Friday, November 16, 2007

Good questions

This post is largely navel-gazing in nature, although I've tried to keep the whine down to a minimum. Skip over at your discretion; I won't be offended.

One of my coworkers has the following question posted on her Facebook profile:

What were you doing five years ago? What did you think you'd be doing? Where do you envision yourself in another five years?

Good question, I thought. Five years ago I was... I was... What was I doing five years ago, anyway? That was undergrad, right? Before I transferred, so community college. I was a student. Just a run-of-the-mill slacker/honor student. Didn't have a single blessed plan for the future. Beyond that, I still drew a blank; luckily, there are approximately five years of my life on teh interwebs. I logged into my oldest blog (I remember that password but forgot my login to pay my cell phone bill--what gives?) and skipped directly to November 2002. Here's what I found:

November 17:
For better or for worse, I'm an English major. My Respected Father (can you pinpoint my literary allusion?) is not too thrilled, but oh well. Y'know, I have almost no idea what I want to do with my life. I know darn well what others want me to do, but hardly any idea of my own ambitions. And I'll be a junior next semester--the real world encroacheth.

Oh, that post was good for a few chuckles when I re-read it. The melodrama and pretension--that was me, and those elements still flare up from time to time. I may prefer to complain rather than fix my problems, but by golly, I at least understand the underlying problems. I chose English largely for the fact that I could read books--lots of books, lots of obscure books, lots of classic books--books, books, and more books, all for college credit. Sweet deal, I thought. The future would come later, but there were faint whispers, never fully articulated to even myself, of being able to turn my experience around into publication of the literary variety.

I wasn't planning on teaching, that was for sure. Can I see myself doing this for another five years? No. If I keep up at the pace I'm going now, I'll burn out. Frankly, I think I'm there already. I haven't had any of the panic attacks that punctuated grad school, but I'm just barely keeping my nose above water as far as grading goes.

Four classes a semester is just too much--too much grading, too much stress, too much personal investment that wears me down, too many meals skipped because I was so busy I forgot to eat, too many weekends that leave me choosing between socializing or doing what needs to be done (with either option leaving me dissatisfied, sarcastic, harshly judgmental, and generally unpleasant to be around), too many cups of coffee and too little sleep. Too much of everything across the board. I like my colleagues, who are among the most intelligent, quirky, and generous people I've met, and I like the few students who make it worthwhile, but most of the students just don't care. And that burns--to give and give, and get almost nothing in return. In that sense, it renders the other sacrifices meaningless and bitter.

So, where do I see myself in five years? Still no clue. The real world no longer encroaches; it's here. It won't go away, either, the pesky bugger. Maybe I am one of those la-la land dwelling milennials so derisively described on 60 Minutes, but while I do want something that'll pay the bills and not leave me scrounging, I'm not at this point looking for a capital-C-Career. What I do needs not define who I am, and that's where teaching has screwed with my head--it became who I am against my consent. It's what academia demands, and unless I invest myself fully in the discipline and moreover believe that what I'm doing has worth and meaning, the payoff will be scant, both monetary and otherwise. If grad school taught me one thing, it was actually a valuable lesson before I invested in the blood, sweat, and tears of a Ph.D: I don't want to be a scholar of English. I love to read, and I love to write, but to spend so much time and energy in writing about what others have written strikes me as unfulfilling.

Where does that leave me? Staring at the crossroads once again. Unless I land a full-time job or a couple different part-time jobs, I'll continue to teach as an adjunct. I've requested fewer classes, and I'm starting to send out more applications. We'll see how it works out.

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