My last post feels like a lifetime ago, along with the positive hopeful attitude it reflects. The end of the the semester is always a sprint, but it has become much moreso now that I have taken on a faculty governance role that entails participation in faculty meetings and Board meetings. I feel drained, exhausted, and irritable. But soon it will be over, and I will be able to experience my first “normal” summer in many years — uninterrupted stretches of time to devote to activities primarily of my own choosing. Between the pandemic, buying a house, and then doing a ton of travel, this hasn’t happened in a while. Other than the pandemic, all of those things were net positives for my life, yet they didn’t represent the kind of recharge and regroup I’ve thought of as a normal part of my annual routine.
Category: life of the mind
Nature is healing: Reports from a self-imposed sabbatical
As long-time readers know, about a year ago, I declared a self-imposed sabbatical from all academic work that wasn’t directly required by my job. While I created a carve-out for invited lectures, I announced that I would say no to an invited contributions to journals or edited volumes, any op-ed writing, and (especially!) any peer reviews. My only writing outlet would be the blog, which I hoped would help reconnect me to the fun of writing again.
I think it — worked? Continue reading “Nature is healing: Reports from a self-imposed sabbatical”
Be the navel you want to gaze at in the world
It’s time for that oldest of blogging customs: explaining why you haven’t been blogging. This moment is especially fraught since I didn’t declare that I was taking “a hiatus.” My readers are feeling tense, abandoned. Didn’t Adam say he was back? Wasn’t he taking a whole big sabbatical from writing, all so he could blog again? What happened?
A lot has happened. Interesting things have happened in class. I’ve read good books. I’ve had illuminating conversations with friends that sparked my thinking. I’ve watched TV shows and movies and gone to concerts. I even noted with interest that a prominent figure in my field wrote a widely-shared article that divided readers! But not even my appetite for ill-advised controversy could rouse me from my blogological slumber.
It’s not a lack of material that caused this unannounced hiatus. Rather, it is the fact that having a full-time job turns out to be a full-time job. Continue reading “Be the navel you want to gaze at in the world”
The Impossible Profession
The first week of this semester was strange. On the one hand, my classes went awesome, at least from my perspective. My two Shimer seminars have had engaging discussions where everybody talked at least once, every class (which is harder than you’d think, even in a relatively small group of 10-14), and in my Ethics class, I’ve hit a pretty good balance between lecture and discussion in a larger class of 30. More than that, in all my classes I have thought new thoughts and made new connections because of our discussions. I leave the classroom energized and happy. On the other hand, everything outside of class felt like an absolute disaster. I’ve had to adjust my sleep schedule for an early start — the same schedule I had during the year of intense overwork that low-key ruined my life and let to my self-proclaimed sabbatical — and my classes are back-to-back-to-back with only 15-minute breaks between them. My service role also produced more stress and demands on my time than I anticipated this early in the semester. The result was that I felt like I had no time to breathe, much less think — at least outside the classroom.
I’ve never thought of myself primarily as a teacher. When I’m asked to provide a short bio, I often say I’m a writer, teacher, and translator — and I intend it in that order. Like most academics, I viewed writing and research as The Real Thing, with teaching as the way we paid the bills. And like most academics, once I actually set foot in the classroom, I found it exciting and engaging and even addictive. Continue reading “The Impossible Profession”
The truth in literature
A turning point in my life came when I enrolled in AP Lit in my senior year of high school. My teacher, Mr. Ricketts, was hands-off to the point of being neglectful. He basically handed us a list of classic works of literature and encouraged us to write sample papers to practice for the AP test — as few or as many as we liked. Every week we did an exercise where people brought in exemplary sentences to try to unravel how they “worked.” Only a couple texts were explicitly assigned as a whole-class read, mainly Greek tragedies. I was in heaven, finally given explicit permission to do what I had been doing throughout junior high and high school in any case — reading and thinking about whatever I wanted.
Cultivating Better Habits
It feels like I have to make a decision about Twitter. It’s hard for me, because Twitter has been a big part of my life for a long time. I keep connected with some great friends via Twitter, I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities, and I’ve enjoyed a ton of extremely funny humor in that esoteric, self-referential mode that seemingly only Twitter can deliver. I hate that a wealthy idiot like Elon Musk is forcing this on me, but he really is. I’ve weathered a lot of bad times on Twitter — including the Trump administration and, on a personal level, multiple waves of right-wing harassment — and kept coming back. But this time I can feel myself de-cathecting somehow.
Report from a Self-Declared Quasi-Sabbatical
A few months ago, I declared that I was experiencing burnout and needed a break. I still need to work for a living, so that break took the form of a “sabbatical” from all writing for publication and concentrated research for a year. After completing my outstanding writing obligations, I would accept no invitations to write for special journal issues, to pitch op-ed pieces, to do peer review, etc., etc. If I needed an intellectual outlet, I would blog (or work on the short book on Star Trek that I had somewhat hypocritically agreed to do even amid this sabbatical).
So far, it has gone fairly well. My brain has gradually healed. Continue reading “Report from a Self-Declared Quasi-Sabbatical”
The traveling life
I’ve always been a homebody, paradoxically because I don’t like to feel trapped. I mostly hated family vacations growing up because I had no real control over what I did and when, and I also resented how often we were trapped at church with nothing to do. Getting a car heped, but what was really intoxicating was moving to Chicago and realizing that they had a system that could get me home at any time, with no car, without waiting for a ride, without having to stand awkwardly as the driver cleared stuff out of the seat, etc., etc. And when I was in grad school, trips were associated with either visiting home (hence the trappedness again) or attending conferences (mainly the AAR, meaning the constant humiliation of the job market) — and, above all, with a high degree of financial precarity. Traveling seemed like a good way to get money extracted from me in unlimited quantities. Overall, for many years I followed Socrates’s example, never leaving the city limits of Chicago (sometimes gerrymandering in Evanston since you could get there via the L).
Hence it’s somewhat surprising how big a part of my life traveling has become. Continue reading “The traveling life”
A Sabbath Rest
I am tired. I recognize that I’m privileged, that I don’t have kids, that we were able to keep our jobs, etc., etc. But I’m still tired. I lived through a pandemic, I lived through completely retooling my teaching for a format it was never meant to be in, and on top of that I bought a new apartment. Originally this summer, I was planning on starting a book project — a fun one, even — but I kept… not starting. It would have been my third book in three years. I couldn’t.
I deferred that project and since then have been doing this thing called “relaxing.” I’m working slowly and steadily toward things that I eventually need to get done — class prep mainly, but also a small handful of shorter writing commitments — but the majority of my days are free-form. Some days I read comic books, other days I dip into scholarly works I’m curious about. I play my NES Classic Edition and play piano. I sit around and argue with people on social media, or stare out the window, or do one of the hundred minor chores available to a new homeowner. In other words, I do some things that could be classified as “work,” but not Work in the strong sense that has dominated my life since college and maybe even before.
Looking back, my life has been dominated by a sense that the life of the mind I was enjoying was a temporary fluke and I must get the most out of it while I can. Continue reading “A Sabbath Rest”
It’s fair to say that I am a productive person, both academically and more generally. I view getting my work done as an opportunity to finally get some work done. I’ve written before about the somewhat sad origins of this productivity, which started as a survival strategy of being always above reproach. But I do mostly enjoy my symptom. Last week, for instance, I far exceeded my own expectations by finishing a talk and a major administrative task, both of which I thought would dominate much of the next week and a half — and that evening I was riding what can only be described as a productivity high.
Normally, I try to schedule things so that a project is ramping up just as another is winding down. As I was finalizing the manuscript of The Prince of This World, for instance, I was already beginning to work with Carlo Salzani on our edited volume, Agamben’s Philosophical Lineage. Every so often, though, I “clear the decks” in a situation where I am in no real position to start something new, where I can just barely keep treading water with my day-to-day obligations of teaching and doing things associated with deaning. I am living in one of those moments: all the irons in my fire for the past few months are either finished (an article based on my Australia/New Zealand talk, my Loraux translation) or tantalizingly close (wrapping up the edited volume).
Notionally, being “done” is the goal of all my labors. Sometimes I catch myself thinking things like, “It’ll be nice to be able to do things like read Proust once I’m done” — as though I could be globally done with every project and finally relax. But as anyone who has skimmed a summary of Lacan could tell you, that’s not actually how it works. I may once have done my chores promptly as a means to the end of having them done and clearing out — in the style of Cool Hand Luke — a brief respite of freedom. As a fully-baked adult, though, I have turned that fateful corner so that the ostensible goal is only a means to the means themselves. And so, “clearing the decks” could be better termed “falling off a cliff.”
That’s when it becomes clear that I still bear the scars of the original formation of my routine, which I adopted to quell anxiety and assert some minimal control over my situation. And the same reversal holds — in the absence of the defense mechanism, anxiety and a feeling of powerlessness arise unbidden, regardless of whether they are objectively justified. Right now, I have plenty of things to sincerely worry about, from Trump all the way down to the major institutional transition Shimer is going through. But I know from past experience that the surplus-anxiety released by idleness can attach itself to anything: the potential health problems of a healthy dog, for instance, or whether our landlord will renew our lease when there’s literally no possible reason he wouldn’t.
Maybe on some level these periods of workohol withdrawal are healthy for me. Maybe it’s okay to do the bare minimum sometimes, to sit with the fact that a lot of very important factors in my life are beyond my control. Or maybe — wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before — learning to relax can be my next task!