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Whew! Hello, abandoned and neglected internets. So... my absence can be explained by the fact that I have been running orientation and registration simultaneously for the last two weeks, which has entailed arriving on campus before 6.30am and leaving after 5 on a daily basis, other than that one day when I ran orientation for three hours, did seven hours of curriculum advice and finished signing forms at 7pm.

I have survived the following:
  • one (1) faculty admissions fubar (500 early offers of places being revoked for non-meeting of admissions threshold in final results, screwing orientation signup more than somewhat);
  • one (1) slightly above minor orientation leader meltdown (I told them to stop doing Something Bad too forcefully and they were hurt and outraged and tried to rebuke me for it, which I resisted in spades (frequent reiteration of "this is a job") because if my own job is doing anything, it's teaching me to successfully hack off at the knees the more destructively narcissistic tendencies of Generation Z*);
  • two hundred and fifty (250) extra students in my second orientation programme, resulting in 500+ students occupying a venue designed to seat 400, leading to droves of them decorating the stairs, floor and back wall;
  • several (3) outbreaks of incompetence from administrative staff resulting in the non or very late arrival of key registration elements (forms, handbooks, signage, queue marshals) to the venue;
  • seventeen (17) trips up or down my Cherished Institution's impressive selection of stairs to migrate between my office and the reg venue, in our jolly January heat;
  • one (1) intervening weekend in which I was completely unable to do anything but lie feebly on the sofa under various cats while simultaneously hosting a varied combination of aches, lassitude and brain fuzz;
  • innumerable (?) instances of the more destructively narcissistic tendencies of Generation Z*, largely manifesting as the touching belief that their particular query or crisis was clearly more important than either the universities rules/requirements or any of the other 5 things I should be doing simultaneously, and that I should be dropping everything to attend to them at length.

So, the problem, as it has manifested over the last six or eight years, is actually that neither millenials nor Generation Z* are, at base, fundamentally compatible in any way with large-scale institutions. Both are lovely generations in many ways - connected, protective, accepting of difference - but both demonstrate, by way of both upbringing and media conditioning, absolute commitment to the central tenet of themselves as individuals, unassailably valuable in their own right. That's lovely, really it is, and probably healthy in all sorts of ways, up until the point where 6000 of them (we have a large faculty) decide that their individuality is more important than our rules, policies, structures or timetables, and that they have a right to be individually accommodated. They are deaf and impervious to the suggestion that it is not logistically possible to administer 6000 special cases, and particularly not when I, a single person with no actual assistance in my academic oversight roles, am acting as the hapless conduit to this expectation.

I am, shall we say, very tired. In the sense of completely buggered. I have a week more of reg and then another week of change of curriculum, which is slightly less demanding but brings its own new and inventive brands of challenge, difficulty and upset. Then I shall crash, probably with an exciting new 'flu bug imported by a globetrotting student from some far-flung corner of the world. Then I shall look for a new job, hopefully in New Zealand or Scotland or Canada, or somewhere else cold. I am done.

* the one with the snowflakes.
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Randomly cooler last night, thank FSM, cloud cover came up and the air was very mildly icy. Possibly just in time to save both my mental health and my considerably drooping container garden.This weather, I do not like it. It is not friendly.

Other things I do not like: watching my own lecture videos to critique my lecturing style and quality, on the general grounds that since my teaching existence is this weird marginal thing which is utterly unsupported by my institution, faculty or co-workers and no-one else is going to nurture it, I have to put the work into nurturing it myself. I don't like watching myself on video. (a) My general posture and appearance beat me over the head with how physically unfit I am, even allowing for the inevitable weight-gain effect of the camera. I look terrible. (b) Following the thread of my own lecture inevitably highlights how fatigued I am currently; you can see it in the hesitation and pauses, in the way I lose the thread of what I'm saying and have to grope for coherence. (c) The above two points notwithstanding, these weren't terrible lectures, they just could have been a whole lot better. Two of them were quite good. Students asked interesting questions and seemed engaged. But as my output goes they were under par.

They probably won't get a chance to be better, because I think they may have been the last ones I'll ever offer, I cannot continue to be here, it's clearly very bad for me.

Things I do actually like: it's Friday, thank FSM again. My garden has drooped a bit but is still alive, and pleasingly green. The jasmine is in flower and smells delectable, and the flame lily has sprouted again. Also, this lovely article goes a fair way towards at least partially restoring one's faith in eco-recovery, human ingenuity, rational systems and engaged youth.

too damned hot

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 07:30 am
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Cape Town is having a January heatwave, which I resent somewhat given that it's October. This week has been temperatures in the high 30s, which the weather site assures me is ten degrees higher than the average for this time of year, so thanks, global warming and climate change. I have been sleeping in a mosquito net in sheer self defence. (That is, in a mosquito net and nothing else. The cats appear to be enjoying the additional skin contact, which is hardly helping the problem). The unseasonable temperatures are also stressing my garden-watering schedule something 'orrible, the pots dry out in a day rather than the usual two or three, and as a lone lorne single person I am simply not generating enough grey water to compensate. At this point longer showers may be a moral necessity. (Moral if you're a druid, at any rate. For the purposes of this exercise please assume I'm a druid. The indecent burgeoning of the inhabitants of my container garden over the last few weeks under the aforementioned sunlight suggests that it's not too much of a stretch).

The installation of actual curtain rails in my front windows has been a small but measurable point of mitigation of all this nasty cheap imitation sunshine stuff. (As opposed to real weather, which has clouds and rain in it). Actual curtains rather than those ridiculous blinds noticeably drop the temperatures when you close them to exclude the afternoon sun, which otherwise streams in uninterrupted and with worrying ferocity. My slightly cheap and stop-gap curtains are a pleasing sea-green in colour, rendering my study agreeably underwatery to an extent which is itself cooling to the soul.

I am, needless to say, also retreating into my usual heat-wave remedy, which is to obsessively re-play Skyrim, because snowy landscapes. It is a possibly worrying index of my current state of work-hatred and general misanthropy that I am, in this playthrough, playing dead against my usual type, and following both the Thieves' Guild and Dark Brotherhood quest lines. I could react against current global moral meltdown by being particularly noble and upright, or I could, apparently, decide that there's no point and in any case I am out of fucks to give. Murder, mayhem and plunder, yay. Why the hell not, everyone else is.

I do, however, shudder to think what actual January is going to give us in the way of temperatures if this is October. Move over, Death Valley. 50s here we come.

vision thing

Sunday, 21 October 2018 09:27 am
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Migraine auras are extremely weird. I had a random attack yesterday, which started out as strange patches in the middle of my vision, causing me to clean off my glasses umpteen times in increasing frustration before realising what was happening. The true aura came a bit later, in the form I always get, and have done since I was at school, I remember lying in the nurse's office watching the flickering with slightly stoned fascination. It's always a reverse C shape in the right hand side of my vision, occupying about the middle third of its vertical pitch, and composed of tiny interlocking needles in black and white, in weird diagonal patterns which flicker continuously.

I've had a tendency over last few years to have fits of aura without necessarily progressing to full-blown migraine, although that can also happen - I don't know if yesterday's was a true migraine or only an aura attack, because I hit it with Trepiline as soon as the true aura appeared, and it vanished within an hour, along with the incipient headache. Score, except that Trepiline in the middle of the day knocks me out, so I fell onto the bed at 12 and only woke up at 5.30, much to Jyn's delight. She likes to sleep on my bed during the day, and appreciates company. And then I slept for nearly eight hours last night, so double score.

It may have been stress triggered, now that I think about it, because I bunked the faculty curriculum symposium on Friday afternoon, which always causes me acute guilt because Lawful Good, but in retrospect I think my complete inability to contemplate the thought of a crowded lecture theatre full of politics was probably pre-migraine weirdness. It's nice to have a label for it.

I shit you not

Tuesday, 9 October 2018 01:39 pm
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So, Cape Town has water restrictions, because Drought. You probably knew that, because I, and all other Capetonians, bitch about it endlessly. We bitch about it endlessly because, by and large, we have all stepped up to the crisis and restricted our water use with such efficacy that dams are back up to over 70% capacity after an average rainy season. We cruelly curtail our showering, and lug buckets around, and purge the garden of water-needy plants, and refrain from flushing toilets, and wash the linen and our hair less frequently, all to a gentle refrain of whinging, but by gum we restrict our water use. We get it. We are Capetonians and love our city and are capable of doing what we can to make it work. The whinging is, I fear, intrinsic and possibly motivational to this process.

The particular aspect of all this which actually does render me homicidal is the language it generates. Ye gods and little drought-threatened fishes, we are coy about bodily functions. We are obliged to madly police how we flush, with specific reference to what we're flushing, and goddammit but we can't come out straight and say it. Instead, we blossom forth into a series of passive-aggressive notices couched in euphemistic terms, and contriving to suggest that our personal waste processing processes are being overseen by an intrusive cadre of over-potty-trained Victorian governesses. If I see one more instance of the twee little rhyme about "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down", I am going to start frothing at the mouth.

And make no mistake, the Pee Governesses are intrusive, and expect to moderate and control highly personal processes to which no outsider should be privy. I wish I could draw a tasteful veil over the most recent outbreak my Cherished Institution has harboured in the service of water retention, but I can't, because they're right there. Next to the pan. Significantly unveiled. The horrible high-tech plastic boxes with the doom-laden flappy door in the top, and the instructions which require you to make use of same to dispose of "urine-soaked toilet paper ONLY". Presumably to require less water by reducing toilet paper presence in the sewage system. Which makes sense, but there is something particularly horrible about waving urine-soaked toilet paper around in any vicinity except that of the actual loo. Eeuw, is all I can say. Eeeuw.
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I need a cat-patcher, stat. I hadn't thought Jyn's buggy jump module was too serious a glitch: yes, I laugh at her a lot because she still hasn't worked out how to go through the bathroom window into the courtyard, but I figure she'll learn when she wants to leave the house desperately enough. And she has in the last month or so acquired the skills to levitate onto the dining room table despite me shouting at her not to. But the problem is that she has, in fact, also learned how to climb onto the back wall of the courtyard (via one of the plant boxes), and thence onto the flat roof of the diagonal neighbour's shed. Which is how she gets beaten up by the neighbourhood feline thug patrol, and is also why, incidentally, I ended up meeting the nice neighbour over my back wall at 9pm last night under somewhat inauspicious circumstances.

Because, it turns out, if Jyn is dweebish enough to climb onto the diagonal neighbour's roof and then jumps or (knowing her) falls into the diagonal neighbour's back courtyard, she's dweebish enough not to be able to jump out as it's a high-walled box. This despite the fact that I can see at least three routes any other red-blooded feline would be able to use in an instant.

No, she'll wander around in the diagonal neighbour's courtyard, mewing piteously. At 9pm I'll start getting ready for bed, and realise that my bedtime cat count is one short, at which point I'll go out into the back courtyard and hear her. Calling over the back wall does nothing except intensify her piteous mewing. Leaving the house by the front door, walking around the block and calling in front of the diagonal neighbour's house does nothing because it's another row of semi-detached houses and there's no way through to their back garden from the front. The house is dark and silent, they are clearly out.

Returning to my own garden and calling over the fence still doesn't inspire Jyn to find a climb route, but it does eventually alert the neighbour immediately behind me, who comes out into her garden and is able to report that Jyn is wandering around next door but won't come when called, because she's not only jump-disabled, she's ridiculously timid. Nice neighbour readily agrees to allow me into her house, so I once more trot round the block, clutching my pepper spray suspiciously in case of things that go bump, trek through the nice neighbour's home into the garden, and try to persuade Jyn over the wall. No dice, because she's freaked enough to not even be able to jump onto a chair so she's within grabbing range.

Final upshot: me and Nice Neighbour manhandling a ladder over the wall, Nice Neighbour climbing over (because my knees and balance are seriously not up to it), befriending Jyn, grabbing her and handing her to me so I can post her over the wall back into my garden and hope to hell she doesn't try to climb straight back over so she can follow me back through the Nice Neighbour's house and round the block. Again.

It's somewhat bizarre circumstances under which to meet the neighbours, is all. But it does demonstrate that I have at least one neighbour who is prepared to go severely above and beyond in the service of dingbat cats with faulty jump modules, and the slightly hapless fumbling of their owners. Also, failing a patch job on her programming, I think I'm going to have to construct a small obstacle course in the back courtyard and try to actually train Jyn's AI into this mysterious "jump" business.

At least it wasn't also bucketing with rain, is all I can say.

In re my subject line, she is not a Jellicle Cat because apparently they jump like jumping jacks.

*z-snap*

Saturday, 15 September 2018 08:48 am
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Last night, having finally figured out how to reconfigure the home theatre system from Zelda to Blu-Ray, I watched Avengers: Infinity War. Now that I have retrieved the cats from the top of the curtains, where they fled in discombobulation at all the irritated shouting, I have some Notes.

  1. SO.
  2. BADLY.
  3. WRITTEN.
  4. We have reached a stage of blockbuster movies which is a perfect and literal embodiment of Baudrillardian simulation: they are endlessly proliferating copies of copies, to the point where all sense of an originating real is lost. This was not a film narrative, it was an awkward conglomeration of acceptable plot elements hacked together into the overall, cargo-cultish shape of a film, and set shambling into the cultural landscape in the shrewd and practised hope that it would fool the moviegoers into paying money for it. Which in the event was clearly successful in the financial sense, but catastrophically otherwise for the plot.
  5. A movie can't just be well-known heroic stereotypes enacting explosions, it needs a clear motivational thread to hold it together. And I realised very sharply last night that the thread needs, weirdly enough, to be moral: people need to do things because there is not just a practical but a philosophical reason to do them. Infinity War is trying in a half-arsed way to do some heavy philosophical lifting on the nature of evil, and the idea of sacrificing the individual for the overall good, but it can't hold the ideas together enough to do any sort of meaningful or consistent exploration. It tries to evoke them by passing reference, and assumes that's enough. As a result there was no actual logic to character reactions; not only did the vast majority of the supposedly pivotal and emotionally trying decisions fall under the category of Too Stupid To Live, they had no emotional impact, either, because they made no sense.
  6. I don't care how much money the latest Thor film made and how much that owed to its campy humour: Infinity War had a much darker tone given its themes, and its writers aren't fit to run Taika Waititi's scripts down to the copy shop, and certainly weren't up to the challenge either of generating said humour or of mixing the two, so the humour attempts simply sounded lame, forced and out of place.
  7. Infinite cosmic power is a narrative and cinematic trap. Not only would it be visually boring if properly realised, it's incredibly difficult to retain narrative drive and challenge in the face of it, and it makes laughable monkeys out of consistency. Examples are legion, but a random one that particularly narked me: given what Thanos can do with all except the last stone, there was absolutely no reason to treat the Wakandan forcefield as any sort of barrier, he could have taken it down with a fingersnap. It was clearly there to make pretty large-scale battlefields and induce artificial Plastic Trauma, TM. Unfortunately infinite cosmic power needs exceedingly clever scriptwriting, which this signally wasn't.
  8. The film tried to make Thanos into a subjectivity, and he shouldn't have been. (a) because there wasn't enough narrative meat to make his motivations meaningful, and (b) because he's a narcissistic homicidal paternalistic wangst-ridden dickhead (literally) and the fact that the writers clearly found that interesting is everything you need to know about them in order to run screaming in the opposite direction.
  9. Further to (8) above, if the most recurring feature of your so-called plot is the sustained theme of Men Feeling Plastic Conflict, TM, and having to angst about sacrificing women to it before deciding to sacrifice them anyway, your misogynistic pissbag writers need to be shot out of a cannon into the heart of the sun. Also, I don't think it's just my steady diet of slash which makes me see this, but there were altogether too many Default Heterosexual Romances in that movie. If the only emotional connection you can imagine between characters is a stereotypical romance, you have insufficient imagination to be writing film scripts.
  10. The Avengers franchise has some significant cultural and character capital built up now, and this film cheerfully threw that into a handy black hole. There were too many characters in this film, and none of them did anything that made sense or developed them in any useful way, and nine tenths of the actors concerned are actually really good and deserved far better. And I'm not even going to get into the random deaths thing, because (a) they were unearned and had no emotional impact and I frankly didn't care, and (b) they'll probably all be rolled back because comics.
  11. SO.
  12. BADLY.
  13. WRITTEN.

OK, that was cathartic, I feel better now. Although entirely inclined to be very, very wary of the upcoming Captain Marvel film, she's a brilliant character and survey says Marvel's moviemaking machine will chew her up and spit her out in tiny, plastic bits gummed together with sticky sexism. Woe.
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Last weekend, by my request and in response to a couple of interrupted attempts to get into my front door by unspecified crowbar-wielding Bad Guys, my nice landlord came and installed a solid cast-iron gate in place of the original rather flimsy cheap trellidor. As my front door is right on the road, this was Reassuring. All was gas and gaiters until Sunday morning, when I came home from shopping to discover that the day before I had apparently carefully swapped over the keys on my keyring to add the new security gate key, but in a slightly exhausted daze (I haven't been sleeping well) had madly removed the actual front door key instead of removing the old security gate key. I thus had two security gate keys, one entirely useless and out of date, and no front door key, since it was sitting on the kitchen table, and couldn't get into the house. This simple stupidity was the start of a cascade of errors which unfolded thusly:

  • I have never actually locked myself out of this house before, but being vaguely excessively Boy Scoutish about this (possibly as a side effect of the Lawful Good), I had left a set of my keys with jo&stv. It was by this stage about 9am on a Sunday; the odds were good that they were home.
  • Problem escalation 1: in the early morning pre-shopping daze, I had left my cellphone on the bedside table, so couldn't phone or text to see if they were home. Solveable by simply climbing back into the car and driving through to their house.
  • Problem escalation 2: three days before I had coincidentally said to them, "Hey, you do know I don't answer the door if I'm not expecting someone? so please text first before dropping by", and they'd said "Hey, same, all good". This means that it was fresh in everyone's minds when their doorbell went several times in succession on a Sunday morning without prior warning, and they quite righteously didn't answer. I tried yelling, but they have a high wall and I'm not loud enough to make much impression.
  • Problem escalation 3: ironically enough I actually had the spare keys to their house in my handbag, but couldn't get the gate to open, it randomly sticks in the damp weather and had, with pinpoint accuracy and perversity, nominated today as Off Duty.
  • Problem escalation 4: in a cellphone age, we are ridiculously bound to our phones for day-to-day info. I didn't have my phone, therefore not only couldn't phone, but also had no relevant numbers, because I never got around to putting my hard copy backup into this year's diary. It was a very weird feeling: not only was I not legitimately able to prove I was myself by texting, even if I found a nearby phone I wasn't able to prove I was myself by actually having the necessary contact information. Horrible sense of non-existence.

It was like a domino cascade: one initial tap and the whole thing fell over, slowly, in beautiful stages. I solved it, eventually, by driving up to campus, accessing my computer in my office, looking up Jo's number on the student database and Steve's in his email, and phoning cellphones until someone answered. Sod's Law being what it is, they'd left the house about ten minutes after I did, I should have simply waited, but fortunately they were only one suburb over and came haring back to let me in, so I achieved keyhood and toddled back home, shaken and self-chastising and vowing never to leave the house again for any reason.

Jyn loves the new security gate, incidentally. She has returned to full health not just full of beans, but with an excess, which means that twice in the last two days she's successfully made a break for the road while I was fumbling with unfamiliar locks, and has had to be chased down. Since she goes to ground under the car and refuses to emerge, this becomes tricky and time-consuming. I was rescued this morning by the neighbour, who did by his own admission a stormtrooper impression which had both cats streaking into the house with tails like bottlebrushes, seriously freaked. I'm good with this. Two cats have been run over in that road in the last month and a half, I feel that terror in this context is benign.
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It's been very illuminating, the last year or so. I slip far too easily into the self-loathing mindset where my current spectacularly unsuccessful career existence is the result of my multiple past failures, most notably not ever managing to land an academic post back when I was still vaguely competitive for same. But actually, it would not have been a magic bullet, if by some freak of circumstance I'd finangled my way past entrenched misogyny, redress hiring and the fetishisation of Africanised content to have become an English department lecturer. If I'd done that, I would actually, at my best guess, in 2018 be at least as unhappy as I am in my present existence, in that the department concerned is currently a heaving snake-pit of vile personality politics that has chewed up and spat out several HoDs in a row over the last five years. It's not only the kind of tense, backbiting environment which most bludgeons and drains me, it's also entirely likely that if I'd been a lecturer in 2008, one of the mowed-down HoDs would have been me. There are no magic bullets.

On the other hand, that department does contain at least one colleague who has been long-term friend and ally since we were both in Masters, and whose consolatory email upon learning that Minerva do not, at present, think I am a good fit for their operation, included the above lovely sentence of my subject line. My life right now feels very much like marking time, and it is, indeed, exhausting.The job hunt continues, with reeling, writhing and fainting in coils. 

My difficult boss has, with consummate skill in the navigation of university procedures and politics, managed to absent herself from her job for four months at the most pressurised time of year and arrange a return this week under circumstances which, by a spectacular feat of gaslighting, insist that the whole thing was All Our Fault, not hers. There are doomful HR warnings hanging, not over her, but over the rest of the faculty. I'm staggering slightly, partially with reluctant admiration at the sheer chutzpah, and am also a bit numb. I think it's going to get very bad from here on out, but i can't imagine how it's going to play out, the whole situation is so bizarre, so the future feels curiously blank. At this point a quick alien abduction (of me, rather than her) would probably sort the whole thing nicely, in the sense of resolving all ambiguities, at least. I am possibly to be found hereafter of a night standing in the back courtyard looking hopefully at the sky while brandishing a small placard reading "TAKE ME NOW". An interstellar career change would be just the ticket. If not, I hear Canada's nice.

I ATEN'T DEAD

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 09:46 am
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I may, however, have vaguely wished I was at several points over the last few weeks, on the general grounds that it might be pleasantly restful. This has been a complete hellseason for registration, I have worked a high proportion of 12-hour days for the last month, and straight through most weekends. Particular lowlights have included:
  • having to floor manage registration simultaneously with advice and orientation because the designated manager was off sick and there were no alternative arrangements or anyone else willing to take responsibility;
  • the arrival of the faculty handbooks, necessary for students for registration, with mathematical precision an hour and a half after the last registration session had ended;
  • an unceasingly flow of angry students expecting to see their degree status updated to "qualified", which it hasn't been owing to administrative meltdown in the admin office, and having to re-check and re-submit the damned things, sometimes for the third time;
  • the regular late arrival of registration forms to registration sessions because the whole responsibility has been devolved onto temps, which means my advisors twiddle their thumbs for half an hour;
  • my digestion's response to all this, which has been two weeks of nausea and a week of heartburn, including what I thought on Sunday was actual gastric 'flu but mercifully doesn't seem to be the bug which has laid low most of my staff and a swathe of students over the last two weeks, even if my version has made me feel like hell and rendered my eating minimal and pale;
  • the weird evangelical student household neighbours over my back wall intensifying their evangelical activities from "really bad singing" to include sudden outbreaks of speaking loudly in tongues with the living room windows and door wide open at 6am as well as 7pm, and I have to say, that shit - unified, continuous wordless babbling from a dozen people - is creepy at the best of times and downright terrifying when you're half asleep;
  • Jyn's new crusade, which is to climb through and utterly destroy if at all possible the front blinds, which are starting to look bent, bont and splugged, necessitating me erupting from the sofa at intervals to shout at her (she knows exactly what she's doing, she looks at me, narrows her eyes and then deliberately does it again);
  • Teen Wolf's season 3 featuring a big bad played by the voice of Dragon Age's Fenris, who is one of my favourite go-to romances and whose decontextualised appearance in the inverse moral position is giving me conniptions.
I am a piece of chewed string. Once this week's change of curriculum is over, I shall go and see my doctor, and hope like hell I can gently prod her into booking me off work for a couple of weeks on grounds of general exhaustion. And the faculty may slide gently off the mountain and into the sea in my absence, I care not.

On the upside, I have progressed to the second stage of a job application with Minerva, in that they're asking for references and what have you; while I still darkly suspect I will not ultimately be offered it, given that they have the length, lingth and longth of the oversubscribed American academic wasteland to draw from, it's obscurely cheering to feel that at least I'm vaguely competitive. 
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Orientation started this morning. I worked 12-hour days all last week, and straight through both of the last two weekends. I am ... very tired. And very, very, very reluctant to do this again, I dragged myself out of bed at 5.30 this morning with the approximate affect of a sloth in treacle. The faculty administrative melt-down is reaching new depths of horrible, with staff on minimal effort strikes all over. It's surprisingly impossible to make large-scale academic admin work when only a tiny fraction of the staff are in any way committed to the success of the enterprise; it means that, when most staff members run across obstacles, which happens often, they simply shrug and give up. They also don't tell anyone they haven't done what they should. Since error and failure are rife, students are unhappy, and guess who's sitting on the front line of all the student complaints? Muggins, is who. Muggins, a treacle-coated sloth on too little rest, is over this.

Large-scale administrative breakdown also operated in microcosm last week, when Octotel, rot them, "installed" and "activated" my "fibre" line. By which I mean they logged the fibre lines in my area as "active", causing my service provider, aka the lovely geeks at Imaginet, to schedule an installation. The Octotel technicians arrived four hours early on Monday, when I was still at work; my nice cleaning lady let them in, and they drilled holes (to their credit, very neatly and without destroying any electrical or water lines) and put two little blinken-boxes on my study wall. When I got back home, both the ADSL and the phone line were dead. I thought, oh, well, fibre is clearly incompatible, set up the new router, and spent an hour on the phone to Imaginet, crawling around under my desk at intervals, to discover that we could not persuade the fibre line to connect. This, it transpires, is because whatever Octotel's clearly mendacious indicators say, the fibre lines are installed but not actually active in my area: scheduled activation, mid-February. By which I am assuming, on current evidence, that they mean July.

So we logged a call to Telkom about the dead phone/ADSL lines, because internet withdrawal on top of orientation/registration stress is an ugly, ugly thing. Around Wednesday evening, however, I came home early enough to have enough energy to do a proper check, and tried the basic first step of plugging the dead phone into the phone jack with a different cable from the 5m one which goes around the piano from the phone jack to reach my desk. You can see where this is going, right? Happy dialling tone. (Or, at least, the weird intermittent dialling tone which I seem to get here).

Those idiot technicians had moved the piano so they could drill next to it; they'd pulled the phone extension cable off its little hooks and onto the floor, pulled the piano over it (by the evidence, moving it back and forwards several times) and, since it's a bloody heavy oak thing which takes 6 people to lift, thereby destroyed the plastic casing on the phone extension and severed two out of its three wires. I am, to say the least, severely unamused. Ham-fisted dingbats. Really. But fortunately I have a back-up 5m phone cable for reasons lost to history, and having re-cannibalised all the cabling I just cannibalised to set up the fibre modem, I am once more ADSL-connected and can soothe my soul with half an hour of dodgy Teen Wolf pr0n before bed, which is very good for the mental health.

But I am not enjoying orientation. I am tired, and wish to be elsewhere at this time. My subject line is the fragile tragic vampire girl from Angela Carter's Gothic fairy tales, because I feel fragile and tragic and Gothic.
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One of those upsy-downsy days. On the downside, the faculty office continues in meltdown, with the faculty manager still off hissy-fitting and the shattered remnants of a once-functional administrative system trying desperately to reconstitute itself in her absence, severely hamstrung by the almost complete lack of institutional memory given how many people have left in disgust in the last year and a half. I have perhaps two and a half actual allies in this whole clusterfuck, to whom I have taken to delivering, of a morning, ceremonial batches of The Chocolate Brownies of Moral Support. (They're very supportive brownies, on the same principle as an empowering lemon bun).

Perhaps as a symbolic externalisation of my designated place in all this, while I was walking down from my car this morning, one of my Cherished Institution's seething population of half-evolved starlings flew deliberately up behind me and whapped me over the back of the head for no adequately defined reason, causing me to stop dead in the middle of the path and ask it "what the fuck was that for?" in tones of pained reproach, while passing students laughed at me. It seemed symptomatic of the whole.

On the upside, the Exam Tent City appears, against all odds, to have survived exam season unenflamed or otherwise disrupted, which is frankly more than anyone expected. (Lovely argument with Jo at dinner the other night about whether or not the Tent City approach can be statistically correlated with the lack of protests, which of course it can't on account of sample size, but I am a narrative rather than a numerical creature and must have plot causality. I do enjoy exposure to other thought paradigms, though, it's exercising to the faculties). Elsewhere, I have spent large chunks of the week moving lost, unhappy students out of other faculties into Humanities programmes, which is a surprisingly low-effort sort of positive validation thingy, it's fairly easy to make them puppy-dog levels of happy about escaping the wrong choice of degree. One of them this morning, after I'd lengthily assisted him to find a path through the ridiculous snarls of the music curriculum, informed me that I was a "delightful human being". That sort of thing definitely helps.

On a sort of lateral, neither up nor down side but definitely a side, this morning I informed the Deputy Dean most nearly concerned with my operations that I was looking for employment elsewhere and might be reasonably expected to resign in the next few months, after which he clutched his head and said "oh fuck no now we're completely fucked and may as well pack up and go home". This was a worrying combination of validating and guilt-trippy, but has usefully reified this actual getting the hell out thing to the point where, well, now I have to find a new job, don't I? the Faculty Exec is discussing my departure. (I have, in a Marked Manner, completely neglected to inform my actual boss, who is the aforementioned hissy-fitting faculty manager, she can stew in her own juice until someone tells her, I care not). I feel that statements of flight are a Good Thing, overall, but it's left me feeling a weird mix of relieved, terrified, and lighter.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, to whom I have been listening a lot because reasons, partially reasons attributable to discovering their FFS album, which is a collaboration with an American band called Sparks and is a an FF-ish, louche, lush, burlesquey sort of Threepenny-Operatic sound with indecent amounts of verve and pleasing levels of piano. Recommended.
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Oh, joy, 'tis the season, fa-la-la-la-la. Not, in fact, the thrice-dratted Xmas season, although of course it is, and promptly with the dawning of November supermarkets have blossomed forth in all the usual seasonally-inappropriate merry snow imagery in the midst of African summer, glitzy Northern Hemispherical Christmas trees, and the usual quotient of bad syrupy R&B covers of hackneyed Christmas carols given additional terror by the robotic brassiness of autotune. (How Much I Hate Auto-Tune, a rant in 56 parts. I'm saving it.)

No, the season to which I refer is exam season. Lectures ended on Friday, exams start on Wednesday, and the 5 student consultations I've held in the last three hours are all logged in my logbook with "fail fear" in the "Notes" column. They're all about to fail some or all of their courses this semester. This will variously prevent them from graduating, lose them their funding or doom them to academic exclusion. I have patiently strategised a variety of responses with a variety of desperate students whose affect ranges from fatalistic through resolved to extravagantly miserable. Three of them were in tears.

To the various individual woes (mostly anxiety/depression with a side order of death in the family) is added the very general woe of, yet again, student protests. Some lecture disruptions last week, lectures suspended for a couple of days. The bulk of our departments have thrown up their hands and given up on lectures in the last two weeks of term, electing to examine an incomplete syllabus. (Some of them, cunningly predicting just this, front-loaded their syllabus and devoted the last two weeks to revision, thus neatly dodging the protest upshot). We are supposed to have delivered the rest of the semester by "blended learning", which is the VC's favourite buzzword and which is frequently deployed in a talismanic sense which utterly disregards the realities of the situation, viz. a proportion of academics utterly unable to deliver it to a proportion of students utterly unable to access it owing to a failure of both skills and technological infrastructure.

But the crowning glory is the tent. The protesters are apparently hell-bent on disrupting exams. They spent chunks of last week disrupting tests as well as lectures. Security in riot gear, with shields, have been lurking in rows outside the main exam venue all last week. The VC's somewhat bizarre response to the exam disruption threat, which he has implemented apparently in the teeth of disagreement from the entire senior leadership group and the council of Deans, has been to hire a large tent, which has been constructed on the rugby fields, and in which all exams will take place in a "controlled" environment. I think the idea is to use the rugby fields because you can completely surround and cordon off the tent, although quite why you can't do that to the Sports Centre is not entirely apparent. The Sports Centre, at least, has solid brick walls. Threats to burn down the tent apparently popped up on Twitter within an hour or two of the relevant press release.

Last night's usual Sunday dinner featured three denizens of my Cherished Institution, and we ended up rather drunkenly strategising ways to burn down the damned tent, now, ourselves, before protesters do it on Wednesday when exams start. The plan involved layers of diversion and archers with fire arrows, probably deployed from the roof of the nearest res. Its advantage is that the conflagration will happen when there aren't actually any students in the tent, because frankly we're beginning to worry that escalating protests are going to inevitably lead to grievous bodily harm and/or actual death. And you have to ask yourself: at which point in all this management fuckwittery does your own dutiful attempt to comply with management's more deranged directives actually become complicity? At which point do you simply refuse to take part? If a student is badly injured and you told them they should go to the exam, are you in some way responsible? It's not a happy thought.

My subject line is the title of my third-favourite track on the new Magnetic Fields album.

happy times

Tuesday, 31 October 2017 11:19 am
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So, the SA government, bless its cotton socks, has announced, perfectly predictably after much backing and filling, that free tertiary education is not viable, and radical student movements are seething. We lost two days from last week with protesting crowds prowling the campus with sticks, and lectures have been suspended yesterday and today. The Management of our Cherished Institution has decreed that lectures resume tomorrow, with increased security presence and an interdict on illegal protests, and the campus staff, bruised and slightly numb, can only brace themselves in expectation. In our court: the new SRC, just elected, rejoices in a majority of Democratic Alliance-identifying student leaders, hell bent on keeping campus open. Against us: interdicts and opening have infallibly in the past provided just the venue protesters need to rampage with maximum effect. I am not, shall we say, sanguine. I think it's highly likely we'll be delivering another truncated semester, and we'll be bloody lucky if we manage, in the teeth of the odds, to run undisrupted exams.

In all of this the faculty office is having an outbreak of management fuckwittery, coupled with serious bad timing: the faculty manager has taken two weeks off in what seems to be something of a snit, after trying unavailingly to banish the whole admin office to middle campus, and the deputy has two kids in hospital after a car accident and is likewise absent. There is something of a blitz mentality among my colleagues: keep your heads down, keep calm, carry on. Hope it doesn't explode.

I am playing a shitload of Fallout 4 again, because cynical apocalyptic black humour seems a viable response under the circumstances, and I significantly lack the emotional energy for anything other than a retreat into videogaming. In particular, I am deeply enamoured of the soundtrack, which gives you, via an in-game radio station, a truly lovely succession of songs from the 40s and 50s. These are beautifully and somewhat evilly chosen to fit into the post-nuclear-war black humour of the game, and mine the hell out of the 40s genre of novelty songs, hence "Uranium Rock" and "Atom Bomb Baby" and "Craw Out Through The Fallout". They also use sad love songs ("End of the World", "I don't want to set the world on fire", "Into each life some rain must fall") capable of reinterpretation in light of wandering the raider-ridden gun-toting post-apocalyptic landscape (and I have to say, the way in which a lot of these songs mix up love/sex/death/explosion metaphors is ... deeply disturbing, "Butcher Pete" and "Rocket 69" oh my god). And they sprinkle the playlist with syrupy feel-good croonings such as my subject line (also "Accentuate the positive" and "Dear hearts and gentle people") which you are obliged to read severely in the inverted position, wincing. I have downloaded two soundtracks and a bunch of individual songs from ITunes and am playing them on rotation in the car, chortling. It's helping.

break point

Tuesday, 24 October 2017 09:25 pm
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oh god, student protesters disrupted lectures this afternoon for the second time in two days, and it was a really large crowd of protesters, this time, causing me to close the security gate on our offices in the slightly irrational fear of over-enthusiastic mobs piling catastrophically through the glass doors. I wonder how they've drummed up support? there seemed to be very little appetite for protest among students, and previous disruptions have been all of five or six of them. That'll teach me to incautiously send reassuring emails to students saying that I think there are very few protesters and closures are unlikely. Just what the Cosmic Wossnames need as an excuse to sock us in the nose again.

The dear little protesters spent half an hour or so singing the usual harmonious protest songs up and down the avenue, and my heart is sinking very heavily into my boots. I can't go through this again. I haven't actually recovered from the last round yet - this week I've been dragging myself around the show in a state of complete exhaustion, triggered, I think, by rising student demands as the end of term approaches, and the need to start planning the next iteration of the endless cycle of orientation and reg. Do not want. Do not have resources. Can't even. Nope.

The usual linkery-distraction refers. Merriam-Webster, as in the dictionary, has a time travel function, allowing you to look up the words that made it into the dictionary for the first time in the year of your birth. I am nominating this as a new, excitingly hyper-linguistic alternative to all the usual astrological birth-sign crap. I was born in the year of peer review, the delete key, ecocatastrophe, untenured, homophobia, mood disorders and the event horizon. In retrospect, this explains a lot about a lot of my life arcs. Also the year of autosave, futuristics and the straight arrow, so perhaps there's hope.
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I have just had my second English lecture shut down by student protesters, right in the middle of a particularly pithy bit about postcolonial readings of Frankenstein. We were deconstructing a white British nineteenth-century novel in terms of its representation of marginalised racial identities, what the hell more do the protesters want? I did a quick poll of the class, revealing an overwhelming majority in favour of continuing the lecture, so I tried, possibly foolishly, to continue lecturing over the slogan-chanting and light-flicking. This endured for another few minutes, but narked the little buggers enough that one of them hauled out a fire extinguisher and threatened the front rows, at which point I decided discretion was the better part of valour and shut down the lecture.

I am seething. The ringleader was the little shit whose curriculum woes I spent half an hour patiently deconstructing last week. I'm buggered if I'm doing that again, I think I'm within my rights to refuse further advice sessions on the grounds of the threatened violence. I am surprisingly shaken by the whole thing, actually. Tea is helping. As is the revelation via the class poll that the protesters' popular support has eroded to the point of almost non-existence. That mandate, I do not think you have it in the way you think you have.

My subject line is, of course, Douglas Adams: the only thing going through the mind of a plummeting bowl of petunias is, of course, "Not again...". If this is heralding a new round of shut-downs... aargh, is all I can say. Aaaargh.
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Last night I dreamed what was either an epic fantasy novel or an epic fantasy video game which was effectively a mash-up between current American politics, current student politics at My Cherished Institution, some sort of unspecified contemporary urban fantasy with massively powerful secret female mage figures, and bits of Buffy. The whole overblown thing took place for no adequately defined reason in the endless carpeted corridors of an enormous, luxurious mansion, and was largely retroactive, in that it was shot through with the brooding, hopeless realisation that in the teeth of genre convention we, i.e. the good guys, had actually lost.

The main thing I remember is the huge meeting/negotiation sort of thing between the victorious Bad Guys, represented by Trump and George W Bush sitting smirking together at a corner of the boardroom table, and everyone else, mostly student political activists who were trying to call out the Bad Guys on their ideologically dubious fighting practices. The room was permeated with a sort of helpless horror as we realised how sneakily the Bad Guys had manipulated things to either disempower or destroy or suborn the powerful mage women (Willow Went Bad and betrayed us. Figures). In the background of the dream, various deposed female mage figures were trying desperately to regain the power they'd lost.

I woke up at the point that the werewolf mage lady was attempting a re-activation of her werewolf nature by strangling puppies. A whole row of them. Fuzzy black lab types. It was horrible. I really don't know what the whole thing says about my current state of geo-political despair, except that if Strangling Puppies isn't at least the penultimate level of the Despair Defcon, it really ought to be.

Upside: geo-political despair at least distracts one handily from personal despair, from which you can infer that neither work nor the job search are bringing me much in the way of joys. On the further upside, I haven't actually strangled any students or colleagues, either.

(My subject line is, of course, vamp-Willow).
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I am apparently at a stage in my personal and professional development where I can, calmly and quietly, spent the better part of half an hour gently talking down the angry student protest leader who has come into my office to discuss his options in dropping a course. Not that he was overtly angry, it's more a sort of subliminal, simmering rage and outrage, but even with no voices raised and no overt threats I am still shaking gently in a startled-deer-trembling-in-the-bushes sort of manner, and it's half an hour after his departure. There is something a little troubling about presenting the rules as they apply to a particular curriculum decision, and being told flatly that he will not accept that, the rule is unfair to black students and will therefore be ignored. Also, that if the VC's office doesn't rule favourable on a particular outstanding issue tangentially related to the query, said angry student protest leader will be referring it back to the student body for action. I suppose I misspoke when I said there were no overt threats, actually.

The problem wasn't even the anger and denial of the rules, really. The problem was the half hour, which was the length of time it took me to get into his head the actual implications of the request he was making. It's as if the political bubble insulates him so absolutely from the world (or at least from the ideologically suspect upper echelons of the illegitimate institution) that the actual logic of the response can't permeate. I am also by this stage very good at reining in my somewhat characteristic high-speed polysyllabic babble, and I don't think it was me. It's just that my explanations were occurring in counterpoint to the polyphonic political debate going on in his own head.

I am very tired and have a headache, but he left enlightened and actually smiling, so score one for me. My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "I Die", but I promise it's not at that stage yet.

I ATEN'T DEAD

Saturday, 15 July 2017 09:31 am
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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
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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.

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