Sources of inspiration

Grumbles and procrastination clearing; forecast offers a chance of further improvement.

A lot of my grumpiness has to do with facing a very old R&R. I want to be done with it. I wish my past self had just done it right away. But when the reviews came in, my past self was struggling with the MMP, and then the series editors put both feet down about the Huge Honking Translation, and what with one thing and another, including my promotion application last year, years have passed. Not without efforts toward the R&R, but now this is one of the contributing factors: I have layers of notes and outlines to review as I try to figure out what the plan was, and the mass of material is daunting.

Since I finally spent an hour re-reading these, I’m feeling more like tackling the thing and getting it over with.

I’m also looking over my shoulder, suspecting that making the effort will (by Sod’s Law) bring down the Translation Editors or some other type of interference with the work.

Yesterday when I was procrastinating/looking for inspiration, I found a couple of helpful posts. One is from a gardener. The advice sounds a lot like any planning process, but it’s useful to see that people in other areas have the same problems and solutions. Here’s what Jen in Frome says at https://doingtheplan.com/2017/04/21/planning-and-doing-the-plan/

  1. Do Stuff. Take small steps frequently to get more good things thriving . . . . Lots of little things done each day adds up to a lot done over the month.
  2. Review. Note down what was done and when, and keep observing and thinking about what’s working out and what’s what’s not.
  3. Plan. Check what’s done so far against what’s hoped for in future, and set out a few next steps to get a bit closer to your goal.

Another is Kameron Hurley on working through fear and writing fatigue, here: https://www.kameronhurley.com/lets-talk-creativity-fear-losing-magic/ Hurley says, “Much of the time I feel I’m spending “writing” is actually time I spend feeling guilty because I can’t write, or because I feel that what I’m writing is utter shit. That’s not “writing” time. It’s my time with The Fear. So much of my writing time has been taken up talking with The Fear that I couldn’t figure out why shit wasn’t getting done. It certainly felt, emotionally, like I was working REALLY HARD. But arguing with your fear isn’t working. Feeling bad for not working isn’t working. Being angry about not working isn’t working.”

Yes, and no. Arguing, feeling bad, and being angry are certainly a lot of emotional labor. Doing them doesn’t necessarily “work,” as in, make it possible to get back to work. But it doesn’t help to pretend The Fear isn’t happening, either. I wound up negotiating with mine. I put on the music I usually use for grading, spread print-outs all over my desk (so I had to see them), and set a timer for ten minutes. That was all I needed to get into the task. When the timer went off, I was annoyed and immediately re-set it for 25 minutes, and made a lot of progress in that time. I needed the short time to start, though, because 25 seemed like way too much time for demon-fighting.

Am I embarrassed about having this sort of work problem, still, again, at my stage of career? Hell yeah. I also hope that admitting to it, publicly if pseudonymously, may help some other people who might be having the same problem. You can get past it. Sometimes you can go years without The Fear. But it’s also a thing that comes back with the right triggers, the right combination of factors, the wrong encounter with someone who pushes certain buttons. The only way I’ve ever found to deal with it is Virginia Valian’s: make the task smaller. As small as you need to. Ten minutes. Five. And be kind to yourself, because the piece of work is not really the problem. It’s all the emotions that have got tangled up with that piece of work. They might be big things that need therapy, or they might be ghosts of something you cleared up long ago, or they might just be bad habits.

If it’s not a good day, if The Fear is happening to you, if you’re procrastinating, give it five minutes, write down what you did in that time, and come back to the thing tomorrow. That’s all. Five minutes, and a note about what you did in the time.

Six on Saturday

This is a meme some of the garden-bloggers do weekly. I’ve never got round to it before, but yesterday I took some pictures so that I could participate. I hope they’re not too blurry. “Six on Saturday” is hosted here: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/01/six-on-saturday-01-06-2019/

First, the honeysuckle arch, as you come from the garage toward the house. Here we have a patch of iris, starting to fade a little, and three hostas (I don’t know the cultivars of anything; I inherited this garden from the former owners). I like the barberry next to the variegated green and white shrub, which was recommended by the garden designer I consulted at the beginning of the Battle of the Bellflower. She had no idea what we were up against. The clematis at the side of the house. A classic.  I was very pleased to discover this purple columbine under the pine tree out front. There are several pale pink columbines that have self-seeded, but I prefer darker colors, and these go very well with the other purples of this garden. Lamb’s ears and chives; there are also some pinks in the background. There’s a Sterling Silver rose in the middle of the lamb’s ears, but it’s still coming back from the winter and it will be awhile until it blooms. 

Happiness vs. familiarity

Familiarity breeds, as they say.

But seriously, that feeling of recognition and comfort is not necessarily a good thing. I had to head to the Internet Archive to get this post (via a link from someone’s half-decade-old blog post):

https://web.archive.org/web/20160712082102/http://thephilosophersmail.com/relationships/how-we-end-up-marrying-the-wrong-people/

but I’m glad I read it, not because I married the wrong person but because of all the things we worked through on the way to being the right people for each other, and another reason that will appear below. I’m going to quote the third reason why “we end up marrying the wrong people”:

“Three: We aren’t used to being happy

“We believe we seek happiness in love, but it’s not quite as simple. What at times it seems we actually seek is familiarity – which may well complicate any plans we might have for happiness.

“We recreate in adult relationships some of the feelings we knew in childhood. It was as children that we first came to know and understand what love meant. But unfortunately, the lessons we picked up may not have been straightforward. The love we knew as children may have come entwined with other, less pleasant dynamics: being controlled, feeling humiliated, being abandoned, never communicating, in short: suffering.

“As adults, we may then reject certain healthy candidates whom we encounter, not because they are wrong, but precisely because they are too well-balanced (too mature, too understanding, too reliable), and this rightness feels unfamiliar and alien, almost oppressive. We head instead to candidates whom our unconscious is drawn to, not because they will please us, but because they will frustrate us in familiar ways.

“We marry the wrong people because the right ones feel wrong – undeserved; because we have no experience of health, because we don’t ultimately associate being loved with feeling satisfied.”

This familiarity is also a significant reason why we live in a house we want to sell. When I walked into it, it felt like home. Not too much so; if it had been more recognizably just like the house I grew up in, I would have run right back out. But enough like that original house to feel familiar and sort of right. I conveniently forgot what very conflicted feelings I have around the whole concept of home in general and about houses of that vintage and style in particular. It took time living here to realize how very heimlich, in a bad way (that is, frustrating in familiar ways), this house actually is. For me. It would be a wonderful house for someone else, with different baggage (or no baggage!). It’s true that I have found it rather therapeutic to correct this house’s problems and to re-make it in the image of a functional relationship rather than the heavily dysfunctional one my parents had. But it would have been a lot cheaper to resume talk therapy!

Next time, I’m going to look for what my adult self actually wants, and not listen to feelings about familiar.

Motivation, it was just here somewhere, I’m sure

Maybe if my desktop weren’t so cluttered with grading I could see what I did with it. Also with my get-up-and-go.

However, while looking for motivation I came across Mrs Ford’s Diary, which I recognized as inspired by Diary of a Provincial Lady, one of my favorite books ever, and the inspiration is confirmed by the “about” page, so I feel clever. Cleverness helps with motivation. Or it should.

Like me, Mrs Ford has been trying to divest herself of her house since last year: “have decided to embark on New Life in nearby university city, and have put house On The Market. House-selling process so far proving good for Light Social Comedy but poor for actual Results, so may well be chronicling the ins and outs of Village Life for some time yet.”

I sympathize, but also feel I have Let Down The Side in that I have no Light Social Comedy to report w/r/t the House-Selling Process. It is all very much automated here: an app pings us to ask to see the house at such and such a time, we say yes or try to reschedule (and usually just have to take the original time), Sir John and I run around the house stashing the accoutrements of everyday life so as to suggest that if you lived here, you would never have any trash or need to clean your toilet, then when the cats are thoroughly riled, we stash them and their litterboxes, too, I run the vacuum cleaner to get rid of the tell-tale drifts of cat fur (no moggies here, nope, no one is stress-shedding, no way), and we run out the back door before the house-hunters arrive in the front. I usually go to the gym, and Sir John goes to Dunkin Donuts to drink coffee and read the paper, or else he sits in his car on a conference call, depending on day and time. After an hour or so we go home and un-stash everything. Eventually the app may or may not yield some “feedback” such as “Maybe” or “Thanks!”

I cannot see how I can generate any Light Social Comedy to relay to my readers unless I somehow slip back to hide in a closet and try to overhear the viewers. I don’t think there’s room for me behind the upstairs furnace but I could check. Or I could join Reina in my clothes closet, if I took up the space behind my bathrobe where I now stash my sewing tote, the Mending Heap, and my delicate-laundry bag. I expect there could be mild comedy or at least irony in hearing the comments people make about my scholarly book collection, probably along the lines of “Wow, that’s a lot of books!” (at least half of my books are in storage and I am getting very tired of this situation), or possibly “How many languages does she know?” (Not enough, never enough).

Sir John would probably discourage this plan, so I’d somehow have to circle back and elude him as well as the viewers and their real estate agent. While we have both a front and a back door, there is only one set of stairs. Rather than Light Social Comedy, I think I’d wind up with the dodging and diving of French Farce.

Right, well, I will just go and see if those papers have managed to grade themselves. Later, darlings.

Nomenclature anecdote

Partner. In what is apparently now a blog-archive habit, I found this early post from Flavia: http://feruleandfescue.blogspot.com/2006/05/in-praise-of-partnership.html. It reminded me of a wedding I attended, with Sir John, a year or two after Flavia’s post.

We were finding our seats at a table full of people we did not know; some guests were already sitting down, and others had yet to find their place cards. One man introduced his wife to us, and then said, “I’ll save this seat for my partner.”

I blinked, and smiled brightly, thinking, “How very . . . enlightened. I would not have expected that in this company.” Sir John later told me that he had the same reaction.

And then the penny dropped. The bride and groom were lawyers, as were many of the guests. The man meant law firm partner, not that he was in a poly relationship, or had a legal wife and a homosexual partner (gay marriage was not yet legal at this time, how strange that is to remember now) who knew about each other and all attended social events together.

I suppose a lot depends on your social circles. What else, after all, would lawyers working together call one another? I did have the impression that “partner” was getting much wider traction as a relationship term for awhile, but perhaps legalizing gay marriage has shifted us back to “husband,” “wife,” or for a gender-neutral term, “spouse.”

Day 6, the rest of it

I made a pie for Pi Day. I didn’t even realize (consciously) that it was Pi Day until the pie was in the oven and I read JaneB’s post. Consciously, I was thinking that before I packed up the food processor, I wanted to make the pie I’ve been thinking about for months now. So I did, and my low-FODMAP crust turned out very well. The pie would have been better with a second bag of strawberries, but we have proof of concept.

That was in the evening, after Sir John went out. In the afternoon, I did a little more tidying, then hit the gym and Trader Joe’s, and we watched Day Three of Paris-Nice before dinner. So we’re still lagging behind . . . I’m detecting a theme to this week. At any rate, I can look forward to two days’ worth of racing this evening.

On the plus side yesterday, I did not do any crosswords till evening, and I did not lose myself in the library stacks. However, I still have a bag of library books to return, so that could still happen. I was definitely low on energy by evening, due to the short sleep Wednesday plus a vigorous workout, so I was in bed at 10:00 (excellent). This morning I woke up at 5:15 and thought about getting up . . . and went back to sleep till 7:00 (excellent for sleep, not-excellent for re-accustoming myself to getting up 5:30 three times a week). And yet I still feel sluggish. Maybe it’s the weather. Yesterday was spring-like but today we’re back to winter. Disappointed! (That was a reference to A Fish Called Wanda, if the link breaks.)

Three more days, counting today. I’m making progress on my three things, as well as on the other three things, and yet, as usual when there are too many things, I’m not done with anything. I’d try to shift into high gear for the remainder of break, but I don’t feel like I have a high gear. Will just keep grinding away.

More brilliance from the past

In my remembrance of things past via visits to defunct (or merely suspended? like the Seven Sleepers, perhaps the right impetus will awaken some bloggers) blogs, I have been relieved when some writers actually quote large chunks of text from other webpages, rather than just linking. Links, sadly, break. Thus, having found a clear exposition of Z’s amazing and admirable process in comments at Undine’s, I’m copying and pasting here. I’m not this hardcore, but I agree about the need to think, and that writing before you have thought is “just stewing.” That is, sometimes I write to help myself think, but I have to be very clear that that is what I am doing, and not have any expectation that any of those words will be good, keeper words.

The rest of this post is Z, not me:

*

People say just write, write, write and this will make you see what you are doing. Through the so called process of writing you will figure out what you mean, they allege. I think that is completely crazy, at least for my case … writing is just stewing and will only ruin your thought process unless you have already decided what you are doing. Until such time as your first line comes to you unannounced, and you know what the content of your last paragraph is going to be, you are much better off just meditating as far as I am concerned.

If I do that, all I come up with are a whole lot of great first pages. I could do that for months and even years – and HAVE done it for that long sometimes – and never finish a single piece.

*

My most classic example of this, to which I have alluded before:

When I was in college and graduate school I had a typewriter, not a computer. (In college and through my Ph.D. exam it was a manual one; for my dissertation I bought a self-correcting one by Olympia.) For all papers I kept handwritten notes and would then write directly on the typewriter, no revisions. My dissertation director couldn’t believe my dissertation draft, she said it read like a book, how could this be, but she would have just DIED had she known I had composed it directly like that. She had been yelling at me because I had said I was only writing one page a day, with Sundays off, and would write the whole thing that way in a year. She nearly fainted when this turned out to be true.

Of course in order to be able to do that I had to sit around and think about it for several months first. It took seven months to come up with a dissertation prospectus. Then it took ten months to think. Then it took nine months to write, and four months to have the committee read it and then for me to enter it into my very first computer and print it out on acid free paper. This adds up to 30 months during which I also moved to a new country and took a full load of graduate courses in a new subfield, in a language I was not (initially) very proficient in.]

*

This methodology is the only one which works for me, and/but I warn everyone that even it only works if one is actually working on one’s ideas (not stewing, not rushing, not worrying, but WORKING) in a calm, organized, but *concentrated* way in the meantime. That is what will, in good time, make a first line come into one’s head … and one knows it is the RIGHT first line because with it comes the content of the last paragraph.

A few more random observations

  • I’m reading two sets of archives at the same time (Dr Medusa’s and KulturFluff, and how I regret Frenchie Foo having disappeared her whole blog). I should sync them up, because one is starting the summer and the other is writing about Thanksgiving, and it’s making my head spin.
  • That’s okay because it makes me go back to work.
  • Students. Oy. I was assigned a class at the eleventh hour, so made sure that for the first few weeks, all readings were available online, since there was no way the bookstore would get books in for the first week. But this week we’re starting to read Actual Real Books. I showed everyone the books in the first week of classes, reminded them periodically about buying books, have posted announcements on the electronic course thingy, etc. And now students are “confused” and don’t know what they’re supposed to read.
  • Like heu mihi, I’m reading Malory. In this case, re-reading. There is some serious timeline-slippage in the Book of Tristram, which I’m only now picking up on. Hmmmmm.
  • Is February over yet? I’m not sure I can take another week of this weather. I appreciate the lengthening days; they’re great. But I have actually started wishing for snow (yes, I, the desert creature who spends the winter imagining she’s an iguana) in preference to any more freezing rain. I hate freezing rain. (I do love the meteorologists’ abbreviation fzdz for freezing drizzle, however.)
  • Maybe I should have done these bullets as a Fortunately/Unfortunately series, but I’m too lazy and the items are too random.

Spontaneous haiku

Because I’ve already done an hour of Dead Language, and need to start Actual Real Urgent Work On Revisions, of course I took a break in someone else’s archives. Inspiration: Haiku in the Raw Meme: Look out of the window. Write a haiku about what you see.

Snow lying on rooftops
Two trunks of oak tree divide
Apple tree’s bare branches.

So I’ve done some writing today. Seventeen syllables, plus the blog post. Oh all right. Actual real work coming up.

 

RBO February

  • Dr Medusa’s archives are still available. Yum, more back-in-the-day procrastinatory/reward reading. http://professionalmirror.blogspot.com/
  • I seem to have some very-low-grade sinus something going on. Ugh. I don’t feel awful, but I don’t feel particularly well, either. This along with an uptick in insomnia and low-grade gut stuff > not getting much done > feeling guilty and anxious > more insomnia. Rinse and repeat.
  • I’ve been putting off responding to one of those university program requests for info about how a particular student is doing until a paper was due in that class, last night. Looked at the online course thingamajig this morning: particular student didn’t turn in the paper. Okay, sorry but you are not going to get a good report, dude/tte! But maybe your program will make you shape up.
  • My friend Lady Maud wrote a really good poem. It’s usually hard, as a professor of literature, to have friends show you creative writing they’ve done. The supportive friend cannot easily turn off the training in lit crit. But it is an absolute joy to be able to tell a friend, truly, that she has created something remarkable.
  • The Overwhelm Monster and House Maintenance Monster are ganging up on me, with assistance from Wintry Sinus Whininess and a lot of gloomy grey days. I don’t so much mind grey with rain (as a west coast native, I think “proper winter weather!”) but sub-freezing grey does me in.
  • But really, I have nothing much to complain of. My health problems are just the usual low-grade crud, Sir John is back to normal after a couple of changes of antibiotics, the cats are fine, my students are nice, it’s a wonderful life. I think I just want it to be not-February. Two more weeks, and we’ll be there.