Earlier this month I interviewed for a tenure-track position at a college near NYC. Somehow, I was invited back for a second interview. This has never happened to me before, even though I have applied for a fair number of jobs over the last three years. I am not sure what to make of this development. Why this college? Why now? I have my theories, which I discussed in my last post. I think it has to do with the fact that they need a Cheesemaker, right fucking now, and I happen to (sort of) be one. It’s dumb luck, even though I don’t feel lucky.
In any case, the second round was pleasant enough. I had to make conversation, almost none of which was about the job or my qualifications. They are satisfied that I can make cheese, and that is enough. At this point I think they want to know if I am a decent person. Would they like to have me hanging around the department for the next 6 years until I am inevitably denied tenure for not publishing anything in my field? (Since I have no intention of writing in my field ever again, that seems the most likely outcome.) Am I a good conversationalist? Can I ask all the right questions about my potential colleagues’ scholarly pursuits while also expressing an adequate level of interest in their toddlers, when toddlers are mentioned as part of casual lunchtime conversation?
I did my best, even though I continue to have tremendous anxiety about the job and what it would mean for me to assume the role of Head Cheesemaker. Like Bartleby, whose famous words have been revived as a slogan for May Day, I would prefer not to.
But this preference must also be considered in light of my current employment situation in which I am earning around $15/hour as a temp. So far this has meant going back and forth between a law firm and a Fancy Wall Street firm (where I am typing this right now). Between these two jobs, I have managed to work two or three days per week answering phones, ordering lunch, and being generally agreeable.
If I am offered this tenure-track job, I will have to make a decision.
I am not saying that my choice is between accepting the job or continuing to work as a phone-answerer extraordinaire for the rest of my days. (The fact is, I now know that people who have the skill to manage a multi-line conference phone with deftness and aplomb are worthy of the highest regard.)
No, the choice would actually be between assuming the life of a professor (at least temporarily) or continuing to pursue some other life that I haven’t discovered yet in the hours when I am not temping. This is a prospect with a certain charm, if not a regular paycheck.
I am trying to think about this choice without all the ego that naturally comes into play, but it is not easy.
For example, one day last week I was being interviewed for the role of Head Cheesemaker and introduced as “Dr. Post-Academic in NYC” all over campus. The very next day, I was making photocopies and filing receipts and being ignored by a bunch of hot shots who walk around with cell phones glued to their ears talking about Important Money Things all day. One time I was alone in the elevator with one of the Fancy Wall Street firm bosses, and he didn’t even acknowledge my presence. These guys have absolutely everything, and they’re rude, miserable assholes.
So I guess if I get the tenure-track job, then I get to be the asshole, only with a much smaller salary? Of course, I would try my best NOT to be an asshole. But it may be that some are born to be assholes, some become assholes, and some Head Cheesemakers have asshole-ness thrust upon them. There’s no escaping it.
Today, one of the full-time secretaries at Fancy Wall Street firm befriended me and started giving me advice about which head hunter firms I should register with if I want to start doing this work full-time, which she presumes I do. “It’s tough out there,” she said sympathetically, as she wrote down the contact info for the recruiter who helped her find her current job, which she hates.
I think she feels sorry for me.
I am probably exaggerating. It’s not like anything matters, what I do or don’t do. Who cares, when you really think about it?