academic reorganization · new year new plan · saving my sanity

Playing Hooky

Guess what? I’m in England!

I’m not here for a conference, or for work of any kind, and though I have lugged 50 student final papers with me I am actually here…for vacation!
I can hardly believe it. In fact, as the title suggests, I kind of feel like I’m playing hooky. I feel like I should tell you that my wonderful Department Chair knows where I am (and that I am here for pleasure, not work–hi Christy!), that my TAs are not being exploited (hi Matt! Hi Vanessa!), and that I have been preparing my students for departure since, oh, October. I’ve had a term in which all the final assignments are papers rather than examinations, so there was no need to adjudicate or arrange for others to do this for me. In fact, some of my students don’t have papers due until 48 hours before I return, so there’s plenty of time to grade and submit before the deadline. I feel like I should tell you all this because I left town the day after classes ended.
Why does this feel so illicit?
I can only speak for myself of course, but I have to say that it feels illicit because I am not used to taking a vacation. Since I entered graduate school back in 2002 I because accustomed to working 6-7 days a week with few breaks, and with those breaks feeling wrong. They were haunted by the sense that I should be doing something. Writing. Reading. Grading. Something.
But I’ve been learning (yes, I am late to the game on this ‘revelation’) that taking a real vacation is part of my work.
One of my favourite poets (and most inspiring bloggers) Sina Queyras has written about the need for movement because it is essentially kinesthetic thinking. It seems to me that this whole vacation thing is not so different from that. Sure, I’ll be thinking literary and cultural thoughts while we sit in the pub in Dorchester aka Thomas Hardy country. (Though frankly I’ll be thinking about how when I was in grade six Jude the Obscure was my favourite book… Is that weird?) I’ll be thinking about Emily Bronte (mostly about one of my brilliant students who is a huge fan of Wuthering Heights. Also I will likely think more about Anne Carson’s return to Bronte in “The Glass Essay,” which was the first poem that took my breath away when I was a Master’s student). But mostly I’ll just be on vacation.
Let me close by saying this: I’m writing about being on vacation because I tend to feel guilty about taking breaks, and maybe you do too. Guess what? We need ’em, and we need to give ourselves permission to take them. I hope you’re taking one soon.
Ps. Here’s me, with vacation hair (aka Forgot A UK Power Adaptor Hair), jet lag eyes, and Winchester Cathedral behind me. Sorry for the bad lighting, but iPhoto does not love the pale British sunlight that is creeping in my hotel window.

7 thoughts on “Playing Hooky

  1. Good for you, Erin! But here's a quibble: it's okay to just take a vacation, even if it's not just recharging your brain for work, and thus, really all about work. Similarly bringing papers with you: work. In any case, how wonderful to get away … you look so happy, and kind of like the cat that swallowed the canary.

    True story: as it is my tenure year, and I've been deeply deeply stressed out for, oh, coming on 12 months now, I DID NOT TAKE A VACATION THIS SUMMER. This, in retrospect, was a terrible idea, not least because when the first day of class rolled around, I was already burnt out. But then I just got more and more tired and crabby as the semester wore on.



  2. A good reminder. And Aimée's point is also a good one.

    No matter how much grading and other work is around to be done, taking a real break (even if you don't go anywhere) over the holidays will mean you are more refreshed at the beginning of term and thus more likely to do what you do better. Or at least in a better frame of mind.


  3. Apart from the grading, which I agree is a carry-on burden, I personally love travelling where there's bits of an intellectual/academic connection scattered throughout. I tried the go-south-for-a-real-vacation thing once and nearly went out of my mind … I like your idea of “thinking literary and cultural thoughts” in text-appropriate venues!

    My holi-day this year was a day paddling in the Georgian Bay. Some would say that would stem from my work, but it was just the most perfect thing.


  4. I was recently forced to book a vacation with my lovely partner for five weeks in May. He'll have just finished his law degree and will have two months off before starting articling, and won't have another chance for a real vacation in quite some time. After dragging my feet for several weeks, it took accusations of selfishness, some tears, and then a gentle reminder that I haven't had a vacation in almost three years to prompt me to finally cave: I conducted careful checks with my supervisors and colleagues, and we booked our tickets to Europe last week.

    I'm a little bit horrified at myself to be honest, that I was actually forced, and that it took me so long to agree. But for some reason I just felt so guilty, like I was doing something completely wrong, that I'd fall behind in my PhD program, that I might not get my reading lists together in time. I worried about what people might think–that I'm not a 'Serious Scholar,' that I wasn't, somehow, matching up.

    So, thanks for this post. It's nice to hear an affirmation once in a while that taking a vacation is, in fact, a good thing, and much needed by us all.


  5. @Jana! Here is a small secret I've only just discovered: vacation is AWESOME (though, as you'll see in my post for tomorrow, being stuck in transit hell is not so awesome. Happily vacation makes one a calmer, happier human…kinda) You deserve it. But I so empathize with that fear of not being a serious scholar… What to do about that?


  6. I really enjoyed this post, and think this is an important issue, especially for academics — thanks Erin!

    I'm currently in my second year as an Asst. Prof. in the humanities, and I hear this kind of talk all the time (e.g., “if I take a break, I won't get all my work done”, “I don't deserve a break”, or, worse yet, “I can't believe you're taking a vacation — aren't you serious about your work?!”).

    When I was in graduate school, I made a point to take a vacation *every year* — and not just a go-somewhere-else-but-take-all-my-grading-with-me vacation, but a leave-all-work-behind vacation. My first year, I went to Australia for 10 days (my boyfriend at the time was living there, so that was an easy one; my second visit included a couple of shorter visits to see my best friend who had moved to Chicago; my third year was a week-long trip to Puerto Rico with that same friend; next was two weeks in San Diego, Vegas, and San Francisco (same friend); and finally, a two-week camping trip with my boyfriend the year I was finishing my dissertation (my best friend was living in China at the time, so we couldn't travel together).

    I can't tell you how much slack I got from the graduate students, who not only couldn't believe that I took vacations, but were floored that I didn't study all weekend and actually took at least two nights a week to go out and do something fun (not just out-for-dinner fun, but a full-on night out). I also took crap from my advisor, who thought I was using up precious writing time by going camping only four months before my dissertation needed to be in (I had a post-doc waiting for me, luckily). But, I said, I needed a break. They all told me that I wasn't serious, etc., etc., blah blah blah.

    But here's what I find interesting: there was one (and I think only one) other graduate student in my program who had the same mentality as I did. He took large blocks of time off over the summer to do other interesting things, and seemed to confine his work to the weekdays for the most part. And, he was also told that he wasn't all that serious. Yet, the two of us finished our PhDs faster than anyone in our program had in YEARS… AND we did it under the supervision of one of – if not THE – toughest advisers in our program.

    I learned a lot from this, and now that I'm even busier (!) in my TT job, I am adamant about taking a break — a real break (this year was carnival in Venice with my best friend). It helps immensely to have a good friend who is NOT an academic, and who expects a trip with me every year (though who is flexible enough to let my schedule dictate when it will be). Not surprisingly, I've taken some crap about it again (this time from colleagues), but I've stood my ground and explained to them that my productivity is due in large part to taking a break every year. They're starting to come around… (Though I have to justify it in terms of being more productive… sigh.)


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