Saturday, February 23, 2008

Unedited Post

It is grey and cloudy. I saw but 5 cars as the dog and I walked around the neighborhood. I tugged her out of flowerbeds and plodded along the quiet streets and decided that the wind was cold enough to notice, but not quite enough to sting. I used to compose blog posts on my morning walks with Chienne. Sort through stories, think through topics and decide what I wanted to say. I find I’m now more occupied with the fact that I forgot a Kleenex and my nose is getting runny. Or wondering how the new shoes are rubbing a blister on my fourth toe and trying to decide which shoes I could wear later to avoid that sore spot. I run through the same list of job possibilities - each with their pros and cons - and wonder where I’ll go next.

“How’s it going?” people will ask with great frequency. I’ve not searched in secret - it’s clear to people near and far that I’m actively looking and traveling and interviewing. It’s unfortunately likely that my bouts of misery in this particular place are common knowledge. My recent trip back to grad school proved that I’m likely to remember this southern state and my colleagues with great fondness. I’m glad of that - I think that it was more a question of how I fit in here rather than this particular department or institution being unhappy.

“Hey,” Steve greeted me as I asked someone if a seat was taken for seminar yesterday afternoon. I glanced back - for one of my defining characteristics is that I’m oblivious, so lost in my own thoughts that I will walk right past people without seeing them at all - and smiled at him. He shrugged when I asked him about the status of our project, some six years old now. I nodded when he asked if I had time to meet after the seminar finished.

“I’ll stop bumping into you now,” I told the girl to my left. The seats swivel and I had turned to talk to Steve, glancing her legs with my knees each time. She smiled and said it was fine and I shifted a bit to find a comfortable spot.

I went to seminar this week because I was on campus anyway. I had meant to drop Friend off to get her car and had, in fact, made it to the house she shares near campus. But she sighed when she noted that her roommate was parked behind her and I’d just patted her knee in some attempt to comfort her most recent batch of tears. So, waiting to make the left turn into her street, I glanced at her and the pile of used Kleenex on the floor and told her I would take her and wait until she finished. Unlike my stubborn withdrawal in times of pain and sadness, Friend does better with someone around. I cry alone - and have done so for her more than once in the past couple days - but it comforts me to be able to see her. Plus, at least I know she’s eating - I feed people in an attempt at comfort.

Given that I also eat to comfort myself, I wasn’t hungry by the time seminar rolled around. I’d picked up breadsticks a couple of hours earlier and had zipped up my sweater to hide the stain I’d made when I slopped sauce on my white shirt. So I grabbed a can of soda and sat down with the thought that seminars should have a site like amazon. I should be able to go and type in a talk and see what comments people have left about the speaker. Is he entertaining? Strong accent? Spends 5 minutes on each slide? Does she flip back and forth through slides, a trend that makes me dizzy and mildly ill? Are there pictures of animal organs in her talk? Or are figures done more in cartoons? If I like Speaker A and D but not B and C, will I like this new speaker? Can you tell me what kinds of talks people who like him tend to enjoy? In the absence of such information, I sat through a seminar that might have been interesting had I any background to follow his remarks. So I groused and checked my watch and waited impatiently for the ordeal to end. If attending seminars is how I prove I take my job seriously, screw it. I personally feel that there are reasons other than the laziness of students and postdocs that these suckers are poorly attended.

“My paper was rejected this week,” I told Steve as we walked back to his office. “So that’s always delightful.”

“I had one rejected a couple weeks ago. Second journal I tried, too,” he offered after we’d discussed which of my papers and which journals I tried and how bad the comments were. We went through the same set of questions for his paper and I asked where he’d send it next. He shrugged, looking discouraged and I mustered energy for a pep talk.

“It took me years - two, I think - to get my paper in VeryGoodJournal. Boss and I rewrote the sucker more times than I can remember, but then it got selected for a virtual journal and made the cover with one of its figures. So sometimes good papers just take some time to find the right reviewers. Who are interested in improving the paper rather than noting how smart and cool they are by leaving nasty comments and rejecting it. And who review of a journal of goodness and light rather than darkness and evil. Bastards from the firey pits of hell. But, fine. Whatever.”

Steve paused a moment to let me scowl at the thought of the freaking reviewers before asking me how many journals that paper visited before being published.

“Five?” I said, trying to remember. “Many - I do know that much. It’s a sucky process, and I don’t know how to get around the multiple rejections, kiddo. But I do know if you keep trying, you’ll likely get in somewhere. That’s my skill - not writing excellent papers that are immediately accepted and revered. But pushing and rewriting and pushing some more until somebody understands what I’m trying to tell them and prints it.”

“I’ll try again, then,” Steve promised before we made notes on where to go next with long-neglected project.

I returned to get email straight from the firey pits of hell where morons who can’t write in complete, grammatically correct sentences said something about how the logic was circular and the paper wasn’t very good. I wasn’t sad upon reading these - I went straight to pissed off. They were far worse than the initial reviews and even more nonsensical. So while I did start to wallow in my failure, I’ve decided not to submit to that journal again. They’ve now taken two papers that were very publishable and called them not good enough. And if the reasons were focused and consistent, that would be great. But given that each reviewer has something completely random and different to say - and little of it constructive - I’m done. That journal is dead to me.

So, in answer to the question of how it is going - not particularly well. It’s grey and bleak and while not completely hopeless, everything seems difficult and sad right now. So the plan is to wait on a friend to get back to me on my chances at a different journal and let the re-written paper sit until I have a better feeling on where to go next. I’m going to visit a bookstore and select two books I now want. Then I will read them, letting myself focus on characters in other places and their hopes and struggles while attempting to forget my own.

1 comment:

Wayfarer Scientista said...

I have a friend who is very well established in his career and he pins all of his rejection letters up on his wall to show the rest of his lab that it happens to everyone.

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