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I am apparently feeling Hamletesque, i.e. melodramatic and slightly doomed, and as though my entire society is permeated throughout by futility and rot. Mood. My helltime of year officially starts tomorrow, when the first orientation programme kicks off, but in fact, it started two weeks ago, when I went back to work, the last week of which has been 10-hour days as I try to fit three weeks of preparation into two, as a result of the inscrutable demon powers of university management having randomly started the semester a week earlier than usual. Not only do I have less time, but large swathes of academia are still on holiday, so a significant proportion of vital logistics emails are dropping into the void like meringues into a black hole, vanishing without echo or response.

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

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

duck and cover

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

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

On the upside, the undergrad admin office appears to have reconstituted itself as an engaged and functional entity in most particulars, so I hope this will be a Better Year than last year. Oh god it has to be.
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Oo, er. The Strange Case of Starship Iris is an extremely good sf podcast to which I have not been listening, but the transcripts of which I have been devouring illegally at work. It's funny and acute and political, something like a more enlightened Firefly with aliens and actual diversity. Recommended. I will probably listen to the actual podcast this weekend, while madly sewing new curtains because Jyn ate mine. (She tries to climb through the light cotton privacy half-curtains I have on the front window, they're in shreds). Podcasts or radio shows while sewing are a Good Thing, TM. Last sewing binge it was Cabin Pressure. Also recommended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the upside, tonight I take my sister out for a birthday dinner at the local Italian joint, which is very nice, so I suppose there's that. On the further upside, for the last few days I have been re-reading the entire Drarry fanfic archive of blamebrampton, which is unduly British and frequently hysterically funny Potterslash written by someone I darkly suspect is personally located somewhere in the bowels of the British civil service, and to which I attribute any preponderance of British idiom in the above.

ding dong

Sunday, 9 September 2018 07:31 am
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I should probably have mentioned that one of the things that happened over the latest bloggery hiatus is that my evil hell-boss resigned. When the Dean came into my office a few months back to tell me about the resignation, I was completely unable to restrain myself from an small, involuntary, dignified Dance of Joy. The Dean, who is a Nice Man who shares my opinion of the Evil Hell-boss, immediately burst out laughing. "You know," he said, "absolutely everyone I've told about this has done exactly the same thing."

I occasionally reel slightly, if I can pause in the fog of resentment and anger, to wonder at quite the magnitude of the fuck-up she achieved during, what, five years in office? She attempted a grandiose and misguided office restructure which achieved nothing it was supposed to because she was blissfully out of touch with the realities of day-to-day admin, and which resulted in a massive downturn in effectiveness and productivity. In the process she rode rough-shod over the staff to an extent which caused an approximately 80% staff turnover in two years. She has spent the rest of her time diligently producing administrative process manuals which no-one will ever read, and which attempt to enshrine an office practice she doesn't fully understand. When the whole thing fell apart and the staff began to actually refuse to implement any of her instructions, she had a beautiful toddler tantrum and removed herself from office (on full pay) to sulk down the hill in another department doing unspecified "special projects", while her deputy had to do two jobs simultaneously, including manage disaffected staff. She also managed to finesse this dereliction of duty to re-characterise it as All Our Fault, not hers.

As she tactfully took her last couple of weeks of work in the faculty office as leave, this means she's left already. It is actually quite odd to contemplate how little a difference this has made. The damage has been done so extensively and comprehensively that I think we're all staggering around, stunned, in the ruins, and the fact that Great Cthulhu has fucked off back to R'lyeh doesn't really mitigate the mental trauma any. Those sanity points are lost, buster. No returns.

I find it funny, though, that she came into my office to give me a breezy, cordial goodbye on her last day in office. Lots of chatting about her new post (still within my Cherished Institution, alas) and possible co-operation down the line. I am unable to decide whether or not this is the result of me acing my personal strategy for dealing with her over the last few years, which is to be Resolutely Professional And Pleasant and not to go against anything she wanted in any upfront way, so that she genuinely imagines I'm a supporter, or if she has an equal and opposite strategy of cordiality which means the whole interchange put the Genuine levels in the room at 0.00%. It's interesting, though, to realise that several decades of role-playing have some practical upshot, I hadn't thought I was capable of that kind of sustained deception.

I still want to leave this job, although I don't have it in me to do so immediately, I'm one of the few points of institutional memory left. Apart from my sense of traumatised camaraderie with fellow administrators, I shudder to contemplate the additional, hideous reduction in service our students would experience as my replacement learned the ropes. But I am not, so to speak, committed to the enterprise any longer. The burned child eventually learns to fear the fire, at least at the point where her fingers are scorched to stumps approximately at the elbows.
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It's been very illuminating, the last year or so. I slip far too easily into the self-loathing mindset where my current spectacularly unsuccessful career existence is the result of my multiple past failures, most notably not ever managing to land an academic post back when I was still vaguely competitive for same. But actually, it would not have been a magic bullet, if by some freak of circumstance I'd finangled my way past entrenched misogyny, redress hiring and the fetishisation of Africanised content to have become an English department lecturer. If I'd done that, I would actually, at my best guess, in 2018 be at least as unhappy as I am in my present existence, in that the department concerned is currently a heaving snake-pit of vile personality politics that has chewed up and spat out several HoDs in a row over the last five years. It's not only the kind of tense, backbiting environment which most bludgeons and drains me, it's also entirely likely that if I'd been a lecturer in 2008, one of the mowed-down HoDs would have been me. There are no magic bullets.

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

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

I ATEN'T DEAD

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

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

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

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

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

But I am not enjoying orientation. I am tired, and wish to be elsewhere at this time. My subject line is the fragile tragic vampire girl from Angela Carter's Gothic fairy tales, because I feel fragile and tragic and Gothic.
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OK, so one of the things I actually do enjoy about this helljob is, weirdly enough, the annual early-January bit where I have to register sportspeople extra-early so that they're all legit to play in various national tournaments. In practice, because nasty socio-cultural implications, this means registering rugby players. I've done them all this year myself, because the faculty admin melt-down has precluded sufficient advance warning to arrange a formal session with multiple advisors - this has been OK, they've trickled in over several days and it's been manageable. But I have to record the following points in re registering rugby players.

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

Next week we embark upon a full faculty admin review, which will enable me to gently craft for the review board suitably epic snarky gems of management-undermining, couched for maximum destructive effect under the guise of sweetly reasonable concern. I am bizarrely looking forward to this. The job crisis is making me vindictive in a way that's alien to my base nature but weirdly freeing.

viktwee!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018 12:48 pm
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I have not achieved a great deal over my three weeks of leave, mostly downtime and relaxation and recharging the batteries for the orientation/registration onslaught. But in addition to the usual pursuit of gaming (a Morrowind replay, I can't get the hell into the isometric perspective of Divinity) and fan fiction (still Sterek), I have done some desultory sewing, cooking, and gardening. This last started with ruthless rationalisation of my container garden to throw out things that were struggling, uninteresting, extraneous or accidental, the better to concentrate the limited water supplies on the remainder. The Cape Town water crisis is dire.

Once I had slightly over half of my previous pot-herd, I embarked on a programme of repotting, prioritised by a process not unakin to sexing kittens, i.e. you hold them up in the air and scrutinise their nethers for, variously, gender-specific bits or the tell-tale tentacular growth of roots through the drainage holes signifying that their vegetative boots are too tight. Then you find a larger pot, assemble drainage stones for the bottom, wrestle the root-bound offender out of its tight boots, scrabble the drainage stones out from the dense nest of white root-hairs, bung the plant into the new boots, top it up with compost, and water madly from the washing machine grey water, which you have carefully saved after switching to a fiercely biodegradable and probiotic washing liquid.

(Life in Cape Town is a bit complicated at the moment, and entails eco-despair, short showers and herds of assorted buckets in approximately equal quantities.)

Today I reached the final candidate in this re-booting process, which has taken a week because I'm chronically fatigued and have to do this sort of thing in short, carefully-judged bursts, particularly since at least two thirds of the repotting candidates are in fact small trees and require heavy lifting and, in some cases, relocation via pyramid-style ramps. I clearly left it to last because it was the most difficult, being the large, exuberant and tentacular jasmine vine which is inextricably entwined with (a) its pot-planted trellis and (b) the random vertical pipe outside the courtyard door, up which it has twined like both halves of Flanders and Swann's vegetative Romeo and Juliet. I chose, because I'm basically cussed, to try and repot this without trimming it off the trellis or pipe. This already quixotic endeavour was complicated by the following factors:
  1. The fact that the pipe-entwining of the vine necessitated that all loosening activities, including tilting the pot horizontal, took place a metre above the ground (I eventually balanced the damned thing on a stepladder);
  2. The fact that I am a lone single person conducting this unaided, and the pot was slightly too heavy for the average carrying capacity of the African swallow my gammy left elbow so I couldn't actually lift it too far;
  3. The fact that the jasmine's tight boots were so tight, and the tentacular drainage-hole root emergences so exuberant, that it took half an hour of swearing, thumping and prodding with the trowel to loosen it, during which time the philosophy swung sharply from "gently coax with maximum care not to traumatise the plant" to "grab around stem and haul, wrestle and jiggle without restraint, interjecting 'come on you bitch!' at intervals";
  4. The fact that the sweet semi-retired estate agent neighbour was rootling around in his garden over the wall during the entire process and I had to curb the engine of creative swearing which might otherwise have lubricated matters;
  5. Jyn, who persists in the delusion that all gardening activities are designed solely for her entertainment, and who has exhibited a consistent genius for sticking her self and nose into precisely the spot where I'm trying to place a heavy pot. (Jyn's feline operating system is at the very least severely idiosyncratic, if not actually malformed: whoever programmed her seems to have deleted the "Jump" module in order to make space for, apparently, Klingon Eyebrow and Being In The Way).

I have just finished the process, after somewhat over an hour, sore muscles, bruising, some sunburn, being scratched savagely by the lemon tree in passing, and an entirely indecent level of triumph. This was at least a two-person job, and I did it all my own self, muttering "Man is a tool-using animal!" like a litany at intervals. I am choosing to see this as a positive omen for the year, which will present similar levels of disproportionate difficulty and which I hope to bloody-mindedly wrestle into submission in similar fashion. I go back to the work management-meltdown tomorrow, with student protest threats lowering in the offing, and my work inbox is already several hundred emails deep in plaintive student whinges, at least a third of which haven't read the instructions properly. But I vanquished the jasmine! I am mighty! I will prevail!

(My subject line is a quote from the Worms video game, which I never played but whose cutesy cartoon worm dialogue colonised my mid-90s social group somewhat wholesalely, mostly courtesy of bumpycat.)
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Things that make me homicidal: having a student arriving in my ofice to add a summer term course to her record. Telling her she is too late to do so, the deadline was Friday and she's effectively missed a quarter of the course. Having her become visibly grumpy and petulant when her sob story about being too busy doing other things to add it earlier does not magically dissolve the rule and allow her to add the course. Having her leave my office in a huff.

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

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

My subject line is the Fratellis, who are my current go-to energetic rock band for things like cooking and driving, although they tend to make me drive slightly ferally. The song is "She's not gone yet but she's leaving", which I am taking as my work anthem.
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One of those upsy-downsy days. On the downside, the faculty office continues in meltdown, with the faculty manager still off hissy-fitting and the shattered remnants of a once-functional administrative system trying desperately to reconstitute itself in her absence, severely hamstrung by the almost complete lack of institutional memory given how many people have left in disgust in the last year and a half. I have perhaps two and a half actual allies in this whole clusterfuck, to whom I have taken to delivering, of a morning, ceremonial batches of The Chocolate Brownies of Moral Support. (They're very supportive brownies, on the same principle as an empowering lemon bun).

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

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

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

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, to whom I have been listening a lot because reasons, partially reasons attributable to discovering their FFS album, which is a collaboration with an American band called Sparks and is a an FF-ish, louche, lush, burlesquey sort of Threepenny-Operatic sound with indecent amounts of verve and pleasing levels of piano. Recommended.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)


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

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

I ATEN'T DEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

baby got back

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

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

I feel that the jelly-like identity crisis will be materially assisted by the fact that I am buggering off into the winelands with the Dread jo&stv this weekend for purposes of staying in an Airbnb for two nights, the better to concentratedly wineroute and dine out at Franschoek's many fine dining establishments, which we tend not to have experienced in our culinary meanderings because no-one wants to drive back to Cape Town drunk and overfed. This will be extremely restoring to the soul, and I can only hope that Jyn will not unleash her usual high-velocity sprint for the traffic flow when the cat-sitter opens the front door on Saturday. I'm getting really good at grabbing her one-handed as she goes past, but I've had a lot of practice.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Aargh, HR Evil Overlord tendencies are still in the ascendant, whole day in a faculty team-building workshop yesterday. I was utterly dreading it and had approximately 4 hours of sleep the night before because stress insomnia, but in fact it wasn't as bad as I expected: up at Rhodes Memorial, lovely view, activities not as asinine and embarrassing as they can be in this sort of thing, and while the lunch was entirely mediocre, the seething undercurrent of re-structural resentment among a certain sector of the staff was not actually on display. This was a huge relief. I am not good at loud groups of non-close friends for a whole day, and I am abysmally terrible at surviving same with added underlying tension, on account of being a slightly Delicate Flower with hypersensitive frondy antennae which quiver and curl up in the presence of underlying tension.

All things are, however, comparative, and the context of Teambuilding Workshops was fairly salutary given that I had to abandon it early in order to trundle off for a doctor's appointment to have the annual Girly Checkup. The annual Girly Checkup is habitually rife with invasive indignity, so it was a nice balance of terrors that allowed (a) relief at leaving teambuilding exercises early even despite the medical horrors, and (b) said medical horrors being less horrific in that at least they weren't teambuilding exercises and were over quickly. Also, my gynae is a lovely, chatty Scottish woman who's always good value in the area of amusing earthiness.

It transpires, however, that I have an outbreak of polyps which have to be removed via minor surgery, requiring general anaesthetic but not an overnight stay. I am mentally framing this as the approximate equivalent of dusting out the inevitable cobwebs which result from the decision not to use all that baby-housing space for its biologically intended function, and am materially unfussed over the whole thing. Also, usual bonus science-is-cool squee over the doctor's possibly TMI description of the surgery (now with bonus surgical cameras!) as much as the ultrasound which is now a routine part of a check-up. Medical technology has been upgrading in ridiculous leaps and bounds over the last decade, as measured by the ever newer and cooler tech present in medical consulting rooms when I visit. Dentist's X-ray machines are now built into the chair and don't require the whole separate room and technician hitting the switch from behind the lead-lined wall. The gynae now has her very own ultrasound, and my dermatologist maps my moles with a fancy mole-mapping suite of camera and software. Now if they could only find a way of doing a mammogram without having to actually squidge my bits...

This aspect of living in the future makes me very happy. Also, the usual round of flossing guilt from my last visit to the dental hygienist caused me to finally say "stuff all this" and acquire an electric toothbrush, and I bizarrely love the damned thing. Apparently it tickles my Lawful Good to have a small, buzzing robot entity militantly police my tooth-cleaning activities in strict 30-second increments.

Science is cool. That is all.

Subject line is Legion, the Geth character in ME2. I like Legion, I wish we got to recruit him earlier.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the academics with whom I correspond about complicated credit transfer issues insists on addressing me as "Julia", which is not actually my name. For some reason this gives me fits of the giggles. My slightly insane Uncle Bill, back in his bachelor days when I was still in high school, had a particularly tremendous upper-crust English-rose girlfriend called Julia, pronounced "Juliah!". She is responsible for my lifelong habit of making mashed potato with the skins left on, which I do for reasons of health and because I like a bit of texture in my mashed potato, but which I suspect she did for reasons of sheer flakiness. The first time she met the family she swanned into our house, took a quick look around the kitchen, and announced, with that sort of tally-ho British vigour, "What a wonderful kitchen! I'm going to make bread!". Which she proceeded immediately to do, having arrived with a bag of flour for this purpose. She was, I think, quite mad, but very entertaining, and accounts almost entirely for any amused resonances I have with the name, even erroneously applied to me.

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

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

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

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

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

AWOL

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

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

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

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

EasternScreechOwl

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