I hate the application I'm trying to write now. I'm applying for a postdoctoral fellowship. This fellowship has a theme. This theme has zip-a-dee-doo-dah fuck-all bobkes mit beblakh to do with my work. But, hypothetically, my work could be seen through the lens of this theme, if one wished to twist oneself into a pretzel to accomplish that. And this fellowship, if granted to me, would be another year that I stave off the shame of taking a job at Starbucks as a PhD barista trainee. So today, I made myself a strong cup of coffee (see? back-up skills!) and began the unpleasant work of pretzelifying myself. Because a man's got to eat, damn it.
I didn't think this would happen, now that I'm out of grad school, but I'm feeling a fresh surge of hatred for Dear Old University. I tried to log in to JSTOR to look up an article, and found that I no longer have access to JSTOR through my DOU affiliation. This wouldn't be surprising if the alumni association hadn't given me (along with all other new graduates) a free year-long membership which is supposed to include access to the library resources. Now that I look at the alumni association's website, it looks like I might be able to gain access to individual journals through them, but that would be a different login procedure, one which has to wait until they respond to my request to activate my online access to the alumni association at large. I don't think it would let me log into JSTOR, per se, but the list of participating periodicals seems to include everything that I commonly check in on. (I'm in a few professional organizations that grant me access to their own publications, but no pseudologist worth hir salt restricts hirself to publications of disciplinary affiliation, unless zi has either boringly narrow interests, or a lot of cash to blow on annual memberships.)
This raises the sickening prospect for me of potentially being forced by circumstances to pay even more money to DOU over the next few years, in the form of alumni association membership, in order to maintain my access to all those professional resources that usually require university affiliation to use. It's not that the money would be so dear — it's actually a good bit cheaper than some other affiliative methods by which some people can tap into JSTOR. It's the principle of the thing; those of you who have read my blog from the start, or have rummaged through my archives, may remember the choking rage I felt when, while being denied financial support and health insurance by DOU, they solicited donations from me. I've never planned to give DOU a nickel if it couldn't be earmarked for whatever I wanted, and alumni membership dues go into the general kitty for frittering away by the troglodytic administrators administrative discretion. And you know, it's not like I didn't pay them tuition for eight fucking years!
It's not like I have a moral objection to giving a little money in recognition of what a college or university has done for its alumni. I've been a pretty consistent giver to my undergrad alma mater, except in a few years of extreme penury. But, to be fair, I didn't pay for that; my parents did. I'll wager a guess that they've never sent a check to Undergrad since my last semester there. And even for Undergrad, I always tick a box to make sure my donation is directed to the fund for need-based scholarships; hell if I'll give them money to do something foolish like build another crappy snack bar in the campus center.
But now DOU may have the last laugh on me, since I don't know when I will again have an institutional affiliation that grants me online periodical database access. (And what if I get a job, and then get denied tenure? It will feel even more shameful to come crawling to DOU's alumni association again.) It's repugnant to me to slip them even more money that they will use wastefully and in violation of everything that I hold dear about academia and educational missions. But it may an unavoidable moral compromise; I'd be cutting off my nose to spite my face, if I refused a cut-rate deal to maintain access to a bunch of journals I need to do my work. I'll probably do it, at the very least until I get a job at a school or institute of some sort. But I feel tainted giving in to it.
I don't suppose any of my readers has a better/cheaper idea for me to regain access to JSTOR?
Okay, it's actually pretty trivial to readers, I guess. But I'm dorkily excited: I've finally settled upon a proper blogging term for my professional discipline. Clearly, if I am to maintain my oh-so-thin veneer of anonymity/pseudonymity on here, I can't say what I actually do. I've attempted to speak about it in terms of Harry Potter's curriculum; I've tried dancing around it in English studies lingo; I've even stolen a page out of another academic blogger's playbook with a borrowed term. No more, brothers and sisters, no more! I finally hit upon the ideal term for what I do, as befits a blog-reading public:
First of all, thanks to everyone who has stopped by in the last week to read my last post! It generated a lot of good comments and advice, and I have some pots simmering on the back of the stove of my mind.
Thanks also to Sisyphus for linking and reposting to spread the word.
Despite the gnawing, grinding emotional pressure of spending so much time with my family lately, I've been chugging along with my job/postdoc applications. I even managed to keep up (sorta) with my theory reading. However, my writing has been neglected of late, particularly the article that feels like it's in permanent drafting mode. Now that I've got about three weeks of lead time before the next application deadline, I feel free to think about other matters for at least a few minutes. I finally paid some attention to my article draft, got it to a reasonable point, and sent it to a few of my grad-school advisors for their review. Yeah, I know, that should only take six months to receive, but even so! Maybe now I can work on something else with a clear conscience....like maybe a book manuscript? I have my little chapter outline that I've been showing to potential funders and employers; perhaps it's time that I actually began to create chapters to match.
You know, I'm not sure why this question never came firmly into my mind before, but I'd guess it had something to do with being an advanced grad student a year ago who couldn't really imagine teaching anyone except undergrads. Here's the question:
How do you differentiate between courses you'd offer to undergrads, and those you'd offer to grad students?
Aside from a few basic meat-and-potatoes courses that one expects to teach in most departments — Introduction to Complexification Studies*, History of Complexification Theory, etc. — I'm not sure what hiring committees expect candidates to display in their syllabus portfolios. I've designed a bunch of syllabi that, for the most part, I envisioned as courses for undergrad majors who had already taken intro-level stuff. The trick here is that I have a fantastic undergrad alma mater (if I say so myself), where major-level course material was reliably challenging, and professors expected us to sweat out tough readings and essays. But that was a tiny elite school at which such work was par for the course. My experience at DOU has taught me that not every place can (or even should) operate like that.
So now I'm wondering: how do other academics decide that one syllabus is a doughty, drink-your-coffee advanced undergrad course, and another is sufficiently difficult and weighty that it should only be offered as a graduate course? I really don't know how much material is too much to expect for one group or another, not having actually taught these syllabi yet. The only comparative example I have seen is History of Complexification Theory, which I took as both an undergrad and a grad student. The difference there — sharp as it was! — was mostly one of degree rather than kind: more readings, more primary sources, more reaction papers, more participation at the grad level.
I don't know if other disciplines will recognize this trend, but in my world, I also note that grad courses often sound way sexier and cooler than undergrad offerings. Look at the catalog, and you'll see undergrad courses like:
Complexification Subfield A Topics in Complexification Subfield B Survey of Complexification Subfield C
Flip over to the grad courses, though, and you'll see:
Two Apparently Unconnected Things Juxtaposed to Suggest an Insidious and Fascinating Structural Relationship Going Beyond All This Subfield Shit Broadside Critiques of Complexification Studies by Its Own Practitioners
And so on.
So how do I figure out what I'm working with, anyway? I worry that my inclinations lead me to structure undergrad syllabi that seem too difficult for even driven majors to work through. But I've never even seriously attempted a graduate syllabus. What does one attempt to do with such things at each level? I just want to read, listen to, and watch cool stuff and discuss it all with my students. Where does the undergrad-appropriate level end and the grad level begin?
*Yes, I am outright homaging/borrowing/stealing Profgrrrrl's handy term, since I continue to flail uselessly in my attempt to establish my own pseudonymous term for my work.
Yesterday evening, I uploaded my application to a postdoc at one of the Oxford colleges. It took me hours to prepare a research proposal just for them, since I would generally prefer to keep my research options open to ethnography as well as archival work, and this postdoc would require me to park myself in Oxford for years. Then I emailed my referees with my statement of proposed research, and explained to them the particulars of this fellowship.
Oxford emailed me a rejection letter before I even woke up this morning. I'm sure that's a personal best (?) in my career thus far. At least it came from a school that I associate with snootiness and haughty self-regard. It would suck if the insta-rejection came from almost anywhere else.
I guess I may as well get started on another application now. Sigh.
On multiple levels, I mean. For one thing, I need to keep my family from sidetracking me completely from my work. (See the last few days.) For another thing, I would like to keep my family concerns from hijacking this blog altogether. Not that I won't occasionally post about them. (Hell, everyone else does on their academic blogs!) Last post, though, made me feel kind of wrung out, and it's not what people steer their browsers to this blog to see. (I think...?) Still, I guess it had to bubble out of me somewhere; nowhere else on the internet is safe from family: not the other blog I keep, not Facebook, nothing. Sometimes you just have to vent in a safe space, you know?
Anyway, my main comment at the moment is: Phew! I feel a combination of exhaustion and relief for all the things I accomplished lately. I survived cooking for my family — I was disappointed with the vegetables cooked in the chicken jus, but the chickens themselves came out great — as well as the time spent with them. I even made it through a rather long day of road travel to help my brother acquire some furniture for his new apartment. (I'm humbled by how bad I still am at navigating some of Hometown's highways.)
Today, I finally got my mojo back and made myself exercise before breakfast, which gave me a surprising burst of energy. (And — no exaggeration — worked off two pounds of the spare tire I've been carrying for the last few months!) Even better, I made it through emailing at least a semi-coherent summary of my book project to a potential press editor. That particular duty scared me so much that it took me four days to set it down in black and white, while the ideas fermented in the back of my mind. On the advice of Dr. Crazy, I spent some time poring over a few how-to books on turning a doctoral dissertation into a good, publishable book, and now I'm a little paranoid that my sketches and thought processes are still hidebound and dissertation-like and no one will want to publish or read such nonsense, and I will only run around in pointless little circles and wail piteously alone in my room until some kindhearted editor takes pity on me and takes my publishing virginity.
Ahem. Now you have some insight into my nonexistent dating life in high school. Whoops.
The point is, I emailed the editor. And I fancy that I even sounded realistically confident but self-critical, rather than unrealistically self-deprecating or bragging. And now I kind of want a drink as reward. Maybe I should make myself wait until this evening when I'm actually supposed to go drink with a friend.
Sure enough, after two weeks of being around my whole family, they're beginning to try my patience. I'm more chill about this stuff than I used to be, but I'm redoubling my chill-out efforts: it is increasingly clear to me that some of the things that could perhaps hack me off a little aren't just personality quirks of my relatives, but practical effects of aging. My loved ones, for the most part, are getting old. There aren't many of my generation, and even fewer of my hypothetical children's the succeeding one, but there are lots of people in my parents' generation, and even a few left of my grandparents'. The latter, obviously, is pretty damn old now, and to a certain extent you have to accept that people in their eighties are going to say and do some peculiar things that you just need to let pass.
What's surprising me more is the realization that my parents and others their age are getting close to old-person territory. When I was a kid, sixty seemed really old to me. It didn't compute back then that my maternal grandparents, who were always old to me, were still in their fifties when I was born. (My paternal grandparents were way older.) When I was just old enough to recognize and speak with my mom's parents, they were both younger than my parents are today. Now sure, baby-boomers generally take better care of themselves than their parents did, and at least some of my baby-boomer relatives are a lot fitter at sixty than their parents were, but still: sixty is not young. Sixty is, realistically speaking, not even middle-aged. In some ways, my parents wear their ages lightly, but I'm beginning to mark the conversation tics, the aching-hip gait in the morning, the memory lapses.
And, when I think about it, all of my parents — I have 2.5 or 3 of them, depending on how you count my stepmother — dye their hair. (My father maintains that he does so strictly to please my stepmother, who doesn't want him to have white hair that reflects on her own relative age. Apparently it doesn't bother her that he now has a ridiculous orange tint to his hair that everyone knows he never had in his life.) I would probably jump out of my skin if I were to see my parents' hair colors as nature now produces them. My grandmother has dyed her hair for years, but somehow that doesn't bother me: in the first place, she's very plainly an old woman now, no matter what color her hair is, and in the second place, she's been doing that for a really long time. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen my grandmother's natural hair color in at least twenty years.
So it is that I'm trying hard to be patient with the exasperating things that my relatives do. My grandmother in particular can be a trying character, but I recognize that her awareness of mortality is much keener than I could know personally right now. Her brother-in-law is in the hospital right now, recovering from a difficult surgery, and no one knows how much we can even expect him to recover at all. He's ninety years old, for heaven's sake! Most of the people she talks about with me are dead now — she's better acquainted with the dead than with the living. Part of me would really like to speak with her about her own thoughts on mortality and how to live when you know you're near the end of your life, but my grandmother is not an introspective sort. Actually, she's one of those people who seems like they want to avoid conscious realization of mortality altogether until the day they drop dead. Little wonder that she seems perpetually freaked out by the reminders of death that she must see in various friends' and relatives' health problems.
This is partly why I took on cooking duties this week for the big family meal. It's Rosh Hashana*, and my family can be particularly depressive at such times, because they insistently — one might even say pathologically — compare the present to the mourned-for past. When I got to Hometown, I heard that they were planning to just go to a restaurant for a completely non-ritual meal, and I was appalled. I know they've done this once or twice in the past, and inevitably I hear my mother and grandmother sighing or sobbing on the phone afterward that "It's not like it used to be." Well, yeah: the elderly generation is dying off, the younger generations live further apart, and my generation (read: ME) hasn't produced much in the way of offspring yet. To my somewhat shortsighted family, this looks like the incipient death of the family. Hell if I was going to sit through those conversations again this year.
So now we're going to uphold family tradition as much as pragmatically possible, by my own conscious efforts to keep my family from sinking into holiday-time funk. We're having the Rosh Hashana dinner at my grandmother's house like usual, but this time, the roast chicken — traditionally my grandmother's responsibility, since it's the centerpiece dish — will be my handiwork. My grandmother is simply too physically weak to handle cooking a whole chicken; she's been burning herself lately on the oven racks trying to wrestle much lighter items out of the oven. My mother is herself in bad physical shape, and can't do it. For a variety of reasons, no one else who would attend such a dinner can (or, to be really bitchy, I could say "will bother") to roast a chicken.
Except for me, that is. I'm usually not around for this meal, but since I'm out of school and the postdoc hasn't started yet, I'm on hand. In a horrified gut reaction to the idea of a restaurant meal for Rosh Hashana, I actually said out loud to my grandmother, "I'll roast the chicken myself, if I have to." I guess now I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. I'm even doubling down: I couldn't find any kosher chickens the proper size for the gathering, so I'll actually cook two kosher broilers in my grandmother's kitchen while fending off her well-meaning but territorial instincts to take over.
I'm going to be thoroughly worn out by the end of this week. It'll be worth it, though, if I can give my aging Hometown family the sense that we're not living in the Last Days of Koshary, and that life might go on even if they themselves won't forever.**
*A big religious holiday for us Tribespeople: the start of the new year. In my family, spending the day in services is optional, but the meal is non-negotiable.
**There's an even longer post in me somewhere about all the resonances of this line of thinking for young unmarried Jewish people, but I'm a little wrung-out emotionally just from writing this much. I can't handle breaking down right here in the café.
And this is why we love The Onion. (Well, we love it for this, too.) I'm still astonished in spite of myself that yahoos like this keep turning up on news broadcasts and having their ignorance and bigotry given airtime as if it were somehow elucidating to viewers.