Revise, Resubmit, Win

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!

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Writing for the Internet 101, by an “Experienced” Person

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.

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In Which I Spoil the Endings of 20 Classic German Books in 20 Seconds

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.

  1. Faust, Goethe: Gretchen drowns their illegitimate child and then gets executed/”saved” for her trouble!
  2. 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.
  3. Ugolino, Gerstenberg: They all starve to death in the tower (cf Inferno, Dante).
  4. Emelia Gallotti, Lessing: STABBED.
  5. 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.
  6. Der Sandmann, ETA Hoffmann: SHE’S A ROBOT.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. Die Dreigroschenoper (Three Penny Opera), Brecht: There is a literal deus ex machina that “saves the day,” ironically.
  10. Der Proceß (The Trial), Kafka: Josef K. gets stabbed in the gut in a dark alley — and we never find out his “crime”!
  11. Das Schloß (The Castle), Kafka: TRICK QUESTION, motherfuckers — that book cuts off in mid-sentence!
  12. 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.
  13. Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis): Gregor dies and his family live happily ever after.
  14. Die Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann: Everybody ends up miserable and/or dead; I haven’t read this book since college. Schopenhauer?
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Jakob von Gunten, Walser: Jakob and Herr Benjamenta gallop off into the desert together!
  18. 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).
  19. Kaff auch Mare Crisium (Moondocks/Boondocks), Arno Schmidt: THE RUSSKIES EAT PEOPLE ON THE MOON. I REPEAT. THE RUSSKIES. EAT. PEOPLE. ON. THE. MOON.
  20. Herr Lehmann (Berlin Blues), Sven Regener: Karl has a nervous breakdown, and the Wall comes down.

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An Overly Specialized Listsicle

Like any good hipster, I was a hipster before they were a thing, and I was into listsicles before they were cool* — see, for instance, my Top Ten Dreams of 2004, and my Enemies List of 2005.** So, even though I haven’t dabbled in this noble oeuvre since the mid-aughts (and, correspondingly, my mid-twenties, ha!), I thought I would take a break from civilly discussing why everybody hates me, and revive the Overly Specialized Listsicle and make it even more specialized. So, without further ado, here are:

Top Ten German Books I Like To Teach Skeptical Undergraduates

1. Feuchtgebiete (eng: Wetlands), Charlotte Roche. Roche’s shock-porn debut novel — aka Fifty Shades of Gross, which centers on the fallout of a sexually-experimental 18-year-old schoolgirl’s anus-shaving accident — is so obscene that I recommend having students sign a release before you assign it, attesting that they are 1) 18 years of age or older, and b) aware in advance of how obscene the book is. This is especially important if you teach where there is a culture of prudery viz. talking about sex, and it has the added bonus of making your students think that whatever you’re about to hand out is exciting, being too hot for the classroom and all. I taught a course during my final year at OSU called “Sex and/or the City,” where I had students sign such a form on the first day. Imagine students’ disappointment when the first thing I sent them home with was…

2. The Nibelungenlied, anonymous. Since I am a normal person, I neither teach nor can really read Mittelhochdeutsch, so this is for courses in translation only. Nowadays, we know the Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs) primarily through its operatic incarnations, specifically Wagner’s Ring Cycle—or, in my case, the Elmer Fudd version thereof (“Kill the wabbit/Kill the wabbit/Kill the wabbit!”). But the story of Siegfried (dragon-slayer), Brünnhilde (superhuman strength), Kriemhild (fairest maiden in the land), and Gunther and Hagen (murderers) actually dates back at least to the thirteenth Century, when the Nibelungenlied appeared in print. Today everything is “epic,” but the Nibelungenlied is an actual epic — a marvelously long (or, if you ask my students, “torturously long”) poem that tantalizes us with, as per its introductory stanza, wonders many told/Of heroes rich in glory,/of trials manifold, not to mention the requisite “weeping and woe.”

3. Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher), Elfride Jelinek. Ostensibly, Nobel prize winners take home the big Smorgasbord for their lifelong body of work, but everyone knows that it’s usually for one book (Beloved, The Tin Drum, etc). Jelinek won the Prize in 2004 and everyone knows it’s for Die Klavierspielerin, which is an un-put-downable story of a psychologically terrorized (and terrorizing) young woman, her sexual predilections, her cutting, and her awful relationship with her mother (which may or may not be the direct cause of the aforementioned). Many students have experience with both self-harm and abusive parents, so although I personally despise the phrase “trigger warning,” it is advisable to discuss the more upsetting themes of this book before you hand it out, and be sensitive to those students who may identify with it in all of the most painful ways.

4. Jakob von Gunten, Robert Walser. The best thing about Walser’s masterpiece (which is about a boarding school for butlers where no classes are held, and students don’t graduate so much as they benignly stop showing up) is that the language is crisp and direct enough that you can assign it in German to third-year or bridge-course students and have a perfectly great discussion about its predominant themes. If you assign it in translation, then you’ll be stuck (or delighted) talking about Walser’s language of eternal self-negation, and that can make students’ heads a little explodey, but it’s usually worth it.

5. Die Marquise von O and/or Michael Kohlhaas, Heinrich von Kleist. Self-explanatory (or, at any rate, you can see these extremely lengthy explanations from the past).

6. Manifest der kommunistischen Partei, Karl Marx (excerpts only). Because every college professor must indoctrinate her students into Marxism or she’ll be cast out of the Club. No, seriously though, today Marx is a curse word, in which I mean it’s bandied about on the 24-hour news cycle like an actual curse, back and forth between talking heads until it sticks to someone and brands them as an inveterate Pinko America-hater forever. Students will be delighted and/or aghast to realize that many of Marx’s descriptions of capital and alienated labor apply to their jobs at Sunglass Hut today — and they don’t have to advocate full armed revolution to be mindful of who controls the Produktionsmittel.

7. Geschlecht und Character (Sex and Character), Otto Weininger, if only to watch their eyes pop out of their heads at its inappropriateness.

8. Der Proceß (The Trial), Franz Kafka. I have read this book so many times, and spent so much time thinking about it and over-thinking it and over-specializing about it, that it is nothing less than pure unadulterated joy to watch students read it for the first time — even if they hate it. Enough always like it (or at any rate waaaay identify with Josef K for some angsty reason or another) to make any time I’ve ever taught it more than worthwhile. Some students are simply proud of themselves for getting through it, because it is a difficult text. In German I wouldn’t teach it except in the most advanced classes.

9. Die Physiker (The Physicists), Friedrich Dürrenmatt. This one is an absolute gem for advanced-beginning German language classes: Do a dramatic reading! Assign roles! Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Give extra credit for props and convincing emoting. Show up to class in a beret, sunglasses and turtleneck, and proclaim: DAS THEATER!!!!! The students who get really into it will learn a lot about the Cold War and German compound nouns. The ones who don’t get into it? Well, you’ll enjoy forcing them to pretend to be enthusiastic for DAS THEATER!

10. Faust, Motherfuckers! Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Yes, it’s a cliche, but there’s a reason for that. The story of Faust (a.k.a. “Faustus” or “Dr. Faustus”), unsatisfied genius who makes a deal with the Devil in exchange for untold glory and might, had been written many times over by the time Goethe got his mitts on it in 1797, but what he did with it was nothing short of astounding. Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus kept him second fiddle to Shakespeare—but Goethe’s Faust: A Tragedy made him “the German Shakespeare,” and singlehandedly made German not just an acceptable literary language, but a triumphant one. Why? Well, Faust has everything: a dog that (spoiler alert!) is really Mephistopheles; an old man who magicks himself young; a young woman who has that old man’s baby and then (spoiler alert!) drowns it in a pond; drinking, more magic, witches, and Walpurgisnacht (a Bacchanal in the mountains), rendered in virtuosic, hypnotic, acrobatic verse that expresses everything from terrifying might to deepest sadness, all while rhyming. In German. If you are only going to read one work of German literature in your entire life, then please, for the love of every deity referenced in this magnificent dramatic poem, make it motherfucking Faust.

*Part of this statement is a lie. Maybe all of it. You decide.

**For an extra and unintended dose of heartbreak, look how joyously, unmitigatedly excited I am about starting my PhD back then. It really tears me up to read that, but also makes me kind of want to cheer then-me on, wistfully: You GO with your naive self, Schuman.

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Please like me, please.

(aka, the subtext of everything I ever write! Ha.)

The day “Thesis Hatement” came out (April 5, 2013 — which I only remember because it’s my sister-in-law’s anniversary, and her wedding in San Diego was amazing, Lafayette Hotel pool FTW!), my brother called me and said: “You need to make a Facebook ‘author’ page now. Now!” I believe I answered: “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.”

Well, Ben, it only took fifteen months, but I finally listened to you. So, my dearest readers, I’m not sure what I’ll put on there (links back to here! Links to Slate, which I also link to here! EXCLUSIVE original content that’s awesome!), but I hope you might consider “liking” me (and then unfollowing/hiding, like I do with all of my friends’ pet things — JUST KIDDING FRIENDS I LOVE YOU!).

As some of you know, a few months ago my habit of accepting friend requests from strangers on my personal account caught up with me, and I found out the hard way that a lot of my “friends” had Friended me just to have an all-access pass to Mean Town. I was getting 5, sometimes 10 reqs from strangers a day (especially when a viral article came out), and it got to the point that my entire FB feed was strangers, and I was like, you know what? I miss my high-school friends’ baby pics and inspirational quote-photos. Bring those back. It took getting quasi-stalked by an irate Slovene Zizek superfan to get me to change my Facebook name to a nickname, and instate a policy of not accepting Friend requests from anyone I don’t actually know. Plus, I’m pretty sure my high school crush is sick of getting bombarded by links to my own work. So — now, if you want to be bombarded by links to my own work, you can “like” my Official Author Persona Page Thingy. My FB friends are now solely my actual friends, and will be henceforth duly spared from a single link about academic bullshit and me-bullshit ever again.

Yet another splintering of my personalities — sort of like Horcruxes, but for nice people.

In conclusion: please like me. I like you! The end.

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