I should note that I wasn't complaining in my previous post, or at least not really: after all, I'm on leave! And I'm well aware of how lucky I am to have a semester at full pay to focus on my research.
But it's humbling to realize how much of my daily sense of purpose, direction, and even identity comes from all the shit I was so eager to get away from--all that stuff that allegedly distracts us from our real work as scholars.
Thing is, scholarly time moves slowly. Even if you're reliably producing one or two finished articles or chapters every year--which is ridiculously productive--that's what? 60 pages? 80 pages? That doesn't feel fast. And it takes longer to get into print, and even longer to have anyone notice or respond.
Being part of a scholarly conversation is like playing chess by mail, one move at a time. With someone who lives behind the Iron Curtain. In a country with erratic mail delivery.
There are reasons that scholarly time moves slowly, and most of us wouldn't be in the business if we didn't enjoy and weren't constitutionally suited for long periods of solitary work and reflection. But few of us can spend 40 hours a week writing and researching alone in our studies, even if we had the means to do so. Most of us are energized by, and derive our daily sense of meaning from, our teaching and even our departmental and university service. Yes, a lot of what we do every week is bullshit. All office jobs involve bullshit and inefficiencies and idiotic co-workers. But teaching and service connect us to a network of people and events and ideas, and those are stimulating even when they're irritating.
Apparently I'd already forgotten the lesson I thought I learned in grad school: when it's just you and your work, there's nowhere to hide.