Excellence WITH Money: Or, Dreaming While Academic

If you are bored senseless by the details of other peoples’ dreams, move along. If, on the other hand, you are a caring, sensitive person who realizes that literary critics have dreams that are finely wrought allegories chockfull of wit, wisdom, and the kind of symbolism that comes from taking Lacan way too seriously, then stick around.

True Story: I’ve been busy lately, embroiled in a high-stakes, high-stress initiative having to do with securing the future of the happy little academic program I’ve spent the last decade or so of my career trying to build. I’ve been staying up late, working on proposals and worrying about budgets and pondering the difference between the perfect and the good. The other night, I was up extra late, but by the time I went to bed I had begun to feel that I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. (Tunnel? Oh, boy. Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud. You’re wanted in the Dream Lab!) My sleep was restful but full of vivid dreams, one of which clearly, hilariously demonstrates the psychic costs of academic administration in an age of austerity. In the dream, I was talking to a dean, and not just any dean of course but the dean who oversees my happy little program. We were reminiscing about my tenure as director, which is, by my choice, currently winding down. (Eleven years, people. Eleven years!) We were both feeling nostalgic and mutually admiring, and so I asked her at one point how she had managed to give my program such generous support over the years. She laughed conspiratorially, leaned closer to me, and explained in a hushed voice that in the dean’s office they had discovered a special key on one of their computers that was connected to a fund nobody knew about. They didn’t know how much money was in it and fully expected that it might disappear at any time, but they figured that for as long as they could they would just keep pressing the button to make funds available! So, presto, at the click of a magic button, the wise and generous dean doles out the resources needed to produce Excellence WITH Money!!!


Oh, sandman, you candy-colored, revenue-enhancing clown, I heart you so. Why must you abandon me in the sober light of morning? Why must I awaken into a world of MOOCs and kooks and the grim realities of Excellence WithOUT Money? (Many of those realities are documented and kvetched about here. There’s even a movie, featuring an entirely fictional program director and a 100% imaginary dean having a completely hypothetical argument about resources. That’s here.)

You have to admit it’s a funny dream. How do you read it, o skilled interpreters of texts and souls? Straight-up wish fulfillment? One hopeful colleague, a medievalist by training, insisted it was prophetic. Another, perhaps more cynical, comrade pointed out the resemblance to the cheesy Staples “Easy Button” campaign.

Me, I just like a dream in which the characters laugh and behave well rather than cry or shout and behave badly. It’s nice to suppose that some of the psychic stuff churning around in the unconscious shows some faith — yes, I’ll call it that — in the decency of one’s self and others. Some nights, perhaps, one glimpses an answer to the question, “What do I stand for? What do I stand for?” and falls gently back to sleep, with the faint trace of a smile on one’s lips. “Oh,” one says to oneself. “That was a good dream. I’ll have to try to remember it.”

And remembering it, one passes it on, with a simple, stubborn wish: Sweet dreams. Some nights, you do know.

Hillary Clinton: A Few of My Favorite (Recent) Things

My Favorite Photograph of Hillary Clinton Ever and Current Facebook Profile Shot:

hrc on the hill

Hillary Clinton testifies before Congress regarding the September attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. 1/23/13. Photo Credit: Linda Davidson, The Washington Post. Via.

My Favorite Homage to Clinton that Is Guaranteed to Make You Wet Your Pants But Will Also Give You Invaluable Advice for Dealing with the Mansplainers in Your Life: It’s here, and if you don’t follow that link you will never know how to raise your hands, as Hillary did on the Hill, in just the right way to convey “’What’s your point?’ and clown the mansplainer for not having an actual relevant point.”

My Favorite Local Tidbit About How Hillary Clinton Is Spending Her First Moments as a Private Citizen in, Like, a Bazillion Years: A friend announced on Facebook that her father ran into Clinton shopping at a Whole Foods this weekend. He conveyed appreciation for her work, and she said thanks. Is that not the cutest thing you’ve heard all day? Question: Was she gearing up for a Super Bowl party or getting ready to hunker down for the Golden Girls marathon that the Hallmark channel put up against the Festival of Testosterone-Fueled Violence on CBS? Discuss.

My Favorite Early Assessment of Clinton’s Legacy: This terrific piece by Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast. Despite imagining that Clinton’s civilian shopping would be at Safeway rather than Whole Foods, Tomasky offers a smart, sympathetic overview of her varied career. I especially liked what he had to say about her most recent job. Too many other assessments have given Clinton credit as a good manager of the state department and a hard-traveling global celebrity but have sniffed that her tenure lacked a singular great achievement. Tomasky points out a number of places where Clinton played a vital role during a period of unprecedented tumult, but he also notes that diplomacy isn’t what it used to be because the world isn’t what it used to be: “Diplomacy just cannot be conducted today as it was by secretaries like George Marshall and Dean Acheson. There are so many more countries, so many more issues; so many more people in the developing world trying to assert themselves and shape their own destinies as they did not back then.”

My Favorite Line from the Obama/Clinton Interview with 60 MinutesI don’t have one, really, but go watch it. It’s a hoot to watch the former rivals be all lovey-dovey and “we understand each other because we’ve been through the same stuff” and “who cares about 2016?” while Steve Kroft tries to figure out how the heck he managed to snag this unlikely interview. It’s like Scandal, without the murders and the election-rigging. And the hot inter-racial sex.

Most Amusing Attempt to Speculate About Clinton’s Future Prospects: Byron Boneparth in Slate, wondering if Clinton’s “terrible taste in typefaces” will sink her presidential chances. Knowing what a profoundly superficial people we are here in these United States, I have to admit I’m troubled that Clinton would opt for such an aggressively un-cool typeface in her letter of resignation. Poor Richard? Srsly, Hilz? Suggestion: Let whoever bought your fabulous nerd eyeglasses pick out typefaces from now on. Trivial things matter, as you well know.

Wisest Attempt to Speculate About Clinton’s Future Prospects: Gail Collins, who will (I predict and hope) one day write a brilliant authorized biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, said earlier this week,  “if the last several decades are any indication, whatever Clinton does will involve extraordinarily diligent-but-unglamorous work, coupled with occasional hair-raising disasters, which she will overcome with a steely resolve that will make the world swoon.” Collins’s last line captures beautifully the way many of us who have watched and worked and worried and thrilled and sobbed and marveled over Clinton’s journey in the last twenty years are hoping/imagining she feels as she ends one stage and contemplates the next:

No regrets. Onward and upward.

Amen. Thank you, Madame Secretary. Enjoy your well-deserved breather. Call us if you need a spa date or a ghost-writer. Or, you know, someone to organize Iowa. We want you to win there next time.

hillary 2016

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