Archive for May 19, 2012

Summertime, and the Living Is Busy

Seth, Its a Good Life, If You Don't WeakenThe week’s chronicle of precisely how an academic (specifically, me) spends each summer day is now complete. Those who followed this admittedly dull exercise might have some questions. Those who couldn’t bear following it can save themselves both time and tedium by skimming through the Q+A below.

Q: How many hours did you work this week?

A: 56 hours, 15 minutes.

Q: Oh, come on.  Surely, you exaggerated your work hours.

A: Oddly enough, I did the opposite. About halfway through the week, I noticed that I was underreporting my time.  I did not go back and adjust my daily totals upward, but I was — in the latter half of the week — more willing to count as work both (a) work that was fun, and (b) work that I hadn’t fully realized was work.  To explain, the great benefit of this job is that it’s genuinely interesting.  I ended up not counting seeing The Avengers, but part of my job actually is keeping up with popular culture connected to comics and to children’s literature. So, I could have counted that. The parts of my job that are tedious are easy to notice as work, but the parts that aren’t tedious sometimes slip by unnoticed.  For example, I do write during a jog or in the shower — this happens in my head, and I write it down later.  While doing something mundane, I will often also be thinking of something connected to my work.

I also underreported a bit because that’s just what I tend to do. If I lose track of how many sit-ups I’ve done, then I just add another ten. That is, if I think I’ve done 50, but I’m not sure, then I’ll count myself as only being at 40, and keep going. It’s dispositional.

Q: Were you surprised by how much time you spent working?

A: Yes.  I spent more time working than I thought I would.  I believed that, during the summer months, I would actually spend less time working than I do during the school year — say 40-hour or maybe 50-hour weeks, instead of 60-hour weeks.  I did spend less time working than during the school year, but only by a little bit.  This surprised me.

More surprising is how difficult it is to track academic labor. There’s no off-switch. Lots of small tasks overlap with larger ones. One item temporarily interrupts another, which then leads you to a third before you resume working on the first. And thinking never stops.

Q: How’s life in the panopticon? 

A: One of the greatest things about having concluded this experiment is that I’m out of that %$#! panopticon. As I noted the last time I did this experiment, I do not enjoy living in a glass cage. I don’t like making my daily life quite so public. However, once I commit to something, I follow it through to the end. So,… I felt I had to continue until the week concluded. I hope this exercise achieved its (admittedly modest) goal of making summertime academic labor visible, but I don’t plan to do it again.

Q: But doesn’t living under the panopticon make you more productive?

A: Maybe. It makes you more conscious of how you use each minute. But it also makes it harder to relax, harder to take the time to think deeply. In some ways, the experience simply amplifies my neuroses.

Q: Oh, come on. Do you really think your week-long summer diary is going to change anyone’s mind?

A: Realistically, I think it unlikely. But academics have to try to explain what our job entails. The general public thinks we have summers off, and (since the vast majority of us teach at what are euphemistically called “state” institutions) are thus living it up on the taxpayer’s dime. In truth, we do work during the summers, and most of us do not get paid for that work. As noted in my first post, the university does not pay me during the summers. If I elected to teach summer classes, it would. However, as many “state” universities do, Kansas State University dos not classify time spent doing research or service as labor for which one should be compensated.  I intend that as a criticism of the system in general, and not of Kansas State University in particular. Indeed, I keep placing “state” in inverted commas because only 23%-24% of the university’s budget comes from the state. The state’s decision to divest from public higher education has left erstwhile public universities with little money for salaries or even for general maintenance. But, we live in a representative democracy, and the majority of Kansans voted for a governor hell-bent on cutting taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, but raising the cost of living for everyone else — all while creating massive budget deficits. This is neither sound fiscal policy nor sound social policy. However, these are the policies under which higher education (and all publicly supported social endeavors) must exist — or not.

Q: Still, though, being a professor is a good gig, right?

A: Yes, it really is. I’m fortunate to have work which I find meaningful. Any career is going to be more demanding than an ordinary job. Doctor, musician, teacher, lawyer, artist, paleontologist, writer — if it’s a career, it’s part of your identity. And we’re more willing to invest in work if it’s part of who we are.

Q: You certainly listen to a lot of different music.

A: I do! I enjoy all (or nearly all) varieties of music. And I’m glad to have a bit more time to listen to music during the summers. So, let’s conclude with another song.  Here’s a song I discovered via Seth’s It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken. That book’s title references a WWI-era phrase which became the title of the song “It’s a Great Life (If You Don’t Weaken)” (lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Richard Whiting and Newell Chase).  Performing the song, here’s Lou Gold and His Orchestra, with a vocal by Irving Kafuman.

To experience the full tedium of this week’s chronicle, you might explore the links below, where you’ll also find another, equally tedious, week-long public diary.

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Friday

The very last day of my summertime academic chronicle.  The work will go on, but I’m only recording a week’s worth of it on the blog.  If you’re just tuning in, for the past week (starting on Saturday), I’ve kept track of my daily activities in order to answer the age-old question: What do professors do all summer?  Tomorrow, I’ll offer a few reflections on the whole experience.  But, for now, here’s what I did on …

Friday, 18 May 2012

12:00 – 12:05 am.  Was so absorbed in the comics-and-picture-books essay that I didn’t notice the hour had passed midnight.  Am going to send to Charles Hatfield for his input.  I think it’s developed nicely, and (fortunately) remains below the 5000 words we’ve been allocated for this issue.  But, you know, one could always benefit from a second set of eyes!

12:05 – 12:30 am. Finished yesterday’s post.  Shared it with Facebook & Twitter.  Emailed Charles H. a copy of that essay.

12:30 – 12:45 am. Washed some dishes in sink, started dishwasher for others. Put away some of the books I was working with today.

12:45 – 1:30 am. Evening ablutions, bed, read G. Neri and Randy DuBurke’s Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty (2010), which I’m considering for the fall’s graphic novel class (thanks to Gretchen Papazian for the suggestion!).

8:05 – 8:40 am.  Got up, checked email.  Enjoyed a brief video of niece Emily (thanks to sister Linda!). Logged into Facebook & answered an email there.  Read Francisco X. Stork’s essay on depression (hat tip to Jules Walker Danielson). Very good piece, whether or not you’ve ever struggled with depression.  Read it.  Also read Stork’s books.  I’ve only read two, but both — The Last Summer of the Death Warriors and Marcello in the Real World — are really good. I also checked out the schedule of Hillary Chute’s comics extravaganza. Spiegelman keynote tonight!  Going to watch on-line.

8:40 – 9:00 am.  Jumping jacks, stretched, etc.  Getting off to a later start this morning.

9:00 – 9:50 am.  Ran 4 miles, and did the exercises at the playground en route — one set of chin-ups, one of upside-down-push-ups.  I’m sure the latter has a real name, but I don’t know what to call it.  If anyone is confused and wishes not to be, I described the exercise on Saturday’s post.  Today’s was a more contemplative, slower sort of run.  Noticed a yellow and black… finch?  Small bird.  Saw four bunnies (technically, hares) during the course of my run, which is more than I’d’ve expected, given my late start. (Bunnies, a.k.a. hares, are nocturnal.) During the run, in my head, I also started to write the Sendak book proposal and table of contents.  This is one reason why it’s hard to keep track of work time.  I’m always thinking, and often such intellectual labor is connected to my professional work. Jeff Smith, Bone vol. 1: Out from Boneville

9:50 – 10:30 am.  Checked email, discovered that the scans of Jeff Smith’s art have arrived (in my campus mail box) from Cartoon Books.  Thanks, Kathleen!  This means that I can get the Moby-Dick-and-Bone article (co-written with Jennifer Hughes) submitted today.  Or, I hope it means that.  The only question I have is: will the journal’s website be able to cope with such a large image size?  Decided I should write down some of the book proposal before it leaves my head — though I don’t honestly think it will.  I think it’s incubating, and will continue to develop, whether or not I write anything down.  Spent some time writing down a few notes.  Realized I was hungry.

10:30 – 10:45 am.  There will be no post-running exercises today.  Breakfast & writing.  This is one way in which the scholarly process is similar to the creative process: you write because you have an idea.  You do not write because you know it’s a good idea or because someone will want to publish your idea.  You write because the idea is there and must be expressed.  As I noted in this blog’s inaugural post, I’ve had many ideas for books.  Nearly half of all my proposed books have not found a publisher.  I don’t yet know what will become of this one.

10:45 – 10:50 am.  Cleaned up some of the html in yesterday’s post.  I noticed that there wasn’t a space between each entry, and, in the html, discovered that “div” tags seem to be the culprit.  Where did they come from?  I don’t know.  I’ve removed them, and now the page looks fine.

10:50 – 11:00 am.  Responded to email (professional).

11:00 – 11:25 am.  Checked into Facebook.  Read this and this, both of which are related to my job.  From the first piece (a smart essay by Stephen J. Mexal) we learn that “When conservatives declare that English classes don’t teach literature anymore, what they’re really trying to do is deprofessionalize the profession of college-level English.”  We also learn that Andrew Breitbart continues to be an idiot.  From the second (a report on an academic Harry Potter conference), we learn that some scholars of older popular literature (Shakespeare, say) wish to delegitimize the study of newer popular literature and of books for children. The article also provides strong evidence that John Mullan may be a fool.  The article quotes Mullan as saying: “I’m not against Harry Potter, my children loved it, [but] Harry Potter is for children, not for grownups. … It’s all the fault of cultural studies: anything that is consumed with any appearance of appetite by people becomes an object of academic study.”  He also says that academics “should be reading Milton and Tristram Shandy: that’s what they’re paid to do.”  Hmm, “fool” is not quite the right epithet.  The word “ignorant” better describes Professor Mullan, as would the words “completely unqualified to offer such pronouncements.”

11:25 – 11:35 am.  Up next, after my shower: Routledge editorial work.  Figured out what I need to look at.  Have two items which require responses — these only date from earlier in the month, and both are revisions.  After I respond to these, I will be caught up with Routledge work.

11:35 – 11:45 am.  Responded to tweets regarding that asinine quotation from Professor Mullan, which prompted Natalia Cecire to share her Cecire’s First Law of Journalism About Academia. Natalia Cecire on media and academe

Too true.

11:45 – 12:10 pm.  Shower, shave, dress.

12:10 – 12:40 pm. Misc. email.  Thanks to Jules Walker Danielson, read Richard Michelson’s remembrance of Maurice Sendak.  Hadn’t seen this one!  Added link to bottom of this page.  Also wrote to see if I could purchase a copy of Hunger Mountain‘s special June issue on Maurice Sendak.  Wrote back to Jules, too.

12:40 – 12:45 pm.  Added another sentence to the comics-and-picture-books essay.  Thought I was “done” with this draft.  Apparently not. Ho Che Anderson, King

12:45 – 2:00 pm.  Lunch.  Started reading Ho Che Anderson’s King: A Comics Biography (Special Edition, 2010; orig. published 1993-2002), and in fact spent most of this segment of time reading it.  I’m considering this book for my graphic novels class.  It’s excellent.  The sole problem is that the hardcover costs $35.  I didn’t see a paperback.  I prefer not to assign hardcover books.  I made an exception once to assign Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything, but that was much less costly.  And I still want to see Kuijer’s novel come out in paperback.

2:00 – 2:30 pm. Finally getting down to the Routledge work!  But… not doing well at it.  Falling asleep sitting up. Too tired to focus properly.

2:30 – 3:00 pm. Nap.

3:00 – 3:45 pm.  Energized by nap, was able to offer much more clear response.  One report done!  Also wrote another professional email on a different subject.

3:45 – 4:45 pm.  Responded to another Routledge piece.  Also, a little after 4, tuned into WFMU (on-line, via iTunes radio), caught Laura Cantrell hosting & playing records by Ana Egge (“Bad Blood,” “Hole in Your Halo”), The Mastersons (“Tell Me It’s Alright”), Lianne Smith (“Bicycle”), Chris Erickson (“All I Need”).  Really great alt-country.  Richard Flynn would enjoy this.  Also enjoyed Sara Watkins’ “You and Me.”

4:45 – 4:55 pm. Internet issues.  Rebooted the cable box & the wireless router.  Everything’s working except for my MacMail (and thus I cannot send my second Routledge report).  Can’t figure out why, but suspect that Kansas State University’s email is down again.  Tried rebooting.

4:55 – 5:05 pm.  Fundraising call from Obama for America.  The president has been more a politician than the statesman I hoped he would be.  However, I support the human rights of gays and lesbians (which include the right to marry, and to serve openly in the military), I appreciate his understanding that trickle-down economics is a myth (even if he failed to pursue repeal of what I now think of as the Bush-Obama Tax Cut), I support his efforts to reform health care (even if they did not go far enough and may well be struck down by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court), am glad he has gotten us out of Iraq (and wish he would also withdraw troops from Afghanistan, too).  In sum, if his record is mixed, he has had significant accomplishments, and is certainly better than Governor Mitt “I’ll say anything” Romney.  So, I made a modest contribution to his re-election effort — which, by my estimation, has about a 50-50 chance of succeeding.

5:05 – 5:25 pm.  Rebooting seems to have worked.  I can send email again.  Wrote up some of the preceding.

5:25 – 5:40 pm.  Guitar.  Played a bit more of “Dancing in the Dark” (Springsteen) before hand forced me to abandon the effort.  It’s definitely improving, but just not as fast as I’d like.  Played “Run On for a Long Time” (traditional, Moby’s “Run On” samples the version by Bill Landford & The Landfordaires, but the Blind Boys of Alabama have a great version as does Johnny Cash [under the title “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”]), “She’s Got a New Spell” (Billy Bragg), and “Bizarre Love Triangle” (New Order).

5:40 – 6:00 pm.  Professional email sent. Also started on submitting the images for the Moby-Dick-&-Bone article.

6:00 – 6:30 pm.  Tuned in to HillaryCon, in anticipation of Art Spiegelman’s talk. Finished uploading Moby-Dick-&-Bone article.

6:30 – 8:00 pm.  Turned full attention to HillaryCon, so I could watch as well as hear her intro & then Art Spiegelman’s talk.  Really fantastic conversation between WJT Mitchell and Art Spiegelman.  My hope is that — in addition to being broadcast — it has also been recorded.  I also took notes.

“I discovered the parody before I knew the original”

— Art Spiegelman on MAD

“It’s important to have work that isn’t easy to assimilate”

— Art Spiegelman on comics & the classroom (one of his concerns was that, in gaining legitimacy, and finding their way into the classroom, some comics [a.k.a. graphic novels] are written to be taught rather than to be art)

“If children like something, adults get very concerned and try to control it.”

— Art Spiegelman (this quote, for me, also explains any attempt to ban or otherwise regulate a popular children’s book)

“I learned to read trying to figure out whether Batman was a good guy or a bad guy”

— Art Spiegelman, in the context of comics now being seen as an aid to literacy (and also alluding to Toon Books).

“In 1908, you could easily earn $20 to $200 as a cartoonist. What’s amazing is that it’s still true!”

— Art Spiegelman, in a remark inspired by an 1908 advertisement he had projected up on the screen.

“The avant-garde of comics is moving very much into the visual side of comics.”

— Art Spiegelman, on where comics is headed in the future.

“I have to get past my schoolboy snarl and admit that it’s not only bad stuff that happens in classrooms.”

— Art Spiegelman, responding to a question about an earlier comment he’d made on having comics taught in classrooms

I know what it’s like to have the technology not work as planned, but Art Spiegelman’s frustration with the latest version of PowerPoint particularly resonated with me.  He had everything all ready to go on an earlier version of PowerPoint, but the new version (on the computer up on stage) removed the control he’d been expecting.  This is exactly why Microsoft products are so frustrating.  Each new iteration screws something up from a previous iteration.  It’s always one step forward and two steps back.  Or, to be more accurate, it’s one step forward, and the menu you need to take the two steps back is now hidden under a new category which you can find if you place your mouse over that word, or, as a short cut, over an entirely different word, or, etc. etc.

Let me also say that Chris Ware’s poster for the conference is a thing of beauty.  (Click for a larger image.  No, seriously.  You have to click on it.  It’s amazing.)

Chris Ware, Comics: Philosophy and Practice

8:00 – 8:20 pm.  Wrote up the preceding.

8:20 – 8:45 pm.  Responded to couple of Facebook items, but most of this time was devoted to professional correspondence (which, yes, is also personal because, as I frequently have mentioned in this chronicle, most of my colleagues are also my friends!).

8:45 – 9:00 pm.  Started drafting reflections on this week’s experiment.  Am counting this as work, but you can deduct it, if you like.

detail from Chris Ware's cover of my biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (2012)9:00 – 9:20 pm.  Made Chris Ware’s cover of my forthcoming biography my “cover photo” on Facebook. He does such beautiful work. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I’ve never had such a beautiful cover for one of my books, and nor am I likely to ever again. Also looked at photos of my niece Emily, via my sister’s Facebook page.  And chose a couple of videos to end this day’s post.

9:20 – 9:30 pm.  Continued drafting some reflections on this week’s experiment.

9:30 – 10:00 pm.  Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.  Kept drafting those reflections.  Also checked into Facebook again because I wanted to find an article I saw earlier.

10:00 – 10:25 pm.  More professional correspondence (some of which, yeah, is personal, for noted before, etc.).

10:25 – 10:45 pm. Couldn’t resist tinkering further with the comics-&-picture-books essay. And so,… I did. Evidently, I am not done with it.  Also more correspondence.  Received from Eric the list of Barnaby strips we have.  I now need to go through and figure out which ones we’re missing.

10:45 – 11:25 pm. Read more of Ho Che Anderson’s King: A Comics Biography, which is really well done.

11:25 – 11:45 pm. Correspondence.  My friendly email debate with Michael Patrick Hearn continues.  I don’t think either of us is convincing the other one, but it’s a conversation worth having (or I hope so, anyway).

11:45 – 12:00 pm.  Started dishwasher.  Looked at this photo of the comics “brain trust” at HillaryCon. Wish I were there!  Also: Preparing for bed!

Coming tomorrow: Reflections on this week’s experiment.

Total hours worked: 10 hours, 30 minutes.

I’d embed the Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love”  here, but YouTube has disabled embedding “by request” (by request from whom? Polydor posted the video).  My next thought was Serge Gainsbourg’s video for “Comic Strip” (featuring Brigitte Bardot), but embedding has also been disabled for that one.  So, instead here’s one of Gainsbourg and Mireille Darc lip-synching “Comic Strip” on French TV.

Or, if you prefer a song with a specific “Friday” reference, you might like last season’s Sing-Off contestants performing a mash-up of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night.”  Sadly, NBC has cancelled The Sing-Off.

What’s that you say?  You haven’t had your fill of banality?  Well, then, you might explore the links below.  If symptoms persist, please consult your physician.  Thank you.

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