Will Hochman, a fine scholar and poet, has an offering on Inside Higher Ed today, a response to another poem published on the same venue last week.
As I am, for my age, new (or newly returned) to academia (I am only in my seventh year of full-time teaching in the US but will turn 60 this year), Hochman’s poem struck me forcefully. It did so especially since, for all the problems, for all the having to learn to deal with bureaucracy and bureaucratic mind-set (I ran my own business for years before going into this new field), I love the teaching that I do and the scholarship I aspire to.
Though it may sound silly and naive in our grasping, cynical age, I have found a calling, and spend my days trying to discover new ways that will allow me to live up to its demands. Though I am sometimes desperately unhappy and frustrated, I would not give up on what I am attempting. The rewards and satisfactions, even along the way, are proving too great.
Hochman confirms for me that I am not the only one.
With slight trepidation, then, I clicked on the link to the poem that inspired Hochman’s, this one by someone not willing to give a name to their authority.
Hochman ends with the line:
I am the academy.
Anonymous begins with the line:
Because the failures of a flawed system are not my personal failures.
Hochman understands that his profession stems from himself. There’s no one to blame for failure, not even each other, but each of us ourselves personally and only. That’s the essence of professionalism.
Anonymous shoulders nothing but her or his rejection of an “academia” clearly not good enough. That’s the essence of egoism.
It seems to me that Hochman is right to stay in academia and Anonymous to leave. It takes a strong ego to recognize the failings around one and within one but to continue to try and to improve. It takes real self-confidence to negotiate all the anger (one’s own, and that of others) and to still return to the situation to try to find ways to improve. It takes stability and assurance to recognize that, though there are always others to blame, each of us must look, ultimately and only, to ourselves (as Jimmy Buffett sings, “It’s my own damned fault”). Throwing the blame for one’s own frustration onto others shows, to me, a lack of the real “stuff” of a professional. Lacking “stuff,” or even finding oneself “burned out,” one should leave.
I’m hoping I can teach for the rest of my life, or until physically unable to continue. As Hochman says:
Because knowledge is never ending and life is short, I do not waste time on self-pity
That’s the essence of Hochman’s quite real professional success. I hope I can emulate it.