A post about writing, and being ill, and teaching

Hello, intertubes! I disappeared again. My doctor and I were fucking around with my medication again – which has been to my net benefit, but gave me a month or so of reduced coping capacity. I’m facing the fact that I need an extension on this thesis, which feels silly for what was supposed to  be just a filler degree before moving on to bigger and better things. But fact is, I like it, I want to do it justice, and perhaps the most important things I’m learning out of this degree are not the things I thought they were.

I’ve learned a lot of gender theory. I’ve learned some Latin, and sharpened my Old French, and learned that I love teaching.

I’m learning, again, how to write a long project. But this time, I’m consciously thinking about how to do that work while sick; without screwing over my other responsibilities; while doing what I can to preserve my health. I’m learning not to pin my entire functionality – “I might be sick but goddamn it I will write this thesis and everything else can go jump”, aka, Highly During Honours – on one piece of work. It worked during Honours; it’s not going to work for the rest of my life, and I might as well get out of the habit now.

A few weeks ago ADM talked to the writing group (in which I am just scraping by, checking in most weeks and not engaging much, but it’s helping me structure thing sin my head) about pacing. I quote:

Add those things together, and then the somewhat insane sort of schedule that many of us have, plus the fact that my body has been rebelling against my life in a fairly serious way since the end of July, and you get a very different reading of “pace yourself.” Where some people got sort of Bolshie and focused on the part where they thought they were being told to work according to a certain pattern, I only saw the metaphor of the race, and the physical connection to what it is we are doing. Because for me, pacing myself isn’t just about making sure I get things done on time, or organize my schedule in a way that I don’t have to play catch-up. It’s that if I don’t pace myself, there seem to be very real and very bad physical consequences. And those physical consequences can snowball and then create a vicious cycle of bad, overused metaphors being too ill to work, getting too stressed because I’m not accomplishing anything, and then doing really unhealthy things to my body in order to try to catch up.

To which I only have to say: yes, this. I’m pretty shit at this self-management lark right now, but I know now this is something I really need to learn; I expect to come good, healthwise, sooner or later, but I don’t expect to stay that way forever.

So one thing I’ve had to do recently is talk to my superiors and sort out extensions: because I could tunnel-vision and finish this fast, but that wouldn’t be good for me, the work, or this process of learning how to manage my time and health.

Teaching comes in handy here.  I make a big deal out of telling my students to apply for extensions and assistance when they need them. To talk to me before they absent fail their way out of the course. I make a big deal out of telling them that very few people, faculty or administration, are out to be mean to them, and by and large, if you have reasonable justification and can figure your way through the extension system, you’re going to get some kind of concessions.

I can’t exactly stand up in front of a class and tell it’s silly to be too ashamed to apply for help you actually need if I don’t take my own advice, can I?


11 Responses to “A post about writing, and being ill, and teaching”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    Life gets in the way, as they say. My M. Phil. thesis ran into trouble precisely because it was a rush job occasioned by (a new) life looming up in its way, and my Ph. D. thesis was much the better for being six months late. Of course, that delay might have been kind of crucial in job-market terms… but I’m afraid that the way things are at the moment, that’s not now an incentive to finish up. All necessary strength to you and (I hope you) get well soon.

    • highlyeccentric Says:

      Thanks, Jon 🙂

    • highlyeccentric Says:

      And as for the job market… I can always move to Europe and make coffee! I’m only mediocre at coffee, but I can do a damn sight better than most of the coffee people sold me in England…

      • Jonathan Jarrett Says:

        Europe varies a lot on this. England is OK but not good (American will not believe me here), Spain and Portugal are terrible (sorry, Spain and Portugal but that is brown froth, not coffee) and Germany and Italy have the secret, especially Italy. I mean it’s such a stereotype, Italian coffee brilliance, but it turns out to be true where I’ve met it. More data needed otherwise!

        • highlyeccentric Says:

          K’s mum reckons it comes down to whether your national coffee tradition came via the French (America, England, etc) or the Italians (Australia, NZ, possibly Germany?). But then she also has horror stories of ‘cappuchino’ served in Mount Isa in… the early eighties, I guess? Apparently that was chipped out of a tin and didn’t deserve the name of coffee.

          For that matter, no one in my parents’ town can make decent coffee. Decent coffee = limited to cities, I think.

        • historienerrant Says:

          Jonathan, I agree with what you say about Italy, but Germany? You’re [insert curse word] kidding, right? Ok, maybe if you went to one of those pseudo-Italian cafés in Berlin or Munich, but on the whole, when it comes to coffee, Germany comes in a tie with England. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned on my visits to England it’s this: If someone asks you „Would you like tea or coffee“ ALWAYS reply „tea, please“ no matter how much of a coffee-addict you are!

          • Jonathan Jarrett Says:

            I don’t actually know where I got that idea as I’ve never actually been to Germany proper! I think I probably meant to write Austria, where I’m afraid the coffee I met was more like something you pour over cake than something you eat with it, but why my late-night brain miscorrected I couldn’t tell you. Sorry!

            And yes, in Britain you can at least be fairly sure that the tea will be drinkable, even if only just, but the coffee may well not be. Sorry about that too. I do my bit to spread the consumer demand for better of both!

  2. Writing, writing, bane of my life « The Naked Philologist Says:

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