I’m rounding towards the Fall semester with just 3 weeks to go. After being off from teaching and service for the last eight months for a sabbatical, the impending teaching load is daunting and somewhat overwhelming, especially knowing now that my path towards creating traditional scholarship requires a considerable amount of free time to “screw around” with the materials, then my writing, then the god-for-saken editing process where 90% of the work gets done painfully.
Since January, I ended up delivering many more talks than had been originally scheduled and finding new pathways into discussing Digital Pedagogy as a viable field within Digital Humanities. I also discovered that what I really want to work on is a bifurcated project concerning data mining of literary annual Gothic short stories and the development of narrative voice in this feminized genre (of book). My material culture bumped right up against my Digital Humanities imperatives. And, my Twitter and Facebook colleagues became instrumental in developing collaborative projects.
In the end, I accomplished a lot. But, I return to a department that is seemingly expectant of traditional scholarship — written, printed, published articles.
I don’t think I fit that mold as a traditional academic. Hmm…
After traveling, talking, Skyping, writing, editing so intensely during the first 5 months of sabbatical, I returned in early June to throw myself into my training for my upcoming half Ironman triathlons. The training was just as intense as those first 5 months, but they did something for me: quantifiable results that demonstrated very clear success and failure. During one of my big races, I was ready, primed, vibrating (perhaps too much). But, my bike broke only 6 miles into the 56-mile ride. There was still a 13.1 mile half marathon to run but I wouldn’t officially finish the race. Bummer. After a 2-hour pity party, a fellow racer and a few other good friends whooshed by in good spirits. I decided to put my bad attitude aside and run the course anyway — which ended in a personal best for all half marathon times for me (1:46:46).
I returned 2 weeks later to race the same course in an all-women’s triathlon and was extremely pleased with the results, to the point that I’m considering doing a full Ironman next year. See? Failure. Success. But the first race failure was contingent upon my equipment. I made some rookie mistakes (not getting my bike tuned up before the big race, being overtrained and tired, completely stressing myself the week prior to the race, falling apart emotionally). It was the support of my teammates that saw me through all of it.
Among all of these events and exciting times, my family had a few turning events, including 2 deaths and 1 life-threatening illness that still hovers over my mother and stepfather. My extreme isolation (to get writing done) was tempered by training and then lots of chatter and support from colleagues and friends. During this sabbatical, I was able to distance myself from my institutional life enough to re-boot my life in a sort of way. You see, I love my work, my job, my students, the choices I’ve made, but working in education and academia is a world where the ego needs to be strong and self-sufficient. There’s more criticism than congratulations, it seems. After a tenure battle that completely devastated me and, I’m sure gravely affected my colleagues, I couldn’t find any happiness in this career. It seemed like too much to ask of me, this continual drive to succeed when the definition for success is constantly shifting. During sabbatical, I needed to get myself back to that person who enjoys generosity, friendship, intellectual rigor, challenges. Last year, I could suck the air out of the room in a second with my bitterness and anger.
I found it again, that happiness, that generosity. I knew that I needed to find it again because I have to walk back into the classroom and be a role model and mentor to these young people who will struggle more than I ever have.
I find myself counting up what I’ve done on this sabbatical. If it’s enough. After revising, re-revising, editing, painfully cutting, culling my big project, the dissertation become literary history of literary annuals, the university press that originally wanted it, found that their Board didn’t want it. The editor, a great person and really fantastic colleague, was at a loss. I got word of this rejection the day after I didn’t complete my big race. …… universe?
We can’t live and die by the rules that have been established in academia, though. This is a book project that should be a digital project. But, I made it a book project because I want the imprimatur of also being a traditional scholar. I want to fit into that mold. Or I did.
This second race, the one where I sought redemption and was racing with an injured ankle and wrist (from falling over on the bike), was low-key. No tearful tapering week or emotional breakdowns. Instead, I tried to focus on supporting the people around me who are training to race Ironman Canada at the end of August. I cooked a pre-race meal and didn’t worry about my performance until race morning when it dawned on me how badly I wanted to prove myself. But to whom? Everyone around me understood, but I was secretive about my hopeful finishing time … at least until it slipped out in a competitive rush the night before to two close friends. When I said it aloud, that time, it became more real and surprisingly not news to my compatriots. I thought I had been feigning being a laid-back person; yeah, none of them bought that.
I had to trust my training. I had done the work. Another teammate suggested visualizing positive outcomes throughout the entire race — not what could go wrong, but how I would make success happen. She based this in faith. After we began our 1.2 mile swim, I began visualizing the entire swim — churning among the hundreds of people fighting for a spot in a narrow river. I visualized the transition to the bike and stopped thinking about “what if I get a flat?” I sprinted into the transition to drop off my bike and start the run, my favorite part. Despite the heat, I kept thinking about the incremental way-points between each mile…and the smiling, laughing, encouraging volunteers who overwhelmed the course. Then seeing my teammates. This was the first race where I kept a positive attitude the entire time, visualizing my success with each step, not looking at my watch to see if I’d make a certain time.
At the finish line, I realized that I came within 5 mins of my goal time, the time that put me in with the faster women on my team. I went from struggling back in February to going farther than I ever thought possible in July. After all, pain is momentary, but race results stay forever on the Internet! WOOHOO!!
So, this is a long-winded analogy to get to the academic atmosphere — collegiality comes only when I contribute to it, not when I take away from it. I raced my race. 500 or so women out there around me raced theirs. We all celebrated each other, competed not-so-subtly against each other, participated in something we love.
I found it again. After the race was over, my elation caused a sudden blubbering. I had done it. I succeeded. What a great feeling….that soon dissipated 2 days later as I realized that sabbatical was ending, and I would return to the department where I seem to have become part of a group, the tenured faculty who are responsible for creating a congenial, contemplative, rigorous arena for exploration.
This semester brings me to teach a Digital Humanities course for the Library School — completely online. And next Spring heralds a generous and exciting invitation to teach an undergraduate course on Digital Dickens and possibly a graduate course on Digital Humanities (depending upon the budget). My colleagues have completely surprised me. I won’t sit quietly fuming in committee meetings any longer. Or hold grudges.
Instead, I have a series of dinner parties planned and look forward to this latest crop of students. We don’t have much in the CSU system — we’re celebrating our new contract because there weren’t any cuts to salaries and healthcare, but no raises for the 4th year. This is what I signed up for, though, the life of an academic. And with that a good life balance to be enjoyed over food, family, and friends.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Rosemary Feal reminded me (over Twitter) that I have, indeed, done enough.