Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Italy Revelation: I am not Going to Kalamazoo in 2010

by J J Cohen

Although I mostly seemed to sit at a table at the Stables pub and drink (my new favorite is the shandy, half lager and half lemonade: thanks Josh!), the Leeds conference was quite a learning experience. I met many people whose work I have long admired, many others whose work I now admire, many bloggers whose work I follow (Jonathan Jarrett was especially good to meet, and so were Meli and Magistra, and ADM is always fun) and some very bright young in the field folk in whom I have great confidence. Plus I got to hang out quite a bit with Mary Kate and Eileen: what could be better than that? Mary Kate and I shared scones and tea together; Eileen slept in my bed at the Yotel. That isn't what it seems but that is all I will say.

In the days after the IMC, somewhere in the extinct volcanoes turned picturesque hills outside of Rome, when life had slowed down to a pace I haven't enjoyed in years and few people surrounded me besides family, I realized that once I stop being department chair on January 1 2010 I need to dial down the intensity of my life, first off by containing the ever-proliferating commitments I've been making. I'm giving a lecture in York in March, and have organized a panel for NCS Siena in July ... but my son's bar mitzvah is in April, I am tired of missing my daughter's events at her school, I have a book I need to begin to write, I have four essays due in the fall and a special issue of postmedieval I am co-editing, and on and on. Plus I am directing a little medieval and early modern studies institute.

I need, more than anything, to have some pause -- and lacking that, simply to undertake less.

The last week offered some of that, and the next ten days will offer some more. I'm in Paris right now. Getting here was tough, and featured a marathon sprint through Heathrow to catch a departing plane (how our five year old kept up with us I have no idea), but we had dinner at café near our flat as a thunderstorm swept the heat from the city. The windows are open on the Rue Claude Bernard, and city sounds and French conversations drift in. Will anyone miss me if I simply don't return to the States?


dtkline said...

I hear you, Jeffrey. There is a point of diminishing returns when balancing scholarship against our most important relationships. There's always another article to read or write or project to collaborate on or fire to extinguish, but there's only one bar mitzvah or so many sunny spring days for that game of catch or bike ride with the kiddos. My first just finished his first year of college and is back for the summer, and I can't get enough time with him. I wish I had every moment to live over with him with an even greater sense of joy in his very being present with me, something that tinges my days with my younger son. Take care of yourself and love on those kiddos and wife and those you love. I'd say you've earned a bit of a break, and when the time comes I bet your scholarship will be even stronger as will your energy for the profession. I know I don't speak only for myself when I say that we're grateful for your energy and commitment, my friend.

Anonymous said...
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Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks, Dan: I can't tell you how much that comment means to me. Right now I am sneaking in an email break while both kids play with their toys around the apartment, but hanging around as a foursome has been so much fun, and so revitalizing. Even our insane dash through Heathrow to catch our connection to Paris was, within one minute of it completion, transformed from a stressful ordeal to an episode we will always recall with laughter.

Sarah, that was so eloquently stated. These lines seem spot on to me:
And in the end it has to be that we enjoy what we do - and enjoy the combination of sociability and solitariness, of performance and contemplation, that comes with the job.
I don't want to lose sight of the pleasures of private life OR of work life. The York conference brings together both for me, oddly enough, in that the project I'm engaged in is as much about my grandfather c. 1930 as it is about a community of Jews in York c.1190. I would not miss it for anything.

Anonymous said...

A pleasure to meet you and your posse also Jeffrey. One of the most poisonous things about academia is that is that it's a job it's hard not to take home; the devil in setting one's own hours is setting them over other people, and so on. I would have thought you're safe enough to dial back a bit.

Eileen Joy said...

Personal lives are overrated, and you can never do too much. Never.

Just kidding.

Wait a minute.

I meant to say: personal lives are important, but you can still never do enough: in both!

Thanks for letting me sleep in your Yotel bed, by the way. It was dreamy? But where were YOU?

i said...

Jeffrey, I think your comment speaks to another aspect of academic life as well (beyond the work-personal life balance, that is). I'm thinking, namely, of rhythm. I've found, at least in my schooling, that there were 1-2 year periods when I was ambitious and wanted to do everything, to go to conferences and take on all sorts of projects, and there were periods when I withdrew and just focused on the work in front of me. I've come to think that's not a bad thing. There's a strength to being able to say, "The world will wait for me while I think about these texts, while I spend time with my family, while I let things percolate for a bit." And the world does wait.

Anonymous said...

True, the world does wait.

But do Deans? And do faculty reviews of "productivity" for merit pay, promotion, etc.

I mention this with the full realization that one JJC has little to fear in that regard - rather it is a concern for us more "middling" folk.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I realize I speak from a position of privilege: I'm at the end of the academic cursus honorum, so it is perhaps easy to speak about dialing down and so on.

But you know, post-tenure at least, conducting one's academic life to please the deans is the recipe for unhappiness. Merit pay is great, in theory, but it is seldom an adequate remuneration for effort. Isn't it better --again, post-tenure -- to come to your own balance of the personal and professional?

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

I've been quietly mulling over the notion of skipping K'zoo next year too, for many of the same reasons. I still haven't come to a final decision, but your post is pushing me in the direction of skipping.