Personal Update: May 13 2020
This is an awkward time to be writing my first blog post. Initially, when I began envisioning the possibilities that a personal website could provide, I was inspired by the thought that my various projects and deadlines might finally be collected in one accessible place. There was a sense of productivity as I meticulously selected my platform, my style, my voice. I was excited. Then COVID-19 arrived, other things moved online, and this digital space was lost in the pile.
Now, with the word “re-opening” hanging in the provincial air, I find myself returning to my personal corner of the internet with a more pragmatic and weathered perspective. Rather than bombard you with my thoughts on this or that, I feel compelled to simply share what I’ve been up to – more for my own sake than yours. I need to keep organized, and motivated, and think putting a disorganized mess to digital paper may be just the thing. If a biproduct of this selfish venture is solidarity or commiseration, then I welcome it.
What I’ve Been Up To
Like a lot of graduate students, the last two months have been a coagulated blur of grading, term papers, and exam prep. A few weeks in, I’ve settled into a pretty consistent schedule of two hours of work before lunch and two hours after. I exercise in the morning (sometimes), take care of the dog, and sip away at caffeine while I check emails and clock thirty minutes or so into Duolingo (I’m looking at you, language requirement).
I think that focusing on timing, rather than overall productivity, has kept me moving on the days (or weeks) that my workload feels especially daunting. I clock in and I clock out. I’ve tried to take the second part of that process seriously, too. My evenings have been largely spent on reading, videogames, and watching TV with my partner. Our puppy gets extra love in the evenings, as well, since she doesn’t quite understand that being home isn’t the same as being able to play fetch all day.
I write all this out for two reasons. The first, like I said, is to keep track of what’s been going on around me – and make sure that certain things aren’t slipping through the cracks. Growing up with ADHD, I fear that if I don’t write things down, somewhere (or everywhere), I will inevitably skip out on an important email, or miss a bill payment, or get overwhelmed.
The second, though, is that I look at how the last few weeks have gone for me and can’t help but feel like it is something of a negative case for those of you who are balancing so much more. I think about how frustrated I felt yesterday, when our puppy decided she needed to go outside three times before lunch, and think about all the guilt-ridden tweets I’ve seen from those of you that are balancing kids, extended family, horrible bosses, and more.
I write it out because I wonder if it might not be helpful to acknowledge amongst ourselves that routine is only feasible in a world where other people aren’t making demands on your time. There is disharmony in decentralized management – in a world where other people depend on other people in unpredictable and unequal ways. And I know it’s easy for me to say but I wouldn’t really want the people around me to feel guilty for being open to those disruptions. I wouldn’t want anybody to feel guilty for being generous with their time.
Of course, the next step beyond sentiment is implementing policies that allow people to be open to others in that way without risking financial precarity and/or unemployment.
If all goes well, this will be my last semester of course work before moving into the research and writing portion of my program. By and large, I think that horizon has been my primary motivation to keep things moving. But I also spend too much time online. I know that my fellow students and I are staring down a shifting job market, limited summer prospects, and a host of academic institutions that feel incredibly detached from the lived experience around us.
In the face of that uncertainty, I thought I might reflect quickly on the reasons I’ve chosen to persist in academia despite the growing possibility that permanent homes will be hard to find. Just like earlier, I wonder if sketching out my own motivations won’t serve as a point of measurement for anyone who reads this – justification for those who want to keep with it, or for those who haven’t quite forgiven themselves for wanting to leave it all behind.
I’ve always been somewhat uncompromising in my approach to academic life. I’ve never (or, at least, rarely) let it take up more mental, temporal, or financial bandwidth than I want it to. When it came time to start my PhD, I stubbornly chose four-hours of daily commute over moving my family to a new (more-expensive) city, despite protests from nearly everyone I spoke with along the way. I haven’t regretted it.
Now, with the future of academic institutions and the job market incredibly unclear, I stick with it because it is a space in which I can do the normative and political work that I want to do. I send out applications to non-academic jobs each week and, in the meantime, leverage my position to engage issues that I think are significant to people far removed from the ivory tower – the places I grew up in. If the university was no longer conducive to that work, or it was threatening to consume resources that I didn’t want to give it, I think that I would leave.
As I write these things, I can’t help but think of the people closest to me who have a harder time telling academia to Eat Shit when it sends emails at three in the morning. I also can’t help but recognize that I write these things as a white, heterosexual man. Academia was always ready to be more welcoming to me than it has been to so many others.
On a quieter level, I also think of the people whose work simply doesn’t align with academia the way it once did – those who find themselves afraid to admit that, maybe, their activism and research skills can be just as valuable without a PhD in front of their name. It takes so many years to get to this point that it can be hard to imagine any other home than this. Just like earlier, I’d hope those people knew that it was okay to subjugate academia to the type of person they wanted to be and, if it didn’t listen, cut it loose.
Maybe the question of whether to stick with it isn’t so existential to you. I don’t want to make mountains out of molehills. But I do think that sticking it out means being deliberate about what you are willing to give and being unashamed to find your meaning elsewhere if you need to.
To wrap up, I thought I’d put some of my goals to page for the sake of keeping myself accountable.
1. Turning (cancelled) conference papers into articles: This year, I focused all my conference proposals on ideas that I felt more politically invested in than years past. Factory farming, especially. Things I talked about outside of school but hadn’t yet connected to the ideas central to my dissertation. Now that those conferences are either postponed or cancelled, I’d like to use my summer to turn at least one of those proposals into a full-fledged article. After my exams, I will give these ideas some attention and see if I can come up with a viable plan to get something done.
2. Volunteering: As much as I’ve talked here about connecting my academic work to my activism, the reality is that my activism has been tremendously shallow for the last four years. Even with things shut down due to COVID-19, there are opportunities for me to give my time to important causes or donate. If you have any suggestions, let me know!
3. Streaming! This one is probably the most risky of the three, since I’ve never quite admitted to the full breadth of my nerdiness on social media, but I’d like to try my hand at videogame streaming starting in June. I’ve got the software downloaded, the accounts set up, and just need to do some testing before I’m ready to roll. I think that streaming can be such a toxic space and I’m curious to see if I can’t carve out a quieter, more peaceable space for those that want it.
Listening: Delta - Mumford and Sons
Reading: Dune - Frank Herbert
Drinking: Ace Hill Peach Radler