Friday, October 21, 2011

Excitement is exhausting

I think it's accurate to say that this has been the most intellectually exciting semester I've spent at RU, with "at RU" being the key descriptor: there have been other semesters in which I've had my mind blown at conferences or in which I've made great progress on my scholarship. But although I've always valued my colleagues and students, for the most part my work environment is merely pleasurable: I have nice conversations with my colleagues; I feel happy about new curricular initiatives; I have a few new thoughts about an old text sparked by a great classroom discussion.

And I'm not discounting the value of everyday pleasure. I'm lucky to be so content. But here's what I've got going on this semester that has raised me above that baseline:

    -I'm directing a senior Honors thesis on John Donne. (I've never directed an undergraduate thesis, since only the Honors students do them.) -I'm directing an M.A. thesis on Renaissance drama. (I've never directed an M.A. thesis, since until recently I hadn't taught M.A. classes.) -I'm in my third year as advisor to our Oxford study-abroad program, and it seems to be gaining real buzz among our majors. -I'm team-teaching a genuinely incredible class, with a great co-teacher, and I'm learning a ridiculous amount from him--and he seems to feel the same way about me. Next year, we're planning on swapping classes for a semester, with me teaching Bible as Literature and him teaching Shakespeare. -We have, so far, brought in three kick-ass speakers for our reading/lecture series, gathered together other local scholars to help fête them, and gotten a nice turn-out for their events. A fourth speaker is coming in a month, and a big headliner of a senior scholar has agreed to come in the spring.

To be honest, it's all been rather exhausting, especially the last two bullet points. In addition to the sheer amount of labor involved, my colleague and I have had to cobble together funding from a dozen different sources and do a bit of politicking to get some of the stuff we need. Nevertheless, in the end everyone has been generous and helpful, and I've met some amazing local people. (Wait, RU just hired a Classical archeologist? Wait, there's a guy at the local div school with a degree from RADA who does postmodern theology? What?)

These are nice experiences to have as I'm on the verge of tenure and considering what it would mean to be here for the long term, but they've also helped me to realize that creating a community of scholars is work, and would be work wherever I went: I think I kinda assumed that at big research schools stuff just happened, or was already in place and required no real maintenance: reading groups, scholarly colloquia, works-in-progress seminars. And it's true that bigger institutions have, in addition to more faculty, more readily-available bucks and administrative staff to handle the minutiae of buying plane tickets and booking hotel reservations. But someone's always doing the work to organize--and indeed it can feel like work simply trying to find the time to attend or participate regularly.

And a little effort can go a long way. Over the course of my four undergraduate years at Instant Name Recognition U, a billion famous people came to campus: writers, artists, politicians. There were multiple theatrical performances and concerts every weekend. But I'm sure I never averaged more than two readings, talks, or performances per semester (including a cappella "jams"), and I can't recall ever being encouraged to attend such events by my professors. Maybe they felt they didn't need to. But I almost always tried to do stuff that was tied to my classes--attending optional movie screenings, for example, or visiting the art gallery to check out the actual paintings after a professor had shown us slides--and I suspect I'd have made time for a lot more events if someone I respected had said to me, "hey, you should go to this thing! I think you'd really like it!"

So it's important to me to make sure that our students at RU know about the events that are happening on campus, and get a nudge to attend them. The BFD poet and scholar (and reader of this blog!) whom we had on campus yesterday didn't just give a reading for our series or for the benefit of our 400-level students. She hung out with the young English majors in my Introduction to Literary Studies class and talked passionately about poetry for 45 minutes--how she writes, why she writes, what poetry does, and why it's worth spending time with. My students were obviously, visibly in love with her from about minute two, and couldn't stop asking her questions. A third of the class showed up for her reading that night, many of whom I suspect have never been to a public reading before.

Still, organizing this kind of shit takes work, and though I'm a conscientious person I'm not a high-energy or efficient one. I whine and complain and wish I could get eight hours of sleep a night and also have time to fuck around on the internet and just default on all my stupid meetings and those emails awaiting reply. But if this is what it takes to make my students the kind of students I want to teach, my institution the kind of place I want to work, and--oh, yeah--myself the kind of scholar and teacher I want to be, I guess I have to suck it up.


Bridgett said...

Your scholarly activities sound very exciting and rewarding! I think your point on encouraging students to attend events is very true. This is an important role of a faculty member that is easily overlooked.

RLB said...

I don't know what the library is like at your institution, but if you haven't already, you may want to consider reaching out to them as a possible partner for help in organizing some of the speaker series-type events. The academic library where I work runs a "Meet the Author" series and is always looking for possible partners among the academic departments. (In fact I wish we had more faculty members like yourself so interested in bringing cool people to campus and encouraging students to attend the events!)

And I agree that at INRU I didn't take nearly enough advantage of these types of events, and would also likely have gone to more if encouraged to do so by professors. The exception was the small department that housed my major; they brought in speakers in our field quite often and did encourage the undergrads to attend, and I frequently did, only to find the discussions far too technical and over my head, alas. :)

Andrea said...

Hey - don't you get to cross off the getting married stuff from your fall to do list?

Flavia said...

RLB: Actually, the library co-sponsored our last event, and is helping out with another--but you're right that it didn't occur to us to ask them for help until pretty late in the game. We'll definitely make more use of them in the future!

And Andrea: oops. Guess so.