Does It Matter What I Write?

Life without an academic job.

October 19, 2015

The year of my failure, as I have come to think of it, is shaping up quite well. If that sentence seems contradictory, let me explain. I am in the midst of the year of my failure because I do not have an academic job. I failed to secure academic employment for the entire year. It is, therefore, the year of my failure.

Yet, failure aside, the days and weeks are quite lovely. To begin, I was able to take a vacation in late September to the southwest, which is beautiful at that time of year. I did not have to worry during my days away about missing classes or being behind in lesson planning. The vacation was pure bliss. After ten years on an academic calendar, this experience was lovely. Late September and all of October are wonderful months to vacation. I am happy to remember that fact. I will add here as a commitment to material transparency that, while I failed to secure academic employment, I have not failed to secure remunerative employment, which means I have some shekels to save for vacation.

I also have time to write in this year of my failure. Writing, of course, was the initial motivation for pursuing a PhD. Time to write—and to read and to think—make the days and weeks feel like less a failure and more a success. The other day, however, while organizing my writing projects and ensuring that I am reaching my daily minimum of a thousand new words, I wondered, does it matter what I write? It was a startling question.

Notice I do not ask, nor have I ever asked, does it matter if I write? I know the answer to that question: it matters to me and I am the only audience I care about in answering that question. So I know that I am going to write, but does it matter what I write?

The question raises many others: Does it matter if I finish the academic articles I have in draft form? Does it matter if I complete my revise and resubmit article? Does it matter if I finish my book manuscript? Does it matter if I do research for the next book project I have in mind? Does it matter what I write?

If I become a complete failure and extend this year of my failure into a life of failure (an exciting and ever-present proposition), then it does not matter if I publish articles, if I revise and resubmit, if I complete an academic book, if I imagine another project. The truth is, in my life of failure, I could spend my days writing for blogs, writing emails, writing novels, writing plays or writing Facebook posts (though my friends would get tired of a thousand words a day on Facebook). In fact, in my life of failure, I could never write another word for any audience beside myself and a small circle of correspondents. Maybe this is the silver lining of failure people describe.

Only one small exception occurs to prick this fantasy of liberation. What I write matters to the subjects of my research. The years of reading, interviews, gathering materials, talking with people,  thinking, and speaking about lesbian-feminist publishing has resulted in a million small and large commitments to make these stories visible on printed pages. What I write matters to a small audience for whom I care deeply and to whom I am accountable. They do not care if I have a job. They do not care if I am a success or a failure. They care that I tell their stories. So I write.

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ, and Frontiers. She is the author of two poetry collections, Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). She is editor of Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011). Milk & Honey was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. She is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.


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