Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Random Bullets of Travel

  • I got underway for my research trip to Blargistan at 6 a.m. Monday morning, with a ride to the airport. Everything – everything – fit into a camera bag and a carry-on suitcase. Including four gift copies of the book. I imagine that I will be purchasing some clothing items while I'm in Blargistan.
  • Another item in my suitcase is a book to help me with improve my knowledge of Blerg. No, not Blarg; Blerg. Blarg is the primary language you learn when you go to Blargistan, but in some places (including some of the ones that I'm going on this trip), a good working knowledge of Blerg opens some doors. Currently, I speak Blerg like a buddhist – I remain firmly in the present. I hear that there are other tenses.
  • Why pack for five weeks, including such heavy items, in only a carry-on? Simple: my connecting flight at JFK gives me only 50 minutes to de-plane, get to the international terminal, go through security again, and get to my gate (actually, probably less than that, as they close the gate a bit before departure). I'll have enough trouble getting me there; I don't trust that my luggage would make it separately. Expect this point to be updated (hopefully from the plane, and not from some JFK-adjacent hotel room).
  • Yes, the stove is off. Yes, the coffee pot is off. Yes, the alarm on my clock is off. Hell, I even took the batteries out of the smoke alarms, just in case.
  • I'm also having guests (relatives of friends) stay at my house for a week while I'm away. So I put out clean sheets & towels, and cleaned the place a bit yesterday. What's the appropriate cleaning effort for houseguests who are staying for free? I determined that "one hour" was the right answer.
  • A smart thing to do: when you have an early-morning flight, go buy your latte the night before. Pop it in the fridge for reheating the next morning. This will guarantee that you don't have to face the pre-dawn hours un-caffeinated, and there are no dishes to wash before you go.
  • I have determined to practice the yoga principle of non-attachment for the duration of this trip: If I find tons of fabulous documents, great. If I don't, well, there's not much I can do about that.
  • Yep: Made it. Slept almost not at all. It's now 8 a.m. where I'm at, and the middle of the night where I started out. Wondering if I should take a nap. Wondering how the melatonin experiment will go.
  • I'm hoping that my European cell phone will still work. I promised a ridiculous number of people that I'd call them "as soon as I arrived." I'm barely coherent in my own language right now.
  • aaannndd.... it's been 30 hours since I last slept. But in general, everything went smoothly. Time to call it a day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Do you know what's a really cool feeling?

I don't want to steal focus from the online writing group CFP, so if you're interested, go here, and sign up. Don't delay: week one progress reports are coming June 3!

Guess what? I leave for a five-week research trip to Blargistan on Monday. And, as of 7:45 p.m. Saturday, I was finished with my pre-trip to-do list. I had finished and printed my presentation, confirmed my lodgings, put together a sheet with friends' phone numbers, located my passport, called the banks to log my travel so that my cards would still work, backed up my computer's hard drive, printed out my itinerary, printed maps of the archives, done laundry, paid bills, collected medications, and even got semi-packed.

This meant that, other than an hour's worth of house-tidying, and the last of the packing, I have had all of today all to myself, just to relax.

This is something unprecedented. And let me tell you, it's nice.

I'm up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, and off to the airport at 6. Next dispatch from Blargistan!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Writing Group: Call for Proposals (with a book recommendation)

The time has come, the walrus said, to write of many things.

As previously announced, Another Damned Medievalist and I are launching the pilot term of our online writing group. We're going to be starting up next Friday. For now, we'll be doing this as sort of an open-thread Friday, where you check in once a week to report on your progress. Occasionally, we may offer suggestions of things to contemplate and comment on in a given week. But mostly, it's going to be about us being a group of people who hold each other accountable for producing a finished piece of writing in a 12-week period. June 3 will be week one, the first week that you report progress. August 19th will be week twelve – the week you have your project finished.

Who can participate? Anyone who is writing something. Given that ADM and I are both academics, and both in the Humanities, our posts will likely be geared toward that audience. But all are welcome to participate.

Lest you think this is all loosey-goosey, however, we're going to require one thing from anyone who wants to participate: A firm commitment. So that's the theme of this thread: What will you commit to writing in this twelve-week period? A conference paper? An article? A chapter of your dissertation? Will it be a complete first draft or a revision? It can be anything you want, so long as you can commit to working on it and reporting your progress weekly, and – most importantly – finishing it by August 19th. So figure out what you can reasonably accomplish, and tell us about it.

ADM and I will alternate weeks to host. I'll take the first week, Friday June 3rd, when we'll talk about your first week's progress, but also the importance of daily writing, and your writing environment. But that's for next week. For now, let's just get to know each other, and share our project goals for the next twelve weeks.

Hope to see you there!

UPDATED: There are many wonderful writing guides out there, but one that I'd love to recommend to this group in particular is "Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks." It's geared towards advanced grad students and early- to mid-career academics, and focuses on taking something you've already got a bit of a draft of (seminar paper? conference paper?) and expanding, revising, and shaping it into a polished piece. Week-by-week instructions and everything. It's not an "assignment" for the group, but I've used it with great success.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Frog Princess, in her sign-in, has set a (more or less) halfway goal along with her August 19 goal. I've also had good results breaking down my project into manageable chunks, and making mini-commitments to myself. I highly recommend FP's approach.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Online Writing Group: WATCH THIS SPACE!

Another Damned Medievalist and I are closing in on starting the writing group. We were supposed to have an announcement, CFP up this morning, but as ADM said in her reply to my e-mail (entitled "itotallyfuckingforgot"): "eyeballs, alligators, etc."

Like Strunk & White, ADM is a fan of brevity.

So, we're batting a real opening announcement back and forth over the course of the day, and it will be cross-posted later tonight or perhaps tomorrow, at which point you can see if it will work for your needs right now, and sign up. First "Term" will begin next Friday. If it doesn't work for you right now, don't worry: another one will be along in the fall.

Watch this space!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Confronting the Hard Numbers, and I Feel (sorta) Fine

Today I got an update on the hard numbers on the first run of my book, now out a year. Of the whole (smallish) print run, about 40% have sold. 50% remain. The rest, I assume, have been given away by the press as review or author's or prize copies (which, I have to admit, is pretty cool).

Honestly, there is a part of me that is disappointed that this book hasn't been a runaway success, selling out its first print run in less than a year.

Another part of me acknowledges that 40% is not too bad in this day and age.

Another part hopes that sales will go up when reviews really start coming out (only one so far, that I know of).

But the one lonely small, sane voice in my head tells me that it's not about the numbers, that I wrote a damn fine book that I can be proud of, and that that was my main goal all along. I'm gonna go ahead and listen to that voice for a while. Damn right, I will.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In the Aftermath of Pseudonymity (a longish post)

I've returned from Kalamazoo. I am probably the medievalist blogger who said least about this annual event, mainly because I was too busy, both before and during. But let me cover that quickly before I get to my main point. The conference was a good for me, for these reasons:
  • I saw a number of friends who I only see once a year, if that
  • The panel I organized went fairly well
  • My book sold out of all its display copies
  • The book also got a totally unexpected shout-out at a panel I was in the audience for
  • I spoke to FabEd about my next book project(s) and he seemed interested (albeit cautiously, as is his way)
So, all is well on that front.

Now, on to the topic of the post. It appears that my identity is about the worst-kept secret in pseudonymous blogland. I've suspected this for a while, but now I'm sure, and this presents me with an opportunity to rethink the way I experience my own pseudo-self, and the way I present that to the world. Not worrying about maintaining a not-very-secret identity** frees me up to do a few things. For example, I can post some photos that I've been holding back because I think they might give clues to my identity. I can talk more concretely about the research and my travels if I want to. I don't have to be cagey about some things.

On the other hand, I should probably talk a little less freely about some work-related aspects of my life. I think that's not such a bad thing, and not just for reasons of discretion. Really, the problem is that the same old bitch and moan makes for boring blogging. Plus, I've realized that blogging these things may be reinforcing my own negative mood of late. So a content shift is long overdue.

But to what? Well, if you've had a face-to-face conversation with me recently, you know that one of the things I've been talking a lot about lately is setting boundaries, reserving a space for things in my life besides work. This is harder than you might think. I work, and when I'm not working, I'm thinking about work, or – yes – blogging about work.

So this post, a couple of weeks short of my fourth blogiversary, marks me thinking about how making some subtle changes in the content of my blog might be a good way to help me think about who I am other than Professor Notorious. Imagine a closed shape of some kind – a circle or a blobby trapezoid or something. Inside, my work life. The increasingly tiny area outside, everything else. I'd like this blog, in addition to its other functions, to become a tool to help me explore the possibilities of a life outside the lines.

More precisely: I'll continue to talk about my research and writing, because that's a part of my creative identity that's pretty important. And yes, ADM and I will be running that online writing group. But also, expect a more personal blog: more photos, more yoga talk, more nieces and nephews. More of an attempt to focus on the positive things in my life, and to make space for the ones that don't yet exist. This probably means fewer posts, and perhaps less generally relevant ones. But I did start this blog for myself, and this is the next part of what I need to be doing. Feel free to come along for the ride if you want.

And for those who don't: no offense taken, and thanks so much for having been a part of the trip thus far.

** I'm going to keep the pseudonym, though, because I like it, and because a fellow blogger at the 'zoo told me that my made-up names for people and places were his favorite part of the blog. I like them, too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Angry Enough to Finally Walk Away

No, not from my job -- though I could understand if my recent posts might have led some of my readers to conclude that. I think a summer break will put things right for a while on that score. No, I'm talking about walking away from a fifteen-year relationship. With a credit card.

Tenured Radical has a nice post up about graduation and debt. And I realize that I've never really talked much about my own debt. I think I'd like to write a longer post on this someday, but right now, I just want to talk about getting out of one financial relationship that has become particularly abusive.

Last night, I opened a backlog of mail. One of these was an "account update" from Really Evil Bank.** REB was, I think, fourth in a line of banks that bought my credit card account from the original folks I carefully selected back in 1997. That's right: I've had this account in good standing for almost 15 years now. And last night, I read that they've just changed the rules: if I make a single late payment, ever, my interest rate goes up to 29.99%, indefinitely.

You read that right: fifteen-year credit history with this card, credit rating of 750, permanent address and professional job of 8 years' standing, but I can still be charged 30% if, in the future, I slip up once. And you know what I realized? Abusive (but legal -- legal, I tell you!) practices like this only exist because the people perpetrating them know we will put up with them.

The only way this can change is if I get out from under them. Up until now, I've needed this company more than they need me. They've given me a humungous credit line, and I've done just what their analysts likely predicted I would: I've used it. This credit card has paid for everything from hospital bills to groceries, not to mention god only knows how many self-financed professional conferences and overseas research trips. I've established a ridiculously good payment history with them. Up until now, though, I've been stuck with whatever they dish out (refusal to negotiate a lower interest rate? 50-cent surcharge for months when I don't carry a balance?) because I've been carrying a debt with them so high that I couldn't pay them off and walk away. But through various machinations, I'm now perilously close to having this credit card paid off for the first time in over ten years. And when that happens, I'm canceling the thing. I'm done with REB, one way or the other, by September 1. Maybe sooner.

Summary: The only way not to lose here is not to play. Come September 1, I'm out. See if I don't.

**Unnamed here, but you know the big giant one whose mortgage division you keep hearing about in the news, where they deliberately jerk around people trying to use the law to refinance so they don't lose their homes? Yep, those guys are the current holders of my credit card, and I'm upset that I'm giving them even one dime of my money.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What is it about this semester?

NB: lest anyone thinks I've got my head on the wrong side of the oven door, please see important mental-state update at the bottom of this post.

I'm teaching three research seminars (two undergrad, one grad). You'll have to trust me that this is a pretty heavy load.

And let me tell you, this semester, it seems like everyone needs to reschedule appointments, everyone is sick, everyone has family issues that need to be given priority, everyone has special needs that require an extension...

Everyone, in short, needs more of my time.

And yet, the product I'm seeing is worse than ever.

And lo, I am exhausted, because I'm being exhorted to just hold a few extra individual meetings, and to maybe grant extensions, even though summer is supposed to be my research time.

And lo, I know that my students are wroth, for I grade like unto that which I receive, and that I am going to be raked over the coals at evaluation time.

UPDATE: You know what I keep telling myself? Every semester is a chance to push the reset button. That's the beautiful thing about semesters. Squadratomagico makes a good point in the comments about setting boundaries, but as the economy tanks, my students' needs only grow greater, and I feel like an absolute shit for considering backing away in these circumstances. So there's something I could use some advice on.