Some of the best advice I’ve heard about academic productivity (re: publish or perish) has also been some of the most enigmatic to me.
Kerry Ann Rockquemore, whose book, Monday Motivators and organizational strategies were major keys as I finished my dissertation, reliably encourages academics at every level to write every day for at least 30 minutes.
As a trained social scientist, I struggle finding things to write about. Whither be the data for all this writing.
Fortunately, I’m ethnographer. And I believe in autoethnography, the method many of my sister-scholar foremothers used to record their experiences and render publications that have shaped my own epistemology.
So if I’m going to write every day for at least 30 minutes, I’m going to write about my life. I figure it’s 1) an easy way to get in some practice, and 2) a means of turning on the tap for doing more academic writing later each day.
This morning I’m sitting on my boyfriend’s couch in Durham, N.C., preparing to leave him for the third time in as many years, and travel to Denton, Texas, where I work as an assistant professor.
I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my emotions in check (I think), but looking back at how much I struggled to get work done last week, I know that the return to campus is weighing on me.
I’m returning to a state university system where visitors, students, faculty, and staff can now legally bring their guns on campus. (I have no misgiving that they weren’t illegally there before; I read the campus crime reports.)
I’m returning to a tiny apartment with low ceilings, but great light. Preferred proximity to campus, but a complete lack of privacy — I can hear life unfolding in the three apartments surrounding mine, and I know my neighbors hear my phone calls and other intimacies, too.
I’m returning to a city where I lack community. Reading bell hooks’ “Sisters of the Yam” last year, I saw myself in her own realization that her exorbitant phone bills were a testament to being estranged from community. The phone was a lifeline to people who loved on her, cared for her, supported her.
But Twitter is free. And it’s awesome. It’s the source of several strong social ties for me. It’s where I find Blackademics and allies, old friends, new memes and pop-culture tidbits I’d otherwise miss.
Though my heart wants to be profoundly sad about returning to Texas, gratitude wins out. I have an awesome job, the support of my dean, co-workers who are generally pretty cool (and even better, predictable). I work with students who are curious, driven, and best of all, kind. A smaller apartment means less to clean and more time to practice living with less “stuff.” And being alone means I have space and time to focus on my work. In theory.
Most of all, I am grateful for my ability to relax a bit over the last three months.
Earlier this summer, my boyfriend and I were recounting what our lives have looked like since we met in 2012. I was in the middle of my Ph.D. program. He was soon to be admitted to his cross-continent M.B.A. program – while working a full-time job that kept him bouncing around within the upper 48 for weeks at a time. He finished his degree and began looking for new challenges. I ran out of funding and started working full-time as a newspaper editor in another part of the Triangle. My father died. My father’s mother died. I defended my dissertation one Monday and started the job in Texas the next. Someone recently asked us: “Have you guys had a break?”
The answer is emphatically no. We’re part of a generation of the Black middle class striving to do better than our parents did in a global economy that withstood a recession worse than any they ever experienced. The keys to our mobility come with 30-year payment plans and accrue interest faster than we can pay it.
But by budgeting and sharing space for the summer, we were able to spend quality time together, a temporary remedy for the nine months where the days apart outnumber the days together 10 to 1. And the unbeatable perks of academic life — being location-independent — meant days spent working alongside my girls, or lounging on the couch catching up on Game of Thrones. Date night became a thing again. And instead of driving through the backcountry in the wild West, tiptoeing into my silent apartment after the neighbors had gone to bed, I was picked up at the airport, and welcomed back to the city I love by the man I love. With pizza.
In a few hours, I’ll begin the three-day, 980-some mile trek back to Denton and the #tenuretrackhustle. I will probably cry somewhere between the last Bojangles and the crumbling lanes of I-20 in East Texas.
The key to happiness, according to the audiobook keeping me company for the first few hours, is “want nothing + do anything = have everything.”
I’ll try to keep that in mind.