On Not-Working

There’s been a repeated refrain in my posts this summer: not-working, something I’ve been doing a lot of for the last two and a half months. I’ve been pondering this state of stasis for a while, trying to figure out what to make of it, and when I imagine myself moving forward again.

None of this is to say that I haven’t gotten anything done — I’ve been working quite hard on the anthology project, and there’s that little condo-buying thing — but I’ve made pretty much zero progress on anything that I would think of as “my work” this summer. It’s taken a huge quantity of mental energy simply not to get freaked out by that, to remember that I’m actually not required to stay on the treadmill now, that what work I accomplish from here on out has to be driven by my own desire to get the work done, and not by terror at the consequences of not-doing it.

I’ve been thinking about my anxiety level surrounding not-working more and more, as the summer draws to a close, and was just yesterday imagining a post that would take on the question of not-working, attempting to think through why we in the academy have the public image of working very little (“you’re only in the classroom six to ten hours a week; seems pretty easy to me”) while we in fact too often find it impossible to stop working, such that actually stopping work produces this kind of self-reflexive need to interrogate the reasons for the not-working. And then I read Liz’s post from yesterday, in which she briefly accounts for her own not-working:

This summer I’ve spent a lot of time on my emotional well-being (through the recovery process, and healing time with my family) and my physical well-being (through the resumption of regular exercise, and a return to anti-depressants). What’s suffered has been my intellectual well-being, as evidence by my lack of attention to blogging (my intellectual gym, really) and other scholarly activities. As the new school year approaches, it’s time to shake off the summer doldrums and shift my brain into a higher gear…hopefully without losing any of the ground I’ve gained in other areas of my life.

As I said in Liz’s comments, I’m in a very similar place, if for slightly different reasons. This past academic year was quite rough: my tenure review went very well, but it was still a tenure review; the spring semester around here was a personal and professional misery; the manuscript still lingers. I ended the term more than a little burned out, and that translated into a mild depression through much of the early summer, one that made work all but impossible. In attempting to recover, I found that I needed, more than anything else, to focus on my life this summer, not my work. And so I have, and I’m pleased to have done so.

But it’s hard not to feel the niggling worry, still, that I’ve wasted time, that I should, as always, have done more. I worry, too, that stasis can turn into paralysis — that having stopped, it’ll be hard to get started again.


  1. I’ll be first in line to read that manuscript once it’s published.

    On a related note, did you happen to see the article in the most recent issue of the Chronicle that proposes universities provide faculty with funds to help defray the costs of monograph publishing? Not a new idea, but it’s articulated from the point of view of university presses rather than academic authors.

  2. Thanks, Kari — in fact, I’ll make sure you get a copy, should there ever be copies for the getting.

    There’s been a bunch of talk about providing publishing subventions for junior faculty of late, though it doesn’t appear that my institution is biting yet. I missed the Chron article, though; I’ll go check it out. Thanks!

  3. We’ve been talking about this issue of acdemics working (or not) during the summer over at my blog. I think you need to work really hard against that niggling feeling that you have somehow wasted time. Time to recover is not time wasted, though the academy would certainly have you believe that. What good will you be to your research or your students if you don’t take some time to renew and refresh?

  4. Ach — what a conversation over there. Thanks for pointing me to it, Cindy. I had a bit of hallway chat with a new colleague of mine yesterday who likewise reminded me that we in the academy often succumb to super-narrow notions of what constitutes “work.” In fact, now that I think about it, I may have an entry in this. I’m going to ponder — thanks for the food for thought, and the support.

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