Wednesday, July 25, 2018
I recently wrote an email to a person in my department, trying to set up a meeting a month from now. This person had her email set to auto-reply, but she responded to say that the time was all right with her. Then I wrote to her again, demanding the answer to something very minor but more complicated.
I reasoned that she, like me, is simply dreaming of the time when school starts and has nothing better to do for the next month than answer my questions. Why isn't she responding?
Nothing Else on My Plate
Based on her experiences in academia, Ms. Undine suggests that the person in your department indeed might have something else to do. This something might be research that she's frantically trying to finish, or relatives she's trying to visit, or maybe just a simple afternoon in which she can continue making burnt offerings to the goddess of summer so that fall will be delayed this year. In any of those cases, your email is not welcome.
Dear Ms. Undine,
I am a student and like to get everything done ahead of time; in particular, I like to read all the books over the summer and then decline to discuss them in class because I've forgotten the details. When I wrote to my instructor demanding a syllabus, however, the instructor said that it wasn't ready. I thought teachers have a vacation for the whole summer, so why isn't it done?
Eager for Now
You are correct: instructors have nothing else to do all summer. Your instructor is making the very best syllabus possible, and that means that she is spending every spare available moment, many hours a day, getting it ready. You wouldn't want to spoil that kind of perfection by rushing it, would you? That would be rude.
Dear Ms. Undine,
I'm an administrator and have great powers of vision, including being able to see through computer screens. I keep sending out cheerful messages about "Remember, the X event will be early this year!" and reminders about new assessment procedures, but when I do this, I see the recipients turn pale and mutter curses about July being the summer. Why does this happen, Ms. Undine? I'm just trying to give them a heads-up about exciting university events.
My Time is Your Time
Dear My Time,
Your faculty members do not want a heads-up. They want to keep their heads down, plowing through all the work that they thought they would get done in June and over the July 4 weekend. Your email reminds them that time is not infinite, which as poor mortals they dreamed for a week or so earlier in the summer that it would be. Do not remind them of their own mortality, or, more important, the mortality of their summer work hours.
Dear Ms. Undine,
All my friends on Facebook and Twitter are running circles around me in terms of research and having fun. They're getting more done, and it makes me despair at my own slowness.
Sloth and Envy
Mark Zuckerberg has a little-known patent on something called the Facebook Enhancement Screen, and I believe he licenses it to Twitter and Instagram as well. The FES means that everyone's life looks more golden than your own and that no one tells the truth about the days when all they could do is binge-watch Love It or List It and eat thin mint Oreos. There is no protection against the FES except not to look at social media. No one will think that you are less polite if you make stealth raids into it to like content that you don't actually read.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
Waking up at 4:30 a.m. when the local Starbucks (closest food) does not open until 7:30 a.m. isn't ideal, but it did give me some time to reflect on a few things after seeing the work of my betters.
- These people took care of business. When I was sitting there reading folders full business letters and contracts, I had to stop and think that this was just one side of what Author A (let's call his/her/gender neutral them "A") was doing every day. Let's not forget the usual things: building or making or buying houses, gardens, boats; getting the plumbing fixed, etc.
- And they took care of friendship. Reading another whole set of letters, I realized that they were not about anything consequential to researchers because that's of course not the point, is it? But the letters were about things that were absolutely, vitally important to A and their correspondents' lives: family doings, asking about mutual friends, civic engagement, shared tasks, gifts, ill health, visits and travel, and oh, incidentally, work. It's easy to miss the forest for the trees in this and try to cherry-pick one reference to what we see as A's "real" work, when actually, their life can't be separated out any more than ours can today. When you read them as a whole, you see a fabric of human connection being woven.
- And they kept things and kept track of things. Notebooks, story plans, drafts, scraps of paper, newspaper clippings, diaries. It's heartening to see that A sometimes starts a notebook and then leaves the rest blank, since I'm guilty of this, too. But did you ever stop to wonder what would happen if someone needed to research you and your work? (Not likely, but still.) What would they find? I'm not the first to comment that the electronic age has changed what we keep and discard, and recycling has probably taken the rest. Would any of us even have an archive?
- And they wrote. Every day, sick or well, rain or shine. As you see the authors get older or, in the case of younger authors, become ill, it seems--well, gallant is the only word for it. In the midst of all of the above (and all that's not included there: eating, sleeping, exercise, excursions, being with friends, reading, domestic or romantic crises, tragic losses) they put words on paper, not on Twitter and FB (I'm sniping at myself, not at anyone out there). Sometimes they didn't succeed in finishing something but kept the scraps anyway. It's a good reminder that even the things that didn't work out were part of the process for something else.