Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Interruption in blog service

Tomorrow I'm off to Cali for several days for my brother's college graduation* and I'm taking the bold step of not bringing my computer along, in the hopes that I might actually do some fun reading in my downtime (like catching up on a contemporary novel or two) rather than frittering it away on the internet. I am, of course, also bringing some work with me, as well as a couple of chapters of George Washington Boyfriend's revised book manuscript to proofread--but hey. It can't be all fun, now can it?

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 [. . . .]

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?
I could have written most of those sentences myself.


*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!


Anonymous said...

Actually, we ARE *nearly* as far apart in age as that would suggest. I may have taken 3 years off after HS, but you took 2 off after undergrad. Granted, that's far more common, but it makes the numbers ALMOST add up. I've heard an "average" Ph.D time of 7 years, which is, surprise surprise, almost our age difference.

Then again, your loyal readers may or may not know of any gap in your schooling, I suspect somewhere along the line you have mentioned it.

As for Hilaire's final paragraph:
I'm not sure I'd say I disagree, but I can't fully agree with viewing it as one's work seeping into one's life. The implication is that the work is something to be avoided. I think seeing an intermingling between the two is a sign that you actually ENJOY what you're doing, that your work is something that would be a part of your life (to a certain extent) whether or not you were getting paid for it.

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, .. uhoh, I guess this means I need to take a final, clean the house some more, and figure out what the hell we're doing this weekend.


Flavia said...

Bro: I just meant our chronological ages, since I think I've mentioned being in my early 30s fairly often.

And as for Hilaire's remarks, I don't think she's at all implying that work should be avoided, but that perhaps the balance should be healthier--that there should BE a balance--than it often is. That we should have outside interests.

MY point of disagreement with her is that I don't, actually, know many people who have the proverbial 9-5 job. My lawyer friends don't; my consultant friends don't; my friends who are writers and actors sure as hell don't (since they usually have a day job in addition to their "real" work); even some of my friends with government jobs work a little overtime and on the occasional Saturday.

Can't wait to see you. Good luck with everything until then!

Hilaire said...

Have a great time in Cali! Yay, fun reading. And - I guess we can head into academic eccentricity together.:)

And, scr, point well taken. That's usually how I feel about it. It's just that because there's no separation, the negative part of work seeps in too much, sometimes, I think. Also the craziness of the head. And Flavia, you're right about the 9-5ers...there aren't many of's probably because I live with a true 9-5er that I am, in my crazier moments, aware of and envious of them!

RageyOne said...

Have a relaxing time reading non-internet stuff!

Congrats to your Brother!


Hieronimo said...

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

I suspect this has much less to do with your grad program, or with your own approach to academia, and much more to do with the fact that, I think, every single academic feels this anxiety. First of all, academics are prone to anxiety and especially anxiety about our knowledge/intelligence. But also, 1) the number of Important Books out there is sort of endless; 2) all our advisors, former teachers, senior colleagues, etc., know Important Books from their generation--because they know the authors, went to school with them, chatted with them at conferences--but to us these don't seem like "books their friends wrote" but rather Important Books That All Scholars Should Have Read. In fifteen years, the same will be true of your friends' books, but you'll be on the other end of the telescope.

At least, that's my diagnosis of this pandemic problem. But mainly, I think, it's the fact that we're in a profession that constantly judges us on our knowledge and intelligence and that also constantly produces more articles and books than anyone can read, while holding us accountable for having read them. A recipe for anxiety.

Oso Raro said...

Dear Sister Golden State,

Ah, California. NIce! Mr. Gordo and I want so much to go later this summer, but I am not sure it will be possible financially for us to venture West, and we may have to be content with our meanderings and wanderings up and down the east coast, which would be fine, if disappointing to those who are expecting us out West.

Enjoy your time away, at this peculiar moment of interstices, breath the air, take in the sun, eat the delicious and fabulous food, and pause for reflection, sans ordinateur!

Love, Sally Celosa

What Now? said...

I was going to leave a comment to the effect that, by your definition, I STILL haven't bloomed academically, but then I read Hieronimo's comment and felt reassured. But it is still the case that, by and large, I don't especially enjoy a lot of literary scholarship, which makes me anxious, since of course it's the genre that I actually write. (I much prefer to read histories, which is why I regularly worried in grad school that I had made an error in choosing my discipline; but of course I like teaching literature so much more, so I always stuck with the English grad program and think that this was a wise decision.)

Have a great time with your family in California!

medieval woman said...

I second that, What Now?! Academic reading tends to pile up on my desk or in lists that I have made up of things to check out, but it's so hard to sit down and tackle the beast, ya know? Once I start reading, I always find something to reel me in (if I've chosen the article wisely). BUT, if I can't get into it (b/c of the professor's potentially convoluted prose perhaps), then it's like pulling teeth to read through it. And if it's one of those "big important books in the field" then I start thinking: "I'm just not smart enough to get it" not "It's largely impenetrable and not many people get this work!" Very often it IS me, but sometimes it's not.

Eventually, I read enough to declare it a "skim" and drop it like a hot potato...