Thursday, January 24, 2008

Spaced Out on Beowulf

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while may be starting to get the impression that I do not entirely enjoy faculty meetings. I believe at one point I raised the possibility that they cause brain damage. Or maybe that was grading.

Even so, I try to be a good department citizen and attend faculty meetings unless I am traveling. My level of participation, however, fluctuates quite dramatically from meeting to meeting, depending on the topic and my caffeine intake.

In the most recent faculty meeting, I was doing pretty well in terms of paying attention, participating, not making eye contact with certain sympathetic colleagues when insane and trollish colleagues spoke, and so on. At some point, though, I must have mentally vacated the premises. I was not aware of this, however, until tonight.

Tonight at dinner my husband said "What did you think about that strange episode at the faculty meeting when Colleague X started talking about Beowulf?" [note to readers: I am in a Science department. We are of course all intellectuals and into multi-inter-transdisciplinary studies, but we do not typically discuss literature at faculty meetings.]

I laughed, assuming he was making a joke in a highly oblique way, as is his wont. I said something random in reply, like "Oh yeah, and that was great when Colleague Z started quoting from the Upanishads." [note to readers: I totally made that up. Colleague Z did not quote from the Upanishads, or anything.] My husband was silent for a moment, as is not typically his wont, and then he said "Um, no really.. didn't you think it was kind of strange? He went on and on about it."

I was stunned. How could I have missed a long rambling speech on Beowulf at a faculty meeting? I was there and I remember Colleague X starting to speak about something, but I don't remember anything he said.

Colleague X is a truly excellent example of deadwood, but I don't think that is why I tuned him out. In fact, I will take this opportunity to say that just because a colleague is deadwood, that doesn't mean that they can't be immensely likable. I am very fond of this particular colleague, who is a very kind and amiable person who should retire soon.

In any case, I apparently did space out completely. I don't remember what I was thinking about, but it may have been one of the following:

- Which among the applicants for graduate work in my research specialty should I accept to work with me?

- Why do so many grad applicants start their research statement with a quotation? Is there some Guide To Applications that suggests doing this? Why would a grad applicant for a Ph.D. in Science quote Bob Dylan in their application? (Why isn't anyone quoting Beowulf?)

- I have been doing the most major cleaning of my office in the past decade, and maybe the biggest cleaning ever. I am contemplating throwing out some notebooks and textbooks I have kept since college and graduate school. Should I throw them out after all these years? Why keep them? Why not keep them? If I throw them out, after not looking at them for decades, will I then regret it?

- How do I reply to a stressed out author whose manuscript I am editing and who is trying to get out of doing major revisions without which his manuscript is inadequate in important respects? Should I accept his manuscript just so he will stop sending me emails about his wife's ghastly gynecological problems? No, I can't and won't do that, but I do wish he would stop sending me those emails. I do not know him. I do not know his wife (though I know a lot about her innards).


Anonymous said...

You reminded me - I have a trunk full of relevant undergrad, and grad school classes. I've kept them over the years on the pretext that someday, they might be useful, if I ever land that faculty job and need to teach similar courses. However, the trunk is heavy! and it's a lot of storage space. Are they really useful to keep, or when I need to teach will I end up not using them anyway? My next move awaits your reply ;-) ...

Anonymous said...

So, what you are saying is that you are the deadwood at your dept meetings. How do you like having that term applied to you? But, you say, I have an excuse because I was thinking about something else more important. Welcome to deadwood town. All the people you classify as deadwood no doubt have similar reasons to explain what they and do not do. You are just committing what psychologists call "fundamental attribution error" and, as I said before, it is an ugly game whose purpose is just to support your own ego-driven concerns about your productivity. It is unbecoming and I suggest that you stop it.

Anonymous said...

Now that you point it out, it springs into view. From a grad application I just reviewed--the opening sentence:

"In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway states, "Hunger is good discipline." While
Hemingway was referring to physical hunger, I find that the hunger in my life that sustains my
discipline is my hunger for discovery and knowledge."

Anonymous said...

Was the amiable-if-unproductive professor perhaps referencing the recent movie version? Making from that an analogy to what he perceives as his Beowulfian stance against a Grendelian administration, or similar? If so, you may want to suggest that future faculty meetings would be greatly enhanced by mandatory chain mail garb. That would make at least the next one a heck of a lot more fun, if also less productive (and more clank-y).

Anonymous said...

Keep your notes and books, lest you regret it later. I just discovered mine from 41 years ago (B.Sc (Hons) in Physics) and am actually enjoying rereading (some of) them:-)

Sadly, I no longer have any MS or PhD materials :-(

Nor did I keep a print of every paper, which was a stupid omission.

BTW, my quote was "We are all standing in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" Oscar Wilde ;-)

Female Science Professor said...

No - my husband says he was talking about the recent translation he was reading.

Ms.PhD said...

OMG, I laughed until I started crying. The part at the end about the stressed-out author just did me in.

To Anon who thinks FSP is deadwood, I see what you mean (after all, we should all be 100% awake 100% of the time) but I like to think that meetings can and are sometimes a waste of everyone's time. I think FSP is a victim of deadwood here, and a very comedic one at that.

EcoGeoFemme said...

You're a hoot!

Endymion said...

Makes you wonder about the other things that slipped past without notice.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God -- I was laughing at the literary references in grad school applications until I remembered that in mine I quoted Whitman's "When I heard the learn'd astronomer". Damn it! I thought I was being so clever.

Not Important said...

Can't much comment on academic meetings, but RE: meetings in general, I find that the best ones are the ones where I can call in. I get a lot of work done on my computer, and all I have to do is listen for one of a couple of keywords to prompt me to come back from orbit.

As far as tossing old papers, etc., keep them. Build a shed. Put them in $4 plastic totes you can buy at Target.

Anonymous said...

FSP, you are Awesome.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea I was supposed to begin my grad school applications with a quotation! (I guess I didn't read the right book - if we're being honest, I didn't read any book)

Anonymous said...

I didn't begin my statements with quotes. Does that mean no one will accept me?

As far as keeping old stuff, find a copier that converts things to PDF. Scan notes/papers/etc. to PDFs. Write the PDFs to disks. Save disks, toss notes. Much lighter and smaller.

Jackie M. said...

Best use of "ghastly" this week. *nods*