Archive for January, 2010

The art of racing in the rain

Seems to me that the older I get, the more I recognize that sometimes I just don’t have to deal with things with which, when I was younger, it would have seemed absolutely incumbent upon me to deal:

  1. I don’t have to accept invitations to social events that I don’t want to attend just because there is no apparent reason I can’t go. 
  2. This is true even if there might be some non-recreational reason to go, such as professional networking.  (Of course, there are still things I feel a responsibility to attend.)
  3. I don’t have to argue with people just because I happen not to share their points of view.
  4. I certainly don’t have to try to correct people’s every misunderstanding.
  5. I don’t have to correct every mistake on a student paper, and in fact there are often sharply diminishing returns to doing so.
  6. I don’t have to try to fix every problem of which I become aware.
  7. If the “problem” falls directly into someone else’s area of responsibility, there are times when it’s good to let that person know of the problem, times when it’s appropriate to offer to help fix that problem, and times when the best response is to turn a blind eye to the problem altogether.
  8. People sometimes bring me problems, thinking (or fooling me into thinking) that they want advice or help, but what they really want is someone to listen, and if they don’t recognize that at first, sometimes I can.

I suppose that what all this adds up to is that I am a recovering control freak?

In brief

The meeting went fine, basically, although it did cause me to marvel at how long it’s been since I sat in a meeting quite like that.  We were indeed asked to give a short description of our projects, and I was one of the few who managed to adhere to the short part.  In particular, a professor of French and a professor of history went on and on and on until it became an object of fascination to me to see how long they could possibly continue giving a brief description of a proposed event. 

Then I was patronized by a major gender theorist.  Good times.  (I don’t think this person meant to be patronizing, but it sure sounded that way.  I broke out the nodding and the smiling, figuring that if others in the room who thought I was being condescended to, at least they would notice I have the capacity to be gracious about it.)

Then a meeting that was scheduled for Thursday in my own department got rescheduled, which was kind of a relief and spared me a trip to NLNRU.

We’re going to nominate one of our grad students for a university-wide award, the sort of thing that this program, under its previous leadership (and before I was hired), never used to do.  It was a tiny fiefdom, run by a megalomaniac–okay, I may be a little biased here.  Anyway, we were not so much with the participation in university-wide initiatives.  Obviously, I think it’s better this way, but I do notice that it’s more work.

Gossip from the forest

I have to go to an NLNRU meeting today, which is not unusual; what’s unusual is that this meeting is outside my own department, convened by the faculty committee that plans an event series on campus.  I wrote a preliminary proposal for an event originating with my department, the idea being that the event series would fund it, and then we could have an event that we didn’t have to pay for.  Now we’re one of the dead mice moving along the administrative python, being digested, and the next stage is to go to this meeting and…well, I’m not sure.  Talk about the event?  Answer questions?  Listen to the committee’s advice on how to compose the final proposal?  A combination of the above?  It’s my impression that everyone whose event is in the python is invited, which may mean that there’s no way we can all be asked to perform, but it seems like a good idea, anyway, to prepare to perform if called upon.  Today I’ll also teach for about 2.5 hours, finish crunching my grades, write a few comments for struggling students, write a post for students in my graduate class, and try to find time to comment on a former student’s manuscript.  Somewhere in there I’ll find twenty minutes to dig up the proposal and figure out something to say about it, in case anyone asks.  (I could be doing that now, but maybe you can tell, I’m a little wigged out about the meeting and I needed to write all that down just so that I could go back to breathing like a normal person.)

Supposedly about literature, mostly about grading

The estimable therapydoc listed my blog, in her monthly Back Atcha post of blogs that link to or comment on Everyone Needs Therapy, as being “about literature,” and I felt a twinge of regret that I haven’t written about literature, really, for quite some time.

When I picked the title for the blog, I was thinking about how my love of literature had gotten me into the life I had then, which was about, as I say in my “Blog and I” page, the life of a crazy adjunct.  I think probably the blog is mostly a journal of picking my way through the odd but not unheard-of career path I’m slowly blazing, and of my thought processes and habits about working, managing my time, and living my life in and outside of work.  

(This was my first post. Then I wrote about why I wanted to start blogging and why my husband picked the pseudonym Stubb.  This post about getting an adjunct gig at NCC gives a taste of what my work life was like then–that is, nuts.)

I thought I’d be writing more about what, in my TimeTracker project list, I call “Writing biz”–all the stuff you do as a writer that isn’t writing, like sending work out to magazines, going to readings, giving readings, teaching at conferences, and developing irrational animosities toward other writers.  But I don’t do much of this on the blog.  I think I don’t want to write about it too specifically because I feel sheltered by my anonymity, and if I can’t write about it specifically, the writing biz doesn’t seem very interesting, even to me.  

I do read all the time, yet I don’t often feel driven to post reviews of what I read.  There are lots of reviews around.  Sometimes I just link to good ones. 

However, over winter break I read through the archives of the wonderful mimi smartypants.  Why I never stumbled across her diary before, considering she has been at it for ten years, I do not know.  Mimi reads like a demon and frequently drops titles and brief, idiosyncratic comments on the books she’s read into her blog-that-she-doesn’t-call-a-blog, and now half my library pile consists of books that she has commented on.  I like the casual generosity of her passing along those titles, so I’ll close here (before I go back to the stack of final exams) with a few things I’ve read recently:

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.  The movie comes out in February, and I wanted to read this book about a boy who finds out that the Greek gods are still in the world and that he is a demigod himself.  Very popular among the fourth- to seventh-grade set right now.  Pretty decent–I liked how fully and cleverly imagined the fictional world was, but was irritated by that popular-fiction way the book sometimes seemed to read like a treatment for its own movie. 

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro.  No such shortcuts here, however.  Ishiguro commits to fiction.  The stories are about music, but they are also about art (meaning Art, including the writing of fiction) and the ways it moves in our lives and how artists’ lives are shaped by the pursuit of it.  (I don’t remember whether I wrote about Never Let Me Go a year or two ago.  That is a stunning novel; but sometimes what you want is five thematically related short stories instead.)

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker.  I said to someone at SA a while ago that though my admiration for individual works varied, I would always be interested in a new book by Nicholson Baker.  Maybe I was wrong.  I got this from the library, became intensely irritated, and abandoned it.  And yet one or two of the things that Paul Chowder says about poetry have managed to stay with me.  It was just everything else he said about poetry that made me nuts.  I’ll probably try this one again sometime.

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke.  Another middle-school book.  A better “piece of literature” than The Lightning Thief, for sure–more complex, closer to the heart, more “timeless”–and yet something seemed dead about it, and I fear that it’s the translation.  It is so highly competent that I would forget that it’s a translation, but the prose didn’t seize me, and since I’m a grownup and could see where the narrative was going, I found it very easy to put the book down.

SA’s new semester starts Tuesday, and all the exams have to be graded and semester grades entered by then.  And, of course, new material will be taught!  I’ve already prepped Monday’s classes; in fact, I’ve plotted out the rest of the year in terms of what we read when and what the major assessments are, which is quite an accomplishment for me, since I am not usually a big-picture person.  Now I just have to get through the last 35 exams.  And I won’t have the end of the day on Tuesday to fine-tune the grades, because I need to hurry off after my last class to get to a meeting at NLNRU.  The rest of the week, though, should be pretty straightforward.  (Famous last words.)

A hero ain’t nothin but a sandwich

Oh, TimeTracker.  There’s gonna be a blog post.  Probably a boring one to most of you, but that’s okay, because I’m not ready to write it yet.  Instead–you want boring?–I will tell you what I have eaten this week at school, since as we know, getting fed at SA has been an issue.  

Monday lunch: An assortment of snacks, including dried apricots and lightly salted almonds, and a can of low-sodium V-8.  That’s not enough for lunch, you say?  You are correct.  I am a dummy.  Fortunately, I was leaving early anyway to go to NLNRU, and I got a sandwich around 2.

Tuesday lunch: Sushi ($4.75 for eight California rolls) in a little plastic box from the student store, more dried apricots, more V-8, wasabi-and-soy-sauce-flavored almonds.

Wednesday lunch: Got up five minutes earlier and packed a salmon-salad sandwich on whole-wheat bread and a mini-bag of “cheez curls.”  Snack of microwave popcorn. 

You know what?  I don’t think I’m eating enough during the day.  That could possibly explain the DULL HEADACHE that I’ve had ALL THREE DAYS this week so far.  Geez. 

They’ve been three very busy days, what with getting back to school and getting ready for exams and finishing up grading and various student issues.  I still have 2-3 hours of grading left to do tonight/tomorrow.  Monday and Thursday are NLNRU days, too–no classes yet but administrative stuff to do.  I also spent an hour today meeting with the other teachers of a particular student who is struggling and then almost another hour writing up a summary of our observations (I was nominated to do this, of course, because I’m the English teacher).  I’m glad we did this, but tonight I’m wishing I had had one of those hours for grading instead.

So, simple though it might seem to feed myself, and much as I like food, I do often overlook that I need something to eat, and I end up grouchy and headachy in the middle of the day.  Also, of course, I eat breakfast way early, and so of course I’m hungry before our scheduled lunchtime.  Schoolteachers, like hobbits, need “second breakfast,” as one of my colleagues mentioned today.   Seriously, I should probably just plan for that–screw the snacks, let’s just schedule another meal.

Winter break writing progress

Goal: 50 hours

Progress:

Well, I spent exactly two-thirds as much time writing during winter break as I had challenged myself to do, but 33 hours is a lot more hours than I’d spent on this book manuscript all fall, so I can’t kick.  In fact, I’m delighted.  I enjoyed myself so much, and reconnected with the manuscript so powerfully, that I count the experience a roaring success–especially when I consider all the other things I did during break, and the amount of time I spent with family (both nuclear and extended–did I mention that my sister moved house with two children under 3?). 

Experimentally, I sat down to work for a little while this morning before my usual get-up-to-go-to-work time, and I could feel the day pulling at me as I worked, but I could also feel the momentum of the previous sixteen days pushing on me from the other side, so who knows, I may be able to keep up some forward motion.  Particularly considering that after I hand back the remaining assignments not graded before winter break, I’ll have approximately a week before I have to start grading first-semester exams, with no grading and only a modest amount of prepping.  And then the second semester will start, and there will be a bit of a lull in the SA grading as that gets under way, so perhaps mornings will still be my time for a while, even if not on the order of two hours at a time?

The ground beneath her feet

This morning I had the thought that 6 AM is my writers’ colony.  At least it is when everyone else in the house is asleep.  It’s been wonderful having this time with the book.  I am thinking about trying to preserve this work pattern on the weekends.  Turns out that three hours a day is more than I can really use on this project at this stage; it’s tended to be more between one and two.  Which is good news, I guess, since I don’t usually have three. 

I’m also thinking about applying to go to an actual writers’ colony this summer, probably either MacDowell (deadline is Jan. 15) or Ucross (deadline March 1), since I have missed the Hedgebrook, Millay and Yaddo deadlines.  I know there are good lists of such colonies online; if you’ve had a particularly good experience with one such place, please email or comment.

So Monday approaches.  I’ve got some stuff to do today and Sunday to get ready, but I also have a goal: Not Freaking Out. 

I downloaded another app for the Droid: TimeTracker, which allows you to keep track of the time (duh) that you spend on multiple projects.  I’m not sure yet whether this is a tool, a toy, or an instrument of madness.  I will let you know.