What I’m Not Doing

A junior colleague of mine, not long ago, reported being asked by some senior faculty members how she had managed to participate in a faculty seminar last year. “What did you have to give up in order to do that?” they asked, not so much incredulously as dubiously, expecting to hear that her research had stalled out or that she had taught unprepared.

“Laundry,” she told them. “I gave up doing laundry.”

Academic life is all about trade-offs, and often trade-offs that revolve around time. As Henry Farrell suggested in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, part of what makes more traditional scholars so nervous about academics who blog is their often misguided sense that writing always trades off for writing — that if you write and publish informally, you must be doing that in time that ought to have been dedicated to writing and publishing in more formal venues. In fact, the trade off often comes from other areas of one’s life: recreational time, family time, sleep time.

But then, those things often get traded off regardless of whether one blogs or not. You see my list from yesterday; in order to accomplish these things — in order to teach an overload this semester, and in order to serve on a couple of graduate students’ committees, and in order to chair my program, and my intercollegiate program, and the faculty executive committee, and in order to attend conferences, and in order to attend to my long-distance relationship, and in order to keep writing through the midst of that, several other things have had to go. Things like:

— Sleeping enough.
— Cleaning my house.
— Grocery shopping.
— Eating well.
— Running.

Those last two are most depressing to me: my feeling of physical well-being is way off right now; I can feel myself actively sacrificing my health to my job. And even where the bodily attribute that I’m sacrificing is more aesthetic than health-oriented — I’m up almost ten pounds from where I want to be, due to the protracted post-marathon layoff and my crappy stress-related eating habits — I resent it nonetheless.

More health-oriented women’s magazines frequently tout the idea of finding “balance” in one’s life. The entire concept of balance is so far outside my experience that I simply stare at those articles with something approaching amazement, unable even to fathom how such a thing might be possible. But right now, this morning, sitting here having taken the time for myself necessary to write this entry, I’m recommitting myself to the search, at least.

And to running. Because, dammit, I got in much too awesome shape over the last couple of years to let it all fall apart now.

1 Comment

  1. (brief parenthetical: I’ve been a reader of your blog for a few months now, breaking into the non-lurker status here…)

    I am an academic of sorts, and as someone with a long-distance partner, you’ll be horrified perhaps to hear that my partner and I left two tenure-track jobs at a small college because they were draining our lives away. Your post about giving up health prompted me to respond because I am a freakishly healthy person who rarely gets even the common cold. So it was a huge wakeup call when I got pneumonia during my fourth year of full-time tenure-track teaching.

    It was the 3-3 load (2 hours/week per course, though, so 12 hours in the classroom per week), the chairing of multiple committees, helping to rewrite the Women’s Studies and Asian Studies curriculum (in addition to developing my own with the attendant 15 new course preps over 5 years), attending an average of 1.5 department events in the evening each week, including 6-hour-long critiques of the senior art majors twice each semester, and the list goes on. This on top of my attempts to stay active in research, writing, publishing, and giving papers. A familiar group of tasks I’m sure. My students were wonderful, many first-generation students with such drive and energy, and I felt very fortunate to be working with them. But when I received two pre-tenure course releases in one semester, my workload decreased by very little.

    This frightened me, as I had gotten into this small college thing because, well, I went to Pomona as an undergrad and I wanted to spread the liberal arts ethos, help to create an intellectual environment for students like I had had, and then in my third year I find I am spending as little time as possible on teaching because of my service load. It was the following semester when I got pneumonia.

    Finding the balance is hard, and I can’t say I found it, at least not in the context of a full-time post, as I’m currently an independent scholar for the second year in a row. I suppose my partner and I decided that we would not be able to find the balance while still maintaining our core commitment to the liberal arts–we could “check out” after tenure, quit all the committees and focus on publishing, having a life (weekends?) and pursuing things intellectual, but that didn’t seem to be a viable option. Or at least not one that we could live with. So we opted to see if there might be space in the academic universe to be intellectuals, teachers, and contributors to a community in some sort of integrated balance. We’re currently in the UK, where my partner has a position at the university here. Classes have just begun, so we’re figuring out how it works. I’ll let you know if we find the balance.

    and don’t get pneumonia. not worth it!

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