Sources of inspiration

Grumbles and procrastination clearing; forecast offers a chance of further improvement.

A lot of my grumpiness has to do with facing a very old R&R. I want to be done with it. I wish my past self had just done it right away. But when the reviews came in, my past self was struggling with the MMP, and then the series editors put both feet down about the Huge Honking Translation, and what with one thing and another, including my promotion application last year, years have passed. Not without efforts toward the R&R, but now this is one of the contributing factors: I have layers of notes and outlines to review as I try to figure out what the plan was, and the mass of material is daunting.

Since I finally spent an hour re-reading these, I’m feeling more like tackling the thing and getting it over with.

I’m also looking over my shoulder, suspecting that making the effort will (by Sod’s Law) bring down the Translation Editors or some other type of interference with the work.

Yesterday when I was procrastinating/looking for inspiration, I found a couple of helpful posts. One is from a gardener. The advice sounds a lot like any planning process, but it’s useful to see that people in other areas have the same problems and solutions. Here’s what Jen in Frome says at https://doingtheplan.com/2017/04/21/planning-and-doing-the-plan/

  1. Do Stuff. Take small steps frequently to get more good things thriving . . . . Lots of little things done each day adds up to a lot done over the month.
  2. Review. Note down what was done and when, and keep observing and thinking about what’s working out and what’s what’s not.
  3. Plan. Check what’s done so far against what’s hoped for in future, and set out a few next steps to get a bit closer to your goal.

Another is Kameron Hurley on working through fear and writing fatigue, here: https://www.kameronhurley.com/lets-talk-creativity-fear-losing-magic/ Hurley says, “Much of the time I feel I’m spending “writing” is actually time I spend feeling guilty because I can’t write, or because I feel that what I’m writing is utter shit. That’s not “writing” time. It’s my time with The Fear. So much of my writing time has been taken up talking with The Fear that I couldn’t figure out why shit wasn’t getting done. It certainly felt, emotionally, like I was working REALLY HARD. But arguing with your fear isn’t working. Feeling bad for not working isn’t working. Being angry about not working isn’t working.”

Yes, and no. Arguing, feeling bad, and being angry are certainly a lot of emotional labor. Doing them doesn’t necessarily “work,” as in, make it possible to get back to work. But it doesn’t help to pretend The Fear isn’t happening, either. I wound up negotiating with mine. I put on the music I usually use for grading, spread print-outs all over my desk (so I had to see them), and set a timer for ten minutes. That was all I needed to get into the task. When the timer went off, I was annoyed and immediately re-set it for 25 minutes, and made a lot of progress in that time. I needed the short time to start, though, because 25 seemed like way too much time for demon-fighting.

Am I embarrassed about having this sort of work problem, still, again, at my stage of career? Hell yeah. I also hope that admitting to it, publicly if pseudonymously, may help some other people who might be having the same problem. You can get past it. Sometimes you can go years without The Fear. But it’s also a thing that comes back with the right triggers, the right combination of factors, the wrong encounter with someone who pushes certain buttons. The only way I’ve ever found to deal with it is Virginia Valian’s: make the task smaller. As small as you need to. Ten minutes. Five. And be kind to yourself, because the piece of work is not really the problem. It’s all the emotions that have got tangled up with that piece of work. They might be big things that need therapy, or they might be ghosts of something you cleared up long ago, or they might just be bad habits.

If it’s not a good day, if The Fear is happening to you, if you’re procrastinating, give it five minutes, write down what you did in that time, and come back to the thing tomorrow. That’s all. Five minutes, and a note about what you did in the time.

Diary of an academic lady trying to sell her house (1)

Since Undine said she’d enjoy it . . .

In March, order tickets for all-day event in Our Quaint Village. In April, Real Estate Agent decides to take advantage of traffic to Our Quaint Village for all-day event and schedule Open House for that day. Raise eyebrows but Sir John decides we can Make It Work, so agree, and make Plans accordingly.

In May, Plans come unraveled due to being poorly following misguided polite acceptance of dish containing onions while at luncheon with a friend (friend seems sceptical re low-FODMAP diet, in general; mem. consider whether this means one must affirm Courage of Convictions before eating with this friend, or if one should rather avoid any occasion involving food and plan Healthy Walks or similar instead). Am not in condition to prepare house before the day of the Event and Open House; husband, being Vampire, is neither up early On The Day nor did he prep the night before (probably due to consideration of poorly self trying to sleep, as is very Considerate vampire).

Thus find ourselves and House finally ready two hours after Event starts, and one hour before Open House. Query: shut up cats early? Go check in for Event, then return at once to incarcerate cats? After quarter-hour discussion, decide to trap cats, since now have only one half hour before we would have to do so anyway. Venture forth to check in and begin our Day Out. Long Lines ensue. After two portions of Event, once again we have not enough time to begin another, nor is it quite time to return home to release cats. Telephone Agent. Return home, consult briefly with Agent (eight groups visited Open House, more than ever before; question is whether they are Looky-Lous or truly Interested), send Sir John out for the breakfast he did not have time for earlier, restore litter boxes and release cats. Thunderstorm begins.

Sir John returns home, decides he is not up for any more Event. Having spent whackload on tickets, I return to Event. Thanks to storm, lines now much shorter. Determinedly complete my Day Out. Drive home, exhausted and damp, and put feet up to watch last stage of Tour of California. Sir John says if ever have similar conflict in future, refuse to schedule Open House. Own view: if ever eat something I ought not two days before Open House, cancel same.

Awesome idea, plus some whining

Apart from going to Mass every day (or at all), this sounds to me like a fabulous vacation, and I am going to try to do something like it after the semester is over:

https://lafemmefollette.typepad.com/lafemmefollette/2016/06/castaway.html

 

I have ideas for at least two substantive posts but I still need to Do All The Things even though I am nearly done with one Enormous Thing (style-check of the Huge Honking Translation), and I just don’t have the time/brain to engage with blogging ideas. I found a wonderfully soothing, repetitive loop of classical piano and cello on YouTube that was exactly what I needed to keep my monkey-mind distracted, or do I mean focused, both/either/whatever, while I read through 150 pages of translated medieval text. Only another 50 or so to go! Starting Tuesday I’ll be able to see if the music works for grading as well.

Please tell me I am not the only sorry procrastinator who still has not taken tax-related stuff to the accountant. But if you file E-Z on the 15th don’t tell me, we need the accountant and at this point I am procrastinating in part because I feel so guilty about giving them more last-minute work. I have a stack of documents. I have the checklist from last year. I can do this.

And then the rest of the Things will not seem so bad. Right?

Calm

It will be so much quicker to just do some of the things I have to do than to start having feelings about them (ugh, don’t want to, why can’t someone else on this committee do more, why didn’t I do this last week/last month, why am I so slow, guilt, too many things, gah). So I’m declaring this morning a no-feelings zone.

Yesterday I saw a colleague who has been dealing with a perfect storm of deadlines for months now. She is usually a fairly calm person but has been performing stress lately, including complaining about having spent the whole of spring break working. I said I’d worked throughout it as well but also had spent a lot of time at the gym, reading, etc. She asked if I had deadlines to meet and I said oh yes, they whooshed by. She said she was losing sleep over hers: “I’m neurotic that way.” I laughed and said, “Well, I’m irresponsible that way.” She thought we should be combined into one person.

I don’t agree. I’d rather be me. She has accomplished more than I have, in less time, it’s true, and I do have a little envy of that. But I’m being responsible to my health, and if I don’t do that, I won’t be able to work at all. So I have a lot of days when I don’t get that much done (and waste time and energy having feelings about that “failure”), but I hit the gym, and go to bed early (or as soon as I can), and try to set myself up for a better day tomorrow.

And this is tomorrow, so let’s see what I can get done before the next round of House Stuff and the afternoon gym visit.

Fantasy schedules

I don’t remember the chain of links that got to me to these posts about working out a template for when you will address which tasks. Of course I love reading this kind of thing; it’s great procrastination fodder, and I do try to work out some such schedule for myself. It’s just that I’d like to see a schedule from someone whose life bears some vague resemblance to mine, instead of to what Pacheco admits is a very privileged position (and what to me sounds like total science fiction): a teaching load of 1-1-0, low service commitments, and five research assistants.

I have a similar reaction to someone who only teaches on Wednesday, and has office hours on Thursday.

Someone who admits to “lost hours” between classes and that preparing for class can take four hours sounds more recognizable.

None of these people spends seven hours a week commuting, or else they’re working during their commute. They also claim to be able to just shift one sort of task to another slot if they really have to schedule something else during a slot intended for work.

It would be pretty to think so. Usually I have a limited number of “good” hours to work with on a particular day, and if my awake-and-energetic time goes to something like wrangling contractors or a doctor’s appointment, I’m not going to do quality work later in the day.

Why, yes, I AM cranky because the whole morning went to House Stuff. What was your first clue?

Day 5

The break is accelerating, definitely, and Day Five was another day on which I was productive yet did not do all the things I intended to do. Possibly this is an exercise in figuring out how much time things really take. Possibly I should stop doing crossword puzzles between tasks.

Anyway, yesterday, day five of the break: I struggled with a tricky Greek passage and made excellent progress on the introduction to the translation. All that remains is to sort out a couple of paragraphs based on my own original research and overly compressed by the author of the first version of the introduction.* I brushed the cats’ teeth, which I try to do twice a week; since the beginning of the year, I’ve skipped only once when we were at home, so yay me, and yay cats for putting up with it. I went out and bought paint, stain for the front porch, a light bulb, and some other household items. I changed the light bulb. I walked about three miles. I did a little more cooking, and went to a Wednesday-night gathering with friends.

I did not do any grading or tidying-up/putting away of Stuff.

I was of at least two minds about that gathering. Staying home and going to bed early seemed like a good idea, as did staying home and doing something crafty and useful**, or cooking something fun***, or doing some tidying up. OTOH, even when I’m not teaching on Wednesday nights, I often skip because I’m too tired, so it seemed like a good idea to go while I’m on break. Furthermore, it seems really pathetic to go through all of spring break without any social plans whatsoever. So I went. This is a regular gathering of people who know each other from another activity; how much I enjoy any given night depends on who is there, and that is unpredictable. When the quiet people I like are there, we all sit around like companionable cats and it is very nice. When the loud people I don’t like are there, several l.o.u.d. conversations happen all at once, my ears start ringing, and I huddle under the bookcase in a corner wondering if the loud people will leave before I have to. I am a cat without whiskers or tail.

Last night was a loud night.

So on coming home, I needed some quiet time to decompress, so I was up late, slept badly, and Day Six is not getting off to a super start. Gah.

Today so far I have done morning pages (an irregular activity but good for re-aligning my brain, or chakras, or whatever the hell the woo-woo people re-align), sat around reading blogs and drinking tea, messed around with bits of cardboard, cloth, tape and a stapler, and started tidying up. This mostly meant spiraling around the house: card table and stepladder went to the basement, special box for special vase came up so vase could be packed, then the box went back to the basement; assorted things from the ground floor moved upstairs, items from a drawer moved to a box, books moved from one room to another, and I packed up my SAD light and took it to the basement, one of those important seasonal markers.

Things that still need to happen today: gym workout. Catch up on two days of Paris-Nice before Sir John leaves for an evening with his friend. If I’m very focused, this might mean I have two hours left for work. Or clearing away clutter.

I swear I will not fritter it on crosswords, but I can’t promise not to return library books on the way to the gym and find myself lost and imprisoned in the stacks before finally staggering to the exit.

*I thought I might do that this morning but the day is getting away from me.

**Done this morning instead, because I had that bee in my bonnet. It may need further attention, but the basic idea works.

***Likely to happen tonight, since Sir John is going out and I can putter on my own.

More brilliance from the past

In my remembrance of things past via visits to defunct (or merely suspended? like the Seven Sleepers, perhaps the right impetus will awaken some bloggers) blogs, I have been relieved when some writers actually quote large chunks of text from other webpages, rather than just linking. Links, sadly, break. Thus, having found a clear exposition of Z’s amazing and admirable process in comments at Undine’s, I’m copying and pasting here. I’m not this hardcore, but I agree about the need to think, and that writing before you have thought is “just stewing.” That is, sometimes I write to help myself think, but I have to be very clear that that is what I am doing, and not have any expectation that any of those words will be good, keeper words.

The rest of this post is Z, not me:

*

People say just write, write, write and this will make you see what you are doing. Through the so called process of writing you will figure out what you mean, they allege. I think that is completely crazy, at least for my case … writing is just stewing and will only ruin your thought process unless you have already decided what you are doing. Until such time as your first line comes to you unannounced, and you know what the content of your last paragraph is going to be, you are much better off just meditating as far as I am concerned.

If I do that, all I come up with are a whole lot of great first pages. I could do that for months and even years – and HAVE done it for that long sometimes – and never finish a single piece.

*

My most classic example of this, to which I have alluded before:

When I was in college and graduate school I had a typewriter, not a computer. (In college and through my Ph.D. exam it was a manual one; for my dissertation I bought a self-correcting one by Olympia.) For all papers I kept handwritten notes and would then write directly on the typewriter, no revisions. My dissertation director couldn’t believe my dissertation draft, she said it read like a book, how could this be, but she would have just DIED had she known I had composed it directly like that. She had been yelling at me because I had said I was only writing one page a day, with Sundays off, and would write the whole thing that way in a year. She nearly fainted when this turned out to be true.

Of course in order to be able to do that I had to sit around and think about it for several months first. It took seven months to come up with a dissertation prospectus. Then it took ten months to think. Then it took nine months to write, and four months to have the committee read it and then for me to enter it into my very first computer and print it out on acid free paper. This adds up to 30 months during which I also moved to a new country and took a full load of graduate courses in a new subfield, in a language I was not (initially) very proficient in.]

*

This methodology is the only one which works for me, and/but I warn everyone that even it only works if one is actually working on one’s ideas (not stewing, not rushing, not worrying, but WORKING) in a calm, organized, but *concentrated* way in the meantime. That is what will, in good time, make a first line come into one’s head … and one knows it is the RIGHT first line because with it comes the content of the last paragraph.

“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.

Reframing

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.

An era ends

We’re done with the translation. It’s going to go to the editors this week. No doubt they will have queries and corrections, and at some point there will be proofs to correct (I love correcting proofs because they STAY DONE), but that’s all just fiddly bits. We have in fact finished.

I haven’t blogged that much about this project, though it appears regularly in various writing group posts, because it has all been fairly straightforward work. Find the right words; decide what elements need footnotes; for the intro, describe our methods and the manuscript, and sum up what is known about author, patron, date, and so on. The translation has never made me struggle with figuring out an argument, stating it succinctly, and supporting it appropriately without wandering down some by-way of digression, all the elements that give me fits when writing articles and chapters. However, because we’re translating a very very long medieval text, and working as a team each with individual interruptions and other projects, it has taken years to complete. Longer than I anticipated; but not so long as one of our editors jokingly suggested back in the beginning.

Although there have been periods sometimes amounting to months when I have done no translation work, it has assuredly been part of my mental load throughout the whole process, and I have often felt guilty about not getting on with it. Now I can put down that nagging feeling, and enjoy the feeling of achievement (keeping in mind the inevitable queries and proofs; must not over-schedule self this year such that dealing with them will produce overload).

Possibly NOW I can really do what I always say I am going to do, and work on one thing at a time until that thing is done. And read. I have another very very long medieval text that I bought at K’zoo this year, with which I would like to get acquainted. I am not going to write about it. I have a list of projects to work on already! Just read.

I promise.