South Park Self

my brain hurt like a warehouse

Trying to survive the second-last day of registration with what seems to be a migraine building, and a turned ankle from randomly falling over in the tearoom. I am doing everything very slowly and painfully, and at a distance of several miles, mostly while gently wishing for death. Not usually a good sign in my personal psyche when my hands don't actually belong to me. Students are looking at me sideways, as I dredge up responses for them in a monotone, and are very gentle in their questions before skittering off, showing the whites of their eyes. Possibly this is a new self-preservation technique I should consider: imitate the action of the zombie. Huh.

However, my day has been (in a cautious, slow-motion sort of fashion) made by the demonstrated ability of our Dean to deliver a deeply satisfying smackdown in the case of (8) in my previous post's litany of complaint. Student concession request righteously refused, with a nicely trenchant two-sentence rebuke about (a) previous illegal registrations which were (b) not actually authorised as the student claimed they had been, while noting that (c) this current refusal did not in fact represent victimisation by staff members who were simply applying the rules as they were meant to, not to mention (d) the overall illegitimacy of getting Dear Daddy to complain to the Dean on your behalf. It was comprehensively annihilating. Sometimes I love our Dean. He has a compactly and good-humouredly ferocious aspect that's slightly like the better class of bull terrier.

The exigencies of the day, and of attempting to post, were rudely interrupted at "annihilating", above, by a random and unheralded power cut; the lights have only just come on, having flung registration into chaos for two hours. It transpires, in the interim, that my current state of incipient-something-nasty leads to complete melt-down when faced with the usual doe-eyed student who fixes me with an accusing gaze and says "You said you'd email me back yesterday, it was about a transfer", and simply repeats "But I emailed you!" like a refrain when I try to extract further details. Because I have dealt with fifty transfer cases in the last few days, and no, I don't remember her, and no, I can't access my email to check, because no lights, and yes, I probably failed to answer yesterday because I finished signing reg forms at 6.30pm and shambled home in a state of incapacity. I have a large bite mark in the back of my arm, because it was that or thump the wretched child.

My subject line is "Five years", which is approximately how long this registration period appears to have taken; it was either my brain hurting, or the line about "went off her head, hit some tiny children", and it's not quite that bad yet.
South Park Self

she could’ve been a killer if she didn’t walk the way she do (and she do)

I have just done two weeks of, on average, ten hour days; this week I've been arriving at 7am and leaving at 6pm, once registration has finally wound down. Since I worked through the weekend with emergency marks checking, eight hours a day, this is adding to an existing base of exhaustion. I am reaching new, hitherto unsuspected depths of tired. Also, headachy. Also, ridiculously hopped on Earl Grey as it's the only way I cope.

Concomitantly, the urge to throttle people is rising. People who need throttling:
  1. Advisors who don't arrive.
  2. Advisors who arrive in the wrong session despite being explicitly told to check they have the right one.
  3. Advisors who ask me questions or egregiously commit advisor errors which are covered in great detail and LARGE! CAPITALS! in the handouts I give them. And the briefings. And the reminder emails. And the hotsheets. And the special sheet labelled COMMON ADVISOR ERRORS, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!
  4. Students who stop me to ask questions when I'm rushing between venues.
  5. Students who stop me to ask questions and, when told "I'm sorry, I don't have time for that now", say "This will be really quick!" and ask it anyway. Usually at length.
  6. Students who stop me to be disgruntled because they are discovering that the rules do, in fact, apply to them and are not susceptible to "But I really, really want to!" as an argument.
  7. Students who are disgruntled because the rules apply to them and who demand I spend half an hour at a time inventing labyrinthine, complex and unlikely curriculum solutions to the problem, in the teeth of my warnings that their school subjects under-prepare them for these courses and there is a high chance that they will messily self-destruct.
  8. Students who are disgruntled enough about the rules applying to them that they escalate it all the way up to the Dean despite being told "No!" at every step.
  9. The inventor of the infernal combustion engine, and hence global warming, and hence the level of heat through which I have been trekking to the registration venue, which is four flights of stairs away in the sun. My knees hurt.

Fortunately, there's always Ursula Vernon. I have adopted her fat beaver forthwith. I need it on a button, stat.



And then, of course, at the moment of Maximum Homicidal Misanthropy, the desperate excluded student sits in my office for ten minutes of curriculum advice, and I sketch her a curriculum which more or less rescues her, and she looks at me starry-eyed, and says "You know, I always leave this office with my faith restored," and the lump in my throat throttles me rather than her and I drive home singing along to "Blue Jean" and feeling that maybe all is not lost.

(My subject line is not "Blue Jean", it's "Scary Monsters", because I absolutely was one until I wasn't.)
South Park Self

sordid details following

Orientation/registration difficulties over the last week have, courtesy of cosmic wossnames who apparently have it in for me, included the following:
  1. The complete non-arrival of the faculty handbooks. That means I was giving curriculum briefings to first-years and advisors, and running registration, entirely on a cardboard-and-string combination of last year's handbook with the various handouts, supplementary booklets, hotsheets and frantic updates which I produce annually more or less as a nervous twitch just in case this exact thing happens.
  2. A new, fascinating computer error which blanked out the screen of the lectern computer in my orientation venue so I couldn't see anything I was projecting to the data projector screen behind me. (It was projecting fine. I just couldn't see it on the computer). Manipulating powerpoints and swapping between documents was challenging, and involved a lot of craning my neck as the mouse cord wasn't long enough for me to go round the other side of the lectern. In addition, we were filming all my lectures. I haven't dared look at the result. I hope the students can make sense of curriculum briefings which issue from the back of my head. This was a particularly annoying problem because it recurred: Day 1, no screen, logged call, they sorted it out, Day 2 fine, Day 3 spontaneously regenerated the problem. Alas, my techno-jinx.
  3. The orientation leaders, in a fit of excess enthusiasm, blowing the speakers we'd hired for their opening number by cranking the sound up too high, to the tune of several thousand rand for which we are now liable. We've had budget cuts this year.
  4. The coexistence of all of the above orientation/registration hassle with the unique circumstance of the extra marks checking exercise we've had to run this year as a result of last year's exam delays and all the extra deferred exams. I've just worked a seven-day week. I took a board schedule home at 6.30 on Friday, and spent that night and Saturday morning checking it before a three-hour Saturday meeting. I spent four hours yesterday in a marks review meeting and the rest of the day allocating advisors to registration sessions. I am a very particular level of complete shambling zombie.
  5. I've lost 10 out of my advisor squad in the last week, either academics not pitching up to training, or sudden family emergencies or what have you. I am trying to allocate not enough advisors to too many sessions. I mean, I more or less always have to do that, but this year it's an extra-huge deficit.
  6. The continual, subliminal, nebulous fear that we may have protests and disruptions of orientation or reg this week so that a large proportion of all this preparation may be ultimately in vain. Hopefully not, because our VC is sneaky and intelligently political, and has rustled up extra money to address the fees exclusion issues Fees Must Fall are now agitating about, but it may not be enough.
  7. Heatwaves. Last night had an added side order of a mosquito plague, during which both cats joined me under the mosquito net in sheer self-defence. I could hear them twitching and occasionally trying to bite mosquitoes out of the air as they were being eaten alive.
  8. PMT. Apparently the anti-depressants were keeping this down, because oh lord.

Despite all of the above, I am surprisingly cheerful. Completely bloody exhausted, but there's a sort of vindictive relish in making it all work in the teeth of the odds. Also, as a gesture of defiant self-indulgence I have just ordered myself the complete boxed set of the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, which for some reason is currently at about half price on Blu-Ray on Takealot. Because fuck it, I have earned some entertaining fluff.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Ashes to Ashes". It seemed appropriate. If only because my current work life is enough to make me wistfully wish I actually did drugs.)
South Park Self

Tuesday wol occurs silently and unexpectedly, on pegs

So, it appears we have Stealth Wol-Enablers on the recurring pattern. (Normal wol-enablers I have on the recurring pattern and more or less as an epidemic. This is not a complaint.) You may remember the Great Random Glass Wol Mystery of 2009, during which a mysterious glass wol appeared, unsolicited and unexplained, in the front garden, and I adopted him gladly but in some confusion. Many, many years later Laurence & Linda accidentally outed themselves in the comments on a completely different post as having been the not-quite-Breakers And Decorators concerned. Apparently I have lovely friends who give me random, unexpected wols entirely without explanation. Glass Wol is on my mantelpiece even as I type.

Apparently I still have lovely friends who give me random, unexpected wols entirely without explanation. (Whether this is the same friends or different cell of the secret organisation, history does not relate). Yesterday I staggered home from a merry 10-hour day of orientation prep and boss-wrangling, to discover a small, localised outbreak of tiny wols attached to pegs, lurking in my postbox. Thusly:



(Photo, incidentally, the inaugural one on my spanky new smartphone, since apparently even I can be dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat.)

Above wols on pegs are, in the idiom of the modern-day Lydia Bennet, totes adorbs. I went "awwwww" not just because they are totes adorbs, but because the sudden giant lump in my throat made any form of more articulate vocalisation physically impossible. I feel loved, and I have lovely friends. It has been difficult to restrain myself from attending the first day of orientation today with a row of wols pegged to my cleavage in reminder therof.

Thank you, kind Stealth Wol-Enabler(s). You have scattered Uplift and Cheer on a week that badly needed it. I vanish now with the traditional faint squeak into the tentacular maw of Orientation (this year with added terrors in the form of lurking disruption threats and my lectures being recorded), considerably energised thereby.
South Park Self

hope the weather's good

Spoilers: it isn't. Hellish heatwave hot, so that my ankles have swollen to the point where it hurts to walk. And unconscionably filled not only with the usual last-minute orientation and registration panic, but with hyped-up and desperate early registration, rude students, and an additional fun-filled layer of attempting to predict completely unpredictable student protest patterns and work things around them. I have never been in so many contingency meetings in my life. Ninety percent of it will, I confidently predict, be either irrelevant or ineffective.

I invented a closing salutation today, in an email to stv about laundry. (Strange but true). It reads, "wishing you cool breezes and buckets of ice and the summary disappearance, humanely but with finality, of 99% of the human race."

Yes. I think that would do it. If ever I needed a button which reads "HOMICIDAL MISANTHROPY", now is the time.

My subject line is David Bowie, and, fair warning, probably will be so for the foreseeable future. This is from "Everyone Says Hi", which is a lurking favourite of mine and is a sweet, nostalgic little tune about someone moving away and/or, I darkly suspect, dying. The last post the subject line was from "Time", which I love for its jazzy piano and innate cynicism.
South Park Self

speaks of senseless things

Things I hate about this time of year:
  • The frantic. I had to cancel a weekend away this last weekend, to finish up orientation material and advisor briefing material and annotate the final draft of my masters student's thesis, which she chose this psychological instant to submit. This did, fortunately, mean that I was at home for the very embarrassed daughter of the next-door-neighbour to come and tell me she'd accidentally bumped her 4x4 against the outside water tap on the edge of my property zone, causing a split pipe and cascades of water everywhere. She sorted out and paid for a plumber, and her father patched and painted the wall the following day, so as neighbourly slip-ups go it was managed perfectly. But I'd rather have been on the Breede River.
  • The immutable laws of admin which say that the wages of being deeply organised and disseminating info continuously to students is inevitable scads of email queries in reply to my announcements, at least half of which are asking questions I've answered in a previous announcement. The law of the admin jungle is not to let them know you exist, but I unfortunately don't do much good to students while lurking in a thicket. Lashing my tail. While my eyes glitter in the dark.
  • The bloody weather. It's unbearably hot again, and I am not sleeping very well in my regrettably stuffy house.
  • The looming threat of further student disruptions, which hold out the horrible possibility of disrupted registration, which would screw things up so badly I shudder to contemplate it. We had serious meetings last week about contingency plans in case we have to close campus again. My professional administrative opinion: if it happens we're fucked.

Things about this time of year which are actually OK and consolatory:
  • Early-registering rugby players. They're solid slabs of muscle, which is aesthetically pleasing, and for some reason are always extra-polite. A brief, scurrilous and regrettable exchange between advisors before the rugby players actually arrived this morning attributed this noticeable politeness variously to (a) scrum spirit and fascist coaching, (b) conservative Afrikaans upbringings, (c) concussive damage, and (d) steroids.
  • Meeps of plaintive student gratitude from the ones whose lives I do, in a sort of frenzied whirlwind, manage to sort out.
  • The fact that I'm so flat-out busy from the moment I hit campus that the day goes really fast. As will the next month. It's merciful, really. Humane time-dilation. Sanity-saving.
  • The looming threat of further student disruptions, as if they close campus I can stay at home and work peaceably without my bloody phone ringing off the hook with almost entirely misdirected calls.
South Park Self

taking it hard

Fuck cancer. Really, fuck it, and fuck 2016 for so far being a horrible deadly beast. No-one reading this should need to be reminded of the levels of my love for David Bowie and all his works. Likewise Alan Rickman, whose voice and face and ironic distance I have loved across numerous roles. No-one seems to have known that either of them was fighting cancer, and in some ways I'm glad they had that privacy, but to their fans it feels as though they've been stolen away, without warning, stealthily and overnight. Both were artistic institutions quite apart from their significance to me personally. I'm a little surprised by quite how sad and angry I'm feeling.

I hate this about getting older. One's parents die, and one's idols die, and one's cats die. It sucks. Make it stop.
South Park Self

you want to kindle that old flame

Over the last year I have discovered Growing Things From Seed. There's something oddly satisfying and semi-magical about willing a whole, solid, verifiable plant into existence from a tiny, apparently lifeless speck of plant matter. In this particular case it wasn't seed or even bulbs, but rhizomes, which are weird finger-like chunks you plant horizontally without knowing which end will grow. (Teh Internets assured me solemnly that the plant works out which way is up). My three rhizomes grew, as scheduled, flame lilies, which rejoice in the somewhat hyperbolic Latin name gloriosa superba. A flame lily is beautiful and slightly unlikely, and astonishingly flamelike. They're native to Southern Africa, and I cherish memories of them growing wild in the bush near various homes in Zimbabwe. The flowers are very vivid, and in the slight dusk of a wooded area seem to float. I also discover, on growing these particular ones, that they have this particularly elegant adaptation - they're semi-climbing, in that they grow straight up but don't quite stand alone, and the end of every long, narrow leaf has the ability to curl around a thin support and cling to it. I find this enchanting: so economical! none of this messing around with growing separate tendrils.



I wanted to grow flame lilies because I've always loved them and I associate them very strongly with my childhood, but they're also the national flower of Zimbabwe. Before that, they were the national flower of Rhodesia.

I have been a denizen of my pinko-liberal Commie Cherished Institution for nearly three decades now, absorbing postcolonialist rhetoric like an unenlightened sponge, and there is absolutely no way in hell I lament lost Rhodesia in any political sense. It was a deeply illegitimate regime, founded on white privilege, exploitative and dehumanising to its black people, and not nearly as up-front as South Africa about its basic apartheid divides. The fact that the black regime which took over is equally morally bankrupt and just as destructive doesn't mitigate this in the slightest, Two Wrongs maths being what it is.

But it was also my childhood home, and I had a child's essentially innocent experience of it. Flame lilies are an extremely emblematic shorthand not only for the things I loved about Zimbabwe - its landscapes and animals, the ordered and productive agricultural world I grew up in, my family's place in creating that order - but for a sort of naive and nebulous nationalism. I felt, driving down the jacaranda avenue in the capital or having tea in the city's big department store, a subliminal, undefined pride in the country's achievements in civilisation and functionality.

I think it's significant that I grew flame lilies this summer. I was rocked astonishingly hard last year by the Dylann Roof massacre - the American mass shooting where a disgusting little 20-something white boy went into a black church in Charleston and gunned down nine people with hollow-point bullets. Dylann Roof was a white supremacist trying to start a race war. He had a website called The Last Rhodesian, and his jacket displayed both the apartheid South African flag, and that of Rhodesia. I'm slightly more detached from South African apartheid: I arrived in this country shortly before apartheid ended, and in a weird sort of way it was not entirely my guilt to feel. Rhodesia, though - Rhodesia is. Growing flame lilies was, I realise, an unconscious attempt to try and recoup some of my childhood sense of pride, because seeing that Rhodesian flag on Dylann Roof's jacket was a gut-punch, an inexorable reminder that the country I loved was really an illusion, that my experience of it was a cushioned and privileged lie. Rhodesia is now a particularly vile symbol to the kind of bigoted dickhead whose existence I find basically offensive, and in fact it always was. The flame lily was never mine.

It's hard to reconcile. The Rhodesia to which Dylann Roof imagines he belongs doesn't exist, and it would be an ugly thing if it did. But by the same token, my version doesn't exist either. It never did. It was a child's construct, crafted in blindness and complacence. And in innocence, but I'm way too old for innocence. I can grow as many flame lilies as I want, but I can't make them mean what I want them to. What they mean is now infinitely complicated and filled with guilty regret. My subject line is Magnetic Fields, who say accusingly "If you think you can leave the past behind / If you think you can simply press rewind / You must be out of your mind". I'm not sure if they're talking to Dylann Roof, or me.
South Park Self

escape now, hug later

This is my second favourite thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens so far. (My favourite thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Have you noticed how they mix up and re-allocate gender stereotypes? Rey is geeky, technical, efficient, goal-directed. She drives. Finn is emotional, empathetic, nurturing. He heals. They both fight; they both care; they rescue each other. Also, Tumblr is erupting fairly inevitably into Finn/Poe, which is simply charming, or Finn/Poe/Rey, which is also cute.)

Anyway. Inevitable and beautiful mash-ups R Us. This was, as far as I can work out, perpetrated by Tumblr user starwarsheckyeah.

South Park Self

our hopes, our will to try

well, then. Happy new year. 2016. A year, as the Goon Show would have it, of months, and one which adds up to 9, a number of which I've always been fond for random aesthetic reasons. (Curvy. And three threes). I hope this is a good omen. I didn't do the annual scorecard retrospective last year, because I was submerged in depression at the start of 2015 and not really blogging, so as has become traditional, I'm going to catch up by doing them both at once.

2014 was about change, in a lot of ways: moving out of a 15-year shared space, a new boss at work who radically redefined both my working conditions and my sense of safety, and the opening of a lot of major cans of heavily suppressed worms in the therapy process. In fact, safety nets were removed in 2014 to rather dramatic extents. It's probably not surprising that 2014 was quite bad for the depression. I'm not good at change. It frightens me, and I tend to sit in a rut in order to avoid it, and I find it more stressful than energising. But if the two-year comparison has done anything, it's been to realise that I can do change if necessary (and if prodded properly, and I still owe Jo beyond belief for lending me the energy and direction to shepherd me through the move); and more importantly, it can be exciting and energising. At the beginning of 2014 I resolved, above all, to try and be happy, and while it's been a two-year process with patchy results, I think I'm starting to achieve that. If 2014 was about change, 2015 was about adapting, moving forward.

So, here's the scorecard, with its usual random set of juxtapositions.

Things achieved by me in 2014: a break-up with my Evil Landlord, in the domicile rather than the friendship sense; an autonomous home filled with the basic furniture and appliances for daily life; an autonomous life in which I control all my own adult-related decisions; a chapter in a major book on fairy-tale film; something resembling a start on a theoretical engagement with the existence of African fairy tale within my personal academic paradigm (this is actually rather major); some crowbars applied to crack open deep-seated problems in therapy.

Things achieved by me in 2015: a new cat. A refinement of my home space beyond the basics, in a way that has made it feel particularly mine. A new set of work responsibilities (I now head a student engagement cluster, for what that's worth) and, after careful manipulation, a working relationship with my new boss. A negotiation of a major political melt-down on campus, during which I think I helped students measurably and was able to give free rein to my organisational bent. An emergence from the chrysalis of therapy and anti-depressants into a more stand-alone existence, although I suspect my wings are still drying.

Losses: Philip&Jo, who fled the country, and who are not an absolute loss because the internet, but whom I miss. My sweet and mentally disabled Aunt Jane, sadly, from cancer, but also mercifully quickly and while she was with my mother in the UK rather than being in Zim. Golux, about whom I am still sad. (Also, I discover, Ounce, who was never technically mine, but with whom I lived for a decade or so, and for whose shadowy, flighty insecurities I had a fondness not untinged with guilt. He had the same thing Fish did, cancer on the roof of his mouth; the EL had to have him put down just before Christmas. It's been a bad year for kitties chez EL, they're down to Todal, who remains in reasonable health, albeit very skinny, despite some sort of fairly major kidney problem.)

Things discovered by me in 2014: Inquisition, Death Cab for Cutie, living alone, really loving living alone, mocha cheesecake, Bed On Bricks, morally ambiguous honey badgers, Agents of Shield, comparative chocolate digestive anthropology, memory-scrambling anaesthetic drugs, 2048 with Sherlock and otters, building bookshelves with Jo, Moxibay side-effects, Parade's End.

Things discovered by me in 2015: Fallout, Sunless Seas, epic container gardening, growing things from bulbs and seed, Dragon Age fanfic, office politicking skills, makeshift racerback bras, the corrosive properties of lemon juice, electric toothbrushes, hipster cats-eye spectacle frames, reading the service agreement properly, Amelia Peabody, the limitations of the therapy process, Mallory Ortberg, Frère's, cauliflower and sweetcorn soup, Daredevil, clipping my cats' claws myself, Wellbutrin side-effects, Flow, Windows 10.

Things rediscovered by me in 2015: my brain not on drugs; long hair; dreaming; being happy.

If I'm making resolutions, which I don't think I am in any formal way, it's to try and continue being happy; to look for positive ways to change. Because apparently it's possible.

(My subject line is quoting ABBA, unashamedly, because new year always earworms me with that song for days).