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 skullduggeryremarkably 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.
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.