Why I’m leaving academia.

I’m slowly coming out of the closet.

I’m telling a few close friends that I’m “probably” not going to hit the academic job market. I’ve yet to confess to certain key individuals–namely, my much-loved and respected diss advisers whom I’m terrified of disappointing. I suppose I’ve only committed 95%.

A dogged decade of pursuit doesn’t die easy.

My dear friend, a brilliant academic that struggled to land a job this year, sent me an email the other day. She’d been thinking about this text I sent her, one where I’d said some shit like “definitely leaving the academy no turning back now.” We’ve been partners through this whole academic journey–we once shared a bunk bed in Germany, so far have our travails intertwined–and I suppose it is a mind fuck to her, me leaving, me even thinking about leaving.

She’s staying. I’m leaving.

She sent me this email asking, “Are you really done? Are you sure about this?”

What follows is my response. Revealing details <omitted>: Dr. OH is still incognito.

 * * *

“Why sign up for something I don’t want?

Moving, fucking with my family dynamics, losing my <vibrant artistic pursuit>, losing my great network of  friends…not worth some random job in some random place.

The academy does not feel like home. It’s too staid for me, and honestly, and probably most importantly (second only to my quality of life) :

I don’t believe in it. Like, I think college is a racket. Especially grad school.

I can’t encourage anyone to take this route. While there are benefits–the flexibility and a “life of the mind”–the debt and the lack of practical return make this choice a bad one for most folks.

Intelligence and sophistication are lovely. I would also like a reasonable job.

“normies” do not like Foucault.

Some people have a true academic vocation. I don’t. Some people enjoy reading PMLA. I don’t.

I write for a living. Yet no one reads my genius. Ten specialists *might* care. The writing is restrained, forced around an obscure topic; fuck, I’d rather be funny for an audience of normies.

(Normies = non-academics)

I talked a friend last night and he just got a visiting lectureship through networking alone. It was his only offer, and he only got it ’cause he knew somebody. Of course, he is brilliant. But though he  and his wife are moving across the country for this job, he’s already talking about *going on the market AGAIN next year.* Sorry, what? Nope. Not gonna do that. I’m done with that! Scraping and begging for some obscure-ass shit? Later to that.

Fuck the prestige.

I don’t love scholarship enough to give up everything again (and again) and follow it to the ends of the earth.

You will never lose me as an intellectual peer. I am an intellectual for life. But–as Eudora Welty once wrote–“there are other ways to be.” Intellectuals, artists, geniuses, they’re everywhere.

I have been indoctrinated to think “academy or flippin burgers.” Not true. I can find a job that will pay me as much as any university, it won’t consume me, and we can live in <beloved current home> for life. Why can’t I have those things? They are more than reasonable.

In a dream world, honest-to-god–my life would look like this:  I write ads at some hip agency with a workspace like Google; my job title is literally “creative;” I collaborate with young people in jeans; i get paid $40 k and feel like a fucking millionaire. We buy a new car and a house. DREAM LIFE.

My dad was an ex-prisoner mechanic and his life was more bangin’ than mine when he was my age. Time to get it.

I respect academics–I should probably say I respect a certain *sect* of academics–I should say, I respect you. More power to you. You personally have a situation that can make your life viable. Your husband can work from anywhere. Mine can’t. I have deeper roots here than I ever did anywhere. You are a feather on the wind, my friend, and if you enjoy it, if that breeze is part of your path, more power to you. I believe in you.

The bottom line for me, though, is this: I’m not willing to sacrifice what a successful career in the academy demands. I love other things more. I know what will make me happy and it’s not compatible with the academy.

It’s a bold move. I know.

But I haven’t been this inspired in ages. I’m writing creatively. I feel like the world is opening up to me. Options…exist? I can still have a career? There are other ways to be! Why not?

Forgive typos. Written quickly.
Love ya.

<Dr. OH>”

Mono and Myspace

fuck it

I took this selfie after writing this piece.

This was written at the end of an intense affair with an otherwise-engaged man in 2007.

***

He’s got mono, and now we can’t kiss anymore, and he’s leaving in a week so it might as well be tomorrow that I write, He’s leaving tomorrow, he’s leaving tomorrow. Before his diagnosis I had already resolved not to kiss him anymore and my sister told me, Consider it over. And although I had planned to quit kissing him, I was still devastated at the prospect of it really being over between us. I say that as if it ever began. It didn’t.

This one only ends.

But what does it matter that it’s over? My friend tells me the mono is a cosmic signal, and I am never more tempted to entertain such bullshit as now, when once again the circumstances of my life explicitly reveal to me that plans mean nothing and there is no meaning. I’d like to think, yeah, she’s right, this final biological attack on our pseudo-relationship is a clear portent of the universe telling me to stop. Stop with him. Every time we touch, it hurts.

My abdomen hurts. Occasionally I’ve been vomiting. My throat is sore. Did I give him mono? I must have mono. Just the other night, I had my tongue in his mouth so long that I forgot about the pies I was baking and burned them. And now his throat is covered in white lesions. I’m filled both with a stupid sadness—I guess we’ll never make out again—as well trepidation: fuck dude, I’m moving in a few weeks and I can’t deal with lesions.

So this is what we’re leaving each other with: a sickness.

We used to have a joke about me being poisonous.

He gave me a hand job once and then lost feeling in his finger for a few days. Another time he pulled a muscle in his tongue. Back then it was fun to tell him, I’m poisonous. It was Good God we’re so fucking hot for each other that we’re hurting each other. One of my favorite memories is when he shoved his heavy coffee table out of our way as we slid from the futon to the floor, his mouth locked on my throat. Violent. He’s the only man who ever bruised my lips. But now when I tell him I’m poisonous and he agrees, it is not hot and it is not funny. Who are we to blame me?

I tell him that I’ve got symptoms, and though it does seem logical that I would have mono, I admit that while I say this half of me means, You can still kiss me; I’m immune.

I’m immune.

I’m immune.

I’m already sick.

My last boyfriend told me goodbye for six straight months. I’ve had great practice at bracing myself.

The day after he leaves for his real girlfriend, I drive across the country. I get a new car. I move to Atlanta. Find a new apartment for a single woman and two dogs. Get a cell phone—so unlike me.

So unlike me.

What will I do with my hair to erase this affair?

Tonight he’s feeling sick again. I leave him a comment on MySpace.

One of his female creative writing students’ final short story was a blunt testament to his sensitive masculinity. She named his character Godric Matthews, and he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. The MySpace comment I leave him refers to the hotness of Godric Matthews, as well as his current unappealing lesions. I was trying to be funny.

It is almost midnight when he calls. He is pissed. He tells me, I want you to know I erased your comment. He says, I don’t want my student to see your comment and know that I make fun of her to my jackass friends.

I say, I’m not your jackass friend.

I wish I didn’t feel so dizzy.

I want to thank him for being pissy with me. I want to thank him for leaving me. The first time I told him I loved him, he told me, There is no future in this. I don’t feel well. This isn’t fun anymore. Every time we touch, it hurts. I miss him. I think I miss him more now, with him just down the road, then I will when he’s hundreds of miles away. I want to thank him for hurting my feelings tonight. Erase my comment, jerk. Wasn’t that always the plan? Erase all of my comments and we’ll both become poisonous. I’m staring at a tidal wave. I am tired of holding my breath. Just fucking hit—I hate the wait—and I’ll try to swim.

sad me

Playing with Fire

I wrote this as a FB post and it went viral. Actually, this above image went viral--someone c&p'd my words into a pdf. Forgive the internal quotation error--I did not create this pdf. Also forgive that little grammar snob bit I just pulled.

I wrote these words as an FB post and  an unknown stranger made this pdf. The pdf went viral and has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Tumblr, Twitter, FB, and Instagram.

Recently I ran into a male acquaintance of mine at a social event. He’s one of those with a proclivity for preaching paternalistic behavioral prescriptions for the ladies. His Facebook status updates read as morality truisms—i.e., “if you want a man to be faithful, see that you are attending to his needs”—so I can’t say I was surprised when he presumed, immediately upon seeing me, to give me life advice.

“You’re playing with fire,” he warned me, as he looked me up and down, smirk cocked and loaded.

My degrees, my prestige, my hard work, he reminds me—I shouldn’t “throw it all away on this foolishness.” He’s heard I’m back in the business. He rests his hand on my bare thigh, ensuring that I understand what parts of me are wrong. He squeezes.

He presumes himself smarter, wiser than me. My credentials disappear beneath the shadow of my licentiousness. Working in a strip club erases advanced degrees, makes my doctorate no longer count, places him, his suit, and his MBA above me on all social, moral, and intellectual levels.

“You’re playing with fire,” he tells me, as he looks me up and down, serving up his judgment like a street preacher scaring lost souls. Naughty, naughty girl, his eyes say, as he asks, in a worried tone, “how is your son?”

By expressing “concern” for me, he terrorizes me. His “concern,” indeed, functions as a reminder that I should Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid—because who I am, as I am, does not count in this world. His world.

He assumes that respect flows like water if I place myself in a “legitimate” professional setting. Has this man, like me, ever walked into a classroom of exclusively male students to find that they have drawn a 10 foot ejaculating dick across the board? Has this man, like me, ever made $600 a month for teaching two sections of college English? Has this man, like me, ever had to reckon with the sobering knowledge that landing a 5/5 teaching gig in Bumfuck-Kansas now represents the ultimate dream for many of those in my field? Does this man know the lay of the land he encourages me to transverse?

My sexuality is a problem for him, and he sees that it will a problem for me—and it will be, in his bourgeois utopia where women wear pearls, and men smoke cigars, and a lady always—always—takes a gentleman’s advice.

This man will go home, I wager, turn down the lights, tune-in to PornoHub, and cry a single tear for girls like me, depraved whores, as he shudders one out before bedtime on the back of our labor, deliciously unaware. fuck you

Stripper with a PhD, Part Two

lipstickHere’s what happened.

A week after I wrote “Stripper with a PhD,” I began stripping. Within four days I had made two thousand dollars.

I went into tiny rooms alone with men. I became whomever they wanted. I smiled until my face ached and I smoked cigarettes for the first time in years. I did things.

I remember thinking one night, as I counted 1K of twenties across the dressing room counter—“Finally, I am being paid what I am worth.”

I danced naked on tables the night I defended my dissertation. I became, officially, (perhaps the one-and-only) “Stripper with a PhD.”

cash

I made this in one night–a Monday night, at that.

I can’t beg my way into a permanent academic job with livable conditions and a good wage, but I sure can walk into that club tonight and come out with rent. “I’ll never make this much money again,” I think sometimes as I drive that dark highway at four a.m.

I think, sometimes, as I drive that dark highway at four a.m.:

What does it mean that, despite my education, despite my intellectual sophistication, despite my demonstrated ability to bring wisdom to the youth, my ass is worth more than the sum of everything else that I am?

What does it mean that even selling my ass is a privilege—available only to those of us young enough, thin enough, “attractive” enough to convince men to consider them a fantasy worth paying for?

Tell me—for this plagues me—tell me what it means that the sex trade leaves me feeling more accomplished and fulfilled than making peanuts grading papers? Tell me–should I be ashamed? I’ve been a feminist for years. Should I be ashamed? Please, I beg you, don’t tell me “yes,” because I love my house and I don’t want to lose it. I’m used to this money now. I’m used to this stability now.

I live a double life. No one knows who I really am.

Stripper with a Ph.D

Once you realize that you can make a thousand dollars in one night, the knowledge dogs you. It slinks through your subconscious, starving, scratching at your door whenever shit gets tough.

Or ambitions run high.

One can, after all, always go back to stripping.

If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re in debt. What if I told you that, by working one or two nights a week at a job that’s “beneath you,” you could make $500 – $1000 a night? You could easily pay off $20 – $30k of your debt this year, or save for a down payment and finally buy a house. Would you “flip burgers,” would you mop floors, clean rooms, mow lawns, if it paid you a grand a night? Would you perform a job that’s “beneath you” for that kind of life-changing cash?

I’ve written in the past about the ethical conundrum of the feminist stripper. It’s something I’ve considered deeply and conflictedly, and it’s a whole ‘nother convo that I won’t incite here. Suffice to say, I’m of two minds about the ethics, but personally, I rather enjoyed my old job, as far as jobs go. I love nightlife; I excel at sales; stripping never even came close to ruining my soul. I never cried over it. While the social responsibility is questionable, I can’t afford the luxury of such higher considerations. Soon, our student loan payments will double. What will we do then?

Yes, there is a skill set to stripping. No, not anyone can do it. Few become true masters, true hustlers. Success demands miles of critical thinking, audience awareness, and convincing performance. For inspiration, I listened to Jay-Z on my ride to work.  I am a Leo with a performer’s heart and infinite vanity. Stripping, for me, has always proven a great temp job.

That knowledge dogs me: I can change your life, it says. Now’s the time, the last time ever, it says. I can buy your insurance and pay your debt.

Sleeping with the enemy? Or done fighting windmills?

I told my advisor I’m leaving the academy.

I swear, I thought I saw a flicker of inspiration in her eyes.

She told me a story about her summer, about how her air conditioner broke, about how, even as a tenured professor, she can’t afford repair. So she’s “living in the reality,” as she calls it, no temporary credit card salvation this time, and while it’s been 113 degrees in this city for weeks, this tenured professor goes without AC.

“Forget the money,” she says; “there’s only two African American courses on the docket this year. They don’t care about me.”

At a recent family reunion, she recounted, the “under-educated” members of her family shared photographs of a cruise vacation while her children remained indoors, hovering around vents set to full blast.

There are moment in life in which you know you’re going to cry, know it weeks, months in advance. Moments like weddings, births, deaths: you expect the tears until you nearly script them, pre-ordain them, anticipate them into existence. I expected to cry when I told her I was leaving, and I did cry.

Tissue in hand, she told me, “Now we can just be friends.”

Sincere Platitude #1

This is your one life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, seriously. Aren’t you, like, 30 by now?

Yet here you stand, at a crossroads again.

Don’t be afraid:

it’s a beautiful, alive, vibrating thing, this junction. At times like these you write poetry, say goodbyes, pack boxes, unpack boxes. At a crossroads, you choose.

This is your one life. It owes you nothing. You owe it everything.

Don’t fall asleep at the intersection.