When you’re looking for the truth, you have to be careful. Finding truth is like attempting to sail a boat through a violent storm, while you are not wearing a life jacket. You have to be careful not to go overboard, when your only support is a thin cord that tethers you to your mast. That tether is what you know for sure. It keeps you upright and provides some security. The raging storm? That’s what has been said, written, and whispered in hushed tones behind closed doors. It’s all the information, true and false, secret and widely known, that you are going to have to deal with. The wind and the rain are lies, pushing you off course and blinding you. The occasional finger of lightning that touches down in the distance is a truth that lights up your situation, so that just for a moment, you can see a bit further and a bit clearer. The thunder is encouragement, like a far away audience applauding, reminding you to keep going. You have to keep going. The storm is going to try and push you out to sea, but you have got to keep moving forward, guided to the answer by random flashes of light and your own instincts. After all, it is not the whole truth, if you settle for only halfway, and half a truth is not enough for me. Half a truth is still half a lie.
You steer your car into the university’s interior drive. There is a lot next to the library where the impressions on the asphalt have taken the shape of your tires. You pull into the familiar spot marked “Visitors Only,” grab your well-worn leather bag, and make your way inside to a flimsy table. The temporary desk will support a diverse stack of books today, background research for a rigorous article on an original topic. You set up on the faux-wood laminate, noticing how it has warped from the condensation of too many students’ drinks on too many humid days. This is the closest thing to an office you have here. It suits you.
The conferences where you speak list you as an independent scholar. When you were a grad student, an old Oxford Don sniffed that this was a discreet euphemism for “unemployed.” You are more fortunate than that. Self-interested college instructors always said that a liberal arts education prepared you for a number of jobs, and they were right. You were trained to research things and write about them. In a business drowning in reports and figures where accountants can make profits appear and disappear based on office politics, executives appreciate well-made narratives and charts. You make a living as a business analyst, not as a tenure-track professor employed by a university to teach and do research. As an independent scholar, you do it for the love. That’s what the word “amateur” means: one who works for love, not money. You have become a professional at something else. Continue reading “The Loneliness of the Independent Scholar by Stu Burns”→