#alt-ac · academic work · balance · writing

Holiday Resolutions: Winter Edition

It seems like every time we come up on a significant chunk of non-teaching time–the summer, Reading Week, the winter break–I or one of the other Hook & Eye writers publishes a post about managing holiday expectations and setting out reasonable plans for what we might accomplish in the time we’ve got–without feeling like a failure or going bananas. Why stop now, especially as I’ve got a whole new set of challenges to face in getting everything done?

Something Aimée said at CSDH at Congress a few years ago has stuck with me–graduate students training as digital humanists end up doing double the work, since they end up doing a full complement of digital work and a full complement of humanist work beside it. I’m starting to realize that much the same goes for my version of the #alt-ac–I’m doing a full complement of alternate work, and a full complement of the academic alongside it. It’s not a situation that’s unique to me–anyone who holds a non-professorial academic job and also pursues research and/or teaches, or anyone who has done grad school and worked at the same time, has been in the same bind. It took me a fair bit of time to get to the point that I still had enough mental capacity left at the end of the day to come home and do my academic work–it was only once work didn’t feel quite so new, and quite so overwhelming, that I didn’t feel like I had a cranium full of Jello come 6:00. And even now that I’m capable of being productive in the evenings, the fundamental fact remains that after commuting 2 hours a day, working 8, and spending all of the assorted bits and bobs of time required to keep me, the house,the cat, and my partner (who fortunately does his fair share) fed, watered, and clean, there are very few hours left in the day to get academic work done. And Homeland doesn’t just watch itself.

As Margrit said at the beginning of this year, “big breaks are not good for ya! They come with huge expectations and pressures we put on ourselves. (I’ll have time for yoga! running! knitting! reading for pleasure! [insert your favourite pastime here]!) And all they do is destroy the routine we academics fight so hard to construct in order to be able to juggle the interminable projects, the teaching, the life (what life? the one you’d been postponing until the big Christmas break).” I feel ya–the twelve days I have off between this coming Friday and New Year’s Day are already seeming overwhelmingly freighted with all of those things that I don’t have time to do in a normal week. I’d love to write a significant amount of my dissertation, finish preparing for the MLA, do a bunch of research and editorial work for a colleague’s critical edition, and prepare teaching applications for fall courses (a contingency in case my sole Grade 5 student stops being enough teaching for me). I also have to fit in three family dinners, a performance of the Nutcracker, a long overdue trip to Ikea (a daunting prospect for the urban car-less), and at least a few items on the endless to-do list that comes along with owning a house built the same year Laurier became Prime Minister. I’m nearly vibrating with anxiety already.

Oh–and did I mention that I’m prohibited from taking any time off between mid-August and March, which means that aside from the MLA (not the most relaxing prospect), my next stab at a break won’t come for at least three months?

So, then. Here’s the plan for a break that might actually feel like a break:

  • I’m going to return to my pre-job writing routine: breakfast, coffee, computer. I’ll try a Pomodoro of dissertation writing to start, and then, if the writing is going well, another. Especially if I’m using Write or Die in combination with my Pomodoro timer, I can get a whole lot down in 25 minutes, and then the biggest thing on my to-do list is done.
  • I’m not going to stress about the MLA. I’m not interviewing, I’m on a panel with people I know and like, and I’ve realized that standards aren’t all that high when half the people are finishing their paper on the plane. 
  • On Christmas and Boxing Day, the world beyond my family will not exist, and I will not be Melissa the Research Officer or Melissa the PhD Candidate. I will just be Melissa the partner and daughter and sister and cousin, and be fully present with all of those people with whom I’m so lucky to get the spend the holiday. 
  • I’m going to make research hyggeligt–there’s no reason that I can’t do it in front of the fire, under a wooly blanket, with a mug of hot cider. 
  • And I’m going to keep up what is one of my favourite things about my new job, which is two hours a day (my commute time) of pleasure reading. All of those books I bought while I was dissertating full-time but never gave myself permission to read are gradually getting pulled down off the “to-read” shelf, and oh, it’s satisfying. 

Big breaks might not be good for us, but I’m going to try to make this one good for me. Wish me luck! And wishing you a very happy, relaxing, and productive holiday. Do you have a plan for how you might make it all three?