Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What do you say, when there's nothing to say?

My energy is down a bit. Not really depressed. Not really sad. Just a bit numb I guess. I spent much of yesterday and this morning dealing with our taxes. Non-Americans out there, count yourself blessed that you don't have to deal with these ridiculously complicated tax procedures! Suffice it to say, all the forms are printed out, and ready for signatures to be sent off. Yeah!

That's one more thing off the to-do list. I still need to finish my cleaning and organizing, which did make some progress yesterday, despite the exorbitant amount of time needed for taxes.

I haven't been in to campus for more than a week. The flu has kept me not wanting to leave the house more than necessary. And, since I was getting a lot of writing done sitting here at home, there was no point. But, the lack of socializing makes a hermit out of me.

Just now, I'm floudering a bit. I guess I often find myself at this point when I finish a big project (in this case the "dissertation distillation" article), especially when as lately the event flourishes with a minor splash, a few concentric waves emulating outward, then fading. I've written before about how anti-climactic finishing the dissertation was for me.

The feeling is of putting on a one-man show without an audience. The house is there, the lights, the curtain, the seats, the stage. And there I stand, imagining the audience, the critics, the applause. But so far they're only in my mind. Why does this still feel like a rehearsal?

Monday, February 27, 2006

New Desktop

A quick pause from cleaning and organizing. (I had to turn on the computer for something else, honest!)

Here is my new desktop background, replacing the example from my dissertation (which was included in my article).

This was taken yesterday morning at the local Botanic Gardens, where I spent a lovely couple of hours with my two marvelous young explorers.

Just stop sitting there!

Okay, I guess that's what I need to tell myself. I think what I ought to do today is a bit of cleaning up and organizing. I need to put all these books back on the shelves, and clear my desk. I need to get some more clearing done in the garage, in hopes of setting up a work space there. I need to organize and prioritize these articles and books that are waiting to be read. Mostly, this entails, closing the laptop, and getting to work.

It's a rainy day here. Just the type of weather that begs for "spring cleaning." So... get to it, already!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The next few goals

  • Literature review for next big long-term project (a longitudinal study).
  • Begin preparations/ideas/outlines for colloquium talk I'm giving in May
    • This is a talk in the department hosting my Visiting Scholar status (i.e. my second field)
    • I'm hoping to make some major strides toward a new methodology which I'm developing, as a spin-off and follow up on my dissertation work. That's what I'm hoping to present, so any early start is warranted. This new methodology would allow direct comparison of data across my two main fields, and should allow more fruitful interactions between them. And, these new techniques will be directly applicable to analysis of the data that I expect to be gathering for the longitudinal study.
    • I may likely need to do a thorough lit review on that as well, though as I am aware from the last few years of study, this is mostly new territory. But I need to be competent and well-versed in the methods that are currently in use in each field, so I can show where what I propose contributes something new to both fields.
  • Start planning grant applications, since I may likely remain a Visiting Scholar for another year.
  • Keep developing ideas for new articles, and possibly book proposals.
Here I am again, at the odd stage of having completed something big (like when I sent off the final version of the dissertation for approvals). Again, I have to sit back and wait on other people. But, like with job applications, I have to remind myself that my job is done in that (at least for now). It's best to simply move on. The more productive I am, the less obsessed I will be with the status of that paper, and frankly the less important that status will be. If I have two or three more irons in the fire, by the time I hear one way or the other, it shouldn't matter that much which I hear.


I clicked "submit". Gee!

This is a big deal for me. This isn't just any article. It's the essence of my work over the past 5 years, well of my dissertation work in any case. I'm honestly damn proud of it. God knows, I've read it and reread it a dozen times this past week, changing here, adding there, deleting this, moving that.

The reformatting was tedious, but in a way kind of fun. It's interesting how much thought you have to put into changing from one style to another. But it's done. I sent it off.

I'm giddy. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight, though tomorrow will be a long day for me. The wife is taking her fourth and final sailing lesson (from the package I got her as a birthday gift). Tomorrow she'll be gone all day (9-5), and it being a Sunday, that means I'm double-dad full-time. We'll have fun (but dealing with the flu and lack of sleep...). Hmmm... maybe I should have a stiff drink and hit the sack. (Dryden should be pleased.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The nicest rejection letter

Here's one for the archives. Thoughtful and polite.

Dear Dr. __________:

The search committee received and reviewed 112 applications for the position of ___________ specializing in ______________. A good many of the applicants presented excellent qualifications, and we found ourselves wishing we could make several appointments.

In the end, it was necessary for us to choose those whose profiles best suited our present needs and future plans, and we narrowed our choices to three finalists. It is with regret that I must inform you that your name was not among those selected.

We thank you very much for expressing interest in our position. I am sure that I speak for the entire committee in wishing you all the best of success in the future.

Not that I wouldn't prefer to receive a phone call instead, inviting me for an interview. But, we takes what we can gets. It will all click into place, somewhere, somewhen, somehow. I've got to believe that. In the meantime, I keep plugging away.

Friday, February 24, 2006


One of the least enjoyable parts of being interdisciplinary is the constant necessity to reformat citations from one standard to another. Since my work is based in the Humanities, but touches on the Social and Cognitive Sciences, each venue has a completely different style. It's not simply a matter of changing a comma into a period, or adding parentheses for the date. If only it were. Even superficially simple formatting changes often require a complete rethinking of what and how citations are made. I've spent most of today reworking the article, rather than re-editing it, changing footnotes into endnotes, and footnote citations into in-line references, etc. And, since I'm still fairly new to OpenOffice Write, I'm not sure how to get around all the formatting issues, so I end up typing many expectedly automated things manually. It's a lot of headaches, (which already with this flu I have quite enough of). I did draft up a concise abstract. With each modification this thing looks more and more like a real scholarly paper, which pleases me.

I decided (tentatively) that I will submit this article to a new electronic journal, utilizing an "open peer review" process, meaning the article is published with invited (or volunteered) commentary, which are signed rather than anonymous. I was invited to write just such a commentary for another journal of this sort about a year ago. I like the openness of it, and the efficiency. The turn around for these sorts of journals can be much quicker than with traditional ones.

Moreover, I realized over the past few days: 1) the most prestigious journal in my (ostensible) field may carry a lot of caché with the mainstream folks in my field. But, they're not likely to hire me anyway; 2) I don't think I've ever read an article in that journal, much less cited one; 3) when I've attended conferences held by that society (it's a Journal of...), I've mostly been bored to tears, and spent more time perusing the book exhibits than listening to talks; 4) I truly enjoy the papers at the smaller (and thus more focused) society conferences that I'm a part of, where I've presented most of my conference papers; and 5) The people who sit on the editorial board of this journal are ones whose work most intrigues me, and who are more likely to hire me should the opportunity arise.

So, what on earth would lead me to want to publish in Journal of the Society of Old Dinosaurs? This new journal is much closer to the sorts of work that I do. I won't have to pretned or stretch anything. It is innovative. It's new, which means (if my article is accepted) I get a chance to help forge the direction it takes. It's a step up from the journals I have published in so far, and what I really need is to just keep writing and publishing. It seems that I should choose journals on the basis of ones I would most enjoy reading, rather than simply ones I think would look good on my CV. I'm tired of being defensive about my work, since it seems peripheral to mainstreamers. I just want to speak to an audience who's interested and attentive. So, there you have it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Distillation complete

Done! Finally. Just completed my second pass through the article, and the final edits. I'm just under 20,000 words. I'm pleased with it. I think it does, more concisely, what I hoped my dissertation would. Now, I have to send it off. I think I'll take the advice I've gotten to send it out for some feedback, before submitting it to a journal. The list of possible (preliminary) reviewers keeps growing. I'll have to think about it a little more, but I'll plan to send it off to some people tomorrow.

Hopefully I'll be feeling better soon. This must be the flu. My wife and two boys got shots, but I didn't. Let's hope they retain immunity. I feel lousy, physically that is. But I'm happy with myself for being productive again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A (temporary) end

I finished my initial pass editing of the dissertation distillation article. I pared it down just a little from where it was. At the moment, I have an article of 19,422 words, including 26 examples out of 80 some in the dissertation. I'll have to sleep on it, and review it all again tomorrow, as one coherent whole. I'm ahead of my schedule a bit, as I hoped to have it done by the end of this week. What I do with it now (or once I've completed a second editing pass), I'm not sure. I will plan to send it off either to someone(s) for feedback, or simply submit it as is to one of a handful of journals.

Then, I get back to this massive literature review of materials for my next big project. I have a stack of articles, and half a shelf of books that are begging for attention.

Dearth and Hope

Inspired by Jo(e)

Dearth and Hope (2/27/89)

On yellowed leaves of ancient lore
I found a tale from long before:
An aged man, who tilled his land
And sowed his seeds with chaffed, bare hands.

—You must believe my word in this;
The manuscripts no more exist:
As ashen forms once touched do fall,
Of what remains, the dust is all.—

The seasons changed, the air grew dry.
His health had waned, his end drew nigh.
His plantings, they were yet undone;
He would not pass 'til there were none.

His hearing failed, his eyesight dimmed;
His beard grew long, no longer trimmed.
But still he waited for the rain;
He would not pass before it came.

He would not plant in arid earth:
For seeds set dry give barren birth.
And yet he sensed his time draw short—
He'd soon depart this earthen port.

The mud from foot of former stream
He scraped with care, as were it cream:
And in his palms transported so
This dampness for his plants to grow.

The moisture spread enough apart
To urge the budding sprouts to start.
Ere all were set he'd not retire,
Lest in his sleep his air expire.

And so prepared to meet his death—
And thus expelled his final breath:
"These plants whom now I know as seed—
Though I'll ne'er see, shall bloom indeed!"

—You must believe his heart in this!
The old man can no more insist:
As forms decayed on touch collapse,
His dust is all we can yet grasp!-

... still going ...

Where's the Energizer bunny?

Up to 12,079 edited words. It doesn't look like this is getting any shorter. Hmmm. I keep getting more ideas of whom to send it to. I wish it were as simple as just sending it to a journal. It's possible the chief editor would be kind enough to inform me promptly if they find it inappropriate for their journal, but I'm not sure I can rely on that.

Maybe I simply have to suck it up, and deal with the potential for a long silence and delay. Who knows, maybe I won't have trouble publishing it. I guess this prompts me to write up a good abstract, once the whole thing is edited, and see where that gets me. I mean, who's going to read a 20,000 word article if they don't need to? And a decent abstract will help them make a decision more rapidly. I know some journals ask for the abstract up front, but others don't. I'm not asking for special favors; I'm just trying to find (and expand) the audience for this research.

Well, plugging along.

... and on ...

The edit goes on... and on. Finished editing the next section of analysis and discussion. Up to 9714 words. Got another idea of someone to send the article to. He's one of the founding editors of the top journal in a closely related subfield of my primary discipline (where somedays I suspect I more belong). He also happens to know the language that much of the materials I'm working with were written. I've had infrequent but pleasant contact with him over the years. He might read it and make suggestions about where to submit. Then again, he might ignore it. What have I got to lose?

... Got some DayQuil this morning. Feeling a bit better, though still less than well.

Vinca major (Periwinkle)

Continuing the flower theme. Here's a Vinca major. Common name: Periwinkle.

I've got to start gardening again, eh? Here's a tidbit about me: For four years, while an undergraduate in the midwest, I supported myself almost entirely from a landscaping service that began with a used lawnmower in the back of my 1982 Honda Prelude.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The edit goes on...

I'm at 8097 edited words. Now through with the preliminaries and the first section of examples, analysis, and discussion. Eight more sections to go, as it's laid out now.

I feel lousy. Physically that is. Went online to find a doctor with our new insurance. Actually, it's not very new insurance. We've had it since my wife started working again in June. I haven't been to see a doctor in all that time. Decided I should schedule a physical. Full checkup in about a month. The doctor is booked for office visits at least until Friday, so I'd have to sit in "urgent care" if I wanted to be seen for this ailment now. We'll see how I feel tomorrow.

Kaffir Lillies for spring!

Clivia Miniata. Common name: Kaffir lily. Native to South Africa (I believe). One of my all-time favorite flowers, hands-down. This shot was taken a few years ago on my doctoral campus.

Still sick... still writing

Yesterday, added a selection of examples and analysis, culled from the dissertation. Article now totals just under 21,000 words. Youch! Revised and edited the preliminaries today, now amounting to 5850 words. Flow is much better. I think it works. Need to go through the examples and analysis (about 1/3 of the examples from the dissertation), fixing the flow, revising the text, adding citations, cutting if I can, cleaning it all up.

If all goes well, I might be ready to send this thing off by the end of the week. Not sure if I should send an informal inquiry out to the editors of one or another journal, or just submit the whole article. What I don't want is to wait two or three months to hear that they don't think it's the appropriate venue, or some such. But I'd like to have the widest readership, and the biggest bang for my C.V.

The submission guidelines for the top journal in my field doesn't actually say I can't submit it to more than one journal, but somehow that seems bad form. Correct me if I'm wrong. What do you do? Would you write an informal inquiry, or submit to two or three journals at once? It's going to be a good article, I'm convinced of that. The problem is finding the right venue.

I cite material from three or four completely separate disciplines, but I'm not sure the mainstream journals in any of them will consider it sufficiently a part of their domian to print it. Maybe I'm just defeating myself, but expecting the worst makes anything else seem good.

Meantime, I'm still hacking up a lung, and sipping down tea like I've got the whole Boston harbor at my disposal. The car is still at the dealership; they're waiting on just one more part. They estimate we'll have it back by Friday at the latest.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Darn, darn darn!

Writing. It's good to be writing. But then, I keep catching myself, wanting to say more. Yet I know, I can't say things like "what does he think about x? Well, he never tells us, he simply says...." Why can't I say that? Because I haven't yet read everything he's written!

I wrote before how I discovered far more articles I needed to read and translate than I had imagined. About a week ago or so, I decided that I didn't really need to read all of them for this article. No, I could just get some thoughts out. I mean, I did write a dissertation about this. Why not just summarize some of those thoughts, then send it off?

Because I'm a perfectionist, or I'm honest! I'll tell you a little story about dishonesty in writing:

Years ago, I was fascinated by the painter Rembrandt. I read a biography of him by Hendrik Willem van Loon, that purported to have been written, not by van Loon, but by some great-great-relative of his, a friend and contemporary of the painter himself! Wow, I thought! And was I gullible. I wanted to believe it, so I overlooked the obvious clues, like the reconstructed dialogue.

Don't get me wrong, it was a well-written, historical novel. The unforgivable offense however was the deceit. Perhaps when it was first published in 1930, the author's name and reputation would have been sufficiently recognizable that the conceit of the manuscript having been found would have been easily read as a spun yarn. But I didn't read it then. I didn't read it with that knowledge. I was duped. And I was duped not simply by my own innocence and ignorance. But rather by my faith in the written word.

I revere writing. It should say something. It should challenge, but it should also stipulate and ruminate and bow down to its own lapses and lacunae. In short, it should be honest. I remember taking a psychology class as a graduate student, and discussing the confirmation bias. The instructor, unwittingly lobbed me a great compliment. I simply asked whether researchers ought not focus on disproving their claims, rather than proving them. If we believe our suppositions to be valid, shouldn't we make every effort to prove ourselves wrong? He replied with a laugh, as if to say, "well, no, for then we might discover we're wrong!" I was glad to be excluded from his postulated set of researchers.

So, I catch myself saying things in writing, that I can't be sure are true. And I have too much respect for my readers to let it slide. I'm trying to find the balance between reading more articles (ploddingly in this other language, because 1. my skills and knowledge of the language are not yet ace; and 2. the writing style is dense, poetic, and vague), and altering or weakening my arguments, so as not to state too strongly, what I can only surmise.

I begin to believe that this will eventually become my first book, not exactly a rewriting of the dissertation, as a reworking of it, and a great expansion beyond it. It feels good to be working again. But it's scary. It's scary to be out here all alone. Yes, writing a dissertation can be lonely, and isolating. But to be done. To have more to say, and the energy to pursue, but without a hand hold! No concrete goal towards which I'm heading; no diploma at the end; no deadline, or committee, or colleagues. I'm standing on the edge of an abyss, knowing the wind is behind me, not being able to see the other side. Somehow, I believe the clouds below will cushion me, if I fall; there will be no hard landing. But where will the winds blow? That I don't yet know.

I am caught between two fields. That was my choice. I own it. I have this [book/article/piece] to write. But I'm not sure where it will go, when I'm done? Who is the audience? I'm always thinking of my audience. If I'm speaking to dentists, then a tooth metaphor; if it's gardeners, I talk of plants, and flowers, and seeds. But I don't know who is listening just now. I've got to write. I can always edit later.

Hack... Cough!

Just a little random update of me, since I've been silent these past few days.

I'm not feeling well. Is it allergies? I don't have a fever, just an awful hacking cough, deep down in my lungs. My wife spent the weekend (5 hours on Saturday and about 4.5 on Sunday) taking a class that I got her for her birthday (back in December) . She finally scheduled it. Next weekend she continues, four hours on Saturday and 8 on Sunday! It's fun, but she's still stressed about work.

She only worked 41 hours last week. She's begged off some travel this week, asking a coworker to cover for her. But she feels guilty about that. Our car is still at the dealership, so I gave her a ride into work today. I'm working at home again (especially until I start feeling better). It's just a lot of things taking up time and pressing on us. Since BrightStar praised me for it recently, I'm going to keep trying to see the highs with the lows.

Life is pretty good, even with the downsides. I spent four years in Indiana... I prefer ups and downs to endlessly flat fields of corn (and feed corn no less, nothing like the sweet, delicious kernels of Maryland and Virginia corn I grew up with). I'll be back.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Highs and lows

I feel like a weather system these days: highs and lows.
  • 6000 words written and edited as the first part of an article summarizing part of my dissertation. All that remains are the examples and analysis. High.
  • Newest realtor suggests an asking price fully 9% lower than our last price, which was already reduced 9% from our opening price. Gah! I guess this is why they say don't consider your house an investment. Low.
  • Finances are still in order, regardless. High.
  • Our car is still at the dealership for warranty work (since last Saturday), and they think it'll be another week at least. Low.
  • New job postings sound exciting. At least, I'm still able to get excited about possibilities. High.
  • Still no bites or nibbles on the numerous applications I have already made. Low.
  • I hear the birds singing outside my window. Spring is just around the corner. High.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What's in a name?

Great program on The Infinite Mind, heard on NPR. It reminds me of my favorite class from my undergraduate days. It was a course on Anthropological Linguistics. One day (or one week, I can't remember) the conversation focused on names. Boy it struck me then. My name's important to me.

I remember being amused by the psychologist named Boring, and the neuroscientist named Brain. Inspired by the radio segment, especially the part on Alan Berliner and Grace Lee, here's a little meme on names. Surely, you've all googled your name. So, tell us about others who share your name.

When I google my name, here's what I come up with:

1) Well, there's me, of course.
2) an astrologer in San Francisco.
3) a lawyer in London.
4) one random post (by a namesake) on the NBA preseason (definitely not me)
5) a history professor in Canada.
6) a rabbi who does educational television (incidentally married to a woman with my mother's name).
7) an IT professional in Australia.

Self-identity meme

Last week, at the end of a post, I suggested that the question: What five things about you most contribute to your self-identity? would be far more useful in ensuring diversity than the pat and pre-determined ethnic-racial classifications used today. I promised to make an effort to answer that question myself, so here goes, in no particular order.

**First, a disclaimer: I have no intention to judge others in what follows, but merely to state things from my own perspective, listing and explaining what goes into making me, me.**

1) Being a secular Jew in America. I identify with the culture of Judaism, which should be evident in some of what follows. But, I confess that part of being a Jew in America is not being a Christian. It is being a hidden minority, suffering through near constant reminders that I am not a part of the dominant culture of my society. Everytime some stranger wishes me "Merry Christmas" of "Happy Easter" their assumption that I am Christian like them is a jab to the ribs, an unintended finger pointed in my face, shouting, "Damn it, you don't belong here! You're not one of us, don't you understand that?" It were as if a public holiday celebrated the joys of being white, and no one suspected that I was merely passing for white. No, I realize, those are not the intentions of members of the dominant Christian culture. There is no explicit desire for the most part to render non-Christians an underclass. But the reminders are there in so much of our lives, St. Valentine's day, All Hollow's Eve... even if these celebrations bear the indelible mark of being coopted from pre-existing Pagan ritual, they are not part of the culture I identify with.

2) A belief that I am responsible to make the world a better place. In Jewish culture, there is the principle of tikkun olam ("heal the world"). It is a duty, a responsibility. If the world suffers, I suffer. I have a deep-seated empathy for the suffering of others. Sometimes, this empathy is debilitating. I have to steel myself against that, for I realize my power in the world is limited. I can not stop tsunamis and earthquakes; I can not hold inflamed radicals or headstrong politicians in my arms, and through sheer force of will, convince them that killing is no solution. But this is a responsibility I take seriously, which plays a role in every major life decision I make.

3) Self-reliance. I pride myself on being able to take care of most of my needs, and those of my family. Some ways this is silly, but I prefer to cook my pasta sauce and make my salad dressings from scratch, because I can. There are times that I have come to accept it makes more sense to have others do things for me, if they are better trained, or better equipped to accomplish a task than I. But I feel it is always a choice. I have worked hard to obtain a degree of financial freedom, because self-reliance dictates that we have the freedom to make radically different choices at just about any time. Not being tied down by debt is one of the most important factors permitting this.

4) A strong appreciation for the difference between knowledge and belief. I hold equal disdain for true believers of any stripe, whether they worship a god, or money, or beauty, or the "scientific method," or evolution. By true believers I mean anyone who thinks all questions have already been answered, who refer to whatever it is they believe in as the fount of all knowledge. There is nothing wrong with belief. In itself, belief is neutral. What we do with that belief is what makes it beneficial or dangerous.

5) A love for words and languages. This may seem out of place in the context of the other four. But, it is a major factor in my self-identity. I recognize that language is perhaps the most powerful tool that distinguishes humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom. I honestly believe that all languages are exquisitely gorgeous.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Starting over, again


I recall a one-panel cartoon from several years ago. It was a couple of super-wealthy guys at a cocktail party, one regaling the other with the horrors of being treated like a plebe. He complained that at some restaurant he even had to peel his own grapes or some such nonsense. I laughed, but I remember having a strange sort of epiphany.

You know, I realized, we've all got our complaints, based on what we're accustomed to. As ridiculous as it might seem to someone from a different background, the stress of not getting what we expect is real.

Tonight we got an email from our new real estate agent, essentially resigning from the assignment, before she even started.

[SIGH] ... so here I am, wondering if I am spoiled. Sure, we own a house. Maybe it's our comeuppance that we're having difficulties selling it. Or, who knows, maybe it won't sell for a reason. Maybe I'll wind up with a job near our old stomping grounds, and the house will come in handy. Just looking for a silver lining.

Well, I just needed to vent. I'm sure we'll figure something out.

About a 1% chance

Gah! Just got this in my inbox.

Dear Applicant:

I'm sorry to have to let you know that you will not be among our finalists for this year's [Major West Coast Resarch School] Humanities Fellows.

We had over five hundred applications for six places, and this large number of applicants, together with their high quality, made this an unusually competitive year for the program.

Nevertheless, we appreciate the opportunity to have read your work as we considered your application. Thank you, once again, for your interest in the program, and best of luck with your future plans.

Well, congratulations to whoever makes the cut! I'd say that's at least as impressive as a Gold Medal at the Olympics.

Lecture inquiry

A couple days ago, I suggested that I might contact some of the schools who had sent me encouraging rejection letters to see if they would be interested in having me give a talk in their deparment, in order to broaden my exposure and experience in presenting my work to diverse audiences. If these departments truly see value in my research, but simply couldn't see fitting me into their immediate needs, there seems to be a possibility they might accept my offer.

Of course this is tricky. I might wind up calling their bluffs, or pissing people off with my boldness. But then, if they're really not interested in my work, what have I got to lose? I have heard that sometimes search committees go to the trouble of sending out differently worded rejection letters at different points in the review process (cf. Ahistoricality's comment on the "one I quoted" link below). All I have to go on then is my attempt to read something positive or negative into the spare words that were sent me. I figure what I have to gain outweighs the risks, so here goes.

I looked over the rejection letters that I have on my desk (I actually cleaned it up this week, YEA!) Many I toss straight into the recycle bin, because it's not always useful or pleasant to keep them around. Though sometimes I think it's good to keep them in the archives for reference down the road (when, I hope, I'll be in a position to be writing them). Maybe reminders of what I got will help me maintain professional courtesy and compassion, which these letters don't always exhibit. Among those however there's only the one I quoted a couple days ago, which seems a likely candidate.

Here's what I drafted up and emailed out this morning [identifying features altered or removed]

Dear Professor [NAME of Search Committee Chair],

Thank you for your kind note of [Recent Date], regarding the successful completion of the faculty search at [Big State School, Flagship]. I do not envy search committees their task of weeding through a mass of highly qualified applicants to select the one or two to be offered positions.

It is a tight market, leaving many of us falling through the cracks. I recognize that my work is unusual, and outside the mainstream of scholarship these days. However, I remain convinced that it is both accessible and relevant. It is nice therefore to receive encouraging words, even if the particular post does not fit my candidacy.

I would like to inquire as to whether there is any chance to present my work in your department. I know that many [Field] departments these days hold a regular lecture series, or research colloquium for faculty and graduate students, which serve as appropriate venues for the presentation of new ideas. Please let me know if such an opportunity could be arranged. Depending upon the interests of your department, I could prepare a talk either on [Focus of my Dissertation], or on [Field 1] & [Field 2] studies more broadly. I would be happy to discuss options and details with you at your convenience.

Thank you again for your courtesy and consideration,

[My First Name]
[Contact Information]

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Cricketsong (8/17/91)

And what of noise?
Is it not the crickets' song,
to crick, crick, crick, all at once?
A seeming chaos!
Such repetition, such noise.
-And one dies out:
I can notice it; I do notice,
as if there were some reason,
as if a single cricket matters.
But the sound itself, it continues;
it pleases me not.
I long for a silence.
Perhaps not silence,
but music, order.
The crickets scream to be heard.
I envy the crickets.
I want to scream.
I almost wish to be a cricket:
that screaming "crick, crick" ...were enough!

A wild ride

It's been a wild ride today, mostly down. I prepared and sent off an application package for another job in the UK. Just before I left the house, I got another rejection letter. We wish you success in finding a position to satisfy your career objectives.

Blech! How bland can you get? I mean, can't they at least wish me well in finding a FACULTY post somewhere? It's hard not to let that stuff get to me. I can talk myself round and round... but sometimes it just gets to me. I want to scream (I'll post a relevant poem next). Sometimes a good scream (like a good cry) let's me feel a good deal better.

I met my wife for lunch. She's a big help in keeping my head screwed on. So, I'm a bit better now.

Okay, now for some productive time this afternoon. I've committed to sending off this article by the end of the month (willy-nilly) somewhere. I still have to decide on the venue to submit to. But it will be done.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A little down

Maybe it's the hormones that ProfessorMe writes about. I don't know. But my cycle took a decidely downward trend this evening. Maybe it was reading through Letting them down easy over at Pilgrim/Heretic, and the numerous comments, about how to tell off job applicants who don't make the cut. (Okay, that's a bit harsh, but...)

You know what, I am so tired of this whole job search process. I am tired of all the effort and applications, and all the uncertainty, and all the self-doubt, and all the waiting. I'm sick to think someone at the other end might look at my cover letter or CV and get turned off for the stupidest of reasons, not because the reason is valid, but simply because well, hell, we've got another 84 applicants here, and I really never liked the word "myriad", so into the flaming bucket for you, buddy!


Okay, got that off my chest. The sad thing is, I recognize that being depressed and worrying about things is simply not productive. And to tell truth, I really would prefer to be productive. Not that I haven't been making progress. I'm writing again.

I guess another issue that's bugging me lately is reading and hearing about all these people who have gotten themselves tenure-track jobs, and they're still miserable. Yes, I see that satisfaction is in our attitudes and our expectations, not simply in our circumstance.

That's a hard one to deal with. It's much easier to simply see the world as acting on us. It's uncomfortable, but much easier to feel helpless than to expend the energy necessary to figure a way out of the quagmire.

One of my favorite mottos is: everyone who got where they are, started where they were. I guess when it comes down to it, what I expected when I went back to graduate school doesn't much matter, not now. I'm not there. I'm here. What I have to figure out is where I want to go, and how to get there.

It feels that I keep circling back. But it's not so simple as to say: I want to land a tenure-track job, because I want satisfaction in that job. And to discover what constitutes satisfaction is a far deeper and more important part of the equation. Perhaps the worst outcome would be to get a job that I think I want, only to discover the job adds nothing to my satisfaction. There's the clincher.

Some new ideas

I arrived on campus today to discover a small package in my departmental mailbox. Ah, yes, that's the book for review. I requested a book from a journal (in my second field) to review. My first choice was already taken. But the editor requested that I look over the others. So, I found another book which sounded interesting, and is somewhat related to my areas of research. So, I said I'd do it. I've got until May to read it and write up a 500 word review. It shouldn't be too difficult. It forces me to read the book, which should stimulate my thinking in some different directions. And it gains me a little more exposure outside my core area.

I've been thinking a bit (I know, I say that a lot). I wrote last week about some rejection letters. And I realize (or believe anyway) that part of my difficulty in landing a tenure-track faculty post is that my area of research is essentially unheard of, rather than because there is anything glaringly lacking from my credentials. It's not that it's so obscure or bizarre. Frankly, I think it is quite accessible, and applicable in several fields of study.

It's just, well, at the risk of exposing myself (but then, if I were well known this wouldn't be an issue would it? Unlike the motivation behind ABDMom's blog dilemma, I'm not jealous of my anonymity due to an impending job): combining two fields in the humanities (which typically are deemed unrelated) with cognitive science, and psychology, and neurology... well, it's just not heard of, is it? I mean science and culture? And... what do you mean you're not talking about public policy and society? It's accessible and applicable, but it has nothing to do with gender or race or class or sexual orientation, or any of the sexy -isms that are in fashion. Well, it does, but those connections are not on the surface. They're deeper, and what I do is more basic, more foundational.

The questions that drive my research are simple. Where do we get these capacities from, that we all engage in everyday, that naturally emerge in children, that evolved in our species, that differ in interesting ways from the capacities of other species? And, how are they related, despite the fact that researchers in the two main fields don't typically think about their connectedness at all. And how do they reflect who we are, as individuals, as a species, as members of a group?

What I realize is that when I casually talk about my research to someone I meet, or give a talk about it, people often think wow, I never thought of that! But until they think of it, I don't have an audience. And this is what leads my friend and colleague and professional reference to say: "Yes, tell committees about your work, but also tell them why they should be interested and what it will contribute to their interests and that of their students."

So... I think I'll write back to a select few of the schools who sent me nice we wish you well, but we're not going to hire you kind of letters, to ask them if they'd consider inviting me to give a talk in their department. Most of their departments should have an appropriate colloquium or invited lecture series that I'd fit into. I'm not asking them to commit to much, just a lecture. I'm motivated to build up my exposure, and my C.V. Maybe if they knew more about my work, it wouldn't seem quite so off the wall. And the more experience I get speaking to diverse audiences, the more able I will be to present it in novel enlightening ways.

I had been thinking I need to focus on publications, and I'm working on that. But I also need to get back to what I'm really good at. And that's schmoozing and networking and preparing talks and conference papers. I've let that slide a bit lately, out of depression, and working on job applications, and spending time on working up articles (which always seem to take longer than I think, because there's always something else to read before I am confident writing).

Frankly, I need to get busy again, and busy in ways that make me productive. I'm not sitting by and waiting for the phone to ring any more. I've got to keep up my work. I've got to get going on some of my longer term projects, because I simply can't be sure that I won't be where I am for another two or three years.

Sometimes a bowl of corn is just a bowl of corn

Last night I had one of those incidents. Sometimes I just get flustered. The wife and I had a nice afternoon date, shopping... we've gotten a bit jaded on the let's go to a fancy restaurant and gaze at each other every week thing. So, we've taken to varying it a bit. And since we both need new clothes, shopping works.

#1 was getting anxious for our return, so he called us on the cell to ask when we'd be getting home. So, we came. Dinner. I decided to make an easy meal that he would particularly like: "tender strips" (aka fried chicken strips) with pasta and creamed corn. #1 was "helping" to dip the chicken in flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. Of course, a nearly four-year-old helping make dinner slows it down quite a bit. Halfway through I tossed my wife one of those glances that meant help, or we won't eat until 9:00! So, she took him aside to help her make some brownies from a mix, all the while trying to entertain or hold #2 as well. I rushed as I could to finish up the chicken.

Then, the corn... easy enough, pour some frozen kernels into a pan with a half inch of water, boil, drain, add some butter, some milk, mix some of the liquid from boiling with some corn starch, then thicken the "cream". I poured it into a bowl for serving. Then, as I picked it up to carry to the table.... oh...ooops, oh... oh, uhng.... aaaarrrggh!

The whole thing fell to the floor and spread corn everywhere. I ran out the side door, and sat for a minute, thinking about my breathing. [in.... out.... in.... out....]. Then I returned, to clean up, then make the corn again.

You know, in the grand scheme of things, a bowl of corn is just a bowl of corn.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A poem (for Trillwing)

Snow Fall (12/4/91)

Outside, the snow fell while I was unaware.
Inside my mind there was no place for snow.
Is it not so, that for each one there are many worlds?
Can we inhabit more than one at a time?

I felt confused, almost hurt,
that the snow would fall without me.
And yet: am I responsible for the snow,
or must it answer to me?

Should I not delight in the independence of snow?
Is that not its right?
Should I not cherish the world that surprises,
and covers its tracks in the snow?...

Friday, February 10, 2006

This is not me!

"White (not of Hispanic origin) - A person having origins in any of the original people of Europe, Northern Africa, or the Middle East."

Do any of these categories meaningfully describe you? Does society benefit, in the long run (beginning today, not yesterday, not 1964) from the continuation of these classifications?

I do not check that box when I submit my EEO forms. It tells no one anything meaningful about me, certainly less than the picture would. In fact, I'm considering simply printing a copy of that picture of my arm, to attach to these forms. Of course, that would be a useless protest. The information is voluntary. Besides, the requirement for gathering information on these ethnic categories is defined not by the universities to which I apply for employment, but by the government.

It's not just America though. The categories are different, but essentially as meaningless in the UK, where I've also applied for work. I suppose I'd be expected there to tick the box beside "Any other White background."

Now, don't get me wrong. Please, don't get me wrong. I do not pretend to believe there is no discrimination of peoples by ethnicity, by gender, by appearance, by spoken accent. No, clearly these things, sadly, do continue. One of my proudest moments, still to this day, was hearing from an opposing candidate in the student government elections, "you are the first white man I have ever met who is not a racist." This was at CCNY in Harlem, New York in 1984. I was 16, and running for Vice President for Campus Affairs. I came in second. I will never forget our talk, because even today it brings tears to my eyes to think that his words may have been true.

But I am offended, even worried that the means we choose to redress these faults in society have the opposite effect.

Look at my picture. Read the category to which I am supposed to apply. There is so much that these don't tell you about me.

I'd like to believe that the color of my skin, or my ethnic heritage, have no impact on whether or not I am offered a job. I hope that I will be judged merely on the basis of my research and my teaching, and other relevant qualifications. I am pleased to report that when I sat on the hiring committee as a grad student rep for a major administrative post at my university, there was not even the slightest hint that anything except the qualifications and abilities of the candidates should be considered. And I am confident that the committee lived true to that expectation.

I recall a couple years ago, hosting a colleague (who happened to have just been hired as a junior faculty member at my home institution). I was overseas on a Fulbright grant, and he was visiting the city of my research for about a week. I gladly invited his visit. Superficially, we look very much alike.

We are both short, slightly built men, Eastern European Jewish extraction. We're both in the same field, both our dissertations centered on the same person. We discussed among other things affirmative action policies. He spoke of his undergraduate days at Harvard, recounting how his cohorts were mostly spoiled, unmotivated, undeserving rich kids. He passionately spoke of the need for righting the injustice to people of color. But there was something in his tone, in the way he spoke, that struck me like the voice of a well-intentioned lord doling out favors to his serfs.

His world is not mine. I did not attend Harvard. I never would have considered applying. I wasn't raised by well-off academics in Boston as he was. I grew up in Baltimore and New York. My paternal grandfather was a paperhanger. My paternal grandmother was crippled from childhood polio, and never worked outside the house. My maternal grandfather was a salesman, and a gambler. My maternal grandmother worked occasionally in clerical jobs, and refused to allow my mother to learn how to type (which to this day she hasn't).

My mother recalls a neighborhood pool where she grew up, openly displaying a sign:

No Jews or Negroes Allowed!

Unlike my friend, I have not lived a priveleged life. I have suffered less than others, sure, but never priveleged. Mine was a family that arrived in America from Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th century. Good thing, too, or they may not have survived the Holocaust, and I might never have been born.

All my grandparents were born here. My parents met at the University of Maryland. My father graduated with a BA in English & Zoology. He was a writer. But he never got published. My mother was an artist cum teacher, who wound up years later getting a Master's degree, and serving as a school principal.

They were divorced by the time I was four. We were poor, but never hungry. I never went homeless, or shoeless, or went a day without a meal. I always considered us "lower middle class" as I had learned. I'm not the first in my family to attend college. But I am the only one of my siblings to have graduated.

I don't know where to go with this narrative. There is so much more about me, about my personal and family history. None of it is revealed by ticking "White (non-Hispanic)". None of it. I do not self-identify as that category of being.

I wonder if it were not more useful, rather than presenting a limited number of pre-formed (and thus pre-judged) categories, to ask an open ended question on EEO forms and college admissions applications: What five things about you most contribute to your self-identity? Surely for some, that may include their gender, or skin color, for others their first language, or hometown, their height, or weight, their first love, or favorite recipe, the book that changed their lives, or a loss they endured as a child, or... Wouldn't that be more revealing? I'll work on it myself, and get back to you.

What other people think

Just killing some time until the wife calls for me to pick her up. I wanted to blog a bit about a recent realization I've had. In part my present relaxation is due to an acceptance that what other people think is not really all that important to me. Let me explain.

I'm talking about my wife's family, my brothers, the au pair, my wife's coworkers... just about anyone who's not in academia. I'm really tired of explaining my unemployment status, trying to convince them what I am (in better moments) convinced of myself: that the right job will come along, or perhaps it won't, but either way it doesn't really reflect on the relevance or worthiness of the work I do... but rather, in some skewed way, it reflects the often inexplicable alignment of ideas that leads a committee to say Eureka, he's the one!

I was just reading My Department is Dreaming of a Wedding on In Favor of Thinking and Discipline Boundaries on What Now? It's nice to see things from the other side of the table now and again. God, what I wouldn't give to be adored by a department, or frankly even liked enough to be hired.

But, those things are beyond my control. Sure, I can put on a good face, and expend the necessary energy to write a bang-up cover letter, and what have you, and endeavor to just wow them, should I be invited to campus. But those things alone will not guarantee a job offer.

In his later years, my father took to saying that what's in our power is to decide whether or not we are going be good; history alone will decide if we are considered great. It means a lot to me. I've been ambitious all my life. Not ambitious as in I wanted to be CEO, or a famous movie star. I confess to having daydreamed about being POTUS or to thinking myself as good an actor as someone famous. Sure, I've fantasized about such acclaim and power.

Mostly, however, I've aspired to greatness, to making major contributions to something. Over the years, I've narrowed down my field. I've refined the areas of my principal interest, ostensibly the domain in which I might make that giant leap. But, giant leaps are not so much in the distance we cover, or in the amount of effort we put in. No, we can decide to be good at what we do. It's luck, and timing, and circumstance, and the ability of society to recognize and realize the value in what we do... it's a whole slew of things, that conspire for or against our accomplishment's value in history. That is to say, great things are not always better than good things. Maybe I've just passed through the stages in life that ProfessorMe described as stages in a student's attitudes toward the dissertation.

I haven't given up my aspirations, my ambition. I've only mollified it a bit. As an actor, I often wondered at the strange and glorious mutations that some directors go in for. I've wondered at the fascination artists and composers often have with what's novel. And I've come to the conclusion that 1) sometimes it's enough to just do something good, even if it's been done before; and 2) before spending too much energy finding your own voice, be sure you've got something to say.

Working at home

More writing today. Gymnastics morning for #1, so I watch both boys in the a.m. The wife decided this would not be another 50 hour week. So, she came with to watch the gymnastics class. That was nice. And I'll be picking her up early too. Yeah!

Brought the boys home around 11:00, then went to work at my laptop. I'm still writing this "dissertation distillation" article, though it may wind up becoming two or three articles. For now, I'm writing, and revising, but not editing, all the while reading new materials, translating as needed, and digging up old references. What remains is well-written, but not necessarily all pieced together. I can pull out sections later, if they go off too far on a tangent, and make them into the seeds of another article. It's good to be writing again, though at times it feels like a mulligan for all that's missing in the dissertation.

I've decided that I really prefer (most days) to work at home. I don't have a proper office on campus, so I have no privacy (read "quiet") there. Since I do most of my work on campus in a shared computer lab in my department, that means I am subject to the whims of conversations within the lab. I confess, I'm sometimes the culprit. But it's difficult to work when others are talking about god-knows-what, which is in no way related to the thesis of the article I'm writing, or the topic of the book or article I'm trying to read, or what have you.

Sure, at home, the boys interrupt me quite a bit, but I'd venture it's no more than the interruptions that occur in the computer lab, at least while the au pair is around to rescue me when I need it. And at least half the time, I enjoy their interruptions more than overhearing the dating rituals or professor woes of the new grad students.

Besides, all of my books and file cabinets full of articles are here. If I wish to find something that I know is there, but haven't taken notes on, it's nice to have them handy. I have such a backlog of reading that I'm rather infrequently visiting the library these days, especially in light of the fact that my "visiting faculty" library priveleges are pathetic in comparison to my former "PhD candidate" borrowing priveleges.

So, here I sit (still in the living room, because the garage clean up is going to take another few days of diligence). That's all for now.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A mid-afternoon breather

It's been a good day. Yesterday I came to the realization that while it's easy to envy others, that envy in itself is rather meaningless. Self-awareness is essential. It is alright to desire things that one doesn't have. But, in the words of Sheryl Crow:

It's not having what you want
It's wanting what you've got

In honor of that song's title, I spent a little time today just soaking up the sun (pruning bushes, what else?). I've been taking it easy. And amazingly, I've actually been fairly productive. I'm just not going to worry about it. Hell, 38 ain't so old. What's more, it's just that I have no control over whether I get the job this season, or next, or what. I'm really doing everything I'm comfortable doing. I may make different choices in a few months, or in a year. But for now, I'm going to live a little more freely, a little less concerned.

I know there's magic in that attitude. Somehow, when it just doesn't matter to us, things begin to fall into place. It sometimes makes us more attractive when we're not looking for anything, or worrying about what will come.

Now back to that article. And I've got a couple more job apps to get out in the next week or so. It feels good to work without a hard deadline, without a worry, without a care.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Leftovers Risotto

When I was growing up, any leftovers stir-fried, with a dash of soy sauce, qualified as chinese food in my mother's parlance. This is a risotto in a similar vein. For all you vegetarians, sorry, this is a chicken recipe.

I can't say this a recipe proper, since the whole point was to creatively use up what needed to be eaten, so just about all the ingredients are dispensable or replaceable. But here's what I did tonight.

Put on one cup of rice in the rice cooker, with one cup of water, and one cup of chicken stock (leftover from the roast chicken I made last night).

Meanwhile, I cut up some green onions, half a poblano (otherwise known as pascilla) pepper, half an anaheim pepper, quarter large red bell pepper, half cup or so of sliced mushrooms. Tossed them in a pan with some chicken schmaltz (skimmed from the stock, leftover from last night), and sautéd for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, diced up half an eggplant, tossed with salt in a bowl, to dessicate (they're always rubbery if you don't dry them out a bit). Stirred the vegetables.

Meanwhile, picked as much chicken meat as I could off the bones of my leftovers, cutting up any large pieces, and tossed it all into pan with vegetables. Kept stirring. Once the rice was ready, I drained the eggplant, then squeezed into a couple paper towels to reduce liquid more. Tossed into pan with chicken and vegetables. (Bear in mind that this may produce a rather salty dish. Next time I'll try rinsing the eggplant before draining and squeezing. But then, my wife and I are quite sensitive to salt).

After a couple minutes, once the eggplant was a little browned, added the rice, and another 1/4-1/2 cup of the chicken stock (I always have a lot of stock!). Stirred over medium heat, left to simmer.

Scooped into bowls, sprinkled grated cheese on top, and garnished with cilantro. Dinner.

A little consolation

So, here I sit reading... on Will's Coffee House, the lament of a teacher grading papers; On ABDMom, the frustration of a "dissertatin' mama" ready to scream over a seemingly unproductive day, and I realize that though I haven't much to show for today (at least as far as my CV is concerned) to be honest, I don't feel too bad about it. And I think... you know, I'm THIS close. I could go either way. I've got no attachments (professionally that is).

I could... open a restaurant; get a real estate license; start up a landscaping business (again, that's how I paid my way through my undergrad years); or ... just about anything. It's not that I will, mind you, or that I have any imminent plans. See, the point for me is not what I WILL do, but what I COULD do. It's all about captaining my own ship. And, today, well, you know, I feel like I'm at the helm. So what, I got a couple rejection letters?

It was a beautiful day. I recorded some birds chirping, and edited the sound file to serve as my "Start Windows" sound. Then, I decided to make a clip of #2 giggling into my "Exit Windows" sound. (I would have posted them both here, but it doesn't seem that Blogger yet allows uploading of sound files. Too bad.)

I spent some time playing with both boys, took #1 to the dentist, cuddled and soothed him when his fever sapped his energy and patience. I read books to them, and played baloon keep-up, and "daddy gym" (essentially they both climb on me, and I lift them with my arms or legs, or whatever's handy, until we all fall onto the floor giggling).

I made a creative meal of leftovers. I hugged and kissed my wife when she got home. I started thinking about what I could plant in the garden this spring (even though we're just renting this house). I spent some time in the garage, cleaning up and clearing space. I'm hoping to make a real work space in there, so I can be more productive when I work out of the house, since when I'm in plain sight, the boys will always gravitate to me, rather than play with the au pair.

And here's the consolation: you know, I've got it pretty good. We're not going hungry. We've got a decent place to live. I've got a talented, intelligent, and beautiful wife, and two luscious kids. I've got my books, and my laptop. And, for now at least, I'm free. If I choose to take a day off, or a week, or a month, there's nothing stopping me.

This is no exercise in Schadenfreude. I'd like to think that's beneath me. I could thumb my nose at all my bloggic friends here, reciting my lack of commitments; or I could dwell on how ABDMom is exhausted because she just returned from campus visit #4 (when I've yet to receive a single telephone interview this year), or how ProfessorMe already has a job lined up for the fall, or resent my friend who is halfway through his year teaching in the post I almost got last year. In short, I could worry about a host of things. But, if I'm going to compare myself to others, I should be fair about it. We've all got our triumphs and our laments. I've been pretty good at lamenting lately. I think today, I'll rest on my laurels. Here isn't such a bad place after all.

That's my competition?

Wow... I just got an email from one of the schools I applied to. The person they hired was a Full Professor at the school he was leaving, got his PhD in 1991! That's my competition? No wonder I don't have a job yet.

At least I know why his current school posted a one-year announcement last week. Granted, the position at the highly regarded Boston-area private University was "open rank". But geez. I guess they were being picky though. This last application (closed October 11) was actually the third time I had applied there. Once a year before, for a position they didn't fill. Once over the summer for a one-year interim post to cover the position they didn't fill. And finally again. The difference was, I had my PhD in hand this last time. Ah well, one more down.

Now for some writing and translating. Honest. But I do have an excuse, #1 has a 102.5F temperature, which I checked after we got back from the dentist.

Another rejection letter

It's odd in a way: I feel relief now that the rejection letters are starting to trickle in. It's not that I'm happy about the rejection. It's that 1) silence for me is the worst torture; and 2) once I have the letters in hand, I can a) feel relieved that I didn't get hired by such a doltish department if the letter is callous or dull (as ProfessorMe's mom would say, I should be pleased for the things I don't want that I don't get); or b) satisfied that I was considered but determined not to be the best fit for their program. In any case, I can move on.

Here an excerpt from the latest letter from the flagship campus of a large state university:

... Thank you for your interest in applying for one of our open faculty positions. Unfortunately, you were not one of the applicants whose materials were chosen for our finalist list.

We received many highly qualified applications for our search, and you were one of those applicants. I wish you success in your efforts to obtain a faculty position in the near future.

Well, that's nice enough. You always wonder, do they say the same to all of the applicants? I mean, not everyone is equally qualified. Do they really believe what they say? Are they sincere in wishing me success in landing a faculty post?

But then, it doesn't really matter, does it? I believe I'm highly qualified. I believe I am worthy of a faculty post, worthy to stand up before a lecture hall full of eager freshman, and a seminar room sparcely populated by graduate students. I know I have interesting questions to pose, enlightening methods of addressing them, and illuminating answers to present. I just have to have the patience and the perseverance to make it through these trials, to find that proper fit. It will come. I do believe.

Shifting priorities

Recently, I realized how silly it was that I have gotten stuck in some old habits, mostly regarding money, that don't seem to make as much sense any more.

For instance, I've long been in the habit of knowing what gas stations have the cheapest prices, and planning my trips around getting to them without going too far out of my way. I realized, if I spend a little time thinking about it, I can save 10-15 cents per gallon. Okay, we're talking about 10 gallons per week. So... I can make the extra effort to save myself $1.00 to $1.50 per week. Hmmm. Now, when I was poor, when I paid my rent on a credit card check, because I simply didn't have the cash, that made sense. Every buck was another can of tuna, or a couple boxes of mac n' cheese.

But I've realized that I'll go out and spend $60 or $70 on dinner for me and the wife sometimes. One glass of wine at a nice restaurant goes for $6 or $8. If I forego that once every month or so, it makes up for the difference in gas, and then some. Or... if I simply ride my bike instead of driving, it gives me exercise, and saves a lot more on gas (and pollutes less, to boot).

I've also realized that it's okay to spend money on clothes, which I do wear most days. My wife and I were out over the weekend, and spent our date buying shoes, then having dinner. It's silly and funny I know, that a thirty-something married couple buys shoes on a date. But we both needed them. We'd both had some shoes (which we wore quite often) that were older than our children (and #1 is going on four soon). They had been resoled, and repaired, but needed to be replaced. What we came to think about is that we have been stuck in our old thinking that (while we'd like to maintain our frugality) doesn't really reflect our current situation. We hate clutter, but we won't throw things out if they still have a quantum of use left. That sort of thing.

All this is to say, I've been thinking more and more about old habits, well established, that need to be modified, or rethought. What about you? What old habits do you have from your younger days that need rethinking?

Lazy day

A lazy start to the day. It's nearly 10:00, and all I've done is shower, have breakfast (it took #1 about an hour to finish his English muffin egg sandwich), then write a letter with him to Parenting magazing (which by the way is really annoying, because it's 99.3% geared toward mothering, not parenting, as if dads don't count), to say that he really doesn't like the picture on the Mucinex advertisement. I told him we could write them a letter and send it back. I think it's a good way to get him used to the idea of writing, and the power of words to communicate, as well as his ability to act in the world, rather than simply observing.

Next stop, I have to take him to the dentist again, for a follow up visit from the suturing we got done two weeks ago. He said it doesn't hurt anymore, so why do we have to go. I explained that it's a way for the dentist to make a little extra money, so we can help pay for his mortgage. He let it go at that.

Other than that, I've checked my email, and read my regular blogs, and such.

Yesterday was long but mostly uninspiring. I drove the Hyundai to the dealership to get some warranty work done. After about 2 hours at the dealership (where kindly they let me set up my laptop on a desk and do some work) the service manager explained that they couldn't find the problem, which meant it was likely in the transmission, but that would take an entire day to determine, so they couldn't do it then. (It's about 45 minutes drive to the closest dealership!) So I'd have to bring it back and leave it for a day, but possibly 3 days or even a week! And they'd have no loaner for us. I said we'd bring it back over the weekend, and leave it there.

And somehow, although he suspects it's the transmission (which is covered under warranty), in taking that apart, he'd compromise the clutch (only 35,000 miles on it), so he'd recommend replacing that too, which would only cost us about $350 for parts now, or we could replace it down the road for about $750 (including labor). The more he talked, the less I could make sense of it all. At a certain point, you just have to suck it up and trust them. But my wife suggested we check into how long a clutch ought to last (35k miles sounds really short to both of us), and maybe get a second quote from an independent.

Nice thing was I got to have lunch with my wife when I got back to town. Then about 3 hours of sitting in front of the computer. Can't say much of it was work, but some of it counts. I'll plan to be as productive as possible this afternoon. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Coretta Scott King (Rest in Peace)

I was listening to NPR this morning, as I drove the 45 minutes to the nearest Hyundai dealership for warranty work. Steve Inskeep was on, talking with Juan Williams. The emphasis is mine. Discussion to follow. Timing is marked in parentheses after the quotes. Here are some snippets:

Steve Inskeep: President Bush is expected to attend today's funeral in Atlanta for Coretta Scott King. The wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. died last week at the age of 78. After her husband's assassination, in 1968, she became known as the keeper of his legacy. And for many her death marks the passing of an era. (0:0-0:17)
Juan Williams: ... so in a way, I think, Steve, what you see here, is .. in .. uh .. a total acceptance and embrace of the Martin Luther King, Jr. legacy, as the black middle class in the U.S. .. uh.. progresses into becoming American middle class. I think it's a significant moment in that transition. It's sort of a .. a new black power. (1:23-1:41)
Steve Inskeep: Well, of all the leaders, who speaks for poor African Americans, the kind of people who were brought into the national news by Hurricane Katrina?

Juan Williams: I think there's a tremendous pressure.. uh.. on black middle class not to separate.. black Americans not to separate by class..

Okay, first let's tackle the "wife of" "husband's legacy" bit. I'll say this, there's been too much bunkum hoopla about the assault on marriage. Let's talk straight. Marriage is a partnership between two people. If it's not a partnership, then it's not worthy of the title. And if it is a partnership... let's give it the same legal status regardless of the gender of both parties.

Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. were partners. They were both civil rights leaders. She was a leader before 1968, even if it was more behind the scenes than her husband. But, even if all she had provided was support for her husband, we need to have due respect for the beauty of such a partnership, that renders its participants greater than they would be otherwise.

And in the 38 years since his death (the full extent of my life so far, I might add) she has been a leader in her own right, not merely a keeper of his legacy. Let's give her the respect she is due.

Now, onto the next part. What did Mr. King say those many years ago:

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

We perpetuate the prejudice by perpetuating the argument that the color of one's skin, or the language spoken at home, or what have you, is the proper determinant of who we are. Who we are is the product of our background and our experience. It is influenced by what we think and expect of ourselves, and what is thought and expected of us. That is to say, class matters, at least as much as skin color.

The point of the civil rights movement has properly been the dismantling of prejudice itself and its effects. To categorize any group of people on the basis of external or abitrary features is by its very nature perpetuating the very thing that Coretta and Martin King sought to redress.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Feeling pretty good

As you may have surmised, I've been feeling pretty well lately. It's been nice to spend some time talking with my wife. It's funny, since she's been working 50 hour weeks for about three weeks running. You'd think we wouldn't find any time for us. But... it's the old truism: the more I have to do, the more gets done.

We're still finding time for a weekly date, which is wonderful. Lately, I'm spending less time worrying about things, and more time doing things. I'm counting blogging, since it's proved rather therapeutic for me. It's a good community out here. Thanks.

The job seasons still plods along. Got two letters today. One: "thanks for your interest... we've completed our preliminary reviews... sorry to say, your dossier will not be moving to the next stage;" and one: "Thank you for your interest... please complete this form pigeonholing yourself into some ridiculously amorphous ethnic/racial category that the government requires us to pigeonhole you into. We'll be reviewing materials soon, and hope to keep you appraised of our progress."

So, it continues. I've settled a bit more into the routine of it. Thanks agin to Professor Me for her astute commentary on my post a couple weeks ago. I'm remembering that what I really want is a job that I will love, not simply any ole job. Remembering that, helps ameliorate the frustrations of it all. I'm trying to keep in perspective my longer term goals, rather than worrying about one season. I'm really doing all I can, and while surely I try to put my best face on in applications, I'm making every effort to be honest in them as well, and to present myself as I really wish to be seen. Then at least I'll know when someone does call, that they're interested in me, not merely some facade that I or they will realize for a charade down the road.

In the words of Wilson Phillips: And it goes on... You won't see me cry. You know I've decided that I'm gonna pull myself together...

Good night.

First, a recipe

For those of you who like recipes. Tonight's dinner. Yum! Anyone fat-averse, turn away now.

Articulate Dad's Quick White Clam Sauce (serve with linguine, or whatever you like)
One can whole baby clams
2-3 tbsp ghee (or butter)
1 tbsp crushed or chopped garlic
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4-1/2 cup cream (or milk)
2 tbsp grated cheese
1 tbsp corn starch
1-2 dashes of white pepper
1/2 dash nutmeg
1-2 dashes oregano

Warm butter or ghee over medium heat. Add garlic. Stir. Let simmer for a minute or two. Add mushrooms, and stir for a couple minutes. Drain clams, reserve liquid. Add clams to the pan. Mix 2 tbsp of clam juice with 1 tbsp of corn starch in a small prep bowl. Set aside. Stir clams. Add cream or milk. Stir. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Stir for a minute. Add 1/2 cup of clam juice. Stir. Add cheese, and the spices. Stir. Mix the corn starch again, then add to the sauce. Raise heat to medium again, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens (about one minute). Remove from heat. Spoon over pasta. Eat. Yum!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Balancing work and life

It's nice to know what I want in life, at least for the moment. And it's good to have a truly supportive partner for a wife. We were talking about careers lately. She's a professional, in a field that happens to be more lucrative and more in demand than academia. But she's not wedded to her career (well, in fact, she's wedded to me).

Several years ago (before I went back to school for the PhD) she was miserable in her work. She had gone into her field in part out of idealism. She felt that she'd be able to help change the world for the better. A good reason to get into any field, I warrant. The reality of her first job out of grad school however was a shock to her. It was boring her, and seemed to have little connection with the greater good. She considered various alternatives.

She was ready for a change, and pushed me to go back to school, to follow my passions. The timing was good. Once the move became reality for her however she decided to take a conservative route. As she put it, so much in our lives was already changing; maybe she should stick with her field. She had experience in it; she did it well; and it paid better than most other things she was interested in. As it turned out, the new job and the new company were quite different from the first. She was no longer bored. And she felt genuinely appreciated, not only by her coworkers (which were wonderful even at her old job) but also by the company itself.

Then we had our first son. That only added to her degree of satisfaction in life. She was happy at work, but realized she didn't need to expect her job to fulfill all of her life's goals. And, while it's not exactly what she had envisioned as a young undergrad going into the field, the work she does does have a positive impact on society at large. I'm proud of her.

So it is difficult at times when I consider that pursuing two careers sometimes requires compromise. I hope against hope that we will eventually find one geographic region where we can both pursue our careers, and not have to sacrifice our family life. But that time may not come immediately.

I mentioned last week this post in the UK that I was pretty excited to apply for. It would be a good career move for me, but I was concerned about the prospects for her. With a spouse and children, you have to consider these things even before applying! (Nicely, there is work in her area in that region, but who knows how much in demand her expertise might be.) She said, she was eager to get through the current project for which she has lead responsibility. But after that, she'd be game to play trailing spouse for a little while. So, we'll take each step as it comes.

There are certain restrictions to what sort of job I'm willing to take. I'm not going to move the family for something I'm iffy about. If I am to take a chance on a gig, or take on a one-year post somewhere, I've got to make sure it's commutable, either within driving distance, or somewhere I could fly to, spending 3-4 days per week away, and the remaining time at home. If it's somewhere we have relatives, then the boys can come with me on alternate weeks. Not ideal, but reality.

I think one of the problems for academics is that sometimes it is hard to distinguish work from life. It is a skill I feel a need to cultivate. I've mentioned before how I reject the common advice that one should pursue a given path only if it's the one thing that could make you happy. There are many things one can do to make a living.

But life... see, I am a thinker. My eyes sparkle (so my wife tells me) and my heart races, and I happily spend sleepless nights thinking about certain things, coming up with new research projects, drafting grant proposals, reading books and articles, cursing and praising what I read, with the same vigor that most men talk about sports plays. I shine when I talk to people about it, whether it's one on one at a party, or in front of a classroom, or giving an invited lecture or conference talk. I truly truly love that work. I can't say that becoming a professor is the only thing I could do (I'm too much of a realist to pin my hat on an uncertain hope), but I'm not sure I'd ever be properly myself, or genuinely happy in life if I couldn't pursue my work.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

What do I want?

This is a simple question, but one very difficult to answer.

Do you want fries with that?

What do I want? When I wrote that poem (below), I was a 20-something undergrad in the midwest, struggling to pay my bills, and support myself through college. In fact, I conceived the poem, and drafted it in my head while mowing grass for income.

What did I want then? I wanted self-awareness. I wanted financial freedom. I wanted to live in a world free from prejudice. Three simple things.

Today (though it is an ongoing process) I believe I have a degree of self-awareness. I am mostly financially solvent. If we ever sell this house, the first thing we will do with the proceeds is pay off all of our student loans. That is the last remaining debt my wife and I have. We own our car. We own our van. The mortgage on our house will be paid off once it sells. We own our books (many, many books, filling a 4'x7' and two 3.5'x6' cases, plus overflow). Finally achieving that complete freedom will be a time for much celebration.

I realize, on the last count (a world free from prejudice) that sadly, unlike the first two, this rests in wanting things of the outside world, on which I have but a small influence. But I can live my life without prejudice, and I can confront it when I encounter it.

So, I know what I wanted at 25. But what do I want at 38 that perhaps I could not have foreseen then? First, I have realized the importance of knowing the difference between what I want, and what I need. There are few things in life that we truly need. At the moment, none of them are denied me. But what do I want?


Perhaps I'll start with the easier question: what don't I want?

I don't want to give up my search for a faculty post.

I don't want to become my father. He had great potential, that was never fully realized. He saw in me the fulfillment of one aspect of himself. I wish he had lived to see me complete the dissertation. But that, alas, is the past.

I don't want bitterness, dissatisfaction, and frustration to rule my life.

I want delight in my family life. I want to watch my children grow. I want to hold my wife in my arms twenty years from now and lovingly look into her eyes with joy and amazement that we are still together and still in love.

I want
to find satisfaction in my professional life, a modicum of recognition that what I do is worthy. I want to see the eurekas in my students' eyes as something I say fires off neurons in conjunction which have never before met in their brains, and join them excitedly after a lecture, as they breathlessly and incoherently exclaim what they will spend the next 30 years pursuing.

I want to publish books about my research that inspire others, both academics and the general intellectual public. I want to be invited to give talks, and be interviewed on the radio.

I want to become truly fluent in the seven languages I've studied (okay, English I've already mastered), and learn another seven more.

I want to travel and see parts of the world I haven't seen. I want to walk arm in arm with my wife, and hold my children as we see polar bears in Alaska; the midnight sun in Finland; Mango trees in the Phillipines; Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; Rainforests in Brazil; Hominid fossils in Kenya.

I want to never fully retire from research and teaching, and living life. But I want to sail in exotic seas, and feel at one with the wind, and the waters, and the sky. I want to garden in my old age, and never feel old, eating ripe tomatoes fresh from the vine, with the warm ooze dripping off my lips, and know that I have truly been a part of this world, and most of all that it is a better place for my having lived than the one I came into.

That is what I want!

First, a poem (from 1993... Yikes!)

Reflections on Nature (5/1/93)

I used to pity the beasts of the wild,
not civilized, like me,
who are condemned by fate, or nature,
to spend an exorbitant amount of time
pursuing living,
that is, the bare necessities of life:
food, protection, shelter.

And yet,
when I am alone with myself,
I sometimes, sadly,
find that I have no other thoughts
than of when I shall be free
from the debt that enslaves me,
when I shall have enough means
to buy the things I want to own,
and eat the things I wish to afford.

And now I pity, most of all, the creature,
whether it be myself (in those hours)
or anyone else, who, in deeming oneself,
or one's species, or one's race,
superior to another,
fails to explore one's innermost depths.

Have we progressed so far,
that we not only judge our fellow humans,
but all of nature as well?

Friday, February 03, 2006

What have I been doing?

It's been an odd week, passing by quickly, but most of what I've done is unrelated to research. One thing I did this week was our taxes. For some reason we got mailed a free copy of H&R Block's TaxCut software. We've been using TurboTax for years. In any case, the taxes were really good news. It looks like we'll be getting back a large sum, which will be nice. Because of the move, and so many uncertainties in life, we really didn't know.

Also, we've been dealing with our real estate troubles. We're renting a house now. We're in a very high cost market, and the alternative would be to buy a tiny place, or commute about 45 minutes-hour each way. Renting is perhaps 40% cheaper in monthly expenses. And, since we really don't know how long we will be here (since I continue to look for a "permanent" tenure-track faculty appointment), it doesn't make sense to even try.

But we own a house in our old locale, still. It's been on the market since JUNE! We fired the last agent... well, we let the contract lapse. Quick advice: when you want to sell a house, negotiate a short initial agreement with your agent. If you're satisfied that they are working for you, even if the place hasn't sold, you can always renew. We signed a six-month exclusivity clause. Never again.

Well, we have a new agent now, and will be listing in the next week or so, at a price nearly $30,000 less than initially. But, we just want to sell it. It's expensive enough to cover our rental here, but to have a mortgage on a vacant house! Okay, enough of that.

Next, I've been working on a new round of job applications. There are fewer postings these days, but I'm putting a great deal more effort into the applications. I'm excited by the prospect of this post in the UK. All I have left to work up today is a "list of publications," which I'll prepare as an annotated listing, with two or three sentences describing each article. I'll also include two "in preparation" articles, to show them what I'm working on at the moment. This place asked for a "one-page outline of research interests and future plans" and a list of publications, in addition to the CV and cover letter, and their school's application form.

I think it's a good sign. I am a researcher. I look like a researcher. I enjoy teaching, and I'm happy to do it. But I hate having to dumb down my work to pretend research is only a small part of what I do. I don't believe that research is in opposition to teaching. Quite the contrary, I believe that a good researcher is one who is able to make their work relevant to as broad an audience as possible, who is able to explain their work to a variety of audiences, and who is able to find the connections between their work and the interests of an undergraduate population, a graduate student body, and the general public. It looks like this school is interested in researcher/scholar/teachers, so it should be a good fit, assuming of course.

Today I received a letter from a nearby school (okay it's 2.5 hours from here) but anything that doesn't require a plane counts as nearby. They were requesting additional supporting materials, but the deadline was two days ago. (I called and they said I could email the materials in .pdf, so I did). The letter was dated 23 Jan, but only arrived today. Hmmm... So I look, and discover that they mailed it to my old address (1100 miles away). Why? This is the second or third time a school has used an old address of mine for correspondence, even though I did not include that address in my cover letter or CV. As best I can guess someone simply took the address off of a transcript or something that they had requested. What gives? Come on, folks, read the cover letter, look at the CV. Don't just pull random addresses out of the ether. What do they think, graduate students and post-docs don't ever move?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Another Five Things Meme

Courtesy of the one whose dissertation miraculously begins to write itself.

Remove the blog in the top spot from the following list and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot, like so.

1) Seeking Solace
2) Statgirl
3) ScienceWoman
4) Professor Me
5) Post-PhD Blues (ArticulateDad)

Next select five people to tag (Sorry!):
1) Young Female Scientist
2) YesYelloCello
3) J. Dryden (AKA Will's Coffee House)
4) The PhD Explosion
5) Wanna Be PhD

What were you doing 10 years ago?
February 1996. Wow. I was two years into my Master's program at Rice University (I would finish my final requirement Feb 1997). I was nearly a year and a half into my relationship with the woman who was to become (and still is) my wife. Like, ProfessorMe & T, C & I had become fast friends nearly from the start, but didn't admit to "having a relationship" for quite a while. We met around a keg of beer at graduate student orientation (a Rice tradition).

What were you doing 1 year ago?
February 2005. I was still mourning my father's demise (He died of prostate cancer in November 2004, after nearly three years of holding on). I was still in disbelief about the birth of our second son (born a month to the day after my father's death, and named after him). And, I was deep in the final throes (I mean really, not in Dick Cheney's sense) of my dissertation. I was to send it off the final version to committee on March 2, 2005.

Five snacks you enjoy:
1) Reese's peanut butter cups (or any good knock off).
2) Swedish Fish & Swedish berries (Yum!)
3) Ice Cream (especially Haagen-Dazs Dulce de leche and numerous flavors by Ben & Jerry's. I've even been known to make my own (Pumpkin, strawberry, coffee)
4)Carr's table water crackers (or an appropriately similar type) with brie and other assorted cheeses.
5) My wife's lips!

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:
1) Erlkönig (Franz Schubert, words by Goethe)
2) Ciganské píseň č. 4: "Když mne stará matka" (Antonín Dvořák)
3) All I want to do (Sheryl Crow)
4) Come Rain or Come Shine (Billie Holiday's version)
5) Fly me to the moon (Frank Sinatra's version)

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
1) Pay off all of my student loans!
2) Take a REAL vacation (what is that anyway?)
3) Pay off middle brother's mortgage (It's about 65k, then he owns it free and clear).
4) Give oldest brother enough start up cash to get back on his feet.
5) Put the rest away for a rainy day.

Five bad habits:
1) Impatience
2) Pulling my nose hairs out (I know it's gross, but you asked for BAD HABITS)
3) Misdirected anger (I always feel bad when I take out my frustration on some poor unsuspecting customer service agent.)
4) Sloppiness. I clean my desk when the piles start falling on the floor.
5) Buying too many books!

Five things you like doing:
1) gardening
2) cooking
3) thinking about research
4) being a dad
5) spending time with my wife

Five things you would never wear again:
(of course, I can't say things I'd never wear in the first place!)
1) body chocolate (seemed like a nice idea at the time)
2) chains of safety pins (I was a punk in the 80s).
3) narrow shoes (god, I hate buying shoes... almost nobody has shoes that accomodate a high instep!)
4) a headband
5) a sign that says "kick me"

Five favorite toys:
1) Son #1
2) Son #2
3) DI (my laptop)
4) my garden tools
5) my kitchen knives & appliances