I don’t normally take such a long break from blogging, but my oh my, has the past week been busy. I completed and turned in my dissertation prospectus (more on that in another post), started physical therapy, cleaned my house to a degree that’s genuinely unnerving, and started filling my freezer with enough home-cooked meals to last me a couple months. We’re talking at least twenty four hours, probably more, devoted exclusively to cooking and cleaning.
Suddenly, I see a number of parallels between my back-to-school fussing and doomsday prep. But it’s not doomsday I’m prepping for, it’s Academic New Year!
Tomorrow our (read: grad students’) first day back in the saddle. The undergrads will return days later, in—and this is patently absurd—October. “First Day” is putting it strongly. We’re having a meeting, taking professional photos for our department’s website, and enjoying a potluck at the park. Doesn’t matter. The first day of school is always light. It still counts.
As far as I’m concerned, starting the school year this late is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS TERRIBLE. On the other hand, I’m more desperate to get back than I’ve ever been. I’ve been holed up in my apartment by myself for two long. I think I may actually be paler now than I was when summer started. I’ve been productive, yes, but it’s time to return to polite society.
This impulse is comical at best, and pity-inspiring at worst. Because I’m on a research fellowship this year. I am not taking classes or teaching… in fact, I’m not required to be on campus at all.
To be clear: I am excited to go back to school even though I’m not really going back to school. Cue the sad trombone.
This isn’t quite as pathetic as it seems. Despite being one of the most disciplined people I know (not so humblebrag), even I occasionally need a little support. I’ve managed to not goof off for the past three months, but the impulse to work when nobody’s watching, well, it’s fading. Packing up my silly little lunchbox and going into the office every couple days is going to force me to engage with busy people, thereby shaming me into work.
At least that’s the plan. I’ve never had this kind of freedom before, and I’m more-than-a-little afraid of it. I’m hoping to mitigate my freedom, somewhat, by forcing myself to show up for the next few weeks, until I have established a schedule. I want to wake up in morning knowing that my peers expect to see me in the dissertation research room, empty lunchbox in hand, with something accomplished at the end of the day.
This little mind game appear to be working, because my back to school butterflies are as alive now as they were when I was in grade school. The primary difference is that now, instead of getting stoked over the prospect of a new Lisa Frank trapper keeper, I’m daydreaming about resolutions.
The start of the academic year is my New Year’s Day. Yes, I celebrate the traditional holiday, but this is when the big changes happen. And happen they do.
Last year’s resolution was to develop an online presence. It was an aweosme resolution because it was broad enough that failure was unlikely, and the possibilities for improvement limitless. The only thing I knew for sure was that I REALLY needed to update my LinkedIn profile, which I’m pretty sure had gone completely untouched for a good four years at that point.
Tah dah! One year later I’ve put together a halfway decent website, started a blog, chaired a panel on public history and digital humanities, edited an online journal, celebrated my one year Twitterversary, AND—perhaps most shocking of all—finally updated my LinkedIn profile. Basically, I own the Internet now. I’m swimming in this space, and the floaties are off!
Academic New Year is real, and if you harness its power for good, the rewards will be bountiful.
Given how successful last year’s resolution was, I’ve been wracking my brain for months trying to figure out the perfect goal is for this academic year. This entire blog is a resolution, so—with all these ideas circulating—it’s hard to pin down an individual goal to focus on. But, of course, if you set too many goals for the Academic New Year, you’re more likely to be unsuccessful. I needed one good goal… anything else I improve in my life is gravy.
I’ve decided that this year’s goal is to cultivate a daily writing practice beyond the journaling I already do. I see this goal potentially manifesting in several ways: maintaining my blog, devoting more time to freelance work, finally submitting those journal articles I’ve been sitting on for years, and, of course, dissertating like there’s no tomorrow. Those are the possibilities that I see now, but if the last year has taught me anything, it’s to wed oneself to processes, not their outcomes.
Tomorrow morning, when I get up unnecessarily early to iron a skirt that will most certainly be visible in my picture day photo, I’ll be doing so with a little extra spring in my step, because I know I have succeeded at changing my lifestyle, and will yet again. I hope that you all of you start thinking about one goal you can devote yourself to this year—wherever your calendar year begins—and know that you will achieve it, because you will.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m pretty sure there’s a floor that needs mopping… somewhere.
“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here. You can join the SMDS community on Facebook by clicking here and liking the page!