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Life balance

Author: joe

Tuesday, 31 January, 2012 - 22:24

Bat, Bean, Beam recently wrote about the various parking, dismantling and deaths of blogs ‑ and I thought, hmmm, have I got a dead blog? Well I have several actually, but menticulture has always been where I've gone to Write Something In Blog Format, and where, recently, months have intervened without a whisper. Anyway, in true speech act style, this very clacking of keys on the bodywork and thin‑film transistors dancing on the light canvas exactly are the decision not to let the old menticulture blog sip away just yet.

In the autumn of 2010 I set myself the task of writing something every working day, in the hope (correct as it turned out) that a little writing leads to a lot of writing. I should try to be so disciplined again, though perhaps not with such stringent constraints. Lately the not‑writing has not been a symptom of gazing at the wall vacantly wondering what to do with myself ‑ quite the opposite: a family, a baby girl, a new county and other homely busy‑keeping has kept the small hours full, while I'm increasingly finding it impossible to squeeze as much out of working life as I used to. No longer willing to work moonlight hours for an increasingly demanding university, I have little time beyond what has become a grind of teaching to pursue the different strands of personal work ‑ research projects, PhD progress, digital practice ‑ not to mention the necessity of the freelance work which complements my part‑time position at the university.

All this has lately led me to wonder whether it isn't time to rethink the academic part of my life. A few years ago I had a brief conversation with a mentor who had taken a career‑path not very dissimilar to my own, bridging a primary role as a practitioner with subsequent work as a researcher and teacher. My mind blew out slightly when he suggested I should perhaps put the teaching on hold for a while and concentrate on the other things ‑ complete your research, focus on your professional work. I had gone to him hoping to find strategies for maintaining the different components in some vertically aligned way, and failed to see how jettisoning my main source of (admittedly small) income could possibly help.

Now however, I am starting to see the attraction of this option. Part of me is utterly aghast that it has come to this. For so long I've seen teaching as the most important aspect of my work ‑ teaching as the primary function of a university system which can then harness the intelligence of its community to conduct research. To be sure, I felt it would be a sort of charlatanism to 'just' teach a practical discipline which you do not also practice: if you daren't live by the wits of your practice, why should any student expect to learn anything from you? But what at the end of the day is the value of work that you don't want to share with others, to uncover the apparent mysteries of craft and invite people to experience the pleasure that attends learning how to make things?

The pressures in the institution have long been such that to achieve this balance of personal integrity and educational efficacy you have to sacrifice many other parts of your life. When I was a kidult single bachelor hedonist I could choose to subsidise the HE institution by working 70 hours a week in term time and recuperating other parts of my life in the breaks. That option is no longer open to me, and more than a decade of working in HE has shown me how people who dedicate their lives to a project like teaching, treating it as a vocation that invites devotion and commitment, often end up feeling betrayed by their institution's tendency to undergo changes of management, policy, funding imperatives and the blunt churn of turnover. When the line‑managers in your department are replaced by new suits with new executive orders and with the new odours of the political wind in their noses, those years of effort don't seem to count for as much as you hoped.

Categories: teaching, work-life balance, decisions,
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