…interview I did a few years back with UC Irvine’s Humanists@Work project. Cuz, I don’t know. My face etc. I do think it’s actually really useful, though, for nepantlerxs—folks who walk between institutional worlds of art and activism and academia—to share stories of how they made the decisions they made, because there’s seldom a roadmap for that kind of thing. So I’m posting it now.
A few things about this interview, tho:
- I remain surprised I was able to speak as lucidly as I did. In fact, it’s kind of funny to me. At the time of the interview, I was in the middle of probably the most traumatic series of events I’ve gone through in my adult life. I’d had to leave the job I was being interviewed about–the job that marked my success as a Humanities Ph.D. working outside the university–because it was dysfunctional, and because that dysfunction had triggered a mental health crisis in me. After leaving that job, I was unable to work for several months and was effectively disabled. My partner had also been disabled for many months because of his own mental health crisis, which had led us to a breaking point in our relationship. So I’d spent most of the morning of the interview (and most of the previous couple weeks before that) crying, pretty much right until the few minutes before I put my game face on to talk about my dissertation. Looking back, though, I feel like that split—the total compartmentalization of internal turmoil so as to perform an outer appearance of self-confidence or success or stability—has defined my affective experience of academic life generally.
- Something I think about a lot but haven’t tried to express aloud is that a lot of these university initiatives to show what an alt-ac (alternative academic) or post-ac career path might look like for humanities PhDs seem almost hysterical about reassuring people that if they leave academia, they’ll still wind up in middle class or professional positions. Like if you look at who gets held up as exemplars of successful humanities work beyond the university, it’s folks working in think tanks or foundations or government agencies or whatnot. It’s photos of people wearing blazers and scarves and pearls. But I guess if I’ve learned anything from my particular alt-ac journey, it’s that choosing to work in the community—and/or, with respect to #1 above, feeling you have no choice but to leave “professional” or “respectable” environments cuz you’re not functioning well mentally there—means you very well might not end up middle class. I didn’t. Not that I’m in poverty. And I undoubtedly retain the cultural class privilege that comes from graduate ed. But economically, I’m working class. I should say, though, that I’m also happier and healthier; I live a life where my family and artistic and activist and working life is more well-integrated.
- I feel like the class politics of #2 is intimately related to the split subjectivity of #1. Since leaving academia for community work and becoming working class in the process, I find that I no longer work in environments requiring that sort of emotional compartmentalization. Consequently my mental health is much better.