Thursday, February 28, 2008


I'm underemployed right now. I have a PhD in English and a 1/6 time administrative job (like one course over two semesters) at a college a few miles away. I've been awarded the title of "Senior Lecturer" at another college about 50 miles away where I teach classes twice a week when I can. I've been through years of interviews and visiting positions and academic politics. At this point, I don't really see myself as a Don Quixote figure. So I'm trying to figure out why I persist.

The first time I left a visiting position, the people in the English department succeeded in making me feel like the kid at the end of Araby:

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Eventually I learned to do what Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown recommends: "Have the courage to fail big and stick around." When I teach a class now, I carry books and papers in my messenger bag that says "May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."

I'm not through hanging around the increasingly specialized world of academia pretending I have business there; it's a subversive activity, but some of us generalists have got to keep doing it. So honk if you still love Mangan's sister!


Anonymous said...

Doug feels much the frustration that you do. I always think of myself as selling out a bit because I have accepted what I know are basically lifetime composition and tech writing instruction positions. It pays the bills, for sure, but I surely don't need a Ph.D. to do what I do (well, ahem, my institution insists I need a Ph.D, but that's simply for accreditation. I am grateful I get a bit of relief with the odd lit or creative writing course from time to time.

lemming said...

I would submit that since I still pull out my textbook lo these many years later and reread poetry, you are probably in the right place. God has a sense of humor.

You and I both know plenty of people with PhDs who are none the better as people or as teachers for it. PhD is becoming an increasingly bizarre term - used to be that high school diploma had meaning, now it's the BAs we give kids who can't write in complete sentences...