Someone, who hadn’t read Grace Period, asked me about my transition out of the academy. I gave the short version because the book is the long version. They considered me thoughtfully for a moment and broke into a big smile. (I knew what was going to happen next, but I’m never quite prepared for it.) They said, “Well, everything turned out fine!” Followed by a reflection on doors and windows or rivers and streams or silver linings or some other analogy that I’m equally tired of. When I tried to suggest that the happy ending was not necessarily happy or even an ending really, I got nowhere. Everything was already declared to be fine, so I must be so. It didn’t matter what I said, as long as I was sitting there, lacking obvious distress.
When this happens, I want to give them a copy of Grace Period, on the house. I want to show them everything was not fine. Everything was nowhere close to fine. Just because they declared that “my life turned out fine,” based on a few minutes of interaction, is not enough to make that true. Just because they seem to think they see a “silver lining” doesn’t mean there is one. I trained for years and years for a job I never got. Sure, I have a different job now. (It’s a job that I like and consider important work.) Sure, I can occasionally smile for a head shot and appear happy. Sure, I can seem OK.
I can seem OK because I transitioned from one type of life to another, but my survival wasn’t ever guaranteed.
It was a struggle. I was a disaster as I tried to figure out what should come after academia. I flailed. I floundered. I wanted to settle from something easier than remaking who I was. I wanted to pretend that I could cleave away the life I had and start from fresh. I wanted to ignore all the effort I put in for nothing to turn out as I imagined. I wanted to give up. And yet, I somehow didn’t. Five years after I left academia, I have a different life, a better one even. But, I had no idea that was even possible when I decided to take a year off academia. I had no idea that anything would turn out remotely close to OK. (Fine appeared out of the realm of possibility.)
It’s so weird to me that strangers, acquaintances, friends, and even some relatives think that my new career is the end to my story. It’s even weirder that what they imagine to be an ending should somehow wipe away all the pain and suffering I endured to get where I am now.
I wrote Grace Period, essay by essay, to document the struggles, raw emotions, and heartbreak that I experienced, not as an attempt to minimize them. Transitions are hard, and I hoped to detail what hard looked like for me. After my partner read an early draft, he noted that Grace Period felt a bit like a roller coaster because of the ups and downs. Things appear to work out, and then, they don’t. Over and over and over again.
So, I get angry when people assume that “everything is fine now” because I have a job, I seem cheerful and friendly, or I manage to smile in some author photos online.