Waking Up and Smelling the Roses

Happy holidays, everyone!

I have a little bit of time between turning in grades and starting work on the next flurry of proposals.

I just wanted to say that I feel like I’ve woken up from a long slumber. Maybe it’s the tail end of a midlife crisis, and would happen sooner or later no matter what because it happens to everyone around my age, but it doesn’t matter. I feel like I’d been sleeping for about 20 years and I’m finally waking up to the colors and the sounds and the smells and the joys of the world around me.

I suspect it might have been the dual chokehold of a young, demanding family and a job with the culture that requires absolute devotion.

I love my kids more than anything else in the world, but raising the littles is a lot of work, and it’s very easy for a parent to get pulverized by the daily grind. Now that one kid is an adult, another is in high school, and the youngest starts middle school next year, I feel like I can breathe again.  Actually, I’ve probably been able to breathe for a while now, just hadn’t noticed. It was only recently that I lifted my head, looked around, inhaled, and filled my chest to capacity.

As for the job, I don’t know if I would feel this way with any other profession (probably would), but I feel like I’ve had a really hard time, for a long while, allowing myself to have much of an inner life (intellectual or emotional) beyond my work. I felt like I was cheating on my job whenever I used my brain “nonproductively.” Even thinking about having a fulfilling hobby felt like the betrayal of a lifelong partner.

I know I’ve written a bunch of times about the need to not have your work be everything to you, but it’s  hard, so damn hard, to really internalize this message and give yourself a permission to do it. Intellectually, I am aware of a great many wisdoms that don’t have a prayer of ever penetrating the thick layers of emotional bullshit that I’ve accumulated over the years in order to fortify and protect my gooey center. I am lucky this particular insight somehow managed to go through and land where it was needed.

Maybe the trigger was the pandemic. Maybe it was me getting unceremoniously dropped from a program that had funded me for years. Maybe it was a bunch of faculty retirements and me witnessing how swiftly the retirees were forgotten, like they were never among us.

All I know is that, when I turn around and look at my job and my colleagues now, they all seem so much smaller and less important than they did even just a  couple of years ago.

Whatever the reason, whatever the trigger, I feel like I can see colors again. Like I can take big breaths again. And the air smells delicious.

6 comments

  1. Happy new year, X! It sounds like what’s getting through is that impact is more than dollars and papers? Do/did your colleagues and the recent retirees create impactful work or just show up to teach some classes, serve on some committees, get some funding, and write some papers? I think the pandemic has stripped away the style and exposed the lack of substance for many and that’s why these groups seem so small and less important now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I am so happy to read this post. I’ve been following your blog since Academic Jungle; I remember when your youngest was born (my first was born a few months later, as I was finishing my PhD). In the last couple of years, as a devoted reader of the blog, I was sorry to witness the growing stress, frustration, ennui, and sometimes even despair. If work becomes a life-long partner whom you must never take out of your thoughts, then it is an abusive partner. I’m glad you are coming out of that slumber, and looking forward to the thoughtful, joyful, science- and life-loving writing that you can write.

    (and as I comment here now, for the first time in very long, I also apologize for not participating in the blog more actively. I did enjoy it in most times. Even the Twitter collections :-))

    (and while I’m here – thank you. I’m now an assist. prof. coming up for tenure next year. Over the years, your writing has informed me, provoked thoughts in me, and made me feel part of the academic community, including at difficult times. Thanks for that.)

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