Look! It’s a guest post! You should write one for us! This is from Dorothy Hadfield, a lovely new colleague of mine in the English Department, who once drove me home from an airport in the middle of the night after we had shared a very long cab ride down the 401 … it’s a long story, but the upshot is, she’s awesome. And thoughtful, as this post demonstrates.
Picture puzzles, detective novels, hermeneutics. I’ve loved all of them for as long as I can remember, and for basically the same reason: the profound satisfaction of seeing a coherent picture emerge where there had previously only been fragments, and of being able to identify the fragments that make up the coherent picture.
I remember a sense of regret and loss when I realized that life isn’t like that; when Hayden White convinced me that the teleology of history was actually a fictional narrative and that all the experiences of my life hadn’t inexorably led me to exactly where I was.
I’ve been particularly disappointed about letting go of life as a linear narrative because for much of my adult life I couldn’t seem to figure out where I was supposed to be going. I’d always wanted to teach or write, but my mother, always practical, insisted I hone my office skills. While my friends had summer jobs babysitting and picking fruit, I was filing, typing, and learning to run offset presses, bookbinders, and early keypunch computers. I loved the sense of order and efficiency that came with administration and technology.
My career path was inexorably forked. Through three English degrees, I alternated teaching with administration and freelance publication work. After the PhD, the untenured two-step became even more frantic: sessional teaching at multiple universities supplemented with curriculum development, managing research projects, freelance writing, editing and indexing, website development, publication design…whatever I could cobble together to make ends meet. The career picture wasn’t coming together, it seemed to just keep fragmenting farther apart, with increasingly less hope that this was all heading somewhere purposeful.
After almost a decade, I was reaching the long dark teatime of the sessional soul: running on multiple career paths was getting exhausting and getting me nowhere. But how does someone who’s gone in so many directions settle into one track?
Apparently, she circles back. I had chosen Waterloo for my undergrad specifically because the co-op English option perfectly suited all those literary, business, and technology interests. Last summer the Waterloo English department created the position of “Extended Learning Co-ordinator” to develop and manage the department’s online course offerings. According to the posting, the ideal candidate should have experience in teaching and research, project management, curriculum development, design, web-based learning technologies, and administration. It was the oddest duck of an academic job that I had ever seen. It was the kind of job that only someone who’s never been able to focus on just one career path could love.
A couple of weeks ago I was following my new Waterloo criticism students through their online module on hermeneutics. Even though much of my own critical practice now tends to the deconstructionist line, I still love the satisfaction of finding the logic behind how the text fits together and seeing how all the pieces play their part in making the big picture emerge. I still wish real life were like that. But it isn’t, right?
University of Waterloo