freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
In my defence, my absence from Teh Intahwebs over the last couple of weeks has only partially been because of Mass Effect: Andromeda, although quite a lot of it has, indeed, been the result of kicking happily around another galaxy making dubious romance choices and taking out nasty alien fascists with elan, vindictive efficiency and a sniper rifle. The rest has been because the current bone-deep exhaustion which is still afflicting me after the worst registration season I've ever experienced, morphed into a sinus infection which laid me low for most of last week. I'm still a bit wan and floaty, drifting around in an exhausted disconnect which leaves me feeling as though my feet are not quite touching the floor, and with neither the energy nor the brain for Being Entertaining On The Internet. Patience, I tell myself. Soon, soon, I will have sufficient ducks in a row to quit the hell out of this job and find something that doesn't require me to ritually sacrifice myself on an ongoing basis. After which I may once again be something resembling a person.

Several days at home with a sinus infection did, on the upside, allow me to play significant quantities of Andromeda, which I am apparently 57% of the way through after just under a hundred hours of play. (I'm an extremely completist player). Initial impressions as follows:
  • Hell, it's pretty. The planetary landscapes and cool spacescapes are beautiful in the extreme. The Obligatory Ancient Departed Civilisation, known as the Remnant, have left the landscape littered with incredible subterranean vaults which are all black marble and weird shapes and gravity wells and giant, shadowy spaces stretching down and away. They're breathtaking.
  • They have given us jumpjets! A significant proportion of my gaming time is spent going "sproing!" and "whee!". Also the Nomad, which is an update of the old Mako, which means you can drive around planets at insane speeds while your party bickers, and which is ridiculously enjoyable.
  • All the old familiar races have followed us to a new galaxy, which weirdly presents only two new ones, one of which is the bad guys. The others are the Angara, who are sort of cuddly, collectivist, blue-and-purple lion-lizards who are extremely endearing.
  • The combat and skill and crafting structures are a maddening combination of limited and opaquely complicated. You can do some cool stuff. Eventually. To some extent.
  • The scenario and worldbuilding are... interesting, but, as Penny Arcade noted, a bit in the arena of a young and foolish vintage. This is clearly a comparatively inexperienced writing team, which is the result of them sectioning off Mass Effect to another Bioware location and leaving the experienced writers in Edomonton with Dragon Age. It shows - the writing is generally a bit patchy, plot and characterisation largely unexciting despite some good moments. I'm rather attached to the female Ryder, who's written as a bit wry and deadpan, but a lot of that is her voice, with which I am seriously enamoured: slightly alto with a throaty catch. The NPCs are almost all a bit bland. I'm finding myself making dubious romance choices because not even my Lawful Good can stomach the oatmeal of the "nice" characters. (On the upside, one of the dubious choices is voiced by Natalie Dormer, which may or may not be implicated in the selection process).
  • The fandom is dissing the animation all over the internet, and they have a point. There is a lot of the laziness and superficial glitz which characterised DA2: the game has, for example, made all the NPCs in each non-human race the same face, with vaguely different face-paint. This is, to say the least, disconcerting, and causes brief moments of paranoid conspiracy as you try to work out non-existent connections, but it's not nearly as disconcerting as the facial animations, which manage, in a burst of rare genius, to be of regressively awful quality which puts them back somewhere before ME itself. The original ME didn't try to get fancy and thus avoided the uncanny valley issue into which MEA consistently and with pin-point accuracy tumbles. Characters in this game have some really weird lip movements.
  • I am, probably as a result of contextual imprinting over the last couple of decades, extremely uneasy about this game's colonial agenda and its ecological implications. To date they're not being thoughtfully dealt with.

Also, you have an AI, whose voice alerts you to environmental hazards and resource gathering opportunities and input requirements to an extent which swings wildly between being useful and being repetitively redundant to the point of infuriation. Hence my subject line. It is probably a tribute to the actual good parts of the game that I'm still invested and enjoying it despite hearing the above in a clipped British alto twenty or thirty times in a half-hour burst of driving madly around sand dunes.
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: (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.

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