The Ghostly Hand

I honestly thought I was done. I was out of academia for good. I was happy about it. I am happy about it.

Do you ever feel like something keeps pulling you back into a place that you’re trying to get away from? I feel like a ghostly hand has caught me on the collar at the last possible second. Not so fast.

I recently had lunch with a good friend who teaches at a Local Community College. He says they are hiring a few people in my field for next fall. He wants to know, would I consider applying? He is very kind and enthusiastic about it. In fact, he says that he has some influence in the department. He feels certain I would have a good chance at being hired. “You already have a job letter,” he says. “So why not just send it in and see what happens?”

Yes, why not indeed.

I am glad my friend thought of me, and I’m really flattered that he thinks I’d be a good candidate and a good colleague. But as our conversation progressed, I felt a tremendous burden begin to settle back onto my shoulders. It was a weight that had lifted back when I made the decision not to go on the market this year. But now it was back, heavy and familiar as a bad memory.

Now I find myself conflicted again. Terribly, terribly conflicted. I have time to think about this before making a decision. But it will never be easy.

I try not to look for signs or omens in the universe because I think the world is just kind of random most of the time. Things happen, or they don’t. We do things, or we don’t do them. Sure, there are reasons and contexts to consider. But we also have a tendency to create narratives around the randomness to explain things that don’t make sense any other way. I could apply for and be offered the job. In five or ten years, I might look back and say, yes, I was meant to do this work after all. It’s all clear to me now. Or, I could not apply for the job and really, truly put academic behind me. Then, in five or ten years, that will be the story I tell. I left academia and this is what happened as a result because that is how it was meant to be.

I could be making a mistake not to apply, not to take this one last chance to be employed at a college as a faculty member, even at a two-year college.

Or I could be making a mistake by going back to academia at all, by allowing the ghostly hand to guide me to a place I thought I’d left.

My biggest concern is that I may never know which choice is the right one because, whatever I do, it will become part of the narrative, part of my life story. It will be the thing I did because I didn’t do the other thing.

As the road rolls out behind me, how will I know where the path not taken might have led?

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5 Responses to The Ghostly Hand

  1. JC says:

    I’d say you should follow your earlier advice re: the job market … what does your gut tell you about the community college job? How do you feel about the prospect of prepping and teaching a bunch of classes again?

    You know, “what you want” v. “what others think you should want” and all of that. 🙂

    I’ll be interested to see what you wind up deciding to do….

  2. recent Ph.D. says:

    Well, the way I’m looking at it with regards to these 5-6 job apps I’m going to do is that whatever academe may choose to offer (and 99.9999999 % likely it won’t offer me anything) is just one more job option that I would have. My nonacademic prospects aren’t all that exciting right now — I mean, they’re OK. They’re better than adjuncting. But an academic job (especially the one that’s within commuting distance) would be OK, too. This may not be the right way of thinking about it for everyone, but one of the problems with academe is that we’re trained to see that elusive tenure-track job as more than just a job. But … really, that’s all it is. A job. One among many that you could have. If you think you might like doing the job at the community college better than whatever you’re doing right now and it’s not much of a hassle to apply, then do it. If you think you’d hate it or if they employ so many adjuncts that you’d have trouble sleeping at night because of your complicity with the system, don’t apply.

    It is complicated, though, this business of leaving, especially for those of us who still kinda sorta like the work …

    Likewise interested to see what you decide to do.

  3. Anthea says:

    Ah…the ghostly hand of academia. I think that it turns up whenever we think that you’ve left it behind and it’s not going to come back. Go with your gut…..I’d agree with recent PhD’s comment and with JC’s comment. It’s complicated this business of leaving since it’s hard especially for those who like the work. It’s not easy…I am wondering whether we’re leaving the world of academia but we’re really in the knowledge economy which is a new and unclear ‘thing’ which hasn’t really emerged.

  4. Kelly says:

    This same thing happened to me: “Hurry up and finish your doctorate–I think we’re going to have funding to hire someone in your field in a year or two.” My heart sang–until my heart sank. Wait a minute, Stupid Self, this podunk 2 year school is 90+ minutes away from home, same as your dumb school is now. That’s at least 3 hours/day spent in the car. Horrible. To teach in a discipline that I’ve concluded is largely BS. This is the same friend who egged me on to get the doctorate…and look how that turned out.

  5. post academic says:

    Hi Kelly, Gah! I was egged on. And must admit that, before I knew what academia was really like, I also egged on a friend of mine. Now I feel really awful about it. But I’m trying to make amends by telling the truth now.

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