Monday, October 16, 2006

Aesop's fables for an academic

I think of the Tortoise and the Hare. Last night, as my wife was preparing and worrying about today's start of her new job, I said that as much as I hate to admit it, she sometimes intimidates me. Sorry, she said, I don't mean to intimidate you. I explained it's not so much her as her success; that I feel like the hare in the race. Me, with all my ambition, and ideas, and drive, and confidence; she with laissez faire patience. Almost despite ourselves, our careers have recently taken unexpected turns. Slow and steady wins the race.

We were talking Saturday night over dinner (after the boys had gone to bed--sometimes you just have to eat late to have time to talk). I was mulling over my present difficulties with the question: So... what do you do? I asked, So... what do you do? just to see how she might couch it. She replied. Pretty impressive really, and I told her so. She does interesting, important work. That's really pretty neat, I said.

And what do I do? There's the question. I have a PhD in... No, that's not what I do. That's just a thing... a thing I have, a thing I've done. But, it's done already. Should I submit a formal proposal for turning my dissertation into a book? I've been thinking about what I'd do to change it. I probably should. It could be done inside a year, without preventing me from other activities, I'd think. I'll work that proposal up in the next couple weeks. Still settling into everything right now. But I'll find the time. I'm not sure where it will get me. A little academic capital. Not sure where or how I can spend it, unless it helps me get a faculty post, or gives me a leg up on tenure.

What do I do? I research... Do I? Not much lately really. Is that what I want? Is that what I want to do? If so, I need to get back to it. These are the questions. I can't say... I won't say I'm an unemployed college professor. What does that mean? I'm a teacher. Not for a few years now.

What do I do? I'm a father of two wonderful sons. I give talks, and freelance. I write. I work in [Field 1] and [Field 2] studies. Yeah. I really do. Hmm. So many projects. So many directions. Which path to choose... today?
Last night, my wife continued: You have so many wonderful ideas. This has been a hard year for you. I've kept wishing that I could do something about it.

I smiled gently, Yes, but apples in a basket rot for want of a nickel.

You could always start lobbing them at people. If you won't buy my apples, then take that!

Good idea, maybe, huh?

I think you really should write up those new children's book ideas; and try to get a publisher for the ones you've already written; and publish your dad's poetry. It'd be a good break for you, without so much pressure.
Maybe. Maybe. What do I do? See... many people wouldn't even ask that question, wouldn't worry over it. Who are you? Now that's a question people like. But, for me, my career really is important. Not necessarily in the traditional sense. I'm not a career man. But what I do is a major marker of my identity. Life is work.

My mother recounts the tale of me at 3 or 4, attending a Montessouri school in New York City. The big kids went upstairs, while us youngsters remained downstairs. What did they do up there?, I always wondered. Downstairs, I was bored, terribly bored, with the little games they would play, the mind-numbingly simple tasks they would have us do, as if they were challenging.

What's wrong, honey, why are you crying? my parents asked one day as we headed home.

All they do all day long is play play play... and I want to work work work I blustered.

So my mom made me up a Very Important Work Box filled with 1st and 2nd grade readers and math books, so I could get started on that very imporant life work I was going to do. I was happy. I was content. At 10, I took a paper route, getting up at 5:00 to spend an hour tossing papers into yards (or as often as not, falling asleep on my stack of papers, until my mom discovered me there, and taking pity on me, drove me through my rounds). At 11, I was working after school at a barbeque restaurant, carrying in firewood, dicing vegetables for the salad bar. I've never spent so long in my life without a hitching post, either school or a job, and if not a job, then I ran my own business.

This has been the hardest year of my life. I achieved a great, long dream of being a father. Now, two wonderful, challenging, frustrating, delightful boys. I reached a pinnacle with the PhD. Dr. Dad, me. But that wall stares me in the eyes. I feel boxed in. Where do I go from here? Ah, yes, that basket full of apples. I need to start lobbing.

There's a new post at [Lake View U.]. I've written about them before. It was my top pick for graduate school, but they didn't take me. I've applied there for three or four posts. The new posting is in my true subfield within [Field 1], but listed as part of [subfield 2]
Preferred: Candidates able to teach a range of courses in [subfield 2] and whose research interests include [true subfield].
Hmmmph. To be honest, I'm not sure it's a post for me. I'll write to my contacts on the faculty in that program to get a better sense. It'd be close to my inlaws. My wife would like that. But then, there's not really any work for my wife in her area of expertise and interest in that area.

Be a professor? I'm not sure. Oh, I'll apply... for a few jobs. But you never know... maybe them grapes is sour after all.

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