On the Academic and the Personal
[A word to the wise: what follows is twice as long as it ought to be, and very rambly. I’m operating on three nights in a row of three hours of sleep, and am correspondingly stupid beyond belief.]
I’ve expended a tremendous amount of energy over the last several months in searching out ways to take this site seriously (yesterday’s entry notwithstanding) as a both a locus for and a form of scholarly thought. And that’s been good. I’m largely proud of this site and the conversations that have taken place here, pleased with the writing I’ve done and even more so with the friends I’ve made.
But there are a couple of problems, and I’m not quite sure how to characterize them. They’re multi-faceted, as problems usually are. Here’s the first one: aside from the writing I’ve done here, and a few other ancillary texts (the response to my press’s outside reader’s reports, for instance), I’ve done no writing whatsoever since the summer ended. And since the summer was almost entirely taken up with research toward the INP, the result is that I’ve done no new scholarly writing in a long, long time.
Of course, I can’t blame this entirely on the blog. There’s been that little tenure review thing, the manuscript review thing, this weekend’s conference. And the teaching thing, and my insane expectations thereof. (Any of my former students reading herein would no doubt be happy to corroborate my claim that I assign what can only be described as ass-loads of reading; my current students would no doubt chime in that this semester I’ve assigned about 30% more reading than usual, and the usual is usually too much already. Call it a math problem: on a three-day-a-week teaching schedule, there are a third more class sessions during the semester than I’m used to; in designing the two new classes I’m teaching right now, I stupidly put as much material into each class session as I usually do on a twice-a-week schedule, with the result that… well, let’s just say that even I can’t keep up with my assignments.)
All that’s beside the point, though, which point is that despite the fact that I know, rationally, that I can’t blame the blog for my failure to get any new writing done in the last few months, I’m nonetheless unsettled about the ontological status of the blog within my writing life, at the moment.
The other issue may be thornier, or may in fact be simpler. I’m not sure which. Maybe it’s simpler, but harder on some level to admit to.
It’s this: really, the thing I want to be writing right now is fiction. A novel. One I’ve wanted to write for years. And I can see ahead of me, in the middle distance, the freedom to do so, arriving shortly, announced by a phone call from the dean. [Insert video of me compulsively knocking on every wooden surface I can find, which, considering I’m writing from an Airbus 319 somewhere over the midwest, is not many.]
There’s a risk involved in this, of course. It’s been years since I’ve written any fiction, and while I’ve gotten to a point of relative confidence with my scholarly writing, knowing that, even if a first draft of an article is terrible, I can just slave away at it and get feedback and slave away some more until it doesn’t suck. But a novel: what if I spend years on it, and no amount of slavage makes it unsucky?
Here’s the other risk — and this is the one that impinges on the blog a bit: the center of the novel is derived (if only loosely) from certain aspects of my (pretty much nonexistent) relationship with my father. And there’s some autobiographical writing I’d like to do here around that actual relationship as a means of sorting through some of the issues therein. And that is a clear change in my “no blogging about the personal life” policy that I’ve had since starting. (A policy apparently so strict that I apparently can’t even bring myself to refer to it as my personal life — a very odd and, I assume, unconscious slip.)
All this by way of announcing, around the back way, and through a dozen caveats and diversions, that I may be adding some new material here shortly, doing some thinking about personal stuff out here in public. And also by way of thinking through my nervousness about it.
This nervousness — really, it feels a bit akin to that dream where you realize you’ve gone to class naked — has a lot to do with the absolute separation I’ve had in place between my academic life and my personal life for close to eleven years now; my partner and I have been in a commuter relationship all that time, and so my personal life has gotten conducted out of sight of my colleagues, for the most part, and my work life has happened in his absence. In 2004, though, both will be in the same place, and so I’m wondering, on many levels, how one does this mixing of the academic and the personal on a regular basis. That kind of mixing — and the kind of exposure I feel like I’m about to venture out into in terms of my writing, both here and elsewhere — feels like a paradigm shift to me, and yet it’s the kind of thing that most academics, and many bloggers, have always dealt with, and enjoyed.
I suppose it’s a question of redrawing boundaries — having the line between my academic and my personal lives geographically determined for me for so long, I’m uncertain about how to draw that line in the absence of natural borders. With the blog, too: the decision not to write about my personal life was never really made consciously, but if I’m going to allow myself to venture now in a memoir-esque direction, how will I know where to stop?
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