Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite books of 2010

These my favorite books I read in 2010. Most of them aren't from 2010; I'm not as up on things as all that. And a nod to a couple of non-fiction books, because you know I'm in the academic line - neither of these are new, mind you:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Photo from NYC

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
The last update on the New York trip ... yes, I am a higher ed geek, and so I end up visiting colleges on vacation.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New York trip

Bears in NYC?
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Other museums I visited while in New York included the Museum of Transit and El Museo del Barrio. I also spent a lot of time just exploring the city; this statue is from Morningside Park. While I didn't eat expensively, I had a lot of great food. And I saw Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which was a good show.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Trip to New York

Off into the sunset
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Back from vacation! On my first day in New York, I started off by walking the High Line, a rails-to-trails project. Only part of it is open thus far, but it's a really fabulous space. They're doing a great job with it. This photo is of a tiny bit of rail they've preserved; most of the path is concrete.

I also went to the Rubin Museum, a Himalayan art museum. It was pretty nice (and only $2 student admission).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


People have asked me, "So, are you celebrating your defense?" The answer is that I went out to lunch with friends after, which makes the next question, "Did you get drunk?" While I had beer, no. I had to go back to work after.

My real celebration will be next week, when I go to New York City for vacation. No, I don't have relatives there. No, I'm not staying with friends, although I will see some people while I'm there. Right now I have only the loosest of plans - other than a reservation at a hostel, which only a fool or a person with a lot of friends to stay with in the city could dispense with during the holidays. I'm neither of those. I want to see a Broadway show or two, take a couple of capoeira classes, maybe do some yoga, and go to a Christmas Eve service, but most of these plans aren't set in stone. This is probably a shocker to those who know me well, as I am a Type-A planner.

Today I went to Borders to pick up a travel guide and got quite lucky. I inquired at the information desk as to where the travel books were - that part of the store had been reorganized since I was last there - and the woman working informed me she had moved here from NYC two weeks ago. (For the music industry, of course.) She recommended the Time Out guides as the best, and it seemed like the wise course to trust her.

So, vacation.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I have a cold that's driving me crazy, and so I was not happy to realize there was a Titans game in town that would turn my 15-minute commute into a 75-minute commute. This kind of stuff makes me cranky, but there's plenty of blame to go around.
  • Construction on Demonbreun and Broadway, the two main thoroughfares from downtown to the east side, simultaneously? Really? Now I know the Broadway work is repairing flood damage, so acts of God yada yada, but couldn't we have held off on shutting down Demonbreun for construction? No one wants the convention center anyway.
  • Whose genius idea was it to put a football stadium on a bend in the river, where most approaching traffic will get squeezed onto a couple of bridges?
  • And god forbid we spend any money on public transit. It's much more fun when every football fan arrives by car.
  • Those gentrifiers who first decided to move into East Nashville were either fools or fiendishly clever. "I know - let's put all the people least likely to care about football in the part of town most impacted by games. I mean, we need something to complain about. And the stress will help out the local yoga and acupuncture places we're gonna build."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The End

Yesterday morning I successfully defended my dissertation. Yes, I have to do some revisions (typical in my department), but they are nothing unreasonable.

A huge weight has been lifted from me!

Friday, December 3, 2010


That was a first.

We spent capoeira class tonight working on a fairly simply defense (esquiva lateral, negative role) to a simple attack (meia lua de frente, meia lua de compasso) - and if you don't know what those are, it doesn't really matter. At the end of class we had a short roda, and in our in-class rodas we are supposed to do what we learned in class.

That's the theory, but if you end up playing Cojaqui, he's gonna throw some things at you that didn't come straight out of the lesson. So that nice defense you were practicing isn't much of a defense, and you have to come up with something quick. There I am, getting backed into a corner (metaphorically, since "roda" does mean circle), and I need to get back into the center without being kicked in the head.

If you've been reading this blog at all, you know that responding appropriately to attacks is something I have trouble with. We all have protective instincts, of course, but you have to replace those natural instincts with new ones if you're going to succeed at any sort of martial art - or even at a mean game of cards. That's hard when you have to think to yourself, "OK, self, what kicks do I know? Er, what is that coming at me? Oh, it's meia lua de compasso, and an appropriate response would be what again? Uh, can I have some more time?"

Right, so there I am, where I've been dozens of times before, and I go into angla nossa, which looks like meia lua de compasso (and remember, kids, that was part of today's lesson) and if someone is expecting de compasso allows you to dodge away. Which I did, back towards the center.

Don't think I looked graceful, or this was a stroke of brilliance, or that Cojaqui couldn't take me down any time he liked. Don't even think anyone except me noticed anything interesting about the move. But what I realized, and what nearly gave me a heart attack immediately after, was that I hadn't thought about the move in advance. I didn't plan it. Nor was it a rote drill - we have sequences we've learned that I can do almost mindlessly when instructed to do so. Instead, it was new instincts kicking in.

Does that sound like a little thing? After eight months, for the first time I had an unconscious, not-planned, not-inappropriate defense to an attack. Hooray, she can be taught.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving thanks

I'm thankful that my family traditions don't include football on Thanksgiving or shopping on Black Friday.

I'm thankful that Woodland Wine Merchant always makes good recommendations, and that they saved me a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

I'm thankful I get to teach a class of my own next semester, and I even get to write the syllabus.

I'm thankful I have credit cards.

I'm thankful I have people to push me to do things I don't think I can do.

I'm thankful that Jeff Bezos and co. created the universal Amazon wish list.

I'm thankful my mom taught me how to cook.

I'm thankful that Vanderbilt is generous in its support of doctoral students.

I'm thankful that I don't have any roommates.

I'm thankful for Samuel Delany, Jennifer Crusie, China Mieville, and Thomas Pynchon.

I'm thankful for online shopping. Make that the internet, period.

I'm thankful to all my yoga teachers.

I'm thankful that fools sooner or later open their mouths and reveal themselves.

I'm thankful I have things to be sarcastic about.

I'm thankful that not every series has been ruined by too many sequels.

I'm thankful I have pie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

ASHE 2010

I saw some good and some bad at ASHE this year. I'm getting better at picking sessions, so there wasn't as much bad except
  • The presenter who read from notes.
  • The presenter who gave a great presentation … and then gave it again the next day in a different session.
  • The discussant who spent a good five minutes describing his/her background and research interests.
The symposium I was a part of was the last session of the last day, in the farthest away room in the hotel, and a lot of folks leave before the end of the conference. We didn't expect much of a turnout, in other words, but I at least was pleasantly surprised. It ended up being pretty good.

There was also some movement on the job front, which I won't detail here.

As usual, I caught up with colleagues from across the country. Not as usual, since ASHE was in Indianapolis, I returned to the scene of the crime and saw some old haunts and old acquaintances. I also made my usual spontaneous book purchases (50% off all JHUP books on the last day) - I picked up this and this.

We also recepted ("going to receptions" isn't quite adequate). Receptions at ASHE aren't as fabu as those at AERA, because they're all at the same hotel. That means each school has either the canapes or the desserts, but the same assortment at each. Penn and Vandy reliably have open bars, Michigan gives away logo gear, and Iowa has music and dancing. If you ever want to crash ASHE, casually drop those tidbits into conversation, and no one will catch on to your outsider status.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I just saw this headline, and I couldn't even be bothered to read the article - "External commercial forces are not destroying higher education -- administrative bloat and the pursuit of reputation are."

The idea that these are separate forces is silly. Administrative bloat and pursuit of reputation are responses to external forces, and they in turn influence the environment. It's a complex, interdependent cycle.

Any attempt to isolate and treat just one part of it (assuming we subscribe to the notion that higher education is, in fact, being destroyed) is doomed to failure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Capoeira in Baton Rouge

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
The Capoeira Angola Palmares group in Baton Rouge hosted a training with Mestre Gulliver last weekend, and a group of us from Nashville went down there for the occasion. This photo is of the bateria (the musicians) right before a roda at a city park.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking for financial advice

I wanted financial advice.

So I went to some websites like CNN that offered it, and I found nothing.

Now, understand, these websites had content. Well-written content. Possibly even helpful content, for someone else. But for me? Nothing.

I don't have a 401(k). I am not remodeling my home. I don't itemize my taxes. I'm not investing. I don't have children to co-sign a loan for.

I get that wealthier people are more likely to pay for financial advice, so if gurus are writing books, they would want to target that market. But on free websites? What's up with that?

Apparently, for folks like me (and remember, I have the median income for single people, so there's a lot of people at least as broke as me), there is no advice. Oh, wait, I forgot, we are told to "budget." But if we spend more than we earn? We should get rid of our luxury vehicles, stop buying season tickets, avoid buying full-price furniture, and stop paying someone to mow our lawns.* Ha ha ha, they weren't actually talking about me! Oops!

The sad truth of the matter is that, once you get down to a certain income, there is only one way to spend less: Cut back on necessities. Buy unhealthy food, forego seeing the doctor, let your phone get cut off … Now, I'm not there yet. I could get a cheaper living situation (which would mean a roommate, realistically - anything else would burn as much gas as I'm saving in rent). But for all the folks out there who are poorer than me - who wants to give them that kind of depressing advice? Who wouldn't rather say, "Oh, just give up your daily latte," than "Yeah, sorry, you're going to have to give up fresh fruits and vegetables"?


One of my fellow capoeristas has the apelido "Alicate," which means "pliers." Supposedly, our mestre gave it to him because his tesoura, which means "scissors," looked more like pliers. Pliers sound more clumsy than scissors, but otherwise I hadn't given the difference much thought. But last night in capoeira we worked on tesoura and responses to it, and suddenly it made sense - the legs cross over each other, just like scissor blades. (All became clear in an unfortunate moment when another student was struck in the ladybits because she wasn't doing that.)

Made sense mentally, that is - understanding something and doing it consistently are separate things, as I proved a few minutes later when I jammed my hip as I am prone to do by landing without my left foot straight forward when coming out of a cartwheel. I know better, and I know that my hip will hurt for a couple of days from one bad landing. But when my focus is on doing a one-handed cartwheel over someone else without getting head-butted and while maintaining eye contact and without landing on them … well, I don't have everything internalized yet, and the concentration on something is bound to slide.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Money III of III: Trust fall

The first rule of writing is "Don't use too many exclamation points." The second is, "Show, don't tell":

I had a friend in college who worked on the paper with me. He wanted to be a fashion designer, but his parents wanted him to pursue something that reliably paid well, so he was majoring in one of the many flavors of engineering we offered.

A couple of years after graduation, he was working in Detroit in the business that made the city famous. That would have been a decade ago; I don't know what he's up to today. I don't know if he ever made a leap to something else. And I don't know how reliably Detroit is paying him now.


At Kroger, there is one clerk that I usually stop and chat with when he's working. This gentleman is probably a decade older than I am. The last time I was in there, he told me this:

Last year, he was bit by a brown recluse spider. While this is never a pleasant experience, his was worse than most. He was in a coma for five weeks, nearly losing his leg.

But he saw the upside in this; during his six-month convalescence, he was able to finish writing three novels and a lot of short stories. (He writes science fiction. Not the kind with zombies or vampires , he says, and no soft-core paranormal porn.) He's in the process of revising the first book to submit it to publishers.


My yoga teacher can testify that it took a long time before I got over my fear of handstands enough to even try them against a wall.

Now that I study capoeira, nearly every class brings me face to face with something I would be terrified to try on my own. Walking in a handstand. One-armed cartwheels. Rolling somebody over my back. Now I'm being threatened with backflips.

Capoeira is the first time I've had to face some of my fears in an ongoing, sustained way. It's a very particular set of fears; nobody asks me to battle spiders or jump off a ski lift. Nobody asks me to go up for tenure.

But capoeira is supposed to be a way of life both in and out of the game. It's not just that there is a lot to learn and that one's fellow capoeristas are a family. It's that the lessons you learn in the roda are also supposed to carry over to your life. This is one of the reasons that in Brazil it's used as a lifeline for kids growing up in less than ideal circumstances, just as team sports are in Anglo culture.

My capoeira lineage is Capoeira Angola Palmares, and it is based on four pillars: Safety. Respect. Responsibility. Liberation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Money II of III: Being average

I call myself poor.

My income last year was almost smack-dab on the median single-person household income in this country.

I have all of the following:
  • A car that runs
  • Credit cards
  • A checking account
  • Clothes for fancy occasions and job interviews
  • No roommates
  • The expensive granola bars
  • A new laptop
  • Contact lenses
  • Frequent flier miles
  • An iPod
  • Yoga classes
  • Francine the pretty cruiser bicycle.

I don't have:
  • Dependents.
We have administrative assistants in my department that make less than some of the PhD students do.

I have friends who have never had a checking account. I have friends with no credit cards.

I have friends without cars, although for most of them it is a lifestyle choice.

There is a student in my department whom I believe subsists entirely on free food.

I need my laptop to do my job, and the old one was nearly inoperable. I couldn't justify selling my interview clothes or my iPod in a cost-benefit analysis.

I could get a roommate, wear glasses, and buy the cheap granola bars.

I could eat out less.

I could get a job doing research for six figures annually. No, really, I could, although none of those jobs are in cheap places to live.

I could hold my breath and put my new clutch on a credit card.

I could quit whining.

Money I of III: Eight years on a grad-student stipend

I am tired of being poor.

If I wasn't poor, when my friends said, "You should come to Brazil," or Costa Rica, or Italy, I could say, "Yes." Not, "The only reason I can afford to go home for Christmas is because the plane ticket is my parents' Christmas gift to me."

If I wasn't poor, I wouldn't feel guilty because I could only afford to buy eggs laid by hens raised in cages under inhumane conditions. I could buy the Dagoba cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate for these cupcakes I'm making instead of getting the Kroger cocoa and wishing there was a house brand for the unsweetened chocolate instead of just Baker's.

If I wasn't poor, I could say, "I'm excited about trailbuilding this weekend, because I'll have fun with my friends while doing good," and not add, "And get fed for free."

If I wasn't poor, when I complained about my finances I would feel guilty for being okay in this recession, instead of feeling guilty because I have friends making the same money as me and supporting dependents.

If I wasn't poor, I'd have a savings account, not nearly five digits of credit card debt.

If I wasn't poor, I'd buy a pair of black pants that fit me. I wouldn't wonder if a slip and tights are actually in my clothing budget.

If I wasn't poor, using up my prescription benefit before the end of the year wouldn't send me into a panic.

If I wasn't poor, I wouldn't have to budget to afford that new $150 part for my car. Instead, I would get a new clutch when they tell me to.

If I wasn't poor, unexpectedly going out to dinner with friends wouldn't blow my budget; I would actually have a budget to blow.

If I wasn't poor, "sprucing up my apartment" would mean "replacing my decade-old sheets" instead of "taking out the recycling."

If I wasn't poor, when I went into campus to work, I wouldn't think, "Well, I'm spending money on gas, but I'll run my laptop with free electricity once I'm there."

If I wasn't poor, I wouldn't wonder if I can afford to do what I want with my life.

Friday, October 29, 2010

As the world turns

Back in college, I asked my sorority sisters, "So, what would happen if an alumna decided to become a man?" "Very funny," everyone said. "No, really." "That just wouldn't happen." No one (including myself) would even have considered the idea of a transgendered person joining, the assumption being that said person wouldn't want to do it any more than a chapter would want them.

We've come a long way - not far enough, but a distance anyways: I was sent a blurb about an event Vanderbilt is holding Monday called "Facing Trans." From the description: "In single gender institutions like fraternities and sororities, what happens if alumni transition into a new gender expression? How do we define membership given a single sex status? Can a transman still live by his sorority’s values? If a potential member is drawn to your organization for all of the right reasons and would be a perfect leader — does this change if they are going through a transition process? How does transition impact a Title IX status? Does it matter what dedicated leader's birth certificate says? ... Join in on a frank, humorous, and up front facilitated conversation on the difference between sex (anatomy/biology), gender (roles, identity, expression, and perception), and sexual identity (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, asexual, etc). Let's talk about the qualifications and legal precedent in various states as well as organizational and campus non-discrimination policies' impact on recruitment and membership standards."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good news

My AERA proposal (yes, I only submitted one thing) was accepted as a roundtable. Not quite as good as a full-on paper, but good enough to get me to New Orleans!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Colonial outposts

I saw this post about living on the ocean floor, and it occurred to me that the idea completely icks me out. The idea of colonies in space is awesome. I would jump at the chance to live on the moon, or even in a tin can colony. Even if it meant I'd see the same 99 people for the rest of my life and eat nothing but algae and spend my days doing drudgery in the pee-to-water recycler. But transfer all that to the bottom of the ocean, and I can't run (swim?) away fast enough. Maybe it's something about the pressure of all that water. Maybe it's the view outside the porthole - not that there would be one, but if there was it would only show blackness and depraved fish instead of the stars. The world, in practice, would have the same circumference, but I wouldn't be able to see beyond it. Maybe it's just my fear of blindness.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I realized the other night that some things in capoeira are getting easier for me, but that I don't feel like I'm getting better at them. "Getting easier" sounds like a good thing, but if all I'm doing is relaxing into bad habits, it's not. Particularly in the roda, when speed and instinctive reactions are how you get things done, I am exceedingly sloppy. When we're practicing in class, my form is better - but not in esquivas or negaças, where I tend to lose my balance. So I practice devagar, devagar to try to get them down. (That's "slowly" to you.) And when we get in the roda, we are supposed to demonstrate what we've been working on in class, but that doesn't always happen. You could end up like me the other night, playing against someone with over a decade of experience, who bounced me to the ground twice in less than a minute - the first time knocking me right out of the roda before I even got a ginga in.

(I don't know that I'm complaining. It beats playing with someone who treats me like a piece of fragile china.)

On the other hand, capoeira is making my yoga practice much stronger. It seems like every week I discover something new. Last week I discovered I could finally flip my dog. Drop backs are still eluding me, but my hands are landing further and further down the wall. I just wish I could believe that my capoeira practice was correspondingly improving.


Oh no, I'm turning into one of those bloggers. You know, the ones that never post. Let's just say that lately I've been thinking a lot, but there's nothing I want to share with the world.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New jobs

Jobs have been posted at:
University of Louisville;
Oregon State University;
Georgia Southern;
SUNY Buffalo.

Training weekend

Last weekend Mestre Gulliver was in town for a weekend of capoeira training that left me just dead and exhausted. We were all soundly thumped for our fundamentals, our Portuguese, and our musical skills. For someone like me, who generally only takes on learning new things that come easily to me, that was incredibly frustrating.

But so we're going back to the basics … everyone, even our teachers, were gingaing wrong. Now that's embarrassing. What's even more embarrassing is how hard I find to do it the right way. That is - with a great deal of concentration, I can get the feet right. But I can't get my arms to go simultaneously with it. They just kind of flop. Argh!

On the plus side, I learned a whole lot, and it was amazing to see Mestre and Bambu jogam, and we all got apelidos.

I'm unfortunately still feeling the effects of the weekend, as I picked up a cold from one of the other students, which I wouldn't have if I had been taking care of myself and getting enough sleep. I should know better than that.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Save Cummins Falls

Cummins Falls
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I had the opportunity this morning to see Cummins Falls near Cookeville. Cummins Falls was the largest waterfall in Tennessee under private ownership, but it was sold to a developer who intended to build 80 homes around it. When the economy crashed, the developer's bad luck was the conservation community's good fortune. Now the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation is raising the money to pay for the property in order to turn it into a state park.

It's not a substantial hike, but it's a fun one, with a steep cliff climbed with the aid of a rope, and a hike through the creek to the falls. At least at this time of year, when water is low, you can play around the base of the falls.

Nashville Hiking Meetup has committed to buying an acre. You can read more about the campaign here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes, you can have a life

This quote pretty much sums up the level of work-life "balance" expected of a new professor:

"Many of us have hobbies and things we prefer to do that may not be related to work. Integrating the two can be a great ally to a new faculty member and to a seasoned faculty member as well. Copying a segment [of the faculty handbook] that can be read during a morning walk on the treadmill or over a cup of coffee at a coffee shop can serve to support both pleasure and business at the same time."

See? You can have a hobby. Just as long as its one that is necessary for health or one that doesn't consume much time. And as long as you can multitask so you don't actually lose valuable work time.

Here are some other ways you can be more efficient on the tenure track:
  • Microwaved meals let you revise your dissertation not only while it cooks, but while you eat, too!
  • Into volunteering? Read to the blind! They will surely appreciate the journal articles you record for them as a change of pace from all those Tom Clancy books.
  • If you're into something more active, like knife-throwing or roller derby, be safe. Don't try to read at the same time. Don't worry, this is the perfect opportunity for graduate student meetings. Besides, your students will benefit from seeing you model work-life balance. Win-win!
  • On the other hand, do not try to combine graduate students and dating. Instead, limit your pool of potential partners to faculty members within your department. You'll learn about department politics and get some nookie.
  • Into travel? One word: Conferences.
  • Many new faculty make the mistake of talking too much in faculty meetings. One way to keep your mouth shut is to bring your Blackberry. Your colleagues will think you're texting, but you'll actually be getting ahead by writing op-ed tweets.
  • You need mentors. Remember to always meet over lunch for maximum time savings.
  • Don't spend too much time on class preperation. Limit it to the time that would otherwise be wasted by doubling prep time with shower time.
  • Children? Despite conventional wisdom, they're not a problem. Just use the handy parenting tips in the Baby Be of Use series.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The unexpected benefits of capoeira

Strength? Check. Practice singing out of tune? Check. Buff men staring deep into your eyes? Check. Some of the benefits of capoeira are pretty predictable, but then there are the extras I never anticipated …
  1. French pronunciation is starting to make sense. While I recognize that, objectively, English pronunciation is at least at arbitrary as French, I've never been able to wrap my head around the Gaulish Romance language. But figuring out the subtle difference between Spanish and Portuguese, while confusing at times, somehow points Portuguese in the direction of French. Suddenly, French doesn't seem as bewildering. (Irony: French was the first foreign language I ever studied, not that I recall any of it.)
  2. I can follow choreography now. I've always had a hard time translating movement, not only making my own body do it, but even figuring out what the authority figure up at the front of the room was doing in the first place. I struggled through step aerobics back at the Y and never could handle the "advanced" class. Fast forward to Friday night where, through failure to pay attention on my part, I accidentally ended up as part of a dance rehearsal and was cruelly forced to participate. It's not that I was any good, but suddenly I was able to blunder my way through. (But no, I am still not joining your dance troupe and risking having to perform in front of people.)
  3. An excuse to wear white pants after Labor Day. I suppose this might be more useful to me if I wanted to wear white, like, ever. If I ever find someone to marry me, I won't be wearing a white gown, and there's a reason I don't play tennis. But, you know, now I can be a fashion rebel any time I want, as long as I throw a few meia lua de frentes whenever any good Southern matron scowls at me. (Still looking for an excuse to wear plaids and stripes together, though.)

Friday, September 17, 2010


Assistant/Associate Professor of Higher Education Administration/College Student Personnel, the University of Tennessee.

Maybe I've been falling down on posting open jobs in the field. Thing is, this year the majority of the postings I'm seeing are looking for a specific subfield rather than being open. There's been several for student affairs or community colleges.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jobs so far

It feels like there are a lot of job postings this year that request a specific area of specialization ... like not mine. Today alone the ASHE listserv included ads for faculty studying community colleges, student affairs, and access.

My vague sense was that last year a lot more jobs were open specialty.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Hey look, Vanderbilt is hiring. But they wouldn't be looking for me, even if they wanted to hire their own graduates.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Roundup post

It's official: This fall, I will be working two jobs at Vanderbilt. I will be TAing Organization Theory classes, and I will be working on assessment projects in the Office of Greek Life.

Last weekend I had to do something I'm not fond of - perform. My capoeira group played in front of the audience for Shakespeare in the Park, so there I was. Luckily, there are no photos of my doing anything other than playing an instrument.

My yoga teacher is opening her own studio. Nashville people should check it out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

North Chick hike

At the swimming hole
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I haven't hiked as much this summer as I would like, so this past weekend we did a classic summer hike - the North Chickamauga section of the Cumberland Trail. This is a typical South Cumberland hike in many respects, but what makes it stand out is the swimming holes.

There are several within the first mile, but these are very popular. The best place to swim is four miles in at Green Hole - and you don't have a lot of company out there. This photo shows us frolicking at our swim/lunch/relaxation stop.

Of course, then you have to turn around and go back. We always talk about stopping at another swim hole near the end of the trail, but it never happens.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Conference time

The ASHE schedule is posted, and on a break from transcription today I took a look. Our symposium is scheduled for the final slot - so stick around, folks! Don't rush to get home. Mostly, I looked to see what else looked interesting, and I didn't find much.

Now I feel the need to repeat my usual caveats that just because I don't think it's interesting personally doesn't mean it's not important or it shouldn't be a part of ASHE. For example, I am not interested in the issue of student retention - but it's important. Okay? When I first went to conferences, I'd try a lot of topics out just to see what they're like, but by now I have a pretty good idea.

There's one session on institutional revenue generation strategies that dovetails with my research interest in fundraising. There's a panel discussion on the pervasiveness of racism. There's a session on the underuse of historical research. There's a session on international policy diffusion that had nothing to do with anything I study.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Job market again

Here's another PhD seeking employment and staring the reality of the job market in the face. (I was with her right up until the end, when she promises to tell us in future columns how we can stand out in the job market. Where, exactly, did she get this expertise?)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Dr. Crazy (whose blog you should be reading anyway): "The big picture is that I’m turning 36 on Sunday, it’s ridiculously hot and humid outside, I am getting to the point in my next book project where it’s no longer fun and exciting and new and instead is sort of frustrating and overwhelming, and I’m alone, desperately alone. (That last part, while true, is phrased in that way to be funny.)" I can relate, although, selfish brat that I am, I can't bring myself to feel sorry for Dr. Crazy, because her situation sounds like mine - except she has tenure and a house. Whereas I have ... a job search.

Portugal gets 45% of energy from renewable sources. "Holy crap. Whenever global warming denialists and anti-green grouches talk about the ‘extreme costs’ of catering to hairshirt environmentalism they make it sound as if the entire economy comes to a cratering halt due to efforts like this."

People read faster in print than online. I feel like I'm reading slower online, and here we go. Proof.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Capoeira is still hard

Oh gosh, I haven't bored you with talk of capoeira in a while. I better fix that.

Practice is paying off. I can now sing and play the pandeiro simultaneously, at least most of the time, and in the roda I maybe use the right defense for the attack at least half of the time. (The rest of the time I either react with the wrong instinct, or I just don't know how to counter the attack.)

One thing I started doing that helped was I decided that every time we played, I would pick out three attacks in advance and be sure to use them. I figured, if I went in knowing I was going to do a bensao instead of having to pick from the total array of possible moves, I wouldn't be overwhelmed. Clearly that's not a technique a mestre would use to kick butt, but it's better than just reacting the whole time.

(For the record, I don't think "kick butt" is a sanctioned capoeira term.)

So that, plus of course practice, is paying off - one of our teachers told me my roda play was much improved. Sweet. That doesn't mean I'm actually good, of course. It just means I can move on to worrying about new things.

Like, when I don't know how to counter the attack - often these are sweeps, which baffle me. Or moving beyond one-attack-move, one-defense-move rhythm, to trying more complex things. Or playing the berimbau.

Playing it? I can barely hold it. After a five- or ten-minute lesson, my left pinky will be slightly number for close to a week. I need to get a berimbau and just practice holding it first.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Your career

There's a lot of pondering in the academy about how the faculty identity can swallow up your personal identity (and whether this is a good thing or not). One thing that is clear is that, at least during your graduate education the pre-tenure years, work is not a 40-hour-a-week proposition. Part of the fair exchange for this is that, having earned tenure, one has job security.

But tenure-track jobs are disappearing, our present economy exacerbating the trend. Someone told me there were only six tenure-track positions advertised in philosophy last year. Six! Better prepare for an alternate career, I think. But there's something a wee bit discouraging about learning your last five or ten years of preparation for a career were a waster.

"A waste?" I can read the op-eds now. I have read them. "A PhD opens plenty of other doors. Students just aren't aware of them."

Maybe in other times and places. But the idea that there all these alternatives out there, now, in this economy, is balderdash. Education is a field that has always had a plethora of alternatives to faculty jobs, such as working as an analyst for a state or research firm, or working for a national organization. Now the economy has taken its hit there, too, and there are a lot fewer of those openings than in the past. Available graduates are beginning to stack up like cordwood at the PhD level, just like they are at the baccalaureate level.* Imagine what it's like for the philosophers.

If I don't find a faculty-or-reasonably-equivalent position, there are jobs I could get - jobs that ignore my five years of PhD study or my seven total years of graduate study. If I take one of them, I displace someone else who has the minimum qualifications. It's a game of dominos.

But why give up? There are some jobs out there. I just have to be the one to get one of them. And to do that, all I have to do is let my academic identity swallow up my personal identity. No guarantees, of course - I could end up in adjunct-land, working 80 hours a week and being eligible for food stamps. Does this strike anyone else as a risky gamble?

In today's world, no one's job is secure. I'm watching my dad's company decimate its employee ranks (after turning a profit in the last fiscal year, a near-miracle for a luxury-goods retailer in 2009), and even if the laid-off can find another job, it won't be in the same geographical area, and the mass firings have made it impossible to sell a house - so how do you move? "The American Dream" of home ownership is an albatross for those people.

Sooner or later, most of us will lose our jobs or have to substantially retool our skills, whether we want to or not. And we're being told that, the "competitive" candidate will be the one who devotes 110% to his or her work identity, and not just in academia. This is the economy that Generation Y, which has been announcing for years that it won't accept anything less than work-life balance, is graduating into. This is the economy that Baby Boomers, after a lifetime of work, are being laid-off into. This is the economy that Generation X, never idealistic to begin with, has been struggling to make a secure living in. We are all scrambling to prove we deserve our piece of the ever-shrinking pie. (Grapes of Wrath, anyone?) Or we retreat into the fantasy of self-employment via Etsy, the under-40 woman's equivalent of hoping to make it in the NBA.

There are days I'm tempted to end the all-or-nothing gamble, skip straight over the game of dominos, and go straight to the nearly inevitable end game - and take their jobs. Hell, if I do it early enough, maybe I can at least get a book deal out of it.

* This is one reason that saying everyone needs to go to college for economic reasons is so horribly flawed. The jobs that require that education just aren't there.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Cost" of education?

This article, in a nutshell, argues that the percent of a university's budget spent on faculty salaries = percentage dedicated to education, and it's too low.

1) First, faculty salaries are not the only component of higher education costs that go directly toward educating students. We can argue, for sure, about lots of university expenses. But a science program that doesn't spend some money on beakers or a humanities program without library books would not provide what most people consider a satisfactory education.

2) There are costs that don't go directly to education that I don't have an issue with, and I don't think most people do. There are colleges in Minnesota. I think students and faculty alike have a right to be sheltered from the winter snows during the educational process. Therefore, I'm okay with building a classroom instead of making students stand around in the frigid Northern equivalent of an agora.

3) It's always hard to quantify, but students and student affairs professional tend to argue that extracurriculars as well as a residential campus environment increase student learning outside the classroom. I am certain that I would have had real trouble finding a job after graduating with an English and history major if it weren't for my experience on the student newspaper. Number of faculty involved? Zero. But you can't convince me it wasn't educational.

I'm not sure the author of the original post would even argue with these point (at least one and two). The conclusion: "The point being made here is that the ostensible principal raison d'etre of most universities—the education of our youth—is really a small part of university activities," but this conclusion is reached on the basis of faculty salaries. Well, yes and no. I think faculty salaries are a pretty inaccurate tool for estimating the cost of educating our youth for all of the above reasons.

(And a quick reminder to non-industry people that this argument is really only about universities - not colleges or community colleges, which have very different budget profiles, and may not even focus on youth.)

That being said, I would agree that it's hard to look at Harvard and believe that its main purpose is to educate kids - but where I'd take issue here is that educating kids is Harvard's "ostensible raison d'etre." I think Harvard is pretty up-front about the fact that "generating world-class research" is an equally major component of its mission. If that's the issue - and it seems to be, given the author's digs at the "100th article" on an obscure topic in an obscure journal - and if you think the mission is inappropriate, don't distract us with all these red herrings about costs not reflecting the mission, where costs are poorly estimated.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Translated shortlist, part III

A few months back, on my way out of Vanderbilt's Central Library, I stopped to check the sale shelf. The library sells used books, mostly donated, for $1/paperbacks and $2/hardbacks. One paperback with that '70s look had an author's name that sounded vaguely familiar, although I wasn't sure why. The book was Zero by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao, and it promised bleak, near-future, authoritarian-state black comedy, plus the sex and drugs that were forcibly bundled with all literary fiction of the era. Naturally, I bought it.

The book completely lived up to its promise, and I figured out where I had seen Brandao's name before; his more recent Anonymous Celebrity was on this year's translation shortlist. AC isn't as radical in form, although it's a long way from a traditional narrative. It's the notes of a man who is almost a famous actor, but for whom fame is denied because he looks exactly like another famous actor. The narrator's thirst for celebrity makes Paris Hilton seem shy and retiring. But what is really going on? Details start to not add up. In the end, as one review said, things are slightly overexplained. But it's a fun ride to get there. I've put Brandao's other major translated book, Teeth Under the Sun, on my wishlist.


So there's an Austrian author, Wolf Haas, who is best known for a series of detective novels. He wrote a book called The Weather Fifteen Years Ago (based on a true story) about a young man who falls in love with a girl in the village his family spends their summer vacation in. After a tragedy, he doesn't see her for 15 years but can tell you the weather in that village for every one of those 15 years. Then he returns - and this is where the novel opens, with their first kiss after all that time apart.

This is not that novel.

This novel is the record of an interview between Haas and a book reviewer about that novel.

Except the original novel doesn't exist. Nor does the true story.

I'm a sucker for non-traditional narrative formats, so I loved this from the outset. It's a quick read, in spite of the ungainly conceit of the novel. (It takes longer to explain than it does to understand.) It's also amusing, and probably the closest thing you'll get to beach reading out of the short list.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Overdue linkdump

"It is only from a Marxian standpoint that the recent credit bubble can be understood in terms of the structural problems it affected to solve as well as those it has created": Interesting thesis.

Ivy League boys breaking strikes.

Meat lobby overreacts to a joke.

Who needs a hatchback when you can have a cargo bike?

Sherman Dorn: "Schools simultaneously serve as a vehicle for hoarding privilege and also for breaking it down."

"Wanted: a white woman to pretend to be me in public."

Horrifyingly wrong things that people think.

Will the Glen Canyon dam hold?

Short story about prenatal care.

Teach for America "has nothing to do with permanent investment in our schools, or thoughtful reform of education."

Wacky librarians.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Overhead costs and certain causes

It's a familiar story: "Oregon's attorney general, John Kroger, is seeking to shut down a nonprofit organization that awards honorary medals to veterans, saying most of the cash the group raises goes to a commercial telemarketer." The courts have held over and over that it is not illegal for a large percent of funds raised to go to overhead or to a service provider, such as a telemarketing firm. As such, I doubt Oregon has any ground to stand on here, however bad "charities" like this make the rest of the nonprofit sector look.

I wonder, why, though, it seems that these dubious charities always seem to raise funds for veterans or police officers. I've not familiar with any cases like this where the organization in question raised funds for the environment, for example. Certainly, I don't think it's the fault of legitimate charities that work in these areas. Is it because providing relief for these folks is a cause almost everyone can get behind? Is it because there isn't a well-known name-brand charity in this area?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Wow, jobs for next fall are already starting to show up. So here goes:

Open-rank tenure-track position at Texas Tech, specializing in community colleges.

Assistant professor at the University of Hawaii.

Non-tenure track assistant position at Michigan State University. State also has open-ranked tenure-track positions open, but these don't seem to be posted (they're on the ASHE listserv).

Research scientist at the University of Illinois, studying graduate student issues.

By the way, I promise to eventually do a round-up of this year's job search. In the meantime, you can read someone else's.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

NCLB is failing our children, at least in math

Young American: You guys probably remember Rocky Horror when it first came out in the 70s, right?
YA: You're what, 30?
Me: Close. But I don't think my parents were taking me to Rocky Horror at that point.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Endowment shocks have variable effects

Now this is the kind of higher education research I find fascinating: "We find that universities with larger negative endowment shocks are relatively more likely to: (1) reduce support staff (e.g., secretaries) and maintenance, but not administrators; (2) among less selective institutions, reduce expenditures on tenure-system faculty while increasing the average salary of adjuncts/lecturers; (3) make larger cuts to tenure-system faculty and secretarial support when their endowment portfolio is less liquid (i.e. higher allocations to alternative assets such as hedge funds); and (4) among more selective universities, reduce financial aid for students the following Fall and enroll fewer freshmen. We also find that universities increase hiring when there are negative endowment shocks to their peers."

I think it's important in the area of finance to remember that one dollar is not equal to any other dollar. Where it comes from influences how it is spent. (And I don't just say this because I've co-authored a paper on the topic.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Becoming professional

I had a meeting this morning about two policy papers I'm going to be writing for a higher education group. I'm excited about these papers because they should be interesting (and I think one might be able to generate a peer-reviewed article), but that's not all. I realized this is the first project I've taken on that didn't come out of a class, work for a professor, or my dissertation - the first thing I've done as an independent professional. Woot!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weekend camping trip

This past weekend, I celebrated my birthday by going camping with some of my friends at Frozen Head State Park. I had planned to lead one of my infamous death marches on Sunday, but it turned out to be more of a chronic illness march instead - and even then I didn't lead, thanks to the return of my old knee/IT band issue. Instead, I did a shorter hike with some of my friends at the Lilly Bluff area of the Obed Wild & Scenic River.

This photo shows blessings from heaven showering down upon our campsite.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How not to do alumni relations

Dear organization I am an alumna of:

I have now received several postcards and email messages about the company (Publishing Concepts) you've hired to put together a directory for us. Each one asks me to call a toll-free number to verify my information is correct.

You actually expect gen x and gen y folks to voluntarily make phone calls so we can be telemarketed to? You're kidding, right? (Because, really, why else wouldn't we be able to just do this online?) You can't even be bothered to auto-dial my number?

This email, however, does thoughtfully provide an opt-out link, which works quite well.

Hugs and kisses,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fiction from the Netherlands and Argentina

I've finished the next two books in on the translation shortlist.

Gerbrand Bakker's The Twin is easy to read and a quiet book, even pastoral. The protagonist has led a narrow life on a farm in the Netherlands, stifled by his father and forced into a life of farming by the early death of his twin brother. As the book opens, his father is dying, and the protagonist begins to assert independence for the first time in his life. If this were Hollywood, there would be some fumbling sex, a scene in which he violently sweeps momentos off a shelf, and a tear-jerking moment of reconciliation with his father. But this isn't Hollywood. Instead, it's a much quieter journey, foregrounded by the natural world around him. It's not a book I would have ever picked up based on the plot, but it was a very satisfying book.

Cesar Aira's Ghosts is really a novella. It follows a family that lives in a high-rise condo building as it is being constructed - but over the span of just one day, new year's eve. The book veers from prosaic descriptions of the goings-on in the building to philosophical expositions. The "ghosts" in question don't draw on any archetypical ghosts I'm familiar with; they float there naked, mostly. This book wasn't difficult to read, but I didn't find it riveting, either. (And if the description leads you to expect magical realism, it's not.) While it wasn't my cup of tea, if it sounds interesting to you, I strongly recommend not reading any other descriptions of it; most of them give away the entire plot up to the very last words.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Link soup

Logtop garden
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
The photo is from last weekend's hike on LeConte. It's the top of a log that houses its own little garden. These links have nothing to do with moss, mushrooms, or logs.

Baby's Touch 'N Feel Guide to Russian Literature.

Flight to the suburbs may be reversing.

What do presidents think aobut during commencement?

An unnatural, perverse lust.

Higher ed stuff: How students can "demonstrate interest" in a college. I am very surprised this article doesn't discuss how "demonstrated interest" is correlated with class. For many students, a visit to campus is prohibitively expensive. And for first-generation students, or the only student in a family to consider elite schools, they have no idea that "demonstrating interest" is something to do - after all, you've applied, right? Knowledge of "appropriate" self-promotion is a function of class position and social capital.

Second-tier athletic programs are costing their schools big bucks.

A very relevant article about my life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

LeConte Lodge weekend trip

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This weekend I checked LeConte Lodge off my to-do list. We hiked up on Friday and spent the night before hiking down the next day. I had hiked up to the top before, but only as a dayhike. The Lodge, I thought, wasn't quite as nice as the Hike Inn, but the scenery is much more impressive. (For one thing, there are very few people in this world I can really get sleep next to in a double bed.) We got lucky and avoided hiking in the rain - it thoughtfully waited until the evening.

The next day a few of us stuck around and camped at Elkmont, also in the part, to watch to synchronous fireflies. Well, I was hoping for an Esther Williams type of show, which of course I didn't get. The fireflies don't actually blink in unison, contrary to my assumption; they all blink for a few seconds, and then they all go dark. It's pretty impressive, especially given the number of fireflies that are out at once. It's not like your backyard, where a handful are zipping and zapping around.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Virgin Falls

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
We celebrated Memorial Day by hiking Virgin Falls. It's always a pretty hike, although this time we had some weather excitement - two downpours. During the first, on our way to the falls, there was thunder and lightning, so we waited in a holler until the storm passed. The second, on our way out, was just rain. It was warm enough, of course, that the rain didn't chill us - but it was humid enough that we never really dried out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have I mentioned capoeira? Have I?

So, yeah, capoeira. One of my recent Facebook status updates was, "Trying to learn capoeira makes me feel like Harry in The Blue Sword, except without the supernatural talent but with the racial angle. Also, fewer horses. Portuguese is kind of like Damarian, right?"

For those of you unfamiliar with capoeira, it's a Brazilian martial art/dance/game. The classes I take are in the Capoeira Angola Palmares lineage, lessons twice a week and a roda once a week(ish). Already, you may be thinking that, for a definition, that has a lot of words that need defining in their turn. I'll let you use the magic of Google for that.

The thing about it is, studying capoeira isn't like learning most martial arts - not that I've studied one myself, but I have done ballet and yoga; the immediate parallel between these and capoeira is that the movements are named in a foreign language, French and Sanskrit, respectively. But you don't need to know French or Sanskrit, or anything about French or Indian culture. Capoeira retains tight cultural connections, though, and you can't play capoeira well without understanding those. You have to learn several different skills all at once:
  • The moves, of course
  • The history and cultural context of capoeira
  • Portuguese
  • How to play the berimbau and pandeiro.
So I set out to try capoeira, and now I'm talking back to Pimsleur in the car: "Com licensa, o senhor fala Ingles? Eu entendo un pouco de Portogues. Eu nao falo Portogues. Sim, eu sou Americana."* I have an iPhone berimbau, although I'm under no illusions that it approximates reality even as well as the Wii approximates real sports, which is to say, not at all. And, yeah, I'm gingaing in the living room. This immersive aspect of capoeira is half of why I referenced The Blue Sword. The heroine, for those unfamiliar with the book, is kidnapped and thrust into a new culture, where she must learn swordplay along with a new culture and language - no musical instruments, though.

But the other reason it came to mind is that I'm pretty obviously made of northern European genes, and the closest any of my ancestors came to Brazil, Africa, or even Portugal was ... Germany. Capoeira is not "my" culture. The Blue Sword was a book I loved growing up, even after I became aware of the issues with the white-girl-saves-brown-people plot that plagues both the Damar books. It wasn't until I after was up in arms about Avatar that I sat down to reread it, though, and found I just couldn't. The only difference between James Cameron's movie and Robin McKinley's book is in the quality of the execution, and there's no use only getting offended at things that are aesthetic tripe.

But as my post said, not only are there fewer horses in capoeira - but I also don't have a magic gift waiting to be awakening so I can master in a few weeks what takes most folks a lifetime. And having no supernatural powers that boot me to the front of the capoeira class goes along with not being the savior of anything. My contribution is just a few bucks a week to help rent the room, same as any other student. I'm not going to end up saving Brazil from a demon invasion or marry the handsome king. So, any second thoughts I have can be read as, "Hey look! I want to make sure you know I'm cool enough to do capoeira, and I'm aware enough to worry about cultural appropriation! I'm sure swell!"

Which takes you down a rabbit hole where the only logical conclusion is to stop wasting time announcing on social media what you're doing and just do it. I'm going into withdrawal just thinking of that.

*Yes, the accents are missing. I can't consistently get accents to show up properly on here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

If you look around and see that only the men are laughing at the speaker's knowing comments about how men and women are different, while telling a story about the subordination of women, it's probably just because the women are all humorless feminists.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Capoeira is hard, part II

When we started middle school in sixth grade, we had to select a music class instead of taking the generic elementary music course. Our choices were chorus, band, and orchestra, and there was a definite class divide - chorus was for kids who couldn't afford an instrument (not, alas, for those with divine voices). Violins didn't appeal to me, and most of my friends were in band, so off to band I went.

In sixth grade I played the flute. The flute is an affordable instrument, meaning are always too many flutes and clarinets in a middle-school band, so in seventh grade I switched to the bassoon. My talent was underwhelming, despite taking extra classes with a very gifted teacher from the North Carolina School for the Arts. The family referred to it as my "dead cow," which was wishful thinking on their part, dead cows being much quieter than dying ones.

When I started high school I stuck with band, but when I got to school before the semester began - band started early because we had to prepare for the marching season - I found out that bassoons don't march. I was put on the bass drum, the smallest of four.

Even at the bass drum I was something of a disaster. I mastered the notion of right-left-right-left, but the cadences and even "School's Out" left me confused when the drum line was anything but one-two-three-four. I went back to the bassoon once the season was over, earned one of my two B's from high school, and dropped out of band after that year. (The other B was in geometry. Music and math are related, yes? Also, I wasn't a very motivated student my freshman year.)

The lesson from all this was that I find any instrument more complicated than the triangle a challenge, and I may be underestimating the triangle.

So, naturally, I have now picked an activity that involves learning to play multiple instruments. "The berimbau is easy," Cojacki tells us. Not as easy as the bass drum, I think to myself.

What I'm not doing on my summer vacation

There's an ad I see repeatedly on Facebook to encouraging me to study Spanish and yoga in Costa Rica (and perhaps combine it with surfing and fire dancing!). Not wanting to encourage the advertiser by following the link, I Googled it and four or five schools came back - one in particular with the same tag line.

I'm trying to figure out why I would want to go to another country to hang out with a bunch of white, middle-class Americans when I can do that at home for free.

I suppose the fact that Spanish is the language of Costa Rica gives it a veneer of authenticity, although I could immerse myself in Spanish right here in Nashville if I find the right crowd. But who wants to to risk ending up hanging out with immigrants who "should be" learning English when I could be catered to by locals who make a living off of being nice to tourists?

I tend to think of inclusive, see-the-sights-but-not-the-life trips as catering to middle-aged and older folks, but this is a brilliant way to capture the youth market.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A list of things I did today

  • Went to yoga
  • Talked to my mother
  • Complained about the weather
  • Was frustrated by interpersonal relations
  • Ate pancakes
  • Stayed up late
  • Hula hooped
  • Did something futile
  • Cleaned the bathroom
  • Saw the abyss staring at me and glanced furtively away
  • Went grocery shopping
  • Laundry
  • Had a nice stout
  • Had another nice stout
  • Failed to meditate
  • Facebooked
  • Conserved water
  • Reassured my neighbor I wasn't stalking her
  • Thought about renting a movie
  • Listened to birds fighting
  • Stared at the living room ceiling
  • Had a rich fantasy life
  • Sliced cheese

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One book, One Twitter

I think the choice of Neil Gaiman's American Gods for "One book, One Twitter" to be really odd. I would think that a very high percentage of Twitterers have already read it. Why not choose something that nerds don't already know they like?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


As you may know, I've started taking Capoeira classes. This is a bad idea on many levels, given that I have no rhythm, no reflexes, and no musical ability, and it requires upper body strength. But it's a challenge, and hey, there are worse things to do on a Monday night than look deep in the eyes of hot men. (No, that's not my motivation. I'm just trying out jokes for my new chick lit novel.) (Yes, that's also a joke. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a pun, that's me.) Our instructors came back from a workshop in Denver full of new ways to torture us, and even before class was over my back and shoulders ached. (The answer to the question of "How many cartwheels can you do?" is "More than I thought." But none of them well.)

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours helping a friend move. Her third-floor apartment sans elevator sustained some ceiling damage in the flood, and she was moving to a place without a gaping hole. Honestly, the effort was, in the immortal words of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, "a whisper on a scream." But then I went to ashtanga class.

I mean, look, I do ashtanga. I can get through the ten sun saluations without crying. But last night, I went into the first one and discovered I couldn't even do up dog. My triceps just wouldn't hold me up. (Those of you who don't do yoga - and can't be bothered to follow the link - it's not an advanced pose. Maybe not first-time material, but pretty standard stuff.) I had to step back instead instead of jumping back. And forget arm balances.

(Not to mention back somersaults and shoulderstand were out because I had whacked my head on the floor Monday night. But let's not talk about that. I wouldn't want my mom to worry about brain damage.)

My yoga teacher sees the upside, though. "You'll only hurt for a few weeks of doing this!"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two down, eight to go

I'm now two books into this year's best translated book short list.

The first book I read was Robert Walser's The Tanners. It follows the Tanner siblings in their everyday lives for a few years.

I really don't know what to make of this book. The characters in it don't have conversations; they make speeches, and they say hateful, long-winded things to each other. The first brother we meet, Simon, is a complete jackass, and yet everyone he meet seems to be charmed by him. I feel like I don't have the tools to evaluate whether Walser expected the reader to be charmed by Simon or to be befuddled. It feels as if Walser has a great deal of control over his prose, but to what end?

And yet Kafka and Hesse both greatly admired his work, and who doesn't like Kafka and Hesse? (Which is code for, "I like Kafka and Hesse.") Maybe it's worth noting that this was the last of his books to be translated into English, even though it was one of his earliest.

The second book didn't fare much better with me. José Manuel Prieto's Rex is, in his words, "magico-scientific realism." I'd call it, harshly, "magico-boring realism." I was a third of the way through before I developed any interest in what happened to the characters. And if a reader doesn't have interest in the story, the reader ought to at least enjoy the language - and I didn't. Maybe it's just because I haven't read In Remembrance of Things Past, which the book revolves around in many ways, but the metaphors and descriptions made me yawn.

My lack of pleasure in these books makes me feel unpleasantly reactionary and Philistine.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

AERA, part II

My cohort
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This photo was taken at the Vanderbilt reception Saturday night; it's my cohort, or at least the four of us who were there for the conference.

Today is the last day of AERA, and there aren't any sessions I'm interested in, so I'm going down to Boulder to have lunch with a friend. (And to go to the Lush store.) Yesterday I did go to two good sessions, one with a paper on giving and another on prestige, and a panel session on minority-serving institutions.

Now I have to finish my submissions for ASHE - they're due Saturday - which has suddenly been complicated by the fact that I have to go down to an undisclosed location to collect dissertation data on Thursday. Tonight I go back to Nashville and see if my roof leaked. Between AERA and this dissertation trip, I completely am missing the great Nashville flood.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Welcome to AERA 2010

So far AERA has been relatively quiet, aside from bears menacing the Convention Center. Folks here have been complaining about the random snow flurries (nothing is sticking), but my feeling is that I'm better off here than I would be in Nashville, where they are having tornadoes and flooding.

I've gone to two sessions so far, one not very good, and a much better one on the organizational identities of Hispanic-serving institutions. I also attended my own poster session - the same could not be said for about 1/4 of the poster presenters. Seriously, I think AERA should penalize no-shows in some way, if they simply fail to show up. Perhaps not allow them to present the next year? That will never happen, of course, because no one wants to adjudicate which excuses are valid, or walk around being the poster police.

I went to the exhibitor's hall. Neither of the books I had intended to buy were for sale. Instead I picked up an old philanthropy book I really should have already owned and a book that has nothing to do with my research.

Last night some Vanderbilt folks went out to happy hour and dinner. I've also caught up with colleagues from other institutions. Tonight my cohort, or what's here of it, is supposed to go out after the big Vanderbilt reception.

Being in Denver feels a little strange to me. I did live in Denver for a summer, when I interned at the University of Denver, but did not live or work downtown and never spent much time down here. I really don't know the area very well. The location seems to be working; my experience with AERA seems to be that getting around is so much easier when we use a convention center, like here, instead of having everything in hotels. Also, there is a ton of food within easy walking distance.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In which I complain

Bookstores have been in the news more than usual lately, thanks in part to the Amazon vs. MacMillan e-book contremps. Lots of people are coming out in favor of independent booksellers, and, sure, I like the idea myself. But in practice, when I go to independent bookstores, like Davis-Kidd here in Nashville, the only way I can tell I'm not at Barnes and Noble is the large "Nashville" section. At neither place can I find many books I actually want to read.

I keep a list of books I want on an Amazon wishlist. (Note: Books referenced below can be found on this list.) Mostly, this is because their wishlist function is really well designed. Some of these books are scholarly texts that I hardly expect to find in a local bookstore. But a lot of them are fiction, many of which have gotten positive press and I imagined would be selling well.

For example, there is China Mieville's The City and the City, which just won a reasonably major prize. Adam Roberts' Yellow Blue Tibia was also shortlisted for it. Other books I've become interested in because of positive blogosphere word (especially from Three Percent) include Ajvaz's The Other City, Waberi's In the United States of Africa, and Ilya and Ilf's The Golden Calf. Heck, I haven't even been able to locate a copy of the reprint of Jennifer Crusie's The Cinderella Deal, which hardly qualifies as obscure.

But I go to the sci-fi/fantasy section of the bookstore, where many of these might be shelved, and what do I find? Row upon row of Star Trek novels and lot of Robert Jordan. I check the fiction/literature section, just to make sure they're not there either, and of course they're not. Davis-Kidd does have a nice large section of Vera Bradley handbags, which is a good thing, because it's not as if there is anyplace else in Nashville to find her designs. [sarcasm alert]

My point? Independent bookstores aren't, as far as I can tell, filling the role being claimed for them now. I am sure there are exceptions (I have fond recollections of the Elliott Bay Book Company), but lots of independent bookstores are indistinguishable from Borders and Barnes and Noble. So I mostly shop online, generally from Powell's even though I feel the price difference over Amazon. About half the time when I go into a bookstore, ready to spend my dollar, I come out empty-handed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In which we talk about economists

I subscribe to the NBER Digest, which is a way to find out about interesting papers in economics without [shudder] having to read them. The latest contained two studies I found of passing interest. One found that calorie posting in Starbucks reduced customers' calorie intake - but by a whopping 15 calories. (To be fair, consumers consuming the highest amount dropped their consumption by the largest percent.) Another found that, shockingly, bottle deposit laws increased recycling. But I was still disheartened to know that only 8.3 out of 10 bottles were recycled where there are deposits.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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Well, I know what book I'll be picking up at AERA this weekend.

I've spent part of today figuring out my schedule, juggling sessions I have to be at versus those I want to be at, as well as trying to make plans to see friends in town. Also, I've been working on my poster. And making sure I have all the info together for my flight, the hostel, etc.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Link roundup

Some of these links are getting decidedly stale; time to clear them out.

Which are more effective, taxes on junk or subsidies on healthy food?

How would you like to spend half your waking life fetching water? (Via Elizabeth Royte.)

How much land would it take if we all lived as densely as NYC?

High-fructose corn syrup is part of the axis of evil.

Adorable houses, but ignore the twee captions.

The challenges of "data-driven" decision-making.

Horrifying maternity leave story.

Everyone's already linked to this, but ... is TV programming as we know it doomed? "The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)"

I don't own a television. It's not because I don't watch any TV, but because I rarely care to watch it when it's programmed to be on*. I don't just mean I want to Tivo things. I mean I didn't start watching Battlestar Galactica (from the beginning) until the final season. It's not just me - how many people were introduced to Entourage by DVDs their friends insisted they borrow? But media companies still judge television shows by Neilson ratings, as any frustrated fan of Joss Whedon knows.

I don't think that the rise of services like YouTube means that products requiring a cast of thousands will disappear. It means they'll have to be delivered differently, though.

* Also, the cost. Paying a bundle for a bundle of stations you don't care about is so old-school.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Questions to which the answer is "no" that I have been asked lately

  1. Do you speak Portuguese?
  2. Are you a yoga teacher?
  3. Are you a lesbian too?
  4. Have you heard from [REDACTED] University yet?
  5. Are you going to the workshop on Saturday?
  6. Do you know Will Smith's agent name in Independence Day?
  7. Have you been a vegetarian long?
  8. Have you been here before?
  9. Do you have change for a $5?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A List of Things You Probably Don't Know about Me

  1. Pretty much my favorite band of all time is KMFDM.
  2. I really loathe a capella music.
  3. I have a secret crush on one of my friends. I'm pretty sure he doesn't know.
  4. I would rather do just about anything other than clean the bathtub.
  5. I would rather clean the bathtub than call strangers on the phone.
  6. I don't like potato chips.
  7. Every morning, when I'm home, I get up and write first thing.
  8. I could eat a whole tube of raw chocolate chip cookie dough, easy.
  9. My hair is turning white.
  10. The three hottest celebrities are China Mieville, George Clooney, and Owen Wilson, but mostly China Mieville.
  11. I'm a really good flosser.
  12. I've never seen any episodes of Gilligan's Island or M.A.S.H.
  13. I know it's trendy to say Moby Dick is overrated, but I love it.
  14. Sociology? Awesomesauce.
  15. I don't like auto-flush toilets.
  16. I've never had poison ivy.
  17. I think it's weird when people say they don't have memories before, say, age 7; I can remember the house we moved out of before I turned 3.
  18. Video games totally bore me.
  19. I eat my Oreos top, filling, bottom.
  20. I would secretly love it if someone dedicated a song on the radio to me. Except I don't listen to shows with dedications.
  21. I covet built-in bookcases.
  22. I don't like the color orange.
  23. It takes me an hour to fall asleep at night.
  24. I wish I didn't suck at team sports.
  25. I have no idea what kind of car you drive.
  26. Snoring is a dealbreaker.
  27. My contact lens prescription is the same in both eyes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trail building

Building drainage
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent the weekend building trail with the Cumberland Trail Conference. We were in pretty rocky territory, so it was slow going; on the second day we were on a wicked slope, so we had to crib the downhill side and build up the inside. But it was a good time and it's great to see our hard work turn into a trail.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Florida International University - Assistant/Associate Professor of Higher Education.

I can't find a good link, but there is a Visiting Assistant Professor position at the University of Southern Mississippi in their student affairs program.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Big South Fork weekend report

In Maude's Crack!
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
As promised, here's a recap of last weekend. We camped out at Big South Fork, which has some pretty nice campsites - lots of shade, very clean showerhouses, a dish-washing sink, and a RV-free tent area. The weather couldn't have been better, either.

The first day we did a hike in the Pogue Creek Natural Area. Hiking here is limited to guided tours with rangers and the Nature Conservancy. There are no trails, aside from some old logging roads. Rangers Alan and Brandon led us on a nice tour of York Palace (a natural arch), a waterfall, and a cave (closed due to WNS).

The second day we did a loop hike to Maude's Crack and the John Muir Overlook. The crack is a way down a bluff that would otherwise be a real rock climb or a long trip around. The trail also passes by two old communities; BSF only became a park in the 1970s, so there are a lot of foundations still standing. This is a nice hike, but too open to do in the heat of summer. It's also (partially) shared with horses, so be aware of where you step.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Assistant professor of higher and postsecondary education - University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Assistant/associate professor in adult education and higher education leadership - Oregon State University.

Teaching assistant professor at North Carolina State University. (I can't find a stable link to this job, but it's teaching 5 courses a semester in a distance program, non-tenure track.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another weekend out

Foreground background
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent the past weekend hiking and camping at Big South Fork. This is my favorite photo of the weekend. I'll post more about the trip later (including photos showing the landscape, which is full of more arches and whatnot).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Plot cliche I never want to read again

We were in a tight spot, that was for sure. Every idea we came up with had some flaw in it, some Achilles' heel. The enemy was just too powerful.

"Hey, wait a minute, guys," said Jake. "I have an idea. I know it sounds crazy, but it ... just ... might ... work."

He told us his idea, and pretty soon everyone in the room was nodding. It was the only hope we had with time running short. We assigned Louise to play decoy, while Fred was a back-up distraction. I would go in the back way and Ted in the front. Meanwhile, we sent Terry out to get the supplies we needed.

We were nervous, but the plan went off just as Jake said it would. Fred's backup distraction wasn't even needed. In just half an hour, we had done the impossible and taken the enemy down.

Spectators gaped at the burning rubble where the enemy fortress had once stood. "But how did you do it?" asked General Fortescue, who had come out of his bunker to see if the rumors were true.

"Ah, it was easy, once we figured it out. All we had to do was use to Device backwards, running the current through the Field while the enemy was distracted," I said.


If the only way you're building suspense is by signaling loud and clear to the reader that you're withholding The Plan for now, you're building fake suspense. The reader thinks, "I wonder what trick the writer is going to end with," not, "I hope these good guys take down the enemy."

I recently read a story of this genre in an anthology by editors whose taste I generally trust. Sure, it was an older story, but this isn't a case of "was fun but it's been overdone." This is a plot that couldn't have been good the first time someone crawled out of the primordial ooze and used it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Weekend at Natural Bridge

View from Lover's Leap
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
April isn't the cruelest month, but it may be the busiest. Last weekend I went to Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky, near Lexington. You may have heard of the general region it is in - the Red River Gorge, a mecca for climbers. But there is a lot of good hiking there. Some members of the group climbed, whereas I just hiked. We ended up with three absolutely beautiful days of weather.

Geologically, the hills aren't mountains but gorges worn down around sandstone. (You can see this when you look at the horizon - instead of being peaky, the hills are flat on top.) The result is not only formations like the one pictured, but natural arches, such as the one the park is named after. I found it hard to get a good arch photo; it seems I was always too close or too far away. But if you click through you will see that I tried anyway.

I'm in and out of town a lot this month; this weekend I will be at a park very similar to Natural Bridges, Big South Fork on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. It has a lot of similar rock formations, such as arches and cliffs, but it doesn't have as many panoramic views.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Back to work, Prexi

A big nonprofit commentator argues in today's Inside Higher Ed that college presidents shouldn't spend their time on boards but running their own institutions. While the institution should surely come first, I couldn't disagree more.

It's true, presidents are busy; for most, the job isn't just 40 hours a week. And surely there is an upper limit, if a college president were on 30 corporate boards, I would be concerned. There are only so many hours in a day, after all. But being on a few boards? How much time does that take? How does that compare time-wise to having a family or a hobby or even just taking a vacation?

It's typical, after all, for corporate CEOs to be on other boards, corporate and nonprofit alike. Think about that for a moment. Do you think the president of a Fortune 500 company is less busy with his or her job than a college president?

Let's be blunt. Your college wants corporate CEOs on its board of trustees. If those corporate CEOs have the time, so does your president. And if your president doesn't, either he/she has time management problems or has chosen to do something else instead. (There's nothing wrong with not choosing to be on corporate boards, either.)

Where I would be concerned is when we have what are called "interlocking directorates." An example of an interlock would be if your president is on the board of Corporation X, and Corporation X's CEO is on your college's board. This is a conflict of interest issue, and it's important for presidents to keep in mind. But that's not the problem that the commentator is interested in.