Friday, February 23, 2007

The Phantom Happy

What makes a happy graduate student?

I've been thinking that question over. It started when I read over the posts written for Happy Woman Professor Day, an event engineered by dhawhee over at blogos. They got me thinking a lot about how I imagine my life as a professor, and what, in that fantasy, makes that happiness possible. It's interesting that the first thing that jumped to my mind, and then proceeded to dance around my skull, knocking over lampshades and spilling coffee, is that, in my vision, life as a happy professor is defined by the things that have nothing to do with academia. It's defined by balance and a life beyond my research and teaching. I know, already, that I love to teach and that I find research maddening but challenging in exactly the way I might hope. But that cannot make me a happy professor, nor can the things I hate in my vision of the future (departmental politics, long hours, unrelenting expectations) make me unhappy. It takes the whole damn package of career and love and personal space and hobbies and integrity.

Looking forward, I expect to be asked to make compromises, both on behalf of my career and on behalf the of the family I hope to have. I intend to make them. I don't intend for my career to be a non-negotiable aspect of my life, and that, I suppose, means I better expect my career to be pretty mediocre. I can be happy with that. In fact, that may be the only way I envision myself happy as a professor. I'd like a job where I can teach, please. I'd like a job where I can, if I put the time in, have intellectual community and social interaction. I don't know that I care very much where that job is or whether my work is well-known or appreciated. I fear that being known and appreciated is the only way to the get the little job with an office and classes and files full of copies of archival documents, but surely there has to be a middle ground between academic superstar and barista.

This, of course, means that the things that will make me happy as a professor are the same things that make me happy as a graduate student. And they are. As I've been thinking this over, I've realized that I am, actually, a happy graduate student. I feel a little as if I'm getting away with something. The misery of graduate school is not at all overblown, but somehow I'd translated that into a belief that I must also be miserable. And it just doesn't follow. My life here is defined by dissertation, yes, but also my friendships, my hobbies, the goals I have that are completely independent of academia. It's defined by a fair bit of navel-gazing and being completely wild about my dog and my niece and my goddaughter and the people who remind me of all the really cool things beyond my doorstep. It's a good life.

I'm not saying that I don't just loathe some aspects of it. Right now, I'm so tired of negotiating academic personalities I could scream. I hate the feelings of inadequacy and the endless road that stretches before me and the constant worry about money. But oh, well. That's just the way it is. It doesn't have the power to make me an unhappy person, even if it does have the power to ruin more than a day or two. I have the ability to digest it all, try to move past it, develop coping mechanisms, sublimate and deny. I have a dog who sleeps with his nose under my leg, a list of personal projects the size of my arm, and friends and family that make my heart feel tight and lucky. I'm a happy graduate student.

I do reserve the right to change my mind on that point, though. One more funding proposal might break me.


Blogger Ancrene Wiseass said...

I'm with you on choosing obscurity over happiness. And I'm glad you're a happy graduate student: God knows they're rare enough!

I'm slowly working on being a happier one than I have been. It can be done.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Acre said...

It can. But I think it's a very touch-and-go, moment-by-moment thing. It's incredibly easy to fall into the pit of despair and almost feel as if you aren't allowed to crawl out because if you aren't living it every day, you aren't a proper grad student. But it's just so much bullshit. I have a life. I occasionally feel like shaking my fist and screaming, "But I'm a person, dammit! A PERSON!"

6:42 AM  
Blogger O'Donovan said...

> I have a dog who sleeps with his nose under my leg, a list of personal projects the size of my arm, and friends and family that make my heart feel tight and lucky.

Tattoo this on a body part. It's important to remember.

I'm glad you're happy.

9:58 AM  

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