Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Declutter (an optimistic post)

First off: I'm home from Puddletown. Christmas went off with very few hitches (and we are a family who loves our hitches).

But now is the time to look forward. I have good reason to believe that the next six months will bring a great deal of scurrying and exploding head syndrome at work, from the get-go, with no chance to pause and catch my breath. There are also some Very Good Things in the offing, though. And to prepare for both of these, I need to declutter.

Clutter, whether physical, digital, or mental, tends to make it impossible for me to work. I have a zillion and one three- to five-day tasks to get done in too little time. When that happens, my natural response is to practice denial about all of them. But, after many attempts, I've determined that this does not produce the desired result.* Furthermore, doing the Next Indicated Thing actually does produce results: The Thing in Question gets done, and I feel lighter.

So, today, on my arrival home, I am devoting myself to doing the major decluttering my physical and mental environments. This means 1) putting away the stuff from the trip; 2) sorting through the many piles of papers accumulated throughout my teeny apartment; and 3) making a list (long) of the tasks I need to accomplish in the month of January, and actually prioritizing them. The invisible 3b is for me to get started on the first of these tasks tomorrow.

And fair warning: this may be part of a semi-ambitious project to Finally Get My Shit Together. Notebooks have been purchased, anyway. But I won't say more about that now, for fear of overwhelming myself. For now, I will simply do the next indicated thing. And the next indicated thing, today, is decluttering. For now, that will be enough.

*The desired result being that the elves swoop in and finish my projects while I sleep, leaving them done, proofread, and neatly printed and collated for my perusal. They also have yet to repair my shoes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holidays in Blogland! (Presents for Everyone!)


I've just turned in the grading, and I'm doing laundry and tidying the house in preparation for tomorrow's trip to Puddletown. Have I done any of my holiday shopping? Yeah, well, that's what they get for holding Christmas so close to finals week.

But, I have managed to get my shopping done for you folks! So, let's see what everyone on my blogroll gets this year...

  • Belle gets a Manduka mat.
  • Clio Bluestocking gets a comfortable mattress.
  • Clio’s Disciple gets the game of her choice from the last ten years’ worth of Spiel des Jahres winners.
  • CM at Farm/Kitchen/Table gets a CSA box with no onions whatsoever.
  • Comrade PhysioProf isn't on my blogroll, but he gets a bottle of Jameson’s anyway. Just because.
  • Dr. Crazy and Another Damned Medievalist get the same thing: an Bluetooth-like device that detects the presence of administrative B.S. and replaces it with music. Two settings enable them to choose between soothing, and you-best-not-mess-with-me tunes, as the particular situation warrants. (Yes, everybody on my list could use one of these, but Crazy and ADM more than most, this year.)
  • Dr. S. gets new Wellington boots. And a Zeiss* lens.
  • Dr. Virago gets some awesome bedroom furniture for the new house – cool and unique, but not so self-consciously funky that it rounds the corner to stupid.
  • FSP gets… well, something sciencey. I don’t know what. But it’s really nice, and does something really cool.
  • Heu Mihi: I thought about getting her baby stuff, but then I decided that she’ll probably be getting plenty of that from others, so I’ve decided to donate her some sleep reserves for when the baby comes, and for before then, whatever delicious foods her heart desires.
  • Historiann gets (what else?) a toolbox.
  • Joel gets the secret magic word that causes his young son to immediately conk out for a 90-minute nap so he can get some writing done.
  • New Kid gets an airline-compliant bag that magically holds twice as many books and clothing than it looks like it ought to AND makes them weigh half as much, plus has a secret pocket that renders invisible all liquids, ointments and unguents – even those coming in sizes of greater than three ounces.
  • Prone To Laughter gets a stylish light jacket to replace the raincoats left behind at her previous job.
  • Squadratomagico gets an Alexander McQueen frock of her choice.
  • Tenured Radical gets the Hammer of Thor to slay all the trolls over at CHE.
  • Twisty Faster gets someone to wrangle those donkeys that keep showing up at El Rancho Deluxe.
  • WoPro gets a lucrative book deal.

And every single overworked, exhausted one of you gets this:

Happy Holidays!

*Corrected from "zyliss" -- they are the people who make fancy can openers, garlic presses, and the like, but not (so far as I know) camera lenses.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Puddletown Countdown

Five days until I board a plane for Puddletown. Five days to grade, and maybe even buy a present or two.

I have a bit of grading to do before that happens, of course. And a few other things, too. And my family and I always end up getting into at least one dramatic scrape over the holidays. And I hardly have any of my gift-shopping done. But still: holidays in Puddletown! Comin' right up! Nieces & nephews! Awesome bookstore! Tree-decorating with dad! Hot chocolate while walking down my favorite streets! All manner of festive shit!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Tip for Would-Be Plagiarists

Tip: If every paper you've turned in thus far has been rendered in English that might best be described as "incoherent," it's not a good idea to turn in a final paper where the prose is not only elegant, but is also generously salted with phrases in Latin and Koine Greek, plus references to obscure eleventh-century texts.

And especially not when most of the passages come from a book on your professor's shelf, dealing with an area that you know she is conversant with.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If you really loved me, you'd do it.

Today, I'm on campus until 9:30. I have no food in the fridge, and have not had time to shop for a week. There is also no food worth eating on this campus. And I will get home around 10 p.m., and I will be cold, and there will still not be any food in the fridge.

Would one of my readers like to come by and fix me dinner, to be waiting for me when I get home?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing Your (Undergraduate) Paper in Seven Days

First: There's a bit of a plagiarism meme going around (see Flavia, Tenured Radical, and most recently, Dr. Crazy, for that sixth sense that catches things that the software misses). I've got an old post on the subject here, so I won't belabor the point, except to say that running across plagiarism makes my heart sink.

But I've got a nice thing to share, too. It may even be related to plagiarism, because I'm sure that at least some plagiarists take these drastic measures because they get up against the wall on a deadline, usually due to poor time management.* They see a paper that seems really big to them, and they put it off because it just seems too big to face today. And tomorrow, it's worse. And eventually, they're up against a deadline, and they either turn in a crappy paper, or get all desperate and do Something Rash.

If there's one thing that this writing group (along with bitter past experience) has taught me, it's that structure, and working incrementally on a regular basis, is my friend. Would this work for my students in a class where they work on a medium-length independent paper project? Sure, they have to turn in a proposal/bibliography, and then a revised proposal/outline, and there are conferences to keep them on track. But they could still put off the actual writing of the thing, with the results noted above.** So I worked up a little guide that I called "Writing Your Paper in Seven Days." I used that "Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks" book as a mental jumping-off point, and tried to think of the manageable daily chunks that a short-ish (6-8 pages) undergraduate paper could break down into, and I think I came up with something useful, and workable for even the most intimidated undergraduate. Every day has a suggested task, an estimated time-to-complete, a "what you'll need" list, and about a page of narrative instruction and tips. Bearing in mind that this is for students who have already developed a question and done the research, here's how it broke down:
  • Day One: Writing a strong thesis statement (15-45 min)
  • Day Two: Organizing your Ideas: Outlines and Topic Sentences (90 min)
  • Day Three: Writing up your Evidence Portion (4 hours -- may be broken up into two or more writing sessions)
  • Day Four: Introducing and Concluding (60 min)
  • Day Five: Putting on the finishing touches and smoothing out the Rough Edges (90 min)
  • Day Six: Productive Rest
  • Day Seven: Proofreading, and the Final Checklist (60-90 min)

I scheduled it so that the long day would fall on a weekend day. And I think this is adaptable for longer papers -- you'd just have to break the "writing your evidence portion" up into several days, each dedicated to a particular major section of their outline that represented 3-4 pages.

Granted, I'm sure that not everybody used it. And granted, I haven't started reading the papers yet. But I've had a couple of students tell me -- unsolicited, mind you! -- that this helped them organize their time and not let the bigness (to them) of the project intimidate them into putting it off until the last minute. So that's my big teaching moment for the semester, I think.

Now: Let's get grading!

*And sure, some of them plagiarize as a first resort, because they lack ethics. Grrrr... But I think that some are potentially decent students who dig themselves into a hole and don't know how to get out except by cheating. My "solution" can't do a damn thing about the former group, but it might help the latter.

**One of them did just that. I know, because when he came into my office less than 48 hours before the paper was due, not having even developed a research question yet (much less having done any research or developed a thesis statement), he flat-out told me, three times in the space of 15 minutes, that he was "just going to stay up all night Wednesday and get it done," and that "It's not a big deal." And this morning, I collected his paper -- all one page and two lines of it, completely thesis-free. ::sigh::

Friday, December 2, 2011

Another Yoga Story

(yes, the writing group is up: go here)

I'm not sure if this one is a parable. But it's what's on my mind right now, so here goes:

I've been practicing yoga in a studio (as opposed to at home) fairly regularly now for a little over a year, and about two months ago, I started experiencing some really encouraging breakthroughs. I can now do a simple arm balance that had been my nemesis for the whole first year. I can get into a headstand with a bit of assistance past the sticking point. I've regained a great deal of mobility in my formerly-frozen shoulders -- even the super-stuck left one. I figured out the caturanga-up dog transition without letting my legs drop. I have become aware of the things that are holding me back (::cough:: core strength!), and have determined to work on those things. Most importantly, I have learned that getting a pose or a transition requires being willing to fail at it for a while, without giving up.

One lesson that I apparently have not learned, however, is the line between "not giving up" and "forcing it." This came to a head this past week, as I tried to push myself to another breakthrough on a particular forward bend, rather than just letting it come when it comes. And the sad result is that tonight, I felt myself just a hair's-breadth away from giving myself a serious hamstring injury.

So, I actually did something smart: I stopped what I was doing. I decided that a little humility and backing off for a week or two was a small price to pay for not dealing with a painful injury and six months' recovery time. I know my practice will keep improving, if I give it time, because that's what's been happening already.

But goddamn it: accepting that I have limits is hard.

Writing Group Week 12: Forward!

Welcome to the end of Another Damned Notorious Writing Group! Congratulations for sticking with it to the end. We've had quite a run, no? Oh, and congratulations to Heu Mihi who, in addition to finishing a paper for her faculty colloquium, also spent the last twelve weeks getting a good start on another long-term project. (The coincidence of dates is suspicious, I know, but I promise you that ADNWG were nowhere near her.)

Heu Mihi's new project inspires me to use this last post to look forward, rather than looking back. Because, after all, writing is not like a class you take once, get through the homework, and move on. It's what we do. And hopefully, we've learned some things about that to take forward.

So, as you put in your Final! Reports!, here are a couple of ideas for things to contemplate, under the general heading of "heading forward":
  1. Where is this particular project headed forward to? Is it someplace different than you thought it would? Me, I thought I'd be talking about food. Instead, I discovered something really intriguing about cities -- and something, incidentally, that makes this mini-project a slightly better fit for the larger one it's a part of. This also opens up an entirely new field of reading for me. I actually find this exciting... but I'd like a semester off to to it.
  2. How are you heading forward into your writing agenda from here on out? How are you going to take what you learned about your own writing to set reasonable during-the-semester goals for making progress on your own? Those of us in teaching-heavy jobs can't be under any illusion that we're going to produce at the rate of our R-1 sistren, but knowing what we can accomplish and setting our own agenda (and sticking to it!) during the semester has the potential to readjust how we think of our writing, our jobs, and ourselves.

In any case, that's about it. I'm going to close with a picture of a houseplant of mine, and a parable:

Regular readers will remember that I am a Notoriously Phytocidal Dame. A few months ago, as I was ready to throw out what had become yet another a pot of dirt, one teensy little shoot shot up, almost a month after the last sign of life had expired. So I replanted what turned out to be two rootstocks (one of uncertain status in the being-alive department) in a smaller pot, and spent a month with a single little stalk coming out of the one root stock that was definitely alive. And then, for a few weeks, there were two more shoots next to it. And then, Thanksgiving morning, I woke up to the first sign of life from presumed-dead rootstock #2. And though the plant is far from robust at this point, it's healthy, and I'm nurturing what's there, happy to see it every morning, and looking forward to more in the future.

Last roll call (::sniff!::)

  • Adelaide [write a conference paper DONE!!!]
  • Amstr [revise and resubmit an article DONE!!!]
  • Another Damned Medievalist [write/revise a close-to-final draft of an article]: skim through two ILL books
  • Belledamesansmerci/Elizabeth [rough draft of a journal article]: finish the last three sections,
  • Bitterandjaded/Bittergrrl [finishing a dissertation chapter]: finish editing and getting the chapter to my adviser
  • Britomart [completing a draft of dissertation introduction]: Keep working on that background section. I’ve been alternating between time goals, word count goals, and section goals, but let’s try for word count next week: 1000 words.
  • Cly(temnestra) [write a book chapter]: complete update of old thing, and to finish detailed notes on bits of my chapter that need to be moved, referenced, translated, or whatever.
  • Contingent Cassandra [finish 2500-word section 2 of article draft]: add at least 500 words to the Section 2 draft, by writing on 2-3 mornings.
  • Dame Eleanor Hull [complete a chapter of the article-turned-book]: revise the chapter in light of comments from my RL writing group, who I hope will help with the conclusion. (Also, write a book review due at the start of December.)
  • Dr. Crazy [Finish a chapter draft begun this summer]: get all of my other crap done, in addition to hosting Thanksgiving, so that I might have a hope of accomplishing something in the last couple of weeks of the semester
  • Dr. Virago [draft a 7500-word essay for a contracted publication]: try to squeeze out another 300 words
  • Digger: spend a good solid 3 hours on it this coming week, and it will end up where it ends up.
  • Erika [write a complete & final draft of an article already underway]: grade all those papers students just turned in, commit 30 minutes / day in the morning to this project, and start conference paper reading for Paper due Dec 15.
  • Forthright [write two article-length pieces]: have article #1 completely finished.
  • Frogprincess [Final draft of the dissertation DONE!!]:
  • Good Enough Woman [write the first half of a dissertation chapter]: Read four articles, read 100 pages of primary text, write 10 original pages for the chapter.
  • Gillian [4 chapters of dissertation DONE!!!]: polish off those small changes and make a start on the big rethink and work out a strategy to get me through until my next annual assessment.
  • Heu Mihi [write paper for a faculty colloquium DONE!!]
  • Highlyeccentric/nakedphilologist [Draft one thesis chapter]: Let’s set myself to at least -start- on revisions of Chapter 1
  • Janice/jliedl [write a first draft of a chapter]: polishing the final draft
  • Lucie: [Complete a full draft of the PhD thesis]:Finish chapter y; don’t work on other things until this work is done
  • Luolin [finish and submit an article]: revise outline, including incorporating the new sources.
  • Katrin/StitchInTime [Turn MA thesis into book form]: new structure of the draft, and a new evaluation of how much work is left to do
  • Matilda [first draft of a journal article]: writing 800+ words ( this time I feel less ambitious than last week); spending at least 15-30 minutes for writing every day
  • Monks and Bones [turn a seminar paper into an article]: 1) Finish reading the dissertation (it’s relevant!) 2) Work for at least an hour five days this week on footnoting and planning expansions to conference paper.
  • Notorious Ph.D. [write a conference paper]: finish the draft
  • Salimata [write a conference paper DONE!!!]
  • Scatterwriter [revise three chapters of book]: start going through my notes on Zotero and making some updates to the Intro and Chapter 1, as well as reviewing a couple of my own articles in order to update Chapter 2.
  • Sophylou: [finish revisions on an article and prepare it for submission]: more brainstorming writing, more progress with difficult book, identifying other relevant secondary sources.
  • Stemi [First (very rough) draft of review article]: checked in, no goal
  • Susan [write a 7000 word commissioned essay]: One more read though and edit of the paper
  • Undine/Not of General Interest [Finish nearly done chapter and complete another]: finish the chapter
  • Zcat abroad/Kiwimedievalist [write an article]: Get moving on this second article – reading, writing, anything!

Week 11 absences:

  • Marie [finish turning paper into journal article]:
  • NWGirl [Revise one dissertation chapter into a book chapter]:
  • Trapped in Canadia [draft two chapters of the dissertation]:
  • Viola [writing an introduction and a chapter for thesis]:
  • Sisyphus [polish the rough draft of my article and send it out]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Writing group week 12: An extra week

Hi folks!

I got so caught up this morning in posting my pumpkin cobbler recipe that I forgot about week 12. But ADM and I chatted, and decided that, what with the holidays and travel and all, it would be a good idea to postpone week 12 check-ins until next week. So: I'm going to put up the final post next Friday, to give us all (yes, me included) a chance to recover from the holidays and get those last few things taken care of on our projects. I hope you all had a good holiday, and we'll see you next Friday!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My favorite breakfast of the year

... is pumpkin pie and strong black coffee, in the quiet of the morning the day after Thanksgiving.

You may have noticed that what you see there is not pumpkin pie. That's because I decided to try something different this year and go for a pumpkin cobbler. Why not, right?

Turns out, pumpkin cobbler is excellent. So, here's how you make it. Or rather, here's how I make it, because I've discovered that, while I'll go for the for-serious from fresh ingredients while cooking, I tend towards the quick-and-dirty approach when baking, and this involves processed ingredients. Feel free to go all from-scratch gourmet all over this thing, if you want* -- I'm sure you'll be rewarded with some excellent results. But the way I made it, it takes only 15 minutes prep time. Can't beat that with a stick.

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Make cobbler crust:
  • 1 box yellow cake mix (set aside 1 c. for topping, step 4)
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 egg
Cream together these ingredients, and pat into a lightly oiled 13 x 9 inch pan (you may want to lightly flour your hands for this step)**

3. Make filling:
  • 1 large can pumpkin
  • 1 can condensed milk or evaporated milk (the former will be sweeter; either one can be a low-fat version if you want)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 c. (packed) brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Mix together filling ingredients and pour into pan on top of (unbaked) crust. Put the whole thing in the oven, close the door, and lower the heat to 350 to bake for the next half hour. While that's going...

4. Make topping:
  • 1 c. reserved cake mix
  • 2-3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c. (packed) brown sugar
  • pumpkin pie spice to taste
Cut together topping ingredients -- or give them a few quick pulses in a food processor -- until you have a nice crumble (if it sticks together on the sides of the food processor, you probably need to add a touch more flour; if it won't hold together into crumble bits, add more butter). Once the cobbler has baked for 30 minutes, take it out, and sprinkle on the filling, then immediately return it to the oven and bake it for another 30-45 min., until a knife in the center comes out clean.

Remove pan from oven and cool at room temperature for an hour before cutting (I think that 15 portions is about right for this size of a pan, but YMMV).

And now, between snapping that picture, and editing this post, I've already finished my piece this morning. And it was everything I'd hoped it would be.

[UPDATE: Historiann has tried this out using stewed fresh pumpkin, to rave reviews, though she finds it a bit on the sweet side, and decided that next time she'll use less sugar in the crumble. True enough: the cake mix used for the crumble has its own sugar, so you may not need to add more, but you'll likely want to add a tablespoon or two of flour instead to get the right texture. I also found that using condensed milk instead of the evaporated milk gave the filling a slightly fluffy texture, which I liked, but it did make it extra-sweet, so I'll probably reduce the filling sugar by half.]

*Fresh pumpkin? Cream rather than canned milk? Make your own batter for the crust? Grate in some fresh ginger? It's all good.

**The picture above makes it look like I patted the crust into the bottom and sides of the pan. I didn't. It would actually be impossible to do that, because you're working with a thick batter rather than a dough. But somehow, mysteriously, the crust creeps up the sides during the baking stage. I always knew that baking involved a lot of chemistry; now I see that physics also plays a role. Amazing.

Counting My Blessings

  1. I'm healthy, more than I deserve to be.
  2. I'm employed, and make a salary that allows me to pay down my debts, little by little.
  3. I have both my parents, both my siblings, and some ridiculously wonderful nieces & nephews that remind me about joy in life, in case I forget.
  4. I have the privilege of making most of my own life choices, with only a few constraints, and I think I've fashioned a life that suits me well.
  5. I find my work personally satisfying.
  6. I have friends who care and appreciate me for who I am, and a comfortable distance from those people who do otherwise.
  7. I have enough coffee to last me through the long weekend, a fridge full of food (mostly nutritious), and will be making a pumpkin cobbler tonight. And I haven't had to worry about running out of these things for many years.
  8. I have several days before I need to be back at work, with my grading completed.
  9. I don't have everything I want, but I have everything I need.
Happy thanksgiving, everyone. Here's a picture of a fish:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Dragons Changed My Life

Another Damned Medievalist has a post up about the recent death of fantasy author Anne McCaffrey. I'm glad she did, and she says it beautifully. I'm just reprinting here (with a couple of small edits) my own comment that I left over at her place, because reading ADM's post made me realize how much of an effect McCaffrey's books had on me:

I read the McCaffrey's Harper Hall series when I was… oh, eleven or twelve? And I was completely taken with the young female heroine. I hadn’t thought of the “damaged outsider” angle [NB: see ADM's post for an explanation of this], but it makes complete sense.

Sure, her books are a far cry from being "great literature." But they didn't have to be. If we exclude the work of Butler and LeGuin (a bit too heady for most twelve year-olds), there wasn’t a lot of that genre at that time that featured female protagonists — and especially not female protagonists who were valued for their skills rather than their beauty. For the young adult series, you can throw in the fact that the female protagonist was a young adolescent, and you've got some pretty powerful stuff for a girl my age. When I read these books, I felt like McCaffrey was writing for me, and (though I couldn’t have articulated it this way at the time) that there might be a place in the world for an awkward and kind of homely smart girl who never new what to say, how to dress, or how to fit in.

When I tell my students how I became interested in medieval history, I tend to point to the historical fiction on the Tudors and their ilk that I purloined from my mom’s library piles. But the more I think of it, the more I believe that it began with Menolly and all those bitty fire-lizards.

So: Thanks, Anne.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Week 11 is up!

...over at ADM's place. We're coming into the home stretch, folks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Professor's Prayer for Mid-November

To whatever gods may be,

Please, let me get through this week. Let me survive three more days of nearly back-to-back meetings and student conferences and frenetic grading to make sure that I'm prepared to give feedback in those conferences. Let me remember to finish the half-dozen 15-minute administrative tasks that I keep forgetting about, and that are way past due.

Let me keep my stress and anxiety relatively contained, lest it spill over into my interactions with students and colleagues and department staff. For lo, at this time of year they are all mightily stressed out as well, and none of my shit (well, very little) is their fault.

Grant me 5 minutes of grace every day so that I might shower. Let me not leave the house having forgotten to don pants.

Most importantly, let me hold it together just enough so the students don't see how close I am to dropping every last ball I have in the air. Let my colleagues who know damn well how close I am to dropping every last ball I have in the air forgive me, even as I forgive them for doing the same. Help me to maintain a semblance of competence until Friday at 6 p.m.

And I'll be fine then, I promise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing Group Week 10: How Do You Feel?

“There’s something exhilarating about being near the end of a project, or at least a deadline for one. I’m finding I don’t mind the late nights working, and I just want to fix that one last thing. There will be a time to stop, but I’m enjoying the final push.”
– Amstr

“I feel like, at the end of the article you are supposed to have your big climax with fireworks and all sorts of grand confusions, and right now it’s kind of a mess that doesn’t seem to go anywhere — waving a sparkler instead of showing off some big fireworks.”
– Sisyphus

I culled these two quotes from last week’s comments, and I think they sum up the polarities of reality and expectations as one approaches the finish line of a project. On the one hand, there may be a sense of triumph and amazement at our own ass-kickingness as we approach the finish.

Then there’s the other side: “Is that all there is?” We expect great things, and then when it’s finished, it’s just… finished. Myenh.

So here, at week ten, close to the end, this is what I want to ask: How are you feeling? What are you doing to reward or at least congratulate yourself? Are you underestimating what you’ve accomplished? Or, if you’re feeling like you didn’t make the progress you wanted because of matters that really were out of your control, how do you deal with that and moving forward – without invoking the concept of “failure”?

Talking about how you feel about your work is something that Belcher talks about in Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. It is, in fact, the project of the first week. When I first did it, it struck me as a little hokey. “I am a get-it-done professional! What’s all this touchy-feely crap about anyway?”

But we sometimes forget that writing – even academic writing – is a creative endeavor. And like all creative endeavors, it can be emotionally draining. We never approach the new project or the blank page or the looming deadline dispassionately, do we? We care deeply, and no methodical to-do list (though those help us move forward) is going to change that. Nor should it.

Here’s how I feel: wobbly and uncertain. I’m about to present my first conference paper on a section of the new project, and it’s a high-profile conference. The paper is coming together – in fact, I met my goal of having a decent first draft, though without the conclusion I promised – but now that it is, I find myself beset by doubt again. Is this all too obvious? Did I say anything interesting? Have I reinvented the wheel? I console myself with the certain knowledge that I have felt this way before -- in fact, it's how I usually feel about my writing once it's done, and especially if it's a new-ish topic. But I’m also excited to see where this might be headed.

So, if you’d like to participate in a bit of writing therapy, tell us how you’re feeling. Then post your report and goals (mine is to get two new books skimmed and incorporate them in areas where the paper seems weak) as usual.

Roll call, with week 10 goals
  • Adelaide [write a conference paper]: Presentation is done!
  • Amcalm25/AMChristensen [finish an article]: choose an angle and just go with it
  • Amstr [revise and resubmit an article]: Make the Tuesday deadline, take some respite at the end of the week, and make notes on the areas that can easily be expanded to turn this into a dissertation chapter
  • Another Damned Medievalist [write/revise a close-to-final draft of an article]: attempt to survive this week’s shit explosions (figurative ones, that is)
  • Belledamesansmerci/Elizabeth [rough draft of a journal article]: Finish the second and third passages. Check Migne, or if the fates are smiling, a newer edition of the various Fathers
  • Bitterandjaded/Bittergrrl [finishing a dissertation chapter]: Write another 2000 words and meticulously edit the first 15 pages
  • Cly(temnestra) [write a book chapter]: draft chapter
  • Contingent Cassandra [complete a full draft of a journal article – note goal may be revised soon]: lengthen Section 2 by at least 500 words
  • Dame Eleanor Hull [complete a chapter of the article-turned-book]: print out completed work and edit it
  • Dr. Crazy [Finish a chapter draft begun this summer]: write 3 pages
  • Dr. Virago [draft a 7500-word essay for a contracted publication]: 500 words
  • Erika [write a complete & final draft of an article already underway]: reading the draft, and do a reverse outline; ILL the German and Italian sources
  • Forthright [write two article-length pieces]: write intro and set structure for article #2
  • Frogprincess [Final draft of the dissertation DONE!!]: revisit the introduction for final revisions, and try to stay sane
  • Good Enough Woman [write the first half of a dissertation chapter]: 1) read 30 pages of primary text, 2) read some secondary sources, and 3) type five pages of text
  • Gillian [4 chapters of dissertation]: continue working to have section ready to give to advisor, go through previous sections to get back on track
  • Heu Mihi [write paper for a faculty colloquium]: Finish the damn thing!
  • Highlyeccentric/nakedphilologist [Draft one thesis chapter]: 1500 words on section 3
  • Janice/jliedl [write a first draft of a chapter]: Last 800 words of the draft
  • Lucie: [Complete a full draft of the PhD thesis]: 5000 words, read two texts, more detailed plan for finishing.
  • Luolin [finish and submit an article]: incorporate citations from the reading and revise outline… without obsessing too much
  • Katrin/StitchInTime [Turn MA thesis into book form]: work at least 15 minutes a day on the book
  • Marie [finish turning paper into journal article]: edit the printed copy
  • Matilda [first draft of a journal article]: more than 2000 words on my project, and re-read related sources
  • Monks and Bones [turn a seminar paper into an article]: Talk to advisor, and work on outlining article version of paper
  • Notorious Ph.D. [write a conference paper]: finish off the last major section and write a draft conclusion, then edit the whole thing from SFD to presentable first draft.
  • NWGirl [Revise one dissertation chapter into a book chapter]: finish the spreadsheet inventory and the book proposal
  • Salimata [write a conference paper]: come up with that final, perfect paragraph
  • Scatterwriter [revise three chapters of book]: make the appropriate changes to manuscript, decide which chapter is next, and start revising whichever one it is
  • Scholasticamama [draft of an article]: Introduction and outline section on Abelard’s Logica Ingredientibus
  • Sisyphus [polish the rough draft of my article and send it out]: finish up the end of the article and make sure it is cleaned up enough to send
  • Sophylou: [finish revisions on an article and prepare it for submission]: spend some time reading, and try to make contact with people who support my wanting to continue with this kind of scholarship
  • Stemi [First (very rough) draft of review article]: 1) 500 new words in outline/draft document. 2) read paper sent by colleague
  • Susan [write a 7000 word commissioned essay]: fill in a few more of the footnotes, and try to clear the decks in terms of grading.
  • Trapped in Canadia [draft two chapters of the dissertation]: Make up the 2,000 words the computer ate last week [argh!!!]
  • Undine/Not of General Interest [Finish nearly done chapter and complete another]: 1500 words, writing every day
  • Viola [writing an introduction and a chapter for thesis]: start writing proper
  • Zcat abroad/Kiwimedievalist [write an article]: re-engage with article 2, get a list of outside sources to read, and try to work out a plan

Week 9 Absences:
  • Britomart [completing a draft of dissertation introduction]
  • Digger [write two book chapters]
  • Jennifer [finish writing a neglected article]:
  • Kris [write up a “full” paper and cut down to a 15-minute conference presentation]
  • Mike [write ch. 2 of dissertation]
  • Opsimathphd [turning a dissertation chapter into an article]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why My Heart Sinks When One-Third of My Students Fail To Turn in Their Major Project Draft

Partly, it's sadness, for them.

Partly, it's frustration, because I work so damn hard to keep these students on track, giving them what the literature calls "all the tools they need to succeed."

Partly, it's puzzlement, because when we had our most recent one-on-one conferences (this is a conference-heavy class), they all walked out seeming to have purpose and confidence.

Mostly, though, it's the sure knowledge that, when I stick to my guns and refuse to grade late work, as laid out in the syllabus, their shame will turn outwards to anger, directed at me, and I'm gonna get hammered on the evaluations. By fully one-third of my class.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

What's the Matter with Higher Ed?

Short answer: Money, and entitlement.

Wait!, you say. Whose money? Whose entitlement? Well, I suppose I could elaborate, but be warned: when it comes to educational inequity, I do tend to go on. So pour yourself another cup of coffee and settle in for ten minutes or so.

Ready? Okay, here goes:

Historiann's call for bloggers to address the question in the title of this post, in response to Tony Grafton's recent piece on the spate of books attempting to answer the same question couldn't have come at a better time for me. You see, just these past few weeks I've been considering the matter, prompted by the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose complaints about the systemic nature of economic inequality in the U.S. were recently reinforced by a report of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. I teach at a mid-tier public university, where most of our students work part- to full-time, and many are first-generation college students. Our faculty come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, but many have terminal degrees from elite universities, so they know their stuff -- we're hiring smart people. More importantly to the point of this post, many are the prodcut of undergraduate educations at small liberal arts colleges (my own had a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1, I think), so they know what's possible with good teaching practices.

So if any institution should be positioned to help the 99-percenters (or let's call them 95-percenters, in the case of education) bridge the gap, it's us. And yet, because we are part of a large state system, and thus are dependent on shrinking public funding, we are instead emblematic of a two-tiered educational system that perpetuates that gap, and may even be widening it.

Grafton notes that most books critical of higher education fall into the trap of looking for the Bad Guy. Some blame entitled, lazy, out-of-touch faculty who can't be bothered to teach, and wouldn't know how even if they were made to. Others decry the ever-increasing number of administrators, vastly overpaid, blindly bound to a business mentality that has nothing to do with the mission of higher education, who impose reams of assessment paperwork on faculty in order to numerically prove that learning is taking place. Still others lament that today's students arrive at college coddled, unprepared, and aimless, and gravitate towards "pre-professional" majors that sell job training as education, and are short-sighted to think the goal is the piece of paper at the end, rather than the challenge and growth that gets them there. Grafton argues that all of these may be factors, but warns against the monocausal explanation, and for the most part, I think he's right.

Except when it comes to money.

On that note, Grafton also takes on the "rising costs" issue, as addressed by the authors he evaluates. But unlike those authors, he suggests that the high price tag at these elite schools often (though not always) pays for better educational quality for the students: wealth starting out will facilitate your entry into a more intellectually rigorous and nurturing (no, those two are not mutually exclusive) educational system.

To put it more bluntly than Grafton may be comfortable with: anyone who thinks that higher education is the last meritocracy is fooling themselves. I've seen a number of incredibly gifted students come through my classrooms. These students are here, rather than Oberlin or Williams or Swarthmore or Reed or whatever, because they don't come from a privileged background, and our in-state tuition is about 15% of what those schools charge. Some others arrive vastly underprepared for college, and struggle to get passing grades, and some fail to finish. But mostly we have a broad and varied middle of average students, some of whom have the potential to be very good, given the proper resources and attention. Over the years (and more often in recent years), I've seen some of them become aware of what they're being deprived of: "I've never had someone write so many comments on my paper!" "It's really frustrating to be the only person talking... I don't think that most people did more than a couple pages of the reading." "Wow! Thanks! That [half-hour one-on-one paper conference] really helped – I think I get it now." And heartbreakingly, one time, from a junior (or was she a senior?): "I've never been to a professor's office hours before – I guess I didn't know I could... or maybe I was a little scared."

Too often, whatever native ability these students have is not going to be properly nurtured, because in a university of over 30,000 students, where tenure-track faculty teach 80-150 students a semester without T.A.s or grading assistance or the like, and the lecturers who make up 50-60% of our staff teach much more than that (because at $3-5K a course, you've got to teach about 5-6 courses a semester just to make ends meet, often shuttling between our university and some other to do so, and your fancy Ph.D. and two bucks will buy you a cup of coffee), it's likely that nobody will notice that spark of brilliance in time to fan it into a flame before it dies. So the capable students coast, or they lose interest, and only rarely do they have a background of experience to know to push themselves, and to ask us for support when they do -- in other words, to demand for themselves what the five-percenters take as a given. In the meantime, they hold down 20 hour-a-week jobs to pay their ever-increasing tuition, and start to look approvingly at online courses because that would enable them to take on extra hours at work to foot the bill, since in institutions like mine, the students are picking up their own tab. And they emerge with an education that looks even less like the one their five-percenter peers receive. And so the cycle continues.

And the taxpayers and their elected representatives wring their hands, and say that the public universities are failing the students, and respond with more numerically-based assessment, and criticize faculty for spending what they see as too little time with students, and increase teaching loads and class sizes, and withdraw more funding, and leave administrations to rely more on adjunct labor and online classes in order to make budget. And so that cycle continues, too.

So what's the solution, for an institution like mine? It lies not in the professors, most of whom are committed to good teaching and good research (until they are too exhausted to do either) and who receive, at most, one course off per year for maintaining an active research agenda. Nor do I want to blame the students, most of whom have precisely the level of commitment and seriousness of purpose and focus on the journey rather than the finish line that almost all of us had at age nineteen. Administrators? Yes, we may complain of bloated salaries at the top, but the vast majority are paid middle-class salaries or less, and are trying to do the difficult job of making ends meet and serving the interests of students and faculty (both of whom can get a bit entitled from time to time) while keeping on top of the latest paperwork requirement to come out of the state capital, all on whatever shoestring budget the institution has to work with in any given year.

In my view, the solution lies in a state's voters deciding that they want to support high-quality education for all who qualify – and by "support," I don't mean buying a bumper sticker or clicking "like" on some Facebook page... or even writing a blog post, I suppose. I'm talking about the kind of support that you can stick into a bank account. This requires sacrifice, and, sad to say, this is not a political or cultural climate that favors personal sacrifice for faceless others or a commitment to the common good that extends beyond oneself and one's immediate circle.

In short: We have met the enemy, and he is us. The problem is indeed entitlement, but it's not that of students or faculty. It's a larger sense that we are entitled to the benefits of society without any corresponding obligations. As Grafton notes, "those already born into the wealthy and professional classes benefit disproportionately from the best educations." We can't rail about economic inequities á là OWS one minute, then demand cuts in public spending the next. We can't support obsessive multiple-choice testing and reports in an attempt to quantify learning, then complain that students don't think critically. We can't keep depending on low-paid contingent labor in huge classes, then blame professors and instructors for not providing the same education as an expensive small college provides. We can't increase class sizes or move to online educational models to save money, then wonder that students who go through this system aren't achieving the same graduation rates or post-graduation results as their peers at elite schools.

We find ourselves facing a choice: use education to expand opportunity and equality, or let it become another area where we let the wealthy have the best, and the rest can take whatever's left over. But let me underline something there: WE HAVE A CHOICE. We are not victims here, unless we choose to sit by and let short-sighted thinking undermine our most idealistic goals. We, as a society, need to take some accountability and realize that, whatever happens, we will get the system we pay for, and the results that we deserve.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Tis the season (for making lists)

Am I the only one who's reached the compulsive list-making portion of the semester?

I have so many things I'd like to do over the next week -- all of which will take approximately a day -- that I almost dare not speak them all out loud. Almost.
  • Check in at ADM's place for this week's writing group [UPDATE: It's up!], with my goal for this week completed.
  • Continue to write 400 words a day so I stand a chance of meeting my overall goals.
  • Plow through several stacks of grading, and get up to date on everything except the two small stacks of papers I received just today.
  • Repot one of the plants that seems to want more space
  • Get to at least three yoga classes.
  • Update a mailing list for That Thing I Edit.
  • Distribute TTIE to people on the list
  • Compile and research inevitable bounced deliveries of TTIE
  • Go through my e-mail inbox and stuff.
  • Vaguely tidy the apartment.

I'm nuts for even thinking about this. But maybe stating my goals in public will help me get through them. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 31, 2011

On Hair, Age, and Professional Image

This past weekend, while visiting grad school town, I popped in to my old hair salon to say hi. Then, because I was long overdue for a cut, and I happened to be there, I asked if there was an appointment available. I didn't expect it, but there had been a fortuitous cancellation at precisely the right time, so I called it fate, plunked myself down in the chair, said "It's shaggy and messy and driving me nuts, and I don't want to go short-short, but other than that, I'll leave it up to your judgement." She took six inches off, and I walked out with shoulder-length hair that's much more manageable.

I also walked out with hair that, for the first time since about age 15, is my natural color -- a much darker shade than the one I've been sporting and maintaining (at great expense!) all my adult life.

Now, here is where it gets interesting (at least to me): I've been mulling the dye-it-natural transition for several years now, and for a reason that I find even more compelling than the expense: I've been starting to see some gray hairs (I am in my forties, after all). Not a lot, but not just the stray one every four months or so that marked my late thirties. And I dreaded the monthly maintenance that it would eventually require to keep myself from having a gray stripe down the middle of my head, come five or ten years down the road. So the plan has always been to dye it back to natural at some point, and just let the aging process happen.

But at least once when I shared this plan, I was met by something that could only be described as an intervention. Deep concern. Let me emphasize: This is a decision for me. I in no way disdain anyone else's choices to the contrary. I'm just tired of keeping up with it, and I'm thinking that this might be a nice way to ease myself into the second half of life. But I'm wondering how widespread the idea is that we, as women, should strive to not show our age, even in academia? Or is this just the product of the image-conscious place I live?

And do you think that going gray (which I anticipate will take plenty of time before anyone but me notices) has professional consequences for academic women in general?

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION (from one of my own comments, but I thought it bore repeating here): there are aging-related changes -- a new one every year, it seems -- that I'm emphatically NOT excited about. But at the rate of one a year, I've found I can adjust to each one before the next one hits. If/when they start coming more quickly, I may change my mind about this whole "aging" thing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Conference Etiquette: Can you bow out?

Today, I received a query in the comments section of this older post on conference etiquette, and I thought it was relevant enough to deserve a post of its own:
While we’re on the subject of conference etiquette, I was wondering whether there is a lead time in terms of declining to attend a Conference after they give you a favorable acceptance letter based on the abstract you submitted? Or is this NOT an option at all and considered academic suicide?
Okey-doke. I'm going to give my take on this, but with the usual "your mileage may vary" caveat, and a request for my readers to chime in.

The short answer is: Try not to do this. The longer answer is: it varies. Here are some of the variables (and please note that these are based with my experience with U.S. conferences; other countries may have other unspoken rules):
  1. If you have a serious medical situation, then people will understand. Or at least they should. Explain the situation, and be profuse with your apologies. If the conference rules allow, and you know a willing person, offer to provide a proxy to read your paper for you.
  2. Some conferences have rules that specifically state that if you bow out after the program committee accepts you, you are barred from presenting for the next X number of meetings of that conference. Check that, and factor it into your decision.
  3. If you bow out, it may not be "professional suicide," but you could get a reputation as someone who shouldn't be counted on (unless, of course, #1 applies), and you'll have to work to rebuild that reputation.
  4. If your reasons are that you can't prove the thing you said you'd prove in your abstract, then write the paper that you can write. You won't be the first person to begin a talk by saying "My title states that I'd be talking about X. However, in the course of my research..." But if you do this, give the panel organizer & chair a heads-up (and an alternate title, if necessary) well in advance, so they don't look foolish.
In the end, it's all about professional courtesy. A cancellation (especially after the programs have been put together) will not doom a panel. But it will inconvenience the organizers, and if it's a competitive position, you may have taken up a spot for someone who could have used the opportunity. It is a thing to be avoided, if at all possible.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing Group Week 7: Hitting the Reset Button

Welcome to week 7! Yes, I know it's technically ADM's week, but I realized that I was going to be out of town next weekend, so we did a swap: I've got this week, and ADM will take the next two, and then we'll be back on schedule.

Got it? Okay, good. So let's go:

Oddly enough, the topic for this week is exactly what it was last session at week 7: Goal resetting.

I was inspired by many of the comments from week six, in which many people realized that they'd been overly ambitious in setting their goals. Sometimes we need to push through to those hard goals if we've got a deadline, but sometimes it's worth re-evaluating what's possible to do, keeping in mind your other obligations.

So this is your chance to hit the reset button, if you want to, and reevaluate your goal for the 12-week session. Sit down, take stock, and let me know in the comments if you want a new goal for the session. Or, if not, maybe you want to use the comments to contemplate how you're going to approach the second half of the project to bring you closer to achieving your original goals. Is there something that's been holding you back that you can take care of so you move forward more smoothly?

And, of course, you should give your report, and your goal for next week.

For me? Well, I still need to finish that outline (and I'll check in to report that sometime on Friday). But then I need to devote the rest of the weekend to getting four other things (grading, a committee assignment, a newsletter, and an application for a course release) off my desk and out of my brainspace that I need clear to really move forward on the project. That's it. I get those done by Monday, and I can move forward.

Here we go!

  • Amcalm25/AMChristensen [finish an article]: 20 minutes/day for at least 3 days of writing, esp. on stitching stuff together
  • Amstr [revise and resubmit an article]: 1) type in changes to MS, 2) skim the research on two narrow topics, 3) write a brief lit review, 4) fiddle more with the intro, 5) attempt to incorporate secondary research into the article
  • Another Damned Medievalist [write/revise a close-to-final draft of an article]: No project goals this week; focus on catching up on everything else so next week can be back to the project
  • Antikate [revise a conference paper into an article & submit]: 30 minutes of writing every day
  • Belledamesansmerci/Elizabeth [transform a conference paper into a journal article]: (no goal set for the week)
  • Bitterandjaded/Bittergrrl [finishing a dissertation chapter]: Revise writing on this chapter into 20 pages for presentation on the 25th.
  • Britomart [completing a draft of dissertation introduction]: Get 10 more pages of introduction to in-person writing group by Monday
  • Cly(temnestra) [write a book chapter]: have a completed draft
  • Contingent Cassandra [complete a full draft of a journal article]: Write on at least two weekday mornings
  • Dame Eleanor Hull [complete a chapter of the article-turned-book]: Re-evaluate the various works in project to see which is going to be the most feasible to complete quickly
  • Dr. Crazy [Finish a chapter draft begun this summer]: write 2 pages and compose an abstract for a project-related conference
  • Erika [write a complete & final draft of an article already underway]: 350 words / day, and spend 30-60 minutes outlining, editing, or researching the article.
  • Forthright [write two article-length pieces]: 1500 new words of writing to get article #2 in skeleton form
  • Frogprincess [Final draft of the dissertation]: excused absence for high school reunion
  • Good Enough Woman [write a solid draft of a dissertation chapter]: 1) freewrite 10 minutes M-F; 2) Read 50 pages of primary text; 3) Read 2 chapters of Descartes; 4) Skim a 90-page article to see if it contains anything of value.
  • Gillian [3 chapters of my dissertation]: finish work on the first half of that chapter and get a cleanish draft done
  • Heu Mihi [write paper for a faculty colloquium]: Convert part 3's notes into paragraphs; deal with German article. OR: Work for 3 hours on the talk.
  • Highlyeccentric/nakedphilologist [Draft one thesis chapter]: Write every day (except Wednesdays) and attempt to finish off section 2
  • Janice/jliedl [write a first draft of a chapter]: complete research reading in a few free hours on Monday and Tuesday
  • Jennifer [finish writing a neglected article]: write 500 words each morning
  • Katrin/StitchInTime [No goal for the project]: finish work on the first half of that chapter and get a cleanish draft done
  • Luolin [finish and submit an article]: Read 2 1/2 articles. Take notes.
  • Matilda [revise a paper into a journal article]: continue to review related literature; write1000 words of introduction; work on strengthening structure of the piece overall
  • Monks and Bones [turn a seminar paper into an article]: 1) Reread seminar paper; 2) Keep working on the data to the extent necessary; 3) Write up a page of musings on what the article is going to look like on at least three occasions throughout the week.
  • Notorious Ph.D. [write a conference paper]: Make an outline
  • NWGirl [Revise one dissertation chapter into a book chapter]: research in archives
  • Opsimathphd [turning a dissertation chapter into an article]: 500 words per day mode, with the help of some additional reading
  • Salimata [write a conference paper]: 300 words/day for 5 days
  • Scatterwriter [revise three chapters of book]: 1) finish skimming the book from last week; 2) go through introduction and cut out anything superfluous; 3) think about how best to restructure the introduction
  • Scholasticamama [Transform a conference paper into an article]: Complete the planned 500 words
  • Sisyphus [polish the rough draft of my article and send it out]: read and incorporate the ILLs.
  • Sophylou: [finish revisions on an article and prepare it for submission]: write the 500-word abstract
  • Stemi [Complete and send off a review article ]: add Q*12 new words to the outline/draft document
  • Susan [write a 7000 word commissioned essay]: incorporate ILL reading; maybe a full draft by next weekend?
  • Undine/Not of General Interest [Finish nearly done chapter and complete another]: 1500 words on big project
  • Zcat abroad/Kiwimedievalist [write an article]: do some free-writing in an attempt to refocus
Week 6 Absences (some of these are planned-and-announced absences, but keeping track of two types of absences is getting complicated and might result in undeserved drops. So if your name appears here even though you announced your upcoming absence, rest assured that the only reason you will be dropped is if you miss two in a row):
  • Adelaide [write a conference paper]: (absent to visit parents)
  • Digger [write two book chapters]: (absent for family visit)
  • Dr. Virago [draft a 7500-word essay for a contracted publication]: (absent while lacking internet access; pre-reported a goal for week seven of 750 new words)
  • Kris [write up a “full” paper and cut down to a 15-minute conference presenation]
  • Lucie: [Complete a full draft of the PhD thesis]
  • Marie [finish turning paper into journal article]
  • Merryweather [write conference paper]
  • Mike [write ch. 2 of dissertation]
  • Trapped in Canadia [draft two chapters of the dissertation]: (absent for conferece travel)
  • Viola [writing an introduction and a chapter for thesis]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This is the thing that has been turning my scowls to giggles

I did not make this. I don't know who did. A friend sent me the link last week. And in a Month of Many Meetings, it seems like just the thing to keep me from taking this all too seriously:

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Another Tuesday

...finds me paying for a weekend of sloth. Not the kind where you think, "Well, I needed a day (or two) to just decompress." No, this was the kind of deep and prolonged sloth that has you feeling just sick about yourself, yet seems impossible to break out of.

I've tagged this post "procrastination," but even that is too dignified to describe my weekend. Procrastination implies that you did something. Saturday, I did go out for some recreation. But my couch caught hold of me sometime Sunday afternoon. And the only reason that I got off the couch and put on shoes yesterday was for a brief social engagement with friends at 8 p.m. Seriously: I spent from 8 to 8 on the couch. About an hour of that was spent working. Torpor soaked into my brain like black sludge.

Then, because of guilt, I got home from the social engagement at 11 and worked until 2. and then got 5 1/2 hours of sleep. And got up. And I'm trying to focus on what I can get done this day, rather than what I didn't get done over the past four.

((deep breath))

Here goes...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Celebrating Another Young Relative

(First off: yes, week six of the writing group is up.)

I love being a crazy auntie. It's like having rental kids without all the difficulties of ownership. And I've talked a lot in the past about my eight year-old nephew B., who is crazy, exhausting, imaginative, frustrating, and excellent.

But today is niece T.'s ninth birthday, so this is her day.

I don't talk about T. much, but it's not because she's not worth bragging about. It's because she reminds me so much of myself at that age (though she has tons more self-confidence than I ever had at her age) that I feel like I'm talking about myself, which feels weird.

T. is by turns a silly kid and way more serious than most of my university students. If you read to her, she appears to be scowling. I used to worry about this, until I figured out that this was her "intense concentration" look. When I go back to Puddletown and we have "her" day, in which we can do Anything! She! Wants!, she picks things like the art museum, local historic attraction, or bookstore (I keep waiting for the day she says "zoo!" or "beach!", but that has yet to happen). Last August, when we went to the bookstore, she said, "Aunt Notorious... What's a novel?" I told her, then asked why. "My teacher says I should start reading novels, so maybe we can get one." She takes her hot chocolate made with soy milk, likes broccoli, and enjoys learning how to do things like cross her eyes (the teaching of which skills are traditionally left to the Spinster Aunt). She can also totally rock a pair of boots.

In the last year, she has learned to use chopsticks, gone to her first sleepaway summer camp, and dealt with being left to entertain herself while her parents worked with the two much more labor-intensive foster babies.

Happy Birthday, T. Auntie Notorious thinks you are awesome, and will only continue to get greater with every passing year.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing group week six: Calvinball! (or: Letting Go of a Rule or Two)

Welcome to Week Six!

All right, so if you're still with us, congratulations on reaching the halfway point! But there's a danger in halfway points, and that's that you hit a slump. You're far from the beginning when everything was anticipation and possibility, but far from the end where fear and panic will push you. Worse yet, many of the things that were working to get you going or motivated might have stopped working.

Ack! What to do? Well, to take ADM's marathon metaphor in another direction: Maybe it's time for a game of Calvinball.

For those of you remember the now-defunct but truly wonderful comic Calvin and Hobbes, Calvinball is a "sport" where you make up the rules as you go along. It's not structured, but it looks fun.

So here's something to think about if you're in a slump: change one thing this week – something that isn't working for you right now. New writing schedule? New location? Freewriting rather than outlining (or vice-versa)? Sleeping an extra hour so you can write better, even if you start later? This might just be a one-week change, but it might be a way to shake things up for you, and get you excited again.

And hey, if things are working for you, then keep things as they are – if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

The only rule that I'm going to ask you to keep to is to report in with your progress, and set a goal for next week.

(And just a note: I'm going to be traveling a bit this weekend, so I'll be giving feedback, but probably just once a day, at the end of the day.)

Have fun this week!

  • Adelaide [write a conference paper]: mostly offline, so anything is a bonus
  • Amcalm25/AMChristensen [finish an article]: at least 40 minutes/5 days of writing this week
  • Amstr [revise and resubmit an article]: 1) add argument-related sentences to the beginning and end of each paragraph; 2) write a lame intro that gives some space to critical context; 3) tighten up the lame intro into passable; 4) 4 articles and 2 books: read/skim, annotate, possibly incorporate
  • Another Damned Medievalist [write/revise a close-to-final draft of an article]: re-look at books, compare patterns in data, look at problems and comment on how gender contributes to them, with luck, turn this into 500 words by Friday. (bonus goal)
  • Belledamesansmerci/Elizabeth [transform a conference paper into a journal article]: traveling for family stuff
  • Bitterandjaded/Bittergrrl [finishing a dissertation chapter]: 1) 2000 words on the work I just read. 2) Meet with my adviser to talk about the direction the chapter is going in.
  • Cly(temnestra) [write a book chapter]: very rough draft of chapter, work out a plan
  • Contingent Cassandra [complete a full draft of a journal article]: focus on reading
  • Dame Eleanor Hull [complete a chapter of the article-turned-book]: Finish revising fellowship application and send it; if there is time, list what the chapter still needs
  • Digger [write two book chapters]: Zero Draft of Why Wheels 3/7 days
  • Dr. Crazy [Finish a chapter draft begun this summer]: VACATION!!
  • Dr. Virago [draft a 7500-word essay for a contracted publication]: 500-600 words, but may not be able to check in
  • Erika [write a complete & final draft of an article already underway]: write 30 minutes / day at minimum, and even better at 250-350 words / day.
  • Evan [write a conference paper]: no precise writing goal [deadlines shifted? -- ADM]
  • Forthright [write two article-length pieces]: 400-500 words a day and check in more to help out in comments [Forthright, that would be so amazingly awesome! -- ADM]
  • Frogprincess [Final draft of the dissertation]: finish revisions for chapters 1 and 3.
  • Good Enough Woman [write a solid draft of a dissertation chapter]: Finish the 30 primary sources pages I didn’t do this week, read two chapters of Descartes, and write the first 500 hundred words of the new chapter, just to start seeing where my mind is.
  • Gillian [3 chapters of my dissertation]: Finish research on 1/2 of next chapter
  • Heu Mihi [write paper for a faculty colloquium]: FINISH the Latin, look at that German book that’s in my office and determine its relevance, and begin converting part 3′s notes into paragraphs.
  • Highlyeccentric/nakedphilologist [Draft two thesis chapters]:gain with the process goal, some work every day; and hopefully to add at least 1000 words to the draft (2 if lucky).
  • Janice/jliedl [write a first draft of a chapter]: take notes from three more research sources.
  • Jennifer [finish writing a neglected article]: My goal for this week is to write 500 new words and to read 3 new articles.
  • Katrin/StitchInTime [Do we have an overall goal for you?] read through one book, return at least five
  • Kris [write up a “full” paper and cut down to a 15-minute conference presenation]: taking week off
  • Lucie: [Complete a full draft of the PhD thesis]: 500 words a day, starting my day with writing. Sticking with this every day and not having any day completely lost.
  • Marie [finish turning paper into journal article]: clean up what’s been written.
  • Matilda [revise a paper into a journal article]: again, reviewing the related literature following the week 5 section of WYJA; 500 +words of my draft.
  • Merryweather [write conference paper]: another 2000 words by the end of this coming week, or ideally a total 3500
  • Mike [write ch. 2 of dissertation]: Gather everything for part II and re-read take notes.
  • Monks and Bones [turn a seminar paper into an article]: work on project five days; get myself to a point with my data-crunching where I’ll be ready to start doing some preliminary writing the following week
  • Notorious Ph.D. [write a conference paper]: Go through law codes
  • Opsimathphd [turning a dissertation chapter into an article]: work on the argumentby writing at least 500 words every day
  • Scatterwriter [revise three chapters of book]: continue trying to cut down my mammoth Chapter 1, and skim a recently published source to see if any new ideas need to be incorporated into this chapter.
  • Scholasticamama [Transform a conference paper into an article]: write 500 words -- in the rain, on a plane, in a box, with a fox, in a car, in a tree... the words will be so good, you see!
  • Sisyphus [polish the rough draft of my article and send it out]: incorporate all the stuff from ILL
  • Sophylou: [finish revisions on an article and prepare it for submission]: format according to submission guidelines
  • Stemi [Complete and send off a review article ]: 1) At least 30 minutes writing or reading on project, 4 of 7 days. 2) 500 new words in outline/draft document.
  • Susan [write a 7000 word commissioned essay]: Filling in gaps and beginning revisions
  • Trapped in Canadia [draft two chapters of the dissertation]: finish this chapter, outline my chapter on Jacobite women, and start reviewing my research for the Jacobite women chapter [may not be able to check in]
  • Undine/Not of General Interest [Finish nearly done chapter and complete another]: finish 1000-word review
  • Viola [writing an introduction and a chapter for thesis]: edit per my supervisor’s advice and to continue fleshing out my overall project for a meeting
  • Zcat abroad/Kiwimedievalist [write an article]: finish revising article for re-submission

Week 5 Absences:
  • Antikate [revise a conference paper into an article & submit]
  • Britomart [completing a draft of dissertation introduction]
  • Inafuturelife [transform seminar paper into a conference paper]
  • Jamilajamison [finish writing the M.A. thesis]
  • Luolin [finish and submit an article]
  • NWGirl [Revise one dissertation chapter into a book chapter]
  • Salimata [write a conference paper]
  • Synecdoche [Finish conference paper]

A variation on the cute & fluffy theme of the previous post:

My friend Voice of Reason appreciated the intent of the gift of puppies, but pointed out that this was not a universally applicable gift, as not all people facing stress care for puppies or dogs of any kind. So for those of you out there who feel this way, I give you the following alternative:

For VoR's comfort and convenience, I have made these kittehs hypoallergenic.

As I explained to VoR, this version of the soothing thought is actually a double gift: not only do you have the soothing fluffy cuteness; if your life/work/institution/government goes from mildly frustrating straight to Hell, you've already got the handbasket for transportation!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Today, writing another set of e-mails to students who had not cited their sources, or had not submitted copies to the website, or who missed the conference appointments last week and needed to schedule one this week, I found myself thinking of how much easier my job would be if I didn't make endless accommodations, and could bring myself to just slap a zero on those puppies and move on.

Puppies. Let's think about that for a moment....

Ah. I'm feeling much better now.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Writing Group, Week Five -- Git on over!

The writing group is up. I'm not signed in yet, because I'm determined to finish my goals this week, so I've extended "this week" into the weekend. But I'll see you all there shortly!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Want to (legally) beat your spouse? Move to Topeka!

Well, actually, you could move to most anywhere in Shawnee County, whose district court, due to lack of resources, no longer prosecutes domestic violence cases, and instead mandates that the (equally cash-strapped) municipalities prosecute them. But Topeka, so far as we know, is the only such municipality contemplating politically pushing back by actually decriminalizing domestic violence entirely, as part of a move to kick back all misdemeanor prosecutions to the state.

I'm not entirely sure what to say about this. What I'm not going to engage in is some knee-jerk Midwest-bashing. I lived in the Midwest on two occasions for a total of over 8 years of my adult life -- long enough to know that every part of the country has good people and bad ones, and most are a mix of both, just trying to get by. But still... on first reading, all I could do was make inarticulate noises in the back of my throat. And even on deeper thought, I'm going to be unable to form a coherent essay with a thesis statement (other than this). So here are my bullet points:
  • Budget cuts are bad. Our public resources are strained. But is telling a person who has been brutally beaten by her or his spouse or partner that such conduct is no longer prosecutable where they live really the most sensible way to save money?
  • Perhaps Topeka is trying to use this as a lever: "Budget cuts have forced us to immediately release batterers, who statistics show will most likely repeat their behavior. We don't want to do this. This is putting human lives on the line. So we need more resources, or we need counties and the state to step up. We're sending a political message on behalf of women!" But in the real world, messages don't mean shit when you're living in constant fear in your home, if you're not in a hospital bed or in the ground.
  • And of the many things that counties and states have shoved off on municipalities (just as the federal government offloads its responsibilities onto the states), why is it women* whose bodies are being put on the line?
  • That was a rhetorical question.
  • Poverty and frustration with long-term unemployment increases the incidence of domestic violence (especially male-on-female domestic violence). There are complex cultural reasons for it tied up with American notions of masculinity. But the point is that the same massive long-term recession that is behind this move to decriminalize domestic violence is simultaneously going to cause rates of domestic violence to double or triple. So protections for women are disappearing at a time when they are likely to need them more than ever.
  • The Topeka mayor assures his constituents that anyone who thinks that decriminalizing domestic violence means that said violence will go unpunished is "dead wrong." How, precisely, will punishment be effected if it's no longer a prosecutable offense in the municipal code, and if the D.A. has already taken a pass?
  • Why the actual fuck is domestic battery only a misdemeanor? Here's an idea, Topeka: go ahead and save money by refusing to prosecute misdemeanors (not an ideal solution, granted), but legally bundle that decision with another one to reclassify domestic battery as a felony.**

Enough. The upshot is that the Topeka city council is seriously considering making it no longer a prosecutable offense to beat somebody up… as long as it's somebody who lives under your own roof. This is making me sick.

UPDATED: I've just written a professionally-worded e-mail to the Topeka City Council. Their general contact info, as well as contact info for the mayor and individual council members, can be found here. I encourage people to get involved however you see fit. As a suggestion: bear in mind that the most effective political communication is concise, to-the-point, and avoids ad hominem attacks. (So, yes: I wrote them under my real name and took out the swears...)

*Yes, I know that women are not the only victims of domestic violence, and I know that men are not the only perpetrators. But since 84% of spouse abuse victims were females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse at were female, I'm gonna go with the argument that women are the ones being treated as expendable here.

**Joel, who knows about such things, notes that the power to do this does not lie with the municipalities. Fair enough. But I still maintain my original outraged question: Why the actual fuck is domestic battery only a misdemeanor -- in Topeka, or the state, or anywhere, for that matter?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The thing I actually said to my students in class yesterday

...after the fourth incredibly long pause in which I waited for someone to speak up in discussion:*

"There's something you need to know about me. Every morning, I practice twenty minutes of silent meditation. I also practice yoga 4-5 times a week. So not only can I outlast you in sitting here without saying a word; I can do it standing on one leg."

*To be fair, this class is not normally like this. But yesterday appeared to be the day that everybody figured that someone else would do the reading and talking. And for what it's worth, they laughed. But I think they'll come prepared next time.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Happy Dance!!!

It's payday!!!

It is, in fact, entirely possible that a tenured person in her forties should not still be living paycheck to paycheck. But hell, I've never known anything else, so it's not like I'm feeling the lack. Besides, think of that monthly rush of joy I'd be missing!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm headed out to the bank...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Writing Group, Week 4: Look at this neat stuff I found!

Welcome back, everyone! Thanks for checking in last week, and a special shout-out to those who checked in more than once so they could offer their fellows comments and encouragement.

Week four's check-in is upon us. I note that last week there were a large number of absences. The same thing seemed to befall my classes last week, so perhaps it's something in the air. Or maybe gettin' it done, week in and week out, has started to weigh on some people. But since that's what we're about here, I thought that maybe it's time for a little pick-me-up to revive the flagging motivation. So here's what I'd like to suggest for a discussion topic: What's one cool thing that you discovered this week? One thing that made you go: Oooh! Neat-o!, and got you excited about your project, even if only momentarily. Feel free to geek out -- we're all a bit weird here, after all.

Here's my story: This week saw me reading about... pirates! Arrr! Pirates! And I'm finding the reading amazing and cool. Here's one nifty thing: when we think about pirates, we think of two ships at sea, firing cannon at each other until one sinks or is boarded, after which much swash is buckled, booty is taken, legs are pegged, etc.

But this is about medieval pirates.

So: No cannons.

It was a small revelation, and one that was totally obvious once I looked at it for even half a second, but it totally rearranged my mental picture of pirates, who were now firing mounted crossbows instead of cannons, and ordering their prey to take down their sails by shouting at them, of all things.

I thought that was cool.

All right, now to the goals. My goal was to read at least 3 articles and one book, take notes daily, and write at least 500 good words towards the paper draft. Well, I did all that... except for that daily note-taking. If I'm not writing daily, I'd like to be note-taking daily, just to keep engaged (as we discussed last week). And let me tell you, sitting down to write that summary work without the daily journaling was harder than it should have been. So this week my goal is the same thing (let's call it "4 bibliography items", since I'm not sure how long it will take for the actual books to arrive), but to be much more conscientious about the journaling.

How about you? Check out your goals from last week -- did you accomplish what you wanted to? And don't forget to tell us what you plan to do next week.

Finally, if you're on the absence list, remember that you need to check in this week or lose your spot. And if you're on the absence list but you did check in, but under a different name, let me know, and I'll correct the post. I think we've got almost all of the double-names sorted out, but there may be one or two more lingering out there.

Writers... Report!

Goals for week 4:
  • ABDMama [Complete an article draft]: 1) Write out a take on the topic with the new work; 2) Write an abstract.
  • Adelaide [write a conference paper]: finish organizing notes and start writing SOMETHING towards the paper…
  • Amcalm25 [finish an article]: continue with at least 20 minutes of writing for at least 5 days and thoroughly read 1 main text
  • Amstr [revise and resubmit an article]: 1) write argument statement, note where argument is in article, and revise to make argument clear and prominent; 2) outline article, review WYJA on “solving structural problems,” and revise for structure; 3) “read,” annotate, and incorporate 10 sources
  • Another Damned Medievalist [write/revise a close-to-final draft of an article]: One or both of the following two: 1) Read the initial papers again, making clear notes about awkward issues, and consult with the editor; 2) Work on an outline and plan for how to restructure the article
  • Antikate [revise a conference paper into an article & submit]: Write 1000 words, and read at least two articles from potential target journals
  • Belledamesansmerci/Elizabeth [transform a conference paper into a journal article]: Continue the half-hour a day; decide whether the paper is long enough for article and scout out further examples if necessary
  • Bitterandjaded/Bittergrrl [finishing a dissertation chapter]: 1) finish integrating the second theoretical work into the introduction; 2) Edit everything into a cohesive narrative; 3) Add a total of 2000 words to the chapter/intro.
  • Britomart [completing a draft of dissertation introduction]: Work on the dissertation intro for 2 hours per day.
  • Cly(temnestra) [write a book chapter]: (not sure what the goal is: is it to try again to get daily writing in? -- NPhD)
  • Contingent Cassandra [complete a full draft of a journal article]: Continue the working rhythm on three days
  • Dame Eleanor Hull [complete a chapter of the article-turned-book]: revise the most complete chapter for the recommender
  • Digger [write two book chapters]: 1) work on chapters 5/7 days; 2) Start writing background of Why Wheels chapter; outline State Sponsored Wheels chapter
  • Dr. Crazy [Finish a chapter draft begun this summer]: Write 3 pages and reread Giddens
  • Dr. Virago [draft a 7500-word essay for a contracted publication]: write each of my writing days this week, and aim for another 750 words
  • Erika [write a complete & final draft of an article already underway]: Pull together all the thoughts and jots; reach out to possible peer-reviewer
  • Evan [write a conference paper]: read up about the rise of the New Right and make a list of stuff to ILL for when I get back
  • Forthright [write two article-length pieces]: put the skeleton together for at least one of the articles
  • Frogprincess [Final draft of the dissertation]: finish another draft of the introduction and send it to the advisor; continue working through chapter 1 revisions; start outlining the conclusion; work on the diss on M/W 12-2 and Saturday/Sunday
  • Good Enough Woman [write a solid draft of a dissertation chapter]: 1) read 50 more pages of primary text, 2) read two more chapters of Descartes, 3) read one chapter of another book (secondary source), 4) and read one article (realizing that this could be overly optimistic)
  • Heu Mihi [write paper for a faculty colloquium]: Work on translating the Latin (a 2-week project); go through 2 books and incorporate notes into Part 3 outline
  • Highlyeccentric [Draft two thesis chapters]: work on the thesis every day, incorporating 2000 words from another chapter, and writing a new introduction
  • Inafuturelife [transform seminar paper into a conference paper]: reread my primary text and start working on focusing the scope.
  • Jamilajamison [finish writing the M.A. thesis]: complete 1 of 4 sections, and do my best to follow the writing schedule
  • Janice/Jleidl [write a first draft of a chapter]: get to a total of 1500 words by next Friday
  • Jennifer [finish writing a neglected article]: (excused absence to take a week with family and packing office)
  • Katrin/StichInTime [Do we have an overall goal for you?]: Finish reading the paper; read yet another Norwegian thesis; check, reformat, and update/extend the catalogue section
  • Kris [write up a “full” paper and cut it down to a 15-minute conference presenation]: finish reading collected papers and craft a front section of the paper to contextualizes the current problem
  • Luolin [finish and submit an article]: Read through my draft and outline where it is and where I want it to be
  • Marie [finish turning paper into journal article]: finish the Intro and create an outline that makes sense
  • Matilda [revise a paper into a journal article]: finish constructing the main argument
  • Merryweather [write conference paper]: a) work at least 4 hours on the article in total between Monday to Thursday and all day on Friday; b) read the items from ILL; c) use the completed reading to write a short, argument-focused, literature review
  • Monks and Bones [turn a seminar paper into an article]: 1) complete last week’s goals (identifying relevant subset of sources, figuring out how to best approach data, reading some effective English-language articles for their structure); and 2) work on the project five days this week
  • Notorious Ph.D. [write a conference paper]: Read at least 3 articles and one book, take notes daily, and write at least 500 good words towards the paper draft
  • NWGirl [Revise one dissertation chapter into a book chapter]: 1) Work on list of sources for chapter; 2). Work on outline; 3) Write 500 words x 4 days.
  • Salimata [write a conference paper]: work every day on *this* particular project, specifically reading three more books
  • Scatterwriter [revise three chapters of book]: make the revisions to my Introduction that I identified this past week. Re-read and begin revising the first 20 pages of Chapter 1
  • Sisyphus [polish the rough draft of my article and send it out]: clean up all the bolded stuff in section 4 and put in all the correct transitions and topic sentences and conclusions and stuff (this may be a two-week project
  • Stemi [Complete and send off a review article ]: 1) Identify sections that need more references; 2) Add 500 words to outline file (including rough draft writing)
  • Susan [write a 7000 word commissioned essay]: read some of the grounding theory, and then draft perhaps 500 words of the next section on theoretical and conceptual territory
  • Synecdoche [Finish conference paper]: get back to work on this project (any specific goal toward that end? -- NPhD)
  • Trapped in Canadia [draft two chapters of the dissertation]: write 500 words a day on the abuses chapter and still manage an outline for my next chapter
  • Undine/Notofgeneralinterest [Finish nearly done chapter and complete another]: (1) get the article off the desk and (2) finish the 2,000 words that promised last week
  • Viola [writing an introduction and a chapter for thesis]: get the central argument squared away
  • Zcat abroad/Kiwimedievalist [write an article]: fix the issues with article A

Absences from week 3:
  • Firstmute [Revise and submit a journal article]
  • Lucie [Complete a full draft of my PhD thesis]
  • Mike [write ch. 2 of dissertation]
  • Nvrwhere42 [finish a dissertation chapter]
  • Opsimathphd [turning a dissertation chapter into an article]
  • Scholasticamama [Transform a conference paper into an article]
  • Su Real Alteza [finish textbook manuscript]