Saturday, July 26, 2008

Time Takes Awhile

I know it's just been because I've had little to do these past few days, but time has just been going along at a snail's pace. It's a little annoying, especially since I'm more or less just stuck waiting for August when my friends will start arriving in town. I would like the next week to pass quickly, but that does not look likely.

When I'm bored, I often find really unconventional ways to occupy my time. I can doodle a really large, elaborate, radial pattern for over an hour (and throw it away when I'm done), or create a massive spreadsheet on my computer tracking the voting patterns of all the past contestants of Survivor (yep, that's how big of a bored nerd I am). I mean, only so much time can be taken up by reading, writing, prayer, video games, phone calls, and instant messages. Therefore, my somewhat-crazy "bored activities" are a bit of a necessity.

Well, the other day my "bored activity" was to plan out the rest of my life. I know, that's stupid. Lives are pretty much impossible to plan. I did it anyway, though. It was an exercise in imagination. I purposefully chose to make my life mundane... I don't mean boring, necessarily. I just mean "not famous" (as opposed to my earlier post about my glamorous ambitions). I decided to die at the modest age of 72 (mainly because I like the evenness of the number 2060... it just seems like a good year to end on). So, on one side of the page I wrote a list of every year between 2008 and 2060. On the other side of the page, next to each year, I wrote little facts about what I would do that year... where I would be going to school, where I would be working, where I would be living, where I could travel, etc.

What surprised me was how quickly I ran out of ideas, and how much life I still had yet to plan. I mean, 72 isn't that old, but I couldn't really come up with enough stuff to do between now and then. I think, at most, I came up with some fun ideas for graduate school, two high schools I could work at, and eventually a university where I could be a professor. One would think that being a university professor would be an ultimate goal; I mean, any further and my aspirations could start to take the "famous" bent that I had been denying. But I simply couldn't imagine working at one place for a period of 20 years or more. It just didn't make sense to me. No matter how great it was, eventually it would just be "same old, same old." It was at this point that I couldn't understand how my mother had worked her job as an elementary art teacher for 25 years. I would just get so bored.

Perhaps it's just because my whole life, to this point, has been such a broken exercise in time. Everything has been segmented very neatly into concise four-to-five-year periods: elementary school, middle school, high school, college, etc. And it's scary to think that I was pretty much sick of high school after four years. I wanted to move on. I'm pretty sure at the end of college I'll feel the same way. So, will it be possible for me to feel happy at one job or in one town for the usual 10 to 20 years? I'm not so sure.

I guess the passage of time is daunting. I know many people say that our time here is so short, and I'm sure when I really am 72 (Lord willing), I'll be catching myself, wondering where my whole life had gone. But right now, a few weeks seem like such a long time, and a year is forever. You can just get so much done in one year. I don't really understand how people can stay in one place their whole lives. Perhaps having children makes a difference; you can watch them develop and help them grow and let that overshadow whatever stagnation is going on in your life. Children aren't a guarantee for me, though (although I'm pretty sure that, eventually, I will adopt -- I planned to in 2025). For several years, at least, I will have to figure out how to best use my time, and I must keep God's glory at the forefront of that. Perhaps the best thing to do when it comes to reflecting on time (and our own futures) is to keep Luke 12:22-31 in mind and ready to go.


btcarolus said...

I'm going to ask you a question that I think it might help you to think through: what does a professor do?

(plus, I'm going back over to btcarolus from Ellie, because that's usually how I go about on the web.)

Jay said...

Oh, okay! I'll still call you Ellie, though, if that's okay with you. :)

If you're implying that I will be plenty occupied as a professor, and won't get bored, then I agree. Other than that, I don't extactly know what a professor does. It depends on the subject, I assume, not to mention the type of college or university (some are more research oriented and others, like mine, are more teaching oriented. I would prefer to work at the latter)

btcarolus said...

I'm not really trying to imply anything, it's just that this is kind of another area that really interests me (I happen to want to be a professor of English lit) and I figured that if I just started in I'd probably write another 1700 word comment.

It seems to me that most students think of their professors as overglorified high school teachers. Sure, they get more leeway with which textbook to use and what to talk about in class, and sure it's weird that they can answer any question about Medieval German monastic history you can come up with, but they basically seem to lecture, give tests, and grade essays (if they don't have TAs for that).

In actuality, a good professor (even at a school with an emphasis on teaching, which believe me, mine has) spends the vast majority of his time doing research. Part of this is because most schools operate under a system affectionately referred to as "publish or perish," which dictates that un-tenured professors will be fired unless they publish a certain amount of work every year (if they do produce they will achieve tenure). But part of this is because that is what a professor should want to do. And what a professor researches generally changes over time. Not that it moves from history to physics. But a professor might get his PhD working on the reign of King Alfred of Wessex, and then, after doing a few more papers on Alfred, write a brilliant paper on Aethelflaed (Alfred's daughter, the warrior queen of Mercia). So although he is technically at the same school year after year, teaching the same classes, what he is doing outside of the classroom is probably what he spends the most time on, and it is not stagnant at all. Also, the professor will be training the students that are interested in studying in his subject area, which is always exciting and changing because there are always new students.

I make a point, whenever I find a new professor that I like, to look up at least some of his research and read it. Google Scholar provides a resource for finding papers published in diverse journals, and my school subscribes to tons of databases like JStor, so I can look them up and read them. I have a really close relationship with several professors in my field (Medieval studies) who will give me copies of their work if it's not available online. Plus they offer advice and mentorship, and have all promised me really good recomendations for grad school.

Jay said...

Perhaps what I meant by stagnation was not that I'd be doing the same thing year after year (although that was part of it). I kind of can't imagine living anywhere for a very long time, either. Perhaps I just have a fear of settling down, but I guess that will pass with time.

btcarolus said...

But haven't you basically done that your whole life before college? I mean, I changed schools, but it was just different campuses with the same kids. I've lived in the same city for twenty years, and although I'm definitely going away for grad school, it's not like I feel that I'm going to die of stagnation.

I guess part of why I was confused is because I tie wanting to be a professor directly into wanting to study x thing with a passion. One of my grad student friends is studying the Guals. He's doing his MA thesis on methods of wall building. As it stands, I think my MA and PhD work will be on Dark Ages England and the effects of the Alfredian Reform on Anglo-Saxon society. I have another friend who's going to do Medieval drama for her graduate work. But you don't seem tied into any field. It seems to me that if you knew what you wanted to study and what it would mean for your future (I don't necessarily mean you have to know that specifically, you've got like a year before you even have to start applying to grad programs, plus I don't expect everyone to be passionately interested in Gaullish wall-building, either) then you'd feel way more comfortable about what your job will be like for you. I guess the most important thing for me, though, was getting connected in with professors who study what I like, and learning from them what their work is like.

Jay said...

Well, my passion is education (and, to a lesser extent, English and literacy). I want to teach in public schools (and, according to the state of North Carolina which is so graciously paying for my schooling right now, I have to for four years). After a while, though, having a job at a university sounds like a great next step.

I don't know what kind of research the professors in my college's Education Department do, but I know that it involves teaching, and that's what I love. I want to teach, and I want to teach teaching, and so researching teaching doesn't sound like a bad idea, either.

Being a professor is not really a goal I'm working towards or anything. To be honest I just wrote it down in this post (and good for you for taking one little line and going all the way with it). I haven't really given much thought to long-term careers. My future direction is just a voice in my head that says "TEACH!" :)

P said...

I think they plan on changing the "single man adoption laws" in 2025, so that was a wise choice of a year, there.

Of course, I have trouble planning for tomorrow.

Jay said...

P: Are you serious? What laws are those? I know single men who have adopted, so it's not against the law (although I assume it's hard).

It's weird that they actually set a date for changing laws, though. Why not just go ahead and get it done? Or were you just joking?

As for planning for tomorrow, I am a king of to-do lists. :)

P said...

Jay, I was joking. Unfortuatly, my deadpan delivery that gives away the joke cannot really be replicated in blog comments ;)

There are no such laws to my knowledge. Also, I'm pretty sure our legislative system does not set dates for changing laws.

By the way, enjoy your free time. Wish I had some.

Brandon said...

May you have a truly marvelous life, Jay. And hopefully one not too boring. :)