Getting slapped around by irony

Another academic jobs cycle has all but come to a close. After submitting to all available openings in his field, My Better Half scored exactly zero interviews – so far, anyway. We haven’t extinguished all hope just yet because some places are still reviewing applications, but let’s face it, chances are not good. So we were looking for silver linings yesterday while My Better Half was sorting through the mail. I said “At least we’re not going to be moving to North Dakota?” as he unfolded a newspaper clipping that his dad had sent in the mail.

This article, in fact:

newspaper-article-job-boom-north-dakota

Oh the irony!

PS – I don’t care, I’m *still* not moving to North Dakota. I’m sure it’s lovely and all, but it is not for me.

I’ll be over here, avoiding the interwebz

One article that’s been making the rounds this week – at least in my inbox and on my feed – is this one from Slate that attempts to demystify the academic job application process for non-academics. I had made myself a deal to stop reading anything about the job market. Because it’s all too familiar that the tenure-track job market is bleak at best. Or that winning a tenure-track job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And that even full-time non-tenure-track jobs are scarce as teaching gets farmed out to adjuncts. And that Ph.Ds continue to face the choice of either accepting the unsustainble pay and working conditions that come with being an adjuct or opting out of their academic field altogether. There may be 100 reasons to go online and find out why you should not go to grad school. But especially if you’re about to graduate with a Ph.D, you just might want to avoid the web altogether.

If you don’t, you’ll be faced with articles like that Slate one. But at least that one comes in handy for explaining to friends & family why this any time of year is a terrible time to ask an academic “So….how’s the job search going?” As you can guess, for some reason, I read it, hoping it would be…I don’t know, funny, maybe? That we could all chuckle at how ridiculously awful the prospects are and how tiny the chances of landing something. See? The potential for hilarity is oh Jesus they just used the phrase ‘existential death spiral.’ Closing that tab.

In my house, we’re already knee deep in hopelessness about this year’s market in My Better Half™’s field. So far there are seven – SEVEN! – jobs nationwide that he at least sort of qualifies for. As we read a result from the job alerts we subscribe to, we even hold out hope because we’ve seen several that open with “The ideal candidate will teach…” YES HE TEACHES ALL OF THOSE AND HAS GREAT TEACHING EVALUATIONS AND

Oh.

That’s when we scroll down to the qualifications and realize the futility in applying. Sometimes it’s because every last minimum and desired qualification is aimed at demonstrating the candidate’s success at securing *research* dollars – nothing whatsoever about teaching experience and abilities. Sometimes it’s because the job specifies “Strong preference for research experience in the river beds of southeastern Ohio” or some sh*t like that. And sometimes – and I’m not even making this up – it’s because the job specifies that while you should have a Ph.D. in one field, you should also have Ph.D.-level research expertise in another entirely different field too. Sorry, we didn’t realize he should have been pursuing a dual Ph.D. in anthropology and pediatric dentistry at the same time. Sure, he’ll still apply because we know that nobody is ever a perfect match for any job in any field. But who knows? Maybe there is that one candidate out there who matches all those qualifications more closely. (There usually is when it comes to academics).

Luckily, My Better Half™ got real with himself two years ago as he began to track the academic jobs and determined that if teaching was his desired end game, he would pursue community college jobs, where work is all about teaching and not 100% research-focused. Wait. Where do community colleges list their jobs? Our job alerts at Chronicle of Higher Education and HigherEdJobs.com are surfacing only university – and the occasional yet even more highly coveted private liberal arts college – jobs. As time passed, we began to wonder about this more and more. After a year of receiving these job alerts, we had seen only one community college job. Perhaps they just don’t advertise nationally? We finally broke down and sheepishly emailed the advice columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Ed who covers the community college job market, and he responded that community college jobs are typically posted at HigherEdJobs.com. Oh, well, let me go in and alter our search alert so that

Sonofab*tch.

Our HigherEdJobs alert HAS been set to include community college jobs for the TWO YEARS we have had it set up. It’s just that there haven’t been any community college jobs for the alert to capture.

Some days it’s easier than others to say “F it. We’ll just take our own path and opt out of this academic job crisis nonsense and figure out plan B and life will be just fine.” Other days, it’s harder to see how to make our way out of path dependency. Especially when you open an article only to be faced with a nice summary of all the work required to apply, only to face such terrible odds.

A case of the mondays

Two weeks ago, Baby got viral gastroenteritis for a couple of days and shared it with me for all of 8 hours while I was home from work with him, but we both recovered. Last Friday, as I was picking up Dawdler Toddler from daycare, she starts hurling. She had it all through the weekend, meaning we got nothing whatsoever done except tending to her. Side note: why is it that the weekends where I want to sit around on my arse and do nothing do not coincide with the weekends I get to do that? I had TONS of errands & stuff I desperately needed to get done, because I’d gotten nothing done being home from work with a sick Baby.

By Sunday, I was feeling very stressed – faced with missing even more work and still needing to get tons of stuff done outside of work, I texted every sitter as well as any contacts who could potentially serve as an emergency stand-in sitter, asking if by some random chance anyone could possibly watch her on Monday. I’ve been missing TONS of work with sick Baby. My Better Half doing fieldwork during the workweek means that I’m the only one ever available when daycare calls telling me Baby has a fever and has to leave, so I feel like I’m walking a fine line at work. I don’t know if I am. Maybe I’m just super sensitive to the rolling eyes one of my coworkers gives me (a childless jackass) whenever I’m dashing out to grab a sick Baby or Toddler. Maybe I’m just super sensitive because it’s performance review season and I’m paranoid that it might appear as if I’m not accomplishing much other than occasionally and unpredictably occupying a chair after returning from maternity leave this time around. Maybe I’m super sensitive because I have a new boss, who, while he has four children of his own, has never once experienced the “my kid has a fever above 100, so s/he has to be picked up from daycare within 30 minutes and can’t return for at least 24 hours” because his wife has always been a stay at home mom. I’d like to believe that my work worries are all in my imagination but I’m not quite convinced that’s true. But, alas, no sitters or would-be sitters were available.

So I crossed my fingers and held my breath and the next day, Dawdler Toddler seemed to be back to her normal self, and after being able to hold down her breakfast, I took her to daycare. And her Baby brother. Even though he had a fever. I didn’t have an alternative, given that I had no sitter available. And I HAD to make an 8:30-10:30 meeting, if nothing else. So I just prayed that he was just running a low-grade, teething? minor thing? fever and would be fine. After having to wait in the morning to make sure Dawdler Toddler was okay enough to go to daycare, I was super late to work – more than an hour late. Let’s just say the clock read 8:32 when I was getting ready to leave daycare for work. I got to work only to discover that my meeting was way far away in another building, so I was about 30 minutes late for that important must-not-miss meeting. And I was there about 25 minutes before daycare called and said Baby had a fever and was vomiting and had to leave.

So I excused myself with yet another quick missive of “sorry! gotta run! I’ll try to get in some work from home!” apology and dashed out. Got Baby, got him some Tylenol and he went down for his afternoon nap. That just dragged on and on and on. By late afternoon, after I’d picked up Dawdler Toddler from daycare, I was starting to get concerned. He seemed a little out of it, listless if you will. And his fever, rather than going down with Tylenol just kept going up. And he wasn’t the least bit interested in eating anything at all. By the time his breathing seemed to be getting strangely irregular, I left My Better Half, home from 10 hours of fieldwork in 111 degrees, to put Toddler to bed while I took Baby in to the children’s hospital, the only thing open at that hour. I get to the children’s hospital and have a text from My Better Half saying: I have the stomach flu now too, can’t stop throwing up, but keep me updated. I get us checked in and while we’re waiting in triage, I start hurling. Repeatedly.

They kept an eye on Baby, checking his vitals every 20 minutes, trying to coax him into taking pedialyte (unsuccessfully), giving him medicine for nausea first in order to then administer more Tylenol so he could keep that down and then waiting for him to demonstrate that he wanted and/or could eat. They kept him far longer than I would have expected. Which is why I was more miserable by the moment. I couldn’t stop throwing up, my stomach was doing somersaults, and I had nothing with me. Nothing. Not even a water bottle to go fill up, not a sweater to stave off the fever chills that were washing over me in waves. So every 20 minutes they came in to give him medicine and make sure he was improving and I’m getting worse by the second but they couldn’t even so much as bring me a goddamn apple juice because I’m “not the patient.” I get it on an intellectual level – liability of treating someone who’s not a patient in this letigious world of defensive medicine we find ourselves in – but at a visceral, physical level I was furious. Your whole purpose as nurses and doctors is to help people feel better, and if mom is doing this horribly, how can she be expected to take in all the information you’re giving about Baby’s condition and respond?

Why wouldn’t I just text My Better Half and say “for chrissakes, bring me some gatorade?” you ask? Because we have one vehicle. One. With both carseats in it. So even if he would have wanted to drag Toddler and himself out of bed and then out of the house at an ungodly hour to come bring ME medicine at the children’s hospital, he couldn’t have. Not to mention he was throwing up at home too.

So all in all, I’ve managed to make it to work one whole day this week. My Better Half seems to have improved, as have I. Although now that he’s back to working in 110 degrees, we’ll see. Baby still has a fever and is vomiting and was seen again yesterday and will be seen again Saturday. So I’m not counting on getting ANYTHING done this week or weekend either. Good thing my folks are coming in town Tuesday. Oh wait, that means I gotta somehow clean & disinfect this disastrous house. And take 48 hours vacation time. Right before my annual performance review. I’m beginning to think the rumors circulating yesterday that anyone who was getting a raise this year got notification yesterday is true. Like that asshole coworker who shoots me a dirty look every time I rush out, scrambling to go get a sick kid, just doing my best not to lose it.

A fieldwork widow

The spring semester has wound down, and My Better Half™ decided after much deliberation to accept an offer of summer archaeological fieldwork. Normally this wouldn’t even be an option, as the typical fieldwork schedule is 10 days away, 4 days at home, repeat. If you’re lucky. But this year there happens to  be a project within driving distance of where we live, so every morning he reports to the office at 5 a.m., commutes from there to the site, and then returns home at the end of each day.

I’ll do my best to contain my enthusiasm. Because despite the extra income which is helpful necessary, this still presents many challenges. Here’s just one of them: his 5 a.m. start time, for instance. If the Dawdler Toddler would actually go to sleep when we put her to bed at 8:00 p.m., My Better Half™ would stand a chance at up to 8 hours sleep as long as two additional conditions are also met:

  • Baby also cooperates and sleeps through the night (which has yet to happen, ever).
  • Fairy Godmother pulls her weight and relieves us of the nightly household work of packing lunches and doing dishes and putting away laundry and shuttling Dawdler Toddler back to bed after each and every attempt to delay bedtime.

All in all, this means on any given night, My Better Half™ can expect to get somewhere between 0 and 6 hours sleep before reporting for highly physical labor. And once I’ve slept in til Baby’s natural alarm at 5:00 a.m., I get to get the kids up, clothed, fed, and loaded in the truck for daycare drop off before I report to work, only to repeat all that in reverse at the end of each day, exhausted.

Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m dreading the rest of fieldwork season unnecessarily. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t yet had any coffee. Or maybe it’s more that last night presented what I know to be a typical case study. We were up 4 times between 9:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. with Baby, who was uncharacteristically fussy and inconsolable. By the time Baby finally got up at 5:20 a.m., desperately needing a diaper change, I discovered that we had no diapers. None. Not in the house, not stashed in the back of his sister’s closet, not in the diaper bag, not in the truck. So poor Dawdler Toddler also got to wake at an unnaturally early hour to start her day, because last I checked Child Protective Services doesn’t look too kindly on me leaving my kids at home to dash to the store to grab diapers. This may be just the kick in the ass that I needed to change my outlook on adjuncting to note how accommodating it is in allowing for co-parenting and equitable division of household duties. Or maybe it will just make me hate fieldwork more than I already did.

Bringing children & work together every day

Yesterday, at least at my workplace, was Bring Your Child to Work Day. It was also, at least in my job, Bring Work to Your Children Day. Aka Thursday. Aka my telecommuting day.

I think when you say ‘telecommute’ a lot of people picture some kind of tech startup employee who works from cooler-than-thou hipster coffee joints all day. In my case you should envision me surrounded by the detritus of toddler & baby toys trying to respond to emails with one hand while nursing and shushing Baby with the other, sipping room temperature coffee all day (so as not to burn Baby when he inevitably flings his hand into the mug sending its contents all over my applesauce and GoGurt-encrusted jeans). I’ve telecommuted one day a week ever since the nearly 3 year old Dawdler was born – and it was fine when it was just her. Now my telecommuting day just feels so overwhelming. It’s impossible to compartmentalize anything. I’m trying to work while also pick up the ever-growing clutter around the house, I’m trying to put away laundry amidst work and a crying Baby, and I’m trying to convince the toddler Dawdler to shuffle off to daycare so I can focus on only two things at once, with the ability to give neither my full attention.

It’s nearly impossible to give my full attention to anything at all anymore, least of all myself. I get it, it’s a mom thing to never have any time to myself, but for crying out loud, I’ve got to find some time for myself. At my cubicle, I’m occupied with work. At home, I’m occupied with the kids. And during the rushed commute in between? I’m trying to slough off the day’s work and get into parenting mode with no space for my own occupations in between.

I have turned to working out before to solve this problem and decompress. Before I had kids, I went to the gym every night right after work before I got home. Now that just seems unfair to My Better Half. Right now, he has the responsibility of getting the kids up, dressed, fed, and off to daycare (and in the case of Baby, full-time parenting some days of the week), on top of adjuncting and trying to write and make dinner and. And, and, and. So it feels awfully selfish of me to tack on an extra couple of hours to his days to stop off at the gym for myself. When I explained this to someone, they said “oh! So that’s just mommy guilt! You gotta shut that sh*t down.”

Please don’t ‘just’ that. That ‘just’ you threw in there implies that it’s all in my mind, that it’s ‘just’ a small problem, that it’s insignificant. Baby is now 7 months old and I’ve never managed to get in a single workout or find any regular routine of time for myself since he was born. That doesn’t feel insignificant. Sure, it’s true that this is just a phase, as my mom says. But it doesn’t feel temporary living in the midst of this phase.

So until I can sort this out and/or afford a gym membership, you’ll excuse me while I carve out time for myself at the bottom of this bag of Pepperidge Farm Molasses Crisp cookies. It’s ‘just’ one bag. A week.

Path Dependency

I’ve always been fascinated to hear how people fall into their line of work. Some, like me, seem to stumble backasswards into what they do. Some people seem to be able to leverage a hobby into a career. Some, like My Better Half, seem to be oriented to a particular path for as long as anyone can remember. He is an academic archaeologist through and through with a voracious appetite for any and every scholarly work in his field. His insatiable quest for anthropological expertise has been around since he was 3, if not sooner, according to collective family memory. And he can’t help but teach no matter where he goes, regardless of whether his students are actually students.

Too bad academic teaching isn’t so much a thing anymore.

When he started this journey, the job market seemed reasonably rosy. He left behind steady work as an archaeologist for a consulting company to go back to school so he could achieve his dream of teaching. And if his dream of teaching at the college level didn’t pan out for some reason, no matter – he could always pan for gold. Or at least go back to being a field archaeologist.

We always knew how competitive any academic job market would be, but we also thought that, unlike some other fields (I’m looking at you museum studies), he could always fall back on his prior career as a practicing archaeologist working for an environmental consulting company.

What happened next is a story that’s all too familiar to anyone who’s been following changes in higher education, or an adjunct boom, or even adjunctivitis, whatever the hell that is. The recession meant alot of things, including a decline in public funding for higher education, trickling down to departments being unable to hire full-time tenure-track professors and increasingly relying on adjuncts to teach. To the extent that now somewhere upwards of 2/3 of those who teach at the college level are only adjuncts or instructors without any possibility of tenure.

What all that means in our household is uncertainty & inertia. The very few full-time instructor or tenure-track jobs that were available were open months ago, when he was still neck deep in writing drafts of chapters. And taking care of a newborn. And the 2 year old. And teaching at the community college. And TAing at the university. And taking care of cooking, cleaning, & yardwork. Now that he’s only knee deep in putting the final chapters together, there are only temporary openings, 1 year appointments, mostly.

No matter. He can fall back on field archaeology until he lands a teaching gig, right? Not exactly. Even in his former career as a field archaeologist, the recession meant that the kinds of projects that triggered the need for archaeological fieldwork collapsed. No new housing developments being built, no major road construction, no new light rail lines, no substantial construction of any kind at all meant that cultural resource management firms shrunk (read: layoffs) or closed, leaving even those in his “backup” career path under- or unemployed and with no clear path. But even if he could find field work, would that work, uh, work for us? A quick look at our bank account says “absof*ckinglutely” but a quick look at our two (very young) kids says “nah uh.” Not at this stage in our lives.

So what’s left? That’s the problem. He worries that he is path dependent. And in the most general sense, of course he is because we all are. The choices we made in the past necessarily influence the present. But his point is that by choosing to get a Ph.D. he has continually winnowed his opportunities down to such a degree that he now stands almost no chance of being seen as anything other than grossly overqualified for anything other than teaching at the college level. Which, if you recall what you’ve been reading since paragraph 2, is about like the odds of scoring a job in journalism. Or law.

Sure, he’s got a steady recurring gig as an adjunct. Which is going great says no one nowhere. Is it any wonder so many Ph.D. students are jumping ship? Sure, if you’re not destined for academia, then is the Ph.D. necessary? Maybe, maybe not (basically: it depends). And while we should not forget that those who have Ph.D.s also are empowered to make choices, what about those who dream of nothing but a shot at the academic career and nothing else? What about those who want to be dependent on that particular path?

In our household, we’ll have to wait and see. Plan A is to abide by the adjunct’s life for the fall semester while Better Half goes on the academic job market (if there is anything in his area to pursue) and see what happens. Plan B? Still not clear. Selling drugs, perhaps?

Unfiltered Thoughts: The Academic Job Market

I can’t stop thinking about an article I read a couple days ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Most History Ph.D.’s Have Jobs“* Maybe it’s just because I stand on the sidelines of My Better Half™’s (totally unsuccessful) job search (in another discipline) AND scores of close friends who *are* Ph.D.s in history looking for work unsucessfully, but the seemingly upbeat tone of the article strikes me as completely disassociative with what’s actually going on in the academic job market.

On the face of it, maybe this is good news, but even if that’s true, that belies part of the very problem: that the academic job market is so sh*tty as to merit a story that most people in a particular discipline have jobs. Note: not careers, not in their fields, not the highly desirable end goal that most History Ph.D.s have in mind, namely a tenure-track position in a college or university, just jobs. While there are corollaries outside academia that would merit such an article (“Most Journalists Have Jobs” immediately comes to mind), would we take note, for instance, at “Most Accountants Have Jobs” or “Most Dentists Have Jobs”?

But getting beyond the headline itself, as I read the article, I came across several points that were troubling. The article is about a study conducted by the American Historical Association that tracked the jobs of 2500 History Ph.D.s. One of the first points made is: “A Ph.D. in history can be more than just a gateway to a faculty appointment. Among the positions held by the group studied are: archivist, foreign-service officer, lawyer, nonprofit analyst, pastor, and schoolteacher.” So *after* achieving a Ph.D., many folks have had to go get additional credentials to gain employment (see: lawyer, pastor, schoolteacher) and we’re supposed to consider this good news?! They even cite the lead researcher for the study as saying “People are using their degrees” in these other careers. This wouldn’t be noteworthy, except that it has become so bad for folks in the humanities and social sciences that they are now in a position as to have to justify that such degrees actually get used. People who dedicate years of their lives diving into historical sources, analyzing, writing, and editing their narratives in order to graduate didn’t spend that much time accruing useless skills and aren’t going to toss aside their many skills and abilities that they gained in honing their craft.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the AHA study is that the latest data they have on any of these History Ph.D.s is 2009, which might not seem like all that long ago, but consider even this:

“Of the cohort who earned their Ph.D.’s from 1998 to 2001, about 14 percent worked in faculty jobs off the tenure track. That number grew to 25.6 percent among those who earned a Ph.D. between 2006 and 2009, a time period that included the after-effects of the recession.”

I would hazard a reasonably well informed guess that since 2009, things have gotten a lot worse for those on the academic market as the recession’s effects lag, especially, though by no means exclusively, in the humanities. Humanities degrees don’t tie directly into a career or line of work like nursing or business for example, so humanities folks find themselves in a defensive position lately. (Just google “humanities crisis,” if you’re curious). The study’s data show that 17.8 percent have landed a “non tenure-track faculty position” at either a 4 or 2 year institution. That’s pretty decent, actually (and even that 17.8% is decent should be telling). But what percentage of those 17.8% are adjunct-only? Can we at least get an over/under? While many colleges and universities have in recent years started offering non-tenure track full-time benefits eligible faculty positions, that doesn’t mean those positions are any more numerous than traditional tenure-track faculty jobs. I would bet (from personal experience) that even such “staff” positions have become highly coveted and unbelievably competitive, given the drawdown in the number of tenure-track faculty openings.

Finally, the article quotes from a former director of the American Historical Association, “Hopefully, the AHA can find out more about what choices people made that led them to take the jobs that they did.” I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here and presume that ‘choice’ was a poor, er, choice of words. Because, yes, people have agency to make choices about their lives, but I’m not sure ‘choice’ is an accurate description of what’s happening here. Unless you’re really characterizing the ‘choice’ between eking out an existence as an adjunct making a pittance per class with even more restrictions on income possibilities now due to the Affordable Care Act and the alternative: choosing a line of work instead that provides at least a reasonable amount of job security and/or benefits and/or income in order to pay bills. And here I just mean housing, transportation, food – I’m not even taking into consideration astronomical student loans and credit card debt incurred in pursuit of a History (or any other) Ph.D.

People are being forced into making the choices they do as a result of an imbalanced labor market. Unless you have an unbelievably patient partner and/or enormous cash reserves and/or a trust fund, you can’t really survive on an adjunct’s pay, where you may toil for years on end waiting in the wings for even the chance to compete for a teaching opening, whether that’s tenure-track or not. Case in point: My Better Half™ makes about $1500 a class. If we assume that both of his assigned classes make enrollment each semester (because now he’s limited to being offered only 2 classes per semester so they don’t have to provide him health benefits, and he’s not able to get any classes during summer sessions as those go only to full-time tenured faculty at his community college), he’s bringing in a maximum of $6000 a year as an adjunct. A year. And that’s zero benefits, zero job security, zero guarantees, zero job growth over time. Versus a choice to leave academia behind to make even a reasonable living (because it’s not like he can leverage his Ph.D. to make giant piles of cash working in his particular industry) that may be indirectly tied to his educational training, but which provides benefits, more predictability, less work-life imbalance, and the potential for growth & promotion over time in order to pay daycare, the mortgage, credit card bills, and even go out to eat once in a blue moon. Is it really a choice anymore? For the vast majority, I suspect the answer is no.

*The article is behind a paywall, so if you can’t access it, I guess that means that you may be one of the scores of history Ph.D.’s who has not landed a job and therefore has no access to a university’s library journal subscriptions. Ugh. Also, while the article title lacks an exclamation point at the end, you might as well mentally insert that yourself, because that’s how the article reads, although, again, that may be becuase I’m so cynical about the job market & just reading the article through that filter.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Procrastination

This morning, sitting at my cube reading blogs as the coffee brewed, I read the improvised life’s post “the work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

I’m not sure where I come down on this one. Obviously sitting on-call in a cubicle 40 hours a week is not what I think I should be doing for the rest of my life, though I’ve got some clear ideas on what that is and while I’ve been taking small steps to get me from the cube-sitting to the working-for-myself part, I still have to be a cube jockey until Plan B starts to pay off. But while I am manning this cubicle, I do procrastinate by writing. So in my case the work I do while procrastinating is the work I should be doing, and I already knew that. But I’m just not sure that “procrastinating” is the right word for what I’m doing, and not just since I don’t have other work that needs to be done. (Disclaimer: At work, that is. At home, I’ve got a mountain of work that needs to be done, but I can’t do any of it from my cube).

I think that’s where the problem with the quote lies (for me, anyway) – the troublesome distinction within the quote that work equals, well, work, and procrastination is, in contrast, not productive, or more specifically contributive to work. That’s particularly problematic when you’re in a creative pursuit, like writing, because you can’t separate one from the other. Sometimes when I write I find that the words that give shape and form to my ideas flow quickly and easily, and I’m simply channeling them onto the page. That’s incredibly rare. Most of the time, I find that I stumble on kernels of ideas and those ideas take time to plant, water, and tend before they sprout, nevermind grow.

I carry around a notebook that is full of one-liners and scribbles of half-thoughts that, once fully formed, could become something, but until they are fully formed, those follow me around like my shadow. I find myself constantly thinking about how to reshape an idea, how to phrase and contextualize it, and how to convey its complexity without being overly stuffy. Perhaps a better example is the list of funny anecdotes or observations that were noteworthy enough for me to write them down for reference, if only I could fumble my way past the anecdote itself to what it is that that moment embodies. But if I sit around and stew about “What does this mean? How can I use this as a vehicle to tell some larger tale?” I’d be sitting here staring at a blank screen for the rest of my life. So I just continue on. I go for walks, go get coffee, play with Baby, make dinners, sit in my cubicle, and maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way, I’ll figure it out and then I’ll get to use that in my writing. But, more likely, I’ll get ‘distracted’ along the way, overhear something interesting in line at Starbucks that I’ll write down in my notebook and chase that scrap instead – either because that has a faster path to my discovery of meaning or because it’s more timely or simply more interesting. The most likely reason, though, is because I’m still struggling to achieve a way to impart meaning to the previous moment. In short: it’s not helpful to sit around thinking “INSPIRATION STRIKE NOW, goddamnit!” But just because I cast that moment aside until later doesn’t make everything that happens in between the recording of the moment and the hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before it becomes something “procrastination.”

The Improvised Life did a follow-up post linking to Brain Pickings’ post on procrastination but I think that this post from Brain Pickings makes more connections for me: “We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.”

Where Have I Been?

I don’t know. I haven’t actually *been* anywhere. Didn’t go away since May for the summer. Or anywhere, really. I’ve just been working sitting at a desk in my cubicle. And getting sick. Repeat.

I’ve been on 6 antibiotics since the spring, but I’m still fighting a chronic awful sinus infection (and periodic bouts of strep throat) that make me feel lousy. Just not lousy enough to stay home, but lousy enough to not be able to keep up with all my normal routines. Between working full-time sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week and being sick full-time and taking care of Baby, who is now a toddler by the way, I haven’t had time to do anything else, like post here or watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. (Which, thanks to the immediacy of our web culture, has already been ruined thanks to the presumption that if you own a DVR, you must not use it because it’s fair game to discuss it freely and openly within 24 hours of its original airing). So while you can talk to me about Breaking Bad, what you cannot do is stop by unannounced and ask to come in to my house. I will cockblock you at the door and get rid of you as quickly (and politely) as possible so you cannot peer past me to even so much as glimpse the absolute wreck within.*

*This is not to say that My Better Half™ has not been keeping up way more than his fair share of things at home. He has been, as always, a tremendous support in all the cooking, cleaning, diapering, feeding, and everything else that goes into being an all-around awesome partner. But still. He’s only one person.

While I haven’t been anywhere, my mind has been wandering. I’ve been thinking more and more about finding another job until I can figure out a way to work for myself. But the thought, which used to be a polite little occasional rap on the door, has become a deafening roar. It’s like there’s a mob armed with pitchforks ready to break down the door and storm the castle. I can accept that I have to work full-time to provide for Baby (and support My Better Half™ while he finishes grad school). But if I have to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week, I’d much rather be doing something that keeps me busy, at a minimum (though it would be nice if it also kept me interested). I got offered this job when I was laid off and knocked up. I accepted the job because it seemed like a good fit – it made use of my existing skills, it was at a university where I figured I’d be around bright people, and it seemed like a place where I could learn a few things. It’s hard to learn anything when, after a year and a half, I’ve had 2 short-term projects. And I am around bright people – my boss remains the best boss I’ve ever had…but she’s no longer my boss, and she’s leaving soon. And I’ve realized that what I love about being in a university setting is the students, and I don’t work with them at all. As far as I can tell, my job seems largely to consist of showing up 40 hours a week to be available in the event that someone needs something that only takes me a couple minutes to do. So I read blogs. And this morning, I read this post by (Not) Maud, in which she writes that she used to keep herself busy at work by reading blogs because she had nothing else to do. This part really sums up what I think is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with work:

“I’m not the only overeducated underused employee that ever existed, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who ever did this. I’m not the only person with a degree in English to find herself sitting behind the receptionist’s desk or waiting for someone else to schedule a meeting so that she could update a handbook that nobody would read anyway. On a global-economy scale, that’s a lot of unharnessed energy.”

Damn straight. I have a ton of unharnessed energy, and I am more than ready to harness it and put it to work for myself. Not only will that be much more satisfying to me, but I also would be able to spend more time on the things that matter to me – Baby, My Better Half™, and napping, for starters. Bonus: If I worked for myself, I think I would be better equipped to carve out the time I need to get a few weeks rest because this nickel & diming my time off to rest isn’t helping me get over months of being sick. I’ve made a plan and I’m going to keep myself accountable to it.