I was trying to figure…

I was trying to figure out what brought on last night's paean -- not that they don't deserve it, but I felt pretty compelled to both write and send that. Part of it, I think, is that in another blog I recently advised someone with a two-body academic problem (and a small child) that even though she loved her new colleagues, it was probably worth doing a national job search in the fall so she and her partner (and their child) could actually live together. I still believe that, but I feel so bad for her too. Because finding good work colleagues is rare, and maybe especially in academia.

Academia is full of weirdos, you know? We're all weirdos. It's part of being geeky and obsessive and invested in always having been the smartest one, and then living in this culture that encourages constant competition and hierarchical ranking (you can see it clearly at conventions, when people meeting you drop their eyes to your badge to see what school you're affiliated with, and decide if you're worth talking to). And even if you went to a top school, most graduates of top schools can't teach at top schools (simple numbers), and so there are a lot of academics out there who feel frustrated about their jobs, and like they've taken a step down. Some of them make peace with it. Some turn into seriously dedicated teachers. Some of them work themselves crazy trying to get out of the job and into what they think will be a better one. Some of them blame themselves and turn bitter. And some of them blame their colleagues, and I have encountered a few of those in my day. It's understandable, which is why I am particularly glad and grateful that my Asian American Studies colleagues do not take their frustrations out on each other.

I think I also have been a bit envious of Kevin's colleagues. Because mathematicians collaborate, they seem to maintain these long-term, intimate relationships. Flying across countries to stay for months in the same city as their colleagues, meeting regularly, working together. And also, I hate to say it but it's true, math guys are on average even weirder than other academics. Which seems to engender a certain kind of extra tolerance among them. They also seem to have less patience for hierarchical nonsense and general status-seeking, maybe because math is math and it's easier for everyone to know just how good they are? Whereas over where I live, it can all feel very subjective and dependent on the whims of fate and taste, which leads to a variety of posturing behaviors intended to maintain your perceived status. (See sprezzatura.) Exhausting nonsense.

Anyways, I likes them, the Asian American Studies people. They're smart and funny and super-nice. Just crossing my fingers that UIC can keep affording me. I have a three-year contract, so I'm relatively safe for another year. After that -- well, we'll see what happens with the state budget.

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