Come here often? Because I don’t.
My absence is, in part, a consequence of moving into a Brand New House. This is all very exciting. I’m comfortable with literally building a foundation here in Connecticut since I am officially a Difficult-To-Get-Rid-Of Tenured Person now. So Danny and I became the proud owners of a lot of adult-type things, like a driveway and a mailbox and a backsplash and two and a half bathrooms and a mortgage. (Then again, we also own two full sets of Where the Wild Things Are action figures — plus one extra Max, just in case — and a gaming system purchased solely to sustain our serious MarioKart rivalry.) Moving into a new house involves all kinds of unanticipated, time-consuming tasks, like going to Home Depot three times a day and trying to figure out how your new microwave works without reading the instructions.
(Unfortunately, universities, like most places of employment, do not recognize such life benchmarks as productivity. I wasn’t allowed to include blueprints for my house in my tenure file. I hear they also don’t accept sonogram pictures, divorce papers, or evidence that you have spent your days caring for a family member or yourself.)
But now we’re living in the house, even if the floors are bare of rugs and windows are bare of blinds and walls are bare of art. And I am writing this post in my first ever home office. My desk faces a wall that, currently, is as blank as my brain.
Because the other reason I haven’t been posting is that I’m having a really hard time writing anything at all. I have four drafts of this post dating back to July. All of them stall after three or four sentences. Sure, I’ve written a conference abstract or two, but I have been writing and rewriting the same two or three pages of an essay for months. (And it’s an essay I really want to write, because it involves vicious antelopes and Edward Lear.) Progress on Book Two is limited to organizing and reorganizing initial brainstorming notes. I have spent much of my sabbatical ricocheting between a deep-rooted belief that I deserve to transform into a potato for a few months, emerging from my blanket-cocoon only long enough to unwrap a Hostess cupcake, and a stomach-plunging panic that my time off is slowly seeping away and I will emerge with nothing — nothing — to show for it. My colleagues will bleat SHAME! at me, Game of Thrones style, as I trudge down the hall.
That’s not true. My colleagues are awesome. And those who are less than awesome would bleat shame quietly, behind my back.
But since pinballing between smug entitlement and debilitating guilt isn’t really working for me, I’ve been trying to meta my way out of this problem. Why, I ask myself, am I unable to write things? (I realize I am writing this post. I am hating every word as I write it.) Were all of those other things I wrote before a fluke? Were they terrible and no one told me? Has my ability to write things gone extinct, like some sad dodo bird? All too bleak to contemplate, so — like the good English major I am — I turn to metaphors. Maybe:
I cannot write because my ideas are stale. My current research projects are week-old bread. I squint at them and wonder if that’s mold. I’ve been thinking too long about vicious antelopes and spent too many hours rearranging sentences about Lear’s runcible spoon. It is time to abandon all current work and find something new.
I cannot write because I am marinating. When I hit a wall writing my dissertation, my chair would reassure me that I was marinating. Everything was in my brain, steeping in garlic and soy sauce, waiting to emerge triumphant and delicious. Perhaps during this writing lull my vicious antelope is in a Ziploc in my brain-fridge, tenderizing. (Alternate title for this post: in which I take a theme too far.)
I cannot write because I am lying fallow. So this is what I’ve landed on. I am a sweeping meadow. I have produced a mighty bounty. (Yeah. That sounds… unsettling.) I need this time of rest to quietly — or, as it turns out, with great whining — rekindle my ability to Write Things. Soon, a few hopeful blades of grass will signal the return of my productivity, and a vicious antelope will eat them. (Do antelope eat grass? Is the plural of antelope antelope, or antelopes?)
I am struggling with this fallow business. We are not trained, as academics, to lie fallow. We are trained to write three 25-page essays in three weeks. (Why do we do that to graduate students? We should cut it out.) We are trained to carefully craft abstracts for papers that, later, we will be unable to write exactly as planned — so we are also trained to announce a title change at the beginning of a panel. We are trained to use the word “Foucauldian.” We train our minds to be constantly spinning, and we often measure our days by word counts.
How do I stay still and be okay?
It’s a completely. Obnoxious. Problem. No one wants to hear me complain about all my free time and my inability to fill it with words that dozens — DOZENS — of people will read. But here we are. Or here I am. Failing at fallow.
Send Hostess cupcakes.