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Public Introspection

21 October, 2012

Normally, I’d lock something like this away on my liveJournal. But it occurred to me that, before so many people knew the person behind the nom de blog, I was a bit more open. In celebration (and some defiance) of impending events, and upon realizing that a lot of the readers are similar in age, career stage, relationship status, etc., I thought, “what the hell?”

So I had some goals for this year. I was going to run a 10k. I was going to get back down to wearing a size 10 comfortably. I was going to keep on top of things. I was going to finish umpteen projects, and get two articles in press. I was going to have a big birthday party.

I have been running about twice all year (although I may go today, since the weather is perfect).

I cannot wear 10s comfortably, primarily because I have not only not run, but since returning from the UK, have exercised little and eaten in unhealthy ways and not been sleeping.

You should see the piles of marking and the state of my house.

I did do a few things right. I got *an* article in press, largely because I got handed a deadline.

I picked up an old hobby, worked on my skills, and joined a group for that hobby. It’s rewarding, but is also a time commitment, especially if I want to make it worth the money. But it feeds an entire part of my life I’d ignored for years, so I think it’s worth it.

And anyway, I don’t actually want a big party, and I really don’t want to spend the day before and the day of my birthday cleaning and cooking so I can be exhausted. Also, I committed to giving a couple of talks at a local church regarding their denomination and its founder’s politics (they called a historian! and are totally cool with my talking about why imitating the political behavior of a late Medieval person isn’t really appropriate for a country founded largely on Enlightenment thought): the first of these is the morning after my birthday. I want to have a clear head.

So I haven’t planned anything, but probably should.

Yes, I am navel-gazing. The timing seems right for it. I am coming up on the birthday where I can no longer hope it’s only a halfway point to my life. A good friend’s husband died two weeks ago. I wasn’t there for her, because I haven’t been keeping up on blogs, and never manage to remember to phone people when it’s the right time for their time zone. I’ve missed almost everyone’s birthday this year. Another friend has left her academic job, and her thoughts on it shook me to the core. Yet another friend revised his manifesto, and reading my own feelings in someone else’s words helped me to remember why I am who I am. A change, or changes, in my life and priorities seem not only appropriate, but also imperative.

Here’s the thing. Or a thing. I have had a bad few years. Since I turned 40, I have taught at three places. I got divorced. I moved house three times in old city, then across the country, where I’ve lived in three places in six years. That’s six moves in ten years. I went up for promotion. I got involved with someone, a colleague. We broke up. It was emotionally messy, and we’ve had to build a new friendship of sorts because our academic and social circles overlap too much to avoid each other. That’s good, but was hard. I was simultaneously in two professional situations where I (and a couple of other people) had to deal with colleagues behaving unprofessionally and uncollegially to the extent that it triggered the explosive locks on a lot of very carefully buried baggage. To compensate, I overcommitted myself even more than usual, which in some ways was good; for example, I was able to see how important the scholarly side of my work was to me, and made real efforts to keep it alive. In some ways, it wasn’t so good: I set and met expectations that would have been exhausting in a good year. At this point, I’m slowly folding things up, throwing some away, and packing the rest more carefully, so I know where they are, and can tell when someone else has found a key to a particular suitcase, so I can change the locks. Most of this happens below the surface, but it seems to take up a lot of mental and emotional energy, so that in lots of ways I’ve been on auto-pilot for several months.

Meanwhile, I have projects languishing. I may be looking at a sabbatical in the next year — my first! ever! Should I get something else in press, I would be set to go up for promotion in the next year (accelerated track the first time, plus SLAC’s publication requirements, which are reasonable for people with our teaching and service load, make this possible). I also have seen a couple of jobs I’d like to apply for. And I’m a slightly overweight, largely single, middle-aged woman with cats and a house that needs upkeep. I have friends and family who matter to me more than I have shown them of late.

I’m still on auto-pilot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start thinking about small, incremental improvements that I should be making now. Because if not now, when?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 October, 2012 4:25 pm

    That sounds like a rough decade, and one in which you got habituated to the stress. But all of that is not normal, and you deserve to be proud of yourself for doing so much and working through so much while taking care of yourself as much as you did. I wish you a calmer and more peaceable next decade, in which you can do more of the things you want to do and less of those you don’t.

    • 22 October, 2012 12:28 am

      Thanks, Dame E. I am only just starting to get my head round the idea that it hasn’t been normal. Now that things are easing a bit, there’s a part of me that is just waiting for the other show to drop.

  2. 21 October, 2012 6:41 pm

    If you are going to survive you have to stop doing more than yr fair share of the donkey work for yr dept.
    I am serious about “survive.”

    • 22 October, 2012 12:26 am

      Thanks, Steve! I’m lucky in that I am not doing a ton of that at the moment. I still have the highest enrollments, but that’s nothing to complain about. And compared to colleagues in really oversubscribed fields, we all have it easy. I think it’s possible that I am marking more, but that’s because I assign a lot of writing (and I’ve cut a lot out!). Having said that, I think I will be assigning only one short paper in the survey classes next semester, but spend more class time prepping it. That will be easier on all of us, I think.

  3. J Liedl permalink
    22 October, 2012 9:43 pm

    First off? Let me say that you’ve done one heck of a lot in the last decade. Writing these type of things down in your blog can be a good personal wake-up call: you realize the effort is unsustainable.

    Also, when you are on your own in a living situation, there is nobody else around that will put you first. It may feel unseemly but you have to do that. Just staying on top of all the extra duties that come with my various responsibilities eats away hours. I know that you have even more of the same with some of what you do.

    • 22 October, 2012 10:30 pm

      I think I must have an odd idea of what ‘normal’ is. When I look at my friends and the colleagues I respect most, it doesn’t feel like much. Actually, when I look at some of my friends and family, I realize that they *do* things. They *go* places that are not related to work. They spend time together.

      But even before X and I got divorced, my life was like this — working, looking for jobs, commuting an hour (on good days) either way or driving all day on sales trips and then spending the evenings cooking, cleaning, checking on the kid, watching TV with X or helping with something in the garden…

      I cannot remember a time in the last 20 years when I didn’t feel as though I should be doing at least three other things, except on those rare occasions when I’ve gone camping or when I’ve been out for a run. Or when I have been doing research. I think that’s why scholarship has become more important to me — It’s one of the few things I do that brings with it no guilt, and no feeling inadequate as a human. I might feel less than capable as a scholar, but there I know that the only thing I can do to change that is to just keep plugging along.

      I’m having a very hard time wrapping my head around the idea that smart people like you guys, who seem to accomplish so much, think that I have done much at all — let alone the idea of doing more than is normal. Hmm. Just had one of those odd pop-culture-moment mental images. Flashed on the second to the last scene of “Once More With Feeling.” Oof.

  4. 23 October, 2012 7:38 pm

    Just six moves in ten years is hard, never mind all the rest. This is a very high level of stress, and it’s hard when at work you don’t get support, and carry the can for lots of people. And I think it’s particularly hard when you live alone: I realize that when friends make plans with their partners or kids and go places, I may not be more productive, but I’m obsessing about what I should be doing. What I miss most in being alone is someone who says to me, “You’ve done enough now. Come have dinner!” or “Let’s go to the movies.” This is even more an issue when you have work tensions, some of which are often of the “I can’t tell anyone that because…” So making yourself the priority is important.

    So I’m glad you’ve picked up your old hobby; stay with it! As for birthdays, have the celebration *you* want. It’s your birthday, and no one elses. (And when I hit that one, I went hiking for a week with a friend from childhood. Who needs a big party?)

    • 23 October, 2012 9:00 pm

      Susan, that is exactly the thing I hate about living alone. Sadly, my last two housemates were not really the sort of people who would do that, either.

      If my birthday were not at Exploding Head Time (TM) I would love to do that sort of thing for my birthday. In fact, having a friend suggest an overnight camping trip or even just a nice hike, I’d consider that a fantastic gift.

      Anyway, thanks for the input. I’m starting to wonder if I might not be more productive if I took a year’s sabbatical, and just rested for a month or so. Dunno if I could change it … and doubt I could afford it. But it’s an idea.

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