Hand Grenades and Horseshoes; Or, Always a Bridesmaid

I have another pre-interview. That’s what I call them: the phone interviews and skype calls that are the coffee date of the job market — no commitment, just checking you out to see if I’m interested first. Playing the field.

I have this image of dogs sniffing butts. It seems, somehow, like that: a bizarre combination of casual and intimate, and, if you’re the interviewee, rather disconcerting.

I tend to feel frustrated with the job search for several reasons. The kids take a lot of time and attention, so it’s hard to get traction. That’s partly psychological, too: more obstacles mean it’s easier to procrastinate, easier to go about the work of finding work in a haphazard way. And I still don’t have a lot of clarity about what kinds of jobs to apply for and how best to focus my energy, though I am finally making strides in that direction after having seen a career counselor through my university’s alumni office.

But the truth is that I’ve had several of these pre-interviews. Over and over again, I am not quite the right candidate. And my particular fear right now (in a life stage that rivals the boogeymonster years, fear-wise) is that this pre-interview will be another almost. And like my dad says, almost doesn’t count, except in hand grenades and horseshoes.

Several of those almost jobs would have been almost great matches for me, and an almost great match is an excellent start to a good career, to my mind. But some of them I might be better off without. This particular job I’m almost interviewing for is a job that I have said for years I wanted — if only the person in it were retiring. And now, she is retiring. So I’m faced with the age-old problem of desire causing anguish.

Of course, as a pagan, I also think desire causes a lot of other things too. Children, for instance. And other beginnings. And joy. And engagement. The trick is to find my way through the anguish, so it doesn’t preclude the other stuff, and to realize that, although I want to do everything in my power to ensure I make it to the next stage, and the next, and if there is one, the next after that, very little is actually in my power. My experience has been that, at this stage, they’re looking for confirmation that I am what they think I am — a good candidate, a not-quite candidate, a candidate that will stand in well for that person they thought was a good candidate….

I think I’m going to take a two-pronged approach here: consult my career counselor, and keep working on getting other leads.

The other leads fall into two categories at this point: things I find on higheredjobs.com, and things I’m cooking up myself. While I do want the security of a full-time (salaried, with benefits) position, I’m also coming to terms with the idea that I need to commit to freelancing in the meantime. And I’m working with some friends on beginning a small business teaching adult-ed and college-prep classes, which I’m fairly excited about. We have big dreams for it — big enough that I want to keep a hand in it even when/if that pre-interview becomes a thing.

Blog Responsibly, or: Doctor Outlaw

It’s been too long. Life has been busy. I logged into WordPress today to create a new blog, for the students I’m tutoring, and I was reminded to “blog responsibly”–to not waste a good blog name by not blogging. Ah, guilt.

If you want to blog under this title, and I haven’t posted in months, let me know, m’kay?

The struggle these days, other than the usual struggle with money, is to find the time, and sometimes the gumption, to apply for jobs. It’s disheartening when I look at the files of old job applications on my computer. I tend to think I haven’t gotten a job because I haven’t applied for enough. It’s not really true, and I know that when I have the evidence in front of my face.

The other struggle is to figure out how to get back on the right side of the law. You knew professors were rebels, right? Well, I got caught (unintentionally) speeding in a school zone. The irony is that the day before, someone was tailgating me through that same school zone, and I told my son all about why I was ticked off at that person: how it’s important to not speed in a school zone for the safety of the kids. Irony’s one of those thorny concepts that’s difficult to explain; Wayne Booth wrote an entire book defining it. (It’s an excellent book, by the way, and one of my favorites: a touchstone for me when I’m writing criticism or theory.) But this example about nails it.

Of course, I don’t have extra cash lying around for speeding tickets, and during Christmas is the worst time. And then we all got the flu, and had to buy medicine, and my kids were home, so I didn’t get to work, so I didn’t get paid. And I’ve been scraping by for the entire month rubbing two pennies together and hoping they’ll mate or something.

That’s not really how that metaphor goes. But why the hell else would you rub two pennies together? I ask you.

So I took my baby with me to court, because I wasn’t going to pay for a babysitter too, and they put me on the fast track out of there, probably so I didn’t accidentally lactate on them or something. And that won me a second court date, because that is the way of the world. Paging George Orwell…..

At the second date, they bargained with me, and knocked off the school zone part of the ticket. (I’ve been extraordinarily good since then, I swear.  I’ve even taken up a different route to school that doesn’t go through so many school zones. Have I mentioned that I spend an hour each morning driving my son to his magnet school, ten miles away, so he doesn’t have to wake up so early to take the bus that he gets so tired that he starts feeling “sad for no reason”? It sucks, but the school is worth it. Barely.)

And then I got a month to pay off the ticket, but when the time came around, several deposits I was counting on being in my bank account were not there. I no longer have credit cards, because that’s been a disaster. And so there is no way to pay the ticket.

In about a week, I’ll be solvent again. Until then, I’m a fugitive from justice. But hey, that’s Dr. Outlaw to you.

Driving in Circles

This past week, I drove around in circles in two different places: one, a college campus with a large rectangular road around both it and the tech school next to it (I saw little airplanes!  That kind of tech college), the other, a retirement apartment complex (and the two connected complexes on either side, as well as the “assisted living” center that seems to be related to the RA complex).*  Both were journeys for jobs, and were pleasant enough.  The first was a part-time job helping first-generation college students get a leg up, while they’re still in high school.  It’s housed on a cute little campus in the downtown metro area, and everyone I ran into was friendly and very human.  I had the same experience as when I interviewed for the adjuncting position — it was less like an interview and more like a conversation about teaching, learning and guiding students.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got that job, though I’ve been playing phone tag the last couple of days, so I’m not 100% certain.  It’s a fabulous job, very inspiring, but it’s so part-time.  And I hesitate to take it, because I know I’ll have to take something full time if it comes up.

That, however, is just a personal issue I have to deal with.  Because everyone else I’ve spoken with about it is crystal clear: Of course you take the job.  Of course you see whether you can grow in it, or cobble together a few jobs, or get something full time.  Of course, in other words, you take care of yourself first.

I also have mixed feelings about, you know, encouraging anyone to buy into higher ed.  On the other hand, it’s true that a college degree opens doors, and the population of kids I’d be working with needs some doors opened.  They just, you know, don’t need a PhD to go slamming those doors a few years later.

The second job isn’t a job so much as a client, I suppose.  I’m helping out an emeritus faculty member with an article and organizing some files.

I should help myself out with some of that too.

Anyway, I drove around and around his complex, looking for the number he’d given me, which had one digit fewer than any of the buildings.  I drove around a muddy, man-made “lake” a couple of times, and thought of the slow-moving, north-flowing Genessee of my alma mater.  Oddly enough, I had driven past Genessee Dr. to get to the other job.  It’s not a name I see much where I live now, not even when I’m shopping for beer.

Slow might be the best word for this job.  There’s a pace that retirees have — except my mother-in-law, who will hurry me up through whatever I’m saying that she’s lost interest in — a pace that is trying to those of us under 60 or 70.  But it was pleasant enough work to be doing, with a man I’ve grown fond of over the years.

“How much am I paying you?” he asked.

“That’s a good question,” was my retort.  I’ve known this man for several years.  He’s donated his time to a project I’ve worked on, and he seems like family — the sort of surrogate family academics pick up on their journeys.  I wasn’t going to play hardball with an adopted grandparent.  He told me the pay range people were making at the project these days, and I said that sounded good, and he opted for the highest end of the range, which, as he put it, “puts me right there with the fast food workers.”  It puts me with what they’re asking for, anyway.

And still, it’s money, and I’m taking it.  It’s getting me out into the world, giving serendipity something to work with, and maybe it will give me a reference, or something else useful.  At the least, it’s keeping me from sinking into completely identifying as a mom.  With any luck, I’m tracing more of a spiral than a circle.

I’ve had the thought, these past two weeks, that I’m actually quite happy with my life.  Everything other than my career/financial life is going well.  That doesn’t mean I’m accepting the status quo, or think the adjunct crisis is okay.  Rather, it means I’m appreciating what I do have, and choosing to focus on it.  I have two children I love to pieces: one smart Sweet Boy, in an incredible magnet school, who is so clever and funny that my child-free friends think, if only they could guarantee they’d get one like him, they might chance having kids — not realizing that the smarty-pants are actually harder to deal with than the pliant ones — and one Daring Girl who smiles and laughs at the smallest provocation, sleeps like a champ when she’s not teething, and runs her soft, tiny hands and feet over my skin as I nurse her to sleep.  It’s sheer bliss, I tell you, for at least the first ten minutes.  And I have a husband I love, who I pass in the night as one of us makes our way into a child’s room to soothe them back to sleep, and one of us makes our way out and downstairs, to take care of whatever quotidian loose ends remain — and he does this with a wry sense of humor that is keeping us afloat through the kids’ early years.  These things — these things have become my life this past year.  They weight me down, but they ground me.  And as months turn into years, and time opens up, the wee little kids will grow into bona fide** people, and the wee little jobs will give way to something more substantial, in one way or another.  Let the spiral turn.  The more centered the axis is, the more stably it spins.

*This might actually tell you a lot about where I live.

**I saw someone render this as “bonnified” recently.  The cognitive dissonance of being glad people use the term, but horrified that they can mangle it so badly, is still hard to shake.

Explaining the Adjunct Crisis to a Six-Year-Old: A Labor Day Special

A couple of weeks ago, I took my son to the dentist to have his first two cavities filled.  Like me, my son has “super groovy” teeth.  It’s a fact.*  So naturally, because he is a six-year-old boy who loves sweets and is averse to brushing his teeth, he wound up with two cavities in his permanent molars.  I think the teeth came up from the gums with cavities already in them, too.  It might have something to do with his having Celiac Disease, since that can affect pretty much everything affected by nutritional issues — which is pretty much everything.  What I’m trying to get at here is that, despite having insurance, we have lots of medical debt. 

My son is a fairly anxious kid — normal, but on the anxious side about several things.  Our dentist has noticed, and doesn’t think he’s the man to drill and fill the cavities.  He sent us to a pediatric dentist, who can give my son one kind of sedative or another, and who takes our insurance — but also charges $130 for the initial consultation, and warns patients that insurance won’t cover it.  So I spoke with the office staff about this, because I don’t have the money for it right now.  And they told me, in essence, that they’re not very flexible about it, but that I should talk with Laura and work out a payment plan.

Okay!  So the day arrives, and I foul up the baby’s naptime, and I take my son out of school, and we drive longer than I’d like, and fill out pages and pages of forms in the office, because their computers are down, so the ones I filled out online are inaccessible.  And we wait a fair amount of time, then go back to wait some more.  And when the hygienist, or whoever she is, asks us if we have any questions for her while we’re waiting, I ask about setting up the payment plan…only to find out that, after all, no, they won’t set up a payment plan for an initial consult.  They’ll do that sort of thing if you’re already a patient, maybe, or with fees for something other than consults, or whatever.  But my son can’t even get in the door here, and we leave, having been jerked around a lot.  And I’m pissed, because I’ve already put this off for a couple of months, hoping that something would come through and I’d have the lousy $130 to get my kid’s teeth fixed before they rot out of his head — which is right where my head goes.  Perhaps my son gets his anxiety from me.  Suffice it to say, I’m a mix of proud, embarrassed, ashamed, angry — and nervous about my son’s long-term dental health.  Laura, the accounts manager, asks me if I have a credit card I can use, and I have to tell her that, no, all I have is a PhD and no job.  And at this point, I’m feeling righteously pissed, because the whole game is a set-up, and because in our country, now, we’re not expected to show our faces at something extravagant like the dentist if we’re poor.  I’m a novelty in this office; they have no idea what to make of me.  It’s beyond the shame poor people are supposed to feel over their lot; it’s invisibility, erasure. 

But this is where it gets fun: where I have to explain to my son why we’re leaving the dentist’s office without anyone’s looking in his mouth. 

“Why did they make us come all the way out there?” he asked, after I had grumbled, “Couldn’t just turn me away over the phone, no — they had to make me come all the way out there to do it.”

I think carefully, but quickly, about how I’m going to phrase this, and then improvise, because that’s what parents do: “Because, honey, a lot of people are so used to having money that they just can’t imagine that some people don’t.  Most people (and here I catch myself) — the people in that office are used to seeing people who have extra money in case they need to see the dentist, or if they don’t have extra money, they can borrow it quickly with their credit card.  But Mommy and Daddy can’t use credit cards anymore, because they spent too much money with them and owe too much money back.”  This is getting to be a lesson in save your money for Legos, don’t blow it on crap you don’t want.  “See, Mommy’s a teacher, and teaching is a very important job, right?  I teach college.  But right now, our country (how else can I name this?  It will have to do in the six-year-old version) has decided not to pay the people who teach college.  So Mommy and Daddy had to borrow money for a long time, and now we can’t borrow any more.  But we’ll figure out a way for you to see the dentist, don’t worry.”  And as I’m saying this, already, I’m putting the anger and shame behind me and figuring out alternatives, because that’s what parents do — try another way until the ways run out.

“Mommy?” my Sweet Boy pipes up from the back.


“Why does our country not pay its teachers?”

And you’d think this would be the hard question to answer.  But it’s not — it’s the easiest one in the world, and one even a six-year-old can understand.  It requires a six-year-old’s vocabulary to express it, too:

“Because our country is doing a wrong thing, Sweet Boy.  It’s a wrong thing not to pay teachers.  It’s a wrong thing to the teachers, and a wrong thing to the teachers’ kids.  It’s a wrong thing to the students, too, because their teacher has to work more jobs to get money, and can’t concentrate on teaching as well.

“Our country is doing a wrong thing.”

And it feels good to say that.  This is not my fault.  Our country — and all the individual organizations, universities, colleges, presidents, provosts, deans, hiring managers, trustees, yadda yadda yadda — is doing the wrong thing.  It’s as simple as that, and refreshing to strip it bare of the layers of rhetoric that complicate our understanding. 

This is a wrong thing.  Our country is doing a wrong thing.

*After explaining something about my night guard, my dentist explained to me why I was suddenly developing cavities and needed sealants after 20 years of pit-free teeth: my teeth are super groovy.  “See that?” the hygienist said.  “First he tells you you have a ‘weird movement,’ then he tells you you’re ‘super-groovy.’  We’re going to need a disco ball in here soon!”

Metaphors for Graduate School: a post-lette

Perhaps metaphor’s not the right word.  You’d think, being in literary studies, that I could be precise about that, but then, it’s literary studies.  And I think we’re in the territory where metaphor shades into conceit.  God help me if we’re in metonymy; that would be bad indeed.

One day, my son, still in diapers, was home from day care for a demi-holiday: you know the kind, where some people get the day off and others don’t.  So my husband was working, and I was home with the boy.  Only staying home was not the best plan that day, so we went to our favorite spot(s): the playground next to the coffee shop.  Ideal.  It was a beautiful day, azure skies, big puffy clouds, light breezes, low humidity.  Exactly the kind of day when you’d run into your academic colleagues inside the caffeineteria.  Which I did.

That day, I ran into my department’s director of graduate studies.  I did that thing, that grad-student thing, where you think about pretending not to see him, and you worry that you’re out having fun rather than slaving on your dissertation, or that you’re out in public with a child, where anyone can see you haven’t taken the academic vow of celibacy.  And then I thought to myself: fuck that.  Whether I make it anywhere in the field or not, I’m going to have to go through the world talking to supervisors and colleagues, whether they esteem me or not.

So I said hello, and chatted briefly about something ephemeral, while my son scaled the stack of rectangular restaurant high-chairs, and otherwise entertained himself.

When I say “otherwise entertained himself,” I mean that when I glanced over at him, he had stuck both hands down his diaper and was hard at work.

All at once, the whole moment coalesced in my mind into a beautiful gem, a dark crystal — a metaphor for my graduate career.  And I plastered a smile on my face while I pretended the whole thing wasn’t just some big wank, said goodbye, knelt down to my son, and told him that we don’t do that in public.

No.  We do literary criticism instead.

The University and its Double

I made myself a promise that I’d post here weekly (and hopefully not weakly).  I promptly broke it.  But a habit is still a habit once you pick it back up again.  Nonetheless it’s frustrating.  It’s also just where my life is at right now.  I have two young children at home, because you go to grad school during your childbearing years, and I’m at home with them all the time, because when you get out of grad school, you’re unemployed.  Or close enough.

When I got out of grad school, three (!) years ago, I was unemployed.  I’d made the decision not to go on the market before finishing, because I’d been in too long in the first place, and had too many hurdles to overcome.  I wanted to narrow my goals down to the one main goal, and a few maintenance goals, like regaining health after surgery and raising a three-year-old.  I knew if I worried about a job search at the same time, I’d use it to derail myself from the dissertation, and vice-versa.

So I graduated, and I had nothing much to do except try to normalize my sleep patterns and wean myself off a wicked sugar habit.  And, you know, dance every day, because HOLY PAUL I WAS DONE!  I had socked away a little loan money, and had taken on a couple of dissertation editing jobs to make a little cash.  (Speaking of which: if you have a dissertation you’d like someone to edit….I could use some cash.  And I kick ass at it.)  Otherwise, it was like summer vacation, back when that meant “summer vacation” — as opposed to now, when it just means my son is home from kindergarten and wants to give me daily lec-dems on his latest Lego creations (for real).

So there I was, dancing, not eating sugar, editing, taking melatonin, and my old boss called, asking what I was up to.  This sort of thing happens to me sometimes.  Not all the time — it sure ain’t happening right now, or not yet — but sometimes, when I need work, or direction, *POP*.  It just shows up and announces itself.  It was a prestigious position at an NEH funded project, and it looks dazzling on a resume.  The pay was less than the standard graduate student stipend, and they wouldn’t budge much on that, though I bargained for conference funding.  (I’m telling you, finishing gave me confidence, and being burned making peanuts for years made me more than willing to advocate.) 

So the job I posted about last time?  I wasn’t what they were looking for.  I also interviewed for an adjuncting position for a massive state U., and I’m first on the bench.  And I’ve sent in a few more adjuncting applications, and heard nary a peep back.

I’m waiting for the *POP*.  And — since this is an outside academia blog, I’ll tell you — I have been getting all kinds of signs that this is how the next avenue in my life will appear.  (Signs: as scientific as transubstantiation, but that’s okay, since the blog is not peer-reviewed.  And I’m in literary studies, where the woo is strong.) 

The hard thing about getting signs that something will happen is feeling powerless.  It seems as though I might as well be flushing my applications down the toilet, for all the good they’re doing me.  But I’m soldiering on, sending applications in, because serendipity needs *something* to work with, even if I don’t know what that thing might be. 

In the meantime?  I need to cultivate this writing habit, because again, serendipity needs something to work with, and I need to be a full person, inside *or* outside academia.  I need to write about the woo and the kids, the dancing and the melatonin, the NEA and the NEH, the university and its double.  (There: I’ve found something for myself to do, because this wikipedia page was clearly written by a teenager.)

The Interview Self

Anonymity.  Good or bad?

I am applying for jobs right now.  I’m so far out of money that I don’t really know where food is going to come from in a given month, though thanks to WIC, my parents, and my mother-in-law, it always comes.  Before long, though, if I don’t get a job, I’m probably going to have to declare bankruptcy, or just stop paying credit card bills.  So I’m really hoping I get this job I just interviewed for.

You know what happens when you really, really want something, right?  You get nervous. 

It was a phone interview, so it was odd, simply because there are no non-verbal cues to read other than silence.  On the other hand, I was able to have cheat sheets with answers to common interview questions right in front of me.  I should have brainstormed more particulars, but let me tell you, making those cheat sheets was the best thing I’ve ever done, interview-wise.  I’m going to keep them, review them, expand on them, and call them George.

The worst thing I’ve ever done, interview-wise, was interview while on painkillers a week after major surgery.  It wasn’t the best time to be interviewing, but I really wanted the job, so I interviewed for it anyway.

I didn’t get it.  Probably less because I was high, and more because I couldn’t get past the academic self and into the workplace self.  You know the academic self — the one that needs to be confident to the point of pomposity to pass an oral exam.  The one that’s so used to being infantilized as a student that it misreads the question about working with others and answers in a way that basically says “I’m not a kid!” rather than, “Yes, I work well with others.”

Ironically, the position I interviewed for today is in academic employment services for a national scholarly organization — so outside the university, sort of, but inside academia.  Let’s face it: academia is what I do and what I have done.  And I love it.  I just don’t like what the employment crisis is doing to it.  Academia is all over my resume, so my next step is going to be inside higher ed in some fashion.  And to be honest, what I’d like to do, my pie-in-the-sky dream, is to do something to address the crisis in higher ed.

That’s what I should have said this time, really.  I should have said, Yes, I understand what job seekers in academia are going through, and I know it’s absurd and gut-wrenching and their livelihoods depend on it.  I’m going through it too.  I understand the difficulty of pivoting from a faculty position (and that search) to an admin position (and that search).  I understand it so much, because I’m right in the middle of it now, and I blog about it at Outside Higher Ed on WordPress.

Because of course, this national scholarly organization that offers employment services to its members and member institutions is looking for ways to address the employment crisis in academia.  My showing an interest in the crisis would have been a good thing.

But I missed the hint until late, and never mentioned this blog.  The gods willing, I’ll get the chance to mention it in an in-person interview.

The thing is, working in academia has inculcated in me an instinct to hide and protect myself, rather than be proud of what I do, think, and write.  Anything critical shouldn’t be shown.  Which is patently bullshit, because what else is academia for, except to critique, and make cool nanomaterials and discover cures for cancer?  I mean, only one of those is an option for me.

These people wanted to know that I know what’s going on in the academic job market.  I do, guys, it’s just I’m still so far inside of it that I’m having trouble speaking to it on the spot.  For so long, you see, I wasn’t supposed to.  I was supposed to keep my head down, publish a lot, survive on thin air, work other jobs that would give me a broader range of experience — just in case — and not say a bad word about anyone or anything.

Besides being bad for your psyche, it turns out this is also bad for your ability to secure employment.  I’m not sure who it’s good for.  The people that don’t want you to rock the boat?  The people who are comfortable and want to stay that way?

I mentioned that I really want this job, but it turns out that I want it differently than I thought.  I want it for the opportunity to learn more about the employment crisis in academia, how it’s being handled, and what can be done.  I want it so that I can see if there’s anything I can do to address the problem.  That would be a good use of my PhD.

The Academic Self

Christ, is it hard once you turn forty to begin anything new.  It’s hard in your thirties, too — it’s a thing that sneaks up on you.  You’re like Bugs, thinking you’re taking a nice hot bath, when all of a sudden there’s carrots, onions, and celery in there with you.

But I digress, which is a feat, since I haven’t even started. We fogeys are wont to do that.

I spent about the last fifteen years in graduate school and in the thrall of academia.  Because of the adjunct crisis, I am now beginning to extricate myself from that thrall, and to reconfigure my relationship with work, literature, education, capitalism, feminism, family, writing, passion, and my self.

My poor self.  It thought it was the career path.  There’s a larger cultural message I internalized.

I had a realization tonight, while I was nursing my daughter back down to sleep: I internalize a lot of things.  The realization started when I was viewing XOJane‘s 116 “bikini bodies” — defined as any body that puts one on — and realizing, from the sheer onslaught, and from a comment about focusing on parts of the body, that we are each one whole, and dressing that whole, for whatever reason — to flatter it, to feel the air, to run comfortably, to impress — is what it’s about.  It’s not about fat.  Or skinny.  Or deflated baby bellies.  It’s about people, who all look rather distinct, which is what we like about them, when we’re honest, though we so rarely are.

Even with ourselves. If I were honest with myself when I was very young, around ten or twelve, I would have shrugged off what my neighbor said.  She’d asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Or perhaps she’d ask what I wanted to do.  Six of one, half dozen of the other, in America anyway.  I told her I liked math, and I wanted to do something with that.  She assumed I meant be an accountant, and told me I was too pretty to hide behind numbers.

I believed her.  I have a credulous streak, but let’s be honest: kids absorb this stuff.  We say it because we want them to believe it.  What I believed, though it boggled my mind exactly how one hid behind numbers, was that one could be too pretty to do so.  Message: you are female, you are your looks, what you do does not matter, what you do is only a reflection on how you look.  I didn’t understand, at the time, that I believed that.  I just thought: Right, so math is not the right thing to do.

Had I really wanted to do math, I’m sure in my teen years, I would have told that idea and that neighbor to fuck off, since I was telling pretty much the world to do that anyway. For all that she could be dramatic, my teen self knew a thing or too that I have since forgotten, or perhaps only mentally mislaid.

When I went into graduate school, I thought it was a career move.  It was; it’s just that it was a bad one.  At the time, I was also casting about for an internal compass.  I was having a crisis of values.  As the result of a rather difficult split from my family, I discovered that I had NO IDEA what was important to me or how I thought the world worked. All I knew was that I didn’t want to do it the way they did it, and I didn’t want to do it the opposite way in reaction, either: I wanted a genuine, solid foundation.

This is a crisis of faith.  It’s taken me the better part of twenty years, almost half my life, to put that together. It’s a wonder I graduated high school with that intellect.

Since I didn’t realize it was a crisis of faith, I didn’t start casting about for a religious practice until several years in, and I didn’t really commit to that until it became the linchpin in my psychotherapy.  It’s sort of the opposite of the Bugs thing: I was dipping my toes in very slowly to get used to the idea.

But this is not a blog about religion.  Or maybe it is.  I don’t know.  If this blog is outside academia, then what is it inside?  What is at its core?  That’s where I want to start — not with the answer, but with the question.

As I was saying.

Crisis of faith.  Starting graduate school.  Two great tastes that taste great together!  You got your peanut butter in my chocolate! Iced cold milk and an Oreo cookie!

Boy, do they not go well together.  Because academia encourages you to identify yourself with it.  Sure, some people warn you not to.  They are the exception that proves the rule. The whole force of the thing is to remake you.  It culminates in a ritual challenge, and if you make it through, they give you a new name.  They tell you you’ve got to have the fire in the belly to do it.  Then they tell you you should work as an adjunct for the love of the work, and not for money.


said Sallie Mae, and my landlord, and the rising cost of groceries, and my car that keeps breaking down.  And, and, and.  And the power of love is strong, but damned if it can’t actually get you to work on time. By the time you’re through graduate school, if you are not independently wealthy, you are broke, and so identified with academia that you can’t really imagine what else to do for work.

And that’s just to look at the thing from a personal perspective.  What does it say about our culture that we train people to learn and research and teach, and then tell them we don’t want them to do that?  Because that’s what we’re doing when we won’t pay them something they can live on.  What is says about our culture is that we are stupid, and we love stupidity.  We don’t want our teachers to teach; we don’t want our researchers to find things out, and we don’t want our students to learn.  Second perhaps only to the opposable thumb, the human brain is what enables us to adapt and thrive.  Apparently we don’t give a shit about doing that any longer.  Because capitalism.

Ironically, what might be my saving grace here is making the degree actually about myself. By that I mean, understanding graduate school not as a career move, but as something that I did, something that I learned from, something that changed me and I internalized — and something I moved on from.  In one way or another, I’m back to the project of establishing a base for my self, and I’m moving on.  I have two criteria, I think: that I need to find a livelihood, and that I would like to actually “use” my PhD in a way that makes an actual contribution to human society. Because I didn’t do this for nothing.

My immediate goal is the livelihood thing.

I want to use this blog, for now, as a place to meditate further on what it means to be trained as a PhD, with skills and knowledge useful for the betterment of humankind, and then be locked out of making that your livelihood.  Once I have employment, what resources will I have left over to make a contribution? How far outside of academia do I want to go? Will I actually throw my hat in the ring one more time, or will I give it up entirely as a bad boyfriend?

This blog is my way of writing not about things ending, but things starting.  May it be so.