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I need a new me (or something) aka, the Oh-shit-it’s-August post

12 August, 2011

Note: this is not the sort of thing I’ve posted for a while. But it’s me thinking about productivity and why I’ve been absolutely useless since returning to the US, and what changes I need to make so that this is not likely to happen again.

Actually, I don’t need a new me. I like most of the things about me. This is something that therapy has kind of helped with — some of the things I tend to think of as proof that I am a horrible person are not. By the way, none of those are horrible person things. They aren’t about being mean or dishonest or anything like that (although I don’t like that I often procrastinate send gifts, thank-yous, and birthday cards, even when they are ready to go on time). No, my “bad person” stuff is entirely related to being an academic, especially to being a scholar. I am a bad person every day I don’t read, write, or prep.

I realize that this is probably not normal. I know that it is counterproductive and leads to the kind of Black Dog that comes and holds me down until my fears are likely to become true until I dig myself out. I’m not sure why this is — partly Professional Good Girl syndrome, as my super-smart medievalist writer friend La Marquise has dubbed it; partly a feeling that I don’t deserve all of this; partly a feeling that I don’t belong; partly because I sometimes think about how choosing this life (more or less, since really, I just went where I was pushed) has resulted in sacrifices I’m not always happy to have made. Although honestly? I think I’d still be middle-aged and single: it’s not like interesting men have ever beat down my door, or even bothered to show up more than once in a blue moon.

And frankly, I met LDW at a conference. Perhaps lightning will someday strike twice.

But I digress. Because Oh-Shit-it’s-August! and I need to reorganize.

When I got home, I crashed. Hit a wall and crashed. I had great plans to write write write. Instead, I’ve not managed to do more than write a couple of blog posts, read email, and finish a novel I started months ago. Ok, and a few things around the house, etc., meet with a student and parent for several hours to resolve a grade situation (which resulted in my Dean not having to regrade everything, so yay for that). It’s still a case of sheer exhaustion, which was the result of a year that was perhaps the worst and most stressful in my working life, academic or otherwise. I can’t talk about it for various reasons, but two of the immediate results were putting on 25 lbs in two months (20 now gone) and seeking therapy. Add to that a schedule that included trying to do my job as president of a professional organization where there was unprecedented conflict (all created and exacerbated by one person) while making decisions about major changes and somehow setting myself up to write and give two conference papers in the summer after two more conferences during the academic year (fortunately, only one of those required a presentation). Plus AP marking. It was a year without much of a break. When I got home, I realized I hadn’t had a day without people (and despite my generally gregarious nature, I’m a very serious introvert and need a lot of processing time away from people) for over six weeks.

So there was that, plus being Overtaken By Events that might not overtake a person who isn’t exhausted. The big one was a series of incredibly draining discussions online (see above re-processing). These were with senior male colleagues who are fairly well-known, and honestly wouldn’t have occurred had anyone else bothered to step in and tell them that what they were saying was complete and utter bollocks. I suppose I could have left it as well, but these are prominent people. What the hell does it say about us if we don’t police ourselves in terms of practicing our discipline ethically? What does it say that almost no-one is willing to tell a colleague that their language is racist or sexist? And being the person who does speak out (although I actually did get supportive emails from the lurkers!), the person who is not in a prestigious position, the person who is not as experienced and has no real reputation as a scholar? It’s fucking lonely. And for me, it binds me up in self-doubt. Like I need more of that! So I left that venue. It’s a time-suck gone, and I think the removal of something that was very stressful is a good thing.

After that, not all that long after I was beating my head over this NPR piece on using “London Calling” as a tourist jingle, Congress decided that it was way more important to pull out their dicks and wave them around to impress the rest of us (and by the way — Gorillas are way more masculine than silverback humans, and they have tiny penises), which meant being glued to the internets and being depressed, and then there was anarchy in the UK, kinda. But at least being glued to the internets let me know that many of my friends were equally distracted and upset by what’s going on around us.

But now, Oh-Shit-it’s-August! And I’ve been so busy panicking that I missed Notorious, PhD’s “how not to panic” post. Ironically. Instead, I’ve been flailing like Kermit the Frog. So now, I have a plan. I have things to do. I will do them. Yes, Dr A Corner of Tenth Century Europe, answering your email is high up on the list — after sending off one thing and sending a thank you to a Grande Dame for a reference. And I must also write syllabi. Many deep breaths will get me through the semester. That and a commitment to training for a 5k run (I know, not much, but enough to have to actually get out and run) in October. The exercise will help keep me sane.

Having said that? I don’t want to crash like this again. I don’t know that many years will be as horrendous as last year. But I do know that I might want to start thinking about taking regular breaks more often, so I don’t burn out. My tendency is exactly the opposite — I get stressed, I fall behind, I get more stressed, I get overwhelmed, and I don’t plan catch-up and breathe time into my schedule. When I was married, I had to take breaks and do things that honestly allowed me to function better, whether watching a movie or taking the dog for a run or whatever. When LDW and I were actively a couple, we had to plan time together, and make the expensive plane tickets worthwhile. Most of the time our breaks didn’t match up, so one of us was usually teaching when the other visited, but we took time to sightsee in each other’s cities, go to pubs and read, and watch movies in addition to both working. Now that I’m single, I need to build those things back into my life. I also think I need to re-think my yearly schedule. I have a house now. I’d like a garden. After next year, Leeds will be earlier. I’m a bit torn, because this means I could actually save money by not traveling after 15 July, when prices go up. But I’m starting to think that I should take a real break from work at the end of the academic year, so that I’m here for much of the summer, and not exhausted just at the point I need to start gearing up for the new year. Leeds always makes me want to write and explore ideas, and it seems to me it would be much better to be able to get a little work done in the BL after Leeds so that I can submit my work at the end of the summer, rather than spending my BL time writing the Leeds paper!

So, if you’re still here, that’s me thinking out how to make changes for productivity and sanity. Wish me luck!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 August, 2011 11:34 pm

    Good luck. This sort of analysis seems like a very productive thing to do with your last summer weeks. And it’s always harder for me to get things done at home. This may be a good thing, if “home” is a place where you want to relax and be with your family (cat-family, whatever). Also there’s so much stuff, compared to being somewhere more stripped down, like a hotel room; even if you’re staying with friends, other people’s stuff can be less distracting (not your job to clean it or pick it up, though their books can be a problem). I hope you can have a sane and happy year this time around.

  2. 12 August, 2011 11:43 pm

    Here’s to transitions and reinventing oneself. Oh.. and sanity! It’s really great to find something that keeps you sane; always make time for it!!! (I should take my own advice, I know…)

  3. 13 August, 2011 7:24 am

    If it is any consolation, most of my recent miseries are due to not having been able to crash and needing to. That you’re getting time out and not working impossibly hard for a short time is GOOD. Don’t let your inner critic tell you otherwise.

  4. 13 August, 2011 9:19 am

    I’m sorry the crap didn’t stop once you got home, ADM, and you are not the only one I’m waiting for e-mail from, don’t worry! (I also have a plate full of deadlines around which all that must be fit but, it will be.) But yes: program in down-time. I too let other people do this for me too much and got very bleak, and am still sleep-deranged, after they ran out a fortnight or so after Leeds. I’m now trying to schedule work and breaks more or less like a normal person for the rest of the holiday. But, Professional Good Girl or not, you can imagine I too will not be happy without some nod towards the work even on the days supposedly off.

    Look after yourself, hey?

  5. 19 August, 2011 4:00 pm

    This summer was the first in four years in which I took a real, proper vacation (as in, not a visit to family but actually going away for a lakeside week with D.). And I took that vacation in June, just a week or so into summer. Oh, it was glorious! And it let me really relax, which has meant that the rest of the summer has been the most enjoyable I’ve ever had. D. said to me at one point in July that she’d never seen me this happy and relaxed in all of the 11 years we’ve been together. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, but I think that week’s vacation at the beginning of summer is key. So my advice for next summer would be to schedule in some downtime early on if that’s feasible.

    In the meantime, I hope you have a much better upcoming year than last year.

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