Monday, June 24, 2019

A short apology about the job market

In years past, I have written on this blog about the job market--advice about cover letters, about where to find resources, and about the MLA statistics on trends in hiring (spoiler: it's grim).

I've never said those preposterous things that are apparently clich├ęs from senior professors, as in "there's a t-t job for everyone if you work hard enough" or whatever other nonsense they supposedly spout.

I spent years as an adjunct and know better than this. I've done what I could at my institutions to argue for equity in hiring, written and argued for more lines, created as much stability and as many benefits as possible for non-tt faculty, etc.That still doesn't create tenure-track lines, which come from the upper administration.

Because of all those adjunct years, I know that in getting a job preparation is involved, but so is luck, a lot of luck. But in hopes that advice about preparation would be helpful, I did write those posts.

And now I am seeing all over Twitter that any kind of job advice is a microaggression or just plain aggression against people who don't have a job and that even posting advice is traumatizing to applicants. A common theme is that tenured senior faculty ought to just plain shut up. There's a lot of anger about this.

Anyway, I debated about leaving the posts up or taking them down and decided to leave them up, figuring that if people didn't want to read them, they wouldn't.

This is sort of a two-part apology. I'm sorry about the job market and will continue doing what I can to make conditions better. And I'm sorry if those initial posts were upsetting but will try to stick to other topics in the future.

Monday, June 17, 2019

"Opportunity cost" and the pleasures of daily tasks while writing

Figure 1. Not me.
This is not the post where I reveal that I have become a Stepford wife, and I do not wear a straw hat while shopping.

However, I was recently reading about the new childhood guru Emily Oster and her "parenting by the numbers" approach.

(Digression and disclosure: when my kids were little, I skimmed a book one time--Berry Brazelton--that sounded sensible but aside from that figured that I knew how to parent better than the book pundits. "Be loving, be consistent, and see to it that they didn't get too tired or overstimulated" was my mantra, and aside from that, the experts could step right off. It seems to have worked.)

Back to Oster. This sentence stopped me cold:
As a child in the nineteen-eighties, Oster said, “we were the only people who ordered groceries from the grocery store.” When young Emily asked her mother, “Why don’t we ever go to the store, like regular people?,” her mother told her, “Because my time is very valuable. I have a high opportunity cost.”
I found this sentence  insufferable amazing. Maybe she didn't like grocery shopping, and maybe the "opportunity cost," whatever that is, was indeed too high. Okay. Different strokes and all that.

But if you're taking care of little kids, a trip to the grocery store can be an outing (if you are home with your kids).

And when the kids are grown and you are writing, a trip to the grocery store can be, yes, an outing.

Think of it this way: you're looking at a world in basically two dimensions all day when you're writing. Screen, meet eyes. Eyes, meet screen. Even reading books feels somewhat two-dimensional because it's all transactional: you search for what you want and hope you find it, with the aid of post-its and notes. It's black and white, or sepia and white, if you're dealing with old materials.

Then you go to the grocery store and things are in three dimensions. They have shapes. They have color. You make choices. You shift your brain to the sensory realm of cooking and eating. Your planning changes focus. You see people who are moving around instead of in a photograph.

Figure 2. I want to go to there.
Okay, it's not a walk around Walden Pond or even a lovely morning walk, but a trip to the store feels like a reward at the end of the day, especially when your eyes are watering and smarting from work.

Cleaning the house and doing laundry are somewhat the same, except that they don't get you out of the house.  When you're stuck on a piece of writing and you take a break to load the dishwasher or fold clothes, your brain is still working, but your focus has shifted. (Spouse is in a writing-heavy profession and does the same thing with housework as a break.)

So while maybe I have a high enough "opportunity cost" to order groceries and hire out some household tasks, the cost in terms of getting a break from work wouldn't be worth it to me.

On the other hand, it'd be nice to have the extra time. What about you? Do you hire this stuff out?

Sunday, June 09, 2019

#thanksfortyping, writing, and invisible labor

Anand Giridharadas's takedown NYT review of Jared Diamond's latest book points out, to devastating effect, the book's essential truthiness rather than truth. To judge from the review, his method is apparently "ask a few friends I know in other countries what's going on and then write about it." He's definitely guilty (again, according to the review) of "Theme spotting. Enough said" in making conclusions and sweeping generalizations from a limited pool of evidence.

But what caught my eye was this:
Diamond is proud to be from another time. He tells us his manuscripts are typed by someone else, he relies on his wife and secretary to use a computer, and he clings to the belief that video games are “solitary,” even if massively multiplayer online games are where a growing number of Americans go to be social. He also thinks phones are ruining America because people check them every four minutes.
A few random thoughts:
  •  I get that he might not know about video games and e-sports (he's 80-something), but a lot of people don't know much more than they read in popular media about them (raises hand). The thing is, most of us (raises hand again) don't opine about something about which we know nothing.
  • Do you suppose that if there weren't a "typed by wife and secretary" power dynamic going on here that someone would have called him out on the factual errors? 
  • Or is he like Wendell Berry, who is too pure to use a computer and sees no need when he can have Wife type his work? I asked about this and "academic handmaidens" a few years ago, and it seems to be still A Thing.
  • Anecdata and a true story: I knew a professional man who refused to deal with the Internet because it involved typing, and "typing is for secretaries." This was years ago, but last I heard, he still believed this. He's missing a lot, but at least no one's going to mistake him for a "secretary."
Remember #thanksfortyping back in 2017? People were combing through acknowledgments pages for all the "thanks to my wife for typing" notices and finding that, oh, by the way, the "typing" often involved researching, translating, transcribing, indexing, editing, etc. etc., not to mention the work of women in history such as Sofia Tolstoy. It was an attempt to make visible the invisible labor that supports writing, often by women in the service of men.

I'm wondering, though, if there's a different dynamic that we haven't seen, possibly a healthier one, in which academic partners help each other out with this invisible labor.

A few questions:
  1. Have you ever typed something (or worked on data, or transcribed, or edited) for a partner?
  2. Has he/she/they ever typed something (or worked on data, or transcribed, or edited) for you? 
  3. Is your partner in the same field? 
 My answers would be (1) maybe--don't remember; (2) yes; (3) no.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Random bullets of writing inspiration

Let's have some writing inspiration, shall we?

1. First, Dame Eleanor's good post on getting started again, with these words:
The only way I’ve ever found to deal with it is Virginia Valian’s: make the task smaller. As small as you need to. Ten minutes. Five. And be kind to yourself, because the piece of work is not really the problem. It’s all the emotions that have got tangled up with that piece of work.
2. Next, this piece from Laura Moss, editor of Canadian Literature, on how to get your article published: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2019/05/15/how-increase-your-chances-getting-your-work-published-scholarly-journal-opinion

This essay had a lot of good advice, although the single most cryptic piece of advice was this:
No. 16. Avoid theme spotting. Enough said.
Apparently a lot of readers besides me thought "theme spotting? huh? what's that?" so Moss explained in the comments:
Theme spotting is when you read with a predetermined outcome in mind and then lo and behold you find it is true. In English, this is when you say, the theme of X is prevalent in this novel and then spend the whole essay proving how it is prevalent. In other disciplines, I suspect a similar form of targeted blinkered argumentation must occur. Basically, my point is to not forget the 'so what' part. The theme might be there but why should we care. Theme spotting stops at the theme. Hope this clarifies.
 3. Here's an article about David Milch, who wrote and created or co-created (read the article if you want to sort it out) Hill Street Blues and Deadwood, among other iconic shows:
Five days a week, Milch commutes twenty-five yards along an arbor-shaded path that extends from the back of his house to a converted garage, where he writes until it’s time to break for lunch. Before he developed Alzheimer’s, he rose most days by 4:30 a.m., ready to work. He now shows up in the garage at nine-thirty or ten.
 4. At IHE, Susan D. Blum tells us how she rents a place for a week to recharge her writing, and it's worth reading. Her issue is distractions, and the retreat works great for her. Mine isn't distractions but avoidance, so I'm not sure it would work as well for me, but it's definitely writing inspiration.

Reading all these helped me to clarify the steps I have to take.

1. On one piece of writing where I know that every sentence will be torn apart by the editors to make changes that are distinctions without a difference (which contributes to the Fear that Dame Eleanor talks about): I refused to go to bed last night until I had written at least something on it. I wrote about 50 words, but that's 50 words more than I've done on it in any day in recent memory. Also, I'll try deep breathing once it's submitted and I get it back.

2. On another piece of writing, an ancient revise & resubmit that might or might not get accepted after making substantial changes: I need to reread it and figure out if it's worth revising or if I should send it somewhere else.

3. On a third piece of writing, which I got stuck on and became stale: time to revisit it.

4. On two pieces where the editors approached me and solicited the article: get on with it!











Friday, May 24, 2019

Schadenfreude or woman-hating? Naomi Wolf and the big mistake

First, I already know this: #notallwomen

But Selina Meyer, the hilariously foul-mouthed VPOTUS on VEEP, had this to say when her staff tried to get her to say what she thought "as a woman":

“No, no, no, I can’t identify as a woman! People can’t know that. Men hate that. And women who hate women hate that, which, I believe, is most women.”

You watch VEEP and you like to think that she's kidding.

And then Naomi Wolf, who goes by @DrNaomiWolf on Twitter, makes a gaffe, and you see what happens.

Now, I hold no brief for Naomi Wolf, whom I've never read or even read about except for seeing her name. I probably should, but I don't. Sue me.

Anyway, today she made a mistake.

A big mistake: https://twitter.com/naomirwolf/status/1131539758486827015

Short version: in an interview with the BBC to promote her new book, which argues that the number of gay men executed for homosexuality was undercounted in the 19th century, the interviewer, Matthew Sweet, called attention to her misunderstanding of a term:
When she went on BBC radio on Thursday, Wolf, the author of Vagina and the forthcoming Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, probably expected to discuss the historical revelations she’d uncovered her book. But during the interview, broadcaster Matthew Sweet read to Wolf the definition of “death recorded,” a 19th-century English legal term. “Death recorded” means that a convict was pardoned for his crimes rather than given the death sentence.

Oops. But the discussion that I saw unfolding on Twitter was gracious, with Wolf acknowledging her mistake and Sweet being gracious in return.  

It was altogether a model of how to behave. Yes, bad scholarship needs to be corrected. Yes, we need standards. I agree.

And then Caitlin Flanagan got into it to pile on the hate.   https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1132005856495702021.html

I used to read Flanagan in The Atlantic, so I wasn't exactly surprised, but somehow this ad hominem attack confirmed that she had drunk the Internet hatred Kool-aid.

You get used to attacks, from the ridiculous faked video of Nancy Pelosi that right-wingers created and that Facebook won't take down, to the "likability" test that has people, chin in hand saying, "Hmm, that Elizabeth Warren. Did you know that she wants to make money? You just can't trust a woman like that."

Maybe Wolf deserves to be dragged in this way for reasons beyond bad scholarship. Don't know. Can't say.

My point is this, though: Could we please stop proving that VEEP is as accurate with its bleakly hilarious view of who hates women (everyone) as it is about how the political system works?

Updated to add: Just read this about Naomi Wolf's career of truthiness and, okay, I get it now. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Chronicle Forums feature going away

First question: Did you know that The Chronicle's Forums feature was going away? It is.

https://www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,264325.0.html
The Chronicle is moving to a new set of technologies to power Chronicle.com. While there are many upsides to that change, one downside will be the loss of support for our forums. The software that powers these forums is about a decade old, and we won’t be able to continue them after we upgrade to our new technologies. Those changes are scheduled to take effect in the fall of this year."
Second question: Do you care that the Forums feature is going away?

I kind of do, actually.

The Forums had some good advice, especially on jobs and teaching. I never posted there, but I did read them sporadically over the course of many years and even got to recognize the personas of the various commenters there. Yes, they were a clique, and they could be less-than-welcoming to newcomers, but they did have information.

The comments had been going down in number and relevance over the past year or two, probably because of some shakeup that only the regular readers were privy to and possibly because they'd already answered the questions that people had x1000. How many times can you tell people "Apply for the Damn Job (AFTDJ)" or tell them that search committees take forever to reach decisions? It was valuable, though.

Occasionally they'd refer newbies to the search feature, which was so beyond terrible that I referred to it here one time as a Ouija Board rather than a search feature. Tell the truth: have you ever been able to find Ms. Mentor on the site except by accident?

The Chronicle's move is probably part of the broader trend toward getting rid of comments; IMDB did it, remember, and so have most newspapers. On sites with comments, the Internet is like a Mr. Hyde Kool-Aid that people drink to release their vicious, base, and uncaring selves. You can supply your own examples without too much trouble.

Every place now wants to move the discussions to Facebook, the better to enrich Mark Zuckerberg and track our data for our overlords. But not everyone is on Facebook, and if we are, we know we probably shouldn't be.

(Side note: Facebook is the Diet Coke of the Internet. We know it's bad for us--heck, a guy at Costco the other day said "that stuff is terrible for you!" as I loaded a case into the cart--but we can't quit it entirely.)

Anyway. As each online space rises and gets destroyed in its turn (and I am an Old who remembers Usenet), there are two constants:

1. There's an airline-like consolidation that herds us into fewer and fewer spaces where we can be more intensively scrutinized and monetized.

2. There are fewer and fewer places to be multiple people--that is, playful and irreverent in one place and a Serious Professional in another.








Saturday, May 11, 2019

Off-topic: a PSA about dementia in the elderly

My mind isn't on writing right now; it's about dealing with the last of the family members with dementia (the other three are now gone).
  • Fun fact #1: you can beg, wheedle, and cajole the elderly person about signing a power of attorney (PoA) or living will or doing advance planning to help them with financial matters and decisions over the course of a decade, but if they get stubborn (they will) and furious (they will), they will flat out refuse. You will hear "I'm in charge of my own money and still pay every bill on time and always will and my mind is as sharp as ever." It isn't, but at this point they will not sign and there's nothing you can do about it.
  • Fun fact #2: there's a stage of dementia when the person is still competent to sign a PoA but suspicious, stubborn, and paranoid, so good luck with #1. After that stage, of course, the person becomes more agreeable but isn't competent to sign a PoA.
  • Fun fact #3: you'll see a stream of nurses, doctors, and medical assistants who will ask the person things like "Do you still drive?" "Of course!" "Still do your own cooking?" "Of course!" and you'll know that none of this is in any way true. 
  • Fun fact #4: if nurses and social workers have said that the only safe place for the person with dementia is assisted living and a drama-loving family member has filled the elderly person's mind with Dickensian visions of it as The Home where residents are fed gruel, how likely is it that the elderly person will agree to consider such a step? And the elderly person ("sharp as a tack!") has total control over their finances, so good luck with that.
  • Fun fact #5: If the elderly person has moved over a thousand miles away from every member of their family, can you guess where your airline miles and family bank account are going to be spent during repeated crises?
  • Fun fact #6: You will feel like James Bond as you strategically disable things like the car and the stove in ways that the elderly person will not notice (you hope). 
TL;dr #1: It takes all the brainpower, cleaning power, and energy of one fully capable adult human being every day to keep a person with dementia going--all the doctor visits, phone calls, medications, and hours of conversations, not to mention keeping the elderly person from smoking near the oxygen apparatus that keeps them alive.

TL;dr #2 There is a miraculous pillminder  that locks and dispenses the right medication at the right time, because the person with dementia will otherwise spend hours rearranging medications that could kill them if they take too many. If the meds are in an openable pillbox, they will snap at you ("I know what I'm doing!") if you protest the rearrangement. The miraculous pillminder takes away all the arguments.

Anyway. I do love this person but had to express a little of what's been going on. I will probably *poof* this because it's not on topic. Sorry to be so gloomy, but thanks for reading!