I flew back to Texas on June 21, 2003. Today marks the anniversary of my returning to live in my hometown. Since anniversaries are occasions for reflection, I thought that I would post a few remarks about this past year. I'll mostly talk about getting settled after the move and getting back to work on my various projects.
The biggest difference between this year in Texas and the previous seventeen years in Philadelphia is that this year was the first one in which I was not in the classroom, either as a student or a professor. In fact, it was the first year that I had not been in the classroom since, believe it or not, I was in kindergarten. I went straight from kindergarten to public school to college to graduate school and then, finally, to teaching philosophy in the Philadelphia area. That's roughly thirty-five years in a row, without a pause or break.
It's been odd, although not as odd as it could have been. I finished a year as a visiting assistant professor at Haverford College right before I moved back, but I haven't had a job since then. Although I haven't been teaching, I've been very busy. Here are the year's highlights.
When I returned to Texas, I moved into my parents' house, which they bought thirty-three years ago. We moved in on April 7, 1971, as I recall. The house was a bit run-down, because my father had been preoccupied with my mother's multiple sclerosis for a long time. He hadn't been able to take care of the house or the yard properly, and her wheelchair had banged up walls and furniture over the years. In short, the place needed a lot of work. I asked friends to recommend a builder to me, and I settled on someone who turned out to be fantastic at his job. (A nice guy, too. Very easy to get along with.) I told him what I wanted done (and I became increasingly ambitious, since I figured that I might as well do as much as possible as quickly as possible), and he lined everything up with his subcontractors. I didn't have to do too much, except choose fixtures, appliances, carpet, and tile.
Oh, yes, I can't forget to mention the colors! I had to choose colors. I never knew that there were so many colors in the whole goddamned world. For example, when I had to choose the paint for the walls and ceilings, my builder gave me a sample block that must have contained 5000 shades of every color known to mankind. The number of shades of white alone was mind-boggling. Literally, I couldn't think. I asked myself, "Where's a queer eye when a straight guy needs one?" I soldiered on, nonetheless. I didn't spend all those years teaching aesthetics for nothing.
My most important task, though, was to stay out of the way, which I did admirably, if I do say so myself. It was easy, despite the fact that the contractors preferred to show up early in the morning. I lost a lot of sleep during the renovations.
I separated the work into two phases. The first phase, which occurred mostly in July and August 2003, but small parts of which dragged into October 2003, was devoted to renovating the interior of the house. The second phase, which occurred mostly in January and February 2004, first involved getting several new doors inside the house as well as a new garage door and then getting new windows and metal siding for the exterior of the house. By the time all the work was finished I had spent . . . well, a great deal of money. But all of it was money well spent. The house is much, much nicer to look at and to live in.
Furthermore, since I made changes of some sort to about 90 per cent of the interior, I'm not reminded as much of my parents as before. That's more important than you might realize, especially if you haven't had to live in a house filled with memories of people who are now deceased. I found the place rather oppressive when I moved back, but now, what with the renovations and an additional year to grieve for my parents, living here isn't a problem anymore, at least not on account of thoughts of my mother and father. I would have been willing to pay twice as much for the renovations if it had been necessary for making the house a more congenial place to live. Fortunately, that wasn't necessary.
Between the two phases I started to work on philosophy again. I began researching an introduction for a reprint of a translation of a book by Moses Mendelssohn. (See these earlier posts here and here for more information on this project.) I also began translating an essay by Johann Gottlieb Fichte for a book of translations and commentary that I'm doing with my friend Yolanda Estes. (She recently received tenure at Mississippi State University. Congratulations, Yolanda.) I'm about two-thirds of the way through that piece by Fichte. And, finally, I researched and began writing a chapter on Fichte for a book. I'm in the middle of the first draft as I write this.
I've been thinking a bit about two book projects, one on philosophy and horror film, the other on Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's book entitled Dialectic of Enlightenment. (The latter project is another long story, but this earlier post contains some basic information. I also once gave a lecture on the first two chapters of Horkheimer and Adorno's book.) Once I finish the Fichte chapter, I'll be able to devote more time to my book ideas.
Looking back over the year I realize that I haven't been sick once, not even for a single day. I've had some mild problems with allergies, but that's just because of the change in climate. I never had such problems in Philadelphia. The sort of stress that I felt several years ago, especially in late 2000 and early 2001, is long gone. (See the relevant portions of my academic autobiography for the story of my experiences with stress.) I'm convinced, by the way, although I could never prove it, that my father became susceptible to cancer because of the many years of stress associated with taking care of my mother.
For the first time in a very long time, I've been able to sleep without having to drag myself out of bed to go to work. During my ten years as a professor I was severely sleep-deprived, since I routinely had a teaching load that exceeded that of a full-time teaching position. Furthermore, I didn't just teach the same handful of classes again and again as many professors do. Because I was an adjunct, I had to develop many new classes in order to find work. Since my academic autobiography explains all of this, I won't go into it here. None of the foregoing includes all the time spent looking in vain for a job, nor the time devoted to my scholarly writing and translating.
The only potentially restful year was my year at Haverford, but I had to deal with legal and estate business while I was teaching there, and therefore had to travel back and forth between Philadelphia and Texas quite a bit. Consequently, I didn't get much sleep then, either, although that wasn't the fault of anyone at Haverford.
Here's the irony, though. Now that I'm no longer sleep-deprived, I'm having trouble with insomnia for the first time in several years. If it's not one thing, then it's always another. The human body or, perhaps in this case, the human mind is truly perverse.
One of my former students from Haverford recently asked me a question that I wanted to take up in this post, since it essentially relates to my experiences of the past year. He asked me whether or not I ever intend to return to academia. He wanted to know how I feel about it now, seeing that I've been out of it for year.
Don't think that I don't ask myself the very same question from time to time. Not long ago I had to consider the issue quite seriously. Here's the short version of the story.
At the beginning of March 2004, much to my surprise, I got a call from a friend of mine at a school that had interviewed me in December 2001. (The school isn't in Texas. I'll say only that much regarding its whereabouts.) That search had been canceled in early 2002 because the state had instituted a hiring freeze on account of the budget problems that many states have experienced in the past three or four years. His department had conducted a new search in late 2003 and early 2004, but they had come up empty. If I understood my friend correctly, they hadn't been able to get someone to take the position; and so they wanted to go back to the results of the aborted search from 2001-2002, that is, to the one that had involved me, among other candidates, of course.
When that search was terminated, I was one of two finalists. In the meantime the other finalist had found a job. Consequently, I was the only one left standing. My friend was more or less, kinda sorta, offering me a job, even though a lot would had to have been done before a real offer could have been made. I told him that I wasn't interested, and I thanked him for thinking of me.
I thought seriously about what my friend was saying, but I didn't have to think very long. I've moved three times in the past four years, twice within Philadelphia, once back to Texas. By the time my friend called I had spent a lot of money on my house. I was in the process of getting settled, and it was nice to live in a house of my own for the first time in my life.
Tenure at my friend's school probably would not have been much of a problem. I already have a significant publication record, one that would only grow in the next few years. The teaching load would have been heavy four classes in the fall, and four in the spring. But I wouldn't have had to teach as many different classes as I had done in Philadelphia. And so on. It wouldn't have been a bad job, but it wouldn't have been a great one.
Since I don't need a full-time job anymore, I don't have to take whatever job might come my way. Most of all, though, I didn't want to move again, especially for a tenure-track position (which it was) that might dry up and blow away if the state had another fiscal crisis. As I said, I thought about the job, but declining my friend's preliminary offer to start the administrative ball rolling was an easy call.
I had to laugh, by the way. The closest I've ever come to a full-time position was in a year when I hadn't even applied for a job of any sort. I'm still somewhat grimly amused by the whole affair.
If someone wants to hire me as an associate professor with tenure, then I'll sell my house and move across the country. I'll even consider a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at a school like Haverford if I'm ever offered one. Until one of those offers knocks on my door, I'll stay here and work on my writing and translating.
But let's face facts. I'll turn forty-one in less than a month. Say that I finish the Fichte translations in the next two years (my deadline is in 2006) and write at least one book of my own in the next three or four years. I could then return to the job market that much more accomplished. Well, who's going to hire a forty-five year old white man who received his Ph.D. when he was twenty-nine, and who hasn't held an academic job of any sort for at least five years, regardless of how accomplished he may be? No one, I suspect. Hell, I couldn't get a job when I was twenty-nine and fresh out of graduate school.
Even if I could get a desirable position, would I want one? I mean, would I really want one? This returns me to the question of my former Haverford student. Recall that the academic job market progressively worsened during the economic boom years of the mid- to late-1990s. The percentage of full-time positions sank to roughly 50 per cent. There's no reason to think that things will ever get better, especially now that the country is facing increasing deficits and gargantuan Social Security and Medicare liabilities once the baby boomers begin to retire.
Many of the people in academia who have full-time jobs and are tenured are unhappy. Some of that, of course, is just whining. But when I talk with mature people with reasonable grievances, I get the impression that they're always fighting some battle to establish a decent defensive position to fight a second battle simply so that they won't be completely routed in the third battle. What sort of professional life is that?
The quality of students is not improving, funding is shrinking, and indifference to anything not blunt-headedly careerist is growing. Philosophy departments at all but the best schools are increasingly serving other departments to the exclusion of promoting philosophy as an end in itself. I miss teaching. I miss talking to students and colleagues. I miss the academic lifestyle, even as gnarled as it was for me. I don't have to get involved with the hassles anymore, and I doubt that the good things are good enough to make an academic career desirable for someone like me. Consequently, I doubt that I'll ever go back.
Maybe I'll change my mind at some point, but at the moment I don't see myself returning to academia, assuming that I might be allowed to return in the first place. Just because I show up looking for work doesn't mean that anyone will actually give me any. I might teach a class or two again, but the pay would have to make it worth my while. When I was in Philadelphia, it wasn't too hard to get work that paid decently, even though it was work as an adjunct. That won't happen in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, unfortunately. If I stay in Texas, then it's extremely doubtful that I'll go back to teaching. If I move somewhere else, perhaps I would start teaching again. But it's too early to tell what I'll do. For the immediate future, however, I can say that I'll stay at home and not teach.
Therefore, I now assume that my teaching career is over and done with. The past year has helped me to see that I'll probably never teach again, and, more important, that that fact doesn't bother me too much anymore. It did at first, believe me. But I came to realize that I always enjoyed teaching interesting subjects to excellent students; as for the other subjects and the other students, well, sometimes I enjoyed the experience, sometimes I didn't. All academics are that way. Unlike most of them, however, I have a choice about whether or not to keep teaching. Right now I choose not to teach. I'm comfortable with that decision, which I find a bit surprising, since I never expected that I would have to make such a choice. But interesting subjects and excellent students aren't the rule. They're the exception. I've been spoiled by teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford. I don't know that I could teach, say, at the state university that employed my father for thirty-two years. I wonder how he managed to stay sane for so long.
So, to put an end to this post, I'm settled in my hometown in Texas and content not to be teaching any longer. I'm not happy about not teaching, but I can live without it.
P.S. Overall, by the way, I should mention that I liked Haverford best of all the schools that employed me. Haverford treated me decently, and it's a nice place with serious students. Lots of ducks, too. Students at the other places I taught were often serious, of course, but the combination of things at Haverford made it my favorite.
P.P.S. I finally chose egret as my paint color, but my walls and ceilings don't look like a bird's plumage to me. They look off-white. I can't claim to understand the difference. It's just a mystery.