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: (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)
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)
Trying to survive the second-last day of registration with what seems to be a migraine building, and a turned ankle from randomly falling over in the tearoom. I am doing everything very slowly and painfully, and at a distance of several miles, mostly while gently wishing for death. Not usually a good sign in my personal psyche when my hands don't actually belong to me. Students are looking at me sideways, as I dredge up responses for them in a monotone, and are very gentle in their questions before skittering off, showing the whites of their eyes. Possibly this is a new self-preservation technique I should consider: imitate the action of the zombie. Huh.

However, my day has been (in a cautious, slow-motion sort of fashion) made by the demonstrated ability of our Dean to deliver a deeply satisfying smackdown in the case of (8) in my previous post's litany of complaint. Student concession request righteously refused, with a nicely trenchant two-sentence rebuke about (a) previous illegal registrations which were (b) not actually authorised as the student claimed they had been, while noting that (c) this current refusal did not in fact represent victimisation by staff members who were simply applying the rules as they were meant to, not to mention (d) the overall illegitimacy of getting Dear Daddy to complain to the Dean on your behalf. It was comprehensively annihilating. Sometimes I love our Dean. He has a compactly and good-humouredly ferocious aspect that's slightly like the better class of bull terrier.

The exigencies of the day, and of attempting to post, were rudely interrupted at "annihilating", above, by a random and unheralded power cut; the lights have only just come on, having flung registration into chaos for two hours. It transpires, in the interim, that my current state of incipient-something-nasty leads to complete melt-down when faced with the usual doe-eyed student who fixes me with an accusing gaze and says "You said you'd email me back yesterday, it was about a transfer", and simply repeats "But I emailed you!" like a refrain when I try to extract further details. Because I have dealt with fifty transfer cases in the last few days, and no, I don't remember her, and no, I can't access my email to check, because no lights, and yes, I probably failed to answer yesterday because I finished signing reg forms at 6.30pm and shambled home in a state of incapacity. I have a large bite mark in the back of my arm, because it was that or thump the wretched child.

My subject line is "Five years", which is approximately how long this registration period appears to have taken; it was either my brain hurting, or the line about "went off her head, hit some tiny children", and it's not quite that bad yet.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have just done two weeks of, on average, ten hour days; this week I've been arriving at 7am and leaving at 6pm, once registration has finally wound down. Since I worked through the weekend with emergency marks checking, eight hours a day, this is adding to an existing base of exhaustion. I am reaching new, hitherto unsuspected depths of tired. Also, headachy. Also, ridiculously hopped on Earl Grey as it's the only way I cope.

Concomitantly, the urge to throttle people is rising. People who need throttling:
  1. Advisors who don't arrive.
  2. Advisors who arrive in the wrong session despite being explicitly told to check they have the right one.
  3. Advisors who ask me questions or egregiously commit advisor errors which are covered in great detail and LARGE! CAPITALS! in the handouts I give them. And the briefings. And the reminder emails. And the hotsheets. And the special sheet labelled COMMON ADVISOR ERRORS, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!
  4. Students who stop me to ask questions when I'm rushing between venues.
  5. Students who stop me to ask questions and, when told "I'm sorry, I don't have time for that now", say "This will be really quick!" and ask it anyway. Usually at length.
  6. Students who stop me to be disgruntled because they are discovering that the rules do, in fact, apply to them and are not susceptible to "But I really, really want to!" as an argument.
  7. Students who are disgruntled because the rules apply to them and who demand I spend half an hour at a time inventing labyrinthine, complex and unlikely curriculum solutions to the problem, in the teeth of my warnings that their school subjects under-prepare them for these courses and there is a high chance that they will messily self-destruct.
  8. Students who are disgruntled enough about the rules applying to them that they escalate it all the way up to the Dean despite being told "No!" at every step.
  9. The inventor of the infernal combustion engine, and hence global warming, and hence the level of heat through which I have been trekking to the registration venue, which is four flights of stairs away in the sun. My knees hurt.

Fortunately, there's always Ursula Vernon. I have adopted her fat beaver forthwith. I need it on a button, stat.



And then, of course, at the moment of Maximum Homicidal Misanthropy, the desperate excluded student sits in my office for ten minutes of curriculum advice, and I sketch her a curriculum which more or less rescues her, and she looks at me starry-eyed, and says "You know, I always leave this office with my faith restored," and the lump in my throat throttles me rather than her and I drive home singing along to "Blue Jean" and feeling that maybe all is not lost.

(My subject line is not "Blue Jean", it's "Scary Monsters", because I absolutely was one until I wasn't.)
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)
So, it appears we have Stealth Wol-Enablers on the recurring pattern. (Normal wol-enablers I have on the recurring pattern and more or less as an epidemic. This is not a complaint.) You may remember the Great Random Glass Wol Mystery of 2009, during which a mysterious glass wol appeared, unsolicited and unexplained, in the front garden, and I adopted him gladly but in some confusion. Many, many years later Laurence & Linda accidentally outed themselves in the comments on a completely different post as having been the not-quite-Breakers And Decorators concerned. Apparently I have lovely friends who give me random, unexpected wols entirely without explanation. Glass Wol is on my mantelpiece even as I type.

Apparently I still have lovely friends who give me random, unexpected wols entirely without explanation. (Whether this is the same friends or different cell of the secret organisation, history does not relate). Yesterday I staggered home from a merry 10-hour day of orientation prep and boss-wrangling, to discover a small, localised outbreak of tiny wols attached to pegs, lurking in my postbox. Thusly:



(Photo, incidentally, the inaugural one on my spanky new smartphone, since apparently even I can be dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat.)

Above wols on pegs are, in the idiom of the modern-day Lydia Bennet, totes adorbs. I went "awwwww" not just because they are totes adorbs, but because the sudden giant lump in my throat made any form of more articulate vocalisation physically impossible. I feel loved, and I have lovely friends. It has been difficult to restrain myself from attending the first day of orientation today with a row of wols pegged to my cleavage in reminder therof.

Thank you, kind Stealth Wol-Enabler(s). You have scattered Uplift and Cheer on a week that badly needed it. I vanish now with the traditional faint squeak into the tentacular maw of Orientation (this year with added terrors in the form of lurking disruption threats and my lectures being recorded), considerably energised thereby.
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.

arrrrrrrrrrrrgh

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:30 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today is one of South Africa's myriad public holidays, which is fortuitous, as this year-end process has been extra special sparkly hell because of the exam delays from the student protests, and that, in combination with having dropped the anti-depressants, means that I am exhausted beyond belief. I shuffled into the undergrad admin office yesterday to wave a form at someone, provoking an announcement of "Jessica's a zombie today!" by another member of the office staff whose existence simply hadn't registered on account of my only possessing the energy for singular focus. I am doing that annoying thing where I'm waking up after eight hours of sleep feeling as though I've just staggered into bed after a hard day's ferret-juggling while simultaneously doing Irish dance. In lead-weighted boots. Through knee-high treacle.

So while today's public holiday is fortuitous, it has not been a morning characterised by unrelieved serenity and peace. The cats woke me up at 6.30 via Hobbit's patented "stick both front paws and all his considerable weight into the tender area just above my hip, in a marked manner because he wants breakfast", causing me to erupt upright in bed, swearing. This flung my left calf muscle into a particularly vicious cramp, necessitating screaming, writhing and strange contortions, during which the cats left the bed in disgust. For additional Feline Overlord points, one of them had thrown up next to my bed overnight. Having subdued the recalcitrant calf muscle, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and, given that I wasn't yet wearing my glasses, placed my right foot firmly into the catsick. We draw a tactful veil over the expressive commentary of the next few minutes. The cats came out of hiding only about half an hour later, when the blue haze to the air had subsided and I'd filled their food bowls and promised faithfully not to kill anyone.

It is, however, probably a good thing that I was awake already, as that circumvented further homicidal rage when various neighbours simultaneously decided to take advantage of the public holiday with a spot of home and garden improvement. At 8 sharp they started variously (a) sawing down trees in their front garden (outside in the road, to the right, with added negative points because I don't hold with cutting down trees), (b) trimming the hedge with something petrol-driven (over the back wall, accompanied by domestic argument as to who should be cutting what where) and (c) embarking on major DIY projects with electric saws, drills and cheerful whistling (over the back wall to the right). At eight am on a public holiday, mark you. The whole thing is forming a sort of modern contrapuntal soundscape, question and answer, the snarling mechanical equivalent of a spirited debate. As one dies down, another starts up. (The tree-fellers are winning, mostly out of an almost internet-troll level of sheer vocal persistence). The noise is simply indescribable, and so far above outrageous that all I can do is giggle helplessly as yet another bit of heavy machinery cuts in with "and another thing...!" in tenor or baritone whirring.

I shall turn the sound up high and play Fallout 3 at them. It's been the kind of morning where pinpoint accuracy in shooting the heads off evil mutants with a sniper rifle is beyond cathartic. Also, two more days of work and then I'm on leave for two and a half weeks, and there is neither sufficient calloo nor callay in the world to adequately respond to that.
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)
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)
Today has been characterised by a trickle of emails from students panicking (fairly understandably, I must say) about whether or not exams will run, and what happens if they're delayed. (The VC has just postponed all next week's ones, which will cause interesting degrees of chaos). Campus is still closed and will be tomorrow while protesters lobby Parliament and dodge police brutality, and I predict I'll spend a lot of time for the rest of the week sending soothing responses along the lines of "we know, we're sorry, we're trying to formulate a strategy which won't torpedo your academics." The theme is still anxiety about their studies, just in the microcosm rather than the political macrocosm.

A week at home has, if considered entirely separately from the very real and desperate circumstances of the protests, been lovely. My cats are graciously pleased that I have arranged for once to give them the sustained companionship that is their due, and are signifying their approval by trying to lie all over my papers and wrists and the keyboard while I'm trying to work. While looking deceptively innocent and adorable, viz:

Photo0213

That curled-paw pose is absolutely my favourite one ever. The black speck on his nose is a tiny bald spot which is a legacy of one of his recent fights.

Work itself has also been pleasantly mitigated by the fact that I can wander around the back courtyard during tea-breaks and water, prod, prune and otherwise appreciate all that burgeoning spring life. Because my back courtyard has a statement to make right now, which is "Green!" Or possibly "GREEN!!" Namely:

Photo0220 Photo0215

The small maddened forest to the left of the first picture is three tomato plants, which have confounded my expectations by reaching skyward with jungloid fervour despite the fact that plants put in exactly the same place at exactly the same time last year on exactly the same regimen of soil and water went small and stunted and sickly, and died after producing about one and a half actual tomatoes each. One of the reasons I love gardening is because it has its own wayward vegetable mind and, charm you never so wisely, will thumb its nose and go its own way.

I also, in a spirit of enquiry, planted another batch of Jo's mad rocket seeds, which I swear she has irradiated or subjected to naked full moon dances at midnight. Or else they're actually triffids. Because I planted these on Monday evening, and this was what they looked like this morning:

Photo0217

I went out there a few minutes ago, and I swear they're visibly bigger. The offical, nursery-packaged chive seeds I planted at the same time have yet to materialise.

My subject line is Crosby, Stills and Nash, more specifically "Teach your children well", which I learned to play at guitar club at school, and the attempt to reproduce which this morning led me to realise that I haven't tried to play my guitar in over a year, and its bottom E string has snapped. Phooey. But I'm officially nominating the song as the week's anthem, because dear lord, so much of what these poor kids are facing is simple inheritance.

trigger warning

Wednesday, 21 October 2015 11:57 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's possibly a little too apposite that my car music should have just cycled into Diamond Dogs, as I've been at home for three days owning to a closed campus - the students are protesting. They barricaded the campus on Monday, and did again with added flame on Tuesday, after by all accounts an uncomfortable night at the admin building in which attempted discussions with university management eventually broke down just before midnight with a bunch of arrests. I managed to leave the house before yesterday morning's emails warning us that campus was closed for a second day, so trundled up to a bizarre, deserted, post-apocalyptic landscape in which the few students wandering around looked confused and slightly hunted, and there was a very slight haze of burning tyre smoke over everything. Today we're also off campus, which is closed for students nationally to yell at the government, to which I say yay. The government needs yelling at.

I have found my own reactions to be strangely complicated. On the one hand this seems fairly standard - students will demonstrate, bless them, and we've had a good couple of decades of relative ideological apathy, so it's rather reassuring to see that the current generation is capable of this sort of generalised moral passion. I do wish the protesters wouldn't break things, but I know how mobs work, particularly when passions are high and when there's a whole entrenched history of disadvantage vs privilege embodied in the buildings of our campus. And their thesis - that fees are too high - is absolutely valid. Our fees are too damned high - in my job I see a continual succession of these poor kids in the direst financial straits, struggling to make it work under the double whammy of high fees and under-preparation by Matric. Our fees should bloody well be protested. And while it's a lot more complicated than the students would like to believe (if we cut fees as demanded we'd go under, as far as I can tell, and the institution, far from screwing the working poor with a jaunty laugh, does put a buttload of money into financial aid), with any luck the nationwide nature of the protests will be enough to force the government to at least divert some of their corruption earmarks into our severely under-subsidised tertiary education.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the trigger effect of all this. I started university in South Africa in 1988, still under the apartheid government. While I was possibly the world's most unpoliticised and oblivious undergrad, and experienced only the trailing tail-end of the student protests, there were still marches on campus in my first couple of years, and protesters tangling with the police water-cannon on Adderley Street (the purple shall govern! Ye gods, I was only hazily aware of the whole Purple Rain protest at the time, and a quick google reveals that I had remembered the details perfectly accurately. It clearly made an impression.) The police cars all over campus yesterday and Monday, and the burning barricades, and the footage with flash-bangs and loud-hailers outside the admin block on Tuesday night, even the raised fists and shouting, catapulted me nastily and viscerally back into that far more tense and horrible time. Let's just say that students vs. government has some unpleasant historical precedents in this country, shall we?

So protesters are hard-coded as "legitimate" to me in a way which actually transcends the validity of their current point of protest. It engenders a cold, sinking feeling to have our current government by implication put into the same frame of reference as the bad old apartheid one. (I had an identically emotional response to the police casspirs in District 9). And if nothing else, my Cherished Institution has handled the whole thing with conspicuous tone-deafness, to haul in the police so early on in the process, to descend immediately into "this is illegal" in a way which instantly overwrote "let us discuss the valid point you have here", and to re-create with such fidelity the traditional battle lines of police and stun guns and armoured vehicles as the threatening backdrop to student protest. It's perfectly obvious to the most untrained eye that that was never going to go down well.

In all sorts of weird ways South African apartheid was never my battle, but in all sorts of weird ways it is, not just because I was there for its fall and live here now - because these are my students, and the effects of apartheid are still playing out in their lives, and one upshot of my job is that I feel protective and worried about them, and very invested in their happiness and success. Some of them have crossed lines they shouldn't have in these protests, and are going to face potentially life-ruining consequences. We have had lectures disrupted, and exams might still be affected, and I know that I'm going to be dealing with emotional and physical fallout from these protests as students wander through my office attempting to unravel the ramifications for their studies. And I can only hope that it's all worth it, that it works, that our thrice-damned government will remember its roots enough to respond appropriately.

And because that's all too damned serious, I shall end with entirely another sense of emotional trigger that is equally about history and investment and struggle and moral polarities: the new Star Wars trailer made me cry.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We haven't had a proper movie club in ages - movie club being, by definition, a session where we watch two movies with a putative thematic link, back-to-back, while eating Stuff On Rolls and imbibing alcohol to the level prescribed by the quality of the cinematic offerings. Sunday night wasn't technically a movie club, as we only watched one movie, but I propose to follow the principle of thematic linking between unlikely and disparate narratives by comparing the film, which was Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer, with my current state of work existence. (I'm glad I checked the director's name, incidentally, I'd remembered it as Boon Jong Ho, which is quite possibly a dreadful insult in Korean).

Given that Snowpiercer is (a) a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, extremely violent semi-thriller, (b) graced by Bearded!Chris Evans doing a surprisingly dark and driven tone which is the antithesis of his American Captaining, and (c) batshit insane and completely surreal, I should hasten to add that it doesn't have that much in common with my current state of work existence. My life right now is tragically missing any iteration of Chris Evans and is neither violent, dark, nor, currently, particularly surreal. What it does have in common with the film is a certain thematic tendency to a habitat characterised by continuous and ongoing movement which is dictated by Powers That Be who are severely above me in a hierarchy and whose dictates cannot be resisted without Negative Consequences. Not that my boss has a machine-gun or anything, but still.

Snowpiercer is (apparently extremely loosely) based on a graphic novel, and has as its bizarre premise a reverse-global-warming experiment gone wrong, plunging the world into catastrophic global winter in which the only survivors are hurtling around Europe/Asia in a very long, very socially stratified train on a circular train track. It is quite mad, and very dark, and very tense, and very beautifully filmed, and its culmination is cathartic beyond belief after the build-up and the increasingly horrific revelations. Its grimy lower-class protagonists fight their way up the train in balletic, impressionistic outbursts of extreme violence, and the upper-class train carriages are surreal pockets of hallucinogenic, heightened colour and bizarrely artificial life - they feel more like Doctor Who alien scenarios than anything else. Bonus Tilda Swinton being an almost unrecognisable caricature, and an overall impression of vivid nightmare. It's a very good film, for a given value of "very good film" which assumes "is a total mind-fuck."

My working life is characterised by a faculty administrative restructure, which has necessitated a sort of frantic game of Musical Offices as we all attempt to keep working while repeatedly relocating. I moved my stuff out of my office on Friday, along with my next door colleague's stuff as she happened to be in New Zealand, so they could knock a new door into the wall between us. My attempts to delay this process by a vital few weeks were steamrollered quite handily by various managers and Deans and what have you, because apparently this needs to be done Right Now owing to the inscrutable whims of builders, and the devil take the end-of-term pressures which have both me and Colleague at the mercy of continual angsty students in all this. The work should have been done over the weekend, but predictably wasn't. We are both squatting in temporary offices in the fortuitous absence of their rightful owners, but may, builders willing and the creek don't rise, relocate by Thursday or so. This will be temporary, as in the next couple of weeks both of us will have to up sticks and move completely to totally different offices in the opposite corner of the building. Since the necessary renovations haven't been done in the new offices, we'll move into offices a few down the corridor from the eventual location, and then move again when the new offices are ready. Colleague's move will be even more transient, as she's resigned and is moving to New Zealand at the end of the year. I am rather discombobulated by the change, and by the weirdness of being in someone else's working space.

Fortunately, as stated, my boss doesn't have a machine gun, and moreover looks nothing like Tilda Swinton, but I am nonetheless more than slightly inclined to see myself as hurtling indefinitely into the cold. Things would be materially improved by Chris Evans, even the grim and grimy version. I find Chris Evans curiously comforting.
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.

subtly hairy

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 01:51 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My lovely hairdresser would tear his own hair out regularly at the things I do to mine (have it cut approximately annually, refuse to blow-dry it, hack my own fringe short), except he's usefully and artfully bald (and highly polished) already. Occasionally I wander into the salon having neglected it for longer than usual and he runs his fingers through it despairingly and announces "That's not a haircut. That's just hair." There is, actually, a huge advantage to the "just hair" stage of coiffure. There are those odd days, usually produced by insomnia, during which I trundle somnambulistically into work and, somewhere around mid-morning, glance at myself in the mirror and have a moment's blank inability to remember if I actually brushed my hair before leaving the house. Fortunately, with "just hair", it's quite difficult to tell if that's the case or not, and I figure that if I can't tell the difference, probably no-one else can either. I clearly did want to be an eccentric and absent-minded professor when I grew up.

Presumably being an absent-minded professor would to some extent insulate me from the kind of phone call I've just had to endure, from a parent equally distressed and infuriated by her attempts to re-insert her son into the institution following academic exclusion. I understand her distress, this sort of thing is equally hard on kids and parents. But during the course of the conversation she did the following:
  • Chewed me out because no-one else is answering their phone;
  • Claimed that the online guidelines to readmission, carefully written by myself, didn't cover the information she needs (they really do);
  • Accused me of gross insensitivity two sentences after commending the sensitivity of my language;
  • Accused the institution of elitism because we require some evidence of improved circumstances before we re-admit excluded students;
  • Accused the institution of elitism because we enforce the government-set restrictions on maximum number of years of study permitted without graduation;
  • Did all of the above in tones of sweet, icy, implacable restraint which did their damnedest to present what was actually a self-indulgent vent at a hapless and largely uninvolved target as an exercise in dulcet and righteous reason.


I am extremely proud of the fact that I didn't lose my temper for an instant, remaining determinedly courteous and rational while she escalated the ice-salvos. Years of therapy are definitely worth something. But calls such as these leave me shaking and with my stomach in knots for hours, and are undoubtedly highly implicated in the increasing acreage of grey which characterises my not-a-hairstyle. I bring it on myself, of course, by being conscientious about answering my phone, in sharp contradistinction to many other corners of this institution. Fortunately the spanky new VOIP phone system has caller ID, and her name is emblazoned on my brain in letters of acidic ice. I see her name again, I'm going to let it ring. This resolution will be materially assisted by the fact that I'm going to be out of the office for a couple of days having the cobwebs surgically removed from various neglected reproductive portions of my anatomy. She may phone in vain with my blessing.

My subject line is the Very Secret Diary of Aragorn Son of Arathorn, who is the patron saint of bloggers. I seem to be blogging again. Go me!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Aargh, HR Evil Overlord tendencies are still in the ascendant, whole day in a faculty team-building workshop yesterday. I was utterly dreading it and had approximately 4 hours of sleep the night before because stress insomnia, but in fact it wasn't as bad as I expected: up at Rhodes Memorial, lovely view, activities not as asinine and embarrassing as they can be in this sort of thing, and while the lunch was entirely mediocre, the seething undercurrent of re-structural resentment among a certain sector of the staff was not actually on display. This was a huge relief. I am not good at loud groups of non-close friends for a whole day, and I am abysmally terrible at surviving same with added underlying tension, on account of being a slightly Delicate Flower with hypersensitive frondy antennae which quiver and curl up in the presence of underlying tension.

All things are, however, comparative, and the context of Teambuilding Workshops was fairly salutary given that I had to abandon it early in order to trundle off for a doctor's appointment to have the annual Girly Checkup. The annual Girly Checkup is habitually rife with invasive indignity, so it was a nice balance of terrors that allowed (a) relief at leaving teambuilding exercises early even despite the medical horrors, and (b) said medical horrors being less horrific in that at least they weren't teambuilding exercises and were over quickly. Also, my gynae is a lovely, chatty Scottish woman who's always good value in the area of amusing earthiness.

It transpires, however, that I have an outbreak of polyps which have to be removed via minor surgery, requiring general anaesthetic but not an overnight stay. I am mentally framing this as the approximate equivalent of dusting out the inevitable cobwebs which result from the decision not to use all that baby-housing space for its biologically intended function, and am materially unfussed over the whole thing. Also, usual bonus science-is-cool squee over the doctor's possibly TMI description of the surgery (now with bonus surgical cameras!) as much as the ultrasound which is now a routine part of a check-up. Medical technology has been upgrading in ridiculous leaps and bounds over the last decade, as measured by the ever newer and cooler tech present in medical consulting rooms when I visit. Dentist's X-ray machines are now built into the chair and don't require the whole separate room and technician hitting the switch from behind the lead-lined wall. The gynae now has her very own ultrasound, and my dermatologist maps my moles with a fancy mole-mapping suite of camera and software. Now if they could only find a way of doing a mammogram without having to actually squidge my bits...

This aspect of living in the future makes me very happy. Also, the usual round of flossing guilt from my last visit to the dental hygienist caused me to finally say "stuff all this" and acquire an electric toothbrush, and I bizarrely love the damned thing. Apparently it tickles my Lawful Good to have a small, buzzing robot entity militantly police my tooth-cleaning activities in strict 30-second increments.

Science is cool. That is all.

Subject line is Legion, the Geth character in ME2. I like Legion, I wish we got to recruit him earlier.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
In my last post about the inscrutable Cosmic Wossnames inflicting themselves on orientation and reg, I inexplicably neglected to mention 5, Teeth. My teeth historically seem to choose the start of the year to crumble, possibly because I'm tense and grind them unconsciously, or possibly just out of spite - a few years ago it was emergency root canal during orientation. At any rate, I had 7 fillings over the last six weeks. Very minor fillings, I hasten to add, but he did 5 of them in one marathon 90-minute session, out of which I emerged pale and shaking and went straight into a day of registration in which I slurred at students like a drunk for several hours. Because registration, clearly, doesn't hold enough terrors all on its own.

I wish to issue a Public Service Announcement at this point. For the sake of your teeth, avoid lemon juice! Over the last couple of years I have made a material difference to the health of my teeth by drifting into habits of (a) drinking hot water with lemon in it, and (b) drinking that lovely Woolies bottled fresh lemon juice, more of a lemonade as it has sugar added, but it's still pleasingly tart. Even though a teaspoon of lemon juice in hot water is not much, and even though I dilute the fresh lemon juice to about a third with sparkling water, the lemon is acidic enough that it weakens tooth enamel noticeably after less than a year of the habit. (Apparently this extends to citrus in general: orange juice is not quite as bad, but has the same general effect). My teeth were starting to erode along the sides, causing the hygienist to do that doom-laden sharp intake of breath thing, and requiring these incredibly fiddly little flanking fillings across three separate teeth. (Matters are exacerbated by my Evil Sinuses, which cause me to sleep with my mouth open, which dries out the teeth and makes them more prone to decay. Apparently. Hence the decay in my front teeth, which is unusual).

I have a particularly lovely dentist, a very quiet, gentle, reassuring man who is also, it turns out, a quiet, gentle, reassuring, completely demented Pink Floyd fan. He was shooting me full of local anaesthetic prior to the five-filling marathon, and made some comment about making me "comfortably numb", to which I went "Pink Floyd!" in a reflex trained by my undergrad days, during which various of the CLAW types were madly into Floyd and infected me whether I liked it or not. (I did. Apart from the statutory mandate which requires you have your mind blown by watching The Wall in undergrad, it's interestingly complex and provocative music). So he put on "Saucerful of Secrets", which I had on bootleg tape back in undergrad and have always loved, and proceeded to enliven the fillings by imparting gentle nuggets of Pink Floyd biographical information of the more outré and unlikely variety.

There's something peculiarly apt about listening to early Pink Floyd while being shot full of drugs and drilled. It was also one of those unexpected gut-punches to the memory. I haven't really listened to Floyd since those much younger days, and it thus has unfettered connection with all the complex associations of nostalgia and wistfulness and regret that attach inevitably to music that's been important in your life at important times. It was all, at any rate, nicely distracting.

The Great Car Music Trek has raged through She Wants Revenge and embarked, as my subject line suggests, into Sisters of Mercy. Apparently it's all about the nostalgia up in here. Gothy, post-punky, gloomy nostalgia. Appropriate to teeth.

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