As summer draws to a close, here I am sitting on the balcony of a small hotel on the Greek island of Lesvos, facing the Aegean Sea. At 10:30 am, on this end of the summer day, despite the thunderstorms that hit the region a few days ago, the weather is so hot that I sit in my bathing suit. I and my husband come here once or twice every year. It is a hotel, a few km outside of a small village, which belongs to a fisherman. Since we often come here towards the end of the summer season and since the owner seems to be more engaged in fishing than in the hotel, we are oftentimes the only customer, as is the case now. The waves and the singing of the birds, along with the sporadic distant roar from fishing boat engines are the only sounds we hear.
Before I started writing these lines, I had been reading an article on the European Space Policy for a paper I am intending to write. I actually have been reading on that issue at least for 3-4 hours every day since we got here. To my surprise, I do not shy away from reading so much for work during the last bit of holiday time before I go back to the semester in full swing. It does not bother me. On the contrary I am more motivated to read and am very focused on what I read. While doing this reading, it dawned on me that it was this quietude, this feeling of disconnectedness from everything, this indifference towards all other aspects of life other than the state of the weather, to which I owed my current heightened focus and my delight in reading for work while on holiday. I could work because in this atmosphere I did not consider it work, given the fact that what I was reading was also one of my favorite topics of research.
Of course, I am a girl of the Aegean. I was born on the Turkish side of these coasts. I keep a beach chair in my office back in Istanbul with a huge reading lamp right on top of it, for moments of the day when I need to just sit back and relax to redeem energy while at work. I had read most of the material for my dissertation some 10 years ago on quiet beaches like these as well.
All my scholarly life, either as a student or as an academic, I have been a hard working person all academic year long. I was able to dedicate all my time and attention to the obligatory tasks of academic life during the academic year since I knew that in the long summer period, I would have the chance to both relax and study the things that made my heart beat.
Yet lately, I have been finding myself in a never-ending spiral of obligatory tasks. My holidays became more and more intertwined with more and more work to do, which did not amount to anything worth for having sacrificed the days off due to the accumulated fatigue it created in the end. I have taken on several volunteer roles for academic ends which in some cases wasted my time and energy. It is only here and now that I realize that my past productivity was a result of my past capacity to relax and the less holidays I have and the less what I have as holidays qualify as holidays, the worse it started to affect me.
The state of academia which puts pressure on academics in many institutions worldwide to be present on campus, the false mentality which assumes that academic working hours can only be fulfilled within four walls of a university campus are on the rise. The tendency to squeeze whatever life there is left in an academic to commit him/her to his/her maximum capacity is no longer a tendency but a consolidated reality. In some institutions one can even talk about a deliberate shortening of holiday time offered to academics. The unspoken demand for being there for students through emails almost 24/7 has made professorship the equivalent of being an on-call doctor. With resources for conferences and research being cut, the scholars are forced to consume their own financial and temporal resources to be able to do their job the way it is meant to be done.
If I can work better while on holiday, this does not mean that I am a workaholic. On the contrary, it means that I need more of my mind free to be able to perform my best. Just because I can work at my maximum sometimes does not mean that this is sustainable. I wish that those who set the rules in the academic profession could also see that. Until then, my only solution is the beach chair in my office ☺
Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.
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