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The State of Things

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and it occurred to me that a year ago this week, the Flying Buttress and I were getting in the car and driving 4 hours to see Janelle Monáe, who I was and am totally obsessed with, at a show we had been looking forward to for months. Last fall was so so hard. And her Electric Lady album basically saved my life. Every Saturday when we were doing our hour and a half drive down to a crossfit gym and decent groceries, we would blast that and I would feel like there was a world out there somewhere where I made sense.

And now I feel like I’m kind of there. I mean, we don’t live in an urban paradise or anything but this is a good place for us. We have everything we need plus a little extra. I’m happy on a pretty fundamental level and have been for months. It’s a good feeling!

My post-academic quest is proceeding, though I’m realizing that I will never feel fully post while I have a partner that is still an academic, and while I find myself still drawn to the talks and ideas, and while our friends are still mostly from that world. But I’m pretty happy with that. The only weird thing is that I don’t have a job right now and am having trouble making the shift in the way I talk. I often find myself participating in the typical griping-about-students conversations as if I’m still teaching. I guess it’s all still very fresh. And I don’t really have a new work identity to grab onto yet. But that will come with time.

I wanted to post about the things I’ve done to get myself closer to my goals. Partially because I’ve always found the prospect of informational interviews and other things daunting, but I’m sort of making myself do it. And maybe listing those efforts will help someone else who doesn’t know where to start.

1. I determined a while ago that I wanted to be a therapist, and more lately that I want to be a sex therapist specifically. I did that through a lot of talking with career counselors and reading super cheesy self-help career books and doing all the exercises. And taking personality tests online etc. This is all embarrassing to admit for some reason, but fuck it, it helped.

2. So when I moved I finally decided that I am only applying to MSW programs. I did this after talking to some friends who had MSWs, and figuring out that it is a legitimate path to a therapy practice in my area. I also realized that I did not want a super-specific degree again. A counseling MA give me more limited career options than an MSW. With this one, I know that I can always change focuses in my career without getting a whole new degree.

3. After I moved, I started googling and found the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and did some reading on there. I then looked at their list of folks in my state who practice sex therapy and with whom I share similar interests and emailed two of them. They both were really happy to talk with me. The first, though, I fucked up royally and missed the phone appointment that we had set. So unlike me but I was just totally disorganized from the move. She seemed unwilling to reschedule, which is completely understandable. So I moved on to the second person, who said she would rather talk by email (yay!). So I emailed her four or five questions that I have, telling her that her answers didn’t have to be extensive, and she emailed me back such a wealth of information and a huge reading list, and gave me a new contact. So that was awesome and confirming. I haven’t followed up with finding new people yet or contacting the person she suggestion, but I will down the road. I just felt like that was enough for now.

4. I’ve been telling everyone that I’m applying to the MSW program in our town and one of the coaches at our gym put me in touch with another member who just finished it. So she and I had coffee and I got a much better idea of what the program was like and what to expect from the career following in general. Super helpful.

5. I have two volunteer gigs going. One at the local rape crisis center to get some more recent experience with counseling, and one at the humane society which is mostly just for me because I like walking dogs. But especially with the first one, I’ve gotten some good, recent experience and learned a lot about the various organizations in our town, which will be really useful in the future when I start working.

6. Like the true post academic that I am, I’ve been doing lots of reading in my new subject area.

7. I am also following the recorded lectures of some Berkeley psych classes (they have a ton of classes recorded and posted on-line, actually). I don’t necessarily need to do this – MSWs do not require a psych background. But it’s interesting and again putting me in the mindset of what I’ll be doing down the road. Something about my formal education background also makes me embarrassed about this. But again. Whatever. It’s been helpful and interesting.

I think that’s it. Do any of you reading this have other ideas for how to explore new careers and get ready for a switch, especially if they are more job and less grad-program related (as mine are, but I’m guessing we all have a decent idea of how to apply to grad school)? I’m interested for myself. But we could also build a wee archive here.

And just for fun, I leave you with the incomparable Janelle Monáe:

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Moving On

It’s been a very happy last couple of weeks here. The flying buttress recently accepted the dreamiest of dream jobs. And even better, it’s in a place where I think we both will be very happy. It’s not a big city, though there is a major one just a 2 hour train ride away. But it’s a small city – about 200,000 people (the promotional material for the town loves the word “micro-urban.” so cute) – and a small city has always been my preference anyway. This place is magical. It has multiple good restaurants, a thriving farmer’s market, a good (though any is exciting) bus system, queer people, queer owned businesses, more queer people, parks, multiple yoga studios (and none have alters to jesus), a great food co-op, an arty movie theater and many many other amazing things that I used to take for granted and now seem kind of like miracles. F.B. and I are both over the moon. It’s fairly amusing because most of F.B.’s new colleagues are from big cities and think the place they are living is “quaint” but unexciting. But after two years where we’ve been, it seems like a huge exciting place to us. We went over spring break and walked around pinching ourselves the whole time at our luck. And we legitimately really liked being there. So yeah, things are much happier now.

The best part for me is that I feel like I can finally move on from teaching comp. I am so fucking over it. I’m still doing my work and being a good teacher and all of that. But inside I’ve just been feeling like I am going to crawl out of my skin. If I have to explain how to use a semi-colon to a room full of students who could care less one more time. . . . But this new town feels like a place that I can start something new. So my plan at the moment is to take next year off from working, or just work part time, and do lots of volunteering and research and applying to grad programs – probably MSWs but also Masters in counseling psych. If that doesn’t work out, I will start looking around for a job. But I’m pretty excited to have some time to breathe and think and figure things out.

And it’s the first time in forever that I feel excited and sure about what I want to do next. In the fall, I started seeing a therapist because I was just so fucking depressed and anxious. She was also a career counselor and I kept trying to get her to help me figure out my career stuff. Because for some reason at that time I started doubting that I did want to be a therapist so suddenly I felt like I was flailing and was trying to figure out my options, despite our totally uncertain future location-wise. She kept trying to gently suggest that I should work on the depression and anxiety, and that I wouldn’t be able to make a career choice until that was resolved. That seemed ridiculous to me – clearly my career uncertainty was causing my depression.

But as soon as F.B. got this news (well, like a week later after we were done drinking/celebrating) I saw how right she was. I couldn’t imagine a job in which I was happy because I had been so unhappy for so long that I simply couldn’t imagine happiness as an option. Once I felt excited about our new location, therapy started sounding appealing again. And better yet, I figured out that I want to focus on sex therapy (and possibly do some sex ed in there), which is even better for so many reasons. For the first time in so long, that feeling that I’ve been looking for, the feeling that something is just right, that it clicks, happened. And it has stayed around for quite a while now, even as I’ve done research and really thought about what it will be like to go back to grad school and go through the licensing process, etc. I really think I’m on the right track. And I also feel weirdly (for me) relaxed about it not working out. If it doesn’t, I’ll figure that out then. This is really unlike me, or at least the me of the last three years. You have no idea.

This and That

Hello from summer. Here I sit in my adorable house, with no real work to do, and weeks left of free time to play with before the semester starts. It’s pretty great. The flying buttress and I have traveled to some much-beloved places, eaten some incredibly delicious food, hiked some good hikes (I will not lie – I hugged the first redwood I saw), and spent some quality time with friends we left back in our favorite state. Now we are being productive adults. F.B. is working all summer on his book manuscript. I am pretending to be a housewife, taking the time to really settle into the house, cook great healthy food, and crossfitting my butt off. There’s also some novel reading and afternoon-movie-watching in there. Me being me, all of this unstructured time gave me a lot of anxiety for the first few weeks. But now I’m settled into it and getting a lot out of it. 

I will say that I have definitely learned that this is not my favorite kind of scheduling. Next week will be exactly one year since we moved here and I only just unpacked the last box. This is because: 1 partner with a 4/3 and massive grading requirements + 1 partner adjusting to his first year on the tenure track ≠ time to unpack. Or even do laundry. I can definitely see the appeal of working non-stop for 9 months in order to get three months off, but it just doesn’t work for me. I spend to much time feeling anxious about all the things that aren’t getting done during the year, and then agonizing about how best to use my time over the summer. Then again once I feel like I’m ready to jump ship, I worry about having such constricted vacations. If I have a “regular” job will I have time to visit family and friends who are scattered around the country, and finally get out and do some serious long-range backpacking like I’ve always wanted? I am, after a year year here, still frozen with indecision about what next steps to take. And I’m worried that I’m using those traveling fantasies as a way of keeping myself frozen. My kingdom for a therapist who is not a homophobe and is less than a 1 1/2 hour drive away! *shakes fist at Red State*

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is my struggle with the fact that I’ve given up a lot of control over my own life by tying myself to F.B’s career. I am still not very happy with our current location, but I keep feeling like I should just suck it up and stop whining because I made the choice to be with him and this is what that means. This is not to say, of course, that that is the end of it. Long distance is an option, again, and may be a necessity if I am ever going to break free of composition. But I am actually very happy living with F.B., regardless of where that is, and so I am loath to give it up. It’s strange that I am only really feeling this lack of control this year, given that the academic job market afforded me no luxuries in that regard. But it was easier to feel like I had some control over my life, even if I didn’t. I could put out applications and fantasize about the possibilities. I could even decide not to apply for certain jobs if I wanted to. And certainly I do in fact have some control here, since my ability to have a life that I’m happy with factors into F.B.’s career decisions. This is all to say, that it’s much more complicated than it feels. But because I don’t yet know how to address my future, it feels like it is all out of my hands. I hate that feeling. 

I fear that this is a post without a strong central theme. Oh well. It is 100 degrees today and therefore too hot for themes. Rather than write a clear transition, I will just say that I’d like to leave you with this little link. It’s an interview with one of my favorite post-academics, Krista Scott-Dixon. She got a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies and is now a badass weight lifter and feminist, trans-aware fitness and nutrition coach. She is my inspiration any time I’m feeling overwhelmed or constrained by my options. I just heard this interview this week and while it is mostly fitness and nutrition based (and I love her approach to that), she has so much to say about expanding one’s horizons and taking small steps toward big changes. 

It’s spring break, and I just got back from visiting family – first to an east coast blue state with a super high population density to see my family, and then down south to a swing state to visit the Flying Buttress’s. I have to say that the first time I knew I was really struggling in my current, ultra-red state (like pure, red food coloring red) was when I went home over Christmas and was over the moon about being in my home state. Ever since I left that place I never had the desire to go back. Until I moved here. And now it seems completely amazing – beautiful architecture! roads that aren’t crumbling! a plethora of restaurants that don’t revolve entirely around steak! not being constantly terrified that i will be killed by wild fires, tornados, drought, or fracking juice in my water supply (that’s the technical term, right?)! Once I really realized that I was driving the same streets that I couldn’t wait to break free of as a teenager practically with my mouth hanging open in awe and jealousy, it really hit home for me how unhappy this red state makes me.

Nothing changed on this trip. This time, FB and I were both smitten with the small city that is about an hour from the very rural town in which he grew up. There is a major University there (his undergrad alma mater) and we spent too much time on the trip fantasizing about him getting a job there, living in a cute southern house, having various decent restaurants to choose from, beautiful national parks and beaches in day-trip distance, a small but active progressive community (we saw multiple queer-appearing people during one dinner out!!! omg how times have changed that that is a notable event), and his niece and nephew close by to snuggle with and read to whenever we want.

I also spent a lot of time trying to explain why I dislike our current location so much. Every time I try it sounds like a list of minor complaints – grocery shopping is a nightmare so we drive an hour to get the organic produce we grew to depend on in our last state, the one gym in town that does the kind of workout we like turned out to be run by an evangelical homophobe who played right-wing talk radio during our 7a.m. workout, most outdoor activities in this state seem to revolve around killing things or consuming a huge amount of gas in giant toys/speedboats/atvs, etc. There are also more serious concerns – I don’t want to get into details but I do want to acknowledge that there are levels of privilege that affect one’s ability to call a place home, to feel safe (physically and emotionally), and to feel like it is a place where one can thrive.

And yet, I feel the need to defend this place, too. Because I don’t think it’s impossible for progressive, queer, or gender non-conforming people to live here. In fact, we’ve found a pretty active Reproductive Justice movement that is very aware of that movement’s intersections with communities that are marginalized based on gender and sexuality. And the student body, while still largely conservative, is much more open minded and has more of a progressive leaning than I would have imagined. When I talk about this place to those who don’t know it, I feel pressure to dispel the stereotypes about red states and to remind people that there is variety everywhere and that this place is not a lost cause or filled with ignorant assholes or a waste of national resources. There are some good things and I’ve met people who grew up here and have dealt with more than I could have imagined and are still dedicated to staying and fighting and also maintaining ties with their families and communities. And that is pretty fucking awesome.

I would love to love it here. I really want that. But I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Maybe it takes growing up here to be able to feel the kinds of connections that I’ve felt in so many other places I’ve lived. I will admit to having a hard time adjusting to new places, but I am much more aware of that difficulty than I was the last time I moved, and I feel like I approached this move with that in mind. I am also not encouraged by the fact that no one we know who has been here for more than a few years has grown to love it. Everyone seems resigned  – they’ve tried to get out but academia failed to provide better opportunities and so they just stay. This does not bode well for future happiness. I think it would be better if I were happier with my job (subject of a future post: why the dustbiter does not like her job), but I feel overwhelmed by what it would mean to take steps in a different direction. I have this job next year if I want it. Right now I don’t know how to let go of security and predictability for the lack of those things. I felt kinda destroyed by that last year. Maybe one more year of teaching will drive me to the edge and I will take the plunge.

Hello, World.

It’s me, the dustbiter. You haven’t heard from me in a while. I’m not sure why. Writing here was feeling a little hard for a while there. But I’m still around, and still reading other post-academic blogs. I’m not sure what the future holds for this one, but I thought I’d at least check in and give an update.

I’m living in a weird limbo land of being an academic quitter in an academic’s clothing these days. You may recall that the Flying Buttress (as flying and buttressy as ever) got a job in a fairly rural location. I was happy to move with him but the lack of non-academic opportunities put a little kink in my career plans. And the U, it turns out, has been very very generous to me in an effort to keep F.B. around, since they frequently lose young faculty to more exciting (or at least less boring) places. So here I am, having finished one semester of teaching 4 sections of Intro Comp, getting settled into a semester teaching 2 sections of Comp 2 and one section of something that’s actually kind of fun, and frequently still looking around me and thinking, “My god there are so many churches here. What have I done?”

In some ways, the situation is frustrating. I never was all that interested in comp, so while I don’t hate teaching these classes, it’s not very exciting to me either. And since I have a renewable contract situation, I’ve been very choosy about to whom I have revealed my non-academic dreams. Luckily I have the good excuse of a tenure-track partner when people ask about the job market, which everyone else with my job is trying to squeeze in on top of their massive teaching loads. But I still feel like I have to pretend to really want this, lest they replace me with someone more deserving and I have to become a bible-belt house”wife” (perish the thought).

So I don’t know. Sometimes it’s all fine. I got my evals from last quarter and they were fantastic – many of my students said that it seemed like teaching is my dream. So I guess I’m putting on a good act. And I am happy to feel like lots of students appreciate what I can teach them. But teaching is freaking exhausting for me. I teach two days a week and at the end of the first day I feel totally spent and after the second days I need a day and a half to recover from the week. And of course there is the hell that is grading 70 composition papers. At first, I was just so glad to have any job after my horrible, no-good, very-bad year of unemployment. And in general I am much happier now than I was then. But that is a pretty low standard to meet.  And lately I feel antsy to move on to the next thing – hopefully an MSW program. But in our current location that would almost definitely mean moving away and I am not even remotely ready to do the long distance relationship thing again.

So I think I’m in a bit of a holding pattern, which is not the end of the world. One thing that has changed a lot since I gave up on academia as a career is this: I was so freaked out when I made that decision that I was 32 and had no idea what to do with my life. Now I’m 34 and could care less. I’ve really managed to let go of the feeling that I fucked up some arbitrary schedule for my life. And it’s a huge relief.

I can finally get back to my usual strategy of telling you what’s actually going on! Hurray.

I will not bore you with the details of what a stressful couple of weeks it has been. The outcome of that stress is that the Flying Buttress has accepted an awesome tenure track job in that somewhat rural place that I mentioned a while ago. I’m super happy for him. It’s such a great offer. We are both super excited to have some plans falling into place, and to be able to abandon our nightly conversations about how soul sucking the job market is. We’re both also nervous. I do like open spaces but I’ve never lived in a red state before (one of the reddest), though the actual town we’ll be living in seems kind of okay. Still, I’m super nervous about being a queer couple who’s not even queer in typically legible ways in an extremely conservative place that I’ve never been. Actually, I worry about a different thing every day and that’s what is worrying me today. Yesterday it was whether I’d be able to find udon noodles for my favorite guilty pleasure dinner of noodles with peanut sauce. So yeah, my brain is a little scattered. I’m still processing this pretty brand new information.

The turn this story has taken that I did not see coming: When F.B. was negotiating the deal he mentioned his partner, and, you know, that I might like a job. While they have networked people into jobs in the University and surrounding areas, there’s not a ton to choose from. But they did seem enthusiastic about hiring me as a lecturer in the English department. I might not be such a post-academic after all.

To be honest, this prospect thrills me. I can’t pursue an MSW for at least another year there, and it would require some serious travelling so probably I wouldn’t  do that for a while. And if I’m going to have a job that pays the bills, I’m thinking I might as well have one that gives me solid vacation time and where I don’t have to sit in an office 40 hours a week, because the 9-5 thing has never been my fave. It sounds like benefits are a distinct possibility and I think I’d have reasonable job security. I do feel hesitant about joining the ranks of contingent academic labor for political reasons. But I feel uncomfortable about a lot of the facts of my life for political reasons. I’m also really curious to see how I like teaching without the simultaneous pressures of research.

It’s not a done deal but F.B. seems to think that it’s highly likely that this will work out. I have no idea what this means for my or our long term plans. I’m trying not to think about that too much right now. I am incredibly relieved to take a break from the last year of not having any clue what was coming next. I figure I’ll take a year in which a few things, like my job, are somewhat familiar while I try to adjust to the 95% of my world that has been turned upside down.

And if that doesn’t work out, it seems like goat farms are actually pretty prominent in that region. So I have a solid backup plan. Totally solid.

 

Limbo, An Update

Lately, I haven’t been writing here because there’s not much I can say. The Flying Buttress still has two potential jobs in the works. What might actually happen with them is becoming more clear. And the more we talk about the possibilities, the more we let go of what we’ve been hoping and imagining for the last few years and think about what’s really in front of us. The decisions seem way more complicated than they were when they were abstract. I honestly have no idea what is going to happen or where we’ll be in a couple of months.

This will all get worked out soon. But it’s interesting to have spent the last year planning and plotting and suddenly realize that I’d been doing that with a specific scenario in mind that might not actually happen. I’ve spent the last year trying so hard to get somewhere, to get back to a place that I lived in for eight years of grad school when I had a clear goal and purpose. I just wanted to have that again, to have a clear path. It’s still possible that I can still carry out the plans I’ve been making. But it’s also possible that I have to start from scratch.

One of the things that I’ve done throughout this process, which has kind of saved my ass. . . and sanity, is to ask myself what there is to learn with each twist or obstacle. This seems particularly relevant right now. I am, after all, a compulsive planner/control freak who has chosen to live my life according to the limitations of another person’s career, at least for now. And given that that career is academia, there’s not a whole lot that either one of us can control. I’m feeling this really acutely right now, as we both wait for things to happen that neither one of us can do anything about. I am trying to let this be a lesson in letting go and seeing what life offers me.

F.B. and I were talking about this earlier today. We both wound up in our grad programs thanks to a bit of luck. My story is that I mixed up the application deadline with the financial aid one. My program was, in all honesty (and I am embarrassed to admit this now), one that I was beyond unexcited about when I was researching programs. I can’t even remember why I decided to apply. And when I realized that I had missed the deadline by three weeks I was just going to forget it. But my then-girlfriend convinced me, embarrassingly enough, to send in my application with a little note attached that started “Due to human error . . . ” I have no idea why they accepted me, but they did and actually recruited me fairly hard. And I waited and waited for an acceptance from any other school I applied for, but they never materialized. So I went to recruitment weekend with the full intention of turning the offer down and reapplying the next year, but of taking advantage of a paid trip to a nice place I’d never been. And I loved it. I may have had doubts about grad school and academia in general, but I have never had doubts about my particular program being the best one for me, despite its flaws. The unusually collegial environment made it the ideal place for me to do my best work as a scholar. I still believe that. And I know that I would have gone to any one of those other programs if I had gotten in. I’m thankful for those rejections and for the incredibly generous admissions committee. I’m thankful for such a clear choice.

I left academia because I realized that at the end of my life I would be more grateful for the relationships I’d managed to cultivate than whatever success I had just for the sake of success. Maybe now I need to remember that big picture, that trying to cram my perfectly made plans in with the unexpected turns that life will take will be much less satisfying than being open to the signs and possibilities that come my way.

(If this post seems overly-dramatic, blame the waiter who I’m convinced mixed up the decaf and regular espresso, and produced the insomnia that makes me write in such ways, especially after a few episodes of Friday Night Lights. For the awkward vagueness of language, I can only blame the tiny world that is academia and my fear of revealing too much. Once decisions are made and papers are signed, that issue should resolve itself.)