Monday, May 26, 2014

Conference and Career Musings

So I've been at a conference.  During the run-up to this conference, like the run-up to all conferences, I didn't want to go.  I started thinking about all the excuses I could manufacture to avoid going.  (Certainly with the death in the family that has caused the Great Family Implosion and Ensuing War, the only place I should be on a plane to is City of My Birth.  The fact that I, a decision-maker, am not there causes no end of trouble.  I will have to go there when the quarter is over.)  The fact is that I, who used to love to travel, hate leaving Absurdist Family.  I just hate it.  It leaves me fearful and shaky.  I always feel this way, which is why I've gone to so few conferences recently -- none last year, for example.

And then there are conferences themselves.  And I think if I'm honest and I dig through this blog, I'll find that my first posts were about going to Big Dreadful Interview Conference and hiding in my hotel room.  I'm just a hider.  Especially at the big conferences where I feel like I don't know anyone and everyone's on the make trying to sound smart with big words.

But today I feel pretty good about this conference because last night I presented and then our little group had our business meeting.  And so I'm leaving on a high note, full of panel ideas for the future.  I think I just have to make sure that I have some social element that draws me out of my shell as early in a particular conference as possible -- a real moment where I feel I can be some version of myself, not someone trying to network and all that crap that I hate.  I'm writing this here for the world to help me remember.  And, note to self, talking with new people is not bad.  I got two great ideas/sources from a woman I sat next to at the luncheon where I knew basically no one.  It was great.

Here's a more important thing I want to reflect on:  when I look at my Starbucks cup recently, it says things like you need the courage to live the life you want.  And when I think of the life I want, I don't think of academia, much as I love my students, sometimes, and I enjoy, sometimes, doing my scholarship.  I get a more writing, homesteady picture when I think of the life I want, the life I dream of.  And so I don't think of myself as very ambitious.  I want tenure because without it I won't have a job.  So I jump through its hoops (at first I wrote "hopes"), substitute for people on university-wide committees, am nice to people who should be flipped off (okay, I do that also because I begrudgingly admit that it's better to be a nice person than a shitheel, though not everyone at my institution seems to think so).  So I want tenure and then, I think, especially at my institution where full could only come with university leadership, I'll probably be one of those people who stall at associate while I pursue writing more in line with my dreams.

So it's a strange thing to me when I'm sitting there at a business meeting and we're talking about this task we need to delegate that would help the delegatee get his/her name out there, which, of course, is part and parcel of developing that national reputation so important in going up for promotion to full.  And I'm sitting there thinking, I need to do this, I need to do this.  And luckily my natural reticence kept my arm down and my mouth shut.  Also that it was framed as something that would be good for a new faculty member (and I'm not!!!  in a few years, I'll be considered mid-career!).  It occurred to me later that I don't need to take this on because a national reputation and full is not my goal.  My goal is to write the various projects that I want to write, whether scholarship or otherwise.  I have things I want to say in multiple venues.  I don't want to be a big name in my field, however much I love some of the big names in my field.  But I seem to have this amnesia about that in the moment.

So all that to say, I'm naturally ambitious.  If there's a hoop ringed with fire, I'm drawn to it.  This is why I have a PhD that I managed in normative time.  This is why I work pretty hard and engage in so much service.  This is why the only person at my institution worried about my getting tenure is me.  But what I really haven't done so well is pursue my own goals.  Wait, is that true?  When I have a goal to learn something or do something for Absurdist Child or whatever, do I struggle?  No.  I think I'm really talking here about my own writing.  I just don't pursue my writing goals with the same kind of driven seriousness.   Part of this is low self-esteem and my own crazy-making about writing.  ("I don't have the publications or connections or luck that X has.  Maybe I'm just fooling myself.  Maybe I don't have it.  If I cared about it more, of course I'd get it done.  Maybe maybe maybe.")  And truth be told, I don't pursue my scholarly goals in a dogged way either, though I'm dogged about the research.  I've an article I've wanted to get out since I finished my dissertation, and though I've started working on it several times, it hasn't gotten done.  Yet.  I don't want unfinished projects to be the story of my life.  I think maybe those hoops ringed with fire are just more knowable, less scary (other people have managed them; so can I, while in contrast no one has put forth my ideas in the way I want to yet, though if I don't get going someone may beat me to the punch here).

So here's what I want to say:  I get caught up in the promotion to full requirements because, assuming I make tenure, that's a tangible goal that is knowable and supported by my community.  Perhaps what I need to do is try making my writing goals (all of them) more tangible and supported by my community.  But I think I also need to think about the issue of knowable requirements.  I know what the tangible requirements are for promotion.  But what are the tangible requirements for my projects to be successful?

All this is good to think about, though summer is still a month away and that summer will be taken up with other things like putting together my tenure case (for associate -- talk about putting the cart before the horse!) and, hopefully, buying a house!    

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Catching Up: With Blogging and Myself

This time of year always makes me grumbly, as most academics on the semester system are finishing up or done and starting in on their beach reading.  I envy you!  I'm on the quarter system (grumble, grumble).  Graduation, which I have to attend so I'm thinking about it as the end point even though I won't be done with grading by then, isn't for another month.  I have stacks and stacks of grading, not summer reading with sand stuck in the binding, not mission impossible research and writing plans scented with the promise of overseas research sites and fusty libraries.

But!  After that terrible winter, Spring.  Sun.  Warmth.  Growing things on my balcony.  Yes, I put in the peas too late and the chard will probably bolt, but I don't care!  Somehow I'm made calm and happy just looking at my seeds coming up, all that new growth.  I really think there must be some chemical released into my brain when I see them.  Even though the sliding glass door.  I could stare at them for hours.  

Despite all the busyness, which has been intense and is dying down just as the quarter, after Memorial Day, starts working itself up to fever pitch, I've managed to be really productive in the area of conference proposals, which is something I often fall down on.  (Case in point:  I've done only 4-5 conferences in the last 5 years.  That doesn't seem too shabby written out like that, but I can't tell you how many times I've thought I should propose something for Big Conference in My Field or Smaller Conference in My Field or Neat Small Conference in My Area only to find out that I just missed the deadline by days.)  Today I'm having a difficult health day -- I woke up with a migraine -- so it's easy to be negative.  (I'm so lucky it was today rather than yesterday, a big day for meetings and helping others, or tomorrow, a day I'm spending with Absurdist Child.)  Actually, I've been really productive in many areas, but it never feels like enough, never feels like I've been productive when I have some of the same impossible sticky notes up on my computer day after day, week after week.  Of course, some of this is just that long multi-step projects are just like that.  And I know that.  Some of this is just self-image based.  The truth is I'm at the early stages of two incredibly stressful things that everyone in the world knows is incredibly stressful, going up for tenure and buying a house, so I must be kind to myself instead of down on myself when I don't feel good.  

To help with getting more organized, I'm listening to David Allen's Getting Things Done in the car and reading Steven Covey's First Things First, incredibly slowly, at home.  These, at least at the big-picture level, couldn't be more different.  Allen is all about organization of tasks and projects and developing a system for all that, including his five-stage process.  He often uses such business-y language that I'd forget all about it except that he talks about "stress-free" and "balanced" productivity.  Since I've often used my stress and anxiety as the motivation and energy to get things done -- with not-so-great effects on my overall health -- the idea that I could get things done and not be a stress case about it keeps me listening.  He makes it seem as though getting on top of things is possible.  I can see how motivational speakers make a living -- just giving people hope that they can handle what's in front of them really is worth something.  (Though I'm not sure it's true; do we ever get on top of something?  Don't we just find that something new comes to topple us?  That what we really need is to learn flexibility and resilience and peace that we're not in control?  I don't know.)   First Things First is much more my speed, focusing on what makes life worthwhile in a big sense and then, I suspect at some point since I'm not there yet in the book, drilling down to what this means on a daily or weekly basis.  

Are you getting the feeling I'm avoiding something?  So am I.  And so I am.  It's that I'm going to a conference.  Here's the thing:  I hate leaving.  I'm always afraid of something terrible happening.  (You understand -- I can't say what exactly I'm afraid of partly because I'm superstitious and partly because it's just so so dumb and unreal and unrealistic because the truth is I just don't want to go and am manufacturing reasons to match my feelings, not the other way around.  But you know -- the plane.)  I just don't like to leave home anymore, which is kind of crazy because I used to love to travel.  Maybe I'd like it better if the family came with me.  And then there's the usual reason:  I hate networking, hate having to try to sound smart, hate thinking on my feet.  Luckily, this conference kind of forces me to not hide in my hotel room because they have luncheons and things -- so I end up meeting people which is great.  (People used to sort of take pity on me because I was a grad student, but now I'm just a shy faculty member -- will people still be as kind?  Probably, I hear a wise part of myself saying:  so much of it is just attitude, Earnest.  You'll be fine.  Meet people.  Talk to people.  You have interesting things to say.  Half the time you won't shut up.  Jeez, get a grip!

Did I mention that I was diagnosed with Tietze Syndrome, which are chest pains and inflammation of the breastbone cartilage?  I can tell you it's pretty scary to have chest pains.  I keep going in for EKGs and they find nothing nothing!  But what I notice now is that sitting here on my bed, the first day I haven't had to go into work in weeks, just being mellow and stress-free and alone. . .no chest pains.  Interesting.  I have things to do (the laundry is going as I write), but I think I'm going to have a nap.  I never get enough sleep.   

Wow, this post is all over the place.  Just finding my footing.  It's more difficult to start blogging again than I thought.  I'll get the hang of it again.  I hope.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


It's alive!  Absurdist Paradise is alive! 

Yes, it's been almost three years.  Did I plant those seeds and start new blogs?  Yes, I did.  But they didn't take.  And now that I'm preparing my tenure binder and heading up this committee and sitting on this university committee (only subbing, though, thank goodness) and seeing if I can qualify for a home loan while AC has a problem at school and has been lying and drawing on our couch meanwhile my birth family has completely imploded over the terms of my grandmother's will?  Well, it feels as absurd as ever.  And lately as I've been literally running from one thing to another not eating and stealing time to run to the bathroom (things have calmed down, but this was one day this week and two days last week), I've thought how great it would be to come home to Absurdist Paradise.  So here I am.  Who says you can't go home again?