After Alexander Chee

  1. 1.I have, as I like to say, two master’s degrees and half of a Ph.D. Which is to say that I spent six years pursuing an MA and Ph.D. in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I completed all of the Ph.D. requirements except for the dissertation. 

  1. 2.My first conception of a dream job, at age seven or eight, was to own my own general store out in some rural community. I have no idea what sparked this desire, but it lasted for a while. I think I was drawn to the idea of a community hub where everyone goes and knows everyone else. I also fantasized about all the hours I’d have to spend organizing shelves.

  1. 3.From age eleven to fourteen, I stopped dreaming of things “to be.” I was approaching and then entered “womanhood” (according to my father, whom many have called a cult leader), and it was now time to start looking for a husband.

  1. 4.Because, you know, the only reason God made women in the first place is so that men have someone to cook for them and in whom to spread their seed.

  1. 5.I can’t technically call myself “ABD” (not that this acronym means anything outside of academia anyway), although I did complete my dissertation proposal, and although my advisor and second-in-line committee member both approved of what I had written. I can’t call myself ABD because my third committee member, Eduardo, the one I added last minute—the one I didn’t even want on my committee to begin with, but asked him anyway because he was the only other Victorianist in the department and I wanted to finish this final step before leaving the program to pursue a degree and career in Student Affairs—that committee member decided my proposal was not “elevated” enough.

  1. 6.If it had occurred to me that “Being Nancy Drew” was a potential career path, my first dream job would have been that of a detective or private investigator.

  1. 7.I was twelve when my dad decided Bill (twenty-two at the time) was an eligible enough bachelor to begin courting me once I became post-pubescent.

  1. 8.I definitely also wanted to be a singer when I grew up.

  1. 9.The only class I took with Eduardo was on the topic of Liberalism. Not Victorian Liberalism, liberalism generally. And not Fin de Siècle Poetic Decadence, as my cohort had requested. But I took the class anyway, because at the time I was committed to the idea of being a professor, and I thought I needed Eduardo on my dissertation committee.

  1. 10.By the time I was ready to schedule my dissertation proposal defense, I had already been accepted into the Educational Leadership program for enrollment that fall. My advisor and second reader were aware of and supported this career change.

  1. 11.Actually, my first dream job was to be a mermaid. In some box somewhere is a video of me after my fifth birthday party, trying out my new karaoke microphone stand with my best friend. We are singing along to “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, and I’m being an all-out diva. The whole video is basically me wriggling around the living room, hoarding the microphone and squirming away from my friend every time she moves in for a duet.

  1. 12.Bill turned out to be gay.

  1. 13.When I met with Eduardo about being my third committee member, for transparency’s sake, I also told him about my upcoming departure. He said, “I hope you don’t think I’m going to let you by with mediocre work just because you’re leaving the program.”

  1. 14.During my Ariel phase, I refused to swim normally in our apartment’s pool, instead crossing my legs at the ankles to emulate merhood whenever I swam.

  1. 15.The next potential suitor was Levi, the son of one of my dad’s followers. He was two years younger than I, so the waiting period on that courtship would have been several more years.

  1. 16.My final paper for Eduardo’s class was a Marxist-Feminist reading of Aurora Leigh, arguing essentially that what moves the narrative forward is its resistance to the market forces of the traditional “marriage plot” structure (even though Aurora does end up marrying in the end). I would later present the paper at the annual British Women Writers Conference, where it was met with praise. He gave it a B- and called my theoretical framework “trite.”

  1. 17.Shortly after his arrest, my dad met Daniel McCross. They were cellmates for a while in San Diego County Jail, and my dad converted him. Daniel replaced Levi as my future husband. At the time, Daniel was thirty-one, and I was fourteen. His favorite photo of me was from when I was twelve.

  1. 18.In college, I briefly considered switching my major to Art instead of English. I wanted to be a photographer. I had been doing black and white photography since my junior year of high school, a skill I was proud of. I could spend hours in the darkroom without noticing that any time had passed. One of my professors got her MFA in Iowa, and whenever I looked at her photos, I dreamed of making art and having naked sex parties for three years out in the middle of nowhere. 

  1. 19.A week before my wedding, I got a letter from my dad. My birthday had just passed, and I hadn’t told him about the wedding, so I thought it was one of his annual “Happy birthday—I love you but you need to stop sinning” letters. It was, but with an added admonition: “Do not marry that woman. Your marriage will be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”

  1. 20.Then I thought, What if my photos aren’t actually any good? So I stuck with English.

Renée is a writer who also works as a student services administrator at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Originally from California, she has spent significant time in Washington, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. If it weren’t for Midwestern winters, Minneapolis would be her favorite U.S. city. Renée holds degrees in English and Higher Education Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her wife and their two cats. Twitter: @MatsuyamaRenee | IG: @matsuyama.michelle

© 2019 Renée Mitchell-Matsuyama. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, August 2019.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Yamini Ahluwalia).




by Renée Mitchell-Matsuyama
20 Things About
Choosing a Career