I ATEN'T DEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

baby got back

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

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

I feel that the jelly-like identity crisis will be materially assisted by the fact that I am buggering off into the winelands with the Dread jo&stv this weekend for purposes of staying in an Airbnb for two nights, the better to concentratedly wineroute and dine out at Franschoek's many fine dining establishments, which we tend not to have experienced in our culinary meanderings because no-one wants to drive back to Cape Town drunk and overfed. This will be extremely restoring to the soul, and I can only hope that Jyn will not unleash her usual high-velocity sprint for the traffic flow when the cat-sitter opens the front door on Saturday. I'm getting really good at grabbing her one-handed as she goes past, but I've had a lot of practice.
freckles_and_doubt: (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)
One of the academics with whom I correspond about complicated credit transfer issues insists on addressing me as "Julia", which is not actually my name. For some reason this gives me fits of the giggles. My slightly insane Uncle Bill, back in his bachelor days when I was still in high school, had a particularly tremendous upper-crust English-rose girlfriend called Julia, pronounced "Juliah!". She is responsible for my lifelong habit of making mashed potato with the skins left on, which I do for reasons of health and because I like a bit of texture in my mashed potato, but which I suspect she did for reasons of sheer flakiness. The first time she met the family she swanned into our house, took a quick look around the kitchen, and announced, with that sort of tally-ho British vigour, "What a wonderful kitchen! I'm going to make bread!". Which she proceeded immediately to do, having arrived with a bag of flour for this purpose. She was, I think, quite mad, but very entertaining, and accounts almost entirely for any amused resonances I have with the name, even erroneously applied to me.

Apart from randomised giggling, my day has also been lightened by the student who has just hugged me enthusiastically, after I wrote her a letter asking Financial Aid to pay for a course on the grounds that its late addition wasn't her fault. (Which it partially was, she should have checked her registration, but it's a lot of money and these kids get desperate, and she asked very nicely.) She was very grateful, and I am feeling the warm glow of Being Useful And Appreciated, which this job is actually quite good for, at least in fits and starts.

I cannot lie, I am also deriving ongoing amusement from Windows 10's desperate, transparent and utterly doomed attempt to rebrand Internet Explorer. It would be endearing if Explorer wasn't the hissing and byword it is, and if its true form weren't evident so horribly through the glitzy design surface of Edge. It's not even a nice try.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's now officially registration season, in that I have now gone through the ceremonial annual benediction of an incensed parent shouting down the phone at me because their offspring is unhappy with an answer I gave her. Ten minutes. Continuous anger. Refused to let me get a word in edgeways to explain or otherwise. Reduced me, as is traditional, to tears, because I'm exhausted and reserves, not so much, and I eventually said "I'm sorry, this conversation is inappropriate and I am ending it now," and put the phone down. I hope that's my one for the year, any much more is going to erode me to a sort of soggy indeterminate thing which simply collapses sadly when more pressure is applied.

Registration/orientation this year has been particularly fraught and filled with loathing, but has been infused with additional merriment by a number of external factors apparently sent by the Cosmic Wossnames expressly to try me. Viz.:
  1. Heatwaves. Hideous sticky heat both during the day and at night, leading to irritability and insomnia and the desire to emigrate immediately to Canada in a marked manner and never return.
  2. Building operations. In my building, in surrounding buildings, in buildings around where I usually park. Noise, dust, paint fumes, scaffolding, unavailable venues, weird extrusions of fencing which block off whole scads of parking places so that parking, already a bugger on this semi-vertical campus, is now a thing of nightmare and sin. I've had to park on a yellow line on two separate days, because there simply wasn't any option, and despite the fact that I am hardly alone since campus has been festooned by similarly benighted motorists parked in every odd corner where they specifically shouldn't, that sort of thing niggles wearingly all day at a girl's Lawful Good. Also, my horrible complicated day last week was further complicated by the sudden discovery that none of the bathrooms in the building were operational, because renovations. Taking a bathroom break between the two meetings for which you are double-booked is not actually possible if the bathroom is in, so to speak, another castle.
  3. Load shedding. Eskom, bless its inadequate electric socks, is running out of power, and while it's being pretty good about sticking to a timetable and advertising the random swooping in and out of load shedding periods, orientation is quite complicated enough without suddenly having to evacuate 450 students from a pitch-dark lecture venue. (Not that I've actually had to do that, but the constant fear and planning wears on the nerves a bit). Also, I am prone to be denied vital tea supplies at strategic moments. This is not a good thing, at this time of year. Homicide results. I drove home last night from dinner in the pitch-dark of load shedding at about 9pm, and it was surprisingly weird and slightly freaky. On the upside, candlelight, and that cute solar-powered lamp thingy Vi gave me. And the excuse to retire early to bed and read Inquisition fanfic cunningly pre-loaded on my cunningly fully-charged Ipad.
  4. Political shenanigans in the faculty office, leading to administrators backing me into corners for twenty minutes at a time to have a full-scale meltdown about how awful the boss is being. I have personally experienced the boss as actively detrimental to morale and am full of sympathy, but I don't have time to make reassuring noises for twenty minutes while students pile up, mournfully puppy-eyed, behind me. The administrative processes behind reg have been somewhat under par this year, because everyone is unhappy and freaked, and it really doesn't help.

My car music trekked through New Model Army and into OK Go, who are generally happily bouncy but from whose lovely depressive ballade "The House Wins" my pleasingly surreal subject line is taken. I love that song: tuneful, wistful, bleak. "You don't have to be alone to be lonely, you might as well give in ... the house always wins." I've subsequently ploughed through a plethora of Pixies and am into Seu Jorge, because apparently I am materially soothed by acoustic David Bowie covers in Portuguese. As one is.

Now I go forth to wrangle advisors for change of curriculum next week. Aargh. This all cannot end too soon.

AWOL

Friday, 6 February 2015 01:40 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Ah, orientation. Today I needed to be in four places at once, all of which were malfunctioning.

  1. Departmental information talks. Classroom facilities had not unlocked the audio-visual equipment boxes. When phoned, they arrived and unlocked half of the audiovisual boxes. They came back and unlocked the other half after I'd phoned them again, while lecturers tapped and fulminated.
  2. Curriculum advice for orientation students. Only two-thirds of the advisors turned up. When I'd rousted out the several who'd gone to semester study abroad registration erroneously instead, because apparently misreading timetables is not the sole purview of students, I had three-quarters of them. The last quarter are still AWOL, which means the queues are horrendous.
  3. Semester study abroad student registration. The international office had told them to come all at the same time for registration, ignoring the careful alphabetical divisions by which we manage the queues. It was chaos.
  4. Readmission appeals committee. The usual minute-taker was wrangling SSA registration chaos, so I had to deliver curriculum reports and take minutes simultaneously. On the upside, there were biscuits.

I seem to have the wrong life, officer. It has been erroneously issued to me. Please remove this inapplicable life and replace it with one which functions properly.

On the further upside, Friday wol is ready for its close-up. Also, glaring accusingly. Because this life is not up to spec.

EasternScreechOwl
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I quite like students, but frequently I find their parents inexplicable. We are in the throes of orientation and registration simultaneously, which means ten-hour days during which I give uninterrupted curriculum talks for three and a half hours and then spend the rest of the day in registration. Over the course of the last few days parents of students have done the following:

  1. Sat down next to me in the main venue in which the orientation leaders were doing a vociferous welcome dance over very loud thumping music, and tried to have an intense, complicated conversation about their offspring's curriculum choices. And been surprised and clearly annoyed when I suggested that this wasn't the time or place. And that they weren't the person, frankly.
  2. Given me their card so that I can contact them "if anything happens" to their darling offspring, whom they have "entrusted" to me, apparently me personally. I don't think the reality of "four and a half thousand undergraduate students in this faculty" had actually sunk in.
  3. Walked into a lecture venue where I was giving a curriculum talk to 50 students, walked up to me as I stood in front of the class addressing them, interrupted me mid-sentence, and told me that they need to discuss their offspring's degree choice. And were surprised and clearly a bit annoyed when I said that I was, in fact, giving curriculum talks right now and they need to wait until the end of the session. Who does that? It's as if students aren't people and can be indefinitely put on hold while the grown-ups talk. It's bloody insulting, is what.

This year the orientation t-shirts say "JUST ASK ME!" in large letters on the front. This was, in hindsight, something of a tactical error, as the usual orientation/registration problem, viz. my inability to walk more than three steps without someone stopping me to ask me about their course choices because they've recognised me from orientation or curriculum advice, has become a new, exciting orientation/registration problem where absolutely anyone stops me to ask me about absolutely anything ever because of my t-shirt. Apparently I look approachable.

My car music has wandered into the zone of New Model Army, whose punk sensibility and tendency to rail against the system is pleasingly apposite. Subject line from "Inheritance". Today's Yoof have a serious problem in their parental helicopters.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Possibly all the Madness in the car is appropriate. Today I have to do early registration for 40 rugby players, who are all haring off on some sort of mad university-sanctioned rugby spree for which they need to be Official Students. Occasionally this job is surreal.

On the subject of surreal, have the utterly wonderful compilation which is Ursula Vernon live-tweeting her play through bizarre Japanese dating sims with post-apocalyptic genetically modified pigeons. No, really. I may have to look into dating sims, or at least this dating sim. Particularly since my Inquisition love interest has just ditched me rudely about two-thirds of the way through my third playthrough, and I'm feeling grumpy and rejected.

Yes, it is entirely possible I become too heavily invested in these games. One needs some sort of mental insulation from registering rugby players.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Gosh, guess I should blow the traditional dust and cobwebs off the ol' LJ, then? There's a slight problem with coming off three weeks of leave in which I can say "I did absolutely nothing". I did, in fact, absolutely nothing. I went on an almost complete social strike, barely saw anyone, didn't do the sewing or gardening or house-furnishing I planned to, entirely failed to write the paper that's due at the end of this month, utterly neglected (as you may have noticed) to do any blogging, and mostly played inordinate quantities of Inquisition. (Which is, incidentally, not only pleasingly distracting but a very nicely written game, all things considered, and has my vote.)

The slight problem is that, while the above looks like a pleasant menu of relaxation and a necessary withdrawal given the people-heavy nature of my working life, actually I think I was simply depressed. Again. One of those merry trough things. Another slough of despond, if you like. Not as bad as the last, in that things weren't actually grey and miserable from moment to moment, but they certainly didn't seem to have much point. My holiday can be summed up as an extended session of "why bother?". Marking time. Meh. That's not a natural state for me, and causes me to look sideways at my brain chemistry.

It's been exacerbated by coming back to work, because I am not only tired and heat-stressed, I am cringing despairingly at the looming threat of orientation and registration, which are going to leave me wrung and quivering, and which will require energy which I quite simply don't have right now. It'll be weirdly better once the actual students arrive since I'll be too damned busy to even think about being depressed and traditionally appear to be able to mine the necessary energy from some alternate dimension, but right now I hate this job.

My subject line is Madness, because the Great Alphabetical Music Trek appears to have hit a fortuitous run of Brit alt-rockishness, giving me Franz Ferdinand, Fratellis, Kaiser Chiefs and Madness in quick succession, for a level of rockingness which is not at all consonant with my mood. Under the circumstances it's probably a good thing that it's not all Wistful Indie up in here.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Moments when I do like my job. Third-year student who has had an exemplary career, passed everything first go, arrives in his final semester and fails the one first-year elective he needs to complete his degree before graduating next week. Devastated - he has landed a brilliant opportunity in London next year if he graduates. Remembers, at the last minute, that he had a year at another university before coming here. Dashes off to said university to obtain transcript. Sprints into my office, panting and quivering, a mere hour or two before the absolutely final grad notification deadline this afternoon and anxiously proffers said transcript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Still ambling through Eurythmics in the car. "Love Is A Stranger" is probably my favourite track of theirs for all time.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had an outbreak of Summer on Tuesday and madly encouraged the nice hairdresser man to chop my hair short, in the interests of getting it the hell off the back of my neck. It's now a shortish bob, which as per usual I will defiantly refuse to blow-dry at any price, and which will thus never look quite as sleek and grown-up as it does when I leave the salon. I've noticed a bizarre thing, though. Yesterday and today have been filled with colleagues being ridiculously and uncharacteristically chatty at me. They bounce into my office to discuss minor points, they engage me in conversation while I'm swearing gently at the photocopier, they laugh at my involuntary word-play in meetings. (I am incapable of professional meeting language. There will be play, and often metaphor, high-coloured, for the use of. Mostly people just look blank.)

I am driven to the conclusion that this haircut is possibly (shudder) ... cute. At any rate, it seems to make me more approachable. I'm toying with the idea of seeing what black-rimmed hipster spectacles do to the effect.

A quick public service announcement: the PC version of Dragon Age: Inquisition is released tomorrow. I pre-ordered it from Origin, on the grounds that it was half the price of the disc version on Loot for the deluxe edition and comes with Cool Bonus Stuff. They opened it for preload on Monday, and, the cardboard-and-string internets of our beloved country being what they are, I have been gently downloading it in the background (and swearing at the resulting slow loads of Tumblr gifs) ever since. We were at about 82% this morning. The gods willing and the geeks don't rise (or the damned cat doesn't climb on the keyboard in my absence and accidentally halt the download again), it should be finished just in time for official scratch-off tomorrow. I shall thereafter vanish into obsessive Dragon Age companion-flirting with a muffled squeak, probably for the next few weeks. Or months. Posts, and actual human interaction, may be a little thin on the ground, and unduly dragon-flavoured. Don't take it personally. With any luck they won't fumble the dismount as badly as they did in Mass Effect 3...

The car music system is still with the Death Cab. We're now in Transatlanticism, which I think is the last album I have on this player. I must acquire more Death Cab, I only have about three of them, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords is worth it for the title alone. For the record, my subject line is from "Expo '86".
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Term being over and all (except for those of us toiling in the marking-and-marks-processing salt-mines), there are outbreaks of workpeople all over campus, enthusiastically digging up things with presumable intent to improve them. (One of the major projects is the utter demolishment of a small, archaic cottage at the end of the avenue in order to build a new lecture theatre, in a faint, futile stab at keeping up with our ever-expanding student population. Currently a rather ridiculous proportion of our pedagogical efforts are defined by the Lecture Venue Crisis, which is... critical.)

This morning, however, some over-enthusiastic child of the concrete slab stuck a shovel or suchlike through a vital electrical cable, causing instant lights-out in four or five buildings, including mine. (History does not relate if he was thereby electrocuted, although one hopes not.) These days pretty much all of our projects and daily tasks are impossible without a computer. I filed everything in my office that wasn't actually nailed down, gave some desultory student advice severely hamstrung by my inability to access any student records, proofread the orientation manual, read several chapters of The Italian, because Gothic gloom felt appropriate, and then gave up and buggered off home, where I've been happily catching up on email and repulsing the cat for several hours. (He will try to sit on my wrists while I'm typing).

On the upside, I did the usual wander out into my courtyard when I got back, because green things and vaguely druidic impulses, and was reminded about my pomegranate. I have a small pomegranate tree in a pot. Thusly:

Photo0122

(the slightly demented beadwork hoopoe in the lemon tree pot is courtesy of Claire, following a wistful conversation we had about our common nostalgia for the highveld, specifically its thunderstorms and hoopoes on the lawn).

I grew this pomegranate myself, from seed. More accurately, about five years ago I bought a pack of pomegranate seeds to put on salad, and forgot about them, and they Went Feral in the back of the 'fridge. (I do this really rather a lot more than I should, and really miss having a composter in my new place to absorb the resulting ... compost). As I was throwing them out (imagine me cowing feral pomegranate seeds with a chair and whip and the sheer power of my gaze), I thought vaguely, hmmm, wonder if those'll grow? And in a spirit of scientific enquiry, dumped them into the vegetable box in a conveniently bare corner where the green pepper died (I can't grow peppers), covered them over with nice rich compost, and promptly forgot about them. Some undefined length of time later, I suddenly had a tiny forest of baby pomegranates under the tomatoes, growing promiscuously cheek by jowl and being shiny and glossy and bizarrely happy in a miniature sort of way. I thinned them, and planted them out into multitudinous pots as they grew, and gave them away to pretty much anyone I could think of, and ended up with one, growing like gangbusters. It's now approximately at shoulder height to me and is still green and glossy and weirdly happy.

A couple of weeks ago, I was patting the pomegranate in a vaguely encouraging fashion and suddenly realised that our current summer temperatures are having their inevitable effect, and it was fruiting. It has three or four little tiny mini pomegranate babies, all red and cheerful.

Photo0127

I did that, my very own self. I made that tree, or at least encouraged it, and now it's making babies. I feel like a grandmother.

My car music system has emerged from the thickets of Davids (Bowie and Byrne) and is now meandering amiably through Death Cab For Cutie, for whose wistful alt effusions I cherish something of an affection. My subject line is from "No Sunlight", which is an indecently catchy thing given how bleak its lyrics are. It's apparently a Wistful Indie Thing about sunlight: you have some, and then you don't. (If you're Belle & Sebastian you have rain instead).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, is it just me, or are we - in the sense of Western culture generally - raising our young these days to be more and more entitled, and less and less in touch with reality? I have had in excess of twenty years on this campus dealing with undergrad students, and I swear there's been a noticeable increase over the years in what I think of as the Unique and Beautiful Snowflake problem: individuals who present with a sublime obliviousness to or disregard for the rules, because the rules can't possibly apply to the narcissistic urgency of the individual's particular moment. A lot of these kids have apparently never been introduced to a boundary, or to an obstacle which someone - I suspect helicopter parents - hasn't caused to magically dissolve. They don't get "no you can't" on some profound level - it does not compute, captain.

If you're trying to wrangle student curricula as a day job, this becomes very quickly exhausting. It's worse at the moment because mostly what I'm doing is signing forms to add Summer Term courses, and statistically students who are using the Summer Term - a repeat of a few select courses in a compressed one-month format - are somewhat more likely to be flaky because they are doing so to compensate for failed courses. But, ye gods and flying spaghetti monsters, this week has been hell. I would estimate that approximately a third of the students I've seen have arrived without the necessary documentation (a printout of their transcript) and have breezed straight past THREE large-lettered signs on my door, one in bright red, which announce that I CANNOT give any sort of curriculum advice without it. Probably a quarter of them have arrived outside my consultation times (also clearly outlined on my door), and have blithely bounced in regardless. I am more or less inured to the failure to read notices, there are some brick walls against which one does not continue to beat one's head. It's the attitude of surprised confusion when I point out that they're out of line, usually followed by a helpless blank look, as though they're expecting me to somehow make this problem go away. If I tell them to come back later or send them off to do the necessary printing they are often angry, resentful and slightly hurt. But I need this now! and you're here! and there is no way that anything you could be doing right now could possibly be more important than what I need this instant! You monster! or, worse, you're not doing your JOB, which is clearly to pander to me in every possible way!

Yesterday was particularly bad, because I saw in quick succession two young ladies of the more overtly gazelle type (blonde, fashionable, wide-eyed) who didn't play fair because they erupted into my office outside my consultation times each with a parent in tow. It's very difficult to establish boundaries when there's a parent in the background tapping a foot in a what-are-we-paying-for-anyway sort of mode. (One of them sent the parent in first, because she knew damned well I'd turn her away). It's all very well to do a we're-both-busy-adults, hail-fellow-well-met performance which says that we're just making an exception for your darling daughter out of courtesy and because you, the grown-up, are too important to wait, but are they aware that there are four and a half thousand undergrad students in this faculty? Most of them have parents. A high proportion of them have the same narcissistic sense of their own unique importance. If all of them do this, it'll never stop. The boundaries are there for a reason, because I have a number of important and demanding things to do other than deal with students, and boundaries make my job possible.

But they weren't the problem. They annoyed the hell out of me, but it was the last student of the day who sent me home shaking, weepy and feeling slightly sick. He arrived outside my consultation times and without the documents. I sent him away. He arrived back with the documents, still outside my consultation time, and did a loud, over-acted surprise and annoyance thing when I said I wouldn't sign the form, because the front desk had sent him to me! Which I know they hadn't, because I went down there twenty minutes earlier and specifically reminded them NOT to send students to me outside my consultation times. So I signed his damned form to get the hell rid of him, but told him that this was unacceptable and he should read my door notices in future, and that he couldn't assume I'd be able to drop everything to deal with him. At which point he yelled at me for yelling at him (which I hadn't done), yelled about being a student so I couldn't treat him like this, threatened to report me to the Dean, shouted a bit more, and left. He was very large, very loud, very male and very threatening, and the fact that he was utterly and completely in the wrong did not in any way stop me from feeling sick and shaken, and from lying awake half of last night rehearsing ways in which to defend myself to the Dean in case the wretched student does actually take his self-importance that far.

I have lots of friends who have kids, and they certainly aren't raising them to display any such self-entitlement, but clearly they're a minority. What the hell are we doing to this generation? How are they going to react when they get out into the real world and it hits them with real consequences and limitations which they can't simply ignore? Are they going to crumble and flounder, or are they going to evolve into sociopaths, sublimely detached from empathy and perspective, wresting the world to their will because they can't conceive of it being any other way? Either way, I'm a bit scared for the future.

On the upside, my car music has now done David Bowie A-Z (literally: Aladdin Sane to Ziggy Stardust) and has ambled onward to the David Byrne/Brian Eno collaboration Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which is beautifully soothing. My subject line is from "Home", possibly my favourite track on the album.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My nice therapist defines my job as one in which I have to take the stereotypical maternal (nurturing) and paternal (disciplinary) roles simultaneously, which actually goes a long way towards explaining why the work I do sometimes feels as though it's pulling me in half. Not so much butter spread too thin, as stretchy strings of cheese on separated pizza slices. Yesterday's little dilemma was horribly characteristic, sparked by a student who wants the faculty to intervene and grant her a DP the department has refused. (DP is Duly Performed - acknowledgement that attendance and coursework are sufficient that the student is permitted to write the exam. And dear sweet FSM but DP appeals have been stratospherically high this year, student denial levels seem to be on the rise. The faculty won't intervene, DP is departmental business, but the gazelles desperately want us to wave a magic wand and make it all better, did I mention maternal role? because helicopter parenting is apparently a thing these days. I saw one appeal, cced to me by a HoD, in which said HoD patiently explained to the student that the appeal was being turned down because she'd written one test out of three, achieving a mark of 18%, and attended one tutorial out of four, and how the hell the student ever thought she had any grounds whatsoever to appeal beats me. Because, apparently, "desperate" overrides "reality".) Anyway, yesterday's particular child is desperate for the DP because it's for a course she needs to graduate.

So I check her record, and in fact she can't graduate even if she strong-arms the dept. into granting this particular DP, because back in her first year she's incautiously taken and passed two versions of the same course, and only one can count towards her degree. This is clearly an error that's slipped through several levels of checking; it's a small, fiddly, not-often-relevant rule, and advisors and office staff don't always remember it. I remember it, because it's my job to do so: I am in fact the repository of exactly this sort of technical knowledge of our degrees, and I pick up a lot of errors that other checkers miss.

So, if I don't notice, it's highly likely that no-one will. Because I have noticed and annotated her record accordingly, the student will be unable to graduate in December even if she achieves the disputed DP and passes the course; she'll have to pay several thousand rand for an additional course, which she'll have to do in summer term (expensive extra residence fees) because she can't come back next year, her study permit has expired. She has no legal grounds for complaint; students take responsibility for their own course choices every time they sign a form, and the exclusion of the dual credit is clearly specified on the course description in our handbook. Someone should have caught it, and I'll (once again, wearily) add it to my list of things to emphasise in training advisors and admin staff, but she should have caught it herself.

If I pretended I haven't noticed the error, and supposing she was granted the currently disputed DP and actually passed the damned thing, she could be saved all of the above. She'd graduate with the right number of credits; it's not such a huge solecism that two of her first-year courses have overlapping content. I have enormous power in this particular instance, in that if I kept quiet it's unlikely anyone else would spot it, and even if they did it's not unreasonable that I occasionally miss things, so I wouldn't be blamed. She's distraught, facing enormous implications in time and money. It would be kind to let it slide.

But I can't do that. Half my job is to facilitate the success and happiness of students; the other half is to protect the quality and integrity and logic of our degree structures, and the even-handedness with which the rules are applied. It's perfectly clear where my duty lies in this instance, and if nothing else my own Lawful Good would utterly prevent me from that kind of fuzzy dishonesty. Her degree is only worth anything at all because gatekeepers such as I are continually protecting its integrity. But because of the absolutely dual nature of my working identity, in that moment of decision I cannot win. I defend the quality of the degree with stern paternalistic self-righteousness, and the maternal empathy half of me feels horribly guilty because of what it'll put the student through. It's a bugger. Stringy cheese, I tell you. Stretched. (Also, it leaves me with a strong need to play that one computer game stv was describing, where you're a bureaucrat at a border and have to make increasingly grey-area calls. I can't work out if it'll be cathartic or redundant. It has to be tried.)

At any rate, student angst levels are materially assisted by my current ongoing alphabetical trek, by album title, through the endless vistas of David Bowie. Right now we're into late middle-period, which is the much-decried 80s pop outbreak, by virtue of Labyrinth (hence my subject line) and Let's Dance in quick succession. You can say what you like about 80s pop, my cheesy metaphor from earlier may well be relevant, but I was a teenager in the 80s and can't help responding. That shit is hard-wired.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Things in life I will never understand: the graceful, erratic, inscrutable sine waves which map the patterns of (a) comments on my blog posts, and (b) student utilisation of my curriculum advisor skills. Honestly. I have abandoned commenting patterns as a lost cause and a mystery for the ages, but student advice still actively baffles me. It's been deader than the dodo for several weeks, possibly because I've been deader than the dodo for several weeks and only slightly on campus, which means they've all got out of the habit of being able to find me. But today I have seen a continuous, uninterrupted, unrelenting string of students since five minutes before my official advice times started, which makes for about an hour and a half of plaintive student meeping, like hungry baby birds. (I do have a proto-theory which says that weekends and public holidays are inciters of advice-need, because they all sit at home and brood on their curriculum woes. But other than that I can't account for it and am forced to file it under "Unsolved Mysteries", together with this morning's traffic patterns, which were sparse enough to make me actually wonder if I'd taken my public holiday adjacently rather than on target.)

The thing is, emerging from this couple of hours of advice-giving: when not actively sabotaged by illness, depression or institutional fuckwittery, hells but I'm good at this. I have been watching myself witter on for this session, being somewhat amazed at the way my mouth produces, apparently independent of cognitive agency, relevant words which delineate a nice and accurate balance between empathy and technical knowledge. Every single student I have seen this morning has been in some distress, entangled in a career or curriculum snarl-up of slightly above average complexity and rendered skittish by the looming approach of the end of semester. I have sent them forth into the world, if not entirely solved, at least with a clearer sense of their options and their implications. Every single one of them has been soothed enough to chat a bit about the personal issues and feelings behind the technical question; to trust me with their vulnerabilities, their sense of failure, their fears, their horrible first-year homesickness. Every one of them has left looking visibly lighter. Honestly, when it comes to job satisfaction, I could create another grateful sine wave by keeping a running total of variations on "I feel so much better" from students departing my office.

I can't say this job is always like this, but when it is, it's lovely. I make a difference. Validation is immediate and concrete. And it's been something of a revelation, this morning, to realise that probably my sense of accomplishment, of fitness for my purpose, is the simple result of being, in slightly more existential terms, happy. I'm weirdly happy at the moment. I'm loving living on my own: my own space, my complete freedom to drift around shaping my environment to my needs, is something I've clearly needed for years without really being aware of it. I have lovely friends who both understand my base state of "hermitage" and who hoik me out of it at well-judged intervals for, e.g., lovely spontaneous suppers at excellent restaurants. (Frère's, whose high-class French nosh is ridiculously delectable and unreservedly recommended). The thrice-damned bronchitis has finally departed, and the post-nasal drip which is its icky footprint is perfectly endurable. And, calloo callay and the Dance of Joy, my thrice-damned brain chemistry has obviously tilted its little pointer away from "World, loathing of and self in particular" to "World: nice place, and you're probably OK." Supposing I haven't utterly jinxed it by mentioning it in print, long may it endure.

(My subject line references, of course, Angel, more or less randomly because of Numfar and the Dance of Joy.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's Hellweek! The first week of term has stomped around, my life is full of incessant student demands and queues for change of curriculum, advisors are defaulting in all directions, and I have random insomnia and am navigating all of the above on five hours of sleep. Despite which, I'm curiously cheerful, possibly because I'm manic on sleep deprivation, and propose to distract myself pleasantly by burbling about tea.

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

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

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

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

My subject line, not unnaturally, quotes "Tea for Two", which, since we seem to be doing random personal factoids today, I am fond of mostly because of an anecdote my father used to tell about Victor Borge playing it upside down.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My Cherished Institution has just sent me a 10-year long service certificate, and I'm trying to work out why opening the envelope made me (a) laugh slightly hysterically, and (b) feel sick. It's a weird thing to receive on many levels, not the least because I can't work out how they're dating it. I've been in this job for six and a half years. Before that I had a temporary half-post in the English department for two years, and before that two years of post-doc during which I also taught. If they're going to count the part-time teaching, then in fact a 10-year service certificate is a bloody insult, I've been teaching for this university since 1992.

The bitter laughter/nausea reaction is entirely appropriate: the "service certificate" thing really both marks and completes the kind of erasure that academia habitually performs on the grad student teachers who actually perform the heavy lifting in the university's educational enterprise. This is another dose of Academic Ghost, isn't it? I apparently only started to exist officially on 1 July 2004, a completely arbitrary date which marks nothing significant in my actual life. Anything I achieved before then, the years of teaching and supervision and general academic dogsbodying, are a sort of hallucination. They aren't Real. The institution magnificently ignored them as I pootled about under the institutional table, incidentally propping it up while hoovering up crumbs.

This particularly abstract little face-slap does, in fact, come with an actual, physical bonus of a thousand rand, which is not unwelcome given that I'm busy furnishing a house and my credit card is starting to wilt slightly. (My bank has just upgraded it, in fact, suggesting that it's becoming somewhat athletically fit from regular exercise). But I can't say I'm consoled.

My subject line quotes Belle & Sebastian, whose sad and cynical little ditty "Take your carriage clock and shove it" is beautifully apposite.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is mostly for [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun and [livejournal.com profile] noirzette, although any of you witterers with a musical background I wot not of are free to enjoy it as well :>. Musical notation as described by cats. This has just made me giggle for five minutes straight.

In additional to felinious musical notation, the dreary grey cactus desert that is work is currently being enlivened by (a) teaching third-years internet eroticism, with added Powerpoint, Secret Diaries and clips from Avenue Q, (b) the memory of an excellent girls' night at Fork last night with the Jo and the aforementioned [livejournal.com profile] noirzette (tapas and that Black Pearl cabernet/shiraz blend), (c) the joyous contemplation of the metric buttload of public holidays infesting the next few weeks (if I play my cards right I can have a four-day weekend followed by a four-day week followed by a three-day weekend followed by a two-day week followed by a five-day weekend, score!) and (d) the next in the Chocolate Digestive Biscuit saga, which this week is the miniature Woolworths ones. These are generally a pleasing thing, although slightly chewier and less melty in the biscuit region than the larger versions, and surprisingly difficult to eat neatly. Even if you consume the whole thing in one bite you still end up with chocolatey fingers. I'm going to have to extend the experiment to find the optimal eating position. Darn.

Further to the Fork experience (Fork is great! lovely food and only very slightly hipster, as befits a Long Street joint), I note with some alarm that my driving skills have a serious deficiency. I'm significantly bad at driving a social expedition into town, which in hindsight is perfectly logical, since it's not something I've ever done. I've driven small/old cars for long enough that I'm never actually designated driver for social groups, someone else with a larger car always drives. I'm thus really bad at (a) navigating into town from friends' houses, and (b) concentrating on the road while chatting. Given that the Great DVT Debacle and associated Warfarin seems to have permanently shrunken my booze capacity, I end up drinking a lot less than most of my compatriots, which means it's only logical for me to be designated driver a lot of the time, which means I'll get lots of practice in. Score!

The subject line, as is only inevitable, is from the musical Cats, specifically the Jellicle variety. Jellicle cats sing jellicle chants.

petrichor

Monday, 14 April 2014 12:32 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Praise FSM, it's raining. I haven't slept properly in a week, which is approximately the duration of the weird summer-resurging heatwave Cape Town has been experiencing, and which has felt like February but with added steam. We had the university open day on Saturday, which was a stinker heat-wise. Our university is high-profile and attracts millyuns of students, parents in tow. The building with the department stands was a shoulder-to-shoulder roiling mass of students, parents and reluctant academics, exuding an atrocious fug of sweat and bewilderment: I hovered in the doorway for a moment, thought "Nope" and left. A world of nope. I have borderline crowd phobia issues anyway, it was quite bad enough to be addressing 500 potential students, parents in tow, at once from the relative comfort of an air-conditioned lecture theatre.

Probably as a direct result of (a) resentment at being on campus on my hard-earned Saturday, (b) general lingering job-malaise after the run-in with the boss, and (c) the heat, I have been playing a hell of a lot of Skyrim recently. It's incredibly soothing to be trundling through snowy landscapes while it's 35 degrees outside. But I did the traditional No Work At All this weekend. This has not, fortunately, prevented me from giving a generally energetic and interactive lecture, the internet eroticism ones which started today and which technically I should have prepped to within an inch of their technosavvy lives over the weekend. Weirdly, it sometimes helps not to over-prepare, things have an organic spontaneity and ability to follow the lead of the student input which they otherwise lack. Achievement Unlocked: infect with XKCD appreciation a class to which it was hitherto absolutely unknown. There are, however, at least four voluble Tumblr enthusiasts in the group, which makes for interesting additions to the conversation. Every time I start teaching again I am forcibly reminded of how much I like students.

In other news, I am still house-hunting, and it's a dismal landscape full of emptiness and occasional possibilities which stick their heads cautiously, gopher-like, above ground and are instantly snapped up by bands of roving rental predators, i.e. everyone else who's also looking for university-adjacent housing within a reasonable price range. Absolutely the best thing I could do to make this easier is to resign from my job in favour of one which is much more highly paid. Don't think I haven't been tempted. But if anyone knows anyone who's renting out a place, please let me know. Nepotistic access to the ground floor of opportunities is pretty much my best bet right now.

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