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: So...you'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?
Q: Are you going to look for one?
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.