Friday, February 29, 2008

Free day

Ever wish you had an extra day to finish that writing project, run all those errands you've been meaning to do, or just catch up on your sleep? Well, today's that day!

Wouldn't it be great if we actually thought of it that way? As a free day? In fact, I just might do just that. Here at Fellowship University, one of the faculty has even decided that having an extra day means there's no excuse not to go to a party. Frankly, I feel like staying home, but I kind of always feel like that, until I actually get out.

Anyway, the big event on this particular bissextile celebration is that a friend/colleague at Urban University is having her baby today. So, big congratulations to J, to her husband T, and to their little one, who will have the coolest birthday ever.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Well, the tub is still unscrubbed, every flat surface in my apartment is littered with papers, but dammit, I now have a draft of the Chapter I Hate. Sure, the conclusion and the introduction will need to be reworked, as they are lame. But I can't think more about them now. I've hit print, and I'm done, for the moment. The writing is not exactly a thing of beauty,** but I have something that I won't be utterly embarrassed to show to the colleague who has volunteered to look at it.

Most importantly, now I can get on to hating the next chapter.

But hey: I'm cutting myself some slack. Going home an hour early, going to the gym (first time in a week), and going to ask Interesting Development if he'd like his best girl to take him out to dinner to celebrate. Because hey: I finished a chapter today.

**Note to Self: Do not again make the mistake of mentally comparing your writing to that of That Book -- you know, the one on a related but not-too-related topic, with the guy working from the same body of sources, whose incisive analysis and flowing, evocative prose scooped up about six major book awards? Yeah, that one. You will only end up feeling bad.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And again: dammit.

Have you ever typed something into a piece you're writing, based on something you are 100% certain you read within the last 3-6 months, but just can't put your finger on what it was, so you type it in anyway, with a footnote that says "find the source for this" or something like that, but then when you go to track it down, it's nowhere in your notes, and although you are still dead certain that this reference exists, and it's an excellent point that you ought to make, you have no idea even where to begin looking for it?

Yeah. Me neither.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


It's 10:30 Sunday night. I'm about halfway through typing up the scribbles that I've been making on the chapter MS all weekend, but there's no way I'm going to finish tonight. So I'm going to call it a night, and plan to finish it tomorrow morning in the four hours between waking up and going to the gym.

On the bright side, the chapter is looking a little better. It still seems clunky to me, but I think that, in fewer than 24 hours, it's going to be good enough to put in a folder in my desk and move away from for a while. And it's even approaching the 12,000-word mark (including notes -- all my word counts include notes), so that's something.

On the other hand: my bathtub still needs scrubbing. Any takers out there?

Thursday, February 21, 2008


1. I resolve to put this chapter to bed by the end of this weekend. It may not be great, but I will have a draft. And I will shoot for that draft to be at least 12,000 words long.

2. I resolve to have a completed MS to pitch to publishers by the time Kalamazoo rolls around.

3. I resolve to scrub my bathtub this weekend. Seriously.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Letting go

By 8:30 this morning, I had deleted over 2,000 words from the current chapter I'm working on.

If you've been reading this blog for even a few weeks, you know that one of my anxieties is that the manuscript will not be long enough to be a real book. But this morning, I decided that a section that I had spent ten days researching and three days drafting not only wasn't very good, but simply Would Not Work. So other than a two-sentence paragraph that still works well as a transition, it's gone.

Letting go – just tossing something that isn't working, and that is slowly dragging down everything else around it – is scary, but it can also be incomparably liberating. Here's a story: When I was writing my dissertation, one of the things I decided right off was that I needed to understand some background stuff. So for two or three months, I read boring books and articles on this background. Then I wrote a forty-five-page chapter. The months went by, and I wrote two more chapters. But as I wrote, I started to realize that something was wrong. Sadly, I knew what it was: large portions of chapter one, product of so much long (and frankly very dull) labor were blocking the project as a whole. I had learned something in writing it, but it didn't play nicely with everything else, and did little or nothing to move the argument forward. In fact, it acted as a red herring, distracting my hypothetical readers from where I'd decided I wanted to take them.

So, after much agonizing, and weighing the work I'd put in against the knowledge that it just wasn't going to work out, I deleted two dozen pages from chapter one of my dissertation. It hurt, but it was followed by a feeling of lightness and freedom, and a clear sense of the path forward.

So yes: 2,000-plus words gone.** Just an hour ago. But I know it's for the best.

**Okay, technically not really "gone" – I have an entire folder on my hard drive labled "orphaned sections," in the hopes that someday the work will find a home.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


So, no doubt many of you have already heard of the shooting at Northern Illinois University this afternoon. These things scare me a lot. I think it's the senselessness of it all. I just can't understand it.

On a personal note: I interviewed with this school at one time. I sort of know the person who got the job (we met once at a conference, and she's a friend of several people I know better). I'm 99% sure she's okay -- it's a big school after all, and the shooting happened in a class in another discipline. But I still worry. [UPDATE: heard from her last night; she's fine.]

I don't have any trenchant analysis on this point. I'm just in shock, and kind of venting.

February 14th

Happy Oregon Statehood Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let Us Now Praise Departmental Staff

I know, everybody says it: the office staff are the people who make departments run. But we hear it so often that it's almost become a cliché. However, my department at Urban University has easily the best departmental staff ever: über-competent, helpful, friendly, knowledgeable in the ways of bureaucracy, and able to put up with a stress case like me. I got another demonstration of that today, and I need to give mad props, as the kids supposedly used to say. [note to self: Never actually say "mad props" out loud. Ever.]

Here's the deal: Every year, our faculty have to turn in a packet that the departmental and college committees use to evaluate our progress toward retention, tenure, or promotion. And every year, like clockwork, the whole thing seems to come as a complete surprise to me. I've got some sort of paperwork amnesia that enables me to forget procedures from one year to the next.

So, I find myself a couple of days before this deadline, realizing that I don't have all the materials that I need to complete my review packet. Said materials are in the department office in Job City, which is two time zones away from Fellowship City. I'm not sure I could have gotten my hands on them before I left, even if I were the kind of person to have that sort of foresight, but the fact is that I don't have them, and the deadline is approaching.


I e-mail Omniscient Office Admin. (they're all pretty fantastic, but this one in particular has been with our department for years, and deals with my panic attacks with aplomb and good humor), but get no reply. Later in the day, I call Stupendous Chair, who has more looming crises to deal with right now, and she tells me not to worry, even though that's what I do best. She also tells me that O.O.A. has been out of the office for a few days with a flu, but that she'll leave a note.


O.O.A. e-mails me, when she's got every business being home resting, and not checking her e-mail, and offers the following:

"Just let me know what you need--I'll be hapy to look for it and e-mail it to you as a PDF, or copy it and insert it at this end, whichever you're comfortable with."


I've seen little signs posted in other administrative offices, saying things like "Lack of proper planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part," and I can sympathize with the sentiment. But we should all be profoundly grateful for office staff who make everything run so smoothly, even when it's really our problem.

Here's to them.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fear and Progress

More words.

Thursday, I got an unsolicited not-quite-an-update on the progress of my article MS. I was told that it was still under review, that they'd get back to me soon, but that my file was "complex." Well, possibly (see here and here); but while I'm sure the update was well-intentioned, my brain jumped to the conclusion that it was going to get kicked back to me again. There was that sense of impending doom, followed closely by fear that I was going to never get published, my career would end... on and on like that.

And that fear -- irrational as it surely is -- got me going. I've drafted most of a new section of the current chapter I'm working on, another 2,300 words or so since Friday. Fear, apparently, is my main source of motivation. That can't be healthy, in the long run.

But in the meantime: this chapter may get written after all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

For those of you trying to guess the location of Fellowship City...'s not in the tropics:

This was the view from my front porch yesterday. And this photo was shot an hour and a half before the snow stopped falling. If blowing sideways can really be counted as "falling." Needless to say, I chose to work from home that day.

Go ahead, all you with your jobs in the snow-free states. Laugh it up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Did we really need a study to tell us this?

In today's New York Times, confirmation of what many of us have known all along. But it's worth reading anyway.

I do find it interesting that the initial study was on a group of "high-achieving women." If that doesn't describe the cohort of people I've talked to about our experience with this very phenomenon, then I don't know what does.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Meltdowns and the Intellectual Girl

Yesterday, I had a meltdown with regards to the writing. This chapter has been kicking my ass for two reasons: 1) It's a grab-bag of things that are vaguely related to each other, but not nearly as much so as in the other chapters; and 2) I can't figure out which way round to string the various elements. The frustrations built to a point where I started to question whether I was even capable of writing this book, and whether I'm not good enough to do the thing I thought I had a reasonable knack for doing. So, I curled up on the couch and cried a little.

Yes, that's right: this chapter has officially brought me to tears.

Now, this is not the first time that suggestions (whether internal or external) as to my competence in my chosen profession have made me weepy. There was a mini-meltdown after my latest round of Revise-and-Resubmit with Journal of Excellent Studies; I wept copious tears after I got rejected in grad school for omigodhowwillidomyresearchwithoutit grant; meetings with my M.A. advisor made me cry on a weekly basis for almost two full semesters (though never once in his presence). I do not have a particularly thick skin when it comes to my work.

Now, this can all be related back to earlier discussions of fraud complex. But it makes me wonder about gender and visible meltdowns in academia. Is this more common among women? Do they all, like me, try to hide it, for fear of not being taken seriously? Do men cry about these things, but just not talk about it? Do they process it differently – say, with anger, or by dismissing critics as uninformed or irrelevant? Do they have thicker skins?

Or is it just me?

The good news is, the meltdown seemed to be therapeutic (as meltdowns usually are, for me): combined with some solid emotional support from Interesting Development and a good night's sleep, I woke up this morning determined to make some progress, and to let the chapter be whatever it will, so long as it's done.

That'll teach that meltdown who's boss.