I have had a shitty week. Back and forth I have gone shuttling between my advisor and another professor, who has been on the job market recently. And as I go back and forth, bearing my job materials like flags, I have gotten more and more frustrated.
How am I to present myself? In what way should I describe myself so as to actually get a job?
“You are a tiger,” Advisor tells me. “We have worked for so many years sharpening your teeth, and you have, if I do say so myself, such a beautiful coat of stripey fur, one of the best I have seen. Showcase it! Spend more time on describing the oranges and blacks, the gleaming claws — you need an entire paragraph here in your letter on the phenomenology of pouncing.”
“This pouncing paragraph needs to go,” says the Younger Professor. “You’ve already devoted quite a lot to it in the first paragraph. That might look good to the very top Tiger Departments, but you say that you have a lot of small, religiously oriented colleges with job ads this year — shouldn’t you be positioning yourself in a slightly more, uh, traditionalist way? And what could be more part of the great tradition than a Lady? This whole paragraph here should be rewritten to bring out your Ladylike qualities and show them how your research really does wonderfully exemplify Lady Studies.”
“Sisyphus, no.” My Advisor says with a frown. “Your materials are getting worse, not better. They are starting to sound incoherent. Where is the leaping, the gnashing of fangs, what’s at stake in leaping out of the forest at unwary travelers?”
“Don’t you think if I seem too tigerish, I might … scare some search committees off?” I mumble.
“Sisyphus. No!” (Yes, when my Advisor talks to me it often does sound exactly like scolding a misbehaving puppy. I hadn’t really noticed that until writing this post.) I drooped, abashed. My Advisor looked at me sternly. “If they don’t want a tiger, they don’t want a tiger. You don’t want to waste your time and theirs.”
“But I want a job. Any job. I’m not picky; I’m quite an easy-going tiger; I can wear a gown and pointy princess hat…” (wait, did I say that out loud?)
“No!! You definitely don’t want to battle them at tenure time with them upset because they feel they have been deceived as to who you really are!” (Oh my god, she can read minds!)
Fine then. The moral of the job application: be your true self. But who am I?
I went in search of more advice.
“Marsupials are hot this year,” said Professor Nonsequitor. “And you did such a great job TAing for my Kangaroo class. Why aren’t you applying for those jobs?”
“I’m not in your field,” said Professor Traditionalist. “But I want to know more about the important scholars you are responding to. You should include them and how you are intervening in the critical debate here right after your first sentence about the dissertation.”
“You want my entire lit review?”
“Yes, but it shouldn’t be more than a couple sentences.”
“I really don’t see how this is humanist, or literary,” said The Humanist Prof. “Why should I even care about a bunch of savage tigers? You need to pretend this is traditional, at least for the first few paragraphs. Where are the Ladies?”
“We’re posthumanist,” I growled back. “And wouldn’t the mention of antihumanist theorists like Butler and Foucault and Deleuze and Guatarri and Leopold the Lion in the dissertation abstract tip people off?”
“Yeah, those … could you just lose them entirely?”
“But … then I wouldn’t have any argument.”
“Ooh, problem,” he smirked back.
“I don’t know what advice to give you,” said Impossibly On Top of Things Grad Student, “I’m just so busy fending off job offers I’ve got to beat them with sticks.” I felt a rumbling starting in the back of my throat.
Depressed, I held my job letter up to see my reflection. I didn’t even see a hybrid or monster; just a botch. So many people had scribbled words and suggestions over it there were entire passages that were not at all my own.
Where do I belong? Pacing around behind bars waiting to tear someone limb from limb suddenly sounded … disappointing. And boring. Would they even let me near a book ever?
And sitting at the top of a tower, embroidering the world and combing my hair sounded equally dull and limited. And how could anyone really reconcile both?
All I know is that somehow I’ve got to make some sort of decision, and put on some sort of disguise — when are we ever not wearing a disguise? — and wait behind this door. When someone opens it — if someone chooses it — either a lady or a tiger has to come out. And I have no idea what to do or what is going to happen.
These days I feel like mauling somebody, or maybe crying. Maybe both.