I have what is being called an “alternative academic career” (Google for #alt-ac – it’s not just a career choice, it’s a hashtag!). I went to grad school wanting to be a professor and thinking that an academic career would also allow me to have another life: that I’d be able to write books, have a family, serve as a leader in my religious community, that sort of thing. About halfway through my PhD program, it became clear that being a professor is not a job, but a lifestyle.
Twenty to thirty years ago (and probably still in some of the more civilized colleges and universities), it was possible to have a stable, full-time academic teaching job and also have a family life and hobbies. The professors in my PhD program, though, were just as overcommitted and stressed out as I was. Particularly for those who didn’t have tenure, the pressure never let up: to teach a full load while publishing two books and doing committee service to the department while also mentoring students. Yet I started to find out that even my tenured instructors were taking antidepressants to help them deal with their lives. And upon graduation — well, a few of my colleagues got jobs, even good jobs. But far more were trying to make ends meet by adjuncting, sometimes five or six classes at a time, at a few thousand dollars per class and often without benefits included.
I thought: this is not what I want my life to be.
I finished my dissertation in 2007. I was exhausted; I was in debt; I wanted to go home. I’d also just finished a two-year course of study in a religious witchcraft tradition. Having been provided with powerful spiritual tools to change my life, I found myself willing to sacrifice anything in order to feel whole, in order NOT to feel the crushing strain that had dogged me all the way through graduate school. So I packed up everything I owned, headed back to Texas, found an admin job and enrolled in massage school.
Massage school changed everything. I wasn’t just learning bodywork; I was receiving bodywork two to three times a week. My body started to recover, and (here is the secret!) because there is no genuine separation between body and mind or body and spirit, that meant ALL of me recovered. As one of my instructors taught me, every time a therapist-in-training laid healing hands on my body, she contacted not just my flesh, but my entire history. I healed, and I learned to be a healer.
The circumstances that sent me back to Boston, where I’d gone to graduate school, are complicated, but the short version is that I felt an irrational spiritual calling that couldn’t be ignored. I worked flexible hours as a massage therapist to make room for writing, and the result was a Pagan theology of touch (being published by Routledge next year). I also started teaching Pagan studies and theology at Cherry Hill Seminary. Being able to integrate my academic training in religion and theology in a specifically Pagan setting helped me re-integrate the intellectual work I’d put aside to become a bodyworker.
Life progressed. I became a nonprofit consultant and grew prodigious organizational skills. I served the seminary as a department chair for two years and helped to develop the Master’s program, then returned to being an instructor to make room for getting married and writing another, shorter book (Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies – big announcement coming soon!). And then, just a few months ago, I joined the Patheos.com team as Managing Editor of the Pagan channel.
This is not how I envisioned my life when I began grad school ten years ago: in fact, this is far better than I imagined. My life expresses my religious values in a way I never could have planned. When I was finally initiated into my witchcraft tradition in 2011, I felt as if the way were being cleared for all the change and transformation of the previous few years to manifest. When I was in graduate school, I learned to talk about body-centered religion, a spirituality that stems from the relationship of human beings with their physical environment. But in bodywork and in circle, in my struggle to become someone who could be genuinely happy, I learned to live that religion. And I became someone new.
I’m putting the finishing touches on a complete draft of Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective today, to be published in late 2013. It’s intimidating to think about releasing it into the world, because in addition to talking about the importance of loving touch in general, I’m also advocating for all kinds of consensual erotic touch between adults. And I’m doing it openly as a Pagan practitioner, even if I have the legitimacy of an academic publisher to support me. I’m a little afraid of hate mail. I’m also afraid of its being received with deafening silence.
I shared my fears with my husband this morning, and he just grinned and said, “Go forth courageously into your life!”
Today’s courage is revealing myself here. Thanks for witnessing.