Mad men done but not dusted

Finally, I finished watching all 7 seasons of Mad Men. Yeah I know, the series ended three years ago, but what can I say, I just got on board.

Mad Men was my pseudo-therapy these last three months that have been hard on me professionally. It allowed me to immerse myself in something absorbing and beautiful and forget the stress of juggling the too-many classes I have to teach.

Some (obviously belated) thoughts [SPOILER ALERT]:

  1. I’m on board with the finale clincher. It’s in character for Don Draper not to change but to have a big advertising epiphany. If he had gone all hippie and reformed, it woudn’t have been convincing.
  2. I did find it unsettling that Don did not go back to Betty and his kids considering the circumstances though. That was weird.
  3. It was also weird that Peggy went from that call with Don to the whole thing with loving Stan. Though of course, I’m glad to see that happen. Fan-service or not, it helped take the edge of the Don bits.
  4. It kind of sucks that Don and Roger not to mention Ted remained at Mcann. Wonder how Mcann feels about being the big, bad guy.
  5. I feel like I’m the only one who liked Megan as a character. I identified with her in some ways. But her going from “You don’t owe me anything” to this tirade at Don was weird.
  6. In fact, the final season had characters changing without seeming motivation. For example, Joan turning on Don… and then they’re friends again? I also never understood how and why Harry suddenly became the bad guy. In the end, he showed loyalty to Don. But they wrote him out of the partnership anyway. Oh well. He was at least consistently a creep in the last few seasons.
  7. Through the series, I went through identifying with different characters. First Betty (!), then Megan and finally Don (generally for the malaise and feeling like one had reached rock bottom).
  8. Don as a character grew on me to the extent that now I feel like he’s a part of my life. As is everyone else of course. But I actually never thought much of Don in the first episode, and by the final season he had become such a tired character. And yet, you can’t help rooting for him (maybe because he’s so handsome. But also, in moments like that dance with Peggy).
  9. And of course, my favourite character is Peggy. May we all be a Peggy and may we all not only get our Stan (without the beard though) but also strut down an office corridor of the biggest in the business, cigarette hanging from lips, dark glasses on and a painting of an octupus pleasuring a lady under our arm.
  10. Oh god, I have a sneaking feeling I’m going to watch them all again just to fill the void.
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Some Rainbow love

I’ve been wanting to read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell for oh about three years but when I finally got hold of her couple of her books they were her adult fiction. I enjoyed them and was pretty sure the book that made her reputation would be better. 

Somehow I could never get my hands on a library copy though. 

Then suddenly, I spotted Fangirl in the kids section of all places. I grabbed it and ditched one of the picture books I’d picked out for the kids. V rolled his eyes at me. 

And I loved it. This book goes on my virtual must read (again) bookshelf. It’s nothing profound, but just the quirkiness of the characters and the authenticity of the experience (the disorientation of freshmen year in a college dorm if youre an introvert) itself. There’s also the whole wanting to be a writer part, loving, nay needing to write that I identified with. And  And certain kinds of writing not being given due credit.  Then there’s the sisterhood conflict and that always gets me. But what really got to me was the fact that she had two other books going on in that story – excerpts from the Simon Snow fantasy series (a thinly veiled Harry Potteresque phenomenon) and the fanfic that the main character – the Fangirl of the title – writes. Whatever one feels about YA  a genre it’s takes some writing chops to do that. 

Then I read Eleanor and Park. I enjoyed it, a sweet teenage love story, an interesting even original one that is also about being a misfit, but I didn’t love it as much as Fangirl. Read both, I’d say. 

When the kids say it better 

Why is there only a queen bee and no king bee? Nene asks.
I want to say because men don’t need women. That a queen is enough. 
Instead I try for biological diplomacy. There are many small king bees instead of just one. Nene looks confused. 
No, I know why, Mimi pipes up. Because there can be mums without a dad. 
You’re right Mimi, I say thrilled. I wish I take credit but I think it’s her friend A who doesn’t have a dad. 
Then Nene pitches in. There can be two dads too. They can get married. L and I like each other but we don’t we don’t want to do that. 

Okay honey you don’t have to marry L. 

End of a…something

(Not an era. A bite-sized period of time.)*

Our fish Chow Chow died today. We called him Chow Chow because he was always hungry and ate a lot. We got him as a little black moor goldfish. He grew enormous and towards the end was more orange than black (kind of like the US presidency I guess).

Nene woke us up with the news. I have some bad news, he said gravely. Chow Chow’s dead. I am struck by the calmness with which the kids deal with death (at least of the fish).* I guess they had practice. Chow Chow and Goldie (the smaller fish who survived, despite sharing tank space with a gregarious companion) were the two that lasted out of the six or so fish V bought. The man in the shop had told him that six fish would be fine in the tank he had actually gone to purchase. The shopkeeper was nuts, the fish were too crowded and fought each other, until we – novice fish keepers – realised and separated them.

How we got the fish is an interesting story itself. Nene met a boy in the playground who was looking for someone to take on his fish as his family was moving and they couldn’t take their tank. He offered to take the fish. I came home one evening to find a woman I didn’t know at my doorstep with a plastic container with two fish. She pleaded with me to take them as they were leaving the next day and her son would be upset if the fish didn’t find a home. I reluctantly agreed.

I’m not even sure Goldie is one of the original two we inherited. One of those died and V went to the shop to get food, a tank and came back with more fish so I’m not sure which is which. Chow Chow was one of the new ones.

I did wonder about the ethics of keeping fish in a tank. Our tank is small and doesn’t have anything in it apart from the fish. I tried adding plants and something for the fish to swim into but they seemed stressed by these additions. I tried adding stones but Chow Chow would move and rattle them all night and at one point, it looked like the tank glass would crack. So we removed everything. The fish were alive and fed, but it didn’t seem like a good life. I toyed with releasing them into a pond, but I wasn’t sure they’d survive there.

Chow Chow solved this dilemma by dying. Our tank filter conked off yesterday and we didn’t think to leave the tank open. Goldie was fine, but maybe Chow Chow being a bigger fish needed more oxygen. I think we had him for over a year. Maybe it was his time to go? I will miss him. He made us smile. Another feeding time he was like a dog, pushing up against the glass, his tail wagging. There is something calming about looking at the graceful movements of a fish. I never even liked fish before they were thrust upon me, but like very few things, they grew on me.

 

 

*How is time measured? Could the lifespan of a fish be one measure?

**Two days ago I read my kids the story about Sadako and the cranes. I didn’t realise that the story in a children’s picture book, would openly deal with death, and the death of a child. But I calmly continued till the end, and then told Mimi about the war and the terrible bomb. Mimi had a lot of questions about how Sadako died, what exactly was wrong with her, she tried to find a way to say that maybe something Sadako did like leaving the hospital was why she died but not just that there is an illness that has no cure. I wanted to agree with her, it would have been easy, but I gently explained that nothing Sadako could have done would have prevented her dying, the illness was too strong. Yet, she lives on in her beautiful cranes. The idea sat with Mimi but by the next day, when she asked me to read the story to Nene, she had accepted it. Nene’s reaction was to say “Hong Kong won’t ever be bombed because we don’t fight with anyone.” I told Nene Hong Kong was part of China and the bigger country did have quarrels with other places. They wanted to see picture of the bomb. They were stunned by the size of the conflagration and the mushroom cloud.  (Nene noticed that the cloud in one photo seemed to be smiling). But I stressed that after Hiroshima, the world decided that the bombs were too terrible to ever be used again. I hope this is true.

 

Things that keep me up at night

  1. Keeping students engaged for THREE hours
  2. Timing material accurately so that it is exactly three-hours long
  3. Weird admin things that I suddenly while peeing at 2 am realize I forgot to do.
  4. Teaching so much I cannot find time to write so that I will be condemned to forever teaching so much.
  5. Finding a job outside academia to escape all this.
  6. Finding a job outside academia and realising I forsook all this.

I can’t win.

 Things I no longer have time to do

Thanks to my underpaid and overworked part-time teaching schedule (and occasional well-paid freelance work I undertake to supplement the former): 

1. Blog (except this once, and I’m standing here waiting for a bus and it would be too unwieldy to peruse my notes for class here) 

2. Read (fiction or non-fiction). Partly because I haven’t had the time to even borrow a book from the library. This weekend a woman contacted me for a book exchange and I got a book I didn’t really want from her and I’ve started reading it piecemeal. It’s not the best (she warned me) but I don’t have a choice right now.

3. Write research papers which I should be doing in order to get a full time gig. Catch 22. 

4. Stay properly in touch with family and friends. This includes my own husband and children. 

5. Exercise. That routine has become sporadic at best. However, I’m so stressed and busy I’m eating less. I think.

6. Smell the roses, enjoy life, even have a freaking dream that doesn’t involve work. 

Ok sayonara.

Mad Men

I wrote this a while ago when my Mad Men obsession started. Now I’m on Season 4: 

Yes, I’ve only started watching. Yes, I’m hooked. I’ve only watched two and a half episodes of season 1 so far. 
First reaction:

People smoked so much !

Men are assholes. 

Wow that really is Kiernan Shipka

Why do I identify with the divorcee 

When do these women grow up. 

There’s something obnoxious about Don Draper being rude to the client in every meeting as if his two and a half okayish quips turn him into some kind of prophet. Are we supposed to admire him or it is supposed to be as hammy as it looks? 

There comes a point in every women’s life when she hits the bottom, usually thanks to a man, and then something in her hardens and while this is tragic, there is something glorious about it. 

First days

Mimi started big school. I was apprehensive, she was excited. She said on her first day that all the kids at her kindergarten are babies and they do baby things there. Mainly, she wanted to be in the same school as her brother.

Said brother was not so sanguine. On the first day, he was nervous. He came back happy though. He had had a bullying issue with a ‘friend’ last year and I’m pleased to note that this boy was no longer in his class. Though they still meet on the playground at recess and they are still friends. Nene’s best friend last year left school just as they were settling in and that’s why he gravitated to the new kid who turned out to have some … issues. I’m glad to note that this year he’s widened his social circle, even to include some girls (one of whom apparently said she wanted to marry him; this being the third such specimen). When I asked him if he had enough people to play with he said: a lot! 

It’s slower going for Mimi on the other hand. I expected this. Most of the kids in her class are from the school kindergarten, so Mimi has to make more effort just as Nene had to last year. Luckily there are a couple of Indian girls in her class and her brother to fall back on. He was not super keen on her playing with his pals but later he warmed to the idea. Though Mimi does seem to have a few peeps of her own they aren’t a sure thing and she’s spent some lonely recesses. This takes me back to my own schoolyard experience so I have more than the usual amount of empathy. 

Academically, they seem to be okay, especially Nene. I am pleasantly surprised how his reading and spelling has taken off. He claims to love math best, so I suppose he’ll always try at that. At the parent orientation, we had to do a little quiz on our kid’s likes and dislikes and I got all but one correct. Yay me. 

*****

I also had a series of firsts, my first teaching days. And it has been … bat shit crazy. So much work, so little time. So many admin things like photocopying and writing inane documents. More admin for the jobs that pay the least. So much time to fill – hour lectures! Hard to keep students motivated. Hard to not take it personally and not stress when they are not. 

I sort of long for the days of just sitting in s cube plugging away at editing. How easily that came to me. How I could always finish on time. Maybe this is all nostalgia. But I miscalculated how hard teaching would be and how much of it there would be. 

Lecturing is like performing and when a class goes well I’m on a high. When it doesn’t, I’m upset. Either way it’s exhausting. 

There doesn’t seem to be another alternative in sight though. 

Onward and … onward. 

Ending

 

IMG_4642I submitted my PhD thesis this week. Woo hoo.

I had planned to submit it earlier, the middle of the month, not the second last day before the deadline, but I kept proofreading and finding errors and I did not want to inflict the 70,000 word beast on a friend so I plodded on myself, until I ran out of time.

In between, as you know, I was scrambling with the job situation, and prepping for the FOUR courses that I will teach together. Ok, actually prepping for two, because I don’t know what is going on with the other two because it was only confirmed I was teaching it last week, and that’s when I got the textbook and a flood of info which I have only glanced at. And I still don’t have a contract.

I had all these plans for the way my PhD would end. I would submit at least a month in advance and use the last month and plentiful library access to write and submit a paper. That didn’t happen because a) I didn’t finish writing as quickly as I expected b) I realised I’d better prep for courses if I was going to take on enough work to make a liveable wage (by this I mean at least as much as my PhD stipend, oh how the mighty have fallen).

Then I planned to submit 15 days before and be completely prepped for the courses I would be teaching. That didn’t happen either. Well, I finished writing but the editing didn’t end, and I didn’t finish all the lecture PPTs, though maybe that was unrealistic too.

I held on to my 80 something books till the last minute because another of my grand plans was to scan everything I needed. Didn’t happen either. I did scan the material for the courses and got all of it (I hope) and some extras, but nowhere close to everything I would have wanted done. Finally, I just had to let go.

Returning my entire collection of books was the hardest part. In the end, I had to take a little suitcase to office and make two and something trips down to the book drop and finally, my bookcase was empty, and so was I.

I had also planned to hold on to my office key and use the office till the last day (or obnoxiously more) but a) I realised there were new students coming in, and they were being assigned the not-so-nice desks because we were still occupying ours b) I like abiding my the rules, but mainly c) something in me clicked shut when I saw my empty bookcase, and I cleared out my desk that very day and carted everything home in my little purple suitcase and handed back the key. And that was that. Happily it turns out that because I am part-time teaching I will get a desk in some other office, or at least some sort of office space, so I won’t be totally adrift.

I was soooo tired from a) lugging the six copies of my PhD across campus in the hard sun only to land up from at the Graduate School counter to an unceremonious “what?” from the inept woman there who acted like she had never encountered a student submitting a thesis before b) clearing out the office and lugging the admittedly stuffed suitcase to the MTR c) the emotional intensity of the ending.

The next day I felt incapable of doing anything, although there was so much to do, so I went for a run and cut myself some slack by sitting in the bath for like an hour, reading fittingly Bridget Jones’s Baby and when I finally got myself to emerge, I had finished half of the (slim) novel and so said what the hell and basically read the whole thing. That evening, some of us grad students met in a bar to celebrate/drown our sorrows and it was nice, though the sad thing is, I don’t think these people are my friends, not really. You can tell I’m in a maudlin mood, right?

At drinks, the other two people who submitted described their feeling as empty. I don’t feel empty, just… detached? I had finished writing and disengaged from the thesis a while ago, and had moved on if not made peace with to the next phase of my life which is being an underpaid adjunct, though there was something about having to give back my books that made me feel like I don’t know something died.

It really is the end of an era. The other day, I was grumbling to V about our department and he said that you shouldn’t say such negative things (eyeroll), you spent so long there, why did you do this anyway. And I said, don’t get me wrong, I loved it. When I look back on my life, I will look back on this as one of the best periods of my life. Despite all the disappointments, the lack of money or being made to feel like I wasn’t bringing in enough money, the imposter syndrome and questioning whether I was good enough, the insecurity about what now after and the fact that it appears I cannot go back to where I was even if I wanted to, spending three years immersed in ideas surrounded by books and people similarly preoccupied was the experience of the lifetime. Maybe our desire to extend this experience into a career is unrealistic, and maybe even more unrealistic is that the experience will not be sullied by the realities of ‘career’ but can you blame us? Not to mention the travel for conferences, getting hotels paid for and exploring a city on my own. The sitting alone, entirely alone in an office for days on end, and writing about something that probably noone else cared about but which I was being paid to do anyway. And the not small achievement of writing essentially a book, finally forming an argument even if not the most groundbreaking one (well, of course I’m going to downplay it).

So yeah, for this I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

unZen and the art of job hunting

One of my kids’ books features a zen monkey who quotes Lao Tzu: “At the centre of your being you have the answer: you know who you are and what you want.”

But do I? This job search has taught me that I don’t really.

At one point, having seen what making it in academia would involve and realizing what academia is – not that well paid, badly organized, full of egos – I had convinced myself that I would be happy to give it up and go into a non-academic job. But then I found myself faced with the choice of one decently paying commercial job and a handful of not-so-well-paying, precarious teaching jobs, I had a mini identity crisis. What did I want?

In the teaching jobs corner:

  1. They are in line with what I’ve been doing for the past three years, and give me a foot into the door of a new career.

BUT

  1. They pay shite
  2. Teaching takes a lot of effort, and I’m not sure I want to do sooo much teaching that I don’t have time for anything else.
  3. There is no stability. Next semester, I’ve have to start this search all over again.

But the thing that really pissed me off about these jobs is how unprofessional these places are. They are vague with info, and provide no proper confirmation about anything – whether you really truly have the job, how many students, hell, when the semester starts and ends. In order to withhold this info for whatever mysterious reasons – I guess amazingly because they don’t know either – they don’t even reply to email. I heard from one friend that one of the places that I was slated to teach at confirmed over email that she would teach a coach, and then silence, until nearing the start of the semester, she emailed to ask them for details, and they told her that they found someone inhouse to teach that course #sorrynotsorry. This made the vagueness of communication unnerve me further.

In a fit of pique one morning having again not received a response to an email query, I fired off an application to a non-academic job. And to my complete and utter shock, the HR replied right away. They asked me to state salary expectations, a category I had left off my application because my real expectations are high but I’m willing to compromise? Pressed on this point and suspecting that if I put in my last salary, I might scare them away I asked around and found a former colleague had worked there. Although she told me the pay would probably not be amazing, the place was a good one to work at, I got excited.

The thing was that two weeks or so before the start of semester, I felt bad to back out of the teaching jobs. But two weeks or so before the start of semester said teaching jobs were being vague and hadn’t even signed a contract yet.

Of course, on the day I apply to something else that writes back, the woman from the teaching position replies to my email saying sorry I was on leave (on leave replies are not a thing that exists in academia I’ve come to understand, eyeroll). Anyway, I went in for the editing test of the commercial job, and while I liked the place, I disliked the politics they espouse which are on the (economically) right wing of the spectrum. Nevertheless, I could swallow that for financial security. Unfortunately, I think I did rather badly on the editing test.

While waiting to hear back, I wondered why I was ‘wasting time’ prepping for the teaching jobs. If I did indeed land the commercial job, then all these PPTs on Pride and Prejudice would be for naught. It all very well to say carry on as if you weren’t getting the job, but the fact is that if I were to get the job, I should have been trying to get a paper published not prepping for courses that I wouldn’t teach. The problem is that depending on my future path, the claims on my current time would change. Not knowing what the future held became even more frustrating because it gave me the sense that my current effort might be entirely a waste of time.

Anyway, I didn’t hear from the commercial job for a few days in which time, given the alacrity of their first response, I had given up on them. I was fine, except my ego was bruised. I knew my test hadn’t been stellar but I didn’t believe it was so bad as to write me off the second interview. That’s the other thing about job hunting, the sting of rejection.

Then, of course, just as I had given up hope, I got called in for the second interview. And of course it happened on the same day that the institution I would be teaching with contacted me to ‘double confirm’ that I would be available and said they would start processing a contract.

Now with the possibility of the commercial job becoming real, I had to figure out what to say about the teaching. I could of course back out of the teaching altogether – and given the lack of professionalism and low pay, why not- except:

  1. I didn’t entirely want to close the door on an academic career given that I did have a PhD and it was a path I wanted to explore (but not risk bankruptcy for)
  2. Although I had established that these institutions wouldn’t treat me the same way – they have a clause in their contract that if 10 students don’t sign up the course gets cancelled – I did not feel comfortable backing out at the last minute. If nothing else, these were not bridges I wanted to burn entirely.

Finally, I did the kind of Libran balancing-act that my conscience would be comfortable with even if it may not have been the most sensible course of action. I told the interviewer that I could start in two weeks but I needed to be out of office a couple of half-days to teach for three months. They didn’t seem as fazed by this as I expected. And I really liked the manager which helped ease my misgivings about the politics of the place.

Then came the agonizing what-ifs. Even if they agreed to my conditions of being out of office for a bit, I would need to cancel two teaching jobs. And the whole arrangement of a full-time editing job and two teaching jobs was going to be crazy hectic for me. Now, I realized that I needed to speed up prepping for the courses because if I did get the job, I would have zero prep time during the semester.

The idea of being so crazy busy that I wouldn’t have time to breathe began to give me a minor panic attack. But more than that I was stressing about cancelling two of the four – yes I need to teach four courses to make slightly about my student stipend – teaching jobs I had committed to (but not yet! signed a contract for) .

The time between these call-backs is agonizing. The well-meaning advice is apply and forget about it, but it’s hard to when you are in the interview process. It’s hard not to what-if, or in my case at least have a game plan about what to do with the other balls in the air.

So what happened in the end?

I haven’t heard back from the commercial job. I’m a little miffed ego-wise, but for now, I’m okay with it. I had told myself when I started applying in April, that I would prioritize teaching jobs for the first semester to give that career path a chance and having actually got four offers, it seems silly to close off that option even though they lack stability. I might as well get that experience on my resume. And the money all put together is not that bad.

The commercial job would have given me stability, but it was going to be a nightmare doing it together with teaching. So I’m actually fine with it not coming through except for the unease about what I’m going to be doing three months down the line and whether this means that I’m unemployable commercially.

To go back to the quote that started this post, the answer may be at the centre of my being, but I don’t know what it is. I feel easier fate having made that choice for me.