Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Here We Are: Another Morning

It's 8:18 am; the magnolia is in full bloom outside the living room windows. A cloudy morning. TM and Bonaventure left a few minutes ago.

B has a terrible new habit of coming into our room at 5:15 or 5:30 and getting into bed with us. Today he did manage to fall back asleep, but he did so sort of draped over me and/or shoving me off to the very edge of the bed, so I didn't sleep much, or deeply, after that. It's hard when you've got a leg wrapped around your neck, or an elbow in your ribs. (TM kindly took over breakfast prep when we finally got up, at a quarter of seven, so I got another half-hour or so of sleep.)

Milk is cooling for yoghurt on the stovetop. The dishwasher is running. I may or may not have to wash the diapers today.

I have three hours and forty minutes, roughly, until Bonaventure comes home. I should have a little time to work this afternoon--Tuesdays and Thursdays are "my" afternoons, while TM watches him--but I can't always count on that.

On the docket: Work on blending my talk back into my chapter (this kind of work is always so confusing, and such a chore. I have to retrace all my revisions and figure out if each of them works in the long version); go for a run; shower; practice the cello. Read an essay or, better, two.

All is not lost. All is not lost. There are weeks yet, and then the summer!

And in the meantime, this is my view (actually taken in April 2011, during our first spring in this house):

Monday, April 13, 2015

De retour


I didn't mean to disappear so summarily, and so soon after "reviving" this blog. It was a busy few weeks. To wit: I visited family for about a week (which was grand), then was home for a couple of days, then took off to deliver a talk in another part of the country. Then got back, almost a week ago, admittedly, and have been trying to re-enter the tattered remnants of my "sabbatical" ever since.

I shouldn't put that in quotes, but I feel like I lost the thread of my sabbatical two months ago--for various reasons, including the Strep Throat That Would Not Subside, And Then Came Back Just Before I Traveled. But really, I have managed to accomplish one or two or three things. To wi---Oh, I can't use that phrase twice in one post. Such as:
  • writing almost 15,000 words of a chapter of Book 2: 15,000 words that aren't half bad, I think;
  • semi-partially-sort-of revising the total mess that is the first chapter (which will remain a total mess until I'm much closer to being done with the whole draft);
  • submitting, and having accepted, an abstract for an article for an edited collection (now, to write the article!);
  • writing and delivering a paper which (a) was pretty good and (b) really helped me think through the chapter that I've been writing, as well as the surrounding chapters;
  • taking up the cello again, after twenty-two years off;
  • reviewing Latin, although I pretty much stopped doing that six weeks ago (must restart!); and
  • writing about 6,000 words of a non-academic book--a small start at something that it might be fun to finish.
OK. Not entirely what I hoped for, but not bad. My declared goal for the semester was 20k words plus some revisions. Of course, I had secret dreams of writing 30k words, and, with three weeks to go, I'm at 21; bear in mind that, by having secret dreams of 30k words, I implicitly had secret secret dreams of 40k words (an impossibility, if even seven of those words were to make sense). Does anyone else do this? --set goals, with secret ambitious goals underlying them, which only masquerade the impossible and terrifying goals beneath?

Anyway. I should read something, or shower, or something. I'm back.

Monday, March 23, 2015


It's sleeting out. Dark gray skies, wet gray roads, the drum of ice on the roof.

I'm very happy to be home and alone this morning! Even if I do need to go read some Kristeva.

Happy Monday, everyone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I'm in the process of trying to take about 75 pages of written material and condense it down to roughly 20. (Twenty-two, if I'm really bold.)

And, of course, I find that there are things that I'll need to add.

I'm at about 30. The first 15 are okay, but the second 15 are a total mess--a 38-page-chapter that I've just hacked at until it's shorter, eliminating all of the obvious stuff. It's a disaster. I think that I need to print it again. (Or is that stalling? Doesn't matter; I'll do it. Double-sided. Sorry, trees.)

So condensing sort of sucks, because it's so hard to know what's really important, sometimes. And then, you take a bunch of stuff away, and what's left seems more or less fine on its own...so what was with the many many pages of apparently superfluous writing that's now gone? Should I get rid of it in all versions and drafts? (Answer, for now: NO. I can't face it. And I'm not convinced that my cuts are ultimately for the good. Also, surely there was a reason that I wrote all that other stuff?)

But it's a salutary exercise, too, one that I would consider adopting for the junior-level composition class. I'm forced to figure out what it is that I'm actually saying. On the macro level, this means that I'm cutting to the chase much more quickly (and also, of course, eliminating side arguments and some of the texture of the main argument--which is one reason that I'm not jettisoning anything that I'm cutting for this version). On the micro level, I'm streamlining my prose. How many "sort of"s and "it would seem that"s can I pack into 12,00 words? TOO MANY, that's how.

Back to it. I've got 10 pages to chop. (Twelve, really, because there are still a few paragraphs to be written....)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So what's up, then?


I've been living in a degree of suspense, about which I cannot blog. The suspense is partly alleviated--which is to say that it continues. But, since I can't talk about it, I'll change the subject.

I'm writing on sabbatical, of course. A lot. And it...goes. I'm a process writer, I've decided, which means that I write a lot of garbage really quickly, then eventually figure out what I want to say, and revise heavily for a long time. I'm in the stage of having a lot of garbage. It is, at times, discouraging, but I think that there's a second book buried in there somewhere.

I'm knitting a second pair of convertible mittens/gloves ("glittens," a name I just can't get behind), this one for a Christmas present. Yes! I'm knitting a Christmas present in March! Because I need to knit something, and all I have is left-over yarn bits!

I try to practice the cello daily, but probably manage about 3/5 days. Hey, it's better than I did the last time I played the cello (which was in the early '90s).

I've taken up running, in a very small way--like 2 miles at a time, usually twice a week. If I really get my act together, I might do a 4-mile charity "race" in June, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Consider this a placeholder post, so that my pledge of a revival doesn't fall entirely by the wayside....

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Revival?

So I'm thinking of awakening this blog from its long slumber.

Maybe even--gasp!--retooling the way it looks. I haven't redesigned the blog since 2008, I think. (To be honest, I read almost all of my blogs on The Old Reader, so I don't know what anyone else's blog looks like anymore.)


Not sure. Somehow, reading about New Kid's transition to The Desert Knitter got me thinking about how it would be fun to have a blog that reflects more of the sides of my life: academia, sure, but also knitting, and gardening, and yoga (to the extent that I have a semi-regular practice), and the cello lessons that I'm taking for the first time in 22 years (have I mentioned that I'm on sabbatical?), and raising a mostly sweet and silly little boy (3 in June!).

I don't know--I can't guarantee that I'll stay with it.

But let's give it a shot, shall we?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Searches from the other side

That title sounds a lot more woo-woo than I meant it to. What I'm talking about is pretty pedestrian: the job search--from the committee's perspective.

I've been on search committees before, and this is in fact the second search that I've chaired. What makes this one different is that it's on the big-conference timeline and it's for a field that closely parallels my field in terms of the number and quality of applicants. I won't say what discipline we're searching for, but it's a tenure-track humanities position in a field saturated with high-quality Ph.D.s.

For a 4/4 low-endowment rural SLAC position, we received a staggering 139 applications. Of those applications, probably...well, let's be generous and say that 25 were eliminated immediately for not being in the right field (in English terms, think comp/rhet when we're hiring for literature).

That leaves 114. Of those, easily...80? 90? were perfectly fine. Good degrees, interesting-seeming research (this one is harder for me to judge, since it's not my field), solid teaching, strong recs.

We winnowed them down to 8 for phone interviews. That's 5.75% of the initial pool.

How did we get there?

Good question.

This search, more than any other I've participated in, brought home to me the issue of fit and the sheer injustice (no news here) of the hiring process. As I annotated my list of candidates, I found myself writing "Seems strong," "Seems solid," "Worth a second look" far too many times. Gradually, these changed to, "Seems strong but nothing stands out"--and that was that.

So--what stood out? Because we couldn't interview everyone with a good degree, solid research, and strong teaching; that would mean 80-odd interviews. The problem is that what stood out were things that weren't in the job description because they couldn't possibly have been in the job description.

For example:
  1. Candidate A has some experience teaching in Z, and we have a part-timer in Z who might be retiring soon (and no budget to rehire).
  2. Candidate B has some study-abroad administrative experience that would dovetail nicely with our program in Y.
  3. Candidate C's service-learning experience would fit really well in this particular community.
  4. Candidate D's research interests are close enough to those of a few of my colleagues to spark some interesting team-teaching possibilities, but not so close that they would duplicate our department's strengths.
  5. Candidate E has high school teaching experience that might enable him/her to collaborate on developing a new secondary certification program at Field.
And so on.

Fortuity starts to play a role. It's not the case that each of our finalists has some specific strength like this, but these were the kinds of things that started leading me (and the rest of the committee) to single out particular applications over the others. And you--the applicant--just can't prepare for that.

What you can do, though, is highlight interesting bits of your professional life that might cause your application to stand out, too. Conducted workshops for first-generation students? Mention that in your cover letter. Don't dwell on it, in case it's not relevant, but mention it. Organized or taught on a study-abroad trip? Mention it. Engaged in service-learning? team-teaching? curriculum design? Mention it.

There is one other concrete thing that I can mention, too. If you're applying for a job at a SLAC, somehow demonstrate that you're specifically interested in SLACs. Maybe this doesn't matter much if you're applying to the really top-tier elite schools (who wouldn't want a job at Swarthmore?), but, at least at a school like mine, a research-heavy cover letter that doesn't even mention the appeal of a liberal arts college pretty much gets you kicked to the curb--simply because there are too many applicants and we have to narrow the pool somehow.

Also: If you have a tenure-track (or tenured!) position and are applying out, EXPLAIN WHY. Give some explanation of the move, ideally one that makes you look good. Simply avoiding the topic in your cover letter counts as one big red flag.

Good luck, everyone.