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O the Mid-life Horror! O the Humanities!
[contest winners announced at end of post]
so i turn thirty years old this weekend. you got a problem with that? well i do! i first started to feel the pangs of a mid-life crisis last year, when i visited the students of a ‘poetry & politics’ course who were reading my first book. one of the students mentioned that she was writing her paper on the ‘identity crisis’ in my work. although her paper was only five pages, i still felt the crisis cut deep.
this crisis deepened as i realized that when i turn thirty i will have lived exactly half my life in the united states and half my life in my homeland–the pacific island of guahan (guam)–where i was born and raised. moving to the u.s. at the age of fifteen was not easy, but i managed to graduate high school & college and to receive an mfa. since then, my life has taken a turn for the worse…and as my thirtieth approaches i need your advice to help me navigate this crisis. please read below & help me.
after the mfa, i decided to pursue a phd in ethnic studies. currently, i am in my third year–(hopefully) midway through. [my parents often tease me by saying that even though they moved here so we could receive a 'good' education, they didnt think that fifteen years later i would still be in school! haha that's what they get for uprooting my teenage years!]
this is where i need your help. even though i’ve been really enjoying my program & and even though i’m excited to work on my dissertation after i pass my oral exams [my dissertation will focus on articulations of indigeneity in native american and pacific islander literature & criticism] and even though i’ve very excited to teach, i am so so worried that there won’t be any jobs in the humanities by the time i’m done.
earlier this year, joseph harrington wrote a blogpost titled ‘would the last person leaving the profession please turn out the lights’ . joseph writes [bold is my emphasis]:
I’ve been reading The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, by Frank Donoghue (New York: Fordham UP, 2008). As you can probably gather from the title, he thinks that fate is pretty bleak. Between that book and “Thomas H. Benton”‘s article “Dodging the Anvil,” in the Jan. 4 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, I’m beginning to feel like the best thing we can do is to try to shut down the humanities in as orderly a fashion as possible. But then, I was lucky enough to be on one of the last helicopters out of Pretenureland. I feel a great deal of sympathy (mixed with survivor guilt) towards the grad students in my program (not least of all for the ones who are finishing now).
But what am I to make of people who are applying to English PhD programs in the winter of 2009-10?? Do they not know? Surely the ones I’m looking at did, since they already have MA’s. Do they not care – is it fatalism? (“Ha! – what’s another $50K in student loans?”) Or do they really think that they are each going to be the one-in-ten-thousand who bucks the odds – who beats out their cohort (and the last three cohorts, who are still looking for permanent jobs) – like all the Little Leaguers who are serious about playing in the bigs?
thanks a lot, joseph, for deepening my mid-life crisis. [you better at least buy me a drink (or thirty) the next time i'm in kansas city.] to make matters worse, i actually read the article ‘dodging the anvil.’ i’ll just quote one passage for & you to get the point:
Even with some cyclic ups and downs, following the U.S. economy, the academic job market has been in a depression since the early 1970s, and—just as we were beginning to accept that things were not going to improve—we are now confronted with an even more desperate situation for the humanities job seeker. If we regard the Modern Language Association’s Job Information List as representative of the humanities, then we are seeing the most rapid decline in advertised positions since the MLA started keeping records, 34 years ago (“MLA Newsletter,” Winter 2009). Last year, at the beginning of the recession, the number of positions advertised in English declined by 24.4 percent; this year it is down by an additional 40 percent. Last year foreign-language positions were down 27 percent; this year they are down by an additional 52 percent.
so as i approach both my mid-life crisis and my mid-phd crisis, what should i do with my life? should i stay in academia? should i pursue a different career path? should i leave the phd and pursue a creative writing job with my mfa?
what do current professor/poets out there think? what was it like for you on the academic market? is an academic job even worth it with all the pay cuts & furloughs happening at universities & colleges? are there even any jobs out there? how is your college doing?
what do other phd or mfa candidates think? are you thinking of other non-academic career options? do you feel as worried as i do?
what about those of you poets who are not in academia–what kind of jobs do you have? are they conducive to being a poet? is your company hiring?
please, friends, i am looking for advice, personal stories, anecdotes, references, anything that will help me decide what will be best for my future children & future ex-wives.
thanks everyone for playing! contest winners announced below. please peruse the omnidawn catalog and email me your mailing address & book choice [my email will be in the comment field below]:
Contest 1: James Stotts, Eric Landon, Billdozer, Rawbbie, Evie
Contest 2: Anji, Kent Johnson, Matt, Veronica, Megan, Sandra Stone