Sunday, 23 October 2011

Quick: write about something that isn't politics!

I've been having trouble not posting about political things recently, as you may have noticed. So instead, I'm going to post about a book I read recently: Gary Shteyngart's "Super Sad True Love Story". I'm going to try not to include snark, but I'm sorely tempted.

See, the thing is, the book is an absolute darling to the critics. The New York Times called it "a book that not only showcases the ebullient satiric gifts he demonstrated in his entertaining 2002 debut... but that also uncovers his abilities to write deeply and movingly about love and loss and mortality." said it is "a high-wire act, pulling off a novel that’s simultaneously so biting and so compassionate... Shteyngart, while unfailingly shrewd and funny, wasn’t always this tender." Ron Charles, writing for WaPo, says "This may be the only time I've wanted to stand up on the subway and read passages of a book out loud."

And I really, really didn't like it. At all.

And I've been trying to figure out why.

Shteyngart has created a New York of the (supposedly) near future, where consumerism, techno-centrism, and solipsism rule. The story follows the day-to-day life of one Lenny Abramov, son of Russian Jewish immigrants, living in an America on the verge of economic (and moral) bankruptcy. Dollars come in two varieties: regular and Yuan-pegged; a cheerful cartoon otter decorates the US embassies of the world, with the caption "The Boat Is Full, Amigo!"; people of all creeds and colours spend their time glued to a device called an äppärät (read: more engrossing iPhone) ordering clothing from clothing stores named "JuicyPussy" and "AssLuxury"; the "younger generation" speak in abbreviations like JBF (Just Butt-F*cking) and TIMATOV (Think I'M About To Openly Vomit); books, sorry "bound, printed, nonstreaming media artifacts", are only for the old, because the kind of literacy needed to enjoy Tolstoy is over.

It's satire, though, and so this is supposed to be okay.


See, the way I think satire is supposed to work is, well, take my favourite example: Swift's "Let's Feed Irish Babies to the Poor" (known more properly as his "Modest Proposal"). In it, Swift adopts a point of view opposite to his own and magnifies it to the point of absurdity to make it clear how batsh*t insane this idea is. So he's not saying "hey, let's take those Irish babies and feed them to the Irish poor -- it'll kill two birds with one stone" he's saying "this is this kind of crap you d*ckheads are proposing and it really has to STOP." See also: Steven Colbert.

And if that's the way this book were operating, I think I'd be more on board with it. This book takes all the things that old, curmudgeonly people are afraid of about the current pace of progress, all the "get-off-my-lawn" crap like "kids these days don't know how to read", "kids these days have no attention span", "kids these days are too sexualized", and "kids these days are crude disgusting excuses for human beings", and turns them into a reality. Turning those dials (as Nigel Tufnel might say) "to eleven" makes those criticisms seem ludicrous.

Because, let's face it, they are ludicrous. The future is scary as hell, but it's also promising as heck. Thanks to the primarily text-based web, more people read than ever before. And if it's not the classics, then it's in new modes of literacy -- in the creation and distribution of videos, images, memes -- hell, we're even crowdsourcing science-fiction storylines and selling them to movie-makers now! We're remixing, redistributing, reinventing ourselves every day and it's not shallow, it's not coarse, it's not in any way a lessening of ourselves as a culture. It's bigger, it's better and it's way the hell scarier than that. It's NEW. And that doesn't always mean "out with the old," but it does sometimes mean a shift away from it.

Which is, I think, the problem I have with this book. You see, I don't think it's satire. I think I wish it were satire. But I've met Gary Shteyngart, and I don't honestly think it is.

I think the way the creation of this book went was that he took all the things he didn't like about our culture -- the misogyny, the consumerism, the solipsism, the growth in what only a member of the New York Literati could call "illiteracy" -- and yes, he turned them "to eleven". But he didn't do it to prove the absurdity of fearing them. He did it to try to show that the misogyny, consumerism, et al. were absurd. He's not saying that being afraid of change is absurd; he's saying that the direction our culture is headed in is absurd.

And I like the direction our culture is headed in.

Because I don't think we're anywhere near as consumerist, misogynist, technology-addled, over-sexed, and terrified of human contact as he seems to. Having seen him speak in person I believe he actually links technological culture -- blogging, vlogging, tweeting, facebooking, and so forth -- with a crippling, world-changing solipsism, and with the consumerism, misogyny, and "illiteracy" that accompanies it.

But I don't think his book can ever support it.

In person, he spoke of the death of journalism, of how something great was being lost. He spoke of how, in his book, everyone's a broadcaster -- but they're broadcasting inane garbage to nobody, because everyone's so involved in their own lives that they never actually listen to other people.

In the book, there are "Media" people (always with a capital-M) who broadcast in real-time from their äppäräti to tens of thousands of viewers. But try as he might to suggest that this is about too many broadcasters and not enough viewers (or, as he repeatedly said to us, too many MFA-endowed novelists and not enough readers) the novel shows something different. To me, anyway. To me, it shows a digital world where news has been democratized. Where the censors can't stop local news about local protests getting around, because they can't block every feed. Where an ordinary schmoe can get the eyes and ears of ten thousand viewers with a glorified iPhone for five minutes to rant about politics, society, or culture.

I guess what it comes down to is that I'm optimistic about the future, and this book couldn't be further from it. I guess I don't find it very funny because I think it's over the top for the wrong reasons. And I guess I feel like even Shteyngart can't paint a picture of a future I won't like.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

"On the Eve of Change," or, "What I Wish I'd Hear From The Mouth Of A Politician In America"

Sometimes, when I'm bored or frustrated, I take a little time to practice my rhetoric and polemic. I think to myself, in a perfect world, what would my ideal political candidate say in a speech? And then, because I'm me and not someone sensible, I waste an hour of my life writing that speech. As Vaulting has said (even today) "You have some weird hobbies." And so, without further ado, a political speech by no-one and to everyone, promising the world and asking for patience.

*Our hero, the POLITICIAN enters STAGE RIGHT. S/he stands at the podium before a crowd.

POLITICIAN: When soon-to-be president John F. Kennedy took to the podium in 1960, he spoke about a “new frontier,” and also about the old one. On a July night, he stood in Los Angeles accepting the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidential candidacy, and he tapped into something beautiful and something brutal, something that at once spoke of the proud age of the country and of its future: the very myth of America.

*The POLITICIAN pauses, then continues.


“I stand tonight facing west on the what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch 3000 miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West.”

He called upon all Americans, who he said “stand today on the edge of a new frontier... a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats... For the harsh facts of the matter are that we stand on this frontier at a turning point in history.”

He was talking about the long and sometimes regretfully executed “twilight struggle” of the cold war. For Kennedy the forces that posed the danger were external. The forces of communism. The forces of dictatorship. The forces of despotism.

*The POLITICIAN looks meaningfully at the crowd, and continues.

POLITICIAN: But today we stand on a different precipice. We stand at another turning point.

Today there are two visions of the West fighting for supremacy. On the one hand we have fear, and we have greed, and we have the relentless individualism that characterizes not only “what's mine is mine” but also “might makes right”. We have the idea that we don't owe anyone anything because we did it all ourselves, on our own.

On the other hand we have an older, more dignified vision of the American Dream. We have the America of the last century that said to the world with open arms, send us your tired and poor, send us your huddled masses yearning to be free. Give them to us, because they are like us. Give them to us so that we might help.

For Kennedy, the forces that posed the danger were external. But today things are different.

Today the new frontier we must bravely face is inside ourselves. Today the new frontier is one of compassion. Compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. Compassion for the sick, the old, the tired, the unemployed. Compassion for a broken America yearning to be fixed.

And we can fix it.

But it can't be done in half-measures. We can't just put a patch on things and say “that'll do”. We've done that too many times of late. Fixing America isn't something that can be done overnight. It isn't something that can be done with a single bill or a single election.

Kennedy was asking America to gear up for a long twilight struggle, and so am I. But this isn't a struggle that can be won with backdoor deals and tradecraft, not with guns and not with fear. Today I'm asking you to settle into the trenches and fight for the restoration of a Compassionate America. An America that sets the bar higher for what its citizens can expect. An America that treats the downtrodden with respect. An America that asks more of itself. An America filled with good, honest, hard-working Americans that says with open arms to each other and to the world, we're in this together.

*The AUDIENCE breaks into applause, and the POLITICIAN puts up a placating hand before delivering a final line.

POLITICIAN: It's time to face that new frontier. Let's do it together.

*There is much APPLAUSE and also HEAD SCRATCHING.

*EXEUNT OMNES, pursued by A BEAR.

It's been a long day.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Liberty is one of the 99%

Today, you may have noticed a lot of stuff going down in a city near you, all tied up with the We Are The 99% movement. So I thought I might share something I learned recently.

When the Statue of Liberty was being built, there wasn't a lot of support from the people up top. They desperately needed 100,000 dollars to build something for the statue to stand on. Grover Cleveland, then mayor of NYC, vetoed a bill to provide half that money. Congress couldn't get its act in gear. The next bit is actually from Wikipedia:

The New York committee, with only $3,000 in the bank, suspended work on the pedestal. With the project in jeopardy, groups from other American cities, including Boston and Philadelphia, offered to pay the full cost of erecting the statue in return for relocating it. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, a New York newspaper, announced a drive to raise $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.3 million today). Pulitzer pledged to print the name of every contributor, no matter how small the amount given. The drive captured the imagination of New Yorkers, especially when Pulitzer began publishing the notes he received from contributors. "A young girl alone in the world" donated "60 cents, the result of self denial." One donor gave "five cents as a poor office boy's mite toward the Pedestal Fund." A group of children sent a dollar as "the money we saved to go to the circus with." Another dollar was given by a "lonely and very aged woman." Residents of a home for alcoholics in New York's rival city of Brooklyn (the cities would not merge until 1898) donated $15; other drinkers helped out through donation boxes in bars and saloons. A kindergarten class in Davenport, Iowa, mailed the World a gift of $1.35.
As the donations flooded in, the committee resumed work on the pedestal. In June, New Yorkers displayed their new-found enthusiasm for the statue, as the French vessel Isère arrived with the crates holding the disassembled statue on board. Two hundred thousand people lined the docks and hundreds of boats put to sea to welcome the Isère. After five months of daily calls to donate to the statue fund, on August 11, 1885, the World announced that $102,000 had been raised from 120,000 donors, and that 80 percent of the total had been received in sums of less than one dollar.

There are two competing visions of the American Dream right now. One says from the tops of the skyscrapers and from the ignorant masses hiding behind their television screens: "I have what's mine because I earned it. I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, and if the poor are too lazy to do it themselves then they have what's coming to them".

The other proclaims in the poet Emma Lazarus' words, as she has done since 1886, at the very gates of America: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I don't know about you, but I stand with Lady Liberty and the 99%.

Friday, 14 October 2011

A little Amazon Kindle Bleg

Look, Amazon, we're friends, right? You and me, we go way back to when you started offering paper books for free delivery while I was a poor student. Love the random crap I can buy from you, and the stupid but entertaining ways we netizens can use your feedback columns for ironic and/or comedic hyperbolic ends.


Stop trying to get me to buy a kindle by "improving" it. I don't care. I don't want an always-on cellular modem on it. I'm not too picky about touchscreens, though I guess they're nice. You want me to buy a kindle, here's what you have to do. It's pretty simple:

1. Let me read in any format I choose and buy books for it from wherever I want.

2. Agree that when I buy a book on a kindle it becomes MY property, not YOURS under license.

3. Don't use it as an advertising platform. When I put down a kindle, I don't want it to decide this is an opportunity to sell me something. Anything. Even if it's the BEST. NEW. WHATEVER.

That's about it. Until such time as you can announce these things in a way that causes me to believe you, stop sending me the ads. They won't work.

Sincerely yours,


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Religion, Emotion, and Sex

It's the end of a rather long day. Mostly good, but long. And I ended my workday about ten minutes ago* by anonymously editing a student essay. I work as an online tutor, helping kids with their essays. It's all legit, we don't edit for them, we just offer suggestions and draw examples from their work to illustrate it. We try to make them better writers, rather than to improve their one specific paper.

But anyhow, I sometimes get personal response narratives that are very, well, personal. And for me, the most freaky kind is when they write about a personal religious experience. I was trying to put my finger on why while responding to this student, trying to come up with a reason to tread more lightly when talking about the personal salvation offered to him/her by Jiminy Cricket**, when it hit me:

Writing about personal religious experience is like writing about sex.

The reason it makes me uncomfortable isn't because I study the devil all the time and have begun to sympathise; it isn't because of the rampant hypocrisy inherent in so many iterations of the religion that always go unmentioned and uninterrogated in these types of narratives; it's that they're so. damned. intimate.

Learning about someone's faith is like learning what they look like naked. For some people, profoundly good, intelligent people who nonetheless are still strong believers, it can be like seeing a classical nude. For people who are major religious figures it can be like seeing the pin-up performativity of a porn-star. For raging hypocrites like the TV televangelists it's like looking at a nude by Lucien Freud.*** But for people who obviously haven't given it a lot of thought, but who nevertheless feel like sharing their profound truths, it's like catching some poor unsuspecting sod with his pants down. It can be a little embarrassing.

The challenge with writing about personal religious experience is the same as with writing about sex. If you're going to be earnest and truthful, it's going to be like sex between two normal, non-moviestar people. It's not a bad thing,**** but to the outside observer it's going to be very intimate, and probably more than a little too much information. The challenge is to provide enough information for your readers to follow along, even to emotionally engage, without strapping them down six inches from the action and forcing them to watch.

So, next time you feel like writing about your Road To Damascus moment, just try to use a bit of perspective, a bit of tact, and a whole lot of circumspection. Otherwise we're going to have to start an award ceremony for you, too.

*9:35pm - don't let anybody tell you students don't work hard, I've been up since 6:00am and working since 7:30am.

**Not his real name.

***To me, anyway. I really hate his paintings. He really knows how to make naked people look ugly.

****Indeed, I do believe sex between non-moviestars to be a Very Good Thing.

Monday, 10 October 2011

An Announcement

Before the announcement, a note:

As many of you know, Vaulting and I cherish our pseudonymity. We don't hide our real identities flawlessly, by any stretch, and many of our friends in the land beyond the internet know who we are. We think of it as an agreement between friends -- and so many of you are our friends that we very much want to share this news with you. That said, this announcement will in all likelihood let many more of our readers know who we are. If it does, you probably know us well enough that we've decided it doesn't matter that you know. But please: if you do figure us out, keep our little secret. The last thing we want is to have to moderate our opinions on here to protect our future job prospects.

And without further ado:

After nearly four years and many travails (and travels) together, the lovely Vaulting and I have agreed (on no set timeline, and after a customary exchange of jewelry) to become partners of a most intimate fashion. That is to say: we're not entirely sure when or how, but we're definitely getting hitched! :D

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The 99%: Not just the tip of the iceberg this time.

@JeffreyJCohen from over at In The Middle (among other places) asked yesterday how medievalists and early modernists could "show their support" for the #occupy movement taking place now in many cities around the US. We decided on a hashtag or two (#occupythemiddleages and #occupyhistory) and decided to post on them.

His post @KarlSteel's #occupythemiddleages post is up here and actually has something to do with the middle ages. Mine really won't.*

Mine's trying to answer the question: "Why a hashtag?" Or, if you like "Why not change your facebook picture, for all the good it'll do?"


First, I think a hashtag is about communication of more than just a single monolithic idea. Certainly it moves the way a solidarity meme does on facebook profile pictures -- everyone turn your picture green to support... a free.. Palestine? -- but it carries with it more meaning.

Take the symbol of the cross in Anglo-Saxon England (yeah, I went there): the cross itself is a symbol, like a hashtag. You can carry a cross, put up a cross, bury a cross, paint a picture of a cross -- and the weight of the monolithic idea behind it will make it symbolic. A really great cross, of course, will be something like the Ruthwell or Bewcastle crosses, that is to say, covered in "texts". (I have to use the Derridan Scare Quotes (DSQ) because I firmly believe that everything is a text, including the images on the R'well & B'castle Crosses.) Take them as a crude metaphor for the difference between a fb picture meme and a hashtag: the fb picture meme can only carry the monolithic idea, it acts as publicity without nuance. The hashtag can carry links to in-depth analysis, that is to say, to the other 99% of the story.

What I'm getting at is that we're not just interested in the headline, because that's what part of the problem has been all along.

This is the first time I've seen a protest movement like this one. It's got nuance, subtlety, and no central focus. The general idea, the headline, is that the American population who are in the lowest earning 99% (that is to say, not the mega-rich) are a little sick of all the rules, all the laws, and all the interest, being geared toward the top earning 1% of the population. But if you want more, you're going to have to talk to just about everyone concerned. That's why I'm not going to try to explain to you what Occupy Wall Street is about. Because I can't. But here's something I can do: I can set up a hashtag, and we can all use it to link to things that help us understand, help us make meaning out of the growing discontent.

Here are just a few:

The movement's (semi?)-official tumblr feed, "We Are the 99 Percent"

Occupy Wall Street
Occupy San Francisco
Occupy Houston
Occupy Boston
Occupy Seattle
Occupy Los Angeles

Religion In American History's post on the phrase "Church of Dissent"
Mother Jones' Occupy Wall Street Protests Map's Occupy Everywhere post
A Clever Guy's Response to Fixed News' Attempts to Entrap Him
A News Story On Los Angeles Giving OccupyLA It's Official Support

And, as always, the ever-updating Wikipedia Entry for Occupy Wall Street

Educate yourselves. The symbol is only the garden gate.


UPDATE: it also occurs to me that an unfocused hashtag is the perfect reflection of a movement with no center. Life's like that sometimes. :)

UPDATE 2: originally this post claimed the link was to a post by J J Cohen, when in truth it was one by Karl Steel. Mea culpa.

UPDATE 3: added two more links: one to the movement's semi-official tumblr feed, "We Are the 99 Percent", and one to Religion In American History's post on the phrase "Church of Dissent"

Sunday, 2 October 2011

On Methodologies, or, Trying To 'Make Up' With Theory

It's a Sunday night, and I'm frankly out of things to read until my visit to the Library tomorrow (I know, I should have planned further ahead, mea maxima culpa). So instead, I'm going to bleg about how capital-T theory and I have never really gotten along, and how I'm trying to make up with it.

Friends of mine know that, as a medievalist interested in the written word (and one who doesn't currently blog at In The Middle), I've had trouble with what I call Capital-T Theory. At first I thought it was because it wasn't necessary. I mean really: did we already know so much about the so-called "middle ages" that we had recourse to fall onto reader response criticism or psychoanalysis? We didn't even know how it was responded to when it was written, let alone know enough about who confronted it to bother trying to psychoanalyze them.

But, live and learn (and get forced into Theory classes during grad school) and you find yourself in awkward positions. No, I don't know what Agamben said about it. And when I tried to look? He lost me by trying to redefine the word "gesture" as something other than, you know, a gesture.

So of late I've been trying to get back in Theory's good graces. Our Theory, who art in the English Department, etc. etc. be thy whatever. Forgive me Theory, for I have sinned. And so forth. Genuflection, prostration, et al.

Because that same professor who made me rethink the word "criticism" has made me rethink Theory.

What I want, the thing I think I need more of in order to teach, is tools in my toolbox. And my lack of knowledge of Theory has always been a spanner to my plans, if you will (talk about mixing your metaphors). And this professor of mine has got me realizing that without Theory, I'm cutting myself off from a lot of useful tools.

What she's said is simple: take Theory, use it, and bury it as far under the surface of your writing as you can. It enriches your arguments, underpins them -- but the Theory isn't the point. Theory is a means to an end, and unless you couple it with language that allows for easy communication, that end isn't reached.

This isn't to say that Theory that tries to break out of the current paradigm by redefining language itself isn't useful. I mean, it might be; I have no idea. I haven't figured out how to understand it just yet. But I won't come out and say it isn't useful just because I haven't figured out how to use it.*

Take Authorship Theory, for instance. In 1968 Barthes declared the author dead. And I get what he meant. I get what he was reacting to, and if you hold aside the broad, sweeping generalizations Theory likes to make, I can even find it useful. He pointed out (for you medievalists who don't know) that "Lo," and I'm paraphrasing in quotation marks, so sue me, "Lo, we cannot ever know the authorial intention, and who gives a F**k, anyway? All we can know is the reader's reception."

And then the next year, in French, I think, Foucault pops up and says "Well, I mean seriously guys," and this is a direct quote. No really. "Seriously guys, like, what is an author anyway?" And so he redefined the author as something we can't really reach. But since we still try, he said we should think about the author in terms of the way we ascribe authorship to texts. The "author as function" or, if you will, the "author-function". The thing we create to take the place of the unreachable author. Fair enough.

About twenty years later a fellow named Alexander Nehamas pops up and says "hold on, dude. The author can't just be anybody. He's got to be plausible, at least." Basically, the author has to be someone the writer of the text could actually have been. For example, we can't just say Jesus wrote everything. That would be weird. And, you know, hard on Jesus.

So what does this mean? If I'm writing about the Beowulf-poet, how does any of this matter? Well, on the surface, not a heck of a lot. We know we don't know who wrote Beowulf.** We know, thanks to the peculiar integration of history and literature found in Anglo-Saxon studies, that any trait we ascribe to the poet is more a reflection of ourselves and what we need in a Beowulf-poet, than of the actual person (or persons) who wrote the damn thing. But it can help in that, through Theory, we can become aware of our own modes of thought, and more accurately render a reading of the poem and of the poet, knowing full well that what we strive toward isn't the poet him- or herself, but the closest construct we can manage. It can help us in thinking about the audience, in the recognition of the unknowability of the audience of the poem. By calling them the author-function and (as per Kathy Cawsey) the audience-function, we can more accurately name what it is we construct around the few relics of the past we have left for study.

Foucault seems to have been worried that when we read a poem and know that it's by Shakespeare we imbue it with a meaning, or at least a potential for meaning, beyond what we might otherwise ascribe to it. The same, I think, is true of Anglo-Saxon authors: from assuming the texts in Junius 11 are by "Caedmon" (as has been done in the past) to creating a persona for the Beowulf-poet, we must be cautious in our creations so as not to alter the fragile remains of the texts we have left.

And so that's why I'm trying to get along with Theory these days. Because sometimes -- when I understand it -- it gives me an insight that helps. Something that helps me to get at the text in a way that lets me get out of my own way. And God knows I need as many of those as I can get.

*I'm still working on questions like: 1) Why are we still using Lacan's psychoanalysis in English departments when people actually working in psychology wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole even when it was written? and 2) how are you supposed to get through to the paradigm you're trying to change if you opt out of it and thereby sever communication with it? But these are questions I'm trying to deal with. If you know the answers, comments below, please :)

**Thanks Rumsfeld. Known Knowns, unknown knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns... probably the smartest and dumbest thing the man ever said (at the same time).

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Funding drama

This is a long post; I apologize.

Those of you on Twitter may have seen yesterday's ridiculous drama. In trying to comment on it today, I realized I need more than 140 characters to adequately describe the situation (as best I understand it). Basically, as you may recall (I know, it's been a while since I've made an appearance on the blog), I started my PhD program last month. I'm taking one class as a part-time student, working full-time at my admin job on campus, and - here's the sticky part - working part-time as a teaching assistant.

The TAship was given to me as merit-based funding. Funding is hard to come by - I believe I'm the only first-year to receive a TAship this year, and it was one of their best packages. I was offered a GAship for the 2nd semester, too, but since it only offers tuition remission (no stipend), I turned it down. I was encouraged to take the TAship, though, and was told that I could absolutely do part-time coursework, TA, and work full-time. Since I really wanted (and still want) the experience, I accepted the TAship.

At the time (and, to be honest, even now), I felt a certain amount of guilt in taking the funding package. As I said, it was a rare offer, and the fact of the matter is that I don't need it. I have a job that pays me well and covers my tuition, and I'm only a part-time student; I don't need the TAship's stipend and tuition remission. But they made the decision to offer it to me, knowing my situation, and so I put my own ambition first and accepted it. (though I will point out that I would have gladly given up my job to be a full-time student and dependent on said funding if they'd given me two semesters of stipend, instead of just the one)

So despite the challenge of juggling what amounts to two full-time jobs, all of which require significant amounts of brain power, I've been managing it and everything has been going well. So, of course, it all blows up.

I spoke to the dept admin yesterday since I hadn't seen a paycheck yet. She spoke with the admin of the college, who Flipped. A. Shit. Apparently, it is absolutely 100% not allowed for a student employee to also be a regular employee. I knew this was technically true, but I figured they'd work around it. No. So now the shit has really hit the fan, and by mid-afternoon, the dept head is calling me and warning me that I'm about to lose my TAship.

Whoa, hold on.

When this all started (only yesterday morning), it was a logistical problem: it was a case of the uni physically not being able to pay me both as a regular employee and as a student employee. There are ways around that. But before we could get to that solution, the entire matter had escalated, and suddenly the dean is involved and saying that we're going to have to wait for the provost to decide.

Decide what? Because now this isn't a problem of logistics, it's a problem of "we shouldn't have given funding to a full-time employee who doesn't need it." Moreover, they've given one of their best funding packages to a part-time student. Bad PR all around. So, as far as I can tell, now they'd like to fix this error. Even if they can't manage a complete fix, they’re certainly not going to pull any strings to get this sorted out in my favor.

The major problem for "fixing" this is that I've been teaching since the start of the semester, and that even if they could give the funding to someone else, that someone else will likely be in a similar position: a part-time student, working full-time somewhere else. And that's assuming they can even find someone who's in a position to accept the TAship.

Once it became clear that this was a more serious issue than just logistics (about the time the dean got involved), I made it clear that I was TAing for the experience. If it comes down to it, I'll TA without the stipend. The response was "Thank you, but that doesn't solve the problem."

How does that not solve the fucking problem?

There are so many angles to the situation that I think it'll be weeks before anyone is able to make a decision. There's the fact that they can't pay me as a student employee; there's the fact that they gave the funding to someone who doesn't need it. There's the issue of pulling a TA from a course well into the semester; and there's the issue that they can't separate the funding (the stipend and tuition remission) from the service (TAing).

There’s an entire other part of this story, having to do with my work supervisor, but I’ll cover that in a separate post. But as things stand now, I'm waiting to hear back from the provost about whether I'm "allowed" to work full-time, be a part-time TA, and do coursework. As I said on twitter, how is this anyone's decision but mine?

It's fairly likely that they'll refuse to pay me as a TA; it's quite possible that they'll refuse to let me continue as a TA at all. But from my perspective, those are the most complicated solutions to the problem. So simplicity might win out in the end. But I promise: if the provost tells me I’m not “allowed” to continue, s/he and I are going to have a serious discussion, and they’re going to have to explain to me how the politics of this justify taking away my funding, taking away my teaching experience, disrupting my students’ education, throwing another PhD student into the position mid-semester, and leaving the prof and other TAs to clean up the mess.