I just read a post written by one of my favorite poet-bloggers, one who’s been away from blogging for a long time. Alison Stine writes about her decision to create separate personal and private selves, in part for self preservation and in part for the academic job market. She writes:
I have been living my writing life—and to a great extent, my regular life —as though a hiring committee has been looking over my shoulder for the past five years. And when they finally did, when I finally got those coveted interviews, all my polishing, all my pretending, all my suppressing didn’t make a damn bit of difference.I didn’t get a job.I am sick of writing as though someone’s watching. So what? If you think less of me because I am a (single) mother, or because I write candidly or darkly or with an earnestness unbecoming to a career professional, I’m not sure I want to work for you.
These lines resonate so deeply with me. I struggle daily with the way I present myself here (infrequently now, mostly to avoid creating a negative online persona like I did the last time around), on Facebook, on Twitter, and elsewhere. Will I ever get a job if I tell the truth? Do I want a job I could only get if I masked the truth? (The truth is not some great secret. It’s just that I’m confused and frustrated and sometimes deciding to leave academia feels like diving into the shallow end — foolhardy and painful.)
A whole lot of my time these days is spent thinking about what’s next: the dissertation (will I finish it or won’t I?), the job market (will I find a job I love? will I find a job that pays the bills? will I find a job at all?), and my student loans. I’m chatting with my boyfriend about this right now in another window, and he keeps reminding me that there’s not much I can do right this minute. He’s 11 years in recovery and an expert at One Day At a Time. I guess you could say #PostAc is a kind of recovery (not to make light of addiction, which I realize is a very different and more damaging thing), and I need to think more about being present. But I’m a planner and I’m a list maker and I’m good at prioritizing tasks based on specific goals. If I can’t make firm decisions about what’s next, I can’t make plans and lists and then I start to flop around like a fish on the kitchen floor. I NEED. A. PLAN.
Anyway, while I’m sitting here chatting with my guy about taking things as they come, and reading Alison’s post about blogging and writing about personal things, I’m thinking about writing. Being a Poet.
I’m one of those boorish people who’s always asking, “So, what do you do?” I would like to say that I ask this question because I’m curious about work. I find jobs revealing and interesting and I believe when you tell me you’re a dentist or a dry cleaner or an office manager that I can draw conclusions about your personality that a chat about the weather can’t show me. I fear the truth is I’m a bad conversationalist with a lack of imagination. But I digress. From the moment I decided I don’t want to be a professor, answering the “So, what do you do?” questions has gotten really hard. I’m a poet? I’m an English teacher? I’m a PhD student? All true, but they don’t convey what I want them to convey: I’m in transition. I’m trying to find a new way to pay the bills. I’m trying to reevaluate my priorities and interests.
And then something terrible dawns on me: I should be able to claim my identity as a poet regardless of my position in academia. Regardless of my job. Because “poet” is something that I am, right? Except it can only be something I am if it’s something that I do. And writing poetry — writing anything — has taken a back seat in my life to just about everything else.
So, I’ve been thinking. What if I stopped worrying about my next job, stopped worrying about the dissertation (it’s just a bunch of poems, after all…), stopped worrying about the loans coming due? What if I stopped worrying about all of that and just sat the fuck down and started writing? There are poems and essays and novels in my brain, I tell you. I’ve been too distracted lately, and before that too broken down by the academic hoop jumping, to really nurture my writerself. But maybe that’s the way to get through this transition. Write Like a Motherfucker and see where that takes me. Find jobs that pay the bills and allow time and energy for writing. Forget about trying to find a calling because I found it about 25 years ago when I started telling myself stories to fall asleep and then couldn’t fall asleep because I wanted to know how the story would end. I’ve been a writer since I learned how to hold a pencil. I’ve been a poet. Why am I trying to reinvent the wheel?