Saturday, March 24, 2007

From the Department of "No, I don't watch TV"

Last weekend we watched Season 10 of The Amazing Race.

But first, let me explain. I still don’t watch TV. Not really. We have one, a little TV/VCR combo that I got from my parents, who have long since moved on to bigger and better TVs. Movie Dictator puts it on occasionally – to clear his head after hours of writing, to watch some Jerry Springer, or to wake me up in the morning. Speaking of which, I do understand the appeal of morning shows. There’s nothing worse than having to get up early in the morning when you feel like the rest of the world is still in bed. Fortunately, you have the well-dressed and perky TV hosts to keep you company. There they are --sipping their coffee in their well-lit studios. It’s sort of good to have them chirping in the background, though after an hour or so, they start to get on my nerves and I turn the TV off.

Now, back to the Amazing Race. This was my first serious exposure to the modern-day reality TV – yes, I know, I’ve been living under a rock -- and I sort of fell in love with it. Not with the reality TV, that is, but with this particular show.

First of all, it involves traveling around the world! Granted, I would prefer a more contemplative way to see the world. Something along the lines of Michael Palin’s documentary (Around the World in 80 Days). Still, there’s much excitement in trying to guess which country the contestants will get sent to next and watching them navigate unfamiliar cities and cultures.

What’s even more interesting is the dynamics among the contestants, especially within each team. The married/dating couples seemed to fight a lot more than the couples of friends. Is it because they tend to take each other for granted? Because they have issues to begin with? My favorite team was the couple of beauty queens (Miss California and Miss New York). I didn’t expect to like them, but I found myself really admiring how they handled all the challenges. Throughout the whole thing, they were mostly staying positive and having fun. They never turned on each other. And they were amazing at pep talks and encouragements. (Not surprising, I guess, given their occupations.) Needless to say, the other teams hated their confidence and sense of fun. But to me, they were a great example of how to treat life as an adventure (as opposed to the source of angst and suffering) and how to go through it with a partner.

The show also made me feel competitive. I kept thinking: could I do it? I grew up with back problems, which meant wearing a brace, attending a special school, and not being allowed to run or ride a bicycle. So I’m not exactly athletic. But could I be? One of the contestants on the show had an artificial leg, which didn’t stop her from running, climbing, etc. (I’d love to tell you that having watched the show, I immediately started exercising. But no, I haven’t even made it back to yoga yet.)

The thing is, Movie Dictator and I could probably get on this show. I mean, we have a good story: he’s from South Africa, I’m from Russia. We met on the subway. We’re both writers. I could learn to ride a bicycle. He could learn to drive…

I don’t care about being on TV, seriously! But I’d love to test myself, to try all these challenges – like climbing up the Great Wall of China, composing a hip-hop song, or driving a Ukrainian tank.

The biggest challenge, though, would be not to freak out. Not to give in to stress or panic. Not to take our frustration on each other.

And no, we’re not going to apply. For one thing, they don’t allow smokers and Movie Dictator has no intention of quitting. And for another thing, he’s like no way, you get stressed driving to Logan airport, let alone Chennai, India. And, of course, he’s got a point. Still, not all is lost. I might get my act together and start exercising regularly. I might even learn to ride a bicycle one day.

In the meantime, we’re not done with reality shows yet. On the agenda this weekend: Survivor: Season 13.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Killing Time

Everyone agrees: Internet can be deadly. With its blogs, forums, online news sources, Internet Movie Database, Google, and everything in between, it can consume your life. Who has that kind of time? No one. And yet, we all do it, to greater or lesser degree. Blogs have become our guilty pleasure.

I am okay with blogs. I read a couple of literary ones (Maud Newton’s, for example), the one about Boston (Universal Hub), and I regularly check my friends' blogs. It’s not so bad, really.

My guilty pleasure (and the major killer of time) is online forums. Not that I ever post my own entries or responses, but I get ridiculously addicted to all the drama there. It’s like watching a soap opera.

It all started with Visa Journey. Now, to be fair, forums can be useful. I first consulted Visa Journey as we were preparing Movie Dictator’s green card application, and the forum had a wealth of useful information: from how to fill out forms to the common interview questions. Of course, I became obsessed with it. I checked the forum several times a day. I identified the people who sent their applications at the same time as us, and I watched their posts like a hawk. Was it healthy? No. But it was a stressful time, and monitoring the forum made me feel better.

We were fortunate: It only took us four months (and about a thousand dollars in application fees). We had an interview at the end of October; we were approved; and a couple of weeks later Movie Dictator had his green card. Hooray! Did I stop reading the forum? No.

In my defense, forums are fascinating. I love to observe the dynamics on Visa Journey. Self-righteousness often is the norm. Buttons get pushed. An innocent question can trigger a hurricane of angry responses. People stuck in limbo, people whose applications got approved, people whose marriages didn’t survive – they all keep posting, sometimes years after the fact. The forum is their community, their life, their way of self-expression. Admittedly, I look for drama. Immigrants who come into the country on tourist visas are a frequent source of anger. (How dare they?!) The brides from Philippines and Russia are commonly seen as suspicious. And then there are so called trolls who just like to provoke their fellow posters. On an anonymous forum like this, people feel free to reveal all of their prejudice and baggage.

Lately, I’ve moved away from Visa Journey. My newest addiction is the discussion board on the Chronicle of Higher Education, particularly the discussions related to the job search. Why? you might ask. And believe me, I ask myself the very same thing. I’ve got the job now. Why do I care so much? I don’t know.

Compared to Visa Journeys, this forum is more subdued, more civilized. In addition to the job search discussions, it offers discussions of money, teaching, and balancing teaching and life. Some topics are frivolous, i.e., vacations, flings, etc; others a quite serious. There’s a huge discussion on procrastination, where people seem to post their to-do lists every day, which they then update hourly. Welcome to the academic life!

Still, my plan is to wean myself off the academic forum. There might be some important/useful stuff in there, and maybe I can check it once a week or something. But right now, it renders me completely unproductive. Last week was a waste. This week is better. I guess this post is my way of “exorcising” the remaining demons.” No more killing time! I say. Until, of course, I find another forum that is relevant.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Girls Who Love Boys Who Love Boys…

Last night, we finished watching a four-part (BBC?) documentary called Boys & Girls, about music and sex and how sex (and sometimes politics) influenced musical trends -- and other way around -- in Britain. Each of the four installment covered a decade: sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. The part about the eighties was my favorite. It just seemed like the campiest and most fun era. Plus I grew up on some of this music. Pet Shop Boys! Depeche Mode!

It was interesting to see how much sexual ambiguity was used in each of these four decades. But the conclusion – the nineties – was disappointing. While previously artists tried to challenge and/or provoke the mainstream, the nineties culminated in something bland and, well, democratic. Instead of wanting to stand out, the artists now try to blend in. Anyone can be an artist. Hence, the American Idol (or Pop Idol in Britain).

The saddest thing, though, is how little the nineties have to show for themselves. The sixties had The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The seventies had David Bowie and the Sex Pistols. The eighties had The Smiths and Morrissey and lots more. And the nineties? Spice Girls? Something called Robbie Williams? There were cameos by the members of Garbage and Chambawamba, but their music was barely mentioned. Suede sounded interesting – I didn’t know of them before -- but they, too, became lost amidst the mainstream.

That said, the documentary is worth taking a look at. It is ambitious, to be sure. And maybe it tries to bite more than it can chew. And inevitably some musicians get ommited. Still, the four installments give a good sense of how pop/rock music developed in Britain, how the country itself changed, politically, culturally, and sexually.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Job Search: What I’ve Learned

A couple of days ago I informally accepted the offer from UConn (via e-mail to the department chair). The official letter arrived yesterday, so now I can sign on the dotted line. I ended up negotiating a 1/1 load for my first year, which is probably unheard of for someone in my position, and which will be very helpful for when the book comes out. (I want to do my best to promote it.) All in all, I feel like I’ve won a lottery.

The insanity of the search is finally over (although last night I dreamt I was assigned to teach Piano II class! And no, I don’t play piano). Here's what I've learned.

I’ve learned that patience is a virtue.

I’ve learned that patience is a virtue I don’t have.

That the whole process is trying and the outcome is impossible to predict.

That each college/search committee has its own process. UConn, for example, didn’t do MLA or phone interviews. On the other hand, some search committees had two rounds of phone interviews before selecting their finalists. One place interviewed at MLA, but didn’t plan to do on-campus interviews.

That colleges that express interest early on might all ultimately reject you. I had lots of early responses from California colleges. It seemed we were bound to end up there. Yet in the end, none of them panned out.

That silence doesn’t always mean you’ve been rejected. One university I applied at was silent through the whole process – no updates, no interviews. And yet, when I got the rejection letter, I learned that my application was in the finalist group.

That there’s a wealth of information about the job search on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, particularly in its discussion forums. (I only discovered it after getting the offer. ) There’s also, it turns out, a wiki page where people anonymously post info about specific colleges/job searches. It’s organized by discipline.

I’ve learned that it might be a good thing that I didn’t know about the forums. Some of what I did is apparently considered “a red flag.” For example, bringing along your partner when you travel to an on-campus interview. Some people do it (though sometimes in secret). Others see it as being presumptuous. Hell, some even take off their wedding bands, just so their marital status doesn’t influence the search committee’s decision. Unaware of the controversy, I brought Movie Dictator along (I wanted him to see the area) and I was open with the search committee about it (they invited him to the dinner afterwards). Was I making a mistake? Who knows. Maybe. In the end, I did get the job. Also, a friend of mine (in another field) did the same last year, and also got the job. So I guess you never know.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Go Huskies!!!

This morning I got an offer from UConn! I have a job! We won’t starve! We won’t have to live under a bridge or sell ourselves for medical experiments! I’m jumping up and down, laughing manically, and scaring Movie Dictator.

The position is Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Creative Writing. Which means that I’ll be co-directing the program and teaching 3 courses a year. A year! And in terms of location, it’s a 1.5 hours drive from Boston, 3 hours drive from NYC, 1 hour drive from Providence, and 40 minutes form Hartford. It means I can visit and enjoy all of these places. It means I’ll be close to Boston, Grub Street, and all my friends there. It means I can continue to teach creative writing, which I love so much. (Though don’t start me about teaching comp. Fortunately, I won’t have to do that anymore.) It means I’ll be working alongside some wonderful, talented, and very funny people, one of whom, as it happens, was the inspiration for Robin William’s character in Dead Poets Society. Can it get any better?

And to all of you who’ve been listening to my angst and helping me get through this insane job-search process: Thank You!

I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy!!!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Counting Chickens

This week I got the first image of my book cover from my editor. I’m not sure whether it’s okay to post it here, but what the hell. Very communist-looking, no? I like the quirkiness of it, but I also wish for something more subtle, something that would reflect not just the humor but sadness of the stories too. I’ve been browsing (thank you, Jane!), searching for pictures of chickens and supermarkets (I seem to be especially attached to the images of parking lots and lonely shopping carts), and sending some of them toward my agent & editor. But so far all my suggestions have been shot down. I’m not sure it’s a battle worth fighting.

Otherwise, no news. I’m in the midst of a gut-wrenching waiting game. Waiting to hear about the Connecticut job. Checking my e-mail incessantly. Feeling like I’m going insane. Movie Dictator has had to talk me off the ledge repeatedly (at least once a day), and I think he’s getting fed up with me. Not knowing is the worst part. With every hour that goes by without a phone call, I become more and more convinced that I didn’t get the job.

In an attempt to make myself feel better, I’ve done the following things. Stayed in bed for a day, reading and playing TombRaider III. Developed a Plan B (i.e., if I don’t get any job at all), which involves us selling our belongings, packing up the Subaru, and driving to Seattle, where it’s cheaper and where my sister lives. Went back to working on my novel. If I’m destined to spend next year answering phones, serving burgers, or teaching comp, the least I can do now is use the free time that’s left and write, write, write. Write like hell.