Skip to content

Prop 8, Prop 2, and The PhD Tell-all Post

Dateline: Brisbane, Australia

So the downside of the election is that voters in California, Arizona, and Florida trounced gay-marriage rights. Sandy and I have received very sympathetic mail from friends. I am still turning it over in my head. I gave my first talk yesterday and to my relief it went well (Lizanne was terrific), so my brain is no longer singularly locked onto the idea that I’ll get up in front of people from another country and make a complete fool of myself.

I have an essay, “The Outlaw Bride,” coming out in the next issue of Ninth Letter. This essay is about our experience in 2004 — being able to marry, and then having our marriage invalidated. I just saw the proofs a week or two ago, and they are beautiful — literally beautiful, laid out on what looks like wedding stationery.  I was hoping the essay would be ancient history, but sadly, instead, it is timely response and advocacy.

Meanwhile, in the “where do I begin” category, I received this non sequitur of a comment on an earlier post about the election:


Instead I think you should consider yourself as a chicken with an asterisk concerning the lack of candor (aka lying) on your resume. When will you admit what you were doing at the University of Michigan. Is it really all that embarrassing to flub a PHD? Free range what?

I don’t know Zeke, assuming this person exists, but this puzzles me, as I have been quite direct with anyone who needs or even wants to know that I successfully completed one semester at UM in 1995 and then dropped out.  Who is this person, dragging around all this misplaced righteous indignation? (We could say “apparently a Roadrunner user in New York,” though even that could be misleading.)

Yet “Zeke’s comment,” small and angry though it is, rocketed me back to a tough time that turned out all right in the end — one I am asked about now and then. Since it is part of my pre-blogging history, here goes.

(Needless to say, as with my other blog posts, you’re still only getting part of the story.)

The academics were not the hard part. In fact, this will sound all wrong (all “tall poppy,” to be Australian about it), but the academics weren’t even hard — they felt like just more graduate-level library work. (I’m sure I would have hit a tough class later on. However, I have met enough low-voltage PhD students to think my assessment is largely on target.)

UM was just the wrong place, wrong time, wrong PhD topic, and a few more “wrongs.”  Sandy and I were apart (the plan was she would join me later), my elderly cat was dying, a family member was seriously ill, and I rented a room from a woman who turned out to be a distracting wack jobby whose hooting voice and shrill giggle regularly woke me up in the wee hours.

I was alone and miserable and suddenly realized I had no idea why I wanted a PhD.

I walked away from a fellowship, and later, at SUNY Albany (where I also taught as an adjunct), I took Tom Galvin’s advice and didn’t formally pursue a PhD in that program. Sandy and I weren’t sure how long we would be in Albany, and Tom said I could afford to drop out of a PhD program once — just not twice.

Just Because I Could, I took information technology policy from Tom. Add info policy to the list of classes that should be required for library students. Add taking a class from Tom (RIP) as something not to be missed — he took a potentially deadly topic and made it edge-of-the-seat important and fascinating.

I inevitably provide my UM transcript to my employers even if it’s not required, as my performance speaks for itself.  I’m just another PhD dropout, but I did all right (and ACM published one paper I wrote during the program).

On the fatal topic — freenets and community networks — as soon as I closely examined what then appeared to be a hot topic, I realized freenets would be largely extinct very soon, and that the topic was at best ancillary.

I might have stayed in UM’s program if I had been better-equipped to ask for and make the changes I needed. But then I surely would never have gone back for an MFA in writing, which was the academic experience of my life — scary, boundary-pushing, crazy-making, wonderful.

I’ve off-and-on pondered LIS PhD-ville, but there are faster and less expensive ways to retool, if retooling is in order. For one crazy scheme I have in mind, I’ve pondered a CAS in digital libraries, to better equip myself, but again — I’d want to be sure I was leaping onto the right streetcar (and at the moment, I don’t have the fare).

In a twist tying all of this together, our decision to hit the undo button on Michigan was a defining moment in our life together, one I mention in “The Outlaw Bride” — a moment that says, regardless what the state thinks, Sandy and I are nonetheless married.

Posted on this day, other years: