunately this amazing Tumblr conversation has just made me giggle outrageously for ten minutes, because Science! in the service of Dodginess is a lovesome thing, god wot. "I have no deeper explanation for why human females can dissolve rocks with our genitals. It simply is."

I am also in a horrible fatigue slump, and am perpetually exhausted, which is achieving new heights of horrible because I'm also insomniac like whoa and dammit, which means I stagger into bed, largely incapacitated with tired, at about 9pm and then stare at the ceiling for two hours. And when I sleep, apparently I hallucinate very small stained-glass knights with lances coming through the walls. Vividly. Contemplating firing my subconscious. Apart from anything else, it's giving rise, at extremely infrequent intervals, to particularly disjointed flow-of-consciousness blog posts.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Blackstar", from his last album, which is amazing and rapidly becoming one of my favourites. It is relevant only in the most lateral and tenuous of sleep-deprived fashions).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Well, that was... salutary. Things I never realised about myself, courtesy of not being a sports fan. Which I didn't need to realise, I know I'm not a sports fan, but a by-product of my sublime indifference to organised or team sport of any stamp is that I'm blissfully oblivious to major sports fixtures happening in Cape Town. Which is a problem when Newlands stadium lies directly between campus and home and the South African cricket team is playing Australia.

It took me exactly two hours to get home yesterday, a trip that should take ten minutes and even in rush hour seldom takes longer than 20. I left campus at 4.30pm, and finally pulled up outside my house, wrung, exhausted and hysterical, shortly after 6.30. During that time I had circled repeatedly between Observatory and Wynberg in a desperate, unavailing and increasingly surreal attempt to cross the railway line. Every single route over the line was blocked by congested traffic for a minimum of three blocks, moving a car at a time and generally sitting without moving at all for anything up to five or ten minutes. Not quite a gridlock, but almost, its ground-to-a-halt effect exacerbated materially by the single-minded selfishness of Cape Town drivers, who will fill up an intersection even if they're not able to move out of it, thus blocking it to cross traffic when the light changes.

Normally this sort of traffic congestion is a matter of biting the bullet and inching forward; you'll get there eventually, painfully slowly, and probably having given your road-rage vocabulary a brisk evening constitutional. What this is not apparently compatible with, however, is my borderline crowd phobia which, it transpires, is mostly a desperate terror of being hemmed in. I've always hated rush hour: sitting in traffic is one of my fairly reliable fatigue triggers, and it appears that the exhaustion is actually the result of subliminally suppressing panic attacks if I can't move, can't leave, can't see a way out. (This in retrospect also explains that overly dramatic episode in undergrad when I passed out in the middle of the Zimbabwe border post, which is always heaving crowds).

Yesterday the non-moving traffic endured long enough, repeatedly, that I could no longer suppress the panic response. I kept trying to turn away from build-ups, feeling my control slipping, my hands shaking, my hysteria mounting, and only ended up spiralling myself tighter and tighter into congested roads, with my options narrowing inexorably. At one point I ended up stuck in a byroad in Claremont near the station, hemmed in by taxis, shaking and crying hysterically, with concerned passers-by offering me water and otherwise mostly exacerbating the problem by looming at me. When I finally wriggled free I'd circle round to find another route, only to run into further rows and rows of bumper-to-bumper cars. It was like one of those repetitive nightmares where you can't get out, you keep coming back to the same spot, you're trapped. After a while the repetition becomes a sort of hellish hallucination. You feel as though you'll be doing this forever, over and over, trying to get through, always blocked, home and tranquillity and a door to exclude the world a sort of faint, mirage-like image which clearly doesn't exist in any real way.

Halfway through this process I gave up and tried to go back to campus to sit in my office for a bit (trial and error having established that sitting by the side of the road in the car didn't help at all). This wasn't the best move, because (a) going back to campus after you've left for the day is a nasty déjà vu feeling that itself feels like a nightmare entrapment, and (b) there was some sort of student activity - protest, demonstration, march, flash mob, who the fuck knows - filling up the roads, inevitably triggering further phobic reactions. I turned round and re-entered the hellscape. I finally wriggled through via Kenilworth, it now being late enough that the booms were up, took a tranquilliser, ate something, I forget what, it didn't seem to object so probably wasn't one of the cats, and fell into bed by 9, more or less shattered. It was, all in all, a horrible experience - made worse, I think, because heavy traffic is also a prime example of non-working, irrational, eco-unfriendly civilisation and we should damned well do better than this.

I am enlightened, however. I have identified a trigger. My tendency to arrange my work life to avoid rush hour, which I've always treated like a preference, becomes an imperative. I shall espouse the religion of the long way round if it looks for a microsecond as though build-up is happening. I shall also become au fait with major sports fixtures and arrange, preferably, to leave the country for them. For a nice, open desert full of absolutely nothing, but especially not people or cars.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I finally found the brainspace and emotional energy to watch the Sherlock special, and... wow. That was an appalling script. Seriously, what were they thinking? Incoherent and self-indulgent and pervaded throughout with an enormous, self-congratulatory sense of its own cleverness, which really wasn't as clever as it thought it was. And I'm not even going to take the lid off the gender politics can, on account of how it's too early in the morning to wrestle caricatures of giant writhing worms and besides, I have to go to the dentist and don't have time. Overall, a sad waste of an interesting concept. Lovely visuals, though.

I am on leave for ten days, in a desperate attempt to try and reconstruct myself, post-registration, as something other than a sad, limp piece of chewed string. Not ideally timed in terms of the fact that the faculty is still full of desperate students trying to register late, but needs must, and I have thoroughly briefed my team to deal with it. I think overall a brief recuperatory absence now is probably better than a month off work with a full-on glandular resurgence, which I can feel building up if I don't rest. As a bonus side-effect, protesting students have taken to be-dewing the university buildings liberally with cans of sewerage of a morning, the first expression of which I managed to miss on Tuesday owing to Evil Traffic, and I'd like to maintain that distance. It seems a good time to coincidentally be away.

Now off to dentist. I think may have taken to grinding my teeth over the last month, bits are chipping off. My subject line is Bowie's "Time", which I have always adored for its jazzy piano, but I'm amused by how far the quote applies both to Sherlock episodes and sewerage-flinging students. What's really in my mind, though, with respect to "Abominable Bride" is the line about falling wanking to the floor.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Aargh. The horrors of reg season (we are now in change of curriculum week, aka "Hellweek") have been materially reinforced by additional circumstances this year, namely student protests, and the fact that I'm chairing a selection committee at the same time. In the latter category, a potential applicant has just written a lengthy rant on the "discriminatory" wording of the job advert, in which he used the phrase "No disrespect, but..." in cold blood. Honestly, don't people stop to think? There is absolutely no way in hell I would give the job to someone with his particularly combative and insensitive attitude, even if his rant was valid, which it wasn't, and he met the qualifications requirements, which he doesn't. The rigours of my role notwithstanding, I still fundamentally like students and wouldn't subject them to that.

In the Department of Student Protests, they're happening, and buses are being burned and shacks built, but so far not on the part of campus where I work - it's all a bit distant and muffled, the focus of protests is housing and not, as we feared, registration. I think the people in the housing offices and Bremner are having a bad time of it, and there's been considerable property damage. But the Rhodes Must Fall movement, who are the perpetrators, have extremely effectively destroyed all the goodwill that actually existed for their message with all this bullshit. Now they're just vandals. Which is an enormous pity, as a lot of what they're protesting about badly needs change. As usual, The Onion nails it in their Tips for Campus Activism - not in the bulk of the list, which applies to a far different and more privileged notion of protest, but in the final item: "Above all, stay strong and never give up the fight! You don’t want to give “the man” the satisfaction of dismantling your demonstration by putting pressure on you or cordially agreeing to your terms." "The man" did exactly the latter, in all the gains achieved last year, and now is patiently doing the former, as protests spiral out of control and the perpetrators are arrested left, right and centre. Overall it's a very sad upshot for a worthwhile movement.

And finally, in all this chaos, once again friends keep me sane. I found a pack of chocolate digestives in my in-tray last week, attached to a card addressed to "O great and mighty Dr T". Upon opening, it revealed the following:



It is an index to the horrors of the last month that I was too fundamentally weakened for the usual yell of grammatical horror. Instead I collapsed in feeble and hysterical giggling, which was indeed the fell intent of the perpetrator. This was Tracy, who apparently bought the card years ago specifically with me in mind and has been biding her time waiting for the precise psychological moment for delivery. She hit it dead-on. It quite made my week.

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