So apparently I'm still adapting to being a, like, authority figure--or whatever it is that I am--because I'm having a really hard time remembering that, when I'm two miles from campus and someone cuts me off at a light in a particularly jerky and dangerous fashion, I maybe shouldn't give him the finger. Especially when he has an RU hangtag on his rearview mirror, color-coded to indicate "student."
And when another student fails to brake at the crosswalk that I'm just entering? It would probably be advisable not to mutter, loudly, "thanks a lot, bitch." Because even if the driver has her windows rolled up and is well past me by the time I say it, there might be other pedestrians nearby. And it's probably a bad policy, as a faculty member, to become known as someone who goes around cursing out students.
Those things are obvious, I suppose, and maybe it's less about my adjusting to being An Adult than it is to living in a slightly less impatient and profane city than the ones where I most recently dwelt. But as Evey and I were discussing at the bar a couple of months ago--and this conversation is not to be mistaken for any one of the dozen of other conversations that we've had at some bar or other in the last few months (God bless her for existing, a certain blogger for introducing us, and New City for having watering holes that we still haven't visited)--being a professor is one of the more obscure jobs that one can have while yet feeling oneself to be uncomfortably in the public eye.
Our students Google us. They gossip and speculate and trade stories about us. One of my students--and of course I shouldn't know this, but I do--quotes me, twice, in her Facebook profile (I guess she thinks I'm funny). But it's not only them: as fellow academics, we all Google each other when we're assigned to panels with people we've never heard of, or after meeting people at conferences, or when we come across a novel or interesting or terrible essay in one of our journals.
For a long while, toiling away in obscurity on my dissertation, I longed to have a public presence in this profession. I used to Google myself regularly, waiting to exist in the world at least as a name in a conference program somewhere; some while later, I started checking the MLA database obsessively, waiting for my first couple of publications to show up and confirm that, yes, I was out there, doing something.
So now, for what it's worth, I exist. My Google and MLA database trail isn't vast, and neither is it entirely up to date, but it gives what you might call my academic vital statistics. But now that I have some kind of a public image, I'm nervous about it: whenever I think about posting something to a list-serv or a website or a wiki under my own name, I hesitate: would I want that to come up when someone searches for me?
And although I live a goodly distance from RU, I look over my shoulder when I'm out at a bar or a restaurant. I wonder whether what I'm wearing is too tight or low-cut, or whether I'm being too loud or drinking too much, in the event that I should run into a student.
Maybe I'm crazy-paranoid (and I probably am, as only the narcissistic can truly be paranoid), but the point I'm making here is surely true even for the less paranoid and narcissistic among us. Most of my non-academic friends--even the quite successful among them--don't think this way, and many of them barely exist in Google; moreover, they can be pretty confident that the only people searching for them are exes or long-lost friends or their most recent dates from Match.com. They may be important in their various spheres, but they aren't public figures in the way--even the very, very minor way--that those of us who teach and lecture and publish and present are. We have public, performed selves to a different degree, and the fact that the primary audience for those performed selves isn't our peers, but our students, makes the always-present gulf between the public and the private that much more stark and that much more problematic.
Which is to say? Maybe only this: I kinda hate having to act like a respectable person.