Fragments of the working day

As I write, the fourth wall is crumbling.  I am sitting in my office towards the end of a winter’s day. I hear pigeons nesting outside my window, see my bookshelves reflected in the darkness of the glass.

Today, I write to you as an academic from within an institution – ‘the university’ – which is being actively re-conceived, re-engineered and re-defined and likewise, to be an ‘academic’, a ‘lecturer’, a ‘scholar’, a ‘researcher’, a ‘teacher’, is subjectively different, even compared to just five years ago.

I am an academic. I sit, I read, I experiment, I design, I build, I think, I write, I stand, I teach, I listen. I am an academic. I create teaching resources, I run projects, I write grant applications, I attend conferences, I publish articles and books. I attend meetings, I create modules. I am an academic. I tutor, I mentor, I support, I liaise, I network, I sustain, I lead, I contribute, I develop, I consult, I plan, I organise, I strategise, I collaborate,  I co-ordinate, I supervise, I manage, I negotiate, I champion, I influence, I evaluate, I appraise, I examine, I mark, I accredit. I am a teacher, a researcher, a scholar, an entrepreneur. I am an academic.

This is my work. This is my labour. This is how academic labour appears to us.

It is midday and I have been sat working on my article for four hours – mainly re-reading, editing and looking up references. Many academics write at home, away from the distractions of the campus, but I do not have the physical space at home for my books or for a separate room to work quietly and so I have to carve out time during the working day to read, think and write. I do work at home on a daily basis, reading and writing emails before breakfast or after dinner, responding to support requests from students and colleagues for software that I maintain, highlighting passages from journal papers I am reading, reviewing others’ work, but it is a more passive form of work, subject to our domestic routines.

I’ve just finished reading a memoir by the Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami, where he writes about the great physical and mental effort that is takes to be a writer, requiring discipline to sit for several hours each day and write in a concentrated way. In his essay on ‘On Intellectual Craftsmanship’, the Sociologist, C. Wright Mills also writes about the discipline and effort required to craft a good piece of academic writing; the importance of “developing self-reflective habits”, of “systematic reflection” and the keeping of ordered notebooks. Note-taking in this way helps “build up the habit of writing. You cannot ‘keep your hand in’ if you do not write something at least every week.”

In a doctoral seminar I attended recently, we discussed C. Wright Mills’ essay and it occurred to me that all my notebooks and my files are here, on this blog, in public. There is barely anything else I can point to. Everything open to peer review.

An average set of notes here is 1296 words. 111,996 words in total. 97,020 words in the last 12 months. More elsewhere.

I write from 8am until 2pm. I forget to stand. I forget to drink. At night, my body aches.

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