How the Humanities Wrecked My Life (Not Really)

One of my Latin gigs...

One of my Latin gigs…

When I was a student, I fell in love with the humanities.  All I wanted to do was read, day in, day out.

“Such a cliche!  You should go into engineering.  There aren’t any women in engineering,” my friend said.

She was very bright, multi-talented, and loosely affiliated with many political groups; she eventually moved West.  (Almost everyone in the Midwest moves West.)  But what did I care if there were or weren’t women in engineering?  I didn’t know what engineers did, but I hated math and I didn’t like those guys with the pens in their shirt pockets.  Engineers, med students, dental students…they didn’t read books.  (Okay, I’ve known some VERY bright engineers.)

And so I continued to read.  Dorothy Richardson’s Dawn’s Left Hand (Xeroxed, because I couldn’t get the book), Faulkner’s Light in August, Bleak House (the best book I’ve ever read)…

Most readers have some hobbies…like drinking, drugs, or listening to Lou Reed….but not I.  I liked three things in school:  reading, reading, and reading.  If asked about my illustrious career as a classics student, I would say, “I’m going to be a Civil Liberties lawyer.”  I didn’t mean it, because I didn’t want any kind of job at all, but as long as I pretended, they left me alone.

It seemed very unlikely that I would become a lawyer since I could barely tear myself away from reading  long enough to grace such required classes as Archery and “Rocks for Jocks” with my presence.  (And, yes, I believe I still have bruises from where the bow hit my hyper-extended arm.)

Though I would have preferred to live in the beautiful university town after finishing my master’s, I had to get a job.

And so I did what every woman in classics does.  I taught.

All around me women in classics were having teaching breakdowns.  They had Ph.D.’s and a series of one- or two-year Visiting Professor  jobs.  They hated it at Muncie State or Wayne State.  They hated it at any school with “State” in the title.  They had written their dissertations on beautiful, obscure subjects that would never be mentioned by their bosses at these schools.  We had all enjoyed teaching Latin as grad students at a University of,  but somehow these one-year gigs at X States were horrific.

And then I had, not a teaching breakdown, but a teaching boredom.  Those of us with M.A.’s taught at private high schools.  We had no idea how boring it would be to teach teenagers.  They are not always mentally there in the classroom.  They’re writing notes to their boyfriends or girlfriends, or they have a hacky-sack at the back of the room.  (You can ignore the notes, though occasionally you must swoop upon the hacky-sacks.)  The most beautiful and patient of my classics friends hit a student on the head with a catalogue.   Another of my friends was reduced to tears by a heckling student.  I love Latin and was a very conscientious and commonsensical teacher, but I couldn’t wait till 3:30 so I could leave.

I simply imagined my way into other jobs because I couldn’t bear to spend my life teaching. But was I financially successful?  No, all the jobs I have liked have been marginal, and I have always preferred part-time jobs.  None of my friends in classics made money unless they went back to school for practical degrees.

Oh, I’m sure the success stories are out there, but I’m talking about MY friends.  Kind, quiet, very smart women who went to the APA meetings and published papers nobody cared about.

They married, Dear Reader.  Their husbands made money, and they did something else.

Or, they married, Dear Reader.  Their husbands didn’t make money, but they managed somehow.

I married too, Dear Reader.

Here’s the thing, Dear Reader: We are meant to be in the humanities.  And the ones who are not in the humanities should pay us to be in the humanities so we can be their intermediaries in the humanities and they’ll miss us when we’re gone…

I really think so.

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