Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tech for Writers (A "random bullets" post)

  • I've been using Zotero for about a year now to organize my bibliography, as well as notes on stuff I have already read. I like the interface, and am slowly (manually) migrating my massive database that I created in grad school in Filemaker Pro. So far, I use it to organize bibliography (including a place to store and organize references to books and articles I haven't read), and attach notes on things I have read, as well as copies of articles. Haven't posted it all to the cloud yet, but I will. But I can't help thinking that there are other things I'm missing.
  • After several years of Mac fanatics (I'm a fan, but not a fanatic) urging me to get iWork, I did. This, after a really bad experience in grad school with Mac's first office suite, the odious "Apple Works." I like keynote fine, and pages has a nifty layout or two for newsletters & the like. I can even understand numbers, which is much more intuitive than Excel, in my opinion. But I can't imagine why some of my academic friends are singing the praises of a word-processing software that has no button to insert a footnote.
  • Scrivener. I've been hearing lots about this, and since I'm at the beginning of a project, now would be the time. Also, since I'm at the beginning of a semester. It looks cool, and I'll probably download the free trial to check it out. Anyone out there using this? Thoughts?
  • Also thinking about downloading MacFreedom, which will shut off my internet access at prearranged times. I hate to pay 10 bucks for something I should be able to do myself, but apparently I'm incapable.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gratuitous (but hilarious) time-wasting

My friend Piper Ph.D. thinks I am too productive.

She's never come out and said so, but it's the only conclusion I can draw after she passed me a link to the truly hilarious cartoon-blog "Hyperbole and a Half." She doesn't want me to publish, or get my classes prepped. She wants me to sit in front of the computer all day, laughing like a loon.

And then, I stumbled upon this older post on said blog, and I realized that perhaps it's not all my friend's fault after all.

Don't forget: if you have a kalamazoo abstract that you want to get the word out on, post it here!

Monday, August 23, 2010

CFP, or: In Which This Blog Temporarily Becomes a Bulletin Board

Hi all!

You know what? I'm organizing a session for Kalamazoo 2011. And wouldn't it be cool if I could harness the awesome power of the blognets to get submissions and abstracts? But I can't, because I'm friggin' anonymous! Aaarrrrgh!!!


So, here's my idea. Surely, some of my readers out there (even normally pseudonymous ones) are sponsoring sessions. And some of them would probably like to use their blogs to get the word out. So I thought I'd put this post up as a bulletin board. Log in to the comments and post your panel title, organizer name, and contact info. A few words about it if you like, but please no full abstracts (though links to those abstracts are ok). If you're an pseudonymous blogger, log on without your normal sign-in, and get the word out.

Medievalist nuns, Kalamazoo, ca. 2008 C.E.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Yoga of the Second Book

(...or of any new research/writing project, for that matter.)

I just got off the phone with a friend who, like me, just finished her first book and is starting on her second. Unlike me, she's bagged a full-year fellowship to work on it in its early stages. And she just asked me -- me! -- what she ought to know about beginning work on the new project.

A second book, or any new project, is a voyage into the unknown. You just finish one project where you knew everything, and all of a sudden you know nothing again. It's easy to get bogged down in fear and despair of ever again having a book-worthy idea. I spent most of June and July that way. I will probably get stuck there again at some point.

Anyway, while I was talking to my friend, I realized that a lot of the things I've learned about working on a book project beyond your dissertation-based book are things I've figured out in the past month. This is, perhaps not coincidentally, about a month or two since I've started doing yoga more regularly.

And before you panic or prepare for a new-agey sermon: I'm not going to say, "Yoga will help you write your book." Just bear with me a moment, and I'll explain.

Now, I must explain a couple of things about my yoga practice. First of all, it isn't a "practice." Don't imagine me serenely standing on my head. Don't imagine me in a fancy set of coordinated yoga togs, or hitting the studio five times a week or even being able to sit up completely straight with my legs out in front of me. I'm. Not. Athletic. Or flexible. Or dedicated. And I'm very far from serene, most days. I have precisely one pair of yoga pants that I bought at Target a few years back, and wear them with whatever paint-spattered t-shirt is cleanest. I usually do yoga at home with a DVD or a free podcast. I am awkward.

But lately I've been doing more of it, and I think that some of the principles behind the practice** apply very well to tackling the second book. I don't think you have to practice yoga to get these, but it's the metaphor I have, so here goes:

Be present: We usually think of "focus", but it's kind of an active, forceful, scary word. When you're trying to hold a balance pose or write three paragraphs on a particular topic, the demand to !!FOCUS!! can lead to you to doing anything but ("Am I focusing now?... How about now? Yep, focusing... oh, shit! I lost it again!") On the other hand, you do have to get your head and your body in the same place. A few deep breaths, and just doing what you were meant to be doing in that moment. E-mail can wait. Facebook can wait. Making a mental shopping list can wait. This is sacred time. (And this is, by the way, also the hardest principle for me to put into practice, in any area of my life.)

Non-attachment: I can't bend myself double. Nor do I know what my second book is about yet. I don't have a thesis statement or even a central question. I should know from experience by now that, even if I did know these things, the project will take several twists and turns before I'm done. So why let "where I think I should be" paralyze me? I am, right now, doing the best writing and thinking I can with the materials at my disposal.

Stay on your own mat: My inability to drop into a perfect triangle pose when everyone else in the class seems to be having no problem does not mean I'm hopeless. The fact that I don't write as fluidly or as prolifically as Award-Winning Historian doesn't mean I should just give up.

Daily practice: If you do any sort of physical exercise, the benefits tend to accrue with regular practice. If I do yoga once every two weeks or once a month, then I'm probably going to find it stiff and difficult every time. If I do it several times a week or even every day -- even for a little while -- I will gradually see progress. Some days I'm less mentally limber than others. But it's not about a single day.

Grace: Sometimes, in yoga, there comes a moment when you just "get" a pose, and it feels like a new world (or at least a new part of your body) has opened up. Same with thinking about your project. These moments are rare, and you can't make them happen. That moment of inspiration is out of your hands. My job is simply to be there, doing the thing I'm supposed to be doing, so it knows where to find me when it arrives.

That's all I have for the moment. That, and faith that things will happen, and probably not when or how I expect them to.

**These are not official or canonical yoga principles, nor do they have nifty sanskrit names. It's just some stuff that I've heard over and over in classes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Right after I post this, I will be dropping off my laptop for repairs.

It is my only computer.

Let's see how an academic gets along without her computer during the last couple of weeks before the semester. Should be entertaining, no?

(And yes, I did take the precaution of backing everything up just an hour ago.)

...or... maybe not. It seems that the part still hasn't arrived. Now what am I going to do with all this separation trauma I got ready?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hedgehogs, Unite!

Can you stand one last post on the whole fox-and-hedgehog thing?


What if I promise you that it isn't by me?

See, I'd tried on several occasions to compose a "defense of the hedgehog" post to balance out all the fox-y stuff I'd been posting. Yet every time I tried, what I kept coming back to was "Yes, but hedgehogs are so useful." Which struck me as self-centered and patronizing, and I just didn't want to go down that road.

fig. 1: Dang, but hedgehogs are cute.

Fortunately, one of the regular commenters here, Clio's Disciple, is a self-avowed hedgehog, and graciously agreed to share her own views and experiences. Her post, "On Being a Hedgehog", is up over at her place, and I hope some of the people who have commented on the previous posts (or maybe some hedgehogs who hesitated to jump in?) will weigh in with their opinions.

Thanks, CeeDee!

A Letter of Protest

(another unrelated photo)

[see UPDATE, below]

Over at Dr. Virago's place, there is a beautifully worded letter from her friend the General, explaining why she was more than just disappointed in the Medieval Academy's decision to keep the conference in Tempe.

I've posted about this before, but the General's letter deserves wide reading.

UPDATE: three members of the program committee, all ASU professors, have resigned from the program committee in protest; read their open letter here.

(And before someone says something: yes, I know that the most objectionable provisions of the law -- the "show your papers" thing -- were suspended for now. But the MA made their decision before that happened, so the General's concern about how the Academy views her and people like her is, in my opinion, completely valid. Same for our Latina/o friends in the ASEH.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Writing My Way In

Just so you know: after weeks and months of angsting about not knowing what my current book project (still in search of a pseudonym; maybe "The Tuna-Herder's Lament"?) was about, I did something that I've been doing more and more often: I just sat down and wrote. Shitty First Draft-level writing, for sure, full of square bracketed notes-to-self ["get some information on tuna-herding before the c13 tuna mortality..."], sentences that go on and on, and questions and avenues for exploration.

Let me tell you, it works. I still don't have any central question, but I have forward momentum. I have faith that I can do this.

Best yet: I have over 5,000 words.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fox and the Hedgehog, part 3: Should Feminist Scholars be Hedgehogs?

(point of irony: Blogger's spell-check function does not recognize the possessive "women's".)

When I began to post about the fox and hedgehog thing, it was a post that had been brewing for a few months, but that was most proximately inspired by this post at Historiann's. I mentioned this before, but never explained why.

Historiann asks, among other things, whether anyone would notice if women's history stopped being written. My passive voice formulation is intentional here, because "if women's historians stopped writing women's history" is circular and confusing and possibly tautological. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Authorial intent aside (we're all postmodernists now - wheee!), my reading of this post suggested two implications: the importance to the profession of doing women's history, and the fact that those with a vested interest in women's history (particularly but not exclusively feminist historians) should keep on keepin' on because -- lip service and an occasional grad seminar book aside -- no one else is going to step up and do it. Likely the same can be said for queer history, though I know less about that field's dynamics.

Each of these implications is fairly clear, but when viewed through the lens of my recent protestations about personal choice on the whole fox/hedgehog thing, combined with the recent post by Tenured Radical on the gendered dimensions of setting boundaries in our jobs, I end up in a nasty double-bind: we all choose whether to be foxes or hedgehogs, but women's/gender/feminist(/queer/?) historians who want to be foxes may feel that there is a moral obligation to be a hedgehog. If we don't do this very important work, who will?

!!TWEEEET!! Time Out: Let's all pause for a moment and think about that last sentence: what a girl thing to say. "Yes, we all agree that it's important, and I understand that no one else wants to do it, and I have written about it in the past, after all, so sure, I'll do it, even though I'd like to be moving in different directions, just like the rest of you. Better I give up on that ambition that anyone else."

Now, I know that there are plenty of women's historians (and in other fields too, of course) out there who are joyful hedgehogs by choice; we owe them a great deal as both scholars and feminists. And I also know that women's history is a subfield big enough that you can be a fox within it. But I'm not talking about them -- I'm talking about the feminist fox who feels pressured to be a hedgehog, to continue working in a field that is politically and/or personally important to her, when she'd rather be off writing about municipal institutions or poison or siege techniques of the Hundred-Years' War.

So, about a year too late, here's my "Lesson for Girls (academic version)": Just because you can, doesn't mean you have to. You're not a bad feminist if you write about stuff other than women. You're not a bad feminist if you selfishly follow your own scholarly interests of the moment. You may actually be committing a real feminist action by refusing to let yourself be defined by others' expectations, especially when those expectations allow your more misogynist colleagues to safely ignore or dismiss you. You can support woman-focused studies by buying the books, and assigning them in your classes, not just as tokenism, but as a way of teaching what you were taught: that the study of women fucking transformed the profession. You may choose to be a hedgehog because you have a career's worth of questions about women or gender in your field -- hedgehog away, sister! But that needs to be your choice, and if you choose to be a fox, it's really okay that you let yourself walk off and play somewhere else for a while. The boys get to do it, after all.