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Friday, January 30, 2015

Writing for students

After spending a number of days reading material to get the "facts" straight in my mind, I decided that today, I needed to take a break from reading and start some writing. I also took a deep, steadying breath and looked at the schedule I submitted with the sabbatical application. Of course, I've not been following it at all: not only have I spent the month mostly enjoying the fact that I'm not having to strap on my body armor and head back into the classroom, I also have been working on the fun bits of my project, instead of starting with the more dry and creaky parts. That's not to say that what I've been working on isn't important: it's crucial to the end result and may, in fact, be more important than the dry and creaky stuff. But one of the things I have to do is to actually be a scholar for a bit: I have to find and read a lot of criticism, make an annotated bibliography of it, and provide students with a slightly pre-digested overview of it.

The stiff stuff arises from my strong sense that students need to be introduced to critical material--and the sooner the better--but that's in conflict with my awareness that the critical material has been written by scholars for scholars, and as such, most of it sails way over students' heads (or at least the heads of the students I'm writing for). I need to acknowledge that for the students, but I also think it's important to point them toward critical ideas they can grasp--and toward the most digestible of the critical essays that are out there.

But it's stiff and creaky partly because it's old territory for me: I've been wading through the criticism with students for years now, or at least the little bits of it that are available through our campus's databases. I also know there's a lot more out there that isn't on those particular databases--largely because it's old and may well be pretty outdated, but it still deserves mention. But that means I have to track it down. I'll do as much as I can online, of course, but I suspect there will come a time when I have to make a trip to the New York Public Library's research branch ("the library with the lions" as I used to tell my students) and wade through the stuff that hasn't been digitized yet.

And I don't work well in libraries. I know that's weird for someone in my profession, but I've never been able to concentrate very well in a library: working in a library feels like trying to dance in a straight jacket to me. Strange, but there it is. And even so, I almost certainly will have to put on the straight jacket and dance as well as I can.

I'm interested to note, too, that when I'm writing, I don't hit the wall as quickly as I do when I'm reading and taking notes. I did have to take a sizable break this afternoon: I tried to simply switch from the sabbatical project to doing some of the reading for the psych course, but my brain simply wasn't going to go there. Instead, I played a few rounds of dopey "match three" computer games and then walked to the grocery store to pick up some supplies for dinner. As I was walking, I started thinking about a completely different section of the sabbatical project that I wanted to work on--and I've just spent about three hours doing that, forgetting completely my decision to set a timer so I'd have to get up and move at least a little every 40 minutes or so. I'm about to get up and move around now--and when I was writing earlier, I moved the computer to the living room table so I could work standing up--but I really do have to be diligent about making myself get up and move or I'll end up frozen in seated position, unable to straighten out.

But getting back to work after my break felt good--and I'm glad I could do it. I was afraid I'd take the break and then be done for the day. I've also been getting started later than I want, my sleep schedule skewed toward a late to bed, late to rise pattern, so, much as I hate the prospect, I think I am going to have to set an alarm for a while, so I can force my body into an earlier pattern--and, I hope, with an earlier wake-up time, I'll have more hours of work in me before my brain splats against the wall and I have to quit for the day.

I'll admit it: this is fun. It isn't easy, but it's fun. I'm having a blast.

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