Every year, around this time, I confront once more my still-surprising inability to create time. My academic travel season is over: my house is a disaster, my kid is manipulating my guilt, my husband is trying to catch up on everything he couldn’t do when I’ve been gone, the puppy has managed to create three new pee stains on the white rug without anyone noticing, and it’s all just generally feeling like a marathon being run at the pace of a sprint, and we’ve all been heading in the wrong direction. Balls are being dropped: appointments missed, noses out of joint, forms go unsigned, tempers flare, no groceries in the house, McDonald’s twice in one week. Ugh.
Every year this happens.
I somehow have the idea that when I’m gone away for a weekend, for three days, for a week, that I can put in all those extra travel and working hours, and that despite my absence, the house and family can maintain themselves. That without going to yoga for a month, I’ll still feel strong and grounded and be able to touch my toes, to sleep well. That my daughter won’t suffer and that my husband and I won’t miss each other.
When I’m gone, 1/3 of the household resources disappear: we’re a three person family, trying to operate with only two people. That’s suboptimal. When I layer all this extra work and travel into my own schedule, my physical and emotional needs don’t get met, and I can’t meet those of my family, either.
Time is zero sum: when I disrupt our standard schedule to travel, everything is out of whack. Jet lagged. This is why it’s the worst right when I step off the airplane: I’m exhausted and mentally in another time zone, my daughter is crazed from the excitement of me coming home, my husband is completely worn out from doing it all by himself. We all need someone to take care of us; none of us is much ready to take care of anyone at all.
I like the idea of flying west: I gain time. I wake up “early” and sleep well at night, and feel pretty good about life. But that time has a cost. There is no cheating time.
It’s going to take us well into July to pay the bills, tend the perennials, fix the clothesline, put the hats and mitts into the attic, fill out reimbursement forms, dig out our respective offices at work, answer those emails. To sit on the couch holding hands long enough to feel like we’re not holding on for dear life.
This year, at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, I found myself way too frequently saying things like “when I started coming here…” and “DHSI used to …” and “the first several times I taught this course …” You know, I’ve been to DHSI nine times in ten years. I’m actually very, very old in DHSI terms. And every time those phrases started coming out of my mouth, they felt like context and comparison and such, but by the time the sentences finished, I felt … old? Like I was trying to hold onto something that happened a really long time ago, that wasn’t relevant?
Being a professor is weird for this kind of thing: no one really gets their job until they’re 30, so 30 is “young” in this profession. I’m 39 and am often treated like the breath of (brash) fresh air in many contexts, maybe because I work in popular internet media, so can pass for a digital native with a familiarity with millennial mores. Sometimes when I talk my colleagues look at me like I’m from another planet.
But then, because I work in popular internet media, much of what I know rapidly becomes outdated, irrelevant, old. We used to code web pages by hand in Notepad, man! I remember when the www was text only! Blogger didn’t used to be owned by Google and once upon a time … blah blah. Sometimes when I teach my students look at me like I’m from another planet. TL;DR.
So I vacillate on a pretty much daily basis between feeling hopelessly young (Hey, Professor Whipper Snapper, do you think we should make a Web Page Site for our digital? Lol? Did I use that right?) and godawful old (Email? That’s for old people, um, and they made a new version of that software like, three weeks ago? But we all use the open source version, if you don’t want to torrent that one on the sly.)
I don’t often feel like what I know is just right, as I feel like I’m whipsawing between precocity and irrelevance, between too fast and too slow, too much and not enough, from morning to afternoon, context to context.
I’m not sure if I’m having an intellectual middle age crisis, or a teenage growth spurt. I’ve got an inappropriate haircut but that’s par for either course.
In moments of quiet reflection (in short supply; see above) I’m generally happy with my own place in the world, with my knowledge, with my work. But things feel like they’re changing with my own positioning relative to others, and I don’t know why or how or what to think. Times change.