Grasshopper Summer

I am going to regret this time once autumn comes, I know, but what exactly will I regret? I'm home again early today, having finished revising the syllabi for the courses I'm teaching next quarter and turned the book orders and reserve requests in. Should I have stayed and continued working? I have a letter of reference to write that is due on Friday, and there is always--as always--the book. But instead I packed my bags and bicycled away, to spend the next hour or so (however long it takes me to write this post) sitting on the back porch in the hazy afternoon sunlight.

According to Aesop, it would be much better to be an ant working hard all summer to grow and harvest enough food to keep me going over the winter. But I spent all winter working hard. Does that mean that I shouldn't actually get a break? Should I instead just work and work and work and work until even the Calvinist workaholic inside me gives up? But then, again, I'm not feeling very workaholic these past couple of months; indeed, as you know, it's taken every ounce of willpower that I have left even to get myself into the office. So shouldn't I then reward myself for doing my syllabi these past couple of days by letting myself off the hook? I don't know, I really don't know.

Because, you see, I'm fairly certain that whatever I choose to do, there is going to be something that I regret. If I spend the whole summer sitting at my desk from 8am until 5:30pm (my wintertime schedule, except on Thursdays when I leave early to get my son to choir practice), then won't I regret not getting outside at all during the day? Okay, so I have a great window with a view over the gardens along the Midway, so it's not as if I get no sunlight while I'm at work. But do you want to spend your whole life without a break sitting at the same desk? Yes, I know, I'm incredibly lucky. I have a job that allows me to work--theoretically, at least--wherever I want to. The problem is, I really can work only at my desk, at least on my writing. And no, I can't take my laptop to the beach (as it were) and write there. It's not just the desk and the desktop I need; it's all the books, notes and photocopies that are the stuff of my research. Expecting me to be able to "work anywhere" is like asking a scientist to work without his or her lab.

But this is the last summer I have of my leave; surely I should be working flat out to finish as much as I possibly can before I have to go back to the classroom and teach those courses I just did the book lists for. Perhaps. But if I do that, won't all that mean is that I end up working flat out year round, whether in the academic term teaching or in the summer writing? There is, it seems, never a good time for a break. I always feel like I should want to work all the time. Again, I know, I'm lucky. I'm doing exactly the work that I want to be doing; it was entirely my idea to write this book, nobody told me to do it. So shouldn't I be all afire to work on it now? But what then is the point of working so hard if one never gets to enjoy the fruits of one's labor? Why work so hard if the only reward is...more work?

This was not where I intended this post to go. Of course, the reward of my work is more work. That's the only reward: to get to continue doing what I enjoy for the rest of my life. I will never get rich doing this, not in monetary terms, in any case. But the harder I work now, the harder I will get to work in the future, as (theoretically) my reputation grows and more people ask me to do things for them. Except I'm not sure I want people to ask me to do things for them because that will interfere with my doing the work that I actually want (except insofar as it happens to intersect with what people ask me to do). Isn't the real reward of being an academic to have the freedom to leave work when (as today) one's homework is done? But then again being an academic means one's homework is never done because I'm the one assigning the work.

My son came out on the porch just now to ask why I came home from work early today. I told him: "To write this blog post about whether I should have come home early today." He said: "Isn't that a bit circular?" Yes, of course, but so then are my regrets. If I work all summer as hard as I was working this past winter, I will regret not taking the break that I very much need in order to feel rested enough to go back to teaching full time in the autumn. But if I don't work all summer as hard as I was working this past winter, then I will regret not using my time as well as I might have and not having more of my book done. Not that I was ever going to finish the book itself by the end of the summer, but I might have gotten another chapter done. As it is, I'm going to be lucky to get half of the third chapter in draft. Not quite as good as I'd hoped for a month or two ago. And yet, will I really regret all the time that I've spent just hanging about?


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