Some Perspective on “Sour Grapes”

My summer vacation/elopement/”honeymoon” (with in-laws) is drawing to a close, alas.

Let’s hope the second one’s the charm!

2013-07-31 17.37.33
Do you take these jacked-up thighs to be your lawfully wedded wife?

But while I still have this beautiful time on the porch, gazing out at the rain falling between the giant deciduous trees and wondering what happened to the woodchuck that was just eyeing my mother-in-law’s vegetable garden, I want to talk about grapes. Sour ones, I guess.

When I speak frankly and honestly about failing on the academic job market, and about my subsequent disillusionment with the profession in general—which has been dramatic and about which I’ve been quite open and, at times, emotional—I invariably get one of two responses:

1. You go, Glen Coco. Gurl, I’ve been there. It’s their loss. Kopf hoch!


2. The academic meritocracy has proven its existence through your failure. You failed because you weren’t good enough! If you were smarter and better “suited” to scholarship, you’d have a tenure-track job, like I do. THIS IS BUT A CASE OF SOUR GRAPES.

What the “sour grapes” argument is saying is, basically, that I only dislike academia because I wasn’t good enough for it. I’m just lashing out because I’m a loser, jealous of the winners. If I were better, and had been one of The Chosen, I’d like academia just fine.

As I did with “not being suited” to academe, I’d like to unpack this “sour grapes” label a bit, and eventually reclaim the term. For it’s true: the primary reason I am lashing out so vociferously and so unceasingly against academe is that I am aghast at the way the job market and its “meritocrats and lifeboaters”™ have treated not only me, but the clear majority of working PhDs in the United States today. I liked academe fine when I thought the Life of the Mind’s biggest challenges were wrestling with monster-books like Karl Kraus’s Die letzten Tage der Menschheit and Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, or monster-philosophy like the Kritik der reinen Vernunft or Phänomenologie des Geistes.

Once I found out where most PhDs end up (and how completely fine with that most FULLPROFs are, despite the absolutely incontrovertible fucking fact that most of them would not be hired into their own jobs if they had applied post-2008), and what pathetic cowards most TT faculty have to be (and the “happiest” academics you see on the Internet are actually the most scared)…

Once I realized that the sexism, alcoholism, homophobia (and heteronormativity), fatism, ageism, racism and looksism (from which I am ashamed to say I have benefited), and all the other –isms that dominate the “real world” are just as prevalent in the Ivory Tower’s alleged hotbed of progressive free thought, and once my disillusionment was met, from people I once trusted and even, in a weird way loved, with “Well, you didn’t do a PhD to get a job, you did it to learn about German literature”—meanwhile these are people with tenure who make $100,000 a year and have not had to be on the market in three decades—once all of this happened, you better fucking believe I turned on academia.

So if that’s “sour grapes,” consider me pickling in Sturm (mmmmmm Sturm. Would break teetotalism for Sturm).

But is what has happened to me really “sour grapes”? Let’s use an absurdly-extended analogy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s say I go up to dashing television star Timothy Olyphant, best known for the roles of Seth Bullock on Deadwood and Raylan Givens on my favorite show, Justified, and let’s say I ask him out on a date.

olyphant ermegerd

Olyphant politely declines, and instead of thanking him for his consideration and moving onto the next suitor, I go FUCK YOU OLYPHANT, I NEVER LIKED YOU ANYWAY. RAYLAN GIVENS’ HAIR LOOKED STUPID IN SEASON FOUR. I COULD SEE THAT THE BARTENDER WAS UP TO NO GOOD FROM A MILE AWAY.

That’s sour grapes indeed. I probably would have liked Olyphant, and his hair, and even the most preposterous of Justified’s plot twists, if only he’d just said yes.

But what if…

…I’d been living in a mysterious hippie commune for eight years, where everyone there asked out Timothy Olyphant and he had gone out with all of them?

And where, in fact, the only socially acceptable method of courting was to ask out Timothy Olyphant?

And where I’d spent the past 5-8 years in the exclusive, intensive and often harrowing study of Timothy Olyphant Partnering, and then spent another year being coached vigorously in mock-Olyphant wooings and Olyphant Seduction Workshops?

And where an important element of preparing myself to woo Timothy Olyphant was to censor my own views about the fact that technically, Timothy Olyphant is married? And to make sure I didn’t look “weird” (because Timothy Olyphant disapproves if you appear to have spent too much time and focus on your looks, when you could have spent that time more wisely studying up on his hobbies and fears)? And to spend every Christmas vacation forking out $1000 to sequester myself in an overpriced hotel in the same cold, odious city as 500 other people who are also trying to seduce Timothy Olyphant?

And what if, after spending multiple painstaking months compiling an exquisite dossier of my strengths viz. dating Timothy Olyphant (including lists of sexual positions I am qualified to perform, Statements of Romantic Philosophy and Interests, a meticulously-detailed sample romantic date itinerary that was published, after rigorous peer review by several people who claim to have dated Timothy Olyphant in the 90s—right around the time of Go, before he was even famous—in Dating Timothy Olyphant Quarterly), I submit my plea?

…and then don’t hear a single word back from his “people”—not even an acknowledgement that my request was received—for several months, after which time I am informed that hooray, I am allowed to go on a single 30-minute date with Timothy Olyphant, which will take place in a creepy hotel room, and at which I must wear my frumpiest suit and make very sure to act nothing like myself?

And what if, after what seemed like a very nice first date in spite of the circumstances, I am called again by his “people” and informed that I have been chosen for a second date—this time with an overnight!—at which I will be introduced to every single member of his family in quick succession, some of whom already hate me even without having met me, because they wanted him to date one of their friends instead?

And what if, after all of that, Timothy Olyphant decides to just stick with his current wife after all, and I decide that perhaps spending the past decade of my life in the sole activity of preparing to date Timothy Olyphant was not actually the best use of my time, given that indeed Timothy Olyphant is already happily married and is not actually looking for a new spouse (something the Olyphant Commune was hedgy about… “Well, technically he’s not really on the market now, but you never know. There are always opportunities for the right person, if only they love him enough”)?

And what if, out of both frustration at having wasted what remained of my fertile years in the service of a pre-doomed courtship and genuine concern for future potential woo-ers of Timothy Olyphant, I start warning other people not to try to seduce him, because the whole system is both unnecessarily arduous and rigged? YOU GUYS, I say. DON’T TRY TO DATE TIMOTHY OLYPHANT. HE’S MARRIED.

Is the correct response to these honest sentiments, He only said no because you’re too fat and mouthy? If you were prettier, or less of a talker, or had worn a frumpier suit expressed less of a personality on your date, you’d probably be walking down the aisle with him right now?

Are my sentiments in this situation still “sour grapes”?

Are they, really?

71 thoughts on “Some Perspective on “Sour Grapes”

  1. I haven’t teased it out yet but these two options for interpretation have something in common and that is their limitation/connection. There has to be some third kind of response (and I do not mean “middle ground”).

    [On a different set of binaries: I think Herzog’s Bear’s post is too simplistic — there are faculty who are doing very well, yes, but very many of those who do have jobs are still in the Ramen-style crowd.]


    • There has been a third response, from you and Spanish Prof. I should amend the post! Don’t forget WHB is in history. They usually make more $$ than languages as TT (though not always!!).


      • Aha, that’s interesting. What the two options might have in common is deserve/do not deserve, something along those lines.

        History, they don’t make enough more for it to count. I think the thing is, people compare themselves to full professors at privileged institutions who have been there a long time. I know fulls at UIUC who make $100K and some other places but it’s not the norm, and our own Fullprof is resentful partly because of not making that. I am showing $80-146K for a full professor at the University of California, yes, but a tenure track assistant professor starts in the fifties and that is truly problematic with the housing prices…


  2. I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to be a FULLPROF but I did, inertia-like, come to assume that was where I was headed. Once I got out, was out for a while, and read, learned, talked, reflected, wrote, whatever… I realized that I didn’t want academia! And, completely separately from me and my wants, I realized academia isn’t actually a very nice place for many people, and that’s just a statement of fact. And so, while your story is a bit different, at the end of the day, you are stating facts. So… yes, I’m totally with you here. Always yes 🙂


    • “isn’t actually a very nice place for many people”

      Yes, and the fact that we are not supposed to recognize that is what is so gut-wrenching.


      • but it’s kind of chiasmic, because I think that Pannapacker is correct when he says that academics are “supposed to be miserable” (ie ZOMG I spent my WHOLE SUMMER RESEARCHING except for those horrible minutes I had to spend on my SYLLABUS zomg students are SUCH A WASTE OF MY PRECIOUS BRAAAAAAAAAAAAIN I haaaaaaaaate teaching soooooo muuuuuuch, etc., when in reality for so many it’s “Well, I did some research, but why bust my ass when there is whitewater rafting to do, and there are kids to play with? Besides, I write fast so it doesn’t erally take me that long anyway. Meanwhile, I can’t WAIT to get back into the classroom, because I LOVE STUDENTS.” If you say that in a R1 environment, you won’t get tenure.)


      • “If you say that in a R1 environment, you won’t get tenure.”

        That is a myth, I think. Plenty of happy people get tenure. I have also noticed in job interviews, during the dinner, candidates if asked if they have any hobbies, will say no, or act as though this were a prying question. (Really it’s an attempt to find out whether there are any other selling points of the place to show them.) It is really worrisome, this claim of no hobbies, because it gives the impression of a dull, workaholic type colleague who will burn out soon and also lack ways to make social connections in a new area.


      • My experience in the R1 environment was limited, but I did get a fair amount of skepticism about my sewing. Meanwhile all my colleagues claim to be labor activists while their clothes are made in a Thai sweatshop. The campus visit interrogation broke me. It broke me. It’s bad enough to have every single aspect of my teaching and scholarship under the kind of scrutiny they will never be once hired (even for tenure), but to have my extracurricular self judged too, was just too much. Who gives a fuck if I’m a workaholic or keep to myself? That is my business and I am a professional enough person to budget my energy so that I don’t burn out. I have a hard time making friends because I am a highly sensitive introvert. I HATE HATE HATE that the campus visit makes it totally acceptable to judge every tiny aspect of someone’s character when it is just a fucking job. The campus visit broke me and I am still broken from it. Fuck the entire operation.


      • All day I am having longer comments on sites and then losing them, I wonder if it is my router, or if I have a virus (on Linux …?).

        Anyway, OSU is probably Hell, yes. I’ve found, though, that R1s actually own your life a lot less than little colleges, and tenure is not decided on the basis of whether someone who has actually seen you physically approves of your clothes … although it can be in smaller places where soft criteria count more.

        And I wouldn’t say nonacademic discussions at job interviews are for purposes of judging candidates — they are more like a chance to give information they might need to make an informed decision.

        In retrospect I have found that a lot of The Stress came from dealing with so many half-informed peers … at one place I worked, they were convinced that if they left for another job, they would be sued for breach of contract ! ! ! and blackballed for life somehow ! ! !


  3. Excellent, ha! You made me laugh out loud. One thing speaks for Timothy Olyphant, though. That he obviously manages to fool the wittiest, the smartest and the funniest too! Not forever, though


  4. Hi Rebecca!

    Respectfully…yes, sour grapes…sort of.

    My experience parallels yours in many ways.

    The music business is a pretty tough industry, and one which encourages people to sacrifice all of their time and money in the hopes that they may land a coveted position, be it rock star, producer, label exec, etc. But the math is clear. For every rock star there are a thousand wannabes. The odds are terrible from the start. That doesn’t stop people from trying and, like academia, there is a whole sub-industry of people who capitalize on the dreams of the starry-eyed hopefuls.

    Turns out, after investing 20 plus years of time and a ton of personal sacrifice, I’m not going to be a rock star. I got pretty close, but it just didn’t happen. I could certainly find reasons to be bitter; lots of industry folks encouraged me along the way and a number of my peers became famous. Why not me? I shook all the right hands, did everything that was asked of me, and tried to play nice. Have I been mislead and robbed of my best years?

    I could write a scathing article about the music industry. I’m sure there are many who would rally around my cry of ‘The Music Industry is Not What You Think’ and it might even be helpful to some. But still, you would likely read it and think “Uh…yeah, not everyone gets to be a rock star.”

    Academia is not the whole problem here. Sure, they might encourage you to sacrifice your time, money, and to some degree your self respect, in the hopes of landing a lottery ticket sort of position. But that is clear from the beginning, isn’t it? And, when it comes down to choosing between you and the other 5 or 50 or 500 applicants, why wouldn’t they pick the one who is least abrasive and most willing to play the game?

    I thought it was cool that your article was published on Slate. You’re a great writer and quite funny. Still, railing on academia might draw some attention but to what end?

    You had the incredibly good fortune to study something you (presumably) love, hone your skills, develop a network, etc. Maybe you’re not going to be a rock star in the way you’d planned, but you’ve had the rare opportunity to spend years working on your chops instead of working at Arby’s. You now face the same challenge that all talented creative types face: how do I turn my skills and interests into money?

    For me, it came down to a pretty straightforward evaluation: What am I good at? What sort of life do I want? Where is the money?

    Now I write music for TV shows. I make a good living. I am happy and look forward to work. I would not be here if I hadn’t studied music in school, toured the country in a van, shaken hands and smiled at slimy record executives, etc., etc. I also wouldn’t be here if I made a big fuss about how much the industry sucks. There are times when it would have felt great to vent in public, but I didn’t want a career in venting. I wanted a career in music.


    • Well, there are several differences between you and me. I *do* want a career in “venting”–or, more specifically, writing. I have exactly the career I want for myself right now, actually: I have three courses per semester at the world’s fairest adjuncting gig (in a department that is very non-academia-like in its awesomeness) so I won’t starve, and I’ve taken an indefinite hiatus from traditional research and scholarship so that I will have more time to focus on my venting, ahem, I mean writing. For which *I get paid.* Even this blog, when you clicked on it, gave the ads I (somewhat queasily) allow on here an “impression,” and that translates into ca$h money for me (though admittedly not too much yet!).

      So, nice try with the “venting won’t get you anywhere,” but actually, in the last few months, being honest about my experiences and failures has made me feel more alive and happier than I have been in a decade–and, by the by, has brought me a fairly substantial audience of postacademics, alt-academics, and more than a few non- and regular-academics as well. The post I wrote last week about how “not everyone is suited for academia” got 12,000 reads, which for a random personal blog with no publicity or commercial backing (or kid pics, or porn, or recipes) is pretty impressive.

      Because you (luckily!) don’t have any experience in humanities graduate school, my work might not speak to you, but it does speak to thousands–literally thousands–of others around the world, and almost every day, I get comments and even emails that reach out to me with all sorts of inspiring/frustrating stories (just poke around on this blog for 10 minutes and you’ll see).

      I have even had several prominent members of the “postac” and “altac” community go out of their way to tell me that I am doing something important. William Pannapacker has called me a role model IN PUBLIC (I am the Charles Barkley of academic failures!). I myself wouldn’t go *that* far, but it is great to hear, and it helps me come up with very punchy rebuttals to mansplanations of my failure like the one you just gave me.

      Ahem (*virtual knuckle crack*):

      Academia is nothing like, and should not be compared to, the pop music or entertainment industries. This is because the parallel you make, “not everyone can be a rock star,” is completely inapplicable. Here’s why (it’s pretty simple): your average starting tenure-track salary in the United States, for a Humanities position, is $40,000/year. Tenured? Maybe $60,000-$80,000. An eminent named Chair, who is the most famous Name in your field? Maybe, *maybe* $175,000. $200,000 if the Chairship is endowed and you live in a very expensive city. These are–excluding the top one, which maybe 100 people in the US have–middle-class wages, middle-class jobs. They are not, and should not be treated like, superstardom. Plus, while there may be vociferous arguments about the relative merits of Justin Bieber or Nickelback, the entire professoriate is both misunderstood and almost universally reviled by the American public as “lazy” slobs who work 5 hours a week and “ruin” literature by talking about theory, who do nothing useful and spend taxpayer money on pot. There are no screaming fans to make professordom worth it.

      I would be fine with treating a tenure-track job like Oscar nomination (and thus being slightly less offended by the industry that insisted I get one or be worthless) if Daniel Day-Lewis made $60K a year, or Judith Butler made $60 million. Treating a completely run-of-the-mill profession like it’s getting to be a Knight of the motherfucking Round Table is really unfair and, honestly, patently ridiculous.

      You are also–luckily for you–completely unaware of the socialization process that many graduate students go through, wherein during graduate studies, while they “get to do what they love” (and make no mistake, they earn about what an Arby’s worker does, if that)–and, also, another absurd fallacy I have debunked elsewhere on this blog–they are also reformed in the image of their advisors, and socialized very strongly to believe, in their deepest hearts, that anything less than the middle-class “superstardom” of their mentors–positions literally everyone around them has–is tantamount to suicide. They leave graduate school with no job and no sense of self-worth. It is harrowing, but I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

      Many of my readers, however, do understand–and they want me to keep shouting, and keep “venting,” and keep being “abrasive,” and believe that I need absolutely no mansplaining about what’s wrong with my attitude, thank you very much.


      • plus: rock star has never been a profession. it shouldn’t be one, for that matter. teaching in higher education has been a valuable profession, that has been deliberately destructed. (at least in the us, in europe everything is just as bad at a structural level, there’s only much more money in the system still). which accounts for thousands of teachers-to-be that have been trained for years. and suddenly find themselves to be adjuncting for nothing. No analogy with the music industry there. Though I DO agree with the above, that the challenge for creatives will always be to turn their skill into money, there’s nothing wrong with that, nor with that practical smartness. Esp on that level too, I find this blog to be an inspiration


    • Yes, just about everyone knows (except for all those legions of teens inflicted with snowflake syndrome–the one that tells them that any dream is possible while also eliding any realistic assessment of the odds of achieving said dream) that becoming a rock star is a long, long shot. It’s a classic case of a tournament profession, akin to pro sports, art, or novel writing. But, to reiterate the great rebuttals to the above case of mansplaining, generally speaking, the professoriat has been presented as a more or less regular middle-class vocation, like being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Yet it’s becoming ever more a tournament profession–with none of the perks of rockstardom.


  5. PS lest that come off as too “abrasive,” FWIW, Ehren, I like your music, and I always have! And I still remember that time you almost got me kicked out of Spanish class for telling you what time it was.


    • Hah! Good thing I braced myself for that ahead of time : )

      First of all, “mansplaining”? I haven’t heard that term before…hopefully it means something other than the way it reads. I’d hate to think you might simply dismiss my comments as being somehow sexist, misogynist, dude-ish, or whatever. If I do read it right, it’s the equivalent of ‘sweeping the leg’; a cheap, debilitating shot during what might otherwise be a friendly fight.

      Second, I didn’t say “venting won’t get you anywhere.” I just noted that, in my situation, making a commotion about all of the ways in which I have been mislead or mistreated would have been a diversion. If venting is your thing and you have found yourself with an interested audience, great! But in a way, you’re proving my point, which I will try to explain again in a minute.

      My career comparison is totally applicable in the ways in which it was applied. Sure, the potential income is different and the societal role/image is different. But the odds of achieving a certain type of success, and the parasitic dream-encouraging inherent in the industry are very similar, as is the expectation that you must conform to someone else’s image. Those points seem patently ridiculous to you? They seem pretty obvious to me.

      Sure, these normal middle class jobs shouldn’t be compared to superstardom, but they are, aren’t they? You may not want the culture of your industry to encourage and reward its own type of superstardom weirdness, but it does. That’s a big part of what pisses you off, isn’t it? You seem to be making that point on your own but taking offense when I mirror it.

      Also, you might have a misunderstanding of the economics of the music industry. I played in a band that had a deal with Epic for a couple of years, which is about the same as landing a tenure track position. $40,000? Yeah, we made $40,000 in a year…combined. Split between 4 of us. Before the IRS, the lawyers and the accountants took their share. Meanwhile, we were never home, slept two to a bed every night, and were expected to smile and wave the whole time. Minimum wage? I would GLADLY have accepted minimum wage. In fact, I did just that between tours because decent-paying employers don’t want to hire someone who can only work 3 months a year.

      I think of it as my own PhD process. It’s really very similar, except I didn’t have the option of applying for scholarships, grants, or teaching positions to fund my way through it.

      I’m a little surprised by your quick assessment of my understanding of academia. I mean, we haven’t been in touch in a while…are you sure that I know nothing about it? I’m completely unaware? I mean…somewhere along the way I must have had a conversation with an academic, right? Maybe at the post office, at a coffee shop, or at the dollar store or something? Well, if you say so. I guess I somehow managed to get my degree without any exposure to it whatsoever. When it came time for me to decide to continue or not, I just flipped a coin. I put no thought into it whatsoever, and I definitely did not do any research. And if I have any close friends with PhD’s it’s news to me.

      Sarcasm aside…Unless you achieved your current level of happiness and success unrelated to and in spite of your time in academia, you are contradicting yourself. My point is that, you (like me) are in your current happy situation as a result of having gone through the grinder. You might be inclined to compare your experience with that of an Arby’s employee but you’d be wrong to do so. Sure, you made minimum wage for a while but you came away with skills beyond just making sandwiches. You spent years studying something you enjoy and were paid at least a little bit to do that. Now you have a job at a place you like. You have been published on a hip site. You have a small following of people interested in what you might say next. Would you have achieved all of this had you not gone the academic route? Well, you wouldn’t have the job. You would probably have the skills. And you might have the following.

      If my future kid asks about formal education in arts or humanities, I will tell them this: By going to college you will have the opportunity to try stuff, work on your skills, meet people in your chosen industry, and generally prepare yourself in some way for your career. But you will still be faced with the task of getting your shit together post-academia and it will be brutal for a bit. That’s the way it goes.


      • Also…

        Your societal image comparison is hilarious…almost wonder if you are joking. “Hi, parents of a girl I like. I’m earning my PhD.” Vs. “Hi, parents. I tour the country in an unknown rock band.”


        Thanks for the nice words.

        I should clarify that when I say ‘abrasive’, I don’t mean that as a value judgement. It’s just not a desirable trait in an employee who you can’t easily fire.

        I should also point out that I chose not to continue with academia for many of the reasons you discuss. But I think it has its place.


      • Mansplaining is a bit harsh–especially since we know each other. What it means is that a man explains something to a woman in a way that assumes that the woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or hasn’t thought about the issue in a complete or intelligent way, and needs to be “set straight” by someone who isn’t clouded with all that period-hormone-bad judgment. You only mansplained a *little*, so now I feel bad.

        I do see many of the parallels with your journey as a musician (and FWIW, I do think that the fact that you never played MSG while Justin Bieber is a quadrillionaire is one of life’s great injustices, but you can’t account for the taste of a nation of idiots)–but the thing I wanted to emphasize that with rock stardom, you really *are* a star. Fewer people hit it big, but when they do, they are, actually, big. And other people legitimately recognize them as stars even if they don’t like their music. In academia, most “stars” just middle away in regular middle-class existence, usually living somewhere SUPER shitty, 1000s of miles away from anyone they know (not unlike a touring musician, but without the groupies, unless you count students, whom I *guess* the ‘superstar’ profs schtupp, but I find that revolting)…I mean, it’s a living, and it is enjoyable work if you’re cut out for the loneliness, but the rhetoric surrounding “well, you should have treated it like rockstardom” has GOT to stop. When I hear it, I just want to vomit, because it makes these dickwad FULLPROFS who make it their life’s work to pick on me feel so vindicated about how great they are (meanwhile they live in fucking Kansas).

        Being from where we’re from, and being an intelligent and articulate person with a wide range of life experience, obviously you have met many an academic. You’ve probably met a Scientologist (or five hundred) too, but that (LUCKILY FOR YOU) doesn’t mean you’ve had a Level IV Thetan Audit or been subject to the weird re-education at the Celebrity Centre (or at least I hope not). All I meant was that you haven’t been subject to the socialization that many humanities grad students have, and that was meant to be a compliment.

        I do think that my own journey was worth it in the end, because it has given me the voice that I have now (and also, no small deal, grad school is where I met my husband). But I also have to deal with a shit-ton of meritocratic bullshit (not from you! from self-satisfied academics) and it’s tough sometimes. I am continually surprised at how many people have come out of the woodwork to thank me for having the balls to have my “bad attitude.”

        And that’s the final thing I wanted to share with you. I don’t know if this is true in the music industry, but being “willing to play the game” in academia means being a servile, simpering coward. For me, it meant taking every interesting and funny and energetic aspect of my personality and smothering it almost to death, so that I could appear the Proper Demure Serious Female Scholar (if I’d been a man, my personality would be considered “lively” and welcome).

        Every single person, for example, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Ed (where I do most of my publishing now, although I have re-appeared in Slate since Thesis Hatement as well), who has even the slightest criticism to make about the system does so under a pseudonym…except me. (And Pannapacker, but he’s got tenure, so he’s “safe.” I am very unsafe). What you see as a liability or a “bad attitude” actually makes me a straight-up revolutionary in academia, because almost nobody is willing to say this shit out loud under their real name–and it is stuff that needs to be said, and that needs the weight of a real name behind it, even if it’s just a nobody like me. I get people on Twitter telling me I inspire them to be honest all the time. It is really humbling and amazing, and I owe it all to my bad attitude (which, it goes without saying, I did not display even the slightest bit of when I was on the job market–I was as servile and simpering as the next gal, worry not).


      • Rebecca, because the following was so resonant for me, I wanted to comment (and say ‘Rock on!’ with your ‘bad attitude’):

        “but being “willing to play the game” in academia means being a servile, simpering coward. For me, it meant taking every interesting and funny and energetic aspect of my personality and smothering it almost to death, so that I could appear the Proper Demure Serious Female Scholar (if I’d been a man, my personality would be considered “lively” and welcome).”

        The issue of gender should not be underestimated (not that you are) in understanding how the academy works and who it does and doesn’t reward. If you were a black woman like me, even from a middle-class background/Ivy-educated/raised in small-town New England, the expectations for servility so as not to be seen as “inappropriate”, “frightening”, “disruptive”, “loud/argumentative”, and violence-prone would be even greater. And the punishment (literal police brutaluzation, encouraged by the Chair of your department (now a member of Obama’s cultural advisory committee, because power/the academy rewards abusive and unethical behavior)–simply for speaking and writing about public cyberbullying and racial/sexual harassment in your department) would be greater.

        And yes, because the academy breeds and rewards conformity and servile cowardice, professors and other graduate students don’t speak up for those–especially women (of color) with ‘bad attitudes’ speaking truth about what really happens in the ivory tower–even when a person is being sociopathically abused. I had to leave my graduate program due to ongoing retaliation for speaking up about the cover up of Title IX violations for which Gloria Allred is now suing Berkeley, and have am actively smeared as a crazy and violent ghetto criminal for my ‘bad attitude’ (i.e. not being servile and quiet and cowardly, but instead speaking out when I saw wrongdoing being covered up–including a system of departmental professionalization encouraging racism, sexism, and male students thinking being a college professor/instructor is a great career because one can use the position to take sexual advantage of female students). Of course now I am labeled as pressing my own w(h)ine from the proverbial sour grapes–cause, you know, I am just one of those less-intelligent Black people for whom grad school was ‘too hard’ and just wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for the academy. Of course I am! Because, as we all know, success in the academy is really just about being ‘smart’ enough. But then again it is: if one means ‘smart’ enough to keep one’s mouth shut so as to prioritize one’s own career instead of wanting a more just and equitable system for all–you know, one that actually is a meritocracy not based on looks (including race/color/gender). So yes, in this respect there are a lot of similarities between the music industry and the academy: dark-skinned Black women are not promoted as a female/feminine ideal in either. Funny that I chose an academic career precisely because I thought it would be the place in which I could most be judged on my work instead of my looks. Hilarious given how I was pushed out of my department by professors who wrote emails about how much they hate(d) me for being “very dark-skinned”. This is the ugly reality of the academy, and people should be able to speak frankly about it, especially to warn others, because many people (as I did) go to graduate school not really understanding the kind of abusive and unethical system that the academy actually is: especially as an undergrad experience at an elite private school is VERY different from grad school (especially at a financially-strapped state school).

        So, bravo to you for having the courage to have the ‘bad attitude’ more academics should have so that the academy could be a more humane and decent place–which it should be for all the anti-racism/sexism/homophobia academics love to *profess*.


      • What an amazing and infuriating story. I can’t thank you enough for your support, especially given that you’ve been through a million times worse. I cannot *imagine* what they would be saying about my Bad Attitude and Poor Fit if I were not a pale-skinned Caucasian. I am already getting every female stereotype out there (“screechy”, “hysterical”). If I were Black it would absolutely be “oooh look how ANGRY.” I absolutely recognize my privilege every day, and the stories I continue to hear about being a PoC in academia make my hair stand on end. And I’m not saying this to assume it’s not just as bad or worse in industry–it’s just that academia is supposed to champion equality and free thought and stand up for the oppressed. Isn’t that why conservatives hate it? So it’s been a harsh awakening to see the hypocrisy, especially in the social and natural sciences.


      • Thanks for the solidarity, Rebecca. Much appreciated.

        The problem is that many academics (benefitting from the current system of intense structural inequality) aren’t willing to own up to it as it doesn’t help their ‘I made it because I’m brilliant’ illusion if academia is a meritocracy.

        I was shocked when a truly courageous whistleblower leaked the meant-to-be confidential email in which I was explicitly retaliated against, with ALL department staff instructed to report me to campus police if they saw me and felt I was being ‘threatening’ (after describing me as a violence-prone Black Troublemaker, so how else was I going to be viewed?!?) while carrying my infant son “in a tummy pack”. All this retaliation because I’d spoken out about public cyberbullying which had caused a change in the department’s graduate student listserve’s moderation policy, and because I’d spoken about how this clear Title IX violation had then been covered up by university administrators (especially because it was during the department’s external review for SSRC rankings).

        At first I was naive enough to be confused as to why I was being retaliated against given my discipline’s official antiracism ‘race statement’and ‘speak truth to power’ PR/admonition. I couldn’t understand why these professors (or administrators) were allowing a the bully responsible for the public cyberbullying to get away with claiming I was just a violent ghetto criminal and this should not be believed (again, hundreds of people were witnesses by virtue of being on this listserve). But slowly I realized what the academy really is–v. what it claims to be such that I had mistakeningly thought it was a less racist and sexist career path: a neiberal corporation looking for the most docile workers (i.e. not ‘abrasive’, selfishly careerist, invested in benefitting from structural inequality and reproducing it–often unconsciously, for reasons of implicit bias as well as deep personal insecurities–exacerbated by the grad school professionalization and socialization process). Universities like UC are *corporations*: corporations willing to do ANYTHING to cover up wrongdoing for which they could be sued, looking for corporate investment (from companies like BP), looking to secure federal research dollars from the government via hiring people like Janet Napolitano in the hope that her Obama-administration experience will funnel DOD dollars for weapons and nuclear research to University labs, corporations interested in paying faculty as little as possible for actual undergrad teaching (hence the proliferation of adjunct positions amidst the decimation of TT positions) while expanding the number and salaries of university administrators. The university is a neoliberal corporation, and acts as such, in all the ugly ways if any corporation committed to profit first–and ‘brand management’–by any means be necessary.

        The other day I saw the movie ‘Never Let Me Go’. In writing this response I realized anew why the film disturbed me so deeply: we already live in a world in which some people, and their lives, are seen as utterly disposable–and disposable such that others’ lives may exist and flourish. So much of my academic experience, even when it became police brutalization via lying to claim I am a violent criminal from the ghetto, was seen as an acceptable sacrifice for the academic lives–and non-academic lives–of others. I think many people, including some commenting on this this post, and criticizing you otherwise, really just don’t get this truly sociopathic and dehumanizing reality of the academy. At the pint that academics are CLEARLY falsely accusing innocent people of commiting crimes they’ve never committed so as to get a job and/or keep their/department’s academic prestige, then we are talking about a very *sick* and abusive system which is clearly NOT a meritocracy and should not be defended (as such). If cowardice and staying quiet about abuse are what it takes to make it in academia, then it is a sad, sad state of affairs that people have come to see such behavior not only as normal, but as *desirable*. If it this is what it takes to ‘make it’ in the academy, then I am glad to be a big, fat loser crying sour grapes. I’ll take basic human decency, thank you. Any day.


      • Oh my god. This needs to be front and center marquee on this blog, not stuck in comments. Would you be interested in writing a guest post? You could do so under a pseudonym if you wished. I pay. (Not much, but something). This story is riveting and you are a spectacular writer.


      • I would love to write a guest post. Most kind of you to offer. And thank you for the most kind–too kind, in fact!–compliment on my writing (especially given the typed-from-my-iPhone typos). I really do appreciated it, though, given that one of the other racist and retaliatory emails written about me by aforementioned department Chair also said that I am not “a legitimate member of the community” (campus/my graduate program, academic, or otherwise) and that all my writing on structural inequality and abuse in the academy is a “meaningless cloud” as I am an “inappropriate” Angry Black Woman. (My adviser, who is supposed to be an academic celebrity and expert on the issue of structural violence and social suffering, apparently agreed with the Chair, as she eagerly threw me under the academic bus, said that I am ‘unreasonable’ for speaking out against racist-sexist character assassination and/via claiming I am a crazy woman and violent criminal from the ghetto, and refuses to speak to me to this day so as to ensure that I can’t finish my degree–cause, you know, it’s not enough to smear me as ‘angry’, crazy, violent, and ‘ghetto’, I need to also seem lazy, stupid, and shiftless; I’m just waiting for the ‘she smokes crack rumors’ at this point, really). So I appreciate very much that this is not the conclusion you came to, that everything I’ve written is a “meaningless cloud” of incoherent poppycock.

        Thanks for letting me vent. But more than venting, thanks for giving me an opportunity to raise larger questions, and connect the proverbial dots. Much appreciated. I really just want people to be honest about how much abuse and structural inequality the academy is predicated on such that things might change for others, even it is too late for me. Because no, the academy is really not a meritocracy, as much as it claims to be.


  6. Also, you probably don’t want to ask out Timothy Olyphant because he may end up being like Arlo Givens, his (tv) father, and that’d be horrifying. There’s some sort of connection to be made here between academic fathers and Arlo Givens, but I’ll leave that to my betters.

    This post is the jam. It horrifies me, given that I’m in a PhD program in the humanities and probably doomed for failure, but I respect the shite out of it, too. Ain’t life grand like that?

    As always, thank you for speaking up/out, oh she who just wasn’t good enough. 😉


  7. Hmmm, interesting arguments here. For myself, I have come to the conclusion flinging “sour grapes” at anyone depends, solely, on what side
    of the discussion [argument] one is on.

    I had a prof who called our college “the armpit of the midwest” – what did that say about him since he was teaching there? I always thought him an ass, especially after that comment LOL.


  8. Whew! Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I completely agree with you about the superstardom stuff as it applies to any industry. It’s really, truly, unbelievably ridiculous.

    This has been a major topic of conversation in our household and broader social circles. My wife is an accomplished pastry chef and her experience in the fine dining industry is very similar. The higher she went, the worse it got.

    My understanding of it is this: when pursuing a career in an industry like these, you being the experience with a certain impression of the meaning of success. For me it was rock stardom. For you, maybe it was a certain position in academia. For Anna it was a job at one of a handful of world-class restaurants.

    All along, we’re encouraged to go in that direction, even when something inside starts feeling repulsed by it. But the allure of the pedestal is strong like a tractor beam.

    The closer we get, the more clearly we see it. Wait…it’s not a mountain of gold and candy, it’s a shiny pile of garbage! And we come to know the types of creatures who thrive in that environment. Rats, mostly. Not all of them, but many.

    So, it’s quite a jolt to discover that the goal you have been working towards is making you increasingly unhappy. It’s weird to find out that the people you admired from a distance are trolls up close. It is a strange and disorienting feeling to add up the pro and con columns in a realistic way:

    Cons: I don’t get to choose where I live anymore. I work twice as many hours as I should. I don’t have time or energy for my friends and family. My new peers feel just as weird and confused as I do, but most of them cover it up in destructive and disturbing ways, and pat each other on the back for every shallow accomplishment. The accepted version of ‘good’ and ‘right’ is neither good nor right. I don’t feel like myself anymore. People who have never done this work tell me how to do my work.

    Pros: I have a (false, shallow and tenuous) sense of being cool and important. I make some money.

    Now that I spell all this out for myself, I’m not sure what it is about your post that I object to : )

    Ah, yes…now I remember.

    I think it comes across as ungrateful to describe your experience as though it were an unfair burden and not an opportunity. It was a huge opportunity, just not one that led to where you thought it might.

    Everyone gets to have their own definition of success, and should have the right to pursue their own goals, no matter how misguided they might be. I think that your experience, as well as my own and those of countless friends, is rough but entirely worth it. And, again, it wouldn’t have been the same without going through the grinder. You have reached a place of happiness, relative comfort and success as a result of going through the academic maze, not in spite of it.


    • Ungrateful. That is definitely something I’ve gotten quite a bit, especially on the awesome message board on the Chronicle of Higher Ed dedicated in its entirety, I am not kidding, to how much I suck. I made one of my postac homies go in there and extract this comment because I mock it in an essay I wrote for a forthcoming ebook from the folks at Leaving Academia:

      “What a missed opportunity, to find the joy and beauty in her voyage despite her disappointment, and to elevate her readers with a reflection on what she gained from it. She will never again have that audience and forum to deliver this tale. Imagine if she had used that space to thank the marvelous mentors she had acquired on her journey, or tell us about the serendipitous friendships she had made. […] I imagine a story like this, and I think of how satisfying it might have been to read, like drinking deeply from a fountain on a very hot day.”

      I hope–I really hope–that you can see why reading something like that makes me do a full-on Liz Lemon eye roll. It’s perfectly fine for some comfortably-tenured anonymous online asshole to chastise me, not just for failing and speaking out about my failure (and I use “failure” in a sort of sarcastic way; I am trying to normalize and reclaim academic failure as its own sort of “success,” just like you said), and not just for daring to do it with some emotion and under my real name, but HOW DARE I not do it “the right way,” which is to get on my knees in gratitude, cry out “O Gott, wie schön!” (Oh God, how beautiful!) and then skulk off in the silence befitting an Untouchable?

      Seriously, though, I am indeed quite grateful for certain individuals who supported me along the way and still support me even though I’ve committed literally THE worst sin in all of academia. They know who they are, and I’ve talked to them at length. I am also grateful for certain opportunities–the Fulbright, obviously, and also the ACLS postdoc. Again, both of those organizations know how grateful I am to them. But graduate school itself was as exploitative as it was an opportunity–the courses grad students take are largely there to give the research faculty something “important” to do that doesn’t involve undergraduates, to differentiate them from a “service department” of the sort at most small liberal-arts schools, regional universities below the Research-1 level, etc. As long as grad seminars are populated with the future replicants of the faculty, faculty jobs (which often involve very little teaching compared to your average TT or NTT faculty elsewhere) are safe (and I’m not trying to denigrate R1 faculty here–their jobs are harrowingly, unbelievably stressful because of the pressure to publish and the ever-decreasing security and pay).

      Graduate school is also exploitative because it’s a very low-paying job (usually about $14,000 a year), but you excuse the low pay because it’s an apprenticeship to learn how to do exactly one thing: become a professor. So if you take away the apprenticeship aspect of it–you’re not in seminar to learn to be a researcher, you’re just in it for fun! You’re not TAing to learn how to be a professor, you’re just doing it to…Christ I have no idea why anyone would TA if they didn’t want to be a professor–then it’s just cheap labor that justifies the department’s existence without any regard to what will happen once your time in the “life of the mind” apprenticeship runs out.

      And to placate their own consciences some senior profs say things like “Well, there are ALWAYS jobs for good scholars,” because that puts the onus on you, rather than a market where there are 28 jobs for 400 people. There are many things for which I’m grateful–but there are enough academic sycophants out there to trumpet their gratitude. The people who have my gratitude know they have it. And maybe someday I will see the experience differently, when it is not ringed on all sides with the pain of my disappointment and failure, and the screeching cries of detractors all too gleeful to point out that indeed it is all my fault for being inferior (not you, talking about other fuckwads!).


      • Ok…I think I’m understanding.

        And I find myself mostly nodding in agreement as I read your comments.

        A couple thoughts, though. If you’re getting a lot of ‘ungrateful’ feedback, it may be for a reason. I wouldn’t imagine you to be an ungrateful person in real life, but I get hints of that in your writing on this subject. (For the record, I absolutely rolled my eyes at the comment you quoted.)

        This is why I think it comes across as being ungrateful, at least to me:

        “Graduate school is also exploitative because it’s a very low-paying job…Christ I have no idea why anyone would TA if they didn’t want to be a professor.”

        Grad school is not exploitative. Exploitative is paying someone a penny to pick an apple and charging them a dollar at the company store. Grad school is, for some, paying dues. For others, it’s a mostly-funded opportunity to shift careers without working an unrelated full-time job. Give me an example of a desirable career where you don’t start at the bottom…is there one?

        And, 14k is a lot of money to some people. TA’s often get some or all of their tuition covered in addition to their stipend. From my perspective, that looks like a free education, a built-in job, and access to whatever information you can glean from experts in your field. Plus, you’re building a network of people in your industry. Is it a sure-fire job guarantee? No! Is it a chance to get your shit together while being paid to do it? Yes!

        So, I guess my response is that people would TA because it’s a pretty sweet situation if you’re coming from a less-sweet situation. For you it might be a pain in the ass but for some people it’s a significant opportunity to improve their lot in life.

        I can see how ‘ungrateful’ coming from the mouth of someone above you on the ladder just sounds dismissive and offensive, but to talk about grad school like it’s a worthless drag is equally offensive to people below you.

        You may owe some gratitude, not just to the people who helped you directly, but in general, for the opportunity to go through the process of figuring yourself out and developing your skills in relative comfort (even if it was emotionally uncomfortable).

        All that being said, I applaud (but not man-plaud) the move you’re making, and I totally relate. The pursuit of this narrow definition of success is a sham, and people who mislead and encourage the inexperienced for their own benefit are jerks.


      • I definitely agree that “exploitative” is an overstatement from how you describe it, and you are absolutely right that for many people, TAing is not only easy (and it is, largely, very very easy), but rather a lot of money if they are coming from poverty. In Orange County $14 Gs was less than your average Real Housewife spent on monthly Botox, so it didn’t go far, but I managed. You are right. And I am extraordinarily grateful for the immense amount of privilege I have enjoyed for my entire life–class privilege, white privilege, educated privilege (both my parents are highly educated), looks privilege (by not being overweight)–and the opportunities these advantages have afforded me, the doors they have opened. Someday I will come to peace with my own graduate school experience, but the railing I am doing now is against a larger system that goes far beyond graduate school, and into the current academic labor world, which is, indeed, textbook-exploitative (adjuncts making $10,000 a year but paying out $12,000 for day care, for example, but they can’t quit because then they’d get no food stamps or TANF). I really appreciate you engaging with me, and although I haven’t seen you since Spanish class, I always thought you were awesome. And extraordinarily talented.


  9. Rebecca, you win the internets this Friday! Thanks to your posts, I finally told my adviser I was no longer going on this year’s job market for TT positions. (Hu was very supportive.) When the ship is sinking, it’s time to get off the ship.


    • Whaaaat? That is amazing news. I am so happy for you. I hope that what happened to me also happens to you: as the months wear on after you make your decision, you might start to feel free. The sadness will creep in, for sure–especially if you are still hanging around other people on the market, which I actually don’t recommend, if you can manage it–but your basic day-to-day baseline emotion might start to be so much happier. It did for me. Again, that is incredible to hear. Long live your freedom!


      • Thanks for the kind words, Rebecca. My big challenge in September is going to be to avoid looking at the MLA JIL. The temptation to apply to another Asst. Prof position (that 499 other candidates are also applying to) will always be there. Your analogy in this post really struck a chord: we have all been chasing a married, unavailable man for close to a decade, throwing away the best part of our child-bearing (income-earning?) years in the process. One another note, your blog is such a fantastic mix of humor and anger. I find myself chuckling to myself *and* feeling furious at the same time. You are clearly a very gifted writer.


      • Wow, THANKS!!!! Yes, I understand the JIL situation 100%. What a lot of people don’t realize is that I started writing op-eds SPECIFICALLY to make it impossible to go on the market again. If I made myself an Untouchable by being honest in public, I would blackball myself forever. I have then compounded that by de-anonymizing my blog and promoting it. It’s not a plan I’d recommend for others, but it will certainly keep me off the market for a good long time.


  10. OK, from above, the question of all the scrutiny one goes through in job interviews. I am defending conversation on topics like what one enjoys doing when not working, but a new type of scrutiny there is, that I find truly objectionable, is background checks: we, Florida, and other states now have to subject job candidates to credit checks, criminal background checks, marriage and divorce record checks, record of civil suit checks, and on, and on. Supposedly it is to “protect us” from hiring “unsafe persons.” Yeah. So this is really intrusive and really does suggest one might as well go to work for the Home Depot. I was just reading an interview of someone who intends to go on the job market, and he has a checkered past, from before college, and my first thought was dayum, he’s interesting and his publications look good, but would he pass the background check??? Very poor situation.


    • Take this comment even further given how the Daily Kos discussed how Berkeley issued stay-away court orders against peaceful Occupy protesters on their campus, both for those who were and were not arrested for peaceful *civil disobedience*. It is very easy for an abusive university or member of a university to use the campus police and these kinds of legal intimidation strategies to permanently screw people and ruin their chances of ever getting a job in the age of the kind of background checks. So, basically, the university as Police State to tamp down dissent and encourage more of the ‘servile cowardice’ of which Rebecca wrote above. Moreover, such tactics are not race-neutral as already marginalized POC stereotyped as always already criminal and violence-prone can be most easily targeted for such tactics of academic repression. Connect the dots…

      And let’s remember who UC just hired as its new president: the former Homeland Security chief, Janet Napolitano.

      We march steadily toward the academy as police state, with no real academic freedom. Depressing, to say the least.


      • Yes. Also, it is some sort of secret committee in HR/UP who makes the decision, and faculty are not allowed to know why it is made. That, it is alleged, is to protect the privacy of the rejected candidate.

        Obviously there must be ways around this they have not thought of, I would be tempted to sue on behalf of my department, and so on. And they must know that the actual criminals will not have a record since they do not report sexual harrassment, fraud, etc. to police. So this is all to make sure we are total apparatchiks, yes.

        One more aspect of the corporatization and creeping fascism.


    • Z, you’ve just hit the nail on the head. As you said, universities will retaliate against actual non-criminals so as to protect the real criminals and those wrongdoers who should be sued civilly –like sexual and racial harassers, and rapists whose crimes will be covered up (especially when well-connected White makes from ‘important’ families’. Case in point, my undergraduate alma mater:

      Speaking about inequality is the only real ‘crime’ for the corporate neoliberal university, sadly. Real and actual crimes/criminals?? Ha haha….

      And this is why people like Amy Bishop will get through. The implicit bias machine will favor actual threats, while filtering out the principled whistleblowers and progressives who speak out against wrongdoing and abuse and are retaliated against for so doing.

      In a previous comment, above, I used the term ‘the lives of others’ while referencing disposability and the film Never Let Me Go. So, a recursive return: to the actual film, The Lives of Others. You are right, we are are marching toward fascism and totalitarian control. Thought police and double speak and punishing people for what are, effectively thought crimes; dispensing with academic freedom in any truly meaningful sense; covering up real crimes so as to punish non-criminals who speak out against state (university) sponsored violence.

      Eh, but what would I know. I’m a silly little Black girl who just says “meaningless” things, according to the professors in my graduate program. And since I look like someone who could be in an extra in ‘Orange is the New Black’–you know, from the ghetto with no ‘smart’ thoughts–probably best to ignore everything I say. Especially in Florida, and especially if I’m wearing a hoodie. (Sorry, couldn’t resist given my penchant for’abrasive’ sarcasm as social critique!)


      • What amazes me is how many faculty actually seem to defend these practices, or think they are no big deal, or do but refuse to make an issue of it. A lot of them, and I am talking about tenured folk, seem to have absolutely no idea of their rights — and don’t see that fear of reprisal is evidence of an oppressive situation.


      • OT I am just waiting for your guest post, Bad Attitude. It really is true about gender/race and people do not understand this even though they mention it.


  11. I tried to post this on “Not Suited,” but for some reason WordPress won’t let me…

    I have been wondering for some time whether the profession as a whole hasn’t been suffering from empathy fatigue. That is, there is simply so much to care about – getting published, mentoring students, maintaining funding and status for departments, mounting conferences, reforming the job application process, etc. etc. etc., and ohyes, the research that SPARKS somewhere deep inside – that, in defense, many professors have had to just shut down – tune out (except for the very few who use their relatively secure positions to become activists, perhaps?). So few resources, such high stakes: people become robustly defensive. And the MLA, for its part, scrabbles for the APPEARANCE of empathy, a performance of empathy if you like, that it seems to have no means of actually extending to the thousands of persons who, if they bring themselves to MLA at all, will realize that virtually the entire conference is pitched to people who have jobs, i.e., who are already inside some sort of institution and likely to remain there.

    It’s a strange, strange, system. Is it like Hollywood – you have to be good (within the standards looked for) even to try, but you have a snowball’s chance…? But then how diverse can academia be, when it grooms for such a specific skillset (including living as an emotional trainwreck), but has no generalizable idea at all what to do with its square, dynamic, creative pegs, who cut their own bolts to measure, as you do? Those blank spaces on the CV that mark sewing, pleasure, and heartbreak – they never will count for much, will they? There go the people who might have livened things up a little, look, they’re leaving…an entire subarchive of tense, intellectual, scholarly-personal blogs the poignant trace ….

    “You take your number and you stand in line
    And they watch to see how high you’re gonna climb
    Pat on the back ’n’ better luck next time
    It ain’t nothin’ no it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town” (Dixie Chicks song)


    • I loved this comment, Shayda! I hope you’re doing well. If you’re still at UCI, say hi to everyone (LOL they are doing their best to disown me, as far as I know. For the first time ever I haven’t been asked to contribute to the alumni newsletter of my department. I WONDER WHY?)


  12. …But apologies – I just now saw (located) your analysis of the music industry comparison, and have had my first (rhetorical) question answered. Thanks for the line: “Treating a completely run-of-the-mill profession like it’s getting to be a Knight of the motherfucking Round Table is really unfair and, honestly, patently ridiculous.” Perhaps I will write it out and mount it over my workstation.


    • :D. Again, I would be totally fine with the Hollywood comparison if Daniel Day-Lewis made $60,000 a year and nobody knew who the fuck he was. But these are NOT “superstar” jobs. These are normal-ass, wholly unremarkable, nameless, albeit interesting and rewarding FOR THE INDIVIDUAL, professional jobs.

      Is every lawyer a “superstar”? Every doctor? Every engineer? Every nurse? No, they are just educated individuals with varying amounts of talent and intelligence who have worked to earn a certain credential.

      The rockstardom analogy is something that people who already have academic jobs are perpetuating–and gee whiz, I wonder why?!? And it has GOT. TO. STOP. I really respect Ehren as both a musician and a person (he’s a friend from HS), but the analogy doesn’t really compare.

      What would compare is this: I went to Julliard with the hope that upon graduation, I would pull in $30K a year playing Spin Doctors covers at weddings, proms and bar mitzvahs. But the wedding/bar mitzvah circuit has become so cutthroat that only THE BEST Julliard grads get those jobs, and the rest of us are left to busk on the street. But NEVER should we get a job waiting tables or pulling espresso, because that would demonstrate that we don’t love music enough to make it. BUSK AND EAT YOUR FINGERNAIL CLIPPINGS and “love” it enough to one day make it to the bar mitzvah circuit!!!!! *That* is how that analogy should go.


      • Perhaps the analogy should be amended to read: “Timothy Olyphant agreed to keep me as a mistress for a little while, during which time I understudied his real wife. I was more than competent, and I loved him with everything I had. He seemed to like me. But then he declined to renew my contract on a longterm basis.”

        God, writing that in the first person hurt.


    • I saw it–what an amazing post! And I thought *I* was Feeling All the Feelings. I have a self-imposed 8 pm Internet Curfew, so that’s the only reason I couldn’t reply until now. I have to teach all day today, but when I can I will be writing my own post that links back to yours, and discusses some of the things you bring up.


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