Weird Colleges and Weird Students: PROVE ME WRONG

My piece today on the end of irreverent, creative, non-frat-party college fund has gotten a great response. Apparently the University of Chicago is not as uptight as I thought it was (though YOU ARE NO HAMPSHIRE, people, come on).

This has got me thinking: Is your college still weird? Are you weird? I WANT TO BE PROVEN WRONG so, so desperately badly. For the children. For the future.

So I hereby launch the Weird College Fun Project. Please send me any proof you have that what you are doing in college, right now, is weird, irreverent, subversive, mostly rule-free, but IN NO WAY CONNECTED TO YOUR SCHOOLWORK OR CV, and in no way heavily dependent upon alcohol or drugs. Pics, testimonials, links–anything. I will post the weirdest ones as they come in, with as much attribution as you’ll allow.

NOW GET WEIRD.

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Twofer-tastic

Today I’ve got two articles up at Slate, and one of them, on the Digital Humanities, contains actual reporting and very little sass! WHA? Yessssssss it’s true, Rebecca Schuman is capable of being a professional journalist.

The other one is full of sass–it excoriates helicopter parenting and laments the subsequent the loss of sass, irreverence and weirdness at college. In it I also manage come off as a Caitlin-Flanagan-level square who tsktsks about binge drinking (although I do also have a link that makes fun of Caitlin Flanagan).

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Buck Up, Li’l Campers, Part Nine Dillion

I keep thinking back to a year ago, and the furious mixture of emotions that went with leaving academia in such a public way. I have few regrets about anything (really!)–I only wish that now-me had been around to help then-me through some of the darker times, so that then-me wouldn’t have wasted any time on the then-couch (which is also the now-couch! TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE!), wishing I would “die in an accident.”

So it really is literally the least I can do to offer the odd listcicle to the latest round of kickee-outees, for whom I feel only compassion and empathy. I remember, still, about a year ago, when this one asshole on Twitter*–let’s call him the conservative caricature of Al Gore of alt-academia–got into it with me and was like “I INVENTED POST-AC” and all like, “You should have known” (how I was going to feel eight years into the future when I started graduate school), and, most memorably: “Wait until you’ve been out for awhile and someone writes something like this and see how you feel.”

Well, I’ve been out for awhile, and many someones have been writing many somethings like this, and I feel, as I thought I would…wait for it, nothing but compassion and empathy.

There is nothing–and I mean nothing–that can come of mocking someone for being earnest about wanting to be an academic, and being so damned earnest they ignored all the warning signs, and then having that dream die. I’m all for screaming in people’s faces what their futures will (probably) be like before it’s too late, but once it is too late, and once their hearts and spirits are broken, there is nothing to do but offer virtual hugs–and the odd listcicle, as I said.

So, without further ado:

Ten Buck-Up Reminders During Early Academic Recovery

  1. That eminent senior scholar who sneeringly insisted that you simply did not apply broadly enough, or that there was something wrong with your application materials–you know, the one who’s lived in the same subsidized dream house in Boston since 1972? His children hate him because he always ditched every family event for his “important” research. Which reminds me…
  2. You know that “important” research of his? Three people–at most–have ever read it, ever (of course, the same will be true of all of your articles–but hey).
  3. Many tenure-track–and tenured–people, even those at “great” schools in “desirable” locations, are staggeringly miserable. In fact, the reason they are currently sneering that “academia isn’t for everybody” is to make themselves feel better than someone, and thus feel better at all.
  4. Nobody outside of academia understands, knows or cares about the things academics are snobby about. Like one of my commenters nicely pointed out–most people believe an earned doctorate and experience teaching college are universally laudable achievements. Of course, they also hold professors under suspicion, which reminds me…
  5. Not being an academic means you never have to answer “college professor” when someone asks what you do for a living, which means you also never have to endure THEM responding with, “oo-OO-ooh.” Which means, “I bet you think you’re SO smart, and this makes me distrust you, Fancypants!” I thought I’d be proud to tell people I was a professor, but it just made me feel judged.
  6. Speaking of which, in the real world, it is considered not only socially acceptable, but downright welcome, to care about your clothing and grooming habits (I mean year-round, not just for four days at a conference). If you enjoy making your own clothes, nobody will ever regard you with suspicion because you dare have a hobby that does not include alcoholism or belittling.
  7. Speaking of those four miserable days at a conference: Enjoy getting your Christmas back, for real, no existential despair, hair-pulling nerves, interview prep or last-minute $1000 plane tickets. Ever, ever again.
  8. Ever wanted a job where your years of experience counted in your favor, rather than against you? Welcome to every single job in the world besides academia and the sex trade.
  9. It takes about three weeks after the veil is lifted to recognize the extent of your insane paranoia as an academic. No, department chairs will not pore over the comments on this blog, looking for people to blackball. No, search committees will not embark upon sleuthing missions based on a few personal characteristics revealed via this blog. The extent to which chickenshittery, just inexplicable batshit terror, defines the culture of academia–and the extent to which this is entirely unnecessary–will become manifest to you immediately, and you will fall over laughing about how much of your life you lived in the shadow of some mythical search committee somewhere.
  10. Any push-back from established academics about how your traumatic experiences on the job market are somehow your fault says far, far more about the academic establishment than it does about you.

Most importantly of all, though, what I hope you remember is that, as hackneyed as it is, time will help. It will. I know this. You have watched this happen before your eyes if you’ve been reading this blog for the past year.

You will feel better six months from now than you do now. You will feel even better six months from then. It might take years to repair what academia has broken, but it can be repaired. It can, and it will. Since this worked so well before, I’d like to invite contributions again–those of you just coming out or about to leave: What are the hardest things you’re hearing, from yourself or others? Those of you who have lived to tell the tale: What are your words of buck-uppery in this time of need?

*I just looked this guy up again, and I now have more Twitter followers than he does. SORRY THAT IS PETTY.

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To Nein I say JA!

When I was in New York for the IQ2 debate, I also had the pleasure of having breakfast with the one and only Eric Jarosinski, aka @NeinQuarterly. I lived to tell the tale, and to write about it for Slate.

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Recovering Academics: You’re In Terrible Peril!

The Recovering Academic’s journey is sort of like the hero’s journey, if the hero’s journey were a big fat boring downer: the “call to action” is when the job market doesn’t work out for the squillionth year in a row; the Abyss is the months (sometimes years) of purposeless wandering in the darkness, which is metaphorical, unless you live in St. Louis today, in which case it’s literal because today looks like Noah is going to come true (good thing this apartment has enough square cubits, and we don’t really talk to anyone else anyway–if the End of Days happened on a weekend, it would be at least Tuesday before I noticed).

Anyway. All’s I’m saying is that if you decide (or it’s decided for you) to leave academia, you unwittingly become the hero of the world’s least interesting epic, and as such there are Scyllas and Charybdises you will probably encounter along the way. Now that I have had about a year to heal and get my shit together, I thought I would share three of these dangers with those who are just tumbling out of the system now, and whose wounds may be fresh and gaping.

(AND ALSO I just spelled both Scylla and Charybdis right on the first try! Still got it.)

  1. Speaking of “still got it:” BEWARE of the constant need to prove to everyone how smart you still are even though you are not a professor (anymore)! Double-beware this if you are female or a person of color and it is automatically assumed that you are not smart. Triple-beware this if you make your failure in the academy public in any way and/or are honest about it. There will be some people who don’t think you are smart. BUT. There will be far fewer of these people than you think. I spent way too long obsessing over the accusations of FULLPROFs and other nasty Internetters, poring through message boards just to see written out the actualization of my worst fear: I am not smart. As my youth has left me and I have little to recommend me for the vast majority of the patriarchy, I’ve clung instead to acceptance with smart people and/or “superiority” over dummies (a problematic concept in and of itself!). I’ve been a rather persistent barnacle on the S.S. Intellect–but what I didn’t realize the whole time is that I am actually captain of the S.S. My Own Intellect, and we all are. Trust me, my friends. Even if you get triple-tenured all the way to Endowed Full Chair of Pedantry and Never Being In Your Office, there are going to be people who think you’re a dumbshit. Even if you drop out of school in the eighth grade, there will be people who do realize you’re smart. My ex-boyfriend-and now regular-friend Jacob (who plays Tim on Justified–check the season finale if you haven’t yet!) never went to college, and he’s hands-down smarter than 3/4 of the tenure-track PhDs I know.  And so I’ll leave this warning with advice I recently got from him before I did that debate last week (which was my first video-media appearance; good thing I can’t lose that goddamned pregnancy weight no matter what I do). He said: Don’t obsess over being funny and smart because your words will come out tortured and awkward. Just be direct and clear, and your wit and intelligence will manifest themselves naturally. Some of the most useful advice I’ve ever gotten–and from a high-school graduate!
  2. Speaking of friends: BEWARE that some of your “friends” will disappear, and try your level best not to take it personally. When you are finally able to leave academia, you might quickly realize that it can be quite cult-like in its structure and behavior. Have you ever told a Scientologist, or a devotee of the Upright Citizens Brigade, or a Landmark/WINGs member, or someone in AA, that he’s in a cult? How’d that go? Listen: People in cults do not view themselves as cultified. They do not view themselves as brainwashed or that their identities have been subsumed. They simply see themselves as valuing something that you do not happen to value (anymore). And, I hate to tell you this (and I’ve learned it the hard way)–it’s their choice to devote their lives to a structural identity that may or may not hurt them more than it helps them. It’s highly self-centered of you (by which I mean “me”) to think that their single friendship with you, an outsider who no longer appreciates or understands what they do, is more important than the structural relationship to which they have devoted their lives. Also–and here’s something it took a long time to learn, and I wouldn’t know without (irony!) the principles of AA (I have some close friends who are Friends of Bill W): Sometimes cults help people more than they hurt. Some of the dearest people in my life are (wait for it): UCB, Landmark, WINGs, AA…and, yes, academics. Those structures have saved as many lives as they’ve ruined. For some people, the Life of the Mind is simply going to be more worthwhile than keeping a friendship with you and your “negativity” or whatever cult-speak they’ll use to describe you. Wish those people well, and stay in kind but detached touch.
  3. And finally, speaking of staying in touch BEWARE the triggers that can jettison your recovery, especially on social media. If you’ve got Facebook friends posting humblebrags about their new TT jobs or life on the TT, just unfollow those motherfuckers for awhile. The second it’s not in your face anymore, you will be able to stop thinking about it so much, and eventually you will realize that the relative “success” of your homies has literally fuck-all to do with your relative “failure.” (And also: like I joked to Karen Kelsky yesterday on Twittarz, if a TT job in the middle of fuck-all nowhere, teaching 4/4, being the entire Your Discipline Department, dealing with colleagues that are somehow both toxic and smarmy, living far, far away from everyone who still wants to talk to you, and maybe not even getting tenure at all in the end is “success,” well then other people can have it!) If there is a particular disciplinary conference that you will be not attending for the first time since grad school, go through your social media and meticulously hide or unfollow everyone who will be there, if you think it will be psychically difficult to see all of their sycophantic posts about it. Same goes for all of the bitching about school starting in the fall, and finals anytime there are finals, if you are not going to be teaching anymore but wish you were. Just insulate yourself from it. Re-follow all of your Republican relatives, and entertain yourself with the knowledge that the old ones rely more on Barack Obama’s Muslim Socialist God-Hating than anyone else you know (for seerz: I have a relative whose only source of income is Social Security, who lives in Section-8 housing and whose numerous health issues are covered by Medicare, and s/he “hates” President Obama “because he’s a Socialist.” Although in fairness, I’m pretty sure that at his/her church, “Socialist” means “Black.”) You may, alas, only learn about your triggers the hard way, but as soon as you know them, take it upon yourself to insulate yourself.

All right, that’s my initial list, but now I’d like to open it up for discussion (and I’ve relaxed the commenting rules again so that I don’t moderate all comments anymore, FOR NOW). If you’re a seasoned recovering academic, what were some of your biggest pitfalls in your first year, and how did you deal with them? If you’re just coming off now, what are you most upset/worried/distraught about?

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