Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August - how did that happen?

Photo credit: Reuters

It is August in New York. August is a tough time here. The heat 90+ for most of the month and the humidity is a slap across the face every morning. The streets are crammed with tourists - great for the local economy and nice the the tourists, but a little rough for those of us who need to get from point A to point B without being stepped on, pushed, interrupted or crowded. Anyone of any means leaves. The upside is that restaurant reservations are easy to get. The downside is, people like me are constantly reminded that they can't afford to get away. August tends to be the one month of the year when I become really bored with the city. Most of my friends leave town for extended periods and I stay. Almost everyone in academia is unreachable, so publications and projects sit or crawl despite my best efforts.

Yet this is possibly my last Summer here....and I'm trying my best to make the most of it.

To that end, I willingly sacrificed the more populated and less humid months of June and July in an effort to finish my dissertation draft. I gain at least 5 pounds while strapped to this computer in that effort....so really, I don't want to travel to a beach anyway. I should be thrilled that I sat down and worked over the last 6 weeks or so because I have achieved/received

1) 3/4 of a full draft of the dissertation
2) a full draft of the publication which my advisors are still revising
3) two accusations of not working from people who do not know better
4) half the papers I am owed for a project I am overseeing
5) all but 2 of those papers out for review
6) last term's tuition is fully paid
7) one of student loans reduced to half of what it was at the beginning of June.
8) one class taught

With the exception of the weight gain and the non-sensical complaints, this should be great progress. Two things are really keeping me from feeling good about it

i) I have to see my boss two days in a row, which is always demoralizing

ii) my boss is starting to call ad hoc meetings and make undefined demands of my time (i.e. Boss "you should be here"
me: "doing what?"
Boss: "you should have something to do here"
me: "can you be more specific? I have things I would like to do"
Boss: "well, you can't work on my projects"
me:"can I work on my projects?"
Boss: "someone else has some ideas for you"
me:"can you be more specific"
Boss: "well I can't make you do them"
me: "what are they?"
Boss: "I don't know"

The suggestion is not bad. I would like to be gathering more data. The problem is these conversations have previously always built to these explosions of unadulterated anxiety with no practical suggestions from my boss. Very basic practical measures are never taken (i.e. your products will be billed to these accounts, or "sit down. Let's talk about next steps so that I can alert the staff of what invoices will be coming in") and as a result, I spend weeks spinning my wheels producing proposals and outlines that are never used while the remainder of the staff refuses to accept invoices or suggests that I pay for the project out of my independent salary. In the end, I'm always accused of not being a promising academic. These exchanges lead to a lot of back and forthing and directionless online research that stalls my dissertation.

This time might be different, but my boss is suitably distracted that I would rather sit down and finish the dissertation draft and then chase them for the required information/accounts to proceed.

iii) these two factors have left me dreading the inevitable - rather than wander the abandoned August streets of NYC for the first time in years, making paper revisions and actually getting a week off of work, I will spend it rushing back in forth, under great pressure, to an office with no particular purpose...and have to write the dissertation in the spare minutes of the day.

I've spent all day trying to think of a strategy to handle this problem of work disrupted by other people's anxieties. I think what I need to do is take a work vacation - like hole up in a hotel someplace really cool and just sit down to write and plan my next steps.

So...I'll be back here with suggestions

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