Back to school season is upon us, and for the first time in many years, I am not a part of it. I began attending preschool at the age of three, and I took one year off between my undergraduate degree and my masters. Thus, I have had 27 “back-to-schools.” This is only the 4th August I’ve ever had off.
To my own astonishment, I haven’t been disappointed about it. Instead, I’ve been feeling free. Tra-la-la, no lessons to plan; tra-la-la, no bureaucratic bullshit; tra-la-la, no squeezing into pantyhose on hot days; tra-la-la-la-la.
I’ve been reflecting on my good fortune: I didn’t need to look for a job, or figure out what I wanted, or start over at a new school. I got to finish my Ph.D and disappear. I could let my husband worry about bills and work and wants and needs. Tra-la-la-la-la.
I still don’t know our plans for the winter. We have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and if all else fails, Plan D. But I don’t know, and I won’t know until a series of men make up their minds. Tra-la-la-la.
I have submitted the official paperwork to put a show up in Yellowstone. This is the same paperwork the Jehovah’s Witnesses submit to handout pamphlets or couples submit to put on weddings: Application for Special Use Permit, NPS form 10-930. If approved, I will perform a staged reading of my script on September 10, in the Grant Village Amphitheater.
I had written a letter to the Park Superintendent much earlier in the season for this very permission, but I had also asked for the title “Artist-in-Residence,” because I wanted to write those words on my CV. Because I don’t actually want to disappear completely.
The superintendent never got back to me, but maybe I will write it on my CV anyway.
I reside here. I am an artist. Sometimes you have to enter through the back door.
(If you can pay thousands of dollars to stay at an “Artist Residency” in Greece or Vermont or Timbuktu, and you can put that down on your resume, why not this? I know Joseph Beuys would have my back on this one).
Before I moved here, I rehearsed conversations I expected to have. I imagined myself explaining my artwork, defining Performance Studies, defending what I’m doing here with a freshly minted Ph.D.
These rehearsals were in vain, because so far, no one here has asked.
I am a wife and a mother. I wear these affiliations on the outside. They are all anybody needs to know.
It has been easy to be outside of academia. I’ve been so pleased with this ease! So surprisingly, delightfully pleased! And then I realized that it has been summer; just one short little summer; the time of year that (although the wheels are always spinning, and they have been) my body is accustomed to being off.
It’s been easy to be smug. I haven’t really left the academic building. I’ve just been on a coffee break.
Each August, I compose a list of professional goals, and this year is no exception. I have to stay relevant. I don’t want a gap in my CV. I have one thing that all career academics wish they had: plenty of time to write. But there is one, pretty important thing I don’t have: access to relevant research.
I have ideas for essays. Juicy, interesting ideas! But I need to back these ideas up with other people’s ideas. And many of those thoughts—even the databases where I can search for the existence of those thoughts—are under university lock and key.
(Yes, there are open source journals—bless them!—and of course I can always buy books, but it smarts a bit to not even be able to access journal articles that I wrote myself because I no longer possess the right access code. I wish I could just type PHD in the slot.)
After Lydia’s 6-month check up, Rafal asked me if I was angry that both the nurse and the pediatrician asked him what he did for a living, but neither one asked me. “I’m a terrible feminist,” I responded, “I didn’t even notice.”
I’m becoming too comfortable in this new role.
Now that it is in August, now that school has begun, I am officially an Independent Scholar. Harold Orlans writes (in his thankfully open-source article), “Typically, [Independent Scholars] are Ph.D.s in the humanities, often women, who, unable to find scholarly employment (‘independent,’ a wit says, is a euphemism for ‘unemployed’), pursue scholarly interests on their own” (Orlans 12). Touché, Orlans.
Here on the edge of nowhere, I will continue to write. And anybody who knows me knows I have plan. Next up on the agenda: a staged reading that will blow minds.
I bet they’ll ask what I do for a living then. Tra-la-la-la-la.