Monday, December 31, 2007

Onechan Plays with Time (Imoto: "Me, Too!")

Sometime over the past two weeks, onechan and her 3-to-4-year-old friends have begun playing with time--or perhaps they have been for awhile, and I've only just noticed it. What I mean is, they'll put time in their role-playing games in fast forward, so they can extend their game over many play "days," with many nap times, sleep times, and going to school times in a single play session. So let's say we're playing PowerPuff Girls, and I'm the Professor, Imoto's Buttercup, Onechan's Bubbles, and one of their friends is Blossom, and it's night time, so we all have to go to sleep on the toy box, the little table, and the piano stool, but then her friend announces it's morning--time to go to school--and soon later, onechan chimes in that it's nap time, and pretty soon it's time to go to sleep again. The idea that they don't have to play in real time is an exciting one to them.

Imoto plays right along. When it's time to lie down, she lies down; when it's time to get up, she gets up. She seems to be entering a new phase in her relation with onechan, where she's much more aware of what her sister is doing and wants to do it herself. This extends, as well, to what onechan has. So if onechan gets seconds at dinner, imoto wants more food, too, even if she hasn't finished what's on her plate. And of course she wants whatever onechan is drinking. She's very observant: just the other day, onechan was having a big stuffed animal hang onto the handle of her toy stroller so that it was "helping" her push it, so within 10 minutes (after onechan had gone on to another toy/activity), there was imoto, doing the same thing with a smaller stuffed animal.

The changes should be coming fast and furious in 2008; it's been fun documenting some of them here and at Mostly Harmless over the past year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part I: Webquest

It's no secret that I work at a public regional university in New York state, so I've seen up close and personal what the chronic underfunding of SUNY means to students, faculty, and western NY. Over the course of 2008, I plan to do an ongoing series on funding public higher education, a particularly relevant topic now that Governor Eliot Spitzer's NY State Commission on Higher Education has released its preliminary report. This post sets the scene for my series, webquest style.

For representative arguments that public higher education should be free, check out Marc Bousquet (How the University Works) and Adolph Reed and Preston Smith (Labor Party). For a representative faculty union campaign, check out the American Federation of Teachers' Faculty and College Excellence campaign. For an attempt to get a discussion of endowment disparities started, see Bill Benzon (The Valve). For my spring 2006 debate with a privatization advocate, go to Objectivist v. Constructivist v. Theist. For further background and resources, check out Workplace, the Workplace blog, and The Rouge Forum.

For initial reactions to the NYSCHE's preliminary report, check out the statement by the Professional Staff Caucus (CUNY), the press release from United University Professions (SUNY), Craig Smith and Barbara McKenna at FACE Talk, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, and Stanley Fish in The New York Times.

More coming!

[Update 1/10/08: Here's the relevant summary of Gov. Spitzer's State of the State address.]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Toddler Performance Art

I'm in the home stress stretch of my first fall back from Japan--less than 24 hours to turn in my grades! And I do mean home--I've done the vast majority of my grading from home this week, mostly by choice but also thanks to bad weather, illness, and a low-level migraine that hit the Full Metal Archivist yesterday. So in between papers I've gotten the chance to witness a wide range of performance art from onechan (who just turned 4) and imoto (who's 20 months old today). Here are some highlights:

Onechan: Branching out into drama, particularly stage direction and set design. At her girls' birthday party this past Sunday (7 girls under 5, 2 dads, and 1 mom for almost 3 hours!) and at the impromptu Christmas get-together at a friend's place, she enjoyed assigning roles to her friends, from the fantastic ("I'll be the princess, you be the prince, you be the good witch, and you be the bad witch!") to the everyday ("I'll be the mom, you be the dad, and you be the baby!"), and then setting up various kinds of improvs (from fighting a dragon to having a baby to being sick and having to stay home from work or school or see a doctor). At home with imoto, she's enjoyed rearranging the desks, chairs, and toy boxes in the play room to form little rooms, houses, or tents in one or another area of it. She's also enjoyed naming the various baby dolls strewn about the house after the various characters in our fictional pantheon and play-acting her favorite scenarios.

Imoto: Pushing the boundaries of bodily fluid expulsion. Moved from snot to diarrhea to vomit this week. Specializes in coughing so violently in the middle of the night she almost spits up the breast milk she's just extorted from the Full Metal Archivist. For the first time in her long and changing illness(es), she's running a fever, so adding sweat to her repertoire.

Onechan: Continues to explore musical performance. She treated us to a concert after dinner yesterday, complete with stage (one of her little chairs on top of her wood toy box), a playlist (her new Dora checkers board), original songs (one in her version of Spanish, even!) and old classics (the alphabet song, among them, which features "ello mello pee" and "double you, ess, why, and zee"!), and of course instrumentals. We're not just talking the mean air guitar she already plays, but violin (consisting of a little coat hanger from one of the presents her grandmother got her and a plastic golf club) and flute (consisting of the same plastic golf club with the head unscrewed), as well.

Imoto: Also into music. Likes to cradle one of her musical dolls and sway to the beat (kind of) or jump around to Buzz Buzz or The PowerPuff Girls CD with her big sister. Often tries to sing along with onechan, say on the Japanese version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," but due to her limited vocabulary mostly just substitutes her sister's name in the opening "Kila, kila, hikaru" line.

Onechan: Beginning to tell stories, some from real life (a little anecdote from her hoikuen that something that's just happened reminds her of), some from her drawings (telling me what's happening), and some from our pantheon of imaginary characters. I'm having fun at bed time asking her what happens next in the stories I'm making up for her, or having her edit them when I go off track ("no, no, daddy, tell it this way!"), but I can't yet get her to tell me a bedtime story.

Imoto: Into cosplay, particularly when it comes to footwear and, less often, hats. Still mostly other people's shoes and slippers but lately has enjoyed slipping her feet into the fuzzy boots her grandma just got her and stomping around the house on the hardwood floors. That, and slamming upstairs doors. And running away, giggling, when it's time to change her diaper or throw her in the tub. And rolling around on the big bed after her bath to avoid getting her pajamas on. And kicking me with both feet when I've finally pinned her. And laughing uproariously when I pretend the kicks have knocked me backwards or off the bed--just like her sister did when I played that game with her a few years ago!

Yup, we've been lucky that the girls have mostly kept their energy and good spirits, despite being sick most of the past month. Now it's time to make that final grading push!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Who Wants to Be a Tenure-Track Professor? Part II: The MLA Interview

'Tis the academic career advice season, it seems, as the most-read post in the brief history of CitizenSE has been the first installment in this series. So, going against The Little Professor's advice, I'm going to offer some more today, this time on the MLA interview. (Hey, she did it first!) Having been on the interviewed side more than a dozen times and on the interviewing side around a half dozen, I certainly have some experience, if not yet wisdom, to share. But since Tenured Radical has handled the "to do" part so well (along with Eric Rauchway and Eric Hayot), what I'm mostly going to do here is offer my own little "to don't" list. Not as funny as Robert Farley's, but hopefully mildly useful and/or entertaining to someone on the eve of MLA! If anyone wants to follow up on anything I've written or hinted at here (in the process of revising this, I've systematically removed all the juicy bits), drop me an email and I'll give you a call.

Don't forget that you're going to be interviewed in that tiny uncomfortable little hotel room or weird picnic table among dozens like it because that institution's personnel committee (some of whom you may even in that room with you at MLA) thinks very highly of you and your work and wants to find out more about both. The overall job search engenders such self-doubt, anxiety, and paranoia that this point can be difficult to remember. If you're in the top 8-12 of a particular search, you should keep in mind that a good number of people in the department are already interested in your work, already think you will be a good fit at their institution, and already believe you could become a wonderful colleague. So pat yourself on the back for putting together fantastic application materials and go into the interview with some well-deserved confidence.

Don't be intimidated by the realization that the other 7-11 people being interviewed for that position are likely to be about as well-qualified and -prepared for the job as you are, but only 2-4 of you will be invited for a campus visit.. You could be the personnel committee's consensus #1 heading into the interviews. But the actual interviewers might have their own ideas before you even set foot in the interview room. But even if you're the consensus #12, you can only move up, right? The point is, you can't know where you stand heading in and, anyway, no matter how anyone looks on paper, what matters now is what happens during the interview itself. You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be good enough to get into the top 3 or 4 in your pool.

Don't forget that interviewing teams will express their interest in you/your work and approach the task of making the MLA cuts in varying and fairly unpredictable ways. The key is to suss out the situation as early as possible in the interview itself and react accordingly. Maybe you're interviewing with an R1 place that believes in "trial by fire." They see their job as zeroing in on the shortcomings of your research and limitations of your theoretical approaches in order to see how well you handle the kind of intellectual streetfighting at which they excel. They want to convey to the candidates that the job is stressful and the department ethos is competitive. Best 2-4 candidates at parrying the attacks and keeping their heads make it to the next round.... Or maybe you're interviewing for a position at a teaching institution and the chief goal of their interviewing team is to figure out how ready you are to do the job (in terms of teaching and service, particularly) and how their students are likely to react to you. They want to know how seriously you've imagined what living and working there would be like and how intensely you're interested in the position. Or maybe.... Well, the situations vary. If an R1 place has a pool of candidates who similarly distinguished themselves (or failed to) during the research portion of the interview, then the teaching part rises in importance. By the same token, a teaching institution may want to convey that they would be good colleagues to you and so go out of their way to engage you on your research. And really good interviewing teams will have an original opening question that sets the tone and terms of the interview to come--something inherently difficult to prepare for. The only rules of thumb I can propose given this variability are:

1) prepare for a variety of kinds of interviews, from worst-case (where the interviewing team is clearly looking for reasons not to invite you to campus) to best case (where they're clearly recruiting you during the interview);
2) do your homework on the institution, department, and interviewing team and try to anticipate what kind of interview it's most likely to be;
3) remember that you're interviewing them, too--you're picking up all kinds of information about the position, place, and people from something as simple as the kinds and order of questions you're asked, not to mention the body language, facial expressions, and interactions among the interviewers--so use it to help you decide what questions you want to ask them (unless they're the kind of interviewing team who's decided that opening rather than closing with, "What questions do you have for us?" is the best way to go).

Don't assume that everyone on the interviewing team was equally involved in the evaluation of initial applications or is equally familiar with the materials you sent them. One of the reasons the "tell us why your dissertation matters"-type question is so popular as an opening gambit in MLA interviews is that some people on an interviewing team may have seen only your letter and c.v., and then maybe only the night before--or the ten minutes before--your interview. So you should think of the interview as an opportunity to introduce yourself to potential future colleagues--another chance to frame your work and shape their image of you--particularly those whose engagement in the process is beginning at MLA. What do you think are the most distinctive features of your teaching and writing? What do you think you can contribute to their department that few others can? What doubts or qualms might an interviewing team have about your fit for their position/institution and how can you productively respond to them? You may be going over familiar ground for some of the people on the interviewing team, but they'll be looking for new twists on what you've already written or perspectives on what they already thought they knew about you--and everyone else will appreciate your starting from scratch for them.

Don't try to fit yourself into your image of their ideal candidate. "Be yourself" is the stupidest piece of advice anyone can give, except that it's probably the best. It's no coincidence that my grand total of 3 on-campus visits came out of the MLA interviews where I was most myself, or perhaps myself at my best. So think for a bit about what kind of professor you want to be, how you want your students and colleagues to see you, what you want them to say about you, and so on. If you're doing every day what it takes to reach that ideal, then doing your best approximation in your interviews is all you can ask of yourself. That way, you can take from even the most traumatic interviews lessons you can apply to the next.

Don't talk the interviewing team out of their interest in you, unless it's a job you decide during the interview you don't want. The first part sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, I've done it! It's amazing what comes out of your mouth when you're under pressure. (Not an exact quote: "It's hard for me to imagine how I can contribute something new to your department, given how my work overlaps with Professors X, Y, and Z's. But, uh... wait a second, I had a 'But' ready.... Uh, bear with me....") And the second part sounds impossible, right? But it's happened to me, too. And not because I had a plethora of prospects, either.

Don't bring your last interview--or your history of interviews--with you into the next one. Yup, stay in the present, don't fight the last battle, take it one shot at a time, etc. Easier to say than do--I still get flashbacks from my worst MLA interviews. (Really. They were that bad.) But even if you've just had the best interview of your life, that's irrelevant for the next one. If you have only a short time between interviews, focus on calming yourself down and getting your mind focused on the next one. If you have a lot of time, venting with close friends, analysis, reflection, and note-taking (to prepare for the [knock wood] on-campus visit) is in order, but let it go well before the next interview. Draw on any kind of academic and non-academic experience that helps you do this, even if it's something as apparently irrelevant as online poker or golf.

Good luck to everyone at MLA this year! And be on the lookout for further installments in this CitizenSE series, including a companion to Bardiac's advice on the campus visit and a response to Marc Bousquet on attrition, contingent academic work, and the academic job system.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just Checking: Is Everyone Sick?

The cough that doesn't go away for a month. The snot faucet. We've been passing that one along between ourselves here in the Constructivist household since before Thanksgiving break. Now imoto has the diarrhea thing. And both she and onechan have coughed so hard in the past week they made themselves throw up--imoto just a few minutes ago. Which reminds me that just about 11 months ago, we were worried about the norovirus hitting Fukuoka. Now we're wondering if it's hitting Dunkirk....

'Tis the season, I guess. Forget dust in the wind--we're all just vectors for microorganisms....

So how y'all doing in Blogoramaville? Everyone sick?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Off Trail, with Nashi and Kurari

Given how illness and overwork have decimated Citizen of Somewhere Else for the past month, it's time once again to consign another programming schedule to the recycle folder of history. I have a bunch of posts in various stages of ye olde writing process that are worth putting out there whenever I get them done, not on a day of the week that no longer even corresponds to my teaching schedule. My grades are due on the 27th, so don't expect too much going on here before then.

In honor of this being the last Family Friday post for awhile, however, let me note that onechan is like Tiger Woods in having a birthday come during the holiday season. Hers, though, is ten days before his, and, unlike his folks, we don't get her one shoe for Christmas (not least b/c we don't celebrate it) and one for her birthday, although we are almost as cheap. But when you have an imagination as rich as hers and a little sister as cool as hers, you don't need much stuff.

Case in point: onechan has been adding to our pantheon of imaginary characters. Unlike the mythical Saja and Suweet, however, her imaginary friends Nashi and Kurari are pretty much normal little girls. They're both Spanish, and they may be 6-year-old twins, although I have to check on that, because sometimes it seems like Kurari is Nashi's friend and sometimes her little sister. And sometimes it sounds like Kurari's parents are dead. My uncertainty stems from the fact that onechan rarely gives me updates on their lives, preferring instead to tell stories to herself about them and play with them. It was a really funny moment to me last night in my parents' hotel room (they made it for her actual birthday and will stay through her girls' party on Sunday, weather permitting--yeah!) when, in the midst of playing with her gift from them (a wood block stamp/colored pencils kit), she started telling them about her new friends. I don't know how much they caught, because she was kind of distracted and sounded like she was talking to herself, and they were very distracted for other reasons that I shall not be getting into here, but it was striking to me how casually she was speaking of characters she invented (and knows full well are "pretend"). It's amazing to watch onechan become a story-teller and to see how play and storytelling are so intertwined in her head and in her actions....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Welcome Valveteers; or, One Thing You Might Not Have Known About Bill Benzon

Bill Benzon just passed along my little plug for Marc Bousquet's How the University Works, so I'll let all you Valveteers (as in Rocketeers, Musketeers...) in on a little open secret: quiet as it's kept, Bill writes fantastic (in all senses of the word) children's literature.

For what it's worth, this post is rated PG (for procrastinatory gratitude).

Monday, December 10, 2007

How the University Works

Do yourself a favor and get Marc Bousquet's How the University Works--and of course visit his book's blog regularly. The journal he founded and I edited for awhile is doing just fine without us--check out the latest issue and back issues over at Workplace.

This academic labor moment has been brought to you by the letter W.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Whoops, Missed CitizenSE's Blogiversary

Don't be fooled by the date on the first CitizenSE post. This blog began on December 1st in Fukuoka, Japan, out of my dissatisfaction with having only 40 minutes to survey the various transformations of my Hawthorne project and reflect upon what they reveal about changes in my fields in an address to the Kyushu American Literature Society I would be giving the following day. So while I missed the blogiversary, I at least got a post in on the anniversary of the talk that inspired it. Which is better than I expect to do the rest of the month here. We'll see!