Academia, like every institution, has its own customs, jargon, and rhythm. The rhythm of academic life may be one of its most distinctive features. The academic year starts in late summer and ends in late spring of the next year. That year is subdivided into semesters or quarters depending on your institution. These units are broken up with breaks some of which, like federal holidays, are shared with the outside world and some of which, like “fall break,” are institution specific.
Even within the daily life of the academy schedules are weird. Classes are longer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can schedule all your classes so that you have a four day weekend or you can have all your classes in the morning and have your afternoons free. Alternately, you can schedule all your classes in the afternoon and sleep in. However you do it the academic schedule looks and feels very different from the work-a-day world. (Which, at least for my family, contributes to the notion that academic work isn’t real work.)
Like any institution, the academy has its own momentum which is only comprehensible from the inside.
After my MA I got a job as a receptionist at a real estate company in the city where I had gotten my MA. It was a rough year. I was naive, I think. I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to maintain relationships with my academic friends on a non-academic schedule. It hurt like hell to be so lonely and not understand why. It felt really personal but I understand now that it wasn’t personal at all. Overcoming inertia is difficult and the momentum of my life was now taking me in a different direction.
Then I did it again. Last year I took a semester and summer off from my PhD program. I moved to a different city. I got a job which was, more or less, the 9-to-5 type. I dropped out of the band. I got off the ride. I took a different road. However you want to put it I made my life very different from the lives of my academic friends and colleagues. I knew what I was doing. I made an informed choice.
What I didn’t anticipate, and should have, was how difficult it would be to get back up to speed, to pick up the harmonies, to get on track. I moved back to the university town. I got two jobs on campus: one teaching and one administration, and I’m still not back in the swing of academic life.
This semester has been characterized by stumbles and slips. I cannot seem to get back in time with academic life from the feel of office hours to conversation with colleagues. I cannot, it seems, overcome the inertia of my choices and I am exhausting myself by trying.