Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two unconnected thoughts

Wow. Lots of bad or strange or bad AND strange news out there.

* I don't know if there's been a motive determined for the guy who killed four people (and injured others) at that Waffle House in Tennessee.

However, the guy who killed 15 people (mostly women, they're pointing out now) in Toronto with a van apparently is claiming it's because he didn't get his due in life - that is, a woman to admire him and have him as a romantic partner.

Big heavy sigh here.

Okay, two things:

1. We're not objects. You don't "deserve" one of us as a concubine, no matter what the fantasy novels you read or video games you play may suggest. We're not prizes and we're not THINGS. This is not freaking Conan-the-Barbarian world, no matter how much you might want it to be.

2. If we're going to the place of "look out for the weird quiet loners" or similar (there's a thread of thought out there claiming the Parkland shooter got that way because he was bullied, and as a former bullied kid that just makes me throw up my hands and go "whaarrrrrgarbllll"), then there's gonna also probably come a "let's keep an extra-special eye on them" or even, eventually, maybe, calls to 'round 'em up" to make sure they don't do harm.

(For that matter, also the "approach the loner kid and try to be nice to them" bit - be VERY careful about that. A lot of us became VERY suspicious about "friendly approaches" after having people do that and then turn on us. It happened to me when I was in school. And that's why I have some trust issues)

You know what? Saying the person who committed an evil violent act did so because he was a shy awkward loner is slander against the 99% of shy awkward loners out there who would never hurt another person.

(I don't know so much about "loner" for myself for me any more, but I will cop to "shy" and "awkward.")

And yeah. My dance card is pretty dang empty and I've just made my peace with that. (I'm at the age where there are very few unattached men, and of the couple I know, they, as the old phrase goes, "bat for the other team." Not that there's anything wrong with that and I am friends with them, I just know I won't be getting any invites for dinner and a movie and maybe some discreet snogging afterward).

I will admit the occasional moment of frustration and "WTH?" when I heard second hand (this has happened once or twice in my life) that a particular chap "fancied" me but was "intimidated" by me and didn't ask me out. (I can only assume "intimidated" is code for "I'm afraid she's too smart for me" or some such. [Narrator Voice: "she is not as smart as she might appear to people." And anyway, I like some pretty silly and stupid things, so it's not like I'm going to reject a guy because he doesn't read Stephen Hawking or something)

But yeah. The whole idea of killing people because you can't get a date (to keep it PG-13 on here) breaks my brain and breaks my heart. (I don't even know if that's for real, or if the guy is just so out of touch with reality that that's what he said or has had said about him). Honestly, if you get turned down a lot? Maybe work on yourself.

It's like the old saying: If you meet one jerk in a day, that means you met up with a jerk. If everyone you meet in a day is a jerk, YOU are probably the jerk.

* Southern Illinois University offered up a fairly tone-deaf call for "assistance" in the form of "zero hour adjuncts" - recent graduates who would be hired for "special projects" (like serving on thesis committees) for the princely sum of $0.

Okay. Maybe this could have been okay had it been presented differently. But when a lot of people in higher ed are watching their backs lest a knife be aimed squarely at it, and when existing adjuncts are holding down three jobs to keep body and soul together, it is, as they say, a case of bad optics.

Inside Higher Education examines it a little more closely.

On the one hand: inviting in someone who is otherwise employed to do a little consulting or to guest-lecture is a super-common thing in higher ed. (Usually, however, they are paid for it. Maybe not paid WELL, but paid). But to me this sounds like "hey some of our recent graduates are desperate for 'experience' so let's float this and see how many grab on."

The other thing is: paying $0 for certain kinds of work sends a message to the people who ARE on salary - "this is what we think YOUR work in this area is worth."

And, yeah, yeah. In my time here I've probably served on five or six thesis committees (and chaired one). I am salaried. I officially work 42 hours a week (Don't ask me where the 2 comes from; I am paid for 168 hours a month and if you divide that by 4....). Typically the week or two leading up to the defense (if I am merely on the committee; chairing it is even more work), I work more than my appointed hours because I need to get the thing read and evaluated and then actually GO to the defense (which can take three hours and is usually at the end of the day). So it is more time for me, and I DO get paid $0 for it, if you think about it in terms of "I am paid to work 42 hours in a week"

Most weeks I work closer to 50. Not the fabled "80 hours a week" some academics claim but still, it is more. I've had weeks where I put in 14-hour days 2 or 3 days (when I was serving on a search committee). I've had weeks where I went in to the office for most of the day six days, and weeks where I gave up my Saturday "for the good of the university" in some way (Science Olympiad, for example).

And, on the one hand: sometimes that's important. Some of the stuff I do on weekends has a recruiting function.

On the other hand: Every time now I work extra-long, or take on some additional task outside of my regular duties, I think of 2016 and the furlough days and the almost-10% pay cut and how we were told "make all the work happen but you have 16 fewer hours this month in which to make it happen" and that kind of broke my brain. I suppose maybe some people really did do less; I remember mostly I warned students that they might not get graded stuff back quite as fast (back when I actually respected the "don't work on furlough" days for the first couple of them; later on, I said "forget that. I may be at home but I can still grade).

And so yeah. Saying "hey, we can get people to come and do work for us for $0" is not a great message to be sending right now. (And I really wonder what kind of people they'd get for that. Oh, maybe some near-retirement folks in high-dollar careers who see it as an ego-stroke and something to tell their friends at the country club, that they are a Special University Consultant. But I admit if one of the other colleges in the area reached out to me and said, "We'd like you do to x, y, and z for us, we can't pay you, but hey, you get 'exposure'" I'd probably respectfully decline, as I am busy enough, and I'd rather reserve my unpaid volunteering for stuff like working at church.

So I don't know. But those are two things that stuck in my craw this morning.

And a third, though this is as much "my stuff*" as anything.

(* I used to know someone who referred to things that upset them because of something in their past as "my s***" but I'd rather euphemize that)

So, here's the third thing: the regular call on social media for "if you don't agree with me totally, unfollow me and don't interact with me, I don't want to know you exist."

And I admit this bugs me, not just because echo chambers may be cozy but they are also sterile, but because I was one of those kids who was told - on a regular basis - by other kids - that they didn't want to know I existed and that "no one wants you here" and I admit I hear echoes of that. That it becomes very easy to dismiss someone else on the grounds of one thing they do or think that you find disagreeable. (And granted: I would make exceptions for excluding and cutting from your life people who were abusive in particular ways. But voting for people in the "other" political party? Not so much).

And one big piece of my "stuff" - I hear the "I won't be your friend if...." and I am STILL not strong enough to go "forget you, then, I don't need you as a friend" so I shut up or I (figuratively now but literally in the past) give them the Little Debbie cake out of my lunch or I do whatever thankless task I'm being asked to do. And I don't know how to break free from that and to get comfortable telling people "You know what? If you won't like me because I won't do whatever thing I don't want to do and don't have to do, then that's your problem and not mine."

Because I still remember how it hurt to hang on to your principles but wind up sitting alone in the dark corner of the lunchroom while it seemed like everyone else was grouped up and having fun.

(Then again: maybe the extreme reverse of the "I don't know how to deal with the 'I don't want to be your friend' crew so I change myself so people will be my friend" is the person who says "You won't like me and do what I want, forget you all" and who floors the gas pedal on his van. Humanity is so broken some times).

And with that, even though I'm sitting in my office, I kind of wish I could retreat to a blanket fort....

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