Just now receiving my email of acceptance into the HASTAC scholars program gives me good occasion to reflect on how much I love the nature of my life right now. On most days -- after the usual morning business of feeding, cleaning, and decorating my body -- I sit down at my computer and ask myself something along the lines of "what do I want to learn today?" Yes, there are constraints on that question: required reading for my seminars, research for projects, writing deadlines, and the like. But there is enough variety in "what I need to do" that, with sufficient working in advance, I can always find something I want to do that I also need to do. "Productive procrastination" has become quite a thing, it seems, or at least I ended up with about 1,070,000 results (0.19 seconds) when I Googled it including several pages of blog posts whose titles incorporate that phrase. But productive procrastination only works if your job involves multiple tasks that are very different from each other and that have overlapping deadlines. Sure, I can always find something else to do, but if that something else is cleaning my refrigerator, I can't really count it as "work" even if it is productive. Last time I checked, my department won't award me a degree based on how clean my apartment is.
The delightfulness of the academic life -- or, at least, of my academic life -- is that I always have something productive to which I can resort when I'm procrastinating on something else. I'm a graduate student of rhetoric and compostion in a department of English, which means that I always have reading for seminars and responses to write, along with research for term papers. But I'm also the assistant director of the department's computer lab, which means that I have duties ranging from training consultants and updating systems to unjamming the printer and picking trash up off the floor. I'm enrolled in an administrative internship with the university writing program, so I have emails about committees and whatnot to send and faculty development workshops to organize. I write a monthly column on wine science for Palate Press, an online wine magazine, so I'm always researching and writing about new yeast strains or preservatives or synthetic corks or whatnot. There's an endless universe of reading to do on science writing pedagogy for my thesis. And, because I try to stay connected to the viticulture and enology world that feels like the other half of my life, there's always the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture and bulletins from the Australian Wine Research Institute and the like to read, too.
I have hobbies and housecleaning, too, but I count everything I just listed in the above paragraph as "work." If I don't feel like doing one kind of work, I almost always feel like doing some other kind of work instead. This, it seems to me, is the way that work should be. This is good.
To put it another way, my life feels sedimentary. Days are formed by the endless deposition of grains of sand, individual tasks of different shape and color that comprise the bulk of existence. But there's enough variation in those grains of sand, and enough variation from the ordinary in the form of the pebbles and bits of shell of projects and papers and articles, that even the ordinary days don't look so ordinary. Over time a pattern forms -- I can see my life from a distance having pale coral bands of humanities and deeper brick bands of science and little creamy spots of administrative business like a pretty New Mexican sandstone -- and, if I'm fortunate, the whole thing will stick together with some kind of coherence. But it's never boring, and that's the point. Academia, with all its frustrations, allows me to wake up in the morning and ask, "What do I want to learn today?"
This is where HASTEC fits in. The scope of my own explorations can sometimes become narrow; I get caught in an eddy where all of the sand begins to look the same. HASTEC looks like a wind storm. I hope that the network of scholars here will be the wind that blows new bits of sand from interesting and heretofore unseen places onto my little bit of ground. And perhaps that windy network will pick up a bit of my own sand and carry it off to share with someone else.