I’m Tired by Elise M. Edwards
A few weeks ago, I was walking through the library, looking up books on women and pedagogy, when I saw a newer version of a book I’d seen on my sister’s bookshelf: Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia. The newer version, appropriately titled Ms. Mentor’s New and Ever More Impeccable Advice for Women and Men in Academia, jumped into my stack of books and invited me to take it home where I read it during the wee hours of the night instead of doing something more “productive.” I’ve always been a fan of advice columns, so I was delighted to find that this book features several advice letters organized in chapters on various topics about work and life in the academy. On page 112, I came across a piece called “My Head is Exploding.” It spoke to me.
Ms. Mentor (aka Emily Toth, a professor and columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education) notes that in October, people in academic careers have proposals and papers to submit, midterms to write and grade, conferences to organize and attend, and classes to plan and lead. I have these and a dissertation. To make life more complicated, my technology decided this would be a good month to confound me, not assist me. Ms. Mentor’s advice to the poor letter writer was to simplify wherever possible, commit to scheduled writing blocks, determine priorities, and at the end of it all, celebrate Halloween and blow off some steam.
Ms. Mentor’s advice seekers have anonymity, but because I chose to expose my tiredness on this blog, I don’t have that shield of anonymity. In one sense it doesn’t matter – I don’t think it’s smart or heroic to deny that we feel tired, hungry, achy, or sick, when our bodies have been dealing with things that make us tired, hungry, achy, or sick. So I have no problem admitting that I’m tired from staying up late to work on multiple projects that I knowingly and inadvertently scheduled for this month and next. And admitting that to my friends on Facebook actually helped me out. One day when I updated my status to say that I wished for a car wash, a home-cooked and healthy meal, and a massage, friends responded with food. Home-cooked food made in a single serving size for me to reheat the next day. I nearly cried with gratitude. In fact, I think I did shed a tear.
But the exhaustion I’m feeling is not merely physical. I’m feeling a kind of emotional and intellectual weariness. Talking about that kind of weariness reveals the vulnerability that contributes to some of my fatigue. The different tasks I’m taking on this October have me facing questions about my identity as a black woman and my commitments as a religious, yet socially liberal person. I’m figuring how to be the person I am in the world I inhabit.
It seems that every day I have to make multiple decisions about how I present myself to my colleagues, students, and mentors. I also worry about my credibility. There are other questions: How do I want to appear to future potential employers? How do I uphold my commitment to honor the dignity of every person when I need to mediate tense situations in the classroom, online, and in my personal relationships?
It is this kind of thinking that really wears me out. And unfortunately, it’s not resolved in the way physical exhaustion is–by getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, staying physically active, and eating the healthy meals my generous friends have prepared for me. I’ve been told that spiritual practice – prayer, reading, meditation, worship – can help. But in my experience, it provides emotional peace but not actual resolution to internal conflict. Part of the spiritual life is wrestling with difficult questions. I believe that personal growth occurs when we really engage questions about our identity and our commitments. And it’s the wrestling with difficult questions that drew me to theology and ethics in the first place. I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t want to think through difficult issues.
So you can see my dilemma. And I’m sure you’ve experienced it too. I even see it on the TV shows I watch when I take a break. A woman on The Good Wife provokes other professional women to question why it is rarely asked whether men “can have it all.” On Scandal, Olivia Pope deals with employees and former friends who question her decisions and motivations. The contestants on Dancing with the Stars struggle to overcome their nerves, have fun, and mask their uber-competitive spirit while wearing high heels and sequined fringe. (At least that last one isn’t a challenge I have to face in real life! Phew!)
How are you coping with these issues, my feminist friends?
Elise M. Edwards is a Ph.D. candidate in Theology, Ethics, and Culture at Claremont Graduate University and registered architect in the State of Florida. She does interdisciplinary work in the fields of theology, ethics, and aesthetics, examining issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.