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The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Summer mission for myself

Posted by Melissa on September 9, 2012

Last academic year was a challenging one for me on a number of fronts, and by the time classes ended, I was feeling completely and totally spent. Granted, that’s a feeling that I usually have come June, but this was different. I felt like the person who I think myself to be had gone missing, and so I decided that during the summer, among all my research activities and family outings, I desperately needed some time for myself. Of course, it’s easy enough to say, “I need time for myself.” However, putting that into practice is difficult, particularly when I have two roles that can easily become all-consuming (the faculty role and the parenting role).  I find that whenever I have a moment of time that I could potentially spend on myself, I often end up trying to check off one more item on my to-do list or to finish up one more household chore. Me-time rarely gets spent on me. Thus, I decided that this summer I was going to set a selfish goal – one that would do nothing to advance my career or help my family, but that would force me to do something that I wanted to do.

I wanted to choose something that was substantial enough that it would force me to change my habits, but one that wouldn’t feel like too much of a burden. I thought long and hard about what I would do, and ultimately decided that my selfish summer goal would be to read ten books between the last day of exams in the spring and the first day of classes in the fall. The books couldn’t be anything work-related, so books I read for class prep didn’t count. Why did I choose this as my goal? In part because reading for fun always feels like a guilty pleasure, one that should be put aside for folding laundry or reading journal articles. In the past few summers, I’ve been lucky if I read 5 or 6 non-work-related books.  Thus making reading a priority was a genuine challenge for me. I’m happy to report, however, that today I finished my tenth book, just in the nick of time, because classes start tomorrow. The whole endeavor highlighted how bad I am at taking time for myself.  I felt guilty throughout this project, worrying that I should be doing something else with my time. But I also took great pleasure in the reading that I did and the license it gave me to explore, engage, and reflect on everything from characters’ human foibles to life’s big questions.

For readers of this blog, three of the books I read might be of interest. For physics folks, Alan Lightman’s newest novel Mr. g: A Novel about the Creation is a clever, engaging account of the creation story that sits at the intersection of physics and philosophy. For those interested in women’s roles today, I highly recommend Anna Fels’ book, Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives. Andrew Delbanco’s book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, will be on my mind for quite some time to come; it’s a thought-provoking look at higher education and residential liberal arts education.

And with that, I close the door on summer for good. Onward to a new term!

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