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Grace Period

In May, I quit my job and moved to Florida. Both decisions might seem big (they were), but they were remarkably easy. My lecturer gig paid little, the teaching load was heavy, and my department was dysfunctional. Leaving behind students, friends, and colleagues was hard. Watching my daughter mourn the loss of her friends was harder.

The move to Florida was unexpected. Out of the blue, my husband was offered a new job with a tech company, which allowed him to telecommute. To my surprise, he took the job, and we decided to move to Florida to be closer to our families. We both walked away from academia, the careers we trained for. That surprised us both. He might go back. I find myself more ambivalent.

Except, I didn’t walk away. Not really. Instead, I embraced a safer option, a year hiatus from the academy. Reassess and figure things out, I tell myself, decide whether to stay or not. Delay the inevitable is probably more likely. It is more like a grace period (maybe). Am I going to pay my “debt” to my academic training? Or am I going to do something, anything, else? What I know is that now have time to breathe, to reflect, to dream, to recreate, and to mourn. I can decide if there is anything that I will miss about academic life. I can decide to take the parts I like (research and writing) and apply them to other careers. I can decide to walk away. The choice, for once, rests on my shoulders.

After six years on the job market, I found myself burned out. I’ve had conference interviews and campus visits. I’ve been a second choice for tenure track jobs multiple times. I applied for jobs while teaching three and four classes a semester. And I finished my first book, wrote articles and book reviews, received a contract for a new book, edited a journal, organized panels, and experimented with an ebook. The harder I worked, I thought naively, the more likely I was to get a job. Optimism is hard habit to kick.

During this past spring semester, something broke. My tireless drive to research and write dissipated. The latest round of rejections hit harder than previous rounds, and I was tired. Why make myself get up extra early to write if there was no tenure track job for me? Why spend the time researching when I would rather spend time with my daughter? Why kill myself for a job opportunity that would never materialize? I found that I couldn’t do the work I used to love. My motivation stalled. Something broke, and it seemed irreparable. This was compounded by my increasing frustration with my job as a lecturer. I liked my students, I enjoyed teaching, and I despised the undervaluing of teaching by my department head. I disliked the hierarchy of talents, in which tenure track and tenured faculty were valued more than those of us who just taught. Being a lecturer meant that my publications could be brushed aside, and that my experience and opinions mattered less. Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it.

The desire to throw up my hands and walk away chased me through the day. There must be more to academic life than this. I hoped for something that would make my training and efforts redeemable, and I struggled to find it. Why should I stay? That thought is a dangerous one. Once it roots, nothing makes it disappear. It remains and confronts. It pounces me in Florida now as I try to figure out what I am going to do next.

I mourn what my career could have been, and I struggle to redefine who I am now. Doubt, my old friend, bubbles to the surface as I ponder what I could do alongside what it is possible to do. The grace period is simultaneously too long and too short. Is it a transition? A reevaluation? A transformation? Is this a shedding of one vision of self to become a better version? Is it a loss of dreams? Is it a moment to dwell in the liminal?

Most days, it is hard to tell. But, I find myself mourning less as days go by. The loss of what could have been is less suffocating and distracting. A transition feels manageable and desirable. The possibilities for what could be are more and more exciting. I might not be an academic after my grace period, and that’s okay. I am more than my training. And so are all of you. It is best to never forget that.

This piece now appears at Chronicle Vitae. 

 

Academic Writing Month/Digital Writing Month

Since my poor blog has been abandoned in the rush of the fall semester, I’ve decided to hop on the bandwagon on both Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo) and Digital Writing Month (#digwrimo). Much like National Novel Writing Month, the purpose is to motivate writing. Lots of writing. However, since I try very hard to not be a crazy person, I am not setting a 50,000 word goal to complete by the end of the November. Instead, I am using this project as way to get some lingering work done AND reset my writing habits. Or perhaps, I should say making my writing habit again, rather than the fits and starts I have suffered through this semester.

As many of you know, I had my first writing summer, in which I only had to write with no class prep, readings, or student emails to deter me. While it was joyous, I think it also conditioned me that writing could only happen when I had long swaths of time. When the semester hit with three classes, job applications, conference papers, and dreaded email, I did not fall into my previous habit of writing any time I could, but rather I created writing days.

Writings days are not necessarily a bad thing, and thank goodness that my schedule allows for such a thing. But, I made the mistake of assuming that writing should only happen on those days and not all the time. Moreover, if something happened on a writing day, like a sick pet or child, then I could not write, which makes me a bit antsy and grumpy.

All of this to say, my previous habit of writing frantically anytime I could made me much happier than attempting to create distinct writing and teaching days. Thus, I am embracing my previous model of write and research anytime I can including, but not limited to, my writing days. This month provides me the excuse (or goal?) of making my writing a top priority and not letting other things encroach on the happiness that I derive from both my academic work and blogging. I feel better about myself as a scholar and a person, when I am able to get projects done, small or big.

So, here are my goals for Academic Writing Month/Digital Writing Month:

Finish overdue review (1200 words)

Review new book for the Bulletin (1000 words)

Complete two conference papers (2000 words maybe)

Blog three times a week (1500 X 4= 6000 words)

Write every day (500 X 30= 15000)

Start Chapter One of the zombie book  (1000-20000 words)

Article Revisions (500 words)

Goal: 25,000 words from 11/1 to 12/1

My current word count is 1200 (on a review and still not done) and 442 for the blog for 1642 words. Hooray!