The doctor’s visit yesterday went great (SchuFetus is now approaching 16 weeks and going strong), and I had way too much fun at the expense of the German “newspaper” Bild (which itself had too much fun at the expense of Angela Merkel’s tunic). AND, and, and after a first-trimester “hiatus” — which consisted of me lolling about on the couch, alternately wondering if someone can die from excessive feeling-nauseated and picking hormonally-imbalanced Internet fights (My dad: Do you think your increased hormones have put you in a bad mood sometimes? Me: WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?) — I have returned to spin class and the gym in general, and thus I may begin to look pregnant soon, instead of just hugely bloated like I have been.
So, what better way to celebrate all that fun than to read some Slate comments? I thought so. I love writing book reviews for the Slate Book Review, because it allows me to use the part of my brain I busted my ass to develop in grad school and in the classroom — the part that can read things carefully and be incisive — for a medium that people will actually read.
I never volunteer to review a book I don’t think I’ll like, because I know firsthand how much work goes into writing a book, and crushing the spirit of a writer is not on my agenda anytime soon. I won’t be dishonest about a book, but I also won’t go out of my way to be scathing. Luckily, in the case of Julie Schumacher’s delectable new academic-satire romp of a novel, Dear Committee Members, there was no moral dilemma for me, as I really enjoyed the book, and really enjoyed writing the review.
Anyway, I figured what with the healthy fetus and all, I was riding a little too high on life, so why not read some nice Slate comments to bring me down to Earth? (I shouldn’t do this on the best of days, but I DEFINITELY shouldn’t be doing this with a fetus on board. I know this. I know this! I shouldn’t be eating fucking cupcakes either, but THINGS HAPPEN.)
Anyway double-anyway. I wanted to see if Slate readers were as enchanted as I was by Schumacher’s novel. Many were! But then there was this guy. And thus, I bring back (even though I said I wouldn’t, and with apologies to SchuFetus…) Fuckin’ With Trolls:
And here we have a review written by a failed academic. Listen, Dr. Schuman, stop wasting your time submitting your weak essays to Slate and turn to publishing path-breaking articles and books based on your original research. You’ll begin making a real contribution to knowledge in your field and be on your way to becoming a successful full-time faculty member. I guarantee you’ll be far happier for it.
So, when I say “(some) academics are real jerks,” this is what I mean. The reason that I have a lot of trouble coming to the full-throated defense of academia is that it contains people who say things like this, which is intentionally cruel in many ways at once, and also boasts several factual errors. Yes, I am a “failed academic,” great. But guess what? My status as a failed academic, first of all, had nothing to do with that book review, other than the fact that because I spent ten years in academia, I have experience with its instincts and their vicissitudes.
And second of all, there is nothing I can do about my academic failure. It sure as shit wasn’t for lack of “path-breaking” research, of which I wrote a-plenty (and my trolls are always like, Why does Rebecca Schuman keep mentioning her publishing success? To which I say, I wish I didn’t have to, but when I don’t, people say ‘You just failed because you couldn’t publish anything,’ ad infinitum).
Anyway. I wrote “Thesis Hatement” when I realized there would always and forever be nothing I could do about my academic failure, because…. German. Studies. Is. Dying. There. Is. No. Field. It. Is. A. Landscape. Of. Charred. Carcasses. There are like five — five — tenure-track jobs per year for which I am even remotely qualified. The odds are not, and never will be, in my favor, and unlike in the Hunger Games my bravery and stick-to-it-iveness will not mean dick.
All right, on to the second excellent point here. My weak essays get me good human earth money from Slate, and result in things like me getting to go on the Leonard Lopate show, and be in IQ2 debates in New York (and thus get trips to glamorous NY), and speak at alt-ac conferences at Penn State (and thus get trips to even-more-glamorous State College). My weak essays are my job — my remunerative, rewarding job — and so calling them a “waste of time” is laughable at best.
Do you know what was, on the other hand, a waste of time? Writing a slew of meticulously-researched academic articles and a book, none of which will ever make me a “successful full-time faculty member” anywhere. Do you know what else was a waste of time? Devoting my entire life and the all-but-last of my childbearing years to a career that doesn’t exist. (Luckily, despite my “advanced age,” I apparently have the fertility of a high-schooler who signed and then broke an abstinence pledge.)
And here’s the final thing, troll: I already spent two years as a full-time faculty member, at The Ohio State University, one of the best schools in the nation, and it was by far the worst period of my entire life. I contemplated suicide during that time. I thought I would never be happy again. My husband and I refer to that that time “the lost years.”
To this day, just thinking about Columbus makes me depressed (which is a shame, since it’s a very nice town). I stressed myself into actual full-blown old-person-style pneumonia during those years. I had few if any friends, and I spent most of my time living in abject terror — like, full-on terror — of what my colleagues thought of me, and if I’d ever live up to the expectations of this insane high-profile postdoc (spoiler alert: I couldn’t). So, asshole who has never met me and doesn’t know me and knows nothing about me: I guarantee you that your “guarantee” that if only I go back to busting my ass writing unpaid articles and books in the “service” of a “career” I will never get is one hundred percent bullshit, and I weep that my future child has to come into a world where people like you exist and have Internet access.
And for now, I also guarantee you that I am much, much happier submitting my weak essays to a place that values and likes them, and reaching a readership that I (with obvious and minor exceptions) value and like.