My Alternate Life

My Alternate Life (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

My colleague Lee McClain recently published My Alternate Life, a young adult book that features an amazing computer game that lets adopted children live the life they lost when their birth mothers gave them up for adoption.

If you pass by my office door this time of year, you might see me leaning over a stack of papers, struggling against the powerful urge to blubber “I coulda been a contender!” This feeling usually surfaces when I take a break from grading in order to ponder the remarkable scholarly achievements of others in my field, causing me to imagine what life might be like if I were a faculty member at a big research institution.

Teaching assistants to do most of the grading. Just two courses per term, rather than four (or, counting an overload, five). Time to prepare witty and stunning lectures on cutting-edge topics, which would be the basis for my next book. A faculty club with a fireplace, where I and my colleagues would start gathering around two in the afternoon, lounging on overstuffed wing chairs and familiarly calling each other by our last names.

When I was on the job market the year before last, one of my campus visits was to a huge institution with ambitious goals and ample support for faculty research. At a meeting with a group of top-level administrators, I was asked how I expected my blogging and other electronic activities would be received.

Since I was at the time the author of a brand spankin’ new baby monograph (if I hadn’t been, I doubt I would have made it that far), I was feeling fairly confident in my abilities. I replied that the gold standard for academic achievement would continue to be the scholarly monograph, but that in the area for which I was being hired, alternative methods such as open-source and open-access modes were having an effect on the professional discourse.

Moving to a more specific question, one of the administrators asked, “Is your blog icing on the cake, or another cake?”

“I’d prefer to think of it as a different kind of dessert, somewhere off to one side,” I replied.

I didn’t end up getting that job.

Were I a certain filmmaker with a talent for making politically charged documentaries, I might juxtapose the previous two factual statements in such a way that my readers infer a causal connection. But that exchange about blogging was just one of many opportunities for me to make an impression. Before I left campus I was told that in the same pool of candidates was an essentially unbeatable affirmative action recruit; further, I already had several other interviews lined up — one of which led to my current position, where I am very happy. Not getting an offer from Big Ambitious University didn’t sting for long.

Still, as midterm papers start to pile up, I daydream.