Seven Lessons on Writing Saturday, Dec 14 2013 

From the way back archives of my writing, sort of in response to an article that just appeared in Slate.

I wrote this more than a decade ago, for a class assignment in a graduate class in composition theory. Over the years, the Mr. Sinclair of this little essay has proven to be a guiding light in my own career as a teacher of writing.


Seven Lessons on Writing

Lesson One: Third Grade
I had a little Scholastic notebook; we all did. Inside, we were to write whatever we wanted, just so long as we did it often (I can’t remember if it was once a week, twice a week, hourly). My stories were invariably filled with spies, secret agents, soldiers, warriors. For whatever reason, I was always portrayed as the dashing hero vanquishing the evil villain, who was usually identified as the kid in our class who we all hated for his attitude and real-life violence (he used to pick frequent fights with the doughiest kid in our class), his sense of superiority derived from a perception of wealth. We were all faculty brats; his dad was president of an oil drilling company.

Moral 1: Writing lets you get even.
Moral 2: A good writing teacher doesn’t put you in counseling for writing war stories.

Lesson Two: Fifth Grade
Nate—his dad was a librarian at the university where most of our parents worked—brought in a graphic novel called Elf Quest. It was book four of the series, the one where the elves have an orgy by firelight the night before running off to battle the evil snow trolls for the right to occupy an ancient elfin castle.

We huddled around Nate—and the book—and were absorbed by the masterful writing. Now, the nudity of the book was rather tame, as far as nudity goes, all roundness and tastefully placed shadows, but for us it was tremendous, titillating, frightening (somehow we knew our teacher wouldn’t have the same respect for the words, the words, nothing but the words). I recall that at the time, I thought sex was only one of two possible ways to have kids. The other was “sleeping together,” which I assumed was a rather benign and boring way of having kids. My understanding was that fertilization happened spontaneously by the proximity of a man and woman lying unconscious in the same bed. This book, though, convinced me that I definitely had to marry a woman who preferred the other method.

Soon after this day, the journal entries I wrote started describing the activities of Matt Ferrence, the elf, who was on a quest to regain the lost castle of his forebears. No fool—I understood the teacher mind—I excised the steamier parts of my stories.

Moral 1: You write what you read.
Moral 2: A writer must be conscious of audience, or end up getting yelled at.

Lesson Three: Ninth Grade
Journalism was the greatest class in school; you got your own laminated hall pass, to be used at your discretion (or, as the teacher saw it, to be used to hunt down hot stories for the school newspaper, “The Crimson Arrow”). We also got to go on field trips, to The Indiana Gazette, for example. Before going, our teacher informed us that a student we all knew, as well as all of her numerous sisters (big Catholic family) vomited at the smell of the printer’s ink. So be aware, she said. This stole a bit of the excitement from the trip. Or maybe it added some.

At the paper, we got to sit with a real professional newspaper person for the morning. I sat with some guy dressed in a torn, fraying insulated lining of a winter coat. He had a mustache. He had messy hair. He was quiet. He spent the entire morning pasting up the temperatures from around the country and writing the brief, four-sentence, incomprehensibly insensitive and racialized Chief Tommy Hawk blurb that described the weather. For example: “Brrr. Chief Tommy Hawk must do rain dance yesterday. Big sun not return for three days. Big rain make corn grow.” Things like that.

I was frightened of this man.

Our assignment, after the visit, was to write a paper describing what we learned. We were to be original and creative. I realized I had to write about this man who looked, as far as I could tell from my limited life experience, like an axe murderer. So I was creative. I described him in detail, as looking like an axe murderer, then I described all the things I learned from him, which actually were numerous. My closing to the paper was something like, “And I learned, most of all, that even if someone looks like an axe murderer, he may in fact have a lot to teach you.”

We had to read these papers out loud to the journalism class. My peers loved my paper. They laughed. They were inspired. My teacher scowled. She said, “That was highly inappropriate.”

Moral 1: Making people laugh is fun.
Moral 2: Honesty and creativity in writing isn’t always appreciated, even if asked for.

Lesson Four: Ninth Grade
There I was, in the auditorium of Indiana Junior High School, surrounded by the rest of the school, maybe 750 kids in three grades. My 9th Grade English Teacher, Mr. Sinclair (also my drama director) was introducing the annual English Award, given to the boy and girl in the school who had proven to be the best and brightest writers. He was talking about the winners, without mentioning their names—this had something to do with drama, with building interest and excitement. I don’t remember many precise details, but he kept using impressive adjectives like “brilliant” and “mature” and “creativity.”

Wow, I thought.

Then I won, as did Caren, a truly bright student who is now a captain in the Army somewhere in the South. After the assembly, my friends were congratulating me on the unexpected award (I got a lovely Cross pen and pencil set, which I soon came to learn was the regular gift/award for academic rites of passage; I could open up my own franchise, just by hocking the sets I’ve been given over the years). One friend said that when he started hearing all the laudatory (he may not have used that word) adjectives, he was wondering who the heck was going to win it, who was that great at English. He never would have guessed me.

Me neither. I had simply enjoyed English class that year because of the charisma and kindness of Mr. Sinclair. As a result, I wrote what I wanted to write. As a result, I wrote as well as I could.

Moral 1: Writing what matters to you brings reward, or at least Cross pen and pencil sets.
Moral 2: Mr. Sinclair was a great writing teacher, not that I could explain why.

Lesson Five: 12th Grade
I was tired of writing at this point. Who wants to write another boring research paper: intro, body, conclusion, MLA format, carefully selected quotes, blah, blah, blah. We were reading Beowulf. I had to write a research paper on something from the era, and I ended up with Viking burial mounds somehow.

Does a paper have to be boring? I asked Mrs. K.

No, she said.

So I can liven this up, make the language more fun, generally have fun with it?

Sure. That would be great, Mrs. K said.

My paper was titled “Mounds: Not the Candy Bar.” It was well-researched (I suspended my usual procrastination and started two days before it was due), but more importantly it was written with fun in mind. I cracked jokes. I mocked myself, the subject matter, everything in a masterful way that still allowed all my cool info to get through (did you know, for example, that the Vikings built their graves to look like ships?).

I got an A for research, for mechanics, for organization, for all the stuff that matters in a paper. I got a B on the paper, with only a single comment as means of explanation: “Inappropriate tone.”

Moral: Creativity in writing isn’t always appreciated, even when you get permission.

Lesson Six: Freshman Year
“You are my sunshine,” Rosaly wrote on my first paper for Freshman Writing. We met to talk. She told me not to worry about the assignments in the class. They’re designed to help students who don’t know how to write learn to write. She told me that I could write whatever I wanted, to be creative, to do what I wanted with my writing.

A bad learner of lessons (see lesson five), I followed suit. I wrote my heart out in the class. I did what I wanted with language, with subject, with creativity. I tested all the limits I could think of. Rosaly loved it all. She rewarded me with praise and constructive criticism. She rewarded me with an A. I thought of Mrs. K, and I laughed.

Moral 1: Well, so writing can be creative. This is like 9th grade again.
Moral 2: A good writing teacher lets her student find his own limits, his own voice.

Lesson Seven: 1999
An M.F.A. under my belt, a marriage looming on the horizon, I needed a job. Badly. I interviewed at a bank as a corporate trainer where I made the interesting decision to play my saxophone during the final interview.

For the last year or so I had also been writing occasional pieces for my hometown newspaper. They had offered me a full-time job that I had turned down, which I now needed; the corporate training wasn’t coming through for me, something about too many saxophones already on staff. I went in to talk with the editor.

I need a job, Sam, I said. Is there anything full-time here, any hope of anything?

The next day, I was meeting with the owner of the paper, and he was explaining to me how the paper was more of a family than anything. Apparently, this meant they could pay very poorly, since we were all family.

But I was grateful for the job; I was a professional writer, and suddenly found myself in the odd position of writing for the paper I had grown up reading. I found myself in the odd position of working with the axe murderer guy who did the weather: his name was Bob, and he turned out to be quite nice. He seemed to have jettisoned the coat liner, and he no longer did Chief Tommy Hawk. In some sort of ironic twist of fate, I ended up writing that blurb almost every morning, navigating the Chief’s iconic, nostalgic status in the community with my own sense of its rather obvious racism. Notably, Tommy now spoke in normal meteorological terms, stereotyped dialect wisely excised a few years before I arrived. I also found myself in the odd position of working with Mr. Sinclair, now John, who had retired from school teaching and filled some of his spare time writing a golf column for the paper, helping out in the morning with page layout, editing the Religion page.

John and I talked often. Despite all the writing teachers I had ever had, some splendid some terrible, he was my favorite. We golfed together. We avoided work on slow afternoons and talked, about teaching and writing and respect. He told me how he quit teaching to work for the paper when he was in his 20s, how a year later he quit the paper to go back to teaching. “You’re a fool,” the owner (the father of the current owner) told him. “You have to do what makes your heart sing,” he told me. “And that’s what shows in your writing, Matt. You really love what you’re doing.”

Moral 1: Writing is about love.
Moral 2: Teaching is about love.
Moral 3: Teaching writing is about love.


X. The Offer Friday, Aug 26 2011 

Just in time for a new job season, the last installment of my job search retrospective: the MLA Joblist goes live on September 15th.

As I come to the end of this little series of posts, I find myself with a heavy sense of anti-climax. I think most of us understand our likely response when a job is offered — such a moment includes falling to our knees, exhaling deeply, weeping, staring blankly into the middle-distance, sprinting naked around the neighborhood in a fit of rapture…the usual.

What you’re supposed to do:

* Listen to the offer with sobriety and professional detachment.

* Ask a few clarifying questions.

* Promise to get back to the school within the (typically) allotted two weeks.

* Call back and negotiate for more money, perks, etc.

* Come to an agreement with the school.

What I did:

* See second paragraph of post, then multiply by four.

* Immediately accept the offer, with no negotiation.

* Remain extraordinarily happy about that.


In my defense, about not negotiating: I’m sure I could have. In fact, on the day I received the call from my dean offering the position, I was just a few days away from a campus visit for another job. That’s what they call leverage, I suppose. I chose (consciously, really, despite the thrill of the offer) to not exercise the leverage, even told the dean that I would immediately accept the position and forgo a planned visit elsewhere.

Why do that? Why miss out on what many advisers will tell you is your only chance to make a meaningful financial change to your situation? Why miss out on the compounding effect of a relatively minor initial salary bump? Why not ask for tenure credit for my four previous years of full-time professorhood?

1) I really thought the offer was a fair one. It constituted a raise from my previous position, at a place where salaries are pretty strong in the first place. Further, I thought the offer represented a fair market value for both the school making the offer and for the region where the school was located. Yes, I could pinch for more, but to me that seemed like economic tunnel vision. There was so much good in the package as presented, I felt that it would be petty to hold out for more. Isn’t that what we sports fans hate about professional athletes, that they get a great offer and refuse to accept it, that they hold out for more just because they can?

2) Budgets are tight. Money matters for an institution’s long-term health. Yeah, an extra grand or two wouldn’t break the school, but from a philosophical position of shared responsibility, I felt that demanding more cash would trend toward the greed line. Again, the offer was good. Just because I could make it “better” doesn’t mean I should. Because even, say, a thousand dollars more to me would be a thousand fewer available for student scholarships, for facilities upgrade, for all of the day-to-day stuff that makes a college a place where you want to be.

3) My leverage was, as leverage often goes, an illusion. Based on my initial interview with School B, and based on the vibe of conversations with reps from said school (and I’m pretty good with these vibes), it’s quite likely I would have had a second offer to dangle as evidence of negotiatory imperative. But I didn’t really like School B very much.

Certainly, in comparison to School A, there was no real race. School A has stronger students, a much stronger reputation, is a much better philosophical fit with my educational mindset, is better located, pays quite a bit more, has a lighter teaching load, offers a course rotation of far greater interest. No sane person would choose School B over School A (apologies to School B, but I think the faculty there would probably agree). I would have taken a job at School B under typical circustances, but not with a chance to go to School A. Even for less money, I would have taken School A.

Thus the lack of real leverage is clear.

How could I, in good faith, use School B as a means to rake more money from School A, when there just really wasn’t any competition? It would have been dishonest to do so. Money won would be dirty money.

4) From the day the job ads came out, School A was where I wanted to be.


Call me naive.

No, really. Go ahead.

But I think as academics we need to be mindful of these things. When a salary offer is sufficient, in fact quite good by national averages and standards, there’s no shame in saying yes. Some job advice out there suggests negotiating as a default response. And from an administrative perspective, they’re probably right. I’m sure the dean had some money in reserve that could have gone my way. In fact, I’m sure the dean was probably surprised that I didn’t try to negotiate for more. During the offer conversation, the dean had already said that a) the school hoped I could give them a decision within the typical two week timeframe (read: we know you’ll probably negotiate); b) they would try to counter any other offer I had (read: we figure you have other offers, and we have money to beat them).

So, call me naive again. Even stupid.

But, truly, I think there’s no shame, even merit, in “settling” for an opening offer. To me, the opening presentation represented a fair and responsible gesture on the part of the school. Coupled with how much I enjoyed my campus visit, my interaction with faculty and students, how well the college fit my academic, professional, and personal profile, it seemed ludicrous to quibble. The bottom line was that the offer was plenty, and I wanted to be there.

Moral to this story?

A few, I suppose:

Don’t be an idiot and leave money on the table like this dude.

Don’t be afraid to like a place enough to make a decision irrespective of finance.


A final wrap up bit: as I mention above, the school where I now teach was the position I most coveted on the joblist that year. In fact, had I been able to (realistically) choose from any school in the country, this would have been at the very least a college in the top five and, frankly, probably number one.

But when I read the job ad, I figured it was worthless to apply. The school was a reach for me, I thought. My credentials, though strong, were not particularly brand sensitive. My Ph.D., for example, comes from a place I think is wonderful, but that doesn’t really have a tremendous national presence. I think people that know it know that strong people are there and often come from there. But people who don’t know the program would probably be more likely to assume that it’s pretty nondescript, even weak. Further, my credentials seemed light for the preferences listed in the ad. Even though the job was for a beginning assistant professor, the expressed publication desire was more-in-line with an advanced (frankly, quite accomplished) scholar.

I applied anyway.

In the end, my credentials were enough to get an interview. And once the dust had cleared, I was the candidate who best fit the position.

So you never know.

Happy hunting this job season!

Recently, on The Academic Gig Monday, Feb 21 2011 

This is a new bloggy space for, admittedly, a blog no one ever read…ever. The previous incarnation came from the position of a non-tenure track professor, looking to find the almighty permanent job while finishing a dissertation (and tending to a new baby). These things have all changed — got the job, finished the diss, now tending to a toddler.

A long radio silence ensued during the past several months, thanks to some level of anxiety/superstition/fear of jinxing chances for my inside hire. Which totally crashed and burned anyway, much to my good fortune — the job I got is SO much better than the one I thought I was a shoo-in for.

Here’s what you missed, in case you wonder:




I rode with a friend to a golf course last week, and the return trip focused on labor issues in contemporary America. The friend happens to be a lifelong railroader, a track layer for most of his career who is now a union boss. I happen to be a union member, but in a decidedly less physical milieu: I grade papers, while my friend drove spikes and heaved ties and rail.
Certainly, these are tough times for labor and labor-friendly politics. Despite a supposedly ultra-liberal in the White House, few politicians seem keen on being seen as pro-worker. Bad for business, right? This point, of course, was exactly what my friend and I discussed. Paying an extra two dollars for a shirt, as a consumer, is a small price to pay for a healthy, vibrant domestic labor force. Sure, that might take money out of the pocket of the owners (read: the very rich), but that’s a bad thing only for the small minority of very rich people in the country. Further, the notion that a pro-labor position is bad is a horrid vestige of Reagan’s trickle-down economics, which never really trickled much.
In any case, beyond the enjoyment of the chat, two interesting thoughts were spawned from this conversation and other recent events:
1) Faculty unions are strange ducks, and I think they need to stand up more for labor in general. At my university, for example, cafeteria workers organized. The food vendor (not the U — a contractor) refuses to recognize the union. This is, likely, illegal or, at least, not something unions should be pleased with. But the following two lines will display the official faculty union response to their fellow laborers: 

And that’s the strange duckiness. Faculty unions for whatever social-class reason (and it has to be that) aren’t too keen on getting down and dirty with union membership in general. They only want to protect their own collective rights. That’s fine in of itself, as a union is intended to protect its membership. But labor should defend labor. And when low-wage workers at its institution are being treated poorly, a moral union should take visible, demonstrative action. The faculty are the ones who have actual power, with or without the union, and so they should stand up for those without power.
To make things worse, there are many in academia (particularly the humanities) who like to think of themselves as pro-labor. But they didn’t step in to help in this case. And I imagine very few of them care much personally about, say, railroaders not being allowed to take lunch breaks. In theory, sure. But socially, actively, effectively? That’s another story.

2) The state of labor and liberalism in general allows Americans to think that the current Recovery Act (whose signs sit beside so many road work projects) is somehow similar to the WPA, or that it constitutes some kind of big government socialism. Hardly. The WPA gave work, and often “useless” work like mural painting and folklore gathering, to individuals. As a result, the nation received both better roads and bridges, and more beautiful buildings, post offices, and cultural knowledge. To me, that’s a brilliant make-work program: work and pay go to individuals who need it, and the nation receives tangible and equally-important cultural benefit.
The beneficiary of the current program, however, is more corporate. Yes, working stiffs get more hours on road crews, but these road crews are largely private contractors. The government is not paying the workers; the government is giving contracts to private business who trickle it down to labor…who are likely not unionized in many cases. So, that’s a big difference.

Labor may not be gone in America, but it sure needs some friends.



Who needs a life?

A recent article in the Chronicle discusses the problems of the “f-word” in academic departments, that word being the family that results from the verbal application of the other f-word. Among other things, the author mentions a supposedly outrageous case where an applicant found that a high-powered research department allowed its faculty the latitude to engage outside pursuits. Specifically, the author mentions the horror of one faculty member talking about how a book project was delayed because of work on a deck restoration. This, apparently, is what is wrong with academia, that people might accept such slackage. From the article: “especially during the tenure-track years, the personal must to some extent be sacrificed for the professional.” 

And that’s what I think is wrong with academia. The point of view of this article is not uncommon, is likely in fact the expectation. Faculty like to strike their breasts and moan how they work sixty-plus hours a week, then spend all summer on research projects their teaching delayed. But they like to do so publicly, establishing a definite reputation for overwork and dedication. Professors have it so hard, they imply, even as they claim to recognize their “privilege.” Professors work so much more than other people, they imply, at lower pay than they could earn in the private sector. Which is, of course, a stretch: a lot of professors would never make it in the private sector despite their intellects. Just one problem they exhibit as a rule: slow work. Two months to respond to a chapter for review is acceptable nowhere but academia and slush pile publishing. Heck, two months is long enough for Grisham to write another novel.

So maybe the workaholicism is a function of guilt or perception management. Professors stay all hours so they seem like they work hard. I think, however, a lot of it has to do with desire. Some professors like to work all hours, enjoy spending time in the lab or the stacks or at the computation board (does that exist?). The problem, then, is one of empathy. An individual overworks and succeeds, so a colleague decides to similarly overwork. Because of the growing multitude who accept that work ought to be that way, who actually enjoy cutting themselves off from outside pursuits, and who often only marginally increase their own quality of scholarship by working that way, the stated demands of a position (say, teach four courses a term, serve on department committees, present a paper every year or so, publish a paper every few) are ignored. One workaholic publishes one book, claims to be the hardest working scholar in the department, then looks down on everyone else who doesn’t wish to give up their lives in the same way. Over time, a creep toward over-commitment occurs, creating a phantom culture that denies the potentiality of healthy out-of-work time. I mean, really, isn’t there more work you could be doing?

And that, in essence, is the human crisis of academia, which closely follows the human crisis of U.S. labor in general. If X amount of work is good, then 2X is better, and 3X is better, and so forth. It’s the Puritan work ethic melded with the Capitalist credo. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop that don’t make as much money as possible, so work harder so you’re not a sinning poor person. No one, anywhere, should feel that family, home, or personal life needs to be sacrificed to any extent for the professional. Such sacrifices no doubt increase the profit margin for companies, for universities, and for psychoanalysts. People struggle when they work too much, when their lives become stuck in a living-to-work cycle. Balance is necessary, and should be an easy function of modernity. We’re technically more advanced than 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 10 years ago, so we ought to be working less, enjoying more free time for poetry, literature, nature, deck-building by grace of our increased efficiency. But, instead, we work more, to exponentially increase output and institutional profit, just so we can pay for $100 a month cell phone, and $50 a month high-speed, and $100 a month cable, and on and on and on.

Me, I want to work in a department that builds decks. Goodness knows the one on the front of our house could use some time.



Wooing From the Inside

It’s like trying to convince an old friend you’re really dating material. Constantly awkward. With the opportunity for epic crash-and-burnability. 

But maybe they’ll give me the new position anyway.



Nailed It/Blew It

My perspective: totally rocked the M.L.A. interview scene. Handled every question with grace, verve, and intellect.
Their perspective: guess not, if the wiki’s right — no campus visit for me.
Good thing, though — I’d have to change the name of the blog if I got on the tt.



Hmm, wrong degree, I guess

How appropriate is this job?: 

“Concentration in rhetoric and compensation, and/or a background in business/professional/technical writing preferred…”

I added the boldface. But isn’t that kind of the thing in the current market? That’s what the universities want to hire, someone well-versed in the rhetoric of compensation, who can explain how an adjunct-only future faculty will best serve the needs of civilization and the arts.

Do you need a Ph.D. for that concentration, though? Or some kind of Dark Arts doo-hickie?



Lion tamer curiously absent

Teaching, or trying to, late afternoon. No one seems to have read/understood the essay on tap. Eyes turn outside. 

To a man riding a unicycle.

To a group stringing a tightrope between trees.

To the unicycle guy starting to juggle.

Says student, “Do we have a circus club?”

Hard to teach twenty feet from the bigtop.



I have a cold.

That’s it.




1. Raked leaves this weekend. Leaves. Leaves. Leaves. Lot of ’em. 

2. November means job application deadlines. Means two days after each deadline I’ll start wondering why no one has called yet.

3. Thanksgiving recess is only a few weeks down the road.

4. And the semester ends only a few weeks after that.

5. Not that I’m counting.

6. Why has no one called yet?

7. What else can a dude do with an English Ph.D.?

8. Because no one has called yet.

9. Frosty mornings are upon us, and I have no garage.

10. More leaves fell over night.



Neurotics on deadline

Job season. Early-career academic. Instant neurosis. 

Normally, I’m a pretty even-keeled dude, maybe even bordering on unflappable. I mean, I’ve witnessed birth from the front row, so shaping a job letter seems like small potatoes. Even so, and despite a general strain of optimism and confidence…

…well how can you stay that way when 1) the general economy is in the bin; 2) the humanities tenure track outlook has been dire for, oh, 150 years; 3) the dissertation committee seems to want to exact a because-they-can slow down; 4) 100 applicants for a single job would be a miracle, since it’s likely to be double that (if I can believe what I read); 5) I believe (too much) what I read on various academic blogs around the cyber-cooler.

And that’s the problem, innit? All these academic blogs, written by border-line despondent junior professors, all bitter about something. And they have advice for those on the market, and it’s usually presented in the context of things-I-see-on-the-search-committee-that-turn-me-off. Plus the big kicker: each is different. Tailor your letter to the job, they all say, but then each suggests different ways to do it since, of course, each is a different individual with different outlook on the process.

So I extrapolate, and figure that of, say, five people on a search committee, there are five different desires and perspectives. And, since this is academe, no two academics have the same opinion. So each committee is comprised of five new people with five new desires and perspectives. So, say 20 jobs are in the app attack. Um, that’s 100 different people, each unique and beautiful and angry and picky and overworked and not into going to MLA and tired of the whole administration deal that turned this search into the wrong one and wouldn’t we be better off hiring an Early Mongolian Pop Culture Specialist instead of a Late Cretacious Vegan Theorist.

Thus the neuroses, the checking of blogs and wikis and individual university sites, all in the effort to somehow stumble on that little crumb that makes it all so clear.

Please, hire me and save me from myself.



Against the tide

That time of the year, post-mid semester, when freshmen seem to regress. Dumb stares, unread assignments, complaints about workload, emails about having to miss class to catch up on other work, random comments in the middle of discussions about having to leave early so really will we be doing anything important for the rest of class. 

Maybe we should teach a class — College 100: How Not to Piss Off a Professor

But, in the middle of it all, engaged faces nodding in astonishment as they hear, apparently for the first time, a criticism of America’s patriarchal past. And that’s why we do it.



Thanks, I was aware

Journal 1: rejects an essay twice, the second time sending a chastisement about not providing a s.a.s.e — which of course they had already used on the first rejection. 

Journal 2: rejects an essay four months after I’d pulled it from consideration (as it was published elsewhere) — a kind of immature “you can’t pull it we rejected it so there” move, I guess…just a little slow.

Academia, where civility and attention to detail are passe theoretical constructs.



You mean it worked?

Quiet, late-day class. They’re bright students, but they’re burnt out by the end of the day and, hard to ignore, not terribly enthused at the prospect of English 101. So today I tried a different lesson style, forcing them to rewrite portions of a difficult and admittedly dull essay they’d read. Honestly, if I’d been in the class, I would have hated the assignment.
An hour after class, I got an email from a student who wanted to change the topic of her first essay, because the in class work opened up a new avenue for her.
Whoa. Who knew that would work?
Just when you think you’re at the wall, out of ideas, accidental inspiration.



Wiki vs. Credo

The wiki makes it hard to maintain the credo — and if you’re on the academic job market, you probably know the wiki I reference. There aren’t many fuller, more deeply wounded collections of exploded psyches, more Signal 30-eque displays of shattered confidence and rickety anxiety. Contagious, of course, even when I rather like the looks of my cv. Yet, even as an optimist, I recognize how many other nice-looking cvs are out there, and how often nice looking cvs head directly for the bin. The wiki just makes me think of that more, which makes me doubt my training, my ability to finish my dissertation, my goals and futures in the biz. And all because one or two people report having received “application received” letters from jobs I’ve applied to. Where’s mine!? I sent that app a whole two days ago! 

Calm down. Retreat to your corner. Think pretty.


Fancy a credo?

You don’t know this, since Contingent Shift is brand new, unseen, and insignificant, but two posts have been deleted. The first two, in fact. But here’s the deal: the world has plenty of world-weary, snarky, biting academic blogs. I like those well enough — they’re funny, help hide my general anxiety at all things academic, and often hit uncomfortably close to the mark. Still, I don’t think this blog needs to be another in a long line of bitter/sardonic/angry ones. And that’s what the first two entries were.
Thus the credo, that Contingent Shift will try to keep it nice, despite the obvious and well-understood non-niceness of that particular academic identity: non-tenure stream, year-to-year contract, full-time, survey course teaching minion. But that’s a heck of a lot better than latte maker, or minimum-wage book slinger, or grossly underpaid t.a. I have insurance, retirement benefits, decent salary, an office (shared), computer (with squirrels running the processor)…er…guess this blog can’t all be on the nice-nice.
But, here it is: a fresh job season awaits. 16 apps out. More to go, even if the listings seem sparse so far. From the optimistic view, though, I seem like a fit and, until rejected everywhere, I’ll assume I have as much a shot as anyone anywhere. Let the snickers behind my back begin.