Diaphanous Screen

I expected the first day of graduate school to be like any other school day, since I was beginning the Ph.D. program in the same department from which I had just graduated. But as I entered the building to go teach my class – this having been my first act in graduate school – I realized it was not the same. I was a member of the establishment now.

I do not remember which of bell hooks’ essays discusses her depression upon making tenure. This is something which happens to many people. I always thought it was because they could let themselves feel their exhaustion now, and more fundamentally because getting tenure can mean you are stuck where you are: this is your life.

I did not have that last feeling upon making tenure because I experienced my own horrifying “this is your life” moment when I apprehended the values, beliefs and goals of my colleagues at my first academic job. Tenure entrenches you in the establishment, but I liked that because people suddenly started listening seriously to what I said because I was saying it. This was very novel, and fun.

There is, however, something I stopped doing when I got tenure, which I am going to begin doing again: protecting myself against the environment. For years I went to work with a sort of mask on, and a kind of invisible body armor. I dropped this after tenure and in retrospect, it may have been a poor idea.

Dropping body armor meant, among other things, no longer safeguarding a demon-free space. This year I will have light body armor again, a diaphanous screen, a white light.


9 thoughts on “Diaphanous Screen

  1. “Dropping body armor meant, among other things, no longer safeguarding a demon-free space. This year I will have light body armor again, a diaphanous screen, a white light.”

    Beautiful. Just Beautiful!


  2. I think the way the establishment makes tenure as a make you or brake you sucks. While I was growing up, I hardly ever saw my father and that is because he was always writing that one more article. I literally grew up on several college campuses because I would follow my dad to work. I can see why people get depressed once they get tenure, once they say your safe until you apply for full, there is no big party or big celebration….it becomes like a now what?

    Anyway, be-lated congrats on your tenure!!!

  3. Beautifully said, Prof Cero. I call it a “firewall” but “diaphanous screen” is much more poetic. 🙂

  4. Interesting. Lately I have been wondering what I have gotten into. I just left my last job fair for a position here in the Bronx. ESL stuff.

    I got a post from a friend who is working in Germany and may get an appointment at a univeristy here in the states for a semester. A real big deal for his life and work.

    But, at the end of the day it sounded like some distant echoing gargle from a well. Teaching the children in my summer placement is far different than the college classroom. And somehow, I like this reality more.

    I remember some friends saying that that bubbling world of academic chatter was just as real as any other world . . . sometimes I beg to differ.

    So, I feel it. Demons is the right word.

  5. Thanks everybody! 🙂 And yes indeed, some academic chatter is *distinctly* unreal. And the make or break aspect of the tenure system is indeed destructive. People put off living until after tenure, which means until after 40 in many cases, which is too late. I only put off living until after finishing my degree – just couldn’t wait any longer – and paid a certain price for that. However, the correct answer would not have been put it off further, but not to put it off so long.

  6. My belief is that you are emotionally grounded enough to be able to weather whatever may come, even while wearing your diaphanous screen.


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