Friday, November 28, 2008

Invertebrate Time

In the novel Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, the protagonist's wife and son move to London, leaving him in New York:

My family, the spine of my days, had crumbled. I was lost in invertebrate time.

Although my situation is not so sad and dire -- my family is away on a short visit with the in-laws -- I can relate to the feeling of being adrift in time, lacking the usual spine of my days.

I suppose I could go shopping today, supposedly the biggest shopping day of the year, but I have gotten this far in my life without feeling the urge to get up before dawn and lurk in a mall parking lot so as to rush into a store when it opens and immediately fill a shopping cart with on-sale electronic devices. Instead, I will enjoy my quiet invertebrate time by writing and thinking at home and at the office.

I plan to spend much of the day in my office, working on an interesting paper and trying to make progress on a proposal. There might be one or two other colleagues around, and a few grad students and postdocs, but the corridors will be empty and dim. It can be very pleasant working in a peaceful department building for a day or three.

I find that on the rare occasions when I have time alone with no teaching, no meetings, and no family responsibilities, I immediately revert to the working-eating-sleeping schedule I followed in earlier, less evolved stages of my academic life. I work long hours, eat at random times, and stay up most of the night. This isn't so great as a long-term lifestyle, but when you only get to do this once or twice a year, it can be quite fun being temporarily invertebrate.

The other day, my husband wondered if, years from now, we would revert to our pre-child academic lifestyle once our daughter grows up and leaves home, or whether we won't be interested in working such long hours again. In our pre-child life, we knew which near-campus restaurants were open all night (or at least very late), and our cats never knew when to expect us home. Our felines and our future grad students probably hope that we will not adopt a 20/7 work schedule.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my few days of invertebrate time, and then will be happy to resume normal life, especially since the term is almost over.

8 comments:

science cog said...

Hi FSP, Its science cog back after while. Great post as usual. Yes, I think we will return to working all the time and eating/sleeping randomly as soon as the kids grow up.

mudphudder said...

I know exactly what you're talking about! It doesn't get any better in the lab when there's no one around (during the holidays, early in the morning, after hours). I don't have kids yet but am well aware of the structure that increasing responsbilities impose on one's life. I enjoyed the invertebrate life during graduate school--less so these days. Although, at least there is a similar, eerily serene feeling walking through the hospital corridors at 2am.

mudphudder said...

I know exactly what you're talking about! It doesn't get any better in the lab when there's no one around (during the holidays, early in the morning, after hours). I don't have kids yet but am well aware of the structure that increasing responsbilities impose on one's life. I enjoyed the invertebrate life during graduate school--less so these days. Although, at least there is a similar, eerily serene feeling walking through the hospital corridors at 2am.

Anonymous said...

OMG! I did the same thing. I was up til 6am (this morning) working on a paper review and book proofs. I didn't realize it was so late until I heard my neighbors garage door open. Invertebrate time always works for me - I don't have a family yet. I'm looking forward to a spine someday!
Have a Happy Holidays FSP.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Hmmm....I wonder when my invertebrate time will end?

I suppose it's up to me to find a spine....?

quietandsmalladventures said...

i completely agree! that is exactly why i love working in the lab on sundays, quiet calm working conditions with few distractions.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love this post, and especially the terminology "invertebrate time". I get invertebrate time every summer, when my husband (an MSP) is off on academic travels and my kids are having a ball out of town with one of their sets of grandparents. (I've said this before: I'm an Asian FSP. In my part of the world, grandparents play a big role with kids.) Much as I love my family, I really look forward to this time, and I let loose in many ways revelling in the lack of forced schedules. As a senior colleague often tells me: My kids have disciplined me to a much better extent than my parents.

And my doctoral students know better than to plan trips home during this time; they know that this is when they will really get a lot of time and attention from me. I haven't figured out which of these it means:

1. At other times, I give them less time/attention than they deserve.

2. They seem to need more time/attention than is healthy for them.

FSP has posted before on this balance, but I remain muddled between am-I-doing-too-little and am-I-spoon-feeding. Hopefully I'll know by the time I retire!

MM

Not Just Academic said...

I began to drop out of invertebrate time when we got cats and I felt guilty about being in the office when they were home alone (feline capacity for unsupervised destruction is enormous).

So I indulge in invertebrate time when I have a stretch of working from home, usually during the summer or other breaks. Spending most of the day working with occasional breaks to eat matches the cats' circadian cycle perfectly, except that they nap while I'm working...