One of the things that I've been craving for quite a while is the time and space to think.
In a way, of course, my job requires me to be thinking much of the time, but I haven't found that thinking especially satisfying lately. I'm tired, for example, of thinking about Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, which I've decided I just don't like very much. (I felt the same way last year but thought another run-through might change my mind; nope.) I'm delighted beyond belief that my AP Lit class is finishing our work on it this week and that I never have to read it again.
And I'm pleased that my freshmen are starting Catcher in the Rye this week, because they really love it and because I know it so well by now that I don't have to think much about it. That's a relief, since I redid the reading list for my freshman class this fall and thus have been kept on my toes for the first half of the year. I know that relief sounds like it contradicts my first statement, about wanting time and space to think, but what I really want to do is think about what I want to think about and not what I have to think about for school.
Partly my current grumpiness is due to (besides the inevitable February blues) an overload of book groups and courses right now. My bat mitzvah class is getting to me -- it's been over a year, and the Hebrew teacher keeps dinging me on my vowels such that I don't feel like I'm making progress, and I'm just tired of being at temple every Sunday morning.
Plus, the suburb in which FGS is located is having a town read that FGS faculty were invited to participate in. This was actually quite good, and a bunch of faculty talked about the book over dinner on Monday night, and the author is coming to talk to the town tonight. I've actually really enjoyed reading it and talking about it this week.
BUT I also decided that this was the month I was going to join the temple book group, because they were reading a book I was interested in and the meeting fit into my calendar. That meeting was last night (so I'm definitely in book group overload this week), and it was not a fun meeting at all! There were nine of us, four of whom are 70+ and who talked loudly over each other and everyone else. And even the younger folks (and by "younger," I mean that I was the youngest person there by probably a decade) mostly didn't want to talk about the book itself but rather about various feelings they have about Israel -- germane to the book, but not actually about the book. The only bright spot is that I had a nice 10-minute conversation about Hitchcock films with a couple of quiet men (who hadn't contributed much to the discussion because it required some shouting to do so) as we were breaking up after the meeting. So I will NOT be returning to that book group, which is something of a relief since I can strike their future meeting dates from my calendar.
Plus, for the last two years I've been reading steadily as part of my conversion studies. That has been wonderful and largely self-directed, but there's also been an almost obsessive quality about that reading and studying. Inevitable and enjoyable obsessiveness, but it's a relief to now be Jewish and to feel able to calm down and not as though I have to prepare to belong.
And last summer I was reading and studying for a week-long diversity workshop and for the trip to South Africa. And the former led into a campus book group this fall and winter that I was somehow facilitating. Oh, and I was in two different pedagogy reading groups, one last spring and one over the summer.
In many ways this has all been great (well, except for the temple book group last night, but even then the book itself was good), and certainly I've been intellectually active for the last year-plus. But I've also felt pulled in a bunch of different directions, as though I'm racing around and never really settling in and getting to think about any one thing in a particularly deep way. I've always been the kind of person who has a stack of half-read books by my bed, but that situation has been significantly exacerbated this past couple of years.
I've realized that one of the things that attracts me to the idea of the academic dean role is that I have the idea that it would give me more time and space to think about things in a more disciplined, focused way. That is probably a pipe dream, as I fully realize! But the application did give me the chance to recognize that I'm having this real desire to do that thinking and studying in a more focused, less all-over-the-map way. No matter what job I have next year, I need to put some structures in place so that I have time to think about things I want to think about. And I want to be in the driver's seat, choosing to study things because that's what I want to do, not because of external pressures.
So my current plan is to scale down on these external commitments, to finish up some of the books I'm part way through -- in general, to clear the decks. Spring break (5 weeks from now) is a good deadline for a lot of this wrapping things up, although I'm not going to be at all rigid about that self-imposed deadline since our second term also finishes during that time period, necessitating lots of school work on my part.
I'm also going to blog brief reviews about books as I finish them up, because I think that will help my sense that I'm just moving from half-read book to half-read book in a pretty blundering way. And I'm going to feel free to pick up a fluffy book on a regular basis also; I'm tired of feeling like all of my reading has to be serious because I've got all these different groups I'm meeting with to talk about Serious Stuff.
And then, by the time summer rolls around, I hope I'll be much more relaxed and able to let myself even get bored so that I can see what ideas are bubbling up and asking me to think about them more.