Basically, I need to travel like a toddler. I need to travel like a toddler because I have ADHD and am autistic and am easily overwhelmed by sound, temperature shifts, crowds, lack of control over my immediate context, and tight spaces. For me, travelling like a toddler means dressing in fluffy comfortable layers, having blankets, having snacks, along a schedule organized around my normal bedtimes.
It means having an eye mask, and ear plugs, and my sweatshirt version of a heavy blanket a Lululemon Scuba 2 hoodie that fits snug and thick, which covers for my hands and a hood that zips up high and tight like a deep-dive wetsuit of sensory dampening. It means making allowances for jet lag and major time shifts, for needs of hunger and sleep and quiet. It sometimes means seat upgrades, or paying for seat selection and boarding priority. It sometimes means an extra night in a hotel to manage all of it. My limit case was flying to Hawaii in August more on that in another post. Hawaii is km away from where I live.
I was terrified to do this. Terrified enough that I talked to my doctor about it, and he just kind of said, it is what it is, do whatever you can to make yourself more comfortable.
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So I went full toddler. I slept in the taxi; I slept at gates, on the floor. I retreated into a cocoon of me. I did what I had to get through it without a meltdown or a panic attack or wrecking my chances of acclimating to the time change once I arrived.
Still, it was really really gruelling. That was Tuesday. Wednesday morning, we started work at 9 am, and did a full day. And then Thursday. And then Friday. Academic and other work travel is full of indignities and compromises usually related to cost and time. Usually, the worker is the one absorbing the cost and giving up the time and the employer or other funder reaps the savings.
My brother in law, for example, flies from Toronto to North Carolina for meetings fairly regularly. His company puts him on a 6 am flight, and then he works all day in the US, and then they fly him home in the evening. They count that as a day of work, very efficient, but of course, he is losing a night of sleep getting up a to be on that 6am flight , working exhausted, and then driving home in the dark to get back home at bedtime.
The company saves on a hotel and can claim to make it a shorter, easier trip for my BIL, but of course, the money is saved at the cost of his sleep, his downtime, his family. And I have the paperwork that says so. I wear work clothes to travel, to save packing space. I only have my rollaway bag, because checked bags are for losers. I wear makeup and do my hair, to make travel glamourous again. I fly in early in the day to maximize my productivity. I like thinking of myself this way, controlled, productive, fashionable, lightweight.
And why should I? Whose needs does that serve? What a con! Air travel is legitimately awful and getting worse: overcrowded, no food, no storage, incredibly tightly crammed, ridiculous security theatre requirements that rob dignity and steal time. Why should I put on makeup for that and hop off the plane ready to attend a meeting? That they should smile while doing it, feel good about how much they can cram in, in what terrible circumstances, how cute and carefree they can look while doing so.
The thing is, only some of us me have the paperwork to push back. I hope to be a wedge opening up a bigger crack, to show that many of the conditions under which we all are pushed to work are also fundamentally disabling and inhumane and that we all ought to be able to push back.
So expect more posts from this year about academic-ing while disabled, as I come to terms with what that means for me. Of course, if you have any tips on how to make academic travel any less awful, please drop a comment! I said I would write about some of the work I did in the six months leading up to my sabbatical in order to prepare to make the most it when the time came. One the main things I did was clear the decks, in a pretty thoroughgoing way.
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I had this worry that January 1 would roll around, and I would helplessly spin around in one or another of my offices, with no surfaces to put things onto, desperately trying to remember where I put a printout. I had visions of endless search-and-preview loops on my MacBook, trying to find a document I knew existed but where I had just digitally stuffed in the wrong place out of expedience. I woke up at night afraid the towering pile of dissertations and INCs would smother me at any moment, anxious also of forms unsigned and letters unsent, chewing my nails about article reviews coming due and me forgetting them, or worse, spending all my time on them.
So I read a lot of dissertations, made plans with students, took scrupulous care to get all of my grading and peer reviews done before the end of fall term. I had too much stuff: too many books, so that new ones had no place. Too many stacks of printouts, and no room in the cabinets, too many references in my Zotero just dumped in, too many folders and subfolders for all my projects across two computers and two cloud storage services. Too many late library books, and fines.
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Sitting at my desk, I looked at the big pile of books stacked like a tower in the corner. I would put them away. But there was no shelf space left. Something in me snapped. All I could see were the wrong books in the wrong places and the right books hidden and no room to breathe anywhere. I removed somewhere between 8 and 10 linear feet of books, and brought them all to the giveaway cabinet in the common area. This took hours.
I sneezed nearly the entire time. Everything was dusty and neglected and crammed in.
I made space. I shelved all my new books. It was beautiful. This started an avalanche of paper. I went through my teaching files: 13 years of lesson plans and overhead transparencies and grading rubrics and printouts and attendance records. About two linear feet went right in the bin: the other two went to my RA, who put them all in my Zotero database, and filed everything. I went through research notes from projects long completed, marked up drafts, correspondence, notes-to-self.
Grad chair documentation of an informational and non-confidential nature: recycled.
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I freed up over a hundred file folders this way. Then I recycled the file folders to the giveaway cabinet. I have been a professor for 13 years. In the beginning, it was important to accumulate lesson plans and course evaluations and desk copies of textbooks and my new scholarly library.
I have been in the same office for 13 years. There was, suddenly, room to breathe. Oh yeah: I cleaned out all my desk drawers, too. Goodbye powdery packets of tea dated , au revoir mystery bag of … aspirin? Goodbye to all that. It felt good. It felt like taking off all these chains attaching me to the past, to projects never-completed, or well completed, to paths I really am never going to pursue, to things that have outlived their usefulness, to clutter and distraction.
I made space for new printouts and new books and new ideas. It felt fantastic. It took, literally, weeks. And then the digital decluttering: my MacBook Pro was sending out cries for help in the form of crashes and meltdowns. Since , with every new computer I got five? I used Migration Assistant to copy the old hard drive over to the new one.