Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Humpty Dumpty Hustle

I have been invited to interview for a full-time teaching position for next year. It is a one-year contract position, which will require me to teach a 5-course load over two semesters. If I think I am busy and a little bit crazy now, I have no doubt that if I get this job, I am really going to have to work hard to stay on top of things, especially since I will be teaching 5 courses that I have never taught before and coming up with new lectures for each course, each week. Funny thing about that is how hard I am already working as I write this.

Funny thing about this job? I want it just as much as I don't want it. I want it because getting it means that a group of my colleagues hand-selected silly little me to do the stuff that I am pretty darn good at doing. For me, it basically means that I get to be a more endowed member of the monolithic "club" that I have been chipping away at in small pieces for so many years. In the greater scheme of things, I want the job because it will lead me to the next job, which will be the big one that will more or less put my "career" in a more advanced realm of orbit. Ultimately, for better or for worse, getting this job will secure a great deal for me that is currently insecure about my professional future as I write this.

Getting this job will also mean that I will, for the first time in my life, earn a grown-up salary, which sounds nice from this side of the lawn...

...But, to be perfectly frank...if I don't get this job, not getting it will mean that I wasn't chosen to be in the club by my peers, and that will suck. I also know that I will really have to hustle to figure out what to do. If I don't get this or the postdoc fellowship I applied for, then I am really going to be in a pickle...

While getting this job is good for all of the right reasons, it also means that my professional life will continue to soar while my personal life was pronounced Dead On Arrival somewhere back in January. Unfortunately, this job will require me to stay where I am at the moment, in this remote, solitary, absolutely empty New England town in the middle of bloody nowhere. I am only now just emerging from the coldest, darkest winter of my life, and it pains me to think of an encore performance. Every day is yet another reminder that I am far from friends and family, that there isn't an airport, a shopping mall or even a proper alternative foods store for miles. And please don't get me started on the lack of coffee shops, book stores and yoga studios. As it is, the work that I do requires countless hours of being alone, which I love...but too much "alone" is so no bueno. For me, too much alone time can be painful. (I love myself just about as much as I nauseate myself.) I find that there are much more pleasurable ways to spend the day than gazing misguidedly at my own navel.

Unfortunately, I am alone. Completely alone. And there does not appear to be an end in sight at the moment. (And believe me, I am an opportunity maker--I have looked around. Even the pickings for potential friendships are tragic, let alone potential romantic interests.)

So, the interview process begins this week. And yes, I do want the job for all of the right reasons. And I do not want the job for all of the right reasons, too. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, my work is not going to have dinner waiting at home for me, go running with me, or greet me with a warm hug and a smile. It is not going to make me laugh out loud or hold my hand. It is not going to keep me warm in bed, join me for brunch on a Saturday, read the paper out loud to me to get me to predictably shout obscenities at the injustice in the world, or even make me a more loving and centered person because of it. My work is not going to notice when I need my shoulders rubbed, or that I just want to have a picnic on the floor, or that I really need to go somewhere quiet, romantic or totally insane for the weekend. My work is not going to be my life because I am determined not to let it be the only thing that walks through life with me.

On one hand, I want the job to prove that everything I have worked for and sacrificed so much to achieve thus far has not been in vain. On the other hand, I am worried that getting the job is yet another affirmation of even more personal sacrifice. Another year in a school of my dreams, yet in a place so remote that even the ones I love most in the world refuse to even consider a visit. And then what?

In the end, it is an interesting paradox, I guess. I feel like the winner who always seems to register another loss each time my number gets called to collect the accolades. Does solid career success matter if the rest of me somehow manages to cover up the fact that I'm really just a shell of myself at the moment? Maybe, for all my bravado of wanting to strike my own path and avoid the cooptation of what others consider more "normal" life choices, I am just implicitly trapped on my own hamster wheel design, where, in the end, all I will have for my years and years of assortment of Craig's list-acquired furniture...and...exhaustion.

Wish me luck. I need it. Hell, wish me luck with everything. (I need that, too.)



Estrella said...

I hope it works out in the way it's meant to work out. Best wishes to you!

Alan Ward said...

Getting a job and earning money is good. Mainly because you can do useful things with the money. "Non olet" said emperor Vespasian, talking of reconstructing Rome with money earned by running public toilets.

On the other hand, 5 courses sounds suspiciously like a full work-load. How much of your dissertation can you get done *before* starting this job?

Break a leg!

Namaste said...

Thanks, Estrellita. :)

Alan, oh believe me, I'm no fool. Taking on that much teaching while attempting to write full time is suicide. A first draft will be on your desk by end of summer. I may go bald and feeble in the process, but it will get done. Somehow. Thanks!

Alan Ward said...

On _my_ desk? You mean your Internet followers get to read it? Yuppi! ;-)

Somehow I cannot picture you as either bald or feeble ... not your style.

VJ said...

Ah, catching up to where I left that train. This will be some extended remarks, but first off I agree with Alan on the essential point on the dissertation completion.

On Winning. Shel Silverstein's 'The Winner' as sung by Nashville's own Bobby Bare, a genuine Country Hit in 1974, by one of my favorite Jewish poets, songwriter & children's book author & Playboy cartoonist. The Lyrics to 'The Winner' are here:

It begins with: "The hulk of a man with a beer in his hand looked like a drunk old fool,
And I knew that if I hit him right, I could knock him off that stool.
But everybody said, "Watch out -- that's Tiger Man McCool.
He's had a whole lot of fights, and he always come out the winner.
Yeah, he's a winner."

Shel Silverstein's Wikipage is here: [].

But yeah, this is naturally where the rubber meets the road. What makes it even worse is that stringing together several of these 'one year wonders', no matter what or how they promise you is going to seriously impact your personal life, as you might expect. Especially so due to the remoteness of the vast 'Great Northern Wilderness'. What the committees seem to blithely ignore are what the economists might term the 'lost opportunity' costs that you so accurately capture in your remarks. They may know or understand them obliquely, and may even perhaps have been subject to them themselves (especially if they're women), but it's a far more brutal, transitory and insecure age we live in. Tenure is being offered less and less to fewer 'lecturers' and the meaning of the old professorial 'contracts' of yore have taken on dramatically different forms presently.

So Yes, while it may look and sound awfully prestigious, (and it is, mind you), they and the flying circus that is modern academia can string you along for quite awhile with fleeting promises and whispered innuendo of that prized brass ring at the end of your hard circuit ride through their double marched material, all the while knowing that there's far fewer rings in the offing. That's the horrible catch and the deadly 'double bind'. You've still got to hustle, only now you're on the double time though the Great White Desert. The Capt. promises some rest and more water some where indistinctly described as 'up head', so you dutifully march on, heedless of the consequences on various & sundry. One year after the next. Some years you may even seem close enough to taste it. And yet... for most they'll never quite reach their destination. Perhaps 10-20% might get some sort of tenure (I'm happily including here longer term 'contracts'). Tenure as it was known for perhaps more than 50-100 years is being eclipsed with more 'cost effective' contracts & 'buyouts' for even the existing tenured Profs.

So now's the time to be thinking of such things, for certain. It's good to be asked to ride the circuit. It's a challenge & a privilege. It can and should lead to brighter & better things, academically & professionally. But I've got pals of mine who've done part-time adjunct for years. A few who ride the circuit of 1 year 'recurring appointments' teaching in several schools at once for years too. Some of this is dependent upon state finances, budgets & other sources of funding. Sometimes you only get an appointment if you're willing & able to 'bring in enough to eat' in the way of contract funding & grants. And this applies to the Ivy's as well as the lowliest state schools now. In almost every department I'm familiar with. That's not a double hustle, that's a triple hustle. Often as not the schools actually insist on making a profit off of such academic 'stars' so you can feed the basic teaching requirements. By way of hiring more part time adjuncts!

But again, this is one reason to think deeply & be well informed about the entire process and the associated likelihoods of each proposed outcome. That's actually somehow rarely done by many in the 'club'. The Chronicle Of Higher Ed is the place to start for some of the academic research on academics. It's actually not a strong suit of academics looking at the concrete economics of their own 'club'. It's getting a bit better, but again it's another vast wilderness. It's especially significant in the way it impacts women, even now in our supposedly more 'enlightened age'. But you already knew all this, right?

And again I'm sorry to hear the backend story to this: "While getting this job is good for all of the right reasons, it also means that my professional life will continue to soar while my personal life was pronounced Dead On Arrival somewhere back in January".

The dead can evidently live on for quite sometime, eh?

Cheers & Always Good Luck! 'VJ'

(At least you can Listen to Bobby Bare sing Shel somewhere, right?)

Kim Ayres said...

Do you want the job for you, or to prove to someone else that you are capable of it?

It's not always easy to pick apart what we really want for ourselves and what we want because other people told us it is what we want.

You know all this already, of course, but it might be worth reflecting on before you make this decision.

Jessica said...

Have you considered a spare bedroom in a nice, humble house in Las Vegas and instructing yoga for an interval? Because that is your fall-back and it would make me very, very happy.