31 January 2008

Good Mood

It's snowing here. They're expecting about 6" over night, so with the inadequate number of snow plows our town has, getting around tomorrow should be fun.

But even that can't bother me. I'm still coming down from a great meeting with my advisor and a lovely conference with one of my new students. My advisor was very happy with my second chapter, thinks that I'm learning and improving with each thing she sees, and thinks I am definitely ready to be on the market. Turns out I'm the only one of her 6 or 7 advisees that has stayed on schedule. All of this makes me feel much much better about things. It means that I only have about another 100 pages to write--two more chapters that should pretty much writer themselves. We even started outlining what I need and when I need it for the market. I left her office with a huge weight off my shoulders.

And then the meeting I had with a new student was actually fairly pleasant. She's a (new) comp lit major and was asking me a whole bunch of questions about grad school and becoming a professor. And for once, I felt like I could actually answer the questions with some authority.


I'm one proofread away from sending an article out. I've been sitting on it for a long time, but when I re-read it, I realized it's actually pretty decent. So keep your fingers crossed, cuz I need more padding in the ole' CV if I want to bill myself as an entire 20th century person.

So let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, 'cuz blue skies are shinin' on me..

30 January 2008

Whooah, we're half way there...

So Faulkner is out, which means that I have 1/2 of my thesis finished. whoo-hoo.

And the other half is the half I'm looking forward to :)

28 January 2008

Random Bullets

  • I finally got around to making a website for myself and the job market. It was not an easy process, because it turns out that I don't have a clue how to deal with html, despite my gig as a website optimizer. First I designed a beautiful site in Word, the I uploaded it to netfiles, and then it promptly didn't work, so I gave up and decided to use google pages.
  • Our garage is a no-radio zone. Doesn't matter if it's NPR or Nirvana, if it's on the radio, it immediately turns into a horrible buzzing static the second I pull the car into our garage. Makes me wonder what the owners of the house before us did in there...
  • I am not a teacher of poetry. I bore myself when I teach poetry. I really have to figure this one out, because as much as I can specialize in prose, I don't think there's a school out there that would hire someone who refuses poetry. . . but really- verse seems so unnecessary.
  • I hate my husband. Ok, not really, but could someone please tell me why I'm the one who eats less and works out (I'm talking jogging here people), and he's the one who loses weight? uf.
  • I'm kind of rooting for Barack right now. I'm really torn, because I want a woman to finally break through and become president, but I don't know how I feel about two families taking over the White House as their own private vacation home for the majority of my life. And Barack is just so darn compelling. He's like Kennedy and King all rolled into one when he speaks. I could definitely handle listening to him give the State of the Union for the next 4 years. But, I gotta say, Edwards seems most concerned with a lot of the issues that are important to me. Choices... Choices...
  • If you're wondering why I'm worried about the dems and not the republicans, you really need to check out mom-101's essay on the topic of women's issues.
  • I get to meet with my thesis adviser on Wed. I'm going to propose dropping a chapter. I hope she goes for it, because as much as I love Faulkner, I just don't think he belongs. Plus, I want to go on the market as close as possible to "degree in hand."
  • Speaking of the market (oh, you knew I was going to eventually...) I don't really understand why the department seems resigned to the fact that Americanists will take 3 years before they find a job. I'm just not buying that this is the way it has to be. Not at all. Damn it- I really was planning on having a job before I turned 30. Not 3 years later. So I'm sending out two more articles by the end of the week. Nothing like padding the CV a little more...
  • Little Man is perfect. I want to give him away sometimes, but mostly he's perfect and wonderful.

25 January 2008

Toddler Nutrition in 10 Easy Steps!

1. Begin when your child is young by painstakingly making all of his or her baby food for them. This may seem like a lot of work right now, but those hours slaving over your food processor and food mill will really pay off when your baby turns into a toddler and has an amazingly complex palate.
2. Once your baby is past pre-ground food, you can start them on a wholesome, nutritious diet that will lead to good eating habits for years to come! Beam as your little one gobbles down everything from pureed peas to Dim Sum in Chinatown.
3. Start your little guy or gal's day with a nutritious breakfast. Some whole-grain cereal, preferably without too much sugar and without high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oil. Offer a side of sliced fruit--bananas have always been a favorite--and a glass of nutritious organic milk.
4. Watch your toddler eat the cereal, ignore the bananas, and ask for "apple juice" instead. Note: you do not actually have any apple juice, you've never had any apple juice. Instead, you must decode whether today "apple juice" means orange juice or the blueberry pomegranate juice with the hidden veggies in it.
5. For lunch, make sure that you offer your toddler a balanced meal--lean proteins like grilled chicken, steamed veggies, some sliced fruit, and either milk or water to drink.
6. Your toddler will, most likely decide that none of this fare is to their liking. They will instead ask for "cheese," "crcker," and "ee-ohs bown. Try as you may, the kid is just not going to eat those cute little peas or bite size carrots. But you don't want him to starve, so dig out the goldfish crackers, some cheese, and--if the pleading doesn't stop--offer him his second bowl of "ee-ohs bowl" for the day.
7. Don't be surprised if he wants "mo ee-ohs bowl." He probably won't stop saying "mo," "mo mo," and "mo peese" until you comply by putting more "ee-ohs" into his book, topping it with some more dok (milk) and refilling the juice glass.
8. Fruit makes a great afternoon snack....but your kid's probably not going to eat it. Nope, he'll either want "ee-ohs bowl" or toast. Or both. Hopefully, you didn't buy the regular size box of oat-flavored ohs. Instead splurge for the gianormous "Honey Nut Scooters" from Sam's....you're gonna need it.
9. Dinner can be a great time to practice the social aspects of eating and to continue teaching your toddler the value of good nutrition. Offer him or her smaller portions of the food you've prepared for the rest of the family. Don't be surprised, however, when a seemingly child friendly meal, like spaghetti and meatballs isn't the hit you expected. Instead, prepare yourself for your child to scream "ee-oli" over and over, because he would prefer the blanched and fairly tasteless Gerber graduates ravioli. Don't worry, he's just being "social."
10. Congratulations on making it through yet another day of feeding your toddler! Your efforts to prepare nutritious, well balanced meals have been met with....err, um... some criticism. Never fear-- there's still the evening snack! As you pour the third bowl of cereal for the day, take some comfort in the fact that it's fortified.

21 January 2008

Will the Humanities Save Us?

In a recent NY Times piece, Prof. Stanley Fish writes that the arguments for the humanities' purpose or usefulness are all unnecessary. It is not, he writes, necessary for the humanities to fill some sort of role that university accountants can tick off to rationalize their continued funding. In part, I whole-heartedly agree. The humanities do not have to be "useful" in order to be valuable. They do not need to fill some role that the general, anti-intellectual American public can point to and say, "Yes, I see now why it important to keep paying those people to read silly books and plays."

What I do not agree with, however, is the idea that the humanities can't fill an important role in our society. Just because they should need to be "practical" doesn't mean that they don't have the potential to be useful. They are, after all, what humanizes us--what separates us from other animals. They need not always have transformative properties, but the can at times transform us.

Case in point-- literature has made me who I am now in many ways, not the least of which is my outlook about social justice and equality:

I grew up with parents who joked that today should really be called "James Earl Ray Day," with a family who believed that while Martin Luther King never did anything bad himself, he "got all the other ones riled up to cause problems," with a family culture where the word "nigger" was a normal term thrown about in conversations. I remember, when I was very, very young, my grandpa taught me a song about a "Nigger in the Woodpile." I must have known it was bad, that I shouldn't be singing it, because I went and hid on our steps by myself to sing it, where I was promptly caught and punished by my mother. But things were never straight forward; the same mother who punished me for singing that song also told me once that interracial marriage was, basically, against the bible--the different tribes of Israel or some such thing.

The way my family dealt with race always bothered me, but I never understood how to deal with it. I also believed much of it-- bought into it, because it was all I really knew.

And then I read Beloved. I hated it the first time through--I didn't understand it at all. It made me angry, so I read it again. And I understood. And in understanding, finally, the story of a mother who would rather kill her own children than see them slaves, I began to understand where I stood. In the telling of that story, I was fascinated by the radical departures of traditional European narrative to tell what was a radical and subversive story. For the story wasn't only that the mother would rather see her children dead than slaves, it was that slavery stripped her of her very ability to understand that she was the best part of herself, that her very humanity had been taken away.

I fell in love with African American literature, which caused my mother no small bit of anxiety. I could tell that she was uncomfortable with my original decision to study ethnic literatures and mostly relieved when my dissertation turned out to be about of dead white men. But it's still a dissertation about race-- about how whiteness and masculinity became the most important aspects of American literature.

And it wasn't until I studied rhetoric that I began to understand Dr. King's utter, dazzling brilliance and power.

Studying these texts transformed me, changed me. They allowed me to become the person who visited that hotel turned museum in Memphis and could understand what the country truly lost on that day when one racist white man took away yet another soul dedicated to equality, freedom, peace, and hope.

It's not that literature should be held accountable to perform these transformations, but there is that possibility there. And that possibility for positive transformation is important. Dr. King understood the possibility inherent in language to change the world. He used it brilliantly, even if his time with us was all too short.

20 January 2008

I thought I had until April...

It seems like the terrible twos should start when, well, the child is actually two. Apparently, you do not get a full 24 months to prepare for them. Apparently, you get exactly twenty months and a handful of days. That's it--no more, not less.

Either that or my child has some sort of serious chemical imbalance.

Because the screaming, the random, heart-wrenching screaming and crying and holding onto my leg as I try to walk across the kitchen to make dinner isn't normal for Little Man. But in the last few days he seems to have caught the twoearlyitis disease.

One minute he's fine-- giggles and sweetness and everything wonderful. The next minute, however, he's wailing like a banshee (and not the good kind of banshee), throwing himself around on the flour, and J and I are staring at each other like an alien has just landed in the backyard and we're not sure whether to run or stand and fight. Five minutes or so later, and he's back to smiles and giggles and I can't help but smile when he beams with absolute and very random joy.

It's enough to make anyone crazy. And nothing works. You can't reason with them, you can't talk to them, you can't punish them. He is, quite simply, a raging ball of passion and desire with no direct course and no real way to channel it. So I reach down deep and try to find that inner peace to ride it out. Walking across the kitchen to chop another onion as he clings to my leg, wailing.

18 January 2008

Job Market Blues

And it's not even summer yet...

To some extent, I think about this issue way too much. There is, after all, only so much one can do to get a job. So much of it has to do with luck, timing, and that all important concept, fit.

Knowing that, however, does not stop me from worrying about the year ahead and the years after.
I'm fairly lucky, in a way, because the department in the lovely Mountain University where I got my MA gave me a head start that I don't think grad students here at Prairie U are getting.

When I went to the pre-pre job search info session last year (you're not allowed to go to the real pre- job search meeting until you're actually committing to going on the market) I found out that in my program roughly 40% of first time job candidates get tenure track positions--and that includes a portion of the department that is known for placing almost everyone, every time. The institution where I got my MA routinely places something like 80% or more of first time candidates, most in tenure track gigs. And, it boasts a record of placing 97% of people who wanted tenure track positions within 3 years.* From the look of the number of PhDs who show up year after year as non-tenured lecturers, I'm guessing that Prairie U doesn't quite boast those numbers.

This seems odd to me--especially since Prairie U is ranked quite a bit better than Mountain U. Especially, since Praire U boasts programs and faculty that are nationally known and recognized. You'd think that their placement rate would be higher-- say 50-50 at least.

So I have good reason to think, and worry, and plan for the job search. Because if I wait until the pre-search meeting that will happen sometime in May, I will be years behind people in programs that have been preparing to be professionals since the beginning of graduate school.

Luckily, thankfully, I knew this coming in.

When I entered my MA program I didn't have a clue. I imagined grad school to be an extension of undergrad (which I breezed through with minimal effort). I really didn't know what I wanted, or what it meant to get a PhD, to be a professor. By the end of my first semester, I was just trying to make it through to get the MA and then maybe go back and teach High School. Anything but more theory and three hour seminars. I felt stupid and out of place amidst people who already had read Derrida and Foucault. I had tantrums over theory books and wanted to cry when I read something in English that I could not, for the life of me, comprehend.

And then something happened. At the end of my second semester, a professor wrote on one of my seminar papers that I should think about revising it for publication--and that she would be happy to help me.

So I did. I worked on draft after draft. I came across Irigaray and finally found theory that made sense to me in a real way. And for the first time, I understood my work as real work. Not as busy work or something to just get through. Real work, that I was really interested in, and really wanted to do.

That experience happened at least 3 times at Mountain U-- three different professors in less than two years, in classes that were not my "real" area, expressing willingness to help me become a colleague rather than a student. It was an atmosphere that permeated the department. I was told by an chaired professor that I was not to call her Prof. X, but simply by her nickname. "You are becoming a colleague," she said. "Not simply a student, and should address me as such."

It's because of Mountain U that I have 1 article published and 1 forthcoming. It's because of those two short years in my MA program that I worry about getting through, finishing, and what my CV should have on it to be a viable candidate on a difficult market.

It's not that I haven't gotten help and support from Prairie U-- my committee has been wonderful to me, and the department has treated me fairly well. But, in a way, I think it's somehow sad that the department here is ok with their 40% placement when it is, indeed, possible to do so much better-- for themselves, and for their students.

*And this isn't an exaggeration-- when they recruited me for the MA, they sat me down and went over a list of the last 3 years' candidates and showed me where they placed. Most tenure track--and not even tenure track in Community Colleges or middle of nowhere branch campuses. Real places, that I've heard of before.

16 January 2008

Yet Another Reason....

why the big, bloated state university which I attend will never see a penny of my alumni dollars.

So we got paid today. Usually this is a good thing-- a very good thing. But when we looked at the amounts, they didn't seem right. Then, when I emailed our lovely departmental secretaries about it, I got the explanation. Turns out that getting a fellowship means getting a pay cut of about $200 per month.


So much for the fellowship's supposed goal to ease my stress and workload by giving me a release from teaching one class. Now, I'm making about $800 less this semester, so I have brand new things to stress about.

Some "award."

I know I should have read the fine print, should have tallied up the amounts before I accepted the award, and all, but I thought that a 33% appointment was a 33% appointment. That one would equal the other. They really should be more explicit about these things. Because when you live on a tight budget, with a child, and a mortgage, and bills, and car repairs... $800 is a whole lot of something.


My New Favorite Blog

For the time being...


14 January 2008

This is the year...

J has been saying that a lot lately.

This is the year....
"for professionalization"
"to get stuff done"
"that we need to really work hard"
"that everything is riding on"

The list goes on and on. I can feel his anxiety about his dissertation, his place in the program, his future possibilities on the job market. These anxieties ooze out of him and seem to hang in the air, mingling with my own.

But as much as I want to support him and be a good cheerleader, I can't help but think that he's wrong. It really isn't about this particular year. One year does not make a job candidate or a future professor. It certainly can effect them, but it doesn't make one.

I don't think you just wake up one morning and think, "today's the day. I will stop acting like a consummate student and begin acting like the professor I want to become." No. I think that's a transformation that you work at, that evolves, and that takes time. It's a transformation that I think J, and myself, have been working at for quite a few years now. I know that deep down he knows this and I know that these recent proclamations are his attempt to calm his fears and anxieties about the importance of this year, but I can't help but worry that he's putting a bit too much importance on it.

The truth of the matter is that he will, more likely than not, get a job if he finishes even 1/3 of his dissertation well. The truth is that that job will most likely pay at least twice what any job I will receive will pay and that as we negotiate which offer(s) to accept, where to move our little family, how to proceed in the next few years, his offer will most likely make the most financial sense. And the truth is that there is a very, very good possibility that my career will lose out--at least at first. Because there are loans and credit cards to pay off, moving expenses to think about, and the future well-being of one very bright and precocious toddler to think about, finances will indeed matter.

We've been very lucky so far. We both got into every grad school we applied to, except one--the one school I was already at. But as newly married couple, we had real choices about where to go--and because we had those choices, we have dealt with out disappointments over our prospective programs jointly and have been able to support each other through the difficulties that the last 4 years or so have brought with us. The job search, however, might be a whole new ballgame.

The real problem is that when we first got engaged and then got married, I didn't know what I really wanted. I do now. And I know that teaching at a community college or indefinitely as a lecturer is just not for me. I'd go back to retail before I made either of those my career. And while the chances are better than good that J will get a job next year, mine are only about 40%. The market in English is tough, and with that I also have to deal with a series of people in classes before me who haven't finished on time or didn't get jobs their first years out who will now be my competition. So instead of 2 or 3 modernists on the market this year, there may be 5 or 6. Or more. I have no idea how I look on paper compared to them-- whether they also have articles or big conferences on their CVs, whether their dissertations are getting finished or still a mire of notes and reading. And that makes me nervous--especially when people on my committee are also on theirs.

I'm in competition with them, with job candidates across the country, and with J. Because unless we both get offers in the same area or the same school, decisions will have to be made. Marriages and families are much, much more important than careers and jobs.

So yes, this is a big year. But I have too much to worry about to think about becoming a professional. I already am one. Now I just have to convince someone else of that fact.

10 January 2008

4 Days and Counting...and hoping...and planning...

The new semester starts in 4 days. That's only 4 days left to finish planning my first few weeks of class and get something done on my diss.

Instead, I've picked up a new book that has nothing to do with the diss-- The Observationist. It was one of my $5 deals at the MLA Convention. Such fun to read. Nothing like first person narrative told by a 16 year old mid-nineteenth century prostitute-turned-house servant to chase the cobwebs off good old Willy Faulkner.

But I feel like I've also got a lot of work done in the last few days. I have my syllabus all together, lecture notes and power point slides all set for the first two and a half weeks. Lit classes don't usually employ business technologies like power point, but I'm teaching a culture and lit class that's supposed to address the entire culture of Anglo-American modernism, so I need the audio and visuals to bring in as well. Because I'm in no position to teach Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, I'm going with Picasso, Stravinsky, and pop culture. Sounds more fun anyhow.

But this week has just underlined what an expensive year it's going to be. J's conference--a big one, that will no doubt go far in the networking department--is in NYC after Easter. Talk about expensive. Whew. But we've finally sucked it up, given up finding a cheaper apartment rental, and decided to go with a Times Square hotel. I've gotta say, I'm kind of excited. We usually stay in the Upper West Side, which I love--but part of me has always wanted to stay right in the heart of Times Square. And with conference rates, it's just as cheap, err expensive, as anything else.

Then I found out that the Hemingway conference that my paper was accepted to is $200!! I applied for a travel grant from the Hem. Foundation, but if I actually get it, I'll need to be in Kansas City (that's right, exotic, exciting Kansas city) for a whole week. Blech. I was hoping to buzz in for a few days, but this conference is a week-long lovefest for old Hem.

Put all that together with the fact that I probably will still need to do some travel for archival research and that the year's going to end with a 10 California jaunt, and it all adds up to the fact that the credit cards companies are going to be loving us this year. I may just need to build a shrine or start doing daily devotions to Our Lady of "Dear-God-Please-Let-Me-Find-A-Job- (and-not-just-any-job-but-a-good-one-in-a-place-where-I'd-actually-like-to-live-and-raise- children).

On the upside, I get to go to the beach twice this year. And one of those times it's gonna cost next to nothing-- big family reunion shindig.

Until then, I've got some Faulkner to read.

06 January 2008

It's gone, baby, gone

Yup-- shaved it clean off.

I knew him before he had a beard, but he's always had a beard since we've been together. Then the day we got back from our Christmas trek he was trimming it and suddenly decided to just go all the way.

I have to say-- I kind of like it... but it was like learning to kiss a whole new person.

05 January 2008

One More Day

One more day of enjoying my mostly destroyed house and my sweet-as-pie toddler without worrying about work.

One more day of not counting calories, not worrying about why my stomach seems "bloated," not trying to get my 5-a-day.

One more day of scouting out vacation condos and planning a Vegas blowout for our 30th birthdays (in 2009).

One more day of oogling the Mandalay Bay's website and thinking it wouldn't be so bad if we were turning 30 this year.

One more day of not worrying that I have two conference proposals accepted and not a single paper for either one.

One more day of vacation.

Because on Monday
I start getting up at 6AM
I get my butt back on the elliptical machine and start the weights again.
I stop eating crap and start losing the last of this baby weight so I can look far too good for the mother of a two year old in Florida this year.
I get back to work and 1) plan the first few weeks of class--lesson plans, lectures, and power points; get myself to the library and start looking at Faulkner's *%@#! manuscripts, and 3) start revising the Fitzgerald piece so that my CV kicks the ass of at least 70% of the other 20th century applicants on this year's (that's right folks--the time is finally here!) job market.

Because if J can shave off his beloved beard in an attempt to get professional, I think I can do the small thing of writing one measly little thesis.

01 January 2008

Happy New Year!

Here's hoping that you and yours have a year filled with peace and good fortunes.