Saturday, March 10, 2007

Holding Patterns

For about the past nine months, I've been in a kind of holding pattern. With deciding to go on the market, I also decided (somewhat consciously, somewhat not) to put important parts of my life on hold. To say that it didn't make sense to deal with them, as I might not have this life at the end of the process. Well, that process has reached it's conclusion, and it looks like I've been catapaulted out of the holding pattern. This is my life, at least for another year (and perhaps for longer, for who knows whether I'll try the market again).

I'm not feeling terribly negative about the experience of going on the market. Sure, it's disappointing (my least favorite emotion) not to be picked, but ultimately, I really do believe that such things happen for a reason, and so, well, if I'm here, then this is where I should be. At least for now. And there are some positive things to recount as well. I really was made to feel like my scholarship was valuable throughout this process, and like I'm not just some fraud at some low-rent university. That was important. And then there's the great thing of getting the book contract during this process, which further confirmed my viability in this profession while at the same time it made me realize that I really have been able to do all of what I strive to do in my current job. A lot of people go looking on the market from jobs like mine because they can't do what they want to do in those jobs. Apparently, I can do whatever I want to do in exactly this kind of job. That's good to know. So I come out of this job search year feeling more proud than anything, even if the end result was rejection.

But so how to move forward? It's difficult to know. On the one hand, my life right now is all possibility. On the other hand, it's complicated. My life is all possibility and yet there are clear and rigid limitations on that possibility.

Another complication is this online life that I conduct, which is separate from my "real life" and yet also is a very real thing in my "real life" life. I'm not sure how to reconcile the life that I have as Dr. Crazy with the life that I have as "me." The recent infatuation forced me finally to confess my blog to my BFF here (I'd not done so before because she just didn't get the academic blogging thing, and I figured that it didn't make sense to reveal this thing that was about something that she wasn't interested in, though now she knows about the blog and is reading it, so hello BFF!), which I suspect is a huge step in reconciling this gap between the real and the virtual.

That said, there are real ways in which the virtual identity that is Dr. Crazy is problematic. I get to know people as "Dr. Crazy" and then, when it crosses over into the "real person" behind the curtain (much in the way of the Great Oz), there is... static. Not necessarily static that can't be overcome, but it's a strange thing, when people get to know one as this constructed identity, and then, through whatever circumstances, they come to know the puppetmaster behind Dr. Crazy. I think that part of the problem is that I think they "know" me, when what they know is what I've chosen to present here, which is (obviously) a different thing. Also that I assume they've been cataloguing every minute detail of what I reveal here, which just isn't the case. I also think part of the problem is that they think they "know" ME, when who they know is Dr. Crazy, and then as it goes deeper that they learn I'm something other than what they thought I was.

You know, this isn't only an issue with the blog, though. I've had this issue in a lot of circumstances - where people THINK I'm one way and then realize I'm another.

Example 1: In high school, I had a teacher whose first impression of me was that I was a stupid girl with a bad attitude. (She didn't say this in exactly this way, but that's the gist.) There was something about the expression on my face, when she first met me, that made her think I would be difficult. But then, when I spoke, as she recounted to me later, "I realized that you were just thinking." (This is not unlike the experience I've had with various boyfriends who've thought I was upset about something when I was just focusing on something. Apparently "focus" reads on my face as "bitch.")

Example 2: I went out with a guy in grad school who, when we broke up, said, "You know, when all of this started with us, I thought you just wanted to have a good time. That you were just looking for a good time. But you're not this party girl. You're actually really serious."

I realize these examples are contradictory, but my point is, I think that I have a problem with self-presentation. In that, I'm very good at presenting myself in very particular ways, but when the Crazy Behind the Curtain is revealed, it turns out I'm not as I appear. There is this radical disjunction between what I seem and what I am. This is only exacerbated by the conscious creation of an online identity, I'm thinking.

But so what does all of this identity shit have to do with holding patterns? Well, I think it has to do with the fact that the one identity I've always been sure of is my identity in school. As a student, as a professor, whatever. That is very solid for me, and it's something that I can control. It's the personal stuff that always gets put on hold, and one reason for that is that I can negotiate my "school" identity much more easily than I can negotiate the Crazy behind the Curtain identity. I know who I am with work. I wonder whether I do in other areas.

Even as I say that, though, I realize it's disingenuous. I think I'm completely coherent in all areas, really. It's just I keep getting evidence that what I think is wrong. At some point I'm going to have to deal with that, right? The fact that what I think is, ultimately, wrong.

But so instead of dealing with that, I put those parts of my life that apparently aren't coherent on hold rather than dealing with them. Rather than dealing with the disjunctions between what I appear to be and what I am (if there is such a thing as "real" being, blah blah blah), I ignore the disjunctions, and instead I focus on work. Which makes me really good at getting work shit done, but it really fucks up the rest of my life, right? And it means that I'm sitting here late on a Saturday night writing this philosophical blog post rather than having the life I actually want to have.

The fact of the matter is that I'm not really Crazy. I think I like to construct myself as such, but that ultimately my desires are, well, mundane. I think that ultimately I'm serious and pragmatic and practical and methodical. This is why the school stuff works so well. But it's also the thing I refuse to admit in other areas of my life, which means that I end up in a whirlwind of insanity that ultimately I can't sustain. And so, what I do is one of two things: I retreat - retreat into work - and put all other areas on hold, or I jump in head first into things that will ultimately break my heart but which allow me to preserve the fiction that I'm "Crazy" and not the actual pretty mundane person who I am. Which then ultimately leads back to work, because when I ultimately fail to sustain the Crazy, the work is always there waiting to serve as a convenient substitute for whatever else is missing.

So yeah. I've been in a holding pattern. And now, I'm out of it. And I know I've got to do something not to end up back in one again. The question is, what?


Dr. Medusa said...

Well, I can obviously only comment as someone who knows the "real" Crazy and who has never been able to see the blog Crazy except through that lens. I can say, though, that you are definitely crazy--just not in the sense of reckless and wild or in the sense of neurotic or "psycho" or whatever. You are pragmatic and practical, but you are also fun and funny and full of this boundless energy. You make irreverent and hilarious observations. You are loud and you tell people what you think. You are the girl at the party who will talk to everyone about 10,000 different subjects, who will take charge of the music situation and likely sing a number, who will tell some guy he's a pretentious fuck (who doesn't know jack shit about Salman Rushdie, thank you very much), and who then might make some pancakes.

You are just not the girl who will run off on a tour bus with the musicians who showed up at the end of the party. You are sensible but that doesn't mean you're boring. I also don't think of you as particularly "serious." You take what you do seriously, but you do not take yourself (or life itself, in fact) very seriously.

Ok, this comment is getting way too long, but I do want to propose that this particular Dr. Crazy brand of crazy does come across on the blog. I think it has to be part of why your readers enjoy it.

David said...

I think you need to go to Hawaii. It is warm and beautiful. You smell the air and the rest of it just disappears.
(I'm only partially kidding.)

Earnest English said...

Dr. Crazy,

I think it's totally normal to have multiple sides to one's personality -- to be crazy and the practical academic. I think that one of the great things about blogs is that they do allow us to play around with and express what we don't ordinarily express and represent in our daily lives. I imagine that behind the closed office doors of any department, faculty are writing their blogs about how impossible everything is. I love it! It makes me feel normal!

But what your post really reminds me of is this experience I had with a dissertating friend who reads my blog. She sent me an email about reading my blog and then a whole tirade of unsolicited advice for how to deal with my dissertation. I didn't handle this well. Though I imagine that some people I know in RL do read my blog, I expect my blog to be like Las Vegas: what happens on the blog stays on the blog. (In fact, I just didn't email her back, even to the maddening requests in it. Of course, you, Crazy, would not do this terrible passive-aggressive thing.)

Since BFF is not into academic blogging, I would consider laying that out -- that this is a place where you play with other aspects of your personality. Surely everyone recognizes that we are multifaceted -- and that however much we love academia, that we do give a lot of ourselves to it and there are other parts of ourselves that are not fed by it.

Okay, this comment is waaaayyy too long. Thanks for making me think this slow Sunday afternoon.

helenesch said...

I don't know if my reflections really fit into anything you've said here, but since I don't have a blog (and since yours is one of a handful I've been reading regularly for years), I'll indulge myself anyway...

Like anyone else, I have lots of different sides to my personality, and I think it's really easy to lose sight of this living in the insular world of academia. This is especially true for me since I'm single (no partner with an outside/nonacademic life) and since I live in a college town where it's not easy to meet non-academic friends.

Being on sabbatical in a cool city in the Pacific NW (very far from my midwest college town) last semester gave me a chance to meet and hang out with people who have nothing at all to do with academia. Upon first returning to my job, I felt sort of like I left a part of myself there--since here I'm mostly just a professor, whether I'm "at work" or socializing with other folks I know through the university.

But recently I started going to a new social-group-thing in the city (and its suburbs) about an hour from here. And what I've discovered is that these other "sides" of myself are still there--they emerge quite easily in nonacademic contexts. And it's been really, really good (and fun!) to be in these other contexts and to remember that I'm more than just what I do on my job... Not that my colleagues or students would say that there's no fun side to me, or even that I'm too serious, but somehow *I* just feel different (in a good way) when there are more different contexts in which to express these different sides...

For some reason your post brought this all to mind, even though the identity issues I'm thinking about aren't really about blogging or being anonymous. I think it's more just about how our jobs can become kind of all-encompassing in ways that go beyond just sucking up all our time.