CINEMA NEEDS WRITING!: WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SEE?

Here is a simple question: why is it so hard to understand that film directors are not responsible for the plot of their works? Unless, that is, they have also written the script. Actually, there is a second question: why is so easy to ignore the source when a film adaptation is reviewed?

My irritation is prompted in particular by the reviews of Arrival, a film recently released, directed by Denis Villeneuve. I have not seen Arrival yet and I can’t judge its quality (IMDB spectators seem divided into those who call it superb and those who call it superbly boring). What really baffles me is that among the flurry of enthusiastic reviews, coming from film festivals and preceding Arrival’s release, nobody had paid attention to the fact that this is a film adaptation of Ted Chiang’s short fiction piece ‘Story of Your Life’. I only found out when checking the IMDB information.

Why’s this important? Very simple: Villeneuve has been hailed as the great renewer of science-fiction cinema when, actually, the merit corresponds mostly to Chiang, the author of the story which the film narrates. As any SF reader knows, Ted Chiang is the best short story writer operating today–most likely in any genre. Is he getting the credit he deserves for having imagined the inventive plot in Arrival? Not at all… all merit is attributed to Villeneuve. Eric Heisserer, the actual screenplay writer, and, thus, Chiang’s adapter for better or for worse, is never even mentioned in the reviews.

The ignorance of how important writing is for cinema is simply appalling. If screenwriters disappeared from Earth, film directors would have no stories to tell and the industry that employs them would grind to a halt (see the film Trumbo, please). The boisterous, haphazard blockbusters which Hollywood is currently perpetrating often appear to lack a screenplay but if you pay attention to the credits (as you must!), the problem is that they often employ four or five screenwriters whose authority is again and again denied, resulting in the onscreen mess. The finest films are, needless to say, the product of fine writing, whether original or adapted from other sources. Obviously, not all writers are the exquisite Ted Chiang and, yes, there are countless examples of scripts that improve the original source. This happens, however, because a screenwriter has produced an excellent script, and not at all the (sole) merit of the director.

For the reader to understand how pathetic the way we neglect screenwriting is, just consider the following: would you attribute to a stage director the merit that the playwright deserves? You might praise a stage director for making the best of a play, or chastise him/her for spoiling it. In the end, however, the one who is applauded or booed is the playwright. It is often said that if he were alive today, Shakespeare would be a screenwriter, which is an apt way of highlighting that he worked for a commercial theatre system not too different from the Hollywood film industry. What the comparison often overlooks is that whereas we venerate Shakespeare, not even those who love films can name their favourite screenwriter (I know I can’t). There is very little sense in this, for both playwrights and screenwriters write texts based on dialogue to be performed by actors (Martin Esslin has made the point that all is drama). So, why do we persist in neglecting screenwriting as one of the arts of writing?

Another film released recently may change all this misperception–or not, we’ll see. I’m talking about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, borrowing the term from Andrezj Sapkowski, can be called a ‘sidequel’ of the Harry Potter saga. As you may know, the film’s title is also that of the magizoology textbook which Harry and friends are required to read at Hogwarts. Rowling did write the volume (penned by one Newt Scamander intradiagetically in the series) in 2001 to aid the Comic Relief charity. She eventually decided to turn Newt, who is active in the 1920s–that is to say, 70 years before Harry’s ordeal begins–into the protagonist of a new five-film series, which she is herself scripting. Since Potterheads will buy anything she touches, her published screenplay has already become a best-selling volume. This is mystifying many, who see no need to buy a screenplay when you can see the actual film.

Rowling already pulled this year the trick of turning a play she hadn’t even written (it was the brainchild of John Thorne, basic plot included) into a best-selling book: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Surely, many who bought the play had already seen it or expected to see it; after all, we’re all used to reading plays and they are perfectly accepted as literary texts. Screenplays are much harder to sell but they are indeed in particular cases published as books. I wrote my MA dissertation on Harold Pinter’s adaptation of John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant Woman (the film was directed in 1981 by Karel Reisz) and I still keep the complete collection of all his screenplays. These include the ones made into films and the ones that were never filmed, just as plays need not be staged to be published. Back to Rowling, the colossal sales of her screenplay (in comparison to any other similar text) may hopefully teach the younger generations that films require someone to write them. I doubt very much that reviewers will bypass Rowling’s script, or attribute the film’s merits to director David Yates rather than to her.

Rowling, by the way, did not adapt the Harry Potter series for the film screen. I’m sure many fans can name the directors that contributed to the series’ overwhelming world-wide success (Chris Columbus, David Yates, Mike Newell, even Alfonso Cuarón). Who, however, can name the adapters, the persons who actually wrote the films? There were two: Steve Kloves (all films except Order of the Phoenix) and Michael Goldenberg (Order…). Rowling collaborated with Kloves and Goldenberg in what appears to have been a fruitful relationship, which is not always the case (most writers prefers not to interfere with the adaptation process). Apparently, this is how she learned the tools of the trade now enabling her to present herself as a screenwriter.

Returning to my initial question, there is more or less a general consensus that the reason why film reviewers and, generally speaking, audiences fail to understand the task of the screenwriter (and what adaptation entails) is the faulty pedagogy spread by Cahiers du Cinema. This prestige French magazine, founded in 1951 by André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca, is still active. Its impressive list of writers includes Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, all major contributors to film criticism and theory. As you may imagine, being themselves film directors, these gentlemen were very much interested in attributing authorship to this figure. In this way they disseminated the very wrong view that a) films are a personal work, rather than the product of team collaboration; b) the director is sole responsible for film content, as if films did not originate in many cases in producers’ ideas and as if they did not depend on a script. This flawed view seeped down to all prestige film magazines all over the world and to academic teaching and research on film, with the results I’m complaining about.

What is surprising is that we have been reviewing films already for 50 years following these basic lines with no resistance whatsoever. I don’t see screenwriters complaining, perhaps because they have been taught that their reward is a) having their work filmed, b) being paid for it. I used to read the magazine Creative Screenwriting and be always amazed at how many unfilmed scripts there are and how deep is the abuse screenwriters suffer, to the point that they totally undervalue what they do. Published authors do now and then bemoan the poor treatment their beloved texts receive in the hands of unscrupulous screenwriters, directors and producers, yet many seem to have learned the lesson to just cash the cheque and keep silent. Nevertheless, please remember that writers of adapted works are not honoured by any film awards, which I find somehow odd. We would not have, say, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler without Margaret Mitchell–Sydney Howard may have written an excellent script and Victor Fleming done his best as film director, but Mitchell wrote the engaging, wilful pair into existence. If they matter so much for film history, this is because she wrote a novel.

Now read Ted Chiang, please, please, please…

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. Or email me at Sara.Martin@uab.cat.

RISING FEES, FALLING JOBS, COLLAPSING STANDARDS: THE UNIVERSITY HEADING FOR DISASTER

I could reduce today’s post down to a tweet: ‘University fees climb as teaching contracts dwindle’ and be done, for I tire of feeling perpetually pessimistic. Next post, I’m here promising myself, must be on a sunny subject, though I wonder what this can be. After marking between Friday and Sunday a pretty poor set of students’ exercises, I find myself wanting very much to take the lost weekend days off and go wandering in the city (argh, heavy rains today, no chance!).

Actually, the exercises have much to do with the bleak mood. Let me rewind. I want to discuss here why the university has embarked on a relentless destruction of tenured positions. This is connected with the rising fees demanded by English universities, up to £9000, in the Guardian article that I wish to comment on (“Universities accused of ‘importing Sports Direct model’ for lecturers’ pay” by Aditya Chakrabortty and Sally Weale, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/16/universities-accused-of-importing-sports-direct-model-for-lecturers-pay?CMP=share_btn_link). The authors consider the outrageous decisions by which the surplus income made by exploiting teachers is being invested on superfluous new facilities and on the scandalous salaries of the top administrators, as lecturers suffer the indignity of “zero-hours contracts, temp agencies and other forms of precarious work”. We have not yet hit that low mark in Spain (it’ll come…) but I am surrounded by increasingly overworked associate teachers, who need to juggle two or three jobs at the same time, as they endlessly wait for something to happen. And for students to react.

A point which the Guardian article does not consider is how these teachers’ burnout is also caused by falling standards among students. Being tenured, I can quickly overcome the disappointment caused by an irregular batch of students’ exercises, as I have the rest of my working day for my research. For an associate, however, the time students do not invest in doing their homework properly, is time added to painful correction and, thus, needlessly deducted from their already scant time for research. This generates terrible frustration which, in addition, goes unnoticed in the classroom (or just attributed to the teacher’s bad temper), for students ignore the sacrifices that teaching them entails. Technically, you might say that by accepting low salaries and precarious contracts, associate teachers are actually paying for the ‘privilege’ of teaching students who totally misread the situation, assuming we are all tenured (and well paid).

Chakrabortty and Weale’s piece is part of a series on “increasingly precarious jobs” in the UK, a label one would associate with occupations destroyed mostly in factories during the transition to a post-industrial economy but not with higher education and university classrooms. Both in Britain and in Spain, and surely all over the world, young researchers with strong vocations are being ruthlessly exploited by being underpaid, overworked and offered only part-time positions. Tenure, in the meantime, is slowly becoming a myth.

I became a tenured teacher myself 14 years ago, aged 36, which was back in 2002 the exact average age for new tenured teachers (nonetheless, I had to wait for 11 years since my first contract and for 6 after submitting my PhD dissertation). Since 2002 each year one extra year has been added, so that, as a friend told me recently, he expects to get tenure by the time he’s 48. And he’s one of the lucky university teachers, as he has a full-time job. Another dear friend with an absolutely brilliant CV has been finally offered a full-time contract (though for a temporary position) after 15 years as an associate combining two hectic jobs.

In England, the Guardian article claims, the National Union of Students has complained that “low-paid and overstressed tutors may not be providing quality education”, implicitly stressing that this is what students getting into heavy debt to afford a university degree want. Here in Spain fees are not that high but they’re very high considering the average income of families (and I mean BA degrees, MA degrees are simply impossible to afford for most). I don’t see, however, that students are doing their best to maximize the investment made in their education. Taking into account what I see in class, about 20% are doing their best, 20% do not care at all and the rest, 60%, just get by. Every day I teach Victorian Literature I have to put up with the expression of absolute boredom, even disgust, of one of my girl students, sitting very visibly in the middle of the classroom. Does she know, I wonder, what I’ve gone through in my life to be there teaching her? Does she know, I wonder, what my less privileged colleagues put up with? Why is she in my classroom at all?

I have been carefully avoiding this kind of complaint here in this blog because, as I say, I tire of feeling bitter and pessimistic. However, the truth is that my conversations with the Department colleagues always revolve around these twin topics: how little students do and how much we need to do. If we are active researchers, then we’re continually monitored and basically told we don’t do enough no matter how hard we struggle. If we’re not active in research, then our workload goes up dramatically (it used to be 24 ECTS for everyone, now it’s up to 32 ECTS for non-researchers). Associate teachers tend to teach 18 ECTS but they’re employed mostly teaching compulsory courses, always more crowded than electives and always more demanding in terms of marking and grading exercises. They rarely complain in public because one thing the university teaches you from day one is that you can be very easily replaced–associate positions can be reorganized on a yearly basis.

How often we discuss student motivation without taking into account that those needing motivation are the precarious teachers!! “When academic staff are demoralised and forced to cope with low pay and insecurity,” declares Sorana Vieru, a vice-president at the English students’ union, “the knock-on effect on students is significant”. Obviously! What she is not adding, but I am, is that this demoralization is deepened by most students’ nonchalant approach to their own education. An associate rising up at 6:30 am to get her classes ready can be indeed frustrated, and even angry, seeing that students have not bothered to read the five-page text assigned for class discussion that day. This is what is going on, right now, right here, every day.

We, teachers, are, then in a Scylla and Charybdis situation, trapped between the devious plans of the administration to gradually undermine our profession and the students’ indifference. Please, don’t tell me that their indifference is in its turn caused by the lack of prospects for one way of fighting a bleak future is to throw yourself with all your might into improving your chances to do well. I cannot explain well why the authorities are destroying the university, for the obvious explanation that our budget needs simply to be reduced does not make sense. Less investment in higher education means less investment in the nation’s future, whether this is Spain or England, and logic dictates that part-time teacher/researchers can only produce a very limited amount of good research. If the destruction of the public university system has been designed to boost the private universities and to push the working-classes out of the system, then, let me clarify that at least here in Spain private universities are not at all a haven for teachers/researchers and that, from what I gather, most students in my Department are middle-class rather than working-class.

I don’t know any associate teacher who has given up yet. I knew once a girl, hired by my Department at the same time as I was, 25 years ago, who very soon saw that the road was too steep, the rewards too little and abandoned the university after only one course. These were the good times, when my second-year, pre-LOGSE students were producing work that could now be acceptable in MA degrees. Yes, I know, every generation complains about falling standards and that the young do very little, or nothing at all, in comparison to what they did. The difference, I believe, is that it’s never been so hard to work as a university teacher for those aged 25-45 and they do need more than ever the students’ collaboration in what we do. All of us need it.

Otherwise, nothing makes sense in our teaching lives.

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. Or email me at Sara.Martin@uab.cat.

APOCALYPSE SOON: BETRAYED BY THE WOMEN WHO VOTED FOR TRUMP

So much has been written by so many persons these days about Donald Trump’s shocking triumph over Hillary Clinton that I’m tempted to skip the topic altogether. However, this would be similar to King George III’s writing in his diary ‘Nothing important happened today’ on 4th July 1776, the day when the United States became an independent nation. I would have written a post had I been running this blog on 9/11 2001 and, faced with another terrifying historic event, I feel that I must write a little something here.

Robert de Niro is certainly not alone in connecting the fear of chaos caused by the Twin Towers attacks with the dreadfulness caused by Trump’s winning the election: both are disconcerting, disturbing, tragic events that make the world a much darker place. As I told my students in my SF class, Cormac McCarthy never explains in his superbly well-crafted post-apocalyptic tale The Road what exactly destroys the United States in the near future. Now an explanation is looming on the Washington horizon. Hopefully, as The Simpsons narrate, Lisa Simpson–or someone as sensible and rational as her, woman or man–will win the American minds and hearts and replace Trump, sooner rather than later.

As you may imagine, being a woman I feel absolutely betrayed by the 42% women who voted for Donald Trump, despite his being, as British journalist Matthew Norman wrote in The Independent a “pussy-grabbing, race-baiting, tangerine-hued pantomime ogre with the attention span of a Labrador puppy, the moral sensibilities of a slum landlord, the verbal dexterity of a stroke victim, and the default vindictiveness of a mafia capo” (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-america-presidential-election-sick-to-my-stomach-victory-odds-chance-a7400896.html).

Famously, Susan Sarandon announced before the election that she would not be voting with her vagina. Sarandon endorsed Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and announced that she would not vote for either Clinton or Trump, on the grounds that she wanted to support a woman she trusted and not just any woman. Fair enough, although the problem she has ignored is that any vote taken away from Hillary was a vote given to one of the clearest embodiments of patriarchy in the 21st century (together with his friend Vladimir Putin). There are times, then, when the vagina–the female organ the new President is so fond of demeaning and grabbing–is as necessary as the brain to vote. Not just to elect a first woman President of the USA but, above all, to put an end to patriarchy which, unlike what many proclaim today, is not at all on its dying throes.

In the end, 54% of women voters and 41% of men voters supported Hillary Clinton, whereas Trump received the votes of 53% men and 42% women. Beyond race, ethnicity, social class, party lines… the figures indicate, as I explained to my students, that the number of American female voters complicit with patriarchal power outnumbers the number of American male voters who have expressed an anti-patriarchal opinion. This is very, very bad news. It means that while the slow process of reclaiming men away from patriarchy is progressing quite well, we women are stalled regarding the spread of feminism among women.

If all women and that 41% men had voted for Hillary Clinton, she would have taken possession of the Oval Office with the biggest number of votes ever. Instead, although Trump has received fewer votes than her and than the two previous Republican candidates, voters have stayed away from Hillary and she has lost many votes in comparison to the numbers that voted for Barack Obama. For, of course, women will vote for a handsome black man sooner than for a woman. Much has been said about Michelle Obama, or even Oprah Winfrey, running for President in 2020 but 2016 is happening now, and why wait for four years to elect the first woman President when her rival is the unspeakable Donald Trump? Really?

I’d like to turn now to Tina Brown’s article in The Guardian, “My beef over Hillary Clinton’s loss is with liberal feminists, young and old” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/12/hillary-clinton-liberal-feminists?CMP=share_btn_link). Brown offers the argument that Hillary didn’t fail but that the Democratic Party supporters and sympathizers, particularly the liberal feminists, failed her. This is a classic of all elections, as we know in Spain very well: right-wing voters are faithful and steady and will vote for their candidate, no matter how appalling, whereas left-wing voters are volatile and prone to stay at home unless mobilized by the hope that things will really change (‘Yes, we can!’). And, so, many American liberal women never went near the polling stations, nor did the millennials, who now, as happened with Brexit, are complaining that Trump is not their choice. The FBI ill-timed (or well-timed…), ugly hint that they would prosecute Clinton has much to blame for her defeat, but in the end it was up to the young and the old women of the Democratic Party who didn’t budge for her. Also and mostly to the 42% in the Republican Party who made a shameful public display of their slave mentality.

Tina Brown writes that Trump won because “There are more tired wives who want to be Melania sitting by the pool in designer sunglasses than there are women who want to pursue a PhD in earnest self-improvement. And there are more young women who see the smartness and modernity of Ivanka as the ultimate polished specimen of blonde branded content they want to buy.” Perhaps, though I very much doubt that this urban mentality was a crucial factor; after all, Trump has lost in all major cities bigger than 1,000,000 inhabitants and although I can very well imagine the women Brown describes here, I don’t think they make that chilling 42%. The betrayers are the women who just will do nothing for themselves. Many are enslaved to their own domestic tyrants (did you see Trump keep an eye on Melania as she voted?), which means that liberal feminism has failed to do successful grassroots work among the conservative women. Others can vote freely but, obeying this slave mentality I have mentioned, they believe that the men know better and it’s their job to run politics. Some, no doubt, wish they were Melania–and I have no words to comment on the replacement of Michelle Obama by that woman. Many of the 42%, and here’s my deep worry, are totally impervious to any feminist argument for they genuinely believe in patriarchy. And not all are white. A friend of mine was aghast after hearing on TV a Latino working-class woman declare that she had voted for Trump because he was honest. What kind of blindness is this? If no AfricanAmerican would vote for KKK, why do women endorse patriarchy?

I don’t particularly like Hillary Clinton, for I believe she lost a great deal of her feminist and feminine dignity when she learned about Bill’s womanizing and still stayed married to him. I understand that a divorced woman stood little chance of being elected for the highest office in the conservative United States but, even so, Bill is a blot on Hillary’s feminist credentials. Having said that, I have no doubt whatsoever that she would have been a good, perhaps even a great, President and much more so in comparison to Donald Trump. The Republicans are, by definition, defenders of patriarchy but if she had faced a rival who could call himself (or herself) elegant, rational and well-spoken I would not be writing this post. What bewilders me and any thinking person, male or female, is that half the American voters–including that 42%–chose the worst possible kind of man to be their President. Some are optimistic that Trump won’t be able to implement his racist, homophobic, misogynistic ideals any more than Obama could alter the structures of inequality, as he promised he would do. But, please, even Ronald Reagan and both Bush Presidents seemed more apt for the Presidency than this frightening patriarch.

I had classes to teach on the Wednesday when the election results were announced and, so, I could not do as one of my female students did: curl up in bed and try to calm down, bracing myself for the horrors to come. I felt, as I did on 9/11, dazed and confused. The difference is that on that day some comfort came from the realization that disempowered patriarchal men were lashing out against the power centres of American patriarchy. On 11/9, however, I lost all trust in women, and that is even more dispiriting than any form of male terrorism, whether from the ranks of Daesh or from the White House.

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. Or email me at Sara.Martin@uab.cat.

AFTER EUROCON 2016 BARCELONA

For the past year, much of my professional time has been occupied with work connected with the organization of Eurocon 2016 here in Barcelona (hence, also known as BCon). For those of you who don’t know what a ‘con’ is, this is a convention in which fans of a particular genre meet; surely you’ve heard of San Diego’s gigantic Comic-com. Locally, I mean in Barcelona, even though they don’t call themselves a ‘con’, the Salón del Cómic and the Salón del Manga play a similar role for comic-book culture. Regarding science-fiction, fantasy and horror, the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror (http://www.aefcft.com/) runs the yearly Hispacon, actually founded in 1968 but held annually only since 1991. The Societat Catalana de Ciència-Ficció i Fantasia (http://www.sccff.cat/) has now plans to consolidate CatCon (provisional name). And, of course, the biggest planetary event of the kind involving science-fiction and fantasy is WorldCon, to be celebrated next in Helsinki, where it’ll reach its 75 edition (http://www.worldcon.fi/).

I have never really been part of fandom, for no specific reason except perhaps shyness, and I’m just a recent member of both AEFCFT and SCCFF (where I serve as board member for contacts with academia). This means that Eurocon is my first ‘con’ ever. When I first learned about it back in April 2015, I wasn’t even sure that I would attend. However, I had just interviewed by e-mail British sf and fantasy writer Richard Morgan, and when I learned that he’d be a guest of honour, I volunteered (begged on my knees…) to be his Eurocon interviewer. You can now see the interview, which went, I think, very well, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYL_Ls3uhJo.

I soon understood back in 2015 that, leaving Morgan aside, BCon might be a good chance to get a number of my academic colleagues together and to meet others specialised in the same field. Once my proposal to interview Morgan was accepted, I burrowed my way into the organizing committee. I have been the token academic member in a team of 25 enthusiasts (Professor Pep Burillo of UPC was also part of the team, but he’s a mathematician not an sf specialist like me). The other task I have carried out, and which I have narrated here, has been the edition of a trilingual volume of Manuel de Pedrolo’s moving novel Mecanoscrit del segon origen, kindly published by the Diputació de Lleida. I was on the brink of tears throughout my speech in the Eurocon presentation, that’s how deep this book has gone into me. The handsome volume has been given to the about 750 delegates that finally attended BCon as a souvenir gift, to be disseminated in this way all over Europe.

I eventually managed to put together two vibrant round tables with international contributors, which were truly enriching: one on post-humanism and gender, another on teaching SF in the university. I think I have certainly managed to plant the seed of many future academic collaborations with these friends’ help. Besides, I found volunteers to interview two other guests of honour. Bright Meritxell Donyate interviewed top-rank Finnish author Joanna Sinisalo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MleXTJynWw4). And my infinitely patient doctoral student, Pau Huergo, who wants to write his dissertation on Andrezj Sapkowski, got to interview the famously unmanageable Polish author; judge the hilarious result for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuU5Z-Cn25s. Pau tells me he has not changed his mind about his thesis topic… There were other major authors invited to Eurocon, such as Rosa Montero, Albert Sánchez Piñol, Brandon Sanderson, Aliette de Bodard, Rihanna Pratchett, and you may see their interviews on YouTube, as I will have to do, for having so many interesting activities means that overlapping is inevitable…

A ‘con’ is very, very different from an academic conference: the contact between readers and authors. I have seen our guests of honour chased by many autograph hunters, which is why I have not hesitated to chase myself my admired Charlie Stross (a guest but oddly not a guest of honour). We had a tiny green room at Eurocon and you could see our authors there patiently and politely answering questions from anyone who runs a magazine, fanzine, web, blog, etc. It is very hard to be noticed by an author in this constant stream of adoring, uncritical readers, which is why I found myself compressing all I wanted to say to Stross and to Morgan in just a few minutes (discounting in Morgan’s case the interview).

So, there we are: I’ve enjoyed myself enormously throughout Eurocon and got the (brilliant!!) interview, the autographs, the Mecanoscrit volume and the academic contacts. Mission accomplished and with flying colours!! Now, please, enjoy the Eurocon videos, there is much, much to learn from all the speakers: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqA7nRotzVciios3Q5-7__UUYeqttwDEs.

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. Or email me at Sara.Martin@uab.cat.

PROFESSIONAL ANNIVERSARIES: MISSING RITUAL

I started working for the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona on 15 September 1991, which means that I have just celebrated my 25th anniversary as a university teacher (not just as a teacher, as I had been already employed teaching English by diverse language schools for a few years). ‘Celebrate’, however, is perhaps the wrong word in this context, as, in the end, I have not had any celebration.

I told myself that I would do something, anything, but then I started asking around and it turned out that none of my colleagues at UAB, past the 25th year mark, had celebrated this kind of professional anniversary. I have not yet discarded my original idea–giving my students some candy as little kids do in schools!!, silly as it may sound– but somehow I lack the motivation. I also realized that if I did something in the Department (colleagues offer cookies or chocolates on birthdays or other relevant personal occasions) I would be forcing everyone else to do the same. So I let it be… I am actually writing this post to encourage myself to finally do something before it is too late and I reach my 26th anniversary.

Why’s 25 such an important figure? After all, I didn’t write anything here when I hit the 20th year mark, 5 years ago. Well, 25 is more critical because although, if all goes well, I will retire having reached the nice figure of 40 years as a teacher (20 multiplied by 2), I know at this point that I don’t have other 25 years ahead of me professionally speaking (I certainly don’t want to retire at 75 after 50 years as a teacher, my gosh!!!). Also, this year I’ve celebrated my 50th birthday, which means that I have been a university teacher for exactly half my life, which impresses me very much. Where does time go, we ageing teachers wonder?

I explained to a friend whom I met in one of my earliest years as a teacher (he was my student 24 years ago!) that the strangest thing is looking back and thinking that I knew nothing when I started as a teacher. In these 25 years, I have never stopped studying–for this is what research is all about in the Humanities–which means that, logically, I should be much wiser than I was at the beginning. Funnily, I have the simultaneous impression that I’m both wiser and more stupid, as I notice now much more than I noticed 25 years ago how little I know but also how much I’m beginning to forget. I think that no matter how hard you study in your own area and no matter how convinced you are that you know at least something, many specific points still escape you. Otherwise, I would not need to update my class notes every year.

In part, one of the reasons why I have not celebrated my anniversary with my students is the embarrassing feeling that they might think I should be a much better teacher after a 25-year-long experience in the job. Ageing in public is not easy and some days students are, as every teacher will say, very difficult to face, with their demands and expectations, and their youthful faces. I was myself a very demanding student and I often wonder how I would have reacted to my own classes: would I find that I digress too much? (I think I do), would I find that I’m not systematic enough? (always something to work on). Writers often say that they never have the feeling that they improve as they write, as each novel is a different challenge and I’m beginning to feel the same as a teacher. I’m not a better teacher than I was 25 years ago, I just know a few tricks of the trade. Certainly, each course is a new challenge, if only because students are never the same ones.

As a teacher, one important barrier is crossed when you first double your students’ age (they’re 18, you’re 36) because this is when you start seeing yourself as part of a very different age group, no longer an elder sibling or young aunt/uncle. The second barrier is crossed when you realize that you’re their parents’ age, which puts you definitively in a different generation. As a Coordinator, I was often surprised to see that students were accompanied in their registration day at UAB by fathers and mothers already younger than me. Since I don’t have children myself, I cannot have the perception that students are my (hypothetical) children’s age, but I’m sure that they often make the connection between teachers and parents as obnoxious authorities… I wonder what this is like for colleagues with children in the university.

Back to the idea of the anniversary, I’m not sure what should be done. UAB used to offer in the good old days a sabbatical (thus ignoring in quite a cavalier fashion the actual meaning of ‘sabbatical’, which is ‘every seven years’). Now the much yearned-after sabbatical is gone, swept away by the economic crisis, to be replaced by nothing in particular. I joked with a friend who narrowly missed her anniversary sabbatical that perhaps we should be given a pin, or medal, soviet-style I would add. Of course, celebrating the 25th anniversary of teachers would open a Pandora’s box, with teachers demanding to celebrate next 30, 35, 40… years in the profession. There is somewhere a nice absurdist short story to be written about a university where teachers are colour-coded in their dress according to seniority (“Wow! You’re finally allowed to wear green! Congratulations!”).

Generally speaking, we’re abandoning ritual in our lives. On the personal front, many people no longer marry, christen their babies or celebrate their children’s first communion. This, of course, has to do with the waning interest in religion in what used to be a deeply Catholic country (I had a crazy, hilarious conversation yesterday with a colleague about what exactly we commemorate on 8th December, the day of the ‘Inmaculada Concepción’). On the professional front, as I’m reporting here, nothing much is happening, at least in my work circle. We have just celebrated the yearly graduation ceremony, but this is for students, not for us teachers, just as birthdays are for children but not for parents (they should be). Yet, to my surprise, I see that many teachers reject the only ritual we maintain: their retirement ceremony. That should be a good reason for a party…

So, this is it, time passes–with mixed feelings. On sunny days I think ‘My! So many years to retirement, so many interesting things to do. 50 is nothing, 25 years even less so’. On cloudy days, like today, I think, rather, ‘Gosh, I’m tired, I can’t go on like this, being my own tyrant for 15 more years at least. I’m getting old, I want to rest!’. But then I shut up, thinking that a) many chronically unemployed (or underemployed) people surely wish they were so lucky, b) it’s up to me whether I go on at this manic pace or call it a day and start braking down for deceleration and a soft landing.

There’s a candy store on campus–perhaps I should visit it next week, see what my students might like.

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