Wednesday, April 27, 2005

who cares

The hardest thing about blogging is feeling like you have the energy to care. Like, it's 1030 at night. Do I feel like caring? Or would it be easier to get drunk and watch the Family Guy? Followed by Will and Grace, then Dharma and Greg?

My friend who teaches at Elite University in town forwarded me the latest Chronicle thing by Famous Dean, where he bitched and moaned about retiring. Talked about working in a laundromat, or selling pencils. So sorry that it's hard to care when I, too, am leaving my job, perhaps to sell pencils on some corner next to him in a Florida beach town.

Imagine our conversation. He'd maybe ask how long I had been there, because he wouldn't remember seeing me or meeting me or sitting in meetings with me at our university. I'd be tan by then, so he'd assume I'd been in Florida a while. I'd tell him that I was an artist doing a performance piece, selling pencils to call attention to the commodification and devaluation of creativity. He'd tell me that he was selling pencils to prove that creativity was meaningless. We'd argue, but it would trail off quickly, becaue the sun is so hot and Stanley is so disinterested in ideas now. He'd tell me he was too old and too rich and too tired to care, that he had made messes everywhere he'd gone and it still hadn't made him happy. I'd tell him I'd tried not to make messes everywhere I'd gone and it hadn't made me happy either. He'd snore, slumped over on the brilliant sidewalk, a little person in summer clothes, waiting for his wife to fetch him. Meantime wife is running wild through Parrot Village, leading a charge of 19-year-olds earnestly trying to follow her directive to throw off civilization while writing papers about it. She's stripped down to her bra, and made up some kind of war whoop that resembles a mourning dove being sodomized. People stare, but no one will stop her--not with the demographic galloping at her heels. Especially if she tells them she's doing research for her book.

Both of them are collecting pensions, and both of them face the days stretching long and empty before them, towards forgetfulness, warm hours in the sun, death. When I was in grad school I taught his wife's essays to my freshmen comp students and wondered what places like their hip private university were like, where Famous Dean gathered together a cast of stars, where all those theoretical minds lived and thought and breathed in one place. I remember what it felt like to hope you could someday be in a place like that, talk to people like that, be someone like that thinking with those people. It seemed like heaven. Like Paradise.

Now we are all selling pencils, in some way or another. This makes us equals. Oddly, we both turn and trudge slowly away from this world we have in common. He has lived here a lifetime; I've moved more ambivalently in and out of it for 20 years. If I had the energy I could think about what this really means, and what the significance of the whole enterprise is, academia at the twilight of itself, the end of the century, this point in my life. But it takes so much energy to care. The TV has been off for a whole half hour, my glass is empty, and I'm weary of talking, writing, my job, Famous Dean, the state of civilization, the Florida beaches. Will and Grace is on, and I'm feeling languid, lazy, and so deliciously tired.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Compulsive Astrology

Most of my time on the internet involves the virtual version of compulsive mailbox checking. I realize I'm in a sick sad loop but there's nothing I can do about it. It begins, of course, with email. My aol 'cause it's friendly, mostly, except for the occasional threatening note from my ex ex girlfriend, asking me why I haven't yet paid off a mutual credit card. That's not so fun. but mostly aol is friendly, banal, spammy. Calls for papers from my days as an enthusiatic graduate student, for conferences and collections I'll never attend or read, let alone submit papers to. Solicitations for mortgages. I don't know what I'm checking for, but I think I hope I'll see an email that says "You've been accepted to Northwestern law School!"

After I check my aol mail I go to my UIC mail. I think I hope for a message that says, "We paid you twice as much this month and you don't have to pay it back."

Then it's time for compulsive astrology. That's when your horoscope is going to tell you what's going to happen and why you should be happy about it. First Jonathan Cainer. I want my Week Ahead Forecast to say that this is the week when all my fortunes turn around and I finally get started on the career that will make me happy and enable me to buy a house. And own a car that's less than 10 years old. I want my today forecast to say that I'm smart successful, and soon to be rich. And that today I will get the phone call that will turn my life around. For the better.

Then it's on to Astrodiest (my girlfriend calls it Astrodentist). This scope usually charts celestial influences. I want it to say that I am entering a period of prolonged prosperity, the likes of which I have never yet seen. I want it to talk about talents recognized, opportunities realized, employment verified, worries on the back burner. I want Astrodentist to give me a clean bill of artistic, intellectual, financial, and carnal health.

After the horoscopes, it's on to the job lists. I want academic jobs on the MLA list, lucrative corporate jobs in laid-back companies on the aol jobs list, publishing jobs that want me on, creative jobs that want to train me on Craig's List. There are so many careers with bright prospects. How can I possibly check all these lists? But I do.

By now I might have missed important emails, so I have to check again. Unfortunately I still know the horoscopes. I could check various love match sites to see if my girlfriend and I are suited and will last. Netscape has the best browser for procrastinating because it has lots of weight loss tips, morbid stories, and tips about sex. Granted that I always read the men's tips on how to please a woman. Then it may be time to shop for shirts or light jackets on sale, and then hit the shoe sites. Eventually I might dream by looking at real estate for sale, which brings me to wondering again if I'll hear whether or not I got into any law schools. At that point it's time for a bath, and maybe something the least little bit productive.

Later in the day, though, the European astrology sites will change to tomorrow's forecast. It's best to check as soon as possible.

You never know.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Kinda Creepy, Like a Eulogy

It's weird to write acknowledgements for your academic book when your job ends in three weeks.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Last Orals

Yesterday I sat in on my last oral exam. I was dreading it all last week, and I woke up with a sick feeling. One of the people on the committee is a guy who reportedly told an outraged undergraduate that the reason I didn't get tenure was because I didn't get my work done. So when my orals student asked me a few weeks ago whether or not they had decided to reopen my tenure case, and I told her that Chair has decided it was just too hard and my book wasn't smart enough to meet his standards, she volunteered to tell Didn't Get Work Done accuser that I had a book contract. I was glad he would have to know that I had in fact been working all along. I wanted to look him in the eye to see if he knew that his stupid attempt to justify his department's homophobia and general hostility and lack of support was bullshit. But really I dreaded having to see him, make nice with him, be civil for the sake of the student, like one parent in a bitter divorce trying not to vomit her rage at the other in front of the children.

Didn't Get Work Done accuser never showed to the orals, so my fantasy of telling him off in person never had to face the test of nerve I had set for myself for that day.

The good part was that I had no idea how much the other members of the committee respected me. They were kind, solicitous, and appreciative of my comments about the writing phase of the orals candidate's work. The sad part was that I had no idea how much people like this were really supportive. Why are departments such as this one so terribly alienating? Floors of offices in a high-rise building, each side of the hallway cut off by a large middle room either for meeting or, more often, for cubicles of grad student offices (the Fishbowl, they call the one on my floor). Even worse, that day I did the typical orals thing of not reading any of the answers to the other questions, figuring I'd pick up on the conversation as it took off. Why should I care what they thought? Why should I lift one finger more than I had to, at this point? That's what I was thinking the day before, anyway. When I got to the exam room, however, the committee told me she had failed to adequately answer at least one of the questions, maybe two, and what did I think?

Oops. Caught in a "What are they gonna do, fire me?" moment, I regretted being less than professional. Then I realized that everyone on the committee only knew about the bad question from the guy who had asked it, who had just at that moment told the head about his reservations. The head remarked that since my question had been the one she had done the best on, everybody figured I was fine with her answer in my case. I remember nodding vigorously. I made some comments about the nature of the candidate's writing as unfocused in particular ways, and they nodded vigorously back. Phew. Off the hook, with points for perceptive analysis!

In the debate over whether or not to pass her, I told my story about nearly failing my orals because I had thrown The Country of the Pointed Firs across the room in frustration, only to be asked question after question about that one paltry book, which one member of my committee had thought another member of my committee would be delighted to talk about. Given my current state of approaching unemplyment, I realized that story now lacked the gentle irony it once possessed, not to mention the self-congratulation disguised as self-mockery that had made it a favorite for years in my arsenal of grad school foibles. Luckily the story went off pretty much as it usually did, with chuckles all around and no throat-clearing or hard stares, proof of what I pretty much always suspected, that in truth nobody is really thinking very much about me or what is happening or will happen to me, which actually for the sake of simple everyday painless interaction is fine. Desireable, even.

When I left the room, though, after everyone finally agreed to pass her under the condition that she work on American Transcendentalim a bit more with her interlocutor, after the head thanked me and suggested I leave early to get to the class I had to teach, after the student thanked me, I felt weak. I groaned in relief as I clicked the door shut and hurried down the hall to the elevator. Later that day when my girlfriend asked on the phone how things had gone, I only said It Went Fine. And it really was fine. One more step in the countdown to failure. One step closer to something new, or at least different, away from those hollow flourescent hallways stacked one on the other in a dark pyramid, mute against the gray and empty midwestern sky.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Legacy of Homophobia

Thank you, John Gallagher, for saying what nobody else seems to want to say about the vigorous homophobia of this pope. Thanks to his efforts, the world feels comfortable vilifying gay people as selfish and immoral. We need to remember a time before him, when it seemed as if the world might really become a kinder and more tolerant place, and institutions such as the Catholic church seemed almost ready to acknowledge the centuries of service performed by gay men and lesbians in its ranks. Thanks its the perpetuation of homophobia and sex-phobia, we have a culture of emotionally-thwarted pedophiles and secret coverups instead. What a great legacy.

On a brighter note, now that Terry Schiavo and the pope have died, we can all get back to watching the Michael Jackson trial.

When Prez and Laura Pray for Pope,

what do they pray for, exactly? Do they pray that he will die, and die soon, to end his great physical suffering? Or do they pray that he will miraculously recover, as they insisted Terri Schiavo could recover, though that recovery would be, to such an ailing man, hell on earth? Do they hope politicians will grandstand in front of the Vatican to put him on life support? Or do they look to his next of kin to make medical decisions for him? Do they hope his successor sees the error of keeping women out of the priesthood, of perpetuating the stigmatizing of gay men and lesbians, of turning a blind eye to birth control in the face of poverty and despair? Or do they hope for a successor who will help the church preach the second-class citizenship of women, the pathology of gay men and lesbians, the necessity of rigid and unyielding positions around abortion and birth control, endangering the lives and futures of millions of women and their already extant children? Do they really pray for the future, or do they hope for a new pope who will help them and their evangelical cronies usher in another dark era of barbarian ignorance?

I only ask because this man is the Clinton of popes, the guy who seemed progressive but proved hell-bent on rolling back hard-won reforms, such as Vatican II, rather than looking to the deep spiritual yearning of millions for a better, kinder, more just world. This pope was popular because he could get liberals to make excuses for his conservatism, much as Clinton did. Salon magazine simply prints a story that the pope's end is near, and that the Bushes are praying for him. Please. In the wake of the Schiavo debacle, this hands-off journalism seems timid at best. I want the nitty gritty details. If Bush is praying for the pope, I want to know what exactly he's praying FOR. ANd what about Laura? Is she praying for the same thing as W? Why? Why not?

In its efforts to be respectful, Salon has gotten spineless. Let's not forget that the pope is a political figure, and that the Vatican is officially a state. He may have been a man of his convictions, a man who tried to live up to his beliefs and those of his followers, but he was a conservative who denied a woman's right to choose, a gay person's right to sexual and emotional dignity, and a mother's or father's right to feed the children they have without fear of starving the whole family with more dependents than they can possibly care for, or provide a future.

I wanna know what the Bushes are praying for. I wanna know the text, the exact terms, of their prayers. Because I think THAT would be real news, Salon.

Bush: Even though the pope is Catholic, and I'm not much for Catholics, I do believe that men are better than women, and I see the pope as an ally in our continuing fight as Christians to keep women quiet, compliant, and useful to men. Also, he's against gay marriage, and that makes him real important in the fight to keep marriage as a sexist institution with benefits to those who slave away, men and women, at meaningless jobs in order to bring the next generation of workers into being. So I'm praying for him right now, praying that he lives to fight another day, or if not, that he dies peacefully and another man as patriarchal and backwards as he is takes his place.

Laura: I don't think the Catholic church's stand on women is so great, but I'm not Catholic, so hey, who cares? I'm praying for the pope because I long ago gave up any integrity or individuality as the price of my husband's sobriety. He's successful now, so I take my valium and read books: lots of long, lovely books. Sometimes I masturbate, but the valium makes me tired, so I forget why it is I should care about the reasons why I'm masturbating in the first place. Mostly I'm praying for the pope because he's a nice man who like mothers, and I'm a mother, right? Those ARE my kids, aren't they? I didn't make that up, or read it in a novel, right?

Come on Salon. Tell us what the Bushes are praying for. Inquiring minds want to know.