You know asking me what’s up is a loaded question, I think.
I write, so that’s why you’ll get the lowdown. I understand that most people do not write letters or expect them when they send a quick E-mail. Forgive me. My class is taking a test right now, which gives me the time. I don’t want to grade any more crappy essays, which gives me the motivation.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Problems of prosperity, for the most part. I gave two big, giant public presentations this month.
Last Thursday was the Big Kahuna, a lecture that covered some of my dissertation research. The Institute asked me to develop an hour that communicated my ideas about the Progressive Era. Of course, I wrung my hands for two weeks prior, worried, lost sleep, etc. But, as always happens, I stepped to the podium and, bing! everything fell into place.
I spoke to a packed auditorium—students, the public, and my colleagues. My fellow academics here at the college already think highly of me. But I think I surprised them with the stuff—material, historical pictures, and a homiletic, if not downright enthusiastic presentation.
After that, it’s been just grading. And this other thing . . .
Spring is a tough time of year for me. I think I descend from a line of Neanderthals that spent the winter hunting and keeping the cave safe. Spring came, and those responsibilities shifted to the people hanging out in the cave all winter. Spring was our time to hibernate.
As the days get longer, I begin to feel as if I want to crawl under a rock. As I look back, I realize that I’ve made all my big, life-changing decisions in the Spring. I never knew where the itchies-and-scratchies—to travel, take on new tasks, start off on new directions—came from. But now I get it.
The days get longer and a heavy sadness falls on me. Some might call it depression, that fits. I’m bipolar any damn way. But I think it’s more about processing the things I’m doing and the world around me. I find myself unable to get out from under thoughts, worries, regrets. Sometimes, I start crying and can’t see how life makes any sense.
Shit, a couple of years ago, as my friend Joachim—more of a brother to me than my own—was dying, I wound up in the nervous hospital. That’s a story all its own, and a funny one looking back. I’ll never forget this one guy who was in for alcohol rehab. He found out I was an alcoholic who hadn’t had a drink in over 20 years. He looked at me and said, “What the fuck is in sobriety for me? I mean, goddamn, you haven’t had a drink in two decades and you’re in here with all these fucking loons!”
Ah, so true, I said. I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine the horror of having to go through this drunk.”
As I get older, the problem with spring only gets worse. Fortunately, I have some self-awareness about it. I understand that sumpthin ain’t right. I don’t feel the need to string myself up—that’s what got me into the nervous hospital. (Fortunately, I recognized in all that twisted up thinking that suicide was something of an irrational notion…miracles!)
Why do I go into all this now? Well, the beast came in and shat on me today. I couldn’t sleep last night—a sure sign that either a bipolar whatever is starting or my computer’s frizzing out. When I got out and got started on a very long day, I couldn’t shake the weight. And that’s all I can describe it as. Heaviness. Uncontrollable sadness, a hopelessness that I know makes no sense. Everything feels heavy—thoughts, responsibilities, memories, you name it.
If I sound light-hearted about being in a real funk, it’s because I recognize that this is absurd. It’s just a something I have to go through right now. It will end. It doesn’t make sense. It almost always brings me into an existential crisis. Does my life have meaning?
Well, who cares? My inner confusions, short circuits, only change the way I perceive my existence. It doesn’t change the foundations of who I am or what I should be doing. And, again, in the end, who cares? A dog barked in Romania a hundred years ago and caused a thunderstorm in my head today.
Poor O’Kelley’s been through this thing with me for a decade or more. I bet he can set his watch by it.
All that said, and thanks for listening, I have a busy schedule coming up. I am giving a paper at a history conference in March, and another in April. The press wants my dissertation. My CV grows almost on its own.
I also have to look for a job. That’s a long and uncertain road that might lead to disappointment bur for my crappy attitude. I’ll do my best. I’ll interview with gusto. I’ll be the shiniest candidate in the box. But these things are arbitrary. University budgets shrink, there’s a million history doctors out there, and tenure-track jobs are more and more scarce. When I apply, go in for an interview, or whatever, the selection committees have so many qualified candidates to choose from, they only look for reasons not to hire their applicants.
But all is not woe. As I said, I have a good attitude, know the lay of the land, and, better than that, have options that many history doctors don’t have. I have a job. I make great money as an ironworker. I can produce good academic work. I have a place to publish books.
Plus, I don’t necessarily need an academic job. There’s an environmental institute in Gunnison, CO, that needs an executive director. Ten employees, a couple million in operating budget, interns. In addition, I would have to teach two courses at whatever college they’re hooked up with. I can do that. It’s not a tenure-track job, and the executive director position with any nonprofit is changeable and uncertain. But I can do that.
I’m applying this week. So, we’ll see.
So, things are great. I have a hitch in my thinker, but I take that to the mechanic once or twice a month anyway. Kid is happy. My wife loves me. My other kid is figuring her life out. (She’s a roller derby star, by the way.) Nothing is so awful that we can’t make it though with a deep breath and another opinion.
Tell me, my brother, how are things with you?
When I get out out of this funk, I’d like to give you a call. I’ll be coherent then and have the fresh outlook of a redeemed soul. (That’s always the case.) Send me your number. Again, if you haven’t already.
One of the characteristics of the funk, by the way, is forgetfulness. I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I parked the car.