Can you handle one last story about the FGS history project?
In our last chapter, the Head of School (HOS) had pulled the plug on the project last fall, but then she'd done this vacillating thing where she said to me, "Well, let's not call it 'dead.' Let's call it 'on hiatus.'" And she had told the Librarian and the Archivist that they'd talk again in April.
In the meantime, over the winter the Librarian announced that she was taking early retirement this June. (Much shock and dismay throughout campus!) Yesterday she had a meeting with HOS in which she told the HOS that she'd actually still like to be involved with the FGS history project as project manager even after she's retired.
The meeting did NOT go well, and the Librarian came to see me afterward almost shaking with frustration. The long and the short of it is the following comment by HOS:
"No, this project is dead, because WN was mean to Ex-Co-Author (ECA). We're a collaborative school, but WN wasn't collaborative, she was mean. And that's why the project ended in failure."
The Librarian blinked at this and said, "well, if we're going to talk about it in those terms, ECA was pretty 'mean' as well, not just to WN but also to me."
Nope, she was told, that wasn't it at all. No, it was all WN, being mean.
I asked the Librarian at this point in her retelling if there had been any indication that she and the Archivist were also mean, because they had certainly come in for criticism along those lines from ECA before. But no, it turns out that in HOS's mind, all culpability now rests on my shoulders, because I was so mean.
The Librarian tried to take a stand for the value of actual standards for good work, but she got shot down.
And then the HOS had this moment of musing out loud about possible avenues forward: "I guess if next fall ECA came forward and said that she really was no longer interested in working on the project, only then could we have WN pick it up again. But no, that would just be rewarding WN for her bad behavior. No, I think the only way this project can ever be revived is if WN comes to me and ECA and apologizes for her meanness and bad behavior."
The Librarian then told me, "I usually hate to speak for someone else, but in thise case I told the HOS that I really didn't ever see that happening." And I assured her she was quite right!
So honestly, this language of "WN was so mean" was such a ridiculous reading of the whole affair that at first it was tickling my funny bone. Sure, I kept using the phrase "that is such bullshit," but I was laughing as I said it, because come on!
But then by last night it was really bugging me. Not because of the project itself, because honestly I'm glad to drive a stake through its undead heart at this point; I decided in January that I had no intention of going back to it, at least for the foreseeable future, and I boxed up all of my notes and drafts and books and put them away in the basement, which was very liberating. No, it started bugging me because (a) this narrative totally scapegoats me and allows everyone else involved to deflect any responsiblity at all, including ECA's shoddy work and HOS's very poor leadership throughout this; and (b) what the hell is going on when we tell our students to "lean in" and take a stand and take risks for what they care about, while at the same time the faculty get told to play like nice girls? and (c) honestly, I wonder what the HOS's belief in her version of events does to my future at FGS? If she now considers me a "mean girl" who can't work with others (all other evidence to the contrary), what does that do to future opportunities I might otherwise have at FGS? Will doors be closed to me?
It may well be that I need to sit down and have a chat with HOS before the year ends. As it happens, she's been having one-on-one talks with faculty and staff this year in the same way that she did in her first year at FGS, checking in with folks about their lives and careers. I haven't had mine yet, in part because after the book disaster I was weirdly paranoid (or maybe not so weirdly after all) and decided to wait to schedule it until after I'd gotten my contract for next year. So maybe this will need to be food for discussion at that meeting, which I'm not looking forward to, but I don't want to fret about it over the summer.
Anyway, it felt crazy-making to have that whole stupid drama come back to bite me again after I'd packed everything up and thought I was done with it. And somehow the comment about "meanness" is really hurting, since it strikes at part of my identity as a basically nice person.