Friday, June 22, 2018

Random bullets of just past Summer Solstice

  • There's still lots of summer left, even if the days are getting shorter.
  • The writing is sort of moving along. I met a couple of (overdue) commitments, am working on others, and turned down some invitations for new projects because I will eventually learn not to overcommit.
  • Archives always say "no need to contact us!" but you really do, because the collection you want might be inaccessible for some reason. Somehow those are hard emails to write, though, and waiting for an answer while watching the travel prices go up isn't fun.
  • A survey recently asked about public engagement on social media for university faculty. They want us to engage, but I'm guessing that research, service, and teaching demands won't lessen. Instead, we'll be expected to drum up business in the form of outside lectures, interviews, etc. on top of everything else--and it'll be a standard to meet or be punished, not an extra to be celebrated.
  • I'm not going to bring up the political horror show here (donated, wrote to congresspeople already) but instead will concentrate on breathing in the cool summer morning air. Lilacs are past, but the honeysuckle is out. 
  • Today's a big anniversary for Spouse & me, so we'll be going out to dinner. I won't say which one, because some colleagues at my former university made fun of us for being married young (barely out of university) & and I'm still wary about revealing personal information after that. But yay for anniversaries!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

In praise of distraction, or how to counter snobs who say "I don't own a television"

Inspired by gwinne's recent post about productivity and television, let me say this: I am too (experienced, old, productive, tired of academic bulls***--choose one or all of the above) to listen with a straight face to people who claim that they never watch television (including Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and the rest).

If you tell me this, I will laugh. I'm polite, so I'll try not to laugh in your face, but I will laugh.

Sometimes the further discussion reveals that while they would never watch TV, they do listen to This American Life on NPR. Or the BBC. Or play video games. Or read mysteries, a favorite among the academic crowd. Or they make an exception for PBS, because PBS. Or they go to the most recent depressing and obscure foreign film that they can find and brag about it. (Which can be good, but the bragging? not so much.)

Folks, it's all the same. Here's the big secret:  One is not morally superior to the other. All are ways of giving the brain a vacation, of distracting it so that it can stop beating you up for a while about the work you're not doing and give you a breather and fresh ideas so that you can do it.

But seriously--if you're not giving your brain a distraction, you're not giving it a rest. The productivity police may think that rest isn't necessary, but they're writing self-help, not creative work. 

One of the best takedowns of this attitude I've ever seen, and the reason I refer to this attitude as "I don't own a television machine," is from an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called "I'm No Henry Walden." The premise is that a Robert Frost-type poet named Henry Walden* has had Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) invited to a high-toned literary party where no one knows who they are or understands what they do.

If you want to see the whole thing, including a brilliant double-talk performance by Carl Reiner that I swear I have seen many times given as a paper at MLA, the link is below. If you just want to get a flavor of it, including the immortal "I don't own a television machine," go to 11:33.




*From Henry David Thoreau & Walden Pond. Fun fact for the Orson Welles crowd: Henry Walden is played by Everett Sloane, who was Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane.