I’ve been writing in fits and starts today – not in a bad fits and starts sort of a way but just in a “I need to write a little and then think, and then write a little more” sort of a way. I’m deep inside the first chapter I’m drafting in this book project of mine (not the actual introductory chapter, which I will do last), and I for the first time actually believe that I will have a solid and complete rough draft of that chapter by an actual date – in this case, by October 1. Now, let’s emphasize that this draft will be rough. Ultimately, I will return to this draft and polish the writing, tease out the ideas, add in more support from secondary sources (because, for example, I haven’t been integrating all of my secondary stuff in while I’m drafting, because I’m really trying at this point to just focus on my argument and my interpretations), but the theory will be there, and the primary source analysis will be there, and my argument will be there. Actually, my argument is already there. Now I’m at the place where I’m showing my work, but the argument is there.
Anyway, I think the reason that the writing has been going smoothly this week… well, there are a few reasons. One of the big reasons is that I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week thinking about teaching. As much as I’m grateful for this sabbatical – and believe me, I am, and it’s been really, really good for me – I think that thinking about teaching helps me as a researcher. If I’m too much in my head – too much in the research place – I lose sight of the fact that the scholarly side of things is about actually communicating with other people. That the sort of scholarship that I like to read teaches me something, and so really, I can think about writing as just a different kind of teaching, and that takes a lot of the pressure off. But a lot of times, I’m in my head. And then I can’t write because I don’t know why I’m writing. And I think my ideas are dumb, and I think there’s no point to any of it. Except here’s the thing: there is a point to what I’m doing. And it translates into what I’m going to do once I’m back in the classroom, and it translates into my broader ideas not only about my discipline but about what a university education should mean, ultimately.
See, this is the thing that pisses me off when people act like research is this thing that should be reserved for fancy types at fancy research universities, as if every other college professor should just shut up and teach and not worry about pesky things like having ideas. I am a better teacher because I remember what it’s like to learn stuff. Doing research is about continuing to learn stuff. This isn’t to say that top researchers are always better teachers or something that stupid. Obviously that’s not always true. But to say that we can just take intellectual inquiry and separate it off from teaching seems really fucked up to me.
But anyway. Why am I thinking about all of this and also thinking about the whole kindness to oneself thing? In my head the connection between the two is very clear, but I’m having trouble getting this blog post there. I guess it’s this. When I just let myself think. When I just let myself think and write. Without the running monologue about “what’s the point” and “this is stupid” and “who do I think I am” and “how dare I think,” etc., and when I let myself work in fits and starts without yelling at myself for working that way, and when I am basically just kind to myself, recognizing that I might not be doing any groundbreaking scholarship here and I might not be getting the most possible things done and I might… oh… whatever I might or might not be doing…. but when I shut off my own voice, and when I get out of my head, and when I’m just kind to myself, just nice to myself – that’s what makes me make progress.
All of that is counter to how I experienced research when I was a graduate student, and quite frankly, that often meant that I wasn’t excited by my research and I stopped knowing how to be a whole person when I was doing research because being a whole person would have to mean that I would have to take a break and be nice to myself every now and then. And I just didn’t think – and wasn’t led to think – that one could do research and be a “real” scholar if one was an excited person and a whole person.
So anyway, I’m working. And it’s awesome. Seriously: I am not constantly whining and disgruntled. I just normally am busy writing real stuff or reading real stuff or thinking about real stuff when I’m not whining on this blog🙂