Here’s why you learn to say no.

9 December 2012

Starting roundabout November 15, all I can fantasize about is dedicating a full day to reading a novel and maybe making a batch of holiday cookies. Instead, my classes ended this week and I am now staring down the gun barrel of all the committee work I agreed to do. Instead of reading deliciously long 19th-c. novels over break, that is.

In addition to grading all those bluebooks, coming up with final grades, and dealing with a couple of problem-child students, I will spend my time doing the following:

  • reading the last of three dissertations and writing assessments of all of them for a meeting 1 hour away, and taking place at 8am Tuesday
  • reading 80 assistant professor applications with writing samples of 25 pgs each in time for a search committee on Wednesday
  • reading a book manuscript for a press
  • writing a book review for a journal, because if I don’t finish it my head will roll
  • …and further down the to-do list: reading 3 dissertation chapters by 2 grad students desperate to finish their degrees next semester

You see? And I thought the semester was “over.”barchestertowers

Which makes it all the more heartbreaking that I still spend a good deal of my time these days fantasizing about how I’ll spend winter break lying on a sofa. Here’s how it goes: in my fantasy I am reading not a dissertation but the Anthony Trollope novel Barchester Towers (because is there anything better than a 19th-c. novel that reads like a house on fire?), and then I flip on the telly to watch the epic, 160-minute film Ran by Akira Kurisawa (1985). And for blog research I have the new book Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman by Dan Callahan.

Naturally, in my fantasy I also revive my recently-abandoned regimens of exercising, cooking actual food, and getting enough sleep.

And oh yeah, my own research/writing. Snort.

Lesson to the ladies: make a list of all the extra work you’re doing, and keep it on the wall next to your desk. Then ask yourself, can I do this AND all my teaching AND give myself time to read Barchester Towers. Why? Because the 1983 BBC miniseries Barchester Chronicles has a young, hot Alan Rickman as the officious Rev. Slope, which to me says MUST SEE. !!!!!

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9 Responses to “Here’s why you learn to say no.”

  1. Becky Says:

    This begs the question, when are you going to learn to say no? I cannot decide if the inability to say no is learned or hard-wired. I have just gotten to the point that I am able to say no without guilt quite recently. It’s so liberating. In order to get there, you must stop caring what other people think of you. Give it a go!

    • Didion Says:

      Learning is an ongoing process. One learns, then one forgets, or puts that knowledge aside in favor of other things.

      And it’s always a question of principle vs. reality: I mean, being part of a search committee allows me to try to change my university for the good, right? I am on principle dedicated to being part of adding excellent new faculty. (However, this principle must be weighed against the fact that I’m not the only one invested in such positive change.)

      So it’s not entirely done out of guilt. All those yeses were agreed to without close attention to all the other things on my calendar.

  2. eteokretan Says:

    “There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once, damn it. Now look at me. Look at me!”

    Re: saying no. Harder to say no when you’re new to the place. Want to make a good impression.

  3. Servetus Says:

    Rickman is fantastic. Our friend and colleague the former Cambridge professor lent me these DVDs, and as you know I’d read the books somewhat earlier. If I know you’re reading, may backtrack to accompany you 🙂

    • Didion Says:

      Oh, please join me! (It will take me a while to get there.)

      And I’m going to save El Rickman till I’ve finished this second book … I do love to know the literary version before tackling the TV version.

  4. Dark Iris Says:

    Eeep! You remind me why I’m grateful to only have undergraduate students now. I use to teach at a major research university, and my break schedule looked like yours. You sound like a passionate scholar and a consummate professional, Didion, and you probably give everything your best. Perhaps some of these things deserve your “just okay” attention, as you devote time to yourself. Of course, I can give this advice, but I sure as hell can’t take it, so there you go. Here’s to going back to the gym and lying around on the couch!

    • Didion Says:

      Yes, the grad student thing really adds another layer of labor. And you’re right about the sliding scale of energy. One can put in less dedication to certain jobs — especially when you realize that these jobs can take exactly as much time/energy as you’re willing to put into them.

      Ahhh, the sofa is so sweetly calling my name….

  5. hattie Says:

    It’s being in the middle of life. What you signed up for. You will understand that when you are old like me. But give yourself time to watch Ran.


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