There is a strange, out-of-place folder on my portable hard drive. First, let me explain that I have a portable hard drive because I am a vagabond academic. Not so much as others I know, of course — people who teach as adjuncts in two or three colleges around the state. Compared to them, I am positively sedentary. I have an unofficial but graciously-respected desk in the corner of the adjunct office at the one school to which I devote all of my teaching. But that desk, like most of the public spaces on campus, has a shared PC terminal on which I cannot load software nor store local data. And despite the best efforts of the IT crew, each time I log in at that same terminal, even if it’s only been hours since the last time, the darn thing welcomes me to “my New MSOffice” and wants to know if I would like to set up my preferences. Well sure I’d like to, but you won’t remember them anyway, Bucky, so let’s skip it.
When I’m not at school, I use one or another of my two greater-than-five-years-old laptops which don’t really count as laptops any more except that technically I could perch one on my lap IF I am sitting within reasonable distance of an electrical outlet as neither storage battery any longer holds a charge. And then sometimes even when I am at school I need to use the computer that’s hooked up to the classroom SmartBoard, or, as in emergency situations like this one (I just HAVE to blog and the school is overrun with high school students who have been kicked out from the building next door because of some damn fire drill or bomb threat or something, and I have students who are taking finals and need proctoring so we’re in the library) I use whatever terminal is available, and for all of these reasons I carry my entire academic and professional life around with me on a 500 GB hard drive with 458 GB free space after three years of storing my entire academic life on it.
The 7.42 GB used space is neatly organized according to the kind of categorical principles which would make Aristotle fall in love with me. My numbering system groups areas of academic inquiry into general types like Social Sciences (900.000) and even further delineated, such as The Teaching of Literature (650.000) and Studies in Colonial America (220.300). I finally figured out that there were Old Testament texts which I used when teaching Milton (yes, there he is again) AND Comparative Religion AND Myth and Culture AND American Puritanism so if I am looking for Old Testament I don’t hunt through all of those course materials; I go to 100.000 The Ancient World/111.000 The Middle East and there we are. Not to be confused with 100.000 The Ancient World/150.000 Greece and Rome/150.500 Roman Empire, where New Testament texts can be found.
But there’s a strange folder. (We’re back to where we started.) 1100.500 Scholarly Projects. It’s a mess of materials. It contains All The Things I’m Going To Write A Paper About, and it doesn’t matter if they are about Shakespeare (210.110) or Harriet Arnow (450.200 Post War America) or anti-slavery documents in Concord, 1860 – 1870 (320.100); they are all stuck in 1100.500 Scholarly Projects. And I do mean stuck. Because in addition to being a vagabond academic, I am also an Academic in Limbo. I am not on a tenure-track, nor do I expect (at age 50) to ever be on one. This could be read as Good News to the optimistic or terminally lazy, because it means that I am not a victim of the age-old academic trap called Publish or Perish. See, back in the old days when academia was a moribund, inflexible old-boys’ network of Get your Ph.D., Get Your Foot In at a University, Get Published, Panic, Get Tenure, Then Sit and Moulder and Sometimes Teach But Mostly Let Your Grad Students Correct The Papers, “Publish” was a key activity. Publish meant conduct original research. (Humanities: Go to old libraries at older colleges and read original documents while wearing oversized white gloves. Social Sciences: Ask lots of people random questions and make neat-looking line graphs demonstrating “a correlation of something to something else.”) Publish meant submit said research to a scholarly journal, wait for the peer review, then breathe for maybe six months while you think of the next thing to Publish.
Some of that still happens at larger institutions, but anywhere from 40 to 70 percent (depending on whose line graph you look at) of all current instructors of higher education are not on a tenure track. Most of us are adjunct, part-time, “contingent,” or simply non-tenure-track (“lecturers” or “instructors.”) Depending on the institution, we might be well paid or poorly paid, with benefits or without, relatively secure in our positions or biting our nails each semester, appreciated or belittled. But generally, we are Not Called Upon To Publish To Prove Our Worth.
Sure. The one thing in the academic’s job requirements I might have been good at. Politics and schmoozing, not so much. Faculty mixers, no thanks. But Reading and Writing About Scholarly Subjects? Never mind “where do I sign up?” this was WHY I signed up in the first place! (Plus teaching. Must never forget the classroom. Still have that, thank heaven.)
Nobody cares if I publish.
And that means that nobody bugs me to finish.
And that means there are stupid unfinished 1150.000 Scholarly Projects.
Oh, I wish the act of writing this blog, amongst the final exams and the Displaced High Schoolers, would get me any nearer to writing That Paper I’m Going To Write, but I doubt it.