Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guilt on the line

My parents just called. I think it's been, what, a month since I called and talked to them? I guess it's nice that they wanted to check in and make sure that I haven't died and my corpse been gnawed on by my cats, but eh. Why does their way of showing their care and concern for me have to come in the form of constant nagging? Do you have a job, why don't you have a pt job yet, can you still pick up something at the uni, do you have health insurance, what are you going to do about health insurance between now and winter, what about your student loans, what about retirement, have you mailed off any of your stories yet*, why haven't you heard back about those stories yet, have you applied to any fall jobs yet, when is the list of full-time jobs coming out, is your car still running, you know if you are having any trouble with your car you can have your brother look at it, how are those cats doing.

Seriously people. I keep telling you that I have enough money to get by right now and just do my writing. Why do you have to raise my anxiety level and make me feel like OMG I need to apply to McDonalds right now tonight to cover the rent OMG OMG where's my health care and retirement savings wow what a total loozer OMG!

I can't talk to them right now without feeling like a total failure. And I think this is a game I can't win --- if I get some sort of full-time job they'd move right up the pyramid to my savings and retirement and down payment on a house and getting a husband for the proper production of 2.5 children.

Last time I called them I felt so crappy --- I think I said this before ---- that I couldn't make myself write, couldn't get out of bed, spent hours staring at crappy part time want ads for receptionists and telemarketers with loathing. I just want to cry.

*that's what they call academic articles. And they know that they're not fiction, but maybe they are thinking that it works in the level of newspaper stories, because they do not understand that these things have a slow turnaround at all.


Anonymous said...

I am sorry.

I have no idea what your family communication is like and maybe the following is not possible: Can't you just tell them how their questions make you feel and ask them to stop it, at least for a while?

Feminist Avatar said...

Well to be fair, I barely understand how my 'stories' have such a slow turnaround. ;)

Bardiac said...


Unfortunately, I think you're right about the stakes moving up, no matter what the job situation.

I think in my Mom's case, she has a lot of fear that I'm going to just be in a horrible situation, and she won't be able to do anything about it. Happily, that fear started to subside a bit, finally.

That doesn't really help my frustration, or yours in your case.


medieval woman said...

Ugh - I'm so sorry about this. I agree with waterkant - could you maybe tell them to lay off/back off a bit because their phone calls are a bit like interrogations and they stress you out? I understand if you can't - i.e., if it would just make things worse...


Phul Devi said...

So sorry to hear about the family stress-fest. It sounds really hurtful -- and familiar, as well. I hope the irritation and anxiety subsides.

And yes: taking time away from working a crappy job, in order to have some space to think, to write, to think some more, and to read, is exactly what you should be doing. They don't get that, but we all do -- and it shows how much discipline you have that you worked out and carried through with this plan.

(But... I have to laugh at "stories." When I published my first article, I gave my mother an offprint. She ever after referred to it as "your little pamphlet.")

Maude said...

Squadrato--love the "your little pamphlet" thing!

Sis, even though I'm starting a job in the fall, my parents STILL grill me with those same questions. They don't even trust me to pay my rent on time, though I've never given them indication that I wouldn't or don't.

My father keeps asking when my "novel" or screenplay that will be famous will come out so he can retire. Uh, Dad, not a creative writer. Can I quote DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and say, "parents just don't understand"?

Belle said...

No advice, just sympathy and hugs.

LenapeGirl said...

Had the same situation for years. Finally, someone said something to me that helped: "Why give someone the power to make you feel so bad?" Think about it!

Tree of Knowledge said...

Ugh. This sucks. I recommend chocolate because I have no idea how to help otherwise. My parents get academia, but my grandparents don't. I just avoid the topic with them or tell them what they want to hear; I don't lie, I just generalize and then ask them about my sister's baby. Distraction seems to help.

Anonymous said...

I can identify with your parents and you here. As an academic -- first in her family to go to college, let alone get a Ph.D. -- I definitely remember (and still, to some extent experience) staring agape at the abyss that separated my parents' expectations from my own. They would constantly ask me things like "when are you going to finish?" "why is it so hard to find work after all those years of schooling?" and, of course, "what do you mean you're not making a lot of money, you're a doctor?" Or, then there's "how come you can't just get a job right after grad school" and "why did you have to take out so many student loans while you were teaching during your Ph.D. program? Didn't they pay your tuition?" I always felt, for years, like The Family Failure or Oddball because for so many years I couldn't afford things and had to rely on charity. I remember one uncle quizzing my husband and I (in a really annoying way) about why, in the year 2004, we didn't have a digital camera. "Nobody buys film anymore!" he said, totally oblivious to the fact that I was a graduate student (and my partner, a recently minted MFA) was teaching ESL. Not exactly keeping up with the Joneses.

BUT, as a parent: I can say, for certain, that your parents' concerns are coming from a place of love. Unconditional love. The kind of love that kills you. It's called Crazy Love, and I know because I have it for my son. Granted, he's only three, but I am ALREADY stressed about how his life will unfold. Will he be happy? Will he find love? Will he make good money so he never EVER EVER has to worry about paying rent?

I could go into detail...but I've already hijacked your comments.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I can certainly identify with your post, as well as the comments. This is why I live 2000 miles away from my parents and rarely call them or visit them. They just don't get it. Neither of them even went to college, so when I went to college it seemed like a funny bit of excess to them. Going on to grad school was completely a silly, superfluous business. I still get "when are you going to get a real job?" Or alternately, after I had my son, "Why don't you just stay at home with the kid and not worry about having a career?" Now that I'm pregnant again, my mom assumed I'd give up teaching altogether. Imagine her surprise when I said I wouldn't.

Basically, I've learned not to talk to my parents about work and just focus on their grandkid(s). When we talk about my career, the chat only ends in tears. Fortunately, they've given up asking about it for the most part, and I'm not bringing it up. Perhaps diversion is the best course in these situations. Anyway - you're not alone!

fatedplace said...

Thankfully I have siblings and time zone differences to buffer such anxiety laden conversations. I appreciate your situation. If it weren't for my ft working sugar momma, I'd be the one making those calls. Reminds me of a Chronicle article I read all about graduate students and younger faculty and stress. Mainly we have a lot of it--and it isn't going away any time soon. I know more than a few department chairs, however, who take anxiety meds to dull that pain. I guess it's becoming the academic way. Hope you find something more delightful to be distracted by this week!

the rebel lettriste said...

I love the shit about the "stories!" (And like you need a reminder from them to submit your articles!)

My brother likes to sigh dramatically about how I just "refuse" to move back home and help take care of our parents. It doesn't matter how many times I explain that I am not refusing--really, if I could get a job in Midwestern City, I would, but that decision is not up to me exclusively. And if I try to start thinking that it IS up to me and my incredibly stressful labors, I'll go mad. "But when do you think you'll be able to move," he repeatedly asks. Argh.

At any rate, you do NOT need to work at McDonald's.

I offer this story, from a Beloved Colleague with her own crazy family. Her mother gets all put out about going to social events where the other mothers brag about their grandchildren, etc. But now she says, "well! ANYBODY can have a child. But not everyone can earn a PHD!!"

Remind yourself that you have a considerable set of accomplishments already.

Poppy Red said...

Like poncha23, I too, am not only the first PhD in my family, but was a first-generation college student. Also it sounds like possibly your parents are (or grew up) working class, like mine did, Sisyphus? It presents its own interesting challenges and it's nice to read about other people's experiences (even though, of course, I wish none of us had to deal with it!)

If you felt brave, you could write a letter (NOT an email!) to your parents, explaining your plans and asking for their support and telling them how their incessant questioning not only inhibits your productivity but also makes you not want to call them. This could be disasterous, though.

OR you could lie to them. I don't usually advocate lying, but sometimes a little lie is best for everyone. Next time they ask about a part-time job, say, "Oh, didn't I tell you? I can't believe I forgot the mention it! The uni was able to give me a small fellowship for me to write full-time. After all, they consider my research to be work, as well as my teaching."

It took me a long time to get over the feeling that I should just get a job at McDonald's. I totally understand where you're coming from.