coherence flop sweat interviews past summers

Interview My Sweaty Pits

Eleven years ago, I was twenty-nine, and I had recently left my job teaching composition at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (after three years there, my annual salary had skyrocketed to all of $19,000). In the hopes of making more money, which would, in turn, give me more choices in life, I decided to try snaring a job in Minnesota’s community college system. After all, I’d done my undergraduate work in Minnesota, and I had a host of friends and relatives living there–not to mention the lure of all those hotdishes featuring potato chips crumbled on top, a claim to the legend of Paul Bunyan, and some of the highest taxes in the country! Who wouldn’t want to live in such a state?

After I blanketed the state with my CV, the first college to call me for an interview was the one located in Austin, Minnesota (the much-ballyhooed town where pigs are boiled down and stuffed into tins labeled SPAM).

When I arrived for the interview, the dean came out of the conference room, shook my hand in heartfelt and homey fashion, and asked, “So, are you ready for your teaching presentation today? Do you have any materials for the committee? Will we need to set you up for a Power Point or anything?”

My response to this was to stand, slack-jawed, while considering how quickly a heart rate can elevate. Sure, I was ready to answer some questions and all. But teaching presentation? Huh?

Honesty on occasion being a good policy, I snapped my mouth closed enough to answer something like, “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Teaching presentation? I got nada here, dude.”

As it turned out, the college had sent me a large envelope containing details about the interview and instructions for this presentation.

I received this envelope, quite helpfully, the day after the interview.

In that moment, there with the dean, I was tempted to tell him I needed to withdraw from the search process, that I couldn’t complete the interview after all. But then I remembered I’d ironed a shirt for the occasion, and I don’t iron for nuthin’ hardly nohow, so I decided to wring some worth from my efforts to appear crisp. I took a leap and said, “Any chance I could just wing it? What’s the presentation supposed to cover?”

Interestingly, my question flustered him. Even though he was heading the search committee, and they’d already interviewed three other candidates, he couldn’t quite remember the assigned topic for the presentation. “It’s, hem, er, something like dissonance in expository writing and how you’d go about teaching that. Let me go check for sure.” With that, he pitched off frantically towards the conference room, the untucked tail of his shirt billowing out behind him.

As I awaited his return, I brainstormed, “Okay, Self, you’ve been teaching college writing for five years now, and you’ve never heard of dissonance in expository writing. But, to Self’s credit, you do know what dissonance is. Let’s say, hypothetically, there were a president who claimed he was the best candidate for the position of Commander in Chief, even though he had high-tailed it away from all military calls in his past, while his opponent had actually served in a situation of war and been awarded honors for his bravery and all. And let’s say the voting public bought the spin that a yalla coward who shirked his duty was, in fact, better suited to lead the armed forces than someone who stood up and fought…speculating here, however ludicrous it may sound–that the voting public bought that line and its hook and its sinker. Yea, there’s some dissonance going on in such skewed thinking, right? So maybe dissonance in expository writing has to do with writers, hep me Jesus, thinking one thing and yet writing something else entirely? Okay, okay, okay, I can b.s. my way through this thing. GOOOOO, Team Jocelyn!!”

Right about then, the dean skittered out of the conference room, wiping the sweat off his brow and tucking in his shirt, to reveal, “Oh, dear me. heehee. It wasn’t dissonance in expository writing! It was coherence in expository writing! Pretty close of me, though, eh?”

Fresh off two minutes of frantic internal fretting, my reaction was less than diplomatic, but annoyance was masked by the sweet wind of relief: “Coherence in writing essays? You mean, like, using transitions and showing connections between ideas? In other words, what I teach all the time? Outta my way, Dithering Dean! I’ve got a presentation to make!”

With that, I brushed past him, tossing him a well-ironed kerchief he might use to dry his forehead, and marched into the conference room, ready to meet my interviewer.

Or, rather, all NINE of them. Plus the dean. Making–now count it up with me–NINE plus ONE, or TEN people on the search committee. That’s just cruel.

Good thing my nerves were already rattled and my bravada up, or I’d have heaved all over their shoes. Instead, I smiled, shook some hands, and settled into the hot seat.

And you know? There is something to it, that feeling of “what the hell; there’s nothing much left to lose,” when in an interview. My absolute gut feeling was that I was already screwed and that I should just consider the next hour and a half as practice for future interviews, ones where my shirt might be wrinkled but where I’d actually have a teaching presentation in hand.

Feeling so very screwed, I shrugged, relaxed, and had a good time. When I was finally asked to stand up front and treat the committee as though they were students in my classroom, ready to learn about coherence in their writing, I positively skipped up to the whiteboard and grabbed a marker; after making up some silly sentences about huge search committees and how they scare the mettle out of any under-prepared candidate, I did a little curtsy, saluted the masses, and hightailed it out to the parking lot. There, in my car, I sniffed my armpits–yup, suitably flop sweated–rolled my eyes at the Gods of Mail Delivery, and turned my attention to the Hardee’s across the street. Now that my stomach had calmed down, it was insistently requesting roast beef. On a bun. A bun littered with sesame seeds.

Five minutes later, nibbling The Beef, I chuckled ruefully at the whole affair. Good thing, really, that I’d been so unnerved by circumstances; otherwise, I might have done a good job in that interview and, gulp, gotten the job in Spamtown, where I’d have been doomed to live a lonely existence for who knows how many years. Lucky, indeed, that I’d miffed the thing.

Of course, a few days later, Spam College called and offered me the job. Seems the committee had been impressed by my ability to think on my feet–you know, like teachers have to in the real world. Looking at my credit card debt and then looking at the 100% raise I’d be getting over my previous job, I found the decision made itself.

Thusly, my stint in Spamtown began. And thus, eleven years ago this summer, I was

moving to Minnesota from Colorado with my long-time boyfriend,

renting one of the two houses in town listed in the newspaper, a place I’d soon come to call my Unibomber Shack,

and starting my ongoing research of

dissonance as it intersects with expository writing.


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