Academic Exilic: The Difficulties of the (Overly) Examined Life
Mr. Gordo is pleasantly snoring away (lightly) while I peck at my keyboard in the odd early morning here in Cold City. He arrived here from Big Eastern City late last night for the weekend. We spent today doing pretty much absolutely nothing: meandering over breakfast (Chez moi), trying to decide whether we should go to the Cold Place Historical Museum or wander the neighborhood, instead driving around a bit, walking in the park (which had a decidedly low facteur vent), then ended up going to see Transamerica, which was an absolutely stunning film I shall have to cover in another entry. All in all, a pretty good day, although my teaching schedule shall interrupt our connubial bliss tomorrow (at least, momentarily).
Since the demise of my employment at Sadistic College, and my arrival here in Cold City, we have had a long-distance relationship. This seemed fairly straightforward when we were still living together, but has since proven to be perhaps more of a challenge than either of us anticipated, for a number of different reasons which are hard to quantify, some largely material (two households, money, distance, money, different social lives, money), and others most definitively emotive, namely the violent destruction of our intricate and complex life together that had developed before, during, and after the disasterous events at Sadistic College.
We had lived together for three and a half years when the time came for us to part, me to Cold City, Mr. Gordo to Big Eastern City. But moreover, even though Sadistic College is a hateful little place, both of us had fostered a life there that was complex in its nuances and inflections. For myself (Mr. Gordo can choose to comment on his own blog about his experience, if he so chooses), I had made many good friends who I miss terribly, and one of the most painful aspects of having Mr. Gordo here in Cold City is both a reminder of what has been lost (the cherished personal life) but also in comparison just how truly cold Cold City is. Of course, I still have my old friends, but those relationships must now grow and stretch to survive.
Here, I work. Period. Yes, of course, I have friends (not colleagues, mind you), but it's like joining a conversation mid-stream. They have lives themselves, and in any city it can hard to develop personal ties and textures as rich as what I had at Sadistic College (and don't think I miss the irony in the juxtaposition). The demands of my new job have also occupied quite a lot of time.
In anticipation of Mr. Gordo's visit, I spent an awful lot of money and not a fair amount of time getting the garret up to speed, and it has worked. My place now feels like, well, my place, as opposed to an apartment kept solely for overnight stays or elicit sexual adventure. For instance, there are pictures on the wall. There's a rug now. The TV is off the floor. But I am still pained by the visit in ways that are difficult for me to articulate (and in a manner different from visiting Mr. Gordo in Big Eastern City, where in addition to the proximity of old pals at Sadistic College, I have had, in the past, my own personal life and many other friends, from college or what have you; Big Eastern City is textured for me in ways that are distinct and separate from Sadistic College).
Part of the deal, if you are ambitious in academia, is the ability to pick up and move, one's things contained in a matchbox, at a moment's notice: a better job, a fellowship, an opportunity to pursue. This has generally been the pattern of my life since leaving home at 17 to go from my piss poor LA barrio to Pretigious Eastern U., but it hasn't become any easier over the years. Over the last twenty years, I have moved from one coast of North America to another 5 times, with innumerable moves in between within those points on the coasts. The price of these moves, for one thing, is a lot of stuff that has gone missing (CDs, books, clothes, furniture, artwork: you name it, I've had it, sold it, lost it, got it back, then left it again)! And not the least of this theme, I suppose, of meta-loss, is friends, the labour of those friendships, and the labour of one's personal lives in those places.
Oh yes, one gains as well. On paper I'm meeting the deadlines, marking the posts, looking pretty professional. I'm an old hand now, I suppose, professionally speaking. And at the very least I'm well traveled. I'm not the precocious but parochial young lass from East LA, and all in all I'm happy with those changes, as bewildering as they sometimes can be. But I wonder what the price of this restlessness is for the academic profession as a whole. Is ambition measured by one's willingness to NOT be committed to those things that seem to gain value as you slide ever so dangerously close to 40? Or, I suppose another way to look at it is, can one have both wanderlust and stability, in some reasonable form? As academics become increasingly the postmodern version of professional bedouins (everything ready to be packed and moved at the drop of a pin), can we hold on to the few things that count? Or, in other words, I guess, how does one build and sustain community? Universities and colleges make a lot of four-colour brochure hash about community, but are generally poor inculcators of the concept. Community-building is rarely rewarded in the profession (and in the case at least of Sadistic College, actively destroyed again and again), and therefore is not an important professional concept to most academics, who in my mind are mostly sociopaths anyhow. But for those of us who aren't sociopaths, for whom community is important, can we find a place here? Maybe another way of putting it is can we find a negotiation that allows us to fall within the parameters of what is acceptable to ourselves and the profession?
Today, in our Cold City alterna-paper, my horoscope reads:
Imagine that you're a circus acrobat whose specialty is working high in the air. You're skilled at swinging from one trapeze to another. You have utmost confidence in your timing and concentration and grip, so that when you let go of one bar and are flying towards the next, there's no doubt you'll make it. I believe that your life has now brought you to a transition that's metaphorically similar to the moment of being in between the two trapezes. Don't think too hard as you soar across the abyss; trust your instincts.
How apropos! I couldn't have put it better myself, although I'm still trying to learn the instinct bit!