I beat myself up a lot about what I should have accomplished, where I should be in my career, how much more I could have done if only x, y, and z (all internal causes: if I could have overcome this or that circumstance or rise to the occasion or simply be better, in all respects, every day). It is the definition of vacuous perfectionism and the solid basis to my robust impostor syndrome. All academics suffer of some form of it (or at least, 99% of the female academics I know, ahem–we all know about the gender imbalances accumulated under a patriarchal [scholarly] system in which mediocre men are supremely confident in their abilities and brilliant women are taught self doubt from a very early age).

Well, it’s time to turn this around. As a slew of good news rolled over me at the end of the year, perhaps it’s time to take stock and admit I’m nowhere near as incompetent as I once thought I was, and while brilliance remains elusive, solid accomplishment does not. In that spirit, here are some of the professional accomplishments I am proud of this year:

  • published two articles in two good journals, Medical Humanities and Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, and got a revise and resubmit on a third one (still working on it);
  • one of those articles (on orthorexia) got some major press (for me, at least) – I was interviewed and/or quoted in several international newspapers, including The Times (London) and others;
  • oh, I was also interviewed on NPR about the passing of Grumpy Cat (wild!) due to a paper on memes I published a couple of years ago;
  • presented at 1 international and 2 national conferences; a fourth one I had been accepted at was unfortunately canceled due to a hurricane, but the work was still done;
  • got a total of 3 book contracts (edited collections) (ouch, in terms of workload the coming year – fortunately, one is almost done, the other two have just been signed in December);
  • got a special issue editing gig for a journal in my field (work is underway);
  • initiated and have been working as co-PI for a sizable grant for a big project in my field (will submit in January 2020);
  • my first monograph (with Carol Berkenkotter) was finally printed this summer and we just got the first review on it (it’s good!);
  • related: one major (major!) figure in my field blurbed said monograph and wrote me separately to say how much she enjoyed it;
  • also related: a new dissertation copiously cites and builds on our work in the rhetoric of psychiatry/archival asylum work (proof of relevance!);
  • with my team, we won a significant teaching award at our university (article to come!);
  • final proofs are close to done for my scientific communication textbook with Kelleen Flaherty (OUP); the first blurb is in and SUPER-enthusiastic (they really loved it!), which made my heart sing;
  • I got a new gig as the new blog content editor for a major journal – won’t say which as I’m waiting to sign the final contract, but I’m pretty excited about it.

In non-professional memorable moments, I got to go to Barcelona, Crete, and Hawaii, in addition to my yearly trip to Romania, and I loved all these places SO MUCH. Must return!

There was bad, too, of course (but enough about my personal life). And those book proposals took a lot out of me, especially one, a labor of love, that went through multiple revisions and rejections that spanned almost the entire year, to the point that I was a millisecond away from giving up. Glad I didn’t! Overall, however, I’ll mark 2019 as a solid year of professional accomplishments that set me up with work for at least 2 years to come (oh, I’ve also got some articles in the pipeline just begging to get out, some of which were started/drafted this year as well).

Not bad, 2019, not bad. Onward!

The Precarity of Knowledge

I have a ton of books, many of them unread. (Admit it, you do, too.) A lot of them are heavy with knowledge and highfalutin writing, having something important to say, to contribute.

None of the academic books I have were written more than 50 years ago, with perhaps one exception (Kenneth Burke’s oeuvre). I wonder how they will fare 50 years from now. 100. 300? I know, I know, we can’t think that far ahead.

I look at my meager academic output–a couple of books, some chapters, some articles. How many of them will be read, or be important in some way, in 50, 100, 300 years? One, if I’m very very lucky. Zero, if I’m being realistic.

The truth is that we are awash in precarious knowledge–not that its foundations are shaky, but that its shelf life is, in the grand scheme of things, extremely short. Not all of us can be Plato, Aristotle, Descartes. The percentage of cultural critics that endure/have stood the test of time is fairly low (that’s partly because it’s sort of a newer profession, perhaps).

I guess our consolation prize is that we add something now without which future scholarship would not be possible, in overt or covert ways. In the grand scheme of things, other things will have enduring power, rather than my analyses of asylum archives. But perhaps the future understanding of those archives (and of life in the asylum) will be slightly so ever influenced by my efforts, today. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there, now or in the near future, finds what I write useful. I don’t think we are entitled to hope for more than this.

I don’t have a proper ending for this. I keep seeing libraries of a dystopian future burned for heat by climate crisis refugees. Or if we can somehow prevent that, a dusty corner on a shelf somewhere.

Also, the climate crisis makes every bit of knowledge precarious, together with our entire race. Something to think about in the very near future.

Book Proposal review

I received a request to review a book proposal (my first!) from a well-known academic press–commercial, not university-affiliated, but instantly recognizable nevertheless (you have about 3-4 guesses total here).

I said yes. The subject matter greatly interests me and I think it’s in general a good idea. Looking at the proposal, it’s rather skimpy for now (for my taste)–for example, it does not have chapter synopses (and this is supposed to be sort of a big, encyclopedic book spanning multiple disciplines and with multiple authors). I know of the proposal author/editor–truly, the best qualified person to be putting this together–but I feel more can be done to whip this into shape. I have a couple of weeks to put that into words.

But wait, there’s more: I have a book proposal with the same Well-Known Academic Press, also an edited collection, on a closely related topic (albeit from just one disciplinary perspective, and for a different series). I’ve been in talks with the series editors for months, since May, and it finally went out to external reviewers beginning of July, more than 2 months ago (I am expected to follow a much tighter deadline, myself, for this review). I’ve already changed that proposal multiple times, and worked hard with the contributors to get the abstracts in shape–to say nothing of my own revisions of the body of the proposal. I inquired about the status of the proposal last week, and the editorial manager is on vacation until tomorrow; apparently I am to hear about the reviewers’ comments any day after that.

As I await those comments with trepidation, I realize how serious and delicate my own job is. My proposal had already been rejected after being in review for months with another academic press, after getting actually fairly good reviewer reports–the series editor decided to nix it for various reasons. I shopped it around after that, with one serious prospect (with a fussy initial review, though), but then Well-Known Academic Press swooped in, super-interested (we’re talking Skype calls, lots of back and forth, and a super-complimentary email exchange regarding the last iteration of the proposal). But–it ain’t over until they discuss the reviews and probably put me through the ringer a little more. I can’t complain, this is the academic publishing game, but it makes me super-sensitive to what I will actually put in my report without allowing my own idiosyncrasies, pet-peeves, biases, and narrow interests to take over.

Do unto others, right? I’ll do my best to be a fair reviewer, and hope my proposal will also be treated fairly.