Love, Mobsters, and Varied Undead

Here’s some enjoyable and quirky or otherwise unusual cinematic fare that packs more of an emotional punch than you might expect:

Equals — I saw this one on Amazon Prime and it was much better than I’d hoped. Beautifully shot and beautifully paced, with great casting. Don’t get turned off by Kristen Stewart starring, she’s excellent in this movie.

Warm Bodies — Nicholas Hoult starred in Equals above, which reminded me of “Warm Bodies,” where I saw him first; he’s an excellent young actor, with great on-screen presence, akin to Jude Law or Ralph Fiennes in their heyday. (And why can’t we grow this kind of male actor in the US?) This is a zombie movie, but don’t let it discourage you. It’s heartwarming and funny. (Btw, Hoult was also great in Fury Road and as the Beast in X-Men.)

The Lobster —  it’s dry and absurdist, and I loved it.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure, but if you like nuts, this is good nuts.

In Bruges— an old quirky mobster comedy with Colin Farrell. You gotta hand it to Colin Farrell: he could have retired playing the pretty boy, but instead he’s gone full quirk — respect! Yes, I loved the 2nd season of True Detective.

Cashback — another satisfying accidental find from a few years ago. A recently dumped young artist with severe insomnia gets a night job…

Deadpool — filthy and fun.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — I haven’t seen this one, but will when I get a chance.  Not your common vampire movie.

How Far are You Willing to Go…

… by car?

I am contemplating driving 10 hrs each way to attend one day of a conference, where I am supposed to give a talk.

That would be a 10-hr drive, 1 day there, and a 10-hr drive back. I am very, very tempted to do it, because:

a) I love driving (also, I can’t ride a bus, it gives me motion sickness, plus bus is super slow)

b) I dislike flying (specifically, I hate always being cramped while flying, and ugh other people)

Dear readers, in the poll below, please let us know how far you willing to drive. I am thinking of routine travel for work or leisure, where flying is an option; I am obviously not counting intentional road trips or moving cross country. I have driven 4-5 and 6-7 hours one way many times for work. I would do the 10 hours if there were more days between the outbound and return trips.

Totally Trivial Tuesday

I am apparently a very low-class person, and I think I am okay with that. I am more comfortable in a sports bar, having a beer and eating burgers, than I am at a fancy restaurant. If I am with friends and there’s a choice as to where to go, I would almost always pick a brewery, sports bar, a diner, or a (not overly expensive) steakhouse over any place where the posh congregate. I don’t mind restaurant chains.

I have Amazon prime, and a lengthy collection of movies on my watch list. Whenever I place a movie on the list, I would really like to watch it at that time, but am too busy. This week, I have allotted some time for myself to watch a movie or two. This time is so precious that I invariably  squander it, because none of the movies that I know I wanted to watch at one time seems special enough to spend my hard-won 2 hours on. So I watch nothing, and instead fart around on the web or work on a grant annual report, so the time wouldn’t be a total loss.

As per me being low-brow: I will watch all sorts of movies. I like drama and comedy, especially indie, but I also like science fiction, action, and thrillers; I think of my taste as the amalgam of an educated middle aged woman and a teenage boy. I don’t expect every flick to move me or educate me; there is nothing wrong with some escapism. Occasionally, when I approach a movie with no expectations whatsoever, I actually end up more moved than when I watch overwrought grown-up movies that take themselves far too seriously.

There are certain actors that I simply like and will watch any movie with them in it. Most of these are not particularly good actors, but watching them do anything on the screen cheers me up. There are actors who just grate my cheese, and them being in a movie is generally a deterrent more than an an attraction.

a) An incomplete list of attractors (people whom I will watch in anything because they are so darn adorable):

Mark Wahlberg (also, Research Wahlberg is a hilarious twitter feed); yes, I will probably go see the new Transformers, solely because he’s in it; I just watched Daddy’s Home with him and Will Farrell and it’s as silly as you think, but I enjoyed it

Sandra Bullock

Charlize Theron

Jeff Bridges

Channing Tatum (I want to adopt him)

Reese Witherspoon (mild attractor)

Drew Barrymore (mild attractor)

Adam Sandler (mild attractor)

Chris Pratt (mild attractor)

b) An incomplete list of repellents:

Leonardo DiCaprio (seriously; he only started looking like an adult once he hit 40; I haven’t watched “Titanic” because I just cannot with his baby face in that role)

Zach Galifianakis (I don’t know why, but I can’t shake the impression that he’s just an awful person)

Nicole Kidman (mild repellent)

James Franco (mild repellent)

Blogosphere, who are the actors you always looks forward to seeing? Or avoid seeing as much as possible?

Books and entertainment of note:

The Handmaid’s Tale (the show) is bloodcurdling.

The Good Fight (spin-off of The Good Wife) is awesome. I never realized how glad I would be to be rid of the Florricks.

The Expanse (2nd season) is even awesomer.

Becky Chambers’s “A Closed  and Common Orbit,” the 2nd book in the Wayfarer series. This is sci-fi with a lot of heart and just beautiful, uncluttered, compelling writing, asking what it means to be a person.

Scalzi’s “The Collapsing Empire.” I haven’t read it yet; I’m saving it for an overseas trip in a couple of weeks.

Charlie Jane Anders’s “All the Birds in the Sky” just got a Nebula; not sure if I should buy it or not, as even a hint of magic sends me running in the opposite direction.

Clarissa has some very interesting book reviews (Russo, Strout, Hannah, Ng),  especially books on neoliberalism and on fluidity and the collapse on the nation-state, such as Bauman’s (also here).

Dear readers, tell us about actors you like/hate, shows/books/movies that you enjoyed or hated recently?

Summer Defenses

How do you feel about summer PhD defenses?

This spring, it seems I have been inundated with requests to be on mid-summer PhD defense committees, usually for students for whom I was already involved as part of the defense prospectus committee (our committees don’t have ongoing involvement with students, unless there’s an existing technical collaboration).

On the one hand, I really do want to help the students and try to say yes whenever I can: the student got a job, they want to move on, and we should help them to do that. On the other hand,  getting a job and defending a PhD are not exactly unforeseen catastrophes: the student typically writes the dissertation and interviews for jobs (or at least should, as that’s what I request of my students) over several months preceding the defense. At least at this school, there’s no reason not to defend during the semester and then postpone the filing of the final form of the dissertation by a few months, if the student wants to keep the student status until they need to leave midsummer for a job. For international students, getting the F1-OPT paperwork requires several months of lead time anyway, so filing for F1-OPT is a good time to schedule your final defense. It used to be possible to defend and deposit a dissertation, then be as a short-term part-time postdoc until the job situation is finalized, but since the mandatory low-level pay for postdocs has now been raised to nearly $50k with no part-time options, these short-term postdocs as a courtesy to students are no longer financially feasible.

Just this morning, I had to decline another request for a summer defense. The student wanted to schedule it during a week when I don’t have childcare, and only three weeks into the future. I could scramble, but I said no. I have the right to not be perpetually available for during the summer, especially for non-research activities (remember: in the US, there is no summer pay by the university; any pay comes from research grants), plus this lack of planning by the student and advisor really ticked me off.

What say you, blogosphere? How do you feel about summer PhD defenses? 

PSA: Giant Files

When you send me a ppt, a doc, or a pdf (!) whose size is in the hundreds of megabytes, know that I curse you loudly, using all the juiciest, most vivid expletives that I know.

These files are so gigantic because your images are uncompressed and/or have stupidly, unnecessarily high resolution.

Learn how to use some image editing software and reduce the size of your effing figures before inflicting them on others.

End of Semester

I don’t think I have ever had a harder semester than this spring.

Part of it is that I had a really large class with basically no help, which required a lot of face time (2.5 hrs of lecture, 1.5 hrs of discussion, 6 hours of office hours on regular weeks — always someone in the office, additional all-day office hours pre-midterm, and this is all not accounting for all the email, time spent on writing HW problems and solutions, and grading the exams). I like my students, but it was a lot of time interacting with people, which is temporarily uplifting but ultimately quite draining. In the evenings on days when I had a lecture plus discussion, I could only veg out or go to bed early.

But the biggest part of it was all the service that I had. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on an interdepartmental search which ultimately failed. I am resentful because we were made to Skype interview applicants like the place is on fire — on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day, on New Year’s Eve; I could not have one goddamn week off where I wasn’t required to show up on campus. I also chaired a department committee that required a lot — A LOT — of writing; basically assembling award nominations for  colleagues for honors both internal and external, which requires soliciting letters, twisting arms, reading carefully the candidate’s papers and their colleagues’ letters, and ultimately writing lengthy nomination letters that are, of course, supposed to be detailed, specific, quoting external letter writers, and also dripping with adulatory epithets. If you have ever assembled a nomination for anyone, especially a successful one, you know that they are very labor-intensive. There were two additional members of the committee, but they ended up (nicely) blowing me off when I asked them to do things, citing personal demands and apologizing profusely… So I had to do all of the fuckin’ nominations. And there were many. So. Many.

Finally, we get to the institution-level committee that I wrote about a bit before. While all committees were laborious, this one also really challenged my interpersonal skills. Never before have I had to negotiate so much with some very unpleasant, stubborn people. There was a higher-up who revealed themselves in the most unflattering light. This interpersonal-interaction aspect of the committee and the frustrations around it spilled everywhere — they not only ate away at my time, but they killed my will to do technical work; they also left me irritable and distracted at home with my family. Honestly, I don’t know how full-time admins do these types of jobs. They must have ways to turn off the work drama to be able to return to their private lives. I understand doing an admin job for a few years when it’s your turn to chair a department or whatever…  But to crave this type of work? Such people must have personality types that are very, very different from mine.

This experience also makes me exceedingly grateful that I don’t work in a company. I can only imagine the potential for drama, frustration, and the resulting lack of technical progress that can arise from interpersonal friction on a team in a company.


I also did all the usual service that never goes away, such as reviewing proposals, attending panels, reviewing lots of papers, doing my duty as associate editor in a journal. Very recently, I ended up grudgingly scoring some 150 abstracts for a conference for which I am on the program committee. I was huffing and puffing and I finally asked myself why I accepted to be on it. I have been on the program committee for this conference a number of times, and I know why they keep asking me to do it — they cannot figure out which other woman to ask to do it. But I don’t really attend that conference, it’s not really my community. It’s often overseas, and it’s both costly to travel abroad and I have grown to hate travel, so don’t want to do overseas trips without a good reason.  So why did I accept this year? All it will be is a bullet on my annual report. Hardly worth it.

I am going to another conference overseas that is much more my core community, and where I have to give multiple talks by my group because none of the students who did the work can travel — one for health reasons, two for visa issues. Nuts.


Another aspect of fatigue comes from family life. Eldest and Middle Boy have a lot of activities. MB is quite the athlete, and he goes to swimming, basketball (season over, thankfully), and now soccer. That means lots of chauffeuring after work and on the weekends. Eldest swims daily and is very serious about it; he can drive, but doesn’t have his own car, so there are always logistical challenges with his early practices (honestly, everything is set up for stay-at-home moms or for kids driving themselves; as if people can routinely afford to maintain a whole fleet of cars).

But I do enjoy watching my kids partake in sports. Basketball is my favorite, but soccer gets me out into the sun for an hour on Saturdays, for which my bones will no doubt thank me.


All this thankless service work has pushed back the submission times of some of my group’s papers. My group members have been very patient, but couldn’t wait for the semester to end. They are now all over me to send off the papers, and I understand their impatience.

The problem is that I am sooo tired that I would really need to just not be responsible for anyone or anything right now. That’s obviously not going to happen with all my children and all my students, but it would be so wonderful if it could. Although, I wonder how resentful I would be to come back to the grind after, say, 2-3 weeks somewhere exotic where I am unencumbered? Plenty resentful, I bet.

I am eligible for a sabbatical the academic year after next (once every 7 years, 1 semester at full pay or a year at a bit over half pay).
This new sabbatical cannot come soon enough. I hope to spend at least some of it learning new things and honing my rusty German at an excellent overseas institution.


In other news, I have become a named (endowed) prof. I am happy for the honor and for the discretionary funds, but the impostor syndrome is stronger than ever. By now I know not to share my thoughts about this in real life, but I feel like I stole this honor from the more worthy candidates who were up against me. Phoebe from “Friends” illustrates how the impostor syndrome feels:



I thought I had a friend, but I guess not.

FF (former friend) is a peer in another department. We were family friends — DH and I would go to FF and spouse’s house, they’d come to ours. However, DH, who is a vastly better judge of character than I am, never particularly liked FF; he  insisted from the beginning that FF was not a good person, but I kept making excuses for FF’s high-maintenance behavior.

This year, FF and I have served together on a committee and it is safe to say that we are no longer friends. I chaired the committee. It started with FF wanting something that the committee had never allowed before (as I confirmed with former chairs and higher-ups), so I said no. But FF seems to be used to getting their way, so things went downhill fast.  FF started hinting about “concerns about how the committee was run” although they missed most meetings. When they did attend, FF was the nitpicky procedure police, questioning everything we did. Finally, they started acting like I was purposefully singling them out and not informing them of things, which is untrue, as all mailings go through the mailing list.

Thank heavens, I am finally done with this committee. The experience was already challenging, unrelated to FF. But FF really made my job much harder than it needed to be and soured the whole experience.

The rest of the committee seemed to be happy with how things went, and I received several compliments on how everything ran. I wonder if FF would have behaved the way they did if it had been someone else at the helm and not me, for whom they apparently have no respect.

One committee member said that I did a great job and that I would do a great job as department chair. I laughed, because if there’s one thing this experience has done, it’s solidified that I didn’t want to be department chair or take on any significant leadership position in the near future.

A difficult person can ruin the experience for a whole committee of nice, flexible, well-meaning people and silence many whose contribution would be valuable; they can prevent others from going after opportunities and from challenging themselves.

How does one deal with stubborn, demanding, inflexible people? Or better yet, since it’s unlikely that one can change their behavior or always ignore them, how does one minimize the damage and annoyance that these people inflict upon others?