I am a pessimist at heart. I know this. I am cynical, critical, and analytical. When an idea or course of action is proposed, I examine everything that could possibly go wrong. On the whole, I do not view this as a bad thing. I often think of problems, consequences, exceptions, and details that others never think of. This does mean, however, that even when someone asks me to describe what my life would be like in the best possible scenario, I generally have trouble seeing past what is probable to what would be preferable. To me, it often doesn’t matter what would be preferable, because I’m busy preparing for what is probable. I’ve learned the hard way, both in my personal life and by watching the struggles my mother has gone through, that hoping for the best most often leads to disappointment, and that we always need to be prepared for the absolute worst. And I have become quite adept at knowing how to prepare for the absolute worse, because it has happened on more than one occasion now. Everything always feels like a risk, like a difficulty, like danger, like drowning.
This is not to say I’m not ambitious. In many ways I am a very fanciful dreamer. I want to be a famous author, more specifically I want to be science fiction/fantasy author who wins the “Triple Crown” of science fiction awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Philip K. Dick Awards. I want my stories to be so well-loved they make movies out of them. I also want to be a fabulous teacher, I want to have a real impact on my students, I want to make them not only love reading and writing, but to understand and appreciate their lives of civic-minded people. In a perfect world I would do both these things, and still have time to read at least one book per week, and play the piano, and go back to finish my Physics degree, and travel the world. It becomes quickly obvious that I have all sorts of big, fanciful, ambitious, almost-unreachable dreams.
And yet, when I sit down to try to think reasonably about how I would like my academic career to go, I cannot think past all the negative things I hear: the job market is flooded, more and more well-trained PhDs spend their entire lives adjuncting, or give up and move on to something else, research universities don’t really care about teaching, you’ll have a work load that would make Superman look like a wuss, and if you ever want to get anywhere you better stick to the canon, and you better publish! publish! publish! (and it better be original and brilliant). Well, I don’t want to be stuck with soul-sucking adjuncting my entire life, and I do care about teaching, but that doesn’t mean I want to be carrying a 4/4 load while trying to publish my entire life either, and I don’t really want to stick with the canon, and I doubt my ability to write something original and brilliant. So, where does that leave me?
I’ve been teaching as an adjunct for six and a half years now, and I’m already tired and jaded. I still love being in the classroom nine times out of ten, but between the paperwork, the grading, the long hours, being micromanaged to death by the administration, and the pathetic excuse for a paycheck, I am miserable most of the time. And there is still little hope in the future for any kind good full-time position.
But, in the midst of all this, I have had another interest: museums. I love them. And I have long thought I might really enjoy and fit in well with museum work – as a curator, or something – and I have heard of an occasional Humanities PhD going into a career in a museum work even though that’s not what their specialty was in. I have some hope for this. Particularly, I would love to work for the still in-development Museum of Science Fiction that has been proposed and planned for a D.C. opening some time in 2018. As my literature PhD specialty is in Science Fiction, and I love museums, I cannot think of a more perfect job for me. The question is: how do I get into it?
At the Popular Culture Association conference back in April, I met Margaret Weitekamp, the Curator of the Space History department at the National Air and Space Museum. She started as a history teacher. And she gave me a tiny bit of advice: simply getting any kind of experience at a museum is valuable, volunteer work, internships, working as a docent, anything. Just get my foot in the door, doing free and cheap-labor, and that will be a great start toward learning what I need to do. So, I have contact the local art museum in hopes of a graduate student internship. I am waiting to hear back from them. And over the summer, when I’m not teaching, I will see about volunteering as a docent.
I am tired of sitting still. I am tired of always being afraid of my future. So I’ve decided it’s time I stop being a coward, get off my ass, and DO something about it.
2015 has been a horrendous year. It has been just about as bad as it is possible to be. Whatever it takes I will make 2016 work for me. I will make it my bitch. I will kick its ass, instead of the other way around. Whatever it takes.
And I’ve already made other plans too. I have submitted proposals to three different conferences: one in Orlando, one in Fullerton CA, and one in Paris. The first two are, I believe, shoe-ins. I am saving up money so that while in Orlando for the conference I can also take a day or two to go the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While in Fullerton, I will be visiting my best friend who lives nearby. I will work to revise and publish an article. I will work on, and perhaps finish, my dissertation.
I need things to change. I need to change. I cannot sit still anymore. I CANNOT allow myself to keep being miserable, to always be regretting the choices I do and do not make, to be always wondering and second-guessing. It’s time I stop being a pessimist and a cynic, and try actually HOPING and TRYING for once in my goddamn life.