Thursday, November 29, 2007

weekend fears

Melampodium one profusely growing plant once you get it established. It is an annual and reseeds easily, that is at least what everybody will tell you. And my neighbor's melampodium was blooming indeed for months, whereas I have tried several times growing it without any success, it either did not like the location or does not like me. So this coming year I will sow seeds, from my neighbor and from Thompson & Morgan, and then we will see what happens. This will be my last stubborn attempt at melampodium.

Yesterday afternoon I started to read a novel by Jonathan Coe, The Rain Before it Falls (the link is to with a number of reader reviews). Yes, I took the entire afternoon, evening and night, did not prepare any food, nor did I correct papers, tests or anything, I just read. Not an outstanding book, but a well written family saga which enfolds when an old woman looks back on her life by describing twenty selected photographs, recorded on tape and meant to be listened to after her death by a young blind girl she lost contact with. The story demonstrates the inevitability to escape your family history, especially the mother - daughter relationship. It was an interesting read since it deals with what it meant to grow up female in postwar Britain, an unloved child turning into her unloving mother, a gay young woman seeking love and fulfillment, and again an unloved daughter not able to love her own daughter herself. It is a story about women, but written by a man, and convincingly so. The narration, following the description of the photographs recorded on tape, feels at times constrained, and the subject matter reminds me a little of Marilyn French's Her Mother's Daughter, as much as I remember it. It presented me with the painful insight that it is impossible not to become to some extent your own mother - like it or like it not. I have not read anything else by Jonathan Coe, but I will look for other books.
I used to read a lot of fiction, now I read mostly scholarly stuff and feel almost guilty if I read for the sake of reading. Maybe that feeling of guilt makes the act of reading even more luxurious and pleasurable.
I needed that before the weekend. I have volunteered to help out with a weekend workshop for high school students, which means spending 48 hours with those students, eating with them, sleeping in the same quarters and of course teaching them. I think it is an important community service, helping out those hard working teachers who are so engaged in educating their students that they write grant proposals to secure money so that they can offer those interested students a full hands-on weekend learning experience. I participated last year, so I know what to expect. And I dread it; the beds are horrible bunk beds with plastic mattresses making a loud screechy noise if you move ever so slightly. And I will not even mention what it means to be constantly surrounded by thirty high school students with hormones running high. I will be relieved to return on Sunday night. I will again appreciate my life as a professor, even if accompanied by tedious meetings and administrative matters, it is so much easier than the life of the dedicated school teacher, underpaid and mostly unappreciated.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Students, Students, Students

The red mandevilla (mandevilla splendens) a few days ago. Will it survive the next days?

We all end up writing letters of recommendation. But what is going on this semester? One request follows the other, and how can I not write a letter if they are good students. But sometimes I am running out of ideas, especially if it is one of those more quiet students. And then there is the "good student, but..."
X is a good student but
- came consistently late because class met at 9 am?
- came late because his mother forgot to wake him in time for class?
- submitted assignments late because the computer crashed on a regular basis?
- possibly facing major problems, biting her nails non stop with violent mood swings, and always wearing black?
- not able to utter a comprehensive sentence while reading Nietzsche and Focault?
I wish my students well, but it can get tricky. I want to open the door as much as possible, and only rarely have I suggested that someone else writes a letter of support. But I would appreciate it so much if I had more than three days and at least a week to write your letter!

Monday, November 26, 2007


Eucalyptus leaves against the blue sky. I planted a small shoot about two years ago, it survived the first winter and has been growing and growing. has finally rained. The sky is grey, and if we are lucky we will get some more sprinkles.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. This day had no meaning for me, and only after having spent a number of years on this side of the ocean, I slowly develop an understanding of its importance as a family holiday. I am still surprised when people ask me how “we” celebrate Thanksgiving in country over there. When I reply that Thanksgiving is not celebrated, they either realize the error or look at me with surprise. Then I explain that there were no pilgrims in country over there. Thanksgiving is so engrained as a family holiday that the well-known history is simply forgotten or erased from memory. It is a family holiday, and that is it.
I know how important it is for Teenage Daughter not to feel entirely family deprived, and so we make usually once a year an effort to see the few existing relatives here, even though it means hours spent on the road, but I do not mind that at all. On the contrary, I love road trips. So we rent a car, no need to put those miles on ours, and off we go. By now Teenage Daughter has gotten used to not having any relatives in the vicinity. Both her grandmothers are gone, and at least one she got to know and remembers a little. Her only grandfather lives in country over there, and she gets to see him about every second year. It used to be odd on grandparents or family or whatever required-to-bring-a-relative-to-school-day when almost all kids presented at least one grandparent, and more commonly even two or more. Teenage Daughter’s closest relatives on this continent are her father’s uncle and his wife, and they live some twelve hours away, and that is even relatively close.
Do we need family? At some point I read that James A. Michener had no idea, who his parents were and where his family had come from. The idea of having no known heritage fascinates me. It means that you invent your own life, you are bound by nothing, and inventing and re-inventing, so it seems, is what Michener did throughout his life and in his novels. Freedom. No family needed here. Maybe I wish to see such a non-inheritance as a form of freedom, since I knew at leas to some extent who my parents were, at least my father, but this only partly knowing about who my mother was, what kind of a person, leaves me also restless. So better a blank slate? No family like Michener? Create your own? But not being able to know for sure still is no guarantee for not yearning to know and belong. I suspect that Michener researched his novels, all of epic proportions, in so much detail to create such a world of belonging for him time and again.
So we attempt to fashion a sense of belonging for Teenage Daughter. Will this prevent her to yearn for more knowledge about her family background? I have no answer to that. My guess is that I try to prevent such yearning by recalling stories, telling of the past and create little mementos. Not much. Just little things … giver her every Christmas a new ornament with the year written somewhere … I imagine her holding these ornaments up years later and saying, oh yes, I remember this one, we were in XY when I got this one. And she will have a story with it. I also have been writing birthday letters to her for the last two years. Let her keep them in a box, hardly look at them now, but at some point later in life those letters could fulfill a yearning if need should be. How I would love to have such a box. She will probably never need it, since she will have such a box. Those without family need it the most, and those with a family yearn it the least.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

taking a break

(Hesitating) "I don't feel so good. I have some problems with depression."
"Well, I know how that feels. Last week I was so disappointed about THIS matter. I just stayed for the entire Sunday in bed. I felt so horrible. And you know what?"
"I just had enough at some point, went into the shower, got the dog, and went for a walk."
"It was so tough getting out of it, but I thought 'life goes on' - and that was it."
"Good for you." (smiles and changes subject)
It is hard enough to admit to having problems with depression. What should I answer to your well meant comment intended to lift me up? That you obviously do not know depression? That you felt disappointed and blue, but that you did not experience depression? That your story makes me feel even worse because I am NOT able to pull myself up at this point?
Depressed - one of those overused words ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

to do

Colorful foliage

Grading is done, letters of rec are written, hair is cut, most special spouse took black dog to the vet and also raked leaves, have not planted yet, took out some spent annuals, went on a few walks, but my essay is not finished. I decided to take a break. I like writing, but this essay is giving me trouble. The work with the text is fine, I had never problems with that, but it is the how to write about it which is a challenge because of the involved gender issues. I am getting depressed, and that is not good. I will give it a break, get back to it on Sunday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

to do

I bought African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum pupureum) in a nursery in spring, and I enjoyed it very much. I planted it in a large container between an arch and a bench on the back porch. Brushing in passing or lightly touching the plant releases as pleasant scent. The purple flower spikes look beautiful against the dark veined leaves. This aromatic ornamental grows in a beautiful shrub like mound, mine is about two to three feet high, and it is still going. We had no severe frost thus far to kill it. I have easily rooted stem cuttings in water and planted them in other containers. I probably should cut some stems now and plant them in a small pot to keep them over the winter inside for the coming spring since I am not sure if I will find it again. I decided that I am going to grow more ornamental herbs next year. Most of them have a wonderful scent, grow well in the sun, but also in partial shade, and the foliage adds depth to the flowerbed. I also like that they are not fussy at all, no insect bothered this one, but the bees just love it.
Still to do:
Grade tests; grade essays; finish own essay (still not done!); write at least four letters of recommendation for current students; take thirty minutes today to plant what i bought at the arboretum sale (ridiculous! stuff is still not in the ground!); get a hair cut; rake leaves; slowly clear flowerbeds of spent annuals; cut back other plants; think about what to plant as a screen between our neighbor with his monster garage plans and our drive way; make sure black dog gets to the vet for shots; take better care of myself by going on short walks instead of being glued to the desk throughout the day; think about input for a fountain my artist blacksmith neighbor will make for us.

Friday, November 16, 2007

old guard

Morning Glory 'Heavenly Blue' (Ipomoea tricolor) in my neighbor's garden last week, very easy to grow from seed. The color is so intense, almost too much for me, but maybe I will try to combine it with some Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batata) next year.

It is so rewarding to see something grow that you nurtured along for a change. All that academic reading and writing, maybe it will be printed in the one or other form, but then what? A moment of joy to see it printed? If it even can be called joy, maybe more a sigh of "finally," sometimes (or often) paired with uneasiness, because you know what you probably could have done better, or you have moved on to other projects. On the other hand it is always rewarding to see how what I planted or grew from seed takes off. Maintaining a garden is a great way to unwind, but also a lesson in life. I am not a fan of the cold, when the plants die or go dormant. It is a sign of winter to come. But then again everything will spring to life in the new growing season. Death and rebirth are inevitable, and my garden keeps reminding me of that. Everything dies at some point, so do not forget to live!
The younger you are, the more death exists only in theory. Death and old age have become taboo in our society, and we refer to responses from those in years more experienced often as to the “old guard.” What does this say about us? That we assume that older people are stagnant in their thinking, and have nothing new to contribute? That they only want to keep the status quo alive? That we see ourselves in opposition to this “old guard” since we are younger? That we are naïvely forgetting or denying that we will turn old and be part of this “old guard” ourselves, unless we die before that, and that is a thought even further to be put away…
Susan Sontag’s essay “Illness as Metaphor” comes to mind, the way we interact with someone who is possibly marked by death due to illness, such as cancer or AIDS. Often we do not even interact but only react, removing ourselves from that person, out of our own subconscious fear of death, but in the end denying the sick person even the possibility of a fulfilled life in the end, even if sick. The "old guard," even if not sick, is undeniably closer to death. Simone de Beauvoir’s "The Coming of Age" puts the finger where it hurts the most, how we treat the ones older than we are without necessarily realizing it. The materials she presents to illustrate how society conceptualizes old age speak for themselves. Do those older than us like to be called "old guard"? They probably do not see themselves as old. Then who is old? The answer is fairly simple: Old is the person who is older then you are. It is a matter of perspective. When you are ten, your fourteen-year-old neighbor is soooo old. When you are seventeen you cannot wait to be twenty-one, alas, finally grown up, an adult. As if age has to do with being grown up. I still feel and behave in many ways like a child, not adult at all. In your thinking you can be young with one hundred. And you can be old with thirty, just think of all the young conservatives. I remember a faux pas I committed several years ago by referring to a colleague in his presence as to a "middle-aged man in his best years." Dr. Hat must have been around fifty-eight at that time, and was he hurt by my words! I had been unknowingly too blunt, maybe to be excused from other country over there. With my cultural background I would think of someone between roughly forty-five and sixty-five as middle-aged, and I tried hard to explain what I had meant, but even though we had a friendly and good-humored conversation, my words had stung. It could be that "middle-aged sounds" too much like Middle Ages, but all that matters is the pain these words caused. I definitely learned my lesson – do not talk about the age of a person, even if meaning well.
What hurts is the way we treat older people, even if not on purpose, and I say, it hurts, because sooner or later we will be treated like that. At the same time we must be aware of our age and our experiences; if we are not, the gap between those who are younger, like our students, and us will widen with every day. Signs that you are getting old are you begin to whine that students learned more and better when you were at that age, in short everything was better in the past. Take of those pink glasses, memory is playing a trick on you, life was not better, it was just different. At a New Years party in Big City several years ago, now teenage daughter saw for the first time a manual typewriter, the preferred medium of the writer using it. She looked at the machine and asked innocently, what is this? These are great moments of realization in the difference of sensual experiences kids grow up now. How long is the average scene in a movie today? How long was it twenty years ago? No wonder kids have a hard time concentrating on long lectures. These moments of realization – remember? According to teenage daughter I am part of living history myself since I experienced the Cold War – can take us by surprise. We are all turning old, but we are not ceasing to think, nor do we necessarily guard old ideas. Gadamer was sixty when "Truth and Method" appeared, and he continued to be actively engaged in philosophical discourse until his death with hundred and two. (What a relief! This means I still have time to come up with at least some ideas. Luckily I am not in math, I think they peak in their late twenties and early thirties! One thing going for the humanities!)
Being less afraid of death will help us to accept old age more easily. So I will plant some flowers, see them grow and go dormant and die, but then enjoy new growth in spring. I highly recommend that to everyone in academia or education in general. Gardening reduces stress, and is much cheaper than anti-depressants, as long as you do not go overboard or start out with collecting orchids or bonsais. A flower pot in the window sill with some herbs is a good beginning.
Squirrel update: Inspection by tall person revealed no sign of a squirrel invasion in the attic, no traces, nothing, not even of a single squirrel. Looks of disbelief were exchanged and I swore that I do not have any bats in the belfry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Blaming myself

Pink wood sorrel (oxalis articulata) flowers in late fall and in spring, here along some pink mums.

I am mad at myself. I just returned from a meeting of the Historical Society here in UTown where any plans of changes to buildings in the historic district need to be approved. My neighbor, Republican gay guy, has for quite some time planned to build a garage on the empty land next to his house. He owns the plot between our houses. A couple of weeks ago we received notice of the meeting, and we could have gone earlier to city hall to look at the plans he submitted. I hardly see Republican gay guy, since his house sits on the corner with the entrance on the other street. We have not much in common. He is a businessman, and I guess he sees the people in our street as the bohemian intellectuals. Whenever he appears outside, he has a phone cradled between his head and shoulder, and his body posture has definitely suffered from walking around with the phone in the neck fold. You would think that as a realtor he would get one of those earpieces, instead the phone has become part of his body. Republican gay guy bought the rather large corner house some years ago and restored it according to its arts and crafts style. It is just a pity that the beautiful restoration inside does not carry over to the outside. His idea of landscaping is going to the home improvement store, get a bunch of whatever is blooming and then stick it in the ground, regardless if the plants are suited for the location or not. As a result the majority of the shrubs and flowers have died. My neighbor, an avid gardener from other country over there, and I continue to shake our head in disbelief when observing his newest landscaping adventures. “The boy has no clue,” my gardening buddy tends to say. We are both surprised at the amount of money he throws out of the window throughout the year. He easily could hire a landscape designer to help him to figure out how to match the outside to the house and choose the right plants.
But back to the meeting. Republican gay guy plans to build a four-car garage with an apartment on top, a cabana in one corner and a swimming pool to top it off. The garage and the wall next to it will be sitting right on the property line next to our driveway, and will separate our house from his garage. I am worried that this end section of our relatively short street will lose its character. Crepe myrtles line the sidewalk on our side, and all four houses are set back with a garden in front. The rather huge four-car garage will be forty feet wide, and in order to have a driveway, two of the crepe myrtles will have to go. There will be no green left at that end of the street, there will be only driveway and building. I just hope that there will be enough room to plant some kind of green hedge. When the project was presented to the Historical Society, neighbors had the possibility to object. But I did not. The discussion was then closed to the public, and two members of the commission objected since the large buildings will change the streetscape, but the realtor buddies of my neighbor stressed how much he had done for the historic district by restoring the house, and in the end the they vote went five to two for the project. There is simply no need for a four-car garage or more bedrooms. The house is big and has already five bedrooms, and that all for one single person. A one-story two car garage, fine, but such a huge compound?
Why am I mad? Because I had reservations and did not speak up. Would I have prevented the outcome of the vote? Probably not. But I feel horribly responsible for the impact on our street. I could have taken a look at the plans before tonight and told the other neighbors. But there I was tonight, the nice polite neighbor, a good girl, making no fuss. The project has still to be approved by the city, and I have already talked to my gardening buddy and her artist husband, and we will mobilize the others in our street. But I better start thinking what to plant next to our driveway so that we do not have to look at this huge garage right in front of our nose when we look out of the kitchen and dining room window. Teenage daughter suggested bamboo, does not need a lot of space and builds a nice hedge. And if it runs under the other side of the wall, well, what else could I plant on the one foot wide strip next to our driveway and the planned wall and garage next to it?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Administrative Boredom

Now that it has cooled down, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) lend color to the garden. This is one small plant I would love to grow throughout summer, but it it is just too hot. Nasturtiums remind me of another life. Their scent trigger the mental time machine, and I see myself as a little girl all surrounded by nasturtiums my mother grew in our backyard. I remember tasting them; all parts of the plant are edible, and the leaves add a tangy note to a salad. At least nasturtiums grow well in the cool season, but I had to give up on lilacs, and delphiniums.

The weather is wonderful during the day, pleasant and warm, but I have spent the last days in my office taking care of all kind of administrative stuff. It is this old story - so many have this idea of the professor who teaches only so few hours and has the greatest life ever in their head. I do enjoy the flexibility of my schedule. I teach my classes, but otherwise it is relatively easy to schedule a dentist appointment during the day or what else. But on the other hand the work never ends. And I am not talking about research and writing, but the tedious administrative stuff, such as writing never ending letters of recommendation, committee work or putting out fires, such as the student returning from a year abroad suddenly receiving less credit because the Registrars office all of the sudden decides to do so, before letting the study abroad advisor know. This causes in return the student about to graduate to freak out in your office. So let me get that water bucket to put out this fire, meaning writing numerous emails and coming up with new guidelines. And tomorrow I am loosing another writing day because of meetings. I have to make a point to get out and take a stroll to smell the air. And Benazir Bhutto faces again house arrest - what a concept, house arrest, like a desperate but futile attempt to halt time. I am off to bed to browse first through the Thompson & Morgan seed catalog for relaxation. I wonder if they have any nasturtiums I could grow...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Random Thoughts

This begonia with the spotted leaves started out with a cutting from my neighbor. It likes the dappled shade under the trees in the backyard, but now it has moved inside. Even though it is again warming up during the day, the nights are cool, so little begonia will spent the next months on the windowsill and will keep me company close to my desk.

What a busy weekend with correcting papers, shopping for clothes for teenage daughter and taking care of administrative paperwork. Tomorrow another writing day will be lost because of exams and meetings.

Random thoughts:
How come that the Dutch managed to build a most amazing construction to block out the stormy sea from the port of Rotterdam, the storm surge barrier Maeslantkering, but the highly industrialized and wealthy U.S. are not capable to come up with an effective way to protect New Orleans?
How come that the San Francisco oil spill is part of the top Google news in European language Google sites but not in the U.S.?
Why do most people in this country not care about the environment?
How come that kids in school can be punished for public display of affection if they hug another kid to show support and friendship, but it is perfectly fine to sell scarily brutal video games where killing others is glorified?

From a letter from a former student currently in Europe:
" I left one Thursday afternoon at 1:14 to visit P. in L. I was supposed to arrive in L. at 9:29 that evening. I had two stops in between--one that was about 6 minutes out of Salzburg and the other one a couple of hours away in a place called Landshut. I arrived on time to Landshut and was to leave from there for my connecting train to L., about four hours away. To make a long story short, the train workers were striking (as they have been for the last month) and my train wasn't running, so I had to hop regional train from city to city until I reached L. A really nice guy in P. (one of my many stops) let me use his cell phone to call P. and tell him I was going to be late. After switching trains about 8 times, I reached Ch., which is about an hour away from L. by train, at 10:30 pm. There were as of about 8 pm no more trains running to L. until 4:26 the next morning. The train station was cold and open to the outside, so I spent the night in a telephone booth. I had an extra pair of pants in my book bag, so I went to go change into them, but the bathroom was closed! A lot of bathrooms here make you pay to pee, which is the Number 1 thing I hate most about Europe. I mean, I'm already making a contribution; I'm certainly not going to give anybody any money in addition. I just don't subscribe to their ways (just ask the maze made of tall hedges in the Mirabell garden), so I stood in front of the closed bathroom and changed my pants, headed to my telephone booth and spent the rest of the night reading my book and calling the Deutsche Telekom toll free information line to expand my vocabulary."
Nothing to add to this gem : )

Friday, November 9, 2007

living history

Moonvine blooming in September.

The leaves are seriously turning yellow and red, and soon it will be time to rake leaves. I am sitting at my desk at home and for the last twenty minutes I have been listening to something gnawing in the attic. I am pretty sure it must be a squirrel, but do not know for sure. There exists only some kind of trap door to the attic, which has to be pushed upward. One has to place a ladder under the opening, and then the ascent into the unknown may begin. I just checked - I am still not tall enough to reach the opening, and I have no clue where the ladder has gone. So my only hope is that the squirrel is not gnawing too big of a hole until someone taller will be able to check.

A Conversation
Teenage Daughter, 14: I have to do a presentation on the Cold War.
I: That's a huge topic.
TD: Yeah, I know. Do you know anything about it?
I: Well, yes.
TD: Like, were you alive during the Cold War?
I: Yes, of course. The Cold War ended not too long ago. I guess the beginning of the end was the fall of the Berlin Wall.
TD: And you were alive then?
I: Of course, that was in 1989.
TD: Wow, it is amazing to think that you actually were alive then, you know? That I am talking to someone who remembers that.
I: Hm
TD: It is like, like, you know, living history or so.
I: Hm
TD: You know, that I can talk to you and you remember when that happened, and I do not have to look it up in a history book or so. You know, that you are like, like living history. That is pretty amazing.
I: I guess so.

Suddenly I am feeling old. Being part of living history does this to you.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

agreeing to disagree

It was indeed cold tonight. At around 10 pm I brought my overwintering plants inside and placed them in the large window. Most annuals survived the night, only the sweet potato vines suffered, the ones in the ground still hold on, the ones in the pots are dead. They did well this year, the obelisk on the front porch was covered by the vine. Tonight temperatures will be in the upper twenties, then it will get warmer again.

I am concerned about the hostility of exchanges I have read in the past weeks discussing job related issues, specifically should assistant professors keep looking for new positions. What worries me is the use of language, belligerent and not ready to agree to disagree. I can see value in both sides of the argument, but I actually cannot comment since I do not know the specifics of the situation. In the end it all comes down to if someone is happy in one's position or not. Sounds cheesy? So be it, but here is why.
I am always restless. My father was a DP (Displaced Person) and he never felt really at home in the country over there where he ended up living and were I was born. At least that is how I perceive it. I know that he would move away if his wife should die before him. I think that I inherited this restlessness, or you could say, he modeled this restlessness, which became even more prevalent, after his wife and my mother died when I was five. This inner restlessness is part of who I am, even though I always long for a place to belong. You strive for what you do not have. Others might admire this multiculturalism, the coming together of different worlds in one person, but as I have said many times - it can be tiresome. Where do I want to live if I could choose? I do not know, probably more than one place at the same time, hardly possible, and even then I am not sure if my restlessness were cured.
So being happy or not is what counts - easy said, but how do we know what makes us happy? The t-t position at the prestigious research institution, or maybe the one at the SLAC in the most beautiful area (whatever most beautiful may mean)? And there are many more options: the private institution with a lot of money or the mid-size one with small classes? The Christian U with the nicest students, great financial support, but... or Public U with students where teaching makes a true difference, or the college one always has dreamed to teach and close to loved ones? Shake up these constellations, and many more possibilities evolve. So how can I judge if assistant professor X in a t-t position should apply some place else or not? If the person is not content, the job performance will suffer, regardless if teaching or research, and nobody will be happy in the end. Too simple, you say? Not at all. Intrinsic motivation is what counts. If you like what you do, you will be good at it. Have you ever noticed how well your teaching goes when you have a good day and you are happy and content? The same is true for your research - how the thoughts fly and you almost cannot contain your creativity and suddenly all puzzle pieces fit together. In that sense, a job is not just a job, it is idealistically a fulfillment. I do believe that a true professor who does enjoy exploration and sharing knowledge will find fulfillment in being a professor. If you are not content for whatever reasons, you should move on, regardless what others say, regardless what you do, but move on for the right reasons. It could be hard for those who stay to see you go, maybe because they liked you and wanted you to stay and become part of the identity they have engaged in with the institution. Simply put, they could feel rejected. Everyone who has ever served on a search committee knows the time and work it takes. (I do read everything we ask for, if I serve on a committee, because I get to choose my future colleague.) So for some left behind, it also could mean resentment, but I do not like the phrase "We invested so much in X" or "The U invested so much in me." This is passive aggressiveness from others or against oneself. This is not about a business investment, it is about the most personal of all matters, finding happiness and fulfillment. The ones who will understand if X wishes to move on, will be the ones who are for the most part content with their own lives, or the ones that realize that they are not and wish well, which does not mean that they cannot wait to search for a replacement at the end of the academic year. But they will not hold a grudge if they see that X will be happier at New Place U. It gets complicated if we do not know what position or place makes us happy, and how many can say that they know the answer to that. Maybe we think we know, but that does not make it true. So maybe they think of X as immature, not even trying to see if the place "is a fit." But how often do we realize only in hindsight the values of what we had before? So I do not think that we can talk about immaturity or take a position from above.
I want to belong, but once I am part and do belong, will I be happy and content? In some way I doubt it, but I have to experience it in order to know. But I also have to give a new place time, in order to experience belonging. How many have encountered love at first sight? Not too many, if any at all. Love grows over time and gets stronger, and needs constant attention, then it will bring mutual respect and understanding and the love will grow and deepen.
You need time to see if you are happy and content, if not, you have to move on, which could also mean admitting to have been wrong: wrong in assumptions about the institution where you are now (you either are disappointed if you expected more, or you like it even though you did not expect to do so because the place was not your top choice). Being content means also being open about one's own expectations and frustrations. I cannot judge if X is selfish or Y is frustrated, if I do not know the circumstances. So it is good that both get to express their wishes, dreams, but also insecurities. And I truly respect that.
You strive for what you do not have. The hard thing is first to find out and then admit to yourself what it is you are truly striving for. And maybe you will never get it. You might have the greatest of all academic positions with hundreds of awards, and still could not get the recognition of your father, if that is what you are yearning for.
I for my part enjoy planting and seeing the flowers grow, even though it sometimes takes time to find out the right plant for the right place. Oh well, I know, this story has become tiresome.
I still believe it to be true, and if others think of that as pathetic, it is just fine with me. Just do your own thing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What do you know...

Another picture from last Sunday. This little shrub rose just continues to flower, probably the last buds that will open. It is going to be cold tonight, maybe even frost. I just carried some of my potted plants inside. The angel trumpet has two more blooms, but the plant is too large, it has to stay outside. We will see if the foliage survives the night.
I finally graded two written M.A. exams from two different students. Both had opted to write a thesis, excellent results for both of them, innovative and original, and the two outside thesis committee members were impressed with our students. But the written exams? Student one wrote all she new on the topic, but barely interpreted the text as she was supposed to do, that was disappointing. And student two did not do much better, the crown jewel is the following statement: "When Luther started working on his translation of the New Testament, central Europe just recovered from the Thirty Year War." I just want to shake her - I understand stress, yes, but how can you come up with something like that??? How can you write this really good thesis, which could easily become an outstanding dissertation, and then mix up history in such a way that I do no need gel any more for my hair to stand up...

Monday, November 5, 2007

letting go and Facebook

Salvia indigo spires is still blooming. I love the deep blue color, and so do the bees. There are not too many bees left around this time of year, but the few in the garden go for the indigo spires. It is time to cut down spent flowers and plant for the cool season. A few weeks ago I bought some cool season annuals and biennials at the local arboretum sale, but I still did not get to put them in the ground. I cannot find the time or I deny myself the joy of digging around as long as I am still working on that essay that has been accepted for a volume and which I have to submit asap. I also have a hard time to cut down and get rid off the plants that still look somewhat fine, like the sweet potato vines which went crazy this year. They are no longer perfect and linger along, but they are too nice to throw out. The same holds true for my essay. I finally renamed my initial version again "the quarry,"and am now cutting and pasting, even though it means letting go of entire sections, all worked out well, with tons of footnotes, all that work!

At least I am not teaching today. There are still tests to grade, but I will focus first on what is most important at the moment and will do some grading later during break time while eating lunch in the back yard. I still have to force myself to take care of my writing first, and not go right away for any tests or student papers. One of my colleagues always says that you do not get tenure for grading student papers, it is only your research that counts. He is a good teacher, I am sure, but he also knows what he wants to accomplish research wise and he acts accordingly. That is not bad at all, even though I have sometimes a hard time when I see how he has no problem whatsoever to make use of other people's ideas, actually lets others rewrite sections of a paper when we do writing sessions together. But I guess I am just envious that he is able to do so, be so open of accepting and open about own possible shortcomings. I am sooo protective of my work. I am extremely generous with my thoughts and ideas, and I have contributed massively to papers of others, but I am protective in the sense that I want to write everything myself. Like a child, no, no, I can do that alone!!! I do not need your help! And I am putting on my tiger costume.

This morning I heard a story on NPR about Facebook and online advertising:

"The social-networking Web site is set to announce a new partnership that could rake in millions in ad revenue. To advertisers, the social networking sites are giant databases about potential customers offering information advertisers normally pay big bucks for."

I am ambivalent about Facebook. I have read some of the discussions - if faculty should have a Facebook profile or not. A couple of years ago, students showed me in the beginning of a class how Facebook works, it must have been fairly new at that point. It was in a multi-media classroom, and I put up a profile right then and there. So yes, I have a Facebook profile, but I hardly ever access the page. It is a great tool to keep in contact with former students, but I feel almost guilty, like snooping around. I know now that x is gay, even though he is not openly gay. It is not expressed explicitly on his Facebook page, but there is an almost hidden link to a blogger page, and there x talks about it. I have noticed how colleagues change their attitudes if they know too much personal stuff about their students. Two former colleagues at Christian U have excellent Facebook profiles. They both write about politics and whatsoever, one on the Facebook page, the other with a link to a blog. I think they do a great job since they show the students that they are real people, not only with their heads in books or serving the students, and that is how many students do perceive us. I am just not ready to engage in a similar discussion with my students, I am too private for that. So I am not truly engaging in a Facebook exchange, which I see as only fair. One of my colleagues had a horrible experience with Facebook last year. A student of Y vented about the class - Y is not the most exciting instructor, more traditional, but knows the material - and the animosity in the class grew when other kids also chimed in, even those who were not in the class. "Y is sooo evil," along those lines. I did not read the exchange at that point, but Y found out from another kid who started to feel bad. End of story, Y came to me (I am considered a "teaching expert" with excellent student rapport) and asked for advice after having set up a Facebook account and having read the venomous exchange. Y was devastated since the initial comments were from an extremely smart and intelligent kid. The result could be called a good learning experience: the kids learned first hand to watch out what to write on Facebook, Y learned to be more receptive to student comments. But it was still very hurtful and embarrassing. Such an experience makes me wonder where to draw the line. I am holding back, I do not wish to know too much about the kids, I want to stay as neutral as possible. If they need venting, let them vent, but maybe not on Facebook. The time students spend on Facebook is another matter. Now advertising is going to exploit the curiosity about the self-representation of others. But who am I to talk, sitting here and blogging away. I approached this blog first as an online diary, but how can it be, if I know that others could possibly read what I am writing, not exactly like Facebook but along those lines. Back to the never ending essay.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

academic prostitution

Another one of those perfect days in fall. The confederate rose (hibiscus mutabilis) is one of the late bloomers of the year. The coloration of the blossom changes from almost white at first to pink, and when almost spent to a purplish pink. I have one large shrub growing in the backyard, close to the wooden fence, but it does not get enough sunlight late in fall and carries therefore hardly any blooms. I rooted cuttings this spring and planted them at two new locations. One is at a place in the backyard with late afternoon sun, and this shrub does very well. As with so many things, it is all about location. You may have the perfect soil, the most healthiest plant, and it still will not grow well if it is not happy at that spot.

I am always learning from my garden. I know that I cannot force a flower to grow - I might trick it, but is it worth it? The campus of big public U grows tulips in the spring. Poor things! I remember visiting for my on-campus interview. It was at that beautiful time of year when the weather is perfect, and how amazed I was to see tulips blooming away. How great, I thought, tulips grow here so well, it must get cold enough in winter. How a first impression can be deceiving. Yes, you can force tulips to bloom even if the ground does not freeze enough like in icebox state. The trick is to store the bulbs first in a really cold place. I have no clue what exactly they do here to get the tulips to pop up in spring, but they must trick them in some way. And as I know by now, the blooms last maybe two to four days, on occasion a little longer if a cold spell hits. I cannot help but feel sorry for those tulipd. Let them grow where the ground freezes in winter! Give me better a plant that feels at home in this climate, a plant that does not suffer in the already hot days of spring in U town.

It is the same with some colleagues. They are so happy to have landed the tenure-track position, but are not happy here for whatever reasons. Those are the ones who need forcing. But are they happy? I know that it takes me about four to five years to make me feel somewhat at home. Then I begin to feel comfortable. But what do you do if someone has a hard time adapting, even after a number of years, and can only survive by constant complaints? One such colleague was made to leave last year. I hope he enjoys life again, big city mouse back were more mice live. Forcing did not work in his case. Did he trick the others to land the job? No clue. I wonder what makes me develop roots, since I get restless after about six to eight years. Tenure is great, but is it a life sentence? I feel too tired to go on the job market again. Academic prostitution is not fun. So you hopefully have the credentials. You can play it as a game, figure all out about the place you are having your initial interview with. Who are the people in the department? What do they do? What books do they use in lower level classes? What do their syllabi look like? And what about the students, the campus, the sports, you name it. Then you dress accordingly and talk the talk you guess your interviewers want to hear you talk, all the while trying to stay as much true to yourself as possible under such circumstances. And this is where the game stops, at least for me. I was always too stubborn to give up myself entirely during these job interviews and prostitute myself all the way. If I do not like them, and they do not like me, than I will not be happy there. Then why go too far to make them like me, even if I do not like them. A somewhat naïve assumption how far you can influence the interviewers? Not necessarily. I have seen job candidates going in with greasy hair, shirts that were not ironed or make-up and lipstick as if preparing for a glamour shot. That would all be fine if that would be who they normally are in ‘real’ life. And what about those who did not even do their homework, had no clue about the department and people working there? How far should one go in playing the game? I do not know. I guess there is no single correct answer. I draw the line where I feel that one step further represents academic prostitution.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Beautiful Day in the Garden

I went to bed way too late last night. Am I done with my essay? NO! I woke up with a bad consciousness, got up at nine, others had already been on a thirty minute run, walked the dog, and read the newspaper. That does not help me with feeling less guilty. I had to water the plants, and what a gorgeous day it is! The sky is crystal clear, I can see the slowly turning leaves and the already red seeds of the dogwood pop from this clear blue. The nights are cool, but it has not rained, and the plants are soo thirsty. A few late bloomers still hang around, and they are appreciated even more.
My angel trumpet bloomed absolutely gorgeous this year. Have you ever seen the hummingbird moth (also hawk moth, Macroglossum stellatarum) feeding at night? They love the large white moon flowers, but even more so the angel trumpet (brugsmania suaveolens). It's scent is amazingly strong and carries far at night. So the hummingbird moth had a ball. Every night I saw only one at a time, but who knows, maybe there were more. I remember when I noticed that monster moth for the first time. I was not sure if it was a hummingbird, but then, so late at night - when it is dark? My neighbor from other country over there confirmed that I had not hallucinated, only, that it was not a hummingbird, but a moth. I watched it closely when the angel trumpet was blooming. The moth approaches, rolls out its little trunk-like tongue (actually that appendage is called proboscis), and then goes for the bloom, a great show to watch! These are the pleasures of living in a warm climate. Every place has its beauty. I loved the cold and snow in ice box state, but I also like it here.

Now, it is time to get back to my essay. I have to go to a birthday party tonight, do not want to necessarily, but have to, or my friend will lynch me the next time she sees me. The problem will be getting home in time since there will be many people from "over there," which means you do not leave after a couple of hours. I explained that to a colleague at U in even warmer place, since we have set up a time on Sunday morning to check in on our progress with our projects. After I told her that the party begins at six and that I can leave at the earliest at ten, she was stunned. "Four hours are a long time!" I guess so, never thought of it that way. Still I will hear comments like, only Bushlanders leave so early, or something along those lines. Almost a threat to my identity if I ever had one - if you leave early, we'll think that you are a Bushlander now! So what. I can be a Bushlander and over-there-lander at the same time, which for most is hard to truly accept, no matter how educated. Writing about national identity and imagined communities is one thing, but admitting to also being part of the establishing force, is an entirely other matter. Bushlanders living over there would react not much different, many would say something like "X. did not want to leave at all! Like a (name of inhabitant of country over there)!" I know that these are stereotypes, I preach this to my students constantly. So what do we call such "repeatedly experienced stereotypes"? Exclusion of our club of imagined community? We know that such stereotypes, even if repeatedly experienced, are not the truth, but rather a tiny part of the mosaic that constitutes a reality.
That's the fun of the state of in between, as long as it does not get to you. And believe me, sometimes it does get to me, even after many years.

Friday, November 2, 2007

outline vs. inspiration

November has come.The photo was taken in August, in the heat of the summer, and the plants have a hard time growing. The garden appears on hold, but I love when the heat is wrapping itself around my body like a soft and snuggly blanket. I can see and feel the heat in the picture, the ever so soft blur gives it away. The days are getting shorter and shorter now, and I just dread winter. If it even were what you can call winter. It reminds me more of the weather over there where I used to live. Grey skies and weather that creeps in your bones and makes them ache. After a few dreary days last week the sun has been out again. The weather is gorgeous, I should be out and about, but instead am sitting at my desk and working on an essay that needs to be finished. I have completed my research, have written a first incomplete version, let it lie, and now I have to go back and edit and finish it. Well, should not be so hard, but I am bored at this point. I do not like the editing part at all. I like to work from an outline, have my argument thought out in advance. It always amazes me how often people work the other way, waiting for an inspiration while writing. True, without an initial inspiration I cannot perceive of an idea, I get that, but then the idea has to be developed and thought out in advance. This does not mean that every word has to be set in stone in advance, but I need to know where I am going. Oh well, the old control freak in me, I guess. With this essay I had not thought out everything in advance, saw something new while writing, added that, but now my whole intro does not fit any more, which means major editing, hence my frustration. Strategy of distraction: set up blog. Done! back to work!