On Baking Bread

Bread Baking (Fall 2017)

I baked bread again last weekend. That’s not all that unusual; I don’t think I’ve bought bread since March or April. It kind of came up on Instagram and Facebook because my long time friend and colleague (and fellow baker/cook-type) Bill Hart-Davidson commented that I should post some pictures. So I did. More than necessary. And now here I am writing about baking bread, also more than necessary.

Continue reading “On Baking Bread”

Our 2017 Transatlantic Cruise Part 3: London & Reykjavik

Twenty-one days, which is as long as I’ve been away from home in as long as I can remember. A great trip– including parts one and two— and now I’m ready to be back home, at least for a couple of weeks. Once again, here are pictures on Flickr, the complete album (more or less– I haven’t added all of the pictures Annette took yet), and here are links to the parts one and two blog posts.

The last excursion we took from the ship was to Stonehenge in part because if you’re going to be in southern England (our last port of call was Southampton), you’ve got to go to Stonehenge, but also because the cruise excursion included a trip to the airport. Kind of crappy weather, but well worth it. It looks exactly like you think it looks, though there were a few surprises. First, it was a bit smaller than I thought it would be and there was a surprisingly busy road only a few hundred yards away from it. Second, Stonehenge is actually part of a much larger site that includes burial mounds and such. Third, the very nice visitor’s center has robust wifi and a cool little museum that even includes a Spinal Tap record.

From there, we went to the airport and where we were picked up by some old friends (mostly of Annette’s) who have lived in (well, near) London for at least 15 years, maybe more. We spent the night at their place, catching up on things, meeting their daughter and some friends, and learning some basic pub culture about how one buys drinks.

The next day, we made our way to our hotel via bus and tube, which was no easy task with four large suitcases and lots of stairs. (As a slight tangent: if I take a trip like this again, I think I’d like to seek a compromise in terms of packing to stay put on a cruise ship versus packing to be on the move). Our hotel was right on Leicester Square, which felt a lot like a small version of Times Square in New York: there was a “TKTS” discount musical/play ticket kiosk, an M&M store, throngs of people and street performers, etc. In fact, if I had to sum up my overall impressions of London in a sentence, I’d say it’s a lot like Manhattan, only not laid out in a grid pattern (making getting lost really easy to do) and a lot older. After getting to the hotel, we didn’t have much time to do tourist stuff, though the National Gallery was right there so we went to look at some fine art for a while.

Our first full day in London involved a lot of walking, like almost 10 miles according to my Fitbit app. Went to the British Museum, then wandered around a lot, went to the Tower Bridge, wandered around some more, and then (because it was included in the “London Pass” tickets thing we bought before the trip), we went to this thing called the “London Bridge Experience.” Essentially, it’s a haunted house. Annette thought it was great; me, not so much.

We were a little bit more organized on our second full day in London (though just a bit more organized). Part of this London Pass thing was a “hop on/hop off” tourist bus, which is kind of goofy but also a good way to at least drive by more stuff (and not surprisingly, we really didn’t see enough of London in the time we were there because we just weren’t there long enough). Highlights included a visit to the reconstruction of the Globe theater, the Tate Modern right next door, the Tower of London, more walking around, and then we ended out tourism with a very long ride on the bus where we drove by lots of stuff to see if we ever go back.

Then to Reykjavik, Iceland. Why you ask? First off, Icelandair has pretty cheap transatlantic flights, though their flights usually stop in Iceland. But one of their features is you can take a several day layover (I think up to seven?) at no additional cost, which means that if you are flying Icelandair, stopping for a day or two in Iceland is pretty easy. Second, we stopped their for a few hours on our honeymoon many many years ago and we always thought it’d be a cool place to visit again. And it was cool (both in the sense of it being “groovy” and also kind of cold, like in the 40s and windy), but (not surprisingly) a lot has changed in 23 years.

When we stopped there back in 1994, what we were assuming was we were going to have four or so hours to sit around the airport (which is about a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik). Instead, we were given– for free, mind you– a bus tour of the area around the lava fields near the airport that included a stop at an indoor salmon farm and also a stop at this place called “The Blue Lagoon,” which, Wikipedia tells me, is essentially the water run-off from an electric power generator fueled by geothermal heat. Locals started bathing in the waters back in the early 1980s, and in 1992, they built a facility to open up the waters to anyone who wanted to go. When we went way back when, we could have rented swimsuits and tried the waters ourselves, but that seemed kind of weird. So we just kind of hung out for a while, got back on the bus, and flew home.

Now the Blue Lagoon is a posh spa/resort you have to book weeks in advance. The cheapest entry is over $55 a person– and that’s just basic entry to the place. There are no free bus rides out to there anymore, and now it looks like it’s a pretty big complex with all sorts of fancy restaurants, spa treatments, a fancy hotel, and so forth. Like I said, it seems like a lot has changed.

Anyway, after the frenetic pace of London (and really just the whole trip), we were both ready for just a day of chilling out/hanging out in Reykjavik. The day we got there, CNBC posted this advice on “How to vacation in one of the most expensive countries on earth for only $50 a day” (spoiler alert: the advice is don’t eat or drink out and do things that are free like walk around), advice we of course didn’t follow. Reykjavik (at least the downtown/touristy part) is easily the most expensive place I’ve ever been in terms of eating and drinking. There was a stand next to our hotel selling hot dogs for $12; a burger was going for about $20; cocktails were over $20 each; and so forth. On the plus-side of it all, tips and taxes are included in the price and it was all excellent, so….

Three highlights (besides just walking around, shopping, gawking at stuff): The first night there, we stumbled across Lebowski Bar, which is a The Big Lebowski-themed bar complete with a drink menu that included over 20 variations on a White Russian. First thing the second day, we went to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church (an elevator ride, happily) and had some tremendous views; and we also visited the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which is small museum of various animal penises in jars (several variety of whales, for example) and various phallic objects, including the Ypsilanti Water Tower. A little piece (or big piece?) of home right here in Iceland– so proud.

So quite the adventure. Would I do it again? Probably, now that I know a lot more about what I’m getting myself into. And probably not again this summer.

Our Transatlantic Cruise Part 2: Ports of Call

The cruise part of this trip is almost over and still a mixed bag for me. Sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s not; sometimes the food is good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the weather has been good, other times not so much.

Anyway, we just finished our next to last port of call for this trip. Our last stop is tomorrow in Southampton, England, and from there, we’ll head into “part 3” of the transatlantic trip, the way back through London and then Iceland.

I’m uploading photo highlights to this Flickr album as we go and I’ll keep uploading pictures there, too. But a brief run-down of the stops:

The Azores: specifically, around Ponta Delgada (which is the main city of the islands, which are a part of Portugal) on the island of São Miguel. Cruise ships always offer multiple options for port tours and excursions, and they can sometimes get pretty pricy for something that’s easy to do yourself. We decided to take one of these tours for the Azores, we took one of these tours and it was totally worth it. We got on to a bus, stopped first at a small pineapple growing operation (apparently, they grow a lot of pineapple here, mostly for the European market, but this place looked way too small to be anything other than a stop for the tourists), then drove out to see the stunningly beautiful Caldeira do Alferes or “crater lakes.” Then more beautiful vistas and views, a lovely park, and then lunch which included an order of some shellfish favored by the locals, Limpets. The other big thing about the Azores is dairy: there were cows kind of wandering around everywhere, and apparently, most of Portugal’s dairy comes from these islands. Great cheese, too.

Basically, as our tour guide put it, the Azores is kind of like what would happen if Hawaii and Ireland had a baby: you have a lot of lush green and steep hills/mountains, but the weather seems more misty and cool. It would be a fantastic place to go for at least a few days to hike and take in more of the views, and as far as I can tell, the place hasn’t really been “discovered” by tourists yet. And it was cheap, too.

Lisbon, Portugal: Stunningly beautiful old town area. And hilly— I think we walked up the equivalent of about 500 flights of stairs. Did some shopping (though I made the mistake of not buying something that I liked when I saw it because I never did see something like it again), saw lots and lots of cool street art/graffiti, had a nice lunch, walked up to São Jorge Castle, walked around some more. Two little memories for me at least: first, I took what I think is at least so far the best picture of my trip, this shot of a guy taking pictures of a young woman posing in front of a cool tile art/mosaic on the street. Second, while in a square overlooking something beautiful, a dude from Senegal tried to force me into buying a selfie stick. I wouldn’t have it with that, but the guy was charming and persistent. So I ended up with a picture of him and we bought a couple of cheap elephant bracelets.

Vigo, Spain: There are two problems with the cruise ship port stops. Some– like in the Azores and in Lisbon– are too short. We could have easily spent a two or three days in both of these places. Some stops, like the one in Vigo, were quite long enough– even though it was only about seven hours. We did do a little shopping and went to a place that had typical Galician-styled sea food (I had the octopus) off of a square where there was a trio playing.

A Courña, Spain: Not a whole lot here either. Apparently, the big destination is kind of near there, the end point of a famous pilgrimage across Spain. But we did have a nice time getting a bit out of the typical “old city” center and over to The Tower of Hercules. It’s a lighthouse that is around 2,000 years old– at least the original site is around 2,000 years old. I’m reminded of a joke I heard a comedian juggler told one time when he held up a hatchet: “This is the hatchet George Washington used to cut down that cherry tree. Only I’ve replaced the handle and the head of the hatchet. But it still takes up the same amount of room as the original hatchet.” Nonetheless, it was a very impressive tower and really lovely park around it with crashing waves and such. Then we had lunch at what turned out to be a sort of “fusion cuisine” place that would have fit right in to some place like New York– though this place had excellent wifi and it was something like 15 euros for a three course prix fixe meal. Service took forever, but we weren’t in a big hurry.

Le Havre, France: Our final port of call (well, before we get off the ship entirely tomorrow) was the port town of Le Havre. It’s the kind of non-tourist towns where I saw local cruise ship terminal workers wearing jackets that said “Le Havre: Gateway to Paris.” That’s because a lot of people– maybe most of the people who got off of the ship on this stop?–take one of the many tours to Paris. Given that Annette and I had been to Paris a few years ago and the trip involved a two or three hour bus ride there, not that much time in Paris itself, and then a two or three hour bus ride back, we passed on that and hung around Le Havre, which was not without its charms. The city was pretty much destroyed in World War II and the downtown part was redesigned and rebuilt by Auguste Perret (and his firm) in the late 1940s and 1950s, and it’s considered to be a particularly good example of post-war modern architecture. We went to a nice (albeit small) art museum, and then visited the very striking St. Joseph’s Church, which looks like a sky scraper or a lighthouse on the outside and sort of like a science fiction set on the inside. We had a nice (albeit large) lunch, walked around some more, got back to the ship.

There you have it.

Tomorrow, we start “part 3,” which is the post-cruise ship part, though it begins with a cruise ship sponsored tour to Stonehenge and then on to the London and then Iceland part of the trip.

Our 2017 Transatlantic Cruise, Part 1: At Sea

Loyal stevendkrause readers and/or just friends of mine might recall I went on a cruise back in 2014 where my reaction at the end of it was basically “that was mostly okay, I guess.” So why am I on a Transatlantic cruise now?

Here’s what happened: Annette’s parents regularly take a cruise back from Europe home to Florida in the fall (they go to Germany for a while every year in the late summer) in part because it is cheaper than buying an airplane ticket (though see below on that).  This is because the cruise ship companies do what are known as “respositioning cruises” where they move their ships from one part of the world to another– in this case, from the Caribbean to Europe. How much cheaper are these cruises? Well, back in late October 2016, Annette looked it up and the most inexpensive room on the ship we’re on (double-occupancy in a small, interior [e.g., windowless] room) was about $500 a person for a 15 day cruise. The stateroom we got– which has a big window, a king-sized bed, and room to move around– was more than that, but still not that expensive.

Looking toward door from windowSo Annette asked me then what I thought. “I say we go ahead and book it,” I said, which I think surprised both of us. “Here’s why. If we like this, then it’s something we can do once in a while for the next 20 or 3o years. If we don’t like this, then we’ll have 20 or 30 years to tell the story of that awful trip.”

It’s too early to say which way this story will turn out– maybe a bit of both– but for “part 1,” just the at sea part, I’d say take the plane.

There’s not a lot to say about being at sea. It was kind of boring. We ate, drank, gambled, read, watched stuff on my laptop, took in some cheesy shows, repeat.

Very quickly, we figured out that the average age of passengers on this cruise is at least 65. That makes sense– who has time to take a cruise across the Atlantic in May?– but it is a bit jarring. At this point in my life, I am used to being one of the older people in the room, especially in a classroom. While there are a fair number of people about our age and younger, it often feels a bit like visiting an assisted living facility. Many of my fellow cruisers shuffle by slowly or have canes or walkers or wheelchairs or little scooters.

Speaking of which: I’m not really a fan of the genre, but this could be a great setting for a zombie story. It would start out seemingly normal, but very soon, once people started falling ill, it would be clear that many of the passengers were turning into the undead. A number of ways to twist the plot: first, is that shuffling old man a zombie or just an old man? How to tell? Second, since there are no firearms on board and not a lot of other handy weapons, how would you stop the zombies? Clobber them with a deck chair? Push them overboard?

Yep, the OceanMost of the other passengers– both American and not (a lot of British on this ship, which is not surprising since that’s where we end up)– seem like the kind of people who voted for Trump or Brexit. So other than small-talk, we tend to keep to ourselves. Chatting with the waiters and bartenders is more interesting. Most of them are in their 20s or so and from all over the place– Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, a lot from India and Indonesia. They’re all charming and polite and either have excellent English or are trying to get a better command of English by chatting it up with the guests. I don’t think these folks make a lot of money by American standards (or Western European standards, for that matter), but, as this article argues, it’s kind of relative– plus they get free room and board, which means this is the kind of job where you can bank much of what you earn.

StevewithpineappleSpeaking of what the service crew earns: everything has a large “service fee” or an 18% tip associated with it. So, an $8 glass of wine and a $10 cocktail (and crazy drinks like one put in a pineapple are more than that) really ends up costing a bit over $21. On the one hand, it’s the main source of income for the waiters and what-not, so there’s no reason to be cheap about it. On the other hand, these fees and taxes and tips mean that ridiculously low price for the cheap rooms is a bit of a myth, especially since a week at sea tends to make drinking seem like a good idea.

IMG_7156And then there is the “at sea” part of things. First it was smooth; then it was six foot waves; then nine; then, about halfway across fifteen to twenty foot swells. Everyone was wobbling around and grabbing on to whatever, and there were barf bags posted on the stairwells. The wind on deck made it difficult to walk. I didn’t feel sick or nauseous, though I take some of the seasickness pills they were passing out. Mostly, the rough seas irritated me.

One big thing that definitely turned out to be a good idea was the wifi package. It was $12 or $13 extra a day for each of us, but worth every penny. We’ve been able to keep in touch with Will, follow the news and social media and the like, and we were able to stream stuff on Hulu and Netflix– so we’re all caught up on The Handmaids Tale.

But “part 2,” ports of call, will get a bit more interesting I suspect. We’ve already been to one, the Azores, which was quite beautiful. More on that later.

A Candy Bar Explanation of My Ambivalence of Clinton v. Sanders

As I write this post, the news is that Bernie Sanders is meeting with Barack Obama to (I guess) come up with an elegant way to exit the race to be the Democratic nominee for president, a race he’s pretty much lost to Hilary Clinton. Soon we will all be able to move on.

Frankly, I’ve felt quite ambivalent about the process. While I know many people (mostly indirectly and on social media) who had a religious and fanatic devotion to Bernie Sanders and/or a burning white-hot hatred of Hilary Clinton, I felt and continue to feel unusually ambivalent. I’m okay with either of them and have been all along. I voted for Clinton in the Michigan primary, but I was totally okay with the fact that Sanders won it. If the conversation right now was about how Sanders had pulled off the political upset to win the nomination, totally fine with me.

So the whole social media phenomenon of things like #iguessimwithher or the sentiment summed up in this excellent post at Good Bad Librarian! “I’m With Her (But We’re Seeing Other People)” or pretty much a third or more of my Facebook/Twitter feed for the last several months– this whole thing has been hard for me to understand and hard for me to explain.

And then it hit me: from my point of view, Clinton and Sanders are each a half of a Twix bar.

Surly you have heard of this candy bar (not necessarily my “go to” choice, but one I always enjoy), but just in case: as Wikipedia reminds us, Twix “is a chocolate bar made by Mars, Inc., consisting of biscuit applied with other confectionery toppings and coatings (most frequently caramel and milk chocolate). Twix bars are packaged in pairs, although smaller single bars are available.”

And surly you have seen the humorous commercials about the battles between “Left Twix” and “Right Twix.” The basic premise here is the two “inventors” of Twix split the company over vehement disagreements over what is actually nothing. “Left Twix flowed caramel on cookie, while Right Twix cascaded caramel on cookie,” and so forth. The comedy, obviously, is in the fact that the differences being observed between Right and Left Twix are non-existent.

So for me, that’s pretty much the Sanders v. Clinton debate. Though I am certain there are those who might read this and say I WILL NEVER EVER EVER VOTE FOR RIGHT TWIX AND THAT DAMN LEFT TWIX RIGGED THE PROCESS FROM THE BEGINNING.

Or is it Right Twix who did the rigging? I forget.

“Up North” Vacation Haikus

We went to Glen Arbor
Stayed in a Homestead condo,
on Sleeping Bear Bay.

The condo (view from the lake)

Empty Beach With Annette

Off-season, we had
the complex and the beach to
ourselves. It was odd.

Cool, mostly sunny,
but so buggy with midges.
That is off-season.

Work station in Glen Arbor
Working outside meant
buggy gnatty midge bugs all
over my laptop.

Midges live two days
mating in grey swarms alight,
flying up my nose.

Sunset

View of Sleeping Bear Bay

Spooky view

Still, it is lovely,
the bay view always shifting,
shining, orange, blue, grey.

Empire Bluff Trail Selfie

We hiked the Bay View
Trail, Empire Bluffs, Cotton-
wood, Leelanau State Park Trails

How long were these hikes?
We don’t know, but none of the
markers were correct.

For example:

The sign said two miles
Three miles in, we discovered
It was more like five.

Amical and Chicken Pot Pie

blu Duck Confit No. 6534

Excellent eating:
Art’s, Amical, La Bécasse,
and, as always, Blu.

But with the condo
kitchen, we ate mostly at
home. Keeping it real.

It was beautiful
just hanging around the house,
watching Netflix, etc.

Annette Puzzles 1
An OCD dream
An Edward Gorey puzzle
with a thousand frogs.

Annette and I worked,
lots of writing and school stuff.
Class planning and more.

Will didn’t have work.
School was over, he was bored,
Played lots of video games.

Piles of work await
Naptime lures like siren song,
Behind but rested.

(Links to the Flickr set, and thanks to Annette for her haiku contributions).

A few thoughts on a side trip to the Clinton Presidential Library

I was in Arkansas this past weekend for a meeting/work session/subject area consulting event that’s part of a program sponsored by the NICERC— it’s a long story, but it’s been an interesting opportunity for me to participate in something that is both actually interdisciplinary (as in like people from radically different fields than mine) and that is very STEM-oriented.

Anyway, after lots of work including a half-day on Sunday and before my flight back home Monday, I went to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. I took a few pictures; a few random thoughts:

Continue reading “A few thoughts on a side trip to the Clinton Presidential Library”

A few random thoughts on the VCU MFA reunion

"Borrowed" from Pam Gerhardt-- pamelagerhardt.com
“Borrowed” from Pam Gerhardt– pamelagerhardt.com

This coming weekend is the 30th anniversary reunion for Virginia Commonwealth University’s MFA program in creative writing. Originally, I thought I was going, but delays in information about the schedule of events, conflicting life events and obligations, and this pesky day job that makes getting to and from Richmond on a weekend in the middle of the term ultimately are all preventing it.

And actually as I think about it right now, that’s been the story of my life regarding reunions. I missed my 20th high school reunion because I was in Hawaii. I’m missing this one because of the above, but oddly and for unrelated reasons, I’ll be in New Orleans. Maybe I don’t actually like reunions but I am not willing to admit it. Maybe I want to lock the past in the past. There is something to be said for that.

I started in the MFA program in 1988 in large part because Greg Donovan, the director of the program then and I think the director of it now, called me up and offered me a graduate assistantship. I recall being rather coy and full of myself, saying something about mulling over other offers– which I had, sort of. I had been admitted to a couple of other programs but without funding. Greg said something like “Well, it’s not worth it to go into a lot of debt to get a degree in creative writing” and I was signed up.

At 22, I was the youngest person in the program at the time I was there– maybe up to that point. I always thought this gave me certain advantages because if I did something good, people would say “yes, and he’s only 22!” whereas if I did something bad, people would say “well, he’s only 22.”

I don’t want to romanticize it all now– there were a lot of “bad times” of various kinds and flavors, mostly of the sort that I think to happen to any 20-something graduate student living far from home– but I mostly hold on to the good. I think it says something that I’m on much better “Facebook-like” friend relations with people from my MFA program than I am with people from my PhD program. Oh, Annette and I still have some good friends from Bowling Green days, but the PhD was rather “intense” (to put it mildly) and didn’t exactly foster social bonds that well. I don’t like this word, but there was a lot more “camaraderie” in the MFA program, maybe because we were helping each other try to be artists, maybe because a short story or essay workshop class can seem a lot like group therapy. Maybe I feel that way now just because I was so much younger and way WAY more naive.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and when I get a chance to advise students now about whether or not to go into a creative writing program, I always say that it’s a great opportunity just as long as you realize that it doesn’t inherently translate into a job after you finish. You won’t find a lot of ads on Craigslist or Monster.com that say “MFA in fiction writing required,” with the exception of jobs actually teaching creative writing, and those positions are few and far between. What I got out of it was the luxury and privilege of being with a group of other people who all cared passionately about their writing. In a lot of ways, it didn’t even matter a whole lot if that writing was any good or not.

And who knows? I’m on sabbatical next winter (the story of that is another post I’m mulling over), and it might be time for me to take up foolish things again, things like making something up.

On having “The Least Stressful” Job of 2013

Making its rounds on the intertubes yesterday was this article/blog post/something by Susan Adams at Forbes, “The Least Stressful Jobs of 2013.” The winner? University professor, of course!

The article is so factually inaccurate in so many different ways that there’s really no point in explaining why. But there are two interesting aspects of the way it has been reported. First, after many flabbergasted comments from various professors, Adams published an addendum/apology where she acknowledged that being a professor is actually a lot of work and even potentially stressful. Second, as a part of that addendum, Adams says “but don’t blame me; blame CareerCast,the marketing/PR firm that came up with these lists in the first place.”

In other words, all Adams did was reproduce the quasi-made-up lists of least stressful jobs and posted it, all under the rhetorically persuasive guise of “reporting” for an established magazine. Classy. And it would appear that the rest of the lemmings in mainstream media have chased after this story too: a google search turned up similar links/stories on ABC News, some business web sites, some TV station web sites, etc.

I think the most stressful jobs list is also pretty telling.  There are jobs there that I would assume are stressful (military, firefighter, police officer, etc.), but then there’s Public Relations Executive, Senior Corporate Executive, Photojournalist, and Newspaper Reporter, jobs that are pretty close to the kinds of work people at CareerCast do. Nothing self-serving about that at all, right?

Not surprisingly, professors have complained about this low stress characterization. Two blog posts I’ll mention is “The Least Stressful Job for 2013? A Real Look at Being a Professor in the US,” by Audra Diers at the blog Facts & Other Fairy Tales. She goes to exhaustive lengths– and I mean exhaustive— to describe just how very stressful and time-consuming it is to be a professor.  Second, Aaron Barlow writes about all this in “‘The Job I Love’ and ‘Why I Fight.'” I think Barlow is exactly right when he explains why it’s difficult to compare/explain the profession to people who look at work and jobs as something unpleasant that is done in order to pursue real passions when the reality is that the job/work of being a professor is the passion. Interestingly enough, Barlow was interviewed and clearly misquoted by these CareerCast people.

But it is also easy in these sorts of rebuttals (and in the comments on that Forbes article or on mailing lists I’m on) to slip into workload exaggeration in an effort to tell the best “oh, you think you had it bad” story ala Four Yorkshiremen:

But just what is “stressful,” anyway? What do these people mean? It turns out that CareerCast does have a methodology of sorts, though it is a strange point system/scale/something, and there’s no explanation as to how things are scored. Being a university professor scores on this scale (according to these folks) a 6.45. By contrast, the most stressful job, Enlisted Military, scores 84.75; a PR Executive scores 48.52; and a photojournalist scores 47.12.

The application of these points is clearly pretty loosey-goosey; in fact, if I were to guess, I’d say it looks like what the CareerCast people did was sit around in a conference room or a bar one day and bullshit with each other to come up with the numbers. This probably explains why so many careers related to the careers of these CareerCast wonks rated so high. I am almost certain that they didn’t actually ask anyone in these fields to rate their own stress levels.

So as a public service and as a way to procrastinate, I thought I’d go ahead and score my own stressfulness on the job based on their scale.  Here it goes:

  • Travel, amount of 0-10: 2 I’m going to give myself a 2 for this because while I generally still need to go to one or two conferences a year as part of my work (and I have to pay a lot of those expenses myself), I don’t really have to do this much anymore since I’m tenured and all that. But when I was in graduate school and seeking tenure, going to conferences was critical, time-consuming, expensive, and thus stressful, so I’m sticking with that 2. It’s not as bad as a job where you are flying someplace every week (I have a brother-in-law who does that), but it’s not non-existent either.
  • Growth Potential, income divided by 100: ? Honestly I’m not sure what this means, but I will say this: one of the clear problems of being a professor– especially at a place like EMU, where it is comparatively easy to get tenure and promotion– is that you “max out” in terms of pay and rank.  This is one of the reasons why professors become administrators. Besides, if the number for stress is high, wouldn’t this be a good thing? I’m confused by this one. I’ll say zero even though I know that’s wrong.
  • Deadlines, 0-9: 5 I suspect that the CareerCast people sat around and said “yeah, my professors always took a couple weeks to pass back grades on papers– they didn’t give a shit about any deadlines.”  That’s because when you are a professor, you have lots and lots of other deadlines that have nothing to do with teaching that are more important than passing back those papers. There are deadlines for publishing, for posting grades, for advising, for committee meetings, for doing assessment and other university busy-work, etc., etc. Lives are not at stake and deadlines are often not met, but yes, there are lots of stressful deadlines.
  • Working in the public eye, 0-5: 1 Given the criticism of education in the MSM and the fact that I am a public employee who has to maintain a public persona as a teacher and a scholar in my field, I do feel a certain amount of “public eye” stress. I mean, it’s not like anchoring the local news, but it is also not an anonymous profession.
  • Competitiveness, 0-15: 15 People outside of academica have no fucking clue on this. Anyone– and I mean anyone— who is in a tenured position at a university, particularly in fields like English or Rhetoric and Writing, competed mightily for that position. They competed against applicants to graduate school for admission and an assistantship, they competed against their classmates in graduate seminars for recognition, they competed against their peers around the country to get accepted to conferences and to publish essays, they competed against their peers again to get hired in the first place, and they continue to compete with their faculty colleagues for damn near everything. EVERYONE who has a tenure track job has dealt with the stresses and pressures of the never-ending competition, and show me someone who is in a particularly prestigious tenure-track job and I’ll show you the most competitive S.O.B. you’ll ever face.
  • Physical demands (stoop, climb, etc.), 0-14: 0 As I am fond of saying of this work, it beats shoveling coal. Assuming we’re not talking metaphorically- that’s covered by competitiveness.
  • Environmental conditions, 0-13: 0 Though I have had some sketchy office spaces.
  • Hazards encountered, 0-5: 0 Though I can imagine folks in chemistry might feel differently.
  • Own life at risk, 0-8: .5 Obviously, being a professor is not dangerous like being a firefighter or police officer or soldier. But given the rare but unfortunate incidents of violence on college campuses, I would say there is some anxiety there that is stressful.
  • Life of another at risk, 0-10: .5 See above.
  • Meeting the public, 0-8: 6 This is another one of those categories where I suspect the CareerCast people, the ones who were once students in classes like mine, thought “yeah, those professors are so lucky, they never have to deal with the public, just students and stuff.” Well, I’ve got news: students are “the public.” Now, most of my work with students– especially the good ones– is very pleasant and rewarding, no doubt about that. And working with college students is generally a lot easier than working with “the public” one encounters in secondary schools, social work settings, shopping malls, restaurants, etc.

That said, every professor/lecturer/adjunct/graduate assistant I know can tell you several hair-curling stories about dealing with students/the public who were insulting, mean, weepy, drunk, scary, crazy, potential violent, lazy, rude, and/or all of the above. Honestly, working with the public/students is often the best and the worst part of the job, and it is definitely one of the sources of stress in my life.

So for me, I’d give being a professor a 30, not counting that “growth potential” question. I’m not saying it is in the “top ten” of stressful positions (though being a PR Executive isn’t in the top ten either in my book), but it ain’t quite as easy as it is to come up with these top ten lists in the first place.

WIDE-EMU 2012: A Few Misc. Thoughts

WIDE-EMU 2012 (or is it WIDE-EMU 2?) happened Saturday at Michigan State and it all seemed to go off without a hitch, more or less.  There might be more later, but I thought I’d  write a down a few thoughts before I forget now.

  • This is the second version of the conference we ran successfully last year at EMU, and for me, I guess there are two related reasons why I think what we’re doing is important and valuable. First, there are not enough small, local, and low-stakes kind of conferences happening in the field, at least not in Michigan. I had a couple of folks from smaller colleges come up to me today and thank me (well, me and Derek and Bill too, of course) for doing this. Second, the WIDE-EMU is a “proof of concept” of the idea that if a conference remains small, if you can get a free space (in this case, classroom space at MSU), if most of the amenities (e.g., food, printed programs, other swag) are cut out, and if everyone embraces a little DIY spirit, and if you use tools like Google Sites and a few “borrowed” photocopies in the department– if you can do all that, then it’s really not that hard to run this kind of conference for free. And increasingly, I’m interested in conferences like this one: small and inexpensive.
  • My conference day started out helping people get started, registered, name-tagged, etc. I actually forgot a name tag, which is kind of bad since I’m one of the people who has preached the “bring your own name tag” message loudest. Anyway, after things got going, I wandered around and stuck my head in a couple of different sessions and I ended up staying for Becky Morrison’s and James Davis’ make/talk, which had become a sort of “let’s chat about our topic” since there were only four of us. I thought it was a great conversation.
  • Next, I went to Karl Stolley’s workshop on github– here’s a link to the materials.The good thing about it was I kind of feel like I want to learn something more about github (which is basically a place to share versions of open source code in a way that controls versions of that code) for all kinds of reasons and Karl knows plenty about it. The bad thing is/was I spent like 45 minutes trying install the necessary software and tools only to find that my stupid EMU computer is set up in such a way that I don’t have control to the root directory. (Note to self: erase EMU computer and start over on my own as soon as I have time).
  • Bill HD and Karl had had a little Twitter argument earlier in the week over the role coding should have amongst rhetoric/writing people; Karl obviously thinks “yes” and Bill had a blog post here more or less arguing “no,” or perhaps more accurately, “not so much.” I think both of them are right and wrong in that I don’t have the time/expertise/inclination to spend as much time with coding things as Karl would; on the other hand, I also don’t have programmers handy the way Bill does, so I have to do a little DIY if I’m going to get anything done. Besides, I think learning a little code– or even learning about code– goes a long way.
  • Anyway, after that was Bump Halbritter’s plenary talk “Teaching/Learning/Knowing Writing as Symbolic Action,” which was pretty good. I recorded it with my EMU’s new video camera and I’m trying to get it ready for YouTube on my other computer as I type this, so it should be available soon. Hopefully it turned out decent. His talk was largely about his forthcoming book, Mics, Cameras, Symbolic Action: Audio-Visual Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, which I’m looking forward to reading for my own multimedia writing classes.
  • Lunch was kind of a bust: the original plan was to get everyone to go to this food court area that was supposed to have a variety of options, but the only thing open was a very busy Subway. So there was more dispersal to different parts than I would personally have preferred. Bill and Derek and I ended up going back to the conference building and ordering Jimmy Johns, keeping Derek’s streak alive.
  • I went to an afternoon session on “Robots” lead by Bill and Mike McLeod. It mainly focused on a neat little tool called If This Then That and other stuff involving APIs. Again, I go back to coding versus not coding: on the one hand, some of this stuff is too difficult for me to wrap my head around, as I wrote about here in foolishly trying to teach HTML5 coding last winter. I feel like a lot of the programming/coding required to do cool Web 2.0+ things are beyond my level of expertise. On the other hand, I am constantly reminded that a little coding and experimentation goes a long way, and it is better to know something about these kinds of things than it is to know nothing.
  • I shared my session with Geoff Carter, who introduced an interesting assignment in interrogating/considering videos in writing courses and Michael Salvo, who kinda summed up the conference and Geoff’s and my presentation.

Here’s a video recording of my talk:

I think it turned out okay; it occurs to me now that this is the first quasi-scholarly presentation/thing about MOOCs I’ve done that I can legitimately put on my CV since I jumped on that MOOC wagon earlier in the summer. I am certain there will be more of that soon.

  • Then it was on to the #beerrhetorics, which was a chance to relax, eat, drink, and talk to good friends/colleagues from around the midwest who came into town for this year’s festivities. Good times, and I was the proud program coordinator/mentor as a number of folks spoke highly of the EMU grad students who presented this year. Well done!

Assuming I can get the movie of Bump’s talk to work (and I just got an error trying to import it– oh-oh), I’ll be posting that soon too.

So that’s about it. About this time last week, I remember thinking (and maybe even saying to Derek) I don’t see any reason to do this again, it’s a lot of work, I’ve got so many other things to do, blah-blah-blah, etc. And now after just wrapping it up, I’m already thinking about what we could do the same or differently when we do this next year. So the WIDE-EMU just might be rising again in 2013.