Supernatural’s New God, At Last

This week, my first critical essay on Supernatural—that blessed bane of my existence—was published in this gorgeous edited collection:

9781137412553

[You can check out the table of contents and read the first chapter of the collection for free here (and even buy it on Amazon, if you like).]

For me, the publication of this book is exciting not only because hell yes, publication, but also because the essay itself, “‘We’re Just Food . . . and Perverse Entertainment’: Supernatural‘s New God and the Narrative Objectification of Sam and Dean” went through a HUGE evolutionary process. The abstract that I proposed to the collection’s editors back in the spring of 2012 bears little resemblance to the final product—and is the stronger for it. Indeed, the editors did an amazing job of pointing out what elements in the early drafts worked and which didn’t, leading over time to the essay becoming more focused and its central argument more coherent.

And it meant I got to write almost exclusively about Castiel. What a hardship! Heh.

There’s a lot of discussion in academic circles as to whether there’s value in publishing work in edited collections. A lot of people say no. I think it depends in part on one’s field; in fan studies, we tend to draw on edited collections quite frequently, in part because the field is still growing. That said, my experience in working with this collection, with these editors, was rewarding both practically and personally.

Truly, I learned a great about academic writing from working with these editors over the past two years. Their comments were always on target and thoughtful, they were always happy to answer my questions, and they were patient with me and with the work. In the end, that collaboration resulted in an essay that I’m very fond of and even (dare I say) a little bit proud.

…is that bad?

How you know you’re deep in PhD land:

1) You dream about both of your research subjects at the same time. Gotta say, the Overlord and anti-porn Christian women make an, uh, interesting pair.

2) You finally! give your diss director the intro to one of your data chapters and end up having this conversation:

Director: I can see why writing this is taking you so long.
Me: Oh god why
Director: Because what you’ve written is so clear. I can see exactly what you’re going to be arguing here.
Me: …is that bad?
Director: No, it’s really good. It’s just that most dissertation chapters aren’t this coherent. You’re usually trying to figure stuff out on the page, and you only get to a real point in the last few pages.
Me: Wait. I thought the point was for each chapter to be a coherent, self-contained argument, and then to tie all the chapters together as parts of one central argument.
Director: Well, yeah. In a perfect world. But that’s not what usually happens.
Me: WTF

3) You share your semi-magical job search spreadsheet with your departmental colleagues because hey, everyone’s already looking over your virtual shoulder anyway. So what the hell.

4) You start a post-it note countdown on your office door towards the next (the first!) job application deadline. Because again, the more information you offer people upfront, the less they’ll ask you about, right?

5) You actually almost make a career-ish decision based on how it will look on your CV. Luckily, you have enough sense to reach out to one of your committee members, who reminds you that, in this scenario, “what you WANT to do” should be your central concern.

6) You give serious, sustained thought about what music to play at your dissertation defense.

Hoooooo boy.

If Borges Wrote My Job Letter

After a night of Seagram’s 7, I’m a bit of a better headspace today. Am even feeling up to engaging with that anxious octopus of an academic genre: the job letter.

Maybe it’s my obsession with narrative, but it feels like a key part of said letter (and the job search in general) will be to show potential employers how all of the seemingly disparate pieces of my work as a scholar fit together into a coherent whole.

This issue came up for me in a roundabout way last fall, when our department was involved in a hiring search. In reading through candidates’ CVs, I kept looking for the story: I wanted to know how conference presentations X and Y and publication Z lead the candidate to do a dissertation on A. That shows my bias right there, I guess, because I assumed there was a connection, one that could be discerned by me, the grad student, in looking at a potential future colleague’s CV. And I got frustrated, if not irritated, when I couldn’t find one.

However, when I asked a faculty member whom I trust about this, she said, in essence: no one cares how the pieces fit together. To me, she seemed to be implicitly suggesting that as long as you’re doing the “right” things in publications, conferences, etc., the big picture–the grand narrative arc of yourself as a researcher–is irrelevant. Which, I have to admit, makes no sense to me. But what the hell do I know?

The more I learn about this job search thing, the more I think: not a hell of a lot.

Maybe narrative coherency is overrated. Still, I want to get my own story straight, as it were, because think it’s important–in part, too, because on its face my research and publications stuff is, shall we say, wide-ranging. Like, how do I swing from the Harlem Renaissance to some pretty boy angel from Supernatural to the sex lives of evangelical Christian women, exactly, and still claim to have a coherent research agenda?

Yeah.

So this post is me trying to do that, in a way that I hope I can mine for my cover letters to come. But we’ll see. If you’re not opposed to blatant but inevitable self-promotion and repeated references to my CV, you’re welcome read on and watch me flail.

*clears throat nervously*

Continue reading “If Borges Wrote My Job Letter”

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.

Yeah, You Got Me

Less than a month until school starts! Holy crap.

So I was talking with one of the younger Masters-level GTAs in our program today about her preparations for the rapidly-approaching semester. She’ll be teaching the first in our uni’s two-course composition sequences, and this’ll be her first time teaching that particular course. She was telling me about all of the constraints (my word, not hers) that the program places on her, as a young GTA: a list of required assignments (including grammar lessons?! WTF), a mandatory textbook, and a brand-new (mandatory) reader.

I did a terrible job of hiding my horror at this set-up, because to me, teaching is nothing if not kairotic. The system that she described, to me, seemed to strangle all of the possibilities out of teaching, especially teaching freshman comp. Look, I did my best not to be a sanctimonious git. But I have really, really strong feelings about what makes for effective teaching–especially the teaching of writing–and what my colleague was describing? Came nowhere close.

Then, ok, I realized that my approach to teaching–cultivated over time and through the hands of many fantastic mentors and role models (wow, that makes me sound old)–is nothing if not idiosyncratic. I recognize that some parameters are necessary (especially for young teachers, I guess?) and that there are, no doubt, great teachers who thrive in such a scheme.

But it got me thinking about one of the docs I’ll need to draft soon, as I prepare for the job hunt: a revised teaching philosophy. My old one feels like a good place to start, but I’ve changed a bit over the past couple of years, and the philosophe needs to reflect that.

So round 1 of that revision: brain dump of the things I do as a teacher that I see as central to my success in the classroom.

Continue reading “Yeah, You Got Me”

Let Me Go

I’ve been pushing for the past three weeks to complete a revise-and-resubmit from a year ago. Yeah, I know. I suck. In the end, though, the R&R turned out to be more like “totally rework the damn thing from stem to stern”–including rejiggering it into an unfamiliar online format– which led some of the ugly truths about my writing process to hit me full in the face.

1) Every project will take me 7-10 days longer than I estimate.

2) I tend to regard deadlines as flexible. This is a mistake for many reasons, the least of which is: see above.

3) The last few days of a writing project are akin to binge drinking: I eat badly, I don’t sleep, I walk around in an anxious, semi-coherent daze.

4) I become more of a self-absorbed asshole than usual. Can’t be buggered to answer emails or talk to anyone other than my keyboard.

5) In such moments of crisis, I write good stuff.

6) In such moments of crisis, I write complete and utter dreck.

7) Only reading my stuff out loud helps me even it off to some sort of workable middle ground.

8) I will never be pleased with the final product.

9) ..except in the first two minutes after submitting it to the journal, during which I think I’m a genius.

10) After which, all I can see, whether I wish to or not, is all that is wrong with the piece.

11) Depression and self-flagellation ensue, as does singing along loudly to mushy George Michael songs.

12) And then I think, how lucky I am to have the chance to write about this stuff, stuff that I care about, that I think is interesting, that I’d love for other people to read.

13) Maybe one day they will.

Meanwhile, back to the diss.

Writing is Hard(ly Something You Should Be Doing Alone)

Last month, I attended one of the two big conferences in my field, that of the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA). Ironically, it was the first rhetoric or composition-focused conference I’ve attended and the last conference of any sort I’ll attend (gulp) before I go on the job market this fall.

Eeep! No, I’m ok. I’m alright. I swear.

Anyway, one of the most interesting panels I attended at RSA was ostensibly about the future of journals in our field. I took this to mean there would be a discussion about the journal model more broadly, about restricted vs. open access, etc.

Yeah, no.

Instead, the panel featured the editors of three of the BFD journals in rhet/comp riffing on their roles as editors, the kinds of submissions they receive and why they do or do not suck, and the messy nature of the review process. Not what I expected, no, but fascinating all the same.

For me, one of the most striking moments was when Jim Jasinski, the editor of Rhetorical Studies Quarterly, described his role in this way:

Editors are there to help writers figure out what they’ve got.

YES. Exactly!

The best editors I’ve had a chance to work with have been able to do precisely that: to peer into the abyss of a messy first draft, pick out the ideas worth exploring, and make concrete suggestions as how I might make the most of what I’ve got. This is also what I see myself doing (what I try to do) as a teacher when I ask my students to write: to read their drafts with questions like what have they got here? where are they trying to go? how can I help them get there? in mind.

Continue reading “Writing is Hard(ly Something You Should Be Doing Alone)”

Protect and Survive


It’s annual review time again in my PhD program, which means a set of new goals for the coming year. And my, has my list gotten short:

1) Finish the dissertation
2) Send a chapter of the diss out for review to a top journal in my field (that is, rhetoric) in August or September of this year.
3) Find a fucking job.

It’s this last one that has me, oh, not worried, exactly, but on the edge of unease. Todd Platts’ recent post at Inside HigherEd, I think, suggests why:

Like many recently minted Ph.D.s I am witnessing the shattering of my dreams of becoming a full-time college professor by the vagaries of an academic job market destroyed by a fledgling economic system.

And that’s the second sentence! Way to drop the bomb in paragraph 1.

For two years, Platts, a new PhD in sociology, has been searching far and afield for some sort of gainful academic employment. And, despite “put[ing] a little piece of myself into every job packet,” he has “come up empty-handed every time.”

As he notes, this is not a new story in his discipline of the social sciences, or in mine, in the humanities; indeed, of late, there has been an ongoing conversation on Inside HigherEd and in similar online spaces about the “heartbreak,” as Platts puts it, faced by many PhDs fresh out of the mill: there are no jobs–or not the right ones–to be had.

But what struck me about Platts’ piece, above all, was this: Platts cannot understand why he can’t get a job because: he’s done everything “right.” Continue reading “Protect and Survive”

The Most Divine Works

It’s been interesting this week to watch Academic Twitter chew over Nicholas Kristoff’s assertion in the NYT last week that, gosh darn it, academics are just too tied up in their ivory towers and their wanky, inaccessible writing to make any damn difference in the world these days. If only (he wrote) scholars would spend more time on Twitter and other social media platforms producing texts that real people can understand and less time chasing our own academic tails, the world might–just might–be a better place.

While it’s true that there are a host of telling presumptions about academia’s relationship with the “real world” that are at work in Kristoff’s column [you can read some excellent work on that front here and here], I’m most interested in Kristoff’s implicit assumption that for academic work to “matter” to the general public, it has to affect social or political policy.

This strikes me because a lot of scholars in my own unruly discipline–that of rhetoric and writing studies–feel the same way.

I don’t.

Here’s why.

For many rhetoric and writing scholars, the notion that “rhetoric is action—past, present, and future” is fundamental to their understanding of the purpose of their work (Kirsch and Royster 653). Implicit in classical discussions of rhetoric is its potential, when wielded by a skilled orator, to facilitate change. As Susan Jarratt observes, the sophists–a motley collection of Pre-Socratic teachers and speakers who practiced rhetoric before the discipline itself existed–embraced this potential; they “concentrated on the power of language in shaping human group behavior explicitly,” and regarded rhetoric “as an instrument of social action in the polis” (10). Little wonder, then, that Aristotle was wary of rhetoric’s potential to do of “great harm,” of what he saw as the ills that could “be done by unjustly using such power of words” (36).

Although this fear of the “unjust” use of rhetoric persists in contemporary popular culture where, as David Coogan and John Ackerman argue, “doing rhetoric is akin to menacing our fellow citizens with lies and misdirection,” for many rhetoricians, the ability of their work to affect what Lloyd Bitzer calls a “positive modification” within the social realm continues to be central to their understanding of rhetoric’s purpose [emphasis original] (Coogan and Ackerman 2; Bitzer 6).

But the precise terms of such modification–what “counts” as social change, both in terms of content and scale–is a matter of debate.

Continue reading “The Most Divine Works”

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”