When I was a teenager, many years ago, my boyfriend’s roommate had a girl he used to call regularly for sex. He would wake up in the morning, and without even leaving his bed, he would call her if he felt a bit horny. She would come over, walk up to his room, they would have sex; and, then, he would manufacture a reason that he had to go somewhere, and she would leave alone.
One day, I overheard him in conversation with a bunch of his male friends, recounting a conversation he had had with her.
“She asked, ‘How come we only date in the daytime?’,” he said.
There was an explosion of laughter in the room.
“Date in the daytime! That’s classic!” said one of his friends.
“She’s your ‘day-time date’!” laughed another.
“Daytime Date” became the name they all called her ever after.
“Somebody should just tell her, ‘Dumb-ass, you are a whore,” said a third guy.
“She’s not even a whore,” said a fourth. “She’s just a stupid slut. Whores get paid better.”
Fast forward several decades. I’ve been an adjunct professor in the Philadelphia area for over 15 years. Adjunct. Contingent. AdCon. Part-time. NTT. Lots of names are used for what I do as a precarious wage-laborer in the edu-factory that used to be academia. Two days ago, I took part in an all-day student evaluation event at one of the universities where I have co-taught a capstone course for three years. At the end of the semester, my co-faculty, a part-time member of the department (I am the “writing consultant” and therefore even more unconnected than she), was told in a very roundabout way that she would no longer be teaching this capstone course. The chairman of the department simply offered her a list of courses and said, “Which would you like for next year?” The capstone course was not among the choices. She was angry about the way she was told. I wasn’t told at all. We continued to teach out the semester, devoting scores of hours to our students and their projects. This full day of evaluations was the culmination of all that work, where all the students from the program presented their projects to the faculty, advisors, and outside critics. From 8 a.m. to nearly 7 p.m., we met with each of the students, reviewed their work, evaluated them. At the end of this very long day, all the students were called back into the great hall, and everyone gathered for a final farewell. It was during this time that the chairman of the department called another member of the department’s teaching staff to the podium. She delivered a speech about my co-faculty, my partner in the class I taught. She spoke of how valuable her contributions to the department were, how although she would no longer be teaching the capstone course, her work in that area had been invaluable. Her students loved her. The department would always be grateful. Then they presented my co-faculty with a bottle of wine. Everyone clapped. Including me. During this whole happening, I stood there, feeling the eyes of my students on me, feeling mortified at my exclusion, with a plastered smile on my face, and a stiffness to my body born of steely determination to preserve some dignity.
At the end of this event, I walked out of the building, alone. I decided to walk home, nearly 2 miles, down Pine Street to the Delaware River. It wasn’t until I was a few blocks from the university that I was able to breathe. And with the breathing came the pain, a sharp kind of stabbing pain in my heart chakra.
“Admit that you are hurt,” I said to myself. “Feel it.”
I kept walking. Feeling it was somehow easier if my legs kept moving me forward. My eyes welled up. I kept walking, wiping the tears away. I felt sick to my stomach from humiliation and mortification.
“Feel it, ” I kept saying to myself. “Feel it. You are allowed to feel it. You have to feel it.”
And then I remembered the Day-time Date. For years, I’ve thought of myself as an academic whore. But I realized, on that walk down Pine Street, that I am not even a whore.
I am academia’s stupid slut.
I arrived home. My body hurt so badly that I simply changed to comfortable old clothes, poured a glass of wine and climbed into bed. The sun was just setting. There was a chorus of voices outside my window – revelers on South Street, joyous and laughing. I closed my windows and willed myself to sleep. It was the only thing I could think of to do.
Waking early the next morning, the first thoughts were of the experience. The next thoughts were ones of gratitude.
“Finally,” I thought. “The crack of the Zen Master’s stick. There’s no turning away from this.”
Yes, I’ve had humiliations before. Yes, for years I have known how little my efforts and dedication are respected. But they’ve been private mortifications — often between me and some departmental “course assignment” person. This event, yesterday, was the most public humiliation I have ever experienced. You can’t pretend after that. So I acknowledged it. I opened myself to feel it fully. But, with the dawning of a new day, I also felt gratitude about the clarity of the lesson.
I believe in the power of positive thought, yet have failed to find ways to apply those practices to my experiences in adjunct academia. This clarity gives me a day-glo red sign of what I do NOT want. It is a moment of pivoting. What DO I want? That’s the next step, isn’t it — to define what I want in a way that I can energetically work toward. I knew I had to look for experiences in my life that provided examples of the respect I want. And in that very next day, I had the experience I sought.
I have a small, low-budget, arts organization. That next morning, I was working with an artist who also directs a gallery; he helps me hang my gallery’s shows because he is much better at it than I am. We worked for a few hours that morning, and, slowly, the art took shape on the walls. It was a student show — my students. We would have their visual art on the walls, and one of my students, a singer/songwriter, would perform. A student from the Creative Writing MFA program would read her work. I felt a lot of happiness as the evening approached. I prepared the space, set out the refreshments. People began arriving. Students came with their friends and family. Joy and excitement filled the room. The student who sang did a phenomenal job and got loud and appreciative applause. The writer received a lot of appreciation.
“You are a wonderful woman,” one parent said to me. “Just look at what you’ve done here.”
“This is what they have done,” I said. “I just gave them some encouragement and a space in which to do it.”
“Exactly,” she said. “Which is what makes you wonderful.”
I walked home from the gallery after the event ended. It was pouring rain. Lightning flashed across the sky. I got soaked. I was full of joy. Two days. Two entirely different experiences stemming from the loving efforts I put forth. One, the experience like that of sleeping with someone who has disdain and disrespect for you. The other, the experience of giving and receiving joy and love, being uplifted by a human exchange. Which of those experiences do I want in my life? I choose day number two. Of course I do. We all do. So how do I apply these practices of positive empowerment to creating a life where day number two is my reality and day number one recedes into the distant past? I want to work with young people. I want to teach, to educate, to interact with other people. I want to support and encourage new art, new creativity, new thinking. I want to do it joyously and successfully. I want to have “right livelihood” and a life of abundance and well-being. I want us all to have that. With so many conversations about the negativity of our experiences in adjunct academia, we may very well be re-enforcing more of the same. At least according to those who believe that “you get what you think about”.
As an individual, I want to begin consciously shifting the focus, now that I have had such a powerful experience of what I do NOT want, to what I DO want. How do I do that? And then, by extension, how might I provide some perspective on how we do this as a population of scholars and educators? We have great power, great positive influence on the world. The question now is, “How do we stop being the ‘day-time dates” of academia and honor ourselves? How do we honor the love and dedication we give in such a way that the results of our talents is a powerfully positive one?”
First, stop answering that telephone call and delivering ourselves up to our own mortification. Second……? That’s where I am now. Yes, I’ve been here before. But I’m back with more determination, armed with both the worst and best experiences of my recent life.
Since we’re about to head out on the road with the documentary, I welcome a conversation about this — and invitations from others who might want to have this conversation as part of our film. We can certainly document the suffering; there is plenty of it. But can we begin now to deliberately contemplate ways of shifting this paradigm toward a new and positive reality? I’m not talking about unions, or legislation, or walk-outs, exactly. I’m talking about the kind of energetic shift that creates new realities. Like the day the Berlin Wall came down. It was as if the entire reality of East Berlin, of East Germany and its military, just melted away. People tore at the wall with tools, with their bare hands; and then, the wall was gone. When a large enough group of people stop believing in their own oppression, stop accepting it as reality, enormous change takes place. I remember that day. I remember being stunned at the new reality that was taking shape right before my eyes as I watched the television screen. That’s the kind of shift I’m talking about here.
Oh…and whatever happened to that poor, disrespected girl from all those years ago? I found her on Facebook. She’s a happily married woman. A mother and grandmother. She looks glowingly beautiful and satisfied with life. I am overjoyed to know it, and ready to follow her lead. All sorts of possibilities await.