Prompt for December 5: What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?
What did I let go of? The impulse here is to write a joke: what I didn’t lose was this ten pound insulation ring I wear around my waist so that I’m always prepared for the sudden onslaught of cold weather; what I did lose was my temper, too often, with my children.
But seriously? I lost a job. Quit a job, actually, so I don’t know if that’s quite the same as “losing,” but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to say that it is. I quit the job I’d had since I got out of graduate school; a job I’d had for fifteen years. I let go of a tenured full professorship to take a non-tenured job, a decision that made a lot of people anxious on my behalf. In academic life, tenure is the Grail; it’s the thing we grind away for, accepting fairly miserable pay and wildly heavy work loads, in order for this putative “job security.”
There were some things I really liked about my old job: I worked with students who were bright and hard-working, who wanted to know more about the world beyond the boundaries of their tri-state experience. There are some good people there doing interesting, creative work and I miss our conversations. I was the director of a large program on campus and as a result I was biggish fish…and you know what? It’s kind of nice to be a biggish fish. People return your phone calls. You set the agenda for the meetings and you decide when the meetings will be held.
On the other hand, this college had an administration that based all its decisions on the bottom line: the profit margin determined curriculum, course planning, staffing, enrollments. On top of that, it’s a Catholic school, which meant that every classroom had a crucifix dangling above the chalkboard–and in the computer labs, in addition to the crucifixes, there were little signs saying “Lab Under 24 Hour Surveillance.” In all my years there, I never knew whether the sign referred to the crucifix or to the small security camera next to the door. Maybe God sits in their security booth, I’m not sure.
I’m not going to tell tales about the college, or about its emphatically anti-intellectual Provost, but I will say that recently this establishment was in the news because a nun–formerly the close assistant to the school president–was caught embezzling…about $800,000 over ten years. Guess she wasn’t under 24-hour surveillance…and we won’t say anything about the budget office (or the president) letting that kind of thing go undetected. I guess God was taking a nap in the security booth?
So yes, I was a big fish in this pond – but it was a small, brackish pond, with scurfy pockets of algae around the edges. So I left. I let it go, all that familiarity and comfort and knowing that I could do a good job without trying too hard.
Now? Now I’m a small fish in a huge pond–just another liberal middle-aged woman professor whose earrings are slightly too long for her age. I’ve worked harder this semester at my teaching than I have in years and in many ways it feels good–I can see where I’m rusty and what I need to work on. If I hadn’t let go when I did, I might never have gotten out of that small pond and I needed to; I figure I’m about half-way through life and if I don’t start swimming in new currents now, I might forget how.