Academics are seasonal creatures. Some people grow out of the September to December / January to June schedule after high school, and most of the rest get over it once they’ve gotten past college (and sometimes) graduate school…but for a few people (we happy few!), Labor Day continues to signal the end of the break and the beginning, once again, of the plunge. It’s too bad, too…I always feel like I could get used to my summers off. A soft breeze from the sea…grapes fed to me by adoring fans of my work on the court masque…a harp playing in the background. It’s such a bore, really, to have to leave it behind.
…Um…right. This fantasy is, of course, not quite what academics actually experience (even the grapes part!), though well-meaning people not in the academic world don’t quite get this point. From the perspective of the 9-5 world, an academic’s schedule seems absurdly light. Friends of mine always suggest at the beginning of the summer that “now that you’ve got some time off, why not get a job to help supplement your income?” Or during the year: “Gee, you only teach two days a week…what do you do with the extra time?”
Why, lounge around looking for other fruits to eat, of course!
Sarcasm aside, the truth is that for teachers at any level, summer, or days between classes, are not even remotely “break” times–because there’s always something else we can, and probably should, be doing for professional development, which drives everything in our world from salary to job security. This summer, for instance, I was lucky enough to receive a research grant from my university, and thus had to spend a good deal of time working on revision of my first novel, due out next year, submit my second novel to agents and publishers, begin my third novel, outline the early parameters of a project on revenge tragedy, and prepare several conference presentations. I’m also going up for tenure this year, and thus had to track down external recommenders for my tenure packet. I also had to prepare my syllabi for the fall, review new textbooks for possible use, keep up with academic journals in my field, etc., etc…
Now where did I put those grapes?
Of course most of this is entirely fine with me–none of this is backbreaking physical labor, and I’m fully aware that I’m lucky to have a flexible schedule. I’m also grateful for the fact that even if I’m doing work I’m at least home, so I can go feed my daughter or take out the dog or do other household chores which I might not be able to manage if I were at work for the same period of time every day and week. On the other hand, when someone leaves his/her 9-5 job for the evening, he/she’s done. No one expects that person to think about anything work related until the next day, or Monday if it’s a Friday. I’m expected to always be ready for work-related thought, however…which can, at times, be exhausting. All of which is to say that while I enjoy flexibilty, and like living seasonally, I promise that you won’t find me living in a seaside villa with my hair caressed by the gentle breeze during those times that I’m not in the classroom.
If and when I become a full-time author, though, I’ve got some seriously skilled harp players all lined up.