08 June 2011

A mediocre day

I've been waking up before my alarm goes off, around 5:30, so last night I didn't set it. Whoops. I slept till almost 7:00. My plans also changed in that I decided last night not to go to school today but to put that trip off till Thursday (weather, cats, Sir John's schedule all figured into this decision). I don't adapt well to changes in plans, so maybe these two differences made it harder to stick to my usual routine today, on top of being done with the rough translation of my sample thousand lines (no point in going on with that, for now, though I could have either started with reading further or with polishing what I have).

Instead, I spent my work time today reading (skimming) various books and articles that I have around my study, looking to see what anyone has had to say about the topic I was working on yesterday. I also did a JSTOR search and downloaded three PDFs. They each have something relevant but not threatening. Many of the items I have looked at have similar tit-bits, useful for a quotation or a ritual footnote, but not something that steals my thunder. I have a few more books at home to look at, and I want to collect a few more from the library, but I'm feeling hopeful that my article in progress will contribute to another conversation about the author I'm studying.

All together, I have about 600 new words from today: all belonging to other people, which is why I'm calling this a mediocre day. Mediocre is fine; it's still forward progress, though I'll probably end up using only a fraction of today's words in the essay. And I worked during my scheduled work period, though with a late start, some longer-than-usual breaks, and a later end point. So I'm sticking to the plan in that way. I wish I had broken off at some point to work on the translation, or on the conference paper, but at the same time, I greatly enjoy the luxury of being able to spend a long time on a single task like this, being able to chase down ideas without losing the thread. That is something I'm rarely able to do while I'm teaching.

Reflections on this article-in-progress: despite an auditor's request, last year, that I submit a tidied-up version to a journal on whose editorial board he serves, I am glad that I'm taking the time to expand it to what I want it to be. I don't want to let it expand indefinitely, but I do want to do my "right" version of it, not my quicker-and-dirtier conference-paper version. I did expect the process to be shorter and easier than it is proving, but even though I'm still kind of in-the-middle-of-a-mess, with stints of outlining alternating with stints of free-writing and note-taking, I can see the pony starting to take shape under the heap of manure. I can see that there's progress, and I'm interested in what will happen as I continue my work.

A few years ago, I would have seen yesterday's insight as a suitable paper in itself, perhaps for a conference paper, perhaps a note somewhere. And that would not have been a bad thing, but I think making it part of a bigger argument is a better thing. I'm learning to be not just a better writer, but, I hope, a better thinker, and that is deeply satisfying. This is why I have workaholic tendencies, and am not very good about "real vacations," and have trouble explaining to non-academic friends why I don't want to take advantage of my "time off": this work is more "fun," for me, than most of what other people understand as "fun." I mean, if you offered me a good hike followed by a hot tub and a Bellini, I'd be there, but since there's nothing I consider good hiking within several hundred miles of here, I'm really happy to get up at the crack of dawn and surround myself with books and papers for hours. It's way better than going to a stupid movie or an over-loud party full of people I don't know who want to talk about what was on TV last night.

One of the key elements in what makes it fun is the time I have for it, since I'm not grading, not meeting classes, not showing up for committee meetings or reading piles of stuff to prepare for said meetings. Trying to do research in little snippets of time among other responsibilities is much more stressful, and I find it hard to shift gears from one thing to a very different kind of thing. Along with learning to be a better writer and thinker, I'm learning what kinds of work I can do in difference circumstances. This is along the lines of advice that Tenured Radical says she got from Paul Fussell: if what you can do is read, then read. If you have a day that can be spent on skimming the critical literature on a new topic, then do that. It's actually easier for me to spend 15-30 minutes between classes generating some prose on an interesting question I hope to answer in a conference paper than it is to read in that sort of a time slot. The work I achieved today would have taken me a week in term time.

Anyway, tomorrow I really do have to go to campus and take care of a lot of bureaucratic things, along with a raid on the library, and some teaching-related things like recommendation letters that I could do at home but hope I can get done at school. I'm still going to get up early and do my 6-8 a.m. stint, starting with translation-polishing, I think. Then Friday I'll be back to my usual routine, and I'll have to think about how to leave work wrapped up in such a way that just a couple of hours a day will suffice over the weekend. I actually don't like taking weekends completely off. One day, maybe; more than that, and I lose too many threads.

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