aaduna in exile - Winter 2021-2022 - Daniel Ross Goodman

Daniel Ross Goodman, Ph.D. (photo provided)

 The Fellowship

It had been seven long, arduous years, but I had finally done it—I had finally completed my dissertation! The aim of all my endeavors, the fruit of my most arduous labors—my cherished doctorate, the golden chalice that I had been striving for since early adolescence—was in my hands at last. Now, there was only final thing that remained to be done—the small matter of actually getting a job.

            With the guidance of my professors and doctoral advisors, I set about applying to just about every opening that I could find: assistant professorships in northern Minnesota; tenure-track faculty positions in eastern Oklahoma; even adjunct teaching jobs in southern Arizona. One particular position, however, intrigued me the most—a postdoctoral fellowship at a prestigious college in central New Hampshire. I thought it would be perfect for me for so many reasons: the college had rich and storied humanities departments; it valued interdisciplinary approaches to learning—one of my specialties—very highly; and I knew that completing a postdoctoral fellowship at such an esteemed college would set me up for a far better professorship than I would ever be able to obtain than if I would end up having done only doctoral work alone. And, best of all, the college was located in New England, not very far from my native western Massachusetts. What could be better than that? 

            After seeing what the submission requirements were for the fellowship, I wrote a cover letter, a personal statement, a CV, a sample syllabus, and a statement of pedagogic philosophy. I also obtained a copy of my official transcript, as well as a letter signed by the dean of my graduate school certifying the completion of my doctoral studies. My dissertation advisor worked with me on all of the written documents that I would need to submit, especially on my CV, which he said I needed to redo because the articles that I had published during the previous seven years were not arranged in the correct order—they were supposed to be listed, he said, by “most recently published” to “least recently published,” instead of by subject matter, as I had had it organized previously. He also said that I needed to make a separate section for “reviews,” and that I needed, in my languages section, to not just list what languages I am proficient in but to specify how I am proficient in them (e.g., “German: reading, writing, some speaking; French: reading, writing; Greek: reading”). I even consulted with him to make sure that my three letters of recommendation would come from three professors whom the fellowship’s selection committee would be likely to look most favorably upon. For instance, he told me that even though all three of the professors on my dissertation committee were men, I should make sure to have one of my recommenders be a woman. So I asked Dr. Edna Mann—with whom I had taken a course and who had administered one of my comprehensive exams—to be one of my three recommenders. Once she agreed, I sent in all of my application materials and went back to doing research for two articles I was working on while I waited to hear back from the college.


Six weeks later I received an email from the college that read:


            Dear Mr. Addison,


We have received your application for the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship. After a careful review of your application materials, we are pleased to inform you that we would like to invite you to campus to interview for the fellowship. Please let us know if we will be able to schedule you for an interview here on campus sometime in the next three weeks.


            Best wishes,


            Patricia Conroy, Professor and Chair, McCreary Center for the Humanities

Judith Smith, Professor and Chair, Department of Classics; Provost and  

Associate Dean, Albert A. Kekst Graduate Schools of Arts & Sciences

            Arvind N. Thatamanil, Associate Professor of Theology & World Religions


            A week later, I made the hour-and-a-half cross-state trip from western Massachusetts to Boston and caught an early afternoon train up to central New Hampshire. It was a bitterly cold, foggy, snowy February New England day, but during the entire trip I was sweating; I wanted this fellowship more than I wanted anything I’d ever wanted before—even more than when I had used to crave chips and salsa for my afternoon snack upon returning home from school—and even though being invited for an on-campus interview was a very good sign, it was still no guarantee that I would get the fellowship. I was confident in my credentials and in my record as a doctoral student—I truly believed that my work spoke for itself—but the problem was that I had always been terrible at speaking for myself. I was awful at interviews, and even worse at making that kind of witty, light-hearted office and hallway chitchat I had always seemed to hear whenever I had spent time in the faculty lounge at my doctoral program. I was confident that if I could just get them to evaluate me by what I had actually accomplished rather than by how I presented myself, I would be a top contender for the fellowship—and perhaps even get it. But how to make them focus on the former rather than the latter?

            To take my mind off of these distressing thoughts, I had brought some reading material with me, and during the train ride from Boston to New Hampshire I took the books out of my faded forest-green book bag and placed them on my lap. There was no heat inside of the train, so even though I was already wearing five layers—two undershirts, a long-sleeve thermal shirt, a button-down flannel shirt, and a sweater—I zipped up my winter jacket and wrapped my scarf around my neck. But then I started sweating, so I unzipped my winter jacket and took it off and left it on the unoccupied seat next to me. But then I got cold so I put it back on, this time without zipping it. I propped up my large red Spanish-language version of Don Quijote on my left leg, and placed my large blue English-language version of Don Quixote on my right leg. I had been trying to read it in the original Spanish, but because I was finding the novel’s Spanish somewhat different from the modern Spanish that I had learned in graduate school, I was discovering that I needed to look at the English translation when I encountered words and phrases that I didn’t understand in the original Spanish version. I was up to the part where the narrator explains the story behind the discovery of the manuscript about Don Quijote of La Mancha. Something about how the narrator had actually come upon the story of Don Quijote in some Arabic writings—that it was first written in Arabic and he needed a translator to translate it into Spanish. Or something like that. I can’t remember exactly. I was too focused on the upcoming interview to be able to get much out of the book that day. Besides, it wasn’t that long of a train ride, and I was also constantly shifting the position of the books on my legs, never—in the absence of a back-seat tray in front of me with which to place them on—quite able to find a suitable position for them that would have permitted me to read them with even a minimal degree of comfort.

            When I arrived at the college, it took me some time to find the address of the building in which my interview was supposed to be held. Sweating even more now because my inability to quickly find the building was threatening to make me late for the interview, when I finally located the building—a small, Georgian-style colonial structure with the words “Robert G. McCreary III Center for the Humanities” engraved in capital letters on the top of the portico—I was surprised at how much it looked like one of the houses in my hometown neighborhood. I took that as a good sign, and, breathing a relaxed sigh, I walked through the double-door entrance and stepped into a long, narrow, dark and dusty corridor that smelled of rotten watermelon.

            I coughed a few times, trying to clear the dust motes out of my throat, and tried as best as I could to not inhale the suffocating stench. I groped my way along the wall until my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. After several minutes I at last grasped what felt like a doorknob. I twisted it open and had to protect my face from a broom that nearly fell directly onto my skull; I had opened the door of a closet. Holding my nose and trying to not breathe in too deeply, I ambled along the corridor for a few more paces, coughed again, and when I felt another doorknob, I twisted it open; it was a bathroom. The toilet was running—it sounded as if someone had just flushed it—and a few damp, wrinkled hand towels lay strewn across the floor. I closed the door, walked a few more paces, and opened the next door I came upon. It was a study, it looked like—or at least it may have at one point have been a study. There were wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves—all of which were empty—and by the window, there was a wooden desk with several scraps of paper and a few coins scattered upon it.

            “Hello?” I shouted, as I stepped out of the study and wobbled back toward the front door, feeling as if I was about to faint. “Is anybody here?... “Hello?...Anybody?...I’m here for the interview! Alvin Addison! Here for the fellowship interview! Is anybody here?!”

            I waited for about thirty seconds, and when no one answered, I pulled open the front door, gulping the fresh air outside as if I it was a spring of water in the Sahara desert.

            “Mr. Addison?” I heard someone say, as I was about to walk out of the house. It was a faint male voice, coming from somewhere above me.

            “Mr. Addison? Is that you?”

            “Uh…yes…yes, that’s me. I’m here for the fellowship interview…”

            “Yes, of course. I’m so glad you came. Please come upstairs.”


            I turned around and looked back into the corridor through which I had been moving moments before, and, to my great surprise, there was a staircase immediately to my left. How had I not seen it? It was practically staring me right in the face. On the other hand, though, I reminded myself that when I had first entered the house, it had been so dark that I had barely able to see anything at all.

             I closed the front door—imbibing one last big mouthful of fresh, clean air before doing so, hoping that it would last me for the rest of my stay, however long or brief, inside the putrid-smelling house—and made my way up a long, wide flight of stairs, which creaked like an old man’s bones with each step I took.

            When I reached the top of the stairs, the faint male voice—now slightly louder—called out to me again.

            “Over here, Mr. Addison,” he said, in a gentle, welcoming tone. I turned my head toward the direction of the voice and noticed a man standing at the end of a short, narrow, dimly lit hallway in front of an open door. “Please, would you come inside, Mr. Addison.”

            “Yes,” I murmured, walking relaxedly toward the man and breathing more easily, especially since it smelled so much better upstairs than it did downstairs.

            At the end of the hallway, I turned left and entered a windowless, well-lit, low-ceilinged room furnished with a round wooden coffee table, a couple of red armchairs, and nothing else. I inhaled deeply, pleasantly surprised to be breathing so easily—and to be breathing such clean, unpolluted, well-ventilated air inside of a space that was no larger than the size of three Ping-Pong tables.

            “Please, sit down, Mr. Addison.”

            I turned around and almost jumped when I noticed the man standing directly behind me—though, in his defense, there wasn’t really any other area in the room he could stand in without being mere inches away from me.

            I smiled, lowered my bag to the carpeted floor, and sat down in one of the two deep-seated armchairs. He sat down across from me, crossed his legs, and reciprocated my smile. He was a clean-shaven, well-groomed, amiable-looking man of average height and weight—he looked to be perhaps in his late forties or early fifties—with receding, slicked-back gray hair, big brown eyes framed by golden wire-framed glasses, and glowing almond-colored skin.

            “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Addison,” he said, smiling again and cupping his hands together. He was wearing a navy blue V-neck sweater over a white button-down shirt, khaki pants, and white tennis sneakers; for a moment I felt overdressed in my suit and tie, but I tried to ease my mind by remembering that it was always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

            “I’m Arvind Thatamanil. I’ve been a professor here in the religious studies department for six years now. It’s really a terrific place to work. The way the school supports young scholars is truly admirable, in my opinion. That’s why the Mellon fellowship is so desirable, as I’m sure you know.”

            I nodded gingerly.

            “And that’s why we are so selective with the candidates we interview for the fellowship.”

            I nodded again, even more gingerly.

            “So, I have your application materials here,” he said, picking up the beige folder on top of the coffee table and placing it on his knees. “Let me get your CV out so that I…”

            He trailed off when he noticed that I was glancing over his shoulder at a door behind him which had been left slightly ajar and upon which the words “Office of the Provost” were stenciled in thick black ink. In the space between the door and the doorframe, I had noticed two sets of eyes peering out through the narrow opening. It looked as if their two heads had been placed sideways on top of one another, so that if I were to have drawn a three-inch vertical line with my finger, it would have bisected all four eyes in one quick swoop. But I could only see the eyes, and not the faces to which they belonged.

            “Mr. Addison,” he said, clearing his throat and sitting upright in his chair. “You are truly a most impressive candidate. One of the most impressive candidates we’ve ever had here to interview for this fellowship. Certainly one of the most impressive that I’ve seen in my time here in the college. You are—”

            As I glanced behind him again at the pairs of eyes that were peering out at us from behind the door, I made eye contact with one of them and the door suddenly slammed shut. My head jolted backwards briefly but I quickly resettled myself, reminding myself to stay calm and focused on the professor who was interviewing me.

            The professor raised his head from the file folder and laughed.

            “Oh, don’t mind them,” he said, shooting me a disarming smile and shaking his head. “That’s just Pat and Judy behind there. Nothing to worry about…”

            I raised my eyebrows and shifted slightly in my seat.

            “They didn’t think it would be appropriate for them to be here at this interview,” he continued, recrossing his legs and leafing through a few other pieces of paper inside the folder. “But I guess they still wanted to have a look in at what was happening…”

            I nodded, pretending as if I had understood his explanation and resolving to put what I had just seen out of my mind as quickly as possible so that I could better focus on the task at hand.

“Anyway,” he went on, taking two sheets of paper out of the folder and adjusting his glasses. “As I was saying, your credentials are very, very impressive, Mr. Addison. Two published books by the time you completed your dissertation, when most freshly-minted PhDs do not even have one…four book chapters—and two of them in peer-reviewed volumes…an edited book….let’s see, what else…nine peer-reviewed articles, including one in the top journal in your field…fourteen reviews…reading proficiency in thirteen languages….six academic awards…experience as a teaching assistant for four different professors…completion of all three of your comprehensive exams with distinction…a 4.0 GPA in your graduate coursework—and a 4.3 GPA in your final year of graduate coursework, a mark which I did not even think was possible to achieve…all evidence of the rich, fertile, highly promising mind of a young, rising scholar…”

I smiled, almost blushing, and cupped my hands and crossed my legs. I had read in an “interview tips” guide that one of the ways to be more likable and to make better first impressions was to mirror the body language of the person with whom you’re speaking. I didn’t know if that was something that had actually been tested and had been proven to work; all I knew, given my history of failing to make friends from kindergarten through graduate school, was that if I could just come across in this interview as even a marginally tolerable human being, with my actual academic credentials alone I should have no issue at all in getting this fellowship.

“But there’s just one issue, Mr. Addison…well, several, in fact. You see this here, Mr. Addison? There’s a typo here on your CV,” he said, placing the sheet of paper in front of me on the coffee table and pointing to the title of one of my articles. “And another one here,” he said, pointing to the title of one of my reviews, which I could now see had been circled in red ink. “And here,” he continued, pointing to another line in my CV that had also been marked in red ink. “And here,” he went on, pointing to yet another line in my CV that had been circled in red ink. “We counted eight typos in all.”

I picked up the CV and brought it closer to my face. Yes, I realized, as I looked at the first page. That really is a typo…I should have written “toward a revaluation of Neo-Platonic hypostatization,” not “towards a revaluation of Neo-Platonic hypostatization”! How could I have been so careless?! And there…I had included the title of my book review that had appeared in Philosophy Today but had completely neglected to mention that the title of the book that I had reviewed was Theotropic Motifs in Post-Structuralist Epistemology! And there, another one…and another one…and another!...what a disaster!...But I don’t understand! How could I have done this?! I reviewed my CV six, seven, eight, probably a dozen times before I submitted it! How could I really have missed all of these?!...Oh no…

“With this many mistakes in your CV, Mr. Addison,” said the professor, adjusting his glasses again and closing the folder, “my colleagues over there behind the door felt that they had no choice but to deny your application for the fellowship. I disagreed with them, of course. I had tried to tell them that, given your otherwise outstanding credentials, your remarkable productivity, and your extraordinary potential—at least in my eyes—to become one of the more accomplished scholars of this generation, we should overlook the errors in your CV and consider you for this fellowship based upon your actual accomplishments as well as the potential you have to be a major asset for us here at the McCreary Center for the Humanities for the duration of your postdoctoral fellowship. My colleagues, however, did not see it the same way…their position was that a truly accomplished and promising young scholar would not make so many obvious errors in his CV. I want to assure you, Mr. Addison, that I argued quite strenuously against their position—and did so for many hours—but to no avail, given that I’m still only an associate professor, and Pat and Judy are full professors, so in the end I really did not have much of a say…I’m sorry, Mr. Addison.”

I lowered my head and nodded slowly and glumly.

“I do hope, though,” he said, getting up from his chair—which I took as a signal that the interview was over and that I should do the same—and throwing me a sympathetic glance, “that you enjoyed your time here at the college and got a chance to take a look around. It’s really quite a lovely campus. Even in the winter…or, especially in the winter, I’d say, with all the snow we get and the way it covers the old buildings and the green lawns in this pristine sheet of whiteness…”

I picked up my bag, slung it over my shoulder, and walked out of the room.

“Take care, Mr. Addison,” he said, as he closed the door behind me. “And I do hope our paths cross again in the future.”

I lumbered across the hallway and trudged down the stairs, hanging my head like a defeated prizefighter. How could I have been so careless? I’m so much better than that…I know I’m so much better than that…to have committed not one, not two, not three—but eight—EIGHT!—glaring errors on my CV!...How will I ever forgive myself for this?! How will I ever be able to forgive myself for blowing this opportunity?! It was sitting there for me…and I blew it!...all because of eight stupid, miserable, easily preventable errors!…UCCCHHH!!!

As I reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped toward the front door, I once again had to hold my breath and pinch my nose to prevent inhaling a trace of the asphyxiating stench. When I made it to the door and pushed it open, almost as soon as I exhaled and was able to once again breath in fresh, clean, life-giving air, a tall man wearing jeans, a blue t-shirt, a black ski mask and carrying two long, empty gray sacks bumped into me, knocking my thick black-rimmed glasses off of my face.

“Sorry, there, buddy,” he said, bending down to pick up my glasses from the pile of snow they had fallen into and handing them back to me. “Didn’t mean to do that.”

“It’s okay,” I said dolefully, shaking the snow off my glasses and trying to regain my bearings.

“Is this the McCreary Center?” he asked, peering into the dark, dank, dusty corridor out of which I had just emerged.


“I’m here to rob the place.”


“You’re sure this is it?”

“Yes,” I said, my head still hung low, trying to dry my glasses with my shirt tail. “I was just in there.”

“Alright,” he said, stepping into the house and unfurling the long gray sacks. “Thanks, buddy.”

“Sure. No problem.”

I plodded away from the house and trekked into the snow-covered sidewalks, wrapping my scarf around my neck and preparing for the long, cold, restless journey home.


Auburn the Author

Daniel Ross Goodman holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) and studied English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is a Washington Examiner contributing writer and the author of numerous articles, essays, and reviews on Jewish Theology, Literature, Art, Film, Religion and Culture, as well as over a dozen short stories. He is also the author of two books, the novel A Single Life and Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Wonder and Religion in American Cinema. His next book, Soloveitchik's Children: Irving Greenberg, David Hartman, Jonathan Sacks, and the Future of Jewish Theology in America, is under contract with the University of Alabama Press. This year he is a research scholar in the Department of Systematic Theology at the University of Salzburg.

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