At 50: The Future

I turn 50 this week and I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means. After all, a half-century doing stuff feels like it should mean something, right? So I decided to do some little blog essays mostly to reflect on my professional (and occasional personal) life at 50. Yesterday I blogged about  Fun and on Wednesday, Collaborating”, on Tuesday Slow at 50 and on Monday, Not Full at 50”. Today I turn my attention to how thinking about the next stage in my academic career and life.

Hopefully by this time next year I’ll have buried my book project and hopefully done the best that I can to wrap up the two other dangling projects that refuse to resolve themselves. I’m not sure this will necessarily give me a sense of accomplishment or simply relief, but I do feel like a certain phase of my career might be officially over.

As I muttered about on Wednesday, I discovered that I really don’t care for sitting around and thinking and writing stuff on my own. It’s not only lonely and boring, but also unrewarding. I also have started to think about working to resist my unhealthy urge to produce words and shift my attention toward consuming the words, ideas, and approaches of other people. Lately I’ve let my compulsion to write get in the way of my need to read. 

It’s not that I don’t have ideas. Over the last couple of years, I’ve thought about writing a book on slow archaeology, writing a book on the archaeology of oil, or even just finishing the second volume of the PKAP series. I even played with the idea of creating an untextbook for Western Civilization classes. I don’t think I’m very serious about any of these projects.

In fact, I’ve started to feel a bit uncomfortable by the relentless churn of scholarly production that I see among some of my well-cited and prolific peers. I worry about how their work maps onto asymmetries of opportunity, workloads, and resources in academia and how those of us with the time and energy to write can create intellectual logjams as ideas cultivated in similar spaces of professional privilege jostle with one another for attention. At its simplest level, the question is: does the world need another book from a tenured, middle aged, male, professor at a R1/R2 institution? 

(This is something that concerns me about my blog as well. How do I justify my share of our digital attention span and what other voices struggle to get heard over my my incessant drone.) 

A few of my closest colleagues both here in North Dakota and elsewhere have modeled alternate forms of academic life that focus on service, collaboration, and ceding space on the academic stage to other voices while working hard to amplify the voices and opportunities for others. Of course, teaching plays a key part in this well.

So as I look to my future at 50, I am trying to think about my habits in more critical ways and ask how my professional habits contribute to the kind of world that I want to exist and live in.  For example, I can’t very well complain that I can’t keep abreast of recent scholarly develops in my various fields while I continue to churn out scholarship at breakneck speed and push serious reading into the margins of my week. I also can’t complain about new systems that seek to quantify academic work or its impact while internalizing habits that make these systems both necessary and effective.  

I’m not sure what the next 20 or so years of my academic career and personal life will bring, but I hope I find ways to do more for others and worry less about my own place in the professional ecosystem.

~

I hope that the last week of blogging hasn’t come across as too self-indulgent, but does continue to blur the line between my professional voice and my personal one. If a blog can’t do that, then I’m not sure exactly what a blog is good for these days. Next week, I’ll return to regularly scheduled (and somewhat less solipsistic) programing!

One Comment

  1. I’m not as dedicated a reader of your blog as I wish I were, but I always find value in what you have written and I hope that you will continue your blog.

    I look forward to tasting the new scotch (neither Speyside or Islay), and reflect a little on your recent reflections. bw

    Reply

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