A Bit More about My Own Writing

My writing is the subject of some of the writing I have already done, as will be obvious to any who have been reading what I post in this space. Some pieces of old wisdom suggest that it should be the case:

  • Writers are urged to write what they know, and I probably know more about my writing than anyone else does (I think I’m the only one who has seen every word); and
  • Those who teach writing are exhorted to frame the work of writing as a means to learn more, and I write about my writing either to expand upon subjects I have already considered or to try to figure out how I think and feel about things.

It will be no surprise, then, that this is another bit of writing in which I contemplate my own writing. Maybe it will be useful to others. I don’t know.

In any event, one thing that I face every time I sit down to write of my own volition is the worry that what I write will not be the kind of thing anyone wants to read. And there is some substance to such worries; I am able to see the readership statistics for this webspace and others I maintain, and I am not exactly going viral with any of my posts in any of them (again, for those I do for myself; those for which I am paid fare otherwise, which I appreciate). So I am concerned that I am screaming into the void rather than speaking into the ether.

The thing is, the low use numbers do allow me to see that more people look at what I’m doing when I do more (somewhat tautological and common-sensible, I’m sure–but how common is common sense?); I see more views when I put more writing out for others to see. And if I am trying to be seen in my writing–and I have the sense that all writers who write of their own volition do so are in some way trying to be seen–then it is to my benefit to do more writing, even if I am worried that few or none will read it. I can only make the attempt; that is all that is given me to control. How or if it will be received lies outside my power.

I continue to nurture the hope that what I write will be seen, and that, being seen, it may be of some help to some person or other. Whether that comes in the form of helping to flesh out corpora so that scholars in various areas can do the work they do, or in the form of some random reader stumbling across my writings and needing to read exactly the words I have written, I do not presume to forecast–or any other thing. But I do hope, as I perhaps should not, that the fact that I have written something will matter to someone–even though I worry, always, that it will not.

Help allay the worry. Throw me a bone.


In Response to Douglas Dowland

On 4 February 2018, Douglas Dowland’s “How Academe Breeds Resentment” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education (and I am aware that there is a delay in my comments about it coming out; I have to write about it when I see it). In the piece, Dowland investigates the question implied by the title, asking “What is it about academe that makes [academics] such experts of resentment?” He then suggests several answers: the structures of academia, the inherently skeptical nature of intellectual inquiry, the exposition of relative powerlessness that accompanies progress through academic structures. After, Dowland argues both that resentment needs to be set aside–insofar as it can–as a lazy substitute for actual thought and as a means to resist the extra-academic pressures that work against intellectual inquiry and the structures that support it.

There are some problems in the piece. (That I point them out may be a bit of irony, since Dowland discusses the slide from critiquing the objects of scholarly inquiry to critiquing the scholars themselves.) One that stands out is the relatively cliché nature of some of the examples and assertions made in the piece. For example, Dowland writes:

Consider some typical targets of academic resentment:

  • A professor has been given a lighter teaching load than others, and the rest of the department resents it. What they do not know is that the professor is an alcoholic in recovery.
  • The assistant dean for international affairs is late to every meeting–obviously not pulling her weight. She is also a mother whose work-life balance requires that she answer emails during her son’s soccer games and stay up for hours of late-night internet conferencing with recruiters from time zones across the world.
  • A student misses class frequently and asks his professors for notes. The student is also working overtime to pay his last tuition installment and save up for the next one.

The passage reads in a way that echoes motivational posters, which is other than optimal. Similarly, the repetition of an already-old call to come together smacks of long-help platitudes that are long-held because they have not been–and are not likely to be–enacted, and for the very reasons Dowland cites.

That said, the argument that resentment should be set aside because it is intellectually lazy is a compelling one. There is something of a prevailing assertion that intelligence and cynicism are yoked together, and resentment is often identified as an underpinning of cynicism. (If I may borrow something of a cliché, myself, I might make a note about sour grapes.) Because it is so often seen as such, the one becomes a stand-in for the other–and it is far easier to dismiss something out of a (real or affected) jaded weariness than to actually consider it. And while the consideration can lead to a negative view of the thing considered, it can, at times, lead to a greater and deeper love of that thing–but love is hard, and the academics I have known and been are not the less human for their intellectualism; they are as prone to taking the easy path because it is easy as most any other group.

As in any other group, it is a tendency to be resisted.

Maybe, though, giving me a hand is something to be embraced?

On Staying Late

In a recent post, I write my lament about a game coming to an end. What I did not note in that post is that I lingered in that game long after my action in it was done, not just to distill out major notes from it (because I mean to play again, and in that same game-world if not with that very character), but to hold onto the magic of it just a little bit longer. And I was able to do that in some ways; there was a lovely question-and-answer exchange as the game wound down, and I appreciate the comments those left who told me that my part in the game made their play better. I have been more accustomed to receiving negative comment than positive (and I acknowledge that I have had many negative remarks coming), so to have learned that I have helped people enjoy themselves is a rare treat, and one I treasure. (Obviously, since I talk about it when it happens.)

I often do such things, hanging onto events as long as I can. When I have gone to conferences in the past, for example, I have usually been among the last to leave, staying on-site after the event has concluded, my footsteps echoing hollowly in the conference site. (This has been particularly true for me in my attendance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies; the event runs Thursday through Sunday, and I have typically not flown out until Monday morning. I’ve gotten to see a fair number of movies as a result, but still…) And attending the conferences themselves represent something of a hanging-on for me, since I know that I am not going to be a full-time member of academe at any point. Hell, I remember staying on the campus of my high school after my last bit of contest there and walking across the quiet golf course under the light of a full moon on a cloudless night–alone, the last to leave at nearly the last time I had to leave.

That I do so is a result of my fear of missing out on things. I am usually among the first to be on site for events, if not the first, and I know that I am prone to tiring before things are complete–but the ends of things are among the most fun parts, or so I am told. All of the interesting things happen as last call approaches, and I rarely make it so far into the night. But what usually happens is that I am left with an unsatisfying denouement; the climax happens, the action falls, and the resolution is that I am alone or nearly so as things end not with a bang but with a dwindling to nothing. I become witness to the attenuated ends of things, ends otherwise unmarked and whose comings, though heralded and known, are not valued.

It becomes hard not to be depressed by such things, especially since I can rarely if ever make the easy answer–leave earlier–happen for myself. But I am trying to do better. This year, for example, I’ll only be staying at the Congress for a couple of days, rather than the most-of-a-week I’ve done in the past. I can hope that it will help me to go out on a high note, Holst’s “Mars” rather than “Uranus.”

On a Game Recently Ended

I have mentioned that I have been a fan of things at many points in my life, but far less so now than in the past. One of the things of which I have been a fan, and perhaps the closest I come to still being one, is the tabletop role-playing game, particularly Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) in its earlier incarnations. The game is one about which I have written before (notably here), and it is one with which I have been involved since the beginning of my undergraduate years–so for quite some time, now. I have a lot of good memories bound up in playing that game; I had a lot of good times at its tables, and I have made no few excellent friends from them (even if I am not nearly so good at keeping up with them as I ought to be–but that is wholly on me).

When a couple of those friends flagged to my attention a play-by-post L5R game using the older rules-set with which I am familiar, I jumped at the opportunity. It had been quite some time since I was able to take part in such a game, and longer since I was able to do so as a player, responsible only for my one character and her part of interacting with the world rather than for the whole rest of the world (because I have run many games, singly and as part of a team). And I think I did well enough at it; my character found her way into a slow-moving romance that worked out well, as well as distinguishing herself in interesting ways throughout the game, and I, as player, am told that I made the gaming experience better for the people with whom I played. I have to consider it a successful endeavor.

There is a problem, of course–the game ended.

Oh, it needed to do so. It was time. The story that the game was set to tell was told, and the side-stories that the players brought into the game and developed through it concluded–most of them well. There are seeds of more stories to come, of course, and the game itself is but one part of a sprawling narrative into which all of us who took part are, at least in theory, invited. (That I know the person who runs the overall project–and had him playing at my own table for quite a while–helps my chances, I think.) But, as with a good book or a good movie, the fact that the game has ended is something of a sadness. I grew to love the characters even as my character grew to love her peers–some more than others, and one in particular–and I will miss them and the people whose words gave them life on my computer screen and in my mind.

Having read many, many books, though, and seen no few movies, I think I am in position to say that the sense of loss is greater with the game than with those media. For, much as I love any one novel or poem, or as immersed as I get into any movie, or as thoroughly as I have explored the expanded intellectual properties that have emerged from no few of them, or as far into scholarship and study of any of them as I have gone, with none of them have I been as immersed in the narrative as I nearly always am in the RPG–L5R, in particular. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Daniel Mackay writes eloquently and at length about the phenomenon, as does Gary Alan Fine; I think they both have good points to make about the peculiarly interactive story-making of gaming communities and the bonds that form thereby.

Those bonds, more than anything else, I will miss. I can only hope that I can maintain some of them and forge yet more in the times to come.

In Response to Barbara J. King

On 1 February 2018, Barbara J. King’s “Would College Students Retain More if Professors Dialed back the Pace” appeared on NPR.org. In the piece, King asks whether or not “slow teaching”–described in the text as spending a full course on a single text, concept, or small set of concepts–would allow students to engage more deeply with materials and thereby learn them better. She arrives at the question–and something of an answer to it–through reflecting on her own experience of reading and not retaining what is read, of reading an Atlantic piece by Julie Beck and stumbling onto a Chronicle of Higher Education article by Paula Marantz Cohen shortly thereafter, and reading a book by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber that discusses a phenomenon similar to that King herself addressed in 2016. Her regard for the practice is clear throughout, although she cites Cohen and presents herself as having questions about how broadly applicable the technique is.

The idea of slow teaching is a good one, and one that has informed seminars in which I have participated. In some ways, it is at the root of dissertation writing, at least in my field, where spending months and years with a single text is not at all uncommon. Yet I know that my experience as a student has not been the norm, and that in the teaching I have done, I have not had the luxury of orienting my classrooms around such a framework. As part of the precariate faculty, usually lacking full-time status and always absent tenure protections, I have in almost all my classes been obliged to follow specific assignment sequences. That is, I have had to have my students write æ number of papers or cover ð years of literature, or þ works in ƿ genres, and not seldom with the demand that the assignments come in at specified points in the term. And I know I am not alone in facing those demands; I was one of many who labored under them at a Big 12 school, and I am one who faces such things again at the for-profit for which I currently teach.

The practice, then, comes off as do many that get discussed by those secure in tenure or in retirement. The idea is a good one, but it is one that demands certain luxuries of position to be able to enact. I and my peers at the margins of academe do not have those luxuries; we are not the masters of our classrooms, the determiners of our curricula. And I and my colleagues–presently, at the for-profit, and previously, at a land-grant school that explicitly claims workplace readiness as part of its mandate, cannot avoid the “corporate-style focus on rush-rush productivity” King is not wrong to decry. Nor can we reasonably expect that our students, most of whom claim job placement as their reason for going to college, will welcome something that does not seem to help them get jobs–and the productivity model seems more likely to help with that getting than the slow teaching model King prizes. (Insofar as any teaching is helpful to that end, about which there is no shortage of disagreement, albeit not all well informed.) Perhaps with the kind of students who can afford, or believe they can afford (rightly or wrongly), to slow down from the rush of trying to survive the present to get to a better future, taught by faculty who have the support of their institutions to do such things, slow teaching would be a good thing–but my students are not in that position, and neither am I.

If I Had It to Do Again…

The phrase “If I had it to do again” is always a dangerous thing, applying later knowledge to a past event and so introducing a paradox, and possibly reshaping memory to suit a thing that did not happen and fragmenting the world a bit further every time. But it is an alluring danger, one that seems inescapable, and I have found myself mired in it far too many times. And even when I know that I will not have it to do again, I find myself giving thought to what I would do if I did.

For example, I’ve taught first-year college composition many, many times since I started teaching at the college level in 2006. Often enough, I have had a prescribed sequence of assignments in doing so–more often than not, in the event, whether at a technical college in New York City that is now vanished or at a Big 12 school after I had earned my doctorate. But I have, from time to time, been given broad control over teaching such classes. In one, I feel that I did a fairly decent job of things, shaping assignments such that I was able to teach them well and get good work from my students in return. (Indeed, I remain singularly impressed with the efforts some of those students made; it is why I continue to write letters for them when they ask me to do so.)

It was only in one, however, that I did so. In the other, a first-semester composition class, I ended up teaching essays in the somewhat dated modal tradition, asking students to write description and narrative and the like. They did decently enough, to be sure, but I feel as if I missed an opportunity with them–the more so, now that I look back upon the experience with reasonable certainty that it was the last chance I had to teach the way I would prefer to teach the class. For I am certain that the kind of academic job that would allow me to do so is forever outside my reach (and I am working on getting okay with that circumstance, although I am not at that point yet).

If I had it to do again, I think I would teach first-semester composition as a focus on rhetorical analysis–only. I would guide my students through reading pieces–it doesn’t matter what pieces, really–and distilling from them summaries of content, of expected primary and anticipated secondary audiences, of choices of authorities to employ, of likely effects of those choices, of gaps in reasoning, of deficiencies for other audiences than expected, of the effects of layout choices (such as my listing these ofs in-line rather than in bullets or my lack of pictures amid my text), and of other things whose names escape me at the moment, and into interpreting what those things mean and how they do so. Parsing the information out seems the set of skills they need–that all of us need–and the practice in doing so students would get who sincerely and diligently (issues too often in my classes, to be sure) conducted the analyses such a class would request would help them to do that.

I know it is not exactly a revolutionary idea that I would do such a thing if I had it to do again. I know that many of the trained rhetoricians and compositionists I know and have known do such things when they teach first-year composition. (I also know that it is comparatively rare that they do so; most teaching of first-year composition is done by people off of the tenure track, and, it seems, more by those who specialize in areas other than rhet/comp than by those who do.) And, again, I know that I am not likely ever to have the chance to teach again a class that I have ordered as I would like it to be. But if it is ever the case that I have it to do again, I know what it is I mean to do, and why.

A Rumination on Having Been a Fan

I remember having been a fan of things–of a number of things, in fact. None of them were what I “should” have been fans of, though. Rather than what the football or basketball teams were doing, or what was happening in the races or in the ring, I kept up on what was happening in the pages of comic books. Rather than reading the newest New York Times bestsellers, I read epic poetry and classic science fiction. Rather than following the Top 40, I listened to the music that had been popular–or less so, as I found later–in decades past, progressive pop and jazz-rock fusion and more esoteric blends yet. And for each, I did everything I could not only to learn the words and melodies of each by heart, but also to learn the greater fictional continua in which they existed and the details of the artists’ lives.

Had that been all I did, things might have been otherwise–and better. But that was not all I did, to be sure. I held myself aloof from that many others did, and in so doing, I isolated myself from them–which ended up leaving me in quite the awkward position when I returned to the town where I grew up. Worse, I made a point of berating others for their interests, and so invited being belittled for mine–and some went further than the invitation. Still worse, I staked my identity on knowing most about the things I knew, so I felt–and acted upon–the desire to show that knowledge and, when that knowledge was not enough, I recoiled in shame, chastising myself bitterly over things that few if any others cared about.

Often, that last has been my experience of fandom. There are many who are able to do as I did, to spend their time and money collecting the things from which knowledge (not wisdom, to be sure) can be made and copying over that knowledge from the things into themselves. (I know now that it was an exercise in privilege that I could do so.) In my experience, they have tended to view their knowledge of their interests as their primary value, and they have worked to secure that value by displaying themselves as having mastered it most. It becomes a display like that of the peacock or the bird of paradise, the shouting of the howler monkey, a jockeying for status within a group that seems devoted to no good end. And I did more than my fair share of preening and posturing, making much of knowing things (but not of doing anything with them) and delving into obscurities simply to avoid being wrong–and more often making myself look more the fool in doing so.

But even with all the problems of fandom–and there are many, more than I care to elaborate on here or have the capacity to expound upon elsewhere–there were decided rewards for me. I was able to learn a great many things, and I have tended to enjoy learning. (It should be clear that I do, else I’d not have gone back for more degrees.) And I enjoy even now the exercise of such faculties as I have. (How many is debatable, as witness my degrees.) And there is a pleasure in getting lost amid the details of things, of being able to take the time and spend the resources to focus narrowly and deeply on something purely for the pleasure of it, to be able to be immersed in a thing that has no real purpose and no real relevance, something that is idle and unimportant. (Again, witness my degree work.)

There are times I miss it.

Believe me, I am glad that I have the life I have now. My wife and daughter are excellent, and helping them be so brings me no small amount of joy. I have a good job, one that does some good in the world and makes use of quite a bit of the skill-set I developed in earning my degrees and making an attempt to work the work of the mind as my main job. I have a good second job, one that has helped my family to build up a bit of a financial cushion, enough that we can begin to think about diversifying how we handle our money. And I am still able to do some small bits of academe, both in teaching with the second job and doing some light scholarship–nothing ground-breaking, but (I hope) solid and reliable.

The thing is, doing all of those things prevents me from giving myself fully to any one of them–as I used to be able to do with my fandom. Parts of me miss being able to focus narrowly and deeply on a single thing, to take the time to master all of its minutiae, to expend the resources to acquire all of the newest and best materials in the effort to have a complete account of things, a complete record of how a thing I have enjoyed–whether it be the traditionally nerdy Tolkien or Star Trek or Star Wars or one of any number of role-playing games or some other thing that becomes nerdy through the obsession (because I maintain that the essence of nerdiness is obsessive passion). And I confess to having felt delight in the metaphorical dick-measuring contests of competing geekitudes; while I know better now than to get into them, I do miss the feeling of victory they often (but not often enough, oh, no) allowed me.

The thing is, I am enough in things that I am around people who can do the things I used to do and enjoy, and they do them–while I can only watch and, when I participate, do so as one who has been but no longer is. I am left behind, I feel, brought along only on sufferance. Part of me wants to have something to contribute to those communities–but I realize that I no longer really do, except the occasional friendly ear and reminder of good times for the friends I have made. But many have such ears and friendships without having expended the energies I have, so I have to wonder how much of my time and effort have ultimately been wasted.

In Response to Eboo Patel

On 9 January 2018, Eboo Patel’s “Attending an Elite College Is an Identity, Too” appeared in the online Inside Higher Ed. After opening by relating a passage from Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, Patel notes the rarity of understanding college attendance as constituting an identity, tacitly calling for more such recognition. Patel goes on to note that elite colleges are more prone to the lack of recognition than are less prestigious institutions and sketch out some of the parallels between elite institutional privilege and white male cishetero–including their social construction. The article continues by pointing out parallels to other systems of valuation and the consequences of the exercise of elite institutional identity in the current economy before reiterating (explicitly) the wish for more recognition of that identity. It ends with a reminder that working with people of diverse experience and identity is a key component of the collegiate experience.

I think Patel is correct in the claim that college attendance is an identity, and I believe the assertion that more needs to be done to recognize the identity and its socially constructed nature than typically is is similarly correct. But I would like to expand on the point Patel makes, if backhandedly, that students at colleges other than the elite are more likely to recognize college attendance as identity than their counterparts at more prestigious schools. I attended such programs, and I have taught in them, and my experience is that those who attend the schools both make much of having attended college and of having attended the colleges they have.

Sometimes, the awareness of attending college has been a good thing. I have had many students who were the first in their family to go to college (and some who were the first to have graduated high school or its equivalent), and most of them have been keenly aware of the privilege commensurate with that attendance. They have seen how much they work who do well in life without having attended or completed higher education, or they have experienced first-hand life in the lower reaches of the underclass–no few of my students have been ex-cons–so they have a keen idea what college can mean. They value it, and so they tend to be among the more diligent and devoted of my students. It tends to make them my favorites, for, having come from a similar background–as I write, neither of my parents has completed an undergraduate degree, and my father still works in the trades–I am sympathetic to their situations and appreciate hard work in itself.

Sometimes, the identification is, if not good, generally harmless. When I taught for a Big 12 school, for example, much was made of having attended the institution, of participating in its traditions. While some of those traditions have unfortunate overtones and undertones, and I found many of those traditions decidedly annoying as an instructor expected to conduct classes among them, they were largely benign, allowing the students a sense of community extending back from themselves and, presumably, forward to students yet to attend the school. Many involved athletic and academic rivalries with other schools in the conference, particularly the other such school in the state, but, as encounters with populations from those schools was relatively rare, the rivalries little mattered. (Little, of course, because there were always some who used the rivalries as excuses for all manner of bad behavior, although rarely so bad as I have seen in Texas, when the Longhorns and Aggies still faced one another.)

In no few cases, though, the identification becomes outright problematic. I have long since lost count of the number of times I have been told by students at state schools and two-year schools and schools of last resort that they are “only” at such institutions. Term after term, year after year, institution after institution, I have heard students say that they are “only” at the school where they study, as if earning a spot in a program is not itself a worthy thing, as if the learning they are doing does not matter because it is not done at some fancy place where more is made of who a person’s parents are than the effort they expend to achieve–or the results of that expended effort. Some try to use the “only” to excuse their own non-performance, but more say it with a certain tone in their voices that bespeaks their having accepted a lesser status for having gone to less prestigious schools. When they say “only” to me, they are saying that they believe themselves less than, something I know not to be true but which I have yet to be able to convince more than a handful of my students that is so. It grieves me that they accept the identity which has been constructed for them, that they have internalized being less than for the schools they attend, and while I do everything I can to ensure that what they get is of value, because of such identities as they and I have, there are barriers that I know not how to surmount.

So, yes, Patel is on to something, and the article is correct in its assertions. But there is more to explore on the matter, and there are many more than might be expected who would benefit from that exploration.

In Response to Coleen Flaherty

On 18 December 2017, Coleen Flaherty’s “Where the Grass Is Greener” appeared in the online Inside Higher Ed. The article reports results from a Cornell working paper that suggest those who earned doctorates in humanities and social sciences and who left academia for non-academic non-profit work are more satisfied with their work than those who remain in academia–and, it seems, those who work in for-profit jobs. The study also seems to suggest that women in academia do not suffer from choosing to have children to so great a degree as has often been supposed. Flaherty presents opinions of several involved with and concerned with the Cornell study, as well, illuminating the work further and, ultimately, presenting an interesting read.

What Flaherty presents also corresponds with my own experience of such things. While I am not now and have never been a tenured or tenure-track faculty member–and have, indeed, given up on the idea of being so–I did complete a doctorate, and I did (and do) work in academe, but I do most of my work for a non-profit substance abuse treatment facility in the Texas Hill Country (as I have noted, I think). And I am in contact with no few of my former classmates and coworkers, many of whom are tenured or on the tenure track–and what they tend to share more or less publicly suggests that the life of the mind is far from the idyllic, indolent life many outside it believe it to be. At the same time, although I do face some problems in my current primary line of work, I find myself generally satisfied with my lot in life.

Why would I not be? I am paid by the hour, so that if I work more, I earn more. The job is inside work with no heavy lifting. I get paid holidays and leave time, and I am clearly on the side of good. My job helps people help people, and that has not always been the case with what I have done in the classroom. My skill-set is respected and appreciated, and I am able to deploy more of it than I was in the classroom or the research carrel–as well as deploying my specialized training in interesting ways. And, unlike the humanistic research I have done, I never have to wonder about whether or not my current work matters in people’s lives; I know that what I do and what I help make happen makes people’s lives better.

Yes, I know that my experience is idiosyncratic and anecdotal. Yes, I know that it cannot be taken as representative on its own. But I also know that enough such testimonies can be, and that adding mine to them, adding my small confirmation to the study Flaherty reports, helps enough such testimonies emerge that something might be done with them. And I know that I, at least, am better off working where I work than I might well be otherwise, and I am content with it.

I’m on Plan C or D, Now

I have made something of a habit of following up on pieces I’ve written before–as witness “Another Office Piece” and “Still Another Office Piece.” Another such witness is “My Revised Plan B” in How to Succeed in College: It’s Never Too Late! Part Two for Adult Learners, which is itself an extension of a paper I wrote in my first year of graduate school. In the original paper, I note that pursuing the study of English languages and literatures was a fall-back from my initial plan of being a band director when I grew up; it was a thing I did because I had failed in my intent. In the published revision, I note the ways in which that failure worked to my benefit–and some of them are still true. For example, I am still happily married to the wonderful woman I met in grad school, and I am still bringing in additional money through the skills I developed through studying the liberal arts–although it never seems to be enough.

But there are other things about which I am somewhat less sanguine. As I’ve commented, my academic job search did not go well–at all. I am still teaching part-time at one school, and it looks like that will be about all; I abortively work on pieces for the Tales after Tolkien Society, but most of my scholarly effort is not. I cling to the teaching job out of a combination of stubborn unwillingness to completely abandon what I spent too long attempting–much as I still own instruments and pretend to have ideas about music–and the fact that the job offers me a way to bring in extra money for my family, but I harbor no illusion that it will be anything other than a side-line pursuit for me. (I do still torture myself by looking at academic job listings from time to time. I should not, I know, and I know that a PhD earned in 2012 and not supported by substantial publication since does not suit me for the declining number of jobs being offered.)

No, what I do now is far more mundane; I work as an administrative assistant for a local non-profit. The job is a good one. I have regular hours and ample time to pursue my side-line incomes. (My rates are reasonable, my performance excellent. You can give here.) I am helping people to help people, making their jobs easier so that they can do more for those in need of the agency’s services, and I have actual promotion potential–explicitly and overtly. The pay could be better, of course, and there are always things about a job that annoy, but I have a robust holiday schedule and a supportive set of coworkers, so things are pretty nice, overall. I know I am lucky to be in the situation, to have found a decent, steady job in the world outside academia after more than a year since moving back to Texas and 130 applications for full-time work in that time. I am in a reasonably good position at the moment (although I know it is precarious), and I know it.

At the same time, I am following up on earlier pieces, and I do have to note that there is some mismatch between what I was supposed to do and what I am doing. I was supposed to find an academic job, one that offered promotion potential and would allow me to live the life of the mind as a more-or-less full-time thing. (I know that the professoriate has committee and governance work to attend to, and that there are other concerns associated with the work, but still…) Indeed, several people I know in academe have expressed shock and dismay at the fact that I am not in the field–which is flattering, to be sure, but serves to highlight that I have “fallen.”

And it is hard not to think of the job I have now, one that I would have been able to do out of high school, as in some ways a fall, as in some ways another failure. Again, I know that the job is a good one, and I know I am lucky to have it, and I am grateful that I do have it–but I cannot help but feel that I have wasted parts of my life. I met my wife the first day I was in my master’s program, after all; the PhD did not make me love her any more, and I am not sure that it has done as much to help me maintain my family as it cost us for me to earn it. My student loan debt is smaller than that many hold, and I have paid on it long (with the accompanying benefit to my credit rating, if not to my bank accounts), but it is still nearly the equal of two years’ pay for me–with a job that I did not need to take on the debt load to qualify for. And I field the question, time and again, of why I am not teaching at some level as a full-time thing, why I have settled for the job I have or deigned to take it–not least from the people with whom I work and who have hired me, and who use such words or close enough as makes no difference.

Once again, I know that matters are reasonably good for me at the moment, and that they could be far worse, and I am not unmindful that I have what I have. But when I look at how matters stand with me, and I look at how they might have stood by looking at others next to whom I have stood, for months or years at a time, I have to think that, despite the great value of what I have, the price I paid for it was far higher and that I was a fool to let myself be led into making such a bargain when there was no need. And after spending more of my life than not in the pursuit of living a life of the mind, I have to regard being fooled as a failure–and since my plan B in English has failed, I have to hope that I can at least squeeze by on the C or D where I find myself now.