A hole in the literature

I celebrated the start of summer by re-reading most of the Dinny Gordon books (my library is missing one), and then settled in to correct some proofs.

And I thought that I would love to read a book about grown-up Dinny as an archaeologist, correcting proofs for an article about her latest finds or reconstructions, or about her in college. So I searched for “Dinny Gordon” and “fanfic,” and came up blank.

Someone needs to do something about this.

It’s true that there are some archeology blogs, like Old Stuff in Hot Places, and Middle Savagery, which have entertained me for hours (as well as banished my lingering regret that I didn’t stick with my childhood desire to be an archeologist; I am clearly much, much better off in the library than breathing corpse dust). But I would love to find out how Dinny weathered the sixties and seventies, and hear about her experiences in academia, and perhaps even find out what she’s doing now: has she retired, is she thinking about it, or is she determined to stick at her job as long as she can because she loves it so much?

I have other things to write, but I can imagine doing a grown-up Dinny novel as a group project. Any takers? Anyone want to take up the challenge on their own?


Idle Google-stalking is not a good idea

Apart from the waste of time. I looked up a former student . . . who has published more books than I have.

Granted, that is not difficult, since I have not yet published any book. And we’re not talking academic presses, or even well-regarded commercial presses. The student was certainly both talented and a go-getter, or I wouldn’t even remember the name after all this time.

Hrrmph. I shall contemplate the glories of the completed MMP for a bit, and then get back to the Next Thing.

Maybe someone from my past will Google-stalk me and be impressed, and slink back into the woodwork.

Faderman =? McPhee

Also from the Scholars Talk Writing series, Lillian Faderman‘s system sounds very like John McPhee‘s:

“I developed a system when I was writing my dissertation 50 years ago, and I still use it. Before I start writing a book I need to have at least the illusion that I know how it’s going to end and everything else in between.

So first I need to complete most of my research. Then I review all my research notes — which generally takes several weeks — and I decide what will be useful and where in the book I’ll use it. I’ve concocted an elaborate coding system of numbers and letters, which I give to each idea or fact I anticipate using. Then I put it all into a huge outline with key phrases followed by the numbers and letters that will let me locate the material in my notes. When I was working on The Gay Revolution, an 800-page book, I had a 75-page outline. For my Harvey Milk biography, which is about 250 pages, my outline was 20 pages.

But when I finally start writing I veer away from the outline almost as often as I follow it — which is fine. The outline’s biggest purposes are to be a sort of Dewey Decimal System, to tell me where in my voluminous notes I’ll find things; to remind me of the ideas I want to develop; and to suggest their possible order.”

I wish someone would describe the coding system, any coding system, in more detail. I suppose it’s one of those things that is more useful when worked out for oneself, but some insight into a working system would be helpful in creating/adapting one’s own.

Note that she thinks in terms of Dewey Decimal! Once I discovered the Library of Congress system, I never looked back. It all depends on what you’re used to, I suppose.

Writing links

The Chronicle has a series called “Scholars Talk Writing.” Quite a lot of the scholars (and creative writers) talk about writing for a general audience, which tends to make me cross, because I write for a very specialized audience and I’m not apologizing for that. But I liked some of the pieces quite a lot. Anthony Grafton on patience:  a writer needs “to learn to be patient enough to wait until you have an idea of where you want a piece to go.”  Ruth Behar on revision: “I’ll go through this revision process several times. What I usually discover is that I’m not done when I think I’m done. There’s always more revision to do.”

I loved Helen Sword on the various ways we have of approaching writing (not a single “right” way): “Not only did very few of the academics I talked with follow the recommended practices; many of them actually reported engaging in behaviors that the writing guides explicitly warn against, such as ‘binge writing’ or writing only when they feel like it. . . . Successful academics don’t necessarily write every day, but they’re constantly strategizing about how and when they’ll get their writing done. They don’t necessarily consider themselves to be ‘stylish writers'” but they care deeply about wordcraft. They don’t necessarily enjoy every aspect of the writing process, but they relish the challenge of communicating complex ideas to others. These core attitudes and attributes remained fairly constant across nearly all the writers I interviewed.”

When Reading Is Doing

It’s Saturday morning, sunny though cold, and I have loads of things I could pick out to do: stretch, go to the gym, pack/de-clutter, grade (the current batch of papers look quite good; this will not be a purgatorial task), work on my application for Full, work on The Last Overdue Revisions, color while the light is good, play with my kitties, futz about on the Internet (oh wait . . .), and what do I do? Put together a bibliography for an article I want to write, on a text I’m teaching, a text that hasn’t received enough attention IMHO. I’ve ILL’d one essay, and I can get several others in hard copy at my library, and there’s one book I’m dying to get my hands on that may require a field trip because there are about 7 copies in the world and they don’t circulate.

(Another obsessive un-answerable question: why are there not copies in UK depository libraries, when it was published in the 20th century in London and copies are supposed to go the BL, the Bod, and CUL? Did someone not send them? Did someone not catalog them? Are they somehow catalogued by something other than author and title? I have poked around in the online catalogues, and I do know how to use them, and this book does not turn up. My lawful-good-J side is deeply disturbed: something went wrong in the book world. I tell you, were I not an English professor I would need to be a Literature Detective.)

Someday when I’m futzing about online I really should create a blogroll. I spend quite a bit of time reading blogs by delightful-sounding women who enjoy food, crafts, gardening, restoring old houses, and similar pursuits that I prefer reading about to doing. Despite all the well-meant advice on the Chron fora and similar places about Getting A Life and Pursuing Hobbies Outside of Work, what I really want to do, what I get excited about and spend sunny Saturday mornings on, is reading, researching, and writing. I’ve tried the gardening, restoring, crafts, and so on. They sound like fun. The results look good. But I just don’t get fired up about things I can do with my hands. Except write, which is manual labor, as Colette said.

I have other projects I need to finish right now, so this putative article will go on The List (I have learned the hard way not to get distracted by the New Shiny). Someday I will get to it, and my future self will be happy to have the core bibliography assembled and some basic thoughts outlined. Maybe next spring, when I hope to teach this text again.

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.

Day 7: finally awesome!

Finally, a day on which I both felt well and did not have any social or other commitments.

I even woke up extra early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I started the day soon after six, always a bonus. I sat, the first time in ages; may it augur well for future mornings. I read a section of the scholarly book I’ve been working on, stretched, studied a little of a dead language, worked through a large hunk of translation and uploaded a chunk, and did a little tinkering with the copy-edits of the MMP. Alas, the document I received earlier in the week was not, in fact, proofs, but an earlier stage in the editing process, with a few requests for further citations and details. (Once I felt that I could not quit this project; now it will not quit me.) I visited a library to check one of these references. I got my hair cut, went to the bank, bought vitamins, and visited the gym. I have added the library reference and sent the document back to the editor . . . who is out of the country on a research trip. I am envious. But at least I’m back to the MMP being on someone else’s desk rather than mine.

I still need to pay bills, rather urgently now. Maybe this evening while we’re watching more Enterprise.

The MMP and some thoughts about lists

If you thought I was done with the MMP, you’d almost be right. I finished it. And then I did revisions, and put together the huge honking bibliography, and wrote an abstract. I was asked for more revisions, and I have just finished those and sent the thing off again. I hope not to see anything more about it until I get page proofs.

After a brief look at the last round of revisions, I thought they looked very manageable, and spent most of February not-doing them. That is, I was constantly aware that I should be working on them, and always found something else to do, partly because there really are plenty of things to do, and partly because I am so tired of hacking at that Octopus. A few days ago I untangled one of the most gnarly paragraphs, a Frankenstein’s monster of a paragraph that had pieces from two or three different iterations smashed together (and I’m not sure how it survived my last re-write, but these things happen). This morning I spent four hours not-working on the MMP: some productive procrastination, and some pure online sulking/avoidance. In the end, the actual work took the two hours I thought it should. I just . . . I don’t know. I think I was afraid of finding some enormous glaring mistake or omission if I looked at my essay again.

Anyway, done. And now I can do taxes, or grade, or some other useful thing. Ugh. I wonder if I procrastinated this morning so that I could do One Main Thing with my day, rather than cramming in many many useful pieces of work. The one-item list is so clear, so focused, so satisfying. I like getting big things done: sending off a submission, grading a whole set of papers. Many tasks have to be chipped away at, over time, and some of them feel like death by a thousand paper cuts. Even though I have plenty of evidence from my own work and life that chipping away over time produces results, it never feels as satisfying to say “I have done today’s stint” as it is to say “I am DONE.”

Some things really do have to be done all at once. Painting the basement stairs, for example, which I did a couple of days ago. Who’s going to paint one step a day?

I had a bunch of stuff on my February list that I realize is just not likely to happen until summer. It’s important, desirable, useful life stuff that I’m never going to get to while teaching, writing, translating, doing (or not-doing) tax prep, and getting my house ready to sell. Something has to give, and it is going to be those things.

Writing rituals, crankiness; “Are you paying rent?”

I like writing (or translating) early in the morning, before other people are up (or expect me to be available), mainly for the sense of uninterruptable time. If I can get at least a little done early, and then leave the document open on my computer, I can often add a little here and a little there, later in the day, even with interruptions. The work stays “present” in my mind, if I have that morning foundation. Changing venues also helps with moving from “interruptable” to “not available to anything but writing.” One semester, I got quite a lot done in the afternoon by moving to a coffee shop some distance from campus, before returning for office hours and a night class. A colleague once showed up and expressed interest in what I was doing, and I pled an imminent deadline so as not to have to talk.

A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail message about a book, or maybe it was workshops, I’m not sure, called “Shut Up and Write.” Wow. Really? You think I’m going to respond to an unsolicited message that rudely suggests that I’m talking instead of writing? I get enough rudeness from real people around me, thank you just the same. It’s true I often need to quiet the voices in my head in order to write, but I have found that treating them patiently and kindly is much more effective than being rude and impatient.

Writing is hard, I wrote in the last-linked post, because “to do it, you have to sit down and be quiet. You stop rushing around juggling tasks, stop talking to (and listening to) students, fellow committee members, partners, children, friends, and you try to turn off the task list in your head that says ‘grant proposal, answer e-mail, laundry, what am I going to wear tomorrow, what’s for dinner tonight, a cookie would be good right now, how many papers are left to grade, overdue book, gosh this room is a mess.’ Once you get quiet, anything lurking at the back of your mind will come out. It may be sadness, disappointment, anger, worry, even excitement about a good thing; but it will come out and try to get your attention. The Thing in the Back of Your Mind does not like being ignored or told to shut up. Well, really, who does? So it gets louder, and it calls up all its friends and supporters, like the Mean Censor and Self Doubt, so they can all gang up on you. The most concrete current Things are in some ways easiest to deal with. You tell them yes, this is a serious problem, and you are going to call the insurance company as soon as you have put in this half hour writing. Assure the Thing that it will get your full attention in its proper turn. This politeness will usually get it to ease up for 30 minutes or so.”

I still subscribe to this theory. Be kind to yourself. I guess if you need to be told to shut up, or need to treat your voices that way, then that’s your thing; do what works. But it’s not going to work for me any more than lighting candles as a pre-writing ritual. I don’t like scents, I don’t like smoke, I once had very long hair (fire hazard), I still have cats (fire hazard), I really do not understand the whole candle thing: candle-lit baths, for example, though I love baths; you can’t read by candlelight. Oh, hey, yesterday I did drink sherry in the bath while re-reading Protector in the middle of the day, and I did not drown in a drunken stupor; in fact I got out after an hour and did some work and some grading. It really was very nice.

So, I’d love to have a ritual to help me write . . . or would I? Actually, I think I’d rather be Julia Cameron and just “drop down the well” any time I have a few minutes and a blank page. Or an already-open document on the screen. I think I’d like a mantra or motto that would help me close the mental door on Things that want attention, or people who don’t actively need attention but who annoy me and take up mental space. Maybe ask if they’ve paid their rent, since I don’t like to let anybody take up my mental real estate unless they’re paying their way. There we go. I have written my way to a new mantra. “Are you paying rent here?”