Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Year Four

This year has been chaotic, difficult, and exciting all at the same time. I just wrapped up a four-year PhD program in English with a specialization in rhetoric and writing (and a certificate in women's, gender, and sexuality studies) and I graduated on May 17th. It still feels surreal, but you can call me Dr. LaFollette!

For the first three years of my program, I was mentored by the faculty at my university about going on the academic job market. I knew when fourth-year came around, I would spend the year looking for, applying to, and interviewing for academic positions. However, I don't think I was prepared for quite how difficult the whole process would be, or how difficult the entire year would be as a whole. I began applying for positions in July 2018. At the beginning of August, I became ill (first with strep throat, then bronchitis, then several misdiagnosed upper respiratory infections followed by a whole list of weird and concerning symptoms) and spent the entire month of August barely able to function. (I wrote a post about this ordeal here). I finally received a mono diagnosis during the second week of the semester and subsequently had to take a leave of absence from school and teaching (I was teaching poetry for the first time in my career and had to pass the course off to another instructor).

I was on medical leave for six weeks and then transitioned back to school part-time for another two weeks. At the beginning of November, I was trying to get back to my regular activities, but I didn't really start feeling like myself again until several months later. In November, I spent five days in Cincinnati helping out with a new staff assessment for Impact Campus Ministries (the organization my husband works for). It was a wonderful (and exhausting) experience, and it definitely helped me feel like I could tackle school and work again after being on leave for almost two months.

I had some setbacks with my dissertation, so over winter break, I wrote and revised as much as I could so I could send the final version to my committee when the spring semester started. Once spring semester came around, I took on another job (I was already working as a program assistant at my university and teaching online for another university) as a part-time nanny 15-20 hours per week. We were also hiring a new faculty member at my university, so I was trying to attend the candidates' research and teaching presentations since I was also on the job market. And, on top of this, I was still applying to as many jobs as possible and trying to get my dissertation ready for defense. I submitted the "final" version of my dissertation (which ended up being almost 300 pages) in January and defended my dissertation on February 18th! My husband and parents were even able to attend; it was a great day all around.

By January, I had been applying to jobs for six months and hadn't had a request for a single interview. I was becoming anxious and discouraged, but many of my other colleagues were experiencing the same thing. The academic job market wasn't strong this past year, and there weren't as many positions available. I started thinking about what I would do if the year passed and I didn't get hired. Would we stay in Ohio? What would I do? The whole process was anxiety-inducing, and it didn't help that family and friends and acquaintances were always asking if I had had interviews, found a job, etc. I didn't know what to tell them because nothing was happening.

In February, I had a phone interview with Campus #1, and I didn't hear back from them after that initial interview. A week later, I had a Skype interview with Campus #2, a very small, private liberal arts college (for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position). The following week, they invited me for a campus visit/interview. While I was preparing for that campus visit, I had a Skype interview with Campus #3 (a small, private Catholic university) and was also later invited for a campus visit/interview (it was for a one- to two-year Visiting Lecturer position). I came back early from a conference in Pittsburgh and went to my campus interview at Campus #2 the following day. A week later, I went to my campus interview with Campus #3. I didn't get the job at Campus #2, and Campus #3 canceled their search after my interview.

In late March/early April, I had a Skype interview with Campus #4 (a mid-sized public university) for a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor and Campus #5 (a small branch of a larger public university system) for a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position. Campus #4 followed-up and asked me to come for a campus interview, and then Campus #5 asked if I could come during the same dates that Campus #4 had booked me for. When I asked Campus #5 if I could come during a different time since I already had another interview scheduled, they said they were no longer interested.

After returning home from my interview with Campus #4, I had a phone interview with Campus #6 (a small, private Catholic university) for a non-tenure track Assistant Teaching Professor position and a Skype interview with Campus #7 (a very small, private liberal arts college) for a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position. I went for a campus visit/interview at Campus #6 and never heard back from Campus #7.

(As a side note, some of these terms/ranks might not make sense if you don't work in academia. Here's a Wikipedia article that defines some of these positions: Academic Ranks in the United States).

I tell you all this to give you an idea of how stressful the academic job market is. You invest so much time and effort into each application and interview (each takes hours of preparation as you tailor your cover letter, CV, and teaching and research materials to the job ad and research the school and the department before interviews).

If you don't know anything about academic interviews, let me tell you a bit about them. Universities will usually do initial interviews (via Skype or over the phone) with 10-20 job applicants, then they will narrow that pool down and invite 2-3 candidates for a campus visit/interview. The campus interviews can last between 2-3 days and involve meals with the search committee and meetings and presentations that last all day. I usually would have dinner with the search committee the night before my official interview and then the interview would start the next day between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning. Depending on the size of the school, job candidates meet with the the president, the provost, the dean, the department chair, the search committee, human resources, etc. In between those meetings, candidates are required to give presentations on their research and facilitate a teaching demonstration (all of my teaching demonstrations were in actual classes, meaning I took over for that instructor for that class session and taught their class while the search committee and other faculty members observed). Lunch is typically with students or other faculty members, and candidates usually have dinner with the search committee after the day-long interview is over before returning to their hotel.

The process is exhausting.

While I was traveling for interviews, I was also going to conferences, submitting applications, and continuing with my work responsibilities (I was still working as a program assistant and teaching online, but had dropped the job as a nanny). My husband had also been in a workplace accident in February and injured his leg. Worker's compensation was taking forever to come through, so we were without his income for almost eight weeks, which only added to the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty we were both already feeling. On top of this, our lease was up in May, and when we asked our landlord if we could extend it until July or August (when hopefully I would have a job and we would be planning to move), she initially said "no." We spent two or three weeks trying to figure out what we were going to do about our living situation. If I did get a job offer, we would need to move in July or August, so we would have to move out of our current place and into a new place for two months just to move again. If I didn't get a job, we had no plan and didn't even know where we would live. A friend offered to let us stay with her and we could put our stuff in storage, but luckily it didn't come to that and our lease was extended until July.

May came around and I still didn't have a job offer. I was trying to come up with a plan for what I was going to do if I didn't get a position, but most days, it was too much to think about. Getting a PhD was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I kept hoping I didn't go through the whole process to come out empty-handed.

On May 6th, after applying to almost 80 jobs and having many interviews and campus visits, I got a job offer from Campus #4, a dream school and a dream job. (And, the day after, I got a job offer from Campus #6, but knew the other job was the right position for me). I accepted the offer and signed my contract; we're moving (back) to Indiana on July 27th! I'm so excited about this position and can't wait to start in August. After the year we've had, I'm looking forward to getting settled in our new place in our new city.

I'm sharing these stories on my blog for a couple reasons. One, I don't think many people knew how rough this year was on us, and announcing my new job and the move on social media was exciting, but it didn't show any of the chaos of the months leading up to it. Transparency is important, especially when we only tend to share the good things on social media. Second, if you are on the academic job market this year or will be soon, you can do this! Surround yourself with good friends and family who support you. Be patient. Don't take rejections personally - there's so much that happens behind the scenes of a job search that you just don't know about.

God is good. Here's to new adventures!

My partner in crime. After five years in Ohio, we're moving back to Indiana!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Art Show: Assemblage of Existentialism

I'm excited to share a bit about a collaborative art exhibition that my friend and colleague, Jonathan Brownlee, and I are showcasing during the month of February at the Art and Performance Center of West Toledo. Our exhibition is titled Assemblage of Existentialism and it showcases the artwork from my dissertation project and a four-part series called Anatomy of the Writer. Jon is showcasing several pieces from a series and other stand-alone works. I love the way the exhibition came together, and I think Jon's work does a nice job of complementing mine and vice versa.

You can visit the exhibition during the month of February whenever the Art and Performance Center is open (see the event calendar at the end of this post), and we will be hosting a reception later in the month (TBD). You can find more information below about my part of the exhibition, and there are some preview photos below of our showcase:

The Queer Art of Writing
This series of collages was created for my doctoral dissertation, which is titled The Queer Art of Writing: (Re)Imagining Scholarship and Pedagogy Through Transgenre Composing. Since I am defending my dissertation this month and am graduating in May 2019, it seemed like the perfect time to showcase the artwork I’ve been working on for the past two years while writing my dissertation.

The idea for my dissertation developed as I was attempting to reconcile my identities as both a creative writer and a writing studies scholar. My driving questions have been: Can creative writing be scholarly, and can scholarly writing be creative? Is there a place for art in writing? My dissertation works to answer these questions and advocate for the use of art in writing studies scholarship and pedagogy by examining “transgenre” compositions (or compositions that combine elements of both art and writing). Because of the focus of my dissertation, I decided to make the project a tangible representation of what the intersections of art and writing can look like. As a result, my dissertation is a combination of art and text. The collages in the showcase are interspersed throughout the first four chapters of the project; I took a different approach with my fifth and final chapter, which was created using photographs and footnotes.

Anatomy of the Writer
Anatomy of the Writer was created to accompany a medical rhetorics article I’ve been working on for an academic journal. Staying true to the focus of my dissertation, the artwork works with the text in the article to create an altogether new reading/viewing experience for audiences. The text of the article intersects with this artwork, which outlines my experiences with traumatic injury, surgery, and recovery, to emphasize the rhetorical nature of bodies and the importance of acknowledging our embodied subjectivities in writing.

Enjoy the preview! The photos show a mix of me and Jon's work. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Summertime Sickness

At the beginning of August, I went back to Indiana to celebrate my brother's engagement and my niece's first birthday. It was a wonderful weekend, but a couple days after I got back home, I started to feel sick. I thought I had a cold, so I put off going to the doctor, but after three days, I was miserable and went to an urgent care clinic. They did a strep test and it came back positive. I was mad at myself for not going to the doctor sooner, and the strep took longer than usual to get over.

While recovering from strep throat, I developed a horrible cough that would keep me (and sometimes my husband) up all night and would make me feel like I was going to throw up. I spent days sleeping on the couch, and even after I finished the antibiotics for the strep throat, I was still coughing. (Plus, my sore throat came back). I finally decided to go back to urgent care (although I went to a different clinic this time). The physician's assistant told me I definitely had bronchitis (which is completely unrelated to strep throat) and said I needed to get it under control before it developed into pneumonia. They did a strep test and it came back negative, so she said the sore throat was likely caused by the cough. She gave me a steroid injection in the office and sent me home with prescriptions for five days of antibiotics, five days of steroids, and cough syrup to help me sleep. 

I felt much better after a couple days, and although the cough was still there, I could breathe and sleep better. I even managed to go to campus during orientation week to shoot some photos of incoming undergraduate and graduate students (as part of my assistantship). I had been asked to teach a poetry class last-minute, and I was so excited to teach it that I didn't even mind planning the course while recovering from bronchitis. I was finally feeling better and was ready to welcome the new semester (and the last year of my PhD program).

I finished the round of antibiotics and steroids and school started Monday (August 27th). On Tuesday, the sore throat was back. On Wednesday, I got up to get ready and go to campus to teach. I looked in the mirror and my face, neck, and chest were covered in a terrible rash. I didn't know what to do except to try and get through teaching my class (it was only the second day and I didn't feel like I could cancel), so I got ready and drove to campus. On my way home, I was almost in tears because of how bad the rash was, and my husband and my mom both said I should go back to urgent care.

Later that evening when my husband came home from work, we went back to urgent care and the same PA from the bronchitis visit was there. I had a fever of 101 and I hadn't even realized it (I had had a low-grade fever since August 7th, and it was now August 29th), so nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me. The PA really wasn't sure what was going on, but thought it was another respiratory infection (which can cause a rash) or that it was possibly scarlet fever (which sounds scary, but no longer is because we have antibiotics). She did another strep test and it came back negative. She said she could order some blood work, but was sure I would get better with another five days of antibiotics and steroids, so I went home with the prescriptions and hoped this was the last of the mystery illness.

The rash slowly went away while on the antibiotics, and I luckily had an extra long weekend to relax and recover since it was Labor Day weekend. When Wednesday came around, I had to go back to campus for meetings and to teach, but I found myself struggling to even get out of bed. Even though the rash had gone away for the most part, I was still feeling ill and not like myself. If you know me, you know it's hard for me to take time off because I always have something on my mind and always have a to-do list. I was concerned about how lethargic I was feeling and how difficult it was for me to wake up and get any work done. And, a couple days after finishing the second five days of antibiotics and steroids, the rash came back even worse than it was before. 

I was at a loss. I was starting to feel down and depressed and felt like I could burst into tears at any moment. I stupidly started looking up my symptoms online and was convinced I was dying of some awful disease (I was sure I had lymphoma). I called my family doctor's office and scheduled an appointment and she was able to see me the next day. I was sick, tired, and miserable and had no clue what was happening. 

I went in for my appointment the next morning (September 7th) and, when my doctor walked in, she saw my face and thought I had a strep rash and told me it would go away on its own. I was almost in tears because I knew it wasn't a strep rash and I was desperate for someone to tell me what was wrong with me. I told her I had recently had two negative strep tests, so it couldn't be a strep rash. I proceeded to tell her about the past month of illnesses and visits to urgent care. She looked something up online and showed me a picture of a rash.

"That looks a lot like your rash, doesn't it?" she asked.

It did. She had me sit on the exam table. My lymph nodes were extremely swollen (which I knew and was one of the reasons I was convinced I had lymphoma). I lay down on the table and when she felt around on the left side of my abdomen, I almost cried out in pain. She told me my spleen was very enlarged. I told her about how tired I had been, how I could barely function at work, how I had a fever that wouldn't go away. 

She told me she was 99% sure I had mononucleosis, and would order blood work to confirm. She also sent me to the hospital to get my spleen checked (when you have mono, your spleen can get so enlarged that it can rupture). While I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis and know that I wasn't dying, she said mono can take 6-8 weeks to recover from and that there are no treatments/cures. The only thing you can do is take time off and rest and sleep and drink plenty of fluids. 

Friends, I am the kind of person who doesn't relax easily. It's hard for me to take time off, and it was very difficult for me to give up teaching that poetry class that I spent so much time planning. BUT, I'm currently taking 4-6 weeks off of work and school to recover, and while it's not always easy, it was the necessary choice for my health. Some days, all I can do is sleep on the couch and occasionally get up to let my dog out (my husband works every day, so I'm home by myself most of the time). Other days, I can do some work from home for a bit (job applications, dissertation stuff, etc.). But I tire easily. And mono is very lonely. Most days, I don't even leave the house because I'm not feeling up to it. I went from seeing and interacting with people every day to spending most of my hours with my dog (don't get me wrong, I love my sweet Ruby, but she's not very conversational - lol).

This past month and a half has been tough. I'm relaxing and resting and sleeping as much as possible and am still tired, but I'll get through this. I'm so grateful it wasn't anything worse, and I'm hopeful that in 3-5 weeks (it's already been a week since I found out I had mono), I will be feeling like my regular self and will be ready to return to campus (and to finish this PhD strong). In the meantime, if you feel like bringing someone ice cream, you know where to find me. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Tyler + Jodie Engagement & Madilynn's Birthday - Photo Shoots

This weekend, I got to shoot my brother and future sister-in-law's engagement (Tyler + Jodie) and my niece's (Madilynn) first birthday/cake smash. The photos of Tyler proposing are not staged - he asked me to hide out and capture the moment as it was happening, and my dad was in another area getting video of it! I'm so grateful to have been a part of their special moment.

Here's just a small snapshot of the photos I got this weekend. Interested in booking a photo shoot? Check out my photography website to find out more!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Restoring & Repairing Our Antique Radios

This has been a busy summer so far! Not only have I been working a job on campus and working on my dissertation, but Justin and I have had lots of projects going on at home. We repainted a shelf for our bathroom, painted a tabletop for my desk, and sanded and repainted all of our bedroom furniture (see a post on that here). This past week, we decided to work on restoring some of our cherished antiques.

We have lots of antiques, and most of them were given to us by family and friends (to see a post on all of my typewriters, click here). My favorite piece is definitely the 1940s Philco radio phonograph that my great grandfather gave to me about four years ago. Justin and I had just moved to Ohio and he had to go back to Indiana for one of his grad school classes. I went with him to Indiana and he dropped me off at my parents' house so I could spend the day with my dad at my great grandfather's house. He was 94 at the time, and we had a wonderful day spending time with him and helping him around the house. My dad told him I love antiques, and my grandpa told me to go look around in the attic to see if there was anything I might want. I found so many cool things, including boxes of old cameras, records, vintage suitcases...and this 1948 Philco radio phonograph. When I asked him about it, he told me that him and my great grandmother had purchased the radio brand new and that he had had it for over sixty years, and that he wanted me to have it! My dad and I managed to get the radio out of the attic and into the car, but it was in rough shape.

It had been in my grandpa's non-temperature-controlled attic for many years, so it endured lots of extreme cold and heat. It also needed a deep clean. My dad and I took it back to my parents' house and spent the afternoon cleaning it and polishing it. It looked completely different by the time we were done.
The plug needed to be replaced, so my dad and I couldn't turn it on. When I got it home, Justin and I replaced the broken plug and tried it out - of course, it didn't work. I began doing some research about how to fix old radios, found a schematic online of the inside of the Philco model I had (we later realized there was a schematic on the inside of the radio that we didn't know was there), and found a website that sold the vacuum tubes I needed. We ordered them, installed them, and the radio worked! We were so happy, although the radio only picks up AM stations, so there wasn't much to listen to. We decided to try fixing the record player next, but that journey ended up being a three-year saga of disappointment. 

With the record player, it turned on and the record would spin, but we couldn't hear any noise. Justin replaced the capacitors and resistors, but it still didn't work. He thought that the arm for the record player was the problem, but we found out that the part we needed to fix the arm didn't exist anymore. We were disappointed, but I still loved that the radio component worked. My grandpa passed away about a year after giving the radio to me, so I loved being able to have a piece of him in my home that I could see everyday (and share with guests when they come over). 

A couple weekends ago, my husband and I were camping with friends in Indiana. Our friend, B.J., started talking about how he restores antiques, and Justin told him about our radio. He agreed that the issue with the record player probably had to do with the arm, and B.J. gave Justin the contact information for a guy in Michigan who sells parts for antiques. While we were already told several years earlier that the part we needed didn't exist, Justin emailed the guy anyway.

The guy confirmed what we already knew, but did some research anyway. He ended up finding a universal cartridge replacement kit, and while he didn't know if it would work, we decided to give it a try for about $28. The part came in the mail, and Justin worked on installing it. The parts were very small and it was a tedious process, but he got everything put together. We stood in my office anxiously waiting as the radio warmed up so we could see if, after four years of having the radio, the turntable worked. 

It didn't.

Justin started working on it again and realized he had re-installed the arm wrong. He fixed it.

It still didn't work.

I stood there watching in disappointment as I had hoped this last effort to fix my grandpa's radio would work. Justin made a small adjustment with the needle, and all of a sudden, the record started playing. 

There may have been happy tears involved! We polished the wood again, and now the radio looks beautiful and is in complete working condition (and it sounds beautiful). Also, Justin replaced the bulb behind the radio display, so it has backlighting again. In the video, we're listening to one of my grandpa's Nat King Cole records that I found in his attic along with the radio. 

My great grandmother and great grandfather got that wooden camel figurine in Israel during a trip they took around the world. It was another gift from him, and I have it displayed on top of the radio he gave me.

I found this whole stack of records (78s) in my grandpa's attic. They may skip a bit from sitting in his attic for 50 years, but for the most part, they sound wonderful. Somehow during the many years my grandpa owned the radio, the back came off and we weren't able to find it (although the screws that held the back on were still drilled into the sides of the radio). Justin and I went to Lowe's to get the material to make a custom back for the radio to protect it and keep dust out. We added some ventilation holes since the vacuum tubes get hot while the radio is on.

In addition to the Philco, Justin and I have also been working on a 1973 radio/record player/8-track console we found last summer for free (to see the original post on this console, follow this link). It was also in rough shape because someone had left it sitting out in the rain. We brought it home, cleaned it up, and realized all of the electronics still worked (except for the turntable, which needed a new needle cartridge). Here are a couple photos from cleaning the console up last summer:

Before cleaning.

After cleaning.

It cleaned up well, but Justin and I decided to sell it since we didn't have room for it in the house. We posted it on several sites, and there was some interest, but no one bought it. We decided to fix it up a bit more (the exterior was still in bad shape from having been soaked during a rain storm). We sanded it and got it ready to paint. Justin found a replacement needle for it from the same guy who sent us the cartridge replacement kit for the Philco. 

After sanding, adding wood filler, sealing the bottom, and gluing parts of the exterior back down, I decided to paint the piece black with a gray top (and I spray painted the hardware metallic black) to cover up the imperfections from the water damage (plus, I added a layer of clear coat at the end to protect the surface). Justin installed the new needle and the record player played beautifully. We decided to keep it this time. 

That's Johnny Cash on the 8-track player (found at an antique shop in Dundee, MI) and AC/DC on the record player (found at a Goodwill store). 

And while both of those projects took quite a bit of time and effort, we had one last thing to do - find a knob to replace the missing one on Justin's great grandmother's Delco radio (given to Justin by his dad). We found a knob from a different seller and now the radio looks complete (and it works perfectly).



We finished working on these radios in a week's time! Like I said, it's been a busy summer. We are both so excited to have restored some beautiful pieces of history - one of which we found, one that belonged to my great grandparents, and one that belonged to Justin's great grandparents.