Sunday, September 30, 2007

Herding Cats

No posts for a while, but for a good reason: around four days ago, I hit the point in The Chapter That Would Not Die where I could start to see the argument emerge. So, for the past few days, the pages have slowly been transforming from the stage that my friend and colleague C. refers to as "verbal vomit" to an actual chapter with a real live argument, and I'm beginning to have a bit of hope. I should have a semi-respectable draft within the next 48 hours.

Along the way, the revision process has involved pulling apart old material from the dissertation (four years ago now!), trying to make it play nicely with new material from recent archival trips, incorporating secondary research, providing some cogent analysis, and above all, trying to thread through (or even remember!) the overall theme of the book as a whole. What's this process like? Well, you know:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Waaaay Outside the Ivory Tower

Today, I'm taking a break from my ivory tower to (re)post a couple of pictures from the website of Ko Htike, one of a few brave bloggers who are collecting e-mailed stories and photos from the current chaos in Burma/Myanmar, and using foreign-hosted proxy sites to get the words and images out.

This is huge, folks. If you're teaching, please consider making your students aware of it, and find out what you can do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Playing Hooky

Today, for the first weekday in three weeks, I decided to take advantage of the freedom that the fellowship affords me, and not go to the office. That's right: I'm playing hooky.

Yes, I'm going to get some work done today, but the word count moved up another 600+ words yesterday, and I came home exhausted and frustrated with my own writing. I need a day to decompress a bit.

So, in the meantime, for your entertainment and edification, I am pleased to present this somewhat unheimlich picture of penguins:


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Well, duh.

As I've been working on The Chapter That Would Not Die, and especially since I've been getting words down, I've been frustrated with how slowly it's been going, how clumsy my writing has been, and most especially, how I don't really know where I'm going. I've been expecting difficulties like this with chapter two (as-of-yet-unwritten), because I know that one is all brand-new ideas. But I was convinced that the current chapter, like two I've finished and two yet left to go, would go fairly smoothly, because it's essentially a revision -- albeit a deep one -- of things I had written in the dissertation.

Then, just this afternoon, it hit me: it's not.

That's right: after working for a couple of months on the reading for and drafting of this chapter, it only just now occurred to me that, while I've worked with most of the cases for the dissertation incarnation of this project, never once did I directly address the issues that are central to this chapter. In fact, I avoided said issues because, frankly, it's something that bores me to tears. I can't believe I just realized this. So of course it's slow and frustrating: it's new territory.

Does this mean that the remaining two "revision" chapters will go more smoothly? I hope so. After the last two frustrating weeks of writing, and contemplating the extreme suckitude of what I've got so far, I really, really hope so.

For those of you who were waiting...

...I have my 2,000 words. 9:21 a.m., Tuesday. 41,111 total words. 43.3% of the estimated total.

Now, on to the next 2,000.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Still Going

Running a day or two behind, but I'd like to draw your attention to the word count, which has moved. No, not by 2,000 words -- not quite. As of 5 p.m., I have added an additional 1,680 words since I set my 2,000-word goal last week. 320 words to go, but I really think I need to take a break, because the next subsection is going to require some sustained concentration, and I've only got about half an hour left in me at this moment in time. Those of you who care can watch for update later this evening...

UPDATE, 10 p.m.: I blew off those last 320 words in favor of stocking the groceries, and making up a rattatouille soup and couscous to pack for lunch for the rest of the week. Tomorrow, however, is another day.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Other People's Words

Today was a wash as far as my own work, but a nice day nonetheless: I overslept, then had a nice breakfast out, followed by yoga, a massage, and dinner with friends.

What else was I doing? Well, a friend of mine in a related field asked me to read the introduction to her book manuscript. It actually looks like we're going to exchange more chapters, so this will be good for both of us. And reading other people's manuscripts is just something we all do, right? So, even though it was not part of my little subfield, I read it.

I'm happy to report that it was great.

Now, maybe I just found it interesting because it's not the stuff I'm supposed to be working on, but the writing was good, the material was engaging, and -- most importantly -- the 20 pages I had made me want to read more. Send more chapters!

I did make some suggestions for small changes and clarifications, but the changes were small, and probably not utterly essential. Isn't it nice when you can tell a friend, in all honesty, that their work is interesting, and good?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Still Shooting for 2,000

Friday – the end of another workweek. Today I stayed late at the office, despite the fact that a huge storm was on the way in, in order to pull together the last bit of materials for my weekend writing. Remember that 2,000-word goal for this week? I've still got it, but am also going to have to insist that the week doesn't end until Sunday night, rather than Friday, as I originally planned. Stay tuned.

In other, less academic news: tonight around 7, just as the big storm was on the way in, I decided that I was not going to make it through the night without a can of diet soda. So, I hopped on my bike and rode about 5 blocks to pick one up, getting on the road just as the leading edge of the storm hit. I was still wearing my tank top (the pre-storm day had been hot and humid), and the rain was just starting to come down. Unless you've lived in a place where it never rains, you won't be able to understand the indescribable feeling of rain on bare arms. Maybe I'm weird, but I thought it was about the coolest moment of my day.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Comparing Notes

I got into a conversation with one of my colleagues at Fellowship Institute today, about how we write. I had just spent three hours going through and consolidating the 15 or so files of notes from manuscripts, notes from secondary sources, and notes from other random stuff, and trying to organize them according to the two or three versions of the outline of the final section of this evil chapter (note to self: don't start a complicated section of a project until you know you're going to have time to see that particular section through to the end -- if not, you'll end up with confusing, semi-overlapping versions that take ages to sort out before you even figure out what you have to work with).

I blogged a while ago about how I write by spending ages taking and organizing meticulous notes, and only beginning to write once I've got everything in order. I just can't do it any other way, as I have very limited recall (a pretty serious liability in my line of work, and one that I've had to learn to work around). My colleague, on the other hand, reads for a day or three, then sits down and free writes from memory, then goes back and digs through his recent reading to find the precise sources for the stuff he remembers. We were both astonished that the other person could work as they did. My method, born of necessity, means that I often go for weeks of work without writing a word; on the other hand, when I do write, I can do half a dozen pages a day, no problem, and often more. But I do envy my colleague, whose system allows him to write a little something every single day.

That must be very nice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Q: What's a pirate's favorite Greek lyric poet?


Q: And his favorite ancient Greek mathemetician?

A: AARRRchemedes.

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

EDIT: From my friend MAARRRtha, The Ten Commandments, Pirate Style.

Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Digital Me

Yes, I should be working. But it's been a long day, and I'm wiped out. So I followed the link from Tenured Radical, and used the digital portait maker to make a digital me (sort of), wrinkles and all:

If you would like to waste time, too, click here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Enough, Already

Today, at long last, I finished reading a book in another language that, while I technically read it, is not one of my best. It hurt. But it's done.

Last Friday, I was discussing The Chapter That Would Not Die with one of my colleagues at Fellowship Institute, and declared (perhaps rashly): "That's it -- I need to write. If it's ["it" = background reading for final sections of TCTWND] not read by the end of this weekend, it's not going to be read." Guess I gotta make good on that now. So, tomorrow will be the day to compile what notes I have. Writing begins Tuesday. Goal for Friday: 2,000 words, and an end to this chapter.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shana Tovah

Tonight (okay, last night; my internet went down just as I was trying to post this) marks the third night of the annual Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanna. I was lucky enough to be invited to the home of a new friend at Fellowship Institute, an observant Jewish woman who, somewhere in the midst of a huge scholarly project, managed to find the time and energy put on a massive feast for over a dozen people.

I've been to Passover seders before, but never to a Rosh Hashanna celebration. There is a bit early on where everybody spared a thought for the year just past, then took a slice of apple, dipped it in honey, and thought upon the sweetness of the year to come. Fellowship aside, the past twelve months have been rough for me: I've dealt with a death in the family, the end of a long-term serious relationship, and a semi-serious medical problem that I still haven't fully recovered from. As I stood there holding my bit of honey-dipped apple, I allowed myself to think about these things, to let them be a part of my past (to remember, without letting it constantly haunt my daily life), and opened my mind and my heart to the possibilities ahead.

Shana Tovah, all. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


As the new academic year ramps up, academics in the ol' Blog-O-Sphere have seen a bit of chatter about, well, chatter; that is, about the difficulty of doing research work in your office because people just won't leave you the hell alone. Belle at Scattered and Random tells about how the hallway chatter drove her to seek out a closet-cum-carrel in the library. Another Damned Medievalist espouses the joys of departmental social life, but points out that the flip side of pleasant sociability is the inability to get anything done in one's office. And even I have recently waxed poetic about the potential in having an office away from the hustle and bustle of instructional activity.

But after about a week in my new office home, I find I have a confession and an apology to make: I am a chatterbox.

I am that person who stops by and says "Wanna go grab a coffee?" while you are just getting into your midmorning work groove. I am the one who raps on your half open door, then steps inside to shoot the breeze for anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. I am the one who comes by, out of the blue, book or article (or student essay, when I'm teaching) in hand, saying " Am I the only one who wants to poke my own eyes out when I read this?" I like to think I'm pretty good at picking up nonverbal "go away" signals, and try not to overstay my welcome, but the fact is that I am the reason that you are not getting anything done. Sadly, I'm also the reason that I'm not getting anything done.

I'd like to think that, at this point, this is the product of a time of the semester when new people are coming in, and you just want to meet them and establish a social base. But, for your sake and my own, I now realize that I'm going to have to monitor this kind of interaction, or I'm going to find myself facing a wasted year, and a lot of firmly shut office doors.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Repeated Assertion ≠ Fact

An odd sort of symmetry prevailed today between my work and national events.

In the news today, General David Petraeus issued a report on the war in Iraq. The upshot was the same as it's been for years: every day, in every way, things are getting better. Hunky-dory. Stay the course.

In my own work, I finished reading a book that claimed to prove something about topic X. In final analysis, it really made a nice, well-supported, if not too earth shattering argument about topic Y. Topic X (the one I was interested in) was certainly a presence in the chapters, but a minor one, and the evidence really didn't support the argument about X that the author claimed. It would have made a nice leitmotif to the better argument about Y -- admittedly, a less sexy topic than X. Yet in the introductory and concluding sections of each chapter, the author kept asserting that that chapter's evidence proved something conclusive about topic X.

In both cases, I was deeply irritated by the constant insistence on a conclusion that the evidence didn't really support. When someone, whether academic author or public official, does this, I feel like my intelligence is being insulted.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Office Space

In my short career as a researcher-writer, I've always done my work at home, or at coffee shops, with varying degrees of productivity. Each offers something (convenience and sociability, respectively), but both offer their share of distractions. But pros and cons aside, the fact is that I've never been an office worker, because I've never had my own office. I shared with two other TAs as a grad student; as a faculty member, I share an office with a lecturer. And no matter how great your office partners are (and mine have been invariably good), you cannot treat a shared office as a work space. Add to that the hustle and bustle of instructional activity, and you might as well give it up.

Now, for the first time, I have my own office: a glorious, attractively-painted, freshly-carpeted twelve-by-twelve space with lots of sunlight, in a building for researchers (that is, no classrooms, no office hours). The difference is amazing: I come to work, and I'm "at work." No one comes by to ask me about whether I've filled out some sort of paperwork or other. Nobody is standing in the hall, chattering on a cell phone. Just me, in my sunny corner office, reading and writing. It's a real work space, with no distractions (unless I really go looking for them -- and sometimes I do).

I now officially have no excuses.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rediscovering the Stacks

Today was what I felt to be my first "real" day at Fellowship Institute. People are still trickling in, but today I met three of the people I'll be sharing the next year with. Good news: they all seem like wonderful folks. Two are pre-tenure women about my age (give or take a couple of years), and I'm excited about getting to know them better.

I'm also getting my office set up. Fellowship Institute just moved to a different building while the old one is being rehabbed, which means that our offices are freshly-painted, freshly-carpeted, and in lovely condition. By happy chance, mine is the largest of all the fellows' offices; I have dubbed it "the Ballroom" (Okay, it's not that big, but it is easily 50% larger than my shared office at Job University).

And, I went to the library.

Remember when you were an undergrad, and you did your bibliographic research by finding one book on the subject you were researching, then went to that place in the stacks and looked at the entire shelf around it, eventually clearing out half a dozen books that you never knew existed? Well, I did a modified version of that today. I discovered books roughly on my research topic that I never would have run across otherwise. And I was delighted to rediscover the joys of browsing. Because Job University serves a primarily undergraduate population, one is less likely to run across such things. I had forgotten how much I liked this aspect of research.

The stacks at Fellowship University are vast and in places creepy, but right now, I feel like I could spend hours and hours there.