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On the cusp of the new year, I’ve had several friends, on various social media, invite a one-word description of 2011.

I tried: not happening.

There just isn’t any one, single word that resonates with my experience of a year in which: I finished my dissertation, planned for December graduation but blew the deadline to register, rented out my condo in Chicago and established myself more firmly in De Pere, Wisconsin (necessitating a second move here), and continued my pursuit of a full-time academic appointment. Lots of ups and downs, affirmation and deflation, late nights studying/writing/preparing for class, a sense of suspension between the present and what-may-come, but no one word to describe it overall. [Blur—one friend's offering—might be the closest approximation. Exhaustion also comes to mind...]

Pondering how I might describe the year that is now passing, I did arrive at one conclusion that surprises me, although perhaps it shouldn’t: the job search as a kind of formation process, at least as I’m experiencing it, one that is as difficult as that designation properly implies.

First and foremost, given the present job market, my search is forcing me to think and rethink the distinctions among my sense of vocation, what gives me pleasure, what I find most satisfying/stimulating/fruitful, and what will support my basic needs (soon to include student loan payments). I can’t speak intimately to how the process is affecting my many, many friends and colleagues who are also in the thick of it, but for me, this thinking and rethinking is both daunting and—for the moment, in any case—fruitful, albeit difficult. I sense my activities shifting into alignment with my priorities. I sense an emerging balance between my openness to change and adventure and my desire for some basic level of familiarity and continuity. [To wit: I will happily teach almost anywhere and am readily and happily able to relocate, but I have ruled out moving any great distance for part-time work of uncertain duration, and I passed on applying for a job in Turkey that looked very intriguing, but also potentially isolating.] Questions of the most productive, pleasant, and likely loci for continuing to teach and to pursue my research—both of which are deeply important to me—are coming into clearer focus, although acting on the answers to those questions likely will require both creativity and flexibility in great measure.

The best news, for me, out of all of this reflection, is that despite the unanticipated (at least in terms of degree) high level of uncertainty,  I find myself with no regret about pursuing a PhD in theology or about the emphasis I’ve placed on teaching. I am doing what I’m doing—and trying hard to find ways to keep doing it—because I can’t imagine not doing so. The study of religion, and in particular the doing of theology, while not the only way, is for me the best way to make sense of myself, my experience, and the world around me. I love, really love, to teach. My continued work in constructive theology and my teaching in the humanities (usually through a lens that is crafted from religious studies, literature, and popular culture) are thus great joys to me. I would not describe my present state as a happy one, and at present (in way that has not often been the case), I’m almost constantly warding off some level of anxiety about the future. On the other hand, however, I am often happy, even content, and increasingly I can see myself being happy and content in a much wider range of contexts than I would have imagined at one time. It is no small thing to be doing what one loves, to be bringing to bear one’s greatest passions and interests on matters one considers of great moment. It is, in fact, a rare gift, if at present a very, very stressful one to receive and hold dear.

Now a couple of weeks out from THATCamp LAC, which was the immediate precipitant of my trying again to blog, I’m slowly coming around to the possibility that it’s not an entirely bad idea. Twitter is…well…short. Facebook, while terrific for all kinds of reasons,  is all over the place. I’m thinking a blog will be less frenetic and more useful to my own reflection. And it’s writing, which I need to be doing pretty much all the time, lest I begin to avoid it altogether.

Prompting my return for a second post is one from a colleague’s blog. Ryan Cordell is an English professor and the director of our Writing-Across-the-Curriculum program at St. Norbert. As much as is humanly possible, he tries to keep me in line with writing instruction. (UofC Writing Center colleagues will appreciate the challenge this goal presents. Note, however, that while I really, really care about mechanics, it turns out that here in the wider world, I’m more on the side of the writing instruction angels than not…) Ryan and I see eye to eye on most issues (at least with regard to teaching writing), including the motivation for citation. His recent post on how instructors lose sight of our primary concern in this regard is instructive. I encourage you to read it: http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2011/05/31/what-citation-is/trackback/. [There's a way to make that whole long link into the word "here" or "post", isn't there? I urge you to let me know how to do it.]

Citation is of considerable moment to me as I make decisions about the direction my dissertation project will take in book form for (I hope) a wider readership. What needs to go? What could be moved to a footnote or endnote? What level of citation might be helpful, beyond the requisite, for a non-academic or even interdisciplinary readership? I find that mulling over these questions reminds me of why I started the whole wretched dissertation to begin with – and that’s particularly useful at the moment.

 

 

Do I love the idea of a blog? Yes – other than the snarky responses from anon I anticipate – yes.

The idea is great, but the reality of setting it up, following the instructions…no, not so much.