Thursday, August 06, 2015

the speed of expectations

When I was younger, I was a bit obsessed with speed. No, not cars. I always drove (and still drive) tremendous hunks of declining autos. My youth obsession was in instant gratification. Like most youths, the idea of long-term planning, of eventual payoff was not high on my radar. I always thought, "make me happy now, damnit." Immediate payoff. Maybe that was why I drank.

Slowly, surely, I eventually had to give this up. Yeah, I got older, but I also went back to college...and while an education offers you many things, immediate payoff is not really a normal benefit. Instead, you get into long-term planning...first for a semester, then until you get a degree. Grad work means the plans extend beyond just classes. This paper becomes a possible publication...which becomes a step towards assembling the perfect curriculum vitae, which becomes the thing which helps one land a tenure track job, which leads to career and legacy. At some level, that is how all grad students start to view their work. This is right and good. Without long term planning, an academic career is an impossibility.

So this is how I learned to think. Unfortunately, though, in this day and age, it is entirely possible to do everything right, to make a good plan and work like hell towards it...and to still fail at the long term goal. I found this out the hard way.

The habit of making long term goals is, however, one which survived the apocalypse of my academic career. This probably best manifests itself in my summer plans. When summer hits, I am relieved of a large number of my burdens. I still have a list of things I gotta do, like cooking, cleaning, taking care of my kid, going to therapy, and so forth, but the tasks are all really maintenance. I don't really have to do anything productive until a week or two before fall semester begins...and, bearing in mind the stress of the school year, this is both nice and fully necessary.

But this is where one of my inherent paradoxes comes in. On one hand, I would love to do little other than play with my kid...because I am inherently lazy (or, to be kind to myself, sedentary). However, battling with my desire for immobility is a surprising drive to get stuff done. Because in spite of how lazy as I can be, I still need to accomplish things, to make my mark, to figure out all the puzzles, to do something worthy of being remembered. I guess I'm a type A obsessive hiding inside of a sloth. That is how, for ill or good, how I apparently roll.

So I rarely approach summers without an agenda. When I still had scholarly pretense, my summers were about trying to fit a year's worth of research and writing into a few months. But you know how this works. Yeah, I got a lot of work done (one boss told me I published as much if not more as the tenure track assistant professors...and doing so wasn't technically part of my job, like it was for them). But ultimately, in spite of the work I invested towards the goal, I never got the tenure track job...or the resulting career, or eventual impact on the world. So, in the end, I did a lot of stuff but accomplished very little.

Then there were the summer workloads which just dwindled off into failure. The first summer after I gave up scholarship, I had the grandiose plan to read a biography for every US president. I made it all the way to...Jefferson. In this case, I felt I needed to stop before I started to view the survival of my country as a fluke in spite of the bumbling, incompetence, or hypocrisy of our leaders. But this is just one example. Pretty much every summer works this way: grand visions which lead to diminished expectations and few accomplishments.

This year, my major summer mission was to make my music career a little more serious, productive, and professional. It started off well, with my band getting booked for and playing a music festival (go to videos to hear a few songs). Of course, the band then broke up when the drummer moved. Then I wanted to expand out of Bowling Green, particularly by breaking into the Toledo market. Well, I did get Toledo gigs...but they have been essentially unpaid, without even one album sold. I did expand my collection of merchandise...but no one's bought any of the new stuff so far. I sent out and delivered a bunch of semis to get more paying gigs...with no callbacks so far. You get the picture.

Everything changed yesterday, though. I was doing some work on the computer, and I got a message from a Michigan bar I hadn't heard from in a month. They wanted to book me...for a paying show, even. Then she kept asking me about other dates. By the time I got off the phone, I was scheduled for six more paying shows, all the way through December. I started the afternoon frustrated with my lack of progress. By late afternoon, I had exceeded my own modest expectations.

Plans can actually come to fruition! Long term plans, at that...and it was a better rush than I ever had when I was younger and just wanted quick gratification.

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