It happens every time I get some time to myself. I am finished teaching, grading, and answering student emails (usually). I have grandiose plans for my break that usually include catching up on work that I have been neglecting for one reason or another: I’m going to read x number of important academic texts that are necessary for my work and make me feel inadequate because I know them by title only; I will finish that writing/editing that was due three weeks ago; I am going to finish my qualifying lists once and for all and be the envy of PhD students everywhere; and, lastly, if I have time I’ll read a book for pleasure.
The only thing on this list that I accomplished was the last one. Not included in the list was ‘watch Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, and American Pickers marathons until brain resembles something like the filling of a Twinkie’ even though that is certainly what I accomplished over the Christmas/Saturnalia holidays.
This scourge occurs not only during holidays, though that it when it is most prevalent. More usually I find myself setting equally lofty goals when I am going to be travelling with, in my mind, nothing better to do for hours on end while waiting in airports and flying to exotic locales such as Wisconsin. Of course, it is amazing what the dream of getting lots of exciting work done looks like when faced with the realities of airline travel in the 21st century. Because I’m a scholar on a budget, I usually get the only flight operating before the airport opens which means I either have to stay up extremely late the night before or get up before I’ve even entered one nanosecond of REM sleep. In both of these scenarios I am a Gary Busey-sized mess of a human by the time I get to the airport (which is usually at least an hour away because, well, it’s the airport so it’s in an undesirable area). Even though I am encrusted with sleep filth, I still remain optimistic about diving into my studious work once comfortably seated in the middle seat of economy between people who come from cultures where armrest etiquette takes a backseat to personal comfort so my elbows remain planted firmly into my sides. Still, I am a scholar going to a place to do scholarly things AND I finally have time to sit and be one with my work so I am going to take advantage of the fact while I am trapped in this jet-powered projectile.
By this point I’ve usually got my books and papers shoved into the seat pocket in front of me thus sacrificing scarce leg room for the greater good I will thrust upon the world with my musings on Victorian obscenity. Yes, this will all be worth it someday. I just have a short hop over to Minneapolis and then another five hours of productivity with spotty and expensive internet access in the main terminal until I board my second aircraft en route to my final destination. Yes, this will be a trip for the ages and my supervisors and colleagues alike will commend me for my commitment to my work.
I’m going to stop with the descriptions now and just skip to the end. Basically, I will have got nothing done on any of my flights or layovers and I usually end up by eavesdropping on conversations or engaging in a bit of judgement of physical appearances of fellow travellers. One of the things I like to do is try and think of as many airport/plane jokes as I can from my youth spent watching Caroline’s Comedy Hour and Evening at the Improv and see how many of them are actually true. My most current obsession is to locate a Cinnabon and observe the lineup.
Apart from all of this procrastination while I travel comes the confession that I began this post with: the fact that, when left to my own devices, I will do as little work as possible. This is evidenced by my most recent break between semesters. This is the great conundrum of grad student life: we work our asses off during the semester and neglect the things that we ought to be taking care of first and foremost only to fail to rectify these things when we have the time to do it. For me, at least, the promise of an extended period of zoned out reality television viewing and eggnog sipping is too much to pass up and I wind up by doing little of anything and then laying on the academic guilt doubly thick in hindsight. I think this might be where some grad students veer off the track; I’ve certainly felt that way a number of times. I’m determined to stick to my deadlines, however, and there have been plenty of setbacks similar to this one before so I’m not too worried. I also don’t mean to trouble the gentle and loyal readers of the Fairly Serious Blog with my own complaints about the inefficiency of my prioritizing.
By way of conclusion, I ought to mention that the book I read over the holidays was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If you are ever feeling like what you do is kind of worthless, this might not be the book for you. I’m onto JG Ballard’s Crash now because, hey, what better way to cheer yourself up than by reading a novel about a fellow who is turned on by immaculately orchestrated car crashes?
Welcome back to winter semester, all you smart people out there. How did you spend your holidays?