Thursday, March 8, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 9

I've spent a lot of time yesterday and today thinking about what counts as strike-breaking.

I take being on strike quite seriously, and to do so I need to have a clear conception of what counts as "work" for me.

Some things are obvious and easy: I am not teaching, I am not holding office hours, I'm not grading papers, I'm not writing journal articles, I'm not doing admissions for our MA program, I'm not writing recommendation letters, I'm not attending meetings, I'm not advising dissertation students.

The temptation to do research is hard to resist, in part because my "to read" stack is so high, and it's so full of things that I want to read for my own intellectual curiosity. Most of the time, I don't have time for that, so I only read things directly related to my current writing and teaching. there is an insidious voice that whispers in my ear "You've got all this time, why don't you read some of those papers? You'd be reading them 'for fun', not for work. Really, it's okay."

What this voice is bringing up is the wider issue of that elusive thing called "work-life balance".

For many years, I was happy to bring work home with me. Grad school in the US took up pretty much all of my waking hours. My husband and I courted each other by having burgers in a pub and working through computational complexity and calculus textbooks together. One semester after we were married, we ate more meals together in the break room at the library where we both worked any time we weren't taking classes or teaching than we did at home. Work, research, and our relationship were intertwined.

When we moved to the Netherlands and embarked on a PhD programme with much more sensible work expectations, I found that the process of research was something I found soothing. I'd spend my nine hours in the office doing logic, and then come home and wind down with a few hours of onomastics in the evenings. I valued that relaxation-research so much, I made a conscious effort to keep my onomastic work from becoming "real". For years, I wouldn't admit to it in academic contexts. Even when I finally did, I explicitly called it my hobby research.

But the best thing I ever did for work-life balance was have a kid. She started nursery 20 hours a week at 4 months, and moved to 40 hours a week at 13 months. But 40 hours my max -- I was not going to live a life where she was way from me longer than that. The result was that I was in the office 9-5 M-F. As she got older, I found that I was dreading weekends -- two whole days that I'd be home with her, unable to get any work done. Eventually, I realised that I needed to give up on getting any work done on the weekends -- and my life improved immensely. Since moving to Durham, I've adhered pretty strongly to my 40 hour work week (including not reading or answering emails after 5pm during the week or on weekends). There are always exceptions -- I might work an evening or two if a paper deadline is coming up, or when I have a stack of exams to mark, or a pile of dissertations to read, and I'm still putting in more than a full day's work any time I'm at a conference. But these are exceptions, and happen only a handful of times a year. (This makes ASOS and the concept of "working to contract" frustrating to me, because I feel like I already am!)

When I finally took the plunge and launched the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, I was worried that I was taking something that was a get-away, an escape, and turning it into something that would be "work". (So far, that hasn't happened yet!) I've now attended conferences and published onomastic papers that are completely removed from any formal education I've had or anything that I've been contracted to pursue in my capacity as a lecturer in logic in the department of philosophy. But I do so under the affiliation "Durham University" (though for onomastic stuff, because it is not philosophical at all, I tend to give my departmental affiliation as "Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies" instead of "Department of Philosophy". So that means that, indirectly, and probably with very minimal effect, Durham benefits from my onomastic research, and accrues some prestige (albeit infinitesimal!) from being associated with me and this work of mine.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post for the DMNES blog which could be construed as containing original research produced while on strike. I struggled over whether it was okay for me to write the post. Is this violating my commitment to withdraw my labor? Am I giving benefit to my university for free?

I've ultimately come down on the side of "No", and it has to do with the fact that having a work/life balance means that the university does not own all of me. My affiliation does not mean that I cannot write fiction while on strike, because one day my university can bask in my light of being a famous published author (hey, a woman can dream). My affiliation does not mean that every research adjacent thing I do is somehow "claimable" by the university.

To say that I can only do research within the context of my academic affiliation is to refuse to allow me the right to balance my work and my life. My life involves research. It always will, no matter what my work is. And this isn't a matter of saying "my work is my life" -- because it isn't. This part of my life is the part of my life that won't get me a job, won't get me promoted, won't do anything other than satisfy me, and my desire to write, to research, to learn, to explore.

So I'll forgive myself and allow myself that blog post. I'll allow myself to write stories. This is not part of my labor, and I am under no requirement to withdraw it.

All that being said, I'm so glad tomorrow I can go back to work.

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