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Thursday, October 28, 2010

At the Vicarage

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.