Monday, June 12, 2006

Work and not-work

On the weekend I went away for a day. I was doing my hobby, for lack of a better word – that one makes me cringe. In fact, I am cringing so hard that…let’s call it The Activity. The Activity is something I’ve been doing for twelve years, and I did a related something for a few years before that. Over the years The Activity has been an enormously important and valuable part of my life. There’s been a lot of travel, a lot of time committed to rehearsals all year round, a lot of friends made. We’re talking major commitment. And beyond the joy The Activity itself has brought me, there is also its place at the centre of a rare and beautiful community. I have become great friends with my fellow Activity-doers, and The Activity is connected to a larger community that I really think is exceptional for lots and lots of reasons.

Over the last two years or so, things have felt a little less than top-form with The Activity. We’ve fallen off course, and the group has become fraught with some unpleasant dynamics. And so, last year, when I realized I had to move to University City for a job, I wasn’t as devastated as I would have been say, five years earlier. I still missed them terribly, though. And I didn’t cut myself off completely – I went to rehearsals and even events on those rare occasions when I could.

But this weekend away, I and a couple of my close Activity-doing friends were talking about leaving the group for good. It just doesn’t hold us anymore – and for me, there’s the logistical issue of, uh, not actually being in the same city once the academic year starts up again. There was talk about a future, super-incarnation of Activity-doing that some of us could do on the sly, starting in a year or so. That’ll be enough to give me The Activity buzz and keep me seeing the friends.

Contemplating an end to all this commitment and purpose has me worrying, though. I’ve always been so happy to have a life that’s not defined solely by the academic work I do. I worked in magazine publishing on the side, all the way through undergrad degree and most of grad school. And I had The Activity. These two things, I thought, saved me from becoming too wrapped up in the ivory tower. The Activity, in particular, has been so important because it diversified the friends I had. It helped ensure that life didn’t narrow too much, that my circle didn’t consist solely of lesbians and academics. I don’t want that, much as I like (and am) both.

In leaving The Activity, I’ll be cutting myself off from anything consuming outside of my job, outside of academia. Oh sure, I work out (usually). But that isn’t really a – retch – hobby. It doesn’t come with the specialized, intimate knowledge that The Activity does – or the travel, or the glimpses of different lives. There’s no community in it (nor would I want there to be). I could look around for another Activity of some kind, but there’s nothing I can think of off the top of my head.

Really I just seem to want to work. But I’ve watched myself working very hard over the last week – I become so lost in my own brain that some nights I feel like I can’t even pull far enough out of myself to say two words to GF. Is this who I’ll be without The Activity? Is this what I want? Will I watch my life narrow, along with my own capacities to imagine myself differently? Will I start on the road to early-onset academic eccentricity, that all too common affliction?

Seriously, I worry about the ways this life can be an unhealthy obsession. I think those of us who do this work all live with the knowledge that we can't leave work at work...try as we might, we can't be 9-to5ers. Nor would we want to be - that's what's liberating about this job, after all. So it seeps into our lives. But when does the seeping stop? In my case, will my stopping the Activity - and not replacing it with something else - mean it's crept too far?


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

and you can't do the Activity in your new city?? Sure, you won't be with the old group -- but a new group is also a good thing sometimes... or, you could start your own group.

Hilaire said...

Hi, itph. Yeah, that would be ideal. Unfortunately, I'll be only in University City 4 days a week, and teaching nights exclusively, for some reason. That'll make it hard. Also, given the nature of The Activity and the fact that nobody knows how to do it, I'd have teach it if I wanted to do it at all. Teaching full-time for my job means I don't wanna do teach in my leisure time. I just wanna *do* The Activity! Hopefully, sometime down the road, I'll be able to do it a bit with some of my current group, in a less structured way. When I'm in Home City.

Thanks for stopping by, itph.