Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wish You Were Here

I decided yesterday afternoon that I needed to go on vacation for the weekend. Take a mini-break holiday. Stop surrounding myself with my self.

Basically things have been crap -- I had two existential meltdowns this week where I not only felt terrible about myself as a blocked dissertator, but wondered why the hell I was doing all this. Who am I and what have I become? What does all this academic crap matter anyhow? I met with a great philosophically-minded former student who was telling me that he didn't know who he was and what he liked. I knew he was probably looking at me for hope, for guidance. Platitudes like it gets better or getting to know yourself is the great adventure. But actually, I know too well exactly what he's talking about. I've been in grad school long enough that I haven't just dropped hobbies and interests along the way to Doctorness but I've forgotten what they were. When I think about reading or writing something, I think of it in terms of publication, escapism, what does this get me always in relation to my academic work. I've forgotten that the academy was the best choice for me out of a range of options - being an academic was supposed to be a career and a role that would allow me the most flexibility to do the things I really want to do, to write the things I really want to write. It wasn't supposed to be a straitjacket or some plug into the matrix that makes me forget that there were other things I wanted to do, things that I have always wanted to do, that I used to dream about doing when I was a kid. In my particularly blue moods lately, I've despaired of ever being able to do those things in some version of if I haven't done it already, surely I'll never do it. And maybe those were the dreams of youth, and it's time to put those toys away.

In short, I've gotten into a very bad spiraling headspace. I met with the Senior Scholar I'm TAing with and dumped my dissertation woes. This SS was so understanding and wonderful that changing diss directors flitted through my mind. Very generous with lots of good ideas. That I can try on Monday. But this weekend, I'm taking a vacation from academia. I'm going to try to tap into that person I was before I got here, try on the other identities I've sloughed off in order to fit better into the academic mold. (Those of you who know me in the Real World know how ridiculous a statement that is. But, yes, however spastic I am as an academic, I really have tried to fit in.) Trouble is, I don't have a clue what I'm going to do. There are always so many immediate academic tasks to do that I never have to think about those long-range things that I say I really want to do, but never get done. But I'm not going to think about the rest of my life or how I'm going to feel on my deathbed this weekend. I'm going to focus on some immediate gratification and experiencing myself differently. Read Agatha Christie's Curtain. Maybe make some calls.


Hilaire said...

This is such a good idea, taking a vacation from it. Though I'm so sorry you had to have hell to get there.

You describe this very well, as always - the horrifying sense that you have *become* your work, and the recognition that that's not enough. Yup, its familiar. I do think that it'll ease once you have finised the diss, though. But it doesn't go away completely ever - and I say this from someone who has quite a full life outside academia.

I hope you are enjoying our break!

medieval woman said...

I will echo everything that Hilaire has said (as I so often do!) - it is a good aidea to unplug from your dissertation on a regular basis. Just to try to drag yourself up to the top of a hill (not a mountain, just a hill!) and get some perspective.

I hope that you feel better about this soon. I can say that I think it's good that you're finding your dissertation shell so constrictive - that means you'll break through it and get the heck outta there! Rather than being one of those people who just stays in grad school because it's safe. My ex is definitely the latter and it's done him absolutely no good!

Good luck!

Earnest English said...

Yes, taking a break was definitely what was in order! All those darn books say to work on it every day, which I understand, BUT. . . I had totally forgotten what I loved about my topic!

Thanks you two. You're great bloggy friends (both now with jobs -- wooohooooooooo!)