Monday, December 26, 2005

How badly do you want it?

In real life, I would never refer to myself in the third person. On this blog, I sometimes do.

And now I can feel a second-person address coming on. As in, "YelloCello, when are you going to kick your own butt? You talk about making your writing a priority, but you continue to let a million little things interfere. You agonize about what having a baby is going to do to your already tenuous academic career, but haven't yet taken full advantage of these dwindling, teaching-free months in which the kid is still in utero."

I spent about two weeks this past September researching an alternative career. One that would give me more job options and—what novelty!—a regular paycheck. So why aren't I already running in that direction?

It's the writing. I'd miss the writing. And a whole lot else about academia, too.

But let's face it. There aren't many opportunities here. The strikes against me are
1) My lack of a really fine graduate pedigree (or at least one that would be recognized in this region);
2) My apparent inability to be more than competent and pleasant in an on-campus interview, and
3) My penchant for slaving away on impressively administered projects for which other, more senior academics blithely take credit. (And my persistent naïveté in feeling surprised when they do.)

1) Tenacity (Or inertia. Or gullibility. I'm not sure which of these has kept me in the game this long.)
2) Publishers profess to like the way I write. I also love writing. (So why do I dedicate myself to it so infrequently?)
3) I really do work hard as a teacher, and consistently get positive results. (But I also get nervous and vaguely unhappy when students tell me I've inspired them to go to graduate school. And much as I despise the devaluation of teaching in much of higher ed — i.e., the "star" professors teach the least — I also recognize that I have internalized that screwed up hierarchy.)

It takes a certain type of selfishness to achieve a certain type of success in this business.

It also may require one to become kind of boring. And to give up a lot of things (interesting hobbies, frequent contact with family) that are, to me, central to what it means to live meaningfully.

Maybe I'm making excuses? Yeah, I've already heard the arguments about how that all can happen later, after tenure. And, yeah, I know there are energetic people out there who will maintain that an academic life has only magnified life's possibilities.

Maybe, if I could shake the hierarchy out of my head, it would be okay to slog along as a fringe academic. (And how "fringy" can I be, when I meet more people like me all the time?) Isn't it all worth it, to live a life that's built on reading, thinking, and curiosity? Isn't my cynicism just a product of the objections of well-meaning, but uncomprehending family members? or dominant, capitalist conceptions of what it means to be successful and productive"?

Or of my own lack of faith in myself? Or of my own certainty that I am undeserving of better?

I'm trying to self-motivate. Instead, I'm wasting time in the same mental circles I've traced ten thousand times before.

So I'm calling for a suspension of worry. For now. Starting now.

No thinking about anything save for the immediate goal at hand: the manuscript which may or may not broaden my options, but which certainly sickens me the longer it unfinished.

The manuscript which, paradoxically, has nourished me each time I've forced myself to return to it.

One goal for tomorrow: 8 hours in my office. 8 to 12, 1 to 5. No distractions. No excuses.

A tall order for this sleepy pregnant chick. YelloCello will report tomorrow on her progress.


At 3:59 AM, Blogger bitchphd said...

I remember everything you are describing.

All I can offer is that, for me, having the baby gave me more focus and discipline on the writing ("These two hours are the only writing time I have: go!"); that the job market worked out, much to my surprise; that talking myself through the status hierarchy and getting to the point where I really was okay with a different kind of job was worth millions of dollars of therapy; that I found out that getting a job wasn't the be-all and end-all, and that discovery was wrenching and painful; and that now, four years on, I am finally getting to a point where all of this seems like, just maybe, it will / is falling in place.

I think that sums up as "it'll be okay, but try to just take it one step at a time."

At 9:07 AM, Blogger What Now? said...

As bitchphd said, I remember this all so well. And, as she said, finally getting the job then turned out not to be the be all and end all, which was itself disappointing after all the time I had spent struggling for it.

I have no good advice, but I'm happy to be a listener and companion on the journey.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger timna said...

You've just written a good post for my state of mind! I esp liked the line about "inability to be more than competent and pleasant in an on-campus interview"...!

Good luck with that manuscript. I'm really glad that it nourishes you.

(the comments above suggest that the job is not the be all and end all, but that's so hard to accept without the affirmation of the job offer, so I know of what you write).

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh, yeah! One of the things I hate about being on the market is that it's so hard to focus on the now. because you have to worry about the future. And I juist realized I have to work harder at my now job, because it's possibly also a future job.


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