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Other F Words

6 September, 2004

Some other F Words in my life

Fence and Fear. It’s the end of the Summer, and I still haven’t written my book review. Classes start in two weeks. I have to go out of town for most of one of them, family obligations having reared their ugly heads. So I am finally painting the fence. It’s a big fence, since it encompasses fully half of our lot — more than a quarter of an acre. It’s pickets, so it’s a pain in the ass. It does need doing, and I’m paying the girls across the street to help. But really, I think I’m choosing the fence over fear.

It’s only in the past couple of days that I clearly realized that the fear was there. Sharon over at Early Modern Notes kindly linked to me, and we’ve had a nice conversation going in the comments about perceived differences in the way Medievalists approach History as compared to the way Early Modernists approach it, and why. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, and want to blog on — after the review. Ralph Luker at Cliopatra then linked to the Early Modern site, and all of a sudden, it hit me: these people seem to be treating me as a colleague. Wow.

For people who know me beyond the pseudonym, this probably isn’t surprising — or at least, I hope not. People who have met me at conferences, people I know from grad school, people I teach with now, seem to accept me as one of their number. Still, I’m never sure I belong. I don’t come from an academic background, and have made ‘life’ decisions that kept me out of the loop for several years while I finished my dissertation and then stayed in non-academic employment for a couple of years after that. Teaching as an adjunct got me back into the life, but left little time for being a scholar. Consequently, I feel like I’m always playing catch-up. And, in my less admirable, often quite lengthy moments, I seem to try to insure that I am. And so, the book review.

First, it’s on a topic I’m just not very familiar with. I mentioned this when asked to do the review, but basically, of the people around to do it, I’m the least unqualified. I don’t even have to read the book in the original language, but in translation, and I feel pretty confident about what I have to say on that subject. It’s an interesting book, too — so far. It contains a historiographical essay to die for, in the sense that it opens a window on over a century of German scholarship on the subject and its tendency to fit into German political ideology. Not only does this give the non-German reader some insight into a subject that really hasn’t been widely available to them, i.e., the importance of national- and nationalist ideologies in framing historical questions, but I also think it opens the way for more research into my own area. That is, I think that many of the ideologies driving German historiography on the subject of the review are also pertinent when looking at the Carolingians. I even mentioned this in my dissertation, but more as something that needs further research. Yet, despite the fact that (reading what I’ve just written) I seem to have some cogent ideas on the review for what I’ve read, I’m stalling. I’m stalling because I’m afraid you’ll think I’m an idiot. Unfit to join your ranks.

I feel this way at conferences, too. Every time I ask a question or make a comment, I’m sure someone mock my ignorance. It’s never actually happened, mind you. Often I end up at the coffee intervals chatting with really nice people I’ve just met because they wanted to tell me they liked my question and discuss it further. Last conference, I discussed this whole syndrome and being on the job market with just such an acquaintance — a Name in his field who told me I underrated myself and needed to aim higher than I was. It felt great, but the minute I begin to do anything that will open me up to my peers, I freeze. (As an aside, the rejection from the Chronicle didn’t help, either). So I’m off to do the fence. And to mull over the fact that some of you seem to think I should be in the club. And then I’m going to finish the book and write the damned review. Just to find out for sure.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 September, 2004 8:11 pm

    For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought of you as a colleague worth knowing, too. You’ll do a good job on the book review. It might help to know that, based on my own experience, you’ll probably find yourself writing more than the word limit allotted, and then it’s more a matter of paring down to the essentials. And it’s focused on someone else’s work, so all you really have to be is a thoughtful reader who can explain the work to others. You’re more than qualified to do that. πŸ™‚ *waves pom poms*

  2. 6 September, 2004 8:29 pm

    Thanks! I’m just worried about the part where I judge (if only a bit) the newness or validity of the viewpoint — which I can do if I run over to Flagship U and check out (or even just sit and look through) the few other books on the subject.

  3. 6 September, 2004 11:01 pm

    I have a lot of the same anxieties, and have been thinking about them all weekend, feeling depressed and Bad.

  4. 7 September, 2004 12:42 am

    ADM, I suffer from that fear all the time (and I’ve done a pretty traditional academic route, straight through with academic employment all the way, if you can overlook the fact that I took quite a while to finish the darn degree – not more than the average, mind you, but plenty long enough). It feels to me exactly like trying to be one of the cool kids on the playground and not knowing how – whether they’ll like me or shun me (and we’ve all been there, haven’t we?). Asinine juvenile metaphor, I know, but that’s what my insecurities turn me back into. You’re doing better than I b/c I almost NEVER ask questions at conferences. I did ask one or two at my last major conference (Kzoo, actually :-D), and was just so excited that no one made me feel stupid that I could have skipped out of the room. (I can remember and describe incidents when I *have* felt stupid asking a question, after which I slunk back to my hotel room and thought, I will never belong in this profession.) I guess we all have different reasons for why we feel this way, but I think everyone does. FWIW, your brief comments on the book above sound great to me and suggest you completely know what you’re talking about…

  5. 7 September, 2004 6:00 pm

    Thanks, NK. DOes that mean you are a medieval person, too? I’ve never been to Kzoo, but had a great time at Medieval Academy. I just re-read my blog report on it and realize this is kind of an ongoing problem. But it’s good to know, in a perverse kind of way, that tenure doesn’t prevent the Fear.I tend to ask questions in a protected way, if I think people are going to laugh, BTW — I start with a disclaimer that “this isn’t really my specialty … but …” It helps a bit, I think πŸ˜‰

  6. 8 September, 2004 1:44 am

    Yup, a medieval type here (hopefully I’m not compromising my anonymity too much! not like there aren’t plenty of us out there – one of the reasons I’ve always loved your nom de plume ;-D). Kzoo is actually a great conference for encouraging conversation and not turf-wars – you should go sometime. I’ve only been to the Medieval Academy once and I didn’t like it at all – it was a little too high-powered for my taste (a lot of Research I people running around with no idea what my life was like). Kzoo is kind of overwhelming b/c it’s SO BIG, everyone knows someone there, and in some ways you don’t have to talk to people you don’t know. But it’s also SO BIG that you can hear really neat stuff and talk to lots of different cool people. Oops, tangent… πŸ™‚

  7. 8 September, 2004 5:11 am

    Hey, NK — I’ve looked and looked through your blog, and am just kinda curious as to what discipline you profess … If you feel like sharing, but only privately, feel free to e-mail me. It often feels like you’re another (albeit more disciplined and better off in terms of employment) evil twin πŸ˜‰ If you want us to keep wondering, no worries!

  8. 8 September, 2004 3:51 pm

    Several items:1. When I started grad school, the chair started going on about how the program was one of the best in the country, blah blah blah–which I hadn’t known. My first thought was, “What the [another f word] did I just get into?” My second thought was, “Well, what’s the worst they can do to me?” I had buried my sister three years previously, and I figured grad school wouldn’t be worse than that. It gave me a whole new perspective.2. I ended up not being able to stay–no jobs, and no way to support myself while waiting for one–though I did finish and I’m still proud of what I wrote. [It turns out that being deeply in debt for a degree one cannot use, being forced to change occupations, being unemployed, and having no job in sight is, in some ways, worse than grieving for a loved one; the grieving process will change over time, as you heal, but unemployment seems endless; mine lasted almost 18 months.) I recently dropped in on a convention to meet a friend–just waited in the hotel lobby–and I was completely struck by how afraid everyone looked as they walked around. (I was talking about this just this morning, with another friend.) We’re all afraid: but why let it rule your life? Especially because you know that you can do other things, too.Sometimes you gotta say, “What the [same f word as above].” And then just go about your work. Good luck to you.

  9. 8 September, 2004 9:36 pm

    Thanks! I did some stints as an unemployed person looking for non-academic jobs (dot-gones), and that’s one of the things that brought me back. I’d rather be underemployed and doing what I like, than being underemployed looking for something that will pay and be reasonably stable and satisfying. Of course, I should point out that I have a spouse with a decent job (web dev and databases, so employable) and, if we were to split up, I could support myself and some of the pets in an uncomfortable but survivable manner on adjuncting full-time and working summers, at least for a while. I still have an old boss trying to convince me to work for him as a grant writer, but I’m happier teaching.

  10. 13 September, 2004 3:42 pm

    Good luck with the book review. I’m way behind on one too. Which sucks. And I’m both afraid and embarrassed to admit how overdue it is.My $0.02 on the whole belonging thing — you just have to walk into that room (so to speak) and take it over as if it is yours. As academics I think we often doubt ourselves more than others do. Others only doubt us when we either get all obnoxious with undeserved overinflated egos or when they can smell our fear.

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