Tuesday, March 17, 2009


In Which The Lights Are Out, And Nobody's Home...

Well, look on the bright side: I didn't break my wrists.

Or even bloody my nose.

But that does very little to assuage the fact that doing a face-plant on hard industrial linoleum hurts. In fact, it's been my experience that taking a fall face-first in the dark actually increases your pain, much the same way that wind chill increases the intensity of cold weather. Because you can't see what you're about to hit, of course. It could be anything. You could be at the top of a steep stairwell about to do an impromptu gymnastics routine down into the boiler room. Or there could be a booby trap laid there before you--something with spikes perhaps. Or there could be a wad of gum stuck right on the floor in front of you. Or a splash of vomit. Or a booger. I think you take my point.

Luckily, and as far as I know, I made no contact with anything other than the floor. And I once the flashes of light in my head subsided, I tried to get up.

But...you remember that soft, unyielding thing I tripped over? Well, it was still there. Right behind me. Know how I knew this? Because it appeared to have grabbed me. It was muckled onto my ankle like a randy, leg-humping dog.

I really wanted to shriek. But some part of me was reminded that I was here on job interview and it was entirely possible--although I hoped unlikely--that this was part of some elaborate test for the job. If that was the case, I thought shrieking would be bad form. So I settled for some quiet whimpering as I shook my leg. And shook and shook. Whatever it was, there on the floor in the dark behind me, it sure had me good.

Finally, I twisted around and, summoning every ounce of courage I could muster, I reached a shaking hand down to my ankle and felt my pant-leg caught in the grip of something unexpected.

It was a zipper.

It was my suitcase, of course. The one I had set down and opened in my fruitless search for a flashlight. Somehow, I had managed to stick my foot straight into the front compartment, the one I had just unzipped, and got my pant-leg stuck in the teeth of the zipper. Gingerly at first, and then with exponentially increasing vigor, I tried to yank my pant-leg free, but it was stuck.

Oh God, please don't let this go where I think it's going to go, I thought to myself, thinking that of course this predicament was going to quickly degenerate into a situation involving me taking off my pants and trying to fish a new pair out of the suitcase, only to have the lights come back on then and find myself surrounded by students and, just to complete the whole sublime tableau, a few members of the search committee.

But luckily, it never got to that point. Because as I was working to free my pant-leg from the suitcase zipper, I heard a clomping sound behind me and turned just in time to catch a knee in my face.

I heard a startled "Wooooulllph!" and then a foot came smashing down on my hand and someone tripped over me. And my suitcase. And they didn't land any too nimbly either. All at once I felt a great, sweaty mass fall upon my upper torso and head, driving me back so that this time I hit the back of my head on the hard floor. The weight was terrific. I literally could not breathe, all the air coming out of me in a huffing, spit-flecked sound that echoed dully in the darkness. For a second, I feared my eyes would squirt free of their sockets, brains come dribbling out of my ears, that's how crushing the weight was. Then it was gone.

I sat up again--rather more slowly than last time--and by some miracle, my hand came to rest on my cell phone. I picked it up and flipped it open and let its feeble bluish screen light reveal the face of a startled security guard, who had evidently been upstairs, making his rounds.

"What--? What are--?" he began, then he found his own flashlight and shined it brightly in my face.

In a slightly breathless tone of voice, I told the guard that I was supposed to be staying in this hotel--using the term very loosely now--but when we got here, the lights were out.

"We?" he asked, looking around, and then at my suitcase.

I explained that the faculty member who'd picked me up had left--in fact, I was semi-certain he was gone altogether. The guard stood up, brushed himself off and then grabbed his walkie-talkie from his belt and began barking into it, all the while keeping his flashlight trained on me. There were a series of garbled, static-riddled grunts and woofs in reply, and then the guard gave me his full, stern attention.

"The hotel is closed, sir," he said.

I couldn't help myself. "Oh, really? Is that what this is? Here I thought the staff was trying to conserve energy by shutting out all the lights. Wow, well thanks, because that sure fills in some blanks for me."

The guard gave me a stony look, but I didn't give the tiniest shit. My leg hurt. My wrists were both feeling rather sprained, and my nose felt squashed flat. Plus, I was pretty sure that beads of this man's sweat had actually dripped onto my forehead and was even now mingling with my own dewy perspiration.

I bent down and picked up my bag, after first groping around on the floor to make certain nothing had fallen out of it--it would be my luck that the bag had disgorged all of my underwear. Then, satisfied that everything was where it was supposed to be--except, apparently, for me--I turned and headed back down the hall to the loading dock. Behind me, the guard made more woofing noises into his walkie, but I quickly lost track of him because, just ahead of me, feeling his way along the hall, was a slightly familiar shape. The professor who'd driven me here from the airport. Apparently he had not ditched me. Or if he had, he'd since suffered a twinge of conscience and had come back.

Actually, it turned out that he had gone looking for an office where he knew there was a phone, but the phones were out. In the end, we stepped back outside where he promptly took out his cell phone and began making some calls.

In short order, he got hold of the home number of the assistant who had made my reservations and she brightly informed the professor that the hotel was closed (hey, I could have told them that). But she had made a reservation for me at a real hotel, just down on the main drag out of town. In fact, we'd gone right by the place about 30 minutes earlier. Why she never bothered to tell anyone about this change in plans is a mystery, but it didn't matter. I was glad to have a place to sleep, and I think the professor was relieved that his job candidate wasn't going to have to spend the night on his couch. Within the hour, I was safely tucked into bed at a nondescript motor court, where I fell asleep amidst a sheaf of papers, most of them notes for the lecture I was going to give tomorrow.

I'll spare you a detailed recitation of that Wednesday, my first day of interviews. It consisted of the usual meet-and-greet with each member of the faculty. I had a long and somewhat illuminating chat with the dean, who asked me for an overview of my research presentation, which was going to take place the next day.

This was more or less the same question the professor had asked me on our drive to campus the night before, but it unsettled me a little to have the same question asked of me again. Had these people not looked at my resume? Did they not see that I had 20 years of practical field experience in magazines, books, newspapers, and Web sites, but had done no academic publishing? In fact, no one I knew in the field had done academic publishing until they, you know, started working in academia. Why was this such a deal to them?

I didn't ask the dean that. Instead, I said, "You know, I really don't have a research presentation per se. I just really haven't had the time to pursue that kind of work. I do have a couple of areas I'm interested in exploring."

"Oh?" the dean said, perking up. "Such as?"

"Well," I began, "you know, I have a pretty extensive background in health journalism. Most newspapers and magazines devote at least a little space every issue to health coverage. It's a topic of great interest to the public. And academically it's an area of great interest too." And here, I ticked off a list of colleges and universities that I knew had recently begun offering health-journalism classes, or even offered health writing as a minor or area of concentration. "Actually, I'm surprised this school doesn't have such a program," I added. It was true. The university was, after all, offering all kinds of health majors in conjunction with a large local hospital--the biggest of its kind in the state, in point of fact. "Anyway," I went on, "I've long thought about writing a book on health-writing. It could be a text for such a class, and would certainly add to the body of critical analysis about the field, yes?"

The dean nodded. "Well, that's great that you have a nice little book idea there," he said. "But the way our tenure track works, you'll probably want to publish something on health journalism as a journal article first."

Well, this was going beyond disconcerting and treading on "annoying" territory. "I have to admit," I finally said. "I thought this school placed a higher premium on bringing in professors who had extensive, practical experience in their field. Surely that's important to the school, too? The sort of thing prospective students and their parents look for, yes? I mean, they're not going to be reading academic journals. Wouldn't they--and you--look for schools whose teachers had been in the trenches?"

The dean looked pained. "Oh no, no! I mean, yes. I mean, well, you're absolutely right: we do place a premium on practical experience. But we also expect our faculty members to publish in the academic field. You can't just write a book and call it good."

"Really," I said.

The dean nodded. Then he said: "So I take it then you have not published any journal articles or have a set agenda for your research."

Somehow, I had the feeling I was trying to call this guy, but the phone was ringing in another room. "That's right," I said. "Because I've been busy working in the field. But I'm a quick study, you know. I'm sure I can learn all there is to know about the process."

"Good, good," the dean said absently, jotting some notes on a clipboard in front of him. Then he abruptly stood up, shook my hand and walked me down the hall to my next interview.

And I would have been prepared to dismiss what had just happened. I was willing to believe these folks weren't fooling themselves as well as me. I was fully capable of believing that they'd read my resume and brought me in because of my field experience and the dean was just a little out of touch, a man flailing in a dark corridor, feeling for a lightswitch. And I just happened to be a suitcase he'd tripped over.

Yes, I was prepared to believe all that. Except that, as soon as I was seated in front of the professor the dean brought me to--my next interview--the first words out of her mouth were:

"Tell me a little about your research goals, MM."

And just then, I knew I wasn't going to get this job...

After reading this piece this morning, I'm thinking maybe you should start doing a "reearch" thing into humor in writing and all ab out that. You could use this post and the one just prior to this as guides in that aspect. Or something like that. How, exactly, does one do journalism research anyway? I mean if you are vying for a position as a professor in a science field, I can follow the research you could do in a subject of particular interest or the same with sociology or psychology, et al. English/Literature -sure, pick an author and do an in depth study or biography piece. But how exactly would you do a study then to write a journal article or a book about journalism? Maybe a study on "Yellow Journalism" perhaps is about the only thing that comes to my mind off hand or liberal vs conservative journalism maybe. And then, how -if you've been working in the field for 20 years does one find the time to do the research involved in doing a study -what with the facts from the various sides, statistics to be garnered, proofs, etc.? Seems kind of far-reaching to require that to me but then I am not, obviously, an academic. To bad I'm not though cause I'd hire you in a heartbeat cause I think you would make one fantastic professor and be able to provide interesting class lectures and data to enable students to learn and be able to practice what they learned after graduation too!
Thanks, MM. I was starting to think maybe you had been spirited away, what with the gap between this post and the previous one. Looking forward, as always, to the next.
What I’m finding funniest about all this—and admittedly, I’m coming at it from an odd perspective—is that research-based academia is, by its nature, very much like being a freelance writer, pitching to the magazine market. You come up with your idea (or someone commissions it), and pitch it to an editor. Every journal has its own house style; format and presentation of your manuscript are very important.

I recently finished up a consulting gig, helping a research professor with exactly this sort of stuff—reformatting MS for submission to a particular journal—and I was horrified. Looking over the journal website, they had a section of manuscripts accepted for publication—unedited, still in the format in which they were submitted—and what astonished me is that most of the authors had not made even a good-faith effort to properly format their manuscripts to the journal’s specifications before submission.

If a freelancer sent out a manuscript without properly researching the market, he’d get bounced. If an academic does it, he gets on the tenure track. Go figure.
Ha! Wow. I got frustrated just reading this. I can't wait to hear how the rest of this goes.

I'm glad you're okay after your nasty fall(s) at the sketchy hotel though. I was wondering!
so what interestign things happened after you got home?
Oh. My.

I am a child of academics. I grew up on a university campus.

I live in the shadow of a large, land grant university.

I do not work there. Gah. Sometimes the ivory tower accusation that gets thrown at university faculty is fully warranted.

I'm interested in reading the next installment!
Talk about being in your own world. That and a self-fulfilling prophecy...if they only look at those who are "research" writers, how are they going to be able to provide a useful, "real-world" education to their students? It's like Richard Jeni's take on his Poli-Sci degree: (him) "What can I do with this?" (guidance counselor) "You can teach." (him) "What about all these others?" (gc) "They'll teach also." (him) "Wait a minute, this isn't college...it's Amway with a track team!" IMHO you would probably be better off freelancing and working on a book (Blaze, perhaps?). At least you would likely enjoy it more and find greater personal satisfaction. In any respect, good luck and keep us updated.
Sorry the interview sucked, but I'm glad that you didn't have to spend the night in an abandoned hotel. With your track record, it would probably end up having been an abandoned, haunted hotel. Looking forward to the next installment as always.
"I had a long and somewhat illuminating with the dean" chat?

I'm looking forward to the news at home, too. And I really hope the rest of your interview process isn't too painful. It's almost like there's a standoff and no one wants to say to the other, "Look, I think we're both just wasting each other's time."
Ugh. I sighed in disgust at the end of this. Why fly and drive you all the way out to the middle of nowhere when they haven't read your resume and clearly have no clue why you're there? That's so frustrating! Who ARE these people? And the lack of consideration about hotels and reading resumes and whatnot clearly says to me that these are not people you want to be working for or with. At least you've got good fodder for the ol' blog.
Oh man! Sucky interview but loved your snarky comments. :)

and at home?
Oh, please tell us you made up the wildest research fable of all time! Something so improbable, so outrageous, that you worried a bit that they might actually be intrigued and call your bluff....
lol, you ended up getting it, didn't you? if so, congrats. if not, a pox on them.

and i'm glad you didn't hurt yourself when attacked by the luggage. you've got to watch luggage. it's sneaky.
So yeah, did you actually give that research presentation? I imagine I would have gone home after the first day :>
glad it was only a suitcase clutching your leg. I don't think I'd survive a day in the world of "higher learning." I couldn't even get through grad school--all the self-important blowhards were too difficult to stomach. not that higher learning would clamber for my presence anyway, since I haven't published in a journal. or elsewhere. unless you count instructional manuals for fast-food restaurants. alas, their loss. as it is for this foolish school, if they did not beg for you to join the staff there. sounds like they could use a good MM shakeup. do tell the rest of the story!!!
I can't believe you haven't heard the old "Publish or Perish" line when it comes to academia.

Precisely the reason that you'll never catch me gracing the halls of any institution of higher education as anything other than an interested student...

Perhaps they keep asking you if you have research goals because they don't currently do research on possible hires.
Wow...when writing a book isn't enough, what is? That's nutso. I'm awfully glad you didn't break anything, MM!

Wishing you luck for the next round...wherever that might be!
Gaaah! As soon as you approached that craptacular hotel, I just knew this was going to be an exercise in futility, wasted time, and good material for the blog.

Job hunting blows under the best of circumstances. If we lived closer, I'd buy you a beer and tell you about some of my classic interviews, including one that I totally blew deliberately when I realized they already had the candidate they wanted. They were simply required to bring someone else in to prove they'd made an effort (flew me halfway across the country to waste my time on that one...)
This comment has been removed by the author.
OOops, just learned that "edit comment" is not the same thing as "delete post". My bad. Here's what I said, and this time I hope I get the spelling right:

I (quite literally, actually) laughed out loud at your story, MM. I love, love, love your writing style. You are destined to write a book and I will buy the first copy, and my friends and fellow MM Groupies here in the Comments section will buy a bunch more. Please, write that book.

PS You will have to tell me your real name by then so I'll know which book to buy.
Hey MM next time you go to an interview for a professorial position, staple the last two posts on the FRONT of your resume. It will set expectation levels appropriately. They will clearly see you are a marvelously talented writer - and you haven't been spending your time developing a research topic.
Sorry about the job but glad to hear you came back home in one piece. I just don't understand ... I think you would be great as a teacher. Their loss~

Please, MM, give us the rest!
But you WILL get a better one.
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