I made this pact with myself that I wasn’t going to write about NBC’s Hannibal. Not in an academic way, at least. For all of its gore, its elegant violence that can make cruelty taste like art, I didn’t want to engage with it on a critical level because I love it too damn much.
When I worked for a presidential campaign, way back before social media even existed, we were keenly aware that, as staffers, we represented the candidate at all times. Period. Thus, we were advised to consider what our field director, Tom, called “The New York Times Test”:
Before you do or say anything, consider: would you want those words and/or actions splashed across the front page of The New York Times?
I’ve been thinking about Tom’s advice lately in light of a recent uptick in talk about grad students and social media. How we should use it. What we should say. What we shouldn’t mention. Its benefits and its dangers, huzzah. (See Karra’s recent take on it here, for example).
But perhaps it’s less an uptick and more a renewed sensitivity, because it’s been an issue very much on my mind of late.
Last month at PCA/ACA, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some very excellent people who are just as damn well fond of slash as I am. And to prove it, these lovely people were willing to read porn in public—at an academic conference, no less! Bless you, my friends.
Our reading was designed as both a celebration of slash and as a very public fuck you to anybody in academia or otherwise who tries to get us to justify why we love and choose to study fanfiction.
Presented under the gleefully George Michael-derivative title of “What’s Your Definition of Dirty, Baby? Taking Pleasure (Together) In Fanfic,” the event itself was so much goddamn fun. In teams of two, we performed excerpts from six fics, each representing a different slash pairing, in an old-school forensics-style more akin to mini-plays than formal literary readings.
(Though I gotta admit: the performance itself was scarier than I’d expected. It was harder reading Dean Winchester’s dirty talk with a straight face [or, uh, something] that I thought it would be.)
More to the point: the thing generated enough happy, pervy energy that we’re going to try and stage a repeat performance at the next PCA/ACA con next year in Seattle.
But this, what follows, is the exigence for this event, the spark that set off the slash: a NSFW rant I composed one afternoon in a fit of fic-fueled fury that came to serve as the opening remarks for our little get together. So consider this some rhetorical ammo for the next time someone looks askance at what you love and what you do: a big ol’ hey, fuck you, too.
So. This is a hard post to write.
I’m not going to graduate this year.
Not because I couldn’t, or hadn’t done what I needed to do so, but because my PhD program has offered me a fifth year of funding. See, ours is a four-year program from stem to stern; in, out, and on to the world. But as I’ve documented here, I haven’t been able to land a job yet, academic or otherwise. And I was (I am) ready to toss the whole academic job thing by the wayside: I remain unconvinced that getting such a gig would be my occupational panacea, the space in which my skills can be put to best use.
And, oh yeah. That it’s the sort of gig that would make me happy.
But. My program doesn’t make a habit of offering a fifth year of funding—though I’m certainly not the first student to whom they’ve made such a gesture.
I turned it down once. I turned it down a second time. Then my diss committee made a hard court (if well meaning) press as to why I should reconsider.
I won’t get into the various arguments they made. Suffice it to say that, to my surprise, they were convincing: in part because the arguments focused less on my failings, on the ways in which the program could use a fifth year to fix all that was deficient in me, and more on how I could make one more year, one more try, work to my benefit.
Maybe it was the optimist in me wresting control away from the realist for a moment. I don’t know. But after some sustained, concentrated angst about it, what do you know. I said yes.
So the plan is for me to finish the diss this summer, just as I planned to in anticipation of defending in late July. Doing so will let me go on the job market (have I ever been off it?) this fall with letters from my committee informing potential employers that the diss is done, and I have only to defend the thing in January 2016 to be officially done.
The rest of my time here? Devoted to working on publications (which ok, I enjoy)–although I suspect TPTB will want me to focus on getting shit published in more straight-up rhetoric journals than in fan studies. (And I can work on my romance novel. Shhhhh.)
So is this the perfect solution? No. Do I kinda feel like I’ve just agreed to become an angel condom? Yeah.
But, but: there’s no way to know which answer is the right one. And even when I’ve been at my lowest of late, I’ve tried to remember this Quaker proverb: the way opens. Maybe it’s not the way I wanted, or was even looking for, but my program’s chosen to hold the door open. And I’m ok with going through it.
I have a new post up—but it’s over on the Journal of Fandom Studies (JFS) site!
A quick summary of the thing, “Sources We Love,” from JFS editor, Kathy Larsen:
Welcome to the first in what I hope will become a regular feature here. What sources resonate with you? What do you keep returning to? What did you read for the first time and shout an excited “Yes!!!” or a horrified “No!!!” (Because, let’s face it, sometimes the texts that affect us most are the ones we agree with the least.) First up – KT Torrey (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).
Read the whole thing here!
(And dude, let me tell you: writing this sucker was hard.)
A few quick updates on the (seemingly all-Supernatural?) academic front:
1) As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be participating in A Celebration of Supernatural at DePaul University next month. It’s free! and open to the public, so if you’re in or near Chicago, come hang out with us! Here’s the schedule for the event.
2) Me and my friend and colleague JSA Lowe are working on a new project, to be presented at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in October 2015. We’ve posted a copy of the abstract for our nascent study, if you’d like to take a look:
3) And finally, I’ve posted downloadable copies of my two most recent conference presentations + slides:
- Unbuckle Your Belt: Screening for Seduction in Misha Collins’ TSA America
presented at the PCA/ACA National Conference, April 2105
- I Used to Think Maybe You Loved Me (Now Baby I’m Sure): The Reconstruction of the Supernatural Fangirl (with Shannon Cole)
presented at Society for Media and Cinema Studies Conference, March 2015
Whew. And then there’s that dang (totally not Supernatural) dissertation to finish…
Yesterday, I read Lucy Bennett’s “Tracing Textual Poachers: Reflections on the development of fan studies and digital fandom,” an excellent history-cum-consideration of fan studies, some 20+ years after the publication of Henry Jenkins’ foundational work. In the context of the conversations I was part of recently at SCMS and PCA/ACA, I was particularly struck by Bennett’s discussions of how we as scholars might encourage the continued, conscious evolution of our methodologies, objects and subjects of study, and our own reflective self-positionality as researchers.
This essay, it caused a thunderstorm of sorts in my head.
Me, I’m just a whippersnapper in these parts; hell, I’m at a stage where the phrase “early career researcher” still feels like a stretch. That said, I’ve had my flag planted in fan studies ground for a while now, and I feel settled enough in this happily still-wild territory to draw up a wish list of my own. I’ve been staring at the horizon here long enough to have a sense of the kind of work I’d like to do, the sort of scholarship I’d like to see, in the future.
So here’s my disciplinary wish list for fan studies, things I’d like to see us do moving forward:
- How to spell “Apocalypse.”
- What it’s like to go to your student’s funeral.
- How to drink bourbon straight.
- That I’m really good at writing porn.
- That cats can get asthma.
- What it’s like to get a tattoo. Or two.
- That I’m a kick-ass teacher of literature.
- That writing at its best is always a collaboration.
- That Twitter is my lifeblood.
- That academia may not be for me.
Part of embracing this whole “the way opens” mindset for me is appreciating all the cool shit I get to do this term. I love going to conferences, as a rule, but my line-up for the next few months is particularly outstanding.
Like the man’s hips said: awesome.
About a month ago, I wrote a barbaric yawp of a post about how disillusioned I was with the academic job search thing. And don’t get me wrong: I still am.
But yesterday, I read “So What Are You Going to Do With That?”: Finding Jobs Outside of Academia by Debelius and Basalla, and, to my surprise, I found it empowering instead of depressing. Hell, I was so jazzed that I wrote a resume! Heh.
The book’s also inspired some self-reflection about the way I went at the job search last fall. Here are my big takeaways:
- I applied for too many jobs. Period. I should have picked a few (less than 10) and really focused my energy and attention on each in turn. Doing so would have afforded me the chance to write really targeted cover letters for each one and to shape my CV to meet the needs/requirements/desires of each gig.
- My job letters were not tailored enough. People who suggested that I tailor less were totally wrong, and the notion that you can create one letter and just tweak it a bit for each gig is utterly outdated. I did not respond to the job ads as carefully and specifically as I might have, and that was a mistake.
- I have a lot to offer employers outside of academia–the trick is putting it in a way that said employer can recognize. What I really like about So What is that it’s helped me to understand how I might translate stuff I do as a graduate student and as a teacher into terms that people in the business and non-profit worlds can see as potentially valuable to their organization. For example, fighting with goddamn dissertation points towards my skills in project management. Working with students on a daily basis underscores my experience in customer relations. Plus, I worked for a decade between graduating from undergrad and starting my PhD, and that
experience—as wide and weird as it is—is also quite valuable.
- I’m not going to get a job in academia this year. And I’m ok with that. Am I happy about it? No. I still feel like a failure, at some level. And I hate that my advisor is waking up in the middle of the night worried about why I haven’t, and spending time blaming herself (?!?) for my inability to get a gig.
That said, in keeping with item #1, I am going to be selective in the real-world jobs that I apply to. I’m going to apply these lessons to my new search, and look for organizations I’d really like to work for, rather than gigs I know that I could do, if that distinction makes sense. Then, I’ll work to make the best case I can to them that I’m the right person for the job.
Here’s my current to-do list:
I’m going to keep working on my resume.
I’m going to make an appointment with Career Services here on campus.
I’m going to reach out to my informal network.
In general, I’m going to do what it takes to find gainful employment and stop wasting my time pummeling myself for what happened this fall.
As one of the interviewees in So What put it, there’s a Quaker proverb that says: “The ways opens.” That resonates with me, for some reason. The trick is, now, I’ve got to have my eyes peeled for that open door.