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]