I’ve been turned down for funding 10 times. I have only one more application in review, and then, that’s it. In the meantime, i’ve had two articles rejected. I used to be indignant, now … well, now, i think i’m just concerned.
On that note, i’ve read two delightful pieces that speak to this moment. The first, i have Stuart Elden to thank (again) for the link. It is a delightful piece written by Rolnad Boer on the Typology of Scholars. Open to additions, it is a series of personalities that one comes up against in the academy. It’s helpful to be type-cast, i think, especially with such a wonderful sense of humor. If anything, it has proved to be gently humiliating. Unfortunately, it also requires a hefty dose of reality and self-examination.
The second is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Ed by Jon Bardin on the real learning that comes from pursuing a PhD called, For Science PhD’s There is No One True Path. I’ve dreamed of being an academic since i was fairly young – mostly based on really inappropriate and Orientalist notions of Saving People by Going Native (sue me – i was only ever allowed to watch movies from the military library on base which meant black and white films and really inappropriately outdated documentaries). I thought field research would be more like Victorian days when one’s medicine travel kit was larger than one’s travel wardrobe. Indiana Jones (for a delightful remonstrance of his particular form of ‘academic field research’, see his Tenure Rejection Letter) and the woman from Out of Africa were my heroes. Watching my husband die of cholera or yellow fever seemed par for the course. Writing excruciatingly dull and painful funding applications did not.
It’s not quite so glamorous (and doesn’t include stop overs in Shanghai in flapper dresses) or romantic. But, surprisingly, it does require vast amounts of money. And immense support for your vision before you can even begin.
And so i approach this question of self-esteem. It is incredibly difficult to not take a few dings. In fact, the whole PhD process requires just that. I was told, early on, that a tough skin was imperative. Well, this many years later, and i still don’t have one. So how do we continue on?
It boils down to two things: recognizing that we are story-tellers and knowing that we are telling the stories that people really don’t want to hear. We are doing what we do because we understand that there are fundamental flaws with the way the world works. We do what we do because we believe firmly in the goodness of people and believe (however superciliously) that there is a possibility for a different way of being. And that, if only we (all) understood ourselves and our processes, that we possess the possibility of being just so.
I jokingly tell my friends that really, we’re just the cats that go in and uncover the poop in the litter box, disallowing the illusion that there’s nothing there at all. And it’s not to be spiteful, rather, is a mission to know, expose, and ultimately make room for improving and moving all of us toward a less stinky existence. Because, really, we all (i truly believe) are being driven by moral imperatives whose compasses are not always set to true north. And if we could all only believe….
The difficulty is remembering that imperative and always hearing it, even in the din of rejection and discomfort. But more importantly, that we are all trying to be part of a larger conversation – the discourse of power and knowledge. Because, quite frankly, the voices of the most (read: hegemonic discourse) is frighteningly self-serving, short-sighted, and non-compassionate. As Albert Einstein once said:
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty