Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Beer Fest 2011

I went with my dad again and we hung mostly with Kristen and Natalie (and Willa!). Along the way I ran into a couple of colleagues and a number of other friends and acquaintances.

My notes, as always, are not terribly useful and run from “um, no” and “gack” to “eh” to “bottle that!”

I was actually disappointed in the offerings of some of the big heavies in Michigan brewing. Founders didn’t bring much new/interesting, neither did Bell’s, Dragonmead, or Arcadia. Dark Horse made an interesting play for “top dog” by having booths in every tent. Their Smells Like Weed IPA was delicious – but then it always has been, but I didn’t see anything else in their vast offerings that I needed to try. I hope they don't get to too big for their britches…

Short’s brought many beers and I was delighted to see among them Dan’s Pink Skirt Ale (bottle it!). I’d had it once at Ashley’s a few years ago and couldn’t find it anywhere after that. It was hoppy and lovely (tho too much bitter finish for Dad).

In the “decent beer from places new to me” category, I’d put the Black IPA from Kalamazoo’s Old Peninsula’s Brewpub and Black Magic RyPA from Sparta’s Michigan Beer Cellar. We also had (surprisingly) pleasant selections from Benton Harbor’s The Livery but I failed to note what they were!

I am now realizing that I had several black IPAs. This is a trend that I can get into. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, Original Gravity from Milan also had a nice one.

And finally, what you really want to know… Worst Beer of the Evening! I declare a tie between the gluten free (I know, I know) Bees Knees Honey Ale from Old Hat Brewery in Lawton and Smokin’ Hatter Smoked IPA from New Holland. On the latter, I leave you with Natalie’s reaction: “Ick, why would you get that?” Ah, the adventure…

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quit Fantasies

It is low-level frustrating to be a new department chair. You are stepping into a bunch of different situations that are already in process and trying to take over control...usually only to learn that what you thought was going on is either way behind or far ahead of where things actually are. That is actually okay -- frustrating, but not deadly.

The problem I am wading through now, however, falls into the category of "the important stuff" -- the stuff I don't want to fuck up, the stuff this job is really about. This problem falls under the heading of "faculty retention" and it is not going well. The faculty member has been lovely to deal with, both open and patient. The administration...well, let's just say xx xxx xxxxxxx xx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx x xxxx (edited for job security purposes), everyone is working their own agendas while still trying to look like they care, and the only one who has come up with any actual ideas has been me. Me? Yes. The brand new chair who has almost no experience upon which to draw. And everyone seems just a little too happy to tell me why my ideas can't work and not at all willing to actually suggest any of their own or figure out the right labels to apply or boxes to check to make the intent of what I suggested happen.

So yes, today, I'm having fantasies of telling them all to just go stuff it. But I'm not going to, because I'm not going to screw this faculty member. I'll get the deal to happen, even though it is fairly apparent that I have very little actual power because I don't control the right resources. And then I will no doubt trudge on to the next crisis, but there will be some trailing bitterness that will trudge on with me. It didn't have to be this way and, frankly, it was a shitty way to treat a new chair... (another edit here, recommended by a loyal Yesterday supporter).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Inside my brain...

Writing when one is supposed to be writing is often incredibly difficult. Sometimes, to be honest, I'm just running out the clock -- unable to give up on a project that is not working because "this is the time to write." Time is certainly important, but it never ensures the productivity. I may have some time, but when it comes around I often find I lack the energy or focus or (even if it sounds a bit trite) inspiration to get it done. And then I don't. And then I resent the times that are full of other things that make it impossible to write, fooling myself into thinking, "If only I didn't have to pick up the kids or sit in this meeting I would be finishing that introduction!" Yeah, right. Maybe I would, more likely, I wouldn't... It can be a very defeating cycle.

But then there are moments like those I found tonight where energy and schedule aligned completely unexpectedly and unplanned and the introduction that looked like it was going to have to sit until next week actually gets re-written. I feel a little bit like a kid just learning to ride a bike: "Wheeeeeee, I'm DOING it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Running commentary on summer reading

I can't find my copy of Straight Man -- the book I thought I should be reading as a newly minted department chair. Instead, I picked up Richard Russo's 2009 That Old Cape Magic, which is less focused on university life but does feature a pair of outrageous but outrageously realistic English professor parents of the main character (who is also an academic, but a far less insightfully drawn one). The book has been an enjoyable read, but having read a couple of his books already and having read SM a couple of times, his obsessions with Cape Cod and people falling into bushes to create cathartic moments isn't exactly fresh.

What has made this read particularly fun is the trail of bright blue post-it notes left behind by a previous reader. On the dozen or so notes scattered throughout the book, this reader expressed doubt ("an endowed chair. Hmm."), asked questions ("are we hard-wired to think we're fucking up?"), offered some criticism ("predictably irrational"), rooted for some characters over others ("I agree with Joy."), and just plain reacted ("wow," "laughed out loud"). The note-writer found Russo's portrayal of marriage overly cynical and expressed disapproval that professors would "look down on lowly teachers." Seems like someone young, perhaps?

I resisted paging ahead to find the notes once I recognized the pattern emerging, but now that I am down to the final pages (which I am reluctant to finish since I don't have another pleasure read at hand), I did peek. Sigh. No blue sticky notes commenting on the ending... Did they like it? Did they find it a worthwhile read? Why did they read it? Did they mean to leave the sticky notes on purpose?

And yes, I'm considering adding my own string of comments throughout the book -- some responding to the text, some to the blue sticky note writer. I think it'll be fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A little freaky...

A couple of years ago, during a particularly productive fall, I was invited to give a talk in Irvine, CA. Accepting that allowed me to tack on a day to do some quick "grab 'n go" research in San Diego, where I'd heard there was a particularly rich collection of local YWCA papers. As has become my habit, I swooped in and spent a furious 5 hours or so scanning everything that seemed remotely interesting. When I got home, the semester was heating up, my cyst flared, and things just generally fell apart for me. In other words, I did even get a chance to file what I had collected, let alone do any sort of analysis.

Fast forward two years, and I finally pulled what I had collected back out and decided to work on one of the major themes in the records: the impact of building, maintaining, and updating a downtown building on a social service/social change organization. This meshed with the work I'd been doing on the Women's Building in San Francisco, so I threw them together into a conference proposal for the Society for American City and Regional Planning History this coming fall. I'm now at work on that paper, particularly the YWCA section.

All through the collections are snippets of notes and a grant proposal for researching the Y's history produced by a particular woman. Obviously an academic of some sort, I finally decided this morning to look her up... only to find that she died just a couple of weeks ago. Her obituary ran just 3 days ago. Is that a little creepy? I've known her name for over two years, but only today did I look her up? And she just died? Hmmm... hard to shake these thoughts as I work through papers she collected and drafts she marked up for editing...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lessons from the first week

1. There are a million little "situations," none of which am I fully up to speed on. This leaves me with the impression that everything is moving really quickly and I must paddle hard to get into the current and not tip over... This is a bit frightening because this is JULY. This is the deadest month there is in the world of academe. If it is this bad now, how bad will it be in April???

2. My office is bare and institutional. I didn't do much when I was interim, but it is time to get my brain around the fact that I'll be in this office for three years. Time to get some art and a comfy chair or couch that isn't a scary dust collector.

3. Email makes this job harder. There are usually many vaguely parallel conversations going on over email and rarely are the right people connected to each other. People going off half-cocked, sending poorly-informed messages sent to people all over the campus needs to stop. I'm sure phone calls can do the same kind of damage, but it is on email that I'm seeing it.

4. There are few big decisions to be made. My life is going to be minutiae, it seems.