More career thoughts 

This post at 2Blowhards.com, in which guest blogger Rick Darby discusses the difficulty of finding an artsy job, made me reconsider some of my current thoughts about potential nonacademic career paths. I was thinking that maybe I should consider finding a job with an arts organization that would make use of my editorial skills. (Okay, so I have this fantasy about editing Opera News. A pipe dream, I know, but it did help me identify one potential job family to look into.) But after reading what Darby says about the "low pay and nil respect" given to PR people at arts organizations, I may need to think of something else.

Maybe I should head for information science instead. My mother, who originally trained as a librarian, is fond of warning me that strange people gravitate to library work. But from what I've heard, a lot has changed since she went to library school, and if I'm looking for fellow displaced Ph.Ds, that's probably where I'd find quite a few of them. Dorothea's post about her happy first-day experience in her new MLS program was quite encouraging to read. I may have a part-time job opportunity with a digital text project at the Midwestern University library next term; I'll have to wait and see how it turns out. But there've got to be jobs out there for which my word-skills would be an advantage. Sooner or later, I'll stumble across one.



If you haven't already heard about this, Mars is now closer to the earth than it's been in nearly 60,000 years. Nobody since the Neanderthals has seen it this near. I've been able to see it these last few nights, looking too big to be a planet; I keep thinking it's an airplane at first. Last night it was the only light source breaking through the haze of late summer. Looking at it, I thought of a night in Chicago six or seven years ago when one of my housemates in the co-op where I lived (a dilapidated old house shared by, usually, around a dozen people) burst into our kitchen and said "Hale-Bopp! You can see Hale-Bopp outside! It's really bright!" We all trooped out of the house into the front yard, and there was the comet, bright and distinct, hanging in the sky over our driveway. You could even see its tail. Almost makes me wish I were an astronomer rather than a humanist.


On children, and not having any 

There's been a bit of a blow-up in various places over this post of Dorothea's (and her followup to that post) on the subject of people without children interacting with other people's children. See Cindy's reply and the comments thereto, Kevin's posts on the subject, and Michelle's rant, which is really too thoughtful and balanced to warrant being called a rant. The debate has expanded beyond the original question -- how appropriate is it for a rambunctious toddler to be present, and climbing all over the guests, at an adult gathering? -- into an argument over the merits of being "childfree" and whether it implies a dislike of children in general. Because I'd otherwise be posting replies in three or four places at once, I'm replying here.

I don't dislike children, and I'm not part of the extreme "childfree" fringe Kevin cites. But I don't plan on having any of my own. I prefer them in small doses. And I really, really dislike being branded "shallow" and "selfish" because of that. Yes, I know The Creative Guy wasn't talking to me, but if you're going to say that childfree people as a group are "selfish, arrogant, lacking in empathy, and thoroughly miserable and/or unpleasant to be around," then I'm sorry, but I'm going to take offense. I don't like being called names, and I was raised to consider name-calling and ad hominem attacks impolite.

To those, like Kevin, who honestly want to know: I'd venture to suggest that those of us who have chosen not to have kids come across as defensive about it from time to time because we've heard so much of this "Why aren't you reproducing? How dare you be so selfish! How dare you criticize my choice to have kids! What the hell do you know, anyway? You don't have children, so shut up!" rhetoric from other people. In other words, what Wolf Angel and Cindy said in the comments to Cindy's post. It doesn't explain the extremes of venom, but there are extremes of venom on all sides of a lot of debates, and this is a particularly fraught one.

An example: Several years ago, I rashly gave my composition students an essay by Betty Rollin that suggests that maybe motherhood isn't all it's cracked up to be.* It's a polemical essay, and I was expecting the students to argue over it, but I was rather perturbed by the sheer vitriol of their responses. "I'm glad she's not my mother" was the mildest; one student wrote in his response paper, "I just wanted to hurt that woman." We're not talking "I don't approve of her criticisms of people with children" here; we're talking "I want to hurt that woman." (Since then, I've rethought my strategies for teaching argument. The "ankle-biter" debate, as Cindy points out, seems to highlight questions of voice, audience, and so on.) I'm also reminded of a segment of the Diane Rehm show I heard some time ago, on which the guest was the author of a book on women who don't have children. The conversation was quite civilized in tone, and the author pointed out that there are lots of reasons why some people wouldn't want kids. Nonetheless, one of the callers was furious and audibly upset over the effrontery of this writer to even suggest as much.

Bottom line: some people can be self-righteous about not having kids, but some people with kids can be equally self-righteous. (Not that by "some people" I don't mean "everyone." I mean a small number.) And scolding from one side only seems to lead to scolding from the other side. Fortunately, most of the discussion around the "bratlings" issue has stayed away from scolding. I'm not much of a one for getting into fights, so I'd rather end on a pacific note -- but please don't call me "lacking in empathy," or I will (as Willow on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" once said) get very cranky.

* Footnote: Read Rollin's own summary of the essay, and her very interesting summary of the ways in which she's revised her original position, in the AARP Magazine.


Completely shameless egotism 

At the risk of sounding horribly vain: I had lunch with my dissertation committee chair today, and he read me portions of the committee's reports on my dissertation and the defense. One of the sentences he read me was the following (from the committee member whom I consider my toughest reader): "She takes leaps, but she never takes shortcuts." I think that's one of the better things anyone's said about my work. It made me quite happy.

Puer qui vixit 

A few weeks ago, I decided that sooner or later I'll finally read all five of the Harry Potter novels. (I read the first one a while back, and I've seen the movie of the second one, but I think I'm the last person in the English-speaking world not to have read the rest of them.) Now that I no longer have the dissertation hanging over my head, this seemed like the perfect opportunity, even though I still feel like I ought to be more productive.

But now I can read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, a.k.a. Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis, in Latin! Perfect: I can pretend I'm keeping up my Latin while reading about the adventures of Harry, Hermione, and Ron (er, Harrius, Hermione, and, I'm guessing, Ronaldus?). Take that, work ethic. Too bad this wasn't available when I was in high school slogging through Cicero's First Catilinarian Oration. I wonder how the translator renders the phrase "chocolate frog"?

Thanks to Uncle Jazzbeau's Gallimaufrey, Waste Blog, Pete Bevin, and Mirabilis for the coverage.

On the one hand...and on the other hand. 

I remember, from way back during my almost-classics-major days as an undergraduate, hearing a professor say that the ubiquitous ancient Greek particles "men" and "de," usually translated (when they're translated at all) as "on the one hand" and "on the other hand," might have originally indicated hand gestures signaling a speaker's shift from one thought to the next. I forget whose theory this was, or how much credence the professor gave it. But the habit of antithesis, of organizing sentences around balancing contrasts, sticks with me after translating all those "men ... de" constructions. So, without further ado:

On the one hand: Kristen Kennedy writes in the Chronicle that leaving academia for the corporate world can make you appreciate academic culture all the more. The considerations she lists are useful ones, but my first reaction was "Oh dear, not another set of reasons to start second-guessing my decision to leave the professoriate." On second reading, it didn't bother me so much, but it still made me wonder whether I'll miss academia if and when I leave. Given that Kennedy acknowledges "the academy's more maddening traits," including "its limited means of measuring success by publication record, its ideological insularity, its mean-spirited department politics, its apathetic students, and its often crippling lack of resources" -- all of which are reasons why I'm decamping -- I'm thinking maybe not.

On the other hand: this New York Times article reports that budget cutbacks are hitting state colleges and universities really hard (this is true of Midwestern U., for sure), and faculty are starting to look elsewhere: "For their part, universities are scrambling to keep valued faculty members. Confronted with bigger class loads, less time for research, fewer administrative aides, less money for graduate assistants and salary freezes, tenured professors are vowing to leave -- and occasionally making good on their threats." (Thanks to Zizka for the link.) It's not looking like a good time to wax nostalgic about the university as a world apart from "bottom-line demands at the expense of quality" (Kennedy's phrase for what she dislikes about corporate culture). Bottom-line demands at the expense of quality are also precisely what you get when you have to double undergraduate class sizes and cut back on library hours.


It's still summer, dammit. 

Classes start up again in just over a week. I'm teaching three sections of freshman writing. So am I spending my weekend diligently planning assignment sequences and preparing course packs? Am I fine-tuning my syllabus and deciding what type of writing workshops to organize? Am I dreaming up fabulously innovative essay assignments and off-the-wall topics for in-class writing? Am I thinking about the article on memory and Shakespeare's sonnets I might be writing this year, or the other article that'll probably come out of the oddball dissertation chapter that my committee suggested I remove when I turn the Magnum Opus into a book?

Nope. I'm sitting here looking at Amazon.com recommendations, and listening to the latest Handel opera recording I've borrowed from the public library's music collection (side note: Ewa Podles rocks my world), and looking forward to reading miscellaneous non-research books in the bath, and reminding myself: I've got the syllabi drafted already, I'm finished with the dissertation, and now I can read (and write) whatever I want, for the time being. But apparently I haven't lost the "must ... be ... productive!" guilt. I'm hoping it has more to do with the omnipresent "Back to School" sales in all the local stores than with any permanently ingrained attitudes toward academic work. Because it would really suck if I were ensconced in a good job outside the university and still found myself thinking, every August, "Gosh, I should really be reading something with a lot of footnotes..."

Academe as action movie 

So I was listening to "The Next Big Thing" on NPR, and in this Saturday's episode (to which you can listen with RealPlayer) there was a segment by Meg Wolitzer about summer movies -- or rather, imagining one's life as a summer movie. She came up with a series of increasingly funny trailers for these imaginary movies, all with the generic trailer-voiceover voice narrating.* My personal favorite went like this: [dramatic Hong Kong action movie music] "He worked all his life to achieve his dreams ... and one day it all came crashing down around him ... Jackie Chan, Ph.D., in ... Tenure Denied!" [gongs, sounds of fighting, cries of "hi-ya!"] Earlier this summer, after Cornel West's cameo appearance in The Matrix Reloaded, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a humorous column about imaginary professor cameos in future big Hollywood movies (it's here, but it requires a subscription). It made me grin ("Slavoj Zizek in The Terminator 4: The Theorizing Machine."). But I think I prefer "Jackie Chan, Ph.D.," if only because the fantasy of kung-fu fighting as answer to tenure woes is irresistible.

There was also an amusing segment on the by now much-discussed story of the Mozart non-effect. I must admit that when I read about the revised findings -- if the music makes you happy, you'll do better on tests because you're in a good mood -- I thought "I could have told them that"; I figured as much when I realized that grading student papers is more bearable when I put on The Marriage of Figaro. I don't grade as fast, on account of stopping at frequent intervals to sing along, but it definitely makes me feel less inclined to bang my head on the table in despair. The Next Big Thing hosts are of a similar opinion; as one of them put it, "duh."

* One of life's great mysteries: why is it that when you're at the movies, every single preview always sounds like it's being narrated by the same guy? Is it like David Attenborough narrating all PBS nature shows?