Travel One: A Broader Reflection

I am going to preface this by saying that this is not meant to be an empirical report based on stringent quantitative analysis towards a goal of generalizable findings. I don’t believe in social science nor in such generalizability of findings and I have good reasons for that; however, this is not the time nor place for that explanation.

This is the story of a particular period of my life that has impacted my work world intensely because of major lifeworld changes. If something speaks to you, that is great. It is not my intention however for it to be all things to all people. I don’t know that anyone will read it and that is ok, too.

So, to begin at the begin takes us back to Last November of 2011 when I had just finished recruiting work at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) of behalf of the college in Jacksonville, Florida. I must confess that I have never been a huge fan of Florida and my trip to this city did nothing to improve that view. The goal at the conference was to heavily push the new online PhD, so there was a lot of sitting around at the booth and chatting with prospective students. It’s exhausting over the course of a whole day, but I enjoyed talking to folks a lot. I managed to present a couple of things as well in my capacity as an academic, which was a nice bonus.

Several days away from home was somewhat restful as my 2 and 5 year olds (at the time) were exhausting as kids those ages tend to be. My mother came and watched them while I was gone, giving my ex- some time to work and catch up. The ex- works as an instructor in an intensive 8 week ESL program here and it is a very difficult job. My being gone for four or five days is difficult for her even with help.

Four or five days away with 12+ hour days at the booth/table and then meals with colleagues and students is rewarding but tiring. It also puts me behind on grading, teaching, writing, and other professional duties. Such trips tend to be somewhat chaotic and there are still phone calls and emails from home that must be dealt with, often immediately. That plus the angry, sad, upset, or other phone calls from home create a level of guilt that makes being gone unpleasant for me and it is clear my family is very upset by it. The kids are stressed out and my ex- was as well, making returning home good, but desperate. We were always desperate to make things better in the weeks following my absences. Perhaps because of this kids’ ages, my being gone would take a lot for them to recover from emotionally. The rule of thumb seems to be a week of recovery for every day I am out of town. This may be peculiar to my kids who are very attached to both parents, but I have no accurate frame of reference. Several of my friends have the same issue to different, lesser degrees with their own kids. Others just tell me they don’t want to talk about it.

So, AECT came and went and soon Thanksgiving followed, which meant travel to Houston to see family and a long car trip. Houston is not that far from Denton along I 35 and 45. By myself I have made it in as little as 3 1/2 hours when traffic cooperated. With the kids, my record is five hours.
The average is still about six hours because we still have to stop for at least 30 minutes for every 90 minutes of driving. It took us eight hours once when my daughter was very little. She cried constantly and my ex- would have to sit in the back seat and hold her hand for the entire trip. We couldn’t trade driving duties because I get terribly nauseous in the back seat. My daughter also only slept infrequently, waking screaming, so neither of us slept much.

By this trip, things had settled, but my son was still only about 2 1/2 and hated being in the car for too long. It’s still about 12-14 hours of driving over four days plus the stress of close quarters in someone else’s home.

That makes getting any work done hard, because we shouldn’t have to work during a holiday, but online courses and email have set an expectation that faculty should be working or available whenever they are awake. I don’t remember ever having such expectations as a masters student, but apparently the norms have become firmly entrenched. The level of escalation when a professor doesn’t respond within 24 hours is now Cold War apocalypse movie nuclear with some students emailing dean or department chair immediately if they do not have instant responses to queries. This is not all students, clearly, but enough that it is exhausting and has many faculty running scared. The hassle of having to explain the situation to an administrator of any sort wastes a huge amount of productive time that might be used to do real work, and most of us have just adapted to whatever unreasonable expectation emerged. It is odd how much power we have just given over to students in this relationship. They are no longer learners coming to learn, but clients and consumers we are expected to serve and want a piece of paper not knowledge and skills. The model of university as business is unfortunate and inappropriate to the goals of teaching and learning. But I digress.

So, thanksgiving was exhausting followed by a couple of weeks of teaching at the end of the semester where not much gets done because of dead week and finals week where everything just slumps to a gradual end. No travel, but preparation for travel for the holidays is already happening plus shopping and such preparations in addition to grading and mandatory or strongly suggestedwork parties as such. Then there is the holiday travel and being away from home for a period of time long enough to throw off all schedules, especially for the kids. Once there, family disapproves of doing work in lieu of being with them, but the pressure to finally finish articles and analysis or to prep for next classes is massive. There is no break.

This takes us only to January.

That month would have been quiet but for an assistant professor search I chaired. February was three different visits from candidates and a recruiting trip to Orlando. I saw my family a few hours a week at best, which put a huge strain on them and me. By the end of February, we were basically done. In March, I was in Austin attending a conference and recruiting at South by Southwest for 13 days all together. Then we went to Houston for a week a spring break, but I had the kids by myself half the time and she the other half while the other stayed in Denton. By April we were looking for other living arrangements and I was again gone for nearly a week at a conference that month and a few days in Indiana for recruiting. In May, we had moved into separate houses and in June I traveled to Detroit for vacation and then San Diego or work. All told, I made a lot of trips and they put a huge strain and me and my young family.

It also made it very hard to keep up on grading and teaching. There were times when I didn’t see my students for long stretches and everything felt disconnected. Getting writing done was a chore because whenever I got into a groove, I’d have to pick up and leave to go focus my attention elsewhere. It also screwed up my process that involves hiding at a coffee shop and immersing myself in the noise until I reach a zen state. That’s petty to complain about but our habits are important, especially for writing. I was always tired and grumpy and filled with ennui.

All of this is to say that travel has a big impact on home and work. I’ll probably write more later, but for the moment, this blog post is very long and needs to be wound up. I leave you with this:

In order to be sane as a faculty member and to properly support students and family, my travel should be minimized. This is not true of everyone and those with no kids or much older kids have different situations. To restate, this is not to generalize unless you see parallels. Maybe the story helps. Maybe it is just navel gazing or some weird metacognitive reflective task I have assigned myself.

Next up I’ll talk about either the impact of illness or the dissolution of relationship on work and home a bit. But the name of this blog means that I’ll probably tell a lot of stories, so this shouldn’t be unexpected if you are reading this.

I’ll be doing the more formal analysis and research work on detailed data collection I did in 2011 and will write articles and such on that soon. This is the more informal work I feel like doing to get me in the mood for that, which will be brutal self reflective exposure to peer reviewers and watching myself teach and live my life then. We will see how that goes.

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