Some More of my Personal Failings, to Prove that the Meritocracy Exists

Today’s Post Format brought to you by Jean-Francois Lyotard and the Number “#”.

Today is the auspicious debut of my inspiration* William Pannapacker’s latest on the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

1) Digression! Last night I had a dream that my editor at the CHE emailed me to let me know that they’d changed their boilerplate contract, and the new version stipulated that the CHE retained copyright of everything I have ever written. Like, they were going to go back through this blog and reprint entries from 2007 under their masthead. It was weird.

*how soft is that focus on my man Peter Cetera? #StillMadHot

As usual, I completely agree with just about everything Pannapacker says. I’m a #Pannapackophant, yooguise (make this hash tag happen!). The only possible exception is that he is way more diplomatic about straight-up telling people not to go to graduate school, whereas in the face of #ArMOOCgeddon(TM) and the ongoing #AdjunctPocalypse (MAKE IT HAPPEN!), I am perfectly fine being painted as a disseminator of “blanket ‘Don’t Go’ advice.”

2) I am fine with this, because contemporary academe is basically the institutional equivalent of the Titanic, Costa Concordia and Carnival Dream all in one right now, and if you are rich enough to get a PhD and not care about that, then that just perpetuates the elitism and makes everything worse, so why in the eff would I encourage that? Forget THAT.**

**The only possible exception to this is the Tressie/Annemarie view that The Life of The Mind is an afterthought if you’re getting an advanced degree to fight institutional racism. In this case, postgraduate education without socialization is not only possible, but oftentimes the already-present result of being a marginalized minority in a near-exclusively WASPy profession (although the “blessing” of being subjected to constant institutional racism and therefore excluded from your department’s in-crowd and thus “luckily” immune to the cult mentality is only possible because of serious amounts racist bullshit, natch!).

A few weeks ago, when the #PackAttack (an all-Mennonite “Zack Attack” cover band) told me I’d be cited in this column, I was 

3) flattered

and then

3a) nervous.***

***Remember, in by far the most widely-read thing I have ever written, I misspelled homeboy’s name AND called his most famous grad-school column a “screed.” INSINCERELY, but words hurt, man. I’M SORRY! *sob*

I wasn’t sure which of my ignominious efforts would be featured–but lo, it turns out it was this unintentionally hilarious forum on the Chronicle Web site–which is dedicated, in its entirety, to the many things that are wrong with me. Ah, the trappings of “fame.” I’ve only skimmed it once, when I clicked on it unwittingly (my postac InterFriend JC linked to it and I trust everything she links), but it was highly edifying. You see, the reason I crashed and burned on the academic job market four years in a row has nothing to do with the systemic failures of the academic labor market, and everything to do with me being straight-up the worst.

5) I take serious issue with these folks, although not because they are a-holes who apparently have nothing better to do than go dick around on the CHE fora all day long (Some of them have thousands, thousands of posts. Talk about a “body of work”!). I take issue with them because their seemingly exhaustive list of my personal failings is woefully incomplete. Please allow me to add a few more important ones, which are, lest I need to remind you, far from the totality of the things hopelessly, deeply wrong with me. 

My standards for fruit are WAY too high. This is one of my better (or at any rate balder) half’s pet peeves about me. If a cherry is anything but its plump and tumescent Platonic ideal, I will wrinkle my nose at it, declare it “effed up,” and ask him to eat it. Last night I fixed myself a huge bowl of blueberries, only to be crestfallen that they were a little gritty, and thus I was left to pound them down with a frown. The idea of eating an apple between the months of January and August is absurd–those out-of-season pieces of shit are going to be half-rotten! And if a banana is either too green or too ripe, I will eye it askance until someone else in my family eats it. WE’RE DOING OUR BEST! Say the fruit. GIVE US A BREAK! No dice, fruit. Try harder.

I am great at acknowledging that food in the fridge has gone bad, but terrible at disposing of it. This is because we are not supposed to waste food (it’s too bad we don’t live in NY; we could just ‘recycle‘ the food–thanks Bloombito!) in a country (and world) where far too many of our brothers and sisters go hungry. I know this, and that is why when those two tablespoons of homemade knockoff Yumm Sauce are just sitting there STARING AT ME, I want to gouge my own eyes out. If I don’t have to deal with the spoiled food, then I didn’t waste it!

I have abysmally lowbrow taste in movies, and I am unapologetic about it. Yesterday I went to see This Is The End in the theater, alone–and I laughed MY ASS OFF. This week I am going to see it again. In the theater. Because I thought it was that funny. I’ve been a huge fan of Seth Rogen since F&G, and it always brings a tear to my eye that so many of the F&G crew have made it so huge despite NBC’s ludicrous decision to cancel the show in the middle of its single, absolutely perfect season. James Franco’s ability to make fun of himself in this movie is transcendent, and Franco as Franco might actually be one of his greatest performances to date. 

I have kept this little pile of random shit on the foyer table for like two months, for no apparent reason. My balder half (he shaves his head, he’s not got male-pattern baldness, though I’d love him even more if he did; I love baldies!) is getting really annoyed that when I moved in, I unloaded a bunch of deadweight from my wallet (so as to de-Costanza it), and some of it was stuff I didn’t necessarily want to chuck. YET. So I’m still deciding what to do with this stuff. Do I really NEED my Sephora Beauty Insider Card when I do most of my Sephora shopping online (and that is only twice a year)? How likely is it that I will return to Mama Mimi’s in Columbus to claim the free take n’ bake pizza I earned after a semester of Heteronormative Pizza Tuesday?****

****aka me attending spin class, then bicycling home from it, then getting a “spa pizza” (1/3 of the calories!) and downing it in four bites while I shame-watched The Heteronormative WTF Hour before staring my grading.

I leave half-filled glasses of water, coffee and seltzer all over the house. 

Sometimes I forget to turn the heat or A/C off when I’m leaving.

I eat too many cookies.

Sometimes, at spin class, when the instructor commands me to “ADD A FULL TURN!” I just add like an eighth-turn, and when she says “QUARTER TURN!” I just touch the knob. Actually that’s to prevent knee injury, so I don’t count it as a failing as such. My busted-ass knees are a failing, though.

All right, this should give the caring scholar-teachers of the Internet a lot more to work with, once they’re through discussing my parents and my general stupidity. 

For now, I gotta bust it because the coffee shop where I work is straight-up flooding right now. 




YOU GUYS! “My Academic Metamorphosis” is #1 on the Chronicle Website today! Paywall and all! 5 years since the already-abysmal academic job market cratered (nearly) to the ground, the PostAc movement has gained steam and people are interested in what PostAcs have to say.

Look. I don’t need a jabillion vitriolic commenters (or my partner, heh) to remind me I’m not special (see “Oh. Her again” below–a sentiment with which I happen agree). It’s true. I’m not–I’m just yelling the loudest right this second. And I thank each and every one of you for listening.

Why should we keep yelling? Here’s why: Higher Ed is corporatized beyond repair (at least for this generation), but what IS possible is the destigmatizing of Alt-Ac careers. If I were put in charge of advising bright literature majors (a distinct possibility, by the way, as I am currently applying for several altac or hybrid-ac positions that involve academic advising!), I would, as the non-anti-Semite Ezra Pound to my substantially less-gifted and much-less-affected-accent-having T.S. Eliot William Pannapacker says, transcend the “go/don’t go” dichotomy, which is now, as he rightly points out (if you’re not following him on Twitter, you are missing out!), as “over” as Williamsburg. What the debate should be about is reimagining graduate study with diverse goals in mind–prep-school teaching, International school teaching, public school teaching (you do know that many public-school teachers abroad have doctorates, yes? and it’s not even considered weird!), journalism (AHEM!), regular-book-writin’ (DOUBLE AHEM), museums, government, nonprofit, grantwriting, start-ups, R&D.

But this also (and very importantly) requires a change from the top down, not just from the bottom up. If I’m an example of anything, it’s that even when all the information is available to them, grad students, simply by being interested in graduate study at all, are really impressionable, and prone to the seduction of magical thinking when they first get in. This is for a lot of reasons, but it doesn’t help that their program recruited them so hard that it had no choice but to brush the dismal academic employment stats under the proverbial rug. (I have DOCUMENTED PROOF of this, but it’s from a highly confidential source that I promised not to expose, so it will have to remain in my hot little hands alone for the foreseeable future.)

Then (here’s the Akademische Verwandlung Cutting-Room Floor): while in grad school, all around you are only examples of people in the club–because you’re taught implicitly (by not being introduced to any of them) to give adjuncts, lecturers and other contingent faculty a wide berth, lest it be contagious. In graduate school, your world shrinks down to you, your (very rewarding but also very difficult) work, your mentors, and your fellow grad students.

As you get closer to defense and start to present at conferences, your world grows…but only to other scholars in your own field–again, usually only The Fortunate. By the time you defend, these examples are all you know–so when reality (in the form of 100- or 200- or sometimes 1500-1 odds on the market) comes crashing in on you, no matter how much you think you’re girded for it, usually you’re not.

Graduate education needs to stop this cycle, by giving grad students the resources to explore their options from Day One, by reminding them of the job market stats every single day, by inviting them to shadow adjuncts for a week and see what the “life of the mind” is usually really like, and by changing the content of mentorship to include every career option possible. This involves–gasp–RETRAINING SENIOR FACULTY. This involves getting senior faculty to change their paradigm. This is going to be very, very difficult (judging from the reactions of many insiders to just my writing alone)–and, as such, it is going to require a shit-ton of yelling and screaming.

Organizing adjuncts? Awesome. Encouraging people to do all sorts of awesome jobs instead of adjuncting? EVEN. BETTER. So–and forgive the disjointedness of this blog, I’m on an AIRPLANE! IT’S THE FUTURE!!!–keep yelling, PostAcs. And thank you for the support.