I had one of those reminders yesterday that I am not very good at taking care of myself, even as I often do quite well at caring for others.
1) I was late for my morning class because I went to take a shower, my husband went to buy paint, and the painters showed up and began working on the hallway outside my bathroom. I was naked and needed to return to my bedroom for clothing, and all I had was a washrag and a cellphone. (I finally managed with broken Spanish to explain I needed them to go downstairs.)
2) I hadn’t eaten any breakfast since I was running late, and during class I started feeling weaker and weaker. I told myself I’d go get something during the break, but students came up during the break and wanted to talk about their projects, and so I figured I could wait until later to get something. By the time lunch and the end of class rolled around (class runs from 9 until 12:20), I was disoriented and weak; I was so weak that pushing the elevator buttons seemed hard and I was having trouble thinking. I had some rice crackers in my office that worked nicely enough as a boost to get me over to the cafe for an actual lunch.
I’ve never actually pushed things to where my thinking clouded. It was un-good, and it happened much faster than I thought it could, and I’ve not felt fear like that in a long time. I am unused to feeling my mind not work.
I asked for help from the wrong people, and I was afraid to ask my students for colleagues or help. You are supposed to be strong and in charge for students. If you ask your colleagues for help at a place like USC or any academic workplace, you risk…a lot.
3) I have no idea where any of my medication is after I traveled and I haven’t take it in some time. This is dumb and dangerous and yet I still can’t find it. I know what I would say to a student or colleague who engaged in such nonsense, but here I go.
4) I am, once again, being backed into my data monkey corner, and it’s causing a lot of anxiety. I started out in professional life as data person, a person who made a living because other people couldn’t program, didn’t know how to handle data, or didn’t have my gifts with it. That moved into my assistant professor life, with plenty of senior faculty who wanted to “collaborate” (aka take credit for what I could do). By then I was twigged to it, so the people I did collaborate were cool.
I wrote a theory paper out of my dissertation and one of my senior colleagues at USC sniffed when they hired me “well, at least you show some potential for thought in THIS ONE paper.” It hurt so much and reinforced my belief that I was an empiricist, a decent one, perhaps, but not one that would ever change how anybody thought about anything, nothing really super duper special like our departmental darling.
Then after tenure, I got nice roundhouse kick in the face as my colleagues chose somebody else for a leadership position I wanted, and I went into a tailspin, doubting everything about myself and the value of my scholarship. Why give me tenure if you don’t think I’m capable of leading? I decided, after a year, that I was tired of data, tired of the same old tropes in transit and transportation research. I didn’t have any questions there. And I began reading political philosophy, from the pre-Socratics onward. I loved it. New ideas, new challenges, lots of new books to read.
I got pushed into teaching planning theory, and I was good at it. I got ideas above my allotted station as data monkey. I began writing about theory, sometimes getting published even. I decided to wander a bit. I started writing a book that turned into three books because it got bigger, as is the way of my projects.
I even got promoted to full doing that, which surprised nobody more than myself.
And yet, the box comes back, and it comes back in a major way. Each time I think my teaching schedule settles, it doesn’t. I prep and prep and prep and prep and prep. This was supposed to get better as my career went on. It hasn’t.
I decided to try to move some of my time over to USC’s gender studies department. They are a reborn place, with tons of bright people, and if the forces hostile to planning in *every* university finally win at USC, I wanted an exit option other than retirement or being shoved back in with the economists. More than anything, their classes fill fast, and they need another horse in the harness.
But the reality is, our new little planning department can’t afford to let me wander off, either. I am, I believe, the only one of us who isn’t a director of something or whatnot that serve to lighten teaching loads. I teach and teach and teach, and I understand why. I’m good at it, I mostly enjoy it, and the department has to have full-time faculty teaching required things.
Our chair, Marlon Boarnet, rightly frogmarched us through curriculum reform for several years, and we have a really nice curriculum as a result. We have committed, however, to urban data in a big way, and I’m the only one on the regular faculty who can program. They need me to stay put, teach two new classes centered on data, period. That leave me with my undergrad teaching and the mass transit, another class my colleagues are unlikely to be able to teach.
Part of me says that now I can go back to my data monkey life entirely differently; I can bring the critical theoretical capacity I have developed and teach about urban data like few other people do, and I might be able to write from that perspective, too. Every other time I’ve taken up new teaching challenges for any length of time, I’ve always done so. Ideas come; I have always been able to trust that, and I’ve been itching for a new challenge here late.
But the old warrior is tired. My body is taking its revenge for years of neglect I gave it as I obsessed over building a career.
I am now a full professor, something that in my mind always carried with the possibilities to get more free to do the things one wants to do, the way one wants to do them. And yet, my relationship with privilege or power is not like that, innately. I am full professor, something I have worked my entire career for, and instead of feeling like I’ve find motored my way onto easy street, I just see unmet needs around me, needs I may have some capability to meet.
How does one “full professor” ? I thought I knew and I didn’t.