An Open Letter to Women On The Tenure Track
I know how you feel.
I know that you stayed up too late last night to solve a problem that proved itself to be only more cruelly recalcitrant in the cold light of today. I know that you’ve got an inbox full of not only formal rejections, but informal messages that what you are doing is not good enough. From people you don’t even know. From people you do know.
I know that you miss the people you used to work with so badly that you can taste it. You used to be somebody’s favorite grad student and then a post-doc worth her weight in gold. You used to be the best thing that ever happened to your department. Now you’re a risky hire. Now when you create something exceptional there’s no one down the hall to show it to and no one who is grateful for it. Those people have all moved on and are suddenly too busy. You are supposed to be too grown up to crave their approval anyway. Instead you put the thing on your desk, stare at it, and begin to wonder if it’s any good after all. To wonder how in the world you could possibly make another, and another and another fast enough to fill the blurry quota that you’ve been given.
I know you feel like you are putting nickels from your soul into an out-of-control parking meter, trying to buy more time in five-minute increments and digging in the bottom of your purse worried that you are running out of change. But I also know that what you are actually doing is putting those nickels into a low-risk bank account that will come back to you with spectacular interest if you can just hold on for ten or so years. I know you don’t believe that that this is true, or even that I really mean it.
I’m so sure that I know how you must feel.
Or maybe I don’t know how you feel. Maybe this is actually an open letter to the me that existed sixteen years ago. Maybe I’d walk up to that terrified, exhausted, lonely and underweight young woman and hand her this letter in a pink envelope. Maybe I’d lead her to her kitchen table, sit her down and let her read it while I made Cream of Wheat, just like the January that her dog died when she was little, and which is easy to eat even when the world makes you want to vomit. Maybe I’d bandage her ravaged cuticles, wipe the blood off of her keyboard and shut the damn computer off. Maybe I’d go and sit by the door of her basement apartment, turn the radio on low just for noise, and position myself protectively between her and the world so that she might crawl into bed and finally get some sleep. And eventually wake up having dreamed of flowers.
Hold on a sec — it turns out that I know how Marie Curie must have felt too.