My Beautiful Wickedness

April snow

It snowed last night. Not enough to keep everyone at home or anything — I’m on the record as loving whopper snow storms intermittently spaced throughout the winter — but just enough to remind me that I’m still living in New York.

I know it’s a waste of time to continue to resist this place, the lack of home-feeling, the car alarms and the constant honking, the pushy self-centeredness, the Yankee-ness of it. (I say this as a Red Sox fan.) I’ve been here now for over four years. I’m going up for tenure next year. My kid’s memories of Iowa are hazy and my husband finally is sort of almost nearly employed in his field for at least another year. I’ve tried getting active in community affairs. I’ve tried finding some friends. I’ve tried to create a home here for us all. And it’s still just not clicking.

Last night, I had this dream about Iowa City. I often do dream of Iowa City, where I spent a very happy decade. I lived in two different apartments there. One was a tiny funky a-frame with a cedar interior, two lovely balconies (one that overlooked a huge Fraser Magnolia and one that was large enough for dinner parties — more room outdoors than indoors), and astoundingly cheap rent. One was the apartment we moved into when we married, a block from the co-op and farmer’s market and a four-plex movie theater, across the street from a huge park that ran free music nights every week in the summer with a huge playground and swimming pool, close enough to farmland to see silos in the distance and on a bus route that still was free for college students. The wide sky and sunsets were gorgeous in that apartment. I loved both these places, crammed them with books and pasta dinners and friends and kids and the excitement of my studies. So in my dream, I was hosting my mom and (in real life, deceased) dad. They wanted to sleep out on the balconies, but the railings were no longer around the balconies and the whole place looked sort of rickety. In fact, I was stressed because I couldn’t really open the apartment door any more and I realized that I must have moved. I asked my mother “where in Iowa City am I living? Am I still living in Iowa City?” and everything got more and more misty until I couldn’t see anything any more.

Now, on one level, that’s just a “missing home” dream. But I think it’s also symptomatic of a larger disappointment and displacement going on in my life. For a couple of years — as I was completing my dissertation especially, but probably up to last fall — I had sort of convinced myself that I was going to go places in the scholarly world. I had gotten some near-misses on post-docs, some flattering national prizes, and so forth. My current job is a job and as a American historian, I am grateful to be employed on the tenure-track — everyone thinks I’m doing good work and I like my colleagues and I’m cruising into tenure, but working here is like riding the kiddie coaster in a shopping mall. Same thing, over and over, no real thrills. The work load isn’t inhuman, but it’s not really conducive to great research jags to get new material so I am having to revisit old things and I’m kind of bored with that too. I haven’t won anything yet this year (I know…fer arrogant…) and I don’t seem to be be moving up into the higher-dollar-amount-and-higher-prestige awards that signify that your work is of interest to the rest of the profession. I can’t seem to believe in my own work enough (stupid — I have gotten really good feedback) to commit to working on it faithfully so my publishing productivity has hit the skids despite being in a prime situation this semester to get some stuff out there. I blow off deadlines. I fail to follow through on professional commitments (sometimes for no good reason other than letting my negative head get the best of me.) No publishing, no professional activity, no possibility of movement. And I am feeling tremendously let-down that even though on one hand (see earlier post about all the things going right) I’m putting a high luster shine on this turd, it’s a turd nonetheless.

I’m having to learn to live with what and where I am. I never made much of a plan for being a moderately big fish in a tiny little pond, slowly suffocating as the oxygen gets consumed and I shit in my own water. (Yeah, like my profession is so very big. Hell, our major organization only has 14,000 members or so. It’s good to get that in perspective, that I’m sitting here boohooing because a handful of people aren’t recognizing my innate brilliance.) I know the sensible thing would be to just work harder and snap out of it…but increasingly, I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort of the struggle. Maybe it would all be for the best for everyone if I just came to some peace of mind about being…you know…a mediocre mind in a mediocre place and measuring the seriousness of my ambition by my willingness to actually y’know sacrifice to achieve it.

That would mean saying goodbye to Iowa City and that just feels a little too final today.


1 Comment so far
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Ah, overachievers…what would we do without you…:)

Check your email…I’m about to become something else to ‘pencil in’

Whatever one’s life,job,ability, that point when we realize that the [big improvement] in life isn’t going to happen the way we want it to, but possibly in some different way…

That’s a tough moment.

Comment by imfunny2

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