Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Writing for Free, Reading for Free: The Economics of Academia and Publishing Today

Academics entering the media world tend to move from one exploitative arena (low-wage academic work) to another (unpaid freelance writing). But writing must never be an act of charity to a corporation. Ask for what you are worth—and do not accept that you are worth nothing. Insisting on payment for your labor is not a sign of entitlement. It is a right to which you are entitled.

Medium -- a new iteration of publishing/sharing writing/writing for free. Medium offers us all an audience because praise should be pay enough (though now, apparently, they are paying some writers decently). Medium was founded by Evan Williams (also, a liquor), who also founded Blogger (write for free -- for yourself and your friends), and has been in charge (possibly a founder? multiple stories abound) of Twitter (write for free, briefly, to the world, your friends, and clients). On Here and Now recently, Williams was asked about his new venture, and he described the year-old platform as providing journalism and stories to a wide audience who just can't find it elsewhere, apparently. He also emphasized the ability to share one's writing with the world, which writers just can't do elsewhere, apparently. Those darn editors and gate-keepers -- I thought that the internet was supposed to have knocked them down already? Williams evaded the interviewer's question of what void he was trying to fill, explaining that, really, this was a longer twitter. However, what he is actually replacing is the curated, edited magazine.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Covers I Love

I am super into the silhouettes and paper cut outs I've seen all over the place lately, and I love the ways in which people are using those on book covers now, as seen in the next two images:

The Monsters of Templeton by L Groff
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Mr. Penumbra's combines my favorite things: books, San Francisco, and something slightly magical. For a girl whose first job was selling books in a little indie bookstore on the CA coast, this book is irresistible  And the cover's use of neon that looks like highlighter -- and which glows in the dark -- is a fabulous wink at the shadow of "Penumbra" (*polishes her high school Latin*) and the fluorescence of a 24-hour bookshop.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Flora feels super-traditional, but with the edge of the initial letter of the title falling off the front cover, there's a bit of an edge. I love the grace and drama of the title, which looks like a signature, and the bright punch of the author's name against the blue of the dress.

Flora by Gail Godwin

Also, I want to read all the books.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Money and Motivation

One of the ways in which spending your twenties as a grad student in a humanities department warps your view of yourself and your world is with regard to self-value. Not just "I must be a shitty person and scholar because I don't get this 'body without organs' " deal, but the work we do for which we are not paid, and the work for which we get paid so very, very little.

In graduate school, I planned events, I entered data, I taught myself software programs, I compiled webpages, I proof-read, I managed other graduate students, I researched, I read, I wrote, and I taught.

And for few of these gigs was I paid, and then, it was not well. This translates well to academia, where service and research are the perqs that you earn by teaching. You are grateful to be able to have the time and space to voluntarily, on your own time, research, serve on committees, mentor students, etc.

But this mindset, I am finding, is counter to everything outside of academia. I do not think the importance and value of a job can be measured by its salary. I do not think that those who earn $30,000 must or should work less hard than those who earn four times that. So that's good. But this belief in dedicating all to a job -- and in editing and writing "on the side" of the "real" job -- is not always helpful to getting ahead. I ask myself, is my genuine wish to work longer hours than I am paid fair to me and my partner? Really, I should be compensated for all time worked, so am I being a sucker by gladly bringing work home with me? Or since I am young and trying to build a career, should I be grateful for everything and anything I can get?

What's the difference between an underpaid, part-time editor working harder than s/he's being paid for and a young engineer at a startup sleeping at the company HQ and dedicating him/herself to their launch date? Is it just money? compensation? prestige? Or are they both naive, in fact, and should be rallying with other workers to demand fair wages?

One of the consequences of our new economy seems to be both flexibility and instability. If we are all eminently replaceable, we each must always be working harder than we are being paid in order to be the most valuable person to the company, it seems to me. Maybe all of the American economy is just catching up to a trick that academia's been playing on its citizens for many decades longer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where I am today

I finished my dissertation at 10 AM on March 28th, 2013. I was so worn out by the end that I am not sure that finishing was either a relief or a moment for celebration. It was more of a "This? This is what I had to do? All those years of paralysis and confusion and all I had to do was this?"

I felt let down by myself and, to be perfectly honest, by my advisors. I'm very proud of three of my chapters and I am glad I finished the last one and the intro. But, I am disappointed that despite my grand, ambitious ideas for the shape of the dissertation, it ended up being 200 pages, intro + 4 single author chapters. What a yawn. I don't want to know how many errors were in the bibliography. I still feel like as much of an impostor as I did throughout the process, only now I have a degree I feel like I earned through sheer forbearance rather than skill or knowledge. I don't think I know more now than I did six months ago, I just finally put my thoughts on paper. I feel like I wandered blindly for so long and spent so long worrying about their responses that I wasted years. One of my committee members apparently did not know when the submission deadline was and gave me feedback to totally revise my intro three days after I had submitted the document. I don't blame him at all -- I hadn't given him much time in the end to respond.

One of the unconscious reasons behind procrastination, for me, is that by cutting down on the time given to my advisors, and limiting the time I had left, I knew that they couldn't ask me to do huge revisions. Even if that would have been better for the scholarship. There simply wouldn't be time, so we band-aided the poor diss and shuffled it off stage.

I decided to embargo my dissertation for the maximum time allowed, two years, partially because I am telling myself that I will publish better versions of my chapters, and partially because I am deeply ashamed that it isn't better. I had the chance to really study under my advisors, and I never took it because I was too afraid of their criticism and felt too stupid to engage them in real, deep conversations about poetry, literature, and theory. I never even read half the books I wanted to, and what is a sadder take away from eight years of graduate study of literature?

I hope to revise my intro over this summer, and maybe tack on that last conclusion I intended to write, and correct any glaring typos or bibliographic problems. I also would like to turn some of the lost material into articles -- the chapter on the state of the poetry-publishing industry in Ireland and my Heaney/Boland chapter that never materialized.

I want to apply for academic jobs this fall, even though I got nowhere last year. But my current editorial job is looking shaky -- the publisher is in some financial straits, and I'm not sure my direct boss is going to stick it out. I feel very nervous, and I need to find some work immediately in case everything goes pear-shaped, which is pretty hard to do when you are new-ish to both an area and an industry.  We'll see.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mad Dash

I have had about ten days to work  on my introduction, and got about fifteen pages written -- all of which summarized Irish history -- which took a lot of work. Then I had a meeting with the helpful professor at the local campus, who strongly suggested that this was going to be too broad and too long and wasn't a real introduction to my project.

So, what I need to do instead is explain my argument and the reasons for it. In other words, do exactly what is so difficult that I do everything I can to avoid it. I would much rather just summarize Irish history for a while and hope that explains why I am doing my study. That meeting was on Tuesday, and I've just been clenched up in anxiety and frustration since then. I think I've written half a sentence since. I was supposed to turn this in yesterday, and instead it's almost two and I've got half a sentence done. I feel sick to my stomach with how hard this is going to be and how little time I have to do it in. My main argument is "this is different! and cool! just like Ireland!" and I've been repeatedly told this isn't a good enough thesis, which is one of the things that disenchants me about academia. Why does a close reading + historical context-based reading have to say anything other than "look at what I found"?

Tomorrow is full, too: I had a sealant recently applied by the dentist crack so I had to make an emergency appointment. My back hates me spending 12 hours at my deck, so I need to get a massage, and I was supposed to have lunch with a colleague tomorrow, but I didn't realize we had a dinner scheduled with friends. My boyfriend doesn't want me to skip out on our regular dinner with friends, so pushed me to cancel my lunch instead. I strongly do not want to attend this dinner. I want the hours to work or sleep. I don't care as much about these regular dinners as he does, probably because they are more his friends than mine.

I tried to get up early today to work, and I did read an essay that was great, but I really didn't sit down to write until 6 PM, in my usual fashion. I genuinely don't know what happens to me during daylight hours.

I've taken the last two weeks off from the publishing gig to work on my diss, and apparently there have been numerous crises. I am looking forward to digging back in, but having these two weeks off has also been great. I am not exhausted at 5 PM, I don't have to show up anywhere at a particular time, my boyfriend is also working from home, so we get to hang out, and I haven't had to negotiate once. Back on Monday, though.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Typography and Book Design

I am mostly an amateur enthusiast when it comes to book design and typography. I have handset letterpress and made my own very tiny book, I have read guides on typography (for fun, mind you), and have studied the material construction of books of poetry as part of my dissertation. So, I know the terminology, but I have not worked with inDesign, I've never worked with commercial printers, nor have I worked within comercial constraints.

Still, I have OPINIONS -- of course I do. And when our galleys came back with a half inch, max, of margins, 12-point Times New Roman font, and single spacing, I nearly flipped. I've already explained several times that you can't use a regular old serif typeface (ahem, "font" so I don't sound like a ponce) as your typeface for a title. And that you should match your title page and chapter headings closely in spirit to the typeface used on the cover. All you have to do to know that is look at literally ANY decent book.

These galleys looked like someone just took a Word file and printed it -- which was basically what was done. I felt bad, because it had looked fine as a PDF, so I OK'd it. It was astonishing how different it looked on screen and in print. Amazing how cramped and dense 35 lines per page looks compared to 25.

I think one thing my grad degree has taught me is how to learn the conventions of one's genre, and how to appear to belong. And how to teach yourself everything, since no-one else will do it for you. So I get frustrated when people don't do that.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Three Weeks to Go

All of February, and the first five days of March, I was working on a chapter about the elusive, creative  Irish poet Catherine Walsh. I find her asyntactic, paratactic writing to be extraordinarily challenging to make an argument about, because to me, it could be so easy to prove wrong. This, I've realized has been a huge problem of mine in grad school: I can always see the holes in my own argument, and that not only paralyzes me, but I keep inserting caveats and undermining my own claims. In high school I was an attorney in our Mock Trial program for  three years. I was very good at it, but partly because I always felt that I was lying because I could see all the holes and gaps in my argument and the strengths of the oppositions, so I frantically tried to fill those gaps in as much as possible. Yet, the feeling of telling half-truths was always there.

But, in any case, I finished writing 40 pages. I sent it off, despite the fact that I knew there were huge problems in it (like.... not having a convincing argument), but I had to move on, so I let it go. I promptly received feedback from one of my committee members to the effect that he loved my close-readings, but did not perceive a strong structure holding it together, and wants me to rewrite/revise. Which I expected. I didn't expect the praise for the readings, nor for him to get back to me so quickly!

I'm trying to move forward to writing the intro now. At this point, sans intro, I believe I would estimate my dissertation to be about 140 pp. A bit light, but that doesn't include the interviews I'll be including. I've been looking at tons of intros -- they vary from 15-50 pages, and I've even heard of a 95 page one! I am just hoping mine will be 30. I am excited about it, partially because it requires mostly a literature review and historical background for the project. I think it should be a matter of positioning myself among the other scholars.  My dissertation is light on footnotes, especially this most recently chapter, which I am afraid might be symptomatic of a lack of deep contextualizing reading. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to make it up in the intro.

I am taking time off from work to finish this project -- thank goodness my boss is OK with that. Only 1 more week, though, and then I'm back. That means 7 days to write the intro, then, as quickly as possible, address issues with the first  chapter, add another 10 pp to turn 1 chapter into 2 shorter ones, and rewrite my 3rd chapter. I hope the latter Herculean tasks can be accomplished in 10 days.

Simultaneously, I am trying to oversee production, acquisition, editing, etc for the publishing company, Right now, I am taking a backseat, but that doesn't stop the publisher complaining to me of costs (maybe he shouldn't have an amateur do the typesetting and maybe he should pay his printers) and the authors complaining to me about missing checks. The only thing I can do abut either of those is nag the people with money.

I joined a website called Versatile Ph.D. recently. Great forums and support for making a career outside of academia. My only concern is how many of the English Ph.D.s are now either dissertation editors (perpetuating the very system that they left) or are freelance editors. Both seem like unsavory choices, to me, but maybe I only see the instability of freelance work and not its upsides.

OK: I need to get a page or two written today, and then I will be on the right track! 5 pages every day for the next 7 days will sort me out!

Monday, February 25, 2013

So much to say, so much to do...

A few dashes....

  • The Ecopoetics Conference at Berkeley this weekend blew my mind. I didn't even get to meet all the folks who inspire me so much who were there -- Jed Rasula, Jennifer Scappatone, etc. -- but the talks and the people I did get to meet and the conversations I had with new friends and old were amazing. I was baffled, frustrated, excited, challenged, bored, intrigued, well-fed, comforted, and I scribbled down so many names of poets and writers and theorists I had never heard of before. This is exactly what I value in academia. If this were what being a professor is, I would embrace it wholeheartedly. This is what I thought academia would be. However, as everyone was getting ready to leave today, I kept hearing about grading papers, prepping classes, etc. Teaching takes so much of my energy and effort just to be middling at it, and I have not missed it for an instant. I told several people that I was planning on leaving academia, and while my reasons seem flimsy sometimes (I don't want to move! Uncertainty!) and the financial prospects seem weak, I feel happy (mostly. sometimes. will they let me back in to their conferences?)
  • I have to write the 2nd half of my Catherine Walsh chapter this week. I took last week to write about parking lots and thirdspaces for the ecopoetics conference (and I honestly think I'll get a paper out of it!), and now I am deep in the weeds, folks.
  • I am so fucking obssessed with Arcade Fire right now. Their album The Suburbs was my soundtrack for researching and writing my ecopoetics paper, "Why Walk When You Can Drive?: Parking Lot Landscapes in Contemporary American Poetry." PLEASE do yrselves a favor and watch their "Sprawl II" video over and over.
  • My god, this advice from Mr. Nissan never gets less relevant: DON’T PROCRASTINATE
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Facing the Reality of a Two Month Deadline

I had a long conversation (like, 4 hours) yesterday with a prof here at Berkeley who has been very supportive of my project. He pointed out that with 2 months to go, the most important chapter to write is the Catherine Walsh chapter, not the Seamus Heaney chapter (since Walsh's work is directly part of my argument, and the Heaney chapter was insisted on by a committee member who is concerned about me getting jobs). I've been loath to listen to this prof's advice to leave out the Heaney and Boland chapter entirely, because I had done a lot of work on it 2 summers ago, and I feel like I need to throw together as many things that I already have as possible. That, and without that chapter, my dissertation starts to feel slight and narrow.

So, I just need to check in with my other committee members about this, and then just commit to Walsh. And maybe Mills, a poet whom I really love but the other committee members who know the field are less interested in.

This dissertation, because I cannot afford to continue after March 28th, will not be what I wanted it to be. I simply do not have time to make it the comprehensive, in depth work I wanted it to be. I just have to accept this. The part I hate about this is that the only people who will read this dissertation and judge it in its current form are my committee members and any job search committees. In other words, the people who determine my academic future. If I have one.

Got stuck doing publishing work today (on a dissertation day). Spent the day using Amazon, Goodreads, Books In Print (Bowker), and Bookscan (Nielsen) to look up books people who like our books might like and their sales figures. Amazing how long it takes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Woman Meets Perfume: Life after grad school

I was stopped by a stunning book jacket in Pegasus Books today:

Isn't that gorgeous?

I literally was only paying attention to the jacket and title page design (which was a flawless interpretation of the jacket) as an example of the way in which the typeface on the title page should echo that of the cover (well done Random-Penguin)....

.... but it turns out Harad's book is the story of a UT Austin Ph.D. in English who takes a bow and whisks herself off the academic stage to another life! I am inspired! After the million books on lyric, Irish politics, and publishing I have to read, and the towering pile of MSS, this is next on the list.

What not to do when trying to finish a dissertation

1) misspell a key word known by ALL members of your field in your goddamned dissertation precis.

2) drink. Or do. But probably not whiskey. Or most of a bottle of wine.

3) have a boyfriend.

4) have a job.

5) slyly and nostalgically guzzle a YA book about teens in 1996 (when you were in high school, ohmigawd) who come across facebook as kids and subtly alter their futures. Brain cand.... uhhh, I mean market research.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dissertation Saturday

I have been exhausting myself in preparation for the publishing company's marketing meeting on Monday -- felt sick and feverish last night, but i think I got it out of my system today. I spent 5 hours yesterday basically on data entry -- just entering in marketing information and sales copy for our reps at our distributor to read. It was important for me to do, since I needed to understand the different copy and its different purposes (catalog vs back jacket vs whatever), but certainly for next time, I will simply put it all in a Word doc and have an intern do the actual entry. Painful stuff, and frustrating. Also, found a major typo on the title page of one of the books about to go to print. *headache*

Today began slowly, which was nice. Got some still-warm pastries from a wee French bakery and had tea this afternoon with an old friend and her daschund. Lay on the couch and read a piece by John McPhee about structuring non-fic while my adorable cats curled up nearby. He resists chronological order for thematic or other forms of organization  I feel that writing about poetry should always really be thematic -- otherwise you are just doing a slow-ass line-by-line reading that shows none of your own impetus, and let's the poem dictate the reading entirely. I have been struggling with organization, but one of my committee members complimented me on the structure I used in the chapter I sent him! He said he felt the braiding and weaving was responsive the poems I was reading, which also involved the interweaving of texts. Hard to write a straightforward, A-B-C chapter about two poems, neither of which move in a direct fashion.

Reading a great book on lyric today edited by Mark Jeffreys. I'm trying to think through these two poems by Heaney and Boland, and how they might go with the rest of my dissertation. I am also incredibly behind -- I was supposed to have this chapter done by the end of this month, and instead I realized I have to totally rewrite it and that means starting from scratch on the research/theory/framework side of things. So, thinking about subjectivity and community, separation of the poet, etc. I also had a tiny epiphany that the poems I am looking at are actually both from sequences, which gives me much more to talk about with regards to form! Because clearly both are attempting to expand the lyric, which, as Jeffreys writes in his intro, is seen as removed from history (and possibly in opposition to it). Heaney's "Tollund Man in Springtime" is clearly a narrative composed of sonnets, while Boland's "Domestic Violence" (first poem in the sequence here)  is more like a multi-faceted approach to a single topic (basically her own backlist, pardon my cynicism).

So, I am going to try to finish this chapter by the end of the first week of February. How? Magic, of course. I like a quote I read recently, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” ― E.L. Doctorow. I just have to keep moving. And writing. Tonight my plan is, after dinner (and wine, so we'll see), to chop up my existing chapter, finish the book on lyric, and maybe get started on a book about politics in Ireland. I am concerned about this chapter, but I also don't want it to drag down my last chapter AND INTRO that I have to write in February. Holy crappola.

I am skipping out on a major convention for the publishing job, but I told my boss before I started that I couldn't do this event. I'll be giving a talk at the ecopoetics conference! So ridiculously excited about this, even if it does cut into my writing and work time. I have been anticipating this for a year -- and it's in my own backyard, and I think I already know a quarter of the people going. Lucky me. This is what I'll miss.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

39 working days left (including today)

I was supposed to spend yesterday working, but instead I read, took a nap, got my nails done, and went  out to dinner with my boyfriend. That turned into a 3 hours long discussion about our future and my future in academia. I feel that I am being asked to choose between fulfillment of a long-held personal dream and my personal needs, including kids and not being a ball of stress all the time.

Is it just stubbornness to hold out for the 0.5% chance of a perfect job? What am I losing if I make a tenure-track job my first priority?

I am worried that I'll end up with a job rather than a career, and doing so will devastate me. My ambition and drive to succeed has always been a huge part of me, and I worry that putting personal desires ahead of professional ones will mean giving up a huge part of myself and what I take pride in doing and being.

I am constantly torn and fear making the wrong choice, closing off options forever. Becoming a failure.


Dissertation goals for the rest of the day: Figure out argumentation for 3rd chapter on Heaney and Boland.

As is, this is a chapter that described Heaney and Boland's representations of Irish society through the metaphor of the earth. It is simplistic and under-theorized, even if the readings are good. But this chapter was written when I was trying to make this an ecocritical dissertation, which is not where it has ended up going,

Idea: to make this chapter into a meditation on the lyric and Irish identity. Not saying "this is bad and old" compared to the experimental poets I work on, but exploring the relationship between identity and form in a postcol state. Using the same poems, "The Tollund Man in Springtime" and "Domestic Violence" as an example, I hope.

To that end: I am revisiting all the books and articles I have on Irish identity, the self, lyric, postcolonialism, and globalization. I hope this won't take too long, because this chapter needs to be done in the next 2 weeks. Luckily I have MLK Jr day to work on it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Things I wish I were doing instead of tweaking transition sentences and organization on my second chapter:

1) sleeping

2) watching Portlandia

3) cuddling my cats, who have been feeling lonely lately

4) reading the manuscripts I brought home with me, which I didn't get to because of this chapter

5) working on my next chapter.

This chapter was supposed to be done at the beginning of the month. It is now halfway through January, and my hard deadline for total completion is March 28th. I am concerned. Yet not concerned enough to turn off my internet and finish this damned thing.