#alt-ac · academic work · bad academics · balance · busy · collaboration · enter the confessional

But what about me?

Negotiating priorities in my work has been really hard recently. And by recently I mean, oh, since the MLA back in January.

It’s not that I haven’t been working. I have. Oh, I have. York is undergoing a pan-university review exercise much like the TransformUS initiative that’s been causing so much of a ruckus (and rightly so) at the University of Saskatchewan, and as one of only a few writers in my office, I’ve been heavily involved in the writing and editing of our Faculty’s report. Scholarships and grants are never ending, and overtime has been rather more plentiful than I would like. A friend and I have (fingers crossed) a book-like online project about graduate training and reform launching soon, and that’s required lots of tending, as has the newly published Digital Studies article about grad students in DH that he and I wrote with a bunch of wildly talented folks. I’m just finishing up the paper for the panel another friend and I put together for the ACQL at Congress, and a good chunk of my free time has been spent researching and editing for a scholarly edition of a Canadian play another friend is working on. Writing this paragraph, it seems that I’ve been doing a good job of working on collaborative projects, or stuff for other people, but not things for me.

In fact, in writing that last paragraph, I’m realizing that neglecting things for me–not just in terms of work and writing, but in terms of all the things–is precisely what I’ve been doing across the board. My dissertation is languishing in Scrivener, a fact that weaves a low hum of anxiety through most of my days. When my Dean asked me recently if there were ways that she could help facilitate my finishing, it didn’t make me feel happy, or supported–it just made me feel guilty. I haven’t kept my Thursday appointment with Hook & Eye for longer than I’d care to admit. I went for a walk after work today, stopping for gelato midway (because spring), but almost didn’t go because I felt a little panicked about all of the things I need to do tonight (write this post! finish my ACQL paper! start packing!) and less than entitled to a break and some exercise. I’ve spent too much money on new clothes recently, because spending money on myself is the easiest way to remedy the feeling that I’m not doing a very good job of actually taking care of myself. When was the last time I did something creative? When was the last time I took an entire day off work, or took time off work and didn’t feel guilty about it? No idea. And aren’t those the things I was trying to steer myself away from by deciding to step off the tenure track?

I think the thing that frustrates me the most is the feeling that I’ve written this post before. I know that I’ve written this post before, and I know that there are so many other things that I could write about, that I’d rather write about, but I’m just…tapped out. I get it–it’s not just me. We all know that we shouldn’t be the last people on our own to-do lists. We all preach the gospel of self care. But we all live in a culture of productivity and anti-procrastination and self-realization through work. And when it comes down to the wire, do I practice what I preach on those subjects? You’re damn right I don’t. And if I think it’s bad now, what about when the day comes that I’ve got a child? I’m nervous (read: terrified) just thinking about it.

I don’t know what the solution is. I love my job, truly, and I really don’t mind the overtime or the end-of-day mental exhaustion, most of the time. I really do want to finish my dissertation, for the personal satisfaction, and for the sunk costs, and because I do think it will get me ahead at work. I’m not willing to give up my writing on #altac or my other academic collaborations, and I’ve already cut most conferencing ( I go to the MLA and Congress, fin) and all additional training completely out of my schedule. I already have someone to help with the cleaning, and a partner/takeout to take care of the cooking when I don’t have the time or energy to. I have the lowest maintenance pet I can imagine, except for when he misses my partner and takes some serious consoling before he’ll stop crying at the top of his lungs (who needs a baby?). So what gives? In the end, it’s quality time with my partner and my friends, and it’s sleep, and it’s me, and the things that no one but me is depending on me to get done.

I’m at a bit of a loss, because I can’t see where something else can give, and something else has gotta give. In the meantime, until I figure it out, I guess I’ll keep trucking along, put the credit card away, and hope that my annual Congress visit with the other lovely ladies of Hook & Eye will bring some enlightenment, or at least some sympathy.

See you in St. Catherine’s?

3 thoughts on “But what about me?

  1. I wish I could figure this out. It seems like no matter what we practice and/or preach, it is so so so hard to say no, to opt out, to refuse to participate in the perpetual busy-ness that characterizes the life of women who work–both inside and out of the academy (and including all kinds of work). And honestly, I'm not even sure it is possible. I feel like there is something structurally wrong with the way our society functions that makes it nearly impossible for us to opt into the workforce and opt out of the demand for perpetual productivity. I'm not sure how to address this. Sometimes I think we're authors of our own demise–by refusing to say no to our busy-ness we refuse to address the unfair conditions of our employment; but I'm not entirely sure it's true. I haven't thought through this well enough to know how to precisely identify even the problem, let alone the solution. All that I know is that women are disproportionately affected–evidenced by the large number of women who work in low-paying or no-paying internships (this article: http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/05/20/interns-mostly-female-unpaid-or-underpaid-says-upcoming-study/)


  2. Yeah, this is really tough, and an ongoing, seemingly unsolvable problem. You do sound like you're working on some extremely exciting projects, but have you thought about anything you could possibly cut out–anything you're doing for other people primarily rather than for yourself? I've been trying to train myself to say no lately. It's hard. And…everything Jana said.

    (completely unrelated to the post proper, but can I just put in a request for a joint-H&E selfie when you all get together at Congress?? 🙂 )


  3. Here's something that I have begun to think about: if I left this job tomorrow, in five years, no one would remember me at all. This gives me some perspective: I'm not going to save the institution single-handedly, and in the grand scheme of things, I'm one little person. And there's probably not going to even be a plaque in my honour if I fall dead at my desk, rewriting curriculum. So I'm trying to ease off there a bit. It's the busy work that can get you. I like Julie's idea of the five year plan. Really thing long term priorities and keep these in mind as you decide in a daily way how to spend your minutes.


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