Entry 50: Overwhelmed

February 21, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is the 50th installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?

I have to let off some steam in today’s entry.  I wrote 780 words in about 90 minutes, which is like beast-mode good, but I’m again hitting a point where I’m running myself ragged.

I have a good life.  I’m in a very privileged position, and I recognize my own good fortune.  But there are moments where I get so overtaxed by competing demands on my time that I just want to punch everything and everyone in the face.  Not really, but kind of.  In such moments, I even get physically run down sometimes.

What could I possibly be complaining about?  In the past 48 hours:

I’ve had five essays to edit, each of which entails its own back-and-forth process;

I’ve been asked to review manuscripts for three peer-reviewed journals.  A common obligation, but rarely converging simultaneously like this;

I’ve been assigned two master’s theses that I need to grade by the end of the week;

I’ve been asked to serve on an administrative committee of some kind for my university.  Service of this sort is built in to any professorial gig.  It has nothing to do with your job as a researcher, but has everything to do with staying in good standing as a citizen of the university;

I have two papers that I’m co-authoring with different people, both of which I’ve reluctantly pushed to the side while I work on this book project.  Both also approached me overnight—totally coincidentally—to put a fire under my ass to not drag my heels so much;

I have one week before I start a new trimester and teach two new courses.  I’m in the midst of preparing those lectures and seminars, and am nowhere near finished; and

I’ve had two media interviews, including a long-awaited conversation with a documentary film producer that ran long.

This is just on the professional side of things.  I still have a personal life I need to maintain.  And of course the book writing.  It’s too much!!!

I previously made a deliberate decision that these activities are things that I should do.  I have more or less been mentally prepared for this kind of workload.  And yet it’s crushing my soul.

I don’t bellyache much, in Nuke Your Darlings or generally, but this is all so freaking crazy.  Over the weekend, there was an article in Chronicle of Higher Education suggesting this kind of overwhelm is all too common in academia.  And the supply of people with PhDs vastly exceeds the university demand for hiring people with PhDs, so it would be bad karma to turn down requests or complain except on rare occasions.  Scholars have good lives and all but the most delusional are fully aware of how good they have it.  Even in the good life you gotta hustle.

I need to be more disciplined with my time.  Wake up earlier (though I already wake up between 5 and 5:30), and work at night a little bit longer.  Perhaps with the TV off.  And curb the media interviews.  And get the F off of twitter…or just check in less frequently.


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks and an associate editor of the Texas National Security Review.