duck and cover

Friday, 11 January 2019 10:44 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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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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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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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
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Things that students have said in emails to me today:

"Dear. Please could you..." (I assume they meant to type my name after "Dear" and forgot, but it's rather sweet like this.)

"Goof morning!" (Followed by somewhat of a silly question, so possibly this was actually the correct designation for the day).

Things that my students have said to me in person today:

"I'll tell my personal assistant to set up a reminder to follow up on Wednesday." (he did, in fact, have a personal assistant. In tow. Kids these days...)

This week I have been croaked at by three different laryngitis sufferers and snuffled at by at least one phlegmy parent, so I am expecting lurgis incoming on my hapless form in the near future. I have scored one bar of chocolate, one bag of jellybeans, and tearful gratitude from three different students, which set against only one twenty-minute dissociated rant and blame session from an angry parent, actually puts me ahead. The jellybeans gave me a weird moment of dislocated nostalgia in that they tasted exactly like the little pink chalky cylindrical sweets we used to get as kids, which five minutes of illicit googling suggest were actually Romantics cachous, although I remember them as having an elephant on the wrapper - that might have been a mutant Zimbabwean version. They tasted dusty and pink, I have a very vivid memory of the flavour.

I am beyond dead, but it's Friday. I have not to date eviscerated any students or myself. It could be worse.

baby got back

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

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

I feel that the jelly-like identity crisis will be materially assisted by the fact that I am buggering off into the winelands with the Dread jo&stv this weekend for purposes of staying in an Airbnb for two nights, the better to concentratedly wineroute and dine out at Franschoek's many fine dining establishments, which we tend not to have experienced in our culinary meanderings because no-one wants to drive back to Cape Town drunk and overfed. This will be extremely restoring to the soul, and I can only hope that Jyn will not unleash her usual high-velocity sprint for the traffic flow when the cat-sitter opens the front door on Saturday. I'm getting really good at grabbing her one-handed as she goes past, but I've had a lot of practice.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's remotely possible that being a total and irredeemable geek is my Seekrit Weapon, curriculum-advice-wise. If nothing else it gives me innocent joy to assist a student with a tangled curriculum and then spend 20 minutes, as I did a month or two back, dissecting Fallout 4 and our respective experiences over multiple play-throughs. (You were quite correct, Fallout-playing-student. Survival mode, while extremely tricky at lower levels and ultimately requiring minor modding to saves to make it non-frustrating enough for sustained play, is a deeply satisfying thing, I'm so happy you persuaded me to try it. I hope you have a tiny, untraumatic curriculum problem soon so I can tell you all about it).

Today's one was a rather beautiful inner arm tattoo which made me go "oooh, is that Tengwar?!" in girlish excitement. The student got this sort of soul's-awakening look - momentary shuttered expression, you could see him gathering himself to explain the context to a tragically unhip middle-aged administrator, followed by dawning realisation as my actual comment penetrated and he identified against all likelihood a fellow geek who didn't just recognise Tolkien, but the actual script. I wish I could have taken the hat-trick by translating, but alas, my Tengwar is beyond rusty. ("The crownless again shall be king", apparently. Somewhat classic.) At least I could respond, when he said in some relief, "Oh, you're a Tolkien fan!" by pointing wordlessly to Lúthien Tinúviel dancing on my wall.

It's a tiny subset of geeky students to whom I can appeal, but it does help to feel that moment of actual connection. Some things do cross the generation gap.

I fear that geeky consolations are necessary at the moment, as the university landscape is a bit doom-laden. It's all quiet; once again, too quiet. Lectures are suspended for the term, but students are able to access the library and labs, and the buses are running, so technically they are all finishing the semester's work and preparing for exams, which start next week. But it's entirely likely that the protesters are imitating the action of the rake in the grass and will erupt into life as soon as we incautiously step on their tines by trying to actually congregate students for examination purposes. At which point it'll all go to hell in a handbasket. However, I should note for posterity that "tines" is a lovely word. So specific. Precision in language is a very particular pleasure.

Quick Hobbit update: he's still OKish. He didn't respond at all well to the scheduled reduction of his cortizone dose after a week, his condition took a sharp dive, so we had to up it again. This means that the time left on his personal feline clock is probably measured in weeks rather than months; the cancer must be far enough advanced to resist the low doses already. Increasing the dose is giving him a bit of an appetite, at least, although in true feline and hobbitish fashion he is milking this for all it's worth by turning his nose up at expensive kidney-improving kibble. He only becomes truly enthusiastic about food if I hand-feed him bits of cooked chicken from my plate, at which point he snatches them somewhat impolitely and bolts them. I don't feed my cats people-food under any circumstances, usually, but right now I will feed him the blood of the living if that's what it takes. Let's hope it doesn't get that far. (Also, he infallibly bites me when I pill him, so he's getting a reasonable daily dose of blood anyway).

(My subject line quotes "Beren and Luthien", because that level of poignant loss seems vaguely appropriate on a number of levels).

children of the corn

Saturday, 22 October 2016 03:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not at all wish to think about the campus situation, given that library and lab access was, in fact, disrupted by protests all week, and that clashes with police and security have become violent. My inbox is filled with panicked and plaintive queries, I am exhausted and despairing, and I am forced to contemplate the need to produce four weeks of teaching in virtual form by the end of this weekend. I am therefore going to distract myself with cooking, mostly because I have recently discovered American-style cornbread, and both Jo and Claire are badgering me for the recipe.

I have wanted to make American-style cornbread for years, because it sounds cool, but we don't actually produce cornmeal of the requisite grade in this country, so I've never pulled it together before. However, a couple of months back one of the Tumblr bloggers I read posted a recipe for skillet cornbread with caramelised onions, which looked so good I was moved to do five minutes of internet research, which revealed that you can substitute the cornmeal in cornbread with polenta, which is, in fact, apparently identical to coarse-ground cornmeal. As I retain my pathological inability to follow a recipe with any degree of fidelity, I am posting below my version, rather than simply linking to his, although you can have the original link as well, here. My version doesn't caramelise the onions with actual caramel, but compensates by upping the butterfat quotient of the cornbread itself to more civilised levels, i.e. decadent ones. I will have no truck with skimmed milk. It also reduces the amount of maple syrup, because I think this is better if it's not too sweet. It doesn't seem to make much difference if you use real maple syrup or maple-flavoured golden syrup, you just need that touch of sweetness and flavour.

SKILLET CORNBREAD WITH CARAMELISED ONIONS

Onion Topping:
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1 medium-sized red onion, diced (or sweet white onion if you can find them)

Cornbread:
1 egg
250ml full cream Greek yoghurt (you could use low fat if you prefer, but why?)
125ml buttermilk (or normal milk if you must be health-conscious)
3 Tbsp melted butter
3 tblsp maple syrup
250ml polenta
60ml flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 a tin of whole kernel sweetcorn (this is optional, but works very well).

I make this in a weird but magical handle-less stainless steel pan thingy I inherited from Jo(ty) when she and Phleep fled the country - it has a nice heavy base, which I think is the important bit, and you can bung it in the oven owing to the lack of handle. I've also made this in a Dutch oven, i.e. my heavy cast-iron Le Creuset knockoff. You don't need anything with a lid.

  • Preheat oven to 425oF
  • Caramelise the onions: on medium to low heat, melt the 3 tblsp butter and add the chopped onions. Allow to sweat gently and soften for about 20 mins, stirring occasionally, until they start caramelising properly. Cheat and add 1 tsp brown sugar and a little water. Cook another 5 mins or so.
  • Mix dry ingredients (polenta, flour, backing powder, baking soda, salt) in a mixing bowl. Mix yoghurt, milk, melted butter and syrup with the egg in a measuring jug. Fling wet and sinfully fatty ingredients into dry ingredients and mix.
  • Mix in the sweetcorn. You can also fling in things like bits of chilli, chopped peppadews, crispy bacon bits, grated cheese or chopped spring onion, although I wouldn't put them all in at once. I like the spring onion/peppadew version, although the whole corn one is my favourite.
  • Tilt the onion pan to run the butter up the sides, for greasing purposes, and spread the onions vaguely evenly over the bottom.
  • Pour the batter over the onions and bung into the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch and starting to brown. Let it cool for five minutes or so before loosening the sides and inverting onto a plate. You'll end up with a flat round loaf with caramelised onion topping, like a savoury upside down cake.
  • This is damned good with chili, or soup, or in chunks all on its own, and would make a superb and wildly cross-cultural accompaniment to braai. It's also, I warn you, absurdly moreish, I can flatten a whole loaf unaided in 24 hours. If eating it over a couple of days, it works to microwave slices for 20 seconds or so on Day 2, it freshens them and it's better warm.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My car's music system is wandering through the alphabetical mid-section of my Bowie albums at present, currently in the middle of Let's Dance, which gave me, in rapid succession this morning, "Criminal Minds" followed by "Cat People", which has the line about putting out fires with gasoline. This was somewhat apposite as campus re-opened this morning, with the expected protest action following as the night does the day. This gave me a morning shaped thusly:
  • General headless chickening about whether or not we should try to be on campus, with contingency meetings in coffee shops first. Rumours of protesters massing on lower campus, but we resolved to give it a try anyway.
  • Arriving at a quiet middle campus venue for an online reg training session to find that technological mishap is no respecter of protests, and no-one could log into any of the computers. The organisers took an hour to ascertain that, yes, no-one could log onto any of the computers, during which time no training transpired. Then the protesters arrived.
  • Protesters set off fire alarms, bounced around the building singing, shouting and beating drums. About a million policemen arrived. We were told to leave our training venue by a protester, who was fairly polite but who also took away with him, presumably for communist redistribution, the bowl of peppermints set out on the coffee table for the trainees.
  • The building locked down. Fire alarms blaring, all doors locked. One entrance only opened, up three flights of stairs from our basement venue, and at the other side of a mass of police and protesters and news cameras. The protesters flung a bucket of human excrement across the threshold of the only open door and then departed for points upper, hell-bent, presumably, on further disruption.
  • We huddled in the basement until the crowds had dispersed, and then left, gingerly. The direction of the protests meant that my boss texted me almost immediately to say not to bother coming up to the office, since the protests were clearly headed that way, Today We Will Work From Home.
  • I could have done with that decision at 8am rather than 10am, as I find the panic attack/hyperventilation at being trapped behind locked doors to be inconvenient and annoying and would prefer to have avoided it entirely. Also the poo flinging. It came nowhere near me, but I still feel unclean. Presumably that was the point.

The Powers That Be have decreed that we will finish the semester remotely, i.e. no face-to-face lectures or tutorials. Exams will take place in November. We will finish the semester by hook or by crook, mostly crook in the sense that we will examine on eight weeks of work rather than twelve. Apparently academic standards and the integrity of our qualifications are only immutable until they aren't. It's also debatable whether or not the protests will allow us to keep the necessary library and computer labs and buses running for students without home internet access.

I am sick at heart. On the upside, Hobbit is responding well to the cortizone and, while still slightly subdued, is contriving to fight being pilled, leaving me with scratches all over my hands and, after one more than usually athletic wriggle, my left nipple. He is eating like a small ginger horse and has resumed his playful finger-nipping and butt-clawing habits. Pandora is in a massive hissy fit, I think she imagined she was an Only Cat Now after five days without him, and is resenting his return. They sit on either side of me on my bed at night with Pandy's tail lashing like a particularly miffed leopard's. On the whole, I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus continues closed, which does mean the personal introvert box labelled "is stressed by traffic and crowds" is not, in fact, being ticked on a daily basis. Being quietly at home is a good thing, and conducive to being able to craft gently reassuring emails to stressed students. If only everything else in the world weren't exploding. I woke up yesterday at 8.15 with the sudden, horrible realisation that I'd booked my car in for a service that morning and promptly forgotten about it in all the cat and campus crises, and had to rocket out of bed and through the tail end of rush hour traffic to squeak it in a whisker before the 9am cut-off. On the upside, I am rather enjoying the chats with the Uber drivers. Is it just me, or are two-thirds of Uber drivers actually Zimbabwean? We play odious comparisons between Trump and Mugabe and shake our heads sagely about the SA parallels to the Zimbabwe university melt-downs, it's very satisfying.

Not everything is, in fact, exploding. A quick Hobbit update, with grateful thanks to everyone for the good wishes and moral support. I have been talked down by various vets from my somewhat knee-jerk reaction against chemotherapy. The vets, and a fair amount of googling, reveal that cancer treatments in cats and dogs are very much less aggressive than they are in humans, with quality of life being carefully balanced against an actual cure. I've been offered two levels of treatment for Hobbit, either a cortisone pill one, or a more complex/powerful one. The cortisone one is palliative and would give him at least another six months before the cancer developed a resistance to it, the second one has a chance at an actual cure, but has an increased risk of side effects and renal failure. Given that it's kidney cancer, I'm worried about the renal failure risk. He has, however, been in at the vet's on a drip since the weekend, and is apparently responding well and eating OK, so it seems fair to give him a chance with the treatment. I'll bring him home this morning, with one or other of the treatments started, I still haven't decided which. Any input valued! I am still going to lose him, probably by euthanasing him as soon as he starts being uncomfortable and unhappy, but we have more time. I'll take it.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Days", off Reality, which seems to be a theme at the moment. Other lyrics from that particular song: "going mad, don't know what to do"; "my crazy brain in tangles". Word.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We have Schrödinger's Protests, apparently. They only exist if they're observed, or possibly if they observe you, i.e. if you happen to be in the building at the time that the protesters happen to be congregating. Up until then, we are not in a state of protest: campus is quiet, and somewhat short of students as many of them are confused, terrified or grabbing the opportunity to bunk and haven't come to campus at all. If protest happens, dozens of students singing harmonious protest songs erupt into the building and set off the fire alarm, at which point either lock your door and pretend you don't exist, or if you choose to submit to observation, are gently but firmly escorted out of the building, briefly, to stand around for a few minutes until the focus point shifts again and you can drift back indoors and resume the placid course of non-protesting life. It's a bizarrely intermittent existence, and is playing merry hell with teaching, which is exhibiting equal parts distraction, confusion and uglification. (Tracy: hugs).

The whole has not been materially assisted by my techno-jinx, which is attacking my car. Two weeks of intermittently closed campus has led to a number of days at home, going nowhere and feverishly refreshing email, the website and my fast-compounding WhatsApp network. As a result I haven't driven the Beastie much, and her battery isn't charging. I was very tense about Monday, and braced for protest horror horrors (which fortunately didn't actually materialise), and climbing into the car to have it make a series of unpleasant coughing noises in lieu of starting, really didn't help. Except when it did, as waiting for the jump-start people ended up delaying my arrival on campus by a couple of hours, thus neatly avoiding the road closures, which all packed up and went their merry way at about 10am. I have had a rinse and repeat this morning, and have just returned from an expensive little trip to the Hyundai service people, who replaced the battery and, it being six months out of warranty, charged me merrily for it. Now at least I can reliably arrive at campus on time tomorrow to be turned back by the barricades. Yay.

By way of distracting myself from the political insanity of my current context, a word on the political insanity of America. Not even Trump, although I have to record for posterity my glee at Trump being pwned by Clinton in the debate. (See also: Shimmy Song). Do you know that the US gun laws, in their NRA-funded money-grubbing madness, prohibit the use of any computer database to track gun ownership? So everything is on hard copy or microfilm, and has to be searched manually. There's an amazing GQ article which chronicles the bloody-minded determination of the gun ownership records office to be halfway functional in the teeth of one of the world's most warpedly biased constraints. It warms the more administrative cockles of my heart. The rest of it (the non-administrative cockles) are being chilled by the sheer number of unrestrained firearms in America.

(My subject line is Bowie's "She'll Drive the Big Car", which is one of his more melancholy and contemplative numbers off Reality, and something of a favourite of mine.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I was right about the "too quiet" thing, an attempt to be on campus on Wednesday inevitably ended up with protesters setting off fire alarms, and we all scurried home quickly before they could attempt to pointedly escort us out of the buildings, which has been the technique thus far. The Dean finally decreed that everyone should remain off campus for the rest of the week. We are at a deeply unpleasant pivot point where the university leadership is insisting that lectures must start on Monday come what may, which means increased security, which means confrontation and escalation and violence, and more damage and trauma all round.

The whole thing still hinges on the demand for amnesty by protesters who were interdicted or expelled or prosecuted for criminal damage. The students remain immovable about this as a condition of allowing the university to continue; the VC insists that there can be no compromise. (Apparently he's under pressure from a particularly punitive faction in Council). I have changed my mind about this, in contemplation of the inevitabilities playing out, and in wincing, braced anticipation of things going horribly downhill on Monday. At this stage, amnesty is going to be the least damaging of a range of dreadful options. The best suggestion I've heard thus far, after a surprisingly civilised and productive faculty meeting this morning, is that the university issues amnesties while requiring an address to criminal activities, and some resolution in terms of justice/reparation, as part of an independently-run TRC.

And if nothing else, it might work to repair trust to some small extent: we cannot function with a student body with a large number of perfectly legitimate grievances feeling utterly unheard by an implacable admin. It's horrible to realise how much damage has already been done - not just to our credibility and donor funding and academic project, but to the institutional psyche. Students are angry and afraid and anxious about all the confrontation on top of the already high levels of inherent angst in being a black student on a campus whose culture is opaque and elitist and alienating. Staff are devastated and betrayed by the assaults on their competence which student dissatisfactions inevitably represent, and are increasingly angry about all these demands that we "consult" with our students while management goes ahead and makes unilateral decisions regardless of the outcome of consultations.

I am not designed for this. I have a pathological need to see all sides of an argument, and far too much empathy with all of them. I am tending to keep fairly quiet in the faculty context in a desperate attempt at self-defense, while I silently build walls to stop myself from disintegrating. Because that's what it feels like. A lot of my Useful Stuff Learned In Therapy suggests that giving people what they want is one of the ways I validate my own existence. No-one can get what they want in all this. I can't help, despite the fact that my job requires I integrally help both students and the faculty. I therefore may not actually exist.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus has been formally closed until Sunday, while students march on campus and academics march on Parliament and students and academics disagree, generally politely, on why they should be marching and what's actually a realistic demand. It's like a slow-moving, disruptive and unusually verbose dramatisation of the generation gap, with occasional police presence. I am imitating the action of the Harry Potter, which is to stay in my room keeping very quiet and pretending I don't exist.

Recent interesting discoveries: student mass action is both a fatigue trigger and a source of more subliminal stress than I was aware of. Last night I actually had a sleep-walking dream, for the first time in years. A very tall man in flowing, fragmented, cream-coloured robes, like a cross between a Grecian statue and Rey from Star Wars, came through the wall above my bed, and I woke up with my heart pounding, trying to hold him back by main force. I don't think he was actively trying to hurt me, but he was very definitely present and invasive and insisting on being heard. I resent that in my bedroom at three in the morning. I'm picky about who occupies that space. Sometimes the cats don't even qualify.

I am, however, particularly delighted to note the pleasantly insane existence of what3words, which purports to identify a 3m square anywhere on the planet in three easy to remember words, and stuff all these postcodes or GPS, anyway. As far as I can work out, at least a portion of my house sits firmly in my subject line. I am somewhat delighted.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Lectures are suspended today, and the faculty sent all the staff home on the grounds that they'd rather not have us tangle with protests, which I welcome, even if it does mean I suffer momentary setbacks like a sudden Hobbit to the touchscreen at a psychological moment, causing me to, e.g., randomly leave a Whatsapp group I'd just carefully created. (In other news: Whatsapp! I resisted it with all four feet for years on end, but it's seriously great for keeping contact with people during, I dunno, massive campus meltdowns or whatever. I am industriously proliferating groups.)

If nothing else, being formally at home to work means I don't have to attempt the classic student protest manoeuvre, namely swearing my way through rush hour traffic for twenty minutes only to fetch up against a barricade and have to turn around and swear my way all the way back home. Not good for the fatigue. In addition to rush hour traffic as a fatigue trigger, recent discoveries of other, more exciting triggers include continuous fire alarms, crowds singing in the foyer, and faculty board meetings during which the assembled academics of the faculty bombard the VC with complaints, questions and thinly-veiled ideological harangues, mostly conflicting, for two hours. I staggered home yesterday in a state perilously close to collapse.

Of course, the inscrutable workings of Sod's Law dictate that this week is my most congested teaching-wise for the semester, with a batch of lectures as well as my usual seminar. I am scrambling to find ways to catch up, with the uneasy awareness that I have it desperately easy given how little I teach in comparison to most academics.

Among the considerable advantages of working at home: decorative kitties.



I have a dark suspicion that Pandora may actually be giving me the finger as a side effect of that adorable flumphed paw-to-nose pose. Also, winter didn't quite generate the puddle of cat I'd hoped for, but the two of them are getting on surprisingly well. Mostly. Half a second after this photo Dorable rolled over and almost touched him, and a startled Hobbit leaped about two foot backwards and into the water bowl.

(Subject line gloss: Bowie, natch. "Beauty and the Beast". Although possibly something from "Diamond Dogs" might have been more appropriate to the faint air of apocalypse.)

I aten't dead

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 11:38 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Apparently I haven't been blogging because my life is not very exciting, but blogging is generally good for me and stops my mother from worrying, so I should try and get back into it. (Hi, mum!) Right now I also have something of a reason to blog, as there are student protesters parading down the avenue outside my office, singing and toyi-toying. Protesters have spent the last few teaching days disrupting lectures in small groups, coming into buildings, singing, shouting and setting off fire alarms. I am locked into my office, more because I don't feel like altercations than because I feel in any way seriously threatened, there has been no violence or damage. The fire siren has been going for about ten minutes and is beginning to sound forlorn and warbling, as though it has a sore throat. Lectures were suspended yesterday, and the website reports that they have been cancelled today and tomorrow as well, so it's all beginning to feel a bit post-apocalyptic.

This is all a carry-over from last year's protests, and is a tiny fragment of last year's numbers: a few die-hard students from our campus plus workers, students from other campuses and other random bods. They seem to be generally expressing disgruntlement at various things (insufficient fee cuts, criminal proceedings against a handful of bus-burning protesters from last year, etc) in a way that's neither articulate nor particularly goal-directed. It's rather disappointing: last year's protests were massive, instrumental and beautifully focused, these ones feel far less adult. The protesters are asking for impossible things, refusing to consider realities or to negotiate; these protests feel a lot more like childlike tantrums, toddlers making a scene because they aren't being given what they want.

Students are such interesting people: on the cusp of adulthood, still with one foot in the adolescent camp and one in grown-up function. I was so proud of ours last year, their political maturity and sense of justice, and the huge instrumentality and restraint of the protests. This is a regression. While it's far less widespread than last year and has lost the broader support of the student body, it's still enormously disruptive, and I hope the protesters find that maturity again. Also, my teaching schedule is completely stuffed, and I have a tiny portion of a usual teaching load, the overall chaos must be hideous. Disappointing.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Good lord, I am overcome with nostalgia. The student who just wandered into my office for a change of curriculum signature was in full-on Goth performance dress: dead white face, black hair, black lipstick, heavy eye-liner, docs, tights, the whole nine yards, circa approximately mid-80s. I haven't seen that in years. Judging by the name, voice register and painful politeness, somewhere under all that was a rather sweet and well-brung-up Indian lad. For all its self-conscious angst and gloom, Goth as a counter-culture is so inward-turned as to be basically harmless. Rather endearingly so. I am now all flashing back to my own undergrad Goth days and pining for Egyptian eye make-up and the Sisters of Mercy. If stv ever makes good on his threat regarding a non-cheesy 80s dance party, I will have to acquire some eye-liner and roll back the "DECADES WITHOUT MAKE-UP" sign to 0.

'Tis graduation, and the Avenue has blossomed with kids in gowns and proud parents, all more or less dressed to the nines. I have to avoid it: it makes me cry, mostly because sublimated maternal wossnames, and also investment: I see so many of these kids in distress in my office, it's warmly poignant to see them finally pull it together. Today they are proudly graduating in the pouring rain, because Cape Town and winter. I am enjoying this, too. Likewise the way that the angst and imperative of the semester has choked off suddenly, and I'm sitting in my office twiddling my thumbs with not much to do. I am very tired, see semester, angst and imperative of, above. I am also on leave from Friday next week, for almost two weeks. I am going to enjoy this very much indeed. If you're in Cape Town, let's do coffee. General exhaustion levels have meant that I haven't seen anyone much for ages, and this shall not stand.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Class of 16 third-year students, and only two have seen the new Star Wars. The fuck? what's with the youth of today? the movie was huge and mainstream and seen by bazillions of people, but apparently senior Humanities students are not among them. I despair. Genre-shamed by my own students. Particularly because I'm trying to teach fanfic, and it transpires that I no longer have mainstream popular texts in common with my class. They grudgingly admit enough of a passing familiarity with Avengers or Sherlock that my burbling wasn't entirely opaque. I suppose it's not technically genre-shaming because they all watch Game of Thrones, but I refuse, basically on aesthetic grounds. I am unable to admire nasty people.

I am Disgruntled. Fortunately this amazing Tumblr conversation has just made me giggle outrageously for ten minutes, because Science! in the service of Dodginess is a lovesome thing, god wot. "I have no deeper explanation for why human females can dissolve rocks with our genitals. It simply is."

I am also in a horrible fatigue slump, and am perpetually exhausted, which is achieving new heights of horrible because I'm also insomniac like whoa and dammit, which means I stagger into bed, largely incapacitated with tired, at about 9pm and then stare at the ceiling for two hours. And when I sleep, apparently I hallucinate very small stained-glass knights with lances coming through the walls. Vividly. Contemplating firing my subconscious. Apart from anything else, it's giving rise, at extremely infrequent intervals, to particularly disjointed flow-of-consciousness blog posts.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Blackstar", from his last album, which is amazing and rapidly becoming one of my favourites. It is relevant only in the most lateral and tenuous of sleep-deprived fashions).

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