Blogroll

I have finally created one.

It’s an alphabetized jumble, without categories for academics, ex-pats, writers, gardeners, readers, travelers, or friends-of-blogfriends, and some of the blogs haven’t been updated for awhile. Nonetheless, I recommend their archives and continue to hope that their authors will return to regular blogging, or at least give annual updates, or something. As a somewhat irregular blogger myself, I’m in no position to criticize!

Done! (Again)

I have finished re-writing the introduction to the translation, and sent it off to my collaborators for editing. It may well need cutting: it has doubled in size, in my hands. I think I have responded to all the concerns the editors had with the earlier draft (written mainly by one of my collaborators), but I don’t know if they hoped to keep it shorter than it is now. Since my last post about writing in 2018, I added another 4000 words, although a lot of them moved in directly from earlier drafts, and a significant chunk was a quotation and translation, the base of a piece of explication de texte. I probably wrote around 1000 from scratch in the last three days.

I’m sure there will be more work on this project. Comments from collaborators, comments from editors, queries from the press. Someday, proofs. We’re not done-done. But I am definitely celebrating this particular step in finishing off this project, and I am looking forward to getting back to things that have been long set aside in its favor.

So happy new year, and happy work on new/old projects, whichever you’ll be taking up!

End-of-year writing reflections

Finally, this year, I have managed to keep up my writing spreadsheet for twelve months! I started this method of keeping track at the end of 2015, but in 2016 and 2017 I forgot about it during the summer and never resumed making entries. My research journal records some word counts for the months in which I was not using the spreadsheet, but I also use the research journal to “park” projects that have to be put aside, to work through problems that come up, and to do certain kinds of free-writing or data recording, so it’s a bit of a job to go through it looking for word counts.

Leaving aside the writing I did for my promotion application, the spreadsheet shows that I wrote about 18K words in 2018. This seems about right, as a lot of the work I did this year was on the translation (recorded as lines translated or reviewed). I’ve written two conference abstracts, a sort of place-holder document for an essay I hope to write in spring 2019 (maybe), done some work toward a set of revisions that I have repeatedly put aside because of more pressing deadlines, and, most recently, re-written the introduction to the translation. That is, I’m still working on that last, but the end is now in sight. I’ve also reviewed two sets of proofs; one of those articles is now in print, and the other will appear in 2019 (sigh . . . annuals).

For 2017, I recorded about 6000 words of writing before I forgot about the spreadsheet in June. I wrote far more than that, because that was the year I revised the most complex part of the MMP, which involved adding 3000 words and 25 footnotes to the beast. The way I work, that 3000 words probably started as at least double that number. In 2017, I also revised the article that came out this year, under pressure from an editor who is also a friend. I wouldn’t have done it without him leaning on me, because I was very worried about my aged father, but that work provided a very helpful counter-irritant to the family drama.

One thing that helped me keep up with the spreadsheet this year is that I set it up for the entire year in advance, rather than doing a month or so at a time. It probably also helped that I did not travel in summer 2018, so that my work habits didn’t suffer any large disruption or shift in place. I did neglect it during June, when our house was first on the market and I was also often feeling unwell, but my personal journal shows that I did keep working on the translation that month.

The spreadsheet is a means, not an end. It’s better to write and not keep track than to obsess about tracking at the expense of writing. Some years, the research journal is probably more helpful than a spreadsheet. There’s a lot more to research than just writing words; there’s reading, taking notes, planning, outlining, mining online databases, transcribing wills written in Secretary Hand, to name a few activities. I do have columns for “pages read” and “other” in my spreadsheet. I like the spreadsheet because it shows at a glance where my research time has gone. (I’m wondering if it might be similarly helpful to start one for teaching duties. I often put off grading because I just don’t want to get started; seeing blocks of days on which I’ve done nothing might motivate me to get on with it.) I like the research journal because re-reading it often gives me good ideas, or reminds me of old ones.

I’ve set up two years’ worth of writing spreadsheets, so now I’m covered for 2019 and 2020 (2019 is fully formatted; 2020 just has the basics, for now). We’ll see how it goes. I still have a bunch of things hanging around that I would have liked to have finished by now. But I am going to get back to my book in 2019. The two conference papers I am going to give are planned as parts of one chapter, although one of them could be a spin-off: we’ll see what happens. That “maybe” article is about a text I’m teaching this spring, so I’ll see what I can do about the article while I’m talking about the book with my class. If I make some progress and then put it down again, that’s okay.

I never feel that I am as productive as I would like to be, but the evidence shows that I’m making progress. Long-term projects are gradually coming to completion, and smaller ones also are getting done. Jonathan’s idea of mediocritas has been very helpful to me. Sometimes it’s frustrating to keep chipping away and never feel that there is much progress, but 18K words is a lot of words: even if they have to be boiled down to half that, that’s a substantial article’s worth right there.

 

 

 

Bah!

Humbug.

The great thing about Christmas is that once the 25th rolls around, the hoopla is over and normal life can resume. I could use some normal life. I went and visited my family for nearly a week, as soon as exams were over, so I was still grading, and I managed to do a little writing each day as well. Sometimes only a sentence, but I did something.

Then I came home and stopped writing for nearly another week. I don’t know how that happened. A dab of jet lag, getting up later in the morning so I didn’t have my preferred early morning writing slot; determination to re-establish a gym habit; assorted small distractions that really are no excuse. Really I think what happened was that I needed to recover from the family visit. I spent a lot of time reading novels, doing crosswords, and working on a jigsaw puzzle, all prime self-soothing activities. I wrote six single-spaced pages about my father and the one brother I saw during my visit. I saw him for an hour, total: can one person be that irritating in one hour? If it’s my Brother Less Reasonable, why yes, yes he can. I keep reminding myself that I have had far more therapy than he has, that I can understand what is going on and feel compassion, that I need to keep in mind my goal (our father’s care) and not get distracted by petty complaints about our father’s character.

Unfortunately, doing all that emotional labor tends to exhaust my store of patience for dealing with Other People, so that I get snappish with people at the gym, and impatient with my mother-in-law’s political discourse. (Seriously, what is it with people who can’t stand the current president and yet talk about him all.the.time? Anything, anything else would be preferable. Explain the rules of football to me [again]. Talk about the Kardashians. Your favorite television shows. The iniquities of handymen and plumbers. Anything!)

Today there will be no Other People. That is, my gym will be open for another couple of hours, so if I get my act together I could go work out and hope not to run into anyone annoying. But I could just spend the whole day at home and not see anyone except Sir John and the cats. Since I’ve finished La Belle Sauvage (A, looking forward to next one), Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (B: okay but will not go on with the series), and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (not so satisfying as I remember; question: to teach or not to teach?), I can go on to Pedro I El Cruel y Enrique de Trastámara, which was supposed to be my winter break project (research plus language maintenance). I could give up and look up the answers for the crossword puzzle I’m stuck on (far too many names of TV and sports figures) so I can fill it in and go on to another. At some point after Sir John wakes up, we will exchange presents, and then maybe go back to the jigsaw. I cooked yesterday so we will eat leftovers. As usual when writing has been not-happening, I feel like I ought to Write All The Things, but let’s set the bar low: one sentence on the Overdue Thing, and some polishing of an abstract for a conference submission, and then I’ll have re-started.

If you are celebrating today, then I hope you’re enjoying yourself and don’t feel like murdering your relatives. If you’re not celebrating, then I hope you’re having a peaceful and productive day.

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.