20 August 2006

Work it, Girl!



I’m back. It’s not pretty. I did make it out today, briefly, to the bodega for cigarettes and my overpriced boutique supermarket for some food, which is hardly surprising considering I didn’t even have a Tab in the fridge. But loathe to move the car (Doris Day parking for Cookie Gomez [my sobrenombre for my car] right in front of the garret and she needs gas. In short, bleh…), and after a late-night viewing of The Warriors Director’s Cut DVD (along with all its inane features), I woke up late enough to justify a slow, slow unpacking, which consisted on one hand of putting clean clothes and toiletries away and on the other of stuffing all the papers, receipts, and collected papers from my time in Big Eastern City into a file drawer. Like magic! A welcome lunch for new faculty tomorrow, which I’m hardly in the mood for, means I will have to shave, at the very least, and make sure I look as cute as possible. I’m not sure how exactly to do this, since I won’t be able to see my barber until Tuesday, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out. I’m good at that sort of shit.


It’s not a happy time. Returning to Cold City has rarely brought me joy, but I think there was maybe one moment, in the late spring and early summer, when I began to think of Cold City as a home, of sorts. Now that sentiment has fled, and I feel like I did exactly one year ago, alone in a strange and unfriendly city, with a new job and miserable. Except now the job isn’t new, which is even more depressing, because I’m still alone, still broke. Like starting again from zero, which is an incredibly frustrating feeling, matched only by the claustrophobia of attempting to find an escape hatch, like Papillon and his myriad cavales (escape journeys) from Guyana. Will it be a boat and supplies garnered from the friendship of lepers, or a raft of coconuts? Leaping off a cliff into the sea or fighting the tide into the wide expanse of the ocean?


Mr. Gordo is in his own process of cavale, and we spoke often this summer of the need for flight, for freedom, for being together but finding solutions to our individual dreams, however inchoate they might be in this, the proverbial season of our discontent. As I consider the job market, I feel I am not ready. Between the new prep work at Sadistic College (12 new preps in four years), the subsequent turn in events there, which landed me in a deep depression and on the market at the same time, and then my first year at Cold City U., I feel my professional publications have, um, lagged. Service and teaching I have under my belt in spades: an impressive teaching dossier, strong evaluations, well-designed syllabi and assignments, dedicated pedagogical work and writing. After some initial pratfalls of my first job at Sadistic College, and departing from the lessons learned there, I have cultivated an enviable reputation at Cold City U. as the consummate colleague— attentive, responsible, interested, engaged. But, we all know “careers” aren’t made on teaching and service, the poor and distant stepchildren to publications at the R1 institutions that can offer the substantial increases in salary and perquisites that make them so attractive.


A few months ago, my girlfriend Mrs. Dash put me in touch with Professor Latino, recently turned down for tenure at Mediocre State U. with a story of backstabbing and skullduggery remarkably similar to mine. My last week in Big Eastern City, I met him for an afternoon of pharmacy touring (where I finally found some of this), coffee, and scrumptious turkey and cream cheese pastilitos at a recently opened (and horribly overpriced) Venezuelan bakery. We commiserated over our focus on teaching and service, our lack of active publication histories, the dearth of self-marketing and networking that might have made the difference between our being retained and being canned. As Professor Prissy once put it at Sadistic College, “Always make yourself more valuable to the institution than the institution is to you.” Of course, this was easy for her to say, married to a bazillionaire and depositing his entire annual salary into his TIAA-CREF account. When you don't need the job, the job loves you even more. Such dilittante-ish noblesse oblige has been common in many professions, not the least of which is university teaching. Perhaps the real change and challenge to the university over the last forty years has not only been the introduction of racial diversity but rather also class diversity within the ranks of the professoriate.


Oh, sure, I’ve got some essays here and there, and the reasons as to why I would not have a super-dooper publication record are also there on my CV: teaching and service, 15 new preps over 5 years at 2 different institutions, and absolutely no fellowship or sabbatical time. I’ve been working since I got my doctorate, unlike so many others who even after years and years and years of fellowship time here and there, still haven’t managed to get their long-awaited “Lesbians! Monkeys! Flaming Cheese!: A Methodological Critique of Anderson-Hysgaard's neo-Foucauldian Problematic” (title grace à Dean Dad) volume published. These people still profit, because everyone loves a winner, even if that winner has nothing to demonstrate their talent other than a propensity for striking the right cord with fellowship committees.


So, life’s unfair. What’s new? Something Professor Latino and I talked about was the need to work, not necessarily for erudition or interest or even professional recognition but to carve a pathway out of our current circumstances, to give us options, here in the Shop or elsewhere. A cavale, if you will. A conclusion that Mr. Gordo and I reached over the summer is that this has to be my year for work, on the manuscript, on whatever essay might be handy, on whatever will get me some name-recognition, a fellowship, a new job, whatever (whatever seems to be the theme here). Of course I have been working, but not the right kind of work, if you know what I mean. Most of this desire for professional advancement in my case is material: quite frankly, I’m just not making enough money. I have lovely colleagues, a sane Dean, interesting students, a good working environment that is supportive and free of the paranoia and fear of Sadistic College. But as I look at the repairs I need to make on Cookie Gomez before the winter sets in, as I watch my IBook screen flicker (it’s still working, for now) and fizzle, I wonder how the hell am I supposed to cover $1000 in car repairs, potentially a new computer, and everything else a girl needs (insurance, student loans, rent, designer shampoo, etc.)? Ain’t gonna happen on my salary is all I have to say. And that is in the end much more important than anything else going on right now in my life. Mr. Gordo suggests another job (moonlighting), but I'm not sure what exactly that would be, other than working nights at Super Target. At least I would get the discount.

Then again, one can feel so trapped by these things. Is this why dead wood is privileged (tenured) but also angry, so very angry? Because of the paucity of publications, I feel awkward about approaching my letter writers. “Hi, again!” Nothing new to show, but will you support me? I feel like I need another year, that vaunted “another year.” I’ve had a lot of those. I’m such a hateful procrastinator that it’s always easy to see beyond the current moment, in terms of doing something useful. Of course, some of this emotional energy also feels rather circular, come to think of it.


But then again, if one has to work (and this one has to), then I want that to be as pleasurable and rewarding as possible. I don’t want to slave away for peanuts and end up the academic version of an old queen winning grand prize at a ball. Thanks, but, uh, no thanks. Sadistic College taught me the lie of that particular moral tale. No, this bitch has got to get her some. Something Professor Latino mentioned I found intriguing: that those who act like Divas get treated like a Diva. Should I begin to act like a Diva? I already have those qualities, in modest doses. Maybe it’s time to start playing the role in a more dedicated way. Firstly by stopping the good girl colleague role-playing and prioritising what’s important, in other words myself. That doesn’t mean becoming a department barracuda (necessarily), but rather saying days X, Y, and Z are unavailable for meetings/seminars/memos/luncheons. Partitioning one’s professional selves is a lesson we aren’t really taught, but one that strikes me as much more important than anything else one might learn in graduate school. Then again, is it possible to do all three well? The R1 folks I have known, either as teachers or colleagues, were generally also bad colleagues (department citizens) and teachers, but excellent researchers. There is honour in teaching and service, just not the kind that pays, unfortunately. To paraphrase Harvard clerical workers in their unionisation drive of the 1980s, we can’t eat honour. Maybe we can snack on it, but a full-fledged meal? Nah...


Working through my depression today online (where else?), I came upon this treasure trove of New York ultra-gay disco classics from the eighties and nineties (Check out Jade Elektra's Whatevah if you're interested in hearing an abridged version of a conversation between Miss Prancilla and Oso Raro). These songs made me happy, not only for reminding me of the time I could go to a disco without feeling embarrassed, but for the energy and attitude they project. I’m feeling the need for some of that sassy, bitchy, finger-snapping diva-ness right about now (especially since Miss Prancilla, one of the few who can understand and appreciate such positionality, is currently in the land of vanilla ice-cream sundaes). Not only that Z-formation snap bitchitude, but also the principle of “work,” both in an academic and the wonderful faggoty sense: What does it mean to work (it)? What are the elements of the drag queen version of the Protestant work ethic? Confidence, a sense of superiority, and self-centeredness in the best sense of the word: self-preservation (and looking good while doing it). So, in spite of the miserablism of the moment, at least I have a project: to become the fabulousness that I am. I’ll, um, keep you posted on my progress.

In the words of RuPaul— you better work, bitch!

12 comments:

Paris said...

If playing to diva means 2 or 3 days of research a week, I say play the diva.

As you yourself pointed out, it works for the damnest people (I'll skip my own encounters, thank you very much) so a little dab should do ya.

Mr Gordo said...

Dear Oso Raro,

You should be entitled to have at least 2 days for your research or your writing, and you have to ferociously defend those days away from college stuff. Defend them not as a Diva but as her handsome bodyguard.

Also, my dearest OR, I hate to admit it but I don't think you will be good working at Super Target (unless they have a Clarins counter). You are an excellent writer so live of your talent! Get an editor to publish some of the entries you have posted here someplace else. I won’t even try to be objective (I’m more in love than ever) but other readers have suggested that. Besos, muchos besos. Y mas.

Oso Raro said...

I'm happy to see the first two comments are by the fabulous Paris (whose been away from the comments box here for so long) and Mr. Gordo, making his first official foray into Oso's online playpen! But Paris, do share! We love sharing here! Sharing just makes our educated guesswork over who, what, and where more interesting!

And Mr. Gordo, I'm afraid Super Target is fresh out of Clarins counters, which speaks mostly to the lack of imagination on the part of American retailers, at the very least. (An aside: Why don't American deserve beauty in their quotidian lives? Why do we choose ugliness as a social convention? Why do we choose crappy cosmetics? Why is the scent palatte marketed to US men and women so banal?) I wrote this piece to work out my frustration and mild depression at being back chez Cold City, at the risk of sounding a little like Sandra Dee at her own Pity Party. But now I feel more like Carmen Maura after she slaps the bitchy lawyer in Mujeres al Border. I feel much better, much more refreshed! (Which is good, considering Miss Oso is on stage in an hour and a half, and still unshowered)

Of course, listening to Fierce Bitches (Check out Club 69 on ITunes) can do that to a girl. "A little dab" can do ya (in, that is), so we'll experiment with some hairstyles and attitudes (including chutzpah, as in "Hi again Ms. Letter Writer!). The magic is in the makeup! I once dated a dude who swore that Stevie Nicks produced her best music while addicted to Cocaine, so bring on the cigs and Tab! Although how I would love to be cruising with Miss Prancilla in her low-rent road-dirty Saturn right now (for whatever reason, Miss Ting never, ever, evah washed her car!), listening to some Miss Pet Shop Boys loud!

Dr. Crazy said...

Sorry to hear things are so crummy OR. My best advice for approaching the letter writers is to lie - not big crazy lies, but the kind of lies that you can turn into the truth - regarding the research. That and send out anything you've got to send out. But the whole thing is a crap shoot anyway, and as for those people who get tenure even though they suck (as colleagues, as human beings, as researchers, etc.)? Well, would you want to suck as they do if it meant having/getting tenure? Of course you wouldn't. You're awesome, and don't forget it. :)

Paris said...

I don't feel like sharing any more, as I am retiring to the kitchen to stick my head in the oven.

Itt seems I can't rally a sufficient number of letter writers to apply for jobs in the states due to the catch-22 of examination procedures over here.

GayProf said...

You know, it just didn't feel like home here until I found a source for TaB.

Sorry to hear the new year brings up all these issues. I also will likely look into the job market again rather than resigning to be live out my days in Eastern Texas. None of it is ever fun, though. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Money, money, money...must be funny...in a rich man's world.

When I was dreaming of a partner, I though about how he would provide companionship, emotional support...and sex.

When I moved in with my partner, I was surprised to find myself with *gasp* disposable income. I was such a romantic that I did not even realize what so many gay men already knew: having a live-in partner can really ease your financial burdens. And I am not talking about finding a sugar daddy. I'm talking about someone who simply shares half of the expenses.

It is absolutely shameful how academia forces so many of us to develop long-distance relationships. Few professionals have to deal with the extra expense of maintaining double residences, exorbitant long-distance phone bills, numerous round-trip tickets, etc. If they do, they are usually generously compensated for it.

It's not simply that you don;t earn enough. Academia simply places a very dear price on sustaining our emotional well-being.

Anonymous said...

Money, money, money...must be funny...in a rich man's world.

When I was dreaming of a partner, I though about how he would provide companionship, emotional support...and sex.

When I moved in with my partner, I was surprised to find myself with *gasp* disposable income. I was such a romantic that I did not even realize what so many gay men already knew: having a live-in partner can really ease your financial burdens. And I am not talking about finding a sugar daddy. I'm talking about someone who simply shares half of the expenses.

It is absolutely shameful how academia forces so many of us to develop long-distance relationships. Few professionals have to deal with the extra expense of maintaining double residences, exorbitant long-distance phone bills, numerous round-trip tickets, etc. If they do, they are usually generously compensated for it.

It's not simply that you don;t earn enough. Academia simply places a very dear price on sustaining our emotional well-being.

Anonymous said...

BTW, this was a lovely post. Thanks.

Philly said...

Oso Raro: Even when you're depressed you're articulate. Your writing is impresive.
Thanks for this great piece on longing, working and the principle of reality ( oh dear, I'm reading too much psychoanalysis!)

Consider yourslef blessed with that relationship.Take good care

JoannaO said...

Dear Oso, at first I just read your posts straight through because they were so engrossing, and I didn't want to get distracted by clicking on the links. Now, after I read them through the first time, I go back and click away. You write so very well. I really want to read your book about Flaming Cheese, whatever it is! If acting like a Diva means saying "No, I'm so sorry, but right now I'm focusing on my research," then go for it.

Professor Zero said...

Hey - do I tell you often enough how much I like your blog?

Anyway: yeah, even though we have escaped sadistic colleges to friendlier departments, and the cities in which these are located have some virtues, and even though things do improve after tenure (yes, they do), there is still this weird feeling left, and it isn't just because we're not at home. It has to do, I think, with all of the commodification, passive aggression, and ass-kissing. I am not sure what to do about it in a general sense. I have, however, started doing what I used to do when I was younger, and which was good then as now: be sure to do something truly fun each day, and get one piece of work done each day, and remember to put my own life first.

This seems simple but it became very easy for me, for a while, to put my editors' opinions ahead of mine, my department's needs ahead of mine, etc.
Realizing this and then quitting has helped.