Sunday, September 06, 2009

Scientiae: inspiration or desperation?

I'm going to paraphrase this title because the dichotomy reminded me of this, one of my all-time favorite scenes in a movie. From the trailer scene in Kill Bill (dialogue helpfully provided by this site).

Budd: So, which "R" you filled with?

Elle Driver: What?

Budd: They say the number one killer of old people is retirement. People got 'em a job to do, they tend to live a little longer so they can do it. I've always figured warriors and their enemies share the same relationship. So, now you ain't gonna hafta face your enemy on the battlefield no more, which "R" are you filled with: Relief or Regret?

Elle Driver: A little bit of both.

Budd: Bullshit. I'm sure you do feel a little bit of both. But I know damn well you feel one more than you feel the other. The question was, which one?

Elle Driver: Regret.

...and then later, she says:

Elle Driver: [to Budd, as he is dying] Now in these last agonizing minutes of life you have left, let me answer the question you asked earlier more thoroughly. Right at this moment, the biggest "R" I feel is Regret. Regret that maybe the greatest warrior I have ever known, met her end at the hands of a bushwhackin, scrub, alky piece of shit like you. That woman deserved better.


I am definitely feeling a little bit of both.


I definitely have a tendency to self-sabotage, so when I am particularly stressed out I am always looking for escape routes. Lately I feel anxious in the mornings, but if I keep busy I feel pretty good during the day, and I have been getting enough sleep most nights.

I am aware that I tend to always want to have one foot in the career grave, as it were, because I do have a fear of committing to this all-or-nothing lifestyle that seems to be required for junior faculty. So whenever I hear something awful from my now mostly-faculty friends about how stressful their jobs are, or how their personal lives are suffering because they work so much, I think "Well at least I'm glad I won't be dealing with that." Totally unhealthy, but it's how I'm coping right now.

Part of me still wants to run away, and that part is sending off for catalogs related to things I would do if/when. That part gets really excited about envisioning all the other things I could do now that I couldn't do when I was younger.


And of course there is still the little voice that says, "Well even if you did that now, don't you think it will just turn out to be the same as what you've already done? Won't you just end up in the same place, having the same problems with political bullshit, several more years down the road?"

And I try to tell the voice, "Maybe, but it might also be more fun?"

And then, laughter.


At the end of Buffy, there is that scene where they are standing on the edge of the cliff, and talking about how Buffy will finally get to have a normal life. It's like that. Almost impossible to imagine, but very tempting to imagine nonetheless.

And on the other hand, I am still doing experiments and printing out articles to read and pretending like everything is going along just fine. And in a way, it is. But it can't go on like this forever.

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At 11:32 AM, Blogger daisy mae said...

in a related note (and a thought i've been trying to process into a blog post) i've been thinking a LOT about what i want to do and what i'm currently doing. the problem is that i want to climb mountains (literally) but in order to do so, one must have a job that pays the bills and allows one to go out and do the desired activity (sometimes for months at a time).

so i'm starting to realize that maybe being a brilliant young professor at a tier one school isn't my dream anymore, and maybe what i want to do instead is teach at a small liberal arts school.

i guess what i'm getting at is that sometimes we just need to let go of what we think we want, and evaluate what it is we really want. from your posts, it seems like you're going through a big transition - and it's hard to tell whether or not you're just fed up with the current situation, or if you really do want to shift directions.

as grant herman said 'if you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up too much room'. risks are scary - and it's easy for me to tell you to take them. but sometimes they're worth the risk.

best wishes.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a late stage grad student and I had basically given up on the thought of becoming a professor, because I didn't want to. My primary adviser is a terrible example, someone who has sacrificed almost every other aspect of his life in order to be successful (which he is, very much so). I personally don't care if I ever become rich and famous, so I figured, that's not the life for me.

After a few years of this line of thinking, I started working with some other professors who are my "real" advisers, even though I have no formal ties to them. They are smart, well-funded, and well-recognized in their fields. One of them just got early tenure because he is doing so well, and he is quite young. Now the difference is, they have lives too. They both have young children whom they spend a lot of time with (for example, most of the weekend is reserved for the kids). Of course things can get a little crazy during finals or before a proposal deadline, but the point is, they are successful professors and they have managed to keep a work-life balance. I didn't think it was possible before I met these guys, and they may be in the vast minority, but if they can do it, I can do it. My point is, it is possible. You do not have to sacrifice every other part of your life to be good at what you do, even if that is a professor. I didn't realize that until I met the right examples. It looks like you haven't yet, but I assure you, it's possible. Don't lose hope.

At 2:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

after having been on the chopping block at work (staff scientist at research institute, but on 100% soft money), I've come very close to losing my job several times, and actually did lose my job once for a few months (until new funding came back and they rehired me). each time I knew that I would face job termination due to the soft money running out, I went through several months of hell: job searching, planning to relocate for jobs, talking to my realtor about putting my house on the market, yet at the same time still trying to come up with new money to keep myself employed. And oh, continuing to do my regular experiments and printing out new articles to read as if all was well and my life wasn't in complete turmoil. Some days I couldn't bring myself to keep doing my experiments - what's the point if I'm gonna be out of a job next month? Yet I still have to keep working up until the last minute that they terminate me cos I'm technically still being paid.

I've gone through this at least 3 times in the last 6-7 years. I can't do it anymore.

A friend of mine who is in a similar job situation (soft money, zero job stability), gave me some good advice. He just said even when you really have no idea if you'll still be around next month or even next week, you can't let that stop you from doing your present work. You have to do your current work as if all is 'normal' and everything is on track. You just do the best you can, in whatever time you have.


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