Saturday, September 22, 2012

Life's hard all over

I'm eligible for a sabbatical next year, which at RU means either a semester at full pay or a year at half. At some point over the summer, it became clear that this was a no-brainer: of course I'd be applying for the full year.

This is an option that--at least in my particular financial circumstances--is only possible because I have a partner with a full-time job who makes an equivalent salary. Even then it'll be a stretch, budget-wise. On the other hand, it's also the only way that I can both keep my job and live with my partner (albeit temporarily).

And I've gotta say, I'm not thrilled by the mildly resentful reactions I've gotten from a handful of male academics (not all at RU, but generally all with kids and/or spouses who don't work full time) when I've mentioned that I'm applying for the full year. "Must be nice!" They say. Or, "Boy, wish I could do that--but someone's gotta pay the bills!"

Look. I want to say. I'm lucky to be part of a couple with two solidly middle-class incomes, in an affordable part of the country, and no dependents. But you get to live with your spouse year-round, every year; you only have to pay for one household; and you get to choose whether to have kids. I don't live with my spouse full-time. We have two households, in two different cities, plus significant commuting expenses. And you have no idea whether we want kids, because they aren't an option as our lives are currently structured.

Are there perks to this arrangement, financial and otherwise? Sure. And you'd better believe I'm going to take advantage of them. But there are downsides, too, and it makes me wild when people make casually thoughtless remarks about how hard their own lives are without considering who they're talking to (like the older man telling his reluctantly single and childless female colleague, "Oh, I can't make it to that talk tonight--I'd like to actually see my family for a change").

But this post isn't about the thoughtlessness or unexamined privilege of men who benefit from traditional domestic structures, or at least I'd like for it not to be just about that. I'm sure I don't fully recognize the stressors that afflict such men--or indeed the stressors of any of my colleagues whose personal and domestic lives are notably unlike my own. I don't know what it's like to bear the burden of being the sole breadwinner, or of trying to juggle parenthood and a career. I can imagine, but have only the briefest of experiences, being unwillingly single in a place with a limited dating pool. I don't know what it's like to be a racial or sexual minority trying to find a partner in a culturally homogeneous area. I don't know how embittering it is to live or teach somewhere that I despise, or where I feel personally thwarted.

Not all hardships are equivalent, of course: some are ultimately unsustainable, and others come with compensatory advantages (having someone to lean on emotionally is tremendous, but having someone to split household chores with is also pretty tremendous). But most domestic and personal arrangements have some upsides along with their downsides.

So I'll tell you what: I'll try harder to imagine and sympathize with your hardships if you try harder to imagine mine.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How to have ideas (a remedial course)

This semester I'm doing something I haven't done in a long time: I'm keeping a notebook. Sure, I've always taken notes--I buy legal pads in bulk for my reading and research and endless to-do lists--but not since the days when I thought I was a creative writer have I carried around a notebook for jotting down disconnected observations and ideas.

I just never saw the point. For 10 years, I was working on one big project: my dissertation-turned-first-book. I published a few unrelated articles in that time, but each one was a well-defined project, often in response to a commission or CFP, and each one, like my book chapters, had both physical and digital files into which I could dump any ideas I had on the spur of the moment and refer back to at a later date. And as a matter of temperament, I dislike having too many things going on at once. I want to bore down into one project at a time, and I like to finish one thing (or one part of a thing) before starting another.

But as my first book began to approach its final form, I started to feel at loose ends. I didn't have much on the back-burner--stuff that I was eager to write conference papers on or work up into an article. Even after the parameters of my second book project started to take shape and I wrote the better part of the first chapter, I had the nagging feeling that that wasn't enough: Book Two might take me five years or it might take me ten, but however long it took, I'd need to be publishing more than just the one or two articles I could profitably extract from it.

I needed, in short, to be having ideas.

"But I'm not an idea person," I told some friends. "I'm basically not creative. I don't have a fertile mind. I mean, I'm insightful and whatever, and dogged as hell. Once an idea comes along, I can do more with it than most people. But they don't come around all that often. I can't make something out of nothing, ya know."

It was suggested to me that I was protesting too much, and that what I really needed was to pay attention to ideas as they arose.

Thus, the notebook. And thus my extremely ambitious research plan for the semester: read everything I've assigned my students. And have thoughts about it. And write some of those thoughts down.

It's so crazy, it just might work.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Never forgetting

Eleven years on, it takes me a few seconds to remember, when scheduling things for September 11th, exactly why that date registers so strongly in some emotional quadrant of my brain.

And you know, to hell with "never forget." I wrote last year about exasperation as an appropriate response to terrorism, but this year I'd go further: forgetting is also an appropriate response, if by that we mean not holding the day (and ourselves) hostage forever to pious sentimentality.

Because there's forgetting and then there's forgetting. It's not "forgetting" what happened to let the actual date pass unremarked; in fact, that should be our goal. Regular life--holding normal classes and going to bullshit meetings and getting irritated by traffic jams and broken photocopiers--is actually the profoundest kind of victory over terrorism.

Regular, boring, ordinary life. We're lucky to have it. And it's the luxury of the quotidian that I'll be celebrating this September 11th--and hopefully for many more.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Reversion to the mean

After today's insanely early department meeting, I decided I owed myself a trip to DSW. I spent a long time looking for THE PERFECT pair of black pumps to replace my worn-out almost-perfect pair (and the two other not-at-all-close-to-perfect pairs I've been making do with). I bought these, which are exactly what I was looking for: sturdy, stylish, tall.

And then I spent even longer considering a pair of low-heel pumps, or maybe flats. . . but somehow, instead, wound up with what can only be described as "dress clogs" (Clarks brand, no photo available). Now, I'm not a clog-hater; there are plenty of groovy women in the academy--and in my native land, the Great Pacific Northwest--who can rock 'em. But it's fair to say that I never imagined a world in which I myself would own clogs.

But 37 appears to be the age at which I'm no longer able to hike all over town in heels, and I've recently started inserting cushions in the fore part of many shoes I wore comfortably for years. And suddenly, I understand the walking clog: tall enough to wear with long, boot-cut jeans, dressier than sneakers, and just the thing for a day of urban tourism.

Or maybe it's that academic womanhood has finally fully interpellated me: first cats, now clogs. What--I hesitate to ask--could be next?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

If you must be a grasping machiavel, be better at it

Something I knew long before my most recent publishing disappointment:

You should not list, on a C.V. that you post publicly and that you point everyone toward (via your Facebook page, your faculty profile page, etc.), the specific press with which your book is currently under review.

You should especially not do this if you're a famously ambitious young scholar who regularly burns bridges and dicks people over in outrageous, gossip-producing ways.

Because there are people out there who will check up on your career from time to time. Some of them may wish you well, but others will fear or envy or flat-out despise you.

And all of those people will notice when Fancy Press A and Fancy Press B are no longer the places where your book is "under full review," but are replaced in that vita line by a third wishful-hopeful prospective publisher.

It's not that I don't appreciate the opportunity to indulge in a little schadenfreude at the expense of someone who shat on a friend of mine. But I'm pretty sure you don't actually wish for every person you've ever met to have access to the details of your professional setbacks.

This has been a public service announcement.