Chris Isaak’s 1995 effort Forever Blue is a sweetly sung musical breakup, complete with all of the highs and lows that the end of a relationship can encompass — everything from despair and anger to desperate, self-deluding hope. Sometimes that makes listening to it a little exhausting, and I think even a person who really likes the music might come out of the experience of listening to the whole album in one sitting more than a little depressed. Like most of Isaak’s output, it’s more nostalgic than adventurous (technically/musically speaking), but the whole thing’s so tightly and beautifully constructed and well performed that it’s hard not to like it even if more adventure is what you’d really prefer. It’s exactly what I’ve expected and enjoyed from him ever since 1985’s Silvertone, which I wore out on cassette tape back then. It’s a more intimate sort of work than the cheerier surf-along tone of San Francisco Days (1993), its immediate predecessor, or the more chart-popular powerhouse Heart-Shaped World (1989).
It seems weirdly appropriate to me that life should remind me of this record right now, with Twin Peaks resurfacing in all of its creepy, delicious Lynchian weirdness. I remember sitting in my apartment and re-watching the original series as a graduate student (back when binge-watching something required VHS and a lot of patience), at a time when quite a lot of my experience was sort of surreal and untethered to…well, anything, except reading a lot of philosophy. Back then, I thought I knew where I’d end up. It felt fated to me, which, in retrospect, I realize was really a stupid thing for me to believe; knowing what I now know about graduate programs and job markets in the humanities, I often find myself convinced that my grad school friends who finished and went off to get law degrees had the right of it back then.
I did, for a while, end up almost exactly where I thought I would; I’ve spent fifteen years teaching philosophy to undergraduates at a little liberal arts (ish — well, little, anyway) school in a small midwestern town, and I was happy for almost all of that decade-plus-five. I settled in there as soon as I arrived, and I planned to stay. I had no ambition beyond the one I had realized by getting that job, and I devoted myself to keeping it. What it meant to keep that job, unfortunately, was also what made it almost impossible to find another in a tight job market: lots of teaching, lots of institutional service, very little writing. While I was there, academic philosophy passed me by, and I was content for the most part to permit it to do so. I had what I wanted. I had neither the need nor the desire to move on.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Higher Ed. in the US is in a bit of a crisis, and little schools in little towns need to make big and sometimes unpleasant decisions in order to stay alive. My employer eliminated my program and my tenured job along with it — the ultimate employment expression of “it’s not you, it’s me.” They let me go, dropping me into a hiring market that, for philosophy, is disastrously bad and not likely to improve in the near future (at least not for over-teaching under-publishers like me). As a mercy (very much appreciated — don’t get me wrong! I’ll take it!), they’ve offered me an administrative position serving a program I was instrumental in creating, although I am no longer tenured, indeed no longer faculty at all. I can still do adjunct work for them, but I am in a condition much reduced relative to my prior work and status, and even as grateful as I am for the opportunity, it is hard to let go of what I’m being forced to leave behind.
“We can still be friends.” Right. Sure. Sure we can. We are. Aren’t we?
Right now, I’m at that horrid bit of the breakup where it’s just become irrevocably real that this has happened, and I have to deal with it and move on, even in an employment market in my discipline in which moving on is sometimes impossibly hard for someone in my position (undistinguished at mid-career, neither a fresh and exciting new face with a promising book coming out nor a notable senior with an Infinite Jest-sized CV full of accomplishments). It’s graduation day here, and I can’t quite face it.
Still, there’s hope, I suppose. We are still friends for now, my institution and I (metaphorically speaking, anyway). I will be employed next year, regardless of whether my ongoing job search turns up anything. I have plans. I’m still actively looking for library positions, and the admin job will actually afford me better opportunities to improve my work experience in a library context. I have an Open Textbook to write this summer for an online course that I’m redesigning. I have ideas and plots and schemes to put into action. There’s work still to do, and I’ve got to step up and do it.
Still, it’s undeniably sad. Today’s a tough day. I wish my colleagues and students well, but I won’t be there to help them celebrate. We may be friends, but I’m not really up to going to my ex’s wedding yet.