Friday, October 06, 2006

Weekend and story

So the relaxation weekend has begun, the one I realized last weekend I was so desperately in need of. I'm here with my new cozy throw on my knees, eating homemade soup, just back from buying shirts (I went to return one sweater I'd bought that GF confirmed made me look like Stevie Nicks, and came back with five new ones!) and picking up some of the fixings I need for a freaking huge, marathon-weekend pan of macaroni and cheese, as well as green olives, fresh pineapple - it's comfort food/pyjamas/dvd's of Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet weekend, people. Also, my good friend - the one who was visiting when this incident happened - is staying with us for a couple of days. The circumstances of his visit aren't great, unfortunately - his father had surgery for prostate cancer in Home City yesterday. Still, it's wonderful to see him, and to share parts of my relaxation weekend with him - he sure needs it, too.

Anyway, the other thing I was doing while I was out buying comfort food and shirts was mailing off a job application, for a job that is absolutely perfect for me. And that got me thinking about my ex-girlfriend. Let's call her JZ. Why was I thinking about JZ as I was mailing off this application for a job for which I'm eminently qualified? Well, let me tell you the story...

When I was in my MA program - my second year - I met JZ. There were immediate sparks, and the leaving of my already precarious relationship with someone. If there was ever such a thing as a soulmate (and I don't really believe in this concept now, but let's just use it for effect), we were it for each other. It was one of those world-shaking seemed there was some sort of transcendent, quasi-spiritual connection between us. It was an interesting match, in some ways, given how quiet I was, and how very charismatic and outgoing she was.

JZ and I moved in together. We started our PhDs in the same program, proposing very different projects. The dynamic between us, and our personalities, were such that she always claimed that I was the "true academic", the "smart one", and she was just a joker who knew how to talk the talk.

As soon as we started the PhD, we both became disillusioned (in fact, I think I simply fed off JZ's unhappiness), questioning why we'd not taken some time off. So we hatched a plan, which was to spend the following year in France. I got myself hooked up with an exchange program so that I could do some of my PhD coursework over there, and teach. JZ withdrew from the PhD program altogether.

Long story short, I came home ahead of her. A lengthy breakup followed, initiated by her (the first time). We got back together and broke up three more times, until the final breakup came in late 2001. JZ had decided she wasn't ever coming back to our PhD program, but instead started in a new one in a different city. The way that this played out, for a number of reasons, is that she was the one who was hurt more than I was, in the end. And she proposed, a few months later, that we start all over again. I turned her down.

Now, my area of research had been established since the first year of my MA. I had a very specific topical, theoretical and temporal focus that continued through my PhD and that I still have. JZ knew my work inside out, but did very different work herself.

But what happened when she started this new PhD program? She announced to me that she had taken a course in "my stuff" and loved it, and now it was her stuff, too. This area I'd been working on, at this point, for years - she'd become a player in it.

I found this a little odd, but I got over it. We remained friends, staying in touch by email from time to time, getting together when I was in her city. Her dissertation work is uncomfortably close to my own work, but I was able for a long time to put this out of my mind. We had a good rapport, and I even hired JZ to do some grading for me last year.

But now. Now, it's job market time. JZ finished her PhD just last month, I believe, and she's really on the TT market for the first time. And I know we're competing for all the same jobs, with practically the same qualifications - although my achievements skew toward the teaching side, and hers toward the research side. And today's job, the one I'm eminently qualified for? Well, I can say with certainty that she's applying for it. And it's at the university where she did her undergrad degree, in the city where she grew up. The major player in that department was her undergraduate thesis supervisor. And JZ is a consummate charmer - people just love her. This job is practially in the bag for her, it seems to me.

And it just feels sickening. And you know what? It sorta makes me angry. Rationally or not, I resent that she encroached on this academic territory I'd carved out for myself several years before she decided on a topic and focus. Doesn't it seem a bit creepy and controlling? Especially with the way she claimed that I was the "true" academic, and she was just a joker. Yeah, right. The award-winning joker..."Oh, I don't know what happened...I just accidentially stumbled into your exact field...and just happen to have won all these awards and fellowships...shucks darn, I don't know how I did it. But don't worry, you're the "real" academic..."

What do you think? Am I overreacting to be, only now in retrospect, resentful of this, to feel as if it's just too much, too close to home, too coincidental?? Is it just job market hysteria making me feel this way? Or does it sound a little weird?


Flavia said...

Rational or not, I think you're right to be upset by this. . . and for the record, I DO think it's a little too coincidental. I've never had such a thing happen to me, but I actually know TWO people whose former Significant Other or Best Friend Forever did something along the same lines.

In neither of those cases, or in yours, do I think it was a deliberate attempt to stick it to the other person, however--I think it's just the sign of a weak and somewhat adrift individual, floundering around for a field or a topic, who seizes upon something that seems familiar and manageable. They're academic and intellectual parasites. And hopefully they don't go very far, but there's no guarantee of that.

I very much hope that, whether or not YOU get this position, that your ex does not.

Emily said...

"it's at the university where she did her undergrad degree, in the city where she grew up. The major player in that department was her undergraduate thesis supervisor."

It sounds to me almost like they've created the job description for her but need to run a search for form's sake. (I know that happens around here in my science field, anyway.) It's certainly not fair to you, but I guess the slightly less-negative side is that at least the "form's sake" search means that you'll get the chance to make your case that you're a better candidate...

Good luck!

medieval woman said...

I think her motivations sound skeevy and I don't think you're paranoid at all (although god knows the job market can do that to you!) - maybe she wanted to study the things you do because it was a way of being closer to you - she had wanted to get back into the relationship and you had finally just said "nay" (good show, btw). But it is infuriating that she is "talking the talk" and charming her way around your field. But it seems a bit dilettante-ish - she's probably not as completely invested in the work as you are, but she's being rewarded for it (I can't tell you how much I empathize with this - the friends of yours who stumble around and seem to land in a pot of gold everytime!). But in the end, dedication will out - maybe not with that job, but with the right job, it will.

I feel like this comment is laced with a little malice - but it's due to my psyche right now and not the reaction to your situation! I hope you feel better and have a great, relaxing weekend - Happy T-giving!

Pantagruelle said...

That situation totally sucks. It all sounds suspicious to me, but I'm on the market this year too and just mailed off an app last week for a job description that I think was written for me (it wasn't of course) and for which I think I'm eminently qualified (although probably aren't) and am completely paranoid about the whole process. All I can do is send you my deepest sympathies for this whole situation and like Flavia wish that JZ doesn't get this job just from riding on your coattails.

On a more positive note, I hope you enjoy "Tipping the Velvet". I assume it's probably not your first time seeing it, or is it? Anyway, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't as hot as everyone told me in the lead-up to seeing it, but it was still pretty great. I just love the idea of all those "friends" in period costume getting it on despite the social constraints and all that delightful tension. And if I remember correctly, for once the dykes don't get forced to marry or don't all die in the end, like in those 50's pulp novels. Thank goodness for that!

lucyrain said...

I agree with all the previous comments AND I think it's rather vengeful of her. Not an initially conscious attempt to spank you; not independent enough to seek out other areas; wanted to get/stay close to you; creepy and skeevy. And vengeful, I say.

But I tend to think the worst of people when it comes to academic jockeying.

Is it common up north for university's to hire their own? It's not down here--unless the university really digs its own because it believes so strongly in its own development of pedigree. Anyway, I too am rooting for you.

Hilaire said...

OK, thanks everyone, for confirming that I'm not insane. Whew. It's nice to know that the story sounds just as suspicious to others. Thanks, Flavia, for putting it so well.

Emily, yes, I've certainly heard of jobs being posted with someone in mind - oh, so frustrating as the innocent candidate who doesn't know that! I'm not sure about that in this case, since she was an *undergrad* there. But it's certainly a possibility. Huh.

Lucyrain, it isn't common up here to hire one's own, but it does happen sometimes. Usually the issue is one's own PhDs who aren't touchable, though. In this case, because she did her undergrad there and her MA and PhD at two other uni's, I'd think that wouldn't be a consideration. In fact, I think it could help - pedigree, as you say, and just general joviality...or something.

Pantagruelle, first, good luck with the job you've applied for! This process is so freaking crazy-making. As for Tipping the Velvet, I haven't seen it yet, actually. Here's the thing - I was really disappointed by the book. Unlike, it seemed, every lesbian and book reviewer in the world. But I found Waters' writing about sex to be incredibly adept, shall we say. It was *hot*. And people tell me that both these BBC productions of her books are just I can't wait! I'll put aside my concerns with a trite, cheesy, predictable narrative just to indulge in a little lesbian production value...

grumpyABDadjunct said...

Your story illustrates why I stopped dating academics altogether! Too much competition, and I hate competition.

Enjoy your weekend.

Hilaire said...

You're so right, Grumpy! I hate it, too. I often say how glad I am that my current partner isn't an academic (though she almost was). I think it'd be a disaster!


MaggieMay said...

I agree with what the others have said. And I agree especially with lucyrain that it's skeevy on HER end. Ewww!

I didn't make it a policy to stop dating academics, but I don't think it's a coincidence, either, that my husband is NOT an academic...