Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Useless heap of conference-going flesh

Another night before I fly to a major academic conference, another night that I find myself helpless and paralyzed in the face of a presentation that refuses to write itself.  On the plus (?) side, I have no job interviews to prepare for at Major Area Studies Conference, so I can devote a little more of my intellect to making this shit make sense.  So it goes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

RBOC: post-T-Day, inter-conference edition

  • It occurs to me to mention that, although I brought my suit with me to the Big Giant Pseudology Conference, I never wore it.  I actually put it on the morning that my interview onslaught began, but as soon as I saw myself in the hotel room mirror, I knew it wasn't right.  (It doesn't help that the cut of the suit somehow makes me look like an undertaker.)  I wanted to look professional and respectful at my interviews, but a suit would be going way too far.  I ended up substituting my sport coat for the suit coat, and wearing the suit pants as separates.  Felt much better.  
  • For those of you who find yourselves in a similar position to mine, try bringing a suit and something just a little less formal (but business-appropriate) to your next conference.  Scope out the scene before you have to swing into action.  I think that I saw only five men at BGPC wearing suits, the entire time I was there.  Sometimes a suit just isn't what you need to look professional.
  • Coming off the BGPC and getting ready for the Major Area Studies Conference coming up soon means that I was actually back in Ghosttown for Thanksgiving, which in turn meant that I spent Thanksgiving by myself.  I felt a trifle sorry for myself about this, even though Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where I feel like I'm supposed to be with other people because everyone tells me I should.  (Valentine's Day is the worst offender of these.)  In time-honored fashion, though, I stopped feeling sorry for myself after a ten-minute phone call to my family in Hometown.  As they passed around the phone so I could send greetings to everyone, I could clearly hear three of my close relatives yelling at each other in the kitchen about how to do the cooking prep — especially when someone put the phone down for a solid minute without anyone else picking it up.  I know exactly where all of that was going, and when the call ended, I gave thanks to whatever powers might exist that I was nowhere near Hometown that day.
  • And really, I get a little more uneasy about celebrating Thanksgiving every year: all this stuff and nonsense about "what are we thankful for this year?" seems to me a band-aid for our consciences, given that the source of the holiday is really a celebration of successful colonialism and the establishment of a toe-hold of British imperialism in the New World by "some Mayflower-cruising Jesus freak corn rustlers." 
  • Since I've been having trouble focusing on work after BGPC, it's only yesterday that I really began to write my talk for MASC.  Of course, I never make things easy on myself, so I've also begun to fiddle around for the first time with iMovie, so I can edit together bits and pieces of things for my presentation.  I'm not sure I can make this work, but I'm hoping to knit together some clips and some subtitles, and have it all come out looking good.  No doubt this will require many hours at my computer muttering under my breath as I learn on the job how to use iMovie.  But at least that's more productive than spending many hours at my computer surfing YouTube clips, repeatedly checking hobby forums, and generally skiving off work.
  • The other thing gluing me to the internet for long stretches of time is the current wave of unrest in Research Country.  It's arguably worse than earlier this year, for a number of complex reasons.  And now, to be self-centered for a moment, it hurts me more, because it's beginning to hurt people I know.  (I knew people involved from the start, but they all caught lucky breaks at that time.)  I won't go into details here, for the sake of their privacy and mine, but it's giving me and a lot of my friends gray hair.  I'm supposed to share a hotel room with an old friend at MASC, and now we're not sure that zi will be able to travel out of RC.  Not that zi is likely to end up in a dungeon or anything, but the sense of instability, to say nothing of potential travel bans by the government, may make it seem more prudent for hir to stay in RC with hir family.  I certainly couldn't blame hir if that's what happens, but I'd be sorry to miss out on seeing an old friend — which, as I've been saying lately, is the best thing about academic conferences.  
  • And, naturally, it raises everyone's anxiety to think about why people would have to make such choices.  The beauty of non-violent civil disobedience can also be its weakness: it doesn't push violent people from power.  We're, uh, coming to the end of the non-violent phase of RC's political transformation, I fear.  (Really, it ended quite some time ago, but here we would have to start parsing language about who is coordinating violence in premeditated fashion for political ends.)  There are many violent people still in power in RC, and they are willing to kill whomever they think they have to kill to maintain that power.  Getting rid of them may require RC to endure a proper civil war.  I don't know how any of this will pan out, but it seems a sure bet that there's going to be a lot more death and destruction before the dust settles.  
  • The neighborhood that I lived in for several years, and where I spent untold amounts of time during my doctoral research, is turning into a genuine war zone.  A lot of my area studies colleagues and I have similar experiences there, due to the presence of a major academic institution in the area, and we're all heartsick to look at the videos on YouTube that show our former stomping ground transformed into a battleground, complete with front lines, field hospitals, and poorly observed ceasefire agreements.  It's hard to see such things, even when your professional judgment tells you that these sorts of events had to occur sooner or later to sort out long-standing political disputes.  It's...it's just hard. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Giant Catch-up

Please insert your prophylactic superstition of choice here, because I don't want to jinx the fact that I feel like I kicked ass, for the most part, at my interviews at the Big Giant Pseudology Conference.  I had prelims for four different tenure-track positions, and two contract jobs.  I feel that I acquitted myself very well at all the t-t interviews, as well as at one of the contract jobs.  There were little things here and there, but really, with the five interviews that went well, my only doubts are essentially about the level of my rapport with the interviewers.  There were moments at three of them when I worried that my "I am so awesome and cool" hypnosis was weakening, but the two others went just beautifully, and I'm really hopeful that I will hear encouraging news from those two soon. 

The sixth interview...well, it was the classic bad interview scenario in which the interviewer couldn't shut up about hirself.  I was astonished to see this: usually, it's the interviewee under scrutiny who screws things up by getting nervous and droning on and on.  But here, the interviewer, who basically has nothing at all to lose no matter what happens, seemed bent on ruining the possibility of determining my potential usefulness by talking about hirself constantly.  Zi went so far as to cut me off when I was beginning to answer hir question about being in Research Country earlier this year to tell me at ungodly length about the fun zi had as a tourist in RC ten years ago.  Srsly?  Why have an interview at all?

Anyway, that crappy interview was for, by a long shot, the worst position that seems interested in me thus far.  I have absolutely zero desire to lose a year of my life to the sinkhole in which the institution resides, and even less desire to take on a high teaching load for a one-year position that cannot under any circumstances be extended.  Now that I think about it, I also would be perfectly happy never to encounter that interviewer again, either.

But enough about the low note.  I did well (I think, I hope) at five interviews, four of them t-t positions!  And I gave the worst conference talk of my career thus far, I admit.  But hey, I told you all last week that I would — no surprise there.  I took it on the chin for that from a friend and colleague of mine during the Q&A, but that's what happens when you try to be hip and timely.  (And, to be generous to myself for a moment, that's what happens when you have to submit a conference abstract when you're living in evacuation from world-changing events in your own field site, and you can't really bring yourself to think about business as usual.) 

Plus, I had the chance to sit down and meet with my potential book editor.  I feel really good about where this book project is going, after feeling out what the editor would like to see.  In a sharp distinction from my admittedly crappy talk, my (potential) editor clearly wants to see well-theorized and carefully crafted work, even if it takes a little while.  I can gladly do that.  Now I need to channel that good will into a fresh burst of writing.

Finally, I had the chance to see some dear old friends again, whom I never get to see otherwise.  This is rapidly becoming my favorite part of the Big Giant Pseudology Conference, which had heretofore felt like an albatross around my scholarly neck.  Now that most of my closest friends from grad school and I have graduated and moved on to positions in far-flung locales, we really can't see each other except at BGPC.  It's just wonderful to see them again, and catch up on the personal news, and see how they mostly look just like I remember, except for the stray gray hair or post-pregnancy pound.  The best moments at BGPC are almost inevitably the ones that happen with old friends over dinner or drinks.

And, once my head clears tomorrow from the tequila I'm drinking now, I need to start preparing my talk for the next conference I'm going to, the Major Area Studies Conference.  MASC isn't nearly as crucial to my career in most ways as is BGPC, but in my recollection, it's more fun — when you don't have as much riding on your personal interactions at a conference, it gives you more room to relax and enjoy yourself.  The hotel bar at MASC, last time I attended, was a crazy place in the evening.  Guess I'd better script that talk, so I can earn my drunken bonhomie at MASC.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big. Giant. Pseudology. Conference.

Just a short post, since my time isn't exactly my own this week.  I'm here in beautiful Conference City, and am enjoying the taste of urban and urbane sophistication.  Plus, I'm seeing all my old friends again!  And I'm giving a paper, naturally, although I can't pretend that I consider the research I'm presenting as quite ground-breaking.  (Haven't worked through enough of the implications to get that far yet.)  Most importantly for professional purposes, though, this is My Big Year of job interviews: I've lined up six prelim interviews at BGPC, which my more senior colleagues tell me is a really big number.  Coolness!  The next step, of course, is to do well at those interviews.  The blitz starts tomorrow, so now I need to put the finishing touches on my talk and then steel myself for a lot of interview scariness.  But hey, I already feel a little ego boost from my friends' reactions to my schedule!  I can do this, right?  I mean, I CAN DO THIS!

Off I go.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pre-conference anxiety

I'm not usually the type to get tied up in knots prior to conferences.  I like to hobnob, and catch up with old friends, and generally feel professional and professorial.  But this year, I have a sense of dread, largely because I feel a distinct lack of confidence.  (Thanks a lot, Journal of Pretentious Self-Justification, for taking the wind out of my sails.)  I'm still struggling to put the subject of my impending talk into words that don't sound superficial and played out, since that journal rejection seems to think exactly that of me.  And that journal's home discipline is, ostensibly, less theory-centered than my home branch of pseudology.  Can I offer any analysis that will not yield a shower of rotten vegetables from an enraged audience?  My blood runs cold to wonder about this.

The fear is ratcheted up as well by the fact that a friend of mine is chairing the session, and zi is pretty well up to date on my work.  I feel personal pressure not to repeat too much of what zi has already heard, although zi is certainly more intimately familiar with my research than 99% of pseudologists.  And I'd die of shame if I left myself open to a serious criticism from my friend about my methodology or my analysis.  Avoiding shame would be nice.

Speaking of fear, shame, and colleagues, have I mentioned that I'm on the job market this year?  Lord love a duck, I've lined up three preliminary interviews at the Big Giant Pseudology Conference so far, as well as a face-to-face chat with the press editor I've been corresponding with about my manuscript.  My intellectual knowledge that I have acquired a sophisticated repertoire of questions and answers for job interviews is at war with the id-like fear that I will only continue to humiliate myself the way I did the last time I attended BGPC.  I've already had one prelim interview this year via video-conference, and it was a struggle for me to speak about my research, because the criticisms/dismissals in the article rejection were so fresh in my mind.  I was afraid to say what I was working on, because I was newly aware that people might all but say out loud that it was stupid.  That I'm stupid.

We all go through moments of this, right?  I just need to get my theory brain going again — I feel like I've been spending entirely too much time thinking about my classes, which is exactly what everyone and his mother warned me not to do.  And I need to get my game face on for impressing potential manuscript-buyers and hiring committees.  I need to spend a little time thinking of myself as a functioning scholar, instead of a contract teacher.  And maybe I also need to drop by the haberdashery, since I just realized that my dressier shoes and accessories are all black, but my only sport coat and my best non-suit trousers are both brown.  In my anxiety, I'm planning to pack both my (charcoal gray) suit and some more professorial clothing, and I find it easier on these business trips to pack a wardrobe that goes with a single overarching color to match or complement.

And yes, I am aware that this clothing-buying impulse is probably yet another way for me to avoid writing my conference talk.  FML.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bad week, good week

BAD: My journal submission got rejected hard this week.  The peer reviews were little short of scathing.  I'm not sure if I totally misjudged the inclinations of the journal, or if those reviewers were especially invested in a particular direction for publications.  In any case, they hated it.  It looks like I have to go back to the drawing board in a serious way for this article.  In an annoying twist, I had selected this journal in the first place because I thought the article made a better fit for them than other pseudology journals.  Apparently not.

GOOD: I've lined up a few preliminary interviews so far, and I'm hoping to add a few more, since the Big Giant Pseudology Conference is coming up soon.  It's good to hear from people interested in me and my work, since some others have been so, uh, unenthused about it lately.

BAD: I got shot down by two different women this week over in Large Regional City, which put a damper on my interest in driving up there for a day trip this weekend.  I've got a lot of prep work to do for BGPC, and the only reason I would absent myself from that is to go try to have a dating life in LRC — there's a distinct shortage of single women in Ghosttown, in case I haven't mentioned that yet.  LRC ain't showin' me no love, y'all.  Back to the salt mines with me, for lack of anything better to do.

GOOD: Lately, I've had a number of 'light bulb' moments with students, where I could actually see the flash of understanding on their faces as they processed some new ideas.  It's really gratifying to see them begin to understand something for the first time, right there in class.  You know what I mean, when their faces change expression and they look vaguely surprised as they realize that they know what I mean now?  It's awesome.