Sunday, March 11, 2007

Five Questions

I'm coming late to the five questions interview meme, but better late than never, eh? Dr. Brazen Hussy was kind enough to provide the interview questions.

Look out, I'm feeling long-winded. . .

1. What made you decide to leave the traditional academic path?

Oh, so many things. In no particular order: grading papers, salary, impatience with the whole academic hiring process, pessimism about the job market.

I love teaching, I really do. When I'm in the classroom or working with a student in office hours, I feel I'm in exactly the right place. I'm good at that stuff (with the exception of the last quarter I taught--that didn't go so well), especially with smaller classes (25-30 students).

However, I knew that the academic job market is currently très sucky in the humanities, so I decided to conduct a dual-track job search. I applied for academic jobs in the fall, and I anticipated applying for nonacademic jobs in the spring if the academic job market didn't pan out for me.

When I saw what is now my current position advertised, I realized I could stay in this terrific town and still think a lot about teaching. I'd get to interact with faculty from across the disciplines, and I'd get paid like an assistant professor--and the salary scale appproximates the academic one. So when I was offered the job, I felt a little heartache over giving up classroom teaching, but it was kind of a no-brainer.

I may go back into teaching at some point. I've decided to try to get a book contract out of my dissertation and to continue to submit articles to academic journals. That way, if I do decide I want to have a teaching job, I'll have the publications and research part taken care of. At that point I can pick up another couple courses as a lecturer to update the teaching portion of my CV--a section that is already quite extensive, as I was fortunate to be able to teach many of my own classes--in literature, writing, and American Studies--many of them right from the beginning of my Ph.D. work.

2. How did you meet your husband?

Hoo boy. As I was finishing my thesis for my M.A. in creative writing, I moved back to Long Beach to be closer to my family and to find work as a writer or editor. My first job--as an assistant editor at an educational publishing company that specialized in social studies and language acquisition for elementary and middle-school students with limited English proficiency--was pretty damn boring and required a 90-minute commute each way (that's 30 SoCal miles). I'd leave before dawn and get back after dusk, and I worked in a light industrial office park, so there wasn't even any place to take a walk at lunch. Bleah.

But I digress.

I was desperate for another job, any job, so I scanned the ads in the local paper, a charming free publication I'd been reading since I was a child, The Grunion Gazette. (Yes, in the words of Heather, who worked there long before my time, it's a newspaper named after smelt.) In the classified section there was an ad for a staff writer at the Grunion. The pay sucked in a huge way ($22,000/year, and this was in 1999), but the commute was four minutes, I could go home for lunch, and the office was in an upscale-ish but kind of funky shopping and dining district.

On my first day, I was introduced to everyone. One of the last people I met was Mr. Trillwing, who was the art director/production manager for the paper. He was wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, and an old flannel shirt. I was nervous about what I was wearing--a blue cotton blouse and navy pants--because what the hell is a cub reporter supposed to wear, anyway? And Mr. T looks me up and down and, waving his flannel shirt in one hand, says, "See you got the dress code." Which I totally didn't understand. I said to myself, "Stay away from that guy." Because there are few things I hate more than feeling like I don't get what someone is saying and it's because they're making fun of me.

I quickly learned, however, that Mr. T is one smart cookie. And funny. And kinda cute. And tall, very tall, which is oddly important to me. I'd get to work early so we could chat, since Mr. T was typically the first one at the office each day. My favorite times of the week became the major production days for the company's two newspapers because I got to play paste-up monkey and hang out in the production area.

Meanwhile, I applied to a Ph.D. program because I felt if the best I could do in my hometown was $22,000/year, I needed more schooling. I was accepted.

When I announced in mid-July that I was moving (back) to Iowa, Mr. Trillwing wrote me a fabulous e-mail wishing me well. He concluded it with "in an alternate universe, we made a terrific couple!" And I thought, "Wait a minute. . . I live in an alternate universe." (That's how most writers feel, yes?)

I replied to his e-mail with my own: "Damn. Damn damn damn!" We went on a couple dates the next week, and then I moved to Iowa. We did the long-distance thing for a year and then I moved back to the LBC. And the rest is history. . .

3. If you were a scientist, what kind of scientist would you be?

When I was in elementary school, I was in a gifted education program, and the parents and teachers were very assiduous about exposing us to all kinds of studies and career possibilities. So when the (woman) chemist came to do a demonstration, I wanted to be a chemist. And when the (woman) ornithologist came and captured birds in a net and measured, weighed, and banded them, I wanted to be a professional bird nerd.

But my big love, from age 3 and on, was paleontology. I took geology in high school and really enjoyed it, and I imagine if I hadn't completely burned out in math and physics, I might have pursued a major in the geological sciences.

If today I could magically be transformed into any kind of scientist, I'd probably go for marine biologist, although I have a fear of many kinds of sea creatures. :)

4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

I have a confession: I'm pretty damn provincial. Growing up, my family never had much money for travel, and so most of my travel took place in the U.S., mostly in the West. I've been to Canada a couple of times (1976 and in the early 90s) and to Hawaii once (late 80s), but otherwise, I'm kind of a homebody. So I'm drawing on limited experience with the world.

That said, I think I'd like to live on the central California coast, maybe around Big Sur. I also find Telegraph Hill in San Francisco to be absolutely delightful, even though I'm not much of a big-city person. Who wouldn't want to live in a lovely neighborhood on a hillside covered with flowers and trees, with a view of the San Francisco Bay, and with a flock of parrots? (The parrots are especially endearing because a similar flock lives in my old neighborhood in Long Beach.)

5. What book has most influenced you?

This is a hard one. I can't think of a particular book that has influenced me tremendously in a philosophical or intellectual way. But I can think of dozens of books that have inspired me as a writer. Among them are Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats, and Sarah Lindsay's book of poetry Primate Behavior. I'm not saying these are the best authors I've ever read, but they do inspire me.

If anyone has any earth=-shattering tomes to recommend, I'd love to hear about them.

Thanks again, Dr. Hussy!

If you'd like to be interviewed by moi, please leave a comment or e-mail me: trillwing at gmail dot com.


Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Oooh, interesting answers. I'm glad I asked about Mr. Trillwing. Thanks for playing!

post-doc said...

I'm glad she asked about Mr. Trillwing too - I love stories about how spouses were met. And yours was fantastic.

I hope all of you are feeling better too.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the spouse story - just perfect.
These answers were all really interesting though, specifically the first one.
This is a good game you have going - can't wait to read the responses of the person you interview

Jeff Mather said...

I finally found some time to answer the questions you sent. Thank you for interviewing me!