I’d have to say the Saint Louis experience pretty much ripped it for me job hunting wise. I’d been on the market at least eight years by then. Every fall during that time, I read the job list and wrote the letters of application. I went to a bunch of different cities to be interviewed by people I didn’t know at the time and don’t remember now.
My specialization, Romantics, had nearly disappeared from the job listings. Now theory was being emphasized, and minority literature, and somewhere I had failed to hear that the Renaissance, as I had known it, was called now “pre-modern.” Women were being hired, rightfully so, and I was getting old, well over forty by then. That didn’t help me at all. The society is obsessed with youth and youthfulness. I wasn’t anymore, and because of the teaching experience I had acquired I would have to be paid more than people just fresh out of graduate school and less, sometimes well less, than thirty years old.
I was astonished to hear the English Department where I worked hired a person in my area, Romanticism and another area too, straight out of graduate school. And she had published utterly zip, nada, nothing. But she had been graduated from a top ranked school. I guess her dissertation looked good and she was a she, and not a hairy old white man like me.
So the whole field as a specialization had transformed right before my eyes. And I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how the market worked, what reasoning, if any, went into hiring somebody and not somebody else. All I knew as that it didn’t work for me.
I think I can sum up this experience pretty readily by saying it was horrible. Yea, well, that’s the right word. Horrible! I was perpetually anxious and completely at the mercy of the mail person. Also being repeatedly rejected, over and over again, is not good for one’s self concept. It felt like one of those cartoons where a cartoon person is being driven straight into the ground by repeated blows to the head with a giant mallet. Huge chunks of my energy were sucked from me as if I had ingested a giant tape worm and couldn’t throw it up.
I had never liked the Holidays and Christmas any way and then, what with waiting to hear if I had an interview or not, they had become a nightmare. One year I had bought my plane tickets because you had to buy them early to afford them, and I remember how miserable I felt when suddenly, it was mid December, and I had not received a letter for any interviews and I had to go right then to return my tickets if I wanted to get my money back. I was utterly torn up.
What if a letter came the next day? But who the hell was I kidding? I wasn’t going to get any letter. But, wait!, one year I had received an invitation via phone right before Christmas, so it was possible. But who the hell was I kidding. I wasn’t going to get an interview. But what if a really good school called with a terrific position? Could I afford to say no? But could I afford the tickets to say yes. Or what if some nowhere school called, that required 12 classes of composition a year, and paid zip. But was tenure track and in a place where my wife and I could afford a house.
After I turned in those tickets to get my money back, I cried, and I do that once every five years or so (except during the period when I decided I should try to cry more often).