Spreadsheet results

Since mid-December, I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet in which I keep track of writing/research progress. I have basically three projects at the moment: the book, the translation, and “revisions.” The last actually refers to three different articles but it makes me too anxious to think about having five on-going projects, so I lump them together in my head, although in the spreadsheet I record which of the three I’ve worked on.

In December and a lot of January I moved from one project to another, depending on what I felt like doing on a given day. I was most consistent about the translation. I wasn’t working hard on the book, but as part of my work on it, I typed up old notes, read essays and took notes, and outlined a book I admire and is similar to what I hope to produce, in order to see how it was put together. I wrote a conference abstract and did a little work on each of two “revisions.”

In the past 30 days, however, I’ve been working mainly on the book, and have written about 14,000 words on the chapter-in-progress. A good chunk of them are more notes on reading. A lot of the rest is verbal vomit that will have to get drastically reduced. This is contrary to the organized method I often advocate. In this instance, however, there are two reasons why I’m letting myself go. One, I want to be sure I have something to show for the sabbatical leave. If I have drafted all my chapters, even if they are wordy and full of all-caps notes to myself saying FIND THE PERFECT QUOTE or DO RESEARCH TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION, then I can tell people (including myself) that I drafted an entire book and will be working on editing it when I go back to teaching. Two, in a broad sense I organized the book several years ago, and I have thought enough about its topics that I have a lot of ideas ready to pour onto the page. I may need to look up quotations, but I know someone said the thing I want to quote. So getting the words down helps me clarify my ideas and identify areas where I do need to do a bit more research.

I recently finished a chunk of translation that now needs to be revised, and there’s another chunk that needs its notes edited. Those tasks are both things best done in large chunks of time. I’d like to take a full day or so for each of them. First I want to finish the current chapter. Then I can take some time for the translation-polishing, and I’d also like to take a few days to do at least one set of revisions.

After that, I hope to return to balancing translation and drafting another chapter.

I’ll also need some time for taxes and House/Cat Admin/Life Admin type stuff. Why is Life so Distracting? Not in a fun way. I just mean that if I’m gathering tax documents and making sure we have All The Things, I then find it very hard to think about Cheese in Chaucer; and if I write first, then I want to go on with fun work instead of tedious taxes.

Old but good, and some reflections

Some good advice from feMOMhist, back in the day (2011):

  • do not waste freebies
  • stuff will happen that you cannot control
  • always leave extra time
  • life goes on
  • make life easier on those people above you
  • be nice to those people below you
  • plan for the worst, be surprised by the best
  • follow your passion
  • work hard for yourself
  • discipline, persistence and tenacity account for a lot

And for women especially:

1. Girlfriends, girlfriend, girlfriends. Trust me, they will outlast every man but the last one.
2. Remember, men are like cars. You always trade “up.”
3. Being alone is better than being with someone who makes you miserable.
4. Doors open, doors close. The trick is to keep moving.
5. Alone you will do more things that will make you even more fabulous.
6. Remember, but don’t regret. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it.

And Jonathan Mayhew on unhappy writers:
“Unhappy writers trick themselves into not writing; they are very smart about it too, inventing infinite rationalizations. They view schedules and word counts as uncreative and constrictive, rather than liberating as they really are. On the other hand, they love deadlines! Only a deadline can really get them moving, give them that external pressure. (Remember they have no internal structure to their work so they let other people tell them when they need to get something done.) They don’t have a good idea of how much they can get done in an hour or fifteen minutes or a week. As a consequence they are hopelessly busy, confusing activity with accomplishment.”

I am not really an unhappy writer today. I wrote over 1000 words, half of it notes on a book, half of it in a chapter. But I spent enough time on these two tasks that I did not get on to any of the other things I hoped to work on today: two scholarly things, one Life Admin task. I was determined to finish with the book, but eventually I gave up because time was marching on, and my neck and arms hurt (bad posture: Sabra really wanted to be on my lap, but that made for a very awkward writing position). I would have done better to have stopped sooner on the book-notes, though I am pleased that I went on to tinker with the chapter and wound up adding a good chunk to it.

I feel like I’ve got pretty far off-topic, though. If I’m supposed to be working on Cheese in Chaucer, at the moment I seem to covering the care and feeding of French cows. I hope this is just something I need to work through and that when I look at this writing upside-down or sideways, as it were, I will see how to take the cows and make them fit into the chapter nicely, edited as necessary for brevity and clarity (I was going to say “boiled down” but that metaphor becomes too disgusting).

Schedules, though. How I would love to have a schedule I could stick to. One word, people: CATS. Sabra is beating up on Basement Cat and Reina. Basement Cat is taking out his feelings on Reina. Reina lets everyone know she is unhappy. Glendower thinks it’s all in fun and messes with the others just because he wants to join in. We’re trying to keep everyone as separate as possible from everyone else for a week, get some more Feliway, and then work on re-introductions. But if I could find a good home for Sabra, we might all be better off. She’s a lovely, affectionate girl, but she seems to want to be an only cat.


There will always be an England

Certain aspects of life in Blighty bring me to utter these words. Sometimes it’s a question of vocabulary, sometimes a deadpan response that I think must be a joke though I may not be sure whom it’s on, sometimes an overheard exchange. This example is fictional, inspired by the photograph, yet it has that authentic ring.


Bully for you, sir! How can we help?

More idle web-stalking results

I recently suffered a bout of insomnia in which I was actually up for awhile in the middle of the night, after having been asleep and dreaming of a summer workshop I took a long, long time ago, when I was still a graduate student, in fact. (Who knows why these things come back to haunt my dreams?) So I did a little bit of searching for people. I only remember last names for a few of my fellow workshoppers, though many of the faces (in their youthful guises) remain with me. The faculty are still where they were then, or retired from those jobs. The grad students are harder to trace. One was a friend for a time, and then we lost touch, and as with Ambrose Booker, for a long time I could not find my erstwhile friend on the internet.

But now this person has a Linked-In account, and even an (inactive) Twitter account, and is a married lawyer in another country, looking very happy in posted pictures. There was a time when I feared the outcome might have been alcoholism and perhaps even death, so this is excellent news. Apparently the cure for the depressive episode was ditching grad school for law school. I’m glad to know this much happier end to the story.

Now that I think about it, that wasn’t the first or last time that people unhappy with grad school latched onto me when I was still a student. And I say “latched on” because they were not friends before the quarter-life-crisis (roughly speaking) happened, nor after it resolved. Since I enjoyed grad school in a fairly uncomplicated way (okay, of course I wondered if I would be good enough, would get a job, all that, but I didn’t question my purpose there), I wonder if that was important to them: were they measuring their sense of purpose against mine, or hoping some of my commitment would rub off on them, something like that?

I don’t think I ever urged anyone one way or the other. I have long been a proponent of encouraging people to do whatever they’re going to do anyway, and if they really aren’t sure, I remain as neutral as possible while encouraging them to figure out what they really want.

But all the people I’m thinking of are now doing other things.

Oh, Parliament . . .


I did not know that parchment had remained in use until the present day by this august institution, but I am disappointed that the tradition is ending. While it is true that high-quality paper lasts for centuries, parchment lasts longer. The cost doesn’t seem high enough to make much difference in a country’s budget. Will sixteenth-century Acts of Parliament still be available to scholars when the 21st-century ones have crumbled to dust?

I had not thought about this question before: what style of handwriting was used through the twentieth century for the written-on-parchment records of the British Parliament? I’ve never looked at anything later than the 17th century.

Familiarity breeds

I often wonder if I am unfriendly, or out of step with the times (well, yes, duh), or spoiled by working in a job (and area) where people seem to want to use a title with last name, so that I am accustomed to be addressed as Ms, Dr, or Professor Hull. And then I run across posts like this one, and I realize that I may be out of place, but I am not alone:


Every time I go to the gym and some teenager who just started working there yesterday scans my card and says “Have a good workout, Eleanor,” I grit my teeth and say thank you. But what runs through my head is “We have not met, and I am old enough to be your mother. That’s ‘Ms Hull’ to you.”

I also remind myself that they mean to be friendly, that their bosses probably encourage this name use to make a good impression on clients, and that this first-naming seems to be the custom of the country. In other words, I spend a lot of time and mental energy on reminding myself of the culture in which I live. Like someone who lives in a foreign country. Why is it so hard to assimilate?

Do you re-read your own blog?

While I’m re-reading other people’s old blogs, I wound up back at my own, thanks to feMOMhist who linked to the spring 2012 writing group. Wow, I sounded so together so much of the time, and I was actually so.damned.tired. most of the time. Writing was definitely incremental that semester. Must keep this in mind when planning for next year. Well. I will definitely not organize any more conferences. That was the most painful thing. But I really liked those inspirational quotes. Apparently other people did too. Nice to get inspired and feel I did some good in the world, that year!

And, that said . . .

I can see the use of Twitter as a way to get a quick answer to the question “Who is ‘the historian of late-medieval Coventry’ whom Keith Wrightson quotes directly on p. 56 of Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain? Direct quote. No notes. Yale UP, and no notes. Just a sort of bibliographic essay about the major sources for each chapter. This is not what I would call a popular book. Maybe if I were an early-modern economic historian, a name would come immediately to mind. But sometimes people whose expertise lies elsewhere need to get some information about another field.

Here endeth today’s rant.

Nostalgia (again)

So here I am, on research leave, plugging away on various things: two sets of revisions, notes to an essay I dashed off last summer and then put aside, book-in-progress, regular work on dead languages, tons of reading for assorted projects—many of which intersect, so I use color-coded post-its and I keep having to check what the code is, and I need to buy more blue ones. Where was I? Right, plugging away, and like Undine says, progress is incremental, but it’s much better to keep going slowly and steadily than get impatient and screw things up. Like Jonathan says, mediocre progress is actually great. It adds up.

So anyway, I keep returning to assorted blog posts from around 2010-2011, like Jonathan’s advice, and especially feMOMhist’s sabbatical year, which was inspiring in all sorts of ways. Enthusiasm, primarily, which I share, but sometimes it’s hard to take that first plunge down the rabbit hole. Good general advice, too. I miss her.

And I’m sure that many of the bloggers I miss are now on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. I mean, I’ve been assured that they are. But I’m still a conscientious objector to those venues, for many reasons. One is that I can do fairly well at fragmenting my ability to concentrate all by myself, without any help from the interwebs and especially not from super-short-form stuff. I want to get down that rabbit hole into the past, and spend hours thinking about the same things, mainly in the distant past. If I’m going to look to blogs for inspiration on some mornings or for refreshment in the late-afternoon slump, I want to read entries that require me to engage for more than a sentence.

Yeah, so. I still like showing up here. And yet I have fantasies about unplugging completely and trying to live the research-life of Maria Rosa Lida de Malkiel or M. D. Legge. Pure fantasy, because AND and MED! I’m not going to go to the library and flip pages when I can sit at home and type in a word or pick from a list. But there’s this push-pull feeling about needing modern connections and yet also wanting to get away from them.

Groundhog’s Day

I don’t know about Punxsatawny Phil, but nobody around here is seeing any shadows today. What I’ve never understood is whether seeing the shadow means only six more weeks of winter, or at least six more weeks of winter, or even exactly six more weeks of winter. In parts of the country where I have lived, only six more weeks of winter from now would be a joyful prospect indeed, and in others it would be about right, and in places where I aspire to live, it would be “what the hell are you talking about?”

So if the shadow does not appear . . . .

This starts to sound like one of those obnoxious logic problems about identical triplets one of whom always tells the truth and one of whom always lies and one of whom is insane, and you have to come up with one single question to ask each of them that will reveal which is which. Phooey.

In other news, Sabra just spent a minute kneading my sore arm (return of an old RSI). It feels wonderful. Whatever Basement Cat says, I think she’s a good one to have around.