Clearing the decks

Yesterday I finished a draft of a chapter for an edited volume. I have asked a friend to look it over and will likely submit it in the next few days. Next week I will give a keynote address at a conference. And with that, I will have cleared my entire academic to-do list, at least in terms of fresh work. There will be various requests for revisions, copy-editing queries, etc., but the part that requires the most energy is done.

I believe I’ve reached this point only twice in my academic career — once a year after I finished my PhD (when I was so determined to tie up any loose ends that I sent an email asking if my editor wanted to do a second edition of Žižek and Theology, solely to get the expected answer of no and deactivate a line in my contract that committed me to a second edition if desired), and once after my monastic summer in San Francisco, when I wanted to clear the decks so that I could stop talking about writing a book on the devil and finally do it. The first deck-clearing provided the space for me to focus primarily on teaching as I tried to find my feet at Shimer College, while the second set me up for the research project that I have been working on, in one form or another, ever since.

As my unofficial sabbatical begins in earnest, I wonder what will come of it. In fact, I am now wondering how different it will really be. Looking at my list of articles for general-interest publications, I see that I have tended to do maybe 3-5 such pieces — mostly very short by academic standards — per year. Will cutting that out really make a difference? I also tend to devote my research time during the school year to reading, note-taking, and responding to revision requests and copy-editing queries for stuff I did during the summer every year, unofficial “sabbtical” or not. And of course, most hypocritically, I do plan to work on a book project: a short, low-stress book on Star Trek, more on the scale of Creepiness than Neoliberalism’s Demons. I would normally churn out such a manuscript over summer vacation, but this time I plan to take a more slow-and-steady approach — to keep me from getting stressed out, but also to keep me from getting bored.

That’s the challenge. After a year of burnout, I need to cut back on something, and so I’m cutting back on what I have control of. But it’s also my favorite part! Though I do go through periods where I find it hard to accept how little my writing has contributed to any concrete career advancement, I am mostly successful in remembering that I sought out an academic job so that I could write, rather than writing for the sake of an academic job. And on a more immediate practical level, I have noticed in the past that during periods when I am focusing solely on teaching, I tend to become overinvested in unhelpful, anxiety-producing ways.

That’s where the blogging comes in. The function of abstaining from pitching op-eds is less about directly avoiding the work and stress of writing an op-ed and more about giving myself permission to blog again — rather than worrying about “wasting” a good idea on a blog post. And hopefully being back in the habit of blogging will allow me to keep in touch with writing even during those last intense weeks of the semester when it seems like I don’t have time for anything but the mad scramble to wrap up my classes. As I said in my earlier post, I want writing to feel fun again, not to feel like it’s about checking things off a list — or adding things to a list, for that matter.

And one sign that my return to blogging is proving successful is that I am now indulging in the signature vice of the blogger — meta-blogging, blogging about blogging. I’m back, baby! Gaze upon my navel, ye mighty, and despair!