Monday, May 14, 2012

Summertime and the Living is Moderately Easy

Hello, dear readers.

It's been a crazy semester for me.  Over a period of about three and a half months, in addition to a full course load, the following things happened:

-I moved 30 miles due west, doubling my commute time.  With moving came all the attendant time-sucks- packing and unpacking, stocking fridges and cabinets, cleaning and moving furniture and moving it again, and trying to re-establish a sense of home, comfort and familiarity.
-I had two cars break down on me, after which my commute to school changed from an hour-long drive to a 2+ hour train ride.
-I had my dear cat Simon get very ill, which consumed my life and mind and emotional resources for about two weeks.
-I flew to Florida for a weekend to see my sister and her husband on TV.
-I tabled at MoCCA and talked to fans of our comic, met wonderful and creative people, and sold t-shirts.

Needless to say it was hectic, exhausting, occasionally exciting and sometimes draining.  And it put me irrevocably behind on my coursework and research.  Fortunately my advisor and professors have been incredibly kind, understanding, and generous, and I get to finish my work at a sane pace so I can do work that I am proud to show to others rather than scrambling to turn in something, anything.  It's amazing what a few kind words from a mentor can do- I had tremendous difficulty all semester mustering the mental and physical energy to sit down and focus on the ideas I want to develop when so many major changes and upsets were weighing on me as I rushed relentlessly towards deadlines I could not meet.  After receiving more time on Saturday, I was immediately able to sit down and complete seven hours of uninterrupted research and writing.  It was incredible, and it was something that I  feared, in the dark recesses of my mind, that I had grown incapable of doing.

As much as I want to rest and recharge this summer (which I will do), I also want to continue to be productive.  I will be teaching a summer course, "Heroes, Villains, and Damsels in Distress: The Middle Ages in the Movies," before which I'll want to read up on popular medievalism and pedagogy.  I've TAed for years and led weekly recitations several times, but this will be the first time I'm teaching my very own course.  I'm psyched.

I consider spending a good chunk of my summer time lounging on a beach and immersing myself in X-Files marathons to be essential to maintaining my mental health.  At the same time, though, I like to make sure I stay sharp over the summer, and use the extra time I have to grow as a scholar.  This summer I plan to take some time to identify my professional weaknesses and fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I have a long reading list that I plan to finish by August, including works on pedagogy and writing as well as some studies of gender and ethnicity so that I might narrow in on a dissertation topic a bit more.  I have orals committees to form and more reading lists to compile, and I have some major organizational tasks resulting from a chaotic move that need to get done so I can be productive again.  I'll also be taking two online summer courses through the Continuing Studies department at my school.  I took two last year- these courses don't count towards finishing my coursework, of course, but they afford me opportunities to learn new some things at a leisurely pace and with minimal pressure.  Last year I took 'Reading French for Graduate Students' and 'Themes in Science Fiction' while sitting in outside cafes with cappuccinos, while sitting in the sun in my old backyard, and even while driving down the coast of California over the course of a week for some sightseeing that culminated in the wedding of two dear friends.

As I looked out over the San Francisco horizon,
I pondered Philip K. Dick's use of distopian projection
and political commentary.

This year, like last year, I will be taking one course that applies directly to my studies and where I'd like to take my research with a class in Cultural Anthropology, and one that speaks to my interests outside of my professional work with a class in 'Mythical Themes and Archetypes' (this one in particular is being taken with my comic in mind).  It will be a struggle, as it always is, to balance work and rest, but I'm looking forward to the freedom summer affords me to pursue my interests on my own.

Which leads me to a question I've been pondering for a while now, a question for readers regardless of where you are in your career.  Whether graduate student, adjunct, post-doc or tenure-track professor, how do you like to spend your summers?  How do you balance the need to recuperate from the school year while also developing your ideas and pushing your work forward?

Also: reading suggestions for the summer!  I am all ears.  And eyes, because I'll be reading.


Anonymous said...

For me the summer is about easing the pace. I still do the work, but since I have never taught in the summer (at least not since becoming a prof), the work isn't as frenetic. I can sleep in a bit (though as it gets hotter, I have to get up earlier to walk the dog), and I can spend evenings not getting anxious about the next day. I feel more at ease to take time to do things like cook, garden, call a friend, go to a movie, etc. Also, summer for me is about taking work outside, sometimes accompanied by a delicious drink of some sort, which seems supremely civilized to me.

Jennifer Lynn Jordan said...

Very good advice! I have a tendency to get stuck on my couch if I'm not careful, so I have to remain mindful to get outside whenever I can.

Rick Godden said...

Jenn, I've been thinking about this question too. This is my first summer since finishing the dissertation where I am not teaching. I feel a deep need to rest after a wearying semester, but I also have many deadlines coming up. I'm trying to ease into it. I'm hoping to get into a routine of steady work, as opposed to frenetic sprints of writing/research.

Jennifer Lynn Jordan said...

That's what I'm aiming for too. I tend to operate force myself to operate under fairly chaotic conditions as a rule, so the search for balance goes beyond this summer for me too. Basically I would like to learn how to get through this degree without emotionally and mentally destroying myself, heh.

Jeff said...

When I was an adjunct, I typically spent the summer preparing for the next new class I was asked to teach, because the previous teacher's syllabus often assumed our undergrads had little capacity for sentience. I now spend the summers working, gardening, and praying to keep writing projects, both academic and pop-medieval, from slipping further into permanent incompletion. I'm finding that as I get older, the days fill up with wonderful new things, but sufficient time to read, write, and translate is not among them.

(As for chaos and deadlines, sometimes overwork gives you momentum. When you're juggling five monkeys, what's a sixth? It's getting the first baffled monkey airborne that's the problem.)