As most of you out there in cyberland who read this know, I recently left academia to teach at a private high school in New York City so that I could be with my wife and live in a place that I liked. When I left my old job, despite its being wretched in so many respects, I still felt a great loss. In effect, I was letting a dream die, a dream to which I had sacrificed over a decade of my youth, my financial well-being, my health (not having dental care through most of that time has taken a toll, and I drank and smoked way too much as a stress release), and tremendous mental and physical effort. I told myself that I was in effect putting away childish things, and accepting the fact that I probably wasn't cut out to be a professor of European history. I had the publications and the tenure-track position to sustain that fiction, but deep down in my heart of hearts, I was already feeling like I was having to try harder and harder to be pretend to be something that I was not, even if I had wanted to be that very thing more than anything else for so long.
A few months on, I can't say that I feel let down. Right now I get to go to bed each night and wake up each morning with my wife, and our life together gives me unspeakable joy. I eat much healthier, have lost weight, cut down drastically on booze, and have yet to fall into the kind of debilitating depressive episodes that I used to have every two months or so in the past. I love my job, cherish interacting with my students, and am humbled by how much appreciation has already been shown me by my superiors. After five years spent in two different positions where my hard work and accomplishments were either ignored or seen as a threat, I almost feel as if it is too good to be true. The ill treatment I've endured at those jobs has made me a bit of a scaredy cat, always on my toes to be ready when they all turn on me. This month I finally feel like I've been able to put my guard down and be more open and more like myself around my co-workers and superiors.
The hardest part has been letting myself have other dreams, after the dream of my lifetime ended with failure and bitterness. I am working on a book-length project and a couple of smaller ones, but I constantly have to fight the voices in my head that say that publishing is dying, or that now that I have been banished from the groves of academe, no one will take my historical scholarship seriously, let alone publish it. Today I went to the New York Public Library to do some serious research, and the nagging doubts died down amid the ecstasy of my immersion into the documents of the past. Perhaps even if nothing comes of my research forays I can use them as a sort of meditation.
Here's the post I wrote on my old blog about letting the dream die, by the way. Enjoy.
After much soul-searching and with the academic hiring season over, I've decided that it's time to leave the profession. I know in my heart it's the right thing to do, and many people I trust think so too, but it feels like part of my soul has died. Twelve years of insanely hard work -much of it spent in penury-, a book contract, three scholarly articles, and semester after semester of positive teaching evaluations don't seem to have added up to much of anything besides a lackluster job at a completely dysfunctional institution in a two-bit crudhole town over a thousand miles from the love of my life. It's insane to stick with it, and even if the dream was effectively killed before I made this decision, it still means I am in mourning.
I've been coping in the usual way: both wallowing and transcending. For the wallowing, there's been plenty of depressing British folk music. This song currently has a particular resonance with me.
For the transcending, I have started working on a non-academic book that may very well be my magnum opus. I also think about this clip to cheer me up, too. It's the equivalent of laughing at a funeral, which I am wont to do.
As the man says, "let the dream die!"