Foreshadowing

I am thinking about jumping into the Wayback Machine. No, not the Internet Archive, more like the WABAC Machine from Rocky & Bullwinkle. “Jumping into the Wayback Machine” is what I call “using the Internet to reconnect with people from your past.” In any case, I’ve been thinking about an ex boyfriend. He is much younger than me, and I have no (nor ever had any) illusions about a future for us. So I am not looking to rekindle anything. But I am curious how he’s doing, and I don’t like how we left things.

Also, I’m bored.

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Gee, Mr. Peabody, what will happen if I message my ex? Should I wait until I’m drunk & alone on Christmas eve, or just get it out of the way now?

The Wayback Machine is a funny thing. Jumping in usually leads to disaster and humiliation, like when I travelled to visit a high school crush a few years ago and got so drunk from drinking in a hot tub for six hours that I was hungover for two days. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to drink in a hot tub! How did every single person in the world get this memo except for me? The hangover wasn’t even the worst of it. The tears! The drunken tears!! It is mortifying in retrospect. I unfriended him on Facebook a year later, after we got into an email pissing contest over whether Sarah Palin was qualified to be president. During our Wayback Rendezvous, I accidentally peed his bed, then lied about it, and I’m kind of glad, because honestly. There’s more, but I think I’ve made my case:

The Wayback  Machine is a threat to basic human dignity.

On the other hand, I have a friend who met her husband that way. She got in touch, out of the blue, with her old college boyfriend twenty years on. They flirted, he traveled to meet her, he booked a hotel room that he never used. They dated long distance, he moved here, he moved his children here, and they made a family. They’ve been married a year, and by all accounts seem blissfully happy. In fact, they write each other a love poem every day. It’s kind of nauseating. And amazing!

I haven’t yet reached out, but through the miracle of Facebook, I was able to glean a little of my ex’s life, namely that he still likes hockey and that he’s lost all his hair. Clicking on “Message” brought up our last correspondence, which ended abruptly in August 2010. He was back in town for the summer, and I tried to get together, but he blew me off a couple of times, then returned to law school without ever seeing me. I called him out on it, it didn’t go well, and then I cheerfully and abruptly unfriended him.

I regret it. He was fun and funny and a good person. There was no reason not to keep him on as a friend. But my feelings were hurt that he didn’t want to see me, and I was disappointed that when I nearly died (truly), all he could muster was a two-word text: “Be well.” I wish I had handled the whole thing better, but I suppose I did my best. I could do better now.

I haven’t decided whether to write to him, but scrolling back through our last few exchanges in the Facebook Message app, something curious caught my eye.

It was a year before I was up for tenure, and I was working furiously on my book, which was moving through the publication process at a glacial pace. I was worried I wouldn’t make it–that the book wouldn’t be far enough along, that I was creating an argument for my colleagues to vote against me. No tenure means you’re fired, I had just assumed a mortgage, I was nearly broke, and I had never had a grownup job outside of academia. I was scared.

Meanwhile, my ex was struggling to find his first job after law school and had suggested, only half-joking, that he might become a bike messenger. In commiseration with his frustration at an uncertain future, I wrote:

Sorry to hear about the lousy job market. If law school doesn’t pan out, I suggest nursing. That’s my Plan B.

I have no recollection of thinking about nursing at the time, though much of that year is a blur due to some major health problems that landed me in the hospital a few months later. I don’t know, in retrospect, if I was kidding about nursing, or serious, or both. I had long joked that my Plan B was to join the Army, and I paid attention to the maximum age for enlistment, making note a few years ago when I aged past it. Nursing has for years been in the news because of the anticipated shortage, so I’m sure I was aware–and envious–of the choices nurses have for employment. I have also thought about second careers in social work (not enough money) or police work (not enough patience). If I were a social worker, I would likely lose my house. And if I were a cop, I would definitely lose my temper–and then probably get shot with my own gun.

Nursing.

Even if I was kidding about it, I was thinking about it. Because there it is in a message I typed at 11:21 PM on October 10, 2009.

It wasn’t meeting J* in 2014, who also turned to nursing late in life, or reconnecting with my friend from high school, who graduated with her BSN last year before returning to her previous profession. (Unfortunately, that’s not an option in academia. Leaving the professoriate is a one-way trip–what a friend likened to leaving a parking lot by driving over the tire spikes. You can get out, but you are FUCKED.) No, those friends didn’t give me the idea of becoming a nurse as a second career. They just demonstrated that it was possible.

To an extent I didn’t realize, until I saw that old message in my personal Wayback Machine, I have been thinking about this for a long, long time.

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The Lost Hour

In less than an hour, it will be two hours from now–such is the wonder of Daylight Savings.

We will all wake up groggy and cranky in the morning. Those who use their cell phones as alarms, or who remembered to advance their old-school clocks, will awake on time but poorer for the loss of an hour’s sleep. Those who forgot about the time change will awake refreshed, but irritated as shit that they are late for brunch or church or Sunday Funday. The academics will simply go to work.

For all us college folk, Sunday is a work day, because there is school the next day. And for thousands of us, this particular Sunday marks not just the end of the weekend, but the end of spring break… also known as, The Last Time I Will Feel Rested Until May.

On my spring “break,” I worked every single day. The break part involved some long walks with the dog and a friend, but that was it–no dinners out, no drinking, no shopping, no gardening, no travel, nothing but work and a little laundry. For all of that deprivation, I have almost nothing to show. My kitchen is clean, I have clean underwear, and the checkbook is balanced. But the taxes remain undone, the basement still reeks of mold, and the floors need to be shaved, there’s so much dog hair floating about. And I barely penetrated The List–the epic list that all academics maintain of projects that must be managed, papers that must be graded, knowledge that must be produced.

Forty minutes left.

For a blog that is supposed to help me work out whether I want to continue in my current profession, it has not escaped my notice that I hardly ever write about my job. My feelings are too complex, and the task of untangling it feels too onerous. It’s just easier to focus on bad dates and old wounds.

Thirty minutes left.

Here is my to-do list:

  • Grade 41 undergraduate essays 3-5 pages in length.
  • Grade 9 graduate book reviews, 3-5 pages in length.
  • Offer 14 graduate students feedback on their research projects.
  • Read and offer feedback on a doctoral dissertation.
  • Read and offer feedback on a doctoral dissertation proposal.
  • Prep lecture notes for two courses.
  • Revise a syllabus for which I am hopelessly behind.
  • Calculate midterm grades for 20 undergraduates and upload them. Write an evaluation of a learning disabled student.
  • Send three thoughtful emails to job candidates about their interviews.
  • Write an apologetic, but not too apologetic, email to a bunch of scholars who are really mad at me for dropping the ball on a shared project.
  • Answer a bunch of emails and do a bunch of paperwork related to my administrative job.
  • Figure out if I want to resign from my administrative job.

Twenty-five minutes left.

These are the tasks I have to do by Monday. And they do not include the writing–two 7,000-character essays and a chapter-length essay–that are months over due. I told myself that I could not return from spring break without completing them, because I would never find the time until the summer. They were to be my highest priority. I haven’t even started.

And when I say I haven’t even started, I mean, I haven’t even started researching them.

Why am I so behind at my work? What do I do all day? Where does the time go?

I can tell you where it went this week, and every week. It went towards administrative responsibilities. Most people don’t understand how universities function, that they run off of the invisible, uncompensated labor of faculty (and staff) who are leveraged to perform this work through a variety of means that never seem to involve money: there’s guilt, that students will be harmed; the promise of tenure/threat of being fired; and the unwillingness to let friends and colleagues suffer as a result of one’s own recalcitrance. Most of us put our heads down and forge ahead.

Twenty minutes.

I joke that my administrative job is 10 percent of my salary but 50 percent of my time. It’s a terrible joke, because it’s true, and because I can’t pay my mortgage with terrible jokes. I was told that this job would involve “the least amount of work you can do and still call yourself an administrator.” That would have been true if I were constitutionally capable of doing a shitty job, if I had no belief in the integrity of my university or the sanctity of education, and if I constantly overlooked glaring problems of inefficiency and rank incompetence. But I’m not, and I didn’t, and I can’t. Someday I will write a post about the absurdities I’ve encountered in this job… like…

…the professor who told an applicant she was a shoo-in for admission to a graduate program she wasn’t remotely qualified to enter. And then the professor mishandled issuing the denial of admission. And then the applicant went bonkers. Bonkers. As in, 2,000-word emails in the middle of the night, “I’m being persecuted like Martin Luther King,” “You need to be punished,” BONKERS. That mess took six months to clean up.

Nine minutes left.

At a university, they call this kind of work “service,” and it accounts for 20 percent of our performance evaluations. The  problem, of course, is that teaching accounts for 40 percent of our performance evaluations, and research activity accounts for about 80 percent. Granted, I’m in the humanities, but…I think there’s a problem with the math. So I grind out the service during the school year, I give my students the best of what’s left over, and I make up the scholarship (research, writing, publishing, presenting at conferences) on spring break and over the summer. I have taken perhaps a week off from work altogether–as in, seven days without doing so much as an email–in the last five years.

In two minutes it will be daylight savings time. The clock on this laptop will spring forward to three AM. And I will be one hour further behind.

 

 

 

Learning Not to Be Brave*

Image_5--CROPI spent the weekend out-of-state with a friend, an annual trip in which we celebrate our February birthdays (and our spinsterhood) over the Valentine’s Day weekend. The drive to and from offered a lot of time to think, and I found my mind drifting to Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia undergraduate who is currently detained in North Korea.

North Korea’s state-run media reports that authorities arrested Warmbier for committing a “hostile act” against their government. In the crazy-pants logic of the Hermit Kingdom, that could mean anything: leaving a Bible in a hotel room, exchanging pleasantries with an unauthorized person, or folding a magazine with the crease across Dear Leader’s face. In Warmbier’s case, he was hauled away by armed guards at the airport on January 2. No one knows why, and no one has seen him since.

The US Department of State’s travel warning about North Korea could not be more clear: DON’T GO. The North Korean government can disappear people for no reason, and unknown thousands–perhaps millions–have perished in state-run detention camps. A recent United Nations report alleges myriad, ongoing “crimes against humanity” in the DPRK, including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

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This satellite image of city lights at night elegantly captures the extreme deprivation endured by the people of North Korea.

Add in some primitive technology and a little famine, and you’ve got yourself a vacation paradise! What a great exercise of privilege to imagine such a place as a tourist destination rather than a hell on earth.

Why did Warmbier go? That’s the part that interests me. He is a super-achieving, well-travelled, politically active 21-year-old from a prosperous Ohio family that can afford to send him to UVA out-of-state. He’s on the dean’s list, serves as his fraternity’s Alumni Relations Chair, and likes vintage clothing. He is an athletic, white man of above-average height with a full head of hair. By every measure, he has the world at his feet and a bright future ahead. Why risk it on a five-day excursion to one of the scariest places on earth with a tour company that brands itself as “the budget North Korea tour operator?” Is this an example of hipster irony run amok?

I suspect that Warmbier was drawn by the sense of risk and the caché associated with defying expectations. I can identify. As I contemplate blowing up my life–quitting my job, going back to school, starting out in a difficult, less lucrative career on the bottom rung in my late 40s–I am carefully parsing my motivations. Part of it is that I am unhappy in my current job, and I feel like I am entitled to be satisfied at my work. Part of it is that I want to be of service to people in a way that academia will never allow me to be. Part of it is that I am specifically drawn to nursing because I know people who have entered that profession late in life, they seem happy, and I admire their accomplishments. And part of it is that I like the idea of it–the audacity, the unexpectedness, and the courage it would require. I relish the thought of telling certain people, seeing the incredulous looks on their faces, then dismissing their objections in the ultimate peace-out, mic drop moment. And I revel in the essential narrative arc, because it is ennobling and empowering: I had the Golden Ticket of a tenured position at a Research I university, and I walked away to take care of sick people.

Put simply, it’s a better story than the one I am living.

When Otto Warmbier told his friends, parents, and professors that he was going to visit North Korea over winter break, they undoubtedly expressed surprise and concern. I suspect they asked him “Why?” in tones approaching exasperation. I suspect that he answered glibly with something like “Why not?” or “Because it’s there.” Perhaps he was also honest about his desire to do the unexpected, to have a coveted experience defined by its uniqueness, and to demonstrate his courage in venturing to a place few would dare to visit. But did traveling to North Korea make him brave, or merely foolish? As Nigel and David point out in “This Is Spinal Tap,” it’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.

Did Warmbier have doubts? He must have. But he powered through them, having committed to a narrative of success in his mind that affirmed, in advance of the outcome, the rightness of his choice.

Do I have doubts about the path I am on? Absolutely. Why do I continue?

Some of it is practical: I’ve already paid the tuition, so I might as well finish the class! Some of it is strategic: Nothing is firm, and I am merely giving myself choices to be executed at a later date. Some of it is joy: To my great shock, I LOVE learning about the human body! And some of it is pure stubbornness and pride: I’ll do it because I said I would.

That’s the part that scares me. I hatched this plan, I discussed it with others, and I have excited my friends about an alternative narrative for my future. I don’t want to let anyone down, least of all myself. Having shaken up my life like a snow globe, it’s awfully anticlimactic to just let the white bits settle back down to the bottom as though nothing happened. It would take tremendous courage for me to walk away from my career and return to school (nursing or otherwise), or even just to take another kind of job. But it might take even more courage to fully consider those options, and take steps to make them viable, only to settle on living out the rest of my life in the status quo.

I don’t know what will make me brave, let alone happy. But I do know that sometimes the greatest act of courage is not doing something. Otto Warmbier demonstrated nerves of steel (but scant common sense) when he boarded that Chinese airliner destined for Pyongyang. Heading back to Charlottesville without seeing the Hermit Kingdom would have required a different sort of bravery–a self-awareness and confidence that allows us to appreciate what we have, endure the ignominy of leaving a challenge unmet, and cut our losses without regret.

It’s the kind of bravery you acquire by living–enduring–to see middle age. If we enlisted 40-somethings with mortgages and acid reflux for military service, instead of kids with bad judgment and big dreams, there would be no more war.

 

 

* The title of this post is an homage (not a critique) of my friend’s blog, Learning to Be Brave. She has an amazing story, she’s an amazing writer, and it is worth your time!

Don’t Question the Steps, Just Dance!

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Today was insular yet interesting, a lovely mix of reaching out, reaching up, and hunkering down.

I took my first biology exam today, and it had me very, very nervous. The amount of material was overwhelming! We had to know the basics of anatomical directions; the regions, cavities, and systems of the body; the organization of living things and the requirements for life; basic chemistry (atoms, ions, chemical bonds, solution chemistry, etc.); and the anatomy of a human cell, including the name of every protein, carbohydrate, lipid, nucleotide, and organelle therein, as well as their composition and function. WTF!

And when did human cells become so complicated?! From what I recall of biology in middle school–the last time I took it!–a cell looked like a cracked egg and consisted of a membrane, a nucleus, and some cytoplasm.

What, then, is this monstrosity:

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I know what this is and how it works! 😀

It appears that scientists have discovered a whole bunch of extra crap in there, and I am expected to know what it is and what it does at the molecular level. Thankfully, I actually like sorting my proteasomes from my lyosomes, and I can now label and (sort of) understand everything on this diagram.

I also love how dirty some of it sounds:

“Can I use my secretory vesicle to transverse your phospholipid bilayer?” she asked thirstily.

I did my level best on the midterm, depleting what I thought would be three exams’ worth of index cards in a marathon flashcard session. And it was ok: I missed one out of forty questions. Had the exam not been open-note, I would have missed perhaps five or six, which is still respectable. I am pleased and hopeful, even though I have no idea where this is headed.

While I was getting ready for the exam, I texted about my nerves with a few friends, and they wrote back with all the affirmations and assurances I needed to hear. I am so grateful for their support.

Interestingly enough, one of those friends was J*. After my exam, we talked for the first time in five months, and it was wonderful.

Most of my closest friends will shake their heads ominously and ask, “Why would you muddy the waters with that piece of dirt?” And I can’t blame them, because they love me, and they worry for me, and they remember the disappointment and heartache I experienced with him as it was unfolding. Plus they never met him, so they regard him more as abstraction and distraction than as an actual human man that they might like.

The reality, though, is that J* is one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I have missed having him in my life. And when we talked today, he said he missed talking to me too. That lifted my spirits immeasurably, not because of some fragile hope that the path he is on will one day lead back to me. Truth be told, my heart does go there sometimes late at night, when I can’t sleep and need a story to put my mind at rest. But that’s not why I loved talking to him today. It’s because I loved hearing his story and learning that he’s ok. Better than ok, actually–he’s excited for a new job, a new living situation, and a fresh start in a new town. I am happy for him. Talking to him also made me happy because the one thing I can’t abide is his indifference. Though I know to my core that no time is ever wasted (a sincere thank you to the poet Richard Brautigan for that wisdom), it would pain me to know that my time meant nothing to him.

And yet, even if that did happen, I would remain hopeful and still. Relationships ebb and flow, people come and go. I know this. Some of my closest friends right now–I didn’t talk to them for years, once upon a time, and now we walk together . People tend to find their way back to love, all kinds of love, if you don’t place barriers in their path. So you never know how someone might filter in and out of your life, because it’s not an orderly process like, say, protein carrier-assisted passive diffusion across a phospholipid bilayer. It’s more like osmosis: water flowing back and forth, in and out, filtering through aquaporin channels or caressing the gently undulating tails of the phospholipids themselves, until it finds its equilibrium. (I never realized the beauty of plasma membrane transport until just now!)

I don’t know the right metaphor, and maybe biology isn’t even the right science. It might be astronomy, with friends traversing hidden corners of the universe, then reappearing suddenly as a bright light streaking across the sky. But no, comets are predictable. People are not, though they can shine just as brilliantly.

Maybe we’ll just leave this one to the humanities and the Analects of Confucius: “To have an old friend come from far away–isn’t it a joy!”

I almost titled this post, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back,” because I am exploring a way out of an unsatisfying career by returning to the soothing embrace of school. And, ok, talking to J* long-distance again does feel very 2014. But I stopped myself from using that title, because the saying implies linear directionality–you’re headed towards something, but you’re having trouble getting there. Instead, I don’t know which way I’m headed, nor towards what, and I have no idea who, if anyone, will be with me when I get there. Even if I do take two steps forward for every step back, the steps do not go in the same direction. And sometimes the steps back aren’t so much a retreat as a return, to a warm and comforting place I need to experience from time to time.

“Two steps forward, one step back. Repeat!” We’re all doing this, all the time, crossing paths with one another in the process. That’s not walking a line.

That’s dancing!

If Scarlett O’Hara Had Taken A&P, She Wouldn’t Have Had Time for Boys

panic

I’ve felt panicky the last few days–butterflies in my stomach, nausea, a tight feeling in my chest. Perhaps my heart attack will commence shortly?

There are a few things going on.

First, I’m nowhere near ready for the classes I have to teach this semester.

Second, the class that I am taking is kicking my ass after only one week. It’s not the amount of material, though it is daunting. It’s that the course design assumes a working knowledge of chemistry and basic biological processes–at the cellular and molecular level–that I simply don’t have. The last time I had Chemistry was 10th grade, in 1988. The last time I had Biology was 8th grade, in 1986. The mental bandwidth it required of me to focus for 3 hours in class both days, plus study time, was absolutely exhausting. And I had just a tenth of the work that I will need to complete starting next week.

Third, I am questioning whether I have the stamina for nursing and if I want to do it at all. Part of the questioning is my own exhaustion, which triggered a string of migraines, and part of it is that two of my role models are struggling. One of them is having trouble finding desirable work. Another is having health problems and experiencing on-the-job bullying that may cause her to quit. It wasn’t until I watched their narratives of late-in-life success fall apart that I realized how invested I am in those stories. Apparently I need to have people with whom I identify–ie, not 22 year olds–succeeding on this career path so that I can imagine an alternative story for myself.

What I’m left with is the thought that, if this doesn’t work out for me, I will be stuck in my current job for the rest of my life. Or, perhaps worse, I will have left academia and will be unable to return. Then what?

“Where shall I go? What shall I do?” I’m feeling a little Scarlett O’Hara-at-the-end-of-Gone With the Wind. I wish I had a Tara I could return to, some place to give me strength, and the time to figure this out. But I don’t.

What I’ve got is a course to design, 16 chapter-length essays to read and edit, a manuscript proposal to review, three articles to write, a program assessment to plan, and I need to master basic chemistry so I can understand cellular respiration.

Time to panic!

I’ll add here, that just rereading the above is helpful. I am trained to analyze texts, and my default setting is “criticism.” When I see words in print, even words I myself have written, my brain automatically alights on a critique: “There are other options besides your current job and nursing.” I’m sure you see that too. It is a false binary, the result of depression-induced tunnel vision. The time pressure is self-imposed as well. I can drop the class I am taking. I can retake it if I get a C or worse. I don’t have to decide if I’m leaving my job for at least a year. I don’t have to decide anything today.

There’s Miss Scarlett again: “Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow…. After all… tomorrow is another day.”

gwtw

 

 

Even If I’m a Nurse, I’ll Always Be a Doctor

If you’re following along regularly, you no doubt think I should rename this blog, “Everything Is Terrible, Including Puppies, Christmas, and the Amish, All the Time, Everywhere.” Actually, when it comes to domestic abuse and animal rights, the Amish are kind of terrible, but I digress. My point is, for me, things are looking up!

Today I registered for my spring class: Introduction to Human Anatomy & Physiology. It took a little doing, because I had to visit an academic advisor in person to get them to waive the prerequisite, English Composition. I brought my transcripts for both of my degrees, but not the transcripts from the other two schools I attended part-time before settling in at my undergraduate alma mater. “Surely a bachelor’s and doctorate are enough,” I reasoned.

The advisor scanned the transcripts quickly and casually, as though he was looking for something specific. I sensed there was a problem.

“Is there a particular class you’re looking for?” I asked sweetly.

“Yes. Something like English composition.” He continued to flip through the pages, scanning, flipping, scanning, with greater urgency as he failed to see what he was looking for.

“It’s been a long time since I went to college, and I don’t really remember how I satisfied that requirement,” I explained. “It might have been AP, or maybe a placement test. I went to two other schools…”

“Do you have those transcripts?” he asked curtly. “Maybe on your phone?”

I found this suggestion wildly hilarious, since course registration wasn’t even digitized when I started college! We would queue up in an endless line at the Registrar, our hands full of paper catalogs and registration forms in triplicate. We didn’t have phones, so we read newspapers or talked to each other. When you finally got to the front of the line, a weary clerk would take your requests, and your alternate requests, and do their best for you. Today, that part felt comfortingly familiar.

“No,” I said softly, realizing that he had lost the forest for the trees. “But… you realize what that is, right?” He was holding my doctoral transcript, which showed a near flawless academic record. “I have a PhD.”

His eyes drifted up to the top of the first page, then he flipped to the end, where the tiny letters affirmed my greatest achievement: a doctorate in the humanities from a research-one university. Surely that would be enough to get me into an entry-level Biology class at a community college?

Just in case, I had my second greatest achievement, my book, in my laptop bag. Plan C was pulling up my faculty bio on my phone. Thankfully, I didn’t need to go that far. The advisor started tapping at the computer, and the prerequisite disappeared.

I always tell my graduate students, “Your degree is the one thing no one can ever take away from you. Your home, your spouse, even your kids–those can be taken away from you. But your doctorate, and the accomplishment it represents, will always be yours.”

If I do this thing–this brave, terrible, crazy thing–of abandoning my scholarly career in order to become a nurse, I will need to start telling myself that too. Because, despite all the frustrations of academia, I am truly proud of what I have accomplished. It is an amazing thing, to have that degree, even if it only gets me out of English comp on this new path that I am following. And no one can ever take that away from me.

Onward!

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With a little luck and a lot of hard work, all of the knowledge in this book will be in my brain come May!

 

 

Career: Academic Advising

career /kəˈrir/

verb [no obj.]

To move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction.

[Ed. Note: This is the first post under the category “Career,” in which I explore topics related to my current job and what I am going to do with the rest of my professional life. At present, I am so betwixt and between that I am thinking more in terms of the verb form of the word than the noun.]

I am trying to choose what course to take in the spring, and it’s complicated. First, there is the issue of what course to take, because I have six more prerequisites to pick up if I want to keep the nursing option open. I have done well so far in my human development class (straight As, thank you very much!), but I am terrified of stats and biology. Should I take nutrition or bioethics–the two I am more likely to do well in–and get my feet under me? Or should I push on to human anatomy & physiology? The difference could mean delaying application to a program by a year, based on when courses are offered, so it’s not an incidental decision. What should I do?

NO, SERIOUSLY, WHAT SHOULD I DO? Feel free to tell me in the comments!

The other concern is where to take a class. I can take another course at the local community college, but there are educational, scheduling, and financial considerations: I don’t think the instruction will be as good, I will have to spend more time in the car during what will be a crushing semester, and I will have to bear the tuition cost myself. If I take a course at the university where I work, the instruction might be better, the scheduling would be somewhat easier, and the tuition would be free. But this is a fraught option.

My main concern with taking a course where I work is that I might blow my cover. I am more likely to run into colleagues and especially students I know, who might wonder why they have a humanities professor for their lab partner. The biggest worry is that my department chair would have to sign off on the tuition waiver, which is standard for staff but highly unusual for faculty. He might wonder what I am up to, especially if I continue to register for nursing prerequisites. And he might later penalize me on my annual evaluation for not using my free time to pad my CV.

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Fun with autocomplete!

This is one of the things I don’t like about my current job. Being an academic involves the performance of scholarship and smarty-pantsedness under the constant scrutiny of one’s colleagues. And, despite their liberal pretensions, my colleagues are totally heteronormative about it! No one would bat an eye if I took time out to make a baby, but the challenges of being a single gal–emergency shopping to get ready for yet another first date, patching up your broken heart after yet another breakup, to say nothing of, say, picking up undergraduate prerequisites to start a new career–would not pass muster. Working where I work is like having ten sets of disappointed parents who judge you for not living up to their expectations.

You might be wondering, “Who gives a s**t what they think? Don’t you have tenure?”  I do, yes, and it is wonderful! But tenure doesn’t mean what people think it means. At a public university, it simply means “appointment without term,” which is essentially the condition under which most people work: you have a job until you don’t. The benefit of tenure is that they can only fire you for cause, not to save money or for the content of your research. Yea for academic freedom! Which, in all sincerity, is extremely important, and I will defend its necessity to my dying day.

Despite these blessings,  tenure doesn’t guarantee continued professional success. At my university, a professor’s research productivity is regularly evaluated for three reasons: promotion, performance-based raises, and teaching load. Spending time learning about human development is not helping me write my second book, which is the key to my next promotion. Also, failure to perform up to expectation will result in smaller raises, though it’s hard to imagine them being smaller than they have been for the last several years! Most concerning, if I don’t produce enough publications, my department could raise my teaching load to intellectual jackhammering levels, making my job no longer worth having.

In short, I have a lot to lose.

It’s ok (I tell myself). I will figure it out (I tell myself). I will be ok no matter what (I tell myself).

Career!

Don’t career.

drive-off-cliff-gaz