As a precariously employed academic friend recently said, “adjunct teaching is addictive because you actually feel like you’re needed.” That is, needed by the students, of course, especially when you pour yourself into trying to do a good job. Nothing else seems to be going anywhere, but it’s this little glimmer of satisfaction that has to stand in for all other forms of professional — and personal, in my case — satisfaction. And although this is my first term out of grad school, I can say that I’ve been drawing heavily on this little sliver of affirmation for the last seven years. It has worked: my teaching reviews are stellar and I keep getting asked to teach more. In fact, I’m teaching 7 courses in 6 programs this year, because I say yes to everything.
But then, of course, there is the issue of research, of publication. I did not focus on this during my doctoral program, and I actually think this is the right way to go overall because who wants to read grad student writing? Not me. There is nevertheless the reality that publications are necessary to be competitive for (more) permanent positions, which I completely accept. I recently had an article proposal accepted, by the journal I want to publish in, which is great news, but now I find myself in the very real — and I’m surely incredible familiar to many academics, especially my fellow mercenaries out there — position of not having much inspiration to actually do the work. True, much of it is already done and is right there, in that hulking mass of writing called the dissertation that I’ve been avoiding for four months. But given that I’ve spent the last seven weeks teaching two new courses, on two campuses 35 miles apart, while vaguely planning for another new class next quarter, and while also finishing up a proposal for a book of translations, taking care of two kids, sitting through advanced French classes to make sure the translations are solid, doing peer reviews, writing job applications that I presume are never even seen, advising undergraduate students, writing abstracts for conferences, and trying to maintain a semblance of what I love about academia by participating in a reading group, I’m already looking around, wondering if I can actually keep my head above water.
Somewhere, recently, I read someone — maybe Ian Bogost — saying that there are far too many articles written about why people are leaving academia, and that we need more saying why people are staying. I’m committed to staying, even though I’m clawing my way around at the periphery, but I can’t help but see it as a questionably wise endeavor. Is this a world that burns people out before they actually get started? It sure seems to be going that way, at least from my chair. Am I willing to keep trying? Absolutely, while I can. Why? I’m not sure I really know, but something is pushing me to keep going anyway.