my life in lowick.
bitterness is not one of my big emotions—i’m just fortunately made so that it isn’t. i’ve always been interested in thoroughly having and fathoming and describing the experiences i am given. so interested that these processes naturally take up most of my emotional and cognitive time. but even when i am tempted in retrospect to evaluate, and to think something like: ‘well, that was a waste of my own precious time’ it’s generally neutralized by a subsequent thought like: ‘well, but i always have the way that i was.’ and blithely i go on. really, without much room for anger or bitterness.
but yesterday i really felt bitterness. i was sorting some old papers left in my desk, keenly feeling the pleasure of throwing stuff out and the pleasure of trying to figure out categories. i was organizing the papers so i could put them in hanging file folders—(hanging folders are a great delight of my life)—setting aside the uncategorizables—nothing was really too mysterious except for two envelopes from former professors that had been mailed to me which i had never opened, presumably because they had letters of recommendation inside. but what was the occasion? why hadn’t they been submitted? probably, i thought, because i asked for them and then never bothered finishing the application to whatever it was, irresponsible and reprehensible creature that i am. but—wait. then i remembered. there was a big fellowship that i applied for way back in my first year, a national thing—the Javits Fellowship—and i worked very hard on my application, and i knew that i had a good chance of getting the award because i studied what the government considers “desirable languages” (i.e. marathi, in particular) and i was studying at a rather desirable slash prestigious PhD program. i’d even had a humanities division dean or official-type look over my application materials—the University obviously being motivated to help its students get external funding—and i was personally motivated to get ten thousand more dollars a year, and the prestige of the Fellowship itself, and the freedom of not having to exist subject to the whims of the Division of the Humanities—but i never received the third letter of recommendation i needed. that was why i hadn’t been able to submit the application. my advisor, who was also the chair of the department, who was also responsible for bringing me to the department in the first place, who supposedly thought i was brilliant and bound for greatness and all that, never gave me the letter to submit, despite my timid reminders.
of course at the time i thought it was my fault. either for not being worth recommending—(though of course, i had been promised the letter, whether worthy or not—but i didn’t think of this) or for not being strident enough in my reminding—but very soon i learned that this was a chronic aspect of my advisor and it had nothing to do with me. and by degrees i learned never to depend on him for any letters or anything else—not in his capacity as advisor or administrator or ostensible-patron. everybody knew he was undependable in the extreme, and that this had real consequences for people—i mean, a friend-colleague of mine was denied an job that paid actual money because my advisor never submitted the necessary materials—and everybody was resigned to this. well, except for me. unprofessionalism is a thing that does make me angry. as does promise-breaking of all kinds. yeah, during the four years i spent in residence at Said Department, i was almost always in some state of disbelief, rebellion, agitation, frustration—some state of incredulity and excoriation. i never fit very comfortably there….
anyway, i remembered all of this yesterday, and remembered many different ways that my advisor made me miserable. and how hard i tried, in so many ways, guided and misguided, to work with what i had and to make something of it. and i felt bitterness.
(people who aren’t in academia often can’t believe that it can be as dysfunctional as it is described—people who have experienced it know better. i would even posit here—based on nothing—that the higher the prestige of a given department or institution, the higher the rate of casualty. that is, the higher the number of misfortunes directly caused by faculty members’ insanity and/or negligence.)