I am writing this from my "office" in the basement of the tiny house I share with my husband, Thing One and Thing Two, and three cats. Beside me is an oil radiator valiantly attempting to dispel the chill, as the basement is uninsulated and it's 9 degrees outside. In the next room roars the water heater as it works to heat yet another tank (I took a leisurely shower before coming down here--not smart, as my wet hair provides me with a nice chill). The washer and dryer hum and tumble, and I am feeling not unlike the jeans swirling through the heated air--jumbled and rumbled and in desperate need of someone or something to help me get straightened out.
My tenure promotion dossier is nearly complete. What I call my "back brain" (the part that continues to work on problems even when I am not conscious) has been busily organizing my ideas for the article/presentation I am writing on William Gibson's "Bigend" trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History). It has also been working on my self-assessment (limit of 10 pages, single-spaced). While I was in the shower, it was processing the New Yorker article on CD Wright's latest book of poetry, and started suggesting controlling ideas for chapbooks (at the forefront is a series about my father, with whom I have not spoken in nearly 10 years). There is so much going on in my head that I am having trouble just getting started. I suppose just writing this all down is as good a way to start as any.
I want to write about how I'm starting this year with a renewed sense of purpose, and I'm sure at some level it's true, but what I really feel most clearly right now is a deep and abiding Dread. And yes, that's Dread in the Existential sense. Not quite the Kierkegaardian sense--that I fear failing my responsibilities to God--although I suppose were I to substitute "Department Executive Committee" for "God" that would be something approximating the truth. It's more along the lines of a sense that if I fail at this--an endeavor that has lasted for more 15 years--what am I?
I am still a mother. I am still a wife. I am still a daughter and sister and cousin and friend. No matter what--even in death (and may that be a long way off), I will be all these things.
I have defined myself for two decades as an academic--even at my corporate job, one of the Managing Directors nicknamed me (affectionately) "Professor". I have known that I was meant to teach. My students can sense it--even the ones who don't like my subject--and probably the most common comment out of 8 years' worth of student surveys is some variation of "She's so enthusiastic!"
I love this life, and the thought that I might lose it fills me with a very strong desire to curl up in a fetal ball under my desk.
To date I have resisted that urge--I have been sending work out into the World and I have worked hard to keep doing it despite consistently being rejected (which is partly the reason I didn't send my work out in previous years: like most people, I fear rejection). I wasted $25 to have an editor read my chapbook and tell me "I can't use your ms" and nothing else--nothing that might have helped me understand what she thought was wrong with it. I have spent more money entering chapbook contests only to get form rejections back. I have entered contests with high hopes for my best work, only to get a form rejection, then read the "winning" entries and be unable (not unwilling) to see what made them winners and mine the losers. I have spent hours and hours on my "professional development" Fridays looking for likely markets--and have sent work that matches what those markets are looking for--only to have to sit and wait and wait to hear...nothing. And all the time adding things to my list of PD in the hope that it will be sufficient for the Executive Committee. All the while thinking of my colleague who published and presented and still perished not long after I started on the tenure track. When I asked what happened, I was told that the colleague's teaching hadn't been focused on enough to suit the department.
Up through the last 5 of the 6 years I've been on the TT, I have focused on teaching and service--to the near-exclusion of all else, and to my detriment in the eyes of my department (but not my campus)--and here I am in the last stage of my tenure bid panicking that I haven't done enough. That I'm not good enough.
Does everyone go through this?