It’s been a bad-news year. It’s been a great newsyear, which usually amounts to a bad-news year. You all know why. As I’ve slacked on the output on this blog of late, I want to do a personal 2013 recap thus far.
I was in Boston for the MLA conference, interviewing for only one job. One job I didn’t end up taking. The trip wasn’t a bust, in that I got to spend a day looking through the Bill Dana Comedy Archives at Emerson College, which was maybe the most urban campus I’ve ever seen. A set of buildings along one stretch of downtown Boston. The library was on a certain floor of a certain building. The archives a certain set of rooms on the floor above. A fruitful visit. Plus I got to stay with my friend Jay and meet his wife and stepdaughter. The rest of the month I sat on the couch and ate poorly while playing the guitar and singing off key. N was staying with family in South Dakota, applying and interviewing for jobs in Omaha. I remember nothing else of the month, other than going gluten-free for two weeks with no noticeable effects to my digestive health or energy. I probably drank too much.
N came back, just after his birthday, having not found a job in time to retain his many professional trading licenses. It was a dark time. This was the very inevitability we’d worried about for months, the one that drove me to the job market in order to give us some options other than stagnation. I was flown to the campus for the MLA-interview job. I was flown to San Francisco. The former place was too remote for N to find work. The latter place too expensive for us to afford. UA’s faculty-in-residence program, which I interviewed for last summer and got far along in the process of, put itself on hold, making our plan of using free housing to save up enough to buy a house fall completely apart. It was a dark time. Then I got one job offer, and then I got another. Then job negotiations revealed a way to afford living in the Bay Area. By the end of the month we made a decision: I’d take a job in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco. We’d move this summer to California.
Back to Boston, this time for the AWP conference, which was like most AWPs except The Cupboard was given a piss-poor location in the bookfair, and this year we had some of our writers do a group reading. It was way out in Somerville, but in maybe the nicest reading venue I’ve seen at an AWP. Room enough to stretch out, and yet full of gracious people. Food and drink continually served. It’s called The Burren. You should book something there. Back home N & I almost overnight recalibrated the amount we considered “reasonable rent” to be. I spent my writing time finishing up the third version of my standup comedy book proposal, this one concerned with standup and pain. The tragedy inside comedy. Etc. My agent liked that one well enough to send to my editor, which happened the first of
I survived that day unpranked. Soon afterward the chair of my department announced my depature. It was a shift I could feel, like a stomachache. The thing about my job here is that it’s been very, very great. I got incredibly lucky to land in such a position directly out of graduate school, as the chief nonfiction professor in a program pedagogically dedicated to giving its students whatever they need to become whatever kinds of writers they want. When I was on the market the first time, N & I told friends we’d readily end up anywhere. “As long as it’s not the Deep South.” Jinxes are real. Maybe we didn’t give the South a fair go, but it was difficult to do this when one of us couldn’t find work and the other of us couldn’t get his employer to do anything about it. And while I’ve loved the department and the MFA program and the people I’ve worked with, it’s been difficult working for a school whose policies were dominated by the wealthy white kids that fill its enormous fraternity and sorority programs. It’s been difficult feeling personally and programmatically dismissed by administrators. It’s been easy to do my job without directly feeling any of the effects of the above, but it’s been difficult to feel proud working for whom I was working for. It’s been difficult to find a way to happily become a citizen of Alabama. It’s been a relief to find a way out, and yet also stomachachey, as though in the name of self-interest we’re forfeiting on some game or contest we hadn’t exactly signed up for.
I’d been planning an LA trip for months, to be done after the semester ended. The idea was to go to this open-mic club on Sunset called Marty’s, which is open from 5 to 11 (and often after midnight) seven days of the week, and where there’s nothing to eat or drink, nothing to do really but watch comedians get up on stage and do 8, 10, 15, 30 minutes of unscripted, unrehearsed comedy. And I started to wonder whether it might become more than a chapter of the book, whether it might be the sort of story a magazine would be interested in. I pitched the story to an editor at Harper’s in April, and around the first of May she came back and bought it. So now I was able to make phone calls and say things like “This is Dave Madden calling from Harper’s magazine.” It got me access to exactly one semi-inaccessible subject. Everyone else I’d talked to had never heard of it. Or they thought I was writing for Harper’s Bazaar. All in all it was a good trip. I did six minutes of bad standup, then another six minutes, and then one night I did fifteen. I love Los Angeles. I love that city. I’m excited to become a Californian. I’m ready to finally live in a place whose values reflect my own. Is it so wrong?
Now we’ve got an entire house to pack. Ditto a rather cluttered campus office. And no word yet from my editor on the book proposal. Plus I need to figure out how to write 5500 smart words for a magazine I’ve dreamed of writing for since I was an undergraduate. I feel stuck and terrified most days. Solving any problem can and often will create new problems to be solved. I don’t know how many times I need to be taught this before I finally learn the lesson.
Oh, and I turn 35 in a week.