My time away, as well as my parents’ visit, has given me some time for reflection. Some of it has been good, some has been hard. On the good side on Sunday I returned to Frank Pepe’s, the justly famous brick oven pizza place in New Haven. We were on a road trip back from Rhode Island with my parents, and made time to get some awesome pizza. It had been seven years since I had been there, and the last time was pretty significant.
I had been in New Haven for a conference. I was not totally excited by said conference, but this was back when I was still an assistant professor in East Texas. Going to New Haven gave me a chance to see my wife, who drove up from New Jersey. I’d also been encouraged to attend by a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile, who was good to see again.
That weekend was a crucial one in my life, since it was on those days that I made the definitive decision to get out of academia at any cost. I knew right then and there that I was not staying in East Texas and nothing was going to stop me. The delicious meal at Frank Pepe’s capped off a weekend where I had suddenly attained clarity.
This came after months of severe anxiety and depression brought on by my career woes, illnesses in my family, living far from my wife, and being bullied and belittled at my job. Coming back to Frank Pepe’s with my wife, my parents, and my children made me realize just how much better my life is than it was seven years ago. That realization helped cut through some of the intense stress I’ve been feeling as of late.
As great as that reflection was, it came during a week of less happy thoughts about myself and my life. When I am with my parents I inevitably think about how I’ve changed since my youth. Seven years on, it’s apparent that my years as a low-level academic, first as an exploited “visitor” and then as a put-upon and bullied assistant professor, had a permanent effect on my personality.
On the positive side, that experience made me tougher. I am more of a fighter than I used to be, more confident and much more able to spot climbers, back-stabbers, and assholes before they have a chance to come at me. At the same time, I am not as nice a person as I used to be. I am much more cynical, and far, far less trusting. I am constantly thinking that someone somewhere is out to fuck me over at all times. I have no patience for other people’s bullshit, which I realize has made me an unpleasant person on things like local town Facebook group where yuppies run amok. I am as patient as I can be with my students, but that sometimes means that my patience is used up before I get home where I need to have some in reserve for my family.
I love Bernand Malamud’s The Natural because (unlike the film) it makes the point that suffering is not redemptive. I survived the worst low of my adult life, but it did not leave me unscathed. I learned some lessons, but also developed some bad habits. I can't ever be the person I used to be, but I am going to be trying hard to be a better person.