Translation work goes apace, no problems there.  The rough draft is always quick and fairly predictable; it’s the fine-tuning that varies, with long chunks taking little time and then a single line or single word that requires hours of delving into dictionaries and etymologies.

Getting back to the MMP-1, however, requires patience.  Yesterday I added two sentences that came to me while driving back from Kalamazoo, and one of them suggested taking the conclusion in a slightly different direction from what I thought I meant to do (if we’re ending up at the boardwalk, I thought I was heading for the roller coaster and this sentence suggests the carousel).  So while thinking about that, I read back through what I have, and started looking through reading notes that I took while working on the companion-piece, and also thought about “curating data” and writing up summaries of significant secondary works (concepts that came up in the comments for the writing group yesterday).  And the conclusion is that, while it’s true that this piece is close to completion, it’s not quite a matter of Just Doing It.  I have been Just Doing the pieces I can Just Do, and now that the term is over it’s time to Enter the Scholarly Conversation as well as fine-tuning some of the manuscript discussion.

In other words, but to continue using capitalized buzzwords, it’s time for something other than Brief Daily Sessions.  I know some of the main scholarly works I need to engage with, but there’s a whole slightly overlapping field that I need to wander through.  And that’s apart from staring at the manuscript photos some more.  These are things that take time.  Not endless time.  Probably just a few weeks, so long as I read in a focused way.  I must remember those three days in Famous British Library last summer.  Sometimes immersion is what a writer needs.

(And I will also say that it’s real improvement to know who my larger audience is, now.  No longer am I talking only to Ralph and Tony, helpful though that idea was to me at a much earlier stage of this project.)

The point to the title of this post is that it’s my own impatience I’m dealing with.  No one is breathing down my neck demanding that I hurry up.  I have no externally imposed deadline from an editor.  I don’t need something out the door before tenure.  No one in my department or elsewhere wants to know why I’m not done yet.  Ralph and Tony don’t actually know what I’m preparing for them.  I can take my time.  And I am not procrastinating.  I am sitting down every day and spending time working.  Why, then, do I have the sense of wingéd chariots buzzing the back of my neck?

Possibly I have internalized the voices of the people Z calls Boiceans, though I still say Z’s version have completely perverted Boice’s message, and sound more like the unhappy writers with whom Boice worked than like Boice himself.  I quote, again, from his long and expensive How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: “Rule #1: Wait.  This does not mean passive waiting, for Muses or deadlines or binges.  It does mean putting off prose as long as possible while noticing, collecting, conversing, and readying oneself for the actual writing.  It means putting off submission for publication while rewriting and proof editing. . . . Rule #1 is easier said than done.  In travel, and in the program, impatience keeps emerging as a problem.  Thus impatience demands its own, specific reminder: Rule #3: Impatience blocks writers by associating writing with rushed, incomplete work. . . . We do better when we live for the moment and accept the reality that good work and good travel often take time and patience” (236-7).

I don’t actually remember anyone urging me to Just Do It or rush or be sloppy.  I think my impatience is my own, and that one of my jobs right now is to notice it, sit with it, recognize that it is interfering with my desire and ability to do good work.  It’s part of the Monkey Mind (a more elaborate and productive set of metaphors than I realized, but I’ll have to read that article later).  I need to remind myself that reading and thinking about what other people have said is not just a way to avoid finishing something (sorry, can’t find Groening’s “Life in Hell” cartoon about dissertations to illustrate this) but an important part of being a scholar.

Does impatience do anything for me?  Does it serve me, or a part of me?  It may, in fact, be a form of procrastination and avoidance.  Giving in to it leads to me staring at what I have already written and feeling frustrated.  Reining in the impatience leads to reading, thinking, taking notes, and ultimately to more writing.

Conclusion: I think the impatience is a form of egotism.  Part of me does not want to engage with other writers, and find what they have said, and how well they have said it.  I want to be clever all by myself.

But listen, impatient-self, I really don’t have time, or any reason, to do for myself all the work done already by Kevin Sharpe, Heidi Brayman Hackel, and other scholars.  It is much more efficient to read their studies than to re-create their research.  So we are going to let go of ego, for now, and go read.

Gentle readers, if you had the patience to read through this meditation, I hope it was helpful to you.  If you try sitting patiently with your impatience, see what happens.

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5 thoughts on “Confronting impatience

  1. This is helpful and I have to agree, there’s hubris and possibly fear as well at work in wanting to bypass the rest of the literature and get right onto research. By launching my article writing with the lit review, I’m forcing myself to engage with the scholars before I go back to the sources and it’s already helping to shape the limits of the argument quite nicely.

  2. I think for me the anxiety is always that in looking at the secondary work, I realize I have nothing really interesting to say… Sigh. Thanks for this.

  3. In the natural sciences we actually do have winged chariots behind our necks: competitors who can scoop our motherfucken asses and render what we’re doing nearly worthless.

    1. Well, we can have that in the humanities as well, though the urgency is somewhat less; we’re not curing cancer over here. But I don’t think a week of reading is going to make a huge difference to me, and it’s like filling in your methods section properly.

  4. Lack of exercise is my problem, it makes me impatient. Also, guilt about reading. I need to read more not less, though, and might take this very evening to just read.

    The people I call Boiceans *are* the unhappy writers he works with.

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