Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reason I want out #3: I hate academic writing

I've been away for a few days but its time to get back to posting my reasons for leaving academe, partly because I feel my anger and resolve slipping a little bit. It's like after the breakup when you start thinking about calling your ex. "It wasn't really THAT bad." I actually sent off a job application yesterday. I guess that's equivalent to texting your ex. Granted it was in a place I would really like to live, so I thought "why not?" But I need to keep my rage. I'm going to keep deleting academe's number from my cell one post at a time. The jerk.

Reason #3: I hate academic writing

I hate academic writing. Loathe. Detest. Begin uncontrollably wretching. Every word of academic jargon I have ever read has been like swallowing a little bit of poison. You think I'm being overdramatic here, but read this and see if you don't feel your soul dying just a little bit:
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
-Butler, J. "Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time." Diacritics (1997). 
There. Now. Don't you feel a little foggy, as if you are not completely real? As if a hole opened up into a parallel universe where vast incomprehensible Lovecraftian horrors vie over meaningless prizes in eternal and cacophonous verbal combat?

Perhaps not everyone feels this way. Some people enjoy it, even like to write like that! I don't claim to understand that, but I think the big difference is that I actually want to be a writer (as opposed to whatever it is someone is doing when they put together a sentence like that.) Even as a little kid when I found my parents' typewriter I started writing a novel on it. Whenever I meet successful writers I always have an attack of envy, and I know envy is something that you can use cause it helps you identify what you actually want in life. When I meet a tenured professor do I feel envy? Hellz no. More like I want to run like hell. Yes, I've been a bit traumatized.

I guess I ended up in grad school because I thought universities were places where the written word was respected and loved. Boy was I wrong. The stuff that gets you ahead in academia is awfully written, convoluted, jargony, elitist nonsense, especially in the humanities. I guess maybe humanities folks feel like they have to overcompensate to feel valid next to the biochemists curing cancer and whatnot by filling their publications with indecipherable jargon to hide what they are really saying. For example, there is a certain author who fills hundreds and hundreds of pages with convoluted prose to say nothing more complex than "gender is socially constructed." There. I just said it in four words.

For someone who actually loves good writing, generous writing, playful writing, evocative writing, the halls of higher education can be a heartbreaking place. At least in the sciences the things they are writing about actually are fairly complicated. Not to say that literature, for example, is not complicated. But if you want to know about what Virginia Woolf is doing in To the Lighthouse then maybe, well, read it and find out for yourself??? If you want to know why I hate academia, just go buy any book in critical theory of any kind and see if you can get through three pages without throwing it out a window.

After having written a dissertation, I'm worried that the bad writing demon is now inside me. Its like that movie where aliens come down and take over peoples' bodies. I reread some of my dissertation and was like "damn, that sounds good." But it doesn't. It sounds like jargony nonsense. And somehow that sounds good to me now. Scary. I need some serious detox. Lately I've only been reading things with pictures. Comic books may just save me.

For an example, here's an excerpt from press release on Philosophy and Literature's Bad Writing Contest (where the above quote was taken from):
The Bad Writing Contest celebrates the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, departmental memos, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be non-ironic, from serious, published academic journals or books. Deliberate parody cannot be allowed in a field where unintended self-parody is so widespread. 
Two of the most popular and influential literary scholars in the U.S. are among those who wrote winning entries in the latest contest. 
Judith Butler, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, admired as perhaps “one of the ten smartest people on the planet,” wrote the sentence that captured the contest’s first prize. Homi K. Bhabha, a leading voice in the fashionable academic field of postcolonial studies, produced the second-prize winner. 
“As usual,” commented Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, “this year’s winners were produced by well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and academic journals.” 
Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997): 
"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."
Dutton remarked that “it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’.” 
This year’s second prize went to a sentence written by Homi K. Bhabha, a professor of English at the University of Chicago. It appears in The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994): 
"If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize”formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality. "
This prize-winning entry was nominated by John D. Peters of the University of Iowa, who describes it as “quite splendid: enunciatory modality, indeed!”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reasons I want out #2: it takes over your life

Reason #2: Academia takes over your life

Academia is like a gas, it will fill the available space. There's always more you could be doing, another article you could be reading or writing. Reviewing practices are vaguely defined. There are milestones that are entirely all-or-nothing, pass or fail. If you don't get tenure, you're out. No warnings. If your prospectus doesn't pass, you're out.  All of that work for nothing. It can be very hard to know how you are doing, if you're doing enough, or even what exactly is enough. There is a culture that implies that you should be working all the time, that you should become your work. That the idea of leaving work at work is the sign of a less-than-serious scholar. Vacations transform into "fieldwork." Free time transforms into "research time." Leisure reading... forget about it. How about "background research for my next article?" Anyone? Anyone?

All that lovely flexibility becomes a curse, especially if you have any tendency to procrastinate. Here's what grad school basically looked like for me:

1. Undertake vaguely-defined project that I don't really want to be doing (e.g. dissertation, conference paper, etc.)

2. Procrastinate a lot, do dishes, do laundry, clean out closet, play xbox, since these are all more fun that writing some awful thing I don't want to write

3. Feel vaguely miserable and guilty because I should be working

4. Panic because of approaching deadline

5. Spend all weekend/vacation/night/etc. working frantically to finish on time

It might be different if the thing I needed to do to graduate, get tenure, or whatnot were something interesting like, say, write a novel. I don't know many academics, however, who got tenure based on a rockin sci-fi novel.

Since I've been done and working in a kind of office schmuck job, I have discovered something truly amazing: WEEKENDS RULE. I don't have to do anything on the weekend that I don't want to do!! I can take a road trip without feeling guilty. I can sit on the sofa and watch episodes of bad TV and order Chinese takeout because NO ONE EXPECTS ME TO BE WORKING ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON. This is, quite frankly, brilliant. I don't think I can go back.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reasons I want out #1: I want options

Life Coach is encouraging me, before I rush forward into figuring out what comes next in my life to deal with the feelings that are coming up about (probably) leaving academia. As the intellectual I've become, I want to leapfrog over my emotions and get straight to the point: what now? But I think I need to give my intuition and my Inner Child, both of which I've kept locked up and sedated for years, a chance to take the lead. What is exciting? What is fun? What is a little scary or risky? (Writing a novel. Starting a theater company. Teaching English overseas. Doing a conservation internship in some gorgeous place. Etc...) I know those things will emerge of their own accord, in their own time, so right now I'm going to focus on why I'm (most likely) leaving academia, and how I feel about it by listing Reasons I Want Out.

Reason #1: I want options

Academia demands a lot of sacrifice and compromise. It's not just a job, its like a spouse, or entering the priesthood, or joining the military. You go where you they tell you, do what you have to do, and hopefully its all worth it to you. This may be fine if you can't see yourself doing anything else with your life, but that's not the case for me. I can see myself doing other things, a variety of other things, in fact.

Location is important to me. All my family are in another part of the country. I am the little outlier point on the map, the one who landed farthest from the tree. I am currently single and mobile, I can choose where I want to settle, no spouse/tenure tying me down. I get to choose.

An academic career, on the other hand, is like throwing a dart at a map. Wherever the dart lands, thats where you go and STAY. Its much harder in an academic career to move somewhere you want to be because there are so few jobs, especially in certain fields. This is also scary because say you get a coveted tenure-track job at an institution that, too late, you discover to be a toxic place. Because its hard to get out of a toxic institution/department, especially if you are tenured or tenure-track, people tend to stay and wither, get bitter and resentful, the environment gets even more toxic. You feel trapped. My department at Prestigious U is one such place, divided by politics and grudges, where students who get caught in the middle are jettisoned from the program after having uprooted their lives and moved (sometimes with significant others) to a new city to study. Very scary stuff.

So there it is. I want to be able to choose where I work, with whom, and for whom. I don't want to be stuck somewhere I don't want to be just because I have tenure or because there are no jobs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Art and Life

I am a creator. That is fundamental to who I am. I have been blocked to various degrees for a long time now. I have often thought that if I'm not writing, that if my art-of-choice isn't working, its because I'm not trying hard enough. Same thing with academia. It doesn't just work on its own, I have to make it work. I have to force it. Same thing with relationships. Same thing with pretty much everything else. And yet, according to one of my favorite artists, Charles Rennie Mackintosh:
"Art is the flower. Life is the green leaf."
Does a flower have to force itself to bloom, or does it bloom because it is in its nature to do so, because it is profoundly joyful to express one's own true nature?

But what if the plant is sick? What if it lacks water or nutrients, is infested with bacteria or aphids? I like this metaphor of the artist, that by taking care of one's own leaves, roots, branches, the blossom appears of its own volition. It becomes effortless. So then the question becomes, what does this plant need to grow?











Warm bread.


Watching a lone hawk circle over a grassy marsh.

I think that academia may have a lot of blocked creatives in it. We want to make art, but because we are afraid (and granted, we have reason to be afraid, as we live in a culture that despises art, that chains and enslaves it to profit motives) we go where they talk about art, but do not make it. The hallowed halls. We get stuck within spitting distance of the thing we love. We learn to critique and study art, rather than make it. We become our own worst enemies. We enact the fate of artistic endeavors in late capitalism on a microcosmic and individualized scale. To tell our inner child to sit up straight, stop wasting time, get down to business. To repress, to systematize, to chain, to expose our own artistic selves to the glaring light of intellectual scrutiny. To study the shape of a flower long enough that we can make convincing replicas in silk or plastic or wax, since a real flower needs space, sunlight, soil, water, love, all things which are hard to cultivate, which take time and cannot be forced or rushed.

There is, however, a Source. And to know and draw on that Source is, I imagine, profoundly joyous. But the Source makes demands. It is terrifying. It is not safe. It thunders and lightnings and rains and snows. It wilts our plants or drowns them, but sometimes it gives them just what they need. Far better than silk flowers that never change, that cannot die because they have never lived.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I have realized that I am angry. Really angry. Anger has been a tough emotion for me to learn to deal with. I used to think I did not get angry, now I have come to understand that I do get angry, VERY angry, but that I have learned to stuff it way down inside me, where it eats away. Learning to recognize when I am angry has been a process. Having to keep up appearances in grad school and please please please everyone has also taught me to stuff my anger even better than I did before. Now I need to unlearn some of those tricks.

I know I am angry because I start withdrawing. I shut people out. If I were a little kid, I would be taking my toys and going home. I stop returning phone calls. I spend a lot of time by myself. I jettison entire segments of my life. I push the eject button on friendships. I add name after name to my every-growing interpersonal blacklist. All of my former colleagues and professors at Prestigious U. are now on there. Maybe they will not always be on there, but today they are. This is probably not the healthiest way to deal with anger. I am not quite sure what alternatives there are. My shrink has people beat on chairs with a tennis racket and scream. I feel silly doing that but I do feel better afterward. I've thought about picking up some kind of martial art. One of the ones where you yell a lot.

Why am I angry? Or perhaps better to ask, what am I angry about? I'm angry that a bunch of irresponsible politicians and bankers wrecked the economy while I was in grad school. Thanks a lot, assholes. I'm angry that no one was more honest with me about what academia is really like. I'm angry with myself for spending so many years doing something that was making me unhappy. I'm angry with myself for not recognizing that, to some extent, a job's a job, so better to have something thats in demand and gives you options. I'm angry with my ex-partner for pressuring me to finish when I wanted out after three years. I'm angry with myself for letting him sway me. I'm angry with faculty for sitting fat and bloated at the top of the mountain rather than retiring and making room for someone else. I'm angry with university administrators for turning our institutions of learning into credential factories for the privileged classes and training grounds for corporate robots. I'm angry at everyone for putting up with this. I'm angry at the culture in the U.S. that says that your career defines who you are as a person. I'm angry at the Protestant work ethic for making us all work 50-hour weeks and have no lives even though we have so much material abundance already. I'm angry at corporate America and insurance companies for blocking a single-payer system that would give everyone more a sense of autonomy and safety in their lives, like they could throw off the shackles of oppressive hateful jobs and actually follow their dreams without worrying about getting sick and not being able to afford a doctor. I'm angry at Obama for not being radical enough. I'm angry at Congress for standing in the way of anything that could possibly be useful or mean real social change. I'm angry at my exes for not getting me. I'm angry at the most recent ex for working so hard to get me only to toss me aside. (That's a whole other boiling pot of rage.) I'm angry at my friends for not really understanding. I'm angry at God for putting me through this. I'm angry angry angry.

I've hired a life coach, someone who specializes in helping academics transfer out of academia. Ze has encouraged me, before I start seriously looking at "next step" options, to deal with the emotions that are coming up. My tendency has always been to barrel ahead, forget about emotions or stuff them down, and get to whatever comes next. A favorite maxim comes to mind, however: "When in doubt, do nothing." I have a job. I have benefits. I have a roof over my head. I have a PhD, for God's sake. I can choose to tread water for a bit, feel the feelings that I'm having about all this, and trust that inspiration and guidance will come when I am ready for it. So today, that's what I'm going to do.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Drinks with an Assistant Prof

I believe in God, and would never have made it this far if I didn't. I also am not sure whether Ze is a man or woman. I think Ze is probably both, because how could Ze leave out one whole gender in Hir ultimate perfection? I still imagine God sometimes as a celestial drag queen, a sort of RuPaul in the sky, looking down in soft focus and saying wise things like "If you can't love yourself, how are you gonna love somebody else?" and "You better work!" I am convinced that God/RuPaul is looking out for me, and Ze is showing me the things I need to see, if I only pay attention.

I had a dream last night that I was on some sort of road trip with my mom. I had gone into a gas station for something, and somehow I got trapped in the gas station. It was one humiliating incident after another, disgusting restroom, long line at the check out, somehow I spent years in that gas station. I eventually lost my temper, I raged and screamed at everyone in there, all the people breaking in line, the unresponsive cashier. Somehow I got out of that awful place. And my mom was still waiting in the car, but the car was different. It was a shiny but vintage Cadillac, when before it was something broken down but more modern, like a Civic or something. I got in the passenger seat and broke down in tears. My mom was driving. We'd been delayed. It would be after dark before we'd get where we were going.

I believe dreams are the soul's way of showing us the truth. I think there's a lot of truth in this dream.

I am close to my mom, and that to me represents a need for comfort and a sense of belonging in my life. A longing for a sense of family of my own. The need to be surrounded by people who love me. The past years have been so devoid of that kind of comfort, a procession of catty pretentious colleagues and smug faculty, none of whom I ever really felt I could trust or be myself around. Having lost my own sense of joy, of course I have stayed single for a number of years. Why would anyone want to start a life with someone who has lost their joy? The men I have involved myself with have all been just as withholding, unavailable, and downright cruel as the so-called career that I have been pursuing. The universe has taken on vague shades of sadism and cruelty, but I know this is not the truth. God loves me, even if not all of Hir children do. The world is inherently good and wondrous, if I can just learn to see it again.

Last night I went out for drinks with an assistant professor at a nearby Selective Liberal Arts College (SLAC). Ze reeked of VSD. Ze was just going up for tenure. I listened to hir describe the process and it became clear to me: it was like the PhD all over again. IT NEVER ENDS. Except this time, instead of writing one major work, facing the threat of unemployment, and teaching one class every few quarters, you're teaching two or three classes a quarter, writing multiple articles and book chapters, and serving on various committees, advising, and facing the threat of unemployment. Because that's what happens if you don't get tenure. You get fired. And, according to this gul (my gender neutral rendition of guy/gal), what is actually enough work to get you tenure is just as unclear as what is enough reading or dissertating or classroom prep or whatever to pass muster during the PhD. No one actually tells you "you need this many articles, this many need to be peer-reviewed, and then this many conference papers" etc. etc.

The other thing that flabbergasted me is that the bar has, naturally, been put even higher than during the PhD. Now instead of a dissertation, you need a TENURE BOX. This insidious and soul-crushing entity is basically a giant file box (or two) that you put everything you've done over the past years of non-tenured work into for the perusal of those who are deciding on your tenure case. All your articles, books, syllabi, teaching evaluations, letters from colleagues, conference papers, sample assignments from classes, everything you've done for the past five years to prove that you are worth keeping around.

In what other job does your boss, after five years of honest work, tell you "Okay, you're going to get a couple file boxes, and I want you to put every email you've written, every powerpoint slideshow, every spreadsheet, basically all the work you've done for me over the past five years. I want it nicely organized with little divider tabs. I also want you to go to all your co-workers and get them to write a letter to me explaining whether I should fire you or not and put those in there too. Then give the box to me, I will ponder it for several months, and at the end of that time I will let you know if I'm going to fire you or not." WHAT?? I'm sorry, this is just plain abusive.

The clincher, this gul told me about how it gets decided and how ze gets informed. There is a committee that meets and interviews hir after having looked at hir boxes (this gul had two giant file boxes... holy moley, and ze's only at a SLAC! I just had an image of filling my box full of stuffed animals, wood chips, and gummy worms. Take that committee!!) Then the dean interviews hir to find out how productive ze's been. None of these interviews actually let you know what is going to happen. Then the committee writes a secret letter, the dean also writes a secret letter. These go to the president of the SLAC. The president reviews them. Then, in like FOUR MONTHS, you may get a decision. The decision is either a phone call from the president or a letter. If you get tenure, you get a phone call. If you're denied, you get a letter. The thought that after five years of teaching and service the decision to fire you does not even merit a face to face conversation... A LETTER? What other job would fire you via letter???

No wonder ze reeked of VSD. No wonder ze had dark circles under hir eyes. No wonder ze had the air of someone whose spirit has been systematically crushed without even knowing it was happening. Thank you God/RuPaul. You show me what I need to see.

Friday, December 7, 2012

You're not breaking up with me, I'm breaking up with YOU

After several days of the VSD (Vague Sense of Doom) having lifted, and a bit more spring in my step, as if my mojo were starting to come back, the VSD is back today. Why? Oh yeah, I sent off an academic job application today. Oops. If I were a drug addict, I would call it a relapse. I'm an academia addict. "Maybe it'll work this time?" I tell myself, as I send out the application (get high). Oh and an article I submitted came back "revise and resubmit" today.  And I also got my first rejection letter of the season, a smug little memo that ended with "We're sorry we don't have better news for you today." Well let me try to pull myself together so I don't spend all night crying into my pillow. (<-Sarcasm) Let's remember here who broke up with who. (Oh wait, that should be "who broke up with whom" shouldn't it? Man, this academic habit is hard to kick.) But academia is trying to get the last word of course. That bitch.

It's such a slippery slope. I have a spreadsheet with all the deadlines and jobs in it, and a deadline was looming for a job that I thought sounded great for me. "That sounds just like me!" I tell myself as I read it, and the old sense of hope/doom starts to come back.

It's like the narcissistic freakazoid I dated earlier this year (who was an academic by the way, see a pattern?). After we broke up, I would start to gradually feel better, but then in a moment of weakness I'd text or email hir and the VSD would rush back in. One time ze actually picked up when I called! That was the worst: VSD for weeks. Somehow I would forget all about how miserable that lunatic made me. "Maybe it could work after all. Maybe ze isn't actually a sociopath like I thought or like everyone else has told me??"

It happened because I forgot for a brief moment how truly miserable I'd been, just like with me and academia. I broke it off when I rejected the search committee, but came sniffing back around thinking "maybe this time it will work and I'll live happily ever after." No wonder the VSD came back.

Well just as a reminder, academia, you didn't break up with me. I broke up with you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Academic Codependency

I went to my group therapy today. Everyone there was really surprised to see me, because they thought I was going to be at the campus visit that I had announced in group last week. At first they were shocked to hear that I called it off. But then I started to explain, how for so many years I had been doing things that I just simply did not want to do, how I had not wanted to write a dissertation but had made myself do it, had wanted to drop out of the PhD at least several times a year but guilted myself (or was guilted by others) to continue because it was the "right" thing to do, and I should finish what I started. My life had become one giant "should." I should publish an article. I should go to that conference. I should want and get a tenure-track job. I should please my committee. I shouldn't take the weekend off from getting work done. I shouldn't hate critical theory as much as I do. I should be willing to sacrifice my youth and move somewhere I do not want to be. I should like these awful pretentious people. I should feel overwhelmed all the time, cause that means I'm a good worker and going to get a great job. And on and on and on. Oh and then the big SHOULD for me lately: I should get a tenure track job and live happily ever after. Well my response: No thanks! Or at least not right now, not until I start to feel like myself again. I cannot do one more thing that I should do until I also want to do it at the same time. Academia, I think I need some space.

People often talk about the PhD (and then tenure process) as a kind of hazing. If its this shitty to get in, then it must be great, we tell ourselves. But that makes me think of a psychological phenomenon called the "Stockholm Syndrome."
Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy, sympathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. 
Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."
Battered-wife syndrome is an example of activating the capture-bonding psychological mechanism, as are military basic training and fraternity bonding by hazing.
-Wikipedia (<-- is this MLA approved? Hellz no!)

Fraternity hazing... battered wives... coming to love and even empathize with our captors.

I remember when I entered the PhD program, I found all the people a bit absurd and amusing, like caricatures of college professors rather than actual people. "I'll never turn into one of them!" I told myself. But something happened over the six years of jumping through their hoops, working harder and harder to please them, climbing over bars only to find the bar raised yet again, living under a constant sense of guilt and dread and oppression and a feeling that I was not smart enough or good enough. Gradually, I found myself emulating them. I found myself taking on their mannerisms. I pulled a slightly over-large sports coat out of the back of my closet and would wear it at conferences. I found myself wanting to be like them and being so elated and grateful for even the tiniest scrap of attention, affirmation, or positive feedback from them. I felt like I was trying to please Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, but instead of just one Priestly, there was a whole committee of them, a whole discipline even. I lost the ability to tell bullshit from non-bullshit, what I wanted from what other people wanted, what my dreams were from what other peoples' dreams for me were. In short, I became one of them.

I'm also something called a codependent, which means that I try to please or impress everyone around me at my own expense. It also means that I latch onto the most dysfunctional, broken, and unavailable people (institutions?) and hang on for dear life, cause I love to be treated like crap, basically, and don't think I deserve any better. No, I don't deserve to choose where I live, who I work with, or how I spend my "free" time, I tell myself. Its okay to put off my dreams of a family, I tell myself. Codependents have poor boundaries. We let people walk all over us, say "yes" when we mean "no" and then stuff our anger, take a call at odd hours or answer work emails on weekends when we really don't want to. JC has written about the lack of boundaries in academic work in her blog, From Grad School to Happiness. I'd be curious to know how many people in academia qualify as full-blown codependents. My guess is that there's lots of us, right along with many people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). But I'll save that for a later post on academia and personality disorders, maybe...

I've been a bit baffled lately by reading about job satisfaction levels among faculty in higher education. They are pretty high, statistically, which does not really match up with my impression of the wretched out-of-touch hollowed-out human beings that stalk the halls of the institutions of higher learning as I have known them. Even adjunct faculty, amazingly, report relatively high job satisfaction considering that they work for a pittance without benefits or job security. Stockholm Syndrome at work, perhaps?

What do you get when you ask a normal couple about their marriage? "Well, we have our ups and downs, but we love each other and we've been through a lot together." And what about the battered wife? "We just love each other so much, he just doesn't always know how to show it. But we're really really in love and I'd never leave him." If you're so in love, why do you have a black eye?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Second Guessing

I'm at work today and my mind keeps going back to my decision to not go for the interview that I was offered. Why did I do that? Was I just scared? Or is it something deeper than that?

I honestly feel like this goes a lot deeper for me. I've been working on my PhD for six years. I probably went through a crisis of faith once a year or so, and was on the verge of quitting each and every time. Why I did not just quit I'm still not sure, but I had spent much of my 20s starting things and quitting them that I was determined to see something through. Plus my now-ex-partner had pushed me to finish and I, not really trusting in my own judgement for some reason, thought maybe ze was right. I have since gotten a bit more spine (and righteous indignation) to demand that my life make sense and not be lived at the mercy of a sadistic system or what others think I "should" be doing.

So where am I now? I have a PhD, and my soul is pretty much a crumpled mess that I barely recognize anymore. Part of this is probably where I went to school. Prestigious U. is not a warm and fuzzy place. People take themselves very seriously, as if their "research" were more than just the CV lines they needed to get tenure and promotion. And I'm sure for some of them it is more, but just because you're contributing to knowledge does not mean you have to have absolutely no capacity for joy or kindness to others. When you're in a job/career path that makes you cry in front of your superiors on a somewhat regular basis, maybe you're on the wrong path?

Long story short, I'm angry. I'm angry that I've given over so many years of my life to something that has given me so little back. I'm angry that now that I've pushed my rock uphill all these years I have to push another rock called "job search in horrific market." I'm angry that I don't get to choose anything, like where I live (that's a big one for me as a 30-something single).

So anyway, even though I have pangs about turning down a chance to interview for a tenure-track job and wonder if I'll ever regret it, it just felt SO damn good to say "no thanks." And sometimes my heart needs to override my brain on these kinds of issues. Not sure what this means for the future or if this is "sensible" but I've been oh-so-sensible for so many years, and where has that gotten me? Miserable. Time to do something different.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rejecting the Search Committee

So I'm starting this blog to share my thoughts about life after the PhD, the academic job search, and my growing sense that I want something else that I haven't quite identified, but that is not a tenure-track gig. (Gasp!)

Here's how all this started: I finished my PhD this year from Prestigious University and, like a good new doctor have been spamming the universe with my CV and cover letters with a gusto only possible by combining lots of caffeine with face-melting terror. Then lo-and-behold, last week I get a call from Selective Liberal Arts College (SLAC) congratulating me on being a finalist. But something strange happened. There was a brief sense of elation during which I called quite a few people to announce the good news, but after that cleared, something else took its place. Lets call it Vague Sense of Doom (VSD).

VSD: What is it? Where does it come from?

I believe that most people in academe can relate to experiencing VSD. There is a knot in your stomach, you feel like your future is a long procession of sadistic committees, entitled students, snarky colleagues, and escapist fantasies of opening a coffee shop or moving to Borneo. You feel like you have no control over anything important that happens to you, like where you live, who you spend time with, whether or not to start a family, or whether or not you will have a job next year. There is a constant underlying guilt that you should be working harder than you are, including weekends and evenings, and that if you are ever seen reading for pleasure (or doing anything fun just for the heck of it) people will laugh and call you a fraud and a sham and label your work non-rigorous and suspect and you won't get tenure. You are never allowed to use the words "I don't know" because you need to know everything to maintain your credibility. I think you get the picture...

The Rejection

So anyway, I started getting emails about doing a job talk and teaching demo, emails arrange my flight and hotel room to come visit SLAC. And with every email that knot got a little tighter, the VSD a bit more oppressive. I enlisted a friend to go with me and buy a suit, and I must say I looked pretty darn good in it. But the thought of wearing it while trying to convince a committee that I'm scholarly and profound while also not seeming too desperate was not so nice.

So I did what any self-respecting academic does when faced with uncertainty. I called my mom. That conversation was a few hours long, but boiled down to one thing she said: "You don't have to do it if you don't want to." Wait, what??? I don't have to go interview for a tenure-track job if I don't want to? It was the most radical thing I had heard in a long time. How is this possible? The Academic Police would not handcuff me and read critical theory to me as punishment? I could actually say no? I could REJECT THE COMMITTEE???

Its exactly what I did. I wrote an email politely saying that I regret to inform them that I have decided not to pursue my candidacy with them, and best of luck to them in their future endeavors.

I'm not sure why, but I'm in a better mood today than I can recall in quite a few years. I'm not really sure what this means, or if I have just done the stupidest thing in my whole life, or the brilliantest, or some combination of both...

So I decided to start this blog to share with others my progress on this new and strange road which may be leading me out of the Ivory Tower, since this definitely feels like a breaking point that has been coming for quite some time. Let's see where this goes.