Seasonal Affective Disorder and Other Stuff

So, I have officially entered the season of the Winter Blahs, and this despite the fact that the days are getting longer. (Once or twice I've looked up from my computer to notice that it was light earlier or later than it should have been; which is nice, but I'm still at the darn computer.) I'm in one of those time periods when nothing I say seems to be the right thing, when stupid little things irritate me, and when I can't seem to muster the energy for things I need to do.

The students in my art and activism class have been great in class, but they don't do the web assignments. (They also slacked off and came late, left early, or didn't show up at all to our meetings last week. Granted, one of the days half of them didn't show up we were meeting outside to look at murals and it was 25 degrees and windy. So I should cut them some slack.) Then the students doing a reading course with me, bless their hearts, have been cc'ing me on messages to schedule a meeting time and in the process informing me of all the little things that make it impossible for them to meet at particular days and times ("I will have just done a presentation in my other class"; "I have a lot of work early in the week" etc.) I've been obsessing about the fact that none of my colleagues in the department have made any effort to involve me in any social events or intellectual exchange since I was hired (no invitations to dinner or lunch or coffee, no feedback on my work--should I be worried? it's been a year and a half). At dinner the other night with a departmental search committee everyone kept interrupting me whenever I opened my mouth to say anything to the candidate.

Yeah. Complain, complain, complain. None of these things by itself represents a pattern. It's just that they all happened at once. (I think the fact that I have any perspective at all on this can be credited to St. John's Wort tea.)

So, today I made a stab at cleaning the fridge and put in it the oranges and grapefruit that my grandmother sends me in the winter. I threw out a whole bunch of piled-up newspapers from when we were away -- and after. I cleaned the litter boxes. I took stuff to the drycleaner and bought new boots and dropped off an eye mask and neck pillow for my student who's off to do research in Europe. I made a great pasta dinner for myself from frozen vegetables from the summer's organic crop. I planned gallery talks for the exhibition I organized, which is about to open.

And I managed to clean off a new work space today, which enables me to take advantage of the fact that after 3 1/2 years of living here I have heat in the sun porch, because a new radiator was finally installed to replace the one that leaked (about which the previous owner--who still lives in the building--was not entirely honest).

Some might think this constitutes a lot of accomplishments for a Saturday. Some might not be on this crazy breakneck work schedule. Whew! More coffee, and back to work...




So, recent changes in my procrastinatory habits seems to indicate successive upticks in my stress level. For a while I was using free time to do creative writing on polyanimus. Then I blew off steam by writing angry letters to Harvard presidents and so on. Then my time allocated for time-wasting (TAFT-W?) turned to agonizing about a serious error of judgment I made in dealing with a graduate student in my department (involving talking about confidential information), and I stopped blogging altogether. I think it's time to do a little stress management. It might also help the really really nasty canker sore I have that's not responding to peroxide and is creating a vicious circle: I get a canker sore from stress and then can't eat, which stresses me out more. So: miso soup (soothing for the canker sore), yoga, nutritional supplements, tea, more sleep. And -- supremely relaxing -- Werner Herzog documentaries at Mess Hall tonight.




Via Bitch Phd, a charming [thick irony] story about the president of Harvard.


We Shall Overcome -- Some Day?

So, I work for a retrograde institution that does not observe Martin Luther King day. Dammit. I called a travel agent -- out of the office for MLK Day. I emailed a museum curator -- closed for MLK Day. Goatdog doesn't have to work today at the ad agency -- MLK Day.

Well, it's not entirely true that the university doesn't observe it. In fact, it observes it, this year, with a series of performing arts events and parties and speakers. Today, it observed it with a lunchtime event with Big Famous speaker (who was good, but oh-so-cautious) and a lot of students and others who spoke with passion and political energy. It made me cry. I had never felt before like I was supposed to be part of the "We" in "We Shall Overcome." This time it didn't occur to me to think that I wasn't, despite everything that separates me from the people who live in true poverty just a few blocks from where I live in relative comfort.

I didn't cry, I didn't feel part of the "We," just on account of the university's non-observance of the holiday, even though this is becoming more scandalous and obscene with each passing year, as museums and ad agencies and travel agencies and everybody else gets with the program. I'd like to know whether this university is the biggest employer of African Americans in the state. It might well be. And as with choosing February to be Black History Month -- that is, choosing the SHORTEST month -- there is symbolic significance to the fact that we can have a lunchtime program, hell, we can have lots of programs over the course of the week, but we can't give working people the damn day off. Well, if the staff had the day off, maybe they wouldn't be around to populate our lunchtime program with faces that aren't pale, thus leaving the rest of us looking ridiculous. Is that the fear?

(I don't actually think it's even true. I think people would still come out to hear the caliber of speakers who come here, maybe especially if they had the day off.)

But the reason I cried and felt part of the "We" is about the state of things in this country, about the daily rollercoaster of hopelessness and optimism. I sure hope we'll overcome. There's no other option.




Yesterday, I was at a community art center with my small activism/community art class. It's a historic building in a neighborhood that used to be the center of the city's black bourgeoisie and is now straddling gentrification and decay. The center was originally a WPA project -- it may be the only WPA community art center still running -- and it's housed in an old greystone building that was remodeled inside in Bauhaus style. The center has a new art director, and he showed us around -- it was a wonderful view because we got a sense of a vibrant past, renewed energy and aspirations in the present, but a long way to go. It wasn't a slick presentation; instead it reminded the students of the real problems faced by struggling community organizations. They've got great new computers for graphic design classes, but they need $75,000 to fix the roof so water won't gush down onto them. (The third floor room, a space where they could hold dance classes or concerts, already has quantities of water leaking into it.) They can't hold afterschool classes because they don't have a van to take students home, and in that neighborhood it's a necessity for safety reasons. So they have Saturday classes, exhibitions in a downstairs gallery space, and evening poetry slams.

I find myself wondering if there is as little contact as there seems to be between the people I know who do something I might call "activist art" and organizations like this one. When I first told one friend about the course he seemed surprised that I used the term "community" in the title. The word has been a controversial one in leftist circles of late (it often gets used to distasteful ideological ends--implying coercive consensus, or unreflective identity politics).

But then later he asked me why my course doesn't deal much with anything outside the US and wondered if it was because global art (i.e. non-US art) doesn't get the label "activist." I'm not sure about that, but I am sure it's true of community art centers. Activism seems to be defined as going to protests, making interventions with the hope of media attention.

The first day of class we screened a short film about a related group of creative activist projects -- projects that I think are really good and interesting ones. But what I found really weird about it was an odd repetition of the word "white." (People saying it, or writing it, or a camera just lingering on it.) Mostly, it was there because it was being used to critique the global financial establishment. But still -- the word kept coming up, and, at the same time, there were hardly any people of color in the film. Is activism a white, middle-class, American phenomenon? The community art center hopes to affirm kids' self-esteem and teach them skills, while activism tends to be against something (and it's not that I'm against that). But it's also for something: a more creative, joyful, and caring, and less destructive and wasteful, way of living.

So: maybe there are some coalitions to be built.

Speaking of coalitions, tomorrow night I will find myself having dinner with movers and shakers of the world of arts and humanities to talk about ideas for a new art research institute that will involve collaboration among different local institutions. I can't tell whether this is a small endeavor -- a lecture series? -- or a big one that will involve raising millions of endowment dollars. I heard one of these people give a talk once in which he said the great thing about the internet was that it was going to be possible to restrict access to museum collections only to specialists, and let everybody else get their art through computers.

Somehow I don't suppose he'd be interested in community art centers.


I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Strangely appropriate...




Well, it's one of those lazy winter days. I have a lot of work to do that I'm not doing. I slept late, had brunch, took a nap, and have been messing around on email for a while now. I need to write some letters of recommendation, send off some checks, write up a syllabus for my spring class, and do a chunk of work for a collection of essays I'm co-editing that I'm behind on.

I'm tired, and I really need to get a leave next year! The chair of my department told me it was probably not a good idea to apply for the university's own fellowship for next year, because it would look, in the year of my renewal review, like I was too focused on my own research and not enough on teaching. Jeez. I'm effectively teaching an extra class this quarter (a group reading course) so that IF I'm on leave next year (since I've applied for other things) my students won't be left high and dry. I do a mountain of advising. I am supposed to have a second book for tenure, and I don't know where I'm gonna pull it out from, since I haven't had any time off from teaching, other than summers (when I usually had to move, and in one case teach), in the six years since I finished my dissertation. One of my male colleagues, recently tenured, had literally three out of six of the years after his PhD off. Which makes me wonder if what I really need is an outside offer (which is how he got early tenure). OK, that decides it: I'm going to apply to that job I've been thinking about...



Does cutting off fingers sound like torture?

It's nice to know that our attorney-general-to-be, Alberto Gonzales, has now acknowledged that -- while he might not have objected to it at the time because it was "not his job" to have an opinion about it (he was just writing the memo) -- cutting off the fingers of prisoners, though it might not threaten organ failure or death, does in fact "sound like" torture.

Have we no decency?



Smart kids

I wasn't sure how my art and activism class was going to go; the discussion was a little sluggish on Monday. The students are mostly not art history or art majors, and in some ways they're a little naive about art. But they are fantastic about activism! Today's discussion was really great, in spite of my stumbling around trying to get them to appreciate Clement Greenberg. (He's there kind of as a foil, but still.) They came up with all kinds of issues that really set the stage for the class as a whole, about the relationship between negative and affirmative politics (being against something vs. being for something), about what cultural resistance is (is it something forced upon you or something you engage in without even thinking about it; is it even a term we can use?), about multitudes and media and the World Social Forum and modes of production -- all kinds of stuff. They're smart kids, and they care. Similarly, my other class -- the early modern print culture class -- is full of smart kids who have lots to say, even though it's an introductory class. I was sort of dumbfounded at how much they already knew and how enthusiastic they were about relatively arcane issues. Someone remind me when I am bitching about my life how lucky I was feeling today...



Condo politics

So I need to do some complaining about my condo association. Two members staged a kind of coup at our annual meeting last month. Although they hadn't been officially nominated by the appointed date (thus not giving notice to members who might not have been at the meeting, etc., and who might have wanted to oppose them) they ran for and were elected "co-presidents." I happen to like one of the two people, but she's probably moving out before her term is over, leaving the other, who would never have been elected on his own, as sole president of the association.

This is a person who talks the talk of being an evolved, self-aware person who cares only about creating consensus. As a consequence of this talking of the talk, he talks A LOT at meetings. He's always talking about making sure everybody is "comfortable" with decisions. Actually, though, he only wants to push his own agenda, and manages to make himself selectively deaf to anything he disagrees with. Let's say he takes on the responsibility of investigating gutter heaters for the building to prevent ice buildup. Part of the project involves looking into solar power as one option. Even though this is the consensus, he disagrees with the idea. But rather than say someone else should do it, he agrees to investigate solar power -- knowing full well that he has no intention of doing it, because he feels he has the right to make an executive decision not to.

Let's take another example. This guy wants everyone to be "comfortable." Now, I'd been "uncomfortable" for a long time with the fact that the people who garden next door, whether or not they are residents of our building, were routinely forgetting to lock the basement door (they store tools in our basement, and some of the non-residents also have keys to it - about which I do not complain, as long as they lock the door when they leave).

The basement door is my main entrance to the building, and I often come home alone late at night, and when I came home to find it unlocked, and had to enter a dark basement that anyone could have entered freely, I was not, shall we say, "comfortable." I mentioned this numerous times, asking people to be sure to lock the door. Yes, yes, yes, I was told. After continuing to find it unlocked, I finally asked if we could install door closers and a doorknob that locked automatically. This particular member resisted this with all sorts of talk of how my fears were not rational (lecturing me about my racist fear of the neighborhood -- which is hogwash, since, as I told him, in the small town I grew up in I would not want to live in a building in which a basement entrance door was routinely left unlocked). Eventually, it emerged that as a gardener he simply LIKED to be able to leave the door unlocked because it was more convenient, and to hell with anyone who was not "comfortable" with the consequences.

Now, this person is co-president, and recently, with the other co-president, sent out a message about reforming our association, which included goals for the other officers -- on which the other officers had not been consulted. So, as secretary, I have been presented with the "goal" of getting minutes out to everyone within a week of the meeting. (The irony is rich, since I do a better job of getting the minutes out than this guy, who was my predecessor as secretary.) The treasurer, who, if she is a bit prickly as a person, does a wonderful job as treasurer, has also been presented with new "goals" for her job.

Now, I suppose I should just let this go and not worry about it. I'm trying. The one thing I really worry about is that he will try to kill our desperately needed noise abatement project in favor of an electrical upgrade. We'll get some argument about how, objectively and rationally, noise abatement really isn't necessary. That's if you live on the top floor and have quiet downstairs neighbors like he does. Interesting how those same quiet downstairs neighbors, whose apartments are subjected to the noises emanating from his vociferously arguing household, think it actually is.


a new name for 2005

Oh and by the way, I changed my blog name to rabbit, but I am still the same me. I just thought better of continuing to use my real email moniker in this context.


and double blah

Blogger deleted my post about how I don't have any creative energies right now to write anything on this blog! Help!



Welcome to 2005

Since I can't seem to find a way to sleep more than 5.5 hours, no matter what time I go to bed, I need to start using the time newly allotted to me in the morning to get some writing done, or some work, or something. We stayed up until midnight out of some sense of duty and then promptly fell asleep. I woke promptly at 5:19, or something like that.

So, high time to reflect upon my profession, I'd say.

I've been worrying a bit about the class I'm about to start teaching, which is, for the first time, of a directly political nature. I have to worry about something, so I worry about this. I'm worrying partly because of Campus Watch, which encourages students to spy on their professors and try to ferret out registered Democrats in order to compile statistics to pressure Congress to make laws mandating political "diversity." Would such a student really take a class on art and activism? Well, we'll see. It would be hard to find an art history professor who's not a registered Democrat, I think (Bruce Cole being a shining counterexample) but perhaps by staking out the far left of the department I can argue that I constitute a different kind of diversity.

I'm also worried not about the class itself but about what the composition of the class has to say about the discipline of art history. Not a single art history student has registered for the class out of fourteen students. I don't want to make too much of this fact, but I do find it a little odd in the current political climate. Does our discipline only attract students who want high culture and aesthetic enjoyment, who want to avoid having to think about politics?

What is the discipline of art history, right now, anyway? There seemed, to me anyway, to be more of a sense of urgency in it when the discipline was being racked by the "crisis" of theory. Now, what are the great debates of the discipline? I'm not sure. My department seems very atomized, not in a hostile way, but in the sense that everyone is practicing a kind of pragmatic eclecticism in their own little corner of history/geography, and there are no big methodological issues over which we can fight or bond.

Recently we had a talk in which a critic practicing a kind of neoformalism (arguing for the independence of aesthetic issues from social and political ones) asserted her approach as if it constituted resistance to some kind of orthodoxy, when in fact neoformalism seems to be quite a dominant approach these days.

I can see how, in the current political situation, art history can take two divergent paths -- one tying itself all the more strongly to political issues, the other finding in aesthetic contemplation a kind of escape from these trying times. I don't mean to be judgmental about either. (One student pointed out to me that he's a formalist where aesthetics are concerned but quite active politically.) Is there any room for dialogue between these two positions or are the constitutively incompatible?

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