AcWriMo: a postmortem

Here comes winterAcWriMo completely failed to have the effect I'd hoped for, but I'm taking it as a sign of a positive change.

One of the key axioms underlying life at UChicago is that you should always be working. I know people there who have hobbies that do not in any way relate to their professional careers, but it's certainly not the sort of information you freely volunteer in conversations with casual acquaintances. Leaving academia for an alt-ac career felt extremely freeing, like I suddenly had a choice about how I could spend my evenings. But in retrospect, it didn't take long for me to completely fill my free time with obligations and projects that I took on with more enthusiasm than forethought. Instead of blindly chasing dissertation chapters or publications, I took on building new systems, helping people crunch data, dealing with technical and administrative tasks for almost anyone who seemed like they needed some help. The objects of my attention were different, but like my academic colleagues, I came home from work every day and spent just about every evening and weekend behind my computer, doing work that I felt needed to be done, but never pausing to ask myself why, or whether I was the right person to be doing the work, or whether now was the right time.

When I started "Drupal for Humanists", I had plans to leave UChicago for another job at another institution, but the timing of the departure and the direction I was headed both changed in the six months that followed. What I didn't realize was the profound impact that a place can have on your life. It's not an entirely comfortable thought for those of us whose careers require going wherever there's a job, rather than making the choice about where you want to live. The way we often talk about things, you'd think that a life is defined first and foremost by the work one does, and everything else amounts to inconsequential details, which you might only notice on those rare occasions when you're not behind a book or computer, working on your intellectual pursuits.

Imagine, then, my culture shock when-- in my first week at Berkeley-- I tell my boss I'll be sending him a revised draft of a grant proposal that evening, and he cheerfully replies that he'll take a look in the morning, because he's going to the forge after work to turn a steel rod into some handcrafted nails for his kitchen remodeling. Not only is there a forge nearby that anyone can use after taking a few classes (which is pretty amazing), but even more remarkable, people feel no shame in revealing that work isn't their first priority in all circumstances.

As that strange behavior has started to seem more normal, I've found myself taking a serious look at all the projects I've gotten myself involved in, and making deliberate choices about what to continue doing, and where I need to wrap up my work and move on. Sometimes this has led to awkward conversations, but it's liberating to feel like I've chosen how I spend time, rather than feeling drowned by obligations where I can't even clearly articulate for myself who I have the obligation to, exactly, or why-- and that includes AcWriMo.

I continue to be reminded that "Drupal for Humanists" is, indeed, something I honestly want to do. I've also discovered that the early mornings are the best times for me to reliably make progress on it. That said, there are other things that require attention in the morning, and I'm still working on finding the optimal balance. I'll keep writing, but the sustained monomania necessary for making a huge leap forward on the project just wasn't worth missing out on taking long walks through the neighborhood, smelling flowers, marveling at protesters, sewing things for myself and others, enjoying New Orleans, visiting family for Thanksgiving, making the apartment festive to match the city. I completely failed AcWriMo, but I had a wonderful November, and I don't feel the least bit bad about it.


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