This is not quit lit. I am not quitting.
It has taken me a long time to come to this point, to feel like I am not quitting. I am choosing something else and sometimes moving forward means leaving something behind. I am choosing a different direction, a different career, a different space to work and engage in. I am leaving my PhD behind.
When I try to articulate why I am making this decision, there are so many thoughts, emotions and stories but always so few words which to articulate them with. My mind races, thoughts tumble and jumble about, my heart races and I stumble through words that don’t ever seem to fit. But each time, these scattered half-thoughts come back to this simple idea: choosing to leave my PhD is about health, in a very broad and holistic sense.
I want to be healthy and I have not found a way to do this in this academic system. Many others have found ways to maintain their health in this system, other shoulder ill health as long as they can, but I am unable to. I tried, to the best of my abilities, but I couldn’t. The precarity (financial and otherwise), the lack of support systems, the competitiveness, the busyness, the isolation, the prioritization of extractive relationality that permeates academic environments, the diminishing career opportunities… whatever it was, cumulatively, it was a space that took my mental health, emotional health, and physical health from me. Ironically, one of the reasons I began a PhD was my love of learning but, in the process, I forgot to learn how to take care of myself. So, now I am pursuing health by removing myself from academia. This is about me and learning how to take care of my whole self. This is about finding new healthy relationships to work and struggle, as well as family, love, and just being.
I am leaving behind something that I pursued relentlessly, something that I believed would be my career, and something in which I invested an exceedingly large amount of energy, time, finances, and passion. It is not an easy decision and it is one that can still wrap my head up in guilt, doubt, shame, and fear. But, as my therapist tells me, I am a relational, emotionally driven person – I need to listen to my emotions, my feelings, and honor what I feel is right for me. And I feel done. I feel depleted. I feel disconnected. I feel ready to move on, ready to choose something that is healthier.
There are so many things that the academy is not and will never be no matter how we might hope to rework or reclaim it. There are many things that it asks you to do and to be. Still, I am grateful for those who continue to struggle to transform these academic spaces, they were a life raft for me during the past nine years. I know they are indeed out there changing structures that are resistant to change. But I am choosing to spend my time and energy elsewhere. This is not a conclusion, nor is it a last word. I am journeying on, continuing the struggle. I will continue to learn, to read, to write, to support, to teach, to create, and to be. But in different ways. I am still plodding away, trying to be/come a better person. In this, I am insistent.
My life currently feels like a giant mess and I have no clue what the next step holds. I want to be able to feel good again, to feel supported, to feel part of a community that is creative, genuine, collaborative and loving. I want to be appreciated, I want to laugh, I want joy, I want to support other’s work, I want to build, I want to breathe. I think this will take time, because it feels so far away at this moment. I look forward to learning how to write again, learning how to talk to people and just hang out again, learning how to laugh again, learning how to be healthy again. It is going to take time to feel better. But I remember what these things felt like. I hope it’s like a riding a bike, that the emotional memory is there so that when I get to that spot, it just feels right and I know how to keep step. Or maybe I have to learn it all over again. Either way, I’m ready. It’s not failure to want these things, to feel for these things, and to try and find these things.
I am reminded of lessons that I am trying to learn from the natural world around me. When plants let go at the end of a season, we call it seeding. When salmon run upstream to die, they spawn the next generation of salmon. Snakes shed their old skin as they grow. The earth often reminds us that for something new to spring forth, something has to be left behind. One step forward, what must be left behind?
I hope that by leaving academia I am not leaving behind the best parts of it, though it is this fear that has delayed my being able to leave. I am afraid of leaving behind the networks and people that I have thought with and fought side by side with. In the midst of all the precarity and bullshit, solidarities were forged and relationships built. The newest Fred Moten text was hotly read and discussed, manifestos were written together, ideas were formed and broken and re-formed, often over coffee or drinks or meals. And yet, it also felt that the academy always seemed to break these relationships down, always intruding; at times, it took away my ability, motivation and desire to relate with others in genuine ways. The precarity impacts us all. So, I look forward to rediscovering these connections and moments without academia’s looming presence.
And I am afraid that I will lose the time and space to read, write, and think in concert with the many brilliant people who informed my thinking, work, and writing for the past nine years of graduate school. But I also know that so many times the academy constrained my writing, took away my time, and forced me to write and think in particular ways. So, I look forward to reimagining these practices, to writing in different ways and to different rhythms.
I don’t know exactly what is next. For the past nine years, I’ve been singular in my focus, believing that focus was needed to succeed in what was a highly competitive space. Now, I can allow myself to breathe and think beyond this single-minded focus.
I want to be able to recognize, despite the difficulty I have in doing so right now, the ways in which the past nine years have been a time of learning, a time of successes, and a time of important and necessary growth. And learning, success, and growth are collective processes, not individual ones. One of the things that I had been most looking forward to in writing a dissertation was writing out my acknowledgements. It was a chance to center and reflect on all the relationships and collaborations that had built a document that, by design, had to have only my name on the front. Knowledge is never built in isolation. Special thanks needs to be said for Rubén Gaztambide-Fernandez and Eve Tuck who have been invaluable mentors; having them in my corner was a gift that I always sought to honor because I knew its immense value. They made me better. As people, as scholars, as teachers – they excelled at it all and the past nine years would not have been possible without them. There have been so many others that have invested in my life and work over these years that I cannot name them all – know that I hold these relationships and commitments closely and that you were the best parts of this grad school process. The very best part.
I am not quitting; I am moving forward and this letter is part of that process. I’m moving forward, hoping to feel my way into a healthy place, into relationships that sustain me, and into creatively building these places with each of you, places where we can all feel healthy, places where we can all thrive in the ways that we need. Thank you for doing that with me.