Professing * Reflecting

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Rockstar's Back

Ahhhhh . . . conference travel during the semester. As jo(e) suggests in comments to my last post, conferences allow one to be a rockstar and a professor all at the same time. You get to travel, you get to drink and schmooze, you get to take your work (and your self) out of the isolated incubator, and you get the perfect excuse to cancel all of your classes with no guilt and no real consequences since it is built into the plan. Best of all, you are completely recharged. It is kind of like being on tour, even if it is a brief tour, when the rest of your life is suspended AND you can totally focus on one thing that you love. I dream of a day when I would have an extended tour of conference after conference after conference. Perhaps an international tour. I bet I would be huge in Germany.

So I am back in town and, as of tomorrow, back in the classroom. I might return to find that my barely started classes are totally off-track, but for now I am going to ride the high. (Anyway, how could they be off-track when I am the one who lays the tracks?) And I know my research, or at least my attitude toward it, is solidly on track. I do miss blogworld when I am away. I have to take the plunge and buy a laptop. I can afford it right now. Maybe before the next conference in March? I feel funny posting on public machines, although there is that special thrill/fear of being discovered as a Medusa.

I am not completely caught up on my blog reading, but I am interested in a couple of conversations. I see via Dr. Crazy that many are thinking about authority. I wonder if this regularly happens at some point between the start of classes and midterm, kind of like how so many of us feel inexplicably burnt-out around week two or week three. I know that my worry about classes going awry in my absence is ultimately a fear of compromising my authority. Do I need to reassert my authority when I return? I hate having to assert my authority in the first place, never mind reasserting it, and I do think gender comes into play. My male colleagues seem to command an immediate and effortless authority. Any laid-back behavior on their part seems to be read as "He's cool. He does not have to be cool because he is an authority figure, but he is." I usually go into a new class feeling that I have the same type of immediate and effortless authority. When I fall into laid-back professor mode, however, my authority is sometimes immediately questioned. What is most disturbing to me is that women are usually the most hostile, whether I assume authority and feel I can be more laid-back OR whether I assert my authority in more direct ways. I am "condescending" if I evaluate their ideas; I am "unprofessional" if I encourage a more open exchange of ideas. This has only become a significant problem (rather than a kind of low-grade nagging thing) once or twice. In these cases, one very hostile student nearly ruined the entire class dynamic. I, like Crazy, did get feedback along the lines of "she thinks she knows more than we do" and "she needs to work on her 'bedside manner'and smile more" and in the same breath (from the same student) "she needs to call out students in class when they are wrong" and "she needs to tell us the right answer so that we do not waste time in discussion with wrong answers" (?!?!?!). Am I right in thinking that many men simply do not experience this kind of bullshit in the classroom? I am sure that men have to deal with other kinds of just-as-annoying bullshit, which I would be interested in hearing more about.

I feel like I need to call bullshit on certain aspects of the "am I/was I/should I be/can I be a rockstar" question, which is a bit old but which I was thinking about in my last post. Let me point out that I was not exactly feeling nostalgic for or guilty about a former self now long lost. She Who Enjoys casual sex with more than one partner, some of whom are strangers, is still very much around. I generally do not feel guilty (or shallow or self-indulgent) when I am doing it and wistful when I am not. I just noticed that in my long sustained spurt of productivity (during which I was working all of the time, in a somewhat unhealthy way) I lost sight of the idea that I could be productive and social and sexual and whatever. I was considering how that level of productivity could be valued (even by myself) as somehow more "healthy" than a kind of cruise-control level, or my preferred s.o.p., during which I take care of business quite effectively and still have time for a rich personal life. I guess the post can easily be read as a radical reconsideration of what I once considered a "rich personal life" and a personal struggle between the grown-up self who makes healthier decisions for herself and a rebellious and self-destructive self who has not yet realized the errors of her ways. I suppose that if I considered a traditional relationship to be the telos of my existence, this reading would be accurate. As other rockstar professors, like Profgrrrrl, Melancholic, and Lucyrain, point out, it is possible to achieve a nuanced and thoughtful balance. What pisses me off is the idea that when I said "I miss the carefree chick" I was waving goodbye to a dangerously naive someone who was me five years ago and not last month. The chick is carefree because she at her most confident knows she is more than equipped to handle the pressures of the profession and because she knows that her choices in her personal life, while not traditional, are not less or more healthy for her body or for her "heart" than the privileged choices.

So, yes, I do worry about fucking up in the job or fucking up in my personal life. At the same time, I think that the perception (which I sometimes share) that I am just a "fucked-up girl" as a professor and as a woman is bound up in certain stereotypes (which I sometimes believe) about who and what a "professional woman" is or should be. In spite of (or because of?) the way I see myself as a "professional mirror," I do not claim to have reached some height of mature self-reflection. For me, the most interesting and productive self-reflection I see on blogs comes through an awareness of the tensions between various selves and not an easy resolution between a self who knows more or who knows better than another (previous) self. Any real self-realization might be a recognition that any identity we might call our "own" exists in those tensions and not at the beginning or end of any clearly delineated and naturally evolving path.



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