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.


Anonymous said...

but, but, but...
I was *counting* on you to report on the famed: "is the rectum a text" paper/panel!!!!

Ah, well, perhaps another denizen of CHE fora...

Glad its over for you, my gang heads into another city this week to undergo our rituals. Blah.

Hilaire said...

I think it's fab that Senior Scholar wants to see your work! Congratulations!

The other thing I think is that Senior Scholar probably recognizes that the disertation is the way you've described - because I actually think a lot of people think about it like that. People are waking up to the fact that the diss isn't a be-all and end-all. You know? I'll bet you can relax a bit about it. Also, tell him, "it's a draft," of course.

Good luck. May your waiting period be wonderfully productive!

Earnest English said...

Thanks Hilaire! I do hope that Senior Scholar expects something very drafty. I feel honored, but overwhelmed. Now my diss isn't just going to be something for five people. That's a little scary.

Waiting sucks. Especially because I am very dangerously starting to dream. Bad, bad, bad.