fragmentation

I know I’ve written about this here before, seeing as this blog is *supposed* to be about motherhood and academia.

I rarely get sustained, uninterrupted time to work. Yesterday at a meeting with my exam chair, he says (after reading the katrillionth draft of my exam proposal) “It’s like every sentence is a thesis statement.”

Probably because everytime I sit down, I get to eek about one sentence out, so I’d better make it a good one. 🙂 The good chair, in his infinite and kind wisdom, gave me the rest of our meeting to sit quietly and revise–without ever having to get up a to wipe a heinie, pour someone a bowl of cereal, break up a fight, or otherwise fend off small hands grabbing at my arms while I typed.

I’m not sure how long I sat there. It didn’t seem like long, but I can’t begin to describe how valuable it was. And the value was not simply in the fact that once I was finished with the revision he deemed it ready to go to the graduate committee. The value was in an important lesson, one that I should have learned earlier that day when it took me from 9am until 2pm to write ONE assignment sheet:

I *can NOT* get any real decent work done at home. This is a lesson that I don’t think we working moms take very kindly to–which might be the reason I’ve been here working for nearly 4 years now and it’s only REALLY occurring to me right now. I don’t think it’s a welcome lesson because it undermines what we (or what I, anyway) take great pride in: the ability to juggle the two most important and competing components of our lives. It makes me see clearly those trips to McDondald’s, me with a backpack full of books, for what they really were: me reading a sentence, then opening a ketchup packet. Reading a sentence, then rescuing someone from the top of the slide. Reading a sentence, then wiping up a spilled drink. Etc, etc, ad nauseum. Or I’m writing, and it’s, of course, the same. Fragmented. Lurching. Painfully slow.

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7 thoughts on “fragmentation

  1. Oh, can I relate. I’ve come to the conclusion that I may be able to juggle three or four things, but I’m not actually doing a good job on all three or four things. If I’m excelling at work, my diss is suffering. If I’m really productive on my diss, I’m not paying enough attention to my daughter and husband. I wonder–damn, I hate to put this in writing–if we should stop taking pride in our ability to juggle so many things. Doesn’t that pride, to some degree at least, cause us to take on more than we should and/or cause others to exploit our pride and pile work on us? But I hate the idea of giving up work and my dissertation to focus 100% of my energies on my daughter. That’s not something that would work for me (and wouldn’t, in the end, be good for her). I’d love to know of any insights you or others have.

    (After my daughter was born, my dad reminded me–as he’s done about every month since my daughter was born almost four years ago–of my aunt who had six kids and “made a homemade dinner every single night and never missed a golf game.” So there’s that to live up to.)

  2. Liz, I think you might be onto something. I tend to think that I can do “a little extra” simply because I am accustomed to having to divide my attention–as in, how hard would it be to add one (or two) more things?

    I find that out the hard way every time I agree to do something that is on “the fringe” of family or work/study. A web site for a professor, or a committee for the church, another conference when I’ve already been to one or two that year. I’m getting better at saying no, but I still think that I need to prove myself as a hard worker in order to do this academia thing properly.

    I *like* teaching, and I like reading and student-ing, and I consider myself highly fortunate to have those things as a distraction from my kids. I *need* to be distracted from my kids. But the line between distraction and neglect is one that I don’t want to flirt with. And so, when something gets neglected, it’s school. And when I have to neglect school, I don’t neglect my students, I ignore my reading/writing.

    From my kids’ perspective, I am not fragmented. From my students’ perspective, I am not fragmented (completely). That which rests on the bottom of the totem pole of my priorities, reading/writing, IS fragmented. Seriously.

    Liz, you offer the example of your aunt as the bar to which you must live up as a mother. Luckily–and I’m not sure why, but it might be a result of cynicism–I’m pretty confident that my mothering and wife-ing duties are at least decent if not downright good. That is, I don’t feel stressful external pressure to *be* a certain kind of mom or wife.

    I *do*, however, feel an enormous stress to be a certain kind of student. It might be that the stress I feel is imaginary, but I don’t think so. To finish this degree, and to then be able be a marketable candidate in a couple years, requires of me an ENORMOUS amount of consumption of texts and a considerable amount of production of texts. I must demonstrate that I am capable of sustaining meaningful projects.

    And it is precisely my student-hood that is, right now anyway, frustratingly fragmented. It is HARD to produce anything meaningful when you’re working ONE sentence at a time.

    Whew. Sorry for that looong comment. Should have made it another post.

  3. This is an issue that never goes away, I fear. I did, somehow (fellowship) finish my dissertation. But now I teach full-time. What suffers? Of course it is my own writing. And sometimes, I fear, my students. But I also have to remind myself that part of what makes academia attractive is that I can put (some) things on hold while I attend to Son.
    When he was little, I wrote a series of short shorts called “The Nap Stories” each one about the length of a nap. The moral, for me, was that sometimes work has to fill the available spaces. I couldn’t choose between work or mothering, and I wouldn’t want to. But, like many other mothers, I couldn’t give up writing. A friend said to me the other day, “Why can’t we be less ambitious?” It seems like many other mothers (your aunt perhaps?) don’t have ambitions outside of their roles as mothers, wives, etc. And sometimes I envy them. When they go to bed at night, I think they sleep the sleep of the content.
    And that, partly, is why we’re academics, no? We are not content. And may never be.
    (just a side note on juggling: I agree. I don’t think it’s healthy for us. But what can we do? We are mothers and we are writers, therefore we juggle. The key, as you noted, is not to let anyone throw in two or six more balls when we’re not looking!)

  4. I think no matter what the distraction is, whether it’s kids, or students, or a job or some other kind, writing is the thing that suffers precisely because it is not a present other that needs attention. No one is there sitting in front of you telling you to sit still and write. It’s very easy to do anything and everything else first.

    The aunt who never missed a golf game also had something present, something to leave the house and children to go do at a certain time with other people expecting her. That’s something important to think about.

    I think we have to conceive of ourselves as writers, at least as seriously as we conceive ourselves to be anything else, and we need to schedule an appointment for writing the same as we do for attending a meeting or teaching a class. We have to see it as equally important, and not something to be “fit it” to other activities. If we could do that, and take it and your efforts there seriously, then the writing might not be so fragmented.

    It’s still juggling, but you have to be able to see it as juggling in the context of whole days, not just immediate moments.

  5. I think I know what I’ll be bartering with you for help on my website this summer: child care! Even if I can just be at your place and keep them away from you for longer stretches at a time…

    How do they feel about sweet old dogs who are good with kids?

  6. You said, “From my kids’ perspective, I am not fragmented. From my students’ perspective, I am not fragmented (completely). That which rests on the bottom of the totem pole of my priorities, reading/writing, IS fragmented. Seriously.” I think that’s what it comes down to for those of us trying to juggle a family/school/work/life–we’re the ones who get shortchanged. As I look over my to do list, I see that some simple items that have to do with me, like sew buttons back on a sweater, have been on the list since January. But when my daughter’s sweater needs a repair, that gets done within a day or two.

    I do work out regularly and my workout time is all about me. And my husband and daughter know I’m a better wife and mother when I work out regularly. But what about my buttonless sweater? What about my reading time? Like you, I find that my ME time is fragmented.

  7. Liz, I do find that I take *me* time–I run. The hard part is that even in the stress-busting midst of running, I still have in the back of my mind all the stuff that I should be doing instead.

    I think what my main point of the original post is what Chris pointed out earlier: that there isn’t anyone who stands over me making sure that I write–and that’s what Collin did for me the other day.

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