Boo hoo blues

Posted on | March 8, 2010 | No Comments

I went on holiday last month for the first time ever, I think, since I began working in academia. Of course, there have been lots of trips before – many that wouldn’t have happened without a job to pay for the airfare – but they have all involved work. The exceptions have been holidays spent with family for Christmas, which is necessary and wonderful, but somehow not the same as time away from all communication and everything regular. For two weeks I didn’t check email, read a Word document, or type. I went to bed early, watched pirated DVDs in air-con between beach-side swimming and reading sessions, and ate a lot.

Before leaving I was joking to my old boss that I might not come back because I could be so overwhelmed by the experience. I’ve been struggling to finish my book, and I still haven’t finished, even though it was due at the end of January. Boarding the plane was a bit like going to my cousin’s wedding in 1999, a time when I had to be a bridesmaid in Sydney just days before my Honours thesis was due. The temptation to run away from academia has been a major feature of my experience ever since.

I hadn’t taken any significant time off for a year. The State of the Industry conference took a whole lot of energy that I’m not sure I’ll ever find again, and the trouble with public events like that is the sense of finality when it’s over. I went back to work the next week, wrote a few more abstracts and chapters, and organised a masterclass with a visiting Professor before Christmas.

I’ve come back to a new admin role in my Department (Honours co-ordinator), twice as many graduate students as last year, and an ongoing headache caused by the institutional inclination to conduct all departmental business via email. I’m well rested, but immediately exhausted, and I can’t see how to change it.

I’m hoping this is just a symptom of having the manuscript partly written. The subject of the book is the intimacy of work in middle class information jobs, and though it’s based on the interviews I’ve done with others, it’s my own battle with the phenomenon that is proving so hard to wrestle into readable form.

On the flight over to Bangkok I noticed a number of recent films with characters troubled by their over-investment in work. I watched The Proposal, Love Happens and Where the Wild Things Are. Even the latter I couldn’t help reading through the lens of my project, given the intensity of the scenes with Max and his mum. (I had to miss the Eddie Murphy vehicle, Imagine That, to watch An Education, which I should probably write about separately). Thinking about it now, I wonder whether I was so moved by the Jonze film because it reminded me of my childhood (I really loved the original book), and the excitement of unknown possibilities. And of course, the film anticipated my own holiday escape to an island for a utopian adventure free from the cares of the adult world.

One of the resolutions I made waiting for the plane coming back was to try to write here more often. I know that I’m still dealing with the change from being a “research only” academic to teaching and research, and my regular shocks, confusion and frustration are partly the reason I haven’t been writing here lately. If the workload feels immense, the shift to Sydney University is also something I’m still coming to terms with given the issues it brings to bear on my day to day life.

I also wonder if some of the feelings of disconnection and isolation I’m having might be to do with the form of intimacy that have become routine in the many multi-platform mini-broadcasts of friends and acquaintances on a range of online media. They make me happy, but increasingly I wonder if they are part of the apparatus that means I don’t get to know very much about people in the timeframes structuring my existence right now.

And here begin the dilemmas of a thirty-something blogger.


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