Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Academic Monkey Gives Unsolicited Advice

My week has been terrible and I almost chucked this column. But then I thought: who will counsel these people who have not cared to ask for said counsel? Beaker Ben?? Unlikely. Southern Bubba? That guy is half soused. So here I am, advising perfect strangers of their moral quandaries. Especially this one, which I think will appeal to Cassandra and Snarky Writer. Source available at the end if you're a stickler.
~Academic Monkey

Problem Posed:
 “I’m an undergrad English student who just got published for the first time (yay!) and I’ll be starting work on my capstone thesis next semester (although I’ve already started reading and outlining and stuff like that). My family is currently very supportive and thrilled for me- also yay! Problem is, I’m not sure if that will continue once they actually read the paper in question…I hold some rather… radical opinions on gender, sexuality, and the politics thereof, which is what I’m writing about, and my writing makes that VERY clear…once the journal is published and they get to actually read what I wrote, things could get very awkward very fast. It sucks, because otherwise I’m very close with my family, and I want to be able to share the biggest step so far in my academic and professional life without screwing things up permanently. Any suggestions?”

Unsolicited Advice:

I love this problem. There's something ever-so academic about saying "Screw you" to your upbringing when you find whatever it is that fuels that light inside you. People who get PhDs and other exhausting degrees in obscure elements of human history, science, or half-lost literature have a deep desire, a burning, a figurative I WANT TO LOVE WHAT IS MINE that no childhood can adequately compensate for.

I think is this why academics are so often fairly lacking in the social department.

But the thing is, we are one of very few species who returns home periodically to talk to those who gave birth to us. According to my sources (Animal Planet, mostly), most mammals give birth to a tiny cutie, prevent it from dying in the first 1/3 of its life, and then kick it out as it grows large enough to be a rival. There are no animal family reunions worthy of Uncle Ted's racist jokes. Maybe you stick around for the social ladder-climbing. I don't know. But my point is this: when we grow up, we need to be able to own our experiences.

Your experiences have led you to a very clear sense of moral compass. You feel the world around you is flawed; many of us feel this way. Everyone goes about fixing those flaws in their own way. Some by joining peace corps, some by publishing works in journals, others by boozing it up (Bubba) or just being baffled (Hiram).

This is the thing. If you know in the core of your being that this situation will not bode well for your familial relationships, then you need to shield it from them. Avoid giving them the journal name. Explain it's super boring and full of jargon. Tell them lies about publications being delayed. (Those are very believable lies).

Ultimately, there is a point in everyone's adult life when you realize parts of who you are can never be revealed to your family. No one wants to hear about that sex thing that you love so much. The Netflixing that keeps you sane is not something you advertise. And the very good work you are doing to express some much-needed though might be one of those things that you can't share with family.

And that's fine. Sharing is overrated.  Especially with family. Take your career, tell family it's business, and ride that wave to publishing stardom.

(If you care: Source)


  1. Problem poser: Don't go out of your way to be argumentative or holier-than-thou but otherwise just accept it. You're an adult and you're entitled to develop your own opinions.

  2. This problem is simpler than you make it out to be. Although family members will request copies of said article, they mostly want it so they can put it somewhere to gather dust. They will 'get around to reading it' sometime around the next ice age.

    My father published his academic book about twenty years ago, and I still haven't gotten past chapter 1.

    So, don't worry. Just play it cool. It either won't get read, or won't get understood if it does get read.

  3. And this is a case where I wouldn't mind plagiarizing. Publish your article and then photoshop your name on someone else's article and tell your relatives that's the one you wrote. They won't ever find out.

  4. AM's response is so sweet and thoughtful. I would've gone with "They'll never actually read it."

  5. I think it depends on your family. There are close families, and there are closed families. Healthy close families manage to include people of varying political, ideological, religious, etc. perspectives, varying sexual identities, varying sports team loyalties, etc., etc., and everybody somehow manages to get together for Thanksgiving, the occasional weekend dinner, and summer picnics without voices being raised beyond anyone's comfort level, drinks and/or china being thrown, people leaving early in tears, etc., etc. In closed families, everyone may be very insistent about how much they value family connections, but there are cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. who no one talks about, because they're no longer around (by their own or others' choice).

    You probably know which kind of family you've got (or at least can figure out after some soul-searching, and mental rehearsing of the family tree -- hint; if there are gaps you can't fill in, and know if would cause tension to ask about, you've got the second kind of family).

    With any luck, you've got a healthy close family, and the most you'll need to deal with is frustration, either because, as others have suggested, nobody will actually read and/or understand your debut publication (as a fellow English major, I'd warn you that the sort of prose we often write for publication isn't quite as clear to the rest of the world as to those of us who have spent a few years in classrooms and coffee shops where gender theory is the lingua franca), or because they'll dismiss your views (to your face or to themselves) as a phase you're going through.

    However, you asked the question, which may mean that, deep down, you know that your "close" family is more than a bit dysfunctional, and doesn't leave much room for members to grow, change, and form their own identities. If so, then you need to start making plans to be independent (financially, logistically, and emotionally) sooner rather than later. You need to be yourself, and if the self you're discovering isn't someone your family will accept, then the break is going to come, whether over this article or over something else. The delaying tactics Monkey suggests might work while you get through school, and the not-talking-about-work strategy might work for maintaining a cordial but not really close relationship once you're launched and settled. However, I suspect the next few years might be a bit rocky as you work out a new, adult place in the family. As you work through that process, Doctor BPD's advice is good (you can form your own identity, and individuate from your family, without forcing them to play an active role in the process; remember, and identity that is formed in direct opposition to someone else's is no more your own than adopting that person's identity hook, line, and sinker). Whatever you eventually decide about making sure that your family understands just how different your present worldview is from theirs, I'd suggest postponing any real showdown, if at all possible, until after graduation (but I'd also suggest making plans to do something other than move back home after graduation).