“Write first”

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’m at the point in the semester when I can figure out my real schedule, the one I can actually manage, not the hopeful one I plotted before the shit hit the fan.

It appears that six years ago, I was able to use a long afternoon between morning and night classes to get some writing done, which explains why I thought I could do that again this term. The difference is that this year, the night class addresses a whole batch of texts I haven’t read before, so that particular afternoon often goes to class prep, or administrivia (I get to be on an extra committee this year). Usually by this point, I’ve readjusted my sleep schedule from wherever it wound up over the summer, and am managing to get to bed at a sensible hour before the 5:30 a.m. alarm; so far, I’m not doing well at all with that, so I’m not getting enough sleep, and that’s not good.

In trying to work out what I can actually do, it’s clear that I need to make good use of mornings, the time when I am most likely to be awake and alert, the time when I feel as good as I’m going to. (I don’t know why I always hope I will feel better later. It rarely happens. Once in awhile, which is I suppose why I keep hoping, but I should not count on it.) Thus there are some things I need to do to clear space in my at-home mornings: stop waking up slowly over blogs or the crossword, and put that waking-up time to languages, instead, then move on to writing once the tea kicks in. I’ll discontinue the morning yoga classes, both with the chatty teacher and with the nice teacher the morning after my night class (when I tend to sleep late and not want to rush out of the house to go do something).

I’m quitting the third one as well, though it’s in the afternoon. The difficulty there w/r/t timing is fitting in the gym plus a full work-from-home day, and along with front-loading days, I also need to front-load my week. The other difficulty is the teacher’s love of incense. When I talked to her about it, she said brightly, “It’s not incense, it’s wood! Let’s try opening the windows, how about that?” It’s scented smoke that makes me cough for hours. Do whatever you like with the windows; I’m going home rather than expose myself to any more of that. So, yeah, now I’ve spoken about it; but who knows what else is going to crop up? I’ve remained cross about yoga-woo stuff, when I just want to get stretched out.

So back to my own routine at home, preferably in the morning, because it is important, because I feel better after it, because I want to make sure it gets done. Twenty minutes is adequate. Thirty is great if I feel like it. Ten is better than nothing, and what I will aim for on teaching/leave the house early days, with another 10-20 minutes before bed. And I’m going to think of it as my own personalized exercise plan. It has yoga elements, and also stretches I’ve picked up from physical therapists and massage therapists over the years, and some strengthening exercises. Some exercises I hold; for some, I bounce. I know; most people will say you shouldn’t do that, but it’s what works for me. I think calling it a personalized or individualized program will appeal to me.

On into the middle section of the semester. Maybe it will slow down a bit, now; so far, the time has gone super-fast.

You have ONE JOB!

Several big things are now off my plate: the application for promotion got finished in May (I need to make a minor update, but that will take about 15 minutes to fix, save, and send to the appropriate people); the house went on the market in June; the translation went to the editors in July. All of these things are now Other People’s Problems. Committees will review the application; people will or will not want the house, but I can’t make them buy it; the editors will no doubt have queries and corrections, but the bulk of the work is over.

The thing I most want to get done this summer is the last set of MMP revisions. This week, therefore, that will be my One Job. Will one week be enough to finish? Maybe, maybe not. The point is to focus on that one task, and not worry about All The Other Things.

Odds and ends

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.


Burying the lede in a post-break post

How did it get to be Thursday already? Not only that, but the second Thursday post-spring break? I think someone greased the downhill slide toward the end of the term (wheeeee!). I have grading to do (but of course), and yet another editorial query about the MMP to answer (please can this be the last one? Please?), miles to go on the translation (though I am past the halfway point), and visions of my other sidelined projects dancing in my head. I also have thoughts about posts on dealing with trauma around intellectual issues, and on dealing with de-cluttering and de-accessioning Significant Objects, but not enough time to develop these thoughts in writing.

Because the reward for a job well done is another job, I have about seven weeks to complete another large writing and organizing project. My department thinks I’m ready to apply for promotion to Full Professor, and I’m not going to wait around another year just because I have deadlines looming and would like to knock out the last set of overdue revisions and am trying to pack up everything Not Wanted On Voyage so we can move, not to mention keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to make another sudden trip to FamilyLand. I have been writing hard for the last few years, trying to get un-stuck from my long sojourn as Associate Professor, and if the department is willing to support my bid for Full, I am by all the gods going up now, not later.

So either posting will be thin(ner) on the ground for a bit, or there will be lots of it as a self-soothing and/or procrastinatory measure. You just never know.

Spring Break, day 8: bins

Still awesome: sat again, read more of the scholarly book I’ve been working on (am nearly halfway through now), reviewed a large chunk of translation, stretched, did 35 minutes of cardio at the gym. Then Sir John and I tackled the basement together. We filled the garbage bin and the recycling bin, and when I took a carload of things to Goodwill, the nice young man who helped me unload had to bring out a second wheeled bin after we filled the first one. Now I am tired and would like to be done for the day. Sir John is doing the grocery shopping, so when he gets back, I’ll need to help put stuff away, and then cook.

I wish the whole break had been like today and yesterday. That was what I was planning. Had all the days been like this, I think we’d be ready to have the house photographed. As it is, we may still need another week, and that’s if I can get all my professorial work done on campus and spend my home days doing house stuff.

Also, taxes.

At least I paid the bills last night.

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.

At last, August

July seemed like a very long month, perhaps because I was so busy. But the last three days of it also seemed very long, perhaps because I wasn’t trying to do very much, which I think is the secret of extending time. I kept thinking, “Is it still July? It’s still July. There’s some summer left. Wow.” I was surprised both that the trees and flowers were so late-summer looking, rather than early-summer as when I left (i.e., the trip was All A Dream and I was only “gone” one night), and that the season wasn’t even later (I was in Faerie and time stood still, or flowed more slowly, there than here). But here we are, on schedule.

The garden is shaggy but recognizable. Both creeping bellflower and bishop’s weed are making some attempts to return, but these attempts are as yet feeble and so I am pleased that I have made such progress against them. The mulch I spread lavishly before leaving is hosting lots of shoots grown up from bird seed, not to mention now being spread lavishly over the patio, because the beds need some sort of edging to hold the mulch in place. It has clearly been at least a couple of weeks since anyone mowed the lawn, and the shrubbery is growing enthusiastically over the walks it borders. On the whole, though, the garden has held up fairly well.

The house . . . Sir John has nearly emptied the TV room, and presided over some repairs, and moved around Stuff that needed to be moved so that those things could be worked on. Progress has definitely been made. And yet there is still a lot to do. There are more repairs to organize, more boxes to pack, and all the packed boxes still need to leave for rented storage space. I had hoped a lot of that might happen in my absence.

This experience, combined with a party we went to this weekend, have me thinking a lot about order, chaos, and stuff. Things. Objects. I feel like we have a lot of stuff. I am none too good at getting rid of stuff once it’s in the house. On the other hand, I do fairly well at not bringing it home in the first place. The friends who hosted the party have lived in the same four-bedroom house for probably 30 years, during which they raised one child and did a lot of traveling. They are musical and enjoy folk dancing; they read widely; they enjoy cooking and gardening. Every room is crammed with books, CDs, and souvenirs. The music room (probably originally intended as a small dining room), which faces south, has a windowsill overflowing with plants, pictures on the walls, multiple smaller instruments besides the piano, books, sheet music, and more. The family room has three large bookcases (not shelves, multi-shelf bookcases) full of cookbooks, as well as many and varied souvenirs of travels. The living room holds the music library as well as a multi-shelf case of small dolls in various national dance costumes and other dance souvenirs. And so on, with every room. Jet-lagged and needing to be quiet for a bit, I wandered around trying to find a place away from people for a few minutes, and the amount of stuff all over made me feel like there was nowhere to be quiet even when there weren’t people in the room. It’s not really into hoarding territory, by my standards (and my dad really is a hoarder, so I do know what that looks like). The house is livable and safe. But it does testify to a life lived rather than curated.

We also have friends both of whom are immigrants, and whose house shows that they left a lot behind when they came here. Everything is chosen. The furniture is colorful, the walls are white, a few choice objects are on display. It’s a restful house. To be sure, I don’t know what the private rooms are like. I have never seen them. Maybe they’re the house’s Id.

We’re somewhere in the middle. Books are our particular vice. Sir John is untidy and leaves piles of paper around much as a snail trails slime. Cat paraphernalia (beds, toys, scratching posts) also appear in every room. As do the cats, though we’ve cut down significantly there: when we had five, it really did seem like there was another cat everywhere you looked. Anyway, I’m trying to live with the current state of chaos: boxes in the living room, a stack of chairs (which we have agreed to de-accession) in the dining room, Sir John’s piles, my not-quite-unpacked luggage in my study, along with a single box of to-be-packed things that I need to pack. Behind the boxes, I’m beginning to see a pleasingly cleaned-up version of our house: what we might look like if we lived a curated life, rather than one in which Sir John can’t keep up with his mail and both of us are always accumulating more books. I prefer the boxes to the crammed shelves of our friends’ house. I hope there will come a time when we can cut back more on the stuff, yet keep what is important to us.

I guess that’s what this rambling post comes down to: trying to work out what is important. I know, people (cats) and experiences are important, and the rest is just stuff. But some stuff matters more than others, and I don’t like regretting the loss of objects I was too hasty about letting go. Once I’ve lived without some of it for awhile, we’ll see whether I say “Why was I keeping that?” or “Hello, there you are!” when we unpack the stored boxes.

In the meantime, August: balancing the work (finish summer projects, prepare for fall), the house stuff (as above), the life (take a week off and have some proper vacation time). I hope this, too, will be a long month.

Getting a late start

When your day starts late, for whatever reason, do you

A) just skip whatever you would normally have done in the lost hours (like missing school: if you stayed home sick in the morning, you missed history and math, but could get to science and English in the afternoon);

B) do what you would normally have done, but compress the schedule (reduce time on tasks from 30 minutes to 15, or similar);

C) focus on the top priorities, with normal (or near-normal) time spent on these tasks, and ignore the others;

D) have some other sort of late-start or short-day routine that you can put into practice without thinking too much?

Please share! I’ve been having difficulty getting to sleep, and so I get up late, rested but feeling very behind and like the whole day is shot by 8:30 a.m., and then I thrash, trying to figure out where to put my energy. When I start my day early, everything is fine, and there’s enough time, but some days that just isn’t an option. I need to figure out a clear Plan B. Or C, or D.


Spring break, day 1

I’m a copy-cat. Clarissa reported on her spring break, last week, so I’ll do the same this week. The exciting life of a professor on break. I’m sure you can hardly wait to hear what I’ve been up to.

I worked out, bought cat treats, re-tested a new food that I think will make it back into my diet, cooked a meal that will provide leftovers for several more meals, and sorted through five boxes and three bags in the basement. This means I’m done with the nasty ones that got wet and subsequently moldy, following the Great Basement Flood of almost two years ago. Done! Obviously neither one of us was really eager to deal with these boxes. Fortunately nothing crucial was damaged or lost. Most of what I looked at can go into the trash, no bother, and I have managed to save a few sentimental items.

There’s still a lot of stuff in the basement to go through, and either give away, throw away, or re-pack. But the really icky part is now over.

Then I watched a stage of Paris-Nice and stayed up too late re-reading a favorite book, one of Cherryh’s Er-series (ForeignER, DefendER, etc). I love this series because the main character is a fragile, scholarly translator-diplomat plunged into highly dramatic space opera involving aliens, shooting wars, and tense political negotiation. It’s his skill with words and languages that repeatedly staves off disaster.