If my academic self and its surrounding life were my personal life, I think I’d be living in a shack, worn and haggard due to neglect. I’m one of those neighbors who seems to always be busy, but never making progress. I scorn the neighbor across the street who walks out in his pajamas with the dog, energetic enough only to take him across the yard. A car on blocks suspends above the pavement at the curb. The shingles on the roof are peeled back to reveal the previous layer of shingles that are peeled back to reveal an embarrassed skin of what would otherwise be a beautiful home. There’s a light on late into the night, and activity that stumbles out between overgrown hedges and onto the step midmorning. Clearly, neighbor-Dave is occupied with many things. In the summer, the sprinkler he sets up on the corner oscillates through the day, into the night, and often into the next day. Whatever things have his attention are so compelling and numerous that it might only be his flooding basement that reminds him of the irrigation.
My basement, flooding with papers to grade, seems to get neglected for all the other projects to do. Don’t even ask about the book; the initiatives I’d imagined a year ago are still stewing; a guest in my office asked me about my research last week, and I stumbled enough to keep from crying and pretend that work from four years ago was recent. My trite, shallow self gets twisted up with disdain for neighbor-Dave when he starts out on the car repair project — at 10:00 PM, guided with halogen bulbs and their blue glow from under an axle. But then my colleagues must be shaking their heads, looking the other way as they pass my office, blue glow of a computer monitor scattering off the piles of papers.