Our house has been an interesting place as of late. Sydney and I have taken turns being bitten by the “outdoors” bug, usually when the other has a terribly pressing academic responsibility that requires one to be tied to a desk. Oh well, at least the windows help. Nice thing about a small house: you’re never far from the open door, open windows, or sight of the birds who keep up a beautiful racket all day long. The only place where you might escape such distractions and pleasures is the bathroom, which is too small to hold any sane person for long.
Sydney had a paper due at the end of March that made him crazy, with books and papers and unshaven man all over the place, gloom and doom written on his face. But now we’ve switched places. I am beginning my multi-part qualifying exams, the ones that get me a master’s degree and let me loose for the dissertation. And they’re a real pain. Try writing exams while still doing a heck of a lot of teaching and normal-everyday stuff. Most of my colleagues have dealt by burying themselves in a library for weeks on end. I can’t do that. I need to get a bit of time outside and at the gym for sanity’s sake and I can’t blow off my students just as they’re working up their final papers for my class (plus, throw in church, some reading groups, and two classes that I’m sitting in on and you can see how the time might just go). But that means I’m having a hard time finding big chunks of time in which to stew over papers that aren’t magically sprouting from my fingertips (surprise, surprise, I know). After griping about this to Sydney, he has taken it upon himself to give me a hand. On Tuesday he cooked lunch and dinner for me as I hauled myself about the house, trying to make some sort of outline that would help me see the paper take shape. Well, it seemed by the end of the day that I hadn’t gotten anywhere, but I did see fruits the next day, as I walked around teaching and attending classes with paper thoughts filling my head. Of course, with an entire day away from my computer I felt as if I lost some of that momentum. So I fretted again that I would never be able to get it all together. And once again Sydney came to my rescue, taking off my hands some errands that would keep me busy all morning, and promising to come home with lots and lots of fruit. Bless that man.
The thing is, these exams are time-limited, so I am only allowed a day or two in which to write them. And finding even a day or two of free time is quite a challenge! Today and tomorrow are as free as any time, but I’ll still need to go in tomorrow to teach and hold conferences with my students. But I’m hoping to work today for all I’m worth; I’m a few pages in after two hours and I can only hope I can keep up the momentum.
If I manage to haul myself through this ordeal, I will have another essay to prepare for and write in the next week or two. I guess I’ll find out whether I used all of my adrenalin up in college, or whether I can haul it out again for this ordeal. I say this, though, in a fairly sunny frame of mind. Writing these exams gets the ideas going and the connections I would never see if I were not under this kind of pressure. I just won’t think too hard about what it means that I have to be pushed to the end of my rope to produce interesting work . . .