I got my diploma in hand on May 5, 2012 in Nebraska, but at that point, I was already a Ph.D. for about three months. At that point, I was already slightly shameful of my non-tenure track job at my alma mater (it’s not that I don’t like working at my old school—I do! I do!—I just wish I was a professor instead of instructor), wishing that it was tenure track or, maybe even better, a postdoc. Already, I was tired of people outside of academia telling me that I’ll easily land a tenure track job in a university where I want to be, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (about 70% of professors are off tenure track, and many of us Ph.D.s are on welfare!), and in spite of my publishing record (yeah, where’s my book?).
Still, I smiled, because there’s nothing like getting recognition for years of hard work, even if it doesn’t pay off monetarily immediately or in the future. I feel smarter for having done it, and I’m sure I’m smarter—heck, I’m smart enough to question that intelligence! Furthermore, I’ve written a couple of papers that I’m happy with and I’ve written a book. A whole book! A novel manuscript is in my possession! I’m in the midst of revising, but it’s there.
And I think I’m coming to terms with being Dr. DeMisty Bellinger, and whatever that means, though I don’t think I’ll never use Dr. DeMisty Bellinger unless I’m purposely trying to be pretentiously prickish. Sometimes, I need to be prickish. Especially in the face of racism, sexism, and classism, separately or all together.
The one person who believes in me more than anything, and think I’ll succeed in spite of the odds, is my mother. She’s a gambler, too—she should know better! In some ways, she is supposed to be that overly-supportive, but sometimes, her unwavering optimism (because I can’t lead her to see those odds) gets to me and I need to avoid her for a while. Then I heard this clip from one of my favorite plays—one that I’ve read and seen numerous times—and this time, it resonated like a like a large gong in close quarters. Here’s one of the last scenes in Death of a Salesman, with Arthur Miller reading at the 92nd Street Y:
Suddenly, I felt like Biff. I knew I was one of many—I sat in that audience and watched us all, Ph.D.s and masters alike—walk proudly across the stage. I knew of the very few jobs announced in my field each fall and the very many candidates vying for them. I knew! We are a dime a dozen! Yet this little ten minute clip almost brought me to tears.
What does this mean? My mother’s not an unsuccessful salesman exactly, our outdated salesman. Well, she could benefit from the Internet, of which she knows so little about, but she’s no Willy Loman. I knew my predicament before pressing play on the sound clip. So, what was it that moved me to near tears?
I’m off for the summer, but I’m shopping chapbook mss, conference abstracts and proposals, revising, writing, busy busy busy, so I don’t think I have the time to really reflect on this as much as I want to. But I loved hearing this. I loved how it made me feel angry and in love with that play, with Miller’s writing, all over again. It was like being kissed by your husband and remembering, all-at-once-, why he is your husband. At this point, all I can say that whatever becomes me, I’ve chosen the right field.