Yesterday a friend and colleague from my Michigan days as a "visiting professor" happened to be in Manhattan, and so we spent the day walking around and enjoying the city. It was a pleasant day, but today I found myself to be cranky and irritable. It took me awhile to figure it out, but I realized some time around dinner today that I have a lot of tangled and unresolved feelings about leaving academia. These feelings are complicated, because I am so happy in so many ways right now. After years living apart, my wife are together, and what's more, we are expecting some new additions to our family come August. I really enjoy my job, and I really like going to work in the Big Apple every day. I am no longer stuck in a horrific nightmare of a dysfunctional department, I no longer teach 165 students a semester without an assistant, and I no longer live in a town that has as many churches as it does registered Democrats.
So why the sour feelings? Part of me is still mourning the loss of a dream that I spent almost all of my adult life pursuing. Related to this, I also I feel like there is a large part of my life missing. The demands of my new job have taken up all of my energy, but at this point in the school year I've had time to take a breather, and that's been dangerous. The research projects that I put on the shelf have come back to the front of my mind, but I just don't have the time, energy, and resources to really do them justice right now. I miss having my research as part of my job, even if my old job abused me so much that I had little time to focus on my scholarly work. Without academic credentials, I fear no one will take my scholarship seriously, and not having the time to stay immersed in my field and in primary sources has made it difficult to dive back in.
Perhaps my inability to believe that I can still carry on my scholarly mission outside of the ivory tower is just a mental hurdle I have to overcome, and not a certain death to my work as a historian. As hard as I try, I have a hard time not thinking that the latter is true. Back in September, I presented a paper as part of a panel that I had helped organize for a major conference. The paper and the panel were well-received, as well as my commentary on another panel. Despite those positive developments, I felt like an imposter the whole time I was at the conference, an oddity in a world where a university affiliation was a necessary credential.
Worst of all, when I try to sit down with an article manuscript I am trying to punch up, or to read a new history book, painful memories come flooding back with a vengeance. I remember how badly I was used, first as a low-wage grunt laborer in my "visitor" days, and then as a slightly more glorified version of an academic grunt laborer on the tenure track, where I was assigned a majority of American history classes (despite being a Europeanist) and endured three straight semesters of four classes with three preps and with at least 150 students. I think about the years struggle on the job market, of friends chewed up and spat out by the academic system, and the malicious frauds among my former colleagues who still get to be members of the academic club despite being bereft of intellect and scruples. I certainly love that my current employer treats me so much better, and that my superiors are always giving me appreciations of my efforts, but I miss being a scholar, despite the pain in my past.
In the end, these longings of mine might just be so much emotional wanking. When I moved into my wife's apartment, we converted the spare room into an office, the space where the majority of my academic books live. In the last six months, I must admit I've barely used it. I know it will soon be getting some heavy use, however, as a nursery. My scholarly pretensions and bitterness over a failed impossible dream seem pretty stupid now that I must face the prospect of raising children. That's the one thing that can break me of my fixation on the failed dreams of my past, and thinking about a new adventure much more meaningful than any conference paper, article, or monograph.