Social media reminds me that today marks nine years since I left California for Michigan and PhD school. I never could have predicted the adventures that would follow (or the anxiety disorders). The job market prompted a level of depression I hadn’t experienced since my teen years as well as a good deal of reflection on the nature of academia. I have taken to calling last year my lost year because that is how I felt. During that time I shied away from social media and spoke to very few people about my feelings. It was the silent angst that so many of us endure when we feel like failures all while knowing that it is the system that is broken, not us.
I was coming to terms with an alt-AC future when, on the first day of August last summer, I received that elusive tenure track offer. This meant I had five weeks to pack up my life for another move east, this time to New York. I was too relieved to overthink the situation all that much. Survival mode is remarkable thing. When I got into the moving van with three cats, a dozen or so house plants, and all my worldly possessions, I wasn’t even sure that I had a place to call home upon arriving in Queens. Somehow I lucked into a tiny, beautiful apartment that has provided the kitties and me with everything we needed to make this city home.
Three days after arriving (greeted by the best of Michigan friends who had arrived in NY just weeks before me) I taught my first course at my new school. That first semester is a mystery. Really, my whole first year will, I’m certain, be nothing but a blur in the memory of future Chelsea. It is amazing to me that one can feel simultaneously so in one’s element and so out of one’s depth. I struggle to answer the oft received queries about life in New York and life as an assistant professor. The best I can say is that I have found my way about and made it to class each day with something to teach. It would seem that “perfect is the enemy of done” is a motto to be deployed in post-dissertation phases of academic life too.
Now that year one is a wrap (grades submitted yesterday) I am feeling reflective and considering what the future holds. While this is only month ten of life in New York I have a hard time seeing myself here forever (injured pigeons and bed bug scares and tiny pricey apartments feel untenable in the long term). But who knows how I might feel when I really, truly have a chance to catch my breath. And when I realize that I am actually living the goals I set out in search nearly a decade ago.
The nature of academia is such that we are conditioned to live in constant state of anxiety. Those magical tenure track positions so ethereal they might slip through our fingers at any moment. Those peers greater than us have sought them and their brilliance gone unrecognized. But I am trying to be mindful of all that this journey has brought me. Friends, intellectual compatriots who understand what happens in my brain better than I ever could have hoped. Travel and time spent in cities and archives and conference rooms that have fed my soul. Entry into the labor movement and the opportunity to explore those spaces where movements meet. And an understanding that I am capable of much more than I ever imagined. Perhaps I am able to recognize these benefits because of the privileged position I now occupy. And honestly, most days it is easier to succumb to the anxiety and focus on the chaos rather than the adventure. But I would like to think that even if my future takes me in wildly unexpected directions I’ll still be able to appreciate the embarrassment of riches that has come with the mess.