March broke me. The best way I could describe it to those closest to me is that my carefully built armor was shattered in a way I hadn’t thought possible. But I didn’t want to rebuild it because its collapse revealed how illusionary it really was. No, this wasn’t a moment that I needed to pick myself up and brush myself off and carry on; this was a moment of profound change, but I had no idea where to go from that moment on. I was defenseless, but the old defenses had failed me. I was left with the unknown.
If you think I’m being melodramatic, there was a day in March where I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to call my husband and ask his to come home to look after me. I was afraid, afraid of myself. I couldn’t stop crying. I had failed; I had failed my family, I had failed my friends and colleagues, all the people who believed in me and supported me and rooted for me. And I had failed myself. Everything was so completely outside of my control, and I felt utterly alone and helpless.
I didn’t get any of the jobs. I got my course list for the fall: five more of the same courses I would teach until I retired, or until the tenure faculty or administration decided to re-do the curriculum and change our courses with little input from the people actually teaching the majority of them. And then, budget cuts at the state level. More money for amenities, less money for actual teaching. Money-saving proposals that involved changing the instructor course load form 5/4 to 5/5 and upping the course caps in gen ed courses. If the high school English teachers can teach classes with upwards of 40 students, why can’t we?
I’d like to thank Katie Rose Guest Pryal for so eloquently putting into words what I was acutely feeling:
When you’re a contingent academic, you are bifurcated into two professional beings. Half of you is carved down into the being the university insists you become. But then there is the remainder of you, what’s left, the parts that the university doesn’t want. Often, those parts are the very best of you. What do you do with the leftovers? Squelch them down? Let them wither?
I was withering. Time and time again, I was reminded of my less-than status on my campus and beyond. I despaired that “instructor” was now how I would be defined professionally forever. No one would ever see past the choice to keep my family together and thus my current position. All of my “other” work the past five years, and all of the work that came before, would be forever overshadowed by “instructor.” I tried to come up with plans to shape myself into what I thought the university, any university would want.
I had lost myself.
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