Anytime I hear the rhetoric about the shelter of academia, I cannot help but think, “What the hell are you talking about?” A job is a job is a job. I have been really interested in some of the responses to Lily’s post about the utility of her MFA, where people have expressed that an academic job involves shelter from the “real world,” and that the simple solution to her very real and valid concerns is to extract herself from the warm and safe cocoon of academia so she might experience “reality.” This is actually a rather common, albeit sort of delusional sentiment, the idea that to know the “real world” one must suffer, toil in poverty, travel, work as a waitress or any other prescription you might have for where the real world is actually taking place.
While nothing is guaranteed, nor should it be, when you pursue a terminal degree and you want to teach, it is frustrating to learn that you may not be able to do what you trained to do, or you might get an academic job without security, working for what amounts to less than minimum wage even though you have excellent credentials. Yes, life is unfair, but the solution here is not for Lily to “walk it off,” or “just write,” because, as I interpeted her post, Lily is not so much lamenting she doesn’t have time to write because she’s in a PhD program. She is lamenting she doesn’t have time to write because she cannot do what she trained to do by getting her MFA even though she has an impressive list of credentials. Hers is the frustration of being the best and having your best not be good enough. That’s a really bitter pill to swallow.
In the meantime, I just finished my first semester as a faculty member at a mid-sized Midwestern public university. I think a lot of these misperceptions about academia and its relationship to reality arise because people simply don’t know what faculty do when they’re not in the classroom or frolicking all summer, or what it takes to become a faculty member. Creative writing is only part of what I do, but I have colleagues who strictly teach creative writing and have the exact same workloads and tenure expectations.