Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Life of the Mind

Jay returned from an evening walk with the boys and again proclaimed that we must move out of our neighborhood. Alas, we cannot afford to, as you've heard me griping about already. When I hear him say, "I make what I make. We don't have enough money," what I hear is, "If you had a real job, we could afford to move (and afford a million other things)." The message I hear sends me into a tailspin every time.

The job thing. It's more complex than having or not having a job, firstly because the pay in my field is modest. Adjunct English jobs pay a pittance, generally not enough to make it worthwhile if it necessitates childcare. For example, a course at a local community college pays $900 for a nine-week term. Childcare for two would mean about six hours per week. Do the math. It's sobering.

But as my one adjunct gig wants to see me "professionalizing" in my field—writing papers, presenting at conferences, getting articles published—I realize that my hang-up with teaching isn't purely economic. It's the challenge of maintaining the life of the mind when my daily life leaves no room for such luxuries.

Why, I ask myself, did I pursue an area of study so irreconcilably at odds with the practicalities of life? I'm baffled by my oversight. And now I'm scrambling to figure out how my schooling may transfer to some kind of livelihood outside of academia, because I don't see any way of scraping together the massive amounts of thinking time I'd need.

So now I'm thinking of all those other mothers out there, whose life of the mind is challenged by raising a family. Our minds are never idle—not by any stretch. Rather, they are occupied constantly by the daily details, vigilant attentions, to-do lists, decisions, and tiny teachable moments that have taken the place of quiet reading and careful scholarly contemplation.

Truthfully, it's much easier to attend to the daily life than it is to retain academic conversation in the foreground. The struggle comes with hoping they'll reside under the same roof. It's hard keeping house here, sometimes.

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