Showing posts from October, 2010

Why Life in the Academy (Especially the Humanities) Sucks

I don't want to be writing this post; no matter what I write is going to feel inadequate. But I feel like I should say something about that xtranormal video "So you want to get a PhD in the Humanities?" that everyoneis talking about. I've only watched it once and don't feel like reliving that particular experience again, so bitter and (horrible to have to admit) true-to-life did it feel the first time that I watched it. As, it seems from the comments on the video itself, many of my colleagues in academia concurred. But why? Why are we all so convinced that the life we have taken on is so utterly bankrupt that all we can do is roll around on the floor laughing our asses off because a (we all say) justifiably-bitter graduate student has parodied the death of our dreams so well?

The dismal job market, we say. The low pay, we say. The lack of respect in the general culture, we say. But why then do so many of us who have gotten not only tenure-track jobs but (…

Afternoon Nap


Mid-term Meltdown

This is ridiculous. I've been doing this for how many years? And yet, it never gets any easier, just worse. Usually I can make it to eighth week before I implode, but here it is only the fifth week of term and I am about to scream. Not to mention woefully behind on sleep, if not on my work. It's hard enough managing class prep, grading, department meetings, tenure reviews, workshops and a conference all in the first month. Now the letter of reference requests have started rolling in and I have no idea how I am going to find the time to do them, never mind read the stacks of applications that I am going to be responsible for starting in a few weeks, plus the class prep, grading, book orders for next term, teaching plans for next year, that next conference paper I am supposed to write, writing those eternal book reviews, and, oh, right, grading papers, reading dissertations and dissertation proposals, helping students prepare for orals, while at the same time getting ready …

Comfort Food for Thought

1. My diet will be perfect if I trust myself to eat whatever I want most. This means eating exactly what I want, whenever I want, without any other "do's" and "don'ts" than that what I eat should make me feel good. This means eating meat, if that is what I want. This means eating cake, if that is what I want. This means not spending my life denying myself what I want because I have read somewhere that this or that food is or is not good for me. Most amazing effect of this diet since Sunday: oddly, all those pastries in the coffee shops downstairs don't look so tempting any more, I'd rather have a tuna salad with boiled egg.

2. Sometimes it is a good thing that things break or wear out or get eaten by the dog because it is only in throwing away the old that we make space for the new. Like throwing away the desk and the futon so as to make way for the new chairs in our back room. Or giving up old exercise routines in order to have time for new …

Walking Shoes

Something tells me that somebody wasn't too pleased with my being away from home two weekends in a row.

I Shall Wear Midnight

I am a witch. Not a doctor. Not a wizard. But a witch. The witch.

I am the hare who runs into the fire.

I am the one whose brown hair turns white before she is forty.

I am the one who loves wisdom.

I am the one who says what needs to be said because if I don't say it, no one else will.

I am paid for my work in old clothes and more work.

I may not have any natural talent for being a witch, but I am one anyway because I have chosen to be.

I have journeyed far.

I have trusted my fear. And my pride.

I have come home.

I walk with joy.

I am surrounded by love.

I have come home.

Yesterday, I took a first step.

Today, I took another first step.

Tomorrow, I will take a third.

I have my steading, and I will take responsibility for it knowing that much of the work will not be particularly glamorous but that, nevertheless, it is the work that must be done.

When I am old, I shall wear midnight. Starting now.

With thanks, once again, to Mr. Pratchett, for teaching me how to be myself.

Discussion Questions

I have been having a curiously difficult time coming up with questions to put to my class on "Animals in the Middle Ages," and I am trying to figure out why. Typically, almost all of the courses that I teach depend almost exclusively on discussion. I don't like lecturing at all, unless it is to help students read through a particular text (the actual, medieval meaning of "lecture": to read). My students don't need me to tell them stuff; they can get all the answers they want on Wikipedia. What they do need me to do is teach them how to ask the right questions of the answers. E.g. "42." Fine, but what was the question?

Most of the time I am teaching more or less exclusively from primary sources, so the questions are relatively straightforward, even if the answers are not. "What does the text say?" This can be tricky if you don't know why it was written. So, "what does the author of the text say about why he or she was writ…

Comfort Food vs. Thin Thighs

I had an insight at the tournament on Sunday. I was talking with one of my fellow Veterans and envying the fact that she had such beautiful thin thighs (not to mention fabulous hair and a wonderful personality), and I thought to myself, "Why not? Why don't I just do it, lose weight (as I understand she did) and stay thin? What's stopping me?"

And then I thought about what I had eaten that day: the bagel at 1am while I was watching the newest episode of Dexter on pay-per-view, the orange juice and coffee with creamer I had at 6:30am in a desperate effort to wake up, the banana after I finished my pool, the gourmet chocolate-covered peanuts after I finished my DEs followed by a thin-crust cheese pizza and a frozen cappuccino. And I realized (or admitted to myself) fully for the first time what it would mean never to eat the "wrong" food again. Never to binge on carbohydrates. Never to have that dessert or that heavy cream sauce or that second helping. …

Bear Gets A New Name

Here I am at the tournament this past weekend in Cincinnati getting my lame tested. Note the new name on my knicker leg: I didn't have this printed in time for my pools on Saturday and had to have it in tape so as not to lose points with red cards. Luckily (or unluckily), my director didn't notice this until I had only two bouts left, so I only had to fence one bout with my leg all tapey. Now I have it properly printed: BROWN. I have lots of thoughts about this which I may share with you one day. At the moment, I'm a little behind in my class prep, what with spending all weekend partying, ahem, that is, fencing really hard with the Vets. I also need to take some time to think about how my fencing has been changing these past several months. I am definitely stronger, even if my results (alas!) don't yet consistently show it. But you should have seen the counterparry-riposte I got in my second DE in Vets against our reigning champion (she was 2nd in the World Vet…

Is there a place for spiritual exercises in the academy?

Short answer, no. The academy (a.k.a the university) exists now as it did in the thirteenth century to produce clerks, that is, men (and women) trained in the arts of reading, writing and arithmetic who can then go out into the world of government, business, finance and administration and do clerkly things like write reports and keep account books. Nor are the patrons of the university (a.k.a parents, government, banks making loans to pay for the students' upkeep and training) all that keen on their clients not taking up these jobs--after all, they've paid for them. The whole point of universities is to produce not scholars but bureaucrats and middle managers (a.k.a. stewards and bailiffs), thus the persistent emphasis on "relevance" and "rates of production" (a.k.a. publication).

And yet, for some reason, we still believe that universities should be a place for learning for the sake of learning, arts and sciences for the sake of knowledge as such, not …

Diagnosis: Writer

I think I know what my problem is. I need to write. Not "I want to write" or "I wish I could write," but "I need to write," much as I need to eat or to sleep.

I feel anxious when I don't write. It's like going into withdrawal or having a demon to feed. The demon needs feeding and if I don't feed it, I get progressively more and more fraught.

I am jealous of colleagues who publish more because it means that they get to write more. Somehow, I don't know how, they manage to find time, make time, steal time from everything else they might otherwise be doing in order to write, while I can't. Won't. Don't know how in the midst of all of my other responsibilities to my teaching, my family, my desire to have a life other than writing.

I'm not even sure I like writing very much. I like writing my blog, but academic writing makes me anxious. And yet, it is only academic writing that satisfies the demon. It's as if blogging…

Progress Report

Much as the Eeyore in me hates to admit it, things are actually going fairly well at the moment, so I thought it only fair to give you a full(ish) report. Just so long as you don't, you know, expect me to be cheerful about it. Right? Right. 'Cause us Eeyores get nervous with cheerful. It might look like, I don't know, bragging or some such. 'Cause I'm not. Bragging, that is. Although I would if there were something to brag about, which there isn't. Except that everything is going so well, even if I'm not entirely sure I can take credit for it. But I'm worried that you all are worried about me too much and I don't want you to be. So you need to know that sometimes things look really good, like right now, today, with all this beautiful weather we're having. Plus some other stuff, which I should tell you about. Now. Before I lose my nerve. Perhaps I should do some more yoga first. Deep breath. Okay, here goes.

Item, dog training. T…

The Mists of Time

Beliefs that date back to 1850 (give or take a decade or so) that proverbially belong to an earlier era:

1. The code of chivalry
2. "Feudalism" as a method of economic exploitation
3. Yoga as system of breathing and postures for the integration of mind, body and soul
4. The Ages of Faith
5. The battle between science and religion
6. The battle between Church and State
7. Blacksmiths as craftsmen with near-magical powers
8. Witches as goddess-worshipers
9. Believing that the world was flat
10. Papal infallibility in the pronouncement of doctrine
11. St. Thomas Aquinas as the teacher of Christian doctrine
12. Religion as something that you feel rather than understand and that should be relevant and accessible to the "common" man
13. History repeats itself

I have proofs for all of this (or know the bibliography that proves it), but why should I show my sources when everybody is convinced that these things have always been true "whatever the sources say"?


Aquarius Retrograde

I'm not even going to try to unpack it. How unsettling it is to think that there is nothing on which to base our arguments about what matters or what is really real. Yoga, Freudian psychology, Marxist communism, scientific management and efficiency, reductive nutritional analysis, the idea of progress in understanding as well as in technological ingenuity--all products of the nineteenth century, all built on sand. The list goes on. Our academic enterprise itself, medievalism and nationalism, every other -ism you can think of. Founded on premises that we no longer accept and yet that are still driving the inquiries we make if only because we keep trying to respond to them. We are wrestling with tar babies invented by modernity, modernity itself a tar baby from which we cannot escape. It's not so much that it's elephants all the way down as that there are no elephants, only phantoms of elephants which we have been trying to ride. I don't even know what metaphor t…

Chelonian Lament

I am sick of being the Tortoise. Okay, okay, sure. "Slow and steady wins the race," whatever race it is that I'm (stupid enough to be) running. But meanwhile there are these damn hares bouncing around all over the place, overtaking me, and I'm stuck plodding along in the heat and the dust, getting nowhere. I'm sick of everything that I think about coming with so many entailments. Of everything that I write needing so many footnotes. Of everything that I want to know being connected to everything else so that I have to read everything before I feel like I know anything. Couldn't I be a hare just for a little bit? They look like they have so much more fun than us tortoises.

Christian Yoga

It gets even better. Yoga as we now know it both in East and West--specifically, as a system of postures and other practices intended for the physical health and spiritual well-being of the individual as opposed to an ascetic discipline akin to the austerities of the Desert Fathers of antiquity--is not just Western, it's Christian. According to historian and yoga teacher Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford, 2010), Kindle location 1855ff. (emphasis added),

"No organization had a greater influence on the international diffusion of physical culture than the YMCA. Indeed, it was in the creation of a hybridized but distinctly Indian culture of sport and exercise that the YMCA offered its most significant contribution 'to the making of modern India' (David 1992: 17). Its physical culture programs were explicitly intended to function as a somatic tool of moral reform, whose core values were those of the Christian West, and in particul…

It's Complicated

Have you ever noticed that when people say, "It's complicated," it really isn't, it's just that there's a history behind what's happening that they don't want to explain because they are afraid that it will shame themselves or someone else?

Yoga As We Know It

I knew it, I knew it! I have long been suspicious of the claims that my yoga teachers have made about the great antiquity of the postures that they were teaching us. Okay, so there were sculptures of yogis and Buddhas sitting in Lotus, but where were all the Downward Dogs and Warriors, Headstands and Forward Bends? Why couldn't any of the books show us illustrations or even properly referenced descriptions of these poses in the ancient sources if there were any? Well, as historian Mark Singleton has recently reported in Yoga Journal (November 2010), it's because there aren't.*

It gets better (or worse, depending on how important you think antiquity is). Not only aren't these poses--and more or less all of the others which aspiring yogis and yoginis practice so diligently in yoga studios and health clubs the (Westernized) world over--particularly ancient. They aren't even Indian. They are, you guessed it, Western to begin with. To be exact, 19th-century Scand…