Friday, June 29, 2007

trouble with priorities and values
plus: I wake up with an argument in my head

Very late last night I suffered a sadly typical (for me) crisis of self-confidence, particularly, as always, related to what I do with my life. It goes like this: I am muddling through a teaching "career" at Cow State Santa Claus (as I call it, not to insult it but to play with the name of the institution). I am bemused to find that I've been teaching there nine years now. It's what brought me out to California, where I had no intention nor desire to live, especially not in the Central Valley. Since I started here, in my "temporary" position as what my campus alone among CSUs refers to as a "Visiting Lecturer" (it keeps getting ironicer and ironicer, don't it?), I've had the kind of teaching workload that makes any serious attempt at writing scholarly articles and books impossible except during summer. Nevertheless, I've been able for most of that nine years to keep my toe in a couple different academic philosophy circles, and I've had a couple ongoing philosophical/phenomenological research projects. None of that academic activity is sufficient, given the way the tenure-track job market in philosophy works, to put me in a position to challenge for one. In addition, I received my Ph.D. in philosophy in 1996, and the longer one is past the Ph.D. freshness date, the less attractive one is as a starting-level tenure-track professor. At least, that's what I believe, firmly, having been in academia and in the market.

Meanwhile, as has been documented in this weird public online journal, I've been putting a lot of energy into playing guitar, or rather, guitars. I've only picked up the guitar again a few years ago, and it's been unspeakably satisfying, especially learning the 12-string. I've written a handful of tunes, some of which I think are really good. Lauren has been turning them into songs, and it's been awfully damned cool recording our own stuff and giving friends copies of cds we've put together, even packaging them like albums. It's a small-scale way of living out a fantasy of being a musician (or, to use a term I hate for no good reason, a "recording artist").

Obviously, the more time I spend playing the guitar, writing tunes, recording them, futzing with the wacky German software that came with our cheesy USB-port pre-amp, the less time I'm spending on philosophical pursuits, and this summer I've spent only a very little time on those. The crisis of the night was over this. When I'm playing, I have the gnawing feeling I ought to be working on research and writing; when I'm doing research and writing, my mind often drifts back into music and the feeling I ought to be playing more. The result is that I've been feeling like I'm wasting my time, no matter what I'm doing, and that the summer (now already 4 weeks old) is drifting past. I should, I tell myself, stop all this nonsense and do something to pursue a goal.

It could be understood as a dilemma, a disjunct between two increasingly unlikely dream jobs. (This is probably a false dilemma, which should help me feel better, but doesn't.)

To get out of the Valley, away from Cow State Santa Claus, I'd have to ratchet up the academic work by leaps and bounds. Having been both in the philosophy job market and in academia, there are a lot of things I'd rather do, of which I'll provide a brief sample, for context: cut off bits of my fingertips while chopping onions; stab myself in the knee repeatedly with a dull Ticonderoga (Lauren: I've done that! Me: I think most people have); drop my 1928 Underwood No. 5 typewriter (which weighs about 25 punds) on my left foot, then drop my 1935 Royal "H" model typewriter (which weighs about 30 pounds) on my left foot.

And of course, there's simply no way on earth I'd be willing to do what it would take to make a living as a musician. I always suffer doubts I could be good enough (though that's probably silly, since a lot of people who do make a living as musicians aren't as good), but I know myself, my character.

In a way (and here's one very very unhelpful way in which this is a false dilemma), in both cases it's a question of my unwillingness to accept or deal in bullshit. Academia, academic job seeking especially, is absolutely overwhelmed by bullshit, coming from every imaginable direction (I've had the privilege of seeing it all on our fair campus - faculty making bullshit decisions, imposing bullshit criteria, giving bullshit evaluations; administrators making other bullshit decisions, making bullshit rationalizations for policies; higher administration giving bullshit explanations for why there aren't more tenure-track positions in the first place). The world of professional musicianeering I know much less about, but the chances of an obscure, fair guitarist and a very good singer who write folk-rock sorts of songs with often extremely bizarre chord changes making it, whatever that means, or even getting gigs, are absurdly remote. And I don't think I want to play "Stuck in the Middle With You" every night for a half-room-full of semi-sober geezers who sing the wrong words along to the chorus for the rest of my natural life.

We talked about this last night. Lauren assured me, as she always has, that I'm worthwhile as a human being, that I'm a good teacher, that my philosophical projects are valid, that I'm a good guitarist. This serves to remind me that we make a good life together, and that should be the only important consideration. If we can make a good life together when I'm stuck in the tenuous track of academia, when we're living in the Central Valley (motto: A Great Place To Leave; alternate motto: Not A Nice Place To Visit, But You Wouldn't Want To Live There), then what more could we realistically hope for? Ah, there's the rub: unrealistic hope. My false dilemma is predicated on being discontent with life, and feeling that it can't go on like this, that a change is necessary. In fact, I don't have to choose between my so-called career and my so-called guitar playing. So it seems at least on a bright midmorning in late June on a day that won't be too hot and I don't imagine I'll have too much bullshit coming my way.

Prepared as I always am for that eventuality, however, I woke up with an argument in my head. The argument concerns an ongoing discussion of the kind of work "temporary" faculty should have. There is a view, which I consider revolting, that lecturers are hired only to teach, and that therefore the only kind of work for which we should be recognized is teaching. In other words, although we may go out on our own and do research, publish stuff, go to conferences, serve on university committees, and so on, none of that really matters, because we're paid to teach. One of my first conscious thoughts this morning was that this notion is based on a preposterous concept of the division of labor in education. According to this absurdity, there is a tier of specialized "research" universities, where faculty are primarily responsible for developing what is often called "new knowledge," and then there are secondary and tertiary tiers where this knowledge is disseminated. This makes no sense whatsoever. Obviously, if I'm going to "disseminate" knowledge, that is, to teach, I have to develop two "new" knowledges: my own, and my students'. I have to know what I teach, after all, and if I'm teaching it, as a result of my teaching it, my students ought to know it too.

But what I really hit upon is how this view of the situation depends on an unexamined commodity form of knowledge. Knowledge, on this view, is something produced in a particular place by particular people, then sold, in little modular chunks, to be distributed down the line. On this model, I work in knowledge retail (discount). I don't know what "new knowledge" would mean otherwise. It's epistemologically bizarre, to say the least. (Now, I wonder, how can I parlay this kind of insight into an interesting topic of inquiry in the Theory of Knowledge course I'm slated to teach this fall?)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

new tune, at long last!

We've finally started recording more stuff. The first thing I've decided to put up on Soundclick is a bit of fun called Mt. Diablo Windy Day Rag. Of course, it's not a proper rag. But I think it's snappy, and it is certainly a blast to play. The Soundclick page for it explains its inspiration. Mt. Diablo is part of the range to our immediate west, separating the Central Valley from the Livermore Valley and the Bay Area. The route you travel to get over there is through the Altamont Pass, so the area is commonly, and in my opinion falsely, called "the Altamont."

In any event, it's a hot guitar number. Perhaps people randomly crossing paths with my journal will check it out, and perhaps they will send others in the direction of the file.

By the way, it's a pretty good recording, made in our kitchen (which is more accustomed to being the place where we make food and beer). I think I'm getting a tad bit better at recording. It's also the first thing I've posted that I play on the Breedlove 12-string. Shazam.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I undergo a change of heart

My new Breedlove is having an unhappy night. The relative humidity in the House About Town dropped like a rock over the past half-hour, from 41% to 33%. The humidity outside is a steady 24%. But my Breedlove comes from Oregon, and wants to be at around 40-50%. I don't want my frets popping up, dammit!

I grew up in Ohio and North Carolina, where the humidity is so high you have to go swimming to dry off. One, perhaps the only, atmospheric trait of the Central Valley that I have heretofore loved is the low humidity. It still sucks when it's 110, but as they say, it's a dry heat.

Now I'm wishing it were more humid. It looks like we're gonna have to buy a humidifier. Or else build a very large humidor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

hotter in the city than it is in the summer

I've developed concern about the environment my new Breedlove lives in. It lives in the living room, next to the piano. It being the Central Valley, I figured it was likely to be too dry here. So I checked on this at the Breedlove guitar site, to find that the ideal relative humidity for my guitar is between 40% and 50%, or else it's between 45% and 50%, because the site has two different comments to make on this. It also notes that it was built at between 41% and 45%, so why it should ideally live in a somewhat damper environment, I don't know. We've made an inquiry.

Anyway, that led me to want to get a thermometer/hygrometer to check the environmental condition. Radio Shack sells one, but only one, that comes with a wireless extension so you get the outdoor temperature and relative humidity. It also comes with a barometer and atomic clock, so that it can, it says, predict the weather, but also keep totally accurate time (it checks in with the atomic clock in Denver, where we keep the time, every couple minutes, I think). This has the welcome side-effect that we can now monitor the outdoor temperature without relying on the national weather service. And this is good, for two unconnected reasons.

One is that the national weather service issues the temperature update 7 minutes before each hour. So you don't get up-to-the-minute temperature readings. That makes a difference especially between 9 am and noon, because it can rise several degrees over the course of a few minutes.

Second is that the national weather service's official Turlock temperature is taken at the airport (as it is for most locations). In the words of George Carlin, that's stupid, man, because nobody lives at the airport. Yesterday, the NOAA jokers predicted it would be 96 degrees in Turlock and Modesto. They recorded an official high of 100 degrees. We got a high of 102 in our yard.

It's been like that all year. The forecast calls for a temperature 5 or 6 degrees cooler than it actually gets, but the forecast remains unaltered. I figure the fact of the matter is that old temperature data skew predictions downward.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

old habits

For years, I spent every morning with a mug full of ridiculously strong coffee and the Modesto Bee. Like much of my life, this activity was deeply disturbing, relentlessly disappointing, and the cause of ever-growing resentment. One of the main reasons for this was the Bee's always awful opinion page, particularly the dreadful letters to the editor.

This morning, checking the Bee site for today's temperature forecast (95) and yesterday's high (104), out of curiosity I checked the opinion page. I still do this from time to time, mainly when I'm expecting them to print something particular - a letter I've sent them, something related to the CFA or the CSU, etc. Today it was for the sheer hell of it.

Someone had written a snarky letter suggesting that since creationists believe the earth is only 6000 years old, we must similarly be wrong about half-lives of radioactive isotopes, so nuclear power should be regarded as safe, and we shouldn't worry about nuclear waste. Store it, our intrepid author suggested, by the Creationism Museum in Kentucky.

Someone else had written about obnoxious parents leaving a local middle school graduation after their kids' names were called off the long list, sometimes bringing their brats with them. Apparently something similar happened at the school's athletic awards ceremony.

Wait, hold it right there. The middle school has both a graduation and an athletic awards ceremony? I started to have a Paula Poundstone moment: why the hell are there so many ceremonies and awards? Why are we congratulating ourselves so much for so little? (It gets worse, of course. Paula was complaining about grade school graduation.) This seems to be a national trend, too.

For instance, yer local TV nooz probably tells you it's won some kind of award. It might start with their theme song and then a pan in on the silhouetted figure of the nooz anchor, while lights come up to illuminate him. "Good evening. I'm Smarmy Middleagedman and this is the award-winning Channel 9 Action Nooz. Our first story tonight: Drugs in our schools. But first, here's Perky Dingbat..." etc. The "award" is most likely presented by the corporation who owns the station. It's supposed to give an aura of prestige.

Which is why I'm so proud to announce that I have been named the recipient of the 2007 Groovetastic Award for all-round grooviness. This makes me a double award-winner this year, since I have previously received the Samuel Pufendorf Prize for Teaching Like A Mo-Fo for 2007. I'll be adding these to my syllabi for fall, of course, and having them printed on business cards (did you know practically all academics have business cards now?). I recommend this to anyone. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that self-help and get-ahead type books already recommend it. I already feel more prestigious and deserving. It's good to feel entitled.

I graciously accept these awards and your applause. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

gig, LA, *&^@-in' hot

So last Friday we played a few songs at the annual Cow State Santa Claus staff picnic. I couldn't really tell if we went over well or not. It's not that kind of gig, frankly. It's only sort of a gig. People were attentive, at least. I suppose if you're playing at an employee picnic and more people are paying attention to you than to potato salad, you're doing okay. Still, our very first public appearance has been accomplished. Perhaps I won't be so damned nervous next time.

Immediately, and I mean immediately, afterward, we drove to LA to visit, and I mean visit. I believe firmly that no one has ever visited so ferociously before. We played umpteen hands of cards, engaged in commercial and entertainment activities that could have been lethal to mere mortals, went to Long Beach, we even went to the LA County Musuem of Art (LACMA).

LACMA had an exhibition of work by Dan Flavin, whose biggest claim to fame as an arteest is his use of flourescent light. We took a couple pictures inside the exhibition before realizing that it wasn't permitted. Oh well, what are they gonna do, sue us? Anyway, although my loveliest wasn't all that keen on the idea at first, she soon realized what I knew from previous Flavinations I've perused: he has a way of presenting light as art and architecture, and also in a way that challenges you to consider how flourescent light makes you see.

Yesterday we drove home, up the Crankster Freeway, evading all the brain-dead idjits who drive up and down the Crankster Freeway [coupla hints, folks: (1) it's the one on the right; (2) the little white dashes on the road? Those are lanes]. By the time we got to Merced, Eddie Jetta's outdoor thermometer said it was 99 degrees. It was fairly stuffy inside when we got home, and eventually I succumbed and put on the AC, which we'll definitely need today, since it's gonna be 100 degrees here.

To end on a more positive note, I decided last night that today is Unofficial National Turlock Butt Day. So enjoy your butt and the butts of others, with any luck without legal ramifications.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

since finishing grading

"Vacation" is one of the sample labels Blogger offers bloggers for their blogs. It reminds me that, officially at least, I am now on "vacation." This apparently means a lot of writing, going many places, buying lots of fruit, and in general being incredibly busy.

Monday morning, filled with anxiety related to all sorts of things only some of which I might later write about, I prepared to wakl to campus to file final grades. I decided that I should wear my contact lenses so that I could wear sunglasses, it being bright and warm out. I promptly lost a lens down the sink. I haven't been to the eye doc for a couple years, so I was looking forward to going and getting, probably, new eyeglass lenses to replace the very badly scratched ones I've got, but now I suppose contacts will be in order.

I got up to campus to realize that I had forgotten the grade list for one class. It was printed and sitting on my printer. I phoned my loveliest and had her read the list. She was patient and caring. I realized I was still missing three final papers. This always happens. I wrote in Incompletes for those, made copies upon copies of everything, then filed grades.

I walked home. Lauren had been baking a surprise, something by way of helping soothe the petty wounds of the day. Grading always puts me on edge, and this other thing I've been dealing with shoved me quite hard edgeward, so I was teetering for much of Monday. I felt very loved. We took off to buy more fruit, hit the grocery store, etc. The prospect of fruit is always nice. That particular afternoon, however, without our being aware of it, had been declared Drive Like A Complete And Total Freak Day. Drivers whose apparent aim in life is to either snarl traffic or cause hazards bug the holy heck out of me, but they make Lauren exceptionally, not to say existentially, jumpy.

But we made it home. We had one of our favorite meals, then watched the Ottawa Senators lose game four of the Stanley Cup Finals to the goddamn Anaheim Ducks (as we call them in a good mood). That was disgusting. We rehearsed a few songs, one I've been uncomfortable with and therefore insisted on playing despite my frustration, and that made me very tense again. I felt my back and neck and jaw all clench (if a back or neck can clench), played the tune through, made mistakes, got further frustrated, did it again, grrr, grrrr, grrrrr. Apparently, this was unpleasant for my love.

I put away one guitar, upstairs in the Room of Requirement, then grabbed another and noodled with it a bit. Downstairs I heard the telltale clinking and general mumble of a kitchen being cleaned up and something be plated and set at table. It was by then around 9:30 or so, and all useful hours of the day had been exhausted. I hobbled downstairs, where Lauren presented me the dessert she'd made for us: little individual heart-shaped tarts with extremely pink pastry creme and strawberries. That made Monday evening much nicer.

Tuesday, which was yesterday, we decided enough was bloody well enough, and we split for San Francisco. The drive out was difficult because of the wind, but it was pretty. We went directly, and without any trouble, to Golden Gate Park, found parking, walked to the de Young museum (first Tuesday of the month admission is free, so we went there and told them deep dark secrets). There's some good modern stuff in the de Young, and that's what I mainly like, so that was good. We only took in the concourse floor, decided that it was late enough in the day to move on to find something to eat and that our legs were tired, and left for North Beach.

We again got there no problem, except for the woman who ran a four-way stop and nearly crushed us. Unfortunately, our favorite place in North Beach was closed, since (we found out) it closes every Tuesday, so we found another place, which was okay. I had penne with pancetta and spicy tomato sauce, and Lauren had spaghetti puttanesca that I dubbed The Saltiest Pasta Dish in History. I mean, yes, anchovies are salty, and yes, puttanesca has to have a lot of anchovies, but holy jumpin' was that some salty stuff.

There was no better way to cure that than to avail ourselves of the very last moments of Happy Hour at the San Francisco Brewing Co., just down Columbus. Thence to City Lights, thence back to the House About Town.

I could summarize the last two days in a word, if forced to by some bizarre provision of the USA PATRIOT act. If so, that word would be: Whoof!