Song of the Day: Passion Pit, “Constant Conversations”

This track is probably my second favorite song off of Passion Pit’s Gossamer. The video for this song is strangely cold, and as one of the youtube comments says, “classy people got classy problems,” which in some ways is the whole focus of Gossamer. It’s an album about the emptiness of decadence. As such, both this song and the video drip with nostalgia for a simpler time. The people drinking and do drugs while being all but dressed like chap hop extras: Peter Pan collar dresses, suit jackets, white ties, stripe shirts, backgammon, and chess boards abound. In a novel twist, sexual liaisons are begun over books, and the one woman in a bathing suit is in a full piece one. The video nods to The Graduate, but it’s sepia tones hint even further back into American iconography. There’s a Gatsby like sense of both rich possibility and improbable movement forward.


Commonplace: Charles Dickens, Hard Times

She was a most wonderful woman for prowling about the house. How she got from story to story was a mystery beyond solution. A lady so decorous in herself, and so highly connected, was not to be suspected of dropping over the banisters or sliding down them, yet her extraordinary facility of locomotion suggested the wild idea. Another noticeable circumstance in Mrs. Sparsit was, that she was never hurried. She would shoot with consummate velocity from the roof to the hall, yet would be in full possession of her breath and dignity on the moment of her arrival there. Neither was she ever seen by human vision to go at great pace.

-Charles Dickens, Hard Times

The Academic Job Market

The MLA Job Information List came out over the weekend. It’s the list of job offerings in the field of modern languages, literature, and composition for the upcoming academic year. To say that it sends terror through people who are on the market (yes, academics equate looking for a job to being a commodity) would be an understatement. If you haven’t heard, the market for academic jobs, especially tenure track, assistant professor gigs with a reasonable teaching load is tight. Many of the jobs will have over 200 candidates. Some will have even more; at least one job I applied to when I was on the market had 500 applicants. And there’s the interesting and reprehensible new trend of job ads looking for people who haven’t been out or done with their PhD for more than three years. In other words, people who were on the market the year I was or the year after and didn’t get a full time job (which considering it was the year the stock market tanked and job lines just vanished means that many didn’t) need not apply. Most of these people have either been doing post doc fellowships (if lucky) or being cobbling together academic careers through adjunct teaching. (Side note: I abhor the way the system treats adjuncts.) All of this doesn’t even get into the wiki that goes up tracking each of these jobs, when people get the interview or not, the campus visit or not, etc.

Being on the market is a year long exercise in anxiety. I got through it by just applying and then applying some more and trusting that I would end up where I was supposed to. (Oh, and staying off that damn wiki as much as possible; seriously folks on the market, do yourself a favor and don’t even look it up. All of my truly bad, anxious moments came after looking at the wiki.)

What the job market needs–besides to be a different system–is levity. The fine folks behind the MLA Jobs Tumblr feed have given us just that. It parses job ads into real language instead of academicese. And the tagline–putting the AACK! in the tenure track–is spot on. I think this one is my favorite:

The English department at Regional U invites applications for a tenure-track position in the digital humanities. Selected candidate will be responsible for explaining to everyone what “digital humanities” is, and teaching a 4/4 load of composition, literature surveys, and Shakespeare.

It’s great parody, and for those of you who haven’t had the pleasures of looking at a job ad before, these aren’t actually too far off from what they really are like.

Jane Austen and the Neuroscientists

Stanford is running an interdisciplinary project mapping the cognitive differences between pleasure reading and close reading passages from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Their findings so far show that close reading–closely concentrating on and examining a passage for stylistic, literary, and cultural meanings–activates different analytical centers of the brain. Two key points:

Critical reading of humanities-oriented texts is recognized for fostering analytical thought, but if such results hold across subjects, Phillips said it would suggest “it’s not only what we read – but thinking rigorously about it that’s of value, and that literary study provides a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.”


The researchers expected to see pleasure centers activating for the relaxed reading and hypothesized that close reading, as a form of heightened attention, would create more neural activity than pleasure reading. If the ongoing analysis continues to support the initial theory, Phillips said, teaching close reading (i.e., attention to literary form) “could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.”

In other words, the rigors of literary study could, quite literally, be good for your brain. Bring on more close reading of Jane Austen I say.

Bic for Her Pens = Amazon comedy gold

So Bic made a For Her Pen. Let’s not even discuss why women needed pens marketed to them specifically or that Bic makes a horrid pen to begin with. Thanks to the wonders of New York Magazine‘s “Approval Matrix,” I discovered the Amazon reviews of the Bic for Her Pen. Here are some highlights:

When will men be getting a bic pen of their own? All we have is this wussy see-through bic. I want, no NEED, a bic wrapped in barbed wire to satisfy my manly needs. It should also write in beer instead of ink. And it should be usb compatible.

I purchased a set of Bic LadyPens for one of my wives (the one who knows how to write), using my own funds. (This should not come as a surprise, as women should not be allowed to come into contact with currency; their menstrual cycles will curse it and make it lose value, much as these cycles will cause wine to sour.) However, I found that, when given these pens, she began writing more frequently and more fervently. Soon, she was corresponding with other women (via the Postal Service, which, unbeknownst to me, now also accepts pieces of mail from women). Gradually, more and more radical ideas entered her mind. Sure, it started with her asking for simple things like a mortar and pestle (until now, my wives had ground spices with their knuckles), but before I knew it she was demanding to be shod! I blame the pens – clearly they were the catalyst for her awakening! I am currently away on business (I will be delivering an address to a large convention in Tampa this week), and I am honestly quite vexed about the state of my homestead upon returning!

I must say I’m really disappointed that we gave women the power to write. Lately they’ve been thinking they can do things like vote, get jobs, and speak their minds! As if their opinions are worth as much as their husbands’ or something. Quite frankly, I miss the days when the women were at home knitting and cooking and raising the children–not writing. This pen is only aggravating a harmful situation that we ourselves brought upon our society.

I am a female AP and Multivariable Calculus teacher and I prefer to use ink when solving problems. I guess, not surprisingly, these pens cannot be used to do math problems more complicated than 5th grade level. When trying to find a derivative or definite integral, the ball point simply stopped working. I went back and added some numbers and it was fine. I progressed up to solving quadratic equations and the ball point started to “stick” so that I couldn’t solve the problem completely. Imaginary numbers? HA! It was as if I had a pen with imaginary ink! As I moved into problems with Taylor Series, the pen started to get uncomfortably warm. By the time I tried to find the integral of a polar curve the pen burst into flames! I couldn’t believe it! Luckily, I had on asbestos gloves by that time so there were no injuries. I couldn’t even try it with a Multivariable problem!
I have decided to go back to using “man” ink for all future Calculus problems.
I did notice that the the purchase suggestion that comes with these pens is the recalled Talking Barbie that says, “Math class is tough!”. Search for a video of that excellent product!

Seriously, I am completely shocked there was no health warning on the side. I picked these up in my local smiths, just in a hurry to grab some new biros for my husband and not really paying attention to the packet. Within 2 weeks of him using them my husband was wearing stylish clothes, writing poetry, noticing how nice my hair is and wanting to hug and talk about feelings all the time. I just can’t cope with it and now his mates have disowned him too. To top it all off he has just been banned from our local football ground for stealing used football shirts so that he could wash the stains out. I have switched him back to normal “manly” pens now but I fear he may never recover. It’s just not what you expect from innocently using a biro and I hope that this product will carry a health warning very soon.

I’ve been weeping I’ve been laughing so hard at the comments. It’s like the whole of Amazon got in on the joke at once. The last two are I think my favorites–the pen exploding into flames doing complex math is hilarious. If only every boneheaded move made a corporation produced such gleeful mocking.