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.
[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.