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

Wondering where I’ve been?  I’ve been writing an article.  I began writing actual words on Saturday, and today I have sent the draft off.  It is either a brilliant reinterpretation of the novel around which the essay collection is organized, or it is a totally unsupportable bunch of hooey.  Whatever: it is submitted!  Now time to do things that aren’t related to writing and moaning!  Happy holidays, folks!  I’ll return after Christmas!

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that somewhere around the three-week mark in any romance, I lose my ability to sustain full-time infatuation (although part-time infatuation continues to reign supreme).  Luckily, I think, this seems to be the same time-frame for (crap, I need a pseudonym for him… let’s go with…) The Dude.  I mean, we still like each other and everything, but now that we’ve declared ourselves and have agreed to be “boyfriend-girlfriend” and whatnot, we can focus on reality once again.

Which, frankly, is a welcome reprieve from all of the mushy stuff, because I’ve got some shit to do.  (Though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am concerned about how things work going forward, since infatuation does blind one to the other’s flaws, and since infatuation also blinds one to the irritating things about maintaining an actual “relationship,” which means that I have now entered the “picking” phase of things, which could have deleterious effects on the whole “ridiculously in love” business, though I’m hopeful that this time – ha! – will be different. I should note that The Dude remains awesome, and I have no reason to think that he will transform into somebody non-awesome anytime soon. Anyway.)

Reality for me means the article for which I’ve already gotten an extension, which MUST be done before Christmas.  So I spent the day wrestling with it, and while I know what I want to say, and while I know that what I want to say is ultimately really freaking cool, translating what I want to say into what I’m actually writing is, perhaps, a bit more of a challenge than I’d like for it to be.  Perhaps (though I hope not, but it feels like it right now) it is impossible.

The problem is actually with the literary text that I’m analyzing, which is unusual (although not totally unheard of) for me.  Typically, I do great when I’m analyzing the literary text, and where I have trouble is with critical and theoretical context – with “showing my work” as it were.  With this article, though, the crucial bit of the literary text that I need to quote and analyze is… well, it defies what I’m trying to do.  And not just because I’m me: it clearly has defied every other critic, because nobody has written about this part of the novel in a sustained way with any conviction.  (I’m not saying that to be douchey – it’s just everybody has talked about this part in ways that make judgements about the whole but that fail to handle the language of the section.) Probably (it now occurs to me) because it’s so seemingly impossible to break out pithy quotes for careful analysis.

The good news is that I’ve run into this particular problem before in my scholarly work, and I do actually know how to resolve it.  The bad news is that resolving this sort of a problem is hard freaking work and it takes all of my concentration and sustained periods of time, which, of course, as I’m at the end of my semester, is not ideal.  Especially because I am like the host for a bunch of anxious parasites right now (and yes, that’s how I’m describing my students, for with all of their insecurities and anxieties that I have to assuage, I do feel like they are eating up all of my reserves of strength).

I got some good work done today, though, and I anticipate having 2 full days this weekend to commit myself to writing.  This means that I’ll need to bail on CF’s cocktail party. It also means that I’ll need to resist the temptation to boy-craziness, though this task is made easier since the novel that I’m writing about is decidedly cynical about the probability of ever finding fulfillment in a love relationship.

(Note: it might be possible that the reason I’ve been single for, lo, these many years is that I have until very, very recently chosen to focus on literary texts that are very cynical about romantic love. It also might be possible that the reason I have fallen in love right now is because of the grant proposal that I wrote in which I proposed a course that is all about romantic love, and in the course of putting that proposal together and designing a syllabus for that course, which I will try out for the first time in the Spring, that I’ve been forced to take romantic love seriously instead of cynically.  And it might be possible that I give books way too much credit for my state of mind and heart.)

So.  Love vs. Work.  Love and work.  Love is work.  Whatever.  I need to write a fucking article.



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So, upon finishing up teaching (and doing a service thing) on Thursday night, my fall break commenced.  I have (had) big plans for this break, which involve(d) a lot of writing.

You know what I’ve accomplished so far?  Nada.  Zilch.  Zippo.  Well, in terms of the writing.  Apparently, I needed to take two days sleeping (like, literally: sleeping in the day and in the night) and in the interim reading crap.

Did I need to do this?  Probably.  Do I already regret it?  Yep.

Because I really need to write.  I can’t afford to waste this giant (for the middle of semester) block of time.  But I also needed to rest….

So I made a list, and I looked at the first major thing on it, which is slightly more major than I’d imagined it in my head.

Whatever.  It will be ok.  Tomorrow through Wednesday, it is on.  I will buckle down.  But it’s ok that I took two days for rest.  Indeed, I’ve got to believe that the two days of rest will be good for productivity (whether or not that’s “true” is another question, but I need to believe it).

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So, a few months ago, I sent a version of a chapter of my book out to what is one of the most selective journals in my field.  This week, it was rejected.

Which, yes, of course, I didn’t like or anything, because who likes to be rejected?  But.  It does occur to me that these rejections sting a whole lot less these days than they did only a few years ago.  And actually, this rejection was very, very productive.

So why does the rejection sting less?

On the one hand, both of the readers’ reports were actually very positive about the submission, for rejections.  They offered really helpful suggestions for revision, ones that confirmed what I’d suspected about the essay in the first place, and which will contribute to my revisions for the book manuscript (from which this article was excerpted… which let’s note was part of the problem – that this was an excerpt).  Neither was like, “Oh, this is garbage!” but rather, “this article just isn’t where an article for this particular journal needs to be.”  Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever received more constructive or positive rejections of my work.  To get two rejections that include very strong compliments about the loveliness of my critical prose (which, you know what? is totally lovely), the incisiveness of my close readings of the literature, and the idea itself?  Yeah, that’s pretty cool.  The problem was in the execution of the argument through my close readings and in situating the argument theoretically, which I thought might be a problem when I submitted it in the first place. But submitting it meant I could move on to other writing things this summer, which I really needed to do.  And hey, now I’ve got great feedback, and it’s going to make this stronger, in the end, and will enable me to place the article elsewhere (a) and will make the book chapter stronger (b).  So thank you, anonymous peer reviewers!  Your generosity and careful attention to my article is going to make what I do better, and I am so appreciative of that!

On the other hand, what made this rejection sting less (every time I think about the sting of rejection, I hear this in my head) is the fact that I now regularly serve as a peer reviewer for journals.  This is only something that has begun to happen in the past 5 or 6 years with any regularity, and it’s changed my perspective about reviewers’ comments.  When I peer review, I take that job very seriously.  I really am trying to help the author – even when I really hate what the author writes – to make the article better.  Ironically, I was writing a recommendation to reject an article at the very same moment that I got my own rejection.  Did that change my comments on the article that I was reviewing?  No.  Instead, it made me read the reviewers comments to my own rejected article with generosity.  Because none of this, when it works properly, is personal.  It really is one of the rare instances where what we do is about the scholarship, and not about networking or self-promotion or the “game” of academics.  I used to take every criticism of my writing or my scholarship as “personal.”  I realize, by virtue of the fact that I’ve been on the other side, that it really isn’t.

Now, that isn’t to say that one might not disagree with a reviewer.  Of course one might.  One does.  I do.  But when I got rejected this week, I didn’t take it as a verdict on my intellect, or a verdict on my ability to make a contribution to the scholarly conversation.  I took it as an honest commentary on what I submitted, and as something that I can then use to improve what I had submitted so that it will find a home someplace else.  Does it suck that I have to do the work to incorporate that feedback?  Sure.  But I can do that with a few days of solid work, and it will be worth it.  And it’s not about me sucking – or even about what I submitted sucking: it’s about making something that is beautifully written and which has many strong points infinitely stronger.  In this case at least, it’s not about scrapping everything I’ve already done.  It’s about building and refining, which is always a good thing.

But what all of this leads me to thinking about is my students.  The problem with being a student (well, one of them) is that your work is so connected to you, individually, and not to a broader conversation.  And I think that this is a problem that we as professors exacerbate in some ways, in that we don’t necessarily offer constructive critique to out strongest students – we let them believe that everything that they will do will garner praise.  And then they go on in their lives – whether in a conventional job or in graduate work – and people criticize them.  And, oh, does it sting.  Because they think it’s all about them.  I know I did.

And while I try with my students to emphasize that they are part of a broader conversation and to give them criticism toward that end, one of the problems is that they don’t get that effort from every professor.  If they get it only from me, then I’m a bitch.  If they get it only from me, then it is personal, between me and them.  And then the word gets around and a lot of students avoid that bitch Dr. Crazy.

And sure, my students come back, say, a few years later, to tell me that they appreciate me, but wouldn’t it be better if all of us were sending them a uniform message the whole time – not waiting for them to get to law school to send an email into the ether that pushing on their writing helped, or waiting for them to get into a graduate program to send an email into the ether that forcing them to have their own ideas and develop their own topics and to write in clear, thoughtful, deliberate prose helped?  What if we taught them that “rejection” wasn’t a failure, and what if we taught them that saying something wasn’t good enough wasn’t saying that they aren’t good enough?

What if it wasn’t about “grading,” in the sense that we usually do it, which is fairly individualized and which doesn’t relate a hell of a lot to the way that we ourselves are evaluated, and what if instead we really thought about the students’ contributions to a world of ideas?

What if students learned that you can be doing A work and still have it not be good enough?  Wouldn’t that be preferable to students thinking that an “A” meant perfection?

Am I sure of how to achieve that?  No.  Do I try every day to achieve that?  Yes.  But that’s also why a fair few students avoid working with me.  It only works if we all do it, and we all don’t.

Whatever the case, it’s been good for me to learn that one can be rejected and still be great.  And I hope that the students who take courses with me or work under my direction learn that, too.  But I’d much rather that this approach wouldn’t be all about me and my grand ideas: I much rather that this approach were the norm rather than the exception.


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I’m pretty pleased with all that I’ve done this week, and I’m looking forward to a day that (mostly) involves scholarly business tomorrow and a weekend that involves cleaning my entire house and not doing ANY work.  [Aside, the Man-Kitty totally just body-slammed Mr. Stripey, as if he were a professional wrestler, making such a large boom that it startled me.  Apparently they both enjoyed that a lot, so I’m not going to worry about it.]

So what have I been up to this week?

  • My students and I are 5/6 of the way through Ulysses.  HUZZAH!  I absolutely cannot wait until it’s two weeks from now and we are done!  And I will be done with teaching this novel for another four years!  (I love this novel, and I love teaching it.  The issue is that the teaching of it takes every ounce of my energy, and makes me feel like a zombie by the end.  Which I actually think is what teaching this novel should make you feel like if you teach it as it should be taught, but DUDE.  It’s a lot.  A lot that involves explaining to students what “fisting” and “figging” are… and that was just today, which, frankly, I think we all should be ashamed about.)
  • I finished teaching another novel (Austen) in another class.  I also graded a stack of 21 papers and returned them.
  • I graded another stack of papers in comp, held conferences with each of my comp students, as well as got them set up for their next major assignment.
  • I finished another unit with my intro to the major students, and I did some more talking them through the paper that they will submit next week.
  • I set up a meeting for the department committee that I’m chairing.
  • I agreed to speak to a colleague’s class about scholarship stuff, which involves reading what they are reading.
  • I sent a note to a former student who is in his first semester of a Ph.D. program because I heard from a current student that he’s been having some challenges with teaching, just to offer some support.
  • I set up a lunch date with a full professory colleague so we can talk about my preparations for going up next year.
  • I talked a student out of applying to grad school (in tandem with CC who also counseled the student about the realities of it, a victory, since the student had only considered it because it seems like us proffies have so much fun, and the student doesn’t actually really want to go to graduate school, now that the realities have been made apparent).
  • I met with another student about her upcoming honors thesis, and I gave her advice about money that’s available for student research and I encouraged her to think carefully about who she chooses to direct the project (she “likes” me, and wants me, but I might not be the best person).
  • I agreed to co-direct a grad capstone for a GREAT MA student.
  • I eased the worried hearts of two undergraduate majors who were feeling freaked out about all the things.
  • I spent about 3 hours doing library researchy stuff for an article I’ve got to write by Dec. 1, and I made an outline for the article.  (I failed to write my 750 words that I’d planned to write, but that’s ok.  I’ll get some writing done tomorrow.)
  • I gave a talk at a local library about a book, and it was fabulous!  I always love doing this, but I made a wise, wise choice of book for this time around, and they actually all read it!  That said, Esmerelda is still my teacher’s pet of the folks who go to the library book talk thing 🙂  I should also note that I was very worried about reading out that passage about “cock-teasing” until I learned that a fair few of them had read 50 Shades of Grey.  Indeed, the Senior Citizens can handle it.
  • I submitted a new abstract (the acceptance was like 2 years ago, so the thing I’d originally submitted is no longer what I’m actually working on) for a talk I’ll be giving at my institution in the spring, as well as an updated bio for the flyer.
  • I bit the bullet and decided on switching up anthologies for the survey, which I will teach in the spring for the first time in a few years, and I finalized my decisions about what I’ll teach in my upper-level class next spring, and I submitted my spring book orders.  (I know, right?  I submitted them AHEAD of the ridiculously early deadline of Oct. 1.  ‘Cause I’m cool like that.)
  • I put together a proposal for a catalog change for a course that I teach, and I circulated it to the other people who teach the course as well as to my chair and assistant chair to get their feedback, with the hope that I’ll have their blessing before I submit it to our department curriculum committee.
  • I set up a work-date for tomorrow afternoon with CC (who is still pre-tenure) at which I’ll look at her summer fellowship app and give her feedback, we’ll talk about our research schedules for the rest of the semester, and (ideally) get some writing done.
  • I took a 3 hour nap on Wednesday.
  • I knitted two rows on something I’m making for my mom (which is looking like it will be a Christmas present, at the rate I’m going).
  • I watched television.
  • I bought a giant bottle of wine, and I just poured my second glass 🙂

OOH!  And I teased my colleague who took over curriculum responsibilities from me, filled with joy that I was not in her shoes!  And yes, it’s mean to tease people who are in hell, but, frankly, when I was in hell I would have enjoyed some light-hearted mocking because at least it would have meant that people knew my pain (even if they had taken pleasure in it, it would have been great to have ANY acknowledgment of my terrible plight).  But I didn’t only tease: I also gave her some suggestions for the thing that she was asking the dept. to weigh in on.

But so yes, this was a very, very productive week.  I spent approximately 5 hours on scholarly thingies, I taught for about 11 hours (yes, it should be 12, but I’ll admit I let a few classes go early this week), I spent about 8 hours meeting with students, and I spent 2 hours doing a community service thing, and I spent about 14 hours doing prep, grading, and doing emailing administrative-y service-y stuff.  Yes, I’m going to do probably five hours of work beyond that tomorrow on the scholarship stuff, but this is a reasonable work-week for a human being, given eating and bathroom breaks inside of that 45 hours.  The point is?  We don’t have to work a 60 or 80 hour week – not even during the semester – to take care of business.  When we’re newbies, sure, a 60-80-hour work-week is often real (if not ideal).  But once you’re 4 years out from tenure?  It’s totally ok to work a normal (for non-academic type people) work-week, and doing so typically can result in accomplishing all the things and then some.

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Seeing this post over at Notorious’s place, as well as this article that a friend of mine shared on Facebook, has inspired me to post something that I’ve been thinking a lot lately because of the book project, and I think that it connects (maybe) to the way that (many) humanities and arts disciplines are devalued in a culture that has come more and more to emphasize “results” or “discoveries.”

Because here’s the thing: unless my scholarship takes a dramatic left turn, I am never going to discover anything.*  I’m never going to produce “findings” that change the world. And if that’s how we define “producing new knowledge,” and if we define research as producing new knowledge, then the work that I do doesn’t actually count as research, even though it involves many of the same activities that people who DO discover things and produce findings do.

For me, my research depends less on making some discovery, or in producing some sort of “findings,” than it is about arriving at new interpretations on the basis of how I’ve evolved as a scholar, through reading, through thinking, and through reading some more, and finally through writing.  I know: it sounds wildly exciting, right?  But so a result of that is that “scholarly work” for me feels more like meditating than like being on a treasure hunt or doing an experiment.  And it also means that everything that’s old is new again.

What do I mean by that?  Well, I had this very strange moment yesterday as I was working on what will become the first body chapter of my book.  I was reading, and thinking, and writing – you know all the things – and I thought to myself, “somebody wrote about this thing that I’m thinking… I feel like what I’m saying is something slightly different, but I need to use that article…”  And then it hit me: I was thinking of the first article I ever published.  I have reached the point where I’m in scholarly conversation with the me I used to be.  And while I’m still interested in the same broad themes, my perspective has changed and deepened dramatically since 1998.  But I’m not actually discovering anything.  Nor am I finding anything.

So what is the value, then, in the work that I do?  That really is the question that every scholar who does the sort of scholarship that I do asks consistently from graduate school onward.  For some people, the answer about politics: by changing interpretations, we make a radical intervention in the possibilities for the ways that people will think about things.  For some people, the answer is about preservation: our purpose is to ensure that literature continues to be valued within our culture.  For some people, the answer is about the idealistic belief that literature makes us better people, or that it makes us better thinkers or more sensitive human beings.

While I do at various times answer that question in all of the above ways, I think that my answer most of the time is much more self-centered.  I think that the value in the kind of scholarship that I do, in its everyday and most frequent manifestation, is that I like how it feels to push myself intellectually and to see what new stuff I can think and argue.  That process is amazing for me, and it’s the part of doing research that I like the most.  And no, I don’t think that is a terribly compelling argument for my discipline or for the humanities generally, when it applies just to me, but if we broaden the scope of what I’m discussing, then what I’m saying is that contemplation is valuable; deep thought is valuable; engaging with other people who are doing similar contemplating and deep thinking is valuable; adding to the potential interpretations of cultural texts and opening our minds to different ways of seeing cultural texts is valuable.  Even if we’re not discovering anything and even if we’re not finding anything.  Or, rather, even if the only thing that we’re discovering or finding is our own intellectual potential, our own way of seeing.

*Let me note that this isn’t the case for all scholars in my discipline.  Depending on one’s approach, one might be doing a lot of archival research, or one might be doing research with human subjects, which fits better within a “discoveries” or “findings” model.


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I hate July.  Because it is in July that I start getting all angsty about the fact that the summer is Almost Over and soon I will have to start gearing up to go back to school, it is in July that there is the absolute worst weather for my productivity (living in a miserably humid location plus the fact that my biggest seasonal allergy is to mold means that all I really feel motivated to do is to take allergy medicine and lie around in air conditioning), and it is in July that I start beating myself up about all of What I Haven’t Accomplished instead of celebrating what I have accomplished.  Now, the good news for me this summer is I really have built fun things into my summer, and that’s grand, but then that also exacerbates the angsty feelings about not having enough time left and not having done enough.  Blech.

But so, as you might imagine, I’ve stalled out a bit on progress toward getting the complete draft of the book manuscript done.  I do think that it’s reasonable that I will be able to complete the two halves of chapters that I’ve already got underway, and (if I really push myself) get another chapter done by September 1 (all of the research and reading and outlining/argument stuff is done – it’s just a matter of the pesky part of writing).  But then, I still have either one or two body chapters to write, but I can’t know if it’s one or two until I read a book that comes out in September (the problem with working on contemporary authors is that they have a pesky habit of writing new books), but that chapter or chapters should write up quite quickly because there just isn’t much research out there on this author, and what little there is I’ve already read (which kind of makes up for the problem with the author writing new books, since at least you don’t have all of the pesky scholarship to deal with).  But then that leaves me the intro and the conclusion to write, though to be fair I’ve been making notes for those throughout the process, so I’m actually feeling pretty positive about how quickly I can manage to knock those out, once the body of the manuscript is done.  But I can’t kid myself: it is going to be a MAJOR push to get this monstrosity in a shape that I could submit it to a press by Dec. 31 (which is my goal).  And I might not be able to achieve that, even with making a major push – not while teaching four classes and, I dunno, sleeping.  But if I try, I figure that I can manage to get it done within a couple of months of that goal, which is still pretty great, frankly.

And while I’ve been a bit stalled on the book stuff, I haven’t been stalled on everything.  For example, I somehow managed to apply for an internal grant for which I actually hadn’t originally intended to apply, and I just learned that I was selected for it!  Huzzah!  So for completing an application that took me maybe two hours, and for agreeing to share what I develop (which I will have support in doing any of the tech stuff that is beyond me), I am a thousand dollars richer.  Really for doing work that I have been doing anyway for free for years (out of enjoyment more than anything, in truth) just because I wasn’t aware that I could do this sort of stuff and get compensated for doing it.  And this is the thing: I would so much ratherbe spending my time doing this sort of thing than doing the stuff that I’ve been doing for the past four years!  And sure, it’s annoying to have to apply for every little thing in order to get the resources that are there, but I’d rather spend a couple of hours doing a slightly annoying thing than spend my summer teaching!  Or than do work for free!

So anyway, that’s what has been going on with me.  While I’ve been a bit stalled on the book, I’ve been accomplishing other stuff in the meantime.  And next weekend A. will be here for our annual Vagina Power Weekend (do you know that it will be our sixth?!?!  I’m so excited), and then the weekend after that First Love will be here for a visit (which reminds me that I need to call him up and get him to solidify his plans because it’s not like he lives around the corner and his procrastination about getting a plane ticket makes me crazy – I’m not even entirely certain what days he’ll be here, which, that information would be nice to have not only so that I can plan stuff to do while he’s here but also so that I can plan my writing schedule for that week, because it’s not like I’ll get any work done while he’s here, and also he really needs to tell me whether I’m supposed to be going to his high school reunion with him, because that’s been a topic of discussion, and it’s not like I want to go to his stupid reunion, but if he wants to go I don’t think he’ll go if I don’t go with him, and so I basically need to know what’s up with all of that – by the way, don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me that it’s kind of a pain in the ass to have a close relationship with your high school boyfriend.)  And then maybe I’m going to NYC for a few days, and then school starts, and then one of my oldest friends C. (A.’s sister, actually) is getting married so I need to go to hometown a couple of weekends in September, and sandwiched in between that I am going to Chicago for a weekend for this, and then in October I’m going to see Fiona Apple in concert, and somewhere in the middle of all of this I’m getting my kitchen redone (which promises to be an adventure because I have agreed to use the Lebanese connection to get it done because it will cost me much much less, but that also means that I have no control over when it’s done, and it means that my stepdad G. will be here to supervise it, and who knows how that will turn out).

In other words, I really need to get myself on track because I’m a busy lady with a lot of things going on aside from writing a book.


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Dame Eleanor has a great post up about perceptions of teaching and research and how they are valued – considering how things like personality and institution type determine the ways in which the balance between these two things is perceived .  I know I’ve written about the relationship between teaching and research before, but hell if I know where to find it, being such an erratic tagger of posts that I write here and also having all those other posts at my old location.  At any rate, suffice it to say that I think I’ve written that the two really are inseparable, at least in my experience both as a student and a teacher.

But so anyway, a lot of great discussion is going on in the comment thread of Dame Eleanor’s post, and I was going to leave a comment over there, except for that I knew it would be way too long because her post got me thinking about some things that are tangential to the question that drives her post. So Dame Eleanor’s big question is this:

Then there were the people I had dinner with, people who work at Ivies or prestigious SLACs, people with distinguished research to their names, who all insisted to each other that teaching is the most important work they do.  Do they truly believe this, or is it a sort of defense mechanism with which they protect themselves from doubts about the significance of their research, precisely because their institutions place so much emphasis on it?

As background to the question, she talks a bit about how she sees herself as a scholar first – not an intellectual – and she indicates that while she does invest herself in her teaching, that she does not think that it is the most important or most pleasurable work that she does. But then she goes on to ask:

Again, though, is my present attitude toward both teaching and research a defense mechanism?  LRU is an R1, but it is also teaching-intensive, and recent developments are focusing ever more on teaching (in a way that makes me a little nervous).  So perhaps I deny that teaching is the most important thing I do for precisely the same reason that my dinner companions affirm it, because of insecurities.  They, having fewer students and more writing, hope that human connections matter more than producing books.  I, facing large classes in which it is hard to nurture individual connections, take refuge in writing, through which I can address those individuals who share my interests.  If I had spent my career at a SLAC, Ivy or near-Ivy, no matter my temperament, would I sound more like my dinner companions?

So since I first read the post, I’ve been thinking about these questions, about whether we value teaching, if we value it, out of insecurity about the value of the research that we do, as well as the inverse.  I think that my answer to those questions is no.  I don’t think that the discourse surrounding teaching and research is really about compensation or even about self-defense, most of the time.  I think that it’s actually about something different and much less psychologically interesting.  We talk about teaching and research as an “either/or” – as if one is either “research oriented” or “teaching oriented” – because of the radical differences between these two activities.  The problem is that teaching and research, while they have everything to do with one another and while they have the potential to influence each other in productive ways, are not identical, and when we try to talk about them as if they are, then we are forced to choose one as the thing with which we “really” identify.

What I think, though, is that this is stupid.  It’s like this: a juicy pork chop has absolutely nothing in common with an apple.  One is an animal, and one is a fruit.  You don’t prepare them in the same way.  Indeed, if you eat one of them raw it can give you horrible food poisoning, whereas if you eat the other, it, according to my mother, keeps the doctor away.  One is savory and the other is sweet (well, or tart, but you get what I’m saying).  But so with all of those differences, one could say that one is “either” a pork person “or” an apple person, assuming that they stand in binary opposition to one another.  Except for that if you do that then what about pork chops with apple sauce?


Just because two things seemingly have nothing in common, it doesn’t mean that they don’t taste delicious together or that they are diametrically opposed.  And, frankly, choosing between the two, as if one can’t be committed to both and enjoy both equally – if in different ways – just doesn’t make sense to me.  It’s unlikely that one would ever sit down to a meal of pork chops and apple sauce and force everybody around the table to talk about which one was the more fulfilling to them.  Nor would they say, “what made you choose that item on the menu – the apple sauce or the pork chop?”  So why do we do that with our jobs?

What I would answer, for myself, in response to Dame Eleanor’s post is this:

Teaching is the most immediately fulfilling part of my job.  Teaching provides instant, or at least reasonably prompt, gratification.  When I teach a class that goes very well, I know it pretty much while it’s happening.  When I transform a student’s way of thinking about something, they do things like send me emails or give me presents at the end of the semester, or they keep in touch and tell me what an impact I made on their lives as they go on to bigger and better things.  The great thing about designing a new course syllabus is that you can do so in a very short period of time, and you feel like you accomplished something.  There is something immediately satisfying about tweaking the assignments that you give to students, and when you get their papers back from those assignments, you see the results of your labor.  Additionally, after a day of teaching I feel physically tired, because I have been up and moving around and interacting with so many other people.  That feels like work, and things that feel like work also do feel important when we do them – because if they weren’t, why would we do them?

With all of that being said, I do find a great deal of long-term fulfillment in the research that I do, but it isn’t as immediately gratifying.  “Thinking” doesn’t feel like work to me.  Nor does reading, or even really writing.  Solving particular problems in a scholarly piece does feel like work, as does revising, as does compiling a bibliography.  But because those activities don’t have an immediate impact on anyone, including me, they don’t seem terribly significant.  I guess what I would say is that what feels like work about research doesn’t seem important to me, because really it’s just a means to an end.  In contrast, what is meaningful and important about research for me is the ideas – the thinking, the reading, the writing, and then ultimately, way far down the road, when I feel like my work has an impact on my field.  But all of that has a very, very long-timeline, and it can all feel very abstract.  So this isn’t to say that it’s less important than teaching – I don’t think that it is – but I do think that it is differently important.

I guess to torture my pork chops and applesauce analogy even further, I’d say that research for me is like a six-hour pork roast.  It takes forever, and it’s kind of a pain to make, and if you’re starving it is not the thing that you’re going to bother preparing.  But once you’ve done it, you taste the delicious goodness and you see how all of the time and effort you put into it was valuable.  In contrast, teaching for me is like an apple.  If you need a snack, you just take a bite.  If you want to get a little more creative, maybe you make apple sauce or a pie or strudel or something.  But at the end of the day, pretty much nothing you’re going to do with an apple is going to take six hours, and at the end of the day, the possibilities of an apple are pretty immediate.

So my question is why do we set it up that we’re supposed to identify with either teaching or research?  Why do we set it up that we have to reject a major part of what our jobs entail, if not in practice than in spirit?  Why don’t the words “professor” or “scholar” encompass both teaching and research?  Why do we limit ourselves in these ways – I’d say unnecessarily?


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My goal for June 1, which would be today, was to finish revising the article-length version of what will be the third body chapter of my book and to get it submitted.

The initial transformation of what I had into a reasonable draft of something that could be submitted was fairly painless.  What I didn’t count on, because I like to repress this part of my writing process, was that even though the initial push was pretty easy, I had a lot longer to go from that first reasonable draft if I wanted to make the thing something that I would regard as being of “publishable” quality.  I ignored the pesky realities of how long sentence-level revision takes, how difficult it is to achieve elegant transitions within a piece of writing that is 25-ish pages long, and the necessity for me to look very carefully at word choice, since I do tend to get stuck on some “favorite” words and phrases (which sadly often come from television that I’m watching, which explains why I had so many uses of the word “alibi” in my dissertation, which I composed while watching a lot of Law and Order).

Then I was side-tracked by having to do some last-minute revisions for another article that has been accepted for a hundred years but that is just going to be published now, which forced me to switch my focus on my actual writing goals for May.  But, hey, the course of true writing never did run smooth.

But so anyway, the long and the short of it is that while I’m notquite ready to submit the article, I am very, very close to being to that point.  Basically, I need to figure out two to four concluding paragraphs (though I do feel like I know basically what needs to go into the conclusion now that I’ve done all of the tough revision work of everything before the conclusion), let the thing sit for at least 24 hours, do final read-through and revision, and clean up the bibliography and notes.  In other words, I declare that come hell or high water I will submit this essay no later than Monday.

Looking ahead to next week, I am going to embark on composing the first chapter of the book, for which I have some draft material and a boatload of notes, but nowhere near a “chapter” as of yet.  My decision to do this, rather than to continue to work on the chapter from which the article emerges, is that I feel like I need a bit of a change of topic (1) and also that I think it will benefit the manuscript as a whole if I hammer out the first chapter, spend a couple of days on the second chapter (which is mostly done) so I can make sure there is a clear arc to the argument of the book, and only then move to the third chapter in the book (2).  I think it will be possible to accomplish those goals by the end of June.

For now, however, I need a break, since I’ve been working solidly for the past five or so hours.  I do believe that I need to take myself to the movies.


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First, let me preface everything with a caveat that writing, as a rule, is not easy.  Writing is work.  It’s not some fun-time vacation-land in which the words just come forth like magic in a perfect and awesome state.  Not so.  Not ever.

But I do believe that it’s true, and actually, I suspect it’s been true for some time, that writing an article is no longer the slog that it was for me when I was writing, say, my first few articles.  I am comfortable in saying now that I think, 9 years after defending my dissertation, that I know how to write an article.  And the thing that I think I find most hard about it now is that since I know how to write an article, going through the paces to get it to the point that it is an article isn’t quite so interesting as it once was.

[Oh, I suppose I should insert another caveat: I’m totally only writing from my disciplinary perspective here.  I have no idea how the article-writing goes for others outside of English lit, though I do imagine that some of what I say here might be true for you all, too.  Oh, and caveat #3: I do know that not all of the items I’m about to list below will be true for every article I might ever write, because part of the ease of this one has to do with some things that won’t be true in all cases in my future, I imagine.]

What makes writing an article easy?

  1. You’ve written some articles.  Basically, once you’ve written some articles and published them, you know what the shape of an article is.  You have certain tricks that you use – for structure, for analysis, for connecting the dots, and you can use those over and over again.  This is not to say that you don’t have to work to get to those in each new article – you do – but much like, I don’t know, making beautiful roasted chicken, once you’ve roasted a few chickens, even if you are using a new combination of herbs and spices, or olive oil instead of butter, or whatever, you’re still roasting a chicken.  Basically, you know what temperature the oven should be and how long you need to cook the bird in order for it to come out with crispy skin and juicy insides.  Same thing with writing an article, once you’ve written some articles.
  2. You’ve served as a peer reviewer for some articles.  This, of course, won’t happen until you’ve published some stuff yourself.  And also: much of what you review you will reject, so it’s not like you’re typically learning how to write an article from the articles that you peer review.  BUT.  There is something about reading what other people “think” is an article, after you’ve written a couple, that shows you more clearly what an article is.  Just as it’s valuable for the strongest students in a class to do peer review in composition, because reading other people’s stuff teaches them what’s good about their stuff, so it is it good to review articles that you recommend to reject.  Reading stuff that’s not good enough confirms for you what is good enough.
  3. You’ve read a shit-ton of student writing, and you’ve talked to an ass-load of students about their writing.  I know.  You can’t believe this is one of my things.  But I truly believe that in teaching students what makes good writing, I’ve become a better writer myself.  Being forced to talk to them about the nuts and bolts about the writing process reminds me of the tools and the steps that produce good writing in me.  Seriously: I’m never a better writer than when I’m teaching (or have very recently taught) composition.  I did a reverse outline of my article today, because I knew the structure was wonky.  Would I have done that if I hadn’t forced my students through that exercise recently?  Probably not.  And I’d be the worse off for it.  (Let’s note: one of the most cutting comments I ever received on a seminar paper was that my structure was “baroque.”  That was not a compliment.)
  4. You’ve written enough articles and conference papers on an author that you no longer actually have to do major amounts of research to understand the critical conversation.  Indeed, a new article might mean reading a book or two and three new articles.  (This is a field-specific thing, but it’s got to be true in other fields that at a certain point you’re not starting from scratch each time.)  For what it’s worth, this is exactly the reason that it pays to be a consistent, if not prolific, writer-for-publication, and why it’s good not to radically shift gears from one project to the next.  Writing a publishable article is infinitely harder if you are trying to write on something totally motherfucking alien to you.  New concept with an author with whom you’re very well-versed?  GREAT.  New author but with an idea that you’ve explored previously?  FINE.  But dude.  Why make life harder than it has to be?  Creative writers always say that the best creative writing comes from “writing what you know.”  Writing articles is no different.  But again, consistency is the key: if you (like some of my colleagues) don’t do shit for 10-15 years and then you try to jump back in, you’re screwed.
  5. You have, whenever possible, taught shit that you might write about.  Then even when you’re not working on research (as I am not always doing because I teach four fucking classes each semester) you’re still thinking, at least in a rudimentary and tangential way, about shit that you might write about.

I ended last summer with like 10 super-rough pages of what will ultimately be a chapter in my book.  Because of ADM and Notorious’s fall writing group, I got that up to about 15 lame pages (which is pretty amazing given the circumstances of my fall).  In the spring, the grad students invited me to give the keynote at their annual colloquium, and this forced me to revise that lame 15 pages.  In the past two days, writing maybe 4 hours per day, I’ve arrived at all but the conclusion of what will be the article that I’ll submit, I suspect Monday.  Now, it may well get rejected to where I submit it, but I’ve got less exclusive options lined up for resubmission, and rejection is part of the game.  But this also means that I have the scaffold of the chapter that this will become, so even if things don’t work out with the article, I’ll have a complete chapter draft done in the next two weeks.  And regardless of whether the article-version is outright rejected or gets a revise and resubmit or even is accepted in some fashion, I know that it’s not a total piece of shit, and I know that the chapter is not a total piece of shit.

In sum: writing an article is a hell of a lot easier when you know how to write one.  And it’s also easier when you’ve been consistently writing and when you read other people’s submissions to journals with some regularity.  And it’s easier when you really attend to teaching students how to write, and when you teach shit that you want to write about.

But basically: writing an article is never as hard as when you’re trying to write your first article, or your second or third, and you don’t really know what the fuck you’re doing.

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