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.