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.

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