I wasn’t a total idiot, I guess. I knew when I started working on the PhD that the job market in literature had changed radically. Colleges and Universities just weren’t hiring as they had in the 60s and early 70s. I am no economist so I can’t say why this happened. But maybe it had to do partly with the baby-boomers. I was one of those and, while perhaps the percentage of persons with PhDs in lit. had not gone up, the raw numbers had gone up because the baby-boomers were a huge generation.
So supply exceeded demand and demand too had lessened. I don’t know why that was either, but I think it had to do with two things: the Arab Oil Crisis, and in California the tax payer revolt. I think the Arab Oil Crisis shook the economy to the core. We were vulnerable and spending accordingly became more conservative. And in California and eventually the rest of the country the tax payer revolt, as it was called, undermined the funding base for public colleges and universities.
At the time though, I figured I would give it a shot and maybe I would be the exception to the rule. You never know. I guess everybody who plays a long shot thinks he or she will be the exception to the rule. I wasn’t alone at least in thinking I was special. At one convention I remember this guy, who had written a book already, and who was, at the time of the convention, on a Fulbright Scholarship teaching in Yugoslavia, I think, when it was still Yugoslavia. In any case, he had applied to numerous places because his book had just come out and, though he had not received a single letter for an interview, he flew half way around the world from Yugoslavia to San Francisco just in case a letter had been sent and he had missed it because he was living half way around the world. But he didn’t have a single interview.
I learned the hard way that they call it a rule because it is a rule and the word “exception” indicates something pretty rare. I didn’t turn out to be one in any case. And while I had some inkling that larger things like the economy were not under my personal control, I tended to feel that my inability to be an exception was, well, my fault. Work hard, keep your nose clean and you would move up. But it wasn’t happening. I concluded that I had to be in some way deeply flawed.
In light of my previous nervous breakdown and advanced state of neurosis, this was really easy for me to think. I had done something wrong or I had failed to do something right. Or maybe I had just plain been cursed from birth. So I did what I could and read and wrote articles because I thought that if I could get a few things published maybe that would make somebody somewhere pay attention to me. So for maybe five years that’s all I did in my “spare” time, read and write, write and read. Then I would send off what I had written and it would be rejected.
Doing this I managed to increased my rejection rate astronomically. Not only was a being rejected for job interviews, the articles I was writing so I could be rejected for job interviews were also being rejected.