Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm sure that principals everywhere would agree

...that spelling can be very important.** (via University Diaries)

**Am I the only one who's getting tired of fielding the student question, "Do spelling and grammar count?"  My new answer for that question is: "Every minute of every day."


Yesterday, I took the day off, except for one little errand: I bought boxes.  

Today, I'm starting to deal with the mess in my living room.  But it's so darned hot. Ugh.

Monday, July 28, 2008

With two weeks to spare...

Five minutes ago, I finished the last of the edits on the introduction and the chapters. These include several rounds of revisions, based on my own ideas, and the readings of Grad School Best Friend M., Clio's Disciple (an old friend and new blogger), and ID.

And two minutes ago, I e-mailed the whole lot to two senior people in my field who have generously agreed to read and comment on the whole thing.

There is more to do, certainly. I need to double-check all my references, and I need to write a conclusion. I will need to incorporate the suggestions that I get from these two readers. And, of course, I will ultimately need to convince my first-choice publisher that this is, in fact, a book worth publishing.

But for right now, I feel happy, a little bit nervous... and actually proud of myself. With two weeks to spare in my fellowship year, I have a manuscript that I'm not embarrassed to show people.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

La plus ça change...

I just wrote the following sentence in ch. 4 of my MS:

"Female plaintiffs had a fine line to walk when describing violent sexual encounters: in a culture where submission to male authority and protection of sexual reputation were both part of an appropriate female sexuality, women could have a difficult time describing rape in a way that did not implicate themselves as at least partially culpable."

As someone who writes on (among other things) the history of women in the Middle Ages, the reactions I get from non-academics tend to focus on how uniformly awful things were for women before -- what? 1968? -- and, by implication, how far we've come since then. Unless I'm actually in a lecture hall, I try to shift the topic quickly, because stepping back and really thinking about the above sentence makes me want to take my interlocutor, shake them, and ask them how much they think has really changed.** The problem is that my well-intentioned patriarchy-blaming would probably come out sputtering and quasi-incoherent, thereby undermining my point.

And now I have to wonder, for all those of you historians of women/gender out there: do any of you study any time period, anyplace, where the sentence I wrote above would not be true?

**Yes, yes: I'm aware of the myriad of ways in which my lot is better than that of a woman living in the fourteenth century. I get it. But my point is that it's a little early to hang the "Mission Accomplished" banner, ya dig?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Caffeine-Induced Nostalgia (The Year in Review)

First news: I'm less than 48 hrs from having a draft (minus conclusion) of my book MS. Not a moment too soon, as I have only a couple of weeks in which to organize a cross-country move.

This morning, I find myself in Coffee Shop #1 (pictured), and overcome with a strong sense of nostalgia, both good and bad. Over the year I've spent in Fellowship City, I've explored the coffee shops both near and far, and have found about three favorites, in sequence, plus a few perfectly servicable backups. Coffee Shop #1 is so psuedo-named because it was my first favorite: less than a mile from home, decent coffee & pastry, not-too-loud music, and usually I can get a table. Add a big front window, and you've got a winner. I spent my first couple of months here, working for about 2 ½ hours in the mornings before I went in to the office. I vividly remember sitting at one of the window tables, compiling bibliography by chapter, and sending out e-mails to local people, letting them know I was around. I remember drinking a coffee here and giving myself permission to futz around compiling bibiliography and exploring the town for the first two weeks, rather than jumping right in to one of the chapters. The whole year stretched out ahead of me – who would I meet? What would I get accomplished?

The year between then and now you can read about by going through the archives: I've almost finished the MS, I made some excellent friends (both here in FC, and "here" at GirlScholar), took a fun trip to Chicago, and met that Interesting Development. (I also put on about ten pounds, but we don't need to talk about that while I'm eating my scone.) But here I sit at the other end of it, 48 weeks later, the book MS almost done, no time for another fun trip, friends & ID departed to their respective jobs. And being back here makes me realize what a wonderful year this has been, both professionally and personally.

May I have another?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Paleographic Geekery


Quick update: for the last few days, I've been doing two things. First, I've been writing the introduction, then madly rearranging the parts so that I have everything introduced in the correct order. It's like one of those puzzles in the old analytical portions of the GREs, where you have to arrange seating for 6 people, but X can't sit next to Y, and Z has to be between two people taller than she is, blah blah blah...

Second, I've been going through the chapters, cleaning up all those obnoxious little square brackets. And here's where the paleographic geekery comes in (nonmedievalists, feel free to tune out here). I was looking for the name of a monastery that had to be located not too far from the town of X. I had a 150-page book listing all the known monasteries for the entire larger region, with whatever information was known about each, and a document (click on photo to enlarge -- it's in the first line there) in which the name was rendered as a word beginning with a tall letter with a squiggle through the tail, followed by...

No. Wait. This story is too boring to tell in detail. Let's just say that in a flash of paleographic insight, I suddenly realized that the letter I thought had been a "pro-" was actually an "ser-", which made me think of an obscure reference I'd seen elsewhere, and then I followed that up in the guide, and on a map, and got three kinds of rock-solid confirmation for something that had been a total mystery only three minutes earlier.

It was a small triumph, and only cleared up one of about two dozen remaining square brackets, but for a minute there, I got to feel pretty damned smart.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Never Trust Another Scholar

So, I've been going through my chapters, filling in square brackets and checking problems in the footnotes. One of the things I ran across to check up on is the fact that, in one paragraph, I refer to a particular law, but give it two different citations in two different footnotes. Strange. Especially since I knew this paragraph was one that I had originally used in an article I published a couple of years ago, and I checked all the citations before it went to press.

So, I went back to the law book to look it up, and found my problem. Let's pretend this particular law begins with the phrase "Ad astra per asperem." Turns out that I had indeed checked out the source and verified that the reference in question actually began with this phrase. The problem is, I didn't read further – I just trusted the citation that had gotten me there, and the quick check I made.

Apparently, this law code has TWO laws that begin "Ad astra per asperem," separated by about ten pages. And within the space of three sentences in my book MS, I managed to cite them both. I've corrected it now, but the older article is in print, with the error.

And, I would lighten up, but this particular law is a very well-known and important one. And I screwed it up in print.

The only comfort I have is that the scholar from whom I backtracked the original erroneous reference – someone much more established than I – made the same error, and is also in print as such. So, the responsibility lies partly with Established Scholar, but mostly it's my own fault for not doing a thorough enough reference check. And while this is embarrassing, at least it's a lesson I've learned with an early-career article, rather than a book.

Still… ::cringe::

Friday, July 18, 2008

Only three months late

...but I've finally submitted my book order for the semester that starts in six weeks.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Slow Progress

...but progress nonetheless. Before picking up my nephew at 11 for babysitting duty, I managed to get another 736 words written in the introduction. I'm closing in on having the 5,000 or so words I had figured on for this.

This might turn out to be a book after all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Writing, With Kids

Over the past couple of days, I've been trying to work under two kinds of pressure: chronological, and family-induced.

The first is obvious: my fellowship year is almost over, classes begin in six weeks (yeep!), and I'm still proofreading, filling in square brackets, and writing an introduction and conclusion. I'm far, far behind, and have precious little time to catch up.

The second bit of pressure is unusual: due to a series of family events and dynamics, I have been called across two time zones to babysit my five year-old nephew for five days. I love him, just like I love my six year-old niece, and he can be a lot of fun, but boy, this is one high-energy kid. He never stops, and he never plays on his own.

Here's the hilarious bit: when I explained to my mom that I'd do this, but mentioned that I'd need to head home right afterwards, and not stay around to visit, because I had to write write write, and that five days was doable, but only just barely, she said, "Well, you know, you can put him down in front of a video for half an hour and write then."

This is not mom's fault – why should she know anything about the writing process? But the idea that I could sit down, immediately start writing, and make some sort of progress knowing that I'd only have 30 minutes? I imagine that there are academic-writer-parents out there who have found a way to do just that, but I suspect that most of them get up at 5:30 a.m., and stay up until past midnight in order to get their work done.

Anyway, I managed to drag myself out of bed early this morning, head to a local coffee shop, and get 525 words of the intro written before I have to run one fun errand (more on that tomorrow!), then pick up my nephew for eight hours of being the world's second-best spinster aunt. Good news: I get to have dinner with my old friend The Lazy Gardener tonight! Whoo hoo!!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Counting Backwards

You'll notice that my percent-done counter has gone up to 87%? Yeah, well that's because I finally faced facts and changed my projected length from 95,000 to 90,000 words.

Also, I've incorporated the sections from Problem Chapter into two other chapters. I now see that Problem Chapter was never really a chapter at all. My manuscript may be getting shorter by the day, but it's tighter, and it's better.

I'm starting to believe that this may be a book after all.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Pull your head out, buddy.

The other day, New Kid did a great post on the "Pothead Ph.D." thing in the CHE. While I found that piece (the original, not New Kid's reaction) merely irritating, this short piece about academics who take out outside jobs made my blood boil. It's a hand-wringing piece by a dean who worries about things like faculty members who "abuse the flexible work hours that are characteristic of the profession," or even more insidiously, who "engage in enterprises that may sully the "good name” of the institution." [scare quotes are his, btw]

Now if the tone of this article had been something along the lines of "Wow! Our faculty are simultaneously working as adjuncts at other schools, as waitresses, in retail, and as strippers,** when we'd like them to be focusing on their mission here. Let's find out why this is going on, so we can fix the underlying problem," that would have been great. Instead, however, what we get is the tone of one administrator talking to another about those troublesome moonlighting faculty. It doesn't even rise to the level of patronizing, because the author treats the faculty he talks about as problems, rather than people with a problem -- one that he and his fellow administrators might be able to ameliorate, no less.

I have plenty more that I'd like to say on this -- in fact, I'm tempted to take the short piece apart line-by-line -- but I'd be more interested in what others have to say.

**One commenter on this CHE piece commented anonymously from a different IP address because s/he was doing just that.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I can't believe I'm even considering this...

...but I think I'm on the verge of reconceptualizing part of my chapter layout. I've already done this once, about a month ago, combining former chapters 1 and 2 into a single, longer chapter. Now, I'm about 80% convinced that I need to take the new chapter 2 (formerly chapter three) apart, pull the good 8,000 or so words from the two major sections, divide them in half according to topic, and incorporate them into chapters 3 and 5.

Here's why this makes sense: Chapter 2 was always a weak chapter, a grab-bag of stuff that didn't really fit anywhere else. It's also thin on documentation. And since chapter 1 is really a background chapter, chapter 2, with all its flaws, would be the first time that readers would encounter my work with the actual documents. And it's not good that this is the first impression they get.

Here's why I'm hesitant: this will leave me with a four-chapter book (not counting intro and conclusion), with those four chapters only totaling about 75,000 words. Add another 10,000 for the intro & conclusion, and another 4,000 or so for the bibliography, and that feels like barely a book at all. Plus, this seems like awfully late in the game to do a major rearrangement. It's like my version of a Hail Mary pass.

Yet, I'm about 80% sure I'm going to do it anyway.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I've started seeing Starbucks again.

Starbucks is frighteningly ubiquitous. There's at least one in your town, no matter how small. In some places, you might stand on a single corner and be able to see two. When I lived in Home City, I actually worked for this outfit, and while the beans are a bit overroasted for my taste, the general product is fine, and they were a good company to work for, proof that profit & ethics don't have to be mutually exclusive.

But I make it a general principle to support local businesses, so I rarely go into Starbucks. When they put one in our school library (see photo), I was incensed, for too many reasons to go into. And Fellowship City, Job City, and Home City are all rife with indie shops, so there's no excuse (as there is in an airport or a small town) for not patronizing the locals.

But lately, I've been spending more time in Starbucks, even going out of my way to do so. Why? Because Starbucks is the last coffee shop in the country without free wifi. And like many people, I'm utterly unable to resist the lure of my e-mail account, everyone else's blog, and so many other things. God forbid I'm online and alone, because there's a website that has links to every episode of nearly every TV show you've ever heard of that has become my latest time suck. And on and on. Starbucks provides enforced isolation from all this, like a technological monastery. And I've found that my productivity triples when I can't go online.

So, until I learn some self-control, I'm back.

[In ID news, for those of you who know him and/or are interested, he's arrived in Smallville (pseudonym subject to change without notice) safely, and has unpacked the moving truck. Apropos of this post, he informs me that Smallville allegedly has one Starbucks, but he has yet to figure out where it is, and the nearest one that the company website admits to is 90 minutes away.]

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Step One: Print out old chapter draft.

Step Two: Make notes on old chapter draft, both in margins, to indicate topics, and in text, to edit.

Step Three; Using marginal notes, construct new outline for chapter.

Step Four: Unthinkingly toss out old chapter draft, complete with very helpful text edits. Make sure to do this in a coffee shop, so when you discover your error the next day, there's no way to get the text back.