Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why does every coffee shop have that one ANNOYING guy?

Firstly, yay! not writing this at some obscene hour at night (Niku's weaned, so it's just getting up two or three times to shift his legs off my head and his head back to his pillow). Secondly, boo! writing this even though I have the rare chance to work three hours in one sitting and should be writing a book review whose deadline already passed. But it's precisely that kind of time-management induced guilt that fuels this post.

Jaspret is home this week, so yesterday I decided to take the book (The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India by Sumathi Ramaswamy - really good for anyone interested in Indian nationalism, bazaar art, and the conflicting gender demands of divine and domestic goddess-ness by the way) to a local coffee shop - a luxury I definitely took for granted in my Irvine days. I was happily settled on a comfy couch, peppermint mocha at my side, reading and underlining and writing, when I was interrupted by THAT GUY. We all know who I'm talking about. In Irvine (Jamie Ortize can vouch for me!) it was "The Professor." In LA, it was "The Industry Know-it-all." The man who has made a particular coffee house his own private kingdom, over which he rules his (usually female/minoritarian, younger, and hapless) subjects with a constant stream of stories, advice, and general insight into the ways of the world.

Yesterday, the local YL version asked me about the book I was reading. "I can see that you're one of those people who write in books - shame on you," he admonished, reaching over to pick up TIME (the one with Boner's orange face filling the cover). I should have seen it coming right then and there. Shame on me for responding. But respond I did - the gist being that I owned the book (!) and that I was reading it for work. Of course he asked what I do. Of course I said that I teach at UC Irvine. That answer is usually more than satisfactory to the casual interlocutor, any further curiosity stemmed by my adding "in Women's Studies." But not particular fellow.

He continued, "Are you a professor?" I'm always stumped by this one. I don't want to claim a title that is not officially mine, but for most people, the professional differences between a lecturer and a professor are vague and uninteresting at best, so in this case, I answered, "umm... yes... kind of."

"Are you tenure-track?" came back the volley.

"No, I'm a lecturer."

"But you're trying to become tenure-track."

Now this was where things got really interesting and timely since I had just been dealt the blow of a tenure-track job rejection and had been grappling with some really difficult questions about career, motherhood, regional limitations, ambition, and obligations. In a moment I was forced to consolidate all those hours of thinking, and crying, and wavering, and talking, and planning, and replanning, into one short unequivocal answer, since I had zero desire to dive into this miasma again, especially not with this dude.

"Actually, no." He gave me a "I totally don't believe you" look.

"I am committed to teaching, which I believe I can do very productively in this position, while still continuing my research. And I have two small children who I want to care for."

It didn't really come out as clear as that, but you get the idea. At the two small children bit, he gave me a knowing look. You know, "oh, so you're one of those. Those unserious scholars who gives up your intellectual pursuits for... (gasp!) children."

And so, again, I'm left with the slightly bitter (dis)taste of the false promise of "having it all" in my mouth. I really have no answers, but I know a couple of things, made all the more clear for me after this exchange: I have an ethical obligation to the children my partner and I chose to have and who are two of the most amazing individuals I have had the opportunity to get to know; I am completely passionate about my work, particularly teaching; and I have absolutely not enough energy to do all that I want to do for both my family and my work. Short of taking a continuous does of Rockstar (as one of my students famously did before his final exam), what is a woman to do?