Professing * Reflecting

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I have been in writing prison since early July. At some point I think I said I was going to do a long post about summer work strategies, with all the tips and tricks I have found useful as I work on the birthday "work better/faster/harder" resolution. Well, the post hasn't happened but the work has. I have basically been writing** on a 9-5, 10-6, or 11-7 schedule. I have had luck with the schedule, because it allows me to tell myself that it's ok to relax and to do no work at all in the evenings. I have also found it helpful to limit email and internet. For a while there, I was not accessing the internet for personal stuff (blogs, personal email) at all until 5 p.m. No personal email or internet during work hours became the better rule. This improved my focus. I realized two of my major problems with self-scheduling and working at home are focus and motivation. I am also working on improving focus through meditation and limited television, which is hard in the attic o' televisions but which truly helps. Finding motivation? It's hard. The tenure carrot is not enough and is more likely to invoke a paralyzing freak-out than a spurt of productivity. The promise of little rewards (glass of wine, dinner out, a movie) is more effective.

I have to say no one strategy works perfectly. Ultimately doing all that I have to do to do my job well and to get tenure is bloody difficult. It's too much. On paper, it doesn't seem possible. In reality, it somehow always is. In the end, it's about keeping your head down and plowing through the work. Some artful dodging, bobbing, and weaving as well as some rolling with the punches (usually in the form of extra work) when they come is required. Manipulating the space-time continuum proves, at times, necessary.

Dr. Crazy (whom you should go wish a very happy birthday) has an excellent post detailing the workload of an assistant professor on the tenure track, but even she cannot provide an exact account of all of the work that she does on a daily basis, especially during the school year. The post was prompted by the comments to an earlier post about protecting one's time--comments that in my opinion revealed all manner of misconceptions about the job. As a graduate student, you think you know. You do not. I did not, you do not, and you will not until you are in the thick of it. I do not mean to mystify what is neither mysterious nor extraordinary. Do any of us really know how we accomplish a challenging task? We lay our plans, we dedicate our time and our energy to carrying them out, we improvise when necessary, and at some point we are in the work and no longer thinking about it and just doing it. Do I know how I did what I did as a graduate student? No. I know it was exhausting and exhilarating and frustrating and rewarding and demoralizing and life-changing. Teaching in itself is a challenging job. Teaching on the tenure track is three (at least) challenging jobs rolled into one. How do we do it? We are able to do it because we are intelligent and clever and dedicated and talented and ambitious and hard-working and persistent and resilient. We are able to do it because we care--about our students, about our fields of study, about our profession. We are able to do it because we are kick-ass at what we do.*** Why do we have to apologize for it? Why do we have to explain that we are not spoiled entitled brats? I am not interested in being a martyr or a victim or a superhero. I have a challenging job. I do not do it perfectly but I do it very well. Period.

Now back to the (also totally necessary and perfectly valid) bitching component of my job. The last thing I want to do is tear through the pile of work that still must be done before the semester begins. That is, however, exactly what I have to do. Here's how I have decided to motivate myself. September! September is mine! I am promising myself that if I work furiously to get through all of this work in the next two weeks, I will take my summer vacation in September. How will I do this when school will be starting and in session? Well, I will be teaching and advising and getting started on the year's service work. I also have some minor revisions on one article due by the end of September. But but BUT! I can and will accomplish all of this during the weeks, and I will take every weekend (and maybe one or two long weekends) completely off in September.

I love autumn! Love love love! For all of the most cliched reasons. I am promising myself weekend trips to county fairs and to the off-season shore and to fields of antiques and maybe even to Favorite City. (I realize my September might spill into October. All the better!) I have more energy in the Fall than in any other season. I want to apply some of it to some seriously energized relaxation.

That's the plan and it's providing motivation for the moment. I may skimp on the blogging during the next two weeks or I may post spastically multiple times a day. It could go either way. If I disappear, do a little "Go Medusa Go!" chant for me. Hopefully my disappearance will mean that I am deep into the work. Or it may mean I have run off with the circus. Can you still do that? If so, it could go either way. Wish me luck!

**When I say writing, I mean the actual writing but also the various related tasks (including research, contacting people, etc.) of the several writing projects I am working on right now.
***And sometimes, even with all of this, because of chance and circumstance, we are not able to do "it," whether it is getting a job, getting published, or getting promoted.

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