Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Leaving anxiety

I head to Scotland tomorrow. I'm excited about the conference. It's of the kind I like best: full schedule (three days) but no concurrent sessions. Focused. I finished my presentation today. Of course, I'll keep working on it a bit, and honing it. My run through took nearly 20 minutes, and it's supposed to be 15. But the slide show is done, and I'm ready to get on the plane (well, nearly, there's this little task of packing... but there's time). I'll be gone nearly a week. I'm anxious about that. I'll miss my boys. Some strange worries have surfaced that something might happen. Oddly, I'm not so worried about me. I'm more concerned for my beautiful boys. I'll be back in a week. I work hard to avoid making promises I can't or won't keep. So... I guess I'll have to come back, in one piece, in a week.

But, this marks a milestone of sorts for me. When I get back, I'm free to set my own schedule again. I have some goals, and some things yet undone. (I've got this book review for the [Field 2] journal that should have been submitted two weeks ago). But, it feels like this is really the end of the job season. I've got to plan for more than just the summer. I have to plan for next year, and beyond.

I'm pretty sure I'll hit the next academic job season with full effort. But then, things change. I'm tired of rejection, of failing to reach that bar. When I was a performer, I never went more than two or three (maybe occasionally four or five) auditions without a gig. It simply didn't happen. I never had the chance to feel down about the jobs I didn't get. But this! This is a roll beyond belief. Imagine a gambler who plugged his quarters into that machine once, twice, thrice... NINETY... ONE HUNDRED TIMES and... nothing! That's a lot of quarters. Sure, it only takes one job... but I ain't got one yet!

What a strange place to be. I am a scholar. I get excited about these little conferences, really, honest-to-goodness excited, eager, interested, and not about socializing, about rubbing shoulders with like-minded people, listening to their enthusiasm as they go on about research. This is what I live for. And... can I be me? Can I find a path for me to go on being the scholar I am? For now, I need to just keep plugging away, submitting articles, abstracts for conferences, conducting my research, reading, writing, drafting grant proposals, and hoping.

I want to be like the father in Potok's "In the Beginning," who suffered a great blow, fell into a deep depression, then emerged like a phoenix: success at last! I'll miss you all on my journey this week. Not sure if I'll have any access to the web while I'm gone. Meet you on the other side.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Joint appointment: incomplete

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education speaks of the troubles I might have down the road, assuming I get my dream job one day. I have thought my ideal situation would be a joint appointment in Fields 1 & 2. But if this almost-tenured (or denied) asst. prof. is any model, the trials I'm up against now are just the start.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pepper sprouts

Oddly, perhaps, there is great pleasure in the mundane acts of life. I washed the car and van today. The car has been hand-waxed. My 17-month old Inventor helped with the tasks. Quite adorable, I confess, to watch my two-feet straw-haired (don't ask me!) boy wander around behind me with a dirty rag, swatting at the vehicles, as I scrub with soap bubbles, then do my best imitation of the karate kid: "wax on... wax off".

My garden is ever a joy for me. As an undergraduate, at the tiny college where I spent a year as a freshman for the second time (it was my third year of college, but I had taken a few years off), I worked as an apprentice gardener, on campus, which essentially meant, someone else was getting paid to leave me running rampant with pruners and a rake, while I received a pittance. But I loved it: playing in the dirt, seeing the results of my actions in the presentation of nature, knowing that a week later it would revert in its own way to the chaos that pervades... but my mark would remain, even if fading, for quite some time. I subscribed to gardening magazines, and experimented.

When I moved on to my third (and final) stint as a freshman, attending Massive Midwestern State University, I took that passion for gardening with me. I started a landscaping business of my own, beginning with a used lawnmower, stuffed in the trunk (sticking out) of my 1982 Honda Prelude. Every client I added, I bought a new piece of equipment or tool. By the time I was done, and ready to move on, four years later, I had several part-time employees, a year-old Ford F-150, and a truckload (or two) worth of tools and machinery. All except the hand tools have since been sold.

The pleasure that comes from transforming a spare patch of land into a thriving, vibrant jungle of plants and insects, mushrooms and worms, never diminishes. The joy of watching the tiny volunteer sprouts pop up their heads, unfurl their dicotyledons, is something that simply can't be adequately conveyed to someone who has never experienced it.

I wish all my life were as rewarding as these things. I wish to modify my comments from a few days ago: I know my father did not fail in life, though many of the accolades and achievements I hoped he would have had, escaped him. Indeed, I realize that accolades and attainments often fall on those least worthy. There is a deep scar that mars my soul where once I believed hard work and diligence would be rewarded. I feel cheated, that so many told me that finishing my dissertation would make all the difference in the job search, that having those three trailing letters would make a world of difference. They did not.

But then, I have scars. They color my physique. The pain is momentary, though the memory endures through these rememberances. They are nothing to be feared. My way is to believe that they are nothing to be hidden either. I wear my heart on my sleeve, it is true, and you my faithful readers and friends are granted access to my trails. I know these things will resolve, in their own way, even if I have little faith in a master plan, or Master Planner. I like the chaos of the world, its mysteries. I don't need the answers, so much as the questions.

I suppose the lesson for me to learn, is that I would do the things I do (as I do) even without the accolades, because these things are true to me. We do the right thing, at least some of us, not simply because of the outward rewards, but because of the inner ones. Questions for me need asking, the paths those questions uncover need treading. Sure, at times it's lonely, wondering when that trodding will lead me to a destination. I think of those (like Ivan Klima) who suffered under totalitarian governments, denied their proper vocations; yet they survived, they endured, they achieved. With patience, I will too.

In the meantime, enjoy my pepper sprouts. I do.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I didn't call it blues for nothing!

Well, I hope I didn't scare you all off with that last posting. I'm just so worn out, so bitter, so sad, these days.

Silence. No call today. Today was supposed to be the deadline by which I would hear back from TPU in Beautiful Nowhere. I'm an old hand. I know what that means. At least I don't have an impossible commute to look forward to.

Applied for another job this week, and plan to submit for a second when I get home in two weeks, late postings, both tenure-track (assumedly to replace someone who took a post elsewhere). I decided not to apply for one temporary lecturer post that would be a tough commute, since lecturers make so much less than asst. profs at that insitution (about a third of which, or possibly half after taxes, would be eaten up by commuting), and the rank was non-negotiable. This just takes so much out of me. There is no consolation prize, no award for second-best.

Sure, there are many things to keep me from getting too discouraged, to help me keep it all in perspective. But in the end, I still have no job, no real validation for the work and effort I put into the PhD, and continue to pour into my research. Perhaps my wife's proposal is the best: we just pick someplace we want to live (near a major market airport) where she can forge a good career, and I just keep plugging away. Lord knows we can't make much of a life out here, where a house half the size of the one we sold rents for three times as much as our old mortgage. Buying a house out here is simply out of reach without a second income, and the prospects for me in that regard seem negligible at best.

Not that all things in my life are down. In fact, the lack of career prospects seems the only real downer. But then, that's what this blog is most about. There are strong incentives for chucking it all, and starting over. But I feel like a gambler who knows just one more shot will win me the jackpot. The hope keeps me coming back. Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fragments of life

First, I'll let my father speak:

[three fragments]

[undated, following page dated 4/29/70, preceding a page dated 5/7/70]

sanity is a venereal disease, it
infects one, brings on fever,
makes coping a hardship


Must be the city does it to us.
Why else would we retreat so far
into the fantasies
of our own realities?
That piece of turf unbreached,
our self.
The internal environment of
our own imaginations
all we have left unviolate.
What a bunch of shit.


what is honesty?
admitting things,
then flogging yourself
because the admissions are part
of the stance you take and as false
as not admitting them
then repeating
the process

I loved my father. Yet, I can't escape the feeling that he failed. His life was marked by failure. Humor also. A great belly laugh, and a tearing smile of laughter that would melt your heart. I think of the picture I have of him standing outside the back door of our old house, grey beard and slits for eyes.

He was a man of such great potential... always potential. He wrote some good poetry, at least in my eyes, but it never went anywhere. My mother tells how he would suffer profound depression upon receiving a rejection letter from one publisher or another, sometimes forcing him into writer's block for weeks. He wrote plays and novels. I can only imagine how much is lost.

I've been compiling his writings, what I can find in our things, on a blog dedicated to him. It's an odd experience in my late 30s to be typing up his words from his late 30s. I live in the shadow of a fear, that my life will follow his. In some ways, that wouldn't be so bad. To have raised some wonderful children, to be able yet to laugh with abandon in my 60s. That would be quite something to accomplish. Yet, his failure is to me inescapable. Indeed, I think he'd be the first to admit it. He never lived up to his potential. He never accomplished half the things he set out to, for which he had such ability to achieve.

And I see myself, looking in his mirror, him seeing his father before him, and I watching the reflection like a voyeur, pretending not to look, yet wondering whose reflection it is I see.

He was so proud of me, the graduate student, in his eyes achieving so much he dreamed of. He died three months before I finished the dissertation, a month to the day before my second son was born.

The year or so before he died, he started writing again, revising old poems, crafting new ones. He prepared an application for a poetry fellowship. He asked me to critique his poems, help him edit them. What an honor it was for me. Damn! I wanted so much for him to find some recognition, some acknowledgement for his gifts. Yes he failed. But I think the world failed him much more.

My greatest fear is to find myself, years from now, dying, with a massive trail of potential following me, like the greasy effluence of a leaking tanker, wondering why... why... why... damn it, why not?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More back and forth

Dear Articulate:
How did your trip to Beautiful Nowhere go? Tell all.
Otherwise, hope all's well.
Hi Tasse,

Nice to hear from you. The trip went well. I was impressed with the degree of camaraderie among the faculty, and the commitment of students (about 30 showed up and stayed through my hour-long teaching demo, on the Thursday of finals week!). It's a small school in the middle of nowhere, but it might be a pleasant place to pass some time. But, they haven't made a decision yet. So, I sits and waits. They say I should hear something by Friday. I'm going to Scotland in a week. There's a conference on _____________ where I'll be presenting a paper. I may not be able to make a decision until I get back. I had thought, if they offer me the job, I might try to negotiate it into a one-year post. They've got quite a few job postings lately, which tells me they've got money which could be shifted around.

But, I had a talk with the Rocket Scientist last night. Sounds like she's unwilling to move for anything less than a tenure-track job, since she fears otherwise she'll be holding a series of one-year jobs. I had hoped (assuming I get an offer for one-year) that she would consider looking for work in some major east coast city, within a four-hour flight of Beautiful Nowhere. But, it looks not. So, I've got some tough decisions ahead of me. Since we currently live near a small regional airport (with a diminished flight schedule) any commute for me, to anything less than a major hub, becomes exceedingly difficult. It took 14 hours to get to Beautiful Nowhere (three legs), which likely means I'd only be making the return trip a couple times a month, unless I can also finagle their M-W-F schedule into a M-W-Th or something. I'm just afraid if I don't get something now, to fill out my CV with a Visiting Assistant post, I may be out for good.

I just simply don't get it, Tasse. I can't fathom what's missing from my applications. I don't know if I told you: I had a long talk with The Leprechaun a couple weeks back. I said: I need your help, my career is going nowhere slowly. So we talked for about 45 minutes! I asked if there was any way he could offer me a class or two to teach next year. He was non-committal. In the end he suggested that he would call some of the places I'm applying to, to nudge them into a second look at my file. He said, from his experience, that often helps.

The most eye-opening part of our talk was when he explained (his view of) the filtering process search committees go through. He said: Let's say there are 100 applications, and 20 of them stand out. So, the chair begins with that pile... "Hey, this looks interesting, [Interesting area]... Mary you know anything about this? No... hmm... what about this, [Outlying area]... Joe, you know anything about that area? No... hmmm... [Interdisciplinary Topic]... hmmm." And so it goes until all 20 of the standouts have been put aside, since no one is familiar with their research. Then they attack the 80 who all look familiar: [Conservative topic] scholars, [Mainstream topic] scholars, [hip trendy topic] ... and that's the end.

I laughed: You mean to tell me, we're ushered through grad school, and taught to raise interesting questions, to find our niche, to stand out, to be unique, novel in our approach... but when it comes down to hiring, we're all supposed to look the same?

Patience. I know. Not even a year into my imaginary 3-year fellowship. I know. Well, for what it's worth, attached are my two most recent cover letters, and my current CV. Perhaps you can find something glaringly out of place in them. I'm also trying to decide about applying to [Medium State University] for a couple Instructorships (a one-year in [subfield 1], and a two-year in [subfield 2]). But, I'd prefer if the rank were Visiting Asst. Prof., and I'm worried about the commute. So, I can't decide.

By the way, I gave the [Host Department] Colloquium talk here last Thursday which focused on the issue raised in my NEH fellowship proposal. Overall it was well-received. Let's hope the NEH committee likes it as much.

Be well,
sorry to trouble you with my troubles,
I hope your family is thriving,

Dear Articulate:

Long ago I had this same "conversation" with [Mentor] (it actually may have been a conversation, since I'm not sure that e-mail was completely in place yet...). First of all, what's "missing" from your applications is...the US economy and the state of academic markets. In other words, if there were twenty jobs open it wouldn't make your work "good," and getting stiffed, doesn't make it "bad." Your "problems" are a result of economic conditions. Period.

With all respect to The Leprechaun's theory, you *did* make it to the very finals of a very good job where your competitor was...another [Your Dissertation Topic] guy. So it's really about luck and pluck. That is, work hard, don't get bitter, keep your nose clean and hope for luck. You're a white male, about which you can do nothing, and you chose to avoid trendy lit crit stuff; but you've got an excellent resume and something will come through.

Now, even with all this, there are always things any of us can do to make ourselves more marketable (but almost nothing that will *guarantee* employment). I've tried to suggest that you keep moving forward, applying for grants, take the "negatives" of your situation (no teaching job) and turn them in to strengths (3-year research fellowship in a gorgeous place). And I've said to you what I say to myself quite a bit: listen more, talk less.

Please feel free to call, or send me a number and a time to call if you want to talk about any of this.



Tough choices ahead

Had a talk last night with the Rocket Scientist. She iterated for the first time a strong aversion to moving, yet again, at least for anything less than a tenure-track job for me. She said, you know we've lived in 9 places in the past 10 years. Yeah. This from someone who has described herself as a wanderer, a traveller. But I guess we all wish to set down roots eventually.

If I calculate it out, I've moved at least 28 different times in my 38 years. The longest I've ever spent anywhere was seven years, beginning when I was 4. That means, I've moved at least 26 times in the past 26 years! Odd, since someplaces I've lived for more than a year, even two or three. But there were temporary housing options at times, a move away to high school (a boarding school, military academy), then back, a trip overseas, then back. Twenty-six moves, twenty-six years.

Yes, I'm tired of it, but not so much that I am ready to give up my career. But nor do I wish to give up my family! I continue to point out how lucky others are that they have a tenure-track gig, and I don't. To be fair, I'm very lucky that I have a wonderful family: a loving, supportive wife, and two charming, delightful children. Does it make me a better person than those who are single or divorced? Surely, not. There but by the grace of God go I, eh? Perspective. Priorities. Hard to keep them both in mind.

My wife's present stance sets some severe limits on my current career choices, or dampens my ability to be an active partner and father, at least for a time. Tough decisions. I fear if I don't get something for next year, the result will be a black mark on my resume, perhaps an unrecoverable stigma. My wife claimed to be confused: just last week you said you could be happy with a different sort of career. Not exactly fair of her. Not exactly the time yet for those considerations. Besides, I haven't the slightest idea where to begin. At this point, if I scrap the academic career, I fear I will be always disappointed, discouraged, diminished. I'll continue to think about alternatives, look for ways to engage myself in meaningful work outside academia. But the ship isn't sinking yet, the life rafts are yet to be inflated.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Unforgivable offense

Dear Ariculate:

Thank you for your interest in the [Field 1] faculty position at the University of Southern Orchards. We received a large number of applications of extraordinary quality, and it was very difficult to narrow down the field of candidates. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to become acquainted with you and your work, as well as to survey the incredible diversity of scholarly activities in [Field 1] today.

At the end of this process, however, we were not able to secure one of our preferred candidates, and our search remains incomplete. We therefore anticipate that we will undertake another search next year, please watch for an announcement in the early fall. We would greatly appreciate having another opportunity to give you full consideration.

Please accept my best wishes in all of your future endeavors.


Dr. Mississippi Masala, chair
[Field 1] Search Committee
University of Southern Orchards
WTF? Do you have any idea how unforgivable an offense this is? You had, what 80, 100, 130 applicants... large number ... extraordinary quality... and what?... you couldn't find one candidate, one applicant to whom you could so much as offer a one-year gig, to fill the interim while you continue the search? Who the hell decides these things? Oh, I see, the Dean said we have only $5000 for the search, and we blew $4800 bringing in our top three candidates, so we can't afford to fly anyone else in this year. So, what? ... that great and vast pool of extraordinary applicants representing an incredible diversity of scholarly activities are left to, what, sit on their asses contemplating their navels until the job postings come out in the early fall, then, like drooling hyenas dive at the meat tossed over the fence?

The sad thing in all this is... right now, I am a drooling hyena, and damned if I won't reapply for that post come the fall!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Self-reflective of late

What's it all about? I feel overwhelmed with my own thoughts lately. Overwhelmed by the myriad tangents set before me. One of the biggest difficulties of being where I am--in a sort of limbo between finishing the PhD and finding meaningful employment that engages that PhD part of my life--is that I feel directionless, ungrounded.

Let me put this in some perspective. Let's say I get funded for the NEH fellowship (I won't hear until December, so it's not even worth thinking about too seriously). Okay, then I have 9 months to a year during which I'm focused. I'm given funding and, at least as important, encouragement to pursue a particular project for a specified period of time. That's great! Let's say I'm offered the post in Beautiful Nowhere. Okay, then I'm given 3 or 4 classes to teach. I'm given a concrete purpose, a specified task, and a circumscribed time frame.

Now, let's look where I am today. I'm a Visiting Scholar in [Field 2]. That's the equivalent to having a janitorial pass into some large corporation. I can wander the halls, thumb through things. If I'm gone in a week, they'll likely forget me in two. Oh, I'm sure a few of them would be curious every now and again: gee, I wonder what happened to Articulate... what's he up to these days? Then it would pass. This isn't self-pity. I suppose I'll forget them in the same way. Not that I'll forget my time here at the University of Paradise, nor the kindness this department has granted me. But, I'm not connected to it. If I sit in the lab playing solitaire all day, or plug away at my research, it matters little to them.

Right now, I'm taking a breather from being swamped. I had three big things back to back. Now I've got a week and a half before I head to Scotland for a conference and presentation. 15 minutes. That's what I get. So, I'll work up a presentation this week. But, I just gave a 90-minute talk on essentially the same stuff last week, so it won't be much of a challenge, I'd think.

Then, I come back. I'm committed to spending some good quality time with my boys and my wife this summer. I've got some minor revisions of my dissertation distillation article, then that's really in press. I've said I want to submit four articles this summer. One of them would be new, based on what I presented a few weeks ago at the regional SOD conference. The other three I'm thinking would be worked up from old materials that I never published. That's ambitious, but within the realm of possibilities.

What else? I'll work up and submit a grant proposal for my longitudinal study. But, I'm still seeking some grounding, some direction. These grant and fellowship apps are--yes, working up research that I want to do--but mostly grabbing for a hand-hold, hoping to find some place to hold on for a while, some direction, some concrete tasks to accomplish.

But what then? I'm somewhat at a loss at the moment for what to do with my life if an academic career seems unattainable in the next year or so.

I had a wonderful date with my wife on Saturday. We walked along the beach, and had dinner. I asked her (what I always ask): where do you want to be in 5-10 years? And she replied as is her wont: You always ask me that... I don't know! We discussed where and how we'd like our boys to grow up. We asked each other about our current priorities (even when they don't change, it's good to reiterate them ever so often): freedom; financial independence; a garden; leisure to plant and to play with our boys; respect and being valued at work. These aren't big things, but they're the important ones.

The Rocket Scientist asked me if I'd be happy as a director of research and development for some corporation, or setting up my own company with some venture capital. Yeah, I probably would. I'd likely be better paid, and less stressed than being a professor. Who knows? Maybe that's my path. For now, I wait to hear from TPU in Beautiful Nowhere. And I sit, and wonder.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No mosquitos

Only a couple of horseflies, but they didn't bite too much. It went well, well enough. The prof who has to write a recommendation for my NEH proposal seemed quite excited. That's good. There were a few important but skeptical questions regarding the relevance of my research. I accept the challenges. Partly it's simply a question of terminology, using words precisely, or clarifying them a bit, or simply rephrasing it all. (Sorry to be so vague.) But, as the prof who needs to write my recommendation (who happens to be current chair) put it: it's work that has to be done!

That's a good way to put it. It's work that needs to be done... and I'm one of the few who are prepared to do it.

[SIGH!] Let's hope that's enough to get me a job (or at least another year under fellowship!).

The curtain will rise

45 minutes and counting. I'm nervous. Excited. It's only a colloquium talk. My friends and colleagues. But... in a sense I'm justifying a major part of my research program. My talk goes over a good chunk of what my recent NEH grant proposal is all about. So, it's important to me. It's my research. Not a talk based on my dissertation (albeit one I liked) that is geared toward justifying the work I've already done, showing that I know my stuff. No, this is all new, forward-looking, works-in-progress. And it's all me.

I feel naked, unadorned. Please let there be no mosquitos!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

So out of practice

I am so out of practice of getting things done in a reasonable amount of time. I really don't want to become one of those people who spend the first two days of a conference in their hotel room, finally getting around to working up their presentation for the third day. Yet, here I am the night before my colloquium talk tomorrow, and I'm still not finished with my presentation slide show.



It's been so long since I had a deadline, since I had anything that had to be done by a certain time. The past few months I've begun to get productive again. And, all of a sudden, I'm swamped. Teach me to submit multiple abstracts, and apply for jobs, and the such like, eh?

So, I'm going to bed, and I'll work on this more in the morning. I go on at 3:30. It'll be fine, at least... I'll get through it. I'm presenting what I know best, and to an audience that will likely see me as the expert. I'm just hoping I'll be coherent enough to warrant questions and feedback. I always think it's the kiss of death at a presentation when noone seems to follow you enough to even formulate a comment. We'll see.

Then, I've got to work up my presentation for Scotland. A mere 15 minutes I get. I guess it will cost me about $100/minute for that line on the CV. I'm expecting several of the other presentations at that conference to be exciting. And rubbing shoulders with some of those folks, getting my face, and my name, and my work out there. It should be worth it. But damn, I can't wait until someone else is covering (at least some of) my conference expenses!

Then what? Who knows. Will I have a job lined up for the fall? Anybody's guess.

Alright, here's my promise:
  • #1, I'm going to spend some good quality time with my boys this summer.
  • #2, I'm going to finally have the courage and gumption and chutzpah to polish up and submit a grant proposal for my longitudinal study. Damn the logistics, full throttle.
  • #3, I still have that goal of submitting four articles this summer.
  • #4, Maybe it's time to start thinking about a book.
Good night!

Emotionally drained and sad

I'm just worn out, emotionally more than physically today. I've actually been getting a decent amount of sleep lately.

A student from an institution where I gave an invited lecture last year sent me a description of a project similar to my planned longitudinal study. It's being done by a junior professor at a big name school. It's similar, though not the same, more ambitious in some ways, and more restrictive in others. But man, there's a lot of support (and funding) for that project! And mine... well, I've yet to submit the proposal for funding anywhere.

See, it's a longitudinal study. Is there any point in getting started on a project when: 1) I don't know where I'll be when the funding would begin; and 2) I don't know that I'll be stable geographically for the projected minimum 2-3 years the project would require? I guess it could be started, but the logistics of setting up the monthly sessions for multiple subjects from an unknown distance is daunting. So, I've been sitting on it... tick... tick... tick. I drafted a preliminary proposal more than a year ago. Many people know about it. I've posted it to my personal research website. I've mentioned it at conferences and lectures I've given.

And, now... I'm just so sad. I'm sad that I find myself at the end of my second full season of searching for a faculty job. And the best I have to come up with (possibly!) is a temporary gig, a whole day's travel from my family.

My wife mentioned yesterday that one of her coworkers (in some manifestation of their byzantine hierarchy, he's actually a supervisor, sometimes) was beginning to get fed up with some of the restructuring and reorganization that's been going on at their work. So, he made three phone calls the other day, and has received three offers for work. He says there are opportunities for people with their skill set all across the country. He's yet to decide whether to jump ship. What would it be like to have multiple possibilities for employment? I can't even imagine.

Sad. Am I in the wrong line of work? Maybe that's good news. Hey, maybe that means my wife's career is far more portable than we thought. So, she could follow me through a series of temporary gigs anywhere I go. Boy, wouldn't that be fun?

Apologies for being so raw here. But those are my feelings, the ones that either bubble to the surface or remain repressed deep inside me. I'd rather let them out.

Here's a brief exchange with a colleague of mine, an asst prof in my doctoral department, whom I'll call Prof. Míchaný:
This job search is a truly disheartening process. I'm come to the end of my second full season, with little to show for it. I did have one campus visit last week, for a one-semester gig, in a small town 2800 miles away. The good news is, the interview went well, and I was impressed with the degree of camaraderie among faculty, and the level of commitment among students (about 30 or so showed up for my hour-long teaching demo, despite the fact that it was Thursday of finals week there). Now I just wait until they come to a decision. They have two more interviews this week, so I expect to hear sometime next week, if they choose to make me an offer. But it's discouraging that the best I come up with is a short-term post, at a school I'd never heard of, far away from my family.

I hope you're well,

His reply:
Yes, it really is a disheartening process, and a bewildering one to boot. I feel as if I've been in the business long enough - in various capacities - that I ought to have a better understanding of how things work. It's not just that it's really difficult to get a job (although that's certainly bad enough), but also that I don't understand why some folks get jobs and other don't, or why some folks get jobs some years, but not other years, and so on. It would be one thing if we just knew certain categories of applicants faced longer odds (ABDs/particular programs/dissertation topics/whatever). Then we could at least strategize. I don't see those kinds of patterns, though. If the system ever becomes transparent to you, please clue me in.

You should be congratulated about the campus interview, though. I know that it's not much help, but, still, it's very flattering that they were interested enough in you to fly you across the country. Is there any possibility of the post being extended? I can't help noticing that most of my generation of students started with one year positions that then morphed into permanent gigs.


I've thought of the extension question. But, at this stage, I don't know if I'll be offered a job. If they do call, we'll see what I can manage. Hard call though: the fact that it's only a short-term gig makes it palatable that it's so far from family; if it were to morph into a year, or longer, that moots the issue. Well, then, perhaps The Rocket Scientist can look for work near there. But are we going to keep the family living out of suitcases for years until I land a permanent gig?

My wife has said she worries about holding a job for only a year or two. But then, there's no sign that her market is competitive enough for employers to even worry about that. Who knows? I'm just so sad and frustrated. Stifled, constrained. Not at all the feeling of freedom that I cultivated as a graduate student, the world wide open to me, fresh ideas, new avenues, novel connections. The whole multi-colored, interdisciplinary world of scholarship.

Now, I sit Tantalus-like grasping for grapes always just out of reach.

An interesting idea, but...

Inside Higher Education posted an article about the Dean of Graduate Studies at Northwestern pushing for more interdisciplinary programs, challenging the hegemony of departments. Interesting idea. At first, I was quite excited. Wow, there is movement. But... I'm just so damn angry at being where I am. I am infuriated that while interdisciplinarity is prized for graduate students it is seemingly unrewarded when it comes time to hire faculty. At least that's how it seems in my discipline. That's the point, I truly have training across the disciplines. The course of study that I followed, the dissertation that I wrote, fit neatly into the planned new structure that this dean proposes.

Yet, show me the jobs! I think the dean has a good idea, but he's going about it all backwards. First, create the jobs, then the interdisciplinarity will follow. Hire the faculty who are engaging across disciplines, reward cross-disciplinary research and teaching. Innovative, engaging, interdisciplinary faculty will attract students. Get the faculty first!

Here's my proposal: Deans or Presidents should offer special funding to the university for new FTEs, with one catch. At least two departments would have to collaborate on the posting, and the faculty member hired would hold a joint appointment.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Oh, just because. The eyes meme is going around, and hell, I've got some recent shots that I decided not to use for the passport. So, here you go: me, in all my squinty, cocked-to-the-side glory.

Professionally real

A recent post on B*'s site got me thinking again about my professional research website. It's nice to have a presence on the web. In line with Dr. Tasseplein's recommendation to "get famous" it certainly enhances my profile to the world. There is this feeling that there is so much more I could do with the site. But then, there are only so many hours in the day. It's a useful resource as it is, and it's a good way to show the world what I'm about. I'm committed to keeping it up, and updating it as time and energy allow.

Here's the latest "clustrmap" of visitors to my research site:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Not much, too much

Not much to write these days. I'm a bit overwhelmed, and have quite a few things on my plate. I like being busy, but I hate feeling like I'm not quite getting through. I never want to settle for good enough.

I spent much of today running errands. I needed to renew my passport, on a rush, since it expired last month, and I have just over two weeks remaining before my trip to Scotland. Ah, yes... see, I've got to buy my tickets and such, not knowing for sure that my new passport will arrive in time. Such is the excitement, of all of a sudden having things pile up and not knowing where to begin.

But, I also engaged in a bit of retail therapy. Over the weekend, I bought myself seven new shirts (four short sleeve, and three long). Today, I ordered four pairs of pants from Eddie Bauer. I'm short, at least short-legged... which makes it ever difficult to buy pants. So, I special order them.

That's a lot of clothes. But I tend to wear the same things until they wear thin. I realized at my interview, that the pants I was wearing were beginning to fray at the heel, and the nice button down shirt had a slight tear where the pocket attached to the shirt. Great to be thinking of those things when I'm sitting in the Provost's office, I can assure you. So, I decided I needed to get some new clothes. Well, that and the fact that my pants are all one to two inches too large in the waist. I was tired of cinching up belts.

This post is beginning to bore me. So I'll stop.

Got to spend the next couple days focusing on my Colloquium talk this Thursday. I'll be back when I've something to say, and time to say it, I promise.

Friday, May 12, 2006

At the airport in Beautiful Nowhere

Maybe it's the music... this place seems to be lost in the 1980s. So everything I hear brings up melancholy.

I really just feel like crying, to let it all out. My whole life these past few years is crushing on me. I miss my dad. I just want to call him up, and have him reassure me now. But it won't happen. I'm on my own.

I'm the youngest of my dad's three sons. When he died, my mother said to me:
You know, this means you're the head of the clan now.
You see, I'm the one married, with kids. I'm the one with a PhD. I'm stable. But I don't always feel that way.

My eldest brother called me last night (about 1:00 in the morning local time). He was at the airport, returning from a job interview. Here's a guy, who during the internet boom was worth over a million on paper. And now, he's been out of work, having only temporary jobs for a couple years, living off unemployment. We've already lent him thousands. Every month is a new crisis.

He called to ask if I would front him the money (loan is the word he used, but it's a euphemism) to cover a hotel room, since his flight wasn't until the morning. Otherwise, he said, he'd have to just find a bench in the airport to sleep on. It was hard, but the right thing to do, to say "no". Applying my rule, it was easier for him to do without, than for me to provide. Sure, I could cover the cost. But really, I didn't want to. I didn't want to enable him anymore. His addiction is money. I'm tired of hearing him call a job offer for 75 grand "shit" as he did recently, show off his new GPS system, then call me to cover his hotel bill.
I love you, but I can't do it.
I'm in an existential crisis. I travel through life these days, mostly feeling remote, removed from what passes. I'm conscious of every bite of food I take, sitting at the airport, as if it were some object of study, something unfamiliar.
Fly like an eagle... to the sea...
time keeps on slippin slippin slippin
into the future
The music plays. Slippin' slippin' slippin' into the future. Where will I be in a year? No matter. Where will I be in five or ten? I think of road-tripping with my boys. What will we talk about? I miss my dad. The sadness comes. I tear up, and wrinkle my face.
There... she... goes
there she goes again
The music plays on. So many things go well in my life. And yet I feel stalled. I'm unsure of what I want. Ah, the leisure of being unemployed gives us time to ruminate. There's value in rushing through; we lack the time to question, to self-doubt. Is it not so, that for each one there are many worlds? How do we know which fork in the road is right? I guess the harder thing is wondering when the forks will appear. When will I be able to decide? At least if I make a choice, there're new landscapes, new horizons, until that next fork appears.
It matters not how straight the gate
How wracked with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul
It's easy to steer, far harder to set a course.

Calling all mothers

Okay, friends... I'm not going to blow this one, this year. I'm always so bad, so distracted. But I've got two days. What do I do for the Rocket Scientist for Mother's day? Any ideas, suggestions? I'm all ears.

Conflicted... now what?

I feel like I should have something to say; I've tried to write this post several times since yesterday evening. I'm so overwhelmed with conflicting thoughts. I'm relieved that finally some place has deigned to interview me. In fact, I'm feeling quite confident that this place will offer me the temporary gig. I know that they have yet to meet the other candidates, but something tells me that I've set the standard. Everything has gone smoothly. I don't seem to have made any mis-steps, there were no awkward moments, no answers to questions I wish to restate. No person here who raises my hackles.

But what do I do with that? See, part of me is down that this is only a temporary post. I felt a great rapport with quite a few of my would-be colleagues. Many of the conversations have seemed to be selling me on the place, explaining away the downsides with all the ups. But (if I come) I'll just be passing through. It doesn't really matter how much I like or dislike the school or the location. It's only temporary. How can you build a love or hate for a place that you visit for a few months? Perhaps I'll make a mark (I'm sure I will, if I come... I'll enjoy it). But then it's over. Will this get me closer to my goal of obtaining a tenure-track post? Would something else be better?

It's not so easy as that. I suppose, had I gotten a job straight out of graduate school, I wouldn't have had the leisure to worry about it. I might complain about how that job wasn't perfect (but what job is). But I would accept it as inevitable. Maybe go back on the market a few years later. The longer I remain seeking however, the higher my hopes are for finding that perfect job. The more I settle with the likelihood of finding a series of temporary posts, the more I wonder where I really want to be, whether I can get there, and how. Recall Academic Coach's image of the Academic AWOL. We're dealing with a similar phenomenon: the longer I spend looking for work, the less likely I am to be excited or satisfied with anything less than stellar. Only, I'm not quite sure what stellar would look like.

Let's say I'm offered this job. The job itself would be fine. The department and faculty would be good to work with. It's a small school, in many ways with a "service" mission, but quality still. The students are dedicated. Maybe it's not where I'd like to be in ten years, but that's not an option for me at this point. It's only a one-term sabbatical replacement. But the commute, being away from my family. I'm sure I could make it work. If they offer to hire me, I'm sure they'll work with me (as long as I perform and produce for them, which I would). So, it's doable.

Part of me is hoping something more local will work out. Yet, I recognize psychologically it's better for me to have an offer where they sought me out, rather than some adjuncting locally, where I sought them. It's a conflict. In ways, a local gig would be better (especially if the school itself were more prestigious). Yet I expect teaching adjunct for Big Name school, I'd likely feel as low man on the totem pole, often ignored, simply there to fill in. At Temporary Post U. in Beautiful Nowhere, I'd probably feel like a superstar, the dashing hero who comes in to hold things together. That'd be a nice feeling (though I'd surely miss my family).

But what would I gain by taking the gig? More teaching experience. Okay, it'd be good to have some new student evaluations. But how can I tell that teaching is the element search committees have dropped me over? From what my old department chair said about the search process, I suspect it's not so much the lack of recent teaching, as the way I've presented myself. I go back to the advice I got a while back. Part of the problem lies in the fact that I'm branching out into new areas of research, hidden in the cracks betwen disciplines.

For TPU, that seems to be appealing. At the moment, I'm leaning more toward a program like TPU's where my ostensible subfield is a small part of the program, considered a service area to the other subfields, where I would teach a broad range of materials in the subfield, but have greater control over presentation and approach. I've mentioned before how I feel I would fit in best to either this sort of program or a very large one. I'm beginning to believe that the better fit is of this kind. I like the idea of having greater freedom of approach to the subject. The down side is, with a smaller program, I won't likely have my own graduate students.

Perhaps my best plan is to find this sort of job, to hold until I'm up for tenure, then reassess. If, at that point, I'm really eager for graduate students, to further develop my subarea, then I may have acquired the requisite reputation within my niche to warrant the attention of a larger program. Am I lowering my standards? Maybe not. I might just be seeking the best path for my ultimate goals, thinking where I want to be in 5-10, not worrying about where I am now. That might be a better plan. Taking the quiet path now, might allow me the space and freedom that I had in graduate school to really follow my own muse, to develop my own ideas.

Sorry for the long-winded rambling.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Stage one complete

Thanks for your well-wishing, friends. It's evening now. Met with the Provost. Seemed to go fine. But who can ever tell with a provost?

Lunch with the faculty (vaguely Mexican) as an interlude to their faculty meeting. Nice camraderie. Pleasant colleagues. Honest talk. That was really nice. I hate putting on a mask, or trying to see beneath someone else's.

Teaching demo went well. There were actually about 30 living, breathing students sitting in. Quite impressive, considering it's finals week, and none of them were required to be there. They seemed to like me. One student said "So far, you win." The irony is that I was the first of three candidates for the post. Another student said they all wanted to come, to make sure they have a good teacher for next year.

Then, interview with the chair and committee. That seemed to go well also. The chair of the committee (the prof I'd be replacing) articulated as much on the ride back to the hotel, saying there was good feedback from faculty.

Of course, they haven't met the other candidates yet. Meantime, I'm relaxing for an hour or so before they get me for dinner. Tick tick tick.

Looks like they have two more visits next week, then they'll make recommendations to the provost, who will decide on an offer. So, I should expect to hear in the next couple weeks (if they'll be offering me the post).

Mixed feelings, of course, but I so want to be in front of a classroom again. I so want the chance to show what I can do. I so want to be a professor. And a temporary post is still a post, still a foot in the door, another line on the CV, more experience, more exposure.


[Mumble... shuffle]
It's morning here. At least the sun is up, and I'm half awake.

First Flight, on time.
Second Flight, delayed... took off, over an hour late.
More delays in flight.
Finally, arrived nearly two hours late, about 15 minutes before third flight scheduled to take off.
Third Flight, delayed.
Estimated, 2 hours, 25 minutes later than originally scheduled
On plane number three as rescheduled.
Arrived at final airport around 1:30 local time, fully 13 hours after first flight took off, nearly 18 hours after I woke up to begin the journey.

Then, the prof. I'd be replacing next fall kindly picked me up, and we drove.
I thought it was only 15 minutes from the airport?
Had a nice talk on the way. Shop talk, but honest, not posturing. Too late for that.
Kindly, he had rescheduled my teaching demo for this afternoon, so my first appointment is at 10:30 local time (still 7:30 back home!) But that beats trying to be coherent at 9:00 local time, after such a day.

Honestly, kept my spirits and wits about me. I'm just exhausted. This bodes ill for the prospect of actually being able to "commute" to this job. But we shall see.

Meantime, I'm in one piece, and alive.
The day begins. First campus visit of the season.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sign off, redux

I finished the syllabus for the application to TCU, quite a good and thorough one. I'm sure I'll be able to use it wherever I wind up. I've printed off all of the relevant materials, and put them in a large envelope, entrusting my wife to express them out tomorrow. They just need to arrive by the 15th, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

I have a cab coming at 7:30 am tomorrow to take me to the airport, on my way to Beautiful Nowhere. I've gathered up all the materials I'll be taking with me to prep for my teaching demo. For my sanity, I'll be reading up on the topic, as much to simply distract me, as to hone up. I think it will help me remain focused, rather than nervous. 50 minutes, that's the time I've got to fill. That should be easy. I've got to hit the sack soon, just as soon as I'm sure I've got everything packed and ready to go.

There are still more job applications (temporary posts all) to file when I get back to town. And I won't be able to come up for air any time soon. (Sorry, it's a perfectly common expression, but these days all I can think about when I say it is "bubble boy" at Lincoln Center). But I don't really want to at this point. I feel like I'm on a roll. I want to get out four articles this summer. That's my goal.

Get famous! That's my task. I've got to remember.

Ahmadinejad's letter

According to the New York Times's Christine Hauser, an English translation of Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush has been released by UN officials. The NYT article includes this link to an English language text on the Le Monde website, purporting to be this English translation.

I have read the letter. I urge anyone interested or concerned in these matters to avail themselves of the potential for information access that the internet provides us. If I can find the time in the next day, I would like to add commentary on this.

The problem is that Ahmadinejad is no saint, surely, but the issues he raises are not entirely without value. The letter is one with many problems, but it is not the work of a madman. They are reasoned arguments and questions, if at times flawed and skewed by his own Weltanschaung. It is not however a worldview any more skewed than that of our current administration.

Regardless of our attitudes toward Iran and it's government, we must deal with them appropriately, lawfully, justly, for the sake of our world.

So much to do, so little time

Spurts! That's how my life seems to function, in spurts. I twiddle and twiddle, and diddle, and dum... then all of a sudden I'm swamped.

Let's see, no deadlines, nothing pressing (except job applications) from the start of the school year. Then, conference talk last week, interview this week, colloquium lecture next week, international conference in three weeks, revision requests for my forthcoming (dissertation distillation) article, due in a month. Still have to write up the book review for [Field 2] journal.

And, most pressing, I've got to write this syllabus (I've been so bad in procrastinating) for my application to Tough Commute U. and get that sent off to be received before the deadline of May 15... meaning, in all reality, I have to do it today, and express mail it tonight or tomorrow a.m. before my flight to Beautiful Nowhere.

I want to do my best at this interview. But I'm quite apprehensive about what the prospect of taking such a job might do for my family (especially the Painter). Partly, this is my own personal baggage. My folks were divorced by the time I was four (the age the Painter is now). My two older brothers, my mom, and I moved 200 miles away from my dad at that point. We got to see him only during holidays and a few weeks in the summer.

Okay, one semester is not a lifetime. We'll just have to see. What sort of scheduling can I work out? Is it possible to be on campus only four days a week, so I could go home every weekend? We'll just have to see. But this adds greater impetus to getting out other applications like TCU, since they may offer me alternatives. [SIGH] God, I wish I just had a real, permanent, full-time, tenure-track offer! I don't want to be forced to make these sorts of choices: your career or your family! It's just not right.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tired, very tired

I just did a search of my blog, to find out that yes, indeed, I'm often quite tired these days. For some reason, staying in the hotel, I had trouble getting to sleep, probably succumbing around 1:00 am both nights. And, worst of all, I awoke at 5:38 both mornings. Too little sleep.

But the conference (though small) went well. Oddly (having sat through all of the papers; there were no concurrent sessions) I was the only one who didn't read my paper. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation, with a great deal of supplemental materials, a brief handout, and just... well, did what I do: I talked about my work. It was fun, and well-received. There were quite a few interesting papers, but I do wish more of them had simply given a talk, rather than read their papers. I was a bit surprised at myself, though. Normally, at a bigger conference, I might have skipped many of the papers, since the topics seemed far removed from my interests. But it was interesting to think about the linkages between such a diverse range of papers. I made at least three or four references to earlier talks during my presentation, which was nice.

I made quite a few contacts with professors around the region, and tentatively set up possibilities for 3 or 4 colloquium talks on different campuses. And... I found out that one place where I had applied for a faculty post, while they had settled on hiring another person, that person can't start the job for a year, meaning they might have a one-year opening, starting this fall. I'll be following up on that prospect.

I fly to Beatiful Nowhere on Wednesday for my interview there. I missed my boys a lot, being away for only a weekend. How would I deal with being so far away for 4 months? I just don't know. If they offer me the job, I'll have to see what I can negotiate in terms of scheduling. If I really and truly have to be on campus, Monday through Friday (and assuming there really isn't any more direct way to fly), I'm not sure I could take it. I'm not sure I'd be able to deal with not seeing my wife and sons but a couple times a month. We'll just have to see. Meantime, I'm trying to get everything done, and come up with whatever opportunities I can.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Playing Chicken

Just a brief mention: The house that wouldn't sell is finally under contract! The price is significantly lower than I would have liked. I'm thinking it's probably at least $25-30k less than we could have gotten for it 6 months ago, if we had had an agent who was really taking care of us. But the market has changed since we first put it up for sale LAST JUNE! But, it goes to show you that playing chicken can pay off. In the end the buyer's agent is forking over $500, and our seller's agent is coming up with $1200. I had simply said that the buyer was getting the place for so ridiculously low a price that I simply wasn't willing to give him a nickel more.

But I was right in assuming that the two agents had far more to gain from closing this deal than we had to lose. We had already lost enough! That said, I'll be really glad when we get that cash deposited in our account; when we no longer have the mortgage, taxes, and insurance to cover on a vacant house; when we can finally pay off all our student loans, all of our remaining debts; and when we can finally begin saving again. Hurray! We should have our money from the relocation company by Friday.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Oh, give me a break (I'm not gone yet)

Just got an email affirming that my abstract for the June conference in Scotland has been accepted. I guess I'm going to Scotland next month. Geez, I guess I'm not going to get that "time off of the grind, to get perspective" after all. There are worse things I suppose (like wallowing in self-pity, eh?)

Quick send-off

I decided to fly. I'm heading to this conference tonight, and rather than driving round-trip, by myself, way too many hours, I figured for a premium of $50-100 I'm going to fly. This is my first time using the Travelocity Last Minute Deals... but it's pretty sweet. Round-trip airfare and two nights in a hotel for about $400. With the cost of gas what it is, I can only imagine how much that alone would have costed, plus the wear and tear (on the vehicle and me). So... I'm flying.

Don't know what sort of connectivity I'll have, so I may be silent the next few days. Catch you on the other side.

A legitimate use?

Now, Prof. Me might think me simply obsessed. But I think using the tools of internet forensics can not only inform us of unusual (but rather useless) oddities, but be a ward against, say, plagiarism. Let me illustrate.

Recently, I engaged in the following email exchange, regarding my research website, with someone unknown to me:
My name is Liz and I am a senior [field 3] major at [East Coast University]. I have been using your site to find good articles for my final lab on [topic], and I am a bit confused. Since you updated your site I feel as though some of the studies I wanted to reference are missing? You used to have a study which showed that [thesis as she recalled it]?

Now I cannot find it? If you could tell me who the researchers were or where it is now I would be so appreciative!

Thanks for having such a great site!
Hi Liz,
I think the articles you refer to are by [Ju, Ju, and Bee]. See [URL listing all the articles by those authors on my site] Hope that helps. If not, let me know, and I'll see what I can do. Glad my site has been useful to you.


I searched the articles they wrote and none of them referenced the _______ effect though I am quite sure I found them on your site prior. Sorry for the bother..if you have any way of figuring out which it was (google hasnt helped me much) i would be so appreciative! thanks
Hi Liz,

Sorry you're having trouble. I haven't taken anything down, so if you found it there before, it should still be accessible. If it's not those articles, I'm not sure what you're looking for. Pickle & Chutney (1997) is a thorough review of the literature, so that might be a place to look.

You might also want to look over my old webpages at [doctoral institution URL], in particular under the rubric "Research". The original (2000) version of the annotated bibliography that you accessed can be now found at [URL]. The original was chronologically based, rather than organized by author. It also includes references for additional articles, which I had not yet annotated (some which I still have not). Perhaps you can find what you're looking for there.

By the way, noting my site by URL as a source for your research is always appreciated, and a good way besides to ward against any suspicion of plagiarism on the part of your professors.

Best of luck,

This, by the way explains only one of the repeated hitters. The second one is more troubling, because I am guessing that plagiarism is likely to be occuring. So, I've spent a bit (not too much) time trying to figure out what class this person might be taking and at what school. It is of course possible that I have simply attracted an individual quite genuinely interested in my research. For now, I simply don't know.

Gigs everywhere

I found out today and yesterday that two of my colleagues have landed jobs. The first has been a lecturer in my doctoral department for 3 or 4 years now. She's finally landed a t-t gig at a good state school. And a cohort of mine, who's apparently finished his dissertation, and will receive the PhD this summer, has been offered a job at a smaller state school. I'm especially pleased by this latter one, since, well, he's a cohort and a friend of mine. He's in a different subdiscipline from me, but we took quite a few classes together.

Interestingly, he credits one of the more recent graduate students in the department for having gotten him the interview. This second grad student had attended that school as an undergraduate. Apparently, the committee was interested in my cohort, and gave this other student a call, to find out what he knew. Curious, eh? But, also apparently, the committee had some reservations about my friend, since they offered a one-year (with the possibility of conversion) rather than the t-t post that was advertised. Cohort explained that it was mostly concern over his inexperience teaching. How common is this?

I'm also a bit worried for him, since he's so eager for the job that he seems willing to agree to just about anything they offer or request. He was saying that he's having trouble getting over thinking like a student. He was also quite shocked that I have six publications and I'm still having trouble getting interviews. Ah well. I guess his subdiscipline isn't expecting the same things as mine.

I have to remember my task is to get famous, to build up my credentials, to publish, publish, publish, and present as often and as widely as I can. At the moment, all I'm looking at are temporary posts, so I need to remain focused on that three year plan. From what I can tell, I'm not in the running for any of the t-t jobs I've already applied for, and I'm not seeing any more coming up these days.

That means, I've got to get a leg up on the next cycle, remaining as busy as I can. There are still possibilities for the coming fall (though I can't say I'm happy with the logistics of any of them). For my protection, I need to be prepared to say no if it really won't work out. I really don't want to be so far away from my family. But, if I can convince myself that sacrifice is to the long-term benefit of my career, and hence to our family, I'm willing to consider it. We'll just have to see, one step at a time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Beautiful Nowhere

Here's the description of Beatiful Nowhere, from one of the links sent me by Human Resources at TPU:
Beautiful Nowhere is a rural community located in a scenic, mountainous region 30 miles south of Small City [known for housewares manufacturing] and 48 miles north of Never Heardofit. The area is noted for its quality of life and numerous recreational opportunities. The university falls within _____ County which is home to three state parks, two federal parks, seven lakes, the _____ Rail Trail (hiking, bicycling, x-country skiing trail), and the 50-mile long gorge of the __________ Canyon. ... Regional attractions include the Small City Museum of [Housewares], the _____ Lakes and wineries ..., and the _________ River and ___________ Mountains range.
Sounds pretty. We'll see how the interview goes, and I'll try to figure out if the logistics will work.
Oh I'm a dues-paying member of the academic class
paying dues
paying dues
where's the class?
where's the class?

I'm a dues-paying member of the academic class
will the dues that I pay
give me class
give me class?

Talk with the Leprechaun

I mentioned the other day that I spent 45- minutes with my doctoral department chair, whom we'll call the Leprechaun. I was quite surprised at the extensiveness of our chat, since, as I've mentioned before, he's a man of few words. I gave him his due, with my obsequious gesture of asking him when might be convenient to talk (even though he had just looked at his clock in a signal that he was considering how much time he might have immediately). I thought it best to give him the sense that I knew I was imposing, that it was his time, and he could control it.

When I returned, I got right to the point and said "I need your help. My career is going nowhere slow, and I'm hoping you can give me some feedback, direction, advice." I guess that wasn't what he expected. It was a curious time, since we were both talking around things. He, not wishing to say directly what he thinks of my work, and me trying not to directly challenge him for things like letting my fellowship application to the department die without any consideration.

But, he gave me a clearer sense of what a typical search committee might be looking at than I had previously. At least, he stated somethings that I had only suspected. Here's the sense he gave:
Okay, so the committee has a stack of about 100 applications. 80 of them look pretty much alike. Then they pull out 20 over here. "Hmmm," says one, "[uncommon methodology subdiscipline], that's interesting. Hey, Joe, you know anything about [uncommon methodology]? No. Mary? Hmmm. Okay, well let's just put this one aside." And so it goes, until they put all those 20 aside, and decide to concentrate on the 80 that look alike, the mainstream candidates.
"Wow," I said. "I mean, this is a bit funny. We're all shepherded through grad school, taught to be unusual, to stand out, to ask interesting questions, to be unique. And yet, you're telling me that when it comes to hiring, they want us all to look the same."

Well, that was eye-opening. For both of us. For me, because it puts perspective on some of the comments I've gotten in the past, intimating that while my research looks interesting, I need to find a way to convince committees I'm ready, willing, and able to teach Introduction to... courses. Of course I can teach those. I've been studying [Field1] at the university level for, god what is it, 16 years now? I know this stuff. That's not a problem.

The Leprechaun seemed to imply that no matter what, if there's a large stack of look-alikes, it's that stack that's attended to first, rather than the standouts. How backwards. And yet, I guess the trick is to look enough alike, but still stand out from that crowd, like wearing a bright orange shirt with purple stripes at Disneyland, but donning a MickeyMouse hat like everyone else. [SIGH].

It was eye-opening for him as well, since in the midst of explaining the process to me, he remarked on several other (more senior) scholars in [Field 1] who are nonetheless asking questions outside the mainstream. For some, he had barbed criticism, but for others he seemed truly pleased that someone, some department, had given them the chance. I think that was the crucial point at which he began to see me in a different light, not as the maverick former student, but possibly as someone who in ten or twenty years will be seen as a pioneer of the sorts of questions that come from my niche interdisciplinary subdiscipline.

Besides, if he helps me get a job, he may be finally done of me. I'm sure he'll be glad to see me walk out his door for good. For now, I've got this interview next week at TPU in Beautiful Nowhere.

Nothing hidden here!

Hmmm. Am I just paranoid? April 28 I wrote a post a bit out of line with my normal fare, because I had read an article in the Economist, which got me thinking. Suddenly, my blog has received an inordinate amount of attention from someone at the Federal Aviation Administration! Now... it is of course possible, that someone there is honestly interested in my travails in finding an academic job. But somehow I doubt it.

Is this what America is coming to? That expressing an opinion (you know, protected First Amendment "free speech") that happens to be critical of the present administration raises red flags from spooks, who waste tax dollars surfing online, looking for hidden messages.

Look, visitor from the FAA: there ain't no hidden messages here. I'm a happily law-abiding citizen of the United States. I just think it's time for some political change in this country. Just read the posts! Come on, don't you have better things to do? If you need to talk to me, email me, and we can set up an interview. Trust me, you'll be bored with the outcome.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Check, check

  • NEH Fellowship proposal submission
    • Check
  • Campus visit to Temporary Post U scheduled
    • Check
    • (OUCH! I leave my home airport around 9:00 on Wednesday morning, and arrive in Beautiful Nowhere just before 11:00 pm local time. Thursday, interviews and teaching demo, all day. Depart by plane Friday afternoon, arriving back home around 10:30 pm local time)
    • Can I really do this? [SIGH] It's my choice. But right now, it's a selection of one... like a restaurant that's sold out of everything but the cabbage soup. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not sure I won't like cabbage soup. I might love it. I just... well, I just wish I had more choices.
    • Other aspect, revealed over the phone today with the chair of the search committee (the prof who's going on sabbatical for the term, thus the reason for the post): I'd be teaching three classes, yeah, but two sections of one of them, making it 4 classes, right? We'll see. I'm not going to get too worked up about anything for now. If it looks good, it's probably worth making the sacrifices for a semester. If it doesn't work out, well, I'm no worse than I started, and, hey, I got a nice vacation in the airports in Beautiful Nowhere.
  • Prepare paper for conference this weekend
    • Uh... not yet.
    • Oh... I discovered it's not 15-20 minutes... but 30. Then again, if I schedule for 20 minutes of talk, with 10 minutes of discussion, that's not so bad. Besides, I'll likely run 20 minutes into 23 or so. Better to be concise and done early, than wordy and run over. Hopefully there'll be discussion.
  • Then, I've got to work up my teaching demo, the syllabus for my application to Tough Commute U. (and finally send it off). Then, when I can breathe again, I'll finish reading this book for the review, and write up and send in my review.
  • What then? [SIGH]
  • Hmmm. I wonder if our house is actually going to close. Today is the (extended) deadline on resolving all issues. Since we refused to give another dime, it's up to the agents to deal with whether they're going to fill the gap (or speak reason into the buyer). Doesn't matter to me. I just want to know one way or the other.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


This morning, I was in a mood for groveling, a little bit. Frustrated by the lack of feedback, the dearth of phone calls, absence of interviews. So, I headed over to my doctoral department (since I'm still on the same campus, just a post-doc in another department). Knocked on the door of one ex-professor. He was prepping for a lecture, so we agreed to set up a time for coffee. Then, I headed over to the chair's office, you know, the one who ignored my fellowship application. I told you I was in the mood for groveling.

I asked when would be convenient for him, and didn't even roll my eyes when he suggested I come back a couple hours later. So, I did, a couple minutes before 10:30. He talked to me for 45 minutes! Gah! Bear in mind, that's about 38 minutes more than I've ever spoken to him before (all put together!). I may have finally broken through his defenses, presenting myself as one of his students, in need of his assistance. (You know, the Timid Scholar routine, as best I can play it).

In the end, I instilled in his mind that I am eager and willing to do just about whatever it takes to convince him to give me a class to teach next year. He was noncommittal, but at least he's thinking about it. And, he suggested perhaps he could make some calls on my behalf to departments where I've applied, saying (from experience) that sometimes a call to the committee or department chair to urge a second look at the CV can be the foot in the door that is needed to get an interview. He even followed up by calling one department (a T-T post which I had mentioned) that would actually be only about an hour flight from where we live, meaning actually, really, honestly commutable.

I had earlier sent a brief note to Dr. TassePlein just catching him up on what I'm doing, and mentioning in passing my travails with Dr. Icouldn't Careless at LVU. His response was nice. He was surprised though that I hadn't heard back from Temporary Post U in Beautiful Nowhere. He had mentioned last week that he had gotten a call from them. In the middle of typing my reply, my cell phone rang... HR at TPU. Look, now let's not blow this out of perspective. But, you know what, this is the first call I've gotten this year. No telephone interview. They're just going to fly me out there next week!

The HR guy suggested May 18. Nothing doing.

I'm giving a colloquium talk that day.
Okay... how about next week? Friday or Thursday?
Fine, fine, that'd work.

It's an interview. That's a big step. Of course Beautiful Nowhere will likely be a full-day's travel each way, making it the commute from hell. I'm not yet really sure if it's even workable. But, it's a one semester post, three classes. We'll see.

So, I have this fellowship proposal to finish and submit today. Um, yeah, today. I've got to work up my conference paper for this weekend. What's it 15 minutes? I can do that.

I'll have a teaching demo in Beautiful Nowhere next week. I don't know yet what they'll be wanting. I'll get word, once they've worked out my travel arrangements. That gives me incentive to write up this syllabus for my application to Tough Commute U. Then, of course, there's my colloquium talk, May 18. I wonder when I'll hear from Scotland about this June conference? What about Italy? Should I go to this International Society for Innovative Interdisciplinarity there in August? I'm not presenting. I didn't submit an abstract this year.

This morning, I was thinking I'd get through this month, then plan to take some time off of the grind, to get perspective, to let go. I need to remember what I need and what I want (different things!). That's the perspective I sometimes lose. Well, we'll see what comes of my interview. Meantime, um... I've got some work to do.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Begin what I finish

The title of this post is backwards of course. But that's how this day has felt. By 7:00 am I had finished my fellowship proposal. Long story short, I haven't submitted. Yes, the deadline passed... well, not exactly. They extended until Friday. Good news and bad. Good that I have more time to make it better. Bad that (as Dr. Tasseplein once remarked, in good humor, and considering us alike in this regard) I'm one of those who will take whatever time I have to prepare: if it's 15 minutes, that's all it'll take; but if it's three days, you sure can bet I'll be using it all.)

I started to write a long-winded post here a few hours ago, explaining all of my power outage, and network troubles. But I deleted before publishing. And I won't rehash it all here, other than to say, I wound up coming back home after two hours on campus, and working out of the house, which is always a bit of an optimistic word for what I do when the boys are around to distract me.

I'm just feeling a bit out of sorts again. Atlas is still shrugging, but that damn globe won't fall down. It's been a long day. Nothing like a bit of an upset to my routine to set me off. Like I said (somewhere) recently, I'm not a control freak in that I care to tell other people how to behave. I just feel a strong need to be in control of my own life, my own destiny.

Planning for contingencies is something I do, to a fault. It sometimes drives the Rocket Scientist batty, when I lay out 13 possible variations at every turn. And considering I've applied to (it must be) over 50 jobs this year, you can imagine. I already feel out of control of my life in many ways. Today, even the little things I take for granted went out the window: electrical power on campus (the laptop battery only lasts so long); my home network down (if they hadn't extended the deadline, I would have been going crazy).

At the end of the journey, I still wonder what it was all for. Why did I push to finish the dissertation in 5 years? What was the rush? There was always the nagging, when are you going to finish?... Don't be like those who never finish... And so I did. And... it's... gotten... me... nowhere. Nowhere I wasn't before. Indeed, in some ways I was perhaps happier.

There's some comfort in being all potential, there's always something to look forward to, always something around the bend, an aim, a goal, something to achieve. Right now, I feel like I've receieved the most outstanding, unqualified recommendation for the tortellini rigazza at some new restaurant:
Oh, man... you got to try it... I mean, run, don't walk. It's so good. You won't believe it.
So, I breathlessly dash off to Little Italy, mouth watering the whole way, dreaming of the most heavenly pasta dinner I've ever had. Only, when I get there (following a series of minor mishaps -- each of which I shrugged off, in anticipation of ecstasy), I discover that the meal is as average as Chef Boyardee, with some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

And that's how I feel about this PhD. Dr. Articulate Dad... Rigatoni Amandine... Whatever! It sounded a lot better before I tasted it. And the saddest thing of all: damn it, I know what I've done is good, what I have to give is good.

I'm out here with the wind whipping, and my tent shredded, the sun is going down, the temperature will drop. I'm without fire, without shelter. The food rations are running slim. My water will only last another day or two (maybe a Hanukkah miracle, we'll make it eight). And I'm wondering, will they come to get me? Is there anyone out there? Do I have enough left in me, to make it back?

I just don't know.

Last word

As seen by B* and Ianqui. The last word in my dissertation, that is, the last word of my text (excluding the appendices and bibliography) is harvest.

Now to work

Good morning! Up at 5:00. Well, actually awake at 4:23, when I rolled over, and muffled the Inventor's crying with my pillow. It's an almost daily occurence, though the times vary. He half-awakens, and cries, sometimes until someone arrives to comfort him, or often he just falls back to sleep after a minute.

In any case, out of bed at 5:00 on the dot. Moved my laptop tray table into the family room, in front of the couch (since I'm tired of leaning over to the coffee table). Until I get my new wireless network adaptor (the old one died), I've got to be wired to the network, which means right here. Grabbed the space heater. Got some Earl Grey tea next to me. 15-20 minutes of blog surfing and such, and now to work on this fellowship proposal.

Good rest. Lots of ideas.