Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Funkified Scholarship

So I've taken Tot to daycare (Montessori is closed for two and a half weeks so he's back at his old daycare where they love him and they're much more flexible about hours, but it's rowdy and crazy -- when I feel badly about him going to Montessori when he's obviously so well loved at the daycare, which is not to say that the Montessori teacher is not charmed by him, and doing okay, I think that they may love him, but my duty is to do the best I can for him -- and I literally couldn't do better than a Montessori school, not if I were the perfect stay-at-home mom, which I am so so SO not). I've watered the plants, taken out some trash, unloaded the dishwasher (which makes me feel better because as the family cook I'm constantly waging a war against dirty dishes). Today's Wednesday, and it's my day to not be on campus. And I'm in a funk.

I'm just so disgusted with politics and government and big business. Our regulatory agencies are staffed by those with significant industry ties to those who profit most from keeping consumers in the dark, no matter which president we have in office. And yet they are in charge of protecting consumers and keeping them safe. Furthermore, corporations have unlimited anonymous power to sway candidate elections with their big bucks. (What does this mean for initiatives and referenda? I don't know.) And when I talk about these issues, I'm the one who sounds nuts. I'm engaged in a project right now to address some of these issues the best way I know how, but even though this is the most exciting thing going on in my life, the more I research, the more I know, the more I get depressed. And it's also a big timesuck, as I evidenced by yesterday when I ended up spending time I should've been working on scholarship talking with someone about related issues and researching and working on the project.

There's also a work-related report that I haven't done that's weighing on me. I definitely find that finishing up some projects and getting them out the door lifts my mood. As does working out, which I definitely want to do today. But what I really want to talk about here is a certain piece of scholarship.

(Can I just say that Absurdist Lover is the most wonderful man in the entire history of the known world? He just sent me a text message saying that I should go somewhere and do something for me. I have tons to do work-wise, but this is quite literally the only time I truly get to myself. When I'm at work, I'm at work and yes, I can close the door, but it's not relaxing. I can veg out, but it's not relaxing. I don't even know what I'd do since we have no money. But maybe he's right. Maybe I need to get out of the house.)

Okay, so there's this chapter I'm writing for an edited collection that now has a publisher (that I'm not at all impressed by, but that's not a particularly significant consideration in this case). I worked hard and pumped a draft of me on this thing last summer. (I taught through the entire summer, so that was no small feat.) I knew when I turned it in that it was not good. But it was a beginning. I didn't get comments for a long time and so focused my scholarly energies elsewhere. I finally got my first set of comments back a couple months ago. They were harsh yet non-directive. So I took it to my multidisciplinary writing group which has a number of people situated much more inside the field than I am. While a couple people really didn't like certain parts of it and everyone agreed that it was very very rough, some others saw what I was trying to do and gave me good comments and direction about what the piece really needed to do in order to be useful. Then I got much more directive comments from the editors that emphasized their interest in it (the earlier comments hadn't) but made suggestions about where to go.

While I had a little spurt of energy on the project and ILL'd books like mad, my interest in the project is at an all-time low. Here's what I think is going on, besides just being in a funk about United States, Inc. and the fact that we're all guinea pigs in a country where Big Business is the bottom line:
  1. The Comments A-Swirling in My Head: The comments from my writing group suggested more focus on practice. Okay, that's not easy, but it should be doable. I understand why. This is the most important single aspect to work on to make the piece do what I want it to do. It takes a lot of time to put that stuff together, and I feel I have to rob some of my other work or do a lot of new stuff in order to do it. It's time-consuming and means really starting over, but I can do it, and I agree that it should be done. The comments from the editors concurred with this. But they also wanted more of a specific kind of analysis that I don't like to do very much, which means a lot of new work, and asked me to do one thing that I absolutely will not do because it means a whole lot more research. I completely respect that it's their collection, and they need my piece to fit in with other pieces. But I'm not sure whether it's that the piece doesn't feel like mine anymore -- the comments taking up more of my mental space than the engagement with the work -- or my lack of interest in doing the things they want me to do, which probably brings us back around to the issue that this piece is not in my field.
  2. I haven't gotten a lot of work done on this lately. It needs to be done in 5 weeks (they'd have liked it at the end of this month, but I'm teaching this summer (boo) so I asked for an extension). Not getting work done on it and barely knowing where to start is enough to be in a funk about this.
  3. The Big Picture, aka Tenure Requirements: As of now, I'm halfway to the university's official tenure-able publication requirements. But this piece is not situated in my field. Now it just so happens that at my institution, I have a lot of flexibility in defining my field the way I want to. While the major field of the collection is not my field, the focus of it certainly is, so much so, in fact, that this and related foci are what my university colleagues outside my field remember about my work (especially when it lines up with their interests, so I've gotten people in the social sciences asking me about my work, which is cool beans indeed). What's more, my particular angle on it is also very much a key research interest for me that anyone would see from looking at my work or even my CV. So within my university, this piece probably does count as a sincere full-fledged publication. But when I think of outside reviewers in my field, well, it's not in my field. A nice outside reviewer will easily see what I'm trying to do, but it doesn't help cement, or even contribute, to my work in my field. And because of that, I see this piece not as useless but as counting as a half publication to my tenure requirements. (I have another half publication that is extremely short and not published in a field journal, so it works out. This and that equal one whole publication.) But probably the prospect of needing to do so much additional work and not getting much out of it (and of course they can still reject it entirely) isn't very motivating.
  4. The work I need to do on this piece -- rewriting the whole thing and doing some new research for it -- is keeping me from working on another big project that requires copious research but is very well situated in my field. (Okay, it's putting two fields together: mine and one is that I have a lot of familiarity with, though not enough at this point to write scholarship in. But it's on a topic that I know very well in my field, and my particular focus is on something that no one has done yet. So with the four or five months that I have for it, I feel much better about that one, though the research is daunting. Plus it counts as a complete publication. It also has a well-respected publisher already. And the editor is completely excited about it. Maybe that's more significant than I realize: I know the editor will help me hone it because Zie is a generous rockstar and very much in love with the topic. Not so with this piece where I know I'm already skating on thin ice.)
(I love blogging because it helps me figure myself out. In my journals, I'm too prone to whining, but here I have to explain it all to someone outside my head and not whine. So I actually get somewhere rather than dwelling in the emotion of it all.)

So the whole context around this piece I'm supposed to be working on is negative. With this revision, I have to prove that this piece is worth including, even while my methods are not the field's methods. I'm sure it's occurred to you that I'm thinking of just hanging it up completely. But I hate to do that. It wouldn't exactly hurt me because these people are not in my field, though, yes, the academic world is small. But giving up can be a hard habit to break. (Who am I quoting? I can't remember.) If you have managed to make it this far and have an opinion on this, please please please leave it in comments.

I do think it's difficult to write to a resistant audience. That's what this feels like to me. I need to imagine that I'm writing it to someone who is receptive to the ideas. I know this won't lead me to exquisite argumentation, but right now I need a strategy for getting words down on the page. (I do freewrite on the damn thing, but I've got zero usable pages right now.)

Part of me really wants to not deal with it at all today but take the day off for a little EE time. Though perhaps not working on it will lead me to feeling worse about it later. It's difficult to know. I have no idea what I'd do -- probably work out and. . .oh dear lord, I don't know. Cook? Repot my plants? I should do that report, but that's not relaxing. Take a nap? Get outside? Oy vey. What is it that makes me happy and hopeful again? Organic agriculture, lovely food, farmy stuff, being outside. Good books. (Oh yeah, I'm sad also that I haven't been writing -- not scholarship, but the real stuff. Of course, this is old news. Maybe I'm just in a funk, a physical funk, and looking for mental reasons for it. Maybe I just need to snap out of it, work out, take a shower, and find something lovely to do. Go EE! Get off your lazy butt!)


Sisyphus said...

Sometimes it helps me to pick out one thing to fix and just focus on that with tunnel vision --- like rewrite one paragraph or add in links to one source throughout the article --- then I can just ignore all the doubts and worries and feelings of overwhelmedness.

Can you keep and rewrite any of the paragraphs? That sounds doable. One paragraph. Should still leave time for a workout and a nap.

feMOMhist said...

I'm halfway to the university's official tenure-able publication requirements.

WOW that is FAB that they make the reqs so transparent. We at TTLAC spent a LOT of time tea leaf reading.

Shame on the editor of your collection for offering harsh AND non-specific comments. Brutally honest and pointed may hurt, but at least it is constructive. Here's hoping you find a way through