Friday, December 29, 2006

Why do I not look forward to Saddam's execution?


First, it is quite simple. I take no delight in murder or revenge. They are the marks of animals, not human beings.

As Percy Shelley wrote, in The Mask of Anarchy:
...What is Freedom?--ye can tell
That which slavery is, too well--
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own.

... 'Tis to be a slave in soul
And to hold no strong control
Over your own wills, but be
All that others make of ye.

...Then it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood--and wrong for wrong--
Do not thus when ye are strong.
Simple enough advice. A measure of strength, I believe.

Murder is barbarism. The death penalty is unbecoming a modern world. Execution is barbaric; it reflects on the victors far more than the victims.

Second, assuming Saddam is guilty of even a portion of what he has been accused (which I have little reason to doubt), the least, the very least, that a civilized nation, a civilized court could offer is a fair trial, which I have little reason to believe his was. The closure that a fair trial, a fair finding of guilty, a harsh but civilized penalty that reflects the nature of the society in which it is issued rather than the bestial properties of the accused.

Pity that. And pity that the animals who led my great nation to war, to exchange barbarism for barbarism, violence for violence, blood for blood, wrong for wrong, who ensnared the innocent in the midst of that, who caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands, who destroyed a portion of our youth, poisoning their lives with death and murder still have not acknowledged their mistakes, their deceit for God-knows-what purpose to attack the tyrant of a nation, indeed that nation itself, in exchange for an attack on our soil which had nothing to do with them.

I grieve for my world, and hope that humanity will return for my children's sake.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I grow weary of the chase

[What follows are the thoughts of a man exhausted from the holidays, full-time parent for the past week, and one more to come. These factors color my mood, I know. What I don't know is who will emerge with my face in the mirror come 2007.]

In his final months, my father and I had a frank conversation. I had been encouraging him as much as I could, to write, to use his mind, to be productive. I have perhaps a couple hours of recordings from that time, of him reciting his own poems. A weary and raspy voice recounts the words he penned in better days. His confusion, and loss of direction in the verse, as he worked to cant the proper tone, are palpable, and sad. That day, he paused in his response: "The hardest thing is... the hardest thing... is not being productive."


Beside me on the couch lies a heap of books: Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market; Guide to Literary Agents; Writer's Market, Deluxe Edition; Nolo's Patents for Beginners and Patent, Copyright & Trademark. I wonder about venture capital, about starting my own company dedicated to the practical applications of my research.

I grow weary of the chase. The hardest thing is not being productive.

I search. I seek. I apply. And I wait. Tired am I.

The time ripens, like a persimmon, slowly, but inexorably. The new job listings are few and mostly fail to excite me. There is one more for me to send off, deadline end of February. That makes about 18 so far this season, I believe. Not too shabby. Not too selective. And I wait to hear more from the schools I've already applied. Yes, I had requests for supplemental material from two schools. Perhaps more will come. I don't know.

Three applications I submitted had January deadlines, so they're still open. Eight closed in December. Of the two who asked for supplements, one closed mid-November, the second at the beginning of December. I am still committed to this season. I may yet harvest fruit where barren branches have taunted me so far.

But I do wonder whether the quarry warrants the effort. I find it ever more difficult to imagine myself next year at 39, pushing 40, sitting just where I sit now, still waiting and wondering.

I begin to think: any club that wouldn't have me... fuck 'em!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Maybe I am all that

Email today from Bidar Aharon, organizer of this conference in the Spring I've mentioned before. In September he contacted me requesting that I prepare a paper and provide some suggestions for others to invite. I was flattered, and wrote him back. I mentioned back then that I understood the difference between "a paper please!" and "we'll pay all your expenses". In corresponding with him, I indicated that I was currently "without papers" so to speak, and would appreciate any support they might offer me, to assist my coming.

A few weeks ago, I was taken aback by his immediate and enthusiastic response to my abstract submittal. Today's email brought the following message from Bidar:
Dear Articulate

I'm trying to procure some funds for you, and some others from the States, and what I'm going to do is apply to [Funding Source] for you and the others to do a kind of keynote panel. We'll see if it works... What I need from you is a cost for travel, and any other expenses.
Wow! Um, yeah, sure. It's nice to be treated like this, even if it's all tentative at the moment. I'm simply unused to being courted like this. I think of Bright Star's recent comments about being courted for a faculty post. Who knows? Maybe that's next.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hommage á Saint-Exupéry

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.

So then I had to choose another career, and I learned to pilot airplanes. I have flown almost everywhere in the world. And, as a matter of fact, geography has been a big help to me. I could tell China from Arizona at first glance, which is very useful if you get lost during the night.

So I have had, in the course of my life, lots of encounters with lots of serious people. I have spent lots of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at close range... which hasn't much improved my opinion of them.

Whenever I encountered a grown-up who seemed to me at all enlightened, I would experiment on him with my drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I wanted to see if he really understood anything. But he would always answer, "That's a hat." Then I wouldn't talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person.

[The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943), translated from the French by Richard Howard, Harcourt, Inc., San Diego, 2000, pp. 2-3.]
Little known fact about Articulate Dad: he has a collection of The Little Prince, now comprising 15 volumes in 13 languages. Hungarian (Magyar) version will be added around the top of the year. Less known fact about Articulate Dad, he sometimes takes himself too seriously, and is ashamed to perhaps be considered "a reasonable person" by the likes of the narrator of The Little Prince.

I recently mused about the possibility of getting scooped in my work. Recent events have led me to reflect a bit on life and expectations and meaning and worth. My friend WhatNow? writes of coveting and of taking her job search further afield. Yes, life sometimes deals us an unlucky hand. But then, perhaps our luck at cards should remind us to get out of the casino; flowers are blooming elsewhere, just waiting for a nose to smell them.

I can't say I'm ready to quit the academic job search. But I feel myself edging closer and closer to not caring as much. Perhaps, one way or another, this will be my final season of looking, at least looking at this pace. I'm actually okay with where I am. I am committed to my research. But then, I recognize it may all come to naught. What defense do I have against that? Only this: to not take it all so seriously. To ensure that there is else in my life that gives meaning to my works.

My father once said that our choice in life is whether or not we will be good. History alone can determine whether we will be great. My work is important to me. It gives me direction, a sense of meaning, purpose. But... it is not all. In focus, we sometimes forget the day to day.

Too many people live each day as if it were their last, some ensuring that fate. I used to say live each day as if it were your first, with the wide-open wondering eyes of a child. And yet, I find myself too many days losing patience with my children's wonderful curiosity. I need to work hard to remember the things in life that we can control, and those which we can't. I need to recall to be thankful, as my friend Trillwing recently put it, to have "first world problems". Ah yes, these things to remember.

Domestic... (?)

Domestic bliss? Domestic hiss?

Self-identity update: I now appear in the role of house host. I cook. Good food. I clean. I build fires, and pick up toys. I work on my patience. I sit in the living room, and look at my bookshelves, and wonder what all those things are doing there, gathering dust.


Okay, these times come and go. Life, in many ways, most ways really, is very good. But I want so much to have some reason for writing a new year's letter, to have something to say, to show for my effort and time passing.

I've been thinking lately about the practical applications of my research. I think of Propter Doc's recent comment. (When you've got no external support mechanism for your research -- I suppose it's like being a poor misunderstood and neglected artist or poet -- you've got to find the motivation and the justification within.) Oh, there are many. Much of it, of course, is what I deem basic research. It's got to be done. There are few who do this sort of work, who look at these things. But I can see implementations that could really and truly change aspects of our daily lives.

That's good. That's exciting. I have to remember these things as I go about marketing myself, and my work. But I wonder... just like the chemist or physicist or biologist, who spends a lifetime on a problem, finding a solution to it... will I, might I... get scooped just before a breakthrough? What happens to someone who spends years or decades of effort, getting closer and closer to a solution, only to have someone else solve the very problem? Is all of their time wasted?

Ah, there must be more in life than work? But what about the work? Perhaps the process is more important (or at least at times like that, it must become more important) than the product. Perhaps it enriches the individual, even if the resolution fails to serve the greater world? Is that enough? What is the worth of an individual, dedicated in life to their work, if the sum product of that work is... an empty set? I think of the recent suicide of Bright Star's friend, or Denise Denton's back in June. How sad to feel so empty. No one should ever feel that low. I've had practice keeping myself above those depths, but what can we do for others?

Oh, there is more to life. That I know.

Friday, December 15, 2006

On this night we celebrate

Happy Hanukkah to all.

This is the holiday when we celebrate the miracle of eating fried foods for eight days... and not gaining a pound.




Over the past few days, every time I worked on preparing the supplemental materials for the job at Big West Private, I felt tired, or distracted, or... I really want this job. That adds to the nerves. But, I'm being realistic. I may not even get a campus interview. But it's that excitement, and fear, that kept me from simply sending everything off.

I wanted to rework some of my earlier work, maybe submit it to a journal, so I could mark it as "under consideration." But, in the end, I decided that what I am today is what I have to offer. As Jim Lodz put it, this is the chance I have to represent myself as I wish to be represented. I just need to be me. Frankly, I'm most interested in landing a post, where I don't have to pretend. So, I sent a bunch of stuff, mostly brief (except for my dissertation distillation article, which numbers 35 single-spaced pages of 10 pt font).

  1. The dissertation distillation article.
  2. An invited commentary on a target article.
  3. Two abstracts for upcoming conferences: the first already accepted; the second I'm hoping will be.
  4. A description of my [Logitudinal Project].
  5. Student evaluations [oops, just got an email from the administrative assistant saying please disregard their earlier request for student evals. So I sent a reply asking her to disregard their inclusion in the email I already sent].
  6. [Oops oops. Sent another email to attach yet one more item] A conference paper I gave in 2003, which seems particularly relevant to this position.
I like that this group prefers electronic submissions over hard copies for these materials. It says something about them being in the 21st century. Of course, their retraction of the request for student evaluations seems to put them even further in the research category. I'm okay with that. As I've heard over and over, I look like a researcher. I do want to teach also, and it would seem that this position would give me that opportunity, but likely not overburden me with lecture hall service courses.

The good thing is, it's done. I sent everything off, cc'ing my recommenders, following up with personal emails to each of them. Now, I can try to forget it. My excitement for this post has all but swallowed up my worrying about Western-Flagship. That's good. Best to not think about them. I'll either get the calls or not. I'll either be invited to campus or not. I'll either be offered a job, or not. Those I have no control over, certainly not at this point.

So, I keep plugging away at my work. Fortunately, I'll have a break as well. The au pair is going with a friend to South America for Christmas, leaving tomorrow night. She'll be gone nearly two weeks.
As I wrote yesterday, my brother and nephew arrive on Monday. They'll be staying until Sunday. My wife's parents arrive on Tuesday, and they'll be staying until Monday. It'll be a full house here at the Articulates. Good thing I like to cook, eh?

And now that I'm done with my emailing and blogging, I'm off to my (temporarily I hope) internetless office to do some work that requires silence and concentration. Hopefully I can sneak away a few hours each day while the inlaws are here, to continue. It's work that I haven't been doing for months now, but which feels really good to get back into. It's also work that needs to be done for my February/March conference talks.

***On another note: I finally made contact with someone at a local field site, who can help me get started on data collection for my [Longitudinal Project]. I'm quite excited, though nothing is settled yet. Have you ever tried to get a longitudinal human subjects project off the ground with absolutely no institutional help? Cultivated naivety, that's the only way. Don't tell me it's impossible. I'm not listening. Na na na.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oh the joys

Well, the good news is, apparently Oldest Brother has managed to get his disability pay reinstated, so he'll be earning... well, let's say he'll be making about as much as I expect to make if I land a junior faculty post, as disability payment. There is a possibility then that he'll remain where he is (though frankly I think it's not likely, and his financial situation would be much better if he did move in with us). I'm not going to force the situation though. Lord knows it wouldn't be easier on me.

But he is going to come down (with the Nephew) for Hannukah. Latest plan is they'll arrive on Monday. And how long do you plan to stay? Oh, I was thinking we'd stay until Sunday. [The wife chimes in:] Um... OB, you know, um... my parents are arriving Tuesday. [Me:] So, we're going to have a full house for a week.

Good thing the au pair is taking a vacation with friends to South America. We'll have her bedroom to use as well. [SIGH] What are you going to say? Family!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Oh, nothing free lasts forever

Three weeks since I wrote Office Internet. Sad to say, they've moved, today. I am once again internetless at the office. (I came home for a visit to check email and such). Another neighbor in the building agreed to set up wireless access to his connection, if I bring a network transmitter. I guess that's still my best bet, since it'd be $60-100/month to set up my own connection, and possibly a minimum of a year contract. Since I'm hoping against hope to be somewhere else by the time my nine-month lease expires in August, I'd rather avoid that.

***Updated to add:

Nothing Free lasts for ever, part two

Remember my ethical dilemma from October, regarding the stereo received we bought ourselves for our ninth anniversary, when the company sent us two, then credited our account when we returned the second? Well, they finally caught up with themselves. I got a voice mail yesterday evening saying they needed to clarify the situation. When I called back it was explained that they had somehow inadvertently sent us two receivers. ("No, duh... look at your notes, I called, explained the matter, then returned the second one"). But they apparently figured out (two months later) that the customer service agent I spoke with had written things up wrong, and thus they processed the return, and credited us for the one charge. ("Uh... yeah"). So, now they'll be sending us a new invoice for the receiver. ("Um... yeah, sure... we're happy to pay for it.") So, that is that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More than anything

More than anything, I'm just plain scared. I want... I want so much to just accept where I am, what I have, to be happy, content, satisfied. In many ways, I do, I am. Two lovely boys, a wonderful wife. A crazy but loving and deserving extended family.

As my dear friend Tracy says "Things are happening". Indeed they are. My friend at Lemon University is pulling to have me hired as an adjunct next year (possibly even this spring). I've received two requests for additional materials in one week, for tenure-track gigs. I'm still submitting applications for other jobs. I very well may land myself a job that I've so longed for, and quite possibly in a locale which would prove promising for the whole clan.

It's not that I'm not excited. It's not that I don't welcome the virtual hugs of all my blogger friends. I do. It's just, I can't escape the fear. More than two years, I've sat on this path, enduring the trials, the loneliness, the isolation, the self-doubt. More than a year and a half since completing the dissertation. I know, there is at least as much a chance that I will land flat, where I've been already, no job, no direction, no sense.

I do believe in what I do. I trust that the research I have begun, that I wish to continue for a lifetime, is worthwhile, is valuable, is meaningful. Despite it all, I retain a faith in myself as well, the strength of my own harvest of talents, my drive to inspire, my honesty. They are to me tantamount. My work, my spirit, my desire to give, to teach, to contribute, these things define me in ways that nothing else can. Yes, I am and wish to be husband, father, brother, son. But somehow, I'm not me without the rest. I can not fully fit those roles without my self.

And so, my fear is real. Those of you who were so lucky as to land a job straight out of graduate school, I doff my hat to you. You are, I am sure, quite worthy of your own success. I wonder how many of us, like me, there are, who seek, and seek, hold on to that dream, that goal. How many of us are there who still believe that we as well are worthy of that success, desire it, require it, demand it. No, that we cannot do. We can merely wait, and accept it, or accept our own... our own.. f... fate.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Take care of your family

My mother reminds me that I'm the "most stable in our family." I've always been counted on to do the right thing. When my father was depressed after my step-mom had died of cancer in her fifties, I took it upon myself (with full support from my wife) to invite my dad to move in with us. We bought a house together. When the Rocket Scientist and I moved out west for my doctoral studies, we rented the main floor of the house, permitting my dad to live virtually for free. When he got sick, with cancer, we moved back into the house, to keep him better company, and help take care of him. Then we went overseas. I had been granted an extension to my Fulbright, but chose to forego it, since my dad's health had in the interim taken a decided turn for the worse. We moved him up from the garden-level basement to live on the main floor with us. I am convinced that my interventions kept him alive several months longer than he would have mustered without us.

It's not that I'm entirely altruistic. It's not that I didn't complain, and add my share of grief to the mix. It's simply that I did the right thing. Years ago, I learned a simple lesson. One father's day, just after my grandmother had died, I decided to call up my grandfather, to let him know I was thinking of him. I spent perhaps three minutes on the phone with him, but to him it meant the world. I learned that often we make a small effort that has a great impact on others' lives. I established a rule to live by: if it's easier for me to do someone a favor, than it is for them to do without, then it's done.

It's normally an easy motto to put into practice. Only rarely is it difficult to decide.

Today, in the middle of writing my last post about a nibble at Big West Private, I got a call from Oldest Brother. He was laid off from his job. He's broke. He can't afford his rent, and it's going up $200/month at the top of the year, when his lease comes up for renewal. He wants to come down this weekend with Nephew to spend part of Hannukah with us, and... he wanted to know if he might be able to move in with us for a while, until he gets back on his feet. He thinks he can help out with the rent. He should be able to get back on disability, or certainly unemployment. Give him a chance to reduce his expenses, save some money, get out of bankruptcy.

I've talked it over with the Rocket Scientist. There really is no saying no. He's family. I love him. The question is one of logistics. How, where, when, how long. Maybe something else will come through. Maybe he'll come up with another solution. But... he wouldn't have asked, if he didn't feel at the end of his rope. That I know. Wish us all luck in getting through this trial.

Another nibble, and yaiiee, this one tastes good

Got an email this morning from the administrator for Larry Strope's Center at Big West Private University.
Dear Dr. Dad,

Thank you for applying to the position opening at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in [Field 1] and [related science field] in the Department of [Field 1] at Big West Private University. As our committee proceeds with the search process, we would greatly appreciate additional materials for consideration.
The letter goes on for three more paragraphs.

Excruciating. Not pain... nerves. Ooh this would be good. Here's from the job posting:
Teaching responsibilities at the undergraduate and graduate levels will include courses in the candidate’s areas of expertise.
Um... like, I'd be teaching what I'm really interested in? This would be, from what I can tell, a well balanced research/teaching post.

I think I want this job. Relax, relax.

But can I just say that, after a year of virtually nothing (other than the interview for the one-term gig at Beautiful Nowhere), to get two requests for supplemental materials in the one week is quite exhilarating.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Two years old

Just a quick note to say "Happy Birthday" to the Inventor. My little boy is two.

I am a very lucky father and husband. For my family's love and health, I am grateful.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Any club...

It's when I get reactions like this that my "any club that'd have me" response bubbles up. Yesterday, I submitted an abstract for this conference next Spring on the same subject as a conference panel I organized five years ago (the one on which Pam Bridgeport participated).
Dear Articulate

Good to hear from you with this very exciting abstract. I'll enjoy circulating it amongst the conference committee.

All best wishes

I'd like to think that I'm that good, that I'm that sought-after. Yet, my immediate thought is: God, they must be desperate. I wonder if they have too few submissions. The deadline's in a week. It's hard to retain self-confidence when I've been all but ignored for two years in my quest for a university post. If I'm really all that, how come no one has hired me?

No self-pity. Just keep at it. That's the advice I keep hearing. At least it's the advice I wish to listen to. Keep plugging away. Keep writing. Keep presenting. Keep my chin up. Maybe in some circles, I am that good. If you want to be a big fish, choose your pond carefully.

Some words of...


Yesterday, I spent about 20 minutes or so on the phone with an older colleague, Pam Bridgeport, whom I've known for about 8 years, who teaches at the remote campus for a big name university in my old hometown. Three years ago, when I was overseas, and still writing my dissertation, a position at her school was one of the first I applied to (that year, I applied to a mere handful). She has always been supportive of me and my research (she served on a conference panel I organized about five years ago). But she had rather discouraged me from applying then, saying it really wasn't a place for me.

A new post is open at her school this year. Same story. To hear her tell it, only circumstance (her husband is also an academic on their main campus) has kept her there. The teaching load is moderately heavy (3-4 classes per term), the payscale low. There is no rank or tenure at that location. The courses are rather entrenched traditional. She said she's somewhat lucky since she's the only one teaching [subfield 3], which gives her more freedom.
No one knows what I'm talking about anyway, so I can teach it however I like. But for [subfield 1] they'd want to know that you can teach [Field] 1, 2, 3, 4 over and over. You'd have to love teaching. I mean love love teaching. You'd never have time for research, and it wouldn't be institutionally supported. I'm thinking of retiring so I can get back to it.
Okay, I get it. Back again to square one. What do I want? Honestly: teaching and research, fairly balanced, inquisitive minds, a supportive administration. I've applied to about 15 jobs this year. Yesterday, the Rocket Scientist and I ruled out two more schools in a state where we don't really want to live, which offer few opportunities for her. Done. But once I rule out one or two, then a third (Pam's school), it's easy to keep ruling them out.

There's another one nearer to our current location. But it's not an ideal school, also with a heavy teaching load (20 semester credits per year). I spent some time on the phone yesterday with the committee chair. I had sent him an inquiry for more information on the post, along with my CV. He responded shortly, saying he'd looked over my CV, and he'd encourage me to apply. It wouldn't necessarily be my first pick. But I'm not that picky. But, seven courses a year, at a middling school, and 100 miles from my wife's closest opportunities... You see my dilemma.

Add to that the odd feeling "any club that'd have me, I wouldn't want to join" and I'm paralyzed.
Dear Articulate,

The University of Western-Flagship [Field 1 department] is narrowing the applicant pool in our search for an Assistant Professor of [subfield 1]. At this point, we would like to read a sample of your research. We ask that you send us electronically an example, such as an article or two chapters from your dissertation. Please send whatever you think best demonstrates your abilities for [subfield 1] research.

Thank you, and we look forward to reviewing your materials.

Sincerely yours,

Joe Wilbert

Well, of course I sent them my dissertation distillation article. Don't worry, I'm not really professionally suicidal, even when I'm unsure about which way to head. But no high hopes yet. This is very preliminary. I'm not even assured a campus interview. But nibbles are nice.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I regret to inform you

So, it's official then:
Dear Articulate Dad:

I regret to inform you that your application to the 2007-2008 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships competition has not been approved for funding.

... In this cycle, we have been able to fund only 11 percent of the proposals we received.

Applicants frequently revise and resubmit their proposals, often with positive results. The next deadline for applications is May 1, 2007.

We appreciate your interest in the Endowment, and we thank you for the opportunity to learn about your scholarship.
Disappointed? Yes
Free to move on to other projects? Yes
Will I revise and resubmit? Don't know. Not sure this is the right audience, or the right project.

You may recall, early on in this application process, I discovered that the NEH constitutes single-subject committees, rather than interdisciplinary ones, which I suspected would be a mark against me. I was informed that [field 2] is almost never represented, and that I'd have a choice between traditionally-defined [field 1] or [field 99, somehow tangentially related in a convoluted way to field 2]. I opted for the [field 1] audience, and attempted to write a proposal that I hoped would appeal to that audience. In the end, it was a project I would have enjoyed, but not necessarily the one I would have chosen (namely my [longitudinal project]) had I been submitting to a multi-disciplinary committee.

I've made up my to-do list for the spring. Immediately, I have one conference abstract to prepare and submit: today's primary goal. Due in January, I have six possible job applications, which I'll work on today and later this week. Then, I have to work up my [field 2] conference talk for the end of February (and possibly a related one for the beginning of February, if that's accepted; should hear in the next couple of weeks). Assuming my conference submission for May is accepted, that's next, followed by the June conference talk I'm preparing the abstract for today.

Otherwise, I'm free. Free to set a course, test the wind and the sails, and head off. The heading is mine to choose.

*Updated to add:
Got the comments from my NEH panelists. Mostly helpful. I've not been trashed for being a fraud, merely coaxed to make better arguments. If I'm judged average or slightly better than average among a class of top-notch individuals, is that so much to feel bad about?

Morning rising

6:43 am: The radio on my wife's side of the bed presents a faux-Medieval styled arrangement of a round for mixed chorus, gentle, soothing.

The image in my mind is of me, alone, in a rowing scull, or kayak, the only sound that of my oars entering and departing the water. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. The sun rising in the distance. Nothing but me, the boat, the water, the sun, a stray tree on the shore.

I sit up.

Good Morning, says my wife.
Good morning.

She presses off the radio. The house is silent. I stretch a little, then take a shower. The Rocket Scientist and I sit to a breakfast of cereal, fresh mangoes, orange juice, and coffee.

The house is silent.

7:23: The Painter, followed by The Inventor enter the kitchen.

Good morning.
Good morning, my beautifuls.

My wife and I smile. The day has begun. I can't recall the last, peaceful morning, that my wife and I sat to breakfast in quiet. Perhaps we should rise early more often, and hope the boys stay in bed. They normally arise about 6:30, before we'd like to wake.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pseudonym as Synonym

Pseudonymously yours. In my small blogging circle of friends, there has been a good deal of energy spilt these past few days on the issue of pseudonyms and quasi-anonymity. I say a good deal of energy, because though much of it has been spent by me, ever the scientist, I can't quantify the actual number of posts, or bloggers involved. We each will make our own choices, for what serves our purposes best. I respect those who remain anonymous as well as those who shed that raiment.

Some of my friends on this blog have commented that my pseudonymity doesn't mask my personality, nor diminish my genuineness. I hope not. I confess my pseudonym here is in large measure calculated to permit me a degree of honesty that my real name publicly on the web might hinder. I have a public face on the web (several in fact). I've maintained a near-constant web presence, under my real name, since about 1994. As I've said here before, I am not jealous of my identity. What I wish to avoid is for a websearch of my real name, likely by a stranger wishing to learn more about me or uncover dirt, to turn up this blog.

But for me, as Ianqui reflected in My Alter Ego and as the comments by New Kid on the Hallway and Sheepish affirmed, the pseudonym permits me to speak frankly of my insecurities, my fears, my doubts, which my public face to the world might hide.

I think about our social interactions. There is some truth in the stance of epistemic solipsism. In a sense, are we not all anonymous to each other? The point is, we never really know what is inside another person's mind. Even language permits us only a glimpse, as our idiolects differ by degree from others. Think of my use of jealous above. I prefer its secondary or tertiary meaning, but I risk being misunderstood when I do so.

Others have remarked in the past that I do a good job of shielding the specifics of my research on this blog, that from my posts they'd have had no idea what my [field 1] and [field 2] in reality are. I fear however, if I professed those details here, it might make my experience just a little bit less accessible to others. This blog is in large part a reflection of my personal situation, but it would lose a great deal if it failed to serve as well as mirror for others looking on.

Years ago, when I was more romantic than today, and perhaps even more foolish, I devised a definition of love that said in part love is seeing in others a reflection of oneself. The aim of serving as looking glass, enabling others to see themselves, is a worthy and giving one, and one towards which I aspire in these posts. If the looking glass is too much self-portrait, our shared characteristics might become too obscure.

And so,
I remain pseudonymously yours,

Articulate Dad

Monday, December 04, 2006

America to rejoin the world of civilized diplomacy?

John Bolton resigns his post at the UN.

Can we celebrate yet?

Latest from Lake View U.

Got a call a little while ago, from Joe Krowicki at Lake View U. I have written about them many times here. Regarding this most recent posting, I indicated I was a bit unsure. As it turns out, from Joe's explanation during the call, the post is no longer really open to [true subfield]. The dean has nixed that idea. As Joe put it,
I've been asked to rewrite the description, and send a letter to all those who have applied, asking if they wish to still be considered for the post. It looks like innovation is on hold at Lake View U. Terrible thing to say, but there you have it.
Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but it is really good having a colleague like Joe. Silence is the enemy more than anything else.

It's disappointing because Lake View U. is one of less than a handful of schools in the States that has an established program in [true subfield].
I wouldn't say that [true subfield] is dead at Lake View U. but it's on life support.
That's how Joe put it.

Any ideas?.
Um... no, not really. You're pretty entrepreneurial. You'll think of something, I'm sure.

Despite the lack of specific guidance, it was quite a friendly conversation. I get the feeling that many who know me and my work are really pulling for me, trusting that something, somwhere will work out for me. As it turns out, Joe was one of the letter writers for Sara Chaisano's successful tenure-review. Small world.

There still remain 14 other schools (okay, mark that down to 13, since the first school would have called or contacted my references by now if they were interested) which still might pan out. And there are several more with January deadlines.

Meantime, I'm working on getting an agent for my children's books, and working up conference papers. I've got one more abstract to prepare (assuming I'm going to submit) in the next week or so. Then, there are the revisions of my dissertation, and continuing my compilation and editing of my dad's writing for that memoir. And, I've got to recruit volunteers for my [longitudinal study]. Much work. Too little time to feel sorry for myself. Who knows... maybe when I blink, good news will come knocking on my door.

Will the real Articulate Dad please stand up?

Years ago, bored in the afternoons after school, latchkey kid that I was, seeking noise to accompany my silence, distraction to partner with my half-attentive homeworking, I would turn on the television. One of the shows I occasioned upon was "the Dating Game" from which the unforgettable phrase "will the real [name] please stand up" emerged.

The past month or so, visits to my PRW (personal research website) have rivaled or surpassed those to this blog. Which represents the real me? Both, of course. Both different sides of the real me. I think of Ahistoricality's comment to yesterday's post.
you put up less of a persona than most
I take that as a compliment. But I realize that what I share online is only part of me. This blog presents a side of me that needs to be released. I hope that by sharing the trials I am going through, others will see that they are not alone. But I am not entirely altruistic: I like to have a soap box, and I find that writing can't help purge my demons.

The PRW represents a side of me that is very real as well. The side my intellect most associates with, my work (or rather, part of it). I don't discuss personal issues there. Each compartment to its own function. Together they make (more of) the whole.

As many of my regular readers will know, a back-burner project of mine is a memoir of my father, including a collection of his writings. Back in July on a blog I keep dedicated to my father's writing, which serves in a way as a sketch for the memoir/collection I wish to eventually publish, I mused at how often we have on our shelves a collected works of one scholar/scientist/author or another, and how insignificant their life's work may somehow seem, when contained between the covers of a single book. The book, as we all know, contains only a part, but a recoverable, public part. The rest is lost in transience.

It is alright. Life is like that. Transience makes the day to day ever more precious. Something to remember.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Am I become a caricature of myself?

My friend on Acade(me) has decided to move on, leaving behind a parting post calling into question the honesty of her own and other's blogging of late. It's much for reflection.

What is the purpose of this blog? Has it fulfilled its aims? Is it still useful, to me or others? December 19 marks the anniversary of this blog, and my anniversary as a blogger. Perhaps the next two weeks will see me reflecting more and more on this space, its function in my life, and its impact on the lives of others.

I have seen many of my blogging friends move on from their ABD'dom to faculty or staff posts. I remain in many ways still where I was a year ago, in post-doc limbo. Somethings have changed, for sure, some external, some internal. But many of the questions, and doubts, and fears, and hopes remain little altered.

Much to reflect. We shall see.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I want a holiday

Today: Van wouldn't start. Someone (it wasn't me) left the rear lights on, for two days! The battery was dead. Half the day gone with getting it charged. Okay, not terrible. Just annoying.

Yesterday: 3:00 meeting with... the owner of our house (old, infirm, dementia issues) and her daughter (she has a daughter? I thought we were dealing with her son and daughter-in-law.). A-yup. I had gotten an odd call on Tuesday, as I was driving to teach my guest lecture, from the realtor who had served as the rental agent (but who explained that he was not to serve as property manager). He asked if I'd be around to meet with them the following day. Um... yeah, I guess. Don't worry, it's nothing about you... just... something happened on their end, with their family. Oh... well, that sure put my mind at ease.

Turns out there is a domestic dispute between the son and daughter, involving lawyers, bank accounts, wills, and powers of attorney. The mother is caught in the middle, as unfortunately are we. I signed an amendment to the lease, indicating that I should mail my checks to a different address. Oh well, it's not my family... I pay my bills, and hope that they'll get to the right parties.

Tomorrow: My wife turns 35! I ordered her a $100 gift certificate for Victoria's Secret that she doesn't know about yet. When she gets home from work, I will whisk her off for a half hour drive to a nice little French bistro, followed by a play.

We need to get out more. She deserves it. I think I do too. I need a break... a pause from all the worries. I need to stop and figure out where I'm going, how I'm getting there, and why. Okay, part of this is the trouble with waiting. I've sent off applications; now I just sit it out, if or until I hear back. But I need to not just be waiting. I need to chart a course (flexible enough to take detours) and head off.

I'm beginning to do that. My wife is a wonderful co-pilot. Happy birthday to her!

A "Thank you!"

Hi Articulate,

Just wanted to say thank you again for coming all the way to Lemon University and giving such a wonderful talk. The students were interested and enjoyed it. You're a terrific speaker--enthusiastic and upbeat and positive, good at keeping students' attention. And the subject was really really interesting. Several students commented today on how interested they were in what you talked about.

So, thank you! I hope you're around next year and we can do the same thing.

Oh, and don't forget to send me your resume. I've talked to a couple of people already and I'd upgrade the moderate to good chance I mentioned last night to a pretty good chance of a part-time gig for next academic year, if you're around and interested. There are 2 faculty members, the admin director (you met him) and the dean to convince. I've got one of the faculty and the admin director convinced. I think I can convince the other faculty. I'm not sure about the dean, but I'll do my best.

Take care,
This will happen, right? All of this effort and energy, commitment and drive will lead somewhere, won't it? I mean, I'm not a schmuck. I'm not lost in a classroom. I'm not without ideas for research. I will get a suitable job, right? There will be a happy ending, yes?

Revise and resubmit?

Word is in from the [Field 1/subfield 2] journal.
The review cycle is now complete.
I have attached three files: the letter of decision and two reader's reports. Unfortunately, the readers recommend we do not publish the submission in its current form.
Alright then. The comments are abundantly helpful. There's no formal "revise and resubmit" mechanism, but the editor encouraged me to consider them again. It's really good to get feedback, to feel a part of the academic community again. Considering this was a slightly revised version of a term paper I wrote four or five years ago, I can't feel that bad. As I wrote back then:
I can't say I have a high confidence level that the article will be accepted without major revisions, but I wanted to get something out there. Hopefully, I'll get some good feedback even if it is rejected. And, with a little luck, I'll get a "revise and resubmit" order, giving me some drive to move ahead.
I guess I've gotten that now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oh, for a classroom of my own

It went well, really well. It felt so good to be in front of students again, to be talking about something I'm passionate about. 7:00-9:30, then nearly an hour of talking and questions afterwards.

My friend whose class it was was quite pleased, hoping that I'll come back next year. Looks like the two positions open are not really appropriate for me. But she indicated that she'd think there's a good prospect to hire me as an adjunct next year (if I'm still around and available).

It felt really good to be teaching again. The students' interest and her praise renew a bit of my confidence. I told my friend that I miss the classroom. She said it misses me too.

This is what the office is for

One hour 50 minutes left before I drive. The floor of my office is strewn with articles and notes, and slides from previous talks. I've made good progress today. I think I'll be well prepared for this class tonight. It's a three hour class. That's a lot of time. What makes it harder is that the subject of my talk is [Field 1 & Field 2 studies]. You ever realize how hard it is to narrow down a topic that you've spent so many years expanding? From that standpoint, three hours should be fine. It's not like a conference paper, which you have to distill to 20 minutes. That said, it still feels like there is so much I could talk about. Figuring out how the many pieces fit together into one cohesive whole, and deciding which parts to just cast off, is the hard part.

I like deadlines, because they give me something concrete to work towards. But, as you can gather from my current state, I'm out of practice preparing for a class. There's the sense that the longer it's been since I've taught a class, the higher my expectations are for this one. It also helps that my friend for whose class I'm teaching happens to be co-chairing a search committee for two posts in [Field 1/subfield 2] at her school this year. Now do you understand why I'm a bit nervous, and still working on this thing just hours before the class? The application deadline is in January. I'll be having dinner with her before class, so maybe I'll broach the subject if it seems appropriate.

Meantime, there is a class full of students who are expecting to hear wisdom and enlightenment from me. Let's hope I don't fail to inspire them.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nail biting

Hmmm... now where is that FAQ? When am I supposed to hear about that grant?

Award notices

Applicants will be notified of the result of their application by letter in early December 2006.
Yeah, I know... forget it. It's been since May... I've forgotten, only to remember again. Nail biting time. Notification one way or the other will come soon enough.

Other things, other things... distractions. Oh yeah, but this is my distraction from working on my lecture notes. Not very helpful, I'd say.


...and another thing

I just took a big step. I spent the past hour crafting a letter, exporting to .pdf, then I clicked [send].

It was a letter to a literary agent specializing in juvenilia, regarding two children's books I've written.

I'm supposed to be finishing up my lecture notes for my talk tomorrow. I've worked on them. Still a couple more hours of work today, then most of a day tomorrow. I'm not worried. I needed to take a step, move ahead on another one of my paths.

I'm standing at a crossroads, surveying the many choices that lie ahead. I realize that I can turn around, or try a tributary path any time I like. They're my legs; I can direct them. But it sure feels good to know it.

It's cold, and I wander

Not much of a headline for most of you, I'm sure. But it's really cold in here. Apparently, neither the heat nor the air conditioning work in my office building. Not much of a concern most of the time. But, it's somewhere south of 60°F in my office here, and my fingers are stiff on the keyboard. It's grey and rainy outside. I'm half expecting to see my breath. I'll need to bring a space heater in here. Don't get me wrong, I still love having an office.

Not that it solves all my "issues". I've got to work out just what to do with my life. I'd have thought that at 38, I'd have worked that out, know my path, walking firmly. Ah well. I'm happy in many ways. A wonderful wife, two marvelous boys (plans to have a third child, just as soon as we can work out the timing).

Actually, I've made my decisions. I know what I'm working on. It's the uncertainties that bother me. I'm still applying for faculty gigs. Not too many, not too few. Fifteen so far this season. My to-do list is nearly finished for 2006. I've got to finish my lecture notes for tomorrow's guest talk of 3 hours. And I've got one more conference abstract to prepare. I have six more (potential) job applications for January on my beginning of 2007 to-do list.

But what's it all about? I'm feeling closer and closer to the decision that this will be my last full-out academic job search. (I waffle, I know... but I'm not running for office; I'm just trying to get my life in order). Either I get a post this year, or I may just give up on that track. I'm working hard to stay busy, to keep writing. The more I send out, not only job applications, but book proposals, and articles, and grant proposals, and conference abstracts, the more I'm doing, the less I need the faculty job. (Who knows, perhaps when I've given up worrying about it, a job will fall in my lap). But I've got to not need it.

I wonder about continuing to present in conferences, and submit articles to academic journals. Are they just to keep my foot in the academic door? For now, I keep it up. Ah, but there is so much to do, so many ideas. I need to let myself out. Too much energy has been spent on this path with no payback, no rewards. I've got to find my way.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Crazy, sure, but good

The family's visit is almost over. No big flare ups. Too bad we only had my nephew for a few hours around dinner then bedtime, and a couple hours in the morning. But it's good to see him anyhow. He's four months younger than the Painter. It's nice for the cousins to know each other.

Middle Brother has spent more time with the family than I can remember for a long time. Oldest Brother... well, he's out on a blind date tonight. He got paid yesterday. So... he went out to buy some new clothes (Macy's), and got his car washed. Yeah! Really. I think it tells you something about his priorities, that he needs to borrow $100 to visit family, but suddenly finds who knows ($80-100 or more) rather than thinking ahead and bringing some nice clothes from home, and say, washing his car by hand! Any way... it's his life. I didn't really lend him the $100... I took it from the cash in our joint account, the remains of my father's "estate".

The three cousins got along fairly well (as did I and my two older brothers). My mother and Middle Brother depart tomorrow by plane. We'll give them a ride in and chance the traffic. Oldest Brother, who knows? Don't know when he'll get back tonight.

But, the turkey was good (Julia Child's deconstructed turkey recipe, modified of course). The stuffing, and mashed potatoes, the sauerkraut, and orange cranberries, the home baked rolls, all went over well. Tonight I made homemade bagels for tomorrow's breakfast. They're GOOD! Let's hope this year brings more of the successes we all seek, but even if life is all the same in a year, there is much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Family time

My mother is here. The Painter is acting up a blue streak. Ah well. The Inventor is cute and showing off his words. Middle Brother arrives tomorrow by plane. We'll ask him to take a bus from the airport. It'll be quicker and easier. Oldest Brother is expected to arrive with Nephew late in the afternoon. Found out last night that indeed we'll all be gathering on Thursday rather than Friday.

See... Oldest Brother is still negotiating custody issues with Mother of His Son (otherwise known as Bitch from Hell) - pardon the French... I abhor her. Until last night we had been expecting to delay our meal until Friday, since they had verbally agreed to switch years. But since she was unwilling to make any concessions to permit it, he pulled in the big card, and decided to just stick with the letter of their custody agreement. It's his year, and if she wanted to have him with her family, it'd have to be on Friday. So we have 24 hours (minus the six hour drive) with Nephew.

My family. We bought the ticket for Middle Brother since he works for peanuts, and would not have been able to come otherwise. For Oldest Brother we merely had to shell over $100 "for gas and food". He doesn't work for peanuts. Rather he makes six figures these days. But somehow, he's always broke. Old debts and child support, and ... well you figure it out. I've given up trying, several thousand dollars of "loans" ago.

But, we'll all be gathering under one roof, to share turkey and sauerkraut, potatoes and soup. It's my family, for what it's worth. And I love them all. So, we'll eat too much, and sit around a fire, and laugh and cry. Then we'll part our ways until another time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Office Internet

In... On... Good. :)

Talked this morning with the manager of a large office in my building. I'd been reading their wireless signal, but needed a password to get into their network. He was friendly, and completely unconcerned. I got the password, entered the network, and as far as I can see, I'm in, and I'm on for the foreseeable future. Like that.

Saves me nearly $100/month over getting my own DSL set up here. And, it gets me connected.

Okay, enough of that. Now I need to get productive.

Feeling quiet

Just not feeling like writing much here these days. Of course, not having internet at my office is part of it. I've been consumed these past few days with job applications. 14 so far for the season. I've got one more in the works, December 15 deadline, which I should be able to knock off today.

There remain only two scheduled items on my to-do list before the end of the year: 1) class notes for my guest lecture next week (I've got a rough outline worked up. I should be able to knock that off today as well, or by tomorrow mid-day in any case, since I've got to quit by 3:00 today.); and 2) one more conference abstract due December 15.

I'm still home at the moment, since I needed internet. I'll be heading to my office soon.

I've got 6 more potential job postings to apply for with January deadlines. Otherwise, I'll be working on my book manuscript. I'm hoping to have the middle two sections (out of four) completed by the end of February, with the outside sections completed by June. I don't have a contract yet, but I'm pretty confident on that count.

I also haven't heard official work from the [Field 1/subfield 2] journal regarding my article submission, but I hope to hear by the end of the week. It would be good to add that to my CV, but I'm not holding my breath. There's yet much more in me to send out; not too worried about any single item.

The other items remaining on my to-do list (without deadlines) include: finally starting data collection on my [Longitudinal Project]; and finding a literary agent for my children's books and the memoir about my father. These will be done by the end of the year.

I commit this one more season to applying for faculty posts. I can not say what this year will bring. Fruit, in any case. I'm sure of that. I simply don't know of what sort. This time next year, will I be a newly minted junior faculty member? Will I have a post-doc? Will I still be in my office next to the Trader Joe's, typing away on my projects, writing my books and articles, analyzing my data, updating and expanding my websites?

Will the Rocket Scientist "find her legs" and get settled into work at Rocket Central? Last evening she said:
Maybe we should just save our money and move to Mexico or the Czech Republic.
Excuse me? Be careful what you wish for!
No, she's not ready to disappear (nor for that matter am I, quite). But she has yet to feel fully involved at her new job. It's a bigger pond, and she's a smaller fish. And lately I've just been a fish without water, gasping the air which I can not breath, wanting lungs, and feet to move about. I'm tired of flopping. I realize at least half of circumstance is self-induced. I've got much to think about.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A glimmer of hope

I'm thrilled for my friend Trillwing for landing a job. Perhaps this is a glimmer of hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Today I knocked off three more job applications. I've got five more, another conference abstract, and a guest lecture to prepare in the next week. My mother arrives for Thanksgiving on Tuesday. My brothers arrive Thursday. It will be a busy week.

Tonight the Rocket Scientist and I head out for a night at an amusement park. Let go, let go. That's all I really want to do. God I hate still being here, still applying for jobs. As much I still get excited about the possibilities, it's far less than I used to get excited.

I saw a friend at the conference a couple weeks ago who finally after about three years of adjuncting landed himself a t-t job. The advice he gave was to not get excited about them, to not think about the possibilities, not imagine living in the place. Just submit the materials then forget it. I can't do that... I really can't. Partly, it's me. But partly it's simply where we are in life as a family. I've got to consider how my family would make it work, or not. No point in going through the motions for a job that from the outset I don't think I'd want or be able to take. But there are still many which might work.

There are several good prospects for me this season. I'm still hopeful, but my confidence has taken a major hit from all this time out. Worst of all, I realize that all my friends who've eventually gotten jobs spent their limbo time as adjuncts, a status which bizarre as it may sound I envy, because I've not been able to land myself any teaching these past two years. Perhaps it's simply circumstance, but it's hard not to doubt. Tell me, my friends, are there others out there who've gone years with only research to sustain them? Have they gotten jobs in the end?

But, no self-pity. This is my path. I've got an office now. My work is laid out before me. I have lectures and conference talks to prepare. I've got articles to submit, books to write. For now, I will continue to chronicle my life here, as I continue to hold on to that hope.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Brief office update

Yesterday, I moved into my new office. It's about 160 sq. ft. Can I just say... I'm in heaven. I still have to get used to having a space all to myself, without the distractions of my boys, and the myriad temptations of home. I have a lot of work to get done. This is one of those make or break it opportunities. I still haven't worked out internet access at my office, but I'm working on it. In any case, I think this office will be a great boon to my productivity, and will help me separate my work from my home life.

Yesterday was one of those short-lived celebrations however. I rode my bike over in the morning, and plugged away on one of these conference abstracts. I finished it before noon, and headed to the Trader Joe's (right next door to my building!) to get some lunch. There I received a desperate call from the au pair. Apparently, the Painter was having one of those days, and she was at her wit's end. I told her to pack the boys in the van, and come get me. This is the first time this has happened, so I'll forgive her the occasion. I spent the rest of the taking care of the boys, and having a good time, giving her a break to recover.

This morning, I worked (at home) on a job application, since I haven't brought the printer to the office yet, and because I was using the internet. I packed up my large file cabinet, and toted that over to the office in the afternoon, where I spent only a couple hours setting things up and reading, before heading back home (since I had promised the Painter that I would bring him to swimming lessons myself today). The au pair has agreed to give me back a half day tomorrow, so I'll get about four hours there then.

I should sleep now. Once I get internet all worked out, I hope to be back to regular postings again. Looking forward.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Difficulty concentrating

Sometimes the closer I get, the more I fear an end. The primary task for today is drafting up the abstract for this [Field 1 & Field 2 conference] in the UK next Spring. The paper I have in mind is a methodological one, arguing for a return of sorts to an older methodology, while exploiting today's technologies.

I've got 300 words to make a case for a radical shift in thinking (or rather, the inclusion of a methodology which has been somewhat out of favor since the 1950s). I wish to appeal to historical arguments and the authority of well-respected (though perhaps out of the mainstream) contemporary researchers in a variety of fields, citing their appeals to the authority of well-respected scholars from a century ago, all in an effort to justify the approach to research which I wish to spend my career focusing on.

I do not lack faith in the strength of my arguments. I truly believe that this approach to the subject is both necessary and complementary to existing approaches. But I fear that my arguments will be seen as wanting, that the abstract will not be accepted, that I will remain in this post-doctoral limbo, unable to give voice to the work which lies bubbling up underneath my surface.

A few weeks ago, I wrote here that I was making some pickles. I sealed them in jars, along with their brine and spices. Last week, when I opened them up, the chemical reaction was quite a treat to watch, each jar overflowing with bubbles, finally released. The eruptions lasted for minutes. Amazing. I feel like a jar of brine pickles, lid securely fastened, waiting, like a genie in a lamp, for that little nudge to release my promise, to spew forth the fruits of my labors.

Perhaps the dissertation was the last eruption, somewhat subdued, long in preparation, but short-lived in the end. I mull and steep, knowing the forces within, but wondering if the jar will be unsealed while they still simmer, or if the organic chemistry will lose its force, mysteriously fizzling out when that time comes.

Monday, November 13, 2006

One more down

Knocked off the job application today, for the Canadian post with a Wednesday deadline. Submitted via email. Haven't heard back from Tasse Plein since the conference, so I have no idea when or if he'll be sending the requested recommendation letters. I don't like to do this generally but I asked that his file letter (which is now more than a year old) be sent along with the other two (which have just been updated in the past month) from my doctoral institution dossier. They charge $5 per application, which isn't much, but adds up over time. In any case, they may likely end up with two letters from Tasse, but that beats the alternative of them receiving only two, and putting my application aside for lack of completeness. Since the deadline was so short, as it is they'll be receiving the letters a week or so after my cover letter and CV. The deadline isn't hard and fast, as it's posted as "or until filled". But I wanted to at least get them my materials ASAP.

I took some of BPG's advice. I broke out three paragraphs from my cover letter, and created a free-standing add-on to my CV called "Current Research Projects & Teaching Interests". As the latter part of that title suggests, I added a fourth paragraph on my teaching interests which begins:
While research is central to the work I do, so is teaching. I believe the two are complementary enterprises, enriching and strengthening each other. As a scholar, I find teaching demands I keep practical matters and relevance in the forefront of my inquiries. As a teacher, research provides me incomparable opportunities to test my own and other's theories, and to enliven my lectures with points of immediate and direct comparison to sometimes remote topics under discussion. Courses I am prepared to teach include:...
I'm doing all I can, that's about all I can say. I can't make myself any less of a researcher. It's too much of my identity. But I can work hard to allay any concerns committee's might have regarding whether I'm a good or enthusiastic teacher as well. All I need is a few more open doors. I blew it the past couple years. I've had a total of four calls, resulting in two campus interviews. But I didn't make the cut after those campus visits. The first one was real close I know, as I think I've blogged before, since at least two of my recommenders spent about an hour each on the phone with the committee after my visit. But, as the old saying goes: almost only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

One thing that Big Presence Guy asked at the conference was whether or not I had been short-listed anywhere. Yes, I have. Well, that's a good sign. That's the rubric that tells you someone is hireable. That's a good thing for me to keep in mind. I'm not sure of the corollary though. If you haven't been shortlisted, does that necessarily mean you won't make the cut? It seems so arbitrary at times. But, for those of us grasping for straws... any stray blade of grass for hope will do.

I'm feeling pretty good about this job season right now. There are quite a few postings that are more up my alley than last year seemed to offer. In any case, I'm committed to at least one more season of applications. I'm trying to find that right tone, the right voice to speak for me in that silent shuffle of papers that cross a committee member's desk.

But I'm not holding my breath. As of tomorrow or Wednesday, I'll have that office of my own. Discovered today however that setting up internet would cost me quite a bit more than I had bargained for (twice what I had been quoted last week, before signing a lease). Too much for my blood at this moment. I'll hope that someone in the building has an unsecured wireless, or that I can find a T-Mobile Hotspot somewhere near by. Worst case, I'll just get used to getting my internet fix at home in the mornings before heading out, or in the afternoons after returning. I'm excited about the prospects, even though I'm not yet sure how I'll use the office. One thing's for certain, I've got a darn good reason to become more productive, and I plan to use it.

Bane with an antidote

Remember my "bane of the interdisciplinary" post a couple months ago? Here's the update:
Dear Articulate,

After one talk has been withdrawn, we are pleased to be able to offer you the free slot (20 min. talk + 10 min. discussion) at the [subfield] workshop to be held at the [Field 2 conference]. Could you please let us know whether you are willing to attend the workshop and present your paper?

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

With kind regards,

The Organizers

I've booked a flight, made hotel reservations, and sent confirmation of my planned attendance. I'm pretty psyched. I've presented for [Field 2] audiences before, but this is my first [Field 2] conference, and the subfield that is the focus of this conference is right up my research alley. What I will be presenting crosses the disciplinary boundaries, presents some of my dissertation work, some of my more recent work following up on that and pointing toward fruitful cross-disciplinary forays.

Today, I need to complete a job application for a Canadian university which sounds really promising. Next, I need to draft up an abstract (due by Friday) for a conference essentially on [Field 1 & Field 2 studies]! Yup, there's an upcoming conference that I really don't want to miss. I may have posted about it before. It's the first of two conferences I was contacted about by the organizers asking me to post their call on my PRW. Abstract deadline for the second is in a month. I've got about 10 more job applications to submit, and a guest lecture (~2.5 hours) to prepare before that one. Work is good. Having deadlines for presentations helps to motivate me.

And, I signed a 9-month lease this morning for an office space all my own. I insisted on no more than 9 months, so I'd be pretty much on the academic calendar. I should get the keys on tomorrow or Wednesday. They painted on Friday, and new carpeting will go in today or tomorrow. I'm going to get a small desk and chair, bring over a file cabinet and a small two-drawer chest from home, and probably buy a small bookcase as well. This should be good.

Some unveiling of the rules

At the conference last week, I ran into a fellow who looked just too familiar. I asked if he had been a graduate student at the university I completed my undergraduate studies. Sure enough, only he hadn't been the TA I thought he was. But he was there during my time there. He's a large man with a very large presence; the kind of person who walks into a room, and everyone notices. He exudes a welcoming and approachable air. We'll call him Big Presence Guy.

So, I approached him, and we talked. He must have asked something about my current status, which led to a discussion of the job search. He's now a tenured Associate Prof at a mid-sized school in the West. He seemed eager to play the role of mentor; and I was just as content to be the patient. He offered to look over my CV and cover letters and such, and give me his feedback. I welcomed the offer. He sent me an email last week, to be sure I had his contact info. I replied with a copy of my CV, a recent cover letter, and an invitation for him to visit my PRW (Personal Research Website).

Here is the bulk of his reply:

I've had a bit of time now to look over the material, and it is all very impressive. Really, I don't have too many "critiques", per se--you seem to have things covered very well. Just a couple of observations, which may reflect my own personal preferences quite as much as any objective perspective.

(1) The cover letter is very impressive, but I think that the detailed material describing your research interests, research activities, and areas of expertise might better be included in a "Summary of Research Interests" or something similar, as a single-sheet add-in to your CV. I typically will include a "Bio" page, separate from the collated CV; this "Summary" could be the same.

My rule of thumb is always to say (1) "in what situations and for what purposes by what persons will this application and its constituent parts be reviewed?" and (2) "what do those persons want to see clearly, immediately, readily, and conveniently?"

For me, this typically translates in the following dicta:

(a) Make sure each constituent element is clearly labeled in common parlance: if it's a cover letter, make it a single-page cover letter that begins "Dear [Selection Committee][Chair][Professor X]." If it's a "Summary of Research Interests," include a separate sheet, so labeled. Don't confuse the committee by making them wade through six dense paragraphs about your research when the primary function of the cover letter is simply to say "this is who I am and that is the post I am interested in." If you feel it is important to include detail about your research interests (and I would not say that was mistaken), include it in a separate constituent which can be put aside while they read other materials.

(b) Make sure each constituent element is handy, portable, and convenient. Visualize the situation in which the material will be reviewed: once (if you're lucky) by each individual committee member, sitting at her/his desk, skimming quickly through each constituent and mentally checking a list to make sure all portions are present; and a second time (if you're lucky) by the committee, seated together around a conference table, passing materials from hand-to-hand. You want to emphasize a physical format for your materials that facilitates and streamlines both these processes.

Typically, that means that items which are free-standing should be grouped together (obviously), and that, if possible, you should have more separate single-sheet items than large agglomerated items. Obviously, the CV will be multi-page (and stapled or clipped), but the cover letter, the "Brief Bio," and the "Summary of Research Interests" should, all, ideally, be brief, to the point, clearly labeled, separate, and single-sheet (or, if multi-sheet, stapled/clipped).

(2) The detail, scope, and rigor of your research is very impressive--but it is not (in most cases) the reason an institution will hire you. Typically, schools hire *senior* professors (already-tenured, associate or full rank) for their research profiles, and "junior" professors (adjunct, visiting, assistant) for (a) their ability to carry the requisite teaching load for the post and (b) their *promise* for future research. The typical committee will be much more interested in "can this person cover the load of the person departing, and perhaps bring some new/additional skills to the table?" rather than "does this person have the most impressive bibliography of work in her/his specialization?"

So I might suggest re-tailoring both your cover letter and the physical format of your CV to address what is, from an outside perspective, a comparatively small ratio of "meat & potatoes" [Field 1/subfield 1] courses to courses in your specialization [Field 2 & Interdisciplinary Field]. The committee wants to feel confident that you are (a) experienced and (b) skillful at teaching the core classes; that is what pays their credit hours and your salary.

If it happens that you don't have extensive experience at such meat & potatoes courses, do two things:

(a) address this directly in your cover letter, articulating that while you "realize that the CV shows relatively little work in mainstream course-teaching, [I] am very interested in teaching such topics and very ready to develop interesting, effective, and challenging syllabi on them", and

(b) get some experience doing it: community college, prep school, etc. 90% of the institutions in the world are not hiring research specialists: they are hiring team players who can handle mainstream courses while *also* pursuing interesting and marketable research (I know, it's not fair, but that in my observation is how it works).

(3) [PRW] is very impressive: clean, challenging, evidence of initiative and ongoing original research. I would consider two modifications in how you present the site in your application:

(a) Make more of an emphasis upon it in the physical application package. Put this, and a description of its significance, in your cover letter, in place of the lengthy research narrative. Point to it in your email .sig file, and encourage committee members (in the letter or in your email exchanges) to visit the site.

(b) You might consider building a separate html page on the site, specifically a "Welcome to Senior Faculty" or something similar, which provides a summary, statement of purpose, and explication of the significance both of your research and of the site's applicability. Point the committee to this summary page, rather than simply to the home page. Just visiting the site at its root home page does not really convey to a mainstream academic answers to what [Distinguished Professor in Field 1] calls the "so what?" and "who cares?" questions. I'm sure you have very articulate ways of answering those questions: put thoses responses in a special page and point committee members there first.

Please understand that I offer the above not because of major problems in the package--I don't see any such. But these observations may possibly help you step "outside" the materials a bit and consider the above small re-conceptualizations.

good luck.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Whirlwind update

The conference ended on Sunday. This week, I've had to deal with two car accidents (TWO!). Our car was hit by a passing SUV while parked outside our house, about a week ago, crushing the entire driver's side of the vehicle. Their insurance company has yet to respond to any of our inquiries, despite our sending numerous emails and voice mails to the party assigned as adjuster. Then, yesterday, our au pair hit another vehicle in a parking lot, while taking the Painter to swim lessons. [SIGH] But, you know what... these little things help put life in perspective. We've all got our health, a roof over our heads, and relative peace. The cars simply aren't that important.

Otherwise, I've been occupied with trying to shore up a lease for an office or studio for working outside the house. I'm still looking at different ones, as I've yet to sign anything, but I'm hoping tomorrow or Friday it will be done. And, I've sent off three job applications, prepared two others, and gotten started on four more. A-yup! I renewed my membership to the professional society that has most of the listings in my [Field 1], and discovered that more than a few had been slipping past my other resources. The Rocket Scientist and I spent a good part of Monday and Tuesday nights weeding through the postings, and checking on opportunities for her in those areas.

I realized, after talking with Tasse Plein that while I appreciate his advice, I've got to make decisions for my life, my career, and my family; decisions that at times would differ from the choices he might make. I will apply broadly, but not too broadly. I will let some opportunities pass me by, if they simply do not meet our requirements. There are a couple jobs I will be applying for, which would present some difficulties for our ideal situation, but which seem just too good for me to reject off the bat. But, for the most part, I'm only applying where I think there'd be a likelihood we could stay for at least 3-5 years, and hopefully more.

The job season is fully upon us. And I'm forging ahead.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A fable of interdiscipline

A forest lies beside a sea. The forest is filled with rich foliage, new growth and old, some burnt, from fires long since past, mushrooms and ferns grow in the leaf mold of the forest floor. Paths lead in all directions, some large and well-established, some tributaries, others marked simply by a bent twig, or a stray footprint on the ground.

The woods are inhabited by forest people, walking the paths, both large and small, established and newly formed. They pause to look up at the trees, or study the bark with magnifying glasses. Some bend down to turn up a bit of soil with a fork or trowel, gathering evidence in plastic bags for later examination; some study the roots of the trees, how they reach into the ground, or protrude above its surface. Some dwell in the middle of the forest, some by its edge. There are those who focus on old growth, and others who find fascination only in the sprouts and seedlings; still others who compare old to new.

Above the forest hover helicopters and small aircraft. On board are aerial photographers and mapmakers, looking at the forest and sea from above, noting their shape and changes in the landscape. Some observe the different colors and textures the forest growth makes, its density or gaps. They mark out the edges of the woods, marsh or field on one side, sea and shore on the other. Boats traverse the sea beside. Sailors and fishers inhabit the craft, working diligently at their tasks.

But where am I in this view? I used to walk among the forest people, stepping paths from large to small, turning soil, observing ferns and flowers, enjoying the leaves. But one day, I climbed a tree, and looked out toward the sea. The helicopters above distracted me, and I watched them hover, looking back below to see what they captured on film and paper. The sail boats were beautiful to me, crossing slowly back and forth, their sails calm or aflutter, as the winds would have them. I saw fish jump.

Then, I watched the birds who flew between the woods and the sea, up to the aircraft and down to the ground, capturing worms from the soil, and fish from the sea. How fascinating was their traveling. I climbed down and grabbed binoculars, to watch their passage more closely. I saw things from this vantage of the sea, that fishers and sailors have missed. Watching birds became a delight. I longed to meet the boat people. So I climbed down once again, and headed to the sea.

They welcomed me aboard their ships, though I was no expert at sailing or fishing. I watched and learned, gaining knowledge and insight into some aspects of their craft. In spare moments, I took out my binoculars, and watched the helicopters hover above, the trees in the distance, and the birds who flew freely between.

I've been on the aircraft too, watching the photographers and mappers engage in their tasks. I've learned bits from them, and gained facility in changing the film, or finding the right utensils and tools for the mapmakers to draw. I've looked through the lenses, even taken a few shots.

I am no expert in photography or map making. Nor am I a master sailor or fisher. I love to dwell in the woods, but find I'm more inclined to climb than to walk among the people on the ground. My tools differ from theirs. The birds are more often my guide, though they flit from one world to another. I am no ornithologist either, simply inspired by their movements.

And so, I wander back and forth, neither as good as any in their native domains. I am welcome among them all, though in ways an outsider everywhere... everywhere except when I climb the trees, or onboard a ship, or fly in the sky, peering through binoculars at the flights of the birds. I am comfortable being me in this way.

The trick is finding a way to make birdwatching through binoculars relevant to my friends in the woods, on the sea, in the air. That is the task at hand.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Clandestine conference posting

I'm sitting at the conference, in the lobby outside the exhibitor's hall. Little ups... mostly down. It's rather depressing for me to be here. There was one paper this morning (ONE!) that was interesting. I had a lot to say in the discussion section, felt that I had much to contribute. Three or four people sought me out after the session to talk about things. It was exciting to hear their interest, to take their questions, to give citations and resources. I was in my element.

But it was short-lived. I met Tasse Plein for some lunch and a talk. He says he'd hate to see me limit myself geographically or school-wise, still thinks I should apply more broadly, increase my odds. Forget the number of jobs you've applied for! We're not entitled to anything. You deserve better, sure. But, we've all got to work for what we get, nothing is handed to us. One of your best qualities is your energy, your drive, your ebullience. You don't want to lose that.

As hidden tears begged to be released, I sat stone-faced, afraid that I already have. I wasn't terribly inspired. It's not his fault. But I'm depressed, depressed, depressed. It's hard to keep up appearances. I see the name tags with schools where I've applied. And I turn away. I don't want to see their faces.

I don't want anything handed to me. But damn it, I've worked hard. I just want some acknowledgment of that effort, some recognition that it's all been worthwhile.

So, I sit here, in the lobby. One session this afternoon seemed moderately interesting to me. Maybe I'll pop in to hear the second half.

Apply to more jobs again? Apply to only a targeted few? Tasse reminds me that he doesn't know anyone graduated from the University of Paradise that has broken into top schools. It's not like that's all I'm applying to. Am I out of my league? No... it's not a question of that. But... well the students who went to the big name schools have an advantage. That's reality.

Why have I cut back on the number of schools to apply to? One, I failed to renew my membership to the professional society that has the most extensive listing of appointments, so perhaps I'm missing some. And I thought the advice of targeting the best prospects seemed wise. Looks like Tasse is urging me to step back a bit into the broadcast method. [SIGH] There just are no rules, no way of knowing which is best.

Why else? I'd really like to find a job in a geographic region where my wife can also pursue a career. The two-body problem. Tasse Plein commuted (by plane) for about 10 years earlier in his career (including all of his time in Paradise. Would you recommend that?It's a choice that each couple has to make. With young kids it's not easy.

Well, writing this out helps me feel a bit more settled with it all. Blogging is therapy. Now to putting on a good face, and back to mingling.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Some movements afoot

Sometimes when so much is happening in my life, it is difficult to sort it out enough to write about. And just now, I have little time. I'm heading to the rail station in about a half hour to head to a conference (SOD for those keeping track; yes, I did renew my membership, at least for another year).

I'm not presenting, but thought it would be beneficial to schmooze, rub shoulders, catch up with friends/colleagues.

Yesterday, I watched the boys full-time. The au pair was out of town for the day. It works out fine, since Friday, my usual day with the boys, I'll be at the conference.

Talked with Larry Strope on Tuesday. He had nixed the idea of my coming to visit, thinking it would be simpler to just talk on the phone. He was exceedingly enthusiastic, though he confessed he had no idea how the search would go. It was very encouraging however.

[I sit here listening to the LOUD laughter and giggles and playing of the boys and the au pair in the very next room (her bedroom) as I sit in the family room/office. Very distracting... we'll get to that below]

So, I'll be applying to Larry's center for the faculty post. That's one application sent (deadline was about a month ago, so the silence is not encouraging), and three more to send off in the next month. Two of them I've written about here recently: [Big West Coast Private University] and [Lake View University]. I need to follow up a little more on the other one, read up on their website, research faculty interests and such, call and talk with the chair perhaps, to ascertain just how promising that one really is.

Also, noticed that a school where I was shortlisted for a one-year post two years ago, has the post open now as a tenure-track gig. I haven't seen it posted on any job lists yet, but it appeared on the SOD conference website for interviews. We'll see.

And... I finally decided that I really want an office outside the house. I need to get more productive. I need to get away from the distractions, and I wish to separate my work time from my family time. I think my work will benefit and my relationships with my family will benefit from the separation. The boys will know when I'm around, I'm fair game to play with them. When I'm working, I'll be elsewhere. Also, knowing that I'm spending family money for an office will give me added incentive to make my time there as productive as possible.

I've looked at three offices. All a bit more than I wanted to spend, but all within what we can afford. In fact, because our housing costs are lower here, we'd still be spending less than we did in Paradise even if I took the more expensive of them. Hopefully, I'll have that all worked out by next week.

Meantime, I need to pack up my things and head to the train.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Three deaths

My father taught me years ago to read as if the author intended me as audience, to heed their lessons as if they were teaching me, to embrace them as my friends.

Three of my dear friends, this week, passed away:

William Bright, linguist
Clifford Geertz, anthropologist
William Styron, novelist

May they rest in peace!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cheaters vs. children

[Parenting post follows]

Frustrating week. Fridays is my day with the boys. I wanted to take them to a large and glorious local botanic gardens. $15 entrance fee for adults (children are free). Decided that I'd like to get a membership. I've found that family memberships for zoos, botanic gardens, science centers, children's museums, are well worth the cost, as they encourage regular visits, and the children enjoy them.

Thing is, we've got an au pair. It's our choice. I prefer having a dedicated caregiver for the boys when we're not watching them, I like the idea of international exchange. But, see, it would seem most of these memberships cover only two adults, and their children. In Paradise, the zoo had a nifty little add-on feature for family memberships to accommodate just this scenario, an extra person who could take the children in the absence of the parents. It was something like an extra $15 or $20 added on to the cost of the membership. GREAT!

But here in Rocket City every place we go they throw up road blocks. I'm sorry, you can only have two adults on the membership. You see... they add in a hushed confidential tone, some people would take advantage of it. They'd try to service two households.

Oh... I think you mean, like, mothers or fathers from separate families couldn't possible claim to be a couple, put their names on the membership cards, and bring their separate children whenever they liked. What a stupid idea!

The people who suffer most by such short-sighted membership policies, and inflexibility, are the children who would otherwise be exposed to a great deal more of what the world has to offer. I bought the $100 basic family membership to the botanic gardens, only to be told that (although they'd make a one-time exception for me) the basic membership doesn't allow "early entry" into the gardens. You have to get the $300 membership if you wish to enter BEFORE NOON! Oh... and the "children's garden" and the buildings with exhibits are all closed until after noon as well. [SIGH].

This means for some memberships, we need to give the au pair one of the membership cards, and have her pretend to be my wife when she goes alone with the boys, and hope they don't require identification. Or, we could simply list me and the au pair as the members, but then, my wife could never take the boys without one of us. Is there really a benefit to forcing families like ours to buy two memberships, if we wish to remain honest?