Archives for the month of: September, 2013

The UQ School of English, Media Studies and Art History has a Friday lunch get together that features a couple of short talks – 15 minutes or so – and then half an hour of q-and-a. This week’s is called “ARC Lottery Winners.” That is to say, the Australian Research Council grant – and the grant-hunting model in general, so beloved by the managerialism set – is a tax on academia’s poor. Go ahead and apply, contract lecturer; you gotta be in it to win it.

ADDED LATER: Turns out the person in charge of organizing the event was told that it wasn’t cool to call the event “ARC Lottery Winners.” The identity of the ARC lottery winner who felt this way remains to be determined.

The next time I have success getting some funding for my research will be the first. It’s not that I haven’t been part of successful grant applications – I helped the UNH fencing club get money for a new scoring machine thing back in 2001 and I met more than my share of grant-writers when I worked at University of Canterbury’s Learning Skills Centre. In other words, I’m one of the people the Deakin University is thinking of in their crowdfunding initiative.

But there’s something that really and truly bugs the everloving shit out of me. It’s point number three in their “Five crowdfunding tips“:

Be comfortable mixing the personal and the professional. Successful crowdfunding means engaging with the people who have the biggest investment in seeing you succeed. And nine times out of ten this will be your friends and family, or even your colleagues down the corridor.

I’m supposed to ask my mother, who lives on Social Security disability payments in a trailer because she has Stage IV lung cancer, to send some money my way. I’m supposed to ask my father, who lost his job as a welder and now works on the delivery dock of a grocery store, for money. I’m supposed to ask my sisters for money – because waitresses, social workers, and students are a ready source of buckets of money. After all, they don’t have bills. I do not doubt the good will of my family or my colleagues, but it is not their fucking job to fund my research. I’m lucky to have moved to NZ, where my health problems, which would have cost ten or twelve grand in the States, were covered under national health. Your average humanities PhD in the US carries non-dischargeable undergrad student loan debts and, in all likelihood, a fair amount of credit card debt from emergency dental care and/or medical problems during grad school. I fail to see how asking my paycheck-to-paycheck junior faculty pal for some scratch to fund my research is going to accomplish much.

How, exactly, will crowdfunding help me get a decent gig? It would seem to make me the cheap option, the option that would require nothing of the university other than a hot desk and an email address. I’m already a contract lecturer who gets no research support from the university. The last thing the suits need is some Mitt Romney pep talk from the people who are allegedly on my side.

Rachel Toor has a nice enough piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about writing. Much of her advice is the exact stuff that I hammer into my students. However, one of the anecdotes she uses combines suburbia and maps in a gloriously infuriating way:

During a workshop with our graduate students, a visiting writer said, “Don’t write like a suburb.” He talked about how he always flipped through the pages of a manuscript to see what the look of the thing could tell him. I did the same thing when, as an editorial assistant, I had to choose which manuscript I wanted to read and report on next. I avoided the drafts that looked like they would be no fun because the text presented itself as boring blocks, with long uninterrupted paragraphs made up of endless sentences—the manuscript equivalents of army bases or grid cities. Instead, I went for those that presented themselves as appealing and interesting, more like maps of Paris or lower Manhattan.

Sure sure grey space is deathly. But when I open a Henry James novel I see lots of grey space, lots of really long sentences, and – here comes a shock – great fucking literature.

Manhattan is set up on a grid system. The map of lower Manhattan shows this grid system with slight variations:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.40.30 PM A grid system allows you to navigate the city. That’s how good, well-organized writing works too. The map of lower Manhattan, I’m happy to report, looks a little bit like a map of that midwestern metropolis Green Bay, Wisconsin:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.52.32 PMBoth cities turn their grid to the northeast. This is the reason that my brother-in-law always gets lost when he drives in Green Bay. It’s just slightly off. For some reason the visiting editor didn’t use Green Bay as an example. I’d say that’s because of the thing that bugged me the most about the anecdote.

“Don’t write like a suburb” is, like almost every catchphrase, a bit too facile. I doubt the writer meant a suburb like my home town, Carpentersville, Illinois. When I was moved there in 1977, it was an almost entirely white working-class suburb. By the time I moved to New Hampshire in 2001, Carpentersville was 40% Hispanic, and now it’s 50% Hispanic. It’s still working-class, but one corner of the town fancies itself, and they have found it hard to understand C’Ville’s identity. I was absolutely mortified to read about my home town as the poster town for anti-immigrant sentiment in the New York Times Magazine.

If I want to be kind to the visiting writer (and mix up the editor’s suggestions and hers/his), it’s the map of a suburb that drives the critique. Suburbs, with their culs-de-sacs and winding “aesthetically pleasing” roads, take you nowhere, in circles. Here’s the part of Carpentersville I lived in:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 1.06.24 PMAs you can see, Carpentersville doesn’t have a lot of “grey space” – it’s broken up by empty spaces. The long sentence of Route 25 is broken up by the shorter sentences of the bending Kings Road, the 45 degree Amarillo, and the weird half-loop of Sacramento Drive (none of which are my old neighbourhood – I lived on Papoose). True, the limited-access nature of each subdivision seems to preclude the kind of interconnections that an interesting piece of writing would achieve.

But what “write like a suburb” means is “boring,” for people who have boring jobs. I don’t know if Carpentersville even registers in the editor’s world: a working-class new-immigrant suburb where property values have remained stagnant. Places like Carpentersville – multilingual, multicultural – should be where the new and interesting writers emerge from. We can’t all live in Park Slope, after all.