Friday, April 24, 2009

My Visit to the Principal's Office

I just quit the fellowship.

So, I really was (as I have joked) sent to the principal's office.

I'm actually in tears, not because I'm sad or angry, but because I'm not certain of how to define how I feel. I started to cry out of intense frustration not only because of this particular situation, but because some of the things that came up in my talk with the coordinator touched one too many nerves.

The coordinator of the program just met with me and took me to task for the "tone" of my critique. To be fair to her, she is a really sweet and diplomatic person who was trying to show empathy toward me and look for solutions that might help me. Also, to give a more accurate context, most of my critique took place on a discussion board (or "blog" as they call it) because I could compose my thoughts and control my tone and language in order to be more constructive.

I keep forgetting that the written language leaves quite a bit open for interpretation in regard to tone. My tone was interpreted as "hostile" and "destructive" despite the fact that I did not mean it in that way at all. I thought that I was offering a useful perspective, but my language had -- as she put it -- "too many bombs" and "too many sweeping statements."

She's probably right. Like I said in that last post, I didn't make a huge effort to create that "criticism sandwich." The "bread" of compliments is sometimes thinner than most people would like. I also can never judge the tone of my writing. When I feel things strongly, I state my ideas strongly and directly, sometimes forgetting to add in too many niceties. (Incidentally, this ability to write strongly and directly is one of the few things about myself of which I am proud and confident.)

When most people would say, "while I think everything is great and wonderful and fabulous, here is how it can get better," I just hop in with the "here's how to get better." That missing "everything is great" becomes inferred as "you suck, but here's how to get better."

Then again, I've been in too many situations in which only the "I think everything is great" gets heard to the exclusion of "how it can get better."

I sat stunned as she gave me advice on how to speak and write more constructively. It was all stuff that I know and use. In fact, I probably would have employed those tactics in one or two instances had I known that I was on a public discussion space. That wasn't stated up front. I thought it was just for the fellows, to talk amongst ourselves about our experiences. I thought that I was speaking to peers as peers. I did not know that there were higher up lurkers. I seem to have been the only one who was under this mistaken impression, so I must have missed something somewhere along the line. I also now see that this was shockingly naive to assume in any case.

Still, I probably would have said the same things. I probably could not have offered enough padding, if, as a veteran of this program is right in that they seem only to want praise. I am who I am, and I keep learning that over and over; and I honestly did think that I was offering something useful.

I didn't realize that other people were intimidated by my statements and took them as personal attacks. I didn't realize that, in qualifying my background as having worked in museums, they thought that I was insulting them. I didn't realize that some of the museum people don't want to continue the program because of my statements. I didn't intend any of this.

While I am profoundly sorry for any unintentional insults or damage that I might have caused, and I don't think that the coordinator is wrong in her assessment of me, I'm actually rebelling at that assessment for more than egotism or arraogance.

The first thing that I am rebelling against is the patronizing tone that she took in offering me advice. She didn't start out patronizing -- again, she is a really kind person who had the horrible task of confronting me and of cleaning up damage that I apparently created, and she did so with the intention of improving the situation -- but she kept offering the advice over and over and over within a 30 minute space, that I ended up feeling patronized. This annoyed me further as I reviewed my behavior while she kept offering and offering that advice, and I realized that I actually did employ those tactics in all of the seminars. She was there, she witnessed it. I also -- upon review of my posts --employed those tactics in my writing, although, again, not as effusively or effectively as I might have.

I told her that I was aware of these tactics, that I generally use them, and thought that I was using them in my comments, although that seems not to have been the case in others' opinions. She kept repeating the same advice, as if she didn't hear me, and I started to become irritated, as if I was being silenced or ignored.

The second thing that I rebel against was that she faulted me for not speaking up in some instances and then for speaking up in others. I didn't speak up in some instances because I knew that I was reacting hostilely and didn't want to say anything in anger or frustration. I wanted to get to a more constructive place before I said anything, and only said anything when I had something constructive to say. When I told the coordinator that, she criticized me for not already being at that place and speaking up. She also criticized me for having a negative reaction in the first place, such as when that curator said all historians are racist toward Native Americans. When I told her that I used the discussion boards because that gave me time to get to that constructive place when I did have a negative reaction, she took me to task for being too aggressive.

I do know my own moods and my own reactions, and I know all of the different factors that cause me to react that way. I was managing my reactive behavior in the way that I usually do: initial silence, pondering/blogging/bitching until I reach a more rational and less emotional assessment of my position. Then, I respond if necessary. Some might call this an opportunity for stewing, and I won't dispute that; but it is also an opportunity to just chill the hell out, which happens.

Maybe I misjudge the point at which I should respond. Maybe I should be waiting longer. Maybe, because the formats are similar, I blur the line between the blogging bitching and the rational discussion board response. Nevertheless, I have been in years of therapy to get to this understanding of myself and I am in analysis right now to figure out better ways of interacting in potentially incendiary situations. Meanwhile, this is what I have at my disposal right now.

I also completely resent anyone who tells me how I should or should not feel or think about something (unless, of course, I solicit their input on the matter).

The third thing I don't so much rebel against. Instead, I am hurt that other people were taking my statements as personal attacks. I did not attack anyone in our group, although I can see where some of the curators might consider my assessment of their work an attack, which I can fully understand. In fact, in a response to one person's post, I explicitly stated that I was not attacking him but that I was engaging the subject that we were both discussing, and offering my admittedly negative opinion of that -- not of him, and not of his opinion. This point, that I was hurting or causing distress to any of the other fellows, really distresses me because I do respect and like all of them. To think that they thought I was intentionally attacking them really upsets me.

Despite that, I resent that I'm being asked to take care of other people's feelings. This is a sore issue for me anyway. Still, a curator called my profession a bunch of racists and I'm supposed to immediately take care of his feelings and take care of everyone else in the room by offering my rational, professional perspective? Another person might, but I absolutely needed to process that comment, both as a historian and as a person who does try to examine her own racist assumptions, before I said anything. When I did finally respond, I gave links to examples of recent scholarship on Native Americans.

We could also look to the case of the first meeting of the semester when I was "reminded that all men are not homophobic." First of all, duh! Second of all, that wasn't what I was saying. Yet, I had to take care of the dude's feelings.

In my discussion board comments, I honestly was trying to get a point across, I wasn't trying to hurt any of the other fellows. I was already trying to look out for their feelings, and yet it wasn't enough. As I look over my comments with an eye -- albeit a defensive eye -- I find that I was, in fact, more constructive and more complimentary than I had thought. I'll accept that I obviously wasn't as complimentary as I could have been or as others would have liked, but I'm also thinking that we have a lot of thin skins in the group (my own included).

For instance, I once explained my background in museums, and that this might be making my comments more negative and me more disappointed in the fellowship experience. I thought I had worded it in a way that suggested "don't pay me any mind, I have baggage because of this experience, I do see why most of you like this fellowship overall, but this is why I have problems."

On another instance, I suggested the incorporation of the museum education departments in the seminars. When someone wasn't sure if those departments would be of use, I explained what education departments do. I am supposed to bring my expertise to bear. I am the only fellow who has seen behind-the-scenes of museums.

The coordinator told me that others took these explanations as a personal insult to their own expertise, that they interpreted what I was saying as "well I know and you don't, you idiot." I was told that, because of this, I had created a hostile environment for other fellows because they felt too intimidated to say anything favorable about the program. I keep going over and over what I wrote. Had I done that? Was that my subconscious opinion of them that crept through? My own opinion of my use of language is clearly in the minority.

Finally, I rebel against her statements because I feel like I am not being heard except as a problem. A creative writing teacher I had once said something to the effect that "people persist in not reading what you wrote on the page" even as they read the words. I feel like that: like I wrote these words, offered these critiques, offered these suggestions, offered these insights; but all anyone is hearing is "she's pissed off, thinks she's better than we are, offers nothing constructive, so we better not mess with her."

In fact, I feel as if I'm being silenced. I feel as if I'm being told, "give input. Whoops, wrong input. Try again. Wrong input again. No, now try it this way. Nope, you got it wrong. Try again." I feel paralyzed because my whole mode of expression is being called into question, and I'm not entirely understanding why. How can I make any comment without sitting there for hours beforehand wondering "is this too patronizing? Is someone going to take this the wrong way? I'm I being too harsh?" I already do this; but the result has clearly been bad. I don't have the energy for more obsessing, for more padding my ideas with words to prevent someone somewhere from taking insult. I'm getting to the point of exhaustion at which I don't even want to understand why. That is definitely not productive.

I am honestly mystified and hurt and frustrated that this is the situation, and I'm angry with myself for doubting my gut reactions that I have listed here as rebellions. Could everyone else's assessment of me actually be that elusive truth? Conventional wisdom says that, if only one person has a problem with a situation, then that person is an individual problem. I may not entirely buy that conventional wisdom, but that seems to be my reality here since everyone, including my own peers (some of whom have thrown me under the bus, keeping their criticism anonymous while mine has my name attached), think that I am "destructive."

Yet, when I look at what I wrote, I can refute everything for which I've been criticized. I can provide evidence to support my case. My perspective is the minority, but I'm thinking that my perspective does have validity. If I fully accepted what the coordinator said as the objective truth, then I would not feel so resistant to her words. As it is, I am merely the minority opinion both of the fellowship and of myself. As such, I am not doing any good for the fellowship; and, as I've already written, it isn't really doing anything for me (I'm also not supposed to say that out loud, either). This is an unexpected bad fit, and I did what I thought was rational from my perspective. What other should I have had?

So, I quit.

The coordinator wants me to think about it over the weekend, but this is my gut reaction. My only real worries have to do with what this says about me as a faculty member and as a person. I worry that this will make me look bad to people like my own dean and come back to bite me in my year end review.

I also worry that something really is wrong with me -- that my rebellions are delusions -- and that I created this predicament, and that I will continue to create similar predicaments in the future (this last will be covered in analysis this week, for sure, because that is probably the reason that my response was to cry rather than to do whatever a healthy person might do).

I could stick around and show a good effort at improvement, be a good little girl and try to please the teacher, make the most of an opportunity for learning and personal growth; and maybe I should. At this point, however, that makes me feel infantilized. I feel so paralyzed that I know that I would just show up, refrain from opinion, and stay silent should I remain in the fellowship. Quitting has the benefit of un-paralyzing me for the time being.

Neither approach is exactly mature or useful. The coordinator may be right that I should take the weekend (blogging and bitching) in order to find some other approach that un-paralyzes me; but right now I really really want to put this behind me and concentrate on more rewarding and important projects. My gut has been telling me this for several weeks.

Between this and the fellowship that I wrote about yesterday (the one with the 40-minute long ten minute presentations), I'm beginning to think that I should not look to these internal fellowships for professional enrichment any longer. They feel limited in ways that I cannot describe without sounding snobby and perhaps provoking the same reaction in someone out there as that one curator provoked in me. I've had much better success in outside fellowships, and my interests and needs are met better there.


Ink said...

It sounds like you made the right decision, honestly. I can't fathom the thinking behind their give input/wrong input cycle; either they want your expertise and ideas or they don't. Sheesh!

For what it's worth, I think your writing is professional and not biting or harsh, even when you're ranting here anonymously. Maybe those people are just addicted to hoagie-sized positivity slices of metaphorical bread.

Aw, Clio. You have had a tough week, what with the long presenters and now this! Hugs to you. We think you're awesome.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Ink, thank you. I needed that right now since I'm swinging back and forth between "I am a terrible terrible hateful no good person" and "Fuck them! They need to grow a thicker skin!" Neither is a really happy place to be, so kind words go a long way!

Belle said...

Been there, done that, have the scars to prove that quitting does come back and bite you - hard - in the career. Is there any way that you can live with staying in for the remainder of the fellowship? It's a terrible situation; there's no win anyway you go. You just have to figure out which lose is less problematic in the long run.

Hugs to you anyway.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Thank you, Belle. That's also useful information, although I'm really sorry that you had to get scarred to know it. You are right that I'm now in a position of chosing the lesser of two evils. The easier is to reiterate my resignation on Monday. That's the choice that feels right for me right at this moment because I don't want to sit through a semester of second guessing my own ability to communicate. The more difficult but probably more politic choice would be to commit to that semester. I suppose that I could suffer through it, despite my desire to avoid most suffering. I could get a lot of knitting done in the meetings, if nothing else!

Ann said...

I don't know you and I've never met you. Maybe you're a very difficult person, but that's not how I read you in the way that you express yourself on your blog. So, I'm skeptical of the tone of shaming and disciplining that this fellowship director took with you. I can understand that she might not appreciate your feedback, but to be so patronizing--well, I can't help but wonder if she's talking to you in a way she'd never dream of confronting a male faculty member with a book.

Secondly, I think you need to be a little skeptical of the fellowship director's position. She seems to want to communicate to you that "everyone else thinks this way about you," when in reality, your opinions are probably only a problem for HER, not for other people. It's a problem for her that someone as accomplished as I think you are thinks her program is crap. Her tactics seem to be rather bullying, so I'd urge you to hold her opinions at a distance until you can talk this over with your therapist. You don't have any evidence that her opinions are shared by anyone but her, and that's a classic bullying tactic to say, "and it's not just me! Everyone else thinks you're a bitch!"

Finally--quit. Who cares? Are these internal fellowships really going to matter to your goals in the long run, especially if the expectation is that you just smile and kiss everyone's a$$ and tell them what a fantastic program they've put together?

Clio Bluestocking said...

Historiann: I actually try overly hard NOT to be a difficult person. Perhaps that makes the times that I become difficult seem more dramatic.

You've nailed down one or two things that had been nagging me but that I had explained away. Not only do I think that she would not have confronted a male faculty member in this way, I think that, were all things the same except my gender, this would not have been an issue in the first place. Even as she spoke to me and offered me all of her advice, I thought, "well isn't this typical. The girls are supposed to take care of everyone's feelings and curb their language to make everyone comfortable."

Another thing that nagged was her defense that "other people have told me" and "people have commented." My reflexive thought was, "who? What did they say exactly?" As she continued saying this, I began to wonder not so much who as how many. How many people complained? Out of 25 fellows, did 20 complain? 15? 10? 2?

Even then, I began to wonder at this grandiose position that I seem to hold in her assessment. I, one person, am threatening a whole, long-standing program just because I offered critique and suggetions for improvement? I intimidated 24 other people who otherwise have no problem expressing themselves and expressing themselves sometimes more strongly than I did -- I intimidated them out of posting because of my opinion? Me? Alone? Am I so delusional that I don't see what a powerful monster that I really am, ruining all of these people's lives?

This, of course, is once again lowering my opinion of the museum system involved. I KNOW that I'm not the first, last, nor most important person to have issue with the way that they operate. Yet, I am somehow damaging to it. One day I will brag about this -- how I intimidated the nation's largest museum system -- but, now, the more I think about it, please!

Then, of course, there is the coordinator's position. The museum system seems to see this not as a partnership as much as advertisement. She said that she had been trying to change that and they were resistant, so my input was making things difficult for her. She is being held to blame for my opinions, and the coordinator on the museum end is mad at this coordinator for my opinions. The museum coordinator is, according to the coordinator, very mad at her because I was not respectful enough of her favorite curator. All of this is stupendously ridiculous and downright patronizing. The museum coordinator blaming this coordinator as if we (I) were her misbehaving children? This really makes me not only lose respect for that museum system even further, but makes me wonder how all of these people got into such high, national positions when they are so resistant to the very input that they solicited. (Then I remember the suck-up principle of promotion.)

Then there is the "blog" discussion board. They started it so we could have free expression and share ideas. They wanted our input, and I gave it. All along, even as I expressed my opinion, they have been saying, "the discussions are so wonderful, we are getting so much useful information out of them." Now, they are replacing it with a wiki simply for the purpose of sharing resources. No more discussion.

Which leads me to that feeling of silencing. The coordinator wrote a follow up e-mail in which she said "the problem that we have here is really one of tone, not of content." In other words, "its not what you say but how you say it." Nine times out of ten, that is a diversionary tactic meant to focus on the speaker's behavior rather than the the content of her statements. The problem goes back to the individual and moves away from the issues.

It's also a tactic of silencing the speaker from future comments by making her second-guess her own speech. If the speaker has a responsibilty to express herself in ways that make everyone comfortable enough to hear her ideas, the listener also has the responsibility to hear the ideas beyond the tone. That wasn't happening. At no point were any of my ideas addressed. They were, in fact, ignored because she said that I offered no suggestions when, in fact, I offered plenty.

Finally (I'm making this comment a whole new post!), there was her closing of "oh, don't quit, we all really really want you to stay and think that you have so much to offer." That goes back to your impression of her tactics. If "everyone" has just said that I'm such an angry and destructive presence, then why would "everyone" want to keep me around? That conjured images of cults for me. Also, I offered what I had, and it was rejected.

Anyway, thank you very much for your perspective and support. I feel less crazy (isn't crazy-making a bullying tactic, too?) in the middle of all of this.

Ann said...

You are so right on with your comments about women having to take care of other people's feelings ahead of any actual, you know, WORK that might be important to them. I'm so glad that your post and the comments here have clarified things in your mind.

One more point you raise in your comment here that I think is very revealing of the dynamics at work here is the idea that little ol' you are somehow bringing down a prestigious fellowship program and museum system all by yourself! (Yeah, you wish, right?) This too is a bullying tactic. This is what I was told in my former bad job--somehow I, who was then the youngest and the most junior person in the whole entire History department, I was this incredibly threatening person who needed to "understand how intimidating I am to other people." So it became my job to invite people out to lunch and show them how un-threatening I really was. Yeah--I at the age of 29 was SOOOOO SCARY to tenured assoicate and full professors!

A sane person would have suggested that if people are intimidated by an untenured first-year faculty member, that maybe they should get themselves to therapy rather than blame the first-year faculty member. A sane fellowship director who was confident about the value and quality of the program would be able to take your criticism and see it along a spectrum of feedback, rather than panicking and needing to inform you that somehow you are the problem.

Anyway--hang in there. Do you have departmental colleagues with whom you can comiserate? My guess is that you're not the first person to see that the emperor has no clothes. Right? That might alleviate the crazy-making that you've experienced in the past few days. (And yes, being told that you're completely isolated and you're the only one who sees things the way you do is in fact a classic bullying tactic.)

Ink said...

I actually tried to articulate something about the coordinator's approach last night, Clio, but couldn't say it right. Am so glad that you and Ann have been talking about it. Have to say that I'm indignant on your behalf! For the coordinator to pull you into a private meeting and explain that "everyone thinks X about you" is abusive. It makes it sound like everyone is talking behind your back, which is unbelievably aggressive. Then to couple it with suggestions for how you COULD phrase things or speak with others is absolutely controlling. The dynamics of this fellowship sound geared toward feel-good chitterchat, not the more proactive and direct action, which you have clearly been trying to accomplish. Quitting is a good way to remove yourself from a broken situation. And that's what I want to stress. It's NOT you. It's the situation that isn't working, clearly!

If anyone ever does question you on this in the future, you could simply say, "Yes, I worked on that project" and if they ask why you left, you could just say something like "I had contributed all that I could at that point and it was time to turn my attention to the many other service and professional development opportunities in which I am involved. For example, I'm very excited about THIS one...." :)

Wishing you well.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Ann: Ain't that the truth? The person with the least power is somehow the greatest threat.

Actually, now that you suggest it, the women who had told me that her experience had been "they just want praise" might be a good person to talk with. She's been around a long time.

I'm also trying to think of other women of strong and powerful words at our school who might be able to give me some advice on how to handle this predicament.

Ink: I know that feeling -- the idea is there but the words haven't quite shaped themselves around it. I also may end up quoting you on that explanation!

You know, after the meeting, when I calmed down enough to drive home, I had this weird feeling of being back in high school or middle school. I think I'm learning to trust that feeling as a indicator that a situation has become ridiculous and unreasonable.

Oh, and I probably should not quote this, but she sent me an e-mail that, according to my gut-reaction, is very patronizing. I had written to her that I did not think that I could change in the ways that she was requesting. She replied, as if reading a script, "don't think of it as change. Think of it as growth."

She went on to tell me "going through an experience that gives you more insight into how to express yourself in a way that is both positive and effective could be really meaningful. (Thinking about where to say what kind of things is another part of that.)"

Because I've never been through any experiences like that in my life, right? Because I've never had to write grants (which were successful), or communicate with upset students, or mediate between students and faculty, or negotiate through complicated situations, or field questions about my research, or anything like that at my stage in life.

I'm getting to the point where I wish I really was as tactless and abrasive and courageous as she thinks I am and just reply with "maybe other people need to grow a pair!" (Ovaries or testicles, whichever you choose.) I won't, and I've been very careful not to cast blame on anyone else or point fingers; but damn! How abrasive am I really, and how much coddling do I have to do of other people before I can get a word out that will be heard.

I've composed a response to her in which I am trying very hard not to take all of the blame upon myself and to address how I am feeling in this situation -- and I'm specifically beginning every statement with "I feel" or "I'm feeling" to distinguish it from "this is the objective truth" or "you are something bad" -- and then shift the conversation back to my ideas. I am not speaking in the touchy-feely language that will make her even consider my input, so I haven't sent it yet. Part of me just wants to ignore it as too patronizing for response.

So, yeah, I deeply resent being told how I must express myself.

Susan said...

I wish I had some additional wisdom, but Ann and Ink have said it all. I mean, this is nuts. I would absolutely go to the woman who told you they only want praise.

And how professionals are all soooo sensitive that they can't take criticism? Jeez, they never had an article rejected?

Clio Bluestocking said...

Susan, I wonder the same thing!

But, it gets better -- or worse. Because I was concerned that I had been disrespectful toward the other fellows, I posted an offical apology saying that I was sorry for creating a hostile environment, it wasn't at all what I intended, that I wouldn't continue posting to the blog because I didn't want to be the reason that discussion was stifled, and that I was profoundly sorry for any hurt or insult I might have caused anyone. I then asked for help in removing my other posts so that they would not be used to harm the program.

The next thing I knew, the whole blog was closed for commenting and all of my posts including the apology were deleted.

I contacted the adminstrator, thinking that she had gone ahead and done the deleting on her own but had misunderstood that I wanted the apology to remain. She said that the coordinator told her what posts to delete, including that one.

So, I spent a whole hour composing a single paragraph e-mail to the coordinator, making sure that I was not accusing her of anything, or creating a hostile envrionment or so forth. I wrote that, while I didn't mind the deletion of the other posts since those were my own wishe, I didn't understand the reason for her removal of the apology since I wanted my regrets expressed. I told her that I thought I had used the space appropriately. "I'm sure you can understand," I wrote, how perplexed I feel that I had been taken to task for my tone, asked to stay in an envrionment in which I have been told that I am considered destructive, and then to have my attempt at conciliation irretrievably deleted without consent or notification. That's strong, right? But is it too hostile? Is it disrespectful? Am I really clueless?

She replied saying that this was a "sensitive matter" that was better discussed in person. This, after she sent me a "follow up" essay asking me to stay in the program while also going on at great length about how I should improve my use of the language.

I'm feeling a bit Nixon paranoid now. I never trust anyone when they send a long unsolicited e-mail, and then refuse to answer a question because they would rather "talk in private." I'm much more assertive on paper than in person, and I'm thinking that she is banking on that. I also think she doesn't want a record -- which then has me thinking, "oh, hell, what else now?" I'm feeling like I'm walking into a set up of some sort that is going to end badly for me.

I mean, shit! Couldn't she have just accepted my damn resignation instead of belaboring what a problem I am as she asked me to stay? My god, I was making it easy for them!

Clio Bluestocking said...

Ugh! The later it gets, the more I think this gaslighting is working.

Ink said...

Clio, I think your paragraph sounds great! Just the right tone.

It seems very odd that the coordinator is so intent on keeping you but then correcting everything you do. Plus, the whole removal of blog posts --especially the apology -- seems suspicious. It really does sound as though you are being silenced. I wonder what else is going on, what's at stake for her, that is prompting this bizarre behavior? No matter what, it isn't how a member of a group should be treated in any professional situation. I'm glad that you're being strong and setting your boundaries and refusing to take any more of it!

Hope you are doing something relaxing and fun this weekend. You deserve it!

Ann said...

Yeah--I'm with Ink (and Susan.) The more the fellowship director does, the shiftier this whole thing becomes.

Personally, I wouldn't respond at all. It's clear that anything you say or do are percieved as threats that she needs to manage or control. She'll never let you have the last word, so just ignore her latest e-mails. It's not really worth your time trying to teach a pig to read--it will frustrate you and annoy the pig, so why bother? I hope in the light of day the gaslighting appears to be more of what it is--a manifestation of her mania, not your inadequacies and insufficiencies. If you really are an incompetent fool, she wouldn't have devoted so much of her time and energy over the weekend to "disappearing" you and your participation in the program.

Make an appointment to have coffee with the person who commented that "all they want is praise" as soon as you can. See if she will share her thoughts with you. It might be a bonding experience.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Thank you, Ink! I wish I was doing something fun, but sadly I'm taking a descent into obsession, self-loathing, and confused, frustrated anger. I might need to book two appointments with my analyst this week! I'm certainly writing far too much to get this outside of my head, and not grading quite enough to stay on schedule!

I think the coordinator beleives that she is being kind and diplomatic, wanting me to (how did she put it?) become "engaged and inspiring," while helping me to "grow." I am pretty lucky, too, given that most people who discover themselves in a "bad fit" don't get the benefit of second chances or even being told how the adminstrators see the problem. They just get dismissed.

I'm not sure if she realizes that her suggestions, no matter how much she sugar coats them or beleives them to be honest and kind, become overbearing, patronizing, and finally insincere as she keeps repeating them. My buddy Babu once told me that bullies do that, they say something, when you disagree, they say the same thing again, only louder, and when you disagree from a different approach, they say the exact same thing yet again only even louder than the second time.

She's not getting louder, but she's also not engaging with my responses. I keep telling her my perception of the situation, expressing to her my confusion, explaining to her how I'm reacting. "This is what things look like from my side" I keep telling her, and I keep getting the same "it's not what you say but how you say it, and what you say doesn't matter because it's how you say it that counts, so it's not what you say but how you say it." She wants me to empathize with her side, but is not showing a tremendous amount of awareness for mine, or tells me that mine is invalid.

If people have a hard time hearing the content of my language because it seems angry and destructive, I have a hard time hearing the content of her message because I trying to sift through the bullshit. To be told once or twice that "you are bright, articulate, and have a lot to offer," is nice. After the 10th or 12th time of the same phrase, without specific reference to your contributions thus far, it becomes canned. I'm actually usually able to negotiate between the two extremes, but on occasion, I have neither the energy nor patience to do so.

Also, something about "bright" and "articulate" that rubs me the wrong way. "Bright" is how you describe young people with promise: "oh, little Jimmy in my class is really bright, he could be a doctor when he grows up." You wouldn't say, "oh, that David Blight, he's real bright!" -- not that I'm David Blight brilliant, but you get the picture. Plus, I'm have a PhD in the humanities, I damn well better be articulate.

I do know that she is under a lot of pressure from the museums to make thing go the way that the museums would like. The museums clearly want their ass kissed, and she is in the awkward position of herding the well-educated, opinionated masses to bow and scrape before the king, otherwise she herself goes on the chopping block. I think she is committed to the goals of the program, but she has to negotiate around a bunch of big egos that have to be coddled and praised consistently before you can even suggest that perhaps, maybe, one day we can consider changing this one little thing over here.

I also think that the coordinator on the museum end is in the same position, but she has to herd those egos to lower themselves to meet the needs of a community college educational program rather than the promotion of their own careers or agenda. I think both coordinators are both pissed at me because, by saying that I wasn't getting anything out of the fellowship (which, frankly, is true) and by giving way too many suggestions for improvement (all of which have yet to be address), I didn't respect the work that they do just to keep these two pieces together. I also made their jobs more difficult because the museums can now just say what I'm essentially saying, "I don't need this. I have better things to do."

The coordinators are probably right, but it's also not my job to take care of their feelings, especially when they ask for feedback (and I naively inferred "honest feedback"). In fact, the number one rule of feedback is "don't ask for it unless you are prepared for the worst."

I too wonder at the reluctance to let me go. I think most of the other fellows will be just as releived as I will be if I leave, if they do, in fact, perceive me to be as destructive as I've been told. So, I'm starting to beleive that this essentially or part of a script that I haven't yet learned because you KNOW they will be happy when I'm gone.

I'm wondering if they are worried that the departure of a fellow reflects badly on them. Not that they are sitting there thinking "oh, she doesn't like us! What did we do wrong?"; but that they are thinking "what does this say to funders about our program if someone is so unhappy that they dropped out?"

I also wonder if I'm walking into a situation now in which they say "you can't quit, you're fired!" They would like me to leave, but on their terms, like "we want you to apologize in this way and then quietly go away."

In any case, I just cannot get over the feeling that leaving is the healthiest thing for me and for the group, and that staying will just make things worse for everyone, but will have very bad consequences for me.

I also worry that, staying or leaving, by being a problem in this, I will get fired for damaging the college's relations with the museums. Silly sounding, I know, but not outside of the realm of possibility. It's not like we have tenure. So, now I feel like an idiot for not considering that angle all along. Although it would have led to me seething quietly.

I also worry that I, out of arrogance or conceit or narcissim, really do not respect some of the people that I have encountered in this fellowship. I certainly no longer feel privleged to have been in this program. I feel disillusioned and hurt by the lack of response to my critique all along. In fact, that lack of response escalated my frustration and probably contributed to the hostility of my tone.

Too much obession. Must grade papers.

Ink said...

Of course you are feeling obsessed by this mystery! How can they ask for feedback, challenge how you phrase it, focus on the "feelings" of everyone else in the group, question your tone, then tell you how very valued you are and how staying will provide you with a "growth" opportunity? WTF? (You know what would be a good "growth" opportunity in this scenario? For them to focus on your ideas for potential change...isn't that why they convened this group in the first place?)

It's so far outside the realm of what a professional should have to deal with that it's unfathomably confusing.

Oh, Clio, I really feel for you and hope that your conversation with the coordinator goes well tomorrow.

profacero said...

You were right to quit.

These internal fellowships are pressure cookers for this kind of disagreement.

They aren't really necessary for professional development, although they can look attractive.

I am sure there was no actual problem with your language. I think people, for whatever reasons of their own, just didn't want to think about certain things.

bitternsweet said...

Well, damn.

The aspect of your original post that really got me: "I feel like I am not being heard except as a problem."

I hate that you would feel that way. It's too close to how women have always been made to feel when they don't buckle down into submission.

I say, be a problem, Clio. Be the problem that makes the fellowship folks think twice about how things are run. Don't second guess your criticisms & suggestions just because some people got their feelings hurt. You were compelled to present these views for a reason -- and I'm willing to bet for a very good reason.

Hang in there!

Clio Bluestocking said...

Ann, I totally missed your last comment -- we must have posted at the same time! And, "teach a pig to read": I'm going to hang on to that one!

Ink: But, don't you understand? I'm the child in this scenario! I have to grow up to be like them!

Profacero: I actually took a lot of comfort in your posts about the proper time to walk away from a situation -- like when every fiber of your being is saying "run!"

Bitternsweet: Exactly! The gendered aspect of this keeps coming back to me over and over with the "take care of other people's feelings" and the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Also, when I express no desire to be an administator or "leader," that is taken as "low self-esteem" rather than a genuine understanding of my own personality, skills, and goals.

I'm also feeling that "pressure cooker" atmosphere that Profecero mentions.

The fellows blog had been open to administrators (which I didn't know at the time -- and again, I may not have changed anything I said if I had). When the administrators see criticism of the program, that gives them ammunition to justify de-funding the program.

I became a threat because I was not offering enough praise, and my words might play into the hands of a hostile administator. Hence, the deletion of my comments issued from above (I wanted most of them deleted anyway, but I thought that was MY call, not theirs, or that they should notify me instead of just doing it).

I actually see that decision to open up a discussion forum to lurkers on high as unwise. If you are trying to control the information that reaches those administrator, then control the information. Only give them the comments that you deem useful and in a way that you think is appropriate. Or is that unethical?

Anyway, I went from feeling like there was some sort of script for which I did not know the lines, to discerning the outline of the script and realizing that it was the sort of play that I avoid when I can.

The play is that whole administrative dance of backscratching and kissing up; and I do everything in my power not to enter those sorts of situations unless I genuinely feel the need to kiss up and backscratch. I had thought that was those were the games for the coordinators and administrators of this program, and not the fellows. I naively hadn't realized that they were scratching my back by allowing me in the program, and I was supposed to scratch theirs by praising it so it could continue.

Now I'm thinking that, no matter where I go in this college (literally and figuratively), I should always think of myself in that administrative scenario, no matter how minor a role that I play. I have to be aware that, on campus, I'm not freelance, which is sort of a new experience.

Anyway, this whole comment thread has been a great way to work through this mess -- it may stay a mess, but I'm beginning to understand more about the reasons for the mess! Plus, having voices outside of your head tell you that, no, you aren't off balance, goes a long long way to maintaining balance. So, I'm grateful to you all for that.

The History Enthusiast said...

Good. God. This situation borders on the ridiculous (never mind, it IS ridiculous). I am sorry that you are being marginalized and painted as a crazy person. From my reading you are completely in the right. The director (et. al.) is being secretive and contradictory.

I don't mean this to be flippant, but as I was reading your post I thought, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." I mean no disrespect, but that was the analogy that came to mind.

P.S. I don't know if I've commented hello! I'm an ABD grad student in history at an R1.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Hi, History Enthusiast, and welcome!

Actually, I love "Nobody puts Baby in a corner"! I wish I had thought of it first!


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