South Park Self

I've been in the dark for so long that I can't see

Bloody load shedding again, ye gods I hate living in a third world country. I am at the stage where I can tell that the lights are off when I get home by the quality of the alarm system's beep, it's a semitone lower when on battery power than it is when on mains. (I don't actually have perfect pitch, but I have sufficient musical training that I have about a 90% chance of hitting the right note on the piano to replicate one I'm randomly singing. And the alarm beep is by now extremely ingrained after five years in this house).

This morning's planned power cut is going to add a new dimension of difficulty to the day's deadline, today being Absolutely Positively The Last Day for late registration or change of curriculum, which means we'll infallibly have a rush of disorganised dilatory students trying to sort their lives out. I have been sending "riot shields and brace!" sorts of messages to my advisor squad, hopefully I am being overly pessimistic. But I don't think so. The combination of Gen Z individualism and just-post-adolescent lack of perspective means that students are extremely likely to assume that a 4pm deadline means that they can arrive at one minute to four and be assisted. The real-life practical implications of a bureaucratic process apparently don't actually occur to them, and obviously advisors and administrators are droids or golems who don't have a home life and can simply stick around until all students are assisted. Bleah.

It occurred to me this morning that it's extremely telling that one of my recurring typing blind spots, as in a word I reliably mistype every time I use it, is "curriculum".

(Subject line from the Fratellis, "I've been blind", which was playing in the car this morning, and which I shall endeavour not to read as a commentary on my unaccountable continued existence in this bloody job). And now I have to post this quickly before the power goes. Sigh.

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South Park Self

a hole in my head where the rain gets in

It was all cloudy and cool and vaguely rainy yesterday, which is altogether lovely. Sunday featured extremely high winds and occasional drizzle, causing me to have to bring the chilli bush inside as it was lying horizontal, and also having to re-upright the potted frangipani several times, before finally tucking it around a corner so it stopped blowing over. I think my frangipani's pot is too small, frankly. The plant is particularly designed to catch the wind easily, it's a giant, spindly thing a couple of feet taller than I am, with a dead straight trunk until about head height, at which point it branches into exactly three arms which produce leaves and/or flowers at weird, unpredictable intervals apparently not at all in tune with the actual seasons. Maybe having more room for its feet will help with the strange growth patterns as well as the top-heaviness. An all-container garden does create these little challenges.

The worst of orientation/reg is now over, mercifully, and I am doing that post-frantic thing of realising, the instant the pressure is off, exactly how bloody tired I am. I'm bloody tired. Friday evening was enlivened by a partially tiredness-induced freakout occasioned by an email from the company which is shipping Roxy and Sproing, jo&stv's dog and cat, to New Zealand. Roxy and Sproing are still in CT because of shipping company year-end shenanigans, and have been in the care of house-sitters. Lo these many moons ago I agreed to be an extra contact person to the pet-shipping process if necessary, but for some reason Friday's cheery email was addressed directly to me, and cheerily reminded me of Monday's final vet visit, the culmination of a whole series of vet visits over the last month, of which I was in complete ignorance and which I had not, of course, arranged.

The rational response was, of course, to realise that there's no way jo&stv would have left me to sort it all out without further reminders or contact or, at the very least, giving me the house-sitters' details, but I was tired enough that rationality was not, shall we say, at the fore. Fortunately a few panicky WhatsApp exchanges established that all was well, the vet visits had been arranged by people not actually working 11-hour days, and the address to me was an error. Phew. Because that was a very bad couple of hours.

The reason why it was bad is, of course, because the email prodded, with pin-point accuracy, a particular hangup of mine which is best exemplified in those recurring anxiety dreams I have where there's a huge, complex machine of some sort, performing a vital function, and the whole massive, inexorable thing hinges on me, and only me, having, at some time in the past, pressed a particular button, or done a particular check, or added particular things to the mix, or whatever, and I didn't, and now the whole thing is screwed and it's all my fault. In extreme cases the world ends, or if I move I die, and I promptly move, and die. By this logic, apparently, if I haven't done the vet visits Roxy and Sproing starve in the streets, forever separated from their owners.

I think I need to take some leave, irrational over-reactions are exhausting. On the upside, more rain tomorrow, and I should have a larger pot and enough potting soil to stabilise the frangipani and thus persuade myself that I can take appropriate action when necessary and the world will, in all probability, not end. Or, if it does, that's likely to be coincidental and not actually my fault.

My subject line is from the Fratellis, "Boy Scout to the end", from their album Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, which, together with In your own sweet time have been playing on rotation in my car, because I'm really enjoying them both. Eyes Wide is strangely Americana-influenced and faintly countryish in tone and image, with a hint of what Jo calls "swamp rock"; Own Sweet Time is retroish and genre-hopping, including moments where I swear they are flat-out channeling the Beatles, but always catchy. I am addicted to Sugartown, which is 60s poppy and ridiculously fun.

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South Park Self

narrative frustrations, various, Part 1: Greedfall

Doing the belated year in review reminded me of the two videogames I had been expecting rather excitedly and eventually played in 2019, both of which turned out to be disappointing in various ways. And as this got ranty, I think this may be several posts.

Greedfall was in many ways beautiful to play: an extremely well-produced fantasy RPG with Bioware-style party and romance options, minimal glitches or bugs, an aesthetic that's beyond amazing, setting and worldbuilding which are detailed and mostly original, excellent voice acting, and all-around absorbing gameplay. It's set in a sort of fantasy 17th century, which allows amazing things with costume and hats and muskets and tall ships and cities and what have you. You get to wear a cloak. Do you know how frustrating it is that the majority of fantasy RPGs don't have a cloak option? Cowards. Just because they're fiddly to programme. Greedfall manages to largely avoid the wooden plank cloak effect and unfortunate weapons clipping glitches, it can be done.

And you play a diplomat figure representing one of three developed nations in what is effectively the colonisation of a highly magical and extremely beautiful island filled with relatively technologically unadvanced native peoples and the most incredible, twisted, magical, guardian creatures.

And as you explore, and meet people, and are betrayed by your fellow colonial "allies", and encounter the creatures and peoples native to the island, it becomes more and more obvious that you are a coloniser, and your nation's leaders and policy-setters don't give a fuck about the fate of the native people and creatures, and more and more often the options you have boil down to killing them horribly and looting their corpses. You can't roleplay not wanting to be a coloniser. However hard you try to save and protect and co-operate, you keep running into encounters where all you can do is destroy, and the things you are destroying are amazing and beautiful and don't deserve to be destroyed in the name of "progress" or "profit".

And if you're me, you stop playing before you finish the game, because even if they allow some kind of last-minute reversal and boot you all the hell off the island, no possible narrative payoff could possibly make up for the bitter taste of all this inescapable colonial complicity. Of which I have quite enough, thank you very much, in my daily South African life. I don't play videogames because I want to have my nose rubbed in my lack of political agency. For fuck's sake.

Ultimately, I'd love to believe that this was a deliberate ideological choice on the part of the designers: that they are inviting you to replicate 17th-century colonialism in order to make you feel its evils and your complicity with them. But I can't, because the textual evidence of the gameplay and the worldbuilding simply don't support it. This is a game about cool visuals and nifty alt-17th-century gear, it's not a sophisticated critique. Which is an enormous pity, because its potential is vast.

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South Park Self

hellweek, or possibly hellmonth. Or just Hell. Also, damnation.

So, registration this year has not quite been an unmitigated clusterfuck, but there have been definite, repeated moments in which it has reached those depths. I vanished from blogging for a week with the obligatory muffled squeak because that was the point at which the full upshot for registration of 350 extra students in my orientation programme became both obvious and inescapable, and my life became entirely filled up with stress. First year reg last week was horrible, and entailed enormous queues of students rolled over at day-end into the next session, which immediately developed enormous queues if it didn't have them already. We finished on the final day of formal reg on Wednesday, but only at about 5.30pm, and I worked 6-7 hours on the reg tables on all three days. I spent most of this weekend horizontal on the sofa.

This week is change of curriculum, which has been enlivened in today's iteration by (a) about 60 students registering late, swelling the queues to match the year's registration theme song, and (b) three advisors cheerily emailing me this morning before their scheduled 9am advice session to say they won't be available, something came up, sorry. Three out of ten is a significant proportion when there are 200 students in the queue. I spent the morning sending tactfully querulous emails to advisors trying to scratch up substitutes and basically begging everyone to arrive on time and not to simply flake out.

Thing is, our system runs, in general terms applying to venues, class sizes, scheduled reg sessions and available advisors, close enough to its max tolerances that it really can't take a first year intake which is at 120% of where it is normally. The registration hassles are translating into first year classes, the big subjects (Psychology, Sociology) are in a normal year at the limits of their venue size/number of lecture slots capacity, and this year departments have been screaming at faculty and demanding students are force-removed from classes. Which, of course, translates back into the curriculum change queues.

I am surviving all this, barely, by being very heavily tranquilized, which I have to say is helping materially in the not-collapsing-in-hysterics-or-slaying-student-narcissists-with-my-teeth departments. Weekly video calls with jo&stv and occasional sessions with Vi and gin are also helping. Friends, as I have frequently observed, keep me sane. Work, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.

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South Park Self

somewhat belated year in review

Apparently writing "2020" on umpteen student forms in the last two weeks was insufficient to make me accept that we're in a new year, but realising we're in February of that year brought it home quite handily. Where the hell did January go? Mostly down in fire and flood, actually. This orientation/reg season has been ungodly.

Things achieved by me in 2019: I survived. Specifically, a serious fatigue slump (re-reading 2019 posts has made me realise that I was barely functional from approximately March, I really resurfaced only towards the end of the year when I took to supplementing myself madly with Vitamin B) and another difficult campus semester (gender violence and more student demonstrations). Clinging to sanity by my eyebrow hairs amid increasing institutional and national disfunction on the home front, and growing global political fuckwittery. Sufficient momentum to apply for several overseas jobs, although none of them were successful.

Things not achieved by me: A new job, shaking the dust of the country off my booted feet, global political optimism. Or that fairy tale paper, actually, the fatigue slump was sufficient that I couldn't find the mental energy to actually finish writing it, and I withdrew from the volume.

Losses: jo&stv (not terminally, but they are now Very Far Away).

Things discovered by me in 2019: TERF hatred, Stardew Valley on the Ipad, crockpot cookery, making ice cream, the Grahamstown Arts Festival (again), My Time At Portia, tendon strain injuries and orthotics, the Good Omens adaptation and Michael Sheen generally (David Tennant in tight trousers was not actually a new discovery), The Mandalorian, B-complex supplements, Greedfall and The Outer Worlds (both with reservations), wingfic, the most recent Fratellis albums and Codeine Velvet Club, a Goblin Emperor fixation, mid-life crises, Nathan Pyle t-shirts, Gideon the Ninth, black bed linen.

Resolutions for 2020: flee the country. It's the only current goal I have.

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South Park Self

And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free

Favourite instance of student narcissism this week: it's 6.30am today, I have come up to campus early (for the sixth day in a row) to catch up with emails. There's one in my box, sent just after midnight, in which the student asks for late registration information, stating, with some indignation, that she emailed the relevant administrator last night but has not received a response, and please sort this out for her, time is running out. She genuinely seemed to expect an instant answer last night, and is annoyed and frustrated that it has not materialised.

I realise that this is the response of someone very young who has grown up with cellphones and instant connectivity to her social circle, but it baffles me a little that she's so sheltered she has not worked out the difference between social and institutional contact. Are working hours not a thing any more? Apparently not, given that I'm here at 6.30, after all. Notwithstanding which, she's going to have to make some painful adjustments to the working world, is all I can say. Hopefully my slightly snippy response will help with that.

Orientation programme 2 starts today, so hooray for four hours of giving presentations, followed by an afternoon of registration advice, rinse and repeat tomorrow and Friday. I am rapidly approaching the "chewed string" level of exhaustion. But Friday is the peak, it gets easier thereafter, once orientation is over. I will survive. *channels Gloria Gaynor*. Bugger, now I've earwormed myself. Probably you too, she says, fiendishly changing her subject line. Heh.

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South Park Self

these things are sent to try us

Spent the weekend mostly working, what with email catchup and exam committee checking, because the one thing that reg/orientation season absolutely needs is a board schedule in the middle of it, amirite? But we have to code students whose deferred exam results came out on Friday and affected their graduation/continuation status, which would have been slightly easier if half the departments had put the marks up on schedule, which they didn't, so I need to carve an hour out of my morning to check them all manually. Honestly, I think the administrative rot has really set in to my Cherished Institution. Next up in the administrative nightmares: venue clashes (parents' orientation is squatting on the good ones), handbook errors (rife) and another round of arguing info talk recording with academics.

Oh, and to assist in all of the above: my computer slowed to a crawl, hung and crashed completely within three days of me returning to work at the start of this year, necessitating me stuffing it in the car and taking it down to the IT department after they spent three days neglecting to fetch it. Complete hard-drive wipe and reinstall, "probably malware" but they didn't seem too sure, lost a decade's worth of archive which is only mostly backed up. Oh, and lost a week of orientation prep time because no computer, and my netbook, while gallant, is small and slow. So this morning there was a cold, sinking feeling when I tried to log in and everything slowed down, tried to reinstall Office, stuffed around intermittently for half an hour with lots of meditative pauses, and then froze terminally. Switching it off and pointedly leaving it for an hour seems to have mostly sorted things out, but the new Office install seems to have sneakily uninstalled Firefox, which narks me more than somewhat. Also, there is no fury like a harried administrator who has specifically arrived on campus at 6am to sort things out before reg at 8, and can't do a thing for 90 minutes because of computer crashes. Homicidal doesn't begin to cover it.

Also, the strained ankle tendon which I stuffed at Grahamstown last year and which has been slowly recovering, really doesn't like all this harried running around and is flaring up again in the teeth of orthotics. On the upside, it seems madly appropriate to be stomping around in boots rather than sandals despite the weather. Things may need kicking.

I have the impression that the universe is really trying to tell me something with this reg season. Namely: be anywhere else but here.

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South Park Self

I ATEN'T DEAD. Mostly.

Ho, hum. *brushes cobwebs off journal and carefully relocates spiders*. I appear to have, um, disappeared for six months or so, possibly to indulge in a mid-life crisis as the big 50 rolled around, or possibly that's just coincidental. At any rate, my somewhat belated New Year's Resolution is to try and blog again, on the usual grounds that it's good for me and takes me the fuck out of myself, which may be necessary as my pestilent hell-job pushes me further and further into my shell, socially speaking. Turns out emotional energy is both (a) necessary for socialising, and (b) routinely swallowed up by narcissistic student vampires, self-absorbed academics and other occupational hazards of the academic life. Ho, hum.

I am doubly resolved upon journalling as my emotional support found family, namely jo&stv, have relocated with commendable efficiency to New Zealand, leaving me with something of a void to fill. New Zealand appears to be cool and green and sane and small, and thus diametrically opposed to almost all the aspects of South Africa in general and Cape Town in particular which are most getting up my nose at the moment, which is most of them, so I am jealous and more than slightly resolved to try and follow them if humanly possible.

Which will happen, alas, only when the current horrors of the registration/orientation season have abated somewhat, i.e. in about three weeks' time. Yesterday's first day of registration, happening simultaneously with the last day of the orientation programme, necessitated an 11-hour day which started with a batch of emails from academics who, having ignored my increasingly frantic pleas for three weeks, chose the morning of the actual presentations to inform me they refused to be recorded while speaking, thus screwing nearly terminally with a careful programme of student access. It continued with venue confusion, non-appearing presenters, handbook errors, and shoes which hurt my feet increasingly as the day's scurrying around progressed. It ended on a spectacularly low note when, at 5.30 in the evening, an hour after the university admin offices have officially closed, a very large male student followed me into my deserted and darkened offices, demanded, despite my protestations of complete exhaustion, that I make some complicated curriculum checks to sign a form for him, ignored my refusal and my request for him to email me the details so I could do the checking over the weekend, ignored four separate requests for him to leave my office, and loomed in the doorway refusing to leave until I succumbed to a panic attack. At which point, as I crouched on the floor shaking, hyperventilating and sobbing uncontrollably, he told me that my behaviour was unacceptable and he would inform management, and left to complain about me to the Dean, who he cornered in the foyer as she was leaving and ranted at for half an hour, blocking the building exit so I couldn't leave without passing him. I eventually staggered home in, shall we say, something of a state, and have spent the day mostly not moving from the sofa and aching in every muscle. I am hoping that the whole debacle at least means this reg season can only improve.

So. I am not at all sure if anyone is still reading such dreadfully retro and passé things as blogs, but I'm back and shall try to remain so. Watch this space.

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South Park Self

other random things, variously weird

  • My cellphone, in a particularly arcane manifestation of my techno-jinx, has been unable to connect calls for the last six months or so. Everything else works; calls ring, I can swipe to answer them, but there's no actual sound when I connect. I have been forwarding all my voice calls to the nearest landline for months, which is non-ideal but hasn't been a particular issue because I really don't get many voice calls, and most of them are spam, and it's far more satisfying to hang up on a sales call with an actual handset that you can thunk down with extreme prejudice. When I finally got around to doing something about the problem, the lovely lady in the MTN shop tested it, went "Hmmm", and gently pointed out that calls worked perfectly fine if you put them on speaker, which means that the actual phone speaker was fucked (apparently the calls-on-speaker one is separate). New phone time. As I have every intention of shaking the dust of this country from my feet one way or another in the next year, I didn't want to upgrade and lock into a two-year contract, so I madly bought myself an advance-Significant-Birthday-Present new phone, which arrived yesterday, in, according to the inscrutable workings of the techno-jinx, the middle of a thunderstorm. I have spent the morning happily switching phones, and crooning gently to myself about how cool technology is when it works. (The new phone is Large and Glossy and the Samsung switch programme is a dream to use, happy little obedient functional thing).
  • I found myself, however, weirdly and genuinely choked up when it came to shutting down the old phone for the last time. It was my first smartphone, and led me gently into smartphone ways, and was fun and small and sweet and worked for years, and I played Avengers Academy obsessively on it for months, and it was a reasonably constant companion I had just started to train myself not to leave behind, and I shall miss it. I thanked it affectonately in the approved Marie Kondo fashion, but it was still a sad parting. And, really, humans are very weird about anthropomorphising tech, increasingly so as tech becomes more active and complicated and thus easier and easier to anthropomorphise. I had a very entertaining conversation with the GPS lady driving into Woodstock to pick up the phone yesterday, we had Certain Disagreements on the route. Or maybe it's just me and I'm just weird.
  • I am, also weirdly given my usual state of hermitlike introversion, seriously looking forward to the Arts Festival trip this coming week. (The Jo's Infinitely Expanding Social Circle was employed by her to good effect in that she found me a house-sitter, who is called Landi and is lovely and who my cats like immediately. It is something of a relief.) Possibly the anticipation is more acute because the faculty is Exerting Reproach, with a strong subtext of You Should Cancel Your Leave, at my absence from Significant Meetings, the more so because the otherwise lamb-like deputy Dean has decided to fuck off on sabbatical suddenly and without warning and also won't be in the meeting. I have stuck to my guns, with increasing irritation, and have spent chunks of the last week rustling up and training replacements, and trying to talk down the faculty manager from a flat panic. I am assuaging the inevitable guilt by promising to be on WhatsApp for the significant few hours, in case they absolutely can't do without me, but really, are they toddlers? Seriously, life's too short to hold the faculty's hand for ever, and they bloody well have to get used to doing without me because I Do Not Intend To Stay Here Much Longer.
  • I enjoyed this Buzzfeed article about making yourself more desirable to men, which may seem weird given that making myself desirable to men is something I haven't been interested in for at least a decade, but becomes less weird if you actually read the article. "Instead of shaving your arms weekly, add more hair to them and become a human blanket for your boyfriend in the winter. Or remove every strand of hair from your body and scream through the night like an infant. Really embrace having baby-smooth skin." I also haven't shaved my legs in over a decade, the resulting fur is useful in our current cold snap; I occasionally shave under my arms, in a desultory and intermittent sort of fashion when it randomly occurs to me to do so, mostly because I can do it in under a minute and, weird unpleasant smooth-skinned youth/baby fetishisation aside, the thing which narks me most about male-focused expecations of female grooming is how much bloody time it expects you to devote to it. Bugger that for a game of soldiers.
  • I am living in something of a Good Omens haze, the fanfic is increasingly adorable and, in large tracts, weirdly domestic. It's almost all Aziraphale/Crowley, and a lot of it is steamy, but there's a larger than usual subset of asexual fic, which I'm enjoying because that's my personal headcanon for the angels. Also, the wingficcers are out in force. I loved this in particular. I also recommend Michael Sheen on Twitter for righteous takedowns of bigotry. And the Christian group's misguided petition is hysterical.
  • It's not at all weird that Jo&Stv are hauling me off to Overture for a birthday lunch tomorrow, because excuse for Overture, duh. I am Looking Forward To It. A lot. And the Nicest Ex-Supervisor in the World is taking me out to lunch at the Cellars on Wednesday. Ditto. I have lovely friends. But you knew that. Lots of them are you.

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South Park Self

5 signs of a growth industry

  • Today I Grew As A Person. My planned Grahamstown jaunt with jo&stv is happening, it transpires, on top of our mid-year exam committee process, and I won't be able to make a key meeting. This caused me, when I realised I'd misread my own calendar, about .0003 seconds of guilt, remorse and knee-jerk trip-cancellation response, after which I strangled the impulse at birth and wrote a quick note to the Dep Dean regretting my absence. He replied with a declaration of woe and inability to continue without me, to which I sent a calm, reasoned, implacable rebuttal gently pointing out that it's ridiculous in the extreme for the faculty to rely completely on me for this sort of thing, I am neither unique nor irreplaceable, and in fact a number of senior advisors can do pretty much what I do, only slower, and with more recourse to the rulebooks. And they'll never learn to do it faster if I'm always there to do it. Which, being fundamentally a lamb and a good dep dean, he acknowledged was a sensible insight. So I don't have to do FEC, calloo callay, and can proceed to Grahamstown as planned. Heh.
  • We chose Grahamstown shows to book yesterday, by dint of comparing notes on the things we'd separately circled in the programme, and it gave me a beautiful re-enactment of Book Club Panic, that horrible sensation where I was always terrified everyone else would hate my selections and think they were terrible books. Which, in a display of Therapy Tools my ex-therapist would be proud of, I paused to acknowledge as a fear, patted kindly on the head, and thereafter ignored, succeeding by dint of considerable self-discipline to circle exactly what appealed to me without second-guessing myself in terror. And when we compared notes it was a lovely discussion and we had circled huge amounts in common, because apparently jo&stv and I, if not actually a hive mind at this point, really do spend a lot of time together in a way that is very much driven by common tastes. And now I'm all excited and really looking forward to this.
  • We also watched the first three episodes of Good Omens last night, which was a delight, Neil Gaiman did really good there. I would say it was a sign of personal growth that i kept my comments about the slashy subtext to a minimum (honestly, Aziraphale and Crowley is a delightful 6000-year romance, too OMC for words) except that I think Jo beat me to most of the good ones, so maybe the personal growth is just the result of the pre-empting of temptation by displacement. Things I particularly adored, other than the ship: the opening credit sequence, the pitch-perfect casting, the embedded in-joke references, the tightening of the novel's slightly sprawley plot. The whole thing made me really happy.
  • I can now report that I have been Officially Turned Down for my first job application for a New Zealand post, which is a sign of personal growth (or possibly the apocalypse) in that I applied at all. It's certainly further than I got with the career-change process. Apparently continuing in academia in a different country is fundamentally less terrifying to me on some level than trying to change careers in this one. Who knew. Now that the ice is broken I think it'll be easier to apply for others. Watch this space.
  • I finally grew a spine enough to tackle my music collection, which has been an utter disaster for nearly two years owing to the fact that the ham-fisted technoprimates who installed my last new hard drive stuffed up copying over the files, so half the music files were empty. Since the vast bulk of it was ripped from CD, re-creating it was going to be a massive undertaking. Fortunately I discovered last week that I had apparently, at some stage, copied the majority of the collection onto my work hard drive, where it languished unlistened to since my current office confirmation means music is unduly audible to my co-workers. In the last week I have acquired two large flash drives, copied, rationalised, converted about half of it to MP3s, and backed it up in two separate places. Currently updating my car MP3 player to play something other than the same 10 artists I have cycled obsessively through for years. Definite personal growth.

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