Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mistakes Were Made... early thirsty

I've done some stupid, stupid things.

When someone asks me if I have any regrets in life, I don't know where to start.  When you start counting to infinity, do you start at 1?

I'm wondering if perhaps my biggest regret is that I stayed in higher education.

No career is perfect.  No vocation is ideal.  This one has its good points.  I've made some friends.  I've got my niche....

{{{ {  yawn  } }}}

I'm trying to convince myself that it's all been ok, but I'm not making persuasive arguments.  The accumulated Misery makes its own argument.

Best-case scenario is that 25 years from now I'll find myself in a Yaro-esque retirement party.  It will be an hour or two of smiling and thanking people.  A few former students will be there.  None (or few) of my best friends will be there, either because they never stuck with academia or because they will be dead or in nursing homes.  There will be people there that I won't want to see.  I'll be ambivalent about getting drunk at the event--I'll want to get drunk to ease the pain of having endured such a compromised existence, but I won't want to make a fool of myself in front of the guests who were kind enough to drop by and say a few nice things.

I'm contemplating leaving after summer 2014.  Not retiring, just exiting.  Quietly packing up the office one weekend, sending a concise resignation email to HR, and disappearing.

I don't know what I would do.  I could become Midwest Bubba or Canadian Bubba or SoCal Bubba.  I'm just afraid of dying as a (somewhat) big fish in a polluted pond.  It seems that the vapid shit is only getting worse.

I drink bourbon because I'm tired and don't have the energy to cry, but I'd like to drink and laugh and smile with friends.  I'd like for it to feel better and for life to mean something more.

Sorry if this is a boring Thirsty, but...

Q.  Do you have any suggestions?

A.  Feel free to brainstorm, share crazy anecdotes, tell me I'm nuts, or ignore me.
               [Be honest, dammit.]


  1. No suggestions, but I share your sentiment and desires.

  2. What, deep down in your heart, have you always really wanted to do? Maybe run away to the circus? Hitchhike across the country? Open a candy stand? Write a book?

  3. Get all of the administration together, whip out a repeating rifle, and re-enact that scene from "Tombstone" where Wyatt Earp kills all of those gunslingers while yelling "NOOOOOO" in that slo-mo voice.

  4. Your post went straight to my heart: I feel very much the same. The main thing that stops me from leaving is knowing that I could probably only find work at half my salary, at the most, and it would probably not be very rewarding work at that. I'm just not convinced I could find something rewarding that pays decently, and I have to think about retirement and such. I look forward to reading any suggestions. I at least have never peddled the "go ahead and study capybara art, you'll gain lots of transferable skills and business will snatch you up" line: I know that's b.s. Meanwhile I'll continue to plot vicious revenge against all those that have lead me to hate so much of my job and hope that that can become my retirement hobby.

  5. Bubba, other than drinking, is there anything that gives you joy? If so, do you make time for whatever it is each day? If not, why not?

    For me, it's art, books, and my animals. Those things keep me sane. I have to make things, I have to read things, and I have to get outdoors (which critters force me to do). If I go too long without giving time to any of these, I feel myself sinking into a dark place. And the longer I go, the further I sink and the harder it is to crawl out. None of these activities will save the world, but they save me.

    It can be hard to make time sometimes, but it's essential. Life is so short and blah blah blah. But truly, it is. We can get cut down at any time.

    As Crayon Eater asked, what would you do if there were no constraints such as time or money? How can you fit that into your life right now?

    I know misery is the name of the game here, but dear Bubba, you seem lower than that. When on a daily basis you don't even have the energy to cry, something's got to give. I hope you can find your authentic self, and in the process some joy. You deserve it.

    ((big hug)) you big lug.

  6. "...but I'd like to drink and laugh and smile with friends."

    Then get some friends and drinks and get it started. I assume you have friends, besides those here, so that shouldn't be a problem. I imagine you have a few amusing stories to tell, even if they are tinged with despair and frustration. I don't mean to sound like this is an easy fix to all your problems, but it is an easy fix to the problem of needing a drink and some laughs. Often, that's all you need.

  7. See what other options are out there before jumping. These are not forgiving times for late career changes.

  8. What keeps me going through the worst of academia is that I get to be an astronomer. I’ve wanted to be an astronomer since I was five years old. I can’t imagine not being an astronomer: if I weren’t, I’d be a different person, and probably a frustrated one. Yes, this fanaticism has more than once made me vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers, so I’m glad I have tenure now.

    I trust you’ve heard the old saw that when people are on their deathbeds, very few of them wish they’d worked more? I’m one of the handful of weirdos who will, because my work is to explore the Universe, which I think is well worth doing. So, if you don’t think that what you’re supposed to be doing is worth it any more, maybe you should look around at other things to do.

    I try not to think about what will happen at my retirement party. With any luck, I’ll be able to slip out the back before anyone notices, because of this moronic thing I do called upholding standards.

    After I retire, I'm going to shift the emphasis of my research from observational astronomy to theoretical astrophysics. More than enough interesting problems to keep me occupied for nine lives have turned up in all these years of observing. That, and I'm getting too old to stay up all night, every night, he way I did when I was a teenager. I aim to keep publishing, though, until I just plain can't anymore. Who knows, maybe after that I'll learn to enjoy life more.

    1. Frod, you rock.

      Bubba, hang in there. Take the advice to make time for things that make you feel alive.

    2. Frod has the ticket--whatever it is you wanted to be when you were five, well, that's what you need to be doing...what each and all of need to be doing. That's where our natural talents lie, right there alongside our passions. Now, hold on--I'm not saying all you boys can line up to share the right field position for the Yankees, but I *am* saying that when you consider what that particular five-year-old's vision of honorable occupancy *was*, you can find a way to make a living doing it, and that living will come with joy and laughs and those moments when you're actually surprised that it's pay day again. When I was five, I tortured my sibs and then my stuffed animals when my sibs disappeared with 26-word long spelling tests--one word from each section of the dictionary. These days I give NO spelling tests, but I *do* teach, and, God, how I love it. Yeah, the snowflakes in their encroaching drifts are almost soul-draining. Almost.

      Bubba, have a conversation with the five-year old you were; he'll tell you what you need to do after 2014 (and every day leading up to that target).

  9. Hi Bubba, it's me. Just wanted you to know I am thinking of you and hoping that things brighten for you. I, myself, can get months' worth of sustenance from a small-ish dinner party with nonacademic friends. Consider the possibility?

  10. You could be laying asphalt on a Texas roof somewhere. I mean, in the wide scheme of things it's not such a bad deal. Unless you're already independently wealthy and don't need to make a living anymore. In that case, quit, and fuck 'em.

    I think the ultimate question for me would be whether I was doing something productive and useful. If no, and you can quit, do it, and find something ELSE productive and useful to do. Become a cowboy gigolo and make lots of farm wives happy. Give horseback riding lessons. Make bourbon. Bubba's Mark. I'd buy it.

    1. See, Bubba, I told you the women dig the horse.

    2. Oh lord, yes. If someone could figure out how to bottle the scent of sun-warmed horse hair and saddle leather...

  11. If you have the resources to just leave, and your muse is beckoning you to do so, then go! If you are trapped, be a benign silverback and, to the extent you can, feed and mentor the chimps. If you have tenure, carve out a humane niche for yourself and live there to the extent you can.

  12. I've been there, Bubba, and revisit frequently. Before tenure I went through the mental exercises of 'what do I really want?' and 'what skilz do I have?' And I kept circling back to the fact that what I wanted to do was to be a scientist. I can't claim to be 'exploring the Universe' like Frod (I work in Hamster Husbandry after all) but being a scientist is a way of thinking, and that's how I think and therefore that's what I am, whatever I'm doing.

    I realized that I don't want to be a lawyer, or sell real estate, or run a daycare or an organic bakery on the outskirts of Bozeman. I don't even want to join the circus or sail away through tropical seas in a swashbuckling outfit with Kiera Knightly (though I can see the appeal).

    What I really want is for academics to behave like scholars and not like careerists. What I really want is for adminflakes to promote good scholarship and not good business. What I want is for students to come knowledge and not for credit. I know I'm not going to get any of these things.

    So given this reality, I decided I want to be the guy who calls bullshit on the bullshit. The guy who gets data instead of getting grants. The guy who teaches students instead of customers. That's how I want to use my tenure, and I think it is what tenure is there to defend.

    Of course it also means I'm the guy with too many empty bottles stacked up by the recycling bin in my unkempt appartment. The guy who spends too much time with books and not enough with people. I guess I've made my peace with that, and the occasional trek across the tundra with my best husky sometimes helps to lift my mood.

  13. It's a JOB, Bubba, nothng more. And out there in the real world, most jobs are even suckier. Do you really want to give up June, July, and August? Or trade 12 or 15 (or whatever your teaching load is) hours in the front of a classroom for 40 hours at a desk in some cubicle?

    You sound (and I'm no clinician) really depressed. Please talk to a professional, and maybe you'll find that Prozac or Xanax, rather than bourbon, is what you need. Seriously. Clinical depression is just bad chemicals in the brain, and better living through chemistry is a real possibility. I know because I've been there and done that.

    On a more philosophical note, I also think that our culture tells us that happiness, satisfaction, wholeness is the default mode in life, that unhappiness, dissatisfaction, alienation means something's wrong, out-of-kilter, and needs to be fixed. Looking back through history and looking around at the rest of the planet tells me that life is mostly unhappy, dissatisfied, and unconnected. That's the default setting, and spells of satisfaction and connectednesss are exceptions--which should be cherished all the more because they ARE exceptions.

    Good luck to you.

    1. Great point, Philip, and I second it. You might want to consider screening for depression. Medication can help, especially if coupled with some good talk therapy. My college actually pays for therapy for staff, and one can easily keep it confidential. Here's a link to one of many on- line depression screenings. Maybe taking one can help you figure out a next step that can help.

  14. Take a leave of absence. It will give you time to refocus, especially if you are burning out. (And boy howdy Bubba, you're sounding burned out.)

    You can use the leave of absence to perfect your bourbon, search for a job, or recharge.

    I was burning out at my last academic job, and a leave of absence helped renew my spark with research and teaching.

  15. "It's a JOB, Bubba, nothng more. And out there in the real world, most jobs are even suckier."

    Philip is right. I was just venting to my better half how depressed I was. My students suck eggs. The comments on my evals were weird, mentioning how I start class on time and how dare I do that. What about the late students? Shouldn't they be able to hear the whole lecture? Dear Sky God, please help me. One student wrote that I had NO right to ask a question about a topic I have yet to teach. Why should they read before class so they could participate in a discussion. I spoke to a crazy-ass student about her disrupting the class AND insulting the other students for not participating. What did I get for this, a tirade of lies and insults on rmp and on my evals (which my school accidentally opened too early).

    I had other jobs and they were much worse, crappy bosses, hours and hours of boredom, horrible co-workers. My job now, which I waited a long time to have, is less sucky. But why oh why does it tear at my soul like no other job?

    Bubba, here's hoping you find some peace!

  16. All of this is good advice from people who care about you.

    My own personal Yaro (now passed away) had been teaching at my college since before I was born. I asked him how he managed to arrive at work every day beaming with joy. His answer had two main points:

    1. He never got involved in campus politics and never was department chair. You seem to have this one down pat.

    2. He truly enjoyed teaching and (most) students, but also treated his job as one of seven equally important aspects of life: work, the arts, spirituality, community, sexuality, social life with family and friends, and physical activity. (I never asked him if he actually spent as much time in sex as at work.)

    I've tried to reach more balance in (some of) these areas with a weekly planner on a small white board and different colors of wipe-off markers: green for work, purple for art and music, orange for community, etc. Some weeks, of course, there's more green than anything else, but that's a good visual reminder to schedule some other colors into my life.

    Taking a sabbatical helped tremendously -- but a leave might be even better because there's no commitment of a work-related product at the end.

    Getting involved in some community project (your local park? Habitat for Humanity?) is a good way to jump-start a few of these areas: it expands the social circle and can involve physical activity and/or creativity. Some aspects mirror academia (petty squabbles over meaningless details), but I've mostly stayed low in the pecking order and just wield the sandpaper, paintbrush, rake and shovel as needed. At the end of a tiring day, you get to look around and share smiles as you appreciate what a group of semiskilled people can accomplish at an elementary school playground or county park. A later reward is knowing more people at the grocery store or farmers' market.

    Hang in there, Bubba, listen to what your friends here are telling you, and please let us know how you're doing.

    1. The different colors for each area are a great idea!

  17. But as with so much, I overthought them. Didn't want to use blue for family in case my kids thought they made me blue; didn't want to use red for work because that made it look more urgent. Sigh.