A small debate/discussion broke on Twitter last Thursday about academics actively ensuring that they take time off during the holidays. Academics, we always proudly announce to anyone who accuses us of being lazy or taking advantage of our lifetime appointments, never have a holiday; there is always research to be done, articles to be written, manuscripts to read and review, classes to prep, student emails to answers, etc, etc, etc. The flip-side of this is that we are never not working, never allowing ourselves to take a break, mentally and physically, from our jobs.
This reminds me of Nate Kreuter’s piece “Dying on our Swords” as well as Mary Churchill’s “Boundaries, Not Balance.” The reality is that our jobs (in fact, many professions) are demanding more and more time, energy, and effort, but academia seems even more demanding, in that as Kreuter points out, we’re being asked to do a wider and wider variety of activities not typically associated with our roles as educators.
I also thought of Josh Boldt’s excellent piece on shifting baselines; each generation shifts the baseline of how many adjuncts and TT positions are in the department eve so slightly as not to really notice and forget where we once were. I think the issues is exactly the same when it comes to how many hours we work.
Sarah Kendzior has written about surviving in the post-employment economy; and the long hours we work as academics, graduate students, junior faculty, and adjuncts reflect the desperation many of us feel, not to mention the pressure, in order to at least maintain what we have, and perhaps gain an extra class at a more prestigious university, a TT position, tenure, promotion.
And then Kate, a colleague and Twitter-friend, living and working as an academic in Australia, reveals in a moving post that she has been diagnosed with cancer. Her work and her time have come into sharp focus:
I’ve come to this conclusion: I really have a problem with the culture of work in higher education. Having this diagnosis doesn’t make me special, because it doesn’t make me differently mortal than anyone else. We are neither vampires nor zombies, whatever the craze for playing with these ideas: we are humans, and we are all here together for a very short time, historically speaking. And so that being the case, the question facing us all is this: what do we do about work?
What do we do about the way in which overwork is the price that is now demanded for participating at all? What do we do about the thousands of higher education workers consigned to underwork that prevents them from making their irreplaceably good contribution to the mission of universities or the communities that they care about? Do we really believe that our colleagues in the precarity are there because they deserve it? Do we really think sustainable and healthy workplaces will result from us giving up all of our evenings and weekends just to keep up with the standards set by the most driven, or those with the fewest external ties or interests?
All of this is to say that, this holiday, I will take a break. Even if it’s only for a week because I have two MLA talks to prepare and Dany Laferriere was just elected to the Académie fraçaise, so I have some things to think and say and write about that and I’m teaching two entirely new classes in January and, and, and, and…
I’m as guilty as anyone about never stopping to work. Honestly, somewhere deep inside I believe that if I work hard enough, it will make up for my perceived professional failures (not having a tenure-track job, for one). But I’m tired and I do, in fact, need a break. I need to reconnect with my kids and my husband. I need to let me brain rest so that I can spend more than four seconds thinking about something before anxiety sets in.
We’re going to California for a week in early January, not for a conference, not to see family, but to be together as a family and spend time reconnecting with friends. I pledge that that will be my time off, my time away, my time. It’s not much, but it’s a start.