freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I follow on Tumblr a blogger called elodieunderglass, who is wry and funny and has a thing about swans. Today they posted possibly my favourite thing in the history of ever, which is an outsider perspective on cricket which made me snort the traditional Early Grey up the traditional nasal appendage.

The post also, in a demented and lateral sort of fashion, exactly encapsulates not only the stunned bewilderment inevitably arising from the game's deranged terminology, but the tone and feel of Sunday cricket over the radio, which I remember vividly from my dad listening to it over afternoon tea. A mild, drowsy, comfortably arcane sort of space which swings gently between restrained approbation and slightly pained remonstrance, offset by long bouts of immersed and contemplative calm. It conjures a strangely embodied sort of afternoon sunlight punctuated by the distant, characteristic "pock" of bat on ball, and the distinct and otherworldly sensation of British tea-drinking.

I understand just enough about cricket to be obscurely comforted rather than maddened beyond belief by its arcane intricacies, and I find the whole unlikely edifice, particularly in its radio commentary incarnation, nostalgic and soothing in the extreme.


Saturday, 6 October 2018 07:43 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Weird sleep and dream patterns in the last few days, I had some sort of bug on Wednesday and was a bit flattened with nausea and stomach cramps, and it seems to have messed with my sleep cycles. I ended up lying awake the other night randomly remembering a piquant detail from my past, that being the time I met Terry Pratchett - it must have been in the early 90s, he came on a book tour to Cape Town, and did a talk at the university. ("The problem with South Africa is that it's like trying to open a box with a crowbar which is inside the box.") The local guys who were on the old newsgroup were also keen to meet with him in a smaller group setting, and got hold of me because I was chair of the Tolkien Society at the time and they (quite correctly) thought I might also like to meet Pterry. Retrospect suggests that I didn't actually fully understand what they were asking, because I ended up hijacking their intimate get-together dinner and turning it into a Tolkien society cheese-and-wine event for about forty people. I suspect they've never actually forgiven me. Seems fair. I'm sorry I was so oblivious.

At any rate, it was a lovely evening, quickly degenerating into most of us clustered around listening to Pterry talk, which was hilarious. (He did the "who likes ginger, garlic, cats" poll - apparently his fans overwhelmingly like all three). I remember the event vividly because at one point he did a shambling orangutan impersonation and picked fleas off me. But most of all I remember it because someone asked him for more details about what Magrat was like, and he looked around the room, pointed at me, and said "Like your friend there, but without the self-assurance".

The physical equivalences were probably valid - I was a particularly skinny thing back then, if not quite the traditional ironing board, was wearing a full-length black chintz dress, and had very long hair which, as now, I never blowdried, so it tended to frizz madly in all directions. Occult jewellery may also have been implicated. What weirds me out now, looking back on it, though, is the crack about self-assurance.

See, I'm not self-confident. I am awkward and reticent and self-conscious in large gatherings or meeting new people. My disaster of an academic career is testament to my wholesale ability to take on board negative opinions about me from anyone in my general vicinity, and I've never had an active enough belief in my academic abilities to hold to them in the teeth of criticism. I build up confidence very slowly, and tend to acquire it from the structures I represent; I conducted a two-hour meeting today with senior academics, and had absolutely no problem doing so with authority and dispatch, but that's taken me a decade to learn. I'm absolutely calm and self-assured in front of a lecture hall full of students, even when they heckle, because I can immerse myself in the teacher, and that, again, I've learned over time. One of the reasons I'm finding it so hard to leave this job, I think, is because I am exhausted at the mere though of having to build up that confidence again in a different context and role. And while academia and this job may have beaten the confidence out of me since those days, I think it's more likely that Pterry only saw me as confident because I was being Tolkien Society Chair at the time, and the role gave me the authority I might otherwise lack.

I never really did identify with Magrat, possibly because her slightly limp ineffectuality is everything I am afraid I actually am, but maybe Pterry's use of me as a model was one of his classically uncanny and withering insights. Or maybe my commitment to the role is simply that good and he genuinely thought I was self-assured. I dunno. Either way, for the record, these days I'm really much more of a Granny Weatherwax.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am in the orientation/registration run-up phase, which is horrible and exhausting, already requiring 12-hour workdays, and uncomfortably like being nibbled to death by very small annoying things, possibly miniature vampire ducks (petty and draining and stupid). The preparation part is not materially assisted by the fact that we've been running an online registration pilot throughout, so what with rugby players and online forms I have been registering students intermittently from the 7th January, and will be doing so until the 10th March. No wonder I'm a bit frayed.

The registration process, the orientation prep and the various other admin tasks have been exhibiting an unusually high level of people doing exactly what my strategic, careful, detailed, widely disseminated notices and announcements have told them not to do, often half an hour earlier. Submitting forms without class numbers. Trying to register when they have deferred exam results outstanding. Arriving in my office for curriculum advice for which I am explicitly unavailable at this time of year. Trying to schedule classes which haven't been approved by the relevant committee. (This was a gosh-darned professor and head of department who clearly did not read the detailed email to which she was replying). Trying to schedule my exam checking meeting on top of the orientation talk-giving commitments during which I'd blocked out my time as unavailable. It feels like trying to herd mutant toddlers in earplugs.

On the upside, Robynn randomly sent me a knitted teacup-warmer in the shape of an owl (or, more specifically, in the shape of an owl cosplaying as my journal icon, although without the umbrella, unless the "#STRESSMUSTFALL" tag counts, which it definitely does, thank you Robynn!), and this morning the mountain was wearing two hats under a moon, because it could.



I will try very hard not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by reading failure, and will take what consolations I can get.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Last night I dreamed I looked out the glass door into the back courtyard, and there was a man (twentysomething, coloured, nearly shaved head) lying motionless on the astroturf in approximately the recovery position. And I was wondering if he was dead, or injured, but he apparently felt me watching and moved, so he was just sleeping. In the dream I was vaguely assuming he'd had a drunken rather than a criminal night, but was nonetheless a bit alarmed about finding him in my garden, and asked him to leave on the grounds of being somewhat scary, and he laughed at me a bit and obligingly did so. Possibly by evaporating, I didn't see him climbing any walls. It was all very odd, but as anxiety-related people-are-getting-into-the-house dreams go, relatively unthreatening. I think all the horrible insults to black bodies coming out of the current American fuckwittery are getting to me, there's a sort of subliminal protectiveness that kicks in.

I take back everything I said about Trump being lost and overwhelmed, incidentally. Trump is having the time of his life implementing fascist autocracy and wholesalely castrating any governmental bodies that could potentially restrain him. Even if his inner circle of batshit insane fascist jerks is leading him around by the piglike snout, the current fuckwittery has his big greasy pawprints all over it. Pundits are reading this as a trial run at an actual coup. We are all so fucked.

On the "fiddling while Rome burns" principle, possibly, jo&stv had a dance party on Saturday. This is a thing they do every couple of months, known as the Minimum Viable Party; they choose a day, send out invites, and if a minimum threshold of people is reached, they clear out the living room and hold it. Dancing starts at 8pm and finishes at 10pm sharp, because we're all old. (Even with the strict 2-hour limit I'm unfit enough that I'm usually achy for days afterwards). There's a theme to the playlist, which stv djs with great deliberation and not a little fiendishness. Saturday's was 80s cheese, unabashedly. He borrowed a chunk of my music collection to assemble it. I have a lot of cheesy compilations.

There's something about 80s pop music that's essentially, I think, innocent, possibly because people of my vintage were young when it hardwired our brains. It's also an iconic enough musical identity that it has familiarity value even to younger people, the ones who weren't in their teens or twenties when the cheese was prevalent, and familiarity with the music is a basic tenet of good dance parties. It was the largest MVP turnout we've ever seen, probably 30 people or so, and it had a lovely, joyous, uninhibited vibe which said we were all regressing like mad and completely unashamed about it. I spent a lot of it bouncing around the dance floor in a fit of giggles, because, honestly, Tiffany, "I think we're alone now". Or "Walk like an Egyptian". And my late 80s experience swung heavily Goth, but stv threw sops to the Gothy remnant of us with "Tainted Love" and "Love will tear us apart", and besides, I was also into Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. And it closed with "Wake me up before you go-go", because it had to, and alas George Michael. It was a lovely evening, I had a blast. In the current state of geo-political ramification one has to take one's pleasures where one can.
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).

trigger warning

Wednesday, 21 October 2015 11:57 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's possibly a little too apposite that my car music should have just cycled into Diamond Dogs, as I've been at home for three days owning to a closed campus - the students are protesting. They barricaded the campus on Monday, and did again with added flame on Tuesday, after by all accounts an uncomfortable night at the admin building in which attempted discussions with university management eventually broke down just before midnight with a bunch of arrests. I managed to leave the house before yesterday morning's emails warning us that campus was closed for a second day, so trundled up to a bizarre, deserted, post-apocalyptic landscape in which the few students wandering around looked confused and slightly hunted, and there was a very slight haze of burning tyre smoke over everything. Today we're also off campus, which is closed for students nationally to yell at the government, to which I say yay. The government needs yelling at.

I have found my own reactions to be strangely complicated. On the one hand this seems fairly standard - students will demonstrate, bless them, and we've had a good couple of decades of relative ideological apathy, so it's rather reassuring to see that the current generation is capable of this sort of generalised moral passion. I do wish the protesters wouldn't break things, but I know how mobs work, particularly when passions are high and when there's a whole entrenched history of disadvantage vs privilege embodied in the buildings of our campus. And their thesis - that fees are too high - is absolutely valid. Our fees are too damned high - in my job I see a continual succession of these poor kids in the direst financial straits, struggling to make it work under the double whammy of high fees and under-preparation by Matric. Our fees should bloody well be protested. And while it's a lot more complicated than the students would like to believe (if we cut fees as demanded we'd go under, as far as I can tell, and the institution, far from screwing the working poor with a jaunty laugh, does put a buttload of money into financial aid), with any luck the nationwide nature of the protests will be enough to force the government to at least divert some of their corruption earmarks into our severely under-subsidised tertiary education.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the trigger effect of all this. I started university in South Africa in 1988, still under the apartheid government. While I was possibly the world's most unpoliticised and oblivious undergrad, and experienced only the trailing tail-end of the student protests, there were still marches on campus in my first couple of years, and protesters tangling with the police water-cannon on Adderley Street (the purple shall govern! Ye gods, I was only hazily aware of the whole Purple Rain protest at the time, and a quick google reveals that I had remembered the details perfectly accurately. It clearly made an impression.) The police cars all over campus yesterday and Monday, and the burning barricades, and the footage with flash-bangs and loud-hailers outside the admin block on Tuesday night, even the raised fists and shouting, catapulted me nastily and viscerally back into that far more tense and horrible time. Let's just say that students vs. government has some unpleasant historical precedents in this country, shall we?

So protesters are hard-coded as "legitimate" to me in a way which actually transcends the validity of their current point of protest. It engenders a cold, sinking feeling to have our current government by implication put into the same frame of reference as the bad old apartheid one. (I had an identically emotional response to the police casspirs in District 9). And if nothing else, my Cherished Institution has handled the whole thing with conspicuous tone-deafness, to haul in the police so early on in the process, to descend immediately into "this is illegal" in a way which instantly overwrote "let us discuss the valid point you have here", and to re-create with such fidelity the traditional battle lines of police and stun guns and armoured vehicles as the threatening backdrop to student protest. It's perfectly obvious to the most untrained eye that that was never going to go down well.

In all sorts of weird ways South African apartheid was never my battle, but in all sorts of weird ways it is, not just because I was there for its fall and live here now - because these are my students, and the effects of apartheid are still playing out in their lives, and one upshot of my job is that I feel protective and worried about them, and very invested in their happiness and success. Some of them have crossed lines they shouldn't have in these protests, and are going to face potentially life-ruining consequences. We have had lectures disrupted, and exams might still be affected, and I know that I'm going to be dealing with emotional and physical fallout from these protests as students wander through my office attempting to unravel the ramifications for their studies. And I can only hope that it's all worth it, that it works, that our thrice-damned government will remember its roots enough to respond appropriately.

And because that's all too damned serious, I shall end with entirely another sense of emotional trigger that is equally about history and investment and struggle and moral polarities: the new Star Wars trailer made me cry.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
In my last post about the inscrutable Cosmic Wossnames inflicting themselves on orientation and reg, I inexplicably neglected to mention 5, Teeth. My teeth historically seem to choose the start of the year to crumble, possibly because I'm tense and grind them unconsciously, or possibly just out of spite - a few years ago it was emergency root canal during orientation. At any rate, I had 7 fillings over the last six weeks. Very minor fillings, I hasten to add, but he did 5 of them in one marathon 90-minute session, out of which I emerged pale and shaking and went straight into a day of registration in which I slurred at students like a drunk for several hours. Because registration, clearly, doesn't hold enough terrors all on its own.

I wish to issue a Public Service Announcement at this point. For the sake of your teeth, avoid lemon juice! Over the last couple of years I have made a material difference to the health of my teeth by drifting into habits of (a) drinking hot water with lemon in it, and (b) drinking that lovely Woolies bottled fresh lemon juice, more of a lemonade as it has sugar added, but it's still pleasingly tart. Even though a teaspoon of lemon juice in hot water is not much, and even though I dilute the fresh lemon juice to about a third with sparkling water, the lemon is acidic enough that it weakens tooth enamel noticeably after less than a year of the habit. (Apparently this extends to citrus in general: orange juice is not quite as bad, but has the same general effect). My teeth were starting to erode along the sides, causing the hygienist to do that doom-laden sharp intake of breath thing, and requiring these incredibly fiddly little flanking fillings across three separate teeth. (Matters are exacerbated by my Evil Sinuses, which cause me to sleep with my mouth open, which dries out the teeth and makes them more prone to decay. Apparently. Hence the decay in my front teeth, which is unusual).

I have a particularly lovely dentist, a very quiet, gentle, reassuring man who is also, it turns out, a quiet, gentle, reassuring, completely demented Pink Floyd fan. He was shooting me full of local anaesthetic prior to the five-filling marathon, and made some comment about making me "comfortably numb", to which I went "Pink Floyd!" in a reflex trained by my undergrad days, during which various of the CLAW types were madly into Floyd and infected me whether I liked it or not. (I did. Apart from the statutory mandate which requires you have your mind blown by watching The Wall in undergrad, it's interestingly complex and provocative music). So he put on "Saucerful of Secrets", which I had on bootleg tape back in undergrad and have always loved, and proceeded to enliven the fillings by imparting gentle nuggets of Pink Floyd biographical information of the more outré and unlikely variety.

There's something peculiarly apt about listening to early Pink Floyd while being shot full of drugs and drilled. It was also one of those unexpected gut-punches to the memory. I haven't really listened to Floyd since those much younger days, and it thus has unfettered connection with all the complex associations of nostalgia and wistfulness and regret that attach inevitably to music that's been important in your life at important times. It was all, at any rate, nicely distracting.

The Great Car Music Trek has raged through She Wants Revenge and embarked, as my subject line suggests, into Sisters of Mercy. Apparently it's all about the nostalgia up in here. Gothy, post-punky, gloomy nostalgia. Appropriate to teeth.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I quite like students, but frequently I find their parents inexplicable. We are in the throes of orientation and registration simultaneously, which means ten-hour days during which I give uninterrupted curriculum talks for three and a half hours and then spend the rest of the day in registration. Over the course of the last few days parents of students have done the following:

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

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

My car music has wandered into the zone of New Model Army, whose punk sensibility and tendency to rail against the system is pleasingly apposite. Subject line from "Inheritance". Today's Yoof have a serious problem in their parental helicopters.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, is it just me, or are we - in the sense of Western culture generally - raising our young these days to be more and more entitled, and less and less in touch with reality? I have had in excess of twenty years on this campus dealing with undergrad students, and I swear there's been a noticeable increase over the years in what I think of as the Unique and Beautiful Snowflake problem: individuals who present with a sublime obliviousness to or disregard for the rules, because the rules can't possibly apply to the narcissistic urgency of the individual's particular moment. A lot of these kids have apparently never been introduced to a boundary, or to an obstacle which someone - I suspect helicopter parents - hasn't caused to magically dissolve. They don't get "no you can't" on some profound level - it does not compute, captain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate, student angst levels are materially assisted by my current ongoing alphabetical trek, by album title, through the endless vistas of David Bowie. Right now we're into late middle-period, which is the much-decried 80s pop outbreak, by virtue of Labyrinth (hence my subject line) and Let's Dance in quick succession. You can say what you like about 80s pop, my cheesy metaphor from earlier may well be relevant, but I was a teenager in the 80s and can't help responding. That shit is hard-wired.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Random thought for the day: this article is amusing, but it should have been written by a poet rather than a linguist, because you can sum up most of it by saying that random facsimiles of Benedict Cumberbatch's name can be reproduced by the simple process of juxtaposing two dactyls. Preferably two dactylic nouns with approximately the right distribution of consonants and vowel sounds, but the dactyl is the important part. Metre, people. It's all in the metre. What do they teach them in schools these days?
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

I've upgraded my home movie-watching apparatus recently, with a Blu-Ray player and home theatre system which I'm really enjoying (as, in fact, are the EL and the ELG, who have just finished Firefly and embarked on The Middleman, indoctrination clearly proceeding as planned). It's lovely to have good sound, and the Blu-Ray resolution is clearly better, especially for the large-scale visual spectacle movies (superheroes, sf, fantasy) to which I am unrepentantly addicted. It'll be even better when I upgrade the TV to a larger model, a project rife with difficulty as the TV cabinet is a specific size and I can't go any larger until the EL has modified the hell out of it. Which is OK, as I can't currently afford a bigger TV anyway.

So, one of the films I recently acquired on Blu-Ray was Man of Steel, the recent Superman remake. Re-remake, if you count the Christopher Reeve versions, which one does, because they're the Christopher Reeve versions. I actually liked the Bryan Singer one with Brandon Routh and Bald!KevinSpacey, it's a relatively thoughtful film, as is characteristic of Singer, and is quite faithful in tone and partially in plot to the first Reeve one. I wish I could say the same of Man of Steel, but I can't: I emerged at the end of it with an unambiguous conviction that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. Which I rather fear is the result of the ineluctable fact that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. A two-bit drunken hack, in that he gets drunk on his own CGI. (On the upside, I also re-watched Star Trek: Into Darkness last night, and was forced to the realisation that JJ Abrahams is rather less of a two-bit hack by comparison - that script, while not strictly Star Trek, could certainly have been worse. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch has a good voice for villainy, Smaug should be fun.)

So, Things I Liked About Man of Steel:
  • The cast. Henry Cavill is likeable, he has a certain gravitas and manages to be both clean-cut and a bit broody - a good sense of suppressed power. Amy Adams is always lovely. Even Russell Crowe only slightly gnaws the scenery. And if Michael Shannon's Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain, I think that's because Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain and the script is very definitely a cardboard cut-out script.
  • The visuals. The Krypton sequences are full-on space opera: the visual feel is striking and effective, all bulbous spaceships and strange multi-winged riding beasts. It has my vote. As, in fact, does Superman's new outfit, which is darker and more textured in tone, and feels rather less spandexy.
  • Clark discovering flight, which he does joyously, by speeding madly around the earth. Pure wish fulfilment, very happy-making.

Things I Didn't Like About Man of Steel:
  • The fact that they gave it to Zach Snyder, see above. The Superman mythos is dear to my heart as a result of indelible teen imprinting, and should be cherished rather than ravished.
  • The script. They do this unbelievable thing in the Krypton introduction where there is what appears to be an entirely random confluence of (a) Zod's eugenics-inspired attempted coup against the Council with (b) Jor-El and Lara's defiance of Krypton's pod-baby status quo to engender the first natural birth in thousands of years, and (c) the planet exploding, and I found myself sitting there thinking, good grief, that's a plethora of completely disconnected plots, can't you pick one? But apparently not. The same gratuitous proliferation of motives characterises the rest of the script, which is also prone to emotional beats which are no more than half-arsed and more than somewhat tone-deaf. Christopher Bloody Nolan has script credit, he should damned well know better. Although I suppose I never liked his Batman very much, either.
  • Profoundly and centrally, the film's gratuitous neglect of proper Superman morality in favour of completely unexamined swathes of excessive and gleeful destruction. Central to the Superman mythos is the exploration of superhuman power: what it means, how to use it, the responsibility it implies to protect the weak and innocent. Superman vs. Kryoptonian bad guys are really OTT action sequences, in which they can't simply punch each other, they have to punch each other through half a dozen skyscrapers or into random trains, factories, helicopters or articulated trucks, see subject line. By the end of it the city is almost skeletonised - I have never seen so many toppling skyscrapers in my life, and I have a serious disaster movie fetish. You cannot have Superman kill thousands and inflict billions in property damage as a backdrop to his fights, without apparently noticing. Nor can you pay token attention to it by putting a random group of hammy extras in front of Zod's eye-beams for five seconds while Supes looks anguished. Sheer tokenism. Destruction of the city by Old Kryptonians duking it out should be a profound moral dilemma right there, not an item of scenery. It is a profoundly disturbing aspect of contemporary blockbuster film and its reliance on CGI that it's become easy to destroy things wholesale - you no longer have to work for your violence or justify it in terms of the plot, you can just slosh it in there as though it means nothing. Zach Snyder's always had a torrid and obsessive affair with his CGI, but he can't do it to Superman. Not cricket. This film made me snort in disgust a whole lot, and apostrophise Zach Snyder as a drunken two-bit hack rather more than I care to. Which is a pity, because Krypton's pretty.

Subject line from Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing the classic Disaster Area song lyrics, boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon etc. This is a favourite catch-phrase of mine, although I tend to misremember it as "which then, for no adequately defined reason, explodes", which I honestly think has a better cadence, anyway.

live fast and prosper

Monday, 1 July 2013 02:33 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

Took myself off to see the new Star Trek yesterday, which apart from anything else was a good excuse to drive my new car places. Which is just as well, because I'm not entirely sure the film justified the trip. It annoyed me. I'm a bit out on a limb here because I've never watched the original series1, but based on my voracious consumption of the entirety of Next Generation in about two months flat, I mostly think JJ Abrams has the tone all wrong. (And I don't think this is just because Canal Walk's sound balance and volume are habitually set by ham-fisted drunken gorillas).

Into Darkness was frenetic action from the get-go; loud, brash, violent, fast. In my sense of it, Star Trek is not a standard action narrative. The TV series (certainly Next Gen and the odd episode of TOS I've seen), and even the older films, are at least partially contemplative; they dwell on character interactions and evince a sort of leisurely, self-indulgent enjoyment of the utopian aspects of this futuristic society, both scientific and social. They have exciting action sequences, certainly, but they're interleaved at suitable intervals with slower sequences to give a very different sense of pace. The two new films don't have that; they're all action, with the contemplation (and there is some contemplation; I liked the examination of moral decisions, and the attempt to redeem the immature-twit-Kirk-should-not-be-in-charge plot holes from the first film) tacked onto action sequences in breathless gasps. JJ Abrams films are all chorus and no verse. They're exhausting.

This is a pity, because I think he has his cast absolutely right, they're really enjoyable to watch. And I spent most of the film giggling at inappropriate moments because the classic Kirk/Spock slashy subtext is so beautifully pandered to. Honestly, you can feel a thousand slash writers squeeing in the background in some of those sequences. I think the films have the Kirk/Spock dynamic pretty much down, particularly because their version of Kirk is such an impulsive, emotion-driven idiot, and I love these versions of Scotty and Bones et al. It's just a pity that the mood and pace (and the script, with its usual giant logic holes and reliance on cliché, good grief) don't match the characterisations.

I just wish they'd done more with the tribble. I was expecting trouble.

1 I feel the need to watch the original series, anyone have it?

Subject line: if I actually need to gloss my random concatenation of "Live fast and die young" with "Live long and prosper", I'm saddened, is all. Saddened and disappointed.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today is that interesting nexus of orientation/registration chaos which requires me to be simultaneously overseeing fifteen advisors on the registration floor in one venue, ten advisors giving orientation advice in another venue, and an all-day five-track programme of information talks from every department in the faculty and some from outside it, over five separate venues in three buildings, none of them the same as the registration or orientation venues. As Lara said in one session this morning, really time to get onto that cloning thing. I have been doing a rather large amount of trotting around since 7am, creating, copying and distributing leaflets, handouts, forms and posters and generally wrangling advisors, academics, orientation leaders and random confused students. It's the time of year when I can't walk for more than ten steps in any direction without being stopped by a bewildered student seeking rescue. My voice has mostly come back, only to slowly erode to huskiness again from overuse.

Also, the OLs are doing their jobs. Several of the academics are not, in that they have simply failed to turn up for their scheduled talk. I find my lack of surprise disturbing.

About eight hours of concerted effort over the weekend allowed me to finish examining that one remaining Masters thesis which has been hanging over my head for a month, and having it off my back is making me feel considerably lighter. This in spite of the fact that it was horribly plagiarised, and most of the eight hours entailed careful tracking down and checking of references in order to demonstrate that the wretched child was, in fact, simply copying out vast chunks of critical argument word-for-word, and seems to fondly imagine that an author/page reference slapped down in a bracket at the end of the paragraph adequately substitutes for either quotation marks or paraphrase. I swear, there were chunks of that thesis where I underlined every line for three or five pages straight, demonstrating ineluctably that there were a total of five actual words in her own voice over the entire thing. I weep for the younger generation. Or blush. Or both. Either way, get off my lawn.

In other news, apparently I have either being doing all this work stuff for long enough that I have it down and am achieving a state of Zen detachment from it all, or doing all this work stuff at this time of the year while loaded to the gills on anti-depressants really helps. Either way, I haven't bitten a student in days. I am quite astonishingly chilled about all this. Freedom from examination duties, and the fact that the rest of the week is all carefully scheduled and organised and should run pretty much under its own steam without further administrative prodding, leaves me blissfully open in the evenings. And with exquisite timing, the next Skyrim DLC comes out tomorrow. Score.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have been marking second-year English essays this weekend, and am pretty much at the stage of ritual suicide. I don't know if it's a particularly bad batch, or if the impending sinus infection is making me unduly pessimistic, or if I've been infected by the Gothic gloom of the topic, but I am genuinely beginning to despair. These are second-year English students. They should, surely, be capable of stringing together a coherent paragraph which presents something vaguely resembling an argument? If I have to deal with another instance of [vague, unsubstantiated and categorical statement] + [unrelated and unexplained quote from the story] presented with a triumphant flourish as though it actually proves something, there is going to be a small, localised space-time explosion and my brain will end up fetchingly festooned around my ears in a manoeuvre not unrelated to Grunthos the Flatulent's lower intestine strangling him in the interests of sanity. Also, these dear children are clearly infecting my sentences. Aargh.

I console myself with Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing. Adorably. It's very consoling. Right up there with manatees.

freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
There's been a big red ABSA poster up in my corridor for two weeks, advertising some sort of graduate development programme. It has a little mathematical conundrum on it, which reads as follows:


This bugged me for a couple of days, as I dashed madly past it in Hellweek flurries, and eventually I stopped and looked at it properly. 9+7 in this context probably equals 144, but I'm curious - is this a strange and random ABSA pattern-recognition game, or some sort of recognised mathematical procedure with a label of its own? I'm thinking the former, mainly because it apparently works with my vaguely organic pattern-recognition brain. Structuralist study of narrative does weird things to the pattern recognition.

Apparently the cosmic reward of being determinedly and successfully nice to students all last week (only one slight slip-up in the last few hours of Friday) is that I'm grumpy as hell this week. Then again, this week they're trying to do stupid, illegal things which show they haven't read the notices. I am becoming progressively more crone-like and codgerish about non-notice-reading gazelles.

And, in other news, it's August! aargh! I still have to finish two papers in less than three weeks, although I do pretty much know what I want to say and how I want to say it, which helps. However, a new month also means the monthly assault on another prevalent vice, namely unmarked quotation.

  • 4th July: I am quoting, of course, "As time goes by", which will now proceed to ear-worm me for a couple of days and give me a random, rootless desire to re-watch Casablanca. Than which, I suppose, there are worse things. I woke up this morning with A-ha's "Take on me" on the brain, for no adequately defined reason, so I should count my blessings. Anyway, it was also an egregious but slightly lateral pun on both the passage of time and fundamental particles, since I was burbling about the Higgs boson at the time. (Absolutely the best and most definitive response to the Higgs boson is, of course, from Scenes from a Multiverse. Of course they're conspiring. With cigarettes dangling out the corners of their mouths.)
  • 9th July. As any fule kno, this is a quote from the Mutant Enemy zombie logo at the end of Joss Whedon productions, and anyone who didn't recognise it should be properly ashamed. Ashamed, I say! *waves unreasonable geeky fangirl flag with unrepentant chauvinism*
  • 13th July. I have no idea what I was doing here, other than conflating Joss Whedon randomly with incense. Why, I can't say. I don't like incense.
  • 15th July. I wish I could say I was quoting Walt Whitman, but in fact I'm quoting Robin Williams in, of course, Dead Poet's Society, and once more I cannot say why, I can't stand the film. While being, of course, one hundred percent behind the idea of captains. Notwithstanding which, there seems to be a certain level of masochism in this month's subject line choices.
  • 18th July. This one was for [ profile] wolverine_nun, who knows as well as I do that this comes from Flanders and Swann, "The Gasman Cometh", and I have no doubt that a select but gratifying number of you also recognised it. I couldn't give tuppence for all of the rest.
  • 23rd July. We used to play and sing this in guitar club at school - mountain folk song about the miner's life, which is insanely catchy and which I suspect I've quoted before. Both the Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Johnny Cash versions are jauntier than I remember it being, we tended to sing it a bit more like a dirge. Well, obviously. "Another day older and deeper in debt", after all.
  • 25th July. Oh, dear. I am quoting Bobby McFerrin. I seem to do insane amounts of research for these subject line glosses, and this batch has revealed that the 1988 hit version is actually completely a capella, which I never realised before and which makes me very happy indeed.
  • 26th July. My contractually obligated David Bowie quote. I was ridiculously proud of the thematic fit in this one, given that post was about Tom Cruise and the lyrics are from "I'm Deranged", and at various points insist that not only is it funny how secrets travel, but "It's the angel-man" and "Cruise me babe".
  • 29th July. Omar Khayyám, who has, as evinced by outbreaks of bloggery in November and December 2005, has a quote for absolutely everything.

This week's quotation round-up brought to you courtesy of hopeless inconsequentiality, and a headache. Now I go to fend students off with a crowbar and meet my Deanly-requested teaching and learning report-construction doom.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012 07:59 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I had a weird and slightly horrible experience yesterday, which was to wander into the university library in order to dig books out of their stacks. The nice library assistant person who checked my record (and to whom I have definitely given curriculum advice in the last year or so) revealed that I last took books out over a year ago. This is not quite as sad as it sounds: it's not that I'm not doing Serious Academic Stuff, it's just that these days I seem to do the Serious Academic Stuff either from online versions of journal articles, or (given the peripheral and non-pc-in-the-SA-context nature of my interests), by simply ordering copies of the books for myself. The academic landscape has been radically transformed both by the contemporary movement into virtual idea-exchange, and by my still rather new and bizarre possession of disposable income.

What it did mean, though, was that I haven't tried to use the library for actual research since they did a huge re-arrange of it at the start of last year (bang, may I add, in the middle of my orientation programme's attempt to put 1300 students through library tours in two weeks. The confusion was indescribable). It's a very swish space now, all comfy chairs and fancy wall-mounted computer monitors, and filled with studious students umbilically attached to laptops. What you don't see when you first wander in, though, is any particularly striking number of books. The main area has become a reference collection, with no shelves above about waist height (and it's not real L-space until they're over your head) and a lot of computers and info desks. I couldn't find the 800s section where I am wont to hang out. They'd moved it into the subterranean lair that used to hold the older journal issues. I cannot help but find this worryingly significant.

And they're breaking up the Special Collections libraries, including the speculative fiction collection we originated back in the Tolkien Society days, and which has grown in the interim, by the efforts of its wonderful librarian, into a significant chunk of genre material, both primary and secondary. You have to study sf/fantasy in genre, not scattered in isolation across vast tracts of the Dewey. It's about writing in community and context, and particularly in the academic sense, if you don't appreciate that, you're lost. But clearly non-pc-non-South-African collections Take Up Space even more than other categories of books, and are therefore expendable.

I am very much a denizen of the internet, and I couldn't survive academically or intellectually without it, but I also can't help feeling that something has been lost. For a start, I shouldn't be alienated by my own library. I grew up in this library, all the way from a titchy undergrad and right through the rigours of a PhD. It should be my home planet, the warm seas or intellectual air through which I breathe or swim. I should be at home in its most involuted and space-warping corners. If I have become disconnected from it by a process of abstraction, my intellectual pursuits all solitary and virtual, then I am no longer at home among its musty stacks. And anyway, they seem to have shrunk. Does the virtual realm even have L-space? Its own twisty byways, certainly, but not created by the sheer weight of words on paper in the way a proper library does. And I shudder to contemplate the virtual version of a .303 bookworm. You don't want to meet a .404 hollowpoint bitcruncher in a dark corner.

It is deeply significant that enormous piles of books are the one thing in the multiverse I don't mentally classify as cluttery, and therefore undesirable, stuff. And libraries damned well shouldn't, either.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
We ran Attack of the Vapours, our insane 24-person parody LARP, for the latest generation of university roleplaying types last night. As a result I'm pretty much dead, but it was fun, and the players did very well. Some really good roleplayers beautifully in character, and a lot of attention paid to costume and prop. Memo to self: always put a costume box onto LARP character sheets in the future. Yes, there will be a future. I haven't written LARPs in far too long, and I have two half-finished and one in concept form which I really want to do. I may noodle around with them during this break. It'll make a pleasant change from the academic papers, even if the academic papers are mostly Miyazaki and Harry Potter.

I have to say, though, Vapour's yearbook photo is annotated "LARP most likely to make me wonder vaguely if my firm conviction that I've never done drugs is actually correct". It was written by a team of four of us in a series of 9am Sunday morning design sessions, and it's insane. It has evil sex twins, and polar-bear fixations, and trained killer attack throwing Pomeranians, and a Sinister Philatelist Subplot which results in the existence of stamps such as the Gawungafingi Badger-Black and the Spasmodic Flying Squirrel. It also rejoices in ranked ability cards which range from "Anyone for tennis?" to "This is not, in fact, the case". Contemplating the ravages wrought by Rudy with the latter brings a tear of joy and pride to my eye. The front page of the LARP explicitly instructs players to use the ability cards in creative and horrifying ways the designers couldn't possibly predict, and wow, did they ever.

I'm also dead because of unexpected root canal on Friday, which tends to leave me feeling as though I've been beaten with clubs. I have a wonderful dentist who has the superpower of giving injections I can't actually feel at all, but the vibrations cause me to clench every muscle in my body until I'm levitating off the chair, and not to relax for at least twelve hours. However, two out of three roots are thoroughly, patiently and meticulously drilled, and the assault on the third is only to come in about a month, by which time my jaw may have unclamped. Hooray.

I should also mention that I'm totally addicted to the one She Wants Revenge album I actually possess, which is Valleyheart (the earlier albums arrive from Amazon shortly), and which is channelling Bauhaus, Depeche Mode and Joy Div in strict rotation. It's poppy and retro and totally derivitive and it makes my little fangirly 80s heart go pit-a-pat.


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