At the risk of being labelled a cheerleader, I want to talk about the need to be more joyous, more toddler-like, more childish in our academic lives. See, the thing about toddlers is they live in the moment, and they experience everything with a power that later becomes dulled by years of being disciplined into becoming a good subject: a good student, a good family member, a
good contributing member of society, a good citizen, a good employee. So, here’s my pitch to embracing our inner toddlers.
Oh, joy! Reader, how do you allow yourself to en-joy your triumphs? Do you? Because I have a hard time with it. My most recent one was being asked to become a regular blogger here. First, I couldn’t believe it: who, me? Why? Then, when assured there had been no mistake, I wanted to do a mental happy dance in triumph. Yes, that took all of a split second. Because next? Anxiety set in. What would *I* have to add to this blog I had been reading and admiring since its inception? Alongside three exceptionally accomplished academics acting as editrixes, and many more who had guest-blogged? Surely nothing, or nothing significant anyway. And now I’m sitting here wondering about triumphs, their acknowledgement, and their celebration.
Although I suspect I’m not alone in my reservations, I won’t make any generalizations here. (Ok, I’ll try not to, and if you see me veer that way, you can poke me.) I’m afraid I don’t even acknowledge my triumphs as such, let alone enjoy them, because of so many reasons: 1. the academic time; 2. deferred gratification that becomes averted gratification; 3. superstition or fear of retaliation. Yes, I am an academic ten-year-old. But I’m still working on becoming an academic toddler.
First, when it comes to professional triumphs, the lead time between the work and its validation is so long that it makes any celebration of triumph somewhat awkward and fake. By the time a publisher or an editor responds to my essay submission, I have moved on to work on another five projects. And then, when s/he does respond, it is probably to ask for some form of revision, a response to which entails another period of waiting, too long for any creature to hold her breath. So, at what point exactly in this protracted process am I supposed to rejoice and celebrate? When I first hear of the “revise and resubmit”? When the acceptance arrives in my inbox? When the publication actually happens? When my friends ‘like’ my status update announcing it? Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy with every little one of these acknowledgements. But am I happy enough to do a happy dance? Out in the open? Nope. Nah. No-oh.
Is it the nature of the profession, or is just my irrational fear to not “disturb the universe”? Yes, I do have this fear that too much joy will bring in return an equal measure of unhappiness to restore the equilibrium. (You will tell me, dear Reader, will you not, if you think I should seek professional help?) And what of personal celebrations, you ask? Surely, those do not follow the same protracted process as academia? Well, no, but see professional habits become ingrained. So, yes, I was ecstatic both times I found out I was pregnant, and the hormones were probably a big help. But, you know how it is: wait until the first trimester is over to share the news, because you never know. When the kids were actually born? Again, ecstatic, and again, the hormones were a big help. But right afterwards, also, they’re at their most vulnerable. Then, by their first birthday (one of whose I have yet to reach, soon), I’m just too sleep-deprived to do the happy dance. So I just let them do it for me.
And yet, I’m not a grinch, and I really like being happy, contented, and even ecstatic. I manage the former two most of the time. But I probably like these emotions more as processes than as states and moments one can point to. It’s mostly the pointing out of the exact time as an aid to memorialization that I object to. You know, that “the first time you lifted yourself up on your own, it was 2:43 pm on a rainy September day, and we all cheered for your prowess and precocity” moment that becomes scrapbooked, and retold, and reconsidered, and reinvented with each iteration.
However, I want to get the triumphing right (oh, I’m such a keener). Triumphing and happy-dancing are distinct from merely being positive, which can be so oppressive, while also productive for capitalism, as Barbara Ehrenreich showed in Bright-Sided. And you know what my plan is? Be more childish, and indulge myself in my emotions; take a cue from my kids, in other words, who don’t know anything about the universe, or its potential disturbance, or of academic publishing and its rigours.
Because the other important thing I think we should learn from toddlers? Screaming until our needs are met. Toddlers, with their live-in-the-moment-I’m-hungry-right-now-and-I-will-yell-your-head-off-until-you-feed-me behaviour, are experts at demanding and obtaining their rights. So, why not throw a metaphorical tantrum now and then?
So, remember when I said at the beginning of this post that I did a “mental happy dance”? Next time, I’ll do an actual one that involves my limbs, too. Will you join me, or do you have your happy dance down pat already?