The Moving Target and the North Star

Sorry, been a little busy lately.  Got a new job you see, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied with that as you might guess.  As I start to settle in, get used to the new office and new department, a time of introspection has started about career, life and personal goals.  If you’ve read this blog at all, you know a fair amount about me, what I’m passionate about, to what I aspire.  Taking a new job makes me think about where I am both personally and professionally and where those things intersect.


When I started blogging, way back in the heady days of MySpace, I was still working on the Ph. D and was a new(ish) father.  I thought of my career was on a certain trajectory, a traditional scholarly path; get the Ph. D, get a job, work toward tenure and there you go.  That path became more and more unrealistic for a number of reasons.  Yes the job market was, and is still, very bad.  Pick up the Chronicle of Higher Education and there will probably be at least one story about the dire straights of the academic profession, more than likely more than one story or column.  Talk to most academics/professors and it seems like the work in a gulag, not a university.  I dropped my share of CV’s prior to finishing the dissertation, in many cases I didn’t even receive a rejection letter.  I remember as I was going through the process, I had an opportunity to teach 3 courses a semester and one in J term for $10,000.  For about a thousand less, but no 2 hour commute(each way no less) and a tuition stipend, I got a dissertation fellowship and skipped the “opportunity.”

I eventually got a job in higher education, even before I finished the Ph. D, but it was on the administrative side of things.  As it turns out, teaching experience, if you actually like students, is a great prep for advising.  It was a lot like teaching, except without all of grading.  However, it lacked that overall exchange of knowledge that I truly enjoy.  I did get to share a lot of experience, but that is different, still satisfying, but not as exciting.  I think most of all when I teach, I love to tell a story, to share with students what excites me and still inspires and challenges me.  Advising had many other pluses, but it didn’t quite scratch that itch.

A couple of months ago, I moved on to the aforementioned new position.  It has new challenges, even a couple of opportunities to teach, all to the good.  I don’t have as much contact with students, but it is still a component.  What put the brakes on the writing, beyond the new job and acclimation, was an urge to reexamine why I do all of this.  Including a full-time job, a full-time family I write this blog, write another blog, try to do a podcast on a semi-regular basis* and slowly putting more and more work into bigger projects, I kind of hit upon the questions, “what is the point to all of this? why am I doing this at all?”

*After almost a month of trying to set up a new website to host the podcast, I finally got it working in the order I want.  If you’re interested in US history, like my dulcet tones and if I dare say, a dash of wit, go check it out at History of the United States.

It is probably no coincidence that this was happening around my 45th birthday.  I think that number is quite the generous bulls eye of mid-life. I think the number signifies the end of  a big chunk of life to be examined, 25-45.  And looking to the future, that next block 45-65 (the historic retirement age) is looming.  After hitting 45, it is amazing how fast 20 years can go and will go, probably even faster.  So, I’ve been looking back and looking forward.

What kind of got the dust off of this post was a friend who mentioned his desire to stay true to his artistic northern star.  I was left wondering, “what is that for me?”  Pretty much all of those things I listed, blogs, podcast and something to really sink my teeth into.  What makes it tough is that a full-time job is a pain in the ass when it comes to writing for free, no matter how fulfilling it can be.  As the Grateful Dead sang, “keep your day job until your night job pays.”  I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but I know I don’t want to quit.

A final piece of the puzzle that has come into focus, or better put, placed in the right spot were the dual feelings of inspiration and realization.  First, the inspiration: my friend Jennie just published a book and is a critically acclaimed graphic novel author.  I was sure she was doing the writing thing full-time at this point.  Nope, still has that day job.  Not to find comfort in her misery of a full-time job (for the record, Jennie is not miserable) but knowing she is still doing it filled me with hope that I can keep at old things and try new things.  That I can stick to my artistic north.

The realization came as I was reading a blog from a person who hasn’t been blogging much lately.  I posted a comment about the feeling that I know how she feels, that I just can’t seem to get it going anymore.  The realization was that I’m holding back.  When I started writing a blog, it was reflective, personal, but also timely.  It was what was on my mind and influencing me at that time.  I still have my set things to write about, Phish, the White Sox, general randomness but a part of my fourth step that I still see as a challenge was the phrase, “stand up and tell the truth.”  I don’t feel like I’ve been doing that lately.

Finally, in August, I threatened to start writing something on these pages of a fictional nature.  I even wrote the first installment, but it hasn’t left the draft box on the dashboard.  I’m not ready to tell you all what my big project is just yet, but it’s fictional too.  Basically I need practice writing outside of my comfort zone.  In a weird way, to get back to telling stories.  So, another list of goals, another writing schedule and another chance to keep writing.  Watch this space.


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