Quitting Time (50 of 90)
Week 8 is when I want to quit.
Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve had this feeling. Halfway through the semester, the newness and angst of the students and classes have worn away, given themselves over to drudgery of work. The long, dragging, rote work that is required at the beginning of a project. When there is no momentum. When every step is one, slow progression after another with no real end in site.
The only thing staring back at you: the long, empty road to the end.
It’s in these moments that I contemplate my life, my career. As a cajole and push not only the students, but also myself to break through that barrier. I wonder if, in the end, I will look back and think that the sacrifices I made along the way were worth it. Or if I sacrificed enough. Or if I kept one eye on a different road, never fully committing.
Every semester, it is the same. There is no learning curve when you teach because every year, a new set of students appear – ones I (mostly) haven’t taught before. Ones for whom all of this is new (at least in terms of my class). There is no history, no fluidity for them.
For me, it’s become a rote exercise. One that sucks dry my creative energies, eats up my writing time and saddles me with doubts about my (current) chosen profession.
I’m sitting in a hotel in Blystheville, Arkansas, just across the border from Missouri and seven hours from Muncie.
I never used to stop at hotels on my way to Austin. I’d power through the 18 hour drive, dealing with the fatigue with little power naps in rest stops along the way. Occasionally I would stop in St. Louis to see Steph, one of my best friends, which cuts the drive up into a manageable 12-hour drive on day two.
Mostly, though, I would power through.
I can’t do that anymore. Or I don’t see the need to do that. It’s still in my head when I’m driving, though. I always set out with the intention of powering through.
These days, I just can’t keep myself motivated for the pointless exercise of it all.
I spent 51 weeks each year thinking about South by Southwest Interactive. It is my home at my home.
The conference, in Austin, gathers 12,000 people (this year) who work in my industry. People who, by and large, understand the digital world. Who believe in the digital world. Who are creating the world that we’ll look back on in a few years and wonder how we lived before.
I know this because 17 years ago, at the dawn of this, I was at the first Interactive. It was, as I recall, an accident. A “what the heck is this” moment while I was covering South by Southwest Music for, in all likelihood, Cincinnati Citybeat. Back then, all I wanted to do with write pop culture features. I was young and naive then.
Accidentally, I found what would become the most important thing in my life. The conference, the city, the people, the attitude. There isn’t anything about SXSW that doesn’t inspire me. That doesn’t push me. That doesn’t fill me with excitement and hope and joy.
Then it ends and I return to my life, the one where I stand in front of students an anonymous professor trying to push, cajole and wrestle my students. Hoping that a meme here or there invades their brains, in the ways that happened to me so many years ago, and they find their path.
Having found mine, I know what that will mean for them.
I have to remind myself not to get upset when they don’t find it by Week 8.
Halfway between here and there is a bad time to make decisions. I’m always at my lowest point here, made worse by the realization that I’m also at the beginning of a 51-week journey back to SXSW Interactive.
Everything, right now, is – or seems to be – as far away as it will ever be.
It’s winter in my soul. Whatever that is.
I’m old enough, or experienced enough, to know that about myself. Like shopping on an empty stomach, decision-making during winter is a recipe for failure. So I don’t. I politely decline conversations and overtures. I smile and laugh off opportunities.
Because there is still work to be done. And spring always follows winter. And things will bloom again, as things bloom again.
The todays will become yesterdays, stories of almosts and remember whens. The tales we tell our friends when summer is in full swing, when enough time has passes that these stories lose the sting of reality. When you can tell the tales of near betrayal and laugh.
I know this day will come. I will share the story with myself as I marvel (in some way) at what has actually become. I will think of what could have been and smile.