Onward and upward.
(Get it? Stairs? ‘Cause upward?)
I joined Twitter a few months ago after years of being a social media holdout. I was proud to have missed the Myspace boat entirely, and gunning for the same with Facebook. This is not a unique position, nor one that anyone has ever been surprised about me holding. But Twitter was newish and differentish, so I’d get comments here and there about joining. “[You] would so many pointless thing to say…that would be interesting to follow,” wrote one friend. And how.
Therein lies the rub.
Twitter has been entertaining, informative, and a great time waster. But mostly because I keep my ‘followed’ list small (I, in turn, have a dedicated following of Russian Sexbots). In the first few weeks I added a number of people that I was friendly with and fond of. I continue to follow a lot of them, but ended up removing some: the prolific–and I mean nonstop–posters, the all-[insert sport here]-all-the-time crowd, the ones who use Twitter mainly as a promotional tool for their careers. Even as I trimmed my feed down to a steady, but not overwhelming, stream of interesting, funny, and/or nonsense tweets, I felt confused about the etiquette of doing so. At least some of these people were friends of mine; was it rude to not follow them? It’s not that I didn’t want to know what they were up to- it’s just that, past a certain point, having that information pushed into my stream of updates becomes much less pleasant than the equivalent of dropping in occasionally would be.
This goes both ways, I’m sure. I am not a 140-character gal; I, like a number of people I follow, frequently send out multiple-tweet thoughts, which I’m sure is grating to some people. I have occasional back-and-forths that would probably be better carried out via chat. Some days I tweet entirely too much.
Most of all, though–and here’s where the issue widens to include one’s online presence in general–I tend to tweet about all manner of things. I do indeed have tons of pointless shit to say, only some of which is interesting. I will admit to sometimes committing the cardinal internet sin of cryptically voicing my frustration with one offline relationship or another. I retweet funny things and compelling stories. I occasionally write about my field or my profession. I’ve live-tweeted visits from high-level government officials. I complain a lot (this, friends, is my sport of choice). In short, my history of tweets is incoherent and frequently inane, and while some part of me thinks that this is exactly what Twitter is about, in other ways I can’t help but feel I’m somehow Doing It Wrong.
At this point in the evolution of the internet, we’re big on branding. Themed blogs have proliferated, especially where their authors have dreams of monetization. Facebook has always been about creating and projecting attractive, if incomplete, images of an idealized self. For a number of people, this ethos extends to Twitter accounts, enough so that one feels the pressure to present a coherent identity, but not so much that there is real consensus among Twitter users about what the damn thing is for. I, for one, have a problem with the branding of people–in much the same way that I refuse to strip myself of humor, opinion, or self-respect in the name of professionalism, I don’t want to have to pick and choose the parts of me that are okay for one electronic medium or another. (There’s a feminist critique in there somewhere about the not-okayness of things like feelings and motherhood, and another one about how gross all the capitalist marketing-of-self-as-product stuff is, but that’s for another day.)
Hence my eternal ambivalence about all of this. My guess is that I’ll keep doing what I’m doing–which works for me in that it’s not tied into anything I do professionally, so I have no one to answer to but myself–but I don’t see the uneasiness going away.
ETA: This post and comments take on the same issue, further reinforcing the idea that none of us knows what’s really going on here.
AETA: I’m totally unfollowing Diane Ravitch. I made it five days, but damn does that woman (re)tweet too much.
Exactly two weeks from today, if all goes as planned, I should be pulling a 16′ moving truck away from the house where I’ve lived for the last two and a half years and making the two-day trip down south to begin to inhabit my other life full time. ‘Other’ is about as good as I can do here–it’s tempting to call it my ‘real’ life, but that gives short shrift to what I’ve been doing up here. Life in both places has been pretty equally real, personal, professional, and incomplete.
I’m usually pretty (very) anti-Disney, but when I think of how anemic and circumscribed my life has been in the past couple of years, this is the image that comes to mind. Remember those sad little mermaid souls? Yeah, that.* There was a time in the not-too-distant past when I was a much happier, more at-ease person, with a much more robust life and sense of self. And while I recognize that the hollowing out of lives and souls is one of the things grad school does best, I’m just fundamentally not okay with it.
So now I have the opportunity to make a change, and I hope I’m up for the challenge. I know I’m supposed to be excited, and in some ways I am, but right now I’m more freaked out. I’m worried about starting over again in a place where my husband is the only person I know, especially since the plan is for me to be working from home for the next year and a half (!?), which means no meeting people through work. I work from home a lot here, but I’ve always had regular meetings and other obligations, and the option of going into the office if I’m feeling stir-crazy. The mental health implications of being home all the time scare me**. I’m worried about what my reaction to the upheaval of the move away from my university community is going to be, and how it will interact with (i.e., make worse) the transition into permanent co-habitation. In the end I know it will be different, and I’m sure I can make it better than these years have been, but man, does it suck to know that there are gonna be some bumps in the road before we get there.
(None of this is at all, let alone completely, different. Yet. Oops.)
*Yes, this would make me my own Ursula.
**The most sensible thing would be to go out and get a job, but for the next 6 months I’ll be in the odd position of being away, but not unattached. Next semester I’ve got an ongoing research assistantship, two conferences, and two trips back to the university (one lasting several weeks). Following that I could indeed work, assuming I do not get/accept a diss writing fellowship that would disallow outside employment. My own Ursula, indeed.
This week, a good friend of mine said No to academia.
Or at least: Not so fast. Faced with a choice between taking a sabbatical year from her teaching position to go full-time in the doctoral program she’s been taking classes in, she ultimately chose to stick with her students, to maintain some control over the classes she chooses to take, and to protect what precious little time she has with her husband.
I’m so proud of her.
I did my best throughout her decision-making process to be a sounding board, to ask the right questions, to avoid muddying the waters with my own ambivalence (with which she was already very familiar). She talked to a ton of people and did a lot of soul-searching, and she was able to make a decision that a lot of us haven’t been able to, to tune out the siren song of Taking It All The Way.
Another of her good friends is currently applying to law school. Law school, which right now makes the job market for PhDs look reasonable. Another of my friends has a husband who absolutely hated his Masters program and was miserable all the while- and has just accepted a spot in a PhD program at MIT, because it’s MIT, and he got in. I came back to my program for another year, mostly out of inertia and lack of immediate alternatives. We’re all, on some level, pursuing surface legibility. And while I enjoy aspects of what I do and really enjoy the people I work with, I also feel ashamed for not having been able to call bullshit and get out when I know better.
It’s not going to get any easier. I’ve applied for a fancy writing fellowship for next year. My program would be thrilled if I got it. I’ve recently had multiple unrelated conversations in which the possibility of working at a highly prestigious West Coast school was suggested. My professors would be happy, and the very thought sends my husband into a fit of excitement about the job opportunities that would await him in that area of the country. There is a trajectory being established for–though not entirely by–me, one that is in some ways very appealing, and it’s tempting to open myself to those possibilities (long shots or no).
But. I’m at an R1; I see how my professors live, and I know how many hours they sleep. I don’t want it. I’m trying to write the paper that is my last requirement for advancing to candidacy, and rather than being energized by the opportunity, I’m frozen by the thought of what’s at stake. I don’t want seven more years of that.
We’ve just bought a house and I’m dying to make it mine and ours. We plan to try to start a family soon. I’m thinking about who I want to be as a mother and who I am as a person, and I know there’s not enough of me to go around– not without going back to the days of chronic migraines, of wearing myself down so far that my body throws itself into depression, and not without my marriage taking hits that my husband doesn’t deserve.
Hence the shame: I know myself and what I don’t want (and even some of what I do!), but I keep rolling along waiting for an external force to assist me in opting out, whether that be denial of opportunity or a natural stopping point such as.. finishing a dissertation. (Seriously, would I go so far as to write a dissertation just to be “allowed” to “quit”? It’s sick.) So when I say I’m proud of my friend, I mean that I sincerely admire what she’s done. The lesser parts of me are as jealous as they are proud. The rest of me is going to do what it takes to forget about all of this, get the damn paper out, and finish the semester, because that’s what the Me of 2011 does.
Que el 2012 me traiga sabiduría y firmeza.
From an anonymous comment left at Confessions of a Community College Dean:
Assumption 1: Supposing that the total cost of school in 1990 was about $3000 (tuition, fees, and books – and assuming you didn’t live on campus and somehow you had magically “free” transportation to and from school) and today, it is about $11,000 (cost of tuition + fees + modest textbook allowance at my bargain state school, still supposing free transportation and living at home).
Assumption 2: In 1990, minimum wage in my state was $3.35/hr. Today it is $7.40/hr.
Given the above, if you worked 50 weeks/year, then in 1990 you would have needed to work about 18 hours a week to pay for school. Today you would need to work about 30 hours a week to do the same. That’s pre-tax, so in reality you need to work more than that.
Do your students who work nearly full time, and who take a full load of classes typically do well in your classes? That’s not my experience. They’re exhausted, unable to focus on learning, and often they are just scraping by.
Scholarships are still “out there” and yes, every dollar helps. But many of the scholarships offered by community organizations – the ones that are relatively accessible to most normal kids – haven’t kept up with the inflated cost of college. In 1990 a $500 scholarship would have covered 16.7% of the cost of a year of college. Today it would cover 4.5%.
The college finance world is a different place today.
With all the things I’m not getting done this summer, there is something that I have been doing. I found a post that, had it not been written over a year ago, I’d swear had been written by someone reading my mind:
…being outside of the time pressures of the typical semester can give you a much better sense of how you feel about things.
Take your research, for instance. Are you excited by it? Bored by it? Avoiding it? Are you getting things done, noodling around without making much progress, or putting it off[…]?
When you think about academia right now, how do you feel? Affection? Anger? Indifference? Excitement? Energy?
If you take the time to check in with yourself now, when you’ve had some time to decompress, you’ll get some really important clues — clues about what actually motivates and energizes you, clues about what drains you, clues about what you enjoy and what you merely tolerate. Figuring those things out will get you one step closer to figuring out how to adjust your life to maximize your own happiness.
(Read the whole post here. Julie is generally awesome and wise, so sit, stay awhile, poke around in the archives).
Yesterday I told a friend and coworker that I was back in Big Decision-making mode, this time from a calmer, more balanced place. His immediate response was “Yeah, but that’s just because you’re far away right now and you see an out.” I didn’t engage that idea in the moment, but later in the evening, it struck me just how odd of a statement it was.
Almost seven years ago, my then-stepmother and I took a girls-only trip to Puerto Rico. Within 48 hours of landing, she’d decided to divorce my father.
I moved to PR shortly after that, and lived there until starting my current program. Since leaving I’ve gone back 2-3 times a year. At no point on any of those trips has it crossed my mind to divorce my husband. (Not yet, anyway.)
The difference is that she already wanted and needed to get out of that relationship, but was unable to find the necessary headspace or resolve within her everyday context. The ‘out’ didn’t just rise up and convince her to make a move. She got closer to it by getting farther away from what was blocking her path.
It makes me wonder what would happen if we all got a little space once in a while.
(Aaaand now I understand why most people are allowed so few vacation days.)
I think we can all appreciate this comment on a post about unstructured time from 100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School:
Bonus: I have the first image from this Hyperbole and a Half post hanging in my cubicle at the University. Truth in advertising, and all.
(You can guess how the writing is going.)