Teacher teacher, can you reach me

30 01 2014

Classes have started again. Thank goddess.

I need the money (of course: I always need the money), but it’s more than that. While I’ve been working at home for the 2nd job, I just get. . . antsy before a new semester. Part of it is worry that my course will be cancelled, but even more so is the sense that my real work is in the classroom, so to be out of the classroom is, even if I have other work, to be out of work. My real work.

It’s taken me too long to get to this point, to know that, yeah, my real work is as a professor. Unfortunately, due to the many bad decisions I’ve made about my career, instead of being snugly ensconced in a nest somewhere in mid-level academia, I’m left to swing from semester to semester, hoping I can grab the next vine of courses just after I let go of this one.

(In 2011 those vines got yanked away a couple of times, and I crashed, hard. I won’t dig out from that financially until next year—if all goes well.)

Can I recover and manage to build some stability into my career? I dunno. You’ve only got so many years post-PhD to slide into the tenure track, and as I am some multiple of years beyond that time, I may have missed my chance(s).

But I don’t want to give it up, either. I enjoy teaching and am pretty good at it, and while I think academic publishing is a scam, I remain capable of solid research.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I am constitutionally unsuited for corporate work? Not that any corporation would have me.

I’ve gone round and round on this before, and have done nothing. Dmf has given me links to the, ah, Brooklyn Institute, I think, and there are plenty of non-CUNY institutions in the NYC area in which I could teach. (CUNY limits the number of courses adjuncts can teach any given semester & over the course of the year, so while I will send my c.v. to the campus closest to me, if I want more work I’ll have to go outside of CUNY.)

So there it is. I’ve finally figured out this is what I can do; now I need to just, y’know, do it.

I will try not to breathe

29 12 2013

So I got back from visiting a friend with C. (we decided against a drink at our bar) and went to bed earlier than I usually do on a Saturday night and it took awhile to fall asleep and I woke up at some point in the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t sleep and I don’t know if it was the visit or the pancakes or coffee or waffle fries but I couldn’t sleep and somewhere in the midst of the not sleeping I came up with an idea for another novel.

I have the title and everything.

Now, I’ve already been working on another novel (and need to finish off the edits of the second novel and oh yeah send out pitch letters) which has been long in incubation and which I really want to see how it works out but now this not-sleep idea came WHOOSH and I think I could knock out a first draft right quick then let it rest while I work on that other novel (and finish the edits of the second and send out pitch letters) and I don’t know, see if I could write two at the same time (they’re very different ideas) and hm there’s that cyborgology conference I want to write a paper for and, well, goddamn.

January’s going to be a busy month.

I don’t wanna talk about it now

20 12 2013

Late late, so quick quick:

I’m with Charlie Pierce on this issue: just because our courts have concluded that the First Amendment doesn’t (necessarily) extend to the private sphere doesn’t mean the rest of should so blithely dismiss concerns about free speech which one’s employers don’t like.

This deserve more thoughts than I have at the moment, but. . . yeah.

Maybe it ain’t censorship, but that don’ make it right.

Workin’ in the coal mine

12 11 2013

Ha ha ha, right: teaching and freelancing offer a plenitude of opportunities to bitch, but the most I have to worry about is a sore throat, maybe a sore back, not black lung and cave-ins.

Anyway, I’m jammed up with work, which, on the one (lazy) hand is bad, but on the other (money-grubbin’) hand is good. Mostly it’s good.

I should be able to catch up by this weekend, but in the meantime, this is my excuse for no/scrawny posts.

At least, that’s my story, and all that.

Pretty on the inside

28 10 2013

Time: just in the nick of!

For my bank account, anyway. I’m back working for the same organization for which I’ve worked on and off for years. I’ve moved around different departments, filling in as needed, and trying not to fuck up.

I like these people, and I like that they hire me to fill in.

Anyway, my current project is to find contact information for a group of people. I don’t want to be any more specific than that, but I will note that this project, like a previous one, requires a fair amount of time spent on college & university websites.

Which brings me to the real topic (rant) of the day: Jesus Christ on a cracker can no one design a decent university website?

Let’s start with all of the crap on the front page: flickering images and/or too much text, cutesy or self-serious self-promo shit, tiny print, ugly fonts, and links which only lead to more links and more links and more links before you can find what you’re looking for.

Some have site maps, some of which are useful, but others which are either so general or so specific as to be useless. Some have directories, some of which are useful, . . .

The worst, however, are those landing pages which are geared toward sucking in potential students. In fact, the worse the school, the more real estate is given over to the sales staff. And even then, it’s not as if the links take you directly to the pages you need, oh no: first you have to wade through a thicket of pitch-links.

I’m mostly looking for faculty and departmental information, so I can bypass most of the crap, but honest-to-pete, there are some institutions which do not include a front-page link to “Academics”.  Campus activities? Yep. Alumni? Uh-huh. Events? Sure. But “Academics”? That’s crazy talk!

Oh, and how about contact information made clearly available? You know, a mailing address and main campus phone number at the bottom of the front page, or if that can’t be managed, a “Contact” link which actually provides that information rather than a fucking request-for-information form.

One last observation: At those universities which don’t require design uniformity for all departments, the absolute worst websites are invariably the Art and Computer Science pages. The artists have to show how goddamned artsy they are, which usually means you have to mouse around a dark page hoping you’ll highlight something that will take you to a page you can actually read, while the geeks have to demonstrate their superiority to you by creating a page which requires some sort of goddamned code to figure out what’s going on.

And they each have an unseemly attraction to black backgrounds with tiny yellow or purple print. Here’s a tip: Don’t use a black background with tiny yellow or purple print.

Unless you don’t care if no one uses your site, ever.

They certainly don’t make them like that anymore

16 08 2013

Yesterday I finally got off my butt and picked up a canister in which to store my compost-ables until I could take them to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket for real composting.

On my way back from the dollar store—yes, I went all out on the container—I stopped momentarily to watch the road construction crew lay down a layer of red concrete. That moment lasted, oh, half-an-hour.

The city and various utilities have been upgrading the lines running under half of Nostrand, then building out pedestrian bulges as they reconstruct the torn-up lanes. During the day, what is normally 2-3 lanes of traffic is funnelled into a single eastside lane, as the lane closest to the western curb is worked on and a middle lane reserved for the construction equipment.

I wasn’t the only one leaning on the fencing, watching some of the men run their brushes and floaters over the concrete, while others shoveled the mix into a trench alongside the old roadway. I waited for the mixer to drop more of the sludge onto the prepared lane, but the only guy who wasn’t wearing the yellow safety vest, after yelling back and forth with a goateed man in, mm, his forties or fifties, sent the mixer away.

A dump truck and an excavator crept in where the mixer had been, and one of the workers directed the excavator driver to deposit dirt from the truck on the far side of lane. The goateed man flung a half-brick with a string tied around across the barrier at the edge of the trench, then, carried that string to the curb, roughing out a height. The dump truck and excavator reversed in tandem down the street, pausing to deposit dirt in the road bed (I’m assuming to create a slight slope down toward the curb). Later guy with a walk-behind compactor came through and tamped down the dirt.

The mixer returned, and as the drum rolled, I recalled a piece I had read somewhere (probably in the New Yorker, probably by John McPhee), on the time constraints on concrete mixing. The aggregate, cement, and water need to mix enough to integrate all of the components, but since it begins to set almost immediately, it needs to be disgorged tout suite (within 90 minutes, according to Wikipedia). It was around lunchtime, but it was clear that as long as the mixer was on the scene, the men would be shoveling, troweling, and smoothing instead of eating.

The drum rolled and rolled, the men standing around, rinsing off boots and equipment, and attaching extenders to the chute. (Given that one man could easily lift the 5-foot or so long chute, it was probably a composite plastic material, or maybe aluminum. Lightweight, in other words.) Then a couple of the guys signaled to the driver, and the red concrete began sliding down the chute. Immediately they began shoveling and troweling and brushing the concrete, and as the compactor finished its last run in the road bed, the mixer slowly moved south, pausing as the men swung the chute in an arc from curb to trench.

That was my cue to leave—I’d said to myself I would stay until the concrete began flowing again—but, honestly, I could hung on that fence and watched these men build that road to the end.

I don’t do physical work now—wielding chalk against a board doesn’t count—but I have in the past. My only summer home from college I got a second shift job at a foundry, working the punch press for lawnmower parts, leak-checking oil pans and oil-pan covers, and running the mill-and-tap machine for Pontiac power-steering plug brackets.

I hated that job, not least because, as a non-union gig, the pay was shit and the safety conditions somewhat less than desirable. That it was second shift also meant that when I was getting out of work all of my first-shift friends were at home in bed; while I got along fine with my co-workers (after a brief period of coolness toward the “college kid”, they allowed me to lunch with them), we didn’t socialize outside of work.

Still, near the end of my time there, I understood something of why, beyond just a paycheck, people might appreciate a job like that. There was a certain rhythm to the work. Here’s where you lined up to punch in, here’s where you lined up to punch out, here’s where you picked up your gloves and here’s where you tossed them. Head nod to these folks, a joke with those, and off to the machines. While I’m not much good with regularity, I got a glimpse of its pleasures, and why some might be reassured rather than boxed in by it.

There was also the pleasure at having a part in making something you can hold in your hand. I milled and tapped hundreds, maybe (tho’ probably not: I wasn’t the fastest on this machine) thousands of Pontiac power-steering plug brackets, with damn near each one of which ended up in a car. It was a thing I worked on, which was now working for someone else.

I like teaching and I’m glad to have a job which requires me to be so much in my head, but as much satisfaction I get from my time in the classroom or with my books, I can’t hold the thing I make in my hand.

When Matt Yglesias wonders why so many people bang on about manufacturing, when he suggests that food service (in which I’ve also put my time) be considered a part of the manufacturing sector, he misses the central point of manufacture: that you end up with a thing you can hold in your hand. Maybe he doesn’t get that, or maybe he doesn’t see why that’s important, but if you’re going to stand on a line year after year after year, the routine itself won’t be enough.

If you’re going to do the job, take pride—such an outdated concept—in the job, it helps to be able to pick a thing up and say, without irony or ideology, “I built that.”

That’s why I and so many of my neighbors were hanging on that fence, watching those men build a road. It was something we could see, something we would walk across or bike or drive on, something which had disappeared, and now, finally, was there.

Come Mister tally man, tally me banana

28 07 2013

Remember: no food is produced without labor.

Good on Mark Bittman for this most basic reminder of a most basic fact of human life.

We need food to eat, and that food does not come from nowhere. Oh, food corporations would like us to believe that food comes from nowhere—think of the efforts to ban unauthorized filming of conditions in pig and chicken plants—or from some mythical somewhere in which a smiling man lovingly plucks a strawberry or head of lettuce and pulls himself upright to show us the bounty of the Earth, but, really, they’d rather us not think about the workers stooped over in a field, exposed to pesticides and herbicides, cutting and tugging hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables out of the dirt every day.

And slaughterhouses? No one wants to think about slaughterhouses.

I’m not exempting myself from this. I don’t know where most of my food comes from: that I’m assiduous in buying only fair-trade coffee beans only highlights how little I do to source every other item in my diet. Nor do I inquire as to the conditions in the kitchen of the restaurants or (more commonly) the local joints I visit.

Bittman gives one way to begin paying attention:

Well-intentioned people often ask me what they can do to help improve our food system. Here’s an easy one: When you see that picket line next week, don’t cross it. In fact, join it.

I mentioned in my last post that those who are most directly affected by a phenomenon ought to take the lead in directing how to respond to it. Bittman’s advice fits nicely into that schema: the workers themselves are acting, and in so doing, are telling the rest of how to act.

Hear, hear. If you want to get paid fairly for the work you do, then you should support others getting paid fairly for the work they do.

We all should be paid fairly for the work we do.


h/t: Erik Loomis, Lawyers, Guns & Money

Hey look-a here, just wait and see

17 07 2013

The summer between my third & fourth years at Madison I worked “maintenance” for the university.

I put “maintenance” in quotes because we didn’t really do any maintenance—that was left to the regular civil service staff; mostly, we cleaned.

I’d worked food service the summer before, but “maintenance” was much better because there were more hours: full-time, M-F, in the Southeast dorms (Sellery A & B, Ogg, and Witte).

The first 4 or 6 weeks we cleaned all of the windows in all of the dorms, inside and out. The supervisors (also students) would come around and stand sideways to the windows to check for streaks and missed spots and ponies, telling us to re-do a bunch if we were on schedule, or just to wipe up the errata if we were behind.

Then they’d task us with various bullshit—cleaning out window wells, cleaning and painting dumpsters (not as bad as it sounds, actually), removing the tar that seeped up through the cracks in the basements. (Word was the Southeast dorms were built on a swamp, and tar had been used as filler. I don’t know if that was true, but tar really did ooze out of the cracks.) Anyway, they kept us busy until the end of the summer, when they needed us to do real work again.

A big chunk of that real work was cleaning up after bankers. The university ran seminars for businessfolk, putting them up in the dorms, so we did the maid-work, cleaning rooms, bathrooms, etc., during and after their stay. It wasn’t a bad gig: the dorms were air conditioned, and the bankers would often leave booze and food behind.

We were supposed to toss these leavings, but, c’mon, who does that? The regular civil service staff and the student workers had a silent understanding, each taking what was left and saying nothin’ to nobody.

As we worked these various jobs, our work crews would shift. I ended up maid-ing with a couple of girls I didn’t know very well, and, really, hadn’t been terribly interested in. Nothing awful: they had their group, I had mine.

They, however, turned out to be the perfect pair to work with. There were no awkward conversations about keeping the booze, and, like most (although not all) of the student workers, saw no point in working too hard. We did what we needed to, nothing more.

Anyway, what prompted this reminiscence was the one girl, whose face I can barely make out, but she had straight blond hair, who’d walk around muttering “she’s sure fine lookin’ man, she’s something else” at her friend (also blond, but curly), and they’d both crack up.

One lunch hour—for which we had to punch out—we took some of the leftover beer and whiskey and found a spot decently away from the main office and all ate together. I finally asked her about the line.

“Eddie Cochrane,” she’d said, then repeated, “She’s sure fine lookin’ man, she’s something else.”

I didn’t know the name of the song, but remembered Eddie (after briefly confusing him with Tommie) Cochrane, and way later found a best-of cd with, (what else) “Somethin’ Else”.

So, after that verrrrrrrrrry long prelude, for your listening pleasure:

I was listening to it early this evening. It’s a great song.

And not a bad memory.

Working in the coal mine, work, work

10 03 2013

I blog for free.

I like the sound of my own voice, and, as I once introduced myself, I have lunch and opinions; so when something pops up, I go, Hey, what do I think of this? And then I blog about it, to figure out my thoughts.

I also write (as in: write draft-edit-edit-rewerite-edit. . .) for free, as in This is something that I have to do, and so I do it. I’ll put it on Smashwords and Barnes & Noble and Amazon and hope someone pays for it, but, really, the cash isn’t going to flow.

I do these for free, in other words, because it pleases me.

If you want me to please you, however, then you have to pay me. I’ll be nice if you ask, and I’ll be nice when you pay, but if you want me to labor and you don’t want to compensate me for the fruits of that labor, then (cue Harlan Ellison): Fuck you. Pay me.

Nate Thayer and an Atlantic editor kicked off this latest iteration of Pay the Writer when the editor asked Thayer not simply for permission to repost something he’d already written, but to re-write it. When he asked how much he’d get paid, this was the response:

We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month.

You, editor, who are getting paid to work for a for-profit company, approached someone to work for you knowing that you couldn’t pay him for that work? And then you waved the exposure flag?

Some have criticized Thayer for publishing the editor’s name and e-mail address (e.g., in these comments) , but even privacy-crazed me think that if you approach someone in a professional capacity using your work e-mail, then, no, it’s not unreasonable for said work e-mail to be published. I wouldn’t have published the address—there be dragons in cyberspace—but this matter ought not be the takeaway from the exchange.

No, the takeaway should be: Don’t fucking ask people to work for you if you can’t pay them cash-money. The website gets 13 million readers a month? As Thayer noted in an interview, I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent.

Miz Emily, er, Emily L. Hauser noted in her blog that she has written for The Atlantic for free, albeit at her own instigation. While she was glad  to appear on the site,  the fact of that byline has opened no doors, nor has it led to a single offer for paying work — when editors talk about the value of “exposure,” I can only hope that they’re ignorant of what a chimera that is.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic published a long piece on the economics of digital journalism, and he makes a number of reasonable points about its dismal fiscal prospects. Okay, it’s hard out there for an editor—but that doesn’t excuse your own attempts to off-load that difficulty on to freelance writers.

Madrigal is arguing, in other words, that the choices for a quality publication are all bad, but hey, whatchoo gonna do? I don’t like to ask people for work that we can’t pay for. But I’m not willing to take a hardline and prevent someone who I think is great from publishing with us without pay. My main point and (to be normative about it) the main point in these negotiations is this: What do you, the writer, get out of this?

And then he sighs again about the difficulties of his job. For which he is being paid.

I know that my posts get re-posted with some regularity—not because they’re so great, but because there are any number of auto-aggregator sites out there that scoop up anything and everything they see. I don’t really like it, but they do link back to my site, and they’re not asking me to do more work. For free.

Jessica Hische has this great graphic Should I Work For Free (which someone posted a link to in the comments on a like-minded John Scalzi post), and the upshot is pretty much: No.

And that’s pretty much my upshot, with the following caveat: If The Atlantic wanted to repost something which I had written for me own pleasure, then, sure, the exposure might be nice; I was, after all, thrilled when being Freshly Pressed led to an increase in my Absurd readership.

But if you want me to work to please you: pay me.

You can’t get no cornmeal made

28 01 2013

Oh lordy, am I lazy.

The less I have to do, the less I get done.

Now, on the one hand: Duh! If I have two things to do I get fewer things done than if I have 8 things to do, but that’s not what I mean.

No, what I mean is: If you give me large amounts of time in which to accomplish a few tasks, I will. . . not accomplish them. This is less of a problem if I owe work to someone else, but if it’s just for me? Mmmm, no.

Classes begin this week, and while, yes, I have completed my syllabus for my bioethics class (updated, shifted a bit), I haven’t yet bothered to print it out, or to get my shit together for tomorrow.

Hey, that’s what the morning’s for.

And my other class, well, that one doesn’t begin until next week, so hey, I got a whole week to overhaul (as opposed merely to updating) the thing.

Deadlines, man, I need deadlines. Gimme a deadline and I’ll git ‘er done. No deadline, no dice.

Oh, to be self-starting and self-disciplined. . . !


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