Saturday, May 21, 2011

Beginnin' to see the light

For too long now I've been struggling. My job, while wonderful in so many ways, is also really hard sometimes. Yes, I get to work on wonderful material; and yes, I get to travel around a bit; and manage my own time. And indeed, I get a great sense of achievement in my work when I finish big projects. I am also the first to admit that my path through the professional and intellectual minefield that is the modern university has been easier and more straightforward than that of many people. I've been wonderfully lucky in my students and colleagues, locally, nationally and internationally. I'm pretty well paid for what I do. I have excellent superannuation and health care in a country which is also providing my son with excellent health care and education through the state system. We are heavily mortgaged, but there are two of us on full salaries and our house, while badly run down and crumbling in places, is spacious and pleasant. We eat well; we are happy as a family; we are close to friends and family; and our lives are full of music, words and images. Even my own trajectory through breast cancer was relatively straightforward: the end of this year will mark the end of my five years' treatment and the point where I will have substantially reduced the risk of recurrence so that it will not be much higher than the risk a woman my age might face of first contracting the disease.

And yet too often these days I wake in the night and toss and turn about the always-unfinished, always imperfect and utterly invasive nature of my work. It goes on and on. It is never finished. It is never perfected. It is never complete. Instead, it feels partial, incomplete, unfinished. I can't control the endless emails; the online forms and processes; the constant requests to assess, grade, quantify and rank that eat into the time and concentration I have available to read and study medieval literature. I feel I have cleared the mental space to write this blog entry only because I've been working so hard to delete and file emails (I have processed over a thousand of them in the last few days in a concerted effort to control them) and have cleared most of the surface of my desk and home.

I try to give myself Saturdays off, so I had a "normal" day today: breakfast with Joel (Paul comes home from Europe on Monday); Italian class; gym workout; leftover pizza for lunch; made chocolate and cherry muffins. We introduced the kittens to my parents who came and sat and drank tea as we watched Wulf and Orlando taking turns to play with the toy mouse (Wulf tired first and climbed up on my father's lap, while Orlando knocked herself out leaping and tossing and chasing the mouse before climbing on Pa's lap to curl up with her brother). I then raked up about eight barrow loads of leaves, and raked the gravel paths before I came in to watch the last scenes of The Ghost Writer (I had fallen asleep on the couch watching it the night before), walked it back down to the video shop, then made mushroom and spinach risotto (secret ingredient? a big spoonful of creme fraiche right at the end) and watched Dr Who while we ate it.

But even a normal day like this feels less like a good balance of work and life and more like a day of respite snatched from the chaos and the lurching from task to task that seem to characterise every day — and the anxious reliving of that chaos that often characterises the hours between 2 and 4 am.

I'm sure I'm doing it all wrong. I'm sure I could be more disciplined (sigh) about being organised and prioritising stuff. I'm also pretty sure this feeling would be one clearly identified symptom of mid-life crisis. I'm pretty sure most folk in Australian universities - and elsewhere - will be feeling many of the same things. Even so, I'm hesitating to write this, as I feel I'm normally so upbeat about my work. And I guess that is also the professional persona I have cultivated. So it feels like something of a betrayal of all that.

And yet. And yet. I'm going to "publish post" in a minute, anyway. This is what I set up my blog for, in any case, to trace these vicissitudes. But can anything be done? Will it always be like this?  For now, I'm going to put the kittens to bed and read a chapter of the book I'm reviewing before I go to sleep.


Friday, May 06, 2011

One for the protocol office.

As my book edges ever closer to the precipice of entering final copy-editing, the lovely Caroline has emailed me wondering whether we should flag the mentions of Prince William and Kate Middleton in my book for updating. What a nice problem to have? We'll have to work out the protocol of referring to them before they became Duke and Duchess and all.

And ... can I just say about all that stuff about tradition and modernity in The Dress, and the Duchess's bringing of a new fresh modernity into the institution of the monarchy ... that this has been the dominant discourse of the royal family for at least a good sixty years. I'm just saying: read my final chapter!