Wandering the Towers – An Academic Romance, Part 1

This weekend: A room full of academics who study and love a marginalized art form. The ivory tower that I have often railed against and that I have fled, not once but three times.1 This weekend: the American Drama Conference at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY and I feel like I’m home. Even though I don’t know anyone at the reception until The Playgoer shows up, I don’t feel like a complete outsider. I know these people. I understand these people. I am, in many ways, one these people even though I am not currently a graduate student.

So the question becomes, why do I keep disavowing them? Why do I keep leaving academic institutions when they fail to be perfect, when departments and faculty fail to live up to my expectations, or when I find myself having to fight against large and unweildy institutions that do not, it seems, have the best interests of their students at heart? I’m not sure. The past two days, however, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my relationship to academia and I think romance is an appropriate description of that relationship. There is certainly nothing wrong with romance, but you can’t base a long-term, day-in-day-out relationship solely on the heady stuff of passion and romantic desire. There has to be commitment and friendship and genuine respect and humility. More importantly, there needs to be a kind of submission to the idea of two individuals becoming a third and inclusive category: “us.”

Ok, so maybe I’m going a little overboard with the romance metaphor, but the comparison is an apt one. I’m not good at relinquishing control, whether to insitutions or to loved ones. I am beginning to suspect that my desperate clinging to self-control, and my desire to be emotionally self-sufficient have been partly to blame for my on-again, off-again relationship with grad school. I’ve also been an incredibly unforgiving and judgemental person when it comes to teachers who do not live up to my expectations of how a good teacher ought to perform in the classroom. No, strike that. My expectations go beyond holding faculty to “good” standards: I looked for brilliance in the classroom and when certain men and women failed to live up to these expectations or when they were shown to be bullies or relished their power a bit too much, I scorned them. I refused to forgive. I metaphorically shook my fists at the injustice of it all and found myself wandering away from the whole because of a few parts. I acted like a jealous and betrayed lover: angry, spiteful to the point of self-injury, and unforgiving.

Throughout my relationship with graduate school, I wanted to recapture the first blush of excitement that I found at Rhode Island College when, at 27, I went back to school for my undergraduate degree. Thanks to an incredible English department, I had my mind blown open by feminist and critical theory, by Lacan and Derrida, by Luce Irigaray and Kaja Silverman and a whole host of ideas and questions and thoughts that literally changed how I saw the world. Even though I was a double major in Theatre and English and even though I was just starting to fall in love with directing theatre, it was the classes I had with Richard Feldstein, Kay Kalinak, Claudia Springer, and Joan Dagle that re-worked the wiring of my brain in fundamental ways and made me want to be a graduate student and, someday, an academic. Those years were like the first few weeks of a new romance, when every utterence makes your heart pound and your head spin and you want to stay up all night talking and touching and you feel yourself filled by this recent stranger who suddenly, rushingly, becomes indespensible to your life. The work I did at RIC, the new ideas and thoughts that I was exposed to and wrestled with on a daily basis were so damned sexy. Graduate school, no matter its qood qualities and enticements, is not a sexy process.2 Don’t get me wrong, there are delicious moments as a grad student; moments of intellectual excitement and even a mental orgasm here and there, but on a daily basis, sexy it is not.

Let me be completely honest here: I have committment issues when it comes to relationships. I also have committment issues in my academic life. I have, until this weekend, considered these parts of my life to be seperate. Now . . . I’m not so sure. I have a sneaking suspicion that my troubles in one may be reflective of my troubles in the other.

(Link to Part 2)

On this day..

  1. 1) leaving the University of Rhode Island after four years with no degree. 2) Finishing my Masters degree while working full-time and deciding to forgo the PhD program at the University of Maryland even though I was accepted and on fellowship for several more years. 3) Quitting CUNY’s The Graduate School (again despite being on fellowship) after one year and the realization that I was distinctly unhappy with the prospect of spending five to seven more years in NYC and jumping through a series of hoops for several professors that I found it difficult to respect as teachers no matter how much I respected them as scholars. []
  2. And here I’m mainly referring to MA and PhD programs. MFA programs are sigificantly different and can be very, very sexy. []

2 thoughts on “Wandering the Towers – An Academic Romance, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Living the Liminal » Blog Archive » Wandering the Tower - An Academic Romance, Part 2

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