Faderman =? McPhee

Also from the Scholars Talk Writing series, Lillian Faderman‘s system sounds very like John McPhee‘s:

“I developed a system when I was writing my dissertation 50 years ago, and I still use it. Before I start writing a book I need to have at least the illusion that I know how it’s going to end and everything else in between.

So first I need to complete most of my research. Then I review all my research notes — which generally takes several weeks — and I decide what will be useful and where in the book I’ll use it. I’ve concocted an elaborate coding system of numbers and letters, which I give to each idea or fact I anticipate using. Then I put it all into a huge outline with key phrases followed by the numbers and letters that will let me locate the material in my notes. When I was working on The Gay Revolution, an 800-page book, I had a 75-page outline. For my Harvey Milk biography, which is about 250 pages, my outline was 20 pages.

But when I finally start writing I veer away from the outline almost as often as I follow it — which is fine. The outline’s biggest purposes are to be a sort of Dewey Decimal System, to tell me where in my voluminous notes I’ll find things; to remind me of the ideas I want to develop; and to suggest their possible order.”

I wish someone would describe the coding system, any coding system, in more detail. I suppose it’s one of those things that is more useful when worked out for oneself, but some insight into a working system would be helpful in creating/adapting one’s own.

Note that she thinks in terms of Dewey Decimal! Once I discovered the Library of Congress system, I never looked back. It all depends on what you’re used to, I suppose.


Writing links

The Chronicle has a series called “Scholars Talk Writing.” Quite a lot of the scholars (and creative writers) talk about writing for a general audience, which tends to make me cross, because I write for a very specialized audience and I’m not apologizing for that. But I liked some of the pieces quite a lot. Anthony Grafton on patience:  a writer needs “to learn to be patient enough to wait until you have an idea of where you want a piece to go.”  Ruth Behar on revision: “I’ll go through this revision process several times. What I usually discover is that I’m not done when I think I’m done. There’s always more revision to do.”

I loved Helen Sword on the various ways we have of approaching writing (not a single “right” way): “Not only did very few of the academics I talked with follow the recommended practices; many of them actually reported engaging in behaviors that the writing guides explicitly warn against, such as ‘binge writing’ or writing only when they feel like it. . . . Successful academics don’t necessarily write every day, but they’re constantly strategizing about how and when they’ll get their writing done. They don’t necessarily consider themselves to be ‘stylish writers'” but they care deeply about wordcraft. They don’t necessarily enjoy every aspect of the writing process, but they relish the challenge of communicating complex ideas to others. These core attitudes and attributes remained fairly constant across nearly all the writers I interviewed.”

With those armpits

Marcus Aurelius explains it all to you:

“Don’t be irritated at people’s smell or bad breath. What’s the point? With that mouth, with those armpits, they’re going to produce that odor.

–But they have a brain! Can’t they figure it out? Can’t the recognize the problem?

So you have a brain as well. Good for you. Then use your logic to awaken his. Show him. Make him realize it. If he’ll listen, then you’ll have solved the problem. Without anger.”

The Meditations, trans. Gregory Hays (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 5:28 (p. 62).

Unclear on the concept

Back in March, the Economist’s columnist Bagehot opined, on the rise of authoritarianism, “Such extremism is self-reinforcing. Angry people feed on each other’s anger, sensible people retreat into private life, and institutions are weakened in the tussle.”*

A letter in the March 31 issue expressed gratitude for this “miserable truth,” and said, “Believing myself to be one of those sensible people I am at a loss for what to do. I would like to rally against the forces of all that is unreasonable . . . . But . . . I can’t for the life of me think of how to proceed. How do you rally the reasonable?”**

You don’t. You retreat into private life, like a sensible person. Cultivez votre jardin. You experience, and model, calm and rational responses to those things you can control, and let go of those you cannot control. You refuse the adrenaline rush of knowing all the latest outrages, refuse to feed anger, refuse your attention to the tantrum-throwing public figures, refuse to expend your energy on people and ideas who don’t deserve it.

Strategic retreat is not the worst idea.

*The Economist, March 10-16, 2018, p. 60.

**The Economist, March 31-April 6, 2018, p. 20.

When Reading Is Doing

It’s Saturday morning, sunny though cold, and I have loads of things I could pick out to do: stretch, go to the gym, pack/de-clutter, grade (the current batch of papers look quite good; this will not be a purgatorial task), work on my application for Full, work on The Last Overdue Revisions, color while the light is good, play with my kitties, futz about on the Internet (oh wait . . .), and what do I do? Put together a bibliography for an article I want to write, on a text I’m teaching, a text that hasn’t received enough attention IMHO. I’ve ILL’d one essay, and I can get several others in hard copy at my library, and there’s one book I’m dying to get my hands on that may require a field trip because there are about 7 copies in the world and they don’t circulate.

(Another obsessive un-answerable question: why are there not copies in UK depository libraries, when it was published in the 20th century in London and copies are supposed to go the BL, the Bod, and CUL? Did someone not send them? Did someone not catalog them? Are they somehow catalogued by something other than author and title? I have poked around in the online catalogues, and I do know how to use them, and this book does not turn up. My lawful-good-J side is deeply disturbed: something went wrong in the book world. I tell you, were I not an English professor I would need to be a Literature Detective.)

Someday when I’m futzing about online I really should create a blogroll. I spend quite a bit of time reading blogs by delightful-sounding women who enjoy food, crafts, gardening, restoring old houses, and similar pursuits that I prefer reading about to doing. Despite all the well-meant advice on the Chron fora and similar places about Getting A Life and Pursuing Hobbies Outside of Work, what I really want to do, what I get excited about and spend sunny Saturday mornings on, is reading, researching, and writing. I’ve tried the gardening, restoring, crafts, and so on. They sound like fun. The results look good. But I just don’t get fired up about things I can do with my hands. Except write, which is manual labor, as Colette said.

I have other projects I need to finish right now, so this putative article will go on The List (I have learned the hard way not to get distracted by the New Shiny). Someday I will get to it, and my future self will be happy to have the core bibliography assembled and some basic thoughts outlined. Maybe next spring, when I hope to teach this text again.

Okay, a little grumpy

I’ve been looking at planners, though I will probably go on with my self-designed entries in little Moleskine pocket-sized notebooks. I like setting up a page that is just what I need it to be, though it does take a bit more time than working with a pre-made one. I’m definitely wedded to paper. I like the act of writing things down, and seeing when a page fills up: no, I really can’t add another thing to that day.

I have long known that I am a difference-sorter, and a rebel. I don’t like being told what to do. “Inspirational” planners make me want to sit in the corner, pick my toe-jam, and sulk. Despair.com has my number, and in fact I have ordered a 2018 calendar from them, starting with “Dysfunctional.” Unfortunately, they only have monthly calendars, not a weekly planner. So in the despairing spirit, here’s my template for the Sulker’s Planner:

I can’t manage to make the picture display at a decent size. Please click to enlarge, and feel free to adapt for your own planning if it speaks to you.

Shoe bleg

I’m vain, but not stupid.

I like cute shoes. This doesn’t mean high heels. I like a bit of heel, but I can live without it, and I may have to, going forward. I’ve had a bum ankle for years (sprained multiple times since the age of 20), and it seems like for the last most-of-a-decade I’ve been repeatedly rehabbing it from minor strains. I’ve noticed that the ankle feels better in my gym shoes, which start with some built-in arch support and then have added the arch-support inserts I’ve used in all my shoes for the last 30 years. So I can see that I need to spend more time in properly supportive shoes (not stupid). But the gym shoes are hideously neon and I refuse to be seen in them anywhere but the gym. For the moment, I’m wearing them around the house and changing when I go out (vain).

I have very high arches, as you might guess from needing to add arch supports to shoes that already have some support. All I want is a pair of black oxfords, ideally something menswear-like (wingtips?); at least not hopelessly old-lady-ish; preferably not gym shoes; with good arch support and a fairly well-cushioned sole. In other words, something that feels like gym shoes, but looks dressier. It is astonishingly difficult to find such a shoe.

So, gentle readers, any recommendations? Brands, at least?

A fictional dilemma

A friend of mine is considering an opportunity that comes with a catch.

The good news: a course release for work she would enjoy. The bad news: working with someone she does not like. And I don’t mean “can preserve professional decorum though would not invite this person to a party.” I mean “would like to smack this creep and was thrilled when he left the department.”

Not to put too fine a point on it. (She might be more tactful if she were writing this post herself, but I’ve heard what she really thinks, and that’s pretty much it.)

The position is an assistant editorship for an academic journal, with a strong possibility of advancing to editor in due course (probably not too long a course); the current editor is someone my friend gets on with, but the book review editor is . . . not. But he is a good friend of the editor.

Historiann, for one, is emphatic about the drawbacks of being an editor. See also Liz’s comment in another thread related to editing. My friend has edited a couple of proceedings volumes, so she has some (dim?) idea of what is involved; she also likes the idea of doing academic work that serves scholars rather than students. She is good at reviewing and copy-editing and has ideas about where she would like to take the journal, should she wind up as editor. I think the course release is a large carrot for her.

If she survives to be editor, she could presumably pick a new book review editor. That doesn’t mean the old one would go gracefully, or that she wouldn’t have to do a lot of teeth-gritting in the meantime. She points out that if everyone reasonable refuses to work with these Old Doods, only Young Doods will be in the running for the editorship, and that it would be a good thing if a reasonable, not-ancient feminist managed to take over this journal and use it as a way to nurture young (and not-so-young) scholars, particularly those of a feminist stripe. Why leave it to the Doods?

I think life is too short to deal with jerks. I suggested she could make it a condition that the book review editor has to go, but she suspects that if she did, the Doods would take the journal to another school altogether, whereas her department would like to keep it.

So . . . what do my readers think?

Tempest-uous Spring Planning

I will be teaching The Tempest in the spring. I thought I had taught it sometime, maybe ten years back, and had some assignments to draw on. But as I search my files, it appears that I haven’t taught it since I was in graduate school.

Oh-kay. Well. I’m sure it will be fine. Advice would nonetheless be welcome. Even more welcome would be suggestions of one or more short stories with which I could pair the play: stories with thematic connections, or in which characters refer to The Tempest, or are acting in it, or reading it at school, something like that. My idea, if I can get a suitable story, is to read it first, in order to generate questions about its allusions that could be solved by reading the play itself. Thus, I’m not picky about genre. A story that belongs to the SF/fantasy genre, or aims at a YA audience, would be fine. Even fan-fic, so long as it’s tolerably literate and has a recognizable story structure.

Ideas? Anyone? Bueller?

Productive procrastination, or Working when Stupid

I’ve been sleeping poorly, again, which makes it difficult to focus during the day.

I know what’s wrong. My wonky ankle has been acting up, so I’m resting it, which means I’m not working out, which means I don’t sleep so well. This will pass. The ankle will improve, and I will work back up to a decent level of cardiovascular exercise, and all shall be well. In the meantime I try to do more yoga and other relaxing things before bed.

Anyway: what to do on a work day when I have stacks of (well, three) articles to revise, and I don’t feel like I can grasp my own arguments, let alone anyone else’s? Answer: write syllabi and plan spring classes. Tired and fuzzy-headed (or, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid) is the perfect state to work on these tasks. When I’m alert and intelligent, I get over-optimistic about wildly creative, innovative ideas that require lots of energy and a clear head to put into practice in the classroom, and I forget that I may not have those attributes on the future days when I will need them. When I’m tired, I recognize that bad days happen, and that it would be a good idea to re-use old assignments (tweaking as appropriate); to omit or re-schedule that reading that always needs Extra Energy and Enthusiasm!!!; and to leave some flex days on which I can either experiment with a new innovative assignment as a low-stakes, in-class activity so that I can work out potential problems with it, or else, if the flex day is a low-energy day, show a relevant movie or You-Tube clips with discussion of same.

Some more alert and intelligent Future Self will have to look over today’s plans to make sure I haven’t done anything really stupid, like putting all the wrong dates on the syllabus or scheduling two separate sets of readings for the same weeks. Even so, today I’ll get something useful done, and my Future Self will be glad to have a chunk of the work at least drafted.