Friday, April 30, 2010

Random Bullets of Welcome Home

  • One of my major purchases in Exotic Research City was a set of out-of-print reference books that cost approximately $140, plus another $100 to ship home. They arrived, safe and sound.
  • My friends here in the department have been wonderful, eager to see me again and take me out for various meals. I'm sure the novelty of me being home will wear off soon, but it's kind of fun, and makes me feel "home."
  • Family is healthy, and sister who was temporarily unemployed has a job again. It's not the job she wants, but it'll do for now.
  • I seem to have contracted a throat infection just before I got on the plane. Four years ago, I wouldn't have gone to the doctor for a sore throat. But after the serious illness while in Fellowship City, I'm taking no chances, and have an appointment for today. [UPDATE: went, she took a throat culture, saw nothing alarming, but damn my throat feels raw.]
  • Between hurting to swallow and jet lag, I've woken up at 4 a.m. both days since I've been home. That makes for a combined total of 16 hours of sleep in the last three nights. I think I'm overdue for a full night.
  • Final result of 11 weeks of wonderful food, no bike, and quitting smoking, the final verdict is a gain of 4 pounds. Not bad, I think. But I'm still not putting my jeans in the dryer anytime soon.
  • I have yet to write my Kalamazoo paper.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Made it.

So did the cheese.**

More in a couple of days when I'm over my jetlag.

**Totally above-board and legal, people. In the end, I declared it on the customs form, they asked what it was, I told them, "a cheese..." and before I could even get to the bit about "vacuum-sealed, cured/hard, for personal consumption..." they waved me through.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Underway (plus: spontaneous dance break!)

Just a quick note to y'all: for me and Exotic Research City, it's all over but the shouting. I have a dinner with my "family" here tonight, I finish packing the suitcases, then I leave early tomorrow morning. There is a stop in an Affected Airport on the way, so if you don't hear from me in 48 hours or so, I'm sitting in some airport waiting room, trying to live on overpriced sandwiches.

I leave you with one last photo, a cool moment wherein the locals in Exotic Research City broke into spontaneous dance in the entryway of the subway as the buskers played a tune. 'Cause that's just how we roll here:

Play nice while I'm away, and see you stateside!

Monday, April 26, 2010

When honesty isn't enough? (A reader bleg)

So my recent post on the grad student-faculty relationship and the grad students' plea for honesty inspired one faculty reader to write in about a grad student who is floundering, despite what seem to be a lot of attempts to reverse the problem:

I am a recently-tenured faculty member in a Literature Department at a large university, chairing my first dissertation committee. The student I am directing applied from a strong undergraduate program, had good letters of recommendation, and proposed to work on a topic close to my own area of research expertise. While there were some weaknesses, the application was competitive on most counts, so we admitted “Alix.”

This is the first place where we (faculty) need to practice some of that honesty, in our admissions process. This goes double for faculty writing letters. Many of us will take a chance on a borderline applicant. Sometimes, it works out well. Other times…

For the first two years, things seemed to be moving along on course. Everyone who worked with Alix praised hir intellectual creativity and enthusiasm. Yet, there were problems as well: an aversion to any readings on [area critical to discipline]; little improvement in hir writing; and a strangely detached quality that many colleagues remarked upon. In regular meetings to discuss hir progress, required at my institution, we faculty pointed out these areas for improvement.

Again, another key: conversations between faculty who share a student to see if a problem is endemic, and regular meetings with that student.

At some point, however, Alix’s performance actually began to deteriorate. Simply exhorting hir to commit more to the craft of writing did not bring any improvement. Meanwhile, ze became ever more unreliable. When the time came for orals Alix squeaked by, though at the lowest possible pass. Afterward, I had a long, and rather difficult talk with hir, pointing out, yet again, areas that need improvement and securing a promise that ze would strive to write with more structure, clarity, and sophistication as ze moved into writing the dissertation. Yet I recently received some pages that I would mark with a C- if I received them from an undergraduate. In response, I told hir that I cannot recommend hir for grants or other opportunities until ze can begin to produce writing at a true graduate level, worthy of a strong endorsement.

Quite frankly, I now I am beginning to believe that it might be better for hir to abandon this career now, rather than spend several more years working towards a degree that may never be granted, writing a dissertation that would be unlikely to become the entry point for a place in the professoriate. I welcome any advice, from professors or graduate students alike, about the best compassionate, yet honest, approach.

And there it is, folks: How does this particular prof best deal with this situation – recognizing, as well, that the "situation" (my unfortunate word choice) is also a person? The student has cleared every hurdle except the dissertation, but each one only just barely. It seems like this prof. has adhered to the "be honest" dictum that the grad students asked us for. Yet things keep getting worse. So what now?

I'm going to start the conversation by raising two things that jumped out at me. The first is the issue of progressive deterioration, which suggests to me something else may be at work here. Mid-20s to early 30s is a time when many mental health issues develop, so maybe there's something there. Grad school stress can also foster chemical dependency issues, especially alcoholism. Either way, these are problems above a professor's pay grade, but s/he is often the first one to really see them. Does it make sense for the professor to recommend counseling? Or should the professor/student relationship remain as strictly professional as possible?

Second is an implication in the final paragraph: Are we right or wrong to conflate "academic career" with "Ph.D."? If Alix said, "You know, I just want to go for a doctorate for my own personal enrichment," would this be a different story? Should it be?

Okay, that's my own two cents, half-assed as it is. I expect you all to use your whole asses to help out. No one comment per-person rule this time, but do keep in mind that this ought to be a discussion, so frame the length and content of your comments accordingly. Anyone caught being a jerk will be ejected from the room with no cookies

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A useful exercise

In the last post, I wondered what I could possibly jettison from the stuff I brought with me to fit the stuff I bought here into my suitcases (and yes, the cheese is vacuum-sealed; and it's sheep, CPP). And I remembered that I had brought a whole stack of legal pads with notes that I had been meaning to transcribe and organize. Some of these date back to Fellowship Year** -- the point being that I've needed to transcribe these for ages, so yesterday I sat myself down to do just that.

(unrelated photo)

And one of the things I found was my notes on writing, that I did as part of an "assignment" from last semester, when I was working with a writing partner and this book to crank out a chunk of academic writing quickly and efficiently. I present it here, unredacted, just for the hell of it:

What keeps me from writing?

Ugh. Want to procrastinate. E-mail? Websites? Watch a movie? Sure – anything to delay. Totally sabotaging myself. I also never really feel "ready" to write – how can I sit down and write until I've read everything, and covered all my bases? What could I possibly write? But I do love it in those moments when it's really flowing. And revising my writing, from the first revision to the fine-tuning, is actually kind of satisfying – like taking a rough-hewn sculpture and smoothing and shaping until it breathes life.

Elements of my writing blocks: Bad habits are procrastination, especially the internet.
Also, and anxiety that I have nothing to say, that I'm just trying to bullshit. I only believe it later. (Hey – how about writing in order to believe? Or is that nuts?)

What about the good parts of writing?

I love it when a good idea comes – just drops on my head like a ton of bricks, seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes it happens when I'm lying in bed, and I'll get up and run to the desk for a piece of scratch paper to get it down before it escapes. Sometimes it'll be while I'm revising, when something I threw in as an afterthought takes on a life of its own, and I realize that that is the key I know that the key may change, but for the moment, that euphoria is enough to make me literally leap out of my chair and pace around, muttering iterations of the idea over to myself, working out the kinks, stopping at my desk now and then to scribble something about the idea as it unfolds. Best of all, the simple fact of having had that idea gives me more confidence to approach the writing the next day, because I have a purpose, and a direction.

But it's never on the first draft. Ever.

What are my ideal writing conditions?

I love writing when it's miserable outside – ideally a storm, but I'll take an overcast day in a pinch. That's why getting up early works for me: in [Grit City], by 10 a.m. it tends to be sunny, and the inspiration flees. Being in a beautiful working space, with hot coffee, quiet, warm light inside and soft gray light outside.

I also got a lot of writing done the week I was babysitting my nephew. I knew I only had 2 hours a day, so I had to make them really count. No e-mail, no web – no time! And I knocked off over 500 words a day, in two hours!

That's it. All that navel-gazing felt a bit odd while I was doing it, but once I had it out, I saw some patterns, and some ways to help myself. I highly recommend it as a way to work out your own writing blocks, and get started. Twelve teaching-free weeks are just around the corner!

(If you're in the mood for even more omphaloskepsis for a lazy Sunday, go check out the great post over at Dr. Crazy's place.)

**For example, at the top of one page is my ex's e-mail address, written down before we were dating, with a note to touch base with him about a movie we ended up not going to see. Which was kind of weird and unexpected.

Little Anxieties

Well, this was meant to be the beginning of a three-day in-town vacation with my happy genius friend from my fellowship year. Sadly, she got stuck in London, and decided that she'd rather spend time with her sweetie than sitting in Heathrow waiting with approximately 1.6 million other people for a spot to open up on an airplane to Exotic Research City. Imagine that.

So, I'm here, and kicking around for a few days. The sun has decided to come out today, so I'm going to spend a little time in the archives, but not much. Perhaps a little fancy ice cream today. And a little mulling over travel anxieties:
  • Will the two pair of shoes, satchel, stacks of copied documents and assorted gifties for friends & family all fit in the suitcase on the way back? What will I need to jettison to make this happen? (yoga mat, one pair of jeans & one black turtleneck already on their last legs, house slippers... but what else?)
  • Will my stopover at Heathrow turn into a multi-day odyssey?
  • How bad will the crowds at Exotic Research City airport be? Should I get there *three* hours early, rather than two?
  • Will volcano #2 blow up right when we're over it?
  • Will I get in trouble with customs for bringing home an unauthorized cheese? Can those beagles at the airport sniff cheese? Should I maybe pack it in hashish to throw them off?
Can you tell that this was one of those mornings where I didn't meditate when I woke up?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Single-Tasking (or trying to)

So, don't we all (we who teach, that is) tell our students not to try to multi-task? Don't we tell them that this is the reason that we don't want them checking their Facebook pages or texting in class – because they think they can multitask, but they really can't? They just end up doing a crappy job at two things at once? And isn't multitasking, in a way, disrespectful to whatever it is you're trying to do, whether it's participating in class, or listening to a friend talk, or working on a paper?

Yeah. Well, It Has Come to My Attention that I suck at practicing what I preach. My brain is always zipping off in several directions at once, and few of those directions are conducive to productivity or even happiness. And I've noticed that I'm not really inhabiting my own life.

So, inspired by two friends (one of them the fabulous Dr. S., who comments here occasionally), I've started meditating in the mornings. I'm still not very good at it, or even very consistent. But I'm working on it. That whole "being in the moment" thing.

More importantly, as of this morning, I am taking a break (of as-yet-undetermined duration) from a Certain Social Networking Website. More than sucking up my time, it also appears to have substituted for real communication: I've found myself narrating my life rather than living it, and making oh-so-clever pronouncements and witty rejoinders rather than having actual conversations where I talk and listen.

I'll still be blogging, and reading other people's blogs, because I enjoy the long format and the possibilities for real conversation. And I'll still be posting my photos on another website. But other than that, it's time to shift the focus a bit.

And today, after the archive, I walked into a grove of fruit-bearing trees in an unlikely place, and they were in bloom, and I had never smelled anything like that in my life, and I was fully, unequivocally there.

Here's a picture of life on the slow track:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So, I'm at the beginning of – what? – week eleven in Exotic Research City. For the past week, I've been having two simultaneous thoughts:

(a) I love Exotic Research City! And I have so much still to do in the archives! How is it that it's almost time to go home?!? When am I going to get a chance to have lunch with X and Y and Z?

(b) I am so ready to be home. I need to write a paper for Kalamazoo. I want to be back in my own bed. I want to ride my bike. I miss my friends.

But this morning, a switch flipped: I am officially Ready to Go Home.

It's not that none of part (a) is true anymore. It's all still very true. But somehow, today I was just Done.

So now I'm sitting at a table in the archive, writing this post and doing things like transcribing documents and entering bibliography that I could just as easily do at home. There are archive collections to be explored, and I feel more than a little guilty that I'm not taking fuller advantage of my final week here. But I just… I can't anymore. Really. I'm not out playing -- I'm just marking time.

Please tell me this is fine and right and normal?

shot in grit city, about a month before my departure

Sunday, April 18, 2010


So. Here's what's making my life interesting right now:

photo credit: Arni Saeberg/Bloomberg News (via NY Times)

Eyjafjallajokull!! Isn't that a fun name to say? Or at least try to say?

Airports all over Europe, east and west, are a mess, fully or partially shut down for days now, with no news as to when they'll be open again. Voice of Reason was headed from one research city to another, when they told her on the plane that they'd all have to get off because, as it turned out, they wouldn't be taking off. Happy Genius (a friend from my year in Fellowship City), who was supposed to fly down to visit me next weekend, may or may not be able to make it. Both have had romantic rendezvous fall through at the last minute, as did Medieval Woman, whose Dutchman husband is stranded in Dutchmanlandia -- ironically, only weeks after finding out that the long-distance portion of their relationship was finally over.

That's right: volcanoes are the enemy of romance. You heard it here first.

Now, I'm not scheduled to leave Exotic Research City for 10 days, and I hope that'll give it all time to blow over (literally) and for the backlog of passengers to get taken care of. I'm fortunate in that I have a place to stay if I get stuck. These poor vacationers find themselves scrambling for someplace to lay their heads, for days on end now, and with no word as to how or when they'll be able to get home. And Exotic Research City is not in Iceland itself, so I'm fortunate, relatively speaking.

But here's the thing: I've already lived through one volcanic eruption, as a child. Shouldn't that have bought me a lifetime pass?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The best policy?


That's right: the main concern of our grad students (or at least those who comment here) is that we tell them the truth. Here's some samplings from the comments:
  • "I think the best thing that my advisor does for me is to read drafts of my work carefully and tell me when something isn't working. I know some people whose advisors seem worried about hurting their feelings and so hold back."
  • "If we had a more honest conversation about the quality of my work, perhaps, and we had it out loud with me in the room, I could have known whether I was doing poor work or whether my director was being unreasonable. That might have saved me hours of weeping and wailing and wondering if I should drop out."
  • "I think the best thing for advisors to do is to have a conversation with their advisees, up front, and discuss expectations and working styles. I did this with my current advisor – I was paranoid after being burned badly by my last one – and it’s made all the difference in the world…"
Are we that lame at talking to our grad students? Are we afraid of hurting their feelings? Do we sometimes take the easy road of not-so-benign-neglect just to avoid an unpleasant conversation? What if that conversation boils down to "You just don't have the chops for this"?

Of course, that's not the only concern. Some want more direct guidance:
  • "Please don't assume that we know how you feel about our work. If it's unclear, the chances good are that we're worrying about it."
  • "I'm not sure if i would have responded well to her being more drill sargeant-y, but i think it might have helped to have more concrete deadlines (perhaps even institutional ones)..."
  • "I do wish faculty were more involved in our grad careers. I hear lip service paid to the idea that graduate study is a form of apprenticeship. […] I would value the chance to see, or just discuss, how my adviser does research, for example."
Some point out abuses that go unchecked:
  • "Something has got to be done about the professors everybody knows are horrible to graduate students. […] Either keep graduate students away from them or make a concerted effort to provide additional means of support for the students who have to work with these professors."
And of course, worries about our approach to employment, which tends to focus on academia alone:
  • "There should be a system to help those with PhDs get other relevant non-professorial jobs. It's hard to leave graduate school (with its low but guaranteed paycheck) for unemployment. Make the transition easier, and the graduate students may actually finish."
So, the grad students have had their say. Profs, now you. Do you see yourself, your colleagues, or your institution in any of these critiques? Are these reasonable expectations? Were your expectations and issues the same when you were a grad student?

In the spirit of fairness, I'm going to ask profs to also limit themselves to one bite of the apple apiece for now. If it looks like there's interest in certain topics, I'll do a more open post later, and we can all -- profs and students alike -- comment to our hearts' content.

Please be thoughtful and constructive. But also, as requested by the grad students themselves, be honest.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Just FYI:

I've been enjoying reading the grad student comments on working with grad faculty, so I'm going to keep the comment thread open for another 24 hours or so. So if you want to comment on it, please do stop by and give us your take on it. Profs get their turn after that.

Commenters: please stay on-topic, and be as succinct as you can while still making your points. I know my moderation policy (such as it is -- I have yet to delete a comment) has frustrated at least one commenter, but I want to make this useful for everyone.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In which the proffies shut up for a moment, and let the grad students talk


So, you may have noticed that I have opinions.

You may have further noticed that some of them concern graduate education. Those opinions tend to draw some strong reactions from my grad student readers, principally those that advocate a sink-or-swim approach to grad school, and a harsh dose of the new reality for anyone considering it. I like to think in terms of that story about St. Benedict's early rules for admission: when the candidate comes, tell them to get lost. Several times. If, after three strong rebuffs, they continue to insist, and if they're qualified, let them in for a year, and see if it's a good fit for both parties. Either party should be able to opt out for any reason at the end of this year -- it's not for everyone. It is not meant to be a soft life.

You may have further noticed that I appear to be talking primarily to other faculty members on this blog -- a pose that I've recently realized may alienate my grad student readers. And the content of those conversations is likely to piss them off sometimes.

So you know what? For the next couple of days, I'm going to temporarily back off, and ask my proffie readers to do the same. I'll moderate, but I'm going to turn this over to the grad students. What do you wish we were doing/not doing with respect to our grad students? Should we let in more grad students, or fewer? Should we give second, third, and fourth chances, or is it better to cut the agony short? Should we be nurturing you like parents, or toughening you up like drill sergeants? Is there a difference between what we should expect of a terminal M.A. and someone who's Ph.D.-bound? Do gender and/or age play a role in what you expect of your grad faculty?

Maybe let us know a little about yourself -- M.A. student? PhD? ABD? Ditched it all and decided to do something else? ONE POST PER PERSON, AND KEEP IT BRIEF. Otherwise, people will just skip over it.

Ad hominem attacks will be summarily deleted. Praise or criticize (or both!), but please be constructive.

We're listening.

(There will be a follow-up post for profs to give their point of view -- also constructive, I hope.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Archives and Interpretation


I just poofed the post, though I'm leaving the comments (strange, huh?) -- Squadratomagico makes an excellent point about overgeneralizing, and in retrospect, the post was written from a place of frustration. My apologies to any I offended.

In lieu of the original post, let me ask a question, in case people want to keep the discussion going: how do we, as researchers, weigh the relative value of years of work in the archives versus creative interpretation of the sources -- perhaps fewer sources, or perhaps working only from published sources? If you feel comfortable doing so, perhaps add the country you received your historical training in.

And I know many of my readers are stateside Americanists, so: do you think you work differently than your colleagues who study other countries? Do we medievalists just need to get over ourselves, already?

UPDATE: Fellow Blogger Tenthmedieval has left a very nice response (his second response, comment #17, I believe) in the comments -- I think it's well worth reading, so make sure to take a look.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Living Conditions (research trip edition)

"I'm really impressed at the things you do in the name of research."

This remark was made by my first visitor while here in Exotic Research City, and it was in reaction to my living conditions here. So I thought I'd reflect, and maybe see if my experience was typical.

I should preface this by saying that, in Grit City, I live in a fairly nice 500 sq. ft. 1 BR bungalow, which I rent, in a walkable neighborhood about 4 miles from campus. I have wood floors. I have sunlight. I don't share walls. It's nothing fancy, but it's certainly pleasant.

Here in Exotic Research City, I rent an apartment. I say "apartment," but I really think what I have is a 19th c. New York immigrant coldwater flat. It's a 5th-floor walkup, in the rear of the building, so almost no light whatsoever, 150 square feet or so, only cold water in the sink taps. There's a heater for the shower, so if I want to wash my dishes in hot water, I fill a shallow plastic tub from the tap in the shower, then carry it to the sink and mix it with the cold.** Downstairs there is a couple with a three year-old and a baby, living in the same sized space. Next door my single male neighbor, about my age, has a constant, deep, troubling cough that sounds like he's choking and makes me glad of my decision to quit smoking (again) a couple months ago. The apartment comes equipped with a washing machine, but I hang my laundry on the roof (which I'm right under). For this, I pay about $1000 a month. Exotic Research City ain't cheap.

my delightful downstairs neighbor, who always greets me when I arrive home for lunch

I also walk to all my archives within 15 minutes. My neighborhood is a mix of young, mostly male immigrants, and hipster/hippies. One of the city's major markets is down the stairs and 3 minutes away, so I can get there before the ladies with their shopping trolleys do. The neighborhood is gritty in places, but there is also History – the second-oldest church in the city is around the corner and two minutes away. From my rooftop, I can see the cathedral (and its attendant cranes) in one direction, and a monument of modern architecture in the other, while listening to the sound of kids playing soccer and young tough teenagers giving each other shit in the park below.

It's neither glamorous nor tranquil. But here, it's home.

**This was what prompted my visitor's incredulity.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Smart but Slow Students

[based on some of the comments this post is getting, I think I'll do a full-blown follow-up where the grad students talk back to the proffies... stay tuned for more info]

My forever-student in the M.A. program (seriously, folks: he started in fall 2004, vanished off the face of the earth for ages at a time on more than one occasion) not only finished an excellent thesis right before I left on sabbatical; he just won our college's "best thesis" award.

Whoo hoo!

I don't think he's going on to a Ph.D. program -- getting through even the M.A. proved to be a challenge, and I'd have to mention it in any letter I wrote. And it's a shame, because he's obviously got the intellectual firepower to do it.

So, what do you do with students like this: intelligent, excellent writers, creative thinkers, but inconsistent? Ones that drift in occasionally with a stack of truly superior work, then you don't hear from them for ages? I'm sure he won't be the last of this breed, and I'd love to hear some other opinions.

And yes: he was working full-time. But still: five years for an M.A.?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Happy and Sad

First, the sad: this weekend, Beloved Former Chair passed away. We're all very sad -- not only was she a pathbreaking feminist historian; she was also a kickass chair who broke up the old boys' network in the department, built the department, fostered community here, and rolled right over anyone who tried to take our department's stuff. She also compulsively fed the squirrels who learned to gather outside our department windows (to my terror when one of them tried to crawl into my office window one day!) and had a thing for Hello Kitty.

But for bad, the Powers That Be also grant good: head over to Medieval Woman's place, and read the glad tidings. A smile for her, TD, and Thing One and Thing Two.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

From the Cemetery of Forgotten Projects

So, I'm technically here to work on Nifty Title Project. But I'm also poking at the corners of Shiny New Project, because it's going to take a bit of doing, in dribs and drabs. Specifially, the corner that I'm poking at is something that I reluctantly committed to giving a paper on at Kalamazoo. Why? Guilt over a ball I dropped. But that's another story. The paper is supposed to be about members of a particular profession – let's call them widgeteers – who play a small but important role in Shiny New Project. There's already a body of literature on widgeteers. But as I was browsing through the notarial archives for documents on local widgeteers during the period I work on, I came across half a dozen wills for widgeteers' wives. And so I decided that that would be my paper.

So, when I get bored with or despair about Nifty Title Project, I turn to poke the lives of widgeteers and their wives. And this weekend, for the first time, I started transcribing a the wives' wills.

And do you know what I found?

A link to Project Impossible.

Project Impossible is, as the name implies, something that I once thought would make a really neat book (with a really cool title, too). It's a study of a particular Interesting Instution. Unfortunately, although it's known that Interesting Institution was founded in the late medieval century I work on, almost all of the known references to the insitution involved are from the Early Modern era. So I remained interested, but dropped it.

And then, lo and behold, Thursday I find a reference in a secondary source to the fact that the widgeteers' guild had been the ones who agitated for Key Institution to be built.

And yesterday, as I was transcribing the first testament, I find that this widgeteer's wife has left substantial sums of money to Interesting Institution.

No, I'm not going to drop both Nifty Title Project and Shiny New Project to go on a snipe hunt. But I am going to reopen my Project Impossible file, and start adding to it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How Fabulous Ex-Neighbor Earned a New Sobriquet

That's a lousy sobriquet, isn't it? Kinda generic and uncreative. She's needed a new one for a while, one that reflects a bit of who she is. And her visit this past week and a few subsequent e-mails provided inspiration. To wit:

I'm now over two-thirds of the way through my research trip, and I feel like I've gotten nothing done. This is largely a product of the fact that I've been mostly working with inventories, pulling and taking copies of documents to read later. The fact that I've spend very little time in the doucments, and the time I have spent in them has yielded less promising signs than the work with the inventories (for different collections) makes me feel like this trip has been unproductive.

But more than that, I feel like I was not ready for this sabbatical. I've been discussing this subject over the last few days with fabulous ex-neighbor, who is also on a sabbatical. She and I both agreed that we might have been more prepared to take advantage of these sabbaticals if they'd come a year later. As it was, we spent our year 6 on the tenure track finishing up the first project – doing revisions, doing page proofs, etcetera. Then there was the summer trip that was supposed to be reconnaissance, but fall semester was such chaos that we never really got time to process what we'd found. We were happy to have the sabbatical, but we each felt that we could have used another year before the sabbatical to do background reading and really figure out the basic lay of the land. As it was, even with the reconnaissance trip that was supposed to orient us, we still both felt that we were fumbling our way through a dark room, bumping into the furniture and barking our shins.

Of course, like many friends, we're better at calming each other down than we are ourselves. So here is a snippet from one of our exchanges, reprinted with permission.

First, Me:

I keep bouncing back and forth between one project[**] and another,[***] like a pinball. I'm trying not to worry about it, and not to listen to the voice in my head screaming THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME!!! HOW *DARE* YOU HAVE TAKEN TIME AWAY FROM THE ARCHIVES TO HAVE FUN!!! YOU BAD, BAD PERSON! That way lies madness.


But I keep coming back to, "Well, if I'd had my book *done* when I went up for tenure, then I could have spent year 6 working on the next project..." which is ridiculous, of course. But still.

Now, Fabulous Ex-Neighbor:

I've had all the same thoughts. And indeed, if we followed the time- honored schedule of having a book OUT in time for tenure, we'd have had that built in break. Mind you, in places that require that, we'd also probably have had a semester off in the third year or so, lower teaching load, etc etc.

I too worry about taking time away. On the other hand, last summer I found that I was really refreshed after having visitors and taking some time off. AND the time gives us ideas, familiarity with our subjects [...]

Did you know exactly how everything fit for the diss when you gathered the documents? I'm guessing this will come together. It is just irritating not to be able to see the whole picture right now. So get what you can, process it at home and then there is always January and summer to go fill the holes you identify. Or so I tell myself.

Now, to be fair, she admitted in a later e-mail that she was directing these soothing noises at herself as much as at me. But the fact that she can make them, while I can only whimper incoherently, suggests a name change: henceforth (or until something better occurs to me), Fabulous Ex-Neighbor will be known as the Voice of Reason.