Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fire Code Violations, etc.

Spent four hours in my office on campus last night, going through piles of folders and papers and recycling like a madwoman. What's weird is that I honestly enjoy doing it. 

When I was in college, I couldn't write a paper or study for an exam until I had done my laundry and straightened/alphabetized my cassettes (yep, I'm old) and the few CDs I owned. I had to clean, because it seemed integral to getting my mind in order, too. I can think and work in chaos (witness my office, cited for fire code violations for "housekeeping--storage of material on the floor" last week) but as I clean, I have ideas for papers and poems, which then have to be hastily scribbled in my notebook (my "planner" where I keep track of what I've been doing all semester so that I can write my Faculty Activity Report--more on that later). 

The only problem is that by the time I get back around to reading the notebook, deadlines have come and gone, and the ideas are shelved. Case in point: I missed completely the Midwest Modern Language Association deadlines for special sessions because I was so wound up in sending out my chapbook for various contests this spring (none of which panned out, sadly). This especially sucks because when I last checked the site, they hadn't come up with a conference theme. I looked last night, and the theme is TERROR. Crap. As soon as I saw it, I had a flood of ideas (like a panel on the current vampire craze--I'd have called it "The Pleasures of Terror: Eric, Edward, Angel, Spike, et al" or something like that--but someone already did a similar one, so that's good). At least the conference is in Chicago this year, so I can hopefully crash at a friend's place and attend the conference anyway.

Professional development is my bugaboo at this point. I did really well up through my third year review--attending conferences, getting an essay published as a book chapter--but I was also having some health problems that were making life difficult. In April 2008, I was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on my jaw joints (I have TMJ and couldn't open my mouth wider than a few inches at that point). I was prepped for surgery when the nurse came in to announce that they couldn't do the surgery, since my pro forma pregnancy test had in fact come back positive.


I got through the summer with my steadily expanding belly, but not before my [now former] Dean approached me to ask me if I could continue as ESFY coordinator since I was pregnant [this was before I had officially announced it]. The short answer was YES. The long answer is a post for another time.

Fall semester started, and my back problems increased along with my girth. I had had a proposal accepted to the MMLA conference in Nov. 2008. I was due in December. My OB wouldn't let me fly, and I had planned to drive to Minneapolis. Cue severe back pain a week before the conference, coupled with a nasty cold. I had to back out at the last minute.

Thing Two was born on December 19th. He weighed in at 8 lbs 15 oz, so no surprise re: back issues.

OK. My department letter that year (4th year) had a split vote (7-4) which really made the chair nervous, since she likes me and wants to see me succeed. The main concern is that I wasn't producing any writing. OK, fair enough. But since I have an MFA in Creative Writing (poetry), my output is a bit different, and to work I need blocks of uninterrupted time. Where am I going to get those? Cf the previous post--I work more than 40 hours a week on my job, and the only other place to get more hours is out of my family life.

Thing One is now 6, and Thing Two is 19 months. Neither of them is self-sufficient in the entertainment department. In fact, I spend much of my time these days keeping Thing One from making Thing Two's life miserable. Thing One doesn't want to play by herself, despite boxes full of Barbies, art supplies, a wooden dollhouse, a train set, and more books that you can shake a stick at. She wants to bug her brother (I know--this is what siblings do) but it means, essentially, that I cannot work during the day. I am writing this while Thing Two is ostensibly taking a nap (I can hear him howling, so I'm going to have to cut this short). Thing One is actually playing with her Play-doh on the kitchen table, for once. 

The hubby leaves for work at 6:15 and gets home between 5:30 and 6:00. The kids are in bed by 7 or 7:30. I am in bed by 9:00 (and sometimes 7:30) because I get up at 5:00 am with Thing One. I have no energy to write or think hard or read complex, jargon-loaded journal articles. I can barely carry on a coherent conversation with the only other human being in my house over the age of 6. 

I know I have colleagues who produce, even under conditions such as these. I just don't know how. I think they must give up sleep, which is the one thing I can't do, since a lack of sleep leads directly to migraines. 

Rock, meet Hard Place. Hard Place, meet Rock. Now go smack Mamalayne really hard upside the head.


So I'm off to tackle the pile of laundry in the basement, and rescue Thing Two from his unjust imprisonment in his crib. 

And the four hours in my office last night? Heaven. I got the floor almost completely free of folders, and started going through the filing cabinets, so now the Fire Department can relax.



  1. You know, I've found the exact same thing re: organizing my brain enough to get working. To pare down all of the ideas, I have to focus on some completely discrete activity, and then, somehow ideas come into focus, and I can start writing. Otherwise, my brain just darts all over the place.

  2. Ugh, I'm sorry to hear about the department vote. You said "fair enough", regarding PD, but I have to wonder--IS it fair? I think the nature of our institution leaves us in a very tough spot. The expectation is--excel (and I mean excel, not simply be "good enough") at all aspects...teaching AND research AND service. Oh, and make sure you do so in the areas of priority for both your department AND your campus.

    I am not complaining about the job itself, but the lack of clear, consistent priorities placed upon tenure-track faculty makes it tough to even figure out how one WOULD strike a balance, if one were so inclined

  3. writing output is my weak point. i love to write, but am increasingly convinced that the kind of scholarship i was trained to do is not an effective use of my time or energy. i've been quietly experiencing a crisis of scholarly identity since about february. and the wheel of tenure trackness makes this crisis seem all the more fraught.

    so, yeah. i get it. totally.