Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

Well, that's a relief!

First, the Laocoon manuscript is done and sent to the press. Now I wait for readers' reports.  But done! And sent! Thank you all for hanging in with words of encouragement over the past couple of years.

All the trinkets I promised myself once I finished are things I don't really want now. The main one was a new iPad, but I looked at them and wasn't feeling it.  Apparently being done is its own reward.

Oh, and one other thing: I took my time when wandering around Costco the other day and even looked at housewares, though I didn't buy any.  That felt like a treat, taking time and strolling around the store, which is pathetic but true  The other thing was to look at and comment on your blogs, but Wordpress is having a spitefest against me again, so I got "this comment cannot be published" on a few of them (sorry).

Do I want to get at the promised-but-delayed projects that I have put off while working 12+ hours a day on the book over the past month? I do not.  I irrationally now want to start another book, but the projects have to come first.

 The best part of that time was feeling the intensity of wanting to work, really wanting to, and being able to do it. No timers and all of that; I just wanted to work.

Time to get to campus.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Random Bullets of MLA 2015

  • Nice weather!  Once the fog cleared, I realized that we were actually on the water, with breathtaking views of mountains across the bay.  Another plus: no ice on the streets.
  • Downtown Vancouver as you see it from the convention center was apparently dropped wholesale onto the planet, buildings and all, starting in 1975, so all the architecture you could see from the conference site is interesting and new. 
  • Hotels were close to the convention center and easy to find--big, distinctive, and with bright signs. If you've ever stood on a street corner at MLA wondering which way was which, having distinctive buildings is helpful. There were lots of good restaurants as well as a food court for quick meals. 
  • Wifi password was prominently displayed in the hotel, and, saints be praised, the conference center wifi didn't require you to log in. This was the best conference yet in terms of being connected. 
  • Also, and I don't recall this before: the convention center was loaded with smiling, helpful MLA people who could tell you which way to go to get to the room you wanted or the book exhibit.  A few years ago at one of the conferences, you entered the Convention Hall and the Twilight Zone simultaneously. You would see NO ONE as you walked down the dimly lighted hall toward what you hoped was a hall with rooms where the sessions were held, your heels echoing on the concrete floor.
  • The panels and papers I saw were really good, with spirited but courteous discussion.  People stayed within time limits.  Could it be that the famed Canadian politeness extended to the conference atmosphere?  Or was it the red and green sheets of paper for signalling the panelists to be quiet?  I could figure out that red meant stop, but I never did figure out the green one: did it mean "2 minutes"? At any rate, it's an eco-friendly alternative to the red and green lights of MLA 2006.
  • Here's a pro tip if you want to get your session accepted: call it "The ____ Turn." There were lots of sessions with that title. There also seemed to be numerous sessions on DH, on rhet/comp/writing, and on comics and games.  It's exciting to see the MLA opening up to these.
  • I was hoping the issue of Skype interviews instead of conference interviews (which I favor) would come up somewhere and could get an official MLA endorsement, but apparently it didn't.
  • If I were giving the MLA a granola bar ranking (granola bars being my go-to breakfast), I'd give this five out of five granola bars. 
Other MLA posts: 2014, 2013, 2012, 20112006

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The news we need isn't the news we get, and it's our own fault

 One way you can save time and a whole lot of negativity is never to look at anything promoted by the King of Clickbait, Emerson Spartz.  Read Andrew Marantz's article at The New Yorker. It's pretty chilling about the, uh, "borrowing" (hey, I don't want to get sued) and repackaging of other people's news content with no regard for actually informing people, being accurate, or any other recognizable component of news.

The writer's tone in that piece is fascinating, too, as if he's watching with horror as an unrepentant cobra goes about its day but is trying to provide an objective view.

The King of Clickbait won't rest, he says, until all the news is tailored to us and our interests, which the information collected in our clickthroughs will tell all the news aggregators. News organizations like The New York Times are twentieth-century losers (I'm paraphrasing).

This is actually an idea as old as the World Wide Web, but I've become more attuned to it recently because of
  • Listicles
  • Headlines that end in a question mark and reveal nothing
  • Numbers in headlines
  • Misspelled headlines, even at The New York Times, to say nothing of the hilarity that ensues when I look at the headlines in our local paper
  • Clickable links at Slate and The Huffington Post that bear no resemblance to the subject matter of the page where they finally take you.
  • CNN. Just look at it, and you tell me what's going on.
  • Yahoo News, which used to be decent 15 years ago but now is basically run by the Home Shopping Network, as far as I can tell from my infrequent visits. This article about Marissa Mayer at least explains why that's so.
Ha! As they say, you see what I did there?


Negativity sells, or generates clicks.  I read recently that a list of the 10 best movies generated far less interest (measured in clicks) than the 10 worst.

We keep clicking on the worst of things, and we anticipate with schadenfreude-laden breath reading something that makes us feel better about our lives by contrast. It doesn't work. It just drags us down into the Kardashian pit of five weird tricks to lose weight.

So the next time some piece of outrage-clickbait (like college football coaches' salaries)  beckons, I'm going to seek out an article on the budget, maybe, or at least Paul Krugman. Think of it as casting a vote for real news with the only currency we've got.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I'm not much on New Year's resolutions, but it struck me that a revolution, of a mild sort, might be just the thing. They're only one letter apart, after all.

The question I want to ask is this one: what events, attitudes, or actions that you could control this year would you like to change for next year? How do you plan to do it?

1. I'd like to be more positive next year instead of immediately thinking of a snarky or negative answer to things I see, mostly on the internet. The stupid clickbait headlines, always in the form of a question, seem to be begging for this, but why give in to it? 

Action: Let's go with Mr. Lincoln's "the better angels of our natures" instead of the worse ones and consciously turn some of those negative thoughts around. I've already started doing this to an extent.

2. I'd like to be more inwardly patient instead of getting annoyed with people over trivial things.  I'm usually outwardly polite, but this is getting harder to sustain. So what if they're bragging incessantly about how productive they are or if they've just discovered that water is wet and want to share their vast knowledge with everyone?  It has nothing to do with me, so why get annoyed?

Action: Stay away from bragfest arenas like Twitter and Facebook. Set a limit--maybe check in every 6 weeks or give them up.  Stay away from professional sites that tell you what you already know, like that water is wet.

3. I'd like to get better control over my time and to stop being angry about email interruptions. In fact, looking at these items, I realize that I'd like to stop being so inwardly angry about trivial things, since the things that are making me angry (email, things I read) are almost entirely within my control.

Action: I'd slipped a little on the autoreply and email rules I'd set for myself and as a result let email and other events intrude where they didn't have to.

4. I need to structure writing time that operates as I really work.  I get up and write in the morning, but it's hard to sit in a chair because I have so much energy then. The time when I want  to write is in the evening after about 8 p.m. I have fought this tendency because of all the advice about writing early.

Action: Get more exercise in the morning (as I do in the summer) so that I can write more effectively. Get up from the computer when my eyes give out at 2 p.m. and do something else for a while.  Don't fight the writing at night impulse but use that time to go back and write from the morning ideas.

Put together, these don't look so revolutionary, but I'm guessing that there'd be a quiet change for the better if they're put into practice. 

What are you going to change this year?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Random bullets, holiday edition

  • Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy Boxing Day!
  • Happy celebration of grades being turned in and the semester being over!
  • I just wrote a comment over at Fie's place about why I'm still keeping up with the blog even if I'm trying to go full tilt on getting the book edited with footnotes done. It's an alternative to the other writing, and I find myself thinking of little things I would like to write here. The words want to be here, and it doesn't take that long to write them down. 
  • Speaking of writing, Historiann's Christmas post really lit a fire under me ("now that the book is off to the editor"), so Historiann, thank you for that.
  • Once again this year I thank the goddess Rosemary Feal or whoever is responsible for the later MLA dates. It is so wonderful not to have to wake up in the middle of the night on the day after Christmas to transport my suitcase, my paper anxiety, and myself to the airport for a full day of travel and wondering whether the conference hotel will give away my room before I get there (yes, even though I guaranteed it with a credit card). Just having the chance to regroup before that trip makes the whole holiday season better.  This year my paper is a section from the book, so it needs to be trimmed and spruced up for reading but is otherwise done, I hope.
  • In Alice in Wonderland, people are always advising Alice to keep her temper. This is sound advice that I am following with the people who email me to ask admin questions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I keep my temper and write back after a day or so, being careful to spend no more than 10 seconds and 10 words on the message.
  • Latest insight: University offices are like everywhere else when it comes to dealing with the people there. Some are lovely, like going into a bakery; some are so bureaucratic that the DMV sounds like a day at the beach; and some, you learn, will be confrontational, like dealing with an insurance company that automatically and aggressively denies your claim even if you're in the right.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Random bullets of some things

  • Really enjoyed my class(es) this semester.  In one, I was a couple of minutes late about a week ago, which is very unusual, and when I came in, they said, "There she is!" and gave me a round of applause in what I'm assuming is a mocking but affectionate way.  Lots of positive comments on the class from them, too, and the feeling was certainly mutual: I really liked them.
  • One minor way I liked them: they always identified themselves by name in their emails (great) whereas people from random other places will email me with entire messages like "Hey, did you get that thing I sent, and why haven't you done something with it?" without identifying the "thing" they're talking about.  This is getting into rant territory, so I'll stop there. 
  • On the positive side, I've decided on a few steps for email so that this doesn't degenerate into the "I hate email" blog:
    • You don't have to be the first to respond if someone sends you and several others a "please fix this" email.  In fact, if you wait it out, you might not have to respond at all.  Since I'm usually a get-it-done person on these, this was a hard lesson but a good one. And some demanding messages -- the 3rd or 4th in a row about things that have already been solved -- are just getting deleted.
    • Sometimes a break makes people want to wax philosophical about ways to do things differently and how you might spend your time over the break by outlining strategic ways to accomplish them. Hence anything with phrases about planning for the future, possible scenarios, or "next year let's do this" is getting a fake autoreply that says "Great idea. You look into it, develop a plan, and report back in January." 
  • Now to get back to work in the manuscript, grade some papers, and try to chip away at the Christmas to-do list.