Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In Today's News...

Because I'm now the most boring blogger ever, and I can't come up with an interesting, topical title or an actual content-related thing to write about, I shall once again just report on my activities.

I suppose I'll do this in bulleted form:

  • I received the contract in the mail today. The deadline for the final manuscript is in early December. This is both exciting (there is an end in sight!) and liberating (I now have something real to work toward!) and horrifying. How is it possible that I'll have a book in press in December? When I put the proposal together, I really thought it would take me a couple of years before I was at this point. In many ways, this is much better (not in the least because I've got a contract): 1) I'm really very good with deadlines and I actually find them comforting, which I attribute to my deep dark past in which I thought I'd be a journalist; 2) with a deadline in place, it's possible to make solid plans. That said, this is going to be some fuck of a 9 months.
  • I just finished on catching up of grading of quiz-type things for one of my classes. There are a couple in there who really should think about being English majors - or at least minors. I've said as much in comments to each of them, and I hope that they find such an option palatable. While I resist encouraging students to go to grad school in English (as it's a fool's errand), I do think that the English major can be a viable one for undergraduates, and I do try to recruit a bit in my lower-level classes. At the same time, I wonder about the viability of this position. If these students stand out so much, who's to say that these students won't later come to me with dreams of grad school? And how can I encourage them in one breath and discourage them in the next? I don't know; I'm still working through this.
  • I also revised another chapter today. The problems with this chapter were completely different from the problems with the chapter I talked about in my last post. I've chosen to cut about four pages, and I've made many revisions for clarity. One thing that was interesting about looking at this chapter was that I had thought for a long time that it was one of the stongest, but in looking at it, I saw many, many flaws. It was a very "dissertation-y" chapter - there was a lot of garbage that dissertations produce - unnecessary theoretical wangling, unnecessary lit review. What was weird was that I remembered why I had included some of those things in the original version, and yet I knew that they were now totally wrong. This is not the first time that I've looked at this chapter, and I think that somehow the book contract has clarified my perception of it. Like I couldn't see it as a chapter in a book until the book thing was real. This, I suppose, is the best evidence I have to this point about my whole theory that one can't write a dissertation as an actual book. The dissertation requires things of one that are just not appropriate to a book manuscript. One is serving both not enough and too many masters - one is trying to prove that one should be admitted into a club and the readability of the prose and the incisiveness of the points is lost in that attempt to serve.
  • I'm still kind of freaked out by the possibility that they might get the whole thing and then decide to rescind the contract.
  • I got a great card from my mom today, in which she wrote (and this is an excerpt), "I am telling you from deep down in my heart, from the moment I held you - I knew you would do great things!" First, I've got to admit, this made me think of that moment in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when Ollivander says that Voldemort did "great things." And then I wondered whether I was destined to do great things in the way of the Potter or in the way of the Voldemort. Because I'm a nerd. But then I thought, you know what my mom's greatest achievement in raising me is? It's that she made me believe I was capable of great things. I imagine many if not all parents think their kids will be great the first time they hold them. What my mom did that a lot of parents don't is she made me believe that I really could achieve greatness. That's what I think makes her probably one of the best moms in the history of moms - better than her mom, who didn't do that for her. As much as she doesn't get what I do, she believes in me so much. And she's always communicated that belief to me, and it's transferred into a belief in myself. That said, when I called her tonight to thank her for the card and to tell her most (minus the Harry Potter stuff) of what I've written here, and to tell her about receiving the actual contract, the first reaction that she had was, "so you're going to be crazy until December, right?" and so my mom is not some warm, fuzzy mom who doesn't tell it like it is, and you shouldn't get that idea about her. Rather, she tells it exactly like it is, and maybe that's what makes me believe her assessment of me more. Also, she did actually use the word "crazy," so clearly we have yet another endorsement of the pseudonym I've chosen.
  • In other news, I was really happy with the class that I taught today. I wish I could say more about it, but I can't without compromising the thin veil of pseudonymity that I still maintain. All I can say is, I think that it went very well, and I think that students were into it.
  • I wish I could remember where I put my watch. This is a bullet of blogging the lost.
  • I've still got that pornography post brewing. Look for that over spring break.
  • One of the things that was greatest about one of my classes on Tuesday was that my students confirmed once again my theory that all of those critics who say that literature no longer has the power to shock are totally wrong. I believe, as my students confirm, that literature has the power to shock in ways that are totally foreign and that fuck with your head. I need to find a more articulate way to present this theory, as I think that it's worth putting out there in more than blog form.
  • Question: so your editor asks you to provide him with names of people who will review your manuscript. Do you consult with the people whose names you give and ask if they'd be into it, or is this supposed to be a blind-review-ish sort of a thing? I feel like an idiot for not knowing this, but I figured y'all would know the answer.
  • I need to read Barthes' "Death of the Author" for class tomorrow, and I think I just can't make myself do it. It's probably not entirely necessary for me to reread it, but it would be good.
  • I also have more grading that I should do - must do - before tomorrow. I think I'm putting off until tomorrow what I should do today.
I think that's everything. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Insert Boring Title Here

I'm trying to decide whether I should look at another chapter. Part of me thinks it would be best to put off this activity and instead to take to my bed reasonably early (as am exhausted) and then wake up tomorrow all refreshed and rejuvenated to get back on the productivity wagon.

Today was one hell of a day, for it included: Lecturing/discussion-leading for three hours straight, reading most of the introduction of the book I need to write something about in the next, oh, week or so, a speculum, a department meeting, and then a 2-3 hour bath. (No, I'm not kidding- I really was in the tub that long - I just kept adding hot water. I finished The Historian, which I've got to say left me a bit flat. It was all descriptive (and its description of Budapest was dead on) and historical and stuff, but after about 200 pages, well, I was done. And ultimately the plot was kind of lame. Some might call it "nuanced" but that would be code for lame. I think I needed a lame book over the past days, but whatever. It was imperative that I finish it so that I wouldn't be embroiled in what turned out to be the most boring story about the undead ever to be written.

The day also included an email from a friend whom I'd written about the book contract. (Maybe all I needed to do was to blog it and make it happen? Sort of like how the day before I got the email saying they were interested in the book I'd put "get a book contract" down as one of the goals for 2007 on my annual report? Maybe I should just write down everything I want and then I'll get everything as if by magic? But I digress....) I also got the first response for the panel that I'm putting together for next year's MLA and it is from this scholar whom I don't know but whom I TOTALLY admire and whom I totally cite all over said book manuscript. Even more exciting is that this is a scholar connected to the one little subworld of my manuscript in which I've feared to enmesh myself, so perhaps this will lead to yet another connection in the Wide World of Scholarship (not unlike the Wide World of Sports, though all skiing accidents are metaphorical).

But so anyway, do I look at the chapter on the book that features a middle-aged lady giving a party or do I go to bed? This, my friends, is the question. I think I'm going to put off the revision. It will keep (a) and I'm feeling kind of unfocused (b), which isn't ideal for the revision process. Also, I can't face looking at another chapter that overuses the transition phrases, "On the one hand," and "on the other hand," as the chapter that I looked at last night did. Who knew I had so many hands? (This reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof.) I hope I don't do that throughout the whole damned manuscript. That would be a tragedy.

The other thing I need to do is apply for a course release for next semester, as I'm abandoning my quasi-admin post and thus will be back to the traditional 4/4 unless something happens by magic. I'm not in any way guaranteed the course release, and in fact getting it would be a pretty big coup, even though I definitely have the work to back it up.

You'll notice that I have pretty much decided that I'll be here next year, which I think is the only way to go forward from this point without facing utter devastation that stops me from doing all of what I need to do in the next month. Of course, never say never, and I'm still saying a little prayer for another outcome every night, but I'm trying to be realistic about the possibility (probability?) that I'm here for next year. And with that in mind, I need to get some shit together with funding for summer travel and with workload for next year.

But I don't need to do any of this tonight. Tonight, I think I just need to go to bed.

February May Be the Cruelest Month...

But one compensation is that it's also Girl Scout Cookie Month. Must go gorge myself now :)

Sleepy Morning

It doesn't help that your cat likes to wake you up at 4 AM but then he decides it's time to settle down for a snooze right when you actually need to get up and showered and moving, but so there it is. At any rate, I'm pleased to report that after my post last night I went through the chapter I'd needed to look at (which is really quite good, if I do say so myself) and made some changes. Once I've completed a once-over of all chapters I'll need to look at the manuscript as a whole, when I suspect I may still change a few things, but whatever. I'm on my way, and I'm excited to look at the next chapter. I also cleaned out my bag and organized all of my stuff that I need to grade/record. I'm hopeful that I will actually grade/record all of this in the next hour and a half, but I probably am lying to myself.

So let me apologize for something right now. I'm going to use this blog as a space where I report my activities in the next few weeks, and I know it's boring. But it helps me to feel positive and to keep accomplishing more things if I actually write down what I'm getting done, and somehow putting it on the blog works better for that than putting it in my journal. I know I've said I don't use the blog as an accountability thing - and generally I don't - but with as much on my plate as I've got now, I think that doing a little of that will be a good thing. I've even been thinking about putting one of those counter graph things in the sidebar, but that's probably going too far.

A couple of things that have been bugging me. 1) I haven't heard a peep from that place where I did the campus visit. 2) I also haven't heard a peep from my diss adviser and a number of other people that I told about the book contract. What's with people? As for the job people, it's totally cool if I'm not the first (or second or third) choice, but isn't it rude not to congratulate me? As for the adviser, well, this is our relationship, and this is probably what has motivated me to get a book contract in the first place - trying to make him responsive and interested in me, which he is not - and as for the other correspondents, well, I think that there's just some kind of weird sucky sour grapes thing going on, and that really blows. I hate people. And I can't even begin to describe the range of reactions in my department. Some people didn't speak to me for a week. No, I'm not kidding.

Ok, so done with that bitching for the moment. Must get my overbooked day underway. Also, a question: do I really have to shave my legs if I have a doctor appointment this afternoon? I feel like I do, but then I also feel like it's winter and I'm in the dryest of dry spells and shaving one's legs is a pain in the ass and why do I have to do that for the doctor? I already decided that if it's happening it's happening right before the doctor - not during the morning shower, where I was groggy with the sleepiness - so feel free to weigh in.

Monday, February 26, 2007

On Being (Less) Productive (Than I'd Hoped)

One of the things that is a challenge for me about doing research-related projects during the academic year is that I feel most motivated to work on research-related projects at around 9:30-10:30 PM during the academic year, which doesn't really make sense as it's not wise for me to stay up until all hours of the night completing what I start. Unless I am entirely unscheduled (i.e., unless its summer, or unless I'm living with my parents and not working and my only job is to write - ala when I wrote my dissertation), I have a very hard time making myself get going on research-related projects at a reasonable time of day, especially if I'm out of the research groove, as I have been this academic year because all of my research mojo was channelled into the job search. And so, because this is the case, I've been procrastinating since about 1 PM, and all I've accomplished is to make a to-do list and to revamp my midterm for one of my classes. The midterm thing was on the to-do list, so that's good, but I've got so much that I need to do, and yet I've pissed away approximately 8 hours.

While I don't believe in waiting for inspiration in order to do research stuff (as I'm constantly trying to hammer into my students), I do believe that we all have natural rhythms for when we do certain kinds of work best (as I keep quiet about around my students). And my natural rhythms are such that research-related stuff seems like the thing to do right around what should probably be bedtime. I don't think that this is all genetic - I think part of it has to do with conditioning. When I was in high school and working, and then later in college and working, The time to write papers was after work. But I do think that part of it is a natural disposition - and part of the reason why I don't carve out other blocks of time when I am scheduled is because it takes too much energy to do so because I really do prefer to write at night. But so I had all of these high hopes for today, and now I'm doing my best not to beat myself up about how I didn't achieve all of what I wanted to achieve. Because, really, it's ok. It's only day one of the current push, and I've got about 30 more days to go. It's really ok if I get off to a slow start. This is a marathon, not a sprint, yes?

But so I'm writing this blog post to get me in the mood to work on revising a chapter. Again, these are superficial revisions rather than substantive ones - I'm saving the substantive revisions that I've procrastinated about doing for spring break, when I've got uninterrupted time. Today I requested some stuff through interlibrary loan, and I'll probably request some more (and print out some stuff, and go to the actual library) tomorrow and then Friday. So I am making some progress. The problem is, my mind has been too scattered all day (thinking about teaching, thinking about other crap I've got to do) to sit down and focus on the hard work of editing and honing. See, that's the thing: this stuff is hard work. And it's really hard to motivate oneself to do hard work, because hard work in itself is not fun. Sure, the end result is satisfying, but the actual work part is, well, work.

What makes teaching easier in a lot of ways is that you have an outside source to motivate you, i.e., students. But with research, if one lets oneself go down this road, well, there really is no point to it. Who is it for? It's not like the house is on fire and the only thing that will put it out are some ideas I have about some books. It can wait, right? I suppose this is why God invented deadlines.

(I've decided that if God is responsible for Jennifer Hudson's Oscar win, then he's also responsible for all things in the world, including the tinfoil shrug she wore last night. And by the way, the whole "God made this happen" thing is really fucked up, because it means that God does great stuff for some people and then he shits all over other people. I hate it when people thank God at award shows. Not that one can't thank God if one believes in him/her, and incidentally, I do believe in some God-like force and I thank that God-like force for lots of stuff, but I don't announce to the world that I'm God's chosen person whenever anything happens to me. It's gauche.)

Ok, so on that note, it's time for me to buckle down to some work. Double-triple-quadruple UGH.

Feeling Energized on Monday? Who Knew It Was Possible?

Well. This weekend I did NOTHING. I did not grade, I did not read (for work), I did not prep, I did not write. I did not allow myself to feel guilty over not doing the above, but rather I reveled in laziness. I took a calculated risk (re: being the Laziest Crazy Alive) in order to gear up for what promises to be a wicked month of work on all fronts. And you know what?

I feel great this morning. Rested. Relaxed. Ready to go. The one thing I did do was make a little to-do list last night (and to realize that I've tragically overbooked myself for tomorrow). So now it's time to hit the ground running. One thing I do have to say, though, is that I'm kind of ticked off that I watched the Oscars in its entirety last night. It was so. so. boring. So many read speaches. The interpretive dance interludes were just dumb. And nobody was wicked excited in the manner of Three Six Mafia. And why did Kirstin Dunst's dress have a collar? And why does my boyfriend Phillip Seymour Hoffman look like a homeless person, always? And does he own know formal shirts that aren't black? Because really - it's time to change up the shirt beneath the formal suit and to stop wearing electric blue ties. And to buy a comb. Yes, PSF, you are still my boyfriend, but even my patience with your slatternly appearance is wearing thin.

Other than that, hmmm.... not sure what else to write. I need to get myself dressed and ready to go teach, but I'm procrastinating about that just a wee bit. My plan for the day is to go teach my class and then to flee the premises immediately so as to get a good afternoon of work done. On the agenda today is to:

1) polish one chapter of the manuscript (in the form of rephrasing jargon-laden grad-school prose, eliminating ridiculous and unnecessary notes, etc.)
2) read two chapters of the book I'm doing a review-ish piece for.
3) catch up on grading in one of my classes.
4) clean out my bookbag (which tragically I did not accomplish this weekend.
5) go to the gym (for the first time in AGES)
6) go to the grocery store for supplies (i.e., diet black cherry vanilla coke)

It's a lot, but I think it's manageable. Especially after the sloth of the past three days.

And by the way? I really make a delicious meatloaf, but nobody - and I mean nobody - needs to eat meatloaf every two hours in a crazy gluttonous celebration of it. No, not even me. (Have decided not to worry about eating in a low-cal way for the next month - with the stipulation being that I must cook the delicious things I eat from scratch rather than relying on processed foods. Something has to give somewhere, and I really don't think it's possible to focus on diet when one has all of the stuff to focus on that I've really got to focus on right now.)

Ok, on that note, I've got to get myself together and get my relaxed ass to school.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

There Are Lots of Things I Want to Post About...

But I'm taking the weekend off writing (yes, I realize this is writing, but not really) and so they will have to wait. Part of it is that all of the things I want to post about will require actual thought, and this weekend is all about not thinking so that I can launch into the work-writing that will consume me for the next month. One of the things you may not know about me is that I tend to blog most when I'm most productive in other areas. Ideas beget ideas and all that. But here are some of the posts that are brewing....

1. A post about cooking, my One True Hobby. (This inspired by the meatloaf that's cooking as we speak.

2. A post about pornography, in response to my irritation about some of the discussion in the blogosphere about it. (I can't do this one because it will require actual "research" so as to express exactly why I'm irritated.)

3. A post about the wrap-up of my year on the market (as, really, it's over, even if out of the blue I get an offer, which at this point I'm not expecting, but as I'm not really reconciled to that 100% yet, I can't do the post).

4. A post with pictures, of the M-K, of the gorgeous tulips my mom sent me (and do you know my mother is the only person who's ever actually sent me flowers? There are many reasons for this, but it's still kind of sad, I think.)

5. A post about assessment - of students and of faculty (as I had to read my evaluations in order to do my activity report and as I'll be in grading jail until sometime in May).

As you see, though, all of these posts would require effort. And this weekend is all about relaxing, getting my house in order, and gearing up for the real work that is upcoming in the next month so that I can send my manuscript off to the publisher.

And since today is all about relaxing, I'm making meatloaf and mashed potatoes, I've begun reading this book (which I'm loving), and I may watch a movie or something tonight. Tomorrow I'll do laundry, straighten up around the house, clean out my bookbag, and maybe do some stuff for teaching (or maybe I'll just read and eat more meatloaf).

So that's life in the World of Crazy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday - Ugh

I realize we're all supposed to be happy in an "Everybody's Working for the Weekend" way on Fridays, but does anybody else have the thing that I have where by Friday they're so pooped that they barely want to get out of bed, let alone to go and teach a class and then to meet with a student about the prospect of grad school (initiated by the student, I may add, as in spite of my campaign against grad school, the patsies just keep on coming)?

In other news, this will be my last weekend of freedom, for between now and the end of March I need to:

1) Write a short reviewish type article.
2) Complete manuscript polishing and send it away to publisher.

Ok, that's only two things. But see, the thing is, I'm thinking about what I need to do after that, too:
1) Read a novel I've not read before but which apparently I will be presenting on in a few months' time.
2) Write two conference papers.
3) Finish the semester.

Oh, and above I shoud mention that I'll also be getting papers and midterms in that will need to be graded, and I'm teaching a bunch of stuff that I'm not super familiar with over the next month or two.

What is wrong with me? Why do I do this to myself? Why am I making myself late for school by whining?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

By Request: From Dissertation to Book

A couple of people asked in the comments to the last post for me to write about how I got from point A to point CONTRACT with my book manuscript. I want to write about it because at least in my experience I was CLUELESS starting out - the process was totally mystified, and I felt like I couldn't ask anybody what I had to do. I ultimately got over that, but so here it goes.

First of all, let me recommend two books by William Germano: Getting it Published and From Dissertation to Book. Personally, I found Getting it Published most helpful - From Dissertation to Book is great to start with, but once you realize you want your dissertation to become a book, GIP is really what you need.

(Before I begin in earnest, you know, I've just had an idea: can I put a call out to other readers who've published monographs or textbooks or collections or whatever to post about their experiences, too? Because I really think that this is one of the most mystifying parts of academic life, this whole book publishing gig, or at least it was for me, and I think it would be really useful to have a lot of people talk about this. If you do post about this - in whatever fashion - could you also be sure to direct me to your post in comments so that I can edit this post and link to you? I really think this would be a valuable resource for the unpublished, and a really comforting resource for those going through the process for the first time, i.e., me.)

But so here's my story, for whatever it's worth. And in order to tell it, I have to begin with the dissertation, from which the much revised book manuscript was born. I'm not sure that this is what those who requested this post want, but I think it's worthwhile to provide a personal narrative here - not just instructions for how to do this. If you want instructions, they'll be imbedded in here, but really the thing to do is to read the books I've mentioned above. The reason I want to provide a more personal narrative is that I don't think that instructions really capture the process. So anyway, enough of the explaining what I'm going to do. Here it goes.

My dissertation topic emerged from a question that I flubbed in my oral qualifying exam - a question that my dissertation director asked. It was a question that stuck with me. I also had another topic in mind, when I went to him a month after the exam, and I wrote up two brief and probably hideous proposals for him. From the beginning, I was really flexible in how I conceived of what my dissertation would become. I did not enter graduate school with a "passion" about some specific thing that I needed to research. I mean, I have passions for the things that I research, but I'm not particularly single-minded in those passions. So I presented two topics. Both dealt with literature across an entire century, but each asked a question that had a different theoretical center. My dissertation director told me that both would work fine, and that one of them would be much more difficult but had the greater potential to be really ground-breaking. Because I'm a masochist, I chose the ground-breaking one.

Once that was decided, my director then advised me not to cover the entire century, but rather to focus on one period within the century. This advice was specifically aimed at marketability. I hestitated for about a second and a half, and then I took the advice. It was one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten.

From the beginning, I envisioned (with the direction of my adviser) the project as a draft of a book. I did not envision it as potentially ending up as a series of articles. I had a book-length argument, and really the individual pieces do not work independently. Even though the manuscript now has metamorphosed into something much more polished, the thread of the argument has not changed. This is not to say that my director told me to "write a book." Instead, he achieved some weird in-between sort of thing where I felt on the one hand that the best dissertation is a done dissertation - that it didn't need to be a book that was ready to go - but at the same time that I should be looking toward making it into a book from the beginning. It was always about getting it closer to being a book manuscript - not about making it a book manuscript ready to go. I knew from the get-go that it would need work after the degree was awarded. But I also knew that it made no sense to think of it as in some way distinct from the book. This is one of the reasons why I really did have one of the best dissertation directors in the world - that he was able to communicate this in-between thing to me in such a way that I got it and that I listened to his advice.

So anyway, the writing of the dissertation. It was horrible. It was wonderful. It was a life-changing experience, in ways that were both good and terrible. The first chapter I wrote garnered the following response from my director: "Well, Crazy, some people have to write things out of their systems.... you're one of those people." This "chapter" is bullshit, and it is gone. I don't even know if I have a copy of it anywhere. And I was devastated after that meeting, but it set the tone from the beginning - that a good dissertation, and then ultimately a good book, means scrapping the stuff that's crap. Without mercy. I am fortunate that I have absolutely no attachment to anything I write (which I credit to starting out thinking I'd be a journalist and writing under deadline for newspapers), and so scrapping without mercy isn't a terrible thing for me to have to do.

But so anyway, I wrote 75% of the dissertation draft over a three month period, in which I was living with my parents and in a crappy long-distance relationship with my once and future live-in boyfriend. I wrote every day for about 4 hours at a coffee shop that allowed smoking, and that had a jukebox that played Soul Coughing and Metallica. I had a complete draft in September.

I did not defend my diss until the following August. Because my adviser told me I should get it closer to book-level before I defended. We had a HUGE fight about this, but it was good advice. Oh, and while I was revising? I was working as a transcription typist.

So then I defended (right before I was to start my current t-t job), and my director had two comments: 1) I could have defended the dissertation more effectively and 2) that I had a really strong voice in the diss, that my prose was really engaging (the only compliment I can remember him ever giving me).

So I started this job with a strong dissertation. It was not a book manuscript. I knew that going in. And I pretty much abandoned it for about nine months. In part, this was because I had the opportunity to do something else that was related to the diss but that dealt with an author I didn't explore in the diss. In part, it was because I needed to let it sit. But what I did do in that nine month period was to apply for a grant for the summer that would allow me to work on the diss as a book manuscript. I envisioned writing two new chapters - I only wrote one and I'm still revamping it - but it was crucial to have it as something that I was expected to work on, and it was crucial that I had the responsibility to write up something at the end of the summer to report my progress.

I then abandoned the manuscript for another year - actually, I think, two years. I got bogged down in projects that emerged from the thing that I did in the nine month interim of my first year on the t-t. But then, this past summer, I decided that if I didn't do something with it now then I would have too much supplementary research to do to make it a viable as a real book project. So, this summer, I began reading stuff about how to do a book proposal (Germano's books, and others I checked out from the library). I didn't actually do anything to the manuscript, but I started thinking in earnest about what I needed to do to it to make it work.

And then I decided to go on the market. And that motivated me more, as I knew that at the very least that if I had a proposal I was shopping I would be a more attractive candidate. And so I busted out the manuscript again, and I also continued with reading books that had to do with getting an academic book published. And then I asked my second reader on my diss for a letter of recommendation, and she mentioned that her book was coming out. And in a bold move, I asked her if she would mind letting me see her proposal. Why was this bold? I don't know. I suppose I felt like I couldn't ask about the particulars of how to do this thing. I felt like admitting that I didn't know what I was doing was something that would reveal that I was a fraud. Part of this has to do with the culture of my grad school department, but I also think that part of this has just to do with me - I tend to be a very solitary scholar. I never participated in a diss reading group, and I don't generally let people see my work in draft form - ever. But I asked. And she was so generous, and sent along a version of her proposal and letter of inquiry. When I saw those, I thought, "Oh my god! This isn't that hard! I can do this!" and so I used hers as a model, and off I went.

I did not have a totally complete and polished book manuscript when I sent off the first batch of proposals. In fact, I don't even have that now (ugh). Now, when my mentor sent her proposals off, her manuscript was completely finished. I figured that the process could prove to be long and arduous, so I took the calculated risk of sending off the first proposal without being totally done. I thought that having the proposal out there would motivate me to continue working, and I expected a number of rejections, and for the process of shopping to take a while, so there I was. (Part of my choice has to do with the fact that I don't need a book for tenure here, and so I could afford to take it slow with sending out proposals. Oh, and by the way, one thing that was a revelation to me is that one can send out book proposals simultaneously - it doesn't work as it does with journal articles. Only when one is under contract or sends out the whole manuscript at the request of an editor is it uncool to have multiple things out at a time. Who knew?)

So anyway, as I reported on the blog, I got a rejection in December. I also got another rejection, and one publisher never responded. So I was gearing up to send out another round, and then fate intervened. I had put out a CFP for a panel that I'm organizing for MLA, and it drew the attention of a good publisher. They wrote to me inquiring about possibly developing a collection out of the panel. Now, as I have no proposals for the panel as of yet (ahem), I didn't have anything to propose related to that. But I had the chutzpah to suggest that maybe they'd be interested in my monograph. I sent off the proposal (slightly revised) at the beginning of this month. Today, I got the email about the contract.

So here's the thing: my experience is not normal. Most people I know have had to slog away for much longer than four months to get a book contract. Most people I know have had to send out their proposals to more than four publishers total. I got lucky. In some ways, I've made my luck: I'm very engaged in a scholarly community that allows me to get my name out there, and I sieze opportunities that cross my path. But in other ways, well, I'm just lucky. I'm lucky that I seem to be thinking about things that are interesting to people right now, and I'm lucky that ... Hell, I'm just lucky. I'm not saying that to diminish my achievement here - I'm saying it because I really feel it. Sure, there are parts of this story that I can take credit for. I'm persistent. I don't let projects fall by the wayside. I'm really good for setting internal deadlines for myself and meeting them. And yes, I have good ideas. But parts of this have nothing to do with me. The process - like so many processes in this profession - is not uniform, and it's not entirely based on merit. And yes, luck plays a part. And, really? I think I'm a pretty lucky person. In some ways we create our own luck, but I don't think there's necessarily a formula for doing so. And so other than feeling really fancy and elated, I'm also feeling really grateful that I happen to be lucky. Again, this is not to diminish my accomplishment. It's just to say that I really don't believe that good ideas or good writing or good whatever are in themselves enough.

But so that's my story. So on to some concrete things:

  1. While you don't need to have a completed manuscript in order to submit a proposal for a book, my sense with academic books is that it is not wise to submit a proposal without a very-close-to-ready manuscript. If it's your first book. Not sure about if one is an established scholar.
  2. You can submit proposals simultaneously. If you wait to have a polished manuscript before submitting proposals, you may send out 25 at once. If your manuscript is not polished, you might do it in waves (I did 3 initially). A lot of this depends on the tenure requirements for one's institution, or, if one does not have a t-t gig, if one thinks a book contact will help one to get a job.
  3. A dissertation is not a book. The titles (of the whole thing, of chapters) are different, there isn't so much need for lit review, etc. Read Germano's books.
  4. Shameless self-promotion is a good thing. While it's true that nobody will reject you if you don't put yourself out there, it's also true that nobody will say yes.
So that's what wisdom I have at this point. I'm in a weird situation, I think, in that they've offered me a contract without having seen the whole manuscript. The whole thing could fall through if the thing turns out not to meet their expectations. But I'm so excited, nevertheless. I'll continue to post about this, as I think it's really good to demystify this process. So, yay me! Now I'm going to go eat some popcorn.

Maybe Better Than a Job Offer

I've been offered a contract for my book.

Monday, February 19, 2007

You Don't Know Me!

Well, but the color quiz certainly does. As seen at Maggie May's.

ColorQuiz.comDr.+Crazy took the free personality test!

"Wishes to find her stimulation in a voluptuous atm..."

Click here to read the rest of the results.

In Which Grading Makes Me Interesting: A Post on Close Reading

Jane Gallop gave a paper on what was, arguably, the It Panel at this year's MLA. The panel was called "Academic Fashions," and another paper on the panel was (it turned out, erroneously) titled, "Is the Rectum a Text?" and so obviously, the panel was going to garner some attention. Perhaps what was most interesting about Gallop's talk was that it emphasized the necessity of the dreadfully unfashionable "close reading." Now, I went to the panel, and I remember thinking, as I listened to Gallop's paper, a combination of "right on, sister!" and "uhh... maybe in some places people don't emphasize teaching students how to do close reading, but I don't live in one of those places...." Because Gallop's argument was that we needed to resurrect the skill of close reading, to bring it back from the oblivion to which it was exiled during the Rule of New Historicism. Now, again, I'm totally in favor of teaching close reading. I insist that my students learn how to do it. I suppose I couldn't quite get my mind around the notion of bringing something back that I never abandoned. And did anybody really abandon it outside the hallowed halls of elite research institutions?

That said, though, maybe "close reading" isn't a skill that one can depend on students to have, even at an institution like mine where the curriculum remains locked in place at around 1973. Maybe it needs to make a comeback, even at places such as my current place. Or at least this is my feeling after reading the first batch of papers from the students in my upper-level course this semester.

That's right, I'm talking about the juniors and seniors, the English majors. I accept that first and second-year students, or students who are further along in their degrees but who are non-majors, may not have gotten the memo about the necessity of performing close readings of passages of the texts that they read, about grounding one's claims in actual, I don't know, literature. But how on God's green earth is it possible that my bright, engaged, English majors who are on their way to graduation have not gotten the memo? For many of them have not.

This is not a case of what Gallop lamented in her paper. This is not a case of students supplanting dime-store historicism and theoretical mumbo-jumbo with careful textual analysis. Rather, it's the opposite of that: my students, when they fail to do close reading, lapse instead into talking about how "they feel" a novel works and how "they feel" about some "aspect" of the text. "Aspects" are very important to this kind of analysis. So, too, is the passive voice, as is the invention of words that do not exist in the English language to make things sound better or more academic. But at the end of the day, what I read from a lot of my students (though not all) was pretty undeveloped first-draft initial reaction type stuff. I wasn't reading careful, close, deep analysis of a passage of text. And so yes, I'm bringing close reading back. (You can sing that to the tune of Justin Timberlake's "I'm Bringing Sexy Back" if you want.... sure, the rhythm's a bit off, but it's pretty fun, I think.)

But then reading their papers got me thinking about why I'm so invested in this project of forcing them to do careful close reading of passages of text - in all of my classes and not just the upper-level ones. Why do I think that this is important? Is it important? And if it is, I should really have a reason for why it is, right?

If I'm going to be honest, I think that probably the primary reason that it's important to me (not important generally) is because it is the thing that I'm best at in my own work. I'm no theoretical mastermind. Sure, I engage with theory, and I use theory, but theory is always a means to an end for me and not the main event. The main event for me is close reading. Maybe this is because I was educated as an undergrad at a university where the curriculum was locked in at about 1950. Maybe this is because theory makes me feel a bit insecure (which also may relate to the fact that I showed up to the party in grad school with approximately zero background in theory). Whatever the cause, though, I feel like my own work is strongest when I am performing close readings of passages from the literary texts that I study. I feel like that's where I'm making the biggest contribution to Thought and where I am most successful at persuading an audience to agree with my arguments. Theory helps me do that - it's a tool - but theory is not my bread and butter.

And I don't think it is for most literary critics. I remember when I was working on my MA my literary theory professor noting that neither he nor anyone he knew was ever going to be a brilliant theorist - that one had to know how to do close readings because only a select few would get to be true theory specialists. I remember deciding at that point that I needed to accept the reality that I, too, would never be a theory specialist - an expert who got to write theoretical tracts - and it was comforting to have a model for that being ok. It also freed me from having to identify as a "Foucauldian" or a "Lacanian" or a "Derridean" or whatever. No, I'm just a critic, thanks very much, and I'll use whatever theories get me where I'm trying to go. But I digress.

I suppose my point, though, is that some of my emphasis on careful, close reading may have everything to do with my own proclivities, criticism-wise. And so I may just be training up a bunch of acolytes, which is an exercise in narcissism more than it's an exercise in thoughtful pedagogy.

But let's put that dirty little secret to the side for a moment. Why is close reading important, objectively. Gallop argued that it's important because it is the specialized skill of our discipline, and I agree with that. But I also want to go deeper. Why is it, in itself, important?
  • It's important because if we abandon the text for our own responses - whether informed by theory or informed by our life experiences - we're not really analyzing literature. We're not really reading. We're talking about ourselves and not about art.
  • It's important because staying wed to the text is what forces us to question our own preconceived notions about what is true and what is real.
  • It's important because in looking closely at a passage of text we discover new portals through which we can enter into culture, and those new portals allow for us to see our culture or the cultures of those who precede us from different perspectives, perspectives which would be unavailable if we didn't find the portals through which to reach them.
  • It's important because careful, close reading reveals to us that there is no one true meaning but that meaning is contingent upon circumstance and context. (And so what I'm talking about here is clearly not a New Critic's version of close reading.)
  • It's important because it challenges us to justify our initial impressions rather than to accept them at face value.
  • It's important because it's fun. That's right. It's pleasurable to immerse oneself in a passage of text and to tease out its various meanings.
  • It's important because it allows us to have a conversation, with the author, with critics who've come before us, with people who are reading that same passage of text simultaneously with us but whom we've never met.
  • And finally, it's an important life skill. It's that ephemeral thing that we talk about when we use those impenetrable words "critical thinking." When I use the words "critical thinking," what I mean is careful analysis of something that aims to take it apart and figure out how it fits into a broader frame of reference. That is what close reading is.
Close reading also gives one the tools to "read" one's real life in ways that are entirely unhealthy, that cause non-specialists to complain that one "thinks too much" or "reads too much into things," but so far as I can tell this is the only drawback.

My ability to "close read" also makes me better able to respond to all students' work - even the best and the brightest of them - critically. It means that no student of mine gets a paper on it with a random "good" in the margin as the only comment. It means that when my students receive their papers back tomorrow that they will initially be horrified at the ink that bleeds all over them.

But so yeah. Who knew that grading would inspire me? That grading, of all things, would make me have something to post about - something real, that wasn't just a complaint about grading? That my blogging mojo would come back with such a vengeance after days and days of having not a single idea for a decent post? So thank you, my students, who wrote papers that were less than stellar though not altogether horrifying. Dr. Crazy is in your debt.

Mondays Suck

On the to-do list for today:

1) Teach. (And can I tell you how much I DON'T feel like teaching this morning? Ugh.)
2) My annual activity report, in which I have to answer a series of detailed questions and justify "weaker" areas of my performance, even though I'm totally overperforming for this job. Because this pisses me off so much, I have put it off until the last possible day to finish it.
3) Some kind of advising meeting, which promises to make me pissed off and angry.
4) An "emergency" committee meeting, about something that annoys me.
5) Grading.

This is why I don't blog anymore. Because my life is annoying and irritating and filled with tasks that piss me off.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Only Good Is Knowledge...

And the only evil ignorance.

This, folks, was what my fortune had to tell me this evening, as I gorged myself on Chinese food in an effort to try to make myself feel better and to find some meaning in my stupid life. And you know what I thought as soon as I read that there fortune? "No shit, Sherlock." And who's even said that past the age of 12? But yes, that was my response. Because my whole problem right now is that I'm ignorant about some things that I need to know about, and there's not one thing that I can do other than to wait around until somebody decides to enlighten me. And that, my friends, is why it's really not good to be me.

That and the fact that I slipped and fell on some ice this morning as I tried to walk across campus to my class.

And the fact that it's probably not good that I've been holed up in my house waiting to become un-ignorant through two snow days.

And that I've not been getting anything done during this waiting to become un-ignorant, unless one counts playing Civilization IV constantly as "getting something done."

I mean, I suppose one could say that I'm getting a great deal done, in that I'm founding and developing whole civilizations, but as this is imaginary, it probably doesn't count.

But so yes. It's hard to wait. Even after months of waiting. And I'm not a patient person, and I'm not interesting when I'm waiting around for things that are out of my control. And so this, folks, is the reason why I've been so quiet. I'm giving myself until tomorrow to wallow, and then I've got to move on. Not that anything necessarily will be different tomorrow, but I just can't go on in this holding pattern. No, I need to get back to eating like a rational person, I need to get my ass to the gym, and I need to focus on other things aside from this stupid predicament in which I've put myself. God, why couldn't I just be content with what I've got instead of putting myself in a position where I'd have to wonder what the future would hold? I hate wondering what the future holds. I like routine, stability. Why am I always forgetting that?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Just When You Think Nobody Loves You...

Your Mommy sends you a Valentine's Day package with new slippers and a new string for the Man-Kitty and a really sweet card. My mom's the best.

Miss Lonelyhearts

That would be me, Dr. Crazy. No valentines for me this year, which really stinks, you know? And then I saw the below over at Brazen Hussy's.

My Valentinr - drcrazy
Get your own valentinr

I thought to myself that I may as well try to get some blog V-day lovin' as the likelihood of me getting any sort of real life V-day lovin' is, well, very, very small. So send me a valentine! Come on! You know you want to! (But please no pervy messages for that would totally creep me out.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Trying to Get Back in the Groove

I'm having a really hard time getting motivated to do the things that I need to do in my real life after the past few days. I mean, it's always difficult to find the motivation to grade, but I'm finding it even more difficult today than usual. And as for planning my week ahead? I'm finding that VERY difficult, especially since it's unclear whether we will have a Major Weather Event that perhaps will force the university to be closed. What this means is that I'm pining about things beyond my control, and even that pining is not particularly interesting, as it's not taking the form of wondering about specific things that I could have (or should have) done differently (as I believe that I did things just fine, and can't imagine anything I'd have done differently) but rather just taking the form of, "what if what I want to happen does happen?" or "what if what I don't want to happen is the thing that happens?" and it doesn't go further than that because I can't have answers to either question, really, until I know what other people decide about things. And so then I think I should just go with what is in my control, i.e., if what I don't want to happen happens, i.e., how do I change the life I've got should it remain the life I've got, but the problem is, that seems like a waste of time, since it might not be the life I end up with, so why make a bunch of plans that I may not need to put into action? (And yes, I know all of this is very vague and stupid, but I don't feel comfortable being less vague and less stupid on the blog. But actually, even in my journal I'm being kind of vague and stupid, because I suppose I just don't know how else to be right now. Or maybe I've just transformed into a vague and stupid person after being "on" for 2+ days?)

So, in an effort not to be vague and stupid, let me write about something else. First, the Grammy's. 1) How awesome are The Police? And how hot does Sting remain? Maybe I should take up yoga.... 2) Yay for Mary J. Blige 3) I didn't get the whole JTimberlake filming himself Blair Witch Project style.

Second, my students fucking rock. In lieu of one of the classes that I had to miss, I gave my students an online discussion assignment, and it went SO. Damned. Well. Better than I could have hoped for it to go. It's made me rethink some things I do with online discussion boards - i.e., maybe I should include assignments like this as a regular feature of what I do with online discussion boards instead of having them be so directed by me. I don't think I'd go toward a completely self-directed discussion board - I think it went so well because they're used to my more directed-prompt expectations - but maybe interspersing this type of assingment would be something that would enhance the discussion board thing. At any rate, I really feel like the students didn't lose anything by not having regular class, and in fact, I think they might have gained something. That feels really good.

You know, one thing I do feel comfortable talking about is how I've approached my actual job during the job search that I executed this year. I think that I handled it as well as a person can handle such a thing. One, I think that it was really good that I didn't try to be top-secret about it. (I realize that not everyone has a situation where they can tell people, but for me, it was a really positive move.) That said, I also think that it was good that I didn't announce to all and sundry that I was looking. What this meant was that I didn't need to worry about people finding out, but at the same time, I was able to devote myself to my job even as I was looking for another one. If things don't result in me getting an offer, I really do feel like I continued to excel in my current job, and that I'm in a better position here than I was last year, which is as it should be. (Not that I was in a bad position: I wasn't. But nevertheless, I've made progress in this job this year, which is a good thing.)

Finally, and I guess this isn't so much about the execution of the thing, I'm just glad that I put myself out there. It's always easier not to put oneself out there, especially if one is relatively comfortable in one's current position, which I am. The easier thing would have been to continue on as usual, and not to subject myself to the whims of the market, to rejection, to the second job that going on the market really is. I'm glad that I didn't let being afraid - and I was afraid of a lot of things going into this process, not the least of which being that I would get no nibbles, that it would be confirmed that this one job was the only one I could ever get - rule my choices. And I've gotten some really flattering responses to my work and I have come out of this process (whatever the offer situation will be) feeling really valued in my field. I realize that this has a lot to do with luck, but I'm not going to diminish that feeling by chalking it up only to luck. The thing is this: even if I come out of this process in seemingly exactly the same place where I started, I'm not the same person as when I started. I've learned so much about myself, and I've gotten the chance to see the ways in which I've grown as a professional, as a teacher, and as a scholar, over the past 4 years. And I have grown. My ideas are more interesting. My teaching is innovative, and something that I really do excel at. My confidence - well, it has become something that I can count on and not something that I feel like I have to put on like a costume - something that's not really real if that makes any sense. I didn't know this going into this process.

And I don't think that I would know these things about myself if I'd not tried - if I'd not put myself in the position of being evaluated and judged. I suppose my narrative would be very different had I not had any success. And this is why it's dangerous to rely on the market to find one's sense of worth in this profession. Because there are a lot of worthy people who don't have the positive experience that I've had. I'm under no illusions that the success I've had this year (and even without an offer, I have been successful) is all down to my accomplishments. It's a combination of those with personality and luck. Obviously, one can't claim credit for luck. And I don't really feel I can claim credit for the personality stuff, as really, it's just who I am, and I suppose also a thing related to luck, as I'm lucky that I have a personality to which others seem to respond positively.

But you know what was weird about my experience this week? That I wasn't at all nervous. Throughout the process, I felt completely at ease. Part of this is because I prepare like a freak. Preparing like a freak really can help with the whole nervousness thing. Part of it is, I'm sure, the fact that I'm coming to this process this time without the desperation of not having a job. I know that I'm reappointed for next year; I know that my current department is happy with my work; I have a tenure-track job. Part of it, though, is just that I am a grown-up now. I feel grown and secure. I didn't know that I felt that until this week. Isn't that bizarre?

Also, I'll say this for a 4-4 teaching load at an institution with an often under-prepared, often resistant student population: it really makes you feel like an expert with all teaching situations. The more that I think about what makes a good teacher, the more I think that it has most of all to do with feeling complete and total confidence in your ability to handle anything that comes one's way. Sure, that has to do with being prepared, but so much of teaching is spontaneous. So much of it can't be planned for. And when I was a new teacher - or even a teacher with ample grad student experience - that was not something that I felt. I felt like so much was out of my control. Now? Well, I know that I can make things happen in the classroom. Or I can make students make things happen. I never feel like I'm drowning in the classroom. And it's my current job that gave me that.

As for research, my current job gave me a certain fearlessness that I never felt in graduate school. It was able to give me that precisely because research is not the primary focus here. I felt like I could putter along and try out any idea because my ideas have never been scrutinized. Any work here is good work, when it comes to research. And after being in a situation where I felt like I was under constant scrutiny (and all of the fucked up things that this sort of feeling inspires), I was liberated by being able to just putter along and to do whatever I wanted. (Note to Crazy's dissertation adviser: no, I don't really believe in "liberation." How could I possibly? See, I still feel scrutinized, if only by a character I've created in my head, for I think that my dissertation adviser has actually come to respect me, which is another bonus of this market run, even if I refuse to accept it in the interest of motivating myself not to be a complete lame-o research-wise.)

My current job has also taught me what I want from this profession. And I'm committed to getting that, whether I stay here or whether I move on. Changes are on the horizon, whether they are changes in my current job and location or whether they are big changes, like moving someplace else. Either way, I'm not content for things to remain the same. It's good to know that. It's good to feel like I'm formulating a plan for my future - like I'm not just waiting for my future to happen to me. And perhaps that, more than anything else, has been the value of what I've done this year. I've made decisions. I've made progress, under my own steam. And so how can I be anxious, when I've accomplished so much? How can I feel like a potential failure?

I shouldn't. Whatever happens, I've done good. So there.

So Many Things about Which I Cannot Write

Well, my little sabbatical from the blog was good, if exhausting. And I want to write about it, but I really can't - not now, maybe not ever, but definitely not yet. Suffice it to say that all is well with me and that now I'm just in a bit of a holding pattern for the next (hopefully short) while.

In other news, I love my little wee Man-Kitty. He was so happy when I came home, and not even a little bit pissed off at me. I mean, sure, he was VERY meow-y, but I think he just had a lot to report about what had happened in my absence. Apparently he refused to play with the pet-sitter - rather, he just sat and stared at her while she played. Still, though, I think that her attempts were not in vain, for I think he'd have been more angry at me if somebody wouldn't have been around to make the gesture.

So, today I need to grade, to prep for the upcoming week, to stop myself from thinking about things that are beyond my control (ha!), and to watch the grammy's. I also need to do a TON of emailing. Ugh. I should also probably go to the grocery store to get some supplies....

So, I suppose that's all.

(Oh, and you may be wondering why I'm awake before 5 AM. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the M-K and I fell asleep on the couch at about 9 PM, woke up for about 15 minutes around 12:20 AM, and then promptly returned to the bed for the sleep of mamas and kitty-cats. Best sleep I've had all week.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Random Bullets of This Will Be My Last Post Until Saturday

  • I hate chapped lips. My lips are really chapped. This is because I have the horrible habit of biting my lips when I'm stressed out. Lip balm does not help, as even if it stops me from biting them in the day, I think I bite them in my sleep. I've probably eaten 50 lbs. of lip balm in my life. That is gross. And if somebody kissed me right now, it would probably feel like kissing a tree trunk. The only thing that kind of works on the chapped lips of this degree is Bag Balm. That's right - my lips are as chapped as a cow's teats. That's gross too.
  • It really is worth getting a manicure now and then, even if one is not a high maintenance sort who can commit to regular manicures.
  • Apparently I am the high maintenance sort who will never again be able to live without having my eyebrows waxed. Sure, I could have tweezed those few stray hairs, but I'm nowhere near as meticulous as my person who does the waxing, and so why not just spend the money to have it done properly, since clearly I'm a lazy tweezer?
  • I really need to go to sleep, but I am too keyed up to make myself go to bed. I'm afraid I'm not doing something important, even though I don't know what I should be doing.
  • Fuck! I remembered the thing that is very important that I need to do! Maybe I'm not crazy after all? Well, except for the fact that I AM. As in, I am Dr. Crazy. You know.
  • Ok, signing off. Exhausted and yet still keyed up. I'm hoping that the Potter will work its bedtime story magic.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Where The Hell Did All This Snow Come From?

Because I've been watching the weather and stuff, and somehow I wasn't expecting it. And neither, it seems, was anybody else. And, on top of that, why is it that in the morning when people are trying to get onto campus and they have to be someplace by a certain time they have people directing traffic (and slowing things down) but when they actually need people to direct traffic because people here don't know how to drive in snow and the roads aren't plowed and there's not even salt on the roads there's not a campus cop to be found? And you two assholes in SUVs who tried to speed ahead in the non-turning lane only to try to cut me off after I waited in line for a half hour and was just about to get to the light? Yes, that was me who screamed that you could fuck right off and honked my horn at you and refused to let you over. Because that's just not playing by the rules.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Reasons my day sucks:

  1. It's Monday. That's not cool.
  2. The Man-Kitty awakened me at 4 AM. And he refused to let me go back to sleep. Every three minutes he would pounce on me. He decided to sleep once the alarm started going off at 6 AM, so then I was awakened every however many minutes by the alarm (for rather than reset the thing I just hit snooze for an hour).
  3. Problem student. Been a problem from the beginning, but definitely a problem now. I want to say more because I'm so angry and irritated, but I am not going to say more because this is the sort of feeling that makes me accidentally out myself on my blog.
  4. I have a meeting about quasi-admin position today. This makes me want to die.
  5. I have approximately 39 papers to grade before tomorrow morning.
  6. I have a novel to prep before tomorrow morning. Oh, and I'm getting some more papers tomorrow. 14 to be exact.
  7. I also have to prep to teach a novel that I've not taught in two years. Needless to say, I have not reread it. Luckily, however, it's only like 100 pages, so maybe I can reread it?
  8. It was -1 degree (without wind chill) when I got in my car this morning. April is not the cruelest month. February is.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why, Yes, I DO Enjjoy Being Part of the Bed-Making Process

Ever the faithful companion to my mama, I do enjoy helping with tasks around the house. My favorite such task is the Making of the Bed. I help my mama by turning it into a game - a game in which I am sure to leap beneath the sheets when she puts them on the bed. She won't let me get beneath the fitted sheet (although this is my dream). She has, though, given up on trying to keep me from my next favorite goal - to burrow beneath the flat sheet and to refuse to leave, in spite of her protests. Oh, it is such good fun. You realize she can't see me when I'm under here, right?

The next part of the game includes me remaining beneath the sheet as she places the quilt on top of that. You will notice, I did change my position slightly, for I have to chase the quilt as it is being placed, even though I am hidden beneath the flat sheet. She tries to coax me from my hiding place, but I refuse! It is more fun to hide! I am like a feline version of Lindsay Lohan leaving rehab, only cuter! Or like Michael Jackson's son, Blanket, only, well, I do not have a name like "Blanket"! I am glorious! I am the Man-Kitty!

[As you see, though the Man-Kitty would not consent to have his face photographed, he is nonetheless feeling quite chatty and sociable.]

It's Amazing What One Can Accomplish....

If one just makes a list, checks it twice, and actually does the stuff on the list instead of moving the stuff on the list to other days in the week.

Crazy's bills for the month? Paid.
Crazy's talk? Well, it needs to be practiced, but it's edited within an inch of its life.
Crazy's prep for her lower-level class for the next week? Done.
Crazy's laundry? In the process of being done.
Crazy's note for the pet-sitter re: the Care of the Man-Kitty? Written.
Crazy's papers that she must grade? Well, they're not graded, but I did put them into the proper order for grading. That's something.

I think that I'm going to reward myself with playing a game on the computer while the laundry does its thing - at least for a little while. Yay productivity!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Thoughts on Job Talks

Ok, so my earlier post was all about me being disgruntled and stressed out, and I admit, I'm still somewhat disgruntled and stressed out, but I want to do a post that is a little less oriented toward whining and more oriented toward something productive. (Note: my greatest destressor of the day was that I left campus for a couple of hours, and I spent money I shouldn't have spent at Dillards - because apparently stress turns me into a shopaholic, but also a bargain-hunter, as it's 40%-off all already reduced merchandise this weekend, so I spent 30 bucks when I could have spent, at full price approximately $130 - and then I went to Panera Bread for lunch and I did some work there. I should always leave campus if I've got 2-3 free hours, as sitting in my office is not the ideal way to destress. I did this last semester a couple of times, too, and it was great. I must remember to do this in future.)

But so anyway, I had to attend a job talk this afternoon - my second of the week - and it's incredibly interesting to do this given my current situation. Whereas my first time on the market I only knew job talks from my R1 institution - and I wasn't in residence during my year on the market so I didn't attend any in close proximity to my own experience - now, well, I have the lay of the land a bit more as to what is required in such a talk (or so I think). Today's talk was incredibly interesting, but at the same time, I left the talk feeling like the candidate didn't really pay attention to us as much as he might have done. In contrast, the talk earlier in the week wasn't quite so interesting, but the candidate did seem to have a good sense of the needs of our institution.

Now, one thing that is true about my institution is that we require an unconventional job talk. And one is never quite sure what the candidate gets told beforehand, so the talks tend to be all over the map, from the traditional talk (which isn't really what we want) and a very loose kind of talk that doesn't really fit the bill either (an overcorrection on the part of the candidate based on really believing it when the person who tells them about the talk inadvertently says something about being "informal" and they don't further ask about what "informal" means). In other words, one might say that we set candidates up to disappoint us (which I do think that we do, incidentally). Oh, I should also say that candidates at my institution do not teach a sample class - the job talk is meant to be a two-for-one deal, in which we get a sense of their teaching while at the same time we get a sense of their research.

Now, I've got an upcoming talk to give, and I'm not claiming that I'm an expert on what that institution wants, but at the same time, I do think that my experience of having given a talk (and done very well at it) and of watching many job talks (both in grad school and at my current institution) has been valuable experience. And so, even though I may well not get the job for which I will be giving the upcoming talk, I'm going to go out a limb and give some tips about what to do in a job talk, whatever the institution.

1. The job talk is not about your research.
Not really. It's about how you fit into the institution. As such, your primary concern is in tailoring what you do to the institution at which you are giving the talk. This is true for all institutions, even R1 type places, though what it means there is something different from what it means at an institution like mine from what it means at a SLAC. The point is, your research is your research whatever way you slice it. But your presentation of that research is really the point in such a presentation. They've already seen your writing samples and stuff, or at the very least your CV. So what they're looking for is NOT to find out who you are as a researcher, not really. What they're looking to find out is whether you "fit in" with the department. It's not about whether you're interesting (though you have to be) or whether you demonstrate your knowledge of a topic (though you must). It's about how you organize that interesting knowledge into what the institution is looking for. Now, most grad students know (if only intuitively) what that means for an R1 sort of a situation. Don't bore people. Show that you've done your homework. But at my institution, it's not really about that (only). It's about how you show that you fit that into teaching. It's about being practical in your approach (talking about how things fit into specific assignments or approaches in the classroom, for example). It's about making what you do accessible, as if to students. This will be like nothing you've ever seen at your grad school when they've been hiring.

2. You can't know what the institution wants if you don't ask, especially since the talk really isn't about your research.
The thing that got me my job, aside from being my usual charming self and my cv, was, I believe, the fact that I hounded the Search Committee chair for more information about the expectations for the job talk. The first information that I got was that it "wasn't a traditional job talk" and that they wanted me to "talk about my research" but that I should also talk about how that relates to teaching. I responded with a flurry of emails requiring the chair to specify. First he said something about me avoiding the "narcotic effects" of just reading a paper. But that was not enough for me. So I asked more questions. And it was through asking those questions that I was able to come up with a talk that really did address the needs of my audience. I had a mountain of handouts - sample assingments for a range of courses, sample syllabi, sample approaches. Yes, I read for 10 minutes or so, so that they would get a sense of what I was doing in a traditional sense. But that was it. I moved on. I answered the question, "so how does this relate to you all and to the students at your institution?" I answered the question, "what will I bring to this institution, if you hire me?" And that's ultimately the question that all schools want answered. At an R1, the answer is "brilliance" and so it is about the brilliance of your work in a more conventional way. But elsewhere? It's about other things.

3. A job talk is not a conference presentation.
So this might be obvious, but it's not. One, people in the audience won't necessarily be familiar with what you're talking about. And I'm not talking just about the texts - I'm talking about even the discipline in which you situate yourself. Departments have many configurations - some are departments just of English and American Literature, but some are departments of Literature and Language (i.e., the foreign languages are grouped with English), or they are English departments but they also hire people who specialize in professional writing or creative writing or comp/rhet. In other words, if you give your talk as if you are giving a conference presentation, you're going to leave people out of the conversation. They don't catch the references. They've never even heard of some of the references. If you're not prepared for that, you're going to fail.

4. A job talk is not a conference presentation, part II.
When you read a paper for 15 minutes, people can pretty much follow it. When you are told that you will have an hour block of time, well, things change. When in doubt, go short rather than long. You can always elaborate in the Q and A. Be sure to state up front what you will talk about, and if possible give people an outline of your main points, so if they tune out they can tune back in. Aim for clarity over complexity, even when what you discuss is complex. This is true in all scenarios, because I'll tell you, even when attending job talks that were more traditional in nature at my grad institution, I valued these things. If they say that you have 30-40 minutes to speak, aim for 30. Take time of day into account - if the talk is at 3PM, that's naptime; if the talk is at 6PM, that's dinnertime. Take care of your audience by not going on and on, even if you are really interesting and engaging.

5. Technology is not always your friend.
In today's talk, the candidate used technology brilliantly. The candidate used images, and those images were essential to the candidate's presentation. The candidate did not just have main points on the screen as a power point. The candidate did not have a power point with points that didn't really add to the presentation, just looming in the background. The candidate did not have a picture of a labial flower on the screen to remind us of the candidate's personal sexual orientation (as a candidate in the past did). The candidate did not keep the images on the screen after they were no longer pertinent. I'd much rather see a presentation with no use of anything on a screen, particularly if things on a screen are not essential, than see a candidate put crap into a powerpoint that doesn't really help me as a member of the audience. Technology should be for the audience. I believe anybody can figure out how to put something up on a screen - if that's the only reason you've decided to use AV, then you should just say no. You've got (or are getting) a PhD - I believe that you can figure out a smart classroom, and I don't need to see an unnecessary demonstration of the fact that you can.

6. Don't rely on your audience to ask questions that are central to your success.
This may seem to contradict #4, in which I say that you can elaborate during the Q and A. But it really doesn't. What I'm saying is that if you know your audience is interested in X, give them X in the talk, and let them ask questions about Y, even if Y is what your private passion is. Don't make me ask you questions that will save your candidacy. Specifically, if you're interviewing at a teaching institution, and you don't have a teaching demo to show your stuff, don't make the audience ask you about how what you do translates into your work in the classroom.

7. Don't evade questions about challenges to what you do.
Let's say that an audience member asks you about students who would resist your approach. Don't just say that "this has never been an issue for me" and leave it at that. Let's say an audience member challenges your theory in a section of your talk. Don't just say that what they have to say isn't really pertinent to your approach. ENGAGE. Give a REAL response. A CONCRETE response. Obviously, you need to be polite, and you may need to stall a bit if you've not thought the question through, but you shouldn't pussy-foot around a question and fail to answer it.

8. Don't expect the audience to connect the dots.
Make the trajectory of your talk clear. Make it clear where your ideas come from and why you move from point A to point B (or C or D or E). Make it clear how your ideas in the talk fit into your broader identity as a scholar. Make it clear how everything comes together. If you expect your audience to connect the dots, they may just not do that. They may just not see how it all fits together.

So these are my thoughts on job talks. We'll see how I do in my upcoming one, but the point here, is this is all I've learned from attending many of them, and I suspect that this information may be helpful to others.

One of My Favorite Things about James Joyce...

is that today, Groundhog Day, is his birthday. I'm not sure why I love this so much. I also love that Ulysses was published on this date. So, the question is, if Joyce didn't see his shadow on Feb. 2nd, what would happen for six more weeks? I'm sure it would be something much more interesting than "winter."

Friday Morning

Ugh. I'm in the mood to write this morning, but I don't really have any material, if that makes any sense. I'm just exhausted from the week, I'm procrastinating about grading some quizzes that I've got to return this morning, and I'm feeling both disgruntled and stressed out.

Disgruntlement (and no, I'm not sure if that's actually a word)
I think that going on the market this year has made me a disgruntled employee. Not that I thought my job was all sunshine and roses before I did this, but going on the market, with the way that it requires you to get excited about other jobs in order to perform well, has kind of forced me to pick some nits related to my current situation. I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing, as in the long run, I think it's good if I stay here not to be mystified about exactly what this place is. That said, I fear that I'm expressing more disgruntlement than is wise because deep down I'm allowing myself to believe that I'm going to get another job, which is a really fucked up thing to allow myself to believe, even though believing that really is probably necessary to doing well at this final stage of the game. I won't get into all of the reasons why I'm disgruntled with my current job, but suffice it to say that I feel like any institution of higher education that uses the words "revenue neutral" and tries to pretend that those words don't mean "hey faculty, you realize that you're getting fucked over, right?" is a pretty sinister place. Oh, and in doing my taxes I allowed myself to realize that I'm actually earning LESS money now (even with my shitty raises) because of the huge increases that my institution has instituted in things like parking fees and insurance. Which makes me pretty disgruntled, you know?

Stressed Out
There is one particular thing that is generating a lot of stress, which is resulting in weird dreams that freak me out and some major exhaustion. The thing that is generating a lot of stress will happen very soon, and it will involve:

a. travel (which I hate)
b. teaching a class to a bunch of students whom I don't know
c. giving a talk to a bunch of colleagues I don't really know
d. meeting with various administrators
e. leaving my cat for 3 days
f. wearing a suit
g. having to be charming for three days
h. did I mention that I hate traveling? And that I particularly hate it when I have to be at the airport at 5 AM?
i. convincing myself that I really do understand the text that I will teach, even though it's not in my period or genre of specialization.
j. convincing myself that I'm not a total fraud as a scholar.
k. trusting somebody to care for the Man-Kitty, and I really don't like that at ALL.

The only things about the above situation that are not stressing me out are the fact that I've figured out what I'm doing to cover my classes when the above happens and that ultimately it doesn't really matter what happens because I do have a job. Except of course I'll be devastated if I make it this far and then can't close the deal, but I'm trying not to let that kind of negativity color my thinking.

I am also stressed out because while all of the angst of the above is preoccupying me, I've also got to deal with the following:
  • a review essay that is due in one month's time for a friend's book
  • wondering whether that editor will actually be interested in publishing my monograph
  • activities related to the not one but TWO searches that my department is running at the moment
  • grading approximately 60 papers over the next week
  • conference week with students in my writing class
  • revealing that I no longer want to do the quasi-admin position to the person who's the director of the program to which my quasi-admin position relates.
  • review proposals for my MLA panel (the deadline is 3/1 or 3/10 - I sent out two calls because the CFP list has been totally lame lately and I thought they just weren't going to send my first CFP, so then I sent another one because it had been three weeks since I submitted the first one, and then both of them came out within a week of each other. Note to CFP administrators: you really need to get your crap together so that doesn't happen.)
  • wonder whether I really have an interest in doing a collection out of the panel, and if so, wonder who would co-edit with me, because I really don't want to take on such a project on my own, I don't think.
  • read many novels that I've not read/taught for two years or more.
  • I don't even know what else.
So yeah. That's everything that's going on with me. I am disgruntled and stressed out. Not unhappy, just not exactly... relaxed. I can't wait until some of these things are no longer in play. I can't wait until summer.