Women In Academia

You Gotta Eat

I don’t remember which fast food chain used that slogan in their commercials, but I can still hear the peppy, slightly salty way in which the actors said the phrase. They spoke with a blunt matter-of-factness, both a plea for our business and an expression of a truth of the human condition. It was a commercial that, like an onion, had layers.

Today at work, I was too busy for a meal. That doesn’t mean I didn’t eat: I am not new to this game and I have several energy bars stashed in strategic locations across campus and my own person. It does mean that I did not take the time to really eat. When I have less going on, I will take a lunch that involves interacting with other humans or reading a few pages from a totally non-work related beautiful piece of fiction. It might be only 15-20 minutes, but it is a moment to break and recharge. It is the signifier of a slow day.

I did not have any time for that today and I think I might like it a little better this way. I’m not sure that I can function like this in perpetuity, but there is nothing like the rush of going from class to meeting to office hours to meeting to meeting to research to progress on that research to seminar to meeting and so on. There is barely room to breathe and only enough room for the most productive kind of thinking.

I can see how it could wear on a person. I find it exhilarating, at least in these doses. The rush of being in a rush.

As I write this out, I realize that want to document the experience, not advocate for it, even if my language suggests otherwise. I know that I am not alone. Maybe academia encourages this frenzy, or maybe it just attracts people who like it. We’re not alone, obviously ““ how many jobs are populated by people running between meetings with cheese (danishes) shoved in their mouths?

We spend a lot of time talking about dealing with stress and difficult jobs and unreasonable expectations set upon us by ourselves or others. Those are important conversations to have. But I know that I need a certain level of stress to function, not a “get so busy you never eat, sleep, or have any sort of life,” but a “structure and excitement and general level of nice busyness” type of stress. Healthy stress ““ according to a magazine I read on a plane, it exists.

For me, the line between healthy stress is where “gotta eat” goes to “oh my lord how did I not have any time to eat anything and why didn’t I plan ahead what is going on with my life.” If I were more clever, I’d write that the line is between “gotta eat” and “GOTTA EAT” but I can’t get my caps seem anything but way too much fun, especially since Feminist Hulk barged on the scene. As long as I stay on the right side of the line, all the rushing is in good fun.

Where’s your line? Do you have a “good” stress level?

6 replies on “You Gotta Eat”

I just wanted to say that I somehow feel a little better about my own, eh, as it were, laziness, after hearing you describe your busy-ness in such relatively positive terms. I tend to experience a certain amount of guilt when I am reminded of how many people live lives that are so much more stress-filled and busy than my own. So it’s good to know that not everyone who finds themselves living a busier life completely hates it (as I think I would probably do).

The closest thing for me to “good stress” probably comes into play when I’ve got lots of (to me, at least) interesting thoughts whirring about my mind, and no particular need to be anywhere at a particular time, or looming deadlines to meet. Then I can just sink into contemplation, scribble in my journal, and so forth, and the pressure of thought can seem a kind of exhilaration, especially if I’m drinking coffee at the time.

That’s from Checkers, a place I refused to eat at merely on the principle that, if that’s the best justification they can come up with to entice me to eat there, well, that just doesn’t say much for their food.

I’ve always had jobs with varying degrees of break/food time, from the retail management ‘better shove it down in less than 10 minutes, because someone’s going to need something’ to the work at home ‘you can make or get most anything you want’ level. It’s pretty typical to have to juggle food in with the work day in every field.

Gah, what you’re saying is worrying me. I don’t have a great stress tolerance. Well, I can DEAL with the stress, but I hate my life while I’m in it. I need to be busy, but I don’t like feeling like all I do is work.

I once asked a mentor of mine if life in academia would always be like life in my undergrad. At my undergrad, I usually went into a stress-filled haze of tears and frustration by the end of the semester. Most people were. So was she, which was aggravated by her chronic illness. She said that it depends on how you structure your days. How true is that? Because I don’t know if I want my days to always be that way.

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