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?

she anoynted hit as she dud tofore

This is supposed to be my “easy” semester.  So why is my butt getting kicked?

Oh, let’s see.  Seventy undergrads, instead of 35 undergrads plus 10 or so grads.  Three independent-study students, with disjoint schedules, so I have to meet with each of them separately even when I need to impart the same information to them all.  Hiring season, and while I’m not on the committee, we’re looking for people in areas that are very important to me, so I’m going to all the presentations.  Disorganization on the part of the chair of a commitee I’m on, so I get to read heaps of stuff at the last minute.  Organizing the conference that is almost upon us; and that won’t be over when it’s over, because we also have the proceedings volume to deal with.  I do have various sorts of help with this, but that also means that much more communication to do.  Convening an exam committee.  Research.  Grading and prep.  Prep is usually not onerous, because I’m teaching a class I’ve done before and am happy with, but because of shifting paper due dates around (because of conferences etc), sometimes I need to throw together a lecture where in previous iterations I would have led discussion.

So I get home after nine hours on campus (plus 2 hours of driving and an hour or so at the gym), feeling that people have been chopping off little pieces of me all day.

I’m like that magical knight in the Book of Gareth, though: I regenerate.  I’m getting loads done today (everything except the grading!), so I can go for another nine hours tomorrow.

And then I really won’t be able to avoid the grading.  Where is the magical ointment for that?

People don’t read

Dear people coming to the conference,

I’m glad you want to come. BUT:

Why do I have to keep re-sending the same information to people who can’t be bothered to click on a link (okay, in one case you then have to click on another link from that one, but I’m not the one who designed that page; I wasn’t even consulted about its design) to find out what they need to know?

All you’re getting is the original e-mail with the link. I refuse to look all this stuff up and type it out just so you can not read your e-mail.

Huffily yours,
DEH

Re-booting the semester

Even before Notorious Ph.D. suggested the theme of the re-set button, I had been thinking that I need to re-boot my semester. While I have achieved a couple of significant goals (submitting the fellowship application; adding some polish to a drafted chapter), other areas of my life have suffered: I’m slower than usual to return papers, am not exercising enough, and often don’t get enough sleep. I’d like to start over and aim at a better balance for the remaining weeks of term.

Fortunately, I don’t have any more conferences to go to (I think in general it is a mistake to go to conferences during term-time, at least in three-course semesters). And I have no more hugely significant deadlines, either. There are six more weeks, I guess, for the current ADNWG term, and about the same before I have to turn in a book review (IIRC; maybe I should check that e-mail).

Last week I was suffering a bit of let-down after getting the application done, and also from withdrawal symptoms (oh, am I not supposed to admit being a research addict?). I enjoyed the focus I needed to exert on the application and sample chapter, the feeling that this was the most important thing I had to do and that I could justify dropping everything else lower on the priority list. I also enjoyed having an external deadline, which forced me to put aside some of my perfectionist tendencies. Put those things together with a resolution made earlier this year to submit something, somewhere, in 2011, and I had to look over my various projects to see what I might be able to finish in the next couple of months.

(I know it’s a good thing to have a book that really wants to be written, and I love the conference-paper-turned-book project. But I was so set on sending it out as an article this year. I want more publications!)

So there’s the Macedonian Marginalia Project, which could probably be done in a couple of months; but not these months, when I need to catch up on grading and then prep and grade final exams and projects. I planned to work on the MMP in January-March 2012, and that still seems like a good idea. I will have two courses with the same prep in the spring, and (most likely) a lighter workload on my major committee; that will give me more head-space to think about a fairly complex project in which the argument stands or falls on tiny details. I’d like to wrap it up by spring break, on the theory that the second part of the semester tends to have more grading in it, and also that I will have at least one conference paper to prepare in the later spring.

Then there’s the Unexpected Project that was a conference paper in the summer. When I got that digitized scan that proved I had a third manuscript to deal with, I got all excited and thought maybe that was the piece that I would push out the door by the end of December. And then I checked on what the manuscript actually is and realized that I have a huge problem with the dates, and because of that, I have far less of a viable draft than I had thought. I have to start all over on part of the research for that essay, which is rather discouraging. I wish I’d thought more about this third manuscript at some earlier stage. I knew it was a possibility, but no scholarly source I found said for certain it was the same hand, and I hadn’t seen it myself, and so I just pushed the possibility aside and tracked something that seemed plausible. But “plausible” is now “provably wrong.”

Another possibility for a submission this year was a note related to the Big Volume of Manuscript. But the issues involved are similar to those in the Unexpected Project, and so now I’m spooked about that kind of research and want to be very sure that I’m right before trying to publish anything along those lines. It’s bad enough feeling that I’ve given conference papers that are so wrong; at least I didn’t publish the incorrect Unexpected details.

Anyway, those were the options for alternate goals for this fall. And none is viable, so I’m back to Plan A: finish a decent draft of another chapter of the book, and work steadily if slowly on the Big Translation. It’s a relief, really; my motto for the past few years has been “stick to Plan A,” which works for both small and large plans. I can drive myself crazy thinking up alternate plans and wondering which would be best, for everything from “what to wear tomorrow” to much more significant decisions. I am so much happier when I make a plan and stick to it, with only minor modifications (if it’s colder, wear a wool blazer instead of a linen one; if it rains, wear the rain boots; if short on sleep, stare at a draft of the writing project and tinker with sentences instead of trying to work on the organization).

As an aside, I think a lot of my difficulties with planning and organization are not native, but learned. For me, the Myers-Briggs categories explain a lot. By temperament, I’m fairly strongly J (in the sense of wanting plans and to stick to them; there are other elements to J-ness, and I think finer granularity in the sub-elements makes the MB types work better: when I took the test, each of the four axes had ten sub-elements), but I grew up with parents who must have been super-P. Thus I both had to learn to tolerate the chaos of our household and did not get any decent modeling of how to plan and stay organized. It’s only relatively late in life that I’ve realized how stressful and irritating I find P-ness, in most areas. Sometimes I want to put off a decision while I collect information, but that is something I plan for, and once I make up my mind I don’t want to revisit the decision.

Then wouldn’t I just have stuck to the plan about the chapter all along? No, see, the original Plan A was to write an article, not a book. That’s where the recent thrashing came from. Must. Have. Article. But no. The better part of valor, considering long-term goals, is to accept the change from article to book, and get a chapter finished this fall, so that I can cannibalize it for a conference paper in the spring (if that abstract is accepted) and have two reasonably complete chapters when I start (oh please oh please) a fellowship year of writing.

So the plan for the weekend was to get all caught up on stuff, get enough sleep, get enough exercise, and re-boot the semester this coming week. Goals: continue to write every day, but stop after half an hour or so (unless I really am caught up on everything else). Turn back papers promptly. Prep more thoroughly for the grad class. Exercise an optimal amount on non-teaching days, and a sub-optimal but acceptable amount on campus days. Set a manageable sleep schedule, and stick to it.

It’s a great plan. Sadly, I think Sir John and I both accidentally got caffeinated coffee earlier today. So I’m still wide awake, and expect to be up for awhile yet. I have things to do, of course: grading, notes on books I want to get off my desk, planning. I may not get the sleep schedule sorted out this weekend, but I can at least get caught up (if I don’t start remembering more things I have dropped the ball on!), and I’ll keep working on the sleep thing.

Home again, home again

“Well, I’m back,” she said.

No, no, that was the end of the story. We’re not done yet. I have two weeks to work, and then a brief vacation, and then three more weeks to work before classes start. It only feels like summer is almost over. Five weeks is a good bit of time. I can finish the article-in-progress, and review a manuscript, and plan my fall classes, in that time. I even believe that. It’s all the other stuff that I keep forgetting about that may derail me: conference organizing, house stuff, rec letters, and so on.

The trip was good. Intense, but good. All potential travel problems, like booking a train ticket for the wrong day (well after my flight home) resolved themselves. I achieved the things that had to happen in London, Cambridge, Lewes, and York; the conference paper got done and delivered; I finally had lunch in the BL with ADM; on my last night I stayed with a friend from grad school (and her niece and niece’s boyfriend—in a 2-room flat—it was a bit undergraduate) and we got to catch up a bit. I have photographs. I have transcriptions. I have plans for lots of interesting work.

The cats seemed glad to see me, especially Basement Cat, who groomed my hands and arms very thoroughly yesterday. Today is a rest day in the Tour de France, so that gives us a chance to catch up. I keep getting too sleepy to stay up, so we still have half of yesterday’s stage to finish. I’ll try to post something more interesting soon.

Travel plans

I found out this week that next summer, I will be teaching in one of LRU’s summer-abroad programs, in the UK. Woot and all that—yes, it’s awesome, and it’s been 10 years since I got to do this, but as I’ve done it before and have a good friend who does it more often, I know that it is also a lot of work and a whole lot of interaction (morning noon and night) with students. In some ways, that can be a very good thing, but if you get a difficult person on the trip, it can turn nightmarish. And one has to be even more extremely focused and goal-oriented than at home in order to get any scholarly work done, even with one of the world’s great libraries right down the street, because there are so many distractions, of both the teacherly and the historical/cultural kind.

But I am pleased, and I am trying to think about next summer’s research (and conferences), and the class I’ll be teaching, even as I begin to panic about this summer’s work (more on that shortly). What will I be likely to be working on in a year’s time?

As for actual travel plans, the trip that is still a year off keeps bleeding into the one that is coming up much sooner, as I think about what to pack, what arrangements to make, and how to get organized. Even at Kalamazoo, I had strong reasons to believe that the next-summer trip would happen; and unfortunately, I think knowing about it helped me procrastinate on things like booking places to stay this summer, because, of course, next year I’ll have a place to stay, no booking necessary on my part. I’m bad about these things anyway, because I am so afraid of flying that anything that reminds me I will be flying creates considerable anxiety. So, although I arranged for my flight months ago, I put off dealing with the rest of the trip, hoping there would come a day when I felt stronger . . . . Well, there came a day, yesterday, when I was too panicky about the possibility of not having somewhere to stay that I faced up to the task. Panic strength works, too.

So I’m staying where I wanted to in London; and somewhere more expensive (but probably nicer) in the UK’s Second City than I probably would if I’d booked months ago (query: do I delay on purpose so I have an excuse to stay in nicer hotels?); and have e-mailed a B&B elsewhere about availability. I really hope this last place comes through, because they have a cat. It would be nice to be able to indulge my addiction to felines while I’m gone.

This means that now I am free to panic over the conference paper (and oh boy am I doing that well, or at least plentifully). And, more generally, panic about trying to achieve as much as possible in the next 10 weeks because, once classes start, I will have only fairly short breaks between teaching responsibilities for the following 21 months.

One reason I like to get up early to write is that my conscious mind hasn’t fully kicked in with all its anxieties. Another is so that I can get something done before Irritating People and Life Events can start getting in the way. Yesterday I got a bit of a late start; at least I read and took notes on an essay before the day started to go downhill. An unexpected House Thing required an urgent trip to the hardware store and time dealing with the Thing; an expected House Maintenance Guy did not show up in his window of opportunity, which meant a call to the company to complain and reschedule, and time hanging around the house (trying to work but getting distracted) when I could have been driving to campus or going to the gym. I achieved the most urgent things on campus, but stayed late to do so, and so I was up late last night, and then slept late and am dragging today.

Today, then, I think I need to do easy things, like taking notes and organizing bibliographies. Stuff that’s useful but not brain-intensive. And hit the gym.