Gambling in Class

When I realized that students don’t know how to come up with ideas for essays and write thesis statements, I started creating exercises where they are required to come up with thesis statements for imaginary essays on the basis of the readings we do in the course.

“I bet you couldn’t come up with a thesis for this short story on the spot,” a student mumbled under his breath.

“Oh, really? How much would you bet?” I said.

Then I went to the board and created 6 original, completely different thesis statements for the short story on the spot.

“Should I continue?” I asked then.

“No,” students said in awed little voices.

This is why they like me in spite of the endless written assignments, complex readings, and my very anal obsession with the minutiae of the formal requirements.

I also really love it when they start bombarding me with “What does this word mean?” In about 30 minutes of that, I acquire enormous authority and respect. I don’t just give translations for words, of course. I also immediately provide strings of synonyms and explain the etymology of words.

I’m good.

Losing My Faith in Humanity

Conversations with the students will drive me up a tree one day.

Clarissa: So what can we say about the relationships between these characters? How do the members of each couple treat each other?

Student: Sigfrido treats Isabel a lot better than Juan treats Conchi.

Clarissa: Please elaborate.

Student: Sigfrido gives Isabel a car and a phone. Juan doesn’t have money to give a car and a phone to Conchi.

Clarissa: But Sigfrido is a drunk who cheats on Isabel with half of Barcelona and has illegitimate children all over the place.

Student: Yes, but life is better with a car and a phone.

Clarissa: OK, let’s discuss the relationship between the characters, not between the characters and their phones.

Student: Relationships are always better when you can buy things.

Let’s also keep in mind that the person in this dialogue who comes from a 3rd world country, has known poverty and has never had a car is not the student.

Lies About Academic Job Search


If you have been told that:

– everybody only wants freshly minted PhDs for tenure-track positions;

– you have no hope of landing a tenure-track position of your dreams if you’ve been in Visiting positions or instructorships for several years;

– not finding a tenure-track job right after getting your PhD is the end of the world and definitely the end of your career;

– there are no good, well-paid professorial positions left;

– people who tell you “Just keep publishing and applying” are liars who are not telling you the harsh truth;

human existence is a vale of tears, so prepare for the worse,

you have been misinformed.

I congratulate a dear friend of mine who did not believe these myths and who just got a phenomenal offer from a place of his dreams. With a great salary. And great working conditions. And in the geographic area where everybody except very weird folks want to live. I’m so happy for my friend that I’m in tears. He is one of those people who belong in academia with every fiber of their being.

There is one more friend left who needs to find a good tenure-track position, and my happiness will be complete.

The only productive, healthy approach to life is never to listen to anybody’s discouraging apocalyptic stories but just to work quietly towards getting what one wants. When N was unemployed, he kept visiting a professional forum for people in his field. Soon he realized, though, that the endless discussions of how everything was horrible and everybody was evil were depressing him in a way that even unemployment could not. So he stopped going.

If you are convinced you belong in academia, don’t look at statistics, don’t listen to anybody’s tragic stories, don’t analyze the general trends. Just concentrate on doing your thing and you will do great.

Communities Keep Sucking

Every week I receive proof that my decision never to be part of any communities (except this blog which is the only worthwhile community I know) was absolutely right.

See, for instance, this ridiculous debacle in the atheist community. When instead of keeping their most intimate beliefs about the nature of life and death to themselves people use them to attach themselves to others, something this silly and pathetic is bound to happen. It doesn’t matter what word you choose to describe your belief system – atheism, agnosticism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, whatever. As long as it all becomes about hanging out with others who have chosen the same label, except petty fighting, idiocy, and arguments of the kind you see in the linked post.

I don’t feel any need to defend my belonging to any group because the only person who can grant me access is me. I was kidding about becoming a Catholic, of course, but the joke was based on a profound conviction that if I want to become Catholic (or belong to any other imagined category), I will not feel the need to ask anybody’s permission.

As a result of this approach, I can enjoy as much of my culture as I want without ever meeting any Russian speakers. I can practice my religion without feeling the need to justify the stupidity of all those people who claim to belong to it but only in order to vomit their hate all over the planet. I can be a feminist without being drawn into stupid gender wars every two seconds. I can be a progressive who is not in thrall to the “everybody is a victim of something” mentality. I can be an academic who loves academia and feels no need to whine about its hardships. I can be a Hispanist without being apologetic and ashamed of the imagined insignificance of my field.

In other words, peer pressure and group psychology do not poison my existence.

Fake Obtuseness

People should realize that faking obtuseness is not cute at all:

I get why abortion opponents care about abortion. If you think something is murder, it makes sense to oppose it. But why do marriage equality opponents care about it?

For exactly the same reason they go into fits over abortion. These are extremely angry, sexually repressed people who hate others for enjoying the part of human existence that terrifies and disgusts them so much.

And no, they don’t think abortion is murder. Do you know a single one of these freakazoids who is celebrating his or her birthday at the time of conception? Have you heard any anti-choice politician demand 25-to-life for doctors and patients who have participated in abortions? This is just a talking point. Just like the idea that they give a crap about fetuses.

Whatever you might think about it, however you might vote on it, how can so many people be involved in an anti-same sex marriage movement? It’s so weird.

Open a textbook on the history of the US and you will see that there is nothing strange about this hysteria of the anti-sex crowd.

You can’t hope to be a productive political activist if all you can contribute is the impotent “This is too weird.”