How does one do this, this work, research, write, lark? It is hard: and I am aware that I say this from a distinct position of privilege.
I’ve just, very late in the day, submitted a presentation for a symposium. It was supposed to be in by Wednesday – instead, I submitted it at 0315 this morning. Not my best showing ever, it has to be admitted. I used to be the kind of person who’d rage at people who submitted so late – screech ‘Why didn’t they plan?’, ‘How could they be so silly?’. The answer, I have found, is that they had to grow up, be adults and have responsibilities. I’ve now turned into that person: I have a job, which takes up set hours of my day, I run a small editorial business, I have cats I have to look after (and I love them, I do), and a partner whom I want and need to spend time with. I also have my parents and grandfather to look out for (not that they need it, most of the time, but still), and a career to, increasingly with difficulty, get off the ground. Somewhere in there, I’d love to be able to read – just read, dammit – and play my piano.
I have realized that I was able to conduct my PhD in the way I did because I didn’t really have a life outside of it until W showed up. With my life outside academic work becoming increasingly complex, I am beginning to understand the troubles faced by all the people whom I used to complain about.
I’m sorry. I really am.
But I’m also faced with people who, within or on the closer fringes of academia than I, nearer to their career goals, complain that they lack time to do the work they want to do. This agitates me for two reasons. One, because I feel as though they’re closer to having the opportunity than I, and I feel rather annoyed that they would waste that, or not realise that it was there, or take it for granted. But then, two, I feel guilty, and slightly worried, because I don’t know what their life inside academia is like, and thus shouldn’t judge – but I also worry that the career I aim for is not going to be what I expect, that I am not going to be able to do the things I want to do, either.
And then, there’s this question of desire. It’s always there. We expect, I think, in academia, to get to do what we want to do, always and all the time. I’m not sure people in any other industry, vocational or otherwise, expect this. So, why do we? I suppose because we’re driven, nervous, analytical people. I don’t want to over romanticize or generalize about academia, but those characteristics are commonplace. We are, and ever have been, a lucky, fortunate, privileged, over hyperbolized bunch: and now, with jobs increasingly hard to find elsewhere, and the pressure towards ‘education, education, education’, we’re finding the marketplace an increasing squeeze. So we work, and work, at jobs that are not quite what we expected, and we toil at applications for something other.
When, what we really wanted, was to be thinking.