This Academic Life
  Cleaning out the roll-y bag
This morning I am finishing the process of taking all of the accumulated stuff out of the wheeled laptop case I have been using for the past couple of years. Some of my students refer to it as my dog, because I usually walk around campus between classes wheeling it behind me. But I have made a decision to switch bags, so I am emptying the old one (which will probably just be thrown out, since it is rather worn by now) of all of the little things that have gotten lodged in it over the past couple of years: a lot of loose change, receipts for God-knows-what, several pairs of headphones, miscellaneous electrical adapters, business cards, a radio attachment for my iPod [I was wondering where that had gotten to!], etc. And then transferring everything into my new blue-and-silver Timbuk2 bag, which fits my laptop like a glove and still allows space for a book or two to squeeze into the main compartment.

Why am I switching? I have discovered that I carry around as much stuff as my bag can hold. So I was lugging around a lot of crap that I never really used in my old bag, simply because it fit. Once placed in the bag, it never seemed to make its way back out. So the alternative is to get a smaller bag, but not one that is so small that it can only fit the laptop (although that is certainly the most important thing that I carry around with me on a daily basis). I do need some other things, including books and cables for attaching the laptop to various things (external monitors, for example). And my reading glasses have to go someplace. So the search for a bag that was a little bigger than just a laptop sleeve but not as big as my existing wheeled bag went on. I think I've found something good now.

Actually, I already found one: an Ogio laptop backpack that I bought and used all summer in Europe, and still take in on days when I'm not teaching. It's big enough for everything I need to put in it, and I really like having my hands free when walking, so a backpack is a good choice. But I can't use it on teaching days, because it would rumple my suit even more. Plus, walking around with a backpack makes one look somewhat more like a student, which is problematic when one is actually the professor. Wearing a suit to teach is part of that same concern for me: visual differentiation seems to me to be very important to my position. Regardless of whether it makes the students feel that there is some distance between myself and them, it makes me feel that way -- and thus makes it easier for me to exercise some measure of authority inside and outside of the classroom. At least at first. Later in the semester, after the pattern has been set, it feels less important to maintain so rigorously.

Appearance is a crutch. A tool. A means to an end, where the end in this case is some measure of internal differentiation even as I am engaged with my students in producing intimate, soul-baring conversations. It's something of a way to avoid being completely consumed in the ensuing conflagration, which is an ever-present danger associated with my pedagogy. And that was also a consideration with the new bag purchase: does it look too student-y? Does it collapse the distinction that I am trying in other ways to maintain?

Of course, I do not maintain the appearance of an Adult Authority perfectly in any case. I frequently wear ties that, well, wouldn't pass muster in a law office (Star Wars , Winnie the Pooh, New York Yankees), and I tend to sit on tables and then leap up while facilitating a discussion. I have been known to stand on desks and the like, too, and my language veers between precisely formal and affected informal (which is an ironic doubleness that I quite like: here's the professor using some youthful slang term, but doing it awkwardly as though to emphasize the artificiality of his usage -- but then again, he's using the slang, so he apparently knows it). And some days I walk into the the room listening to my iPod, finish the song, and then start class. [And I am not a still listener; I have a tendency to conduct while listening, and I'd dance if I didn't look like such a completely uncoordinated white boy while doing so.]

So I suppose that the effect I'm going for here is some kind of alloy: authority figure yet not perfectly, in charge but also not, adult but not completely out of touch with the kids, etc. It takes some deliberate forethought to keep that particular balance going. Hence, choosing a bag is a rather complicated endeavor. Hopefully this one will work out -- and hopefully it will solve the other problem too, and prevent me from lugging around too much useless junk.

[Posted with ecto]

<< Home
"Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



Powered by Blogger