Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blog Relocating:!

Hello all.  My blogging at this location has slowed down dramatically over the last year or two.  That's mostly my own fault, but Blogger's moribund design and technical limitations don't help.  It looks like crap, it's hard to read, and it makes me not want to blog every time I look at it.  I've been blogging using Blogger for nearly 15 years, and like almost everything in my life, I've been doing it mostly for fun.  It's finally time to get serious, about this and a lot of other things, which means I'm moving my web presence.

My main 'live' new home will be at, a Wordpress blog (see? professional) devoted to weird fiction, strange music, underground art, and anything else that pops on my radar, and prominently featuring my music criticism book of the same title.  I'm bringing it live as we speak, and it will be ready to rock by the end of the weekend.

I'll also be working on, a blog (also Wordpress!  PROFESSIONAL) for a nonfiction book I'm working on, currently titled Conspired! How Space Lizards in Black Helicopters Wearing Tinfoil Hats are Taking Over American Politics, and Why We Need To Cut it Out.  That blog will be exclusively devoted to conspiracism and conspiracist topics.

Finally, there's, a static landing page with my bio and C.V., and linking to my various projects in various ways.

Future rollouts are planned for, possibly having to do with philosophy and deeper intellectual stuff.  There will also be a site devoted specifically to the fictional alternate-Civil War world I first entered with the Scouts of the Pyre novella, available in issues 8, 9, and eventually 10 of Steampunk Magazine, and destined to be an ebook just as soon as the print publication run is complete.

I will make one or two more posts here as I hit milestones with these other projects, but otherwise I'm dropping the curtain on Mindslikeknives.  It has been very satisfying for me to blog here for the past five (eight? Ten?) years or so, but all good things and all that.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My First Day at The Least Glamorous #Altac Job Imagineable

Note: I now blog at  It's much prettier to look at, and more focused on fun stuff like weird fiction, extreme music, and awesome art.  Also check out my Tumblr at

So, this past Friday was my first day at a new job.  I'm on a trial period right now (okay, let's be precise - I'm an intern, and have been told that will be re-evaluated in a month or two).  The opportunity is certainly interesting, I'm approaching it with an open mind, and it's amazing how little work it took.  I literally emailed a guy and had coffee with him, then got an offer.  I'm excited because it's an opportunity to learn the day to day of the business world as opposed to the academic, and show that I can hack it.  Which, I think it's safe to say, I clearly can.

In many ways, this new position is not the kind of job that gets mentioned when the discussion turns to alternative careers for academics, or #altac.  The buzzwords around that are generally things like research management, admin positions in academia, positions with government agencies - high-level glamour stuff.  I, on the other hand, am for the moment basically a copywriter.  My first assignment for the company, on a freelance basis, was actually writing SEO copy (the equivalent, in my humble opinion, of hiring Gustav Klimt to paint your house beige), and on my first day in the office I churned out some web copy.

But it might not be complete drudgery.  I actually spent most of the day working on my new company's application for a local technology innovation award, and in the near future it looks like I'll be working on investor prospectuses.  These are both tasks that exercise the analytic skillset I developed in my academic training.  For instance, explaining the impact and potential benefits of my new company's technology efforts entails exactly the same sort of social-systematic analysis, projection, and inference that I use when writing about, say, the social impact of car audio technology (forthcoming in Technology & Culture!)  The line of reasoning is reversed (what will happen vs. what did happen), but I immediately found that engaging.  My new company's core offering is a business and social networking tool, and so I got to write about the knock-on efficiencies of networks.  Pretty cool for my first day.

There are other big reasons I'm excited about my new path - mostly coming down to where I place my priorities.  Literally the day before the end of my academic appointment at the University of South Florida, I finished and submitted a proposal for an academic book.  I am excited by the possibility of having that book accepted for publication, but the process of preparing the proposal reminded me that, while there are certain kinds of enjoyment that come with academic writing, there is nothing fun about it.  I want to do things that are fun.

At about the same time, I asked a friend of mine who had recently finished a popular nonfiction book for some details about numbers - and they were eye-opening, maybe even staggering.  She was able to live for a year-plus on the money for writing a 200-odd page book, which I am sure I would have no problem blowing through in four months.  She made more from her book than I did from my postdoctoral fellowship.  I'm sure many other academics are genuinely not interested in writing for popular audiences, and I know there are a large number who are truly incapable of writing with humor, verve, and insight at the same time.  But as someone who has that ability and actually thinks the work is important, some very simple math makes it absolutely foolish for me not to pursue the possibility.

And so I'll be spending my mornings before work putting together a proposal for a book on conspiracy theory and its impact on American politics - a topic I'll also be blogging about over at my new site, Space Lizards in Black Helicopters ( - and yes, I know it's the greatest URL of all time. Thank you for saying so).  This simply isn't something I would have been able to do as a first-year (or maybe even sixth-year) tenure-track professor.  The grind of academic research, teaching, and writing is draining, most of all on your creative resources.  There is no downtime - even your summers are dedicated to research and teaching prep.  There is no time that you can truly call your own, or that will allow you to pursue other applications of your gifts.

For some people that's okay, because teaching and research are truly their focus in life.  I'm not so sure that's true for me.  And in my new office, though there's a good bit of the new-startup buzz that can suck you in if you let it, it also seems perfectly okay to put in your eight hours and then simply go home.  The possibility of truly making a living by working seven hours a day, even after my time as a relatively time-rich postdoc, is pretty exciting.  And it's also exciting that I will be going home to work on a book that more than 500 people might end up caring about.

But then again, I did send out those academic book proposals.  I did finish a major publication, also just as I was headed out the door.  I certainly am working to keep my options open as an academic.  Maybe the urge to write about Lacan will catch up with me in six months.  Maybe I'll discover that the professional 9-5 world is less generous with my time than I'm seeing so far.  I am, unapolagetically, hedging my bets.  I'm keeping multiple options open - and more than any idea of simply ditching the tenure track, I think that should be the key theme of the #altac movement.  Having options is not something academics or academics-in-training generally keep in mind, but if they did, maybe it would put enough pressure on things like the adjunct pool and salaries to start having a real impact.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Last Day As an Academic: What An Academic Departure Leaves Behind

Note: Not unrelated to the transition covered below, I now blog at  It's much prettier to look at, and more focused on fun stuff like weird fiction, extreme music, and awesome art.  Also check out my Tumblr at

Today is my last day at USF, and I'm doing the final cleanout of my office, while simultaneously finishing final revisions on a journal article.  Yesterday, I finished submitting my academic book proposal.  I've engineered a pretty perfectly punctuated departure, I must say.

In the course of cleaning out my office, I've found I have a weird relationship to paper and information.  I guess it's not just me . . . we were all very excited when it looked like we might be moving into a post-paper world, but that didn't quite work out, did it?  I have stacks and stacks and stacks of paper, mostly printed out from the digital versions of books that I couldn't find physical copies of.  Some of the material I've got sitting around is simply ridiculous.  For example, I have a copy of Michael J. Raine's 2002 dissertation Youth, Body, and Subjectivity in the Japanese Cinema, 1955-1960.  It was given to me by John Peters, who just happened to have a printed copy of it sitting around his office, and knew I was writing and thinking about Japan.  It's about 400 pages long and weighs about ten pounds.  Apparently I brought it with me from Iowa, put it in storage in my parents' house for a year while I was in Japan, then loaded it into a moving truck to bring to Florida.  I never read it.

(Incidentally, a Google search provides no evidence that anyone named Michael J. Raine is currently working in academia, though I did find a corporate lawyer by that name on Linkedin.  Hmm.).

I also have stacks of journal articles, mostly related to one project or another, mostly carried all the way from Iowa, and each either readily available online, or, even more embarrassing, actually saved on my hard drive.  I'm in the process of either archiving .pdf copies of all of them from the usage-restricted archives I'm about to lose access to, or scanning them - printouts of .pdfs - back into .pdf form.

I know this is insane, but at least getting rid of the paper versions of these things is incredibly liberating.  Leaving academia is, so far, incredibly liberating.  The weight being lifted off my shoulders isn't just metaphorical (who knows if I'll ever write that academic book, and who cares), it's physical.  Like, hundreds of pounds worth of weight.


Monday, July 22, 2013

The Ph.D. and the Nonacademic Job Search: A Spectacular Albatross?

In my ongoing post-academic (inter-academic?) transition, one of the very practical questions that keeps coming up is - how do I present my Ph.D.?  On business cards, on Linkedin, etc  . . . I'd be a pretty hopeless 'strategic communicator' if I didn't realize that referring to myself as "Dr. David Z. Morris" made me instantly seem like an asinine boor.  But what about "David Z. Morris, Ph.D.," or just "David Z. Morris," with the Ph.D. tucked on the back of the card, the third or fourth line of the resume, etc?

You can find different takes on this.  The authors of "What Are You Going To Do With That?" (which I strongly recommend) are predictably upbeat, considering their audience of almost entirely MA and Ph.D. holders.  They emphasize the skills and accomplishments indicated by the Ph.D.  Penelope Trunk, on the other hand, is brutal, saying that if it's not directly related to your field, you should Leave Grad School Off Your Resume.

In my case, my graduate degree could hardly be more relevant to the field I'm pursuing work in - my Ph.D. is in Communication Studies, and my work is focused on media technology and culture.  I've taught both business communication and strategic communication for nonprofits, which believe me, is far more educational than simply taking those courses - plus, now I have some actual experience applying what I learned/taught.  So I don't feel much conflict about listing the Ph.D., and even highlighting it.

But still, there are moments when it's overkill - I'm applying for some entry-level positions along with more senior positions,  and in those cases I provide a little caveat as part of my cover letter.  What do you think, though?  Should I just be leaving this off?  But no, no, there would be insurmountable, inexplicable gaps in my timeline.  Nothing to be done but acknowledge that I'm a huge nerd who did something impractical with his 20s.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Separation Anxiety: The Symbolic Trauma of Sacrificing Your Academic Identity

If you read contemporary job search guides (or if you're just a commonsensical tuned-in person) you'll know that your social media presence is nearly as important to how you're regarded by potential employers as your resume.  For someone transitioning careers, this can be tricky.  In my case, there are still people who follow/know me as an academic, but if I leave my online profiles oriented towards that audience, I'll be putting up a big STOP sign for potential nonacademic employers.

So, I'm slowly making changes - like changing my twitter bio and the bio on this page to something that acknowledges my 'transitioning' status (I feel like I'm announcing a sex change . . . ).  I still haven't tackled my main website (, where for a little while longer you can read what I have to say about myself as an academic first and foremost.

These are all strictly practical moves in the game of life.  And for a lot of people, they would be simply practical decisions.  But for myself, and I'm sure for many others in similar situations, there's a kind of existential dread that accompanies changing social media profiles. It's really not at all different from the dread that accompanies turning a C.V. into a resume.  There's not much room in either of those genres, and boy, wouldn't it be tragic if people didn't know HOW AWESOME I AM?  Didn't know all the great articles I've published, all the awesome grants and fellowships I've earned?  There's the threat that one will remain too attached to those old achievements.

I'm trying to view it as a moment of freedom.  I have actually accomplished things outside of academia - but more importantly, I have GOALS outside of academia.  This is a chance not just to change how people see me online, but to rethink how I see myself.  Watch this space as I tweak, poke, and prod that self-presentation/self-perception.

P.S. There is another practical concern.  Even as I'm looking for real-world jobs, my plan is to continue applying for academic jobs for the upcoming cycle, pretty much in case I end up really loathing wherever I end up.  I will have to carefully calibrate my self-presentation so that academic hiring committees really understand where I'm coming from.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Quest for Freedom: Why I'm Leaving Academia. Temporarily. Maybe.

Today is a big day. Many of my friends and family know about it, but this is the first time I've posted here on the blog about a major transition in my life. In about three weeks, I will no longer be employed by the University of South Florida as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. My two-year contract is expiring, so there's nothing terribly dramatic about that. What's more notable is that I'm not, as most academics at this juncture would be expected to, packing up and shipping off to another city to start either a tenure-track job or a visiting assistant professorship somewhere.  Instead, I've spent the last few months fine-tuning a resume (not a C.V.), thinking about what skills I've acquired in my time in academia, and, starting a few weeks ago, applying for jobs in copywriting.

In other words, I'm leaving academia.

I don't know if this is a permanent bail.  Probably not.  Right up until the end of my fellowship, I seem to find working on my academic book proposal (for my book on Japanese Underground hip hop) way more compelling and interesting than the task of finding a real-world job, so we're already experiencing some nostalgia.  But for a number of reasons, I feel I have to take some time to discover what the alternatives are, and whether I feel they might fit me.

The idea of doing this first emerged about nine months ago, and I blame love.  There was a woman, and I felt things that I hadn't felt about anyone in a decade.  She opened me up - and I thought to myself, how can I leave this? It's the expectation, the way the model works - from postdoc in place A to Assistant in Place B, with no choice, nothing but the luck of the draw.  And the profoundly dated presumption that as a primary breadwinner, a professor could pick up and carry his (presumptively, his) entire brood anywhere.  But now marriages dissolve because neither spouse can or wants to compromise on their job.  Which, for me, seems like mistaken priorities.

That love affair ended in blood and fire - itself a transformational lesson in how callous humans can really be - but in the meantime other thoughts had crept in.  Last November, I visited my friend, an assistant professor at a private liberal arts college in a very small town.  I went there, and I saw he and his wife putting on a triumphant performance of mutual tolerance, and I took the three-minute walk to the only coffee shop in the three-stoplight town, and I heard the stress in his voice as he lamented his three year review, and the amount of pressure put on his teaching evaluations.  He seemed worn, old.  Another academic friend of mine indirectly revealed that for her full-time professorship, she was being paid barely more than I was earning doing only research.  The professorship that I'd been dreaming of all these years began to seem like a less alluring reality.

I powered through graduate school in Iowa City and nearly had a breakdown from loneliness and life-threatening weather, maybe because I could not conceive of a better alternative.  In Florida, though, one is given a profound window onto the possibilities afforded by money and flexibility.  I began to think I might someday want to be able to be spontaneous.  I might want to have great experiences that didn't involve reading.  I would perhaps really someday like to have sex on a boat.

Maybe a catamaran.

This is not to say that I want to get rich, but it will at this rate be another seven years before I can pay off a small amount in student loans.  This is an oppressive thought for me.

There was another, perhaps even more profound, because more immediate, factor.  About a year ago - just before everything went so horribly with a woman I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with - I connected with the principal organizers of The Venture Compound, an art gallery and performance space manned entirely by lunatics and flame-headed igniting angels.  I'm in its grip, fascinated and immersed, now committed to really make this place survive, committed to insane dreams of building something.  I maneuver city politics and I meet people from all walks of life, furniture makers and architects and witches, and because we are generous with our secret selves, our darkest thoughts, they feel that they can be, in turn, and so they stand there nothing but men with their skin on.

I am in the world, suddenly, I am of the world.  I have completely inverted my relationship to being.

And so now, I'm fantasizing about a new life, where I am part of a team that pursues a great goal together, instead of a series of piddling goals separately.  I want to think about the least predictable ways what I'm doing could impact, not just a few elites, but a true public.  I want to intervene in something other than debates.

I don't know if I have it in me.  Sometimes I look at myself and I just see some passive eunuch.  And I look at the world and it seems bleak, how do all those people do it out there without an institution behind them, without some superficially benign branch of the nanny state at their back, massed rifles just out of sight?

No, I don't really feel that way.  Education is a vital public good.  But still, how can I live if the government isn't forcing those Iowa farmers to support me?

But I think I'll figure it out.  I really do.  After all, people do it all the time, right?  Every day.  And it's not necessarily comfortable, or easy, there's that feeling of some small hook pulling your belly down hollow from the inside.  But in return you get the certainty that you have lived.  We as humans have been so diabolical to one another that, within a strictly bureaucratic framework, we have constructed a subjective experience that on a day to day level, for many people, is as terrifying as being stalked by a jaguar.  People kill themselves because they don't think they can handle the whole contraption, all of it put into place by nothing but humans working with and against fellow humans.

Wish me luck in the insanity.

I would like to thank Penelope Trunk and her utterly fearless integration of her personal struggles into her blogging about the professional world for inspiring me to pursue some new directions in my writing.  For the next few weeks or months, I'll be trying to combine my subjective experiences with some genuinely helpful and substantive reflections on the passage from academic to post-academic.