Professing * Reflecting

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday poem, Chase Twichell

Another from my first poetry professor, on a rainy Friday. Reading it is like breathing a sigh of relief after a long week of talking about language and how and why it is what it is. It does everything a poem is supposed to do, plainly and without apology.

Stirred Up By Rain

I fired up the mower
although it was about to rain--
a chill late September afternoon,
wild flowers re-seeding themselves
in the blue smoke of the gas-oil mix.

To be attached to things is illusion,
yet I'm attached to things.
Cold, clouds, wind, color--the sky
is what the brush-cutter wants to cut,
but again the sky is spared.

One of two things can happen:
either the noisy machine dissolves in the dusk
and the dusk takes refuge in the steady rain,
or the meadow wakes shorn of its flowers.
Believing is different than understanding.

--Chase Twichell



Monday, September 25, 2006


My dissertation adviser and I have never gotten along. Due to a long sordid series of events, I was his advisee by default. While I always tried in my awkward and inexperienced way to do what I could to make that okay for both of us, he never passed up a chance to make me feel like someone else's orphan who was now so very unfortunately in his keep. Part of the problem was my graduate institution, haven of academics as nasty and haughtily exclusionary as they were talented and impressively credentialed.

So I did what I had to do. I am scrappy that way. With Jackass Adviser giving me only the barest amount of attention and feedback on my dissertation drafts, I sought out some help from others but mostly I wrote the wretched thing on my own. It was read. It was pronounced good. It was defended, successfully. And even though it was crap, oh my god how it was crap, it received praise from Very Famous Outside Reader. And even though I am done mining it for publishable nuggets and will never turn it per se into a book, it contains some really rather fine work. Got a tenure-track job. Continued to produce work. Found new mentors.

I have thought for a long time that this "throw the baby in the water and let it swim on its own or die on its own" tactic was okay, even preferable really, for creating tough and self-directed academics. I even thought that my experience was somewhat normal. I mean how much help do any of us really get from our advisers?

Today I changed my mind. I had a meeting with my old adviser to discuss my ideas about going on the market, and he did everything in his power to crush my spirit. He went out of his way to make me feel like an idiot, about everything from the places I was applying (Why would you want to go there??) to some of the work I am doing (Everyone knows that's a dead horse. It's beyond unfashionable.). So, yeah, I wasn't being overly sensitive about this "style" of advising when I, as a graduate student, experienced it as rather devastating. My sense of it as being fucked-up, which I dismissed as a product of my immature feelings of entitlement and graduate student paranoia, was actually quite dead-on. Now that I have some time and distance from it, I can see that this goes beyond a lack of support. He is full of contempt for me and most especially for my silly determination to go about my business without his help. He went out of his way to humiliate me, as he has so many times before.

It is truly remarkable that I have done anything at all in this profession. I do not mean that to sound so self-congratulatory, and I do not mean this post to be about the power of personal moxie in a cruel academic world. I have a few Fairy Godmothers, and without their advice and support and attention to my work the party would most certainly be over. I am just trying to comprehend the causes and the effects of being knocked clean of breath (nearly literally) repeatedly by a superior. And I know I am not alone in my experience. Humiliation is no stranger at this little club of ours.

If I did not absolutely know that there is a bit more to this career and this profession than the narrow sphere in which Jackass Prickface (better surname for Jackass, as Adviser never really applied) orbits, I would leave it on the spot.

So deal with me, Jackass Prickface. Deal with the fact that I will continue to smile, thank you for your time, and do whatever it is you have most recently told me I could not or would not or should not do. And, with all due respect, fuck you.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Happy birthday to my little blog!

I almost let it slip by . . .my blog is two years old today! Reflecting will ensue when I am not bleary-eyed from professing. Until then I leave you with an awesome mirror scene sprung to life, Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirror, which opened today. You can read about it here or better yet go see it here.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

The heavily examined unlived life

I have been feeling like a loser in a lot of ways lately (but clearly I am a winner with the alliteration . . .wow). I do not know how it happened, but suddenly it seems like everyone but me has a vibrant, active, interesting life. I no longer have a busy social life. Whereas I used to have several circles of close friends, I seem to be alone most of the time these days.

Both New Kid and Dr. Crazy posted about the potentially solitary life of a professor recently, so I am coming to the lonely posting game a little late. Maybe their posts brought it into my consciousness, but I think feeling less connected to friends and more outside of my previous social circle started a little earlier. I just was not able to put my finger on what exactly was bothering me until others articulated it. Lots of folks had good advice for New Kid and Crazy on how to deal with isolation, how to meet new people, and how to find new activities. The problem for me is that I am established in my city, and I have friends. It's just that most of my friends have moved on--either to new towns or into new relationships, marriage, raising babies.

And where am I? Pretty much in the same place. Yes, I have an all-consuming tenure track job. In the past few years I have designed and taught a crazy number of new courses for my department. I have done countless service hours revamping programs, policies, etc. Then there's the assload of research, writing, and presenting at conferences on three different lines of research. So, yes, activity and growth in the career area, I suppose.

I have also had three important romantic relationships in the past three or four years, two of which were with incredible, brilliant, exciting men. (Yes--I am deliberately slamming The Boy of the Unbloggable Year as not an incredible or brilliant or exciting man. That relationship was a mistake, and I knew better and I hate myself for making it. All of this, though, will remain parenthetical until I begin to blog The Unbloggable Year.) I have not a single regret about being in two of those relationships, even though "train wreck" would be a massively understated way of describing how each of them ended. So personal growth in regard to romance? Not so much. I know what I want. I know what I like. I know what I don't want. I know what I don't like. But I have known these things for a while. And if you ask the Southern Family of Medusa? I am a sad sad spinster who is throwing her life away while her prospects for a happy fulfilled life shrivel as surely and steadily as her ovaries. And as much as I know that's ridiculous, it does get to me.

So why don't I do something about it, you say? Well, I am not sure what to do. Friendships and circles of friends have always formed organically for me, and I say this as a person who moved constantly as a child and as an adult. I have always been able to move to places and make a life, just like I did here. I guess there are ways to reinvigorate friendships and the life or lives I have or have had here. But then I think if others have naturally moved on to new things and into new circles, then why haven't I? And then I feel like a loser. On the job front, I could and probably should go on the market, at least to see. With a good kick in the butt, I could even get it in gear to apply for a handful on this year's job list. But as many of you know, feeling like a loser + going on the job market = not so very smart in terms of the self-esteem.

But then I think, "Wait a minute. I have plenty of self-esteem and self-respect and this feeling of loserness is coming from the outside and if I am feeling invisible and undesirable and freakish and alone, it's because culturally I do not exist." And I am so fucking tired of interrogating myself about what exactly my particular pathology or block to happiness may be. The whole idea of figuring out What I Want in Life and the project of Going For It is positively stifling to me.

Why? As anyone who knows me in real life knows, I have a perverse streak with regard to consequences. In a very juvenile way, you might say, I do not like to think about consequences. I am not cautious. I act before I think. I leap before I look. I accept marriage proposals with no thought that they might ever lead to actual marriage. The one thing I am hypersensitive to and very careful about is how my actions might affect others. Well, except in the case of the engagements with no intent to marry. In general, though, I like to question rigorously the project of cause-and-effect reasoning, especially when it comes to the results of my own actions. Incidentally this makes me the opposite of a control freak, as I actually want something to happen that does not follow directly from my actions. So you would think that means I am like a child who does not like to take any responsibility for anything, but in fact it ends up meaning that I feel responsible for everything. Actually the whole enterprise of trying to outwit consequences comes in the first place from feeling too much responsibility too much of the time, even when you are not responsible for what others are feeling or for the things that have happened to them.

I could go into the whole plight of the narcissistically wounded here, especially the psychological fallout from a child being responsible for the happiness of his or her parent(s) from a very early age. But that would be more examining than I want to do at the moment. The whole point of this post, I suppose, is the way I am going about examining my life and the ways in which that examination is keeping me from living it. If I am unhappy with my life, according to the conventional wisdom, I should make a plan to change it. I should identify my life goals and make a plan for achieving them. This all requires some soul-searching and a honest look at myself. Once I have my goals and my plans, I am set. While there are sure to be difficulties and obstacles, I can achieve what I want and plan to achieve.

But what if your plan is outside of "the plan," i.e. the culturally acceptable plan? Or what if cultural pressures make it impossible for you to be happy as you go about achieving your goals to happiness? You might say, "Hey, wait a minute, Medusa. You are a straight woman. You are culturally acceptable. Try being gay or poly. Then you will know what it feels like to be marginalized in terms of sexuality.". Potential point taken. But as a straight, sexually active, unmarried, childless woman with no real plans to marry (or not) or procreate (or not), I do not even have a subculture in which to take refuge. OK, I have "Sex and the City." I have Samantha. But I also have the nattering Carrie narrating my every move. I am both Samantha and Carrie. I have the freedom to act, but then I have to interrogate my every move. I mean, that's the whole point of Carrie, right? To interrogate women's behavior? Not to free them but to control them, or at the very least to make what women are doing okay for everyone else, which amounts to the same thing. Foucault, anyone? Incitement to discourse? (I am sure people have done work on this Carrie confession/interrogation thing. But, if not, I call dibs. It's mine, and I may be presenting on it in the near future at a conference near you.) Just how happy or fulfilled can you be under this kind of scrutiny, especially when it asks uncoupled childless women to confess their inherent unhappiness?

I do think I can have a vibrant, fulfilling life outside of "The Plan." But I can not help but to think (or to know, really, at this point) that the planning, the soul-searching, the identification of desires, the setting of goals is doing me more harm than good. Maybe I am being perversely irresponsible. Maybe I am being a child. Maybe I am being a stubborn brat. Or maybe I am just sick to death of thinking about what I am being.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I heart opiates

It's true. But I have not been off ingesting opiates. I have, however, been taking melatonin every night and marveling at its opiate-like effects. I take it. I start to read. 15 minutes later . . .boom, down. Love it. Even have a slightly woozy buzzy happy hangover in the morning that I do not mind so much and that wears off quickly.

I have been sick with a sinusy allergy thing and remain exhausted from being back at school and being SLAMMED with about 75% increase in departmental service work load due to various things that went down in the department last year, The Unbloggable Year. I figured out that this is why, even with teaching only two this semester, I am massively overwhelmed.

Other than that I have had very little to report. Yesterday was my friend Paloma's birthday, and our Gay Husband and I took her to a nice little fancy place for a birthday dinner. I will leave you with a snippet of our dinner conversation.

Gay Husband: Paloma, how's the quitting smoking going?

Paloma: I started again. I need a vice! I am dieting, I am not going out drinking, I. . .

Medusa: You could start watching porn.

Paloma [without missing a beat]: Yeah, I am just not that into it, at least not watching it alone. I . . .

Gay Husband: Me either. I always just wish I was there.

Paloma: I don't! I wish the exact opposite, because the guys are disgusting and . . .

Gay Husband: I think gay porn is better. I mean, the guys in straight porn might have giant dicks but the guys in gay porn are much better looking.

[At this point, the neighboring patrons--very close in the cozy room--begin to cast long stares in our direction. I begin to think of New Kid, wishing the genteel Southern lady who harassed her were suddenly plopped into this Yankee scene. But these were not stares of offended bigots but rather the slightly uncomfortable stares of proper tweedy types keeping a keen eye on acceptable dinner-table topics. Nevertheless in honor of New Kid and remembering the gift that Paloma bought from our glass artist friend for Gay Husband last Christmas, I say . . .]

Medusa: How's your glass butt plug, Gay Husband?

Gay Husband: I still hate it!

Paloma: It's beautiful! You don't have to use it as a butt plug. It would make a nice paperweight.

Medusa: Do you hate it because it's glass?

Gay Husband [raising his voice]: I hate it because it's a butt plug!

So, yes, I like to think I have done my small part in raising the bar of dinner conversation throughout the land.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Actually it is the first song on my iPod

Your Theme Song is Back in Black by AC/DC

"Back in black, I hit the sack,
I've been too long, I'm glad to be back"

Things sometimes get really crazy for you, and sometimes you have to get away from all the chaos.
But each time you stage your comeback, it's even better than the last!

Feel lame posting blogthings but am feeling a bit stunned at being back and a bit ailing after my brush with death by elliptical. (Yes, I exaggerate.) I already feel ready to drown in prep, when in reality it's not at all that much. I need to read a few articles and make some lecture and discussion notes for the new upper-level class, but that's not a big deal. I am not reading for the other near-and-dear-to-my-heart lower-level class, because I have taught it a few times and only need to review my lecture notes. By the grace of the academic gods, I am only teaching two this semester. Two! Life is good then, right? No need to feel overwhelmed, right? But then there are two rec letters for colleagues that have to be written by Friday and my own research and and . . .I would do so much better as a member of the landed gentry. Do we still have landed gentry?


Friday, September 08, 2006

That's a first

Nothing like coming home from your first official day of classes and barely making it up the stairs to the garret due to dizziness, nausea, chills, and severe muscle weakness.

Yes, I had a long day on little sleep. Yes, I drank too much coffee. Yes, I then worked out for a little over an hour. Yes, it was a hot day. Yes, I am stupid. I knew all of this healthy living was a mistake for me.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Today in Pop Culture, or The Tired Professor

Why didn't those of you who have been back for a week or two warn me about the exhaustion I would feel going back this week? Okay, maybe you did. Because I am absolutely spent from only two days (?!?!) of being back, I will not be posting anything of substance. Rather I bring to your attention a few things of note from the popular culture scene on this day in the U.S. This is of course something I as a tired professor would ONLY do here and never EVER in class on those days I am too tapped to do more.

1. Have you noticed that everyone on The View but Rosie O'Donnell has some version of the mullet? I cannot say enough bad things about this show. "You're killing feminism!" will have to suffice for now.

2. While The Superficial is speculating that Suri Cruise is actually Asian, I am pretty certain that she is either Keanu's or Johnny Damon's kid.

3. United 93 comes out on DVD today. Just in time for your 9/11 5th anniversary party preparations!


Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day confession

Do you ever put things on your "To Do" list just as you are about to finish them or have finished them just so you can get started on marking things off the list? I do. All of the time.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Shhhhh. . . .

I am eavesdropping. The Fuckwits are having a screaming fight. Not surprising. Never can make it through an entire long holiday weekend together. And that baby never cries unless his father is home. Poor little thing is bawling now.

To Meg: I will answer the burning question that you are intent on repeating at the top of your lungs, "Don't you get it? Why can't you get it? When I have explained it to you a million times?!". Your husband does not get whatever it is, because he is a self-absorbed prick. As you must have noticed by now, he is also not the sharpest pencil in the box. And even if he does get it, as the thorough-going misogynist that he is, he is never going to show you the respect of "getting it," which I suspect has something perfectly valid to do with your needs. Little dude has a problem with women. Notice how when he's hanging out with his buddies, having a beer in the backyard, all he talks about is how dumb various women at work and celebrity women are? Notice his paternalistic and condescending attitude toward me? Issues, Meg, issues. You are a smart woman, so you must have known you were not marrying the brightest bulb in the chandelier. I am not usually the type to point out how that bed is one that you made, but . . .

To Hamilton: Just leave, you little troll. Your wife is upset and your baby is screaming. The phallus is always already imperiled. Deal with it. Go to Home Depot or the sports bar or something. The stripper-professor upstairs woke up on the man-hating harridan side of the bed today and is ready to eat you alive. Consider yourself forewarned.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Should I sell stuff on eBay?

I am looking for other sources of income. As I have mentioned here before, life in the big city living alone on my salary is not easy. And for various reasons I will not go into at length because I feel I have been depressing enough lately, things are not getting easier. I am getting raises, but they are eaten up by increases in fees and premiums. Owning a condo in a rapidly gentrifying area with the "get busy spending or get busy dying" modus vivendi of neighbors like The Fuckwits is starting to make it more and more difficult to keep my head above water.

So I am actually serious about the eBay question. I am of course looking at other more lucrative possibilities like going back to freelance writing and editing or teaching summer or night courses, but I have yet to find a way to make any of those options work while trying to get tenure. I need time to write. I need to write to get tenure. So I figure why not sell some stuff? I have been going through my closets, getting ready to make my every-two-to-three-years trek to Goodwill. I really do have a good amount of clothing, shoes, and bags I could sell. I have a good eye and a great bargain shopping instinct, so I even have some designer and super funky vintage stuff to sell.

But is it really worth it, given the fees and the time it takes to post, ship, etc.? Does anyone have experience with this or know someone who does? Even if you do not, what are your thoughts? Is it a stupid idea? Any other thoughts on how to be an enterprising gorgon?


Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday poem, Bukowski


there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but i'm too tough for him,
i say, stay in there, i'm not going
to let anybody see

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but i pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but i'm too tough for him,
i say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but i'm too clever, i only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
i say, i know that you're there,
so don't be

then i put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, i haven't quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but i don't
weep, do

--Charles Bukowski

I had an amazing dream this morning about bluebirds. There were about a dozen or so, playing in the dirt. It was night, and all the visuals of the dream except for the bluebirds had this dark sooty tinge. I was fascinated with the birds and thought of the glass bluebird my mother used to keep on the windowsill above our kitchen sink. I loved it, and these birds were the same exact wild bright shade of blue. (Writing this now, I realize that my mother now keeps that bluebird, which she calls the bluebird of happiness, hidden in a kitchen cabinet of her new home in the Deep Red.) Suddenly I had to protect the birds from a man, an official of some kind, who starting kicking at the birds and making them scurry. I tried to explain to him that this was wrong, but he looked at me, shook his head at my naivete, and tried to explain the rules of why the bluebirds could not play in the dirt, here, at night. He tried to escort me to this airplane hanger where I was supposed to sleep for the night, locked in and protected. But then my mother was there, crying and calling for me, pleading for my help with one of the bluebirds. It had been kicked and was bleeding, about to die. My mother was desperate for my help with it. I told the official to fuck off and physically pushed him away from us. He left, shaking his head. I went to my mother, who was desperately sad and childlike, and explained to her that the bird was dying and she needed to tell it goodbye. I woke up crying. Wow.