Twenty years

Twenty years ago this month I heard from the last of the graduate schools that accepted me into their Ph.D. programs.

And yesterday, the official campus daily news announced that the Board of Trustees personnel committee had met and voted on the cases for tenure and promotion, and for promotion to full professor.

Among those who were approved for promotion to full professor: me.

Yeah, I’m pretty pleased. But I’ve also started that whole rumination thing that often happens when you pass milestones. It probably doesn’t help that my 45th birthday is on Tuesday.

It’s taken twenty years to get from admission to graduate school to the highest rank of professor. That’s not bad within our profession — some people never get to full, and if you take the 7-year tenure cycle as a model, maybe 20 is just about right — but I wonder how it stacks up against against other jobs, especially in the professions. This article says it takes an average of 10.5 years to “make partner” in a big law firm. That’s actually pretty close to how long it took me from beginning the job at Rust Belt U in 2003 to now. But then law school is only three years long, so that means it’s 14.5 years, on average, from acceptance to partner. I don’t think there’s any equivalent to full professor or partner in medicine (unless, of course, you’re a med school prof), but I could be wrong. But what about people in other white collar jobs? My vague impression is that their careers can move faster — and none of them spend 8 years in post-grad degree programs!

In the time since I was accepted to grad school, the babies that were born that year have mostly grown up and are now college sophomores. Heck, at 25, I could have been having one of those babies (hypothetically, anyway) and be the parent of a college sophomore. I don’t know what to make of that, but it’s weird.

And now the real question is, “Uh, what now?” I mean, I’ve jumped through the last hoop, haven’t I? So for the next twenty years, what’s going to drive me? I have no idea, but maybe that’s one of the topics this blog can transition into dealing with: life after/as full professor. But maybe first — in the next post I get around to writing — I should blog about *getting* to full (after all, that’s the new tag I made and tagged with this post).

But now, I’m off to celebrate an early birthday and promotion with a friend!


After tenure I was kind of depressed. Some likened it to post-partum depression and another friend said it was the golden cage syndrome. And not long ago I felt like I was in a mid-career rut and not happy about it. But something changed in the last six months to make me feel more confident, more at ease. Maybe it was just having a very relaxing summer — no trips overseas to plan, no conferences, and an awesome, lazy vacation to a lake with a superiority complex and a cabin in the woods, and many morning and evenings at home spent on our lovely new deck furniture in what has been a pretty mild summer (when it wasn’t raining).  Or maybe it was having a *productive* summer that did it — though I haven’t quite finished it to polished state, and I need to give it to friends to read before I send it out to a journal, I did complete a 10,000-word draft of that article that I’ve been sitting on for way too long. And I learned some Italian, too!

At any rate, here’s a measure of the confidence and ease I feel with who I am and where I am in my career. The other day I was revisiting the five reviews my first book received, all of them largely positive (yay!), but each with some criticism to make. I read those criticisms, some of which overlapped, and thought, for the most part, the critics were absolutely right. And I just kind of shrugged and made a mental note to try not to do that in future work. Or, where I thought they were wrong, even if overlapping, in their criticism I thought, “Eh, just make it clearer what you’re doing next time, Virago, since folks don’t get it.” And where they made points that differed from each other, I thought, “Well, you can’t please all of the people all of time.” And that’s it. So it goes.

And get this: I came across a line in one of the reviews that I’d totally forgotten about, one that might make a lot of people go “WTF?”, but it just made me laugh. In fact, I laughed so hard I made a Facebook comment about it. So what was the line?  Apparently, Dr. Virago “writes an excellent endnote.” What a weird line of faint praise! Anyway, I totally want this on my tombstone, present tense and all.

Who is this person and where did she come from?! Usually I’m the person who remembers the one stinker evaluation comment in the batch and forgets the 29 glowing ones, and then fumes about the stinker for weeks. So how did I become so cool and confident of late?

Maybe it’s a settling into tenure? Maybe it’s just realizing, on some level, that this is who I am and it works for me, and being happy with that? At any rate, remind me of this feeling next time I get in a funk, OK?

And btw, you can see our awesome, relaxing deck here. Meanwhile, here’s one of the gorgeous “North Coast” views we contemplated on our explore-our-own-region vacation (confidential to relocating coasters who may have their doubts: the Midwest *does* have plenty of natural beauty! And water!):

I swear the colors are not manipulated in the photo!

I swear the colors are not manipulated in the photo!

Mid-career rut

One of the reasons why I haven’t been writing on the blog is that I’ve been in kind of a rut — a foggy state of Blah — for some time now, which doesn’t make for very interesting writing. The Blahs have especially hit my research work, but even teaching was getting kind of routine (until this semester — more on what shook things up in another post).
And no one wants to read about that, right? But then I thought about how Dr. Crazy uses her blog to get started in the morning — a big problem area for me — and so I thought maybe I might try that and see if it worked. And then I also thought that maybe it would be useful for people to read about a mid-career rut (or is it quarter-career? perhaps it’s more one-third-career), just like posts about being on the market or writing the first book and all those other proffie experiences are useful to current and prospective profs at or anticipating those stages. (Thank god for RSS readers, so that I know I have *some* audience still out there.)

Part of what I’m experiencing is related to the low morale at my university, but I don’t think I can chalk it *all* up to that. I bet if I had my dream job at a place full of unicorns and rainbows, I’d still be feeling stuck in my work right now. In fact, at Rainbow Unicorn University, I think it would be even worse because I’d be stuck *and* freaked out about becoming the dreaded deadwood because I hadn’t produce ten gazillion books every five years. At least here, a slower pace of research productivity is cool (and frankly, more humane, but that’s also a topic for another post). No, I think what I’m experiencing is a little more widespread and common and non-idiosyncratic.

OK, here’s where I am and how I feel about it right now. My first book was a modest success in my subfield of Middle English literature, and so the last few years were spent doing a lot of invited and necessary work — co-editing a new anthology of the genre of my sub-field, writing handbook chapters and articles on the state of the field, that sort of thing. And I’m running for election to a scholarly society in said field, and organizing a panel at a big upcoming conference of another society, both activities with the goal of opening up the subfield to non-specialists, because it’s a little too isolated — people outside it don’t read us and we’re frustrated by that, but part of that is because we’re off doing our own thing too much. So there’s a way in which I’m active in the area that got me the job, got me tenure, and so forth. But I haven’t really produced anything new in it in some time, and I’m frustrated by that. I have something in progress (an article), but I keep dithering about whether to do the relatively fast and easier version of it and get it *out* there in one of the subfield journals, or keep working on the more theoretically ambitious version of it, which involves me learning (or continuing to learn) all sorts of new stuff and would be sexier for the broader medieval and medieval-renaissance journals. The learning part is attractive, but it’s also slow. And I have been sitting on this thing for a long time now because it keeps getting shunted aside.

And the thing is, whichever version of that smaller work in progress I do, I kind of feel like that’s the last contribution I have to make to that particular subfield (unless my co-organizer of the above panel and I decide to do an edited collection, in which case I have a kind of meta-critical essay brewing — and if we don’t do the collection, there might be a place for it elsewhere). Once upon a time I had other ideas, but I feel like they’re methodologically and theoretically dull now. I feel a little like medieval literary studies has moved on without me while I was tinkering with my works in progress. So that’s part of my rut.

The other part of my rut is a similar “what now?” issue, but on a different topic. After and during a lot of the above, I also had a sabbatical in which I *started* on my new, big research project, but other than a few talks, including an invited one, on the work in progress, it hasn’t gotten much farther since that sabbatical (which was 2010-2011). And that new work isn’t at all related to the old work (except maybe it might involve the same class of readers and producers/patrons) — it’s a totally different genre. And I’m finding with this project, I’m having to learn and teach myself yet *more* bodies of knowledge — traditional methods and theories — which, again, is cool and interesting, but verrrrrry slow. And what’s especially frustrating with this project is that I don’t know where on earth it’s going or what it’s going to be. I have this body of texts — which I’m still sorting through; I’m still doing the “data collection,” so to speak — and I have about an article’s-length stuff to say about them, but is that it? Or is there a bigger picture? And if there’s a bigger picture, how should I be framing it? In what scholarly or theoretical conversation (or should I say gallery, to keep the picture-framing metaphor) does it fit? I feel like all my reading and thinking about it is totally scattershot, an effect not helped by fitting it in around teaching, etc.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that this doesn’t sound like a rut at all, that I’ve got all sorts of engaging projects. Yeah, but I feel like I’m dabbling. I feel unfocused and  amateurish. And, because of the slowness and lack of clear contours, I feel frustrated. Half the time I just want to throw my hands up and say, “Fuck it, I’d rather be teaching. Maybe I should move to a 4/4 load and give up research.” Except that wouldn’t make me happy, either. In fact, part of the problem is that I’m isolated in my work and don’t have the stimulation of other people in my field or advanced students working on dissertations to teach me new things and keep me current. Giving up on research entirely would exacerbate that feeling and make my rut deeper (even if I keep reinventing my courses, which I always do). And it wouldn’t be good for the students, because one of things that keeps my teaching from being in a rut is bringing in new ideas from my research and others’ (that often includes new-to-me primary texts — there’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t know and research of various kinds introduces me to it).

Another part of this Blah feeling, this rut, is the isolation. Remember when we used to think romantically how digital communications would solve the problem of the isolation of the single scholar who’s the only one in her field at her institution?  Yeah. Right. Frankly, social media and other digital outlets just make me feel *more* isolated. All I see are the cool collaborations and energetic conversations of colleagues who get to talk face-to-face as well as online, and I feel shut out. I do have a collaboration with another scholar who lives in a totally different part of the country, but it’s not the same. Conferences help, but eventually you have to go home.

And the final piece of this is that I feel a little bit out of date and a bit left behind by various developments in literary studies, but especially by the confluence of digital humanities and manuscript studies and by the “new materialism,” all of which I’m really super interested in, but don’t quite feel capable of doing on my own. You know what would be really cool? If there were “mid-career post-docs” to retrain people like me. There’s a whole slew of cool digital humanities/mansucript post-docs out there right now, but you have to be within three years of your PhD to be eligible. When I win the lottery, I’m funding a series of mid-career post-doc sabbatical thingies, I promise. I think that’s what getting to me, too — I feel old before my time. I’m not really *mid* career; I’ve been in it for 10 years, starting at age 34, so if I retire at, say, 65, I’m not even a third through my career yet. Sheesh, that in itself is a little daunting. I have to do this for another 21 years? Will I always feel like this, this sense of Blah?

What say you, oh wise people of the internet? How do I shake off the doldrums? Do you ever feel like this? What do you do to shake off the Blahs and get out of the rut?

Is academic identity institutionally driven? (Short answer: um, yes!)

I’m directing you to Dame Eleanor’s recent post on different attitudes towards/expectations of academia depending on one’s institution type because I could have written parts of it. Though Dame E and I have different personality types, RBU is very much like Dame E’s LRU — a strange mix of research-orientation and teaching-intensity.  And like Dame E, I’m often struck by the assumptions that come with institution type, particularly from those profs who’ve always been at one kind of institution, or whose jobs have always been at one type of institution.  Honestly, I find such assumptions an extreme failure of imagination, and get a little impatient with them. Dame E is much more patient than I, so go read her post and enter the discussion there!

Writing a mixed review of a senior scholar’s work

So the other day a review I wrote for an electronic review journal “went live.” It was a review of a new edition of a primary text, and its editor is a very senior scholar whom I have never met, but whose work I know and have often cited. Alas, the review I gave was a somewhat mixed one. Most of the criticism was related to the ways I didn’t think this edition worked as one aimed at students, which editions in this series are supposed to be, and that’s not such a terrible thing, since I essentially said that it’s very erudite and accomplished and scholarly, but it’s aimed a little high. But some of it regarded the strangely contentious approach the editor took in the intro and notes towards certain modes of criticism. I think in a student edition (or any edition, really), one should aim for summation and synthesis, not critique; the place for the latter is in original scholarly work, where you can really mount an argument. Dismissing or criticizing other schools of scholarship in passing in an edition just sounds like a pot-shot, and it closes off potential avenues of inquiry for students, particularly for the more easily-influenced ones. This happened more than once, too, enough that it kind of soured the edition for me, and I devoted some space in the review to this tendency.

Anyway, when I first set out to write this review, I was rather nervous about it, so I dropped an e-mail to a friend to ask his advice. What he said amounted to “What can this person do to you? And what real effect will it have on them?” Well, that was what I needed to hear, because it helped me remember that a bad review won’t have any real material effect on someone who is an established senior scholar, although it might bruise their ego. What’s more, I was in that good-girl, cautious, don’t rock the boat mode, especially as this would be a review that other people would read. I think what filled me with anxiety was this: would I look as contentious as the senior scholar did in the work itself? And would they think I was just taking it personally (because my work could definitely be categorized with the kinds of work the scholar was so critical of)? So I worked hard on that review, on getting it just right — making the fair points I thought I needed to make, balancing them with deserved praise, thinking of what my readers needed to know, and making sure it was all tonally right. I even had Bullock read it for tone and balance (and he made a few excellent suggestions). This wasn’t my first review, by any means, but it’s definitely the one that made me most nervous.

Btw, this level of anxiety about writing reviews is why I could never, ever be a full-time critic in the popular media sense. Gah! I’d have an ulcer within a month!

So what happened?  What happened is that within 24 hours of the review going live, I received multiple e-mails from other scholars in the field praising the review for its usefulness and balance. OK, so one of then was from someone I’ve recently collaborated with and one was from my dissertation director, and I’ve met the others, as well. But still, I think that says I did something right. (Getting an e-mail from my former adviser was a nice bonus, too. It’s been too long since we caught up, and I hadn’t even told him that Bullock and I had gotten married!) And it reminded me of the place and use of reviews in general. It’s not about gate-keeping or territory marking or dismissing approaches we simply don’t like for no reason other than we don’t like them — although lord knows many people write reviews that way. It’s not even directed at the author(s) of whatever you’re reviewing (although you should keep them in mind, of course). It’s about saying to your readers, “Hey, here’s what you’ll get out of this book if you read it or use it in class, and here’s where you or your students might have issues with it, as I did. Use that to judge whether you’ll take the time to read it, whether it’s related to the work you’re doing, or whether you’ll assign it in class.”

That should be a no-brainer, but it’s worth reminding myself (or rather, being reminded) of the best function of reviews. That said, I think I’ll take a nice long break from writing them. Before this particular review, I wrote a double review for a print journal, so I reviewed three books this year. Given how much I angst over the final product, you can guess that that took a lot of my time.

So what about you? Have you written reviews? Do they cause you anxiety at all? What’s your approach to or philosophy of reviews? What do you think their function is? Do you worry about the repercussions of writing a critical or mixed review, for you or for the scholar whose work your reviewing?

Edited to add: I feel like this is a lamer post than I meant to write. There, now I’ve reviewed my own work. 🙂

I watch TV and so do 99%* of the other academics I know

*FYI, bogus “statistic” for hyperbole’s sake

So, I just read three blog posts in a row (having followed some linkage here and there) in which the authors and their commenters were asserting their *difference* in the academy because they are “normal” people who watch TV, and like popular music, and see big summer blockbusters, and read popular magazines and novels, and so on and so on, unlike the rest of snobby academia with their classical music and life without TV and canonical novels and French art films.


Apparently these bloggers (and I’m not linking to them because I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on them) live in a parallel universe of academia that is not my universe. I don’t know if their world is Bizarro World or if mine is, but in mine, the people without TVs are in the minority.

As for the rest of us, all we ever do is talk about TV and music and Harry Potter and whether or not we agree with the casting decisions for The Hunger Games movies and what not. In grad school, my friends and I got together every Thursday night to watch Friends through ER (yeah, that’s how long ago I was in grad school) and then later we had Buffy nights. And Oscar-watching parties and Super Bowl parties. I mean, that’s the stuff we have in common across our various subfields and disciplines. The shared interest in pop culture is part of the glue that cements my relationship with Bullock, too.  I mean, sure, our taste is geeky and isn’t exactly in line with what’s at the very top of the charts (for dog’s sake, we just watched the entire two-season run of Sports Night on Netflix and he’s a freakin’ *Cubs* fan), and yeah, you could *totally* ascertain our class and race from our tastes (we like Stuff White People Like) — though I’m pretty sure I’d throw off the gender-guessers.  And sure, I like plenty of foreign films. I can even say with a straight face that I’m more of a Truffaut gal than a Godard gal, and that right there puts me in a certain class of reverse-snob snobby snob, or something, but then I think Steven Speilberg would say *he’s* more of a Truffaut guy, too, and I like Speilberg, too, and I don’t think you can call liking Speilberg snobbery of any kind. And you know what movie I’ve liked best of all this year so far? Super 8. (Hey, exec-produced by Speilberg! Directed by JJ Abrams, who got his start in….TV!) But I’m definitely not part of the “Oh, I don’t even own a TV” ilk. Hell, I was *raised* by TV. My mom got cable so that Sesame Street would come in more clearly, since the PBS station’s signal was low and we were out in the ‘burbs. And Bullock and I have a honking huge one in our family room.

At first, I kept thinking things like “Well, maybe it’s because I’m medievalist and we’re already odd” or “Maybe it’s because I went to grad school in LA” or “Maybe it’s because Bullock started off thinking he was going to follow his dad into advertising or work in TV” or “Maybe it’s because I’m a blogger” or “Maybe it’s because we’re GenX” or so on and so on, but every time I answered each explanation with “But no, that doesn’t account for [insert a dozen or so people here].”  In fact, right now, thinking of those of you academics who might be reading this, I think *two* of you have said you don’t own a TV or maybe have a bad, old one that gets one channel or something (and hey, I still love you, but it does baffle me a little bit). Well, there may be others, but then you watch all your TV via bit torrent or something — I’m not counting you.  And I have one colleague whose tiny, broken-down TV is used only for watching baseball. So, that’s *three* people I can think of, and I know a lot of people in academia.

And actually, my *students* — normal, everyday people going to their normal, everday regional public university — are the ones less likely to watch a lot of TV and see a lot of movies (in the theater, anyway), but that’s because they’re too busy taking 5 classes and working 40 hours a week, and too poor to afford cable or movie tickets.

Maybe these bloggers (and their commenters!) who feel so out of it work (or in one case, worked) in universities with more old money? Or just more old *people*? Or do you think they might be projecting their anxieties (class anxieties or imposter syndrome or something)? Or am I just lucky not to be wherever they are? Or am I just clueless?  What gives? (Oh and I know at least one of these bloggers was in English, so it’s not a disciplinary thing, either.) Any idea?

“Working Classes,” higher ed, and the ‘should you go to grad school in the humanities?’ question

I’m posting a couple of links full of rich and meaty thought that are both about class and higher ed, but ultimately on two different, but related issues. Anyway, they’re discussions that I wish I could involve myself in, but I’m still kind of mulling them over too much to respond articulately. And in some ways, I don’t think I’m quite the right person to do so, anyway.  So I present them to my readers to take up in the comments or at their own blogs.

The first is actually one of Karl Steel’s posts over on Google+. You don’t need a G+ profile to read it, since it’s a public post (though you do need one if you want to comment). Here’s the link. And here’s a snippet to give you a sense of it:

In grad school … I used to think I was something special, by which I mean an interloper: working-class family; public schools only till starting the PhD; first person in my family to go to college…

I’m past it all now, but this feeling–call it ressentiment and you won’t be far of the mark–had gone sour long before I gave it up. I’m done pretending to still be a working class kid. Unless some catastrophe throws me back on my family resources (which = nothing), there’s no point is holding on to what I was, not on the edge of my 41st birthday and and not when things continue to work out all right.

The discussion in the comments is really active and thoughtful and worth reading, all of it. (This, btw, is one of the reasons why I prefer G+ over Facebook — the interface allows longer, richer discussion and you can link to public posts. It’s like a middle ground between social networking and blogging.  And word on the street is that the anti-pseudonym stance may actually change. But I digress.)

The other link I want to share, a blog post by JSench at his almost brand-new blog, is also about being working class in academe, but instead of being about professorial personae and backgrounds — and whether they still matter once you’ve seized the brass ring of a tenure-track job — it’s about the decision to go to graduate school in the first place.  It’s an answer to yet another of Willliam Pannapacker’s pieces on why no one should go to the hell that is the PhD factory (this time, for Slate instead of for the Chronicle of Higher Education). Pannapacker’s latest bothered me in ways I couldn’t articulate, but JSench does it for me, with wit and clarity and a perspective I wouldn’t totally be able to bring to it.  Here, let me quote from the beginning, middle, and end to give you a sense of it, but, as they say, you really should read The Whole Thing.  Here’s part of the opening paragraph:

I think it’s a good thing to break down whatever is left of the romantic vision of  humanities graduate school bohemia followed immediately by a career resembling your favorite undergrad professor’s. But if we’re going to banish the romanticism, let’s also get rid of the melodrama that Pannapacker and others offer in its place. Instead of sexy bohos in black jeans discussing Poe and Lacan over coffee, we’re offered a vision of an evil empire sucking the lifeblood out of talented twentysomethings until those twentysomethings are suddenly thirty and have nothing to show for themselves but debt and a cv that reads more like a record of exploitation than a résumé.

And here’s something smart and pointed from the middle:

Except I knew exactly what I was getting into. When you grow up in a family of working people you get to know a thing or two about how employers are not the best representatives of your interests. When you spend your college summers working on construction sites you pick up some things about the risks you take with your body and your mind when you take a job. When you’ve seen a steel company retroactively cancel the pensions and benefits of thousands of retired and laid-off workers, then you have an idea about secure futures and broken promises.

And here’s a part I really liked in response to the “you shouldn’t go to grad school because there’s no job guaranteed” argument:

In the neoliberal United States, no one is guaranteed a job with health insurance. Most people, not just humanities majors, face difficulty finding employment that pays well, is secure, and has good benefits. There are no sure bets. If you think business school is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t. If you think law school is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t. If you think culinary school is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t. And if you think that the humanities deserve special ridicule in all of this, you’re wrong. If you think a Ph.D. in physics is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t.

I think I was pounding the desk saying “Yes!” at that point, especially since I’d had a conversation this summer with an old grad school friend who tried to tell me that the moment he decided to leave grad school and do something else was when some venture capitalist type said to him, “You’re doing all this work and you won’t necessarily get a job from it?”  I could only sputter at the time at that — couldn’t quite express how that wasn’t a good framework for deciding to quit (and also, I really don’t think it’s why he quit at the time — he’s rewriting his history) — but if I’d had my wits about me, I might have said something like the above. Also, I would’ve pointed out that Mr. Capitalist must not be very good at making money if he’s so risk adverse.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, back to JSench’s post, here is what I really took away from this post, and what I’ll keep in mind when I advise my students, especially our MA students:

And so, please don’t tell your students that if they’re not rich or well-connected that they shouldn’t go to graduate school in the humanities. Tell them if you don’t think they are cut out for the work, and please tell them how difficult it can be at all points along the way. Also tell them that if they want to go to law school or culinary school. But if they still want to go, help them figure out how to be the person they think they want to be, how to become the person that will be satisfied. They will need skills. They will need to pass tests in practice and in academics. They will need to make friends, make professional connections, perform themselves in interesting ways, and they will need luck.

Overall, I think this post really hits closer to the truth about graduate school than all the “sky is falling! don’t go” hand-wringing and yet also counters the romantic notions our students sometimes have.  And I like that emphasizes the value of the experience and the degree in and of itself, which too often gets lost in these arguments (and I, for one, have been guilty of losing that).

Anyway, go read. And then come back here and discuss.  Or else respond on your own blogs.  And I, for one, am adding JSench to my RSS feed reader!

I need to dream bigger

Last night I had a dream that a more prestigious university in a much bigger and more economically vibrant city called to offer me a job. No search, no campus visit — just an automatic offer of a job. And when I mentioned Bullock, they cheerfully said they’d get in touch with the relevant department and they’d be calling to make *him* an offer. OK, so we’re *definitely* in fantasy dream land, right?

Yeah, except for one thing: the salary the dream school was offering me was a mere $3,000 more a year than I make now, but in a much more expensive city.  And I was still *really* excited about the offer and ready to say “hell yes!” as soon as the offer for Bullock came through. And I was particularly dazzled by the salary! What the what?

Bullock thinks my unconscious was trying to tell me that we have it pretty good here in Rust Belt — that we have “big city” salaries in a small city. (I don’t think he was saying that was necessarily, actually true, but that my unconscious was making that the guiding metaphor.)

You know what I think? I think my unconscious hasn’t looked at my pay stubs in a really long time!


PS — Also, in the dream, we lived in the country and had *three* dogs, including a red colored setter or retriever of some sort and a Bernese Mountain Dog, along with Pippi. We took long walks through woods and fields with them all off-leash and Pippi would sometimes pick fights with the setter/retriever and the sweet, gentle Berner would break it up. And Bullock was wearing Wellies and a barn coat (?!). And I kept thinking, “Where are we going to put all these dogs in the big city?” but I was still excited about the job. Geez, do I have conflicting desires or what? That country fantasy sounds really nice, but so does the big city!

>Job dissatisfaction

>This might be blasphemous to say, but I need to say it: I’m not looking forward to going back to the teaching grind next year (and let’s not even start on service obligations). It’s not because I’m enjoying my research and unscheduled time so much (see this post about how I’m just figuring out how to handle that unscheduled time; note how many times I mention how boring some of my work is). Nope, it’s because I really kind of dread the whole package of teaching — not just the worst parts (grading! oy, the grading!) but also the frenetic, when-will-this-semester-be-over grind, and even, I hate to say it, being in the classroom. I can’t even put my finger on why — I have always liked our students (well, most of them) and they have told me many times over that they like me — but the excitement is definitely gone.

Maybe it’s because next year I’ll be facing another year of Old and Middle English, which I have to say, I kind of hate teaching. Oh, there are moments where I love it, and there were two sets of classes some years back who geeked out with me and made it awesome, but – ugh! – how can I possibly look forward to talking about weak adjectives and strong verbs and Middle English Open Syllable Lengthening…OMG. Kill me now. Horace, who just wrote a joyful post about what’s cool about being a humanities professor (and whose positive post title I’m riffing only negatively) gets to talk about “the nature of time and the past in literature, about how drama and performance help us understand our very identity, how the language of advertising leaves us without a language of our own to describe our experiences of the real world.” I, on the other hand, get to talk about i-mutation. Zzzzzzzz…And what’s even worse is that it didn’t used to bore me. But the thought of doing this over and over for the next god knows how many years is making my head explode.

And not even the thought of teaching Chaucer and Shakespeare in the spring term, or a newly designed Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic syllabus in the fall cheers me up. Something is seriously wrong with me if the thought of “The Miller’s Tale,” Twelfth Night, and “The Cattle Raid of Cooley” can’t raise my spirits or at least make up for strong verb paradigms and brace constructions.

I have a feeling that part of what’s coloring my attitude is the woeful morale at our university and especially in our soon-to-be-dissolved-and-chopped-into-three-colleges college. But I keep telling myself that that shouldn’t really have an effect on my day to day experience, especially not in the classroom. Perhaps also, because I’m on sabbatical and not as crazy-busy as usual, when I witness just how burnt out and dog-tired Bullock is because of his overload of advising and service responsibilities (a situation created in part by the shrinking of his department by retirement and death without any replacements), I feel it more strongly than I would if I were distracted by a frenetic pace of my own. Or maybe my mood is a response to the bigger war on the humanities and higher ed in general here in the US and elsewhere (especially in the UK). One my Facebook friends (and who still reads this blog, I think) asked for robust language to defend the humanities. Once upon a time I could give it; now I just want to give up.

Tell me that this is what sabbatical is for — to rejuvenate, to re-energize — and that by next year I’ll feel ready to take it all on again. Tell me that I’m just burnt out and I’m expecting to rebound too quickly. But most of all, tell me it’s OK sometimes not to like my job.

>In which "I" get thanked in a book acknowledgments

>Apparently, Gregory Colón Semenza thinks I had something to do with the success of Graduate Study for the 21st Century (I think I have mentioned it more than once on the blog). And by “I,” I mean Dr. Virago. Go look at the Amazon page for the newly revised second edition and click on “Look Inside This Book.” Then look at the acknowledgments to the second edition. Yup, there it is: Dr. Virago.

Too funny! Even funnier to me is the fact that my colleague Victoria will be taking over our ‘intro to graduate studies’ class this semester with my syllabus — which includes Semenza’s book — and so the new crop of our MA students might read that acknowledgments section with no idea that “Dr. Virago” is me. Hilarious!

You know, it’s things like this that sometimes make me want to ‘claim’ Dr. Virago here on the blog — I’m already out elsewhere (including in print) — but I still think I’d prefer for my own web identity and Dr. Virago’s to be distinct.

Anyway, I still highly recommend Semenza’s book for anyone in a humanities graduate program or thinking about applying to one, and I’m psyched there’s an updated second edition. And most of my students have found it very, very helpful, and they’re M.A. students, not the Ph.D. students it’s really aimed at. (By which I mean to say, it’s useful for M.A .students *as well as* Ph.D. students.)

And thanks for reading, Prof. Semenza!