I think I ought to begin as I mean to continue, which is to say that if this idea of writing a blog founders in the very first week, that’s not a particularly good sign. Thus, a post from the dining room table of my parents’ house, where I am for the holidays.
And perhaps suitably, a reflection on the business of getting work done over the holidays, or over breaks in general. By this time, I have a good system worked out with my parents. Several years ago, my father made me a tiny sign that says “BUSY” in a wallet-size table-top picture frame. I place it next to my laptop on the table when I’m actually working and would prefer not to be disturbed. In theory, it works very well. In practical terms, I’m interrupted about the same number of times, but the interactions are shortened by me being able to point at the sign and then keep working. It does cut down on a certain amount of stress, though, because simply having put the sign up means that my desire to work was already in evidence and not merely a convenient means of escaping a conversation.
A minor social problem, to be sure. And one that might be obviated by finding somewhere else to work in the house (although part of the problem is that there isn’t any other particularly good place). Behind it, however, is the news, familiar to most academics, that school breaks are the best, if not the only, time to work.
On this particular break, I started with four postdoc applications to write, two articles to polish and send on their merry ways, and one set of grades to finish. The grades are done (I’m lucky that it’s only one set), one of the articles is half-polished, and I thought about the postdocs quite a lot. I’m lucky that I don’t know anyone in town anymore other than my parents, though, who might be offended by my seeming inability to find time to do much of anything during what is supposed to be my break.
I snuck some extra work in as well, without anyone being particularly aware of it. Our annual neighborhood holiday party (which for many years has been much larger than just the neighborhood) was an ideal place for me to practice, with access to reasonable quantities of alcohol, various elements of my job interview: descriptions of my dissertation research, defenses of my theoretical research, discussions of my teaching practices, chats about my career goals. The conversation where a neighbor asked when I would be settling down and starting a family is, I hope, one that I won’t have to have in a job interview, but I’ve been warned to expect anything, even the marginally and not-so-marginally illegal.
I came home from the party unusually late. My mother and I usually last a couple hours; last night we stayed until after 11:30pm. My father was already asleep. This morning, I woke up strangely reinvigorated. I sat down right after breakfast with one of the articles, set up my sign, and got to work. Right now, as I’m typing, my father is reading my article across the table from me, teasing me lightly for my use of the word “literally” (which I maintain is appropriate in context as well as humorous).
And I realize that this is break. I like teaching. Love it, really. But this is like coming home. I got this feeling earlier this semester too, when I caught a few hours between applications and class prep to work on an article. Somehow all of the talking last night about what it is that I do reminded me of precisely that: what it is that I do. So today I did it.
Hopefully I can catch that same sentiment in interviews!