Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Strangers On a Plane." Overheard Post-MLA.

This conversation was overheard on the flight home from MLA, one row behind me. The reader should know that Friendly Professor Frieda was approximately the same age as Hesitant Harriet the Harried Applicant, and that the two bore a striking resemblance: sallow complexion, dark hair, rectangular glasses... the recent RYS description of our "unfriendly tribe" comes immediately to mind.

Friendly Frieda (loudly, as she takes her seat): Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice, is that a book about Shakespeare?

Hesitant Harriet (from within her introvert's cocoon): Yes, it's a sort of a scholarly book, though.

FF: That's great. I teach Shakespeare.

HH: I wrote my dissertation on [unintelligible/unmemorable] in Shakespeare's plays.

FF: So were you in San Francisco for the MLA?

HH: Yes.

FF: Did you have interviews?

HH: No. I tried. I sent out to dozens of schools. But I didn't get a interview.

FF: That sucks. I was just on a search committee, and believe me, it's really hard to pick who to interview.

HH: Where do you teach?

FF: [Small liberal arts] College.

HH: Oh. I applied there.

FF (suddenly less boisterous): Really? What's your name?

HH: [Hesitant Harriet].

FF: You know, I think I remember your application.

Awkward Silence. The plane is now approaching the runway.

FF (laughing nervously): Our committee had one person on it that is super-traditional, a real [name dropping of obscure critic]-type, and another who's gone the way of Cultural Studies. And then there's me. So it was really hard to decide on candidates. There was lot of disagreement.

HH (with the tone of someone wishing the plane would fly off the end of the runway and into the bay to relieve her of this tremendously embarrassing seating-related misfortune): I see.

FF: And we also had to make sure that none of the candidates were too similar to anyone already on faculty. I think that might have been the problem with your CV. If I remember it right, I think your work was a little too similar to mine.
HH (with the tone of one who wishes to end the conversation): I understand.

Liftoff. Passengers as a whole go quiet.

For the 5 hour duration of the flight, at no point did these two rekindle their originally quite warm conversation. Friendly Frieda bantered with the fellow in the aisle seat beside her ("books? I used to like to read, but movies are so much quicker"), but poor Hesitant Harriet disappeared into the wall of the plane.

The moral of the story? If you're returning from MLA having not had a single interview, you should probably read the latest Twilight book or the Skymall magazine on the plane.