Unfolding the Map
Leaving Nameless, heading through Tennessee toward the East Coast, we continue on our journey. I applied for a job in Cookeville once, and it's nice to learn more about it now. To see where Cookeville lies on our route, click on the thumbnail of the map!
"COOKEVILLE: Easter morning and cold as the bottom of Dante's Hell. Winter had returned from somewhere, whistling thin, bluish snowflakes along the ground, bowing the jonquils. I couldn't warm up. The night had been full of dreams moving through my sleep like schools of ocean fish that dart this way, turn suddenly another way, never resting. I hung in the old depths, the currents bending and enfolding me as the sea does fronds of eelgrass."
Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 17
Cookeville, Tennessee is associated, for me at least, with much the same sentiments as LHM's quote above. I've never been to Tennessee other than a brief touchdown on Southwest Airlines in Nashville, a 30 minute wait on the plane, and then a takeoff to DC. But in 2009, I applied for a job at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, and had a phone interview with a nice young female professor before getting the form "thanks for applying but we've found someone else who fits our needs" letter.
This is not a rant about Tennessee Tech turning down the best possible professor they could have ever gotten, nor is it a rant about my difficulties finding a job in a terrible market for academics. Rather, this is just a wistful look at what was a difficult year professionally. LHM speaks to being buffeted by the currents. I felt the same way. I applied to 80 jobs that year and got one offer. During that process, I began to question myself. Some of the questioning was self-destructive, i.e. "I'm a failure, I'm not worthy of a good job..." etc. etc. Some of the questioning was healthy, i.e. Do I really want to be an academic? Do I really want to put myself in a position where I do just as much work as getting a PhD just to keep my job after seven years?
So all these questions were coming fast and furious at me. I had been in a kind of despair over my prospects. But for a brief moment, Cookeville was kind of a shining light as long as it offered hope for me. For an instant, the buffeting of the currents pushing me to and fro ceased as I spoke to the nice young professor, ripe with possibility that I could take an office and teach students in the middle of Tennessee.
LHM seems to be in the same type of place, professionally and personally, and the current that drives him is the ribbon of road that stretches before him. My professional prospects in Cookeville didn't pan out. LHM didn't stop in Cookeville, and we'll see how his journey unfolds. But Cookeville, for a little while you offered me a small professional beacon. And from what I understand, you're a neat little town in a beautiful area of Tennessee. Perhaps our paths will cross again someday.
By the way, LHM refers to jonquils in his quote. I didn't know what they were. They're pretty flowers, at least judging by their online images.
If you want to know more about Cookeville
Next up: Wartburg, Tennessee