Productivity advice

Do the thing you really want to do.

I decided that I will go to a conference that I love but whose timing is terrible, and started working not on the paper I thought I could easily put together but on the one that I really want to do.

Once I started doing that, I also graded an entire set of papers over two days, and finished taking notes on an ILL book that would not renew, adding about 1500 words to my annotated bibliography. Would I rather be doing “real writing”? Well, yes, but it is worthwhile to have thorough notes on ILL books, and it keeps me in touch with the project, not to mention allowing me to return that book so that I’m not blocked from further ILL requests, so win-win-win.

Having been wildly productive in the past six hours, now I am going to go work in the garden, then go for a walk to un-kink my back (inevitably kinked after significant garden time), cook, and watch something on TV with Sir John. We are spoiled for choice right now: old cycling, new Durrells, or new-ish Discovery episodes. Such an exciting life I lead.

Actually, there was a bit of excitement earlier this week: I had a tiny dinner party! Mid-week! A friend was in the area and suggested dinner, and I countered with an invitation to dinner chez Hull. It was lovely. It made me feel so . . . sophisticated? Leisured? Socially active? Like my memories of Lady Maud’s father, who often hosted guests (fascinating, varied, intellectual, artistic) to dinner at his family table, and not just on weekends. Like I was living the life I meant to have, instead of the one I wound up with!

It also helps that I’ve two nights of entirely adequate sleep in a row. What a difference that makes. Long may it continue.

Teaching Statement

Bottom line: people like to make their own mistakes.

Academics probably know what I mean by my title phrase, but I’ll explain it for others: at intervals (applying for jobs, for tenure, for promotion), we have to write about our approaches to, and beliefs about, teaching. For external audiences, it’s useful to hit some buzz-phrases: student-centered, meeting students where they are, scaffolding assignments, bringing research into the classroom. (I have no objection to any of these ideas; depending on what and where you teach, they are all some combination of reasonable/ desirable / necessary. As Jonathan said awhile back, clichés are idiomatic and easily understood, and when writing for administrators, you want to make sure that they know you know what the currently important ideas and techniques are.)

I like teaching. I’d even go so far as to say that it is a significant part of my identity. Or rather, being a professor is significant. I enjoy talking with students about literature, and providing them with techniques for analyzing literature, so that they learn how to see what a writer is doing besides just stringing words together, so that they learn that discussion and writing for literature classes isn’t just a lot of hand-wavy bullshit. As I am a decent literary critic, so also I am a decent critic of other teachers. I don’t mean that I offer everyone feedback, but that I note in my head what people are doing well or ill. Yesterday I was at a dance workshop with a teacher who was an excellent dancer but lousy at conveying in words what he wanted people to do. His main technique was demonstration. I could tell he thought in patterns and movement, but had trouble translating that to language. For me, he was not a good teacher, because that is not how I think.

I have no ambitions to be a dance teacher, or to give instruction in any field other than the one I’m paid for. Sometimes I consider, as a retirement job, teaching English as a foreign language, or tutoring children in math. Such jobs would use the skills I have developed over the course of my professional career, rather than requiring me to pick up new skills. They would give me a place to go, people to talk to, when I am no longer at LRU. But I don’t feel that I need to teach, or that I have any special knowledge or wisdom to pass on. There are dozens, scores, hundreds of people who could teach the topics I do, and many of them would no doubt do it better. I tend to think up-side down, to start at the deep end and work back to the first principles, and most students want to start at the simple end and only gradually complicate matters.

As my grandfather got older, he became more and more taciturn. He figured younger people didn’t want to hear an old man bore on about how things used to be. He did, in fact, have a lot of useful specialized knowledge, some of which he may have passed on to my brothers, about working with wood and metal, about growing food and fixing things. None of this came to me, a girl; if he had any expectations here, it would have been that my grandmother would teach me to sew, knit, tat, embroider. That didn’t happen either. What did get passed on is his taciturnity, his tendency to talk only when asked a question. I consider the classroom a question: when I’m there, I’ll lecture or direct discussion, as necessary. Otherwise, I don’t think I have anything special to convey to anyone. My life lessons are just that: mine, for me. Things change, the world moves on; what would have been good advice when I was 25 no longer applies to someone 30-some years younger than I am.

So this post seemed very foreign to me, though I can certainly understand the urge to Do All The Things (and look, I got a whole post of my own out of thinking about it). “I’ve been working for oh, 25-35 years . . . and I’ve accumulated some knowledge, maybe even a little wisdom, and there is SO MUCH that I want to teach . . .” It’s certainly useful to be able to break down processes and think how to do them efficiently, correctly, well. But this observation, from the same post, is more where I sit: “she’ll figure it out on her own, and with luck, won’t make the same mistakes I made. She can make new, different mistakes.”

Even if they are the same mistakes, they will be new to her. Mistakes are part of the learning process, and part of building a life. I may well have made some of the same mistakes made by my parents, and my grandparents too. But my reactions to them were mine, and my fixes were made in different circumstances, so it wouldn’t have done any good to have been warned.

To be totally consistent, I would now erase this post. Go do your own thing; there’s no point to reading my meanderings.

Still summer

At least, by the calendar.

August has always been the month that feels most transitional to me, the month in which I am aware of the planet turning, the stars shifting toward the winter layout of constellations, the trees displaying the deeper green that presages autumnal colors. Even when the weather is still hot and humid, I can feel the year sliding toward the equinox and shorter days. The light shifts; though the days are still long, dawn comes later, sunset earlier. I have one more quick trip to make before classes start. Then, in some sense, summer really will be over, although often weather in the first few weeks of school is so hot that it feels like summer is in extra innings.

I have not been so present on the blog, this summer, as I intended to be. I thought I’d do a lot more Six on Saturday posts, to mark the time I’ve spent on the garden, and more writing inspiration posts, to cheer myself on with various projects. The list of other things I’d hoped to do this summer likewise still has various items unchecked. The house has not sold; we will not be moving yet. A new course I will teach next spring remains only very sketchily planned, whereas I had hoped to get it more fully developed. A revise-and-resubmit continues to hang on my computer like an albatross.

On the other hand, I have finished final edits on the Huge Honking Translation, written a conference paper, planned fall classes fairly thoroughly, done a lot of gardening, watched the all of the Tour de France as well as the Tour of California, read all of a scholarly book I’ve wanted to read for a couple of years, read quite a lot of light fiction, and drunk a respectable amount of wine. I’ve visited family, traveled to a place new to me, and am about to spend a few nights in my native soil (like one of nicoleandmaggie’s partners, I need that every so often to keep from withering away). By objective standards, it’s been a good summer. I may manage to hack off that albatross soon, and I can keep chipping away at the new-course planning. The house, well, maybe it’s time to bury St Joseph in the front yard.

As for the year’s turning and growing darker, this is probably the moment to plan a trip next December or January, while I’m aware that I will need it, but before I start feeling that I just want to hibernate and it’s too much like work to organize travel.

Grading and grumpy

The title really says it all.

The papers are actually quite decent, and I’m making steady if not swift progress. Getting through this batch is my main task for the day, and I’m on track to achieve that. The view from my desk is attractive—the apple tree is leafing out, I can glimpse red tulips by the garage, and a pair of cardinals in the apple tree continue the red/green theme—and now that Sir John is up, I can add music to distract my monkey mind and keep the front-of-mind focus on the papers. There’s no good reason to be grumpy, and I think the main problem is that I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up, and around the time I was finally hitting the point where I get a few good, deep hours not long before sunrise, Glendower wanted to come in the bedroom, and an hour after that, Basement Cat wanted out. Grumble grumble cats grumble.

I’m going to go for a walk to clear my head/reward myself for the six papers done so far, and then come back and tackle the rest. Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting right now. I’ve been thinking about life narratives, introversion, and professional orientation, but this is not the time. The next two weeks are all grading and conference paper writing.

Write the swyvere down (redux)

A movie. I ran across a reference to it recently (blog archives? a more current post? newspaper??): a couple are in, or go to, a big city (New York?) and solve an old, noir-ish mystery. My impression is that the outer story is a rom-com and the inner one is noir. I thought it might be good for one of our friend-group’s Noir Movie Nights.

Why didn’t I write it down? I was no doubt in the middle of something else, and thought I could find it again easily. Does this very vague plot summary sound familiar to anybody? A fun recommendation from NicoleandMaggie, or a comparison Undine made?

Updates on other topics:

Taxes: I sorted out all the tax stuff and delegated the delivery to Sir John, so I didn’t have to face the beleaguered accountants myself (Sir John is enough of a guy not to have guilt hardwired into his autonomic response system). And I wrote in my calendar for next November “pay retainer to accountant” so they’ll know to expect us. I love that this is possible; it’s just that when they send us the form to do it, I say “Oh, the tax checklist” and put it aside unopened, instead of opening it and taking action.

House/cats: We’ve shown the house again. Result: Reina spends all her time lurking on bookshelves, fearing that food is only being offered in order to lure her into humiliating and terrifying captivity, since we crate all the cats during showings. Maybe I should increase her Prozac dose.

Weather/garden: it’s probably warm enough that I could rake up all last year’s leaves/mulch, but now it’s rainy and windy so I still don’t want to go out.

Grading: I have six sets of papers due in April. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I’m halfway through the set that came in on Monday, however, since I have grasped that if I don’t keep up, I’ll go under, so maybe the trick to grading fast is in fact to overload myself. I don’t think I want to plan to test this idea next term.

The not-awesome class: I’ve been having conferences with this group about their next paper and despite their silence in class, everyone so far really likes the book we’ve been studying, and most of them had at least some notes or a vague idea about something they might like to write about, so this was encouraging.

Substantive posts about books and writing and interesting things: you weren’t seriously expecting that, were you? If you get one, it’ll be because I’m deep in procrastination mode, or else because it’s mid-May.

 

A week of spring

But how is it already a week since I posted?

Spring is moseying along thinking about whether it really wants to show up or would rather just turn back, go home, and put its fleecy pjs back on for a Netflix binge. There are more birds. They perch on the roof next door and taunt Reina, who chitters at them. There are snowdrops and crocuses in other people’s yards, not mine. Some other bulb flowers have stuck leaves above ground, in my yard, but that’s all. I considered raking up the leaves/mulch from last year, but we’re still supposed to have some below-freezing nights in the next week, so I think I will wait.

One of my classes is still awesome. The other, well. I had them sign up for conferences about their third paper, and lectured them a bit about making the most of the opportunity by doing a little work beforehand, like at least decide which option they want to write on. And check the instructions for the paper, because I am not giving them instructions just to make them jump through hoops, I am telling them how to do well on this paper and exactly what I am looking for if they will just read the instructions.

I mean, I can explain it to you again but I can’t understand it for you.

I once had a massage therapist who told me that in Chinese thinking, spring is the angry season. Works for me. Of course, then I need some excuse for my mood during the other seasons.

Sometimes I look at spring clothing online or in the catalogs that still show up in the mail, and consider this dress or that shirt, and then realize I don’t want to buy anything new, I want it to be warm enough to wear the spring clothing I have.

Lots of the bloggers I read post recipes they have tried or devised, or about meals they have enjoyed. Sometimes I enjoy these vicariously but more often lately I get cranky because I can’t eat that, can’t eat that, can’t eat the other thing either. It seems like some people travel to eat. I travel to look at things, because architecture, paintings, and scenery don’t make me sick.

I am making progress on some of the things I need to work on rather than having feeeelings about (mainly guilt) but now my feeeeeling is omg there is so much of this no wonder I didn’t want to do it because this is going to take so long. That is, I absolutely should have started sooner, but now the only thing to do is keep slogging along because It Is Not Going To Get Any Earlier, and the best I can do now is Don’t Make It Worse.

Usually this is the sort of thing I say to myself in February. Hey, April, are you going to be bringing warm days and a burst of energy? Come on, girl, we could use you over here. Take off the pjs and put on a flowered dress, you’ll have a good time once you get there.

Day 4

It’s going too quickly. Day four was productive, but I definitely did not have time for all the things I wanted to do. Or maybe the problem is (at least in part) energy levels, or attention management (another great Undine concept), rather than time as such.

Things I did: made progress on the revisions to the translation’s introduction with about 1.5 hours of work, in which I cleared comments on maybe 3 paragraphs—it’s hard to gauge progress, since fixing one footnote can take an hour or more as I look things up, and other comments are quick and easy fixes. Graded six papers. Parsed and translated a hunk of Greek. Went to the gym and put in 35 minutes on the treadmill. Cooked for Sir John. Watched two hours of Paris-Nice, commentated by Steve Schlanger of the twang and Christian Vande Velde; they’re good on the action but have nothing to say about the history, architecture, or cultural significance of the towns and countryside through which the race passes. The camera would linger on a chateau, I’d say “Tell us about that chateau!” and they’d go on talking about the riders and race techniques. I miss Paul and Phil. They made the European cycling races a multi-faceted experience, with their deep knowledge of France. Maybe Steve and Christian will get there. Maybe NBC will hire someone who does know the countryside. I know Paul’s family and friends miss him far more than the fans do, but all of us feel he went much too soon and want more time with him in our living rooms.

Plans for Day Five are pretty much more of the same, except I have to get to some of the House things I didn’t do yesterday: buy more paint, buy a replacement light bulb, take some things to the basement, box up other things, tidy everything in sight.

Day 1

It was pleasant and reasonably productive, in a low-key way. I wrote up two assignments for one class and blocked out the letter, thus doing about 1.5 of the “other three things.” My future self will thank me for the extra assignment. For that class, I need only one more assignment, and two more for the other class. Those would make good “productive procrastination” tasks this week.

As for progress on the real “Three Things,” I fixed two footnotes in the translation introduction, downloaded one set of papers and looked online at the thesis statements from the other set, and paid some bills and did a little cooking. I’m trying to start small, and build on these small steps. Even though the House element was routine rather than anything that really moves us toward re-listing, I’m counting it as useful deck-clearing.

Some fun things, since it is after all break: re-reading a couple of chapters of Tremontaine, season one in the tub in the afternoon (Note to self: put later seasons on birthday list), and watching a couple of episodes of Discovery with Sir John. We’re now ten episodes into Season One. I find the show a strange combination of boring and disturbing. I suppose this is a ramped-up version of my usual reaction to Star Trek series (soothing and exasperating).

I also made an attempt at reading a library book that I pretty promptly gave up on. It seemed promising (fluffy academic mystery), but the plot was all cliches, and while that’s fine if they’re handled with panache and wit, they were not. I particularly object to the trope in which the heroine is reunited with The Boy Who Broke Her Heart When She Was Sixteen, whom she has Never Gotten Over. Unless there is something very wrong with you psychologically, by the time you are in your 40s and have been married, you have recovered from your teenaged heartbreak and know something about how adult relationships work. Your reaction to seeing That Boy again might be “Huh, what did I see in him?” or “Well, now that we’re both grown up this might be worth re-considering,” but I cannot believe you have been carrying a torch for 30 years. Also nearly everything the heroine wore or decorated with had lace on it, so I both wondered what was up with the lace fetish and felt that she was really not my sort of person. I used to find it hard to give up on books once I started but no longer: Life’s Too Short is a useful motto in all sorts of situations.

Day two is starting with feeling jet-lagged, thanks to having trouble going to sleep last night combined with springing forward. I plan more baby steps, and a vigorous gym workout. Day three is going to start early, with work being done on the latest house maintenance problem, so I need either to sleep tonight or be prepared to deal with tomorrow on insufficient rest and lots of tea.

The day before spring break

That is, yesterday.

Far too much talking to people: colleagues, students, mentoring of colleagues junior to me, meetings, blah blah. Came home feeling that I Cannot People Any Longer.

Students. Both my classes had papers due last night. I required the lower-division class to have conferences with me: bring a rough draft, a thesis statement, or your notes, I said. The assignment even offered sample thesis statements that they could use without altering, so that the essay would be plug-and-chug (an exercise in developing topic sentences and providing support). Well. One student signed up, then blew off the conference completely, did not respond to e-mail. One let me know he couldn’t make his appointment. One, a junior, actually brought a very decent rough draft. All the others—ten or so—came in with various degrees of “I don’t know what I’m going to write about.” People. On Wednesday, you still had two days, so okay, sort of. On Friday, when your paper is due in 12 hours, don’t you think you could at least look at the assignment sheet while you’re in the hallway and pick a thesis statement?

In contrast, three of the upper-division class came in voluntarily. One even came twice, with different versions of her paper, and a most admirable ability to de-couple writing from ego. She’ll go far. That whole class is a lovely group of people and I enjoy them so much.

All week, I’ve been looking forward to the break and thinking about Dr Medusa’s description of the Spring Break Professor House: “Do they still have the MTV Spring Break beach house or party house or whatever? If MTV were to do a Spring Break professor house, there would be a lone dishevelled woman in strange outfits (which I, like many of my comrades, tend to wear when I write), books and papers everywhere, a bored chihuahua, maybe something like The Maltese Falcon on the television, and several bottles of red wine in various states of fullness–one on the desk, one by the bedside, one by the table. Every once in a while in the MTV Spring Break Garret, the dishevelled prof would rouse herself from the laptop, put some Led Zeppelin or Violent Femmes on the iPod and dance wildly. Then it would be back to the writing.” This sounds great to me. Substitute cats for chihuahua and sherry for the red wine, and I’m there.

I just have to do Three Things in the next week: translation, grading, house. That’s it. Three things.

Um, except then I remembered another Three Things: letter, assignment, taxes. Dammit. So maybe this morning I will try to knock off at least a couple of those, and say that I’m still on the Day Before Break, until maybe noon, and then I can start my Spring Break Professor House Party with Three Things.

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.