Tuesday, October 03, 2006

End of Eras

It seems that every week I apologize for an absence. First it was the problem of coming up with a new research proposal (so, we have the general idea, the work now is to come up with the thesis and introduction). And then it was sickness (strep throat, my achilles heel). And now it is the inescapable realization that "I have friends, real ones" who came to visit her maid of honor to tour various wedding sites in Awesome Part of the Country. It's been a busy last week, extremely fun (and nurturing), rather tiring, and rather contemplative.

I think in any other grad program it would be easier to forget that last realization, that there is life outside of school. That you had friends before you entered your program, and that they may lay nearly as much claim to your life as your advisor. (oooh, see the nearly? that's a grad student talking) That you must make time to eat, exercise, sleep, and see people outside of the library. That the only people you see should not just be your advisor or classmates (or even friends in the program)--that there are other people in this world, people you pass by as if a weary commuter, people who have journeyed with you for as long as they could before you entered this fortress called Academia. Those people, even if they are no longer near you or in as frequent contact with you (through the fault of both, but probably more yours), deserve to be remembered and honored. There are other people in this world. This world was not created, re-populated with unknown faces, the day you entered your program. There was a world you once belonged to, which you left behind, and there were those in that world who miss you.

I am weirdly entering the stage of life where most of my friends, outside of the new ones I have made in this program, are no longer students. I am one of those people that collect a few good friends, rather than a large number of acquaintences, to the tune of 2-5 per academic program. So indeed, I look at my menagerie of friends, and realize that I'm the only one in this coterie (back) still in school. My college friends are graduated, starting careers. My high school friends, the same, and one is even getting married. My law school friends, well, they're lawyers now. But I have returned to school, and though I'm moving forward, it also feels like I'm moving back, to an earlier state, a state which no one belongs to anymore.

I am entering that age in which your friends, who were once confused people changing majors like hats, are starting the careers they just might retire with. That age in which those friends, who used to call you late at night with silly anxieties about some random dude, are now settling down with that one Special Dude. And soon, she and Special Dude will start a family. It is a time of many ceremonies--we had the graduations, and now we have the office Christmas parties, and then the weddings and baby showers, a lot of sound and fury--and signifying the changes in the current. I might be still standing in the same spot, but everything around me is moving in different directions. I might be moving myself, but the current that takes me takes me away from everything I used to know, and from people I used to know.

It is not a particularly sad time, but it is a changeful time, and the changes can be good and bad or just....unsettling, in the sense that they make you wonder what is left that is familiar, and they make you confront certain realities that you'd rather delay thinking about.

It is a changeful time. Friends move onto bigger, better things. Friends move, period, far away from you. They move, and sometimes they leave you behind. But if you're lucky they get decent long-distance plans, write emails, and even real letters. The good ones visit you whenever they can, and you visit them. Sometimes it is you doing the moving, and you realize that this whole changing course of life flows both ways. That there is both coming and going, good and bad changes, and that it takes two people to pick up the phone or write a letter.

This is probably one of the busiest periods of my life--and yes, I've been through law school. It's a good kind of busy, as I'm doing what I love and my program is good and the people in it are for the most part nice and not too freaked out (it is no secret that I disliked law school). But what with the thesis, the independent research projects I'm trying to publish, courses, and the (gasp!) realization that I need food, exercise, sleep, and the company of good friends old and new, it's a busy, busy time.

So busy that I wonder if I can ever go back to unemployed/out of school pre-LLM "summer" blogging schedule of daily or near daily posting. There is so much to blog on lately, and I am finding myself overwhelmed with reading just the 10+ "must read" law blogs on my RSS feed, let alone the few non-law academic blogs, the NY Times, Washington Post, Slate, Salon.......I think at some point I will have to give up this quest to be completely informed. Thank goodness for NPR and the BBC, which you can listen to while you cook or clean. So I am having trouble finding time to read, let alone write.

I probably would have more time to read and write on popular news and blawggish topics if I didn't also make it a premium to do my schoolwork, research for my thesis, and write my independent article. Oh, and take care of my physical self and have a social life so that I may be a part of the web of humanity. If I am busy now, I shudder to think how it will be when I'm an actual professor, with classes to teach, articles to write, office hours to hold, committees to attend. Or when I am all that, and a wife and mother too. The life of the student is supposedly the most laid back, is it not? Busy as I am, I aspire to that "having it all" kind of excessive, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends, full and fulfilling life. I may be tired and overworked now. But I like my work, and it is a good kind of tired. I remember well days that were emptier, and devoid of purpose or meaning--or even content. My days, they runneth over with content. But at least I am living, and I want to live as much as possible, and even more in the future.

That said, I am wondering how much longer I can keep up this pace. I could blog less, and worry less about sustaining my daily traffic (or increasing it), worry less about maintaining a loyal readership (hard to imagine not caring though), and worry less about being "productive" in this space, the only space that is totally mine to structure whenever, whatever, and however often I want. I have freedom here, should I not take it?

But every blogger reading this will scoff--of course I shouldn't take it. Part of having a blog is wanting people to read you, care about you on a daily basis. It is the most solipsistic exercise of intellectual vanity--read my thoughts! Come back every day for more! But it is tiring, is it not, to work so hard at something that should give one respite from the academic quotidean. Deadlines, word limits, timeliness, novelty, cogent argument--don't we want breaks from that?

I do not write this as my last post. Indeed, I have another 75% drafted, and have 3 possible blog topics to write on over the course of the week. The problem is, finding the time. I just write this to explain my occasional blog weariness, and extended absences. I am seriously contemplating joining a bigger group "blawg" (or two) so that this once or twice a week writing schedule would be acceptable. I love this blog though--it is my own space. But sometimes, I wonder if I serve it well enough. If Will Baude can seriously contemplate leaving Crescat Sententia, I wonder why should Belle Lettre not use Law and Letters as an occasional blog, and join, say, the Jurisdynamics network officially? Law and Letters wouldn't die, but it wouldn't (can't, shouldn't) be a daily blog. It would be a place you visit (frequently), but not one you expect to see someone at the door every day. But still, you come by, and remark on the geraniums.

I don't know what to do. Suggestions, comments?

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The Professor's House By Willa Cather

I haven't read this book since I was 16 years old, and ten years later, I find that I get so much more (and so much that is different) from it. Keep in mind this was written in 1925, and was then very "contemporary" literature, and is about Professor Godfrey St. Peter, a professor of history at a small liberal arts college during the 1920s:

"On Monday afternoon St. Peter mounted to his study and lay down on the box-couch, tired out with his day at the university. The first few weeks of the year were very fatiguing for him; there were so many exhausting things besides his lectures and all the new students, long faculty meetings in which almost no one was ever frank, and always the old fight to keep up the standard of scholarship, to prevent the younger professors, who had a sharp eye to their own interests, from farming the whole institution out to athletics, and to the agricultural and commercial schools favoured adn fostered by the State Legislature."


"His friendship with Crane had been a stragne one. Out in the world they would almost certainly have kept clear of each other; but in the university they had fought together in a common cause. both, with all their might, had resisted the new commercialism, the aim to "show results" that was undermining and vulgarizing education. The State Legislature and the board of regents seemed determined to make a trade school of the unversity. Candidates for the degree of Bachelors of ARts were allowed credits for commercial studies; courses in book-keeping, experimental farming, domestic science, dress-making, and what not. Every year the regents tried to diminish the number of credits required in science and the humanities. The liberal appropriations, the promotions and increases in salary, all went to the professors who worked with the regents to abolish the purely cultural studies. OUt of a faculty of sixty, there were perhaps twenty men who made any serious stand for scholarship, and Robert Crane was one of the staunchest. He had lost the Deanship of the College of Science because of his uncompromising opposition to the degrading influence of politicians in university affairs. The honour went, instead, to a much younger man, head of the department of chemistry, who was willing to "give the taxpayers what they wanted."

Prescient, no?

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