Hysterical laughter in August’s shadow

July 5, 2012

August is going to own my ass this year, you guys.

In light of that, please forgive the run-on sentences and all of the places where I make no sense. This is not an artful post so much as, well, the blog version of a giant, hairy, manifestation of one hundred large anxieties.

My tenure dossier is due on July 23. Which happens to be the day after my birthday. And also, probably, the day before I drink myself into a state of utter oblivion while abandoning N and Dot to the mercy of each other. Well, not really, but I may be pouring myself a few gin and tonics, yes.

Tenure is supposed to be a given, really, if you’ve been doing your job. But for me, because I stopped the tenure clock twice but don’t have more publications than are required for someone who didn’t, it could go either way.  Because of this, I am a woman obsessed, bouncing between procrastination, manic writing spurts, manic pacing the building spurts, the need to review all my past work, the need to strategize how to best present myself and my work, the need to watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube (see above, procrastination), and the need to overcome petty practicalities such as how best to deal with the really frustrating requirement of turning everything I’ve done, including web work,  into a pdf so that my reviewers don’t have to click on links to anything.

I am finishing an article that was supposed to be co-authored but turns out to be authored by just me, which is frustrating when writing for your life, honestly, and I’m wondering if I need to include my (so far) non-writing co-authors as co-authors when I submit it or if there’s a politic way to say, “Could I just credit you in the acknowledgements instead?”

And then there’s the especially fun challenge of figuring out how the hell I write a context statement that contains the words “my first child died” without making it glaringly unprofessional but while still making sure that the, well, gravity of the event is clear so that there’s some sort of explanation for what I probably will describe as my years of decreased publication activity rather than as my years of brokenness.

And then there’s the usual work to be getting on with, as well.

I have colleagues who are rooting for me, who have offered to help with reviewing. I am grateful. And I’ve done good work here. I’ve given my best, insofar as it was mine to give. One of the painful things about examining the aftermath of Teddy’s death is realizing that, for a long time, I couldn’t give anyone my best. My best was replaced by numbness and survival. I don’t blame myself for that, but I can see how I could’ve done better. If I knew then what I do now, which of course I didn’t, then.

Part of what helps me is to remind myself that I’ve done good work, that I’ve learned a lot, come through a lot. That sometimes doing just that is amazing, even if it isn’t recognized by the outside world as such. That I am doing better work now than I was when I started out, and some of this is in spite of everything, and some of this is because of everything. A writer I love called my attention to the Dar Williams song, “You’re Aging Well,” and that song is where I go for validation and courage these days, even though it makes me all weepy. And I think it applies to all of us, this song, even when we feel weary and crone-like, or obsessed and hysterical.

All of my emotional energy is going to this thing. To propping myself up and getting through this looming, imminent thing that will profoundly shape my (and my family’s) future and to trying to shield N and Dot from my rocketing stress levels by preserving some fun and normalcy at home.

Which means…

I want a month to sandwich between July and August this year. A buffer month. A now-you-can-collapse month. I can see the shadow of August looming up at me, but I can’t prepare, can’t ponder, can’t deal with any of it until, well, until it’s here. This scares me into actual shuddering fits. I feel like I’m going to be fighting a dragon without my armor, without my horse, without my dragon-burn balm.

But it’s not like the armor, horse, and burn balm ever worked especially well, anyway. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I fear. Maybe it will be just the usual badness, only different, because year four will be different from years three, and two, and (thank goodness) one.

Remember me kindly, if the next thing you hear from me is essentially “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Not that this post isn’t, essentially, “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”



  1. Wow, that is a shitstorm on your plate. Oh, but Mama, *could* you have done better, back then? Hindsight being what it is, and me only 11 months out from the loss of my twins, I still believe I did the very best I could in the last 11 months, and anyone who thinks I should have done better or differently can suck my big toe. Grieing is fricking hard, a full time, soul-sucking job in and of itself. The “real world” work stuff, while important, feels like just noise. I myself had to deal with threat of layoff, a temp position and then competing to keep my job permanently, when, really, bereaved parents aren’t supposed to have to deal with major life changes the first year. Doesn’t anyone read the experts’ guidelines? I guess not…

    Good luck…I’m quite sure you’ll knock their socks off! xoxo

  2. ‘I couldn’t give anyone my best’ – you see, If I were of a clearer disposition and better intellect, I could have summed up my last two posts in a sentence of yours. And now we are forever playing catch up. Sigh,

    WISH I could create a buffer month. A Jugust? A Aune? Both sound equally improbable sadly.

    If they don’t give you tenure? They are fools. Truly.

    Ummm, Lizzie Bennet diaries on YouTube?

    Coming back to the song.

  3. I so feel your stress and anxiety here. I truly lost a year of my life to grief, and the thought of having to justify that to a tenure committee is enough to make my skin crawl. I have a hunch that your work will speak for itself, and your “decrease in publication activity” will be rightly viewed as a mark of personal tragedy, not professional weakness.

  4. Buffer month. Yes please.
    Limping with you this year, dear friend.
    Seriously, August. Enough already!

  5. I always get irritated that there is no buffer zone, wish you could have one. Good wishes on tenure, lots of hugs for the lead up to August. If I could, I’d show up in a couple of weeks with chocolate cake and gin and a big box of Kleenex.

  6. Holy cow! That’s a full pre-August plate. I’ll be cheering you on from the east coast and, hey, we’re almost birthday buddies (July 26).

    When I’m queen for a day, I’m going to make it so that everyone understands that personal and professional aspects of life necessarily intersect. Then I will also make it so that everyone understands that a dead baby can be a source of strength as well as temporary madness/incapacitated-ness.

    Also, I’m in favor of this buffer month you speak of. Let me know if there’s a petition I can sign.

  7. So today is the 17th — less than a week to go — how’s it going?? If your reviewers have a heart (& I know sometimes that’s hard to believe with some people…!) they will understand that you weren’t working on a even playing field with your peers & credit you for what you did accomplish. I’ve never been wildly ambitious, but I know my performance & feelings about work have not been the same since my pregnancy.

    And oh, I hate “collaborative” projects. Whenever we did group work at school (& teachers loved group work — less stuff to mark) — there would always be one or two people (i.e., me) stuck doing all the work while everyone else goofed off & then received equal credit. Not particularly fair.

    Also not looking forward to August :p — at least the first part. I’m on vacation the last two weeks, so at least I have that to look forward to. It doesn’t hold quite the power over me that it once did, but I never know exactly how I’m going to feel until the day of. This year, dh & I have made an extra-long weekend of it — taking Friday the 3rd & Tuesday the 7th off (the 6th is a civic holiday here). That takes some of the stress off for me. One of these years, I am going to take a full MONTH of vacation in the summertime. (Unless I manage to swing retirement first, lol.)

    Hang in there — not much longer to go!

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