Sunday, April 03, 2011


No, it's not going to stop
so just give up
--Aimee Mann

Some kids want to be firemen or astronauts. Both options never really appealed to me...they both required more energy and physicality than I had. I was always a fairly sedentary child. My parents love to tell how I would always rather read a book rather than go outside and play.

It wasn't that I was lazy, per se. It's just that, given a choice, books always won out over running around. I would prefer to sit around, read, and think about what I had just read. Thinking was about figuring stuff out. It was about entering other words. It was about letting my mind go farther than my body ever could travel. The first books I can remember reading were the "Classics Illustrated" kid's versions of classic books. Then I graduated to the actual classics themselves (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was particularly vivid). Then it was on to detective fiction. I started science fiction and fantasy upon stumbling across Lord of the Rings in my middle school library. Then a friend introduced me to horror. Eventually, it was just any book, any story, any long as it transported me somewhere or let me think, it was where I wanted to be.

Somewhere in high school, my reading became subsumed by events...mostly work, guitar, and partying. Class took some of my time, but I got sucked into a job which occupied many more of my hours. I moved from part-time job to part-time job. Eventually, I found myself selling water as an operator-standing-by. When we were slow, we had permission to read, and it prompted a bit of a resurgence in my readings...I actually went through my local library's entire science fiction section.

Reading became important to me again...I found myself diving back into thinking, exploring, learning. There was, however, an unexpected result: I found myself increasingly aware of exactly how dead-end my series of menial crap jobs had become. I would like to say that I realized how little impact my various occupations (whether water seller, pizza maker, rat killer, or warehouse worker) made on anyone, and that I decided I wanted to move on to a career where I would make the world a better place, but the truth was nowhere so noble. Simply put, reading made me realize that I was tired of not feeling smart.

So I quit my water-selling job and went back to school. From the beginning, I wanted to figure out a way I could make reading and thinking my career, and pretty much from the start, this meant going to school long enough to become a essence, I wanted to enter the university and never leave it. I wanted to become a professional thinker, someone who worked with ideas, explored theory, created knowledge. This implied teaching, but although I became very good at, enjoyed, and ultimately found teaching to be very rewarding, it was always about thinking for me, first and foremost.

I did everything I could think of to become a professional thinker. I studied night and day. I became a graduate assistant. I wrote. I read. I started my own literary journal. I wrote articles and published as many as I could. I expanded my vita as much as possible. Becoming a professional thinker--that is, getting a tenure-track professor's job--has pretty much been my focus since I went back to school in 1994. It has been the reason why I've read more than I ever thought I would, taught myself discipline after discipline, and spent my summers reading, writing, and thinking.

Unfortunately, my grand plan didn't work.

I got my Ph.D., entered the job market, and...nothing happened. I sent out over 500 applications in my time, and these did lead to a few phone interviews. The ones I wanted the most, though, I never heard back from the universities. I did get two campus interviews, but they were both at schools (including the community college I , and actually attended) where I really didn't want to work. I published more and more, but it's paid off less and less. It's been years since I've even heard back from any school where I've applied. No one, it seems, is interested in hiring me as a professional thinker.

Yesterday, I deleted all of the job announcement e-mail alerts in my in-box. Some time this week, I will unsubscribe to all my academic job feeds.

It's not, for the record, all bad. I do have a full-time job (albeit in a different field). I have published a lot of my writing, and when I last checked (which was a few years ago--in spite of my ego, I don't really sit around and google myself), some of them were used in classes and in other scholars' dissertations. But ultimately, thinking is not my career...and, as I will not be able to be on the job market for the next two years, there's little hope of me ever becoming a professional thinker.

Why did I not succeed? It's actually not a surprise to me. In an attempt to be different, I picked a topic that no one else was doing. Instead of being cutting-edge, though, my topic was just dramatically unhip. This prevented me from getting work doing anything other than part-time work for the first two years after graduation, and part-time teaching leaves utterly no time or mental energy for thinking or writing. Then, when I finally realized my dissertation was unhip, I rebranded myself...into something else that was also unhip. Then the economy imploded. Then many state governments decided that educators were the problem and that schools could survive without funding.

So it is officially time to give up on the job market. I wish my friends on the market the absolute best of luck, particularly since they're no longer my competition. I envy them: they still live in the world of ideas.

Me, though, not so much. I still have my dissertation-to-book project to write, and I still have three papers in circulation. I might still send out some apps when, in 2013, I'm able to reenter the job market, but I don't really have much hope. If I am honest, I've known for quite some time that I will never be a professor.

There is still tons to do, though. I have become a performing musician. I have pretenses of just being a writer...maybe an essayist, maybe a writer. And I still have article ideas, so the academic world isn't done hearing from me.

It's time, though, to admit that I'm transitioning into being a hobbyist thinker.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I check in here from time to time, sometimes, as today, when I'm a bit down and remembering who my friends are.

You have fought the good fight, and you are now fighting the good fight, though it's a different one.

Whether your departure from academia as a hopeful full-time permanent member of that odd and dysfunctional and under-appreciated world is temporary or permanent, I admire the hard work that you are doing in assessing where you are and what is next.

Reading your posts, as I am, in much the same boat, but without the full-time position (and a toddler singing what feel like my undeserved praises), I think of Vonnegut:

"Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'"

Thank you for sharing this online. I feel less alone, and your thoughtful writing, as it often does (though I am a selfish, non-commenting, non-posting reader) helps me think about my own experiences.

By the way, when you have some time, the wife and I have an ultrasound picture that we would like to share with you, Lori, and maybe your mailing list!!

You are missed.