Friday, January 30, 2015

Show your work

I was turned down for a grant recently and got the feedback.  Basically, they liked the project but wanted to see more relevance to broader contemporary concerns.

I get that and am okay with it.  What I thought was self-evident about the value of the project was not, and what I needed to do was to show my work, the way kids are taught to do now with math.  The grantors wanted it to be more relatable, and I already see a way to do that.

Although I view applying for grants as equivalent to spending 20 hours buying a Powerball ticket with about the same likelihood of success, I will probably apply again, and, yes, this time show my work.

There's some resistance to this, though, in some subfields, and I keep seeing comments that roughly translated would be one of these:  "Scholars in old traditional field X just don't understand how groundbreaking my work in kitten studies is and are persecuting me because they won't fund it" or "They are just the olds and are stupid jerks incapable of understanding technology because yay shiny technology is a good in itself." Maybe the complainers are right, and maybe they're not.  But that's the game.

Showing your work is what you do with grants. You're essentially betting that the vast time suck of applying is going to pay off.  You have to be a gambler who thinks that very small odds and small rewards are worth the rush of winning. (For scientists, most humanities grants don't amount to a rounding error in what they apply for and get.)  But as with any gambling situation, the odds favor the house, and if you don't play by the house's rules, you don't get to play very long.

Show your work.

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.