Silence and My First Book

Doctor!

My first book wasn’t Science Fiction or Fantasy.  It was my doctoral dissertation: The Persephone Myth in D.H. Lawrence.  I’ve been told it’s pretty readable, even for a non-expert, which is nice.  What’s the good of a book no one can read?

I don’t talk about my Ph.D. very often these days.  For one, I earned it over half a lifetime ago.  I defended my doctoral dissertation on my 26th birthday.  I could have defended it earlier, but the English department at Fordham University couldn’t assemble a committee to read the document and gather for the required defense until the Fall term, so I had to wait.

Another reason I rarely talk about my Ph.D. is that I rapidly discovered that people became uncomfortable when they learned I had a doctorate in English.  They’d apologize for the grammar in their letters or even in conversation.  Oddly enough, I’ve rarely encountered this reaction when people learn I’m a writer.  I guess writers aren’t supposed to know anything about language.

I’ve even been “silenced,” most memorably by a well-meaning, well-educated, female author who let me know that a person in publishing with whom I was going to be working was very self-conscious about his own lack of education, and so I probably shouldn’t mention mine.

As I recall the conversation, she said, “It’s not that you brag or anything.  You just mention your graduate work and that you taught college from time to time, because it’s part of your life.  But I thought you should know that…”

Keep quiet.  Women shouldn’t make other people—especially male people—nervous.  The message is given over and over, usually in ways far more subtle than this.

The lack of use of the title “doctor” for other than medical professionals also reflects how the U.S. doesn’t really value higher education.  The silencing is general, usually applied to male and female alike.  Even the addressing of medical doctors as “doctor” is more an identification of a skill set than the honor it should be.  “Is there a doctor in the house?” means “Is there a body technician available who might fix this problem?”

I have friends who brag about how their colleges were informal, how they never addressed a professor as “Professor” or “Doctor.”  I think this is a pity.  Those people earned those titles.  This is the one setting in which our culture permits that to be acknowledged.  Yet people who themselves were striving toward a degree devalued their own goal by their lack of acknowledgement.

Do I give people their titles?  You bet.  Years ago, Jim and I spent a lot of time with a talented and very kind veterinarian who made herself available to help us with a severely handicapped baby guinea pig.  She is quite a bit younger than we are and, at one point, she suggested we use her first name.

I looked at her and said, “You worked hard for that title.  How about we call you by your first name and ‘doctor’?” And so we do.

Anyhow, there’s the story behind my first book…  And of one of my achievements, about which I remain, to this day, very proud.

10 Responses to “Silence and My First Book”

  1. Beverly Martin Says:

    You have a right to take pleasure and pride in your degree! No one should silence a PhD, MD, JD, etc because others might feel inadequate! That is their problem!

  2. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    I absolutely agree with you, Doctor Jane. Even when a friend earned their Masters degree I called her “Master Dude”, Dude being a nickname.
    The one place I’ve seen non medical PhDs used regularly is in schools. Teachers or Principals used “Doctor” instead of Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss.
    🎄💕

    • janelindskold Says:

      My gaming group has three doctors (a dentist and two PhD’s, although we’re going to have an MD soon), and two Masters. Occasionally, I’ll call them that. Haven’t for a while, may be time…

  3. Svenn Says:

    Jane, You can imagine how some react when I’m introduced as having a doctorate in psychology. They expect I will busily analyze them.
    Of course there also are some individuals without a degree who, in self-defense, like to ridicule and “show up” those with one.

    At the University when I ran a research team, I urged the students on the team, undergraduates or graduates, to call me by my first name so as promote even-powered interaction with each other and also with our subjects.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I can see why you would have made that choice. I was a 26 year-old college prof, and that title helped me get “heard.” One of my students was a woman returning after raising a family. She told me later, that she almost left when I came in because I looked so young. She went on to say that “But you sounded as if you knew what you were doing, so I decided to give you a few classes to prove yourself.”

  4. Harried Harry Says:

    Ahh. The loss of respect for those who have degrees, especially the advanced degrees like a doctorate. It irritates me when people fail to understand the amount of work, study, and sweat which goes into obtaining an advanced degree.

    I have a Master’s of Science Degree in Management (Leadership). It only took me 30 years to complete the coursework. I started at CSU -Sacramento and then finally completed my efforts at Southwestern College in Kansas. Why did it take so long? I moved a lot.

    One of my sisters has a JD from Arizona State University and my son completed all but the dissertation in Computer Science/Engineering. Both enjoy what they are doing or not doing, in the case of my sister (retired).

    In Europe, someone with an advanced degree is well respected –until, that is, they show little talent. I agree, we should show the respect for someone with a Doctorate, whether it be a MD, OD, or PhD.

    Happy Holidays and prepare for your New Year, Dr. J. Lindskold!

  5. Alan Allinger Says:

    Both my parents had doctorates in Chemistry, which I learned at an early age did not come easily, especially since my mother earned her degree from UCLA in 1953. You earned the degree, you own the honorific title- it’s yours to use if you choose to. Had I done the work, I’d definitely make use of the title. Myself, I’d prefer to work with someone who has more experience in a field than I do, someone I can learn from as we go and who will offer insights based on their experience… but we all have to travel our own roads.

    Happy Holidays, Dr. Lindskold.

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