I have a splinter in the bottom of my right foot. It is annoying. I cannot, even with my relatively good flexibility, reach it as well as I need to in order to examine and remove it. It sounds really stupid, but these are the moments when I feel really alone. Nope, I'm not worrying over dying alone or anything as grand as that...I'm feeling frustrated over the lack of an adult who would be readily available at 10:45pm to take my stinky foot into hir hands and dig out a tiny (but annoying!) little splinter.
As I move along in my career, the decisions seem to get weightier and weightier. This is no great surprise, I know, but as I take on new administrative roles, I'm trying to get more intentional in my process -- especially since the decisions I'm making now can have a pretty direct and dramatic impact on people's careers (and not just my own).
The one that is weighing on my mind today (and kept working its way into my dreams last night) involves an important hire. The path is not clear to me and seems even less clear to my committee. Even though I thought I had sorted out an answer/direction, I have to work within the structure of a committee. Thankfully, they are fairly malleable when given clear, um, "suggestions." Apparently, much of what my job is as chair is to make decisions and then run them by the committee for "input." What I have come to realize through working with this committee in particular is that too many open-ended questions allows for crazy answers to emerge. It is actually a lot like parenting, give them (committee, kids) choice, but not endless choices.
"Would you like a peanut butter sandwich or egg salad in your lunch?"
Having figured this out is good, but implementing it consistently is still a challenge. Yesterday, for example, we went straight from the last interview into a discussion of the candidates (scheduling a separate meeting was not workable). This meant I did not have time to strategize on my own and figure out a couple of options to offer them to structure the discussion. And the results of said meeting ranged from unclear to downright distracting/unworkable. Two people kept looping back to a solution that has absolutely been taken off the table by the provost -- she won't do it, but they won't give it up!
In moments like these I'm surprised at the me that emerges. Transparency be damned, I'm maneuvering for an interim solution so that we can leave the table and I can do the real work of figuring out the next step. Then I can come back to them with an appropriate version of peanut butter vs. egg salad for them vote on. Yesterday's temporary solution came from the classic, "why don't you let me write up this and that from our discussion and take it to the provost for her input?" And the sheep said, "bah" (yes). I did send them the write up so they could suggest revisions. They didn't, of course. So off I go to "the smoke-filled back room" to plot and plan with those in power after spending several hours plotting and planning on my own. I feel both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of revulsion.
So, quite unintentionally, I've been reading two books back-to-back that both deal with the angst of women who married, had two kids, and found themselves in lives that were not what they thought they would be.
I started with Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, but put it aside for a while and read Stephanie Staal's Reading Women. Now I'm back to finishing up RR. They are very different books: one fiction, one a memoir; one published in 1961, one in 2011. The struggles of the women, however, are strikingly similar to each other and to feelings I recognize in myself. Most of it is a sense of loss of personal identity and one that the men connected to the women do not experience. One would hope that Reading Women, especially with the (overly) ambitious subtitle of "how the great books of feminism changed my life," would have some pithy solutions -- or even observations -- but it really doesn't. The message of both books seems to be "it is complicated, there is no right answer, and since you won't really figure it out, the best you can do is to muddle through and try not to be so hard on yourself" (especially in April's case) I suspect there is also supposed to be some message about the role of society in all this, but it is present but surprisingly not active in the stories.
I don't, of course, really need anyone to tell me that life as a 30-something mother is tough. What I have been thinking about is the role of momentum in shaping this experience. Motherhood interrupts the momentum one has developed as an adult and creates its own forces that, once rolling, are hard to check.
Last week, I was trying to explain to a friend that I was thinking it was time to get more engaged with my career. As someone who has recently left corporate world to seek greater validation in other parts of her life, she stared at me with a certain disbelief? surprise? disdain? I think what she heard me saying was that I was going to work more, which is most decidedly not my goal. I just want to use my time differently. I feel like I spend and enormous amount of energy trying to restart work that I have let grow cold, especially research. Deadlines and trips that provide research opportunities force me to frantically try to pull my shit together and while that frenzy results in a decent (though not outstanding) quality and quantity of 'deliverables' I have found myself thinking that if I could just keep plodding along and stay engaged, it would be so much easier and rewarding. To do this, I will have to counter the frantic-ness of academic life during crunch times at the beginning and end of every term and bring some more discipline into my summer work.
From there, it occurred to me that there are some other big and important areas of my life that need a similar treatment. They need better shape and structure. They need to be moving forward and that movement needs to be established well enough that the inevitable forces that crop up and get in the way can't derail the whole project.
Something about this passage rang (a little too) true for me:
"Then the fight went out of control. It quivered their arms and legs and wrenched their faces into shapes of hatred, it urged them harder and deeper into each other's weakest points, showing them cunning ways around each other's strongholds and quick chances to switch tactics, feint, and strike again. In the space of a gasp for breath it sent their memories racing back over the years for old weapons to rip the scabs off old wounds; it went on and on."