I woke up at 5am this morning, partly because of a messed up clock thanks to the trip to East Asia, but partly because I had an idea about an on-going project. The strange thing: I was having three sets of thoughts about this piece--what it should say, how I should try to publish it, and what impact it would have on me and my career. These three sets of ideas were fighting for my attention, so I got up way earlier than I would have liked. Oh, and I began to write down the ideas for step one and step two. Step three needs no writing down, but is important to note: that after all these years, and after being promoted as far as I can (only emeritus is ahead of me), I still think about what getting publish means for my career.
And that is mostly what I mean by this strange academic life--that ambition and anxiety remain part of the process, part of the life, even after declaring "success" long ago. To be clear, I work in a unionized environment, so merit increases are not a function of ... merit, so that pressure to work hard and publish in visible spots does not exist for me. And, no, I am not looking to publish in highly visible journals so that I can get competing job offers. I am pretty sure I have topped out in this business--that an endowed chair in a national capital is about as good as it gets (however, if anyone wants to offer me boodles of dollars, I'd have to think about it, just like Woody Harrelson). My research chair was just renewed for another five years (funky thing--my understanding is that most such chairs are lifetime appointments, but the ones I have held involve renewable fixed terms). I guess I have thoroughly internalized the publish or perish mindset even though I cannot perish anymore. So much so that it wakes me up early in the morning. Maybe it is the realization I have ten days left in my sabbatical.... In ten days, I will review what I have accomplished this year, with the inevitable result being--a fair amount but not as much as I had planned/aspired to do.
Perhaps it is less about anxiety/guilt/whatever, and more that the reality that sometimes my brain starts kicking into gear on this stuff when I would rather be asleep. Sure, the shower still remains the best place for accidental thoughts to bloom into interesting projects, but subconscious Steve is running in second place these days.
The cool idea that woke me up? It has been simmering thanks to the standard academic recipe: interesting research (more trips to Japan than I had planned thanks to impeachment in South Korea), good conversations with co-author about directions for this project, the experience of presenting to a knowledgeable crowd (thanks, ISA in Hong Kong), some useful comments by the discussant (yes, not just an urban legend), and, yep, long-frustrated ambition.
As always, the challenge will be framing the piece and filling out the narrative. Oh, and lucking into reviewers and editors that find this approach to be worthy. Wish me luck!