It's interesting: over the last several months I've been astonished to discover that I actually can read scholarship not directly related to my current projects--and enjoy it!--and I've been rather proud of myself for working through the back issues of several journals that I've had piled up and even making it through three entire books that I didn't "need" to read. This is a big deal to me, since I have continuing anxiety about how very, very few of the Important Books or even Ideas of big-name scholars in my field I'm actually familiar with; this is partly the result of the way that classes are taught and (especially) the way that oral exams are structured at INRU, but at least as much of it is the fact that I didn't really have a sense, as a graduate student, of how to do academia: that maybe I should regularly go to the library, thumb through the current issues of journals in my field, and see what was being written? That I should start going to conferences early on, just to get a feel for the field?
So okay; I was a late bloomer academically, and now I am, perhaps, hitting my stride. Hooray for me and all that. But with this greater immersion in my work, I'm worried that I'm in danger of letting other things go. Yeah, I go to the movies and the theater fairly often, and I read entirely too many general-interest magazines and listen to way too much NPR. But I find myself reading very few contemporary books these days, even as I'm continually making mental notes to pick up this novel, that memoir, and a popular history book or two. I make the notes, but I don't buy the books, much less read them.
That matters to me, but obviously it doesn't matter enough, since I'm seriously considering bringing De Rerum Natura along on my trip as "fun" reading (Lucretius is very distantly relevant to one of my chapters, but not enough that there's any reason I should be reading the dude on the plane, or indeed ever). So I relate to what Hilaire wrote recently as she contemplates ending her involvement in a hobby that she's pursued for years. She writes:
I’ve always been so happy to have a life that’s not defined solely by the academic work I do. I worked in magazine publishing on the side, all the way through undergrad degree and most of grad school. And I had The Activity. These two things, I thought, saved me from becoming too wrapped up in the ivory tower [. . . .]I could have written most of those sentences myself.
Really I just seem to want to work. But I’ve watched myself working very hard over the last week – I become so lost in my own brain that some nights I feel like I can’t even pull far enough out of myself to say two words to GF. Is this who I’ll be without The Activity? Is this what I want? Will I watch my life narrow, along with my own capacities to imagine myself differently? Will I start on the road to early-onset academic eccentricity, that all too common affliction?
Seriously, I worry about the ways this life can be an unhealthy obsession. I think those of us who do this work all live with the knowledge that we can't leave work at work...try as we might, we can't be 9-to5ers. Nor would we want to be - that's what's liberating about this job, after all. So it seeps into our lives. But when does the seeping stop? In my case, will my stopping the Activity - and not replacing it with something else - mean it's crept too far?
*My brother and I aren't as far apart in age as that fact would suggest--he took several years off between high school and college (working a job, at age 20, for which I believe he was paid nearly as much as I'll be making on the tenure-track). Oh well: at least there's one success in the family!