What It Means to Be “Fully Present”

The question posed by our Affect and Inquiry conference was always meant to be “What do we need to do our best work?” This question always reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s famous maxim, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

But I (we) are not here to (solely) write fiction (although sometimes that sounds quite nice). This is graduate school. One must read; one must teach; one must grade; one must write—nonfiction. One must also go to conferences, seek publication, join organizations, and build one’s CV. But one must also remember to take out the trash. And make dinner. And do the dishes. And go to the dentist. And do laundry. And pay bills. And—at least in my case—work a second, completely nonacademic job in order to do so. At some point one must also bathe, consider going to the gym, and let’s be brutally honest here, sit down and have a beer or a shot of whiskey.

So, when Kerry Ann Rockquemore asked us at her talk on Friday morning, “What does it mean to thrive?” I thought to myself: I would probably do all of these things exceptionally well and did I mention I would probably also remember to call my parents more often and while I’m dreaming I’d make time to volunteer at the Humane Society.

 But according to Kerry Ann, to thrive is simply “being able to be the scholar you want to be” …  and also “having a life.” The kind of life where you have the ability to be “fully present” in moments that exist and occur outside of your work. Because it is important to have moments that exist and occur outside of your work.

Sometimes, I think that I have them. Last night, I was watching an episode of “The Walking Dead” on Netflix with my boyfriend. I was thinking about eating Cheez-Its and about how quickly I would perish in a zombie apocalypse. Totally outside the realm of my work, right?

“I should really plug in my phone,” I said suddenly.  “In case one of my students emails me.”

Boom. Moment gone.

Kerry Ann offered many insights into and tips for the tenure-track professor. She described how much time and effort they put into service and teaching, and how little they have for their own writing. She explained that we should take 30 minutes every day—preferably in the morning—to write. While this was helpful in some ways (one day I’ll be writing a dissertation, right?), what I wanted to ask was: but how, exactly, do I live?

How do I make time to live?

I’m not sure. But as Kerry Ann so aptly put it, “I just need to figure out how to do this life without it costing so much.” Maybe that will come with the sort of awareness that our conference encouraged. Maybe, the next time that I watch “The Walking Dead” with Alex, I’ll leave my phone in my purse in another room.  And, maybe that’s okay.

-Lauren Rosales