Sunday, April 30, 2006


Went on a bike ride with the Rocket Scientist this morning. That was our weekly date. It's the first time in months we've gone for a ride, and the first time in memory we've gone without the boys (in a trailer behind my bike). My knee and various parts have been giving me trouble the past few months. In physical therapy, I came to realize it was a variety of factors: lack of exercise, occasional overuse, and very importantly lack of stretching. See, I always sit cross-legged, always. Months of that, with no stretching and little exercise tightened up my hamstrings, and led to all sorts of problems. But the ride was great!

Then, we had lots of fun with the boys, working in the garden and playing. We got our second bed of vegetables planted. All told, there are now about 20 pepper plants of a half dozen varieties, about a dozen tomato plants, of 5 or 6 varieties, 4 or 5 eggplant plants (2 varieties), two each canteloupe, honeydew, and cucumber plants, and three rows of lettuce, which we've already been harvesting leaves of for more than a week. God, I love fresh food from the garden. It's so... rewarding. I'm anticipating pots and pots of goulash and spaghetti sauce, and ratatouille, come the summer. We might have to get a small freezer to store it all in.

The boys are in bed now. And I've got a little deadline to keep tomorrow, meaning I'll do my best to be productive tonight. I have so gotten out of the practice of working at nights. I'm mostly too tired, physically and mentally, to get anything of account done after the sun goes down. Come to think of it, I wrote just about all of my dissertation during daylight hours as well. And, I used to be such a night owl. I haven't pulled an all-nighter since, I don't know when. I haven't taken an exam (or given one for that matter) since I passed my comps back in 2002.

It's not that I've finally mastered the art of compartmentalization. I'm no Bill Clinton, that's for sure. One of these days, I really hope to be able to set up boundaries between work and family time. But I hope those boundaries are not too strong to separate my life from my work, just enough to let me leave it all behind, sometimes.

Meantime, I'm hoping to get a good draft of this fellowship proposal written tonight. Wish me luck.

*Updated to add:*
Not tonight. Had a nice chat with the wife, read over my draft, and got some feedback from her. I think it's a good start, really, and a good project, though I need to spend more time tightening it up, filling it out. I'll get it done tomorrow. I think I'll take a nice hot shower, then hit the sack early.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Is it a fact that the more prestigious the school, and the higher rank the faculty member, the less time and consideration is put into writing? I mean, you wonder if some people have ever even heard of editing, much less considered using it.

Today's mail brought the following, from the chair of the search committee at [LakeViewU]:
April 25, 2006

Dear Professor [ArticulateDad]:

Thank you for your interest in the faculty opening in [Field1] we had in the [Program] at [LakeViewUniversity]. We are happy to say that while we had many good applicants, this made the decision much more difficult.

We are pleased to announce that Professor [InternalCandidate] has accepted the position.

Best wishes for your future endeavors.


[Icouldn't Careless]
Chairman, Search Committee
It does make you wonder.

And, just for a little background: This particular Prof. Icouldn't Careless happened to spend a term as visiting faculty at my doctoral institution, after I had entered candidacy. I had met him before, when I interviewed as a graduate student on his campus. (It's a big deal there. They paid to fly in about 6 of us potential grad students, put us up in a 3 star hotel, and wined and dined us for a few days! So this wasn't a passing, glad to meet you sort of thing.)

During his time at my doctoral institution, I had coffee and lunch with him on at least two occasions to memory, possibly more. I discussed at length with him some details of departmental and campus politics and such, though always tactfully, since he was considering and being considered for (hush hush) a position on our campus.

On April 24, I sent him the following email:

Dear [Icouldn't],

Now that I hear the [LVU] search has come to a successful conclusion, I'd like to ask you for some feedback on my application. This has been an exceedingly, and unexpectedly, frustrating job season, as I remain without a faculty post, more than a year after completing the dissertation. I am seeking to get whatever feedback I can from those willing to offer it, in hopes that what remains of this season, or the next, will offer me more promise. I hope that our personal contacts in the past might incline you to lower the veil of silence that normally separates job seekers from those in positions to hire.

I would very much appreciate any comments or suggestions you might have to offer me, as I continue to seek an appropriate appointment. I realize there is now an open search for a lecturer in [Field1] at LVU. I'm not at all clear whether it would be appropriate for me to apply. To be clear, in case you are involved in that search as well, I am not seeking any special consideration, merely a greater understanding of the process, to assist me in locating the most appropriate posts, and best presenting myself as a candidate for them.

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration,

I guess courtesy was too much to expect. Ah well, other fish to fry.

Even molasses flows

It's been slow going, but I drafted up five new paragraphs for my NEH app. I kept getting stuck, reading and rereading, moving around, editing, deleting, everything piecemeal. I had essentially two different, partially completed drafts, and I didn't know how to reconcile them.

So, without scrapping what I had already written, I decided to just start writing fresh. Mostly, I added a great deal of background to my proposal. One criticism I got earlier this week was that the draft lacked enough "proper names". So, today's writing is peppered with citations and allusions. I'm trying to portray myself as someone who knows the literature, the history, the questions better than just about anyone else, which I believe to be true.

The trick is to keep it interesting and approachable, yet present the issues as unresolved, and worthy of resolution, and myself as being in a position to do just that. [SIGH] I confess to being just a bit tired of pumping myself up. It seems all too egotistical to endlessly argue how special I am. But this is a fellowship proposal. It's about my work. And it's about me. If I can't sell them both, I'm out.

Now, for a quick stop at the library, then I'm heading home. I may try to steal a bit more time this weekend. I've got until 5:00 pm on Monday to finish and submit. I've got a meeting at 11:00 with one of the professors in my host department, to go over my draft. Then I just have to press send, and be done with it.


I sit alone in the departmental computer lab, hearing only the buzz and hum of machinery. My wife is home with the boys. Ostensibly, I'm working on my NEH proposal. But I sit here, uninspired, avoiding the draft I've written and reworked.

I feel unenthusiastic. Odd, since it's my chance to define a project. The situation with our house gets me down a bit. It's the uncertainty, the waiting. To put it briefly, the agents are dealing with figuring out how much they're willing to chip in to make the buyer happy, since we're done playing that game, and because they have far more to gain by making the transaction go through, than we have to lose by letting it die. Worst case, we still have the house.

I have this pit in my stomach, because I'd rather sell the place now, than deal with keeping it, but the price we pay for that convenience is already steeper than I'm comfortable with, a lot steeper. In any case, we should know by early next week, if it's going through or not.

It's the waiting. I wouldn't say that I'm a control freak, not in the usual sense. I think the phrase normally refers to people who want to control others. That's not me. But I have a strong desire to be in control of my own fate, to steer my own vessel. And just now, I'm adrift without a rudder.

The house, and consequently our finances. The career. These are big things about which I seem to have no control. Or at least, the control I have is far more indirect than I would like.

I like cooking, and weeding and pruning, because the results appear immediately. Impatience, Ungeduld. It weighs on me. Waiting is to me like a boulder that rests on my shoulders. I don't wish to wait, for I fear I will be crushed by its immensity.

Atlas may shrug, but the burden is not always lifted. What's needed perhaps is redirection. If only I can forget the weight, perhaps I'll get down to work.

*Updated* to add:
Just went down to buy a tuna sandwich and miscellaneous nibbles from the campus store. Maybe the food (and the modicum of exercise, down and up three flights) will give me inspiration enough to finish. I guess I realize that I'd much rather be home with my wife and sons, working in the garden, playing in the yard, doing projects. At least, right now, that's what I feel. Maybe that alone should give me inspiration to get this done, so I can go home and spend the rest of the weekend with my family.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A fair rejection

Speaking of dignity and respect...

Dear Dr. [YouKnowWho],

Thank you for your time and the interest you have shown in considering a position here at The University of _________. We were fortunate to have a number of applicants with strong backgrounds such as yours, making the selection process a difficult task.

We regret to say that we chose another applicant for the position whose background appears to best match our need at the moment. Please accept our best wishes for your continued career success.
Granted, this isn't a personal note, as I think we all deserve. But it is honest, straight-forward and respectful. This is the least a department can do. I do not envy those writing these letters, the task of rejecting so many qualified applicants, many of whom will likely end up in careers that fail to utilize their talents. But there are ways to treat others as colleagues, and ways to treat them as insignificant. The choice is in the hands of the one who sets out to write the letter. I just hope I remember that if ever I sit on the other side of the table.

Abu Ghraib & human rights

The Economist recently published an editorial urging the United States to remain vocal in its criticism of China's human rights record. The article explicitly acknowledged the question of recent U.S.-led abuses, and the question of the nation's arguably diminished authority in such questions.
many would add, its own abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have robbed America of whatever moral authority it once had to lecture others on human rights. ... As for Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, these were indeed dreadful unAmerican aberrations for which America should make amends. But they are mistakes that would hurt human rights twice over if they deterred the United States from continuing to speak up for freedom and dignity in every country—however potentially powerful or lucrative it might be.

This is a strong argument, yet, as an American, ashamed, dismayed, disgusted at the abuses that have been perpetrated by my compatriots, ostensibly in the service to our freedom and security, I feel that indeed the current administration and congressional leadership is reduced to impotence and hypocrisy in raising these questions, even in cases where the abuses are clearcut. It is small consolation, that now, so long after the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib became public knowledge, a Lt. Col. (not exactly, "high ranking") has been sentenced. When will we see the questioning and charges reach the top? When will Donald Rumsfeld be called to answer for the actions of his Department of Defense, and his role in the matter?

We must ever remember to observe dignity and respect for all human beings (even those alleged, suspected, convicted of atrocities of their own). This is at root the most fundamental principle of American society: respect and dignity for all. Without it, we are not Americans, we are not leaders, we are not human. As Percy Shelley once wrote in the Mask of Anarchy:

‘What is Freedom?—ye can tell
That which slavery is, too well—

... it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood—and wrong for wrong—
Do not thus when ye are strong.
It is a sentiment that world leaders would be wise to heed. What is needed in the USA is a dramatic change in leadership, a new turn, a clean break from the absurdities of Bush administation foreign policy, as soon as possible.

This is not a political blog. My intention is not to make it one, at least not principally. But these matters are of such importance that I feel compelled to address them. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The apple tree

Inspired by Prof. Me's recent post, Worry Tree.

This tiny apple tree is in our backyard. I have to smile at it, bending under the weight of those three apples, ripening. I smile because the tree doesn't complain. It just hangs, lower and lower, refusing to break, promising not to let go, until those fruits have ripened. There's a lot I can learn from that tree. I'll try.

It's been one of those days

There's always tomorrow. And my goal for tomorrow is just to let go of it all, and enjoy being a dad. I take the boys all day on Fridays now.

I got nothing done on my NEH grant today, though I wanted to have it done today. Deadline is Monday, and I wanted to have a draft sent to my recommenders before submitting. But, you know what, I'm just going to do what I can do. They'll get a chance to read the proposal before they need to submit their letters. If I don't get their feedback, then I don't. If I don't get the fellowship, then I don't. There are bigger things to worry about. No, scratch that... there are more important things in my life than worrying about any given grant or fellowship application. As with most I'm sure, my life is punctuated by far more failure than success. It's all a matter of focus. Why fault the dancer who's tripped, when their high kicks were so spectacular a moment before? Best to try and not notice.

I'm busy with my work just now (even if I have a few terribly unproductive days), and that's good. It is my work after all. So, I'll get the fellowship application finished tomorrow night or on Saturday. It'll be done and submitted. Nothing to worry about. Then I prepare my conference paper, then my colloquium talk. I've got a few job apps to tend to in the meantime (especially Tough Commute U.). And this book review. It's work, but not worth stressing about.

This house. That's not worth my stressing either. Sure, it'd be much better to have it over and done with. But, like most things these days, it's out of my hands. We've taken our stand, and said no more. Tomorrow we should hear back from our realtor whether the buyer will suck it up or walk. Either way, we'll be okay. We'll figure it out.

So, for tomorrow, I'm going to do my best to leave it all behind, and just spend time--as undistracted as I can muster--with my two wonderful, beautiful, marvelous, charming boys.

IHE links

Inside Higher Education linkers, see:

Dear applicant

Dear search committee
A modest proposal

If you like what you read, feel free to stay for more.

Holding the line

Just got an email from our real estate agent. Of course, the buyer is not satisfied with getting the house for well below market. He's asking for thousands of dollars in concessions for mostly petty things, saying, oh but we're not asking for thousands in repairs for other things like "windows painted shut" (it was built in 1921!) and "inoperable fireplaces" (they're ornamental, always have been, it's the style). But none of what they're asking for is really necessary.

So, in a word: NO!

We'll see what my wife has to say. But I feel that we've already conceded way more than we should have in taking a price significantly lower than we wanted. Let them walk! I've got other charities, really!

A haze of malaise

I have the strange feeling of being only remotely attached to myself, as I move through the world, today. I awoke somewhat unremarkably. The Painter had crawled into bed with us, to snuggle, as he often does, sometime before 6:00. 6:21 am I climbed out of bed (which entailed climbing over him), because I had lain half-awake, since being stirred, contemplating a rewrite of my NEH proposal.

I had met briefly with one of the young professors in my host department yesterday afternoon, to get some feedback. She had some very pointed questions, and quite a few good ideas, regarding the narrative and the proposed project, leading me to think of scrapping a good portion of what I'd written. This morning, as I lay in bed, thoughts of how to rewrite kept me alert. (I guess the true answer to the prompt insomnia: in my response to the ABC meme should have been "lately? quite often".)

When I arose, the Painter, as is his wont upon rising, intoned: "can I please have some milk, daddy?". Then, once the milk was served, he asked, in his inimitable, but constantly repeated, manner, "what shall we do now?" It's amazing to me how his inquisitive, demanding energies seem nearly never to be diminished. I sighed that I had some things to write down on the computer; "that's daddy's work, he writes things". So, I suggested he might watch an episode of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood while I worked. He liked that thought, especially since my laptop was on the coffee table, and I would be sitting next to him on the couch, keeping him company.

It's a pleasant thing to sit next to my boy, even if I required headphones and music to mask the sound of the TV show. I had a semi-productive time at it. But that's alright.

The morning was as most mornings are, though a bit longer than usual, and in a sense a bit less harried. The Rocket Scientist was told a couple days ago that for the time being (likely 2-3 weeks) she can only bill up to 20 hrs./week of her time to the project she's ostensibly working on. The rest has to be overhead, since they've screwed up with the budgetting, and are currently in process of rebidding the project. So, she was in no rush to get to work, since half of her time is assumedly to be spent in cleaning her office, rearranging books and papers, sitting in on mind-numbing training sessions, and the like. "Good enough for guberment work" as they say.

But, since I left the house, mostly silent in the car seat next to my wife, I've felt an odd degree of separation from the sights and sounds, the sensations of my being. It's quiet here in the departmental computer lab (quiet except for the hum of the internal fans, and the tap typing on someone's keyboard beside me).

The day is overcast, gray sky. The wind gently stirs the leaves and limbs of the Eucalyptus outside my window. I overlook the bicycle path, as ants and beetles of people pass by, blues, reds, greens, yellows, blacks, whites. The carillon chimes. It's ten o'clock. Will this be a day for me? Will I rewrite and complete the NEH?

Tomorrow I stay with the boys, so I won't get any writing done then. Deadline is Monday. If I'm going to submit, I should get it done today. But, for now, for the next few minutes, I'm just going to sit, and be.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

ABC meme

As if I need the distraction, when I'm finally getting productive again. But Prof. Me has tormented me into it.

Accent: Waddayu tawkin about? Let's just say, my dialect contains a few vowels that are not common in American dialects. I pronounce Mary different from marry different from merry. Caught and cot are not homophones. And the clincher of all, have and halve contain different vowels.

Booze: Shiraz is wonderful for sipping and conversation. Good vodka in shots (especially when saturated with fresh fruit), but only in moderation.

Chore I Hate: Unstacking the dishwasher, especially silverware.

Dog or Cat: Cat! We currently have three. Number four was run over. Very sad.

Essential Electronics: Laptop (my mistress "DI" for Dell Inspiron), cell phone (I don't know why, but still).

Favorite Cologne: We're supposed to wear smelly things on our bodies? What's wrong with natural musk?

Gold or Silver: Silver, I suppose. My wedding band is gold. But I normally wear a silver "engagement ring" that matches one The Rocket Scientist wears, which we designed and had made. No diamond, sorry. I always thought a diamond engagement ring was a bit too one-sided, and smacked of buying me a bride down at the well.

Hometown: Born in The City (come on, can't you figure that one out? see Accent above)

Insomnia: Sometimes. But having young kids means I'm in a constant state of sleep deprivation.

Job Title: Visiting Scholar sounds so, uh... well, let's just say I'm an intellectual, father of two, husband to one.

Kids: two boys (4, and 16 mos.) Funny aside: my mom had three boys of her own, adopted another boy, and now has three grandsons. The fast swimmers are all boys in my gene pool.

Living arrangements: Grumble, grumble. I hate renting, again. But in this market, it's either that or commuting a long way. So, we've got a decent (if remarkably overpriced) three bedroom, two bath ranch. Me, the Rocket Scientist, the Painter, the Inventor, the Au Pair, and three cats.

Most admirable traits: I'm smart, I'm kind, I'm thoughtful, and I have magic hands (so says the wife).

Number of sexual partners: Not telling.

Overnight hospital stays: Twice, when my wife had just given birth to the Painter, then again with the Inventor.

Phobias: This is a hard one. At an earlier time, I might have said I was afraid of becoming my father. I can't stand cockroaches (I pronounce it with four syllables), ever since I munched down on an egg sack in my peanut butter and jelly sandwich about 30 years ago.

Quote: Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 and Poe's Alone

Religion: Ethnically and culturally a secular Jew. That's as close as I come.

Siblings: Two older brothers. One adopted significantly younger half-brother.

Time I wake up: Usually around 7:00 am, but often my sleep is interrupted between 1:00 and 5:00 by one or the other of the boys. This morning, I was up at about 5:50, to remove the Painter from my bed, where I had awakened curled up like one of the cats (don't know when he got there), convinced him to pee, then tucked him into his own bed. Then I sat for about 10 minutes or so with the Inventor, who had awakened by the commotion, until he was convinced to return to sleep in his crib. I was wide awake (actually went to bed around 10:00 last night --okay we sat up talking until 11:00--which is quite early for us). So, I took the opportunity to get out of bed and read.

Unusual talent or skill: I'm an accomplished performer (that's all you get), a fine gardener, and a good cook.

Vegetable I hate: I've never been too fond of peas, but I'll eat them in a mix, or fried rice. I used to hate asparagus, until I realized you can eat it fresh. I guess I must have once had it from a can as a kid, and wouldn't touch the stuff until my 20s.

Worst habit: Impatience.

X-rays: I don't know. I always hate filling out medical forms for new doctors. I don't know when I last had some shot or other. I don't have rabies though, see... I'm not drooling!

Yummy foods I make: Hungarian goulash, just about any pasta sauce.

Zodiac sign: Capricorn. One of the weirdest things about the friend of mine who snagged the job I almost had last year (my one campus visit) was that he gets quite serious when discussing zodiac signs, and seems to remember the birthdates and signs not only of his friends, but our siblings!

So, there Prof. Me. See, you've effectively distracted me from work for nearly an hour. I guess you got me back for my statcounter recommendation, eh?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A good start

I've got a good start on the NEH draft. I've written about 8000 characters (1233 words) so far today. The limit is a character count (12,500), so I've got some room to expand, and make sure I've answered all their principal bullet points. A bibliography is separate, so that won't count against my character count. The narrative I think is the key. I want to get this done tonight or tomorrow, so I can send off the draft to my two recommenders for feedback and comment before submitting. Deadline is Monday.

As soon as I clear this off my desk, I've got to get cracking on my Berkeley conference presentation, then my colloquium talk. Oh yeah, and the syllabus for my application to [Tough Commute U.] Bet you're tired of hearing that one by now. Here's the to-do list.
  1. Abstract for Scotland conference (Deadline: April 21).

  2. Send revised .odt & .doc versions of dissertation distillation article.

  3. File financial paperwork (Deadline: ASAP)

  4. NEH grant application (Deadline: May 1) <--in process.

  5. Application to [LVU] lectureship (Deadline: May 1) <-- if I'm going to do it!

  6. Berkeley conference talk (May 6-7)

  7. Application to [TCU] (Deadline: May 15)

  8. Host dept. Colloquium talk (May 18)

  9. Book review for [field 2 journal] (Deadline: ~ May 15) <--still reading.

  10. Applications to other lectureships (Deadline: June 1)

I'm writing

Drafting, drafting, writing... but this is scary. Do I have the courage to write my own proposal*? It's a funny thing. Why would I not?

It's started off well enough. I want to write a hard-hitting, direct proposal. One that says: these scholars have said this. They are wrong. They are wrong because they did not consider this. It is alright, it's not their expertise. But this, this, this... look here. Consider this. You see, it's not as simple as they all supposed, as you might have supposed. Yes, I'm writing simply, because the things that have been overlooked are all right there in our faces everyday. And yet, so far so many have missed them. But, here, read this. It's intimated here. This scholar has asked these questions. Here's another. But not from our standpoint. So, here's what I'm going to do... this, and this. Yes, it doesn't sound like what's been done before. It's not the same approach. But don't you think it's worthy of being looked at? And here are my credibles for doing this work.

So, I write. It's funny how I sit for so long, contemplating what to say, then when I start to write... I'm afraid. I'm scared by how quickly the thoughts flow. So, back to it, then.

* Edited to clarify: I meant, do I have the courage to write a proposal that is truly my own, one that reflects what I really wish to do, not simply one that I think will sell?

Knowing your audience

Yesterday, one of the things I did accomplish in working on my NEH grant proposal was writing to them with a couple questions. Here's the one that concerns me at the moment:
I have a PhD in [field 1], and am currently a Visiting Scholar in
[field 2]. My proposed project deals with establishing a common
language and methodology for the integrated study of these two fields. Is there any reason not to list the field as "Interdisciplinary"?
For clarification, the NEH classification that involves field 1 doesn't really describe the sort of work I do, it's a very traditional sort of description for [field 1/subfield 1] and doesn't begin to touch on [field 1/interdisciplinary subfield] which is much closer to my work. I could simply choose [field 2], but that didn't seem right, especially in light of the response:
Dear Dr. [YouKnowWho]:

Yes, there is a reason to refrain from using the "interdisciplinary" category. It doesn't help us to assign your application to a panel. We don't have any interdisciplinary panels. We do have panels in subject areas. There is always a [field1] panel. We usually do not have enough applications for a [field 2] panel, so [field 2] is grouped with [generic, only slightly related to field 2 discipline]. You should put down the field in which you would like to have your application evaluated. Probably [field 1] is the right choice, if you think that [field 1ers] would be sympathetic to your project.
Aye, so there's the rub. Indeed, I would like to think that field 1ers are sympathetic to my work. But, so far none of them this year have deigned so much as to shortlist me for a faculty post. Does this reply mean that the panels for reviewing NEH grant proposals are not interdisciplinary? That's unexpected. I've applied for numerous grants, and have received several. My understanding to this point is that the committees were all made up of a variety of disciplinarians.

Hearing that I must choose a single field for the panel's makeup puts a whole new spin on the enterprise. It reduces my confidence level a notch, since I've had little success lately in getting scholars in my own field to pay my work much heed. Oh no you haven't, you might say, isn't that BIG article of yours, your dissertation distillation about to be published? Well, yes, but it's going to appear in a new journal, focusing on a new sort of approach to the discipline, rather than a traditional old school journal.

Ah, but why should I assume that the [field 1] panel will be made up entirely of close-minded denizens of long-established traditionalism. Well, perhaps they won't. Unfortunately, this appears to be newish territory. Of the [field 1] projects that have been funded by the NEH, all of them appear (on the surface at least) to be much more traditional projects, than what I intend to propose. Let me be clear, it's not that I disrespect those traditionalists. There is nothing wrong with established discipline. It's just not my thing. And, more importantly (if a bit too defensively) there's nothing wrong with new methodologies and approaches either.

The first rule is always know your audience. Sometimes, I'm not so sure I know this one. So, it's a challenge. It's Physics for Surfers or Anthropology for Chemists. That's my immediate task. Now to have at it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A modest proposal

Departments should grant the chair of hiring committees at least a partial release from teaching and other duties during the term of their chairship, so that they can dedicate the requisite time to honestly and completely treat their junior colleagues (yes, I mean those of us applying for jobs) with dignity and respect. Each should be treated with the same courtesy and degree of concern that any good professor affords a bewildered and confused freshman, away from home for the first time, and testing their way through the world. We deserve it, every last one of us. If you can't spare one professor for one term, then you simply don't deserve to have one the finest's finest among you.

Is it really too much to ask that a single staffer be asked to compile notes on every application, with genuine and honest feedback, and that one professor take the time at the end of a search to spend 15-20 minutes drafting a brief note to each applicant, commenting on strengths and/or weaknesses, giving encouragement, redirecting to alternate careers, advising?

Let's calculate it out, shall we: 1 applicant receives an offer; 103 receive rejection letters. Okay, 20 min x 103 = 34.33 hours, less than a week's worth of work, full-time. Assuming the staffer is worth their salt, the letters might only take 5-10 minutes each to draft. We're talking about $1000-2000 in salary, less than a week's worth of someone's time. How much does a faculty search cost, in terms of time and energy? A hell of a lot more than that. Isn't it really a question of priorities here?

I've mentioned before that my dissertation chair, Dr. TassePlein, chaired a hiring committee a few years ago at my doctoral institution. He is a fine man, a good professor, a caring (if sometimes aloof) mentor. Following the conclusion of the search, he took the time to write a separate note to each of the applicants. It was a sign of his dignity, and his respect for the work that each of the applicants had accomplished in getting to the point of applying for a faculty post. During the search, there had been hosted lunches for graduate students to meet with the interviewees. Only later did I realize that these lunches were not hosted by the department, but paid for by Dr. TassePlein

A year or so later, he was gone, having taken a position at another school, so his family could finally be together (he had been commuting to our campus for seven years). Another search was opened. Graduate students had to organize our own lunches with the candidates. I wrote to the chair of the department to ask if there might not be any funding to support these lunches (we're talking, what $200 a pop). No, he said, the department couldn't afford to spend money on such things. I wrote back to all the grad students in the department, saying that I would pay for the lunch of anyone who could not afford it. And I meant it. With my wife working as an engineer, and me receiving a decent stipend, we lived much better than most of my colleagues. Graciously, the search committee chair (who, granted probably made about twice what we were pulling in) offered to cover the lunches.

It's all a question of priorities, dignity, respect. It really doesn't take much. But, as the song goes, it takes more than words.

Dear search committee

Dear search committee,

Thank you for your consideration in posting an available position in your department. A total of well more than 100 departments have posted notices this year regarding expected vacancies in my field. After careful review of all the postings, which included EEO notices, descriptions of their institutions, listings of possible course and committee assignments, and requests for applicant materials, I have narrowed my applications down to about 50 semifinalists, to which I have painstakingly provided materials according to their individual specifications, some asking for teaching philosophies, or course syllabi, a CV, graduate -- some even undergraduate -- transcripts, student evaluations, writing samples or representative publications. Each application has taken me from one hour to several days to prepare.

Following careful deliberation with my wife and family, consultations with numerous colleagues and advisors, I have been so far unable to find an institution worthy of my further consideration. I would like to emphasize that the quality of schools represented has been diverse, but mostly holding to very high standards, each with their own inherent worth, and that the failure to hire me implies no reduction of those qualities. Please be advised that I expect to reopen the search in the coming year (pending budgetary approval), and encourage you to repost a revised position, if you wish to be considered for my application. I congratulate you on your having found a new colleague to serve at your institution this year, and wish you all the best for the future.

Dear applicant

April 17, 2006

Dear applicant [1],

Thank you for your interest in the [Small Liberal Arts College] [subfield] position. A total of 104 applicants submitted files for the [subfield] position vacancy. After extensive review of files, which included CVs, supporting materials, and three references [2], the committee narrowed the pool to 11 semifinalists. Semifinalists were requested to send in samples of course syllabi and scholarly writing, as well as additional supporting materials on teaching and scholarship. [3] Three finalists were invited for on-campus interviews. [4]

After careful deliberations, the committee selected Dr. ____________, formerly Assistant Professor of [subfield] at [Big State School, Flagship], who has accepted our offer. [5] We would like to emphasize that the quality of our candidate pool was very high, [6] and many individuals gained our attention and respect. [7] We congratulate you on your career accomplishments to date, [8] and wish you the best for the future.

[1] That's a fine start! It shows the high level of respect afforded to us nameless, faceless hordes.

[2] Thanks for reminding me. I've applied for so many positions, I had forgotten the specifics of your requests. It's important to know, so, say, I can calculate out exactly how much the postage must have cost me to mail the materials.

[3] This sounds like the kind of listing you would present to distraught parents who can't understand why their freshman, who "got straight A's" in high school could possibly have received a "C" in your class. "Well, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, these were the course requirements, which every student needed to abide by, and I'm sorry to say, your child didn't deliver. 11 of my students received an A, 14 received a B, and your child was among the 16 receiving a C."

[4] My, how unusual. Three, did you say? [I feel like being Owl, for a moment]. You know, my cousin's best friend once said that he had interviewed on a campus where they invited 5. Can you believe it, five! And you know, it was just...

[5] Oh, how exciting for you! What's the ring look like? Ooooh, I'm gonna cry.

[6] No shit! We all have PhDs, don't we? I mean, at least the majority of us didn't just buy them at Wal-Mart.

[7] Like the ones we took the extra 15 seconds to address by name... but you, my friend, were not among them. So, naaah!

[8] Whatever the hell they may be. Really, we only skimmed the materials you sent us. Honest, we've got student papers to read, and tests to grade. We can't be bothered to actually give a damn about you, that's why we prefer to address you all in aggregate, rather than actually giving you the attention and respect that we pretend to have.

In need of inspiration

I've spent most of today avoiding working on my NEH proposal. I need some of the drive and inspiration that led What Now? to go in about two weeks from should I even apply to hot dang, I've done it. I've been thinking about this application for the same length of time (since the end of February), but I've done little to make it a reality. I'm closer... but my approach to grant applications looks more like What Now?'s cleaning fantasies than anything else.

Then again, I do get things done, eventually. I just mull, and muse, cogitate, masticate, and ruminate, ... then bam, I spit out the cud, and there's the finished application. (I just couldn't resist giving Prof. Me another disgusting image to contemplate, sorry).

The problem is... I'm just grazing today. And getting nothing done. I made a to-do list, and I was checking things off. I submitted an abstract for the Scotland conference on Friday. I've got this Berkeley paper to prepare, then my host department colloquium talk.

Oh yeah... and I've been avoiding writing to the hiring committee chair at LVU. I really think it's something I ought to do. I might get some good feedback (or silence, which is nothing I haven't dealt with before). And, I need to decide whether to apply for the open lectureship, which I simply can't decide. Deadline is May 1, the same day as the NEH deadline. I'm still planning to apply for [Tough Commute U.], deadline: May 15.

There are ten items on my to do list, prioritized by deadline. None of them are expendable, so priority by importance is irrelevant. The first two are done. The third is simply a matter of putting something in the mail tonight. The fourth is the NEH grant. Need to get back to work. Okay, a quick lunch, then I have about three more hours to get cracking before The Rocket Scientist comes to take me home.

Political philosophy quiz

Warning: Political opinions follow.

Saw this on Ahistoricality. I took the quiz twice. Below is the second result, but they were fairly consistent across trials.

Interesting. I have nearly always considered myself an independent, that is, until the last presidential election. I was, and continue to be, so disgusted with George Bush and company, and all that they represent, in destroying our country, in destroying our standing in the world, in destroying the mutual respect of others that is a hallmark of what America has and can be. I contributed twice, rather hefty sums to the Democratic National Committee, and proudly displayed stickers and signs in support of Kerry/Edwards. The stickers remain on my vehicles. I won't take them off, until those other idiots are out of leadership in my country!

I am embarassed for the things we have done. I am ashamed to talk with my Croatian friends, for our misuse of their territory to transport torture victims. I feel deeply distraught over our hypocrisy, especially in light of the (undoubtably deserved) war crimes trial of now-deceased Slobodan Milosevic. I'd love to see some of our own perpetrators stand trial at the Hague. I won't prejudge their fates. That's what trials are for. But I would not weep (in sadness at least) to see Donald Rumsfeld in the dock, arguing before a world court that degrading and humiliating treatment, beatings, torture, and murder, the unnecessary death of thousands, tens of thousands, likely more than a hundred thousand people (discussion), is somehow justified. Yes, it is less than what has been done in Darfur, less than what happened in Cambodia, less than Rwanda, less than Nazi Germany. But unjust, inexcusable, and indefensible nonetheless.

My favorite TV show (in fact the only new show that I even watch regularly, is ABC's Commander in Chief which is FINALLY back on the air, after about a three month hiatus. I like the character of Mackenzie Allen (played by Geena Davis), the fiery, idealistic, and driven independent president. I think the show makes some strong political statements about many of the failings of the current administration, without excusing the limitations of the opposition. Maybe it is time for a shakeup of the decrepit two-party system we have, IFF we can ensure that the neo-cons go down, for a very very very long time!

You scored as New Democrat. New Democrats emphasize fiscal conservatism, and have a strong preference for the free market. They believe in small-scale programs that provide targetted help to those in need, while working with the business community.

New Democrat


Old School Democrat




Foreign Policy Hawk




Pro Business Republican


Socially Conservative Republican


What's Your Political Philosophy?
created with

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Internal candidate

Hmmm. My curiosity was piqued the other day regarding the filling of the post at LVU. The name of the successful candidate was already listed on the departmental website as a lecturer. But, since said candidate has already filed the dissertation, it couldn't be a matter of an ABD. My curiosity finally got to me, so I did a quick search on the university website, and discovered that yes indeed, said candidate has been teaching classes there for a couple terms already. Internal candidate!

And now they have a lectureship opened up. Is it worth applying yet a fifth time to the same school? Well, if internal candidacies really result in "conversions" to tenure-track posts, damn right. On the other hand, from what my informant told me, they aren't necessarily looking for someone with my brand of interdisciplinarity.

The frustrating thing is that there aren't any hard and fast rules. There's so little to latch onto, like a rock climber on a sheer face. If I apply, it may result in nothing. If I don't apply, it surely will. On the one hand, if they're really interested in more traditional [subfield 1'ers] then I'm out. But, maybe they just filled their quota of traditionalists, and they want to branch out a bit. Who knows! This is just so frustrating, going around in circles.

I think I'll email the prof who chaired the last search committee. I know him. He's friendly with my dissertation chair. He was a visiting prof in my doctoral department a few years ago. I'll just ask him for some feedback on my application. I figure, if he's offended by my asking, then I won't really have burnt any bridges. Rather, I'll simply discover that the bridge was never there.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Avoiding the party

Here I sit in the computer room of a friend's*, with The Painter next to me, watching Monsters, Inc. on another computer. It's a housewarming party. And I have nothing to say to anyone. It's sad that I have so much trouble being happy for anyone these days. I'm constantly comparing their circumstances to my own, and feeling the worse for it.

Mutual friends or relatives ask me, "so, what are you up to these days." It's embarassing. What do I say? I tell them the truth, then slink away as quickly as I can.

Well, that's about all for now.

* This is one of those times that I really wish to coin a word. I've lamented this absence for years. What do you call a couple, who both happen to be friends. "A couple friends" doesn't work, since it doesn't connote their relationship to each other, simply that they are both friends of mine. "A couple who happen to be friends of mine" is exceedingly awkward. So, what do you say? "This couplefriend of mine" Yech!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Circumstances being what they are

I'm slowly catching up on things, including my Bloglines feeds. ABDMom is stressing under the weight of life, wondering if she's taken the right job. I know it will all work out for her, but there are choppy waters ahead. It reminds me that circumstances are not always what they appear, and that in the best of them, our ability to focus on the good rather than the bad is our sole recourse. (Easier said than done, I know).

It's a lot like parenting: it's much easier for us to notice the misbehavior, but we have to work at "catching them being good". Life throws us all a few curve balls. Sometimes we need to vent. Let's hope the vents lead outside!

Yesterday, I noticed a new posting for a lecturer in my [Field/Subfield 1] at [Lake View University]. LVU would in some ways be a dream job for me, in particular because they are one of a very few schools that has an established program in [interdisciplinary subfield]. If I apply, this will be my fifth application to that school (once for grad school; twice while I was still writing the dissertation; once already this season). I was surprised about the posting, since I applied for a tenure-track job there last November, and hadn't heard anything regarding it's conclusion. Did the search deadlock, and this is an interim fill? Was the funding pulled?

I've attended two conferences on their campus: one for the [Society for Innovative Interdisciplinarity]; the other a sister international conference. Both were excellent. I have known several of the faculty members for years, including one on the committee who was on a panel I organized for the international conference there.

Once I had ascertained that in fact the search had been successful, I wrote to my contact on the committee, to see if he could give me any feedback on my application, and indirectly whether there is any point in my applying there yet again, for this lectureship.

Here's a bit of our exchange:
I noticed the new listing for a lecturer in [subfield 1] at [LVU]. I sent a quick note to [another Colleague of ours who was not on the committee], since I hadn't heard anything regarding the conclusion of the tenure-track search. [Colleague] assures me that it has closed, and the position has been filled.
Hi [Articulate],

Sorry you weren't informed. I interviewed here for a job in 1983. Even having interviewed, I was never told the outcome of the search, though after about ten years I began to have suspicions that I was not the first choice.
As I continue to pursue a faculty post, I wanted to ask if there is any feedback you might be able to provide me regarding my application. This has been an exceedingly discouraging process for me.
I think the process is discouraging for many young scholars. Years of training and great natural gifts, yet fighting to win sometimes crappy jobs at no-account know what I mean. The [LVU] search was very much for a "straight" [Subfield 1'er] --someone who had potential to be a significant figure in [the subfield], had already published in that area, and had teaching experience in a similar environment. The job announcement may have sounded interdisciplinary, but I believe it really meant interdisciplinary "within [subfield 1]."
Oh well, back to the drawing board. What I can say, from my informant's CV, he has taught at 6 schools since receiving the PhD more than 20 years ago. Two of them for five years, and the current post at LVU he has had for more than a decade. I come to understand that he knows from which he speaks, having gone through the drill himself, with "crappy jobs at no-account schools". From that standpoint, even if ABDMom has taken the wrong job, it is a step in the right direction. Even the wrong job can lead to the right one.

So, chin up everyone (including myself). There is yet hope.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What goes

Took a slow morning. The Rocket Scientist and I went out for a nice early lunch, then meandered to our respective work locations.

My textbook was waiting for me on campus, as I suspected. I have to make up a prioritized list of things to do. The first is an abstract for this Scotland conference. Tomorrow is submittal deadline. I've been working on that this past hour.

I'm quite behind on reading blogs, since I've hardly looked at any this past week. Not sure when I'll catch up. Not at the top of my priority list, though important in its own way. Blogging keeps me sane and connected to people who understand what I'm going through.

Our tax refund has finally worked its way through a big delay. We have a rather hefty tax refund this year, since we had only one income, and that for only half a year, along with quite a few expenses (paying the mortgage on a vacant house, and child care, and moving). For some reason however, it was delayed in processing, because of some red flag. It's finally made it beyond the "error checking" department, and we should be expecting that check within the next month.

That, and the house. I figured it out, and it doesn't look as bad as it had been feeling. In the end (assuming this actually goes through without a hitch) we will have realized just under 6.5% annualized growth for the 8 years we owned the place. In historical terms, that's not so bad. The sad part is that, from what other places have sold for in the past year or so, I am confident that (had we had a better agent from the start) we likely could have gotten $30,000-50,000 more for the place, and sold it last summer, when it first went on market. The under contract price is fully 18% lower than our initial asking price! Youch!

Lesson One I learned from this: don't take advice that says push the price to the upper limit, with the plan to pull back by fits and starts. Price it slightly under the market in the first place, and hope that more than one offer will push it back up. Selling it quickly for $10,000-15,000 less than hoped is far better than selling it later for much less!

Enough of that. I wish it over and done with. Back to real work. I begin to feel connected once again to my career, but still a bit wary of it. I don't have a job yet. I don't have any imminent interviews. The telephone remains silent. Those are not changed immediately by publications and conference presentations. But at least if I'm active, I'm enjoying the work, I'm receiving feedback, and I remain distracted by things I enjoy from things I'd rather not contemplate.

We'll see how things go. It is true that often good things fall in the laps of those who are looking the other way.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Home, tired... some news

We're home, finally. A long, long day. The Painter has decided that he doesn't really like taking three-leg flights, and he'd much prefer just to fly one airplane between two cities. That's his request. I concur.

Got an email that an abstract I sent off a few weeks ago, for a regional conference (local chapter of SOD), has been accepted. So, I'll be presenting at their meeting in Berkeley next month. It's a good way for me to step back into the conference circuit. I've never presented at SOD, so this is also a way for me to test the waters (which is the whole point of these regional shindigs, I suppose).

Then, I have my host department colloquium talk a couple weeks later. Also, received an email with a final call for abstracts for an upcoming conference in Scotland, that would be right up my alley with the work I'm doing at the moment (connected to both what I'll present in Berkeley and to my colloquium talk). A couple people I'd like to rub elbows with are already among the confirmed speakers, so I think I'll draft something up in the next few days.

That and an NEH grant proposal, if I can figure out how to cast my present ideas in a way that might attract their support. I think I can, but their deadline in May 1. We'll see.

Meantime, I also have to finalize my syllabus for this application to [Tough Commute U.]. I suspect the new edition of the textbook will be in my mailbox, awaiting my return to campus. I got an email this week from one of the professors at TCU in the hiring department, in response to a missive I sent him. 1) Yes, there is "considerable interest" in their department for the sort of work I feel most aligned with; and 2) re: whether this is a sabbatical replacement or an anticipated vacancy, the reply was
At the moment this is difficult to answer. We're certainly hoping to make an appointment in the area of [interdisciplinary subfield], but our department has just undergone a comprehensive academic review and we need to await the conclusion of that process before the Provost will release money for appointments. We are hopeful, but that's the best I can offer for now.
So, it's still a promising opportunity. It's silly how I expend so much energy on a job even before I've applied. But that's the way it is, especially when the post could potentially turn into something really good, and in consideration of the fact that I have not only the "two body problem" but a "four body problem". I simply don't wish to apply for a job entailing such a logistical nightmare, unless I'd seriously be interested in suffering it. It looks more and more in this case that I would.

I'm babbling now. Slap happy from the time zone shifting. Good night.

Heading home

It's been a week! We accepted a VERY LOW offer on the house. But we won't go hungry. At least it'll be out of our hair, and we can move on.

My dissertation distillation article will be published.

I'm still floundering a bit, looking for direction, meaning, purpose. But I'm latching on to some ideas. The longer I go without any real movement on the job front, the more I feel I should just go off in my own direction. I find it distasteful to accept advice that pushes me toward appearing like the crowd.

If I were to accept it, it would be in a sense accepting defeat. I recall years ago someone I knew who indicated he would do anything to work in his chosen field. And he described the choices he had made. I'm not willing to do that. That is, I don't desperately need to be a professor. What I want is to be able to pursue my interests, to teach a new generation of thinkers, to inspire people with ideas, to ask interesting questions, and follow the paths that those questions initiate. If I can't do that by being a professor, then I just have to figure out how.

It's important to me to remember the difference between what I need and what I want. The more I can recall what I don't in fact need, the more able I will be to turn down something that is less than what I want. Meantime, I sits and waits.

Heading home soon. It was overall a nice visit with my mom. See you on the other side.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A tickle

Had a wonderful dinner with the wife at Dali's in Cambridge. Tapas and sangria. Expensive, but a little splurge. Grandma (and her boyfriend) watched the boys. We had a nice talk over dinner, and afterwards. I so much want a real fireplace; my mom has one, so we started a nice fire when we got home. We have one of those gas fires in [Paradise]. It's like watching your stovetop... not exactly inspiring or romantic.

I just checked my email, and found the following (re: my dissertation distillation article) in my box:

Dear [Articulate],

I've just received the evaluation on your article and am pleased to let you know that the evaluation was positive. Please accept this email as notification that your article... has been accepted for publication ...

With best wishes,

[Name], Editor

That's nice. Well, now back to the wife. She's waiting by the fire. :)

Atlas shrugging

I feel the earth shaking a bit. I wonder. The house may sell, at a price that doesn't exactly make me smile... but sold, and done with is better than the alternative. This should be a relief, in some ways it is... but I'm not quite happy with the results.

I'm miserable, miserable feeling useless. Sitting on the sidelines. I'm tired, very tired of struggling for a job that like selling the house, I'm no longer certain will make me happy to receive.

I got an emailed rejection letter this afternoon. They hired an associate professor from another school. What am I competing against? And toward what end?

This afternoon we went to a party a couple blocks from the Boston Marathon route. We watched bits of it. The first group were wheelchair racers. I heard the cheering and shouting. From a distance I didn't think I'd take part... but watching people struggle, hold in mind a goal, work towards it, I cheered, I applauded, I felt like crying.

Yes, they deserved approbation, so I gave it, freely. Goals. Striving. Where is meaning, purpose? What's the point of this struggle anyway? The PhD... it's done. What's it mean? My mother has a friend who's been an adjunct for what 30 years? Adjunct at top schools too. She says I need to market myself as a [Field 1/subfielder], that I should try to fit in, present myself like the rest of the crowd.

First off, I can't... I won't. I don't blend. It's not in my nature. Does that make me uncollegial? I can't tell. Would it make me untenurable? I don't know. I'm just tired now... very tired.

There's a part of me, one that is growing today, that says, chuck it all.... Maybe I'll talk to some venture capitalists and see if I can get some ideas off the ground. Make me Director of Research & Development, give me a salary, and research funds, and I'll turn it into cash. I don't know how... but I've got ideas. I'm good with ideas. Follow through. That's harder... but not impossible. I did finish the dissertation, my dissertation. And I did it in quick time. Five years. That wasn't too bad.

Well, that's how I'm feeling today. As my grandmother used to say: tell me about it in a week... if you remember. Keep checking. We'll see if I remember.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Brief check-in

I'm at my mom's place in Boston. It was an exhausting yesterday, travelling most of the day. But we had a mostly good day today. A nice Passover dinner with family and friends.

The Painter turned 4 today! It's amazing. Hard to imagine I've been a dad for four years. In some ways that's more important than the PhD, than having an academic career. I'll be a dad all my life now, no matter what I do. But I still feel it's not enough. What sort of life lesson will I be teaching my sons, if I can't succeed in the career that means most to me?

And in other news: We finally got an offer on the house. It comes in about 8% lower than our already ridiculously reduced asking price. But it's a real offer, and it's in writing. Now we can negotiate, and hope to come out with something we're pleased with. But it looks like the house may sell after all, which if it does, will be a great relief.

Oh... and I sketched out another children's story on the plane ride here. My mom says she's too busy to illustrate... but I think I'll move ahead with these ideas anyway. For now, I'll sketch out some primitive illustrations myself, and we'll see. The first is based on my grandfather; the second on my father. If nothing else, this is a cleansing experience for me.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sign off

Heading out of town tomorrow. Haven't packed yet. Only once did I pack far in advance of a trip. That was in 1996, for my first trip overseas. I was to be gone for 11 weeks, and I was excited! I had everything tightly folded, rolled, and packed in ziploc bags at least a week in advance. That's the one anomaly in my life of packing on the run. I guess for campus visits I might pack a day in advance... but that's about it.

Tonight, I'll grab what I can think of, and toss it in a bag. Tomorrow a.m. I head to campus, where The Painter has gymnastics class. I'll take both boys, drop off #1 in class, walk across campus with The Inventor, to check my campus mail box. I hope the textbook will arrive in campus mail tomorrow. But, in any case, I'll show off my beautiful boy to my colleagues. There are a lot of babies in my host department. It's nice to see. I doubt it's just the field, however. I think it's just the culture of this department.

Then, we head back home, and off to the airport around lunchtime. We'll be in Boston until Wednesday. I suspect I'll have some internet access. But, this is a vacation. So, I'll do my best to just focus on being dad, husband, son, and brother. Those are good roles too. I may be better as a scholar than any of those, but practice is always good.

My dad's poetry

Oh... and I began a blog-based website (elsewhere) for my dad's poetry a few days ago. (If you're really interested, you can ask me for the URL). I've been trying to type up a few poems every night. Some of them are quite disturbing (but remember, most of what I'm looking at now are from the 1970s). I don't want to edit him just yet. It's a cleansing experience to finally type all these things up.

I've sometimes wondered at our job as scholars, especially those of us whose work involves historical figures in one way or another. We study a lifetime's worth of work, sometimes published in a spare volume or two. The book on the shelf contains the person more so than their grave somewhere. I almost feel like setting a stone on top of collected works, to say, "I've been here. This person was loved, respected, thought about."

Compiling and writing up my father's words is a ritual of containing him, embracing him, far more tangible, more involving than his burial.

Oh, and by the way (Yesterday, I...)

Yesterday morning I woke up with an idea in my head. Fortunately, it was before the boys awoke. So, I went to my computer, and sketched out the draft of a children's book. Now if I can only convince my mother to illustrate it, we'll be good to go. She was an art teacher long ago, and for the past decade a potter, so it's not so bizarre to ask her.

Busy, busy, distracted

I go out of town tomorrow (for Passover in Boston with family). The Rocket Scientist has had big presentations yesterday and today, as a critical phase in her present program, so she's feeling somewhat relieved that it is all (almost) over.

I've realized there are many things on my plate at the moment (and none of them having to do with the seder). In no particular order:
  • Need to write book review for [Field 2] journal sometime in the next month
  • Need to submit grant proposals for my longitudinal study (first deadline May 1)
  • Need to prepare my host department colloquium talk (May 18)
  • Need to complete my current project.
    • Received a call for papers for a [Field 1] journal which is planning a special issue for which this project would be ideal. Need to write up article on that aspect of the project.
    • Probably will be able to write up an expanded article more fully involving the other aspects of the project as well.
  • Need to finalize syllabus and submit application for one-year gig at [Tough Commute U.] (I'm still waiting on the latest edition of the textbook... hopefully it will arrive tomorrow a.m. before I head out of town). Deadline for reciept of materials: May 15.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Calm as a breeze

In honor of B*'s comment to my earlier post today and Prof. Me's stomach churning, here's a poem of mine from way back when.

Calm as a Breeze (5/28/92)

I am calm now,
gentle as a breeze that is hardly felt,
who wafts silent odors of budding roses
and rosemary leaves from a distance of miles.

Now I am that breeze,
and my song is that of tiny birds,
together in a nest,
waiting, almost patiently, for worms;
but not worms of pain and sorrow,
worms of satisfaction,
worms of delight, delicacies;
for tiny birds, as children,
who sing a song of their own choosing,
can find delicacies and beauty in all things.

A tome all my own

The other day, while stopping by the two-story campus library annex dedicated to my Field 1 and another Field, when I met up with my friend who suggested I simply write to the textbook company to request a desk copy of the latest edition, I was informed (by said friend) that my bound dissertation had just arrived in the library, and could be found on the new books shelf.

I wandered upstairs, which houses the [Field 1] collection, stepped up to the shelf, and gazed with affection at the shelf, where its largest book, about the width of a standard ream of paper, black spine, with engraved letters announcing the title and [MyLastName] placidly lay. I sat a good half hour or so, thumbing through the pages of my book. No, it's not been published by a university press. I probably won't attempt to transform it directly into a real book. I've sent off my dissertation distillation article, and that will probably serve. I'm moving on, though I'm sure I will use pieces of that work in articles and possibly books in the future.

For now, it was simply a moment to gaze, in pride, in awe, in satisfaction. Yes, I actually like my little paper. It was the culmination of years of work. I hope to draw on it for more years than it took to produce. It was the final act in my move toward the PhD. It was something all my own, for which I wrote the conclusion.

I'm thinking about Professor Me's campus love letter. For most of the past 23 years I have measured time in semesters and quarters. The beginning of years has been August or September. June marked a hiatus of sorts (except the several times I took or taught summer classes). The university has been my home since 1983, when I first stepped foot on the campus of the City College of New York, as a freshman.

I laugh when I'm asked to provide all my transcripts, including undergraduate ones. After CCNY, I spent four years saving the world, then enrolled (then dropped, when I couldn't afford the out-of-state fees, since I had just moved to the state) in one course at a community college, while waiting to begin in the fall at [SmallEasternCollege]. After a year, I transferred to [Massive Midwestern University]. That marked my third tour as a freshman.

Four years later, I began a Master's program at [Top Southern Private University]. I mentioned in passing to the dean that I had not in fact graduated, to which I was told I needed to complete my bachelor's degree before the end of the year. So, I enrolled in an independent study course, wrote the term paper, and transferred the credits back to receive my undergraduate degree, with about 50% more credits than I really needed.

Two and a half years later, I received a Master's degree, then moved to [High City] to live with my soon-to-be wife. I performed, did odd jobs, and finally taught 6 terms at [Bomb Shelter Community College]. Then, ultimately, I returned to study for the PhD at [The University of Paradise]. Each school has bittersweet memories for me, some good, some bad.

Mostly, however, the university, the academy, is my home, my life, my love. I can't imagine life without a campus. But with such varied experience, I don't fear to find affection for wherever I wind up. They are to me like a box of crayons, a collection of hues and colors, each to be handled in turn.

Monday, April 10, 2006

They keep coming

Saturday brought an oddly worded rejection letter from one of my lower ranked opportunities. It was both gracious and affronting. Here are some bits:
Dear Dr. __________
... Let me thank you personally for your interest in this position. The competition was enormous*, since so many of our applicants had such outstanding credentials. After long study of the numerous applications by our search committee**, we selected the three applicants we agreed were best***.
A paragraph follows here that outlines the boring details of what went on during campus visits, and the difficulties involved in their final decision, ... as if it matters to me. Then he closes with:
Again, many thanks for your interest in our program. Good luck in your continuing search for a teaching position. You should have little trouble, since your credentials are so excellent.
* This is actually quite funny, since the chair of the committee had earlier informed me via email that they had a mere 45 applicants for the post, which is measly in terms of most postings.
** Get on with it already. I don't care how much effort you put into it. It's not like it doesn't take time to write FIFTY application letters!
*** Not best fit, or best according to these specific criteria, mind you. Just the best.


Today, brought a rather more interesting one, from one of my more more highly prized postings:
Dear Colleague*:

Thank you for your interest in joining our department and for providing us with the information and references requested in our announcement for two faculty positions.

While we received nearly two hundred applications**, we reviewed your materials carefully. We were impressed with the overall quality of the work being done in [Field1] research, and of the opportunities for younger members of the discipline to engage in scholarly exchange with other colleagues through conferences and publications***.

We are pleased to announce the appointment of ____ ____ to our position in [Subdiscipline].
A paragraph (in fact the longest in the letter) follows describing the successful candidate's dissertation, and area of research specialization, and how it will expand existing areas, and forge new interdisciplinary avenues at their institution. I must admit, it's nice that they are that enthusiastic about the person they hired.

Then, the letter closes:
The search for the other position has been continued. We hope you will consider reapplying when we distribute a revised position announcement next year.

With appreciation,
* That's a nice start.
** See what I mean?
*** Okay, this could be seen as a bit condescending... but then, hey, I'll take it in stride.

Interesting. From the comments I've gotten in the past, that committees often draft different letters for different stages in the search, I'll take this as genuine sentiment. Of course, I realize that I was not among the top three or four who were invited to campus. But, it was a thoughtful letter. As disappointing as they all are. But thoughtful nonetheless.

So, that was the latest.

Short day

I have to take The Inventor to his checkup this afternoon, cutting my day in half.

I attended lecture for this class I'm auditing. It's a cross-listed course, so three days a week, there is an undergraduate lecture, with an extra section set aside for graduate students (and me). It's actually quite exhilirating to be back in the classroom. At one point, I felt obliged to add a rather lengthy comment to the discussion, since it was veering in the direction of my own expertise. It was so nice to see the eye-open students nodding in recognition that these ideas were meaningful, meaty, interesting. The professor then felt inclined to introduce me to the class as one specializing in that area.

And the mind juices were flowing. I had to continue the discussion with the graduate students and professor on the way back to the department, adding things that I hadn't said in lecture. I spent much of the morning adding to my research website. I came up with several ideas for future projects that further bridge the gap between my two principal fields, and draw on a third. This is what I'm all about. I live for synthesizing ideas from seemingly disparate fields, drawing them together, and seeing it as organic and inevitable.

Now I've got about an hour left of productive time, so I best get to it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Close only counts...

Looking up an old email, I came across the following note from my advisor after my one campus interview last year. As they say, close only counts in horeshoes and hand-grenades. But at least it's good to remember I was close.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dr. TassePlein
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 10:47 AM
Subject: Re: FW: interview at [South-North University]

Dear _________:

I've just had a LONG conversation with [SearchCommittee Chair]. Obviously they liked you very much, and you are very much in the running for the position. Just a heads up: [SCC] mentioned to me that he thought that your answers tended to go on "about 50% longer than necessary." I told them that this was a sign of your enthusiasm, and perhaps the excitement of the interview, natural under the circumstances. The ONLY reason I'm telling you this should be clear: if they call back again because they can't decide, or because they want one last go round, you might keep it in mind. Since I, ahem, referred to you as a "visionary," he wanted to make sure that this didn't mean that you were a loose cannon. I assured him that you were the essence of a team player, and that what you liked best was working with interesting and imaginative groups of people. He also seemed puzzled by why you would ask about accelerating tenure. So I'd watch that kind of stuff too if you speak to them again.

Let me close this note by congratulating you on what sounds like a *splendid* interview. They really like you enormously, found you infectiously exciting, etc. and could very well end up making you an offer (apparently they have one more interviewee). But please, if it somehow doesn't work out, don't take it hard. It's a *marvelous* first dip into the market, and you've done a brilliant job.


Some words for a job candidate

These words come from Goldsmith, Komlos, and Gold, The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

How long should I keep my hopes up?

John Komlos: I would consider two cycles to be appropriate, provided you really put your best foot forward. I mean by that that your dissertation was in hand and you applied to a wide array of institutions and did not limit yourself geographically or any other way. ...

Penny Gold: It's difficult to tell someone else, I think, how long to persist in looking. I don't know that I would have had the stamina to last through more than three hiring seasons myself. But one of my colleagues ... had been on the job market seven years ... before the tenure-track job... From my perspective, it is difficult to imagine how she could not have been hired earlier, as her credentials were stellar and she's a nice person to boot. But she's in a very competitive field, and an oversupplied subfield within that field.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Just to clarify

Just to clarify matters a bit. I can't imagine my father reading his words, without laughing at his own melodramatic turn. In fact, I can't imagine him having made it through writing them down without gasping at his own imagery. As he well modelled in his own behavior, if we can't laugh at ourselves, there's little point.

Found an old notebook of my father's

Cleaning up a bit this morning, looking for some document to finally complete the paperwork and filings for my father's remaining few leavings, I came across an old notebook of his, hand written, April-May 1970. He was just shy of thirty-five. Today I am thirty-eight. My life is different, I am sure. But I am not quite sure how.

One of these days (perhaps I shouldn't say it that way, it sounds like I'll never do it)... I should find the time and energy to compile his writings, edit them, and write a reminiscence. He was a good man.

Late in life he taught me that our primary choice is whether or not we will be good; history alone decides if we are great. Why would he give me this advice? Because he suffered a contagious malady that lends its patients a drive to accomplish great things.

I will edit his work and write the reminiscence, some day, because he deserves it. Here are the first words that appear in the notebook:
We see each other now
through a patina of days piled one upon another,
less bright, more rich,
like layers of wax that yellow on the floor.

patina of days
like wax that yellows on the floor.

The night is not as young as it used to be.
My father once wrote a poem about looking in the mirror and seeing his father there. I do not see my father's face in the mirror. But I often see myself in his words.

Sometimes I'm Convinced of My Own Greatness

Sometimes I'm convinced of my own greatness,
Convinced there's a real hard core of greatness in me
and that I'll someday discover the way
to let it burst loose and sprinkle down all over the world

Like silver tinsel on a christmas tree,
Haphazardly tossed,
Accidentally lying there among the green needles,
Brightening things up in incandescent reflection.

sometimes i feel inadequate even to piss straight
into the toilet bowl
without dripping a few drops onto the octagonal
black and white tiled floor
even if the bowl filled the whole room
sometimes i feel so inadequate i'm sure i'd find
a way to drip piss someplace it's not supposed to be
no matter what
or get flushed down the enormous bowl
lodge in the pipes
and make the pissy water flood the whole fucking floor
every fucking floor in the whole fucking house.

Empire State Building.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Random bullets

Got some mildly good news today. I guess those three trailing letters are worth something:
  • At the urging of a friend, I decided to simply write to the textbook company and request an examination copy of the latest edition. I wrote that I am currently a visiting scholar in a different department from my PhD, but that I anticipate teaching a course in the fall at another school (a bit of wishful thinking, but true), that I need to prepare and submit the syllabus by May 15. The request was cheerfully, and rapidly approved, so I'll be getting a copy of the newest edition in campus mail next week, in order to prepare my syllabus for my application to Tough Commute U. That made me feel a bit better about all this.
  • Got word from my current host department, that they have approved my request for an extension to my visiting scholar status for another year (which is my hedge in case nothing comes through for the fall). At least I will retain access to the library and article databases and such. And most importantly, I will retain that shred of university affiliation.
In other news:
  • I sent out inquiries to a couple local schools, along with a cover letter, CV, and selected student evaluations, to see about adjunct teaching opportunities for the summer or fall. I think it's time I get back in front of a classroom again.
  • I've realized that part of my difficulty in freely celebrating PhDMe's wonderful news has to do with my own feeling that her self-affirmation "I am this good. I can do this." leaves unspoken the correlary "if you don't have a job yet, you just ain't this good, sorry". She never said that. Those are my words. They are the nagging voice inside my head.
  • It harkens back to those feelings I described in January, those fears of becoming smug, if I ever land that elusive tenure track job. I envy those whose paths have been/are easier. It takes nothing away from the quality of their scholarship and teaching. I wonder though, had my path been more smooth. Had I gotten the offer from my campus visit last year, would I have considered myself more deserving than those who didn't?
  • I wonder at the sheer number of my friends out here who received multiple campus visits this season. Is it simply the differences between our fields, and the current supply of PhDs? Is it sheer luck? Or am I really lacking something that they have?
  • Is it pigheaded arrogance that keeps me believing "I am that good too"? It's impossible to say. What I can say is that I do believe it. I do believe I have much to offer academia, that my research is innovative, interesting, and worthwhile, that it covers territory otherwise underserved, and that I am a good teacher.
  • If ever there is truth in our self-delusions: this is my calling. I am meant to be a scholar.
  • And so, I persevere. Apologies to PhDMe... I am proud of you, and pleased for you.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Might as well have said: desperation doesn't suit you

Ahhh. First thing, The Rocket Scientist is home. After a couple TV shows for the boys, I had calmed down enough to be good father again, so we played for a little while.

Then the wife came home, and I quickly had a couple shots of home-made strawberry vodka. (It's not entirely homemade, since I use Ketel One. I cut up fresh fruit--strawberries and mangoes are my favorites, fill a pint jar about 1/3 full with fruit, then cover with vodka, leave in the fridge for a week or so, shaking every now and then, then freeze. Yum!). Now I'm feeling much ... serener. Now, make no assumptions, I'm no drunk, though I enjoy a few glasses of wine once or twice a week. But I've learned, a shot or two of vodka has quite a calming effect when needed. And, somehow, it seems less drastic than Xanax! :)

So, on to the latest in my saga of unemployment...

Today's rejection letter at least made me laugh. As my wife put it: they do have a point.

Here's the gist of it:
Dear Dr. [YouKnowWho]:
Thank you for your interest and submission of your vita to become a part-time temporary instructor for [Small Midwestern State U.]'s off-campus programs.

At this time, we offer undergaduate programs only in our state, and because of budget constraints it would be unlikely that we would fly an instructor from California. I'm very sorry we will be unable to utilize your expertise.

Should you have any questions regarding this correspondence, please feel free to contact me... Best wishes as you search for teaching opportunities.

:) What they didn't write was What were you thinking? Desperation doesn't suit you!

[SIGH] Ah well. Let's hope something comes through for next year. But, I'm trying to keep my wits and humor about me.

Melt down

You know, I love being a dad... I really do. But... I've come to realize, from experience, that I'm not the best at full-time stay-at-home fathering. About 3:30 or 4:00 I just melt down. Every little nuisance becomes a big deal. Maybe I just haven't worked out the proper routine, the right schedule.

[Ha!... that's a joke. Me? Routine? Schedule? Never heard of 'em.]

I spent about 4 months full-time (about 8:00-6:00) watching both boys last summer. I had been the primary caregiver for The Painter from six weeks until about 11 months (while preparing for my comps!), but they were shorter days, and I got little breaks in the middle most days.

I fully empathize with ABDMom's BH what he's about to go through. Some have patience, energy. Mine... well, mine runs out about 4:00 PM. Ah well.

Today, I copped out, but then it's better than the alternative. I put on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Now we're watching Little Einstein's. [SIGH!] Hey, an hour of educational TV won't harm them. Thanks at least to our DVR. Days like this I fully justify the cost of having cable, even if I rarely watch.

Besides, #1 won't take naps... basically stopped when he was about 18 months. So, this is his quiet time... yeah, that's it. And it's fun to watch The Inventor repeatedly face dive onto the couch, while his brother is trying to watch.

So, just in case any of you out there are of the illusion that some of us miraculously know how to balance work and life, being productive academics and having a family... well, if there are any out there, I haven't yet met them. But then, what fun is a balance beam if you never fall off, eh?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Can't beat that (rejection letter)

They won't give up. Back in September I saw one of those "anticipated vacancy" postings that mentions the department and the barest minimum of expectations. I wrote to the best contact I could find, the Dean to ask for a full job description. He replied, saying that he'd forwarded my inquiry to the department chair.

T'make a long story short: I never applied! After reading the full description, I decided it wasn't for me.

Today's mail brought the following:
Dear [FirstName LastName]:
We are pleased to announce that ____ ____ has accepted the position of Assistant Professor in ____ at [YouDidn'tEvenApplyTo U.] ...Thank you for your interest in the position, and we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Note to self: don't include your mailing address in such inquiries in the future. Who knows what mailing lists you may wind up on.

Can't get me down

I'm feeling pretty good today. I decided to audit a graduate course in my host department. As part of my visiting scholar status, I am welcome to sit in on any class in the department, but this is the first time I'm actually doing it. Monday was the first day of Spring quarter here. It's actually a cross-listed course, so I'll be sitting in on the undergrad lecture twice a week, and meeting in a smaller section with four graduate students once per week. Somehow, sitting in on the class makes me feel more a part of the academic community than I have felt otherwise. Partly it's knowing that I have a great deal to contribute to the discussion. I'm viewing it as a bit of apprentice work, in case I wind up with my ultimate dream of a cross-appointment in [Field1] & [Field2].

The prof (who happens to be chair of my host department) asked us to bring along some suggested readings. I brought a small briefcase full of articles, and tossed four her way. Some I've had in readers for classes I've taught; others are simply on my reading list, but relevant to the subject. At the end of section, she said she'd need to talk to me about another aspect of our discussion today, since it's clear I've done more extensive reading on it than her. Also, she had made the comment that she was pleased how the graduate section turned out (I'm the only post-doc sitting in) because we're all [SecondFielders], which brought a smile to my face. I said it was good to be welcomed in the club.

So, nothing is going to get me down right now. Not the fact that power was out on campus for the undergrad lecture and the grad sectional, and for a few hours after. Not that I stopped by the office of one of my dissertation committee members, to follow up on a request for a letter of recommendation, to which he kindly suggested I have his file letter sent to Tough Commute U., in lieu of him writing a new one. Not the fact that my belt just broke (and since attending military academy 25 years ago I've felt naked without a belt). Nope, none of those things are going to get me down.

I've got another hour or so of working, then it's home for a long weekend of playing dad. The au pair is going out of town this weekend, leaving tomorrow early. I'm going to enjoy just being dad for a couple days, not worrying about anything else. And, I've decided that I'm going to try a modified schedule, working longer days M-Th, and taking the boys all day on Fridays. Just in case I do wind up with a commuting gig for next fall, I might as well get used to it now.