If the paper’s crap . . .

I have reflected before that people who need to do archival research Elsewhere in the summer ought not to have gardens, or only the most self-sustaining kind (or hire gardeners, but then what is the point?). Alternatively, perhaps people with gardens ought not to go to libraries and so on that are Elsewhere in the height of growing season.

A large chunk of time today that might have been better spent on the paper went to finishing a chunk of digging and re-planting that I started two weeks ago and then bogged down on. If it were left till I get back, it would all be to do again, not to mention how dreadful it would look in the meantime. More weeding is called for, as is mulch in quantity, but I truly do not have time for that; I will just have to resign myself to hours more when I get back. But at least the front of the house looks like I made some effort.

Really I should leave things like collecting cat meds and cat litter to Sir John (and he’d be the first to say so), but I did those errands, too. So the garden is okay, and the cats have what they need, but I have yet to pack, and I feel I need more time with my books. But maybe the books are just a sort of security blanket.

Chance is a fine thing

OMG. I have just spent hours making final travel arrangements for my trip to the UK, when I should have been/wanted to be working on my various papers. I had one night unaccounted for; I didn’t think it would be difficult to find somewhere suitable, but it was a weekend night, and I think I ran into two-night minimums at a lot of places. The obvious thing seemed to be to stay in London near the station I’d be traveling out of the next day, but all the hotels I tried (online) showed no vacancies, and the alternatives I got offered were northwards of 150 quid. I don’t think so, thanks.

Since nowhere in England is so very far from anywhere else, I’ll be staying in the south, near where I’m rambling around that day. The next day’s travel is still very manageable. The hotel I booked looks quite attractive. The one negative online review was from a man who complained because when he left the window open, the cat came in. Some folks don’t know when they’re well off.

The hotel response was even more encouraging: though they don’t keep a hotel cat, there are eight cats in the near vicinity.

Do you think I need to leave an open can of tuna in my room, or will catnip likely be sufficient?

Finishing the week

I was going to just do a boring post about what I’ve managed to do this week (not enough!) but Renaissance Girl’s comment on my last post inspires me:

“Spreadsheet with data for article.



Sometimes I feel like I’m in a different field from…you know, other folks in my field.”

Well, I am in a different field from other folks in my field! Maybe because I was once a STEM-field major. I’m a concrete rather than an abstract thinker. I don’t get on well with theory. I like manuscripts because they’re concrete things, and I like research projects where I can count things like corrections, or marginal comments, or uses of a particular language or type of vocabulary. For a long time, especially in grad school but continuing afterwards, people found me weird (or “naive”), and I struggled to be different (that is, more like the people who thought I was an unsophisticated thinker) but I have finally said, “Screw it, I’m doing what I do well (or at least what I love enough to work at),” and it’s working for me.

That is, I like what I’m doing. Two acceptances in the last 6 months, both a bit outside my real field, but all the same, those decks are getting cleared. The article with the spreadsheet was a conference paper last year, that was solicited for a journal after a member of the editorial board heard it. I’m doing something right.

And I have to remind myself of that because the conference paper in progress is a hot mess. The initial stage, last winter, was so promising, but now I need all kinds of non-circulating material that is available only in places that take at least an hour to get to, mostly more. And in some ways work is going backward: a connection I thought was direct turns out to be a step-relationship, not blood, and that may be a problem. I have a feeling I’m going to be finishing up the research in the BL, in hours snatched between other scheduled library visits and meetings, and writing the final version of the paper on the train the day before I give it.

I still have a week before I leave. There’s some time to sort some of this out. It will be all right.

It better be all right, because I really can’t hand-wave my way out of this one. This is the problem with concrete, spread-sheetable research: you have it or you don’t. And when you don’t, it’s obvious.

the promised boring post

The work report: there was some reading yesterday, but not much else. Errands, yeah, a bunch of those.

Up at 6:30 this morning, and I’ve taken notes on a book for the article in progress, added some more entries to a spreadsheet that has to do with data for that article, edited 104 lines of the translation, and . . . jeez . . . is that all? Renewed books. Ordered another book ILL. Sent some e-mail. Reviewed the present state of outlines for article-in-progress and for conference paper (for the latter, it’s not so much an outline as a series of questions).

Tomorrow I’ll be on campus again, and my plan this time is to do less bureaucratic stuff and make more use of my office’s large monitor and high-speed internet connection. I need to do some searches of archives and staring at digitized MSS, and that’s easier with my official equipment.

I had an idea for an actual interesting post, but when it didn’t get my immediate attention, it wandered off somewhere into the ether. Sorry about that.

The difference a day makes

I feel fine today. Even woke up hungry. This is much better. Now, how to get some work done this afternoon, when I have errands I need to do & then the housecleaner will be underfoot, & then I have to get to the gym? The combination of weekend social life and food poisoning was very hard on the Ideal Schedule. I felt I was doing well to get up at 8:00 this morning. Tomorrow I’ll try to haul myself out of bed earlier—but I still need to salvage something of today.

And what I’d really like to do is get back to the gardening I was in the middle of on Sunday when our friends called. Who needs a social life anyway?

Be it resolved: I’m going to have some work to report in tomorrow’s very boring blog post. You can bring on the wet noodles if I don’t.


Six people went to a Japanese restaurant last night. I was the only one over age 7 who didn’t eat raw fish. I was also the only one to get sick. Is this fair, right, or reasonable?

I’m tired. My head hurts. Looking at a screen makes it hurt worse. I seem to be able to read on paper in 10-15 minute increments, interspersed with resting my eyes or doing some undemanding bit of housework, like laundry.

Would someone please give me permission to spend the day putting sticky notes in books for later written note-taking, sorting out stuff that needs to be filed or tossed, and otherwise taking it easy, instead of panicking over the conference paper and the article that both need to get written?

Travel plans

I found out this week that next summer, I will be teaching in one of LRU’s summer-abroad programs, in the UK. Woot and all that—yes, it’s awesome, and it’s been 10 years since I got to do this, but as I’ve done it before and have a good friend who does it more often, I know that it is also a lot of work and a whole lot of interaction (morning noon and night) with students. In some ways, that can be a very good thing, but if you get a difficult person on the trip, it can turn nightmarish. And one has to be even more extremely focused and goal-oriented than at home in order to get any scholarly work done, even with one of the world’s great libraries right down the street, because there are so many distractions, of both the teacherly and the historical/cultural kind.

But I am pleased, and I am trying to think about next summer’s research (and conferences), and the class I’ll be teaching, even as I begin to panic about this summer’s work (more on that shortly). What will I be likely to be working on in a year’s time?

As for actual travel plans, the trip that is still a year off keeps bleeding into the one that is coming up much sooner, as I think about what to pack, what arrangements to make, and how to get organized. Even at Kalamazoo, I had strong reasons to believe that the next-summer trip would happen; and unfortunately, I think knowing about it helped me procrastinate on things like booking places to stay this summer, because, of course, next year I’ll have a place to stay, no booking necessary on my part. I’m bad about these things anyway, because I am so afraid of flying that anything that reminds me I will be flying creates considerable anxiety. So, although I arranged for my flight months ago, I put off dealing with the rest of the trip, hoping there would come a day when I felt stronger . . . . Well, there came a day, yesterday, when I was too panicky about the possibility of not having somewhere to stay that I faced up to the task. Panic strength works, too.

So I’m staying where I wanted to in London; and somewhere more expensive (but probably nicer) in the UK’s Second City than I probably would if I’d booked months ago (query: do I delay on purpose so I have an excuse to stay in nicer hotels?); and have e-mailed a B&B elsewhere about availability. I really hope this last place comes through, because they have a cat. It would be nice to be able to indulge my addiction to felines while I’m gone.

This means that now I am free to panic over the conference paper (and oh boy am I doing that well, or at least plentifully). And, more generally, panic about trying to achieve as much as possible in the next 10 weeks because, once classes start, I will have only fairly short breaks between teaching responsibilities for the following 21 months.

One reason I like to get up early to write is that my conscious mind hasn’t fully kicked in with all its anxieties. Another is so that I can get something done before Irritating People and Life Events can start getting in the way. Yesterday I got a bit of a late start; at least I read and took notes on an essay before the day started to go downhill. An unexpected House Thing required an urgent trip to the hardware store and time dealing with the Thing; an expected House Maintenance Guy did not show up in his window of opportunity, which meant a call to the company to complain and reschedule, and time hanging around the house (trying to work but getting distracted) when I could have been driving to campus or going to the gym. I achieved the most urgent things on campus, but stayed late to do so, and so I was up late last night, and then slept late and am dragging today.

Today, then, I think I need to do easy things, like taking notes and organizing bibliographies. Stuff that’s useful but not brain-intensive. And hit the gym.

A mediocre day

I’ve been waking up before my alarm goes off, around 5:30, so last night I didn’t set it. Whoops. I slept till almost 7:00. My plans also changed in that I decided last night not to go to school today but to put that trip off till Thursday (weather, cats, Sir John’s schedule all figured into this decision). I don’t adapt well to changes in plans, so maybe these two differences made it harder to stick to my usual routine today, on top of being done with the rough translation of my sample thousand lines (no point in going on with that, for now, though I could have either started with reading further or with polishing what I have).

Instead, I spent my work time today reading (skimming) various books and articles that I have around my study, looking to see what anyone has had to say about the topic I was working on yesterday. I also did a JSTOR search and downloaded three PDFs. They each have something relevant but not threatening. Many of the items I have looked at have similar tit-bits, useful for a quotation or a ritual footnote, but not something that steals my thunder. I have a few more books at home to look at, and I want to collect a few more from the library, but I’m feeling hopeful that my article in progress will contribute to another conversation about the author I’m studying.

All together, I have about 600 new words from today: all belonging to other people, which is why I’m calling this a mediocre day. Mediocre is fine; it’s still forward progress, though I’ll probably end up using only a fraction of today’s words in the essay. And I worked during my scheduled work period, though with a late start, some longer-than-usual breaks, and a later end point. So I’m sticking to the plan in that way. I wish I had broken off at some point to work on the translation, or on the conference paper, but at the same time, I greatly enjoy the luxury of being able to spend a long time on a single task like this, being able to chase down ideas without losing the thread. That is something I’m rarely able to do while I’m teaching.

Reflections on this article-in-progress: despite an auditor’s request, last year, that I submit a tidied-up version to a journal on whose editorial board he serves, I am glad that I’m taking the time to expand it to what I want it to be. I don’t want to let it expand indefinitely, but I do want to do my “right” version of it, not my quicker-and-dirtier conference-paper version. I did expect the process to be shorter and easier than it is proving, but even though I’m still kind of in-the-middle-of-a-mess, with stints of outlining alternating with stints of free-writing and note-taking, I can see the pony starting to take shape under the heap of manure. I can see that there’s progress, and I’m interested in what will happen as I continue my work.

A few years ago, I would have seen yesterday’s insight as a suitable paper in itself, perhaps for a conference paper, perhaps a note somewhere. And that would not have been a bad thing, but I think making it part of a bigger argument is a better thing. I’m learning to be not just a better writer, but, I hope, a better thinker, and that is deeply satisfying. This is why I have workaholic tendencies, and am not very good about “real vacations,” and have trouble explaining to non-academic friends why I don’t want to take advantage of my “time off”: this work is more “fun,” for me, than most of what other people understand as “fun.” I mean, if you offered me a good hike followed by a hot tub and a Bellini, I’d be there, but since there’s nothing I consider good hiking within several hundred miles of here, I’m really happy to get up at the crack of dawn and surround myself with books and papers for hours. It’s way better than going to a stupid movie or an over-loud party full of people I don’t know who want to talk about what was on TV last night.

One of the key elements in what makes it fun is the time I have for it, since I’m not grading, not meeting classes, not showing up for committee meetings or reading piles of stuff to prepare for said meetings. Trying to do research in little snippets of time among other responsibilities is much more stressful, and I find it hard to shift gears from one thing to a very different kind of thing. Along with learning to be a better writer and thinker, I’m learning what kinds of work I can do in difference circumstances. This is along the lines of advice that Tenured Radical says she got from Paul Fussell: if what you can do is read, then read. If you have a day that can be spent on skimming the critical literature on a new topic, then do that. It’s actually easier for me to spend 15-30 minutes between classes generating some prose on an interesting question I hope to answer in a conference paper than it is to read in that sort of a time slot. The work I achieved today would have taken me a week in term time.

Anyway, tomorrow I really do have to go to campus and take care of a lot of bureaucratic things, along with a raid on the library, and some teaching-related things like recommendation letters that I could do at home but hope I can get done at school. I’m still going to get up early and do my 6-8 a.m. stint, starting with translation-polishing, I think. Then Friday I’ll be back to my usual routine, and I’ll have to think about how to leave work wrapped up in such a way that just a couple of hours a day will suffice over the weekend. I actually don’t like taking weekends completely off. One day, maybe; more than that, and I lose too many threads.

1376 words

I sat down to work on an outline for another sub-section of the writing project, but wound up writing about ideas on that topic that I hadn’t thought of before. I will have to see who else has written about one of these ideas. It connects so obviously to a Well-Known Motif that I’m sure someone else has done the connecting. I can’t help thinking, however, how very cool it would be if this were to be a new discovery. Which it won’t be. But I’ll leave the disappointment till tomorrow, because I need to go on to do some reading and noting for the conference paper. Or maybe day-after-tomorrow, because I have to go to campus tomorrow, and that will eat time.

Oh, and I’m done with the thousand lines of translation. I can return to the beginning and start polishing. That’s the hard part.

Starting out well

After reading all the comments here, I decided I should listen to Trevelia, Notorious Ph.D., and myself, and get myself onto my Ideal Schedule. Ideal Schedule has the added advantage of being good jet-lag-reduction preparation for my trip to England: if I’m going to bed at 3:00 a.m. Greenwich time, and getting up at noon there, it’s a little easier to adapt than if I were going to bed at 6:00 a.m. Greenwich and getting up in mid-afternoon.

Even if I manage to shift back to 2:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. in the last few days before I leave, there will still be jet lag. It just isn’t so cruel as it might be.

Anyway, I got to my desk by 6:00 a.m. local time, and today I have outlined another mini-essay section of the Summer Submission Project (suspiciously easily: will this one break down when I go to write it?), done some translating, begun to assemble bibliography for the better-read-fast conference paper (including putting in ILL requests), and taken some notes for the Pedagogical Project. That’s an excellent day’s work. Now it’s time to stretch and exercise and enjoy a summer’s day for awhile, before it’s time to cook dinner and watch some cycling. And remember to go to bed early. That’s the hardest part of the Ideal Schedule. I wish I could do without sleep, but that never works for me.

I’m hoping to get all the mini-essay chunks outlined this week. Also to finish 1000 lines of very very rough translation, and begin the polishing process. There must be more reading and note-taking. Much more. Starting tomorrow.