I had trouble sleeping last night, and it feels like it is happening more often over time. Looking back, the last three years or so have been a near-constant ramping-up of stress caused by the instability of Shimer College, then the uncertainty of the merger process with North Central, and now the ongoing complications and obstacles integrating into our new setting. Early on, I had stomach problems that have since levelled off to manageable levels, but sleeping difficulties have taken their place. Last night in a Facebook post, I quoted Regular-Sized Rudy from Bob’s Burgers: “I don’t express this enough, but this is literally killing me.” It was not solely as a joke.
Prior to this period, I had passed the final evaluation for Shimer faculty, and though we didn’t have tenure, the assumption was that I would have a rolling contract as long as I wanted to stay. Since then, I have faced the closure of Shimer and been downgraded to one-year Visiting contracts. Initially this status was conceived as a three-year probationary period that would eventually lead to a path to tenure, but now low enrollments have made the latter appear to be a fantasy for the forseeable future. If the probationary period were extended even for two more years, that would mean that I would have spent the majority of my career on one-year visiting contracts, and that is frankly more than a little humiliating to me.
At the same time, this period has been when I produced my best work — The Prince of This World and Neoliberalism’s Demons. If I had to leave academia, I would be consoled by the opportunity to write even one of them, and I am very proud of what I accomplished in the two of them taken together. Part of it is simply the fact that I have matured as a thinker over the years, but I think the precarity also focused my mind. I’d been saying that I was going to write a book on the devil for years — but when things started to crumble around me, it wasn’t clear that I would be able to put it off much longer. Similarly, when I got the idea for the neoliberalism book, and especially when I realized my concepts were helping me process what was happening with Trump, I knew I needed to strike while the iron was hot and take advantage of the platform I had while I still had it, even though I found the prospect of writing a second full-length book within two years exhausting and intimidating.
I do plan to keep producing the work I want to do as long as I have some institutional support for it, and I might even be able to find a way to sustain it as an independent scholar if worse comes to worst. But I worry I am reaching the tipping point where the grind of insecurity is taking more out of me than my satisfaction with my work is giving back.