Friday, November 30, 2007

Cheating on EEBO

Dear EEBO--

You're a really, really nice service. You're there whenever and wherever I need you, and you're usually pretty good about giving me what I want. But sometimes you're a little slow to respond. And sometimes you're half-assed, or disorderly, or disheveled, or even missing vital parts. (A girl tries not to mention such indelicacies, but I couldn't help noticing.) I try to be patient, and I try to understand that you do your best within your limitations. But I don't think I can be happy with you anymore. You see, I've just returned from a week at the Huntington Library where I spent blissful days under the sun-kissed California skies with original books. You remember books--old-fashioned, not too flashy, sometimes downright stinky, but with a charm and character that comes from not being sleek and popular. And books are unexpectedly alluring--so very, very touchable. I just don't think I can look at you the same way again.

We'll still be friends, I hope...?

With all best wishes,

Renaissance Girl

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I have no idea what day it is, or what date. I'm on leave this fall, and my days seem endlessly to repeat themselves: write, read aloud to self from screen, mutter to self while pacing the house trying to find the right word or sentence construction, back to writing...and then of course revising, which is its own kind of hellish endless loop. In some ways I'll be glad for next term to begin--its structure, the linearity of a syllabus, and how teaching will necessitate my talking to other human beings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love me! Love me! (The flipside)

So I'm in the process of revising an article according to the comments and instructions sent by a journal editor who is also a big shot in my field. And I come to one of my footnotes, and there, in the margins of the proofs, is a note instructing me to add to this footnote a reference to a book I hadn't included--a book by the editor whose comments I'm responding to. The problem is, I know the editor's book pretty well. And I didn't include it in my footnote because it's not relevant to the point at hand. It's not like I'm some hermit who doesn't know my field well enough to reference the appropriate work. The editor's book didn't occur to me for the footnote because it's not directly related to what I'm saying. But s/he's the editor, and I don't want to fall out with the editor just because I didn't want to make a very small addition that probably no one will ever notice. So I massage and get uncharacteristically vague for one sentence and make the editor happy. But I'm feeling...used and condescended to and angry on one hand, and on the other hand sorry for the poor editor who, after so many books and keynote speaking gigs and named professorships, still needs to be told that s/he matters.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not practicing what I preach.

I am reminded, as I look over the editorial comments on my article and try to revise, that I am a terrible reviser. I know this. But--callow though it makes me--I cannot understand, for an embarrassingly long time, how to change what I've already written. First of all, it takes me forever to write a damned sentence. I'm not casual about they've got to be pretty good by the time they get printed and sent off, right? Such is, I am convinced, my genius.

But then again, this article has been through four torturous major revisions over as many years as I've struggled toward articulating my point clearly. Obviously, my genius sentences didn't nail it the first time. Or the second. Or the third. And now the fourth needs some clarification. So I do know that revision equals increased clarity, and more elegant integration of argumentative points, and general improvement, and all the stuff we try to impress upon our students. But I still fight it, and I'm always the more bruised for the fight.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Geek's Dilemma

I just found out that I have $300 in "research supply funds" from my University in an account somewhere, which has to be used by the end of 2007 or it expires. This news has thrown me into a frenzy of bookbuying, because I can't think of anything else under the category of "research supplies" that I could use. $300 may not be a giant heap of cash for books, especially since some of the scholarly books I'd buy top the $100 mark. Should I really waste more than half of my newfound wealth on my own copy of Lewalski's seminal but decades-old Protestant Poetics? I think not. Instead, I've decided to pick up some texts that, unlike Donne and Shakespeare, may not get published in a hundred editions every decade. Like a three-volume Complete Works of Francis Quarles. Or a UK-published collected Southwell. Stuff I get to use for! And I no longer have to deface library copies with my pencilled marginalia! And I'm making a wishlist, so that the next time mystery money shows up unannounced, I will not be caught unawares.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Book proposal update.

I think I'm done with this thing. After "finishing" a few days ago, I sent the proposal with its intimidating retinue of supporting documents to my frighteningly brilliant colleague, who, despite working in a different field, identified the project's conceptual shortcomings and directed me toward a more expansive set of conclusions. A harrowing process. I freely admit to being, shall we say, theory-impaired. I can identify all the major theorists by name and can provide a one-sentence summary of what they did, suitable for faking it on the GRE more than a decade ago. But I'm a text-based girl, dammit, and it's not easy for me to pan back and grasp the "implications for the critical method" contained within my humble readings of 17c verse, especially when I haven't actually written many of the chapters I'm summarizing in my proposal. I suspect that eventually I might get to one of those macro-level epiphanies, but I can't see them from the front end. Thank goodness for my frighteningly brilliant colleague, who can, and who responds to my queries with encyclopedic and frenetic thoroughness. The result of which is, I think, a completed proposal--some fakery involved, but it's educated fakery, based on stuff I know and imagining where that stuff might take me. I've sent it off to Luminary Friend In My Field for a look-see, and if he thinks it's ready to storm the barricades of academic publishing, then I will armor it up and shove it out there.

My visceral need to have this book get published and subsquently well-received is embarrassing and a little perplexing to me. How appropriate, and how roundly applicable, the title of Neophyte's recent post: "Love me, love me, love me!" Is everyone in academia so pathetically needy for affirmation? and is that need a product of academia? or do people who are pathetically needy for affirmation naturally gravitate toward a discipline which offers little of it, to keep the desire engine churning?

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.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Vegetable Love

What Thing 2--dressed in green pants and red shirt and refusing to wear any kind of formal costume--claimed to be for Halloween (and I quote): "Half a cucumber and half a tomato."

Much rejoicing.

Okay, the book proposal? Stalled. Mostly because I can't seem to write a damned cover letter. What. The. Hell! It's not like I haven't written a flotilla of cover letters, between grad schools and job applications and other publications. But now that I've squashed a book down to a 4-paragraph abstract, I can't figure out how to squash it further into one really peppy and enticing paragraph. It's like starting with a chicken bullion cube and trying to end up with something even smaller and more salty. Like a chicken-flavored Altoid.

But today, I don't even care. I scoff at my cover letter. Because my long-labored-over article got taken today, by Big Deal Journal. Contrary to its custom, the universe is being very good to me this week. I should play Lotto. I'll have to drive to the next state, but my odds are looking good.