Monthly Archives: April 2011

On Leaving

One of my colleagues said yesterday, “You have so many talents, so many competencies for so much, it is really admirable.”

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The more I think about it the more I realize how deep the guilt is that keeps me in place, growing quieter each year. Let us review my sins, as I feel them, so that I can see how ridiculous they are.

1. Not “knowing history.” Believing I could learn at some point and need not lament now.

2. Not having a strong talent for music. Accepting this.

3. Going to a large, public, research oriented university for college. Taking advantage of it. Being intellectually and professionally oriented.

4. Going to graduate school and doing well in it, flourishing in it.

5. Not really liking most of my academic jobs. Daring to think of alternatives. Wanting to go back for a different degree.

6. Not having the same research perspectives as the men.

7. Having energy, interests, talents, appetites.

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My colleague out of the blue, yesterday, seemed to think my multi-talented nature was a positive, not a negative trait. This was an unusual thing for me to hear, and interesting.

Axé.

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Kitlingen

On May Day my cat will complete his second month of absence. I was told when I adopted him that I should not let him outside because he could meet a terrible death. I let him outside, anyway, on the feeling that one should not incarcerate anyone. I regret that some days, since he may indeed have met a terrible death.

This is a lullaby for my cat and as I say, I am convinced lullabies are actually laments for children who have died. In this lullaby, the child wishes to be a bird, to go and comfort a lonely tree. You will be cold, child, says the mother, and dresses him so warmly that he cannot fly. The child is stunted and the tree is forlorn.

Axé.

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Word a tu rechingada madre

Over 100 degree programs in this state will be cut in the coming year, says the newspaper. It is time to mail presents, work Jazzfest, decide where to take the LSAT, register, visit Death Row, and see a passion play at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Clean house, clear out files, sell books, chop down yard, patch exterior paint, do organic harvest, go to New Orleans, service car.

Clear out office. Spackle, sand, prime, paint; put hard wax on floors, reconfigure connections for machines. Then: manicure, pedicure, facial; swim, sauna, massage. Go somewhere for Memorial Day and study for the LSAT, if I plan to take it June 6. Do you think I can accomplish all of this by then?

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I want a current LSAT score just to be moving in the right direction. If you are working a labor intensive academic job with semesters ending in May the June date is the only viable time to take the LSAT, because the test is Saturday morning and my brain is not focused enough Saturdays during the academic year. I always hit the 80th percentile and it is inadequate. I want more. So it’s this year or next, that is the question.

Originally I was going to take it June 26 in México D.F. which would have been excellent. Now it is June 6 there, as in the US, and I cannot get to Mexico. I do not plan to go to actually use my LSAT score immediately, not this coming academic year and probably not the following, so perhaps I should just wait and implement the Mexico plan in 2012.

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My mind is clearer now than it his been since about 1991. I am in a working kind of mode and to me working never means getting introverted. Really I am so business oriented it is a complete shame, especially in a Marxian like me (yes, Marxian, I cannot help it). But I do not want to waste the LSAT registration fees and I am not sure which is the best US location psychically to take this test.

If I do not take it perhaps I will write an institutional grant for the 2011-12 cycle, set up a business, heavily plan all courses through FA 12 so as to come on strong, write different kinds of resumés, meet with appropriate entities, work out a lot, investigate think tank jobs. I am so tired of waiting for my life to begin; I want to start it now.

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I learned the first semester of professordom that the key to survival was to turn a blind eye to mistreatment by well connected freshmen and not to publish anything that will make others envious. And I say that while these things may not be true generally, if they are true at your institution and you go to work every day, then they are real.

I am not saying that I am not interested in my research projects or that I am, necessarily, really leaving. I am just saying I am really tired of silliness. Don’t do it, you will have to take examinations and publish; don’t do it, there are no jobs; don’t do that either, you are 35 and too old to get another kind of job; you are not in Kansas any more, Dorothy, don’t don’t don’t. Don’t do it. But I am a devil from the University of All Devils, and I will.

Axé.

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David MacKay

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Lee Dorsey

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On Training

I do not work very much in the fields I studied, so a lot of what I have done since I got my degree is acquire expertise in fields I did not have. I have very broad expertise now and a flexibility in upper division teaching that is nothing short of amazing, and I say this objectively. However, I have not yet acquired all of the teaching skills I need, which would correspond (or would have corresponded at one time) to middle and high school kinds of teaching, and in some cases elementary school teaching (i.e. reading, arithmetic). I may acquire some of these over this summer.

Some of the people with whom I went to graduate school did not want to leave the area and became instructors and adjuncts. In these jobs they acquired the teaching skills I do not want to need, but need. They disapproved of other members of our cohort who left jobs like mine to go into business, government, law, and medicine because, as they said, they lacked the necessary skills and interests for these jobs and, given their other interests and their desire for geographical flexibility, thought it best to move on.

“I do not have the training I would need for the kind of job I had,” they would say over drinks at the MLA, when we visited them in their new cities as they visited our old conference. “How arrogant of you to say that!” the adjuncts and instructors would exclaim. “Just having a good PhD does not make you too good to…”.  I would keep my thoughts to myself and feel ashamed because I, too, aspired to move up or jump ship, and I knew this meant I Wasn’t Serious. Because were I Serious, I would be able to Handle Anything. I neglected to notice that the excoriators were people who had not even been willing to leave our home city or state. They did as they wished.

My happiest colleagues are people who moved up from high school teaching, or over from first careers they had hated, or down from the snow they could no longer face. That is to say that they made positive choices, not motivated by shame or guilt. But in my program, it seems to me that we were menaced a great deal. “If you were Serious, you would…” … “Who do you think you are, to believe you might aspire to apply…” … and on, and on.

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But I suppose the difference between those instructors and adjuncts and me is, I was more than willing to do something, anything, rather than join the pool. I am glad about that. The only people it seemed to serve well were the few wives of men with good jobs in other fields who did not depend upon their own salaries entirely. They then published and taught as they pleased, wore beautiful clothes and lived in nice houses; had summers in France and things like this and were relaxed, kind, friendly.

And I wonder to what extent my graduate program was in fact designed, intentionally or not, to create this kind of worker. Most of the fellowships went to men, and those men tended to get jobs; most women taught up a storm and many went to adjuncting. I taught in three departments, sometimes two at once — as I have done since. And it was out of fear that we would be relegated to the adjunct pool that we were told not to spend very much time or energy on teaching.

Axé.

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On Confidence

I  have very uneven “self esteem” or as I call it, confidence. In high school, I didn’t think the local dime store would hire me. By the end of college, I knew I could work in a dime store or a factory or as a substitute teacher. But I did not think I could be hired as a receptionist, so I applied to a prestigious graduate program. TAships were lucrative then and this was the only thing to do, that I could think of, that would guarantee I would not have to do something like … move in with my parents and work retail.

I liked graduate school. The family was doubtful about my becoming a professor because of the snow at places I might work — Madison, Lawrence, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor were places with universities I might like, and they are all snowy — and because of research, which it was assumed I would not want to do or would not do well enough to publish enough. But I like to write, and I do not mind sending pieces off four and five times, and I thought research and snow in a lively town with travel funding to large Latin American cities sounded fine.

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Still I always had the idea that I should want something else, largely because so many people groaned about academia; they must know something I did not. I did well in graduate school, but not as well as I might have, because one was supposed to not like it and also because our professors kept telling us we would never get jobs. So I saw the PhD program as an interesting first job out of college and hoped to work for some organization like SSRC or UNESCO later. My dissertation was not nearly as strong intellectually as my PhD examination had been, but (or because) it was finished on time. Graduate school gave me the confidence to plan to apply for the receptionist jobs I had been wary of after the B.A.

And when I became a professor, it became immediately clear to me that in fact graduate school had prepared me for much higher level, much faster paced, much more challenging work.

And in graduate school I did not realize that I was a star of sorts. I finished my courses with good grades, I passed all examinations on the first attempt, they kept renewing my TAships, and professors told me to publish some of my papers. Some students were more aggressive and self promoting than I but as has been pointed out to me much more recently, those of us who graduated were stars in the sense that we finished our degrees at all when most who started, did not or could not.

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So I found myself suddenly on a job market I had not realized would be open to me, and looking at jobs that were not at Madison, Lawrence, Bloomington, or Ann Arbor — well, actually I interviewed once at Bloomington, wasn’t hired, and was glad because I was, in fact, horrified at the type of snow they had (gray slush), and because of what seemed to be passing for Asian food there at the time. But I turned out, because of my very broad education and my palpable tentativeness, to get tracked more toward teaching schools. And some people move up, but not all, and I haven’t, because I don’t have enough of what I need, or the means to get it, so I do not get enough done.

I do not know whether I would have become an academic had I had more confidence, or had I realized other options were open to me. I would certainly have become a higher level academic and a happier one, had I had more confidence. But I have stayed partly out of guilt: (a) I did a PhD against the family’s wishes, so now I have to pay for it by being a professor whether I like it or not; (b) I can write brilliant books and I owe it to the profession to do so; (c) I got not one but several tenure track job offers and I owe it to those who got none to honor one and be grateful.

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I also stayed out of serious interest in my research fields, and enjoyment of teaching in them. I stayed because I was never able to save the kind of money one needs to make a career change. And I stayed because of residue my primordial fear from high school, when I did not believe I would even be employable as a greeter at Wal*Mart. But unlike many others, I do not think I am “arrogant” to find rural life at a teaching school so dissimilar to what I would have liked to do in academia, nor do I think I am … mean somehow, I guess people seem to think … to want to live in town and to do something that does not involve teaching freshmen. I mean, I totally respect other peoples’ happiness accommodating to that; it is hardly out of a sense of superiority — remember, I have no confidence, I consider myself inferior — that I consider doing something else. It is merely a question of interests, appetites, tastes.

(I do not mean anything I say or do to be a statement on the validity of what anyone else feels or does, I really don’t. And part of the reason I haven’t followed my own desires more in life is precisely because my not wanting certain things others did seemed to hurt their feelings. And hurting peoples’ feelings by being who I am is my greatest fear.)

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But, I think my idea in graduate school, that the PhD would lead to a job at an agency like UNESCO, was a good one. I also think I was right when, at my first job in a large, industrial city, I thought I should take the opportunity of my location to move into business or into a professional degree program. I have also just realized that, in my second job, the one where I got stuck on a book manuscript and spent a lot of time in angst about it, I could have used the time to get the other professional degree I still want at night school, without quitting the job I had until I graduated and was turned down for tenure.

(As we know, I was turned down anyway because I did not agree with my book manuscript. I had learned I should sign articles I did not agree with just for the sake of publishing them but I found I  could not face signing a whole book I couldn’t support. So I was stuck without enough information on how to handle such situations, and a lot of exhortations about “time management” which still stick in my craw since that was not the problem.)

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The other thing was that during the time I had that job, I could have investigated the UNESCO / SSRC possibilities; I did not because I was trying to handle the question of that book manuscript and also, of course, Reeducation, which was enough. I could also have done those things since, and I did not because I took this job out of guilt and I feel guilty about that. Firstly, I had sworn under some pressure that I would now, at last, commit to the profession in the name of the important contribution I could make to it. I had been allowed to complete a PhD and also to get on the tenure track so I owed it to everyone to stay and give something back. Secondly, I had also made the decision not to upset the family, who appeared to be even more anxious about my changing careers than they had been about my having one in the first place.

Having made these commitments I keep trying to make a serious go of it but I was not realistic about how much certain kinds of teaching get me down. I also did not expect the type of toxicity we had for a long time, from very unlikely sources, and I did not realize that these things would activate my PTSD triggers as they do. All of this is why I am usually too exhausted and depressed to get a move on for — well, almost anything; people do not know it but it takes a great deal of energy for me to even get out of the house.

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These are the results of not having enough confidence. I am worried about the future not only because I do not want to continue living in this way with which I am unable to make peace even though I “should” because it would be “mature” (I disagree with that; maturity is individuation), but because it is not viable. It is very hard to tell: given slightly different circumstances, I could have been a very good academic and been happy as one, it is true. It is also true that when I was younger than I am now and felt I should leave academia, I felt that only because it seemed to be one of our duties, to feel disaffected and to want to leave. Yet now, in fact for many years now, it is at the thought of leaving that my heart leaps.

What do I want to leave, though? Not research. I do not do enough research but I have fantastic projects and it is the possibility of developing them more that tantalizes me into staying. But I want to leave abusive people for whom I must also care, as they are impaired and less privileged than myself; I want to leave my loneliness in Maringouin; I want to leave my guilt about not having made more of a go of it and also not being grateful enough for having been allowed to do as much as I have been allowed to do. I can hear someone jeering, still: See? I told you, you would not be able to work. I told you, women who have careers, suffer. I told you so, told you so. What makes you think you are so smart? Who said you can be anything? That is why I lack confidence and why I want to run far and fast, anywhere at all, to leave that voice behind.

Perhaps self sabotage does not exist, but I believe actual sabotage does. I also think many like me are taught to collude in our own oppression. I am convinced that this is a political (objective, collective, social) and not a psychological (internal, merely neurotic) problem.

Axé.

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