Reflections

What Does It Mean to Be on “Vacation”

Once upon a time, when I worked at Home Box Office, we had a mandated four-week vacation – well, to be accurate, our first year we were given three weeks but then it would be raised to four. Part of our benefits package also offered the opportunity to take a “sabbatical” (I think the threshold for that was ten years at the company). The sabbatical was a holdover from the old days at Time, Inc. when editors were expected to take time away from writing to write. Apparently Time, Inc. believed everyone had the Great American Novel tucked in their desk, ready to be polished over a few months’ break.

I never took advantage of the sabbatical (which I believe has now been abolished – would have to confirm that with some of my old friends still at HBO) and I don’t recall ever being able to take four weeks of vacation in a year. I think I took one two-week vacation in 1988 but after that I was lucky to be able to take a week here and there, mostly tacking on a few days before or after a holiday (I think they finally stopped rolling over my vacation days and gave me a TV as a consolation gift.) And as I rose in the ranks and added responsibilities I found myself ever-more tethered to the office. I recall one fight with my mother when I called into the office from my cousin’s wedding reception. It was a Saturday, and we were broadcasting a boxing match that night. Not a shining moment for me.

I’ve written before about the false sense of importance that corporate entertainment  inflicts on itself. And I’m sure my need to see what I did as valuable probably contributed to my acceptance of that tether. But lately I’ve been thinking about how the academy is really not so very different, and how I really haven’t changed.

If you’ve read about me on this blog, you’ll know that I’m a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech. Our contract calls for us to be paid nine months out of twelve. We get year-round benefits, but unless we take on summer teaching we’re living on our savings and maxing out our credit cards from June to August. I get it. I wanted to take this assignment. I read that contract before I signed it. I suppose that these summer months should be spent working on the equivalent of the Great American Novel: an article or two, that elusive book proposal, our personal research. Maybe we should be spending a week or two with our families and friends, preferably near a body of water.

Long Lake, Maine. Photograph by Lynne Eyberg. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Increasingly, however, I find myself working on projects related to Georgia Tech: what might in another context be called service (which is not explicitly identified in our contracts.) I do this because I enjoy working with my colleagues and responsibilities and opportunities just don’t stop the day after you submit course grades in May. And I know I do this because I really haven’t changed from those days of calling the office in the middle of a family gathering. I’m afraid of being dispensable.

I bridle at the assumption many make that teachers get the summer off. That “How I See Myself How Others See Me” meme is funny and all, but it’s irksome at the same time. You don’t just stop being an academic because of the change of seasons. There is, however, something to be said for taking some time to rejuvenate in advance of the fall term, not to mention the anxieties associated with searching the MLA Job Information List again. And the idea of defining and adhering to a separation between the rigors of teaching nine months out of twelve and the need  to focus on other aspects of our careers is not just appealing, it’s crucial if we’re going to be successful at attaining whatever we identify as the next rung on this ladder. But this morning it hit me that I REALLY need a vacation from everything. I need to be able to go some place (preferably near a body of water) and read a book that has nothing to do with early modern England or digital humanities (and no, I don’t mean Fifty Shades of Grey).

I’m not going to get that vacation this year for a number of reasons, and that’s the way things are for me right now. I do wish that I could learn how to accept that my commitment to Georgia Tech (which will end in ten months, anyway) is not all encompassing; that I am truly and in every way expendable. But I’m not going to get that, either. I think I’m not wired that way.

If I sound like I’m whining, I probably am. I doubt I’m alone in this whine. I wish I had thought about all of these things earlier in the summer, and that I had enough self-confidence to be able to say no to someone or something.

And with that, I have to get back to organizing my fall syllabus, chip away at that book proposal, work on the Tarlton Project, and write some code for the image annotation tool. Oh, and buy some groceries. It could be worse – I only have ten items left on today’s to-do list.

Happy Sunday, everyone. I hope you’re not reading this – especially if you’re sitting by a body of water and reading something completely random.

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