Archives for March 2011

Views from spring break, part III

He likes to pick apart the camellia buds that have fallen from the bush in my parents’ yard:

Grandma, at my sister’s baby shower:

Baby shower cupcakes:

Flowers in my mom’s garden:

Fang, actually relaxed even though he is not at home:

Views from spring break, part II

I have a strange compulsion to photograph my dad when he’s using his camera.  It helps that Dad is photogenic.

Finally, I think this image nicely sums up my last month or so.  (Embiggen to read the sign.)

Views from spring break, part I

I’m on spring break and carrying my camera everywhere, as I’ve found I’ve been lousy about documenting the boy’s life recently.

I call this one “Suburban boy taken hostage by mother and forced to pose listlessly in front of world’s largest ammonite”:


The Triangle Shirtwaist fire centennial

Today is the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

I encourage you to reflect today on all the rights union organizing, and especially women’s organizing, has since earned workers–and what we’re in the process of losing.

The Lemon Trees

We received more news today about Grandma’s cancer.  She may have as little time as three months.

We’re all very sad.

This poem has comforted me this evening, as I have indeed seen Grandma’s lemon tree through the half-shut gate, among the leafage of a court.

I hope it comforts my family as well.  You, too, may find it heartening at the end of a long winter.

I’ve included a recording of me reading it, made on my laptop in my home office, so it’s a bit echo-ey–but if you prefer audio, there it is, below the text of the poem.

The Lemon Trees

Listen; the poets laureate
walk only among plants
of unfamiliar name: boxwood, acanthus;
I, for my part, prefer the streets that fade
to grassy ditches where a boy
hunting the half-dried puddles
sometimes scoops up a meagre eel;
the little paths that wind along the slopes,
plunge down among the cane-tufts,
and break into the orchards, among trunks of the lemon-trees.
Better if the jubilee of birds
is quenched, swallowed entirely in the blue:
more clear to the listener murmur of friendly boughs
in air that scarcely moves,
that fills the senses with this odor
inseparable from earth,
and rains an unquiet sweetness in the breast.
Here by a miracle is hushed
the war of the diverted passions,
here even to us poor falls our share of riches,
and it is the scent of the lemon-trees.

See, in these silences
in which things yield and seem
about to betray their ultimate secret,
sometimes one half expects
to discover a mistake of Nature,
the dead point of the world, the link which will not hold,
the thread to disentangle which might set us at last
in the midst of a truth.
The eyes cast round,
the mind seeks harmonizes disunites
in the perfume that expands
when day most languishes.
Silences in which one sees
in each departing human shadow
some dislodged Divinity.
But the illusion wanes and time returns us
to our clamorous cities where the blue appears
only in patches, high up, among the gables.
Then rain falls wearying the earth,
the winter tedium weighs on the roofs,
the light grows miserly, bitter the soul.
When one day through the half-shut gate,
among the leafage of a court
the yellows of the lemon blaze
and the heart’s ice melts
and songs
pour into the breast
from golden trumpets of solarity.

— Eugenio Montale, trans. Irma Brandeis


Anxiety and Overwhelm

Image by James Lee, and used under a Creative Commons license

I can’t recall the context, but one of my colleagues, a full professor, mentioned recently that she enjoyed encouraging new faculty and really wished she could help junior faculty work more quickly through the anxiety that attends the first few years on the tenure track.

I don’t think she was referring to me; I’m not really feeling any anxiety, so I hope I’m not exhibiting any.

I wanted to take a moment to puzzle out why this is so, as while I am very laissez-faire about many aspects of my life, I can be a bit, ahem, obsessive about others. It seems to me that if I was going to feel anxious about anything, pursuing tenure, and especially on my institution’s clock—we go up for tenure in year 4 or 5, which seems to be a bit faster than elsewhere—would be an excellent catalyst. I’m hoping my musings will help others in similar situations—and their mentors—identify those factors that might ease anxiety. (Note: I’m listing my experiences here, not giving advice—your mileage may vary.)

I’m a bit older than many of the people I’ve seen on the job market at conferences and on campus interviews. I’m 35—I’ll be 36 this spring—and I’m significantly more comfortable with myself than I was in my mid and late 20s. (I loved my 20s, but they were more of a confidence-building decade than anything.) Those extra few years of life experience have made me more secure in my identity.

My colleagues are all very supportive and let me know, without prompting, that they think I’m doing a great job. They’re exceptionally kind individuals, quick with a laugh or (mostly) harmless snark, and they’re full of invitations to coffee or lunch. They offer good advice, and they clue me in to the subtexts of conversations that have been going on for years. And they totally consider me to be an honest-to-goodness historian–and even better, a public historian–which still makes me smile when I think about it, as it’s absolutely the right disciplinary home for me and my work.

The scale of the university keeps it from feeling overwhelming. The student body is growing quickly, but I feel as if the faculty community is still a size that makes it reasonable to get to know people in other departments. I’m participating in various “Faculty Connections” groups through the teaching center, and I’ve joined a faculty interest group on community outreach. I’m collaborating with folks from across the disciplines on a creative project about women in science. The university’s president knows my name* and recently asked me to come chat with him about possible directions the university might take with regard to instructional technology.** A week or so ago, our college’s dean hosted lunch for a group of new faculty, so she’s very accessible, too.

I suspect my years of working in non-faculty positions also have helped to decrease any anxiety I might be feeling. My jobs have tended to be either public-facing or in service to very large affinity groups (e.g. university faculty, parents of elementary-age students). I’ve had to work with a lot of different kinds of people, and I know my years of consulting with faculty on technology and teaching helped me get to better know, from a position of relative equality (versus the student-professor relationship), the various genera and species of faculty.

Last—but certainly not least—my domestic partner in crime has done much to bolster my confidence. Prior to meeting him, I was always a bit shy and unsure how to interact with strangers. Fang has modeled a particular way of engaging with the world that has proved salutary to me. He has a facility with people–he both plays with them in ways they might not recognize (I’m not so good at this) and is tremendously talented at putting himself in other people’s shoes (I’m learning!).

Yes, I feel an occasional twinge of nervousness about the whole tenure process, but for the most part I’m confident in my work and in my place in my department and at the university. I suspect I’ll feel even more confident after making progress on my book this summer and getting those three articles out the door.

What about you? What has bolstered your confidence at work and in life? And what have you done to help make “new” people (in whatever context) feel less anxious and more confident?

*OK, that may be more because of my rantings about the campus’s acquisition of a Chick-Fil-A than my academic brilliance. But still. It’s nice.
**He’s actually invited me to chat a couple of times. But I’m waiting until the state legislature is no longer in session because there’s too much batshit insane stuff going on in the statehouse, and methinks his attention is a bit divided at the moment.

Welcome to the New Clutter Museum

The Clutter Museum is dead!* Long live The Clutter Museum!

After 867 posts at the Blogger-hosted Clutter Museum, I decided the institution needed a new home. As I don’t have the budget for a starchitect, I opted for tweaking** the Pretty Young Thing child theme that runs over the Genesis framework.

Starchitecture! (The Contemporary Jewish Museum)

“Wait. . .” you’re thinking. “You paid for a theme when there are so many cool free ones?” Well, yes and no. I didn’t purchase it just for The Clutter Museum, but we did buy the Genesis Pro Pack, which gives our little home business permission to use it on multiple sites. If you’re in need of a site for personal or professional use, drop me a line at trillwing -at- gmail -dot- com, and I’ll hook you up with Fang, who has been designing lots of sites based on the Studiopress child themes. At the moment, Fang is grateful for the work, and friends of The Clutter Museum–that’s you!–will get a discount. </shameless plug>

Why didn’t I move to WordPress before now? Sheer laziness. I was puzzling over how to move both all the old posts and their images (images are the sticky wicket) from Blogger, when I had a revelation: I didn’t need to move them–a link in the sidebar would be sufficient, yes? (We don’t need no stinkin’ SEO.) I’ve been using WordPress for years–all my other websites are on WordPress.

So, anyway. . . Help me christen the site by smashing some champagne bottles in the comments section, won’t you?

* Or, rather, on ice.  The archives will remain on Blogger.
** And expect more tweaks. I’m obsessing.

Photo by Christopher Chan, and used under a Creative Commons license.