On Track At Last

Here we are now, in a strange & beautiful galaxy for the first time. After negotiating my job offer for a long & grueling week (where I constantly doubted myself & worried about tenure track horror stories of rescinded offers by small religious liberal arts colleges) & then waiting a long & torturous month for my contract to finally arrive via express mail, I can now finally say that I’ve accepted an offer to be the new assistant professor of English & creative writing at Bowling Green State University, starting in August.

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Scoring an Awesome Teaching Job!

After applying to a gazillion tenure track jobs, visiting assistant professor jobs, writer in residence positions + creative writing fellowships in the East Coast, the Midwest and the North, eventually reality kicked in and I realized I needed more teaching experience (and a published book or two) before I started getting serious attention from hiring committees.  At least in the cities that I want to live in.  I'm close, mind you, but not there yet.  So, then I started applying to lecturer positions and (to quote Morrissey) I was shocked and ashamed to discover  that it was as hard, if not harder scoring a lecturer position because 97% of the recent PhD's, MA's and MFA's that weren't hired this year for tenure track jobs still had to pay their rent, so now they were all applying to lecturer positions instead.  So, committees for lecturer positions are getting ten, twenty, even thirty times as many applications as they did for tenure track jobs.  And while in some cases, universities definitely prefer candidates with a PhD, others (like UIC where I applied and was basically told that I was still not going to get a teaching position for unspecified reasons even though I was clearly qualified for the job) don't want the credential inflation because it means they have to pay you more.

Anyway, I won't belabor this point anymore except to point out that the academic market right now is fucking horrendous.  There's just too many smart, published and qualified people with degrees and simply not enough academic positions for all of them.  That's the statistical reality, grim as it sounds.  Ultimately, for the past month or so it's come down to academic positions in California.  A week ago, I finally got "the call," and I almost started crying.  Crying!  Anyway, I'll now be a full-time lecturer at UC Irvine, which has a dope English department and an equally dope MFA program, so it'll be an honor to teach composition/rhetoric there and be part of UCI's English department.  On top of everything else, I get bennies, one of the best salaries I've seen for any lecturer position in the states, and some degree of job security (all thanks to a unionized adjunct labor force).  And I get to move back to LA too!  I totally lucked out, man. 

I'm thrilled about this opportunity.  Thrilled to be teaching again.  Thrilled to be back in the West Coast.  And thrilled to teach writing while I make it in LA as a fiction writer. 

Microcosm of Hurt

Now that I got my rejection letter today from the excellent liberal arts college Hamilton College, I can finally admit that I applied there in the first place for a tenure track position teaching 20th Century American Fiction + (Ethnic) Literature, specializing in Asian American literature.  There's this weird rule when applying to academic jobs (I think it applies equally to CW jobs too, but I have no proof) that you never tell other people where you're applying for academic jobs.  For one thing, you, your other academic and creative writing friends, a random acquaintance you met at that Upper West Side party two years ago or in a bookstore in Burlington or someone in your cohort, any of those peeps, may have applied to the same job.  In fact, of course they did because all of you want to avoid the ASC (adjunct sweatshop complex).  That means everyone is your competition until you either get the job or the rejection letter.

A second, more obviously strategic reason not to tell people where you applied for an academic job is because there's always a chance---even in the digital information flow---that they don't know about that specific job + if you tell them, you're just increasing the competition for yourself (because most of your academic + creative writing friends are at least as brilliant and talented as you are), which is the last thing you want to do.

On no level do you want your friends, colleagues or talented classmates from your cohort to fail.  You just want to succeed really badly + not advertising academic jobs to other people places the burden of researching academic jobs + multitasking dissertations and job searches on other people, where it belongs.  Still, it feels kinda shady sometimes because normally, I'd tell everyone everything (as I pretty much do on this website) because I want all my friends to be enormously successful because they're good people.

Anyway, the rejection letter I got today addressed to "Dear Candidate," which is never a good sign, said that Hamilton College received 350 applications for this one single position!  Let that sink in for a second.  350 applications.  That's fucking insane.  But from what I'm gathering from reading articles in the Chronicle, among other places, is that as universities hire less + less tenure track faculty (employing more adjuncts to cut costs now that universities are being run more like corporations), the competition for the few tenure track positions that pop up has become unwieldy, overwhelming + even bloodthirsty.

Obviously I don't know shit about what's gonna happen for me in the near future.  All I know is that I've applied to 36 academic jobs + fellowships so far in 14 different states (both tenure track + visiting assistant professorships), which does not include all the query emails I sent to every single CW department at every single Chicago university two years ago. I still have 3 more fellowships to apply to in addition to every new CW academic I can find between now + May of 2014.  Of those 36 jobs I've applied to so far, I'm still waiting to hear from 26 of them.  I'm also waiting to hear back from 3 literary agents + 4 indie presses reading my first two novels in addition to something like 75 literary journals.

In other words, I don't have a damn clue what's gonna happen with my academic or literary career, but barring some statistical anomaly, the exit polls show that this is gonna be a tight race, ladies + gentlemen.  I'm an eternal optimist.  I believe that something amazing can happen in a blink of an eye.  But it's good I guess that I ground my expectations on data + fully understand how brutal this fight is gonna be.  Hamilton's rejection might be a microcosm of hurt, so I may need to build my weight up.

Dr. Now What?

So, a lot has happened in 2013.  I finished Dishonored . . .
I played the shit out of Borderlands 2 (including all 4 expansion packs--what a dork!).  Personally, I like the Siren.
I published a lyrical essay in the Kartika Review about the last days of my Japanese obāsan's life + her battle with dementia.
I finally received my contributor's copies of my short story that was published in Fiction International
I defeated the final boss in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which was fucking hard, man!
For the first time in my adult life, one of my two fave college football teams was ranked #1 in graduation rates + #1 in the BCS at the end of the regular season (before getting their ass kicked by Alabama).  The national championship game may not have been pretty, but I'm still crazy proud of ND for going 12-0 against four ranked teams.  I think this augurs well for Brian Kelly + Irish fans.
I saw the Chagall mural that literally changed my life as a Chicago teenager (+ also heard the Smiths playing in my head)
I experienced a real Winter for the first time in four fucking years.  Here's Zoe captivated (horrified) by Chicago's brutal wind chill
I flew back to LA for my thesis defense, hung out with some great friends + walked around Venice Beach (pictured)
I passed my thesis defense with flying colors (or so my committee chair said)
I turned 39, which really scared the fuck out of me, but at least both numbers are divisible by 3 (my fave number, dude)

I  finished my dissertation + became a doctor!

I finished playing Bioshock Infinite on both medium + hard levels (not 1999-I kept running out of $$$).  And maybe, just maybe, I had a small crush on  Elizabeth.  I also fucking loved the quantum mechanics narrative at the end, which was brilliant.

So yes, by all means, I've had a few seminal moments in my life since the beginning of 2013, some of them huge, others simply fun + self-defining.  But the problem with getting your PhD (if getting a PhD can be a problem) is that you go from have a clear-cut path for 4-6 years (4 in my case) with guaranteed funding, amazing conversations in + outside seminar + a sense of purpose, you get to vaporize a shitload of life-changing novels (which you can't really appreciate because you're reading them too fast), evolve intellectually, work with some of the best fiction writers + scholars in the whole damn world, live in a cool (+ totally unsustainable) city like LA + exist in a perfectly linear trajectory for all of grad school.

But now what?  I just went from one of the most pivotal moments in life ("I'm so awesome!") to being unemployed ("I'm so sad!).  I went from knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life to having no idea what I'm doing, from having enough cash to buy so many books + posthipster clothes my heart could almost burst, to being gradually poorer, from hoping for the best situation with academic jobs to considering the crappiest comp jobs you could imagine at the lowliest community colleges, just to get by.  It's something you don't wanna think about while you're pounding away on your dissertation because you can't even think straight when you have a soft deadline for your thesis defense + a hard deadline for submitting your dissertation to the Graduate School for formatting.  But once you're done with all that, you look around + you go:  fuck, now what do I do?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm an eternal optimist.  I believe in people.  I believe in myself.  I believe that good things will happen.  I could get a literary agent next week.  My second novel could be accepted for publication by an indie publisher next month.  My collection of short stories could be accepted for publication sometime in Autumn.  I could get an email for an interview for one of the many academic jobs I applied to, like tomorrow.   But the thing is, my life as an aspiring literary fiction writer + professor-to-be is one big contingency plan, a perpetual lesson in professional + existential uncertainty.  Things can work out.  I believe things will work out.  But right now, I have to say it kinda blows.