Monday, September 14, 2015

When Avram and I first got married, I said that after our children were in school I would go back to school and get a master's or doctorate degree.  For a few years I didn't give much thought to this, except to give it lip service while mostly concentrating on raising my two young daughters.  When I was pregnant with Guinevere I went to an academic conference with Avram, and my laten love for academics reawoken. I anew planned, not in just the general someday, but in a specific future to attend school.  Dependent on all of my future career plans, though, was Avram first getting a tenure track job.  A TT job would mean I got free tuition for school, so that returning wouldn't be a financial burden on the family.

And now, even as I suffer the disillusionment of learning that the chances of Avram getting a permanent Academic Job are low, I feel like my future is crumbling as well. I feel like I will be in this little, dirty house with too many kids and not enough money, food, organization or mental peace for the rest of my life.  I feel alone, and tired and hungry, and I just want out. I want something better than this, something different than this.  My mom has told me, "When I was young I dreampt of living on the west side, in a small house with too many kids, and not enough money" when I talked about having dreams that didn't work out - to show that of course we do not always end up where we dream.  And now I am starting to feel that - so many kids, not enough mental and physical energy to raise them, no money, no food.  Thankfully I do have a wonderful marriage and husband, who is also a wonderful father.  But, I am thirty two, Avram is thirty three. And what do we have?  We have five children whom we love, yes.  But in the way of wordly goods, we have a 13 year old van, we are renting a house that I am content with in size (I do not mind its smallness), but that is in a neighborhood that I would not chose to live in if I didn't have to. I know that this sounds entitled, but I what I mean to say is that I feel like we had enough intellect, training, and life opportunities to not end up in our thirties with five kids, in poverty (to the point that I have been waiting to buy winter gear until the half-off day at the thrift store. Enoch currently sports a girls coat - but it doesn't matter, because he refuses to wear it anyway.  We don't have enough food - sure we have enough beans, frozen pork and wheat berries to last awhile  - but most everything else is gone.  And the biggest, best thing I have to look forward to in a while, and have had to look forward to for a while, has been getting Food Stamps again, after being off of them for a couple years.).  I feel like we could have used our energy and time somewhere else, in a different field.  Nobody DESERVES any certain kind of life, but in the twenty first century in America, two people who got scholarships in college should have been able to work out something better than this.

And yet, we have felt that we ARE working on something better than this - we have sacrificed for a reason.  Well, what if that reason was always delusional, what does that mean? Where does that leave us?  Still poor.  The idea of poverty has always haunted me - I grew up poor, and I knew that I did not want to be poor as an adult.  I felt like I had a good way out - I was smart, motivated.  Avram grew up middle class - he had never known poverty, so it doesn't haunt him the way it does me.  And although we have had some hard financial times, our thrift, where we live, and just enough funding means we have scraped by most of the time. But we still have $25000 of debt - that is  not nothing - and that is after paying off $15000 of grad debt already (plus another $10000 from my undergraduate, or more accurately, from my study abroad, and $5000 or so from Avram's undergraduate).  So, we have been poor, we have gone into debt, we have done a lot, just so Avram could get this Phd. Yes, we are aware that those are lost earning years, and that our retirement will suffer, etc, but we don't care about money.  Well, obviously given the last paragraph we DO care about money, but we don't care about making a lot of money. We don't need to be rich, to have a fancy house, to take vacations.  But, it turns out that not caring about money isn't the same thing as money not caring about you.  We still have to deal with it. We are trying to live, and to be as independent as possible, and I tell you, I just don't know.

Underneath all of this is that fact that through a few religious experiences (patriarchal blessings, blessings, promptings) that Avram has had, that he has felt that God wants him to be in this field, he wants Avram to go to grad school, he wants Avram to do what he is doing.  Which makes me feel like God wants me to be poor. He wants me to struggle, to feel defeated.  I know that just because he gives me trials that he doesn't want me to be defeated, but it feels like it. It is hard to have the proper perspective when you are down in the trenches. I know that this life is a time of trial. That it was not meant to be easy.  I know that we are not promised a certain (prosperous) outcome when we follow God.  But - I guess it is hard to see why God would want us here.  I know that in a few months, a year, I will read back on this, and perhaps at that point be able to see - maybe it will take longer, but within five years or so I fully expect that our lives will be worked out as far as dealing with careers goes.  We will not be poor forever. We will not be in flux forever.  But it is hard to keep the faith now, especially when keeping the faith means acknowledging that a "successful" turnout for God may mean Avram never finding an academic job, and us struggling to make any ends meet for years to come.

And then apart from this, I am angry. Angry that we are in a field that does not actually tell you what the job prospects are.  Sure, everyone says they are "bad," but they also say that the good will get jobs.  Angry that it took me looking things up independently to really learn about this. Yes, it is available online - but I didn't even know and think to look. And every grad student is being groomed, being told that they are are the best - they are the "good" that gets the jobs - so even if they hear that prospects are bleak, they do not put themselves in the majority that won't get jobs in the field.

What frustrates me is that I feel like we have been led to a dead end. that there are not enough jobs, and we have been scraping by, living in poverty, all for an imaginary dream.  And now what?  While Avram attends SBL (thankfully with funding, since he is giving a paper) and has not a single conference interview scheduled, I am home with my kids, making beans yet again for dinner, and desperately waiting for our food stamps card to show up.  What kind of life is that?  I feel like we could have been making a livable wage, learned valuable skills, and have actually DONE something in this life.  Instead of getting to this point with no apparent future. That's not completely accurate - there are still post-docs (six) that we are somewhere in the process of applying to/waiting to hear from, plus one VAP and one renewable lecturship. But that's it - and there are many more jobs that we were never shortlisted for.  And I am trying hard to view having a post doc as a chance of having a livable wage while we pay off all our debt, and prepare for a better life in the future. But...that's not exactly what things are looking like now.

Partly it is hard because I have to be strong for Avram's sake - he does still need to apply for most of the Post docs and the VAP, and if he has given up all hope, it will come across in his letters.  And although an academic future is not the brightest or most likely one, it is also still a possibility, so we shouldn't reject it outright.  And getting a job outside of academia will be difficult enough that we shouldn't turn there until we have at least exhausted the possibilities within it.  Now, we have agreed that there will be no adjuncting. No part time work.  If he doesn't have a full time academic job lined up to start in Fall of 2015 by the time he graduates (or maybe even a couple of months before, so march), then we will go full time into looking for a non-academic job. Even thinking about it feels like the death of a dream.  He loves to teach - and how can he find a teaching job outside of academics?

And yet I have to keep soldiering on.  I can't publish this post, or any of my others, because I am too scared that somehow this will lesson a job opportunity, thanks to the magic of googling.

I'm not doing a very good job soldiering on right now.  I feel at the end of my rope.  And yet I have five kids.  The beans are cooking now, and then I need to make some kind of cornbread - using up the last of our cornmeal, milk, and all but one egg.  I have spend $151 on food in the last four, going on five weeks.  For last thursday (a week and two days ago) I bought only $26 of food - and we are still lasting on it. We are at the end, and I can't buy any food because Avram is currently at the conference, and so I don't know how much money he will be spending every day. I don't want to end up with his card rejected, so we wait.  I don't even know how we are going to do it, to keep going.  I feel like I am at the end of everything, on a cliff. I know that this is overly dramatic, but that's how I feel.  I feel like we bet everything - our youth, financial security, my career plans, on Avram getting a tenure track job. And now we have had exactly one nibble from the tenure tracks (which was BYU, and went nowhere), and zero bites otherwise.  Like I said, there are deadlines that have not passed yet - but still.  It's hard that that the very best thing we could get right now is a post doc.

Careers, Jobs, these are not everything. I know that. But it is hard to have a stable life for what is truly important (family) when these things are in a state of constant flux and uncertainty.  Avram met with his professor, who told him that the good always get jobs (a common thing academics say).  That is so inaccurate that it is laughable, if it didn't also make me want to go into a corner and cry.  Avram worked on enlightening him, but at the end of the day, if he doesn't get a job in academics, his department will probably think that "academics isn't for everyone" and that he wasn't one of the good that gets jobs.

At this very moment Avram is finishing his presentation he is giving at SBL this year. He is at this very second fielding questions about his topic, his research. It feels like he is trying so hard, we are trying so hard, and for what?  So that in three weeks he can spend hundreds of dollars and go to another conference in Baltimore, solely (SOLELY, and unfunded at that) because his advisor will introduce him to people there.  Yay?  And then two weeks after that he is going to Israel for a conference, which blessedly is fully funded, even down to the food, (yay for rich Jewish Doners), and yet raises the very real question of what is a Mormon doing in Jewish Studies?  Do we really want him conferencing during December of every year?

P.S. (added the next day) - Last night the EBT card came.  As I opened it, and looked at it, I began to cry. I had waited so long for it, and it finally came.  I cried because we could finally buy food.  We could have milk and dairy and butter and fruit again.  I cried out of relief. But as I sat on the sofa and sobbed (I am pretty sure my kids were all thoroughly confused by this), I realized I was also crying because I had come to a point where I was honestly that grateful for Food Stamps - I was that relieved becing able to buy food for me and my children.  And that was a very humbling feeling indeed.

Also, I talked to Avram last night - his paper went well, and the person over BYU studies came up afterwards, and told him that we would like to publish it in BYU studies. So as far as reception goes, that's about as good as it gets.  Of course, we would all like to dream that someone from the search committee was there, and was so impressed by him that he moves up to number three (and hence, first alternate if the first two visits don't work out) on their list, but who knows about that.

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