Monday, January 30, 2012


Guilty as charged:

[I]f a subject has absolutely no idea how they're coming off to readers, then it's all the more outrageous and, for me, all the more enjoyable. Some of my tried-and-true hate-reading regulars include an ex-roommate who refers to her significant other as "The Boyf" and brags about how she only eats at Michelin-starred restaurants; a former co-worker who extols the values of juice cleanses and composes lists with titles like, "The Top 10 Ways to Stay Present and Centered;" the friend-of-a-friend whose wedding site features a countdown ticker and engagement ring video montage; and the acquaintance who has a "fashion blog" even though she only ever posts black-and-white photos of herself in American Apparel leotards. I'm endlessly fascinated by how obnoxious these people are, and equally entertained by their ignorance of that fact.

I do this a lot. And when I say "a lot," I mean A LOT. But hey, at least now I have a name for it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Random bullets of again with the start of classes

  • Somehow, I got done everything I intended to get done over break. (Well, except for assembling an album of wedding photos.) I'm not sure this has ever happened in my entire life.
  • It's been strangely unwinterlike here in the land of winter--we've had virtually no snow this year. And it's light perceptibly later each evening. I dare to hope.
  • I'm teaching one entirely new, one totally re-designed, and one slightly reshuffled class. So far it feels like the right blend of the comfortable and the challenging.
  • I'm particularly pleased by my plans for my composition class, which I was rather dreading (I haven't taught comp for a few semesters, and the last two times were to Honors kids). But my old syllabus and assignments really needed shaking up, and the prospect of reading NEW THINGS does wonders for a bad attitude.
  • So far so good on my tenure case. There is, I think, only one more level of review that matters--after that it's just rubber-stamping.
  • I'm almost done with this round of book revisions.
  • I bought a second-hand raccoon coat (probably 1960s, mid-thigh length). It's indescribably awesome.
  • Our second bedroom is now fully furnished. The cats are happy. Any guests we eventually have may not be so happy.
  • The fact that I am not getting married, not co-organizing a lecture series, not preparing my tenure file, and not co-teaching a totally new class means the beginning of the semester feels calm, unoppressive, doable. (Remind me not to do all those things at once again, will ya?)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

After the goofy, madcap, self-deprecatory shtick, what then?

As my professional cohort moves up in the world (in terms of age and career stability), it's struck me that a number of people--maybe myself included--are still working with a self-image and a public persona that don't really reflect reality. I know many an academic on the verge of tenure or just tenured, on the verge of a book contract or with one just out, who are still presenting themselves as adorable but humiliation-prone kids, forever embarrassing themselves in front of the big names. It's professional life as screwball comedy.

Now, I love me a screwball comedy and a madcap heroine--and to judge by my spouse I also love me a relentless, obstreperous goofball--but within the profession and among my peers I find this particular shtick, and the insecurity and immaturity that underlie it, to be getting old. In the same way that the roles of ingénue and wunderkind have their expiration date, so too does the role of loveable screwup.

Here's a cheat sheet to let you know when you've outgrown the part:
-you have tenure

-you have a book in print

-you've had more than one tenure-track job (assuming more than three years total)

-you advise doctoral students

-you've been an invited or keynote speaker

-you're on chit-chatty terms with senior scholars in your field

-you meet random people at conferences who know your work

If any one of the above--but especially if more than one!--is true, it's time to move on. You can still be zany and fun, playful and self-deprecating, and you can still shut down the conference bar every night. You can also, of course, still be prey to deep fears and anxieties. But you can't act like the new guy or gal, the brash or naive youngster, the one who will never be taken seriously.

It's someone else's turn. You've made it. Give way to the grad students and new PhDs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Weird pizza*

Me: (just waking up) Man, I had a bad dream.

Cosimo: What about?

Me: (remembering) Actually, um. This may be the stupidest dream I've ever had. But it felt really upsetting!

Cosimo: What happened?

Me: I was at the supermarket trying to buy a frozen pizza. But they didn't have your basic pepperoni. The closest I could find was this weird double-sided pizza--like, two pizzas, almost back-to-back? But with a space in between so you could hook them over the oven rack: one on top, one underneath upside-down.

Anyway, it was a stupid pizza, but I took it and went to a register. But the cashier wouldn't check me out--he said something about how the weird box for the weird pizza didn't work with his scanner, and he didn't want to hold up the whole line, so he checked out all these other people instead. Then he just left. (plaintively) All I wanted was my pizza!

Cosimo: It's a book dream.

Me: You think so?

Cosimo: It's about your second reader.

Me: Huh. Maybe. He's the cashier? Like, a gatekeeper?

Cosimo: Sure.

Me: But in this analogy, my book is a weird pizza. You're saying my book is a weird pizza?

Cosimo: No, your book introduction is a weird pizza. Everyone's introduction is, right? You just want to do this straightforward thing, but you have to add all this other stuff you're not invested in, to appease the people who want your book to be something it's not--

Me: (not really listening) Poor weird-pizza book! No one wants to buy you! (confidentially) I'm sorry I said you were weird, weird pizza. If you exist and I see you in the store, I'm totally buying you.

*Latest in an occasional series.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The view from my break

Apologies for the infrequent blogging around these parts. I didn't go to MLA this year, thus cruelly depriving you of what would have been my seventh consecutive year of blogging the MLA, and instead spent those four days writing/revising the first six pages of my book. Not especially speedy progress, I grant you, but necessary work--and periodically I checked in on my Facebook friends who were there and scrolled through the pileup of #mla12 tweets. Basically, it was like I was there, minus the jetlag and the hangover. And look what a view I had from where I sat writing on the sofa! Who wouldn't give up MLA for that?

Let's see that in close up:

The revising has gone more speedily since then and I'm happy with the progress I'm making, but it's really too dull to talk about--and so is everything else around these parts. I go to the gym; I putter around the house; at some late hour Cosimo produces a delicious meal; at an even later hour I pour self a drink; and still later we watch a t.v. show on DVD and go to bed. It hasn't even snowed yet (just the merest dusting), so all in all it's been a blissful winter break.

Classes resume in 10 days, though, and so too will the kvetching. Word of honor.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

All scholarship is collaborative scholarship

Tenured Radical's latest post on the value of collaborative work--which is also an exhortation to teach collaboration to graduate students and to find more ways to recognize such work within the profession--resonates with some of what I've been mulling over as I work through yet another round of book revisions.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that all our scholarship, and maybe all our work, period, is collaborative in a deep but also deeply unexamined way. However many pages our acknowledgments sections may stretch to--with thanks given to our peers, our friends, our dogs and our gods--we still prefer to think of the work that we and others do as the product of our own brains and our own brilliance: those other readers and interlocutors were just helping us to say, better, whatever we were always intending to say.

And that's true, to a degree. All the mentors in the world won't make a mediocre project a great one, and much of the best scholarship seems rooted in a radically individual intelligence: a mind that may have been trained in the same way as hundreds of others, but that has a fierce peculiar temper all its own.

But the thing is, we have all been trained in the norms of our disciplines, in more or less the same way, and we've all read thousands of works of scholarship; everything we do involves applying or building on the work of a multitude of forebears. We're none of us, really, advancing a radically new perspective or inventing a wholly new field--and none of us truly works in isolation even if she writes in hermetic solitude and never shows her prose to anyone until the day it hits the desk of an editor at one or another journal or academic press.

I haven't been much of a scholarly collaborator or sharer myself in the past; I didn't have peers who read my work in grad school, and I didn't get a lot of guidance from my dissertation advisor then or afterward. In the past few years, I've started sending bits and pieces of my work to friends, and I've been grateful for their feedback, but until recently I never felt that they were really shaping my work--just giving me things to think about, new sources to read, and that sort of thing.

But for whatever reason, in the throes of what I hope will be my last round of substantive revisions and after getting two thorough-going readers' reports from senior scholars, both of whom seem to be in subfields a bit aslant or adjacent to my own, it's hit me how absolutely impossible this book would have been to write without all the feedback I've gotten--major and minor--on my work over the years and all the panels I've attended and all the conversations I've had about the state of the field. The exact focus of my book is peculiar, and if I hadn't written it I doubt anyone else would have done so any time soon (which, uh, isn't a boast; it's weird enough that I'm not sure who will want to read the thing). But it is certainly not the case that I had a clear and lucid argument from the beginning, or probably even two years ago, and if I have one now it's only thanks to the pushing and prodding and sometimes enthusiasm and sometimes baffled irritation of my readers and interlocutors. I love that I've had them, and I love that I can drop three emails in three days to friends with different areas of expertise, just saying, "hey, I think this thing might be true--is it? or if not, can you save me from sounding like a jackass?"

I'm smarter now than I was when I started this project ten years ago. But if I'm ever to publish a second book, I know it will depend at least as heavily on the advice and expertise of others.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year's Meme

(Fifth in a series. See also New Year's Day 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.)

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?
*Took a research leave
*Directed an M.A. thesis and an honors thesis
*Bought a house
*Got married
*Went up for tenure

2. Did you keep your 2011 resolutions, and will you make more this year?
I didn't make any last year, but I have some modest ones for this year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, Evey (formerly my best friend in Cha-Cha City and now my most-missed friend from same)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
A book contract--or more to the point, a totally completed book manuscript that I never have to do anything to ever again. Or to put it more positively: I want to be substantially engaged by a new research project.

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Dude, I checked off half the boxes on the adulthood checklist this year; who can choose just one? But I will say that buying a house + getting married means suddenly and radically coming to terms with one's place in the bourgeoisie.

8. What was your biggest failure?
I don't think I had any big failures this year; my leave-semester resolution to meditate daily didn't even come close to happening--I may have meditated six times in four months--but I consider that less significant than my usual daily failures of kindness, patience, and charity.

9. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, though I seem now to be in danger of monthly migraines (after the one I had a few months ago, which lasted 12 hours, many of them spent puking, I learned some avoidance techniques).

10. What was the best thing you bought?
Our house

11. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The members of my and Cosimo's families, who were supportive of our having a smaller wedding and who contributed help to exactly the degree (and of exactly the kind) that was useful. From what I hear about weddings, t'ain't necessarily so.

12. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
No one I know personally. But I'm constantly appalled by things like this.

13. Where did most of your money go?
Jesus, we spent a fortune this year, not just buying a house but furnishing/outfitting it; getting married; going to Europe. So the better question is where didn't my money go?

14. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Happier; same weight; maybe slightly richer, insofar as my spouse and I actually have a little money in a savings account and now own a major piece of property. (But then again, maybe we're actually poorer, since a home loan means we're more in debt? Math is hard.)

15. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Slept. Read more (and better) contemporary fiction. Been more patient, generous, etc.

16. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Wasted time on the goddamn internet.

17. Did you fall in love in 2011?

18. What was the best new book you read?
None of the new books I read this year (apart from a few in my field) are good enough to merit mentioning.

19. What was your favorite film of the year?
I saw a lot of good films this year, but nothing stands out as AMAZING. Margin Call and Young Adult were two of the smartest and most satisfying, though.

20. What kept you sane?
My semester of research leave

21. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.
Last year I wrote that I'd learned how good it is to be a grown-up. I stand by that. Fuck the cult of youth and its eternal anxious questing after hipness.

My 2011 was pretty spectacular. May 2012 be equally good to all of you!