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Reflections on Charted Courses

A simple question as the new year approaches: What path should I take? More importantly, what is best for both my wife and me?

I am out of ideas. The past offers lessons of what I should not do, if I pay attention. But what should I do? In general, I'm just annoyed. I feel like the last 20 years have been wasted, professionally. I'm unemployed and overeducated.

My wife and our "kids" (the cats) deserve so much better than I've been able to deliver.

It seems an inescapable conclusion after 20 years that education is not a field for me, at least not in the humanities. I don't fit politically, philosophically, temperamentally, or in almost any other way within the professions of education. I don't even fit physically or intellectually. I love learning a lot, but that's definitely insufficient in a field dominated more by political views than intellectual curiosity.

They say you should learn from the past. There are many years I dislike and will never clear from my mind. That's one of the problems with the way my brain works: I'm always analyzing the past as I try to consider what paths to take in the future. Learning from the past isn't a bad thing, definitely, but having bits of your brain stuck in the past, replaying it daily, is frustrating.

My decision to move to Minnesota and my years here will be like that. They will be stuck in my mind, haunting me.

The university experience was horrible. Beyond horrible. I should have quit before completing the doctorate and planned a way to leave this place. I hate having a degree from the university, a place I will never, never support in any way. The diploma itself is packed away somewhere where I won't shred it. I literally get physically ill near the main campus. I want to scream at people when I see the university name, logo, or colors.

Just as 2006-10 are stuck in my memories forever, so are the years 1991, 1997-98, and 2002.

The lessons of 1991 are really the lessons of 2006-10, but I didn't pay enough attention. Education, for all the talk about empathy and tolerance, is as traditional and close-minded as can be imagined.

Difference from the orthodoxy is not tolerated or celebrated, an irony not lost on me. Today I was skimming a journal and the articles were celebrating "Activist Learning" and "Rethinking Education" -- but it is the same ideological nonsense year after year after year. It's condescending, the elites telling us how great they are, but when confronted with a genuine difference they cannot adapt. The "different" people, in this version of education, depend on the kindness of the elites who will open our eyes and guide us.

Of course, don't dare require extra effort, understanding, or accommodations. Then, you're simply an annoyance to ignore that doesn't fit their favored causes.

Another conclusion is that what I want is not now, and should never have been, the primary measure of a choice.

My view is that 1997-98 should have taught me that "experts" are dangerous. I'm still trying to repair the damage done by one "Dr." (not a medical doctor, of course) who was supposed to help me address cognitive and learning differences. Instead, his advice was destructive not only to me, but to the person I consider my best friend. Apparently, his view of "normal" was the only one that mattered.

Neurology, psychology, and social sciences have defined "normal" in terms of what they considered ideal: extroverted happy people, with a constant need to express emotions and desires. Anyone not matching this model is somehow defective and incapable of "normal" anything. I believe psychology / psychiatry feed the narcissistic tendencies of too many people. Not only is nothing your fault, but anyone not adoring you and your flaws is to be rejected.

I wonder how many of the academics I know have been told they are great people and should be adored?

So, education is out and I am going to pay attention to what my friends and family suggest. Doing what I want is not a plan, that's a dream. For now, I don't know what is ahead. It's frustrating to lack a sense of direction.

I thought I had a plan in 2010 (writing and more writing) but I also want to earn a living. I want to be employed in some way. Creative writing is my passion, but that's a tough career path without a safety net, like teaching. I can't bear sitting at home, writing for myself, day after day after day, without earning a semi-reasonable income.

The best employer I had was the computing services of a university. I wrote technical manuals, did some programming, and helped faculty with programming tasks. Computing is not like the humanities; you are judged by your technical skills, not your views on philosophy or politics. Technology might be the only reasonable path.

Right now, I only want to get out of the cold and far away from this city. Beyond that, I know I need to come up with something to earn money.

At least this move was good for my wife's career and education. She deserved more.


  1. CS, perhaps I can help or at least extend some useful wisdom. I've been in your position (PhD, underemployed/unemployed, depressed,cursing the world and with an ASD). I've managed to find some equilibrium. Perhaps my experience would be useful to you in some way. However, I think it best that this is done privately. You can contact me at

  2. @Kent - my primary goal now is to get back to the Southwest somehow. My contempt for the university goes far, far deeper than this post. It's best I avoid the topic, or I can't function for several days. It was that bad. Nightmares, bad.

    Best to move away and refocus on other career and project options.

  3. I guess I'm confused or were you're questions rhetorical? The two first sentences seems like you want some suggestions. "What path should I take? More importantly, what is best for both my wife and me?"

    I understand having institutional hatred, I suffered for 5 years in a boarding school where unspeakable horror was laid upon me, both physically and mentally. But there are others out there that have blazed similar paths as yours. You're not alone, though you may feel like it today.

  4. The questions would be rhetorical, as I don't know that there are good answers. As it stands, I have surpassed 150 job applications, many of them requiring more than 50 pages of materials. That leaves to conclude I am likely to continue as a freelance writer for the foreseeable future.

    As for being alone, I know too many people with similar views of this and other academic institutions. Our schools and universities are more social in nature than academic, a fact of life since the earliest days of the institutions. Human communities are social, and I don't do social well.

    Short of a surprise job offer, my wife's employment remains our safety net. She has an excellent employer and good career. We had moved thinking my Ph.D would open doors, but it turns out she benefited more professionally from this adventure than I did.

    We are better off than most people. Doesn't change the frustration of feeling that the Ph.D was a complete and utter waste of time and energy, especially considering the emotional toll of my experiences at the university. I'm not unique at all, merely another over-educated person on the job market.


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