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, this happened to me even though I guaranteed the room 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. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Imaginary email responses (a cranky post)

I'm rewatching The Office on Netflix while folding laundry, because it is more soothing than getting stressed out about the work I'm not doing when I'm folding laundry, and laundry constitutes a delightful break in the day at this point in the semester. Those of you who watched The Office may remember when Pam tried to get people to reply to the wedding invitations she sent out.  Short version: no one would send an RSVP. Kelly said she'd only come if Ryan would be there. Meredith said she'd text Pam on the morning of the wedding for driving directions. Ryan said he liked to keep things loose. On and on.

That episode struck a chord with me.  Some of these are hypothetical; others, not so much.
  • If you send me an email that says nothing more than "See attached," here's a news flash: I have an equally terse two-word reply in mind that I am too polite to send.  Best case scenario: I open the attachment and don't respond. Usual case scenario: it goes into the junk mail file immediately.
  • If I've asked you to respond to a poll so I can schedule a meeting, and you reply with a message listing all the various times you are not available but never answering the poll, here's a pro tip for you: I'm not going to enter them into the poll for you, or indeed take any notice of your special unavailability at all. If you think I care more about having you at the meeting than you care about being there, let's just call it a grievous error of judgment on your part.  Just click on the link and fill in the poll like the rest of us.
  • If I ask you to fill out a form and you write back with an email saying "you know I always do X and Y," do you think I will fill out the form because your time is so much more important than mine? Seriously? If the most eminent people at the university are courteous enough to take the time to fill it out (and they do; maybe that's how they got to be eminent), you can do it, too. Get over yourself.
  • If I write to ask you a question after a lengthy email exchange during which you changed your mind 5 times, would it kill you to answer the question instead of saying"I thought we cleared that up"? If we "cleared it up," I wouldn't be writing to ask you the question, now, would I?
  • If after failing to respond, you send me an aggrieved email that you or your wishes were not considered, that sound you hear is me playing the world's tiniest violin for your distress. Oh, and also shuffling your complaint to the bottom of my considerable email pile.  
  • I am also not interested in a lot of attitude if you outrank me in the academic worldsphere. Unless your 10-line self-promotional sig file includes the name "God, Ph.D." I am unimpressed with your attitude and will take special pains to indicate that. 
  • Edited to add: Northern Clime University, I love you, but at this point in the semester when we're already drowning in email, could you please refrain from sending those all-employee messages every day about "Next Tuesday is take your kitten to work day!" and such?