This is not a small thing

What I’ve learned from this summer’s season of debacles:

1) I know that I want someone (more than one!) steady in my life, someone who’s around in the everyday. Someone smart and funny and passionate about things they care about who wants to be that steady with me.

2) I miss conversation, especially about politics and theater and such.

3) I miss theater. It makes my brain work in a different way, and I need to make a serious effort to go see it here.

4) I have a steady job for the first time in five years, one that pays 12 months of the year, offers PTO, and the opportunity for health insurance. I am a professional person again, who’s recognized and praised for being such. This is not a small thing. This is very good.

5) I like having someone(s) to love, to care about and buy random dumb cards for. This is good for me.

6) I like being loved and cared about, but being told those things isn’t enough. I need action to back up said words, no matter how sweet. Didn’t know this about myself. Now I do.

7) I need to write again, to give myself the time and mental energy to do it. Reading more would help. Buy books again.

8) Having coworkers who care about me, who think that I’m good at my job, who are willing to help me learn more, is important to me. Didn’t realize that I’d missed it until now.

9) I need to get back in to regularly therapy once I have health insurance again. Has to be top priority.

10) I am too casual for academia and too formal for the corner of the business world I find myself in. Keep searching for happy middle.

What I did on my summer vacation

Ok, so here’s what’s happened this summer:

Took a temp job, liked temp job, looked like temp job might become a real thing. This changes rapidly, but with some forewarning. Spend two days without job, watching Netflix with the cats and worrying about money. Job rises from the ashes when person I’d been temping for suddenly resigned. Applied for job. Waited.

The same week, I applied for an academic job. On a whim, sort of. As an act of ego, definitely. As a chance to get out of PhD land, for certain.

Offered academic job. Took academic job 24 hours later. Began plans for moving, finding new housing etc. Tell temp job I am leaving.

Get contract. Contract states I would not be paid until the end of September, despite the 1st day of school begin August 15. Realized I had neither the financial nor emotional resources to go without a paycheck that long. Changed mind and rejected said job.

It’s the right decision. Felt sad about it, but more sad about disappointing my advisor yet again, about failing to follow the aca path I was so sure that I’d wanted. Albeit a path paved in sharp stones, uncertainty, and a distinct lack of money.

It’s the right decision. I know this.

Ask if I can reapply for temp job. My temp bosses are kind and overtly overjoyed.

It’s nice to be wanted.

In the midst of this, my love life helpfully collapses, a dark star that becomes a gravity well.

Fell in love with boy. Boy is not unattached. I know this from before the outset. I don’t care. 

Spend excellent if brief time with boy in my own house, in my own bed. The cats love him and claim him for their own as soon as it’ strike for sleep. I think, messy. I think, this might work. I think, he is coming back again. He says this, too, from almost the moment he arrives: I’m coming back here. The next time that I’m here. Crap like that.

However.

Started to think boy was lying more often than not. Tried to talk self out of thinking that, because love is like Tinkerbell, surely: if we don’t both believe, especially given the distance, the cheating, it won’t work. Can’t survive. Still. I’m pretty damn sure.

Noticed boy becoming more and more spectral, like the titular ghost in that play he’s so fond of. I love him but I don’t believe him. Or trust him.

I said something to address said spectrality. I said: you said you’d be here again. Tell me when. He says: Yes, I’ll tell you. Tomorrow.

Crickets.

I say something again. He sort of addresses. We talk text while I am drinking wine and watching Will Graham avoid people’s gazes on TV.

He says: October

I say: …ok

He says: Maybe earlier? If I cancel other stuff that’s more important 

[he doesn’t say it quite that way, but that’s what I hear]

I say: Yes. 

He says: I love you

Next day: he ghosts me. The spectrality becomes complete.

I write two emails–the first, hurt but trying to be too understanding. This is how I’ve spoken to him too often during our whatever–with the wrong kind of care. Like if I say the wrong thing I’ll spook him and he’ll vanish back into the ether from when he came.

Not sustainable. Also, I suck at having to beat around the bush.

The second email, later, is much more direct and specific. But still too kind.

I want to yell at him. I want to get in a good “fuck you” to his face. I want him to take some sort of responsibility, maybe? Or perhaps to take me seriously in a way that he hasn’t before–as a real person. I don’t know.

It surprises me, though, that I don’t fall apart. I give myself a few days to be sad. Really sad. A robot at work, an early-to-bed wreck at home. But that passes.

Yeah. I’m ok.

It’s been two weeks.

Then yesterday, I read something and before I could stop it, my brain said: Ah ha! Ask him. He will have opinions about this thing. He’ll get agitated about it in an interesting way.

And that made me sad, made me miss him in a very particular way. Yes, I miss having someone to love. Yes, I miss (choosing to believe) that someone loved me. But more than all of that: I miss him. The person.

I think that will take more getting used to than his absence as a paramour. 

shadow of sputnik

I want to love you without the aid of satellites
To reach out and touch not someone, but you

Pictures at an exhibition in my bed are not, I think, the same
No matter how sharp your digital smile
How familiar the sound of your breath, the wagon hitch in your voice when you come

Unruffled, untouched, in the shadow of Sputnik, are we
The space race reduced to this line, these miles, between your pillow and mine

Eating the Dog: Reflecting on Wheately’s High-Rise

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This week, I saw the film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, at last. I adore this novel, and I’d been tweeting incessantly [obsessively] about the movie for months. The teaser trailer was brilliant, its cast stellar, and its source material seriously, seriously fucked up.

It surprised me, then, how conflicted I felt about the movie itself.

Let’s be clear: I love this book–so much so that I made an argument about it a major plot point in a 00Q fic (in which it’s Bond’s favorite novel). For that reason, I’m keenly aware that some of my quibbles (which I won’t detail here) spring from the well of “That’s not how I pictured that.” Those sorts of qualms are relatively easy for me to set aside.

What bothered me more, in the end, was that Ben Wheately’s film effectively negated the thing about the novel that I love the most: its ambiguity, its refusal to bow to causality, its embrasure of chaos within what looks like a tidy narrative structure.

Spoilers for the book and the movie below.

Continue reading “Eating the Dog: Reflecting on Wheately’s High-Rise”

The Garden of Forking Paths

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I have this habit of making significant decisions subconsciously, carrying them around for months, and then waking up one day convinced that I’ve had a revelation when in fact it’s only that I’ve finally turned into my own head.

This was one of those. So here goes.

I am not graduating from PhD land this year. In fact, I may never do so.

If I’d written this post three weeks ago, the “may” in the sentence above would have been missing.

But I’m old and [too very much] aware that life, the universe, and everything has a way of nudging one places that one did not expect, much less bother to plan for. So I opted for a via media.

That is, I’m taking a year-long leave of absence from my PhD program. A trial separation, if you like; time for me to see other professions, meet new ways of making a living, and generally figure out if I want to finish this degree or not.

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Right.

The question is not, am I capable of writing a dissertation: for I am, without question. I’m a fine scholar and good writer and possess the required analytical skill.

The question instead is: do I want to?

A brief look back at some of my (increasingly infrequent) posts on this blog will make it plain that academia and I, the ideological institution and me, have been on the outs for a while. Part of it is me–I’ve changed a great deal since I started pursuing this degree, I’d argue much for the better. But a key component of that change has been an ever-growing disinterest in pleasing other people, in jumping through hoops, in generally keeping my mouth shut and doing what the institution of Higher Ed told me was required. It’s a hell of a time to embrace one’s rebellious streak, in the middle of a damned PhD program, a thing that’s designed to teach you how to conform to a particular set of disciplinary rules.

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I mean, there’s a reason it’s called a “discipline,” y’all.

I’ve also been ill, depressed more fully, more completely, than I have been in years. That depression has made it hard to get things done, but even worse, it’s made it almost impossible for me to reach out for help, either clinically or academically. This is part of the reason, ultimately, that I chose a leave of absence rather than to walk away entirely: I have been depressed, no question, and while the decision not to finish doesn’t feel to me to be driven wholly by that (or even in large part), it’s something I have to consider. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a few months when (knock on wood) I’m handling the world better than I’ve been able to of late. And maybe I won’t.

When you come down to it, though, I’m not finishing this degree because I don’t want to be an academic. At least I don’t today, and not for the last 360+. Academia is not, as I once believed, the panacea of my personal happiness, the key that will unlock the future I once painted in my head. And that’s ok. I’m glad I’ve figured that out now and not in five or ten years time.

For all of that, there’s so much about academic life that I adore, that my time in PhD land has allowed me experience and embrace. Even as I prepare to step away from this institution, I have no intention of leaving the excellent network of humans and scholars I’ve come to know in rhetoric and in fan studies. I’ll still write and go to conferences and participate in the scholarly community for as long as they’ll have me: they–you, my friends–are the reason that I’ve lasted here for so long. I thank you for that.

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I want to be 100% clear about one last thing, perhaps the most important one here: this is my choice, my decision, my move, and it’s the right one for me. I’ve made a lot of big, game-changing decisions in my life, and while some of them were dumb, most of them were the right call, even when they made life difficult in the short term. I feel good about moving on from PhD land–perhaps for a while, perhaps for good.

What comes next for me? I’ve no idea. But I’m looking forward, for the first time in ages, to figuring that out.

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10 Things I Learned at #pcaaca16

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1] Twitter is the actual best (and kind of like academic crack): at cons, it’s the best way to distribute info about upcoming panels, to share what’s being said in panels, and to communicate with/meet other scholars in your field.

2] That said, tweeting at Misha Collins may have…unintended consequences.

3] Fan studies scholarship is a tres small world: in FS, it’s not unusual to have undergrads, people new to the field, and some of the biggest names in our field all in the same room–hell, on the same panel! And that’s one of our greatest strengths.

4] I am never drinking rum at a conference again.

5] Ever.

6] Hanging out with fandom + scholarly friends for three days spoils you for real life.

7] Supernatural is everywhere. It’s the textual kudzu of fan studies. I’ll never be free.

8] The most productive work at aca cons happens outside of panels: in the bar, at breakfast, while walking down to the waterfront. I’ve heard this idea many, many times before, but this is the first con where it’s been true for me. It was great, if unexpected.

9] Twitter is the actual best (and my saving grace): a space to keep those conversations going–to talk about the next con, to wax at length about Hannibal, to keep each other’s spirits up when academia is at its greatest drag.

10] Never underestimate the power of a fucking unicorn.

Purity is hard, y’all. By design.

My dissertation dragon has awakened once again, if only to remind me that this time, it really must be slain. As it shakes the dust from its wings, I’m going to try and block out key concepts for the project that I hope will be useful later.

First up: how and why evangelical distinguish abstinence from purity.

Secular culture tends to conflate “abstinence” and “purity.” That is, popular media and scholars alike tend to use the two terms interchangeably to denote the evangelical emphasis on refraining from sex–ah, that narrow, all-encompassing term–until marriage. Evangelicals themselves, however, often treat the two terms as denoting separate concepts/arguments that are aimed at different audiences.

Abstinence, on the one hand, refers to avoiding sex until marriage, and is used almost exclusively when talking to a secular (read: not evangelical) audience; see discussions of “abstinence-only” sex education, for example. As this example might suggest, the practice of abstinence, from an evangelical perspective does not require faith. That is, abstinence-only cirricula do not presume an audience of all committed Christians; quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed, as an evangelical blogger once put it, “anybody can be abstinent,” regardless of faith; one does not have to accept Jesus as one’s personal savior in order to practice an abstinent lifestyle.

Notably, it’s the ubiquity of the abstinence message, its ability to resonate in secular government and education that’s encouraged the emergence of “purity” as a distinct concept: a practice whose very exigence is one’s personal relationship with Jesus. To practice purity is to eschew not only physical intimacy before marriage, but emotional and spiritual intimacy as well, to hold oneself apart from others so as to keep one’s focus on a relationship with God–and eventually, with one’s spouse. Purity is HARD, much more difficult than abstinence, and purity discourse proudly trumpets both this higher level of difficulty and its exclusivity: only Christians can do this, and then only with dedicated time, attention, and affection for their God.

All of this to say that the distinction between abstinence and purity is an important one in evangelical culture. As the concept (if not the practice) of abstinence has become more prominent in the secular realm, there’s been a concomitant push in the church to take it back, to create a version of sexual restraint that can’t spread in the mainstream, one that’s only accessible to those who’ve given their lives to Christ. As a concept, purity is designed to resist circulation outside of evangelical culture: purity, it’s not for us, we in the secular world, and in that lies much of its virtue and value within the evangelical realm.

“Thanks for making English fun.”

My last post was, to be fair, a barbaric yawp of despair. But now, classes have ended, final exams have been given, and my students have completed the unofficial course evals I use to supplement the uni’s “official” (read: Likert scale) ones.

And so, in the spirit of the support and kind words my last post generated (thank you, readers! they were much appreciated), this post is an act of self-kindness: a reminder that whatever my state of existential, academic-related despair, I am a damn good teacher.

(Perhaps at some point I’ll publicly parse the constructive criticism that my students provided. But, for now, I’m sticking to the sunny side of the street.)

The comments below tell me that many of my students get something out of being in my classroom and some even enjoy being there. Indeed, I’ve been teaching for six years now, and never before has the word “fun” appeared so many times in a set of evals. Given how little fun I was having this semester writ large, I am pretty damn pleased to see that.

FWIW, these are responses submitted by students in both of my classes in response to this, the last question on the unofficial eval:

10. What else would you like to tell me about your experience in this course?

Continue reading ““Thanks for making English fun.””

A Presumption of Interaction: Readers, Writers, and Fanfic

There’s been a conversation circulating on tumblr of late about “the culture of fanfiction”: namely, about how in the Good Old Days on LiveJournal and Fanfiction.net, people left comments on fanfic, but now, on Archive of Our Own (AO3), they rarely do. Commenters also associate this shift with a change in readers’ attitudes towards fic writers. This shift, folks argue, has been from one of gratitude towards one of demand in which readers expect stories to be crafted to meet their preferences in pairing, plot, sexual situations, etc., and get pissed off when stories don’t do what they want them to.

Something about these discussions has nagged at me all week.

Admittedly, I’m relatively new to the fanfiction game; I know next to nothing about LJ and even less about Ff.net. I’ve cut my teeth as a fic reader and writer on AO3, the Grindr of fanfic, where the next story is just one swipe away. Perhaps that will make you take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. To wit:

Writers, your readers don’t owe you anything.

They don’t owe you a kudos, or a reblog, or a comment, or any sort of public recognition at all. No matter how long you worked on it, how much research you did, how much of yourself you invested into its lines: readers don’t owe you a thing.

Continue reading “A Presumption of Interaction: Readers, Writers, and Fanfic”