Monday, March 23, 2015


It's sleeting out. Dark gray skies, wet gray roads, the drum of ice on the roof.

I'm very happy to be home and alone this morning! Even if I do need to go read some Kristeva.

Happy Monday, everyone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I'm in the process of trying to take about 75 pages of written material and condense it down to roughly 20. (Twenty-two, if I'm really bold.)

And, of course, I find that there are things that I'll need to add.

I'm at about 30. The first 15 are okay, but the second 15 are a total mess--a 38-page-chapter that I've just hacked at until it's shorter, eliminating all of the obvious stuff. It's a disaster. I think that I need to print it again. (Or is that stalling? Doesn't matter; I'll do it. Double-sided. Sorry, trees.)

So condensing sort of sucks, because it's so hard to know what's really important, sometimes. And then, you take a bunch of stuff away, and what's left seems more or less fine on its what was with the many many pages of apparently superfluous writing that's now gone? Should I get rid of it in all versions and drafts? (Answer, for now: NO. I can't face it. And I'm not convinced that my cuts are ultimately for the good. Also, surely there was a reason that I wrote all that other stuff?)

But it's a salutary exercise, too, one that I would consider adopting for the junior-level composition class. I'm forced to figure out what it is that I'm actually saying. On the macro level, this means that I'm cutting to the chase much more quickly (and also, of course, eliminating side arguments and some of the texture of the main argument--which is one reason that I'm not jettisoning anything that I'm cutting for this version). On the micro level, I'm streamlining my prose. How many "sort of"s and "it would seem that"s can I pack into 12,00 words? TOO MANY, that's how.

Back to it. I've got 10 pages to chop. (Twelve, really, because there are still a few paragraphs to be written....)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So what's up, then?


I've been living in a degree of suspense, about which I cannot blog. The suspense is partly alleviated--which is to say that it continues. But, since I can't talk about it, I'll change the subject.

I'm writing on sabbatical, of course. A lot. And it...goes. I'm a process writer, I've decided, which means that I write a lot of garbage really quickly, then eventually figure out what I want to say, and revise heavily for a long time. I'm in the stage of having a lot of garbage. It is, at times, discouraging, but I think that there's a second book buried in there somewhere.

I'm knitting a second pair of convertible mittens/gloves ("glittens," a name I just can't get behind), this one for a Christmas present. Yes! I'm knitting a Christmas present in March! Because I need to knit something, and all I have is left-over yarn bits!

I try to practice the cello daily, but probably manage about 3/5 days. Hey, it's better than I did the last time I played the cello (which was in the early '90s).

I've taken up running, in a very small way--like 2 miles at a time, usually twice a week. If I really get my act together, I might do a 4-mile charity "race" in June, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Consider this a placeholder post, so that my pledge of a revival doesn't fall entirely by the wayside....

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Revival?

So I'm thinking of awakening this blog from its long slumber.

Maybe even--gasp!--retooling the way it looks. I haven't redesigned the blog since 2008, I think. (To be honest, I read almost all of my blogs on The Old Reader, so I don't know what anyone else's blog looks like anymore.)


Not sure. Somehow, reading about New Kid's transition to The Desert Knitter got me thinking about how it would be fun to have a blog that reflects more of the sides of my life: academia, sure, but also knitting, and gardening, and yoga (to the extent that I have a semi-regular practice), and the cello lessons that I'm taking for the first time in 22 years (have I mentioned that I'm on sabbatical?), and raising a mostly sweet and silly little boy (3 in June!).

I don't know--I can't guarantee that I'll stay with it.

But let's give it a shot, shall we?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Searches from the other side

That title sounds a lot more woo-woo than I meant it to. What I'm talking about is pretty pedestrian: the job search--from the committee's perspective.

I've been on search committees before, and this is in fact the second search that I've chaired. What makes this one different is that it's on the big-conference timeline and it's for a field that closely parallels my field in terms of the number and quality of applicants. I won't say what discipline we're searching for, but it's a tenure-track humanities position in a field saturated with high-quality Ph.D.s.

For a 4/4 low-endowment rural SLAC position, we received a staggering 139 applications. Of those applications, probably...well, let's be generous and say that 25 were eliminated immediately for not being in the right field (in English terms, think comp/rhet when we're hiring for literature).

That leaves 114. Of those, easily...80? 90? were perfectly fine. Good degrees, interesting-seeming research (this one is harder for me to judge, since it's not my field), solid teaching, strong recs.

We winnowed them down to 8 for phone interviews. That's 5.75% of the initial pool.

How did we get there?

Good question.

This search, more than any other I've participated in, brought home to me the issue of fit and the sheer injustice (no news here) of the hiring process. As I annotated my list of candidates, I found myself writing "Seems strong," "Seems solid," "Worth a second look" far too many times. Gradually, these changed to, "Seems strong but nothing stands out"--and that was that.

So--what stood out? Because we couldn't interview everyone with a good degree, solid research, and strong teaching; that would mean 80-odd interviews. The problem is that what stood out were things that weren't in the job description because they couldn't possibly have been in the job description.

For example:
  1. Candidate A has some experience teaching in Z, and we have a part-timer in Z who might be retiring soon (and no budget to rehire).
  2. Candidate B has some study-abroad administrative experience that would dovetail nicely with our program in Y.
  3. Candidate C's service-learning experience would fit really well in this particular community.
  4. Candidate D's research interests are close enough to those of a few of my colleagues to spark some interesting team-teaching possibilities, but not so close that they would duplicate our department's strengths.
  5. Candidate E has high school teaching experience that might enable him/her to collaborate on developing a new secondary certification program at Field.
And so on.

Fortuity starts to play a role. It's not the case that each of our finalists has some specific strength like this, but these were the kinds of things that started leading me (and the rest of the committee) to single out particular applications over the others. And you--the applicant--just can't prepare for that.

What you can do, though, is highlight interesting bits of your professional life that might cause your application to stand out, too. Conducted workshops for first-generation students? Mention that in your cover letter. Don't dwell on it, in case it's not relevant, but mention it. Organized or taught on a study-abroad trip? Mention it. Engaged in service-learning? team-teaching? curriculum design? Mention it.

There is one other concrete thing that I can mention, too. If you're applying for a job at a SLAC, somehow demonstrate that you're specifically interested in SLACs. Maybe this doesn't matter much if you're applying to the really top-tier elite schools (who wouldn't want a job at Swarthmore?), but, at least at a school like mine, a research-heavy cover letter that doesn't even mention the appeal of a liberal arts college pretty much gets you kicked to the curb--simply because there are too many applicants and we have to narrow the pool somehow.

Also: If you have a tenure-track (or tenured!) position and are applying out, EXPLAIN WHY. Give some explanation of the move, ideally one that makes you look good. Simply avoiding the topic in your cover letter counts as one big red flag.

Good luck, everyone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A good start

So I didn't mention this, but I won a (actually, the) big Field College teaching award at Commencement last year. The payoff is a bit of money for me, half-a-bit of money for my division, and I get/have to deliver the next opening convocation address--which happened yesterday.

I was nervous. It's always funny to me when I'm nervous about public speaking, now; it only happens when I switch genres--that is, when I do something other than teach a class or deliver an academic paper at a conference. In my surveys, for example, I require my students to memorize and recite a poem, and last year I started doing it, too--and when I go up to recite, I notice that I'm shaking. Recall that I'm reciting in front of students that I teach 2-3 times a week with no anxiety whatsoever. It's funny. (I was painfully shy about public speaking until about my late twenties, when I downgraded to really quite anxious; picking up a 4-4 load at 31 got me over most of my fears by 33. Now, at 38, I don't always know when to shut up.)

So I was nervous. This was by far the biggest crowd I can ever realistically hope to address, unless I'm called upon to give a plenary at Kalamazoo (which, let's note, can't even qualify as a remote possibility). All 168 first-year students, all new transfers, all faculty, the 60-student chorale, parents, visitors, any returning students who took the "Required!" memo seriously, all of the administration, nearly all staff, two trustees, at least two emeriti, local friends of the College, etc. Our 500+-seat auditorium had people standing in the back and along the sides. (Not to see me, you understand, but for the opening hoopla.) I was nervous.

I was also nervous because I'd worked for a long time on my talk and therefore wanted it to be really effective, but I couldn't gauge its quality anymore. This kind of address is more like a sermon than a paper. It's out of my usual scope. And I was afraid that I'd speak to quickly, swallow my words, and otherwise be...boring.

But I think that it went really well. Really well. A number of people (including a colleague who's been at Field for more than 20 years) told me that it was the best address that they've heard at Field, and the president asked me for a copy to give to donors under the heading, "Why the humanities matter."

And...maybe it's a coincidence, but my back-to-back sections of Developmental Comp this morning--the first day--went very well. Perhaps, even if they didn't pay all that much attention to my message (which had to do with how life is more than a job and your individual encounters with ideas, books, etc. ought to call you to change your life), I at least made a good enough impression on our first-year students that they'll be moderately psyched to have a class with me.

I'm feeling good about this semester, which is a radical change from how I felt a month ago, when I had to pick up an overload of Developmental on top of the overload one-credit Honors course I was already teaching (so I have 13 instructional hours this semester, plus I'm chairing the Humanities division--1 4-credit overload in all). These last two days have been good. Maybe I'm more...competent? dare I say impressive?...than I'm inclined to think.

OK, I'll stop bragging now. May I also mention that the student body president's speech was fantastic? And that we both managed to refer to our journeys along a certain medieval pilgrimage route through Spain in our talks? That, I think, was my favorite thing about the whole morning--the only two people at the entire college who have taken that trip both managed to talk about it with the entire campus community in the same morning!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A paradigmatic first-world problem:

We currently have so much food (due to a rainy summer and our very productive garden, particularly in the apple department) that we don't have enough room in our refrigerator to store it. We had to eat half a melon tonight just to clear space for dinner leftovers.

More soon--classes start tomorrow.