Earlier this week I found myself posting a mildly histrionic status update on Facebook. “It is mid-July,” I wrote, “and I am way behind on my summer to do list.” This slightly whinging update garnered almost 20 replies in a very short period of time. Either I have indulgent interweb friends or I hit a nerve.
As I sat down to write this post yesterday I realized that almost everything I’ve written for the blog this summer has related to overly ambitious lists (read: desperation), relaxation (read: guilt), or anxiety (read: I don’t have a special word to make this sound better). What’s the deal?
It is true, I am behind on that list I wrote in the spring, but I’m behind on a wildly ambitious list that was written in my end-of-May-classes-are-over-I’ll-get-everything-yes-EVERYTHING-I’ve-evern-been-meaning -to-do-done-this-summer-and-learn-to-make-jam-exuberance. It is also true that I haven’t been lounging on the couch eating bon-bons and watching Mad Men reruns, though that sounds nice. Since May I’ve done two rounds of a job interview, one of which was at Congress, one of which was across the country. While at Congress I also gave a paper, chaired two panels, and danced on the speakers at the ACCUTE dance party. Then I came home and finished teaching, finished grading, submitted grades, began two new collaborative projects, wrote two book reviews, began revising a conference paper for an article, created a new graduate course replete with week-by-week reading and assignments, began talks with a production company for a community building performance project, made new friends, hosted an old friend, got married, worked on syllabi for next year, began circulating a book proposal to publishers, and am working on several grant applications. Oh yeah, and I’m writing an article.
So why do I feel like a layabout?
Last week Aimee posted about the kind of tangible confidence and authorization that something like a receiving a grant can do. Indeed! But what I am realizing (again… I’m a slow learner) is just how very true her post is for me. External validation is *so* vital. And while this might be contentious or simply navel-gazing, I’d warrant this is especially true at the student, graduate student, sessional, LTA, tenure-track-but-pre-tenure stage of things. Or maybe not, but based on this and this I’m going to bank on that pernicious sense of guilt easing off. A bit.
Sure, part of my sense of bon-bon eating idleness is my own deeply entrenched masochistic work ethic. Working hard feels good; working hard helps me to feel as though I have some control of my future in this unpredictable profession. But I’m well aware as, I’m certain, are you readers with whom this chimes, that not only is there a limit to how hard one can work, there is certainly a point where ‘hard work’ morphs into anxious procrastination. Moreover, I find that while I am regularly and well-meaningly cajoled by my friends and colleagues to take it easy it turns out that for me being told to relax is ridiculously stressful.
So what’s the solution to saving some summer and some sanity? In the short term I am reorganizing my to do list to include only necessary and (more) realistic goals. I’m also reserving some time at the end of August to go on vacation (which I should point out is easier said than done as I am currently unemployed until my contract–and paycheque–begin in late August).
In the longer term, however, I think the work-round-the-clock-slaving-academic-mentality needs to be thought through together (and without Margaret Wente $#!&^). What would a slow academy really look like? What does summer ideally look like when one works in the academy? Not laziness, necessarily, but surely not this intensified sense of failure and anxiety. Might it look like Jennifer Blair‘s wonderful meditation on procrastination? Or like Bethany Nowviskie‘s brainchild #alt-academy? You tell me. For now, I’m going back to paring down my list, doing a few hours of work and then, because it is a rare sunny day in Halifax, I’m knocking off to the beach.