This post appeared on Felloffatruck Publications back on 21 March 2007. It’s being pulled from the archives for a reason …
I’m going to make a small wager that most of you kind folk who visit Quilly and me from time to time have been to college, and for a greater purpose than to wander the campus and ogle the pretty girls/boys. Which means you’ve crammed for a test here and there. Probably all night. In a blind panic. At least once.
C’mon, ‘fess up. Even I did it. Mind you, I didn’t want to. But the gf was convinced she needed to stay up and study, and dammit if she was going to pull an all-nighter, then so was I. Misery shall have company or else, buster.
Rocking the books around the clock is a particularly collegiate rite of passage, one of the latest and last of the childish things that one is supposed to put away when you walk out those gates for the last time, with your maturity, and your next ten years or so of debt payments, securely rolled into that scrap of faux parchment. Something you did, and never hope to do again.
Oh, wait, did I just write a never? Ooops …
Welcome to academia. Those lovely ivory towers full of boys and girls who never did grow up, who didn’t get the memo that all-night crammings are something you’re supposed to have graduated from. The hallowed halls that people who are supposed to be smart spend years trying to get into, only to find that the endless streams of papers to write, reports to fill out, and (especially) grant proposals to peddle (which is what your salary depends on in a market that was bad ten years ago and is now twice as tight, if you haven’t found a pork barrel to feed from), means that, guess what? You’re going to be pulling all-nighters.
It does, unfortunately, make some sort of sense, these all-nighters. To put together the longer trains of thought that feature in this business, with every fact illustrated and every utterance on the the topic in seventeen languages meticulously referenced and footnoted, takes time and concentration.
Which the typical office environment, even in academia, doesn’t supply, what with everyone from the babies of double-income junior academics, to prospective freshmen, to colleagues with coffee cups and writer’s block, to deans seeking volunteers for useless committees, to potential big donors wondering how the hell come that machine isn’t going 24/7/365 and giving him some prospect of a return on his investment already, knocking on the door every five minutes.
And the next thing you know, you’re up against deadline for getting that paper into that book, or getting that proposal downloaded or (heavens! there are still Luddites in the halls of academe!) photocopied and mailed. Which means you, yes you, are going to be staying up all night.
Like for instance. I’ve been doing some work on these guys. If you’ve seen anything like them before, you’re doing pretty well. They’re arguably descendents of the first green plants that ever lived on this planet. And that’s a little more than just a bunch of eggheads yelling at each other about it. Y’see, some of these guys were so abundant back, oh, 300 million years or so ago, that they died in great masses and decomposed into this slimy stuff. You’re probably burning some of this in your Buick right now.
And if you’re lucky enough to play with some of the expensive toys that I do, you might even find that the surfaces of these swimming cells are covered with delicate scales that are far smaller than the eye can see.
I’m supposed to be some sort of expert on how to catch, grow, and identify these things, and some folk wanted me to write a paper for a book on them. So I did, sent it in, and waited for them to send it back. Which they did – but by then I was distracted by other things. Like finding food. And when you’re distracted, it’s hard to keep all the thoughts you need in a row to make the writing go well, the illustrations fit the topic and be executed with a reasonable degree of quality control. Until the editors want it now.
Presto. Up all night.
Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be academics.
– O Ceallaigh
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All opinions are mine as a private citizen.