April really is the cruellest month in the academic calendar, but this year, I am pretty much at the outer limits of my ability to cope with the flood of things that need doing. Some of those are self-made catastrophes born of procrastination, some come from the procrastination of others being dumped on me (which I feel obliged to tolerate as I am doing the same to others), and some are nobody’s responsbility, just the way that things roll. I agreed to go to a workshop on African studies last weekend, which was probably a mistake from the standpoint of work though I found it a very stimulating meeting (it was almost an all-out disaster in that I came very close to getting stuck in the airport for two days due to the weather, without a laptop). I’m supposed to give a paper on Friday at Penn as well, and I had several other major due dates in the past two weeks. Some of the more ambitious teaching plans for this semester are coming up, in terms of the amount of preparation they require from me, and they’re really not ready. I have a huge backlog of grading to do, a frightening amount, given that I’m teaching three courses with large (for Swarthmore) enrollments. Tremendous amount of reading that needs completion, and substantial preparations for courses each day, given how excellent and probing a lot of the discussions in each of my classes have been this semester. A whole new course syllabus needs to get out there for students to look at as they think about classes. (Almost done if you’re checking here looking for it.) A few straggler references for students need completion or sending. Many and sundry meetings of various kinds in the next week or two. Blurb for a colleague’s book. Some library books need to be hauled over for renewal. Various orphaned email queries (about 900 emails are sitting in my inbox) and business that’s gone by the wayside for a goodly part of the semester needs attending to before we get too close to summer. Need to prepare two separate directed readings I agreed to do for the fall, at least a little. Etcetera. I’m seriously feeling almost dizzy with confusion about what to tackle next and in what order.
Wah wah wah. Thanks for indulging me: this is as close to a primal scream as I can come. To try and be constructive about the whole thing, it is now clear to me that I’ve got to invent a better systematic way of going about my business next year. I am finally at the point where this can’t go on as it has. But it’s also hard for me not to get hung-up a bit on the small but crucial ways that the infrastructure of my institutional world creates small but critical barriers to smooth completion of tasks at times. Just for one small example, I’m trying to prepare a DVD selection of short scenes from historical films for students next week. I can’t handle trying to transfer material from videotapes, so anything we have in the library collection that’s a videotape is no good, DVDs only. If I want that film, I’m going to have to go get it myself from TLA or somewhere else, probably on my own dime. It would be faster to use the technology in the faculty resource room, but a lot of the project is just waiting for the scenes to rip, so it’s best in the background while I do other work. Transferring most of that work elsewhere is too difficult. I could get a student to do it, only I’d have to sit down and identify in advance the scenes and films I want. If I have to do that, I might as well do the ripping simultaneous with the selection of the scene, since mostly this involves films that I haven’t memorized and I don’t know exactly what scene from most of these films might best demonstrate some aspect of cinematic representations of history. Some of the DVDs I need are held in our consortial libraries, so that’s making a request, some waiting, and then the time to go fetch the DVDs physically from the library. The pedagogical consequences of what I’m trying to do seem clear to me. A similar collection of representations of cannibals for my Image of Africa class had a big payoff, in my view. But once you get down into the nitty-gritty of doing it, the whole thing becomes a pretty daunting task. I try to figure out what would make this easier. Well, replacing all our videotapes with DVDs, I guess. Ordering more DVDs prophylactically would help: I’m coming up against huge gaps where major or significant films, particularly commercial films, aren’t in the collection because no one really has taught them here until I decided I wanted to use them for this purpose but didn’t think to put in a huge order of stuff some time last year. (We’re great when it comes to foreign language cinema, queer cinema, sci-fi, silents, anything in the Criterion Collection, certain kinds of art-house classics, but spotty otherwise). Much as it saves us money, sometimes having stuff at Bryn Mawr and Haverford is a real pain in the ass when it gets down to the actual day-to-day of teaching by the seat of your pants.
Wah wah wah.