South Park Self

it's exhausting to live in the Meanwhile

It's been very illuminating, the last year or so. I slip far too easily into the self-loathing mindset where my current spectacularly unsuccessful career existence is the result of my multiple past failures, most notably not ever managing to land an academic post back when I was still vaguely competitive for same. But actually, it would not have been a magic bullet, if by some freak of circumstance I'd finangled my way past entrenched misogyny, redress hiring and the fetishisation of Africanised content to have become an English department lecturer. If I'd done that, I would actually, at my best guess, in 2018 be at least as unhappy as I am in my present existence, in that the department concerned is currently a heaving snake-pit of vile personality politics that has chewed up and spat out several HoDs in a row over the last five years. It's not only the kind of tense, backbiting environment which most bludgeons and drains me, it's also entirely likely that if I'd been a lecturer in 2008, one of the mowed-down HoDs would have been me. There are no magic bullets.

On the other hand, that department does contain at least one colleague who has been long-term friend and ally since we were both in Masters, and whose consolatory email upon learning that Minerva do not, at present, think I am a good fit for their operation, included the above lovely sentence of my subject line. My life right now feels very much like marking time, and it is, indeed, exhausting.The job hunt continues, with reeling, writhing and fainting in coils. 

My difficult boss has, with consummate skill in the navigation of university procedures and politics, managed to absent herself from her job for four months at the most pressurised time of year and arrange a return this week under circumstances which, by a spectacular feat of gaslighting, insist that the whole thing was All Our Fault, not hers. There are doomful HR warnings hanging, not over her, but over the rest of the faculty. I'm staggering slightly, partially with reluctant admiration at the sheer chutzpah, and am also a bit numb. I think it's going to get very bad from here on out, but i can't imagine how it's going to play out, the whole situation is so bizarre, so the future feels curiously blank. At this point a quick alien abduction (of me, rather than her) would probably sort the whole thing nicely, in the sense of resolving all ambiguities, at least. I am possibly to be found hereafter of a night standing in the back courtyard looking hopefully at the sky while brandishing a small placard reading "TAKE ME NOW". An interstellar career change would be just the ticket. If not, I hear Canada's nice.

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South Park Self


I may, however, have vaguely wished I was at several points over the last few weeks, on the general grounds that it might be pleasantly restful. This has been a complete hellseason for registration, I have worked a high proportion of 12-hour days for the last month, and straight through most weekends. Particular lowlights have included:
  • having to floor manage registration simultaneously with advice and orientation because the designated manager was off sick and there were no alternative arrangements or anyone else willing to take responsibility;
  • the arrival of the faculty handbooks, necessary for students for registration, with mathematical precision an hour and a half after the last registration session had ended;
  • an unceasingly flow of angry students expecting to see their degree status updated to "qualified", which it hasn't been owing to administrative meltdown in the admin office, and having to re-check and re-submit the damned things, sometimes for the third time;
  • the regular late arrival of registration forms to registration sessions because the whole responsibility has been devolved onto temps, which means my advisors twiddle their thumbs for half an hour;
  • my digestion's response to all this, which has been two weeks of nausea and a week of heartburn, including what I thought on Sunday was actual gastric 'flu but mercifully doesn't seem to be the bug which has laid low most of my staff and a swathe of students over the last two weeks, even if my version has made me feel like hell and rendered my eating minimal and pale;
  • the weird evangelical student household neighbours over my back wall intensifying their evangelical activities from "really bad singing" to include sudden outbreaks of speaking loudly in tongues with the living room windows and door wide open at 6am as well as 7pm, and I have to say, that shit - unified, continuous wordless babbling from a dozen people - is creepy at the best of times and downright terrifying when you're half asleep;
  • Jyn's new crusade, which is to climb through and utterly destroy if at all possible the front blinds, which are starting to look bent, bont and splugged, necessitating me erupting from the sofa at intervals to shout at her (she knows exactly what she's doing, she looks at me, narrows her eyes and then deliberately does it again);
  • Teen Wolf's season 3 featuring a big bad played by the voice of Dragon Age's Fenris, who is one of my favourite go-to romances and whose decontextualised appearance in the inverse moral position is giving me conniptions.
I am a piece of chewed string. Once this week's change of curriculum is over, I shall go and see my doctor, and hope like hell I can gently prod her into booking me off work for a couple of weeks on grounds of general exhaustion. And the faculty may slide gently off the mountain and into the sea in my absence, I care not.

On the upside, I have progressed to the second stage of a job application with Minerva, in that they're asking for references and what have you; while I still darkly suspect I will not ultimately be offered it, given that they have the length, lingth and longth of the oversubscribed American academic wasteland to draw from, it's obscurely cheering to feel that at least I'm vaguely competitive.  This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
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


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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