Friday, September 23, 2011

Promissory note

I have Things To Say--about teaching, about tenure-applying, about the fact that a "standard" bridal bouquet (which I am not getting) costs $85--but dudes. My wedding is a week from tomorrow. My tenure file is due three days later. Nothing longer than a tweet is getting written until all that's past.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stupid and contagious

The recent spate of articles commemorating the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind has reminded me that I was once, inadvertently and without really trying, extremely hip in my musical tastes. See, I went to high school just outside of Seattle in the early 1990s, and although I didn't go to concerts I listened to the local alternative radio station for hours every day. This meant that when I arrived at college I didn't know shit about the Beatles--but I could talk about Mudhoney and Candlebox, Jane's Addiction and The Sundays, and I owned every album by the Smiths. If you'd asked me, I've had said that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were okay, but they so saturated the airwaves that they didn't seem particularly cool. Knowing about them said nothing special about one's musical taste.

In the spring of 1992, my junior year of high school, I toured a liberal arts college in the northeast and stayed overnight in the dorms. The woman who was hosting me had an album playing on her stereo as we chatted. I hadn't really been listening to it, but it struck me as boring and rather square: some woman singing and playing the piano. Then I though I recognized the lyrics: was that--it couldn't be--"Smells Like Teen Spirit"? I exclaimed aloud, and said something like, "Oh! This is a cover. What a crazy version."

"You know this song?" said my host. "Yeah, I didn't know it was a cover until like last month. I hadn't heard the original. I just really like Tori Amos."

It was actually and literally impossible for me to believe that someone hadn't heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" almost a year after the song had been released--or that some weirdo acoustic version (it would be a few more years before I discovered that Tori Amos was cool) might be someone's first point of contact with Nirvana.

But as I would learn, hipness is a moving target.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tedium and terrorism

I narrated my 9/11 experiences on this blog five years ago, and I can't retell them any better now, nor do I wish to try.

But here's what else I remember: amidst all the fear and anxiety and what-the-fuck-do-we-do-now, I remember feeling exasperated. I was exasperated when I couldn't get through to my friends in New York because the phone lines were jammed. I was exasperated that I might not be able to visit the city the next weekend, as I'd planned. I was exasperated that my then-partner (a heavy, late sleeper) wouldn't wake up when I called him repeatedly that morning, and I was exasperated that my parents, whom I did wake up, didn't seem to understand what I was telling them.

I was exasperated because I didn't know what to do, and exasperated because I did know what to do, and that included reconciling with people I didn't want to reconcile with. Late at night on September 10th, I'd written an email to someone I hadn't spoken to in a while and who I felt at the time had wronged me. It was a cold, hard message, laced with sarcasm and self-righteousness. I rewrote it several times, but had second thoughts about sending it. I hit "save" and went to bed. When I rediscovered the message a day or two later, my first response was annoyance: the recipient had family in New York, and now I couldn't send even a mild version of my original message. I deleted it and wrote a short note asking after the recipient's family and friends and saying that we should be in touch.

Fucking terrorists, I thought, and hit "send."

But we were all exasperated. Exasperated that our loved ones lived far away, that we couldn't travel to see them, that we still had to study for our orals and teach classes when we didn't know whether any of that mattered any more--but also because we wanted badly for those things to be all that mattered: our everyday concerns and preoccupations. We wanted to be able to be self-absorbed, as always, and not vaguely and ineffectually focused on everyone else, on the country, and on whatever was going to happen next.

Exasperation might be a selfish response, but ten years out it strikes me as a better one than fear or rage, at least for those of us who weren't directly touched by loss. It's better, certainly, than the maudlin, luxurious catharsis we're invited to engage in every time September 11th is mentioned (and which I succumb to as much as anyone, but with as little right as most). To be exasperated is not to be paralyzed, and not to be rash. Exasperation measures the distance between how things are and how we wish they were, and if it's not the noblest of emotions it's far from the most venal.

Fucking terrorists.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Getting It Published, Part 5

When last we left our heroine, she had sent her book manuscript out to a publisher, gotten a somewhat ambivalent outside review, and was asked to revise and resubmit. She revised, she resubmitted, and they sent it back out for review. (Previous installments here, here, here, and here. At the rate things are going, this enthralling series will run to 27 parts. Cancel your subscription while you still can.)

Earlier this week I heard from the editor, who told me they'd sent the revised manuscript back to the original reviewer, who gave it a positive report--and they would now proceed to send it to a second reviewer.

So, yay! Or I think yay. On the one hand, I'm surprised and maybe a little embarrassed that it's been this easy: that one of my fantasy, top-choice publishers was interested enough to want to see the full manuscript, that they remained interested after it got a good-but-not-ready-for-prime-time review, and especially that the original reviewer wound up liking my revisions enough to recommend publication. (For various reasons, I did not think they were sending it back to that reviewer, and if I had known I would have spent the past three months with a deadly knot of anxiety in my innards.)

On the other hand, this process is looking to drag on a good while, and half of me wonders whether this isn't just a postponement of the inevitable: maybe the second reviewer will be lukewarm, and maybe then they'll send it to a third, and around the time of oh, say, my 40th birthday, the press will reject it definitively and I'll have to start over somewhere else.

So if there's a take-away lesson here for those who have yet to try to get a book published--which I think was why I originally began this series?--it's that academic publishing is super-duper slow, even when it's not actually that slow (the turnaround time for my reader was 4 months the first time and less than 3 months the second time), and even when all the news is basically good and even when you have a product you're confident about.

Because to recap: I first developed the germ of the idea for this book ten years ago (almost to the day: my orals were on September 7th, 2001, and we had to open our orals with a 60-second bullshitty account of what we might write a dissertation about). Five years ago I finished the dissertation. A year and a half ago I sent out book proposals to a few presses--and even if I get the best news in the world in December, it'll probably still be another two years before my book is in print.

I don't need an inked contract for tenure. But right now I feel like a parent whose moody late-adolescent kid is still living at home: I love the kid and all, but I'm ready for him to get the hell out of my basement.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The dignity of work

There are a lot of reasons that I'm (still) a practicing Catholic, and though I don't generally feel it necessary to enumerate, explain, or defend those reasons, here's one, in honor of the day:
Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole person, and of the entire human community. . . . In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature.*

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.**
Happy Labor Day, all.

*From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
**Statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Sunday, September 04, 2011

One down, thirteen to go

Made it through the first week of classes, though not without some reentry problems.

My first day of classes, I not only forgot to pack a water bottle, but also food of any sort. Indeed, when I left my house at 11 a.m. I thought, "I ate a real breakfast--I don't need to bring a lunch!" This, although I knew I wouldn't be home until at least 7 p.m.

And then (without having eaten lunch or dinner) I drove 150 round-trip highway miles to pick up a pair of shoes being held at a mall in the next city over. Shoes that, in the end, do not work with my wedding dress and will have to be returned.

I also forgot to order one of the required texts for one of my courses. A text that my students need to start reading immediately.

And I forgot how insufferably, unbearably hot it is the first week or two of classes--or maybe the stuffy rooms are the result of RU's cost-saving electrical curtailment program. In any case, my Shakespeare class is crammed into a tiny room that's a million degrees even with the doors and windows open, and my team-taught class, though it got assigned to a gorgeous new experimental classroom, is also a million degrees.

And, oh yeah: there's that whole six-hours-of-teaching-on-Thursdays thing. (Two ninety-minute classes back-to-back, then a break, and then 195 minutes all at a go.) I used to teach this schedule all the time, but it's been a couple of years and I'd forgotten why I'd petitioned so passionately to be moved to a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule.

Maybe next week will be easier. And if not, I've still got a bunch of gin and a bunch of tonic.