Beached

(Photo of Indian River Bridge by Jason Rudy. Photoshopping of Ruby on bridge by the Madwoman, with an able assist by Kiwiboy, Photoshop tutor extraordinaire, 8/19/12.)

Classes start next week at QTU, so we’re getting in some last-minute fun, sun, ice cream, and Photoshop lessons at a quiet town on the Delaware shore. We’ve kept half an ear tuned into what’s happening back in the real (and stunningly dysfunctional) world, which is why we can tell you that you really ought to go watch this Onion video on Tampa’s gay prostitutes gearing up for an onslaught of closeted gay Republicans coming to town for next week’s Akin-free convention. Srsly. Go watch it. It had four PhDs and a 12-year-old boy laughing so hard they nearly forgot for a moment that the party of homophobes, misogynists, and starve-the-beasters might actually run the country come November. Was I just musing here the other day about whether our political discourse could sink any lower? Why, yes, I believe I was.

Dear Universe: That was a rhetorical question. There was no need to supply dramatic evidence that the party of Lincoln had gone so completely off its rocker that it would bring the term “legitimate rape” into the political lexicon. Please stop — or I’ll have to run over to the old blog and pick up my laser-shooting vajayjay just to keep from going truly insane. Yours sincerely, The Madwoman.

Oh, and in case you need some guidance on how to tell whether your rape was legitimate or illegitimate — and, really, who doesn’t? — here is an informative and catchy tune to help you out. Click. Sing. You’ll feel better.

The Akins debacle has inspired Kate Harding to realize not only that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances but that American women should each have at least ten children to ensure that we are not depriving the country of the best and brightest. “Martin Luther King, Jr., was the second of three children,” Harding points out. “If his parents had stopped at one, who would have led the civil rights movement? International superstar Madonna is the third of six children. Had her parents decided to quit after two, we would live in a world without ‘Like a Virgin.’ Can you even imagine?”

Indeed, as the third of four children and a survivor of the disco years, I cannot! Wimmin, if your lady parts are still functioning, hop to! America cannot afford for you not to have as many children as you are physically capable of producing! You might have within you the seeds of the next Marie Curie! Or Kim Kardashian! Or Todd Akin! Get those buns in the oven before it’s too late!

If, on the other hand, you are not planning to fulfill your biological duty to the nation and plan to waste your time and love on really bad dogs, here’s a funny Tumblr devoted to Dogshaming. It’s pictures of dogs next to signs identifying their bad actions. For example: “I pooped by the elliptical machine.” “I ate a Herman Melville novel.”  If we were to submit one for Ms. Ruby this week, instead of “I went flying over the Indian River Bridge in my human’s blue goggles,” it would most likely say, “I went on vacation and forgot that tinkling is an outdoor activity.” Alas.

And if, on the other other hand, an orgy of syllabus-writing and other forms of back-to-school craziness have you rethinking your career plans, by all means go read this piece on leaving academe by Terran Lane. It clearly and succinctly maps out how changes on campus — e.g., centralization of authority and decrease of autonomy, budgetary contraints and pressure to raise money, poor incentives to do exploratory research outside one’s own speciality — have made higher education a far less appealing place to work in recent years. Reading it, I thought if I were a software engineer instead of an English prof who needed help from a 12-year-old to create an image of my dog flying over a bridge in a pair of swim goggles I might head for the exits, too. Hey, Google, got any jobs for a 50-something feminazi with limited no tech skill and a library full of queer theory? No? Well, thanks for your consideration.

Sigh. Looks like I’ll have to finish that syllabus after all. Later, darlings. Today, I’ve got a wave to catch. Peace out.

Who You Calling Chikin?

I work on a Chick-fil-A campus.

And a Pepsi campus.

A Capital One campus.

A Comcast campus.

Oh, and let’s not forget: A Northrop Grumman campus.

You, too? Yeah, welcome to the neoliberal university. I’m not a big fan of any of these companies, all of whom (yes, whom — because corporations are persons) either make crappy, dangerous products or engage in practices that are at odds with my own values and commitments, even when they aren’t flat out illegal. Only one of them is currently being targeted by a petition aimed at booting them off campus, and I’m guessing you know it isn’t the one that once employed Scooter Libby as a consultant.

Here is a link to the petition to remove the homophobic chicken purveyor from the sacred space of the food court in the student union at QTU. (Attention, new readers: “QTU” stands for Queer the Turtle University. It’s the pseudonym for my employer that I started using on Roxie’s World several years ago. The pseudonym is explained here.) I imagine there are similar drives being launched on campuses all over the country. There are, for example, at least two going on in that hotbed of homo-enablement, Kansas. By all means sign or launch one of these petitions if you feel moved to do so. I haven’t and I doubt that I will. On the other hand, I’m delighted to support the effort by QTU grad student Brian Real to get folks to donate the cost of a Chick-fil-A value meal (about $6.50) to LGBT causes and organizations tomorrow, August 1. That effort is a response to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s call to make tomorrow national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in support of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s recent declaration that the company supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.” Cathy said in a radio interview in June, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'”

Raising money for causes such as marriage equality or anti-bullying is an excellent way to shake our collective fist at Cathy’s bigotry, because it will materially help to counter the more than $2 million his company has contributed to anti-gay groups and causes over the years. That’s a positive tactic and one likely to be of significant political value, particularly in places like Turtle Country, where marriage equality will be on the ballot in November. (Hey, Turtles, if you’re looking for someplace to send your $6.50 [or more!], click here.) I would also support a boycott, but that would be pointless in my case because I haven’t eaten at Chick-fil-A since I escaped the malls of my Midwestern girlhood. I can’t, however, get behind the charge to kick the company off campus because, as the opening of this post suggests, the outrage here seems selectively applied. QTU did not, for example, kick ROTC off campus during the Vietnam war or over the military’s discriminatory policies on sexual orientation. As far as I know, there’s been no serious opposition to the university’s doing business with any of the other companies mentioned above, though I’ve heard rumors of contraband Cokes stored in top-secret refrigerators in rogue offices on campus. That is strictly entre nous, of course.

Look, consumers have every right not to give their money to companies whose policies or practices they find objectionable. Such withholding does not infringe on the company owner’s freedom of speech or religion, contrary to what the shrieking idiots of the right might want us to believe. I assert my own freedom by refusing to do business with homophobes, though, like a lot of bourgeois lefties, I manage to turn a blind eye to the labor practices of companies like Whole Foods and Apple because they sell stuff that I want a whole lot more than a fried-chicken sandwich. I would be delighted if Chick-fil-A would leave my campus because customers decided they would rather take their business elsewhere. I would feel uncomfortable booting them off campus for failing to represent the values of the university when it’s clear we don’t hold the vast majority of companies who do business with the institution to anything like that standard. We — and by “we” I don’t mean the administration; I mean all the consumer-citizens of the university community — turn a blind eye to the banks, cable companies, and defense contractors on campus either because they seem too big to fight or because they supply goodies we want. There are very serious questions here about who universities are doing business with these days and how we might pressure our schools to be more transparent about where money is coming from and how contract and licensing arrangements are made. We don’t look serious, however, if we target one chicken-$hit bigot and conveniently ignore the missile manufacturers in our midst.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong about this, Madpeople at your Laptops. Should I, as an official BDOC (you know — Big Dyke on Campus) be leading the charge to get the chicken-$hit purveyor of fried-chicken sandwiches off my campus? I’ll go pour a cold, frosty glass of unhealthy, illicit Coke while I await your replies. Remember, though, that tomorrow you are going to send $6.50 (or more!) to some totally gay cause or group as a way of annoying Dan Cathy, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and assorted other chicken-$hit bigots. Need help finding a cause or group? The Madwoman likes this one, because she wants Turtle Country to be the first state in the nation to win a vote on marriage equality. You choose your own, though. It’s a free country, right? Peace out.

(Image Credits: Picked up here and here.)

My Self Is Not a Tennis Shoe

Raise your hand if you’re an academic stuck in a mid-career funk, actively, perhaps even desperately, seeking ways to recover your professional mojo. (Don’t be shy. This is a brand new blog, so hardly anyone is here yet. No one will see what you do. Trust me.)

Now, raise your hand if the idea of rebranding yourself feels like the answer to your prayers.

No? Raise your hand if the idea of rebranding yourself brings a mild burning sensation to the back of your throat. Ah, yep — There are the hands. I knew someone was here!

No disrespect to Kerry Ann Rockquemore, whose series of columns on “Finding Your Mid-Career Mojo” at Inside Higher Ed is actually full of insight and useful advice for those who feel stalled at the middle rank, in the middle of life and career. You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?

You may well be talkin’ to this longtime associate prof, and I appreciate the exhortations to map my mentoring networks, identify my needs, and strategize ways to get my needs met, even if such suggestions focus my attention less on potential mentors than on potential therapists. Po-TAY-toh, po-TAH-toh, I suppose, eh?

Why, though, do I reflexively recoil from the assertion that jumpstarting a stalled career is fundamentally a matter of rebranding yourself? Why does such an idea make me want to shout from the nearest rooftop the line that I have used as the title for this post? Dammit, my self is not a tennis shoe, and I don’t think my career funk — if I am in one — will be dispelled by the academic equivalent of a new slogan.

Before someone calls me out on this, I will acknowledge that there is considerable irony in my revulsion from the notion of rebranding, given that I have spent more than a decade building and, yes, marketing an academic program and caring a lot about the program’s public identity or, yes, brand. I will also sheepishly admit that, just yesterday, I spent a considerable amount of time publicly rebranding myself in my social networks in connection with the launch of this blog. As I put down the dog, as it were, and put on The Madwoman, I redid my profiles on Facebook but especially on Twitter not only to call attention to the new blog but also to professionalize my online identity. I even joked on Twitter that I had finally figured out that madness is a clearer path to career advancement in the humanities than impersonating a dead dog, which I mention in order to underscore how much these questions have been on my mind as I have ended one online writing project and launched another.

Why, then, do I resist seeing rebranding as a solution to the challenges of mid-career slumps, funks, and stalls? It could simply be that I am reluctant, in this rare instance, to call a spade a spade. Denial aside, though, my resistance is also rooted in a desire for other ways of naming and framing our selves and our work lives. It would be naive to pretend that higher education is not a business these days, but I recall how thrilled we all were, five minutes ago, when the leadership crisis at the University of Virginia reminded us of the noble ideals and purposes that led most of us to choose careers in our various academical villages. We were reminded that such places are not corporations but communities of trust and that we all have a stake and a say in running them. I doubt that I’m alone in being slightly disappointed to see UVA President Teresa Sullivan claiming that the university’s just announced deal with Coursera, a start-up company aiming to open up university courses to the world, for free, “will in no way diminish the value of a UVA degree, but rather enhance our brand and allow others to experience the learning environment of [Thomas] Jefferson’s Academical Village” (emphasis added).

Talk of enhancing the brand may be Sullivan’s polite way of needling her nemesis, UVA Rector Helen Dragas, who tried to fire the president for moving too slowly in the direction of online education, but such talk is disheartening for what it reveals about university values and priorities. Universities overly focused on enhancing and protecting their brands can end up acting in ways that are profoundly — even catastrophically — damaging to the institutions as communities of trust. Excessive preoccupation with brand maintenance can cloud judgment and make smart, decent people do stupid, indecent things. I’m pretty sure, for example, that’s what happened to this guy, in this case.

So, if you’re in need of a mid-career pick-me-up — and, really, who isn’t? — , don’t think of it as rebranding yourself. Think of it as a recommitment, maybe even a reinvention. Go Mad if you have to and just do it if you dare, but bear in mind that your self is not a tennis shoe. And neither is your soul.

(Photo Credit: “Converse” by Flickr user Ian Ransley. Some rights reserved.)

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