Being Unique Sucks Sometimes

Being Unique Sucks Sometimes October 30, 2016

I’m not trying to throw myself a pity-fest because yeah my life is pretty awesome… but damn, I’m not sure where to go with my life goals, and in part that’s due to the weird mix of unique traits I embody.

Me blissed out while dancing. Photo by P. Shypula.
Me blissed out while dancing with a basket for a troupe photoshoot. Photo by P. Shypula.

Right now I feel somewhat unmoored and directionless, despite a number of good things happening in my life. I’ve got some great teaching and dancing opportunities lined up; my writing is coming along a little behind the pace I’d wanted to set, but it’s still happening; and I’ve got a lot of meaningful connections with people in my life.

However, my folklore mentor, Alan Dundes, is dead. I think if I’d had him to advise me while I was on the job market, things might’ve turned on differently (though even he couldn’t have waved his hands and made more folklore jobs appear when there are so very, very few). Maybe my decision to go alt-ac would’ve taken a different shape, or happened not at all; however, I probably would’ve still engaged waaaay more with sexuality topics, since after all Dundes never shied away from such, and actively encouraged his students to take on racy material in our scholarship.

I recently found out that I was accepted to teach for 1 semester at Berkeley, in a temporary position. Berkeley is where I studied with Dundes and decided to become a folklorist. This is very meaningful, and very bittersweet. I imagine I’ll have tons more to write about the experience, as a kind of academic homecoming and coming-full-circle.

But in the meantime, I’ve branched out from just being a folklorist and a gender studies scholar to also being a sex educator and a dance troupe director. These are both occupations that don’t have clear-cut paths to success, and thus there’s been a lot of room for me to structure my involvement in ways that work for me (e.g. as an introvert, it’s cool that I can manage a lot of my dance teaching and performing commitments from behind a computer screen).

The weird thing is, I’m quite possibly the only folklorist/sex educator/writer/belly dancer out there. No one’s precisely written a career handbook for me. So while there aren’t many artificial constraints in terms of what people think I should or shouldn’t do at the Venn diagram intersection of all the things, there’s not much in the way of useful advice either. Plus I gravitate toward alternative sexualities, genders, and relationship styles both personally and professionally, and again, there’s not a lot of guidance out there for people like me.

Being a sex-positive scholar is difficult enough, but also needing to juggle my dance career and personal life and all that other stuff in the mix? It’s downright confounding sometimes. I can easily enough point out the common threads conncecting my work in all these realms – an emphasis on bodies, narrative, agency, constructions of gender and sexuality that range from normative to less so – but hot damn, figuring out what I should be doing with all this stuff is challenging.

Again, the point of this post isn’t to complain, but rather to heave a metaphorical sigh and acknowledge that things feel strange and formless right now, even though I’m doing good work. As I started my alt-ac career I found that others willing to be transparent about their experiences was really helpful, so that’s part of what I’m doing right now, in the hopes that I’m not alone in wallowing in the unique-snowflake-weirdness.

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