Ask Your Comradde: Most Amazing Risotto

Our correspondent asks:

Ok… In my freezer I have 4 kinds of homemade stock–beef, chicken, duck, and lobster. Currently, they are all slated to be wonderful risotto at some point, thanks to your recipes.

If my non-tenure-track-job depended on me cooking the right thing for the department chair, and possibly a dean, should I go with risotto? If so, what kind? Nothing poisonous, mind you… Or should I cook it for the union rep? Or what?

Here’s what I would do. Use the lobster stock to make a very simple risotto with nothing in the sofritto but some shallots, adding a little bit of saffron when you deglaze with the wine (or use vermouth instead of white wine to make it even richer). Finish it with a modest amount of parmigiano reggiano.

Also make pan-seared scallops like this.

When everything is ready, plate the risotto in a wide shallow pasta bowl, arrange three or four scallops around the edge, serve it. And then at the table, drizzle a little teeny bit of cognac (or other sherry) on the risotto.

Ask Your Comradde: Toxic Family Members–Cutte ‘Em Offe Versus Control Communication

Our correspondent asks:

My question: how do you draw a line on when a parent or sibling is so toxic as to warrant being cut off? I don’t have any of the horrendous histories of abuse that I read so my history of emotional neglect seems puny in comparison. I find the narcissist mother/golden child duo hard to take, when all my interests and activities and problems are ignored in favour of tedious monologues about the minutiae of her life and how hard the sibling has it. Seriously, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and the parent greeted this news with a long rambling discussion on the weather and her shoes. And the sibling has made no contact whatsoever. Shitty response there.

But OTOH the contact my mother seems to want is minimal: a weekly phone call is all. I listen to her rattle on, say mmmhmm a bit, and she’s happy. I’d prefer not to have it, but I’ve tried not picking up. What happens is that she chases me all over all my phones & social media until she finds me, and then she pretends it’s just that I was busy, and not ignoring her, and then she tells me all about the menu from the last time she went out to dinner, or how much mail there was or something.

OK. There are a few different issues to address here. Let’s start with the easier one, which is how to regulate phone and Internet communication by a toxic family member.

The bottom line here is that by ultimately letting your mother “find” you after her chase, you are rewarding her annoying behavior. You need to think about this like training a pet: you only reward desirable behavior, and you always punish undesirable behavior. This means that the more your mother “chases” you, the less opportunity she gets to communicate with you. And the more she leaves you alone, the more she gets to communicate with you.

So as a practical matter, what this means is that you *never* answer the phone when she calls, no matter how many times she repeatedly calls you. You only talk to her on the phone when you call her, and you should time your calls to her so that they are completely unrelated to when she reached out to you. Social media is a little more complicated, and I am not a social media user, so maybe others can weigh in with better ideas. But I have two ideas.

One is that you completely ignore your mother’s communications on social media, and only communicate with her on the phone, when you call her. If she complains, you can simply say that you really prefer to talk to her than to communicate on the Internet. The other is that you lock down your social media so that she can’t see you, and you can’t see her. That is more drastic, but perhaps more effective. And if she complains, you can tell her that you are drastically limiting your social media exposure, and that’s just the way it is.

And as far as the rewarding, if her “chasing” behavior tails off, and she hasn’t attempted to contact you for a longer time than is the norm, then you call her to say hello. If she goes on and on about shitte you don’t want to hear about during phone calls, and you want to keep the duration of the calls to a minimum, then the trick is to always place your calls to her in the context of a time limit that is out of your control. Call your mom at 3:50PM: “Hi, Mom! I had a few minutes before [important appointment] at 4, and wanted to say hello! [blah , blah, blah] Great to talk to you! Appointment’s starting! Bye!” Or what I frequently do is call my parents from the car: “Hi, Mom! On my way to work, and wanted to say hello! I’ll be there in about ten minutes! [blah, blah, blah] Pulling in now! Great to talk to you! Bye!”

The much more difficult question is whether to cutte your mother offe completely. My suggestion to you–based on my own experiences with my parents–is to first try out my suggestions for limiting communication and keeping your mother from intruding on your peace of mind. My parents were making me miserable with constant unwanted intrusive manipulative dramatic communications, and I was getting ready to cut them offe. But I decided to try to “train” them in the way I described above. It actually worked! Now they basically never call me or reach out to me, and I only talk to them when I call them. We see each other once in a while for a meal, and they actually behave mostly decently! Because they have learned that the more of a pain in the fucken asse they are, the less they get to interact with me. And the more decently they treat me, the more they get to interact with me. So my suggestion is to see if your mother is trainable, and put off deciding whether to cutte her offe until you find out.

Ask Your Comradde: Is Tenure Going Extinct?

Our correspondent asks:

With the number of professors obtaining tenure declining each year and the ever increasing pool of assistant professor applicants getting larger, do you think tenure will be going extinct in the near future?

My impression is that academia–like many of our major social and economic structures–is bifurcating into a relatively small collection of well-funded elite private and public institutions that educate the children of the economic elite and a much larger collection of non-elite institutions that are starved for funds and have to essentially make a profit on tuition to survive. I suspect that tenure will not be going away for faculty of the former, as it is a perk that helps them recruit and retain the most prominent scholars, but it may very well be phased out over time in the latter.

Ask Your Comradde: Reaching Out to Individual Faculty in Departments You Are Applying for Faculty Positions

Our correspondent is a post-doc embarking on the faculty job search and is wondering about reaching out directly to faculty in departments he is applying to:

I’ve been advised to identify someone in each department and write a short, friendly email to put my application on their radar. In some cases this is easy for me to do, when I know someone who I know knows me and we do similar work, so it is not too awkward.

But what about the cold-call cases? Do you get such emails from applicants? Do you think they are annoying idiots?

Here are a few thoughts about this:

(1) If you know someone personally, there is nothing wrong with e-mailing them, although it is likely to have little effect, since they already know you.

(2) Receiving an e-mail from a faculty job applicant whom I have never met or heard of concerning our department’s job search would not annoy me, per se, but it certainly wouldn’t serve any purpose whatsoever vis a vis “getting on the radar”.

(3) There is a much more important point that isn’t even touched on in the correspondent’s question: Your fucken *mentors* are the ones who should be working the phones and e-mails of their colleagues in the departments you are applying to. This is the only thing that can really move the needle; communication from the applicants themselves outside the metes and bounds of their applications is meaningless. We already know *you* want a fucken job, and your zeal means nothing. However, the extent to which other people–mentors and other colleagues–are willing to expend the time and effort to call or e-mail has some meaning.