Monday, February 26, 2007

Here's a Question

Dear friends who have completed their dissertations,

How many times when you were still and quiet did you suddenly burst out, tilt your head back Charlie Brown-style so you were all mouth, and cry: but there's no point to writing a dissertation!

Just wondering,


Sunday, February 25, 2007

What on Earth?

Why is it that after an interview I want to swear and curse and be sullen? I'm like a kid who after smiling sweetly for Grandma and the camera has to go on a tear. See the kid racing around the room, crashing my toy cars into people's feet? That's me. Street angel, house devil, my mom called it. Not that I was one. Or maybe she thought I was. Who knows what she thought? She's constantly surprised now at the things she said back then.

So where the hell have I been? Good question. Who the f*** knows. So I mourned POP Me U (idiots) and then mourned Adventure U (ditto). And though a couple of the jobs that came out recently looked decent, I just couldn't get up the excitement and funds (most require even more expensive conference fees) to do it anymore. I just wanted to work on my diss (okay, a half hour at a time, but even that's better than how much I do when worrying about the market) and be done. My MLA roommate has decided to just go on the market again in fall -- and frankly, that just seemed like the best idea.

Then there was this other issue. The existential crisis. Though I love teaching and my research, I feel like I have not been working on the one thing that I've always wanted to do. The thing I value before all other things. The reason why being an academic had once seemed like such a good idea. Writing. And though I've written drips and drabs, I feel like I haven't written anything worthwhile. Okay, except maybe this blog. But I think it was the blog -- and getting some good and supportive feedback about it -- that made me think I could write, despite rejection slips aplenty. At different points in my program, upset about the loss of my writer self, I've slid into the self-obsessed pit of despond. People who love me enough to put up with me when I'm in this trying mood have said reasonably: after your dissertation, why don't you take some time off and write something? And having slid again into this totally unreasonable murk, I heard some echo of that wisdom and thought what a good idea.

Well, that's what I thought a couple days after my SO suggested moving in with him and writing. The first couple days I was thinking about all the things I would lose: financial (and thus actual) independence, structure, academic time, community, blah, blah, blah. At about the time that I calmed down and realized that my SO was actually Willy Wonka and that I was the holder of a golden ticket and so f***ing lucky it hurts, I got an email. From Adventure U. Wanting another interview. Which I have now completed. I don't feel great about it. But who f***ing knows?

So all that said, why oh why haven't I been blogging??? Partly because I didn't feel I had anything cute to say. Somehow I had talked myself into this idea that I should be fabulously entertaining on my blog -- that if you come to dinner at Absurdist Paradise, you should be entertained by Earnest's witty banter right up to the moment that her cigarette ash falls into the scrambled eggs she's passing off as a meal. Or I should be Bridget Jonesing for you every minute. (Which shouldn't be pressure because I do that without trying.)

Or maybe I haven't been blogging because I've unnecessarily limited the blog to my academic life. So when trying to explore my writing life, the blog didn't seem like the space to do that in. Pretty stupid, eh? I haven't been reading other academic blogs either. I'm going to remedy that right now. But I do want to thank all of you who've been checking here to see if I had gotten off my lazy ass and written something. It means a lot to me. I'll try not to go AWOL again soon.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Week in Review

I'm sorry I haven't written in the last few days. It wasn't so much that I spiralled into a depression when I found out at long last that POP Me U has not shortlisted me (turning them into Party POoPers), but that Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesday I work in the evenings. A good friend of mine and I just started our writing group on Monday night (why, oh why on Monday nights, making three late nights in a row?!). Of course, now it's Saturday and I have to quickly write something to show him for next Monday, having written in a brief, daily session Boice-style on Tuesday and then fallen off that horse again.

On Monday evening, I was walking down the hall to find out whether my friend wanted to go have dinner (having decided against going home and working out), when I saw him coming at me, face like thunder. He had just taken his draft to a workshop group of faculty and grad students sponsored by the department. Now, this group is just infamous for making people feel like crap. Everyone complains about it, faculty and students alike. I stopped going because I don't think it's helpful to my scholarship. Instead of engaging in a dialogue that would actually help the work, graduate students perform for the faculty members, sharpening their critical claws on each other. Faculty members engage in petty squabbles with one another over points in their students' work. You'd actually never guess that these people regularly teach writing, discussing with their students what is good feedback and what isn't. This group is NOT a good scene, a hard place from which to get useful feedback -- and the process usually just feels like shit.

So there he was, my good friend who tries hard to be nice to everyone, even the people who don't deserve it. And he had a bad time at this group. Faculty members told him he should cut out a substantial amount; after dinner and coffee, we figured that the piece just doesn't start up quickly enough so they don't see that he's trying to map a whole process. (Apparently, those faculty members are really excited about a particular theorist my friend uses and are pressuring him to write something to bring the theorist into the field; what they don't know is that from my interdisciplinary standpoint, much of that conversation is already dead, leading nowhere in terms of furthering the field discussions. The map my friend is exploring is much more interesting and important than exploring the dead end that theorist represents. What's more, if they want to see a particular kind of work done, they should do it themselves, taking that out of the equation when reading someone else's work.) Grrr.

My TA work for the Cool Class is taking up a lot of time, commenting on drafts and reading books. Of course, I really want to do it all, and since there's the prospect of immediate feedback it seems infinitely better than working on my diss, right?

Included in the TA work was reading a book that drove me nuts. The ideas and sample exercises were fantastic, really inspiring, the kind that make me want to jump up and start writing and teaching. But these writers addressed their audience of teachers as if we had never thought about teaching before. And they constantly spoke about students as if they knew what all students were thinking. It's never taken me so long to get through a 125 page book before.

I've been considering not applying for any other jobs (besides adjunct). It takes so much time -- and more of my brain. I need to focus on this diss, focus on getting some writing done that I value, focus on the fact that my SO is coming into town today and I need to wash dishes and take out the trash. I have one last university to hear from -- Adventure U. That would be a great opportunity for me, the kind that would really help me develop my research agenda. I should hear from them in the next week or two. But otherwise I think I need to focus on the writing.

Monday, February 5, 2007

POP Me Update

It's official. They're just not that into me.

A Pause before Battle

I'm staring another week down across the battlefield. The air's frigid. Trampled weeds under my feet are hoary with frost. I can see my own breath and really, I'm ready to let the enemy take me. Loot, pillage. . .just let me go back to sleep. But I made it to the battlefield -- and now I just have to screw up enough courage to go meet the fray.

Working in the tutoring center means that I'm on campus every day, working with poor unsuspecting students who want help. Why did I think that this was going to be less draining than teaching a class? (Insanity!) Really, it does have its great moments -- and I'm getting a view of the university (mostly bad) that I only got in blink-and-it's-gone glimpses before. Last week, there was a flurry of applications for a program on campus that is underfunded and understaffed, though considering the mission of the university, it should be one of those departments that money is regularly just poured into. (I imagine Pirates of the Carribean-style coffers of doubloons being poured into the program's angry mouth.) It makes no sense. The application process was similarly unreasonable, with the longest ever letter of intent to be graded against a rubric. On the one hand, the rubric provided a great deal of information for the applicant and me as a tutor; on the other hand, they were grading things that only obscurely apply to the program and a student's success in it. I don't know. This world makes no sense to me.

Here are the things I immediately face:
  1. Tutoring meeting.
  2. Emailing students from last semester about picking up their portfolios so that I can get rid of all the bad karma that is keeping POP Me U administrator from emailing me. (Here's one thing: I'm never in my office. I have no office hours because I'm tutoring. Here's another thing: the minute the class is over, the knot in my head that keeps students' names, faces, and work together in my head begins to loosen, completely untying itself by the time they waltz into my office and wait for their portfolio expectantly, while I bumble and ask them what their portfolio looks like to buy time. I just suck with names. I just do. I'm the person who will second- and third-guess someone's name until their real true name seems hopelessly improbable, like when you repeat a word so many times that its meaning, pronunciation, and spelling all unstick together and they all hover above the word, and you just can't remember what it's supposed to sound like, look like, or mean. Okay, tell me this sometimes happens to you. Oh god, maybe I am crazy. I'd go back to bed, but the cat scratched me when I started to doze off. He tore around the house trying to wake me up at 7. He's sleeping it off now. It's tiring being an alarm clock for such an ungrateful wretch.)
  3. Tutoring a new regular. Poor guy.
  4. Writing group. When I melted down in Senior Scholar's office dramatizing my feelings about my dissertation by throwing my head back and staring at the ceiling (you, smart reader, would never ever do this), SS suggested a writing group. Last week, this seemed like an excellent idea, a way to avoid the feeling of writing into a void. A way to make my ideas seem pertinent in the world, worth talking about, engaging with others. That was last week. I called up a friend-colleague who is working on comp essays, and we set it up. Then yesterday when I was actually working (it was a red letter day, yesterday -- of course, I started at a civilized hour - 11AM), I was tootling around the internet and found a dissertation help blog that suggested writing the whole thing. And I thought -- YES! -- I should just write the whole damn thing. No working with comments. No revision plans. No Chapter 1 unraveling under me as I try to knit Chapter 2. (Today, it seems totally reasonable to blame the fact that I worked hard on Chapter 1, then got comments back as to its being hard to read as a core reason why Chapter 2 has just sat on the other side of the room from me, fixing me with a steely stare. Dissertation resistance. It just didn't want to be born only to be immediately critiqued. You can't blame it. You wouldn't look at a baby and say it's messy and ugly and needs to go back into the cooker! Okay, maybe that analogy doesn't hold up. But I just wonder what would happen if someone cooed at my dissertation. Can you imagine that defense, everyone around the stack of pages, cooing and playing peek-a-boo?)
  5. And, of course, the inevitable: wait.
It doesn't seem like much, but really I have to squeeze in a bunch of other things, when I really want to be eat bon-bons, flip through magazines, and talk on the telephone for hours with a pound and a half of cream upon my face. (Points for anyone who recognizes that reference.)

Okay, I'll quit procrastinating. You know you're in trouble when you're putting off showering and eating breakfast because that means you'll have to get on with your day.

Number of cups of coffee to fuel this post: 2
Number of times I went to because I had forgotten how to spell: 3
Number of times I wanted to grumble or sigh but didn't have the energy: oh, thousands

Happy Manic Monday!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Incorrect as Usual, King Friday (with Apologies to the Neighborhood of Make Believe)

Apparently, there is always more waiting to be done. Now I am waiting for a return email. Sigh.

Just remember, reader: you can't be more ridiculous or hateful than I am. Not only do I hate at my computer but also the man starting a conversation with me outside the bookshop who expects that I have a sense of humor. I also hate the insouciant slouch of a "star" colleague holding court in the local coffeehouse (he wouldn't be such a pompous ass if he were on the market, I thought yesterday, disgusted). Blogger has also made the list because not only would it not let me put links on my last post, but it gulped yesterday's bile-laced-with-humor post, making this only a flicker on the wall of the post that, with time, has become ideal.

Totally unfairly, I've decided that POP Me U must be having adminstrative problems. I know this is crazy. I don't care -- it's a nice story to tell myself that I don't really want this job anyway. What I really want is a spot at Adventure U, who interviewed me at MLA and told me then that they'd be getting back to me later this month. I've been telling myself that in a cosmic way, it's good that POP Me doesn't seem to want me. If I were offered both jobs, I would be torn between the person who after five years in grad school just want to plant perennials and dig in somewhere, anywhere, and the adventurer whose careers as an academic and as a writer would be made by a couple years at Adventure U.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Last Day of Waiting

I promised myself weeks ago (at Medieval Woman's suggestion) that I would email POP Me U for an update come February. Well, January lasts, where I am, a mere half-hour more. So bright and early I'm going to craft a polite "what's up" email. Perhaps I will soon be crestfallen with the news that I am not and never was on their shortlist. Or maybe I will find out that they are interviewing at another conference, the whole process drawn out longer. I don't know. But I must know. Knowing anything, including that they are using my cover letter as a dartboard on their faculty bulletin board, will be a relief. I'm just not a nice person like this, refusing to return phone calls because I don't want to have to hear the question: how's the job hunt?

But it does occur to me, the time finally drawing nigh, that the period of waiting/daydreaming does have its good side: I get to imagine my life in all sorts of ways, each future unknown, possible, and strange -- but which is also a bit threatening, like it will all turn out to be a nightmare like that one where I go on in a play that I've been acting in for a while, but suddenly it occurs to me that I shouldn't know the part, that I can't remember studying the lines, so I forget them. All the while, I am terribly aware that if I could just forget myself -- that is, I don't have to know what I'm doing -- I will just go on auto-pilot, acting in the play as I have nights upon nights before. As if I would get to some job, some future, and not really be able to figure out what I'm supposed to do there.

These last few days I've built up some righteous indignation for POP Me U, as if they are the only ones who haven't gotten back to candidates (the Wiki is full of them) -- also a premonition/fear that they have already hired someone else. We'll see what happens. I will say that checking their website everyday has proven totally unhelpful in maintaining any sort of peace of mind. Also, frantic Wiki-checking is not a good idea (but inevitable, like eating the entire of contents of one's fridge when your boyfriend dumps you for a stick insect). But the old saw that one hour of exercise is worth 50 MG of Zoloft? Inexplicably, right on the money.

I have been spending time in the presence of my dissertation, who has rebelled against being called The Blob and demands a nice name or he'll be mean to me and go all squirrelly again. We go on mini-dates, where, like a couple trying to patch things up, we see if we can remember how to be good to one another again. Part of this trial patch-up is moving off the computer onto paper, which seems less loaded. I now write notes and things, do reading, count searching for files on my computer as time we're spending together. (Note that I do not call my time with the dissertation work. She doesn't like that. (Note sex change. It's difficult for me to catch up with all the metamorphosing.)) Part of this I got from Boice's Advice for New Faculty Members, since I've decided I am one, even if no one yet recognizes. (Thanks, Dr. Four Eyes, for the suggestion!)

Last week, before I melted down, I went to a gathering of three of us on the market. One who had a whirlwind flyback-campus interview said simply that she felt it was the right job at the wrong time. She seemed at peace. Another, the kind who has gotten every award the department has to offer, says she's avoiding the department right now: she wants to duck the perennial question (how the job search going?) because she is afraid of letting down all her mentors. And then there was me. Just a stewing black cloud.

In rockin' news, Medieval Woman and Hilaire are both in negotiations! Awesome!