Archive for March, 2009


At the risk of belaboring the point, beating a dead horse, and continuing ad nauseam, I have to say again that my students are a pretty decent bunch.  As I said in an earlier post, they were almost as excited and relieved as I was to hear that I had received tenure.  In the months we all waited to get the news, the students decided that they would storm the Bastille, or, in this case, the admin building, if I did not get tenure, so they were happy that such extreme action was not called for.

On Monday night, I posted my tenure news on Facebook, and students started commenting right away.  One student immediately decided that the American lit class needed to take me out to dinner in celebration, so I agreed to give up Thursday’s class time so they could do that.  The sacrifices I make…  After some discussion, the class agreed that a pizza place in Bridgeport would work well, so we carpooled down when we were supposed to be discussing mid-20th-century American lit.

We had a good time.  Perhaps it should be a little strange and awkward to to out with a group of friends and one professor, especially when I learned to my chagrin that I am the same age as some of their parents (!!), but it was very fun and relaxed.  The students seemed to be perfectly at ease with me, and I never felt like some old geezer hanging out with the youngsters.

There seems to be some sort of message in this about the teaching relationship, but I’m not sure yet what it is.  Perhaps we have as a culture become so afraid of the mere hint of impropriety that we move too far in the opposite direction and forget that our students are also our fellow humans.  Teaching has always seemed to me to be a very strangely intimate business: students bare their minds and their souls in a class, and I must do the same in order to bring them into the conversation.  I believe that we may not allow ourselves to become intellectually intimate because we fail to recognize the nuances of intimacy.

I’m sure there is an article or something hidden here somewhere, but I’m not quite sure how to find it.

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Scenes from Campus

Setting:  An annual campus social event.

Dramatis Personae:  Hobgoblin, Biology Friend (who also went up for tenure this year)

BIO FRIEND:  Hey!  How are you?

HOB:  Good!  How about you?  [Shaking hands.]

BF:  Good.

There is a short silence as the two look at each other carefully.

HOB:  So you’re good?

BF:  Yes.  And you?

HOB:  Good.

BF [looking out of the corner of his eyes]:  Hmmm…how good?

HOB [Grinning]:  Really good.  You?

BF [Grinning back]:  Yeah, really good.

They shake again and laugh the laugh of the recently tenured.

Cut to another part of the same event.  HOBGOBLIN is standing next to the hors d’oeuvres table.  The university VICE PRESIDENT approaches.

VP [Extending his hand]: I want to offer my congratulations.

HOB:  Thank you.  I’m very happy and very relieved.

VP: I have a very funny and touching story about one of your students.

HOB:  Oh, really?

VP:  I teach a class on Mondays, and one of your students, a girl named Brittany, is in it.  She came up to me Monday, very timidly, and said that she and many of her friends were very concerned about you.  She said, “You aren’t going to be the one to call him, are you?”

HOB [Laughing]:  Oh no! [He blushes, remembering he told his students that the VP calls with bad news but the President with good news.]

VP:  I said to her, “Well, I can’t really divulge any information, but I can tell you this: I don’t know if he’s received his call yet.”  That satisfied her.  [He laughs again and shakes his head.]  So you should know, your students really do care about you.

HOB:  Thank you.  They are a good group.


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Thank you to everyone who left the kind comments on yeterday’s post!  I have been so worried about the tenure decision coming down that I feel completely wrung out now that the stress has been pulled away.  It seems almost as if the stress were the only thing keeping me upright.

The reaction to my news on campus has been very gratifying.  My chair was very happy to hear the news, and one of the other profs in the department gave me the old high five.  The sweetest reaction, though, has been from the students.  I posted my news on Facebook, so many of them knew last night that the good news had come through.

When I walked into my American lit class tonight, everyone turned to me with huge smiles, so I raised my hands in the cyclist’s victory salute.  They all started clapping and cheering.  A couple of students who like to cook had made chocolate goodies, so we passed around fudge and chocolate butterscotch cookies and munched contentedly while discussing the day’s reading assignment.  They have insisted that they need to take me out for dinner, so on Thurday, we’re going to get pizza somewhere near campus.

I’m very glad to have students like this.  It makes tenure even more appealing.

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Some Good News

As I was driving home today, my cell phone rang, and I, being a very bad Connecticut driver, answered.  It was Dorothy, telling me that Tony had called and left a message.  Because I had answered without turning down the radio first, and because I apparently am losing my hearing in my old age, I heard “The county called.”  Why the hell would the county call? I wondered.  Did I violate some obscure county rule when I tore the pool down?  Did Muttboy commit some mischief requiring intervention of our elected officials?  Soon, though, I realized my mistake.  Tony called.  Tony is the president of my university.

According to the never-to-be-doubted myth structure of the university, Tony calls with good news while poor Tom is given the task of conveying bad news.  So Tony calling is a good thing.  His message just said he was trying to reach me, so I should call him back.

My hands were shaking as I dialed the phone.  Jody, his secretary, answered, and I told her who I was.  I could hear the smile in her voice as she said, “Oh, yes, one moment.”  That “oh, yes” carried the weight of many more words.  They meant, “Oh, yes, he definitely wants to talk to you, and you are going to be so happy to hear from him!”

So the news was, of course, the best news, the news I have been waiting for since September 15, the news that would finally let me stop agonizing.  The Board of Trustees had accepted Tony’s recommendation that I be given tenure, effective one year from now, and promotion to Associate Professor, effective in September.

There just are not enough exclamation points to say how happy and relieved I am, so this one will have to do!

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Fast Old Men

One minute, thirty-five seconds.

That’s how long it took the Masters to ride the final lap of today’s criterium.  Everyone around here knows that some of the fastest racers in the peloton are the old guys, the guys over 40, and today’s race seemed to prove that again.  To put that lap time in perspective, here is some other information: according to my Garmin, the laps are just a little under eight-tenths of a mile long, or about one and a quarter kilometers.  Our slowest lap was 2:01, or 26 seconds longer.  The average speed for the entire race was 25 mph, or just a touch over 40 kph.  Our average speed in that fast final lap was 29.5 mph (47.5 kph).

I felt a lot better this week than I did last week.  I still had some of the same odd, out-of-body experiences at times, but I’m beginning to like them.  They usually occur when the pace gets fast and things get busy, so it’s good that I am developing this ability to step outside myself and see the race as a larger picture.  It also helped matters that I had a real goal this week.  Instead of thinking that I needed to save something for the second race, I decided I would race the first one seriously and then let the second race unfold in whatever way it might.  I even attacked at one point (average speed for the lap: 26.5 mph), prompting a teammate to laugh and say, “There’s nothing like stirring up the pot a bit, is there?”  No, there isn’t.

The sprint finish is on a decent little hill.  This hill would hardly register as a hill in a road race, but when you pass it 25 times in a race (or 55 times if you do two races in a row), you can feel it.  The pack hit the bottom of the hill on the final lap at 35 mph, the fastest speed of the day.  My positioning was not great, but not too bad, either, and I launched to the right, as I usually like to do, because the pack squeezes hard to the left as that’s the shrotest way up the hill.  I sprinted hard in a monster gear (53×12) and passed a lot of people, including one of our star riders, before managing to take 16th place.  Even at the top of the hill, the speed was fantastic, and, according to my trusty Garmin (truly a fun gadget), I hit the finish line at 26.8 mph.

What makes this race even better is Dorothy’s participation.  The USA Cycling rules for women racing in men’s races allows women who are not quite as old as the rest of us to race in masters races, so she decided to race this one after completing the women’s race.  She hung with the pack through the entire race!

It was a good day to race, and I’m looking forward to next week already.

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Influential Writers

Dorothy has this meme up over at her place, and it looks very interesting.  I’ll try to think of the writers who influenced me the most, and all of you can see just how different we are.  I like her idea of trying to put them in a personal chronological order, so I’ll make the same attempt.

  1. Eleanor Estes
  2. Franklin W. Dixon (or his minions)
  3. Ray Bradbury
  4. Kurt Vonnegut
  5. Stephen King
  6. John Updike
  7. John Barth
  8. Dorothy Sayers
  9. Raymond Carver
  10. John O’Hara
  11. Nathaniel Hawthorne
  12. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  13. Mark Twain
  14. Henry David Thoreau
  15. James Fenimore Cooper
  16. Susan Fenimore Cooper
  17. Sarah Orne Jewett
  18. Emily Dickinson
  19. Patrick O’Brian
  20. Neal Stephenson
  21. Rachel Carson
  22. John Muir
  23. Janisse Ray
  24. Roland Barthes
  25. Barbara Kingsolver

It was difficult to think of this in terms of authors who have influenced my own writing and not authors whom I admire.  The two groups overlap a lot, of course, but there are some things these authors do that I have either consciously or unconsciously tried to imitate in my own writing.  I see that it is an almost exclusively American list.  Hmmmm…

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First Race Fog

Sunday was the first race of the season, since the previous week’s race fell victim to the weather and got itself canceled.  I had signed up to do two races–the Masters 40+ race and the category 3/4 race…which just happen to be back-to-back.

I was a little worried about the first race of the season because my legs were not feeling quite right.  Both legs have been hurting a little lately, mostly in the big muscles of my thighs and calves, with my knees feeling slightly tender.  I spend a good bit of Saturday night running the massage roller up and down, icing, and heating.  To help warm up, I took a steaming hot shower the morning of the race, hoping the heat would loosen up my legs, and then I slathered on the Tiger Balm.  During the warmup with a friend on another team, we ran into a guy from Target Training who was also warming up, and we may have pushed it a little ahrder than I should have: my thighs had a little tingling burn in them that didn’t feel quite right.

Once the race started, I felt fine, good enough, in fact, that I attacked to bridge the gap to the Keltic guys who had jumped hard at the very start of the race.  Unfortunately, I caught them just as they blew up, and the pack was right behind me.  After that, I drifted to the middle of the pack, and floated there for most of the rest of the race.

As the pack was screaming around the course (there were laps approaching 30 mph average), I realized that I had no idea where we were in the race.  I couldn’t remember the last few laps at all, and I felt in this strange foggy zone.  Even stranger, I felt a complete, but dreamlike, awareness of everyone around me.  I could even feel the guys behind me on my wheel, and the riders in my periphery were oddly present the way peripheral things usually are not.  The paradox of being both hyperaware but oddly not present felt a lot like literary descriptions of being dead.  I was not really a part of the race, but I was completely in it at the same time.  I know that makes no sense at all, but that’s how it felt.

About 15 laps into the race I fully appreciated the training maxim about having clear goals for yourself.  I had no real goal for this race, and, since I was going to race again about fifteen minutes after finishing this one, I felt disinclined to push in any serious way.  At one point, I was off the front, with a few cyclists in unorganized patches here and there down the road, and I had no idea what to do.  I have not felt this lost without a strategy since I was a cat 5.  For next week, I will need to set some clear goals, and then try to implement them as forcefully as I can.

After finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack (I drifted up to the finish at an easy pace–no sense in sprinting for 25th place), I prepared for the second race.  This one was harder than the other.  Although the pace was faster, it was actually easier because it was a little more steady, but my legs were beginning to hurt.  A few times I pushed to the front, and I seriously thought about contesting one prime lap; each push, though, made my legs hurt more.  Finally, about 20 laps in, I realized I was sitting almost at the very back of the pack and thought I should move up.  Taking advantage of the hill, where everyone slams over to the left, I moved up fast on the right, only to feel both quads shriek out serious alarms and threaten to cramp.  They did cramp up slightly, and, as I was breathing and letting them unclench, the pack passed me and left me in the dust.  I decided to end my race then–discretion, valor, all that jazz.

Despite not finishing the second race, I feel okay about things.  I know I am strong enough to work hard in both races, largely because my heart rate stayed well within my range, and I never felt outgunned in any way.  No, the problem is not cardio-vascular fitness, but leg fitness, which will actually be easier to deal with.  On Friday, I will go in for a massage, and I am riding very smart this week to build up my muscular endurance.  Next week I will race the first race seriously, in an attempt to help out the two teammates in the top five, and to try to get myself a top ten finish if I can do both.  It is going to be a very different season from last year, where I was chasing upgrade points, but I will still need to focus on some sort of goal for each race, just to keep my mind in focus.

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Fatigue Is a Sneaky Bastard

Ordinarily, when I am under a lot of stress, I suffer even more from insomnia than I usually do.  Lately, though, I have been falling asleep almost as soon as I go to bed around 9:30 or 10.  I do wake up very early, but that is at least partly Muttboy’s fault, who seems to think I somehow need to be awakened at 5:15.  I apparently do not need to get up then, because he goes back to sleep, but he does feel the need to let me know he’s there, it’s morning, and at some point in the next hour or so I should think about getting up.

With all of the stress of the March Massacre, the ensuing bloody battles among senior faculty (which I am mercifully spared, since I am not (yet(knock wood)) senior faculty), and the usual anxieties about grading and the start of the racing season, I have been feeling fairly energetic.  I surprised myself with my relatively healthy response to the stress–see what I said above about sleeping, for example.  The slings and arrows of working in a madhouse coupled with the whips and scorns of an imploding economic system have left me feeling, on the surface at least, if not tranquil, then tranquil-esque.  Tranquil-onic.

Thus I was surprised the other day when it hit me that I am really, truly, utterly exhausted by everything.  I was reading a student paper, or trying to, and when I arrived at the end of the paper, I could not tell what it was about.  If you had held a gun to my head and asked me what the student said, you would have had no choice but to pull the trigger.  For the past two mornings I have skipped bike rides, and I blithely used the cold weather as an excuse.  Cold weather?  I have gone for rides in much colder weather than this!  But I caved in and stayed in my warm house, next to my warm dog.  Where I proceded to stare, slack-jawed, at the computer like some mindless, drooling idiot.  I watched the video of Bizkit the sleepwalking dog at least five times, and I almost clicked on that Britney Spears video up on the Onion AV Club site.  Almost, I said–I haven’t lost all dignity, by god!

So I have come to the not startling conclusion that I am fatigued.  I know that once the tenure decision comes down, I will feel better, but for the moment, all of my psychic energy is spent.

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March Massacre

I’m not sure how much detail I want to reveal here, but I’ll try to tell my story without compromising anyone’s privacy.  The economic hard times have hit my university fairly hard, though probably not as hard as some other institutions.  We have a small endowment that lost something like 25% in the last year, but we are still afloat financially.

The reality hit my department this week, though, with four positions getting cut.  Three of the positions were term contract, but one of the was a tenure-track position.  That’s right: we lost a TT position.

Everyone in the department is wandering around in a sort of a daze.  Some of the afflicted are depressed, some are angry as hell, and some seem to be doing their best to show nothing and act as if everything is normal.

Luckily for me, I still have a job.  I received my renewal letter last week, so I know I am gainfully employed for at least another year.  If I get the good news in a couple of weeks when the tenure decisions are announced, I’ll be relatively safe, or at least as safe as anyone is these days.  If I get bad news from the tenure gods, at least I have a job until 2010.  I also received a sort of promotion, where I’ve been placed in charge of one of our major programs; one of my responsibilities will be to manage our large pool of adjuncts.

Among the many bad effects of this news is the spread of paranoia.  One of my less sane colleagues–oh, what the hell; she’s totally drooling batshit crazy– is convinced that the employment bloodbath and my promotion is all some elaborate plot against her because of some things she has done or said.  She even went so far as to urge me not to take the promotion because it would mean I was getting in bed with the devil.  I just nodded noncommitally, the way you do when the crazy people in the subway start telling you about how Stephen King and Richard Nixon plotted to kill John Lennon.

Interesting times.

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