23 September 2005

on unemployment

I had two interviews this week, both in London. this is, on the one hand great news, as it means that people might want me and being wooed is always nice. it also reveals a certain paradox embedded in the state of non-jobbedness that has just begun to strike me and take form. several of you out there who may be reading this have, I know, experienced periods of being "between jobs" or, as perhaps is more apt in my case and some others', purposively choosing not to work in favor of other, less lucrative, activities. being able to do the latter is a luxury, one for which I am extremely grateful and for which we have sacrificed some things, although not a huge amount in my estimation. last year I called it my unpaid sabbatical, which was how I thought of it. a year off, I write my book, I finish my book, I become employed again in some sort of inevitable cycle.

but, as I discover now, inevitable cycles rarely exist. perhaps the Vedic yuga cycles of 40,000 years might be considered inevitable, but even they run into bumps in the road. perhaps Shiva won't, in fact, burn the universe to a crisp in the ultimate cleansing ritual this time. or perhaps he will, but not until week after next. (yes, I've read too much Rushdie. shoot me.)

and so last spring (ironic in its seasonal rebirthing symbolism) I went through the hazing ritual known as the job market yet again, for the seventh time in eight years. granted, some of those years I applied for only one or two jobs. but five of them were more or less all-out job search years. and this time I received a whopping 6 interviews (that's batting more than .500, by the way) on-campus. and looking back now on those interviews, it feels like I was trying to make myself fit them (something one often does in interviews) by making myself smaller. hunching over a bit. breaking a few bones in my feet to make them look like a size 8. that sort of thing. metaphorically, of course. and it didn't work. they saw through me. saw that I finished a book last year. that Duke Univeristy Press is interested in it. that I am about to publish the only ever reader in Asian art history. that I am well-published in scholarly journals. that I am a great teacher. and so they did not hire me. some did not hire anyone at all. most hired newly minted PhDs who are probably very smart and very promising.

and so this autumn (one doesn't use the word "fall" for seasons in the UK) I am looking for a job again. but it seems that something has changed. I'm no longer on an unpaid sabbatical. this state of non-job, pick-up job, seeking job is now a part of my life. and I'm not looking for a job (well, of course I am, but...*) in the sense that I'm not assuming some sort of inevitable yearly cycle of job ads, job applications, job interviews, job offers (or not). I'm looking for a way of being an academic, an intellectual in this world. a way that perhaps makes use of some of the things I've learned and some of the things I've learned how to do. I suppose everyone, in every field, might go through something similar at one point or another. I've done the traditional track (first comes PhD, then comes tenure track job, then comes tenure and...) and so now I'm looking for the other thing. or things. I'll let you know what form it takes when I get there. or perhaps, more properly, as I'm navigating along.

*if you are reading this and happen to have a full-time post at a university or similar doing something that might use Asian art history, and you happen to have such a post in well, the greater southern Wales region, please give me a call.

1 comment:

Mark said...


Yes, four separate and well established companies turned down my applications for employment.

Not because I wasn't qualified! All four report the same reason:
"... looking for a lower level person."

So, how's that hunching and breaking the feet thing go? Might make me fit in the unemployment line easier.