Random thoughts

  • I don’t like the two matching green pens I found in my desk drawer; they have too thick a line, and the ink smudges easily. Probably I ought to throw them out. But I may leave them in the department office to see if anyone wants to adopt them. Some people like thick lines, or else why would there be 0.7 mm tips?
  • However, in my attempts to color with them, I have established that I need a new and different green felt tip pen. No, really, I need it. A sort of pine green, fine tip. Perfect for flower stems and leaf borders.
  • Here’s someone who seems to have similar feelings to mine about gardens: http://gritsday.blogspot.com/2007/04/success-in-garden.html. But this is in England, 2007. If her gardener is even still in business, he’s not likely to come here. Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time living in the past.
  • For another 36 hours or so, I have no grading to do. This is very strange and makes me feel unmoored.
  • OTOH, I really must get on with a complicated piece of writing I’m working on. That ought to be enough to anchor me.
  • Or I could feel anxious about the need to book flights and some other elements of travel.
  • I wonder what it’s like not to have anything hanging over one’s head to feel anxious about. If I achieved that state, would I start getting anxious about something unbelievably trivial, just because I’m used to having some nagging little worry in my head? Or would I go set up a jigsaw puzzle, visit a bookstore or the library, bake cookies, and settle into a hot bath with a glass of sherry and a novel at some mid-point of the day? (In other words, indulge in my exceedingly tame version of wild debauchery.)
  • Perhaps I should move my desk for the winter. In seasons when there are leaves on trees, I like looking out the window into the treetops. When I’m looking at branches either bare or with a few miserable dead leaves stubbornly clinging, and houses on the other side of the alley, I’m not so happy with the view. I wonder where Sir John’s painting of California foothills (golden hills, olive green live oaks) has got to. No doubt wrapped up and in storage. I’d happily stare at that all winter if I could find it.

Things I have done on a snow day

  • Slept till 8:00.
  • De-iced the bird feeders.
  • Put up an online assignment and dealt with some other online stuff for classes.
  • Added nearly 1000 words to the research document I am working on. Not new words. Old words whose time has come.
  • Edited those words and some others.
  • Graded a complete set of very short papers that didn’t need a lot of attention.
  • Posted at TLQ.
  • Finished and submitted a set of responses for program review.
  • Skulked indoors all day, apart from de-icing the bird feeders, attempting to de-ice some bushes, and taking a picture of damage to the house. I hear exercise is a good thing . . .
  • Sent the picture to our handyman to see if it’s something he can fix.
  • Made a Christmas wish list, mostly books.

Things I expect to do now:

  • Cook dinner.
  • Read a book. I have been reading some extremely fluffy cozy mysteries by Rhys Bowen. The “Royal Spyness” series is like the Mitfords on helium, with a dash of Peter Wimsey doing his silly-ass routine.
  • Stretch.

Saturday morning

  • Wake at 0640 because Basement Cat feels yowly; pull on clothes, go down with BC, let him lick out Glendower’s bowl because Glendower finished his food last night. Make tea.
  • Observe that it is snowing. I had thought I might sweep up some leaves today. Never mind.
  • Sit in front of light box working through Dead Languages, then reading a chunk of a less-dead chronicle.
  • Feed cats.
  • Start cooking my favorite breakfast. We’re out of spinach, but have leftover cooked chard. Cut that up and heat it in the microwave, add the rice, beat two eggs and pour the liquid over the rice and chard. This looks odd. Oh! I should have just broken the eggs into the pan. Did chopping the chard remind me of cutting up potatoes, so I thought I was making a tortilla española? Well, it’s a frittata now. MORE TEA.
  • Cut up cotton gauze for brushing cats’ teeth. Brush cat teeth.
  • Head back to study with tea, to tackle the day’s thrashing exercise. Write-grade-plan/book travel-pay bills-write-grade etc. If I Write First, then I can at least try to soothe the deadlinedeadlinedeadline voices with assurances that I’m working on it.
  • So, as exercise in procrastination, write blog post. It’s a good thing I didn’t commit to daily blogging during November. Still, I’m doing more than I usually do, so let that be a lesson in not letting the best be the enemy of the good.
  • More internet procrastination: read the winter weather prediction, for a colder-than-normal winter here.
  • Draw curtains and turn light box back on. La la la not listening to anyone but my friends the iguanas. It’s always the same weather inside this nice iguana tank.

Things I did yesterday

  • found my travel mug’s lid that went missing on Friday when I was trying to leave Very Early
  • wrote 481 words on the Introduction
  • got an e-mail asking about progress on the Introduction
  • wrote a blog post
  • put in 40 minutes on the treadmill
  • cooked/mixed three things
  • put away groceries
  • went to the library, returned books, checked out books, noticed they thought I still had a book I thought I returned weeks ago, found the book in my car and returned it.
  • read a scholarly essay
  • opened one of the boxes we retrieved last weekend, got out some items, moved the box upstairs
  • went to bed at 10:20

Thinking through a writing problem

I am revising the introduction to the Big Honking Translation. It was originally written by one of my collaborators, but our editors had many suggestions for changes and improvements. I volunteered to do the revisions, but now, regarding them, I’m in the state of mind with which I am well familiar, where I feel like there’s this mass of material that I am only going to make (temporarily) worse by pulling it apart, and I have lots of good bits that I want to add, and I can’t see how to unpack and re-pack the whole mess. I have printed out my outline and the paragraphs I wrote and showed my writing group, plus a few more notes. Sometimes shifting to paper helps.

I think my biggest problem is that I need a very general introduction to the introduction, in which I lay out the major issues before dealing with them in more detail later, and that sort of big-picture thinking is always hard for me, even though I understand that it is what is needed here, and even though an editor has made many helpful and inspiring comments. So maybe I need to make a list-and-gist outline cum rough draft, deliberately messy, in which I collect ideas, sentences, and quotations from the original introduction, from the editor, and from my work, just to gather all the bits that belong in a given paragraph in the same place. Once everything is gathered together, massage the collection till it turns into reasonable prose. Or I could take my own advice and think of the introduction as a series of five-paragraph essays: the intro-to-the-intro; date, author, audience; sources and influences; themes and issues (maybe a double mini-essay); style and aesthetic qualities. The plot summary and manuscript description don’t need much work. The intro-to-the-intro should of course refer to the following sections, so readers know what’s coming. The third option (not so far from the second) would be to work on the inner sections and then write the intro-to-the-intro last, once it’s clear what ideas it needs to pick up and announce.

I don’t like being deliberately messy. Sometimes it’s necessary, but it makes me uneasy. I like writing actual prose. I like knowing what needs to be in a paragraph. That’s why I made the outline I have. Is it not detailed enough? Or did I wander in the wrong direction already as I made it, not even when I started writing (as so often happens) but in the thinking process? The first paragraph starts out well. I think it’s just the last two sentences that get overly specific for this point in the piece, and that have sent me in the wrong direction. One problem here is that I am not deeply familiar with the conventions of the introduction to a text. I know more or less what an essay/article should look like, even though the structure always shifts from where I started. Though related, this is a different genre. Another problem is that I like to write for extremely specialized audiences (talking to Ralph and Tony), whereas in this piece I need to talk to students and scholars who may be interested in this literature but don’t have a lot of background. The problem is not style, as I generally write plainly and avoid jargon, but a question of filling in details and underlying assumptions that I expect Ralph and Tony already know. I may need to write this intro more as my teacher-self than as my scholar-self.

Come to think of it, although I worked on the intro-to-the-intro thinking it could serve as a guide to the rest, really I started there because I was due to give the writing group something and at the time it made sense to begin at the beginning. In terms of what needs to happen now, and given my tendency to get over-detailed, I may be better off working first on the bits where I can develop details more fully (even if some of them need to get cut later), and then using those revised sections as a guide to what needs to happen in the opening paragraphs.

OK. Onward into the middle of the thicket, and then work back out once the center holds.

Where the day went

0540 alarm goes off. I hit snooze and pull some clothing into bed with me so it will warm up.

0545 alarm goes off again, and I get up and dress, feed cats, make tea, boil eggs, toast waffles.

0645 wake up Sir John to say goodbye.

The drive to campus took one hour and twenty minutes, during which I ate breakfast and listened to foreign language radio. I arrived in time to make a second cup of tea before

0830 Latin group.

0930 half an hour of “writing” (actually reviewing an outline and comments on a previous draft, and writing 75 words of notes about what to do.

1000 assorted teaching-prep activities, including answering e-mail from a student who needs a lot of hand-holding. I do some research to figure out what s/he should read, and make general suggestions designed to lead Stu to find these works.

1100 teach in the classroom.

1200 eat lunch and read some of TenthMedieval and the medieval frontiers blog. Translate a sentence of Greek. Wander the building to warm up; encounter a colleague and chat for a bit.

1245 meet with another student to discuss paper draft.

1300 bibliography search: trying to find a suitable critical essay to assign to undergrads; adjust syllabus accordingly; place announcement on the CMS.

1330 take care of some administrative doodah that is due today. Further e-mailing, including forwarding to chair and undergrad director a nice message from a former student who has achieved an advanced degree and a job.

1430 pack up to leave office. Combination of walk/drive/train until I reach home at 1715. On the train, I plan out the week in my Moleskine and start doing a bit of planning for year-end review/setting 2019 goals. I also read 20 pages or so of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, and take another look at the outline/comments from the morning research session.

1715 sort mail, make tea, investigate the whereabouts of cats, feed cats.

1745 eat dinner with Sir John, play a couple of Lexulous moves while he reads me bits out of the morning’s newspaper, which I have not seen at all.

1820 start thinking about how to spend the evening. Probably play with the cats, read some more, take a bath and go to bed early. When it’s dark at 1700, I have trouble staying awake for more than a few more hours.

 

“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.

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.

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.

RBOC summer

  • All is well, or as well as it’s going to be, w/r/t my dad. One of my brothers is learning about the difficulties of figuring out what questions to ask, and of whom. I sympathize.
  • I will be heading to Family Land in August. I accepted that I need to do this and booked the whole trip all in one go this week, instead of hemming and hawing and spending hours comparing different flights and cars.
  • I wrote 500 words today. Or typed them. I wrote a version of them on Tuesday, but today’s typing of that paragraph led to a certain amount of editing. So I’m counting both days as writing 500 words.
  • Am I done reviewing chunks of translation? Can this even be possible? There must be something else that I’ve forgotten to do there. I will be translating that massive text for the rest of my life, I’m convinced. “Done” is a hallucination, or at least a highly temporary state.
  • I’ve been putting together a list of manuscript-related vocabulary for my fall grad class.
  • We’re a week into July . . . yipes . . . I really do need to think about fall classes. The heat wave of a few days ago has broken and the weather is perfect today. I’d love to do something outside. Preferably not weeding, although of course that is always an option.
  • Weeding would arguably be better than cleaning the garage. Bleaching the litter boxes would be better than cleaning the garage.
  • Things I have been reading lately: D. E. Stevenson’s novels. Early novels of E. M. Delafield, available in an omnibus Kindle edition for a buck. Reading six of them in a row mainly convinced me that Victorian child-rearing left terrible scars on a lot of people, especially Delafield. Since her later novels (Provincial Lady!) are more comic, did she get over it? Or just move on? A. S. Byatt’s The Biographer’s Tale, which I didn’t care for; it felt like a cut-rate version of Possession, which I prefer. Also, L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, a romance with a plain 29-year-old heroine who gets life-changing news and starts telling her horrible relatives what she really thinks of them. Plays with romance tropes in delightful and original ways. Rather gushy descriptions of Canadian forests (which completely omit the black flies), but I skimmed those bits.
  • Maybe I’ll do the litter boxes and half an hour of something else useful and then sit outside with sherry and potato chips.