Monday, November 21, 2016

Ready for a writing post? Here's one on conferences.

In Hamilton, the second act is--let's just say very, very sad. Lin-Manuel Miranda calls it a "cryfest," and he wrote it, so he ought to know. The saddest song is "It's Quiet Uptown," and it is so sad that I've only listened to it maybe 5 times instead of the dozens that I've listened to the rest of the soundtrack. The next song, "The Election of 1800,"  begins with Jefferson saying, "Yo, can we get back to politics?" and James Madison saying, in a strangled voice, "Please!"

So, to reframe: "Yo, can we get back to writing?" "Please!" You understand, don't you?

I don't dare say this on Facebook for fear of being seared to a crisp as uncaring, apolitical, an accommodationist, a monster, "neoliberal" (which are all the same thing on Facebook)  at the very least. I'm not. I'm still upset.  I've contacted congressional representatives, donated, and the rest. (Fat lot of good contacting one representative did: what I got in return from one was a rah-rah Trump cheering newsletter talking about "draining the swamp." But at least I did it and will keep trying.)

To get back to writing: This fall, I've done three conferences, some with two papers, and an invited talk, all of which had to be written (no recycled work); I've submitted one article to the major journal in my field and have another about 95% ready.

The most recent conference was incredibly productive, both in terms of hearing new work and in terms of taking me in a new direction for what I can do next. I got direct and very positive feedback on my papers, and I connected with people who are working in this new-ish (for me) research area, who liked what I was doing.

We all know that talking with people at a conference can really help, not only in terms of knowing what work is coming out but in terms of research opportunities (what X archive holds that isn't obvious from the finding aid, for example.) I don't think we think enough about how conferences can force us beyond our comfort zones and push us in new directions, however.  I rarely see a call for papers and think "great! This already-written piece will fit perfectly, so I'll make an abstract and send it in." Instead, I think, "that sounds interesting. I wonder if X would be a good idea for that?" and send in an abstract.

Then, of course, I have to do the research and write the paper, not to mention go to (and pay for going to) the conference or the archive. This does not make me happy, but at the same time, it creates some sense of tension and excitement that helps the writing, although that's probably the wrong way to look at it.

Maybe it's the thrill and agony of a deadline. Everyone differs in this. To give an example: Teddy Roosevelt, if given a writing assignment, would do it as soon as humanly possible, put it away, and forget about it. William Howard Taft would agonize and procrastinate, working over drafts forever.  If you've been reading this blog you know that I, ma'am, am no Roosevelt.  To get anything done, I need to borrow inspiration from the Roosevelts among you, and that means conferences.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Wow! Your output this semester is inspiring! I had a hard time just getting to one conference with all the other BS going on, and I have a course release this semester! How DO you do it?? I suppose I could do more if I were able to get funding and if I were somewhat less insecure about looking like a moron. But I think conferences are a wonderful way to make yourself do work. And I LOVE meeting people. It's "keeping" friends that I'm no good at.

And ditto on the second half of Hamilton. I don't listen to it often because I don't really have that much time to "ugly cry."

Undine Spragg said...

Fie--It's not magic; I'm on sabbatical! And I've done nothing on my real sabbatical projects :(.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Hey, it's productivity! You can spin the sabbatical report. Is it just this semester, or do you have the spring off, too?

profacero said...

C'est great! I need your help: comment on a post. I am having a guilt crisis about research because I have been beaten up again by contingents who say my thinking tenure is important is outmoded and also uncaring. So I wrote a post about tenure and academic freedom and I would like comment.

Undine Spragg said...

Dame Eleanor--both semesters. Hooray!

Profacero--I'll go over & read & comment soon. But for the record: (1) tenure is important and not uncaring and (2) the contingents, or anyone else, for that matter, can't beat you up about it, because their opinion doesn't matter, not because they're contingents, but because they don't know better than you do about your life. Your beliefs matter to you, and trying to convince others about them is usually a waste of time.

Part of the bargain I struck with myself over the past few years is refusing to get into any conversations where (1) I can't win and (2) others get to beat me up for some perceived incorrect thoughts.