Yesterday’s a day away

7 09 2009

It’s about time.

All those boxes of files, the folders full of print outs of journal articles, cut-outs from newspapers, clippings from The New Yorker and The Nation, transcripts from The NewsHour (and before, the MacNeill/Lehrer NewsHour), Gina Kolata and Elizabeth Farnsworth and Lawrence Wright. Time to go.

Start easy: start with the ‘Media/Polls’ box. There’s only one of those, and you know you want to get rid of those, right? You haven’t looked at its contents in six years, not since you left Montreal, not since you threw a shovelful of dirt over the remains of your academic career and lit out for your life.

One box, shouldn’t take long. One less to cart to wherever it is you’ll go next. And it’s on your list.

The first folder: ‘Media–to be filed’. What? I thought these were mostly polls, old and outdated and easily disposed of, save for pulling out the staples or off the binder clips and reshuffling the paper for reuse as the back end of lecture notes. Gallup and Roper and whatnot.

But here’s a piece by Sallie Tisdale, and another by Annie Dillard and another by an old colleague, Carl Elliott. Carefully annotated with publication date, volume, number. Haven’t read any of these likely since I yanked them out of Harper’s and The Atlantic 7, 8, 12 years ago.

Next up: Cloning. All the Times‘ pieces, the television transcripts. Here are a few pieces by Leon Kass, my Pilot-penned scrawls arguing with him in the margins.

Here is the stillborn promise of books never to be written, articles never to be submitted. Here is my dead career, never carefully tended, finally abandoned to die, mummified in filed slices.

And my career as an academic is dead, no question about it. Oh, I stroll through the cemetery regularly as an adjunct, but ‘adjunct’ is just another term for dead-end job.

I know this. I know this. I knew what I was doing six years ago, even if I didn’t know the consequences of what I was doing, even if I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I knew that the slow climb from assistant to associate to full professor was not for me, that I would not end an emeritus.

Even now that I know the consequences, I can’t say I was wrong to have dropped off the tenure track. Sure, I might even have managed the climb, secured myself in some out-of-the-way department somewhere, but it wouldn’t have been my life. A role, only.

It will be good for me, finally, to have finished with these files, to have disarticulated the stories and narratives within. But I know they meant something, once, that they mattered, once, and it grieves me to put it all behind me.

I will feel lighter, when I am done, however heavy I feel now.

Lighter, yes.

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2 responses

11 09 2009
emilylhauser

It can be so hard, can’t it? The admission that it’s over, that the choice was made to make it over, to walk away, whatever the It was. My mother used to always say (well, not always. Only when I was in trouble): “I always love you, I just don’t always love what you do” — and even at the age of 10, 11, whatever, even as I understood the essential lovingkindness behind the comment, I would think “but what am I, other than what I do?” We are what we choose to do, so often, and I often find it hard to admit that I have stopped choosing to do/be something that I have had to leave behind.

(Also: Oy, the “to file” folders! They will plague me and be with me until the day I die!)

11 09 2009
absurdbeats

I made the choice quite awhile ago, so I thought I was ‘over’ it. But cracking open those file boxes collapsed time, hurled me back to a place that I had long ago hurried away from.

In other words, I skipped out on the full consequences of that decision. There have been times when I’ve recognized this (mainly when I’m around old grad school friends who have gone on to successful academic careers), but I could treat it as ephemera.

Fifteen hundred plus journal articles and however many other incidental files? Not so ephemeral.

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