Thursday, January 31, 2019

Writing inspiration and logjams

So a few days ago I started a post about how for some blessed reason (MLA, or Chicago, or finally getting so bored with this piece that I couldn't stand it) I finally broke through on the piece of writing that consumed my entire fall with guilt and dread. I could write! I finished it & sent it AND finished the edits they requested. Like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, my burdens fell from me.

And then I looked for an image and settled on the ice circle (below), because spinning wheels seemed appropriate.

And then I looked up "logjams" and realized that what I really meant was "icejams."

And then I decided to abandon the whole thing.

Isn't that the writing process in a nutshell--falling down an internet rabbit hole until you don't remember why you were there? (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a song about Google-stalking that sort of addresses this, "Research Me Obsessively.")

But I didn't abandon the writing. I still want to work, mirabile dictu. Whatever malaise/logjam/icejam/dread had me binge-watching The Crown instead of doing any work whatsoever has broken at least for now.

The real source of writing inspiration in this post comes from Robert Caro's new piece in The New Yorker. It's about going down a rabbit hole of research and finding pay dirt at the end, to mix a metaphor.

Stay warm, all of you in the polar vortex!

THE ice circle from  Maine:

Ice circle from North Dakota:

An ice circle from Washington state.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Brief and off-topic: Don’t stop believing

The 20th anniversary of The Sopranos is everywhere in the news, and HBO has been running a marathon of it, which ended tonight. I’ve been dipping in and out while taking a break from work and have found that I recall nothing. Tonight was the finale, though, and I do remember that.

From June 12, 2007:

When it ended, Spouse and I looked at each other, gasped, and laughed in delight. What a great way to end the series, with complete undecidability! It wasn’t until later that I learned that people were confused (did the cable go out?), then outraged, then as obsessed as if Lee Harvey Oswald was the man in the Members Only jacket.

David Chase said it doesn’t matter if (spoiler!) Tony is shot in the end or not, and I’d agree.

But in rewatching the finale—Episode 6.21, “Made in America”—just now, if Tony did get shot, it’s a good time for it. He’s spent the episode tying up loose ends, including a sit-down with his enemies and the death of one of them. He talks to Uncle Junior, who doesn’t remember him.  Carmela has a spec house in her sights. The famously slacktastic A.J. Wants to go into the army and then be a helicopter pilot for Donald Trump (!), but he’s talked out of it by his parents and encouraged to be a gofer for an adult movie company instead. As Meadow utterly fails at parallel parking, Tony’s looking fondly at his family, sharing onion rings, and  playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on the jukebox. Cut to black.

If you want to see a breakdown of the scene, it’s here:

I don’t recall many moments from the series, but every time “Don’t Stop Believing” comes on the radio, I think of it. Do you?

Monday, January 07, 2019

Random Bullets of MLA 2019

Figure 1. A sunny Chicago in January--who knew?
Now it's the moment you've all been waiting for--MLA 2019 in bullet form!

The good: 
  •  Weather. The last time I was in Chicago for MLA, the weather was, well, Chicago-ish: sleet, snow, ice, and long trudges up and down hill between the Sheraton and the Hyatt (or Hilton? it's a blur.) But look at those blue skies! If you were up early, the wind was biting, but some days got up to nearly 50. Also, after last year's snow apocalypse, there weren't as many people dazed from all the weather delays. Well done, Chicago weather gods.
  • Great panels. I can't tell if MLA papers are getting more interesting, if I'm choosing which ones to attend with more care, or both, but there were terrific sessions. One trend: not only more DH panels, but the ones that were there were full. I tried to go to one early morning panel, but it was packed to the rafters and in a tiny room, so I left. After last year, I didn't attend any working groups, because once bitten, twice shy. 
  • More panels than in previous years tried to follow accessibility and credit guidelines, with handouts or links, which is good. Here's a tip, MLA: maybe a space on MLA Commons where we can ALL post these papers so that people can follow along on their devices. I know that "not everyone has a smartphone" could be an issue, but it would help most people. 
  • Also, I only heard one person try the "you can hear me without a microphone, right?" routine, which is privilege dressed up as false modesty, and he was gently encouraged to use the mike. 
  • Book exhibit seemed more full and lively this year (possibly because of the snow last year) and just walking through there is enough to make you want to get to work. Lots of wine and snacks at booths, and I actually drank a glass of wine there at 3 in the afternoon. Don't let anyone tell you that academics don't lead a wild life. Also, some exhibits had the same deals online, which is helpful when you're traveling with a small suitcase (as most of us are these days) and don't have room to carry books back.
  • Helpful convention staff. So, so helpful to have friendly people on hand to tell you which way to go to get to the rooms. There were 3 levels with multiple hallways (all underground), but all you had to do was ask and there were multiple people to tell you. 
  • Jobs. Lots of conversations about precarious jobs and the lack of jobs, but not in the grim spirit of 2011.  
  • Also noted: I didn't see a lot of obviously anxious job seekers--that may have been because interviews were at a different hotel--but in talking with people from departments that were hiring, I heard a lot of "We interviewed through Zoom/Skype and chose our finalists that way." MLA has encouraged online interviews to save costs and stress for job candidates, and it seems to be working. I'd be eager to see the numbers. Our 2014 dreams have come true!
  • Great location, with easy walking to restaurants and also lots of cabs/Uber/Lyft. I liked being able to walk over the brass plates marking the original outlines of Fort Dearborn on my way to Starbucks.   
The okay:
Figure 2. We can see the wifi signal, but what's missing?
  •  Wifi. Wifi was plentiful, and free, and good. What's wrong with this picture? After a momentary lapse into printing the password in the program last year, they didn't print it this year. You had to ask, or, as I did, consult the handwritten scrap of paper at one of the information desks, placed there by friendly people who nonetheless must have gotten sick of being asked for the password.
  • Minibars.  The Hyatt hasn't gotten the memo yet that everyone prefers a refrigerator to a minibar, which is so 1993.
The not great:
  • Nothing the MLA could control, really, but we had to walk by this every day. 
  • Figure 3. Hypnotized like a snake with a mongoose,
    I couldn't stop staring at this.
     Other MLA Conference Posts:

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy 2019!

Happy New Year! Wishing you a happy 2019!

I feel as though there ought to be a summing up, resolutions, and observations, so here goes. In past years, I've mentioned mindfulness and being kind (although being kind backfired this year).  Here's my question for this year:

What has made you happy or content this last year, and what would you do differently?

What I'd continue:

1. Staying away from the advice columns, on the "shun/unshun/reshun" method imposed by Dwight Schrute on The Office. I shunned them beginning September 1 and only unshunned them over this holiday. Conclusion: they really do waste time, and they don't make me happier. Reshun.

2. Another month's hiatus from Facebook, shunned on December 1. I went on this morning and was immediately deluged with happy news for others: book contracts! happiness at going to MLA! finished articles! I dutifully liked posts and congratulated people, because I am happy for them. Same thing on Twitter, except with bonus notices about articles completed, books read, fellowships gained. But I don't have a new book contract, or a fellowship, or a new article, due to slothful ways, and although I'm grateful to be going to MLA, I am not exactly happy about it. Staying off FB is a lesson I learn over and over again, Groundhog Day-like, but maybe like Bill Murray, I'm getting there. Reshun.

3. Reading the news that counts. Dave Barry's year in review reminds us that every time the cable pundits get all excited that this is the piece of treasonous malfeasance that's going to lead to the Republicans doing something about the massive corruption at the top, it never happens.  It's like Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally, who keeps coming up with evidence for why her married lover is going to stay with his wife, and Meg Ryan says, "No one thinks he's ever going to leave her." In political terms, Spouse gets excited every time Rachel Maddow proclaims this, and we have a "this time they'll do something/they're never going to leave him" conversation a few times a week. My take: When Mueller's done, call me. Reshun.

These all sound so negative--sorry! Also happiness: being outdoors, walking, breathing morning air, family, cleaning out rooms and closets, teaching, reading things I'm excited about, and also those precious times when the writing is really flowing.

What I'd do differently:

1. When truly stuck on a piece of writing, do what I've done before and move to a different piece. This fall I decided to gut it out and keep hammering away, and I swear to you that my mind completely shut down on the topic. Write every day, even if it's junk, or notes, or something. Bonus: when I got well and truly stuck this fall, my solution was eating more to quell the anxiety over it. (Hint: not a solution, and you feel miserable and stuffed as well as inadequate and stuck.)

2. Be more bold in calling out rudeness, in meetings and elsewhere. No, it's not men doing this, although I now realize that my last 6 or so posts have been about horrid male behavior. It's women. I've been trying to be kind, and it backfired. My new resolution: if it's my meeting, I'm shutting it down, sisterhood be damned.

3. In general: do more of what makes you happy. I know that's a platitude if there ever was one, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

In summary:

1. More: outdoor walks, Frasier while doing laundry, books that I really want to read, regular writing, sleep.

2. Less: social media, putting up with nonsense, eating while stressed.

That's about it for me. What about you?