Friday, June 25, 2010

Ok, So I'm Not Working Again...

But I don't actually feel badly about it. See, I'm waiting for a guy to come and measure my basement door so that I can get a new door put in, since the one I've got is ridiculous (as in, you can see the sunlight coming through where there should be a door jamb. It's really dumb to try to work when you know you're going to be interrupted, so I am cutting myself some slack.

I've also remembered some important things about me and summer and work. Like, for example, nearly every summer when I've had major research productivity, I haven't really begun in earnest until the end of June. It always takes me a few weeks to settle into the summer, and also, I think I do need the pressure of feeling like I don't have the whole summer stretching out before me. I've also remembered that even though I'm not technically "working" during this time, I have been doing a boatload of thinking, which means that when I sit down to work I do have a sense of where I need to go. And also, the hatred of the time I'm spending watching TV and not accomplishing anything? All part of the process.

But now on to the next topic. I wanted to address the many suggestions I've gotten that I should sit down with a good book and relax, read a novel, etc. A lot of these suggestions have come from people outside of English, so I want to talk a little bit about how my field affects my reading habits. This is not true for all people in English, but I think it's true for many of us, esp. if we study fairly contemporary stuff and/or teach across a wide range of fields.

I cannot read literature for pleasure. Not if I'm working on a project, whether that's developing a new course or a new research project. See, what you folks think of as "fun" reading? Yeah, um, that's totally my job. And if I read something that's somewhat decent that is fiction, I feel massive amounts of guilt for not reading the stuff that I "should" be reading. And then, if I read the kind of stuff that I can read for pleasure - crappy chick lit, gruesome thrillers, etc. - I then feel like I'm a loser who is totally an intellectual zombie because everybody else takes the opportunity to read things that enrich their soul or something when they've got time to read.

The only kind of reading I can really do for pleasure without hating myself is non-fiction stuff. I'm in the middle of Heat now, as I mentioned, and I'm also in the middle of this book. This is good bedtime reading, but I can't get too terribly involved in this sort of reading, not to the point where I can while away a whole day doing it.

Ok. Think of it this way. Let's say you're a historian, and when you have been obsessing about work, everybody recommends to you that you read things like John Adams by David McCullough to unwind. Or, barring that, that you watch PBS historical documentaries. Or let's say "hey! go to some archives just for fun!" Now, don't get me wrong, you love history, but is that really going to take your mind off the work you're not doing? Not likely.

See, that's the dirty secret of going to graduate school to study what you love. It means that it's no longer a source of relaxation when you're feeling stressed out. This is not to say that it's not a source of pleasure - of course it is - or that you don't enjoy it - you do - but when I read a Margaret Atwood or A.S. Byatt novel, I take notes, people. It's work - not relaxation - even if it might be fun.

Again, I don't think that this is necessarily a problem for all people in my field. I know that my Medievalist and Early Modern friends read things for fun all the time that would count as literature. Also people who focus primarily on poetry or drama. But when I talk to people who do what I do, I find that many of us have the problem that I'm describing.

Ok, off to go do some stuff around the house while I wait for the door measurement guy.

11 comments:

canuck_grad said...

You should check out The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It's non-fiction, but I still whiled away most of a day reading it!

gwinne said...

Crazy, my mental trick is reading stuff for "pleasure" that I'm not likely to teach or publish on, even if it is in my general field. But the line between pleasure and work is really blurry for me...

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the recommendation, CG :)

Gwinne - I've tried that, but I think that the problem for me with executing it is that with the 4/4 load I end up teaching a really wide range of stuff in order not to feel stale (and to make sure that students aren't seeing the same stuff with me if they take multiple courses with me). I suppose I could turn to earlier historical periods, but there's a reason why I ended up specializing where I did, and it involves not actually enjoying the older stuff very much :P (I will say this, though: I'm better about that trick when I don't have a major project going on. It's the major project plus reading worthwhile book things that doesn't go together for me.)

Susan said...

Actually, just reading is not always relaxing, even when you are not in English.
The thing I've found is that fiction requires that I enter another imaginative world, and that takes work. I don't have lots of mental space for that now.

b(oston)s(cholar) said...

I have exactly the same problem--I'm an English Lit grad student, and there comes a time where reading just reminds of work. I do have the same luxury (being an 18th/19th century-ist) of being able to read contemporary literature for funsies, but even then... I often find my brain busily making connections and thinking of "smart" things to say to my colleagues. Blarg to that.

Movies work for me--I don't feel bad about watching craptastic films like "Hot Tub Time Machine" when I need some empty-headed fluff, but never feel like I'm working when I raid the "Important Directors" section at the video store. But then again, I rarely, if ever have to think about film in relation to literature for my field, if I don't want to, except to remind students that watching a Keira Knightly flick does not substitute for reading Pride and Prejudice. And that Colin Firth is not actually Mr. Darcy

JaneB said...

This is why I quit English lit as soon as I was allowed to at school (aged 13)! I love reading - and I was pretty sure that studying literature would get in the way of that (certainly noone could kill a good book stone dead like our second year English teacher...)

physioprof said...

I wanted to address the many suggestions I've gotten that I should sit down with a good book and relax, read a novel, etc.

For the record, the Comrade has never suggested any such thing, and has only suggested getting fucking drunk.

Janice said...

I have problems when people recommend popular histories to me, especially if they're at all related to my research interests. Historical novels often evoke similar responses. But there's always trash waiting to be read!

This summer, I'm starting up with some audiobooks since I'm on the road a heck of a lot. After a disappointingly abridged version of "Persuasion" I found a winner with Gladwell's "Outliers".

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Shit. That sounds awful. Reading for pleasure is one of the joys I'm rediscovering, post-tenure.

Psycgirl said...

"... then feel like I'm a loser who is totally an intellectual zombie because everybody else takes the opportunity to read things that enrich their soul or something when they've got time to read. "

Crazy, why are you beating yourself up? That's not like you! You should enjoy those chick lit books and tell the "you're a loser" voices to go screw themselves! When I've got time to read, I read mindless literature junkfood.

Shane in Utah said...

In my first semester in grad school for English Lit, a professor told our class that he never had time to read for pleasure, and I found the idea very ironic and depressing. But I've certainly found it to be true of my own career as an English professor, especially (as you say) since I teach and write about contemporary literature. Even when I do try to read a novel for pleasure, I find myself wondering how I would teach it.

When I do read for pleasure--before bed, say--it's generally comic books. But for the most part, the pleasure I used to get from reading novels before it became my job I now derive from TV series with long arcing plots and complex characters: HBO and BBC shows, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc.