A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Cleansing

I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am never going to be an Illustrious Professor of Literature at a Prestigious University. I feel comfortable, even happy with the direction that my life seems to be taking.

For the past few weeks, I have been excited about the possibility of getting a particular position at a non-profit organization. My excitement mounted as I got a call for an interview, then a callback for a second interview, and I haven’t been able to sleep very well. Now that I feel like a desirable job is within my grasp, it hasn’t been quite so difficult to let go of some of my old dreams and goals. I hadn’t realized how fully I had embraced the idea of so drastically changing my life, though, until I was in the middle of the second job interview.

As she looked over my resume, the head of the department asked me whether I was ready for such a change in careers. She wanted to make sure that I didn’t consider my work for the non-profit as a temporary gig, just something to do until I could find a way to go back to teaching. I told her in all honesty that while it is disappointing to give up my plans to have a university career, I am eager to begin working for their organization.

This is partially because I’ve found a second career track that shares some significant factors with my original career choice. Although I talk about wanting to be an Illustrious Professor at a Prestigious University, which makes it seem as though my priority is the status that I would have in the academic world, the truth is that I enjoy teaching because it gives me the opportunity to help people. As a composition professor, I teach critical thinking and communication skills that allow my students to succeed in college and beyond, making it possible for them to build good careers and comfortable lives for themselves. If I were to get the job with this non-profit organization, I would likewise be helping to change the quality of people’s lives. This organization provides under-privileged individuals with medical care, legal aid and educational opportunities; my job as a public relations professional would facilitate donor communications, fundraising and volunteerism, making the continuation of these various programs and services possible. So although the daily tasks of the one job are quite different than the responsibilities of the other career, they are both ultimately at least somewhat altruistic.

After making such a noble sounding speech to the head of the department, I thought I must have sounded like a big phony. Or at least a cheeseball.

Alas – I’m just an idealist, which is bad enough.

But since this woman also works for a non-profit organization, I would imagine that she might likewise be something of an idealist. Perhaps she won’t judge me too harshly.

Meanwhile, I came home and had a sudden impulse. It was like that feeling that I get after being cooped up in the apartment all winter with the stacks of books gathering dust and the windows accumulating grime – that feeling that I need to break out the bottle of Mr. Clean, scrub everything down and rearrange the furniture. It was time to metaphorically clean house – I finally felt free to go through my book collection and rid myself of all the trappings of academia that I would no longer need.

Let me explain: I love literature of many kinds, but I must confess that I do not love all literature. I do not like very much of James Joyce’s writing (and I fervently believe that it is wrong to teach Ulysses to most undergraduate students). I am not a fan of most Medieval and Renaissance literature, and as a general rule, I dislike reading plays. Truth be told, though, I feel a little bit guilty about these preferences. I spent several years in the company of many wonderful people who share my passion for learning and for the written word; we had many thought-provoking and entertaining debates and they theoretically convinced me that these types of literature are worthwhile and even exciting. I have many a good friend who can become passionately inflamed while discussing The Canterbury Tales or The Knight of the Burning Pestle, but something about these works has always gone over my head – even when I learn enough about them to intellectually understand them, I still don’t enjoy them. I would much rather serve a few beers to my friends and then hear them recite selected passages or make speeches about Chaucer’s wit and eloquence, as opposed to reading the work for myself.

So, when I say that it was time to clean house, I mean that I finally felt free to get rid of many books that I felt that I “ought” to own if I was going to be a Professor of Literature. I opened an Amazon sellers account and then proceeded to gather the castaways:

Out! went Dubliners and The Sound and the Fury. Out! went Dante’s Inferno (sorry, Melissa) and Pedro Paramo and the anthologies of British Romantic poetry. Out! went Giovanni’s Room, which I felt guilty for disliking because it is about a homosexual man – which, let me be clear, isn’t the reason that I disliked the novel. I just disliked the novel, but felt guilty for disliking it because it was about a homosexual. Out! went unread copies of The Clouds by Aristophanes and Mandragola by Machiavelli (because let’s be honest, I won’t ever get around to reading them – there are too many Young Adult novels that I’m dying to read). Out! went The History of the English Composition Classroom!!

As the pile grew taller and taller, I felt as though I was participating in some kind of cleansing ritual. My bookshelves are now once again pure – stacked only with the novels that I love by Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis. I decided to keep my copy of the detested Ulysses, though – I made it all the way through that labyrinthine novel and so I now consider it a trophy. It sits on my shelf to remind me that, as one friend stated, I have completed my literary black-belt. I doubt that I will ever open it again, but now that I am not planning on being a Professor of Literature, that is okay to admit. (I know that will make at least a few people sad – I’m sorry, Max.)

It is not as though I didn’t enjoy the classic novels and many of the more difficult works that I had to read while earning my Master’s degree. It was during graduate school, in fact, that I gained my appreciation for the lyrical Virginia Woolf and came to understand that most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are about sex. These are now favorites amongst my books; I will always be grateful that graduate school forced me to expand my literary horizons in every direction.

But it feels absolutely wonderful to toss aside the books I didn’t enjoy, even if they are considered classics. I will sell them on Amazon, hopefully to someone who will enjoy them – and then I will use the money to buy myself some more Young Adult novels. (I’m told that I need to read David Levithan’s novels and explore the steampunk genre.) From now on, my job will not require me to spend time on Great Works of Literature simply because they have been deemed as such; I will read exactly and only what interests me – which is part of the exhilarated feeling that I get when I consider all the possibilities that this new direction in life is offering to me.

1 comment:

KT @ KT's Refinishing School said...

As I read this post, I kept thinking: I hope she is selling those books on Amazon!

I have a good friend who made a similar realization with his PhD program in political science and he got quite a bit back on Amazon when he divested himself of some of his academic books (especially those methods ones!) :)

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