Today on Slate, I share with the English-speaking public the wonderful analog cheekiness of fruit merchant Susanne from Baden. And I manage to get in some fun facts about Bertolt Brecht, and a link to both the Louis Armstrong “Mack the Knife” and the Tom Waits “What Keeps Mankind Alive.” You can force my ass out of the classroom, you can tell me I wasn’t “suited” for it, you can crow about how I’m not beholden to “academic civility” (a thing, apparently?), but none of that will ever stop me from sharing my favorite German things with as many people as I can.
Friends, Probably-not-Romans (but who knows?), Americans:
This spiffy petition, by Ann Kottner, Joe Fruscione and many of their hero compatriots, asking the US Dept. of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to investigate the labor conditions of adjunct professors in our country, currently has about 5500 signatures. It would be very exciting if it had more signatures than that — especially from you tenured and tenure-track faculty I allegedly hate (JK, especially from anyone for any reason!). So here’s the deal.
I’m going to keep watching this petition, and when it hits 7500 signatures, I will, in the spirit of my friend Gordon Haber, upload a YouTube video of myself lip-syncing — WITH FEELING — to the song of your choice (as suggested in the comments below). I would prefer a German pop song from the 80s (I would prefer “Major Tom (Völlig losgelöscht),” if we’re being particular), but if there’s anything being an adult has taught me, it’s that preferences are for chipmunks (who, in my four weeks in Chipmunk Central here in upstate NY, I can definitively state get all of theirs, including taking roost in the roof of the house right over where SchuFetus and I attempt, with varying degrees of failure, to sleep).
At any rate, please sign, please share, and please take an active role in my impending humiliation.
When I wrote my peer-review article for Slate (which was excoriated — my biggest WTF moment of my career, since in private every academic in the world loathes peer review), I always envisioned a companion piece for academics (esp. junior academics) on what to do with a nasty R&R (“revise and resubmit”). I’ve only gotten a few in my life, but I made them work for me (or, possibly, even werq for me), and you can, too. Don’t take my advice on how to get a job, but feel safe to take it on publishing, since I had a pretty good run of it while I was trying.
So, here it is on Vitae, with (again) the best art in the world to go with it: The Peer-Review Jerk Survival Guide!
This morning, I got a series of questions from a curious friend of mine, who is a very gifted writer and artist who just began writing in a new milieu (this one) for a larger audience (a much bigger audience than mine). Since many of my readers are themselves either academic bloggers, post-academic bloggers, or academics who are interested in writing crossover or popular material, I thought I would reproduce his questions with some thoughtful(esque) answers, for anyone who is interested. If you have any more questions about what it is like to Write For the Internet, please post them in the comments.
1) Do you read comments beyond direct ones via email or twitter, etc?
I started out doing it, but I have stopped. I also only pay attention to a select segment of my Twitter comments, and immediately “mute” or “block” anyone who is flaming me. I answer almost all of my email, but sometimes all I have in me is one or two sentences. My least-favorite genre of email I get is “I am normally your fan, but… [+2000 words of quibbling with which someone very much wants me to engage in an academic-style back-and-forth for two days. I do not have the bandwidth for this, but I try my best].”
But, back to web comments (and I don’t mean those here — I read every single blog comment, I appreciate them all, and I reply to almost all of them, even if it’s just to write :D or something).
It is so, so tempting to read Slate and Chron comments, or those wherever you write (“These people are talking about meeeeeeeeee!”), but think about it this way: Would you deliberately solicit the oft-uninformed opinion of a sociopath? (YES/NO). If YES, then do read your comments, because recent psychological research has shown that there is a disturbingly large crossover between the small segment of the population that writes most internet comments in the world (i.e. “trolls” or “baits” or “flames”), and the small segment of the population that registers on the psychopathy/sociopathy spectrum. IF NO, then just never click on them ever. Ever. It’s far, far easier not to read comments at all than it is to read just a select few. Don’t crack open that egg.
Every once in awhile, someone who assumes I read all my comments will bring a thread up to me or link me toward a vociferous defense, and I know they’re just being nice, but I would still rather not know about it. I get enough feedback, much of it critical (but at least mostly thoughtful), by direct means, so I do not need to go looking for it.
FUN FACT: Over a year ago, I did go looking for it. I searched my own name in the forums (or “fora,” as those pedantic little fuckers would call it) of the Chronicle of Higher Ed, where academia’s saddest sacks go to congregate and hate on people for no reason. I read, from beginning to end, a thread about “My Academic Metamorphosis,” one of my earliest I Quit articles, and it hurt me so badly to read these completely tangential and often factually incorrect assumptions (my parents didn’t love me, or some such) that it triggered the first, last and only migraine I have ever had. Half of my body went numb and I thought I was having a stroke, but instead I just couldn’t be anywhere near light for two days. It was so dumb, and it was all my own doing.
So, in the end: Just do your god damnedest not to read the comments, ever. (If you must, however, then extract a few of the worst ones, reproduce them on your blog, make fun of them, and then watch the people who made them FREAK THE FUCK OUT ON how much of a “bully” you are “invading” their “privacy,” LOL).
2) How do you deal with addiction dynamics around how exciting it is to get instant feedback via articles vs non responsiveness that comes with longer term academic work?
That’s a very, very good question. The easy answer is: The addiction feeling goes away very fast. If you start to write more often, you very quickly get bogged down in responses; you get a lot of Facebook friend requests from strangers, some of whom do not have friendly intentions, which I learned the hard way — now I have an Official Facebook Author Page (I only made it two days ago, so please “like” it; I like you!), and I have locked my personal FB page down completely. I use a different name, I don’t use a pic of myself as my profile, and I removed all information that could identify me as me to anyone I don’t know. I will continue not to accept requests from anyone I don’t actually know, because this helps me avoid the constant lure of me-feedback, which causes egomania, or at very least total overinflation of the size of my audience (WHICH IS MODEST, and I am grateful for every person in it).
For the time being, I’d recommend the following: Lock down all of your social media except Twitter, and try to exercise some better self-control than I do at interacting with critics, and instate an very strict No Googling Self rule and an Internet Curfew of 8, 9 or 10 p.m. where you simply do not go online at all after a certain time.
Another thing that’s good to do is read the work of someone who is famous — Krugman, Thomas Frank, Charles Blow, Melissa Harris-Perry, etc — and remind yourself that while you enjoy what you’re doing and are grateful anyone’s reading, you are small and that’s OK.
3) How long does it take you to write a column now that you’re good at it?
That’s a loaded question, because I’m not sure I’m good at it. But thank you! So, leaving the second part out: this varies greatly. If I am writing a piece of investigative work that requires interviewing people, I collect interview data and quotes over a period of days or, in rare cases, weeks. Then culling that into a working narrative takes, oh, I don’t know, a day’s work, with breaks to do my other jobs? Op-eds are shorter, usually about three or four hours’ work, not counting the time it takes to read source material or do research for links to substantiate what I’m talking about.
It also depends on how much rewriting there has to be done. I work primarily with Dan Kois, the undisputed author-crushing battle-ax of Slate, so I often am asked to rewrite pieces entirely. That can take a day or so. Usually I can turn my changes around in an hour or two, though.
Every once in awhile I’ll have a piece that takes forever. For “A Ghost Town With a Quad,” I researched the salary of every single tenured employee at MSU-Moorhead and that took eight hours. For “Title Nein,” one of the reasons I missed a few updates from the Daily Northwestern and Brian Leiter was that I spent the entire weekend furiously complying with multiple legal reads and rewrites, and didn’t have a news alert on while I was working (LESSON LEARNED, by the way).
It is one of the saddest moments of my career as a journalist that the piece I worked by far the hardest on — I’d say I put about 30-40 hours into “Title Nein,” all told — is mangled beyond recognition with corrections (legit) and “corrections” (kowtowing to Leiter, who is a terrible bully). I was also threatened with a lawsuit based on some Twitter fights I got into with Men’s Rights Activists based on that article (Again, LESSON LEARNED). Meanwhile, the most popular article I’ve ever written, a 500-word BrowBeat post on the history and delights of the Aldi grocery store, took me 25 minutes (I had an old lesson plan from a “History of German Business” class I planned and never taught).
But, I don’t think it’s any secret that I write fast. You don’t pump out 2000-3000 per week (PLUS BLOGS) if you don’t write fast.
The other day, I was watching Harry Potters 1-4 with my husband and his siblings (his mother retreated to the kitchen, proclaiming even HP 1 to be “too scary”; “Six-year-olds see this movie!” “I don’t care!” — the next day, she was put in charge of picking the movies and came home with a three-disc Meryl Streep box set), and at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, when Sirius tells Harry they will now be BFFs, I just started to bawl. Pregnancy hormones, for sure, but also: Sad! My husband looked at me like Wha? And I was like, “Sirius gets it! It’s so sad! Everybody dies! They all die!” He was like “Shut UP!” (he hasn’t read the books — I know, I know), but at this point I was on a roll: The camera cut to Severus Snape: “Gets it!” Dumbledore: “GETS IT!” Prof. Lupin: “GETS IT WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.” “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” But what could he expect, from Spoiler-Alert Schuman? Anyway, I am of the firm belief that if a film has been out for more than, oh I don’t know, five years, it’s your damn fault if you haven’t seen it.
Anyway, I decided Why stop with Harry Potter? So here is yet another Overly Specialized Listsicle. Use these Spoilers as replacements for actually doing your reading at your own risk.
- Faust, Goethe: Gretchen drowns their illegitimate child and then gets executed/”saved” for her trouble!
- Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther), Goethe: He shoots himself, but since guns weren’t made very well back then, he doesn’t die right away.
- Ugolino, Gerstenberg: They all starve to death in the tower (cf Inferno, Dante).
- Emelia Gallotti, Lessing: STABBED.
- Die Schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider), Gotthelf: A woman is too lazy to baptize her kid, so Satanic black spiders roost in her cheek and then hatch and take over the town.
- Der Sandmann, ETA Hoffmann: SHE’S A ROBOT.
- Michael Kohlhaas, Kleist: He swallows the piece of paper that contains proof that he was right all along, and then he gets his head chopped off.
- Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (Mozart on the Journey to Prague), Möricke: He gets there and Don Giovanni opens. Actually, I forgot, but since that is what happened in real life, I’m just assuming?
- Die Dreigroschenoper (Three Penny Opera), Brecht: There is a literal deus ex machina that “saves the day,” ironically.
- Der Proceß (The Trial), Kafka: Josef K. gets stabbed in the gut in a dark alley — and we never find out his “crime”!
- Das Schloß (The Castle), Kafka: TRICK QUESTION, motherfuckers — that book cuts off in mid-sentence!
- In der Strafkolonie (In the Penal Colony), Kafka: The machine kills the Officer, and not in a “good” way, and the Explorer flees in disgust.
- Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis): Gregor dies and his family live happily ever after.
- Die Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann: Everybody ends up miserable and/or dead; I haven’t read this book since college. Schopenhauer?
- Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice), Thomas Mann: Man mocks creepy old man; becomes creepy old man; dies creepy old man, Mann still closeted.
- Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities), Musil: Another trick question — this novel has no plot, and nobody, no matter what they tell you, has read past page 1500.
- Jakob von Gunten, Walser: Jakob and Herr Benjamenta gallop off into the desert together!
- Die Physiker (The Physicists), Dürrenmatt: The psychiatrist is the crazy one, and everyone else is a spy, except one guy who’s an actual scientist (and everyone wants his secrets to blow the world to Kingdom Come, because Cold War).
- Kaff auch Mare Crisium (Moondocks/Boondocks), Arno Schmidt: THE RUSSKIES EAT PEOPLE ON THE MOON. I REPEAT. THE RUSSKIES. EAT. PEOPLE. ON. THE. MOON.
- Herr Lehmann (Berlin Blues), Sven Regener: Karl has a nervous breakdown, and the Wall comes down.