Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Unseen-as-yet Academical

Once again my life has followed the axiom that the more my life is filled with bloggable topics, ie, the busier I get, the less time I have to write anything. Last Saturday (I realize on re-reading this, that this was two Saturdays ago) we had family arrive in town, Avram's brother Samuel and his wife Aleatha, then on Monday we had more family arrive in town in the form of Avram's parents and another brother and sister. I went shopping at thrift stores three times in three days, and we spent some quality family time at the Zoo. Then on Thursday Avram and I rose early and drove to Wisconsin, while his parents and two at-home siblings stayed with Lydia and Elisheva here in Ohio.

Avram had his first presenting conference, at a graduate student conference in the German and Dutch department, on "What is a German Department." He talked about the foundational German scholarship done in German in Biblical Studies, and how they still use this same scholarship today, thus necessitating the need for Biblical scholars to learn German. Therefore, beyond the Literature and Linguistics aspects of a German department, at least one aspect of a German department is to provide access to scholarship in other areas of the academy.

We stayed with our friends Matt and Sarah (If you go to this link, you'll see her post on the same conference, including a very academic picture of Avram, and also in the same shot an exciting study of the back of my head.), and spent lots and lots of time talking about intellectual subjects. Not to mention all the great food we ingested, including a free dinner provided by the conference for the presenters and their partners. Hey, I'm a sucker for free food - if you tell me that you're serving food at an event, you'll see me there.

It was the first time Avram and I have been away from our children together since we had Lydia - so, four years. And basically the first time we've done an multi-day getaway since our honeymoon. To me going to a scholarly conference, even at six months pregnant, definitely counts as a romantic getaway. I married Avram for his intellect, and how he made me feel alive intellectually, after all (I'm really not joking on this one. You can love lots of people. I certainly did in my college years. So I find marriage often comes down to other, less ethereal factors).

Despite the fact I have never studied German, I enjoyed the conference immensely. Almost every talk (except the German Literary ones, where the key aspects of the talk were usually delivered in German, and I could not follow the discussion of the paper) prompted thought and discussion, and after each session Avram and I busily discussed our responses and opinions of the topics covered, as well as the methods used in delivery. Along with discussing with the presenters between sessions and at other times their topics and academic interests, I was reminded how much I truly enjoy academia.

By Saturday evening when Avram and I attempted to stuff more free food in our mouths at the closing reception, wherein my body insisted that all its overfed pregnant self could handle was a strict diet of fruits and vegetables, so that's what I ate. Said party also featured lots of free alcohol. We were expecting to witness the wild parties we had always been warned of as youth, but by the time we left at ten pm nothing more exciting had happened then small chatting groups, and the departmental oddity known as the "homeless man" showing up {Avram's department is downright boring compared to the larger U of Wisconsin's German one}. No dancing on tables, no raucous behavior, and no shocking language, although I was detained by one graduate student Steve, who proceeded to detail out every last detail of the game Pinochle, including its origins and how he himself came to the game. I don't think he was drunk, though, but rather this is his normal approach to living.

Regardless, also at this party Avram and I were reviewing the weekend, and he told me how he was talking to Sarah (as I was talking to one of the presenters) that I do all the parts of academia he doesn't like. I love schmoozing with people, I ask questions about papers, I have opinions on presentations, etc. Then (and I'm just quoting what Avram reported that Sarah said, so sorry Sarah if I'm mis-representing you, or for that matter, I'm mis-representing Avram) Sarah said, "And she thinks that she can't do academia." (A sentiment I have expressed before)

When Avram told me this, the whole weekend came together in an epiphany, and I realized that I truly did love academia (well, not applications. Does anyone like applying for things?) I have always maintained that someday when all of my children are in school I wanted to go back to school and earn a masters (in Anthropology, the field that I love, but never cognitively knew existed when I was an undergraduate). Being at that conference, I thought to myself, I could perhaps do a Ph.d, as well. When I went to college for my undergraduate degree, I originally planned to obtain a Ph.d., but I realized by my sophomore year that the field I was in, Near Eastern Studies, but really Biblical Studies, was not one I wanted to pursue through to a doctorate. Nothing was wrong with the field itself, but rather to me languages are a means to an end of communicating with people, and it's hard to communicate with dead people. Also I never could figure out how to balance my desire to be a stay at home mom with my desire to do academics.

As Avram and I discussed me wanting to perhaps rejoin academia, whether with only a masters and just teach/publish with him (since I edit all of his papers with him, instead of making him rewrite paragraphs, I could just attack them myself), or with a Ph.d. I still don't think I'd aim for tenure track, since it is a very time consuming occupation, but rather just be an adjunct teacher. We decided that if I'm serious about this, instead of just always vaguely stating my intent to go back to school someday, we should actively plan for it, although it's years away. I still want a large(ish) family, so we figure if we have six kids, that when the youngest will be three, I can start back at school again, planning my classes for when she'll be in pre-school (I find with three girls, I know that technically this youngest could be a boy, but I find myself always thinking in the feminine when talking about future children). This will be in ten years, when I'm 37. I'll need to do two years of pre-requisites in Anthropology, basically taking the whole major, before I can do a master's in it. Then a masters for two years, and another five or so for a doctorate, if I decide to do that. Sure, if I get a doctorate I'll be 46 at the youngest, but people live a long time nowadays, and I'll have plenty of time to be a part of academia after this point.

I don't want to fall down on the job of parenting, nor do I want to be so busy that our family cannot think nor ever sit down all together. But I do think I can manage to do both activities, especially when I remember that for the first two years of doing school, I'll be doing undergraduate classes, which I do not think will be too time-consuming nor challenging (compared to the graduate work I see Avram do every day, and also considering that in college I also held down a part time job, plus a very active social life and managed to maintain a decent GPA. I think I can insert six children and no social life instead.)

I think in today's world, where running a house and cooking food for a family do not take full time work, but where many women desire to be at home with and raise their children, various women have found ways to find worthwhile ways to both expand their minds while still being the full time caretakers of their children. Some women develop time consuming hobbies and crafts, like quilting or sewing, which I think are great. Others homeschool their children. Others have spic and span shiny clean houses, which just is not for me. My skills as a homemaker are in reading. Lots of books, which I attempt to make most of them literature or worthwhile non-fiction (although the longer I live, the more I feel that the dream of being truly well read is a pipe dream). That and buying cool stuff from thrift stores so I don't have to sew. For myself, once my children are in school, I think that going back to school sounds the perfect way to expand my mind, and find my niche as a modern woman, both in regards to my raising my children while also pursuing my interests.

I loved returning home to my girls, and I do love that for these years when they are small and home all of the time, that I am home with them, and get to be their primary nurturer and trainer. Lydia is approaching the horizon of reading, and I love it when she acquires a new word she'll always recognize (there are only about six words in this corpus, aside from proper names in our family - the horizon is not too very imminent). I love teaching her this skill. And I also love Elisheva, and her grasping of the spoken word. Just the day after Avram and I returned, she said her first sentence, with the proper subject: "Uh-oh! I break it!" (In reference to the plastic tab for opening a bag of grapes that she accidentally broke off). We're still working on tenses, but this sentence made me so proud of her and her accomplishments (we're still working on tenses with Lydia, for that matter).

In other academical news, to tack on to the end of this, we now officially, officially know that Avram is presenting in the Sperry Symposium, the main religious LDS scholarship conference at BYU. He'll be going out to Utah this October for that, and talk on the Sermon on the Mount's discussion of the Old and New Law, and how there are hints of this New Law in the Old Testament from the Prophets. Also, we found out this week that he received the Melton Center for Jewish Studies's Levine Fellowship for this coming academic year. This means that, unlike this year's financial hiccups, we know that he has assured funding for twelve months, including through the summer, which teaching alone does not provide in his department. Although he had applied for it, we did not maintain great hope in obtaining it, so this was a very exciting surprise.

Overall, life is very good.


  1. I could see you getting your masters and teaching fantastic classes. it's good to let the girls stay at home and be more independant. did they do ok?

  2. My aren't YOU ambitious! Sheesh. Go for it, Thora! I can't imagine wanting to go back to school. I'd love to be smarter, but not if it requires any effort. Ugh.

  3. Thora -- you could totally do it. You would be great. Also, grad school and even a faculty position are a lot more flexible than a 9 - 5 job, at least at the right places. I think your plan is really great.