I’m currently in recovery from a series of colds–what a friend refers to as the “creeping crud” that hits teachers in the winter, as one after another of the year’s crop of flus, rhinoviruses,* and other bugs is introduced to one’s besieged immune system by students and colleagues and, in my case, my wife’s students and colleagues and, for good measure, the new treasure trove of colds brought home from day care by our son. Once the cycle begins, it can be hard to break…and so for weeks, my students have had to tolerate my rasping not-quite-laryngitis as I attempt to recreate the fine shadings of sound that make up the Great Vowel Shift, and colleagues have learned to expect that I will be sucking a throat lozenge during meetings. Yesterday, I finally broke down and visited a doctor.
This is not actually about my cold, although it’s therapeutic to grouch about it a bit.
At the doctor’s office, I turned in my forms, and the receptionist’s response to my occupation was, “Oh. That explains it–I was wondering why you were available for an appointment so early in the afternoon.”
I’ve had a few interactions with non-academics lately that have been along these lines–probably innocent comments that nevertheless betray certain assumptions about the work, or lack thereof, of a college professor. I don’t want to go into a long diatribe about one of those ivory-tower problems that never really go away–there have been many articulate defenses of the flexibility of the academic’s schedule. I particularly like the point made by Greg Semenza in his brilliant Graduate Study for the 21st Century that “schedular flexibility is perhaps the greatest practical benefit afforded by the academic lifestyle”–but that with that flexibility comes the responsibility of each academic to create for him or herself a regular (if unconventional) schedule that enforces and accommodates the individual’s work ethic.
So…having rambled around to the subject (the doctor gave me an antibiotic, and I’m a little less than fully coherent at the moment), what I actually want to talk about–and to invite conversation about–is that commitment to a schedule, specifically to a schedule that accommodates the quirks of the medievalist’s work.
As I mentioned in a post a while back, my academic workload was in something of a shambles last fall as I tried to adjust to my son’s needs and my own desire to spend as much time with him (and with my wife, whose job is much less flexible than mine) as possible. This spring, despite the endless sniffles and aches, I’ve been trying to carve out specific chunks of the week when I can focus on my work–Saturday mornings, Monday and Wednesdays from 8-10:30 AM (when meetings allow), late Tuesday afternoons (likewise), and the narrow slice of time at night between when Carl has been washed up and read to and (with my wife) gone off to bed, and when I become too bleary-eyed to work productively. This is still a work in progress, but it’s an improvement–at least my students’ papers are being graded on a schedule and I have time for prepping my materials and covering my campus responsibilities.
Finding time for the specifically “medievalist” part of my life, though, is still a struggle–keeping my language skills strong, reading up on professional publications, writing conference papers for the looming Congress at Kalamazoo, finishing up two articles that have been three-quarters finished for months, producing promised work for a collaborative project for SSDMA, and so on. Finding slots of time for my medieval self is proving hard enough–deciding how to prioritize the many plates wobbling on their stems is turning out to be more complicated than I’d expected.
So I turn to those of you in this or similar fields for suggestions on avoiding the metaphorical smash of neglected crockery. How does a medieval scholar with flexible-but-very-limited free time maintain his medievalist self?
*The plural of “virus” apparently presents an interesting problem. According to what I can find, it’s unlikely that “viri,” “virii'” or “vira” (all of which are attested in modern use, but not in actual Latin sources) would be appropriate; for an interesting discussion of the nature of the problem and why “viruses,” though unsatisfying, seems to be the best answer in an English-language context, see the following archived explanation from Tom Christiansen, Unix and Perl developer: