Bad to the bone

12 02 2014

Good christ, do I make bad decisions.

It’s kind of astonishing how many truly bad decisions I have made, and how completely fucking clueless I am at the time I’ve made them that almost any other decision would have been better than the one I do go with.

I’m not a stupid person, so you’d think I’d have a handle on this decision-making thing. And I can be pretty good at helping someone else make decisions that make sense for them; then again, I’m not the one actually making those sensible decisions, so maybe it works out in spite rather than because of me.

And it’s not like these bad decisions lead to crazyfuntimes. Oh, they did, sometimes, when I was younger, when bad decisions were confined to evening or weekend plans and usually involved some sort of intoxicant: hanging on the bumper of Y’s car and skiing down the street in my topsiders; getting stoned in a stranger’s basement then rifling thru the cupboards for hard rolls and peanut butter; bringing approximately 100 times more booze than food on a camping trip to Mauthe Lake; accidentally starting a paper tablecloth on fire at Country Kitchen, and wrapping toilet paper around our heads and dancing thru the restaurant singing “Hare Krisna”.

(This last bit was a group effort—I don’t know that I was actually the one who tipped over the candle; in any case, I’ve been making up how awful we were to those waitresses by overtipping wait staff ever since.)

No, it was only when the stakes got larger did the decisions get both worse and less fun.

I started at Madison with the intention of majoring in political science and becoming a journalist. I declared the major early, and starting working at The Daily Cardinal my first semester. So far, so good.

But then I got to thinking that maybe I wasn’t cut out for journalism (even though I was totally cut out for journalism), and started snuffling around for something else to do.

Hence grad school.

No need to rehash my each and every bad grad decision, but you can be sure they were there and I diminished my prospects with each and every one.

(You want an example? I had a couple of editors sniffing around my dissertation, and one who made serious overtures to me to turn it into a book. Do you need to guess what I did? Nothing, that’s what I did.)

Blew thru two post-docs—two very good post-docs, with great colleagues and great conditions and which could have served as great launching pads for my career—with almost nothing to show for them except a desire to quit academia.

Such fine decisions.

Then the move to the Boston area. Christ. Next.

Then the move to Brooklyn (which involved multiple financially stupid decisions at both ends of the move), more bad job decisions, and, well, here I am.

I’ve known before of the low-quality of my decisions, but always had reasons for their badness: I was depressed, I was really depressed, I was getting over being depressed, I was so used to making bad decisions while depressed that I didn’t know how to make not-bad ones, I could only make decisions based on what I knew at the time. . . . Blah blah.

No, a coupla’ weeks ago I finally owned these shitty decisions, gathered them all into my arms and said Goddamn.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the full recognition of this bundle of badness; it’s just possible that knowing how terrible I’ve been at making decisions that I’ll try harder to make better ones, that I’ll check myself with a reminder of how badly things have gone before.

Oh, and by checking with people who by simple fact of not being me will offer better counsel to me than I could to myself.

Two more things. One, that I am not stupid has probably helped to mitigate some of the bad effects of the bad decisions. And not every decision I’ve made has been terrible (which may have helped lull me into thinking I was better at this than I am), so while I’m not where I want to be, I’m not at the bottom of the well, either.

Two, I’m not at the bottom of the well. Those bad decisions may have tipped me this way or that, but tipping over isn’t always all bad. Sometimes it’s just not what I expected, and sometimes, the unexpected is all right.

It’s all right.

Teacher teacher, can you reach me

30 01 2014

Classes have started again. Thank goddess.

I need the money (of course: I always need the money), but it’s more than that. While I’ve been working at home for the 2nd job, I just get. . . antsy before a new semester. Part of it is worry that my course will be cancelled, but even more so is the sense that my real work is in the classroom, so to be out of the classroom is, even if I have other work, to be out of work. My real work.

It’s taken me too long to get to this point, to know that, yeah, my real work is as a professor. Unfortunately, due to the many bad decisions I’ve made about my career, instead of being snugly ensconced in a nest somewhere in mid-level academia, I’m left to swing from semester to semester, hoping I can grab the next vine of courses just after I let go of this one.

(In 2011 those vines got yanked away a couple of times, and I crashed, hard. I won’t dig out from that financially until next year—if all goes well.)

Can I recover and manage to build some stability into my career? I dunno. You’ve only got so many years post-PhD to slide into the tenure track, and as I am some multiple of years beyond that time, I may have missed my chance(s).

But I don’t want to give it up, either. I enjoy teaching and am pretty good at it, and while I think academic publishing is a scam, I remain capable of solid research.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I am constitutionally unsuited for corporate work? Not that any corporation would have me.

I’ve gone round and round on this before, and have done nothing. Dmf has given me links to the, ah, Brooklyn Institute, I think, and there are plenty of non-CUNY institutions in the NYC area in which I could teach. (CUNY limits the number of courses adjuncts can teach any given semester & over the course of the year, so while I will send my c.v. to the campus closest to me, if I want more work I’ll have to go outside of CUNY.)

So there it is. I’ve finally figured out this is what I can do; now I need to just, y’know, do it.

Between the pen and the paperwork

12 09 2010

I finally did it.

After clearing out the 4 boxes and separating the recorded from the unrecorded articles, I piled up all the recorded articles  until I figured out what to do with them.

All that work—years worth of work—and the one, great, broken promise that those articles collectively represented sat in my small hallway, just outside of my bedroom. For months.

Yesterday, I went through the stacked meter of them one last time, pulled out a few to offer to my bioethics students, and carried the rest to the recycling bin. Today they were gone.

I still have about another foot left; these are the articles to be entered into my database and then, like the others, taken away. And there are still the hard copies of all those Human Genome Reports, the reports from DOE and NIH and NHGRI and OTA, along with some number of articles that I couldn’t quite part with; perhaps by the time I move again I’ll have figured out how to toss these, as well.

It’s not that big of deal, I tell myself. All of this is available online, either through the CUNY library system or, if I ever remember to join the Wisconsin Alumni Association, through the UW library system. It’s all still there, not gone at all.

But it feels like waste: a waste of paper, a waste of a career. All of this work I gathered (or which was gathered for me—thanks R.!) was to have led me further into an academic life, one in which I built a political theory of bioethics, taught medical and graduate students, participated in colloquia and conferences, and secured myself inside a tenured professorship.

Didn’t happen. Obviously.

I held on to those articles, nonetheless, never quite sure of when I might—might—need them again. After all, I’m still teaching, and who knows when that Theoretical Medicine or Human Gene Therapy or Philosophical Nursing piece might be exactly what I need. I once needed them, or at least, once thought I needed them; so who knows. . . .

I know: I don’t. They’ve been a kind of heavy security blanket, boxes of files I’d carted with me from Montreal to Somerville to (storage locker to storage locker in) Brooklyn. I’m done, I said, as I refused to get rid of all that with which I was done.

So about a year ago I decided it was time. I did nothing. Then I said, Hey, I have a file of all of those articles, so it’s not like I’m losing access to everything. I did nothing. Then I disinterred them from the boxes, sorted through them, piled them a meter high in the small hallway outside of my bedroom. Where they sat. Until yesterday.

It felt good to get rid of the clutter. I have pack-ratish tendencies, but I love the relief of unburdening myself of unnecessities.

It just took awhile to admit that these thousands of pieces of paper were a part of those unnecessities.

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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