Oh, No! Not Another Meeting!

Grad School: Home of the Boiling Frogs!

I’ve been rearranging everything I know about poetry (and a lot more that I don’t yet know) all day long. I have stacks and stacks of notes from old classes, journal articles, chapters, outlines, practice exams of my own invention. A small two-branch library of matters poetical has taken over the guest bedroom at home and my desk at work. I have stashes everywhere: on Google Docs, in various binders, on my iPod, on the laptop, on La R.’s Mac, in various clustering programs on my machine and in the cloud. I feel that I have very little of it in my head, yet a tiny calm point inside me says it’s all in there… somewhere. Right now, my head feels like my office at home looks: trashed, chaotic, no one good place to start because everything needs immediate attention. My one hope is that I’ve artfully arranged my schedule, going into comps, to try and make up for all those two-hour blocks of time that were eaten up by meetings and appointments.

The Ph.D. has been difficult enough for the usual reasons. Call me naive, but I truly did think that doctoral study would involve more research and writing than quasi-faculty work. Budgetary matters and the economic squeeze have slowly ratcheted up our non-study-related workload each year. Call it “professionalization.” Or call it “training for adjunct life.” I have been very happy to hone my teaching practice over the past five years. At this stage, though, I’m not sure that writing more reflections and attending more meetings more often will help me be a better professor. More time spent on my own studies, however, would make me a better professor. How many different ways can one talk about CV-writing, LMS disappointments, and the need to attend conferences? Why the premise that such information must be disseminated by meetings? Why require people to go back to the same meetings, over and over, like Groundhog Day? Is the little time we have left over for our own studies, after teaching, meeting with our own students, tutoring, filling copiers, filing paperwork, building websites, editing journals, et cetera, no longer available for us to do our own reading and writing? The problem is especially difficult for creative writers, who need to generate not only research and conference papers but also art.

I’m older than most of my cohort; I have been teaching college English courses for a decade now as either a TA or an adjunct; and I come from a professional background that values quick, to-the-point meetings which last no longer than absolutely necessary. Thus, my patience for repetitive meetings is paper-thin. If you can convey the information via e-mail or print, please don’t call a meeting. Unfortunately, as we get more and more work piled on us, the number of mandatory (and you-really-should-be-there) meetings multiply. Grad-student meetings, all of which are required by various interests, and all of which are supposed to be for our own good, fall into one of several genres:

Quasi-group-therapy. In this type of meeting, you will sit in a circle with 30 of your closest friends. You will be asked to share. Keep your resentments to yourself. You can always tell your therapist about them later. Make your own concordance: space, transition, share, good with that, etc. Many nouns will be used as verbs. TRT: 1.5 hours.

Company party. This event is similar to the office party–with all that entails. Drink the free adult beverages in moderation. Don’t worry. Be happy. Avoid conversational gambits involving leading questions and broad hints. Hang out with the handful of friends you’ve been dying to catch up with all semester. Leave after two drinks and meet up with your friends someplace else. Talk about something other than grad school: your compost bin, your significant other, your kid’s swim team.

Sales pitch. The salesperson is always friendly. Sometimes he or she has PowerPoint issues. At least two colleagues will negotiate the interface while you eye the snacks across the room. Add ten minutes to whatever the scheduled time was. Collect free highlighters and Post-It notes. Catch the PowerPoint rerun next semester.

Stood-up. You are usually the person in charge of this meeting. It will always happen in the single hour of free time you have that week. It is the only time upon which at least seven out of 200 of you could agree. You, alone, will secure all rooms, tables, catering, byzantine permissions, party picks, and projectors. Wherever two or three are gathered, people will complain to you about the general lack of involvement. Delegate, then bail as soon as possible.

Peacocks in bumper cars. Usually, this is a smaller meeting. It often ends within a reasonable timeframe. Constructive ideas will be floated. Actions will be agreed upon. Then, someone ostensibly in charge will ask for volunteers. You will find out who is in charge forthwith. Should your project, suggestion, or idea be hijacked, cheer up! Now you have more time to focus on what matters: conference presentations! Sit back and observe, as Ms. Mentor advises, while the fireworks ensue. Popcorn?

Hey, do you smell something burning?….


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