Saturday, September 29, 2007

to-do lists up the wazoo

Alrighty then, it is morning, I need caffeine, and I think that I have a bajillion things I need to do --- on three or four different lists. Last week was not my own, for reasons that may be revealed later, but I really really need to get back on top of things. You probably don't want to read this post; I'm going to blog my to-do lists like Earnest English used to do when she plowed through her dissertation so successfully.

Ok: I need breakfast and coffee, I also have no groceries, I need to clean my apt esp the Kitchen of Filth (otherwise known as the Pit of Despair and Dishes), I need to do laundry, I need to return (possibly copy and return) two overdue ILLs, I need to write a massive project that is immanently due, I need to email two profs, I need to fix a couple grading snafus from summer, and, of course, make progress on my job materials. So, to rearrange:
  • breakfast at neighborhood coffee shop and
  • plow through massive project (at least figure out where I was when I left off),
(this is what I hate about writing --- I wrote on it, does that mean I can cross it off? I didn’t “finish” or come to a stopping point. Sigh.)
  • then groceries once I'm too jittery to write
  • dump off ILLs at school while I'm in the car
  • then throw some laundry in and
  • clean at least the kitchen
(I finished pile of dishes of despair and cleaned my bedroom. The kitchen still is disgusting, though.)
  • fix grade problem
  • email my committee
I hope I make it through all those. The market will have to wait another day. Now, off to whiz through all my work with speed and productiveness!

Update: (and I balanced my checkbook and picked up drycleaning, which has been ready for two weeks now. Go me!)

Now I will cook something delicious. I may also need a manicure to counteract the nastiness of a mountain of dishes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Timing the Job Market: The “trial run” and the “gap year”

Over at Dean Dad’s is an interesting discussion about making a “trial run” on the job market. This person doesn’t say what discipline s/he is in, but for English literature jobs, the job “season” goes something like this: in the end of the summer, job candidates start preparing their materials. Jobs are posted throughout the fall, with the vast majority of searches doing interviews right after Christmas at the MLA convention. In Jan/Feb, schools fly out their top few candidates for a tour and extended interview, complete with giving a talk and possibly a teaching demonstration. Then the candidates wait anxiously, sometimes even a month or two, while schools debate their choices. There is then a second, less intense “season” in spring, which largely consists of visiting positions and community college jobs (the CC tenure track searches are like Australia to the universities’ Europe; the weather is off by a season. Readers are left to ponder on their own whether the analogy can be carried further.)

Now, this season is important when you start pondering timelines for finishing the dissertation. Dean Dad’s comment that at his previous school they simply chucked all the ABD applications matches up (depressingly) with anecdotal evidence I have heard elsewhere. Does this really mean that a candidate should have the PhD in hand at the start of this long job season, rather than finishing in spring and filing it with all the corrections in August? I’ll note that of the many job listings I have pulled of the JIL this year, almost all of them state “PhD in hand by start of appointment” and then list the appointment start date as August. Or September, if they do quarters. I only have one that states the PhD must be in hand at the time of application. Which means that either this pattern is not true or search committees are not being honest on their job descriptions.

I know people who have gotten jobs, then finished; I know people who have finished and then gotten jobs. Both kinds have come from my department, so it’s hard to tell definitively which way would be best. In fact, I have gotten vehement advice advocating for each way. If one goes on the market while ABD, getting a job is a wonderful incentive to finish up everything. In fact, this is the preferred method of our grads ---- and yes, you can write a chapter and a half between March when you get the job offer and June when you walk in the graduation ceremonies. And our profs do not allow people to run off to a new job without having completely revised and filed their dissertations, despite our frequent attempts to weasel away. (I hope the profs put this in our letters of recommendation, as we don’t do a dissertation defense. Those references to defense dates in Dean Dad’s post comments worry me.) The most important advantage of this route is that you go straight from one job to another, and you start a “real” salary before the student loans kick in. I know people who are pretty much finished, but didn’t get any jobs, so they are not filing and still trying to pick up TAships for this year to have health insurance and not pay back loans yet. “Don’t file!” They tell me. “Try to publish something rather than finish up the diss, and do another run next year.” This is probably fucking up our graduation and retention statistics, but hey, why give up the tenuous advantages of our grad school positions and no longer have access to the library or a university email account, just to be a Dr.?

Of course, the other side has the argument that any finished dissertation is superior to the best mostly-finished dissertation. Just push through and file, these advocates say. Then you can go on the market with the advantage of a completed PhD and work on publications to be stronger. Focusing on cranking out the diss by working as hard as possible is a lot easier when one is not also going on the market. And some of my cohort members tell me that the feeling of accomplishment is a wonderful ego-booster that really helps protect one during the frustrations of job hunting. However.

Think about the job market season again. If you walk in spring and file in August, you are perfectly placed to go on the market for fall. Except for the pesky details of paying rent and eating. And your student loans will start to come due with crushing force (and if you took out loans as an undergrad too? Those’ll be some big loans.) This is the “gap year,” which Dean Dad has in the past criticized but acknowledged as a regrettable necessity. My department doesn’t really have anything in place for our PhDs; there are sometimes some lectureship positions open but these are subject to the vicissitudes of profs’ sabbaticals and unstable funding. It’s possible to try and grab some composition adjuncting at the local community college, but it, too, sometimes fills up (with the “eternal grad students” who are out of funding from a variety of humanities departments) and there are no guarantees that it will have a job open when you need it. It also pays less than I currently make as a TA, with my loan deferments.

Furthermore, some of us have heard that schools want “newly minted” scholars rather than the penny with the shine worn off that adjuncts seem to be. Therefore we are wary of finishing and becoming locked into an adjunct trap where we are slowly suffocated on our loan payments and never actually get a tt job. I hear that Fancypants McPantserson U, my envy and arch nemesis, has set up a lectureship program where they guarantee all of their grads one year of post-defense teaching in their exact field, thus removing the desire to procrastinate endlessly in school while allowing them to build a couple courses in their area of expertise. I covet that for my grad program. (yessss, my precious!)

Ok, so that’s the gap year of my title. How the hell does this long post deal with the idea of a “trial run”? Well, my fellow grads are anxious. (me too.) The UC has been putting the screws to our teaching eligibility and slashing fellowship money, meanwhile being much more punitive against students who exceed the standard amount of time (when I first got here, we were all assured that it was no problem to take 10 years and that there were always comp sections to pick up once you ran out of “official” funding). And we see fellow grads go on the job market while ABD and pick up jobs. This combination of normative time pressure, lack of extended funding, and fear of being “tainted” as a permanent adjunct, has led us to go on our “trial run” of the job market earlier and earlier in our careers. My “trial run” last year, which I actually thought was a “real run” but didn’t get anything, was with three chapters under my belt. I’m late. Most of us are going out with two, sometimes “two,” meaning they have not been revised and accepted by their committees yet. In the last job meeting the Job Placement Advisor just kicked out a couple people with one chapter and one who has just defended the prospectus (“you can listen in,” he told them, “but you are not going out this year.”) More and more of us are worriedly saying we will “just apply to a few places this year” even though we have hardly anything done.

Thing is, going on the market is incredibly time consuming, frustrating, and emotionally draining. I bet it’s especially hard to write a dissertation abstract when you haven’t really gotten the chapter-writing format down quite yet. It is certainly difficult to sum up the “through-line” of your dissertation for your cover letter if you aren’t really sure what that through line is. (I still don’t know. It might not be there.) Plus there is a lot of running around, getting your letters in, copying, pulling together material, and general freaking out. And I can assure you that even if you aren’t the emotional drama type, not getting any interviews or not making any flybacks can be crushing. I was depressed all winter break last year. My friend took her rejections really personally as a sign that she was a fraud and not meant to be a professor, and was too depressed to work on her diss for several months afterwards. You could be using that time to actually make progress on your chapters and to prep stuff for publication ---- turning in chapters and sending off articles will pump up your confidence, while going on the market extremely early and not getting a job will only bring you down.

So, to conclude: hire me. Oh wait, that’s not it. Uh, no more of this “early hunting” and “trial run” business. To most effectively support their students, departments should discourage early job hunts and force grads to focus on writing their diss and publishing things instead. And have a guaranteed year of lectureship post-graduation to help them go on the market with the PhD and without the gap year. Now someone please put all this in place in time for me to benefit from it. Oh, wait.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Junk Mail I Don't Need to See

Some of you may remember my previous depressing bout with junk mail from this post.

Today, I got this:

Evidently the mortuary people are worried that the cremation people are taking over their market share in this neighborhood, as they are offering unbelievably low deals for my funeral and cemetery plot if I only act now.

Should I be taking this as some sort of omen, or commentary on grad school?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Writing the Statement of Teaching Philosophy

What the hell is a statement of teaching philosophy? These make no sense to me. And don’t point me to the sample ones on the web … I’ve seen 'em; I get, in theory, what they are supposed to do. What I want to know is: how seriously do places take them when they ask for them? How does one write one that is not vague, general, and dorky-sounding? Because, really, the sample ones I have seen sound either incredibly empty and inane (“I run a student-centered classroom” --- no shit, Sherlock, isn’t pretty much everybody’s class centered on, um, teaching the students?) or sound like ass-kissing pedagogy robots. And you know I like teaching, and I even like talking about pedagogy, but I really dislike those grad students who manage to sound incredibly formulaic and unnaturally enthusiastic when spouting off pedagogical jargon. (“In my class we leverage our dialogue to facilitate the acquisition of life-long learning skill sets!” ---- Couldn’t you just say, “I had a great breakthrough getting my students to understand me in class today”? Probably not, eh.)

The teaching philosophy is one of the places (oh, I could make a list of the places, honey) where my department falls down on the job in prepping us for the market. We are given no models, no examples, no list of what to do and not to do in the teaching philosophy. Last year whenever I mentioned I needed to write one and was having trouble, the job market advisor, my advisor, all the profs I talked to, just cocked their heads in that Aroo?-confused-dog look and then changed the subject. In one of the meetings I piped up to tack on “and sometimes a teaching philosophy” to a list of required materials and the job market advisor paused for a sec, then said, “Oh yeah, some places will want that sort of stuff.” Now, people very rarely out-and-out tell us that we have to get Research 1, tenure-track, fancy-pants jobs if we want to live up to the program’s standards but incidents like this get the point across pretty plainly. (although at times they do tell us straight out, usually when we’ve had a bad market year and we tell them about our only offer, which may be a VAP, a CC job, or state-school-out-in-the-middle of nowhere. Some of us were told that we were letting them down. I didn’t get anything at all though, and luckily nobody pulled any “letting us down” shit on me. I might have killed.)

Now I had to write a couple of them for last year’s job search, for different departments and types of jobs even. But I just went back and looked at them and they sound quite stupid. Unlike my job letter and diss abstract, which still sound intelligible a year later and I think just need lots of tweaking and smoothing. But no matter what I write, it sounds either un-teaching-philosophy-ish or vapid and stupid and not really like me.

I think it’s because it’s a “philosophy.” You’d think with my love of all things theory I’d be good at philosophizing my teaching. But nope. And what I do with theory is basically figure out what other people are theorizing. So heck, maybe I’m a brilliant writer of other peoples’ teaching philosophies, culled out of a suitcase of their strange and abstruse aphorisms. (If you think there is any money in this line of work I’d be willing to try it.) But my problem is that I can come up with laundry lists of what I like to do in the classroom and descriptions of exercises that are very concrete and specific and good, but that’s not a philosophy. And when I try to abstract a philosophy out of these activities I either get empty jargon that doesn’t sound like my teaching style, or a completely contradictory mess. (Cause honestly? I’m a pragmatist in the classroom ---- I’ll try anything once and see if it sticks. Which leaves me with a wide range of catchall tricks and “teaching recipes” that don’t make any sense when lined up next to each other.)

Furthermore, what I tried to do with the teaching philosophies last year, since I only had to do about three or four, was tailor them to the department asking for them. I poked around on the departments’ websites and tried to figure out what they were interested in, I matched my examples to the types of classes or surveys or authors they favored, etc. But what matched one department is reeeeaally off for the departments asking for statements this year. So, (gah!) I’ll have to do them all over again.

Thinking about it, I’m coming to hate teaching philosophies even more. I see that search committees are trying to find committed and thoughtful teachers who will work on improving their pedagogical strategies. But their means of assessing (heh, yeah, I know their lingo) teaching commitment and self-awareness is actually guaranteed to produce lies and game-playing, as it’s pretty much impossible to write something true to yourself and honest and get a job. (Though, what do I know? I didn’t get any jobs last year with my “earnest” teaching statements either.) For example, the following statements are all fairly accurate readings of aspects of my teaching style, but would never fit the format of a teaching philosophy:

- In my classes I model my own writing style to them, which involves endless whining and procrastinatory blog reading while nursing a beer and futzing over a badly-written draft...

- I am a hardass who believes in grinding down students’ young spirits through hard work and disciplinary structures. None of that “nurturing, accessible” shit from me --- I push students to do their reading and revise their drafts --- or I push them all the way out of the classroom. My evaluation comments are fairly evenly divided between the cliché “tough but fair” and “evil bitch-spawn from hell.” Besides, most of them come to love the beatings after a while.

- As both a graduate student and a teacher, I believe my role is to assist in the coming global revolution by boring from within. To that end, I combine a rigorous analysis of the corruptive nature of global capitalism with pragmatic activist organizing strategies, direct action, and group work. The writings of Paulo Freire and Franz Fanon, as well as Peter Elbow’s Writers Without Teachers, have been extraordinarily helpful to me. As an organic intellectual I look forward to the day when I can tell my teaching has been effective in overthrowing the university system because I am stood up against the wall and shot.

- Due to the keenly competitive structure of T&P and the rigorous demands of my active research and publishing schedule, I strive to cut corners and maximize effectiveness in my teaching wherever possible rather than have teaching eat my life. Luckily, my eminence in the field has attracted many grad students to our program, and I make working with me contingent on them doing most of my undergraduate teaching scut work. I believe the best student is the self-motivated student and that assigning drafts, reminding them of deadlines, and showing up regularly to the large lectures coddles them. College is meant to be preparation for the real world and as such the training wheels should be taken off as soon as possible.
(ok that one’s more my advisor and some of my profs than me --- but they are trying to mold me in their image, aren’t they?)

- Official university assessment methods like finals and evaluations are useless for actually figuring out what students’ real opinions are. That is why I have trained a network of spies, who resemble regular undergrads, to infiltrate other classrooms and public campus spaces. They listen in on my students’ conversations and ascertain which pedagogical aspects of my class worked and which confused the students. I also have extensive hourly breakdowns of who did the reading, how long it took them, and when they took a bathroom break. Plagiarism has been almost completely eliminated in my system, and my special STudent-Initiated Secret Inquisitions (Stasi) team tests how well the students have mastered the material by breaking into their dorms in the middle of the night, shining flashlights in their eyes, and asking them the exam questions. Students with excellent test results are often recruited into the team, while the Ds and Fs are never heard from again.

Your homework? To give me advice on a real teaching philosophy (some of you have got to be at teaching schools, right? If your SCs ask for statements, why? And what are they supposed to be like?) or, alternately, to amuse me by producing better parodies. Or heck, why not both?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fo' Shizzle, it's a Drizzle!

People, water has actually dropped from the sky (crazy, I know) off and on for the past two days and evenings. It is a bizarre and rather pleasant occurrence, as long as you ignore the fact that this moisture gets the highways damp and mixes with the oil and all the Californians can not fathom how to drive in such conditions. I have been celebrating this fall-reminiscent weather by curling up on a couch under a throw while cats purr on my lap. And I drank tea. This was very nice and autumnal, even. (Just a few weeks ago I was buying nothing but popsicles and salad makings and wondering if I could sleep outside on the foot-and-a-half wide walkway outside my door.) Of course, all that “weather” business is over now and we have returned to the typical California climate, which is mandated, I believe, in our constitution, to exactly resemble “room temperature” and Hollywood set lighting.

I wouldn’t mind having even more rain or continuing on with some cloudiness, just cause it makes a nice change, but on the other hand rainy cloudy mornings make me want to stay in bed, with or without the added incentive of cats napping on me (“Do my work? I can’t move! I might wake up the preciouses”). But really, if God were counting my work hours (oh please let this not be the case) s/he would notice that there was no appreciable dropoff in productivity with the rain, mainly because it’s hard to have it dip below a flat level of zero. What I’m trying to say here is that I haven’t really kicked it up since finishing my summer class, and I feel “meh” and uninspired and totally unmotivated to do anything, whether chapter, conference, or job market-related. Bleah.

You’d think all the impending deadlines would be whipping me into a frenzy, but it’s like I’m sleepwalking through no-man’s-land, shells exploding all around me, but I don’t notice or even hear. (WTF?? Have you been watching Saving Private Ryan and not telling me about it, self? Couldn’t you find a better analogy? Sheesh.) So, I periodically stare at my materials and go, eh, Advisor said she’d get back to me on them so I’ll wait. Then I stare at my chapter or paper and go, eh, this topic bores me. I’ve got it thought out but not written out, and that looks like the worst part of the work ---- none of the fun of discovery, all of the linking sentences and exposition left to do. Then I go read some blogs. And maybe have a snack. Or a nap. And then I try to just say screw it and go read something or watch a movie for pleasure, but I don’t even feel much like doing that. I dunno. You’d think it was sleep deprivation and a few good nights would bring back my energy levels, but it hasn’t. And this is just not the time to take a vacation and go visiting people, you know?

So… what to do? Any tips for magically getting my mojo back? Or getting oneself back into the self-motivated self-imposed deadline grind after a bout of teaching and procrastinating? Anybody want to write my chapter and/or conference paper for me? Hell, mopping the kitchen floor is on the list too if you’re not up for writing. I’m not up for anything. Maybe additional napping power is needed.

I sure hope this goes away before all my crap comes due. Which is starting frighteningly soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Random thoughts on Falling into Theory, a book review

(I wrote this a couple months ago and never finished it. Sorry. Here it is now.)

Long ago a friend was preparing a syllabus and list of readings as an assignment in one of our grad classes. In telling me about it, he mentioned he wanted to introduce the students to Theory, and he had ordered a book called Falling Into Theory. Ooh, I thought. That’s exactly how I felt when I discovered there was all this poststructuralist theory and so many conversations going on, and where the hell does one begin, considering that all these theorists cite other theorists and require the work of each other to be intelligible? I made a mental note to order the book for myself.

Well time passed and I muddled along till I was way past the need for an introductory theory text although I’m sure I could use more grounding in it or perhaps an external hard drive strapped to my forehead; my friend graduated and got a tt job and is now known as Herr Professor Doktor Doktor (while I’m still here --- sigh.) and now, years later, I ordered the book as part of prepping for a course I was going to teach. Then I got shifted into teaching another course and the book sat on my Bookshelf of Shame until, finally, in a fit of boredom, I skimmed it.

I was going to say how disappointed I was and how this book doesn’t at all live up to its title, but now I may qualify that a bit. What sold me, and Herr Professor Doktor Doktor, on the book, sight unseen, was the title. Whose first experience (or hundredth) wrestling with theory (or Theory) wasn’t filled with anxiety and confusion, sprinkled with a bit of pleasure, pride in being able to understand any of it, and awe that you could practically see your brain expanding?

The anxiety gets worse once you enter grad school, especially if you have required theory classes or reading lists. It seems that you should be able to “master” theory --- isn’t it called a Master of Arts? --- but the very project seems impossible. Where the hell do you start? There must be some “entry point,” even though Derrida and many other theorists have deconstructed the notion of the Origin or a stable center point to any structure. And so, as you struggle to find your feet and a framework for understanding theory, you feel like this:

Unfortunately, Falling Into Theory could more accurately be titled Falling into A Slight Awareness of Canon Formation and the Academy. It has critical articles that reference a few terms and points of theory, but not much that I would call theory qua theory. Nor does the introduction historicize the explosion of structuralism and poststructuralism into literature departments except in the most indirect way, painting a portrait of an ideal “pre-theory” department. Edenic, even. There is a strange undercurrent of nostalgia here for the “pre-theory” days even though the editor appears to be promoting theory. Note that he compares the difference between a controversy and a “state of theory” (into which we have fallen) to the qualitative differences between “a sigh and an asthmatic attack” (10) and that he questions how long this “state of theory” will last, as if he can’t wait for it to be over. In fact, it seems that his Fall is very different from my fall:

Evidently we are forced to wander in the wilderness of paradigm-shifting uncertainties until the Second Coming of Matthew Arnold and our eventual rapture back into the glorious fold of humanist aesthetics. What will happen to all the women and working-class people and people of color who don’t like their literature flavored with the aesthetics of Western humanism, I wonder? Are we not part of the elect?

(No, I’m serious, he does use Arnold’s “Dover Beach” as a jumping-off point for the breakup of our disciplinary assumptions)

He also edited the theory anthology I was assigned in undergrad and several different times in grad school. Both books have a similar focus on the “literary” part of literary studies that works to their detriment. Don’t look in Falling into Theory for Freud or Marx or Levi-Strauss or Stuart Hall. And likewise, Richter’s theory anthology often imports theorists from other disciplines awkwardly, including Marx's “On Greek Art in its Time” and Freud’s “On the Three Caskets” essays because they reference literature explicitly, rather than including a more grounding essay actual Marxist or Freudian critics would use in their own work.

So he’s coming at the definition of “Theory” from a totally different direction than I am: “theory is the talk we talk when a consensus breaks down, when we begin to disagree about fundamental principles and to argue about which principles are truly fundamental” (9). That’s not how I define theory. And there’s a difference between theoretically-informed criticism or arguments and theory itself ---- as HP Doktor Doktor put it, the first is holding up a colored lens and looking at a text with it, the latter is a discussion, or even creation, of the lens itself.

But now, to the good side, for I actually do believe this book is useful and would be great for undergrads. I think it would be good in our Introduction to Literature course, to get them to "fall into the discipline" and to start thinking about what is an English department and what are we supposed to do here/get out of it, as a foundational step before I get them to fall into any sorts of theory. Having students here realize that every syllabus is a canon, and every canon has assumptions and politics back of it, would be a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Second, it offers lots of examples of critical articles, so that students have some models for academic “voice” and “structure” that they can play with and model from. Even more important, there is a range of scholarly identities here, for lack of a better term --- the male/female ratio is approaching equal, although not quite (ok there’s a lot of co-authored articles here and I didn’t count precisely), and there are a variety of scholars of color, so this does bring in issues of race and class and gender and sexuality to the students’ attention. And really, as a heads-up to the existence of postcolonial studies, queer theory, critical race theory, and (old-school) feminist analysis, it’s not bad.

In sum, I may be asking for one 400-page book to do too much. If you ignore the title, or paste “Introduction to Literature: Teaching the Conflicts, Questioning the Canons” over it, the book is useful and valuable. But that still leaves Grad Student Me trapped on top of San Juan Capistrano. How do you teach students Theory? How do you learn it as a grad student? I’m still looking for a map of the unmappable, a starting-point for the originless, a ball of string for the labyrinth that is Theory. Any suggestions?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Procrastination --- Now With Sand!!!

I thought today would have just a short break, after cleaning and grocery shopping, and then I would leap into my various piles of work. Well, instead I took the whole afternoon off. But it was good. There is an annual sandcastle competition and finally I went. I've always liked sandcastles and making them, although it's hard to get friends to want to make castles with me, and my nieces and nephews want to make something just large enough and fast enough to smash it right away. So I don't get to try out cool things.

But today I took a long long walk and sought out the sandcastle competition. Where the hell was it? Wasn't it at the beach? How the hell many beaches do we have down here --- they are all connected! I did find it eventually and discovered it was a nice little festival thing --- lots of food, lots of families and people hanging out, a sandcastle judging contest, really bad yet good old school surf rock from some live band. I don't actually know how to describe the music, except it was rock, but kinda reminded me of surf rock --- they had a Moog. The band wasn't bad, once you drop any snooty pretensions, but the singer was rather horrible. Jeremiah was a bullfrog, sir, but you sound like you are trying to ruin your voice screaming. In honor of all the walking I did I got fries and sat for a while people-watching.

You're right, that's not a person. I have lots more pics (and more that I didn't even upload!) so go click here below and see the rest. They are cool and will make you happy. You need to bring back your childlike wonder and sandiness, what with the soul-sucking job market being upon us.

sandcastle contests

Anyway, people-watching. I keep forgetting that California does not have to mean tall skinny blond obnoxiously rich people, which my city especially tries to deny (you wouldn't know from walking around downtown that we have a near-majority Latino population). But sometimes when you go to stuff like this that the Beautiful People are too cool for, you can see another, less plastic side of California that is great. And that's always nice to remember.

I'm very ambivalent about this place. And by place, I mean state, as I would be quite glad to leave the land of the Rich and Formerly Connected with Hollywood. The only thing more annoying than film industry types are film industry types who have made enough money to retire young over here and crow about it (their money and success justifies their brilliance and their every opinion, of course.) As I'm thinking about the job market and the possibility of actually getting a job somewhere, I keep vacillating between elation (I could go somewhere with weather! and non-plastic people!) and fear (why can't I stick with the part of the country I know? What if it's way worse than here? What if there are bugs? (there are pretty much no bugs in California, by the way)). Likewise, the thought of getting a job in this state also fills me with waves of elation and fear (I might be near my parents! Oh, god, I'd have to live near Californians! And how would I live in the land of high prices?). Those last thoughts all count for both fear and excitement, depending on the moment.

So in anticipation for possibly moving away from this state I feel like I should be taking advantage of its advantages more. Problem is, I'm not really the surfing- kayaking -boogieboarding -hangliding -parachuting -movie-making type. I like to sit on my couch and be lazy. But at the least I can move my laziness to an outdoor location and hang out on the sand. Maybe I'll even go out and do some of these things one of these days.

Another self-portrait. Contrary to what some people think, this is about as far in the ocean as I go. There's (shudder) seaweed and crap in there!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ahh, better now.

First of all, I must say how sad it is and how it must be a sign of getting old if you go out drinking with the girls and we manage to get tired and finish up by 9:30. Sad, sad.

And second, I am in a better mood right now, as a day of not teaching often is, and really, singing weird job market songs at the top of your lungs a couple times really does help. I didn't swim today though. I will really need to keep up on that as fall carries on ---- sweat out the anxiety. (Or swim out, whatever.) I also figured out why I may have been extra touchy about a couple really bad class sessions the past few days; oddly enough, I am reminded in surprise every month: what, this is not the world conspiring against me but hormones? Surely you jest --- I am the picture of rational reasonableness. What? Oh ... no, no I don't usually try to defenestrate people most of the month. Eh, maybe it is me.

I also cheered myself up by going out to get Indian food last night ---- a paragon of deliciousness. And in a sideline rant, can I take a sec to complain about the inability to get anything delivered in this town? How is it that we can have 5-star restaurants everywhere you try to swing a cat but not get anything delivered? I called the Indian place of maximum tastiness (I think we have 4 here, ranging from unsanitary-don't-go-there-again to orgasmic treat) and they wanted a 20 dollar delivery fee. And 20 as a minimum order. "Just a second," I said. They said ok. So I hung up, got in the car, drove not two minutes, and walked in the place. Have they no respect for the lazy or depressed? Pizza, Chinese, pretty much the same way. If you've got 5 or 6 people at your house already I think it may be worth it. But what the hell?

Ah, food. I love eating. I eat when I'm happy, when I'm bored, when I need cheering up --- whatever. That's gonna be a problem this job season, I think. I know I need bigger interview clothes. But I don't want to have to get a several-size larger suit. I'm gonna need a better method of pick-me-up that is less caloric (all cheer-food calories must be transferred to the alcohol-comfort column now) in addition to upping my swimming. I have something cool to show you up lined up for tomorrow, but if you have any other suggestions, have at it too.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

To be sung to the tune of a major Broadway musical

I feel crappy
So unhappy
Like I'm banging my head on the wallllllllll!
Students nap-y
And they aren't doing their reading at all.

I feel shitty
Full of pity
My job prospects are practically nilllllllll!
And so shitty
For a job I just might have to kill

See that disgruntled cog in that mirror there!
(what mirror where?)
Who can that disaffected girl be?
(she's got no sense of rhythm, yo)
She's still gotta grade,
She's still gotta write,
She's still gotta update
Her CV!
(her CV her CV)

I feel lousy
grump and grous-y
Feel like hiding at home in my bed!
For I've been teaching*
until I feel half dead!

*that line should read teaching/grading/trying to get my advisor to update my letter/prep for job market/scramble to put my chapter together/ freak out about job market/ have unbecoming hate-filled waves of envy towards friends who are more market prepared or closer to done than me, but it didn't scan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Meme of Four

Heu mihi --- which is not “hey, you, me” but a cool phrase meaning “woe is me,” who knew? --- has tagged me with a meme. So, voila!

4 first names of crushes:
I’ll stick with a theme, here:
1. Jason (actually two, both in high school)
2. John
3. Jeremy
4. Jim

(*and bonus non-boring-guy-name crush (although, really, that’s not my fault): Gareth, sigh! the original sweet and goofy emo geek of much cuteness.)

4 Pieces of Clothing I wish I still owned (and/or that still fit):
1. my “hi, I’m Kurt Cobain or possibly play guitar for Hole,” outfit consisting of plaid flannel shirt (over white tube top) and shredded tights under cutoffs. It’s the nostalgia, really.
2. a black bolero wrap trimmed with marabou feathers at the neck and cuffs (SF thrift store find)
3. the tiny blue-green plaid miniskirt I wore to the end-of-the-year work party as a junior in college (sadly, it didn’t fit only 6 mos. later).
4. a similarly tiny red dress/miniskirt from when swing dancing was popular, although I didn’t really ever pick up the swing dancing.

4 names I've been called at one time or another:
1. Shorty
2. Smartass
3. Stuck-up bitch (takes one to know one, gf)
4. Professor (I never corrected this this summer; it felt too good! Now all my students are referring to me as “Professor Cog” and I feel a vague wave of guilt under the “hee! Professor!” glee.)

4 professions I secretly want to try:
1. Benevolent Dictator of the World
2. Rock Star
3. Yak Herder
4. Indie coffeehouse owner (think High Fidelity, but with food)

4 musicians I'd most want to go on a date with:
1. Well as long as it’s a magic meme I’d say either Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix, even though I think the date would end three days later with me waking up alone and hung over in a small roadside motel of Route 66 with the police pounding down the door. Terrifying, yet who can resist?
2. Oh, and Lane Staley of Alice in Chains would be another impossible, because dead, pick.
3. Thom Yorke
4. Karen Oh from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

4 foods I'd rather throw than eat:
1. Cheez-Whiz (actually, I’d rather fire it than throw it. Fun!)
2. beets
3. zucchini
4. tapioca pudding (yik!)

4 things I like to sniff:
1. chocolate
2. fresh-baked bread
3. pipe tobacco (once it’s lit, though, all bets are off! This is just for like in a tobacconist shop)
4. babies (no, I’m not snortin' babies! They have that smell --- like the new car smell, only people. I’m serious!)

4 people I tag:
1. Tree of Knowledge
2. Horace
3. Undine
4. Kulturfluff

Sunday, September 9, 2007

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else...

The 2006 Job Search Revisited

Not getting a single flyback or job offer: Pr ---- hey, what the fuck?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I sent out 57 applications last year, by the way. I’m sure I forgot some expenses; I was keeping track of them for a while last year but as things got crazy I stopped, needing those brain cells for something else. For a cost breakdown of a full job search, complete with job offer, someone published an account of her final dissertation year here.

There’s a small patch of good news this year: our school's dossier service will now let us charge it to our credit card rather than pay cash on the barrel or with a check. That’s a big deal if you’re trying to send out applications in fall before getting your first paycheck or loan.

I’ll also commend our department: it allows us to use for free: the Job Information List, the copier, dept. letterhead, paper and printing; it also provides envelopes and mails your applications as long as you don’t want it sent in a rush (which sometimes you have to as you get avalanched by the craziness).

Search committees also seem to have moved towards asking for less stuff in the first pass, which helps those of us who aren’t getting assistance from our departments (although many of those places where I sent out just a letter and CV never contacted me for more stuff, sniff.) I would really urge departments to not ask for transcripts until at least the second pass or preferably as part of flybacks, cause it’s just silly for all 600 million of us applicants to enrich our schools by another 5 bucks.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Law of Conservation of Sleep

In the past I have joked about "the law of conservation of sleep" --- my hypothesis that there is only so much sleep in the world, and for everyone who has an especially good night's sleep, someone else has a bad night or insomnia. (Perhaps it works within one person's experience --- I have certainly had good and bad sleeps this week.)

But now I think I have observed with my highly scientific observation process a new phenomenon, that I will tentatively call "The law of conservation of productivity" (yeah, it should be a theory first; whatever. In my world I'm the king, so deal). I postulate that there is actually a finite amount of productivity and focused-ness circulating, and an excess in one person is balanced by a corresponding deficit in another. Or, correspondingly, that there is a finite amount of productivity in a person's week, and once over that limit it becomes almost impossible to continue productive-ness.

At least, this seems to be the case with me. Wednesday was extraordinarily productive by my count ---- I caught up on grading in-class stuff, tackled a bunch of essays (not that all my students had turned the essays in on time --- hello! Get it in, please) and prepped for class. Usually I've been spreading that out across a whole week. As if that was my output for the week, yesterday was a wash; I went back to bed and slept late, then spent the afternoon, after prepping the class, staring at internet sites and NYT articles. The late essays went ungraded.

So will today continue my deficit of productiveness, or can I turn it around somehow? It's not like I've been doing all that much besides teaching these days. The dissertation is quietly growing mold over in the corner. The job market materials remain un-updated. I need to get on it and get back on track, so I'll need to be more productive. But can I escape the law of conservation of productivity? Will I be stealing someone else's mojo, or end up disproving my postulate?

Anyway, I racked my brain for some way to vanquish my desire to nap and decided: bullets! And public shaming techniques. These are often helpful.
  • clear out the huge backlog of dishes in the sink
  • grade all the essays
  • make sure all in-class writing and attendance are up to date in gradebook
  • read next class readings
  • make prompt to hand out Monday
  • email AWOL student
  • email a prof and two grads about market stuff
I'm sure I could add more, but I won't get the feeling of joy and accomplishment from having a fully crossed-off list. And I need to do the emailing last in the day, because email paves the road to hell the internet. Righto! Off for coffee!

Update: Gah! There were more essays than I had thought. And I had left all but two at my office, so I had to go in, and did some other errand-y stuff besides. Well, ok. I can at least get the emails off my plate as well. Sigh. Freakin' stuff and the need to do it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why I am a Cog

Dear Graduate students from my department,

I knew that eventually someone who knew me would find my blog and potentially recognize me, my sartorial tastes, or my cats (hello! what took you so long? Why isn't everyone bowing down to my greatness and showering me with worship and approving recognition?) and today I see from my sitemeter that someone from my city has, at last, visited. Even if by chance this was a random connection and not someone from my school or department, I wanted to post a few words about my identity and my choice for anonymity.

I do not want my identity known or my real life name associated with this blog. This should already be clear but it bears repeating. Even if I weren’t going on the market and already freaking out about the various academic horror tales about search committees prejudiced by the mere existence of those newfangled “blogs” out there on the “pile of tubes” or the whiny tones perceived on personal blogs, I would not want my professional public identity irrevocably yoked to this blog identity in print form. I should note that I rarely post on this blog during the normal “work day” --- this is an after-work hobby. But the level of silliness I can successfully pull off in person and still have people take me (relatively) intellectually seriously is quite different than what works in print. In person, one can grant a colleague an off day, a momentary spate of grumpiness, or share silliness about pop culture (or bad puns about one’s work), and return to “more serious” matters. A blog post, however, can be returned to again and again and reinterpreted in uncharitable ways. There’s no need for people to equate my name with “someone griping about her students and grading load” rather than the mellifluous prose and incisive theoretical interventions of my research on nose-picking in eighteenth-century literature. Or whatever my topic might be.

If I know you, or you think I know you, or you just want to say, “hi,” feel free to drop me a line at my gmail account ---- it’s up under the cat picture on the right. I will delete any comments that get publicly posted if they out my identity, location or otherwise too closely identify me. That may include comments that out yourself. And please, just to be on the safe side, don’t email me at my university account (what if you're wrong, fool?) or randomly post things about this blog to the grad or (heaven forfend!) faculty listservs.

Second, I write as an anonymous cog because I am larger than life, mythic even. (And not mythic because I don’t actually exist. The other kind.) At least on this blog, I stand for experiences greater than myself, if not quite universal. Rather than seeing myself as just a chick who writes personal things here, I prefer to present myself as a cog chugging away in the great academic-industrial complex. For I have come to see that (coggishness? coggery?) as my fundamental position in academia, and I wish to explore how the cog, as a facet of academic labor, works. You may notice my interest in institutions and power, and I find the structural aspects and subject positionings of being a grad student, a teacher, a professor, a researcher, to be just as interesting and important as any personal vicissitudes. Forget the individual --- the personal is structural! is my new motto.

I don’t see this as changing anywhere in the near future, either --- the power balance might shift a bit, the pay get better, the free gov’ment ride dry up (oh sweet sweet subsidized loans, how you are like crack to me!), but I think I will never be more than a cog in a vast and intricate machine. Some might hate this thought; I find it soothing. There is no “outside,” no utopia where everything is solved and resolved at the level of the tenure track or the full professor ---- academia has gotten so big that even A Very Good Professor at a wonderful school is but one element of a much larger system, one node in a vast network of shifting power relations and resistances. I don’t think we should cry about it, or avoid it; I want to study it. Just because there will always be bureaucracies and power relations does not mean we cannot shape to some extent the way those structures will be. And if we don’t actively reshape them, others will.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

To Postdoc or not to Postdoc?

I swore that I was Not Dealing With the job market or even thinking about it until I finished teaching my summer class. I lied.

Having caught up on my bloglines, I was left with the choice of either reading random internet sites or grading student essays. I guess I could prep tomorrow’s class along with the grading. Obviously, I chose option c) blogging on my non-random blog, about the above interdicted topic.

The Job List is not out yet (tho’ jobs are starting to appear in the chronicle and inside higher ed for affiliated departments I could possibly cross-apply to) but Famous Postdoc Positions in the humanities have permanent websites, and many have been updated with the “theme” or “topic” for the year. I can peruse them right now, all the while wondering: would it be worth it?

Let me immediately make clear that I am not turning up my nose at the pay or even teaching loads (50k would be unimaginable riches compared to a full teaching year here for grad students. Even the ones that offer 30k are the UC equivalent of two grad students.). I can handle teaching multiple sections or even multiple courses because of all the teaching I did here --- though I have heard that certain postdocs are really exploitative adjunct positions in disguise and have met several people now who went back on the market after teaching a 3-3 or even 4-4 load of business and technical writing at a certain place only to get another postdoc or nothing. (So I fear that some of these positions are a ladder downward, not upward onto the tenure track.)

No, what really concerns me is the draining nature of the application process. Postdoc applications are more specialized and resemble fellowship apps. (You may need a special type of letter and additional statement of how your work intersects with the theme in addition to a standard statement of research, for example.) The ones at the Big Ivies and Elite SLACs also charge an application fee (usually $20 or $30) to scare off the hordes. And the UC system has a postdoc system, but you need to find a sponsor at another UC to mentor you, as well as prove that your work enhances diversity in some way. Mine arguably might, but I don’t, and I think I’d get put at the bottom of the pile because of that.

Most worrisome are the letters of recommendation, which I presume would have to be different from job letters and specially tailored to each postdoc position. I try not to unduly piss off any committee members and asking them for 8 million different hassles of postdoc recommendations would seem to needlessly use up my store of social capital. (Advisor capital? Grad-schoolian capital? Help: my Bourdieu is across the room and I can’t get up.)

So, considering that applying for postdocs would be more time-consuming and committee-pissing-off than the usual job application, I thought I would ask you, the blogosphere, and whoever else might listen, if going for these postdocs would be worth it.

I should add one more thing: I’m not sure you’ve heard of my school, or my department. Seriously, do the Big Ivies only consider grads from the other Big Ivies? (I just read an article citing Lacan and his use of “the Big Other,” which my phrase reminds me of, and so I’m keeping it for amusement and appropriateness.) I should go see if any have lists of previous awardees. If they only take students from Cambridge and Harvard, then I shouldn’t even bother.

Last year I applied to one postdoc, because the topic was quite close to my own, and it was at a committee member’s alma mater. (Connections, you know? I can hope.) I made it to the second cut and they asked for another writing sample. They also sent the request as a list to the 24 other people from the second cut, rather than blind-carbon-copying it. That’s how I know there were 25, and that me and the other person here who worked with said committee member were the only people from a public school; the rest were grads at Big Ivies.

Finally, while some postdocs are due on D-day (November 1 seems to be the deadline for job applications) and some are due in early December, quite a lot are due almost immediately. So I need to make this decision right away or else it will be made for me by the passing of time.

Gah. On the one hand, I'm all "maximize your time investments!" and on the other, "desperation is staring you in the face! Apply to everything! Now! Go, go go! I don't care if you're not in an economics department; apply to that job too --- apply, apply, apply!" It's amazing that I actually get any teaching prep or writing done over all this mental shouting. But listening to this inner fight has exhausted me and so I'm going to put the decision making all in your hands. Heads or tails? Up or down? Stay or go?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Self Portrait Number 312: A Cog at the Beach

Happy Labor Day!Ok, you may need to interpret "beach" a bit more widely. Further pictures follow.

I know I'm spoiled by California --- I can go to the beach pretty easily, so I usually go during the school year on a weekday. (when I do actually go.) I forgot that this, as Labor day weekend and the last weekend before k-12 school starts, would be absolutely crazy and crowded. Plus it's hot --- it was in the 90s inside my apartment today, and the high 80s outside. Bleach!

I drove out of town to the closest state park beach and bought the very last day pass. (Yay spontaneity! Yay serendipity! And luck!) I wanted not to be surrounded by screaming yipping children and barbecue-ers, so I walked so far down the beach I got to the edge, which was rocks and unpleasant brackish-smelling water. The rocks were treacherous. Or at least round. And when you put a lot of round rocks together, with me, things get tricky.

The view to my left.

The view to my right (baby shower, quinceanera, and barbecue-ing beer guzzlers cropped out).

At around 4 I moved to a new spot where I posed for Self Portrait Number 315. Sand at last. I'm going to have a huge farmer tan. And my feet are going to be 12 shades darker than the rest of me, which was under an umbrella. Happy Labor Day all! Go do your reading somewhere pleasant.