Don’t call me Ishmael. Please, call me Doctor Ishmael. Or Professor Ishmael is okay. But not plain Ishmael. I didn’t go to six years of graduate school and learn every last detail about whales just to have some undergrad students email me with “Hey Ishmael” like we’re making plans to go to a frat party.


It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Class had started, but half the students wouldn’t show up until 13:10.


Someone must have slandered Professor K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was assigned to teach four back-to-back sections of remedial Grammar Review.


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single professor in possession of a good office, must be in want of three officemates.


Many years later, as he faced the tenure committee, Professor Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father told him not to take out those student loans.


I am an invisible professor. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a professor of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because students refuse to see me. They play with their phones and sleep in class like I’m not even there.


All this happened, more or less. Maybe. Without sources or citations in any of these papers I’m grading, I can’t be sure.


Happy academic departments are all alike, in that they don’t exist; every unhappy academic department is unhappy in its own way.


You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of teaching via Zoom which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.


In a hole in the ground there was a professor. A nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was an adjunct office, and that means discomfort.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, some of us had tenure and some of us never would.


In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since: Instead of going into academia, maybe you should learn a useful trade.


It was a pleasure to burn. At least that’s what I assume students did with the syllabus I gave them, because they sure didn’t read it.


I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. Without any reason to do so, I replied all to an email to the entire department.



Opening lines from:
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
1984, George Orwell
The Trial, Franz Kafka
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky


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