Category Archives: Survival Skills

Survival Skills: Urban Style (Sort Of)


OK maybe it’s not urban at all, but it’s not exactly run-out-in-the-middle-of-a-forest-and-live-with-bears either.  It’s an idea that interests me for two reasons:  basic personal care is the first one.  The second resulted from my contemplating the number of natural disasters hitting America this past year; survival on some fronts might be something we have to consider sooner rather than later.  The county near mine is a federal disaster area from recent flooding.  My own county is in a state of emergency, though my house is completely dry and the yard is a bit soggy at most.  I’m lucky.  These sorts of things are happening more regularly and it seems best to prepare for the worst.

Now, I’m not a backwoods living kind of girl, my Appalachian home notwithstanding.  I have no interest in marching into the woods and going back to the land.  I’m more interested in the kinds of things I’d need to make sure I’m taken care of without spending an arm and a leg and what I’d need to do to maintain certain hygiene and survival standards if big disaster were to hit.

First, though, I think “skills” need to be defined (and I would LOVE to hear other people’s input).  I think some of these are homesteading skills, but I suppose others would be more specialized.

In a disaster scenario, I want to be able to have a bath periodically.  I know this shouldn’t be as high on the list compared to, say, drinking water.  But I want a shower!  On a recent camping trip (one I consented to out of pure love, not love of nature), I was treated to a solar shower.  If the tarp is put right and the bag has been in the sun long enough, it’s not too bad!  And the typical solar shower, which is really just a plastic bag with a nozzle/shower-type head, actually holds enough water to get you wet enough, rinsed a few times, etc.  The water gets nice and warm.  Now, being naked in the tarp with the wind whipping around isn’t exactly a sauna.  But the water is warm. I should probably get a little solar shower kit and put it in the basement.

I’d need to know how to create simple household cleaners as well as simple products or methods to own to cure a range of things on my own.  I’ve heard vinegar is wonderful for cleaning.  I use it in the washing machine as fabric softener and it does a great job.  I’m not utterly convinced yet it cleans counters, bathrooms, etc. like I’d want.  But I’m getting there!  As for light medical cures…you got me.  Apparently I need to stock vinegar and booze so I can clean up and still forget that I’m hurt.

I’d need to know how to feed myself without electricity or gas, possible.  I suppose there is always the simple little charcoal grill.  That’s not too hard to manage.  A freezer of meat will stay cool for a while.  Cooking it is another matter.  Is there a better way other than a charcoal grill?  Or I suppose a gas grill as long as you can still get the gas canisters.

Oh, and water!  I’ve read about dosing toilet tank water with bleach.  Is that legitimate?!  Seems suspect.  I suppose it couldn’t hurt to have some gallons of drinking water put back into the pantry?

What else are we missing here?


Survival Skills (Academia)


I’m sure we’ve all thought about what else we might have done in life “if only we had known” the things we know now.  Well, my answer springs to my mind instantly.  I would’ve just gone ahead and been a cultural anthropologist.  The only thing that kept me out of that major was the fear of living on grants for the rest of my life.  If I had been alone in the world, that was one thing.  But I had a little boy to feed.  So I shied away from living on grants.

Little did I know!  Academia, which I got into in a whirlwind of happenstance, is pretty much the same thing.  If you’re not an adjunct, with reappointment on a semesterly or nine-month basis, then you’re a low paid faculty member on a nine month or 2 – 3 year contract.  Pretty much the same as living on a grant and reapplying for funds/seeking funds elsewhere!  Oh well.  I enjoy my job.  I survive on the pay, and after a few moves to correct some dumb personal behaviors and some external factors, I might even thrive on the pay. I have, however, learned how to survive on the job, which is a different scenario altogether!

As I’ve been contemplating survival in other ways (pantries, disaster) it crossed my mind that survival in academia is just as critical a skill.  I watch so many folks churn through the system and not thrive at all or crushed under the weight of it all.  Or, stuck in the same boring position they always have been.  Here are a few things I’ve managed to adapt to that have kept me and my little Master’s degree plugging along for a few years now.

(This is irreverent to be sure, so please don’t come down on me like a stack of midterm essays!)

Know thy power structures.  It’s important to know who really does what.  One thing I always told the incoming GTAs was to be good to the department secretary.  When you really need something done, s/he probably knows exactly how to do it, and if s/he doesn’t, s/he will know who will and will probably even call them for you.  Likewise, know who is willing to impart good advice and who is just blowing hot air.  The difference is usually palpable…

Know how crap works around here.  My coworker grossly underestimated the power of this one, even though I tried to explain it to him desperately and kindly.  Your mileage will vary at different institutions, but likely the Dean is NOT going to override the department Chair, even though you’re hoping to use the Dean as a club for that purpose.  Why?  Because a) the Dean realizes you’re trying to use her as a club and b) Chairs are there to deal with things so the Dean doesn’t have to.  Responsibility is delegated.  Do you really think she isn’t talking to the Chair way more than she ever will talk to the average Instructor?  I nearly swallowed my tongue when he said, “I doubt the Chair knows more about this special project than we (Instructors, not Teaching Assistant Professors even) do…”.  What?!  Of course he does.  That’s just How Crap Works Around Here.  Also, even though we all desperately deserve raises, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get them.  It might mean, though, that if you know a Chair or a Dean has a particular bent for certain ideas, you can finagle some summer funding as long as you word it right.  It also sadly means that we have to have a keen sense of our place in the academic universe.  We should all be special and loved for the work we do.  In reality, we’re cogs in a wheel.  I’m not saying things can’t be changed.  But not realizing the cog factor is going to create quite the surprise for you when you’re replaced with another cog…

Faculty meetings are important places to be.  They are also sources of good entertainment, if approached with the proper frame of mind.  They are also good sources of information about what *might* be coming down the pike for your department.  You can take advantage of upcoming situations to pitch what you might be able to do within the department and thus make your stock rise a bit higher in the eyes of the aforementioned powers that be.  Sure, we’d all like to be recognized for the special snowflakes that we are.  But tenure track jobs are few and far between.  Contract work, however, is a dime a dozen.  So spike your coffee and take notes.

Keep calm and carry on!  During every faculty meeting, I keep tick marks of the number of times someone has a complete panic meltdown over some impending issue.  This averages two meltdowns in our department per meeting.  You can recognize an approaching meltdown by the look on the face of the faculty member that renders roughly into the horror!  the horror!  Keep calm and carry on.  90% of the things I’ve seen discussed in fac meetings rarely come about, and the horrific nature of whatever scourge the Dean is about to visit upon your hallowed halls usually does not come to pass.  Now, I’ve known a few cases where it came to pass and worse.  Remember, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you….But seriously, people.  Keep calm and carry on.  Besides, what else can you really do? Which brings me to…

Outrage is largely useless.  And it truly is.  Unless you have a union that actually has teeth, there isn’t much you can do about it anyway.  I’m not saying the good fight isn’t worth it.  But I am saying that raging into the wind with no clear purpose is counterproductive.  This is where knowing the powers that be and How Things Work come in handy, as the powers that be will usually fight those battles for you.  Usually.  There is usually one documented moment of outrage during each faculty meeting.  Said outburst could also be categorized as “raging into the wind,” or “THE SKY IS FALLING.”  Again, keep calm, and carry on.  Get mad over the things that truly matter.  Your performance will be measured.  Higher ups will sniff over their alleged inability to cough up three more dollars for your paycheck.  This is part of How Things Work.  Channel that outrage into something more productive, like a faculty group that can bring to bear multiple voices to express the problem.  Or, have a Friday afternoon coffee bitching session to clear the air with fellow commiserators.

Teamwork doesn’t always work.  I’m still struggling with this one, to be honest.  I love the concept of group work, coteaching, etc.  What it got for all my hard work over the past four years is a coworker willing to throw me under the bus for a few more dollars and what he thinks is better title recognition — for doing the same work.  Fortunately, I saw this one coming and did not become codependent upon his work in order to do my own.  So, my suggestion is to make sure you can always represent yourself…just in case. Shame, though.  There really are so little spoils to be tussled over.

Adapt, adapt, adapt!  This has been key to my survival.  My coworker only wants to teach one specific sort of thing.  We keep getting offered everything but that.  Colleges are increasingly looking for ways to move forward, to work intradepartmentally, and while it’s important to be true to your own vocational passions (and I’m not judging his), if you want to continue to work in academia, you have to adapt to it as well.  Especially if you work in the Humanities, you’ll often have to come up with lengthy ways to justify your existence to skeptical persons of all stripes.  It’s part of How Things Are.  Figuring out how to adapt to compensate for prevailing attitudes is critical.  It doesn’t always work, unfortunately.  But it’s better than being caught unprepared!

What would you add to this list?