Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mail Bomb!

You know, you have to be careful when you open your mail. Somewhere, tucked in amongst the solicitations for low-interest credit cards, ads for Sears siding, and bank statements is a well-disguised bomb that can blow up your whole day.

I got a newsletter today, from an academic group. I get them quarterly, so it's not a big deal; I (strangely) actually enjoy reading about the minutiae of the members' goings on: their practices, the students they serve, etc. In that newsletter, however, they posted a pre-announcement of a search they intend to do for a new director. Whoa. Now I'm busy picking up the pieces of myself that I thought were all solidly put together.
*Note: If you know me IRL, don't panic. I'm more interested in what this announcement signals about myself than in seriously applying. Of course, if you'd be happy to see me go somewhere else, feel free to encourage me along...

Five years ago, when I was about halfway through the diss, I would have called the not-yet advertised position my dream job. (In fact, at the time, I read a job description for a faculty position in a similar group, and pissed and moaned about how I was perfect if only I were finished.) Lots has changed in that time. I'm closing in on the bid for tenure, and I've made some significant connections. I've resigned myself to living in Urbania (not the best place on the planet, but it could totally be worse), half of my colleagues are truly excellent people and good drunks. I've said to many people that if it weren't for the tension in my department, I'd have the dream job. I teach what I want, when I want. I've been given this little academic unit to grow and nurture. After years of work and discomfort, our house is liveable!!

What's most surprising to me, as I work through the ways in which my ideas have changed about what constitutes the "dream job," are the ways that it shows how I've changed as a person. My earlier self's dream job is one of head rebel: being in a large cadre of people all working on new and innovative ideas all the time; experimenting, refining, and developing their own best practices. That job comes with brilliant, but sometimes insane students; lots of intense interactions, but with a significant sense of accomplishment. As I discuss my current job as being close to a dream job, the overwhelming idea is that it's about being a rebel in a small cohort of rebels within a large, relatively conservative institution. I have students I like, but only a few are exceptional. Many of my ideas for my academic unit are about recruiting increasingly more intense students, who are not the norm at Ascesis U. In essence, in my current job, I can be comfortable. I change when I want, and I have to choose those changes carefully because it involves butting my head against some pretty hard walls.

In essence, it seems I'm at a bit of a crossroads: have I changed so significantly? Am I now the academic who is about being comfortable, who relishes being the rebel only in comparison to real conservatives? Have I always been that academic, and only wanted to be the really "out there" teacher/scholar? Or worse, has my experience in the academy changed me from being the gutsy, ambitious rebel to the resting-on-my-laurels psuedo-rebel? And is that the kind of change I should allow? [As the Dude says, "this aggression will not stand, man..."]


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