This life isn’t sustainable

Everything is coming down on me right now — I think it will ease up around Thanksgiving, but that’s three weeks away. I’m coming home bleary-eyed and worn out.

I think the problem is that teaching is a performance, requiring me to present myself as enthusiastic and cheerful…and when that isn’t how I feel, the performance becomes increasingly difficult. If I can get rid of this stupid boot on Friday, and get my students through the next few weeks of rehearsals for their seminars, and if I can avoid coming down with anything else, the load will get lighter and maybe I won’t have to pretend as much.

Until then, don’t talk to me, I’m a bit snarly and bitey in the evenings.

Hmmm. I actually found this short video kind of helpful in giving me perspective.

Here’s the deal. I have enough. I’ve got a nice house, a stable income, good health care, and I feel zero pressure to make more money. I have no desire to be rich. Middle class is fine.

But then there’s the concept of precarity. I’m fine now, but will I be fine in the future? I can’t afford to retire, because then that income plummets, and worst of all, my health care goes away (isn’t this a screwy system, where health care is tied to employment, so if you retire at a time in your life when you’re most dependent on it, you lose it?). I also have to be concerned that when I retire, and when I die, I’m just abandoning my obligations to my partner. It’s also screwy that I can be co-equal and co-dependent with someone my entire life, but as soon as I die, she is left high and dry.

I think maybe that’s what makes me most anxious right now.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Since the local feline is even more snarly, you should visit some friend that has sociable cats, or puppies, or some adult bichon friche dog. Stay under a living blanket of furry goodness until you feel better.
    I do not recommend smoking pot, är your profession requires a good memory.

  2. says

    I’m sorry to hear that too. Do you have to continue working? If not stop. It worked for me at 62 and I have never looked back not even once and for 10 years have lived a simple life on SS.

  3. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    I will say this, PZ. Your YouTube education is very often filled with snark and criticism, and yet it still feels warm and well-meaning. I suspect the same is true of your professional teaching.

  4. says

    I read a story about a husband and wife who divorced while the husband was on his death bed. He was dying of cancer and he didn’t want to saddle his family with 200K in hospital bills. Gotta love that American health care.

  5. jrkrideau says

    and worst of all, my health care goes away
    What a weird country. Where I live, health care is the same if I am 15 or 30 or 90.

  6. tempetim says

    You are fatigued right now. Be easy on yourself and get your energy levels back up. Put off retirement and dying as long as as you can. In my opinion they both are overrated. But DO SOMETHING about those things that make you anxious. They won’t go away by magic.

    Somewhere there is the scent of fresh baked cookies.

    Here, take a cookie.
    I promise by the time you’re done eating it.
    You’ll feel right as rain.

  7. charley says

    Have you priced health insurance under the Affordable Care Act? If your retirement income is low you might be surprised how inexpensive it is. At least that’s what I found in WA when I, too, had about all I could stand of work and decided to retire ahead of schedule.

  8. PaulBC says

    Aside from healthcare, early retirement would be a very appealing option. If not actual retirement, partial retirement with some contracting work would also be a good option that could keep me feeling useful. ACA policies exist and I may consider them at some point. It’s a much better deal being a full time employee though, particularly if I want to keep my kids on the policy as long as I can. I also realize this entire “dilemma” probably sounds ridiculous in most of the world.

  9. says

    Yep. Freedumb and dumbocracy Trump the socialist dystopia of mutual altruism every time. That’s why evil and corrupt billionaires pay their political lackeys to keep it that way. Any how never mind my snark and use that boot to kick those worries to the kerb.

  10. redwood says

    I’ve ridden the “cheery professor” bus for many years and when you’re tired and not feeling great, it can be a bumpy ride. My solace was to go home and do something I enjoyed, losing myself in it. Having a loving partner helps a lot as well and if you have to lean on them for a while now, you can return the favor when they need it.

  11. PaulBC says

    If I were a student, I’d accept that a professor with a boot might not be his usual self. I’ve also had professors that were consistently boring and I survived those classes. So don’t worry about it. Just level with them.

  12. nomdeplume says

    Oh PZ, stress is a bastard.

    Why don’t you retire to Australia – excellent health care at low or no cost, and spiders like you wouldn’t believe. Also octopus.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    Get some good, pain-killing drugs and a lot of rest before you make any long-term decisions.
    I do not know conditions for US health insurance but surely Canada/ Irland/Australia/New Zealand has some need for biologists? If you can install your family in some place that has not been ruined by the oligarchy you will have much fewer worries.
    The young ‘uns can pick up the political struggle for USA.

  14. tccc says

    I too am sorry to hear about all the stress, I hope you can find time soon for yourself and your loved ones.

    (The precursors to insurance companies quite intentionally focused on workers as a short hand way of only insuring the healthy people.)

  15. nomaduk says

    I do not know conditions for US health insurance but surely Canada/ Irland/Australia/New Zealand has some need for biologists?

    I don’t know if you’ve ever tried emigrating from the US to one of those countries, but, in general, unless you’re young (and that means under 45 at the outside) or have enough money to live without recourse to public funds (that’s the UK terminology; it varies), you are not welcome.

    I managed it, but long ago, and only just barely.

  16. dianne says

    nomaduk@18: USians like to pretend that they can move anywhere in the world and that anywhere they ask will immediately take them. It’s untrue and those who try find that out. No one actually wants to live in the US, it’s just not possible to leave.

  17. brucegee1962 says

    If we ever did have universal health care in this country, the “Great Resignation” would look like just a trickle compared to the huge stampede of 50-65 year olds who would be heading for the exits. I’m in the same boat PZ is — still teaching just due to health care. Fortunately I have some outside income, so I am eying the exits myself.

  18. blf says

    dianne@19, “[… I]t’s just not possible to leave [the States].”

    It certainly is possible, but it DOES help to have an “out” — in my case, I’m a dual-national with another passport allowing me into, and to reside in, the EU. So not really any legal bullshite. In addition, in my case, I also had a firm job offer, so not much a financial issue either. I do realise I’m in a small minority, but that minority, and others, are examples why “it’s just not possible” is hyperbolic overstatement. (E.g., some of my previous colleagues also left the States — they didn’t have the second passport, albeit they did have the firm job.)

    PaulBC@10, “partial retirement with some contracting work would also be a good option”.

    Yes — that’s what I’m doing… I refer to it as “semi-retired”, and explain, “I am available, but only with proper conditions as defined by me, the most important being I must find the work interesting” (and then go on to give examples). Not-interesting solicitations get a rather highly priced contract / bid with stringent requirements… unsurprisingly, no-one has ever yet pursued the issue (or ever returned to try again).

  19. PaulBC says

    blf@22 I do have an “out” (dual citizenship for rather silly reasons) but it would require getting the rest of my family on board (which is doable but not done). I also like the weather in California. I can’t think of anywhere else in the US I would really want to live at this point. Not really back to the east coast, and some places I’ve liked in the past just seem crazy now. Any state with “open carry” just ain’t happening for me. I don’t know what these nuts have come up with. It’s like they’re all gearing up for live in a failed state.

    I have an inexplicable attachment to Santa Fe, New Mexico just from being there a couple of times for conferences, staying at a pretty cool Native-American-owned hotel, liking the enchiladas, oddly reinforced decades later by watching Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. I think that move will have to happen in an alternate universe, because there is no rational explanation for it.

  20. davidc1 says

    @21 There was a headline in that bastard Guardian (they deleted my account .again ,don’t know why ),saying Americans are resigning in droves .Don’t know what to suggest to the Doc as a change in career ,not many firms are on the lookout for a grumpy spider obsessed atheist .
    He could rent his house out ,buy a RV and tour the country .
    Travels with Mary ,good title for a book .

  21. PaulBC says


    No one actually wants to live in the US, it’s just not possible to leave.

    I used to say that one the biggest advantages of the US is a relatively open immigration policy, effectively making us the receiving end of the rest of the world’s brain drain.

    Aside from people born in the US, a lot of people I know in the tech industry really do want to live here. They have a materially better life in many cases, or just enjoy the experience. And at least in parts of the US, it is possible for new groups to make their own traditions and add to the culture rather than assimilate into it. Clearly, there are other parts of the country where they meet with resistance and resentment. My impression is that Europe is more difficult both in terms of gaining residency in the first place and ultimately being accepted as a member of that society (but I emphasize that this is an impression).

    I also think a lot of this advantage has been endangered over the last few years, and not just by Trumpism. The world is turning back from globalism. It was one of the few things that I would point to as something the US “does better”–just being a more welcoming and adaptable society. Now I struggle to come up with anything. And certain areas like public health are unambiguously worse.

  22. davidc1 says

    @25″ The world is turning back from globalism. ”
    HAHAHA ,all except good old GB ,instead of trading with our nearest neighbours across
    the channel ,that twat faced twat johnson is trying to make us believe we are better off trading
    with countries thousands of miles away .
    And some of the really thick britshiters said they voted leave because of globalism .

  23. PaulBC says


    I’ve ridden the “cheery professor” bus for many years and when you’re tired and not feeling great

    Another thought… as I said in @13, I don’t see why you have to be cheerful anyway, but let me take it further. Maybe you or PZ could leverage physical discomfort into being the demanding, unpleasant professor, like Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. Better to be feared than loved, right? Students will assume it’s their job to prove themselves worthy, and never suspect that if not for tendinitis, you’d come across as an easily hoodwinked lightweight.

    OK, I’m not totally serious. There’s probably a culture shift from 50 years ago as well as a different set of expectations compared to Harvard Law school. But I still believe that no professor should be required to be cheerful, just clear in teaching and fair in expectation. A little cheeriness is fine if it’s real. If it’s an act, just don’t.

  24. cartomancer says

    You’re so right about the fact that teaching is a performance. I sometimes say that teaching is basically stand-up comedy, but with a curriculum and less time spent in cheap hotels.

    I guess different people approach the acting part of it in different ways. I’ve often found what many professional actors have – that playing the part and adopting the persona can be somewhat liberating and freeing from one’s ongoing personal worries. You’re playing a focused, approachable, authoritative and likeable version of yourself – in many ways the sort of person you would like to be all the time. It can be exhausting, but I rarely find it an unedifying experience in itself.

    It’s the time you’re not teaching that the worries and awfulness of the world can encroach and make you feel horrendous.