I ATEN'T DEAD

Saturday, 15 July 2017 09:31 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
oh, dear, apparently I haven't posted in a month? good heavens. I attribute that variously to (a) still being bloody exhausted from the bloody start to the year, (b) still being bloody exhausted by relentless student enquiries, particularly the noxious upsurge towards the end of term, (c) being overloaded with human interaction by (b), (d) being bloody exhausted by the rush to finish a bunch of stuff before going on leave, and (e) the natural and inevitable physical and mental shut-down which always happens when I go on leave, as my beleaguered bod realises that it's actually allowed to relax and promptly falls over.

Of course, all the frantic rush to finish a bunch of stuff before I went on leave was utterly futile, I didn't finish everything, which meant I spent a day or so of my leave writing budgets and hand-holding my staff writing their own budgets, and another day of my leave finishing the thrice-dratted report I should have written a month ago and forgot about, because exhaustion riddles my brain with holes like a Swiss cheese someone shot up with a shotgun. I was, shall we say, somewhat narked by this necessity. Those were my leave days, dammit.

But I'm on leave! and my mother is out from the UK, calloo callay! and is currently sitting in the living room cruising the internet and permitting Jyn to climb on her head. I am clearly my mother's daughter in more ways than one.

Also, I am catching up on sleep, and thus dreams. Last night I dreamed that I had authorised the wholesale and epic renovation of the house in which I was living (not my current one, something much larger and with a slightly worrying resemblance to the Red Rocket in Fallout 4). The renovation team were enthusiastic and a bit oblivious, and ended up mostly deconstructing the house, to the extent of knocking down most of the walls, squishing the entire contents of the house into one room inaccessible other than by climbing over rubble and squeezing through a narrow gap, and leaving me nowhere to sleep. I also spent a lot of the dream wandering around futilely protesting as they installed various dubious interior decorating features, mostly dreadful kitschy art-work, instead of reconstructing walls. About halfway through the process I suddenly remembered, with a horrible sinking shock, that I didn't actually own the house, and thus shouldn't actually be reconstructing it. I spent the rest of the dream increasingly frantic, trying to chivvy the renovators into fixing everything quickly before the landlady arrived and saw what I'd done.

It is slightly alarming to contemplate the extent to which the above dreamscape neatly replicates my current difficulties with mentally processing the massive life change of trying to find a new job.

My subject line is, of course, Granny Weatherwax. Possibly what I actually need is a new job as senior witch in a Pratchett coven.

baby got back

Thursday, 1 June 2017 12:22 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
A Dear Little Student just delivered the perfect backhanded compliment: "I've always found my interactions with you perfectly smooth and easy," he says, "you're nothing like the nightmare everyone says you are." Um, thanks. I think. In fact, the vast majority of interactions I have with students are smooth and easy, it's a tiny minority who transgress my boundaries and get snarled at, or who run their heads against an unyielding rule and blame the messenger. It is an index to the extent to which this year's reg process broke something in me that I'm not even particularly hurt by the idea that everyone thinks I'm a nightmare. (a) Actually it's not true, I know I'm rather kind to the vast majority of them, and (b) frankly, who cares what they think.

I have compounded my last post's Coming Out As A Soon To Be Ex Academic by telling a colleague, in strict confidence, that I am Soon To Be An Ex Academic and thus can't teach in his course next semester, so the whole thing is reifying at speed. (Dreamwidth wots not "reify", illiterate little thing. It should, it's a good word). This is causing me a small but perfectly formed identity crisis, manifesting as anxiety, avoidance, self-loathing and a well-formed tendency to play a fuckload of Dishonored with bloody-minded pacifism (I finished the main game last night with a perfect no-kill run) while rejoicing in the excessive and Victorianesque politico-Gothic gloom of its setting. So my apologies to anyone who has kindly sent me career suggestions to which I have not responded because I am wibbling like a jelly. I'll get there when I've talked myself into slightly more solidity. I really am very grateful.

I feel that the jelly-like identity crisis will be materially assisted by the fact that I am buggering off into the winelands with the Dread jo&stv this weekend for purposes of staying in an Airbnb for two nights, the better to concentratedly wineroute and dine out at Franschoek's many fine dining establishments, which we tend not to have experienced in our culinary meanderings because no-one wants to drive back to Cape Town drunk and overfed. This will be extremely restoring to the soul, and I can only hope that Jyn will not unleash her usual high-velocity sprint for the traffic flow when the cat-sitter opens the front door on Saturday. I'm getting really good at grabbing her one-handed as she goes past, but I've had a lot of practice.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Right. *deep breath*. So. It cannot have escaped the attention of alert witterers that I have been, shall we say, less than satisfied with my career and work life of late. Even before the upheavals caused by eighteen months of student protests, campus closures and the concomitant conditions of resource-shrinkage, my job was always a compromise: I do it well, and it has elements I enjoy and find rewarding, but they're small patches within a landscape with more than its fair share of admin swamps, uphill battles and the active orientation/registration volcano into which I am annually and ritually flung. The student protests have been the earthquake which, once the aftershocks have settled, has rearranged that landscape into one where the enjoyable patches are becoming actually difficult to locate.

I need, in short, a new job. More than that, a new career. The niche I have filled is so highly specialised that nothing else like it exists within my Cherished Institution; I have no desire to exchange my current post-student-protest difficulties for the identical or worse ones at any other institution in this country, and given that it's taken me six months and various lovely friends prodding me consistently and affectionately with sticks to get my change-averse hang-ups suppressed to the point of wanting a new job at all, I'm really not up to complicating "new job" with "new country" simultaneously. So new career it is. I am, in short, planning to shake the dust of academic from my booted feet, preferably within the next six months so I don't have to endure the bloody start-of-year volcano again.

This not unnaturally raises the difficult question of what the hell I can do instead. I have been a university teacher, researcher and administrator for my entire adult life. I have a raft of actually fairly highly honed and useful skills that go beyond the standard research/writing and teaching/counselling areas (and I'm actually damned good at those) into process management, logistics, administration, organisational insight and a variety of other potentially marketable abilities and experiences. What I lack is a sense of what the hell is out there, job-wise, that would make use of them. My experience of the non-university working landscape is so minimal that I don't even know what sort of job titles or keywords to search for.

So, when in doubt, crowd-source. A lot of you who read my blog are not in academia, or have partners or contacts or experiences outside the Ivory Tower even if you are academics. Knowing me, and the kinds of things I've been doing for decades, are there any particular roles you can think of in the non-academic world that I would be suited to? Industries, skill areas, job titles, corners where you know academic training is an advantage? Something to point me in the right direction? If it helps, I've updated my LinkedIn profile with fairly detailed job descriptions that give some idea of the individual skills my work life has developed.

I would be deeply grateful for any suggestions that would help me identify a direction for a search, because right now, frankly, the compass is simply spinning gently. Along, in fact, with my head.

My subject line is, of course, from David Bowie's "Changes", because where else?
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Well, that was a weekend. Sort of. I'm not sure it actually counts as "life" without basic human life-support such as hot water for personal ablutionary purposes. On Thursday evening I switched on the kettle (an interestingly space-agey glass one with inherently dodgy electrics, it blew its reheat function about 24 hours after I bought it), which promptly tripped all the plugs and, for some reason, the geyser. I switched on all the tripped switches, no problem, but on Friday night it transpired that, in fact, something more permanent had blown, because my attempt at a hot shower was tragically undermined by the total lack of hot water.

So Saturday entailed informing the house agent about the problem - she is a lovely lady who, incidentally, owned the house I rented during my Honours year. (She lived in the back half of the property, and it's a source of continual amazement to me that she sanctioned my current tenancy given that my Honours year was characterised by excessive financial precariousness, no furniture, a screaming break-up followed by a screaming break-down, and the frequent use of my empty living room for loud, long-haired Goth parties. She's either very forgiving or has a very bad memory, is all I can say.) She tut-tutted sympathetically and imported Plumbers.

The Plumbers proved, in the event, to be of rather less use than a chocolate tea-pot, i.e. no damned good for their intended function and inclined to do no more than dribble equal quantities of ruined chocolate and ruined tea on your shoe when called upon to perform it. They banged around in the roof for three hours on Saturday, eventually departing having achieved a new geyser element, a complete mess in the roof, a leak in the ceiling, a bill for R2000, and no actual hot water. (Amazon plumbers, people. Not a good experience. Would not permit to plumb again anywhere near me). They returned yesterday and fixed the overflow which was dripping through the ceiling, but still no hot water. My actual landlord achieved the hot water at 7 last night by removing the geyser timer completely. I reckon there's a more than sporting chance that the new element was completely unnecessary, see chocolate teapot, above.

The thing is, this means that the weekend was composed in very large parts of strangers in my house. They made a noise, they turned off the lights at intervals so I couldn't play Skyrim, they required (in the case of the agent) to be treated courteously and fed tea and conversation while waiting. They also represented a response to an issue I reported, which means I spent the whole time poised in horrible anticipation that they'd gently point out I hadn't done Really Obvious And Basic Action B to turn everything on again, and the whole expensive shebang was thus My Fault. (This is a deep-seated hang-up of mine, as evinced by those recurring dreams in which the whole mechanism is going kablooey because I didn't do the Vital Tiny Thing when I was five). I am beyond exhausted; I haven't been able to use the weekend for its gods-given function, which is to retreat into splendid isolation and decompress. I am a shambling thing this morning, and my head is pounding.

On the upside, I had a hot shower last night, so there is perhaps a sliver of hope. Also, I am pleased to report that Pandora and Jyn are spending a lot of their time chasing each other through the house in an essentially friendly and playful way, and can be caught giving each other affectionate chin-rubs if I turn around suddenly. Also, Jyn continues aesthetically pleasing, if evincing a slightly worrying tendency to head straight for the road at mach speeds if I leave the front door open for more than a microsecond. (The black spot on her nose is shrinking, either it was a minor injury or her previous Small Child owner had at her with a black koki). Herewith, for posterity, a composition I entitle Small Cat Big Bed. The light was interesting.

20170514_144442

My subject line is Flanders and Swann, of course; the song doesn't do plumbers, but damned well should..
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
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.)

Tags

Page generated Wednesday, 20 September 2017 09:16 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit