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Summer and Bringing the Happy

“I'm the person who likes creating more than completing, who answers the Meyers-Briggs question about whether you prefer starting to finishing with "starting," who generally looks ahead and not back--so the end of the semester, especially Spring semester which is the end of a year, is always a place where I feel completely unmoored and anxious to the point of physical pain and tears.

It feels like that space in the shallow part of the ocean where the tide turns on itself and waves flowing in two directions knock into each other, spraying saltwater in your eyes and up your nose. Half of the work is tying things up; the other half of the work is getting ready to start it all over again.”

~Paula Patch

My friend and colleague, Paula Patch, posted these words this past spring semester, and I was struck by the power of this image and its relevance to my experiences. It is such a thoughtful expression of what it means to exist in the liminal spaces of college writing classrooms and administrative work.

This week I found myself almost drowning in what Patch calls the “shallow part of the ocean," and this feeling of moving forward while simultaneously being pulled back marks much of my writing and work. This said, I do not want the undertow of what Douglas Dowland recently referred to as “disenchanted academe” to rob me of the joy of moving forward, the pure pleasure it is to work with students, to dream up new curriculum, to immerse myself in data, to theorize and to practice, to look forward to the possibilities that come with a new semester.

And while national, state, and institutional politics can create a real sense of malaise, there are healthy ways to create closure and to move forward, and, for me, it is important that these movements be related in some way to my work. I am not my work, but in order to continually take joy in my work, I have learned there are a few simple ways for me to recharge and bring the happy. None of these pieces of advice are new. Academics are notorious for self-help strategies. But this week was a tough week, and I needed to remind myself of the value and joy in what I do, so I thought I would share.

  • Read a book for pleasure. This summer, I decided to add a few books to my summer reading list that had nothing to do with my scholarship or the courses I will teach in the fall. After having already purchased Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (and being completely undone by it) and Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give (and crying with my thirteen-year-old daughter), I decided to stick with the southern, female author theme, and when the Bitter Southerner released this summer reading list, I jumped on it. Leesa Cross-Smith’s Whiskey and Ribbons was a great read, and now I am on to Tayari Jones' An American Marriage.

  • Reach out to your people, and, if you don’t have people, put yourself out there to find them. I have four people at my institution that are my go-to people, people I know will drop everything and listen to me if I need them. A quick text, email, or phone call to one of these people always makes me feel better.

  • Cultivate relationships with people who do what you do at other institutions. In 2011, I met two fellow writing program administrators at a conference in Baton Rouge. We clicked early on, but we also recognized that having voices of reason not embroiled in our own local circumstances would be valuable and we created a process of what we have come to call horizontal mentoring. Many faculty are finding themselves with smaller and smaller travel budgets, but don’t be scared to send an email or ask a friend for an introduction if you cannot attend a conference. #HooHahs

  • Set realistic goals and set aside time to accomplish those goals. This seems obvious, but summer is an interesting crunch time for academics, and it is easy to get caught up in the too little/too much time conundrum.

  • Head outdoors. I am the worst about feeling guilty that I have a flexible summer schedule and trying to make up for that by sitting in front of my computer a lot. And I am the first to admit that this is not always productive time for me. I find that my work time is much more productive if I also take time to be outside (even in the Mississippi heat).

Needless to say, I am a glass-half-full kind of person. I always have been. It’s becoming clear to me, however, that in order to bring the happy and be the teacher I want to be, I have to acknowledge the emotional labor of my job and intentionally create outlets and relationships that consistently remind me of why I took this path.

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