The Long Scar

Day 16 of #100DaysToOffLoad


It seems that every academic or ex-academic I ever talk to or work with or still keep in touch with has the same scar. It's a I'm-never-good-enough kind of thing, or a no-one-respects-me sort of chip on the shoulder, or the lingering seduction of passive aggressive reactions. I suppose many fields have their distinctive scars, similar but different. Some people get over them or cope or maybe hide them more than others.

I think I hit someone right on such a scar the other day. I didn't realize that's what I had done. But it clearly lit the pain ablaze. And there's nothing much I can do about it. Doesn't really matter that I didn't know that's what I was doing. Doesn't matter that I feel terrible that I caused that pain. It happened.

Like looking left an intersection and missing the biker coming right at you going the wrong way on the sidewalk.

And then I thought about it for a while and realized that the response (passive aggressive withdrawal in this case) hit me right back, in my I'm-never-good-enough kind of guilt scar. And I was right back there for a moment in the academic world of shit that I was so happy to have left behind.

Not long ago I met up with a friend who retired this past year. He said he was surprised. He thought he'd do all kinds of things like writing and research now that he was freed of the obligations of administration and grading and class prep. But the truth was that he found other things to interest him. There was no urgency about the day to day of academic prestige wars anymore. It didn't matter whether he got that book out. He had other books to read and probably other, different, books to write.

The academic itch was gone.

Or maybe it's just a scar that doesn't want to get scratched. I don't know if there's a difference. Maybe for a few, those blessed few, who find the dream as rewarding as they hoped. But I've met not many of those and endless processions of the others.

Another coworker (not an ex-academic), remarked that he had finally seen, to his surprise, what we had been saying for so long, that universities are not really in the business of teaching or learning. That's the undergraduate romanticism; but it's not the business of a university. The real business is more primal. Prestige and hierarchy. Survival in some cases, but most just selling a dream and a vision on the back of a brand.

Prestige and hierarchy. Might as well say aggression, dominance, and submission.

And scars.