In 2015 I wrote about my year. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue that practice for 2016 too.
January lives up to its reputation: cold and dark. R and I start the year newly engaged in Nashville. Later I’ll learn that people think I’m knocked up, at least until a suitable enough amount of time passes and they realize that’s just not the case. I keep twisting the ring around on my finger. It was all so sudden but so strangely right that six months ago we were saying hello to now, this, today, and jewelry to top it all off.
Back at work, I give a webinar presentation for the Digital Curation Interest Group (DCIG) Midwinter meeting, one of my favorite talks on creative ways to revitalize research data services. Next up is UW’s first Data Carpentry workshop, a natural extension of the Software Carpentry trainings led by the Advanced Computing Initiative (ACI) for the past two years. ACI has been one of my most intriguing partnerships; trying to understand how Research Data Services (RDS) can best work with them has been on my mind for some time. Co-sponsoring Data Carpentry seems like a good start.
Work begins to swirl. I give a talk to my former professor’s information organization class. RDS participates in Love Your Data week. I give my first digital scholarship mini-talk on repository platforms. I concocted the mini-talks as a means of treading water, starting to engage librarians while not overextending ourselves, a stopgap as we try to situate administrative support for required professional development for liaisons. Liaison support is the only way for roles like mine and my colleague Carrie’s, solo functional specialists, to work. Work, period, much less thrive. To get to the point where liaisons can carve out space and time to help requires careful dedication to education. When I first arrived I was more optimistic about the timeline. I constructed it carefully, thinking through miscalculations in support, drawbacks… but even so, I figured within two years with the administrative will we could have equipped liaisons to be ready to engage. Many liaisons are more than ready, trying and making plans in their own sphere, often finding themselves in some state of uncertainty and discouragement. I can’t help but feel that we owe them more, a framework to move forward together, and Carrie and I take up the mantle in the absence of other plans.
R and I find our ceremony venue, a now-defunct Methodist church on a county road. The inside is painted a light creamy blue and it’s stuffed with chairs and furniture for sale. I feel something electric as soon as I walk through the door. We ponder who could fit here, how they could fit. We take mirror selfies. It feels simultaneously open and cozy in a way I didn’t intuit possible. R is wearing a trapper hat and peacoat and scarf lazily half-unwrapped around his neck, handsome in the mid-afternoon light. Early on we joked that maybe we should just get married in a church, really confuse our guests. This is like the workable incarnation of that joke – what could be more perfect for this renovated church than an atheist/Muslim wedding?
At the end of the month, an email shows up in my inbox from the Dean of Libraries at the Oklahoma State University (OSU). I’ve been invited to visit their library to participate as a speaker in their Library Futures program. I have one of those giddy moments where the quiet frustrations and draining days and uncomfortable attempts at putting oneself out there seem to have added to a tangible reason to be proud. It’s all the more ironic as I struggle to find a way to make an impact at my home institution.
I attend the LibTech conference in St Paul. It’s the perfect opportunity to present with Cameron about our work with RDS marketing. I am already indoctrinating her to my ways: I convinced her to get on Twitter and now she’s on the conference circuit. I am nothing if not persuasive.
Back in Madison, RDS presents at the UW Showcase. Lindsay Cronk interviews me for the LITA blog. Thomas Padilla visits UW-Madison through the DHRN speaker series. I cook up an idea for an ACRL panel with faraway colleagues.
The day arrives for my trip to OSU. I feel deeply honored, equally met with uncertainty over whether my ideas are providing enough benefit. Is there a secret etiquette to these affairs? I do my best to be gracious.
I give my presentation first thing in the morning with a massive chandelier hanging over me. I really enjoy this talk and I hope they do too. It’s basically a compendium of anecdotes and strategies and survival skills narrated by pictures. Afterward, we head to meetings. I notice that I have the seat of honor at the head of the long table. I am touched by this polite gesture. There’s a half-size water bottle with my name on it, made with a labelmaker. I can’t help surreptitiously snapping a picture to send to my family group chat: Look, I’m famous! Different groupings of librarians head in: first department heads, then liaisons too. Question upon question. Finding myself asked is an interesting situation. In my role, researchers ask me things but rarely librarians, eager eyes turned to me. Together we are a team of generals plotting a revitalization of the academic library, a reinjection of relevance. They’re a great group.
The library director takes me on a tour between meetings. They’ve removed librarians from the reference desks, staffed by students now. She identifies all the spaces that are partially repurposed or on their way. When we pass the entrance to the library she tells me a story. Back in the day before she was the library director there were bag-checkers stationed there who inspected everyone’s bag on their way out. Books didn’t have the magnetized alarm strip, so this was an attempt to make sure books didn’t walk out the door. This was obviously an imposition on visitor privacy and, well, a real downer for the library’s pleasantness factor. She found it unacceptable and one day she told her leadership that if they gave her some money, she would hire a whole crew of students and magnetize the books over spring break – and they did it. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.
I am always trying to be better about being an adventurous solo traveler. I trek to Tulsa museums, downtown to spy on decaying art deco moldings and gilded ceilings before heading back home, where work continues on. I become a Center for Open Science (COS) ambassador. My team’s proposal is rejected by TriangleSCI. I give another digital scholarship mini-talk, this time on data management. ACRL proposal submitted! A quick jaunt to the Midwest Archives Conference in nearby Milwaukee.
Finally, I cap off my month in New York City with R. I meet my future in-laws and sister-in-law. We attend a Turkish wedding. We explore Manhattan by foot and I recite the neighborhoods we walk through, Wall Street to Times Square. This was never a place I thought would be accessible to me. I thought of course I could go to NYC but that it would always be a big scary city from the movies, that I’d never have the guts or a reason to go, that I’d be too cowed by the crowds and the cost. To be another face in the crowd in this gigantic place is one of the more surreal pieces of an already surreal year.
Back to back conferences. First up, Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) in Atlanta. I was on the planning committee last year, this year I’m presenting twice (presentation #1 on the Midwest Data Librarian Symposium, presentation #2 on crowdsourcing guidelines for a successful data event). At the very end Yasmeen Shorish and I are asked to chair next year’s conference. There is rampant dissatisfaction among attendees over the high cost of registration and we discover that next year’s summit has been unknowingly scheduled to overlap with ACRL, a grievous error. We know there will be a lot of work to do, though we’re not sure whether we’ll be mending fences or forging new paths. We peer at each other, wordlessly wondering – what did we get ourselves into? But we say yes anyway. Next, Personal Digital Archiving in Ann Arbor, where I am part of a panel that presents at the Ann Arbor Public Library. This is another beloved talk, one that’s deeply personal.
My brother and his girlfriend are leaving for Colorado for the summer. Our sibling group is excited for them but we also want one last hurrah. Working with his girlfriend, we concoct a brilliant plan wherein we will beat them to Chicago, check into the hotel, and somehow surprise them. We book a cheapo suite in the Congress Hotel and when we arrive we realize with delight that there’s a massive closet that we can stuff ourselves into and spill out at the opportune moment. With time to kill, we journey to Shake Shack and speed walk back to the Congress with greasy boxes of food. They’re closer than we thought. Hijinks ensue. My sister hides in the lobby bathroom to pass off the key to his girlfriend while the rest of us head upstairs. We crouch in the closet dipping fries into ketchup and when we get the text that we need to turn out the light a giggle fit hits us, tragic and magic all at the same time. I’m not actually sure how we managed to stifle it in time but we did. Surprise!
I speak at a Delta/WIScience presentation that draws together research support providers on campus. I kick off a digital humanities reading group for librarians. I write a letter of recommendation in support of Cameron’s Digital Library Federation Fellowship application, feeling all the eerieness of doing the things that my mentor once did for me. My new RDS practicum student starts. Allison has a PhD in Chemical Engineering and she’ll be embedded in a lab group, observing and helping improve their data management practices. This is particularly important to test given that we want to normalize this type of deeper engagement with research groups, though I’m just not sure how to scale it. What expertise is needed? What kind of time commitment? Can we build a repeatable process out of my practicum student’s experience?
R and I start to use free weekends to go to open houses around Madison. Buying is in our future, probably closer to the wedding. We take slow drives by boxy cape cods in my favorite east side neighborhoods. I fire up my Pinterest habit in earnest, dreaming. We budget carefully, projecting out our finances through the end of 2017.
I reveal the call for proposals for a book I’ll be editing, published by ALA Press and tentatively titled The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving for Librarians, Archivists, and Information Professionals. My publisher and I have been chatting since my Hack Library School days but nothing has worked out until now. Nothing is ever perfect but finally the timing feels right.
I organize a digital scholarship lightning talk session, a definite highlight of the month. My aim is to build from the mini-talks Carrie and I gave and invite any librarian to share their expertise and ideas in a low-pressure format. Some brave souls have stepped up and we have a full slate of tools that will be presented to the crowd: Authorea, d3.js, ORCID, Open Science Framework, etc. Surveying the group, I feel that this is the most I could do for a place. Remix people in new ways. Draw them out, both the speakers and the spoken to. This is how you fight the messiness of the work we’re trying to do. You grab the messiness and pick away at it in pieces – and in the process draw yourselves more closely together as a community trying things side by side. Whenever my colleagues are willing to meet me in this way I know we’re doing something that matters.
I head to Orlando for my very first ALA Annual. I am giving a workshop on data information literacy alongside dear colleagues from Cornell and Columbia. This is a comfortable topic for me. It’s such a relief when it’s comfortable, when not everything is such a stretch goal. Most of my time is spent scurrying around trying to drum up support for a re-envisioned ACRL section proposal. DCIG is already transitioning to a section and we’ve almost reached our needed signatures when conversations lead us to broaden out the focus of the group to include the Digital Humanities IG and Numerical and Geospatial Data Services IG. It just makes sense and the idea of the Digital Scholarship Section is hatched.
We’ve planned it so that I am able to head from Orlando to Colorado for the 4th of July. R is flying in from his client in Indy a few days later. Thus our cross-country love affair continues. My brother is in Colorado Springs, so we spend a few days there before heading to Boulder, where a colleague has generously offered to let us stay at his place and cat sit. Everything is so unimaginably beautiful. We go hiking, woefully underdressed for Lake Isabelle, and I stare too long at signs indicating how to fend off a mountain lion versus a bear (apparently very different tactics).
I attend the SHARE meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, and fly home on my birthday amidst terrible delays. Yasmeen and I continue our frequent talks on RDAP 2017 business: settling committees, sponsorship opportunities, how to drive down registration costs. I host a librarian from Indiana University (IU) who presents on their Learning Commons. I speak on a virtual panel organized by a fellow ILS student, all about making the most of internships and ideas for job hunting. I realize with a jolt that I’m starting to get to that point where I’m not very close to my library school days. Now I wonder if I have anything useful to say anymore. A photographer from IU visits me at UW. My graduate program is pulling together an alumni booklet and they’ve asked me to participate. They end up referring to me as a digital scholarship trailblazer!
My uneasiness slips up a notch when I start to see peers announcing new jobs and the attendant moves across the country. My library school friends and internet friends. It feels like we reached this 2.5 year mark where you switch things up – a milestone that everyone but me knew about. I am happy for them. Intrigued to see how the puzzle rearranges itself, new faces in new roles, everyone shifting around. The unexpected part is that I find myself oddly jealous: taunted by the opportunity to start anew. I am here in the location of my dreams but it’s not working and I’m not sure I am brave enough to move on. I want to buy a house and visit my parents on the weekends and settle into a place that I know so well… but that’s not all I want, and it’s probably not enough.
The libraries’ teaching and learning forum arrives. I gave the opening talk last year but this year I just get to show up. The teaching and learning unit in the libraries is robust (though still understaffed) and I look to them as a model for what research services could develop to. Committees report back. RDS isn’t officially connected despite our engagement with teaching and fledgling attempts at piloting our efforts. I make sure to pitch the work that RDS is doing with the BioCore honors biology program. Last year we taught research data management basics. This fall we would be going even further, helping craft course assignments for data management plans, largely driven by Cameron’s efforts. Most of my work is about elbowing my way into established structures, trying to vie for some legitimacy. I don’t think my colleagues see us as teachers yet but it’s what we’ve been building to. We’ll get there.
Carrie and I announce our yearlong scholarly communication and digital scholarship (SC/DS) workshop series. We’ve had discussions with our administration to try to garner support and we are running with what we’ve got. We’ve planned out the schedule for the entirety of the academic year. We’ll co-teach a 101 session twice a year. I’ll lead sessions on research data management, open research and reproducibility, and digital project planning; she’ll lead sessions on funder public access, open access, and authors’ rights. We’ll teach parallel sessions at two libraries on different sides of campus to help maximize attendance. We work out a promotion plan to make sure we’re sending adequate reminders. So far, so good. Doing this right is critical: we must set a baseline understanding on these topics so that we can build out future training opportunities without having to repeat the same 101 level information, a problem that has plagued earlier training efforts and hindered staff who are ready to dive deeper and apply their knowledge. Now that we have a year of professional development planned, I can start to envision a full-day workshop or retreat to kick off summer, followed by the creation of smaller cohorts that can continue to learn, discuss, and engage researchers according to their interest areas. We need there to be some teeth to this setup, though. The volunteer opt-in scenario has not and will not work.
There’s a familiar intoxicating buzz of energy on campus now that the new semester is around the corner. My in-laws visit and do all the Madison things: we go to the farmer’s market, walk down state street, the Union Terrace, the Wisconsin Historical Society, a visit to the Epic Campus, my suburban hometown. Cameron and I hang out at the RDS table for our graduate student resource fair. I am invited to speak on a panel about research data management for a high throughput computing conference. My ACRL panel proposal is rejected.
A surprise shows up in my inbox. I get an email inviting me to apply for a job, a new position re-envisioning a research services unit. It’s in southern California. I scan the job description and it is everything I want to be and do, so many of the things I do now that don’t necessarily fit into my job, that I regularly go unrecognized for. The job is decidedly good. I always told R that I don’t want to make a lateral move, that part of what has fueled me is gaining experience to make me competitive at a higher level. This is that job and it is certainly not lateral. Though I’ve demurred on other job invites this one has something to it and it lingers in my mind, beckoning.
My design thinking class starts! This is one of the passion projects I pushed myself to try this year. It’s being offered as a continuing education option through UW’s iSchool. I recorded my five lectures, poked around in the course management system, and now I wait to see if this is useful to anyone. Design thinking is a little trendy but the thrust of the approach is timeless and incredibly useful to have in your back pocket. My favorite part is that it can embolden you to step outside of your preconceptions, driving forward in ways you didn’t think you could. I’m relieved to find that my class participants, mostly public librarians, are just as enthusiastic as I’d hoped they’d be.
The General Library System holds its first all-staff meeting of the academic year and we congregate in the reading room, long oak tables with librarians stuffed in from all sides. Our director mentions that so many wonderful things happened this year; he probably shouldn’t start talking about them because he will miss some. But he lists off a dozen, maybe more, touching on teaching and learning and space planning and the resource management redesign and special collections and I wait, certain. Sure that something I’m involved with will be tossed into that grab bag of things that are afoot in GLS. I feel conspicuous to the point of spammy on our library listserv, promoting myriad workshop series, incoming speakers, initiatives. I am still waiting when he finishes up. All done. No mention of RDS or UW Open Meetup or the Digital Humanities Research Network or Data Carpentry or digital preservation planning or my reading groups or the brand new EZID service just announced two days prior. Nor the long list of speakers I’ve brought in, doing my best to draw new voices into our cloistered domain. And certainly not the brand new yearlong SC/DS training program so deliberately and painstaking planned and announced two weeks prior, an initiative needing to be thrown a scrap of high-level attention more than ever.
Next, nods out to colleagues who have demonstrated exceptional professional engagement, primarily through publications. I don’t make that list either. I tell myself that there are 200 of us. I try to remind myself of all the ways it isn’t personal. I know, objectively, that it’s fine to just do good work and build a reputation for strong contributions over time. This is my ethos… and yet I am ablaze with anger. When I attempt to temper my reaction I catch myself falling into gendered expectations that I don’t want to bend to: wishing I was sweet and soft, easygoing about falling beneath notice, too humble to require a word of recognition. But I’ve been sweet and soft enough in my patience thus far. I made all these excuses in the past, telling myself I haven’t contributed enough yet, that I would get there. At this moment I know I’ve done enough, and if I’m not thrown a spare word of acknowledgment, it showcases that I am really and truly spinning my wheels in this place. You don’t always get accolades, sure, but when the slightest of nods passes by and sharpens your invisibility, well, that’s a gutting feeling. A reinforcing one.
I am still swimming in my own thoughts, wondering if I am really that inconsequential to my employer, when we head to the University of Minnesota campus. I’ve long admired UMN’s approach to research services. Carrie and I suggested this trip to our AULs in order to help influence the services we are trying to build. After scheduling and rescheduling throughout the spring the four of us end up at the UMN campus, our library director joining in too.
The first stop is dinner. The lighting is dim, wine is poured, and I watch as delectable pasta dishes and trays of foodstuffs are whisked to nearby tables. Our composition is such that I get to sit by mostly UMN’s AULs and they are cheerful, inquisitive; they appear at ease in each other’s company. In these conversations it’s always that delicate balance of what to say and what not to say. The politics of painting challenges in an upbeat way, one where you’re not the debbie downer, just a thoughtful colleague. I am burned out, though, and it’s harder than I thought to hold my tongue and remain lighthearted.
We talk generally about careers in libraryland. I ask one AUL about his trajectory. Small talk. He says something that sinks into me: “Jump off a few cliffs,” and after a brief pause, “they’ll respect you more for it.” Later when I’m alone in my hotel bed this rings in my head. I like to think of myself as a risk-taker. I will ask quote dumb questions unquote. I am not conflict-averse. I am fine with being the one to say the blunt, maybe even awkward things to move quickly toward clear resolution and cohesion. It’s just more efficient. But my risk taking at UW has dissipated because I’ve taken the risks and I am stalled. I need to be braver and bolder and untether myself from home. Or will I just shrink and wither, stay mad and small?
October is busy. I am on a search committee for two new science librarian positions. The jointly sponsored RDS/ACI Center for Open Science workshop takes place. The library hosts visitors from the HathiTrust Research Center. I keynote the Southwest Wisconsin Library Association annual meeting, discussing design thinking. I wrap up my design thinking class. I attend the Midwest Data Librarian Symposium in Ann Arbor, just about bursting with pride to watch MDLS continue on. From there R meets me and we trek to Toronto and Montreal for a whirlwind Canadian road trip.
My malaise continues throughout. I am not happy and to make things worse my unhappiness, my inability to tilt myself back toward joy and lightness, disgusts me. I realize I have no clue what the next semester will bring. The next year. Our five year plan. Nothing concrete. My motivation, my sense of contributing to something impactful seeps away. Yes, I crafted a competent, strong brand – but what else? I have deeper roots with important connections, I finally understand the politics, people know my name. But if you cannot move on new ideas because you cannot define much less scale baseline services, what is there?
More often than not I meet R with an inability to leave work behind. I am not being the partner I want to be so I fight it but it leaves me hollow. I am heavy with frustration for weeks before it passes and I settle into a hazy uncaring. He’ll be leaving soon for a two week work trip and beyond my impending loneliness, things go wrong. My car dies. A diamond falls out of my engagement ring. Someone snatches three packages of my breakfast burritos from the communal work fridge, which I discover in a moment of most desperate ravenous need. I try to think beyond work but I can’t seem to self-soothe. Nothing excites me, not thoughts of our wedding or the trips we’ll be taking. I feel unmoored. One day I ask him to drive to the lake. It’s right behind our apartment but we don’t spend nearly enough time there. We sit on a bench and gaze back toward the buildings lacing the shore and I find myself starting to weep. I am mourning Madison. This job is making me small and sad and yet: Madison. I adore this city and I would love to have a full life here. But I can’t grow and stretch.
A colleague says offhand that this place is all pulling teeth and little victories. I can’t disagree. It’s almost gaslighting – you feel like you’re the crazy one, especially being so siloed, until you connect with others who are struggling too. One unexpected refuge is writing my cover letter. When my first draft extends to almost four pages and the words flow with little effort, that’s when I know it’s a good fit; blank pages are rarely so easy to conquer. I realize I’ve lost a little of my fire and this is helping to coerce it out again. I have done things here at UW, things I forget and minimize. Propped up on the page, I’m impressed with myself. We’ll see if they notice me. I rather like the idea of being poached.
The presidential election bisects DLF and the Digital Preservation conference. Before and after are markedly different. Later, my giddiness with female colleagues that we would soon be electing our first female president leaves me feeling foolish. Cameron and I convinced the boyfriend brigade to venture from Madison to spend election night with us. We are jolly until the polls start to make us queasy. We move on to the next bar, almost entirely silent. I can’t drink my gin and tonic. The boys are making admirable attempts at humor but I feel shell-shocked. Nothing has been called but we know it will be sometime in the wee early hours. Drained, we walk on empty streets back to the hotel. In bed, I can’t sleep. I am getting married next year. I reflect on my new Muslim family. I don’t quite get religion and probably never will but I am trying: reading, exploring, questioning my own assumptions – and asking my fiance to question his. I’ve always wondered if someday R will meet someone who just doesn’t like the way his face looks and decides to do something about it. That fear feels more pressing now. Our future son’s name is decidedly Arabic-sounding and I wonder about the long-term impact of that choice. Maybe we should call him Jonathan instead. I cry. Someone else is crying in the room, too, but I can’t tell who.
Back in Madison, we’ve organized a session to discuss our DLF takeaways. I am fired up. If we’ll be living under a crazy ass Trump presidency at least let’s get some work done! I’ve written about the digital scholarship incubators and research data management programs and I question quite pointedly whether this is a priority at UW. If so, how can we take these ideas into action, determine if or how they might work in the context of our environment. My enthusiasm is not met; instead I find criticism leveled toward my focus on open research and reproducibility. I am presumptuous, I move too fast, my impatience is naive. I nod: I see. Every word reinforces the knowledge that I am just different. That I don’t match the pace of this place. I remember that my role is to be an advocate. I remind myself that I am talking about building services in ways that are, by now, broadly mirrored by our peer institutions. I check the time on my phone and instead see a missed call from UCR, a cheerful voicemail. I am invited for an in-person interview.
Cameron and I strategize together. We talk about next semester, the likelihood of her position being extended. We start to walk down paths, exploring, then stop when we hit a wall. Not knowing the buy-in, the results of ongoing work, how my role will adapt. I feel our isolation but also our scrappiness. I don’t know what I would do without her: not only her solid work but her curiosity and excitement and willingness to try things. As we brainstorm, a group appears at our door and steps into the sunlight. A handful of librarians, the building manager, Director of the UW Press. They say a clipped, polite hello before chattering about our office dimensions, speculation about how many offices are connected, the status of microfilm services. Then a realization, oh: our offices are being scoped out as the future home of the UW Press. We try to continue our talk but we make for awkward bystanders. Suddenly my view of what 2017 looks like is even hazier.
Ultimately a very full month is overshadowed by the insanity of politics and the specter of my impending interview. I take a project management continuing education class. I teach a SC/DS research data management workshop. I pay off my student loans with little fanfare.
A few days before my UCR interview I schedule a check-in meeting with the sponsoring AUL for our SC/DS training program. Attendance is troublingly skewed, with liaisons in the sciences attending to a much greater extent. A deep concern I’ve harbored since the summer is coming true: a future where we need to continue exerting much too much effort on a basic trainings because we were not high impact enough this year. With the pressure of now sustaining my own initiatives, I know I can’t keep doing what I’ve been doing at the pace I’ve been doing it. I just can’t. We need to start to build, not cycle through more of the same, so I once again advocate for all liaisons to be required to attend each training. One per month – from my perspective it’s not too much to ask, but he disagrees forcefully. I don’t mind sparring a bit, debating, having to shore up proof for my ideas. That’s invigorating. But I have to stop – utterly slackjawed – at the assertion that the idea of requiring liaisons to attend all sessions makes me presumptuous, imposing on their time in an unreasonable manner.
We learn that he has a liaison institute planned for next summer, apparently, which is a great step in the right direction. I’ve just read Cornell’s report and the model is great. He muses aloud on his plans. He turns to Carrie and shares that since she is in a leadership role, she should sit out; it’s not appropriate. I think oh no is really going to – and then he does: “Brianna, you’re like a liaison so I think it would be great for you to participate with the liaisons.” The fact that it’s not spoken in a mean-spirited manner almost makes it worse: my role as a co-founder and leader of this program is disregarded entirely. My faces gets hot and I can only nod and stare blankly down at my laptop. No words. I am dumbfounded, lit up by this reminder of my status.
In truth there have been signs everywhere. I think back on the cluster documentation that listed “the curriculum shared by Director of Scholarly Communication,” aka the jointly crafted, equitably taught suite of workshops stretching the expanse of the academic year. I muse on the origins, the mini-talks I schemed and invited Carrie to teach with me. To plant the seeds and advocate for further training, the survey I crafted and sent out to gauge staff needs. The pitch we made together. And today, the reminder that even if I am an equal in her eyes, that doesn’t extend to anyone else. Not for the first time, I feel the sting of casually imparted ageism. She has the word Director in her title and I don’t. That makes us different; the work itself is meaningless.
I realize that I am not nervous about my forthcoming interview next week. I am, instead, thrilled. I feel a surge of excitement when I think about the fact that I have been asked to share my ideas with an audience that is present and poised to take action (well, a gal can dream). Even if I don’t get a job offer, and I hide the fact that I interviewed, and I feel embarrassed in secret, exposed as a fraud… even so, I’ll learn something from it. I’m not afraid. I pick out my outfit, reminiscing on the ill-fitting suit from my UW interview that I haven’t touched since. I fly to California. I am primed, ready for closure. Either I will get an offer or I won’t – and there are a few possibilities that could extend from each. I leave Wisconsin’s first snowstorm of the year, boundless white mounds of snow around every corner, to blue sky brown dirt green scrub. Smog! The weather is downright balmy, 70something degrees. This place isn’t home but it sure is temperate.
My interview is twelve hours long: 8am-8pm. By the time I make it to the afternoon I realize that the meetings on my calendar are mostly all interview style, too, not just informal meet and greets. I would have panicked about this before but now I am just along for the ride so I double down. Ignorance is bliss but I am doing this and I am almost done. Questions about projects, conflict, assessment, undergraduates, my leadership style. I wonder if I am doing a good job in the least. Some questions are fine, solid, comfortable, and others feel like I am being spotlit as the biggest fraud… not that I am dishonest but that I am sharing ideas that are being pulled apart piecemeal in everyone’s mind. The vulnerability just is what it is and I try to keep my smile. Everyone is gracious. I hope I am being effusive enough but the energy came much more easily in the morning. The day wanes and we head out to dinner. I really can’t remember what I am not allowed to talk about – should I mention my partner, even in casual conversation? How do I act friendly but also let us all settle into a new pace of conversation? Afterward, they drop me off at my hotel, where my beloved friends from grad school have just arrived. What is this crazy world where faces and geographies are so mutable, and could it be true that I might find myself here?
I come back to Wisconsin like the cat that ate the canary. I feel a little smug about this not-so-secret interview that I have in my pocket – see they think I am worthy! – but it doesn’t last too long. It starts to feel like something I just cooked up in my mind and by the end of the month I am clutching at memories to try to make it real. I speculate on when I’ll hear back. So much hangs in the mix; it feels impossible to plan anything just yet, and to be devoid of the ability to plan unnerves me. Could I bear to leave? Would UW offer me something to stay? Could I live with myself if I passed up the opportunity to go, for a director-level position no less?
It’s 4:15 on the day before Christmas Eve when I see it. We are in the car, shimmying along on the highway in a snowglobe-worthy scene, and I open my email out of sheer habit. Mind blank. You are our finalist for the Director of Research Services position at the University of California-Riverside, it says. Closure and an opening at the same time. No more wondering, only decisionmaking: a sweet relief.