Pinched Under the Table

...recently a friend of mine stopped by to see me and catch up...we've been playing facebook tag for a while and finally he just called and said he was coming over..."i'm really, super pregnant," i told him, "don't expect me to even get up from the recliner"

...i didn't...

...and we had a long chat...

...what surprised me about our talk was how very little he knew about the circumstances surrounding my resignation from my teaching position that happened around this time last year...what had provoked me, he wanted to know, to post to my blog something my former boss said about my writing? "it seemed like you attacked her out of nowhere," he said...

...i was floored...to me, an attack is showing up with brass knuckles, not writing something down that is bothering, frustrating, or otherwise angering me...

..."you didn't characterize her well," he went on to say...

...true...i did call her "She Who Is Looking Her Age"...an appropriate (albeit stolen) moniker...though now people call her Shriveled Spider and i wish i could've stolen that one instead...

..."it was like you came out of nowhere and called her a name," my friend said...

...when i was a child, i used to pinch my sister, deidre, under the table at meals to see if i could get her to whine or cry out...as the older child, i found it funny when my sister got into trouble for something i did, mostly because then my parents would see me as the good child, the one who didn't whine or complain...of course, once she realized if she screamed she'd get into trouble, she started pinching me back...then the game became simply about the will to stay quiet while our thighs burned and bruised...i haven't played that game since i was seven, but looking back at my former working environment, i was reminded of it and for the first time experienced the injustice deidre must've felt so many years ago...

...for over a year, my former boss thwarted me professionally and tossed subtle insults in my direction--insults that were subtle enough she could deny them--one conversation that still sticks in my craw is when she called the birth of my first child a "lifestyle choice" for which she, as my supervisor, was making painstaking scheduling choices, (offerings i hadn't asked for but that she'd provided because she was such a kind, accommodating boss, and as she said, "it takes a village")...all of the pinching was done in private, conversations that took place in her office, or mine, or the copy room when no one else was around...looking back, i see how convenient it was for her to pinch me under the table and what an idiot i was to continue to trust her...


...so when my friend came to visit and couldn't understand why i'd been so suddenly antagonistic toward my boss, i began to recount the pinches...in one instance, she told me though i'd been asked by the director to apply to the Georgia Governor's Teaching Fellows Academic Year Symposia Program,  it was impossible for me to attend because i'd miss one day of teaching a month...if i wanted to participate, she said, i'd have to arrange my schedule to teach nights so i wouldn't miss those 5 days of the semester...never mind the faculty handbook stated that faculty development was a reason for missing classes, or that i could've taught that day online, or that other professors were missing classes for conferences--and getting funding to do so...she didn't think it was feasible in my case...pinch...

...when i sent her an email about the rude and crass behavior of a part-time instructor toward a full-time member of staff--behavior that included screaming and fist pumping in the presence of students--she told me, "thanks for the email, i'll handle him" yet a day later she called me into her office to say that her supervisor was displeased with my email and that i shouldn't tell her how to do her job...when i went to clear the air with her boss, the woman seemed perplexed to see me, assuring me that the email was not a big deal and the situation was resolved...pinch...

...calling me a "superstar" and saying in an equally-insulting tone, that implied i wasn't doing my job, "i don't see how you manage to write and publish and teach and are a mother and a wife"...pinch...pinch...

...then there were the numerous jibes at being californian and not from the south and thus not "fitting in"...her giggle when i was flummoxed by an accent or a strange cultural norm like sporting the rebel flag...pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch...

...there are dozens more pinches, and because i'm a writer who journals each day, i've got them recorded...but the one that provoked me to relate the moniker "She Who Is Looking Her Age" was the moment in the copy room when she cornered me out of the blue and said, "another chair and i are drafting an intellectual property policy for the college. you should know that they may be entitled to any money you make on a publication, especially if they can show they gave you compensation like a course release or paying for a conference. i know you're working on a book, so i wanted to give you a heads up."

...not sure how to respond, i stood in the room for a moment trying to understand what she'd just told me..."um, is that even legal? how would they prove compensation? i've never gotten a course release to write."

"you write in the summer."

"and?"

"the college pays your health benefits in the summer, so if they wanted to they could say they're entitled to profits. like i said, i'm helping to draft it and i'll do what i can."

...pinch...

...and then i posted what she said to my blog, apparently the equivalent of yelling above the table so everyone could hear my discomfort, anger, and frustration...

...i'm not sure why she thought i'd take in stride the fact that someone else might profit from my work, especially after i spoke to a few other writer-professors who told me they'd never heard of such a policy and to get out of the school as fast as i could...

...i'm not sure why i took in stride so many of her other pinches, her lack of professionalism--which included having an affair with a subordinate, an action strictly forbidden in BOR policy, but for which neither she nor her lover faced a penalty...

...i'm not sure why i didn't speak up when she gossiped about a colleague's sick child, or when she perpetually arrived late to the office, or when she took personal leave to attend concerts or family vacations, or spent hours in her office talking to a friend about a weekly role playing game they both participated in...

...i'm not sure why i allowed myself to be pinched over and over again...it might've been i was so caught up in my own life--raising a small child, losing family members, trying to continue to publish and finish my first book--that i chose to let her actions build until i finally burst with the insult of calling her "She Who Is Looking Her Age"...

...or it could be that i simply worked in a place that, under her reign, fell into a state of chaos where hard work and ethical behavior were eradicated by cronyism and nepotism, and the incessant pinching under the table...

...whatever the case may be, she used my blog as a reason to deny me tenure under the guise of "uncollegial behavior" and creating a "hostile work environment"...not the part where i divulged the moniker so many of my colleagues were fond of calling her, but saying instead that i'd fabricated the entire conversation in the copy room...claiming i'd twisted her words...claiming i'd misunderstood her...when i asked her which of the three i'd done, she threw up her hands...

...i eventually took down the blog post...the part that she found insulting...but i'd already yelled for everyone to hear (yes, apparently everyone affiliated with the college reads my blog) instead of suffering in quiet servitude...and she got away with the pinching...for a half-year, at least, until she lost her post...

...seven years of service to a college that included chairing a SACS committee, creating a reading series (that eventually brought a Pulitzer winner, a Pen/Faulkner Winner, and a NY Times Bestselling author to campus), reviving a defunct literary journal, receiving stellar peer, administrative, and student reviews, leading a Big Read/NEA writing workshop, and steady writing, presenting, and publishing...all negated because i'd written the truth...

...a lawyer told me i had a good case against both she and the school, that i should sue to be reinstated, especially after it was clear that my colleagues didn't think i was uncollegial at all--to the contrary, two faculty committees approved my tenure--and that her deliberate unethical behavior in the face of BOR policy could cost her her job after it was all said and done...while revenge was tempting, i considered the weight of the thing and in the end i'd had enough...i'd allowed her to make me miserable and i wasn't going to any more...

...here i am, a year later, my first book finished, pregnant with twins, enjoying a life of full time writing...and yet, after talking to my friend, i felt the need to write this down...perhaps as a way of flushing out all of the negativity i allowed into my life, as a way of pinpointing my own flaws, as a way of uncovering some of the bruises from the pinches and saying, finally, "that's done now."

...when i think of my former boss, i see her still sitting at the kids' table, pinching the poor souls who sit with her so she'll be perceived as the good child...at first glance, it looks like they're having a quiet dinner together, perhaps that they even like each other...but the table, the meal, the quiet: it's all a facade...underneath they're all pinching each other, suffering in silence...i hope eventually they outgrow the game, get up, and get on with their lives...

Comments

  1. BOOM! Pinched under the table...couldn't think of a better analogy...

    As someone who was transplanted into this state at the awkward and fragile age of 15...i totally get it. I didn't get it then, but after spending years observing the weird social order of that little backwards town...well, basically...its not you, its them.

    You were a gem in that school and I will always remember you and your husband fondly.

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  2. Ouch. Reminds me of what one of my grad school profs said: "Issues of power and authority in organizations are never issues of power and authority; they are issues of fear and insecurity." You were obviously perceived as a huge threat by She Who Is Looking Her Age, and unfortunately for you, she had a couple of screws loose on top of her insecurity.

    Not quite the same, but still: http://awordwitch.blogspot.com/2011/06/adventures-in-academia-high-weirdness.html

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  3. I really think you should have sued her and the school. What she did was unprofessional and illegal. And you did not get tenure because of this person? End of story. I would have gone the extra mile to get tenure after 7 years. But I glad you are happy. Whole thing sounds like a nightmare.

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  4. I understand the "pain" of being "pinched" under the table & all the angst that being in this profession can cause. I was "attacked" and ousted from two different schools by actions & attitudes. Much of it still hurts...7 years later. Speak out. Do good. Invite peace into your life as often as possible.

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