Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Two Pieces of News

One: situation at home continues to be variations on the usual themes, with a broken furnace thrown in for a bit of extra excitement. Four layers appears to be the requirement for indoor living right about now.

Two: My book is on Amazon. June 2010, people. Save your pennies.

Monday, December 21, 2009

End-of-semester report (part two: travel edition)

I am writing this from the Grit City** airport. I have completed all grading, save for 6 grad seminar papers. Most students got the final grades that I expected they would, so that's all good. My one plagiarism report is filed. In about half an hour, my flight for Puddletown takes off. I accidentally went and left trusty ol' point-and-shooty in my drawer at home, so I guess this means I really and truly have to follow through with buying that new camera. Nikon D40 is my current first choice, though I will listen to any problems that people are having with it.

Have I done any shopping for presents? Of course not.

Have I already begun eating far too many cookies, apparently in an attempt to undo all the good work of getting in shape this past year? Well, duh.

Did I leave a stove burner on or something smoldering in the house somewhere? Uhh....

Nevermind. What's done is done. Next dispatch from Puddletown!

**Behold the new pseudonym for the place I currently live and work! I mean it with real affection: the metaphorical grit is what makes this place bearable. Of course, the literal grit is what makes me have to sweep every two days if I leave the windows open, but that's another story.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

End-of-semester report (part one)

It's finally happened: I'm getting sick.

After a full semester of avoiding swine flu, regular flu, and an upper-respiratory thing, all of which have been laying students, colleagues, and friends low, I came home tonight from a lovely holiday party, and suddenly began to feel a very bad sore throat, which is the usual first sign of a nasty cold. So I'm up late blogging when I should be in bed because I need ten minutes for this zinc lozenge I'm sucking on to dissolve. Seems like a good opportunity for a look back, and possibly forward.

In three days, I will be getting on a plane for Puddletown, to spend ten days with the family, increased by one since the last time I was there. There will be presents to buy, family dynamics to negotiate, and friends to see. Hopefully the grading will be done by then as well.

I will also be buying a fancy new camera for myself, so I hope to be adding more pictures to this blog in the first months of the year.

This holiday season is quieter than the last one. About a year ago, my life took an unexpected turn, as it often does, and things never really slowed down enough afterward for me to adjust and figure out which way was up.

No, actually, that's not quite right. What really happened was this: I lost something big and important, and slid into letting enormous amounts of work-related activity fill in the gap that was left behind. I've recently decided that this works well as a distraction, but not as a real fix. I'm hoping that the next few months will allow me time to finally address this. My medium-term goal is to restore some balance in my life, and get back to myself.

Good plan, no? I'll let you know how it goes as things progress. But for now, my zinc lozenge is almost gone, so it's time for sleep.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winding Down

It's Wednesday on Finals Week.

I've done none of my holiday shopping. I still have seminar papers to grade, a couple of late assignments to track down, two meetings with grad students I'm supervising, two article-length copy-editing projects (one for me, one for a friend), packing, laundry, etcetera. All must be accomplished by Monday.

On the other hand, I managed to get through all of my bluebook finals, most of my methodology papers, and I haven't gone insane.

Best of all, my dear friend K. from my year in Fellowship City is here for a brief visit. And that's just nice. I already feel like I'm on holiday.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The secret to stay-soft cookies

You know, I grew up in, let's say, a lower-middle-class household. In the 70s. So my diet consisted of 10% ground beef, 15% whatever-helper, 25% canned stuff, 10% basic fresh veggies and fruits (featuring iceberg lettuce and those mealy red apples),** 15% sugary snacks, 5% cheddar or colby cheese, 5% white bread, and 15% sauces and unguents (usually mayonnaise-based).

Yeah. Some of you know where I'm coming from.

But, believe it or not, the non-elite diet does have one major secret ingredient that's actually good, and I'm about to share it with you. No, it's not marshmallow fluff, though that's an important part of any diet, too. It is, in fact, the secret to chocolate-chip cookies that will not turn into hard little pucks within 3 hours after baking. Are you ready?

Instant mashed potato flakes.

I poo you not. Replace 1/3 of the flour in your recipe with an equal volume of instant mashed potato flakes (flakes, people, not buds). Since the flakes are less dense per volume than your flour, you may have to toss in an extra tablespoon or two of flour to compensate. Then do up the recipe as normal. If you don't go over a third (and sometimes you can push it to almost half) you will not smell potatoes, you will not taste potatoes. But you will have a wonderful, soft cookie that will stay soft for days. If you can make your cookies last that long.

Oh, and if the humble chocolate chip is too pedestrian for you, and you want to get all uptown with it, substitute dried cranberries for your chocolate chips, and throw in some chopped pecans. That's some yummy stuff.

**To be fair, there wasn't the produce variety in the 70s that there is today. And to be even more fair, my mom, for several years, desperately tried to get us into growing a vegetable garden. But we lacked the proper moral fiber, and mom couldn't do it by herself, so she gave up.***

***The urge to go back and make that right is one of the many reasons that I wish I had a time machine.

****That, and investing in Microsoft in 1986.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One more day.

Yesterday (Monday) was just about the perfect day for the solitary professor: I woke up to the sound of rain (rare), rolled over, and went back to sleep for another hour, knowing it was a non-teaching day. When I finally struggled out of bed, I pulled on my comfiest, "I'm not going out of the house" clothes, put on a pot of coffee, and curled up with a book. Because not only did I not have to go to work; I was also caught up on my grading and had finished all my boomerang projects. I invited my neighbor over for tea. I finished a book. I sent off a few e-mails. I stayed inside while it rained outside. Lovely.

And today.

Today the rain has stopped, and I need to teach at 9:30. It's currently 8:15, and I'm still in my comfy clothes. But soon. I will get ready, bundle up, and get on the bike. There will be grading to collect. But you know, I don't mind. Because I planned my furloughs so this will be my last teaching day before finals. That's right: I've given myself Wednesday through Friday before finals off.

Two more classes. But I can already see the light of break (and subsequent sabbatical) up ahead in the distance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The boomerang effect

I didn't end up blogging this past week because everything was making me cranky. When just one thing in particular is making me cranky, it's great blog fodder. When everything is making me cranky, it's only a matter of time before I discover that I'm the problem, and feel really bad about bitching at such length, not to mention breadth and depth. There has been more awful budget news for next year, and a Wiki-plagiarist. But I was thinking that readers might be bored of hearing about it. Certainly I'm bored of talking about it.

So, in lieu of that, I bring you the odd news that, in the past week, just as I was coming up on about 96 hours of breathing room, several of my boomerang projects came whizzing back, all within a couple of days of each other.

We all know about the boomerang effect: You "finish" a project, send it out to someone else who needs to act on it, and wait for it to come back. Throw, wait, catch, repeat.

This often means that you can't really do much scheduling. You send out projects in one sequence, they come back in another. In the past 10 days, I have received:
  • Grad student thesis: begun, 2006; last thrown, September 2009
  • Journal of Excellent Studies article: begun, April 2007; last thrown, May 2008
  • New Article Project: begun, September; last thrown, one week ago
I've managed to crank these all out more or less as they've come in, alternating them with the end-of-semester grading. In the next month, the book MS will boomerang back as well. And just 24 hours ago, I got a request to review a book for a journal, with a February deadline.

If you're looking for me over the next two months, I'll be right here, juggling boomerangs.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Problem diagnosed. Can I get a do-over?

So, this weekend I was preemptively mourning the end of my glorious ten days off, contemplating a return to teaching, and wondering why my classes were going so badly this semester. My students (undergrad and grad) are doing poorly, and while I'm sure some of it is on them, I'm also aware that I haven't been doing the level of mentoring or even basic organization that I'm used to doing, in spite of the fact that I'm in the office until 7-9 p.m. six days a week.** None of these are new classes, mind you, though two of the three are kind of complex, and made more so by the fact that we've lost several teaching days here and there in the semester due to furloughs. Still, some of the problems this semester:
  • Medium-sized errors in the syllabus (like, having the dates wrong)
  • Forgetting to post readings online
  • Spacing off my pop quizzes in one class until I'm cornered into doing them every single day until the end because there are only that many days left
  • Late posting of essay topics, forcing me to renegotiate due dates
  • Astoundingly poor organization of my methodology syllabus, to the detriment of my students, who need this information
  • Complete inability to keep on top of the three grad students who are supposed to be turning in exams and thesis chapters before I go on sabbatical

Add to this the students' problems in paying for books -- one couldn't afford to buy the book, so he had gotten one from the library. Unfortunately, the library book was in the fourth edition, while I had assigned the tenth. Throw in the swine flu, the regular flu, and a nasty upper respiratory/headachey RINO virus, and low student and faculty morale due to furloughs, and you've got a recipe for disaster. I am dreading looking at my evaluations from this semester.

But this weekend, I just realized something else: part of the problem can be boiled down to four days; to be precise, the last four days before the semester began. Due to a confluence of circumstances, those four days were all I got to prep for my courses. And I think I've been paying for it all semester.

I need my upcoming sabbatical. But I'd also like a do-over on the semester.

**I only teach one night class.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Once Done is Half Begun"

The title is taken from something that one of us said in grad school when referring to a paper we were writing -- a malapropism that ended up being more accurate than the original. It's also a good way of describing how I feel right now.

The title is appropriate for two reasons. The first is the boomerang effect of the many things I've checked off my to-do list. For example, in the past two weeks I have sent off the copy edits for my book (5 days late), and a draft of the 8,000-word article/essay project to one of the editors (well ahead of schedule). Yet both of these are going to boomerang back to me several times, probably at times that are not convenient.

The second has more to do with teaching than with research: As the end of my glorious 10 days off approaches, and the end of the semester soon after that, I'm feeling a tension between a sense of accomplishment on the one hand, and the knowledge that it ain't quite over yet on the other. I'm 24 hours from being caught up on my grading, but every time I start to feel relieved, I realize that Tuesday I've got 12 ten-page papers coming in, then about two dozen four-pagers the following Tuesday, then, then then.... I can't let my guard down yet.

But what I can do for these next few days is continue not to set my alarm for 6:45. I can cook and eat well. I can get my apartment and office clean and organized for the onslaught of the next half-month.

Bracing for impact, folks. Who's with me?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In keeping with the old world/new world theme of the holiday

...my new nephew arrived this week, and now rejoices in the first/middle name combination of: Henry Hudson.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And remember: the best part of the Thanksgiving meal is the pie-for-breakfast the day after.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Break time is here!

Whoo hoo!

Between furloughs, Thanksgiving, and my regular T/W/Th teaching schedule, I have THE NEXT TEN DAYS OFF!!!

Okay, so there's a little grading to do. And about 800 more words to write on my article draft. But there's also a lot of sleeping to be caught up on, and I'm gonna enjoy the hell outta that.

Happy, happy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Just Hit "Send"

I just sent off my copy-edited MS pages. I spent the weekend catching numerous errors in my prose, half-deleted sentences, awkward word choices, and the like. All the while praying that I wasn't introducing all new errors.

In two months, more or less, I get my page proofs. And I swear I'll give myself more time with these (they should arrive after classes have ended, so good there). And right now, I'm tired, and wishing that my "sleep for a week" week started today. Unfortunately, I have to get through three teaching days before I can do that.

There is a little triumph here, tempered with some fear. But mostly, It's: "Okay, where are all those things that I put off for the last two weeks while I finished this thing?"

Time to rest and enjoy this is coming soon, I promise. But for the next 3 1/2 days, it's nose to the grindstone time.

Almost there...

Check back at 5 p.m. EST for an important update.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'm looking forward to...


That's really about it. I arrived in the conference city Friday night, after getting 6 hours of sleep the previous night. Then, because of the time shift, I had trouble sleeping, and had a wake-up call after only 4 1/2 hours.

Then, after 5 cups of coffee and one of black tea, and a too-big lunch, I delivered my paper. I've been told it went well, but I honestly have no way of judging, since I gave it while severely sleep-deprived. I ended up ducking out halfway through the final panel of the day (not mine) because I needed to be up and walking in order to stave off sleep. Caffeine works as liquid sleep for only so long.

I am exhausted, and will be hitting the hay before 9 p.m. local time, if all goes well.

There is still one more deadline to meet, Monday, but I'm sure I can do it. Then another week of classes, then I sleep for all of Thanksgiving week, if I can manage it. I've earned it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Turning Point

This past week, I got through a week of epic grading: 30 midterms and a dozen ten-page papers. Also, a couple last revisions on the conference paper and a meeting or three.

Now, I leave for a conference to present my first-ever post-book new-project paper. On the plane with me will be:
  • My book MS, with revisions, to go over on the plane so I can get it back Monday (5 days past deadline)
  • A paper that my friend from Exotic Research City asked me to go over and correct the English
  • A grant proposal that a colleague has asked me to give a once-over
  • Two thesis chapters from my pokiest grad student

Oh yeah -- and my camera.

By the time I get through Monday night, my major deadlines will all have been passed, and I'll be able to be a bit more relaxed. See you then.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Glory Hallelujah

Last night, around a half past midnight, three minutes after I had turned off the computer for the night (isn't that always the way?), it suddenly hit me** how I could make my conference paper not suck.

Twenty minutes ago, I finished a revision of said paper. It's not going to change anybody's world, but I'm now fairly certain that I will not embarrass myself or Esteemed Adviser at the upcoming conference.

((sigh of relief))

**I know that good writers avoid the passive voice like the plague. But I just can't bring myself to claim agency in these late-night inspirations. They happen to me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reader Poll: How careful are you?

I'm going back and triple-checking my footnotes right now. I've prioritized: first, archival document citations (on line now! hooray!); second, published primary sources; third, page numbers in secondary sources (I have much of this on my computer)... or as many as I have time for before deadline. In other words, I'm shooting for sending this off with a final check of 100% of my primary source citations, and likely about 75% of my secondary sources. I feel guilty about that remaining 25%, and glad I'm at least semi-anonymous.

So, since this is incredibly dull, tedious work, and I'm likely to be at it for the next week, more or less, I thought I'd find whatever amusement value in it I could by conducting an unscientific poll of my readers. If you participate, I'd like you to (just this once) log in anonymously. Then answer as many of the questions below as you feel like:

1. When you're doing your editing before publication, how meticulous are you in checking your citations (and does this vary by publication type)?

2. Have you ever caught a citation blunder of yours in print? Did it really, really bother you? Or did you just shrug ruefully and move on?

3. (for comparison purposes): Have you published one book? Multiple books? Articles only?

4. Have you found that your approach to this part of the process has changed over time? If so, how?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Thanks for the encouraging comments on the last post. I don't disagree with the fun of setting off into uncharted territory; my problem is with having to then draw a map of that territory that other people will judge.

But that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is that last night, I think I figured out why I'm struggling with this conference paper when papers used to kind of flow out of me while working on the dissertation. I have, in the process of revising the dissertation into a book, become argument-driven.

This is one of the key distinctions between the dissertation and the book, and one that everyone has to discover for themselves as they go along. For me, the moment came when I was writing fellowship proposals in the summer between my second and third year on the tenure track. I was forced to confront the question: So what? In other words, what's the point of all this blah-blah? The grant-writing process, for me, was mostly the process of inventing, nearly from scratch, an analytical framework that the dissertation generally lacked. The pre-submission revision process was me turning the dissertation inside-out, in order to make the argument, not the documents, the main point.

But here's the problem: once you've crossed that line, whether that's in graduate school or (as in my case) much later, you can't go back. You can no longer feel comfortable presenting a paper or writing an article that's just a bunch of neat stories, with a loose "argument" tacked on as an afterthought. The argument has to be the point. And this paper is my first try at constructing an all-new argument. Gah.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Perils of New Projects

I've been absent from blogging for a couple of weeks now, because I've been wrestling with a conference paper, and I'm always hesitant to blog about such things, which are often less interesting. After all, all academics have to write these papers, and the fact that some go less smoothly than others is hardly blog-worthy. But I've finally decided that my experience with this paper is paradigmatic of a larger struggle: getting going on a new project.

It looks like the book is going to be out next spring, which means that it will see the light about 11 years after I began working on it in earnest, as a dissertation. during about 8 of those 11 years, I was able to peel of parts to present at conferences. The first ones were document-driven, rather than argument-driven, and I felt that I was fumbling around for a point to these papers. But by the end of that time, I felt pretty confident about what the larger message was, and how to frame a smaller part of that message in 10 pages or so.

And what's my reward for finishing a big ol' book? That's right: I get to fumble around again, and wonder if my paper makes any sense, and wonder if my audience will be able to tell that at this beginning stage, I don't really know what my argument is. What I've got instead is a bunch of vaguely interesting documents that I'm imposing a place-holder argument on while waiting for the real pattern to emerge.

So, here we go. I'm confronting my own ignorance again. And desperately hoping not to make an ass of myself.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Balance (a quest)

It's been a while since I've written a real post (I'm not counting yesterday's rant), because working on two projects has diverted all my creative energies. But this morning I cracked the 80% mark on the conference paper [new material], and I've been able to get the introduction and first chapter of my copy-edits done, so I'm feeling a bit more relaxed, at least for the moment.

So, as I've said before, this is an ambitious semester, in terms of writing. A draft of an article, a polished conference paper (for November), a draft of another one (for May), and the copy-edits on the book. January will be Big Conference, packing up for sabbatical leave, and preparations for a three-month research trip. So, I'm busy. There are other things, too -- pesky things on the "teaching" and "service" front, but I'm just not looking at them. This is a marathon semester, rather than a sprint, so I keep my eyes on the next tree or telephone poll that I'm running to pass. Mini-meltdowns are going to all be part of the process, I figure.

I didn't plan it this way. It just kind of happened. But in case some of you were thinking of doing this on purpose, here's what I've given up so far, 7 weeks into the process:
  • a clean apartment
  • a stocked refrigerator
  • getting home from the office before 8 p.m.
  • sleeping past 6:30 a.m.
  • clean hair
  • cooking
  • taking pictures
  • long walks with neighbor C.
  • phone conversations with friends (except those lasting less than 10 minutes)
  • e-mail correspondence
  • any social life whatsoever
  • falling asleep before I'm utterly exhausted (otherwise the anxiety keeps me awake)

Oddly enough, I've managed not to get sick, despite all the colds and flus in the air, and despite hosting a sniffly six year-old for 48 hours last weekend. Honestly, I think it's the same phenomenon as the two weeks leading to the nearly simultaneous submission of my MS and my tenure file last year: the adrenaline seemed to act as a temporary immune system boost. But this isn't healthy in the long run, right?

In any case, my colleagues lately have been stopping by my office with helpful suggestions. Two think I should start dating (yeah, right -- with what time?); one thinks I should take up drinking (a world of no); another says I need sleep (this one strikes me as reasonable), but also deep-fried foods.

I'm tempted to go with the standing suggestion of my old friend the Wizard Chimp: "Mmmmm...chocolate..."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

WorldCat: A mini-rant [UPDATED!]

As a researcher, one of the databases I depend on most is WorldCat -- the ginormous international repository for publication information on every book and serial available in just about any library, anywhere. It takes a few hours of fiddling with it the first time you use it in order to learn its quirks, tricks, and shortcuts, but once you do, you can find anything.

Then, this morning, I woke up to a new, "simplified" version that has transformed it from a precision tool into a blunt instrument. I believe that the phrase that my fourteenth-century documents would use to describe my feelings about this, after only 90 seconds of use, is odio capitale.

I am not amused.

UPDATE: Check out the comments section for the response of someone who seems to be affiliated with the WorldCat team. I am impressed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Losing the thread (a freewrite)

I just spent the last 48 hours with my six year-old nephew. That was three mornings without work. And I find that I've lost the thread of my conference paper, and now feel a bit of panic looming. So, before bed tonight, I need to figure out where that thread is, again. This paper has far too many working files associated with it. But I need to do what I did in September: find a manageable task, and complete it.

I have officially acknowledged that I am overextended this semester.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What finally made it all seem real

Not the finished MS. Not the positive readers' reports. Not the "yes, we want to publish this" e-mail. Not even the fully signed and executed contract.

No, today, I got the copy-edited version of my MS. And: My book has an ISBN.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This, too, shall pass


Just when I finally realize I am not too dumb to write my book, the book is done, and off, and I realize that I am too dumb to write any other book. Or article. Or conference paper, for that matter.

That was fast.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Project 2: Underway

Today I plugged in the first words to my word counter for project #2. That 34% figure is largely illusory, as the "words" are really just notes on a teeny-tiny corner of the project, and will probably be condensed to about 15% of their current bulk, if that. This means that that number will go down before it goes up. Still, progress is progress.

Ladies and gentlemen, the countdown to November 10th has begun.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another Reason to Love Dream Press

So, for those of you who are embarking on that first book project, here's a bit of information you may or may not know. Even if your publication process goes incredibly smoothly, you will "finish" your manuscript several times**:
  1. An approved and filed dissertation
  2. A fully revised book MS to send off for review to press(es)
  3. Once under contract, another version, revised according to the press readers' reports
  4. A version that you correct after the press' copy editors have had a go at it
  5. A final version where you make any (very few!) last-minute changes to the galley proofs
  6. A book
My "I'm finished" statement of 6 weeks ago referred to stage 3. As you can see from the above list, there is actually quite a ways to go. But a few days ago, one of the editorial assistants at Dream Press contacted me, and informed me that I should be expecting my copy-edited MS sometime next week, and that if I turned it around within a month, I should have galley proofs by January.

As many of my fellow bloggers and commenters know (from both good experiences and bad ones), this is blazingly, unexpectedly, lightning-fast. Best yet, it could mean an actual book on the Dream Press table at Kalamazoo this year.

Lucky, lucky me.

**It perhaps goes without saying, but you should celebrate each and every one of these milestones, with cake and/or the beverage of your choice.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Coffee and Sympathy

So, I looked at the job ads on the AHA website this morning. October 2, so I think this was the last week to reasonably expect much to come up. A lot of the ads that are there are shared with an adjacent chronological field, or are thematically narrow, and one is quite obviously a big, fat fake search, written specifically for an inside candidate.** Here's what I came up with in the field of History for medievalists:

No. Nevermind. I was going to post the numbers, but they're just not good, and no stressed-out job hunter needs specific triggers like this.

So, as much as Notorious wants to improve her working conditions, she is sitting this one out, and will merely be rallying to the support of her ABD and recently-graduated colleagues. If you know me personally, or if you are a fellow blogger, and on the market: I'll be at AHA, and coffee's on me.

**Seriously, people: I know that fake searches sometimes happen. I'm not sure if it's better or worse when they're so damn obvious.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I am almost, almost caught up with my grading.

This will be the weekend, I swear.

(Apologies for another nearly content-free post. But it was my last chance to get one in before September officially ended.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Earlier than expected

I just had my first full-on in-office meltdown. There were tears and sobbing. And it's not even October.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Girl Scholar's Sure-Fire, One Hundred Percent-Guaranteed Plan for Total Insanity in Twelve Weeks** or Less

So, perhaps I'm the only one paying attention to my blog's sidebar, but have you noticed that there's now not one but two word-counters there?

Yes, I'm insane.

I've finished the Shitty First Draft and Slightly Better Second Draft of the big article project that I want in review-ready (though anticipating one more revision before final submission) form by the end of the semester. But I've also got a conference coming up in November. And the paper actually has to be good, because the organizer got the bright idea of getting Esteemed Former Advisor to chair the panel.


I'm currently calming myself by telling myself that it's only ten or eleven pages, and I can write only ten or eleven pages on anything. But I also remember my disaster at Kalamazoo last year, when I discovered that I really couldn't, not always. And this is my first real foray into Shiny New Project territory.

So, this morning I read a book on the new topic. I'm on my way. Wish me luck.

**The "twelve weeks" of the title refer to the approximate length of time between the day I started this absurd write-every-day thing, and the end of the semester.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Do they really think I can understand them?

The guys who shout at me from car windows while I'm riding my bike, that is. It happened again today.He could have been yelling "Nice t!ts!" or "Get out of the road, btch!" (both of which have been yelled at me on previous occasions), or even "Eureka! I've just solved Fermat's last theorem!" The fact that the yeller was leaning out the passenger window to look at the yell-ee (me) as he passed implied to me that he was expecting some sort of response. But of course, the magic of the doppler effect (bike = 15 mph; car = 35 mph) turned his words into an aural smear.

Somehow, I don't think I'm missing much.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Mom Answers Student E-mails

Okay, not just yet, but perhaps appearing in this space soon, because I have decided that, from now on, I will be forwarding all correspondence from my students addressed to "Mrs. Notorious" to the only person I know who goes by that name: my mom.

It should be interesting to see what she makes of it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The House Always Wins

So. This guy wants to know why women are so unhappy, why they're getting unhappier over time, and why they get less happy as they get older.

He presents the quandary: "Wherever researchers have been able to collect reliable data on happiness, the finding is always the same: greater educational, political, and employment opportunities have corresponded to decreases in life happiness for women, as compared to men."

He promises to tell us next week why this is. I'm worried about what the above statement portends. But I've actually got an answer of my own worked up, one that explains both the "decrease over time" and the "decrease with age" phenomenon. It's one that goes back to a grad school seminar on, believe it or not, revolts and revolutions in early modern Europe. In that seminar, we were introduced to some historian's theory of the "J-curve." I have only the haziest recollections, so someone else can fill me in, for certain. But here's what I remember. According to this historian, revolutions don't happen when things have been bad for a long, long time. By that time, people are used to it. Rather, they happen when there have been consistent improvements followed by a change for the worse, or expectations of improvements that suddenly fail to materialize. Imagine an upside-down letter J. Get it?

Now, imagine that women's** expectations of the limitless possibilities for their lives are thrown into contrast (a contrast that gets sharper as women age) with the realization that, in spite of (or perhaps because of?) all this, we're still expected to spend enormous amounts of our energy trying to be something we’re not: pretty, thin, young, compliant, non-swearing, perfectly-groomed, dependent, dumb, nurturing, self-sacrificing, quiet-voiced, unconditionally adoring, nonthreatening, patient, or simply never, ever angry. In other words: “feminine.” And the older we get, the more we realize that the house always wins in the end.

Yeah. I suppose that could make a woman a bit unhappy.

UPDATE: Rootlesscosmo provides a link in the comments to a site that exposes how the "problem" of women's unhappiness (often implicitly blamed on feminism) is based on dubious statistics, but keeps getting recycled every few years anyway. Kind of reminds me of that whole "you'll never get married after 35" thing. I'm now convinced that the premises upon which the question is based are specious, but still stand by my answer to this non-question -- if that's not too illogical.

**In light of the content of this post, I am bitterly amused that Blogger does not recognize the word "women's."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How the hell did I manage to do THAT?

In the last 13 days, I have written a draft of an article, from start to finish.

There are caveats to be had, of course. First caveat: it's based on material from the book. This essay is supposed to be a more condensed version of the most innovative parts of that book's argument, but also with a broader geographic and chronological scope, so there's work to be done. Still, it's mostly familiar ground, not at all like starting from scratch.

Second caveat: it is indeed a Shitty First Draft, lacking introduction and conclusion, and replete with square brackets saying things like "[300 words here on topic X; see professor B's book, pp 67 => ??]" and "[get info on country Y -- check authors Q & Z]", and also, more than once, "[rewrite this para. to avoid self-plagiarism]".

But, wow! I wrote 7,000 words in 13 days, working no more than 2 hours a day. I wouldn't believe it if the evidence weren't sitting right here in front of me.

There's still a long road to go before I can show this to anyone, much less until it's truly finished. But this is seriously encouraging.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why We Write

(or "Writing in a Time of Crisis")

So, I hinted at the end of the previous post that I would share my thoughts as to why, precisely now, I've decided that it's Time To Write (and by extension, publish, one hopes). I think that people have been guessing that it's because I'm lining myself up for some juicy job. I'm not. Trust me: the number of TT jobs in the field of Medieval Stuff this year can almost be counted on one hand, and most of the ones that do exist aren't that interesting to me. So let's stop the wild speculation right there.

It's also not because I've got some fabulous new thing I'm working on. My main project this semester is an essay that I was invited to submit for a volume, based on stuff I've already done. Except for a conference paper, Shiny New Project is on the back burner this semester.

It's also not because I'm just one of those people who loves the act of writing, and churns out publications at breakneck pace. In fact, writing has always been like pulling teeth for me,** and I've always considered my productivity to be a bit on the low side.

I write because of my university's financial crisis.

I write because the other two components of my job, teaching and service, are becoming increasingly corporatized: our teaching mandates are more concerned with time-to-degree, "outcomes assessment" and job training than with actual education, and because "service" here is every year less about contact with students, and more about going to long meetings run top-down by people who speak entirely in verbs-made-from-nouns and acronyms, and devising rules to preemptively avoid imaginary lawsuits. In both cases, we are driven by budget imperatives, and decisions made by people who don't teach, don't research, and think that professors are a lazy, whiny lot. These opinions about who I am, what I do, and what I'm worth are intensely demoralizing. Writing reminds me that these people are dead wrong.

I write because it is the one part of my job entirely in my control.*** I don't do it for any dean, provost, or state legislator. I don't pick my topic based on what will put butts in the chairs. I write because I need that daily reminder of why I fell in love with the study of Medieval Stuff in the first place: if I cease to care, then how can I expect my students to care? I write because I need to feel like a part of a scholarly community beyond Urban University, where everyone is hunkered down, waiting for the next blow. I write because I'm still an idealist who believes in learning for its own sake, and knows that losing that belief will turn me into an awful teacher. I write because, if I don't write, I'll become one of those embittered proffies who inhabit the halls of every department at institutions like mine**** across the country, doing the bare minimum of teaching because they don't care anymore, doing no writing because no one else around them cares, and spending most of their time either starting (or continuing) minute turf battles, giving the same lectures, readings, and scan-tron tests year after year, and terrorizing their junior colleagues. I remember those old men from my first two years here,***** and I wondered how they got that way. Now I see how it could happen. But I don't want it to happen to me.

I write, in short, because writing allows me to maintain my optimism about my job as a whole, in the face of increasing obstacles. The greater those obstacles become, the more I need writing to maintain my enthusiasm for both teaching and learning. Cutbacks in support and increases in teaching load are making it more difficult to research and write, rather than less. Writing is my way of pushing back.

The leaders of my university, my state, and my country are having a hard time figuring a way out of the current crisis. Writing is my way out.

**I like having written, and revising and fine-tuning my writing can be satisfying. But those first drafts? Ugh.

***Not to be confused with "publication of my writing," which is out of my control.

****I'm not arguing that all 4-4 profs are bitter and checked-out. I'm writing from the soon-to-be-4-4 perspective myself, and this post is meant to encourage people like myself to make choices that can keep that from happening. A teaching-focused institution can allow for just as much individual expression as one that helps you get research done, provided that your teaching is valued, and your autonomy and expertise are respected. And, of course,
people teaching 2-2 or less are just as capable of becoming bitter in the way I describe above. But a heavy teaching load that prevents you from doing other things that are more personal (whether it be writing, triathalons, or playing the highland pipes), if combined with a message that the only results that matter are the ones that can be quantified and placed on a spreadsheet, can be fertile ground for problems, and I think this confluence of circumstances is more likely to happen at mega-4-4 institutions like Urban University than at other types of school.

*****Making me even more grateful for current colleagues, whose good humor in the face of collapse makes this whole thing bearable, and a department chair who really does her best to mitigate the worst of the effects.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Still writing every day

...but it's making me tired.

I've cranked out an astounding number of words on my first draft in the past week. Really, I'm amazed. But now, week three of the semester, and the intro stuff in the courses is really over, and I've run out of the "easy" bits in my draft. So I'm wondering how I'm going to keep caught up and maintain the pace.

Fortunate, I suppose, that I hadn't planned on having any social life at all this semester. And I'm hoping that once I've got that first draft under control, the pace will slow a bit -- just in time for grading! But this is going to be one seriously busy semester.

Why am I doing this to myself? There are reasons. More on that in the next post.

TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Pushed-back wake-up time another 15 minutes to account for 9:30 class. 590 drafty words (and moderate feeling of accomplishment) by 7:10. Still tired, but coffee is helping.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


...feels like a good day.

That is all.

Friday, September 11, 2009

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Post Is About You

Dear Professor Piece-of-Work,

Yes, I'm talking to you. You who wrote that one book with a somewhat controversial and certainly intriguing thesis. It's not anywhere near any of my own research interests, but I assigned it to my grad students, because it's interesting, and has plenty to both agree and disagree with. It's also great for grad classes because it's not overly long, and the writing and ideas are really accessible. I like that book.

But I never really liked you. I mean, to be fair, I only met you once at a conference, when I was a grad student, and you a junior faculty member fresh out of That One School. But you were by turns condescending and rude to me on that occasion, and it stuck with me. This even colored my reaction to your picture on the faculty website -- I couldn't help imagining you thinking "I'll wear this outfit and pose just so; that will make me look intellectual, and possibly just a little dangerous."

Okay, that last bit is probably just me projecting. But the following is not: in the years since your first book came out, you've taken the opportunity to review just about every book even remotely related to your subject, and you've manage to subtly but thoroughly trash every one of them. Sure, there was the obligatory two-sentence paragraph at the tail end of every one saying how people should definitely read the book in question. But everything leading up to that point was intended to disparage the book under review. I haven't read every review you've written, but every one I have read kinda follows this pattern.

Which is why I giggled with unworthy, shameful delight when I read a recent review of your second book. Did you read it? Uh-huh.

Sorry, but even in academia, a little human decency and (dare I say it?) humility goes a long way.


--N. Ph.D.

Things that can wait until after I write

Things that I've discovered can wait for a couple of hours:
  • e-mail
  • shower
  • listening to the news
  • checking blogs/facebook/whatever
  • elaborate breakfast preparation
  • grading/lecture-writing
Things that cannot wait under any circumstances:
  • getting dressed (vy important!)
  • contact lenses
  • enough food to hold me for a couple of hours
  • caffeine procurement

593 words today.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You know what helps?

With writing every day, that is? Two things:

1. Plan it/Post-it: The night before, I decide what my reasonable project for the next day is going to be -- something that I could write around 500 (crappy) words on. I also see if I'm going to need to consult any resources to write those words. Two articles? Dig 'em out and put them by the computer. Then I write myself instructions for the next day on a virtual post-it for my computer desktop, so it's the first thing I see when I turn on my computer.

2. Turn off, tune in, write: The next morning, when I sit down to write (first thing), I turn off my internet connection. I can do all that (e-mail, blog, whatever) after I've finished my little post-it task. I've been doing this for three days straight now, and I've discovered that the e-mails I've gotten overnight are rarely so urgent that they can't wait two hours.

These are two things that won't come as particularly revelatory. But this is the first time that I've actually done them, and... it works.

Today's word count: 882, though in the form of notes that will have to be shaped later this afternoon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Writing from a Place of Ignorance

So, the book is in, but no time to rest on my laurels, because I've got an ambitious writing program for this semester that includes a workable (thought not review-ready) draft of an 8,000-word essay by December, and a 2,000-word conference paper by November. I've picked up a writing guide that suggests beginning by assessing your feelings about writing, and confronting the things that have blocked you in the past. And what came out of this little exercise last night was that my biggest block was not feeling like I could write until I had read everything there was to know about the subject. So this morning, I tried something totally new for me: writing from a place of ignorance.

The longer piece is commissioned: I've been asked to write something that plays off my argument in the book, but that extends that argument both chronologically and geographically. It's going to be broader, and necessarily more general, but it needs to make an actual argument, rather than being merely expository.

So this morning, I threw myself out of bed early, rather than sleeping in as I could have on a holiday, got myself to my writing spot, and started to write. At this stage, all I could muster were musings: What would my essay need to cover? Where would it build off of what I already knew? What new territory would I need to cover? From there, I mused about new resources I would need to gather, both secondary and primary. I also wrote about people and resources I could consult to get me there.

Within an hour and a half, I had written over 900 words. Now, these are not words that will make it into the final project (note that the word counter in the sidebar is reset to zero). But they're words.

It seems that the only way to be one of those "write every day" people (and all the truly productive academics I know are of this type) is to actually do it. Writing every day might mean just writing up whatever I will have read the previous evening. Or it could be that famed "shitty first draft" that Anne Lamott speaks of. But most of all, in these early stages, it means writing without worrying about my ignorance. Ignorance is not stupidity, it's just lack of information, and that information will come in time.

More on this as it develops.

UPDATE: Only 10 minutes after finishing this post, I cruised over to Clio Bluestocking's place, where I saw that she had posted on much the same thing (though with more detail on her project-in-progress), including a link to the "shitty first draft." Gotta love the synchronicity of it all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First Week: The Good and the Bad

I have made it through the first week of my first semester as a tenured proffie. It doesn't feel that different: I still share an office, I still have to do pretty much all the same things I had to before. But here's the good news/bad news round-up:

GOOD: My classes all had sufficient enrollments not to be canceled, but not so much as to be oppressive. Manageable class sizes. And the students seem enthusiastic. One even came up after class and told me that she'd been looking forward to taking the class because her best friend had told her that my classes were great.

BAD: I gave students in one class a massive first-week assignment on Tuesday, due Thursday, but somehow thought I had posted the readings when I hadn't. A combination of factors meant that I didn't get the students' frantic e-mails until 10 p.m. the night before the assignment was due. So I had to push back the assignment, and I came off looking a bit disorganized.

GOOD: I downloaded some freeware, and can now extract clips from commercial DVDs, save them to my hard drive, and embed them in powerpoint** presentations (short clips only + classroom use only = Fair Use under copyright law), so I don't have to be constantly switching media during class. Used it in class for the first time today, and it worked perfectly. I am enthused.

BAD: The faculty got a notice yesterday that next year's competition for research-related course releases will be canceled, due to budget shortfalls. My official teaching load is 4-4, but course releases get almost everybody down to a 3-3. Until now.

GOOD: I got a shiny new laptop from my employer, to replace the old one that has suffered four years of heavy use, crumbs dropping into the keyboard, and two falls off the back of my bike. Budget problems mean that for the next year or two, the computer refresh program will be severely restricted, so I got this one just in time.

BAD: I have another hole in my office window.

GOOD: I have acquired a writing buddy in the department, and we're going to be working on getting a draft of an article each this semester. He's smart, and motivated, so I think it'll be great.

I am cautiously optimistic.

**I am a mac user, and bought their office suite while in Puddletown this summer. So, I'll soon be taking Keynote out for a spin.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'm okay, really.

Hi all,

I've gotten a lot of off-list e-mails (and one iTunes gift -- thank you, rootlesscosmo!) in the last 24 hours from people concerned about my mental health. I want to thank you all for your concern. That's nice to know that people are checking in -- even people who have never met me. And thanks for the words of wisdom and understanding from those who have been there.

But honestly, these are situational blues, and I'll be fine. The new semester has started, full of promise, as it always is. and a meeting with a retaining wall on my ride home from work (just in time for my one-year bikeversary!**) put it all in perspective:

Hard to get worked up over "Ooh, poor dear me, I have tenure and a book!" when you're suddenly missing a good piece of your epidermis, and wondering if the healing process is going to leave you with a dirt tattoo.

Guys dig chicks with road rash, right?

**One year, 1850 miles.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Odds and Ends (with a recipe for hot summer days)

Tomorrow is my first day of classes. I think I'm mostly prepared, and what isn't prepared can be effectively faked. I've posted a bunch of online content for one of my classes, and thought up a nifty new activity for my methodology class that just might work.

My only other activity today was to make this:

Vegetarian Salad Niçoise:

  • scrub, halve or quarter, & steam 1lb new potatoes 10-15 minutes, and blanch in cold water;
  • trim, steam (5min) & blanch 2c green beans;
  • fine-chop 1/4c red onion
  • seed & slice 1 cucumber
  • halve 12-16 pitted kalamata olives
  • chop 1/2 c. fresh dill

Toss all of these together, then add dressing:

Mix 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard with 1-2 Tbsp. good olive oil,** then add 1/2 tsp @ salt, and honey or agave syrup, 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice, and pepper to taste.

Toss dressing with salad, and chill 1hr.

If you're not a vegan, then finish w/boiled egg wedges; if you're not vegetarian, add slices of seared ahi, perhaps with a bit more pepper.


**Mixing these two ingredients together first should keep the olive oil from separating from the rest of the dressing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nobody ever told me

...about post-tenure/post-book depression. ADM has a great post on why your recently tenured friends might not be turning cartwheels 24 hours a day, but this is a bit different. So, I e-mailed my friend Dr. S., and then went out and took a picture:

Nothing spectacular, but it's a step.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ready or not, I'm ready.

Tomorrow is Convocation. Classes start Monday.

I have two of three syllabi prepared, and none of the copious online content uploaded.

I can't see my desk for the drifts of paper all over it, and the only reason my office-mate will be able to see his desk is that I moved the books I had strewn all over it (he doesn't use it in the summer) to two two-foot-high stacks on the floor.

My apartment is a semi-shambles, and I'm running out of food in the fridge.

I have a two-month backlog of mostly unanswered e-mails, some of which are Very Important.

And yet, I'm certain that somehow I will pull this all together (okay, maybe not the apartment) by Monday, and get up and teach as if I were the most prepared, organized professor in the world.

It will all be a front, but it'll be a good one.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Consummatum est.**

I'm done.

That is all.

**Upon later perusal of these posts chronicling the first book process, I note that this is the second post with this title. How can I have "finished" twice? See this post.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UPDATE: Girl Scholar Still Not Dead

That's pretty much all I have to say. Except that I know that I will make deadline. The errors and infelicities I'm cating on the readthroughs are getting fewer and further between. The conclusion is looking vaguely okay, though at 1,650 words, it's a bit on the short side. The argument is more consistent than it was even three weeks ago, and though I've recently started seeing a big thread in the argument that I ought to be highlighting more, I'm now perfectly okay with leaving it implicit, rather than explicit.

I'm on my way, folks.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What they should (or maybe shouldn't) tell people who just finished their dissertations

"Congratulations! You've written a book. Now: go write it again."

And again.

And again.

Seriously, I'm getting tired of editing, and finding shit that should have been fixed long ago, passages that are pages away from where they should be, and ridiculously clunky prose. ::sigh:: Friday, and it's done. At least until it comes back to me again.

And again.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Those Evil Part-Time Lecturers

When I first arrived at this job, one of the things I really liked was the fact that lecturers were so well-integrated into the life of the college. Especially in my department, TT faculty and lecturers hung out and drank beer together, worked together on massive research and curricular projects, and ran important committees together. It took me two years to realize that one of my colleagues down the hall was, in fact, a lecturer, and not the full professor I took her to be.

Campus-wide, lecturers are perhaps not as well integrated as in our department, but it's better than at most places. Best of all, lecturers are members of the faculty union, so we all stand or fall together.

Until now, it seems.

Very recently, the union had to vote as to whether to accept a furlough plan. Consequences for a "no" vote were unspecified, but the money would have had to come from somewhere, and lecturers' positions seemed like they'd be on the chopping block.** The vote turned out to be a yes vote. So there will be furloughs.

Nobody likes the idea, not even those of us who voted for it. But here's the issue: some faculty who I have long respected are now all up in arms, blaming the lecturers for their pay cuts (as if the lecturers weren't getting furloughed as well, and from fewer courses than they've had in the past). I even heard one (not from my department, I'm happy to say) insist today that "most of our lecturers are part-timers who have other jobs, and they're making six figures,*** so they're not hurting." The fact that I still haven't kicked this guy in the neck shows what a good person I am.

But it's not just this one guy. Faculty who I've always respected are muttering about splitting the lecturers (the same ones who came to the brink of a strike with us to get a long-overdue contract) off from the union so we didn't have to take their interests into account. Some old friends on campus aren't speaking to each other.

So here's what I'd like to tell my fellow tenured colleagues: unexamined privilege isn't just something we write about; compared to our lecturers (not to mention our students), we live it every day. Yes, it sucks that we're getting paid a lot less this year than we had been promised, but please stop attacking the only people hurt worse than you by all this mess.****

And here's what I'd like to tell TT faculty just starting out: In my department, and perhaps in yours, the lecturers scrambling for ever-scarcer course assignments have Ph.D.s, important committee service, peer-reviewed publications, and university press books, just like you. The main reason we have our TT positions and they don't is DUMB LUCK. Keep that in mind if you're ever tempted to feel like you're more deserving than your contingent colleagues.

And to the lecturers: I don't know what to say, except I'm sorry for the shtstorm you're going to have to deal with this year. And coffee's on me.

**Though even with the yes vote, our department lost over a third of our part-timers.
***Yes, most of our part-time colleagues do have other gigs. But unless the junior college down the road is paying a lot more than I thought it was, this guy is just full of sht. And I don't like him.
****And fertheluvagod, stop bitching about how little we get paid IN FRONT OF OUR WORKING-CLASS STUDENTS!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Making Introductions

One of the best pieces of writing advice I got as an undergraduate was from my first medievalist mentor: "Write your introduction last. You can't write it until you actually know what you're introducing." I still think that's good advice, but with a caveat: you write the first draft of your introduction after the first draft of the work. Then you revise the work, and revise the introduction. And again. And again.

I started the introduction to this book MS almost two years ago, back when I had to give a presentation at Fellowship Institute (see here and here for the tale, and here for my realization that it actually was the introduction that I had been writing). It's gone through some changes: a lot of the gratuitous theory references have been moved to the footnotes, and are only alluded to in the text. I've added more concrete background for the nonspecialist. And since most of the chapters took their final shape only after I had written my presentation, there were a lot of changes.

Still, today I read over my introduction, and I was taken back to about 21 months ago, when these ideas were new, and I was having epiphanies left and right. Some of them turned out to be very important; others, less so. But that ongoing wrestling with the big ideas was just that: ongoing. The thought of the journey from there (and even further back) to here, one week before submission, has got me feeling a bit reflective. So expect a few more navel-gazing posts over the next couple of weeks.

Your humble correspondent, pictured here with a lapful of vintage theory, 21 months ago in Fellowship City office.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How (not) to write your conclusion

I have, against all odds and expectations, written a book that is over 90,000 words long, including notes and bibliography. For me, that's something, considering that I've yet to have an article crack 20 pages in print. In fact, the bibliography alone for this book project is longer than any paper I ever wrote in grad school. I write short.

But one part of this whole project has been eluding me: the conclusion. I hated writing the conclusion to my dissertation, and it was only there because it had to be. Same thing with the conclusion to the manuscript I submitted to Press back in September: I wrote the conclusion-shaped object at the end in a 36-hour period, desperate to get it out the door 48 hours before my tenure file was due. As one of my readers said: "This is a strong book with a very weak conclusion." Well, yeah.

But now, with my deadline approaching,** I need a conclusion. A real one. I've known that since September. But here's how I managed not to write one:

1. September - April: Tell self that conclusion can't be written until I hear back from readers

2. April - May: I have readers' reports, but now need to write revisions. Once those are done, I'll know what it is I'm concluding about. But I can't begin the revisions until I get through this semester then get back from all my summer travel.

3. June - mid-July: Summer travel.

4. Mid-July - mid-August: Revisions. Chapter conclusions. Rewrites.

About a week ago, I decided that, with the deadline close enough to touch, I really couldn't put it off any longer. Still, "outline conclusion" remained on my "Three things" list for a couple of days. Yesterday, in the final hour before putting myself to bed, I managed to toss of a desultory couple of bullet points.

But this morning was different. This morning, I got up, took my computer to the coffee shop at 7:15, sat down, and asked myself, "What do I know about this project right now?" No peeking at last night's notes, or the manuscript as a whole. What do I know?

And I started to write. And 90 minutes later, I had 700 words. Then I added 700 of the best words from the conclusion-shaped object, and 200 from last night's bullet points. And all of a sudden, unexpectedly, I have a draft. It will need revision, of course, but it's going to be a fine place to start. Ten months of dread, procrastination, and avoidance, all taken care of in under two hours. So here's this blog entry's thesis statement:


**Oh, for those of you who may have been wondering, I did indeed ask my editor for a one-week extension, and he granted it, no problem. So my conclusion and I have a bit of breathing room.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

To the carful of people laughing at me as I rode my bike home today

Anyone who can listen to Aretha Franklin on their iPod and not sing along -- even very, very badly -- is probably dead inside.

Friday, August 7, 2009

On Deadlines

I have one week left to deadline. By that time, I will have finished with my to-do list (see "three things" in the sidebar for daily updates, if you're so inclined). But what I'd really like is another week to let the whole thing sit, then go over it again one more time. So I'm asking all you academic book authors out there: Did you meet your deadline? Did you ask for an extension?

Just how "dead" is that line?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Making a List; Checking it Twice**

Just now, I created a document called "Revisions Checklist," to gather into one place exactly what still needed to be done. It's distressing to note that the list still includes items like "Write New Conclusion" at this late date. On the other hand, I'm encouraged by the fact that the list fits onto a single page, with room to spare.

Still, blogging is likely to be limited to the briefest of posts for the next couple of weeks, unless something truly interesting happens, and responses to e-mail will be on an emergency-only basis.

Oh, yeah: and I'm backing things up twice a day now.

**Actually, I'll probably be lucky if I have time to check it even once, much less twice.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sometimes, ya' just gotta yell...

..."F**k!" It might even be fun.

Okay, so yesterday we received our calendar of furlough days, and it reminded me of this story (which my friend the Piper Ph.D. will recognize, and correct me on details, if necessary): Grad school friend D. and his wife C. were in their 50s by the time we met in grad school, so they had already had a whole 'nother life by then, one that seemed to involve a lot of partying. When they were in their 30s, they and a group of their friends had the custom of getting together once a year out in the toolies for what they called the "Other Games," a sort of Olympics of bizzare, often antisocial, and likely very inebriated competitions.

One of these was the "Yelling 'F**k!' Competition." The participants would sit around together, and take turns saying "F**k." Each person had to say it louder and/or longer than the last, and the one who did so loudest/longest was, by acclaim, the winner. D. told us that everybody was pretty much hoarse the following day.

Even better than the competition itself is its origin story. Apparently the originator grew up spending a lot of time with his near-deaf granny. He and his brother made a game of sitting at the breakfast table, each saying "g*ddammit", starting off as a whisper, but getting progressively louder. The loser of this two-person competition was the one who said it loudly enough that granny finally heard and smacked him on the head.

Anyway, it occurred to me yesterday that a "Yelling 'F**k!' Competition" might be just the thing for tough budgetary times like these. We could invite faculty, staff, and students, and gather on the quad to vent our frustration. Maybe we could even give the winner an "I [heart] [your dysfunctional school or state here]" t-shirt...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Double Space Everything and Move On"

The title to this post is a good friend's response to a crisis I was having last night. To wit:

Last night, about two weeks before deadline, I composed an e-mail on problems/questions I was having about final MS preparation, and sent it off to editor's assistant.

Auto reply: Assistant no longer works for the press. Please contact editor directly.

Okay. No problem. Editor is, of course, Fabulous Editor, and has always been helpful. I forwarded the message.

Auto-reply: Editor is out of the office until August 10 (that's four days before my deadline).


And my friend suggests: Double-space everything and move on, which I think is actually good advice, and boils down to: "Control the things you can, and don't worry about the things you can't."

And then....

FabEd e-mails FROM HIS VACATION IN EUROPE to answer my questions, because he knows that I'm in a rough position here. And the answer to most of my fiddly questions is basically, "Sounds good. And if there's a problem, we can totally fix it in later stages."

I love FabEd, and suggest that everyone work with him.

Off to Jury Duty!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Still revising

... though I am somewhat relieved to note that it is still July.

Things proceed apace. Yesterday I even got most of my desk cleaned off.**

Here's a picture I took of someone else doing some tidying -- much more visually charming than my own activities:

**25% filed, 25% thrown out or recycled, 50% thrown into a pile in my inbox that will have to be sorted through before the semester begins. But at least I have a visible flat surface.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Hook

fig. 1: an obscure corner of a certain goose-infested locale frequented by bloggers such as tenthmedieval.

Over the past couple of days, I've been working on skimming hundreds of pages of material (most of which I'd already read previously, thank goodness!) in order to write approximately 300 words.** And today, I think I found my hook. You know, that organizing principle that lets you string together a bunch of disparate books and articles around a single theme that happens to relate to what you're talking about. I think I have it.

Actually, it's not that simple. To be more precise, I've found two or three hooks. So tomorrow I finish skimming, and start the process of trying to weave these two or three threads together. Threads. Hooks. Whatever. I think I can do this. I just wish I weren't so goddamned rushed.

**Different from the section I was bitching about a couple of posts down. I'm sure they'll both turn out all right, though.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

First, Do No Harm

... and yet, I seem to find myself in the process of actively making my book MS worse. I'm hoping it's like cleaning the house,** in that sometimes you have to pull out everything and make a huge mess before you can truly get it clean. I hope.

In the meantime, here's another totally unrelated photograph from my recent trip to Exotic Research City:

**Yes, that item is still on my "three things" list, now for three days running. Sue me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just asking for trouble

Okay, here's my first gripe about one of my Helpful Readers: he or she wants me to insert a brief general history of Research Region for nonspecialist readers.

I forsee problems:

1. I need to cover this briefly, so that I'm not losing my reader in minutiae, or reinventing the wheel. I'm thinking 1,000 words, tops. But this is a lot to cover in such a short space. Research Region has, like any region, a long and complicated history, one that spans at least five centuries before you get to my book, and one that has complicated links with three neighboring regions.

2. Because of the above complications, I will inevitably overgeneralize, leave out things that some people think are important, and probably irritate specialists.

3. I'm so irked by the enterprise (mainly because others have done this more completely and coherently than I have) that the whole thing is clunky and stupid.

4. I'm fearing a critique along the lines of "What is this clunky, stupid, out-of-place passage doing in this book anyway?" To which I can only answer: "That's an excellent question."

Hm. Again, I'm stuck. So here's a picture of something red (always a good bet, photographically speaking):

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What's left of my summer (UPDATED: now with a totally irrelevant photo!)

In the past 7 weeks, I've spent 9 days in my own city, but I'm back now. And what's staring me in the face is a serious deadline: By August 14, I need to have finished my revisions, edits, etc., on the book MS, and hopefully have the map and cover illustration all squared away. Oh, and also figure out what to do with my upper-division seminar this fall. And in one week, I'm slated for jury duty. So, blog posts are likely to be brief, but that "three things" list in the sidebar may grow.

Mneyh, whatevs. Not much I can do about it. So let's just look at this totally unrelated picture and shine it on:

Hope you like it, because I may be doing a lot of photoblogging in the next couple of weeks, in lieu of actual content.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Vacation... of sorts

Well, folks, like it or not, I'm going on vacation. Kinda. I'm headed off to Puddletown in an hour to visit family & friends for a week. I love being in Puddletown, and I have fun meetings planned with friends and relations, but with only five weeks to go on my revisions, I wish I would have thought this out a bit more, and planned my trip for later, so that I could relax a bit. But I'll do what I can.

Some of you of a certain age may remember an old "You know you're a grad student when..." list that made the rounds on e-mail (back in the days of Pine -- remember Pine?), and one of the clues went: "...when guilt is an inherent feature of relaxation." I guess that just never really goes away.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

It will all balance out in the end

...but today, in addition to reading two articles for my revisions,** I cut 1,700 words on topic A ("too dissertationy!" cries Helpful Reader 1) from a rather long and sometimes too-detailed chapter one.

The "balancing out" will come later in the month, when I add approximately 500-750 words each on topics B & C to that same chapter, also at HR1's request. But I feel like there was at least some progress made today.

**I find it vaguely interesting how much easier it is for me to remain at my café table reading for a longer stretch of time than usual when said table is being shared by a friendly and not unattractive young gentleman who pauses in his own work now and then to converse in a friendly and not uninterested manner.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Apply Butt to Chair

Notorious has a deadline.

In less than two months, I'm supposed to have my revisions finished. Problem is, when I agreed to -- nay, proposed! -- that deadline, I neglected to take into account a late finals week, a one-month research trip (in which I got no work at all on the old project done), a one-week visit to parents, and a four-day trip to Fellowship City for a friend's wedding.

As the kids say: OMG.

And as my dissertation advisor, my friend Chimpy, and others** have said: time to Apply Butt to Chair.

**"Others" including Clio Bluestocking, who apparently even sells t-shirts with this exhortation writ upon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Home Again

Last night, I slept in my own bed. For almost 8 hours straight. Woke up once, utterly disoriented in the dark, knowing I was in my own apartment, but not being able to remember how it was laid out. But other than that, all was well. Left unpacking until today. I'll be posting more soon, but in the meantime, here's a picture** from my trip (with more to follow):

Ooh! Bicycle! I should ride my bicycle today!

**I seem run into trouble whenever I photograph walls, getting a fisheye effect. Trusty point-and-shoot says I'm at the right distance, and I'm in focus, but still, problems.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Phrase I´m Getting Tired of Hearing

"Those records all got burned up in the civil war/war with X/when the anarchists came through."

At this rate, I´m lucky to be finding as much as I am. But I have only one more day, so it´s winding down, at least for now. More updates (with photos) when I´m back home in July.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Afternoon off

With less than one week to go in the archives, and everything closed for the weekend, I´m starting to feel pressured. But today, I´m taking the afternoon off. Notorious is a year older today, and is celebrating by going to lunch and a hamam with one friend, and dinner with another.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tales from the economic crisis: Academe edition

Well, it seems that Urban University may be headed towards furloughs for TT faculty. And they tell us it´s not a pay cut, but two unpaid days a month (where we´re not supposed to work -- yeah, right) comes out to 6% of our work days, which means that my tenure raise is effectively wiped out before I ever see it.

Add to this the suggestion from our dean that the course releases that allowed us to teach 3-3 rather than 4-4 may be going away (but with no decrease in research expectations), and you can see why I´m cranky.

Frankly, I´m getting discouraged. As someone (I forget who) recently said: "When someone is praising you for doing more with less, they´re usually about to ask you to do everything with nothing."

What about the rest of you? How have you been hit at your universities? Anyone come up with any creative solutions to make things better? Or, if not that, then any small acts of rebellion to make you feel better?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Going Fishing (A Tale of Two Research Methods)

Okay, I suppose that yesterday´s post requires a bit more elaboration.

I´ve decided there are two ways** to embark on a new project. The first is to cast about in the documents until a pattern emerges, and then write about that pattern. This is what I did with my dissertation-cum-book: I had a vague idea of a topic I wanted to study, and decided more or less arbitrarily*** on a collection of documents that would be "mine." I dove into these documents, gathering up everything that was vaguely related to my topic, then began arranging them into various patterns until I had a dissertation. Then when I wrote the book, I went back and rearranged those same things. This meant that both times, I ended up tossing out a lot of material that I had collected (Anybody want to buy a discursive footnote or two?) because it didn´t fit my chosen pattern. In other words, I cast a broad net, which meant that I caught a lot of fish I didn´t need.

The second way seems to be to have something very specific in mind. In the case of Shiny New Project, I have one "core" document that I find really interesting, from which I have drawn a list of about two dozen people I need to find in the archives. So the net isn´t as broad. this time, I know exactly which (fairly obscure) fish I´m angling for.

The problem is, the ocean is just as big.

**Likely more, or more variations on these two themes, but these are the two that I´ve encountered so far.

***Okay, so what I actually did was to start where the microfilm stopped. I hate working with microfilm.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Well, I´ll be darned

Turns out that researching a new book is hard.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Suspect Development

Here in Exotic Research City, there is an important archive. In this important archive, there is a Very Grouchy Archivist.

I´m sure many of you have encountered the VGA before. He or she seems to delight in snarling, denying you documents, and generally refusing to be helpful. If you get something wrong, she or he barks at you. VGA here has yelled at me before -- I mean really, really yelled -- for a rather minor infraction (followed him into his office when I was supposed to wait outside). Otherwise, he has mostly ignored me. I´ve been told that he dislikes both women and Americans,** as groups. Fortunately, other personnel here have been generally helpful.

Yet, for the past three days, VGA has been positively friendly towards me. Helpful, accomodating, all that. And it wasn´t that he was having a good week, because I heard him out in the hallway on Thursday, yelling at someone for 3 full minutes. But to me he´s been nothing but kind lately. For example, when I made a petition to see one of the normally inaccessable documents, he came upstairs after it was delivered to him, and when he saw it was me, he said "Oh, it´s you who requested this" -- but he said it in a good way. He even smiled at me once.

I am officially suspicious of this behavior.

**Although I´ve been told that he despises French researchers even more than American ones.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baby Steps Towards a Second Book

First of all: My apologies for not being a good blog-visitor lately. I´ve got very limited internet time in poor facilities, so I´m keeping it to a minimum. But I promise to catch up with all those back posts when I return.

In the few weeks before I left for the city I´m in now, amazing neighbor and I were sharing mild panic about our upcoming research trips (she´s also in her own fabulous research destination right now). I proposed an idea: that we hold panic at bay by telling ourselves that these were reconaissance trips, and that the real research trip would come next spring, at sabbatical time. This has kept me calm so far.

But I´m happy to report that I am making tiny steps towards getting the lay of the land on Shiny New Project, and figuring out where the bodies may be buried (metaphorically speaking, of course). Today I visited an archive where I´ve never been before, and tomorrow I return to get an idea of how the materials look, and what sort of time commitment I need to plan for. Next week I´ll be working in another new-to-me archive where I have high hopes of finding some stuff. I´m collecting references to useful books that I didn´t even know existed. And I even have a lead or two on some other options for cover art for the first book.

The problem is, I don´t think I´ll be finding tons of documentation on these people in particular. There are two dozen of them, mostly merchants and artisans, so no one well-known, and from a poorly documented period. But I think that the early progress may still bode well. Cautiously optimistic.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It´s local! It´scholarly! It´s fun! (or: a good way to spend a Sunday)

I´ve been coming to Exotic Research City for a little over ten years now. I think this is my sixth trip. I´ve seen the major tourist sites, been to a few of the dozens of museums large (giant art museum) and small (the museum of shoes, about half the size of my 1 BR apartment). I´ve gone on long rambles in the old medieval city.

But for some reason, I´ve never made it to the book market.

This is a city that is absolutely chock full of bookstores. None of them (so far) seem to be of the Borders/B&N variety -- almost all specialize in something or other. And they´re great. But every Sunday morning, one of the giant city markets is given over to booksellers, new and used, who set up in stalls for about six hours. I kept hearing about it, and it kept getting put on the "I ought to do that someday" list. Well, apparently today´s the day, because last week I discovered (in the medieval institute library) an out-of-print reference work that happens to be owned by a used bookseller who, though he is 20 miles to the south, comes in with a selection every week. So I´m gonna check it out. It´s heavy & expensive, and I may only be able to get the one volume I really need, rather than the three I want, but I´ll just have to see.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Taking Pictures (a post without pictures)

So, one of the things I do when not digging through old documents is: I take pictures. I have, so far, had one person close to me who had non-complementary things to say about my aesthetic, but most people like what I do, as do I. It helps to keep me calm and creative, and it´s nice to do something where the end product doesn´t take months or years.

In fact, one frequent commenter here told me that she was expecting to see lots of pictures from my trip. So yesterday, computer restored, I headed out in the early evening to capture bits and pieces of Exotic Research City with my camera. Got some pretty good ones, too. Unfortunately, it´s going to be a while before they get posted, because my pictures are all in my laptop (Did I mention that it´s fully functioning? I guess I probably did), and my internet access is limited to public terminals.

But this is just to let those of you who like the pictures that show up from time to time know that illustrated posts will be forthcoming as soon as I possibly can manage it. And -- not for nothing -- that I´m actually managing to carve out a little time for fun while I´m here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Glory Hallelujah (third in a series of three tech crisis posts)

The power source/AC adapter is indeed fried.

The motherboard and hard drive are not.

I have a new adapter. All is well. Now, if you´ll excuse me, I´m going home to watch an espisode of Lost on my fully functional computer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Update on the Computer Meltdown

First order of business: the recent passing of my laptop means that I can´t check my e-mail on any of my dot-mac aliases, including the NotoriousPhD one. So if you need to contact me, you should do so via my work e-mail (which you can get by looking me up at my employer´s website, and if you don´t know who I am, then sit tight and be confident that I will be reading your e-mail as soon as I´m home).

Second: Thanks for the sympathy on the last post. No need to pick up a laptop for research. I´ll just do it with pen and paper like I did that time three years ago when I was in the same city and my computer got stolen (yes, I do seem to have some bad luck here).

The problem is not the box -- I was planning on getting a new one next month anyway. The problem is the data that´s on it. Unless I can find someone to fix it (and I am checking into this, by the way) and/or do data recovery, I´m stuck like this for the next month. I miss my data. And I miss having a little music in the morning and at night. ::sigh::

I´ve already e-mailed FabEd´s assistant to ask her to send me copies of the readers´reports, because there were two documents I was supposed to check on. And I hope to whatever gods there are that none of the files got corrupted in the backup process. But other than that, there´s little I can do, other than to more forward.

So... wish me luck!