South Park Self

her horrible reluctance for the role

Orientation started this morning. I worked 12-hour days all last week, and straight through both of the last two weekends. I am ... very tired. And very, very, very reluctant to do this again, I dragged myself out of bed at 5.30 this morning with the approximate affect of a sloth in treacle. The faculty administrative melt-down is reaching new depths of horrible, with staff on minimal effort strikes all over. It's surprisingly impossible to make large-scale academic admin work when only a tiny fraction of the staff are in any way committed to the success of the enterprise; it means that, when most staff members run across obstacles, which happens often, they simply shrug and give up. They also don't tell anyone they haven't done what they should. Since error and failure are rife, students are unhappy, and guess who's sitting on the front line of all the student complaints? Muggins, is who. Muggins, a treacle-coated sloth on too little rest, is over this.

Large-scale administrative breakdown also operated in microcosm last week, when Octotel, rot them, "installed" and "activated" my "fibre" line. By which I mean they logged the fibre lines in my area as "active", causing my service provider, aka the lovely geeks at Imaginet, to schedule an installation. The Octotel technicians arrived four hours early on Monday, when I was still at work; my nice cleaning lady let them in, and they drilled holes (to their credit, very neatly and without destroying any electrical or water lines) and put two little blinken-boxes on my study wall. When I got back home, both the ADSL and the phone line were dead. I thought, oh, well, fibre is clearly incompatible, set up the new router, and spent an hour on the phone to Imaginet, crawling around under my desk at intervals, to discover that we could not persuade the fibre line to connect. This, it transpires, is because whatever Octotel's clearly mendacious indicators say, the fibre lines are installed but not actually active in my area: scheduled activation, mid-February. By which I am assuming, on current evidence, that they mean July.

So we logged a call to Telkom about the dead phone/ADSL lines, because internet withdrawal on top of orientation/registration stress is an ugly, ugly thing. Around Wednesday evening, however, I came home early enough to have enough energy to do a proper check, and tried the basic first step of plugging the dead phone into the phone jack with a different cable from the 5m one which goes around the piano from the phone jack to reach my desk. You can see where this is going, right? Happy dialling tone. (Or, at least, the weird intermittent dialling tone which I seem to get here).

Those idiot technicians had moved the piano so they could drill next to it; they'd pulled the phone extension cable off its little hooks and onto the floor, pulled the piano over it (by the evidence, moving it back and forwards several times) and, since it's a bloody heavy oak thing which takes 6 people to lift, thereby destroyed the plastic casing on the phone extension and severed two out of its three wires. I am, to say the least, severely unamused. Ham-fisted dingbats. Really. But fortunately I have a back-up 5m phone cable for reasons lost to history, and having re-cannibalised all the cabling I just cannibalised to set up the fibre modem, I am once more ADSL-connected and can soothe my soul with half an hour of dodgy Teen Wolf pr0n before bed, which is very good for the mental health.

But I am not enjoying orientation. I am tired, and wish to be elsewhere at this time. My subject line is the fragile tragic vampire girl from Angela Carter's Gothic fairy tales, because I feel fragile and tragic and Gothic.

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South Park Self

darkness the right hand of light

Generally I actually like getting older, I'm an improved version of the younger me in many ways, but I hate getting older when all my icons inexorably die. We've just lost Ursula le Guin. When I grow up even older and have improved even further to the point where I can overcome all the multitudes of blockages which are preventing me from actually writing fiction in any real, public sense, she's the writer I want to be. She is the archetypal proponent of "thought experiment" science fiction, her work upheld by a steel backbone of intellectual enquiry and rigorous world-building.

I can't overestimate the effect Left Hand of Darkness and Lathe of Heaven had on me in undergrad, the way they colonised my thinking and pried open my assumptions with crowbars. I also identify very strongly with the elements of restraint, dispassion, almost calm which characterise her writing, and which I hope on good days characterise mine; in a lot of ways the snowscapes of Left Hand exemplify the aspects of her work which feel cold until you realise the seething life and driving passions under the surface. And Earthsea, of course, is formative for the genre as much as for many of its readers. I owned the first three Earthsea novels as a child, I vaguely remember acquiring them, expensively and new, from a surprisingly enlightened Zimbabwean bookshop when I was a young teenager, in those skinny volumes with the slightly stylised art-deoish covers, and the man half changed into a hawk. I read them with a sort of fascinated inadequacy, realising how much was going on under the surface, returning again and again to them to try and work out what it was.

I cried when the Tumblr posts came over my feed. However natural and graceful an exit this was on a fully lived life, however much the work of her hands will endure, she is a great loss.

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South Park Self

Hab SoSlI' Quch!

Apparently Pandora is feeling inadequate in the Klingon Eyebrows department, because she appears to be trying to acquire a facsimile thereof, presumably in imitation of Jyn. She's done this by sticking her face into something, I'm not sure what, probably braai ash, although where the hell she found it is anyone's guess as I don't braai and she's too damned lazy to jump over the courtyard wall to access neighbouring braai remains. (I appear to have, by devious cosmic processes, two full felines who are sadly deficit in the Jump module. Must be something in the water. Not that we have much water, but still.)

Anyway. Imitation Klingon eyebrows.

pandy eyebrows

She jumped onto my lap on the sofa yesterday, while I was peaceably reading Teen Wolf fanfic (seriously, more dodgy wolf-pack unscience than you care to know about, although conversely, quite good pr0n), and I looked up to pet her, saw the Face and lost it completely. She was deeply offended by my laughing and sat with her tail lashing for quite ten minutes.

My subject line is a terrible Klingon insult which apparently translates as "Your mother has a smooth forehead!".

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South Park Self

have a nice sportsball

OK, so one of the things I actually do enjoy about this helljob is, weirdly enough, the annual early-January bit where I have to register sportspeople extra-early so that they're all legit to play in various national tournaments. In practice, because nasty socio-cultural implications, this means registering rugby players. I've done them all this year myself, because the faculty admin melt-down has precluded sufficient advance warning to arrange a formal session with multiple advisors - this has been OK, they've trickled in over several days and it's been manageable. But I have to record the following points in re registering rugby players.

  1. Shoulders. Like, solid wall of shoulders. These dudes are built.
  2. They are, as always, extra-sweet and extra-polite, I have never been called "ma'am" more often in a short space of time. I attribute this variously to team player spirit, ruthless coaching etiquette, reactionary private school training, and strict Afrikaans upbringings.
  3. Approximately two-thirds of them arrive for paper-based registration without a writing implement of any sort. Apparently ball-handling skills are incompatible with pen ownership.
  4. Why the fuck am I only registering rugby players (well, one lone badminton iconoclast), and all men? I know why the fuck, it's because gendered sports values and cultural assumptions and resource inequalities and what have you, exacerbated by the fact that the privileging of rugby as a national sport means that it's the only one that starts its tournament activities this early, but dammit. I should be registering swim team ladies with the arm muscles, and svelte gymnasts and rowers, and soccer players of all gender stripes. There's more to sportsball than rugby. I will have some equal opportunity aesthetic appreciation of athletes. Dammit. Because this job has few enough consolations, let's face it.

Next week we embark upon a full faculty admin review, which will enable me to gently craft for the review board suitably epic snarky gems of management-undermining, couched for maximum destructive effect under the guise of sweetly reasonable concern. I am bizarrely looking forward to this. The job crisis is making me vindictive in a way that's alien to my base nature but weirdly freeing.

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South Park Self

viktwee!

I have not achieved a great deal over my three weeks of leave, mostly downtime and relaxation and recharging the batteries for the orientation/registration onslaught. But in addition to the usual pursuit of gaming (a Morrowind replay, I can't get the hell into the isometric perspective of Divinity) and fan fiction (still Sterek), I have done some desultory sewing, cooking, and gardening. This last started with ruthless rationalisation of my container garden to throw out things that were struggling, uninteresting, extraneous or accidental, the better to concentrate the limited water supplies on the remainder. The Cape Town water crisis is dire.

Once I had slightly over half of my previous pot-herd, I embarked on a programme of repotting, prioritised by a process not unakin to sexing kittens, i.e. you hold them up in the air and scrutinise their nethers for, variously, gender-specific bits or the tell-tale tentacular growth of roots through the drainage holes signifying that their vegetative boots are too tight. Then you find a larger pot, assemble drainage stones for the bottom, wrestle the root-bound offender out of its tight boots, scrabble the drainage stones out from the dense nest of white root-hairs, bung the plant into the new boots, top it up with compost, and water madly from the washing machine grey water, which you have carefully saved after switching to a fiercely biodegradable and probiotic washing liquid.

(Life in Cape Town is a bit complicated at the moment, and entails eco-despair, short showers and herds of assorted buckets in approximately equal quantities.)

Today I reached the final candidate in this re-booting process, which has taken a week because I'm chronically fatigued and have to do this sort of thing in short, carefully-judged bursts, particularly since at least two thirds of the repotting candidates are in fact small trees and require heavy lifting and, in some cases, relocation via pyramid-style ramps. I clearly left it to last because it was the most difficult, being the large, exuberant and tentacular jasmine vine which is inextricably entwined with (a) its pot-planted trellis and (b) the random vertical pipe outside the courtyard door, up which it has twined like both halves of Flanders and Swann's vegetative Romeo and Juliet. I chose, because I'm basically cussed, to try and repot this without trimming it off the trellis or pipe. This already quixotic endeavour was complicated by the following factors:
  1. The fact that the pipe-entwining of the vine necessitated that all loosening activities, including tilting the pot horizontal, took place a metre above the ground (I eventually balanced the damned thing on a stepladder);
  2. The fact that I am a lone single person conducting this unaided, and the pot was slightly too heavy for the average carrying capacity of the African swallow my gammy left elbow so I couldn't actually lift it too far;
  3. The fact that the jasmine's tight boots were so tight, and the tentacular drainage-hole root emergences so exuberant, that it took half an hour of swearing, thumping and prodding with the trowel to loosen it, during which time the philosophy swung sharply from "gently coax with maximum care not to traumatise the plant" to "grab around stem and haul, wrestle and jiggle without restraint, interjecting 'come on you bitch!' at intervals";
  4. The fact that the sweet semi-retired estate agent neighbour was rootling around in his garden over the wall during the entire process and I had to curb the engine of creative swearing which might otherwise have lubricated matters;
  5. Jyn, who persists in the delusion that all gardening activities are designed solely for her entertainment, and who has exhibited a consistent genius for sticking her self and nose into precisely the spot where I'm trying to place a heavy pot. (Jyn's feline operating system is at the very least severely idiosyncratic, if not actually malformed: whoever programmed her seems to have deleted the "Jump" module in order to make space for, apparently, Klingon Eyebrow and Being In The Way).

I have just finished the process, after somewhat over an hour, sore muscles, bruising, some sunburn, being scratched savagely by the lemon tree in passing, and an entirely indecent level of triumph. This was at least a two-person job, and I did it all my own self, muttering "Man is a tool-using animal!" like a litany at intervals. I am choosing to see this as a positive omen for the year, which will present similar levels of disproportionate difficulty and which I hope to bloody-mindedly wrestle into submission in similar fashion. I go back to the work management-meltdown tomorrow, with student protest threats lowering in the offing, and my work inbox is already several hundred emails deep in plaintive student whinges, at least a third of which haven't read the instructions properly. But I vanquished the jasmine! I am mighty! I will prevail!

(My subject line is a quote from the Worms video game, which I never played but whose cutesy cartoon worm dialogue colonised my mid-90s social group somewhat wholesalely, mostly courtesy of bumpycat.)

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South Park Self

something very much like nothing anyone had ever seen before

OMG, 17776! A sort of multimedia webstory thingy - it's demented science fiction, ultimately. The first chapter is a bit different (Tracy, you may particularly enjoy it because of Reasons) and is a clever, playful, wistful thing that caused me actual wonder and delight in experiencing it. Thereafter you hit the actual football bits, which are completely deranged, and therefore deeply satisfying to someone who has (a) acquired their sense of humour via the Goon Show and Monty Python, and (b) apprehended American football almost entirely through Peanuts cartoons. Then it all gets philosophical. It has been a happy weekend's discovery, this thing, I hope it likewise appeals to some of you.

My subject line is, of course, James Thurber, who has a proper sense of the bizarrely unique.

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South Park Self

take it out back and shoot it

2017 was a bitch. Seriously, on both the global and the personal front it was an unmitigated clusterfuck. It has had unpleasant repercussions for me personally because all I can see around me is failing systems, and I am a creature of order whose sense of identity and calm is derived from instrumental participation in harmonious and effective systems, and none of the systems - educational, political, personal - in which I am involved are at present either harmonious or effective in any way at all. It's very eroding to the soul.

In the light of the above, the traditional annual scorecard looks something like this:

Things achieved by me: Enough managerial togetherness to maintain a functional unit within the greater breakdown of my faculty. Realisation that I need a new job, and determination to acquire same. Sufficient courage to actually communicate this, in a definite fashion, to select superiors and colleagues.

Things not achieved by me: Sufficient negotiation of the complete identity-crisis meltdown occasioned by realising I need a new job (and, in fact, the ongoing energy drain of my current one) to actually initiate the job search process in more than a vague and fluffy sort of way. This is a work in progress.

Losses: Faith in the SA university system, particularly that of my Cherished Institution. Faith in the ability of decency and moral evolution to overcome self-interest. Tracy and family, who have fled to the Netherlands in well-executed and pro-active realisation of the above in the local context. (Robert Mugabe is not a loss. His departure is a gain whether or not he's being replaced by actual Darth Vader, which I rather regretfully think he might be.)

Things discovered by me in 2017: Dreamwidth. Portal, Andromeda, Divinity. Jyn Erso, as in my small ginger-and-white kitten. Air B'n'B, Franschoek, Colmant champagne. Workplace political machination in sheer self-defence, I've never shopped someone to a higher authority before, it was weird. Slow release magnesium as a remedy for swollen ankles. The Invisible Library, and also K.J. Charles's Magpie Lord series. FFS. Teen Wolf and associated fanfic. Cooking with bourbon. Panic attacks.

Resolutions for 2017: GET A FUCKING NEW FUCKING JOB RIGHT FUCKING NOW! I feel that this is an integral first step in acquiring the necessary mental and emotional energy to start tackling my general sense of existential despair.

Happy New Year to all, if such does not sound irredeemably sarky after all the above. I hope we all manage to achieve something like hope and forward momentum in the teeth of the general breakdown.

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South Park Self

festive wossnames

Right, well, that was a crash. Finished the exam season hell on Wednesday, have been on leave since Thursday, and did the classic exhaustion wheels-off where I basically slumped on the sofa for about three days. Board schedule checking was an unmitigated bitch, and the faculty administrative melt-down is beyond nuclear. I have to get out, she says, channelling bad horror movies.

In all the collapse I have, however, managed to see Last Jedi, which was stupendous, and on which more anon, because it did some very precise subversive things I really need to tease out in detail. But today I have managed to arrange early Christmas lunch with my sister and niece (feat. Skyping my mum), and Christmas dinner with jo&stv&claire, so I'll be dashing off to a merry festive day of socialising. It's more Christmassing than I usually do, but I'm sufficiently rested by my three-day crash that I'm rather looking forward to it. Odd. Perhaps the mere intention to quit my job is restoring my ability to interact with fellow humans.

In the usual Department of Lateral Christmas Wishes, have Straight No Chaser doing a cappella nonsense versions of the 12 Days. And all the relevant festive whatevers to you and yours, as appropriate.



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South Park Self

administration with Kafka

oh, gods, board schedule checking season. This is, as we know, always obnoxious and horrible and causes me to erupt into irritation and then crash into exhaustion and illness more or less annually. It transpires, however, that previous years of board schedule checking were in fact a kind of lost idyll, a Nirvana whose like we shall not see again. Because, see, in previous years the administrative section of the faculty office has been, while increasingly troubled, at least functional. This year it was not. This year has slid straight down the slick glass slippery slope into resentful, resistance-laden anarchy.

I have a hard deadline of 10am this morning, which is the time my large cohort of carefully-trained academics arrive to collect their giant chunks of printed board schedules for checking. In order to facilitate this, the administrators in the faculty office needed to produce the final files of student records by 4pm yesterday and send them off to the print shop in order to print overnight, as it's five or six hours of printing non-stop. At 9.30 this morning, unable to discover board schedules in any likely or logical place, I finally tracked down the deputy faculty manager, to find her frantically copying files onto a stick. For printing. To take to the copy shop now. Because apparently in her world five hours of printing fits into half an hour.

I have basically, in a mode comprised of a slightly worrying mix of dominatrix and mother, wrested the control of this unhappy printing process into my own hands, in order to correctly explain, prioritise and urge it along, as it appears that no-one else actually understands what they're doing here. I have emailed updates to academics, tracked down those weird metal-tipped string things we use to hold together the schedules, personally labelled and ordered them, generated a collection list, and triple-checked that everything is being printed. The copy guys have printed one batch twice, printed three files unnecessarily, lost another and printed the most recent one, the largest, without the punched holes which will enable us to actually use the weird metal-tipped string things. Halfway through they simply stopped printing because I wasn't standing over them and apparently the instruction "here's a list, print them in this order, I need them all by 11.30" is ambiguous and bewildering. If we're lucky, the whole thing will finally be finished by about 2pm.

None of this is my job. All of this is basic administration which administrators should be doing in support of my academic function. It is not being done because (a) no-one in that office has the institutional memory of the process, they're all new, and (b) the entire office is in a state of seething resentment owing to Hellboss, to the point where they refuse to take responsibility for anything at all. So I have to. With my copious emotional energy and in my copious free time.

Now I go into a week of continuous board schedule checking followed by continuous meetings. If the whole process works at all, it'll be because I have held it together with my bare hands. This faculty is going to be so completely screwed when I leave, it's not even funny. The whole thing is going to collapse. I'm not going to be here to see it. If I have to go and walk dogs for a living, I will be elsewhere when the debacle rolls around next year. Because I am done with this.

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South Park Self

room in the bag of stars

Oh, yay, heatwaves! 37 degrees last week. Cape Town, how do I love thee at this time of year? not at all. In addition, by way of merry summer celebration, that damned starling appears to have it in for me personally, he had another go at me last week, and again this morning. He's lying in wait, I swear. He doesn't hit hard or claw me, but it's a very definite and deliberate impact to the back of the skull. Either that or it's some sort of misshapen avian crush.

Apart from the heat I had a truly annoying weekend, because my lights went out at about 11am on Saturday and only came on again at 6, and then they died at 2am on Sunday and were out until about the same time this morning, giving me a weekend which was effectively denuded of the ability to do any of the things I'd planned - cv wrangling, job applications, baking, sewing, doing the washing. I spent large tracts of it reading Ursula Vernon furry novels and listening to the inexorable drip of the freezer contents going off. Given that my board-schedule checking hellweek starts tomorrow with the training session and stretches until Tuesday of the following week, I am homicidally grumpy this morning, and inclined to think that the Cosmic Wossnames are rubbing my nose in this job just to make quite, quite sure I'm leaving it. Which, hell, yes.

I am attempting to self-medicate with fluffy television. Given that the fluffy television du jour is Teen Wolf, which I have, as usual, discovered about three years after it stopped being fashionable, possibly the current tendency to snarl and worry things with my teeth is also being unduly exacerbated. On the upside, gratuitous quantities of shirtless hot werewolf action, which is at least aesthetically pleasing.

In the Department of Random Linkery, this is one of Ursula le Guin's characteristically dense, accessible, meditative essays, about stories as carrier bags rather than heroic bludgeoning implements. It is a lovely thing, go and read it. I have stolen my subject line from it.

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