Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy (Belated) Blogiversary

I realize that I am responsible for this, but I missed celebrating October 19, my blogiversary, because I have been running around so much this month I have had virtually no time to wash my clothes, much less celebrate a year in the blogosphere. Anyway, I'm not much for commemoration days: I can barely remember my own birthday, and I have to copy the birthdays of others from calendar to calendar every January 1 to avoid being exposed for the narcissist I am and the one I hope to become. My sister remembers things like the day our father died, which is either July 17 or July 19, but I can't tell you (or her) which so I try to go on vacation somewhere like Block Island or Costa Rica (where I can claim the cell signal does not reach me) for the days in question, plus a few days on each side.

My father would understand. He never remembered these things either, without my mother reminding him.

Anyway, to celebrate my blogiversary, I am adding links. To wit:

Mixed Race America, aka Jennifer, who I met (in a virtual sense) because she too was mugged by the People With Balls and Sticks, and I loaned her my virtual attorney for a day to help her wash those men right out of her hair. This is the kind of writing that we should all be doing about race, but she really does it. Jennifer is "A 30-something professor of contemporary American literature and Asian American literature interested in issues of social justice and specifically how to create spaces to talk comfortably about race."

Chapati Mystery. This is a group blog, with a main cast of three scholars of South Asian descent, and a shifting crowd of guest bloggers. As they describe the blog: "The topics could be: specific happenings in the indian and pakistani cosmologies, american foreign and domestic policies, cricket, techno-geek instruments, islam, middle east, the academic world, history, anthropology, the fine art of reading NYT book reviews so you don’t have to read the actual books, the quest for the perfect Apple G5 laptop, grinding out a dissertation, buying a house, looking for a job, urdu literature." What's not to like, I ask you?

Sex Ed in Higher Ed. This blogger refers to herself as Teacher Lady, and introduces herself in the following way: "I saved a dog and lost my mind. I quit my job to make the world a better place and am quite certain I'm failing miserably. I got married, didn't take my husband's last name, am joyfully child-free and people seem to think this gives them license to ask me personal questions like, 'Do you hate Jesus? Is that why you don't have children?' I'm quite certain it's only a matter of time before I'm accused of witchcraft and cannibalism." Does she know how queer she is? My guess is yes. No one this funny could not know she is queer.

So a belated happy blogiversary to me, and thanks to all of you for all the fun. I can hardly believe it is year two.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Conversations With My Spam File

When you have several different email accounts, you get different kinds of invasive email -- otherwise known on the Mac as Junk, and on most commercial email servers as Spam. I have also noticed, since returning from the Sunshine State, where I did a whirlwind four day tour of relatives, that several of my posts have been hit by something I am told is a Spambot -- something that trolls around looking for blogs to invade, and that leaves ambiguous posts that must be intended to entice people to click on the fake blog identity and give up their IP addresses. The spambot's comments say things like "Wonderful post!" and "Great blog!" Little do they know that on an academic blog, this gives them away immediately -- what academic do you know who can confine hirself to 3 words or less in a blog comment? Huh?

But the spam also differs from account to account. What I have noticed is that on my Zenith account, spam normally advertises fake journals. The other thing it notifies me about are international conferences, that are usually being held in Zagreb or Targovishte, conferences that I am being specially invited to attend for an immediate deposit of only a few hundred dollars (credit cards only, please. Or better yet, a money order!) On my Earthlink account, it is brand-name medications that are being offered by these kind strangers: Viagra, Xanax (Yeah, baby!), Ambien, Cialis. Little do these spammers know that right now, having just gotten off a plane (where I sat next to a woman in pink who sneezed a lot) and having just spent a lovely long weekend with several sick or recovering people (which included an otherwise darling three year old who had light green snot flying out of his nose periodically) what I would really like is a flu shot and some prophylactic erythromycin. And three more days to get ready to teach next week.

But it is on my Gmail account, possibly because of the sexual resonance of "gmail" (g-spot, g-string, gee whiz), that the spammers address me up front about what really troubles me. Hence, the following conversation, drawn from the subject lines of spam received in the last five days on Tenured Radical's account, and responded to in reverse order of its arrival.

Spammer: "Your new sexual world is waiting for it's leader."
TR (jolted from normal, slightly out of it state): "Huh?"
Spammer: "How's tricks? Come on, Tenured Radical, you need to beef up your cock a little."
TR: "Uh -- okaaaaaaaaaaay....But what will that do for global warming?"
Spammer: "Darling Tenured Radical, men everywhere are enlarging their dicks, so why don't you?"
TR (who loves to be called darling): "I dunno. Maybe because...I'm not a man?"
Spammer: "But now it's a snap with MegaDick!"
TR: "Well, if you say so. What's the advantage, though? As a lesbian, I've never been quite clear."
Spammer: "Tenured Radical, you can sweep her off her feet when you flop out your super dick!"
TR: "Huh. See, I always worried that a super dick would have the opposite effect - that she would run in horror. And I worry that larger dicks actually contribute to global warming because of the increased friction."
Spammer: "Hello hello, Tenured Radical, let's talk about the size of your cock. Small, ain't it?"
TR: "Which one? I mean -- hold on just a minute here, buster. What the hell business is it of yours, anyway?"
Spammer (with patience: clearly wants to begin all over again): "Sir Tenured Radical, be the center of attention among all the girls. Enlarge your cock."

Well, if they call me sir, that's another thing entirely, I guess. And like other academics, I love to be the center of attention.

OK. I'm all ears.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Take Me To The River

Those of you who really know the Radical also know that I am a Rower. As a Dedicated Rower, my fall was spent preparing to row three miles down the Charles River, in Boston, in a double. I expected to do ok: my partner and I had won a couple races, and done moderately well in another.

Well, we got our butts nailed to the wall: got charged once by an oncoming boat, another boat failed to clear and then, all on our own and with no help from anyone, we missed three buouys, so at a messy end-of-the-pack we were DFL. Which, if you are a rower, you know means Dead Fucking Last. OK, so it's all about next year, winter training, blah, blah.

We did the Weeks and Eliot bridges to perfection: I hope that's where Regatta Sport took the picture.

(This is a picture of someone else doing the Eliot bridge perfectly.)

And yet there is something to be happy about besides the potential picture of my doubles partner and I doing the Weeks bridge perfectly. Because the Zenith 1V Men -- excuse me, Wesleyan University Men's Varsity Rowing, First Boat --were second in the Collegiate Eights, fewer than five seconds behind Trinity. This, sportsfans, is outstanding. And it could not have happened to a nicer or more hard working bunch of guys.

Which is all the inspiration I need to get my ass down to the boat house tomorrow morning and start to work all over again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday Evening Coming Down; Or, Things I Wish My Students Knew

The blogosphere is full of hilarious/not so hilarious misunderstandings between professors and undergraduates. There is also a lot of grumping and complaining on the part of exasperated faculty, who are forever tossing up their hands and saying "Why can't they just...!" Or, "Don't they understand that....!" or "Do they really think that....?!" It's no wonder they get back at us whenever they can. When I was anonymous (for a hot five minutes, as it turns out), I used to put stories about my students up in blog posts too, usually ones that conveyed my wit and erudition, until I found out that I wasn't actually anonymous, and that I had crushed various spirits around campus (at least so it was reported), which of course I had never intended. Then I had to look inward to plumb the depths of my rage, blah, blah, blah. Thank Goddess for the bottomless psychotherapy benefit.

However, the end of my pseudonymity and the illumination of my soul has resulted in the loss of one source of entertainment for my blog readers. What I am left with for witty scenarios is posting the jokes of a sixth grader I am related to and his little brother; to wit:

Boy: "Why did the blonde have square breasts?"
Me: " I dunno. Why did the blonde have square breasts?"
Boy: "Because she forgot to take the Kleenex out of the box!"
Me: (laughing, because this is so lame and sexist it really is funny.)
Boy: "I made that up!" (grins)
Me: (acting surprised) "No shit?"

[a moment later]

Little Bro (having overheard previous joke): "Why did the girl have Kleenex on her breasts?"
Me: "I dunno. Why did the girl have Kleenex on her breasts?"
Little Bro: "Ummmmmmm......."

Sigh. The antics of students are so much better, however they are now Forbidden because of my Blogging Ethic. But I had two especially nice student interactions today, one straightforward and one mysterious. The straightforward one was that a student, on the pretext of asking how she could make a good paper better, hung around to chat about herself, what she hopes to get from school, and generally how psyched she is to be at Zenith. Second, someone -- I do not know who -- left flowers for me, with a simple note that says "Thank you." I have no idea what this is for or who it is, but I was very touched, all the same. So, knowing that Zenith students lurk on my blog, and that I rarely write directly about my teaching anymore, I was inspired by these events to write the list of seven things that I wish my students knew about the pedagogical relationship.

1. Saying "thank you" means a lot. Half my colleagues don't say thank you. Half the world doesn't say thank you. When you do it, it makes me feel good about knowing you. Even, as in this case, when I don't know who you are.

2. It is good to drop in just to say hi. I really am interested in you, even if you can't imagine why.

3. I have really good friends who are former students. OK, a lot of them are academics, it's true. But in most ways, they are still the same people they were when I first knew them as undergraduates.

4. When you get a bad grade, I don't think you are stupid. Wanna know what I really think? Either: you are a really good student who misjudged how much you had to do to get a good grade from me; or that you are a smart person who needs to learn some things, and therefore, I should teach you; or that you ran out of time; or that you were a little bored; or that you were a little too stoned to write this time.

5. I can't see you on demand, not bcause I don't care about you but because I schedule life way ahead and I am mega-busy. Therefore, when you write me an email to say, "I absolutely must see you tomorrow," and I write back, "Actually, it will be next Wednesday," it isn't because I don't like you, am negligent, inflexible or an asshole. Think of me like your dentist: you wouldn't call and say, "I have a date tonight, and I must get my teeth cleaned this afternoon." Also, I would never come in on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Why? Well, I would hope the Saturday-Sunday thing is obvious, although it isn't always (I suspect these pleas to meet on the weekend come from former boarding school students), but in order to remain a relevant person as a historian and get thoughts out of my brain and onto paper (where they belong), that's when I write. Which Zenith, in part, pays me to do.

6. Just because I am queer does not mean I like queer students best. Although I do like them. But I do this for a living in part because I like the collective you. It is actually quite rare that I don't like a student -- at least, enough for it to really make a difference. In fact, I would say there have been fewer than five students that I disliked so much that I....well, never mind.

7. When I discover what you do with your spare time, I am continually astounded, and sometimes impressed. I won't even elaborate on this. For my blogosphere friends, if you want to know what Zenith students do with their spare time go here. Half the time it cracks me up completely, and half the time I am just, like, whoa.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What???? Someone's Missing

Is Lucyrain gone? Did she even say goodbye? Can anybody fill me in on the details? I read something that worried me on Adjunct Whore, and just clicked on her link to check up on her, and was told the URL did not exist. Was it the tenure bullshit? Hey! Lucy! Where are you???

(Shit. I have never experienced this before.)

Lucy -- if you are out there, please send a message to say you are ok! And if you are blogging somewhere else, find someway to let me know it's you, awright?


The Tenured Radical

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Random Notes on Things Past and Present, Written While the Radical Rests

Don't neglect the post below, which contains everything you need to know about the sexiest convention but the MLA (although at ASA you can actually understand what the panelists are saying most of the time, which is a plus). But since I am on fall break, a puzzling, but welcome innovation in American Higher Education, I do have time to jot down a few little things sooner rather than later.

First of all, I have added some new links: take note. One is Margaret Soltan's University Diaries, and what has taken me so long to add this one, I don't know, except that I am lazy about tending the links column. I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere, except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer, and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?

Then there is the just-discovered Scattered and Random. Every time a historian identifies hirself as working for a SLAC, I think, surely I know this person! And yet, no. So if being a historian is not enough to get this one linked, the commentary on department life that I can no longer write about in the same sarcastic and acerbic ways because I am out of the blogging closet is.

Then there is piggybank blues, who is not an academic at all. I know piggybank, who came out to me via some mutual connections, and who told me s/he began the blog as a way of speaking to people who are outside conventional economic systems and need to know more about how money works. Since graduate students qualify right off the bat as being outside the system, and most academics are shockingly naive about money, I think piggybank would belong here even if the blog were not smart and well-written.

A few other notes: My recent post on applying for jobs has been linked to more academic sites as well as blogs than any post I have ever written. As a result, it is also approaching the number of comments received from those maniac jock sniffers I was dealing with a few months ago around the People with Sticks and Balls and their cult leader (a new article about the cult leader and his schlock troops can be accessed here. Hat Tip.) These comments are very much worth reading for content, as opposed to the comments of the sports cult, which were worth reading only to remind yourself that very strange people lurk on the internet, some of whom aren't real people at all -- or rather, are alter egos of the cult leader himself.

But back to my original point -- one curious aspect of the responses to my post on the job letter is that the piece of advice drawing the most attention is the one about using letterhead, which seemed to me self-evident. But no, it isn't: whether it is ethical to use letterhead in applying for jobs, particularly when you already have a job, is a subject of more controversy than I knew. I address this in the comments section of the post itself, but if someone can explain to me why this, of all the advice I gave, was the most contentious, I would be sincerely interested. You can either put your response in a comment here, or use the email link to write to me privately.

I would like to add another piece of advice that someone I encountered at the ASA, who teaches at an R-I, added, which is this: graduate students need to show their letters to people on the faculty and take their advice. What is the most common problem with job letters, my friend (who has, by the way, from a young age been one of the best professionalized people I know) said, is that graduate students use the letters other graduate students have written as models, thus not only recycling strategic errors of self-presentation, but elaborating on them. Here, I would make the analogy to getting the clap, when in fact you only wanted to make love with a nice person who propositioned you. Just because someone got a job doesn't mean they wrote the perfect letter and -- as the comments on my original post suggest -- there is no such thing as the perfect letter, only letters well-tailored to the job and the institution.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Radically American Studies

I am writing this on the way home from the American Studies Association annual meeting, and am forgoing the Friday and Saturday night parties (not to mention lesbian club-hopping in Philadelphia) in favor of sleeping in my own bed tonight. It will be late when I get home, but worth the late-night travel amongst sketchy people to be home. I have been gone so long that for the first time ever on a trip I actually finished all the reading material I took with me, and watched all the Netflix videos. I also discovered that, despite the fact that Netflix keeps asking me if I want to watch something in my queue “right now,” in fact, you can’t do that with a Mac©. I know, because I finally tried last night, after about six months of piously sticking to my work, when in fact I would have rather been watching Fat Actress (or Fat Anything, for that matter.) This causes me to have a sneaking disdain for Netflix, so in love am I with my Mac©.

Thank God for the book exhibit, that’s all I can say. I was down to my last New Yorker yesterday when I got off the prop plane that flew me out of State U. But for the need to close my eyes and pray I would have finished that too: I only had a couple articles and a movie review left to go, and to my dismay, I got to the Marriott and found out that the conference book exhibit wasn’t going to open until this morning. It was around mid-day, and I realized that if not speaking to another person I was going to have to make do with the contents of my brain or the last episode of Damages on my iPod. I thought I was going to have to break down the door to the Franklin Room and start pawing through the boxes waiting to be unpacked by university press editors, but fortunately I had a lot of blog reading to catch up on, I had a panel to go to, a mother to bum an excellent meal off of, and I wasn’t left to think my own thoughts for more than a minute or two until 10:00 PM, when I could go to bed.

I thought the mania for never being without something to read was my own personal fetish, but today, in front of the Duke University Press booth I ran into an old friend, M, who confessed that she too had run out of reading material last night. She said that the last time this had happened to her was at that hideous AHA meeting in Atlanta, during the blizzard of ninety-whatever, where she was stuck in the conference hotel for days (fortunately they were rescued before they had to begin eating the graduate students). During that same storm, you may recall, I was able to leave Atlanta but not get home, and I wandered the South like a refugee before Sherman’s Fury for four days before hopping a flight to Albany, for God's Sake. Anyway, where was I? Books. My friend and I made a mutual vow to always over pack book-wise in the future, as it causes far too much anxiety and dismay to run out of reading material. One hesitates to carry too many books, since inevitably, despite the best intentions, one buys twenty or thirty pounds of books at a conference, and intentionally shlepping around other heavy volumes that one never gets a chance to read because one is too busy gossiping, drinking and going to parties -- uh, and yeah, going to panels --- seems pathological.

Did I go to panels? Yes, I actually did. I went to a big marquee panel yesterday, where I thought all the participants were wonderfully smart, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what they were all doing on the same stage together. But that could have just been me, since I had been the center of attention for the two previous days, and I probably wasn’t in good listening mode because subconsciously I was thinking, Why aren't they listening to me? Although I did run into D on the way out, and he confessed he had no idea what the panel was about either, and he bolted right behind me. Which was a good thing, since out in the hall a very large posse of queer people had gathered, many of whom are responsible for Social Text 84-85 (bought it, its in my suitcase), and many happy greetings were exchanged.

You know, as you get older, there are some people you only see in hotels, but you like them just as much as you ever did.

I also went to panels today, which were wonderfully smart. I missed the Fat Studies session, which I regret, but if you saw me at your panel, you should pat yourself on the back because it was great. And in the afternoon there was a roundtable on where American Studies is going now that it has made the transhemispheric turn, and in particular whether culture can continue to be a central concept in the era of globalization. The panelists were wonderful, and so was the audience, and it was the best general conversation I have heard in a long time.

As I wandered out of that, I passed a table where the graduate student caucus was collecting $$ to support their reception, and I gave them $20, since I vaguely remember getting an email from them last week asking if the program at Zenith could contribute something, and I was too overwhelmed by the petty details of my existence to do anything about it. So I gave them my own money instead, dumb ass Radical that I am. I did see some of my peers dropping a dollar in the box, and all I have to say about that is, Come on! Winos get a dollar; the graduate student caucus should get at least as much as you would give your administrative assistant to sponsor her in the walk against Breast Cancer.

The only party I went to this evening, very quickly before my train, was held by Potemkin U for grad students, alums and friends of the program, where one faculty member was, unaccountably, eating Chinese takeout from a paper box, although there actually was a lot of food that had been bought and paid for and was sitting on a buffet. The hotel liquor prices were so insanely high that I got a beer, and I never drink beer anymore because – well, never mind. But the beer was almost seven dollars, and I yelped at the bartender. “It’s only money,” he shrugged, snapping the cap off. I rolled over to another faculty member and griped about the drink prices, and she said, “No kidding, you should see what they charged us for the food.” The menu was salad and crudites, and a fair number of people who had nothing to do with Potemkin and who nobody knew were sidling in and filling plates and slipping out the door again. Graduate students, you say? My guess is not, that they were people with actual jobs: my mother always said academics were some of the most habitual freeloaders she had ever met.

I would say the highlight of the meeting was seeing a lot of younger folks, some of who were former Zenith students, some people who had worked at Zenith, all of whom seem to be doing splendidly. One of them was the wonderful Siva, who becomes more fabulous with each passing year. Somehow I had missed it that the Siva family had decamped for the University of Virginia, but we had a nice long chat about the pleasures and perils of the blogosphere, and exchanged compliments.

The sad news is that Roy Rosenzweig, Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of History & New Media at George Mason University, died last night after a not so long but difficult bout with cancer. It seems fitting, of course, that many of us who knew and loved him in the American Studies community were together when we heard the news (Ann Fabian announced it to a packed room before her roundtable began; I started to cry, and a nice older lady next to me pressed some Kleenex into my hand and said gently, “It’s clean.”) I first knew Roy years ago on MARHO, the collective that edits the Radical History Review, and we kept up intermittently over the years. He was one of the kindest historians I have known, and also one of the most flexible, creative and farseeing intellectuals I have had the pleasure to be connected to. Roy made a huge commitment to thinking about the implications of the internet and technology for history and for American Studies before most of the rest of us knew what an Ethernet cable was. He was one of the great innovators in using the web and teaching the rest of us how it could not just improve, but change, our research and teaching. He will be joining that big editorial collective in the sky where Sue Porter Benson, who left us a few years ago, is already cracking them up, but he will be sorely missed from our number here on earth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

All I Want Is A Room Somewhere: the Radical Hits the Road

I flew out of Teeny Airport this morning, this time at a reasonable hour, which you can do if someone else has invited you for a visit and a travel agent is making the arrangements. I changed planes in Connector City and continued on to Mini Airport, which is in the middle of either a midwestern, an eastern or a southern state, depending on how you think of those categories. Or this place. Anyway, it is a super big research university, surrounded by very, very beautiful country. I am here for two days of talking to folks, and then I go on to another city, where I will meet with wads of my scholarly peers at the Annual Meeting. I will also have dinner with the Mother of the Radical (otherwise known as MOtheR, or the Maternal Unit), which I am looking forward to, as we have not had a sitdown since August. A convention is an excellent time for seeing relatives, I have found. It is not such a bad idea to break up the scholarly meeting thing to have dinner with someone entirely unconnected to academic life; and it is not so bad to set boundaries on visits with your relatives by having to return to the scholarly meeting. Otherwise you might just forget and move back in with them.

I could never figure out why, now many years ago, they moved the AHA to January from its formerly terrific date, two days after Christmas. Now it just screws up January break, whereas before it was a great reason to beetle out of the hideous hols. I am told it was the women's caucus who did this, because the professional pressure combined with the family pressure was too great. But this makes no sense. Why wouldn't women want to leave home immediately and get a lovely hotel room all by themselves after that hellish event, otherwise known as "family Christmas?" I think it must have been the patriarchy that was responsible in some way, and as usual, the patriarchy has cleverly put out the disinformation that women are to blame.

But back to the here and now -- there is a football shrine behind my hotel, which pleases me immensely, and is very exotic for those of who are used to Zenith culture and Zenith ways. At Zenith they have shrines to -- like, a Veggie Burger, or something.

Busy as I have been, you would hardly think that I would regard a road trip with great pleasure but, aside from leaving my domestic life behind for a bit too long and the inconvenience of figuring out what clothes I will need as the temperature drops steadily over the next four days, I do regard this trip with pleasure. First of all, it is just a nice break, and it's nice to be invited somewhere. I get to present some work to some people who truly seem to be interested in it, see a friend who is also a former student, and then go on to another hotel where lots of my friends will be milling around, who will have drinks in their hands as the day wears on, and who will solicitously make sure that I get one too. But second of all, there is no better way to get a lot of work done than on planes and trains, and in motel rooms. You bring a finite amount of stuff, and you just slog away at it until its done. As you finish things, you throw the paperwork away. In between giving talks and such, you read novels, catch up on all the magazines that have been coming into your house that you haven't had time for, and watch the Netflix movies that have been sitting on top of the TV for three weeks. You grade stacks of papers, with the TV tuned to ESPN. You catch up on your email. And your blog.

In fact, it has occurred to me that it could really improve my life to find a nice motel in Shoreline, and just check in once in a while. There should be a budget line devoted to this for every department or program chair, and of course now that everyone has wireless internet and cell phones, you wouldn't really even be out of touch or not working. You would just be in -- well, seclusion. Like nuns, or Howard Hughes, or the Wizard of Oz.

New President has asked for New Ideas that we can Raise Money Around, and after I see whether they will agree to making my program a department (or agree to even think about it), I'm going to offer this one up. It's got legs for anyone that is or has been an administrator, don't you think?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Columbus Day in Shoreline: the Radical Ponders Her Past

It wasn't until I first came to Connecticut, back in 1976, that I understood Columbus Day to be a major holiday -- that is, if you put aside its importance as one of several opportunities each year for Clover Day at Strawbridge & Clothier's, which were major holidays to some of our mothers. Columbus Day, or anything else ethnic, just wasn't recognized in Philadelphia's WASP-ier suburbs. However, my freshman year at Oligarch, since I was living in a frosh dorm named after a major Robber Baron that overlooked one of the main downtown streets, I was home one Sunday afternoon in October and heard a marching band. I looked outside and it was a huge parade, the Columbus Day parade. I discovered that a central feature of living in Shoreline, or anywhere else in New England for that matter, is a day where we celebrate the guy who never made it to New England at all, but who more or less stands in for all the other white guys and gals who hit the East Coast from Massachusetts down to the tip of Latin America over the next 150 years.

It wasn't until many years later -- graduate school, to be precise -- that I was introduced to the notion that celebrating the "discovery" of America was a problematic idea. They didn't teach us much about race and the decimation of native peoples in white suburban private schools or at Oligarch -- neither did we learn about colonization, imperialism, class formation, ethnicity, homosexuality or patriarchy. On Thanksgiving, in grade school, we made "Indian Head Dresses" out of colored paper and were even ignorant of the fact that we were imitating the wrong Indians. My school friends and I were vaguely aware that African-American people didn't live in "our neighborhoods;" we did know that African-American people worked in the school kitchen, but we didn't ask why. We knew that Black upper schoolers came out from the city on the train. What it meant to them that they did so we were not sure, and the fact that they did was wholly unconnected in our minds to the TV news stories we saw where people in places like Birmingham and Boston spat on black children going to white schools, or threw rocks at their school busses.

I know this sounds odd to many of you, but frankly I think it is much better to admit these things than pretend I have always been a Radical. I have always been kind of ornery and bad, but that is not the same thing at all. In any case --

My peers and I, we of the suburban white upper middle classes, were much better educated, I think, on other aspects of discrimination that tended not to make the news: for example, anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism. At least those of us in private school were. When my friend Davey Berg and I started the first grade, me in private school, him in public, I was driven home from school because it was a long way, and he walked. More precisely, he ran home from school most days, because a group of older boys specialized in jumping little Jewish kids and beating the snot out of them. When he told me this, I volunteered as a bodyguard, and went out to wait for him halfway between our houses and his school after I got home. I was devoted to Davey Berg, and we had started a nightclub together in his room called the "Blue Moon," or at least it was in the planning stages, so we were business partners too. Needless to say, our parents - who did know about the nightclub, and encouraged us to come up with a more thorough business plan before we opened -- knew nothing about Davey being terrorized by anti-semitic grade schoolers because we didn't tell them. I'm not sure it ever occurred to us that they could, or would, be able to address the problem. Then one day my mother went looking for me and found me standing on a street corner with my Dick Allen baseball bat (acquired at the Phillies' annual bat day), and as she was asking me what the hell was going on?, Davey came ripping around a corrner with a bunch of fourth graders hot on his tail yelling, "Dirty Yid!" After that, Davey got driven home from school too.

The following year we moved to a suburb where I could walk to school and Jewish people, when they asked to look at a house with a For Sale sign, were told that it had, unfortunately, just been sold, and had they considered Bala Cynwyd? And do I need to even say we had no Black neighbors? Black people lived in south Ardmore and Overbrook, in neighborhoods that were probably redlined.

If race prejudice was the theme of the sixties, it wasn't something I connected fully to my own life until later. Anti-semitism was like social wallpaper where I grew up, and my parents -- being outsiders to the whole Eastern white establishment thing -- recognized it only sporadically when some event brought it to their attention and a friend of theirs was getting screwed. Clearly it never occurred to them that they should not buy a house in a segregated neighborhood, for example. They neither tolerated discrimination against Jews, nor did they discuss these events with us in any principled way. I remember my mother telling my father about ripping a room full of women a new one when an organization we belonged to as a family appeared to be ready to "black ball" as it was called then, a prominent local Jewish family -- who were, by the standards of the time, also really wealthy. I also remember people telling my parents we should join the local country club, where a lot of my friends took tennis and squash lessons, and my mother explaining to us kids that we weren't going to join because "lots of Mommy and Daddy's friends aren't welcome there." I remember the huge stink when the president of one class of seventh graders was not invited to join "the" dancing school everyone else was invited to -- because she was Jewish -- and when confronted by other parents, the flustered committee explained that "they hadn't thought she would be comfortable there." I remember overhearing the mother of one of my sister's friends whispering to another about "how Jewish" her class was, and what a shame it was that the school needed parents "who could pay -- no matter who they are, apparently."

And while the anti-Catholic stuff was perhaps not as awful or pervasive, it was pretty bad all the same. One year there was a big brouhaha because the leading girls' Catholic school had announced that, as it was harder and harder to recruit nuns to teaching orders -- or any orders for that matter -- that they were going to aggressively recruit "lay" teachers. Once the nuns were gone, many of those parents yanked their kids (nuns are such a draw!), and sent them to my school. We got a group of new students so large they had to split the fifth grade in half, something that was unheard of. You would have thought the Pope had landed on the Upper School hockey field: this, some parents said, would "change everything." One mother sniffed that she would be shocked if her daughter could hear the teacher, what with the "clatter of beads clicking." And of course, there was the local Catholic Church which, because of its proximity to public transportation, was known by all of us Presbyterians and Episcopalians as "Our Lady of the Railroad Tracks."

So today, when I heard the marching bands, I grabbed Breezy the Dog and headed out to look at the parade. I thought about race, and prejudice, and how Italians have been as despised as any other ethnic group until quite recently. Any Italian-American college graduate of about my age in Shoreline can tell you how college counselors steered them into commmunitiy college or religious schools, while Anglo kids were groomed for Oligarch, Zenith and the like. So this parade, named as it is for the leading symbol of genocide (although only the first perpetrator) is not simply a celebration of colonization -- although it cannot evade being that -- it's also a celebration of Italian-American community, and achievement against tough odds. In our park, there is a big, romantic statue of Columbus, as there is in every Connecticut town, erected by the Sons of Italy. Currently, it is decorated with wreaths donated by every big organization in Shoreline, including Oligarch, which probably had quotas on Italians just like they did on Jews until the last twenty-five years or so. There was a big reviewing stand, where our Congressional Representative, an Italian-American woman, was standing with every other politican who represents our neighborhood except for our war-mongering senator. Most of them are Italian-American; only one, our ward representative, is Black.

And as I watched the parade, I thought about how wrong it is to celebrate the event that got the whole thing rolling: Native American genocide, slavery, racial violence and exclusion, formal and informal colonization. The whole ball of wax. And then Breezy and I got into the Spirit of Parade. She barked at the police horses, I cheered for everyone who walked by -- the girl scouts, the fire department, the Senior Citizens Fife and Drum Corps. All of these groups (with the exception of the Senior Citizens Fife and Drum, I am sorry to say) were very representative of our diverse city here in Shoreline. Breezy's blind friend Skippy, an Italian greyhound, showed up in an orange, white and green scarf, and got her picture snapped by the local paper.

And I am reminded that a cultural event that is an insult to one group of Americans is a way of establishing a claim to history for others, and that Italian-Americans are not celebrating the discovery of America at all. They are celebrating themselves, and their own tenacity against discrimination. And it is probably those of us who are standing on the sidelines watching that have all the explaining to do.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

These Things I Know: Applying for Tenure-Track Jobs

I was on the job market surprisingly few years, given how many jobs there were (not) in the early 1980s: I participated in the academic version of American Idol for three years, to be exact, during all of which I was fully employed -- except for the first year when I was on unemployment, which was like being employed but without the job. And although I did not get a "real job" right away, I had surprisingly good luck getting interviewed. At the time, I thought it was because I wrote great letters of application, but now I think I got interviewed because I had a dissertation that folks were intrigued by, and the only way they could get to see the whole thing was by interviewing me. It wasn't the best dissertation circulating in those years, but it was one of the most unusual. Since I had very eclectic training as a scholar -- my graduate education closely resembled being raised by clever wolves who found me naked under a fern -- what I substituted for elegant structure and classic research methods was pizzazz. Other people had well-crafted chapters: I had a dissertation with vicious gun battles, an Assistant Attorney General who was probably a lesbian, gun molls, "Ma" Barker and an FBI Director who was one of the most famous closet cases in American History. How could you not interview me? Really.

Anyway, the first year I applied for three jobs and was a finalist for one; the second year I applied for four jobs, was a finalist for two, and got a terrific visiting gig; and the third year I applied for four jobs, was a finalist for three, and accepted the job at Zenith while the two other schools were still waiting to find out if their #1 (the same person in each case, and who had also been in the mix at Zenith) would say yes. The person, in the end, said yes to another school entirely. So it goes. And here I am at Zenith 16 years later.

So what I know about applying for jobs really draws, not on my own success (which I still regard as inexplicable), but on my experience reading applications. For all of you sending out those precious packages, here are eight things I know for sure about the job letter:

Don't waste your time applying for jobs where your field is ruled out from the get-go. I know it feels like it should improve your chances of getting a job to get more applications out, but if your work does not suit the ad, don't have fantasies that the search committee will change its mind on a whim about the field they want to hire in. Furthermore, if the ad says "historian of women," you don't necessarily qualify because there is a woman or two in your dissertation. It isn't a lottery; it only seems like one. The Shirley Jackson kind.

Put the proper salutation on each letter, and change the text to reflect what school you are actually applying to. I have gotten letters at Zenith that assure me that the candidate wants nothing more in life than to teach at Swarthmore; I have been addressed as "Dear Professor Fillintheblank;" once I was the administrator on a search at Eugene Lang College in New York where more than one applicant addressed the letter to "Dear Dean Lang" and another to "Dear Professor Lang." You are not necessarily out of the running if you slip up on this, but it does make you the object of loud mockery for a brief time.

If the ad says the committee will be interviewing at a convention, say whether or not you will be at the convention. If you can't be at the convention, or are not sure, reassure them that you would be happy to be available for a phone interview or -- if you live nearby -- that you could meet with the committee on its own turf.

Be as clear as possible when you describe your dissertation, using as little jargon as you can.Words like imbrication may still be new to you, but they aren't new to us, and they may even alienate that pissy member of the committee who has a bone to pick with post-structural thought. Don't exaggerate the uniqueness of your work. Finally, resist telling us that your work emphasizes the ways that race, class and gender intersect. We're glad to hear it, of course, but find a way to make that point in a narrative that actually shows how your work demonstrates the methodological relevance of this thought.

Do your homework about the department. Is there something you do that they need? For example, although your dissertation is not in the field of Western history, did you TA for a western historian, and could you offer a seminar in that field? Imagine that you could, and write about it. Conversely, if you have choices about how to sell yourself (for example, if the ad is broadly written as "Twentieth Century United States") and your research implicates several fields, don't, for God's sake, sell yourself as a women's historian if there are already three in the department. Instead, sell yourself as a political/cultural/intellectual historian, so that you don't get ruled out because "we have too many of those." Furthermore, if it is clear you really can do women's history, you become a "stealth hire": i.e., someone who can be sold to a broad audience of colleagues whose preferences are -- shall we say -- conventional; but who the women's historians will want to interview in the hopes that you are "one of us."

You don't need to sell yourself as a teacher in the letter. This is what the interview is for. I know, I know -- the latest thing is the "teaching portfolio," and you may indeed have to do this time-consuming task, but the point of the job letter is to sell yourself as a scholar. The only thing most of us want to know is that you are smart. And we want to know how smart, not how interactive your classroom is, or how well you use Power Point. A single paragraph describing the courses you have taught and will teach is sufficient. Do avoid overly sincere phrases like: "I believe in the Socratic method;" "I am student-centered;" and "My pedagogical epistemology centers class discussion."

Do make it clear in the opening paragraph of the letter what job you are applying for. Do not imagine that this is the only search going on in the department, even if it is the only search for you. A committee chair, or worse, the very busy department or program chair, or even worse, the departmental secretary, should not have to guess which search your application should be filed under. Even though you may think it is obvious, it isn't always, particularly if you are applying to an interdisciplinary program or a large department with several subfields.

Oh yes -- and for god's sake, use letterhead. Your department letterhead, the letterhead from the school where you are teaching a course for $2300 -- whatever letterhead you can get your mitts on. A job application on blank paper, in a blank envelope, can't help but remind its recipient of a chain letter or some other degraded piece of mail. And do not send anything by email unless invited to do so: this is incredibly lazy and annoying, and invites someone to screw up your file by not printing things out properly. While first impressions are by no means decisive, you do not want to convey that you are a confidence man from Nigeria, or that you are desperate.

Even if you are. Desperate, I mean.

Good luck.