I have called it, The Terrible Transition Year, this year of finishing dissertation, uprooting from home, moving cross-country, and starting a new full-time teaching job. Last year at this time I was in LA for a 7-8 week stay, away from home – which at the time was in Boston – writing dissertation nonstop. I spent the holidays apart from my family and shared in none of my traditional holiday celebrations as I intensely pushed forward to complete the dissertation. After (seemingly) endless edits back and forth with my advisor and second reader, I finished the dissertation just in time to successfully defended it in May.
During most of this dissertation-writing time, I never had the sense that there would be a successful end to it all. I wrote and submitted each chapter-draft always with the underlying fear that I would be told my work was unworthy, my logic lacking, and my thesis unsubstantiated. So I vividly remember the moment (I can actually still feel it) when I got definitive affirmation that my dissertation would reach a successful end. I remember the shock, the relief, and the physiological rush that coursed through my body as I read the words of approval that came in response to my last chapter. I remember my body shooting up off the chair and saying, “No!” as I read the email. It was a “No” of disbelief, as in “Can this really be?!” And it was. And only at that point did I believe my dissertation would be successful.
I got to celebrate the success for what felt like the briefest of moments, on the day of my dissertation defense and graduation day, before shifting my focus to the next hurdle, selling my house in Boston and moving cross-country. After 11 years in Boston, I was moving back home to LA to start a new full-time teaching job. Immediately after graduation I turned my focus to everything entailed in selling a house and moving – decluttering, taking pictures and listing it, getting it ready for open houses, which already made it seem like it was no longer my home, then actually selling it, which meant packing everything up and moving out. I was going “home” to LA, but I had taken for granted the difficulty of leaving my 11-year Boston home. I was ill prepared to say the least. I daily feel the loss.
After a 13-day road trip filled with calls to realtors finalizing the sale of the house in Boston and trying to buy a house in LA, I arrived in LA, set down some stuff, and flew out the next day for two weeks of travel (a board meeting, a conference, and a long overdue visit to a friend). When I returned, I jumped right into prepping for the new courses I would be teaching at Cal State Northridge in the fall semester, which is almost now over. As I sit here writing this post, I am surrounded by the 48 term papers I have left to grade from the Women and Religion courses I taught. With the semester almost over and the end of grading in sight, all I can think of are the countless of things I am behind on in every other area of my life. The many things I have neglected as I worked to survive my Terrible Transition Year.
I use to tell myself that “after dissertation” I would get to be human once again. Getting to be “human” was how I made reference to the return of those missing parts of my life and be-ing I wanted back – the many aspects of life and self I neglected during the dissertation writing season. Things as simple as responding to emails, keeping on top of my Feminism and Religion responsibilities, actively participating in the blog community, sharing time with friends, resting long enough for new thoughts to form…and the more difficult things, like not needing external affirmation to believe that I can produce good work. But that simply hasn’t happened yet – most of those things are still missing from my life. Even though I’m now “after dissertation,” there was no preparing for the toll that transitioning into full-time teaching would take. Never before had I worked so hard only to continue to be so behind on everything. The extent of my neglect of the aspects of life that help me feel human is overwhelming and disappointing.
But the thought that keeps coming into my mind these days is that I am my own problem. This is my life – and this is what I am doing with it. Yes, there are systems and structures at play that are much larger than me, which indeed play their part. I can confirm Mary Daly’s good reasoning in using the word “academentia” to refer to life in the academy. Nonetheless, I also know that I play a great part in who I am within academentia – how I allow it to shape and form me, how I resist it, and, in turn, how I will shape and form it, the small part that is within my realm.
I admit I have felt ungrounded since my return to LA. I have missed my home in Boston and have struggled to be at home here. But I am slowly realizing that The Terrible Transition Year is not created by all the changing factors I detailed above – most of these are outcomes of my own choices. The Terrible Transition Year is due to my own ungroundedness – a state of being I have existed in since I jumped deep into dissertation writing but have only begun to be more conscious of upon my return, when I expected to be able to be “human” again.
My Terrible Transition Year was not created by external forces, primarily, but was a direct result of the realities I help to create. I made choices based on both internal and external pressures and, at times, I chose poorly, contributing to the creation of circumstances that do not foster my humanity. But, the brilliant thing is, I can choose otherwise. I still have the ability to help shape my realities.
“The world can be otherwise.” This is one of the great feminist affirmations that fuel the fires of our activism and our spiritualties. It is about believing in a revolution that begins within oneself and is practiced in community; a turning that does not exempt us from the changes that need to take place, or the community that is required, if a different world is to be made manifest. The means and the ends are one; which means that I cannot compartmentalize my humanity and hope for its return at some later time. And so, here I am, taking a step in that direction, taking some time away from grading to pause and reflect – to be in conversation with myself and my community – in hope that this Terrible Transition Year may come to be a Year of Great Learning for me.
Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill.