What’s the Plan?

In the most difficult moments of my life, the words that always helped me the most were “what’s the plan?” Knowing that there’s something beyond the horrible situation of right now, something to plan for, something to grab on to take me out of the bad place always helps.

I can’t just bemoan endlessly without knowing what’s the plan.

This is why I’ve lost all patience with colleagues in academia who keep enumerating the problems and stating and restating that things are going badly in higher ed. At my school, we have unionized, and that’s something we are actively doing to change things locally. At my department, we have converted one adjunct colleague to tenure-track. Now I want us to convert another one. Today a colleague from another school sent me an essay where she lays out not only the problems but what we must do to address them, a clear plan of action, and I love that. We need to overtake scholarly associations, we need to get together, and do things. That’s what I want.

This is why I’ve been at first frustrated and then plain enraged over the collective reaction to Trump. My newsfeed is impossible to read because there is nothing but endless expressions of horror and grief. I want to grab people, shake them, and yell, “And what’s your plan? What do you propose to do, you dumbass?”

Aside from inane hopes to elect more Democrats – to do what? to put in place what plan of action? – there’s nothing.

The tax bill was bad, horrible, it was a big meanie. Having said – and repeated, and repeated again – that, what’s the plan to stop the flight of liquid capital? Tax breaks for business won’t work, and I said that from the start, but what will?

What Trump is doing at the border is horrific. It’s beyond wrong. So let’s go vote for Dem candidates who will do – what? Not say anything on the subject and then deport by the million on the sly without any guiding principle or clear goal, like Obama? To get us a repeat of the current situation a few years later?

Trump stinks but his party is 90% happy with his results. When were we 90% happy with ours? Are you 90% happy with Obama? Let’s be honest, we are never too happy with our side. Because it never does anything for us. It knows that all it needs is to be a little bit better than the really horrible guys and we’ll stick with them because that’s all we have.

Whoever has a plan will win if nobody has a better one. Actually, he’s already winning while we are sitting here feeling rightfully outraged. And we are so right to be outraged, and angry, and enraged. But being so right – what does it get us?

The current immigration bill, if it legalizes the Dreamers, stops breaking up families, and returns the kids to their mommies in exchange for the wall and the end of lottery – why not accept it today? Because we have a better plan? Great. What is it? Let’s all hear what it is and fight for it till we drop.

It never works to be on the defensive and jump around putting out the fires created by people with a plan. What works is to have a clear goal and beat our way towards it.

What’s the plan?

I Miss Students

I will never again complain about the writing skills of my Freshman class after reading this NYTimes review of To Kill a Mockingbird. Grammar mistakes, poor sentence structure, and unfortunate vocabulary choices in student essays are a lot easier to digest than this pouty, self-involved, and painfully repetitive writing whose author has a single idea – and a very unoriginal one at that – that she delivers with the dedication of a cuckoo clock.

The Secret of Academic Life

The reason why people are very often unhappy in academia is that they don’t live in a way that corresponds to the stage of academic life they are actually in.

Take, for instance, the widely known post-tenure blues. I was having a bad case of them for about a year when I realized that I was trying to keep living as a tenure-track Assistant Professor while being a tenured Associate Prof. As soon as I brought my way of doing things in line with this new stage of my academic life, I became very happy.

Many new tenure-track people suffer because they try to keep living as graduate students when their new status requires something completely different.

Often people are prevented from inhabiting a new stage of their academic life because they are denied tenure or promotion for unfair reasons. Sometimes, people simply don’t know that they are supposed to do things differently after getting tenure or after moving from undergraduate to graduate studies. Every time I was unhappy in my academic life was because I tried to continue doing whatever made me successful in the previous stage and not understanding that a new academic role required a new way of articulating my relationship to the profession and my vision of myself in it.


I always thought country music was an abomination and had no idea how anybody could listen to it.

Then a very European, big-city, dinner-at-11pm, a total intellectual snob of a friend of mine went to Kentucky for grad school and came back with a 2,000-CD collection of country music (it was back in 2003-4.)

“God, what did they do to you over there?” I asked. “You used to ridicule this stuff.”

“You need to live there to get it,” he said.

I thought he was a lunatic but turns out he was right. You need to spend several years among the landscape, the people, adjust your internal rhythms to those of the place, and then you begin to get it. Music is about the inner rhythms shared by a group of people.

FB Commercials

Finally I turned on a TV – the three enormous flat-screens in our suite at the resort have been very underutilized – and discovered that Facebook is now running commercials on every channel promising to be good from now on.

I don’t know why they bother. It’s not like people will abandon them for any reason other than a more attractive social network rising to squeeze them out.