My life rose to a crescendo the last 7 days with two of the most important days of my life: my baby sister’s wedding last Sunday and my best friend’s wedding yesterday. Started brewing and on the water with Ian, Steavo, Allie, and the Dogs. Involved lots regular work on the farm and an unexpected jaunt to Oxford which in turn lead to a fortuitous London reunion with the Workmans. It is rather funny how life works. Last year, summer ‘11, I finished at Oxford, climbed in the Alps, had a brilliant 10 days in Kentucky with Rachel, Simon, and Basak, and then realized that I had no plan. Summer just ended and was over and I didn’t quite know what to do. Now, as I contemplate next week’s move to Charlottesville, I feel ready to start the next phase of life. Really, it feels like the last 4 years, a year in Knoxville after graduating from Asbury, 2 in Oxford, and last year all over, lead to this summer, and really this week. Kind of like I graduated all over again. Maybe it’s the knowledge that my two go-to people in life, Jordan and Hannah now have new go to people- and this is AWESOME- or the fact that events conspired to take me on a whirlwind tour of everyone who has ever meant anything to me in my life, but- unlike last year- I feel like something new is starting. Which is kind of scary but pretty cool. As we were dancing the night away last night I realized that starting this week we would be breaking up and heading off to our own lives. So many people setting up new houses. This has been a season of ‘Good bye and Good luck’s!’ Kind of like we all took that next step in life, whatever it was, in the same 6 mo period and all the changes began to take real hold on our lives in the same 3 week window. What I really loved about the summer was its lack of nostalgia and the genuine excitement for what was to come I encountered in all my friends. Too often we cling to good things and make them idols instead of realizing it was our forward progression in life that brought us to those good things in the first place. While three weeks of non stop partying has left me pretty zonked (I’m getting old Kidz, esp. for Tumblr) it has also left me really charged and ready for the next four years.
Anonymous asked: How did you "gain access" to the academic world? How did you manage to publish your first paper/give your first lecture etc.?
Honestly: hard work, talent, and luck in that order. I am by no means ‘there’ either. I am between my masters and PhD, which I will start this fall, but the only way one actually ‘gains access’ is by obtaining an actual academic job. It is crucial to note, though, that the ‘academic world’ is a professional market separate from the life of the mind. Living an intellectual life does not require an academic job, in fact such jobs may actually preclude or inhibit many sorts of intellectual ventures.
Entering the academic profession is rather straight forward. BA, MA, PhD, Job or more rationally BA, PhD, Job. The problem is that there will always be more PhD’s than there are jobs, especially good jobs if one harbors research ambitions. If you love books and love to teach you will in all likelihood be more satisfied teaching at a posh private high school than a low end college. If one commits to the career academic track, though, it requires you, or at least it did me, to both work harder than I ever have and to emotionally divest myself from the process and realize that no degree or job could ever define me body, soul, and mind.
A PhD is about getting a job not finding yourself or giving yourself to a book/subject your really like- unless of course you are independently wealthy and have no need to recourse to employment to sustain the lifestyle you desire. I would say that the first step is to be honest with yourself about what you want out of life, what you are good at, and what path has the most rational likelihood of bringing you happiness. If there is a teacher/prof whose life you envy in a very wholesome sense, ask to have buy them coffee/drink/whatever and simply say: ‘I admire you, I want a career/life like you, how did you get here and what advice do you have for me?’ Then listen. They may not say what you want to here. But listen. You always win be being sincere, humble, and listening.
Then establish a plan, way points, goals, etc. INCLUDING, and this is crucial, the level of short term pain/sacrifice you are willing to tolerate to get what you want in the future. And know that what you think are short term sacrifices, esp. in the world of relationships, have long term consequences. Establish in your mind an absolute level of debt you are willing to accrue and do not exceed it. Debt will make you hate the very reason you acquired it in the first place. I left Oxford for the sole reason that it was no longer worth the money. For a time it was, but I reached the point where the expected outlays did not justify the expected returns and consequently I sacrificed the short term (3-4 years) of genuine fun and academic and personal pleasure I know for a fact to be found at Oxford for the chance at a career on both sides of the Atlantic. So the long answer to your question is that I don’t quite know how it happened that I gave my first paper, but I do clearly know the path I put myself on, which is the important part. If you put yourself on the path, work hard, are kind to people, demonstrate a level of talent- and the ability to knuckle down and just out work everyone else is a talent- and show you give a damn but, however, you are not defined by your degrees, good things will happen.
If you try to go into the field b/c you think it looks fun/it will validate you/people will look up to you/you will have an easy job/etc. it will break you. My life looks fun on tumblr precisely b/c I only blog the fun parts. All of the Oxford pix are on my way to and from work. What is not blogged is the day to day tedium and petty frustration and anxiety that comprises most of adult life regardless of job.
*sorry if this seems patronizing or pedantic. I mean it quite sincerely. As David Foster Wallece says, I wish you so much more than luck.
About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
I don’t know why, but I woke up thinking about Pieter Bruegel. Particularly Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (pace art history snobs, I know it is likely a copy of a Bruegel and not the real thing). I think what I love about the painting is simply that Icarus falls in the margin. No one notices, life moves on. Everyday life wins. Icarus may fall, but fields still need plowed. Icarus is a lightning rod. His fall is conjured in poems, songs, and paintings- I mean, this painting alone inspired not one, but two significant poems. One by W.H. Auden given above and the other by William Carlos Williams given below. The myth is flexible, durable, and- I think in Bruegel’s eyes- pointless. Perhaps the painter would have sympathized with Dan Haseltine when he sang:
I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all ends up the same
Soaring on the wings of selfish pride I flew too high and like Icarus I collide With a world I try so hard to leave behind To rid myself of all but love to give and die
Bruegul gently mocks Icarus for trying to leave a world manifestly good and overflowing with abundence. At least in my reading of the painting. Brugel, to me, is a painter in love with life his fat farmers are healthy and hale, a strong wind lifts his ship across the sea, why, Bruegel asks, would Icarus try to leave this?
William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel when Icarus fell it was spring
a farmer was ploughing his field the whole pageantry