I am so having a Weiner Dog moment! Yes, I am back in Cold City, and not loving it. It is always difficult to return to hard, cold reality after a moment in the warm light of companionship, friends, and favourite cities, but this bad mood started the minute I took my roll-aboard chiquitito off the luggage belt and left the arrivals hall at the airport. It built as I claimed my car, and unleashed itself into a full-blown tantrum as I made the drive into the heart of Cold City. It had abated somewhat upon enclosure in my garret, and has now descended into a bleak mood not helped by the grey weather. I spent the evening of my return having a desultory dinner with Prancilla and subsequently a minor spat on the telephone with Mr. Gordo over my bad mood, which needless to say left me feeling even worse, made even more hideous by the fact that I couldn’t find Madonna’s new CD single in my local record emporium.
Sometimes a girl has to question what she is doing with her life, and this current moment of existential evilene seems to such a moment. I need a plan, a to-do list, a fantasy, something that is more than a rosewood Hope Chest or the delayed gratification of a few years working towards yet another few years, just someplace else. The unhappiness at my return has a complex set of roots: self second-guessing, disappointment, loneliness, sacrifice, plans gone awry. It’s not that I hate Cold City, per se. As I told Prancilla during our dinner, a sort of “Welcome Back!” wake, I’ll readjust to the banality in a few weeks. I do feel, however, that there are better, more pleasant ways of wasting my time.
The tension for me seems to be how one goes about gaining the freedom to move, and the key is publishing work, work, and work! But publishing work is exactly what some of us find so hard to do. Between teaching, meetings, admin, meetings, trying to have a life, meetings, course preps, meetings, and, um, meetings, I am bereft. But these are excuses, and poor ones to boot.
University Diaries has an interesting post on teaching versus research today, paralleled ironically by a column on publishing by Ms. Mentor in the Chron, and both speak to our publish-or-perish academic world, or rather, the privileging of research over other forms of university service. I’ve always thought that my strengths as I scholar lay in teaching, curriculum development, and admin. Yes, I have publications, not a lot but some (nicely cited by others, I discovered via Google today). I am an active conference presenter, and have made the scene at the MLA and ASA as well as the minor nothing conferences that most of the time are more fun. But, it is clear, if this girl is to have her freedom, she needs to get busy on the writing, like, yesterday!
There are a couple of things happening here for me. One is the feeling of exhaustion and self-doubt. I rolled out of grad school first into a year of adjuncting (eight classes, three quarters, two institutions 40 miles apart with no car!), then into the four year hell that was Sadistic College, with 12 new course preps and a shit load of pelt stroking and diaper changing that is the private liberal arts college junior professor experience. Now, that I’ve washed up here at Cold City U., I feel like I’m just catching my breath. And Cold City, to its credit, is not putting on the pressure. Rather the pressure is internal: to move you need to groove (i.e. publish).
Publishing seems so oppressive and daunting, even after the thesis, ironically enough. I recently reviewed the comments on a draft article I sent to one of my academic doublegoods and she has, in her fashion, done an excellent analytical job, with useful and challenging comments and suggestions. But just to read the draft gave me an attack of neurasthenia. So much work, so much research, so much fact checking and all, cross-citing and dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Yet the evidence that academic work is not in fact rigourous is abundant. There’s so much dreck and “trophy” pieces floating around journals and publishing lists you have to wonder if the realm of knowledge is in fact not expanding but actually contracting, as the academic brain becomes more and more focused on the small, ridiculous point working for the reward of tenure, like Pavlov’s dog waiting for the bell to ring. So, who should be afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Of course, another reason may just be that I am a sensualist who would rather read blogs and shop for delicious body washes (current favourites: Vichy Homme and Clarin’s Eau Dynamisante Shower Mousse) than sit in my garret and write (i.e. lazy). But isn’t this just Horatio Alger sneaking cleverly into my head, like a fungus or a worm? “To succeed or not succeed is your responsibility/fault.” Meritocractic thinking is harder to dislodge than Gayatri Spivak from a complementary limo!
So, this first thing here (self-doubt) is connected to the second thing, which is the utter scandal that academic publishing has become. UD has a sharp parenthetical note in her entry today on “teaching,” where she writes, regarding the purported history of peer-review publishing: “These are often themselves bogus, based on simple article and book and grant counting. Do you think anyone actually read what Ward Churchill published, or took note of the quality of his publishers?” Glory Be! Big Wig advisor and I had a conversation when I left grad school on the state of academic publishing, the financial crisis that the industry is feeling, and the possible effects of this contraction of publishing on academe. Basically, as the academic publishing world faces financial ruin, who will validate excellence for an institution, the university, which has given up that sort of thinking? To echo UD’s point, academia has farmed out its work of evaluation to publishing houses and journal editors. Talk about lazy! While the hard work of evaluating is now done by outside institutions and businesses (either profit driven or increasingly broke), tenured professors have more time for personal trips to France and seducing nubile undergrads, I suppose. Or, alternatively, sitting around rewarding their do-nothing protégés while lambasting others for not having an “archive” (a criticism made of me by one particularly horrid piece of deadwood at Sadistic College).
UD made me think of an awkward moment at my on-campus interview at Big Ten Gender Studies Program last year. It was my first-night dinner, before the interview day. The chair, various department faculty, several affiliates and myself (of course) had gathered at a rather swanky restaurant to begin the Big Sell (theirs and mine). At one point, in storms another affiliated professor, kind of like Shelley Winters in the Poseidon Adventure, all bluster and noise, but likeable in a strange sort of way. She had the requisite overflowing canvas tote bag so common among women professors d'un certain âge, as well as Casual Corner attire and (no doubt) Easy Spirit pumps (you know, “looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker”). Compared to the swells I was having dinner with, in their basic black, she was clearly the poor relation. Polite talk begins to revolve a bit around guidelines for tenure and promotion, with all the usual bland assurances and parameters, when Ms. Winters-if-you’re-nasty drops a bomb that practically had the chair choking on her mango-cilantro chutney reduction: “A book for tenure?! Blah! They didn’t even take the plastic wrapping off my book when I submitted it for tenure!” Awkward silence ensues. Big Time Prof looks like she’s shitting a brick. Young Cool Prof examines the detail of the brick wall behind the table. I think I gave a weak, unsure Mona Lisa smile. Whoopsie! God bless Shelley Winters for letting the cat out of the bag on that one! Honey, Ms. Winters was keeping it real, baby!
So, part of my reluctance in playing this publishing game is that it really is putting notches on one’s lipstick case. It’s numbers, it’s scores, it’s the academic version of tricking. It is also, in a word, representation. Our profession has moved to the point where scholarship is representational strategy devoid of substance. This in and of itself is not terribly surprising, since we live in a culture that has increasingly become divorced from reality-based approaches. But it does add an additional layer of disappointment to all the crap we already have to listen to and lines we have to tow: We are good teachers! We value students! We are excellent! We are producing knowledge! In this version of a worker’s paradise though, the state doesn’t wither away, it slowly sucks the life out of you, like watching American Idol or Lifetime Television for Women.
I'm not stupid. Clearly, playing the game is part of the whole shebang, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or believe in it. As I begin an approach to my work and getting more of it done, partially to save me from my bleak mood as well as to give myself options, I feel like Diana Ross in Mahogany, giving in to the Italian Count after her (hideous) fashion show triumph. To play, you gots to pay, doll! If indeed, academic publishing is like tricking, like an egghead Griffith Park where the sex is books and articles (Barthes anyone?), then I’m gonna put on my cut-off jean short-shorts and go hustle. Toot toot, hey, beep beep! Now it’s time for my Big Sell! Tonight I have phone dates with my doublegoods LL and Vicky, for some moral support. But I plan on curling up with Getting it Published and Revising Your Dissertation, in preparation for whatever comes next. I don’t want to be Weiner Dog in the final scene of Welcome to the Dollhouse, singing along desultorily with the Hummingbirds on the school bus to hell.