Thursday, March 31, 2016

Of rejection, defeat, and moving on . . .



It is uncommon to find job offerings at the collegiate level these days. More uncommon are the once-attainable tenured track positions. And the rarest of the Pokémon is that illusive Creative Writing tenured track position. Since graduating in 2012, such careers in my searching have been non-existent. Then, last year around September, I found one. Well, two to be exact. Wesleyan University in Connecticut had two tenure track Creative Writing positions available. It was an accident I found them on www.pw.org (a great place for jobs, conferences, workshops, residencies, etc.). I didn’t think it could be true, yet there they were.

For years I’ve looked for jobs in teaching, all at the junior or community college level; without a PhD, I’m nearly useless to a University. But these two jobs were searching for MFA candidates, or MA holders with an extensive publishing history and teaching experience. Up to this point in my life, I have felt inadequate to perform the teaching jobs I’ve applied for, expecting rejection solely based on my smaller degree and lack of experience. To no surprise, I’ve never been offered a job. And I’ve been okay with it; disappointed, but okay. But these two Wesleyan positions, I don’t know, something just clicked. They felt right. My credentials were not just satisfactory, they were good.

So I spent the next two months preparing my application. Redoing my CV, writing up a two page Teaching Statement, fixing my cover letter, trying to get to know the University, and, of course, panicking. The day before the application was due, I turned in all my work (it was some time in November).

And then, I waited.

The worst game ever invented.

I tried not to think about. I knew it was a long shot, most likely I wouldn’t get the job, I hadn’t gotten ‘the job’ in the past, why would I get it now? Except nothing and you won’t be disappointed, it’s what I always tell myself. Yet . . . I had hope this time. Somewhere in my body the molecules aligned to have faith that this job was the job. It was in a place The Wife and I have wanted to live for a long time (it has something to do with Gilmore Girls I think). Almost as if the stars aligned, as cliché as I know that is, but they were. After so many years of looking, of working, of school, or writing, of waiting, I finally found the job, the career that would take care of my family. I even made becoming a full time professor at Yale a new goal, something I became very passionate about. I saw myself teaching and Wesleyan for five to years, then moving up in the academic world to Yale, teaching some of the brightest minds in the country, shaping the generations that would be my children, and giving my children the opportunity to attend a University that, during my college years, was far, far out of reach. Our family would be moving up in the world, and hopefully I would be able to take others with me along for the ride.

On January 18th, I received this email (it had a nice little letterhead .jpeg and everything):


Dear Jon,

Thank you very much for applying for the position in creative writing.

We received an extraordinary number of applications (almost 500) for this search, and the committee agreed that it was also an exceptionally strong pool. Unfortunately, we are unable to invite you to an interview.

We wish you the best in your job search and in your writing.

Sincerely,

Lisa Cohen
Search Committee Chair
Wesleyan University


That was it. Before even getting off the launch pad, and the whole prospect was up in flames. I didn’t know what to think. Mentally I invested the next five years of my life into the idea of getting this job, of moving to Connecticut, finally building my mini house, having land, seeing the East Coast, starting a new adventure. All gone. No Yale. No home. No new life. Just me, and the kids, and The Wife, and Idaho.

It’s been two and half months since the rejection. And still, I complain. I know that 400 some-odd people got the same email I did. And I know that they, too, had hopes of changing their lives, becoming contributors to the academic discussion, teaching the younger generations all about the mystical world of words and language and story. Those applicants probably needed this job just as much I as did, maybe more; maybe they have waited decades for something like this to come along, that glimmer of hope, of light, to pull them out of darkness.

But you know what, I don’t care.

Harsh, it’s true. Cold-hearted, you bet. Downright mean, most likely. There’s nothing I can do about that.

At this point, I’ve just given up. At first I was angry. How could they not give me an interview? They had no idea how devoted I would be, how amazing I would be in the classroom, the different perspective on writing and storytelling that I could bring to the table that no other applicant possessed. All they saw was that I had an MA, not an MFA, and that that was that. How could they be so selfish and stupid and blind and . . . and, well, just crappy. That lasted for about a month. Then depression set in. And with it, the realization that Wesleyan was not to blame for me not even getting an interview. I was. I was not good enough. An MA is just not enough to participate at the University level. And really, 28 publications in small, mostly unknown, lit journals don’t really count as publications. I have no books published, nothing in any journal of substance. I’ve never really worked in teaching, just adjuncting for the last year and a half or so. But really, that’s nothing. Nothing compared to MFAs and PhDs and decades of teaching experience. It’s nothing compared to handfuls of published books and articles and short stories and poetry in literary journals of world renowned and hundreds of thousands of readers.

So, I’ve given up. Given up on writing. On teaching. On becoming someone better than I am for my family.

The mini house, forget it.
Being a writer, I’m done.
Teaching at Yale, never going to happen.
Working in publishing, nope.

As far as I see it right now, I am destined to work minimum wage jobs for the rest of this mortal life, my family suffering at the expensive of my failures and weaknesses and lack of courage. My children will never have the beautiful life that I envisioned for them, one better than my own, better than the world around me, better than apartments and used cars and off brand products and hand-me-down clothes and toys and tired and sad parents who don’t know if the next paycheck will be enough to cover rent and all the other bills; whatever they do and become will be because of their hard earned efforts, and nothing that I have done to help set them up for success.

But me, I’ll just work in retail, or fast food, maybe adjunct here and there, and I’ll just slowly dissolve into a gray puddle and slip away into the Necropolis where hopefully my dead self will live a better life than my living one.