Dispatches from London: Retail Therapy

Today I bought another pair of shoes.  From a fellow medievalist working in a shop.

It turns out the extremely charming Italian salesman had recently interviewed at the large research institution just up the road from the smaller college where I teach and had just completed a PhD in medieval Persian literature at UCL.  He is way smarter and has a much better academic pedigree than I.

This was one of those days–and there are many–when I wonder how I have a job at all.  I am lucky to get to spend my days in archives and my evenings at the theatre.  And my Sunday afternoon at Laduree with an old friend and violet-scented macarons.  And my nights  prowling the Thames in search of sleep in one of my favourite cities in the world.  I am lucky to have the job I have.

But I could just as easily be working in a shop too. I spent a miserable year in the late 80s working at Laura Ashley and looking like a flower garden had barfed all over me.  In fact, I wore a very similar pair of brogues to the ones I bought today with lace tights and a square-necked, puffy-sleeved, corduroy floral frock, with my spiral-permed hair caught up in a huge-ass velvet bow.  I was dreadful at retail.  It is a very trying job.    
I might work hard, at both the job I had before and the one I have now, but I don’t work harder than anybody else.  And hard work doesn’t mean I deserve this job anymore than anyone else.  And sometimes I wonder if I deserve it less … which is what keeps me up at night.  
Luckily there are deeply-discounted, Italian-made, kitten-soft, blue suede shoes that come medievalist-approved.  
I might sleep in them tonight. 

17 thoughts on “Dispatches from London: Retail Therapy

  1. True confession: I bought one of those square-neck, puffy-sleeve, floral corduroy dresses from Laura Ashley in Ottawa  . . . because I wanted to!  I wore it with black lace-up granny boots and eventually sold it at a consignment shop when my style changed.  But I did love the romance, though I knew it had to be tempered with an edge (the boots).

  2. Nicely done DM.  Yet another pair of awesome London-sourced shoes.  I sympathize with your anxieties about deserving the job you have (though I HATE the word deserve).  

  3. Another pair of sweet kicks, DM. Nicely played. I'm with you and Cynthia on this one. You're good at what you do, and you do cool work. These are really the only parts of your job you can control. I wish you peace on all other uncontrollable job parts.

  4. Never say never.  Apply for all jobs but have a back-up plan (um, I bet no one has ever given you that advice ever).  I assumed I wouldn't get a job and I was gearing up for an MLIS when I finished as a contingency plan (I do *not* know why I thought I should get a PhD before the MLIS, that makes no sense at all) but then, you know, that didn't happen.  Academe broke me in other unexpected ways though, and it continues to.  But what else does one do with a PhD in English?  Some people, people smarter than I, have figured this out.

  5. *sigh* I want a tenure-track job probably more than just about anything else in the world, but at the end of the day I know that I have little control over whether or not I actually land one because of the glut of amazingly qualified people without positions and because of ineffable things like "fit" and departmental dynamics.  All I can do is take advantage of the opportunities that I currently have to do research, get articles out, try to get a book contract, teach my classes well, and serve my current institution.  I'm not an adjunct, so my situation is better than that of many, but I still burn with envy and frustration at times.  Those shoes are beautiful.

  6. Katie, I don't know how you do it.  It would be especially grim to know that my skilled work had been deemed not worthy of funding and that its relevance had been questioned (wait, that happens in my field all of the time actually).  You are kind of super-heroic.  

  7. I was on a search committee this year for a job in our department and it was overwhelming and humbling to see how amazing the candidates were, including the ones who didn't even make the long list. I don't know if I have any pictures of me in my Laura Ashley tents …

  8. I think you're right that it is the height of arrogance, and probably a particularly North American arrogance, to imagine that we can assign desert at all.  Really, who do we think we are?  I'm lucky to have this problem in the first place, which isn't even a problem. And I don't necessarily deserve these shoes, but I could afford them (on sale) and I need them for my job if I am going to look competent (even if I don't feel it).  Plus they are Blue. Suede. Shoes.  Thankyouverymuch.

  9. Well, if a fellow medievalist sold you the shoes, you'd HAVE to buy them, right? I've not yet met a Sanskritist working at a shop (it may be me one day), but I'd feel pretty driven to buy something from them (and I mean a real Sanskritist, not someone who knows some yoga chants)… As someone on the other side, who got heartbroken by the academic world at a young age and is pretty convinced she won't ever climb the higher academic job ladder, it's interesting to hear your thoughts about this. Thanks for sharing. 

  10. I often have the same thought when I sit on hiring committees and am wowed by the credentials of applicants to my college.  Would love to see a picture of you in your Laura Ashley days.

  11. Is that the Globe? *jealous*I don't know too much about the hiring of academics, just the struggles my friend's husband goes through almost yearly trying to find a tenure track position instead of the yearly contract adjunct positions. But, you were selected for what you're doing; that's amazing. You were picked and maybe you can use your experience helping other people achieve their dreams and get out of Laura Ashley.

  12. I've been trying to squelch the green-eyed monster in me lately that looks with bitterness at people in my profession who are still employed. I know my turn of luck had nothing to do with my talents and everything to do with bureaucracy beyond a lot of people's control, but it's difficult to see people with less training or experience or ability getting to do what I feel more qualified for. So then I have to remind myself that even though the job situation is rubbish, everything else in my life is good – very good – and I know there are others who look at me with envy for those reasons.

  13. The great mystery of the 20th century on the North American continent is that so many of us think we deserve everything we have.  Sadly, no, we are a lucky accident of history and all we can do is hope that there's not another accident of history that shows us exactly how deluded we were, before we die.But, on the small scale, you deserve those awesome shoes, and I'm sure that you deserve your job as well, inasmuch as anyone does.

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