Back to work…or not.
The academic career is self-directed. Sure, the chair of my department insists that I teach some classes, but the rest of my time is pretty much my own to use as I please. While some weeks overflow with appointments, some weeks are empty of any specific obligations. In general, there’s no one to tell me what to do and no one to notice if I’m not doing it. Not for a good long while anyway–I could probably just watch movies in my office for six months at least, as long as I did my teaching and responded to e-mail. This lack of structure has not been a problem in the three years I’ve been a faculty member…until last semester.
Last semester I accomplished nothing. It started when my father died. For a few weeks I just focused on work and got a bunch of grants and papers out the door. Then I stopped being able to do anything at all. It was summer, and I’d normally work fewer hours but still work. (In case you’re envying me my free summers, keep in mind that I don’t get paid for those months.) Instead I devoted all my energy to my garden. I figured if I couldn’t work, there was nothing I could do about it. In time I’d feel more inspired. Like maybe around the end of the summer. But lo, the end of the summer came and I did not return to my normal self. I did at least have the enforced structure of my teaching schedule, so I taught and graded and filled in the chinks with staring at the wall. Shopping online for a pair of pants that might actually fit (haven’t found them yet). Oh, and a ton of weeping. You know, really great career-building stuff.
Classes start next week, but this semester I’m not teaching. Mediocre Institution gives all tenure-track faculty one semester of course release before they come up for tenure, and I’m taking mine this semester. I’d saved it for a while in the hopes of combining it with parental leave so as to have a full year to spend with a baby, but I had to give up and take it before it’s gone. This means I will have no structure at all in the coming months. I’m supposed to be using this time to plan my research program for the next few years, to design a bunch of great studies and write a bunch of great papers and get a shitload of grants so that I am totally famous and awesome by the time I come up for tenure. The problem is that all these items require creativity, and I ain’t got none. I’ve got nothing at all. My mind is as empty as my womb. These tasks also require thinking of the future. For instance, I should be able to complete sentences like: in five years, I want to have accomplished_____. But I don’t care what happens anymore. In five years, I want to be the mother of a four-year-old. This career I worked really hard to establish doesn’t mean anything to me right now.
There’s a great deal of discussion on the topic of whether having children is detrimental to the careers of female academics. I’m afraid not being able to get pregnant will ruin my career. Last semester was all about coming to terms with IF. We got our official diagnosis early in the summer, and I spent the fall having IUIs. It was really fucking distracting and all I could think about. I’m afraid another semester of this will be a serious problem for me career-wise, but I have no idea what to do. I’ve been reading stirring accounts of other people’s resolutions to move beyond IF in 2010, to not let it take over their lives. I’m envious. I don’t think I shake it.