Dancing to the Beat of My Own Kazoo

When no one is looking and I’m all alone in my own head, I know who I am. When their voices are silenced and the traces of what they think are muffled by my own inner voice, I understand who I am. When I stop wondering how they get their work done and how they keep their schedule, I am able to do great things.

I am a slow academic. I am a slow reader, a slow writer, a slow editor, and a slow thinker. I slowly create learning experiences for my students which, I hope, will encourage slow, deep thinking on their part. While I do extraordinarily well under pressure and can produce good, solid scholarship or lectures in a short time, I am happiest when I’m slow. I’ve come to understand that in today’s academic world, slow is bad. Slow can cause issues with getting tenure. Slow can prevent you from publishing enough, grading enough, being involved enough, doing enough. But slow is how I work … and it’s how I’m happiest and most productive.

Many of my colleagues are busy, busy, busy. There’s no time to think, no time to breath. They spend all of their time writing or researching or grading or participating in academia in one form or another. Balance isn’t in their reach. They accomplish great things — or that’s how it seems to me — and they are always on the go, moving and shaking in the Ivory Tower. I’ve watched many of them in awe, comparing myself and my working methods to theirs. I listen to them preach: wake up at 5:00 am, start writing at 6:00 … you MUST write no less than 2,000 words a day, by noon switch gears and construct lesson plans and lectures, and finally grade in late afternoon into the evening. Go to sleep. Start again the next day. Every day. All the time. Forever.

I don’t work like this. Hell, I’ve never worked like this, even when I was juggling grad school and teaching. Me, I wake up around 7:00 and start doing one thing after 9:00. Sometimes I’ll read, sometimes I’ll write … more often than not I’m working on classes or grading. I completely and totally immerse myself into my task, only to change course in the afternoon when I feel fried. Whole days are usually set aside to do one thing … thoroughly, completely, and totally. And my evenings are usually times of rest when I’ll have a cup of tea or glass of wine, talk to Ed, or watch a movie. Do I get things done? Yes, mostly, in my own weird time and in my own weird way. Sometimes things don’t get done and then I feel the pressure to produce. Sometimes things get pushed to the last minute and I’m preying for a “Hail Mary” at midnight. It’s stressful, but that’s how I’ve always done it. Slowly. Methodically. And only once.

Since becoming a full-time faculty member I’ve felt incredible pressure to change the way I work. I’ve questioned my working methods and my role in academia. I’ve gotten swept up in the quick-paced, you must produce, you must suffer and be miserable for your work mindset. I’ve tried to change the way I work because I know that I’m expected to produce. I’ve been beating myself up because I just can’t seem to get out of bed before 7:00. I’ve been very hard on myself because I’m creating on-line courses and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing … and yet, I won’t give myself leeway to admit that this is new and I’m working on a learning curve. I’m stressing over the two papers that need to go out because so-and-so said that I simply MUST publish or I’m toast. I haven’t given myself any time to ease into this new job and I’m not giving myself any time to wrap my brain around moving to Texas.

Instead, I’m listening to them. The outside voices who keep telling me that I’m doing this all wrong. I’m reading Vitae and The Chronicle and I’m freaking out because I don’t really fit into this kind of academic culture that everyone seems to be living. I’m slow. I’m thorough. I cherish the time that I take to dig into a task … time stands still and I’m completely, utterly happy and satisfied while all my other works sits undone. It will get done, but in my own time and in my own way. This drives folks crazy. It drove my graduate advisor crazy. It drives my fellow scholars crazy. Hell, sometimes it drives me crazy.

I oscillate between being stressed out and completely blissed out. I wonder if part of being an academic is to hate my job and life, because that’s what everyone seems to do and that’s what I’m feeling right now. Does it have to be this way? Do I have to follow them and their methodology? Is this the only way to “do good work well” and do well in academia? Or is there another way? Can I get everything done in my own way and time, and still remain completely blissed out?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, but I have decided to tune them out and follow my own Path. I’m doing this academic-thing my own way and in my own time. I’m allowing myself the time and space to figure it out because I REFUSE to hate what I do and I REFUSE to hate my life. I got into academia and scholarship because I LOVE what I do. I love the research, the writing, the debating … I love teaching. Will I publish? Yes. But I won’t be publishing a million things every year and I certainly won’t stress out about it. Will I figure out this on-line teaching thing? Yes. But I’m going to admit that I’m learning as I go.

Will I do great things? Only if I stay true to myself and my working methods. Only if I dance to the beat of my own kazoo.


  2 comments for “Dancing to the Beat of My Own Kazoo

  1. Stephanie
    15 Sep 2016 at 1:23 pm

    i don’t like this. I always thought the academic world was more like how you approach things. What you’re describing sounds more like the corporate world. I can’t see this focus on quantity as being beneficial to academia. Hell, even in my world, I’ve found a way to make a work style similar to yours work.
    I used to work as an auditor for a large mortgage company (one of the largest in the country). I loved my work, but it was strictly monitored for productivity. Even though I was one of the best they had, the way they demanded I work was chafing and I had to leave.
    I’ve bounced around a bit, but I found a company that doesn’t care that sometimes I drift a bit with tasks and then go all out for large chunks of time. In fact, it seems to work very well. I’ve received several raises (including a couple not-insignificant ones), a lateral promotion and it has been made plain to me that when my manager leaves (it’s become a what day will he give notice thing), I’m going to get the position.
    You are an amazing teacher. It’s been in your reviews. You know this. You wouldn’t have been hired for this spot at A&M if you weren’t. Your process has gotten you where you are today, Dr. Z. Don’t let someone (or many someones) unhappy with their lives tell you that because you enjoy your work, you’re not doing it right. You are doing it exactly the way you need to be doing it. You are amazing and all those negative people can kiss your accomplished (and happy) ass.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 16 Sep 2016 at 12:40 pm

    I can really identify with this post. I’m a slow worker and not really a multi tanker and pressure just makes things worse! I admire all you have achieved so now I feel better about myself! And of course, life outside of work is so important!


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