Mosquito Bites; Or, Working From Home

Obvious Poster

I’ve been away for a minute, and this could strike you as a possibly obvious post: I am curious to know how you negotiate between work and family time? Where do you–if at all–sacrifice? Is it possible to strike a balance between the two? I’m interested to know how other academics or graduate/professional students find opportunities to work, but also enjoy time with their family and friends outside of academia? This topic has been discuss thoroughly by established scholars, such as Greg Semenza’s Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century and others, but I wonder how fellow graduate students and burgeoning scholars are handling it. Is there simply no room for negotiation? The short answer is probably no, but let me dream!

Lots of New Stuff Happening

As many of you may know, I have the opportunity to research in Ireland, England, and Scotland for the next academic year through the Joseph C. Gallagher Fellowship. A task that is both exhilarating and anxiety-producing, as I am in a critical moment in my PhD program. But alas, that is for another blog post. More immediately, I have just completed a cross-country drive from Tucson, Arizona (had to bring a road tripping buddy from somewhere slightly further west than Albuquerque because I’m an idiot) to Pamlico County, North Carolina, where I grew up and where my parents still live. If you’re wondering why I reference the entire county as my travel destination instead of a town or city, then you clearly haven’t been there. And you might be too citified to ever make it.

From Univ of New Mexico’s beautiful, sunny campus…

To Trinity College Dublin’s excellent library…

With, well, a month-long stop with my parents on the way…

This journey has been an emotional one. Sure, I had a blast catching up with some old friends along the way, making stops where I know folks from my MA program and elsewhere. Also, listening to Harry Potter on audiobook made the trip wonderfully relaxing and quick, despite the surreal experience of listening to young British children discuss Christmas dinner and butter beer at chilly Hogwarts when in reality I was primarily driving through a Mad Max-esque desert scene:

At least the flying car aspect relates to Harry Potter…

Some other, not-so-great aspects of the trip included staying with a few old friends who were oh-so bohemian and left the front door/windows open for North Carolina swamp mosquitos, engorged with the blood of innocent travelers. Long story short: I look like I have chickenpox, so it’s basically the worst.

That being said (I REALLY needed a platform from which to complain about the mosquito bites), I know that for the next academic year things would be very different for me. I will not have the comforts of my home institution, nor can I readily pester advisors in person; instead, I leave my possessions in a 5X5 storage unit in New Mexico, my car in North Carolina with my very generous parents, and I will be gone from what I had gotten to know.

But What About ME?? (should be read in most annoying, privileged voice on the planet)

Luckily, my concerns about leaving Albuquerque were mostly about what I would arrive to when I reached my parents’ house. I, like many people at similar points in their academic careers, read and write every day. Sometimes I dread it, sometimes I don’t. I just know for my sanity I have to keep to a fairly diligent reading and writing schedule.

Often when I visit my parents for a week over the holidays I visit other family members, play games, and maybe even going to the movies. This is not, however, a holiday. I’m in between living situations before I leave for Dublin at the beginning of September and my lease ended in Albuquerque just before I left. I’m here for a month and a half. Again, I have lovely and supportive parents who generously offered for me to stay with them for a month and a half, but I am concerned about deadlines and completing projects that are due in mid-September.

I have only been here five days but so far I’ve found opportunities to work in the mornings, my favorite time to write. I’ve read a great deal about how to foster an effective workspace, but there is little written about doing this in someone else’s home, as a guest. Possibly because it’s incredibly rude, but that’s for another post.

My father is retired and my mother is a school teacher out for the summer, so both of my parents are typically around the house, watching television loudly in the other room, or just being the type of people who knock on a door a lot to see if anyone is in a room. There are about four available hours each morning that my parents are out of the house, each dealing with separate commitments. At these times I slip away into my sister’s old bedroom where I’ve snatched an old table and chair from the living room (so far no one has asked for it back…) and created a makeshift office space. These hours have worked perfectly to get started on my writing each morning, and when my parents return with loud television and constant door knocking, I’m normally so immersed in what I’m doing that I don’t notice.

Once I’ve dealt with the humiliation of being an adult woman who has moved (albeit temporarily) back in with her parents, the whole situation has actually worked quite beautifully.

What Gives, If Anything?

I seems as though something has to suffer here, right? Do I have to decide between family time and work time? Yes and no, I think. I think it’s important to spend time with my family (who I will not see in a year), but also for my mental wellness I need to continue reading and writing. I talk a big game about maintaining a life outside of academia, one with exercise and hobbies, but I find it’s easier said than done. The truth is that I really like working on my research. I really like reading and writing all of the time, but this becomes challenging when around people who you want to chat with and be a version of yourself that doesn’t read, write, write, and read some more.

Again, I want to spend some quality time with my parents. How many people who live across the country are lucky enough to spend a month and a half with family? Several of my friends will roll their eyes here, but I do like spending time with my parents. I have, of course, had to insist multiple times to the clerk at the local grocery store that I’m not “moving back home,” but instead preparing for a year abroad, but who knows what people think….

One of my biggest goals upon returning home was to continue working just as I do at my own home, but that is clearly impossible. As anyone who was raised by anxiety-ridden parents (yay, it’s genetic!) and in a particularly small home will tell you, privacy is hard to come by. Further, because I rarely see my family and I know I will not be home for the holidays, I find myself combatting guilt anytime I decide to work rather than play a game of rummy.

Thoughts?

If you have a bit of advice on this subject, feel free to comment below. I’m interested to learn how burgeoning scholars negotiate between essential family/personal time and essential work time. Thanks!

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