06 March 2006
Wedding Bell Blues (Part Three): The Prime of Miss Oso Raro
I am currently living through the second phase of the academic version of Jackie O.'s aphorism on marriage: the first for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship. My last entry detailed the private, revelatory and explicit aspects of my first marriage, which when compared to the more public narrative, gives us something approaching a fullness of vision as to the pratfalls of the first marriage for young brides. Lessons learned, lovers spurned. Following the very public tragedy of her first marriage, Jackie recouped a bit, re-emerged as the world's most desirable widow, and then went off and stole Maria Callas's lover Aristotle Onassis in a spectacular bid to fly the coup! Following my own in some ways public tragedy of my failed first marriage, I picked myself up, packed my things back in my makeup valise (Clarins, Clinique, Vichy) and left the rest, and hobbled out (lipstick smeared, wig askew, mascara running, one heel broken off, dress torn, but still standing, girls!) of the house of love forever.
Now in my second marriage to Mr. Cold City U., just like Jacs, it is all about the Benjamins, baby. What I mean by this is not that I am making an AAUP "one-star" salary. Unfortunately, this would be untrue. Do I wish I had gotten one of those high-powered R1 jobs I was up for (but not offered)? Sure, of course, for the money alone. It certainly wouldn’t be for the barracuda-like colleagues or Byzantine intrigues of turf and property. And who doesn’t want to be like Jackie in Bergdorf’s, manically shopping to the point where she just ended up pointing at the things she would offload onto Onassis’s account. Just like Jackie, my second marriage is about money, but in a more tangible way: the visceral need for money to live in the brutalist capitalist society that is the USA. At the end of my first marriage, I needed another job, baby! Unemployment doesn’t go anywhere in this dog-eat-dog world, and in America, Land of the Free, in the words of the legendary Dorian Corey, “You work or you starve!” Preach, Miss Girl!
Jackie's marriage to Aristotle Onassis shocked America. The troll of Greece marrying America's matryed princess so offended the public sensibility, it is hard to imagine today the public disappointment and consternation. The confrontation and collapse of desire, image, and reality has always been unpleasant for Americans. Never so much as seeing the Camelot dreams (of the first marriage) sink into the sea without so much as a life boat in sight. But Jackie, God bless her, refused to live under glass, and by rules not made by her. Jackie's marriage to Onassis was instrumental: she needed money and security, and he provided it, so off to Skorpios she went. Jackie had learnt her lessons of love well, and demanded her share of the "running of this isle" (in her case quite literally: the Isle of Skorpios).
Like Jackie, I’m here, working for the money, using Cold City, as Prancilla has so presciently noted, primarily as a place to heal my wounds from Sadistic College and regroup my sense of self: money and temporal security. In some ways, this is an instrumental role for me, just like for Jackie. I also count myself extremely lucky to have a reasonably decent job, with smart colleagues, a low teaching load, a friendly Dean, and pleasant working conditions. Also, given the horrible but true fact that most of the faculty of colour who left Sadistic College under duress also then left the profession as well, I am still here, in the academy and holding my own, despite the best intentions of Sadistic College's well-mannered liberal racism. And although I am a good professional, a wonderful and engaged colleague, and am making an honest attempt to be present in my new second marriage (of course: I’m the new wife, and it’s not my first time at the rodeo now, so I understand more of the mechanics of when I am supposed to stand and when to sit), I sometimes wonder if this current moment is a temporary phase in the larger drama that is my professional and personal life.
There is a crucial difference between my first and second academic marriages. I work for myself and my own career now, on exclusive contract. Like Jackie, I did my service for my country (i.e. profession) and gave my all. Now, I want to live my own life. And ironically, just like Jackie after Jack, I am in many ways in the prime of my professional life: I am smart(er), empowered, know what I am doing now, and have a fairly good idea of who and what I am. I am discovering my voice: who I am as an intellectual and scholar and thinker, as opposed to who the institution or my graduate program or my advisor or my colleagues tell me I am. The Fierceness has always said that once you finish a PhD, you know all there is to know about yourself. And, with the passing of time, I think this is largely true. You have, through the process of the rigorous and banal training we receive, reached the depths of despair and the heights of elation. You know your limits and your potentials in ways which equip you with a strong sense of self-knowledge and self-preservation. The key is accessing and using this knowledge for one's own self and one's own projects, and not the institution's (exclusively, at the very least). We who have crossed the rubicon into the land of the post-doc all have this power, most of us just don't allow ourselves to use it.
When the Onassis drama had played itself out and become too much of a liability, Jacs opted out (saved by Onassis's untimely death). She had gotten what she needed to emerge from her cocoon and become herself. And if the third marriage is about companionship, I would read that in terms of our academic metaphor as satisfaction. Sure, Jacs had Tempelsman, but in reality her third marriage was to herself, and dedicated to the love of herself, and her own vision of who and what she was. And this is what Jackie O.'s aphorism (and her life lived within its parameters) also offers us: a critique of the patriarchal assumptions and dimensions of the institutions we work in. The university, like most institutions, is a hothouse of patriarchal control and coercion, where men and women are trapped within the funhouse mirrors of its hallways and cul-de-sacs. What does it take to become free of the Pater? How can we assume our own voices in rooms crowded by the gutteral sounds of patriarchs and fathers and husbands telling us who and what we are? If we are to escape, to find our own Amazonian selves, we must be clever, resourceful, and highly pragmatic. And perhaps firstly we have to realize that we actually want to be free. Too many times people settle for what they are given, the small symbolic roles that we come to cherish as if our lives depended on them. The world loves its ideologues and bureaucrats, but I would prefer to remain material. No smart girl wants to be a matyr or saint. That's not freedom, that's living under paraffin, in a museum, the object of the idle curiosity of schoolchildren and pensioners.
In my own case, it remains to be seen where the third marriage will be, or when it will happen. It might not even be in the academy per se. Mr. Gordo wants to emigrate to Spain, and if it works out, I would consider going with him and becoming a go-go dancer in the clubs on Gran Via, or working in an English-language bookstore near El Retiro, or opening a drag act in Chueca (it is rather difficult to find academic employ in Europe). These are, after all, options.
And that it why I am still here. Because I know I have options. We’ll see how this professor thing plays out. But in the end, I know I can do something else, and still be happy, if not indeed happier. And a girl in this business needs options. We fail our profession and ourselves when we don’t see that potential in ourselves, and become bitter, angry, and most importantly, stuck. Trapped and vicious is the very definition of Dead Wood. I never want to be like those kinds of people. And I won’t. Oh, sure, I’ll eat shit with the best of them, you have to be able to do that to get anywhere in academia, or any profession really. But only to a point. After that line is crossed, I am so out of here. Like Diana Ross, I will throw a shit fit and fly off in a helicopter!
Again, as the Fierceness has observed regarding her own desires and options, to be able to use the institution as a parasite, to support one's own projects while redeeming the security of payroll and benefits the institution can provide, strikes me as a laudable goal. It took me a long, long time to understand exactly what The Fierceness meant by this, for you see I was imbued by love. The rocky end of the first marriage awakened in me the possibilities of The Fierceness's dictum, as well as how I had allowed the institution to use me, and not the other way around. This, children, will not happen again. Does that mean an exit out of the profession? At this moment, no. Does it mean I am my own womon? Increasingly, yes.
I want to be, as Wayne Koestenbaum has observed, like Jackie: “Jackie as Wind, Jackie as Water.” I want to be the womon who is Being In Total Control of Herself: The fabulous Jackie Oh! of the seventies, post-Jack, post-Onassis, beautiful and ethereal and confident and independent, with no man (i.e. institution) telling me what makes me happy.
I want and deserve agency and freedom, and girls, just like Jackie, I’m gonna have it! This is my own personal Declaration of Independence.