I'm not in prison, of course, but I have always loved this song, and as a person outside of the tenure system I can see parallels. There's a great line here: "I gotta tribe that ain't never givin' up on me."
I have a variety of tribes, really, and they overlap in many cases. I have my biological family tribe (and I count my mother and sisters in other tribes), my chosen family tribe, my academic work tribe, my writerly work tribe. There are others, but you get the idea. Recently, I let someone in the outer fringes of two of those tribes in who didn't deserve to be there. And that person got in my head and made me question my place in the two tribes that overlap with theirs--both work tribes.
I've been doing work in both of those tribes for a long time. In many ways, I created the spots in life I have now. In 2004, after ten years of teaching in traditional settings, I packed up what would fit in my Honda Civic (that was brand new that I had no idea how I was going to pay for it), loaded up the cat, and my long-time partner in crime, Stacy (it helps that she's a lawyer), and moved to Little Rock. I was going to give teaching online a real chance. If I didn't truly believe in it enough to invest in it completely, what was the point of doing it at all?
My mantra at the time was "what's the worst that can happen?" They could repossess the Honda. I might have to work outside my field. I could default on my student loans.
So, in other words, the worst was not really that scary. It's not like they could really put me in debtor's prison.
And I had my tribe(s).
So, over the years, I worked really hard and eventually I helped put together a full-time remote faculty description and parameters together. And I got the job. And a colleague of mine also got a full-time spot in her department. And we just kept working.
In the meantime, I was still mentoring junior faculty and new hires--something I've done at multiple job places over the years, including Auburn. The person who got in my head recently was actually someone I mentored about five years ago, about a year before the full-time position came out. I finally got to meet this person a year ago and when we met she said to me "Gosh, you're a lot nicer and fun to hang out with than you used to be. You were a real bitch to me when you were my mentor." So, our relationship started on that note; grooming me to try to be extra accommodating and nice to this person who then proceeded to pump me for information about my self-publishing.
If you know me, you know I self-publish. I've got a variety of peer-reviewed publications on my CV, too, and a couple of years ago I published my first novel, based on a short story that readers kept saying they wanted more of. I put out another novel a year later, and I have a third in the series waiting for a conclusion and some editing and beta reading. (If you're interested in being a beta reader, email me and I'll get you a copy when they are ready: email@example.com ).
So, fast-forward a year later. I looked forward to seeing this person; in the year between visits, we'd been friendly and passed along some leads and tips. Not to go into too much detail, but within 24 hours of reconnecting with this person, I was standing among my faculty-tribe waiting for the shuttle bus, trying to defend myself and my work both in the classroom and outside of it. I was crying (I'm a mad crier). In public.
Normally, I would have said "piss off" before it got to that point. I've questioned myself a lot for not doing so. I was so determined not to leave this person with the impression that I truly am an inflexible ogre that I tried to listen to what she was saying to me. She continued to have no qualms with dressing me down in front of colleagues, to the point that later folks I don't know by name expressed concern about it (as well as some tribe members I've known for years). After a sleepless night, I saw her at breakfast and indicated that I didn't appreciate the way she'd kept coming at me the night before. I meant it when I said to her that some of her comments made sense and I was processing them, but that it wasn't fair to keep coming at me. Within 15 minutes, she'd started in again, telling me that my students leave me awful comments because I'm such a "stickler" and I'm so "inflexible." I told her "when you say this, this is what I hear you telling me. And that image of me from when I was your mentor was five years ago--you don't know what I do in the classroom or who I am."
She continued to cut me off, telling me how it is. How I am.
I told her to stop it. We could talk about other things but I wasn't talking to her about my teaching anymore. So, on the shuttle ride that morning, I got to hear about how she wants her work to be "legitimate," which is why she's not into self-publishing. She wants to make a career of it. Ivy covered office and all that. My experience was lesser than. So, different channel, same program.
Over the last few days, I've questioned a lot about my two work realms. If I were done teaching, I wouldn't have been there. I wouldn't have spent hours piloting Google Hangouts with my students. I wouldn't have reflected on the process and gathered the information to present at conference. And, ultimately, I wouldn't care about the negative comments or students feeling out of the loop in evaluations if I didn't care about my job. Heck, I wouldn't even read the evaluations let alone seek to address student needs or concerns if I didn't care about that work.
And, I wouldn't have friends and tribe members who I've mentored over the years, either. I didn't get to spend as much time with the positive work-tribe members as I should have, in part because I was caught up in that wormhole that she'd created for me. That's about the only thing I regret about this last weekend--letting her suck up my time when I could have been with the affirming tribe members.