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Posted on May 3rd, 2016

The Geography of My Mind – Come Up for Air

There is an awfully long leash given to me for what I can write about in these articles. They clearly serve little purpose other than to amuse the staff of Apollo, and while I shouldn’t ask this aloud, I wonder why they let me do what I do in the first place. But for better or worse, they seem to at least find it amusing. Maybe it provides a little injection of humor – or weirdness – into their fast-paced, customer service world. Who knows?

But I guess I’m thankful for the forum to vent and explore “ideas” that would otherwise rattle around in my head all day. Yes, what you read is what plays on a continuous loop 24/7/365. If there was a pause button, I would be grateful. If I could apply this time and energy to something more productive, I would be grateful. But in the end what comes out is what swishes around and keeps my brain from capsizing. These thoughts just float around in my brain and maybe they serve as life preservers. But what are they helping me keep afloat from you might ask? Well, another kind of writing.

Before I get to that, I used to try to keep a daily journal. It didn’t last very long because I wasn’t sure what the point was. I wasn’t ever going to re-read any of the stuff and I was getting just as much takeaway from the thinking as I was the writing. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. More than likely I just had so much else going on that warranted my attention more than scribbling about the nonsensical happenings and mindless wanderings of my life. So, that other kind of writing: almost inherently by trade I write to earn my keep. I hear you: “Egads, mate, someone pays you for this drivel?” Well, no, not exactly, kind of indirectly they do. As an aspiring “scholar” (that word gives me the willies; so pretentious), I have to be productive on the research front which requires me to engage in meaningful research, keep apprised of relevant and current writings in my focal area, find problems and try to offer solutions. Essentially I need to move the conversation forward. It’s tough. All of that plus the peer review process equals stress, second guessing, humility and constant frustrations. For someone who broadly studies quality of life issues, I sure chose a career path that deemphasizes that possibility for myself, at least for several years. So in this forum I am thankful to be able to wander aimlessly and not be held accountable for the things I espouse. Now that I’ve just made this declaration, I imagine things will change next month…

I submitted a paper on the historical study of leisure recently to one of the top tier journals in my field. I had high hopes as everyone that was involved in my project viewed it as a necessary and valuable addition to the “literature” as they say. I figured I would get some pushback from reviewers resulting in some changes before it was accepted; boy, was I wrong. The paper was eviscerated. While the review team supplied detailed and thoughtful commentary on my efforts, the overall tone was tough, if not harsh. This wasn’t a “major revisions” or even a “reject and resubmit” situation. No, this was a flat-out rejection. Your work does not deserve a place in our hallowed journal. Good luck taking it anywhere else. Now this study covered roughly three months of travel where I drove from Bellingham, WA to Clemson, SC and everywhere in between. I read 20 or so classic texts and maybe 50 articles to bolster my argument and data. I presented on this paper at a national conference to mostly positive reviews. I was not ready for the beat-down my work was to take.

I bitched and moaned about how the review team was unfair. I complained to my 2nd and 3rd authors who served largely as guiding hands on my cultivation of the paper. They had given me some warnings that I ignored, but in all fairness, they too were shocked at the end result. But over the course of a few days I began to realize that the reviewers were more right than wrong. I was not mad at the rejection, the reviewers or the reviews themselves. I was mad at myself for attempting to pass off some sham scholarship that was more Pollyanna, more single-sighted and more devoid of any substantive value than I was of anything. I don’t know what I was thinking. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I had published before, I had been through the throes of the review process. I just wasn’t thinking critically, or perhaps big picture enough. I had returned to writing like a graduate student. One step forward, two steps back.

Fortunately one of the reviewers included some suggested references, so I immediately dug those up and dove in. Not even halfway through the first recommended article I realized how much I had missed out on. The rewrite of this paper would be a complete overhaul. We’re talking about putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. I’m going to need all of the king’s men and all of the king’s horses for sure. So this leaves me with that all too familiar feeling of humility. I know that this will likely be a recurring issue for the next 30 years or so. I’m sure I’ll build a positive trajectory in my professional career as an academic writer, but there will always resurface some old issues when I get a little too comfortable or start to take things for granted. Maybe it’s natural, maybe it’s just me. I’d like to think they’ll be few and far between, but I don’t want to give myself too much credit. People automatically assume you’re smart if you have a PhD; that really isn’t the case. All it shows was that I could stick with something for 4 years, and maybe I’m smarter than the average person, I’ll accept that. But on a scale of 1-10, with 5.5 being average (because think about it, 5 would be less than average), maybe I’m a 6 – there are an awful lot of people smarter than me and they’re all apparently reviewing my work. I guess I should be thankful, though. They’re making it better and anything that does make it through the grind will stand on its own. The work that fails to will be a reminder to me to step up my game. Especially if I want to stay in this field. I think all a PhD in the social sciences equates to is the realization of all that you don’t know. Very humbling, indeed.

I have a few things going for me in general: great time management and organization, and I don’t procrastinate. I do rush through things too frequently, and that is a hard one for me to shake. I don’t often feel overwhelmed, but when I do, it can feel like I’m under water and I don’t know which way is up. I’m trying to breath but I can’t come up for air. When I do, I’m frazzled and out of breath. But when I regain my composure, things seem all the more clear. So maybe we all need to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken violently. Shake out those assumptions, get reoriented back on course. That is sort of what this review did for me. When it rains, it pours, they say, and the day after I got that rejection, I got another paper dropped from consideration. This one hurt far less because I was attempting to build theory, but I was quick to admit that I was more than likely splitting hairs. I like to play in the abstract a lot, and that is largely what I did on that paper. But the first one, that one stung. Now that I’ve come up for air, gotten my bearings, I see where I can add to the discussion, where I can add value instead of just pass off some second-rate scholarship as original. I guess it feels good to admit that here, I just wish I’d had the foresight to see it upon first attempt.

To be reminded that you don’t know everything and that there are often bigger issues and implications than you consider by default is an awakening experience. I hope that is something that stays lit on the backburner of my mind as I slowly make my way down the path of academia. I need to keep in my mind that not only do I not have all the answers, but in contrast to what they said on the X-Files, the answers may not even be out there – yet. So here’s to finding truths and helping others create it where it doesn’t quite yet exist. Here’s to a fuller consideration of what precedes us and what needs to follow. And finally, here’s to the tough love of the academy when it comes to sculpting its’ upcoming generation. I might need some refining, but I will make our mark.

Marco Esquandoles
Class Clown

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