Monday, February 28, 2011



Are you freaking kidding me?!!!

(Very, very good news, of the as-yet-unofficial kind.)

(No. Not about the scholarly book. [Sigh.] The other stuff.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vanity sizing in action

Having been given a gift card for my birthday for new clothes, I set out today to The Gap. Longtime readers will recall that I don't shop. I hate to do it. I avoid stores if at all possible. So I hadn't encountered this particular phenomenon.

Grabbed some pants in size 8 Long and 10 Long to see what would work. These seem like more or less the size I should wear. But the 10 drowns me. And then the 8 does too. And I ask the attendant, with real confusion, if they're mislabeled. And she says that they're certainly not, and retrieves for me a 6 Long. They fit, a bit loosely but fine. Now, I'm athletic, but I'm not tiny like that, and I'm tall besides, and I have not been a SIZE SIX since GRADE SIX. Clearly, The Gap wants me to feel very self-satisfied and reassured in my artificially tiny clothes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The hiring thaw

Like many institutions, mine is beginning to be released from the clench of a hiring freeze. This year, though we have an astonishing three lines at our disposal, we're pursuing one candidate quite vigorously, because s/he works in a field where we have developed real need because of recent retirements and faculty moves, and because s/he is pretty amazing--already constructing an active professional profile, well-published, and thoughtfully imagining syllabi both inside and outside hir specialization (one class this candidate has spoken with me about verges on one of my fields, and it would be a very exciting and very welcome addition to our department's offerings).

Still, I'm surprised to have heard some comments on both sides of the hiring process about the thaw climate. Some of our institution's faculty have said, "Great! Now that we can hire, let's just get bodies into lines and secure them all up!" Such a response is shortsighted, of course, but it's a natural one when one feels (rightly or no) oneself to have been deprived for any time. I have no interest in hiring anyone but highly competitive candidates, and if the candidates we most want end up taking another job..., well, in the immortal words of Ian McCulloch, "that's the way the bee bumbles/ that's the way the thunder rumbles," and we'll search again next year. And keep searching until we hire someone who is both good for us and good full stop. Why pursue mediocrity for the sake of a line? (Aside from the hiring freeze, we haven't had any lines seized from us in my memory, if at all.) It's such an embattled sense of institutional identity to cultivate, and I'm not sure that my institution prompts it--it's not got a tyrannical use-it-or-lose-it mentality toward TT lines.

More surprising are some comments I overheard at MLA this year, from shiny PhDs or near-PhDs jumping into the market fray. Said one: "Departments will be especially desperate this year now that their hiring freezes are lifting." Said hir interlocutor, "Yes, our chances are so much better than if we'd gone on the market before the recession." These kids seem to be involved in a folie a deux with my shortsighted colleagues, and while I don't think that such a view would necessarily make grad students feel like they don't need to be competitive in order to conquer ailing and desperate departments, it certainly follows from the logic here.

What I'd say: our hiring committee is getting much more careful, much more selective, in part because it's still a buyer's market; lots of PhDs came out from their programs during the bad, bad years. Some of them took postdocs and are readying to reapply, having spent some years writing and publishing. Some of them have been teaching widely, and have very smart things to say about pedagogy, and about the interdependence of their teaching and their research. And in part we're being very selective because we want the investment to be a long term one, with lots and lots of payoff. We want new hires to outshine the folks they're replacing, not merely fill their lines.

I'm not actually writing this to put the fear of God into folks on the market--most of them have plenty of that already--but rather to register this point as it affects me. Because, you know, it's all about me. I have a very good job, but not the job I want to die in, and I'm perpetually aware of what I'd look like if I decided to throw my hat in for a job at another institution. I'm running as fast as I can to stay competitive in two fields, and while I'm doing okay on the CW side of things, on the Renaissance side my scholarly book still isn't out in the world, nor even contracted, and I'm worried that with every passing month I'm looking less and less like the good long investment for the selective hiring committee. (Note: I'm not seeking pep talks or compliments here, folks; just trying to deliver a snapshot of Associatehood.) Would I hire me? The more time passes, the more I doubt, and the more I start to hope I'd get a "Fill the line!" committee.

Now, I'm not on the market, and because of my shared custody, I'm not going to be on the market anytime soon, except to the one institution in my virtual backyard for which I'd gleefully trade in my 50-mile commute. (And even after my kids are grown, the geographical boundaries of my aspiration are tight: I need mountains and snow and dry barrenness and westernness and some vegetarian restaurants, and there are pretty much three towns to which I'd move from my present happy seat.) I just want to be solid on paper if that job, wherever it is, should ever open up--to be as competitive a candidate as I can be knowing that expectations just keep going up. Because from my standpoint, the thaw doesn't mean a warm rushing torrent of hiring, it means the icy trickle of discrimination.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mental health weekend.

I am getting my ass well kicked. The grading, the grad mentoring, the conference organizing, the teaching, the momming, the new project for which the publisher needs some material (no, not that project--I'd have told you; something else), the endless scholarly book project that has been backburnered but lingers in my consciousness (yes, I have bloggable thoughts on that subject, but no time to construct a real post).

Friday night I got home from playing host to a visiting writer, and put on my running clothes, and proceeded to watch a mindless action movie on the couch while eating fruit and yogurt. I didn't go running. I sat on the couch, and then I went to bed and finished an Icelandic mystery. Saturday I woke up late and went XCskiing for several hours--30 or 40Kish. Then went to see the stupid recentest Harry Potter movie at the $1 theater. Then made myself an outrageously decadent pappardelle with wild mushroom cream sauce, went running, got my kids from their dad, and went to bed. Today: no grading, and the week looming up on me. Tomorrow, I'm going to make cookies with the boys. I can't quite locate the energy to process all the piles of professional crap in front of me. I'm sure I will, but this weekend I can't get worked up about it.

One month to Nerudaland.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A haiku by Thing 1

The syllable comes
And then the syllable goes.
The poor syllable.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Surefire poemkiller:

Reading reams of shitty undergrad poetry.

I swear I remember writing some decent lines, but interposing itself between me and cool words is this pearl:

"you either give up,
give up and fall into a cold, dark embrace
or fight back."

(That's an approximation, but you get the idea.)
I need to floss my brain.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Now we're cooking.

Personal and professional overscheduling recently = no kitchen time. A pity, since I really do manage to relax when I'm cooking. This week I've been making sure to make time for that outlet, and I have to say, (kisses fingers).

Sunday: French lentil soup with escarole
Monday: Sweet potato gnocchi with browned butter, crispy sage leaves, and toasted pine nuts

Today's a long day at school, and I gladly eat leftovers. Tomorrow I'll have folks over: Risotto with leeks and arugula; spinach salad with pomegranate arils, Point Reyes blue cheese, and toasted hazelnuts; flourless Meyer lemon torte.

And lest ye think I'm squandering time I should be spending reading through that giant stack of papers on Chaucer and those 4 grad theses I need to respond to in the next week, I say: I need sustenance, both body and soul.