change · new year new plan

Holding Pattern

January marks the time of year when I start to feel as though I am in a bit of a holding pattern. Even though it is far too early, now’s the time I being to think towards awards announcements (and recall with some horror the extensive amount of work I poured into the many applications I’ve got out there in the world). Just like airplanes circling above the runway waiting to land, I too get the sense that I’m hovering in a designated space waiting to see where I’m directed.

Whether on the job market or on the quest for academic productivity for me part of entering the winter term means playing the waiting game.
And what a waiting game it is. It seems as though grant results are announced a bit later each year, and while I’ve been technically on the job market since 2008 I still haven’t entirely figured out when to expect an email, letter, or–that holiest of holy grails–a telephone call. Two weeks? Two months?
Rather than wallow in what a friend and colleague calls the “Jebruary blues” I find myself thinking about how to productively channel this anticipatory energy. Given that it is the start of term and I have three classes there’s certainly no shortage of stuff that needs to get accomplished. But still, I have a tendency to let my mind wander to the next thing. Its bizarre (though not restricted to this profession) to think thoughts like ‘this time next year where will I be?’ and have the answer include any number of provinces or even countries.
In addition to working, how does one break out of a mental holding pattern? I mean, there’s only so much yoga I can fit into my day…
There are three things that I’m trying to infuse into my ‘holding pattern’ in an attempt to make that waiting game a fact rather than the focus of my waking hours.
First: I’ve been writing a little…and not article material either. Well, not yet. Another thing I constantly fret about is my academic productivity. But fretting doesn’t seem to get me very far, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to squeeze more time into the day, so I’ve started writing without focus. Free-writing. About a film I’ve seen, an idea I’ve had, books I want to read (or parts of books I’ve read–side note: I’ve just finished Rancière’s The Politics of Aesthetics–what an unexpected pleasure!) I don’t know what I’m going to do with this writing–maybe something, maybe nothing–but it feels nice to put fingers to keys or pen to paper and think for a few moments.

Second: I’m reading pedagogical theory. Teaching and lecture writing can consume one’s life (can I get a witness?!) BUT it is also the one guarantee in my day. Guaranteed I’ll be teaching at least one class, and while I’ve been doing this for a while I’ve decided to do a little meta-thinking about how I’m doing and what I’m doing in the classroom.

Third: I’m writing my Monday and Tuesday lectures on Friday. And then on Saturday I’m doing whatever I damn well please. Yes, I know, taking time off is important etc. etc. but it is hard. I’ve started scheduling it, and you know what? It feels like a lovely surprise.

So there are some of my tricks for breaking up the holding pattern, but I am certain that you have creative, fun, and inventive ways of dealing with Jebruary, so let’s hear it readers: when you’re in a holding pattern–whether you’re a student, on the tenure-track, on the job market, or simply working–how do you break out of the hover?

4 thoughts on “Holding Pattern

  1. Erin, I completely know how you feel about the holding pattern. It's like living one's life in hypothetical time and space during the waiting period. Very stressful, and hard to avoid fantasy–and hard to deal with having bubbles popped along the way. Strategy #3 is an excellent idea though!

    Re: waiting and not knowing about jobs. You do know about the Academic Job Wiki, right?

    The job wiki is a communal space where people update results about getting MLA interviews, phone interviews, campus visits, offers, and even salary negotiations. Unless you are the one doing the updating though, it usually only brings bad news (someone else got the call but you didn't), but it is good for putting dreaming to rest and focusing in on the remaining possibilities. There aren't many Canadian jobs listed–since there aren't many Canadian jobs out there period!–but it's worth checking out if you haven't already. Those of us who obsessively check (or used to check) “the Wiki” could undoubtedly write many long posts about our ambivalent relationship with it.


  2. I feel a bit ashamed admitting this, when set against things like “reading pedagogical theory,” but … I Google “most exclusive Caribbean resorts” and take a few minutes pretending to plan a week on a private island.


  3. Erin, thank you for this post, as it speaks to my current experience. Well, except for the part that Claire flagged about reading serious stuff. Fortunately, I'm forced to get myself out of my head and face the reality of entertaining a two-and-a-half-year-old. More than anything else, though, I try to tackle the “grand scheme of things” – the one in which you put a whole lot of work into an application now, forget about it for 4-6 months, and then maybe you hear back – one single day at a time, Monday to Friday, 9-5. When I started my PhD, I decided I could only survive this program if I treated it as a job. I thought I needed to partition my professional/academic life from my personal one, in order to protect the latter. So, with few exceptions, I don't work in the evenings, and I don't work on the weekends. And that's what works for me.


  4. @ Claire: Thanks for reminding me that using one's imagination is of incredible import! I recall now that I was talking to another colleague about the wonderful mental benefits of planning a trip way in advance–making the space and time to give oneself space and time is so important!

    @Margit: What a great point, thank you. Parsing out tasks (even waiting) into small chunks makes all feel slightly more manageable…if one is able to shut off–or at least ignore–the what ifs!

    Brava to you both!


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