another five things

Tuesday, 23 April 2019 10:57 am
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  • I spent five days over last weekend pretty much flattened with a sinus thing, which manifested as killer headache + killer nausea, necessitating three of those days spent pretty much lying flat and wishing gently for death. It's a beautiful catch-22 - I wake up with the headache, which I can't medicate without eating something first, and I'm feeling too sick to eat. The anti-nausea meds take a while to kick in, and then kick me in the head so I sleep like the dead for about five hours, but I'm pretty good at wedging a quick slice of toast and two anti-inflammatories into the tiny window before I pass out, and when I wake up the headache has at least receded somewhat. But it wasn't a happy five days. 0/10, would not recommend.
  • Origin, that evil organ of the EA evil empire, celebrated my return to health yesterday by losing my entire games library, which is annoying as I'd been distracting myself during the illness bits in which I could actually remain upright by re-playing Inquisition. All of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, gone, as if they never existed. Then Origin had a hissy fit, booted me out the login, and refused to let me log in again. The usual tech-support Google search revealed numerous other people who've experienced the same thing and received only mockery and condemnation at the hands of the EA helplines. I am horribly struck by the ephemeral, conditional and precarious nature of the "things" we "buy" when such things are virtual constructs and we are simply licensed to access them at the whim of giant, profit-obsessed corporations. I hope a complete Origin re-install this evening sorts it out; if not, I may be forced to rush howling at EA's giant, oblivious ankles with an axe.
  • While sick, I re-read Katherine Addison's Goblin Emperor three times in six days, it seems to be pressing very specific buttons which require ritual re-immersion. On mature reflection, I think that this is because it's an intrinsically and topically anti-Trumpian narrative. The Current Disaster in the US presents the scenario of an old, complex, sophisticated structure designed to provide checks and balances on the presidential figurehead's running of the country, which has been subverted with pinpoint precision by inserting a venal, amoral toddler into the figurehead position, allowing him to co-opt, bypass and pervert the system. Goblin Emperor is an exploration, in utopian mode, of an old, complex, sophisticated structure designed to allow the figurehead (the Emperor) to run the country for the benefit of its nobles, which is joyously subverted, with pinpoint precision, by inserting an outsider, someone who has survived an abusive childhood while remaining an actual cinnamon roll, into the figurehead position, allowing him to co-opt the system into serving basic decency rather than privilege and control. I cannot sufficiently stress how satisfying it is; the more so because the novel does a more than decent job of exploring race issues through a fantasy lens. Also, for the record, Goblin Emperor fanfic appears to attract high-level writers, ability-wise, and is lovely.
  • I made Irish stew for jo&stv last night, because someone mentioned it in a fanfic and I suddenly had a jones. I used this recipe, mostly; the Guinness gives it a rich, dark gravy with a slightly silken texture, it's marvellous. The Jamie Oliver version does this weird thing with greaseproof paper, damped and scrunched on top of the stew for the first hour of cooking, which I've never come across before; presumably it's to keep moisture in, but it seems oddly specific. Why scrunching? why moist? It a mystery.
  • I hope everyone had a lovely Easter weekend! I really needed the four days off, I am still glandular and headachy after the sinus thing. My faculty also, in a hitherto unknown display of staff-centredness, closed us down at midday on Thursday, giving everyone an extra, informal half-day off. It transpires that the undergrad admin office has always done this, but no-one has ever told me about the tradition, with the net result that my unit has spent the last decade obliviously working the full pre-Easter Thursday. I am somewhat miffed about this. Fortunately my line management has just moved over to the Dean rather than the faculty manager, and the Dean's secretary is somewhat mama-bearish about staff privileges, so she carefully informed me and we all buggered off home early, rejoicing. The next three weeks are also four-day weeks, owing to voting day and Mayday public holidays, so hopefully I shall continue to gently recover. Maybe.
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Gawsh. *blows dust off blog*. Apparently I am not in a blogging space, much, right now, which I attribute to the inevitable fog of exhaustion with which the hell-time of my year enfolds my luckless person. In this particular iteration my post-registration punch-drunkness is manifesting partially as extreme glandularity and frequent nausea, but mainly as my weird insomnia problem, wherein I wake up for no adequately defined reason at anything between 3.30 and 5am, and can't get back to sleep. This is leading to a fair amount of early-hours lying in bed while tea-drinking, fanfic-reading, playing Stardew Valley on the Ipad (not uniformly a seamless port, I have to say, bits of it are wonderful and large tracts of it are annoying me) and haplessly providing a human mattress to my felines, who appear generally to approve of my new hours. It also means I spend a fair amount of time wandering around vaguely and bumping into things, because sleep deprivation.

Last night there actually was a proximate cause, in the form of a pestilential mosquito who managed to get into the net, probably through one of the holes the cats have made in it while climbing unco-ordinatedly up the bed, and who dive-bombed me relentlessly until I woke up, activated light and vision, and stalked and crushed him horribly. The horrible sticky heat of the last few weeks may also, I think, have implicated in the sleep-failure; I hope the current trend of misty, moisty mornings and random gentle precipitation will gradually soothe me into somnia. (I also have to randomly shout-out to whoever it is who writes the weather descriptions on AccuWeather, they clearly become easily bored with "sunny" and "pleasant" and escalate into "agreeable, "delightful" and, by way of gnomic I-Ching style epigram, "after a cloudy start, sun returns".)

Jo pointed out the other day how bad a litany of despair my last few blog post subject lines have been, and registration hell-season notwithstanding, it's a fair cop; today's, of course, replicates the ostensible final words of the Opportunity rover, who ground to halt in a sandstorm a few weeks back after exceeding all lifespan expectations by just under fifteen years. I have empathised to a large extent with the internet's outpouring of anthropomorphising woe over a collection of metal and circuits to whom we attributed not just agency, but character, specifically dedication and gallantry; I particularly like XKCD's take on it. The human tendency to ascribe personhood to the non-human and then pack-bond relentlessly with it, is probably one of the redeeming features of our species. If we could work out how to force certain privileged subsets of us to apply that impulse to certain less privileged subsets of actual humans, we'd be golden.
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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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I am apparently feeling Hamletesque, i.e. melodramatic and slightly doomed, and as though my entire society is permeated throughout by futility and rot. Mood. My helltime of year officially starts tomorrow, when the first orientation programme kicks off, but in fact, it started two weeks ago, when I went back to work, the last week of which has been 10-hour days as I try to fit three weeks of preparation into two, as a result of the inscrutable demon powers of university management having randomly started the semester a week earlier than usual. Not only do I have less time, but large swathes of academia are still on holiday, so a significant proportion of vital logistics emails are dropping into the void like meringues into a black hole, vanishing without echo or response.

I am curiously unaffected by this. Usually I would be desperately micro-managing to make sure the clockwork of orientation and reg are grit-free and well oiled, and becoming increasingly stressed by non-responses and admin meltdowns that appear to threaten the juggernaut mechanism. This time I appear to be shrugging; I honestly don't care if it isn't perfect, as long as it more or less works. I am inclined, on the whole, to think that this is probably a healthy response in many ways, and indicative of the fact that, despite my state of career paralysis and inability to identify and power towards any new goal, I have at least achieved something in that I am increasingly less invested in this job's demands and outcomes. Because, hell, if nothing else, that restores some kind of balance in mirroring the extent to which my Cherished Institution is sure as hell not invested in me.

By way of balm and soothing, and incidentally my mandated Proof of Life and Cuteness to phleep&jo, her previous owners, have a cute picture of my cat. She very much enjoyed the gaps that occurred in my shelving as a result of the merry throw-out I had over the Christmas break.

duck and cover

Friday, 11 January 2019 10:44 am
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This is one of my least favourite times of year: it's the deep breath before all the crazy hits. Orientation is the week after next, a week earlier than usual owing to semester scheduling shenanigans from the Powers That Be, and I am frantically finalising orientation and registration material and logistics while simultaneously fending off almost continuous emails and phone calls from panicky students and, worse, their parents, who absolutely have to see me, only me, in advance of registration to assuage their panic. (Spoiler: they almost universally don't actually have to see me. I have a no-you-don't cut and paste paragraph for emails which I am employing vindictively and with extreme prejudice.)

I hate this time because of the continuous, niggling, inescapable sensation that there's stuff I haven't done yet which is urgent and vital and it'll All Fall Down if I don't. If I operate true to form I'll almost certainly line up all the necessary ducks with military precision in time for Big Giant Events to run smoothly, but the fact that said waterfowl are not yet all locked down assaults me on the astral plane. I am not sleeping well, and having my characteristic recurring dreams about missing vital objects which are leading me to bumble somnambulistically around my bedroom at night, fumbling blindly with cats and cupboards and bedside tables trying to find them. Since they have been, in order over the last three nights, a massively valuable emerald ring, the heavily barded horse for that jousting tourney, and the documents required for my departure into space, there is no actual way I will ever find them, so I seem doomed to sleepwalk fruitlessly until further notice. Or, at least, until the Big Giant Event actually begins, at which point my stress levels, weirdly, go sharply down, as if I haven't done it there's no real point in worrying about it.

On the upside, the undergrad admin office appears to have reconstituted itself as an engaged and functional entity in most particulars, so I hope this will be a Better Year than last year. Oh god it has to be.
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Life feels a bit apocalyptic at the moment, I will probably be having more of those dreams. While it's pleasantly damp and cool in Cape Town and water restrictions have been relaxed a bit, the equal and opposite reaction has been Eskom running out of power - again - and implementing load shedding - again - without warning - again. I mean, they publish it on their website, which no-one ever reads until the lights go out, or at least once the lights have come on again after going out. And they randomly switch between Level 1 and Level 2 - also without warning - which is particularly rife with complication given that the WhatsApp group for my street is prone to excitably and incoherently giving each other conflicting information about which zone we're actually in, which when read off against shifting load shedding statuses can completely obscure all logic and sense for days at a time. Honestly, my immediate environment could probably be serviceably choreographed as French farce right now. I try to plot when the lights are going to die, which they reliably don't when I expect it and do when I'm not expecting it, at which point I sigh, grab a torch and/or the gas stove for tea-making purposes, and hope to hell that the fanfic up on my Ipad at this precise moment is at least one of those 80-000 word epics which will keep me going for a bit.

Load shedding also, of course, happened on campus bang in the middle of our exam committee frantic period, giving us two and a half key hours in which administrators couldn't upload progression codes. Fortunately the essentially reactionary and analogue checking process involves giant printed board schedules and a pencil and the building has large windows, so some aspects of the whole edifice remained functional. But it's an index to the essential insanity of the season that I am, for once, grateful that my annual rant about how this whole process should be done more accurately and less exhaustingly by computers, has never borne fruit. We'd be completely screwed if it had. As it is, I am at the stage of slurring and noun loss which has forced me to reassure three separate colleagues this week that I'm not actually drunk, promise, just extremely fatigued, but the whole thing has been organised with ruthless efficiency and we are on track for final committees tomorrow.

In the middle of the post-apocalyptic whole, it's been particularly surreal to watch the abstract collapse of Tumblr, which has been my fandom and media home, if only in a strictly onlooker capacity, for six or seven years now. The venal and ham-fisted incompetents who contrive to run the site in the teeth of their own unfitness have banned NSFW images, with NSFW being defined in essential heterosexualist, gendered, puritanico-capitalist terms and implemented by an automated algorithm apparently conceived of and executed by actual chimpanzees. They want, of course, to make sure they keep on making money out of the site by selling ads and having the (awful) app in the Apple store. They have shot themselves in the foot with a small tactical nuke, taking out as collateral damage a whole thriving, interconnected and delicate ecosystem of fans, artists, small businesses and social-justice-focused communities who have made Tumblr into a vital living space despite everything the owners (Yahoo) have done to try and sabotage it. Not everyone on Tumblr is into porn or erotica or explicit fanart, but its free expression is a weirdly important thread in the whole ideological identity of the site.

I mean, capitalism is stupid and short-sighted, we know that. It goes for the easy short-term profit in defiance of long-term damage. But what the hell are these idiots even thinking, to alienate their user base like this? They are ejecting, effectively, their actual product. People are making migration plans in droves. (Many of them are coming here to Dreamwidth, which is a silver lining for me because I prefer to blog in this sort of environment and have never quite dared fling myself into the Tumblr stream, it scares me). There is no point in being "safe" for ad sales if the 10 million users have evaporated in shocked distress. Tumblr has its issues, with its community identity as much as with its owners, but its flow and focus and discourse are unique, and they broke it. I am very sad.

(My subject line is New Model Army, because the current state of my personal zeitgeist is tending a bit to the post-punk).
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Oo, er. The Strange Case of Starship Iris is an extremely good sf podcast to which I have not been listening, but the transcripts of which I have been devouring illegally at work. It's funny and acute and political, something like a more enlightened Firefly with aliens and actual diversity. Recommended. I will probably listen to the actual podcast this weekend, while madly sewing new curtains because Jyn ate mine. (She tries to climb through the light cotton privacy half-curtains I have on the front window, they're in shreds). Podcasts or radio shows while sewing are a Good Thing, TM. Last sewing binge it was Cabin Pressure. Also recommended.

I am illegally devouring podcast transcripts at work because work is very quiet: exams are over, and the last-minute rush of students frantically signing up late for summer term courses has died down. As it bloody should, summer term has been running for four days already. I am very tired, as is traditional for this time of year, and managing to do orientation prep only in a desultory, intermittent and procrastinatory sort of fashion.

Exam committee season, the annual trigger of my annual rant about the flawed and time-consuming stupidities of manual board schedule checking, hits next week. The committees have all been scheduled and members hunted down by me personally, which has seen an above-average incidence of academics reeling, writhing and fainting in coils in an effort to dodge the duty, but I have been inexorable and implacable. It is a continual amazement to me the degree of passive-aggressive chill I am capable of infusing into a two-word email salutation of "Dear colleagues" when it's the fourth re-send and they still aren't answering. It's all in the punctuation.

All I need to do now is survive checking three board schedules in a row, which is one worse than the two I did last year, and shows an inexorable creep in my workload from the one which has hitherto been standard, but at least it's contenting my obsessive-compulsive need for quality control. That's three committees I know will be done properly, two of them because I chair them, and the third because I can browbeat the chair into consistency.

And then I shall go on leave for three weeks. Heh. A student informed me yesterday that I was seen as "the mother of the faculty". Five thousand teenagers to raise is a bit much, is all I can say. I need my vacation. (My subject line is Bowie's "Starman", because descriptive, and let the children lose it, and also I rather wish an alien spaceship would arrive and take me away from all this).
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Last night I dreamed another alien apocalypse, one where undefined aliens had arrived and killed/destroyed/otherwise spirited away the vast majority of people, leaving the cities mostly deserted. Those few of us who were left were surviving by dint of keeping very quiet and pretending we didn't exist, which entailed never switching on any lights, and never going outside in the open - I was holed up in the Evil Landlord's house with a couple of other vague, undefined people, trying to plot a way to get a whole group of us out of the city and up into the mountains. I never saw an alien, they were floating around in the middle distance somewhere, being cryptic and other and possibly robotic, and occasionally making me dive under the bed to hide while they buzzed the courtyard or, for some reason, teleported a live Friesian cow into the bedroom.

On the upside, yay remembering dreams, even given my currently extremely weird sleep patterns. (Only woke up at 5.15 this morning instead of 4.30, bonus). On the probably downside, or maybe slightly side side, that's an odd and revealing constellation of images. Empty cities, vanished people - an introvert's wish fulfilment (and possibly also a pipe dream for anyone who has to navigate Cape Town's current rush hour traffic ungodliness), but also rife with the calm, inevitable isolation and disconnectedness I feel when depressed.

More than that, though, a dream about the absence of people coupled with a distant, unconquerable, arbitrary threat, is a nice distillation of current geo-political wossnames: scrabbling for kinship and support with a lone few while distant, inhuman forces exert terrible power in callous, random ways. That's late capitalism right there, that is. Undue consumption of political reality via the internet could definitely leave you feeling like there are only a handful of people like you out there, ducking away from the powers that be and powerless to stop them.

On the more personal level, it's also an image of keeping your head down, surviving rather than exerting actual agency in your life. The dream never quite allowed me to gather my band of like-minded survivors and leave, after all. I could just about prevent damage by hiding under the bed. Which also neatly encapsulates my work life. I have undertaken another round of orientation/registration out of a possibly misguided loyalty to colleagues whose life will otherwise be hideous if I left, and the work environment is a lot improved in the absence of the late unlamented Demon Boss, but it's still not a bundle of joy. But I'm quietly getting on with it, and so far have avoided further damage. As long as you don't attract the aliens' attention, apparently you're fine.
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I woke up randomly at 5.30am this morning, which is fairly standard at the moment, probably because my body actually hates me and refuses to take more than 7 hours of sleep regardless of what time I go to bed, whether or not I set an alarm or how tired I am (newsflash: very, more or less perpetually). What was cruel and unusual was lying awake for ten minutes happily plotting out my Saturday and luxuriating in the feeling of not having to fight traffic to work, which lasted only too briefly before I suddenly remembered it was actually Friday and a work day. Not cricket, brain. I do not appreciate being hoodwinked and conceptually ambushed by my own cerebellum before my first cup of tea.

I am now sitting in my office having a mental wrestle with myself about whether or not I'm going to attend a faculty curriculum symposium in twenty minutes, which will subject me to (a) crowds, (b) political rhetoric, and (c) interpersonal tension, all of which give me hives. I am very, very close to mentally categorising it as "not my problem, I'm not an academic", giving this whole profoundly flawed academic edifice the finger, and buggering off home. Which would be bad, and wicked, and awful, and lovely.

On the upside, tonight I take my sister out for a birthday dinner at the local Italian joint, which is very nice, so I suppose there's that. On the further upside, for the last few days I have been re-reading the entire Drarry fanfic archive of blamebrampton, which is unduly British and frequently hysterically funny Potterslash written by someone I darkly suspect is personally located somewhere in the bowels of the British civil service, and to which I attribute any preponderance of British idiom in the above.
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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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OK, so one of the things I actually do enjoy about this helljob is, weirdly enough, the annual early-January bit where I have to register sportspeople extra-early so that they're all legit to play in various national tournaments. In practice, because nasty socio-cultural implications, this means registering rugby players. I've done them all this year myself, because the faculty admin melt-down has precluded sufficient advance warning to arrange a formal session with multiple advisors - this has been OK, they've trickled in over several days and it's been manageable. But I have to record the following points in re registering rugby players.

  1. Shoulders. Like, solid wall of shoulders. These dudes are built.
  2. They are, as always, extra-sweet and extra-polite, I have never been called "ma'am" more often in a short space of time. I attribute this variously to team player spirit, ruthless coaching etiquette, reactionary private school training, and strict Afrikaans upbringings.
  3. Approximately two-thirds of them arrive for paper-based registration without a writing implement of any sort. Apparently ball-handling skills are incompatible with pen ownership.
  4. Why the fuck am I only registering rugby players (well, one lone badminton iconoclast), and all men? I know why the fuck, it's because gendered sports values and cultural assumptions and resource inequalities and what have you, exacerbated by the fact that the privileging of rugby as a national sport means that it's the only one that starts its tournament activities this early, but dammit. I should be registering swim team ladies with the arm muscles, and svelte gymnasts and rowers, and soccer players of all gender stripes. There's more to sportsball than rugby. I will have some equal opportunity aesthetic appreciation of athletes. Dammit. Because this job has few enough consolations, let's face it.

Next week we embark upon a full faculty admin review, which will enable me to gently craft for the review board suitably epic snarky gems of management-undermining, couched for maximum destructive effect under the guise of sweetly reasonable concern. I am bizarrely looking forward to this. The job crisis is making me vindictive in a way that's alien to my base nature but weirdly freeing.
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Oh, yay, heatwaves! 37 degrees last week. Cape Town, how do I love thee at this time of year? not at all. In addition, by way of merry summer celebration, that damned starling appears to have it in for me personally, he had another go at me last week, and again this morning. He's lying in wait, I swear. He doesn't hit hard or claw me, but it's a very definite and deliberate impact to the back of the skull. Either that or it's some sort of misshapen avian crush.

Apart from the heat I had a truly annoying weekend, because my lights went out at about 11am on Saturday and only came on again at 6, and then they died at 2am on Sunday and were out until about the same time this morning, giving me a weekend which was effectively denuded of the ability to do any of the things I'd planned - cv wrangling, job applications, baking, sewing, doing the washing. I spent large tracts of it reading Ursula Vernon furry novels and listening to the inexorable drip of the freezer contents going off. Given that my board-schedule checking hellweek starts tomorrow with the training session and stretches until Tuesday of the following week, I am homicidally grumpy this morning, and inclined to think that the Cosmic Wossnames are rubbing my nose in this job just to make quite, quite sure I'm leaving it. Which, hell, yes.

I am attempting to self-medicate with fluffy television. Given that the fluffy television du jour is Teen Wolf, which I have, as usual, discovered about three years after it stopped being fashionable, possibly the current tendency to snarl and worry things with my teeth is also being unduly exacerbated. On the upside, gratuitous quantities of shirtless hot werewolf action, which is at least aesthetically pleasing.

In the Department of Random Linkery, this is one of Ursula le Guin's characteristically dense, accessible, meditative essays, about stories as carrier bags rather than heroic bludgeoning implements. It is a lovely thing, go and read it. I have stolen my subject line from it.
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Things that make me homicidal: having a student arriving in my ofice to add a summer term course to her record. Telling her she is too late to do so, the deadline was Friday and she's effectively missed a quarter of the course. Having her become visibly grumpy and petulant when her sob story about being too busy doing other things to add it earlier does not magically dissolve the rule and allow her to add the course. Having her leave my office in a huff.

Two minutes later, receiving a phone call from one of my advising team, because the student has gone straight upstairs to the other advisor's office and given her the whole spiel, as though I have not just categorically told her that what she wants is against the rules and not permitted. She didn't like the answer I gave her, so she went to find another advisor who would give her a better one. It's exactly like kids playing one parent off against the other. Parents among you, does that also make you homicidal? I'm surprised by the strength of my reaction. I really, really don't like being manipulated. Nor does my Lawful Good appreciate the blatant disrespect to rules and processes which that particular manipulation represents.

In more amusing news, my previous post managed to completely horrify my mother, who misread the unprovoked starling attack as an unprovoked attack by a student, and was all up in arms and protective about it. I promise that I have not been whapped upside the head by any students lately, or in fact ever, and would definitely be less blasé about it if I had. But it's an index to the Troubled Times On Campus that it was not entirely outside the bounds of possibility that some such manifestation might occur. Fortunately exams are over and the gazelles have mostly fled campus in their usual quivering herds, so I think the odds of bodily violence are greatly reduced.

My subject line is the Fratellis, who are my current go-to energetic rock band for things like cooking and driving, although they tend to make me drive slightly ferally. The song is "She's not gone yet but she's leaving", which I am taking as my work anthem.
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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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Well, that was odd. I've just had the Protester Ringleader in my office again, to make the course drop we discussed a few weeks back. It was a weirdly cordial interchange, where he apologised for disrupting my lecture and assured me it was just politics, nothing personal. And that he does not in any way endorse the bus-burning and throwing-things-at-Vice-Chancellors activities of the 2016 protesters, and doesn't agree with the violence, and won't resort to it himself. And was strangely accepting of my argument that, well, I didn't know that when he was threatening my students with a fire extinguisher, did I, and yes, he understands why contextually that would be problematical and result in tension and migraines on my part.

We even laughed about it, and agreed that fuck Jacob Zuma anyway, it's all his fault. And had a fairly open and respectful discussion on Ringleader's actual grievances, which are apparently about his reading of the enforcement of faculty rules (in this case, DP for a particular course) as being unfair to poor/black students. And we agreed to disagree on the rules interpretation issue, because from where I sit we do our damndest to enforce rules even-handedly, even if it doesn't feel like it to him.

Weirdly cordial. And my neck is all in knots and I can feel the headache building, and I'm shaking very slightly. This campus is inducing PTSD.

On the upside, Jo (ty) has finally succeeded in ejecting her overdue offspring, who is a beautiful girl-child rejoicing in the name of Theodora. Huzzah for additions to the small thundering herds in my immediate social vicinity, at least in the abstract. I love the name. It's always been one of my favourites, it's both unusual and strangely dignified. Mad congrats to all three.

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 found this on Tumblr, the photographer is Jess Findlay, and he does the most exquisite birds. This seems to be a Crested Owl, which is a South American species I'm not familiar with. They are clearly the Tolkien Elves of the owl world.

I soothe myself with surreally beautiful wols because work is hanging around my neck like a millstone, and I just endured a committee meeting in which the main item was presented by an academic who was so defensive as to be actively aggressive, and clearly expected me in particular to torpedo his proposal. He kept eye contact with me rather than the chair through about two-thirds of his presentation, and leaped on any input I contributed with instant, energetic rebuttals which largely ignored what I'd actually said. I'm feeling a bit battered.

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