Month: November 2016


How are your feelings about teleconferences? In my experience, they are nearly always a complete disaster. It doesn’t seem to matter if you use Skype or Skype Web, video chat using an app on your phone, or rely on expensive university-paid videoconferencing protocols in rooms that are specifically designed for that purpose, there is always at least one and usually several occurrences of image freezing, breaking, or completely disappearing; of the calls randomly disconnecting; and of people being unable to show slides or other electronic materials, even though the subscription should clearly cover it. When I want glitch-free communication, I always have to resort to the phone. Some VoIP services are excellent.

I am about to head to a meeting which has always been in-person only (all people are local). The meetings are scheduled well in advance and are infrequent. If someone has to be absent, they are absent. Recently, an accommodation request has been made for a reason for which I would personally never request  accommodation (convenience rather than necessity or urgency), and now I foresee we will spend  1/3 of the time making sure the person can hear or see us, re-connecting, waiting for them to unfreeze, and repeating stuff because they are cut off. The room is in no way set up to accommodate a video conference and they will be able to only see a couple of people, at best. If the person absolutely must be present, I would much prefer them calling in (although that is a pain, as well, when many people are present and no appropriate conference microphone is available).

I was going to deny the accommodation and tell the person to either show up or sit it out, but a staff person jumped in and offered the requested flexibility. Me denying it now would make me a douche on multiple fronts. However, since I am in charge of the meeting, I most definitely do not want this to become the norm and be sought all the time because it makes us highly ineffective, and what we do is time sensitive, takes considerable focus, and we meet infrequently enough that people can just find a way to just be there in person.

Detach and Re-Engage

PsycGirl had a post that reminded me of my recent struggles with not being heard/acknowledged/respected. The thing is, I am not universally or continuously marginalized. It gets better and it gets worse; sometimes I feel important and supported, other times I do not. So I do find myself detaching and re-engaging. Sometimes things get too much, and I need time off from colleagues and meetings. Other times, I am needed; I feel that I have things to give and that they are appreciated. When I feel down about the collective, like the other day, I feel I want nothing to do with them ever again. But then eventually I do. The thing is, I don’t think I am alone in this duality. Sure, some people can brush off professional friction; they let it all slide off their backs, backs that are as greasy for $hit to slide off as if they belonged to a superhero badass seagull who’s been diving in and out of an oil spill and just doesn’t care that he technically shouldn’t even be able to fly any more yet he does so, propelled by pure seagull badassery. But superhero seagull faculty are a minority (even at Seagull University). Most of us do get temporarily bogged down by professional slights, even minor ones. Wimpy seagulls are we, the ones that get tangled in sea foam.**

PsycGirl finds herself at the cusp of re-engaging, but is understandably wary. She doesn’t really trust the people as much as she used to (totally legitimate) and she wonders if pulling away and then leaning back in doesn’t come with a high emotional cost to her.

When I feel good about the whole thing, such as when it’s been more than a few days  and many cups of coffee between me and the latest faculty meeting, my thoughts are  along the lines that, when you are supposed to spend 30-40 years with the same people, getting on and off the merry-go-round is, in fact, completely normal and likely healthy. Here are the comments I wrote:

“I struggle with this issue. When I am overlooked or slighted, I vow not to get engaged with the department again. There are two things that trip me about this approach and lead me to eventual inevitable re-engagement. One is what you noted, that disengagement hurts me more than anyone else. It silences and suppresses the best parts of my personality — the passionate, mindful, caring part of me — and if those parts are not allowed to exist in the context of my work, then what’s the point? The second aspect is that most of my colleagues are not evil masterminds, and they too care about at least some aspects of the functioning of the institution; they are not adversaries by some grand design, but by the fact that they have their own priorities, things they care about, and biases. So it may be that this pendulum of dis- and re-engagement is how we balance the need to not wilt and die inside with the need to not kill our unreasonable colleagues.”

PsycGirl responded, wondering if she loses a little piece of herself with each detach/engage cycle, to which I wrote this:

“Doesn’t the leaving and re-entry hurt you after a while? It’s like every time I do it I lose a little piece of my soul… I feel that way too. But I think of it more as taking the rose glasses off or being cured of my own naivete. I think I recalibrate my expectations a little after every retreat so I am less (or perhaps differently) disappointed next time. I think this is what people describe as the process of toughening up or maturing or whatever else it’s called. Basically, every time you know a little more about all the many shades or gray… Something like that. My natural tendency is to be idealistic, bombastic, straight-talking, but honestly probably just naive. I think I need to get used to the fact that I am just one voice in the conversation; occasionally I get to be *the* voice, and perhaps I should choose my battles. Something like that.

So I think the moral is to disengage when you feel you should, then re-engage when you feel you can or simply want to, then disengage again when needed… What helps is that I have seen even the most seasoned and talented department politician get his feathers ruffled and sit out a few meetings. As annoying as it is when it is, this vacillating is probably inevitable, normal, and even healthy when you work long-term in a collective that has a semblance of a functioning democracy.”

** It’s daily blogging in November!!! Prepare for silly animal metaphors, lowbrow puns, and all the other ways in which playing with the language delights me, even when — especially when! — everyone else rolls their eyes in exasperation.

So Typocal

How do I torture myself? Let me count the ways. (Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Following a good night’s rest, on the day after the submission of a proposal — which I feverishly tried to polish while racing the clock to the deadline after a night with 2 hours of sleeplike rest in my office chair — I read through the whole document and marked all the typos. And there were some, even though I had read and read and read through the proposal before the submission, annoying my grant admin into a hot fury because I had made her wait till lunch for my materials. (Somewhere, there is a voodoo doll with my face on it. The doll got three new needles in its head yesterday, and I know exactly whose hands placed them there, for I had a migraine all afternoon.)