Perhaps not unexpectedly, I have been having a bit of a writer’s block these past few months. Talking with an older friend the other day, we both remarked that in the aftermath of a loss, the pointlessness of some things just becomes starker, and one has to find the strength within to go on, or more often, the strength within to not stop going on.
The difficulty of not stopping though, is exacerbated when the only thing one can do is academics… and the inability of even the most well-intentioned amongst us to not fall into the easy trap of seeking out extension of services long after it seems reasonable to others. As the time of my own retirement draws closer – another two years under normal circumstances, which seems both frighteningly near and yet comfortably still some time in the future – it is tempting to not call it a day just yet. But one has to find some alternate ways of keeping intellectually alive, contributing to the institutions one holds dear (and there are many of them still left!) without inadvertently or deliberately preventing them from growing and changing.
Knowing when to leave – that well timed exit, stage left – may be one of the best strategies to learn, as an anonymous Chinese proverb and Burt Bacharach have said in as many words. But when it comes to academe, there is a problem. A fixed retirement age cannot by definition apply across the board: there is deadwood in every department, as much as there will always be some who continue to astound us all with their continued productivity and creativity. Although a median should be respected, the median is not really the message.
The question of what to do, as well as how and where… These and other such night-thoughts have tended to occupy my mind a bit more these days, more often than in the past. This year has necessarily been a time of summing up and one of re-evaluation.
But as this year draws to a close – an annus horribilis by even the most generous of reckonings – I am reminded of the good Cromwell, who in another context and to another audience said, “Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”.
I feel much the same emotions: Depart, 2016. In the name of God, go! Enough. There is a new year on the horizon…