Every year, I take a moment at Thanksgiving time to express my gratitude and list some of the good things that I have in my life. Today, I find myself spoiled for choice.
The past year has been one of profound professional success and personal satisfaction for me. I completed my PhD this past May. That marked the fulfillment of a lifelong goal of mine, maybe the most important to me to date. I wrote my dissertation in less than a year and finished my PhD in four. Dissertations are notoriously mockable documents, in the broader culture, but I was very happy with how mine came out. It was valuable, to me, and it’s inspired a lot of opportunity, including a project for a big thinktank that I hope to be able to share with you in the next month or so. I can’t tell you the personal satisfaction that comes with cracking open my bound copy and saying to myself, I made this, and it came out just the way I wanted it to. I have also had a piece approved for publication in one of my field’s big journals, one which reflects many of my abundant criticisms of that field, and I’m excited to have that forum. I’ve presented at some cool conferences and met a lot of really passionate, smart people. I’ve been invited to speak at a major gathering of academics, to express my views on the future of the university. It’s been a good year, academically.
It’s also been a year of failure on the job market, I have to add, though I had a number of very near misses. I still get to teach, right now, and I hold out hope. I’ve got a strong CV and a lot to offer a school that wants someone to teach and research in assessment, applied linguistics, or literacy education. I’m still pretty confident that I’ll get the job I want. But it’s the case that I’m not sure if I’ll ever get that opportunity. More and more, though, it’s clear that I can build a life of useful service to those larger projects even if I never do end up getting an academic job, and it remains true that, for me at least, going to grad school was the best decision I ever made.
The ability to survive outside of a permanent academic job has been facilitated by a great streak in professional writing. In the past year or so, I’ve been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the New Republic website, the New York Times website, In These Times, Playboy, Vox, The Week, Full Stop Quarterly, and others. In just a few weeks, my piece on Louis Farrakhan and the future of black political organizing will appear in Harper’s Magazine. That piece is a labor of love representing several years of work; its venue, the magazine I’ve wanted to publish in for my entire adult life. I’ve just been given a column at the Observer, which fulfills a longstanding desire of mine to get a regular gig at a publication I respect. The money is pretty good, and the regularity of that paycheck will help a lot with the rent. I have a few other big projects that I can’t yet announce which I’m really excited about. Though nothing formal has come of it, I’ve written a book proposal, gotten some interest from literary agents and publishers, and started to seriously pursue getting a book published. All in all it’s been a great year for this part of my life. I’ve turned down more work this year than I have ever gotten before, and while there’s still not much money, I’m more financially stable than I have been in my adult life. And I’ve never written anything just for money, or compromised on principle in order to get published or paid. I’m incredibly grateful for it all.
And while another year older means another year of wear and tear on a bad back, a bigger amount of effort to stay in shape, deepening I-can-no-longer-pretend-they-aren’t wrinkles, and increasing irrelevancy to advertisers, it also means a greater sense of self-ownership and mental health. My management of my various medical issues is better than ever. And in a more general sense, I just leave myself alone in a way that I couldn’t have imagined even five years ago. I wouldn’t trade 34 for 24, not for a million dollars. I just let myself alone about stuff. I think back to how badly I’d beat myself up, for years — all of the pointless anxiety, the self-doubt, the insecurity, the self-loathing. I just gave it all up. What an exhausting waste of time. I read criticism, and pay attention to it, but I don’t care about empty personal attacks, and in the end I keep my own counsel on my own work and its value. It’s not a matter of self-esteem or self-confidence. It’s a matter of self-ownership.
More dear to me than anything, and the biggest source of personal happiness: after a terrible illness and a permanent disability, Miles is still with me, largely thanks to your generosity. That’s worth giving thanks for by itself.
In general, it’s been a remarkable year for me, one of happiness and good fortune. I’m a very privileged person, both in the political sense that term is now used most often and in the deeper, less clumsy sense. I am thankful for my beautiful family and all of my wonderful friends. I’m not sure how long my good luck will last, but I know that I’ll figure out the future no matter what, and I’m more confident than ever that I will be able to continue enjoying a life of intellectual stimulation, meaningful work, and intense relationships. I’m so lucky and grateful, and I hope you are too.