Yesterday, I was taking a break from a nonstop parade of non-work festivities–yes, I took a day 100% off for my 37th birthday, and I drank a Frappuccino, and I ate a Cake Pop, and I got this spectacular manicure:
Also check out my titanium wedding ring! Got it on Etsy for $60!
—and here is another pornographic glamour shot of Bikedict Cumberbike, my new bike, so named because he has sleek, beautiful lines and is stunning in a cold, asexual way:
—Anyway, yesterday on a break from nonstop fun, I was checking my blog stats and I found a few clickthrus from the brand-new site of Carrie Lamanna, a very beautiful writer and English/Writing professor at Colorado State who is, to my immense delight, branching out into academic coaching. Her post “A Raw Spot On My Soul” is extraordinary, and not just because it quotes the most polarizing paragraph in the most polarizing article ever written by yours truly.
I got to thinking about why that paragraph has caused, as she puts it, some heads to explode: it is far and away the excerpt most often quoted by people attempting to show that I am an unstable piece of shit, from obnoxious, blinkered dipshits like Freddie DeBoer to people I actually respect like Tressie McMillan Cottom.
And then I got an email yesterday from one of my friends, who is a former colleague at OSU (one of the two who gave a shit when I got pneumonia). She had read yesterday’s post, and was writing to tell me she had no idea the extent of my misery there—which, first of all, awesome: I am better at holding in my Feels than I thought!
I go around assuming that I am an extremely, uncomfortably open book. “Rebecca has a very expressive face,” one of the gymnastics dads I grew up around used to say, and I would add that I have a very expressive piehole as well—SHUT YOUR PIEHOLE! my brother used to say, quite often, sometimes just abbreviated to PIEHOLE! and sometimes expanded to its own hardcore song, that went SHUT YOUR PIEHOLE SHUT YOUR PIEHOLE SHUT IT SHUT IT SHUT YOUR PIEHOLE, Offspring-style atonally.
So, I am quite proud that I managed to keep something to myself for once, but in emailing with my friend, she wrote something that I find very interesting, precisely because I’ve heard it (or rather read it) so much.
And it has to do with the aforementioned paragraph, which I will quote because I love quoting myself—or rather, because it was the climax of “Thesis Hatement,” and does resonate so much with academics, whether positively or otherwise:
So you won’t get a tenure-track job. Why should that stop you? You can cradle your new knowledge close, and just go do something else. Great—are you ready to withstand the open scorn of everyone you know? During graduate school, you will be broken down and reconfigured in the image of the academy. By the time you finish—if you even do— you academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: you will no longer have any friends outside academia.)
My friend told me that she doesn’t feel like she has put her entire identity into her academic self, that, indeed, she believes she could be just as happy, if not happier, in some incarnation of “public intellectualism” (like Walter Benjamin–because that worked out so well for him, ha. But srsly I see what she means).
I believe that she really, sincerely believes this, as do I believe the sincerity of sentiment from every single person who has insisted, in one form or another, Rebecca Schuman’s view of academia is pathetic and inaccurate, because this isn’t how I feel. I would be FINE doing something else! I have a ZILLION friends outside the Academy! And by the way, my academic work is SO IMPORTANT that I’d DO IT FOR FREE—not like I ever would have to though, ha ha ha ha ha ha.
I think it says a tremendous, tremendous amount that every single person who has said this is either a graduate student who has never been on the market (and thus doesn’t know what it feels like to fail on it), or tenure-track/tenured (and thus has succeeded on the market and doesn’t know what it feels like to fail on it), or otherwise heavily privileged by living in New York or somewhere else awesome (and thus doesn’t know what it feels like to get stuck in some godforsaken red-state college town with nothing other than the University, ninety-twelve jabillion frats and a Chipotle, and then fail on the market).
They have no idea whatsoever what it is like to have put years, sometimes a decade, of their lives into the Life of the Mind and not have that work validated—indeed, instead be excluded completely.
You can say all you want that you’d be fine just fine in another world—and you probably would, as I am now. But please try to be mindful of the legitimate mourning process that some people need, even if you don’t understand that need, precisely because you yourself have never had the experience of being impersonally and unceremoniously shut out of the Ivory Tower.
The people who say, over and over again, that it’s just not true that academic socialization can be total (or that if it is, it’s your own fault for some sort of moral failing) are all, every single one of them, coming from a position of privilege. So they literally do not know even a little bit what it is like to have placed one’s identity and self-worth into one’s academic self and then have that self rejected. They have no real idea how much of themselves they’ve put into academia because they are succeeding and haven’t had those selves questioned. I’m not talking about my friend anymore, I’m talking about all the fuckwits and dipshits, and even well-meaning academics, who have said this in the past six months, and about the people whose heads have exploded by reading a few sentences that are largely just reportage.
That is what is so interesting about Carrie’s post, because she is being really honest about the socialization that has made her feel like she has to stay even if she’s feeling conflicted.
One of the important things I’ve learned in my four years on the market is that you can’t know how important the work and the sacrifice was to you until nobody gives a fuck about it; you can’t know how badly you want the scholarly community to include you until nobody does.