Month: November 2018

Blinky Blinks

Well, this daily blogging business in November hasn’t worked out so well, has it? I’m sorry, dear readers, but what can I do? There’s stuff that’s on my mind that isn’t really blog fodder and I already force myself to do plenty that I don’t want to do in real life; I refuse to do that when it comes to my hobbies.

Instead, here is some interesting reading. If you read just one, I recommend the fourth one (the one in The Cut).

Publishing with literary agents



Happy Turkeycide!

Thursday was Thanksgiving, also DH’s birthday, so I cooked all day. Below: Thanksgiving spread plus the stuffed cabbage dish I always make for DH’s birthday, which will be consumed later.

On Friday, roadtrip with the younger kids to an amusement park four hours away.  Saturday: roadtrip to spend the afternoon with a friend from grad school, two hours away. Sunday: hopefully zzzzzzzz.

Evil Collaborator

Wally asks:

I’m curious if you have any advice on how to have a decent working relationship AND a collaborator/co-author relationship with someone you just can’t stand. One of my colleagues is duplicitous, a horrible gossip, trashes people (incl me) behind their backs, and tries to–and has successfully, edge people out of projects that they want to take over (they are trying to do this to me now). This person is exalted by leadership – but I just can’t stand them. However, we do research in the same topic area, and working as co-authors and having a decent collegial relationship is important. Any advice?

This sounds pretty awful.

What I don’t understand is why you would have to collaborate with this person. Collaboration is a pretty close professional interaction, a kind of professional intimacy, if you will. I couldn’t collaborate (or at least not long term) with someone who I thought was a terrible person. I have to trust the collaborators to be honest, to pull their weight, to respect me and my group’s contribution, to be someone who’s safe to brainstorm ideas with without judgment or ridicule. Our professional values have to be pretty closely aligned in order for the collaboration to work. I don’t see how a backstabbing, opportunistic, duplicitous individual would be a good collaborator to anyone.

Wally, do you absolutely have to interact with this person? Like, is there shared equipment involved? You can’t just get around them? Why do you feel you have to be co-authors?

This person sounds like someone I would avoid in a wide berth and, in case I couldn’t just get out of the interaction, I would be civil but aloof, and make myself scarce as soon as possible.

There is a colleague I used to be friends and collaborators with years ago (at least I thought we were friends, but it was likely never true). However, he offended me badly: he badmouthed one of my grad students in front of the whole faculty, via email, because my student got an award that the colleague thought his students should have received. This colleague generally thinks he’s better than everyone else and is quite unpopular (brings in money, but doesn’t pull his weight in teaching or service). I avoid interactions with him as much as I can. I do not sabotage him or his students, but I don’t do him any favors or share any information, good or bad, with him either. I consider him an arrogant, selfish, untrustworthy snake (the arrogance will be his downfall, because he genuinely thinks everyone else in the department is stupid and unaware that of how he is and how he operates).

Wally’s colleague seems to be the same. Part of political savvy is knowing who the good guys are and whom to absolutely avoid and try to protect self from. If most of the rest of the colleagues are OK, then you can all help each other and basically shut the bad guy out.

A friend of mine said about collaborations: “Collaborations are like kissing. You wouldn’t do it with someone just because they’re next door.” I have always found that I do my best work with a few really good collaborators and the rest on my own; it’s much better for productivity and sanity than nominally numerous but mostly stressful, dysfunctional collaborations.

Blogosphere, what say you? How should Wally proceed? 



I am sorry that I’ve been a delinquent November blogger. *hangs head in shame*

I went out a lot this weekend (comedy with DH on Friday; dinner with a mom friend on Saturday; show with Eldest on Sunday) and between that, home chores/stresses, and trying to walk 1-1.5 hrs every day, the time just wasn’t there. But the fresh (if freezing) air did wonders.

Here’s some lovely music. I should be back tomorrow, time permitting.

Objects of Beauty

(Remember this movie? No? No surprise; I’m ancient.)

I walked by my “first love house” today. We had given an offer on it in the first year here, but it had been declined. It is for the best. The house isn’t all that pretty and it’s on a busy-ish street, but it was the first house I’d fallen in love with. Its layout (two-story/tri-level) had been what I’d always wanted but never knew that I had.

The following year, we had been able to put a larger downpayment, get a better interest rate, and I’d found a house with the same layout and all the other stuff that I’d loved in the first one but none of the downsides (e.g., shaggy dark green carpet). The offer had been accepted and the rest is history. We’ve been in this house for 12 years (almost 13) and I love it. We use all of the space (3,400 sqft).  I often dream how we’ve sold this house and bought a new one and I spend the whole dream lamenting that decision, trying to make it work with the new house, not understanding why we’d have ever given the house up.

But my love for our house wouldn’t have been possible without the one that got away, so today I took a few seconds to appreciate it. It’s in the same general neighborhood and has changed owners at least twice in the years we’ve lived in ours. I hope whoever is in it now loves it. Houses need to be loved.


People say that, if you really want to do something, you can’t wait for accumulate the perfect gear in order to get going. I used to believe that, too, but now I beg to differ. After years of very mixed success with bringing lunch to work, I bought a lunch box and it changed everything. I love it; I never forget it, and its very existence is a gentle and welcome reminder that I need to pack lunch. Honestly, since I bought it, and it’s been months now, I’ve become so much better about taking care of myself at work, about bringing good food and good beverages along. The lunch box made everything better. Btw, it’s this one. You will recognize the black and purple color palette, the same as on the blog. Because nothing — nothing — is cooler than black and purple (said every sci-fi movie set designer).


Dear readers, are there any inanimate objects you love? 

Drafts and Guts

jls asks: 

I would really love to hear your (further) thoughts about writing drafts with students and in particular how you go about teaching students to write. I know this is a subject you’ve touched on often, but right now the work I need to get done is almost 100% editing student drafts, and let’s just say I can’t help feeling that there must be some ways to improve this process.

Writing with graduate students is a perennial challenge. I have written extensively (and I mean EXTENSIVELY) about it, probably more often than about anything else, yet it never ceases to be a problem. (Check out Academaze, where a whole chapter was devoted to this particular circle of hell.)

Dear readers, there are no static solutions for anything in life, at least not for anything that means anything. Or at least no solutions that guarantee you will always be at peace and not, you know, blow your lid with some regularity at the hopelessness of your predicament.

I spend a lot of time editing students’ writing. And I know the only way for them to improve is to practice.

But, holy $hit, if it isn’t annoying as all f*ck!

I feel that working with students on their writing is the canary in the coalmine for my general grumpiness about work (can’t wait for sabbatical next year, honestly). When I am grumpy about work, editing the messes that I am usually given becomes completely unbearable.

There’s a book chapter that a postdoc and several of my students (one a native speaker) have drafted together. I have been sitting on this draft for months. I have picked it up and put it down dozens of times. I hate this goddamn document with a passion usually reserved for my flesh-and-blood nemeses. My hatred toward this document stems from a combination of: a) not wanting to look at that bloody material ever again; I’ve written so many papers and proposals on it, and if I have to now write this stupid intro for the millionth time, someone will lose their head; b) the fact that it really should look better than it does, considering I have a postdoc on it and I provided them with a ton of raw material they could work with (papers and proposals).

Today I talked with a colleague who says he and his collaborator write most of their papers; they don’t really have students draft them. I understand why they do it, but it still constitutes a failure of an aspect of graduate education.

On the other hand, so many students don’t want to write or don’t improve fast enough or don’t particularly care to improve (just do it to appease advisor and get out of here) or maybe they have limitations or for other reasons find it hard to write to the standard that I expect, that I worry the whole process of teaching them how to write (read: forcing them to write and me to edit) is not very helpful and instead just extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

Still, teach them how to write I must.

This is what I have always done: A student  drafts a paper on the work where they’re the lead junior researcher. I pull hair over it for days or weeks until I manage to get through the whole thing. The student and I will go back-and-forth several times (I mark up a hard copy, we discuss edits, the student enters them) but eventually I take over and clean up. This ensures the paper gets out in a reasonable time and the student gets writing practice.

People have suggested hiring external editing help; that’s not for me. First, I have been unimpressed with the input from the university editing resources and I am too cheap and distrustful to pay for external work. Second, I want the papers from my group to look a certain way; I would just end up rewriting everything regardless.


My big issue with people (some of them in my family) is that most aren’t as intense as me. I feel like they move slowly through the stress-light molasses of their lives and I wonder how they don’t just explode with the pressure that built up from boredom. In turn, they probably think I am downright nuts; I know many in my family do.

Same with work. I will never understand how someone just doesn’t want to LEARN EVERYTHING JUST EAT EVERYTHING UP JUST GIMME GIMME MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE!

I mean, obviously I understand all this intellectually, but my gut rolls its gut eyes and rejects — as guts do — that there is any other way to be than how it itself is.

Guts, man. Guts.


In far awesomer news, lyra211 just had a baby! Go say congrats!