So tonight I had a great talk with my friend J., and it was... yeah, it was good. J. has had one hell of a past couple of years, involving a bad relationship, changing jobs, and a bunch of other things. But the thing that's great about talking to J. is that she's totally outside of the academic orbit. She reads self-help books and chick lit unironically, she goes to a shrink and to a psychic, she makes mistakes but she's always thinking about how to improve who she is. She believes that you can improve who you are. She's 35, single, she's got this great career, and she's not... cynical - even though she could be. Of the people in my life, I think that she's probably the one person I'd ever say wasn't cynical (even when she should be, some might argue - that a dose of cynicism can ultimately be a blessing). My point, I suppose, is it's good to have a person in one's life who can tell you, again, without irony, that you should pray to god and to the angels for what you want and then you'll get it. (She's not all fundamentalist or something - she just actually believes in things, which so many of us are far too "smart" to do.)
But so one thing that I've been thinking a lot about is that I need to live my life more - all parts of it. In a lot of ways I'm a really closed off person. I know, how is this possible, given that I blab all of my business out to the world every day? But while I blab, in my actual life, I think that I sometimes don't take leaps I should take. Oh sure, I take leaps, but they are rational leaps, sensibly and carefully considered leaps. And sure, people are often noting my "bravery" in taking those leaps that I do take, which for others might seem incredibly risky. But what I do when the opportunity for a real irrational leap happens is I back off. This is all related to my tendency to fall into holding patterns, to my tendency to put things that are scary or uncertain on the back-burner and instead to focus all of my attention on that which is controllable. The thing about J., as wacky as she may be with the angels and the psychic and all the rest, is that she really is open to possibility. I love the idea of possibility, I don't really believe in it and I'm not really open to it, not if it doesn't fit into the rational and logical constraints of my life. The problem is, I make those rational and logical constraints, and so perhaps a dose of faith might do me some good.
I've been thinking a lot about this because of the intense pressure I've been feeling in the past month or so, related to work stuff. I honestly haven't felt this kind of pressure since getting this job. Sure, I've been busy, and I've accomplished a lot - perhaps more than many others in the same situation might do - but what getting a job meant for me was that I had mental and physical space to become my unpressured self again. That's not to say that there hasn't been pressure, but I became a person who read for pleasure again, who listened to music again, who wrote in my journal not only about work again (the dissertation took over all journaling when I was dissertating, so I had to learn how to write in there about my life again after that was finished). In the past month or so, I've reverted in some really fucked up ways to the person I was in graduate school. I've lashed out at people who haven't deserved it, I've been really emotionally up and down, I've been beating myself up for all I'm not getting done, I've been really insecure about whether I'm doing anything well. And the thing that's crazy is that I remember being this person, and I thought she was gone.
The thing is about this, though, that some parts of it are really great. That may seem contradictory, but there is something... alluring... about not having every single fucking thing under control. It's nice in some ways (though uncomfortable) to think that things might happen that I don't plan, that I don't decide. But the corollary of that is that I also feel really out of control, and that makes me do things that don't make me happy, in an effort to get the control back. Notice a recurring word here? That pesky word "control"? Yes, I think I may be a bit of a control freak.
The fact of the matter is, I want to control everything. I always have. Like the whole world, I mean. I want to control how other people feel in relation to me, I want to control how every aspect of the classes that I teach go, I want to control every. little. thing. This is not healthy. I know it's not healthy. I do my best not to be this person. But deep down, this is who I am. And at the end of the day, I totally wish I were different. Because while these impulses serve me in many areas, they are deeply, deeply fucked up. And they fuck me up, even as I think at the time that they make everything ok.
I don't want to be a cynical person. I don't want to be a closed off person. I don't want to be a jaded person. I don't want to be the sort of person who questions everything to the point that she makes it unreal. I don't want to be the sort of person who retreats into work because it's controllable when ultimately, work is not going to be the thing that gives my life meaning.
In my conversation with my mom this afternoon, I said something that I never would have imagined I'd say. I said to her that if I won the lottery, or if there were a really good reason akin in scale to winning the lottery, that I would quit this job in a minute, even if it meant not having a job as a college professor on the tenure-track. I blurted this out while I was crying to her, and I didn't know I felt it or that it was true until I said it. The fact of the matter is, this job, this career, which I've used to define myself and to order my choices since I was 20 years old, isn't really all that important to me. I am in a place where I feel like I've achieved what I'd meant to achieve, and if something else came along - some opportunity, some possibility - I think it would be a mistake to hang on to this career just because of the years that I put into achieving it. The thing is, I've done what I set out to do, and ultimately, while my life is fine, I'm not satisfied with it. It's not enough. It never has been. I don't think it can be.
I don't want to go on the market next year just to move up in the academic hierarchy or something. I don't give a shit about that, even though I think I did when I went on the market this year. And I don't want to stay here just to get tenure. Sure, tenure means security, but fuck security if it means living this deliberately limited life.
But so. Where does all of this leave me? I've had this revelation, so now what?
- Of course I'm going to keep wanting things professionally and I'm going to keep pushing myself professionally. But that can't happen to the exclusion of everything else.
- Even as I'm totally overcommitted and totally stressed out, I'm going to work on my personal life right here. Sure, I might leave, but living in the future is no answer to my present dissatisfaction. Especially since this mythical future may never come.
- I'm going to let a thing that's going on in the periphery go on, and I'm going to see what develops. I'm not going to shut it down because it's inconvenient and stupid. Because as inconvenient and stupid as it is, it's somehow important. I don't know in what way it's important, but it's not some fake, imaginary thing, and it's not ... I don't know. I don't know what it's not but that's partly because I'm not entirely sure what it is. And while that indeterminacy is totally uncomfortable, I'm not going to do, or I'm going to try not to do, that thing I do, where I stop things before there's anything, really, to stop. (I'll admit, I already did a version of that thing I do, and - I think luckily - I failed.) But yes, it's in the periphery, and I need it not to be in the center, but I also think that I need to let it play out to whatever conclusion to which it will naturally come. I need to not do some melodramatic thing that closes off possibility (which I did in the one other comparable situation to this that I've had in my life - which I named and controlled and ultimately turned into a thing that cannot become anything other than the thing that I decided it could be).
Today's been a quiet day. Other than talking to J. and my mom, and to A. in the morning, I've been pretty much silent. I haven't been emailing, I haven't been emoting. I've kind of just been sitting with myself. And I think that's good for me every now and again, even if it's not something that is the norm for me, which it's not, because I'm chatty.
It's just so weird to think that I don't really care whether or not I remain an academic. It's so weird to think that I care about other things more than I care about professional accomplishments and success.
So I've been listening to the iPod on shuffle, and the song "Absolutely Cuckoo" by the Magnetic Fields just came on. I think that signals the end of this post.