This is a love letter to…

This is a love letter to my colleagues in Asian American Studies, and no, it is not the wine talking -- I only had half a glass at dinner with you tonight, and that was five hours ago. Though it was lovely, that half glass, and the dinner at La Sardine, and the conversation over oxtail soup and gnocchi, charcuterie and souffle (not all together). It was the first such dinner, celebrating the first speaker for our nascent program, and perhaps the last, given the way the state budget is going, but I hope not. I hope that it is only the first of many, and that we will be having dinner together for months and years to come (and Kevin and Gayatri too; we missed you). In the old days, they say the professors not only worked together, but ate and drank together too, late nights at the bar tossing theories around, backyard barbecues with the wives and kids. Those days are gone, and in many ways for the best, because you can be a little too close to your colleagues. When the department expects that your play will be the same as your work, that seems unhealthy, in a myriad of ways. Not to mention deeply sexist. But still, there is something to be said for eating and drinking together on a regular basis. This is a part of collegiality, I think. Not just shared governance, or even shared respect for a difficult job done under almost-impossible conditions. But the friendly give-and-take of wit and laughter and ideas, the generosity that allows for the small indiscretions brought on by half a glass of wine and a full stomach. These interactions are what I have been craving since I first walked under the stone gargoyles and Gothic arches at Chicago. The life of the mind among others of my kind. At the talk today Rinku talked about that moment of racial consciousness, when she realized that race -- her own race -- did matter, and that there was a place, among other people of color, where she could belong. This is not the first time I have felt that sense; I have belonged to a series of communities, each meaningful and important in their way. Queer folks. Poly folks. Sex writers. Science fiction writers. South Asians. Sri Lankans. Tamils. But the one that I have longed to join, that I have actively worked for years upon years to join is this one, the fellowship of academics. And it is no small thing that not only have I found an incredibly welcoming home among you, but that this group shares overlap with my ethnic identity. I feel doubly at home, doubly blessed. Though of course I have moments of doubt. More than moments. When I go to a conference and for the first time hear Helen talk about her work, and am struck by how brilliant she is, and how much I wish I had written what she had written, had thought what she had thought. (I am so sorry that I have not read the work the rest of you have done. I blame the baby. I blame the baby for everything; it is very convenient that way, and soon I will have to have another baby just so I may keep that excuse. But I will read your writings soon, I swear. And I am already sure that I will find them brilliant.) As I was saying, I am envious of Helen's brain. And that's when I remember that I am here at UIC as a spousal hire, and that if it weren't for Kevin, I wouldn't be here at all. If I did a national search, I might find another job -- maybe a better job -- but maybe not. I got a B+ in my literary theory course, after all. And I don't actually like writing critical papers much (or at least not if I have to put a lot of theory in). And HarperCollins cancelled my novel, for reasons too long and tedious to get into now, except to say that maybe there were market pressures, but maybe it just wasn't good enough. Four years later, I still don't know. And instead of writing another book, a possibly better book, I have had two children. Which is mostly a matter of timing, turning thirty-five and panicking, but still. It is unfortunate from a career standpoint. And so here I stand, Assistant Professor yes, but with that modifier 'Clinical' hanging before it, which confuses most, but says to those in the know (and you are all in the know) that she is not on the tenure-track. She is other, different. Lesser. There are moments when I am tempted to say to hell with Kevin, the kids, the house -- let me go on the national job market and find out, once and for all, just how good I am. How much I am worth. Except that, of course, that is insane. And the market is a terrible indicator of worth. And it's a terrible year to be on the market. Not to mention, I haven't published anything much lately. Academia makes us crazy, makes us desperate to prove how 'serious' we are. Makes us think we should be working harder, should be working all the time, every waking hour, and to hell with the kids and the house and the partner. I am not the only one to fall prey to this, although perhaps you will grant that the whole spousal hire thing is just a little soupon of extra awkwardness. But this was to be a love letter, not a letter of complaint. What I want to say is that despite it all, you have all, each and every one of you in your own quirky academic ways, been so kind and welcoming. You have gracefully ignored my stumbles over policy and protocol; you have refrained from commenting on my need to mention my credentials, over and over again. (Did you know I have a Ph.D. I know it's in fiction, but it's a real Ph.D., I swear. They let me teach literature classes, at least the lower-level ones. And did I mention that I went to Chicago for my undergrad? Let me tell you again. (Who cares where you did your undergrad? is what you generously do not say.)) Also, I think I talk too much. I'll get over it someday, I promise. And if I don't, I will feed you delicious things (at the dinners I imagine us having together someday, not too often, but often enough), and perhaps you will continue to forgive me. This is all ridiculously unprofessional, but this is where being primarily a creative writer rather than a lit crit person might come in handy, since who expects writers to be professional? (If it bothers you, please call this letter fiction and forget about it.) The economy is terrible, the university is out of money, and it might make sense for you to look for better, more stable, jobs. But speaking purely selfishly, I hope you stay. I have only started to get to know you.

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