From William Cullen's Journal: June 28, 2017
It’s now been almost two weeks since the interview in Salem. I’m losing hope. It feels like sinking and sinking and faster and faster, a plummet into black. When I first returned to Newark, I was so hopeful. Elated that the interview had gone so well in general, these grinding exhausting interviews in academia that I had heard so much about that last for a day or more. But in particular my meeting with Professor Strange at the end was so promising.
I know that I killed in the teaching demonstration. I am sure that even at the end of the afternoon, after everything, as I met with the research committee, I was sharp. They were aggressive in their questions. Ed had told me they would be skeptical about my ideas to see how I would hold up under scrutiny. I defended my theories and conclusions just as Ed and I had practiced. I articulated my plans for future research and for proving my hypotheses almost impeccably. I felt so powerful.
And afterward, at dinner with Professor Strange, that adrenaline rush continued. We had been at a cheap Italian restaurant near the university. The thought of being alone with him had intimidated me. With his hulking intellect. The legendary Fritz Strange, sitting across from me in a light blue plaid suit with an orange necktie. Fritz Strange. The man who had for all intents and purposes founded the field of Ancient Celtic Studies fifty years ago.
As I sat across from him that night I had felt so alive. Not exactly his equal. But his colleague! And I thought that he had received my ideas well. He told me so. He told me he envisioned a bright and long future for me at Salem State. He said my theories intrigued him. That he’d welcome the chance to help me refine them, and prove them. He even hinted that he viewed me as his possible successor at the college, and implicitly in the field. And perhaps, he said, he could help me get research funding from the university to support my proposed joint expedition with the archeology department to Seahenge. It was all more than I had hoped for.
I had called Ed as soon as I got home and told him everything Strange had told me, how well I thought the interview had gone. I said that I thought we should talk about how to negotiate when Strange called back. But Ed had been more cautious. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “You should congratulate yourself on a great interview. You should take a couple days to rest. And then we should talk about wrapping up this dissertation. Because that’s work we have to do either way. And the rest will sort itself out.” And I guess he was right. Because it’s been almost two weeks.
I feel so stupid to have been so optimistic. Was it all for nothing? Is it all for nothing? Is this how it is going to be for the next few years of my life? Repeating the cycle of the job market? The desolate announcement of five meager jobs that fit my speciality each November; the painstaking, ever-questioning work of writing and revising and modifying and deliberating and the anguish of indecision, down to wrestling over the use of a semicolon. And if I’m lucky I’ll get some job interviews. If I’m lucky they’ll go well and they’ll tell me how well they like me. Then the burning blackness in the silence. If I’m unlucky, the formless yet definitive rejection of unanswered applications, each of them a reassurance of my own destined failures.
Because what, besides Ed’s encouragement, has given me a basis for hope over the past couple of years? Some fellowships at Delaware, true. Some encouragement from some really great professors. One publication in a mid-tier academic journal. Mostly my ideas have been shunned. Because no one cares. NO one cares about ancient Celtic studies right now in the field of Ancient Languages. Does anybody even care about ancient languages? And those who do, those dinosaurs who established the field long ago, crunching through their tenured jobs with their dry bones - even those much rarer younger scholars, listing, hungering, desperate for recognition and employment (like me?): they don’t believe me.
They don’t believe anything I say. They scoff at my conclusions. They question my evidence. It’s right there in front of you I’m telling them. Here’s the map of Seahenge! Here are the archaeological reports! Here are the shards, and the pictographs, the unanswered questions and unexplored avenues! Why can’t they see it? It’s obvious.
And just blankness. Empty silence. Just nothing.