Archive for the ‘Blah blah blah writing blah blah’ Category

I haven’t had much of anything to say to anybody lately – blog-wise or otherwise – because my summer has been The Summer of Writing.  Oh, sure, there has been some great hanging out with friends, VERY limited dating (for I have no energy to correspond with new potential suitors what with all of the legitimate writing I’m doing), some workplace shenanigans (though also very limited because IT IS SUMMER AND I AM WRITING GODDAMMIT AND STOP BOTHERING ME), and some drama with Mr. Stripey (URINARY TRACT DISEASE 😦 But I caught it early, it seems, and he should be just fine now that he is eating $5,000,000 cat food, which of course the Man-Kitty is eating, too, because there is no way to easily separate them, and it’s not like the fancy food will hurt the Man-Kitty).

But anyway, writing.  What am I writing?

1. Motherfucking narratives for promotion.  Which let’s note, are NOT AT ALL PLEASANT TO WRITE.  I mean, sure, I am just writing about how awesome I am, but the whole genre of “really sell yourself because you need to convince people except don’t be a braggart!” is not an easy genre.

2. My book manuscript, which is coming along slowly but surely, though I wish that I had more time.  I am at that point where I see the whole thing in my head and it’s just a matter of getting it down and giving myself time to refine it.  I am fairly confident that I can have the book proposal with two totally polished chapters sent out no later than July 15.  I’d be able to have at least that part of it done sooner than that, but….

3. I have had to interrupt work on the book for a conference paper I am giving about a work by a Notoriously Misogynistic Author (whom I love, even though it’s wrong to love dead people who hate you because you have lady-parts).  I am very excited about this conference paper, which also connects to the MLA paper that I will give in January.  And which I think will probably be my next book project if I can ever get the current one motherfucking finished.

4. And then I had to do some revisions on an article for a collection that finally is under contract and that will appear in 2015.

So I have been super stressed out, actually, in spite of the fact that it’s summertime and the livin’s easy.  More stressed out than I have been during the summer since before tenure for sure. And so, like, my mom or friends from afar will call, and they want to “catch up” and I’m all, “I’m just writing” because I really have nothing else to report, and then, because they think it’s the right thing to do, they are like, “so how is it going?” and then I get all, “FUCK YOU AND HOW DARE YOU ASK ME THAT AND DO YOU WANT ME NEVER TO WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN?!?!  DON’T YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T ASK ME THAT?!?!” and then they are all, “you shouldn’t be so stressed out, it’s not good for you,” and I’m like, “OH REALLY?!?!?! HOW EXACTLY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE MOTIVATE THEMSELVES TO DO WORK THAT NOBODY CARES ABOUT?  THAT DOESN’T HAVE ACTUAL DEADLINES AND THAT MATTERS TO ABSOLUTELY NOBODY?!?! DO YOU THINK I AM WHERE I AM BECAUSE I JUST RELAXED AND TOOK IT EASY?!?! DO YOU THINK THAT IS HOW PEOPLE GET BOOKS WRITTEN AND BECOME FULL PROFESSORS AND PRESENT AT INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES?!?!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!”

Sorry for all the shouty capital letters.  I never have actually said all of those things in so many words or in shouty capital letters – or, well, maybe to my mom – but those are all the things I feel when I respond, “Oh, writing is slow but it’s fine, and I’m just a little stressed out,” or, “Yeah, I know I need to take some time for myself and make sure I relax,” or “Sure, I know I can really get everything done.”

The fact of the matter is, while I intellectually believe that I can do all of the things, that doesn’t make the process feel any less fraught.  I just feel pulled in a lot of different directions.  And no, I can’t just shut all humans out of my life (as my mom suggested might help, and for which suggestion I yelled at her) for the summer because I actually get more nuts if I don’t regularly engage with humans, and getting more nuts stops me from producing anything (as I learned when I tried that approach during the initial phase of my dissertation writing).  So, I’m just trying very hard to keep everything in some sort of happy equilibrium, and I’m for the most part succeeding.

One thing that has helped is I’m regularly going to my local (non-$bucks) coffee shop to do writing stuff.  Now, this is a VERY yuppified coffee shop, and since I go in the morning, what I typically encounter there are very slim, very tan housewives who do fitness walking together every day and then stop by for coffee and then talk about dieting.  Given my research, it’s PROFOUNDLY WEIRD. Oh, and men who are clearly on their way to a business meeting rush in and get coffee, too.  But a coffee shop is a coffee shop, and the music is very Tracy Chapman meets Bon Iver meets the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, so it’s all very soothing.  And the space is very light and bright, and I always get to work at a big table, and because of the acoustics of the place it is both noisy AND not distracting.  (I know not everybody could work under those conditions, but I am a person who has more trouble in silence and who also has trouble writing in my own home unless I start the writing elsewhere, so this is perfect for me.)

So anyway, that’s the dealio.  You will next hear from me after June 30.  I hope you all are having less stressful summers than mine!  Tell me what you’re doing!

Read Full Post »

I’m sure lots of you, if not all of you, have seen this take-down of Slavoj Zizek for being a Giant Jerk Who Says Rude/Insensitive/Terrible Things About and To Students.  I’m not going to write a big, long post about this, but I just want to put it out there that I find Zizek a delight.  I thoroughly enjoy reading his stuff, I enjoy teaching his stuff in my critical theory course and find it incredibly useful to teach him, and I have seen him speak and it was probably the most memorable, educational, and enjoyable academic talk I’ve ever attended.

I certainly don’t think the Crisis in the Humanities is the fault of Slavoj Zizek, a dude that most people castigating him don’t seem to know much about. They don’t seem to have a familiarity with his work or to have even known existed before this brouhaha (check out the comment thread of the piece to which I linked).

I find Zizek useful for my scholarship, in spite of his flaws.  Kind of like how I love D.H. Lawrence’s novels in spite of the fact that he has some peculiar ideas (to say the least) about sex and women, or how I appreciate Ezra Pound’s poetry even though he was a fascist.  Does the fact that I can find value in the work of these yahoos provide an excuse for the horrible things they have thought or said?  Nope, not at all.  But I am comfortable with being critical of the person while at the same time acknowledging the value of their intellectual and/or artistic contribution to culture.  I don’t look to theorists or authors or celebrities or artists or whatever to be “good role models.”  I mean, seriously.  That’s awfully reductive, no?  Anti-intellectual, even?  This reminds me of a colleague of mine who said T.S. Eliot should not be taught in any college classroom because he objects to Eliot’s politics.  I feel like those sorts of assertions have more to do with the Crisis in the Humanities than any blustery bullshit that Zizek spouts.

In other news, I am back to my book project with a vengeance and it turns out that writing comes easily when you buckle down to actually do some writing.  I should have two chapters revised and my book proposal done before I go to Italy, and I should be able to get the whole manuscript ready (should somebody want to see the whole thing) by September 1.  Yes, this is ambitious, but I need to be fucking done with this idea.

Now time to clean up around the house and get ready for Talking about Ideas and Drinking Wine with CC later.

Read Full Post »

I have returned from my conference, which was wonderful and enriching and inspiring and so productive. I have found the introduction to my book, as well as the path forward to completing a draft of the manuscript, I have been inspired by the work that my colleagues around the world are doing, and I am fuzzily contemplating a next book after this one is all done.  All in all, I really, really needed what this last long weekend gave me.  But it was also a weird weekend in many, many ways.

Why weird?  Well, for the first time it was clear to me that I am officially well beyond “junior.”  And that was a really bizarre feeling, but I realize that probably I have been that for a while, and yet I hadn’t realized it.  My saying this might seem disingenuous, but I promise, I’m not being falsely modest here.  Yes, I know that I’ve been an officer and president of an allied organization of the MLA, but I was pretty crappy at that, and it was a small organization.  And yes, I published a book, but it was not with a fancy press at all.  And yes, I have a good few essays published, but they are, for the most part, in non-fancy venues.  I teach a 4-4 load, and my record reflects that. Seriously: I’m nobody special.  I’m just a person who says yes to things and who tries, in what limited way she can, to contribute.

But anyway, this feeling that I’m this non-entity, this babe in the woods, stretches back a long ways. See, my whole life, I have always been on the “young” end of things.  I started kindergarten as one of the youngest kids in my class (August birthday right before the kindergarten cut-off), and progressed in P-12 accordingly, as one of the youngest ones. That meant getting a job later and driving later than other people.  And then I finished college in just 4 years, so the gap widened… by the time I graduated from college at my regional state university, I was running with a cohort that was 2-3 years older than I was (if not more – given the non-traditional student-friends I’d made).  I didn’t take any time off between undergrad and grad school, and I went straight through to the PhD, so at that point the gap widened again, and my “peers” were typically 5-8 years older than I was, if not older, and I also went to my first conference when i was just 21 years old, and I was a TOTAL baby in that context, both to the advanced graddies there and to the proffie people whom I met.  And then the gap became a giant chasm when I got my tenure-track job ABD, making the vast majority of my colleagues and people with whom I socialize a good 10 years older than I was at minimum.  (Seriously: some of my colleagues, including the person who was my official pre-tenure “mentor,” have been at my institution longer than I’ve been alive.)  In spite of the fact that we’ve done a lot of hiring in the past decade (for, in truth, I started this job a full decade ago this fall), I have just one colleague – who was only hired three years ago – who is younger than I am, and only by months.  My point here is that I basically view myself as a little sister who is doing marginally important things, if they are important at all.

Combine with this the fact that I typically see myself as sort of an invisible scholarly entity, partly by virtue of the institution at which I work (which is fine, but it certainly is a Very Directional State type place that doesn’t have much, if any, of a reputation for scholarship, and which does virtually nothing to support scholarship in the humanities) and partly because I just don’t typically think much about myself as being super important in terms of the scholarly conversation in my discipline.  Yes, I do scholarship, and I care a lot about it for my own reasons, but really, who else does?

It turns out, a fair few people care about it.  And so that was my first weird thing of this conference. I would introduce myself to a new person, and that person would be like, “Oh, you’re DR. CRAZY.”  And then they would either pause in awe (in a way that I vividly remember doing when I would meet people whom I’d cited in my own work as a graduate student – in a way that I still do when I meet people whose work is especially fancy in my brain) or, if they were less star-struck, they would start talking to me about one or the other of my publications, or, if they were VERY FANCY, they would just say they couldn’t believe they hadn’t met me yet, as they know my name, blah blah blah.

Now, I’m still pretty sure that some of this – especially the “I know your name” stuff – was politeness.  But to be fair, there was no reason why anybody needed to pretend they knew my name if they didn’t, so maybe I should be a little more impressed by that? I don’t know.  The point is, for the first time in my career, I’m apparently a Person of Note, which is super freaking weird.  The most dramatic of these moments was at the conference’s opening reception, when I was chatting with a friend who, in the context of this conference, is infinitely more important than I am.  A woman came up to us, and I didn’t know the woman.  I just assumed she was coming to talk to Important Friend (as I suppose she shall now be named).  But no!  The woman interrupted to introduce herself to me!  And she wanted to tell me that she thought that what I wrote in my book about Infamously Sexy Author (ISA) was the best thing she’d read about him, and she wanted to tell me that I must come to ITALY next summer to participate in a symposium about ISA!  And then when I figured out who this stranger was, I realized she was a person whose work I admire greatly!  And then later that night, while still hanging with IF, another person was all, “Oh, you are you!  I am so glad to meet you! I am from Italy and I have cited you!”  (Obviously I’m paraphrasing).  The point is, apparently, I am a PERSON.  What. The. Fuck.

And so this leads to the second weird thing.  I have officially reached the point where I am “old” and “mid-career” to graduate students.  This is profoundly weird to me, as I don’t think I’m far enough along to be that, though apparently I am.  Now, part of my confusion about my status has to do with the way that I interact with my own students and former students.  Yes, I kick my students’ asses, but I never see myself as very different from them, particularly once they have graduated.  And I’ve befriended a fair few of my former students, so I don’t feel too far removed from them.  But I am now officially the person at a conference who “gives advice” to the graddies, as opposed to socializing without hierarchy with them.  WHAT?

You know what’s strange? The fact that other people think I’m important when I so decidedly don’t think that I am.  What’s also weird is that I don’t see myself as an authority when the little graddies surely do.  I think that this is what it means to age in this profession, especially when you’re not some Fancy Person at some Fancy Institution.

I have a lot to say, actually, about the aging of the profession and the casualization of academic labor, and the impact of that on scholarship, particularly feminist scholarship, things I’ve thought about because of my experiences this weekend.  But now is not the time for that as I’m jet-lagged and I don’t have the energy for a big treatise on anything that isn’t totally self-absorbed.  But seriously: can I finagle Italy next summer?  Preceded (ideally) by The Netherlands, and preceded by that by Chicago?  Indeed, that’s my goal.  Even though all of that plus MLA (I was accepted for a special session), which is super expensive?  Even though I’m at a regional institution that doesn’t support research even as it expects it?  The good news is that I am done with my car payment next month, so I can save that money, but dude – who does three conferences in a month?  (I really, really want to.)

Read Full Post »

Today was a very productive “writing” day, although no formal “writing” happened.  I realized that in order to go forward with the chapter that I’m working on I needed to go backward and think about and face the book-as-a-whole.  I’ve been avoiding facing “the book-as-a-whole.”

My first book, which emerged out of my dissertation, was a much “tighter” project, even though the shape of it in some ways looks similar to the shape of this one.  Ultimately, I had a very narrow scope for what I was trying to achieve, and so I knew where I was going pretty much from the very beginning.  Yes, there were “discoveries” throughout the process – threads that I pulled together – but ultimately, in composing each chapter, I was mapping a particular theory onto a particular literary text in order to arrive at an interpretation of what was, really, a very limited thing.  And so it wasn’t, actually, scary to look at the project as One Big Thing.  I knew what I would find when I did that.

With this book project, my process has been less deliberate and a hell of a lot messier.  Now, part of this has to do with the fact that I now understand, in a way that I did not in writing my dissertation/book what a “book” really is.  I’ve read a lot more critical books from beginning to end, for one thing, and I also have been through the process of bringing my own book to publication.  Another part of why this process has been different is because other than when I first began, during my sabbatical, I’ve had to squeeze the book into my other professional obligations piecemeal: I haven’t had the luxury of time that I had during graduate school, and I haven’t had the luxury of the kind of single-minded focus that one has during one’s graduate training.  Let me note, I’m not at all complaining about this: I think it makes my ideas richer, in some ways, that I’m not so imbedded in my original field of specialization, and I think that working in this way is actually allowing me to do more interesting work (at least I have hope that this is the case) than I did in my dissertation/book.

But because I’m trying to work on the “first” chapter, I sort of need to know where I’m going to end up in the “last” chapter, if I’m writing the book I want to write, which I don’t want merely to be a a loose collection of disparate chapters around a general idea, but really a work of theoretically oriented criticism that hangs together as a cohesive and coherent whole.

And because the project has been evolving since I first pitched the topic (having done no work on the topic prior to said pitching) in my application for sabbatical in 2009, I needed to reckon with the fact that what I’ve been writing, and the ideas that I’m most interested in throughout what I’ve been writing, don’t really match what I initially had set out to do.  I mean, there is a relationship – this isn’t a completely different book – but it’s not the book I’d initially thought I would write, and probably nobody but me could see clearly how the book I’m apparently writing has emerged from the idea that I originally had.

But so anyway, I faced that particular scary task, and I was able to a) write a paragraph in which I was able to articulate the three linked objectives of the book-as-a-whole, b) articulate – again in writing – the major theoretical apparatuses that I’m engaging in order to flesh out those objectives (and this was tricky as the theories I’m engaging wouldn’t necessarily seem like obvious choices to bring together), c) discover that I’m going to jettison one particular set of ideas, which are super-interesting to somebody, but which don’t actually fit with the objectives that I outlined that I am trying to accomplish, d) finally confront the thing that I’ve known for about two years and have been willfully ignoring: I can’t do what I’m trying to do without Motherfucking Heidegger.

And then I spent about 5 hours reading Heidegger.  Which is why I need to shut off my brain.  (Confession: I actually really dig Martin.  But it is totally possible to dig a Theory/Philosophy Boyfriend and to be afraid of him at the same time, and also to find him overwhelming once you decide you’re going to date him.  See my past relationships with Immanuel, Michel, Judith….  Oh god, and SLAVOJ!  I mean, seriously.)

But so anyway, I need to stop reading and I need to stop thinking.  And yes, I even need not to write anything else down, because frankly, I need to get another 5 or so hours in tomorrow and the next day and every weekday possible from now until the end of summer, and I can’t afford to burn myself out because I can’t shut off my brain and then lose two weeks to those shenanigans.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

In other, somewhat related news: the first chapter focuses primarily on a text on which I wrote my first ever published article.  It seems that, 1) this first chapter is about the exact same topic as that first ever published article, and 2) I now violently disagree with the general premise and interpretation that guide my first ever published article.  Awkward.

Also: am I only ever going to be interested in like the same three things, in general?  I mean, the literary texts change, the theories change, but at the end of the day, it seems that I keep coming back to the exact same questions, with only minor variations.

Finally: it might be another year before I’m ready to actually send this book manuscript out for review.  I think admitting that is important to the process, sort of like it was important to my dissertation process to have my adviser tell me off when I wanted to jump the gun and defend 9 months before I was actually ready to do so.  At least now I can tell myself off?  But man, it sucks not to be as close to done as I want to be.

Whew!  Ok, I feel better now.  I’m going to go have a glass (or three) of wine.

Read Full Post »

So the semester is done, I am back to my Happy Place of Summertime Happiness, and all is well.  Of course, this also means that I am committed to getting back to the Writing Place of Summertime Writing, which is, in a word, exhausting.  And scary.  And maybe not quite so simple as “oh, I’ve got all this time!  Of course I shall meet my goals!”

But so I had an epiphany in the shower today.  (See title of post.)  There are many things about myself as a writer, and as a person who is able to motivate herself to write, that are great.  I am content to draft and to revise.  I outline.  I am good about editing to others’ specifications in order to get a piece out for publication.  In other words, I’m not especially a perfectionist, and I’m pretty content to put the “good” (or “good enough”) before the “perfect” (as if such a thing exists!).  I don’t labor over sentences, nor do I hold tight to sentences, or paragraphs, or even whole pieces of writing, as if they are brilliant jewels to be honored and cherished.

But what I discovered this morning, mid-shampoo, was that in spite of all of these admirable writer-qualities, I do have a problem, and it’s a problem that’s really reared its ugly head since the advent of The Dude.  The problem is that while I’m very good at all of the above, I’m not very good at keeping going even in the midst of… complications.

Here is what I do.  I come up with a plan for writing, a schedule for accomplishing things.  (This is good.)  I make deadlines for myself, and then I make a set of “real” deadlines as a back-up.  (This is also good.)  But what I also do is I try to hold myself to working from beginning to end – ish.  It’s not that I always work in a totally linear way, I don’t, but whatever the “big chunk” is – a conference paper, a chapter, an article – well, I can’t really move on from it to another piece, or into revision of it, unless I feel like it has a beginning, middle, and an end.  Or I don’t.  So the result is this, it seems: I am that person who is constantly revising her schedule when shit doesn’t get done.  And then I feel overwhelmed by the revised schedule and then I don’t write at all.  And then I have to revise the schedule again.  This hasn’t happened to me for some time, but it is the writer that I am.

Long story short: I had a schedule for getting a chapter of the book done by April (this was a third or fourth round revised schedule, let’s note).  That didn’t happen.  So rather than move on to the next thing on the “Master Schedule,” I was all, “well, I can’t do anything until I get that done!  I’ll just make an even stricter schedule for myself in order to do things in a linear-ish way!”  Needless to say, I just didn’t make any progress for the past couple of months.  (And then, as I confessed to you all, I directly blamed this on The Dude, though that wasn’t fair.)

If we put this in Freshmen Comp terms, I am the student who can’t write the paper because she didn’t already write the introduction.  And it’s worth noting, I was that Freshmen Comp student, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m in this predicament right now.

Except I am surprised.  Because historically, when I’ve run into this problem since those long ago days of Freshmen Comp, I’ve assumed the problem wasn’t “me” but rather that it was whatever the complication was.

So, for example, once upon a time, during the one time in my life when I have described myself as having writer’s block, while I was writing my dissertation, I really thought it was “writer’s block” – that I was “blocked” by some mystical force, and that suddenly the “block” lifted by an equally mystical force.  Except that wasn’t really what happened.

What really was going on (as my epiphany revealed) was that I was preoccupied with my personal life (not in the way I am now, which is happily, but still, preoccupied, if unhappily).  And how I got out of that was by moving 600 miles away from my preoccupation, and then, voila!  I could write!  I never changed my writing process: I just changed my circumstances.  And that is what I’ve always done since, when I felt like I wasn’t writing: changed my circumstances.  Which works great if you want to be alone, if that’s what you prefer.  But it seems those things aren’t what I want, what I prefer.  But I need to find a way to write in spite of those personal desires, if I’m going to be a full and whole and happy person.  So.

What I realized today was I needed to try to do this a new way.  I can’t just shut down my personal life when my writing life isn’t going according to plan, even though, frankly, doing that is easier.  And I can’t just shut down writing when I’ve got a personal life, because NO.  (I know, you all think I’m an idiot, because, WOW, isn’t this so obvious?)

So my experiment for the summer is this: I’m going to do as much work as I can according to my pre-ordained summer schedule, but I will not revise the schedule.  So, for example, let’s say that I don’t get as far as I wanted on the chapter on which I’d wanted to have a complete draft done by Saturday (SATURDAY!  Of Memorial Day Weekend when I’ve got a boyfriend who works a regular job and for whom this is a three-day weekend! A fact you’d think I would have considered when I made this schedule, but no, I only consider my own weirdo schedule in which long weekends don’t matter!).  I move on regardless of how far I’ve gotten.  I move on to the next item on the agenda, even if I didn’t complete the earlier agenda item.

Will this work?  Who knows.  But the theory is that more will get done this way than by me constantly revising the schedule.  And at the very least I’ll have more complete bits and pieces on the book than I’ve got now, at summer’s beginning, even if none of them are actually complete.

The thing is, I can’t just keep waiting for perfect conditions for scholarship.  Particularly when those perfect conditions depend on being without a personal life.  Maybe it’s not about fitting a personal life in so much as adapting to a personal life, if that makes sense.  No, this might not work.  But what I’ve been doing?  Totally not working either.

Also, I really need to accomplish things because what with my non-academic Dude, I feel incredibly guilty about the freedom that I have during the Happy Place of Summertime Happiness.  I need to use that freedom to do awesome things, and not just to be an asshole academic who relaxes, ya know?  (Even if I do still intend to do my reading at the pool.)

Read Full Post »

So, a couple of years ago, I published an article on [a tv show that you all probably are watching right now because it is “appointment television,” or because the actor who plays the lead character has a giant schlong, if tabloid photos and stories are in any way true].  This article evolved out of a conference paper that I wrote, admittedly, because it meant that I could go to a conference in [Awesome City] to present on a panel with BFF and FBA with some funding, if I wrote that paper.  This conference occurred just about this weekend 4 years ago, only a few weeks after my dad had died.  Needless to say, what with the whole dad-death and the grieving, I threw that conference paper together.  But then I got an email requesting the article-length version of the paper for an edited collection, and of course I said yes, and so then I wrote the article in the following couple of months (still reeling from the dad-death, so who knows how I even accomplished that).

But so now I feel obligated to watch this television show, even though I don’t really want to, as, frankly, I don’t think that it’s been as good since the first couple of seasons.  But here I am, a person who ended up writing an article about a thing when she was all grief-stricken and shit, mainly because she just really wanted to see her friends in an awesome city, and now I am forced to see that thing through to the bitter end, as I am a person who had Theoretical Things to Say about that thing, even though I care about it not at all any more, and even though those initial things I had to say were totally automatic pilot sorts of things because I was a mess when I thought them.

Oh, fuck it.  We all should just go Mad Men Ourselves and be done with it 🙂

Read Full Post »

So today I confronted the bits and pieces that are my book manuscript.  A conference paper here, an invited talk there, an actual drafted chapter elsewhere, bits and bobs of notes and quotes and ideas… When I work on a big project like this, I don’t do it in a linear way.  Or, rather, I work on tiny portions in a linear way, but the while the parts are linear, the whole is not. Until it has to be.  And, really, the whole has to become linear now.

My original goal, in December of last year when I quietly circulated (the first version of) my book proposal, was that the manuscript would be ready by the end of January 2013.  Clearly, I did not meet that internal deadline.  However, I forced myself to confront the amorphous manuscript today, which I’ve been avoiding, and July 2013 is entirely reasonable – indeed, it gives me a full month of wiggle-room, in which to do what I need to do.  I am currently at around 55K words, but the project is fully formed in my head, the research is done, and the theory is grappled with.  I’d say I’m about 75% of the way there (even though the word count doesn’t really reflect that).  If I had two solid months with no teaching or professional responsibilities to write, I could be done.  But I have two solid months of a 4/4 load, so reasonably, I need to give myself through the end of July.  But: there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and, also, the good thing about tenure is that you can give yourself that extra 6 months on a project.  This isn’t life or death (career-wise) for me.  And that is awesome.

In other news, I am supremely irritated by my colleague (who is also my friend) to whom I am a mentor who a) takes none of my advice and b) is “distracted” – waah! and c) doesn’t seem to realize that if she doesn’t do what I tell hir to do that she is going to get denied tenure and be motherfucking unemployed.  Oh, I am “different” and have so much fucking “energy.”  You know what?  My job isn’t on the line!  Zie’s job is! But apparently I’m just fucking exceptional, and so when I tell zie that zie needs to get hir shit together, I’m being an asshole who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  Except what zie doesn’t realize is that I’m not advising her based on my productivity at all: if I were, then I would expect zie to have a book plus a handful of articles, plus about 10 courses, plus a variety of service things, at tenure.  No: I am coaching zie to the baseline, and not at all to the fucked up shit that I did.  But DUDE, if you don’t meet the baseline, you won’t get tenure!  And you’ll get fired!

The Dude, who is amazing and great and in line with me on all things, says I need to drop the colleague, because you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.  And I actually totally agree with him and think he’s super smart.  But where he’s not like me is that I feel upset and sad about dropping people.  Even if I know it’s totally the right thing to do.

I really love The Dude, though.  He is SUPER awesome.  It’s too bad that most people aren’t as awesome as he is 🙂


P.S.  I don’t have the energy for this right now, but I’m gonna do a post soon about my “energy” in the job, and about how I approach the things.  But, man, I’m tired.  I can’t.

Read Full Post »

I can’t believe I’m halfway through the week that is spring break.  I’ve gotten some good work done, but I also feel like I don’t feel like doing the work that remains.  What remains?

  • Revisions on an article, which are due by month’s end.
  • Revisions on another article, to submit to another journal.
  • Reckoning with the various pieces of my book manuscript and really making a plan to get the whole thing “finished” (well, in a state where it has a beginning, a middle and an end, so then I can revise it with the hope of sending it out).
  • Send an email to the editor that expressed interest in the book project.

Basically, I need probably 3 solid days of work to accomplish these three things, but I’m feeling a decided lack of motivation today.  So what I need to do is really just to make a decision: do I take today off, with a plan of getting back to work tomorrow through Saturday?  Or do I force myself to do some work today, even though all I want to do is watch television and knit?  Oh, decisions, decisions.

I’m actually pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished so far this break.  I did some cleaning, I did some preparatory stuff for making my application for full professor (which I should note I feel like it’s too soon to do, but there are political reasons why I should submit an application in the fall regardless of my “feelings” – and since there is no penalty for going up and being rejected, it really is worth it to do it), I’ve gotten myself well ahead on reading for the end of the semester – only 3 books that I really should reread (re-skim, really, for I have good notes in all of them) remain!, I wrote and submitted another abstract for consideration for another MLA panel (I’ve put myself in the running for three panels, two of which are special sessions, so I felt the need to hedge my bets since I really want to go to MLA but I also know that if I want to get funded I need to be on the program and special sessions are in no way guaranteed, and that’s even assuming that I get selected for the proposals -although I do know already I’ve been selected for one of the special sessions, which is a combined allied organization panel, so I’m hopeful that will be accepted).  I’ve gotten some knitting done, too.  All in all, I should probably put a little less pressure on myself.

I guess the issue is that I know that once this week is over that I’m going to be slammed for the next 8 weeks, and I fear that if I “waste” this time with things like, I don’t know, rest and relaxation, I’ll regret it later.  Probably what I should do, though, since rest and relaxation are not a waste of time, is split the difference, and do some work and some relaxing, and give myself permission not to accomplish all the things.  We’ll see.

And really I do need to knit.  I’m just half-way done with the wrap I’m knitting for HS BFF’s wedding in August, and given the fact that I started on it in like October, that means I’ve got to make some serious progress for it to be ready in time.  Here it is so far:

What you can’t really see in the photo is that the yarn is flecked with gold, so it shimmers quite prettily.  Yes, I think at the very least I’m going to knit for a couple of hours right now.  Time enough for revisions once I’ve gotten some knitting out of my system.  It is spring break, after all 🙂

Read Full Post »

Dr. Virago has a great post up about feeling that she’s in a “mid-career rut,” and so much of what she writes about is so important, I think, and I think it’s important for those of us who’ve leaped over that hurdle that is “earning tenure” to keep writing about our experiences because, as Virago notes, most of us have another 30 or so years in this gig after we do that.  “Mid-Career” – as I wrote in a post about teaching – is a really freaking long time for most of us, so there are going to be various iterations of what that looks like at different points in that LONG trajectory.

But before I get to some specific points that I want to engage with in Virago’s post, I want to begin with the metaphor of the “rut.”  When we say we are “in a rut,” we are using a transportation metaphor.  It’s all about furrows that develop along a track or road, and at a certain point, those furrows get deep enough that one can’t turn off the track or road.  Things get a little boring, a little rote.  And they also can feel a little bumpy, and you don’t have the luxury of dodging the bumps.  I think it’s no mistake that those of us who’ve been on a “track” for years – the tenure-track, the Ph.D. track, the “accelerated track” in elementary and high school – might find that ruts have developed over the course of that time.  But whereas being “on track” is a good thing – on track to finishing the dissertation, on track to getting a job, on track to earning tenure, on track for promotion – being “in a rut” is a bad thing.

Why?  I mean, I’m really asking that.  Because it seems to me that ruts aren’t necessarily more limiting than tracks.  It’s just that we see being on track as being focused and motivated and making progress, whereas we see being in a rut as being stuck.  Except, actually, both tracks and ruts can be limiting.  Being on track means that you can’t make a random left turn without jumping the tracks.  And both tracks and ruts can be productive, too.  Being in a rut means that you don’t have to plow through obstacles in order to get where you’re going; you can use the rut to guide you and to let you move ahead without having to focus all of your energy on where you’re going.  But the negative connotation of being “in a rut” makes us feel slow or stopped or not engaged, whereas the positive connotation of being “on track” makes us feel like we’re getting somewhere, even though we are no more “free” on a track than we are in a rut.

In some ways, part of what I’ve struggled with over the past two years is learning how to use some ruts I’m in to my advantage, as opposed to resisting them.  And I’ve also been doing a little back-and-forth – reversing and going forward, reversing and going forward, with slight adjustments to the steering wheel, much like when you’re stuck in a snow mound and trying to get yourself out of the ruts in the snow that the wheels have made to get back on the road.  I’m not saying that I’ve done everything “right” or that I’m totally out of the rut that I’ve perceived myself to be in for a bit of time…. but I am feeling a lot more satisfied right now than I have felt probably, well, ever.

So, the first thing that I want to respond to from Virago’s post is this:

So there’s a way in which I’m active in the area that got me the job, got me tenure, and so forth. But I haven’t really produced anything new in it in some time, and I’m frustrated by that. I have something in progress (an article), but I keep dithering about whether to do the relatively fast and easier version of it and get it *out* there in one of the subfield journals, or keep working on the more theoretically ambitious version of it, which involves me learning (or continuing to learn) all sorts of new stuff and would be sexier for the broader medieval and medieval-renaissance journals. The learning part is attractive, but it’s also slow. And I have been sitting on this thing for a long time now because it keeps getting shunted aside.

First of all, let me just note that Virago has accomplished so much since tenure that she isn’t giving herself enough credit for and that probably is propelling her forward in ways that she doesn’t realize yet.  But I also recognize that feeling that I’ve said what I had to say about my last topic, and I have a new idea, but it just seems too gigantic and complicated to pursue it as it should be pursued, properly, and so then other stuff gets in the way of it.

What I’m about to say here is not some edict of How Things Must Be Done, but I’ve come to a perspective in the past couple of years that if I’m going to try to do new stuff, think new thoughts, post-book and post-tenure, then I have to do two things: 1) I have to make those new things my first priority, no matter how painful that is, and 2) I have to give myself permission not to worry about the final product fitting the “ideal” version in my head.

Of course, those two things are also the things that one needs to do in order to finish a dissertation.  At least for me, though, I had to relearn those lessons post-tenure, because the stakes for my “reputation” (ha! such that it is) feel higher.  “I’m supposed to know how to do this now!  I can’t embarrass myself! What if all of the stuff I accomplished pre-tenure was just residual effects of my dissertation work, and thus really about my adviser and committee, and what if I really, in spite of those accomplishments, am still a fraud?”  That’s often been my inner voice post-tenure.  And I’ve had to learn to turn off that fucked up inner voice, because, as I tell my students, new ideas and new projects are supposed to make us uncomfortable!  It’s such an easy thing to say to students!  Why is it so hard to remember that for ourselves?  But, for me, it has been hard to remember.

Virago then goes on to talk about two (I think) related issues in her current “rut” – first, that she feels like her field has “passed her by” in certain ways, so ideas she has had aren’t “current” or “interesting” given where the field is now, and second, that while she started on what was to be her Next Book during her 2010-2011 sabbatical, she still doesn’t see the whole project in her head, and she feels like she’s having to learn a whole new body of knowledge, which is slow work, in the interstices of regular professional commitments, like teaching.

If I can talk about the difference between my work in graduate school, which led to my first book, and the work that I’m doing now, I would say that I’ve been forced to learn that I need to be much more efficient – that I can’t expect that I’m going to be able to focus exclusively on the New Idea until it is fully formed, but rather that I need to produce as much as I can when I can and then later hope it will all fit together, and so far that’s working-ish – and also that I need to be much more opportunistic – in the sense that I need to pursue every idea and every opportunity (research-wise) without worrying about whether it’s hip or new or awesome or whatever.  I teach a 4/4 load and I’ve done some major heavy-lifting with service.  The fact of the matter is, I don’t have the luxury to pick and choose between my ideas, nor do I have the luxury of uninterrupted time.  (Though I’m going to say something very different in a bit about taking “every opportunity” – I’m only talking about research here.)  I suppose my point here is, I have taken a sort of relaxed approach to my research in some ways: I figure that if I produce (and produce and produce), I’ll figure out what is “new” or what is “appropriately framed” whether through readers’ reports or editorial feedback or whatever.  I no longer have the luxury of trying to consult with my crystal ball, not while working a full-time job as a tenured professor.  In some ways, frankly, that is liberating.

Then Virago writes:

Half the time I just want to throw my hands up and say, “Fuck it, I’d rather be teaching. Maybe I should move to a 4/4 load and give up research.” Except that wouldn’t make me happy, either. In fact, part of the problem is that I’m isolated in my work and don’t have the stimulation of other people in my field or advanced students working on dissertations to teach me new things and keep me current. Giving up on research entirely would exacerbate that feeling and make my rut deeper (even if I keep reinventing my courses, which I always do). And it wouldn’t be good for the students, because one of things that keeps my teaching from being in a rut is bringing in new ideas from my research and others’ (that often includes new-to-me primary texts — there’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t know and research of various kinds introduces me to it).

As I noted, I teach a 4/4. And I do research.  So.  But so how do I do that?  Yes, I do it from updating my courses, and yes, I do it through my own independent research.  But, in part, I keep up with the research in my field through the work that my undergrads (and my rare MA students) do.  I assign annotated bibliographies in every course I teach now.  And I make guidelines that require students to include at least a certain number of sources that were published within the past three years.  Those annotated bibliographies have been my savior, frankly, because I don’t have the time to just read journals in my field for enrichment.  I also design presentation assignments and book review assignments and literature review assignments for my students that contribute immeasurably to me keeping up with what’s going on in my field.  (And, frankly, even more generally in my teaching field, because with four courses, 2 of which are typically general education, not all of those students are focused on what I’m writing about right now, but they sure are engaged with my teaching areas.)  Teaching and research, I believe, must be reciprocal.  That means that not only does my independent research inform my teaching, but also that my teaching must inform my research.

I know that isn’t possible in all fields, but I think it’s often possible to find a way to make that happen in some fashion if one is creative about what that means.  (Note: I have colleagues who design assignments that are a lot more “creative” and “fun” than what my students do, but I’ll also say that mine are no less student-centered, in that my assignments tend to be the ones that teach my students those valuable skills that get them into graduate and professional school and into full-time jobs upon graduation.  Do I wish my students found my assignments more “fun?”  Sometimes.  But most of the time I’m happy that they are well integrated into my own intellectual projects and that they teach them skills they need to embark on serious intellectual projects of their own.)

And then Virago talks about isolation.  She writes:

Remember when we used to think romantically how digital communications would solve the problem of the isolation of the single scholar who’s the only one in her field at her institution?  Yeah. Right. Frankly, social media and other digital outlets just make me feel *more* isolated. All I see are the cool collaborations and energetic conversations of colleagues who get to talk face-to-face as well as online, and I feel shut out.

What I say here is going to sound strange, maybe, but this is why I totally don’t do social media in my field or blogs in my field.  And I’ve never even toyed with the idea.  I am Fb friends with some people in my field, which is grand, but that’s because they are my friends.  Just like it’s not good to watch the news 24/7, it’s not good to be tapped into all of the conversations in one’s field 24/7.

What I’ve done instead is to cultivate relationships within my department with people outside of my field about research and writing.  No, they don’t know “all the things” in my field, and I don’t know those things in theirs, but they are my… intellectual reservoir… if that makes sense.  Now, it’s worth noting that I was the only person in my (tiny) grad program working in my area while I was in residence, so I’m used to doing this.  And it would be a hell of a lot harder if all my grad school friends who were local had been in my field: I would have felt a much greater sense of loss upon arriving in my current locale, I know.

I guess what I think, about the whole “I don’t have local people who do what I do!” thing, is that this is ok for me.  But it’s only ok because I have lovely friends elsewhere who talk about stuff in my field with me, and I have lovely friends here who might not be in my field but whom are my intellectual soul-mates: we can talk about theory and the discipline and teaching and service – no, they can’t talk about my specific authors with me in more than a cursory way, but all those other things are so important to me, too!  And also: I am (and always have been) weirdly isolationist in my ideas about scholarship.  I like the idea that I might come up with an idea that isn’t informed by (or indebted to) the current conversation.  Sure, I’ll need to inform myself about that before writing up my wacko idea, and I’ll be excited to do that, but if I waited for being regularly involved in the “current field-specific conversation” to have an idea, well, I’d never have one.

Finally, Virago asks:

What say you, oh wise people of the internet? How do I shake off the doldrums? Do you ever feel like this? What do you do to shake off the Blahs and get out of the rut?

I’ve already responded in some ways to these questions.  But here’s where I turn to the metaphorical rut/track stuff at the beginning of the post.  In some ways, I’ve embraced my rut.  It’s great that people know who I am, how I think, and what I have done, and that I get opportunities because of that.  Am I sometimes bored by being the go-to person about x way of approaching y author?  Sure.  But it doesn’t mean that this approach is boring, and, frankly, isn’t that why we all write a first book?  So those things will fall into our laps?  And it’s nice, sometimes, to write an invited article that is right in one’s wheelhouse and that doesn’t push us into new territory – and doing so can even help to generate a new idea in spite of the fact that it’s just going along inside the rut.

But the way that I’ve approached getting out of the rut has been through pursuing things like grants and workshop opportunities outside of my university.  It has been through being much more selective about service – basically after having been a slave to it for four years, I’ve now realized that it’s not my turn anymore, and I have more important things to do with my energy.  It has been through developing new courses (as much work as that is) as opposed to just redesigning ones in my wheelhouse.

But really, emotionally?  It has been through realizing that tenure means never having to say you’re sorry.  I’m no longer on a track, and that is liberating.  I can pursue an idea that turns out to be nothing, and that is totally ok.  I can try something out and have it fail disastrously, and not only won’t I lose my job for that, but also it might lead me to the next amazing thing that I will do.  I no longer have to be “on track.”  I have earned the right to go off the track.  And sometimes that will land you in a rut, but sometimes it will land you on the open road.

Read Full Post »

So, I had all these plans about what would happen during this break, and some of those plans have happened, and others of them, well, they have not.  I was thrown a curve-ball by a nasty cold involving (this is gross, just skip to the next paragraph if you are a delicate flower) a great deal of mucus.  Gross.  And inconvenient.

I am a little concerned about the way that writing has fallen by the wayside, but it’s really hard to write when you’ve got a head-cold.  Because, you know, writing involves needing your head to be in the right place.  (You might want to note at this point that what I’m doing – in between blowing my nose and whining – right at this very moment is writing. But this isn’t real writing, in the sense of needing to think terribly hard.  It’s just one long complaint.  It seems that is all I can manage with a head-cold.)

So, while I’ve not been writing, I have been doing some other things that are worthwhile.  I’ve gotten the letters of reference that I owed to students done, I’ve finished two books – the David Foster Wallace biography (not terribly illuminating, but I did enjoy reading about his friendship with Jonathan Franzen) and Gone Girl (FUN FUN FUN!!!!) – and I’m nearly done rereading and annotating The Marriage Plot, which I’ll be teaching for the first time this spring.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the shape of the book, and about how the whole thing works as a complete document, as opposed to thinking just about the parts of the book, and this is work that I’ve needed to do, and frankly it’s not work that is easy to do when you don’t have a big block of unstructured time.  And so I’m trying to be kind to myself about the lack of words getting written, because I can definitely write words during the academic semester, but I can’t really do the kind of deep and wandering thinking that I’ve been doing (while in an over-the-counter-drug haze) when I’m also doing teaching and all the other day-to-day commitments of the semester.

And I also need to be grateful for the fact that I am not at MLA (even though I’m jealous of everybody who is at MLA) this year, because having all this time is a direct consequence of the fact that I’m not there.  And also: how much would it suck to have this cold and to do MLA at the same time?  Totally.

Another thing I’ve accomplished this week is that I made tons of appointments – doctors, dentist, vet, car.  By the by: it seems this is a great time of year to make such appointments, as I’ve been able to get all of these scheduled for within the next two weeks, which I feel like is wonderful.  Something I really hate is making appointments.  I also hate having to go to them, but it’s the making of them that is really my biggest problem.

So, the plan for today is that I’m going to try to buckle down and do a good deal of writing, work out (as I am feeling a bit better and I can at least go for a walk or something), continue to rest up and take care of my evil cold, and do some laundry and stuff around the house.  Will I be able to do all of those things?  We shall see.  I feel hopeful, given that I did wake up at 5:30 this morning with energy and have already accomplished more today than I’ve accomplished in the past two days.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »