This and That

♦ Obvious, yet somehow always surprising: Grading a midterm for a class of twenty leaves one with significantly more will to live than grading a midterm for a class of a hundred.

It’s not that your story isn’t good, it’s that others are better. – A posh literary journal I can’t locate right now.

Also, in not so many words, Science/Nature/every prestigious (or wannabe prestigious) scholarly journal ever.

♦ Just because you can’t/won’t do something, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The other day, a colleague was wondering how I find the time for one of my daily extracurricular activities. Well, I just do. I hate that type of comment because, more often than not, it is a thinly veiled way of saying, “You don’t work enough.” I have heard it more than once, and it’s always from young men on the tenure track, who either have no family or have a wife holding the fort at home. (Senior male colleagues generally say I ought to travel more.)

My daily kickboxing makes it possible for me to kick people who make stupid remarks in the head, should I want to; in particular, comments about not working like a man with no fuckin’  obligations fall under stupid comments; thus, I find the time, and will continue to find the time for kickboxing.

♦ It’s no secret that middle age is the age when, among other things, one makes peace with oneself. I spent all of my youth wishing I were different in many ways; this makes me far from unique. These days, I find I am okay — or at least approaching okay — with many of my flaws.

For instance, I am extremely impatient; yet, everyone will tell you that patience is a virtue. These days, I say, “Whatever.” I am very efficient (freakishly efficient, so I’m told) at doing things I care about; when I care, I want things done ASAP, and do my best to make it so. And you know what? I am correct in that I am not going to live a million years, so there is such a thing as things moving too slowly. I will wait, a little. But not too long, and certainly not forever. Waiting makes me stop caring, and when I stop caring, there’s no going back. (Regarding the stoppage of caring: I am a notorious abandoner of boring books and TV shows.)

♦ As part of the whole “know yourself and love yourself just as you are” midlife mantra, I have realized/made peace with the fact that I crave (need!) constant intellectual stimulation, otherwise I am a pain in the butt. Why is this news? If you are female, there is the unspoken requirement that you get to do what you need or want to do only after you have fulfilled the needs, wants, and whims of those you care for. The two pulls are in opposition, as little children require so much time and energy but domestic life is, let’s be honest, often mundane. I think I am okay with the fact that I find boring things boring, that caregiving is often boring, and that sometimes being bored and wishing I were doing something else instead doesn’t necessarily make me a monster — just human.

♦ I can be quite obsessive about papers, proposals, projects. The only cure is to have so much going on that I cannot afford to obsess. When you have a number of research papers, proposals, and now stories, all being in review at the same time, along with a full pipeline of projects, it’s hard to obsess about any one of them (although not for lack of trying).

♦ Parenting breakthrough:  The best vacations with our kids have to be scheduled to the brim. The kids actually don’t need to chill (even though Mom and Dad might), as they do it plenty at home. DH joked that we’d get to chill when the kids are out of the house or never, whichever comes first.

♦ I am feeling so much better this semester than the last (knock on wood). The soul-crushing service workload of the last academic year is gone, and things feel manageable again (knock on wood, again). I feel like I will jinx it all simply by admitting that things feel manageable.

How’s everyone’s semester going? 

14 comments

  1. I’m not quite mid-life yet (I hope), but I am realizing some potential truths about myself that make me very uncomfortable.

    – I don’t like mentoring grad students all that much. I like the mature and motivated ones who take responsibility and can reason through things. The ones to whom I have to say things only once, and to whom I don’t have to say things that should be learned in college or a first job. The others make dread going to work. I resent that they keep me from good research and slow me down. I resent that I have to manage them emotionally.

    – I find walking-and-eating-at-café vacations that my husband’s family enjoys deadly dull.

    – I get very, very angry when I hear parents bragging about their kids’ intelligence or otherwise overinvesting in education. This is childhood baggage coming to the surface, but I think it relates to a real spiritual sickness (saying this as an atheist) in some cultures.

    – I miss having to specialize and not having a bazillion creative projects. If I don’t get tenure, it won’t have been worth it.

    Sorry for the self-centered quality of the comment, xyka. I love reading about you, and your honesty is inspiring.

  2. This semester is kicking my ass.

    Kickboxing sounds fun, though.

    I took a barre class IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY on Tuesday and remembered how I used to have dance classes before/between academic classes as an undergrad (and I was generally taking 18+ credit hrs and doing extracurriculars). I might just do it again…

  3. Oops…. that’s “I miss not having a bazillion projects/I resent that I have to specialize.”

  4. Sorry for the self-centered quality of the comment, xyka.

    Please, don’t apologize! We are all here, and pseudonymous, so we’d be able to talk openly about our academic realities!

    I too get really irritated with bragging about intelligence and overinvestment in education. My kids always, at least in these conversations, end up looking like dimwitted underachievers. But it’s really all bullshit. I will tell you that my high-school senior has many, MANY friends who are depressed, anxious, or otherwise burned out after a childhood of extreme parenting. Apparently, DH and I are (I quote Eldest) “much more chill” than his friends’ parents. I will take the compliment. Plus, he’s doing great at school as well as socially, excels at music (which is what he picked), has great work habits, is overall happy and relaxed — what more can a parent wish for?

    I don’t like mentoring grad students all that much…. [Some] make [me] dread going to work. I resent that they keep me from good research and slow me down. I resent that I have to manage them emotionally.

    I hear ya. If it’s any consolation, I really felt the same on the tenure track, but don’t anymore. The tenure track is brutal in that your actual career hinges on the productivity of your first crop of students, and if you have some who really aren’t great, it really messes with your research program. Also, there’s the initial shock of realizing that the vast majority of grad students are actually not like you — not motivated by the same things (or at all), not as bright, not as hardworking… The good news is that I figured out, and I don’t think I am alone in this, that I can work with almost anyone. If it’s really not a good fit, it becomes clear in the first few months, and we part ways. Otherwise, I find that I can get good work out of almost anyone. The key is to decide what is the minimum of productivity, face time, initiative, etc. that you won’t go below, and then write those requirements down. I have an “expectations in the group” manifesto that all new students read. Good students leave these expectations in the dust; the better they are, the more free rein they get. But once I made peace with the fact that there was a minimum I could live with, that, if the minimum were satisfied, I would consider in enough, life became much better. There are many students who, with some coaching, can do decent work in a moderate quantity, graduate, and go on to work somewhere. Those that are like you are few and far between, and that’s OK.

    I miss having to specialize and not having a bazillion creative projects. If I don’t get tenure, it won’t have been worth it.

    You can still do it. Honestly, when I feel overwhelmed with work, often the solution is not less work (at least for me). It’s more work, but of varied kind. When you indulge that desire for novelty (writing flash fiction anyone?), it’s amazing how much better everything feels.

    Good luck! How long till tenure time? I know it’s rough, just hang in there, it really does get better after tenure.

  5. Me too on middle age! I often think about how strange it is that American culture claims that high school/University represents the best years of our lives, but that most people I know are so much happier at 40 than at 20.

    I am enjoying teaching much more this year than last. So far, it has been a good semester!

  6. To the comment on how you find time I always answer efficient time management…which sends the ball back to the problem being them. I manage my time every 30min now and it has made a humongous difference.

    I started kickboxing this year 🙂 Love it!

    I am really enjoying this semester after a rough start of falling sick twice consecutive. Teaching is fun and proposals and papers are under way, as well as a lot new off work stuff in the evenings. Seems I will survive the tenure track! after some rough years. End is super close…finally!!!!

  7. This semester has been kicking my butt: my dad died the first week of the semester, I had a major deadline for an invited review that you just don’t miss the end of the second week of the semester, his memorial service the end of the third week of the semester, an NSF proposal to write that is not getting written, three thesis-writing BA or MA students only one of whom is as self-motivated as I’d like, and a bunch of other things. At least teaching involves classes I’ve taught multiple times before, so I can recycle a lot of material (though not as much as you’d think, because I always have notions). Actually, since my husband’s parents are visiting this week and monopolizing the toddler and I finally have a week without half a dozen “oh, hey, can you volunteer for just this one thing” activities, I’m finally feeling like I can come up for air for a moment and do things like comment on blogs.

    This is the first semester that I’m really feeling the parenting time crunch, I think. Part of it is that my now 19-month-old has shifted his nap/sleep schedule so that he stays up later but still gets up at about the same time (he sleeps longer/later at daycare, which throws off bedtime). Evenings are the only time of day I get to spend with him (in the AM I only have time to nurse him, get him dressed, pack our lunches, take a shower, and walk the dog before we have to leave for daycare), and I’m unwilling to give up that time, but even working at 100% efficiency there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. I’m putting in late evening work hours and losing out on sleep, which is ultimately self-destructive for me because when I’m exhausted I’m less efficient. I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish before putting in my tenure packet hopefully 13 months from now, but my kid is only this little once and I don’t want to miss out on his childhood. I also keenly feel the marching of time while thinking about my dad’s death and what a crappy parent he was and not wanting to be a crappy parent myself. I feel constantly torn. I am fortunate to be tugged in opposite directions by multiple things that I love and want to do well, but I’m not sure that makes it any easier.

    Ah, well. There have been good things too. I encouraged my students to apply for state-level grants and they knocked it out of the park — three were awarded grants, and one was awarded three grants (all three that he applied for)! My postdoc and I have been doing some really creative exploratory work with some new data that he has — this is his 5th year working with me (yes, I am kicking him out at the end of this year and sending him endless job-related emails to help push him out of the nest), and I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where we’re like a dream team of ideas and skills. He came to me with literally zero experience in the experimental technique I use, and it took me a while to train him and for him to build up a knowledge and code base, but now… it’s like we dream and the dreams come true! He made a super-cool discovery this week that will be a high-impact publication for him, and I couldn’t be happier about it. He won time for not one but two high-priority projects this year on the internationally competitive facility that we use for our research. He is more than ready to fly the nest — somebody hire him, please!

  8. One of my colleagues mentioned a kickboxing class and invited me to join her. About a week ago, I really wanted to punch someone at work, so I am thinking the class may help. I’m planning to try it next week.

  9. @ProdigalAcademic, I’m getting close to retirement, and I still think that my grad school years were the best. My career as an academic has largely been an attempt to continue grad school. I still take classes (though not as many as when I was a grad student), I still look for new things to learn and research, and I still write programs and design things. There are some advantages to getting older (like having more money), but for the most part the 8 years of grad school were the most fun. If my funding hadn’t run out, I probably would have done a few more years as a grad student.

  10. Down here in hurricane land, it feels like the semester has gone on forever. But since the semester was extended to make up for lost days, we are still nowhere near the halfway point. I’m so over 2017.

    But at least we’re open, unlike poor PR….

  11. Had a dramatic collapse in front of all my colleagues, tried to faint, nothing serious or permanent! Caused by a bout of pinched nerves, which, it turns out, hurt like nothing else. (My increased rage at the cost of American healthcare is the only lasting effect.)

  12. I have a follow up post brewing about deeper learnings from my midlife crisis. I think it will be about how midlife is when you see the outcome of your earlier choices, and start to really understand that some choices close options off, and that even choices you’re glad you made can lead to things you wish were different. Or something like that. It will hopefully make more sense when I write a full post.

    Jenny, my older daughter apparently now faints when she gets shots, and I got distracted and didn’t warn the flu shot people of that and… long story short, she has a black eye right now. Fainting or almost fainting is so dramatic for the people observing! Even though I knew exactly what was happening, it was freaky to watch her go white and her eyes roll back.

    Third disjointed thing: I am totally with you Xyk on the vacations. Before kids, we were pretty spur of the moment on vacation and there was a lot of chilling. With kids, I plan ahead and try to make each day a mix of activities, to get enough active stuff for the kids while also making the vacation something the adults will enjoy. I think I do a pretty good job, since we all usually are sad to see the vacation end. But I get teased a lot about my planning heavy approach.

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