Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I got my student evaluations today and I must say that I am disappointed. They were all over the place, but its the bad ones that really feel like a punch in the gut.

There are some things I need to keep in mind:
  • Students are fickle. They like to complain. At a place like this they feel entitled not only to learn, but to be entertained.
  • Introductory courses are terribly difficult to teach, both in organization and content.
  • There were good evaluations and those were probably the ones from the good students.
  • It was hard to teach this class being gone so much, including when I had to spend time in Boston when Sara had her kidney stones.
It's still hard. I put so much energy into the course that it makes it difficult to hear people claim it was disorganized, boring, and superficial. While it is also easy to dismiss the comments as those of snotty students, I know that these evaluations will play a role in my future as I try to find a new job. This is another problem in academia, so much of effective teaching is assessed through these stupid evaluation that students fill out when they are tired, pissed off, or wanting to run outside and play.

Enough self-pity and back to packing.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


I have been rather preoccupied as of late. I finished grading the final exams only to be greeted with two job offers: one for a full-time one year position in Maine and one for a one year part-time position in Boston.

While the choice was clear (you might even say there really wasn't a choice), it was still a stressful and agonizing process. Why, you might ask? Let me elucidate.

I was going to take the position in Boston because Sara and I need to be in the same city after this long and painful year apart. The college in Maine is two and half hours away from Boston, so not a commutable distance.

Despite this clarity, I cannot say that I was not disappointed. I really liked the college in Maine, the faculty at the department, and the students. It is really the type of place I would really like to end up at. Mind you that this was only a one year position and there was little chance it would amount to anything more. Then there was the money.

This is a HUGE issue in academia. The disparity between what tenured and tenure-track faculty earn and what is paid to adjunct faculty is utterly shameful. The position in Boston pays one third of what I was offered in Maine, even though the Maine position required four courses and the Boston one requires three. This was also after I was able to finagle a slight increase in the Boston offer (as well as benefits) by letting them know I had gotten an offer from Maine.

The issue that made this matter difficult was that I went to Maine and saw where I would have been working. While I have visited the school in Boston once, I really could not see in my mind where and with whom I would be working.

One last issue that I had to also deal with is the fact that my former advisor used to teach at the college in Maine and I am sure he pulled some strings to get me the interview. I was not sure how he was going to react. Would he be upset? Would he help me in the future?

One very stressful morning this week, I had to call the chair of the department in Maine and decline the position. They were very nice and understanding. I also had to email my advisor and explain my decision. Fortunalely, he seemed to be understanding as well.

After dealing with all of this, I needed to get away. So the dog and I hopped in the car and drove north to explore eastern Washington. For those of you wondering what eastern Washington looks like, here is a picture:

Beautiful Eastern Washington Posted by Hello

Yes there seems to be very little there. It was also one of the first very hot days we have had. I think the mercury was nearing 95 degrees. So you may ask why did I choose to drive into such a barrern landscape. I did have a destination.

As you wind your way through the dry hills, you suddenly come upon a rather large hole in the ground that has a waterfall pouring into it. This is Palouse Falls:

Palouse Falls Posted by Hello

I can't stress enough how suddenly the hole comes upon you. Down stream from the falls there is a fairly picturesque canyon that is nearly invisible from any other vantage point.

Palouse Falls Canyon Posted by Hello

If you are wondering about the place, it was created by the Lake Missoula floods. This was when water from a glacial lake broke free at the end of the last ice age. Palouse Falls is the only major waterfall left along the glacial flood path of 15,000 years ago. Of course, there is a better story as to how it came to being, or at least one I like better:

According to a story of the Palouse tribe, the Palouse River once flowed smoothly into the Snake. But four giant brothers, in pursuit of a mythic creature called "Big Beaver," speared the great creature five times. Each time Big Beaver was wounded, he gouged the canyon walls, causing the river to bend and change. The fifth time he was speared, he fought the brothers valiantly and tore out a huge canyon. The river tumbled over a cliff at this point to become Palouse Falls. The jagged canyon walls show the deep marks of Big Beaver's claws.

The area is a historically important one. Geologists unearthed remains of the "Marmes Man." Among the oldest human remains found in the western hemisphere, Marmes Man is estimated to be 10,000 years old.

After the trip up there, I found out something interesting about the place. I had heard earlier this year from other faculty that in the 1970s there was a problem at the college with the spouses of faculty members committing suicide. It turns out that these spouses committed suicide by jumping off the cliff into the big hole at Palouse Falls.

The pool at the bottom of the falls reminded me of the cenotes in Yucatan where people were sacrificed during the Mayan empire. So it more or less made sense that people would sacrifice themselves into the deep pit to alieviate their despair/boredom.

Needless to say the perpetual travel of the past two months, the stress, and the work have taken their toll. I am completely burnt out and drained. Now it is time to pack up, clean up, and get ready for the long journey home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Brain Dead

I finished grading exams yesterday. Not much going through my big ol' cabeza right now except I want to get back to Boston to be with Sara.

This desire has only been intensified (if that were possible) because she is sick and I want to be there to look after her.

That's it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Today was graduation.

It is strange being on this side of it. I have been to so many of these things, but this is the first time I have experienced it as a faculty member.

I did not have too many seniors in my classes (in fact I don't have any this semester). I did advise a few of them on their theses, but I did not interact with them all that much. Except for one.

L. is a mexicano - from Michoacan. His parents moved up here ten or so years ago to work in Yakima, Washington. He managed to work hard in high school and he took advantage of the opportunities available in this country, including coming to this college. Eventually his parents went back to Mexico, but he stayed here working over the summers and breaks to be able to finish his college education.

Even though L. is the first member of his family to go to college, he was under extrordinary pressure to become a medical doctor. He pursued premed the first couple of years, but he was then seduced by the magic of anthropology and he changed his major last year. Although he did not fulfill his family's expectations, he was happier with his new field of study.

As he entered his senior year, he had found a fulfilling field of study but he had not found a mentor. He needed direction: for his thesis, for his post-college plans, for his life. Why he had not found someone to help guide him through these issues, I am not sure. Perhaps it was because there are so few Latin@/Mexican faculty at the college; perhaps no one here understood his particular cultural and social background; perhaps no one took the time to really listen to his concers; or perhaps he just did not click with anyone here.

L. was one of the students I met when I interviewed here last year and he was one of the first who wandered into my office when I started my position here. We spoke both in English and Spanish. English for school related issues and Spanish for more personal issues. As the year proceeded his thesis ideas blossomed, albeit at times with some necessary coaxing. His career goals went from uncertainty, including a conviction that he did NOT want to graduate school, to a desire to combine his interests in anthropology, science, and his community.

In the end, L.'s thesis was good, not great. The ideas he engaged were very sophisticated, but he just ran out of time. Another semester and he would have had something that could possibly be published. He is now planning on going to grad school, so he will have an opportunity to go back to and work through it some more. It will have to wait, though. He will be busy over the next two years working with Teach for America in Miami.

So L. walked across the stage today and when he did, I was proud of him.

He invited me to his big fiesta with his family afterward. He wanted me to meet everyone. His parents were still in Mexico, though. They could not get the visas to come. I still got to meet tios, tias, la abuelita, primos, primas, and el hermano. I also got some great carne asada with beans and rice.

As I was leaving, L. took me aside and thanked me for the time and advice I had given him. I thanked him for his hard work, for his dedication to the community, and for being another role model for some of the younger people in his family and for others in his community. I know someday someone somewhere will be thanking L. just like he thanked me. We just need to keep passing it on.

I just hope I am still in touch with L. when that happens.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Running on Empty

I got back from Maine on Thursday night only to have to face another interview, this time on the phone, on Friday morning.

I am tired...very tired.

Tomorrow is commencement. I should check what time I need to be there...

Monday, May 16, 2005

A collegue of mine put his 9 year-old daughter's art up on his office door. I love this drawing.

Art Posted by Hello

I did tell my collegue that he is quite fortunate that his daughter did not draw this picture in school or else the department of children services would be knocking at his door to put his daughter in foster care.

Tomorrow I am off to Maine. I think I am in denial about it. I am in denial that I will have to wake up at 5:00 am again. I am in denial about having to board an airplane (or aeroplane) and make two connections (Seattle and Detroit, if you are keeping tack). I am in denial that I am going to interview and give a lecture on Wednesday. And that I am going to repeat the trip back (although I don't have to wake up as early) on Thursday. To top it all off, I have a phone interview on Friday morning for the job in Boston (the one I really want). On the bright side, I can add Michigan and Minnesota to the states I have been to (I connect in Minneapolis on the way back). Wohoo!

And yes, those exams are still there waiting for me.

And yes, I will do those quizes/lists at some point.

And yes, I am still very, very tired.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

No wonder I can't remember anything...

In a recent post, Tumbleweed was complaining about her age (25). I got her beat. Today I ordered a credit report from the leading three credit reporting agencies. Much to my suprise one of them had my year of birth as 1910.

I wonder if I can retire soon.

Friday, May 13, 2005

What a week! I am happy it is over. Although there is a large pile of exams waiting for me, but I left them at my office and I am taking the evening off.

I sent off the three syllabi for the job in Boston. I now need to prepare for the job interview in Maine. But again, that will have to wait.

Among all the craziness, my roommate told me she decided she is going to move out next Monday. This is a problem because
  1. She was going to look after the dog while I was in Maine Tuesday through Thurday.
  2. I certainly did not have the wherewithall to deal with all the little things that need to be settled when roommates part ways.
Truth be told, I am probably a little jealous too. I wish I could pack up and head to Boston on Monday. Just run away. But no, I am the responsible type and I need to tie up all the loose ends that are left here.

I don't blame my roommate for wanting to leave. She has had a rough year. More on that some other evening.

There are some loose ends flying about in here. Sherri posted a quiz as to why people blog. Since she is one of the regulars around here, I feel compelled to take it and elighten everyone as to my motives. Tumbleweed tagged me to list my 10 favorite things. Again, one needs to do one's duty when one is tagged. And I will do both, but not tonight.

Cindylu wrote a brutally honest post about academic elitism that is screaming for a response from me. Fortunately it has drawn a massive response in her comments section, so I feel off the hook - at least for tonight. It is also her first year doctoral exam weekend, so she won't read anything I have to say until later anyway. And, Cindylu, if you are reading this, go back to work!

Alma tried her hand at writing in Spanish. She claims to have problems with knowing where to to put the accents on the words. I promised her I would teach her the rules - which aren't very hard. Alma, I will teach you - and anyone else who cares to learn. But not tonight - I am done teaching for the week.

There a few people I am worried about. Sixlegged has been rather quiet recently. I am afraid that the Minutemen have done something to him in retaliation to his vocal outcries against their activities. Likewise, Oso may have called one too many women mamacita and is now lying in some gutter in Monterrey. Either that or he engaging in la pachanga with some of Mexican businessmen to whom he is teaching English. I do know that Woojay is engaging in la pachanga Korean style back in his native land. I could use some bibimbap now that I think of it, but I digress. I fear Mariposa is frozen somewhere in her neighborhood as she went out in search of spring.

I do count myself fortunate. Scott has become the latest casualty of the common cold. Heal quickly, Scott.

Kristin paid a rare visit and Mala has disappeared just as suddenly as she reappeared a few weeks ago. There are some new blogs: E consolidated her two previous ones and Sara claims she is boring, but don't believe her. And DT is in the process of wrapping up his own loose ends as he prepared to make his way to this part of the country. I don't think we are going to overlap at all. Too bad, he's one vato I really would like to have some tacos with.

As you can see my therapy for coping with this week was the occasional break to peek to see what was going on around the world. I am not sure how effective it was.

I am off to have a glass of wine, read the paper, and drift off to some other reality.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Waiting for a Pizza

Things are busy. I am working on putting together the three syllabi for the position in Boston. One, for a course called, "Growing Up Latino", is done. The other two will be on Comparative Immigration and Identity Politics.

I still have a pile of grading to do by Friday and I have to write the final exam for my course.

So there is no time to cook, although I did by some local asparagus and cheese. Maybe this weekend I will get a chance to cook. For now it is pizza and a late night.

Where is that pizza? I am hungry!

Monday, May 09, 2005

If you think you have had a bad day, go read Sara's (yes she has joined us in this world again!) post. It breaks my heart everytime I think of her wandering home alone through the snow in a morphine induced stupor.

It's raining. While the gray days make me sad, I find the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the skylight to my bedroom relaxing and comforting.
Things on my Mind
  • Where did the weekend go?
  • I miss Sara.
  • I still have a stack of grading that is obscenely thick waiting for me.
  • I have two job prospects - one will require a phone interview this week and the other will require a trip to Maine next week.
  • For the phone interview, I need to prepare three syllabi for courses I have never taught - three that focus on Latino Studies (narrowly defined).
  • I miss Sara.
  • I still need to make my travel arrangements for the trip to Maine.
  • I went to the doctor on Friday for a skin exam. He took off two moles off my back and sent them to the lab. I won't know the results for another ten days or so.
  • The two holes on my back alternate from hurting to itching.
  • I miss Sara.
  • I need to write the final exam for my class.
  • Why am I so tired?
  • At least my blood pressure was low when I had it taken at the doctor's - even after eating loads of very salty Yucatecan food.
  • I miss Sara.
  • How can I simultaneously have so much on my mind and draw a blank when I try to think?
  • Perhaps I should go to bed.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I made it back!

It was a very long trip for such a short visit. It was great being with Sara again, though.

Merida was very hot and very humid. The first night we were there we stayed with my old neighbors from when I lived in Mexico City. The last time I saw them was probably in the late 1980s! It was nice seeing them and remembering some of the silly things I did when I was a child. Their home, however, did not have a/c - a necessity when it is in the 90s and humid at night. In every room they did have hamocks, so I had a go sleeping in one. Sara preferred the bed.

The next day we went for la comida at a restored old Hacienda about fifteen minutes outside of Merida. Sara and I were both eager to try Yucatecan food, which did not disappoint. We became very fond of the habanero salsa they have there - it packs quite a kick. As usual, most Mexicans were quite amazed by Sara's ability to tolerate the heat of even the most potent chiles. A gringa that can eat spicier food than the locals!

In the evening we headed down to Uxmal (translated link), an archaeological site about an hour south of Merida. We made it there just in time for the light and sound show. While the show was a little hokey, the weather was still rather warm, and the bugs began to snack on us, we still enjoyed it. It was also cool seeing the bats flying out of the darkened temples.

We stayed at a nearby hotel where there were some new age groupies on some kind of couples retreat were also staying. At breakfast the next morning they were all wearing yellow sashes around their heads.

The next day we headed out to explore the archaeology of Uxmal.

Uxmal Posted by Hello

The heat was pretty intense, especially when the sun would peak between the clouds. In a few seconds we were both pretty damp (read: drenched in sweat). Sara had fun taking pictures of all the designs on the sides of the buildings. The iguanas that were all around were also entertaining, especially when they were spooking French tourists.

Iguana Yucateca Posted by Hello

Another funny episode occurred when we first went into the area. To go in, we had to wear silly neon wristsbands that had a ticket-tag attached to it. As you entered, the attendant would tear the tag off. When I went in, the attendant was amazed at the fact that my wrist was so large that the wristband barely made it around.

Uxmal Fashion Posted by Hello

After exploring the main areas, Sara and I wandered down a small path into the jungle to find some of the marginal ruins. At one point we were pushing our way through the growth until we came to a half covered temple. A very Indiana Jones-like experience - well, maybe not.

In the afternoon we made our way back to Merida where we had to present our papers the next day. Neither Sara nor I were really prepared, but being exhausted from the heat and adventure (or perhaps we were just lazy) impeded us from really doing much about it.

Things I learned in Merida:
  • I don't really like it there. It was too hot and humid (if the weather is going to be like that, there needs to be a beach and swimable ocean around). The streets are also very narrow and there are smokey buses that speed a little too close to you.
  • Koreans migrated there in the early twentieth century to work in the henequen plantations. There a few of them left (I learned this in the nice museum of anthropology there), but I could not find a Korean restaurant in the phone book.
  • People wear funny t-shirts there. Among those spotted: one with the Burger King logo that read Murder King, one that said "I [heart] Me", a kids shirt that said "Soy vago...y que?" (I am lazy, so what?).
  • The beds there are REALLY hard.
  • I have sweat glands in places I never knew.
On the trip back, I was sticken by a case of Kukulcan's revenge. I think I had one habanero pepper too many. But things seem to have worked out and I feel better now.

I arrived to have to face multiple stressful situations, but I will save those stories for another day.