10 December 2009

09 December 2009

Biggest Challenge of 2009

I could say that the biggest challenge was 3 months of morning sickness. I could say that it was being pregnant for a full 40 weeks. Or dealing with a three year old.

But the biggest challenge of 2009 has been dealing with the hand I've been dealt. That hand, it seems, does not include a) a job as a professor or b) a new Camaro.

We decided to have another baby last year when it was clear I wouldn't be getting a job, and for the last year I thought I was doing quite a good job of getting over that fact and mourning the career that should have been.

And it really, really should have been. I have a great project, multiple publications, and teaching awards. In a real market, I should get interviews. I should get offers.

That, it seems is not to be.

There's still the outside chance that I'll creep in through the back door. That J will somehow wrangle me into something when he negotiates his offer.

It's just not the same, though. I've never wanted to ride on anyone's coattails. I've never wanted anything handed to me, and I've worked my ass off these last eight years to be good at what I do--good enough that I should be hire-able.

I'd make a damn good professor.

J has 6 interviews already this December, and with each call he gets I realize more and more that I didn't really mourn completely, that I didn't really finish dealing with this. I want to be excited for him--I am excited for him--but every time he gets another interview, my stomach sinks and I feel like curling up into a ball and crying.

Apparently, I am not as ok with the whole situation as I thought. Apparently, I was just distracted by morning sickness, 40 weeks of pregnancy, a dissertation defense, and an increasingly whiny 3- year-old.

Apparently, this is an on-going challenge. One that doesn't seem to have any end in sight.

The problem is that I'm a planner. I decide what I want; I figure out how to get it; I make a bunch of lists and a bunch of plans; I follow through. It's what I do. I'm really not good at dealing with failing.

The biggest challenge of 2009 is to re-envision my future and who I am. It's not been going so well the last month or so.

07 December 2009

Best Blog Find of 2009

I actually have two:

Awkward Family Photos


My Parents Were Awesome

One makes me laugh on a regular basis. One just makes me smile.

06 December 2009

Best Trip of 2009*

I've wanted to drive down Highway 1 for a while now, but something about doing it in a blue Mustang makes it even better.

Last December I had flights and hotels booked to my convention back in July or August.

I assumed I would get interviews (and we all know what happens when we assume). The interviews never happened, but the tickets were non-refundable. J's convention was the following weekend in the same city, so we turned what should have been a depressing week into one of the best trips of the year.

We started in San Francisco, and when a problem with the rental car company meant that we got to drive a Mustang for the price of a compact, we knew it was going to be a great trip.

We headed down to San Luis Opisbo, where my baby brother lives. We saw the Misson

We ate at the Madonna Inn and I ventured into the men's room to see their waterfall urinals:

We rented a boat and saw the sunset at Morrow Bay, we saw the Monarch Butterflies, we went to Paso Robles and went wine tasting. And X got to have a great time with Uncle D.

But it was still 2008.

We left Uncle D and kept driving down to LA- Little Man was not amused. (And Judy Garland had freakishly small feet.)

After 2 hours in LA traffic.....

We saw 2009 in here:

We spent two days in the Magic Kingdom seeing it through 2-year-old eyes. We rode the Tea-Cups and the Elephants, we saw the Haunted Mansion transformed into Jack Skellington's house, we watched it snow, on demand in Southern California.

And then we headed North once again, back to San Francisco for J's convention. Little Man and I saw the sights of the waterfront while J went to meetings and panels. I peed on a stick and we celebrated the results in a private booth in China Town followed by cappuccino and cannoli at The Steps of Rome.

I could have picked our June trip to Florida with my extended family; that was also a trip to remember.

The best trip of 2009, though, took us up and down the California coast. It was the trip that helped to heal the pain of not knowing where life was going and the trip that gave us something to look forward to. It was the last trip we took as a family of 3, because when we boarded the plane back to the prairie, we knew we would be 4. And that, it seemed, was a portent of all the good things that had to be coming.

*I know I should be posting on best workshop or conference, but this year I haven't been to any, so I'm going back to the Best Trip post.

04 December 2009

Best Book of 2009

I read. A lot.

Let me put this in perspective for you-- I saw a woman on one of the news shows who was being interviewed for doing a blog on reading a book-a-day, and I thought, "yeah, and??"

I've always read a lot. When I was younger, I'd start devouring books before I even got home from the library. I would stay up until 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning to finish a book if it was compelling enough.

It's really no surprise that I eventually gave up the notion of being a lawyer and decided to study literature for a living. Once I started college, books got harder-- Faulkner, Morrison, Joyce, Woolf, Heller, Pynchon. The weirder, the better. I reveled in the difficulty of crazy modernist and post-modernist works. I tried to go back to Grisham, and I couldn't. It just didn't seem worth my time.

Then I picked up Twilight (no-- that's not the book of the year) sometime in 2008. Then a friend recommended Outlander.* And, between the two of those series, I remembered why I liked reading. I had been doing it so long for my work, and I had been reading so many wonderful "important" things, that I forgot that reading could just be fun.

After the great job market collapse of 2008, all I wanted to read was a happy ending. I was tired of reading about "isn't it pretty to think so," and wanted to read that someone got what they wanted and deserved. So, I started devouring romance novels.

I've never been the romance novel type-- but for the last year, I couldn't get enough of them. I've read hundreds of them, literally. I was reading one during labor to distract myself. If I think about it too much, I realize it probably verges on either pathetic or obsessive, but I don't watch much TV. Or, at least that's how I excuse it.

So the best book of 2009? Heck if I know. I do know that all of those fabulous, unheralded romance writers kept me sane this year, as I was suffering through morning sickness, dealing with pregnancy, and mourning a career that's a non-starter.

I used to look down on Romance, as a genre. It seemed too fluffy and "girly." (Heaven forbid!) But now I see it for something more. The women who write romance, and who do it well are masters of style-- they may never make it into the annals of literary history, but they're my pick for this year.

*If you have not yet read this go directly to your local library or bookstore and commence reading. As in now. It's fabulous and you will thank me for it later.

Best of 2009

I found this fabulous idea via one of my favorite blogs-- It's a way to look back at a year I haven't really blogged about. 31 Topics to reflect on-- Stay Tuned!

21 October 2009

I'm Back

It has been months and months since I've felt like writing. They've been hard months of pregnancy and uncertainty and exhaustion.

Lately, though, I've been itching to write something. So just to catch you all up (is anyone even there anymore?):

  • Little Dude (H) was born on Sept. 13. He was not inclined to come out on his own, so we forced him along.
  • H is wonderful. He is the sweetest little thing I could have ever imagined. He rarely cries; he sleeps fairly well; he smiles and laughs all the time. I'm in love, again.
  • I have no job prospects, and I'm surprisingly ok with that. I defended my dissertation in August, and while it's sad that no one, besides my committee, will ever read the thing (There will be no Book without a Job), I'm happy to be done with it. I'll deposit it sometime in Jan., and call it a day.
  • J has been having some health problems with his Crohns. He'll have surgery for it next week.
  • We're waiting (hopefully) to see where J gets a job. He better get a job. If not, we're kind of screwed.
  • If he doesn't get a job, we'll move somewhere fun. Ohio is not fun.
  • Did I mention that I'm in love with little H?

10 March 2009

Voices from Academe-Labor of Love

Recently, there's been a slew of articles about the dire prospects for graduate students, especially in the humanities, on the job market. The New York Times last weekend ran an article about the job prospects (or lack thereof) in the humanities. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, a columnist that goes by the pen-name Thomas H. Benton has been warning prospective grad students of the danger of attending graduate school in English. "Just don't go," he says, unless you're independently wealthy, are supported by a spouse, or are independently wealthy.

Today, the most recent Chronicle has a part two to his original essay about avoiding graduate school. Apparently, he received quite a bit of mail that accused him of undermining the importance of the academy, the importance of intellectual life. And, in response, he brought up what I think is a truly important point-- that the rhetoric of doing this (i.e., academia) because we love it is at best naive, and worst, dangerous.

And he's right. For what other profession do people use the rhetoric of "love" to excuse the fact that there are no jobs out there. He makes an important point, that the discipline has lost its ability to take care of its own.

I see this happening in my own department. Surely enough, this spring will bring a wealth of new graduate students to visit campus. Next fall 20-30 new bodies will fill the seats in orientation. And, I can almost guarantee that no one will mention the fact that, in all likelihood, most of them will never become tenure-track professors. They may be told that we have "very good job placement" (I was). They may be told that we're an extremely strong program with a strong faculty (we are). But no one--I'd be willing to bet money on this--will tell them that they should be open to other options besides being a professor. (Other than adjuncting indefinitely, that is.) That would be tantamount to blasphemy in the hallowed halls of the ivory tower.

Trust me- I know this from experience. When I told my otherwise helpful and supportive dissertation director that I would go do something else if I didn't get a tenure track job, she gave me a look that indicated that I might, possibly, have lost it.

The problem, really, is that this isn't about my own piddly job market performance. It's really about a system that perpetuates cycles of exploitation--and not even on purpose. Our professors really do care about how we do--that much I know. But even they don't know how to help us do anything else but become research-oriented professors. And so, this rhetoric of the love of the profession becomes our reason for being, our entire identity.

I was struck by one specific thing in Benton's latest article-- that some of the letters he received from graduate students talked about depression, some about thinking of suicide. And that floored me.

But it also made me realize how very lucky I am to see this as both a vocation and a job. If I thought of studying literature as only a vocation--something so intrinsic to my identity that I could not do without it--my utter job market failure might well have been devastating.

It wasn't, surprisingly enough. I had a fine time in California at Disneyland while I should have been interviewing with people. And I think that is partially because I see this as a job.

I've never been one to think that work comes before family, friends, or other obligations. Especially not family. And I have an amazing family--both extended and nuclear. Every time my little guy comes up with some new idea or game, every time I tuck his small, freshly-washed body into bed at night, my career problems recede. Every time my husband holds my hand as we watch him play, or we laugh ourselves silly about something stupid, those problems recede.

I'm sure it's a bit Pollyanna-ish of me, and I by no means think that kids or partners are the answer to everyone's life problems. But for me they work, I guess. It makes me glad that I didn't make grad school or research my life, because they certainly haven't done a lot for me. It makes me glad that I didn't put anything on hold for the big dream of tenure, because that may never happen for me.

And having them makes that little problem, somehow, ok.

06 March 2009

I Want This

When Words are Personal

Sometimes I forget that what I do can impact people in a very real way. I teach literature, after all. And, while I know that there have been books that changed my life, made me more of who I am today, I don't necessarily believe that it works that way for everyone. I don't believe in any inherent quality in books or stories that has that kind of power.

But then today, one of my students came up to me after class. We're reading The English Patient, this beautifully lush novel about identity and love and words and war, and my student is worried. Because in just over a month, her boyfriend will ship off to Iraq. In just over a month, the horrors that the novel depicts in poetically horrific language might become her horrors.

But she doesn't want to be rude, so she asks if it would be ok if she needs to step outside of class sometimes to get her bearings.

Just two days ago, we read a story from The Things They Carried. It's a story about the awful weight of war, the pointlessness of death, the end of moralizing stories. It's a story about a boy (because they were almost all boys over in 'Nam) who got his head blown off taking a piss. "Zapped while zipping," the story tells us. It's a story I've always loved for its ability to strip any of the romantic trappings away from war and heroism, combat and death. It has always seemed to me strangely innocent in its rawness. But it's a story that my student had to read knowing that her own reality would be intersecting with that fiction in very real ways very soon.

I forget sometimes that words matter. It's funny, really, considering that what I do is deal in words because I do think they matter.

I forget sometimes that I cannot control context, and so I selected a couple of war stories, because I happened to "like" them, for my class to read while we are in the midst of two wars. I'm conscious of the wars. I've had students who were about to leave, who had just come back from the hell that was Fallujah (where his base camp had a banner that said "will today be the day"). And yet, I so easily forgot to include that in my thinking, in my planning.

I know that The English Patient is about more than WWII, just as The Things They Carried is about more than Vietnam, but that isn't really going to help the young woman who sits in the front left side of my classroom. For her, those stories are going to be about her war, her boyfriend's war.

And every time she steps out of the classroom, I'll know it was just a little too much.

04 March 2009

Decorating for the New Addition

It's happened much faster than I expected--my clothes officially do not fit.

At first, I was kind of excited. Since I was pregnant with X, we've gotten a Motherhood store in the mall. Last time, I had to take a trip to the closest major city to do maternity shopping, because we had zip here in the middle of the corn fields. But for some reason, the designers have decided that maternity clothes needed a little something.

Like ruffles:I think the little flower detail really adds something, don't you?

Or- if ruffles aren't enough for you, you can also have a bow:
Because nothing says you're pregnant like wearing a shirt that looks like your kid's birthday present.

And the thing that's really irritating me about maternity clothes is that almost all of the pants have this ridiculous belly thing going on. Pea in the Pod and Mimi and Motherhood--the major maternity brands online all have something called the secret fit belly. It's basically like a big ole' piece of Lycra that comes up over your stomach. I can understand that some people might find this a good thing. I am not one of those people.

I'm going to be really big in the summer. The hot, sweaty, icky summer. So imagine my delight at learning that shorts mostly come looking like this:
Because a pregnant woman really needs that extra layer of polyester over her stomach when the temperature's hitting 90.

All in all, I'm wondering what these designers are possibly thinking. I don't want to look like I'm getting ready to go to the club or walk down the runway when I'm pregnant. I just want nice, simple clothes that don't accentuate the fact that I'm expanding by the minute.

27 February 2009

More of Life in Limbo

Yesterday, I got an email telling me that an article I submitted a few months back has been accepted for publication. No revise and resubmit, just straight up taken.

I should feel good about it. It's not one of my dissertation chapters, but an old seminar paper that I reworked. It shows that I have more expertise in ethnic American lit. But it's hard to be excited about it. I can't help but think that it won't really matter in the long run. There's not much difference between 2 and 3 publications on a CV (or even much difference between 2 and 4 if I ever get around to revising and resubmitting another article that a journal has shown interest in.)

I'm trying very hard to distance myself from all of this, so that I'm prepared to move on in a year if I have to. But then a random article hits in a decent journal and suddenly I feel vindicated--that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

But I'm not doing it--so something's wrong. The market. My project. Something.

I was one of 15 finalists for a generalist position at a small Catholic college in Wisconsin. They asked me to fill out a pre-phone interview questionnaire.

I never got a phone interview.

How much does that suck? Because you know, straight up, that it's something I wrote in those answers to the ten stupid little questions about "gifts" and "values." I'm hoping it was because I'm not Catholic enough, because I'm not sure that I could have answered the pedagogy questions much better than I did.

I keep hearing this saying about how it's all about "fit." That's all fine and good, but what if there are just not enough shoes in the store?

So I have another line to add to my CV. I should feel excited.

But I don't.

26 February 2009

If I had a million dollars...

I would certainly not spend it on a monkey.

But I would spend some of it on some lovely pills.

The midwife gave me two prescriptions for morning sickness yesterday. One, which costs me $5, will probably make me too drowsy to function. The other, she called "the Cadilac" of drugs for nausea. Apparently it's some special drug they give to kemo patients before they have their treatments. Apparently, it also costs something like $100 a pill. Oh-- and I don't have any prescription coverage (thank you big stupid prairie university who doesn't think I need it). The magic $100 a pill drug is one time a day with no side effects of narcolepsy.

Did I mention that it's $100 a pill?!?! That would be almost $1000 for a week of good days.

Now, the midwife said that she thought that there was now a generic form of the pill that runs more like $10 a pill, which compared to $100 a pill sounds like a steal.

Except that it's not. That's still over 300 dollars if this stupid morning--make that all frickin' day long--sickness lasts another month. (which it did with X).

So I think I'm going to try the sleep-inducing one first, because I don't know if I want to pay that much money to feel ok. For that much, I could buy J the stupid netbook he wants to thank him for taking care of me.

Seriously folks-- how much would you pay for a good day?

24 February 2009

And the Award for Best Drama Goes To....

What is it about drama?

Certain people seem to feed on it. They love the "scene"--that moment when all eyes are upon them, when grievances are aired, when catharsis comes at the expense of others' peace.

I've never really been one of those people.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not above confronting someone or opening my big mouth when I shouldn't open it. I don't mind biting back if someone comes after me. But usually, I don't seek out drama. I have too many other things going on to want more chaos and trouble in my life.

But even from 300 miles away, drama often finds its way on our doorstep.

And to be frank- I'm kind of tired of it. To be frank- I'm kind of tired, period. I'm really tired. And sick. And downright miserable. And my poor husband isn't fairing much better, because while I'm tired and sick and miserable, he's doing everything else. EVERYTHING.** And other people are worried about us, too. Because there's nothing guaranteed about this pregnancy and we're taking things day by day. Everyone's a bit on edge. And none of us need anymore drama.

**For which I love him immeasurably.

21 February 2009

File This Under....Duh

Apparently the NY Times ran out of real news to cover-- so they reported on this.

17 February 2009

That Ain't No Etch-a-Sketch, Homeskillet

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

No job prospects, stuck in the middle of the prairie for another year, and pretty disillusioned with the whole of academe, it seemed like a good idea.

I thought I remembered. I really did. I wrote down how awful it was last time. I read those journals. I really, really thought I remembered how much I really, really, do not like being pregnant.

I do not identify with those glowingly-rotund pregnant ladies who wax poetic about the mystical wonder that is pregnancy and childbirth. I wish I did, but I don't have time to wax anything. I'm spending far too much time trying to keep my food down or throwing it up.

I think it's worse this time. It's definitely harder, because this is a different kind of pregnancy. When we decided to have the first one, it was because I was convinced that my body was telling me that I needed to have a child. I yearned to have a child. I wanted to be pregnant and fat and round and then have a sweet little baby of my own.

This time, I am not so anxious nor am I so naive. I know what's coming ahead. I know that feeling the baby kick will be cute for all of 10 minutes, and then it will just get irritating. I know that the third trimester will just be uncomfortable and sleepless. I know exactly what happens during labor (although, I've gotta say, I'm getting kind of worried, because I also thought I remembered what it was like to be pregnant). And, I know that when that sweet little bundle of milk-breath finally makes his or her appearance, those first 6 weeks or so are just plain hell. Not that I even pretend to remember them-- we were far too sleep deprived.

But I think the worst part is that I kind of feel bad for this kid already. With X, I was soo excited. I took pictures of my growing belly. I kept a pregnancy journal for the baby. I anxiously read about each moment of his development.

This time-- not so much. I don't know why that is, though. I'm excited enough, I guess, but this pregnancy just seems different. It was planned very differently than the last one. Maybe it's because I felt like X was for me and this one is for him. I'd probably be perfectly happy to just have one kid, but I believe in siblings. I wanted to give one to him.

It's not that I don't want the baby-- lord knows after one miscarriage scare I was a wreck--but it's a different kind of want. And I wonder if there is something wrong with that.

If I could just concentrate on something for more than 10 minutes, maybe I could figure it out. Then again, if I could concentrate on something for more than 10 minutes, I'd start figuring out a way to grow babies on the counter like a Sea Monkey. I mean, according to the one book I have, at this point, they look pretty much the same.

11 February 2009


Things have not gone as planned.

Ok. Some things have not gone as planned. (Others went off better than we expected.)

But big things did not go as planned.

You see, I had a plan. I'm a Virgo-- we do that. We make lists. We make plans. We persevere and see them through. In general, we're a fairly dedicated and goal-oriented bunch.

But here's the thing--I don't have any big plans anymore. At least not about my chosen career.

The market tanked. The market more than tanked--the market imploded in a not-so-brilliant display of festering puss. Seriously people. The MLA market took a 21% plus hit this year--the largest hit in its history--and those are just of posted jobs. I know that at least 1/3 of the jobs I applied for were canceled.

I look around, though, and people don't seem all that disturbed or upset by these trends. I have peers who seem happy that they didn't go on the market this year, because (in their estimation) it will somehow be better next year.


Students in my department are planning a charming little round table discussion about the future of the profession. They've proposed insightful topics like "the role of theory in literary studies" for the discussion. No one has proposed the "what if there are no tenure track jobs for the hundreds of us that are graduating" topic.

Maybe I should.

I would, but honestly, I'm too apathetic at this point. I was hoping that I was just being all gloom and doom unnecessarily-- that I was just over-reacting to a more than disappointing job search. But then I read this insightful piece in the Chronicle. If only I'd read it 6 years ago, I might have cut my losses with a Masters. At least then I'd have a better shot at Community College jobs, and I wouldn't have been spoiled by actually enjoying my research or teaching lit.

Ok. That sounds pissy. Which it is--I can't really help that.

But the bigger problem is that I am in limbo. I'll be 30 in 7 months and have no real career prospects on the horizon. I'll try the market one more time, but I'm not holding my breath on that one. I'm sticking around as a student (hopefully), even though it's really the last thing I wanted to do. But after the end of next year, come May of 2010, I will have a useless degree that I spent my 20s on and no idea what to do next.

Because I don't want to do anything else. Yet.

I hope it's a "yet" situation. If not, I could be in for a long haul.

So what does a 30-something mother of 2 with a PhD in the humanities do with herself if she can't be a professor like she expected?

Stay tuned-- one can only guess.

27 January 2009


It's been a rough couple of months. Dealing with the fact that I've probably just wasted 8 years of my life on a degree that I'll never use the way I meant to use it, the fact that there just aren't any jobs for me out there right now, and being sick as a dog. So, when I got a stupid chain email today, I didn't expect much. But I was pleasantly surprised. It contained a prayer-- one that struck me doubly, because St. Theresa was one of my grandmother's favorite saints.

St. Theresa's Prayer:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.