Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Question for the Ages

Do I go get chocolate truffle or chocolate mint chip ice cream? Despite needing to prep for class and wash an enormous pile of dishes, not to mention the fact that I made a vow just last night that this quarter I would lose those 10 pounds, I am in need of something dessert-oriented. I'm not so bad as I was the other day, but still feel the need to self-medicate, and as I have neither Prozac or rum in the house, ice cream it is! Of course, I was an idiot and bought lots of healthy fresh food which is merrily rotting away in the refrigerator because I am going to walk downtown and get ice cream instead of eating the fruits and veggies, but what can you do? You certainly can't self-medicate with fresh blueberries, not without some lovely vanilla ice cream on them. And I have no ice cream here or any desserts at all, because of my silly weight loss vow. Ah well, live and learn.

The job search situation remains the same. Still no news. I'm going to not think about publishing anything or my various backup plans B through F (or rather creating more backup plans) tonight; I'm just going to concentrate on how cold and creamy and smooth the ice cream is. Because I know I make stupid decisions when I try to plan stuff at the end of the day when I'm tired and cranky and depressed just on an ordinary basis, much less days like these. Which brings me back to the original question: chocolate chocolate chocolate, or a lighter, more minty chocolate version?

Monday, March 30, 2009

End Game.

Well, the four-year job apps are done and sent. I think the season is done ---- nothing was posted on Friday (and there has been nothing I could apply to for weeks).

As of Friday, the last of my community college job apps are out --- the exact same time as I got my first cc rejection letter.


That sound you hear is the sound of my stomach eating myself.

Or maybe my heart breaking.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009



What's that sad little hurt stomach sound Bart makes sometimes?

I'm makin' it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Decorating Lust

My complete inability to finish these CC apps is probably telling me something, eh? I think it's more that the applications suck than the jobs do, but I really can't get myself to work on some of these. (seriously, grade your sample essay? Sigh. Yes, I totally see why you want me to. It's the most sensible way to screen for this type of job. And yet? I'm about to get all my finals and final projects and have no desire whatsoever to mark up that thing and justify my comments with recent pedagogy theory. Couldn't you have an ice-cream eating contest instead? No? Bummer.)

There are so many things I'd rather do than fill out more applications, like shop online, or get a root canal. And today, in conversation with some people who have actually snagged jobs this year, I admitted to my cravings to have and decorate my own office. (Having my own salary would help.) But I did not reveal the details of my deep, dark, perverse decorating desires as I knew they would cause people to stare and back away from me uncomfortably.

I want to decorate my office like a wunderkammer.

Yes, those 18th-century pre-museums, part naturalist study, part flea market junk heap. I sooo want to do it! Granted, the walls full of bookshelves would kinda get in the way of covering every conceivable surface with curiosities and pseudo-scientific trash, but there must be some way to integrate the two! Oooh, and if I could get one of those cupboards with all the little shelves and cubbies and mini drawers ---- oooh! All my obsessive-compulsive little circuits are being set off by that image! Yay!

I'm thinking some interesting shells, dried coral, candles, brightly-colored rocks, maybe a skeleton of a narwhal or something like that stuck on the wall, bowls filled with beans or pebbles or seeds or old keys, various old bits of instruments or antique utensils or old torture instruments, interesting branches or leaves, along with whatever random shiny things I could include from other cultures without being too offensive. And of course, old cast-iron nose-picking tools.

It would look something like this but way less orderly:

And the stuff should be not too deadly or fragile, as I imagine students coming in and handling all the stuff and admiring the textures when they come in to see me in office hours (clearly I'm imagining myself at an exclusive little liberal arts college?) And as I'm writing this I recognize that this emphasis on texture and luscious, artfully chaotic display probably was instilled in me by all those upscale bohemian retail stores that I claim not to like but have been influenced by all the same:

Like Anthropologie shown above, or Crate-N-Pottery Barn or whatever site I stole these from below:

Sigh. They really can burrow into our heads and take root like the creatures from Alien, can't they? Maybe it would be different if I actually salvaged the stuff from junk stores and ebay? Or had my students bring interesting things back from their travels all around the world? Sigh. Maybe I should just embrace it and hope that the students all like those kinds of stores too. Then they can happily browse around in my boho-gypsyish wunderkammer and touch all the stuff while I tell them stories about wigs and eighteenth-century nosepickers.

As long as they don't ask me for a store catalog on their way out, eh?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

First Casualty

Not actually the first, I am sure. But Friday marked the first time --- and I am sure not the last --- that a student came to talk with me about the economic crisis.

This student has been missing classes, was late turning in the various steps of the research paper I have assigned everyone in a vain attempt to force them not to start it the night before. This student came in not to offer excuses but to explain her absences, give me a little window into her life.

"How soon can you get me X and Y?" I asked. "I won't accept the paper without them. They can be late but they must come in before the paper does. Do you have a topic?"

Oh yes. And so we talked about her paper, research, the course, and how she can get it back on track. How she needs to get all of her classes back on track.

"My parents are going through foreclosure," she said. "And they got this letter ---- and I'm always the one who does the translating for them, so I've been driving home every weekend and even having to go with them to meetings on weekdays too sometimes. 'What does this form say; tell the lawyer this; what are our options; what does that mean; what is the fine print of our mortgage,' " she makes the hand motions of tossing a stack of papers off her lap, left and right. "It's been hard for me to get it through to them that I have stuff I need to deal with too. They're really worried. But I have all these deadlines too, and I keep telling them that I have to get this stuff done before I can go home for break, yew knew?"

"And," I ask gingerly, "will you be able to come back, after break?"

She blows out a long exhalation of breath. "Ffffffffffffff. I don't know. I'm still waiting on that. I've been over to financial aid and the bursar's office and the counselor's and I don't know for sure what's up. It's harder to get loans now, yew knew, and my parents have no money. But I don't qualify for much, because both of them were working double jobs, in order to pay for that damn house ---" she shakes her head. "I don't even know why they bothered with that thing," she says.

I nod sympathetically, but I think of how strong the pull of house-owning is for an immigrant family: the American Dream. I also think that I have never read a mortgage, much less worried about my parents' payments on it ---- certainly not at age 21 or so.

"So anyway, the financial aid people don't take into account bankruptcy or foreclosure, and I've been maxing out my loans already ---- I work this shit job and the loans cover tuition and my parents have been paying the rest of the rent so far --- but now --- and I work twenty hours a week in that coffee shop and see all these other peeps working there to pay for cell phones and with their beemers an' shit---"

By this time my head nodding is constant, falling into a rhythm with her litany as if backed by silent techno music. "Dood," I say, and she nods. "Ya dewd."

We are silent for a little while.

"I've been looking into getting myself declared not a dependent of my parents, so their income doesn't count against me and I could get Pell grants, but I hear that so many people are doing that right now and the state just doesn't care; you can declare all you want but that isn't going to change your aid amount. But I've been calling private lenders and no one wants to give me private loans right now."

"The thing with loans is," I say ruefully, "ya gotta pay em back." We commiserate a bit more --- my loan amount, her loan amount, the thought of looking for work in this economic climate, whether transferring to another school so she could live at home --- if it's still there --- or taking the rest of her GEs at the local community college is an option. "Whatever you do," I advise, "if they tell you the class counts, get it in writing from both ends. I'm not saying they purposefully trick people into thinking the classes will transfer, but it would really suck if you were trying to save money and then it didn't go through." By the end of the meeting, I have worked with her on her paper topic and also suggested 4 or 5 funding ideas that she hadn't come up with yet, and at last she leaves my office hours.

And when she goes I think about how she had asked permission to make anouncements in class about _____ Student Group and _____ Cultural Night, how these associations will be losing a leader and active member even if she does manage to come back next quarter under increased financial stress, about what it's like to juggle 20 hours a week at work with a full load of classes, volunteering for outreach, and running several student cultural organizations, even before someone calls to say what's this pink letter they've nailed to our door? And I think about who is last in and first squeezed out, what color our university will be, what sort of backgrounds will be left here as this recession goes on --- their cell phones and with their beemers an' shit --- how she had originally planned grad school for an MFT or MSW but with all these loans that's probably not going to happen now --- and I just think: shit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Like Chinese boxes, or maybe an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a vest

I wonder what the search committees think when they get a big ol' express mail envelope and open it to discover another, regular envelope all sealed and addressed inside it.

But seriously, wtf is up with the post office insisting on doing the express option (or even overnight) to get an envelope from one point of CA to another point in CA by Friday? Seriously, people! These are not far and distant points in this grand state either, I would like to point out.

Anywhoo, search committees, it is actually not a sign of the applicant's fumblyness but the Evil Postal Services. Don't forget this, kthanxbai.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hey, that's MY rock! Or, more of the usual job-search-related grumbling

It's time to be depressed once again. I haven't wailed to the heavens lately and besides, I need to find ever-more-creative ways to avoid doing my grading.

Over at the Chronicle, someone has stolen my persona! Give it back! Just because I use the myth of Sisyphus and the big bad rock to indicate how my story is a near-universal one of the grad school experience, doesn't mean I want other people horning in on my shtick. This chica's in history, too, so I want to note that said person is not me. Humpf.

There's something about first-person columns at the Chronicle though that make me completely unsympathetic, despite the fact that I am in the same situation and I write this blog at least partly to make the structural nature of academia visible. What are you doing with all that credit card debt and a kid, lady? How did you make it all the way through school without realizing you were in a shitbag situation sooner? You married a fellow history grad and expected that both of you would become employed? Hey, graduating with a PhD while pushing 30 is nothing, what about meeeeeee wah wah wah?

That said, I did totally empathize with this section:
Now I just have to decide how long I intend to push this boulder up the hill, and when enough will be enough. The last thing I want to do is drag my family down with me, but at the same time, I hate the thought of giving up and calling it quits. Like it or not, my pride, my sense of self-worth, even my sanity, are wrapped up in the seemingly fruitless academic job search. Will Sisyphus ever learn his lesson? Will I?
Yeah, other people have quarreled over whether academia is special and distinct from other professional-managerial-class jobs in terms of how all-encompassing it is and how much your entire idenity gets wrapped up in it ---- I think it does, particularly in the humanities where you may be researching something that is close to your personal identity ---- but I'm coming to the realization that quitting this profession is as much a process as remaining in it is. Just as you must periodically rededicate yourself to your research and the profession ---- the real point, I think, of conferences and visiting speakers, where getting re-energized by the contact with other scholars is as if not more important than actually presenting your work ---- quitting academia is a daily goal, a resolution which must be reinforced constantly in order to move full speed ahead.

Otherwise, you end up resolving to leave and then resolving to stay, sending out a half-assed app here and there or kinda taking up an outside job and kinda still working on an article and scanning the job list, or planning to quit and then going to, for example, workshops on book publishing, which then leave you even more torn and conflicted. It's like how they say a huge amount of effort goes into turning a battleship; if that effort isn't in a consistent direction the ship ends up going nowhere. It may look stagnant, but in fact there is a turmoil of energy, whamming first in this direction and then in that, producing no movement, only exhaustion.

All of which is to say, I'm tired and hate doing the CC job apps even more than those for 4 year schools, but that watching people I know lose their jobs left and right and get paid in CA scrip rather than money has made me feel that I have nothing to complain about. In just a few short years we have gone from me being totally unable to explain the academic job market to friends because it is so competitive and alien to everyone being able to get exactly what I am talking about but not recognize that academia has always been this way. Back at my cousin's wedding, his relatives were all looking at me like I was a freak for having such a hard time getting a job; surely something is wrong with me or I don't know how to apply to stuff, right? To now, I am sure they would tell me that they know exactly what I am talking about because times are hard and everybody knows somebody who's been laid off. Which is yes and no. There are still problems specific to academia, but it's nice to know that people sorta understand. It would be nicer to actually get a job instead, but, whatever.

I'm still not really ready to throw in the towel, though I am very tired and in some ways feeling totally disconnected, out of the loop on my field and my research already. On the other hand, I keep reading stuff that plainly indicates this was the good year of the recession here in academia; all that shit we saw with the jobs getting cancelled this year was the leading edge of the storm and it's going to take a lot longer and slower to pass through academia than through the business world. There's an ever-cheerful New York Times article here that maps out the various hiring freezes and tough job markets across the disciplines, including these cheerful paragraphs:

“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker.”


What’s more, nearly half of all the positions are part time — with no job security and no benefits — a situation that many educators expect to worsen.

And over on the Chronicle boards someone has started compiling a list of what various universities are doing to handle their budget cuts. This one is the one you really want to read. I'm serious ---- of any of the links here, that one is the most important. In direct contrast to what profs in my department are advising --- "just wait, the VAP market will be especially good this year," the posters on that list overwhelmingly state that they will not be using VAPs to fill frozen tenure lines or sabbatical replacements, and they just simply aren't going to hire adjuncts next year. Instead, they are being pushed to raise student caps on faculty classes or even remake the teaching loads for faculty. Some of them are going to fire all their tt faculty at their 3rd year review, others will get around the tenure rules by folding departments or combining them, and then firing tenured profs. It will be harder for students to get into their classes because schools simply will not offer them rather than hire adjuncts. This is pretty on par with what I've heard when I go asking around here to the various departments I sent proposed courses to last year ---- and even though our local CC cut all its new faculty lines this year, they say they are not planning on hiring any additional adjuncts to make up the slack (though people who are already adjuncting for them will probably still be able to get something). Thing is, if the CCs won't hire me because I don't have experience adjuncting for one of them, which they might very well think, I have no clue how to get my foot in these days.

Sigh. Cheerful, no? And yet I am still in the magical land of delusion where somehow it will all work out right for me and I will get a tenure track offer for somewhere delicious any day now. Somehow the fact that it was a shitty year all around has managed to convince me, at least partly, that since my failure on the market this year had nothing to do with my qualifications, therefore I could get a job if I just wait and try it one more year. But then I look at these budgets and predictions and think that that way lies madness. (Of course, if ignorance is bliss, then maybe complete psychosis would be pretty fun too?)

My department ---- and at least a couple other departments I know of ---- has straight-up told its grad students not to graduate this year and to wait it out to apply until next year. I guess the thinking is that someone who graduates during this "low patch" just won't ever get hired as his/her PhD gets slowly staler and staler (thanks guys! way to help me out with the timely advice!). But it has also promised them that they will not be getting any teaching funding from the department, while at the same time breezily noting that they can apply for "all those TAships in other departments," to which I raise an eyebrow, for if sociology and history are refusing to let their grads graduate as well, competition for the TAships in our programs without grad students is going to be fierce. I've already had several people from a better-funded field stop me in the halls and tell me that, now that their gravy train is drying up, they are going to apply out to some of the same programs where I worked. Hmm. I don't know about that. The history people have a better lock in the art history program than we do, and sociology has a better fit with the ethnic studies department. And if your dissertation isn't on film or legal studies or environmental globalism, then how competitive are you really for those programs? When I TA'd outside the department, some of our science departments were so flush that none of their grad students TAd. Ever. And anybody who could do quantitative stuff was desperately needed for the sci classes, so I could be slotted in to any general studies course that involved making the students do the reading and then talk about it rather than stats. Now, I'd think that the flow is going the other way, and no one's going to be offering someone in the English department a spot TAing beginning environmentalism or intro to poly sci any more.

Which all means that it's pretty sure I need to move somewhere else if I plan to eke out some adjuncting next year. Somewhere that doesn't have its own pool of desperate grad students tied down to the region. But where, and how to make the jump off into the unknown? For my last depressing link of this post, I could link to that Time magazine article all about middle aged people moving back in with their parents. But I don't want to have to think about the absolute bottom yet.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I should be prepping for class

but something tells me that it has been a while since I posted some cat pictures:

Unfortunately, that didn't take long at all. Now I have to find some other way to avoid doing my work. Humph.

Monday, March 2, 2009


if you advertise a meeting as a "how to turn your dissertation into a book" roundtable panel, I expect the people speaking at the roundtable to be editors, you know, book people. Not grad students. If I had known it was basically a chance for a bunch of grad students to read their prospectuses aloud and get some feedback from the audience, I would have blown it off and gotten my actual work done.

Unless the "your" in the title actually referred to the presenters' dissertations, not mine?