“I’m a doctor of cowshit, pigshit, and chickenshit […] When you doctors figure out what you want, you’ll find me out in the barn shoveling my thesis.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1952)
The Recovering Academic
Do you find yourself in a post-academic slump? Have you just finished your degree? Are you having trouble transitioning back to the “real” world?
If Yes: If No:
|This website is for you!
|Well, okay, but perhaps you want to stick around to learn from, listen to, or just laugh at a couple of literature PhDs from New England.
We are in an after-education-terminal-degree-state: confused and curious about how theories relate to daily life.
We’re also creatives, working to find a place where fiction and theory can happily coexist.
Whether you answered “yes”, “no”, or are hovering somewhere in “maybe-so” land: read our blog!
It has lots of different entries on a variety of topics like books, food, pornography, political issues, films, armchair philosophies, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. It also has interviews with people from a wide range of backgrounds, educations, and careers. Nothing is off limits and everything is fodder for the grist mill of our insatiable thirst for learning, questioning, and holding forth.
This is what we’re all about
We’ve all been educated to think in a certain way.
Education—no matter at what level—shows us a specific way of thinking, approaching problems, writing, reading, and sharing ideas.
Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990) claims: “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one” (Forbes Magazine).
Yet certain types of education close your mind before opening it. In fact, education must do this, to a certain extent, to uphold the rules and standards it has set for all of us. You must learn this because x. You must write your essay like this because x. All of these rules are enforced to ensure exchange of information is as clear and as informed as possible. And while clarity and consistency are essential to the ultimate goal of education (the transmission of information and opportunity) that type of uniform thinking inevitably narrows the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable intellectual inquiry. I once had a fellow PhD student tell me, during what passes for casual conversation between academics, “No one can write anything without writing about Derrida, because Derrida has written about everything.” (Jacques Derrida, 1930-2004, Algerian French postmodern theorist). This is the kind of theoretical fixation/idealization that runs rampant in academia, and by its very nature prohibits creative, independent thought.
So if we look at Forbes’ statement, we can see that there is a step between an “empty mind” and an “open” one. That step is an “academic” mind. Nowhere is this more apparent than with recent graduates of college. If they’ve learned their lessons, their minds are now “opened” to new possibilities. Yet the educational system has taught them a certain way of thinking, depending on the political leanings of that institution. In Western countries, this is usually a liberal, left wing mindset characterized by social constructivism and emphasis on “nurture” over “nature”. Politically correct professors espouse their theories and ideas to students throughout their 3-5 years of study at the undergraduate level.
After this, if a student pursues “graduate”, or “post graduate” study, the sculpting of the mind takes many more steps towards becoming so open that it is closed. What do we mean by this? Take Shakespeare studies, for example. Poor Will Shakes’ bones have been picked over for so many centuries by the academic community (which shows no signs of slowing its voracious feeding on his corpus), that potential future Shakespearean scholars have to squeeze their dissertations into the most narrow of topics. At a certain point, when does this kind of criticism become so delimited by theoretical and academic strictures that it is intellectually limiting?
It is difficult to think outside of the parameters of an academic mindset. This is why leaving an institution of higher learning—after a BA, a BS, an MA, an MPhil, a JD, a PhD, or even an MD—leaves long-lasting footprints on the murky landscape of the mind.
This is also why leaving that liberal, left wing, politically correct environment, can be a painful and painstaking process of re-acculturation into the mode of job routines and every day thoughts. I remember my Early Modern Literature professor at Cardiff, Professor Martin Coyle, telling us: “The woman at the checkout in the grocery store doesn’t want to talk to you about Ophelia’s scene in Hamlet. This is the only place where you can talk about that sort of thing. No one else cares.” At first I was flabbergasted: What? Why not? But in all seriousness, Professor Coyle’s point helped me to remember to take advantage of the institution while I was a part of it, and to foster my relationships with fellow academics in as many ways as possible.
It also reveals that, however stridently the lady doth protest, the ivory tower is a very real place. As academics, we both wrote about popular fiction (science fiction and fantasy, to be specific). These genres have only recently been considered “worthy” of intellectual study. Yet while we may have been analyzing paperbacks that, when first published, could be bought on a rotating wire rack for a few bucks, our own dissertations would never be read beyond the circular walls of the tower. That circular structure matters. Academics write books for other academics. They argue passionately about topics of central importance…to academics. They hold conferences where they share their work with…wait for it…academics. The irony of the institution is that it takes material written for the public and creates commentary and criticism accessible, in many ways, to only those within the rarefied walls of the tower.
Students who share academic subjects have common characteristics of thought and mutual backgrounds. Sharing these languages and ways of thinking are important and essential for your identity as an accepted member of a social group. And that’s okay. Hell, it’s necessary. But we hope that by posting our thoughts and making the voices of our network of friends and colleagues heard in postings, discussions and interviews, we will create a welcome space for open and informed creative, intellectual and academic exchange. The Recovering Academic was inspired in part by the storied literary salons held by Gertrude Stein, who, with her partner, Alice B. Toklas, created a space where creatives and intellectuals of all stripes could share ideas without censure or censors. In this vein, The Recovering Academic is an act of breaking free without breaking down. We don’t want to destroy the tower, we want to open our own doorway, throw down a bridge, and see what happens when academia meets reality.
So let us introduce ourselves:
Dr. Nicole A. Thomas and Dr. Erica Moore are creative writers and academics who met as ex-pats entering the Master’s in English Literature programme at Cardiff University, a Russell Group institution located in the capital city of Wales (see below for a map of this fantastical place). That was in ’07. They spent the next four years sharing an office while grinding through their PhD’s at the same Institution. Nicole’s first attempt at the literary salon was a regular “CakeSpeare” night, during which a group of slightly-intoxicated PhDs drank wine, ate cake, and read Shakespeare. Erica kept Nicole’s inner actress under control by introducing a random-selection process of assigning roles. Despite their mutual intention to remain in the U.K., these inveterate New Englanders both found themselves returning to the United States post-PhD and rekindled their friendship, this time as real people. One night over dinner in a faux Irish pub, Nicole spilled the beans on her Recovering Academic idea and her inability to get it off the ground. It was kismet. Erica leaned over the table and into the project, and what started as a shaky little idea became a full-fledged four-legged baby. (Try getting that image out of your head. Alliteration, baby. It works.) We’re thrilled to be partners on this journey, and thrilled to have you along for the ride.
This is what we’ve got coming
Next Week: The Glass Ceiling as Magnifying Lens and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign
Soon: Erica’s take on what “Home” means from both the host and guest perspectives
Moving Forward: Weekly Posts and Regular Series
In Medias Res: a regular check-in with Erica and Nicole, post-doc
Whatchya Reading?: our comfort zone, literary analysis
Guests Posts from our wide circle of fellow creatives and academics
In Future: The Recovering Academic podcast!
From you: Comments, Criticisms, Creative Approaches! We want this to be an active forum for intellectual exchange, so you, dear reader, are a vital part of The Recovering Academic community. We can’t wait to hear from you!