In looking through some of my started but not ever finished and posted stubs of written work this past year, I came across this bit from Scott Nesbitt and some related pieces that had jolted together in my mind months ago as something important. As I take a bit of a breather from a period of excessive work, with 7 day workweeks and too many 16 hour workdays, I suppose these resonate even more.
Don't jump on to the assembly line of productivity just for the sake of productivity. Don't believe that everything you do needs to be practical or useful or serious. Don't feel the need to get more done.
It seems that every academic or ex-academic I ever talk to or work with or still keep in touch with has the same scar. It's a I'm-never-good-enough kind of thing, or a no-one-respects-me sort of chip on the shoulder, or the lingering seduction of passive aggressive reactions. I suppose many fields have their distinctive scars, similar but different. Some people get over them or cope or maybe hide them more than others.
As a (now former) professional academic and (still now) amateurish writer of everything from code to web copy to short story and translation, I have spent far too much time trying out various text editors, writing tools, note taking apps, and systems. I suspect it is a fault of personality (no, scratch that, it is surely a fault of personality) that I can't let something be. I gain some comfort from rearranging the furniture in my office, from periodically refreshing some of the tools I use, and from seeing if some other set of writing workflow wears a bit more comfortably under the fingers. I suppose I'm always slightly uncomfortable in my own skin. I can't change that wholly. But I can try on some new clothes.
It came as something of a surprise when someone I knew called me a perfectionist. I had never connected that label with me; it just seemed normal to be hard on myself, particularly academically and particularly professionally. But it was a flash of truth, not so much to get caught up in the labels, but to recognize that I had, for as long as I could remember, been unrelenting with myself. It is the kind of perfectionism that is easy for others to miss, or for teachers to reward, because it masquerades as high achievement or over-achievement in the academic context. It isn't something I expect of others, and so it is directed inward, quietly consuming from the inside out.
For various reasons I find myself on the hiring side of technical interviews. This is not a customary position, as most of the hiring I've done has been in a role as a professor on a hiring committee. Academic hiring is its own idiosyncratic hellscape.
This new role had me thinking about how academic interviews function (or fail to function) as technical interviews for the business of academia.
It is wrap-up time in academia, at least for me, and I have gotten to the point with grading where it is a torture to sift through the online gradebook. Some of this is self-inflicted, as I tend to favor high-frequency low stakes assessments. So lots of assignments that count for very little means better learning for students but more of a slow burn for me. (The alternative would be epic grading sessions to plow through a small number of high stakes assignments) Over the past few years, my ability to punch grades and feedback into the system online has degraded to the point that I seem to be having some sort of traumatic reaction any time I launch the platform. I grow immediately angry and resentful and want to do anything in the world that is not this.
It's burnout, textbook-case, obvious and long-simmering.
I love paper. I'll admit it. I love smooth sheets of high quality paper. I love thin sheets, thick sheets, narrow lines, dot journals. I have love for yellow legal pads and cheap scraps of paper. It all has a place.
The second sentence of this is more or less how I view everything I do, both professionally and personally.
What if listening to an inner voice or heeding a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?
From Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, p. 72
When you spend too long in a pursuit that claims to value expertise and enforces a fairly rigid prestige hierarchy, imposter syndrome is inevitable. I have flushed away so much time to this affliction (thank you academia!) that I have moments where I feel desperate for radical solutions.
Almost a year ago I fell from the rafters of my attic, through the ceiling of the first floor, and down to the hard floor. I landed like a gymnast, sticking the landing and bending the legs, trying to absorb the impact, and I collapsed to the ground. I don't know whether the ankle got ripped when I started to fall and had to twist it out of the corner where my foot had jammed in the rafters or whether it was from the impact itself, or a bit of both, but the result was that when I tried to stand, feeling mostly bruised, I collapsed back to the floor. I glanced at the ankle enough to know that it was no longer straight.
The paramedic said, upon entering the room, “Well, that doesn't look right.”