Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'm Number Two! I'm Number Two!

So, I took off to visit the in-laws (which is a story in and of itself, let me tell you). And on the one day that I managed to sneak off and get myself some internet access, I discovered that I was the runner-up for the unexpected job interview I had a few weeks ago. Oh mixed feelings, how I love you! It's been so long!

I didn't say much about that job, as it was both full of promise (involved lots of the kinds of work I love to do and don't get to do as much of as I'd like: brainstorming with faculty; implementing pilot programs; talking about pedagogy; using other people's money to try shit out) and, simultaneously, full of problems (an academic job of sorts, but not at a college; negotiating with the new people and my existing job to bounce between them; expectations that I'd spend a lot more time in the office and on the ground at the new place). It was weird---the details of the new position would have been hellish, and yet I was so absolutely drawn to the idea that I could do the other stuff that it almost seemed as if sorting through them would have been worth it. Finding out that I didn't get it was both a disappointment and a relief.

Disappointment=why don't you love me? and also, to be honest, a little bit of but I was hoping that you'd save me from going back to my real job and the wretched interactions with some of my colleagues!

Relief=I teach two days a week in the fall and I don't have to spend the summer prepping for another job

In addition to these two feelings (which were somewhat expected), I find myself awash in a couple of surprises. The first is an unexpected sense of "if you really wanted that, then I'm glad you didn't pick me." The chair of the committee wrote to let me know that everyone really liked me, but that they ended up going with someone who had a very different academic background than me. It was such a delightful experience to be able to think: "wow, it really has nothing to do with me. If you all wanted that, then I'm not your girl." As I mused on it later, I also found myself thinking that I think they've made a mistake---given the way that they described the position and its role, I think they've chosen someone who can propel the few far, but will leave the many behind----something that's pretty antithetical to the way that I think about my goals as a teacher and as an administrator. In comparison to my experiences on the academic job market, this is a pretty clean and heartening rejection. And it's weird--but hopefully not crazy--to think that I'm not a big loser because I didn't get the job.

The other big surprise, I have to say, is that I think the process may have led me to some thinking about a new project. I'm a bit nervous to say that out loud---I might kill it just by whispering it. But it may be the case that in the day-long, adrenaline-filled rat race of applying for a job, I began to articulate a position that has some potential in it. Maybe. Stay tuned.

While you're waiting, take a look at a golden oldie, and the one that inspired the title for this post (the scene starts around 2:35)

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Friday, April 09, 2010


Last night, I went to a reading by one of my favorite authors of all time (and this includes the dead ones). He's someone I wrote part of my dissertation on, someone I teach rather frequently, and someone I have been calling "My (insert ethnicity here) boyfriend" on Facebook in the run-up to his talk. The more that I anticipated seeing him up close and personal, however (and the more that I indulged in fantasies of him picking me out of the crowd and sweeping me away to his private love nest in New Jersey), the more uneasy I began to feel. What if he proved, in person, to be so much more disappointing than the man-myth I'd built him up to be?

I think this fear is based on at least two crushing experiences I've had with living artists. The first, and less devastating, was hearing a Fresh Air interview with a pre-Hulk Edward Norton. Remember when people thought EN was going to be the next DeNiro? He was writing, directing, dating strong (semi-crazy) women like Salma Hayek and Courtney Love. All of this worked to build up the closest thing I'd had to an actor crush since Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank ("my psych profile fit a certain...moral flexibility"). In the interview, he talks intelligently about working in Fight Club, about being related to one of the first American city planners. So everything is well and good until Terry asks EN what his favorite book is. Wait for it. Catcher in the Rye. CATCHER IN THE RYE? What are you, sixteen?! (Look, I've got no beef with CitR, but I don't think you can be an adult and claim it as your favorite book. If you have to go Salinger, than at the very least go with Franny and Zooey. Better yet, don't go with Salinger at all. And CERTAINLY, Big Ed, don't start talking about your affinity with Holden Caufield.)

Game over.

Later, I had the opportunity to hear a famous lyrical novelist read his work and answer questions. Loved him. Wanted to have his babies. Hot Sri Lankan man who had a way with words and a deep baritone voice? Sign me up! During the Q&A, being the nerdy little graduate student that I am, I asked him about a pet theory of mine: that his first novel, an invented biography of a jazz legend, was in fact structured like jazz music---seemingly improvisational, variations on a central melody, etc. The answer? "I'm a poet and it was my first novel. I just couldn't hold the structure together."

I hate everyone, and particularly authors who are incapable of judging their own works.

I spent the entirety of the Q&A last night waiting for My (insert ethnicity here) boyfriend to tell some inane or horrifying anecdote about his process, or his reading list, or his unselfconsciousness of his own work. Thankfully, none came. He was articulate and charming, and lovely; neither solipsistic nor incapable of self-questioning. Whew. The crowd was small, and I could have easily waited in the short line to talk with him and get a book signed. I dallied for a minute considering the option, but headed to my car instead. I was too afraid to ruin it.

It occurs to me that I really should stop working on living writers, if I have to live in fear that their work is so much less impressive than they are as people. Is it unfair to ask artists to be as smart in person as they are on the page or screen? Would I be willing to hold myself to this same standard?


Friday, April 02, 2010

Making Doors

In the continuing saga of my mid-life, mid-career crisis, I had the opportunity to talk with two people from my academic past: my undergraduate advisor and my dissertation advisor. Honestly, I'm still impressed that these two pick up the phone when they see that it's my number on the display, because nine times out of ten, I'm always calling with these weird, not-really-academic questions. And yet, the kinds of advice I get: out of the mouths of the patriarchs!!

My undergrad guy, who I will forthwith call Rainer, in deference to his advanced age, gravitas, and love of all things reich, was quick to tell me that this discomfort with the profession---and what I do now---is nothing new. "Totally normal, Fluff. Even pedestrian!" Always the metaphoric thinker, he first suggested that post-tenure is a "pivot point." Which way did I want to turn, now that one foot was stationary? Some, he noted, turn to administration for a new outlook, while others find a new angle on their research. All this image gave me, really, was agita. It could have been because I was picturing myself in a shiny basketball uniform, complete with long, saggy shorts, desperately pivoting trying to decide which way to pass the ball.

"Think of it this way," he continued. "You're looking down a very long corridor right now." Yep, I thought, about 30 years long. "You have to figure out some ways to make some doors for yourself." Is that not a bleak image? Jeeeeebus. Without some imagination and creativity, I'm going to be stuck in this same goddamned hallway for the rest of my life? Noted, there are way worse hallways---hallways where you shovel shit or sit in a cubicle and have someone yell at you, for instance---but 30 years of hallway is still 30 years of hallway.

Diss advisor had similar advice, although a bit more of an open approach. [Dude, in the misty past, did I ever give DA a name? He needs one. And since the hallmark of writing the diss was our mutual distraction by Sex and the City episodes, his name henceforth should be: Dr. Big?] Big, who happened to visit a few years back, was careful to remind me of what a great corridor I've got myself on. "Look, Fluff. It's clear that you're valued, and you get to teach stuff you like. I've got students right now who are fighting for 4/4 positions at Idaho State with a three-quarter load in comp." (And again, I have to ask myself: am I the last generation of academics who could get a semi-decent, not outrightly exploitative job? Damn! That is some f'ed up shit right there.) "Take another look at what you've got," Dr. Big said, "but you might start thinking about other ways to work. What you have to ask yourself about any opportunity is: 'when I get in the car to go to work in the morning, am I happy?'" And then he delivered some incredibly sage advice about a position I'd been turning and turning over in my mind for a week, since my informal lunch.

All of this to say, there's something about the corridor image that works for me (the pivot? not so much). So what are the doors that are available to us, post-tenure? How do you make a door out of a wall? Or at the very least, how do you decorate your damn hallway so that it gives you something interesting to look at while you traverse it?

I had lunch with one of my newer colleagues yesterday, and she mentioned that one of the benefits of this job is that she can choose her panic---as in, she can decide when to apply for a conference or a seminar, and thus light the "must write and be smart now" fire under her ass. It made me realize that pre-tenure involves managing panic, and making it work for you. Outside standards push you down the corridor, sometimes at breakneck speeds, and you're desperately trying to stay in that hallway. Once the hallway is your fate, I think the propulsion changes; what I'm looking for is the thing that will pull me down the hall---where I'm running toward something, not frantically away from it, and as an added bonus, I'd like the pull that's so strong it opens up a door.

I think I've now officially exhausted all of my metaphors for one day. More soon.