Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When Work Itself Becomes Procrastination

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, my current writing project is getting a revise-and-resubmit put away before I need to pack up and move across the country for a fellowship year. This has involved reading books and articles written my people working in fields adjacent to my own, so I can make work on medieval history relevant to the non-medievalists who read this journal. So, off and on for the past month, I've been going through stacks of books and articles in fields not my own, in order to write perhaps two paragraphs for the introduction.

So, it is with pleasure that I report that I have at long last become more efficient: today, I collected six books from the library, immediately rejected two as irrelevant, and in a little over two hours, gutted the other four to extract the bits I needed. I also found three blessedly short articles that will help, printed them out, and am determined to be just as ruthless with them.

Of course, it occurs to me that, by working on these revisions, I may subconsciously be putting off working on the much more complicated and intimidating book manuscript. In honor of this bit of self-analysis, I am inaugurating a new "procrastination" subject label. I'm hoping I won't have too much occasion to use it over the next year, but I fear I might.

Monday, July 23, 2007

on reading for pleasure

I grew up surrounded by books, with weekly trips to the library, where I was eternally frustrated that my mom would only let me check out three books at a time. My parents read to me; later, I read to myself, for pleasure. I read Madeline l'Engel, trashy grown-up novels at sleepovers with friends where we giggled over the dirty parts, and historical fiction which led me semi-directly to my current career. So, whenever I'm in Home City, one of the places that I always make a point of stopping at least twice is Big Independent Bookstore. BIB is one of the last of a dying breed. But it's going strong.

The one in Home City has a number of branches in that town, and I visited two of them, and bought two academic books, and one novel (Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which has been on my "to read" list for about five years now). I loved being so surrounded by books that I could get lost. I loved the fact that the selection was determined by the owners and employees, not some national headquarters. I loved the fact that they sold books -- not CDs, DVDs, toys, character-licensed merchandise... just books. (Well, okay: there was coffee, too.)

But the best part of visiting BIB is that there are ample spaces to plonk yourself down and dive into a book, right there. And people were doing just that. =>

Now, with no children of my own, I read to my niece & nephew whenever I get a chance. And I love to see other adults doing the same. This kid is obviously engrossed, and there's not a hand-held video game in sight.

So, I invite readers out there (yes, all three of you) to use the comment space to shamelessly promote your favorite indie bookstores, and encourage you to patronize them, either in person or online. Let's make sure that the next generation of geeky little readers has the same opportunity as we do.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I'm in Home City now, and as always, it's like I never left, for both good and ill. I'm staying at the family home, in a bedroom across the hall from the one I grew up in. I'm in a twin bed -- again, same as it ever was. And there is the inevitable low-frequency background hum of minor family drama. But I find it's like living in a high-traffic neighborhood: after a while, you get used to the noise, until you no longer notice it at all.

Home city is a wonderful place. And yes, I did bring a few photocopied articles with me. I'm determined to get through them while I'm here. But there are friends to visit, a great local bookstore to wallow in, and the general city ambiance to soak up. So, reports over the next couple of days are likely to have less than usual to do with matters academic.

Oh! But on several recommendations, I'm reading Anne Lamott's "Bird By Bird." I started it on the plane, and it's wonderful. For anyone looking to fall in love with writing again, this is a good place to start.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Summers Off"

So, no posts lately. In part because I've had an out-of-town guest who just departed, and tomorrow I'm embarking on a trip to Home City, but largely because I've not done much of note. Yet we are at July 15, the official halfway point of the summer, and I have dilly-dallied, and find myself with little accomplished.

It is a constant of academic bloggers, contributors to the forums on the Chronicle of Higher Education, and academics in general that nobody understands that our "summers off" are anything but. We cry that we are researching, writing, developing courses... on and on. But my self-assessment at the halfway mark leaves me with a sobering realization: I do tend to treat summer as "time off," much more than I should, even though I know that I need to be working.

Now, this may not be a bad thing. After all, after pushing hard all year long, we need time to recharge the batteries a bit. We also need to do all those things that we didn't have time for while teaching (and yes, the 55-hour teaching workweek is no lie) -- things like schedule long-delayed medical appointments, visit the family, sleep more than six hours a night, and (my personal favorite) clean the house. Seriously, if you're not an academic, you have no idea what messes our houses can become the last six weeks of the semester. And, of course, like any working stiff, we need a bit of vacation time.

But, for me at least, this bit of slack can extend far into what is supposed to be productive work time. And for many of us, guilt becomes an inherent feature of relaxation.

So, I've finally hit the point where I'm ready to buckle down. But now it's off for a week with friends and family. And yes: I'll be bringing reading with me.