Here’s Our Darling Scarlet

There was an interesting discussion on Twitter this AM about how we as academics talk about and share our research process, rather than just the final result.

Often, the messiness of the process that we go through—ok, that we totally make up as we go along, even though we’re not supposed to admit that—is where the good stuff happens.

The weird shit that happens in the trenches, between lines of analysis and unexpected data sources, that’s the stuff that inspires us to keep writing abstracts, keep going to conferences, keep writing essays about subjects we love.

Publication is great, and final products are awesome by virtue of being fucking done. But the process is the cool part.

Ok, let me stop. I have this tendency to talk around whatever’s bothering me, whatever it is I really want to say—a bit ironic, given what I do for a living, but there it is. Let me take a deep breath and try again.

I am very, very tired of my dissertation. Of the research that it’s entailed. Of the writing up that it demands. Of what it represents in terms of my work as a scholar and yet, what it doesn’t.

People have told me: The dissertation doesn’t matter. It just has to be done. The dissertation matters, because its subject may help you get hired. Or not. The dissertation is the culmination of–what, exactly?

I’m writing about a subject that I’m intellectually interested in: how and why Christian women use what I call “rhetorical bleed” as a persuasive tactic in their discourse about female sexuality.

See? There’s even a theoretical component to it, a contribution I’m ostensibly making to the field of rhetoric and writing.

Oh, joy.

I admire some of the women whose writing I’m examining. They’re doing good work, work that needs to be done, they believe, in the face of the way that the evangelical church tries its damnedest not to discuss female desire, and women’s use of pornography, and the idea that some Christian women feel overwhelmed by those desires. The only advice the evangelical church offers to women generally about sex—as one of the subjects of my research rightly noted—is shame.

In the context of the purity movement, that push within contemporary evangelicalism for young people (esp. women) to remain physically and mentally “pure” about sex until marriage, the shame thing is particularly unhelpful. So you feel bad about experiencing sexual desire, about exploring that desire through masturbation and porn–where are you supposed to go to talk about those feelings, exactly, when the church’s response tends to be: well, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place. End of discussion.

So some of these women have started talking about these issues amongst themselves. In my diss, I’m examining how this organization talks about these ideas in public spaces, including their website, monthly podcast, and book. At the same time, I’m steering clear of the members’ only online message boards where the organization’s members talk with one another about their personal struggles; that’s their business, and not fodder for academic research, to my mind.

I like these women. I care about this project. And yet I am having a devil of a time caring enough to write my dissertation.

Maybe it’s that the reality of the job situation has slowly started to sink in: the chances of me getting a FT teaching gig, already slim, are fading fast. On the one hand, this makes me quite sad. I’ve spent the past four years figuring out what I’m really fucking good at—teaching people how to effectively express their ideas on paper—and now I have to accept that I probably will not be able to apply that skill in the academic realm.

I haven’t gotten any callbacks, as it were, on 31 applications, with 6 rejections already in hand and more no doubt to come. Maybe it’s because my diss is about women, desire, Christianity (gasp!), and porn. Maybe it’s because most of my publications deal in fan studies—rhetoric, performance studies, and fan stuff, but still, it’s not Rhetoric.

Maybe it’s because all of my cover letters have been riddled with errors, or because my font choices are offensive, or because I’ve applied for the wrong kind of gigs. Or none of the bloody above.

I don’t know.

Regardless, I will soon have to fend for myself in the world, and I need to find employment. Full stop. So I’ve begun looking outside of academia, back to the business and non-profit world I thought I’d wanted to leave behind.

I’m a good writer, damn it. And an even better writing teacher, or tutor. I love research, most of the time, and I’m pretty good at that, too. These are marketable skills, surely. I just need to figure out how to do that, exactly.

There’s part of me, too, that feels a bit like a failure for not landing an aca-gig. I know there are some people in my life—in my goddamn department—who cannot freaking wait to say I told you soIf only you’d listened to me and not written about fan studies or sex or Christianity, you’d have done so much better.

On the one hand, I want to say: fuck them. Because they WERE wrong on that front. The best part of grad school has been the research, believe it or not, and all the conferences and amazing colleagues and pub opportunities that have resulted from it.

On the other, though, part of me wants to slink away like Scarlet tries to in Gone With The Wind after she’s caught in Ashley’s arms. It’s the day of Ashley’s birthday party, to which everyone in their circle has been invited, and Scarlet’s mortified to be the talk of the town in the worst possible way. Her instinct is to hide at home and not go to the damn party.

But Rhett won’t let her! No, he insists that she wear her most stunning gown and freaking march down there to Melanie’s and show her face to the woman she betrayed and to the community that think she’s trash.

And she does, dear Scarlet. And she kills it. Even though Rhett makes her walk in by herself and even though the looks she gets from those assembled—from everyone but Melanie, of course—are beyond venomous.

So, like Scarlet, I’d much rather hide at home for the next two months. To bang out this crappy diss in misery and shuffle out of here in May with my head hung low. I’ve failed, people, by the predominate measure in PhD land and I hate it and it fucking sucks.

Blargh.

But I won’t.

I don’t have a Rhett in my life to goad me into it, or a killer ruby-red gown to wear, but I’m going to put myself out there in our department. I’m not going to dig a hole, as awesome as that sounds right now, and camp out until May. I’m going to show my face and talk to people and show my fellow students that, no matter what the faculty tells you, life goes on even if you don’t get a single academic job interview.

I hope.

Composition’s Industrial Turn (And The Question of Who’s Left Holding the Wheel)

Ok, a quick trip down disciplinary history lane:

As Geoffrey Sirc and others have noted, composition had a choice to make back in the 1960s, when it began to behave (and thus be recognized as) a discipline: a) to fashion itself as an integral part of the university’s mechanics, thus ensuring its survival; or b), to keep on keeping on as its own weird, inscrutable thing, one whose value the university itself was likely to recognize.

In his book English Composition as a Happening, Sirc talks about this in terms of theater: composition could either become a scripted drama or remain more akin to a “happening,” a particular kind of immersive, often improvisational theater in the 60s and 70s that valued the unexpected rather than the preordained. As an audience member, you were never quite sure what to expect from happening, which were often staged in industrial spaces 180 degrees from a traditional proscenium stage and called upon each member of the audience to move independently throughout the play space. The expectation was that each individual would have a distinct experience with the play and its actors; no two encounters with the text were the same.

Of course, as Sirc bemoans, composition moved away from the spirit of the happening and towards formalization within the official structure of the university. As a discipline, composition valued its own legibility and viability over what Sirc constructs as its original, free-spirited ways–and this, for him, marks a tremendous loss of possibility and opportunity. Composition, he seems to suggest, chose to be boring. And that sucks.

I was reminded of Sirc’s argument today when reading through the website of a composition program at a land-grant university in the United States. Since I only came upon this site because of my job search, you’ll forgive me if I don’t identify which one it is (and if I complicate the quotes below a bit to obscure identifying details). That said, what’s of import here is not the university’s location, but the way in which it talks about the values of its composition program.

To wit, the program attempts to “advance [the university’s] mission to pursue academic excellence in the context of writing instruction. Undergraduate composition courses . . . help students [to become more effective] writers and researchers by [offering students]. . . flexible strategies for researching and composing texts.”

On solid ground so far. But then, there’s this: guess who is charged with “advancing” this central element of the university’s mission? Yes, they’ve chosen those who traditionally possess the least amount of teaching experience—grad students who are new to the university themselves.

Continue reading “Composition’s Industrial Turn (And The Question of Who’s Left Holding the Wheel)”

Audience, Purpose, Angst

So the final, painful push of grad school is on and, to be honest, it kind of sucks.

On the one hand, there’s great promise: I’m almost done!

On the other, there’s great pain: Yeah, but, you’re not done yet and oh hey, how’s that job search going?

derek hale wth

Right.

Continue reading “Audience, Purpose, Angst”

Academia fucks with your head

Sometimes I write to make sense of things. Sometimes I write for fun. Sometimes I write because if I don’t, my anxiety will eat me alive.

Today, I’m chasing the demons for reasons that, on paper, make ZERO sense. I’m freaking out this morning because it appears that I might, might, have three publications coming out this fall.

Three. Just in time for the job search.

And these are all pieces that I really, really like. Of which I might even be proud.

So this is a good thing, right? Like, duh. It sure as hell can’t hurt.

Then why do I need a drink?

Let’s go to my inner Greek chorus of negativity, already in progress:

1) None of these pubs will appear in the “right” places, according to TPTB within my department. That is, these pieces will not be featured in any of the top journals in what is ostensibly my field: rhetoric. Instead of appearing in RSQ, Quarterly Journal of Speech, or College English, they’re scheduled to show up in this edited collection and in these two journals.

2) All of these pieces are about Supernatural, in some way, shape, or form. Ergo, I imagine, they’ll be perceived as “unserious” in the minds of some (including members of my dissertation committee).

3) One of the pubs will not only appear solely online, it’ll be presented in an unconventional electronic format (read: as a Storify). Thus, its very form will further undermine its seriousness for some readers.

4) NONE OF THESE PUBLICATIONS ARE DRAWN FROM MY DISSERTATION. This fact seems to really, really bother my dissertation chair. Perhaps understandably so.

5) These pieces mark my first attempts to bring rhetoric to play in the field of fan studies.  I fear alienating (or worse, being ignored by) both sides.

6) I have to revise two of these pieces in the next 15 days. Granted, we’re at the minor changes and copy editing stages of revision here, but still.

7) Time spent working on those revisions is time that I’m not spending on my dissertation. Again, my dissertation chair will be very unhappy about this, should I choose to tell them about it.

8) One of these pieces is about Wincest. Hence, it features lots of quotes about, and lengthy discussions of, gay incestuous sex. I can see this being a problem for some hiring committees.

Ok, whew. I feel a bit better spewing all that on the screen, though there is part of me going DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS because you might jinx yourself. Ugh. Yes, I am shaking as I type this (ugh). Yes, I realize that my anxiety is totally illogical, if not nonsensical. And yes, I’ve found myself utterly unable to BE HAPPY about this unexpected development this morning, even for a moment, because of all the people I can hear in my head telling me why it’s not as cool or good or helpful as I might think it is. And that’s pretty fucked up, I think.

Academia is aces at undermining what little self-confidence I might naturally possess.

Why am I trying to get into this business again? Blargh.

I think I’m gonna go run around the block. Or to the liquor store.

Les Deux, C’est Moi

“So do you remember–” my mom said over Christmas; a sentence that usually doesn’t end well. “Do you remember when you applied to Carnegie Mellon [where I did my undergrad], you had to write some kind of essay about why you wanted to go there?”

I shifted around on the couch, my dad’s cat grumbling in my lap. “A personal statement, it’s called,” I said, impatient. “Yeah. I remember.”

My mom shook her head, leaning out of her recliner. “No, remember? You asked us to read it, what you wrote.” She waved her hand at my dad, burrowed into the couch next to me. “And we made some suggestions about some changes you could make. And you said–do you remember what you said?”

Dad tapped my wrist, squeezed, his eyes focused the iPad in his lap. Mom didn’t wait for an answer.

“You said,” she chirped, “that that’s who you were, what you wrote, and if they didn’t want you, the real you, then you didn’t want to go there.”

“Oh,” I said, nodding at the past wisdom of a younger me. “No. I didn’t remember. But that sounds right.”

My mom bobbed her head, pleased. “That’s how you still work, huh?”

I watched my dad scroll for a minute, the glow of my online CV reflected in his glasses as he read the details of my academic life for the first time. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”

Now what’s funny about this is that my attitude on that front hasn’t changed; when it comes to my academic life, at least, I still operate on the “take it or leave it” principle, in part because hey, I write about porn, Christian women, and fanfic. I can’t hide that on my CV; hell, that stuff IS my CV. Nor would I want to. But it does mean that anybody that considers hiring me is going have to get past (or be entranced by?) my unconventional research interests.

As a kind friend once put it, if anyone hires me, it will be because of what I do, not in spite of it.

And then there’s the whole “I write porn/romance/erotica about beautiful, fictional men” thing, too.

Continue reading “Les Deux, C’est Moi”

Running Under Caution

Academia is the only field I know where applying for jobs is something of a spectator sport.

Not only do we–and by “we” I mean “the humanities”–talk endlessly and openly and sometimes even accurately about the State of Labor in our fields, we also spend this  time every year staring INTENTLY at our soon-to-be graduated PhDs as they buzz about trying their best to become gainfully, oh please Tenure Track-level employed.

Seriously. It’s a little creepy.

Part of this, I think, is that some of the hiring in fields like rhetoric, composition, and literature has been heavily institutionalized around particular spaces; there’s a ritual to it, if you like, one that’s centered on the Modern Language Association (MLA) conference held around this time each  year. Even in the wee tiny graduate program of which I’m a part, one is made to understand that what one should strive for is to have at least one face-to-face interview at MLA. Phone interviews, Skpye interviews? Cool. But MLA, one is made to understand, is still considered by many to be the gold standard, it seems.

There are just two folks in our program on track for graduation this spring, but last year, we had 7 or 8 go on the market all at once. For a  good six months or more, the efforts of these folks to land interviews, get called up for on-campus visits, and then finally, to land a job, fed the departmental gossip mill to the full point of gorging: who’s going where, and who wasn’t chosen, and why did so-and-so turn that one down. Mind you, the average number of applications that one’s expected to submit in Rhet/Comp? Is 60.

Don’t get me wrong: in the abstract, this whole process was fascinating to watch, like NASCAR with resumes and writing samples. But now, as I edge closer (knock on wood) to the job search, nigh on a year from now, the voyeuristic aspect is kind of giving me the creeps.

Yeah, and the vapors, too.

Getting a job, no matter what field or area of expertise, is never fun. Strike that: it usually sucks. So I can’t say that the prospect of looking for work, of some sort of professional legitimation, in full view of an avid audience hoping for blood or at least a good sideswipe makes me feel warm and fluffy.

Perhaps I’m just being overdramatic. Probably. Yeah, I am. Still, it’s one of my resolutions for this year: to run my own race, as much as I can, and to stay away from the Peeping Tom-aspect of departmental life. If I can.