For the past couple of weeks--or ever since I received a very good piece of news about a proposed essay of mine, one that would represent entirely new work--I've been walking around composing in my head the email message that I plan to send to my dissertation director. You know what I'm talking about, or perhaps some of you do: the "hey, I'm just checking in to tell you how fabulously I've been doing, and about all the amazing projects I have going on, so please don't forget that I exist, because I'll probably need another recommendation letter from you before too long. Okay, bye-ee!"
(Or maybe you have a different kind of relationship with your own dissertation director--the kind that George Washington Boyfriend has with his. GWB emails him every month or two, about all kinds of things, large or small, and gets an immediate, thoughtful, and helpful reply. Nice if you've got it.)
There's pragmatism, obviously, in my desire to keep my advisor in the loop, since none of us is ever really not on the market--if not the job market, then the market for a book contract, a speaking engagement, or just for new contacts, collaborators, or professional friends. And really, given the dual career thing that GWB and I have going on, I could go back on the job market at any time (although I really hope that that time isn't next fall). So it's good to touch base now and again. But the thing here is that my advisor is not and never has been the kind of person that I could go to with problems or just to bounce ideas off. She is, I know, proud of me when I succeed. And every once in a while she has said something astonishingly complimentary about my work. But she likes to be associated with success, and I feel that aside from the occasional query--"help! I really want to participate in this collection, but am I going to be overpublishing material from my dissertation if I do?"--I can't admit to uncertainties. To interest her at all, I have to be presenting ever-new and at least modestly impressive accomplishments.
But this is all okay. In the end, having a more distant advisor worked just fine for me, and despite some of the psychic trauma that she casually inflicted along the way, having a slavish need to please her probably was (and continues to be) an effective motivator for me.
Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel some of my old middle-child resentment when I ran into Younger Sister at MLA. Younger Sister is on the market this year, and while we engaged in the usual eye-rolling about Advisor's behavior, Younger Sis is obviously her pet: Advisor has been emailing her almost daily to give fresh advice or to get updates about Younger Sis's interviews. She did almost the same thing with Elder Sister. By contrast, she was extremely uninvolved in my own two years of job searching, never emailing me to check in and never even replying to my messages unless they involved a campus visit.
But I'm going to try to put all this out of my mind when I email Advisor. Whether she likes her other advisees or former advisees better than me doesn't matter. Whether they are, in fact, doing better than I am doesn't matter. I just need to concentrate on--and do--my own stuff.