Everyone who lives with or knows an academic is acquainted with how they undergo a strange change in habits every few weeks, rather like werewolves. They begin to speak of mysterious activities such as "proctoring," "grading," and "assessing." They start lugging around piles of paper and books bound in pale blue covers.They disappear for long periods into their offices, where they remain unseen for hours, their presence made manifest only by periodic eerie wails of suffering. Eventually, however, the academic once again resumes their everyday demeanor, and all is well.
But these new habits may be artificially and painfully extended by using a technique known as "procrastination." Although nominally the bane of every academic's existence, procrastination seems to exert an uncanny pull upon their behaviors during the "grading" period. It takes direct intervention to save them from self-imposed doom--especially during "finals," a time which academics speak of only with bated breath. To procrastinate during finals may lead to terrifying consequences, such as a visit from an irate registrar.
Only you can save the academics you know and love from procrastination. Be on the lookout for the following signs.
1. Housecleaning. Normally, the academic is content to casually scrub down surfaces once a week, do the occasional bout of dusting, and vacuum on occasion. Yet not only have they vacuumed the carpets and waxed the hardwoods, but they've cleaned the tile grout with a toothbrush, scrubbed the walls, cleaned the windows inside and out (including the attic windows), and recaulked both the upstairs and the downstairs bathrooms. They've scrubbed down the litterboxes with a special solution and given them an extra going-over with a toothpick. They've rearranged all of the kitchen cupboards. Finally, they've laundered and refolded all of the household linens, which they have then stored according to thread count.
2. Gardening. As a general rule, the academic mows the lawn and, when motivated, occasionally pulls dandelions from the planters. Now, the entire lawn, all two acres of it, has been weeded. By hand.
3. Cooking. Instead of take-out, the academic now sits down to five-course meals put together from the French Laundry cookbook. Some ingredients require traveling for a week in both directions.
4. Internet. The academic racks up extremely high scores on Candy Crush, spends hours every day on Twitter, and regularly updates the blog they haven't touched in a year. Some of them write satirical posts about grading instead of actually doing the grading itself, which is a sign that procrastination has truly taken hold.
5. Reading. The academic finally decides that now is the time to read Finnegans Wake. And Proust, preferably in the original French.
I don't consider reading a guilty pleasure (let alone reading Dickens--come on, now...). But one of my favorite undergrad professors gave me some useful advice: have a hobby that isn't related to your work, so that you can actually--gasp--relax. He gardened. I know several people who knit; one of my colleagues sculpts; quite a few people play video games. Many years ago, I did a lot of drawing, but stopped during graduate school (my students who have seen me scribble on the board would be shocked to hear I got an "A" in a life-drawing class, I suspect). Anyway, a few years ago I decided that I was an adult with a salary, so I could do something that I'd always wanted to do--which was to build dollhouses. I've rehabbed a couple; this relatively small one, however, I built myself.
One of the things I learned the first time I rehabbed a house was that there were always...surprises. In this case, there were two key surprises. First, I was working with an old plywood kit (my primary interest in it having been "hey, this is listed for almost nothing on eBay"), and some of the wood turned out to be slightly damaged and/or warped. Therefore, while I pride myself that the house is much better squared than those I rehabbed (including the one built by a professional cabinetmaker...sheesh), it still has some areas where there are slight bends/angles that don't quite work. Second, because it's an older kit, the opening for the entry door is not a standard size. If I had picked up on that early on, I could have fixed the problem easily by installing balsa shims across the top before painting the exterior and wallpapering the interior--but I didn't pick up on that early on. Hence the step down into the living room (there's also a front stoop hiding the gap on the other side). Moral of the story: measure the doors before you do anything else, I guess.
I based the house's look on the semi-updated older houses in this area. Imagine that it's been repapered and has some trendier paint upstairs, but it still has the older woodwork and flooring, with a thickly-textured "plaster" ceiling. The exterior is "stuccoed" (coarse gel medium + latex paint).
I've made a point of learning how to do something new for each dollhouse. This time, I used real wood flooring in the living room and bedroom, instead of vinyl or veneer sheets.
The kitchen, with an "older" vinyl floor and a slightly decrepit repainted sink (which I also did myself). I think you can see the texture of the ceiling a little better here. I have to say that my tiling technique has improved from the last time I tried it, although I haven't yet essayed tile that needs grout (next time, I think).
Bedroom upstairs. The railings and newel posts were assembled using a magnetic gluing jig to hold them in place.
And the bathroom, with old-fashioned black-and-white checkerboard tile. You can see here that I dyed the cedar shingles, which was also something I hadn't done before.
One of the things that makes this hobby really convenient for an academic is that you can't do very much of it at one time--this house took eight months--because so many things have to dry before you keep going (each row of shingles, for example), or have multiple coats of paint or stain, or be cut/trimmed, etc. So you can take a quick break from grading umpteen papers, install a row of shingles or tile, and then cheerfully go back to work.
After reading this postmodern contribution to contemporary discourse on the state of higher education, I believe that it's time for me to pitch a few ideas to IHE. To clarify matters, of course, I will identify the allegorical correspondences between my columns' ostensible subjects and their real meanings.
Today, I threw a lot of toy catnip mice for my three new kittens. They charged up and down the room, looking excited. (How to conduct effective college orientation sessions for incoming students)
Getting your old car repaired can be really expensive. (What's the best way of raising funds to replace aging campus infrastructure?)
How many of you have baked brownies and discovered that they just wouldn't set? (Counseling faculty with research productivity problems)
I hate carrots. (Faculty resistance to assessment procedures)
Is there anything more refreshing than a can of icy soda on a hot day? But too much soda can have consequences for your health. (Pros and cons of merit increases)
Mac or PC? (Online vs. face-to-face instruction)
The weather. How about it, eh? (The problem of course evaluations)
I used to say that, unlike her late brother Disraeli, Victoria had been appropriately named. Perhaps, though, I should have called her Maggie, because she turned out to be Iron Cat. In 2013, Victoria was diagnosed with cancer, and I was told she wouldn't survive the year. She did. Then, a couple of months later, she went into chronic renal failure, but persisted in remaining alive (despite having to put up with a daily regimen of subcutaneous fluid injections). Finally, if that wasn't enough, she developed inflammatory bowel syndrome, which is exactly what it sounds like, but she managed to handle it for several months thanks to steroid therapy. The vet was amazed. But last week, shortly after reaching her sixteenth birthday, Vicki suddenly stopped eating, and it became clear yesterday that the cancer had expanded into her abdomen.
Of the two cats, Vicki was far more outgoing and assertive; she was the kind of cat who insisted on supervising the contractors whenever work was going on in the house (which she would keep up for hours, I was told), and wanted to socialize with any and all visitors. Not surprisingly, she was extremely chatty, usually trilling, chirping, and grunting instead of meowing. Meows were generally reserved for informing me not that she wanted to be fed, but instead that "I am going downstairs to eat now." (Obviously, it was important to announce the fact.) She very much wanted to hang with her human, whether on my lap (the preferred spot), the back of my office chair, or on the top of my desk; if I neglected to pet her with the appropriate attention, she tapped my arm imperiously. Late in life, she developed the habit of climbing on my stomach while I was sleeping--which led, on more than one occasion, to me petting her while still asleep. She was, in other words, firmly in charge of the place.
In recent months we've heard from the nurse (a minor character) and now Gwendolen (a major one). But surely this vein of literary endeavor has not yet been fully tapped? I humbly offer the following suggestions:
1) Better Service Have I Never Done You: The First Servant's Tale. Who was that anonymous First Servant in King Lear? And what led him to oppose his master, the Duke of Cornwall? In this shocking narrative, told as an extended flashback, the First Servant reveals why a jealous William Shakespeare vengefully consigned him to both anonymity and an untimely death. Lovers of mysteries and codes will be intrigued by the novel's intricate plot, which begins over a breakfast of bacon and eggs when the First Servant announced plans for a trip to Oxford...
2) Pilot: A Shaggy Dog Story. Fans of Lassie and Lad: A Dog will delight in this innovative reinterpretation of Jane Eyre, which retells the classic love story from the POV of Rochester's dog. Charlotte Bronte's anthropomorphism led her to conceal Pilot's central role in the plot, which included knocking Rochester off his horse and tricking Grace Poole into letting Bertha Mason out of the attic. Pilot's own doomed passion for Adele's Maltese forms a melancholy counterpoint to the more familar tale.
3) A Sensible Gentleman: Or, Mr. Willoughby's Narrative. In this new twist on Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Willoughby offers a rollicking account of romantic life at the end of the eighteenth century, when waists were high and moral standards were low. There is, of course, sex.
4) Unexpected. An irate Pip discovers that Charles Dickens has published his autobiography without permission, and with a few significant--and unapproved--edits. The truth is far more exciting...and far more brutal. Readers will thrill to Pip's gruesome stories of life as an accountant, especially his revelations about the role double-entry bookkeeping played in his discovery of the truth about Magwitch.
5) The Nun's Priest's Horse's Tale. Geoffrey Chaucer spent little time on the all-important animals carrying the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. In this twenty-first century Black Beauty, the Nun's Priest's Horse offers--in luminous verse--a touching story about everyday life as a medieval animal. Readers will never look at a haystack in the same way.
6) Ringing the Book. This audacious and ambitious retelling of Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book reimagines the story from the point of view of the Yellow Book itself. In a series of terza rima sonnets, the Yellow Book reflects on the process of its own construction, its fragmentary consciousness of the plot's events, and its eventual appropriation by Browning. Written to be taught in courses on postmodernism, poststructuralist theory, and intertextuality.
7) The Slough of Despond. In this elegiac sequel to Vanity Fair, an elderly Dobbin, still unable to complete his History, reflects on married life, fatherhood, and his secret but passionate affair with Becky Sharp. As the narrative unfolds, the reader realizes that Dobbin's tale is actually addressed to his heretofore unknown love child with Miss Jemima Pinkerton...
8) Lord Henry: My Life. This naughty novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray with all the good bits left in. A boisterous romp through the most decadent homes of the late-Victorian aristocracy, Lord Henry follows the eponymous hero through the heights of passion and the depths of interior decorating. A Fifty Shades of Grey for the more discerning reader.
9) The Dormouse Dozes. The publishing event of the season, The Dormouse Dozes asks us to imagine Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from the perspective of a dreamer within the dream. Told in fragmentary bursts of consciousness, delirious prose reminiscent of James Joyce, and abstract imagery, The Dormouse Dozes heralds our liberation from plot, characterization, genre, and the novel itself.
10) Daniel Deronda. In a scalding rejection of F. R. Leavis, Daniel Deronda retells the events of George Eliot's classic novel with all references to Gwendolen removed.
To change things up a bit, this year's installment of things horrific features eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century literature (to about 1835 or so). More verse (and longer texts in general) on the table than usual.
Gottfried Burger, "Lenore" (Thomas Taylor's translation | Walter Scott's translation). Foundational Gothic text, especially when it comes to the "please check to make sure your would-be bride/bridegroom is actually alive" trope. Once you've read this poem, you'll find echoes of it everywhere.
Robert Burns, "Tam o' Shanter." The dangers of riding home after having one too many...
S. T. Coleridge, "Christabel." An early example of the female vampire.
Richard Brinsley Peake, Presumption; Or, the Fate of Frankenstein. Early (and, shall we say, loose) adaptation of, well, Frankenstein, featuring more singing than perhaps one might expect from the novel in question.
John Polidori, The Vampyre. One of the first successful vampire tales in English. Bears considerable responsibility for the sexy vampire phenomenon.
Alexander Pushkin, "The Queen of Spades." Would-be gambler gets advice...unfortunately for him.
Leitch Ritchie, "The Man-Wolf." Gentleman discovers that he has some unseemly issues.
John Wilson [a.k.a. "Christopher North"], "Extracts from Gosschen's Diary #1." (Starts on p. 596, if the link doesn't take you there directly.) Priest hears the confession of a man who murdered his lover.
William Wordsworth, "The Thorn." Oh woe is me! O misery!