Thursday, April 17, 2008

Waiting for X to happen

There is a great, long-time lesbian singer, Meg Christian, who has a wonderful song called "Look within." In her intro to the song on her concert recording at Carnegie Hall with Cris Williamson, she talks about how we are all "waiting for X to happen." Like our whole life will be perfect if this one thing would just happen. "If Betty Lou would just come back to me, I would be a totally fulfilled human being," she mocks, laughing at herself and us.

She goes on to list all the things she has been waiting for. My favorite part of the song, the one I like to sing loud and heartily, is when she says in the last stanza, "...and I'm waiting for you to get your shit together!" (Okay, one of the other good lines is that she says she is "waiting for Jerry Fallwell's head on a silver platter." I mean, who wasn't, in the 1980s? It doesn't work as well, now that he is dead.)

Anyway, as someone who is working in academic administration, I feel like I am often waiting for other people to get their shit together... students who seem to fall apart at the end of the semester, colleagues who can't seem to get one simple service request done no matter how much you remind them, supervisors who can't manage the kind of complex thinking their job demands, family members who are on my nerves, etc.

Of course, I know that similar complaints can be made about me. There is that project I said I would have done and haven't managed to complete, the recommendation letter I need to write if I can only find what I did with the form, the email I need to respond to that languishes in the depths of my inbox, the increasing length of time since I saw my family in person, the next step in my research project that sits neglected, next to the unwritten manuscript I planned to have out by the end of the semester. The goals and unfinished tasks seem to mock me as I struggle to accept that some of them won't get accomplished. "My life keeps standing me up," Christian intones.

In the chorus, she challenges us to think about what holds us back from accomplishing our goals. While we like to blame busy schedules, low energy and illness, demands from family and friends, and the problems caused by all those idiots that surround us, Christian notes that the work we really need to do is our own. "Look within," she says. We are what holds us back--our insecurity, our inability to prioritize, our inability to focus and center ourselves, and perhaps our poor choice in goals.

The song also talks about another thing that holds us back: looking for kudos and approval from those around us. "I couldn't seem to make a move 'til I got you all to approve." I am certainly guilty of that, though I think I have gotten better as I have aged.

"Look within." I am finding great solace in that message. Perhaps that is what life, post-tenure, is all about. No more hoops to jump through or standards to meet, just a reckoning with our own internal drives and desires. I can live with that.

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