Sunday, January 26, 2020

Things I liked and didn't like this week

It is Sunday night, and I was so tired today that I feel asleep sitting up and literally didn't know where I was or what time it was when I woke up a little while later.  Herewith, then, the lazy blogger's guide to her week.

  • Playing with our kittens, recently adopted from the local shelter,  which is awesome (kittens and shelter).
  • Making more vegetable-centered meals.
  • Experimental chocolate chip cookies made wholly with oat flour.
  • Obeying my older cat, who insists that I sit down and write most evenings by nudging me toward the study. 
  • Noticing that I have written something on the project I've been working on every day this month. Every day!
  • Christine Tully's article at IHE about using a writing day or writing time effectively.
  • The weather (lots of rain washing away lots of snow).
  • My mad skills with setting up pumps in window wells to drain off excess. (See: lots of rain washing away lots of snow). 
  • Getting a good (dare I say glowing?) review with contract to follow on something I wrote.
  • Getting more ideas the more I work. 

Didn't like:
  • Email from a colleague: "Hey, would you do me a favor? I would do it except that I am just so busy with my scholarly project that I really don't have time right now. I'd like it if you'd get it done soon." Would you ignore such a request for a week or more? Would you then respond curtly? Yeah, me too.
  • Fielding a barrage of emails from a colleague (let's call her Karen) who was obviously on fire about a joint project we're on. Email after email came hurtling in, with phrases like "please reply to this right away." Needless to say, my responses were completely ignored but the barrage continued, along with one final request for me, until I got a cheery "That's all for now! Karen out!" Would you respond with a single line "did you get my revision to X document?" and resolve not to send another single word until you hear a response? Yeah, me too. 
  • The feeling that I'm letting down not these two but others whom I've promised work that's not yet done. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Strategic alliances, or how I stopped worrying about not-loving some conferences

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as the annual dues statements for professional organizations roll around and many have ratcheted up their dues substantially: how do you decide which ones you support?

This probably works differently in the sciences, where (I’m told) some organizations elect you as a fellow or a member and it’s a great honor, but in the humanities, you join a group, you pay the dues, you get the journal, and if your paper is accepted, you go to the conference.

There are lots of levels of engagement, including being involved with elected leadership or committees, but the basics are these:

1. You pay your dues faithfully every year, no matter what.
2. You submit to a conference and have to be a paid member to be there, so you join before you submit.
3. You get accepted to a conference and then join so that your name will be on the program. 

I’m usually in the #1 category, but a few years ago, I realized how sensible it was to be in #2 or 3.

Example: Let’s call it the Crunchy Granola conference, the one where everyone wears brown instead of black. For the better part of 15+ years I paid every year. I presented at some conferences. I was elected to office and went to conferences every year (and often on my own dime). 

And then I noticed that my proposals were getting rejected more often than not. That’s fine: the organizers can’t accept everyone. There was less and less in the journal that had any relevance to my work. My interests had gone in a different direction, and they weren’t Crunchy Granola’s cup of tea. We had Grown Apart, as they say in letters to Carolyn Hax.

But on a different note, I had also become fed up with a radical egalitarian rhetoric that was not, shall we say, matched in practice. 

So I stopped paying the dues notice, and you know what? It was a relief. I guess I figured that I somehow had to stay with Crunchy Granola for my whole career, as though we were academically married, but I so didn’t. 

When I get a dues notice now, therefore, I think before automatically paying it. Does the journal have materials relevant to what I’m working on? Do I meet up with people working on relevant topics at conferences? Is my work at least sometimes accepted at those conferences, and do I have good conversations that further the work when I go? 

This is all obvious, of course, except that it definitely wasn’t for me because as someone whose parents weren’t professors and who is terminally naive by nature, I began by not knowing the norms, which is why stating them now has become a real thing for me. What I learned is that you can & should be strategic about those alliances and not look back once they don’t work for you any more. 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Reading Zone

(Rod Serling voice)

Imagine, if you will,  a world in which people must write for a living, but in order to write, they must read, and generally read it all. 

The inhabitants of this land are called Readers, or in other words, Academics.

Some of what the Readers must do is pure joy. They read all of an author's best books and are inspired to let words flow out effortlessly on the page. They cross the bridge into the realm of imagination, a world not of sight and sound but of mind.

But to cross the bridge, the Readers must pass the trolls that live under it. The trolls are also called readers--"Second Readers," in fact--and they pounce gleefully on any act of incompleteness. If the Reader has read and discussed only 30 out of 31 books by an author, the Second Readers will pounce on any lack of discussion of the 31st. They will accuse the Reader of heinous crimes and also of not being "smart," the gravest of all academic sins.

In this land of imagination, the Reader must navigate the 31st book regardless of whether Homer  nodded or fell off a cliff or into a coma as regards inspiration in this particular work. Sometimes the Reader herself nods and awakens with a jerk to find herself a few pages beyond what she remembers reading.

The Reader must push through this book page by page in an action akin to sewing by hand: pushing the needle through inch by inch, patiently waiting for the author's genius to reveal itself once more. The Reader who tries to skim finds that she has inadvertently driven the needle into her finger by missing important plot points buried fiendishly in seeming digressions or philosophical musings, and she will have to tear out the stitching and start over. She wishes she had time enough at last to finish this task that, after all, she chose to do.

The Reader's eyes may tear up from the effort, and her vision may blur. Since she has glasses on when she reads, which means that she has no depth perception, she may curse lightly when she rams her fingers into drawers or doors that she would swear were another 6" away.

However chaste her typical language, the Reader may even drop more than a frown at having to keep track of actions and characters in whom she seems to be more invested in the author. Like Mark Twain with his Pudd'nhead Wilson characters, she sometimes wishes that they would all go out back and get drowned in the well together.

Sooner or later, the book will end. The Reader will leave this part of The Reading Zone and learn, like all those who have gone before, that leaving it or Willoughby or the devil-fortuneteller cafe or the bus station is essential and a learning experience--until the next encounter with The Reading Zone.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Happy New Year!

Every year, like everybody else in the world (pretty much), I make resolutions. Every year (ditto), I fail to live up to them.

Why make them, then?

Because not to even try is to give up, and all of life is about not giving up. Mary Pickford decided at some point that she had done enough hard work in her life, which lord knows she had, and retreated to her bed and to alcohol after a certain point. Jack Warner's second wife barely came downstairs for the last few decades of her life because she said she was done with entertaining. I understand feeling as though you deserve a rest, and certainly they had enough money to do whatever they wanted, but this kind isn't good for anyone.

I also don't mean beating your head against a brick wall if you have clear evidence that something's unrealistic or not working. As Megan's mother Marie cruelly but correctly said on Mad Men, the world could not support that many ballerinas.

I mean trying to the best of your ability to do things that you can do, and maybe a few things that you think you can't do, to the best of your ability.

So here are a few resolutions for the new year, some of which--ahem!--you may have seen before.

File under "everything old is new again":

1. Lowering FB use. About three weeks ago, I went on Facebook, experienced an immediate stress reaction (think twitching eyes and breaking out in a cold sweat), posted a "bye for now!" message, and stayed away until yesterday. Discovery: checking in every couple of months is plenty. I'd quit it entirely except that it's the only way of finding out about (and disseminating information about) family events. 

2. My creativity and writing energy is still best at night, but it's unsustainable to write until 11 if you wake up without prompting between 4:30 and 5 a.m. Spouse says I am sleep-deprived when I do this, and the fact that I fall asleep instantly if I sit down for more than a few minutes suggests that he's right. I'm going to try again to show up for writing in the mornings.

3. Recognizing again that any kind of writing takes what it takes in terms of time and mental energy. It might take others only a few hours to put together a conference paper, or so they tell me when they tease me about spending 30 hours on it (I logged them). If it takes me 30 hours--and they're not wasted, because the time is spent in really thinking about the material--I have to accept that that's what it takes and not beat myself up for not being able to dash it off.

File under "let's try some new things":

1.  Now that I have actual research assistants and projects to manage, I've been exploring Trello, Asana, Excel spreadsheets, etc. as a means of tracking tasks. Is it worth putting together a "scrum board" like this one on Silicon Valley for my own projects as well?

2. Recognize that the feeling of relief after finishing something is far more fleeting than the months of dread that went into writing it and stop doing some kinds of tasks (book reviews, which are not worth the dread).

3. Keep track of the books I read for pleasure, and, since most of them are biographies or histories related to work anyway, make notes about them.