Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Interview as Big as the Ritz

This is the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Philadelphia, the site of one of my MLA interviews. There were six interviewers, including the chair of the department and an interested graduate student. There was one interviewee triumphantly wearing her MLA suit, thanks to the MLA air diet.

Here's a sampling of the best interview advice I received this year:

1. Don't forget to sparkle.
2. Don't forget to breathe.
3. Talk about how your dream course serves the students, not yourself.
4. Go into more detail about what happens in your classroom.
5. Be yourself.*

*Last night at an informal UW MLA-attendee gathering, my own dept. chair was laughing red wine out of his nose at something I'd said, and spluttered, "Did you show your sardonic humor in your interviews?" When I assured him I had refrained, he replied, "That's probably a good thing." So perhaps as well-intended as "be yourself" can be, as advice from one's beloved goes, it may not be the savviest advice to follow.

This advice all came to me from good friends, and I'm grateful to each of them for patiently listening to me while I relentlessly practiced answering fake interview questions, even at times when they hadn't actually asked me any fake interview questions. Thanks to these kind friends, my interviews went very well.

And now for something completely different... overheard at the MLA:

"... do call me. I love giving presidential addresses--so many people come to them..."
--Gayatri Spivak

"As [so and so] says in a very fine essay entitled 'Pointy Penises'..."
--Joseph Bristow

"Really, it should be fine to look puffy all the time."
--Paige Morgan

Sunday, December 27, 2009

MLA Suit Fugue

Both definitions of fugue were in full force on Christmas night as I was packing suit variations for the Modern Language Association's annual post-Christmas convention in Philadelphia. The trick is to figure out how to stretch one's limited supply of professional clothing as long as possible--crucial if one plans to wander around the streets and hotels of downtown Philly for more than two days.

When I was packing my bed looked like this:

My boyfriend patiently looked on as I talked him through the Sunday outfit, the Monday (interview1) outfit, the Tuesday (interview2) outfit, and the Wednesday (just-in-case) outfit, and then he quietly waited for me to finish packing and re-packing my suitcase, wisely offering no helpful suggestions when I realized that my favorite gray Clarks heels would not make it to the convention after all.

After a 5.5 hour flight, I arrived at the downtown Doubletree hotel. A noisy demotion from Nob Hill's Fairmont where I stayed for the MLA convention in San Francisco last year. I unpacked, and my fugue state shifted from variations on a theme ...

to being more of a really disturbed state of consciousness, as I realized that I would need to re-read my entire dissertation (completed in 2007) in order to remember what it was about. Sweet dreams indeed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grandma's Favorite Cookies Not Tonight

These are my grandmother's favorite Christmas cookies. A basic butter cookie with an orange-honey glaze, the dough is very pleasing to put together because of the scent that lingers on your fingers from the fresh orange juice and grated orange peel. They are then dressed with a honey-orange glaze and topped with chopped walnuts. I cannot reproduce the recipe here, because it's a family secret. Got it? No recipe. Thus this entire post is a teaser.

And I'll tell you why that's fair: every year at Christmas-time, the Modern Language Association holds its annual job-hunt/meat-market/fish-bowl convention. Folks hoping to obtain a job teaching in the Humanities in an institution of higher education, many of whom are under-employed as adjunct faculty or office drones or baristas, are required to spend upwards of $1,000 traveling to this convention in order to give interviews, if they are fortunate to have them.

But if one were, hypothetically, following my family's recipe for these scrumptious cookies, one might consider pulsing the butter and flour together in a food processor, but not too long because it should be light and fluffy.

This year's MLA is in Philadelphia, the week after Christmas. Three years ago when I commenced my tenure-track professorship quest, after an agonizing eight hours in a shopping mall, I spent over $200 on the most charming black and grey tweed Calvin Klein suit (with a slightly flared skirt) to wear to my interviews. Since last MLA (in San Francisco) I managed to gain enough weight to not fit into the Interview Suit. This has provoked a crisis in our community.

In fact, these cookies can hardly be thought of as innocent in my, um, augmentation.

However, if one were to persevere and figure out the recipe, one might like to know that one must refrigerate the dough for at least an hour before rolling it out.

There will be NO dough in my fridge this year, as I am now desperately following the MLA diet. Yes, dear reader, this means that I have been granted two interviews. And in lieu of purchasing a larger suit for the slim chance of a campus visit, I will lose the ten pounds preventing me from wearing Calvin without busting the seams.

But if one had chilled the dough, one would eventually like to roll it out about 1/8" thick, select several cookie cutters, solicit some assistance, and cut out shapes to bake. See the charmingly plump dough-children? I will not resemble them two weeks from now, in Philadelphia.

After baking them one glazes them. One might be deserted by one's helpers at this point, because picking cookie cutters is fun, while painting cookies with glaze is tedious and sticky. But all under-bakers and assistants swiftly return to sample these treats. Except those attending the MLA, who are neither baking this year, nor sampling. No, we are a committed lot: we are eating air, and we will get a job!