Found yesterday at home: a book I needed. Found today in my office: one of the two CDs I complained about not finding, last time I looked for it. And the dictionary is still loaded on my office computer, from which I hope I can burn a new CD for home use, even if the original is packed away somewhere. So things are looking up. Pretty good for November.
It always sounds like such great advice. But there’s a theory/practice problem: the writer is embodied. That is, the physical body has its quirks, and it lives somewhere, and the household also has quirks. Cats. Whatever. Same thing, really.
I am frustrated with not getting more writing done this fall, and so, like Gwinne, I resolved to use the NaNoWriMo energy to spur me to action. Yesterday I wrote on the train, doing some work toward a hunk of close reading to appear in the introduction to the Huge Honking Translation. There were a batch of things I needed to look up, later. Okay. I came home last night, fourteen hours and twenty minutes after I left the house in the morning (but who’s counting?), and resolved to make it easy on myself to Write First this morning. I made tea in my travel mug to leave by my bedside, laid out my clothing for morning, and went to bed at a fairly decent hour. I knew I’d have to go downstairs long enough to check on whether Glendower had finished his food overnight, and if not, take his bowl away from Basement Cat, who sleeps with us so Glendower can graze at his leisure, but I thought then maybe I could get in half an hour of Writing First before the natives (i.e. cats) got restless.
OK. I slept as well as I ever do, and woke up at dawn (which comes late these days). The tea was cold (n.b., get a real thermos, not just the travel mug). Since I had to go down with Basement Cat anyway, I might as well put the tea in a mug and heat it up. My neck hurt, so I also wanted to heat the wrap-around hot/cold pack. There were other bodily needs to take care of. Roughly half an hour later, I made it upstairs with heat pack and hot tea, sat at my desk, and opened up the document from yesterday. Success! I’m Writing First, more or less! Now for looking up words in an etymological dictionary! Oh . . . the internet is down. Call the company that rhymes with Bombast. Recorded voice apologizes for the interruption in service and estimates that it will be restored within four hours.
Well, that’s one way to avoid being distracted by the wonders of the Internet. In the meantime, I fiddle with the edition’s glossary, my Latin dictionary, and what I can pull out of my
ass memory about sound changes from Latin into modern Romance tongues. I remember that I have, somewhere, a CD with a most excellent dictionary for the language in question, which I installed some time ago, on the laptop that is now both kaput and permanently wiped (though not yet taken to be recycled, sigh), and on my office computer (do I still have the same office computer? hell if I know), and I start wondering where the CD is: at work? But I didn’t see it recently when I was looking for another CD with Important Images on it, which I couldn’t find either. At home? Not in any of the obvious places. Quite likely packed away in a box marked as “miscellaneous work materials.” I am so tired of living with half my things packed into storage.
OK, the internet is back, three or more hours before Bombast’s estimate. Yay! Look up a word. Stare confusedly at results and hard-copy Latin dictionary. Go to different online Latin dictionary. Write about ten words of notes in my document. Let Glendower into my study. Prevent Glendower and Reina from tussling about who gets to curl up in her bed. The natives are definitely getting restless. Check e-mail before going to feed cats . . . a graduate student has replied to my query about articulating a research question, good, citing Habermas in the first line, bad . . . I am NOT dealing with Habermas before food and more caffeine, so off I go to feed myself and the cats.
Whereupon I discover that there is no more cooked rice, so I have to do some pre-cooking before I can have breakfast.
For roughly another 36 hours, I have no grading to do, so it is reasonably possible that there will be more writing today and tomorrow before I return to the realms of
procrastination creating useful and friendly feedback on other people’s writing.
I cherish the fond illusion that I file/recycle/toss paperwork every 3-6 months, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Very otherwise. However, today I have tackled stacks of paper. As usually happens when things pile up for long enough, I have been able to recycle large quantities, including early drafts of two essays for which I have now corrected proofs, print-outs of conference papers given three and four years ago, and receipts associated with those conferences.
Still on my desk:
*a program from a conference four years ago, in a place I particularly enjoyed;
*instructions for my phone. which I seem to have got on quite well without;
*a two-year pocket calendar for 2014-2015;
*a postcard from Hull;
*a paper written by a graduate student for a course I taught, which I think I kept because in theory I am on the student’s dissertation committee (in practice, I don’t think the student has submitted any work yet);
*receipts from this year’s stay in Kalamazoo;
*a stack of references to things I mean to read for scholarly purposes;
*a set of newspaper clippings referring to books I have thought of reading for pleasure, along the lines of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey and Her Brilliant Career;
*a handout from a paper at this year’s K’zoo with my notes connecting the paper to one I’m thinking of writing;
*a check re-order form;
*an important piece of paper I should have put in my safe deposit box four years ago but which at this point is probably irrelevant;
*a chapter draft with marginal comments from discussion with my writing group;
*the label with which to return printer ink cartridges for recycling;
*a certificate, in Spanish and English, testifying to my having given a paper at a conference in a Spanish-speaking country.
Snapshot of my desk/life.
A sheaf of guidebooks to English castles, from three summers ago, which should be on the shelves of my school office with all my other similar guides, and which I do not remember seeing anywhere in my home office during a recent re-shuffling of books; if they were hidden in my school office then I ought to have found them during last year’s clean-up efforts; I know I brought them back from England (that was a very heavy suitcase), and they are not the sort of thing that I de-accession.
So WHERE ARE THEY?
Update: I found them in a box in the guest room, cleared out of my study at some point, housed in an opaque plastic box/folder, such that it was not clear from the outside what was in it. NB, try to use clear box/folder thingies in future.
Anyway, yay! Now I can turn a class loose on “castle study hall,” where each student gets a guidebook to some castle, and after reading by themselves for a bit, they get together to talk about features that castles have in common, and how their builders accommodated landscape features on particular sites, and what historians and archaeologists still puzzle over. A field trip would be better, and if I taught in the UK might be easily organized. From here, however, it’s not going to happen.
I never did get to that Ozark Castle, and it’s too far from me for a class field trip.
I complained about Glendower awhile back. Now Reina has developed the chewing-on-paper tendency. She used only to chew post-its left sticking out of books that had been re-shelved. She loves to hide on bookshelves, behind the books; we have open-frame shelves that make it easy for the cats to tunnel behind the books, since if we push books to the wall, (a) they fall down since the walls aren’t necessarily plumb, and (b) enormous amounts of clutter accumulate on the space in front of books. I didn’t so much mind the post-its getting chewed. I do mind having to clear my desk every time I leave the room, because now she’ll attack a whole stack of paper and chew all the corners off and fling confetti around the room. I need more drawers or cupboards, closed storage.
She is curled in her bed looking like butter wouldn’t melt, but I need to go do other things, so the current batch of print-outs must be hidden lest they be shredded before my return.
A few weeks ago I cleared my desk (and other surfaces) by creating stacks of paper in the guest room, with the plan that I would sort them out when I was procrastinating on grading. Well, this weekend we have an unexpected but delightful house guest. I shoveled the stacks into the drawers of an empty file cabinet. This post is to remind me where they are, when in a few weeks or months I am cursing my inability to find this or that important bit of paper that has gone missing.
Footnotes proceed. I am up to number 70 on this my first pass through the document, though I will still need to go back for some that require more searching through files and shelves.
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.
That looks like a real person’s desk. I especially like the pots and pans on the shelves in the corner, and the plate of eggs. If you’re spending your time on actually living and working, then you have less time for cleaning up. You stack up the books you’re using, the presents you need to wrap, the bills that want paying, and you try to keep All The Things in the front of your mind. Or the back. Whatever. If the space where there’s room for a desk is in the kitchen, then you share your space with Le Creuset. If you’re me, then you share with the latest feline invader, the mending heap, and the stuff that really truly definitely this week is going to get shipped off to the youngest relatives (unlike the last 20 weeks, when thing after other thing kept coming up).
I need this writing inspiration because tomorrow I am going to get back to work. I didn’t get a thing done on Thursday or Friday (interruptions to routine, distractions, antsiness) and then I decided to take the weekend off because clearly I needed a break. Unfortunately, breaks allow me a chance to worry about the Dire State of Higher Education in general and the state (dire, of course, though less dire than some) of Large Regional U in particular. These thoughts are not good for my mental health. Unless someone with more clarity than I can muster tells me it’s time to go to career Plan B, I need to stop worrying and go back to The Book. And Sir John says Book, and he’ll tell me if he thinks it’s time for Plan B.
(Actually I think it may be time to tackle some revisions and let the Book sit for a week, but the principle is the same: focus on what I am supposed to be doing now, rather than worrying about what may never happen.)
So it’s lovely to hear from Notorious, and to enjoy, vicariously, the notion of a big mostly-empty office in which to work on a new(ish) project. My home study is pretty big, actually, but it’s also the site of many old projects, some of which are still pending (revisions . . . ), plus household files, and pickle dishes or their equivalent that I’m sorting out, and usually a cat or two, plus it’s my dressing room. Thus, even though I am better equipped for space than many academics, I still enjoy the fantasy of a fresh start.
What really hit me in this picture (click to enlarge), though, is the telephone.
At LRU, we’re losing our office phones. And cutting the library budget drastically. There is no travel money, though some may be pulled from some dark place for the untenured. And we are to expect further mid-year cuts, since the fall semester had to be scheduled before we knew what the budget would look like (besides dire).
It’s not that I use the phone so much. I can live without it, and I’d rather give up the phone than the monographs budget (not that that’s a choice: they’re both happening). But it’s a sign of faculty status, even tenured faculty at tolerably respectable universities. I frequently run into people in my area who went to LRU, or whose kid or nephew or cousin’s daughter goes there, and they think highly of the school and they think I have a good job. (Mostly I agree with them.) I think these people, whether they work in sales, accounting, law, nursing, programming, or office support in any of these or various other types of work, would be surprised that I no longer have an office phone. And I’m pretty sure that that’s not what they think they voted for.
Time for another Monday check-in and goal-setting. I’m not going to call roll; we’ll take care of attendance via in-class writing. If you’re here, leave a comment.
The usual advice about making changes in one’s life is to start small and be specific. Rather than saying “get healthy” or “lose 50 pounds,” you’re supposed to to say “I will walk for 10 minutes a day” or “when I want a cookie, I will eat a piece of fruit first.” Small changes add up, and little shifts like more exercise and more fruit can lead to larger lifestyle differences. Some of you are thinking along these lines, like Z’s resolve to work 25 minutes a day for three days.
I have myself found that these small changes can be helpful and long-lasting. That said, sometimes it’s more helpful to make one single big decision rather than trying to work out a lot of small stuff. For instance, if you’re capable of quitting something cold turkey, well, that’s a decision made that you never have to revisit. You’ll never again smoke a cigarette, have a drink, eat meat, whatever. When you’re tempted, you say you’ve made that decision, it’s not negotiable, you’re not revisiting it.
This does not work for everyone, or in all circumstances.
Possibly it’s not going to work for me this time, either, but I’m going to give it a shot this week. This is my big change: I’m going to work from 9-1, Monday to Friday. Everything else has to get done before or after that. Exercise, cat wrangling, phone calls, blogs, paying bills, novel reading, sorting closets, meals, shopping, cooking, if it’s not work, it has to happen before 9:00 a.m. or after 1:00 p.m. What’s more, I’m not going to do work outside of those four hours, either (that’s the part that really freaks me out, actually). Afternoons and evenings will go to fun stuff or at least life-maintenance stuff.
I’m tired of trying to work out the optimum schedule, of trying to figure out whether, when I get up, I should first write, go for a walk, do yoga, feed cats, or hit the gym. Since fall classes ended, what happens first generally depends on what time I wake up and whether or not it’s sunny. Clearly I’m capable of sticking to a schedule when I have to, because I always show up on time for my classes. I have written before about enjoying the flexibility of academic life, but I think I should give inflexibility a chance, for once. Nine-to-one, some translation, the MMP, some class planning, some other academic work, and then I’m done. We’ll see how it goes for a week.
So what are you going to do this week? Make a small change? Try a bigger one? Keep doing something that has been working? Sometimes it’s good to stick to what works, and sometimes it’s good just to change things up so you don’t get stale.