The picture above was taken during my brief stint in academia. What is academia? Academia is the world of professors and research and writing books and articles. Others may disagree, but no one can discount my first-hand knowledge and experience of academia in the humanities. So what follows is my opinion, and you can take it or leave it:
What are the humanities non-academic people may ask? Answer: they are the study of literature, writing, English, foreign languages… things like this. In the humanities we study what is called the “human condition.” By using the phrase the “human condition” we in the humanities mean the joys but also the pains that all humans face. Suffering is the human condition. So is hope. And in the humanities we study this and language. Sometimes to the point of losing our own humanity.
I took on the persona of reader and scholar before entering the humanities as a college student. This happened when I was 15, after I read Richard Wright’s book Black Boy in the sophomore English class (a class that I failed and went to summer school for. I hated writing, and read through classes, to the dismay of my teacher). Everyone should read Black Boy. Wright had a much more harrowing childhood than I had. I still remember a passage where he talks about throwing up in his mouth and being glad to taste food again. He was that hungry. I latched onto Wright’s message that books could be a means of escape and that studying words and humanity through books and dictionaries would nourish my life. This is still the case. I revere Richard Wright. He is probably my favorite author.
But studying this in a professional setting as a graduate student almost killed me. As a graduate student, I felt better than – superior to – the people I was researching. In other words I became better than authors whose foibles and affairs I studied as if I had no foibles or could never have an affair. I learned to analyze the people they wrote into their novels, their characters, through the lens of judgment, psychoanalysis and critique. Basically, if you don’t know what that means, I became a scientist of life. And I forgot that I, too, was a person.
I have tried to unlearn what I learned as a literature student and magnify my learnings as a woman who studied and then taught 5 languages.