Until googling "the fool's errand," I didn't know that a game with that title exists. According to Wikipedia, "The Fool's Errand is a 1987 computer game by Cliff Johnson. It is a meta-puzzle game with storytelling, visual puzzles and a cryptic treasure map. It is the tale of a wandering Fool who seeks his fortune in the Land of Tarot and braves the enchantments of the High Priestess. A sequel titled The Fool and His Money was released October 25, 2012."
For the past three years, I, too, have been on my own fool's errand. If my errand were turned into a game, and that game had a Wikipedia page in the style above, this is how it would read: "The Fool's Errand is a 2018 computer game by Jason Jordan. It is a strategy-puzzle game with applications, Skype interviews and a campus visit. It is the tale of a wandering Fool who seeks employment in the Land of Higher Education and braves being routinely ignored during the application process. A sequel titled The Fool and His Lack of Money will be released in 2019."
Anyway, since being in the final year of my Ph.D. program during the 2015-16 academic year, I've been applying for tenure-track and visiting college/university positions in Creative Writing, English, and Fiction. I believe I cast a wide net, but not so wide that I applied for jobs that I wasn't technically qualified for. And, for curiosity's sake, I kept detailed records of this process, including, for each application, the university and its location, the date I submitted the application, the date they responded (if at all), the number of applicants (if supplied), the person who got the job (if known), and whether that person contributes to diversity in any way (if known). I'll cover the stats year by year and then combine them.
52 positions | 0 interviews | 0 campus visits | 1 offer
During my ABD (All But Dissertation) year, I applied for fifty-two positions. I received no interest from any of them except one. That one was for one of three postdoctoral fellowships at Ohio, where I was finishing my degree. So, while it kept me afloat for another year, it also benefited Ohio because they could report that I got a job. Though I was grateful for the opportunity, it wasn't a major accomplishment insofar as only three people applied for three positions. Even so, I felt optimistic about remaining on the job market while still being in academia.
87 positions | 4 interviews | 1 campus visit | 0 offers
During my postdoctoral year, I applied for eighty-seven positions and, as you can see, received some interest but not enough to land a contract. I had three Skype interviews and a phone interview. The latter resulted in a campus visit over the summer, but, in hindsight, I'm glad I didn't get the position. The fact that I didn't get an offer meant that I was going to enter my third year on the market from without academia. That is, I wouldn't have that all-important university letterhead on my cover letters anymore.
80 positions | 0 interviews | 0 campus visits | 0 offers
Out of the academy and living off the land (OK, not really), I didn't think I'd fare as well while applying from outside of academia, and I was right. I had a few requests for additional materials, but that was it. As of this writing, there's another month or so during which positions will become available, but it's gotten more difficult for me to muster the motivation to apply when the process has gone poorly thus far.
219 positions | 4 interviews | 1 campus visit | 1 offer
Quite a disheartening experience, really. That's not all, though. I also applied for positions at literary journals, presses, and video game developers. If these are added, then the actual totals are:
233 positions | 4 interviews | 1 campus visit | 1 offer
Thankfully, although I enjoy teaching, I've never felt that it's my calling. It's not my dream job, in other words, and I'm not distraught to have been denied a prestigious university position. Similar to most jobs, there's a lot of good and bad about teaching in the university setting. There is, additionally, an ugly psychological toll to being on the job market.
Being around people who share similar interests, feeling like you made a positive impact on students, building rapport with colleagues and students, befriending colleagues, learning from colleagues and students, engaging in the long-running tradition of higher education, attending university-hosted events, perks that include being able to use various facilities such as gyms and pools, flexible schedule, working out of the elements in a job that requires little physical exertion, safety, decent pay and benefits if you can get a good position, a lot of free time in the summer if you don't teach, teaching is considered being in your field, access to a good library, a lot of free stuff around (food, books, newspapers, events, etc.) if you look
The job is more like a lifestyle in that you do most of the work outside of the classroom and so you may feel like you're always working or that you should always be working, increasing scrutiny regarding free speech, university as bastion of far-left politics with decreasing tolerance for other views, the divisiveness that is identity politics, dealing with students you don't like, sometimes having to teach content that you aren't enthusiastic about, never-ending grading, sometimes feeling like your students aren't learning enough or showing much progress, increasing adjunctification (fewer positions with job security, good pay, and good benefits), being concerned about the university's and department's budgets, being concerned about enrollment and the shrinking English major, little say as to where you live because you take the job you can get, many jobs don't pay well and don't offer benefits, might be stuck with colleagues you don't like, having to park far away from the buildings you need to go to, serving on committees
The Ugly (of being on the job market)
Feelings of anger, doubt, hate, inadequacy, self-loathing; people constantly asking about your job prospects and, if you're honest, having to tell them that it's going badly; all those pizza boxes stacked in your apartment; lack of motivation to clean, which results in tumbleweeds composed of hair in every corner; working long and hard toward a goal only to fail; possibility of never working in your field; the Netflix bingeing (warning: you may be an escapist if you watch the entirety of The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Justified, and Hell on Wheels in only a few months)
After three years, including coming off the worst performance on the academic job market in those three years, I have arrived at the place where I believe, in the immortal words of Filthy Frank, that "It's time to stop."
At this point, I no longer want to spend my time, effort, and money applying for positions that I almost certainly won't get. Plus, rejections are demoralizing. (I actually began to look forward to rejections, however, because so many universities simply ignore the applicants they aren't interested in, which is worse than every alternative.) This is not to say that I'll never reenter the academic job market if my circumstances change to the effect that I become a much stronger candidate. After all, a select few have academia come to them. A long shot, for sure, but possible. Maybe one day I'll look back and be glad that teaching wasn't my career. In any case, I'll keep doing what I do to cope with life and its ills: listening to black metal and reading the dead.
TV's been on my brain lately. I just finished Netflix's Ozark and started Altered Carbon. Intermittently, however, I've been re-watching episodes of what could be my favorite TV show and is, arguably, the greatest ever: The Andy Griffith Show. My dad loves it, so I grew up watching it along with others like Hogan's Heroes and Happy Days. I've always wanted to articulate the reasons for my affinity and examine why the sixth season marks a drop in quality from which the show never recovers. During this process, I'll be recounting a few facts that influence my opinion of the show and its seasons. For more in-depth information, consult the Wikipedia article. The picture above is from ReelRundown, the one below is from Wikipedia, and the one far below is from The Andy Griffith Show Wiki.
What I like about The Andy Griffith Show is its endearing characters, humorous plots, and lively, if exaggerated, acting. Also praiseworthy is the fact that its content is appropriate for any audience. I'm not one who personally cares about that--I love South Park, for instance--but it's nice being able to watch the show with people of any age. According to Wikipedia, The Andy Griffith Show "aired on CBS from October 3, 1960, to April 1, 1968, with a total of 249 half-hour episodes spanning over eight seasons, 159 in black and white and 90 in color." Coincidentally, the transition from black and white (seasons 1-5) to color (seasons 6-8) marks the dip in quality as well. I haven't seen any of Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71) or The New Andy Griffith Show (1971), but I'm guessing they're mediocre if not downright bad.
The Best Years: Seasons 1-5 (1960-65)
Part of what makes the first five seasons special is that the core cast, pictured above, remained the same. Starting out, the show has more of a rural feel to it (characters' diction and accents) that was later abandoned. Andy is consistently pleasant, whereas, in later seasons, he always seems to be pissed off. Opie is at his youngest, naturally, and his most likeable. Similar to many, my favorite character is Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts, who would leave the show after the fifth season to pursue movie stardom, before returning to TV stardom as a regular cast member of Three's Company (1977-1984), and then, again, to film. Other regular characters such as Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear), Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), and Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris) contribute to the show's success. Even guest stars like the Darlings, the Fun Girls, and Malcolm Merriweather (Bernard Fox) serve as welcome additions to an already robust cast. The departures disappoint, however: pharmacist Ellie Walker (Elinor Donahue) in '61, nurse Peggy McMillan (Joanna Moore) in '63, mechanic Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) in '64 who would go on to Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-69), and Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) in '65. I always hoped that Andy would marry either Ellie or Peggy, but I was fine with Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut). Because every season is 32 episodes (with the exception of the second, which is 31), there's a lot to enjoy. There are too many great scenes to recall, but what follows are my favorite episodes.
Season 1 (1960-61)
The Not-So-Good Years: Seasons 6-8 (1965-68)
I've already mentioned a few things that led to the quality decrease in the show's latter years--switch to color, Opie's aging, etc.--but what is undoubtedly the main culprit is the departure of some characters and the addition (or increased presence) of others. While several likeable characters exit the show over the course of its first five seasons, the replacements don't add much. The new deputy, Warren Ferguson (Jack Burns), is terrible. Yes, he has a tough role to fill, but he doesn't do anything to endear himself. Similarly, Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), who first appeared in '64, replaces Gomer, but isn't as enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman), Sam Jones (Ken Berry), and Mike Jones (Buddy Foster) are forgettable at best. Frankly, the show ceased to be funny in season 6, which is why I haven't watched most of the last three seasons. There are highlights, though, that manage to be entertaining and sad--Barney's guest appearances and Thelma Lou's cameo, for example, reminding one of better times for both the characters and the viewers. What follows is a list of notable episodes.
Season 6 (1965-66)
And, though it doesn't capture the magic of the old days, Return to Mayberry (1986), the made-for-TV movie, is worth watching as well. The reunion specials include The Andy Griffith Show Reunion (1993) and The Andy Griffith Show: Back to Mayberry (2003).
Sure, like any work of art, the show has a host of faults, but it is also one that, in seasons 1-5, is able to overcome them. Sadly, most of the cast are dead and gone. This means that there will never be another live-action reunion. Their work will live on, however, in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, TV shows of all time. What sparked this post, besides always wanting to write down my thoughts about TAGS, is that I was recently at a restaurant where I saw an older woman wearing a pink sweatshirt, which read "I'd rather be in Mayberry, N.C." Some days I think I would, too. For those days, The Andy Griffith Show is, as of this writing, available to stream via Netflix. (And no, my blog isn't one big ad for Netflix. I've just been watching Netflix a lot lately.)
Like many, I watched and enjoyed the Netflix original series, Black Mirror. (My favorite Netflix series are House of Cards, Mindhunter, Peaky Blinders, and The Punisher.) It's an ideas show, where, instead of becoming invested in the characters, it's all about the premise--usually how advanced technology is far more detrimental than beneficial for most people. While hit or miss, all episodes are worth watching. The following are my favorites, however, with brief synopses via Netflix and images via Wikipedia.
Season 1, Episode 3: "The Entire History of You" (2011)
"In the near future, everyone has access to a memory implant that records everything humans do, see and hear."
Season 2, Episode 2: "White Bear" (2013)
"Victoria wakes up and cannot remember anything about her life. Everyone she encounters refuses to communicate with her."
Season 3, Episode 2: "Playtest" (2016)
"An American traveler short on cash signs up to test a revolutionary new gaming system, only to discover the thrills are a little too real."
Season 3, Episode 3: "Shut Up and Dance" (2016)
"After a virus infects his laptop, a teen faces a daunting choice: carry out orders delivered by text message, or risk having intimate secrets exposed."
Season 4, Episode 1: "USS Callister" (2017)
"Capt. Robert Daly presides over his crew with wisdom and courage. But a new recruit will soon discover nothing on this spaceship is what it seems."
Season 4, Episode 5: "Metalhead" (2017)
"At an abandoned warehouse, scavengers searching for supplies encounter a ruthless foe and flee for their lives through a bleak wasteland."
Other cool moments:
As my bio sometimes states, I "listen exclusively to HEAVY METAL." These were my favorites from last year in alphabetical order. Sample songs included!
Artificial Brain - Infrared Horizon
Auðn - Farvegir Fyrndar
The Chasm - A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain
Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Finisterre
Dodecahedron - Kwintessens
Fleshkiller - Awaken
Impureza - La Caida de Tonatiuh
Ingurgitating Oblivion - Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light
John Frum - A Stirring in the Noos
Pillorian - Obsidian Arc
Pyrrhon - What Passes for Survival
Ulsect - Self-Titled
Venenum - Trance of Death
My favorite cover art is a tie among Artificial Brain, Auðn, and Pyrrhon. A cop-out, I know. Until next year...