Monday, September 10, 2018

MLA Job List and some links

The MLA Job List opens today (September 10) at https://www.mla.org/Resources/Career/Job-Information-List.

Remember, this isn't the be-all and end-all that it used to be. As Jonathan Kramnick reminds us in "The Way We Hire Now" (https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-way-we-hire-now/244467):
To get a grip on where things now stand, start with the fact that the MLA jobs list has lost its monopoly. The low cost and simplicity of doing things online has meant that advertisements now appear on any number of platforms, including The Chronicle, Interfolio, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), HigherEdJobs, and well beyond.
Don't forget the jobs at Insidehighered.com, too.

If you're looking for information on historical trends (and the now-infamous rosy vision of the Bowen report), here are some links.

MLA Report on the JIL 2016-17 (chart is from this source): https://www.mla.org/content/download/78816/2172744/Report-MLA-JIL-2016-17.pdf
At the Chronicle (paywalled but free with this link): On the Bowen report and what went wrong: https://t.co/gw9G30Aacg

Some older posts from this blog about job letters, still maybe useful:

The art of the job letter: http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2007/10/art-of-job-letter.html
The art of the job letter redux, part I:
http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2008/09/art-of-job-letter-redux-part-1.html
The art of the job letter redux, part II:
http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2008/09/art-of-job-letter-redux-part-2.html

Good luck, everyone!

Friday, September 07, 2018

Off-topic: NYTimes on Joyce Maynard: "Was she predator or prey?"

It's been fascinating to see the shift in opinion on Joyce Maynard and her memoir At Home in the World.

A few years back, when I was contemplating mid-century male novelists like Updike and Salinger, I had this to say about Maynard's book:
 The whole Salinger thing that she was pilloried for is only a part of the book, and apparently, in another interwebs development I totally missed, everyone is in a pro- or anti-Maynard camp: either "How dare you malign The Great Man?" or "How dare The Great Man have acted so cruelly toward women?"  Maynard's take on the relationship, in the new preface, is not so much "what was I thinking to quit Yale and move to New Hampshire with Jerry Salinger?" as "how could he violate my innocence by overpowering me with his adoration? Shouldn't we think of 18-year-olds as girls instead of women?" It's a fair question, but really, who could have stopped her or any of us at 18? That's not a hornet's nest I'm willing to wade into in this space.   . . . 
When she shows up at Salinger's door in 1997--which I think took a lot of courage, by the way--he tells her that she had the capacity to become something but has become nothing, or something like that. She's obviously made something of herself, having had a successful career,  and she is a survivor, but is there anything in what Salinger says? Or is this just another case of a powerful man falling in love with an image that he creates and trying to destroy the image when she turns out to have a voice of her own? 
In case you didn't know, Maynard was pilloried by a lot of people for writing the memoir of her own life simply because Salinger was part of it, as though the Great Man's privacy could never be disturbed.

The attacks were really vitriolic. Chief among them was Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post and Maureen Dowd, who took a day off from being Inspector Javert to Hillary Clinton's Jean Valjean to excoriate Maynard for being a "leech woman" (and got the point of that movie wrong, but anyway).

In a recent New York Times essay (which, by the way, is pretty much lifted from At Home in the World), Maynard links her experience to the #MeToo movement and wonders whether maybe a change is at hand:
Last fall, when word of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses of women in the entertainment industry overtook the press, followed by near daily revelations about other prominent and respected men accused of similar violations, I supposed this was the moment when my own experience might be seen in a new light. I thought my phone would ring.
The call never came. And though I believe that if the book I wrote 20 years ago were published today it would be received differently, it does not appear that enlightenment concerning the abuses of men in power extends retroactively to women who chose to speak long ago, and were shamed and humiliated for doing so. As recently as last fall — on the occasion of my having published a memoir about the death of my second husband, a book in which Salinger never appears — I was referred to as “the queen of oversharing.”
Oversharing. What does it say about us that a woman who speaks the truth of her experience should be dismissed for telling more than the world feels comfortable hearing? (And it is always a woman who will be accused of this; when a male writer confesses intimate details of his life, he’s brave, fearless, even brilliant. Consider, just for starters, Norman Mailer. Or, more recently, Karl Ove Knausgaard.)
Exactly right. Maynard has always mined her own life for material, but has she done so more than an Updike, a Mailer, a Roth, or, yes, a Salinger?

What's fascinating is that the comments in the comments section are squarely on Maynard's side. There's no one grousing about style (as Yardley did) or how dare she expose Salinger.  The tide has shifted, it seems, even if no one picked up the phone to call Maynard for an interview. Maybe there really is a sea change in attitudes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Getting rid of some things, mostly ideas

It's fall and time to shed some things, mostly ideas.

1.The idea that computer tech is necessary, as A. O. Scott reminds  in the New York Times:

When you’re not reviewing movies, are there any tech products you are currently obsessed with?
A few years ago, when I was struggling to finish writing a book, I decided I needed to tune out the distractions of Twitter and email and New York Times news alerts so that I could make my daily word count. I started leaving the house for a few hours with no laptop or phone — just a ballpoint pen and a 5-by-7-inch notebook, the same setup I’d been using for years to take notes in dark theaters.

2.  The idea of showing up for every single thing when some of my colleagues don't bother. There are no consequences for not showing up or rewards for showing up except the glow of being a good citizen. I'll still mostly show up, because good citizenship, but it's the parable of the vineyard all over again, and no matter how many times that's been explained to me, I still don't buy the logic.

3. The idea that good researchers can't be good teachers. According to the NYTimes, the United States has only one university--Harvard--and the sum of all college experiences is broadcast through its graduates, so no need for actual reporting. The latest piece in this vein is from Adam Grant. I'm a decent researcher and a good teacher, and I remain excited about both, so I'm stacking my anecdata against Grant's and declaring this idea a sheddable one.

4. Better yet, the idea that great writers don't have dogs. Apparently it's not because they keep writers from making paragraph breaks, although you could understand if Knausgaard made that charge, but because dogs distract writers, as evidenced by the many personal experiences that Knausgaard relates. This paragraph didn't have the intended effect of making me think about the idea; rather, I too want to put down a lot of my personal experiences and have The New Yorker pay me for them.

5. The idea that generational labels have meaning. Stop it. If I hear one more time about boomers doing this or Gen X doing that or millennials being poor because of avocado toast (hint: try the student loan crisis and a gig economy), I might have to throw something--or, more likely, roll my eyes. It's an extremely lazy way of making large generalizations, and it's not helpful.

6. This is sort of inspired by Dame Eleanor's posts about keeping or not keeping things from her mother's house, but getting rid of what you don't use feels good, and so does taking pleasure in things that you do have. Those hardwood floors that caused a month of disruption last year make me happy every day, but so does getting rid of things. Growing up, my mother (like Dame Eleanor's) made a big fuss about collecting antiques, silver, etc. But honestly, how many embroidered bridge table cloths or tea sets does one non-bridge player need? Instead of thinking of it as "getting rid of" something, I'm thinking of it as "rehoming" them by sending them to whatever charities are sending their trucks by that week. Someone's going to think it's a treasure, and imagining that is more pleasing than my wondering what on earth I'm ever going to do with them.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Dear Ms. Undine: What's July etiquette for academic life?

Dear Ms. Undine,

I recently wrote an email to a person in my department, trying to set up a meeting a month from now. This person had her email set to auto-reply, but she responded to say that the time was all right with her. Then I wrote to her again, demanding the answer to something very minor but more complicated.

I reasoned that she, like me, is simply dreaming of the time when school starts and has nothing better to do for the next month than answer my questions. Why isn't she responding?

Signed, 
Nothing Else on My Plate

Dear Nothing,

Based on her experiences in academia, Ms. Undine suggests that the person in your department indeed might have something else to do. This something might be research that she's frantically trying to finish, or relatives she's trying to visit, or maybe just a simple afternoon in which she can continue making burnt offerings to the goddess of summer so that fall will be delayed this year. In any of those cases, your email is not welcome.

Dear Ms. Undine,

I am a student and like to get everything done ahead of time; in particular, I like to read all the books over the summer and then decline to discuss them in class because I've forgotten the details. When I wrote to my instructor demanding a syllabus, however, the instructor said that it wasn't ready. I thought teachers have a vacation for the whole summer, so why isn't it done?

Signed,
Eager for Now

Dear Eager,

You are correct: instructors have nothing else to do all summer. Your instructor is making the very best syllabus possible, and that means that she is spending every spare available moment, many hours a day, getting it ready. You wouldn't want to spoil that kind of perfection by rushing it, would you?  That would be rude.

Dear Ms. Undine,

I'm an administrator and have great powers of vision, including being able to see through computer screens. I keep sending out cheerful messages about "Remember, the X event will be early this year!" and reminders about new assessment procedures, but when I do this, I see the recipients turn pale and mutter curses about July being the summer. Why does this happen, Ms. Undine? I'm just trying to give them a heads-up about exciting university events.

Signed,
My Time is Your Time

Dear My Time,

Your faculty members do not want a heads-up. They want to keep their heads down, plowing through all the work that they thought they would get done in June and over the July 4 weekend. Your email reminds them that time is not infinite, which as poor mortals they dreamed for a week or so earlier in the summer that it would be.  Do not remind them of their own mortality, or, more important, the mortality of their summer work hours.

Dear Ms. Undine,

All my friends on Facebook and Twitter are running circles around me in terms of research and having fun. They're getting more done, and it makes me despair at my own slowness.

Signed,
Sloth and Envy

Dear Sloth,

Mark Zuckerberg has a little-known patent on something called the Facebook Enhancement Screen, and I believe he licenses it to Twitter and Instagram as well. The FES means that everyone's life looks more golden than your own and that no one tells the truth about the days when all they could do is binge-watch Love It or List It and eat thin mint Oreos. There is no protection against the FES except not to look at social media. No one will think that you are less polite if you make stealth raids into it to like content that you don't actually read.



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Writing inspiration: last archive day

Waking up at 4:30 a.m. when the local Starbucks (closest food) does not open until 7:30 a.m. isn't ideal, but it did give me some time to reflect on a few things after seeing the work of my betters.
  • These people took care of business. When I was sitting there reading folders full business letters and contracts, I had to stop and think that this was just one side of what Author A (let's call his/her/gender neutral them "A") was doing every day. Let's not forget the usual things: building or making or buying houses, gardens, boats; getting the plumbing fixed, etc.
  • And they took care of friendship. Reading another whole set of letters, I realized that they were not about anything consequential to researchers because that's of course not the point, is it?  But the letters were about things that were absolutely, vitally important to A and their correspondents' lives: family doings, asking about mutual friends, civic engagement, shared tasks, gifts, ill health, visits and travel, and oh, incidentally, work. It's easy to miss the forest for the trees in this and try to cherry-pick one reference to what we see as A's "real" work, when actually, their life can't be separated out any more than ours can today. When you read them as a whole, you see a fabric of human connection being woven.
  • And they kept things and kept track of things. Notebooks, story plans, drafts, scraps of paper, newspaper clippings, diaries. It's heartening to see that A sometimes starts a notebook and then leaves the rest blank, since I'm guilty of this, too. But did you ever stop to wonder what would happen if someone needed to research you and your work? (Not likely, but still.) What would they find? I'm not the first to comment that the electronic age has changed what we keep and discard, and recycling has probably taken the rest. Would any of us even have an archive?
  • And they wrote. Every day, sick or well, rain or shine. As you see the authors get older or, in the case of younger authors, become ill, it seems--well, gallant is the only word for it. In the midst of all of the above (and all that's not included there: eating, sleeping, exercise, excursions, being with friends, reading, domestic or romantic crises, tragic losses) they put words on paper, not on Twitter and FB (I'm sniping at myself, not at anyone out there). Sometimes they didn't succeed in finishing something but kept the scraps anyway. It's a good reminder that even the things that didn't work out were part of the process for something else. 
Anyway, this is a "note to self": do better, and remember that if you don't keep at it, it won't get done. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

WaPo: "Leisure reading is at an all-time low"--but what's left out?

The Washington Post reports that "Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-time low," which is one more piece of news that doesn't sound good for the humanities.  It's a good piece overall, and the main part is this:
That steep drop means that aggregate reading time among Americans has fallen, from an average of 23 minutes per person per day in 2004 to 17 minutes per person per day in 2017.
Even prior to 1995, before computers/online entertainment/social media took a huge share of the market, reading levels were declining due to TV.

But I wondered about this:
"Numbers from the National Endowment for the Arts show that the share of adults reading at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the prior year fell from 57 percent in 1982 to 43 percent in 2015." 
  • Is this the only kind of reading that counts?  What about nonfiction--history, biographies, even true crime?  Is the NEA counting airport novels and things like that?
  • Are they counting listening to audiobooks? That's a huge reading market, but some people don't consider that reading.
  • Are they counting people who read on their devices?
  • Are they counting like flash fiction, the humor at McSweeney's, long-form pieces in traditional or online magazines (medium.com, LA Review of Books), or, yes, blogs, for entertainment?
  • Are they talking only about new books in the  "I will sit down and engage with this serious but difficult (i.e., Literary with a capital L) fiction" mode or are they counting a comfort-read like Little Women or Harry Potter?
 In other words, are they considering the following?

1. The genre of the leisure reading (at least broken down by fiction/nonfiction);
2. The medium of the reading (audio, computer- or device-based).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that maybe this is like the alarm that routinely goes out about people not writing much these days. Au contraire--people write all the time: texts, captions, comments on online pieces, Facebook posts, Twitter, etc. It's just that they're writing--and now, maybe consuming--forms for pleasure that we don't consider reading for pleasure.



Off topic: Thank heavens someone finally told the New York Times that it's the Darwin Martin house and not the Martin Darwin house in Buffalo. Maybe The New Yorker could lend them some factcheckers?  I routinely notice grammatical errors and typos in the NYTimes (you probably do, too) that wouldn't have happened 10 years ago, so maybe that's not a priority for the paper, especially on leisure pieces, when the country's on fire. On the other hand, at least they're not reporting it as simply "upstate," which is what every other news organization writes about anything in New York state that's not NYC.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Random bullets of just past Summer Solstice

  • There's still lots of summer left, even if the days are getting shorter.
  • The writing is sort of moving along. I met a couple of (overdue) commitments, am working on others, and turned down some invitations for new projects because I will eventually learn not to overcommit.
  • Archives always say "no need to contact us!" but you really do, because the collection you want might be inaccessible for some reason. Somehow those are hard emails to write, though, and waiting for an answer while watching the travel prices go up isn't fun.
  • A survey recently asked about public engagement on social media for university faculty. They want us to engage, but I'm guessing that research, service, and teaching demands won't lessen. Instead, we'll be expected to drum up business in the form of outside lectures, interviews, etc. on top of everything else--and it'll be a standard to meet or be punished, not an extra to be celebrated.
  • I'm not going to bring up the political horror show here (donated, wrote to congresspeople already) but instead will concentrate on breathing in the cool summer morning air. Lilacs are past, but the honeysuckle is out. 
  • Today's a big anniversary for Spouse & me, so we'll be going out to dinner. I won't say which one, because some colleagues at my former university made fun of us for being married young (barely out of university) & and I'm still wary about revealing personal information after that. But yay for anniversaries!