I’ve been thinking a little bit obsessively about my last post, wondering if it’s weird to be thinking so much about something I wrote. But it really bothers me that I came off sounding like I care so much about salary and prestige. That is definitely not how I started out as a young person. When I chose a job to support my writing, I remember thinking that I didn’t mind that I didn’t earn all that much as long as I was able to contribute something meaningful. I decided to work for the university so that I could help young people get an education, and I felt good about that even though things happened that prevented me from making use of my degree.
Circumstances have changed, though, and I don’t see the world the way I used to. I suppose that’s inevitable.
When I was younger, I really didn’t understand how entrenched the hierarchy of the university is. The older I become, the more that hierarchy bothers me. It’s the same kind of sorting mechanism that you see in other places in society, that we discuss when we talk about the stigma of mental illness. One type of person decides that they are fundamentally superior, and another sort is inferior, and once they perform that sorting, it’s really hard to get them to reconsider. I would love to be able to think about a system of education that was based on a more open exchange.
At one point, I had this idea that I wanted to become a faculty member, because then I would be able to teach, and I would have enough extra time to write fiction. Let’s just say that I didn’t have a very realistic idea of what faculty members are required to do at that point, the committee work and the research. This became clearer to me as I progressed through graduate school, and I became really depressed, not knowing what I should do. Then, just as I finished my degree, my very young son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and we started trying to work out how to treat his symptoms. His father was already working very long hours at a startup, and I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to become an assistant professor when our son needed so much attention.
My meditation on money the other day was partly based on the fact that, in situations like these, it’s so often the women who fall behind financially. I could have pushed for my goal of becoming a professor, but there were too many factors against it, the most important being that my son needed me. But now, as I get older, I worry not so much about myself, but for my son. We live in a society that doesn’t know how to care for our more fragile members. He wants to contribute something, but will it be enough to keep him afloat?