An Alt-Ac Year (with a bit of life) in Review

I am just back from a mostly relaxing Christmas in Panama, visiting family — although it’s questionable how relaxing any trip can be with two children in tow!

panama-ocean-view

The past year has been one of twists and unexpected turns for me. Over the course of the year the twists and turns mostly revolved around work, as I’ve sought to chart my course in a post-ac world. I haven’t written much about this yet on this blog, but my post-phd path has been anything but straight. I started this year thinking I might go into library science; after all, I am currently managing a digital library and working part-time at another one, so it made sense from one perspective. As one application deadline rolled around after another, I found myself weighing the relative paucity of librarian jobs in the area that fit my background, and are in my geographic region, one which is already quite flush with excellent librarians. I weighed possible library school debt against this list of jobs, and let the deadlines pass.

I applied to non-academic jobs, some a bit above what I’m qualified for, some a bit below, some right around the middle that I thought would be good fits. I had interviews and extended conversations for several of these positions, but none of them bore fruit, and as the summer waned, I found myself feeling stuck in a rut. Parenting two kids made that infinitely more complex. I needed to decide what made the most sense for a next step, but my mind felt muddled and confused enough that I could barely understand my own thoughts.

I did the only thing that made sense at the time, and it was a rather impulsive decision: I called a career coach and poured out my frustration, my confusion, my desire to see more clearly. Perhaps this person would be able to help me cut through the fog and notice something I hadn’t been able to figure out for myself.

The results have been rather different than I expected! Right from the get-go, she noted how important writing has been to me throughout my life, how much I desire to have some  aspect of “nature” in my life, and eventually, many other things besides. I found myself drawing out a mind-map of career interests from childhood forward, and my original reason for studying religion came roaring to the surface after years of quiet dormancy. Not that that reason had ever been forgotten, but I’d managed to ignore it pretty well.

What was that reason? Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt myself in pursuit of something, be it knowledge or experience, of an emotion that by middle school, I had come to call the Deep Feeling. A feeling of both joy and longing, it is as if a curtain covering the world is drawn back, and what is revealed is the world as it truly is, a place of awe and wonder that is both outside and within oneself, a feeling that once gone, one only wishes to have again. Although I did not know it at the time, many people have ascribed religious significance to this feeling, and some, such as those in religious studies, have even studied it professionally. When I discovered that I could major in religion in college and read the work of scholars who also attempted to understand this emotion — the numinous, as Rudolph Otto called it — well, the future seemed set. I’d study religion, and become a religion professor.

I’d always assumed that what I did as a profession would in some way “follow” this Deep Feeling; I even penned a vow to this effect in one of my old journals (although at the time, I think it took the general form of “I vow to follow whatever makes the movie Dances With Wolves evoke such strong emotion in me,” and I did not, in that instance, mean Kevin Costner). Looking back at it, I could see that some aspirations emphasized knowledge of the numinous, or Deep Feeling,, while others focused more on experiencing it.

A funny thing happened on the way to that particular forum, though. I got caught up in specialization, and an atheist boyfriend played a role along the way, too. True, what I specialized in for the PhD — religious practices in religious liberalism — bordered the edge of the original impetus, but it became clear this past October that what I’d done was emphasize knowledge rather than experience, instead of perhaps seeking a more balanced approach between the two.

It took a lot of odd mental work in early November involving a visualization of an angry red ball of string that resolved into intimations of a glowing ball of light that eventually had a pen floating over it to get me to start admitting what I already knew: that I was experiencing — am experiencing — a powerful call to deal with the experiential side of what has always been bedrock: this Deep Feeling and what it implies. The day after I’d visualized the angry red ball and the glowing white one, I went on a bike ride, and on that bike ride, the thought came to me with the power of a voice floating across a grassy plain on which lonely stones stand: Tell your stories of this joy.

But telling those stories is not so much for 2014 as for 2015, what lies ahead in the future, as I find new ways to tell these stories.  If you are interested, I do hope you might follow along.

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