Cross posted at History Compass
Since I started paddling an outrigger canoe through the Newport harbor, I've gone under a lot of bridges. I learned, very quickly, that the current around bridges can be unpredictable--even dangerously so. In my small boat if I hit a bridge it means that I'll likely end up going for an unintentional swim and the blow from hitting a cement pylon can easily cause irreparable damage to my fragile canoe.
As I paddled under a low-lying bridge last week and heard the uncanny echo of water and wind through that space, I realized why trolls always live under bridges in folktales. Bridges are important places--necessary crossroads. But they are also liminal places where danger lurks. It might be in the form of a malintentioned someone hiding in the shadows, or it might be a whirl of current that pulls the boat toward a cement piling encrusted with mussel shells. Whatever the possibilities, bridge-crossings demand heightened attention.
Like the dangers of the bridges that I face as I paddle around segments of the harbor, there seem to be trolls lurking around the bridges of academia, too.
Right now the trolls that I'm facing are the distractions that pull me away from finishing my dissertation--the largest being the specter of the awful job market, but others include my inner perfectionist that needles me with reminders that the dissertation will never be as good as I wanted it to be.
Every morning as I plan my day and make my "To Do" list, I realize that some choices I make keep me on a straight and safe course, while others bring me dangerously close to wrecking my boat as I let the current pull me this way and that. And some days I don't get anywhere--eschewing the list of daily tasks and paddling around in circles rather than making measurable progress toward my end goal.