Sunday, November 28, 2010


I think I have walked into a job-hunting disaster in the making.  Way back at the very beginning of this academic year's job cycle, I applied for a job at Random-Ass University.  I applied only because it was the start of the cycle and I was fearful that this year would have so few openings that to neglect any was to hurt my own career in an immediate and scary way.  I was unimpressed with the job, the location, and even RAU itself to a degree.  The job, to be perfectly frank, makes only a modest amount of sense for me at best.  Let me see if I can explain.

So, I'm a pseudologist.  In real life, there are many sub-disciplines of my field, but for the moment, let us hew to Mark Twain's parsing of pseudology as comprised of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.  (Statisticians reading this blog, please don't jump down my throat.  It's all in good fun.)  Let us say, for hypothetical purposes, that I am a Damn Liar.  Well, in that case, RAU is in search of a good Damn Liar who moonlights as a Statistician, wears funky purple hats on Thursdays, can sing the entire Englebert Humperdinck songbook from memory, and only dates transsexual Latvians.

(My metaphor is clearly inadequate to this task, but one can only ask so much of a pseudonymous blogging identity, you know?)

Point being, it's not that it's impossible for me to fill all the desired criteria, given the proper circumstances.  However, the odds of that happening are really, really unlikely.

So I was pretty much shocked as hell when RAU got back to me and requested a telephone interview.

What in heaven's name am I supposed to say to these people?  Is there any way for me to sound enthusiastic about trying to re-package myself as the ideal candidate?  I mean, jeez, I don't even like the location of RAU, and I'm applying to jobs in some pretty out of the way and not-so-hot places to live.  And, without casting any aspersions on Joey Jojo Junior Shabadoo who fits the job description to a T and is no doubt reading this blog with rising indignation, I don't want to be that candidate.  If it didn't seem positively absurd in the current job market, my preference would be to tell them candidly on the phone
  • that I am a far cry from what they're looking for;
  • that I have not the slightest intention of morphing into a purple-hatted, Humperdinck-singin', Latvian transsexual-datin' Statistician for anyone;
  • but that if they want me as I am and the ideal candidate has yet to appear, then they are welcome to consider me on my own genuine merits.
In a perfect world, I would then burst into a chorus of "I am what I am" with full backing orchestration.  So come take a look/Give me the hook/Or the ovation...

Ahem.  So, I really have no fucking idea what I'm going to say when this interview rolls around.  A part of me honestly wonders if the entire telephone interview isn't RAU's passive-aggressive way of saying "Fuck you for wasting our time; now we can waste yours!"  Do schools ever do that?  Is it conceivable that they would go to this trouble for someone who is almost certainly an outlying candidate, rather than an obvious short-lister?  I feel kind of like RAU is pranking me with this whole business.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Workin' on Turkey Day

Thanksgiving Day, being the secular national holiday that it is, is not only deeply resonant for most Americans, but totally irrelevant to almost everyone else.  Here in Research City, no one gives a crap besides American expats, and the beat goes on as usual.  Good thing, too: my Blackberry is acting all screwed up today, and I need to run over to the store and see if they can beat some sense into the thing.

Meanwhile, I tried and failed to submit a job application due very soon, because something else is screwed up with the login process.  And the small children who live either above or below me (I hear them through the inner windows, so I'm not sure) appear to have only two utterances at their disposal: crying and shrieking like enraged air-raid sirens.  How these two children could possibly think themselves so miserable all of the time in a country that absolutely fawns on small children is beyond me.

And, of course, it's Thanksgiving today.  This evening, I'll be having dinner with some good friends at their house.  And I shall feel deeply and sincerely thankful for that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Going local, going global

As is my way with beverage consumption, I'm taking the opposite tack of what I did earlier in the day.  I had a brutal late morning of big-box store shopping, and my nerves were hanging by a thread by the time I got home.  I felt the appropriate thing to do was to have a beer.

To understand the implications of this act, you, dear reader, must put several facts together.
Fact #1: All the beer in my apartment is packaged in 500ml cans.
Fact #2: Some of the aforementioned beer is 4% ABV, but some of it is 10%.
Fact #3: I had one of the 10% 500ml cans.

Very little has happened in the hours since that beer was cracked open.  But, since the torpor has worn off, I flipped to the opposite end of the potables spectrum and brewed some coffee.  (Side note: I just found out today how to say "brewed coffee" in RC-ish.  I never missed the phrase before, because most coffee shops around here deal almost exclusively in a single kind of coffee preparation, and such specification is unnecessary.)  So now, since it's a weekend evening and I have absolutely zero desire to work on these miserable job applications, I'm treating myself: I have given myself leave to work on my book manuscript without fretting about the applications coming due at the end of the month.  Yay...procrastination?

So as I puzzle over which bits of my dissertation can be beaten into a new and pleasingly bookish shape, I have both the local (the specifics of my research) and the global (the analytical implications thereof) in mind.  Why, that sounded like a musical cue!  Gogol Bordello, take it away!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cartoon summary

In my head, this is how my last blog post and its comment responses went in summary:

Obviously, my graphic style needs some work, and I have to figure out the relative size of text for the bubbles.

And, uh...thanks, everyone.  :D

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Proposal. Help. Please.

I feel like a deer in headlights right now.  The book editor I've been in contact with wrote to me and asked for a full book proposal.  We tend to see months go by between emails, so I don't imagine that this means "by the end of the next weekend," but it seems to me that the responsible thing to do, having described my project in a bit of detail already for Editor, is to email a proper book proposal, rather than an email stalling for time.  My postdoc, after all, affords me writing time that I may not see again for a while.

It's times like this that I envy Roman Catholics for their nifty oaths for times of stress: Jesus, Mary and Joseph!  Holy mother of God!  

All I can think right now is: Fuck me, what the hell should a full book proposal look like?

Obviously, one should have an outlined table of contents, and a few chapters in shape to send.  On the marketing end, I have to include in my cover letter a pitch describing why my book is right for the publishing house, and why a certain target market will buy this book and, lord willin', assign it to their students.  What else should I include in the proposal?

Please, all of you who are published academic authors, give me the benefit of your wisdom of experience!  I don't want to blow this.

P.S. Dr. Crazy, don't think I ignored your sage book-buying advice!  I bought and read Germano's book on this stuff, but now that's packed up in a box in the United States, and I am in Research City, far out of reach of my books.  I fear I need a refresher.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Area studies courses — how about a sow's ear silken purse?

Thanks to all who offered me encouragement/a much-needed slap in the face for the last post.  I know it's annoying to read someone else's self-pitying blog posts; they annoy even me.  Hearing such things from all of you actually helps get me back on track.

Speaking of back on track, it took three days for the water to really return to my apartment building.  (Happily, the water is back on this morning, and I am now clean and, increasingly, caffeinated.  Got my socks on the spin cycle now!)  I spent as much of that time as I could away from the neighborhood, particularly at the one cafĂ© with both free wifi and good coffee.  I logged a marathon session there yesterday of about six hours, during which — stung by my own sense of inadequacy and eager to compensate — I applied to three jobs.  I've also begun to jot down ideas for papers that I could develop, since I feel a distinct lack of publication credits on my CV.  I feel this is promising, although of course I'll have to follow through on the ideas, which, as we all know, is the hard part.

As part of one application, I finally was cornered and forced to draft a syllabus for a geographic area studies course pertaining to my pseudological expertise.  I'm trying to work out now if I really never had to do that before, or if the light bulb never went on and I merely thought that other syllabi up my sleeve would serve because they involve the geographic area without truly focusing on it as a thing.  Hmm.

Anyway, it was a surprisingly difficult matter.  Usually, when asked for sample syllabi at this point, I have a few favorites that can be either sent as-is, or adjusted subtly to fill one need or another.  And, when I am asked for something that I simply don't have yet, it takes me about an hour or so to riffle through my notes and citations, sketch out a useful set of readings for the purpose, and slap a blurb on it.  This sucker took me at least two and a half hours of concentrated effort, and it went that fast only because I felt under the gun to provide the syllabus as part of an application.  It was hard!  Great big area studies courses, by their nature, offer too many possibilities to sort through them quickly.  Plus, in my case, I have theoretical or methodological objections to some texts that have become popular standards, and I felt obliged to seek for something better.  Finally, it's the sort of course generally offered to lower-level majors, if not first-year college students who don't know methodology from shinola, so one can only get so technical before sending one's students into brain death.

Area studies courses, more often than not, suck.  I'm not saying this in my bloggy, oh-please-reassure-me-that-I-do-not-suck way.  I am saying this in a measured, considered, professional opinion sort of way.  They usually suck.  They suck because, as much as the academic discipline of Pseudology depends on them for much of its bread-and-butter coursework, they don't sit easily within a lot of the theoretical ideas that Pseudology runs on.  (This is so for a host of reasons that pseudologists discuss ad nauseum elsewhere, and you don't want to hear that whole freaking story anyway.)  In other words, the theory and practice are a poor fit.  I suppose one could make a reasonable argument that there is a larger disciplinary utility to this pedagogical method that aids even higher-level theoretical work in Pseudology.  Maybe so.  But nevertheless, the kind of area studies courses that one is likely to encounter as an undergrad have a tendency to feel uncomfortably similar to that shitty social studies class I had to take in the ninth grade in which the histories, philosophies, and cultures of EVERYONE ON PLANET EARTH outside the United States were compressed into just enough sound bites to fill a 120-page textbook.  Such a course is, to say the least, not a professional goal of mine.

And so I struggled with a readings list as quickly as my finicky nature would allow.  I was desperate to avoid a syllabus that ended up essentializing everyone, a la "These are the people of Kuzban.  The Kuzbanians are known for their distinctive dress and melodious tongue."  (I think I'd rather receive a prostate exam in front of a lecture class than work with such a syllabus.)  I also wanted to avoid the cheap and heavy-handed Marxist style that some people deploy as a redemptive maneuver for teaching area studies: "After thousands of years of a rich history that I won't bother to tell you about, we took over their country, shot their president, and completely colonized their economy because we need some minerals in the ground there.  Kuzban now sucks ass, all the distinctively dressed Kuzbanians hate our motherfucking American guts, and we will deserve it when their proletarian masses rise against us next week."  (Maybe a prostate exam would be a little much, but I'm pretty sure that I'd opt for a public hernia check before going with that syllabus.)

I think I cobbled together about as good a syllabus as I possibly could, given that I haven't had a chance to read many of the better materials yet.  (I should point out too that, because I'm a stubborn cuss, I never seriously considered using an anthology or, heaven forfend, a textbook reader.  Primary texts or bust, goddamnit!)  I took a hard look at all the stuff that I instinctively wanted to use, shaped the mass of texts into a set of themes that students could grasp, and then started swapping out longer, more complicated readings, especially books, for shorter articles that often made the same point anyway.  By the time I finished, I was pleased.  The unintended consequence of all this work, though, is that now I feel uncertain about the state of my other syllabi, which have much shorter reading lists and a stronger emphasis on book-length texts rather than journal articles.  This is as it should be, though, right?  Intro-level courses need a wide variety of readings to explain the basics, and then more advanced courses can focus on deeper readings of fewer texts, right?

I know this is how I think, and yet I am nervous looking at the difference in composition of my syllabi.  The funny part is that I worry about my upper-level course syllabi looking thin and shallowly thought-out, when in fact I toiled over them, weighing the merits of one reading versus another, over a much longer period of time than one afternoon.  And those are courses that I think have intrinsic theoretical and methodological value!  My area studies course?  I hope it's good, and I hope I get to teach it soon, but I fear that even the best area studies course is still, by dint of professional necessity, a hack job.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the merits, I suck

Well, it's been quite a day.  Due to some ongoing work on the municipal water system, my apartment building had no water for some hours, and even now, ten hours after I discovered this, it's kind of weak, and the hot water is still only thinking about working.  I feel grimy.  Worse, I can't brew my own coffee, which makes me anxious.  I keep coffee close to hand at all times; it's essential work fuel.  I hate feeling like I have to go out just to get my fix.

I schlepped my ass all over Research City today, with some technically positive results: I got a very necessary bureaucratic signature that will make my life easier.  But really, that's all I got done today, aside from a little grocery shopping.  No job applications created; no articles drafted, no book manuscript worked on, no research done, even.  I suck.

Last night, I was chatting with an old friend and colleague at a university here in RC where I've applied for a job.  My friend, who had sent me the job posting months ago hinting that I should apply, mournfully let me know that I probably don't have any shot at this job.  It's not a total shock: there's a thing with some people about some things, all of which I already knew or guessed at.  It's never fun to hear, though, that the hiring committee is likely to throw me into the trash immediately for reasons totally beyond my control.  It has a way of coming through as: You suck.

On a whim, I looked up the CV of another colleague, who is still in graduate school at Hugely Endowed Famous University.  Zi was always something of an overachiever, even compared to our circle of overachieving friends, so I wasn't surprised to see an impressive CV.  I was, however, a little taken aback to see a CV two full pages longer than my own.  More grants, more publications, more organized conferences, more awesomeness.  And zi is still in school!  I fucking suck.  I mean, I feel like I did pretty well for myself at DOU, which has only a fraction of the funds that HEFU has, but...jeez.  When I look at that CV, I can only think: I fucking suck.

So there's the news: I suck, I'm caffeine-deprived, and I'm dirty.  How are you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

No, really, what do you do? (wink, wink)

One of the joys of being a pseudologist is that I actually get to pursue scholarly research of a sort that most people have never heard of, or that they never considered seriously could be someone's job.  This leads to zillions of strange conversations during which people attempt to wrap their brains around the idea that I pseudologize for a living.  The idea itself is staggering to most people that "I coalesce the vapor of human existence into a viable and logical comprehension" as a day job.

I was a little unsettled, though, to hear about what someone was saying about me out of earshot the other day.  I had met some other Americans in RC at a party, and they — not being, shall we say, the very smartest people I have encountered in my travels — had some trouble understanding what I did at all, much less why.  A week later, a mutual acquaintance told me that he had heard them elsewhere guessing that, since my actual work sounds so implausible to them, I must be CIA.

Eeek.  (Holy misidentifications, Batman!)  It's a lucky thing for me that those people and I don't really move in the same circles, because that is not at all the kind of thing I want anyone saying about me in Research Country.  I'm also hopeful that most of their other acquaintances have also noted that these people are kind of idiots.  Fortunately, no RC citizen has ever accused me of this, which would be way worse.  They marvel that I could possibly give a damn about my research, of course, but at least, after I explain my reasoning, they usually see how that could be worth knowing.  The incident is a reminder, I suppose, that some of my fellow Americans over here can be unwittingly dangerous, especially dumb ones who live inside their little expat bubble and don't recognize that things they say idly can land someone else in prison....or worse.  Remind me not to hang out with idiots.