23 January 2009

Pretty Bad Things Are Happening

Today I got turned down for a job at Oxford.  This isn't really a very big deal, since I wasn't really right for it, and since I'm not at Oxford's level, anyway (maybe not yet, or maybe just not), but it raises a number of unfortunate ghosts.
My life in America pretty much stinks.  I hate where I live, which is a major problem.  I like my job, but I'm not challenged by it, and I really have no one at my level to discuss my work with - I'm pretty much totally unstimulated mentally.  I have no partner,
which means not just that I have no one to love me as a partner loves you, but also that I have no day-to-day or even week-to-week support, and also means that at the age of 40 my closest emotional-intellectual relationship is with my parents.  I've never gone out with an American, except for six months in my sophomore year of college.  I don't
like most Americans, and I don't like most aspects of America.  

When I went out with my ex-boyfriend, J., we made each other unhappy a lot of time.  I don't know if it was more often than not, but it was a lot.  The summer before we broke up, though, he took me with him on a trip home to Ireland.  And we were both so happy there, and so content with each other:  indeed, we both said so to each other.  Of course, going on vacation is relaxing, and being on his home ground no doubt soothed J., but these days I do wonder to myself if it wasn't just something about being in Ireland, or out of America.  I'm just not very happy there - or at least, I haven't been very happy there since I moved back 14 years ago.

The problem is, I have no choice:  it's looking more and more like I'm going to have to return to the States, and more and more like I'm going to have to live there.  There aren't very many jobs here doing what I do, and although I keep applying to the ones there are, I also keep not getting them.  Once I leave here, it becomes distinctly less of a possibility that I'll even be considered for one, given that Britain is full of people like me desperately searching for jobs, and many of them have books, too.  

It's not as if my life here is any greater than my life in the States:  I still don't have a partner, and it's still pretty unlikely that I'll find one.  I don't even have a job, and you'd have to be an idiot to leave a tenure-track job in this economy - I fear it would destroy my career.  And my life in America is objectively good:  I have a job, and a fine salary, a nice place to live, and students who love me.  But I'm not an object; I'm a subject.  And subjectively, I feel that I belong here.

I'm not making sense, and I think it's because I don't see any way out of this.  By getting a Ph.D. I narrowed myself - I can't be a secretary now.  And I can't pick up and move here hoping to get some kind of job, because for sure I'll starve to death.  So I'm going to have to go back to America, where at a very basic level I'm deeply unhappy; even when I think about going back I become so unhappy that I can manage to function, but not much more.  But I have to go back, because nothing's working out here.  And I suppose you could say, "There are good jobs in America, and some nice men."  And of course you'd be right.  But do I look petty or extreme when I say, "Time has shown me I'm not attracted to American men, and I suspect that any job in America might make me unhappy, because it's in America"? (at this point my mother might say, Look at how your relationships with non-Americans worked out.  Maybe you should give Americans a try.)  I feel terribly terribly trapped, and in some awful way just...doomed.  And incredibly alone.  I'm 40 years old, and I have to figure out my life alone.  It's all somehow just one big ball of wrong, and surely this can't be how it's meant for my life to be?  I try so hard, so repeatedly.  I work what would be like a dog, if it weren't for the fact that I choose to do it.  I've written stuff I didn't want to write, and been nice to people I didn't want to be nice to, and done things I didn't want to do, because all of that contributed to my career, and because I figured that doing it would open up avenues to success and happiness that would otherwise be closed off.  Can it be that the outcome of that is still the kind of life I would have if I didn't try at all?

Other people have happy blogs, or witty blogs, and the funny thing is if you met me you'd find me funny, and full of life and wit.  So I apologise yet again for the persistent tenor of this blog.

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21 January 2009


I'm probably going to spend my whole life wondering if I'd've had more relationships if my breasts had been bigger, or if I had been prettier, or if I'd been whatever sexier is, or had possessed the Mysterious Magic Pheremone that makes people desirable.  But, in a moment of possible lucidity, I think the truth is that I would've had more relationships if I'd just stayed in the same place for longer periods of time, or had the same circle of friends for a long period (so that I'd be known by a steady group of people, with all the possibilities that entails), or, probably, looked a little less intelligent, or sounded a little less so.  And, perhaps, realised that the wrong ones were wrong ones a little sooner.

Oh, and been better.  For sure just...been better.  (There goes the moment of lucidity...)

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17 January 2009

The End of the Week

Yesterday I went into London for the day.  I was going to the ballet, but then it turned out I also needed to do some research for my mother.  So that's what I did.

My mother needed some more portions of an M.A. thesis I'd photocopied portions of before, and it was quite easy to order it up and go collect it now that I knew the ropes.  The unfortunate part came when I had to photocopy it.  You have to get a permission slip to do this, and last time I went there was an experienced librarian who was pretty loose about it ("Yes, photocopy, here's the slip").  This time I got a much younger, and I think much newer, librarian, who was very conscientious:  she flipped through the thesis, and filled in my information on the slip very carefully; whereas before when I'd specified page numbers the librarian had said, "I only need an approximation," this time when I gave only an approximation she got frowny and asked for specific page numbers.  As a result, we had one of those strange conversations I sometimes have where you start off on the wrong foot and can't salvage it.  I kept trying to hurry the process along because I knew the ropes, but she didn't like those ropes.  After a few exchanges she actually said to me, "You're being very snappy with me.  I'm just trying to help." And I saw that I was being very snappy with her, and was appropriately humbled.  I did apologise, but it still reminded me that I need to remember to play by other people's rules, rather than trying to impose my own.

What this librarian didn't know was that just before I'd gone to collect the thesis I'd walked from the tube station to the library - about a five-minute walk - crying all the way (just for the usual reasons).  Indeed, while I was photocopying the necessary pages I cried the whole time, too, and then I went and had a half-hour long cry in the ladies' room.  But I'm not sure misery is a really a justification for rudeness or off-handedness.  Surely if you're miserable you've earned the right only to be rude to what's made you miserable, and since in this case it was circumstances that made me miserable I had no right to be rude to anyone.  What made it sort of worse was that my half-hour cry in the bathroom made me late for a meeting with a friend of a friend, someone the original friend had thought I might like (I only liked him as a friend, as it turned out).  It's terrible to be 15 minutes late for a meeting, and I feel worse about that than about the librarian, really.

The ballet, for its part, was La Bayadere, and it was pretty silly.  It's not the silliest ballet I've ever seen - that title goes to Le Corsair, and I think even those who love Le Corsair, even those who dance it, would agree with me that it's very silly indeed - but it was perhaps the second silliest.  La Bayadere is famous for the opening of its "Kingdom of the Shades" scene, in which 32 female members of the corps de ballet descend a ramp, following each other down the ramp performing a simple series of steps (arabesque, plie, temps lie onto arabesque leg, backbend, three steps onto arabesque, repeat sequence).  The stage slowly fills with women in floaty white costumes performing the same steps, and if the steps are done with the precision they ought to be (as they were last night) the effect is both eerie and magical.  You can get a sense of it here:

and you can watch it here.  In any
case, once you see a full-length Bayadere it's easy to see why they tend to extract the Kingdom of the Shades portion.  The rest of the ballet is more a collection of divertissements and melodramatic mime than anything else.  That being said, the woman dancing Nikiya, the Bayadere, was very good, and Ivan Putrov, who played Solor,  was dynamite - much better than he was when I saw him Manon.  Putrov is the Royal Ballet's newest sex symbol/star male, and he fills both roles amply - particularly, last night, star male.

Then, in the lift after it was over, a  madwoman started telling me that all ballet stars had had "their faces fixed."  So all in all, a lively day.

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09 January 2009


Since I've been here, I've had what I would consider to be a notable number of encounters with a particular type of person.  This person - or, in this case, these people - seem to devote themselves to, and take a fierce kind of pleasure in, charting the negative occurrences in the careers of those they dislike, or who they feel have somehow injured them (actively, or in some cases just by being better known, or having achieved more).  Now, I can understand hoping for something bad to happen to someone you think has done you wrong - or even, although I understand it less, someone you just dislike - and I can understand feeling cheerful, or even downright happy, when you hear that it has.  But I can't understand keeping your ear to the ground for just such happenings, or poring over such things and gloating when they do.  That's a lot of time to invest in someone you don't like.  Plus, something about such determined schadenfreude-seeking seems odd to me. Surely the way to deal with your sense that someone has cheated you out of your just desserts is to do even more to get those just desserts, not to (as it were) nega-stalk the person (that is, stalk after negative information about them) and use up your time in rejoicing when they fail? (since this rejoicing doesn't seem to be the "HA ha" of a moment that it would be with me, but rather an activity that takes up considerable time, or at least involves considerable preoccupation - by which I mean more than three minutes.)  One of the people I know who does this even nega-stalks for me by proxy, delighting in bringing me negative information about people they think I dislike.  Usually, I don't dislike these people, but even when I do, I look upon this information as news ("So and so got a lousy job"), rather than as an opportunity to gloat ("Nyah nyah; you got a lousy job!").  As my last post makes plain, I'm not above a gloat at someone else's misery every now and again, but the person in the last post really hurt me - it wasn't just someone that people like better than me or something.

The people I've encountered here who perform this behaviour are, not surprisingly given where I am, all English.  This leads me to wonder, are there such people in the States?  Britain has a smaller population, and I think this makes it more likely that one will encounter one or more of every type of person; in the States that person could live in Dakota, and you might never meet them.  But perhaps this peculiar type of stingy spite is limited to the British, to those British whose tendency toward suppression has resulted in this kind of para-hatred?  Hmm...

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06 January 2009

Happy New Year!

Portions of this post will not reflect well on me.  Well, just one portion, really.  

First, though...Tonight when I mentioned Ed Thornton at dinner my friend S.A. asked me if he was that guy on my blog with the girl, the one whose dress sense I talked about.  That person is David Tennant!  Ed Thornton gets his full name printed here because he remains hands down the best looking in-the-flesh person I've ever seen.  Ooooo, he was good-looking!  He was a friend of a friend of my then-boyfriend J., and I just thought he was the best-looking thing EVER.  He had brown hair and blue eyes, and a lovely sharp nose, and high cheekbones, and pale skin.  I remember the first time I met him, I was just completely bowled over by him; I can still feel the feeling now.  WOW, he was good-looking.  He was so good-looking that he was actually glossy - he shone, like a page from a magazine. He was 5'8", I remember, and although that's neither here nor there in the good-looking stakes, I also remember that about him fondly:  I could see him when I talked to him.  Although mostly when I talked to him what I wanted to do was giggle with delight.  He had a good line of chat, too, did Ed.  

In any case, as it happens I do not have a photo of Ed Thornton, and while I at first considered just putting up a photo of someone else named Ed Thornton, so there could at least be a photo of an Ed Thornton, in the end I decided that neither that nor my second idea, which was to put up a photo of David Tennant, was a good idea.  So you'll just have to imagine Ed Thornton. Man was he good-looking.

Soooo...for New Year's Day my friend Jennifer came to visit here.  This was an excellent way to start the new year:  superfun.  We went out for lunch and talked and talked.  Jennifer's quite good at sympathising, which makes her someone restful to confide your worries to.  I did tell her about my concerns about being single - not that I'll be single forever, but that it's probable I'll be single for the next two years, and that upsets me.  I don't particularly want to waste two years of my life in that department.

In addition to Jennifer, a couple of other things happened to make me happy. First of all, I'm making real headway on my book.  This revising is a very interesting experience, because it's forced me to grow up in certain ways, or maybe to practice forms of being grown-up I already knew I possessed but didn't want to practice.  The original book manuscript is full of jokes, and lovely turns of phrase (they should be lovely; I worked on them enough), and just generally a lot of self-indulgence designed to amuse myself and my audience.  But at a certain point very early in these most recent revisions I had to accept that my goal was not to amuse my audience but rather, if not to educate them, to write a book that would stand up as a plausible work of criticism by a smart critic.  And in order to do that I had to cut the self-indulgent junk, face the fact that I wasn't as witty and instantly appealing as I thought I was, and write a book that would appeal not because I was fab but because it was.  Out with all the jokes (except a couple of puns I couldn't bear to part with); out with the general sense that I was awfully pleased with myself.  In with the discussion; in with the humility that makes you know you need to explain something rather than assert it.  Is it painful?  Oh, yeah.  Does it make me sad to see my deathless prose hit the dust?  You got that right.  But at the same time I find it fascinating to watch myself grow in this way.  It turns out I'm not as shallow as I thought I was.

Now, here is the bit that doesn't reflect well on me.  Today I learned that my home department's eighteenth-centuryist is leaving; she has another job.  Now, remember the person who parted ways with me early last year?  The only reasons he gave were that he couldn't live in America long-term, and he didn't know what would happen once my year here was done - he didn't know how we would have gone on.  Well, he works on the long eighteenth century: Romanticism, but also the whole eighteenth century.  And my department will almost certainly be looking for someone to fill the spot for next year, the year I'll be returning after my year in Cambridge.  Do I recognise that this is a kind of grim irony for me?  Hoo boy, yeah.  But when he chose to let me go and to go to someone else, he also signed himself up for a future that involved his remaining in Britain, with a part-time job that comes to an end at the end of this academic year, with no time to work on his academic book, and with a very poor salary.  Did I mention that my department offers a 2/2 load, which leaves you plenty of time to write (as I well know), has superb library facilities, and pays £30,000 per year?  So I'm thinking the irony is perhaps greater for him.  And here is the part that doesn't reflect well on me:  What do you think about that, Mr. Fallen?  It turns out you could have had a job infinitely better than any prospect before you, and you could have had me too; it turns out it all would have worked out, and worked out damn well, after all.  Still, I expect that girlfriend offers enough to ameliorate a grim job situation, a stagnating career, and very little money. So that's all right, then.

(...let me say here that I'm aware he could have had vastly different reasons for making the decision he did -- such as loving that person and not loving me, which makes an unassailable difference -- and let me also say that I've never blamed him, although I have been sad and angry.  But, you know, distance was the reason I was given, and he broke my heart [italicised to show intensity of breakage] so I think I'm entitled to find a certain pleasure in this turn of events.)

Right, it's time for me to go to sleep.  It's now so cold here that when I think about having a partner, I think about it largely in terms of how helpful it would be to have someone to curl up to in bed.  In fact, years ago I told a friend that I thought there was a niche business to be started up in supplying platonic bedmates in winter, and I still stand by that.  So, if you would like to come and combat the icy cold by sharing my giant bed, make yourself known!  I would wear pyjamas with gnomes all over them, and I would be saintly in my actions.  But just so you know, my hair is huge in the mornings.

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