Blue: A Quit Lit Story

I dyed my hair today.

This is nothing new, to be honest. I got my first grey hair at 19, and started coloring it pretty much as soon as I had a bathroom to myself. Sometimes I had it colored professionally, but mostly I did it myself, with some variant on “dark brown with auburn undertones.” Sometimes a little purple-ish, but never anything too outrageous. Always safe and age-appropriate.

Then I had my son, and both time and money got tighter, and it got harder to keep up with coloring it. I am not entirely sure when I stopped – there’s a photo of the two of us when he was about three, and I definitely had it colored at that point – but it was a whole process. I changed to lighter and lighter dyes. I used temporary dyes so that it would gradually wash out instead of leaving a huge line at the roots. I tried using a color stripper on it, which left it almost orange. (Do NOT do this. Seriously.) But eventually, I was back to my natural color, which at this point was black with long streaks of grey in it. It looked pretty cool in a Morticia Addams kind of way. At that point I decided I was never coloring my hair brown again. My hair was grey when I wrote my dissertation and it was grey when I went on the job market.

That year, a more established female scholar told me I might need to dye my hair again, “not because it doesn’t look good on you, but because the world is terrible.”

I was cautiously optimistic that first year of job hunting in 2013-2014, but I got no interviews. No worries – I still hadn’t defended so I wasn’t terribly surprised. By March, when it was clear that nothing was going to come through, I decided to do something frivolous and silly to keep my spirits up: I put blue streaks in my hair. One student in my History of Rock class commented on it, but it suited the persona I had adopted in that course. There was no real thought behind it – I just dyed it because I could. Because for at least the next few months, the color of my hair would have absolutely no bearing on my future. I could do what I wanted with it.

That was the year I (and 30-some other people) got a mass email rejection letter from UVA, open CC-ed to all of us.

My second year on the job market, I applied for everything I could, presented at conferences, wrote an article, and finished and defended my dissertation. The blue dye had worn off and I was back to respectable black and grey. I never got so much as a phone interview. By summertime I dyed it again, this time just on the underside, so you barely noticed it until it caught the light.

My third year of job-hunting was exhausting: I was teaching multiple classes on multiple campuses and commuting an hour between them, and squeezing in the job apps in between. I designed a new online course. The school paper named my History of Rock class the best gen ed class on campus. I finished the journal article. I wrote a letter of recommendation for grad school for one of my students, even as I questioned whether anyone should really be pursuing a graduate degree. I saw my family only sporadically. I applied for a dozen or so jobs. Nothing. In most cases I never heard anything back at all once they confirmed that they had received my materials. By spring break I was back to blue stripes. I told my World Music students that it was just because it was spring and I felt like it, but by then it had turned into a grim ritual. May as well dye it, because nobody cares anyhow.

My last year of job hunting – and what would be my last year teaching, although I didn’t know that yet – I had begun to give up hope. I loved my students but had pretty well acknowledged that the tenure track was not going to happen for me. That spring I learned that email messages were routinely eaten when they were forwarded from the university email servers to Google. Each side blamed the other one, nobody had a records of the lost messages, and I was left wondering: what if maybe someone actually had wanted more information from me all this time? I would never have known. I still don’t.

In the summer of 2017, two weeks before I was to start teaching again, the School of Music announced that it would be cutting lecturer salaries. Nobody would make more than $4000 to teach a semester-long classroom course. Two of us refused to sign. We were accused of holding the department hostage. We walked away.

I spent 20 months unemployed until I finally landed a job this past April. For my sins, I am at the same university, but I am no longer a lecturer. I am staff, which means that for the first time at this institution I am entitled to health insurance and benefits. I am paid a reasonable salary. I don’t have the level of security that tenured faculty do, but I have a hell of a lot more than I did as an adjunct. I have a new perspective (and possibly a whole other blog post) on how the university has chosen its winners and losers, and how easy it is for the haves to be completely unaware of how the have-nots live, even within the same institution. I have weird nerdy co-workers who I enjoy a lot, and office politics to negotiate. I am no longer on any kind of job market.

As of today, my hair looks like this:

And I am not washing it out this time.
But I might add purple.

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