Academic work can be painful. I’m not being figurative here. I actually mean physically painful. After I wrote my comprehensive exams, my neck and mid-back were completely destroyed. I couldn’t stand-up straight. I needed a full chiropractic overhaul. I was prepared for comps as a mental exercise, but I hadn’t fully considered the extent to which that kind of intensive, one-week writing stint would be so physically demanding. Today, having finished my PhD, I find myself in a similar situation. I’m probably in the worst shape of my life. I just couldn’t stay on top of taking care of myself. Grading, articles, research work – they all add up to no time to work out and no time to buy groceries.
I should note, that I’m actually, generally, a pretty healthy person. I took ballet until my early 20s, I was on a rowing team during my MA, and I ran two half-marathons during my PhD. My PhD supervisor always started out meetings with the question, “are you still running?” She emphasized the importance of remaining physically healthy throughout the process. Graduate school can be long, stressful, alcohol-fueled, and surprisingly hard on our bodies; it is important that we make every possible effort to remain healthy.
Now, being generally healthy and not having any kids (or any pets for that matter), I would think it would be somehow easier for me to make sure that I have time to get some kind of physical exercise. I have no major obstacles to fitness, and no one dependent upon me that might get in the way of taking time for fitness. As multiple blog postings on this website regularly make clear, however, making time for ourselves somehow always ends up at the bottom of the priority list, no matter who we are or what we have going on. When we do finally find time to be good to ourselves, we still feel guilty as hell about it.
So here I am, on a Thursday morning, in pain. My back is seriously out of whack. I need to finish writing an article this week, and I’m not sure I can sit at the computer long enough to do it. Basically, I think it is resolution time. These are the commitments that I can make to myself, to avoid the physical toll of academic work on my body. I’m making them public, so you can hold me to them:
1) No more writing on my laptop – ever: I wrote my comps and my dissertation on a laptop, and every physio, chiro and RMT that I encounter scolds me for it. Laptops cause a little thing that I call “laptop neck,” that sloping bad posture that you get at the base of your neck from leaning into the screen. It’s time to go back to the desktop computer.
2) Get outside everyday: This one is a bit of a no brainer. We mandate that children run around outside everyday, and moral panics ensue when some piece of technology is deemed to interfere with this activity. Like most of you, I am guilty of always working, even when I’m not working. My little brain is constantly churning around ideas and sentences, so getting out for a long walk is actually a really important aspect of my writing process, one which I have tended to neglect lately.
3) No eating in front of the computer: Time to stop working, relocate to another room, and sit at an actual table while eating food like a normal person. I’m not ashamed that my dissertation laptop has food splatter all over the keyboard…but I am ready to make a different lifestyle choice.
4) Write everyday, not all day: The people I know who write for a couple of hours everyday are really prolific. The panicked, day-long write-a-thon seems like it should work, but I think we all know that it isn’t a great method. The stuff I write at the end of an 8-hour shift is never that great, and my neck generally looks like a J-hook by the time I’m done.
5) Keep a schedule: This is the thing that academic’s with kids are really great at, and it seems like a crazy indulgence for me to even list it as a “problem” that I have. When someone is dependent upon you making them food, taking them to ballet, helping with their homework, etc., you have no choice but to walk away from the computer. Scheduling is the only way that I have found to alleviate the academic guilt that comes with nights off. We can’t work all the time, and we need time away from the computer, so we might as well enjoy it when we have it (rather than feeling guilty about it).
These are changes that I am trying to make. I guess, by putting them up here, I am committing publicly to them. Maybe this will help. Maybe it’s just self-indulgent. In any case, I’d like you to hold me to them.
Oh, also, I’m going to eat salad. Salad is lame and I pretty much hate it, but I’ve heard that it is good for you or something…