My parents were introduced to each other by their friends Al (an electrician) and Jean, and they had a Hudson automobile. In my neighborhoods, families were ethnic, Jews and Catholics. But most of our socializing was with our relatives on both sides of the family. I did not encounter Protestants explicitly--or other Christians (except for Jehovah's Witnesses at our door)--until I got to college, and I am not sure I was aware of the distinction between Catholics and Protestants until then. (Of course, I knew about the Reformation and Luther from World History with Miss Meehan, but somehow that did not become practical knowledge.) Republicans and Southern Democrats were referred to as "reactionaries." I learned of Nixon and his red-baiting of Jerry Voorhis and of Helen Gahagan Douglas (Nixon's opponents in 1946 and 1950) when I was about six or maybe earlier. At home, we never talked about sex so I only got all that straight when I got to college and much later.
It was vital that we have fresh rye bread with caraway seeds each day. We got a telephone, which was French-style with the mechanism in a box affixed to the wall, and then a television, later than many families, but not so late that I felt different. While we did not have a Servel gas refrigerator, I recall that some neighbors did. We did not have a car, only my father drove, and I learned at 24 since I was going to work in the Bay Area.
I used to borrow lots of books from the Brooklyn Public Library on West 6th Street, and at times had so many at home I had to return them using a folding shopping cart. The big event in my life was when I could go to Manhattan on my own using the subway. From then on, there was a whole new world.
I have committed just about every mistake I describe The Scholar’s Survival Manual, more than once. My life is a story of snatching survival from the jaws of idiocy.
I was hired at my current institution to teach for a semester as a temporary replacement for a faculty member who had left, with no further expectation. Afterwards, out of the blue, I was offered a job there, and took it since I had no other choice (the usual fact of my life). What saved me, what made the big difference, was my adopting a newborn on my own when I was 42, nine months into the new job. Bringing up a child on your own focuses the mind wonderfully, and so the subsequent books and grants and fellowships were possible because I worked and parented. What helped was that my son slept. He is now 6'5", I am 5'7", and so we are a Mutt and Jeff. Moreover my university left me alone to work and parent, although I have done my share of teaching and service. People still remember my son playing with Lego at research seminars.
More relevant to this book's tone: Only if advice comes at the right time, with the right flavor, will it penetrate a bubble of excuses and justifications, and then such a revelation can well be transformative. It would be nice if those were moments when one has not hit rock bottom, but sometimes they are the moments we need. The Confessions provides the archetype of the resistant's story and of the transformative moment. Hence, all I can hope is that you hear a child's voice sounding or saying something like "take it and read" (Augustine heard in the rustling of the leaves in a garden the Latin "Tolle. Lege."), open up this book at some random page and find that what you encounter tells you something powerful and helpful. (There are similar traditions in Judaism, the Bat Kol, as well as in the I Ching and Tarot.) In any case, the basic advice about doing better and getting done is pervasive and given in a variety of contexts, and so will be found everywhere. One does not need to find, as did Augustine, a particular passage (his was Romans 13:13-14).
So this book draws from not only my own experience, but also my observations from within the bowels of the university. By the way, such university promotion committees are almost always advisory to the provost or the president, so your main job is not to say yes or no or maybe, and vote and give your reasons, but to help the provost figure out what is going on in difficult cases. This book is not a tell-all, and my experience is that the central university promotion and tenure process is fair and unbiased--although I cannot judge what happens at the departmental level. Moreover, I am sure there are mistakes of commission and omission, probably rather more tenurings than are warranted, and remarkably few denials that are mistaken. But there are mistakes and sometimes there is unfairness or shenanigans. This book is not about those situations. I know nothing useful about them.
Everything I describe is common. If what I say feels like I am describing you, and perhaps you know me and figure that I am using you, my response will be "It's not you." There are too many examples for any of us to think we are unique or marked by our problems.