So, Saturday (the 6th) was my birthday. My – god help me – 38th birthday. I don’t usually get too affected by birthdays, and truth be told I’m not that affected by this one. But for whatever reason, 38… it just seems really old. Far older than I actually am. And it also feels like time is running out for a lot of major life decisions for me, whether that’s an irrational fear or not. To give you a small glimpse into my neurotic fascinating mind, I’m having trouble with 38 because I’m now closer to 40 than I am 35. And for some reason that bothers me.
On the way to my birthday dinner (which is always an evening commanded by Murphy’s Law, no matter what I do), we got turned away from one restaurant because our party was too large, and were driving to Plan B (Carrabba’s, btw… and if you read all my blog entries, you know why. 😉 ). On the way to the second restaurant, we were stopped at a red light. The light turned green, and Chris went to make a left turn. Except that a driver came up on our left, doing probably at least 60mph, and obviously hadn’t seen the light change. There was a split second where we weren’t sure if we were going to live or die. That sounds very melodramatic, but… it really was that dramatic. For a split second, there was nothing we could do. Chris slammed the breaks, but when a car is coming up that fast, there’s nothing to do but sit, wait, hope they swerve, and try not to pee your pants. The car did swerve at the last millisecond, missing us by inches, nearly hitting yet another car, and then continuing on his/her way. But that feeling of terror lingered.
As we drove on, we attempted to compose ourselves. I was shaking, our daughter (who is 3) was crying and asking why a car wouldn’t stop when they’re supposed to, and Chris was seething with such a potent mixture of fear and rage that he could barely talk. And in those few moments after the incident, I had a few profound thoughts, as people who have near death experiences are wont to do. The first is that being upset that we had to change restaurants is officially ridiculous and I could let that go, because even if we’re inconvenienced, having everyone together is something that I should – and am – extremely thankful for. The second is that… I think I’m on the right track with this whole life thing. I didn’t have that “OMFG REGRETS REGRETS” reaction that I definitely would’ve had ten years ago, and probably would’ve had five years ago. I’m happy in my marriage, I’m happy in my abilities as a parent, and I’m happy in the path that my career is taking. And that was one hell of a nice surprise.
But while I’m content right now, I know there are some big decisions that have to be made. And they have to be made soon.
It’s easy to be content with my current career, such as it is, because right now my career exists entirely of going to school to get my PhD, and writing my dissertation. Going to school is what I am good at, and is firmly in my comfort zone. I have finally, in my mid 30s (yes, dammit, I’m still saying my mid-thirties), found a community that I love, and a topic of research that I love, in fandom. Those memes that you see online that ask you when was the last time you felt truly alive, and how that’s where you know your passion lies… for me that’s at sci-fi cons, talking about fandom and mental health. I LOVE it. And in writing my dissertation on it, it’s been given validity in terms of being something that’s truly worthwhile and professional. But turning it into a post doctorate profession isn’t as easy.
I am getting ready to start my research, as opposed to just talking about, as I’ve been doing for more than two years now. It’s time to get real. And it’s also time to start thinking about graduating and no longer being Dr. Fangirl, PhD (almost) and actually being Dr. Fangirl, PhD. But… what happens when that happens? I know what I want to do… ish… but how? Do I go the route that most PhDs take and go into academia, to become a counseling or psychology professor and study fandom on the side for my publish-or-perish projects? Do I try something else entirely and attempt to get a job as a researcher somewhere, researching whatever I’m paid to research, even if it’s something like glorified market research, just to get my feet wet? Is there a market for academics in con life, to where I could work with sci-fi conventions in some capacity? I would love to moderate panels and ask some real questions… feelings based ones, like a Geek Oprah. But is there a market for such a thing? I’m sure it can’t be a full career. So, to supplement that (if that’s even a thing, which is a long shot), should I find a way to research on my own, and perhaps write books about it? And/or do more blogging and maybe podcasting? Give talks at conventions/conferences?
Whenever I talk to people about my research, the response I get is excitement. People want the research I’m doing. They want to understand fandom for themselves, as participants, and they want some validation for their excitement and dedication. I’ve gotten that reaction from other fangirls and fanboys, but also from academics who know what I’m talking about and want the information to be able to help their clients. I’ve found my niche. I’m beyond thrilled. But… what’s the next step? I know I’d love to give more academic talks, as I greatly enjoyed the ones I gave at SkydogCon and NolaCon. But how do I find places to let me talk? And what would I talk about? If I write a book, what would it be on, precisely? And how would I research it? If I did a podcast, what would be my primary topics or prevailing themes? Can I do any of this while I’m writing my dissertation, or do I have to wait until that’s done? What can I do with the information from my dissertation after it’s published? How am I going to pay my bills immediately upon leaving school? And who in the world would I even turn to to ask for guidance on this kind of thing, since very few people in academia know what I’m talking about when I discuss fandom?
This week I read the book Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton for the first time. I cannonballed the whole thing in a day. It’s sort of an autobiography but in pseudo-blog format, and focuses on the time in his life when he decided that he would leave the career that for him was mainstream and obvious (acting), and instead embark on something different and much scarier (writing). The book was written in 2004, and obviously Wil has done pretty well for himself since then, so I’d say that whole career change thing worked out in his favor. He certainly figured out a way to make fandom work for him while also making it awesome for us. But he’s Wil Freaking Wheaton, and I’m… me. His book was inspirational, and exactly the kind of thing I need to read right now, but the fear and anxiety are still real.
Meanwhile, there are other major life choices that I’m working on. I’m 38, but the possibility of another kid is still on the table. I have two step-daughters, who are both older (teens/20s… yes, there is a human on this earth in their 20s that calls me “mom”… no wonder I’m having age freak outs this year!), and my bio daughter who is 3. I had always envisioned having two kids, but circumstances in my life have always been nothing if not convoluted and challenging. I’d resigned myself to having one biological child, and for a while there I was comfortable with it… but I have never fully been able to shake the feeling that my family isn’t yet complete. But nor can I shake the feeling that if I have another child now, I may not get the career that I want (insert feminist rant here). Which is, of course, a feeling made even more frustrating by the fact that I’m not even precisely sure what that career will be! People have two kids all the time and make it work, and I think I’m a fairly high functioning individual who would also be able to do so, but trying to carve out my career niche while starting over with an infant is daunting. There are so many what ifs about the scenario (what if there are pregnancy complications, what if the kid never sleeps, what if she’s totally chill and I can easily manage her while doing other things, what if my relationship with my current kids suffers, what if my marriage suffers, what if this child is exactly what we all need, and I’m too scared…), but I guess the best and most applicable advice I could get could be borrowed from my favorite author, Karen Marie Moning:
Hope Strengthens, Fear Kills.
I try to repeat that to myself as often as possible. Because I really do believe it.
Overall, the kid decision is a decision that will be made by me and my husband, but with this latest birthday, the kid stewing has set up shop right alongside the career stewing, and so my brain is in hyperdrive. I’m 38 and ABD*. As my Papaw would say, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. I guess I just have to find the pot.
*All but dissertation – a description of someone who has completed all of their coursework for their doctorate, but hasn’t yet completed the dissertation to formally get the degree.