On giving up

by Dame Eleanor Hull

I’m a little amused that a five-year-old meme has caught on again, at least in a small way, thanks to my propensity for re-visiting my past, and thanks to bloggers like Clarissa and Z.

Because I was feeling so rotten last week, spending much of several days asleep, when I was awake I spent awhile re-reading Squadratomagico’s archives, which I greatly enjoyed.  Hers is a blogging voice I miss; but given the range of her interests, I’m sure she’s having a fantastic time doing whatever took the place of blogging in her life.

Since she’s not around to speak for herself (so far as I know—do speak up in the comments if you’re out there, Squadro!), I feel a certain responsibility to speak for her, since I’m the one who returned to the old topic.  The original post, http://squadratomagico.net/2008/02/15/how-much/, responded to changes in the lives of several members of the academic blogging community, some of whom are still with us, others of whom either stopped blogging or may have re-named themselves in moves I have lost track of: New Kid, before law school; Medieval Woman, while still in a long-distance relationship and before the twins; Heu Mihi, before her translation to the cornfields, the advent of the Minister, and Bonaventure; the bloggers who are now Maude and Moria; Hilaire, who I hope is now enjoying a happier life than the one I used to follow.   These potential (at that time—now actual) changes provoked a lot of soul-searching, and those of us who were already enjoying stable positions both empathized and took the opportunity to think about our own lives.

In particular, I want to let Squadro respond to the first line of Jonathan’s post on this topic.  In teaching meme, she explicitly values the contrafactual:  “I love teaching history because I believe it implicitly raises the possibility of counterfactual narratives. I don’t explore counterfactuality in the classroom, but I know some students are thinking about these issues on their own. The ability to imagine alternate social, political, economic, religious, etc. directions within history can, I think, lead to the ability to imagine alternate configurations for current social, political, economic, religious, etc. conditions. The study of history can train the individual to question reality; to question the authority of received cultural (and parental) expectations, hopefully in productive ways. I believe this can be empowering.”

The political is the personal.  Exploring counterfactuality in our own lives can be empowering.  It need not be a sign one should leave academia.  And one’s own contentment does not invalidate others’ struggle.  At the very least, people contemplating entering academia need to know the opportunity costs, the likely starting salaries, and the problems of salary compression.  My own students think professors make “good money” and are astonished that they could earn more teaching high school, but that is the situation in these parts.  YMMV, of course.  Personally, I think academic life has given me more than it took away; my losses have more to do with health and family situations that would almost certainly have arisen in any case.  I still think it’s worth evaluating the gains and the losses.

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