Monday, June 03, 2013

My Latest Big Life News

I've written and rewritten this post so many times.  I've typed out words and deleted them.  Even after getting this thing completely written, I've come back and tinkered with it several times.  I've thought about what I would write while I'm riding the subway or walking to school or even trying to fall asleep.  Most of the time I'm really happy to share things with you guys, but this news feels...bittersweet, I guess.  And kind of embarrassing.  But also kind of happy.

So I'm going to start out with a story that I may or may not have told you all before.  When I was 12 my mom and I went to England to visit my mom's best friend who had just moved to Canterbury with her two daughters.  While we were there we went to The National Gallery in London.  I don't remember much about being 12.  I remember I had a gray t-shirt with kitty faces on it that I wore all the time (clearly not much has changed).  I remember I wore glasses and that my hair was really short and really blonde (it has faded to an ash blonde now).  But here's what jumps out in my memory:  while we were at the museum I walked up to a painting with my mom and all of a sudden I was struck by something.  I turned to her and said, "Is this the real painting?"  What I meant by that was, this wasn't a copy of a painting, right?  Or like, a reproduction or a picture?  This was the real thing?  She said yes it was.  And I was enthralled.  This is that painting:

Vincent van Gogh

I couldn't believe that I was looking at something that Van Gogh had touched.  I could see the brushstrokes, the heavily laid on impasto.  He chose those colors, that paint.  He breathed on this canvas.  He put himself into it.  I remember going to the gift shop and asking my mom to buy me a poster of the painting, which she did.  It hung in my bedroom for several years.  From that trip on there was some sort of fire lit in me.  I wanted to look at paintings.  In high school the fire burned brighter.  I became totally obsessed with Michelangelo (mostly his sculpture) and I devoured books on him.  My college application essays were about him.  When I got to The University of Chicago I declared my major immediately.  I was going to be an art historian.

For me my path seemed completely linear.  Get a BA from UChicago, get an MA, get a PhD, work in a museum.  At Chicago I took so many art history classes.  I explored everything from ancient Egypt to post-war Russia.  And strangely I felt myself totally drawn to American art.  I took a class about the visual culture of New York and the nineteenth century (and some early twentieth century) stuff hooked me.  I fell hard for these guys.  Homer, Bellows, Whistler, Sargent, Henri, LaFarge, Sheeler.  But it was when I started at Case for my MA and got into the research for my methods paper on Eastman Johnson that I knew that this was my field.  I had a great advisor who nurtured all of my interests and guided me.  And I knew that it was time to look for a doctoral program.  I got into a couple, but when my acceptance to the CUNY Graduate Center came I knew I should be in New York to study art  that was mostly made in New York, and, for the most part, that is still housed here.

You see what I mean?  A linear path.  But then something happened that sort of threw a wrench in things...but in the best way possible.  And you all know that story if you know me.  You know that I met Ben last year and that he sort of swept me off my feet.  We fell in love, and on a visit home from NYC he got down on one knee in an art museum and asked me to marry him.  And I'm crazy about him and he's amazing and I wouldn't have things any other way.

But let me backtrack a minute.

When I got to New York I knew something was wrong.  I didn't want to believe it, actually.  That fire I was talking about?  That one that lit inside me for Van Gogh and burned brighter for Michelangelo and became supernova-sized for all my American painters?  That fire diminished to a candle-sized flame.  During my first semester here the little flame started to flicker.  I was unhappy.  I was unhappy with New York.  I was unhappy with a lot of things in my new life.  I have so many problems with things and I'm not going to outline them here.  But I was so unhappy that I started to change a little.  I wasn't myself.  Any little thing could set me off.  I was combative toward the people who loved me and Ben and I fought over the phone.  When the semester finally ended I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went back home.  While I was there, everything waiting for me back in New York just seemed like a nightmare.  I was home in Cleveland and I felt pretty strongly that that's where I belonged.  And then my grandmother died.  She died and the time moved so quickly and all of a sudden I was back in NYC and I felt worse than I ever had.  My mood deteriorated.  I lost weight.  I couldn't sleep.  The flame flickered and flickered.  

And then one day Ben and I argued.  It was in February and it was early in the morning before we both had to be at work.  Finally he said to me, "Can't you just come home?  That place is terrible for you."  I had actually never thought about that before.  Come home?  But what about my path?  That linear path thing?  What about that?  So I thought about it.  I talked to people.  I assessed my feelings.  By March I was ready to talk to my advisor about it.  When I finally did, after many shenanigans, I learned that if I took a leave of absence I could return after either one or two semesters to my teaching position at Hunter College and to my fellowship money and tuition remission.

All of that up there that you just read, that was me telling you that I'm leaving New York and going back to Cleveland.  I was offered an extra fellowship for the summer and I took it.  I'm working full-time to complete its hours.  My lease ends on July 31st, and by then I hope to be moved into a place in CLE with Ben.  I felt that I had to explain that stuff up there because of the reactions I've been getting from my classmates about my decision.  In case you're wondering, the reaction from them is sheer horror.  A lot of people simply don't understand why I'm leaving.  Because I'm so far along in the program (I think I might be farther along than anyone I entered with), if I just kept going I could probably take my orals by the end of 2015 and start writing my dissertation soon after.  But I'm so unhappy with things here that I just can't bear the thought of another semester.

Q:  Couldn't Ben just move here?
A:  Yes, but New York is astronomically expensive and we'd basically waste the money we already have saved just on rent.  Also, I'm unhappy with so many things aside from being away from him that I don't know if his moving here would fix anything.

Q:  Are you going back?
A:  My completely honest answer is that I have no idea.
Q:  Is doctoral work too hard for you?  (yes, I've been asked this question)
A:  No.  I've gotten an A in every class I've taken here (A- in German).  I've formed good relationships with, and genuinely like, many of the faculty members.  The coursework is not too hard for me.

Q:'re leaving for a boy?
A:  Short answer, yes.  Long answer, Ben wants to spend his life with me.  I don't know why, but I'd like to encourage that behavior.  And I'm not being a good partner here.  I'm sad and I'm lonely and I'm irritable.  I feel that I need to nurture this relationship because it's one that I'm going to be working on for the rest of my life, and he is who I need to lean on when things are hard.  And visa versa. 

Q:  Do you have a job lined up in Cleveland?
A:  No.

Q:  Are you going to look for one?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Are you going to look for one in a museum?
A:  No.  I need to be out of the art world for a while and see how I feel about it.

Q:  Will you be happy outside of academia?  (I get this one a lot)
A:  Realtalk:  Academia is all I know.  Will I be happy?  I honestly don't know.  I do worry about that.  I worry that I'll miss all the mental stimulation, the ideas, the writing, the arguments in seminars, etc.  Because I do love that stuff.  But I want to try to live in the real world like a real person. If you're in academia now you know what I mean by that.

Okay, so, that's about as in depth about this as I can go.  And if you read all of that, thank you.  I've wanted to do this post for a while now but I was sort of afraid to.  Like I said, this is bittersweet.  I'm embarrassed that I'm "quitting," although technically I'm just taking a leave and nothing is official right now.  But I'm happy that I finally did make a decision, and that the decision involves Cleveland and my family and my fiance.  

I'll end this by saying that every day is still a struggle.  I actually cried all through writing this post.  I also had a bad afternoon yesterday thinking about all of this stuff when my friend mentioned the College Art Association conference in Chicago next year and that we should go together.  That really struck a chord (in a bad way) with me, and I cried alone in my room thinking that I don't belong at CAA.  I don't belong in academia right now.  I don't know where I belong.  I've told Ben that whenever I seem like I'm wavering he needs to say five words to me:  you made the right decision.  And he has said those five little words dozens of times over the past couple months.  When I call him crying, when we're together and in bed at night and I squeeze his hand, when I sigh and say things like, "I love paintings, but..."  So I'm still grappling with this.  There's a bump in my road or a sharp turn in my path or something.  But I'm just trying to find my happy.  And I hope I'm getting close to it.

I'll never stop loving these things.  I think I just need to find my way.

Thanks for all your support over the last year, guys.  You know who you are and you'll never know how much I've appreciated it.

Until next time.


  1. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    and kitty snuggles

  2. Follow your heart! Life is too brief to be so unhappy. You'll find your path - it's out there. Being with those you love will lighten your burdens and gladen your heart! The art world isn't going anywhere. Be happy and the rest will fall into place. You'll see! Sending you my best wishes.

    ~ Karli

  3. There are times when a person has to listen to his wishes, take a break... You are clever and full of life, all will turn out fine. Besides, the academia is not going anywhere ;)) I wish you luck!

  4. Good luck, & thank you for sharing. I too struggle with finding "my happy" & when you have another person to consider in your life path (in my case, my husband) the decision can be even harder because it's not just about you anymore there is another ones happiness that is in play here & because they are a part of you it's a part of your happiness. It's a very confusing & difficult ocean of emotions that can be overwhelming. Hang in there & take your time. I think stepping back & looking in from the outside is exactly what you need to do, you are very brave to do this & I admire you for it.

  5. Oh what a hard decision for you! You are so bright and talented and you have a great partner. You'll find your happy place.

  6. I'm no Ben but 'you made the right decision'!! Life is so short.. You can't go on living being unhappy! Best of luck to you!! :)))). Hugs :))

  7. I know this was a hard choice but sometimes life takes turns that you dont expect. Life is about being happy and doing the things that make you happy and keep you healthy. I hope that it brings you everything you hope for and it's sometimes good to take a break. If you go back to it, you do and if you don't, you dont. Follow your heart.-L.

  8. Do what you know to be right. Following your heart is hard sometimes, in a world that is all about following your head, but it sounds like you know what you want right now, and are going for it. The doctoral program isn't going anywhere. You can always come back! There was a 90 year old who graduated from Harvard a few years ago, so it is NEVER too late. A doctorate doesn't make your love for art more valid, just like not getting it (now) doesn't mean you love it any less. Trust yourself, you are the expert on your own life. And always remember that we've got your back, and support you!

  9. You made the right decision.

    It is possible for you to return if you decide that's what you want. So you can actually take a break and think all this out, and not burn bridges behind you. What a gift!

    Go for it!

  10. I have never met youbut have been reading your blog.for over a year. you have so made the right decision....I can in the way this post was.written vs past NY posts have been written. you have so definitely made the right decision. and congratulations because.I know it was.a.hard decision to make...

  11. This gave me chill bumps, following your path is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. Maybe you do return, maybe you don' you, whatever that entails and you, your loved ones, and the world will all benefit. Congrats!!!!

  12. Girl, I've known you through this blog for a decently long time, and I can tell just by the way you write, and when we chit chat that Ben is the best thing that's happened to you. He makes you happy. Jobs come and go. Schools will always accept brilliant minds. But finding The One only comes once in a lifetime. You did the right thing, in this, I think. Your health was telling you all along what your only real decision was.

  13. Good luck. There are no easy answers, but happiness is always the better choice.

    Also, you are rocking the hell out of that yellow dress in the photo with the painting of the wrestlers(?).

  14. Today it seems that society and people don't want you to be happy. Career is much more important than love and happiness. I however do not agree in the slightest. This is your only life (as far as I know) and you have got to be happy. There is no point in being unhappy. So just go for it. You're worth it.

  15. I actually breathed a sigh of relief for you when I read have sounded so unhappy lately. There is no shame in taking a break or changing paths if what you are doing isn't good for your happiness or your relationship. Don't let your colleagues trivialize your reasons - love should always come first. The rest will fall into place.

  16. You are going to be JUST FINE. Take it from me. I'm 43. Until I was about 22 I was on my own academic linear path, and also got to grad school (with a National Science Foundation fellowship, no less) and it was not good. That was NOT the place for me or the path for me. It wasn't too hard, it was just all wrong. Every single thing about it other than the campus sushi bar and downtown Seattle was wrong. Maybe I wished it into being and forced things and missed the real signals early, I don't know. In any case, in the last 20 years I had some jobs, got a professional degree (that pays a hell of a lot more than my former academic field would have), regained some of my former interests, but in a way where they can be part of a happy life, got married, etc. Things worked out, though I still have self-discovery and life's work discovery ahead of me. I think that what I did, and what you are doing, is NORMAL. You'll find out what you need to do, you'll be just fine.

    Also, I agree with Sarah above. So much of life today is about forcing things, or "leaning in" or whatever other BS women are supposed to force themselves into to please someone else. No. We get this one life. Don't screw it up by forcing years of unhappiness. Go live. You sound like a smart, sensible gal, you'll figure it all out. Be patient until you do.

  17. I am so unbelievably happy for you right now. I know how hard a decision like this is to make and I have so much respect and joy for you for actually making it. I've been in a similar situation and want you to know that real life comes back. You start to love things again and feel happy not just in short bursts but a general happiness for life. Sometimes you love the same things and sometimes it's new things, but ultimately you start to feel like yourself again.

    Best of luck to you and Ben and I can't wait to hear about your new life. <3

  18. Look, I know we don't know each other, but I've followed you since the beginning of this blog, and when I read this post I was so RELIEVED for you. You are making the right decision. And you aren't setting a line in the sand that you can't cross back over. This isn't about choosing a boy over your school; it's about choosing happiness.

    I understand the uncertainty and the doubt and the feelings of guilt and the people who don't understand because I experienced that too when I had to take a break from school. But it was the right thing to do. I felt pretty ashamed about it for a while. But it was the right thing to do. In every area of my life - education, friendships, relationships, family, happiness, health, passion - it was the right thing to do. And from everything you've been saying on this blog since you've been in New York, this is the right thing for you to do. Good luck with everything. I am wishing you the best and knowing it will happen for you. Don't beat yourself up; instead, enjoy that you have made the hard, strong, right decision to be happy.

  19. Maureen in RochesterJune 3, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    You are doing a very smart, brave thing. Taking a break and getting some distance from school/NY will give you clarity and perspective. Take your time and trust your instincts. I have been following your blog for a couple of years now and I agree with terrenity above in feeling relief reading your post today. Sending supporting thoughts to you...

  20. BRAVO! I normally don't comment much, but it sounds like you're following your heart...and sometimes that's the hardest thing to do. I think you're very brave, and I'm very happy for you!

    Your whole post brought a smile to my face and resonated pretty strongly with me. I was bitterly unhappy and depressed in law school and decided not to take the bar exam once I graduated. I couldn't bear the thought of becoming a lawyer anymore. And I got reactions pretty much on par with the ones you've been getting. My decision finally brought me peace though--and I hope yours does the same for you :)

    PS: I'm a Clevelander too. Welcome back!!

  21. You are definitely making the right choice! You've seemed so unhappy since you moved to New York and doing something that makes you happy is always the way to go.

    I also used to have a linear path (finish college, go to grad school, be in academia forever) but that all went to pieces and I had a huge meltdown and now I'm enrolled to start community college in the fall to get certified to teach preschool.

  22. Like terrenity, I breathed a sigh of relief for you. I am so happy for you, and for the relief that you must feel (even in the midst of being, at times, less sure). Your happiness and well-being are much more important than letters after your name. I hope that all of the wrapping-up of things in NY goes smoothly, and that the next month+ flies by till you're home!

  23. I haven't commented before, though I love reading your blog - but I just had to here. You are not quitting. You are SO not quitting. Quitting is when you don't do anything. I'm SO happy for you that you're going home. I have hoped you would since the first time you posted that you weren't happy in New York. It's ok to try something and find that it's just not a good fit for you - that's not failure, it's experience and learning. When all of your happiness (Ben, family, friends) are home in Cleveland -- it's not at all strange that you would want to be there. And if you never go back to New York, that's not a failure either - that's doing whatever makes your heart smile, something that I've only recently learned the importance of - at the ripe old age of 36. SO HAPPY FOR YOU. :)

  24. I've been reading your blog for almost two years now, and even though we've never met, I want to say: you're going to be fine. I can tell this partly because I know, from reading your posts, that you are smart, brave, and strong, and you have people you love who love you. I'm also saying it because 14 years ago, I was in your position. I've told you my story in comments over the past year: how I left a PhD program, after a year, at a school 1,000 miles away from family and friends because I was miserable. Like you, I thought I was going to take the linear path and go right from undergrad to get my PhD. As it turned out, what I really wanted to do (and which made me much happier) was get my master's degree in library science. Sometimes the path isn't linear, and that's completely okay. I'll say it again: you'll be fine. You'll find your way, and you will be so much happier.

  25. This was a difficult decision, and I know how it feels. I left a PhD program myself after two years and I felt like a failure. I never returned and I don't know if I ever will go to grad school again.

    In your case, art is your passion and hobby. Maybe if passion becomes a profession, it loses its luster? You may find that you are good and get professional enjoyment of something different, maybe even practical and profitable. You can still enjoy art in your spare time, you don't have to join the ranks of professionals who spend their lives writing books about the works of others, that are read by very few people in the world.. think about it as an opportunity, maybe you are meant to make a real difference elsewhere.

    I don't mean to denigrate art professionals; but I think that there will be enough of them without you, but maybe there is a place in the world that needs you more.

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  27. This is all part of growing up, discovering who you are and what is important to you now. I think you are following your heart and I can hear the relief in your words. Go enjoy your life and be proud that you know who you are and what you need to do in this moment in time. Your grandmother would be proud!

  28. I don't think there's anything wrong with stopping something that you don't feel is making you happy. It's a tough decision to make, but in all of the posts I've read, you've always seemed so much happier when you've been in Cleveland with your family and Ben. I think you're very strong to make such a difficult decision. I wish you nothing but the best. :)

  29. don't let anyone tell you what to feel. to tell you the truth, i have been reading your blog for a little while now and it is apparent that nyc wasn't making you happy. you gave it a good go but going where you are happiest is not a bad thing. your path doesn't have to be linear. i've learned that it rarely is. good luck with the move and looking forward to hearing what you're up to next.

  30. Hi! I don't think I have ever posted a comment before, but I have been following your blog for, I don't know, at least a year! Anyway, life is short, and you should do what feels right. Why waste time being miserable? You've already demonstrated that you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to, so it's not like you're going to end up in some ditch somewhere! I say congratulations to you!

  31. I think you should consider becoming an art teacher in middle school or high school! There are kids out there who are just like you were when you were 12, and they need someone to encourage them and teach them. You've already taught me something about Christina's World! A print is hanging on my in-law's dining room wall, and they call it "that girl climbing up the hill"! (sorry to horrify you with such blasphemy)

  32. Tough decision to make- I think you're strong and brave to make the one you did. I made the same decision just last month (coming from an MA program in which I'd finished the coursework at the top of my class, and was actually pretty close to finishing my thesis), and have struggled with low self-esteem since making that call. There certainly is a psychological cost to quitting, although I think there was a much bigger one to staying (not to mention the physical toll it was taking). I found myself getting sick to death of the egoism involved in academia; it's also rife with interpersonal issues. In that respect, re-entering "the real world" is a big relief.

    If ever you find yourself doubting, have a look at this list of "100 Reasons NOT to go to Grad School". It struck close to home for me:


I love, love, love your comments, guys! Thanks so much for leaving them! I try to respond to questions either in the comments section or in forthcoming posts, so check back later!