Thursday, August 31
I have a colleague who loves to apologize for his misogynistic comments. To begin, he'll say something completely moronic, or something completely understandable--doesn't matter. What matters is that his incredibly astute and sophisticated understanding of feminist linguistic politics sends up a flag for him (go ahead and read something into that, if you can manage not to lose your lunch over the idea). The opportunity to bask in the glory of his brilliant realization overcomes him and he stops, always mid-sentence. "I'm sorry. That was sooo mis-aaaah-gynistic." The ensuing conversation always involves at least three more opportunities for him to say misogynistic and at least one, but probably two opportunities to say some form of the word patriarchy. For a kicker, he always concludes that his original stupid-ass point must stand and that he has a bona fide need for the allegedly misogynistic term or concept. (This is just what the world needs, linguistic BFQs.) Listening to his self-congratulatory musings on the oppression of women is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. (Can you see me batting my long luxurious Sienna eyelashes?)

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I've been lurking around here for a long time but haven't managed to put up a real entry yet. Does this make me a slacker? That would be interesting since just being here seems to make everyone else a slacker. Nevertheless, I feel like a slacker for failing to post. So I thought I'd debut with a theme that might provide me with more ideas for secrets to reveal later. If you're brave enough to join me in this game, just jump right in with "behind door #whatever.comes.next". My plan to help muddy the identity waters is to draw from lots of places and previous experiences, with just a dash of a pure fiction. That way the personalities won't add up to anything identifiable, or if they do add up to something-- You know the standard disclaimer.
Wednesday, August 30
Tuesday, August 29
[I was almost done writing this post when my computer rebooted for no reason and so I lost it. This may make for a shorter post than the original, possibly missing some points.]

It's that time of year when students start requesting letters of recommendation. I have a few coming up for graduate students. Some are not a problem at all, but one has caused some concern for me lately.

I am on this student's committee, but other than his participation in one of my classes (which, to be fair, was very good), I have had little exposure to him. He hasn't responded to any of my comments about his dissertation. (Granted, his main advisor said that my requests weren't that important so the student has backing in not following my requests. We'll leave for another time this issue of committee members disagreeing.) The student had expressed interest in working with me (three times over the years), but never actually came through with any work when it came down to giving me something concrete.

So overall, I don't have a lot of great things to say. After all, I think the main project is definitely lacking and I haven't been super impressed by the student's motivations either.

So what to do? It's not really an option for me to say I won't write the letter. But then what do I say? Obviously I don't want to say anything bad, but how much good can you say given the above?
Monday, August 28
That's the question Jon Stewart posted Friday night (I think it was Friday night) and it was one of those jokes that he delivered just unable to contain himself. He was so proud! Of course it's not true that social criticism doesn't happen other places, but that's where the audience goes. I'll be the first to say that if it weren't for Jon Stewart (and Oprah Winfrey), the American public would be duped more completely than they are today. These entertainers did something important, but they also changed our jobs, to some extent. So today, I'm looking at a.secret and thinking, "Quick! Say something funny that does something important!" But I think I'll save my energy because I have to teach today and there, the expectations are the same: Be funny and be entertaining, otherwise, my students won't be so receptive when I disassemble their worlds.
Friday, August 25
I read this article today and wondered where something like this leaves us?

Is sharing our secrets here good or bad? Are they part of our identities or can we keep them stored away safely? Do we engage in conversations here only to preserve our tenure chances, academic safety, and reputability, or to preserve our selves too?

Is sharing your secret with a stranger - or as a stranger - different than sharing it with someone you know intimately?
Thursday, August 24

I was very excited to get an invitation to join academic secret, but I've been feeling twinges of impostor syndrome when trying to think about what to post. I'm not a real academic (any moment now someone will realize they made a mistake letting me into grad school) and I'm certainly not cool enough to be part of a secret cabal. After rereading the archives, however, I'm feeling more confident because I'm pretty sure that I can beat all y'all at something, even if I have to bring up an old argument to do it.

Salmon Ella first claimed to be the “resident slacker of academicsecret” back in July, but didn't seem eager to fight for the title when thistle challenged her*. I'm ready to take you on, though, thistle! Thistle's pretense to the title: “There are many weeks when I only manage to work 20-30 hours at being a graduate student, and I don't even have a baby.”

Ha! I laugh at your “20-30 hours”! A day when I do 2 hours of vaguely work-related activities is a day of astounding productivity for me. Usually, it takes all my motivation to do the bare minimum required to keep my model organisms alive.

Let me share a typical day with you:

8-9am – alarm goes off, hit snooze (repeat)

9am - read email/blogs
10.30am - realize my dreams of one day getting to work before 11am are about to be shattered, yet again
11.30am – start getting ready to leave
12pm - arrive at work, read more blogs (or at least hit refresh until something new shows up in my feed reader) until everyone else leaves the lab
6pm - realize that my organisms are going to die if I don't feed them
7pm – finally drag myself away from the computer to feed my organisms
7.15pm – go home

Anyone think they can top that for slackerness? Bring it on!

Pre-post update: Sadly, since I wrote the first part of my post, my advisor managed to kill my sense of achievement. She came by to ask for an update on my progress and after I mumbled my excuses about shipping delays (read: forgetting to place the order) and lack of facility access (read: not getting around to returning the signed forms), she started talking about all the exciting new ideas she has for my project. She seems to be feeling bad that my project is having problems (it does have some that aren't entirely self-induced) and is sure that once I get some results I'll be moving ahead much faster! I couldn't bring myself to confess the real reason for my lack of progress. She'll just have to learn the slow way that I can bring errors and delays to the best of projects...

Why does she have to be so nice and supportive and make me feel guilty? And why can I not just do some work??




*Turquoise Stuff also mentioned the title fight, but I'm not sure he(?) is a serious contender. I mean, he has a list!
After years of trying to help my students learn how to decipher the way other people evaluate them (just one of the many life-lessons folded into my courses), I think it's time I took the plunge and developed a grading rubric for my written assignments. I don't want to for several reasons, failing to teach them how to read their environment is one, flexibility is another. But on the flexibility front, I'm especially worried that I'll forget to include something on my rubric, like, "Oh! You can't use the religious text you've been studying since you were three years old as the only source for this paper." Now, I'm trying to brainstorm about those invisible spaces. But the thing I'm most anxious to include and be explicit about is a set discount factors. At the top of my list will be a thing I learned from a colleague I never met who ran a writing boot camp for some of the greatest 20-year-old political minds in the [name a region] US. I taught a class that attracted many of his students and they would come in groups of three or four to tell their tales of woe from those seminars. And this is where I found out that you can actually cure a student of his-or-her-but-usualy-his sophomoric writing style. My colleague who ran the political honors group didn't use a grading rubric, of course, but he excelled in teaching humility to gifted youth who had yet to learn exactly how big the world really is, and he would not hesitate to just write it across the top of their papers, "Your pompocity score is off the charts." Oooooh! That makes me happy!!!
Wednesday, August 23
A friend of mine was recently at a major conference for his discipline, which included a number of one-on-one conversations with people that stretched well beyond his genuine-interest attention span. He's been worried that in such conversations he loses focus and his uninterest becomes more obvious than he would like. So he came up with a strategy for it this year that he's been going on about ever since.

What he does first is to imagine some ludicrously hideous thing he could say to the other person. The point is not that it's anything he wants to say or thinks is true; indeed, he claims it's better if it's not. The key thing is that it has to be something that, were he to say it out loud, would certainly ruin his relationship with the other person, and very possibly his career. Knowing him, my guess is that it's usually something over-the-top sexual, perhaps involving livestock.

Then, as the other person is talking, not only does he think this thought over and over again, but he imagines trying to project the thought into the other person's mind using some hitherto undiscovered telepathic power. All that while, he maintains the appearance to the other person like they are having a normal, friendly conversation and gives no indication that he is really devoting all of his mental energy to trying to communicate some sick message to them by extrasensory means. Even though this ultimately means he's listening to the person even less than when he was merely bored, he's convinced he now does a better job of looking like he's paying attention, because this makes appearing to be an attentive listener an active challenge.

His other goal, of course, is to have some moment in which the other person gets a puzzled, disturbed, and confused look on her/his face that would indicate that he had succeeded in breaching the brainwave communication barrier for a brief moment, but so far he reports no success in that regard. Then again, he has a few decades of meetings ahead of him during which he can hone his technique.

I'm thinking about trying it, but I'm worried I'll have trouble not laughing. Or looking deranged. Or, worst of all: deranged laughter.
Tuesday, August 22
I want to take a moment to clarify my Fraud identity. I might feel like I'm undeserving of my current position, or that people think that I'm more capable than I am, but I believe whole-heartedly that I am bright and capable. These past couple weeks I've also learned that I am great at getting things done.

My partner, adept in all the ways I feel inept, is brilliant. His vita looks like a full professor's (and he doesn't even have his PhD yet). He reads incessantly, and now writes as much, and has the broadest understanding of anyone I know in his field. He does have one kryptonetic weakness; he is really bad at getting things done.

We're both new faculty at our institution and both of us had more orientations than any human should endure and more luncheons, retreats, and gatherings than I think is necessary (despite the usually excellent food, and sometimes booze, served there). I RSVP'd to each of them, and gave my menu choices. I balanced my time and wrote them in my calendar. I arrived at each and every one on time and prepared. I got things done. My partner, on the other hand...

It won't get me tenure, but I derive some sick sense of pleasure that I was able to juggle it all (plus kid, who's mine) and not skip a beat, whereas Mr. Brilliant couldn't.

Maybe it was trading in my denim for some dress pants for the first day of teaching, but I'm feeling a little less fraud-like today.
I just can't do it. There has to be secret force in the universe that prevents the word NO from exiting my mouth. I bow down to those of you have mastered this force and ask for guidance as to how to vanquish this horrible foe. I feel the assault on my spinal column with every request. I do not wish to fall victim to academyosteoporotic syndrome. I mean a forced spinectomy is one thing but this is self-inflicted! Oh wise colleagues, please share your secrets!!
We will be sending out a funky-fresh new round of a.secret invitations in the next few days. If correspondents have ideas for others who, to their knowledge, are not part of the cabal but would be good to have, let Plaid or me know via e-mail.
Every year I make a sort of sacriligious pilgrimage to a super-secret location for an unspectacular event that has nothing to do with my academic life.

The reason I (along with 20 of my closest non-academic friends and a couple hundred other fun people) enjoy this place so much is that, although the goal of our adventure is the same as many of our other summer weekends, this place is goverened by a different set of assumptions than the world we normally live in, and you wouldn't think it, but many of them are better than ours.

It strikes me as a place with very few barriers, where the beer flows freely and all kinds of things normally restricted or prohibited in the outside world are open and allowed. I am more comfortable there than other places, despite the fact that there is no cellular service (gulp), and certainly no data or computers.

I know you think I'm headed off to the mountains for some sort of hippie retreat on a commune, but that wouldn't constitute a decent academic secret. And this one is a serious flaw in the otherwise smooth fabric of my real life identity, so PLEASE don't tell anyone that my glorious annual retreat is... Okay, wait... Before I tell you, you have to understand that we've been doing this for 15 years or more now, and we're genuinely surprised that we're still allowed, but we are, so we do. Can you tell I'm nervous? It's a horrible secret!

Okay, (deep breath... exhale) the reason there's no cell service is not merely that it's a little bit removed from urban life. The real reason is that the signals are scrambled because...

...It's a Naval Base!

Monday, August 21
In recent whispers about which of us might embark on a passionate affair for the readerly edification of all, Kodachrome suggested that I might " release "Wild Blue" to seek her own passions." The relevant background here, dear readers, is that while my nom-de-keyboard is "Twilight Blue," the Crayola color to which this hue corresponds is "Wild Blue Yonder." Thus, simply by virtue of not first looking at the Crayola Crayons colors, I seem to have established a bit of a spilt personality for myself here on Academic Secret.

What intrigues me about this (even beyond the delightful myriad of words that describe shades of blue) is my choice of Academic Secret identities, I'd already begun to unfurl the fingers of the hand in which I hold one of my academic secrets. This is, of course, that I do have a bit of a split personality. By "split personality" I refer to nothing clinically significant, nothing remotely worthy of an afterschool special, horror film, or psychotropic medication. Rather, I'm thinking of all of the aspects of oneself that are never expressed or acknowledged in the academy, included in a NIH biosketch, or announced in a departmental newsletter.

To be sure, these "other selves" need not be Wild. For example, recent posts about all the unacknowledged-in-academia work we do as partners, parents, washers of dishes, doers of laundry, mowers of lawns, payers of bills, buyers of groceries, etc. also allude to these other, often invisible selves. Moreover, many folks who come to academia from backgrounds which are different than many of our peers feel "split," say, when we go home to visit our parents in places that seem worlds away from the locations we now inhabit (one imagines the voice over, "sorry son, your cultural capital is no good here").

However, I think that the other selves that are wild may pose particular challenges. I recall a Monday morning walk to campus, when I was in graduate school, after a weekend that had been filled with dancing 'til dawn, sleeping outside, and having an amazing time just being a human being, alive, in this world, in this body. I was so sad, then, as I walked towards a place where the body is seen mostly as transport system for the brain, a place where I would do well to put that other self away for the week. I have also had moments of intense dissonance when the memory of some embodied experience or another (lack of specificity deliberate - use your imaginations, it's fun!) flits across my consciousness even as I am being my most serious and scholarly self.

I do seek out and enjoy small acts of Wild Blue expression. Whenever I have to wear a suit (and especially whenever I will be giving a talk about which I am nervous while wearing that suit), I wear also the slinkiest lingerie I own. In my very respectable office are beautiful photographs of places I've gone backpacking (and skinny dipping).
I could go on... in the coming months, I probably will.

However, more interesting would be to hear from you all, my colorful friends -
Who are your other selves?
And how do they get expressed while you walk the halls of the ivory tower?
Sunday, August 20
Friday, August 18
I've been drinking too much lately. In fact, I'm drinking now, otherwise I probably wouldn't even be writing this.

It's always in the evening; it's always just a few glasses of wine; I never get sloppy. But it's "too much" because I've realized that, in just a few short weeks of this routine, I have really come to depend on it. To do what, you ask? Herein lies the real problem: to dull the monotony of my existence. I'm really dissatisfied with how I spend my days. (Which, for the record, consist almost entirely of anxiety, procrastination and, not unrelatedly, isolation.) Yes, I have a partner (who shall remain genderless), but I've also been feeling dissatisfied with Partner in the past few weeks/months. I feel like I want some excitement, and I'm a little worried that in my (dare I hope fleeting?) quest for excitement I'm going to screw up the relationship that I have built with Partner. Especially because I have been really, really, REALLY thinking lately about how much I want to have an affair with someone (specific). Someone who I used to know, in another life. I don't think I'm going to do it, mostly because I am just too chicken-- I don't want to hurt Partner, who is a truly good person, and I don't want my world to implode, and I'm not sure how Someone Specific would respond (though I think I could convince him/her). Not to mention that SS lives far away from me, so it's probably completely improbable. But I really want something exciting to happen in my life. Apparently trying to build a career isn't really doing it for me-- too slow and steady, you know. On the other hand, perhaps my restlessness is all just a subconscious procrastination ploy.

If so, it's working.
Thursday, August 17
I was reminded today of something my sister said to me last year, when I was having trouble getting my work done and suffering humiliations galore from my professors.
I was telling my sister about how one professor was mad at me for doing a crappy job on a paper, and how the professor had told me she thought I wasn't taking her class seriously enough and was insulted. I was worried I had permanently damaged my relationship with this professor. I was also worried that this seemed to keep happening a lot with professors, and I was alienating all of the potential committee members in the department. I told my sister that I thought I was running out of social capital because of my flakyness.
My genious sister said, "But you don't need social capital...you have a fortune in intellectual capital." My sister reminded me that because I have strong quantitative research skills in a subfield that is short on people with solid training of that variety, people were going to need me, even if they thought I was annoying or flaky or whatever.
I thought of that today when I was in a meeting with the supervisor of a project that is a year overdue (it was last summer's "summer" project). My supervisor listened to my short lack-of-progress report, and then changed topics entirely saying, "I'm really glad we had a meeting today...I wanted to pick your brain on something..." that was totally unrelated to our project. Awesome! The supervisor barely noticed that my project moves slower than a glacier, and all I had to do was just sit there and expound on a topic I am very familiar with.

By writing this post, I'm hoping to remind myself not to worry so much about what people think of me as a social person - whether they think I am arrogant, a slob, flaky, whatever. Those things matter, but they matter a whole lot less than the mental space I give them. Because if people think you're smart, and that you're uniquely capable, it doesn't matter so much if you have B.O.

I hope.
I accomplished something good, something that so many people tell us to do: get grants. I got a nice grant. You would think that something of the sort would have positive implications. But no, the situation has me learning about the level of incompetence surrounding me. Of course, it's not always incompetence, sometimes it's just irresponsibility. The result: the situation is a complete downer. It practically makes me wish I had never gotten the grant in the first place. Then I could just go about my business as I had before, which wasn't all that bad at all. The whole thing has me completely astonished. It's depressing, demoralizing, and it's also wasting my time to no end. So my advice: before you go after that grant, make very sure that the support structure is there to back you up AFTER you get all that money to your institution.

Basically, I want out. It's just not clear out of what, and it is certainly not clear whether it's an option. The whole faking your own death thing never did sound realistic to me, no offense to Scarlet. So I'll continue to stay in. But what would be coping strategies? I realize I'd have to give you many more details about the situation for you to be able to offer concrete advice, but it's hard to stay pseudonymous if you get into details.

I want to be excited about my grant, and by extension, about my work. But once a grant of this magnitude is involved, the various steps are no longer just up to you. And that has major hindering effects. If only I hadn't been so ambitious about my work I could actually do my work. How ironic.
Wednesday, August 16
One of the problems of academic life is that our productivity is measured very narrowly (published articles, classes taught, etc), while the amount of work we do is very broad. We all do committee work, student advising, and other social obligations as part of our job. If we didn't do them, we would not be doing our job properly.

However, they don't really "count" for work, either, since they are not something you can add to your vitae. This is not an uncommon feature of work in general, but perhaps felt more strongly in academia than other jobs in which, for example, sitting at your desk for a certain number of hours is an important measure of productivity.

Feminist scholars have long ago identified a gender component to the work that doesn't count as work, demonstrating very convincingly that women are socially obliged to do much more of this work that doesn't count than are, on average, men. They point in particular to the gender inequalities in domestic responsibilities, such as housework and child care. This sort of work, the unpaid variety, is not always counted as work, even by those doing it (although, at least one study shows that it is much more likely to be counted as work by women than men).

Personally, I find it is helpful to me to give myself credit where it is due for all the work I do, even when it doesn't "count" officially. And it is especially helpful for me to recall this gender imbalance of work when my male collaborators, for example, suggest what seems to me to be unreasonable deadlines for my share of our work. Maybe I could get a revision of our paper turned around in a single day, if I didn't have to also do all of the following*:
  • four loads of laundry to fold
  • one sinkful of dishes
  • grocery shopping
  • pick up some medicine for kid from drugstore
  • cook of a healthy meal, hopefully with leftovers for another day or two
  • unpack and take some clothes to the dry cleaners
  • thank you and "nice to meet you" notes to people met at conference
  • pick up kid from daycare by 5pm
  • feed kid, play with kid, bathe kid and bedtime routine until 7:30pm
  • figure out why the dog is sick and implement plan of action for return to health
  • open all mail from last week
  • pay bills
  • file bills and other paperwork

Then again, maybe a one-day turnaround is unreasonable in any case. Regardless, I'm giving myself credit for all of this work, even if my colleagues do not.

*Let me also give credit to my partner, who while taking care of kid without me for five days, managed to vacuum the floors, wash and dry (but not fold) two loads of laundry, manage all the dishes but that last sinkful, and take care of the dog, in addition to his paid labor.
The weather finally broke last week. I was in class when the rain started, and suddenly no one could concentrate. I gave up entirely when "Gidget" bounced into the room and explained to nearby students that we would have to leave because a local telecom company would be holding a conference in our classroom.

Now this particular room was fairly important to me for reasons I can't fully explain. It helped my students act more like professional adults and it allowed them to produce the thing they were supposed to produce, rather than just talk about it in abstract terms. But I tried to be graceful. I announced break time, and we walked together toward another room where a projector would let me show images of their work.

But we walked in the rain, of course, and it was one of those rains that was so long in coming that you just can't feel bad about anything once it starts. I couldn't be angry for getting kicked out of our room, and we didn't wish for rain gear.

Soon the front of the group noticed that we were approaching a newly formed swimming hole right in the middle of campus. Some of my favorite jokes about this institution involve their obsessive groundskeeping, and the grass in the central areas is a perfect example. It's always new sod, so there's a dense root system under the grass that isolates it from the dirt. So when two inches of rain fell on the our fresh sod, it made...

Well, apparently it was obvious to everyone under 25 that what we had there was a 200 ft body surfing facility!

I have to admit, they glanced in my direction just briefly to see if I'd be mad. And, don't tell anybody, but nothing could have made me happier! After break, though, they were soaked, and when we got back to our new air conditioned high-tech room, they were freezing, and we couldn't do the work we were supposed to do anyway, so I canceled class an hour early and headed off to (he he he) complain bitterly to my chair about being kicked out of my classroom.

He "explained" to me that the telecom company gives a lot of money to the university, and I guess that's important for educating our students. But just between you, me and the blogosphere, our students were out bodysurfing on the quad!
Tuesday, August 15
A few notes about picture secrets. First, keep sending them in, they are great! Second, please send them to me, Plaid, instead of posting them on your own. There are various reasons for this. I won't bore you with them, unless you ask.

I realized that the note in the sidebar about picture secrets (under More Secrets) wasn't really clear on the second point so I have updated it to avoid future confusion. I apologize for not being more clear, uhm, I mean more plaid, in posting instructions earlier.

And rest assured that I am not doing anything to try and figure out who is sending in picture secrets.
While I enjoyed my summer - the first in years that I didn't have to teach - a part of me anxiously awaited the start of school and my first year as a full-fledged faculty member at a reputable institution. Now, here I am, a week from the beginning of classes wondering what the hell I was thinking?!

I just returned from two weeks of various personal and professional duties only to discover that my summer has officially ended. New faculty obligations are in full swing and I haven't even finished my syllabi, let alone that article I wanted to get out.

So, in my little world, summer is over and I didn't even get to have one last hurrah. It's time for my annual pilgrimage to the office supply store, marking the beginning of the new year.

In the immortal words of a childhood friend, "Don't wish for something too hard or you just might get it." Despite knowing the truth in this, I can't help but find myself wishing for next summer.
Monday, August 14
Friday, August 11
I know it looks like there are more important things going on in the world right now than academic gossip, but it seems to me that there were more important things going on last week, too, and this is an opportunity to point out that academic secret is a place where you could develop a reputation as an outspoken political academic without having that reputation affect your other reputation. I'm actually not sure I believe that's a good way for me to go (the cowardly way, that is), and I think the political issue merits discussion at some point, but here's my secret and my politically inappropriate question.

Secret: I don't think getting tenure makes people any more secure in their political outspokenness. But, I do think it sometimes allows them to take their research in crazy directions that nobody else cares about.

Inappropriateness (as though that wasn't): All I want to know is whether our president is going to promise that there won't be any airport price-gouging on toothpaste and shampoo. What, exactly constitutes a luxury item in this economy, anyway? Can you really say that cheap gasoline is more important than cheap shampoo?

Actually, I have a lot more to say about this "security" debacle, but in case it's too deep for a Friday afternoon, I won't put it out in the open.
Thursday, August 10
I know someone slightly who, after being turned down for tenure at the first job she had after grad school, found some comments her dissertation advisor had given her on a chapter during grad school. She was a shy person who had fallen out of touch with her advisor almost immediately after finishing, and upon finding these comments really regretted it. She liked him, and she knew he could have been helpful to her in the tenure process. (Interestingly, I also know him - and he would have been helpful to her, as he thinks highly of her work and mentions it with some regularity.)

Someone else I know started off keeping in touch with her advisors, but then got embarrassed that she hadn't accomplished more since finishing, and stopped contacting them. Now, she has taken a job and not told them about it, and doesn't know how to tell them without awkwardness.

Then I know someone who worries that if she contacts her advisors, it will seem like she's needy, or wants too much help from them.

For me, having trouble keeping in touch with my advisors is nothing new - I spent so much of grad school hiding from them, only emerging when I had something completed to show. But I don't want to find myself in several years really regretting that I gave up on those relationships.

I'm not yet in a position to know what I, as someone's former advisor, would want them to do as far as continuing our relationship. What have your experiences been from either side of this relationship?
Last week I had the opportunity to take advantage of one of the big pluses of academic life: flexibility in scheduling. A friend was in the area and I went to meet up with him in the middle of the day. How many other professionals can pull that off last minute like that?

I'd been flirting with this friend for a while already so it didn't take too long for one thing to lead to another and land us in a kissing marathon. Since you don't know much about me, it may be worth noting here that I'm not one for flings. If nothing else, I tend to believe that good sexual rapport requires some time and experience accrued with the other person. Given said belief, it doesn't seem worth it to get hot-n-heavy with someone you likely won't get to know well enough to make it really worth it.

But I was in for a pleasant awakening (pun intended). We just clicked.. I mean our lips and tongues did. It was great. It was clear it was mutually appreciated. A perfect summer afternoon.

So this whole thing started me thinking: why is kissing not more straight forward? I would not have noticed just how incredibly well it was going if I didn't have lesser experiences to compare to in my past. What makes some people bad kissers? What's so hard about it? (Of course, at this point you could say that perhaps some people in my past thought I was a bad kisser. It's possible. But not too likely for reasons I won't get into now.)

When you take the discussion a bit beyond kissing you could see differences emerging in what people will and will not do and their particular techniques. And I guess it comes down to techniques in kissing as well. But it just doesn't seem like there are that many possible variations so those who don't do it well, why don't they?

Except for our own experiences, it's hard to know how other people engage in sexual acts. Perhaps one discusses a few instances with close friends. But most of us don't know that much about what other people do. So it's really hard to know why or when you're particularly good or bad. And why or how frequently and how many others are good or bad.

People likely have different preferences and that probably explains a lot. Still, I'm curious, do you have both good and bad experiences in this domain? And how do some people manage to be bad at it while others are great? I'm particularly intrigued by the variation in kissing, but feel free to extend this discussion to other acts.
Wednesday, August 9
I'm back, sorry for the absense. And I'm back just in time to develop serious anxiety about a big upcoming conference. Like Scarlet, I say yes too often. And then I get way behind. I owe some folks some responses. I will see them at this conference for sure. And they will ask me questions. And I will have to come up with something witty in response. Witty would be best, alternatives are less desirable.

The thing is, some of the people have been much better than others in understanding that sometimes things take time. But one person in particular - a senior person who has nothing riding on this - has really gotten on my case. He's actually way ahead in the queue compared to others, I've actually gotten material back to him. Yet he still sends me messages. And they are not appropriate. So I dread seeing him. And am still trying to figure out a witty response.

I realize this is somewhat cryptic and somewhat too generic. Let's put it this way, if others are completely socially inept, how much is it on us to have to deal with that? Well, I have to deal with it as he'll be in my face. But how much is it on me to have to deal with it politely?

Sorry about the picture. I'm trying to do the uploading thing so I'll have a picture with my profile. I don't even know if I'm doing this right, and maybe the picture is too complicated to use, but we'll see.

Anyway. The conference our grad program hosts each year is having its abstract reading session tonight, so in honor of that event, here’s a list of some questions a conference chair hates to hear from prospective conference participants:

Q (from someone who hasn’t submitted an abstract yet): “Can you give me more information on your conference?”
A: Well, no. The CFP (call for papers) includes the conference title, date, place, and theme, the deadline for proposals, a description of the themes, a long list of possible topics, the name and bio of the keynote speaker, and our contact info. Did you read the CFP? What more could you possibly need to know? What’s for lunch? What’s the boy-girl ratio? What will the weather be like? How many bathrooms are in the building? Will the keynote speaker be drunk?

Q (also from someone who hasn’t submitted an abstract yet): “Is it ok if I write about [fill in the blank]?” Or, worse, “Can you tell me more about what you’re looking for?”
A: What is wrong with people who ask these questions?!?! I truly don’t understand it. Is it me, or isn’t this the point of a proposal? You propose to deliver a paper about something, and then we decide if we want to hear that paper. I’m not going to tell you what to write about, and aside from the list of possible topics in the CFP, we don’t know exactly what we’re looking for. That’s why you propose something! If you don’t know what an abstract is, or if you need ideas about what to write about, talk to your advisor, or another grad student. Why would you write to the conference chair, a total stranger? Is this even remotely professional behavior?

Q (from a submitted abstract): “Or is it?”
[as in: “It seems feminism is dead…. Or is it?”]
A: Unless you are clearly, expertly writing a parody or tongue-in-cheek reference to B movies (which is highly unlikely), it is in your own best interests not to have a “twist ending” in your proposal or to give the conference committee any extra reason to compare your abstract to a horror movie. You are not M. Night Shyamalan, or if you are, please don’t submit anything to my conference.
While talking with a friend yesterday, I mentioned some insanity in my department, and he decided to remind me to keep my head down.

Now don't get excited, thinking you know who I am because you just reminded X friend to keep his head down. I'm pretty sure that the "head down" advice is the most common suggestion given to assistant professors.

The other common exchange is the "checking in" parody. This is especially obnoxious when it comes from the senior colleagues to whom you're trying to defer (while being completely buried in the service work they don't want to do). They've noticed that you don't answer your email or come to the office anymore, that you don't smile much, and you don't talk at faculty meetings. They've noticed that you've changed. You used to slam your fist on the table to demand things, and then laugh about it, but now you seem down-in-the-mouth (or, rather, the chin). And so... They'd like you to be happier.

When my friend reminded me to keep my head down, I laughed. I don't get involved with those people anymore. They're crazy. All I do is try to keep my head above water, while also keeping my head down, and my chin up. Head down, chin up, head down, chin up. There should be music.
So, I've been like a bad father here who hasn't immunized his child against measles because he figures so long as every other kid is immunized she'll be okay. Since everyone else on blogspot seems to have their word verificatoin turned on, I wondered if maybe comment-spam programs didn't bother trying anymore. As it turns out, they do, and they discovered us this evening. So now, word verification is activated for a.secret as well.

Our recent comments blog is working pretty well, by the way, even if we haven't figured out how to put some rundown of the ten most recent ones in the regular sidebar.
Tuesday, August 8
As has been noted in recent comments, it seems that most posters here believe themselves to be, to one degree or another, procrastinatory frauds. I am not exempt (although mostly I feel like a procrastinator; I have a startlingly expansive ego and rarely feel like a fraud, in part because of what I'm about to discuss here).

I would argue that part of the reason that everyone here feels like a procrastinatory fraud is the academic culture in which we're embedded. It never fails: any time a group of graduate students disperses, they all start wailing about how incredibly busy they are and how they have so much work to do. Meetings with faculty members tend to go similarly, although at least in that case it's easy to see what the participants are trying to prove (grad student: "I'm hard-working!"; faculty member: "I'm important!"). It doesn't matter what the grad students are doing, though; they always have to talk about their incredible workload.

I'm not saying we don't all have a lot to do. I've spent most of my summer focusing on one extremely important task to the detriment of other tasks. There are people who are not thrilled. No doubt I could have worked more and harder. But I am firmly convinced that if I had, I would be a crazy outlier in the working habits of graduate students.

Because no one is actually going home and working their ass off every time they leave a group like that. Many times, they go home and watch some TV, maybe surf a little internet, brush the cat, whatever. The important thing is not to let the side down. Anyone who admitted how much of their time was spent not doing work would immediately be That Slacker Grad Student even though everyone else would know, unless they were in extreme denial, that they're not doing any more than that. I'm sure this continues into faculty life. They're always yammering on about how graduate school is, perhaps most importantly, a socialization experience, and this is probably true, and what a benefit! We've all been socialized to feel guilty about reading something that isn't an academic journal and to believe, deep down, that a single episode of Law & Order will be what keeps us from getting tenure.

Maybe you aren't working hard enough. I don't know you, or how much you produce for X amount of work (another issue here being that you can get away with a lot of slacking if you're more productive/efficient when actually working than the average philosopher or what have you). I certainly could have worked harder on multiple tasks this summer, although it would have been a crazy joyless wistful-for-grape-picking existence.

But the important thing to remember, if you're measuring yourself against your colleagues, is that none of these people are actually working as hard as they claim to be, either. It is all a lie. You participate in the lie, you try to judge your life by the lie--don't do it! Take a sneaky insider's delight in the lie, and tell people very solemnly how much work you have to do before you go out for ice cream.
I just got an email from the editor of a reputable medical journal asking me to reformat the references for an article which I've already reformatted twice, per his ever changing moods (I believe he would say, "evolving sense of the journal's style"). In reply, I sent him the two documents which contain the previously requested reformatted references - in exactly the styles he asked for at the time - with a note that said that I am unwilling to reformat the references a third time and that I trust that his renown editorial staff will be up to the task. I noted further the extreme inconvenience of the journal's decision to "individualize" traditional reference styles (que trendy!), which means that while authors can reformat via bibliographic software (e.g, EndNote), they then need to tweak each of their (say, 150) references by hand.

I did not write "do you realize that that your reference style changes more quickly than hemlines on the runways of New York -- and with less consequence?" But I might still...
Procrastination has been a major theme around here. I could spend some time adding links to the relevant entries, but seriously, pick a post at random and chances are good that procrastination is part of the theme (if not the entry then the comments).

And while it has been helpful to hear that other people face this issue as well, it was especially helpful to read this about a method that may actually help you/me/us get over it. Yes, I'm seriously inspired and plan to implement this method. I don't think I'll go as far as to write the check out to an organization I hate, just because I am hopeful that I won't need that kind of added pressure. However, the general idea sounds very promising. And seriously, it all requires less than an hour a day for some tangible productivity. Sign me up! And as an added incentive for implementing the method, I promise to report back to you on how it goes. (I mean that as added incentive for me, not for you per se, but feel free to join me in promising that you'll have something to report on in a week or two.)
I was attending a workshop yesterday when I leaned over to the person next to me and said, "For psychological reasons, I need to leave now."

As devoted Scarleteers know, I am currently contemplating faking my own death to get away from a complicated and seemingly ever expanding set of academic obligations that I feel are strangling my intellectual vitality and squandering the time I have for pre-decrepitude life. Parallel to this has been involvement in a series of professional activities that have involved wild, even flamboyant, mismanagement of the time of large groups of people including myself. As a.secret readers are likely already aware, much of academic power involves the capacity to command the polite relinquishment of other people's time.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a panel connected to yesterday's workshop that involved me spending several hours traveling to give what was already going to be a rushed 10-15 minute talk--with slides I spent hours the day before fussing over--but then because of unrealistic/insensitive time management ended up with me having 3-5 minutes, during which the most important person in the audience was out on a bathroom-and-Blackberry break. I felt humiliated, like I was back in junior high and desperately trying to get other kids' parents to spend a few seconds looking over my science fair project, and I spent much of the trip home doodling pictures of myself as an escape artist freeing herself from complicated arrangements of chains and cages that still seem more tractable than various shackles associated with this job.

At yesterday's workshop, the first session was scheduled for 90 minutes and finished more than an hour later than it was supposed to. This included one talk where a painfully boring speaker went double his allotted time without a peep from the session's disorganizer. Thing was, I think people were genuinely enthusiastic for the overall lineup of presentations that day, and you could just see the enthusiasm in the room wilt because of the mismanagement.

At the end, the disorganizer announced various revisions to the schedule--mostly, radically cutting back on the breaks scheduled to keep everyone refreshed--necessitated by the first session running so far over. I decided instead that I was going to leave the workshop when the second session was scheduled to end, even though I could have stayed longer. I didn't want to reward those running the conference with still more my time when they showed such a cavalier attitude toward the value of my time by not keeping control of the schedule. The result was me missing a couple presentations I had actually been looking forward to, and my leaving early wasn't exactly fair to those presenters. Fact is, though, I felt wonderful walking out of there, like a doormat that suddenly springs to life, stands up, and spits on its owner's shoes.

Passive aggressive, obviously. And yes, I know I should send an e-mail to the disorganizer urging him to make more of an effort to stick to the posted schedule in the future. Unfortunately, the workshop is part of a larger situation in which I need to choose my battles, and, for this one, I'm just going to fight with my feet for the time being.
Monday, August 7
Why did it take me several weeks to follow the exciting (and secret!) invitation to join this blog? Because I'm a professional procrastinator, of course. I don't think that this is a big secret in academia, but I have to confess that I make considerable efforts on a daily basis to hide my true nature from the vultures circulating over my head, the most voracious of all being my bad conscience (this is where faking your own death doesn't come in handy, dear Scarlet, since you'll always know your own whereabouts...so if anyone has an idea on how to hide from oneself without the use of psychotropics, please share it with me!). The vultures are always particularly aggressive on Mondays. I hate Mondays! Every time a Monday comes around, I feel like some evil troll is holding a mirror up to me, asking me in a gnarly voice: "So, are you proud of yourself now, Wisteria?" The arrival of any given Monday is a proof of my failure to fight procrastination. Here's a recent (er, ongoing) example:
  • Nice flattering letter from big name journal on June 3: "Dear Dr. Wisteria, we're asking for your expert opinion" etc. etc. "To allow for a speedy turnaround, please submit the review by July 20."
  • Thinks Wisteria: Piece of cake! That's, what, 3 or 4 months from now. I have plenty of time to squeeze that in. Forgotten is my past experience in which I started suffering from cold sweats, pulsing headache, mild to severe nausea according to the degree of menace in the tone of the once sympathetic editor the further the due date disappeared in the past (but, unfortunately, never went away). So merrily I reply with an enthusiastic "Yeah sure!"
  • On July 13 I find a polite reminder email in my inbox. There still is plenty of time. However, I can now start using the pending review as an excuse for other tasks to be queued. As in: "I'm awfully sorry, but I can't do xyz because I'm working on this review".
  • On July 20 I find a polite reminder email in my inbox. That's right, the review. I understand, I understand. Don't rub it in my face: "The review is now due". But today is Thursday, and that's almost Friday, right? And Friday is the beginning of the weekend. What editor in their right mind would make a fuss over a tiny little weekend extension? Monday's as good as ever. So I grant myself a tiny little weekend extension. This means that I have ALL WEEKEND to read the paper and write the stupid review.
  • On July 24 something terrible happens: It's Monday. I haven't started reading the paper, and the week tumbles upon me with a million distractions.
I'm going to spare you the details of all the torments I've gone through, but today is Monday again, two weeks later, and no progress has been made. Am I the only one who suffers particularly on Mondays? Are there self-help groups that deal with this kind of issues? Could one solution be to just abolish Mondays? Or rename them?
Some of us have rather long names on here and it may be tedious for others (or even ourselves, but we rarely have to) to type out the entire name. At the same time, it seems advisable to avoid offending people by using abbreviations that miss a crucial part of the person's name (see Orange Ina's clarification of a related "incident" over the weekend) or names that they just don't like.

So I thought I'd post this note and invite everyone (who cares) to comment on their preferred abbreviation. I'll put mine in the comments as well so it's not getting special treatment here (really, it's just so you can see my nifty new profile image:).
I've been thinking about what to write next, but before I could commit to something, I wanted to make sure that I was different here than on my regular blog. After all, why pick a new secret identity if it's not gonna be secret? Isn't that part of the fun of being a superhero? I mean a blogger.

Which brings me to Poppy Red's recent post, about writing style. Now let's not talk academic writing style, because surely we all write in some way or another that is different than how we speak or write in other venues. But what I am afraid of, after revealing my love of secrets (secrets sounds like such a better word than gossip doesn't it?) and revealing, though vaguely, some of my knowledge, that someone out there will figure out this writing style, compare it to the writing style of my personal blog, and hence, find me out. So just to clarify, department head is not always drunk -- he is quite a brilliant academic, who just so happens to be able to pound back 18-20 drinks at all social gatherings. And really, all those secrets I shared, it was opposite day. So don't believe them. Plus they were written in code. Sorry for turning freaked out, but I have seen one too many episodes of Alias and 24 to be careless.

In trying to figure out how to write here, and wanting to make sure that it is different, I have come to a road block. What is my writing style there? I don't really know. I am not a good judge of my own style, though I can comment on others'. I guess I am too close to it all. Any tips that other colors might have will be greatly appreciated. Since academics are way smarter than the reporters who couldn't figure out Clark Kent was Superman when he wore his glasses, I don't want to just add new frames to the same face, you know?

After all, this is my first secret society membership, and though it may not be considered as prestigious as whatever that one where all the president's at Yale come from, I think it's even better, and I am quite excited.

So until I figure out if you can figure out my voice, I will be working on figuring out my voice. And then using one of those voice changer things to make it sound different. Only not those robotic ones that kidnappers use to demand ransom, cause everyone knows those are just creepy. Plus with CSI, they always figure you out.
Clear and I have been trying to figure out how we could showcase recent comments on the sidebar of this blog. The Blogger solution is sub-optimal (we had it on here for a while), because it presents comments by recent posts instead of most recent comments themselves (who came up with that idea?!).

We are at the point of having created a "separate" blog that displays all comments. That blog is generated automatically from information submitted to this one. What we would like to have now is a bit of javascript (or whatever script that works with Blogger) that we can put in the template of a.secret so the most recent comments show up on the sidebar right here. (There over to the right that is. --->)

Those of you who use a feed reader can just subscribe to the feed of the a.secret comments blog if you want to be completely up-to-date on happenings here. But since we doubt most/many of you do that, we would like to offer the service on the sidebar right here.

Can anyone help us? We know of a few RSS-to-javascript services out there, but they each come with their share of ads and such, unnecessary material we would like to avoid here.

To summarize, what would be of real help here is if you could send us the exact script that one would generate from the feed link above that can be put in the template file so the most recent comments (say, the most recent 30) show up in the sidebar. Thanks!
Sunday, August 6
Saturday, August 5
A busy Saturday on a.secret, and I'm sorry to push some splendid posts down the page with administrative matters, but:

1. We've recently received positive notice on BlogHer, so the first known review of a.secret in the blogosphere is a rave.

2. We are itching for more Picture Secrets (see sidebar). We were getting a nice queue going, and our hope is that if we built up some momentum somebody would admit to a murder or, worse, plagiarizing large portions of their dissertation from Megan McCafferty.

3. Special note to a.secret contributors: If you want to add a secret-preserving image to your Blogger profile, the easiest way to do this is to upload the image in a post and then paste that link into the Photo URL of your profile. Once the image is uploaded in Blogger, it is not deleted if you delete the text in the post or if you do not publish the post, so you do not have to actually include the image in a published post to use this method.

4. (Problem solved! Thanks!) Special note to generous souls who read this post but are not a.secret correspondents: We want some way of being able to track recent comments in the sidebar, but Blogger does not have this feature and the easiest work-arounds don't really work. Plaid and I are interested in trying this other workaround that requires a GMail account, but our interest in secrecy leads us to be reluctant to use our personal GMail accounts to invite ourselves. So if you have GMail invitations and would be willing to send one to asecretplaid-at-yahoo-dot-com (and maybe, since you probably have 90+ invitations anyway, asecretclear-at-yahoo-dot-com), we would much appreciate it.

5. Presently, the official time of a.secret is Greenwich Mean Time, which may be dear to one of the coordinator's hearts for reasons to remain unelaborated here. We are willing to consider declaring an alternative location for a.secret headquarters (with time zone set accordingly) if there is another place that seems fitting for our clandestine project to profess to be housed.
I'm not Buffy, damn it. And why the hell don't the senior faculty pull their weight? Now, maybe it's unique at my admittedly screwed-up institution, but around here we've developed the term "spinectomy"* to describe a process which apparently occurs after tenure is awarded. Now, normally, you'd expect it to be the other way around, right? But no, apparently not. And every time I have to fight for something that ought to be already in place, I cost myself good will.

It gets particularly bad for "women's" issues. At a focus group in response to climate survey last year (most of the participants to whom I spoke were afraid to answer it honestly, even though it was nominally confidential, by the way), there was a very clear divide around the table -- untenured women on one side, tenured on the other. And we (untenured) all said the same thing: why are you leaving us out here to fight all the battles without backup, even though we are the ones without the protection of tenure, the ones who have to risk our careers to get a bloody restroom within 4 floors.

Maybe I'm just naive, but I expected better than this.

*Credit for coining this goes to another colleague of mine -- and hopefully she'll be blogging about it soon.
I want to know how Salmon's was!
Something else I like about conferences is that everyone else hates them. They are awkward swirling frenzies of crap that send everyone running to the miserable insecurity of their hotel rooms. And that's how I know I'll finally have time to see my friends. I try not to schedule those meetings in advance because, in the days preceeding the conference, our schedules always say there's no time for that. But I promise you, everyone, has run off to hide--alone or with someone they trust. That's why it's so difficult to get your obligatory schmoozing done, which leaves a big gap in your previously "busy" schedule, etc.

So if you have run off to your hotel room to read a.secret, this my gift to you. It's a one-week blog (sorda) from Stanley Fish that he did for Slate in January of 2000. "Stan" is probably one of the 5 most famous people at any given conference on literature or law and he has the biggest ego on the planet (as you'll see), but his physical presence is more like that of Ross Perot.

At the time, he was Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the Univ. of Illinois, Chicago, so the whole journal could be interesting reading for a.secret fans, but if you're in need of a quick conference pick-me-up, the second half of the first entry should do it for ya.'
This is my first post here, so I hope it's good enough. Secret number one: I often don't think I'm good enough to be blogging.

Speaking about secrets, I gotta say I know a lot of them. In my department, I seem to always be wearing a shirt that says "Come spill your guts, I won't tell!"* See, I added the "*" because I usually tell. I am GREAT at keeping secrets. ....Unless I think that someone knowing that secret would be beneficial to the secret sharer. Or unless it's gossip. Or unless I think me telling you a secret will get you to tell me one beneficial to me. And I don't tell if it will hurt anyone.

Now I know what you're thinking. A) your colleagues must be dumb to trust you. I guarantee they are not. I am definitely the least intelligent. Well, maybe except one person. B) How do you know if telling will not hurt anyone? You aren't a psychic are you? Well no. But I am a pretty good judge of people, so I only share when I trust the other person.

Hmm, now to share a secret in vague terms. I can tell you which professor shares a room with their teenage child, which admin is secretly applying for a better job in another dept, why that post-doc really went to that other continent, which professor didn't have an affair with which former post-doc and which professor thinks that he did. But see, if I give any more details to make these secrets more juicy, I might compromise my caveats.

So instead, I will tell you a secret about myself: I am scared of tampons. Ok, that's not academic enough, I agree. I have napped in my office during the day when I was supposed to be meeting students.

Oh my gosh, please don't tell the drunk department head I told you that.
Friday, August 4
Most of us know that my name refers to an overwhleming fear that I'm a fraud, a severe case of the imposter phenomenon.

Today, as I talked with an old flame (from high school and college) about finally being Dr. Farud, I was completely floored when he asked me, flat out, if I still felt like a fake. He did it in this, "Surely now you know that it's not all your charm and luck, and that it's actually your brains and ability that got you this far?", way. I'd forgotten how much a part of my identity "fraud" was in my life before graduate school.

I realized then that I have had this feeling my entire adult life and that it might never go away. Graduating high school wasn't enough, and college didn't change it, honors classes and degrees, awards, graduate school, a job, and ultimately a pass without revisions on my dissertation (granted by top scholars in their respective fields) has not been enough to conquer this fear.

My old flame kept on, and asked if I respected my professors, valued their opinions, thought of them as intelligent and wise, and I agreed on all fronts. Why then, would they fall victim to me - little old fraudulent me - and my fake identity?

He's right. I know he's right. But I'm afraid that instead of feeling less like a fraud, because these wise, respected people in my field think otherwise, I feel more like one. It's worse because now there are so many more people who will be exposed and humilated when the day arrives that the world discovers I'm a fraud, Dr. Fraud.
Warning: This post is in the process of self-destructing. Don't inhale the fumes. They could be toxic.

A few years back, I had the pleasure of learning to navigate the dating scene in a new town (not city) where I didn't want to date an academic... [poof!]... So I set off to get some replace the things that were missing in my life... [crackle]... Let's just say I work a little bit too quickly...

[puff, puff, sizzle!]...

"Well, I'm sorry, but, if you you hate your unix, job, you're gonna have to get out of my bed!"

(Now settled, thanks, Whew! it's scary out there.)

Later, my department hired an IT administrator of our own and I was on the "search" committee (not that they searched). My personal interview question was, "What kind of computing setup do you have at home?" My department hired the guy who answered that his last job gave him an old PC, but he hadn't found a functional modem yet. YIPEE! Ug.
I recently read an edited volume, in which one person serves the role of 1) editor; 2) author of a chapter; 3) co-author an"afterword" to the book, which is highly critical of many of the chapters published in the volume which she has edited. Anticipating that this might seem strange, the afterword includes a footnote which explains that a deliberate decision was made by the editor to "present an accurate picture of the field as it stands today," replete with all the inconsistencies, oversights, and theoretical lacunae for which she has just lambasted her contributors.
So, now I'm curious - what are your expectations of the folks who serve as editors of the books, journals, etc. to which you contribute? I am inclined to think that what this editor did is inexcusable, but perhaps I am needlessly depriving myself of rationales which could increase significantly my available beach time.
Thursday, August 3
Hi everyone! I'm pleased to be creating my first post on academicsecret. My post is actually somewhat related to Mahogany's, in the sense that it's about writing style/voice -- but rather than being about detecting an advisor's voice, it's about an advisor detecting mine.

I got the rather daunting news about a month or so ago that the style of my first dissertation chapter is not up to snuff, that it needs to be more exciting, punchy, vivacious; in short, my style needs to be more... stylish. (I'm in literary criticism, so this matters, especially given the increased difficulty in getting literary studies published these days.) In the past I've been told, by my advisor as well as others, that my work is well-written, so this hurt. But upon re-reading the chapter, I realized it was indeed rather boring. I was doing the thing I really hate when published critics do it: my topic sounded cool at first, but I wasn't engaging the reader.

Here's my secret fear: what if I don't have a style? This might sound ridiculous, but I really don't know if there's anything distinctive about my critical writing, and I have a lot of doubts about being able to develop a style at this stage in the game. At first I was upset with my advisor for not giving me any specific tips on how to develop a style, but then I thought about my own teaching and how difficult it is to help students develop a writing style. You can show them what defines other writers' styles, and you can help them find topics that might tap into their voice, but it's very difficult to teach style. Is style one of those "either you have it or you don't" things? And what if I just don't have it?
I have a not-close colleague that I call a name that is structurally similar to but not actually "Allen." I call him "Allen" because all his other colleagues call him "Allen." Plus, when we first met, he introduced himself to me as "Allen."

However, there are two people I know who I've heard refer to him in conversations as "Al." Both these people happen to hold important positions in funding agencies from which Allen gets money. I wonder if it's that "Allen" says "Call me Al" to these people, or, if funding people spontaneously decide to start calling you by the nickname form of your name, you don't correct them.

Next time I meet somebody who could be financially helpful for my projects, I'm walking straight up and introducing myself as "Scar."
I reviewed a paper/book last week that was co-authored by my (former) advisor. His/her name wasn't on it. I just heard the sound of a voice so familiar to me it could have been my mother. What really got me, though, was that none of the usual signs were there. My advisor was referenced only once, and the topic was largely outside his/her usual arena. But I have absolutely no doubt who wrote it. I know, in sort of a subconscious way, how [ pling! ] "she" strings words together. She edited my work for years, so it makes sense that I would recognize her writing. But I hear something about the sound of her voice. I could go confirm that it's her, but, after several years of anonymous reviewing, I don't bother anymore. I'm always right, and I always assumed that this happened to everyone else, too, but maybe not.

A couple years ago I "heard" the echo of a friend's voice in something I was reviewing that turned out to be written by his/her student. That bothers me, too, especially when I'm trying to be idealistic about anonymous reviews. It should have been fine! I did NOT know the author!

Review request letters usually say it's okay if you recognize the author because they need the review so badly, but it can be unsettling to me when I'm making a tough call. Plus, and this is my point, the cues to authorship don't come from the usual places, so neither I nor the authors can do anything to prevent it.

People who have "perfect pitch" describe their experience in a similar way. You play a note and they just know it's a C-sharp. They say that each note has its own quality which they instantly recognize. Some people say it's sort of, but not exactly, as though each note is a different color. I remember thinking of that when I read another friend's dissertation and kept being distracted by the character of her* writing, which was just thunderous in my head. It had a white creamy base with a fine grainy texture, like sanded grout. I know how strange that sounds, but it was BOOMING in my head, and I couldn't get away from it. Anyway, there's a voice I recognize, whether I like it or not, so she can never get a blinded review from me, and if our lives didn't turn on the outcome of these reviews, I would consider that a little bit tragic.

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* There's no point obscuring or pretending to obscure this person's gender, or race, for that matter because of the way I percieve the color and texture of her writing, which adds another layer of intrigue and possibly unwitting corruption to the process.
Wednesday, August 2
Last season there was a CSI episode in which some Hollywood chic proclaimed that she and another actress were "frenemies." I don't know whether the CSI writers made up that term, but I thought it was BRILLIANT. For the actresses it meant that they pretended to have a bitter rivalry that they didn't really have.

I was reminded of this when my dean wanted me to help publicize a book that I hate. I have no regrets about skipping that, but one could do it on purpose. Two friends could conspire to release somewhat opposing books (you would agree on all sorts of basic assumptions that really matter and that you never discuss on television, of course), and then you just go 'round with your dog and pony show rackin' up the sales.

There are even more benefits, though, and you don't need to go on the air to reap them. For example, it's easier to make a big splash in academe if you have a scholarly foe, but making enemies in the academy is a very bad idea. Having frenemies solves both problems. Of course, this means you really have to collaborate to coordinate everything and set up the points of contention so that they're sustainable, etc. I don't mean to say it would be easy, but it's intriguing, at least.
Tuesday, August 1

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