Monday, January 21, 2008

Turning Over a New Winter Leaf

So while people are getting jobs and moving forward into teaching the spring semester, I am also going forward. I'd decided after making a huge egg, turkey bacon, and pancake feast for Absurdist Lover that today was going to be the day that I started considering writing a priority activity -- not something that I maybe get to, but something that is more important than staring off into space and checking email several times a day. I know that in my life I've considered writing a priority activity -- there was that crazed countdown of the dissertation. (I used to be a prolific writer. Of course people used to publish what I write -- and that hasn't happened in a while either. Could it be that specializing in My Field actually paradoxically makes it harder to write? Or is this just an excuse I've been using for a number of years because I'm scared of failure? Or, as Similarly Neurotic/Cool Friend says, I'm afraid of success?) During the dissertation it was painfully and woefully clear to me every day when I woke up that the most important thing I could do all day long was write. I woke up in such a panic that many days I was able to get to it before 5pm.

So after making breakfast I immediately tucked myself in to a spot under the loft at the foot of the bed, Mr. Tabby at my side. What could make me want to write more than being curled up in a tight spot with my laptop? Well, then I checked my email and checked my other email and now there are two students who want letters of recommendation. I'm barely even in academe anymore. One is a bright student from a hard course a number of years ago who says she wants a rec letter for grad school. But I haven't seen or heard from her since that class. So I said she should let me know more about what she's planning on doing. (I admit that part of this is that I just want to make sure that she's really thought this through. If she's already an academic freak, well, there's no thwarting her, but if she's a normal person who just thinks that this is some natural extension of undergrad, well -- I want her to know that grad school is not like undergrad. We don't all find ourselves in grad school because we were such perfect and hardworking undergrads. Some of us were very slapdash about our studies and did extraordinarily well, but only when the subject was something that gripped us. (Of course, here I mean myself.) Grad school is not undergrad with longer books.)

Anyway, you can see how the good idea-or-not-ness (you see what not being in the academy is doing for my language use) of grad school could make me head off course, lured by one of my soapbox sirens. I'm supposed to be working on an article. In fact, writing should be The Thing I Do every day or at least weekdays. The first thing. The most important thing. I can only, likely, work on one writing project at a time (which actually suggests a great deal about how I need to use my time if I'm going to re-enter the academy: if I'm going to write and not go insane feeling I've wasted my life writing narrow academic articles in my field to claw my way to tenure and promotion (not that there is anything wrong with this in theory, but if I do it, I think I'll be mad at myself forever, since the idea was never that academic writing would supplant other public and/or literary writing), I have to make time for writing non-academic pieces -- and it will mean that I will not publish as fast as my academic peers. (It's hard being an ambitious person with too many interests. As an advisor once said to me, I like to have many different projects going at once and then I want to push them all forward at the same time. So they all go slowly. This made sense when I was in Advisor's office. Entering her office was often like entering a very different world from that made me feel like a visitor from a different planet. She offered me coffee from her thermos. I would carefully wash out the coffee mug I would use in the department sink and pad back in her office to set it on her bookshelves noiselessly. Very different from going and visiting other people's offices, with their big desks and the visitor's chairs set meaningfully apart from everything.)) Not publishing as fast as my peers, whether in my field or my backburner field, is a continuing pain in the butt. And I also know I have to sweep all that envy crap away (maybe I need to read Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark again) and write -- whether it's this article I need to write or anything else. I work at my own pace. Perhaps I'm at the crest of a whole new writing jag. That would be nice.

Despite today's delays, I have been reading Book I Should Have Read Months Ago. Academic discourse is a bit overblown and self referential, isn't it? This book is pioneering, so of course there is a heavy lit review from other fields and a tedious repetition of not only the main argument (which is simple enough) but certain collections of sentences. Another book I read that I see cited everywhere but is really not that brilliant or interesting (one of those "taking stock of who is saying what" kind of books) repeats entire paragraphs in multiple chapters. In fields closely allied with notions of good writing and close reading, this must be outlawed. If I'm reading closely, then I notice repeated sentences! I ARRGH!

So I'm going to try to work on reading some more of this book and writing 500 words about/for this article. It's only 2pm. That's not too terrible. (I just had to tell Absurdist Lover that his coming in to the camper every five seconds and talking to me is a wee bit distracting from writing. He was supposed to work for his dad, but apparently his dad is busy trying to collect boxes to ship things in. So instead AL has leveled the camper, fixed two leaks, fixed his car, and is now trying to find something else to do. All that, while I have done nothing but expanded my waistline and procrastinated doing anything of value. If I don't watch it, he's going to try to clean up my clutter. ARRRGH!)

This is Earnest Writer, reporting to you live where Sloth Beast is rising from her inertia to open a document and consider working.

1 comment:

Sisyphus said...

Heh --- ok, when my dad retired, my mom went _nuts_. She was a part-time teacher, off and on, and basically a "homemaker" or very early retired, and she had gotten used to having the house to herself, with her own routines and patterns --- and privacy to think!

So, maybe you'll have to rethink where to write and work, and where AL will work or not work... maybe a coffee place/ library/ sunny rock out in the hills is a better place to write something.