This is the week that, if we were a different sort of university, we would have Fall Break. But we don't get a fall break, only a spring break. And Thanksgiving comes far too late in the semester to be much of a rejuvenating break at all. Every single person I've talked to this week has been cranky, irritable, tired, and feeling overworked. Me included. Even though I know that this semester is lighter/easier than many I've had before. So I'm cranky and also irritated at myself for even feeling that way. After all, it's my own damn fault I'm overworked this week, since I obviously didn't do enough over the weekend.
This is the point in the term where my rebellious procrastination starts kicking in, and so over the weekend I persuaded myself that I needed some time for family & house stuff. But now, this week, it seems that almost every minute is devoted to teaching and administrative tasks -- few of which are that terrible in and of themselves, but I quickly get cranky when I'm not getting enough time to myself -- time for my "own work" as well as time for exercise and sleep. That phrase "my own work" -- which in my field is common parlance for "my research/writing" as opposed to "teaching/admin/service" is quite insidious, I think. Because it reifies that divide between writing and teaching, between the social mission of academia and the realm of the so-called purely intellectual. I don't really believe in that distinction, and it's one I try to blur or trouble in conceiving of my teaching and research projects. But it's at this micro-level of the day's to-do list that I can feel my heart sinking and my rebel self (who is not cool and James Deanish, but more like my inner 6 year old) popping up.
When I was six, I was in first grade, and I was bored out of my mind. I had been reading on my own for several years, but most of my classmates were still learning how. So most of the day was spent taking turns reading aloud, slowly and painfully. It was best when we had individual worksheets to do, because I could just get through it quickly. All I wanted to do was to read my own books. I would be perfectly happy sitting quietly and reading most of the day. I never talked in class or got in fist fights, or peed on the floor, or any of the stuff my classmates did. But my teacher was really threatened by this. She hated me to be doing my own thing -- even though she had to have realized that I was working at a much more advanced level. So she would try to catch me reading my own stuff and then she would give me extra worksheet crap to do. She dug out old "readers" from the 1950s that were in her closet and made me read those. Eventually she put me to work *grading* worksheets for her. This was my first introduction to what I would later learn from Foucault about prison design and strategy. It was less threatening to put the prisoner to work assisting the system than to allow small freedoms. What did it teach me? That my teacher was kind of stupid, and that she didn't like kids who already knew how to read.
This was in a smallish town, a town with a college in it, but which at its economic and social base was still very rural. There were no enrichment classes, magnet schools, or AP courses. This conflict between my desire to read on my own and what the school demanded of me was repeatedly played out throughout all my years in school. It's startling to realise, too, how many times I wound up being the unofficial or even official tutor or teacher's aide. I didn't mind helping other people, and in junior high had a very nice career working in the reading lab (where if no one was in for a session, I could, finally, read on my own). But that was always just a weaker substitute for what I wanted to be doing, which was thinking about other things on my own.
So when my week is completely filled with meetings, memo-writing, grading, and other things that are not especially onerous, but not intellectually challenging, then my 6 year old self starts showing up. She's well behaved on the surface but bored and angry underneath. She knows it's helpful and good to do the institution's tasks, but she wishes it didn't have to always be that way.