Last weekend I went up to Ledig House at Art Omi in order to write my comprehensive exams (a pitstop along the course of doctoral pursuit). It sucked big time… and frankly I have no idea if what I wrote will pass muster. What sucked most is that about five years ago I became distracted from school work and related deadlines during a very difficult period (a cumulative bundle of mini-crises pertaining to family, friends, housing, and income … all set-off or affected by my coming out the previous years), and representatives of the department from which I’m pursuing my degree added to the dilemma rather than attempting to understand what I was going through. For the last few years, I’ve needed to push hard and somewhat erratically in order to attain the final milestones in this process.
When all this started happening, I’d just read Sarah Schulman’s Ties That Bind and knowing that she worked in the academy, I figured she might have advice for my situation. What’s important to say here is that I didn’t feel particularly sorry for myself back then. I saw the department’s non-understanding as contextual to a stated interdisciplinary approach (theirs) masking a default – or slump – into the status quo of neoliberal economic (well) … economics. I asked Sarah what she thought about the academy’s ability to accommodate queerness. Of course I was being defensive in as much as that question reflected an intellectual critique of the system rather than an avowal of my emotional state of being. In response to my out-of-the-blue query written to Sarah’s work email (that I’d found online), she recommended I read her book, Empathy. I did. The Strand had one last copy … autographed, no less.
I appreciated her response and went on to contact her with other queries from time to time. I can’t say that the reading totally comforted me, however. I’ve come back to this story in a stream of consciousness actually. After a weekend of writing in a supportive atmosphere (meeting ten writers for the first time and explaining why I was in such a frazzled state to their complete understanding), the title of Sarah’s book – Empathy – just came to mind. I’m gonna re-read it this Summer!