Let Me Have This Silver Lining

Now Is the Time to Cancel Student Debt
https://www.thenation.com/article/society/now-is-the-time-to-cancel-student-debt/

A coronavirus response that includes canceling student loan debt will allow borrowers to purchase the necessities their families depend on: food on their table, a roof over their head, and critical health care. It will eliminate the worry many borrowers will face when they send their last paycheck to the government, instead of using it to keep their families secure.

A broader student debt cancellation plan will ensure that the entire economy remains functional, not just select industries impacted by travel bans and a slump in retail spending. Consumer advocates at the nonprofit Americans for Financial Reform, say, “Cancelling student debt would be a powerful tool to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis on individuals, families, communities and the broader economy.”

The group says that canceling student debt would provide a short-term stimulus to the economy during the most urgent time. They point to a report by Brandeis University that shows student debt cancellation would free up hundreds of dollars each month. Americans freed from student loan debt would use that money for everyday spending and to pay other bills.

I mean, yes, it would definitely help the economy, but it’s also the right thing to do.

Congratulations, I Guess

My first monograph, Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze, was officially released yesterday, on April 1, 2020.

This doesn’t mean much, unfortunately. Amazon currently has the book listed as “out of stock,” and at the moment you can only get the digital version from the publisher’s website.

Last weekend I was supposed to have been giving a high-profile panel, promoting my book, and talking to presses about my second book project at the big conference for my field. I was also scheduled to give a handful of talks at universities up and down the East Coast during April. I’ve been working for the past four years to make this happen, and now it’s all just… gone.

This sounds like an inane thing to say during a global pandemic, but I can’t help but be upset.

I keep thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which is about why certain groups of people seem to be magically successful while other equally worthy people can never seem to catch their big break. Gladwell’s conclusion is basically this: Sometimes, you’re just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, entire generations are at the wrong place at the wrong time. And there’s nothing that you or any one individual can do about it.

I’m feeling frustrated and useless right now, and I’m also haunted by a strong sense of being “the wrong type of doctor.” I wish there were something I could do. Not about my stupid book about comics, but about the general state of the world. Given that my personal experience with the American university system has been so broken, I’m starting to think seriously about alternative routes to achieving broader and more accessible public education.

If nothing else, I guess I have time.

A Global Pandemic Is Not the Time for a “Competitive Performance Report”

If you’re wondering how I’ve been handling the pandemic, last week was rough. I got an official letter from my university stating that my tenure case has been denied on the afternoon of the day that the city of Washington DC sent out an emergency warning declaring a month-long citywide quarantine. Even though I’d already given notice in January that I wouldn’t be renewing my contract, the university decided to let the mechanics of the tenure process continue to run so that my position could be terminated. On the day a national emergency was declared. Which is totally what a classy place like my school would do.

This was petty and unnecessary. To make matters worse, my department chair forwarded me the university’s letter along with a smug email. Apparently, I should have already gotten my second book under contract. He knows that this decision is “disappointing” to me, but I should do my best not to allow the anger and fear of the times to “affect my behavior.”

For the moment, let’s set aside the fact that my department chair has tastelessly used a state of national emergency to exert dominance over a junior colleague by suggesting that a normal emotional response to the situation would be immature. Instead, I want to emphasize that it’s absurd for this decision to be based on my second book project. This might be different in different fields, but the sixth year of a tenure-track job is a normal time for people to get a contract for their second book, especially if they (like me) entered a tenure-track position directly after getting a PhD instead of spending several years in postdoc positions. My plan was therefore to get my first book out and then, during the Spring 2020 academic conference season, start talking to academic presses about my book on The Wind Waker, which already has a prospectus and 20,000 words worth of sample chapters.

As it turns out, I did not talk to representatives from any presses. In fact, most of the conferences I was scheduled to attend this spring were cancelled because of, you know, a global pandemic.

I didn’t respond to my department chair, of course. Instead, I set up an email filter to send all of his messages directly to my spam folder. Problem solved.

Still, this hurt, and the silence of my colleagues during my prolonged illness, subsequent harassment, and resulting decision to leave the university has also been difficult to process. There’s never a good time to have to go through something like this, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

So how am I doing? I guess the answer is that I’m not in a good place, but I’m doing the best I can to support my students and my friends while being kind to everyone going through this mess alongside me.

Next week will be better. And the rest of my career will be better, honestly, because I’ve learned to recognize the red flags of unprofessional academic behavior. There will be no more of this nonsense.

And fuck neoliberal capitalism, seriously. Our labor, experience, and expertise are valuable and should be treated with respect. Our lives are valuable and should be treated with respect. A lot of us are struggling right now, but I hope we’re able to come out of this crisis filled with all the frustration, fury, and demands for justice that insecure people with small minds think it’s “immature” for those of us in marginal positions to express.

A global pandemic should not be used as a means of punishing individuals for failing to deliver “a competitive performance report.” As for the institutions that have failed to perform, however, maybe it’s time for a radical reevaluation of priorities.

2020 Writing Log, Part Eleven

I took some time to re-assess my writing goals, and these are my priorities:

(1) Malice, the fanfic novel I’m working on. It’s getting great feedback, and I’m having a lot of fun.
(2) Original short horror fiction, which I also love writing. Let’s get these stories out into the world!
(3) Teaching my actual classes for actual money. This is all “writing” now, if you’re wondering.
(4) Supporting my friends and communicating with artists I’ve commissioned.
(5) Taking long walks. I’ve started listening to The Magnus Archives podcast, and it’s fantastic.
(6) Animal Crossing. I know you’re playing it too, so don’t judge me.
(7) Academic publications. If I feel like it, which I don’t.

So, with all of that in mind, this is what I did this week:

– I posted Chapter 31 of Malice on AO3. This was going to be a longer chapter, but I’ve found that my attention span has been extremely limited these days. I could have spent a few extra days putting this chapter through another round of editing, but fuck it.

– I edited Chapter 30 (quite substantially, actually) and posted it on FFN.

– I finished all of the page layouts for It Never Happened. I have a list of a few other small things I need to take care of before I send the file to the printer, but this project should be finished by the end of the week. If it isn’t, I’m going to send it anyway. I want to go ahead and get started on the next set of stories.

– I’ve spent the past week writing (and grading) online quizzes, and I’ve really been enjoying myself. I may write an actual post about this later, but I’m starting to seriously think about “the online quiz” as a legitimate narrative form.

– I commissioned Meiaushzz to create a digital painting of Ganondorf from Malice, and WOW. (The rough draft, in which Ganondorf is older and bearded, is also VERY NICE.) The idea is that, as in Breath of the Wild, Ganondorf is able to use magic to manipulate technology, and he does it for all the worst reasons.

– I commissioned Yufei to draw Balthazar and Ceres from The Demon King, and they are both gorgeous. This artist regularly takes OC illustration commissions, and every piece they post on social media is incredible. I’ve been wanting to commission them for a while, and I figured that this week was as good of a time as any. This was also a good opportunity to write very short “elevator pitches” for these two characters that clearly express their personalities and narrative roles without getting too deep into the complications of the larger story.

That sure is a lot of stupid fandom bullshit, you might be thinking. Why doesn’t this person grow up and go do their taxes or something. Well, friend, let me tell you – I filed my taxes this week. I also filled out my census form and my form for jury duty (which isn’t going to happen, but still). As much as I bitch and complain about my university, they’re still sending me paychecks, so I’ve been trying to donate to various food banks and relief organizations as well.

What with everything going on in the world, it’s been difficult to concentrate, but I’m doing my best. I hope everyone reading this is safe and healthy and doing okay!

The Snake’s Garden




This comic was drawn by Naomi Skye (@lightsintheskye on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I say this comic was written by me, but what really happened was that I sent Naomi a rambling email about how much I was enjoying the Good Omens miniseries on Amazon. I’ve been a fan of the book ever since I was in high school, and I think Naomi owns literally a dozen copies of it. Every character in Good Omens is wonderful, but I have a special fondness for the idea of the serpent who, having fallen from grace, makes a garden of his own.

This comic got a lot of attention on Tumblr, by the way, which is exactly as it should be.

Tenure in a Time of Crisis

On Wednesday of this week (March 25), the city of Washington DC declared a month-long quarantine. The same day, George Mason University decided to send me a letter telling me that my tenure case has been denied.

I knew this would be the case since January, when I got a letter from the university tenure committee, but the timing of the formal notification could not have been worse. On the same day, the university sent out an email saying that all tenure-track faculty would have an extra year to apply for tenure. The university wants to be “accommodating” during these difficult times, apparently.

I was going to wait until the current academic year is over to publish my thoughts on what happened, but maybe saying something right now, when a lot of academics are paying attention to the tenure system, might be a good opportunity to make a difference.

There’s a lot going on in my particular case, but what basically happened is that I got very sick during the Spring 2019 semester. I was open about this with everyone and even went to HR and the CDE Office (the Office of Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics, which handles things like Title IX and ADA resources) to formally register a disability at the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester, but the process was prohibitively convoluted and took much longer than it should have. It also ultimately ended up backfiring by causing certain people, specifically my department chair, to become extremely upset with me. In fact, my department chair met with my tenure liaison immediately after meeting with the CDE Office. This was extremely unethical, and the resulting backlash was such that it didn’t surprise me at all when I learned that the university’s tenure committee unanimously voted to deny my case.

The letter from the committee and from the dean both consist of multiple pages saying “this person has done excellent work” leading to a final paragraph stating “but this is not true excellence.” The rationale for this decision seems to be that my book isn’t out yet, but this makes no sense, as its publication met with an unexpected delay but was still on track to come out in time for my field’s major international conference in March (although it’s been pushed back again due to the pandemic).

To me, then, this feels like discrimination on the basis of disability, especially given the acrimonious conversation my department apparently had during my tenure vote despite strong support from my departmental tenure committee. Essentially, although I looked like an excellent candidate for tenure on paper, I was lazy and irresponsible. I was always friendly with everyone and never caused any trouble prior to getting sick, so this came as a huge shock. I have no way of knowing the details, unfortunately, since this process is completely opaque, but my department chair later had the only woman on my tenure committee sit down with me later to explain that sickness and disability are not “real,” and that people resent me for “not pulling my weight.”

It’s therefore extremely frustrating to me to have gotten so many emails from the university about “support” and “accommodations” and even “self-care” during the past two weeks. If the university really cared about these things, why wasn’t I granted a basic level of “support” and “accommodations” earlier this academic year when I asked openly and in good faith?

And this isn’t just me – there’s been a lot of talk on social media about how hypocritical the behavior of universities has been as they bend over backwards to try to appear supportive and accommodating. The following screencap, which comes from (this post on Tumblr), is a good example.

I’m hurt and scared, as many of us are right now, and now I’m also out of a job and have no health insurance. I was able to find a position at another university, but they’ve just put a hiring freeze into effect, so who knows what will happen. It’s strange for me to be in this situation while still devoting an extraordinary amount of work to keep up with the work required by the online classes that I’m also having to build as quickly as I can.

This situation is awful, and it’s entirely unnecessary. The university could always have pushed back someone’s tenure application because of exceptional circumstances at any time, because the tenure system is completely arbitrary. Why did it take a global pandemic for universities to acknowledge that this is a reasonable and compassionate policy?

Anyone can become sick at any time, and a “disability” can happen to anyone, even to someone who has previously been (and perhaps still continues to seem) healthy and productive. We’re all currently dealing with exceptional circumstances, but I think this is a good opportunity for universities to set a precedent of accommodating diversity by understanding and respecting the fact that “difference” means that different people are working under different conditions, many of which may be entirely out of their control.

Although it no longer affects me, I am obviously in favor of giving faculty the option to push back their tenure applications by a year due to exceptional circumstances, and I hope this crisis can create an opportunity for universities to become more tolerant of diversity and more humane to the people whose work contributes to and supports their communities.

Twitch Studies

The Twitch streamers who spend years broadcasting to no one
https://www.theverge.com/2018/7/16/17569520/twitch-streamers-zero-viewers-motivation-community

The rise of popular (and profitable) influencers on platforms like YouTube and Twitch has also made the idea of being an online influencer aspirational. Some parents note that their children pretend to unbox toys to a nonexistent audience, and teachers report that their students often say they want to pursue YouTubing as a career. But when seemingly everyone wants to record footage or live stream, who ends up watching the content?

Starting a career on platforms like Twitch often means spending some time broadcasting to absolutely no one. Discoverability is an issue: when you log into Twitch, the most visible people are those who already have a large following. While there are tools to find lesser-known streamers, most people starting out without built-in audiences from other platforms or supportive friends and family end up staring at a big, fat zero on their viewership counter. This lonely live stream purgatory can last anywhere from a few days, weeks, months, sometimes even years, depending on your luck. According to people who have gone through it, lacking an audience is one of the most demoralizing things you can experience online.

I found this article by searching for the title, which I saw in a screencap photo in a Kotaku article about a professor who taught a session of his class about Twitch on Twitch.

Although I sometimes fantasize that I’m recording myself when I do 100% completion speedruns of Zelda games, I have to admit that I never got into Twitch. I understand the appeal, but like… Okay, how do I put this.

So much of being considered cool in high school and college is about sharing communal experiences. You don’t just watch a movie and talk about it, you have to watch it with your friends and share inside jokes that mainly take the form of repeating the lines from the movie that everyone in your friend group laughed at. I enjoy spending time with people, but I have trouble relaxing enough to passively consume content in the company of a group, so doing something like quietly watching a television show or sports game has always felt like having to sit through some sort of awful and boring lecture.

What I’m trying to say is that Twitch isn’t for me. I’m not suggesting that Twitch isn’t worth reading about and writing about and teaching an entire college class about; but, to me, it’s really nothing more than how teenagers and people in their early twenties have always spent time with their peer groups.

The primary difference, I guess, is that people aspire to do this professionally. In fact, some of my own students are already well on their way to making a career out of streaming or Let’s Play videos.

Anyway, I was thinking about teaching a class through Twitch (or possibly Discord) myself, but I ultimately decided against it. I understand the drive to hold class sessions via videoconferencing, but I also don’t think it’s entirely fair to assume that everyone will have access both to a good internet connection and to a quiet space where they can be alone, especially not during an arbitrarily set time, and not while they’re back with their families. See also:

‘Zoombombing’: When Video Conferences Go Wrong

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/style/zoombombing-zoom-trolling.html