I'm trying to have faith, but I think the hardest part is what if God's plan for us is to be really, really poor and uncertain this next year?
It makes me nervous to move all of our belongings, which would not be cheap, across the country when we don't have any specifics. And what if it doesn't work out - what do we do then? We need to have some kind of job. And if Avram wasn't adjuncting, or almost worse if he only got one class, I would rather that he found some kind of full time position, even if the pay were not great, than trying to cobble together a couple of part time positions. At least then we might get some kind of benefits, and if nothing else he would be working more than 29 1/2 hours a week - the top cap, because heaven forbid if any university went over that amount and - gasp - actually had to pay benefits like health insurance for their adjuncting employees
There's no guarantee that even feeling peace about our future means that we will have enough to live on, or even that Avram will get three classes to adjunct for. And it's not like even if he does adjunct we will be making much. I think America does not realize that one of the prizes of the modern, intellectual age - our University system - is built upon the backs of people who are teaching class by class, and getting paid only around $25000 for an entire year of teaching - and that is if they are able to get three classes throughout the entire year. We know someone (who is in business, and is quite comfortable) who recently asked if adjuncting paid what, around $80,000? That's way more than even many professors make (in the humanities). I'm sorry to be crass and bring money into it, but I think all too often America and academia hide their poor practices and marginalizing of workers by making talking about money taboo, and by emphasizing lies like it's a "life of the mind."
Do you want to know what the "life of the mind" is like? It's trying to keep your wife and five children clothed, fed, and sheltered while bringing home 1565 a month - and that is the most (the amount before taxes, at least - this is the after tax amount) that you have ever made before! It is qualifying for - and using - medicaid and foodstamps because you honestly cannot make the ends meet, and because you are trying to finish your dissertation it does not make sense to pick up another job, since that would just make everything take even longer, and you would be a student for longer.
A boy at our church when questioned about evil said that people who use foodstamps are evil. Well, now you know. I am evil. My family is evil. (Don't worry, I do not actually believe that). What kills me is that this boy is the son of our very good friends - who knew that we have had foodstamps. So what does that say - are they telling him we are evil? I know kids have their own agency, and are not just puppets of their parents, but I'm pretty sure that idea didn't pop into his head sui generis.
Regardless of your politics - maybe you think foodstamps are evil too - just remember that at your university that you attended has lots and lots of adjuncts, and even if they personally are not on foodstamps (and I can guarantee more than a few are), they all qualify for them if they have dependents. So if you do not believe in foodstamps, it's not as simple as just condemning them - it involves making system that pays people enough to live on. Most of the people who are on them are not educated - they are not the "elite" who both use government money to eat and who have almost four college degrees between one couple. Maybe they should have not had children when they couldn't support them (I would like you to meet Enoch - who was conceived through an IUD. Maybe I should have had an abortion - would that have made the right wing feel better about their lives?) Maybe they should havbe reconsidered spending eight years of their lives in upper education, living far below the poverty line and qualifying for lots more government aid that they never took, including not using foodstamps for over half that time because they are trying to be independent, and are trying to be self - relient, but it gets really hard when you are not paid a living wage.
Most people on foodstamps do fit some of the stereos attached to them - after all, I have spent hours and hours waiting in the official government offices, and I admit, it is not all roses and sunshine for those on government help. But I almost feel a responsibility to speak up for them, for many do not have the education and knowledge on how to speak up for themselves. And they are working, like we are, too. But when you don't make enough to live on, it's not that easy, no matter how hard you work.
For me, I guess I have been able to justify being on foodstamps because we are students, and things are going to get better. But now, I don't know if they are going to get better. I am definitely not planning on having them after we graduate - without a dissertation to write we can and will fill in our time with side jobs that will pay for our food. But we will still have medicaid, because even those adjuncts who don't have so many dependents, or who have enough side jobs to actually pay for living still do not have access to any kind of medical insurance.
This is the life of the mind. Sure, we have great conversations about the ancient world, and about religious constructs, boundaries, conceptions of ritual and appropriate religious observances. Sure, we have a personal library that rivals some medieval royal libraries. Sure, we spend our evenings not watching TV but reading and thinking - well, except when we don't (Avram and I do our fair share of zoning out too). But we also have no job security, no benefits, do not make enough to live on, and the field is so lopsided that we will almost certainly never get a tenure track job. That is our ivory tower that is so out of touch with reality. That is the rarefied air of academics. If there is an ivory tower it is built on the worn out backs of many who will never be able to ascend its hallowed stairs to a better (full-time) position.
I normally would not publish this. My draft folder is full of posts like this, that are a little bitter, lack some perspective, and perhaps would make me feel awkward if I knew other people had read them. But I am going to publish this one, because I want people to know a few things - one, what a broken Academic system means, what adjuncting, and having more and more adjuncts, and less and less professors actually means. I want people to have another perspective on those 'evil' people who use foodstamps, and to realize that one of the most highly respected positions in Amercia, that of professor, goes hand in hand with adjuncting and with poverty, and hence with foodstamps. I want people to know the truth of what this 'life of the mind' entails, and it's not just great mind expanding conversations and late night epiphanies over the human condition, it's also spending a month living on your food storage of beans and wheat (with some fresh produce and dairy) while waiting for foodstamps to come in, because that is how little you have. It is gettng foodstamps again, because although we were off of them for two years, I really, really wanted to buy our own food, and we took on extra debt to do so, we got them again this last fall because they started deducting for our retirement, and there went our food budget), and being as excited about that as about getting a job interview. This is the dark underbelly of our shining ivory towers, and I think America would do better to acknowledge it than to hide it behind a smoke screen of how embarrassing and tacky it is to talk about crass and plebian topics like money, benefits and foodstamps.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
I'm trying to have faith, but I think the hardest part is what if God's plan for us is to be really, really poor and uncertain this next year?
Posted by Thora at 10:01 AM
Thursday, March 19, 2015
This is not going to be the large essays I have been previously prone to (and will be prone to again, I am sure). Rather, in the absence of facebook, I wanted to pop in with a few thoughts and updates.
First, regarding facebook, things have been going actually really well without it. I feel like I have been more productive with my internet time, and feel like I do not spend as much time on the internet as well. But when I went to a baby shower for a woman from church I kept being reminded of all the things that I am actually missing from my current, in real life, social (and religious) group. So...I don't know. The jury is still out on whether I will resume facebook or not. Plus I miss being able to share pictures with family that does not live close by, without having to take the effort to individually email them all out. Of course, one could say that I could blog and post pictures of my family, but....that would require blogging, and uploading pictures. So maybe what I am really saying is that I do not miss actually uploading pictures for family to see, but rather I miss the idea that I was always about to upload them, but actually only rarely carrying through on that intent.
Second, it's a really good thing I gave up facebook, because I have been spending the last week and a half, and still have a week and a day left, helping Avram edit his dissertation. He has edited it before, as has his advisor, but this is the editing of pulling it all together into one large, cohesive piece, with adding sections that support his introductiona and conclusions (and hence, the main points he makes). Plus it is a good, thorough copy edit, because his advisor does not do any copy editing. So I am reading through each of the thirteen chapters twice as we do edits back and forth (with the intro and conclusion getting three edits, since they are the most important parts). All of this means I basically have an unpaid part time job, with me spending two to six hours a day on editing and reading and editing. Just the kind of mentally tasking work that before would have made just checking facebook a teeny, tiny bit really tempting, but ultimately meaning that I would end up checking it, and then avoiding the heavy-duty hard work through the easy "catching up with the really, really, obviously essentially important work of reading about friends' and family's lives."
Doing this has also helped me appreciate all the work Avram has been doing these last two and a half years. I have helped him do extensive edits on papers before, but not on something that is approaching four hundred pages, and the immensity of such a task has given me much appreciation for what Avram has been working on all this time. All that said, I will be very grateful when it is handed in, and we can all relax a bit (until it is time for his defense, at least, which comes at the ides of April).
Lydia also turned nine this month, and I took lots of pictures, and had lots of thoughts on how old she is, and how she really is becoming (or rather, has always been) her own, unique person that Avram and I have the responsibility to shephard through he first fourth part of her earthly journey, but who has always been, and will always be, her own person with her individual strengths and weakness. Our responsibility as parents, therefore, becomes helping her explore her strengths and resolve her weaknesses, but not to mold her into some generic "good" or "responsible" person with all of the strengths, and none of the quirks that real people share. Plus I went to a play she was in yesterday (yes, I took pictures there too, and yes, they are still all on my camera, and no, I will not upload them to this post).
What became driven home into my mind from the experience (besides that Lydia has a lot of stage presence, which another mother even complimented me on Lydia's behalf for, and which I also know was generally felt because the audience audibly reacted to her delivering her lines - and that maybe I should consider getting her into some kind of theatre for kids, but that would take knowledge, time, and money, so....) was, seeing all of the kids that are not as short as mine, the reminder of how old nine really is. And how old that ten and eleven will be even moreso (driven home by seeing the 4/5 grade class performing their play after Lydia's third grade class did their's). Oh, my, and then she will all too soon be grown up, and so old (even if she never gets big), and then she'll go out into the world and be a grown up. It brought home to me how much motherhood (and fatherhood) is doing all you can to bring a prescious soul into the world, holding them, loving them - but only to ultimately let them go. Dave Barry said this better than I can, which is why he got a pulitzer prize for that piece, and I got to self publish on blogger. Also, I am sorry that this link doesn't go directly to the actually column - see above, I am busy right now. So busy I ought to be eating lunch right now....
And how with all of my kids, not just Lydia, will grow up, and become beautiful, smart big people who drive and date and go to college, and I am sure that I will be very proud and happy for them, and even moreso, I do not actually want them to remain little forever, but still, why does it hurt so much to do that which is so right and good? Why is it poignant, why does my heart and throat feels such a small, stabbing sadness to see them getting older and bigger (a little) and smarter? Because then, I am not their all encompassing, all wise mother. Of course, I will be their mother forever - but Athena needs me, loves me, and it is very validating, even if it also includes what Avram and I lovingly refer to as her constant need and desire to go for the jugular and ripe out our throats with her little (loving) claw hands.
But the best mother love of all is the one that lets go, that is all encompassing, but only because it is also all releasing. That I cannot fully be a proper, true, archetypically meant all-mother unless I can let go. I realized that sometimes when I treat my kids like not fully-thinking independent people (when I expect them to automatically follow what I say, without their own thoughts, when I as a knee jerk reaction say no to a request of theirs, without first actually thinking about what they are asking, and giving it the same kind of weight that I would give anyone else that were not my child or another small kid) it is really sometimes not just lame (but it can be that too), but also a backwards way of trying to deny this fundamental truth - that I am not their overlord, they are not my faithful child army I have (slowly, laboriously, even) conjured up to be mini-mes that reflect me exactly, but that they are eternal beings, souls that, as Dave Barry puts it, are like comets in their trajectory. And although sometimes I am just being selfish when I am not remembering or acting as if my children are independent beings, but sometimes I do think that it is a sort of love that becomes twisted in its expression, so that in a way I am saying "My refusal to see you as a real, separate person is my refusal to let you move up and with that comes an implied move away from me." Yet, taken too far and I would become like the mother in the Great Divorce, who cannot accept her son as a real, adult person (and that God is more important than her son). My job is not as a mother to smother my children with love (or, because I am kind of a lazy, laid back temperment, to just not see them as separate beings, but this could manifest in others as a martyr complex for our children, like the mother in the Great Divorce). My job is to help them shoot through space, not try and hold them close to me forever.
This also gave rise to all sorts of thoughts about Heavenly Father's love, and why he gives mankind the freedom he does, even when we tend to use it so poorly. Anyway, these are all deep thoughts, and I didn't mean to hijack my own post into musings on the big picture questions of life. But, all these things do make me appreciate more that I can simply hold and nurse Athena without having to incorporate eternal parenting principles of agency and respect - even if I do end up with a few scratches.
And now, back to editing.
Posted by Thora at 2:05 PM
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Last year I wrote about free falling. Well, if that was free falling, now we are parasailing off a cliff into the darkness. Yet, I feel calm about it. This last week we went from planning on leaving Columbus around the end of July. Today we are now leaving by the first of June. Only a difference of two months - not much time, even in the space of a year. But these were our last two months here, where we have spent six and a half years. Avram and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary this April, and all but three years and five months of those years have been here. We have lived three different places here, in a townhouse, one little white house, and then another little white house with a bright red door. We have had three children here. We have sent two children to school. We have been in the same ward the whole time, which means we have grown in the same religious and social community most of our marriage. We live across the street from Avram's brother, and Samuel and Aleatha and their three children are an integral part of how we plan our social days and weeks (not to mention the untold times Avram and I have borrowed an egg, sugar, rice, baking soda, and every other food item because apparently we can't remember anything when we shop).
We have always known that our time in Columbus, Ohio was a sojourn. A stopping point, that although not brief, has always been temporary. Yet, somehow I thought that we would be able to say goodbye sufficiently, that somehow five months to mentally wean ourselves from our friends, our beloved little home and our life here would be enough. Now we are down to three months. Yesterday I listed out every weekend that we have left, and then filled them in with the trips we want to accomplish while left here, places like Kirtland, or the Amish Country. I added a monthly trip to the zoo, to make sure we get our full value out of our Christmas experience gift. After a few other necessities, like Graduation weekend, our weeks were all filled up. I believe there is one day free from here until we move. So quickly do the days turn into weeks into months into us driving away from Ohio into....where?
For we do not yet have firm plans for after we leave. Although, it looks as though Avram will be adjuncting some classes at our alma mater this coming year. And there is even a possibility of a Summer seminar he will take part in as well (which is why we wanted to move up our moving out, even with having to say goodbye faster) . But nothing is settled yet, there are no promises. Still, I feel a great measure of peace, and I am calm in our moving forward, even through this dark passage - I just sometimes wish I had a little more light.
I used to hope that he would get a tenure track job straight out of Graduate school. Then, as Avram applied to Jobs last fall, I educated myself on the truths of the job market. I even wrote a lot of half finished blog posts about this topic, which I may edit and actually publish, but basically just say that in the humanities there is a much greater supply than there is a demand. And the demand (the number of tenure track jobs, or any full time job for that matter) continues to lower while the supply (the number of people with Ph.d.s) continues to rise. Just statistically speaking, Avram's chances of getting any full time job, let alone a tenure track job, will never be very likely - something like twenty percent for a tenure track. Probably less.
I spent the month of last November in a daily emotional roller coaster, realizing how broken the humanities market was. I had thought that we were always walking a long, difficult road, but there would be a good job at the end of it. And here we are, at the end of that road, and we can see no further. I didn't know that the academic humanities was like trying to be a professional musician, or trying out for movies or Broadway. You must have talent and ability to even make it very far, and connections (like a fancy school) do help. But at the end, only a few will make it, and it seems more dependent on luck than skill. By the end of November, when Avram was gone at a conference where we had hoped he would have interviews, and he had none; when we were already a couple of weeks past being rejected from the one phone interview he has ended up getting (and that we felt went so well!), when our bright prospects, promising future, and carefully nurtured greenhouse flower hopes hit the icy chill of what the academic job market is truly like; I felt at the bottom, emotionally, spiritually. I couldn't understand why God would lead us here, and then seemingly abandon us. Avram has had many promptings, blessings, spiritual experiences, even a line in his patriarchal blessing that have all guided him to be where his is today.
The day Avram presented his paper I blogged (this is unpublished) my heart out while sitting on the couch, with my children watching a movie around me. I cried as I typed my fears and concerns out, and as I did so, I realized that God did love us. That he had not abandoned us - that not getting a job does not mean that we have failed, or fallen of the ideal spiritual and temporal path in life. Of course, if I were asked in a vacuum if following commandments and promptings means that you are assured a certain job or temporal path, I would vehemently disagree that this is how God works. Yet, when it was our own life it has all been a lot murkier, especially because Avram studies religion, and we have received a lot of specific religious encouragement to pursue this professional path.
I have come to realize that telling the Lord that we will go where he wants us to go does not in fact mean, "I will go where you want me to go, and since you directed us to go to grad school and Avram felt specifically inspired to move to Rabbinics and for him to study in Israel that this means that where you want us to go is to BYU, or another university, with a tenure track job and everything will work out perfectly with financial security, public acclaim and vocational satisfaction."
Originally we decided that we would give Academics one application season, and then if nothing turned up that was full time (so a TT, VAP or Post-Doc) we would find another field for Avram to apply to - something like teaching at a secondary level, or becoming a civil servant or chaplain. Now we are in the dregs of this season, and nothing full time has worked out. Given a variety of factors, however, we have decided to give it one more year before moving on from Academics. One factor in this has been that the BYU religion department, where Avram has adjuncted before in the summers a couple of times, and where we principally saw ourselves if we did go back to BYU, did not have any job openings this year. We did not want to have a still born career, where we never even had a chance at applying to the Tenure Track job we were most likely to get (since the LDS pool of candidates is much smaller than the general pool), and so giving it one more year makes sense. Plus there is a strong possibility he will be able to teach a few classes there this coming year, and that combined with an online side job means that we will be able to survive through this next year financially, making it possible to "stay in the field" one more year. And if Avram were to get a tenure track at BYU next year, this would, in fact, be the straightest route to Provo and BYU - which means as hard as it has been, this could be the 'easiest' road (not that I think this is the way it has to be, mind you).
Yet, more than ever in our lives I know that God is at the wheel. This does not mean that we don't need to move forward, or that we will automatically get a career in academics, or even any kind of job at all. Rather, this means that when we depend on him fully, that he can turn any circumstance our our lives to the building up of his kingdom, to the strengthening of our family, and to greater testimony in our own lives.
Posted by Thora at 11:57 AM
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Lately I have been feeling like my time on facebook has not been helpful. Not that there aren't useful parts of facebook, like the groups I have for my ward Relief Society, book club or my family group. And I love being able to plan an event and invite a bunch of people with very little fuss, and everyone being automatically reminded so they actually show up. It has been invaluable for arranging visiting a large number of people when we are going to be in Utah on vacation. And I like seeing bits and bobs of other's lives on my feed, especially family members - there are news updates that I would never know about without it. Crowd sourcing and soliciting for advice has always produced a volume of support and help (and advice). Even the articles linked to, on occasion, provide thought provoking conversations. And there are those rare, like a purple unicorn, moments where an interesting, insightful, or just plain humorous conversation arises out of a comment section of a status. It is just - there is so much of it, all the time. I don't have a cell phone, so I don't have it with me all the time, but when I do get on the computer and check facebook, I always seem to be on it longer than I mean to. The news feed just keeps going and going, and because I don't usually get on every day, when I am there I feel like I either have the choice of not checking my feed at all, and just my notifications (who are basically just family members whom I have starred) or to start looking at my feed, and scroll down for untold amounts of time and and through untold amounts of links to sites with click-baiting titles, large numbers of status updates that never seem to be from those closest to you, but always some casual acquaintance you knew in high school who wants to tell the world a play-by-play of their morning.
Posted by Thora at 1:19 PM