Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dog Days

We celebrated Chinese New Year at the Fox home last Sunday: hung up the paper lanterns, handed out some hong bao to each of the girls with a dollar inside, and feasted on shrimp and noodles, fried rice and pork dumplings. It was a good evening: welcome to the year of the dog!

Not that I've been in a festive mood lately. The month of January always seems to be a low point for both Melissa and I, and with the pain she's been in lately, this January has been particularly hard for her. My problem with the month might not be all that different from that felt by no doubt many, many others: you get all primed for the new year, you make resolutions and plans, and then suddenly the Christmas holidays are over and real life begins again and all those goals whither quickly in the winter chill. Academics, especially those of us coming back after the new year to a new semester, have an additional burden: whereas the summer gives you a long time to plan and prepare and build up energy, allowing you to (one hopes!) enter into the fall semester with both the season and the whole structure of your profession like a wind at your back, the spring or winter semester seems almost invariably to be something you and your students are stumbling into, groggy and unready, plagued on all sides by some unfinished project or something that you had, with foolish enthusiasm, put off from the previous semester and now have to rush to complete, just as all the machinery of the workplace gets back into gear. You get a couple of weeks into January, and already you're counting down the days until spring break.

This year has been par for the course so far: a couple of textbooks that all of a sudden turned out to be unavailable from the publisher (why they can't ever get this information to us before Christmas I'll never know), requiring syllabi to be rewritten on the fly; and then of course your rushed replacement books come in late, or not at all, or they send the wrong title. Colds and sore throats that move in sometime during the first week of January and appear determined to stick around until March, at least. Gas bills have gone through the roof and so we have to keep the house a little too cool for comfort; but the cold days keep getting interrupted by freak, 50-plus degree afternoons, which should be pleasurable except that the quick, subsequent return of cold gray skies only makes us more depressed, besides shaking up the atmosphere enough to give our viruses new interest in hanging around, just when we're hoping they'll get bored with our home's sterile atmosphere and shuffle off. The papers I need to read and essays I need to write and lectures I need to prepare pile up on my desk; they're dogging me, reminding me what this year means.

We've been making a go at academia for five years now; as I said last April, this one is almost certainly going to have to be our make-our-break year. I've thrown myself into my work here at WIU and into the job search in general with as much energy as I can muster (and don't my letter-writers--whom I've pestered endlessly and unforgivably of late--know it!), and through most of the fall semester I felt enthusiasm along with that energy. But the year ended with the future as ambiguously and frustratingly open as ever, and thus so far this year it's been slow going; I feel like I just need to keep my head low to the ground, tuck my tail between my legs, and get ready for bad news. I hope it's the January skies and Illinois winds that are getting me down (if it'd snow again, instead of just being cold, that'd be something at least). There's still plenty of time before March and April, before all the big events and big decisions of 2006 confront us; and before that time, I'm sure, they'll be some sunny days, and a spring to give us all a lift. Even in the midst of this already dog-tired January, I know--intellectually, even if I can't really feel it--that there are professional seeds beneath the ground, here and elsewhere, maybe growing, maybe getting ready to pop up. For the moment though, there's nothing to do but work through the winter, and wait.

It occurs to me that 2006 marks a personal Rubicon of sorts--as I was born at the end of 1968, and left home for college in mid-1987, this year will be the one in which I've officially spent more of my life on my own, and with my own family, than with my parents. Yes, I know, I'm a nut for these self-generated numerological milestones; I don't expect them to meaningful to anyone besides myself. But still, I have to think: I'm 37, I've got a smart and wonderful wife, three kids and one on the way, a job that I love that, admittedly, hasn't yet amounted to much, but probably hasn't hurt me much either. Despite all these Januaries, I've made it this far. And with this entry, I've written 100 posts on this blog. Not bad for an old dog.


Hugo said...

Russell, I'm sending out prayers for you and Melissa.

We are very close in age -- I'm less than two years your senior -- and our lives have had an opposite trajectory. I found academic stability and tenure young -- and also found three divorces and personal chaos. You've been blessed at home, and not yet been graced with professional stability. May this year be a year of breakthroughs for both of us! 

Posted by Hugo

Silus Grok said...

Hey Russ... hang in there, Russell!

If this doesn't pan-out, though, where are you thinking of heading? 

Posted by Silus Grok

Russell Arben Fox said...

Hugo, that's a new year's wish for both of us I can definitely embrace! Thanks so much for the prayers and good thoughts. Good luck for all your plans for the year as well!

Don't worry Silus, we'll make it through one way or another. Our "Plan B" exists, though it isn't terribly well formed as yet. Basically, it involves some sort of journalism....or maybe blogging. (I hear there's money in that.)  

Posted by Russell Arben Fox

Laura said...

I'm not sure if journalism is a good Plan B or not. No money. Lots of job hopping. I say look at university adminstration. You'll get compensated for the PhD, too. But that's just boring, tough love.

Buck up. It's only January. Let's see what happens on the applications. I have fingers crossed for you. 

Posted by Laura

Clark Goble said...

Wow, I never thought about that, but that's true for me as well. Weird. It doesn't seem that way, but then you wake up and you're in your late 30's. 

Posted by clark