A Writing Prompt

Write for five minutes about one person who you believe lives a convincing life in the academy.

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I’m grateful for John’s recent summary of our workshop in Victoria. I thought I would follow with this specific writing prompt for those of you interested in the conversation about staying alive. As John mentions in his post, the most illuminating part of our workshop was listening to one another describe people we knew who live convincing lives in the academy. If you take this up, you might consider writing about someone in one of the four phases of academic life we identify: 1) graduate school, or apprenticing (immersed in culture; involvement and engagement; observing culture and persons; learning and growing; choosing work you love; investing in the self; 2) the warrior phase (creating Place, in the tenure stream, outside tenure stream, administration, nonacademic; looking to colonize structures and spaces; diversifying options; keeping moving; 3) the settler and householder phase (inhabiting places, or degrees of permanence; thinking within and beyond institution; learning and growing with students; cultivating a beginner’s mind); and 4) the eldering phase (sharing experience, story, wisdom; modeling health, growth, vitality; giving back to the community though mentoring).

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The stories we shared in Victoria corresponded well to what we believe are seven virtues for living a fulfilling life in academics: centeredness, wholeness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity; imagination; and collaboration. Do you have a story to share?

2 Replies to “A Writing Prompt”

  1. I have reached the eldering phase, and am finding it quite gratifying. At age 69, I don’t have much energy to develop new skills, or new fields of interest. But my experience of academe, which is perhaps a good deal wider than it is deep, is available to anyone who wants to talk things over. And as I move into the final years of my teaching, I’m finding that, too, deeply satisfying: my students like me and want to hear from me; they don’t mind my many eccentricties [indeed they take them as proof of my age and skill]; they ask about the deep past [say 30 or 40 years ago], and like listening to the answers.

    I do find an impatience from my younger colleagues, as they seem to be wishing me away, sometimes, somewhere. An unconscious [?] ageism is also apparent, and comments on my long memory are made with an edge that sometimes I don’t much like. But it is clear to me that, given current economic circumstances, if I were to disappear somewhere, there is NO guarantee whatever that my substantial salary would become the property of anyone else, or my position renewed for a new tenure tract person.

    So as long as I think I’m carrying my weight in a way that is both useful and unembarrassing professionally, I’ll do it.

    One last thing, I’ve recently abandoned all adminstrative responsibilities. This year, I’m just teaching in the English Department and in the Environmental Studies Program; true, I’m doubled up on depart meetings, and have two sets of colleagues, but most days the sense of exhilaration I feel upon getting up at 5:30am to teach my 8am freshman English class is simply a delight.

    Looking over a career which began at the University of Missouri in 1963, I can say I’ve had a wonderful time of it, and it’s been various enough so that I have very very seldom been bored [meetings to one side]. Being a full professor is the best job in the world, no doubt about it.


  2. Tom,

    Thanks for this heartfelt and inspiring celebration of your joy in teaching at a late stage in your career. No doubt about it, teaching well can feed the spirit. I wonder if you have found ways to share your wisdom with younger colleagues. What are some of your best stories? How have you, as an elder of the tribe, been able to fulfill your role as a keeper of its wisdom and traditions? And what do you envision for yourself once you finally do leave the classroom?

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