Monday, October 6th 2014

We Talked, They Listened (Mostly), Then They Made Things Worse

A list of things in my house, in approximate descending quantitative order. I may have left a few out, and the list may be biased because I did a free association where one thing led me to think of another. But! It’s a list!!! And, well, if you have any issues with the accuracy or inclusiveness of my list, I’ll just make a longer one, with more stuff that I find important, using possibly worse and less inclusive metrics to determine it as I did the first time.

  1. Microbes: oh I don’t know, a whole whole lot
  2. Dustmites: also a whole whole lot, but probably a bit less than microbes
  3. Face mites (thanks Ed Yong! I know this makes it looks like you gave them to us, but I’m going to leave this parenthetical comment as is): I don’t want to think about this, but I know it’s a lot
  4. Legos: many, many, many
  5. Books: this is a family that likes to read
  6. Socks: we also like to wear socks
  7. Fleas (thanks to our collie and no thanks to the completely useless Frontline Plus!): almost eradicated, but they persist in this one dog’s fur
  8. Issues of National Geographic: over one hundred
  9. Pieces of unfolded laundry: under one hundred
  10. Underpants: under one hundred but more under than the laundry
  11. Chocolate chips: just made cookies so less than usual
  12. Children’s hair clips: oh dear god they hurt almost as bad as a lego when you step on them
  13. Green tomatoes from the garden because we were about to have a frost: yum
  14. Baby carrots: one bag
  15. Issues of Runners World: we recently culled them, so fewer than in the past
  16. Rolls of toilet paper: about a dozen
  17. Overdue library books: less than a dozen
  18. Humans: three
  19. Cats: two
  20. Dog: one

Wednesday, October 1st 2014

Ninety minutes


I’m going to share some vignettes from this week, because I am feeling disjointed. Each of them only took ninety minutes.

  1. I’m in a lunch meeting with fellow faculty who have won a prestigious campus award for our research. When we begin to discuss what we excellent researchers should do as a group, the administrator in attendance says that our job should really be to produce “grateful alumni.” He means donors, of course. And when I push him on this, and say I am uncomfortable with the idea that my research should ever be in the service of producing grateful alumni, he backtracks and claims that he meant our teaching. But this is a meeting about research, about researchers who have won awards for research excellence. This backtracking does not go unnoticed in the room. This uncomfortable lunch takes ninety minutes.
  2. I was a panelist at the Academic Freedom Forum on Monday. I am one of several people who share that, because of their identities as a woman or underrepresented minority or both, that their experience of this university and its supposed protections of academic freedom are quite different from the white men in the room. The concept that there are two (at least) Universities of Illinois starts to emerge – north and south of Green, but also the differences among male and female, black and white. Humanities versus the sciences. Tenured versus not. Of course they have always been there. But I’ve never been so clear on my place in the hierarchy as I was in the ninety minutes I was on that panel. I knew exactly where my identities and political positions put me, and I think everyone else was feeling it too. I knew who was in my posse… and who wasn’t.
  3. A mental toughness coach was scheduled to visit the University of Illinois, and I contacted him to see if he would meet with our roller derby league and offer his perspective. He gave us ninety minutes of his time, after we expected someone so famous to only be able to give us twenty to thirty. He says a lot of things that resonate with me, about leading a mission-driven life and being loyal to your own mission. He talks about finding success when letting go of an achievement-oriented perspective. Towards the end, he says (and I’m paraphrasing as closely as I can): “People say the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but the grass is greener where you water it.” And I was swept up in that moment by a number of intense emotions.

I have been trying to water the grass, but this grass needs a lot of water. It needs a whole fucking irrigation system, and the people who have the resources to build that system are exactly the ones diverting the water. They look over the fence at our peer institutions and think their way must be better, so they mimic them, never once looking at those of us creating a human chain of buckets, desperately trying to water the grass they have been neglecting. I feel community among my bucket brigade, but I also feel faintly ridiculous. We are tending the lawn as those in power are discussing whether to re-landscape the whole thing. I wonder what it would take to tend this grass properly and help it flourish. I wonder if we could ever get those in power to see what we see.

Do we keep watering?

Do we build our own irrigation system with whatever resources we can muster?

Do we find our own patch?

I don’t know. I don’t know.