Thursday, December 29, 2005


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The night before your interview, you meet a few people for dinner. As you stand in the lobby, you recognize someone you've lost touch with, someone you used to consider a friend. She is talking on the phone like an actor, making facial gestures and grandly pacing back and forth. You want to run up to her, but you feel shy. Then you realize she has probably seen you and is pretending she hasn't. You feel confused for a minute before you realize you, too, are hiding, positioning a tall person in your group in front of you so your old friend can't see you. Then an older woman comes down to the lobby. She and your old friend hug, and their body language says advisor/advisee. The older woman walks by and checks out the woman standing next to you. It is clear she recognizes her, but can't decide whether or not to say hello. You watch her physically, visibly decide not to say hello, and you think not-so-nice thoughts about academic generations.

Just as you stand there feeling bummed out, an old friend of your girlfriend who you've only met once runs up to say hello. He doesn't have to say hi. Your girlfriend isn't even there, and besides, they lost each other taking sides in a divorce. He says hello to you anyway, even though you are the Other Woman. He is making an effort, and your mood brightens.

At the dinner, you drink too much wine. Darn! You said you wouldn't, but it was tasting so good.

You wake up the next morning feeling fuzzy. Oh no. Order room service, start drinking coffee and water. Lots and lots of water. Lasso a friend and make them ask you questions about your book, your teaching philosophy, your next project. Take a shower. Put on a suit. Use concealer to hide those bags. Change your shirt three times.

Polish your shoes with the hotel polisher cloth. Pee, again.

Take a taxi. Walk across the main conference hotel lobby. Watch people run up to each other and ignore each other. Go to Starbucks and get a double espresso. Pee one more time.

Call up ten minutes before your interview. Panic because no one answers. Call a minute later. And a minute later. Finally get hold of them four minutes before your interview. Listen to them tell you to go all the way across the world to the hotel tower on the other side of the building.


Go up, go in, go on. Realize that they are genuinely interested in a conversation. Lap it up like a thirsty plant. A plant with a tongue. Shake hands. Help someone in the elevator who is lost find her interview. Go down to the lobby and take note of your irrigated armpits. Decide not to take your jacket off. Go home. Change. Get lunch and a beer. Make it three beers.

Darn! Tipsy again. Time to go to the cash bar party. You meet What Now and her girlfriend and enjoy talking to them. You go into your university reception and it feels like a high school reunion, only more fun. The same faces you went to grad school with show up a little kinder, but still ready to dish. Some of you have gotten famous, others have lost jobs or never gotten them. People are frantically happy to see each other and wish each other well. The same profs who used to have a little too much to drink at the wine and cheese receptions are still dancing around wearing lampshades. Everyone is friendlier than you remember. Enthusiastic. Jovial. This is not just because of the wine. You feel a strange sense of family, of cousins under one roof again.

Seven o'clock comes too soon. People start to drift away. You turn in the doorway to watch the last groups cling, undulate, and break apart down the red carpet hallways, washed out on the tide of another year.

You are still smiling as you walk through the lobby and into the night, thinking that sometimes the nicest things get passed down academic generations.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Interview Suit

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"We would like to interview you at the MLA." The hoped-for words flashed across an email one evening, and I grimly savored them for a tiny private moment before turning to my Person seated at a chair on the other side of our shared office. "I got the interview."

"What???" She squawked, kicking her chair away as she dashed to my side. She silently mouthed the contents of the very short email. Her first words sounded panicky. "What will you wear?"

It tells you something important about her that this was her response to my kind-of triumph. After all, I was a girl that had been asked to dance at the last minute. I wouldn't have to cancel my prom plans. Some university out there thought I was attractive enough to ask to the MLA. But like the girl she is, she immediately starts worrying about the prom dress.

She wasn't wrong to worry. I bought my first and last interview suit 12 years ago this month, and I haven't exactly kept my shape since. Fifty pounds--yes, that much--stands between me and the Liz Claiborn pinstripes I pulled off the rack back then. I still go to the gym, even run three or four miles a couple of times a week, but 50 pounds sits on my 43 year-old shoulders in a way it didn't when I was 31, although I remember, way back then, thinking I probably needed to lose some weight. That suit is long gone, as is the girl with the shining face who thought it all would somehow, magically work out for her in the end. Those pounds weigh on me like a metaphor, like the years that have dragged down my flesh and my heart until I ceased to care much about either. How could a suit fix these pounds, years, sadnesses? What did it matter what I wore?

"What are we going to do?"

I assured her that I had dressed myself for years and could continue to do so. She told me she just wasn't sure. I told her to stop treating me like a baby. She told me she just worried I wouldn't get around to it. We stopped the conversation at that point. After a few minutes she told me I could go shopping on my own and I told her I appreciated her interest, and would be grateful for her company and shopping expertise.

How did I come to this pass?

She is an expert, that must be granted her. I have never seen a woman move around a mall with such swimmerly confidence as that California girl breast-strokes through racks of clothes. The problem, when we finally got to the mall, was which department to start in first. Men's or Women's? Casual or Career? Plus Sizes? That one was easy. Should I find something funky and bohemian or invest in a suit I could wear in court, should I end up in law school next fall?

Since I wear men's clothes, my first instinct was to shop in men's, but I could see her getting agitated at the thought of too much tailoring and long, baggy, boxy cuts. I agreed to go to women's, much as I hate the undignified cheap lines of most women's clothes, which seem to me to have been designed to enforce castration rather than decorate it, which usually means making women's thighs and asses look so balloonlike and ponderous as to rob them of all grace and beauty. As soon as I tried on my first women's blazer, cut long and roomy, GF smiled. "It fits you," she said happily. "It actually fits you." Feeling like I was shopping with my mother, which I was, I determined to find the most mannish, no-nonsense suit I could, which I did. It was black. It was that polyesterish suit material, but at least the pants had a front fly. GF found a snappy shirt on sale. We both began to breathe easier.

She nearly had to go and ruin everything by mentioning bras, a four-letter word if ever there was one. But I had already recognized my own denial and negativity. I knew I had to carry on the masquerade of masquerading to the bitter end.

There is no moral to the story. After trying on bras that seemed to bite and scratch as I struggled to squeeze them on, I finally agreed to just one as a sort of tribute to the 350 dollar suit I wanted to look nice wearing. The bra cost more than I used to spend on a week's worth of groceries (50 pounds ago) and points me forward like twin missiles on the verge of a launch, but I figure their sculptural effect will give me a sense of direction. Upward! Forward! On to better things!

The suit is getting altered. Sadly, I am not, though my snappy suit will help me pull off the embodiment I drifted away from years ago, the together, genderbending young academic woman going places, thinking up a million projects, imagining thousands of different job scenarios, places to live, lives to lead. My on-the-market suit will hang in the corner of my room at MLA, like an older, yet newer, self, and when I take her off her hanger and put her on, she will remind me, sadly, of the girl I left behind long ago, the lighter, younger girl who believed, who still believes. I will have only to look down at my new suit, at my reanimated self, to remember her strength, her confidence, and her faith that things might just work out after all.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Slam Dunk Santa

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Here's the Santa at the top of our tree. We got it last year in part because gf loves women's basketball so much. Especially Pat Summit's Lady Vols.

This year there are at least four reasons to be happy about Santa's slam dunk.

1. Rene Portland is finally going to get hers. ESPN's web site is covering the story of Portland's long reign of hate, and this coverage is going to reveal, even to Portland, that the times have at last caught up with her. She can't wreck any more young lives just because she thinks players might be lesbians. She can't take away their scholarships, chance to play college ball, chance at a career in women's sports, or chance, even more simply, to get a college education. Even if it isn't yet ready to grant queer people their full rights, America doesn't support this kind of discrimination anymore. Score!

2. I got an MLA interview. It's only one, but since I'm not anywhere near a beginning Assistant Professor, and since there were only three Advanced/Associate jobs out there this year in my field, I'm pretty psyched that I got an interview at one of them. Score!

3. I got my first law school acceptance of the year today. Score!

4. What Now got tenure. It's true that her president gave her tenure then asked her to resign from her Catholic school in the next breath, but she should get to savor her victory, at least for today. Score!

Finally, for the anonymous commenter who wanted to see the snow out my livingroom window, this picture below is for you. Happy Holidays!
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Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Season

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The tree is up. What else matters? GF decided on Friday that the tree had to be hunted down. I think she imagined that Saturday would be some sort of Tree Rush day. So to beat the rush, off to Home Depot, site of last year's tree. Last year's tree was reasonably priced (35 bucks or so) but died within two weeks and proved to have been painted to cover brown tendencies. This year, although many cars with trees strapped to their roofs could be seen on many streets, Home Depot hadn't yet gotten its act together. Its gates were closed, its trees were all bound up, and there was almost no help to be had binding and tying up the tree of one's dreams. After fruitlessly walking up and down several aisles, trying to imagine what various trees looked like inside their net stockings, gf and I gave up and drove home. It was bitter cold. She was cross. It wasn't working.

Next day was much nicer. We decided to try again, this time closer to home. So much closer to home, as a matter of fact, that the temptation to go out to lunch first and have a beer could not be avoided. As we ate it began to snow. By the time we emerged on our errand once more, the streets were truly festive. We went to the garden store down the street, one with what I have always thought of as an unfortunate choice of name--Gethsemane. Why in the world would someone name their garden store that? Doesn't that name alone suggest that someone could get their ear cut off by your bird bath? Or that your backyard barbeque guests will claim not to know you?

I warned gf that this store tended to be pricey, and that we could pay as much as double Home Depot's price for a tree. I wish.

The trees we were shown started at 65 dollars. GF wanted a tall tree. I wanted a fat tree. The trees got taller and fatter. 85 dollars worth, and still not fat enough for me. At last, I saw it. The tallest, fattest tree of my dreams. Ten feet worth of tall, and 100 dollars worth of fat. We looked at each other. It seemed a ridiculous price to pay for a tree. But it smelled wonderful, like the forests where I'm from, and where my family will gather this Christmas without me. Its Frazier Fir needles were firm, soft, and blue. When I held it, I got sap all over my hands.

GF eyed me. "You like it?" she asked. "It's too much money," I answered, nodding my head yes. "You got it," she said, all five-foot two of her lipstick femme self. "Wrap it up." She added that at that price there probably wouldn't be much to put under it, so she hoped I was happy. I was.

And so in this season as we wait for the MLA interviews that may never come, and spend the holidays apart from family because of the possibility of MLA interviews that may never come, and wait to hear from law schools that may say no, and apply for adjunct sections, two of which pay as much or less than unemployment, we sit at the feet of our tree, surrounded by our friends (and maybe a roast chicken or two), and celebrate its fragrant greenness in the midst of winter, and its bright lights in a season of early darkness. Good luck to everybody on the market, and everybody hoping not to have to go on the market, and good cheer, and good friendships. May your trees be the tallest and fattest of trees, and may the many lights on them remind you that brighter days are just around the corner.