Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Not much has changed here—I’m still working through the end-of-semester madness, trying to make my papers take form and make sense, trying to keep my students motivated, trying to find a five spare minutes to spend with my husband, blah blah blah. I have four more weeks of this. All the same, I needed to vent something today.

So, I usually consider myself relatively unflappable and as such I’m not one to react to news of bombings in parts of the world that I might visit soon, but this morning when I heard on the radio that al-Qaeda had left a pair of presents in Algeria, it made my insides quiver in an unexpected way. Granted, if they award me the fellowship I’m not even headed to Algeria—it would be next door, to Tunisia—but I’ve always thought of that part of the Islamic world as more moderate, more secular, more modern, more tolerant—all those good things that make it easier to live in peace with one’s fellows. It just bothered me to know that al-Qaeda is becoming active in northwest Africa. Why? Why does this bother me now? Rewind twelve and a half years, to a younger me getting news that there had been a massive bus bombing in Tel Aviv, about a week before I left to spend the tail end of my semester there (suicide bombings in Israel were relatively less frequent then than now). It didn’t worry me, and I still went. I stayed a few blocks away from where the human bomb had detonated himself, and it seemed that everyone I talked to had known someone on that bus. My heart went out to them and I felt sympathy for the way they live(d) their lives, knowing every day when they walked out the door that this could be the day they died in a bombing, or worse, to lose someone close and go on living without them. I marveled at the acceptance, at the simple response of living in and enjoying every day without being obsessive or dramatic about it in the face of possibly impending doom. Perhaps because of that, I wasn’t afraid, either. And perhaps it was because I was naïve? There is part of me, though, that refuses to be terrorized by terror. Stubbornness is not always the best approach to things, I know, but why should I let anyone make me afraid? Why should I let anyone destroy my lifestyle because they don’t approve of it? Two days after 9/11 I went out dancing with my girlfriends. Not in insensitivity, not in lack of mourning, but in protest and defiance, to show that I was not afraid, that the terror had not gotten to me. I think I learned that from the Israelis. I don’t think it’s hedonism so much as a reverence for life; a principle that every day should be well-lived precisely because it is so precious, whether it’s cut off in two days or fifty years.

Mind you, I’m not saying that I’m worried that fundamentalists will overrun North Africa in the next few months and do horrid things to all westerners and sympathizers, and I’m not saying I’m going to stay home because of any such (irrational) fears. However, I’ve already been reconsidering accepting this fellowship (if they offer it to me—still no word) for many other reasons, and now security has been added to (the bottom of) that list. I’m not afraid. I don’t think I’d even say worried. Does concerned capture it? Or am I looking for excuses because I want someone else to make the decision easy for me?

At this point it’s come down to either taking the hypothetically-offered fellowship, or spending the summer in Mexico polishing my Spanish (which it needs badly, let me assure you). Both are so appealing in so many ways, and I’m trying to make my decision based on what’s most practical, what will serve me best now that I’m considered making my MA my terminal degree. I’m trying to ignore the siren call of what will be most exciting, and do what’s practical. When have I ever been know to be practical? That’s my husband’s forte, not mine, and that’s why I married him. Even so, it’s not the sort of decision I can ask him to make for me (not many of those out there, anyway).

I really want a quiet moment to sit by myself and consider all of this as rationally as I can manage, and to make a good decision based on solid, arguable things, rather than my usually modus operandi of “that would be cool! I’ll do that!”. A quiet moment. Hah. Can this decision wait until the end of the semester? I think maybe it can.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Cansada, confusa

I am so tired. Last night I got my first decent night’s sleep in at least a week, maybe longer. I can go a good four days or so on lousy sleep, but more than that and it begins to wear on me. It makes me sluggish, less talkative, and probably irritable. So, I feel better after last night, but I need another one. Badly. Wednesday night after class some of my colleagues asked if everything was alright—apparently I was not as participatory as usual during seminar. This leaves me wondering whether my students notice, and that leaves me feeling paranoid that they think that their prof is cracking up and won’t pay attention to what I’m teaching them, and believe it or not I still care, even at this point in the semester, whether or not they can conjugate verbs correctly and understand what’s going on in class. And of course I want for them to like Spanish, not just understand it.

I’ve been having a mildly existential crisis about the whole point of my current pursuits— whether it matters at all if I get my MA, and whether which has been further aggravated by recent developments, i.e., the collapse of my committee. My chair is taking another much-needed semester of leave, for which I do not criticize her in the least, and the second member, who has been aptly filling in for my chair while she’s been gone this semester, is taking a desirable post at another university, and if I were in his shoes I’d do the same thing. I had not yet chosen the third member of my committee. This leaves me, then, with my committee chair, who will be an absentee until the semester in which I am tentatively slated to take my exams. We supposedly have a new linguist coming in the fall, but I was sick the day he was here on campus so I never met him. He’ll likely be on my committee by default, and then I’ll have to convince someone form the Linguistics department to please, please please be on my committee. The departing professor has recommended a linguistic anthropologist whom I have never met (that’s my fault—I haven’t taken the initiative to wander by her office in my hours and hours of spare time). She’s amazing apparently, but I still haven’t ever met her—and she doesn’t speak Spanish. None of the Linguistics faculty do. Does this mean I’ll have to take my exams in English? That just doesn’t feel right, somehow.

Not only am I committee-less, I also don’t have an established reading list. I’m supposed to build one with my chair. Yes, that would be that chair who’s out until next January. Exams are next March. I’m guessing we’ll do it by email or something. Guessing, hoping, desperately reaching for a viable solution—what’s the difference? There are some pieces of the literature that are standard and therefore obvious, but it has to be more than that, and I need some guidance. No use worrying too much about it, of course, since the only thing I can do right now is track down the super-busy linguistic anthropologist and try to butter her up. Reva suggested I find out what her favorite cookie is, jajaja.

Which leads me back to the existential query of whether or not my chosen path makes any sense or difference in the rest of my life. What is “the rest of my life”? Except for that mind-numbing stint as a file clerk, all I’ve ever done is academics. I’ve gotten sick of the esotericism of the ivory tower before, which is what got me out of anthropology (twice, and this second time doesn’t seem to be sticking too well, either), but I keep getting seduced back into it. How can something that has so little bearing on the rest of the world be so appealing? I know that to get anything done out there you’ve got to have a theoretical or ideological basis for it, but how do I keep getting wrapped up in the theory and the ideology instead of the work itself? How can I find some balance? What’s the real point, if any, of dedicating my life to academic pursuits? On the other hand, I know (from experience) that I’m not really happy or fulfilled when I’m entirely outside of it, either. I feel like I need to keep on foot in the academic world while I try to establish what “the rest of my life” is, now that I have someone else in my life and think often and seriously about starting a family with him. Even now without any offspring around, I want more time for the “family” that is just him and me. I’d like to have more time to enjoy married life, because I love our time together, and academics is always sucking more and more of my time, and I don’t see that ever changing for as long as I stay in it.

GAH. These are not problems with easy solutions, and they won’t be solved by a few good hours of hard thinking and meditation. I love academics and research, I really do, but not as much as my husband, and I feel like school has hijacked my life. How do I make this work? Is it worth it? Does academic pursuit have any meaning outside of itself? Where does my autonomy fit in all of this?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Para empezar. . .

Hoy, en inglés.

Not much interesting to say today, just that I've decided to start blogging again, but in a different place since my life has changed so significantly (and in some ways, not) since I last blogged. I've spent the last several days visiting my best friend in Atlanta, and she is a prolific and persistent blogger and now I feel inspired. Además, I'm waiting (not very patiently, by the way) to find out whether I've been selected to receive a fellowship to study Arabic in North Africa for the summer, so if I get it I'll need a way to keep everyone updated with news and photos if/when my life gets exciting again after the end of the semester. For now though, it's finals time and I have huge papers and exams to write, and, unfortunately, grade. Grading is definitely the worst part of my job. For that I should be grateful, I suppose, but don't be surprised if a tirade about grading emerges soon.

At any rate, I'm getting started again. The next month or so is likely to be stressful and unexciting, but after that there should be some more interesting posts to follow those days.