Tuesday, June 30, 2009

There is no normal life

My summer-session class ends this week. It's been a relatively easy gig, and even a fun one, but it's got me on a strange schedule: I teach Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5.30 to 9.30 p.m. Now, I love a world in which I don't have to leave for the office until after 3 p.m., and teaching for four hours is a breeze when it's my only class (and one whose material I could teach in my sleep). But then I get home at 10 or 10.30, fix dinner, and read or write until 3 a.m.

I'm looking forward to having a more normal schedule for the last seven weeks of the summer, although I guess that "normal" isn't an accurate term: even if I were to spend all my time in the same city, going to bed at a decent hour and following something that looked like a regular routine, a schedule that one has for eight or ten or fourteen weeks is not, by definition, normal.

But is my term-time schedule normal? In the sense that I do it for the greatest number of weeks out of the year, yes--but given that a significant portion of my professional responsibilities, namely, most of my research, writing, and just plain thinking happens when school is not in session, then no: I alternate between one half of my job and the other (or, if you count service as an equivalent third, between two-thirds of my job and the other third).

I don't mind that division, but it leads to a peculiar understanding of time and timing. The belief that there is, or will be, a time for everything encourages deferral--which isn't a problem when it's an article or a syllabus (as long as those things eventually get done), but which has the potential to affect all areas of our lives: we can't clean the house until those papers are graded; can't work on the new book until we're on leave; can't have a baby until tenure.

This kind of deferral isn't unique to academia, of course; people in other professions let the rest of their lives slip when a big deal is closing or a case is going to trial--or simply because they feel they need to wait to do X or Y or Z until they're at a better or more secure place: with more money in the bank, a more stable job, a spouse. But I do think that academia, and especially the pre-tenure years of academia, encourages a continuing series of deferrals, large and small, as one jumps through a continuing series of hoops.

Cosimo, my gentleman friend, is up for tenure in the fall. Last week he submitted his final book manuscript. He's also been teaching summer school (and on a schedule radically incompatible with mine: five days a week, starting at eight a.m.). He's been a model of how to meet one's obligations without using them as an excuse not to do or talk or think about other things. But it's still hard, I think, for both of us--I suspect it's hard for all of us--not to say or believe, "as soon as this is done, I'll have time."

Time for ourselves, for other people, for everything. Not now, no. But soon.


Renaissance Girl said...

I wish I had something more profound or insightful to add here beyond "Amen." But there you go.

Doctor Cleveland said...

True that, Flavia.

All I can add is that I'm glad your gentlemen friend is, as I understand it, not using his workload to excuse himself from the relationship (which would be neither the act of a gentleman nor of a friend).

Oh, and Cosimo's a good name. Goes well with Flavia.

medieval woman said...

Hee, hee...Dr. C...

Flavia-Flave, I hear you on this!!!

Flavia said...

MW: you know, I was thinking of your recent post, and WN's comment on it--you're a good example of someone who's consciously trying NOT to keep deferring her life.