Archives of Reception of the Bible

Past blogging in more ways than one.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Crazy academics!!

What is Chris Tilling talking about?

“Have a read of this and prepare to be scared, humbled and made to feel guilty all at once. This is truly mental. As one friend at LST said: I got tired just reading it!”

These words relate to Mike Bird’s description of his working day.

“I like to keep myself active with the keyboard and juggle a few projects at once. People ask me what writing habits I have and how and when I write. Here's the Bird-Method.
  • I get up around 7.00 a.m. and wake, feed, dress kids and help my dear wife get them ready for school.
  • I get to work about 0815 and get a cup of tea, turn on my computer, check the mail, and annoy my bosses secretary with requests for sweeties.
  • At 0830-0850 is German practice: vocab, read an EJTh book review, Deutsch Bibel.
  • Then 0850-0900 is general prayer and readings from the Book of Common Prayer
  • At 0900-09010 I work on my Evangelical Missal project and collect a written prayer, a Bible reading, a stanza from a hymn, and part of a creed, catechism or confession which I hope to turn into a book by the end of the year.
  • The rest of the day is determined by preparation, teaching, answering emails, and admin.
  • Where possible I try to get the odd two-hour block of writing time. During the day I am working on the Two Views of Christians Origins book with James Crossley.
  • Try get home by 1720 and help my wife with dinner, cleaning up, feeding kids, night-time routine with kids (prayer, Bible reading, memory verse, story, game) and then coffee with my wife Naomi. Possibly a shower around 1930 (this is Scotland after all).
  • Around 2000-2045 I like to work on book reviews. I'm currently reading Phil Towner on the Pastorals.
  • Then 2100-2230 is more writing time working on soon-to-be finished projects. At the moment I'm doing some stuff on Jewish views of Paul for a journal article.
  • At 2230-2315 is a minor project I plug away at, at the moment a commentary on Colossians.
  • 2315-2330 is Greek devotionals and prayer.
  • 2330-0000 is blogging time, Aussie red-wine, and kicking an orange ball around my living room in order to wind down.

This at least explains why every journal I see seems to have a Bird article in it! (Surely Mike owes us another post entitled “finding time for family/ recreation/ etc”.) James Crossley also seems very prolific and plus has time to go debating with W.L. Craig – How’s the social life, James? I am worried about you!

Also in the same week, we get a description from Jim West of his working day.

“No day is really typical. There are always hospital visits to make or funerals to perform or weddings to officiate. But, in general, were none of those to occur, I get up at 5:30 or 6 and go to the gym. I’m back home and showered by 8 and then its down to the study to power up the PC and check email and alerts for news stories that may be of interest to myself and potentially someone else. Then the day is consumed with a mix of phone calls, writing (I’m working on a commentary series containing exegesis and interpretation of each book of the Bible subtitled “For the Person in the Pew”. E.g., “Matthew: For the Person in the Pew” as well as a weekly Newspaper column, and reviews for RBL alongside some Encyclopedia articles at present), blogging news events and theological observations, reading, and the like. I take a break at 5 for dinner and then I spend the evening reading and keeping up with goings-on in the news and watching American Idol (or some other senseless thing). I stop all sorts of activities at 10 and I go to bed between 10:15 and 10:30 but sometimes I’m wild and crazy and stay up till 11.”

Now I am tempted to join Chris in thinking that these guys are just plain nuts. In the past I have also worried about Jim Davila and Mark Goodacre and their respective families. But in fact there is a serious issue here for anyone who aspires to being an academic or is an academic – How do we separate our work from everything else? How do we stop everything we do being about work in some way or other?

I confess that seeing ‘Ralphies’ being awarded for a whole range of non-work things just makes me think how little I read/hear/do that does not in some way end up as work (Of course writing about Johnny Cash doesn’t help much). In one sense, this works for me. It is the source of many of my ideas and I obviously value those for a whole range of reasons. But it is also a source of some unease. Do I really love my work so much that I want pretty much everything I do to go through some sort of work sieve?

Most people I know who are not academics think the job is a total doss. The usual ‘teacher’ stuff: ‘students have gone again’; ‘long summer holidays’; ‘trips to foreign places for conferences’. I have stopped even trying to explain what I do. But the truth of the matter is that there is often a lot of pressure on you to produce something (e.g. especially if you don’t have a post/tenure/promotion yet). And you are not very good at switching off because you are usually being asked to do exactly what you liked doing in the first place.

I am always amused when people question just how much value for money they get from you as an academic. Mike and Jim, unfortunately in my opinion, show just how stupid it is to question people who would probably do the job for little or no pay (and as postgrads probably did so for years). What sad, but happy, muppets we are.


At 10:38 am, Blogger James Crossley said...

I am saddened and hurt that you think my social life would be sacrificed John! That's a priority. Seriously though (actually social life is seriously one priority) I had a lengthy spell teaching part time before Sheffield and I had loads of time to do research then. And I still have no family committments (i.e. no kids) so that is a huge advantage over many academics. But even so it means I spend a lot of my time working on some strange stuff but it passes the time. It's true you have to be at least slightly odd to be an academic.

At 3:36 pm, Blogger John Lyons said...

Well, I hoped it wasn't so, but looking at Mike Bird and Jim West had me worried a little :)

More seriously, I noticed Andrew Lincoln also commenting on not being as prolific as some in his recent JSNT piece. Man, he's written loads of stuff!! God forbid I ever end up competing with such people or ever think that my life should be ordered so that I can compete with either the naturally prolific or the very, very sad (you all know who you are!!!)

Is this the male academic version of worrying about the size of your manhood, I wonder? Of course, it is obviously quality rather than quantity that counts, we all know that, don't we? Don't we?? Help!

At 9:29 pm, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

'just plain nuts'


At 3:19 am, Blogger Colin said...

Wow John, you're really selling me on academic life! Low pay, tough job market, and I get to be a pathological damn I really want this gig now ;). But seriously, though I'm sure there is an argument to be made against the kind of intensity you describe in the post, I think there's also an argument to be made against the kind of compartmentalization that inhibits us from folding every part of our lives into the creative process of research and writing. I don't see any problem at all with the fact that the things I do for fun very often feed into my academic life. Come to think of it, lots of the things I do for fun are a result of my academic drive (reading bible blogs, playing chess, reading history for fun...big shocker, I'm a huge nerd). Though I generally hate it when people talk about "finding a balance" (smacks of intellectual laziness a lot of the time)...I think that there may indeed be a balance to be had here. I think I can fill my days with my family, my work (unfortunately non-academic at the moment) and my attempts to pursue academics as a vocation. And with movies. Can't forget to watch movies now and again. Good thoughts though John. Cheers.

Colin Toffelmire.

At 9:50 am, Blogger John Lyons said...

I think we are on the same wavelength, Colin. Many of the best ideas I have had have come from doing other stuff. The piece I wrote on Psalm 137 and film came out of my fascination with Keyser Soze and The Usual Suspects (bit of a film theme going on here, I guess). Other pieces owe much to family life, and especially interaction with non-academic friends (I do have some, thank God!!).

I am not saying workaholics don't produce good scholarship, but I have a deep-seated prejudice against the belief that hours of hard work somehow equates to insight! I think my point is that if I worked as much on academic stuff as some seem to want to, I think my ideas would dry up.

The academic life is, to me, special in every way. I tried a career (photography) which had been my hobby since I was a kid. I lasted five years, before I realised that it was slowly killing me. It was a good job, but there was no long-term challenge in it. There are few walks of life where you get to question pretty much anything you want to question and people pay you for it (I've never thought of it as low paid - in my case, at least - because the top pay I'd have got as a civil service photographer was always way below what I might make as an academic). But it is a long slog to get here and there is a lot of luck as well as judgement in getting a job at the end of it.
But having got here - and having already dropped one career - I don't want to burn out and lose my interest in this one. So - to me at least, - balance is not so much a dirty word, but more of a watchword.


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