Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hating Jil

Like most everyone in this corner of the profession, I took a gander at the job list after it went live Thursday night. I wasn't looking with intent, and I didn't spend long on the site--just skimmed the listings and remarked that there were only three or four jobs I'd be interested in if I were on the market (not counting those at places like Berkeley and Harvard, which aren't actual jobs but a conspiracy between the MLA, FedEx-Kinkos and the U. S. Postal Service). Then I shut down my computer and went to bed.

The next 36 hours passed pleasantly: I puttered around the apartment, spent quality time on a couple of writing projects, and thought some more about a talk I'm giving next month. Then on Saturday, while refilling my coffee cup, I suddenly blurted out to the empty room, "I should apply for Job X."

Now, Job X is at a school that, over the years, I've occasionally pointed to as the kind of place I'd like to work. It's not an institution that most people would regard as a dream job, and I don't have any real investment in it myself--it just has a number of features that I consider desirable. Still, though I'm friendly with a couple of people in the department, I've never so much as set foot on campus, and when I saw the job listing on Thursday all I did was say, "School X! Good job!"--and then immediately clicked on the next page of listings.

But apparently some part of my brain kept thinking about that posting, unbeknownest to my conscious mind, until all in a rush I felt that I had to apply for that job. And--I could, couldn't I? It was just one job, and so really shouldn't take too much effort. I could even comfortably tell my chair about it, because hey: it was only one job! which I had totally reasonable reasons for applying for!

But, ugh. It would be work. And though I'd be a strong candidate, there are lots of strong candidates out there. And if I didn't actually want to leave my current position--and was in fact quite happy there--what was the point, really? Job X might be a better job over the long haul. . . but did I know that? And would it be better for right now?

I couldn't get back to work. I paced around my apartment for several hours and wrote long, insane emails to a couple of professional friends: what should I do? What should I DOOOO?

And then, just as suddenly, I decided that of course I wasn't going to apply for one stupid job; I wasn't going to apply for any jobs. I'd never intended to, and I wasn't going to. The End.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who falls into this mania every September. When it happened last year, though, I thought it was situationally specific: I was feeling unmoored in the wake of my breakup and uncertain what that meant for my professional gameplan. I didn't even get close to applying, but I spent the better part of a week freaking out about one listing in particular--and then wondering whether I shouldn't apply to a few other similar schools.

But here it's gone and happened again, nearly a year after I thought I'd figured out a rough five-year plan--one that does not involve my going on the market any time soon. So is it me, or is it Jil?

Jil, I've decided, is my professional alter-ego (not to be confused with Flavia--I've got more than one, folks; try to keep up). Or perhaps it's better to say that she--more than the real-life person who previously held that title--is my nemesis, made up of all my own worst and least-lovely characteristics: anxiety, vanity, doubt, and the haunting sense that my life could be even better if I only knew what I needed to do to make it so. Each year, Jil comes back into town and nags at me, tempting and frightening me with visions of alternate futures. Jil makes me wonder if I'm defining happiness and success properly, or if I'm capable of recognizing those things when I see them. Jil makes me restless and dissatisfied.

Jil. She's got such a nice, all-American name, and she comes smiling toward you with promises to listen, to help you out. But don't turn your back: Jil'll cut you soon as look at you.


Flavia said...

N.B., for non-lit types: JIL = the MLA's Job Information List.

Prof. de Breeze said...

It's certainly not just you, Flavia. I applied for the "just one job" last year, and almost did so (got as far as requesting letters) for one the year before. And I'm not only satisfied where I am but also very geographically bound here. I had already realized I didn't want that "just one job" last year before I got the rejection letter, and I spent a good part of this spring coming to terms with the fact that I will almost certainly work at my current school for the rest of my career. And I did come to those terms. I'm content. No, I'm happy. But there I was yesterday, compulsively scanning the JIL for any items of interest. It's a freakin' disease, I tell you.

On the positive side, though, at least I waited until yesterday.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Hee! I think my Jil is a compulsive rover and gambler, the sort of person who can't see when she's got a good thing going and can't resist the urge to toss the dice one more time.

I kind of liked her when I was actually on the market. She was exciting. Right now, though, she seems determined to sabotage me.

Sisyphus said...

Wow, does the entire profession regularly log on to the list the first day it comes out, every year, for the rest of their lives?

We have some serious emotional scarring, PTSD even, systemwide.

as for me, I've decided I'm running for Vice President instead. How hard could that be?

Sfrajett said...

I loved this post. I feel like JIL's a whore, but you ignore her at your peril. I applied for (and took) jobs i shouldn't have taken, and then failed to apply for jobs I should have applied to, but thought I was too good for. All I can say is: Damn you JIL! Damn! You!

Dr. Virago said...

Flavia, I *heart* you. This is *exactly* what I did last year. This year is different, since I'm an associate prof now and that makes a totally different ball game, with different anxieties. But last year? I was totally you this year.

adjunct whore said...

yes, a whore she is, and i love the way you've written about the mania that we somehow can't ever avoid. this year is the first year in 8 that i haven't done this and just reading your post made me almost log on. but my stomach hurts every time i read about it and so i keep avoiding.

perfect narrative of JIL.

Pamphilia said...

I'm with Fretful, I think we have the same Jil.

But it's interesting how this character is seeming more and more like a vice figure of Medieval/Early Modern drama- someone alluring, witty, playful and destructive.

What does that say about us? Are we Faustuses all? Couldn't Jil be not quite so corrupting? It's certainly healthy to want to know what's out there, and now more than ever, people are moving around pre- and post-tenure. Not that I'm considering it (yet).

Renaissance Girl said...

i hate her. i freaking hate JIL. but i ADORE flavia. maybe i can work for flavia instead.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

Damn that Jil. She's a hard mistress.

I have been so scarred by MLAs past that I've successfully avoided Jil the past few years -- working on developing some gratitude for the job I've got.

But, recently, Jil's been whispering in my ear ...

Flavia said...

Well! I'm glad I'm not the only one. And yes, Sisyphys: I do think it's a kind of PTSD.

Freftful (and Pamphilia), I think that's not a bad description of Jil--but she implies that you, too, should be that rover and gambler (and be as happy and carefree as she, because obviously you couldn't be, living the square, dull life that you currently do)--and that's what provokes the anxiety and dissatisfaction.

Mel said...

Jil makes me feel like I'm living the Gossip Girl life. She's the one everyone is texting and talking about; the one whose skin is so perfect it makes mine break out in zits just to see her; the one who will be sweet to your face and bitchy behind your back; the one you love to loathe and loathe to love.

Piers said...

Whereas I'm dating Jil right now. It would all be so much easier if she didn't insist on seeing other people at the same time.

Flavia said...

Piers: oh, indeed. But see above re: roving and gambling.

penelope said...

I'm always surprised at Jil's extraordinary expectations. Is she *really* looking for a Medievalist with additional expertise in Neoplatonic drama, the semiotics of Google, and boutique-shopping studies???

(Feel free to insert *any* combination of non-connected areas of expertise.)

Just reading those kind of postings makes me curl up into a fetal position.