Professing * Reflecting

Monday, May 14, 2007

My one down week before I go up for tenure

I am doing something that I rarely rarely do--planning my life in a detailed way far into the future. How have I managed to get advanced degrees and to get a job in a preposterously competitive field without doing any planning, you ask? Would you believe me if I said I just kind of fell into it? No, you would not and you should not. Of course I had plans--to go to grad school at university a, b, c . . . or k; to do my course work in x amount of time; to do my language exams in this language and that one; to work with this person; to write my dissertation on that and to finish by approximately then. On the other hand, I came to the profession late. In many ways, what I have done with my life makes perfect sense but in others it is a complete surprise.

There were also surprises and shifts during the time I was doing my graduate work. In the months I was getting ready to move across the country to go to graduate school, I ended up meeting a man who moved with me and whom I almost married. I ended up writing on a different topic under the direction of a different advisor. I very nearly switched programs mid-stream. I applied for jobs in publishing the same year I applied for academic jobs. The year I got my job, which in so many ways was and is the perfect job for the somewhat unusual candidate that is me, I had not done a full search. So does this mean I am a flake? Would I be more successful had I stuck to a strict plan? Maybe. But I think I realized (or decided?) very early, maybe because we moved so much when I was a kid, that there is a certain amount of uncertainty in all things and that all plans need to account for some amount of give. I also thrive on that uncertainty, I often welcome those shifts, and I need that give, that looseness.

I often joke that my reluctance to make lists is a tell-tale sign of my extreme commitment phobia. I do not want to put something down on a list, because then I have to commit to it. That's not exactly how I feel, though, and I do not think I am really a commitment phobe. I usually do not make lists until I have a plan and then the list only serves as a reminder of tasks that must be completed. The kind of lists I hate, the kind that cause me great anxiety, are the "big picture lists," e.g. five-year plan, all the things I want to do to renovate the garret, things I want to do before I die. Ayyyyyyyyyyyy!! Just thinking about such lists makes me crazy. Why? Because I think they are retarded. I know there will be change, I know I want change, and I don't want to be stuck to a plan. Some might say that you just have to account for a certain amount of give when making your big lists. I would say that those same people ABHOR any shift in the plan and are miserable when things do not go according to plan. I used to think this not wanting to be stuck to a plan was essentially the same as commitment phobia. I don't think so anymore. I am very committed to my career, my research, my teaching, and my family. It also happens that I am passionately committed to my independence, and therein lies the problem of me appearing to live my life willy-nilly, according to no particular plan. I must be a fuck-up if I am not married and do not have kids by this age or at the very least if I am not wildly successful in my career.

But I am not at all living a wildly irresponsible life according to no set plan. I have a good job. And hell, let's face it, just having a job in this market = being wildly successful. I am actually very thoughtful about my life. I know where I might be going and where (of several directions) I might like to go at any one time. I have also always been a bit of a free spirit (yes, the secret is that even though I firmly believe hippies ruin everything, I am a bit of a hippie, just of the bathed and clothed and anti-drum circles kind) and always will be or want to be to the extent that this profession allows. I just formulate plans in different ways and my lists serve to remind me once plans are laid, not to motivate me to lay them.

What does this have to do with getting tenure? Well, because now would be the time when my hippy-dippy modus operandi may not serve me well. I have to get down to some serious planning and some serious account taking. The P & T committee will not, I suspect, be interested in hearing how I have intuitively moved down my path flowing with the give of the best-laid plans and the take of blah blah yadda yadda frittata. I will be applying for tenure in about fifteen months. So many things have to happen before I will be comfortable doing so, and I have to do everything in my power to make them happen. This means doing an incredible amount of work between now and then, pretty much going full steam ahead and working almost every single week with very little down time. I make these power plans all the time for teaching and for service obligations. You should see my book of lists I use during the school year. Now I have had to do it for all areas of my life, including my personal life. (Doesn't it suck that what I really mean by "personal life" is "my research agenda"? Yes, at my institution your research is supposed to happen on "your own time." Grrr. If I choose to stay at Foggy C, I will change this.) Anyway, I have made this fifteen-month plan and it is insane but doable.

I know what I have to do. Some things are out of my control. If certain things do not come through, I am not in a good place to go up for tenure. I do not necessarily have a rabbit to pull out of my hat in that case, but then I will have to roll with it and do what I can do. I have almost decided that I want to stay put in this job (it is a good job and I may have the ability to change the things that suck) but there is the possibility of going on the market this year and next. I will have to think about that. For now, I have to do what I need to do for tenure first and then decide what else I can fit it as it arises. I am more terrified of not keeping this job or not having a job in this profession than I am letting on, but to stay sane I have to remind myself that I cannot take this job or this profession too seriously. And there's always Mexico City, right?

So, yeah, as far as I can tell this really is my only goof-off week for the foreseeable fifteen-month future. There are periods of travel and More Fun next month, but this is my only time to sleep late and loll about and daydream and slowly get my ducks in a row. I am doing unlazy things like cleaning up the garret, going to the dentist, FINALLY getting a new prescription for contacts/glasses (yay!), joining a new gym, and getting out some necessary emails related to Big Major Project tentatively due in June. But I also hope to be truly lazy.

See what happens when non-planners like me plan? We come up with realities like this being the last possible week we can possibly hope to relax for more than a year. And who wants to plan for that reality? Put on paper, though, that is the exactly the case. Isn't it more realistic to expect some bending of the time-space continuum to accommodate my bid for tenure?




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