So much has happened over the past few weeks, that I barely know where to start. I’ll just jump right in and if this point seems disjointed and random, that’s probably because that is what my life feels like right now.
First, the good news: The semester ended well and I’ll be teaching Intro to LGBT Studies in the spring and LGBTQ Identities in Popular Culture this summer. I’m excited about both courses and I’m itching to put my Black lesbian feminist spin on both of these topics.
My daughter graduated from college on December 9th, and the whole family celebrated the occasion for at least a week. She was also offered a job (albeit part-time), where she completed her internship, so she’s now an assistant editor at a pretty posh little magazine in the South. I had her sign her first issue ’cause I know she’s going to be famous someday!
After spending three weeks with the fam, I met up with T. in Chattanooga to meet my new “in-laws” for the first time. I was a bit nervous at first, but I had the best time with them and they welcomed me with open arms. Literally. EVERYBODY I met hugged me. I got to tell you, that’s one of the things I love about being in the South with Black people, we aren’t afraid to show you that we love you.
On to the bad news: My mom fell ill while I was home, and after she was admitted to the hospital with possible pneumonia, we found out that she had had a minor heart attack. How the heck did she have a heart attack and no one knew??? She said she probably passed it off as indigestion and I believe her, but she also had a stroke last year with hardly any symptoms. We’ve got to keep a better eye on her, and she’s got to tell us when something hurts! I won’t theorize here about Black women being “strong” and keeping our pain to ourselves (you can look it up for yourself), but I do believe this is part and parcel why she kept so quiet about not feeling good.
My mini-vacation to Edmonton with T. was cancelled due to the weather (I missed my flight) and her flight was delayed for two days. This wasn’t such a bad thing, but I probably won’t get back out there until mid-March.
Finally, I’m in a love/hate relationship with my dissertation right now. This probably deserves its own post, but I’ll just say that I’ve struggled this past semester in ways that I had not thought imaginable. I’m nearly done with the chapter I’m currently working on, but just couldn’t seem to break through my writing fog until today. I don’t know if it’s the dismal job market, current ennui with my topic, or the current state of academia writ large, but I’ve been rethinking this whole Ph.D. thing for a few months now. I came into this thing fully aware of the risks, but since I’ve been in academia I’ve seen what seems to be a full-scale assault on academic freedom/dissent, the adjunctification of academic labor, as well as come to realize that not everybody working in Women’s/LGBT Studies is as feminist as they claim. Still, I absolutely adore my home discipline of American Studies, even as it comes under fire for its correct decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
I’m no baby (no offense to the babies out there), but I started this thing at 40, having enjoyed a decent career in corporate America. However, academic in-fighting and posturing, arm-chair activism, and the never-ending hierarchies sometimes leave me wondering if I made the right choice. In other words, if another person tells me I’m “just a grad student” one more time, I’m going to punch them in the throat. I’m 44 years old, I’m not “just” anything. Only in academia are you expected to give up life and limb for paltry pay and the privilege of being at the bottom of the academic heap. The undergraduates are treated with more respect. I have not experienced this in my home discipline, but I most certainly have in other areas of the institution with which I am currently affiliated.
But on the other hand, I have the extreme privilege of watching my students “come to consciousness” and knowing that when they leave my classroom, they are better equipped to deal with the issues they will most certainly face in the real world, and that I’ve helped them to think more critically about their role in maintaining or disrupting the race, class, gender, and sexual systems of oppression that impact all of us. On more than one occasion I’ve been blessed with a hug or a kind note of appreciation from a student.
I also love my research project, even though there are days when I want to toss it across the ocean and never look back. I’ve finally finished transcribing an important interview, and I feel ready to move forward. I received good feedback on this chapter draft from a trusted colleague, and I feel like I’m headed back toward the land of productivity.
I’m still mad at academia right now, but not because I feel cheated or because I might not get the job I think l I’m entitled to. It’s because I think we can and must do better, and I’m not sure that we will. In this digital age, why are we still holding on to peer review processes that take upwards of 18 months to complete? Why are we still admitting students into graduate programs for which we know there will be no jobs? Why have we allowed contingent labor to become the primary means by which we educate our students? Have we decided that the only way to hold on to whatever semblance of privilege we have is at the cost of educating our students? I know that as a 44-year old Black lesbian, I am not supposed to be here. That I am is in itself an act of resistance and an affront to all those who wish to silence me, and evidence that the work that I am doing is valuable and necessary.
So I must press on. Weary but determined to get what I came for.