Friday, October 28, 2005


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The LSAT scores are out and I'm happy to report mine went up by three points, to 160. This puts me in the 82 percentile--not high enough to be firmly in the pool for most of the top ten schools, but high enough to be at or almost at the next tenth to fifteenth. Berkeley starts at 161, Duke at 162, Minnesota and Illinois at 160, Michigan at 164, UCLA 163. It's hard to say whether one can overcome the score and argue one's way in past the rigid barriers that maintain the school's ranking; many people just get in to the best school they can, try for stellar grades, and transfer a year later. So we'll see. Still, cause for minor celebration! The kicker is that neither failure nor success is assured; instead, there is ample room for hope and disappointment.

But the Job Market prepares you for that, doesn't it? It's time to anxiously leaf through possible writing samples, tailor that letter to each different job description, and make wild claims about your next project. In this season, hope flickers like the candle in a jack o' lantern, its warm light shining even inside life's more menacing forms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Howard Hughes Had a Point

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In the gym today I go into the bathroom and somebody has peed all over the seat. I think maybe if I have to clean off one more toilet seat in one more bathroom, anywhere, I am going to lose it. Women's room or unisex bathroom, it doesn't matter. The world is full of people who think it's ok to pee on seats and walk away.

This particular bathroom is unisex. I'm washing my hands, and a guy walks out of the stall next to mine and out the door without washing his hands. He is going to go out there and touch all the machines and weights. I try to stop my mind. I think maybe I will lose it sooner than I thought.

Job letter

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Dear Chair:

I'm writing to apply for the literature job you advertised in the MLA Job Information List and in the Chronicle. I've been combing the ads obsessively for months now, and I was really happy to see a job with less than a 4-4 load come open. Who am I kidding? I was just happy to see a job, period. I sounded your name out and tried to imagine what you look like, but all I see is a manila folder on a table in a conference room.

See, I'm unemployed. I've done lots of stuff, and I've taught lots of classes, but right now, no job-o! Funny how that can happen. Anyway, I'm super-over-qualified, way too old and entitled, disturbingly savvy edging on bitter, and basically disbelieving that anybody who isn't young and feminine and push-around-able and exploitatively, naively enthusiastic can get a job in an English department nowadays. Heck, who am I kidding? In any department. But I thought I'd apply anyway.

I should tell you about my cv and publications because I know you won't read them. I've published lots of stuff, smart stuff and really crazy dumb stuff, and my book will be out next spring. I've taught for forever, and I mean, forever. I'm theoretical, psychoanalytic, and close-readerly. I've taught composition (I actually love teaching composition), Thackeray, Derrida, Woolf, Rushdie. I can recite the entire script of the film "Paris is Burning" by heart. I know enough famous academics for them to run away when they see me making a beeline for them with a drink in my hand at a cash bar.

I would love to work at your university. I haven't heard anything especially exciting about your town, but everyone knows you are a nice department, and I figure I could have some sort of mini-farm on the outskirts if I moved there. I get fat eating out anyway, so lack of restaurants isn't a problem. I'm happy to teach anything you want, serve on orals and dissertation committees, and generally help the department pretend that it's ok to train grad students for jobs that won't be there. I promise to pretend that what we do is relevant, and I'm prepared to certify that I believe these dark days of political conservatism, religious intolerance, homophobia, privatization, and intelligent design are just a blip on the radar screen of democracy, allowing us to go on doing what we do pretty much as if it's 1965. Oh, and I know about the monasteries you are building out there for the End Times, to preserve the books and all in the Dark Ages to come, and I think it's a great idea. As our Aristophanes, Tom Wolfe may need transcribing by someone at some point, and I have pretty good penmanship.

So I hope you'll consider my application. I plan to go to MLA in DC in December, how I have no idea because my car will never make it, but maybe my dad will give me one of his I'm-a-guy-so-I-don't-give-presents Christmas checks a little early and I'll get a ticket. Please, please interview me. Please. Oh, and I can't really afford an interview suit unless I know I'm going to use it, so let me know in time hit Lane Bryant for blazers, will ya?

Good luck reading through 500 applications. I'll be lighting candles to the Goddess and checking my email every 20 minutes until I hear from you.

Sincerely, Sfrajett

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Happy Birthday, Oscar

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A very happy birthday going out tonight to the father of modern homosexuality, the one, the only, Oscar Wilde, born October 16, 1854. We all know the stories about Oscar--his dandyism, his epigrams, his affection for Robbie, his tortured love for the beautiful and despicable Bosie, his deep love for his wife and children, who were forced to renounce his name in order to move freely about the world with some shred of respectability after his imprisonment and death. We know Oscar the wit, naughtily waving a cigarette at audiences mad for his plays. We know the self-made man, the tragically proud genius brought low by his belief in the invincibility of art, the sorrowful and wise poet in prison, the broken victim of his culture's homophobia killed prematurely by a penal term of hard labor. We know the poser, the connoiseur, the flamer.

The side we often forget, or are encouraged to forget, is the Wilde who loved children, wrote for them, took them seriously, and was kind to them. Natalie Barney writes of meeting Wilde when she was a very young girl:

"My first adventure of the mind took place in a resort near the Atlantic, when I, hardly out of diapers, ran across a hotel room to escape a pack of vacationing children. Among the empty chairs awaiting an event there was but a single figure. He lifted me out of my terrified course to his considerable height. I was reassured by his eyes which had sympathetically witnessed my flight, by his hair which was as long as mine, and especially by his voice which swept me into a story.

As the two of us sat together on a raised throne facing the arriving public, he never stopped astonishing me; and even when my mother, who had been searching for me, lifted me from his knees, all the while apologizing for us, he finished his tale with compliments on my paleness, my lace dress, and my precious attention.

When I learned, as an adolescent, that my friend had just been imprisoned in England, I wrote to him at Reading Gaol, hoping to comfort him as he had comforted me, reminding him of his marvelous protection of me against the pursuits of other little people.

But did he ever receive my letter?" (Natalie Barney, Adventures of the Mind)

I hope you receive this one, Oscar. Thanks for giving us a model of funny, smart, devil-may-care queerness as an alternative to stuffy bourgeois respectability. Happy 151st Birthday.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Keeping Vigil

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It's almost 5 a.m. and I've been up for three hours. I can't sleep. In my head I keep hearing words from our quarrel that morning. One or two windows have lights on, but the street is dark. It's Saturday morning now, so the lost sleep doesn't feel quite so tragic. One could have been up all night at a club with friends.

The moon is waxing. Draw good things here, good fortune and good energy to me and mine. In the dark, the rabbits nibble the grass. Urban rabbits, they hardly run when I surprise them mid-bite when I come around the back of the apartment building.

Except for the worries that woke me, it is a lovely time of day. No sign of dawn yet. No cars, no voices. For those that are asleep, it is the deepest part of sleep. The nights are getting cool, so most of the windows are closed. I see the wind ruffle the trees outside, but I can't hear it. In this quiet, one must be vigilant. Just being awake is a job worth doing. Thinking about things feels like action. In the quiet, you can think, even if it's only about thinking itself.

In old times people would stay up all night in chapels praying over their armor, or swords, or troops, or spouses-to-be. As if consciousness and yearning in all their power and urgency might make a potent enough mix to influence the course of events, and assure happy endings.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Will Nobody Stop This Woman?

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Rene Portland has been one of the most well-known homophobes in women's sports for years. The coach of Penn State Lady Lions basketball has had an anti-lesbian policy in place for players and recruits for over two decades, which means that she tells her players and their parents that lesbianism will not be tolerated on her team. She has players suspected of lesbianism followed, harassed, and thrown off her basketball organization, which at the very least traumatizes young women just coming to terms with their sexuality, and at its worst means the end of their sports scholarships, good relations with their families, and for many, the end of both their basketball careers and their hopes for a college education.

I first heard about Portland when I came to Penn State in 1984, not sure what I wanted to do with my life, doing what many English majors do when they're not sure what to do with their lives, which is to get an MA in English. The sports culture of State College was a shock to me after my small liberal arts college feminist years, where I had absorbed the idea that sports were bad to women and sports culture sexist and redneck. What I discovered at Penn State in the eighties was not only a college town mad about sports, which I expected, but a sports culture that attracted more lesbians than I had ever seen living in one place. The women's teams, the sports medicine and exercise physiology programs, the wholesome culture of health and competition--all of these brought players, coaches, and the lesbians who love them to central Pennsylvania's Happy Valley in droves. I came there hoping to withstand the atmosphere and leave quickly. I stayed for five years--longer than I should have-- because I found the largest and nicest lesbian community I have ever known and ever would know.

I like to point out to people who express surprise that I once lived there that it was a time in my life when my social circle was so large, I couldn't invite fewer than twenty lesbians over at a time without offending someone by leaving them out. And the parties--the parties attracted hundreds of people, people from all over the state and beyond who had once attended school there, or dated someone who did. Many of the social gatherings revolved around football games. But the best part of the year was women's basketball season, when the dykes came out in droves to support the Lady Lions.

I remember standing in a bar in State College one fall friday night in 1984, listening in horror to two former basketball players who had long since left town telling their stories about being thrown off Rene Portland's team because they were gay. Both of them had lost their sports scholarships; one of them had never gone back to college and was permanently estranged from her family. They were nice people, soft-spoken women who had learned that talent and drive and discipline were not enough in a world that loves lesbians in theory, especially in porn, and hates them in practice. Other lesbians at the bar listened, and many of them nodded. They knew about this already. It was part of what it meant to be gay, and a woman, in mainstream America.

I'm sure lots of lesbians still go to women's basketball games in State College, as they do all over the country when the season starts. Every few years a story surfaces about Portland, and my hopes rise that this time something will be done about her. But nothing ever happens. Her teams are fairly successful year after year, and at a school as conservative as Penn State, it seems unlikely that a winning coach will be fired any time soon for homophobia. Now a former player has spoken up, a woman who claims that she was forced to transfer after two successful years on the team because Portland's harassment had grown unbearable. The story appeared on gay sites two days ago, on National Coming Out Day, but seems to be receding once more. Will nobody stop Rene Portland from harassing young women, ruining their careers, and wrecking their families and hopes for an education in the name of her hate and intolerance? WiIl nobody ever stop this woman?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Epistemology of the Blogset

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Remembering that today is National Coming Out Day, I've gotten a kick all day asking my friends, gf, etc. "Is there anybody you need to come out to?" and having them chuckle, "Nah. You?" The joke, of course, is that we have all of us been out so long that nobody DOESN'T know we're gay at this point. In my case, even people I don't know would never think for a minute that I was straight. Every day is National Coming Out Day for me, and no day is. If anything, due to my short hair, wide shoulders, baby face, and swagger, I have to come out as female, over 40, and well-educated quite often, whereas anybody anywhere looking at me figures pretty much immediately that I like the ladies.

That said, as I contemplate this year's academic job market, there is another closet whose benefits and dangers I find myself thinking about over and over, and that closet is the blogger's closet, or blogset (because 'clogger' is a whole 'nother identity to circumnavigate). Daniel Drezner's denial of tenure at Chicago is just the latest example in a conversation dating back at least to "Ivan Tribble"'s arguments last summer in the Chronicle and subsequent follow-up blog discussions that blogs hurt job candidates and untenured academics. The latest from Inside Higher Ed actually argues that anonymity is impossible to maintain, even for those who blog under pseudonyms, as Drezner did not. Arguments range over whether faculties are justified in thinking that anyone who has time to blog should be spending more time in the stacks and less time trolling the net, to some bloggers actually defending their blog time as the equivalent of what their colleagues with families spend with their children.

This argument is both chilling and, I think, aptly gestures to the queerness of blogging, which apparently enjoys that same status among many of our colleagues that masturbation enjoyed a century ago. This means that we bloggers are imagined as pale, palsyed, bloodshot-eyed wankers furtively getting off at our desks before rushing, late and unprepared, to teach another anemic class. As our strength ebbs and our hands shake we turn ever more frantically to our solitary vice, which in turn makes us further unfit to lead the nation's young people towards literacy.


And so we learn, much to our surprise, that free speech on the internet, like queerness, or maternity, is a great way to eliminate that pesky problem of too many candidates for too few jobs. We note yet another special issue of some journal devoted to asking "What Happened to Queer Theory?" as if Queer Theory ever had a chance to begin with, as if there were ever reliable listings on the level of, say, Victorian or Romanticist, of Queer Theory jobs, jobs where academics doing queer work have a snowball's chance in hell of getting hired, or published, or tenured. We find out, much to our surprise, that women academics who want careers must, unlike women doctors and women lawyers, forgo children and families, mostly because motherhood is all too often seen as a no-no for a gal on the tenure track. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "Rigid Tenure System Hurts Young Professors and Women, University Officials Say" the first sentence reads: "Officials of 27 major research universities who met here in late September to discuss ways to make the tenure track more flexible said the lock-step, up-or-out nature of academic careers not only leaves no room for young professors to enjoy their family lives, but also hampers women's efforts to advance in the profession." A Harvard investigator quoted in the piece puts it more succinctly: "We have structured an academic workplace for men of a bygone era."

It is worth noting, as Margo, Darling smartly points out, that few of the leisurely-published old boys of yesterday's academy could compete in today's job market. So even this can't be right. This tenure system isn't to keep bygone men in the club. It's to keep many--most--of us out of it.

Maybe rather than defend one's childlessness as a reason that one be allowed to blog, we should all look at the things bloggers, queers, and mothers on the job market or trying to get tenure have in common. These are that we have lives that diverge from the Fifties "norm" that cultural conservatives seem hell-bent on bringing back, the norm where successful job candidates and junior colleagues shut up, toe the line, and pretend to be whatever they need to seem in order to keep their jobs. Maybe all of us need to look harder at the closet every jobless and untenured person is asked to stay in, a closet defined by a professional ideal of normativity where communicative, sexual, and procreative creativity is expected to take a back seat to the safest and most conventional kinds of intellectual production.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Goodbye LSAT

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It's over for good. I've taken it three times, and this time was the last time. This time, I reviewed all the concepts until problems danced in my sleep. This time, I took the test over and over and over. This time, I let myself believe that i could overcome the panic and the pressure. This time, I did it for myself, because maybe I still won't get a high enough score, or into a good law school, or into a place I can afford, or that makes itself affordable. This time, I may turn around and take an academic job in Texas, or Boston, or California. This time, it could be that I simply wanted to prove the LSAT wrong in its assertion that you don't improve much, or that standardized tests are true measures of aptitude.

So I chewed cinnamon gum like a madwoman, checked my timer every few minutes, attacked the end of sections strategically, guessed "D" for the Logic Games questions I didn't have time for and "E" for Logical Reasoning questions I was unsure about. I chewed my roast beef sandwich thoughtfully at the break (no brain-deadening carbs for me) and tried to muster enthusiasm for the writing sample. I tried to use having badly to pee as a concentration tool. I bought cigarettes on the drive home, and let myself have only one.

I like this test. I'm sad it's over. I feel if I had one more try, I could do even better. I'm reluctant to stop doing an afternoon section or two just for fun.

Yesterday gf and I sat in a lesbian bar all afternoon long. We drank and watched the White Sox beat Cleveland. Today we hung around the house. Tomorrow I have to start writing a job letter for academic jobs. I have to schedule an interview at the law school where I want to apply early decision, and begin strategizing my personal statement. I have to turn my cv into a resume so I can pay bills when the unemployment runs out. I have to imagine many outcomes, many victories, many incremental improvements.

But right now, I'm still savoring the end of the LSAT, forever. And I'm actually sorry it's over. But the beer--the beer tastes really, really good.