Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fits and Starts

I posted that list below of things I could do with my night, but the night was more consumed with playing Scrabble on my computer than anything else. Now I am having a glass of wine, and I did talk to my mom on the phone, but other than that, tonight was spent doing a whole lot of nothing. Looking around on blogs, staring into space, etc. I thought about making the list of things to do, and that's what led me to pour the glass of wine a second ago.

Here's the thing I'm thinking about. I'm thinking that maybe I *have* been working tonight, that it's one of those times when I'm gearing up, and so I've needed to be quiet and mindless. Part of me resists this interpretation, thinking that I'm just making excuses for my poor work ethic. I'm telling that part to shut up. Because I know that it's important to just have space to think, and that's what I took tonight. Notice I didn't watch mindless tv, nor did I try to force myself to do some sort of thought-requiring activity. I played scrabble, which uses the brain, but which also allows one's mind to wander. I'm hoping that this will spur me on to ever greater productivity.

So I'm feeling pretty good. I really do think that I can manage to get the things done that I need to get done in the next few days, and I'm feeling pretty positive about personal-life stuff as well. That said, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I want in my life in the long term, reflecting on my experiences on the job market, reflecting on where I see myself heading in this profession but also on where I see myself heading as a person.

The facts:

  • I'm currently in my fourth year on the t-t. So I've got next year, and then I've got my tenure year. The reality is that if I'm moving, it's most likely going to happen in the next two years.
  • My personal life has been... well, it's been on the back-burner for some time. Part of this has been the job, but let's be honest: part of it is that I needed time to recover from the Last Big Relationship. Did I need a full four years? Probably not, but I took it. When Crazy loves, she does not love easily but she does love hard, and that requires recovery time. Do I think those four years have been wasted? Certainly not. I think I've figured out a lot of shit in those four years about who I am and about what I need (and don't need) in my life. I've also opened myself up to possibilities that didn't seem like possibilities four years ago. So this is all positive, if not particularly evocative of anything concrete, if that makes any sense.
  • My research agenda is totally insane for the kind of institution at which I currently work. Now, this institution is changing. It may be that this institution will allow me to continue at this pace in a more reasonable fashion sooner rather than later. But there's no guarantee of that. So as soon as the book is done and as soon as MLA 2007 is done, it's time for me to make some big decisions about what I want my productivity to be like in the next five years on the t-t.
  • I'm very happy with what I've learned and what I've become as a college teacher. I really enjoy the work I do in the classroom, and I don't see myself in another career. That said, being a teacher isn't who I am, and if this career got in the way of being who I want to be, I think I'd consider not being a teacher. I don't know entirely what that means, but I think that one thing I've learned this year is to separate who I am from what I do.
This leads to some thoughts on the book. When this project began - about seven years ago - this project was very bound up in my identity - or my identity was very bound up in it, I'm not sure which. I was fighting a lot of ghosts in the project. Ghosts of mentors, ghosts of ideas, ghosts of my adolescent self that I wanted to slay. In the transforming all of that into a dissertation, I think I did lose a sense of who I was apart from the project. I became the project. And then, in trying to transform it into a book, I think I'm realizing that those battles are over. I think I'm realizing that this is something I'm doing rather than something I am. It may have been who I was, but it's not who I'm going to be.

Part of this realization comes out of the fact that I'm much more known for the dabbling I've been doing in what now seems to be the primary thing that I'm known for. Working on stuff for MLA has driven home to me that the work I thought of as the "break" from my "real work" (the book manuscript stuff) is actually much more important than the "real work." More important to other people, I mean. I'm making a bigger dent in literary studies in this work than I've ever made in the "real work." The work I'm doing is more interesting and more "of the moment" in the dabbling area, and it's more important to the advancement of the field. This is a fluke. A total fluke. But it's true. I realized it when people cited me to me in their proposals for the panels I'm putting together; I'm realizing it further in looking at students' research proposals from my upper-level class, in which they are anxious because they can't avoid the work that I've done in the dabbling area. (They're horrified at the idea of getting me wrong. I've explained to them that this is ultimately the whole point - that they disagree with me or see things that I didn't see. I never imagined having this problem when all of this began. I didn't imagine anybody'd ever need to look at what I'd done in the dabbling area.) For this reason, the book almost seems like a foundation for the thing I'm really doing, as opposed to the real thing from which the other thing is diverting me. So if that's true, then clearly we can't be what we work on, because if that were true, I wouldn't be in this bizarre situation.

But even with that, it is strange how so many of my recent thoughts about where I'm heading are bound up in the book. I think I've come to realize that for a long time, I've viewed that - publishing a book - not finishing the diss, not getting the PhD, not getting a job - as the achievement. After this, then, what? Is the next book really the next marker? I don't think it is. I think the next marker is probably nothing to do with career. That's not to say I won't write another book or continue to Think Great Thoughts and Pursue Ideas, but I don't think, ultimately, I really care very much about continuing to strive so hard for professional stuff. I care about not being an idiot, and I care about being respected, but I don't care about adding more notches to my lipstick case professionally. And I don't think I really care about leaving here. That's not to say I won't go on the market again - I may - but I'm not interested in going on the market just to rise in the academic hierarchy. The bottom line is that I don't really need to do that. People who know my work and who know me respect me. Isn't that actually the point? And I'm not terribly motivated by money. I make a fine amount of money where I am. I didn't get into this for the big bucks, you know. So what do I care about? Where am I going? And is this really what I need to be thinking about right now?

See, but maybe it is. Maybe this is the process. Maybe it's all about fits of self-reflection and starts of productivity. That's how it's always been for me. And maybe that's ok. Maybe it's ok to contemplate the state of my immortal soul when I should be writing or editing or doing other professional activities, because maybe thinking about the state of my immortal soul helps me to do those things. Maybe that's why the blog has been so crucial to my achievements since I've started - and I do think it has - because it's a space that affords me an audience (I'm not just writing to myself in a journal) who will listen to this stuff, and so that audience forces me to think about things more productively than I did when I only had my journal to rely upon. I don't feel particularly accountable to journals. Never been able to write in them every single day, never have particularly thought about being coherent in them. Here, I've got to be at least somewhat coherent. And so maybe the reflecting (read sometimes: whining) here, actually gets me where I need to go in the work.

And in a weird way, I think it's getting me where I need to go in my life, too. The people whom I've met through the blog, and the experiences I've had with meeting people through the blog (in whatever form) have given me... I don't know. They've given me a strange perspective about who I actually am. It's strange when people "know" one through one's writing - and particularly through one's personal writing - and then when one "meets" those people, whether in person or via email or over the telephone, and gets to know them in a different register, in which the knowing is reciprocal. It makes one much more open than one might be in meeting a stranger, and one comes to realize that one can be much more open in many more situations than one might have been previously. I've lost a lot of my angst about self-presentation. I've become a lot more comfortable in my own skin. So which came first, the blogging or the egg?

So yeah. Tonight has been "unproductive." But it's not been Dark Night of the Soul unproductive. It's been... I don't know - Light Night of the Soul unproductive? Does such a thing exist? I'm just feeling so... centered. I feel like I have a plan. I'm not sure if it will work, but who cares about that? I think I know that I don't necessarily want to leave this job or this location at any cost. I also know that I would leave them in a heartbeat if there were a compelling reason to do so. I know that I want to have a more vibrant social life here, but I also know that having that doesn't mean I'm stuck here - it just means I'll have even more long-distance friends should I go. Laying down roots isn't a bad thing, even if one ultimately ends up pulling up those roots. Sometimes a plant just needs to be repotted. It's not the end of the world, right? And sure, I want stability. I want consistency. I want routine. But I also want adventure and light and life. And I think that it's possible to have both - maybe not at the exact same time, but to have each some of the time. It's not an either or.

I've been living my life like it is an either/or. I'm sure I will again - that's my way. But right now, I think I'm in a both/and sort of a place.

So. Tonight may be a wash (oh, who am I kidding, it is) but tomorrow, I'll work like a maniac. And Saturday, I'll work like a maniac. And Sunday I'll take the day off and clean my house. Fits and starts, people. Fits and starts.


voncookie said...

Thank you thank you thank you for writing this post. Being in the throes of the dissertation at the moment, your reflections on career in its later stages were entirely reassuring for me. One can be productively unproductive--fallow periods from 5 minutes to 5 years that allow for reflection, regrouping, etc. Poetic ebb and flow of work and rest... This is how we get through our days, some challenging and some not-so-much.

FYI, you now have one more dedicated reader out here in cyberspace.

Thanks for the moment of calm... And now back to the dissertation. First chapter due soon!


adjunct whore said...

so my first thought was good-god, why oh why is crazy writing this long ass post? does she really expect us fans to read all of this? i was actually pissed. but see, i woke up pissed because of own nervous breakdown-crisis which had me feeling anti-acadmic people generally. then i had a spot of good news, the kind where the profession accepts you in a meaningful way and for work that i'm doing right now, not years ago. so i went back to crazy and read carefully. and now i can say in complete soul-baring confessional mode that i too have lived my life for ages assuming either/or but never both were possible. and it's quite a lovely relief to discover one can have/do both.

centered, peace, yes. thanks.

Dr. Crazy said...

Voncookie: I'm glad that you got something out of the post, and welcome!

Adjunct Whore: You know, I always wonder if people find the long posts irritating, and then I figure they just won't read them if they are irritated by the length. I should note that this post took me one hour exactly to post - started it at 10:21, posted it at 11:21 on the nose. One more positive effect of blog posting: it has made me a MUCH quicker writer! I'm glad that you got the validating news! Hurrah! (And I promise shorter posts in the coming days, as I should be done with procrastinating after tonight! Hurrah!)

Dr. Crazy said...

er, I meant it took me one hour to WRITE not to post :)

adjunct whore said...

i like your long post--i was kidding, reflecting, being combative just to say how much your reflections resonate with me, how slowing down yields goodies, and kind of to thank you for being interesting and entertaining enough to help slow me down to read....

you're of course right: nobody has to read it! but seriously though, i mean it, my foot is at least a little out, no?

squadratomagico said...

I rechristen thee: Dr. Levelheaded.

Dr. Crazy said...

AW - no worries! I suspect that some people really are irritated by the long posts :) Sometimes I'M irritated by the long posts! Your foot's not in your mouth at all!

Squadra - Ah, but you have no idea what craziness goes on behind the scenes to produce the levelheaded thoughts about Life and Big Questions. You can't have one without the other :)