Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pick Me! Pick Me!

So what am I supposed to do now? I'm back home, and it's snowing. A prof at MLA said that when he was on the market he got a call from the chair of the search committee to schedule a campus visit before he even left the hotel. Of course, he was a wonder boy, a star, the kind of grad student who wins awards for his dissertation instead of just trying to pass some stale chapters by his committee and hope that they are just sick of dealing with him.

I had a decent interview and a question mark interview. I got some interest in my diss. This is good. Now I'm back to waiting for phone calls and emails. I've already checked my email a dozen times today, and it's only 1 p.m. This is going to be bad. But who can start to work after a two-week hiatus on New Year's Eve? I think there's a law against it. And on working on New Year's Day too. I mean, who can work through the fog of one's New Year's Hangover? Which is why the first new year's resolution is always "drink less."

Playing hookey is dangerous, because after a couple days of sleeping in and eating pancakes for breakfast and chocolate for dinner, I forget how to work. Blogging is work, right? In any case, I think the Job Search Wiki is going to save my ass in January, as long as people post when they hear from schools for campus interviews. We're all this in together, right?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

MLA Roundup and EE Does an EEK!

So by lunchtime yesterday, the members of my cohort were feeling quite merry.

My hotel roommate had her last interview (of three) in the interview pit a few hours before, but still felt best about an interview she had the day before with the kind of college she preferred. My friend in my backburner field who got one MLA interview was ecstatic, the interview having gone really well -- she described it as "a blast" and "fun." Somehow, it's easy to imagine now that they're going to get these jobs -- that it's all going to fall into place for them, just as some senior professors at my university said it might.

Unlike my interview on Wednesday that inspired my retail therapy mistake (which, by the way, continues to inspire people to talk to me), my interview at high noon in the pit went well, with interviewers who were genuinely excited about their university and the way it was going. (Surprisingly, it's completely easy to focus on what's right in front of you in the interview pit. Though prone to distraction, I didn't overhear snippets of conversation from other tables or anything. But the chairs are standard fold-outs, so it's hard to sit up straight.) I wasn't that excited about the position going into the interview -- though its location and resources make it particularly and uniquely fabulous for my research -- because it's not tenure track. I'm not getting any younger! And though I've been settled in my college town for five years, there is something about the marginal and provisional status of graduate student life that is completely unsettling -- as if I'd been living out of boxes for five years. Certainly, I've felt that I couldn't make real and lasting connections in the community. Really I questioned that I was even part of the community, having to register my car and pay taxes locally, but still paying out-of-state tuition as well as being sort of tempermentally unsuited to the midwest. Going into a situation where I can't dig in for the long haul just didn't sound very exciting. But the enthusiasm of the interviewers was completely infectious! The position would be such a great opportunity, long-term or not! (It's just continuing to be hard to remember that a job, tenure-track or not, is not forever. I think I'm just in my nesty thirties.) And my life so far has been such so that I haven't adventured enough, but settled down early, then uprooted. No backpacking through Europe or meeting up with monks in Tibet in my past. This job would definitely be an adventure.

So we interviewees met up for lunch with our colleagues in our department who had been interviewing candidates for two days and had grown a bit loopy. Despite the fact that my chair muses that it might be best to have your own hotel room when you go on the market so you can have your own space, it's absolutely vital to see friendly faces when you're interviewing. Too much alone time and I would have spun, spun, spun myself into a dither, which is pretty much my dissertation writing process.

It's clear to me now that I was so stressed about the interviews that when they were over and it was okay to relax, I slouched back into the kind of super-silliness that often makes me despair of ever being taken seriously, that makes me worry that I will spend the rest of my life trying to wrest my foot from my mouth. I met up with a senior scholar whose work I love who also happens to be the kind of senior member of the field who is very interested in and supportive of the work of younger scholars. But the relief of being done combined with a glass of wine from the cash bar led me to burst out laughing when he said I should send him my dissertation.


I managed to save it, I think, explaining that before I could send it to him I'd have to write it, but that I was completely honored. But it's the prospect of sending this scholar my dissertation chapters that is why, despite copious drinking with good friends from my university, I've been tossing and turning since 5, finally getting up at 6 and blogging, when surely I should be sleeping in until 10 and then doing my usual mad dash to the airport. Now that MLA is over, I have to get back to the dissertation, which is fine. But the fact that this senior scholar I respect wants to see it means that I can't keep writing the sort of pathetically-written chapters I've been giving to the chair of my committee.

I had been thinking of my dissertation as this hoop I had to get through in order to allow my committee to brand PhD on my forehead and kick my ass out the door. I don't see my dissertation as a cohesive book, but the foundation for my career, two chapters really just sketching out the terrain for two in-depth studies that are theoretically (in both senses) connected. So as I think my way through the dissertation, I haven't been worried at all about crafting it as beautiful or even decent writing, but just sort of vomiting it out of my head. I can't send vomit-drivel to this senior scholar. I just can't.

By the way, the reason I haven't reported on any panels is because I haven't gone to any. It's not so much that there haven't been panels that have interested me, though their timing mostly sucks, but panic, preparation, and coming down from the walls really does take a lot of time. I can't imagine how people who interview and present papers manage. I would recommend everyone presenting papers at MLA (if they're in a field where that seems necessary) before they go on the market. One shouldn't experience the isolation of this vast and overpopulated conference for the first time the year one goes on the market. Too much! Too much!

So now, after this frenzy of hubbub, all I see is another wasteland of waiting laid in front of me to the horizon. (Hard to think of MLA as an oasis.) The first place said they'd make decisions on campus interviews in three weeks. The other place said they wouldn't get in touch until the second week of February. The job-I-think-I-want (thought?) said they'd do campus interviews at the end of January. So for the next three weeks I should focus on dissertation writing while I pretend that I'm not glaring at my phone and checking my email every twenty minutes. In the lead-up to MLA (formerly known as Chanukah and Christmas), I lost about a week on my dissertation. I've got to hop-to if I'm going to get back on track.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Interview Pit

Imagine a room with 137 tables. 137 tables where on one side are interviewers; on the other side, you. Different versions of you, black suit, brown suit, red suit, blue suit. Looking on, waiting respectfully for their moment, nervous interviewees. Outside, more nervous interviewees wait on the narrow chairs. Compared to all those tables, the intimacy and privacy of a hotel suite with its odd protocols (call 5 minutes before the interview, not 15; don't knock until it's time) seems a positive luxury. Today, I will be interviewed at one of these tables.

Yesterday, when I was waiting for my friend who had an interview there and checking out the space for today's interview, I had the movie Trading Places in my head -- the part near the end when Louis Winthorp is showing Billy Ray Valentine the trading pit of the New York Stock Exchange. Though Louis says that in the pit "it's kill or be killed," he describes the place with admiration as something like the "last bastion of free market capitalism." As I looked out onto the interview pit, some interviewees skulking away, others smiling as they walked toward me and out the door, interviewers sitting, looking expectantly, hopefully, others looking positively menacing, I thought, "here is our process," the turnover of our profession, the older to the younger.

Though the interviewers and interviewees are separated by a table, not unlike a seminar table, somehow as I looked out into all those job searches, I felt myself part of something.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Shopping and Speed-Dating at MLA

The problem with going shopping after you bomb out on the plum job interview where you're so over-prepared to fit into their existing program that you can't readily articulate what new and cool things you might bring to open up the program is that you inevitably buy something that is totally wrong for you. As if somehow buying that fuschia fedora or that multicolored scarf threaded with metallic yarn will make you into the kind of person you could've been for the interview but weren't because you thought they were looking for something else. The fact that this item looks cheery on the rack and you need cheering up does not mean you should buy it. Out the door, you realize that its cheeriness makes you feel decidedly small town out in the gray and shadowed urban streets you love. Just as you begin to remember how to walk the urban streets, pounding the pavement with broad purposeful steps, sinking into a lower center of gravity, setting your jaw as you feel your tough urban hide returning, someone inspired by that thing, that retail therapy mistake, says "how ya doing?" and you, schooled by five years of midwestern niceness respond "good" before you realize what you've said and grimace, disgusted that an older more primal and urban version of yourself who'd have blurted "shitty" right in the guy's face has been replaced.

(Question: What does "be yourself" mean in light of postmodern theories of subjectivity that say that what we think of as our "selves" are really fluctuating intersections of competing discourses?)


So I walked across the street with my retail therapy mistake (at least it was on sale), donned my geek tag, and went to the Job Seekers in English panel.

Really, I suppose my interview wasn't that bad. I just wonder what on earth I was thinking: why did I say the lame things I said instead of all the fabulous things now running through my head? I realize this is normal. I realize that this happens to everyone. That even the job search committee might think I wasn't so bad -- at least in comparison with other candidates. But I don't feel good about it. And now I realize the job is even more interesting than I thought. (Lesson: I'm not that good on my feet. I need time to ponder. Unless I'm walking. Can I have a walking interview? Next time. And not in these shoes.)

The room of hopefuls filled as the time neared for the Job Seeker's panel. A number of people look like me in suits and small glasses, but others, clearly not on the market or at least not today, are obviously and maddeningly comfortable in their sweaters and jeans.

One panelist likened the interview to speed dating. We all want to fall in love with one another -- the search committee with the candidate and the candidate with the job -- but, like dating, it doesn't always work out. (I promise to revise this post when I have the names of the people in front of me. Just now, I'm sitting on the floor of the hotel bathroom so my roommate, whose flight came in late, can get some sleep before her impossibly early 9:30 a.m. interview.) David Bartholomae of "Inventing the University" fame, right now head of ADE, said some things that made me feel better. He said that when he was out on the market (and even he went out on the market twice), his advisor told him that an interview is not an exam. Passing along his advisor's words of wisdom, he said: "These people have spent a lot of time and effort to meet you. Go meet them."

Behind Enemy Lines: At an MLA Hotel

I've made it. I'm now huddled over my laptop after spending WAY too much on wireless (damn hotel) in my hotel room. I have not been hit by lightning. I did not find myself sitting next to my interviewer on a flight where I made tacky jokes and drooled as I slept. (Well, I might have drooled, but the woman sitting next to me said she had nothing to do with MLA.) My arm has not broken off from the weight of the garment bag I insisted on carrying on because I was convinced that the airline would lose it and then I would have to do my interview in a blue velour jumpsuit. (Yes, that actually happened to someone -- during a campus visit! Always carry your suit. You can still look professional with a broken arm, but not in a borrowed blue velour jumpsuit. Not ever. She did not get the job.)

I spent way too much time during my layover looking around at people, trying to guess who was going to MLA and wondering if my interviewers were among them. I saw a woman in Minneapolis who was alone and seemed to be dressed up too much to be just going on a visit. Sure enough, I saw her in the lobby downstairs. So many of them must have been coming to MLA, but not many with garment bags. How do you carry a suit without a garment bag that nearly rips off your arm? (Please tell me!)

But I actually managed to not panic or even worry about the interviews on the way here. Rather than see any academics -- since I probably couldn't pick out any of my favorite scholars in a line-up to save my life -- I saw Peter Dinklage from The Station Agent (a wonderfully quirky film that should be required viewing) eating at Chili's Too and talking on his cell phone. Unlike his pics on IMDB that show him with scruffy hair and a goatee, he had short short hair and was cleanshaven. (Okay, so now I'm less sure it was him.) I also had a traveling casualty: I lost my cool lime and leopard print scarf. So you see, instead of worrying about silly little things like interviews, I was concerned about real-world stuff: movie stars and fashion.

By the way, you can tell who is on the market and who isn't. All those people who are calm and quiet -- the ones who think that being on the market is "exciting" -- they are not us. We're the ones making jokes about how how we're going to ask our interviewers how long they've been vampires. (Some of us know that we are supposed to be "on" even in the shuttle to our hotel, the airport, in the hotel bar, but some of us are too nerve-rattled to care.)

Now I'm going to hide under the hotel bed until it's all over.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Neurosis Controls

When I think about going on the market again next year or talking to any friends about it, I want to remind them/me that this kind of job-related panic flips on the survival mode switch. In survival mode, animals become fiercely protective of their space. Bodies hang on to every spare calorie, converting it into fat for the lean times. People want comfort food and comfort people. I, for one, wasn't able to sleep, tossing and turning while doing half-conscious interviews all night (that is, until I got my counter-irritant: a guest from out of town who sweetly wads up wet towels and puts them on chairs, giving me something to focus my rage and anxiety on). Being on the job market has affected me on a cellular level: my face and chest have broken out into micro-zits; my digestion's all screwed up; I get a surge of energy around 10PM; I'm drinking too much; and I'm just about the biggest pain ever, having to tell myself repeatedly as kindly as possible to stop being a raving lunatic. Too bad it doesn't work. Next year I may just put myself into quarantine.

Exercising makes me feel better -- gives me a sense of control over my life. I'm probably just high from the surplus oxygen.

This Job Search Wiki has helped me stop compulsively checking my cell phone battery and my internet connection in the last couple weeks. There are discussions of Job Search Wiki sabotage on Chronicle Forums and Reassigned Time. Though I admit that sabotage is always a possibility, I haven't seen evidence of it and have just been grateful to see that some schools had already scheduled MLA interviews so I could stop thinking about them. Certainly "sabotage" could also just be that multiple people are editing the page at the same time so the info doesn't stay put. (Do as I do, stay up half the night and post then!)

Also, I recommend 9 Interviews. No matter how unprepared I feel, I know a bad answer when I see it. Like "uh, maybe I should be at the Duke interview." I'm thinking -- not such a good thing to say.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Countdown

Three days and counting. Three days until I sit down, crunched into my seat, worried about the crinkling of my interview suit in my new garment bag in the overhead compartment. Christmas will come and go, acknowledged but not lived. When cutting up Macintosh apples for a pie, I'll be giving interviews in my head -- this time not for Inside the Actor's Studio where I am the first writer they've found fascinating and charismatic enough to ask about my parents' divorce and my writing process -- trying to dream up some persuasive things to say about my dissertation, the relation between my research and teaching, a dream course that just so happens to coincide with the university's curriculum.

I read somewhere that the "dream course" question is a trick. It's not about the course you'd love to teach, but the one that fits in with their curriculum. And that seems to be the hard thing for me -- to remember my teaching, research, and service are more than something I'm framing for someone else. Of course, pleasing gatekeepers and meeting requirements that feel like hoops rather than carefully constructed experiences designed to craft an intellectual agenda and professional identity are normal facets of the graduate school experience. In The Academic Self, Donald E. Hall talks about how shaping one's teaching and research for colleagues is an ever-present part of this profession -- in tenure and promotion, professional journals, etc. But the reason I've been reading that book over and over lately is because I need to remember that apart from interviews, MLA, and the grinding poverty that makes me desperate to get any job right now, I'm a professional teacher and writer -- an academic -- with teaching, research, and service commitments that excite me.

It's easier for me to remember that I love my work when I'm doing it. But having people in from out of town and trying to experience the holidays mean that I'm not working on my dissertation. Thinking of the interviews without reconnecting with my real work induces panic -- and dull, canned answers to practice interview questions. Between shopping, picking up my suit from the tailor's, and getting my hair done, I'm going to find time to read something that reminds me of who I am and what I do and why I (occasionally) love my research and working with students.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bloggers of the World Unite!

Part of the academy is collegiality -- and when you're going to MLA for job interviews, academic blogger collegiality seems like a good investment. Surely someone will know, no?

In any case, Scott Eric Kaufman is measuring the speed of the meme across the internet ether and reporting on it at the MLA conference. Serve your colleagues and your academic karma by going here.

My Job Search Explained

Because blogs are a time-organized form, it is so tempting to write only about today's madness in some kind of breathless eternal present. But I want this blog to be useful -- not only to amuse myself and others as I try to beat and slash my own path through Wonderland back to financial solvency (graduate school as rabbit hole -- discuss), but also maybe to help others who find themselves in similar straits.

I'm thinking specifically of a friend a couple years behind me in graduate school who recently joked (granted, because she was overwhelmed by the avalanche of my anxiety) that maybe she should just quit now. No, I want to say. Because you only do one thing at a time and because you have the stories of others to help you along the way. Which is just what you'd expect a lifelong English major to say. (Though just quitting does have its appeal.) So for you, dear reader, and for me, I'm going back to the beginning.

(blurry screen, blurry screen)

It all started at the beginning of fall semester in my fifth year of being impoverished. Which is, I must say, the first problem. Dear reader, when you go on the market, it's a really good idea if you spend some of that summer revamping your CV, putting your evals in some kind of order for a teaching portfolio, thinking about your interests and values as a scholar and teacher. For many reasons, some good, some not, I didn't do this. Partly I found it difficult to develop the drive to work on these things without a prospect in my sights. My advisor told me that I'd develop the drive once I had the motivation of a real job that looked good. She was right.

So I didn't work on the "template letter" that many people talk about until later. In some ways, I never did. I developed template paragraphs from which I pick and choose for each letter. The idea of the cover letter template is a good one -- one I have used for years with my CV -- in which you develop a letter that describes you and your work, your core commitments, your accomplishments. Then you tailor the letter to each job ad. But when you have very different ways you can position yourself, this system doesn't work as well. The first job I applied for was interdisciplinary -- and the ways I talked about myself there were very different from the ways I described myself within the discipline. My advisor even wrote two different letters. One size does not fit all.

I looked on the MLA job list, Chronicle of Higher Ed, and on a regular basis starting September 15. A job I thought I had an inside scoop on never posted on the MLA job list, perhaps indicating that they do not want the kind of research agenda-driven scholars who usually go to MLA. If you can go by folklore and Chronicle of Higher Ed columns, liberal arts colleges have been burned often by getting excited by job candidates who end up turning them down in favor of Research 1 jobs late in the process. A well-informed colleague who has been on two search committees says that his department got hundreds of relatively useless applications from MLA job list ads for their state college position in Podunk, Midwest. If you want a job at a liberal arts college (like me), check other places besides the ubiquitous MLA Job List.

My dissertation is not yet finished, so I'm doing a "toe in the water" search. A professor in another department told me early on: "Of course, you'll apply to good jobs in good places. But also apply to good jobs in bad places and bad jobs in good places." His logic was that a bad place is mitigated by a good job and summers away, and a bad job is mitigated by being in a place you like and do things in. Generally, I followed this suggestion, though there were a few places, like my urban home town, that I couldn't figure out whether I thought they were good places or bad.

One thing no one tells you, but my friend/colleague in my cohort and I agree on, is how much you learn about your dissertation from writing about it in the job letter. She says that describing her work in a job letter made her dissertation chapters easier to write. In fact, you pretty much figure out who you are and what your commitments are as a teacher and scholar in the application process. For example, as an interdisciplinary scholar, I have some choices about how to frame myself. When I started the job search, I noted a mess of jobs that focus on an aspect of my work that I still do, but have put on the back burner while I work on my dissertation in another field. I listed all the jobs I found, in my current field and my backburner field, on a spreadsheet by application due date. As due dates for jobs in my backburner field neared and passed, I found I couldn't get the excitement together to craft those letters, knowing I had to explain away, somehow, the last four years of my intellectual work. I just couldn't do it. But nothing could stop me from crafting those other letters -- the ones for jobs that would value the work I'm doing now.

I learned from that process who I am as a scholar, as an academic, which is not at all the same as who I am as a writer. I have not left behind that other work at all; I've brought it with me, exploring it with new lenses. Being an academic, I've learned, is about what kinds of classes you want to teach, what contemporary conversations you want to listen to and speak in. Though my primary identity as a writer is bound up in certain kinds of work, it is that very kind of work that I hate most to teach. I hate arguing for its value. I hate having to swim against the current of my students' understanding and needs in order to advocate for what I think is important in a field I love. I'm not a salmon. It's ridiculous to think that just because you like to think through complex scientific problems that you'd like to teach basic science to others. And the idea that you might be good at teaching it to others is a stalwart belief in the power of infectious enthusiasm. In contrast to primary and secondary schooling, where training is all-important, post-secondary teacher training assumes anyone can teach a subject they love. Maybe my enthusiasm just isn't infectious enough.

In any case, despite the twenty-odd jobs I had listed on my spreadsheet, I found myself crafting letters (not tweaking from templates, but crafting carefully around a couple template paragraphs) for six jobs. So far. The year is young. And jobs do come open later in the year. So far, I'm lucky enough to have two interviews at MLA. One is a tenure-track job at a liberal arts college that is not a perfect fit, but it's in a good place and seems to be interesting. The other is the kind of lectureship that reminds me that I once wanted to give all this up to go adventuring in conflict-ridden places, doing human rights journalism.

It's unlikely I'll have more interviews, at least at MLA. One job ad said they'd ask for more materials later. (I didn't hear anything. Did my cell phone get turned off?) Another was an interdisciplinary job at a Humanities Institute at a Research 1 that doesn't seem to value my sub-field of English. (Would they even be at MLA?) I turned in the application for the not-fabulous-but-too-interesting-to-pass-up position at my undergraduate alma mater too late to get "priority consideration." (Years ago, I remember they hired someone who crapped out at the last minute. Luckily for me, the person who replaced him became a mentor and friend.) The job-I-keep-thinking-I-want is extending their application deadline, because, I have to guess, they didn't get enough viable candidates for their "maybe" pile. (Did they put my materials in the recycle bin? Do I write them and ask them why they put out their ad again when the perfect candidate is right here?)

Other candidates do the process in other ways. A friend with her strengths in my secondary field sent out fifty template-tweaked letters. She has one interview so far. Another friend in the same subfield as I am sent out fifteen or so letters. She also has one interview. But it's only the 16th, and people get requests for interviews as late as the 22nd and 23rd. (But not on weekends, making normal people's days off into wastelands of interminable waiting.)

If or when I'm on the market next year, I'll definitely apply to more places. It wasn't that there were only six jobs that appealed to me, but that I've been working on my dissertation as well. When places ask for statements of teaching philosophy or other materials, I weigh how much I want the job with how long it would take me to create those materials for them. Next year, I will have those materials all ready to go for the fall job push unless. . .unless. . .

On the Market Undercover

In the words of Bridget Jones, I have made a major decision. If I'm not going to end up shit-faced and listening to sad FM when I don't get the job I think I want, I have to take control of my life. No, not a diary. I've already got the blog. More important, I am going undercover.

Before I became an academic, back when I was a writer, I had this housemate. Probably the only native speaker of Yiddish under fifty in the country, she was a fascinating nutjob. She stayed up late to read the next day's New York Times online. She actually read The New Yorker, not just to read the poems and seethe at other poets' good luck, but the articles. What's more, she retained them. Talking to her was a wild ride, because she knew a great deal about politics, the humanities, the arts, the business world and made connections I sometimes couldn't follow.

She was the kind of intellectual that we in the academy should be -- with a broad knowledge of the world, the public sphere, and the latest developments in science, the arts, the humanities. But we are too caught up in our own private niche, our own bureaucratic compartment of knowledge until we end up pushing papers and arguing against ideas for something to say until, unconsciously flooded with the futility of it all, we wash up on the shores of postmodernism and actually believe that everything is play and nothing matters.

My housemate wasn't some stodgy specialist. By profession, she was a programming geek, a prodigy in math who had dropped out of Berkeley's graduate department. But the atmosphere of Silicon Valley and the obsessive work of its Gold Rush dreamers drove her nuts. So she went undercover. And wrote as an ethnographer of all the tirades of management, the overwork of programmers, the bang and bust of these software companies that employed her.

Dear reader, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going undercover. You'll hear about the absurd rituals, the mad foodways, the perverse mating habits of the academic villagers from someone who keeps threatening to go native.

The day before yesterday two different people stated I was different from many scholars because I am a writer. It struck me as odd. Odd that having a lifelong relationship with writing would mark me as different from people who regularly have to prove themselves with publications. Odder still because with all this dissertation writing, I realized I had forgotten that I am a writer -- that I entered the academy because the fit seemed decent-enough for a person who wanted to pursue intellectual, ethical, and imaginative questions in writing and who enjoyed helping others do the same.

Is it absurd to try to be a broad-based intellectual in the narrow intellectual halls of academe? To be a writer in the world of publish or perish? As silly as being on the market and still writing one's dissertation? For you, reader, I'm going to chronicle it all.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I have become a girl again, waiting for a boy to call.

I check my cell phone often. Is it on? What are the area codes of those schools again? I log onto their websites, search for their phone numbers. My cell phone buzzes my hip. Is it? Oh, it's a phone number I recognize. A good friend. Just a parent. Oh.

I glare at my office phone, hideously silent. Curse my email. Check the department website. Has their school gone up in flames? Log on to human resources. Yes, they are still "in process." Why haven't they called? Please, please, pick me.

Welcome to the Paradise

My world has always been an absurdist paradise. Lately, it has only become more so, because I am, as they say in the academy, "on the market." I am waxed apples in the grocery. I am shrink-wrapped cheese in the deli at midnight. I am shriveled dried dates in a plastic bin behind the yams on holiday special -- two for a dollar. I am "on the market," a "job candidate," one of many black-suited MLA hopefuls. Do I dare to wear brown? Do I dare to eat a peach?

One fateful Thursday during the last week of November, my officemate said the search committees wouldn't be calling to set up MLA interviews for weeks yet. That afternoon, my office phone rang. A cold call. A warm voice. An interview.

Eureka! I ran up the stairs to tell my advisor, who was chatting with one of my friends after a reading I had missed. My advisor burst into congratulations. But my friend hadn't heard anything yet. I felt bad. The happiness of any minor celebration in the academy -- a grant, a publication -- is mitigated by the fact that somewhere someone hates you for your good fortune, seethes about your dumb luck. Not my friend. Every conversation we have for the next two weeks: have they called? No. NO. My worry for her and her young family mounts. Then finally, yes. Yes. An interview. Relief.

No one tells you about how soon the panic ensues. You find yourself at the keyboard when you should be out drinking, catching up with friends you've lost track of when you were sucked up by writing job letters. You're on their website again. You're reading the strategic plan for the university, their plan to break ground on the new wing of their Recreation Center. You don't teach architecture, but you start looking at the plans. What if they ask you a question about how you see yourself fitting into department's future? Your microwaved dinner beeped a half-hour ago; you're busy performing Boolean searches, hacking into their mainframe, downloading their Aims and Scopes. Reading everything the Chronicle has on the school. You're supposed to be watching a movie with the only friend who can handle you when you're like this. You download articles off JStor of everything your interviewers have published in the last ten years. He slips out the door as you do google searches on their names, all versions of their first names.

Where's an egg timer when you need one? (The American President. My mother says she has no wisdom, that's why she quotes the movies. Wise woman, my mother.)