I really, really understand that academic work is work. I have never doubted it and never not said it. I have been defending my broader field as work since freshman year, and my narrower field as work since graduate school. I have had to prove that what I do is work in more ways than I can count. I have worked at places where there were actual time clocks.
I have organized a union. I am on a statewide committee working to make sure the Legislature and the public know that academic work is work. I have also been told repeatedly, and not by junior faculty, that I am paid to teach, not to conduct research, and that the time I spend doing research would be better spent fundraising among alumni. I have been told that wanting to teach at least the occasional course close to field is egotistical. I have been educated to submit — sacrifice — serve.
That is why it is a brave thing, for me, to reclaim the idea of work being interesting and refreshing. Must we talk about struggle and suffering every day? Did you not get involved in this because it was interesting? I did, and I think I deserve to remember that as much as anyone. I know a lot of people admire the straining academic persona but is that who you gravitate toward? Why not be strong and confident and competent if you can?
Why not radiate positive energy? Why not enjoy doing things with ease when you can? If you have practiced something and it has become easy, why not just hit the ball with a lazy smile? I, for one, have earned the right and my smile is inclusive; it means here we go, you can hit that ball too.
Here, once again, are the sentences against which I am in open rebellion:
1. Writing is an onerous, and also meaningless exercise you must undertake for form’s sake.
2. Publishing is almost impossible.
3. Teaching is dangerous since doing it responsibly can cost you your job.
4. Service and administrative experience prove that you have no intellect.
Of course I know that my anti-lemmas are antidotes, not strict truths. But I need them now and I am no mood to be told to perform my job such as to make it clear to one and all how much work it is. I have a lot to do and I need to bring it in and through easily. Making a point of showing effort just adds another task, and it makes things less pleasant. Perhaps if it is truly necessary, this very semester, to show what it is to work hard, someone else can take on that task.
The obligation to show once again that I am doing a lot of work, hits me like a blow. I was told a few too many times that I seemed too happy to be a serious worker, and this became a very sore point. Once it finally landed I made serious efforts to tone things down. This kind of effective self destruction was not undertaken on my own advice and was done against my better judgment. It did no one any real good.
I really know academic work is work. I am more solidary than many academics you will meet. I am only just learning, though, that solidarity is not only something I owe you. Right now I would just — for once — like to do just some of my own work and to say it is interesting, as opposed to say it is causing me to suffer.
I have performed the difficulty of work before in this space and I am not in the mood for it now. The idea that my own work, even in my present field where it is not, strictly speaking, needed could have more value than the support I might lend others is entirely new to me.
In this liberation front writing is fun, publishing is easy, teaching is a pleasant social and artistic experience, and administration is creative. These things are said in a bad situation, that we recognize as such. I recognize your bad situation as well. I am not willing, however, to perform difficulty at this time. I am interested in performing ease.
I do not know what to say about the privileged few. I just never did like being called “decadent” when I was just healthy, or “selfish” when I was just putting my work first. Other people, not just the privileged few, have these rights and I want them for myself. I want them even if it means, this semester, not going to bat on the blog about how work is work, but making it as pleasant and interesting as I can, instead.
I need this, people, and I am sure that with all the academic bloggers there are (and remember, this is not an academic blog), someone else can be found to say that work is work.