A PhTSD Flare-Up, or: Why I Won’t Be at the GSA Next Week

Today started out auspiciously, as every Friday now does after my return to St. Louis: my husband and I went food shopping. I know that sounds innocuous and like it doesn’t mean anything or matter, but it matters to me.

Since we moved in together for the first time (summer 2008), we have gone food shopping together. Every single week (or, in Europe and Costa Rica, every other day).


[In Costa Rica in 2010, growing ever less-enthralled with beans]

We are almost always the only couple in the store.

I know people have reasons for delegating the shopping to one family member (usually the woman), but I still think it’s a shame. Delegating this “chore” also means that you miss out on a low-key opportunity for bonding and fun. I love shopping together. It’s us planning our week together. It’s us giggling as I attempt, for the seventeenth week in a row, to purchase an inedible house decoration called a “cinnamon broom,” even though it warns RIGHT ON THE PACKAGE that it will leave oily stains on everything it touches. We don’t make that much money (although St. Louis is cheap), but we spend a major portion of our household income on groceries, because we like to treat what we put in our bodies with utmost care and consideration—as evident in the time we bought a one-pound block of dark chocolate, and then I left town for two days and came back and it was gone.

What I really mean is: I usually love Fridays, for they are, aside from some light coaching work, my day off (I still work the weekend, usually).

Friday: Shopping. Spin class. Perhaps, at times, a surreptitious Frappuccino (obviously the best kind of Frappuccino). Sometimes I skip lunch altogether and totter up from the gym to the movie theater (both are located in a hotel down the street from me—weird/amazing, right?), and take in an afternoon matinee by myself with a “lunch” of popcorn.

2013-06-18 16.41.53

[At THIS IS THE END, literally the only one in the theater.]

Anyway: why, today, when my husband wheeled his bike and himself in the door from his afternoon at work (where he had to spend a not-insubstantial amount of time dealing with bureaucrats to get me added to his health insurance plan) was I very clearly in a pissy mood, that only compounded as we made it through our fun dinner we prepared together from food we lovingly purchased today? Why, indeed, was I in such a pissy mood that my husband gently suggested I go into the other room and watch yesterday’s Project Runway, instead of continuing to regale him with what was quite obviously a torrent of misplaced anguish?

Our new rule is that when I want to talk about something self-absorbed, unhealthy or otherwise annoying, I have to express it in haiku form to minimize melancholia. While I was watching Zac Posen tear apart Justin’s (to me) very moving and beautiful gown (the sign for “I love you!” sob), it came to me. And so here I shall reproduce the haiku I just pranced into the kitchen to recite:

G S A next week
riding bike instead, hooray!
still feel traumatized

He said, “I had a feeling.” For those of you who don’t live inside my mind like he does, I’ll unpack: next weekend is the annual conference of the German Studies Association, where I was slated (still am) to respond to a panel, a duty I agreed to about a year ago when I still thought I was somewhat long for that world. The GSA is where Germanists go to schmooze, preen, laugh, catch up, network, preen more, terrify each other, see old friends, make new friends, wear slightly less preposterous clothing than at MLA, and, if they are on the market, Put Themselves On Display.

As far as academic conferences go, the GSA is fairly collegial, the panels are often interesting, the Q and A afterwards often productive, and it is often absent the misery-drenched flopsweat of the MLA, simply because there is no job interviewing there. Still, it’s a Professional Event, for us really The Professional Event, and thus carries with it definite whiffs of a pissing contest.

I debated all summer whether to go.

NAY: I’m not on the market anymore (or, rather, the “market,” now up to 15 jobs). I’m not actively researching anymore. I am, as Jen Polk has kindly counseled me today, in the “maintenance” portion of the cultivation of my post-academic identity, and as such should probably stay away from places, people and things that might trigger past feelings of worthlessness, guilt, fear and shame.

YEA: I am one proud motherfucker, and I can’t stand the idea that anyone in my discipline might think I am too chicken to face a bunch of people willingly taking part in a system I have spent much of the last year calling out as toxic.

I was all set to shell out $1000 of my own money (no research funds: NAY) to put myself through two days of events that would undoubtedly serve to fill me with lingering feelings that I simply legitimately failed in a working meritocracy. Or, godforbid, I might actually sit in on a panel that was so cool that I got interested in research again (it’s been known to happen—YEA).

But then, outside circumstances intervened: Pedal the Cause, the cancer ride I’m taking part in, is the same day. No contest. Pedal the Cause in a landslide. The moderator will read my response in absentia. Wouldn’t miss Pedal the Cause for the world. Too many people in my life are battling cancer right now not to do what I can to help. If I actually had the $1000 it would have cost me to go to GSA, I should have donated it to my own ride (as it stands, you can still donate if you want).

So I got out of the GSA with an unassailable excuse, but I am still quite obviously having a PhTSD flare-up. Will I MISS ANYTHING there? Will people be TALKING ABOUT ME? (“NO, for chrissake”—my husband). I spent a lot of time in my research talking about things like “substantive nothing,” which I’ve mulled over as both a Heideggerian concept and a Wittgenstinian (guess which one I like better?): an absence that means more in absence than any presence could mean. Or, that willfully refuses to mean, but that refusal still somehow has more significance than something actually significant. Or, that stubbornly refuses to signify, but in its lack of—you get it.

What I mean is: my absence at this year’s GSA is very present to me (even if it won’t be to anyone else), and even in its nothingness, it means something to me. It means that I’ve really, truly Left The Field, a horrifying phrase deployed by academics with pity, scorn and spite—pity, scorn and spite I can’t help but turn back upon myself.



7 thoughts on “A PhTSD Flare-Up, or: Why I Won’t Be at the GSA Next Week

  1. I love grocery shopping as a couple too, and I love that you took a selfie in a matinee to show off your awesome hair on the internets!

    Perhaps during the week, you could check in with a friend who is there and ask him/her to tell you about the boring panels, awkward interactions, and all the stuff you are NOT missing out on. Not sure if that would make it better or worse, but hearing, “oh man, conferences are just so much TROUBLE” helps me when I’m in that position (generally because of money).


  2. The bike ride sounds as if it will be much better for you. But I get what you’re saying.
    Since you’re now teaching, can you find some teaching conferences to attend? Make new professional friends who are going the direction you want to go, instead of pulling you off course?


  3. This post gave me some flashbacks of going to the GSA two years ago, right after I started my new career in private school teaching. I still went (despite having to foot the bill myself) because I had put a lot of work into organizing a panel where I was presenting my new, post-diss research. As cool as that panel was, it did not make up for the numerous times I had to explain my lack of university affiliation, and how my job situation suddenly made me suspect somehow. I haven’t been back since, and don’t really see myself ever doing it again. It’s no great loss to miss it, and it sounds like you had much better things to do this weekend, anyway. I hope your cycling event was good.


  4. This is not what you want to hear, but: GSA will still be there if you ever want to go to it again. I swear that part of the whole problem is people giving all these things more meaning than they have.


  5. Z is right: and one of the reasons it’s so hard to be an indie scholar is because of the ATTITUDE of those within the academy. If it weren’t for the sneering, condescending and affected treatment of others it would bode better for many of us.

    I’ve sputtered out of academia over the last couple of years, unlike you, who left swiftly with one slam of the door. My departure included a few private, dramatic door slams and sheepishly going back again–”i’ll try one more year” baloney. But what’s made it final this year, truly, is to have loudly and proudly (yet traumatized, as you know at this point)announce it to everyone in the academe, as opposed to quietly confiding in one or two people about my “plans to leave.” Recently I got an email from a tenured professor about an article I wrote a few years ago. We exchanged a few scholarly messages and, in the end, he asked if I’d noticed/applied for X job ad for my field. I said that I knew about the job but that I was no longer applying to academic positions and was seeking other professional opportunities. I loved saying that–it felt incredibly brazen, rebellious and, initially, scary. It also felt so final and sad. Yet there it was–out in the open.

    On the flip side, the amazing part has been, as you illustrate through your fundraising event, the ability to want to and to actually prioritize new dimensions of life–I’m volunteering, joined a book club, a congregation. Because I’m also working on my manuscript I’m still a bit nervous about the academy but I decided that if I get too much BS from anybody then I’ll go trade academic or, if the apocalypse ensues, I’ll even self publish (well, the latter is really a last–resort–if–the–earth–is–scorched–which–is–not–really–going–to–happen option but allowing myself to even THINK it relieved me from a paralyzing inability to write….long live the F–IT mentality). As you’ve said about yourself– when you have nothing to lose you lose all inhibitions and basically do whatever you want. Perfectly viable options open up that one would have never considered earlier. As you say: I wish the 2008/9 me would have known about 2013 me.

    Last year I also stopped paying academic/discipline associational dues. I no longer needed them and, frankly, I never felt I got my money’s worth (especially since wiki academic and h-net started publishing the overwhelming majority of job listings). I did pay for one smaller association 2012–2013 because I presented a paper back in May at their conference (like you, bc of a commitment I’d made a year earlier).

    Professornever wrote a terrific post about the fear of leaving academia, fear of losing “that intellectual edge.” I found her essay particularly reassuring. Will I be less razor -sharp of a thinker in five years? I think that’s inevitable insofar as far as my field is concerned and I still have to wrestle with my ego in that regard. I just don’t think I’ll muster enough interest/masochism to keep up. Or, perhaps, maybe I won’t lose that much edge. I read so much bland, repetitive stuff in my ten years in the academy and can point to relatively few articles and books (by academic number standards that is) that have truly been seminal, intellectual game–changers for me.

    On another positive note, I also relish the possibility of doing my own archival research and writing without having to give so much attention to others’ work beyond what is relevant and responsible. In other words, I relish the prospect of writing with a voice, for a broader audience and without having to kiss professional ass (and risk shitty reviews either pre or post publication for not including X or Y publications).

    I love to go to the public library and pick up excellent nonfiction written by non–academics, scientists, journalists, etc (or phds not in the academy) and not feel guilty about not reading some “de rigueur” dry, unpalatable book in my field by an average scholar with “high prestige.”

    Life..whoohoo! Having a real weekend. That I really, really do relish, and it helps me get over my traumatized flashbacks and still–active anger/resentments.

    I’ve heard many Catholics who leave the Church talk about how, even decades after distancing themselves from Catholicism, they find that their experiences as such still marks their life in significant ways–from the aesthetic to the trauma. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. I have a sneaking suspicion that this, to an extent, might also apply to us as academics. I hope not, though.


  6. PS–I quote Rebecca: “I am, as Jen Polk has kindly counseled me today, in the “maintenance” portion of the cultivation of my post-academic identity, and as such should probably stay away from places, people and things that might trigger past feelings of worthlessness, guilt, fear and shame.”

    Perfect advice. I needed to hear the following because I mistakenly think that I can be fine, gracious and even open-hearted in a detached kind of way to certain situations and people. Not true. And I had to make a decision about a tricky situation coming up this month. I was really on the fence about it. My answer now is: to avoid it.

    One should not try to “test” oneself either. I’ve made the mistake before. And guess what? Others’ schadenfreude is real and I’m not that removed from this academic world to have developed such a thick skin.

    I am S and I am a recovering Academic (I mean this very seriously. I am NOT making light/fun of AA).


    • Academia–being part of its structure, fully socialized into its values–is an addiction, and a disease, damn near as dangerous as alcoholism or drug dependency. It’s real, and we have no recovery organization. Good luck to you.


Hello. I "value" your comment. (No, really, I do!) Please don't be a dick, though.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s