Doctor, my eyes

25 08 2016

I’m a little paranoid about teaching.

No, not the students or the work itself, but the schedule: when do classes start, end, what are the switch-up days (CUNY always has switch-up days, when, say, a Friday becomes a Tuesday, in order to balance out the schedule), what’s the room number, when do classes meet.

Shoulda double-checked on that last one.

I’ve been on a TThF fall schedule for, mm, years. I teach 2 classes TTh, then one on Friday; this works for me.

WELL, today I traveled up to the Bronx for the first day of my 300-level bioethics class, was in the office about to make copies of my syllabus, when one of the work-study students said she was looking forward to my class on Monday.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Nooooooo.

Yep.

The woman in charge of scheduling this course didn’t switch the days, didn’t know why the days were switched, couldn’t do anything about it. (I didn’t really expect her to do anything—the students have already registered, so there’s little to be done—but I did want to find out what was what.) Make sure you check your schedule, she said, helpfully.

But I diiiiiiiiid, I wailed, when I ordered my books. Coulda sworn I saw TTh!

Nope. Did not see TTh.

Now, this situation isn’t as bad as it could be, i.e., having to spend money and time traversing to the Bronx 5 instead of 3 days a week: my second TTh class is for a program which hasn’t yet registered students (classes start and end later).  The guy who runs it is great, and was willing to request a schedule change; the acting chair of my dept is my friend Jtte, who said she’d sign off on the request as well.

So, while it’s not certain that I’ll get a MWF as opposed to MTWThF schedule, there’s a pretty good chance I will.

Now, that same work-study student also said the course was an online class, which, OH HELL NO it is not; happily, she was wrong about that part.

One last thing, just to make this day super-duper: the water in my building has been turned off all week 8-4ish. This hasn’t been a problem for my new, late-night sched because, well, in the summer I take a shower in the early evening anyway. However, since I [thought I] taught this afternoon, I got up at 7:30am to shower. (Okay, I then went back to bed until 10, but, y’know, that second sleep is never as good as the first one.)

SUCH A FINE DAY.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, well, it actually could have been worse: the semester could have begun on Wednesday, and I’d have missed the first day.

If I get to choose my fuck-ups (which I don’t, but go with me on this one), I’d much rather have a semi-wasted—I had errands in Manhattan planned—trip than a missed class.

But what a fuckin’ way to start the semester.





Do you feel real?

19 08 2016

I am not a successful academic.

I’m a pretty good teacher, but I’ve neither attended a conference nor submitted any papers for publication in over a decade. And yes, while I’m working on this ideologies project (which means I may end up submitting paper proposals to a conference or two), I’d have to say that I have not done the work of a good scholar.

I don’t like admitting it, but there it is.

Which is my way of wandering into this New Yorker profile of Martha Nussbaum. Nussbaum is, of course, a successful—a very successful—academic. She has, per that profile,

published twenty-four books and five hundred and nine papers and received fifty-seven honorary degrees. In 2014, she became the second woman to give the John Locke Lectures, at Oxford, the most eminent lecture series in philosophy. Last year, she received the Inamori Ethics Prize, an award for ethical leaders who improve the condition of mankind. A few weeks ago, she won five hundred thousand dollars as the recipient of the Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious award offered in fields not eligible for a Nobel, joining a small group of philosophers that includes Karl Popper and Jürgen Habermas.

Very, very successful.

Now, it’s true that I don’t like all of her books, but I have a number of them on my bookshelf and have used her work in my classroom. I’d guess that not only does she work harder than me, but that she’s also smarter than me and that if I ever got into an argument with her I’d almost certainly lose.

So, I’m not competing with her because I can’t compete with her: she’s way out of my league.

That said (you knew there’d be a “that said”, or maybe a “but still”), reading that profile made me uneasy: Is she for real?

~~~

“To be a good human being,” she has said, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.”

This makes a great deal of sense, and Nussbaum certainly does seem open to the world.

Her work includes lovely descriptions of the physical realities of being a person, of having a body “soft and porous, receptive of fluid and sticky, womanlike in its oozy sliminess.” She believes that dread of these phenomena creates a threat to civic life. “What I am calling for,” she writes, is “a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.”

But, as Rachel Aviv observes,

In Nussbaum’s case, I wondered if she approaches her theme of vulnerability with such success because she peers at it from afar, as if it were unfamiliar and exotic. [. . .]

. . . when I first proposed the idea of a Profile . .  [s]he responded skeptically, writing in an e-mail that she’d had a long, varied career, adding, “I’d really like to feel that you had considered various aspects of it and that we had a plan that had a focus.” She typically responded within an hour of my sending an e-mail. “Do you feel that you have such a plan?” she asked me. “I’d like to hear the pros and cons in your view of different emphases.” She wasn’t sure how I could encompass her œuvre, since it covered so many subjects: . . . “The challenge for you would be to give readers a road map through the work that would be illuminating rather than confusing,” she wrote, adding, “It will all fall to bits without a plan.”

I understand that one may seek to control as much as possible about one’s own life in recognition that there’s so much that can’t be controlled, but there’s appears to be little that Nussbaum accepts as out of one’s control.

That philosophers write one prescription and follow another is so common as to be axiomatic. But I find it jarring that a scholar of humanity who, remarking on operatic role she’s rehearsing, says “I feel that this character is basically saying, ‘Life is treating me badly, so I’m going to give up,’ ” she told me. “And I find that totally unintelligible.”

Oh my Hera, Martha, so many of us give up so often, how can you talk of a “society of citizens who admit” being shattered, needy, and vulnerable when you can’t see that humans who are shattered sometimes give up?

As Aviv notes, Nussbaum does give emotions pride of place in her philosophy, as a kind of ur-cognition. And there’s something to that, to the breakdown of the affect-vs-intellect duality. But in assigning emotions a cognitive role, she overlooks that emotions have their own role, as emotions.

This is tough for me, not least because I once aspired to the kind of Stoicism that Nussbaum seems to have achieved (and which may be yet another reason I respond so strongly to her). Yet I’ve spent too many years twisting and then untwisting myself not to see that feelings are more than just thoughts untamed, always to be subordinated to reason. I have difficulty with this still, but I can at least acknowledge that sometimes, sometimes, it is not the worst thing to feel, first.

Nussbaum allows the feeling, but only properly tamed. She feels through her thoughts, which is an accomplishment. And a loss.

~~~

There’s a great deal more in the profile—the discussion of her colonoscopy, her willingness to strip in front of others, her use of Botox and plastic surgery, and more—which, as someone who’d rather not appear in my skivvies in front of colleagues, older or younger (and would prefer they keep their clothes on, as well), only heightened my unease.

But then, on submitting that feeling to reason, I admit that it doesn’t make sense to feel embarrassed on behalf of someone who is matter-of-fact in dealing with her facts of life. And it allowed me to see Nussbaum, in all her determined discipline, as, well, a bit odd.

And thus, all the more real for her oddness.





Is there anybody out there?

17 08 2016

Hello! Long time, no see!

I’ve been away for a bit, and not for anything urgent or tragic or earth-shattering or delightful or infuriating or, really, anything other than ordinary life.

I was unemployed in June, which causes my rib cage to tighten and thoughts to shrink, but both taught and worked my second job in July and into this month; next week, fall classes begin.

So, yeah, ordinary life.

Which hasn’t been working for me.

I mean, unemployment obviously didn’t work (no puns, please), and not just because not having money is no good: I don’t do well with nothingness. But even with something, even with teaching (and regular paychecks), my life was—is—just. . . floating by.

I don’t mind a good float, but this wasn’t that. No, this was a haze, out of phase, a time-loop of the year before (and the year before that).

There might be a bit of depression.

So I’m trying something new, a something old which I’d tried half-heartedly before. Can’t say my whole heart is in it now, but, goddammit, there’s really no reason not to do this, it’s so simple.

I’m a night person, have been for as long as I’ve been aware that one could be a night person. I wrote college papers at night, then grad papers, then my dissertation, then my first novel, then my second. I want to write; I write at night.

But I haven’t been keeping a night schedule, and I haven’t been writing, and for all my scribbling in various notebooks, I haven’t been thinking through anything.

That’s not just about the lack of night, of course. I am undisciplined without a deadline, without a commitment to someone or something else; lacking that outside pressure, it’s too easy to shrug away the day.

But at night, late night, everything seems clearer, and what I couldn’t be arsed with during the day emerges, unbidden, from the dark.

Sounds weird, I guess: why should the time of day matter? I don’t know, but it does.

And that’s been the problem. Most people aren’t on a night schedule, so even when my work schedule has allowed me the night, I’ve been mimicking the ordinary schedule One Ought To Keep.

Which is ridiculous, because no one, not one damned person, has been tossing any Oughts at me about when and how I work. No one cares if I’m up until 2 or in bed until 10. It doesn’t matter if I’m regular or not to anyone but me.

And, goddammit, I’m more than halfway through my life so you’d think I’d have learned by now that when I get to make choices then I get to make the choices that actually suit me.

So, I’m staying up late and getting up late, and seeing if that will help me sync back up with my own life again.





Baby, take a walk outside

4 07 2016

It’s time:

Camus’s take on the US, via John Doe and Exene’s uncertain harmony.





Another day draws away

16 06 2016

So I’m currently unemployed—which sucks—so one might think I’d be gettin’ all kinds of work done.

One has not met me, I see.

No, I’m one of those folks that if I have 5 things to do, I get 5 things done; 10, and maybe 8, maybe all ten.

But one thing? Two? Nope. Or 5 things, or ten, with no particular deadline? That’d be a no.

I’ve had posts in mind, but, clearly, haven’t written them. I have notes and files from this past semester that need to be sorted before the fall; they remain unsorted. Notes to prepare for my July class? Ha ha ha.

Okay, I did manage (today, finally), to enter books I purchased this past semester into my Filemaker database, and, finally, to figure out how to export it all to an Excel file (very easy). And I began sorting through those entries, highlighting those which lacked info (ISBN, say, or publisher) or which, because I may no longer own them or were duplicates, should be deleted.

(Which, shees, some of those books I clearly got rid of either before I left Minneapolis or before I left Somerville, but I still felt a pang seeing those titles. Did I really get rid of the Wonnacott & Wonnacott stats books, or are they in my folks’ attic? Whyyyy didn’t I keep the Shively? Honestly, I haven’t needed or even thought about those books for years, but here I am, panging after them. Pitiful.)

So, yeah. That I managed to pull my nose out of my naval long enough to do ONE THING today could mean I’m on an upswing. . . or that I’ll say, Okey-dokey, that was enough for this week.

TUNE IN, then, for another exciting episode of Will she or won’t she?

Or not.

 





Burn, baby, burn

28 04 2016

I am notably flexible when it comes to paper deadlines—and that is biting me in the ass this week.

I give my students a due date, then, a week or two before the due date, tell them that if anyone wants more time, s/he needs only email me prior to that due date and I’ll give them a week extension, no questions asked. (More than a week requires an explanation.)

It’s easy enough to do: I don’t have TAs so I don’t have to worry about disrupting someone else’s schedule, and my classes are small enough (35 or under) that, even with multiple classes, I can get the grading done.

Why not just make the deadline the week-later date? Well, then I’d have to be a bitch about deadlines, lay on penalties, and otherwise stress out all concerned. This way, I have the flexibility to offer my students flexibility—something which is appreciated by all concerned.

Anyway, this usually works out fine, but I am currently grading papers and projects for all of my classes and, well, that’s where the ass-biting comes in. It’s actually more of an minor ass-nibbling, as I’m on spring break so do have the time to grade (while also still having some time to break).

Still, all that grading is officially the reason why I’m not writing much on my blog this week.

All of that said (she said in a very long preamble), I couldn’t pass up this exquisite put-down:

Sven Mary, the attorney for accused Paris bomb suspect Salah Abdeslam, said his client had “the intelligence of an empty ashtray”.

Not just an ashtray—an empty ashtray.

Beautiful.

h/t The Stranger





Well, something’s lost but something’s gained

20 04 2016

This is the year we all turn 50.

School-year, I mean, so some of us got a head start last fall, but as of this past weekend, only one us is still waiting on her birthday.

B. had left a message for me on my birthday saying Hey, let’s all get together in Chicago in April, and mirabilis dictu, we all got together in Chicago in April.

We’re old now—one of us is soon to be a grandmother—and we have the wrinkles and dyed hair to prove it. And yes, there were discussions of creaking bones and medical tests and demurrals from that last glass of beer or wine. And yes, we talked about high school classmates and who died, who divorced, who married whose ex, and of old crushes and friends who’ve fallen away.

But mostly we talked and walked and laughed. We walked to Millennium Park and the Navy Pier, took distorted pictures of ourselves in the Bean (I have no idea what it’s actually called), wandered through the old Chicago Public Library building and decided that paying 10 bucks to get married by a justice of the peace in one of its splendid halls would be a very good deal. We took an architectural tour via the Chicago River (we were all terribly impressed with the tour guide) and wandered around the WGN building gazing at and occasionally patting the embedded stones from around the world.

We ate Chicago-style pizza.

Now, here I have to mention that I tried really (well, pretty) hard not to be a tiresome New Yorker and comment on everything Second City, but when it came to the deep-dish pizza, I had to say “Chicago-style”. (B. did, however, agree with me that “pizza” really did mean New York pizza.)

Anyway, it was good.

The whole weekend was good. The conversation zipped around and around and we were all quite agreeable with one another. I swore too much and P. and T. competed with how many steps each took, and the four of us in line for the river tour weren’t entirely sure the other two would make it back from the bathroom in time, but as we parted on Sunday we all agreed we should do this again, maybe in Chicago, maybe in Milwaukee, but yes, definitely, we should get together to eat and drink and walk and talk and laugh and laugh and laugh, at ourselves and all we’ve been through and all that’s yet to come.








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