Monday, August 24, 2015

Big Project Planning

It occurs to me that grad school, while it taught me many things well, did not teach me how to approach, plan, and keep up my enthusiasm for a long project.  While the dissertation was, of course, a long project, I didn't take particularly long to work on it -- as in cranking out the actual pages.  I think I began writing real chapters in December or January and was defended by August.  The foundation, though, was laid in work from years previous -- particularly in one class and then in the portfolio that served as my comprehensive exams.  So I didn't exactly know that I was working on the dissertation when I was laying the foundation.  But now I'm a tenured professor, and I've got to be able to plan out my writing work to get done in little drips of time, and I need to be able to articulate a realistic plan for completion for annual review and an application for my pipe dream, a sabbatical.  (It doesn't help that this project is in a less desirable area to my colleagues.)

So I've been thinking about Big Project and how it's particularly difficult to come up with product completion goals for a process that is not step-by-step.  (A colleague and role model of mine recently posted on Facebook that he's been working on a project for seven years.  Seven!  Of course, he's completed and published other work as well in that time, but I tend to work on one project at a time and while I respect the creative process and will follow it wherever it leads, I really can't say that I'm planning to still be working on this project in seven years.  That's not a confidence-builder for a sabbatical application!)

Every time I think about this project as a 3-5 year goal, something in me starts screaming.  No!  I want the writing -- at least the first draft -- done in two years.  It'll take some serious time to revise and there's a colleague I'd love to show it to when it's in a full draft form, and so I'm not dreaming that it'll be substantially complete after the first real complete draft or anything.  If I'm still sending it out in five years, okay.  But I need to get into high gear getting this first draft completed for my own morale, as much as my teaching and service load will allow.

So here are my goals that I think are pretty realistic:

During summer:  ambitious weekly goals so I end up with a serious sheaf of drafted pages by the end of the summer (this is the same goal I've had this summer that I started out quite brightly on but have fallen off of since the family took a stressful trip to Urban Birth City -- oh the drama, oh the jet lag, oh the recovery!  yesterday and the day before I was feeling shvitzy and have been taking naps and stuff and couldn't figure out what was wrong until I turned to Absurdist Lover and mused: last week, we were still in Urban Birth City.  Ah, then it all made sense.  No wonder I've struggled with writing for the last few weeks).  Let's call this total ideal output for summer X.

During the year:  modest monthly goal.  The total output for the "during the year" time is X-1. 

If I can get that done for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, it'll be drafted by the end of 2016-2017.  Then I can spend 2017-2020 revising and sending it out.  Now, if I can get a sabbatical to work on this project, that would transform the six months or so I'd get off into "summer time," shooting my productivity up.  So if I put in a sabbatical application for 2016-2017 (because this year is out already anyway), I'd be able to say that instead of managing X-1 for that "during the year" time, I'd be able to get 2X done.  In short, I'd finish the drafting and be able to get onto the revising.  This would be particularly great because at that point I'm going to have to take a step back and see what all the parts add up to and make decisions about that and do some more focused rewriting, and it would be great to have the time and space to do that. 

I don't know if I can sell that to the sabbatical application committee, but at least it's a plan that makes sense to me.  And I won't be totally depressed if I don't get a sabbatical because I can see that I will get this thing done in a decent amount of time.

It's funny how making these goals makes me feel better, especially during the slog when I really have to focus mostly on teaching.  If I can manage to write a couple times a week, I should be able to more than meet these goals.

But before that, I still have Summer and those ambitious goals.  I'd like to be able to meet my own goals -- as much to be able to report that in my annual review report and sabbatical application as for myself.  So I need to take stock and see how behind I am and what I need to do to make the most of the rest of the quarter.

But perhaps not right now.  I really need to begin working on cleaning out the office, and this is the last week of Absurdist Child's camp.  So I need to get on that as well.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Just so you know, Little Project is actually for a general readership.  If you're interested in learning more, please email me at 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

After Days of Medical Angst, Back to the Garden

So three weeks after the great Nasturtium Planting of 2015, here's what a piece of that bed looks like:

I really do love planting and tending the garden.  I was afraid I wouldn't -- that I would discover I only liked it because I thought I was supposed to like it somehow, or because I had read about it and thought I should but I really do love it.  Partly because beauty is just a balm.  Keats had that right -- "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."  I can just stand and stare at the nasturtiums or the pond or whatever and find myself more peaceful, more calm.  Partly because -- with the exception of this bed full of nasturtiums and spent bulbs and still readying-themselves-for-bloom lilies -- everything I plant is for eating, and I love food.

Though I woke up very late, I ended up doing lots of gardening work.  I planted my second 3 x 8 raised bed with three artichokes and as many onion seedlings as I could fit in staggering up and down (in a 3-2 pattern or a V) at 4 inch intervals).  (First I had to fill the bed with soil, mind you.)  It is really too late to be setting that stuff out, especially as they've been scrunched in near a grow light in the basement for months.  But today's when I could get everything in.  I also weeded the nasturtiums, though the weeds are getting really smart and growing right next to the nasturtiums.  I pulled two nasturtium seedlings up by mistake.  (I ate the leaves.)

I also harvested some shallots that had flopped over.

And I had to cut a few broccoli leaves because they were crowding out their neighbors.  I really don't know what I'm doing with broccoli, but this planting has turned into some kind of broccoli monster.  I tried to upload a picture of the broccoli monster, but it's on its side and I don't know how to get blogger to turn it over.  Grrr.  I also mulched the artichoke-and-onion bed and gave everything a long overdue dose of Neptune's Harvest.  Doesn't that sound like enough to count as a workout?

I've decided just this week to get back into exercising.  A big impetus for this is medical.  So I've been being checked out for X, which has many variations.  The variation I have is most likely is X-2 because I definitely have damage, but X-2 is really only diagnosable when they've totally ruled out X-1 by some tests that are really incredibly inconvenient and expensive -- in short, no one wants to do them.  So my doctor doesn't quite want to say I have X at all, because X-2 is a really weird variation where some of the things that seem to most characterize X are not there with X-2.  In any case, the treatment for X-2 doesn't make any sense as it's the same as X-1, which specifically addresses an aspect of X that X-2 doesn't have.   So my doctor has basically given me an X-1 treatment that makes no sense because my variable-that-in-others-is-high is already really low and there is no reason to further reduce it; I think it's just the difficulty of diagnosing me as positively X-2 and so the idea is why not consider treating it even though she can only say that maybe I have X. In any case, I also have another syndrome that is highly correlated with X-2.  There's very little to suggest that the medication that she's prescribed will address my X-2 at all, and there are side effects that I really don't like.  The doctor gave me three choices, 1) to medicate, 2) to be monitored closely, and 3) to get a second opinion.  A second opinion is astronomical in cost, when I truly believe I have X-2 because I also have another syndrome highly correlated with it along with my definite damage that they've found.  And what causes both?  A vascular disorder that I definitely have most likely caused by my terribly sedentary lifestyle. 

So I've decided to whip myself back into shape and hopefully get rid of both the syndrome and the causes, in my case, of X.  And if this is not what is causing the X?  Well, it's not going to hurt anything for me to stop being some kind of couch potato.  And I'm going back to my doctor in a month so there's plenty of time to get on medication if I need to.  Oh, and of course there's also the possibility that the condition causing both syndromes is actually something else, something much worse.  MS, for example.  I don't care.  I'm not going to worry about it.  No matter what I have or don't have, I'm doing yoga and taking lots of supplements anyway.  Because I have a lot to do this summer, and anything I have or whatever is going to be helped by my exercising and getting thinner.  I'm done with all the medical panic I've had for the last few days, which totally stopped my great mojo where I was really getting things done each day.  Then I was just depressed and barely making it, barely even there.  Forget that.  I'm getting healthy and then we can talk about X and whether I'm really ill or whatever.  Yoga first.  Which is why I'm not going to count gardening as my workout and am going to go do some short form Ashtanga.  Now.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rainy Summer Sunday for the Great Nasturtium Planting

It's pouring here.  A big dark sky and rain.  Rain we can't even see until we look at surface of the pond to see how hard it is. 

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain.  Then it was raining until late morning(?), when I ducked out and celebrated the Great Nasturtium Planting of 2015.  I planted six varieties (about 25 seeds each) in a border:  Tall Trailing Mix and Jewel Mix in the back, where I figure I'll put trellises; Empress of India in tufts where there's really nothing; and Peach Melba, Vesuvius, and Ladybird Nasturtium all in little tufts in the front, because these are the small bushy kind instead of the long lanky vines like the ones in the back.  Since it's raining right now, I guess I really didn't need to soak the seeds overnight.  I hope they all pop right up.  I love nasturtiums and don't get to see them around here. 

Around 5, we all finally went outside, and I cut the spent mesclun mix and the arugula and put them in the composter.  A neat idea:  give Absurdist Child an allowance for turning the composter, which he can easily do, on a daily basis?  Because he's a collector of (Pixar) cars, (Thomas) trains, and (Disney) Planes, he's always chomping at the bit for money or toys, and for the last couple months has been trying to stay up to wish on a star and then wanting to impress the wishing star by doing good deeds (occasionally).  Of course, right now he goes to bed before the sun does, so the whole wishing star thing is pretty tough, not that he goes to sleep.  He's always had a tough time going to sleep, and so far this summer is worse.  Even with blackout curtains, it's hard for him to go to sleep.  Anyway, should I have turning the composter on a daily basis as a chore that he can do to earn money?  I don't like giving kids money for things they should do anyway, and I think everyone should contribute to the "team," but turning the composter seems like something extra enough that he should be able to earn something for it.  What do you think?

Anyway, I got rid of the mesclun mix and the arugula and the sad excuse for radishes and put all that extra soil into the potato barrels.  It was so, so muggy.

It blows my mind how fecund everything is.  You plant a seed, and it comes up.  Yes, I've screwed up some plants, but mostly, they grow.  And grow and grow and grow.  It's amazing.  Where I grew up, it was basically chaparral, almost but not quite a desert.  Scrubby.  And of course near the ocean where some people really had gardens appropriate to the area, you could see how few nutrients got trapped there in that sandy soil, everything moving through it all the time.  Nasturtiums love that.  Here, in the bed, it's packed clay.  In other places, probably near the pond, maybe it's sandy.  But this is not chaparral with the gray-green and brown-green.  Here we have yellow green, spring green, a green so bright it takes you aback, a real pulsing straight green.  It's very different planting in a cleared forest than irrigated chaparral.  It's so easy.  Except, maybe, for the nasturtiums.  We'll see how they do.  They did very well in pots on the balcony at the apartment.  We'll see how they do in this clay.

I did also do some work.  Instead of being able to turn in my Report-I-Always-Turn-In-Late after the quarter is over, I had to get it done a bit earlier because they moved up the date.  But mostly I've been lazy on the work front.  I've gotten student emails and responded to a few, but mostly I need a day off.  And this is it.   

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Gardening End to a Frenetic Week

My week was insane.  I was on campus every day, often long hours.  I also had a couple meetings that generated discussions I found myself embroiled in, in email, text, and face-to-face with others and very much in my own head.  At some points, I was fuming and cursing, luckily to the right person.  I was thinking about these discussions and arguments most of the time, writing about them, etc.  By the end of the week I was in a better place, having realized that I was actually very interested in all this, and I'd like to do some research and get some training so I might as well accept the leadership position in it that I was trying to avoid (because I'm insanely busy already -- if my job were full-time service, okay, but this is ridiculous -- though obviously I love it, love trying to make things better).  The good part about getting really into something that people mostly find annoying is that if you present a good argument you mostly get your way.  

Today I slept in.  I mean I tried.  The menfolk got up (yes, Absurdist Child still comes into our bed most every night), and I tried to sleep beyond that, but it was already 10.  And by 2 or so, I was outside.  Today I cut the peas completely down.  I know it's June and soon they would flower (thought I planted them pretty late), but if I don't get the corn in the ground, I can kiss the three sisters plantings goodbye.   I felt bad doing it but I cut them all down and put some compost on top and planted in one bed the popcorn variety "Smoke Signals" and in the other, the sweet corn standby Golden Bantam Improved.  When they get bigger, I'm to plant the beans and squash around them.  So that's in the works.

I prepared the area and planted the milkweed and butterfly garden seeds as our contribution to monarchs, who we love.  We'll see how that fares.  I am thinking of getting a buddleia butterfly bush at the local nursery, which I haven't been to yet.  And I weeded the flower bed in preparation for tomorrow's nasturtium planting extravaganza.  I have six types I'm going to plant so I found myself loving reading this terrific rundown of different varieties.  Six.  Six different varieties.  Well, this is the same flower bed that had the spectacular surprise red tulips come up and the gorgeous daffodils and dwarf irises and the couple tall irises and gorgeous mounds of muscari.  Lilies are growing and stretching out their buds, but giving nothing away.  Some gorgeous purplish-red callas are coming up, but mostly the place is full of dying-back irises and straggles of this and that and of course it gets mounds of weeds, some that are really neat looking.  Anyway, I want to fill that with nasturtiums.  So they'll be lilies, callas, and nasturtiums.  Not many lilies and not many callas, but a total overload of nasturtiums, which always looks gorgeous anyway with them tumbling around, and I think I'm going to put a trellis behind it so that the Tall Trailing and Empress of India varieties can lounge around on a trellis being gorgeous.  For next year I'll have to think about what to plant for this late spring-early summer time so it won't look so empty and terrible.  Maybe I could plant nasturtiums earlier (officially according to my Zone 5B area only three weeks ago) or plant some other late spring bulb.  I do love my bulbs.

Anyway, I took the day off grading, which of course I still have plenty of.  But the craziness abates for about a week, and then finals come in and everything is madder than ever.  Which means it's almost done too.  I won't be in the classroom again for months!  Three weeks from now, the grading will be gone.  I'm giddy with all that.  Tomorrow:  nasturtium planting and maybe some grading.   

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Working and Overwork: What Is Good and What Is Bad?

So I've been incredibly good about grading lately.  Yesterday I managed to get right to work and do all sorts of things -- not finishing anything, but making very good headway.  Today?  I can't make myself do crap.  I'm super-behind on one facet of my grading, and so I've been trying to just get it done this weekend before I see those students again on Tuesday.  Yesterday, I got four done, which doesn't sound impressive unless I tell you how long I've been putting it off, which, if I did tell you, you'd wonder how I haven't lost my job by now.  Yes, that long.  Today, I've managed two.  And I'm doing a really great job of whining and moaning and bitching about it.

Which leads me to say this:  we reward people for over-work, for insane lacks of work-life balance.  At my institution there is a professor who is lauded because he hasn't taken his regular time off in eons.  A while back we had some leader of something-or-other who came and gave a talk, and he admitted that his success depended on his disengaging with his family.  (It's funny because there is a wonderful piece about how not being grounded by family and friends leads many successful business leaders into thinking they can engage in unethical acts without being noticed.  No one told that leader guy invited to campus, evidently.)  I've been writing about lack of work-life balance for a long time.  Here is a piece I wrote about that ages ago.  And here is my classic piece on the subject, up on my soapbox.    

So here's something important that I need to file away for the future:  working every day is not "being good."  It's denying my students and my work the perspective that comes from being away.  It's more ethical for everyone to take time off (take that guy who doesn't take time off!).  It's also not great for my family or me or the work for me to be sitting here bitching and moaning because I've screwed things up to a point where I have to work everyday.  Bad.  Very bad. 

So, what am I going to do?  I'm going to drink this Earl Grey (second caffeinated beverage of the day:  I'm desperate), and I'm going to work on these 12 more pieces I have, hopefully finishing them but at least getting 6 more done, then I'm going to do some calculations I have to do (gotta love quantitative assessment!  yes, I am kidding) in front of the TV while the sky rains down the buckets we're expecting in a few hours.

Do I have to say that I have not yet been able to schedule the glaucoma tests?  I have an insane week with meetings, classes, committees every day.  But there are only two weeks left.  Then a week of grading.  I.can't.wait.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Update on Several Fronts: Sorry So Random

I finished grading, then had a crazy day yesterday.  So crazy, I cancelled things today and have been taking the day "off," which actually means sending zillions of emails, arranging things according to due dates that are zooming closer, updating my calendar, figuring out where summer conflicts are, yadda yadda yadda.  At least I'm at home.

One of my favorite things lately is to look at the teaching notebook I've kept over Absurdist Child's first homeschooling year and seeing how much he's done.  The most consistent curriculum we've kept has been Life of Fred.  It started at Apples and he's progressed through the B, C, D, E, F books, and now he's on Goldfish.  I love that I can see so much progress.  The vision therapy has really helped his reading.  He reads all the time, but still the print can't be too small, so except for Magic Treehouse, he's still reading bigger-print books. Tonight he insisted on reading Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Yes, at the end of May.  That's my son all over.  What can I say?

Speaking of eyes.  I'm being tested for glaucoma.  I've had three tests so far and the reports are really inconsistent, like the eye that failed the visual field test has a perfect optic nerve while the eye that passed the visual field test has a thin (bad) optic nerve.  So more tests.  She says it's a very slow disease, in any case.  I am a glaucoma "suspect" at this point.  (I watched an Agatha Christie last night on Acorn, which is the coolest thing ever, by the way, if you like British shows, and an innocent suspect was hanged for murder.  Of course, it turned out he colluded with the killer.  I don't want to be a suspect.  I want to live a long, boring, and happy life.)  Sigh.  I'd been keeping myself busy for the last week, determined to not worry about whether I'm going to go blind and not worry about the headache I woke up with today.  I figure I'm getting wiser in this determination not to waste my energy worrying.  They'll be plenty of time later for getting upset about it if I have it.  Still.  When I called early today, they told me I'd have to wait another week, and I started to lose it, but thank God the doctor called me late in the day and told me what there was to know.   More tests.  Uncomfortable tests.  At night in the dark I wonder if this is what it's going to be like one day, just all dark, and I wonder whether I'll feel as vulnerable as I do in the dark, like I'm short of breath and about to be strangled.  That makes for pleasant dreams.

So that's fun background noise to the last half of the quarter.   And I hope one day to get back to work on Big Project, which has languished this quarter after a big push of writing at the end of last quarter.  (It feels like one suffers for this big pushes, but that's probably just my drama-queen monkey mind; really I've just been too busy on every damned committee to the point that catching up on several service projects and sending the right emails and figuring out the right things feels like a frigging vacation.)  Big Project is in an area that is not terribly appreciated at my institution, nor is it what I was hired for, so when Undine pulled out her conference papers are like ball dresses post out of the archive and talked about what's driving your research plan, I stopped and had to think:  what is my research plan?  I went blank.  Big Project and the zillions of projects I'd like to do that are similar feel almost -- not quite forbidden, but just underground, unwanted, not the kind of thing that people around here will feel proud of, work that won't "count" like primary field scholarship would and help me get to full.  But I don't have a research plan beyond Big Project and the one big scholarly project I really should write one day.  My biggest plan is to not go to conferences so much because I hate being away.  (Earnest, stop thinking about yourself trying to get through an airport with dark glasses and a white cane.)  Sometimes I feel like I'm not really an academic because I don't have that excitement about conferences and research, don't have a zillion projects all planned out at different stages of conference paper, article draft, and revise and resubmit.

Then, there's the garden.  Absurdist Partner is doing an amazing job with the house.  Just amazing.  And I'm doing what gardening I can.  So we have two raised beds of garlic I planted last fall that is doing a great job right now.  Then we have two beds of peas that I started too late, and I think I really have to pull out so I can start the beans (I want to do two Three Sisters beds -- that's beans, corn, and squash all growing together -- awesome!), which won't be a waste because peas are so great at fixing nitrogen and making it more bio-available for other plants.  Then we have two half barrels of potatoes.  Two big round bowls of salad -- one mesclun, one arugula.  The radishes I started have, unfortunately, started going to seed in great numbers. Though they are in pots on a covered porch, it's just been too hot for their kind.  I also started broccoli too recently.  I don't know how they are going to go.  I've got a rosemary and a thyme in that bed too.  I have peppers, an eggplant, and celery all waiting to go into the last bed.  And then there are onions and artichokes waiting for a good place, which I don't have yet.  I also want to plant things that will attract butterflies.  And I want to plant nasturtiums every place, which reminds me I need to do something with them tonight if I want to plant them tomorrow, which is seeming like only a remote possibility anyway, so maybe I'll let that go.

The pond is insanely loud at night with frogs.  I believe it's basically a bunch of cat-calling male frogs out there looking for female frogs with low standards.  (Naw, I'm sure they just go all jiggley at the sound.  It's so loud out there, it's insane.)

Somehow, we're managing without an air conditioner.  There clearly used to be one, but it was taken out before we moved in.  (We don't know whether it was the previous owners or before them.)  I had said to AP that we absolutely had to get one, when he was sort of hemming and hawing, and after a particularly hot day, he got a bid.  It was pretty expensive for a conventional central air unit, and so I did a wee bit of research and they are just terrible for the environment.  So I started looking around and found a solar air conditioner and sent the info to AP.  And he's looking at it, and we're trying to figure it out.  But what's really happening is he bought a bunch of fans and somehow we're just dealing, and I'm just getting used to sweating a lot and either it hasn't been so hot that my brain's melted or my brain is getting more hot-tolerant.  Seriously, I grew up in a place where it got 100 degrees a lot and I spent summers reading with the blinds tightly closed in the nice icy central air.  So the idea that I could survive a summer without an air conditioner of any kind is very new.  (Could this possibly last when I'm getting older, and hot flashes may be right around the corner?  Global warming isn't going to help either.)     

Anyway, I thought an update was in order.  I'm sorry for the randomness of the post.