Lately, I’ve been having a very distinct feeling that I have been doing it all wrong. Although, honestly, I’m not even sure what “it” is for me anymore, so how can I even know that I’m wrong about what I am doing? But that feeling is still there, like I am missing something, some truth that alludes me, to help it all make sense, to feel like I am not wrong, somehow. Off-centered, off-balance, off-pace, slightly askew. The click that will not come. Not knowing what “it” is means that I am far from making anything right.
My son, the other day, he who loves lions and the color green and Pokemon and Minecraft and pizza, he looked at me and announced that he when he grew up, he wanted to do whatever it is that I do. I didn’t know how to react. When I pointed out that he didn’t even know what I did, he shrugged, and reasserted that he wanted to be whatever it is that mommy is. While I doubt that he will continue to dream of being a faculty developer, his declaration left me more than a little shaken – what made him think that any of this (*waves hands frantically around at whatever life and career I’ve built*) was desirable in the least.
Maybe he already knows, deep down, that he will have an easier time of it than his mother or his sister, from watching us (if I have learned anything about my son, it is that he is always watching and listening intently to everything going on around him). He won’t be punished for becoming a parent. He won’t be told he can’t be in a lab because he cries. If all goes well, he won’t be labeled unprofessional for the way he dresses or acts or even looks.
Then again, there may not be any faculty left to develop once he is ready to embark on such a career.
What he doesn’t see, is that his mom is a writer who doesn’t write (or at least a blogger who doesn’t blog), a teacher who isn’t teaching, a loudmouth who has lost her voice, a literature PhD who doesn’t read, a scholar who doesn’t write scholarship, a swimmer who no longer swims, a coach with no team…There is a joy in how I talk about my work, about my job, that he has not really heard before. But there is also a new kind of uncertainty. I’ve gotten so used to working, to fighting, that I don’t know where to focus all of this energy. Or rather, if the energy is even there anymore.
I was talking to a colleague the other day about all of the work and research and publishing I did while I was an instructor. She honestly couldn’t understand why I did all that in a job that didn’t require it of me. Part of it was my search for a job. Part of it was forward momentum; I started pushing the rock up the hill while in a tenure-track position, setting myself up to be awarded tenure years down the line. This would have been the time. At a certain point, things had been set in motion that I felt I needed to see through to the end. And it has now ended. So now what?
There are moments as well where, despite my successes, I am still completely powerless. I don’t even know how to write about these things I am not allowed to write about, because I have promised people I care about, other than to say that as I watch what is happening in Wisconsin and North Carolina and Louisiana, know that it is happening elsewhere, to people who are (rightfully in a lot of ways) too scared to speak out. What good is building all of this social (media) capital if I can’t use it to help the people I care most about?
And as these conversations take place, I am again reminded, implicitly and explicitly of my place: never-tenured, and thus undeserving; staff, and thus unworthy of academic freedom; a woman, and thus unprofessional; a blogger, and thus unserious. And none of that should matter, and yet all of it always does, because it is in this same environments where I live and work and collaborate. Where I am reminded that my decisions have been, in a lot of ways, wrong. What if I am wrong again in my next decision? Are there even any “right” decisions anymore?
But I am stubborn, for better or for worse. And I stay. And I work. And I will probably never change the world, but maybe I can help create the conditions where it can get a little better. I get emails, tweets, thanking me for what I write. I provide jumping off points for others to write better on the same topic. I come home and I leave my work at work and spend time with my family.
Maybe that’s what my son wants to be when he grows up.