Spring Break All Summer

In an uncharacteristic move, I just ate lunch. I had a nice crunchy vegetable roll at the sushi place in the big dining commons. Even more uncharacteristically, after eating the delicious sushi I thought “who cares” and went to the bakery and got a delicious little fruit tart thingy. I would honestly eat another one.

Why am I relaxed and chill enough to be eating lunch plus desserts all day long, you ask? Oh it’s not much, just THE FIRST DAY OF SUMMER BREAK

I have finally uploaded my grades, on the last possible day before the deadline. Now it’s time to just sit back, put on a pair of sunglasses, and wait for those angry student emails to roll in, baby!

I now have three hours to kill before my old man is ready to go home. He came to campus today to be on his student’s podcast; I only had to come to campus because of a literally bananas paperwork situation I’ve somehow become embroiled in regarding a late-add for an independent study. This has somehow entailed me needing to send multiple emails to not one but TWO academic deans, filling out at least six pieces of paperwork only to be told they were the wrong pieces, and the student in question sending me increasingly frantic emails because he’s supposed to graduate. I’m still not sure it’s all taken care of; please pray for all of us trapped in a nightmare bureaucracy.

A few weeks ago a ceiling in one of the practice rooms by my office caved in and water started pouring down onto the piano in there. Then maintenance came and put up a biohazard tent around the entire area with all this red signage that said DANGER ASBESTOS CANCER. After awhile that all went away, but then a sewage pipe busted and poured sewage into the percussion studio. I love that this is my daily environment and then for my research I go read a bunch of stupid shit artists say about how academics don’t live in “the real world.” I guess this is true, in the sense that in regular middle class society I would imagine raw sewage pouring into your office would be considered shocking and unacceptable, while here it is fairly normal. “In Mother Russia, sewage pours on YOU!”

I am re-reading David Lodge’s “Nice Work,” which is a satire written in 1988 in which a literary theory professor is assigned a totally absurd PR task where she has to spent ten weeks shadowing a titan of local industry, because of widespread antagonism toward the university along the lines described above (academia is an ivory tower, nobody there knows what a real job is like, etc.). There are all these hilarious descriptions of the money-saving rules imposed by the Dean of the college, like everyone in the English department having to share a single telephone, so then they’re all spending all their time running up and down the halls fetching each other to calls and missing all their tutorials. The Dean has said secretaries are supposed to save money on typewriter ink by using acronyms wherever possible, so then all campus communication becomes totally garbled and no one can parse these weird memos that they’re supposed to talk about at meetings. Anyway as a PR stunt the Dean decides a faculty member needs to go follow a businessman around for ten weeks and this junior faculty member in English gets stuck with the job because she feels like she can’t say no due to having no institutional security. She’s a specialist on the nineteenth-century industrial novel, and everyone keeps saying it’ll be good for her research to go hang around in a modern factory all day. It’s such a great book because both the businessman and the professor are wholly sympathetic and also Lodge spends time gently making fun of both of them. The reader is sort of compelled to see the value or at least the reasonableness in both their perspectives. Both of them live in a state of stressful precarity–she because she’s not on the tenure track and he because his factory is constantly on the edge of going under the production metrics that have been set by some CEO high above him. He’s depressed and unsatisfied without knowing why (capitalism), and she’s kind of an out-of-touch snob and doesn’t realize it (academic marxism). And they both learn from each other and it’s kind of absurdly heart-warming. He starts deconstructing the symbols in advertisements and she starts saying things like “YEAH BUT WHO’LL PAY FOR IT” when her colleagues complain about their shitty offices. He learns the difference between metaphor and metonymy and she gets really engaged in this complicated subterfuge he’s undertaking to find out which competitor underbid him with a client. She uses Freudian analysis to help him understand the weaknesses of one of his enemies; he teaches her how to negotiate like a hardass. Then he falls in love with her but she’s a liberated feminist who doesn’t believe in monogamous bonds and so she’s like “no thanks.” But then in desperation he gets the CEO of his company to set up ANOTHER PR scheme where HE has to follow HER around for 10 weeks. And he sits on her lectures and her tutorials and watches her advising students and gets his mind blown by Wuthering Heights and the history of capitalism and stuff, and is baffled by how hard she works for how little money. And they come to value and support one another via understanding and respecting one another’s labor, but they don’t end up together, they go back to their own worlds, both wiser and more fully actualized. Anyway I just gave away the ending but it’s great and it’s got so many inside jokes meant for readers who know about deconstructionism and Lacan and Freud and what the cold war academic critique of bourgeois norms was like. VERY FUN, I wish there were more books firmly set in academia, meaning books that actually deploy the minutiae of academia; books written by people with strong working knowledge of academia. Here are the ones I know, will you tell me if there are other good ones?
– That Don DeLillo one where the guy is the chair of Hitler Studies but can’t speak German. I couldn’t get into this book even though that is a great premise
– David Lodge’s trilogy
– Lucky Jim (spectacular)
– Stoner (very sad)
– The Secret History (sort of (fancy boarding school))
– On Beauty to some extent
– I just finished reading a kind of pretty bad novel but it’s written by someone who is married to a famous scholar whose work I know and the main love interest in the book is clearly based on this scholar and so how can you not read it? It was very fun to read

Oh yeah, I started googling and there are so many. There are like 100.
– Wonder Boys
– The Marriage Plot!!! What a piece of shit yet it does meet my criteria

How can I know which of these I’m googling are good? Somebody tell me. I am NOT reading Phillip Roth, I’d rather go to jail (exaggeration)

A long time ago we identified a dramatic new way to orient our living room that would require the purchase of a couple of very specifically-sized and -shaped pieces of furniture (e.g. a very short, unusually low loveseat). We looked with diligence for months, driving all over the place, driving to Vermont, driving 1.5 hours to various antique malls, and never found a single thing, then suddenly we found almost everything all at once in a store five blocks from our house. The last thing we needed was a square coffee table, and somewhere we’d heard about this outdoor antique market that happens in the summer 20 minutes from here, so one day we spontaneously decided to go. It turns out this thing is a HUGE DEAL. The traffic jam just to get into the town was like 2 miles long. Parking was $7 and even though we got there at 10 in the morning half the lots were already full. The market itself went on forever, it was endless. We walked for hours and never got to the end of it. It was so fun. I love walking around a gigantic outdoor market, and passing all the people who have bought innumerable weird random things and are now carrying them around in one hand while eating fried dough in the other hand. We saw people carrying: a stuffed deer’s head; two sections of a picket fence; a large cactus in a pot; a floor lamp whose base was made of wicker; a canoe; a Hudson Bay wool blanket; a styrofoam mermaid; a Japanese sword; and one guy riding a bike down the middle of the street with a stack of twelve dinner plates under one arm. Anyway we found our dream coffee table and took it home and considered it a day well spent.

The biggest thing on my summer to-do list is revising my book. I’m already done with the first pass through it and have rewritten the intro and conclusion and I’m sort of nervous now because this is always the point at which my brain fails me. I get a piece of writing to a certain level of smartness and then it’s hard for me to see beyond it, because I’m not yet smart enough to do so, even though I am smart enough to see that the piece of writing isn’t quite smart enough yet. So I’m scared and am taking today off and also tomorrow if I can stick to it, so I can bring refreshed eyes to it hopefully. If someone offered me the pill from Limitless I would take it, even though I know it’s a fairy tale whose moral is that attaining success without working properly for it will always bring sorrow in the end.

I haven’t done anything interesting but work on my book for so many months. I wish I had a cool adventure to relate. Thinking about writing a letter to our local paper expressing my displeasure with the way one of our town council members has been trying to trick us into letting big box stores onto main street, that sort of thing. Basically I guess I am leading the life you’d pretty much expect of a 40 year old professor.

I’m doing a new thing where I set an alarm while I’m writing and every hour I get up and do a bunch of pushups. Soon I will be buff, strong, sleek, and healthy, how great

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6 Responses to Spring Break All Summer

  1. dv says:

    I love that Don DeLillo book, but it’s kind of heavily “written by a dude,” which I think would be off-putting to many people.

  2. Drea says:

    The Secret History is not set at a “fancy boarding school!!” It’s set at a small liberal arts college that is a transparent stand-in for Bennington!!

    There’s also “Moo” by Jane Smiley.

  3. elizabeth says:

    Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher is very firmly in that niche. I think you would love it.

    Also, my most recent adjunct gig was in a very tall tower building. There was a single bank of elevators serving the library plus like 20 floors of offices and classrooms. A pipe broke and flooded three of the four elevators, which also turned out to unleash some sort of asbestos issue, so the choice was to stand in line for 45 minutes to get to my 15th floor office, or ride the cancer-vator. Ivory tower to the max!

  4. elizabeth says:

    P.S. I’m so glad you ate lunch!

  5. erin says:

    Oh, I love Lucky Jim and Stoner so much (though it is heartbreaking). I will definitely check out that David Lodge book, it sounds great.

    I need to re-read White Noise I think. I remember not liking it a lot, but it’s been almost 20 years (!) since I read it.

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