First. Sometimes I feel like this ‘Writing the Article’ series is an extended example of falling flat on my face in public. And then someone writes something like this:
Delightfully snarky Katherine Firth writes a blog called Research Degree Voodoo. She has embarked upon a project she dubs “Writing the Article Series,” in which she live blogs the writing of an academic article. The first post of the series can be found here, but my favourite post so far is the one in which she sums up her “progress” mid-way… “So this series so far seems to be: and then I made a plan, and then the plan didn’t happen, and then I made a plan and then I did less work than I planned.” … I love Katherine’s blog for this scathing honesty, and for her incredible ability to write a “scholarly” blog in a non-scholarly style. She writes just as you imagine she might speak; her voice is conversational, witty, and a downright relief amidst all the academic “mumbo-jumbo”.
Lisa Kabesh at http://dryerasewritings.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/show-tell/
So I’m glad I’m putting this out there.
I’m on leave this week, so in time honoured academic fashion, I think a reasonable way to spend my time is to work on writing my article.
This time I’m holiday-ing at home, and spending the week catching up on sleep, friends, grocery shopping and laundry. So to do a bit of writing is just another chore, and I have done some.
But I can’t remember the last time I went on holiday and didn’t have a writing task hanging over me, or the last time I didn’t take a few academic books and a laptop when I went away. The time I went to Berlin and wrote for 4 hours every morning. The intentional writing retreats. The long weekends.
My other half is an academic, so he is not only not surprised at this, but he often has work he’s planning to write too. In fact, this weekend, he is checking his proofs for the book, I am writing the article, and a friend is upstairs staying over working on a conference paper.
This is so screwed up.
It’s not just doing the work when I’m supposed to be on holiday. It’s not just, as I often tell my students that you need to take time off, you need rest, to be effective.
What’s screwed up is the guilt.
I just stopped for lunch and was watering the house plants, when my partner said, ‘You really don’t want to write this article, do you?’
‘How can you tell?’ I asked.
‘You’ve sighed three times and have spent 20 minutes wandering around the kitchen finding jobs to do instead of going back and writing.’
I’m on holiday. I should be allowing myself to water the plants if I want to.
Procrastination is, as I have said before, often a sign that something deeper is wrong.
This time there are some individual things. I’ve had a terrible run of health (this series, passim). I don’t really like Slessor’s poetry (‘Five Bells’ is amazing, I’ve yet to read anything else that grabs me in the same way, though ‘Five Visions of Captain Cook’ is objectively a good poem). I’ve had so many other things on, so the academic projects I started to keep myself engaged and interested are superfluous. Also, I think my career is turning a corner, and I’m not sure that this research is going to be that useful for what comes next.
But there is also something systemic.
Since I started this series, I’ve also been blogging more about higher education more generally. I’ve become more and more ambivalent about how we exploit researchers and teachers. I train and support graduate research students and early career researchers. I help people continue on their PhDs, they complete them. I inspire people to pursue academic research beyond their undergraduate years. I mentor people into become Honorary Research Fellows and the like. It’s a system I am supporting and upholding.
And through my continuing work as a casual academic and honorary research fellow (on top of my full-time, continuing job), I am allowing myself to be exploited.
And there are lots of reasons why I do, why they do, why we do. Being able to research, to read, to think, to write, is a privilege. But you know what? It’s the wrong kind of privilege.
Since when was ‘the leisure to research’ supposed to mean, ‘use up all your actual leisure time’?
Since when was ‘the privilege of research’ supposed to mean, ‘only people with privilege can do it’?
Since when was ‘work hard and follow your research passions’ supposed to mean ‘only work, and only have time for one passion’?
Since when did ‘the life of the mind’ mean ‘and now feel guilty for having a body: a body that gets sick, that gets hungry, that gets tired, that wants to eat biscuits and sit on the sofa and snuggle up with the cat after a 9 week term’?
This is not to say, “don’t write on your holiday”. But, ‘it’s totally okay for you to take a holiday.”
Don’t do what I do; and take a holiday, don’t write, and feel guilty.
I was about to re-write that sentence, but I’m going to let it stand and then write the truth. I read for an hour, and wrote for an hour, and worked for a whole day on other academic tasks that aren’t my article during this week. So even if I do write, I feel guilty.
Don’t waste time wandering around the house sighing because you don’t want to engage with a long dead poet whose work you don’t enjoy, the publication of which article is going to have no effect on your career. Have a holiday.
When you are writing about the thing you love, a day of writing can be a luxury, a delight, a joy. But when it’s a chore, it’s a job. And you don’t have to work when you’re on holiday. It’s a rule.