Friday, July 26, 2013

The Sad Pleasures of Travel

cartoon by Edward Gorey
"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. "The great affair is to move." To move, to go, to travel; the need can be so great as to be almost a sickness, away-sickness, maybe, an untamably sweet longing to go somewhere that will never be your home among people you'll never know well enough to belong to.

When I was little, my uncle gave me storybooks with pictures of kids around the world: a Dutch girl surrounded by tulips and wearing a starched white cap with wings; a Chinese boy with a pigtail who slept on a brick bed heated by coals. They were cliches so bald it's embarrassing to think about, but I loved those books and wanted to be everywhere those children were. More than that, I wanted to be those children, each of them in turn. I think maybe the first real sadness of my life came when I realized that I couldn't.

Later on, I pinned a map to a wall and drew a red line along the routes I had traveled: Europe, the Andes, India and Nepal; for some reason, I didn’t chronicle the U.S. or Canada. Then I realized that all I had seen was what was on either side of that line, and that made me too sad to continue.

One night in the seventies, friends and I, probably stoned, created a travel agency of the mind. We'd offer package deals to tiny countries (Andorra, San Marino, Fiji), or to countries colored green on the globe, or we'd organize terrorism tours to the sites of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. (Long before 9/11, I used to walk a version of that in Washington on my way to work.) We would call our agency Book in Haste, Repent at Leisure.

And why not, really? Once you eliminate travel for work or family obligation, you have tourism, and tourists have more pretexts than reasons for choosing one place over another. But once you do choose, the world becomes full of reasons: the tart crunch of the apples the Buddhist monk pulled like a magic trick from his maroon-and- saffron robe when we shared a bus seat on the world's highest highway; the Andean air that's ripe as cheese and thin as gauze (music and smells are most evocative of place and time); the moment the lights come on in Florence's Brancacci Chapel and you see the Masaccios for the first - or tenth - time. I have no words for that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

it's time part-time

     An article about the plight -- and burgeoning fight -- of part-time college faculty in The Nation. The comments seem to get hung up, as these things do, on how many women are asked to dance on the head of a pin and loses the focus: that part-timers are generally underpaid (academia is heavy-duty don't ask, don't tell when it comes to who makes how much), overworked, and underappreciated.

At Tufts, where I teach, our salary is considerably better than the average cited here and we're offered a benefits package, but we haven't gotten a cost-of-living increase or merit raise in 4 years and have been informed that those of us who have been there for any length of time -- the majority, I think -- will never see one again.  (My contract specifies that I'm getting the same amount -- down to the last 48 cents.)  Market rates, we're told.  No one actually says "salary cap," nor have they said explicitly, like it or lump it -- but that's what they mean.    As far as I know, no other group of employees at the university is in this position.  (And, incidentally, it sure looks like the majority of us are female and older. Or maybe we're just the ones who show up at meetings?)  Even those of us who have taught there for years and, by all accounts, are skilled, committed, hard-working and valuable teachers, are on year-to-year contracts, so we could be let go with no repercussions or recourse. (The only reverberations might come from students and alums, two groups who are hard to organize for any sustained action.)

I'm happy at Tufts; I like my students a lot, like teaching them, appreciate the facilities I and they have access to & the people who staff them.  When I used to work in arts administration (including a stint with the govt at the National Endowment for the Arts), we called that sort of thing "psychic benefits," noting that while those are nice, you can't eat them.

So it seems like a no-brainer that a union would give us some leverage, some bargaining power, with an ever more numerous administration (how many deans have had their pay frozen, I wonder?) and would help us protect our jobs, work situation and status.  We have no way to push back now and the administration, like all administrations, likes it that way.  They could have bought us off on the cheap and instead they chose to piss us off.

The larger issue -- the end-run around tenure, which results in an academic workforce that is increasingly fractured and harried -- is a political one, but my beef is more specific.  I don't like being pushed around and I resent being treated unfairly.  I'd prefer not to be in an adversarial position with people I used to think of as colleagues and friends.  I just want what I deserve.  Tufts talks big about being a community, but to us they talk about being a marketplace -- and it isn't a marketplace of ideas they have in mind..  

Monday, July 1, 2013

where you'll find me

See under "formidable" in the American Heritage Dictionary.  Really.  I couldn't make it up.  And (you'll excuse me if I boast) it's probably my proudest publication credit.

ohh, baby, baby, where did our love go?

Marriage being some combination of symbolism, legalities, and romance, the Supremes got it right on 2 out of 3 in ruling no mo DOMA -- or was it, stop, in the name of love?  So, though the robed 9 often give me nothing but heartache, I'd like to say to them, no matter what sign you are, somedays, we'll be together.