Change is not something I deal with particularly well. I love predictability and routine. I love not being surprised. I see this reflected in my dog every day. I pack up my bag and put on my shoes. He sees I’m going out and waits by the door. I let him out, and then he walks back inside and goes right into his den without being told. Every time. We get each other this way.
But things have a habit of changing whether I want them to or not. What I’m struck by, as I look back over the last eight years and wonder how I got to this place and this decision, is how little my life resembles what my twenty-four-year-old self guessed it would look like at 32. I’ve heard so many people say this about life, that it never works out the way you planned. So this is an incredibly mundane observation. But it’s also not, because of how little it resonated in my early twenties. And how deeply it resonates now.
I went to graduate school because I loved writing my senior thesis and because I loved my undergrad institution so much that I wanted to get back there, or someplace like it. I think I had a much more complicated rationale at the time, but I can see now that it was this simple. So I moved across the country with woman I had been dating for five years and living with for two. She followed me just as I had followed her to her graduate program after I graduated from college. I thought at the time that we would be together when I finished, but we broke up two years later. I also didn’t much like the town that my university was in. I didn’t like being so far from my family. I thought ridiculous things, like if it took me more than six years to finish the degree than I’d just drop out because that clearly meant that I wasn’t cut out for or dedicated to academia. I thought six years was a long time for a Ph.D. program in English.
And now, I’m in love with the town I’ve been living in for the last eight years. I have spent eight years on this degree because I think it’s important and because I can’t imagine not finishing. I am in a relationship that is wonderful and fulfilling and feels very solid. I’ve found a lot of value in my program, and in extensive research, that I didn’t know I’d find. And I’ve also found that writing a dissertation is nothing like writing a senior thesis. And while there are parts of it I’ve loved, I do not love it enough to mold my life to the extent required to get a job that allows me to do the kind of research and teaching that I like. Teaching is not as fulfilling as I imagined it would be.
I’m tempted to say that the way academia works presumes a life that does not change, or a life that changes in order to become more compatible with it. But I’m not sure that this doesn’t describe pretty much everything that creates the structure of lives. And as I write that, it’s sort of comforting to think that this shift isn’t about academia so much as it is about the inevitability of change. Academia just happens to be the thing that doesn’t fit anymore, but it could be anything, really. Maybe it’s no great failing of me as an academic, or academia in general (though I have plenty to criticize about it), but this is just the way change is showing up in my life. Given the myriad ways that change could manifest, I think I’m pretty glad that it’s this one.