Brexit From A Distance

One of the vice provosts dropped by my office today. It didn’t take long before he spun round to the topic of Brexit.

“So what’s going on in your country with this EU thing?” he asked.

“Pretty much the British version of Trump.” I replied.

And not for the first time this week, I found myself struggling to explain the inexplicable.

My sense is that people in the US have only caught on about how serious this is very recently: maybe only since the awful murder of the politician Jo Cox last week. But then to be completely honest, it was probably only a month ago that I realized myself there was going to be a referendum. And even then it took me a day or two to finally admit it was real. It was actually going to happen.

Because the whole idea makes absolutely no sense to me!

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First Ladies

So Clinton has won the nomination, as everyone knew she would. If I could vote in US elections I would (of course) vote for her over the horror show that is Trump.

But still, I’m sad that Sanders, the candidate I would’ve supported based on his policies rather than his symbolism, won’t be on the ballot. Particularly as I think he would be the safer guard against Trump, as well as a more progressive President.

I’m one of the people who resents the idea that I ought to be excited by Hillary Clinton, on the basis of the fact she’ll be the first female president (although not the first female presidential candidate). But then I come from the UK, where we have the cautionary tale of Margaret Thatcher to prove that a female politician does not automatically mean a feminist politician. Continue reading

Fear, Violence, and the Perception of Risk on Campus

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Concrete neo-castles

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a middle-aged white guy I’d never seen before, hanging out near the foyer of the university building I work in. He was just sitting there on a chair, with a backpack, playing on his phone. He was still there later that afternoon. And again the next day, in the same spot. Then the day after as well, till the end of the week. If I walked to the rest room or the kitchen, or went outside on my lunch break, I noticed him just sitting in the hall, apparently waiting for someone.

I was curious, but it also started to make me nervous. Who was this dude? The building houses administrative offices – some for student support, but mostly university-wide administration. There are non-student visitors around every day. But no one sits waiting for an appointment for a week.

I started to think up increasingly dramatic possibilities. Was he someone’s stalker? These things happen. Had anyone else noticed him and mentioned it to security?

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From PhD to Academic Administration Part Two: The Pros and Cons list

Last week I started off with a brief introduction on how I ended up working in academic administration after finishing my PhD. This week I’ll jump into the bit that is usually far more interesting to people contemplating making the same move: the pros and cons list.

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Introducing: Theater reviews for people who are afraid of bad theater

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Bad Phantom. Via the Show Nuff tumblr of bad theater publicity photos

In the seven years I lived in Chicago before I met J, I think I saw a total of 2 or 3 plays. After we got together we saw about 2 or 3 a week. Now we have the baby, I maybe see about that many a month.

J is my own personal theater planner, guiding me to things he knows I will like, that are well acted, and telling stories I’ll be interested in hearing.

Ok, occasionally we see stuff that fails on all those counts… But at least he’ll warn me ahead of time, so I know what I’m getting myself into. Continue reading

From PhD to Academic Administration Part One: how did I end up here?

Pied-Piper-of-Hamelin

Last night J jokingly called me the Pied Piper of Academia. Since finishing my PhD a couple of years ago, I’ve been working in university administration.

And since almost the first month in my new job, I’ve been asked by fellow grads for advice on the pros and cons of taking that step over to the dark side.

At first it was just people I knew.

Recently I’ve had emails from total strangers, referred to me by people I hardly know, asking if I’d have time to talk over coffee.

So as academic job application season swings around, I thought it might be worth a blog post.

In this first post I’ll give you some background on how I ended up making the decision to apply for an administrative job in the first place. In the next I’ll leap into the bit you’re probably more interested in: the pros and cons of making a side-ways move in the university if you’d always assumed you would be an academic.

My thoughts on this topic are based on my own limited experience and to a certain extent my ethnographic work on universities. But if you in a similar situation yourself, please chip in in the comments! Continue reading

The Flick: Portraying Low Paid Workers With Respect

r6jv77We finally went to see The Flick by Annie Baker at Steppenwolf this month, catching it just before it closed. It’s one of those plays I first encountered in fragments, as I helped J learn lines from a handful of scenes, and was curious enough about to badger him into getting us tickets.

J seemed a bit concerned I might not like it. He reminded me several times it’s over 3 hours long and has a reputation for being a bit tricky. (I suspect he still hasn’t forgiven me for hating Waiting For Godot.) The trickiness, it seems, comes from Baker’s use of silence. The play runs 3 hours 10 minutes but only has about 70 pages of actual dialogue, which means there are a lot of long pauses or moments when the actors are moving about the stage but not saying anything to each other.

Apparently the first time The Flick was performed, the (mostly subscriber) audience was furious, and in every performance including the one I saw, the audience was a lot thinner after the interval.

All this throws up interesting questions about the extent to which we associate “something happening” in a play with “people are talking” as opposed to “people are moving around on stage.” But I found The Flick utterly absorbing, helped no doubt by the very high quality of the production and the wonderful cast. Continue reading

Tuesday Funk, Nov 2015

Tuesday Funk is a reading series held every first Tuesday of the month at the Hopleaf bar in Chicago. It features writers from a range of genres, although fiction and memoir tend to be the most common, with about 4-5 people reading their work over the course of the evening. This month’s session introduced me to the fantastic Sarah Michael Hollenbeck, who also happens to be one of the co-owners of the Women and Children First bookstore.

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Rise in mortality rates among white working class in the US

This morning several newspapers reported on a study by two economists from Princeton University into rising mortality rates among non-hispanic white men and women in the US since 1998. (Or to be more exact, the mortality rates have been decreasing everywhere, but the rate of that decrease has slowed to the point of stopping among this group).

The Guardian’s coverage, for instance, presents the study this way:

A sharp rise in death rates among white middle-aged Americans has claimed nearly as many lives in the past 15 years as the spread of Aids in the US, researchers have said.

The alarming trend, overlooked until now, has hit less-educated 45- to 54-year-olds the hardest, with no other groups in the US as affected and no similar declines seen in other rich countries.

Though not fully understood, the increased deaths are largely thought to be a result of more suicides and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, driven by easier access to powerful prescription painkillers, cheaper high quality heroin and greater financial stresses.

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