Sunday, November 4, 2007

Throwing darts.

'Tis the season: the shortness of breath, the cold sweats, the general susceptibility to fatigue-related can only be application time. The anxiety is palpable out there in the blogosphere--so much so that it interferes with my wallowing in my own anxiety.

Not being on the market, or applying for grad school, myself (but having done both with all the requisite panic), I hereby offer a perspective, or rather a couple of perspectives, in the hope that someone, somewhere, might be able to watch a movie for ten minutes without thinking, "I should revise the opening sentence of my cover letter..."

This year, I'm serving on the Search Committee, and it really is true what they told me when I was on the market: you can never tell what weird shit is going on behind the scenes. It could be that the position you're applying for seems a perfect match to you, but you're a woman and for the last three years they've hired women and they're getting strong pressure to hire a man. Or some similar demographic base-covering. It could be that you're applying from Top Three Research University, and the little liberal arts college that you pant for doesn't believe you could actually be happy teaching there. So, it's flukey (or is it fluky? I'm not going to check).

In my other, non-Renaissance, life I'm a creative writer. I tell my CW students that trying to publish creative work is like playing darts. You throw your dart out there in the form of a submission, and sometimes you hit the target, in which an editor's aesthetic matches up with yours, and then you're golden. Sometimes they just don't line up. And you can increase your chances by doing the writerly equivalent of fledging your dart really well (researching the editors and the aesthetic of the place you're submitting to, maybe), and by practicing, but you're still as likely as not to miss. And with creative publishing, that's just part of the process: you don't take it personally. You throw the dart again, immediately, elsewhere. If you're any good (and often even if you're not), the dart hits a target somewhere.

The stakes are higher (and the temptation to take it personally stronger) in applying for jobs, or for grad school (or, for that matter, in academic publishing), but the principle is the same. Fledge your dart the best you can and then let it the hell go. You can research yourself into a swoon, and figure out everything "right" to say to a hiring/ grad institution, but you can't intuit which of ten faculty is going to end up the primary reader on your file. You can't predict whether the guy who opens your envelope will have had the worst day of his life or just got some prize and he's feeling benevolently disposed toward everyone. But throw a bunch of well-considered darts and you're bound to have one hit somewhere.

This blog will now return to its regularly scheduled self-doubt.


Lisa B. said...

Thanks for the wisdom so early in the morning--I shall consider it well, esp. the cw stuff. I am working very, very hard on not taking rejection personally. I think I might have achieved this nirvana by the time I die.

editorgirl said...

deep breath I think I can, I think I can, I think. . .

Thank you. I think I'm going to read and re-read this post about a million times in the next few months.

Here we go.

Special K said...

yes, and yes. yes. you are so right.

Anonymous said...

"Fledging the dart." That's a phrase I'm going to keep with me for the rest of my life. Partly because this is the first time I've ever heard it, and partly because you're dead on.