I don’t dream much, but for the past two nights I dreamt, and the dreams were on the same subject. Two nights ago, one of my professors sat with his arm around me and encouraged me to continue pursuing religious studies. we worked out a plan of action where I could study Buddhism academically and personally until I was able to attend graduate school.
Last night I had a dream with a similar theme. I woke up at 3:30 and watched as my memory of the details of the dream slipped away, leaving me only with the feeling that my subconscious continues to scheme and plan ways for me to study religion in graduate school.
This is in stark contrast to my waking life. With all of the results in, it looks like my career as an academic is once again relegated to the distant future (this is what I feel on a good day). I have decided to really focus on programming and to relegate my study of religion to hobby status (I will never be able to suppress this entirely). For the past week or two, I have exposed myself to a whole new set of technologies: I’ve lost sleep as I’ve explored the inner workings of Mac OS X Panther, installed the Apache web server, configured MySQL, begun programming in PHP and Perl. My days are filled with all of this new learning.
I should back up and give you all the final graduate school tally: Stanford accepted me into the Master’s program, but I would have to foot the almost $80,000 tuition bill for two years with no guarantees of further advancement. A pretty risky proposition for a man with a family to feed. Iowa accepted me with limited funding but didn’t accept Jana. UCI’s history department accepted Jana, and her professors worked hard to make sure she stayed here. Add to this all of the benefits of remaining in our current situation: (relatively) cheap rent, a top-notch school for our kids, a wonderful network of friends, and the fact that I am already employed, and it’s kind of a no-brainer. The situation might be different if both Jana and I were accepted at Iowa–then we could both pursue our dreams…
It’s interesting to see who’s been supportive of us and who hasn’t. I am grateful to Jana and my friends and mentors–they have been so encouraging, and are as surprised and almost as disappointed as I am. But it amazes Jana and I that it is family that seems to be the most ambivalent, or even oppositional (though my Dad wrote me a wonderfully empathetic email message–I consider this quite a gift, since I can count on my fingers all of the letters I’ve received from him throughout my life). I hope that we will be more careful and nurturing with the dreams of our children, of our friends, and of those around us.
Anyhow, I’m tired of being torn. I have never seen my career as just a means of getting a paycheck. While there is nothing wrong with being a gainfully employed and productive member of society, I’ve always felt that I can do so much more, give so much more with my time. I want my waking hours to be filled less with the distraction of making a living and to be spent pursuing my passions and making the deepest, most positive, most lasting contributions to the world. And I feel that I’m talented enough to be combine earning a living and fulfilling my dreams into one occupation.
This is what is spilling out from my subconscious, when I let sleep take over, or when I let my fingers fly across the keyboard of their own accord. On the surface, I try not to whine. I have decided to focus on being a good little web designer and database programmer, at least for the near future. Some people drown their sorrows in front of the bartender with their fingers around a cool glass–I get numb in front of a glowing screen, with my fingers on the hot aluminum keys of my PowerBook.
I turned 33 this week–I’m almost a third of a century old!
I spent the morning of my birthday chaperoning my daughter’s class on a fieldtrip. They went to the Orange County Performing Arts Center to watch the Disneyland Band perform. The kids found it hard to sit through the William Tell Overture (picture 2400 children in a concert hall on plush cushions simultaneously discovering that they are really sitting on galloping horses) and I found it hard to sit through the blatant advertising (“how many of you would like to go to Disneyland!?”) We sat together on the bus and she dictated while I transcribed her speech for the upcoming elections for class president.
Later on the same day, I watched my son’s first public performance as a cellist in his school’s winds ensemble. I can’t describe the feeling of watching your own child produce a thing of beauty (in concert with a hundred of their classmates). I didn’t think it possible, but I believe I’ve reached parental pride capacity. It’s a good feeling.
I was lying in bed this morning, feeling like I had dreamed just a bit before. Slowly, without effort, portions of the dream came back to me. As I thought about each scene, I suddenly remembered other connected scenes. Some little part of my brain watched this process, fascinated, especially when I had to make subtle decisions about sequence, connections, consequences.
Was I truly recalling an earlier dream, or was my subconscious feeding it all to me as I lay remembering?
i feel like i’ve been hanging from an emotional bungee cord for the past few weeks: we are in the most idyllic living situation, but we will likely be kicked out in another month or so; i wrapped up an incredibly stressful week of work by basking in the glow of todd purgason of juxt interactive for free in a classroom with maybe thirty other developers and designers (for those of you who don’t know him, todd is one of the best flash designers in the business, and i’ve attended conferences in new york and seattle with hundreds of attendees where he was one of the keynote speakers); i’m one of a handful of students who is being invited to join the national history honor society (phi alpha theta), but am on the verge of failing one of my classes; and i am preparing to put my academic dreams on the shelf indefinitely so that i can support jana in her pursuit of a phd (two parents pursuing graduate degrees simultaneously does not a healthy home environment make).
the hardest thing for me to deal with in the past few weeks is that i have someone in my life who is critical and who works, perhaps unwittingly, to undermine my character in the eyes of others. i have the impression that they delight in my failure, and that nothing i can ever do will please them. this is my perspective of the situation, but i haven’t heard or seen anything to make me feel that this person assumes anything but the worst of me.
i’m not sure why i’m so dang sensitive to this negativity. perhaps it is because i have worked so hard to overcome the scars of the criticism and perfectionism that i experienced as a child. it is hard to encounter it full-force again in someone that i generally look up to. i think that this is also difficult for me because i am already hard on myself; my sense of self-worth needs some serious shoring up.
i feel betrayed and i am angry. jana, bless her heart, tells me that i am absolutely justified in my feelings.
i need to move on. i need to realize that this is all ultimately about the person being critical, and not about me at all.
i am extremely blessed in my friends, teachers, co-workers and especially in my wife and children. i am surrounded by people who see me both for who i am and who i can be and who shower me with love and support and assurance. i have discovered that i need this web of support to battle my own harsh self-criticism, my own negative perceptions of myself. in spite of this, i am optimistic that the perceptions of my loved ones will win in the end.
i’m spoiled. i know–partly because the statistics would say so and partly because of heart-to-heart conversations that i’ve had with some of you–that there are those of you out there whose self-esteem has sunk to lower depths than mine has–maybe yours has hit the dark, cold ocean floor. your greatest enemies may sleep just a few feet away at night, or they may sit in the cubicle or office next to yours. it’s hard, but turn a deaf ear to the shouts, the cacophany of scorn and derision of those who would bring you down low. let your feet catch up to your own internal rhythm, and listen carefully and continually for that faint, distant call that you know is right and true until it rings louder and louder in your ears and you become possessed by that spirit that strengthens and energizes you and drives you on towards the greatest heights::
i know it’s been a while since i’ve written. i’ve wanted to comment on a number of topics regarding the war in (or against, or for) iraq but it seems like as soon as i was ready to write about one topic, it was already obsolete, old news. i’m not sure why, but the pace of this war has kept me off balance, and unsure how to respond to it.
part of my response has been to start a humanitarian aid drive here in the uci/irvine community. i’m working primarily through the local amnesty international chapter, and we hope to network and get as many campus and community groups involved as possible. essentially we are putting together health/hygiene kits for distribution by international humanitarian organizations.
i’m coming off of a week-long illness–a nasty cough that kept me from sleeping (and being able to work much). i don’t think i’ve ever been this sick before. this experience and the war and other things have left me quite pensive, and i’m hoping to articulate some of the thoughts going through my head tonight. i’ve always been the type to “think out loud”–sometimes the words i type are surprises, revelations unto myself, even as i watch them appear in choppy spurts across the screen.
for a long time, i have been very focused on becoming a professor. this has been my dream, and i have been surprised at the consistent drive and focus i’ve demonstrated over the years in pursuit of this goal. lately, however, even as i come closer to realizing my dream than ever before, serious doubts about the vaildity of this dream have crept into my head.
the job market for faculty in the humanities is extremely competitive. even those who get their phd’s from the top programs have a hard time finding work. even though i am the most passionate about 19th century mormonism and early christianity, i’ve focused more on japanese religious history because the job ratio is two overly qualified candidates for every one opening, instead of the 10:1 or 20:1 ratios found in the american religions or christian history sub-fields. and these opening include non-tenure track positions as well as ones which lead to tenure. when i returned to academia a couple of years ago, i was determined to not sacrifice my research passions in favor of boosting my grad-school-entry and job-hunting potential, and already i am relegating myself to a lesser interest, compromising passion for pragmatism.
jana also aspires towards grad school and the subsequent professorship. this past year has been much more taxing on me and on the children as jana has become more involved in her studies. i realize that this dual-parent focus is not healthy for me or for the family. i used to think that we could both do grad school together–now i realize that we could, but only by paying a great price in terms of our family investments.
finally, i’m not sure if i have the ability to focus on one subject to the exclusion of all others in the manner of a grad student working on their dissertation or a professor immersed in research. there are exceptions to this rule–professors who pursue multiple subjects or disciplines simultaneously, make tenure, are involved in the community, make time for their students, and somehow manage to be good parents as well–but these seem to be a rarity. i’m too interested in too many things–this world is a fascinating place! why limit my studies to one subject? why become the master of some esoteric material that only a handful of people in the world can comprehend?
i have a good friend who is going into a phd program in medieval studies. we sometimes joke about what it would be like to be on a cold, damp island off the coast of scotland or ireland, with a goat for milk and with only our research to keep us company. i am realizing more and more that such a hermitage is not for me. my exemplars–holy people like the dalai lama, mother theresa, st francis, gandhi–are learned, but they are found in the crowds, not in the mountain solitude or the empty plain.
sigh. i’m sorry to inflict my ramblings upon you–my writings are usually more coherent than this. but this has been therapeutic. i will pause my single-minded pursuit of my professorial dream. i will spend the next few months, at least, listening more, opening my heart and mind and soul to…to something. to inspiration, to divine whisperings, to introspection, to whatever.
i am still driven to learn, to create, to teach, to inspire, to use my life to make this world a better place. i’m just not sure what form my contributions will take::
here is a note written on the whiteboard in my office:
I like coming to your office. I haveint seen it in a long time. You are the best [the s is backwards on the board] guy in the world that I know!!! I love you and I know that you love me alot to.
it is signed with love by my daughter.
i haven’t erased her message for months, and i will be losing this whiteboard soon, so i wanted to be sure to record this treasure for posterity. if you ever wonder why people go through so much to do the parent thing, i hope this sheds a little light on the subject::