Monday, August 16, 2010

Suburbs of Our Discontent

"I pray thee, stay with us, go not to Wittenberg."
--Gertrude pleading with her son Hamlet not to go back to the University: Hamlet 1.2.119.

I've been getting lots of really interesting feedback from my Modern Love piece in yesterday's New York Times, much of it from people who are facing or have faced a similar "two-body" problem. It's a story I've been wanting to tell for a long time, and I'm glad that I got a chance to do it.

Academia—like any other profession— is its own odd little world. But since it's cloaked in a culture of keeping quiet—don't talk about your personal life, don't risk offending anyone who might be voting on your tenure case— there aren't too many non-anonymous stories out there about it. As a result, I think it's a grossly misunderstood profession. Each year, I usually end up bursting a few of my student's bubbles who are thinking about a glamorous career as an English professor by giving them statistics about where they likely would end up living, and then telling them how much I make. And I'm one of the lucky ones, I tell them.

In the media, professors are portrayed as either lazy, overpaid snobs or cat-loving social recluses. Or both. (Say what you want about "Thirty Something," but I think Gary the Medievalist who didn't get tenure because he didn't kiss up enough to his colleagues—okay, and maybe because of his Leif Garrett haircut—was the most realistic portrayal of an academic to date.)

Anyway, I hope this story helps put a human face on the Humanities and on the academic life. Otherwise, we're left with Hamlet. And, really, who wants to hang out with that guy?


  1. I had such a crush on Gary back in the day! (Hmmm, and then I wound up with a medievalist - coincidence?)