Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In a Response that Lacks Substance...

I will note the following random thoughts that occur to me on the basis of the continuation of the nonsense about my going on the market, in spite of my attempt to derail the thing. I'd respond at more length, but it's been a very busy day over here, what with the fact that I'm really good at my job and I really care a lot about it. But I do feel the need to provide some response, since people really do seem to care a great deal about my situation, even as they vilify me and think I'm a spoiled brat. (Note to the haters: just stop reading my blog. Really. It won't bother me. Read something that doesn't fill you with rage. Read something that makes you happy. Life is too short, people. Don't waste it on me if I stand for everything that is wrong in your eyes.)

  • I'm not linking on purpose, mainly because I feel like I'm being used to work out a bunch of people's own shit and I'm not ultimately interested in being a vehicle for their stress release, and as a way to bring traffic to a blog that I generally feel is pretty mean-spirited, and I don't really want to assist them in leading the witch hunt against me. Call me crazy - Oh wait, you already do.
  • Learn to read, people. I've been at my current institution longer than a year, and I'm not being an unprofessional, entitled brat who hasn't thought about the needs of my institution or really tried to make it work here. If you're going to make ad hominem attacks against me, they'd be a lot more effective if you appeared to have comprehended any of what I write here.
  • Acknowledge that the system creates the conditions that lead people to look elsewhere. Don't believe me? See these posts.
  • Don't you all realize that because of the state of my field that I'm unlikely to get another offer? I mean, seriously, people. I'm writing about my experiences not because they will be exemplary or something to aspire to, but rather to paint a picture of how this process works when you're not newly minted or ABD. I accept that, and I'm actually really happy that I'm not totally miserable in my job because I'm ok with the possibility of staying here.
  • If I stay here, the trajectory of my career changes. I can't keep up the level of work that I've been doing over the past four years indefinitely. I'd like to have a career in which research is a bit more central. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the opportunities I've gotten where I am, though.
  • Ultimately, I am bored by what seems to me to be a false dichotomy between loyalty and ambition, between senior faculty who are martyrs and saints and junior faculty who eat babies and laugh gleefully at cruelty to animals. Are we really this unsophisticated that we can't think about these issues in more complicated ways? Really? Is it all so black and white?
  • I feel sorry for the people who are senior faculty who are being lumped into a category that they might not themselves choose -a category filled with bitter, raging people who want to attack anybody who makes choices different from the choices that they themselves have made. You should know that I am fully aware that many of you feel like these others who are waving the banner "senior faculty" high do not speak for everyone.
I think that about covers it. But wait: one last thing. What annoys me most is that people seem to be characterizing me as somebody who only writes about her cat, who is self-congratulatory about going on the market (which, honestly, I don't think I am), and who writes about her fucked up personal and romantic life ad nauseum. Now, I'm not saying that those things aren't true, but I also write about grading, research, course design, issues in this profession that face junior faculty, mentoring students, issues up for debate in the blogosphere, popular culture, what I did that day, any number of topics. It's not always interesting, and I'm not saying it is, but there is a broader range of content than the haters like to admit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Dear Readers of Reassigned Time,
It has been quite some time since I, the Man-Kitty, have appeared on this blog. In truth, I prefer to maintain my privacy, in spite of the protestations of the person whom you know as Dr. Crazy. But friends, this kerfuffle, this hullabaloo, this outbreak of hysteria, it must stop. Don't you care about my homelife? My sanity? For I am a very important feline, and as the life partner of Dr. Crazy (in the sense that she has made a lifetime commitment to me, and I have agreed to love and cherish her in return for food and shelter) such stressful situations really do affect my daily routine, which includes napping, meowing, eating, napping some more, playing, napping, and then going to bed. Don't you understand that I am a cat? That I am not good with comforting humans, for I don't understand their barely developed emotions? And a stressed out Crazy, well, she becomes very... needy... and ... well, she may not be selfish, but I certainly am, and I don't need to be bothered with this nonsense. So I thought that I would make a rare appearance, which might prove both inspirational and distracting. This past summer, I turned three years old, which means that I am now approximately 25 in human years. It has been a rich, full life from the moment when I was rescued off the streets and then finally adopted by the generous and really quite charming Crazy. Can you imagine how tiny I was when I was rescued? Well, my foster mama sent Crazy some pictures recently that she had found on her hard drive. Here I am, eating happily, in my infancy.

Aren't I a darling wee lad? Indeed, I am. And I am no less darling today, for now, I am a glorious Man-Kitty. And as such, I say to you, "Can't we all just get along?" Or, barring that, can't people who are filled with impotent rage get their own blogs and work that stuff out there? And leave Dr. Crazy alone?

Yours truly,

The Man-Kitty

Monday, October 29, 2007

There's Not a Thing in the World Wrong with Looking

I probably shouldn't take the bait on this, but I just want to put it out there once and for all. A commenter whom I don't know left a comment this afternoon on a job market related post, and then I responded, and then this commenter wrote back. Here's the exchange:

Webmaster said...

Great news. When will you tell us in the department you're leaving so we can hastily hire someone to do what you used to?

Dr. Crazy said...

My department administrators are aware that I am looking, and I will keep them updated on the progress of my search, should there be progress. If I do not get an offer, I won't be leaving, so it would be a bit premature to make any announcements about leaving until I had another job. Thanks so much for your concern, Webmaster!

Webmaster said...

Well, we'll keep our fingers crossed, because there's nothing more exciting than having a junior faculty member on board who wasn't able to find her way out 2 consecutive years.

Imagine our delight in imagining you might deign to stay here in Pudknocker town another year or two!

We will certainly forget your casting around for a better gig when tenure and promotion loom.

Do you need any extra letterhead? There is some in the supply closet.

Ok, so first off, let me say that I know I was snippy in the whole "thank you for your concern" line, and that probably wasn't necessary. But now let me address the implication that it's wrong that one look for a job while one is on the tenure track, and that to imagine the possibility of changing jobs - "casting around for a better gig" - is in some way acting in bad faith. The short answer is, I wholeheartedly disagree with this implication, but I would, right? So let me give you my reasons.

  1. My institution has not yet made a lifetime commitment to me, and so I'm not certain I understand why I'm supposed already to have made a lifetime commitment to it. People in the "real world" look for other jobs all the time. Doing so often is crucial to professional advancement. The same is true in academe. It is not wrong to want to advance in one's chosen profession.
  2. I am not "casting around for a better gig" but rather I am applying selectively to jobs that I think might give me a chance to do things in my chosen field that I will not be able to do in my current position. I honestly really value my current position, and I think that it is a very good one for this type of institution. I would not apply for a job at a similar institution not because I'm so horrified by my current job but because if I'm going to work at this kind of institution, I want to work here.
  3. One of the reasons that I am on the market is because I want to be closer geographically to people that I care about. This is, to me, an entirely valid reason to look.
  4. I have the support of my colleagues. I am not in danger of being denied tenure at my university. I have been as open as possible about my reasons for looking with those who I feel need to know about my job search activities, and they appreciated that openness and they encouraged me.
  5. My colleagues know that part of the reason I'm looking is because I don't want to become a faculty member who stuck with it to tenure and then resents never having seen what else was out there, resenting this place and condescending to one's colleagues and students. Indeed, perhaps this is the most striking thing about the tone of the above comments: this is a person who in one breath implies that one has no right to look because it will betray one's institution and so one should just shut up and be unhappy, and yet if one signals that one is unhappy by putting oneself on the market, the commenter implies, one may be out of a job. I'm unclear about what this commenter thinks: should an unhappy person stay off the market to become an unhappy tenured person, for the good of the institution, or should an unhappy person get the hell out because they are not wanted if they are unhappy? And what about if one is kind of happy but if one has ambition and thinks that one might be happier if one pursued that ambition? What then? I want to become a senior colleague like the senior colleagues in my department: a senior colleague who supports the career development of its junior faculty, and who keeps junior faculty not with threats and guilt trips but because they want to stay. I want to be the kind of senior colleague who supports junior faculty if they want to see what else is out there. And if a person goes on the market and doesn't get another offer, or doesn't decide to take another offer, I want to continue to support that colleague. If I don't see what else may be out there for me, the option is to become embittered, and I don't see where that benefits my colleagues, my students, or my institution as a whole.
  6. If I stay at this institution, even if I don't get another offer, I will know precisely because I looked for another job my value in the wider profession. This is important to me. It shows me what I've achieved. (Achievement is not only measured in job offers or in climbing the ladder: achievement, as I see it, is measured in being considered a viable candidate, even if one isn't ultimately the "chosen one." And yes, it matters to me that I am competitive in the field that I have worked so hard to achieve in, and I think that it is good for my current institution that I am.)
  7. Should I get another job, yes, I think that my institution will feel the loss. I have been a good worker here. I have developed interesting courses, I have served on committees, I have done quality research. But I will not be leaving my department in a bind. My department, because it is a good department and a strong department, can survive if a faculty member takes another position. I realize that this is not the case in all departments, but since this commenter is attacking me, I believe it's only fair that I state that I am not in a department where my loss would result in the need to hastily hire someone to do all the work that I do.
There are many good reasons to look in addition to those that I have enumerated in this post, but I believe that those I have listed do respond to Webmaster's comments. I will close, now, with the following: the reason that I have chosen to be open about the fact that I'm selectively on the market on this blog is because I think that it's valuable to have a range of voices that describe this process. I do not write about this because I hate where I work (I don't) and I don't write about this because I expect congratulations or something for what, ultimately, is my own personal decision about how to pursue my career. I don't know what will happen, and I may well not get even to the interview stage of this process this year. But the reality of this profession in the 21st century is that many people do not retire from their first tenure-track job. The reality of this profession is that salary, resources, and achievement can depend on putting oneself on the market, particularly when one is in one's probationary period. And so while I don't expect congratulations, and while I don't expect every reader to understand, I do expect that those who comment will show basic respect for what I'm trying to do in recounting my experience and that they will refrain from belittling me for doing something not only that I have the right to do but also that I have a great deal of support from mentors both within my current department and elsewhere in doing. Perhaps you would not support a colleague who chose to take the path that I am taking, and that is your prerogative. I only expect, from those who comment on this blog, that they don't use the space that I've created here as a forum in which to take out their aggression. If you want a forum for that, I'd recommend that you get your own blog.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oh, and Crazy Is Lazy

So. I've got a stack of grading, and a book to finish (ah, that index, how I cannot make myself do it!), and some small revisions to do on an essay, and an MLA paper to write (or at least to begin researching).....

And this weekend, I did no substantial work on any of it. Nope, not at all. And I also have yet to do this here meme that I've been tagged for (it's all so complicated!) though I do intend to do it in the coming days. So what have I been doing?

Hmmm. Well, there was some menu-devising and grocery shopping. There was an extraordinary amount of phone talking (and yet I still feel like talking on the phone, for I may well be 12 years old). There was a good deal of napping. There was a bit of cooking. There was dinner out and coffee after with BFF tonight. All in all, I think that it was exactly the weekend that I needed. Or, well, exactly the weekend that part of me needed, the part of me that needs to recharge and not to be stressed out constantly about the job, but not what the other part of me needed, the part that needs to not be behind on work. Ah well, Monday shall be a day of reckoning, and I shall complete many tasks and do so with a smile (even if forced) on my face.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Job Search Process

With the Bitchiness lifted, I now seem to be in the mood to do a real post! Hurrah!

At any rate, lots of people have been posting about job-search related stuff, and as I've not really posted about it in any but the most cursory way, I thought I'd weigh in. I'm in no way any sort of an expert on this stuff, though I have been through the process of applying and interviewing a couple of times now, and I have served on a search committee. So here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

The Materials
Putting together the materials is a job in itself. Now, that job is easier depending on one's given situation in a particular hiring year. The first time out? Well, for me it was brutal. I had a complete draft of my dissertation, but my personal life was shit, I wasn't living in Grad School City, I was working a really emotionally draining temp job to pay the bills.... Yeah. And being in English, I felt completely demoralized about the whole process, as if it didn't really matter what I did because the odds were so stacked against me, as an ABD candidate in a less-than-hot specialization, getting an actual job. I applied for around 50 things that year - including t-t positions and post-docs - and I was insane with the organizing of materials and the tracking of deadlines and stuff. Also, applying for that many positions (many for which I know with certainty now that I never had a shot in hell at getting), one of the biggest frustrations was that there were about 5 or 6 different combinations of materials that were required. Dude, why can't everybody just agree that all that's necessary in the first stage is a CV and a letter? Because, really, I don't believe that committees pour over each and every applicant's full set of materials with the same amount of focus: I think that the letter and the CV tell most of the story, and then people will focus on the extra materials of those who seem right from those two things. Maybe I'm not giving search committees enough credit here, but with positions getting upwards of 100 apps, I am cynical about the possibility that they're carefully reading every single thing in addition that they require people to submit.

My next time I sent some things out, well, it wasn't really for real. I didn't bother to have my references update their letters, and I hadn't really changed much as a candidate from my first time out. The third time I sent applications out, well, that was last year, and I really did do the process for real, although I limited my search and I only sent out 8 applications. Obviously, this made the process of getting materials together easier in a lot of ways. But also, I had changed a lot as a candidate, so it really did mean crafting a completely new boilerplate letter. In addition, my CV needed a lot of work because it had transformed into a CV that only made sense in terms of my current institution, as it was formatted. Figuring out what to send as a writing sample was easier because it wasn't about sending what sucked the least from my still-not-polished dissertation, but negotiating the process was more difficult because I was already in a tenure-track position and I felt a lot of tension about the decision to look in earnest (more on this in a bit). This year, well, my search is even more focused, with me sending out only a handful of applications. It's much easier than last year because of the work that I put into the materials last year. Also, because I'm applying to such a narrow range of types of institutions, I didn't need to do a lot of tailoring for the letters.

The Interview Process and the Search Timeline
A lot of people have a problem with the conference interview setup, and I think a lot of those complaints are legitimate. That said, I actually support the idea of the conference interview. Hear me out on this one. First of all, I think that you learn some important things about an institution from how they approach this first interview stage. How many people do they fund to go to the conference? Do they interview in a decent hotel and room, or do they interview in the pit? Are people at the institution engaged enough in the discipline not to see attending the convention as a burden? All of these, for me, are important indicators of whether I will fit at an institution. Next, I do think that the in-person cues in an initial interview are important, not only for the search committee evaluating the candidate but for the candidate who is interviewing. I know that departments about which I was really excited from what was there on paper (or on their website) and from telephone contact moved down in my rankings from the "vibe" that I got in the in-person first interview. I also think that doing the first interview this way, while it does entail expense for the candidate, constitutes a decent compromise between the no-cost option of phone interviewing (which is awkward at best) and the high-cost option of requiring people to do potentially more campus visits. Sure, campus visits are reimbursed, but that up-front out-of-pocket expense can kill you, even if you're NOT a grad student with no money. And if every school brought five people to campus instead of two or three (based on the fact that the money they spend sending committee members to MLA could ostensibly then be spent on bringing more candidates to campus) that would, ultimately, cost the candidate time (especially important if one is finishing one's dissertation, has small children, or at a teaching institution with a heavy load) as well as money. So yes, the conference interview means a cash outlay early in the process, but if one gets interviews at the conference, I think that it can be worth it.

ALL OF THAT SAID, I think that it sucks that committees don't get their shit together to invite people for interviews with enough advance notice that people who are not already attending the convention for another reason could legitimately wait to register and organize travel stuff until they knew that they had a reason to attend. I've had friends who've bought the ticket and all the rest and who've had the Morbid MLA of Despair when no interviews came through. That's just bullshit. I've been lucky that this hasn't happened to me. I know all of the reasons why committees don't get their shit together to do this, and from the committee side of things, I do understand, but it's one of the things that should change about the process (which would also require universities to change their process for when they confirm that a department has a hiring line, so this isn't only on the committees or the field - it's about changing some important stuff in the larger bureaucracy of this profession). Note, though, that this would probably lengthen the process even further, moving deadlines up by at least a month, so making such a change would suck in its own special way. This would not change the process in such a way that it wouldn't suck.

Campus Visits
You know, I love a campus visit. Or at least I've loved the two that I've done. It's like spending the whole weekend for the first time with a guy you're dating. Everybody's busy trying to impress everybody else and make sure that it's an awesome time and you're getting to know each other in deeper ways. You don't get much sleep, and you go out to eat and spend all this time together having great conversations.... The thing is, when you're "single," i.e., unemployed or underemployed, this experience is all about hope and promise and there's not really any static. This is something that you should be doing and enjoying. When you're not technically "single," i.e., you're in a tenure-track position, it's really complicated to go way for a few days with somebody you're not "engaged" to. Now, your nearest and dearest and least judgmental friends may know what you're doing, and they'll cover for you if necessary, but taking those few days away is tricky business, especially because you don't ultimately want to "break up" with your current institution if this rendezvous doesn't turn out to be all that fabulous. Again, there are things that can make this easier to negotiate, like if you have a good teaching schedule in the interviewing semester, if you're childless, if you have the support of higher-ups in your department. There are things that can make it much more difficult to negotiate, like if you have a crappy teaching schedule which means that for each campus visit you'd have to find ways to cover all of your classes, if you have kids (particularly young ones), if you are in a hostile department and you don't have the support of at least a few important colleagues. I'm lucky that I'm in a really supportive department, but this is the hardest part of the process for me now, because I don't want to fuck up my current gig in the service of exploring possibility.

The Current Job
And so this brings me to where I am right now, which is being in a position of looking while decently employed. I feel a lot of ambivalence about going through this process, when I know that my institution has invested a lot in me (not without results that are positive for them, but still) and when I know that they really look forward to tenuring me. A few people this year have asked why I didn't go up for early tenure this year, as I could have done and probably successfully, and I've been evasive about my reasons for not doing so, because I really don't want people to think that I'm not grateful for the opportunities that I've had here or to give the appearance that I'm thoroughly disgruntled (which I'm not - I'm just partially disgruntled, for reasons having more to do with personal life shit than with the job, although the job does contribute to the personal life shit, which is why I'm selectively looking for another job). In addition, I'm ambivalent because of how this will affect certain students of mine, should I get another position. It's difficult to be committed to one's current place and one's current students when one is surreptitiously putting oneself on the market. I know that it would be stupid to burn bridges in my current position or to behave as if I won't be here next year, as I could well end up here next year. But at the same time, I feel guilty for giving the appearance of permanence when I know that should I get an offer I will take it. There's really nothing to be done about this situation other than what I'm doing, and I do feel like if I do what's best for me that I can still be a good colleague to my colleagues here and a good mentor to my students, even if I'm not employed at this university. That doesn't make the situation any less fraught, however.

And yes, I know that those who are on the market without a job already probably are thinking right now, "what I wouldn't give to have those problems!" That would be my response, too. One of the things that sucks as an ABD candidate, or as a recently graduated candidate who's struggling to make ends meet with adjuncting or a lecturing gig, is thinking about the fact that one is going up against candidates like me on the market. I know that the thought of that when I was on the market ABD was totally paralyzing. The thing is, and I really do believe this, I'm not certain that my chances are really any better because of the position that I'm currently in, and sometimes I think they may be worse. Perhaps I'm naive, but one thing that I see now is how limited I am as a candidate. Either they want me for what I've done, or they don't. There's nothing that I can do to change who I've become in this field, and who I've become has been in many ways determined by this first job (which may well be my last, should things not go well).

A Final Thought (Because I'm Crazily Optimistic in Spite of My Efforts to the Contrary)
So as I was driving home today, that stupid fortune from last week popped into my head. And I thought, "Oh my God! What if 'failure is the mother of all success' means that my failure on the job market last year means that I will get the Greatest Job Ever this year, which I wouldn't have been able to do if last year's run hadn't been a bust? What if the crappy fortunes are actually really excellent and insightful?" And then I laughed at myself for being a total moron.

And so with that, I close :)

Provisionally Good News

So, I got an email this morning that has me feeling very, very un-bitchy! It's the sort of email I didn't even hope I'd get for another two weeks or so - the "more materials" request email. Now, we all know what this means: it means I made a cut. It doesn't mean I'll necessarily get beyond this phase, and I'm not in any way counting the chickens before they hatch, putting carts before horses, etc. But I'm so proud of myself! Like, irrationally, stupidly proud! (And yes, I know I'm being very silly, but I'd really convinced myself over the past few days that I wasn't even close to good enough for anything for which I'd applied, and I expected just to get immediately rejected by all. Again, I know I'm an idiot, but this is the way that the Mind of Crazy works.)

But so anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if there were celebratory drinks at Crazy Medusa's around 10 PM EST. I'll update later if indeed this is happening.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In Which Crazy Is Less Bitchy

Ok, so I was a bit, well, bitchy, in my last post, and I thought I'd give an update on how things have been going with the student meetings, which is less filled with the bitchiness and which gives a clearer picture of what's really happening.

So the meetings: they've been really, really good. I tend to meet less with lit students than with my writing students. Not because I'm not willing to meet with them, but rather because I haven't historically built in the requirement for them to do so - or even the strong suggestion for them to do so. (This isn't to say that I've not historically made the offer: it is to say that I have historically made the offer and then left it up to them: I haven't tended to assign many revisions in lit classes, and I haven't tended to say "you should really meet with me to discuss the revision" even when I have. This semester, what with the stress and the bitchiness, I found it impossible to take that more hands-off approach, and I gave the smack-down with the assigned revisions and with the comments that accompanied them.)

I often feel like I'm walking a very fine line between my belief that students should have ownership over their own educations - i.e., that if they fuck it up it's their own deal just as if they achieve great success that it's their success and not mine - and the very real fact that students often do better if you force them and push them, and that sometimes students will achieve if you take a somewhat more... active... role in their performance than you might ideally be inclined to do. Or than I might ideally be inclined to do. See, it's not ultimately about me. I know that. And so I want them to take the initiative. I think they *benefit* from taking the initiative. I don't want to be the prof who forces them to their potential - I want to be the prof who enables them to - under their own steam - achieve their potential. But. Apparently sometimes the strong-arm tactics, they are good.

Because in meeting with the many students with whom I've met over the past week, well, I think both the students and I have left those meetings feeling better about things. Why?
  • I tend to be a pretty abrupt commenter. I know this. I don't mean to be rude to them (part of this is a regional thing - there's a kind of politeness in this region that is native neither to my home region nor to my grad school regions), but sometimes my style is perceived as "rude" (or bitchy) rather than as "rigorous." This is also a response that has a lot to do with expectations based on gender. Whatever. The thing is, I know that in talking to them, the comments, even though they remain the same, are softened. We can talk about how fucked up it is that as a female prof I need to spend all of this one-on-one time to soften my comments, but whatever. The point is the result, and the result is that students are encouraged by meeting with me, where sometimes they are... less than encouraged... when they just read the comments.
  • I have a better sense of where the students went wrong with the assignment, and I'm getting a better sense of their experience (or lack thereof) with this kind of assignment. I had a sense that they weren't being asked to do this kind of writing, but I have a much clearer picture now of the reality of what they *have* been expected to do and how radically little experience most of them have with this kind of formal analysis. And it's good for me to talk to them about that, and it's good for me to have the opportunity to explain to them that this isn't about intelligence or even about ability. (In most cases it's not.) Rather, it's about experience and what I'm trying to do is to give them that experience. Not all of them have been as receptive as I'd like them to be, but I do think that the meetings have been beneficial for them as well as for me, whatever their level of receptiveness seems to be.
  • I realize, now, that their inability to follow directions really isn't about an inability to follow directions or even, really, about laziness, in most cases. I had suspected that this was the case, but the meetings have confirmed the suspicion. No, what's going on here is something deeper: it's about the fact that when they don't follow directions in other contexts, it ultimately makes little difference. Or has made little difference. See, here's the thing: I could have just curved these papers up. I could have said, "you know, I don't have time to deal with meeting with all these students, I don't have time to deal with grading revisions," and left it at that. And I'll admit it: I've done that before. But that doesn't fix the problems, does it? Sure, it saves time at the moment, but is it a long-term solution? No.
  • The problems that these students had, it wasn't a problem with the assignment. Some students earned A's. Not because they agreed with my interpretations, not because they're super-brilliant or something, but because they did the work and they knew how to do the work. Is it the fault of students who didn't get it that they didn't get it? No. But the question is, how does one send the message that it's essential to get it? Maybe it's useful to use grades as a signal - along with forcing them to come on in and to discuss the grades that they've earned. Sure, in some ways it's more work for me. And yes, that sucks mightily. But maybe it's worth it?
I should probably say that part of the reason I had the courage to do this with these papers was because they're only worth 10% of the grade. They, at the end of the day, will not make or break the students. And I do give extra credit after the midterm, so even if they do really shitty, it doesn't mean that they can't get an A in the course. That does help with the courage not to inflate. It also helps that in both classes where this is the case that they will have a second paper that they will do better on if they follow my advice on the first one.

But so I get the first batch of revisions tomorrow. I have high hopes for them, but ultimately, even with requiring the revisions, even with meeting with so many of them, those hopes may not be realized. But tonight I really am hopeful. I really do feel like what I'll see will be better than what I saw the first time around. And I hope that those who met with me will be more likely to take me up on offers to meet before the next paper.

So yes, that's the other side of the bitchy coin. The other side of the bitchy coin is that I really do care that my students do well and I really am hopeful about what they might do with the right kind of encouragement.

But I'm still feeling generally bitchy, in spite of that. I'm not like a totally different person or something.

Bitchy Crazy: a Multiple Choice Quiz!

1. Why is Crazy bitchy?

A. It is related to the lunar cycle. The alignment of the planets astrologically may also be involved.
B. The weather went from miserable summer to shitty Cold-November-Rain-y weather in a day's time. I hate the Cold November Rain, although I do enjoy singing those three words in the Axle Rose voice. Still, I enjoy that less than singing "I'm Goin' Hungrraaaay" in the Eddie Vedder/Guy from Soundgarden/Guy from Alice in Chains voices. That makes me laugh even when I'm by myself. "I don't mind! Stealin' bread! From the mouth of decadence! (I'm goin' hungraa-aay!)" Ah, am laughing right now! Is hilarious good fun to sing that earnest, earnest song!
C. Nobody does what Crazy wants them to do. Just nobody. And dude, everybody should just do what I want because my way is always better than everybody else's.
D. I've spent the past two days conferencing with students from LITERATURE classes about their abysmal WRITING. Note: THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT AN ARGUMENT IS BEFORE THEY GET TO THIS CLASS. Lord. I'm a masochist or something.
E. All of the above.

2. In what ways does Crazy demonstrate her bitchiness?

A. By freaking out in meetings.
B. By writing lengthy emails to students who accuse her of unfair grading when they don't do well. (Do you ever notice students never make the same accusation when they do well? Interesting.) These emails are for nothing because these students decide to drop. Well, except maybe the lengthy emails make them drop? Who knows.
C. By picking fights with people who really didn't do anything in particular to inspire such vitriol. Indeed, those people just were doing what they've been doing, which while annoying, isn't exactly a change in behavior that warrants a bitchy outburst.
D. By actually taking the time to meet with students individually to explain all of my discontent with their work.
E. All of the above.

3. Will Crazy remain Bitchy forever?

A. Perhaps. Her mother's pretty bitchy, and she's a lot like her mother.
B. Probably not, but she needs to relieve stress somehow or she'll keep behaving in this bitchy manner.
C. Crazy will stop being Bitchy for approximately 3 weeks, and then, as if on a schedule of some kind, she will become bitchy again.
D. Crazy will remain bitchy until the book is totally done and until she knows what's up with the handful of job apps she sent out.
E. Crazy will remain bitchy until she wins the lottery, quits her job, and buys a villa in Italy.

There were going to be more questions, but I'm too bitchy to be that creative.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Which I Note the Fact That I've Not Been in the Mood for Blogging Much

I've been doing this for long enough that I know that such lulls happen with my blogging, and indeed, they pass, but I've noticed that I've not really been feeling the urge to write here, or at all really. It's more than I can do even to keep up with email in a timely fashion. I think I'm using all of my writing energy on comments on student papers. So things may be quiet over here this week. Or, in the way that often happens, I may after making this announcement end up posting a ton. But I suspect not. Ugh.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Random Bullets of Baseball and Grading

  • Go Sox! I mean, Go Tribe! Go Sox! I mean... Oh fuck. I just can't wait until this is over so that I can, without ambivalence, support the AL team over the stupid Colorado Rockies.
  • You know what sucks? When a student has some of the most beautiful academic writing you've ever seen and yet writes a paper that is totally grounded in unsupported assumptions about "true love."
  • You know what sucks even more than that? When you've got a student who's totally engaged and smart in class, and did well on the test, and whose paper is a steaming pile of BS. Never before have I called a student out on BSing in my comments, but this one - oh, lord, I could not look the other way. I'm wondering if this is a writing problem with the student or if it's only a laziness problem. I'm requiring that the student meet with me to discuss the paper, and I'm requiring the student to revise the paper, so we shall see.
  • But you know what's great? When you know that the last paper in the stack alphabetically is going to be the best one in the bunch (I already skimmed through them before sitting down to grade). Now, I'd have known it was going to be among the best even without having done that, as this is my third go-around with this student, and he is brill-fucking-iant. For the first time, I'm actually sad that a student of mine is graduating. Like totally sad. For myself. How lame is that? I'm also totally psyched that this is the same student who made a point of telling me last semester that he'd decided against grad school (although he'd rock at it, actually) because "I'd rather write books like this than write about them." Ah, my work here is done.
  • But you know what totally sucks? A student who thinks that he/she earned the grade that he/she earned because I disagreed with his/her interpretation of a text. Don't they know that I ultimately don't care whether they agree with me but rather that they just do the assignment and support their ideas? According to an email that I just looked at (for it's the first I've checked this weekend, because I took a weekend off the email for sanity) apparently they do not know this. Indeed, they perceive "critique" and "I'm giving you the chance to revise" as "personal and biased vendetta." In this way, students are not unlike college professors who perceive all acts of administrators in much the same way. Hmmmm..... Perhaps this student is destined for a career in academe? Though I think not.
  • But so yeah. It's been a night of watching the Indians implode and, well, watching my students, in one class, with the exception of the BSer, in the form of their writing, tread water, and in the form of email, just totally lose their shit. Ah, it's a Sunday in October. (Though, truly, the Indians usually implode in like... June. So I should be happy, right?)

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Well, the morning is getting off to a good start. I'm doing laundry (yes, a load is already in! at only 10 AM!) and I'm thinking about what else I'd like to accomplish. The problem is, I'm still cranky, and I don't want to do anything but lie around. But I've got essays and tests to grade, midterm grades to post, blah blah blah. Hmmm.

Friday, October 19, 2007

So Maybe Students Can Write....

I got another batch of papers this week, and I glanced through most of them today. Now, some are better than others, as you might imagine, but on the whole, this batch is much stronger than the batch that inspired my post of yesterday. There are still some of the typical problems, and some faulty logic and such, but by and large, I do feel like the students made interesting claims and did their best to support them. I also had a good meeting with another student from the other class about a less-strong paper, and it was really a positive meeting.

So. All is well in paper-writing land today.

And while I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, I also ate a boatload of chocolatey delicious ice cream, and this improved my mood greatly. Tomorrow I plan to accomplish a great many things, to make a delicious zucchini and summer squash gratin, and to take said dish over to BFF's house, where she and her grad school friend (who is now my friend by proxy and who is visiting for the weekend) and I will chef up a delicious dinner and socialize. Oh, indeed, tomorrow shall be an excellent day, as long as I can keep the crankiness at bay (for I've been very cranky today, and while it does seem to be lifting, I've still yet totally to emerge from the crankiness).

In other news, I'm starting on a diet and exercise plan come Sunday because I've been eating ridiculous things and not exercising at all, and this makes a Crazy chubbier than she'd like to be. Sigh. I wish that I were just naturally a rail-thin person. Or that my clothes magically expanded along with my stress levels :)

All the job apps I'm sending (barring any weird late entries) are out, so we'll see about that, but I think that thinking about them, too, has been adding to my crankiness, so will need to just stop thinking about them now. You know, it's weird: I've just been feeling very out of control and nutso this week and really, if I'm honest, for the past few weeks, ever since the book completion stuff. I'm trying not to over-analyze it all, and just to move forward from here. I think some solid girl-time socializing this weekend will really do me good.

On that note, I'm off to bed to read. I'm making my way through the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials books again.... for whatever reason, they're really the only thing I'm in the mood to read of late. Or maybe I'll start rereading Lolita, which I've decided I'm teaching next semester. Hmmm. We shall see.

Love that dirty water: Boston Red Sox Rally 2007

Ok, so as I noted, I do love the Red Sox, even as I love the Indians. Now, the Indians are my One True Baseball Love, as I grew up with them. But the Red Sox... Well, I love them, too! So you know what? Right on that it goes back to Fenway (which is better than the Jake any day of the week).

ETA: Not that I'd say that if we were talking about good old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Sure, the place was a crypt - and a big crypt at that. But it's my first Stadium Love, and I love it even more than Fenway. In fact, I love Fenway as I do because the obstructed view seating reminds me of big old Cleveland Municipal Stadium :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Writing for English Literature Majors

I've spent a lot of time today thinking about student writing, though not in the context of composition. I think a lot of times that people think that the only kind of writing that English profs think about is composition-type writing. Or, conversely, that composition-type writing is supposed to ready students for all writing that they will do at the university level. Well, neither of these are true. While I'm not entirely convinced of the value of composition generally (in part because I'm "good" at teaching it according to all reports and methods of assessment and yet when I see those same students whom I've trained further along in their academic careers it seems to make no difference), I'll say for the moment that sure, maybe it does something for improving student writing or for preparing them for college-level writing. I'm not convinced of this, but maybe it does.

But what concerns me most this semester is the ability of the majors and minors that I'm teaching (many of whom are nearing the end of their tour of duty) to write effectively in literature courses. The bottom line is, from what I've seen, that students at my institution are not getting what they need from courses in the major in terms of training in writing in the discipline. No, they are not.

Now, here are my minimum expectations for what I think an English Major or Minor should be able to do at the time at which they get their undergraduate degree:

1) They should be able to write in a less formal way about literature, reacting and responding to it in a more personal way, because this is where I think more formal writing about literature begins.

2) They should be able to write a formal, short (3-5 page) literary analysis essay about one or two primary texts - no critical sources, something that depends mainly on making an argument and supporting that argument with careful close reading.

3) They should be able to write a research paper (10-15 pages) utilizing primary sources and critical secondary sources. Ideally, they would also be able to include some rudimentary theory, though this is more possible in some contexts than in others. Students should use MLA style correctly.

So here's the thing: my students, at my institution, don't seem necessarily to graduate with the above. They certainly get a lot of work with #1, and they do a pretty good job with that kind of less formal "reaction" sort of writing. And they're great with summarizing what they've read, and with regurgitating stuff from in class. But #s 2 and 3? Hmmmm.

From what I received from my students in my lower-division class for their first papers (of the #2 variety), I'd say that many students (I've only got a couple of sophomores in there, who legitimately might not have the background in doing this sort of writing - most are juniors and seniors, taking the class later than I'd like) are not learning how to do strong close reading in support of an argument in a traditional, assigned-topic essay. Indeed, I am having more than half of the class revise their essays before I'll assign a letter grade, because they just didn't do what was required of them. Note: I gave them a choice of topics. With each topic, I listed three things that the person must do to be successful on the essay, clearly bulleted. All of those that got revisions did either none or only one of those three things. And there was class time devoted to talking about the paper. I ran the topics by my BFF from high school tonight, who teaches high school. She felt like they were really reasonable and easy, so this isn't about the topics, for she assigns stuff that is more complex to her juniors and seniors in HIGH SCHOOL (although secondary ed in her state, and particularly in her district, is much better than the high school situations that my students come from). This isn't about clarity of the topics or of the assignment itself. Also, these students have all already completed comp, if not a great many other English classes. This is about something else.

I'll get to the "something else" in a moment. In my upper-level courses, where I emphasize research more, I have consistently found that students do not have the basic skills with citation, integrating quotations, using critical sources to support their claims, that students with an English major or minor should have. The thing here is not to chastise students for what they're not doing. It's to wonder what I can do to impress upon them the necessity of acquiring these skills and what I can do to help students to their best performance on these sorts of assignments.

Now, what's going on here? I have some theories:

  • Students don't realize the level of sophistication that is really required of the assignments that I give. They assume that they can leave things until the last minute, write the paper in one sitting without any revision, and that they will receive an A.
  • Students have never been taught how to write in a way that is deeply analytical, and so even if they feel "lost" when they sit down to write, they don't have the skills to get "unlost" in order to do well.
  • Students assume, based on past experience with other instructors, that what the assignment claims to require is not actually what the assignment requires. In other words, essays will be graded on a curve. Nobody will fail you if you turn something in.
What part of the blame lies with students?
  • Students at my institution tend to take too many courses in a semester, or too many courses of a similar kind in a semester. While 5 English courses may be doable in weeks one and two, they are not doable when you're in weeks 7 and 8 and when papers start coming due, not unless you're an insane person, as I was in a few semesters as an undergrad.
  • On top of poor course distribution and overload, students tend to have many priorities that come before school, which means that work or family will often come before doing schoolwork. This is actually less true of my non-trad students, which would seem to be counterintuitive, but there it is.
  • Students do not take me up on offers of help, time, or consultation on assignments, in spite of the fact that I spend a lot of time in class explaining my availability and the use that it will be to them. Note: this probably has a lot to do with my second bullet, as students don't have time to consult with me given their busy schedules.
BUT. Why do students do these things? For the blame does not only lie with them. What experiences do students have that make them think that these practices will work for them?
  • In other courses that they've taken, professors do not have a minimum standard. Rather, professors assume that the low end is the best they can hope for from students, and so grade inflation occurs.
  • With the teaching load here, some professors just no longer assign traditional literary analysis essays or even research papers (creative projects are VERY popular).
  • Coming out of a secondary ed situation that emphasizes standardized testing and personal writing, they are even less prepared than I was to write traditional essays.
And there are other factors very specific to my institution that only exacerbate the above related to curriculum.

But my point here is that I do feel committed in my literature courses to teaching students to write about literature. I think that writing about literature enables one to think seriously about it, and that it's difficult to think seriously and deeply without translating one's thoughts into writing. The disconnect comes when students themselves don't take seriously the very clear requirements that I outline, which they've learned that they don't need to take seriously because of institutional culture and prior experiences within that culture.

I don't think AT ALL that what I'm dealing with here, in most cases, is laziness. I think that many of my students honestly don't expect that their professors really have high expectations for them or even really read the writing that they submit. And so then they encounter me, and WOW is it a rude awakening. I comment A LOT - even on A papers - not only on the content but also on the writing. I pay attention to nit-picky things like too much reliance on passive voice and awkward transitions, and I engage with the claims that they make in the form of comments and questions. And I grade according to what I believe they should achieve - not according to what is submitted. In my comments, they witness me reading. And my style is not particularly warm and fuzzy. And no, there are no "creative" options that get them out of doing solid, properly annotated research (although I have rarely allowed a more creative option than the traditional research paper, and in those cases, research, properly annotated, is still required).

So, my own personal crusade, with the small percentage of students whom I reach, is to make sure they get out knowing how to do at least two of the three kinds of writing that I think that they should know how to do as majors (I don't emphasize research in lower-level courses). Yes, I expect them to be able to do careful analysis of a literary text when they leave any literature course that I teach. In upper-level courses, I expect them to be able to do that as well as to integrate secondary stuff. But yet, every semester, I have students who tell me that nobody has ever expected these things of them. STUDENTS WHO ARE MAJORS AND MINORS. This, my friends, is both gratifying (I'm great! They're learning things from me that they've not learned elsewhere!) and disheartening. They SHOULD be learning this stuff in LOTS of other places outside of my classroom.

So yeah. I'm thinking about student writing. And I'm feeling pretty hopeless about it because I'm feeling pretty isolated in the goals that I'm trying to reach.

Why? Just Why Does This Happen?

You're returning papers to students, and you realize one is missing. You never graded it. You never saw it. The student claims that he turned it in along with everyone else. It's nowhere in your stack. Is it lost in another stack of papers? Is it at home? Did the student never turn it in? Who the heck knows. But what a hassle. What a total hassle.

Crazy's Theory of Short Weeks Being Even Longer Than Regular Ones

I know. It makes no sense. We live in a stable space-time continuum, and so it should not be possible for a short week to take longer than a regular-length week. And yet, my friends, this is always how it feels to me.

Having to teach only Wed. through Friday should be a blessing, but instead I feel like the week is DRAGGING along and like I have to accomplish in 3 days what I'd normally have to do in 5. I think it's the way that "break" breaks into the rhythm of a week (which is another way of saying that I'm a really rigid person who doesn't like changes in her work-related day-to-day sort of routines).

But, as part of this being a longer week, might I just mention that one thing that this has meant is that I've had some really good chats with students, and one of my brand new favorite students (who is just so much cooler than I'll ever be or than I ever was, and who's really smart and engaged and awesome) is going to take my upper-level class with me next time? That means I've already got two who are sold on it, and priority registration has yet to begin! Hurrah! (I'm obsessing about the enrollment in this course because it's a pretty focused topic and the material will be difficult so I think many students may shy away.)

Ooh. And this gives me an idea for a post (or reminds me of an idea for a post) that I want to do! But I don't have time now. So there.

(By the way, you all will notice that I'm a scrooge and that I've not participated in the 5 presents meme, as much as I like receiving presents myself. I feel like a loser, but I just know that I'd fuck it up and I wouldn't end up sending out the five presents, or I'd end up getting people really lame and unthoughtful presents that they didn't even like. So yeah, I'm just not doing the meme. Maybe when I don't feel so totally overwhelmed with other crap I shall do a version of it, but for now, Crazy sends no stinking presents and nor does she receive them (frown).)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More Evidence of My Craziness

I've just spent the past 15 or so minutes seriously considering changing where I get Chinese food from because my Chinese place, which makes very yummy food and is quite economical, changed its fortune-cookie manufacturer and I'm really not cool with the change.

I first noticed when I got a fortune about 2 or 3 months ago, which said, only "Hallelujah!"

Today they made a mistake and gave me two cookies.

The first (and thus I'd say "real") fortune is: "Failure is the mother of all success." I'm sorry, but that just totally sucks as fortunes go. Sure, it's slightly better than "Hallelujah!" which really isn't a fortune at all but rather an exclamation, but it's not in any way illuminating or evocative. It's just LAME.

Now let me crack open my second "fake" fortune: "Take that first step today." I'm sorry, but these are just too lame for anybody to accept. These cannot be my fortunes. I mean, I believe in fortune-cookie fortunes. Like really truly believe in them. And these, they are a sad parody of the art of the fortune cookie fortune. They make a mockery of one of the few things in which I invest faith. It's just so wrong.

But so do I have to find a new Chinese place? I think I might. How disheartening.

RBOC: I Pissed Away My Fall Break Edition

  • Fall break... hmmm.... I seem to remember thinking that I was going to accomplish some things during this brief respite from my regular schedule.
  • I graded like 4 quizzes. And that's it, my friends. I'm kind of an idiot.
  • And I just remembered that I've got to go to an event on campus this afternoon, and then (after remembering to do this) I agreed to meet with a student directly after. This means I won't get home until like 6:15 at the earliest.
  • And I'm giving a test on Thursday that I've not written. Yep, I thought I was doing that over the break, too.
  • You'd think with all of what I didn't accomplish that I'd have some sort of exciting non-academic tales, but no, didn't do anything really non-academic either.
  • Oh, I suppose there was the visit with the parents thing. Ok, well, that was time well spent.
  • OH! And also there was the pseudo-break-up (that I feel like might not be taking properly, which means that time spent on that may be time wasted, though I suppose it's not really wasted time because there was self-reflection and all that, and that's a good thing, right?)
  • And my trip to the salon. Yes, that was something I accomplished over the break - a haircut.
  • I wish I had four more days to do all the crap I might have done over my break but didn't, though. That would be great.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Debut of Cleveland Rocks - The Drew Carey Show

Note the moment with the melons around 2:30. That would be the West Side Market, where Crazy did some time as a seller of vegetables. Go Tribe!

Because You Are Desperate to Know How the Hair Turned Out

This post will not stay up long, just FYI.

And I should probably add the caveat that the hair is flatter than it would be normally because since I can't wash it for two days (letting the color set), my Hair Person didn't use any product at all. Also, the color is a bit deeper than it looks, but you know the flash, and digital cameras, etc., so this is a close approximation. I am very excited for it to grow longer. I feel that it shall be even more fabulous :)

Now you see it, now you don't! Poof!

But So Let's Talk about my Hair

Because, really, come on people! Hair is very important! So, I'm a little irritated because I can't seem to get a hold of my Hair Person to schedule an appointment. I tried on Friday, left a message, and she never called me back. And now I tried again, and again left a message. Does she not know how hard it has been for me to wait this long to make the appointment? Does she not know how much I need the boost of a salon visit?

I mean, sure, I know that she's pregnant and all, and so there may be a very good reason why she can't deal with my hair needs, and I certainly hope everything is ok. But dude! I want to get my hair done! (And I'm actually feeling kind of desperate, and if I don't hear back from her I may defect and go to some other person by week's end, even though I really love my Hair Person.)

But so. Part of the reason why I've been obsessing about my hair lately is because I've decided to grow it out. This is a bizarre decision for me to make, for I generally never make this decision. Sometimes the hair gets longer by accident (I'm busy, I'm in between Hair People, whatever), but rarely do I consciously decide to shepherd my hair through the growing-out process. But so, it's annoying. My hair is currently at that dumb length where it's not quite long enough to put in a pony-tail but not short enough to actually be short. Like it comes to my collar, about.

So I can't really get it cut-cut when I go in to have it done, not if I'm continuing with the growing out. So what is to be done? Because I need SOMETHING to happen with the hair that makes me feel like it's beautiful.

Well. The first thing is that I want to get heavier bangs than what I've currently got. Indeed, I think I found the haircut that I'm closest to transitioning into in the November Elle, which is Eleanor Friedberger's current haircut which is shorter than this one, but has a similar vibe. And then, there is the question of color. My hair is naturally a dark blond, and I've been doing a highlights thing for a while now. My thought, however, is that it might be interesting to go a shade or two darker than my natural color (which would then mean my hair actually matches my eyebrows, which are weirdly darker than my natural hair color). What is most annoying, though, is that all of this speculation is for NOTHING because I can't manage to make an APPOINTMENT with my stupid hair person. (One reason that this is a pain is that she changed salons in the summer, and the new salon is a pretty low-rent establishment without a receptionist, so making appointments is a hit or miss proposition at best and often means just leaving a message on an answering machine, or I just call my person's cell phone, but again, this also often just means leaving a message. I would not put up with this if I didn't love how she cuts my hair.)

Aw yeah, aw yeah! Appointment at 3 PM today, baby!!!!

But let me continue. I don't know, though, whether the Eleanor Friedberger Hair will work. So then I think that perhaps the answer is to do a version of the current Reese Witherspoon, only imagine if it stopped at just about an inch or two above necklace-length rather than being boob-length. (Obviously, the hair would continue growing, though probably I can't count on myself to make it much past collar-bone length). But still, I'm thinking darker for fall. I'm kind of sick of the blond, as much as it's great. Another thing is that my Hair Person said that she'd start a file for me last time I saw her with potential cut/color options, so there may even be options that I don't know about that await me.

What I'm saying here is that while some areas of my life are limited right now, my hair is a land of limitless opportunity and choice. Indeed, in terms of hair, the sky is the limit.

I must attempt to accomplish some things so as to deserve the afternoon hair appointment. All I want to do, however, is to fantasize about my hair.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I've been thinking a lot over the past day or two about Life Choices. I grew up believing that education gives a person more choices. I think most of us probably did. Most of our students probably still do. This is one of the driving forces behind the expansion of higher education: higher education gives you a wider range of choices for careers that you might pursue, places you might live, houses you might buy, conversations you might have.

In my life, "choice" was always framed in these terms, and the alternative, the closing off of choices, was framed in terms of my mom's life: growing up in a family with a bunch of kids where her parents never owned a home, being the only one in her family to get a high school diploma, getting pregnant at 19, getting married because she "had to," and having life "happen" to her. The idea was, I'd go out and get this education that would mean that my life wouldn't "happen" to me. And, you know, in many ways my life hasn't "happened" to me, not in the way that hers did. I avoided those things that would mean that my life would "happen" to me, and instead, I made a lot of choices that ensured that it wouldn't. Good, right? Except.

This idea that the more education one gets the more choices one has seems to me, now, actually pretty bogus. I think if you get just enough education, that this may be true. (I'm thinking in particular here of my friends who got 4-year degrees in "regular" majors that translated into jobs out of college.) In some ways, at least, yes, it is true that those people have more choices than they would have had without getting a college degree.

But more and more I think that there are very few choices, ultimately, for most of us who've pursued the whole higher education thing to it's furthest conclusion. Choices become fewer as one becomes most highly educated. I can't "choose" to change jobs, the way that I would be able to do if I had gotten a "regular" degree and chosen a "regular" career path. With the glutted market in English, I'm "lucky" to have any job at all. Indeed, I can't even "choose" the kind of institution that is the best fit for what I want to do in this particular career. Indeed, we are "chosen," and we do not choose. We can apply, and hope for the best, but those decisions aren't really in our own hands. (Although if one has an independent source of income, and doesn't "need" a job immediately, one does have a bit more room for choice in this area. As a kid from a working class background, I did not have the choice to apply selectively when I was ABD. And so here I am.)

And even if there weren't constraints based on the market, the reality is that we wouldn't get to "choose" location. People often talk about this in terms of the "two-body problem," but this is a problem whether one is part of a "two-body problem" or whether one just has a "one-body problem." People want to live in various locations for various reasons. You want to be close to family and friends. You want to live in the same place as your partner. You want to live in a small town/big city - just based on personal preference. But in this field, those choices aren't really yours to make. You take what you get. And doing that actually can limit your choices further, because the mobility, in this profession, it is not easy to achieve. On the tenure-track, the whole thing is "fitting" at the current institution. If you "fit" there, and achieve there, it can mean that your prospects elsewhere actually decrease. (She does so well where she is! She's not right for us!)

And let's say even that you could make the above choices. You still can't choose how much money that you will make in higher education. Not really. The range of salaries is pretty limited, even across various kinds of institutions. Take a look at this wiki. It gives a sense of the starting salaries for people hired last year in English, based on location and type of institution (though, clearly, given the length of the list, it's in no way comprehensive). Most starting salaries come in at around 50K. I came into my current position at just about that, and that was in 2003. So did other friends of mine, in different (higher cost of living) places, at other types of institutions, at around the same time. The market, my friends, is stagnant. Even if you try to make more money, you really probably won't. Which means more education doesn't really mean that you can live in any kind of house you want, which might soften the blow of not being able to live where you want if you could.

And then there's the personal life stuff. Let's say that you get all this education, and you sacrifice your personal life in order to do so. Because, remember, in doing this, you are not just letting your life "happen" to you the way that your mother's life and your mother's mother's life happened to them. This is the "right" thing to do, in order to be independent and a feminist and all the rest of it. But so then here you are, with a successful career (that doesn't really mean that you necessarily mean that you get to have better conversations, it turns out, and doesn't mean that you make boatloads of money, and doesn't mean that you get to choose where you live, either locally - in terms of house, apartment, whatever - or nationally - type of town or city or region of the country). Where is your personal life? What options do you have?

Well, if you're single, and if you're a woman, those options are - depending on location, for sure - limited. However open-minded you might be when evaluating potential suitors, potential suitors will see you in a certain way. So, for example, the likelihood of Trade Union Guy from High School dating me would be very, very small, whereas TUGfHS has no problem dating my friend who makes the exact same salary that I do, but who isn't "threatening" because she's not educated herself out of his realm of possibility. (Let's forget for the moment that I don't live in Hometown and so couldn't date that guy anyway, because that guy is dating girls from high school who live in Hometown and not weird transplants to Current City. I'd never even meet the equivalent in Current City.) And so, you say, well, the single female academic just needs to find guys who are not threatened, who either make enough cash or have enough professional success not to be castrated by the PhD or who have a similar level of education. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, perhaps not so much. Perhaps you live in an area of the country where those people are likely to have gotten married in their 20s. Perhaps you live in a place where people tend not to be highly educated - indeed, where the highly educated tend to move away. Perhaps your colleagues don't associate with single people who might serve as potential suitors for you, or perhaps your work-related socializing consists entirely of work people, and remember, English is a pretty feminized field, and so you're not likely to find many prospects there, especially if you're at a very "family-friendly" institution that tends to hire partnered people (for this is one way to keep people here).

And so, maybe meeting people in traditional ways won't work. So you enter the realm of online dating (perhaps the most depressing realm in creation, even more depressing than the realm of "the bar scene," where at least there is alcohol). And that's not so hot, so you expand your realm even further. You meet people online in other ways, or at conferences or what have you, and you entertain things that are practically very difficult to achieve, but yet even with the practical impossibility seem infinitely more doable than what's available locally. (Hee! Infinitely more doable! I'm so Beavis and Butthead right now!) But then we enter the realm of the two-body problem, and again, it's all about location, location, location. And so where can that really lead, if both people have worked really hard to make themselves successful in a profession where relocation is damn near impossible? And so then you can't even call on the phone the person whom you most want to talk to, because you're doing the "right" thing and you're drawing a line. Oh yeah, that's satisfying.

So. Life Choices. One of the things that I'm actually really good at is making choices. I am really good at making decisions, and at seeing the big picture. I'm really good at being decisive. So the question I have, in my current mood, is what fucking decision is it even possible for me to make? I can't choose where I live, I can't choose where I work, I can't choose to be in a relationship that works. What, exactly, is there for me to choose? Because, dude, I'm ready to make the choice. It's just there aren't any choices there.

All there is to do is to choose exactly what I have, and that choice is no choice because at the end of the day, I feel like to do that is settling, and while settling is great when you like the choice that settling indicates, it really sucks when you're not satisfied with what you're settling for. And you might say, well, you need to learn to be satisfied with what you've got. I've been busying myself with that project for years. I'm not satisfied. So what is the choice then? Do you give up the career? An easier choice to make when you have something concrete to give it up for. Do you give up wanting to be in love and to be in a relationship? Is that really an option? I so feel like it's not!!!!!

I've said to my mom that I'd quit my job tomorrow if it meant that I was going to mean that I could have a family. That's true. Her response is, always, how could you give up all of what you've worked for?!?! On the other hand, when she was here this weekend, the reason I had the meltdown was because she basically said that I'd be alone forever if I didn't learn how to compromise. (She says this because she doesn't acknowledge that it's a real possibility. I freak out, because I totally fear that it's the realistic possibility given the current realm of possibility in my life.) The thing is, there is no room for compromise if I'm supposed to be achieving in this job. It's one or the other. Which is it? Do I do everything in the service of the career, or do I give it up to have the "normal" thing? You can't have it both ways. Not if you don't have it figured out before you get more than halfway through the tenure-track. Something has to give, and it's either going to be the job (which I'd be more than willing to have be the thing that gave) or it has to be the personal life stuff. Because neither "just happens" at a certain point.

As I look at my students, I often think I'd have been better off to let my life "happen" to me. Why? Because you can get an education at any time. You can get an education after you have your 11 kids, you can get an education after your divorce, you can get an education after you have a parent die. You can choose education, whatever you've done before. By choosing education first, it means I've not chosen other things. And it means that it makes those other things harder. And that is a rude fucking awakening.

Am I "lucky"? In a lot of ways, sure. Am I responsible for the choices that I have made that have led me to this point? Of course I am. But so the fuck what? Knowing those things doesn't make this make sense. And that's the thing that pisses me off. Being more thoughtful about my situation, or being more deliberate in my actions doesn't make any difference in a lot of these areas. Sure: I could be working digging ditches or in some minimum wage job somewhere, and that would totally suck. But I've done a fuck of a lot of work so that I'm not in that position. And yet, I'm supposed to feel grateful for the position that I'm in. Why? Why can't I be dissatisfied? Why can't I legitimately have an ax to grind? Why can't I wonder whether there is some better possibility than what I've currently got on my plate?

A lot of people would say that I can't feel these things, or wonder these things. Those people are assholes.


I need to be throwing myself into work. That was the plan for today, right? But the work I have to do is grading. I don't want to do that.

I did catch up on some emails, which was both good (because hey, I caught up on the emails) but also annoying because one of the emails was related to that essay I talked about last week. It turns out, the reason that the feedback was so mystifying to me was because I didn't have all of the information I needed when I did the revision in August, so of course they had a ton of things they wanted me to do, because I hadn't known I was supposed to have done them. Frustrating. Also frustrating is that after I got their clarification, they still said they'd like the revised essay (which really requires substantial work since I've got to integrate all this stuff I've never considered before) before the semester's end. I replied that it's just not possible. I've got the final book deadline in December, I'm giving a paper on brand new research at MLA that I've yet to begin working on, I'm teaching a new prep this semester and new stuff next semester that I've got to start working on now in order not to die.... Yeah, there's just no way. So, I had to stand up for myself and just explain that I can't do it, and I hate not being able to do things. I will say, though, that I've been doing quite a bit of standing up for myself lately - more than ever before - especially since my birthday. Maybe turning 33 has turned me into somebody who doesn't put up with shit? If so, I'm thinking that this has many benefits, even if it does make me feel a bit uncomfortable and bad.

I am also annoyed that the Man-Kitty is ignoring me today. And that I don't have anything yummy in the house to eat (although I've got tons of food - just nothing seems appetizing - and actually, nothing seems appetizing in the world either, so maybe I'm just not in the mood for food, even though I want to eat?)

Ok, I think I have to grade now. Sigh.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Medusa suggested a cathartic Lockdown post, in part because I probably need to go into full-on Lockdown mode (although you can't really choose Lockdown - it's more an automatic thing), and in part because the world would benefit from a deeper understanding of this little-discussed phenomenon.

A few caveats first: 1) Medusa really should probably be writing this post, as she is the one who coined the term "Lockdown" for what I will describe, and 2) everyone has their own variations on the process that I will describe, depending on personal inclinations, and 3) if I'm honest, Lockdown is not fully achieved in this situation, and there is a bit of a way to go to get to the ultimate point-of-no-return. The final "Red Alert" sirens are going off, and the 3-minute countdown is happening on the main control panel, but there is still the possibility for the process to be aborted.

So Lockdown. Ok, you know in movies, like the brilliant Armageddon, where the world is facing possible annihilation by, like, a rogue meteor or something? Perhaps some images will help (also courtesy of Medusa, who explains the experience primarily through deep analysis of space films).

Or like in the end of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when there is the final battle in The Initiative? Well. What often happens is that there is a sequence in which the spaceship or headquarters or whatever goes into "Lockdown" mode. This often includes the automatic locking of a series of doors and things start running on generator power. The sound effects are something like, ka-chggh, ka-chggh, ka-chggh, as the various doors start locking. A lot of people tend to run around, trying to secure the perimeters of the location, and to do complicated procedures to shut down very complicated and high-tech operations. As Lockdown progresses, a siren begins going off (Wah! Wah! Wah!) and a countdown clock begins ticking, in red numbers, down to the moment when the whole thing will go kablooey.

Well. This is not unlike what happens when a relationship finally reaches what seems to be the point of no return. First, a small alarm goes off. (Imagine a computer-generated and friendly female voice piped through the loudspeakers: "Lockdown will commence in 17 minutes.") Now, at this point it's still possible to engage a pretty commonplace protocol to avert Lockdown, but often, a lot is going on, or the person who's supposed to be monitoring headquarters is on the phone or eating a sandwich or they suffer from space dementia or something, and so that protocol is not engaged. Then, the doors begin automatically locking. Ka-chggh. There's another protocol that can be engaged in this dire situation (more technical), but remember: people don't usually familiarize themselves with this little-used protocol, so success is not likely. Finally, the sirens sound. Wah! Wah! and then, well, you see, there is no turning back. Maybe if some sort of amazing thing happens, the process can be aborted, but only manually, and only with some pretty ingenious and unbelievable acrobatics, an effort that has nothing to do with common and carefully outlined procedures. It takes a renegade of immense bravery and practical experience, along with a good amount of smarts, to achieve this. It will likely involve a stick of chewing gum, some barbed wire, a tube of lipstick, and scimitar of some sort from a long-dead civilization. And perhaps some witchcraft. Barring all this, aborting Lockdown is pretty much an impossibility. And even if one tries to abort, many may die in the effort, and it still may not work.

And so. Now with the metaphor fully articulated, here's where the Lockdown process usually begins for me. I reach a moment when I realize, somehow, that there is just no point in hoping for things to go forward. Or I feel that way, anyway. The relationship is limited, deliberately limited, and it's entirely outside my power to make what I want to happen happen. So, there are two options. You continue on, hoping for something to change but completely passive, or Lockdown begins. The process of totally shutting down to avoid the potentially disastrous thing. Sure, it will mean destruction, but ultimately, not everything will be destroyed. The threat will be averted although much will also be lost. The internal computer sees danger, and institutes a set of procedures that, while drastic, will avert total annihilation.

As with the movie-version of Lockdown, a series of things begins happening. That first friendly voice that indicates that Lockdown will commence? This often takes the form of some sort of spat followed by a heart-to-heart about needs and wants and things. And then nothing changes. Then, the locking of doors. I lose the ability to talk to the person. I'm bitchy. I push the person away, and I refuse to listen to whatever it is they have to say. And then the siren and the countdown. A big showdown. I say things that I regret even before I say them. Things that are true, which makes them worse than if I were just stupidly mean. Things you can't take back. As the countdown progresses, I do things like the following, to prepare for the final kablooey:

  1. I announce what's going on to everybody I know, including, apparently, the internet. This is important, as it means that it's very difficult to go back from the Lockdown process. One doesn't want to be the girl who cries Lockdown and then is like, woops! False alarm! Also, it means that everybody can get Y2K ready with their transistor radios and canned goods in case there is any fallout.
  2. Spontaneous crying. Usually accompanied by maudlin journal-writing. Very important to spend some time on self-reflection before the whole project implodes.
  3. The compilation of a playlist (in former times, the making of a mixed tape) to serve as a sort of message of pain for posterity, should I not survive the inevitable conclusion. Sometimes, along with this, there is the writing of a letter to the person who inspired the Lockdown, which will later be accompanied by the mix, for if one can't be with a person, it can make one feel better to show them exactly how hurt one is by the whole thing.
  4. Throwing oneself into work like it's one's job (hee!).
  5. Beauty rituals, ideally including some sort of haircut and color.
#s 1-3 have been in effect throughout the day. #4 will go into effect tomorrow, and I hope #5 will happen on Tuesday. But. There was also a conversation with FB today. A conversation that left me sad, but less sad than I've felt since the sirens started going off. I know where he stands; he knows where I stand. We're not going to communicate for a week. The question is, during this week, will either of us find the requisite immense bravery, practical experience, smarts, stick of chewing gum, barbed wire, tube of lipstick, scimitar-from-long-dead-civilization, and witchcraft to abort this process? Is either one of us that kind of renegade? Is either one of us Bruce Willis?

(If we judged this on hair alone, he'd be much more likely to be Bruce Willis than I would be. But hair, in Lockdown, is not necessarily all.)

If I were really fully committed to the Lockdown, I'd not be asking those questions. I wouldn't have even had the conversation with him. It wouldn't have been necessary. See, here's the thing about Lockdown. It's FINAL. There's no going back from it. In some ways, that makes it kind of like a miracle. Because they'll show back up, in six hours, six weeks, six months, six years, and you just feel.... nothing. You might have a fondness for what once was, but now they're just silly to you. Sweet perhaps, endearing, but you'll never give it another shot with them. Not really. You might toy with their affections a bit - like when they try to talk you into marriage pacts or to come visit you - you might be their friend, have sex with them, and feel a very real affection for them. But they'll never be a real possibility again. Not even if you try to make them that or if you wish they could be that. Nope. Once Lockdown has truly occurred, that's it. And either you can both be happy with the outcome of that, or happier than you'd be if you just never spoke again, or you just won't be in one another's lives. Of course, a side effect of Lockdown is that it also makes you dead inside, but that, at this point, is neither here nor there.

I really would like to be surprised here. I'd really not like to fall back on the shut-down that Lockdown indicates. But I can't sacrifice myself totally. I can't leave myself open to the kind of pain that would result from just going on as if it will all work out ok when the signs are so clear that it may well not. And you know, that's the thing that scares me most, actually. That I know that I've reached my limit, and that I've got this limit. It's the limit that makes me fear that I'll just keep having this sort of relationship conclusion and that I won't be able to get it together to be anything but alone. Because I've done this before. And I'm great at it. I'm not sure that this is a talent of which to be proud.

But so, if you ever need a Lockdown Soundtrack of your own, you might make do with the one that I've created today, should you not be so inclined to spend your final stages of Lockdown on such a project:

  1. Red Red Red - Fiona Apple
  2. Those Three Days - Lucinda Williams
  3. Poison Oak - Bright Eyes
  4. Ootinschenia - The Be Good Tanyas
  5. How to Say Goodbye - The Magnetic Fields
  6. Ez - Pete Yorn
  7. Divorce Song - Liz Phair (I know, a cliche, and this isn't exactly a divorce or anything, but such a great song.)
  8. I Don't Believe You - The Magnetic Fields
  9. See You When You're 40 - Dido
  10. Elephant - Damien Rice
  11. The Last Day of Our Acquaintance - Sinead O'Connor (see notation to track 7)
  12. Bridges - Tracy Chapman
  13. Please Do Not Let Me Go - Ryan Adams
  14. Be Be Your Love - Rachael Yamagata
  15. The Desperate Kingdom of Love - PJ Harvey
  16. Fidelity - Regina Spektor
  17. Things that Disappear - Rhett Miller
  18. Stop Your Sobbing - The Pretenders
And if you're looking for conversation unrelated to this, it may well be that Crazy Medusa's Lounge will be open for business tonight (remember: it is my fall break, so I don't have teaching responsibilities to keep me out of such unsavory establishments), so you might head over there just to check in. (You may also head over to Medusa's, to check out her most excellent supplement to this here post.) I know a few of you have lamented that you've missed previous nights out on the town (er, internet). Here's the thing with Medusa and Me. If we make real plans with you, we're likely to end up bailing at the last minute and just staying in to watch TV or to cuddle up with our respective pets and a good book. This is the way of Crazy and Medusa, historically. Indeed, it may be why we have been such good friends for the past ten years. But the point here is this: you snooze, you lose. Sooner or later, you'll find your way to our watering hole at a time when we are available. Do not fear :)

When It Rains It Pours

So the day began with the stupid argument and meltdown with my mom. The day continues with what appears to be the definitive demise of my fake relationship. Emotions are running close to the surface; I feel stressed and pissed off and alone. And the only thing that makes any sense is this stupid job, and let me tell you: I'm sick of this stupid job being the only thing that makes sense, especially because it's one of the biggest reasons that I can't seem to make sense of the other parts of my life.

But so I'm indulging in some self-pity, and I'm wallowing in the demise of the fake relationship, and tomorrow I'll stop with the indulging and wallowing and start with the repressing and the moving on. Sounds like a fun way to start the week, no? At least it's fall break, so I won't need to put on the happy face for students. Thank God for small favors.

Another Visit, Survived

Well, the Parents of Crazy just left, and I would say it was a 75-80% great visit, but then, of course, I had a meltdown this morning. Why does my mom have such a knack of making me freak out? Why can't we ever see each other without me losing it, totally? Ugh.

But again, other than the major meltdown this morning, it was a good visit. And now I can take the next three days to recover from it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Poetry Friday - Nikki Giovanni


I haven't written a poem in so long
I may have forgotten how
Unless writing a poem
Is like riding a bike
Or swimming upstream
Or loving you
It may be a habit that once aquired
Is never lost

But you say I'm foolish
Of course you love me
But being loved of course
Is not the same as being loved because
Or being loved despite
Or being loved

If you love me why
Do I feel so lonely
And why do I always wake up alone
And why am I practicing
Not having you to love
I never loved you that way

If being loved by you is accepting always
getting the worst
taking the least
hearing the excuse
And never being called when you say you will
Then it's a habit
Like smoking cigarettes
Or brushing my teeth when I awake
Something I do without
But something without
Which I could just as well do
Most habits occur
Because of laziness
We overdrink
Because our friends do
We overeat
Because our parents think
We need more flesh
On the bones
And perhaps my worst habit
Is overloving
And like most who live
To excess
I will be broken
In two
By my unwillingness
To control my feelings

But I sit writing
A poem
About my habits
Which while it's not
A great poem
Is mine
And some habits
Like smiling children
Or giving a seat to an old person
Should stay
If for no other reason
Than their civilizing

Which is the ultimate
I need
To acquire