Say what?

Some of the associate professors who remain were the good hires of yesteryear who didn’t manage to find the jobs they once longed for. Many of them now spurn the academy in general, reserving their special contempt for the graduate students who teach our service courses (two a semester!). I’ve even heard some colleagues voice the opinion that we ought to disband the Ph.D. program, "since our students won’t get jobs anyway." This is perhaps a defensible argument for a professor at a branch university or a liberal-arts institution, but we are the flagship public university in the state.

— Frank Midler, "The Plight of the Newly Tenured," Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/5/04

"Frank Midler," newly tenured at a large Midwestern university (I always wonder when I read such a description: could it be my large Midwestern university? Have I met him?), writes about life for the just-tenured. He has some instructive things to say about the (relatively) low pay and heavy workload of new full professors, and he didn’t even trigger my cynicism reflex. At least, not at first.

Then I got to that paragraph I quoted above. And it makes no sense to me. Dr. Midler’s colleagues suggested that their department shut down its Ph.D. program because the graduate students aren’t getting jobs — and that’s supposed to be an indication of contempt for the students? It sounds like common sense to me — common sense and compassion for those who will probably end up spending years of their lives chasing after jobs they won’t get, ending up embittered and underemployed.

The logic of this paragraph seems to rest on the following assumption: graduate students at "a branch university or a liberal-arts institution" might not ever get jobs, so professors at such institutions are justified in suggesting that their departments shut down their Ph.D. program. But graduate students from "flagship public institutions" such as Dr. Midler’s own have a good enough shot at future academic employment that there’s no reason to limit the overproduction of new Ph.D.s.

Ahem. Dr. Midler, perhaps you’re not teaching at the university where I got my Ph.D. after all. Because we’re also a flagship institution for our state, and out of fifteen recent Ph.D.s and almost-finisheds from my department who were looking for jobs last year, guess how many actually got hired? One. And for many of them it wasn’t their first year on the market. So don’t tell me that a Ph.D. from a highly-ranked university is enough to ensure future employment for the graduate students in your program, because it. Is. Not. (Picture me burying my head in my hands.)

But perhaps it’s easy to assume your graduate students will get jobs when they’re so useful for teaching two "service courses" a semester. (Oops. There goes that cynicism reflex.) Or maybe it’s just that tenure can induce selective blindness toward the state of the job market.

Intrigue! Suspense! Protestant tracts! Wind instruments!

Years ago, as a bookish teenager, I was prone to periodic research obsessions: I’d get interested in a given topic and then read everything I could find on that topic. (I still do that, come to think of it.) My big research obsession at age seventeen was the theater of the English Restoration — the plays that Samuel Pepys would have seen. I had a grandiose plan (never realized) to write a sprawling historical novel beginning in the late 1630s, spanning the Civil War years and the interregnum, and continuing into the 1660s. I had a main character in mind: a boy player whose troupe fled to the continent when the Puritans shut down the playhouses and who returned, grown up, after Charles II officially reopened them. I even had a timeline drawn out on graph paper, and a bunch of shadowy secondary characters floating around in my head. Then I realized that while I loved doing the research, I couldn’t come up with a plot, and that was the end of that project.

But I still sometimes fantasize about writing historical novels. Last week I went to hear a talk about book history, specifically the history of sixteenth-century Protestant publishing in Antwerp and a few other places, and the speaker mentioned that a lot of the books in question were smuggled overseas, as contraband, to places (like England during the time of Queen Mary) where Protestantism was considered a dangerous heresy; he also said that some of them were stashed in empty wine casks for their journey across the Channel. And I thought, wouldn’t that make a terrific premise for a novel? Intrigue, suspense, and the early years of the printing press!

Then today I came across the Waits Website, a site devoted to the history of waits. (Waits were bands of official musicians maintained by British towns; their duties, as this site summarizes, "included playing their instruments through the town at night, waking the townsfolk on dark winter mornings by playing under their windows, welcoming Royal visitors by playing at the town gates, and leading the Mayor’s procession on civic occasions.") And suddenly I want very much to write a novel about a band of waits. Imagine doing that for a living, for one thing. And then think of the fictional possibilities if it’s true that in the seventeenth century, "musicians were sometimes employed as spies because it was not unusual for them to travel at a time when most strangers were suspect."

I mean, wouldn’t that be neat? Wouldn’t it? (Er, maybe it’s just me, then.)

Proudly displaying my geekitude

The knitter’s geek code. How brilliant is that?

Here’s mine:


Version: 1.0

KECmR Exp+ SPM+ Steel++ Pl+ Syn- Nov+ Cot+ Wool++ Lux>+++ Hemp- Stash(+) Scale(+) Fin- Ent? FI Int Tex++ Lace+ Felt- Flat++ Circ+ DPN+ Swatch+ KIP- Blog(+) SNB->++ EZ@ FO? WIP+ GaugeDK(F)(B)


From the new Knitty.

Miscellany music post

First, some links.

Found somewhere in the blogosphere but I forget where, damn it: a guide to Medieval and Renaissance Instruments. In case you wondered what a transverse flute, a shawm, a rebec, or a crumhorn looked (and sounded) like. I’m having early-instrument envy again.

Lynn Sislo offers Vivaldi and Dvorak recommendations. [runs to library’s music recording section at top speed]

The New York Times profiles soprano Lisa Saffer, who’s currently appearing in the NY City Opera’s production of Handel’s Xerxes. Interesting commentary on the ways in which even an "authentic" production must needs be inauthentic.

(And, not so linky, but sort of related…)

Unanswered questions prompted by the "Very Best of Maria Callas" CD I’m listening to this evening: What accounts for the appeal of "Ebben, ne andrò lontana" from Catalani’s La Wally? Is it because that’s the aria that features so prominently in the movie Diva as the bootleg tape that everyone wants to get their hands on, and something about that context informs all subsequent hearings? And would it still move me if I didn’t know that "mai più" means "never again," or if I weren’t on the verge of going far away myself? When I listen to it again in (let’s hope) happier times in the future, will it hit me in the same way again? How much of one’s response to music is filtered through whatever emotions one is feeling at the time, and how much of it is in the music itself?

Marshmallow peeps invade office. Film at eleven.

Is it an art installation or is it a prank? Frankly, it’s hard to tell. But it did make me laugh. (And don’t miss Peeps at the Library, linked in the comments.)

Via Crooked Timber, where they’re having a bit of seasonal-candy fun.

Wardrobe note

I think I need a QueerKnit shirt. Especially

Of green-gowns, fuz-balls, and sperrables

Browsing through The Poems of Robert Herrick, ed. L. C. Martin (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), I noticed that at the back there’s a "Select Glossary of Uncommon Words and Meanings," presumably in lieu of footnotes to the poems themselves. Among the highlights:

Bestrutted: Swollen.
Bruckel’d: Grimy.
Candidate: In a white sheet.
Cup-shot: Drunk.
Dew-locks: Dewy hair.
Ding-thrift: Spendthrift.
Fasting-Spittle: Saliva of a person fasting; supposed to have medicinal value.
Forked-fee: Fee taken from both parties in a lawsuit.
Fuz-ball: Puff-ball (fungus).
Green-gown: Gown soiled by lying on grass.
Grutch: Complain.
Hoofy: Struck by hoof of Pegasus to create the fountain Hippocrene.
July-flower: Perversion of Gillyflower.
Maukin: Mop.
Perpolite: Highly polished.
Prick-madam: House-leek.
Purfling: Embellishing.
Respasses: Raspberries.
Sleeded silk: Silk separated into its filaments; floss-silk.
Sperrables: Headless nails.
Thumblesse: Clumsy, helpless.
Tittyries: A brotherhood in London about 1623-4, who called themselves "Tityre, tu’s" (Virgil, Ecl. 1.1.)
Whorry: Obsolete form of Hurry.

This, to my eyes, reads like a distillation of all Herrick’s poems into a few highly concentrated pages. I wish more scholarly editions had this kind of glossary.

Having done, part 2

I’m no longer panicking about the necessity of finding a new job by next September, primarily thanks to friends here in Collegeville and elsewhere. R., over the phone, gave me a job-search pep talk and urged me to come to New York, where she is; H. said encouraging things about how the change is likely for the best; and T., while we were hanging out at our pub last night, reminded me of where some of my intellectual passions have migrated to. We got to talking about eighteenth-century farce (her research topic) and eighteenth-century opera (my recent obsession) and the connections between them, and I forget exactly what point in the conversation prompted this — probably the two pints of beer had something to do with that — but at one point we looked at each other and said "Dude! Collaborative book project!" I cheered up a great deal at the thought pursuing such a project just for the sake of pursuing it, not for tenure or the promise of a job somewhere or anything else, and with a friend to collaborate with. I think I was worried that, on top of everything else, I’d lose touch with the friends I’ve made in graduate school. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case.

It’s ironic: one of the reasons I initially thought I’d be a good scholar was that I liked being alone and knew I wouldn’t mind spending long solitary hours in the library. I still prefer to have plenty of alone time, but increasingly I’m realizing that what sustains me is meaningful contact with other people.

In other news, Robert Altman’s new movie The Company is brilliant and joyful. It’s hard to say why, though I have a few ideas. I may post about it at more length once I’ve had a chance to go see it again. But it was somehow exactly what I wanted and needed to see this week.

New theme songs for the upcoming months: "Que Sera, Sera" (as sung by Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much) and "Tomorrow Is My Turn" (as sung by Nina Simone). Only, thanks to Altman and his Rodgers-and-Hart-heavy soundtrack, I can’t get "My Funny Valentine" out of my head. Stay, little Valentine, staaaaaaayyyyyy…

Nay, I have done. (Have I?)

Since ther’s no helpe, Come let us kisse and part,
Nay, I have done: You get no more of Me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart
That thus so cleanly, I my Selfe can free.
Shake hands for ever, Cancell all our Vowes,
And when we meet at any time againe,
Be it not seene in either of our Browes
That We one jot of former Love reteyne;
Now at the last gaspe, of Loves latest Breath,
When his Pulse fayling, Passion speechlesse lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of Death,
And Innocence is closing up his Eyes,
Now if thou would’st, when all have given him over,
From Death to Life, thou might’st him yet recover.

— Michael Drayton, Idea, sonnet 61

Oddly enough, given that it’s what I wrote my dissertation about, I don’t write about Elizabethan and Jacobean poetry very often in this blog. But Michael Drayton is deeply underrated as a poet, and I’ve had a fondness for this particular sonnet for ages. At times when I’m on the verge of stepping away from something, I find that it pops into my head, especially the second line. (It’s a bit like blasting "I Will Survive" after breaking up with someone.) That line has been in my head a lot lately: I walk through the department where I got my Ph.D., or along Collegeville’s main street, inwardly reciting "Nay, I have done: you get no more of me." And for the most part I am indeed glad, yea, glad. But I was thinking today that I’m also drawn to the ambivalence in the final six lines. Clean breaks are remarkably difficult to make, after all, even when you know that they’re better for all concerned. And my break with academia has just become rather more imminent than I was expecting.

Long story short: I found out today that I didn’t get the lectureship I recently applied for so I’d have a stopgap measure for next year. I’m not completely without employment prospects, but come September I’ll need something else to supplement my current part-time job with the digital text project. I’m still waiting to find out about one other possibility, but I won’t know about that for another couple of weeks, probably. The news made for a short burst of complete panic, followed by sadness at yet another rejection: oh NO what now nobody wants me waaaaah. Followed by steely determination: well, now I’ve got a good reason to get out. Followed by abject terror: what if there are no other jobs around here at all?

I’ve calmed down since then. All this means is that the transition will happen sooner rather than later. I have enough savings to get by, if I have to, on the part-time job for a couple of months after my lecturer’s salary stops coming in at the end of the summer. There’s time to see if I can find something for the short term. As for the long term, I don’t know. Today I was thinking, not for the first time, about moving back east, closer to where my family and pre-grad-school friends are. Now that I’m finished my degree, and now that I no longer have a teaching job, there’s very little to keep me here in Collegeville. I miss urban surroundings, being on the Amtrak corridor, and seeing actual sunlight in the winters (and, consequently, not feeling like a depressed lump from November through March).

The end of this term is going to be weird, though. I wonder if I’ll end up telling my students that it’s my last semester of teaching, and that when April is over, I’ll have finally left school.

Maybe the theme song shouldn’t be "I Will Survive," but the finale from "Once More, with Feeling": "Where Do We Go from Here?"

Addendum: As I was finishing this entry, I went over to the Invisible Adjunct’s site only to discover that this is her last term of teaching too, and, far more sadly for the rest of us, the end of her blog. Godspeed, IA. The academic blogosphere won’t be the same. Now I’m doubly sad.

Must be something in the air

First I start rereading Emma (which is my favorite among Jane Austen’s novels), then the Invisible Adjunct goes on a Jane Austen posting spree, and now this (via About Last Night):

I believe you belong in Pride and Prejudice; a world of satire and true love. A world where everything is crystal clear to the reader, and yet where new things seem to be happening all the time. You belong in a world where your free-thought puts you above the silly masses, and where bright eyes and intelligence are enough to attract the arrogant millionaire/prejudiced young woman of your choice.

Which Classic Novel do You Belong In?
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