In his recent book, At Home, incredibly entertaining author Bill Bryson explains in one of many instructive asides that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the only solid requirement for a post as a country clergyman in England was a bachelor's degree. There were virtually no check-ups from the authorities, who also provided books of pre-approved sermons, and thus, men who had studied literature, classics, science -- anything but religion, in fact -- could and regularly did obtain sinecures all over the country. They then used their spare time (there was a lot of it) to write lasting works of literature, make important scientific discoveries, and invent some of the implements of the industrial revolution.
What a great system! I, as a former academic, can imagine myself quite happy tending to my flock, meanwhile creating works of great imagination! Like the historical vicars about whom Bryson writes, I was unwilling or unable to get a job teaching at a university, but that doesn't mean I have nothing to contribute to society. Unlike them, however, I don't have that nifty net to fall back on, and I'm still stymied as to what I can actually do in the world in such a way that I can get paid. I guess the non-university grads got tired of tithing so their pastor could just sit in contemplation. I can't blame them. Back then, I would have been one of them. I wouldn't have had a real chance to go to university. Even to get into a classroom I would have had to exhibit extraordinary ingenuity.
But, because I was born long after the struggles for equality among classes and genders had made great strides, all I had to do to get into a very good college was do well in school. Somehow, I never got the message that more was expected: I was happy with the small but enthusiastic shows of encouragement and praise I got, and that was enough. It was enough through a BA, an MFA, two more MAs and a PhD. So, although I had original thoughts and new ways to do things on a small scale, I never had to think outside the box entirely. Since I followed my bliss instead of my bank account, now I'm earning nothing, married to a wonderful, underemployed man, during an economic depression, scratching my head, my tummy rumbling.
I've always disdained money as a driving force, but, wow, do I have some ideas about what to do with it if I had some.
If only there were some system to sustain people like me who show some potential but haven't realized it...
My best hope is that, when we move, a library or book store will allow me to earn some kind of wage for taking care of books. For reasons I'm sure to elaborate on later, I dare not hope my own books could make me a living. In the meantime, I'll be thinking of a way to go back in time as a British gentleman.