Annual Report; or, The Achievements of the Junior Colleague
by Corey Van Landingham
BWR 49.2 Poetry Contest Winner
I restored the Capitol and the theatre of Pompey, both works at great expense without inscribing my own name on either.
I am pontifex maximus, augur, quindecimvir sacris, septemvir epulonum, frater arvalis, sodalist Titius, fetialis.
—The Achievements of the Divine Augustus, AD 14 AD 2020
1. At the age of 34, on my own responsibility and at my own expense, I raised the question of whether this meeting could be an e-mail.
2. In the new decade, my colleagues populated the screen in little boxes. One was always flitting pale, green-screened on a verdant beach; one would shake her head with furious assent; one so still I thought him a photograph. Another ate rice cake after plain rice cake, looking directly into the camera, into me.
3. I, too, tried to fill some void.
2. I ordered, on credit, powdered banana for eccentric cookies, CBD bath bombs, a cocktail herb garden with rose quartz window box, silk robes. A water bottle that cheered on my personal hydration progress. If at thirst you don’t succeed… Sip sip hooray!
3. In the past academic year I joined three wine clubs, cancelled two—a successful step forward in my research.
4. I am saccharine, too modest, a nice face to look at in meetings, a flyover state, an active listener, trembling crescendo, turning my sentences up, always game.
5. In the past academic year, I have killed every living thing I own.
6. I undertook many civil and foreign missions to expand the Program.
2. Wineless online receptions with cardboard Associate Deans. Remote lunches—I fetched one yogurt from the refrigerator—on how to improve retention, morale, experience, recreation centers, evaluations, success, alert systems, our branding, our mascot, our advances on Advancement, in the Big Ten.
3. Copyrighted insignia, one large block I in “Urbana Orange” (*Pantone: 7417 C).
4. * “Be sure not to represent/replace one university in another’s primary color.”
7. I was offered minor parts on seven committees to represent the Department, all of which I accepted.
2. Program, not Department—a new skill I have acquired this past year in service to the Department, when I invited the Department to the Department Virtual Recruiting Event. In a public apology: “Please be assured, I do not consider the Program its own separate Department.”
3. E-mail header: “Please excuse my momentary lapse!”
4. “No Program is an island!”
8. In the past year, I wrote a book with so much I I had to remove my office mirror. Bluish oval, owl feather my father found tucked into the mounting. I looked too old to be a daughter still.
9. Too young to be ranking my colleagues for merit raises.
2. I can measure my own merit in little bitter-orange jam jars from hotels where I felt, briefly, buoyant before reading to an audience of three.
3. I can measure my productivity in the slim bottles of Sèvre et Maine I pushed to the bottom of the recycling bin, the quick pour of Campari into my La Croix.
4. I have suggested that we use the raise hands function during meetings.
5. I have not suggested that the men might talk a little less.
6. “Your annual report is not the time for modesty.”
10. I am mismanaged time, a righteous tendency, streaming garbage, struggling with a little sadness today, written in water, no quorum.
11. In a grant proposal, the first person was discouraged. So the passive voice was used.
12. In a day-long meeting—“Retreat” they called it, and I wanted to—after microwaving my coffee a third time, I counted all the “I”s in Augustus’s Achievements.
2. It was sitting in a large stack of books near my desk, gathering dust.
3. We were discussing again what constituted Excellence.
13. “I made the sea peaceful and freed it of pirates,”
2. —group-texted upon the retirement of a senior colleague,
3. upon the relocation of a senior colleague,
4. upon the death of a senior colleague.
14. E-mail header: “Sorry to bother!”
15. To mimic my human presence, I began inserting smiley faces into my e-mails.
2. I was advised by a senior colleague that this betrayed a jejune effeminacy.
3. I was advised by a senior colleague to keep union support private.
4. I was advised by a senior colleague not to raise questions about the small number of women senior colleagues.
5. I was advised by a senior colleague to keep my exclamation points to a minimum.
6. In the past year, I have received advising and mentorship from senior colleagues.
16. Dog wheeling its hindlegs, trumpet flower climbing the streetlamp, neighbor’s compost pile spilling into our driveway, squirrels at dawn.
2. Models of productivity.
3. In the past year, I have watched Friends again, twice.
4. Upon my death, carve that in bronze tablets.
17. As far as service, I drove a senior colleague to the doctor’s office, sat with him, in the frozen parking lot, after. I have read the first novel draft of a senior colleague in Mathematics. I remembered Administrative Professionals’ Day, which I remembered not to call Secretary’s Day. Brought expensive donuts. A card without inscribing my own name.
18. I scanned meeting minutes, muttered banal trochees on mute.
2. I found pride in being told my own minutes “were impeccable.”
3. In another meeting, a senior colleague reminded us that good minutes mean bad writing.
4. “You can redact more in the passive voice.”
5. This is one of the items that was discussed by the committee, before adjourning at 5:12 pm.
19. For three weeks I did not think of ending my life. Then, “Are you sure you want to shut down your computer now?”
20. As for teaching, I have remained committed to general enthusiasm and leniency.
/ u / u / u / u / u / u 21. Robert’s Rules of Order, Robert’s Rules of Order
22. Upon returning to the building, we found in our mailboxes one silver, clickable pen. University insignia, shoddy ink.
2. The Department inscribed my name on a plastic placard, drilled it onto my office door. It took me a month to realize it was misspelled.
3. It took a month to realize I had called the Head a Chair.
4. I woke sweat-soaked, e-mailed myself a reminder: Apologize to Head!
23. 113. The amount of “I” in the emperor’s ten short pages, 35 brief sections.
2. Engraved in bronze pillars upon his death.
3. In my annual report, I used only 27.
4. “You must make yourself legible to the university.”
/ / / / / / / / 5. My book, my book, my book, My Book
6. None of the originals have survived.
24. I am a naïve junior colleague, seldom standing, self-centered, not reproduced/reprinted without permission from the university, ash and vinegar, not quite as meek as I seem.
25. After ten days sick in my bedroom, I took a walk.
2. Lone daffodil slanted from the prairie wind. Italicized I, I thought, still feverish.
3. Spring like a chemical peel.
4. Spring like a siren.
26. I restored the tradition of underwear.
27. When a student entered the meeting room, I tried not to look at my own face.
28. I am pyrrhic, pointillist, prone to self-pity, open to feedback, a polar glare.
2. I am thanking the Department, thinking of the Program, thinking of you in these difficult days, respectfully submitted, mindful of your time, Yours.
29. “Reopen windows when logging back in?”
2. I stared at the cursor all morning, trying to decide.
30. A senior colleague said I might have a little shark in me after all.
2. But I’d been trying to imitate the daffodil, bending.
3. You never know when a little brightness might save a life.
31. Future Research: I hope to visit the Temple of Augustus to see his room of painted masks. I hope to be kinder, give blood outside the Student Union. I hope to write about something other than myself.
2. Five-year plan: make more meetings e-mails.
3. Familiarize myself with genre. What, exactly, is a meeting?
4. Go up for promotion. Go to Kauai, use airline miles.
5. Purchase standing desk. Purchase stability ball. Purchase purchase in the university for the arts. Purchase a blazer sans pit stains.
6. What is an e-mail?
7. I would like to care a little less about the mirror.
32. I am indefatigable, future king.
33. After the reading, my colleagues insisted I make a toast. I, only a junior colleague, refused it, stayed muted. (Have I played the part well?)
/ u u / u u / u u 34. Daffodil, daffodil, daffodil.
35. At the time of writing I am in my thirty-fifth year.
2. I have restored all windows.
Corey Van Landingham is the author of Antidote (The Ohio State University Press, 2013), Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens (Tupelo Press, 2022), and Reader, I, which is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in 2024. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, she teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.