…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.

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.

I May Need to Re-Read This One on My Own

I’ve had a really hard time writing of late. All kinds: my dissertation, fic, blog posts, you name it. The words have been hard to come by, even harder to put on the page.

Part of it, no doubt, lies in the building veil of anxiety that surrounds what will happen this fall. That is, come September, there’s a very real possibility that I might be the only person in my cohort going out on the job market.

Now I do my best to be a “run your own race” kind of person, so at some level, this development shouldn’t concern me at all. My colleagues and I, we are all of us faced with very different life choices at this time, and what they do or do not do on the job front has little impact on me.

However, as I’ve noted before, in my department, the job hunting season for upcoming grads is freaking spectator sport, and in this equation, I will be the object of that gaze. With the prospect of perhaps being the ONLY object from my cohort in those sights, well. Pass the Pepto and the nearest paper bag.

No doubt this has contributed to my sticky keys.

But there’s something more to it, something even more fundamental and confusing. Setting aside the problem of what employer might pay me for what, I’ve been battling the question–what kind of scholar do I want to be, exactly? What kind of job might I want (dare I even think such a thing)?

Continue reading “I May Need to Re-Read This One on My Own”

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)”

3 Reasons I Love to Teach

It’s the end of the term here this week; another semester, another school year, come to a close, one that I was happy to see end. That said, I was reminded this week why I love teaching. To wit:

1) The perfectionist student in my composition class who finally had enough faith in herself and her ideas that she brought a messy, working, fantastically drafty draft of her paper to our peer review workshop–something that she wouldn’t (couldn’t) have done six weeks ago.

2) A former student from my Literature, Medicine, and Culture class who thanked me for advising them to begin a new essay by sitting down and just writing for an hour. That is: to write first, and then go back and deal with what’s on the page, rather than trying to get it “right” the first time. “It’s really helped,” he told me, “in more than one of my classes this term”–and with the personal statement he’s writing for med school.

3) Another student from Lit, Med, and Culture who’s continued on her own to pursue one of the ideas we discussed in class (that of narrative medicine) because she’s freaking annoyed and yet intrigued by it, by what she sees as the dissonance between the concept and its practical implementation. She told me: “Your class was one that left the impression on me that it’s important to keep asking questions and learn more beyond the classroom.”

I sat down, I’ll admit, to write a post about a frustrating discussion I had with a senior faculty person this week about how to respond to student writing. But then my students, bless them, redirected my energies and reminded me what’s far more important: them.

Truly, one of the strange things about teaching is that, at some level, you don’t usually get to see the fruits (or not) of your labors, of your 16-week long collaboration with your students. But, then, sometimes? You do.

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”

Beware Fools Bearing Advice

When I’m angry or uncertain, the first place I turn in my writing is to style.

To wit, the original opening line of this post was:

Friends, colleagues, countrymen: we come to bury the permission slip, not to praise it.

Right. Because what’s set me off today isn’t anger, really, though it may have a shade of frustration. It’s passivity.

Specifically, what I read as passiveness in this essay, On Writing in Grad School; the gist of which is: in general, we don’t teach graduate students how to write.

On the one hand: true.

On the other: tough shit.

To be clear, I bear no ire towards Kevin Gotkin, the author of this piece. Indeed, his grievances, the absences he’s noted in his own graduate education, truly seem to trouble him greatly, and I admire his ability to transform that sense of injustice into a cogent piece for The Chronicle of Higher Ed. There’s a conversation to be had there, and he’s kicked it off clean. Well done, sir.

Rather, what troubles me is the way in which Gotkin’s essay repeats with difference (as Jenny Edbauer might say) similar complaints I have heard of late within the rhetorical ecology of higher education in the humanities.

(Heh. How’s that for wonky style?)

Continue reading “Beware Fools Bearing Advice”

writing is hard.

So I got a new tattoo this week, one that speaks to me at a fundamental level:

photo (7)

In retrospect, I can’t figure out how these words will strike my students, exactly, or my clients in our writing center. I wonder if they’ll think: dude, I already knew that or really? writing’s always been easy for me or oh crap. is it too late to switch sections, to find a class with a real professor, one who’s mastered writing and can teach me to do it, too?

And at some level, yes, I can see it sounds strange coming from a) somebody teaching college comp and b) a nascent scholar who freaking studies writing for a living, but man: this is a reality of which I need to be reminded every time I sit at the keyboard.

Writing is hard, and it’s coming out of my ears lately, even more than as per usual.

In particular, my brain is big-wheeling over The Writing Process; or to be more specific, the process that’s supposed be mine. I think it’s because I’m preparing to teach composition again–for the first time in a year–while writing collaboratively with a friend and fellow fic writer on a piece we started about a year ago.

Can you see a pattern here, perhaps? It feels like my writing’s been on hold for a while.

And now, too, staring down the barrel of my dissertation and all the very particular kind of writing that will entail, again, it all comes back to The Process.

One thing I’ve learned in grad school is that, as a writer, I get into trouble when I wander away from the data, from the content of whatever it is I’m trying to say. I can tie myself up in theoretical knots–frame, unframe, and matte–through page after page and not say a freaking thing. Worse: I’ll write myself into a ditch, a mental one, sure, one that makes me feel like I’m drowning. Like I have nothing useful to say.

And sometimes, of course, that’s the case: I really don’t have anything insightful or interesting or even halfway amusing to add, and that’s fine.

No. It’s annoying as hell and flip-the-table frustrating, sometimes.

Writing, that bastard, is so fucking hard.

Yeah, that wouldn’t fit on my arm.

What I’m always chasing these days is that balance between consideration and production, between turning ideas over in my head or on the backs of Starbucks napkins and sitting in front of the screen and putting that stuff on the page.

I write to learn, yes, I write to figure out what I’m saying–there’s no question about that. But since I’ve been in PhD world, I’ve realized how much of my writing process, for better or worse, still goes on in my head.

Often, it’s background noise to something else I’m doing, or should be; working through a story as I code data for my dissertation, or chewing on data as I try to write two beautiful, fictional men into bed. The result of this being that, sometimes, when the goddess Rhetorica is on my side, I can sit down and seemingly dump out a lot of text at a rapid pace–a lot of it’s crap, sure, but it gives me a good place to start.

If I think too much, though, I’m screwed.

Not enough, and what comes out come back from my advisor or kindly editors with comments like you can’t just say that. you need some actual proof.

It’s like getting a tattoo, in a way.

It’d had been two years since my last tattoo, and I’d both forgotten and was dreading the pain, the little snip snap jab of the needle into my skin. So the first few minutes this time? Very unpleasant.

But I calmed down, got Zen, and made it through the initial outline pretty damn well, if I say so myself.

Then the artist hit me with numbing gel and let it sit for a while.

When he returned and went back to work, I couldn’t feel a damn thing. That was almost as bad as the initial, terrible pain.

It was only in that interval in between, after the first jabs but far enough away from the last, when I was focused and breathing and singing along to Stevie Nicks on the stereo that everything felt good, felt right.

That’s the space I’m always chasing when I write: that interval between the pain and feeling nothing at all.

So I need this reminder on my arm to turn to, a inky compass on which to focus my anxiety as I chase that perfect space:

Writing is hard.