My husband and I recently hooked basic access cable up to our TV, which we had previously been using to watch DVDs or videos on our laptops connected by wires to said TV. So now, we have the luxury of doing our work (there is no rest for the weary academic, much less two weary academics) as we bask in the warm glow of quality shows like Border Security and scintillating sci-fi movies like Sharknado. We have, however, begun to notice a line that characters say a lot: one that pops up whenever one character asks others to feast their peepers on something really important – say, a mutilated body, a deadly new strain of virus under a microscope, or an armada of scary-looking alien spaceships about to attack the planet. “Come here,” they’ll say. “You’ve got to see this.”
Sometimes, the individual will even take the trouble to walk into the next room to get the attention of the person whom they wish to alert. “What is it?” the pre-alerted person asks. “I can’t explain,” the alerter answers. “You have to see this for yourself.”
Of course, it’s not like Justin and I watch shows or movies for their plausibility. But this line, or variations thereof, is something we have definitely started noticing more. Sometimes we wonder why the person has to see it for him or herself? Why can’t the character just give the other character just a little indication of what’s to come – like a teaser or an abstract? “What is it?” “A dead body. But you might want to take a look anyway.” More often, we wonder how such an important piece of news can wait. The fact that an armada of rapacious aliens is poised for attack seems like something that you should bring yourself to convey with all due rapidity and perhaps as loudly as possible, even if your hasty descriptions won’t do sufficient justice to the cunning designs of their mounted death-ray cannons.
Receiving replies about things one has applied for, at least in academia, bears certain similarities. This year, like every year, has been a year of rejections. Rejections mingled with some successes, of course, but nonetheless, many rejections. As I have noted in past posts, being open about one’s failures is something that I think we instinctively shy away from – nobody likes a loser – but I do think it’s important. Hence I’ll share two (out of several) of mine with you here. I applied for a visiting research scholar fellowship at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. My application was unsuccessful, but they sent the news by post and it took a while for the physical letter to reach me. In the meantime, since the date by which they said they would inform all applicants had come and gone, I decided to write to them. A week later, I received a reply:
Dear Dr. Tiffany Tsao,
We are sorry for our late reply. Our letter was dispatched to you on Oct.25 so we believe it already reached or will soon rearch you.
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Never mind that the letter contains a typo. To harp on something like that would be petty. The more pressing question (at least to my anxious self) was: why didn’t they just tell me what the answer was? They knew what it was. But I had to see it. For myself. “Dear Dr. Tiffany Tsao,” they were telling me, “You’ve got to see this.” Of course, at this stage, I already suspected the answer, and when the letter arrived, I found my suspicions were right. (In case anyone didn’t see it coming, the answer was no.) But why not just tell me and put me out of my misery? To be fair there might have been culturally specific conventions regarding etiquette that I don’t know about. And I have directly contacted other institutions about the status of job or fellowship applications before and received direct answers (as far as I can remember, always “No”). But I don’t think it’s just a Japanese thing. When receiving replies about article submissions to journals, the subject-heading, similarly, never gives anything away.
One of my more recent article rejections – from the journal Indonesia - was sent via an email message titled “Local Color, Environmentalist Discourse, and Dayaks.” This is, more or less, the subject about which I wrote my article (though if they wanted to be even more detailed so as to better jog my memory, they might have included something relating to literature or the literary somewhere in there). What did it contain, I asked myself as I stared at it sitting in my inbox, my whole being tingling with suspense. An acceptance? A revise and resubmit? What? It turned out it contained a desk rejection, which was rather demoralizing to say the least. It really is a bummer when you’re told by a journal that publishes on all things related to Indonesia that the editors have decided flat-out that your article (on Indonesian literature) couldn’t even potentially make a sufficiently valuable contribution regarding knowledge of the country.
I speak jokingly of the matter now, even though this made me pretty depressed for a long time. After I had bucked up a bit though, I did some editing and submitted it to another journal – one for literary studies, the conventions regarding which I’m far more comfortable with anyway. So far, the news has been favorable. This journal puts submissions through a two-stage process. In the first stage, submissions are sent out to two reviewers who send their assessments and recommendations back to the editorial staff. Fortunate articles are then sent to the editorial board who apparently reject more than half of the articles that have made it to them. The message contained news telling me that I had made it past the first stage with two favorable recommendations: a “publish” and a “publish after minor revisions.” I now have the opportunity to make my revisions before it goes off to the editorial board.
So in short, good news! But the email message had an amazing poker face. Titled so neutrally even the most enthusiastic of close-reading undergraduate lit majors wouldn’t have been able to glean anything from it, it read: “Re: Your [journal name] submission.” Or “You’ve got to see this.”
Gasp. I opened it. The body of the message informed me that an electronic copy of the letter they had sent to me in Australia was attached. Nothing more. You’ve got to see this.
Gasp. I clicked on the attachment, which is actually highly unusual behavior for me if I receive a message like this in the evening. Having been fool enough to open such messages before – ones that have contained more disappointing news – I have enough experience to know that such bad news will simply make me so agitated that I can’t sleep. But for some reason, this evening, the evening of December 31st 2013, the eve of the New Year, I opened the attachment. And finally saw it with my own eyes. It was nice to have something to celebrate in addition to the passing of 2013, but I think I would have been okay with a little less drama in the unveiling.