Photos of New Hair

Here, as promised, are photos of the new hair:

I’ve been sick plus the photo was taken right after a departmental meeting, hence the tortured look.

And the dramatic rear view:

P.S. People keep asking if I’ve done highlights or a perm. I’ve done nothing but get the hair cut. The color and the curl are completely natural.

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Political Stance

I’ve been looking for a way to summarize my political beliefs in one neat sentence but couldn’t come up with anything.

Until I found the following statement on somebody else’s blog:

Conservatives may be jerks, but liberals are useless.

This says it perfectly.

30-Day Book Challenge in One Day

I found this book challenge at a really great blog. Since I’m such an instant gratification person, I will not spread the challenge out over an entire month but will simply cover it in its entirety in one post. If people want me to expatiate on any of the answers, feel free to say so in the comments.

Day 1: Favorite book.

As a voracious reader, I find it very hard to answer this question. Still, I thought about it and realized that such book exists. I have read it over 15 times and destroyed two copies of it. They simply fell apart because I used them so much. I can recite entire paragraphs from it by heart. As an immigrant to the US, I find that it gave me incredibly useful insights into this country. I have also invented over a dozen of alternative endings to it.

The book I’m talking about is Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

Day 2: Least favorite book.

It says “least favorite book”, not “least favorite trash”, so I will go with an actual work of literature that I find hugely overrated: Tolstoy’s excruciatingly boring War and Peace.

Day 3: Book that makes you laugh out loud.

Ilf and Petrov’s The Godlen Calf is absolutely one of the funniest books in existence. It’s a masterpiece, people, and it’s available in English.

Day 4: Book that makes you cry.

I read E.L. Voynich’s The Gadfly five times. Every time, I didn’t just cry. I bawled. And it isn’t just me. Everybody who reads it cries. What’s really curious is that everybody cries for a different reason.

Day 5: Book you wish you could live in.

The answer to this question came to me instantly: The Oxford English Dictionary is a place where I want to go after I die.

Day 6: Favorite young adult book.

I’m not familiar with this genre.

Day 7: Book that you can quote/recite

There are dozens, and I can’t select just one. Right now I can recite the primary sources I use for my research. 🙂

Day 8: Book that scares you

Solzhenitsyn’s The GULAG Archipelago is terrifying because it’s all true.

Day 9: Book that makes you sick

Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata is a piece of vile, misogynist garbage that always makes me want to vomit.

Day 10: Book that changed your life

John Fowles’ The Collector. I already explained why in this post.

Day 11: Book from your favorite author

I have a new favorite author every week. Right now, I want to bring to your attention The Same Sea As Every Summer by Esther Tusquets. In the novel, a female professor of literature tries to escape from her ghastly patriarchal marriage and boring bourgeois existence through a lesbian affair with her student. Beautiful language, a very powerful narrative, and it’s based on true events, too.

Day 12: Book that is most like your life

Galdos’s That Bringas Woman hits home on a variety of levels. I don’t feel like being any more explicit right now but that’s my life.

Day 13: Book whose main character is most like you

I identify hugely with Fermin de Pas of Leopoldo Alas’s great novel La Regenta. It isn’t like there are any female characters anywhere one could identify with. Believe me, I’ve been looking forever.

Day 14: Book whose main character you want to marry

A character who is better than my N.? No writer has the kind of an imagination that could create a character that perfect.

Day 15: First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child

I think it was Oliver Twist, one of Dickens’s weakest novels, which almost put me off the writer permanently.

Day 16: Longest book you’ve read

I think that would be Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa in 6 volumes. Make sure you read this unabridged version because there are many editions created by jerkwads who think they are entitled to mess with this beautiful text.

Day 17: Shortest book you’ve read

I have no idea. The shortness of a book is not as memorable as a book’s length.

Day 18: Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

OK, this isn’t easy to confess, but I really dig Frances Hodgson Burnett, especially her A Little Princess. I discovered the author in adulthood, so it isn’t like I’m driven to like her books by warm and fuzzy childhood memories.

Day 19: Book that turned you on

I remember that 1,001 Nights had a huge erotic impact when I was a child. “What are you reading?” adults would ask. “Fairy-tales,” I would reply, although this book read like real pornography. Of course, you need a non-sanitized, original version.

Day 20: Book you’ve read the most number of times

Vivien by W. B. Maxwell. I blogged about it here. (There is something wrong with “the most number of times”, isn’t it? It doesn’t sound right to me for some reason.)

Day 21: Favorite picture book from childhood

There was this set of really cool books from a Soviet writer of children’s poems that I loved as a kid. And I just discovered that his books are available in English.

Day 22: Book you plan to read next

David Graeber’s Debt. A review is forthcoming.

Day 23: Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

It puts me to shame to confess this but I skipped huge chunks of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Which means that I lie when I say that I actually read it. God, I hate Joyce.

Day 24: Book that contains your favorite scene

It feels like some of these questions are aimed at people who don’t read a whole lot. Who has just one favorite scene in just one book?

Day 25: Favorite book you read in school

I really liked Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. And when I say that I read it in school, it means that I would hide it under my math textbook and read it surreptitiously during science classes. Then, the teacher would catch me doing it and send an angry missive to my parents. I’d show it to my father who’d say that it made him really proud that I was reading in English instead of wasting my time on “all those pseudo sciences like the silly math, physics, biology, etc.” 🙂 After which, my father and I would both hide the teacher’s report from my mother, a math teacher.

Day 26: Favorite nonfiction book

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique changed my life. Very highly recommended. That’s what feminism is supposed to be about, instead of the toothless “respect my choice to be a doormat in exchange for being kept.”

Day 27: Favorite fiction book

This has already been answered in Day 1.

Day 28: Last book you read

Just finished We Had Won the War by Esther Tusquets.

Day 29: Book you’re currently reading

Book 1 in the Hunger Games Trilogy because a blog reader whose judgment I trust recommended it. A review is forthcoming.

Day 30: Favorite coffee table book

Do I look like a person who is likely to have coffee table books? Let alone, a favorite one? Sheesh, people.

“What Are You Doing Here?”

I was explaining the hypotheticals in my Advanced Spanish class. I love grammar, which is why my delivery of the material is always very passionate. In the midst of my fiery delivery of the rules governing the formation of unreal conditions, a student exclaimed, “What are you doing here?!?”

“Where?” I asked in complete confusion.

“Here, at this university,” the student insisted. “You are so brilliant, you should be at a more famous school.”

I hadn’t known one could be gratified and peeved at the same time, but at this moment I discovered that one definitely could. On the one hand, I’m glad that my students admire me. What else can a teacher want? But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve really had it with these suggestions that my dream should be working for a more prestigious university or, as a colleague recently put it in a very shocking way, “writing my way out” (meaning, out of this university). I know from sad personal experience that prestige does not equal intellectual rigor or fair treatment of employees.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m too old to chase prestige as a valid life goal. The very idea bores me. In high school, it mattered to be popular. By the age of 30, however, I had achieved a crucial milestone of my personal development which consisted in never allowing the value systems and priority lists of other people to have any influence on my life.

What really matters to me in terms of my workplace is (in this order):

  1. Whether I feel respected.
  2. Whether I respect the people I work with.
  3. Whether I feel exploited or treated unjustly. (And, believe me, it takes very very little for me to feel that.)
  4. Whether there is nepotism and corruption, or any sort of institutionalized unfairness. (A single spousal hire that I have to approve creates an intolerable working environment for me.)
  5. How much freedom I have to teach what, when, and how I want. (If I have to teach 3 days a week while a colleague teaches only 2 days a week and we never alternate, this is not a place where I want to work.)
  6. How much free time I get. (This semester, nobody saw me on campus outside of my 2 teaching days a week. And nobody minded. I got really good research done, too, while teaching a 3-course load. Jealous yet? 🙂 )
  7. Whether the place is adjunctifying at a rapid pace. (The suffering of adjuncts traumatizes me, so I can only be happy in a place that keeps hiring tenure-track people. Since I’ve come to my current department, we’ve hired one person with tenure and opened 1 tenure-track position. No new adjunct positions have been created.)
  8. How much I like the students. (It is easier for me to like students who have three part-time or one full-time job than those who keep asking, ‘So how do you say “trust fund” in Spanish?’)
  9. How well I get along with the colleagues. (I find working with gossipy, clique-promoting, intrigue-loving people to be very painful on every level.)
  10. Whether the remuneration for my work allows me to live decently while having a lot of free time.
  11. Whether my partner can get good employment in this geographic area.

My current university fulfills my expectations in all these categories. My previous three (hugely famous and super duper prestigious) schools failed in every single category. Now, please tell me, what kind of a hopeless idiot would I be if I entertained the hope of abandoning all of these great things in search of the dubious pre-adolescent joy of bragging that I work for a famous university?

Unless the administration of my university goes nuts and starts messing with the great things I listed above (as we say, a fish always starts rotting at the head), I’m SO staying put at my current great university.

How North Korea Battles the Information Revolution

A colleague shared the following story. Like any modern totalitarian regime, North Korea realizes that its greatest enemy is the information revolution. The Soviet Union suffered a great blow when video cassettes from abroad started penetrating the country, and people could see what the daily lives of their peers in “rotting capitalist societies” were really like.

Today, North Korea faces the same problem. In order to prevent people from watching tapes and DVDs smuggled from the West, the Secret Police uses the following strategy. A police truck arrives at a neighborhood and cuts the electricity in the entire block of houses. This makes it impossible for the residents to eject cassettes and discs and destroy or hide them before the police officers get to their apartment. Then, the officers only have to walk from one abode to another, collecting the equipment that, more often than not, does contain illegal Western viewing material.

Russian Babushki at the Eurovision

After the Russian Justin Timberlake, Dima Bilan, won the Eurovision in 2008, I stopped following the contest as a sign of protest (if you hear or see Bilan, you’ll understand). As a result, I missed the hilarious entry of a Russian group of singing and dancing grannies into Eurovision. A colleague at the Eastern European roundtable had to tell me about it.

I really dig the babushki because this is a culture where women willingly transform into hopeless old ladies with no interests other than gossiping and whining about everything at the age of 50. This has been changing in big cities, but in the country-side that the grannies represent with their folk costumes and music, this tradition is as alive as ever.

The grannies will not win Eurovision but, at least, they will have a good time. And maybe even inspire other babushkas to do the same.