I look at my hands. I can’t tell if they’re mine.
May 8, 2020 2:52 PM   Subscribe

"Fuck the Bread. The Bread Is Over." Sabrina Orah Mark reflects on fairy tales, the academic job market, and being a mother during the COVID-19 pandemic. (SLParisReview)
posted by doctornemo (27 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
"I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves. I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded."

This is so much the lesson I'm taking from this time. I'm fortunate. I don't have to be on Zoom eight or ten hours a day like so many of my friends. Hours and hours of meetings, and it all seems like a curse placed on people by some malign office sprite.

Also, wow, this woman writes so well. A beautiful indictment.
posted by zenzenobia at 3:12 PM on May 8 [23 favorites]

Gave me chills. I'll read anything and everything she's written.
posted by kitcat at 3:30 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]

I feel this so deeply.
I did get the job, a year ago. Provisionally. A year at a time. Every year, prove that we need to keep you for one more year. This is neither the most nor the least fairy-tale like aspect of the job.
Maybe I will still have the job in the fall.
Maybe no one will have the job, because there isn't money for that anymore, things are different now, you're great, we really like you, you're better at this than anyone before you, but there's no money, who needs theatre in a pandemic?
Maybe I'll have sort-of-half-the job, but it keeps my foot in the door, and I'll be teaching my kids at home, and teaching my students at work which is probably also at my home, lecturing on Zoom from my basement, hoping the students can't hear the slamming footsteps of my children hurtling around upstairs, because my basement is a drum.
Maybe next year the money will be back.
It was a hard fight to get the money in the first place, because who needs theatre in not-a-pandemic, can't we make it without someone in that job? What's it for, anyway? Other people fought that fight, and they will again, but they have moved on to other battlefields for now. All the ground won has been lost, or is being lost, reclaimed by the sea.
My students are writing to me. There is sickness in their family. There is death, and hardship, and children who need care. They need more time. I agree.
The new deadline is deep in the fall. Will I be there?
posted by Adridne at 3:38 PM on May 8 [33 favorites]

I was just a finalist for a tenure-track job for the first time ever. Had a "virtual campus visit" at the end of March. Haven't heard a word since.

I am not ready to be accepting and poetic about it yet, like this author. I wish I could be so gracious, and that I wasn't worn out from trying not to think about everything. I wish I could gracefully and beautifully accept life's uncertainty, that I could throw away my misguided need to be validated by work and academia, and instead pour myself into teaching my child about the wonder of the world and music and all that, as we "homeschool" him.

But nope, I'm pretty much drowning my sorrows in vodka and Animal Crossing and letting my kid watch Angry Birds on Netflix again. It's a less poetic form of mourning, but that's what I got right now.
posted by daisystomper at 4:17 PM on May 8 [58 favorites]

I can relate to that last part, daisystomper. It's increasingly Lord of the Flies here. I did appreciate the idea of a scavenger hunt, though - I can see my kids taking to something like that, with a bit of arm-twisting to kickstart it. My youngest kid learned to use a landline phone today, on his own initiative, and has been sneaking off to call his friends after gathering their numbers via Fortnight. I'm hoping I'll look back at this time as one where I learned to connect more with my family; it's more likely that I'll remember it as the time I ate too much, worried a lot, and drank every night.
posted by pipeski at 4:42 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]

I meet with a dean who rubs his face until it reddens, then asks me whether writers even belong in universities. I meet with another dean who asks me the same thing.
'Well, if someone like me wasn't teaching the students who come here, you might have to. And no one wants that!'

But the real question is whether students belong in universities. In that one, probably not.
posted by jamjam at 4:52 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]

What poetry this was!

On a less serious note:

my name is Cow,
and wen its nite,
or wen the moon
is shiyning brite,
and all the men
haf gon to bed -
i stay up late.
i fuc the bred.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 5:13 PM on May 8 [23 favorites]

Wonderful piece. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 5:26 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]

my name is teach,
hyre me they might,
but then the dean
is talking shyte.
all the menz
plz go to bed
i stay up late.
i fuc the bred.
posted by lalochezia at 7:32 PM on May 8 [9 favorites]

...presumably it's a baguette?
posted by Merus at 7:40 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

That would seem to be a fuckable type of bread.

Do baguettes worry about the day they're no longer fuckable?
posted by medusa at 9:39 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]

Also I loved this and thank you for posting it.
posted by medusa at 9:39 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Fantastic writing! Her voice is strong. And I love not knowing where it’s going, feeling breath-caught lured-in, phrase by phrase. Thank you for posting.
posted by marlys at 10:23 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

On the third day of the interview, the head of the creative department asks me if the courses I would be expected to teach should even exist. “No,” I wish I had said as I made my body gently vanish. “They shouldn’t exist at all.” Instead I say yes, and pull a beautiful, made-up reason from the air and offer it to him as a gift. Gold for your dust, sir. Pearls for your pigs. “Who is watching your sons right now?” he asks. “Their father,” I answer.

Who are these fuckers? It is such a relief to be an old woman, even one who still needs to work. Because I am working for myself. Not as often as I need to, but at least I do not have to put up with shit like this anymore. I have no idea how much shit women have had to eat in order to be hired as professors at universities, I just know it’s been way too much. I am so so tired on behalf of this writer and the posters here and women everywhere who also experience similar things in basically every other fucking place on the planet. As we know already.

I had not read this wonderful author before, doctornemo. Many thanks!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:47 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]

I like this writing. But what's with the bread? Is it the academic career, or is it motherhood? Or is it a mountain of crows in the cornfield?
posted by rustipi at 3:54 AM on May 9

My wife, at the dog and pony show for her teachng position, after giving a lecture on independent Chilean cinema, was asked by a senior professor why she wanted to teach about this "loser"stuff instead of Hollywood and advertising and things people actually like.
She got the job anyway, so fuck the bread.
posted by signal at 5:55 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]

I enjoyed reading this; thanks for posting.

This is shaping up to be an exceptionally brutal time in academia, worst initially for adjunct and conditional faculty and job seekers because they are the most vulnerable, but no one is safe and almost every school is facing the likelihood of furloughs, pay cuts, and/or cutting positions.

But just like all the other job losses and disruptions for workers across the country, it's a political choice that is being made at the White House to choose inaction and let things fall apart. We are a ridiculously wealthy country; if we instead made it a priority that this writer and other affected workers should still be getting pay and benefits through the fall, the resources are there for that. It's the deliberate cruelty of so much of the pain that makes me mad.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:36 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]

I did everything right: top ten PhD, top 3 solo publication, other really good metrics. No TT job for me last year but did land a great postdoc.

Given that there’s no academic job market next year, I basically have one more shot.

Because of COVID, I expect to never get a TT job. I once did expect to.

The comforting thing here is that it is not my fault.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:47 AM on May 9 [10 favorites]

My daughter was in a TT job, but was denied tenure around Christmastime, largely through the efforts of one man, and I don't think it was her fault at all, but that doesn't seem to comfort her.
Probably if she had gotten tenure, she still wouldn't be teaching very long. Who knows what's going on in university land.
So she's here with us now, and we have no yeast either, but there's flour, and she's making a lot of biscuits.
Good luck to us all.
posted by MtDewd at 7:01 AM on May 9 [11 favorites]

Yeah...it’s interesting to me to watch people who wrapped their identities up in their careers begin to now parade around “Well you’re more than your job!” now that their industries are gone. I know I’m bitter but these were people who turned their noses up to me because I refused to (or rather couldn’t) leave my normie data job to pursue freelance design work full time like them. Their whole thing was “I get to do ART for a living. I’m different than you sheep!” I’ve seen a few of them post this article, to which I’m sort of smirking. They’re basically doomed twice over, both spiritually and financially. I obviously don’t wish it in them, and I hope they’re ok in the long run, but it’s amusing nevertheless.

Of course I know what it’s like to be chewed up and spat out by academia, so I feel for the author and anyone else who endured that hell for nothing. I too wanted the office and the access to the conferences.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:42 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]

I am a lecturer within a public university system and I am watching the swift contraction of NY's public universities with horror and anger and a dollop of "will this be me?"
May 7: We have blacked out info to preserve this person’s privacy, but here is a 3-line nonreappointment letter issued to a full-time lecturer at @hunter_college who’s taught for 20 years. It’s starting, and it’s not just impacting adjuncts. #cutcovidnotcuny
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:18 AM on May 9 [11 favorites]

firing adjuncts = less diverse faculty.
Most of our Black and brown instructors are adjuncts and their jobs are on the chopping block.
This is actually the thing that gutted me yesterday. It matters that students can see how their path to a profession doesn't mean that they have to turn away from the communities that they grew up in and that caring IS an advantage. It matters that students can fuel their studies with the bone-deep anger of growing up within a socioeconomic and political system that has consistently rendered them and their families disposable (aliens, criminals)... and have faculty tell them "yes, your anger is needed" instead of "your anger is inappropriate."

I teach in a Hispanic serving institution. I'm not Latinx, but I am a racialized child of immigrants who grew up constantly othered, a visible minority and perpetual alien, and it matters to my students that I can tell them "yes, this isn't fair. how do we make sure that language justice is embedded into all levels of government?" That a colleague I co-taught with can tell students "yes, your experiences of discrimination and sexism are real and should not be dismissed" and underscore that with her own experiences as a Black woman in the profession. That one of the urban design instructors got her MA while working full time and as a new parent, and can tell students, yes, being a young Latina woman with a baby doesn't make you any less of a scholar.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:45 AM on May 9 [16 favorites]

Anyway, I meant to also say that I appreciate the essay and how it puts the endless quest for a tenure track position into the plot line of an arbitrary series of tasks in which you the person are only a single word -- son, mother, princess, suitor -- and your quest's success is often arbitrary.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:51 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

Thank you for posting this.
posted by paduasoy at 1:38 AM on May 10

About ten women from my Facebook feed posted this, which is more than pretty much any other article I can remember.

I appreciate the new catchphrase. And I miss my mothers so much. It is interesting to me that this came out around Mother's Day, and the piece that I see people commenting on the least is that mother-daughter relationship.

My impression is that a dead or missing mother is a very common trope in fairly tales, and it's interesting to me that in tale, the help, the sense, the most real thing, is the mother.

When a mother is lost, the world does feel spinning-off senseless. (At least in my experience).

After my biological mother died and, within a year and a half, my co-mother was diagnosed with already debilitating dementia, I remember having this terrible feeling that I was just a side character in some other character's plot. I think there's nothing like your mother to make you feel like a main character.

That and this story kind of remind me of this tweet:
Nurse: This man was stabbed, shot, hit with a grenade, run over by trucks, and thrown out plane. How did he survive and make it to the hospital?
Doctor: Check his chart.
Nurse: *checks chart* What the hell is a 'protagonist?'
posted by Salamandrous at 9:08 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]

Thanks for this, it's the right kind of Mother's Day story.
I wanted access to a fancy library and benefits and students and colleagues and travel money. I wanted the whole stupid kingdom. “And then what?” says my mother. “And then nothing,” I say as I jump off the very top of a fairy tale that has no place for me. “You’re better off,” says my mother. I look around. I’ve landed where I am.
posted by jessamyn at 9:17 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]

Between this and Baking Bread in Lyon, I don't know what to think about the two best pieces of writing I've seen come out of the pandemic being bread-centric.

Women, academics, homeschooling parents, and all of us struggling with our extrinsic vs. intrinsic value, all at once.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:23 PM on May 10 [4 favorites]

« Older Identity Politics and Elite Capture   |   GLEH-EGGG! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments