The Read

I’m taking a short break from it while I wait for my soup – that wonderful soup I made a huge vat of last night, using the essence of the left over carcass of a roast chicken I served on Christmas day combined with various delicious vegetables from the farmer’s market – to heat up for dinner. I need the break, as I’m mentally exhausted. Although I strongly feel like having a nice evening glass of wine, I am forbidding myself from having one since I must stay sharp for much longer this evening, despite my exhaustion. So a bit of blogging about my ongoing task will somehow serve as my relaxation. Oddly enough. Well, let’s see if it does.

I’ve been wandering an incredibly striking landscape, with such remarkable variety, detail, texture and hue. There are features that move me to tears at times, reduce me to fits of uncontrollable laughter at others, but mostly intense reflection throughout. I should be simply enjoying it for its own sake, drinking it in where I want to, letting it simply wash over me at times, while at others, cupping some of it in my hands and looking at it close up, before letting it flow away and moving on. But I do not have that freedom. Instead I have to look at it all with a view to ranking various features over others – putting it all into some sort of order. This is a terrible task to have to do, since so very much of it is simply wonderful in its own right, and there’s hardly any meaning to ranking some parts over the other.

What on earth am I talking about?

Well, as is so often the case with some of the things I get myself involved in, I can’t tell you much detail, since the process itself is ongoing, and rather sensitive. I’d not mention it at all were it not for the fact that I know there’s only the three or four of you (discerning readers that you are) looking at this blog, and so it’s really our little secret. Right? (!)

The landscape I’m wandering is one composed of the written word. I’m on the search committee for a certain department that will remain nameless, and it is for a faculty position in a certain area. We whittled down the applicant list last year to a medium length list, and now we’ve got to decide who to invite for interview – the final short list. So in preparation for the whittling, I am reading dozens of samples of the candidates’ work, and since this is the list of semi-finalists in an international search for a faculty position in a very strong department, you can bet that I am reading some astonishing work. Joyful, tearful, artful, thoughtful, woeful… and all wonderful. A marvellous landscape of work of all kinds, at some of the highest levels of quality. But I can’t just enjoy it for its own sake since every time I finish reading a piece of work I have to ask myself again how that helps me decide where this person is in comparison to all the others. Painful, because often it is a meaningless question.

I hate to say it but I’m relieved that it is not entirely down to performance in the samples of work that count in all this. As with any job, one has to take into account the entire skill set of the candidates and how well suited they are to the job in hand. There one takes into account other valuable things you look for in a good and effective faculty colleague as well, such as teaching ability, leadership, experience, and so forth. But so much of it is about the work you have in front of you of course, and right now it is an almost overwhelmingly difficult task to sort through so much great work. This is a most striking embodiment of “an embarrassment of riches”.

There. The soup is heated and eaten. I must get back to it. Of course, what I really want to do right now after so much of this (besides still wanting that glass of wine!) is to go and see (before it leaves theatres) the film version of The Road, the utterly beautifully written novel by Cormac McCarthy that I told you about last year. But I cannot since there is not enough time between now and the next meeting we have to do the thinning. I must continue my deliberations and ignore all my other pressing tasks for while longer (such as working on writing those two papers with some of my students, responding over email to an interesting physics question from a friend and colleague, and discussing over skype another manuscript of a writing collaboration with another friend and colleague – sorry guys!)

Ok. Back to The Read.

-cvj

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9 Responses to The Read

  1. Jude says:

    I wish I were articulate enough to tell you how beautifully written this is–this sentence alone “I’ve been wandering an incredibly striking landscape, with such remarkable variety, detail, texture and hue” brought out the synesthetic in me. Thanks for taking me along on your reading journey. Today, the best thing I read before this was Woody Allen’s description of a homicidal cow in the New Yorker online. I’ve been helping my daughter and a friend with personal essays and grad school applications (Tris–biology; Justin–music education), and writing my own evaluations and recommendations for high school students. I hope that the special qualities of Tris and Justin are as evident to their evaluators.

  2. Clifford says:

    Thank you! Blame it entirely on good soup.

    Good luck with the good work with the young ones…

    I think it is late enough to have the glass of wine now…

    -cvj

  3. Carol&co says:

    I’m keeping your secret as well – good luck – enjoy the glass of wine, I know you deserve it! It is wonderful that the quality you have received is challenging. cmj+

  4. Ken says:

    I often read your blog, but seldom comment.

    Comparing collections of the written word to the features of a landscape evokes my undergrad days when mathematics was all that there was for me, and I’d look for mappings everywhere.

    Good luck with the search.

  5. I also enjoyed the landscape analogy. And thinking about chicken soup — yum! There’s nothing like a good chicken soup made from actual chicken.

    –IP

  6. Tyson says:

    Clifford, I would avoid “The Road” movie. I was moved to tears by the book but the movie is just altogether too depressing without much hope or redemption (not that the book had much either). I so badly wanted it to measure up in some way but I don’t think it delivers. Although if you do catch it I would be interested to hear your take on it.
    –Tyson

  7. Clifford says:

    Thanks!

    Looking at this very minute to see if it is on somewhere still… I’m going to give it a chance since the director clearly really understood the key aspects of what the book was about (i.e. it is _not_ primarily another post-apocalyptic tale) and spoke interestingly about his work in an interview I heard on Kermode and Mayo last week (BBC radio 5). I recommend the podcast by the way – listen for yourself.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  8. Clifford says:

    Hi Tyson,

    With respect, I most emphatically disagree with you. I’m not sure we’ve even seen the same movie! 🙂

    See my thoughts here.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

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