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."


Hilaire said...

This is a great post, really beautiful - and wry.

I am sorry that your interview didn't go as well as you'd hoped, though it quite possibly went better than you let yourself believe, right? That "I should have said X" voice is so annoying, isn't it?

Good luck with the next round!

Earnest English said...

Thanks so much Hilaire! And congrats on your accepting the challenging but probably good for the CV t-t job!