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)
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: (South Park Self)
I had to dig back through blog posts to write the Hobbit elegy, and it's both weird and strangely satisfying, to re-visit my own life like that. Words, I get high on them, and that's some good shit at times. Also, given that my personal neuroses tend towards the aargh-I-do-not-exist-or-if-I-do-I'm-not-important end of the scale, it's even salutary and probably good for the soul, to be reminded that my own experiences and feelings and insights do exist, and may be valid. Sometimes I find that hard to believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, by processes of (a) alphabetical car music rotation, and (b) they're catchy. Memo to self, acquire more albums, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy them.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Orientation/registration difficulties over the last week have, courtesy of cosmic wossnames who apparently have it in for me, included the following:
  1. The complete non-arrival of the faculty handbooks. That means I was giving curriculum briefings to first-years and advisors, and running registration, entirely on a cardboard-and-string combination of last year's handbook with the various handouts, supplementary booklets, hotsheets and frantic updates which I produce annually more or less as a nervous twitch just in case this exact thing happens.
  2. A new, fascinating computer error which blanked out the screen of the lectern computer in my orientation venue so I couldn't see anything I was projecting to the data projector screen behind me. (It was projecting fine. I just couldn't see it on the computer). Manipulating powerpoints and swapping between documents was challenging, and involved a lot of craning my neck as the mouse cord wasn't long enough for me to go round the other side of the lectern. In addition, we were filming all my lectures. I haven't dared look at the result. I hope the students can make sense of curriculum briefings which issue from the back of my head. This was a particularly annoying problem because it recurred: Day 1, no screen, logged call, they sorted it out, Day 2 fine, Day 3 spontaneously regenerated the problem. Alas, my techno-jinx.
  3. The orientation leaders, in a fit of excess enthusiasm, blowing the speakers we'd hired for their opening number by cranking the sound up too high, to the tune of several thousand rand for which we are now liable. We've had budget cuts this year.
  4. The coexistence of all of the above orientation/registration hassle with the unique circumstance of the extra marks checking exercise we've had to run this year as a result of last year's exam delays and all the extra deferred exams. I've just worked a seven-day week. I took a board schedule home at 6.30 on Friday, and spent that night and Saturday morning checking it before a three-hour Saturday meeting. I spent four hours yesterday in a marks review meeting and the rest of the day allocating advisors to registration sessions. I am a very particular level of complete shambling zombie.
  5. I've lost 10 out of my advisor squad in the last week, either academics not pitching up to training, or sudden family emergencies or what have you. I am trying to allocate not enough advisors to too many sessions. I mean, I more or less always have to do that, but this year it's an extra-huge deficit.
  6. The continual, subliminal, nebulous fear that we may have protests and disruptions of orientation or reg this week so that a large proportion of all this preparation may be ultimately in vain. Hopefully not, because our VC is sneaky and intelligently political, and has rustled up extra money to address the fees exclusion issues Fees Must Fall are now agitating about, but it may not be enough.
  7. Heatwaves. Last night had an added side order of a mosquito plague, during which both cats joined me under the mosquito net in sheer self-defence. I could hear them twitching and occasionally trying to bite mosquitoes out of the air as they were being eaten alive.
  8. PMT. Apparently the anti-depressants were keeping this down, because oh lord.

Despite all of the above, I am surprisingly cheerful. Completely bloody exhausted, but there's a sort of vindictive relish in making it all work in the teeth of the odds. Also, as a gesture of defiant self-indulgence I have just ordered myself the complete boxed set of the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, which for some reason is currently at about half price on Blu-Ray on Takealot. Because fuck it, I have earned some entertaining fluff.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Ashes to Ashes". It seemed appropriate. If only because my current work life is enough to make me wistfully wish I actually did drugs.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Spoilers: it isn't. Hellish heatwave hot, so that my ankles have swollen to the point where it hurts to walk. And unconscionably filled not only with the usual last-minute orientation and registration panic, but with hyped-up and desperate early registration, rude students, and an additional fun-filled layer of attempting to predict completely unpredictable student protest patterns and work things around them. I have never been in so many contingency meetings in my life. Ninety percent of it will, I confidently predict, be either irrelevant or ineffective.

I invented a closing salutation today, in an email to stv about laundry. (Strange but true). It reads, "wishing you cool breezes and buckets of ice and the summary disappearance, humanely but with finality, of 99% of the human race."

Yes. I think that would do it. If ever I needed a button which reads "HOMICIDAL MISANTHROPY", now is the time.

My subject line is David Bowie, and, fair warning, probably will be so for the foreseeable future. This is from "Everyone Says Hi", which is a lurking favourite of mine and is a sweet, nostalgic little tune about someone moving away and/or, I darkly suspect, dying. The last post the subject line was from "Time", which I love for its jazzy piano and innate cynicism.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Things I hate about this time of year:
  • The frantic. I had to cancel a weekend away this last weekend, to finish up orientation material and advisor briefing material and annotate the final draft of my masters student's thesis, which she chose this psychological instant to submit. This did, fortunately, mean that I was at home for the very embarrassed daughter of the next-door-neighbour to come and tell me she'd accidentally bumped her 4x4 against the outside water tap on the edge of my property zone, causing a split pipe and cascades of water everywhere. She sorted out and paid for a plumber, and her father patched and painted the wall the following day, so as neighbourly slip-ups go it was managed perfectly. But I'd rather have been on the Breede River.
  • The immutable laws of admin which say that the wages of being deeply organised and disseminating info continuously to students is inevitable scads of email queries in reply to my announcements, at least half of which are asking questions I've answered in a previous announcement. The law of the admin jungle is not to let them know you exist, but I unfortunately don't do much good to students while lurking in a thicket. Lashing my tail. While my eyes glitter in the dark.
  • The bloody weather. It's unbearably hot again, and I am not sleeping very well in my regrettably stuffy house.
  • The looming threat of further student disruptions, which hold out the horrible possibility of disrupted registration, which would screw things up so badly I shudder to contemplate it. We had serious meetings last week about contingency plans in case we have to close campus again. My professional administrative opinion: if it happens we're fucked.

Things about this time of year which are actually OK and consolatory:
  • Early-registering rugby players. They're solid slabs of muscle, which is aesthetically pleasing, and for some reason are always extra-polite. A brief, scurrilous and regrettable exchange between advisors before the rugby players actually arrived this morning attributed this noticeable politeness variously to (a) scrum spirit and fascist coaching, (b) conservative Afrikaans upbringings, (c) concussive damage, and (d) steroids.
  • Meeps of plaintive student gratitude from the ones whose lives I do, in a sort of frenzied whirlwind, manage to sort out.
  • The fact that I'm so flat-out busy from the moment I hit campus that the day goes really fast. As will the next month. It's merciful, really. Humane time-dilation. Sanity-saving.
  • The looming threat of further student disruptions, as if they close campus I can stay at home and work peaceably without my bloody phone ringing off the hook with almost entirely misdirected calls.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)




(Cottage Economy, William Cobbett, 1833)

I am a disgrace to my Zimbabwean roots in that I do not drink beer, and have, as suggested above, entirely replaced it with tea. Brothel here I come. Apparently. Also, while a good gossip with a friend over a cuppa is a lovesome thing, most of my tea-drinking is a solitary vice, which suggests that I have replaced gossip with fanfic and internet memes. Seems appropriate.

We are in the middle of marks checking, which means I've spent the last two days immersed in board schedules, as a capper to a week of trying with increasing desperation to pin down reluctant and frequently self-absorbed academics for committee duty. Please insert the annual rant here, with the caveat that this year the whole protests/delayed exams thing has made things so immeasurably much more complicated and annoying that the actual board schedule checking was comparatively pleasant. Nothing like a Total Perspective Vortex, after all.

I am working at home today as a small tornado of electricians is rewiring my campus office. They tried to do it in the middle of the marks checking organisation chaos, and I fended them off with sticks. I and the cats approve mightily of this working-at-home thing. I am a slightly pale, wrung, shadowy thing at the moment, not because of tea (the tea's helping) but because of administrative exhaustion and heatstress, and not having to move very much is singularly pleasant.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Blarg. Apparently the inevitable upshot of the Interesting Times on campus is that Lurgi Strikes Britain. Not surprisingly - I am carrying a buttload of transferred student anxiety, given the number of queries I'm dealing with, and while I haven't been conscious of extreme amounts of stress, clearly it's nibbling away subliminally. I've been at home since Monday with the usual merry trifecta, head cold becoming sinus infection becoming full-on glandular resurgence, so I'm somewhat dead on my feet. Also, Sid the Sinus Headache is having his merry way with my hapless form to a quite unfriendly extent. Cue a lot of sneezing followed by clutching my head with cries of agony. The bugger with sinus headaches is that they're bloody pressure-sensitive, which means ixnay on coughing, or getting up suddenly, or bending over, or sneezing. Particularly sneezing.

Campus has pretty much calmed down: exams are in mid-session, and have run smoothly apart from one aborted attempt at disruption earlier this week. It was a small group of protesters who, I think, are a lunatic fringe who've refused to accept the (considerable) concessions made by university management in response to the protests. They were Suppressed, and the disrupted exam resumed. Score one for Order. Although we've seen a second crop of panic from students who were just keeping it together, and whose fragile hold on sanity was somewhat shattered by the threat, however averted, of a new round of shutdowns. I have been dispensing lots of reason, calm, procedural nitpickering assistance and virtual "there, there"s and patting. This whole thing has brought out my latent vaguely maternal wossnames like you wouldn't believe.

Mostly the discernible effect of student anxiety has been a sharp drop in their ability to actually read properly, which I have to say does not bode well for their exams. The university has issued a blanket option of deferring exams until January, no questions asked, "aargh protest freakout" accepted as valid motivation; and a couple of ways of achieving this, one of them online and clearly kludged together as an on-the-fly response, which means it only works within certain narrow parameters. I have been disseminating info and FAQs regarding all this via email, mostly because the Registrar's office issues their fiats gnomically and with a fine, detached disregard for their real-world ramifications, putting me more or less in the position of a Talmudic scholar continuously interpreting Scripture. Any announcement I make to our faculty's undergrad students is a clarification or update very carefully written to fill in the gaps. It will infallibly generate at least five emails almost immediately, from students asking me to give them exactly the information I have just given them in the announcement. This clearly isn't about information, it's about panic and the need for reassurance, which means the Maternal Wossnames do not permit me to yell at them for not reading properly: instead, I patiently re-explain. Usually via the medium of cunningly-personalised cut and paste, as there are limits even to my pseudo-maternalistic patience.

I am doing Good Work, apparently; there is a happy little clutch of tearfully grateful emails in my inbox, variously from students and their parents, but all that nice validation notwithstanding, ye gods I'm tired. And headachy. And snuffly. And contemplating with a certain lowering dread the upcoming end-of-exam season we are now having to do three weeks later than normal in a hurry, thereby compressing my orientation prep into a significantly tiny nutshell. What does not kill me makes me stronger. Let's hope.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The recent Great Office Migration has come to a temporary halt while various other people play Musical Offices in the background, so I'm half moved back into my old office, with none of my books on the shelves and a noticeboard closing off the spanky new door between me and my colleague, held up by piles of boxes. (Greatest challenge of the whole procedure: trying to impress upon the Powers That Be that a soundproofed office is completely vital to her ability to function as a clinical social worker. They weren't getting it. Eventually we Heath Robinsoned it ourselves).

Having lovingly packed up my computer and carefully boxed all the cables resulting from it, the printer and the fancy Lync-using phone, I have now reassembled everything and persuaded it to work. This took no more than the expected pause for swearing at the telephone set-up help pages (a VoIP phone is fiddly) and at our network protocols, and the worst I had to do was change my campus password, which works with absolutely everything and which had somewhere in the whole labyrinthine process become dissociated so that half of everything didn't recognise it.

However, with everything up and running, and despite my meticulous packing principles, I have one cable left over. It was clearly connected to something when I dismantled it, and everything is running, but there's this cable. One of those fancy new ones with a USB plug at one end and one of those square-cross-section thingies at the other. Probably a printer cable, but I have a printer cable and the printer is working. Where the hell did it come from? Do they spontaneously replicate by binary fission or dodgy entanglements while tangled up in a box? Is one of my students a reverse kleptomaniac? I'm confused.

Failing any insights as to mysterious cabling, have some random linkery. This is a beautifully creepy and poignant Ursula Vernon story that's as much about writing as it is about anything else. And these are Owlvengers, thus neatly encapsulating two of my obsessions.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am the victim of my own efficiency and general student-centred empathetic wossnames. Today is the last day for applying for leave of absence. In a rush of all of the above, first thing this morning I sent a general email to the Humanities undergrad list to remind all our students of same, as a result of which I have had a continual stream of LoA applications through my office since about 15 minutes after the reminder went out. This has concentrated into one intense period a whole array of medical, psychological and personal ills which have cumulatively been saddening beyond belief. Apparently student levels of depression and anxiety are at an all-time high; I have also seen chronic headaches, seizures, cancer, and that poor lad whose teeth are so painful he can barely speak.

These kids are struggling so hard, and some of them are in such distress, I've spent most of the day consciously emanating a gentle, soothing and empathetic calm which does seem to be helping, but which is exhausting like whoa and dammit. It may also be hard-wiring itself as we speak. If you try to talk to me in the next few days about something perfectly benign and neutral and I pat you gently on the hand and say "I understand, you're doing exactly the right thing," you'll know why. Also, I propose to totter home early to a stiff gin, because I am slightly disintegrated and may actually burst into tears if someone looks at me squiffy-eyed.

My subject line is Hamlet, from memory, because Hamlet was my A-level set Shakespeare text, and it's burned into my backbrain. It's also my favourite Shakespeare, mostly because language, and charged Oedipal scenarios and what have you. The Barbican Cumberbatch stage version is on the cinema circuit here in November, incidentally, through Cinema Nouveau, and by all accounts it's a kick-butt production. I have my ticket already. Gloat.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Hooray, I appear to have mostly kicked this ridiculous bug, although it had some slightly excessive death throes yesterday, in that I spent the day with a thundering sinus headache and nausea. Felt like a hangover, actually, although I don't think I drank enough at dinner on Saturday night to merit an actual requires-hair-of-dog scenario. (Dinner on Saturday night was lovely, usual excellent food at Frere's, and Claire's New Man has been duly met and subjected to rigorous scrutiny. She's allowed to keep him, although we reserve the right to suppression in the Carrollian sense if he keeps on inspiring stv to new depths of awful pun.)

The weekend was rendered slightly surreal partly by the need to spend most of Sunday horizontal and not moving much (which the cats loved), and partly because I'm suffering Mass Effect romance angst (ME2, narked all over again by Kaidan dumping me, but can't work out if I want to romance Garrus or Thane in the resulting fit of pique1) but mostly by the fact that I upgraded my home computer to Windows 10 via their spanky and slightly pushy auto-update download thingy, and liked it. I am not generally a Windows fangirl, but the update process was ridiculously smooth and took under an hour to download, reinstall and update, all quietly to itself and with minimal intervention from me. And I really like the look and feel, it's clean and spare in a way that grooves my personal aesthetic ploons no end, and word on the street is that it's less of a resource hog than earlier versions, although admittedly that's not saying much because bloatware. Also, its boot-up chime is way cuter.

There was, of course, the inevitable moment of microhomicidal rage when the install initialised with a range of tickyboxes all defaulting to "send Windows all the deeply personal information all the time including shoe size, favourite brand of tea and fanfic kink preferences as well as everything else ever", but there's a certain vindictive satisfaction in unticking the whole damned lot of them. I do realise that it's probably still reporting on my cat-macro preferences, celebrity crushes and typing speed quietly in the background, but Windows. And the penalty of being an uncharacteristically early adopter (Robbi made me do it) is that Chrome is bugged for Win10, although I have cunningly circumvented its complete refusal to load by accidentally clicking on "open new window", upon which it loads normally like a lamb. *jazz hands* Computers!

In other news, it's Monday, but I have brightened the morning by typing up a beautifully concise, pointed and slightly bitey rebuke to a more than usually flaky student who's been attending courses blithely all semester without actually being registered for them. Apparently she expected the actual admin realities to gradually coalesce out of the air and settle on her, like dandruff. In addition to the administrative satisfaction inherent in booting her off campus, it's calm and quiet and rainy after way too much sun and heat this weekend, and I have Earl Grey and a slice of coffee walnut cake, and a new coat my mother made for me, and I'm almost not snuffling at all any more. Also, this epic Twitterquest was still open in a tab from last week, and it made me laugh all over again. I'll take it.

(My subject line is a more than usually convolutedly related Inquisition reference which I shall leave in beautiful obscurity because I am Mysterious, or possibly too lazy to explain the multiple layered points of tangential semi-logic.)

1I'm very fond of Thane, but have a sneaking suspicion that going for the doomed tragic assassin is possibly a little self-destructive. Although at least it's not Jack. Or Morinth. In other news from The Department Of Computer Gaming As Therapy, I expect to grow as a person any moment now.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Moments when I do like my job. Third-year student who has had an exemplary career, passed everything first go, arrives in his final semester and fails the one first-year elective he needs to complete his degree before graduating next week. Devastated - he has landed a brilliant opportunity in London next year if he graduates. Remembers, at the last minute, that he had a year at another university before coming here. Dashes off to said university to obtain transcript. Sprints into my office, panting and quivering, a mere hour or two before the absolutely final grad notification deadline this afternoon and anxiously proffers said transcript.

I finangle a single general credit out of his external record, process instantly, trot it down to the admin office for capturing, confirm all is in order, trot back and tell the young man, "OK, you should be fine to graduate". He puts his head down on the chair next to him and bursts into tears. Is overcome and speechless for a minute or so. Tells me, emotionally, "You have changed the course of my life with a single click!" (Which is not quite true, it required multiple clicks, two printouts and at least three lines of typing). Leaves, is heard uttering subdued whoops of glee all down the corridor.

I spend a large chunk of my life gently informing students that I am not, in fact, able to make all their problems, particularly the consequences of their own less than sensible choices, go magically away by waving a wand. Occasionally it's bloody nice to be able to actually wave the wand and make it happen. Hideous power is mine, and I can actually use it for good. I'm all glowing and slightly weepy on his behalf. It's so nice when the gazelles triumph against the odds, says her sublimated maternal instinct proudly. (I don't go to grad ceremonies any more. They make me weep buckets from approximately halfway through the third student capped.)

The tour of the Eurythmics is now onto Touch which is one of their very early ones and the album which introduced me to the group when I was a teenager - it's still associated in my mind with those afternoons listening to music with the boy on whom I had the terrible crush. It's sheer fluke that the song from my subject line was playing when I drove up to campus this morning. In retrospect, I should have taken it as an omen.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, dear, board schedule season. I spent large chunks of the last four days going through a 2-cm thick wodge of student records, 700-odd students, all Social Science second-years, which is a technical term meaning they're not first-years and not about to graduate, so in practice could be in year 2, 3 or 4 of their studies. Purpose: to count up their courses and, indexing same against number of years of study according to a complicated table of my own devising based on the faculty rules, decide if they're allowed to continue their studies or not. This is a vital process which is carried out in multiple redundancy by a team of three academics and an admin person for each board schedule, and we compare notes and make a final decision.

Long-time readers of this blog will be sighing and thinking, oh gods, is it that time of year again? Because my annual rant on the subject of board schedule checking, how inelegant the system is, how bad academics are at it despite my best efforts to train them, how the WHOLE DAMNED THING SHOULD BE DONE BY A PROPERLY-PROGRAMMED COMPUTER, DAMMIT!, is something of a tradition. And all of the above still applies, please take the rant as read, or, for added verisimilitude, dig back through the blog for examples. (last year and 2010 are fairly entertaining.)

But something has shifted this year, possibly as a result of all this therapy. I'd estimate that about 10 hours of my life went into this year's schedule, and I'm very tired and not very well, but the truth is I didn't actually hate it while I was doing it. There's an analytic interest to it, seeing how these student did, spotting trends, conceptualising individual lives from the spread of marks over the years. Student records are surprisingly revealing, not just in their course choices and overall degree strategies, but in the way one can pinpoint turning points - here someone discovered a new major they loved and their results took off, here something awful happened and they fell off the map, this trailing degeneration is probably depression. And there's a certain pleasure in feeling my own command of the system, my ability to use it elegantly and with precision. Possibly I am becoming reconciled to this job, more willing to adopt it as an identity rather than as a thing I do reluctantly and solely to keep Hobbit in the style to which he is accustomed.

The this-wasn't-terrible was in spite of the fact that I'm also still bloody sick, sigh, suggesting that the weekend before last was a precursor - Wednesday last week was a dead loss, some sort of viral thingy which flattened me with nausea and one of those damned headaches which simply won't quite regardless of how many painkillers you throw at it. I'm still very tired and very glandular and drifting into nausea and headache at add intervals, which suggests that whatever virus it was has prodded the glandular fever with a stick and it's up and prowling. (The ten minutes I spent reading through my board schedule rants for the last few years has also revealed that I seem to be headachy and unwell with suspicious predictability at this time of year. It's the end of the year, I'm tired, I'm stressed, I suppose it's inevitable.)

Fortunately there's Inquisition with which to while away my evenings while all of the above enacts itself upon my hapless form. Inquisition is HUGE! Andraste's knickers, there's a lot of it. That initial 15 hours of so of play are really the introductory first act, things really get going in the second act. It's still beautiful, and varied, and lovingly detailed, and the not-quite-open-world only drives me demented occasionally. I don't seem to respond too well to being told, via unclimbable cliffs or sulphur swamps, that You Shall Not Pass. But the character interactions have stepped up, and I'm finding these people interesting, likeable and frequently poignant - I don't think it's just my generally lowered state which is responsible for the fact that the companion interactions occasionally make me cry. And the sexual politics so far has managed to be surprisingly enlightened and sensitive. They can be taught, apparently.

(Still ambling through Eurythmics in the car. "Love Is A Stranger" is probably my favourite track of theirs for all time.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's Hellweek! The first week of term has stomped around, my life is full of incessant student demands and queues for change of curriculum, advisors are defaulting in all directions, and I have random insomnia and am navigating all of the above on five hours of sleep. Despite which, I'm curiously cheerful, possibly because I'm manic on sleep deprivation, and propose to distract myself pleasantly by burbling about tea.

This morning's challenges were materially increased by the discovery that my campus Twinings cache was tragically empty. I have a serious Earl Grey addiction. I mean, serious. Six mugs a day serious, although more at the moment because I'm stressed, and continuous caffeine with bergamot apparently soothes me to the point where I don't actually go for student throats with my teeth. (My brower's spellchecker also doesn't know how to spell "bergamot", which I consider something of a personal betrayal). Said addiction is peculiarly crippling because a six cups a day habit has apparently habituated me to Twinings to the extent where any other brand tastes bizarre and unlikely. We will draw a veil over the cat-faces I make when forced by cruel circumstances to drink so-called "tea" that isn't Earl Grey at all. Inhuman, is what.

I am not only ridiculously picky about my tea brand, I am hyper-ridiculously picky about how I drink it. I don't like it too strong; the teabag must steep for no more than five seconds. I am not fond of that sense that tannin is coating my teeth, although even at my strength habits sheer volume is probably coating my stomach, and is definitely coating my mugs. Irreverent friends (possibly Phleep) have categorised my milk requirements as "Show it the cow"; rigorous testing with a measuring spoon reveals that in fact I need between 5 and 7 mls of milk to make it drinkable, and I have on occasion made myself tea, incautiously overmilked it, curled my lip, and poured the resulting tragic beverage down the sink before re-making it from scratch. I brought myself down from two spoons of sugar to one about a decade ago, but haven't, despite frequent attempts, managed to reduce it any further. Since at present I'm evincing a tendency not to eat at all until supper, I figure I probably need the blood sugar. There is, in short, a good and sufficient reason why, if you offer me tea in your home, I will probably gently shoulder you aside and make it myself. Because, honestly, there's only so much I can expect from my friends, and precisely two of them have ever learned to make it to my exacting and unreasonable specifications.

People give me boxes of tea. It's very sweet. The aforementioned Phleep, who also takes his caffeine seriously, brings me tins from Harrods every so often, and it's my actually-palatable fallback for those terrible moments when all the supermarkets in my immediate radius run simultaneously out of Twinings. Occasionally students give me tea, as a thank-you for my intrepid negotiation of particularly uphill tracts of curriculum advice, also incidentally raising my hopes for the basic observation skills of the younger generation. Which brings me to the actual purpose of this post, which is to record for posterity the fact that something called "New English Teas", of which I have never heard prior to this kindly student donation, (a) does a nice line in pretty scrolly boxes and packaging their Earl Grey, (b) claims to be "BEST BEFORE END: 6153", which seems frankly unlikely, and (c) tastes almost, but not quite, completely unlike Earl Grey. However, I contrive to soldier on grimly.

On the general principle of sharing internet joy wherever it may be found, this is a thing of subtle beauty whose payback, when you work it out, causes (a) giggling, and (b) forgiveness of the fact that it's actually a rickroll.

My subject line, not unnaturally, quotes "Tea for Two", which, since we seem to be doing random personal factoids today, I am fond of mostly because of an anecdote my father used to tell about Victor Borge playing it upside down.

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