(Be warned: This, I realize now that I've written it, is a post of the early-midlife-crisis variety...some strikingly unoriginal motifs follow...)
I've started having thoughts about leaving academia, again. Unlike over the winter, when I was depressed and the thoughts came from that dire place, this time they are coming when I'm in relatively happy.
I'm not sure exactly where this is coming from...I've been trying to sort out how much of it might be entangled with teaching. Emotional states have proven to be intermittently so entangled, for me. If I'm honest with myself, I can trace the beginning of this to almost a week ago, when I was teaching an article about the conceptual linkage of individual and structural - an ethics of personal accountability to one's political investments. I mentioned to my students - ever so briefly - that this is challenging for me, occupying the position that I do. I think this class affected me quite deeply, though. Because I think what that kind of connection - between one's political commitments and the life that one leads - is about passion.
And I have become a kind of automaton. Grad school did it to me - it killed part of me that feels this sort of passion, and other sorts as well. Grad school was a nightmare, in fact, in this regard. It was during my PhD, for instance, that I stopped keeping a journal after having done so for over thirteen years. That I stopped any kind of creative writing. That I learned how to clinically dissect things that I used to experience with both my head and my heart, so to speak. Now I teach about pain and devastation, a lot of the time, and I feel very little about it. That's how much I've objectified it.
Last year was so painful for me, teaching-wise, for reasons that I didn't feel comfortable blogging about, then. Now, with clinical distance - ha - I can explain that what was so emotionally dismantling was that, through all those extraordinary students, I was in touch with incarnations of the me that I was before grad school messed me up, dried me out. (I'm not saying I was extraordinary...I'm saying that I had passions and...life techniques...that approximated those of the extraordinary students....) I was surrounded by the kind of creative and political passion that I once had, and it made me realize that I felt a great sense of loss.
Having a tenure-track job now, instead of a visiting position, only further reinforces the grad school blood-suckage. Now I am obsessed with quantifying everything, with output, with everything that is the opposite of passionate contemplation that once defined my engagement with texts. It makes me feel unreal. The labour of love I'm working on - the co-edited volume - is proceeding rapidly, but I feel anxiety about the time I'm taking away from my monograph. But the labour of love? I love it - that's the point, isn't it. The monograph I don't love in the same way, nor do I think it has the capacity to make as meaningful a (actually quite political) intervention. I want to just be able to revel in the love I feel for the labour of love, but I can't seem to do that. It's all shot through with so much anxiety about productivity.
Blah. That's where I'm at right now. It's just, you know...this is my first year on the tenure track. I already lie awake at night, worrying about my publication record. Five more years of that kind of pre-tenure worry before I can come back down into a place of passionate engagement? That'll take (at least) five years off my life, in the end. Is that worth it? Or, perhaps the better question, given that I have a good publication record for someone who's just over 2 years post-PhD and my anxiety is probably unwarranted, is whether my worrying personality is cut out for this.
Probably, it is. I'm just, you know, thinking...