March 16, 2014

Reinvention update

It has been since last summer that I realized I had to reinvent myself.  The academic world spoke loud and clear in their decision that I was not one of them.  That was painful.  It still is at times.  I have recurring dreams where I confront the Community College people and remind them that I am actually a better teacher than they are--and that they betrayed me at a pretty deep level.  There are times when I want to send a letter, or email, or anonymous fax.

I don't do any of that, of course.  I know full well that will accomplish nothing.  Worse than nothing, it would fulfill a narrative that I was unfit for their job.

Those dreams are fewer now, which is nice.  I still have dreams where I struggle to explain being a failure.  I don't feel like that when I am awake, but think there are still vestiges of this sense of "not measuring up."  I felt that often when I was around tenure-track or tenured faculty friends.  It is that sense that my friend M labeled the "cult of academia."  Those inside often cannot even imagine qualified people being outside the cult, even as they know full well the arbitrary and capricious nature of the job market.  Perhaps that is necessary for their own mental health, I don't know.

I had two such interactions of late.  One was at a pilates class, where I am trying to work on my range of motion in my frozen left shoulder (no surgery planned for the immediate future, so that is great).  One of the ladies who attends regularly is a professor who teaches in Film and Video Studies.  I used to teach a film history class that was cross listed, and attended several of their meetings.  She and I didn't have a relationship, so I am more forgiving of what happened.  But the upshot was that she has no recognition that she has ever met me.  I am outside the cult, and so one of the ordinaries--the muggles.  Then yesterday, SOF and I took the dogs to a school yard for some frisbee exercise, and met a philosophy professor walking his dog.  He too didn't even recognize me, even though he and I have had several conversations.  Perhaps it is the facial scruff, or hat.  Or perhaps it is cult blindness.

Both of those stung, though not at the level of old hurts.  I am moving on.  I will continue to teach when I get the opportunities, but have pretty much lost my love of academia.  I now read colleagues complaining about students, or administrations, or about the pressure of for-profit colleges--and I have lost sympathy.

So what am I doing?  I am working on the board of a small non-profit organization.  We put on concerts, art exhibits, and poetry readings.  We manage a historic building.  I love the work, even though it costs me money.  I love meeting the artists, and don't even mind hauling chairs and setting up stages.

That got me thinking.  Last fall, I often told people that I was interested in volunteering for non-profit social justice, but I had "some physical issues and didn't see myself hauling food or stocking shelves."  Part of that was true.  My shoulder was painful.  But part of that was about pride and fear.  I have a Ph.d.  I am a doctor.  I am a published professor.  I didn't want to carry groceries or sweep floors.  I can admit that.

But the arts non-profit made me rethink that.  I started volunteering well before I joined the board, and I volunteered because I love the mission and I love the music.  I realized that could apply to the food bank, and the homeless shelter as well.  I had no problem hauling chairs or stages or picking up trash for the concerts.  No reason why I couldn't do the basics for another mission I value.  With that in mind, I did my first volunteer session with our state food bank last week. I spent about 3 hours sorting food with about 20 other strangers.  It was strangely intense and even fun.  I then toured Norman's only homeless shelter (the other one just closed) and found myself amazed at their work.  All with one hand tied behind their back (no state funding, and limited federal money).  They feed people on the street, in their kitchen.  They find temporary housing for single mothers and other homeless.

I had visions of doing consulting for non-profits.  But I realized I didn't know what to offer them, because I didn't know what they needed.  I am nopeful that volunteering will, as it did with the arts organization, help me understand where I can contribute.

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