Monday, January 31, 2005

Work Load or just a load

Total pages written this week: 1
Running total: 1


I am struggling to keep up at work. It is a good and a bad thing. The fact that I'm struggling actually means that I'm doing a key part of my job and people are starting to come to me for projects and help. However, I'm not sure I can handle the work I've created for myself. I have some strategies for dealing with all of this which I will hopefully begin implementing tomorrow. I'm also--reluctantly--planning to do a little work tonight.

One of the hardest things to deal with is all the little stuff. And nothing bothers me more when the little stuff that falls in my lap is the result of some other system not working. For some reason, for a lot of these things, I am where the buck stops. Another thing that bothers me is people that ask for help on things that are clearly documented, right in front of their face and they haven't tried following the instructions; they just call me. And I end up saying, "See that big button? Click it." It's like people who look in the refrigerator for pickles and they're right there on the eye-level shelf, but they don't see them and they don't really look either--no moving around of jars or anything--and then they yell, "Honey! Where are the pickles?" Too much of my job is like that. At least I get paid for it, I guess.

What's funny is I was telling someone that I do realize some things need to be clearer, have better documentation, etc., but I haven't had time to do that cause these people keep calling me.

Monday Random Thoughts

Why, oh, why, can't I get a handle on paperwork? Why do I wait until the pile is overflowing, spilling into the floor, before I go through it?

I wish I could hide away from people at work today, so I can get some things done.

Want to make a trip to the library and get some books I need. Maybe I'll print out the references before I leave.

I need a day off. Can I take Friday? Maybe. Maybe I can let the kids come home that day. Oh, wait, can't take Friday--running a workshop. Ugh.

Really need to work on the presentations.

Lists, I should make lists.

Put the headphones on and block everyone out.

Why won't the snow go away?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

On selfishness and a room of one's own

One of the things the NYT article implied, but didn't outright state, was that blogging was a little selfish. It was taking away time from the kids. I've been thinking about this lately, simply because my own extracurricular activities have taken some time away from things I could be doing with the kids. And the home kind of fell apart over the last few weeks. I mean, we were living on pb & j and hot dogs, mostly because I had too much other stuff to do, none of which I really had to do. The world does not need another novel and it won't be the end of the world if I don't finish the book club book. But I was driven, nonetheless. And I feel a little selfish when I take the time to do this. But in a way, I feel entitled. I sacrificed a lot when I had kids--career, money, and mostly time. Now that I feel like I can afford to regain some of that, I feel like I should rather than donate it all back to the kids.

I spent this afternoon at a play date and spent a lot of time talking to the mom--who has five kids, aged 9 mos. to 12. She works one morning a week. She has no time for herself. She's very organized, but she has activities for the kids 4 out 5 days a week and one on Saturday. I really enjoyed talking to her, but I thought, wow, she would never understand my reading and writing habits.

Which brings me to the room of one's own. We have a 4 bedroom house. One bedroom for each kid, one for us, and one is Mr. Geeky's office. My "office" is in the bedroom. It's not bad, except that my desk is too small, I have no bookshelf (instead, there's a closet with shelving and the books share space with the sheets), and there's very little space for filing and computer peripherals. And it's too dark. I was complaining to Mr. Geeky and he made all these suggestions--a new desk, some good lighting, move the sheets. And I said, but it's still in the bedroom. I'm not entirely sure what would make me happy in terms of space, but I think the reality is I would like my own room. Not going to happen any time soon. I've been using the laptop from work on the weekends (blogging in bed at the moment) and I light being able to move from spot to spot. I'm not really fixated on being in one place. I like changing locations to do my work. So maybe the answer is a laptop and a moving desk. I don't know. I just know that I feel cramped in my current space and I don't like working there. I have made a goal for myself to write 15 pages/week in hopes of getting to 200 pages by 5/1. I need the space in order to accomplish this.

So, in order to not feel so selfish, I got off my butt in the late afternoon, went to the grocery store, did all the laundry (including putting it away) and straightened up a little around the desk area. At least I can sail through this week without worrying too much about housework. Now if I can get the work area settled, I'll feel a little less cluttered in both the house and in my mind.

Living like white trash

For the last week, I have not really left the house--except for work. We are totally out of food, except for hot dogs. My solution? Go to 7-11 and get buns, chips and soft drinks. We also have milk and cereal. It has been freezing and the snow is still around and I'm just tired of it all. We've also been scrimping a bit on the money--waiting for my reimbursement for my conference. I can't seem to muster the strength to make a a full-blown trip to the grocery store. Basically, I've done nothing but watch tv and blog all weekend--in between loads of laundry. I feel like a slug.

I had a particularly rough week at work and I think that's my main reason for feeling sluggish. Usually I do something on the weekend-write or read. There's still time I suppose, but now I'm thinking--who cares. Too bad there's no football. Then I could gorge myself on beer and junk food. That would really round things out.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Yes, I'm the Mom in the title

Bitch Ph.D. posted today about the NYT article on parent blogs (or mommy blogs). And Clancy had her two cents to add, which was worth at least a quarter since she was interviewed for the article. I think about this whole mom and dad blogging thing quite a bit. I don't think they're narcissistic as the NYT article claims. There are only a handful of them that I enjoy reading, mostly because I find them amusing or interesting or they cover topics besides parenting. There are a few blogs I've visited that mostly talk about their kids--all day, several times a day. These I don't read. Blogs that show how kids are interwoven with the rest of their lives appeal to me more. It's just like my not reading parenting books or magazines anymore. I don't need that kind of information or reassurance anymore. But I think a lot of people do, and blogs are much more personal, specific and immediate than magazines. People you know are even more immediate, but if many people out there are like I was in the early days of the kids, I didn't have a lot of people to turn to.

I have Mom in the title which I suppose implies that that is a key part of my identity and that I'm going to write about being a mom quite often. I don't really though. In fact, using a quick and dirty search and count, it seems that about a third of my posts are kid-related. I think that's probably about right. About a third of my life is taken up with kid stuff. Now figure that I'm at work 40 hours/week and you can do the math about how that adds up.

People who blog about their kids rather consistently have legitimate reasons for blogging about them, especially those at home with their kids or not at home with infants. They probably spend 75% of their time dealing with kid stuff. The NYT article said something about how no one seems to realize how hard it is to have a kid and that's what people write about all the time. Well, yeah, it's hard and hard in ways you don't think about. I started thinking about why it's hard and came up with a partial list.

The Practical:
1. For the first year of life, you get no sleep. If you're crazy and have another kid before the first one is sleeping through the night, then god help you.
2. Even after the first year of life, there are still plenty of times you don't get sleep. Nightmares, middle of the night vomiting, fevers, bedwetting. This can last until the age of five or six at least.
3. Laundry increases dramatically. I told my bil that I do 2 loads a day. He gasped. It's not really true since I tend to do it on the weekend. I did about 6 loads of laundry today and probably have 3 more to do, not counting the sheets. It takes a long time to do laundry.
4. You feel obligated to cook healthy meals. This costs more money as well as takes more time in terms of cooking and cleaning.
5. If you're working, you shell out for child care. Oddly, this means you can't afford nice clothes for work anymore.
6. If you're not working, you spend a lot of time speaking in monosyllables (if your child in under 3). You also spend a lot of time coming up with creative and interesting things for you kid(s) to do. (I know a woman who is a master at this).
7. Carting your kids here and there, to activities, birthday parties, friends' houses.
8. College fund--need I say more?
The emotional:
1. Post-partum depression. I had it. Not fun.
2. Fear. Fear of something horrible happening to your kid. First, this is fear of you doing something horrible to your kid. Who lets you go home with these tiny things anyway? Then you start fearing they'll do something to themselves, like jump off the roof thinking they can fly or trip while walking down the sidewalk and crack their skull open. Then you start fearing other people. My current fear: sexual assault on my 9 year old. I didn't say these were rational fears.
3. Anger. You get mad at your kids sometimes. They get mad at you. You get mad at your spouse for doing this to you.
4. General anxiety about how your kid is doing. Are they happy? Do they have enough friends? Are they doing well enough in school to get into the college of their choice? Will they hate me later for not letting them participate in some activity or another?
5. Joy. I was not joyous when my kids were born--didn't have that moment they always show on tv where the mom says how beautiful the kid is and oohs and ahs. Not that kind of person. But I like looking at my kids asleep. They seem so peaceful then. I feel joy when they do something nice for another person. Really. I am most proud of them when they're showing compassion and empathy. It means I've accomplished something and reminds me that they're paying attention.
6. Laughter. Lots and lots of funny moments. Today, Geeky Girl got her first zack (aka zit). At Christmas, this quote had us laughing for days: "Look dad, Santa already came in your stocking."

Those last two aren't what makes parenting hard. But they the emotional roller coaster you tend to be on. On any given day, I might go through all of those emotions and have to deal with all of the practical things. No one tells you all of that going in. I don't think there's any way to.

Funny, this was going to be a post about how I don't really identify as a mom, so it's weird that I have it in the title, but it turned out quite the opposite. I guess you can't take the mom out of the geeky mom.

The adjunct track

Jocalo writes today about the problems of the continuing reliance on part-time faculty and how they might be resolved. I have been thinking about this because I have thought every once in a while about going back to teaching on a part-time basis, but then I remember what it was like to be an adjunct. Jocalo says that some places still pay $1000/class. It's not that bad around here. The going rate is about $3500. I used to teach two classes a semester for a grand total of $14,000/year. Woo hoo! Part of the reason for the need for part-time faculty is the reduction in state spending on education. While this doesn't affect private schools, they often follow suit. I've seen that happen around here. In fact, I started out at a large state institution, then moved to a private school and the private school actually relied on more part-timers proportionally than the state institution.

An administrator suggested that the public would never support the increased spending necessary to support teaching in the humanities. This is one thing that completely frustrates me. At a previous state institution where I worked, the state legislature cut spending every year I was there. This meant that our composition classes increased nearly every year. I started out with a fairly reasonable class size cap of 18. By the time I left 6 years later, that cap had increased to 22 and there was talking of bumping it to 25. Nearly all those classes were taught by graduate students, many of whom were excellent teachers. It's just a fact of life, though, that the larger the class, the harder it is to teach well. Composition teaching requires a lot of one-on-one time. I used to hold at least three require conferences a semester. The more students you have, the greater the chance of having to reduce those conferences. One might even reduce the number of papers required, giving the students less practice at writing. And it is definitely possible that the comments you make on those papers will decrease and be less specific to the particulars of the paper. All this increases the possibility that students leave the institution without having the skills necessary to write well.

We consistently heard from business leaders that this was indeed the case. Students were graduating with the inability to communicate well. To my knowledge, these business leaders never went to the legislature and said, we need to increase spending on education. Everyone expected us to do more with less.

At another session at the same conference, discussion centered around offering more flexible full-time schedules. I might have stuck with teaching if I could have found a full-time gig that offered a decent salary and benefits. I'd even do service. I just wasn't interested in the research treadmill or tenure. I could imagine myself teaching a 3-3 course load and being required to do a certain amount of service. There was only one place that offered non-tenure track full-time positons. The pay was good, the benefits were good, but the load was 4-4, which is pretty hard to do in composition.

There just are that many inroads into academics. Talk about lack of choice. You either get a tenure-track job or you're relegated to the adunct track. Surely there are lots of options in between.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Paradox of Choice: A Review

Not only did I get to read Paradox of Choice, but I also got to participate in a rather lengthy discussion about it with some really smart people (including Eric Behrens, who organized it). It was kind of like being in a class where everyone really wanted to be there, had done all the reading, and were at basically the same level of aptitude. You don't get that often. I'm going to talk about both the book and the discussion here.

First, the book. I liked it generally. There was a little bit of economics (opportunity costs and such) and a little psychology (happiness scales) and a little bit of sociology (how does this issue affect broader social patterns). I like that mix of information. The Paradox of the title is simply that we think having more choices makes us happier when, in fact, for a lot of people, the more choices they have, the more unhappy they are. The rest of the book went on to prove this premise using a wide variety of actual studies.

Schwartz divides people into two basic camps--satisficers (those who make choices using a certain number of critera and when those are met, they choose) and maximizers (those who have lots of critera and who must be certain they have chosen the best possible option). In realty, he says, we are often satisficers about some things and maximizers about others. In buying a house, I became a maximizer. I had to see everything. I always was afraid to commit to something because something better just might be out there. I spent many, many weekends driving around and looking at houses and hours and hours on the internet finding more choices. To some extent, I still think about what might have been and have moments when I'm not happy with my choice.

And there's the rub. We pay a lot to make choices--in time and energy. If we don't like our choice in the end, we not only regret that we might have made the wrong choice, but we regret the time we spent making it. We feel depressed. One thing Schwartz points out is that people often have expectations that are way too high. In the case of my house, I imagined from driving around here that I'd find the perfect house, an ideal house that I'd built up in my head. No house could meet those expectations. Even if I did find the perfect house, I wouldn't be satisfied because those expectations could never be met. I'm already disappointed even before I've bought the house.

The other insight I garnered from this book was about how our choices or our reactions to our choices are affected by our obsession with status. I have always had problems with this myself. I'm always comparing myself to others, mostly in terms of financial status. I'm always thinking my car isn't nice enough, my clothes are nice enough. This was a real problem when I lived in a wealthy area of town. When I would go to the grocery store, there were bmw's, jaguars, and mercedes in the lot next to my pontiac minivan. Inside the store, women were drowning in jewlrey and furs or looking sleek in a designer business suit. I felt shabby by comparison. I knew I couldn't live like that anymore and moved myself to a more moderate part of town. Though I certainly try not to do any comparing at all, now when I do, I'm just as likely to compare favorably as not, so it all evens out. Schwartz points out that there are so many forces that make us do this comparison--advertising, the cultural push to always progress.

How do we stay happy even faced with all these choices that make us unhappy? The most important thing we can do is to be more grateful for what we have, to constantly remind ourselves that what we have is good enough. Just reading the book and being aware of things like expectations, adaptation, regret, and opportunity costs helped me to put some things in perspective.

The discussion was great. We're reading this in the context not just of how we might use the ideas in it for ourselves, but also apply them to our organizations. The biggest issue that arose in terms of this was our culture of consensus. All of our schools are founded on Quaker principles. The principle of consensus functions in all of meetings and decisions. All of us find this frustrating at times and just want someone to decide something already! We talked about setting criteria ahead of time and limiting the number of criteria, of perhaps designating someone to be the ultimate decision-maker as ways to resolve our frustration.

We also talked about recognizing when you're dealing with a maximizer and how to alleviate any disappointment they might have as a result of something you decide for them. The group had a lot of librarians and they talked about limiting the search choices when working with students on doing research. Those of us in IT talked about people's high expectations about the end results of projects or people's indecision to choose colors for a web project which might be helped by limiting their choices to just three schemes. Or we discussed filtering choices for people. Having a small group narrow the field from 50 to 3 and presenting that to a larger group.

There were so many really good things that were said that I can hardly bring them all up here. It really was wonderful to be talking about this with so many interesting people.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Ack!

I got nothing done today! After several emergencies in the morning and a pleasant book discussion over lunch, I got a flat tire on the way back to my home campus and waited by the side of the highway for an hour for AAA. Thank God for AAA! I'm feeling really stressed out now and have done nothing but work--after dinner and a bath--since I got home. I'll be doing more work after the kids go to bed. There are just too many things that need to be done. Sigh.

Just a to-do list

Attend to some administrative Blackboard stuff
E-mail someone about a video editing workshop
Prepare for discussion about Paradox of Choice (more on this later)
Finish re-designing two websites
Finalize documents regarding summer program
Send out e-mail announcing tomorrow's workshop
Prepare for tomorrow's workshop
Finalize student worker schedule
Set up account for someone to use image viewer
Help internal candidate prepare for job talk

I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but that'll do for now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The choices I made

How did I get here? Is this my beautiful wife?

I started this post writing about choosing college, a major and graduate school, but realized that though some of those choices had cultural elements to them, they were primarily made separate from those issues. My choice of graduate school I made for two reasons: 1) it was the best school I was accepted to and 2) it wasn't in the South. I was feeling stifled in the South as a woman, so in some sense that was a cultural decision.

My bigger choices didn't come until I met up with Mr. Geeky. After a whirlwind romance, we ended up living together. Initially, we thought we'd finish our graduate programs at the same time. He'd just taken--and passed--his qualifying exams and I was in a three-year writing program. By our calculations, we'd be on the job market at the same time. So we began our enterprise thinking we were giving equal value to both our careers and that we would weigh any decisions about the future based on this premise.

My career faltered. In the last semester of my last year, I was denied funding. It had been a struggle for me to get funding in the first place, so after a long battle, I felt defeated. In addition, Mr. Geeky was not going to be finished at the end of that semester and in fact, could not pinpoint an exact date. Then his career falter, when he had to do major revisions on his dissertation proposal, making a date for completion even harder to determine.

As I saw it, I had two choices with regard to my career. I could find the money to finish, apply for jobs and get the heck out of dodge. I had applied for some jobs and was getting soundly rejected--and the pay sucked. I considered Ph.D. programs. I knew I couldn't get into the Ph.D. program where I was and after taking classes with the students in that program wasn't sure I wanted to. My other option besides getting an academic job or going to a Ph.D. program was to find a way to stick around with Mr. Geeky. Of course, this depended to a great extent on where we both thought this relationship was going.

So I asked Mr. Geeky to marry me. This was really difficult because I had decided that if he said no, I was going to pursue options that took me far away. I would basically be leaving him. Of course, he said yes. So now, I could still scrape up the money to finish my program, but it wouldn't really gain me anything since I had punted my plans to pursue an academic career or a Ph.D. I chose to get a corporate job and support Mr. Geeky in his sprint to the finish. Though I made some efforts to finish my degree at first, after a while, I just gave up. I didn't have enough money to pay for the classes I needed and I didn't have enough time to do the classwork or work on my thesis while working a 9-5 job.

An alternative to this whole scenerio, I suppose, is that Mr. Geeky and I could have decided to privilege my career over his, but we didn't. The chances of my career actually going anywhere were slim (given the academic market and given the slim demand for poets). Mr. Geeky was in a field with plenty of opportunities, both in academics and in industry.

We married; we had our first kid. We had our first while I had good insurance and we had money--a very practical decision. We had no idea what our future would bring, so it seemed like the right thing to do. What I didn't realize at the time was how hard it would be to juggle having a kid and a career. If making decisions was harder with Mr. Geeky in the picture, it was even more difficult with a child. Having a child in the picture meant you had to think about child care and where you lived in relation to both child care and work, and how flexible your work schedule was in case the child got sick or their school was closed. A lot of little things suddenly factored in to every decision we made.

Mr. Geeky's first job took us to a third-tier state school. I spent a year at home with the first child deciding whether I wanted to find another job or go back to school. I didn't like just having a job--like I'd had for the end of Mr. Geeky's graduate years--so I opted to go back to school. I enrolled in the Ph.D. program (a requirement when Mr. Geeky was looking for a job) in English. I loved it. I was doing well. Since it wasn't a ranked school, there wasn't a lot pressure. I went to conferences. I ran the Graduate Student Association. I was having a great time.

Mr. Geeky, not so much. And once again, we were faced with choosing which career to privilege. And once again, we chose his. Unfortunately, the timing of our move couldn't have been worse. I had just completed my exams and was ready to start writing my dissertation. At the time, I thought that it was good because I'd be surrounded by resources and great libraries and it would be great and I'd finish in a couple of years and then look for a job in the area--probably at a community college. What I didn't realize is that I didn't need resources, I needed support. It's hard to cobble together support from people you don't even know. I was an adjunct, so I never became part of a community where I could participate and get support. I was surrounded by women who'd all put off their careers to support their husband's academic careers instead of trying to cobble something together the way I was.

I struggled to write. I had primary care of the children. I met my son after school. I stayed home when they didn't have school. I treated my writing like a 9-5 job. I got the first chapter done. I sent it off to my advisor. I continued to write and read and I waited. I got a devastating letter back. The first chapter was horrible. Good ideas, not quite connected, not enough footnotes, parts are poorly written. My one source of support had shriveled up. Once again, I had to decide. Do I struggle through this and finish? Or do I give up and move on to something else? I had been very resentful about moving here in the first place. I think deep down, I knew that it would be hard for me to finish my degree away from my support network. This was the second time I'd had to leave friends behind against my will.

My new friends gave me lots of advice, which was useful because they were somewhat objective. Mr. Geeky was mad at my advisor and he said I should switch advisors and topics and write a thesis about technology and writing (my real interest at the time) and just whip through, be done and decide what to do after that. Someone else suggested sitting down, writing the whole thing fairly quickly and submitting the completed thesis without any input from my advisor. Another person suggested abandoning the whole project, turn it into a novel, become famous and throw it back at my advisor.

The truth is I was tired of being poor, tired of struggling through something that wasn't going to gain me much financially. I had been looking at my job prospects and the best option was a non-tenure track job teaching 4 comp classes a semester (talk about 80 hour work weeks). My last semester as an adjunct had been disappointing. I hadn't enjoyed it that much. Did I really want to pursue a teaching career? Because that's what the degree would get me. Not a teaching and research career, a teaching career. I decided against. It took me a year to make it official but I didn't regret it at all. It was painful writing every day. I didn't like it. It wasn't going to end in something wonderful. There was no potential in it.

Perhaps if Mr. Geeky had been willing to stick around at my home institution or if I had been willing to live without him until I finished, I might have finished. But neither of those were options for us. In the end, I suppose I didn't care about my career enough to push options that would have benefited me. Is this a result of a bias toward always privileging the man's career? Possibly. Maybe I didn't push because of that bias. I don't know.

Though I struggle to some extent with my decision to work as opposed to staying home. In reality, my working has given us as a family a greater chance to succeed. We had racked up a considerable amount of debt getting each other through graduate school. My working has allowed us to get that debt under control, to purchase a house, to enroll the kids in activities and camps, to go on family vacations. We would not have been able to do those things without my career.

And now, even my dissertation has a new life as a historical novel. I don't kid myself that it will be sold or that anything will become of it, but the process of writing it has made me enjoy writing again and I now have two other book ideas going. I'm reading more than I ever did (well since junior high). I feel intellectually stimulated both at work and in what I choose to do outside of work. In the end, my choices led me to this place. I think I have constantly asked myself what would make me happy and that has always been a balance of financial security, intellectual stimulation, and opportunities to be with my family. It's hard to find that balance. And I think there's always a struggle between balancing one person's needs and desires with another. I've been lucky in some ways in that Mr. Geeky usually took my needs into account, but certainly this last move was primarily his needs to move his career foward.

Well, that's a long winded way of saying nothing happens in a vacuum. And I didn't even give all the details, all the little things that affected our decisions. If you read this far, I commend you. I hope it was worth it in some way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A little levity at my expense

Ok--so things have been pretty serious around here lately--which is fine with me, but I thought I might need to mix it up, lighten the mood a bit before launching back into some serious stuff. So tonight, my body accommodated such a desire for humor. Tonight, as I was coming down the stairs from the kids room, my shoes (and feet) came out completely from under me and I fell on my butt and slid about 4 stairs (there are only 4 stairs, btw). Now it hurt like hell--and still does--since said stairs are wooden. But thinking about myself flailing about, completely out of control kind of makes me giggle. I mean, I totally had no control. And, like the great plasma screen incident, make me think of Richard Simmons. Which made me giggle.

So here I am, with a hell of a sore butt, completely determined to blog despite the pain. Oh, and I should say, that I now have complete faith that Mr. Geeky can care for me in my old age. The man picked me up off the floor and put me in bed and then took off my shoes. I think he thought the shoes were the main culprit here and should not be allowed anywhere near me.

Choices, choices, choices

My entanglement in the Summers' fiasco was probably poorly timed as I'm in the middle of reading The Paradox of Choice (nearly finished). I'm hyper aware now of making choices. While I believe that, according to Schwartz, I'm a satisficer and therefore, settle for the good enough, I also believe that I don't make choices in a vacuum. My choices--the big ones mainly--are affected both by very obvious constraints, but also subtle ones. The subtle ones are the ones that became more obvious during the whole Summers debate I found myself in.

Elizabeth, at Half Changed World, is discussing Family-Friendly policies based on reaction to the Brooks article in the NYT (which I read) and linking to all kinds of resources. She is very intelligently discussing the issue of providing more options to women in terms of policies that make it easier for women to make choices about entering the workforce. Interestingly, as she points out, in both Brooks and Gilbert (the specific response she is discussing), men are left out of the equation. No one is pondering policies to make it easier for men to choose to stay at home. Yes, these are all phrased as "parent" but the policies are based on trends among women in the workforce.

I have a post in my head that will have to wait about my own choices and what they were shaped by. I have little regret, but I do think about the ways my choices were affected by things totally out of my control and so subtle I did not recognize them at the time.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Woman's Work

Thank you all for your thoughtful input stemming from Summers' comments specifically on the 80-hour work week required to do science. I appreciate everyone clarifying their points and apologize for misquoting or misrepresenting. As I said in the post just previous to this, this is an emotional issue for me (not sure why, just is). Anyway, I agree that perhaps one ought to expect an 80-hour work week or more for jobs at prestigious universities. But if, as most of the commenters argue, you can't work 80 hours a week and be a mother, then all the mothers are excluded from that work. I hope I'm stating that correctly, but I think that's what some of you are saying. I said somewhere that perhaps a mother could work 80-hours a week if she weren't the primary caregiver, but as Ben pointed out, that's usually not the case. So what do we do? Accept that most mothers are not going to become great scientists? Maybe. Are we missing an important viewpoint by not having more mothers as scientists? And what happens when a female scientist becomes a mother, thinking she can handle both, but then can't? Do we just accept that? Maybe we do. I'm sure similar things happen to men--job expectations are greater than they thought, a family illness comes up, etc. and suddenly he can't do the job anymore. The issue I have with the whole conversation--not necessarily with any particular arguments anyone has made--is that I think it sends a message to women about what they can and can't do. If Ben is right, and most women want to be mothers and they're thinking about what career to pursue and also thinking about being a mother and they know that being a scientist involves an 80-hour work week which can't be balanced with their desire to be a mother, then they might exclude that as a career choice.

And there are other careers like that as well. It's a biological fact that women reproduce. But it's a sociological issue about how we as a society deal with that fact. Some people might advocate for dealing with it within each individual family. That's fine--a perfectly logical solution. I'm simply advocating for the conversation to take place about what society's role might be in preventing some women (mothers) from pursuing certain careers because there are barriers in place that conflict with her role as mother. Maybe that makes me want a warm and fuzzy world. Frankly, I'd like that. I want to help people; it's just my nature. But I certainly don't want to prevent anyone from working 80 hours if they want. And I certainly appreciate the results of some of that work.

I haven't the answers to these issues, but I'm very thankful that Ben, Vera, Suzanne, and bitchitude were willing to share their thoughts and help me shape my own.

Monday Random thoughts

There is lots of snow. I like snow, but not when it's 3 degrees outside and when I have to be at work. The kids have a delayed start this morning.

I realized that the whole men and women are different and the work/family balance issues are very emotional for me--in an angry way, not a sad way. I am in a good spot right now and am also contributing to educating women in the technology field and hopefully sharing my experiences in a way that will encourage them to fight for better balance. But still, it makes me angry. I want to continue to explore this in a more objective way.

I have a big, big week ahead. Search committee duties, dealing with students, getting the lab up and running, working on a couple of presentations and who knows what else will come my way. I think that's the biggest difference between my job and that of a professor. Very few random tasks fall into a professor's lap; my day is made up of them.

Go Eagles!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Can women be scientists? The argument won't die

Over at Mother-in-Chief, the argument spawned by the Summers' comments still rages. A commenter there argues all kinds of things about women, like that most want to mothers and are genetically incapable of being scientists. I posted this response to his latest comment. I was so mad, I was shaking. I encourage you all to check out the discussion. Suzanne has been very reasonable in the face of this person's ridiculous statements. Here's my response to him:
Ben, your statements are absolutely ridiculous. I was an academic and my husband is a scientist--who does not work 80 hours a week and is well-recognized in his field--so I can speak for what an academic life is like. First, you make this statement:

"The reason that there are so few outstanding female scientists is that most women want to be mothers, and hence would have to be part-time scientists."

Where's your evidence for this? How do you know most women want to be mothers? And it takes two to tango, so usually a decision to have children is not just the woman's but a couple's decision with the man involved. Because usually, as Suzanne points out, women are working before they have children, so lots of shifts are going to have to occur in order to have children. The second problem with this quote is that they do not have to be part-time scientists if they have a supportive spouse at home or good daycare or a combination of both. You can have children and work full-time. I do and it's mostly thanks to a supportive spouse and good childcare.

Another statement you make is about the way science works and you use this example:

"A web designer who produces 300 lines of code a day can be just as good as one who produces 1200 a day, just slower."

In fact, a web designer who produces 300 lines of code is better because the page will be lighter and load faster; they're more efficient in the long run, so this was a bad example and you obviously have no idea how programming works, so you've lost your credibility. I think at times the same could be true of science, depending on the science you practice.

Suzanne is not necessarily asking for part-time in all careers, but for flexibility in all careers. The definition of worthwhile is subjective, so while your definition of worthwhile might be publishing in Nature, someone else's might be applying that published research in a clinic in rural Arkansas. The person who applies that research might be a female scientist at a state school who has worked out a flexible agreement where she teaches only on Tues./Thurs. mornings, leaving her time to research on M,W,F mornings and afternoons when she can pick up the kids from school and then take them with her to the clinic where they learn how to give back to the world. If her spouse is supportive, she may also be able to work more than that, especially if his work is also flexible, so that some days he is the one meeting the kids instead of her. You have to think outside the box sometimes and academics, for all its liberal thinking, rarely thinks outside the box when it comes to its own working conditions and requirements for tenure. Ben, get out some and talk to people, especially some of the women in your field. Find out what would work for them. In my experience with the female scientists with kids that I know, they accomplish just as much working their 40-50 hours as the single man who "works" 80 hours.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Reading, not Writing

I ended up not writing today. I had to make a trip to the grocery store before the 20 inches of snow settled in. Since I have two books to get through, I decided to do some reading instead. I'm in the middle of Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice. It's interesting so far, but we'll have to see how it turns out. I'm reading it for a reading group at work, which I'm excited about being a part of. It's an opportunity to have some intellectual discussions with some smart people, something the faculty are able to do quite frequently, but the staff don't get the opportunity too often. I miss that about being an instructor. There were always plenty of lectures, discussion groups, and conferences to participate in. And there are still plenty of those, but we're not always encouraged to participate. Other tasks get in the way.

I was thinking about the way I've filled my life with all these extra intellectual pursuits--reading, writing, blogging. When I stayed home with my son for a while, I tried to do the same thing, but I don't think there were as many outlets then, or perhaps I am better at motivating myself. I was much more isolated then too. In a small rural town surrounded by people whose interests were completely different from mine. Now I'm in a bigger city with more options in terms of people to relate to.

I was just thinking about all of this because I was realizing how important it is to me. But it seems like it's more valuable to me as a hobby than as something I do for a living. I wouldn't want to depend on my intellectual pursuits for my livelihood. It's part of why I think about staying home so much, now, as opposed to 10 years ago. Now that I've developed some things that I'm interested in, I think being a mom as my main job with reading and writing on the side could work. Then again, I turned my previous hobby into a career. It would be a long trek, though. Just something I've been thinking about lately.

Writing day

I have plans to write today. I'm not feeling particularly motivated, but I'm just going to do it. Last time I did this--two weeks ago--I ended up with 27 pages. If I can get the same amount done this weekend, I'd be more than halfway through my rewrite. The goal is to get beyond the already written and into some new territory so I can just finish the damn thing!

It's also supposed to snow 18 inches between now and tomorrow evening. At some point, I will need to make a trip to the grocery store so that we don't starve to death. Maybe I'll send Mr. Geeky . . .

I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone's blogs over the last few days. It's been very rewarding. Mr. Geeky still doesn't get it.

Friday, January 21, 2005

One heck of a busy day

I didn't pee until 3 o'clock. That's what kind of day it was. I like being busy and the kind of things I was doing were interesting (for the most part), but I need some time to sit back and digest everything that happened.

At 3 o'clock, right before I peed, my office mate, Web Guy, came running over to me in the lab and said, "Did you see the plasma screen go by?" I said, "Is it here?" thinking that Language Guy's new plasma had arrived and Web Guy was on his way over to watch the set up. "No," he says, "your plasma screen." So Web Guy chased down the guys carrying out the plasma, asked them where they think they're going. The department secretary follows quickly, which was a sight to see, let me tell you. As the plasma-carrying guys are loading the plasma into a truck, they tell Web Guy their boss told them to do it. Likely story, said South-Philly-native Web Guy. He tracks down someone, who calls someone who tells him an upper management person arranged for someone else to "borrow" our plasma until their brand new 65" plasma arrives in 3 weeks. Never mind that I'm using the plasma (that's now on a truck on its way to another building) next week and the two following weeks for some workshops. Never mind that I was having a student design a nice slide show to display when the screen was not in use. If the whole scenerio of Web Guy chasing down two guys with a plasma screen in a fit of heroics (followed by the secretary, of course) weren't so damn funny, I'd be really pissed. I was really pissed actually and yelled at several people who had nothing to do with it just to get the yelling out.

After that I had to pee (who wouldn't?). Then I was in the kitchen getting some tea and suddenly starting thinking about Richard Simmons' "Sweating to the Oldies" and went back to tell Web Guy, who was reliving the whole episode with some other co-workers and between Richard Simmons and the whole plasma screen fiasco, we were both in hysterics. People offered us drinks, but I think they thought we should be institutionalized.

By then, it was 4:00, and I finally started checking my e-mail. This weekend, I have to read two books, write, and watch football. Not sure how I'm going to make it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Thursday random thoughts

I am drowning in laundry. There's just too much of it. And I don't really like doing it.

Exercise is really hard to fit in. I went for 5 days without exercising, then finally exercised last night only to realize that I probably won't today. I'm going to be somewhere else until 8. I could exercise when I get home . . . we'll see. The cold weather is not helping my motivation.

I want to have another writing day(s) this weekend. It's supposed to snow so this will probably have to take place in my own home.

I have a lot on my plate both at home and at work. I'm not panicked yet and I keep reminding myself of how much I've accomplished. Work is annoying right now because it's the time of year when I have lots of interruptions. I want to write up some papers and work on two, yes two, presentations I've been asked to give. I need a quiet stretch of time.

I helped some faculty get a grant, but it's likely I won't get paid--because I'm staff, not faculty. The two faculty are trying to advocate for me.

I lost a bet with Mr. Geeky and so I'm on kid duty every night this week. It's cramping my style. :)

I can't wait for the weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sexism redux

I wasn't going to post on the Lawrence Summers fiasco because so many other bloggers have and have done so quite eloquently, but given my own recent personal experience with sexism--my own and others'--I felt compelled to comment. What really prompted me though, was a Echnide's post on the matter and the resulting commentary, which is thoughtful and polite unlike some others, which I haven't seen.

I have to say that it is utterly chilling to hear about people taking difference and turning it into better and worse. Have none of these people taken feminist theory 101? Oh, probably not. Too many science requirements. On the first day of feminist theory (and this would actually go for ethnic/cultural studies as well, any study of difference), you learn that basically people have a tendancy to take the differences between men and women and determine which characteristics are valued more than the other. Sometimes this is conscious and sometimes not. And the results are usually that any characteristics that are male are better than the female characteristics. E.g. being physically stronger is better than not; being taller is better than not; being aggressive is better than not. As you can see by my examples, many of these characteristics and not exclusively male--some women are taller or more aggressive. But society often negates these characteristics when they show up in women; they become bad.

I think a lot of sexism and racism is very subtle now and leads thoughtful people like my colleagues and male scientists to assume that it doesn't exist anymore. But it does.

Some personal examples:

People rarely ask Mr. Geeky about the kids. They ask him about his work. I get asked about the kids. (Both men and women do this and it infuriates me because I have always worked and Mr. Geeky and I are truly 50/50 parents).

I only had one teacher encourage me to do Math and Science (thank you, Mr. Chandler) and everyone else pushed me to do English. Honestly, who knows where I'd be if someone had really supported my efforts in math and science.

My daughter is already--at 5--encouraged to play with dolls more than to play video games and do math. We're constantly trying to combat this. We do math quizzes at dinner and in the car. My son plays video games with her. I dread junior high.

At my recent conference, the split between men and women was pretty even, until you went to sessions geared toward "decision-makers"--CIOs and the like. Then, it was predominantly men--and white men at that.

Once, Mr. Geeky noted that the men with stay at home wives seemed more productive than the ones without. He said he felt a little weird about being home for dinner every night and a little jealous of their seemingly endless free time, but that he would never want me to stay at home just to make him more productive. It would make both our lives less fulfilling, he said. This may sound more sexist on his part than it was. It spawned an interesting conversation about productivity and the family unit. Yeah, we're disgustingly geeky.

___

One of the thoughts I had regarding the 80-hour work week (which is common in the IT field, too) was that in the sciences and the IT field, whether you work 80 hours or not is more visible than it is in the humanities where you might do a great deal of work at home and no one knows whether you've been working or taking care of the kids or juggling both. If you're in a lab running experiments or hacking around on a server (which can be done from home, but most people don't do it that way), you're visible and people know if you're there or not. Students see you; colleagues see you.

The 80-hour work week is ridiculous no matter what field you're in. Mr. Geeky has the occasional late night, but it's usually at home. And I, too, pitch in frequently in off-hours, but we both only do it when we want to without letting it interfere with family life. I think science would survive and perhaps even be better if we allowed the 80-hour work week to die.

The thing that infuriates me about the whole assumption about women in science is that it's obviously a complex issue and it seems--based simply on the few blog posts I've read--that women are quite willing to explore many reasons why this might be--social, genetic, flat-out discrimination--whereas men tend to say that a) there must be a genetic difference because b) there is no discrimination anymore; we fixed that already. There are exceptions, of course. It's just something I've noticed.

Anyway, this wasn't quite the thoughtful post I'd hoped for, but really, it's hard to post about something objectively that you basically live every day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Art vs. Science; Form vs. Function

This coming fall, my husband and I are teaching a course together. We're actually teaching two sections of the same course, but we'll be using the same readings and syllabus. We've been thinking about this course for a while, but just now feel we're at a place where we can teach it. I originally wanted to do something on Rhetoric and Technology without my husband, but we settled on teaching a class on blogs and blogging that we're calling "Web of Influence." We've had many conversations about it, which have been exciting, and we have a wiki where we're keeping track of things we want to use for the class.

Last night, we had our first argument. Over blog software. He cares about functionality (so do I); I care about its aesthetics. I have been working--as I mentioned in my last post--on tweaking an existing piece of software. It's not perfect, but it has potential. It is flexible, and comparatively speaking, much easier to manipulate. My husband says it looks amateurish and besides, it doesn't *do* what he wants it to do. I said I wanted the ability to change the look of individual blogs easily, to allow the students to do some simple "decorating" if they want. And that's when I find out he doesn't want individual blogs, but a group blog, a la Crooked Timber. Fine, I say, but I still think it should be easy to add links, change the colors, add pictures. Nah, he says, all I care about is does it do x, y, and z.

Let me just say that I don't claim to be an expert on blogs, blogging, blog software, etc. But I read about 120 blogs a day. I post in two blogs almost daily and a third about every other week. I can tweak CSS and html to my heart's content. Mr. Geeky, well, he reads Slashdot and Groklaw and occasionally, Crooked Timber and Tim Burke (who we both know personally). But that's it. He doesn't have his own blog. So I feel like I have a little more experience than he does and a better understanding of the blog gestalt than he does (at least within the group of blogs I read regularly).

But this whole discussion goes deeper than the functionality vs. the aesthetics of blogs. We've been having this discussion for 15 years. No one has come out a winner. The discussion is a pitting of art/form/aesthetics vs. science/function/practicality. When we met, I was a poet; he was a computer scientist (still is). I cared deeply about art and aesthetics. The way things looked, felt, smelled, sounded, and even tasted was important. I noticed them. He was interested in code--beautiful, simple, elegant, but primarily functional. At first, we merely co-opted parts of each other's world views to suit our own purposes. I began writing poems about mathematical equations, space, and chaos theory. Mr. Geeky came to poetry readings and art films.

Later, though, the division became a matter of finances. I was paid less than he was. Science was valued more than literature at least according to graduate assistant pay. Once Mr. Geeky achieved Assistant Professor status, there were even more financial issues. Positions were eliminated in the humanities and increased in the sciences. More money was available for travel in the sciences than in the humanities.

I also approached the topic from the beginnings of scientific inquiry with Locke and Bacon and Hume, Galileo, Kepler and others through a Renaissance Rhetoric seminar. We ended up spending a great deal of time discussing the shift from a more artful, metaphoric way of writing to a more practical, logical way of presenting an argument. Of course, logic had been a key part before "science" gained ground as a real discipline, but the value of certain rhetorical devices, ones that elicited emotions, for example, began to fade. I brought the class discussions home. There was agreement on the shift and even agreement that sometimes scientific writing and rhetoric are "too" logical and unappealing to the general public, but still no real meeting of the minds.

In our technology purchases and use is perhaps where the division is greatest. I am not opposed to function. I like things that work well, but I want them to look nice too. After spending years staring at a black box while writing, it is delightful to have my sleek iMac, white and gleaming facing me instead. Mr. Geeky--still looking at the black box. Though I am no designer, I like to play with the look of the web sites I maintain. I think about where to place information, what color the fonts should be and how big in order for the site be aesthetically pleasing enough to keep people coming back. Of course it must be functional or people will be frustrated, but if it's not pleasing to look at, you won't entice them to dive deeper, to explore. It's one of my biggest complaints about a great deal of open source software. Yes, much of it is functional. There is elegant code behind it, but it's ugly. The buttons look like the ones we saw in 1994. The color schemes tend to be blue, gray and black. There is no thought about the design. Mr. Geeky--only open source.

I like a nice marriage of form and function. It's why I like my iMac so much. It works really well and it looks really nice. I think if we're going to be immersed in a technological world, it had better look damn good. Hopefully my real marriage can survive our art and science divide. But if the past is any indication, I think we'll be agreeing to disagree.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Some resources from the conference

I'm going to be lame, but since I promised resources, I'm going to point interested parties to my other blog. Please don't make fun of the design. We're working on it. We're customizing a rather ancient, open-source blog software. It's coming along, but with the start of classes, we haven't had much time to work on it. We had to meet a lot of requirements and there just isn't a perfect software out there--as we quickly learned. My link will also expose me to the world, but of course, that's not why I'm anonymous here; it's the google factor. I'll have another post about some more interesting information tomorrow, especially for those of you who create online components (in Blackboard or WebCt, etc).

I have spent my evening hours working on what looks like 3 years' worth of laundry and catching up on the blog reading--boy you people write a lot. I had to do some skimming, but it was good to catch up.

Some things I noted and may or may not write about myself:

-The whole Lawrence Summers fiasco
-Michelle is anxious about her teaching
-lots of people are writing or revising articles and book chapters
-the poetry meme--which looks really fun

Funny how the mind works--sorry for the lack of linking--too tired--must sleep.

Overindulgence

I haven't written because I drove 4 hours to attend a friends 40th birthday party. At said party, I drank too much, stayed up too late, got up too early, and I'm still paying for it. Everyone else here has the day off, so they can sleep in and generally recover. Me, I have to work. It's the first day of classes, so it will be busy. I don't know why I do this to myself. I think I'm going to have to add something to my resolution list--moderation in all things, especially drink. Yesterday was quite painful. I have to remind myself that I'm not 20 anymore.

While I was indulging, however, we had a contest where we all had to read a Bush quote. I won the contest, hands down. The next morning, people were still talking about it. So at least that's something, right?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Report on the fun stuff

I have a lot of cool ideas and resources that I want to share with everyone. But first I wanted to post about the fun things. Although I was the only person from my home institution at the conference, three people from one our consortial schools were there so I hung out with them for meals. We were in Baltimore, so there was plenty of crab and seafood to be had. I at crab at two meals and one of those meals was a seafood buffet, so I had crab in multiple ways at that place.

Last night we at at Pazo, an absolutely fabulous Mediterranean style restaurant. They serve "small plates." You order 3 or 4 per person and everyone shares. I had some of the best raw tuna. Really everything was good. And there was good wine and dessert and coffee. The whole experience was really cool. The best part for me was the small portions. I am a tiny person and I prefer to eat in little portions throughout the day. I also get bored with a meal pretty quickly, so if there's a lot of one thing, sometimes I just quit eating because I'm bored. So this was perfect. I was able to eat small amounts and never got bored because something new was always showing up at the table. I highly recommend it if you're in the Baltimore area.

Schmoozing wasn't fabulous, but nice. These conferences are a little different from academic ones because people tend to come in groups of 2 or more, so everyone has someone to talk to at the breaks, whereas I'm standing around alone. The institution name was really small on the badges, so I couldn't walk up to someone and say, "Hey, I see you're at _____, I'm at _______, right down the road" or "Hey, I see you're at a tiny college. Me too." I did however manage to talk to some people who had implemented something that we're implementing this semester and some people who do exactly what I do--nearly the same job responsibilities--which is very unusual. The discussion about virtual communities was probably my favorite session and I wish there were more like that. Basically the presenter threw out some ideas and we all just talked about them and he kind of moderated the discussion. Sort of like being in a discussion-based class instead of a lecture.

Tomorrow morning, when I've gotten some sleep, I'll post some about the resources and ideas.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Quick check in

A pretty good day all told. I spent the last part of the day talking about virtual communities--creating them and sustaining them. It was a discussion session and I tried to make an argument that you can't really force virtual communities, that the best ones simply emerge. I used the blog community--loose though it may be--as an example. These form much the way friendships form. You meet someone and eventually meet their friends and they meet yours--much the same way linking/blogrolling happens. I've also been part of communities that have stricter boundaries; they take place in a particular virtual space, sometimes around a particular topic or interest. I was involved in an IRC like that. Anyway, I know there are people writing books on the topic, but it's funny how invested in the topic I feel I am simply because I'm an active participant in several virtual communities. It was nice to be face-to-face with some like-minded folks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Blogging in bed

After a night out with some colleagues who are also attending, I am now in bed, blogging and watching tv at the same time. Do I know how to have fun or what? I'm really thinking a laptop with wireless is in my future so I can do this at home.

Random thoughts from the train

So here I am on my way to Baltimore. I tried to find a wireless connection and there are about 10 in range, but who knows what or who they are. I know there's wireless at the conference so I'll have to wait until then to connect. I forgot all my books, so I purchased Wired and MobilePC to entertain myself on the trip. The bad thing about traveling alone is I now have to go to the bathroom and I'd have to haul all my stuff with me just to do so, so I'm going to wait. Why I didn't go when I was sitting around 30th street I just don't know.

It's really foggy outside, so I can't see anything of the landscape, though I have to say most of it looks like something out of a bad movie. Lots of factorys, refineries, water treatment plants interspersed with some clumps of leafless trees shrouded in fog. There's also a river on one side--not sure which one--probably the Delaware.

I really wish I could get online, mostly because I'd like to read the news, catch up on some things. I've kind of ignored the news lately. Mr. Geeky and I quit watching network news. It just frustrated us because we always sensed the stories were skewed. I read bits and pieces online, mostly following stories I'm particularly interested in. I've been following Social Security reform, for example. I need to write my senators.

I got invited to a local democratic party get-together this weekend. Unfortunately, I'm going to be in Virginia. I'm so bummed. We'll be planning for the 2006 senatorial race. Rick Santorum is up for re-election and of course, we want to get him out. I've written him 5 or 6 letters since the election. I also have Arlen Specter to contend with it. I don't know how a blue state can end up with such red Senators. I also have a Republican congressman, Curt Weldon. My state representatives are all democrats, partly because the people who tend to run against them are sooo right wing, even the conservatives don't vote for them. Most of the republicans in my immediate area are interested in policies that protect their wealth; they tend to be liberal on social issues. It's an odd mix of politics. I really feel like I should be even more involved in local politics, but I'm not sure where I'd find the time. I have so many other things going on, by choice mostly, that I don't have much room left. And I haven't been in the area long, so I feel a little like an outsider. I'm sure there will be more gatherings and I'll try to attend those and see where that takes me.

The conference I'm attending is a regional conference on education and technology. I'm not thrilled by the paper titles so far, but maybe there will be good schmoozing. I'll report back.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Not nerdy enough


I am nerdier than 78% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!


I took this twice actually. The first time I got a 68. I only changed my answer to two questions and that put me at a 78. If I were still on my old Linux machine, I'd probably be higher. How pathetic is it that I *want* to be nerdy? Anyway, I can live with mid-level nerdiness. I communicate well with the non-nerds of the world. Most of my job is spent translating back and forth. If I were any nerdier, I probably couldn't do that anymore.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Am I Sexist?

I had an interesting discussion with my office mates this morning about women in the IT field. We were considering a web conference and we passed around a flyer with bios on the two presenters. I said, oh look white guys. Everyone was a little shocked and I said that i'd simply noticed lately that I didn't see a lot of women in the it field. In addition, my social interactions with other women tend to be primarily about children, which is fine, but frankly I'd rather talk about other things. Plus, if I bring up that I have a blog or talk about my ipod, they look at me like I have two heads. In other words, I feel a little ostracised in my field because i'm a woman and a little ostracised among my peer group because i'm interested in technology. Is this a problem for anyone but me? I certainly don't have a problem with the two men I work with. I consider them to be good friends and colleagues and I don't think about them in a gendered way at all. Is it wrong for me to want some diversity? Shouldn't I be worried that there aren't more women in the IT field? Is it okay for me to point out that when I go to a conference, there aren't many women? Am I just like the men who say where are the women bloggers? They're there, but I'm just not looking in the right places?

Maybe I am being sexist in thinking that there should be more women in the field. My colleagues implied (though didn't say outright so I may be putting words in their mouths) that women don't choose technology fields. I happen to believe that our ideas about gender are socially constructed in ways that are so subtle and ingrained that we think we're not being sexist when we are. So where my colleagues see a choice, I see an entire system working against women making that choice, from girls being discouraged in math classes to the lack of video games aimed at girls to the way girls are directed toward more "feminine" things--humanities, the arts, etc. Is this a dated view of things? I just don't get this feeling that suddenly, things are looking great for women. Isn't there still a wage gap? Don't professions considered typically "female" see lower wages?

I felt bad for making my snide comment about white men, and it's not that all white men are a problem or that an overabundance of white men in a field is necessarily a problem. Is it so wrong of me to want my workplace and my field to reflect the world?

Aside from all of that, I do think that I'm an odd duck. I'm a 36-year-old female technophile. There just aren't that many people my age who really, really like technology. I have more in common with the students in that regard than with women my own age. I think it's possible that the technology gap will narrow in the future, but I'm also worried that if it doesn't, women will get left out of more than just the technology fields. They might get left out of political movements, other kinds of job opportunities, government programs, a generally fulfilling life. And that, I don't think, is being sexist. Cynical maybe, but not sexist.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Blogroll

Writing Day Two

Writing Day, part III did not happen. Although I'm going to write some more today, I'm not pushing myself for more than an hour or so. For some reason, I didn't sleep well last night so I'm feeling a little groggy today. So I'm going to spend the morning waking up, playing with my kids, paying bills, kind of mindless stuff. Because the mind is definitely not there right now.

I found myself dreaming about Social Security last night. And this morning, I've been reading about the Iraq war and how horrible it is and how the election isn't going to solve anything and might, in fact, make things worse. And my brain is just too muddled to even think about it. I'm going to go play Lord of the Rings with my son. Killing orcs always wakes me up.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Writing day, part II

I think there will be a part III as well. I had actually only gotten 6 pages done during part I--very dyslexic of me. I doubled that amount in part II. In doing the math, it seems I'm not going to make it through the whole thing before tomorrow evening. But maybe I can make it through a good chunk--half would be good and I could do the other half next week. I discovered some interesting folk at Starbucks. We have no other coffee shops nearby, so this is the only place for somewhat eccentric folk to hang out. There were plenty of laptops and cellphones. The most interesting person was a guy who had square glasses with black frames and greenish lenses. He had an iPod and what looked like a screenplay. As I was leaving, some Goth teenagers showed up. I've never seen so much black eyeliner all in one place. I don't think I'm going to go anywhere to write tomorrow and I'm just going to do it in the morning. I need to spend some time with the family. We've all been doing our own thing today--quite happily--but we need some time together.

I also managed to get in a walk this afternoon. The sun peeked out briefly but didn't stay. It was gray during the walk, but at least it wasn't raining. As I was listening to my 80s music on my walk, I was thinking about my apartment in college in Memphis near Overton Park. I loved that place. It was spacious and had hardwood floors and I used to play music and I had two kittens that ran around and played with each other. The memory was amost enough to make me feel 20 again.

Writing day, part I

I decided to start out at home, so I could stay in my jammies. I drank some coffee, ate breakfast and read blogs for about 45 minutes. Then I fired up the laptop at the dining room table and set to writing for about 1.5 hours. I broke for a shower and came back to write for another hour. I've just finished lunch and the plan is to head over to Starbucks with the laptop for dessert and a latte and write for another couple of hours.

That's the good news. The bad news is that I've only written about 9 pages (single-spaced). 78 pages to go and really, I wanted to go beyond that and get into some new stuff. Optimistic, I know, but still. I think this means I'll be doing some writing later tonight--after a longer break--and some more tomorrow. I definitely like these bigger chunks rather than doing an hour here and there, so I think I might revise my resolution and reserve all my writing for the weekends unless there's something specific I feel like working on.

I am also hoping to get in a workout today. I'd prefer to walk, but it's raining again. I'm planning to stop by the new exercise center by my house on the way home from Starbucks so it may be that I'll do a workout there. That would be dandy. Later, I'm hoping to go out and buy some new shoes for myself. I really need them. I'm hoping the family will come along. They probably need stuff too.

I'll check in for writing day, part II later.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Tipsy should be a mood

I'm not completely drunk, which is what my mood implies. I'm simply tipsy. And that's a good thing. Drunk implies falling down drunk which I'm not. I'm typing and not having to backspace that much. Drunk will happen next weekend at a friend's 40th birthday party. It will be a drunk where I cannot view the computer screen. It happens once in a while, still.

Good to be out with the colleagues where we discuss everything from the Israeli-Palesitian conflict to what exactly should be taught in a history survey course to security on the internet. And there are trivial (but substantial to us) topics like new sheets and the importance of the properly-sized pockets in purses. You just don't know the importance of such things--really.

Tomorrow is a writing day. I have the laptop ready. I'm planning to sleep until I wake up, shower and head to Starbucks, toting stacks of earlier versions. We'll see how it goes. And of course, there will be exercising. I hope also to have a good political post over the weekend. I'm thinking about some things, not right this second, but they're there somewhere.

Yep, I'm sore

My muscles are officially sore. Not too bad. Not like the first day of track practice in middle school sore, but definitely feeling it. I'm planning to reward my muscles with some new stuff this weekend--and of course, I'll be working them out some more.

My children are going through a bickering phase. It's really annoying. I'm afraid it will probably last the rest of their youth. I can never hear what causes it--Geeky Boy's voice is quiet--but then I hear the awful screeching, whining of an annoyed Geeky Girl and it's like fingernails on a chalkboard. Geeky Boy knows exactly what buttons to push and Geeky Girl is easily annoyed.

Frankly, I've been a bit annoyed by my family this week. I think it's because we're all a little resentful about vacation ending and we're taking it out on each other. The children seem to be especially demanding, asking me for the littlest things that they could easily get themselves. Mr. Geeky and I have decided to force them to be a little more self-sufficient and not make us do everything for them. So Mr. Geeky has trained Geeky Boy in the art of cleaning the kitchen. I am folding clothes but not putting them away and simply putting them in a basket at the bottom of the stairs to their rooms. Unfortunately, the clothes are still sitting there. An ultimatum will have to be laid down to deal with this.

Mr. Geeky and I both grew up in families where the mom did everything for us--cooked, cleaned, picked up our socks. Very few demands were placed upon us. We think that wasn't such a good idea. It's now very hard for us to do the uninteresting work of keeping up with the house. We certainly don't have high expectations, but there are things that absolutely have to be done. We have to eat, for example.

--
Drinking with the work companions will take place this evening. Looking forward to it. Need to escape work and the family. Should be good. And I don't have to drive, which makes it even better.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Drinking in the middle of the day

So we had a lunchtime new year's party at work complete with alcohol. Two beers and a long conversation about what constitutes good 80s music later, I'm supposed to attempt to work. Basically, the boys who share my office and I spent the rest of the afternoon bitching about copyright and the record companies. I planned out three meals and made a grocery list. Language Guy installed Linux on one of our machines and I'm not sure what Web Guy was working on. We all left at 4:30.

I have now worked out 5 days in a row. The exercise woman on tv said if my muscles are sore, I should take the day off tomorrow, so that's what I'm going to do. The exercise place a block away is open now and I'm thinking about dropping by on my way to work and see what kind of pricing schemes they have and equipment and what not. Heck, I'll settle for a treadmill in the warm weather. I should be working on my thigh muscles to help with the kneecap that doesn't want to stay in place.

I have lots to say on some of the political issues swirling around, but that's a post that will have to wait until the weekend. And I'm still thinking about blogs and genre and hoping to delve into that a little more. I have to make it through the writing weekend and then I can breathe a little.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sleep is good

I think jimbo used that post title a while back, but let me just say that sleeping in 30 minutes longer was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I accomplished a ton of stuff today. I didn't get to all the fun stuff on my list, but I got to quite a bit. And I got the icky stuff out of the way, so I can do all the fun stuff tomorrow. Yay! We're also having a new year's party tomorrow.

I managed to do my workout this evening, so I'm still good with the exercise resolution. I probably won't walk tomorrow either as it's supposed to be raining and sleeting, so I'll do the same workout tomorrow. They're building a new exercise place a block away so I'm thinking I'll check that out as a good alternative to walking.

Yesterday and today, I spent some time collecting goodies for workshops and web resources. I furled them here, though I haven't organized or analyzed anything yet (tomorrow). I played with Palm applications yesterday and found some good ones, including a shopping list and a to do list. I got the shopping list from 43 folders. The to do list (To Do Plus) I just bumped into. I still jot things down as they come in. Today I realized that something that would be great was if I could create a to-do out of an e-mail, say drag the e-mail over to a to-do list and it would generate a to-do. There's probably something out there that does that, but I haven't seen it yet. It needs to be integrated with my palm too.

The writing is not going so well. I had my breakthrough but I need a good stretch of 4 or 5 hours to implement it. I have that stretch planned for Saturday. I don't really want to start on it until then. So I think I can forgive myself for now. I really want to finish this whole novel now because I've started on another book, but I can't really go at it full force until I finish the current one. Writing bits and pieces at night just doesn't cut it for me. It's fine for blogging, but not for sustaining a complex thought. You've all witnessed the problems with my writing at night here. :)

No walking

I did not walk today. It was raining. I have decided not to walk in the rain--snow, cold, yes. Rain, no. I had a backup plan to do some other kind of exercise this morning, but I was feeling so exhausted that I decided to sleep 30 minutes longer. I feel much better and plan to follow through on the backup plan this evening.

Man, there just aren't enough hours in the day to get things done. If I seriously did every single thing I wanted to do in a day, I'd be up until two. Sad, but true. I could blog less, but I'm really not doing it *that* much. Besides, for me, it's important intellectual stimulation (something madeline was writing about).

I had a thought this morning as I was rousing. I'm thinking about writing a paper every month out of some of the blog posts I write on my professional blog. It might be an interesting way to solidify some of what I'm thinking about. But, of course, that just adds to the list. Still, I think it would be a good thing from a professional standpoint.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Incoherent

After re-reading my post below, I realized how incoherent it was. I am extremely tired. In fact, there will be no writing tonight, meaning I'm two pages down now on the resolution. I am optimistically hoping that once I'm readjusted to a full work day, I can get back to a normal writing schedule. For now, all I can manage is a little blog reading and posting. Apologies for not pulling something better together on blogs and genre--but hey, isn't that the beauty of blogs--no need for perfection?

Blog as genre, the genre of blogs

Following up on a discussion from jimbo's about whether blogs are a genre, I thought to do a little poking around in the wikipedia for an entry on genre, which I normally wouldn't use as my final authority, but I have nothing else at hand. A good working definition would simply be that a genre is a type of a particular kind of art form. Following the link on genre fiction which explains the different types of genre fiction, like westerns and romances, we get this interesting quote:

On the other hand, popular media that are not generally treated as art are rarely categorized into genres either. This suggests again that "genres" are particularly categories of approaches to arts that are used as a simple tool for producing popular rather than good works.


Simplistically, then, genre would not apply to blogs unless they are considered art. However, as even the writer of this entry points out, genre is applied to television and I think most of the time, we wouldn't equate television shows with something like sculpture.

From this Introduction to Genre Theory (which I've only skimmed), however, we find a way out of this dilemma.

How we define a genre depends on our purposes; the adequacy of our definition in terms of social science at least must surely be related to the light that the exploration sheds on the phenomenon. For instance (and this is a key concern of mine), if we are studying the way in which genre frames the reader's interpretation of a text then we would do well to focus on how readers identify genres rather than on theoretical distinctions. Defining genres may be problematic, but even if theorists were to abandon the concept, in everyday life people would continue to categorize texts.


I think that there are genres on the web. And, a quick google search reveals there is a little research out there on such things. One of the more interesting articles was this article. However, much of the research seems oriented toward enabling better searching and not analyzing the development of genres. Switching search terms from the general genre and web to genre and blogs lead to more interesting results. I'm sure a thorough library search would yield even better results, but I don't think that's going to happen at the moment. Maybe someone out there has some better ideas. It seems, too, that subgenres of blogs are constantly shifting and that the conventions of blogs are constantly shifting perhaps as a result of what people want and expect from blogs. It is certainly fascinating.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Five reasons

Though my first day back at work wasn't so bad, I've been thinking off and on about what would be good and bad about not working.

Five (superficial) reasons to stay at home:
1. I could shower whenever I want.
2. I could walk at 3:00 instead of 6:30 and meet the kids at the bus at the end of the walk.
3. I could read and write whenever and wherever I wanted--home, Starbucks, library.
4. My house would be neater.
5. Baths in the middle of the day.

Five (superficial) reasons not to stay home:
1. There's no money in it.
2. Adult conversations would largely consist of awkward moments with other moms discussing discipline and homework.
3. No need for nice clothes.
4. Better restaurants near work.
5. After my brain goes to mush, I might spiral into an ugly depression that would lead to institutionalization, divorce, and misery all around.

Social Security

I have been thinking a lot about social security. Though I blithely say I'm not counting on it for retirement, the truth is, I am. I'm not rich. I just began a 403(b) plan after years of part-time employment that did not offer benefits. I have no other investments. I am probably going to need social security. Granted, I could reduce my cost of living and I might. But I'm hoping to travel, visit my children and grandchildren, visit places I never got to. In yesterday's New York Times, an editorial confirms my feelings about Social Security. According to the author, it's not really in crisis and privatization is a bad idea--all the experts say so. Of course, the Bush administration is ignoring the experts.

I think all this talk about privatizing Social Security is part of the Bush administration's American Dream mentality. They have a death grip on this idea that America is the place where people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become successful. Look at what Bush said about Carlos Gutierrez, his new Commerce Secretary. For every Gutierrez out there, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of others who don't make it, through no fault of their own. They are hindered by not only current circumstances, but often by history, by generations of their family who have been unable to earn enough to send their kids to college so that they could do better, by things like discrimination.

I read somewhere that those of us who are against privatization are against it because we think the American public is too stupid to invest wisely. Well, yeah. I'm too stupid to invest wisely and can't afford someone to help me, so I think those people out there without even a college education may also have some difficulty. But putting that argument aside, the stock market is not a perfectly stable place to put your money. It has crashed once and plummetted eerily low several times just in my lifetime. What happens, as happened in the tech bust a few years ago if the market crashes just a few years before your retirement and you end up having to work until you're eighty? It has happened and it could likely happen again.

It's not that I think Social Security shouldn't be touched. I'm there are adjustments that need to be made, given that the population is increasing in a top-heavy manner. But I'm frustrated by the idea that the solution to everything for the Bush administration is to give the people the power. The problem is, so many people will be left out, won't have the power and won't survive.

It's time for another letter to the Senators.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Total breakthrough

Just had a total writing breakthrough--very exciting. I'd been stuck halfway through this book for at least a month. Finally, I found a way out. Lots of re-writing to be done, but it's exciting now that I know where I'm going.

One day down, 364 to go

I did it--all the resolutions! Went for a nice walk this afternoon. I found some good areas of the neighborhood to explore. Just finished writing my page for the day. I probably could have done more, but I'm just going to leave it there for now. The hard thing will be getting up early tomorrow, doing the walk and having enough energy after work to write. Hopefully that will happen. I think it will take some getting used to, but it can be done, for sure. I rewarded myself with a purchase from Amazon, Will in the World (Greenblatt is my academic grandfather) and Truth and Beauty. Yay! Books! It doesn't take much to please me really.

I had a very realistic dream last night about finishing my dissertation. I had a whole plan for doing it and was working on it every day. Strange. Maybe.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

I have returned exhausted with some really cranky kids. It was a pleasant trip with lots of good food and drink, but not enough sleep. We have more presents, but they are of the more practical sort. I begin resolutely on the resolutions tomorrow. And then it's back to work. I am missing some of my friends there, but I'm not completely looking forward to getting back to the grind. The beginning of the semester is always a bit hectic and harried for me. I remembered just the other day that I will be heading to a conference in Baltimore in a couple of weeks. I also found out in the last few days that a grant I was working on with some faculty has been funded. Things are going well at work, so I shouldn't complain. It's still work though.

Mr. Geeky and I purchased The Time Traveler's Wife as an audiobook and managed to listen to a good portion of it on the trip. I'm really enjoying it. It's a bit harder to follow in audio format than it would be, I'm sure, if I were reading it. I am supposed to also be reading Truth and Beauty for my book club, plus a book by a member of my writing group, and I need to get together my own writing for the next meeting, Jan. 9. I should be able to finish organizing my work area tomorrow, so that I will have a nice area to begin all the various projects and resolutions. Tomorrow, after dealing with the finances (yuck), I am planning to purchase Truth and Beauty plus a couple of things from my Amazon wish list. It will make up for the wool sweaters. :)