Friday, March 20, 2009

How Can I Use This?

How can I use this failure? That's the question on my mind tonight.

I'd like to think of this as some kind of opportunity. But for what? To do what?

Let's put it this way: what have I been doing in order to get this promotion that I no longer have to do?

Or, rather, what have I been doing thinking it would help me get this, that didn't, which I can scrap?

What have I been up to for other reasons--money, for example--that I can drop, now that I have a more important overall goal? (I.e., to get the thumbs-up next time.) What have I been avoiding, out of fear or laziness, that I now have the motivation to pursue?

And, conversely, what have I not been doing that I can use this setback as the opportunity to do, turn back to, work through, begin? Anything I've wanted to do in the past, and set aside, that now looks like a good idea again?

7 comments:

Mark Scroggins said...

"Anything I've wanted to do in the past, and set aside, that now looks like a good idea again?":

SHEKINAH BOOK

E. M. Selinger said...

You know, Mark, that's been on my mind, too. More by email--

I should note that all this musing is about what to do alongside the romance books, not instead of them! If I have another two years to work with, I want to start another poetry book in there, too, preferably building on something already simmering somewhere in my CV, my subconscious, my life...

Laura Vivanco said...

Perhaps this will sound naive, but what's the benefit of getting a promotion? I suppose it depends what your priorities are in life and what you think would make you feel like a success. How can you find the right balance of social status, intellectual stimulation, financial renumeration, family time, time for spiritual growth, time to play music? What sorts of communities do you most want to feel part of? What makes you feel fulfilled?

Obviously "fear or laziness" aren't the best reason not to do things. But sometimes "laziness" is really a result of an understandable and valid wish to do other things, and "fear" can at times be well-founded. Only you can really know which reasons are valid and which aren't when it comes to setting your priorities.

E. M. Selinger said...

Good morning, Laura! Thanks for your wise words. You've really cut to the heart of things here.

I think the reason that I haven't felt all that bad about not getting this promotion--even an odd sense of relief--comes from the fact that I haven't really been working towards it for the past few years. I wanted the raise that went along with it, and the prestige would have been nice, but neither of those was as high a priority for me as reinventing myself as a romance scholar and building that community. If the Princeton or Brisbane conference had fallen through, I'd have felt much more crestfallen than I do right now.

I wouldn't say that I've been "lazy" these past eight years, or even the last four, during which I've actually been writing and going to conferences and so on. Quite the contrary: I've been working as hard as I wanted to, and sometimes harder! But a number of the things I've taken on I did for money, rather than to move me forward to the promotion--when R got downsized from her job a few years back, we got very anxious, financially, and I took on a number of extra teaching and writing jobs in order to relieve that pressure. No regrets there.

I can think of a few projects that I've put off because it seemed so daunting to start them, and I didn't know where to begin. Some of those are projects I'd like to get back to at some point. But one thing that's held me back from them has also been the sense that they had no audience, no readership, no use in the world. There's a social estrangement at play here, when it comes to poetry; that's partly why the romance work has appealed to me so much more (that's a community I feel much warmer towards), and the work with teachers.

My first priority right now is simply to move on with the projects at hand: the New Approaches book, our Crusie book, the upcoming conferences (PCA, Princeton, Brisbane). I'll try to get a peer-reviewed essay or two out of those. As I work on those, I'll revisit the files and older pieces, just to see what might bubble up from them, but realistically, with the conferences and the NEH seminar coming up, that's mostly work for next year (the school year, I mean).

Laura Vivanco said...

neither of those was as high a priority for me as reinventing myself as a romance scholar and building that community

Yes, and I'd like to say that I think the amount of effort you've been putting into doing that is huge. What you're doing here is the equivalent of gaining a second PhD while constructing your specialism round you. Not that there aren't some others of us also trying to gain our "second PhDs," and some working on their first ones, in this area, which makes things more of a community effort, but it's still a hugely time-consuming thing to do and it takes a while to get to the stage where all that effort bears fruit in the form of peer-reviewed articles, books etc.

In fact, I think we're being remarkably speedy, all things considered!

when R got downsized from her job a few years back, we got very anxious, financially, and I took on a number of extra teaching and writing jobs in order to relieve that pressure. No regrets there.

It sounds like you did what you had to do at the time. It's not as though we can live on air and pay our mortgages with it too. And sometimes the financial needs are pressing and take precedence over long-term goals which might eventually bring in more money but won't help in the short-term.

I can think of a few projects that I've put off because it seemed so daunting to start them, and I didn't know where to begin. Some of those are projects I'd like to get back to at some point.

Sometimes one can break that kind of project down into smaller, more manageable chunks, so that it seems less daunting. Or maybe some of them are projects that you're just not ready to tackle yet. I know some of the romance authors have blogged about ideas they've had for books that they then decided not to write for a while because the ideas seemed a bit beyond their abilities at that point, so they put off writing them until they'd had more practice. I can imagine cases where something similar would be true of academic writing too.

But one thing that's held me back from them has also been the sense that they had no audience, no readership, no use in the world.

I wonder if this is a particular problem for those of us working in the arts. On the one hand our primary texts can deal with some really important topics (love, death, birth, etc.) but on the other hand it's not clear how many people would read the primary texts, much less our analysis of them. And given that we're in the arts, we're never going to find a cure for cancer etc. Still, that doesn't mean that our kind of intellectual discoveries aren't important, but it can get a bit discouraging to feel that you're putting in a lot of time and effort and no-one's going to appreciate it.

My first priority right now is simply to move on with the projects at hand: the New Approaches book, our Crusie book, the upcoming conferences (PCA, Princeton, Brisbane). I'll try to get a peer-reviewed essay or two out of those. As I work on those, I'll revisit the files and older pieces, just to see what might bubble up from them

Sounds like you're bouncing back from your disappointment already, with the beginnings of a plan in place.

RfP said...

I'm sorry to hear you've hit a speed bump. Sounds like you hit the ground on the other side with a thud and maybe a scrape, but no real harm done.

It sounds as though your promotion process focuses on the stodgy old metrics of academic productivity, rather than on the university's (your) contribution to society. You clearly do contribute, but sometimes we have to go through these formalities simply because that's the form. And sometimes the formalities force us to get creative in a different vein; I hope that'll be the case for you.

Best of luck.

E. M. Selinger said...

"...and sometimes the formalities force us to get creative..."

I quite like this way of looking at it, RfP. My career as a sonnet or sestina, or maybe a villanelle. (That's where I went wrong these past few years--my CV was in free verse!)