I just woke up after 10 hours of solid sleep. I passed out while reading with all the lights on and my contacts in. I dragged myself out of bed just to start working, at 5am, and will be working until I fall asleep again tonight. I am barely alive.

Yes, it’s the summer session.

During the summer session, I have three and a half weeks to teach two entire courses on literature and writing. My students range from those who are passionately interested in the material to those who have flunked a course several times and are hoping that, somehow, doing it at 5x speed will finally make it stick. I don’t have time to run real office hours. I am not home often enough to attend to email. During my two-hour commute each way to campus, I’m either grading or prepping. I have no life.

I have no life, and I want your braaaaains.

There’s something wonderful about working this much. During the past year, I was pretty down in the dumps because I didn’t have enough work to do at one of my positions, which was not an instructional job, and my life looked sort of similar. I slept too much, didn’t get anything done, couldn’t be bothered to communicate with people. But this feels different. At least while I’m in the classroom, I have a purpose, and I feel needed. If I give it my all, my all is hardly enough.

Working this much and this hard really clarifies the world. I remember from reading Trainspotting in high school that one of Irvine Welsh’s most insistent arguments about heroin addiction is that it renders all other life-decisions pointless. Part of the addiction is physical, a need to get a fix as soon as possible, but the other part, the psychological part, is a desire for simplicity. I cannot worry about my relationships; I need heroin. I cannot wonder about whether I am a good person or if I can fulfill hopes and dreams; I need heroin.

Hard work does the same thing. It makes all your real cares and anxieties go away. You don’t have to keep up with people or panic about consequences; you have work to do. It’s an artificial high that distances you from yourself in a blissful place where you have no will. How can you have a will when you have work to do?

I realize that this temporary existence that I have each June, when I am a teaching zombie, is sort of how everyone else lives their lives all the time. I remember dating a young lawyer once who would get up at 4, race to work, and stay there until 8 or 9 at night, and when I saw him after one of these days, he’d be glowing with pleasure. He’d worked all day, and would work all day the next day. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted from our relationship or where to have dinner or what would happen on the weekend–he was working. He was work.

When one works like this, who can find the time for sadness or longing? Who has time for having a soul? It’s rather marvelous not to have a soul for a while.

3 responses to “Zombie”

  1. Perhaps you can contract out your sadness and longing to some sort of assistant, for pay or barter of some kind. I’m not volunteering or anything but on the other hand you mentioned making a strawberry cake some months back and all I am saying is a person could get some quality substitute longing for that kind of thing.

    it renders all other life-decisions pointless.

    I tell this story a lot, because I think it’s neat. I admitted to a clinical supervisor, now a friend of mine, that I sometimes had fantasies of being the last person on earth because nobody could tell me what to do. She told me her most closely analogous feeling was that sometimes she fantasized about joining the Lubavichers, despite the fact that she had no more ideological fondness for them than I did, because she would never have to make another decision–everything would be decided for her.

  2. ben w says:

    Young lawyers aren’t everyone else.

    she would never have to make another decision–everything would be decided for her.

    The modern condition.

  3. Dave says:

    There’s something nice about being completely immersed in a project to the exclusion of everything else, as long as the project is short-term. And graduate student life, particularly, I imagine, the dissertation-writing stage, has long periods of emptiness that one ends up filling with existential dread and such.

    As for everyone else, well, I don’t have as much free time as you usually do, but I don’t go to work at 4 and get home at 8, either. When I have a bit more to do (at work and at home), I have less time for fretting, but holidays and vacations become more necessary as well.