The First Rant of 2018

I have been battling low-level pissiness for months now and I think I have finally figured out (sort of) what’s bothering me.

I am so sick and tired of people wanting stuff from me. Time, energy, expertise, good will, various accommodations.

I had more than one graduate students in the past couple of years go back on our agreement on a timeline or work needed because life happened, so I had to make big adjustments to plans or funds or workload. To two of them, life happened repeatedly. To one of them, life kept happening in a way that suggested that the happenings were deliberate, our agreement treated as irrelevant, and leaving me blindsided was not accidental.

You have to be a supportive advisor, you say, and I am. I listen and sympathize. I accommodate. I adjust. I pull my hair out to find a way to redistribute and stretch the funds.

In reality, I feel mostly resentful and taken advantage of because I feel like my trust and my boundaries have been breached and I have been put in a position — repeatedly — where I cannot say no.

I don’t fuckin’ want to know so much about your life. We agreed to something; stick to what we agreed on. If I refuse I am a heartless monster, because only a heartless monster would refuse, but why is there a never-ending stream of requests for accommodations or adjustments?!

Students and postdocs, if your advisor seems like they might have draconian and inflexible policies, it might just be that they were are one time flexible and accommodating, but were burned because with some people there is no end to requests… Some people always want more.

I feel like in life there’s a certain number of fucks to give, and my bucket is now empty. Every additional request makes me livid.

But you might say: People can just say ‘no,’ right? What’s the harm in asking, right?

There is plenty of harm in asking. 

Let me be overtly hyperbolic for a moment. Let’s say person A needs a kidney and their family somehow found that person B, a complete stranger, is a perfect match. Then they ask B for the kidney or else their loved one will die; B is  their only hope. Sure, B can say no, but this is such an unfair thing to ask of anyone — to give up their kidney for a stranger. By the act of asking B, they are making B a monster if B refuses; B becomes someone who will de facto elect to kill A, whereas in reality making the very request of B is a gross violation of B’s boundaries and the request should’ve never been made. B has a right to bodily integrity. B should not be asked to go under the knife to save a complete stranger at a great personal cost.

Women are socialized to always put others first, to always be accommodating. Every single one of my noes carries an emotional penalty for me and depletes my energy, because I have to override years of programming, and am left to battle the guilt for saying no as a lovely lingering effect. It’s exhausting.

It’s also exhausting to say yes and then have to do the thing I never wanted to do in the first place.

I fuckin’ wish people were more judicious with deciding whether to ask for stuff to begin with. I wish people were less selfish with dumping their needs and wants on me, and then me having to use up my energy and time to battle myself into saying no only to spend even more on the lingering guilt.

My PhD advisor wants me to review his book. How could I say no to him? But he keeps writing books no one reads and this one will be no exception. My PhD advisor probably thinks I owe him that, and I suppose I do; he will not be grateful for the yes, he’ll take it as something for granted, and I will sink a ton of time into something I resent that the world doesn’t need and for no benefit other than the absence of guilt.

I declined participation on two proposal-review panels. I declined one immediately, hot on its heels accepted another one because I am always the most vulnerable when drowning in guilt over a recent no, only to realize I just can’t, so I finally declined that one as well. I really do not have it in me to read other people’s proposals and give feedback right now; I just don’t. Pushing myself to do it would be worthwhile if either program were likely to ever fund me, which neither is. So no, I can’t.

I decided to take it easy with work until the start of the semester, in an attempt to recharge. Yet several colleagues wanted stuff ASAP — busy work, with no good reason for urgency, just because they wanted it. I got into a confrontation with a colleague when I said I was too old to drop everything, again, in order to do something unimportant and random on someone else’s arbitrary last-minute schedule.

***

I am also saturated with words. Bad words that are poorly stacked together, in particular.

I received several papers on which I am a coauthor for comment. Even attempting to read them sends my blood pressure through the roof. In one of them, so much is bad, I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to deal with it.

In my role as one of the editors for an online flash-fiction zine, I read many, many entries and need to provide feedback for aeach. I started doing this in order to learn how to write better, and having to articulate what’s wrong with each piece has been really helpful. The problem is that many pieces are quite bad and would have to be summarily dismissed… But I still need to provide constructive feedback in the sandwich form (something good/constructive criticism/something good), which is really hard to do for bad pieces. I need to take a break from editing because it leads me towards resentment of the written word.

Twitter is also getting on my nerves (I have two separate accounts, but am mostly active on the fiction one). I don’t follow all that many people and I keep muting (apparently, many folks get upset when you unfollow them *eyeroll* so I mute instead) and blocking retweets from the people who amplify far too much content… And I still feel that I read far too much of what I don’t care about and keep missing stuff that I do care about. Twitter is not contributing to my happiness, I will tell you that.

I just read on a blog I sometimes visit: “I could care less.” NOOOOO! The expression is “I couldn’t care less,” as in “I don’t care at all.” I wish people stopped for two seconds to think how wrong it is to indicate a complete lack of caring by saying “I could care less,”  because the phrase clearly indicates that you do care a lot and could care less. It drives me freakin’ bananas.

I might need to find a place with no internet and no people, and expose myself to abstract art and nature. And perhaps pantomime.

2018 Blog Delurking Week (Jan 7-13, 2018)!

Happy Festivus! I hope everyone has recovered from the relatives and/or overeating and is back to a more-or-less regular schedule.

Traditionally, the first week of January is the blog delurking week… So without further ado, I give you…

The Belated 2018 Blog Delurking Week (Jan 7-13, 2018)!

2018Delurking

 

Please stop by to say ‘hi’ in the comments, whether or not you’ve ever commented before. Don’t be shy! Tell us a few things about yourself, what you hope to achieve in 2018, and/or what you would like to read about at xykademiqz in the coming year.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented in 2017! Blogs remain a great outlet for the people who like to write and read longer pieces. Thank you all again for the support, and I am looking forward to another year of xykademiqz!

Update: This week — on January 10 — xykademiqz blog will be 4 years old! May will mark 8 years of my blogging altogether. Time flies!

 

2017 in Review: Hindsight, Resolutions, Stats, and Prizes!

This has been a good year. I have been battling with what’s probably a midlife crisis, trying to find ways to scratch an amorphous itch… To feed the hunger for something new and meaningful.

WORK

Work has been OK, but it’s definitely been far less fulfilling than in the past. I think boredom inevitably settles in, but it’s hard to indulge the desire to do really new things when a prerequisite for doing new things is having the funding to do them, and you can only get the funding if you have a track record of doing very similar things… Maybe it’s OK to just be bored for a while, keep doing what I’m doing until I’ve figured out a way, through learning new things on my own (without money for students) or new collaborations, to reignite the spark.

I’ve written some cool new grants this year, had one awarded. Next year, my bread-and-butter project is up for renewal, but I’m confident I have a very solid plan to propose. I graduated two PhD students, taught many undergrads, and generally had fun with the younglings.

I received a cool professorship that comes with some money, which has been a nice recognition. I was really touched by how many of my colleagues showed up for my professorship award ceremony.

I’ve come out of some ridiculously time-consuming service and am still on the mend.

Work goals:

I’ve decided it’s OK to not go full throttle for a while. I need to find ways to genuinely recharge my science batteries.

In the meantime, I will work on renewing funds, holding the fort for existing projects, pushing the students along. Maybe I’m not raging fire, but I can pull off smoldering fire (hehe, Hulk v. Thor joke), which should be enough for a while.

Continuing to say ‘no’ to stuff that’s not glaringly obviously (ugh, two adverbs, ugh) useful for my career goals.

I’ve realized that I am the most vulnerable to saying ‘yes’ to stuff I don’t want to do after I’ve just said ‘no’ and am both drowning in guild and feeling far too proud of myself for persevering. That’s how I refused one panel attendance only to agree to another a mere week later. Ugh. I have to work on this. I wish people wouldn’t constantly ask me for stuff; my capacity to say ‘no’ is not limitless — each ‘no’ requires intellectual effort to counter lifelong programming that everyone else’s needs are more important than mine, that being nice and pleasing is paramount.

So, for New Year, I wish for everyone to just stop the fuck asking me for stuff so I don’t have to waste my intellectual and health units on battling myself into saying ‘no’ (or saying ‘yes’ and then losing precious time and said intellectual and health units to do the stuff I don’t want to do). I want everyone to be so scared of me so as not to ask me for anything ever again. Or at least until I’m done with the proposal renewal in March.

FAMILY

Family life has been OK. We’ve taken a few shorter trips together this year.

DH and I have been on some nice dates; we like live comedy shows, rock concerts, and movies, and we’ve seen some of each. It’s nice to have Eldest to babysit.

Eldest is a senior in high-school and the college application stuff has been far less stressful (on me) than what other parents report. He applied to two schools, to both early, and he got into the science programs at both. We’re waiting for his music school auditions this January, and then we’ll see where he goes. I’ve enjoyed road trips with Eldest before he achieved vehicular mobility and I will miss driving all around the state for events… We got him a used car this summer, and he’s been enjoying it. He has a job at Subway which pays for his gas and provides him with spending money. He’s a great kid and I think we’ve done a good job of not ruining him.

Middle Boy is finishing 5th grade and he’s a tough nut. Very bright, but a bit lazy and very stubborn. He’s a great athlete and craves sports with lots of physical contact with the opponents. He is very tall and excels at basketball; he really wants to play football but we won’t let him (flag football is fine). His friends are VERY important to him and he is the alpha male among his peers; we worry about the social aspect being too much of a distraction going forward. Girls are also becoming VERY important. MB starting middle school next year is the main reason I won’t be taking a sabbatical, as I don’t want to be away as he gets hit with big waves of puberty hormones and all the social drama that goes with it. He’s a sweet and passionate kid with an endless desire for the new and different (kind of like his pain-in-the-a$$ mother) and he’s always had a mind of his own; he’ll do great in life if he doesn’t end up making some awful choices early on. DH and I adore him, but are bracing ourselves; the next couple of years will be challenging.

Smurf is the cutest kid on the planet. He’s a first-grader, among the youngest in the class (late June birthday) but he’s very bright and he’s well above average in both math and reading. He’s temperamentally mellow and sweet, more like Eldest than MB. Smurf really likes school, but also friends, movies, games, outdoors, just about everything. He’s easy-going, chatty, cuddly, curious, and just such a joy.

I’m not really in contact with my primary family but I think they’re doing well. My baby sister turned 40 and I saw the pics from the celebration. My parents are getting older and that brings closer some concerns that I am so far pretending don’t exist. I live so far away that it’s hard for me to do anything but send money when needed. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth for more.

Family goals:

More meaningful time with Eldest before he leaves, more time as a family. More one-on-one time with MB.

I don’t give DH enough credit on the blog, but he’s the one who has contributed the sweetness and calm genes to our offspring (I am solely responsible for all the pain-in-the-ass bits of DNA that any of them carry) and he’s instrumental in keeping me level-headed and away from catastrophizing, which I am prone to do. I want us to go to more standup comedy and generally just have grownup fun, especially before we lose our built-in babysitter, the college-bound Eldest.

EXTRACURRICULARS

I got back to kickboxing. I’ve been doing it since June, 5x a week most of summer and fall, then down to 3x this winter. When it’s no longer so goddamn dark in the morning at 4:30 when I need to get up for it, I hope to go back to 5x a week. For now, I will consider keeping continuity a win.

I’ve started writing short fiction and it’s been going well. I started submitting in September, and I’ve had 17 flash pieces published in 2017: 10 micros (up to 100 words) and 7 longer flash-fiction pieces (flash is up to 1000 words). Going into 2018, I already have 5 longer pieces slated to appear (4 long flash pieces and a short story, ~1500 words). Of the 2018 stuff already accepted, there is one great satirical piece and two more that have a lot of humor in them.

I’m already better at writing than when I started, and I think considerably so; much of it is thanks to volunteering at a magazine that promises personalized feedback, so every time I reject I have to articulate what didn’t work and how to make it better. I am deeply allergic to schmaltz and cannot stomach (or write) moody pieces where cloudy skies are a metaphor for inner turmoil and whatnot. These just irritate me to no end. I also really hate sloppiness in writing, like when an author flails random noninteracting metaphors and calls it abstract (also resists editorial pleas to tie up those loose ends — experiences as an editor are a whole different can of worms). Anyway, “abstract” as a synonym for “I threw some imagery out there without bothering to rewrite for some coherence or plot or character or anything really”; I see a lot of that and say nope to the never. I am drawn to the ridiculous and to spare prose with judicious use of incisive lines and strong, well-placed literary devices. I am working on improving my own style, getting the writing to where I feel it needs to go, and learning which zines appreciate what I have to offer.

I’ve tried a few competitions and I don’t think I am good at those. Given a prompt word or phrase or other constraints of the competition, I’m the person who gets inspired to write a fantasy piece when everyone else writes realism, or I will eschew the obvious route toward a sci-fi piece and write lab lit instead. Then I read the winning pieces: 20% of the time they are phenomenal and I wish I could write like that; 60% of the time I don’t particularly care for them one way or another; the final 20% of the time they are irritating plotless blobs of freefloating imagery that I would turn away if I got them as an editor.

Writing goals:

Submitting some speculative fiction to paying markets (so far most has been literary fiction, even if some had speculative-fiction elements). If I were to get a speculative fiction publication in a professional market (means it pays 6 cents or more per word), not because of money but because it would qualify for eventual membership in SFWA, I would consider it a great success this year; however, I am not sure I am at that level yet.

Writing more satire and getting it into ever better zines. I think I’m actually quite good at writing humor (certainly better than writing about goddamn stormy skies as a metaphor for constipation) and at finding humor everywhere, even in (or particularly in) the sad, the heavy, and the tragic.

Making peace with the fact that I will never be a superstar fiction writer. Not that I really want it, to be honest, it’s just that my inner ambition is always beneath the surface, ready to pounce, even when emotionally I don’t really want things and intellectually I know that I likely don’t have the chops, and ultimately who cares anyway since this is a goddamn hobby.

In literary fiction, I want to find a way to be as weird, insightful, and genuinely emotional as I know I can be. Also, get into a few select markets I like.

I want to toughen my hide into that of the thickest walruslike blubber so as not to feel the sting of rejection at all.

And just keep writing. (Btw, if you are interested in reading my fiction, send me an email and I will give you the coordinates.)

BLOGGING

I will answer the as -yet-unanswered queries from November and leave that post up for people to add requests.

I would like to somehow re-ignite the dialogue in this space, but I know blogging is no longer as fashionable as it used to be, and much of the activity has moved to Facebook and Twitter. Still, I’m here, and there will be a delurking post coming up early in January, as every year.

I have no intention of leaving this place; it’s been a cherished outlet for my academic wisdom and/or angst for many a moon. I can’t imagine ever running out of things to say (although I do sometimes repeat myself), so I’m not going anywhere.

Stats

Finally, here are a few stats and some prizes!

About 181, 000 views, 44,000 visitors, and over 1,000 comments!

Here are the most popular posts:

Top referrers — thank you!

As for top commenters, that’s a bit tougher to extract now that WordPress doesn’t do the end-of-year summaries for us, but this is close enough (I did a manual count for the top commenters and the actual comment numbers in the year are a bit higher than what’s given below, but not by much). Thanks everyone for reading and commenting, and the top three commenters — lyra211, gasstationwithoutpumps, & Prodigal Academic — will be getting some Amazon gift cards via email!

 

Happy New Year everyone!

‘Tis the Season

Happy holidays to all!

I am sooooo enjoying this winter break, it feels decadent.

We aren’t doing much: chilling out, watching movies, reading, playing with electronics, cuddling, having friends over. Some of us are writing and editing stories. All of us repeat how glad we are that we don’t have to go to school or work tomorrow. The kids are old enough that it’s pure fun and relaxation and very little hassle for everyone to be cooped up together for days.

On Saturday, I drove all day. I took Eldest to a neighboring state to meet a prospective teacher at the music school. Eldest applied to two universities—both big state schools: the one where I teach (no, sadly, no tuition relief whatsoever for employees) and a comparable one in a neighboring state—and was accepted to both. He wants to major in molecular biology and was admitted to the appropriate colleges in the two schools, but as his second major (or perhaps a minor) he wants music, and the auditions for music schools aren’t till January. It’s also recommended that the students have an hour-long lesson with the person who would be their likely teacher (for many instruments, there’s only one), to see how they would gel if they were to work together. Thus far, Eldest has been dead-set on staying here, but he seemed to have really clicked with the music teacher out of state whereas the local guy seemed grumpy, so we’ll see. Auditions are in a month. I will have another road trip with Eldest for that right before the new semester starts.

Christmas Eve was uneventful. I have no idea what we did. I know I wrapped the presents with the speed and stealth becoming of a true consumerist superhero.

On Monday (yesterday, the Christmas Day), DH and I celebrated 18 years of marriage! Happy anniversary, DH! We were married on Christmas Day in 1999, and while no one ever forgets the date, we always have a hell of a time going out to celebrate because everything is closed. This time around, we had a proper dinner-and-a-movie date (Eldest babysat). We saw The Shape of Water, which is beautiful and satisfying on so many levels.

Today, I took all of my offspring to see Jumanji, which I also enjoyed. It’s really funny and just great stupid fun. It was well done—sharp comedic writing, without sluggish excess, and with strong performances by everyone involved. Jack Black and Kevin Hart predictably killed it, but The Rock definitely held his own (smolder LOL). Two of Middle Boy’s friends also went with one of the moms, and these kids later joined us for a playdate. Finally, Smurf also had a playdate, so I had six boys total at my house today, which was fun. I love impromptu little parties. At one point, all five who were not Eldest were lying spread out on the floor and on the steps in a doggy pile, if the dogs were actually made out of very relaxed slime that’s on winter break.

I can’t remember the last time I so thoroughly enjoyed a vacation.

Topical Drift

The way science is funded in the US — in short, highly uncertain federal grants — prevents the scientists from doing their best work, stifles creativity, contributes to burnout in more ways than one, and drags the whole enterprise down.

What struck me recently is how bored I am with much of my work. If someone gave me the money to fund maybe 3-4 students over the next five years (with a student, loaded, costing about $60k/year, that would be $1.2M for 4 students — so not anyone’s pocket change) and do whatever I wanted to do, I would have plenty of stuff to work on. There are things I want to learn and I would go into one of the fields that are quite far from my bread-and-butter one.

But to do the same on my own, raise the above $1.2M to do something completely new in a new field, is impossible. To be even competitive for this much money in a new field, one that is so far away from what I do that my current students or my PhD advisor likely wouldn’t be able to read my papers, would require such a drastic shift that it would likely mean a period with little or no funding, and I might never recover. I have certainly seen that — someone runs out of money, owing to bad luck or moving into a new field, and they are dead in the water. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone recover in terms of funding after a shift as great as what I envision and would love to make.

A senior colleague, years ago and at his tenure time, said he was done with his most productive line of work and ready for something else. But the sabbatical came and went, the change never happened, and the colleague is now (I fear irreversibly) switching to administration. His enthusiasm for his work must have waned, and the money certainly dried up. But if he’d been able to really switch gears, not with pittance institutional funds that cover 1 RA for 1 year but some actual resources, we would still have him in the game, somewhere, contributing with his brilliant mind.

So what do you do? Drift into new topics at a glacial pace. Essentially hold on to the topics you are done with, and would really like never to see again, and slooooowly introduce more and more topics that are more and more aligned with what you want to do… By the time you’ve finally transitioned into what you wanted to work on to begin with, you are bored with that and it’s time for the drift dance to take place yet again.

Improving the World, One ‘Not’ at a Time

As it turns out—at least for a pain in the a$$ such as myself—not doing things brings about more benefits to everyone involved than actually doing things.

  • Not firing off most composed tweets because people on the web don’t need to be subject to my every thought; most of my thoughts, for that matter.
  • Not firing off 50% of composed emails because people in meat space don’t need to be subject to my every thought; most of my thoughts, for that matter.
  • Not sending an email to a collaborator in which I tell him to clean up after his student. 

    We are working on a manuscript. The collaborator and his student drafted it, then sent it around for comments. They said the paper was ready to go and gave everyone a week to respond. The paper is meant for a prestigious journal that takes letter (short) papers. Unfortunately, this ready-to-go paper looks like a headless chicken—freaky and hilarious, as it runs around aimlessly, hitting points at random. The writing is surprisingly bad (the colleague and the students are both American). Someone’s gonna break a neck after tripping on one of the many dangling participles. Overall, the paper is far, far from submittable.

    I sent in my extensive comments and the student is incorporating them. But that’s not enough. This is the student’s first paper and I don’t think he can do this by himself. He needs to be taught how to write a short manuscript for a prestigious journal. I wish my collaborator were more hands-on here. And maybe he will be, eventually. I wrote an email asking the collaborator to get more involved in the writing because so much is missing; that the student is too junior to do this on his own… And then deleted the email. I wouldn’t appreciate receiving such an email, in which someone’s telling me how to run my group, so I decided not to be an obnoxious prick for once, and keep my mouth shut.

  • Not accepting to sit on an NSF panel (I was in a bit of an existential crisis refusing this one, but last year it was so much work and the then-current program manager was behaving shittily, so I said never again).
  • Not accepting anything to review over the past month.
  • Not accepting to sit on student defenses unless I am already familiar with the work.
  • Not accepting to write any more lukewarm form letters of recommendation for random undergraduates.

Things I wish I could just not do, but have to do. Not doing them would make me happy, but the other people involved might feel differently.

  • Review two PhD dissertations (for my own graduate students).
  • Write three letters of recommendation (for my own group members).
  • Respond to a major revision request for a paper that bores the hell out of me. They took twice as long to send us the referee reports, right before the holidays, and of course they now want major revisions immediately. Well, no. FU. I asked for an extension until the end of January.
  • Edit and submit a paper from my group with a former student who left in the spring. (I am bored with that material, too.)
  • Submit yet another proposal on an accelerated timeline because the staff member who is  supposed to click ‘submit’ is leaving for the holidays early.

Basically, I want to not do anything that’s not reading books or watching TV, and maybe working on some fiction.  I really hope that, for once, I won’t have to work between Xmas and New Year.

I need a vacation. A long one…but a paid one. And no one is allowed to come with me, except for some books, a laptop, and maybe a few Costco-sized bottles of Bailey’s.