The Urgency in My Leisure

Since grading my last final exams about a month ago, I’ve found myself in a peculiar situation: I’m still employed (and getting paid!) until the end of this month, but I don’t have any work to do for Tulane and haven’t yet lined up my next opportunity.  This has left me with an awkward schedule.  A trickle of job interviews and the time required for applications occupy a few hours each week, but the rest of my days are unstructured. For all that it’s nice to have a little rest, it’s extremely disorienting to know that once an offer does come in I’ll be going from zero to ninety almost instantly.  And the awareness of that impending change has left me feeling a sense of urgency about my leisure.

My response to this has been a mix of willful sloth and frantic activity.  Right after the semester ended Mallory and I took a trip to Florida that we spent swimming, tanning, and going to a water park.  For those of you wondering about that last part, let me assure you there’s nothing better than visiting one of those places early in the season, before school gets out, and being the only two adults there without kids.  By the end of the day we’d been on at least 40 water slides, and we could barely throw dinner together before we passed out from the exhaustion of having too much fun.  I really hadn’t felt that kind of tired since I was a kid, and it was simply bliss.  Added bonus that we could trust the water not to be gross before the real start of summer!

When we got back to New Orleans, we turned to more grown-up concerns.  Even though we’ve had our house since last May, we’d never really found the time to make it our own. Sure, there were pictures on the walls and familiar pieces of furniture, but it still felt like we were renting. So we decided to pull the trigger on a project we’d been thinking about for some time: painting the interior walls.  Keep in mind I had precisely zero experience with this before we started, but ignorance has a funny way of making you optimistic. We decided to do the entire house–five rooms, two hallways, and two bathrooms–in one go.  This was a bigger job than we anticipated, especially with a nosy cat who likes the sound of sloshing liquids.  But ten grueling days later we’d managed to finish.  Apart from a few places where the tape didn’t pull cleanly or a roller went too far, it came out pretty well. And to our surprise without any permanent paw-prints!

I’ve also used this time to move the ball forward on contingent faculty issues. Back in April I arranged a phone call with a number of advocates from different disciplines, and when we finally spoke in May we decided to create a consortium of Contingent Faculty Committee Chairs and Executive Directors.  While the group’s goals are still evolving, our primary objective is to have every academic professional society in America establish an internal body representing teachers in non-tenure-track positions by 2022.  This will ensure that the labor situation on the ground is reflected in the governing structures of these entities, and will bring greater awareness to the “new normal” for a majority of faculty members. Best of all, though, is that this approach will allow our own consortium to grow organically over time. That will make it easier to coordinate activities across disciplines and should lead to a situation where our group can speak with greater authority to real decision-makers such as accreditation groups, college ranking services, and politicians.

Looking forward to that future, I decided it was crucial to get a better sense of what concerns are driving people in higher administrative positions. So I reached out to someone I’d met at that level and–to my surprise–they gave me a meeting.  During our conversation I was able to get this person’s take on changes to the academic labor market and develop strategies for how my group might be able to improve the lot of contingent faculty without entering into an adversarial relationship with the people running our colleges and universities (a dynamic that is, unfortunately, a reflex for many on both sides). This conversation was extremely productive, and by the end of the hour I was able to put a number of large trends into perspective and had entirely rethought how I should frame my own goals for treatment of contingent faculty.  No doubt I’ll have more to say on that in later posts!

And what would downtime be without beer? I’ve just passed the five-year anniversary of my first brew, but haven’t done much on my own during the last year and a half.  So just yesterday I decided to try a new recipe instead of falling back on an old favorite, and put together a German Dunkelweiss–a dark wheat beer.  It’s funny how experience changes your approach to things.  When I first started brewing, I would spend hours researching recipes and putting things together that I thought would work.  More by luck than skill, the early results were decent.  But now that I know how the brewing process goes and have a better understanding of the microbiological and chemical forces in play, it’s far easier to throw something together.  The airlock on that brew is currently bubbling away, and it should be ready to drink in about three weeks.

Saving the best for last, I’ve continued my work with the Nyansa Classical Community. We added seven students to the program right at the end of the school year, which brings our current total to about 25. For me, it’s been great to help these kids both directly and indirectly, and to see how Nyansa is able to provide academic support to families that are eager to set their children up for success, but don’t necessarily know where to start.  Our executive director, Prof. Angel Adams Parham, is a real visionary on this front, and is incorporating her work with Nyansa into a larger academic project comparing the experiences of poor students in New Orleans with those in Haiti.  Stay tuned for more on that project as it takes shape over the next few months!  In the meantime, Nyansa will be hosting two Saturdays of programming this summer to keep our students engaged and to maintain contact with their families; when we resume in the fall we’ll go back to two days a week.  Our biggest challenge at present is a small but significant budget shortfall that we need to meet before our insurance policies renew on July 31st.  Anyone who’d like to pitch in and support our work can donate here.  Many thanks on behalf of the entire board!

In all of this, I’ve been trying to make sure that the time I’m not actively working doesn’t go to waste.  That’s a major temptation, and one that can be toxic.  Once you start filling your days with idle interests, it’s easy for things to snowball until you’re completely self-absorbed.  So while I have taken some time for myself, I’ve also tried to make sure I keep looking outward and supporting the causes that have energized me over the last two years.  This is of course pressing in its own way.  I know that when a new job offer eventually comes though, my personal balance of time, treasure, and talent is going to change.  That won’t necessarily force me to break off the work I’ve been doing, but it will inevitably alter the nature of my relationship with the groups I’ve supported. So at this stage I’m particularly eager to set things up as well as I can and to pave the way for my work to continue even if I’m not the one handling it directly.  As I said at the start of this post, I have a sense of urgency about my leisure. That idea may seem paradoxical, but embracing it has provided me with a spur to productive activity during a period when my time could easily have been squandered.

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