This past summer, I replaced the wooden garage side door with a steel door. After all, every warm season had brought with it the Great Door Problem: humidity made the door swell and, thus, cease to fulfill its primary door-like function, which was to open on request. As you might expect, I soon tired of hurling myself at the door like a character in a bad cop show. However, once the steel door was installed, all was well.
In the summer.
I have since discovered that the door's locks freeze in extreme cold weather, making the new door even less useful, if possible, in winter than the old door was in the summer.
Both of my cats are getting up in age--they'll be fifteen in April--and so they come with the standard complement of elderly-cat issues. Disraeli recently decided that arthritis and inexplicable allergies were insufficient; no, he needed a defunct thyroid, too. (He may have been trying to catch up with his sister on that score.) This means that he requires thyroid meds every day.
As you can see, he's pretty "uh-huh, yeah, no" about that.
Is that a "you just try it" expression or what?
Dizzy is a pill about being pilled (as I explained to the vet, "two people are required, and there's only one of me"), so he gets his meds topically, via a gel pen. Unlike his sister, who had a yikes-inducing allergic reaction to the pen, Dizzy seems to be getting along with the gel. Unfortunately, also unlike his sister, he is not, shall we say, all that patient with the situation.
For those of you who have never used one of these gel pens, you rotate the base of the handle to dispense the appropriate amount of medication. The base clicks when you rotate it.
You can guess where this is going.
After about two weeks, Dizzy figured out that clicks translated to EVUHL GELZ IN MAH EARZ, and he took evasive action accordingly. I, having a Ph.D., started concealing the sound by turning on the faucet. This worked...for a few days. I, again being the one with a Ph.D., upped the ante by using the very loud vent fan in the kitchen. This worked...for two whole days. Tomorrow, I will try the next step: going into the garage. Which I am not anticipating with any great pleasure, because IT IS EXTREMELY COLD RIGHT NOW. However, as I completed my Ph.D. in Chicago, I am no doubt inured to extreme chill. Right?
Cats have long been regarded as ideal companion animals for academics: they are relatively self-sufficient, do not require regular walks, and spend long periods asleep--all of which enable academics to focus on their research, teaching, and service-related tasks. It is our contention, however, that living with cats in fact produces a skillset that can be usefully generalized to many aspects of today's academic working environment.
We differentiate between two primary types of skill: a) skills learned from cats b) skills learned by co-existing with cats. Our study will classify and evaluate the relative applicability of each skill to the academic environment, focusing on their respective cultural, political, and social ramifications. By the end of our study, we will better understand the practical importance of cat companionship to academics, and propose new targets for assessing the positive and negative effects of such companionship.
To our surprise, despite the presence of cats at all levels of the academic workforce, no study of this exceptionally important topic has yet been undertaken. As a result, we are free to forge new methodological ground in our pathbreaking investigations. We therefore propose a cross-sectional study, drawing on eighty-six volunteers from diverse demographics who are united by one thing: their longterm co-existence with at least one cat. This is a participant-observer study, as the grant applicants are all owned by multiple cats apiece. Data will be collected via interviews, questionnaires, and personal observation. To analyze the data, we will employ a multidisciplinary blend of empirical sociological research, statistical analysis, animal behavioral study, French feminism, and Derridean deconstruction. Although the grant applicants are all English professors, we have devoted at least three weeks' worth of study to each of these modes of inquiry, and are confident that we can deploy them with considerable proficiency.
Sample interview questions
1) Do you remove cats from chairs before sitting down, or do you opt for a different chair? Explain your reasoning.
2) Estimate, to the nearest HZ, the frequency at which you converse with your cats.
3) Describe how living with a cat has affected your home decor. Be sure to include such examples as carpet color, upholstery types, and so forth.
4) When a cat sits on your book, how do you respond?
5) Estimate your annual expenditure on cat toys, catnip, and treats.
Skills to be assessed: learnt from cats
1) Ignoring human communication. Potential applications: evading requests for grade changes and extra service assignments.
2) Sleeping at all hours. Potential applications: dozing off surreptitiously during long department meetings.
3) Demanding food at 5 AM. Potential applications: gaining favors from department chairs by nagging them early in the morning.
5) Staring at walls for no reason. Potential applications: producing the appearance of serious thought during exceptionally dull conference presentations.
Skills to be assessed: learnt from co-existing with cats
1) Sneaking up on cats to medicate them. Potential applications: introducing potentially boring topics to students by concealing them within shiny apps.
2) Being ignored. Potential applications: learning to be philosophical about the department chair's refusal to grant favors (see #3 above).
3) Effluvia avoidance. Potential applications: avoiding unpleasant departmental conversations about new office assignments.
4) Physical contortions to avoid disturbing cats. Potential applications: negotiating the space between door and desk in one's cramped office.
5) Spending more on the cat's needs than your own. Potential applications: discovering creative ways of using the department's pen budget to fund a wine-and-cheese party.
Participants will be asked to maintain Excel spreadsheets tabulating the frequency with which they use each cat-related skill, noting important results (e.g., whether or not the department chair retaliated for being nagged at 5 AM by assigning the faculty member to teach a Saturday morning course the following semester). In follow-up interviews, the practical use-value of each skill will be evaluated on a one-to-ten scale, with "one" indicating that the skill had no academic applications, and "ten" indicating that the skill worked consistently in multiple academic contexts. Our final report will then analyze the data utilizing a groundbreaking statistical method that melds quantitative analysis with the Greimas square.
Dissemination of final results
We expect to present our work at the 2015 MLA conference, where it will receive additional exposure from journalists looking for unusual titles. The tentative title: "Cat People or Pet Semetaries? The Discursive Construction of Relations between Cats and Academics in Upstate New York." We anticipate that an international publicity tour, including multiple daytime talk shows and a possible hosting gig on SNL, will ensue shortly thereafter.
New high-performance gaming laptops with HD touchscreens, to maximize ease of use while Skyping and to test feline aptitude for electronic media: $2000 ea/$10000 total
Weekly first-class ticket purchases to upstate NY, to maximize one-on-one access to subjects for the duration of the study: $1000 ea/$2600000 total (note: may be offset by frequent flier miles)
Luxury hotel accomodations, necessary to produce the correct frame of mind for conducting interviews: $500 nightly ea/$390000 total (note: may be offset by hotel rewards programs)
iPhones for each candidate, in order to enable ease of data collection and exchange: $500 ea/$46000 total
Dinner budget, to reward candidates for participation: $100 ea dinner/$8600 total
Deluxe catnip toys, for experiments: $5 ea cat/estimated $1000 total
Variety of high-quality cat food, for experiments: $520 ea cat/estimated $4000 total
One of my unfulfilled childhood dreams was to have a fancy dollhouse. Oh, I had a plastic Fisher-Price dollhouse, but...I wanted one of the big ones you built from a kit. As an adult, I've always got a kick out of looking at dollhouses, and thinking, sort of wistfully, that it would still be fun to have one. And then, when I was visiting one of the local antique shops, I saw a Fancy Dollhouse from a Kit that was on sale, and it suddenly occurred to me: I'm an adult! With, like, a salary and everything! If I want a dollhouse, I can buy one!
And so I did.
However, I also had Lofty Ambitions. Why couldn't I...maybe...build a dollhouse? Or, at least, decorate a built dollhouse? Now, bear in mind that I am not a crafty person (although I'm sure that some of my students think I'm pretty sneaky). I wouldn't describe myself as all thumbs, precisely, but unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I don't do craft-type things (sewing, knitting, woodworking, model building, doll-making, etc.), so any dollhous-ing would be, to say the least, a learning experience.
One go at dollhouse-decorating came to an end when I found that the house (an older kit model) had a fatal structural crack, but it was useful practice (primarily, for figuring out How Not To Do It). In September, however, I found someone on Craigslist who wanted to give away a dollhouse that she had been working on, but unable to finish. The exterior had been sided and painted, but that was about it. And so dollhouse, take two.
Now, Dollhouse Take Two isn't a kit model--it's a custom build by a professional woodworker. On the one hand, it's sturdier than a lot of kits. On the other hand...well, as I said on Twitter, never mind it being hip to be square; it would have been even more hip if this guy had used a square. Because the house is ever so not squared, although it looks square enough when you're eyeballing it. Walls are strangely angled and the top floor is on a very slight diagonal. Not all of the wood was planed flat, either. Moreover, the window openings weren't squared, which was kind of disastrous for the kitchen; my handy rotary tool and I were sort of able to fix the opening so you could, y'know, actually get a window into it (I did mention that the house was already sided...), but the window in question still doesn't fit quite right (although you can't tell from the inside). There were some other funny things that engaged my little gray cells, like the interior door openings, which have standard interior door width matched with standard exterior door height (cute tiny shims to the rescue!), and the staircase opening, which matches no standard staircase on the market. Oi vey.
Also, I'm pretty sure that I've used more spackle on this house than I've used on any real house I've ever lived in.
For some reason, I failed to utilize my previously Hard-Earned Wisdom, which is that painting anything white will lead to nothing but torturous agony. If it's white, it has at least three coats of paint on it.
This did take the entire semester to finish, given that copious spare time was not forthcoming. But there was something nicely stress-relieving about cutting tiny miters or laying little hardwood floors.
I really don't know why my last name is such a magnet for extra "n"s. I used to assume it was the Leonard Bernstein phenomenon, but is that still true now? There must be a doctoral dissertation in this somewhere.
It was unseasonably warm and sunny, which is why I spent most of the day indoors memorand-izing and collating. The joys of life in academia, etc.
Speaking of which, I am not convinced that there is some idyllic space in which we can all express our pretty little thoughts in perfect liberty. There are these inconvenient obstacles known as "people" and "communities of people," who have an unfortunate habit of introducing a similarly inconvenient obstacle known as "politics" into any given situation. Now, I have yet to hear that a life of contingent academic labor leads to perfect liberty, despite what this essay appears to be arguing. A "portfolio of employed work both at higher eduction institutions, private organisations and freelance writing and consultancy" will simply shift the constraints on thought from one context to another, depending on the payment and the piper.
If only NAVSA would do the equivalent of this. There are oh so many nineteenth-century databases that my campus cannot afford.
I don't recall ever missing more than one day of class when ill, although given the usual progression of my close encounters of the viral kind, lecture days tend to turn into group work days. But contingent faculty may not have paid sick days--in fact, one adjunct showed up in the comments while I was writing this post to make that very point--which turns this issue into an academic exercise of a very different sort. "Don't come to work while running a 104 degree fever" may be the right advice, but it's not useful advice if it also means "and don't have enough money to pay your rent."
I had faint hopes that this was satire--because, really, who actually burdens his colleagues with an eighteen-page email , or submits for publication an essay in which the sum total of the complaint is that two people dared to say that they were offended  (not that they reported him to HR, or anything like that--they just emailed the listserv) by a boring sexual cliche--but, after reading some of his scholarly work, I'd say not. In the interests of conciseness, I'll just leave this useful advice here, which in its original context is part of a critique of NCTE's "Students' Right to Their Own Language":
"Anyone can claim the 'right' to speak or write any way he pleases, but nothing in that assertion inhibits anyone else from judging the language unfit for the occasion."
--Jeffrey Zorn, "Students' Right to Their Own Language: A Counter-Argument," Academic Questions 23 (2010): 315.
 Let's hope that's hyperbole. Otherwise, IT will probably remove all the keys from his keyboard.
 I mean, really, I'd take that as a compliment: those two people actually read the email.
I did my brief gig with Modern Philology in 1997-98, in the days before the publishing process had gone full-bore electronic. In retrospect, putting together a finished manuscript for the printers was awfully cumbersome...
1. To begin with, many academics in the humanities were still unacquainted with/skeptical of this newfangled thing known to the Kids on Their Lawn as "e-mail." Similarly, you couldn't count on departments having their own webpages ("what are those?"). This could make it difficult to ask queries on short notice--or issue pointed reminders about overdue book reviews--especially when you were working with an author across the pond. (It also made life painful when you were trying to find reviewers' addresses, especially English reviewers who published under one name and were listed in directories under another!)
2. Checking an author's quotations meant walking from Wieboldt Hall over to the Regenstein Library and wandering through the Reg's somewhat bizarre arrangement of stacks. I liked the Reg, and I liked the stacks, but I did not necessarily like having to walk over there when it was the middle of winter and zero degrees Fahrenheit. Ah, the joys of GoogleBooks and archive.org!
3. Distributing manuscripts to authors involved numerous sacrifices to the relevant divinities. They had to go out, come back, go out again, and come back again, hopefully without disaster. On occasion, disasters occurred, leading to much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and, potentially, a very large hole in the journal issue).
4. You had to pray that authors followed directions, lest the Typesetting Gods become irate and send out Thunderbolts of Doom. When authors did not follow directions, you wound up with things like the Man with the Red Pen. Even when authors did follow directions, there was an unseemly amount of erasing involved.
In its original state, about twelve (?) or so years ago, this blog was carefully disconnected from my real name. After all, this blogging thing was awfully newfangled, and goodness knows how my colleagues were going to take it (let alone academics whose Wigs were Big). However, there was a problem: I didn't want to write about my personal life, or even, particularly, to vent; I wanted to talk about my research, which seemed like a useful thing to do in a public forum. (What are these academics doing in their luxuriously-appointed ivory towers, anyway?) And while there are now more people working in my field of endeavor, there were fewer then, and there still aren't many at the moment. Which meant that my humble pseudonym wouldn't stay pseudonymous very long if I wanted to discuss specifics. Ergo, I decided to be myself.
Unlike some of the academics to whom Katherine Firth links in her post about the "Academic Purity Cult," I've never received any professional pushback for blogging (well, aside from the people who don't like something I've blogged, but that's a different issue). If anything, blogging has been helpful: for those of us teaching at regional comprehensives in small villages in upstate NY*, say, blogging comes in immensely handy for making contacts, especially with scholars who are in proximate but not identical fields. (Of course, blogging also has led to some confusion about my professional identity, given the number of readers who seem convinced that I'm a historian. But that has its upside as well...) A number of the scholarly opportunities I've had have come about because somebody, at some point, read something on this blog. Similarly, Twitter has been useful for certain types of conversation, although it's frustrating for anything long-form--and, again, it's an opportunity to contact other scholars whom I'd have a hard time encountering otherwise. (On a very practical note, for a stereotypical academic introvert like myself, typing words on a screen is a much easier way of making someone's acquaintance than being tossed into a room full of strangers at a conference.)
Still, as Katherine says, there are "academic purity" issues--the demands that scholars conform to this or that mode of dress, taste, recreation, and the like. "The Academic Purity Cult says: you can’t be a real academic and have any other attachments," Katherine argues, "[k]ind of like a nunnery." Blogging, Tweeting, and Facebooking are now far less likely to be considered inappropriate public performances of one's academic persona, especially when your own department is likely to have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. But there's still so much scripting, I think, that goes into constructing an academic self through social media; what looks like self-revelation may just as well be self-censorship. This blog, for example, says little to nothing about my social life, my politics, my colleagues, or my students (except in a very general sense). An attentive reader will pick up which TV shows I'm watching or have watched, or notice that I'm interested in dance. But still, there's a lot of calculation involved in deciding what goes here, or what goes on my locked-down Facebook page, or what goes on Twitter. Some of these decisions have to do with ethics--once I abandoned my own anonymity, I implicitly abandoned everyone else's as well--but others have to do with those anxieties about not enjoying the pleasures "suitable" for an academic or whatnot.
*--Now, to be fair, I've only once experienced overtly dismissive behavior (to my face) because of my academic home base, although quite a few people have been startled that I do so much writing.
Like all highly-paid American academics, I stay in only the swankiest London hotels when I come here. And eat at the poshest restaurants.
...OK, I'm actually staying in a dorm. Which has permanently locked windows, so perhaps a trifle warm at this juncture. (I'd upload a picture, but I don't think the broadband has enough oomph, or something.) Nevertheless, it's not Campbell House--for starters, the overhead lights have shades.* Meanwhile, I had a sandwich for dinner, in order to save money for the truly important things. (Namely, rectangular objects with paper inside.)
My brain is still mush from the trip, but I'm sure you're all awaiting my reports from the British Library, which shall feature many accounts of rare novels about Jews. As opposed to my last BL jaunt, which primarily resulted in reports on sermons. The novels may or may not be more exciting. (Also, an experiment in note-taking using the iPad instead of the larger machine.) On the 23rd, it's off to Liverpool for this conference, where I'm on the program (er, programme) twice: once presenting (on...vampires?)** and once being presented on (!).
*--It's possible I'm being unfair to Campbell House, which conceivably could have provided shades for the overhead lights since I stayed there last.
**--This has prompted a number of baffled stares from those acquainted with my usual literary stomping grounds. It does, in fact, have to do with Book Three, a.k.a. Inexpensive-For-Me Book, a.k.a. Book Requiring No Travel (which is not about vampires per se).
May I engage in what I'm sure qualifies as sexual banter with a graceful intellectual tinge?
I'm a [insert ideological position/minority/disadvantaged group here]. May I proposition, flirt with, or otherwise engage in sexual banter with a graceful intellectual tinge with my students?
Students are adults! Given the realities of my academic life, they're my primary dating pool! Why can't I do 1-3 above?
Unless you're a Vulcan in the throes of pon farr, and will die unless you have sex immediately, you can wait until the student is either a) not your student or b) not in any way under your control. That is, assuming that your institution does not prohibit faculty/student relationships altogether.
I only flirt/proposition/banter as part of an "experimental learning endeavour." It's a matter of "academic freedom"!
I don't quite see "the right to sexual self-gratification, direct or indirect" anywhere in the AAUP's statement on academic freedom. And shocking as it may seem, most students find other methods of educational development and intellectual stimulation more helpful.
Why don't students have a "sense of humor" about sex?
Students do have a sense of humor about sex. They're not required to think your attempts to gratify yourself at their expense are particularly funny.
If this goes on, we'll never be able to mention sex in class again!
I'm guessing that there are historians of sexuality on your campus. Perhaps you might inquire how they manage to teach their classes without being fired?