After the Zoo

The Kalamazoo* experience varies, from year to year. Sometimes I have to take piles of grading along and retreat to my hotel room to grade. Other years I’m all done. Once (I think only once) I took piles of books and completed my paper just before I had to give it. Sometimes I get all energized to do research but come home to piles of grading before I can get back to writing, and sometimes I ought to be energized but am so worn out from the conference that it takes a week to recover.

I never manage to write about the conference during it. Afterwards, it seems like the proper/expected version goes “I heard inspiring papers, made new connections for an innovative collaboration, and now I’m going to do fantastic things with my summer.” Or maybe, “I heard fantastic papers, made inspiring connections, and now I’m going to do innovative things with my summer.” Pick your adjectives.

This year my adjective was “tired.” I didn’t sleep well, I spent lots of time rushing around, I pretended to have a better time than I was having (because I didn’t want to be a downer, and really I have nothing to complain about, except being tired and having too many things going on). Bardiac introduced herself and we had a nice chat. I did hear good papers, though I wish I’d been in a better headspace to concentrate on them and think about their significance. I had dinner with what are now the usual suspects on Saturday, and that was delightful. Rather than meeting new people, I mostly re-connected with old friends. I do not need any new projects, innovative or not; I need to finish some of my old ones. I bought 11 books, a fairly modest number, and left the conference cross because a paper I thought ought to have cited my work, didn’t. (It’s a conference paper; one doesn’t include all the footnotes in oral presentations.)

Once I got home, I slept straight through the night (which for me is a minor miracle) and got up at dawn to file grades. Then I started taking notes on something I have to read for the book project that I have been neglecting, and produced 800 words. Being cross may be a better spur to work than more exalted forms of inspiration.

My plan for the next few weeks is to put in one hour of research time per day, and after that hour, focus on Life Stuff, most especially packing, repairing, and doing whatever we need to do to sell this house. So it is not a good sign that I am still at my desk at this late-morning hour. I’d rather be here, I’d rather focus on the work, but in the long run, the work will be better served by a living situation that doesn’t need so much attention. I suppose that’s innovative, in its way.


*International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.


It’s August! Panic stations!

A few years ago, I wrote about oh-shit-it’s-August-syndrome, when the summer hits the fan, as it were, and it’s hard to decide what most urgently needs attention because it all does, but time is limited and yet it’s still so hot that it’s hard to believe that anything really is urgent.

I thought I’d revisit that post to see how much of it can be recycled without updates.

OK, so there’s what I really have to do, and there’s what I really want to do, and there are all those things that I thought I’d like to get done but need to let go of. And then there’s the question of whether some elements of the last group don’t actually belong there.

Check, check, check. That paragraph works.

It’s August. Classes start in two weeks, with faculty meetings beforehand. Besides writing and class prep and having some last bits of summer fun, I have a couple of medical appointments I’m taking care of before classes start, and possibly one or more dentist appointments depending on whether a sensitive spot calms down or gets worse. (If it’s going to get worse, I wish it would just come on and do it already, instead of waiting for the first or second day of classes.) I’m pretty clear on the have-to (syllabi etc, and at least one House Thing) and the most definite want-to (a little more fun reading and a sewing project).

Classes don’t start for three whole weeks! I’m starting early on the panic. Only not so early, because I’ll be away during the faculty-meeting week. So actually I only have about ten days. Wheeeee! Down the panic slide we go! Never mind last bits of summer fun. I’d be thrilled to get the writing and class prep done in the time. The medical stuff happened in July (excellent, pat self on back) and I have only one more dentist appointment to go, which should be a quick and easy one. There are no house have-to’s, though there are a batch of house things for which I need to organize people to come and give estimates. Still, those could happen any time over the next eight weeks or so. Sooner is no doubt better than later, but I’m not going to put those on the must-do-now list. No sewing projects (well, unless visiting a tailor counts, and again, not urgent). There’s no fun reading I’ve been putting off.

But then there are writing-related but not-writing activities, which are desirable but not really essential, like tidying up my home office. . . . There is a heap of paper stuff that needs to get filed.

The home office is fine. I can even see wood on my desk. I tidied it a few weeks ago. It’s true that means there are heaps of paper in the guest room that I need to sort out, but out of sight is out of mind, and at the moment that is A-O.K. I can use sorting them as a procrastination activity when I start getting things to grade! Isn’t that great planning?

Since I got back (not counting writing done on the plane), I’ve produced . . . let’s see . . . Basement Cat, get off my research journal . . . about 2000 words. These are what I might call “focused pre-writing,” rather than true rough-draft writing, because the section presently under construction didn’t get as much pre-writing as the first chunk I wrote. But that’s fine. This stage of writing has to happen sometime, and I might as well do it now, while I’m on a roll.

Since I got back, I’ve produced roughly 3000 new words. Very roughly. It’s hard to be sure. There has also been a lot of editing in which words get tinkered with, cut, re-written, and so on. The current version of the MMP-1 is just shy of 10K words, but I think I’m done with it, except for sorting out its footnotes properly in the style required by the journal to which I plan to send it. I really want to send it and have it be Someone Else’s Problem for awhile. There are plenty of other things to work on.

Nobody sits on my research journal these days. Sometimes Reina sits behind my monitor, but I am in her bad graces at the moment because of unlawful confiscation of licensed weapons cutting her claws. It’s true, when the children grow up you miss the things that used to drive you crazy.

So [should I focus on] writing syllabi . . . and hacking back the horribly overgrown and weedy garden? Actually, I am terribly tempted to abandon the garden until frost kills off some stuff—this seasonal nonsense is good for something!—though I do rather fear What The Neighbors Will Think. . . . I could give up on the sewing and garden instead . . . if we ever get a cool enough day that I want to be outside.

Write syllabi, work on revisions, and hack back the garden. Not that I care what the neighbors think. The front looks all right and the back is nobody’s business. But I’m making progress with the bellflower and I’d like to keep on rather than letting it grow back. The weather is certainly a consideration. We had a pleasant weekend, so I did some more digging.

So, it looks like I’m doing rather well compared to four years ago. That’s a very pleasant discovery. Now to pull a conference paper out of . . . wherever this one comes from.

I dreamed

that I forgot to write my paper for Kalamazoo.

I discovered this when sitting outside the room where I was supposed to present, during the preceding session. I remembered writing the paper, or writing something about it. But the paper was not in the folder where I expected to find it. In another folder, I found my notes. The paper was supposed to be on “Pulling Back the Bedcurtains in the Seven Sages of Rome and Le Roman de Silence.” How alliterative. Mostly my notes consisted of carefully copied passages from the poems, in a Caroline minuscule with Anglicana traits (talk about bastard hands), apparently done with a fine-tip felt pen. Capitals were colored in alternating red and blue, and I’d done a few historiated initials at the start of particularly important bits.

I was trying to work out whether I should just bag the session entirely (there were four papers scheduled, so it wouldn’t have been too awful not to show up, I thought) or try to do some sort of talk based on my notes.

Waking up was partly relief and partly annoyance, because I would have liked to know what my argument was and why it had been so important to produce a hand-copied, prettified set of quotations.

Done. Dazed.

I have completed my second essay of the summer. About 10,000 words, combined. Neither is so done as to have been submitted, yet. The first needs to have references added. The second needs to have references changed from brief in-text notes to proper footnotes, and I’m waiting on an ILL delivery to add a long quotation that the argument needs. The first will have to wait another month; the second needs to be polished very soon.

I’m pleased with my productivity, the more so (at least from one perspective) because neither of these essays was on my radar at the beginning of May. A conference discussion made me think, “wow, better write that up before someone else does,” and then the summer issue of a journal made me think, “gee, I have things to contribute to that conversation,” and so I’ve been reading and thinking and writing these things. That’s the good news. The other side of the coin is that I had intended to write a book chapter this summer, along with revisions to a couple of accepted essays (MMP-2 and MMP-3), and I now have about 5 days to do those revisions, and the only way in which I’m closer to having written a book is that one of the summer essays is sort of a spin-off, or at least on the same main text, and so I’m re-submerged in that material.

Fortunately, I’m on leave, or I would have had to put all this work down to concentrate on syllabi awhile back, as well as grading, because in my classes we Hit The Ground Running, no gentle easing-in to a warm bath of education but rather a bracing plunge! My students get Hullified from the first day! Or they will. Next year.

I want to be Anthony Trollope and start straight in on revisions. However, though I felt quite energetic and absorbed while I was writing, now that I am done with all the substantive work, I feel like someone hit me over the head. It’s not even that I’ve been so deeply immersed in the latest essay. I took the whole weekend off to go to a wedding. Somehow, though, taking a break felt like a different thing from being done. All I feel fit for is staring into space.

K’zoo conversation

DEH: [description of woman, trying to remind Sir John of someone he had met briefly]

SJ: Do you mean that woman who was so excited about the prospect of more free booze?

DEH: That only describes about half the people at this conference.

K’zoo progress

‘Tis the season when the medievalistbloggers are discussing the amount of text they have or have not written of their papers for Kalamazoo.

Up till yesterday, I was just envious of anyone who had managed to get started.  I was also thinking that they are over-achievers, since the conference is late this year, starting days after my grades are due, so I don’t have the usual DO ALL THE THINGS time-crunch.

(There was a year when I had my paper finished in April, so I’m capable of being an over-achiever.  Sometimes.)

But now I have about 1300 words down, and if I go on this vein, I too will have to cut back.  Or not: I’m scheduled for Sunday morning, so what are the odds that someone else on the panel will oversleep or have to scoot off to the airport?

Why I love Sir John

He came home from a conference-thingy yesterday and said, “I’ve decided I have to be the guy in the audience who stands up and asks the guy on the panel to stop interrupting the women on the panel.  It’s better if men police each other.”

He may be available for rent, if anyone wants to take him to a conference. 🙂

Conferences, priorities, and Octopods

This spring, a couple of academic bloggers I read were excited about being invited to give a paper at a conference.  I don’t mean invitations to give a keynote address, just to contribute a regular paper to a themed session or a conference on a particular theme.

I had enough self-restraint not to rain on their parades in the comments, but being a cynical old bat, I wondered whether it’s worth getting excited.  OK, it’s true that even getting the invitation may mean that your work has drawn someone’s attention, that you are known for working in a particular area, and that may be a good thing.

The yeah-buttal: the session or conference organizer may have asked you because there haven’t been enough submissions (I have been in this position, on both sides).  The organizer may have asked friends or other people on the program if they can recommend someone who can give a paper on a particular topic; so, sure, you’ve drawn someone’s attention, but whose?  It’s also possible that the organizer is trying to skew a session in a particular direction.  I myself have been asked to give a manuscript-y paper for a session sponsored by a society when the session organizer felt that the society’s interests were getting too theoretical, and was not getting support for this view in the society’s planning meeting.  As it happened, I did have something to offer, and the conference paper led to a publication, so the session organizer and I could be useful to each other.  But I was aware that I was asked for a reason that was not simply that I am awesome.

For annual review, at most schools, conference papers don’t mean squat.  What counts is what’s in print.  So if you need a deadline to get something written, if you know what your process is for developing a conference paper into an article, then sure, give a paper.  If there’s a conference you’re dying to go to, in order to meet people (new important people or your old friends), and you need to give a paper to get funding for it, and you can’t afford to go otherwise, then, sure, give a paper (but make certain that it’s an idea you can do something with, afterwards).

Think carefully, though, about your priorities.  Is this idea something that you want to be working on for the next however-long?  Is it something you’re working on anyway?  Can you cut down an article-in-progress, or excerpt a finished one that hasn’t yet appeared in print?  Or will this paper take time away from your book, your series of articles, whatever your plans were before you got the flattering invitation?  People who invite you to give a conference paper usually don’t know what your plans are.  They’re thinking about their own priorities: getting good (or controversial) papers on their panels, making sure they have enough people at a conference for it to be interesting and to make whatever quota their institution has to make a gathering cost-effective.

Of course it’s flattering to be asked.  Last week I got such a request myself.  And although my first response, given the time and place of the conference, was “Oh hell no,” my second was “but I do have this idea I haven’t managed to work on for awhile because of the MMP Octopus.”  My third thought was “That project needs to wait its turn; I am not putting down the swyving Octopus now that I’m the one who’s winning.”  I haven’t worked on the topic of Other Project in awhile; I was a little surprised even to be invited to this conference, and thought about replying that I don’t really work in that area any longer, until I remembered the Other Project.  But my priorities are the MMP Octopus and then a book project.  And I work better when I focus on one thing until it’s done; otherwise, I muddy the waters flitting from one thing to another, never really finishing anything, confusing myself by working on too many things, and subject to thrashing when I can’t decide what to do first.

And mainly, my priority now is publication.  It’s true that I don’t need to meet people so I can put them on a list of outside reviewers for my tenure application.  That’s really the only unassailable reason I can think of to go to conferences in the humanities.  (The sciences are a completely different ball of wax.)  I’m not saying don’t go.  I am saying to think about whether a conference is part of your masterplan, and what your CV will look like if you add another paper rather than another publication.  If you don’t like the answer, then Just Say No to conference invitations.  Sweetly, gratefully, enthusiastically, and/or regretfully, as called for.  I’m delighted you thought of me, but I’ll be wrestling an Octopus for the next few months.

Spring 2012 Writing Group, Week 8: Motivation

I was going to have a different topic this week.  But the redbud and hawthorn are out, the lilacs are just coming into bloom, and I have recently returned from a conference; therefore it must be mid-May.

What do you MEAN there are still five weeks of classes to go?  Where did that grading come from?  Who are all these people who expect me to discuss changes to the catalog?  Who are all these other people who still expect me to instruct them?

Time to dig deep into the suitcase of courage, feel the world of hurt, and fight to survive . . . only I think that suitcase got lost by the airlines, or mixed in with the ones marked “Not Wanted On Voyage.”  The conference reminded me that in addition to the MMP, I once had plans to publish other work on the text in question (two previous conference papers got set aside when my parents were so ill; now that I look at them again, I think they have a lot of potential).  What most needs attention are teaching and taxes, but I know I’m supposed to write every day and set a good example to the group.  And what I really want to do is work on the garden for hours and then park my bones in a hot bath with a glass of wine and a mystery.  If I have to work, I’d rather just write, but I can’t settle to that because I’m tweaked out about the grading and getting caught up with the class spreadsheets, but it seems like there’s such a lot to do that I feel overwhelmed.

I know the answer, or at least, what the answer should be.  Schedule time to work, do short increments if that’s what it takes, set a timer, give myself rewards.  I keep dishing it out to my fellow writers.  But at the moment, I can’t take it.

So, what are your ideas about how to re-motivate when the end is not in sight, when there are two more cat 1’s to climb before the finish, when bonk is setting in?

Amstr: 1) tidy up intro based on writing partner’s comments, 2) revise Chapter 1 revision outline, 3) draft at least half of Chapter 3 (two-thirds would be even better).
ComradePhysioProf: no goal posted.
Contingent Cassandra: have a 15-minute conference paper ready to present on Friday afternoon. Use the conference to get a better idea of the historical/historiographical context for my project, perhaps do a bit of networking.
DEH: reverse-outline current draft, to figure out where a paragraph that doesn’t fit should go instead.  Start grooming the rest of the document.
EAM: Weigh the three articles; figure out whether to flit amongst them, or whether one has more traction right now than the others.
FeMOMhist: just keep going forward with “real writing” and cleaning up as I go. Hopefully 500 more words.
thefrogprincess: MIA.
GEW: Read two chapters of philosophical primary text. Read three book reviews. Write two pages.
Ink: Write 1000 words before next Friday.
JaneB: a) Reorganise my desk area at the office; b) as part of that, make a proper list of all the writing things I currently have on the go and where they are at, and check the folders are all up to date in my dropbox; c) do the analysis on another paper’s worth of data.
JLiedl: Revise grant application after getting some feedback. Write 500 words on chapter for another collection.
kiwimedievalist: Reading about saints and communities, for interest.
Luo Lin: checked in, but no goal posted.
Matilda: Start to read materials, construct my arguments, write something at least 15 minutes.
Nancy Warren: continue to write the chapter from which the conference paper was taken. I’d like to get 5 pages.
profgrrrl: Finish off the manuscript I’ve been working on (it’s so close) and the book proposal.
Rented Life: Read 2 chapters from previously mentioned book. Write one page or edit one section.
Sapience: I need to do keep working on Chapter 5, but I may need to re-prioritize mid week after my meeting with my advisor about Chapter 4. So… make progress of some sort on something?