Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Every now and then I hear our song

Colleagues on campus who foolishly ask what I'm up to are likely to receive a lengthy explanation of how I've never really had an academic summer. If I recall correctly, I taught a summer course my first or second year at UCA, and then went straight into an administrative position that offered 10.5 month employment for a few years, followed by a long stretch of 12-month administrative contracts. That ended in summer 2013 with a summer sabbatical, the only kind available to administrators. I took two week-long research trips that summer and spent every remaining day researching, conducting phone interviews, traveling within the state, correcting transcripts, and scrambling to be ready to start writing my book. But during this sabbatical, my dean pressed me for a commitment on whether I would continue in administration, and I declined to do so. The summer of 2012, then, would be the last I would spend working full time.

Turns out I would continue to do phone and local interviews into the early months of 2014; the only part of the book with a complete draft by the time classes ended that spring was the introduction. So I spent every day of summer 2014 writing. By the end of August, with classes already underway, I had six chapters done, with four more to go before my Christmas deadline. As I wrote in a January post, that summer I wrote a chapter every 2.4 weeks.

I got a very helpful reader report from my editor on March 2 of this year, and immediately began revisions. Once classes ended in early May, I was in the office full time every day doing additional research, editing, and rewriting. I turned in a revised manuscript on June 10.

And since then, it has been Summer. The kind where I don't have to come to the office, where no one is expecting me. I have work to do -- classes for fall to prepare (including a new one), some assessment (done), some faculty reports (done), and then the research and dreaming and thinking about the next scholarly projects -- but it's completely up to me when I want to make progress on that and when I want to do Summer Things. That's the life a lot of faculty live. Yes, many of them teach summer classes or take other temporary work (scoring standardized tests, teaching at summer programs), but many just have a Summer. Like the one I'm finally having.

I come to the office most days. I have research I want to move forward, and interlibrary loan books that I can only keep for a short time. Reading and thinking is a pleasurable occupation, especially compared to the stress of rewriting and cutting and checking citation formatting on a deadline. I give myself plenty of leeway to follow my train of thought wherever it leads, chasing down information on a stray inquiry if it grabs my interest. 

But I also take a walk every morning before the heat and humidity build to unbearable levels. Today I listened to podcasts, but most days I just think for half an hour. Yesterday I took the kids to a nearby state park and hiked a trail along the river. Now that Summer is here, I am going to do more of that.

Summer seems very short when the first six weeks of it are eaten up by deadline work. In July the kids have camps and Noel has trips; my days will not be my own, like they are now. In August the new semester will be on the doorstep. But Summer seems so long, so luxuriously empty, on a day like today. 

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