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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Well, it was worth a shot...

In an attempt to address the "I gotta get outta here" factor I was talking about yesterday, today I decided to try out a different coffee place, even if it meant I got less work done. Which it did: it seemed to take forever to get there, and once I did, I very quickly realized this wasn't going to be a go-to option for me. I will confess that the GF cheesecake was spectacular, but the last thing on this earth I need is to eat cheesecake--and the coffee was the sadly typical, Starbucks-influenced burned/bitter brew that seems virtually inescapable these days. Plus, the place smelled faintly of patchouli incense, which is a smell I find nauseating, so all in all, I'd say I'm glad I tried it, because now I know I never have to go back.

I did get a little work done, but when I got home, I found myself scrounging around to find alternative places to work in Manhattan: I've developed this wild fantasy that I'm going to go into the city, settle in to work somewhere, and then go to a dance class--maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday... Thursday, I have an actual appointment in the City, then am meeting friend and office-mate William for convivializing--and yes, there's another dance option that evening as well.

I know heading into the City is unlikely to become a part of the regular routine, but I would like to find a class that I like well enough that I think I can commit to it even when I am back in the classroom. It's good for me to be a student as often as possible, so I can feel stupid and frustrated and keep my empathy tanks topped up.

Whatever I end up doing tomorrow, I do want to put the work foremost, so I'll only head into the city if I can get up and out of here early enough. (I also realize I have to stop having coffee in the afternoon: gee, Prof. P, ever wonder why you have a hard time getting to bed early?) I find I'm highly tempted to embark on more work now, but if I do, I'll have to overcome my own wound-upness in addition to caffeine in order to get to bed, so I'm signing off for now. It's time to start letting the turbines stop spinning--and that takes a long, long time.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Late start, don't want to stop

I slept much later than I intended today, but as I'm still in my "I refuse to set an alarm unless absolutely necessary" frame of mind, I just sleep as long as I sleep--and that means that some days I don't get rolling as soon as I'd ideally like. I didn't much want to work at home either: I'm getting a sort of town-wide version of cabin fever: even going to the various coffee places or the library isn't giving me enough variety, and I'd planned to try to find a different location today, but with the late start, I decided not to take the time. So, I've been doing the timer routine. It annoys me no end that the damned thing goes off just when I'm in the middle of a sentence or thought (this is why, when I'm at the library, I don't move for hours on end: when am I not in the middle of a sentence or thought?)--but I know it is important to get up and move around as much as I can. Otherwise, I'll freeze in "sitting in chair at computer" position and be unable to move at all.

I was mostly working on the glossary and pronunciation guide, but there were a few moments when I thought, "Wait, didn't I say something about that somewhere else?" and when the answer was yes, I had to figure out which place made more sense as the primary spot, and where I could simply cross-reference (as in "see the chapter 'The Science of Science Fiction'").

I should note that I haven't actually started going through the book yet: I'm still working on the parts of the glossary that I had noodled around with in the past, as preparatory work in hope of this sabbatical. Today I finally got through that material: there wasn't really that much, but I keep changing my mind about how I want to do things, and once I make a decision, I have to comb back through everything I've done to make it consistent. But I finally got through all the material I'd already put down, and now I can start working through the book, carefully, chapter by chapter.

I'm on the fence about whether to continue that way now or whether to shift back to other parts of the book. I have one last (I think last) bit of critical material to read and add to the bibliography, and I really do have to face the socio-historical context again at some point. Maybe, since I've given myself a treat for a while (including the weekend off from work entirely), I should do at least a little of the more frustrating stuff, try to get it out from under my feet so I can sail off on the fun stuff again, free and clear (or as free and clear as it gets coming up with a first draft. Revision yet awaits--and I need another sabbatical or two just for that, if past practice is any guide.)

Right now, I have a stack of books at my feet: style manuals (Chicago and MLA), books of Le Guin's essays, one book of short stories that has helpful stuff in the introduction, the novel itself. I need to pile it all carefully on the living room table, in such a way that my daffy little calico cat doesn't feel compelled to put tooth marks in the covers. I'd wish for a study with a door I can close, or a studio space in the back yard, to keep my work free of cat participation--but I rather like having a cat in the room with me as I work. If the price I pay is the occasional chomped book cover, well, there are certainly worse things.

I wouldn't stop now, but I have an appointment this evening that I have to keep, and I need some time to get ready for it. This is a great feeling: the sense of wanting more work, more time at it, instead of that horrid feeling of "how much more of this do I have to endure before I can quit in good conscience?" I am so unbelievably, incredibly blessed to have this time to do this work this way. Thanks and praise, thanks and praise.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Oh, the difference between today and yesterday!

I got another late start today--long story which (unusually) I won't get into--but I realized that working on the socio-historical chapter was kicking up the "I'm stupid and I don't know what I'm doing" road blocks, so rather than trying to simply knock them down and continue, I decided to take a detour and spent today working on the glossary and pronunciation guide. And I'm finding it very difficult to make myself stop. I have errands I must run today (life maintenance that I've been putting off too long), so I really can't just keep going and going, but I'm happy as the proverbial clam. Happier, because, let's face it, clams are happy because they have no brains, and I'm happy because I'm having a blast using mine.

I'm also having a blast corresponding with Le Guin. I asked her if she minded that I reposted one of her blog entries on my Facebook page, and if she would mind if I gave the link to a different post to our Women's Studies coordinator. (The post on my FB page was about personal anger; the one for Women's Studies is about feminist anger.) We had a lovely little back and forth about that, about cats, about where Genly is from....

One of the things I particularly admire about her as an author is that she is so willing to let readers take over control of a book once it's published. She's got strong feelings about a few pronunciations--and she has very strong feelings about the fact that many of her characters are specifically described as not looking Anglo-Saxon, a description that is often ignored in cover art and film/TV adaptations--but she says that she figures readers should pretty much be allowed to pronounce things how they want. Also, when I checked in about where Genly is from (the novel says "Borland," which doesn't exist on Earth--at least not now), she said that her assumption had been like mine, that it was in southern Africa (Borland/Boerland), but some people assumed it was Portland--and that she really didn't care either way. All she cared about was, if I say he's from southern Africa, that he not talk with an Afrikaans accent. (No worry there: I assume he sounds like a younger, tenor-range Nelson Mandela.)

Oh, what a grand day. The only thing that I regret is, because I'm working at the library, I've been sitting in this chair, not moving, for almost four hours: not good for the body, but wandering about just to stretch out my legs isn't so easy here, with all my stuff spread out in the corner of the table that I've claimed. All the more reason to stop and get out to do those errands.

And I know that eventually, I'll have built my confidence up enough to head back into the socio-historical stuff and that I'll do fine with it when I do. I have to remember that I don't need to impress historians with what I know: I just need to provide enough to give students a handle on the '60s. (No mastodons. No chiseling runes into rocks.)

I have some life-maintenance stuff going on tomorrow morning into the early afternoon, too, so I don't know for sure when I'll get back to work, but now I really really want to get back to work. This is fun, dammit. I'm enjoying myself.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Packing it in

I've hardly worked at all today, but I'm in some sort of mood that I can't quite identify, so I can't seem to figure out what to do or how or where... so I'm packing it in for the day. I can't even figure out if I want to take care of some life maintenance or if this is a hide-under-the-sofa day, but it's feeling rather like the latter option is going to win. I'm not sure if this resistance is because working on the socio-historical section is making me feel stupid (history is complicated, folks, especially trying to explain the Cold War and Vietnam to students who don't really believe that anything that happened prior to 1990 matters)--or if there is some other resistance going on, but I feel as if I've fought as much as I can for one day.

But I will say--may have said, will probably say again--that one of the unexpected blessings of this sabbatical time is the ability to spend some time with myself, being introspective, in ways that I usually can't (or, maybe more accurately, don't). Work is a wonderful narcotic: it's very handy to be able to say to any personal issue that's begging for attention, "Oh, I can't deal with that now: I have to..." do committee work, grade papers, create/adjust assignments, anything but sit quietly and listen to my inner workings. It is interesting to go this long without that particular drug; maybe I'm going through withdrawal?

Anyway, that's the best I've got for today. We'll see how that wonderful thing called "tomorrow" goes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

They can't all be good days...

Today wasn't a bad day, exactly. I just got a late start because I was futzing around with life-maintenance stuff and campus stuff, so I only got about two and a half hours of work in at the coffee cafe and was already brushing up against the wall. After walking home from the coffee place, it's quite clear that I have no more work in me for today. Yesterday I didn't work at all: I was headachy and tired all day, so I spent much of the day on the sofa, reading popcorn  novels and, I confess, taking a monster nap. (Actually, that was also part of today's late start: I napped late, so I didn't get to sleep until the wee hours of the morning, slept late to compensate: the disrupted sleep pattern domino effect.)

Even when I was at the coffee cafe, I spent the first bit of my time there working on my biennial "year end evaluation" form. This is a contractual requirement. Non-tenured faculty have to do one every year, in addition to providing a Professional Development Plan (a five-year plan: one of our interviewees last summer was very funny when we asked him about his five-year plan: "I'm going to collectivize the farms: it'll work this time..."). Those of us who are tenured just have to demonstrate that we're being professionally active, and every other year, we have to fill in the stupid form. (I am aware that a number of my readers know all too well what I'm talking about; bear with me while I explain to those who don't.) The main thing is that we have to demonstrate that we've been to at least two "professional development" events each year--another contractual mandate. Most of us have done more than that, but being on P&B, I've seen some people try to say that attending a play or watching a movie is "professional development." William was rather funny about that, when we tried to explain why merely attending a performance would not count but attending a lecture about a performance would: he said, "So the real issue seems to be whether you enjoyed yourself or not."

Enjoyment (or lack thereof) aside, essentially all I had to do was raid portions of my promotion application--but doing that set off all my fears about my chances at promotion. Again. Walking home, I was thinking, "I'm sure I won't get it. There's no way I'll get it. I haven't done enough." Cue the sad orchestral music and a close-up shot of me brushing away a tear, then putting on a face of courage and determination....

Oh, not really, but I am nervous about the wretched promotion, and this year-end evaluation process just brings that all up to the surface. Damn and blast and hell.

On a completely different note, as I'm working on the "socio-historical context" chapter, I find I keep adding notes to myself: "look this up"; "check this"; "find out more." In some cases I probably don't need to find more, but I'd rather do too much and have to dial back than to find myself in the position of having to stretch something out.

Nothing else of note for the day. Tomorrow will be whatever tomorrow is (apart from being another day and all that).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Posting from the library

I've hit the wall for today; I've had a stiff neck all day (no jokes about that being metaphorically apt, please); I've just begun to feel the early signs of a headache, and I still have a fair amount of walking around to do, finishing my loop of work/errands in town for the day, so I figure that by the time I get home, I won't be in a good frame of mind for looking back on the day.

I must say, it does feel good to have finished the review of critical material--unless or until those other sources come in from interlibrary loan. It did occur to me to see whether the local library, where I now sit, has the book I've requested, but no--which is actually a relief.

And I have been sitting here, starting my charge up the hill of the socio-historical context chapter. I carefully went to the shelves and pulled out some books about the '60s for reference: I did live through those years, but I was very young, so I figure there are aspects of what the experience of the '60s would have been like for an adult that I should check against some kind of sources. I'm not turning up anything yet that strikes me as something I need to include beyond my own basic understanding of what mattered--and particularly what mattered in terms of the novel--but there are a few books I want to look at a little more closely. I also imagine I'll engage in the highly sophisticated and arcane research technique known as "look it up on Wikipedia." Enh, good enough. I'm not writing a historical text, after all: I'm just providing some context for students who consider the 1960s pretty much indistinguishable from the 1860s; for them, it's all just ancient history.

I actually make some minor jokes about that in what I'm writing--which may or may not make the final cut. Ditto my acknowledgement that I was around during that time. I know I seem older than Methuselah to my students but the fact that the things I'm talking about took place within the living memory of someone who didn't come out of Tales from the Crypt can help them consider that the history wasn't all that ancient--and I can assure them that, in some ways, plus รงa change, c'est toujours le meme chose.

The same might be said of my blog posts. But I digress.

As I'm mentally combing through the novel and significant events of the '60s, I keep thinking "Oh, yeah, and I should mention that, too"--and then losing what I thought I'd mention. (Note to self: write shit down.) But I trust that eventually whatever it is will drift back to the surface--if it really was important. And, thinking of now versus the 1960s, let me here note how thrilled to bits I am to be writing the thing on a computer--even an antiquated one--instead of having to produce it on an old manual typewriter. I can go back and add things as they occur to me: I can change stuff, move it around, cut it (and save it elsewhere: never, ever throw something away until you know you've finished the project and sometimes not even then), add stuff in. It's bliss. I almost wish I could get a room full of old Royal typewriters and make my students write at least one version of their papers that way--and do a revision that way, too (making "cut" and "paste" return to their original meanings)--so they'll appreciate how easy it is to rework material on a computer.


It's just nice to have moved on to something else: this feels like progress. I don't even care how many pages I managed to squeeze out; it's just nice that I've finished at least the first pass on something. In fact, I may have finished the first pass on several things: once I get through the context chapter, I think I'll print out what I've got and start reading it over, revising on paper: a step I truly need. But even as I start doing that, I've promised myself that, as of April 1, I can turn my attention to the novel itself. I'm sure I'll continue the process as it's worked so far: main focus on one thing but periodic jaunts through other sections as ideas jump out. Working through the novel will mean working on two sections at once: the themes part and the glossary and pronunciation guide. (Did I mention that I ran across a bit in Le Guin's web page in which I learned, to my chagrin, that I've been mispronouncing one of the protagonists' name since I first read the book? I'm mentally practicing the correct pronunciation every time I write the name: Genly, with the G as in "get.")

But this is it for today. Nothing to add to the blog post, just strapping on my pack and hiking off to finish up errands and hike on home. A good day.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The little engine that couldn't

First, to give a brief overview of yesterday: I did not, in fact, have to shovel (though I did have to push quite a bit of snow off my car): the pavements were warm enough that the snow was pretty well gone by the time I was getting out the door. On the other hand, I went to yoga class, so my "work day" didn't start until about 1. I made several transitions: parked behind the bookstore/cafe, the Dolphin; walked back up the street to Dunkin Donuts for coffee, walked back toward the Dolphin but went into the library to work for a while; transitioned again to the Dolphin to meet former student/cat sitter/surrogate niece Naomi. She showed up at about 4:30, so that was the end of the day--and despite all the moving around (or possibly even because of it), it felt like a pretty good day.

This morning, the downstairs neighbors turned their music on full blast--at 7:12 a.m. Woke me out of a profound and delicious sleep and launched me immediately into pissed off. I went down the stairs and pounded on their door; they lowered the volume, and I tried to get back to sleep but realized very rapidly that I was far too awake by that point. So I got working today much earlier than usual, despite a leisurely start, and was working cheerfully along when, at about 1 p.m., BOOM BOOM CHICKA-BOOM BOOM BACHATA BACHATA blaring up from downstairs. I tried to keep reading but was way too distracted by skirting the edges of pissed off, so I thought, OK, I'll take a walk and hope either they've stopped by the time I get back or that I can breathe through the irritation and focus on working...

...because I only have one more critical article to do. One. ONE. Yet, when I got home from my walk, I realized I just wasn't going to be able to do it. My brains have decided to jettison any work-related skills, at least temporarily, and to have a longing to play computer game or watch cat videos or something.

And, I have to remind myself that there is still the possibility that a few more critical pieces will show up through interlibrary loan. But in terms of what I have in hand at present, I'm that close to done. Which means I can surely finish up tomorrow--and turn my attention to the only other faintly icky chapter I have to write (socio-historical context: booooor-ing). But as I said to Naomi last night, I'm rather enjoying this process of circling around the novel itself, drawing gradually closer to when I get to dive in, boots and all, and work my way through that delicious text in meticulous detail. I can't wait.

I have to say, it was somewhat chilly today, especially when the breeze kicked up, but it is gloriously sunny and I can walk around in my sneakers: I don't have to wear snow boots. I'm glad I walked and took advantage of the blessing from the weather gods.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"We are experience slight turbulence"

That's actually overstating the case a bit, but it did feel like a somewhat bumpy day. Of course, in the spites of life, it makes perfect sense that yesterday, when I felt crappy and stayed holed up at home, was brilliant sunshiny and relatively warm; today, when I was firmly determined to get out of the house, it was much colder--and was just starting to snow as I headed out to Coffeed (the more cozy of the two local cafes, the one not attached to a bookstore). Still, off I trundled, back-pack loaded with antiquated (read: heavy) laptop and the book of critical material I'm bushwhacking my way through. I got myself settled--and realized that, although there were at least four moments prior to leaving the house when I thought "I have to remember to put my computer glasses in the pack," I had not, in fact, put my computer glasses in my pack. In the old days, I'd have been able to get along just fine without, but, alas, I now am truly uncomfortable trying to read for any length of time without some kind of magnification.

What to do, what to do? Answer, ask the guy sitting next to me to keep an eye on my pack and computer and dash across the street to a little local drug store that, yes, carried reading glasses. At first it looked as if I was going to have to get frames that would look fine in a clown act but not quite as professorial and dignified as I'd like, but eventually I found reasonable frames holding reasonable strength of magnification--and now I have a pair of glasses that can simply live in my pack. This makes, um, five pairs of reading glasses in my life--no, wait, six. I can either have a pair of glasses in anything I might carry with me and in every location where I might work, or I can succumb to the cliche entirely and start wearing my glasses on a chain around my neck. But I've drawn a line there: long skirts, long grey hair in a braid (sometimes even in a bun), live alone with more than one cat, teach composition--but I will not wear my glasses on a chain around my neck.

OK, so, that little problem solved, I returned to the cafe, settled in to work--and periodically looked up to see how the snow storm was progressing. I started hearing the cafe workers saying that they were going to close early, so everyone could get home before the roads got bad, so I figured I'd leave early, too, and continue working at the library. (That plan had the advantage of getting me away from the completely torturous aroma of baking goodies.) Trundle, trundle down to the library, trying not to leave clumps of snow all around the computer table, then another relatively good whack of work--until I saw that the snow was getting pretty determined itself and thought I'd better walk home before walking became too problematic. by the time I was home, I could do a fair to middling yeti impersonation--and am now happily winding up the day as the snow continues to fall.

I don't know what tomorrow will be like. I have a late afternoon social engagement, but the shoveling issue will have to be addressed in the morning, and I have no idea how those two things may interfere with the work. But I can see the light at the end of the "annotating critical essays" tunnel--and no, it's not the headlights of an oncoming train, I don't think. So, excelsior, or some such thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

yet another small-scale miracle

I've not been feeling well today, and I was very tempted to set work aside and read for my own amusement, not to accomplish anything academic (or even requiring much in the way of intelligence). But I thought, "Oh, you'll feel happier if you do at least a little work"--and I did.

I finished all the critical material I have downloaded.

Now, before we get hasty and start the wild celebrations, let me note that I still have eight articles in print (in a book I own) and two articles and one book that I'm hoping to receive by interlibrary loan--but I can see the light at the end of this particular tunnel.

This is fortunate, because this morning I'm feeling antsy about running out of time: I know that once I turn my attention to the novel itself, I still have mountains to move--not to mention a lot more work on the various bits I've been working on sporadically to this point, and one significant chapter that I haven't begun to address. (Socio-historical context. Blech.) But if I can whack out the rest of the critical material before the end of next week--and I may even be able to do it faster than that--then I can move on to other things.

I realize, too, that I'm doing a pretty good job of letting go of each day once it's over: If I didn't get enough work done yesterday, oh well. All I need to focus on is whether I feel OK about today. And I do feel OK about today, because anything is better than the nothing I originally anticipated.

Full confession, though: I might have gotten even more done if I hadn't suddenly thought, "Oh, yeah, I should mention Le Guin's web site somewhere," and then I visited it, and started reading her posts about her cat and politics and the state of publishing... and oops: the siren call of distraction. But she is such a terrific writer, and thinker, and I love her humor, which sometimes is manifest even when she's being most fierce.

In any event, the ooky feeling I've been fighting all day is still with me, so at this point, I am going to revert to my original plan and lie down to vegetate. Tomorrow I'll be working at the coffee cafe again, assuming the ooks go away by then (and I assume they will). It was lovely to spend a day home today. It will be lovely to spend a day not home tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Not bad, despite a minor setback

OK, so the long story (because god forbid I should give you the Cliffs Notes version): About a year ago, I decided to try out the "pro" version of Adobe, because it allows me to do things like combine scans into one document and fill out forms on the computer. I pay a monthly fee, and usually I'm not even aware of when I have to renew the license, but today, I was working on a PDF of a critical essay, and at first I got a couple of warning messages that my "free trial" was about to expire--and then suddenly the PDF simply closed itself, and I couldn't open any Adobe file without renewing my subscription. I tried to do that on the WiFi network of the coffee place where I was sitting, but I've been unable to connect to their network (very possibly because of the antiquity of my laptop). So, there I was with about an hour and a half to go before I met Paul for dinner, unable to complete the annotation I was working on.

Pause for frustration.

Well, that being the case, let's see what else I can do. So, I looked at some of what I'd already written, and noodled around with some of that material. In particular, I started working on my own critical essay about one theme that is widely recognized as one of the primary themes of the novel (even Le Guin says so) and yet has received almost no critical attention. In everything I've looked at, only one critic takes it on at all, and although she does talk about it beautifully, it's still only a portion of her overall argument about a different theme entirely.

I realized, as I started, that I was trying to do two things at once, and I probably need to try to separate them out. On the one hand, I was trying to explain to students how one gets from a theme to a thesis. ("One theme in the novel is loyalty and betrayal" isn't a thesis: it's a statement of fact.) On the other hand, I wanted to put on my academic regalia and write like a scholar. It was rather amusing to note that what I was doing in teaching mode was what Paul calls "throat clearing": the vague noises we make while we're trying to figure out what we're really going to say. What is my thesis? Took me a while to locate something that would at least point my argument in some specific direction. I know it will change--and I wonder if it would be of any benefit at all for me to use the "track changes" function and publish that, so students can see what it looks like to slave over a piece of writing. I know I'm not producing a writing guide, but part of what I'm doing is intended to make it possible for students to write papers about the book, so writing guide (and reading guide) stuff keeps sneaking in.

But thinking of writing guides--and college success guides--it was great to talk with Paul about the pages of his work that he shared with me. We really do serve as wonderful sounding boards for each other: we're enough alike to get each others' point of view, and we're different enough to sometimes hand the other the missing bit we've been looking for. So, I'm about to send him some of what I've got: he may find ideas in my stuff that he'd like to raid--and I already saw ideas in what he has that I want....

But now, it's late, and I'm getting too wound up, so I need to get serious about winding down so I'm not still noodling around on the computer at 3 a.m. After all, I have now renewed my subscription to Adobe, so I've got a day of work cut out for me tomorrow....

Monday, March 16, 2015

Well, poop.

Feels like a pretty wasted day, even though I've kinda done stuff. I started the day with another go-round on the article for my Portuguese friend: turns out I'd carefully edited an old version. My friend's collaborator gently let me know that I had, and she was willing to try to compare my notes across versions, but I actually was interested in seeing the revised version--and I didn't want to hold them up waiting for it, so I figured I'd get it done first thing. That's also part of the "getting my feet clear" impulse that often ends up getting me into trouble, but I do think my feet are clear of that, and, as with the last time, it was rather nice to nitz around with someone else's product instead of my own.

I did get one article annotated; I'm finding that it's much more difficult to do the ones for which I have only an electronic copy, as I have to keep going back and forth between files to find references or to quote accurately. And that particular article had stopped me dead in my tracks twice before: Interesting argument but dense and difficult to follow (which is what I said in my annotation).

I'm now on campus: I came here to interview a possible alternative cat sitter. She was late (got her schedule confused), so while I was waiting for her I started the augean task of cleaning off my desk (and along the way discovered that my file drawers are so packed I can't put some things away, so additional purging is required). Then Paul turned up: best part of my day, of course, talking with Paul.

And in a few minutes here, I'm going to tromp over to the library, return some books and make some copies of a rather fascinating debate among scholars about the ideas in one guy's book. Two scholars take on the whole book, and Le Guin herself takes on the part of the book that addresses The Left Hand of Darkness--and his rebuttal to her response is also included. I have to say, my annotation of his piece on Left Hand leaves no doubt but what I think the guy is full of shit and his argument full of holes--but that's kind of fun, actually: I can point out to students where he's trying to make a point without providing specific evidence to support it. "Dear Students: Use this as a model of what not to do." I provided the same overall caveat for another article that I worked on a few days ago; in that case, the authors were so busy following their thesis, they ignored evidence that clearly proved their thesis was invalid.

I know students are unlikely to get as much of a charge out of that as I do, but man it's fun to point to the holes in someone else's argument--and even more fun to watch scholars in the verbal equivalent of fisticuffs.

But that trip to the library will be the end of my work day, I'm sure. Rather than engaging in the repetitive cycle of "I didn't get enough done" whining, I prefer to consider this another good, productive fallow day and look forward to, well, another day. Tomorrow. That one.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Setting them up, knocking them down

Hey, I think I actually feel like I got enough done today. This may be simply because I've lowered my expectations of what "enough" is, but it may also be because I spent a little longer working productively: about five hours instead of four--and the day may come when I manage to work six hours before I hit the wall.

I have a feeling a few days of allowing my brain to go fallow also helped. I honestly can't remember whether I spent one or two days doing essentially nothing, but I know I spent yesterday mostly working on stuff for/from other people: I proofread the poetry for our literary journal; I provided feedback on about the fourth go-round of revisions on an article by my Portuguese friend and her colleagues (very cool stuff, looking at the connection between actual wolf populations in Portugal and how wolves are depicted in Portuguese literature: she's a biologist by training, looking at literature, for a journal about anthropology: triple fusion of disciplines)--and I took a look at some material Paul had given me when we met for dinner the other night. It was wonderfully refreshing to get out of my own head for a while. Even though I'm reading all sorts of critical material, I'm still doing the synthesizing and writing, and it was great to step back and observe others doing that heavy lifting.

Today was also an experiment in yet another rhythm for the work: I had coffee at Dunkin Donuts (I like their coffee better than anyone else's in town), and I was surprised that I actually got caught up in the work there, kept working long after my extra-large coffee was finished. However, once I got to a good place to pause, I went to the town library to keep working.

That is something I never thought I'd say. As long as I can remember, I have had a real problem with working in libraries. When I was researching for my dissertation, I did have to spend a significant amount of time in the New York Public Library, the research branch (the "library with the lions"), and since that is not a circulating collection, I had to sit there and work my way through my stacks of requested materials--but I usually ended up making mountains of photocopies so I could take the material home with me and read it there. And that was the only time--prior to today--that I've actually spent time in a library, working. My usual MO has been to run in, grab the material I need, check it out, and disappear with it into the bat cave. I only spent those hours in the NYPL because it was the only way I could get my mitts on a lot of the material.

But today, for some reason, I thought I'd give it a whirl. The town library here is lovely: spacious, sunny, nice wooden tables and comfortable chairs, lots of outlets (electronic devices, for the charging of)--even a teeny tiny place where one can get a cup of coffee from a machine. (Don't know if I'll try that out, but maybe.) And it was lovely to work there. The only slight annoyance was that, apparently there is going to be some kind of band performance at some point soon, so for a while, I had to listen to the drum set and electric guitar, futzing around (sound check? who knows), but it didn't go on for long, and the rest of the time the only thing I had to screen out from time to time was the voice of the librarian at the help desk as he took phone calls or talked to library patrons.

In any event, I liked it well enough that I may very well continue to add that into the mix of places where I work. The more I can vary the routine, the happier I'll be, I think.

As for the work itself, I did notice, with some measure of amusement, that just as bad papers require a lot more commentary than good ones, "bad" critical articles require longer "annotations" than "good" ones. I'm not talking about whether I agree with the stance of the critic; I'm talking about the strength of the argument. I read one critical essay today that annoyed me no end. (I wonder if Le Guin has read it, and if so, how irritated she was.) The authors very carefully ignored significant evidence in the novel that would invalidate their argument and simultaneously mashed up the context of other parts so it looked like the evidence backed them up, whereas, in context, the evidence at least calls their conclusions into question, if it doesn't undermine their argument entirely. And there were several flat out errors--rather egregious ones. I have to admit, it was fun to point all that out to students and essentially say, "This is an excellent model of what NOT to do, and here's why." I wish I'd been on some kind of jury for that publication: I'd have lambasted them in no uncertain terms.

Whoof. Nice to get worked up from time to time--and to feel intelligent about it. (Under which heading, see also Tonia's e-mail to the English department in response to a request for ideas about actions the academic senate should take in response to fiats issued by the Board of Trustees, in blatant disregard of even a pretense of shared governance.) (Diagram that phrase, I dare you.)

And now it's time to call a halt to the work portion of the day. I need to back up my files (I should do that every day, actually), but then c'est tout; c'est finis.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Like a really good mouse plan

"The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agly." I'm with Eddie Izzard: I don't know what kind of plans mice are laying down or how good their best ones are, but I can say that my plan for today went agly. It wasn't a debacle, by any stretch of the imagination, just quite radically different from what I intended.

First, that early to bed early to rise thing? Not happening. I did indeed set the alarm for 8, but I woke up a little after seven and thought, "nope." I turned the alarm off and slept until 9:17 (to be precise). I told the house cleaner not to show up before 11:30, and I didn't get out of the house until after noon (she still hadn't arrived, so that part worked out well). Because I had to have my taxes done today, I only had about two hours to work before heading off for that appointment--and as it happened, the two library books I took with me didn't have a whole lot in them that I needed to say anything about. One of them turns out to be something I'd like in my own library, but it's not terribly useful for students, especially not in terms of The Left Hand of Darkness in specific.

However, I did run across references to two early SF stories by women that might be useful for MDC130 (Science, Culture, Technology). I've already found PDFs for them, which are downloaded to my newly created materials file for that class. But I'm going to just let them sit there, unread, for a while. I still want the majority of my focus to be on the sabbatical, not prepping for next semester--which I could do pretty much full time between now and September, if I let myself.

I had intended to get the proofreading done, but that didn't happen. No harm, no foul: after I saw the tax accountant, I sat in--OK, I confess--a Starbucks (mea maxima culpa) and noodled around with another chapter of my project until it was time to meet Paul for dinner.

So, it wasn't the day I envisioned, but it was a good day nonetheless.

Tomorrow probably won't be tremendously productive either. I have a social engagement around noon, which will slice right into the hours when I'm usually most productive--but ah well. I'm telling myself this is a good fallow period, time to let everything quietly restore and begin to germinate. I am also paying attention to how I look at my productivity: what would "productive enough" actually look like? When I say I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped, how much had I hoped--and how realistic are those hopes? Self-monitoring is one of the unexpressed purposes of a sabbatical, so I'm taking full advantage of the opportunities to do that.

Now, however, it's very very late, and I should be winding down for bed, not getting wound up about work, so I'll sign off before I hype myself into full-blown insomnia.

I will say, I live an unbelievably blessed life. Zero complaints, just gratitude tonight.

Monday, March 9, 2015

non-sabbatical work

Today has been a day devoted to non-sabbatical work, mostly on life-maintenance stuff, but a little bit on doing some proofreading for the literary journal that is housed in our department. I confess, I haven't paid a lot of attention to it over the years; I've given it an occasional glance and thought, "well, maybe later, I'll devote the time to reading this." No surprise that "later" never seems to materialize. So it's nice to have this absolute reason to at least read the poetry in the forthcoming volume (my share of the proofreading tasks). It's incredibly light work, I must say: I'm used to proofreading for the Met, and those projects are enormous and highly exacting in all sorts of ways, whereas this is just a few pages and requires no cross-checking (no footnotes or references, no illustrations to match against text, no elaborate style sheet needed to ensure consistency). Piece o' cake. I'm interested to notice my skepticism about the literary quality: I think some part of me wants to think it's not as good as we all say it is--but so far, although I'm not absolutely whacked by any of the poems, they're solid: no quibbles or caveats required.

I know that part of what's going on is I've felt so snake-bit about the whole Creative Writing upset that I'm feeling very sulky and put down, so I want to feel superior to rebalance my creative ego. I thought for a while about contributing to the section devoted to our own faculty, but then I got apprehensive about being "judged" by my colleagues and backed out. My creative ego is a great deal more fragile and vulnerable than my professional ego. The brass balls I bring to a lot of my functioning on campus shrivel to nothing when it comes to my creative output. I'm thinking of my student from the last (in every sense) time I taught Fiction Writing who clearly said, when I asked them to voice their biggest apprehensions about their first story, that he was afraid his work would suck. Yeah. Me too, especially when put up against that of my colleagues who write creatively as the center of their professional lives.

While I'm on the subject of insecurities getting stirred up, William brought to my attention a bullet point in the latest report from our departmental union rep on the last executive meeting of the union. The point is that an observation from the area dean must be included in all applications for promotion.

Panic in the streets. We've never done that--and certainly this latest round of applications don't include observations by the dean. I don't know if those of us who are applying for promotion are now officially fucked or if the rule can be held in abeyance for this round and implemented next time. It's important for us to know on P&B, too, as if observations by the dean are required, P&B will have to be on top of that in one way or another. (Notice I'm assuming I'll be re-elected to P&B.)

William has the right attitude. He's pretending NCC does not exist and that, if we ignore any icky problems, they'll resolve on their own. I'm too anxious for that--and too unable to extract myself entirely from the doings on campus. But his attitude did make me rethink whether I'll attend the sessions to meet the finalists for the presidential search. I was all set to do that, but now I think I won't. I'll just get pissed off, and we don't have any say in it anyway: the Board will hire whichever candidate they want, and it's already extremely clear what they're looking for. I ran into a colleague when I was on campus on Saturday, and she said that the first candidate said that the budget for "personnel" is way too high: it's about 80% right now, and he thinks it should be closer to 60% or less (and I think we can all bet that the cuts will not come out of administrators' salaries or the cleaning and maintenance staff). He said he worked at a community college that served approximately half as many students as we have with one-sixth the faculty (10,000 students/100 faculty versus our 20,000 students/600 faculty). He thinks "developmental education" (PC-speak for remedial courses) should be eliminated entirely because they don't work. That's enough to send my blood pressure through the roof and to lead me to start thinking, well, working at the Met wasn't that bad....

So, let me focus on the present. It is a gloriously beautiful day, and I am content with the way I've chosen to spend it. I'll be getting up and out of the house early tomorrow (so I'm not underfoot when the house-cleaner shows up), so here's to even moderately OK productivity tomorrow. I've had a  nice break for a few days, and I'm starting to crave getting back into it. Isn't that a lovely thing to be able to say?

Friday, March 6, 2015

No help from the handbooks

It's not often I encounter something in MLA documentation systems that I don't know how to handle, and on the rare occasions when I have any lack of certainty, I can generally find exactly what I need either through the Purdue OWL (don't we love Purdue?) or through one of my print MLA guides. However, here's one that has me stymied (and yes, I'd love it if any of my faithful readers can provide an answer: please use the comments function if you can, or if not, send me an e-mail). In a portion of a critical essay that I want to quote, the author has used parenthetical citations for the works he's referring to. It looks weird to me to have his citations in what I'm quoting, but I don't know if I'm allowed so silently leave them out, or if I should leave them there, or use ellipses to indicate that I've omitted something... and the style manuals are silent. I'm not quoting his sources: this doesn't fall under the rules of indirect quotation. (That, I know how to do.) I have silently eliminated footnotes from other things I've quoted, which tends to lead me to believe I can do the same with parenthetical references, but I'm honestly not sure. And this is actually something that I'd like to know for my students' benefit as well as my own: they encounter this situation frequently, and I'd like to be able to give them definitive advice.

Well, setting all that aside: I'm actually rather proud of myself. Of course, I will always, always, wish I'd gotten more done, but I'm glad I managed to do anything at all today: I've been fighting a monster headache all day (not to mention the time I lost out of the day to shoveling, again). When I sat down at the computer, I told myself I could work on anything at all, didn't matter what, just something--and rather to my surprise, I was completely content to whack through a few more critical essays, as well as noodling around a bit on the themes chapter.

So, yay for me.

But this is going to be yet another brief post: I want to get out for a good walk before the sun goes down. It's cold but gloriously bright out there, but the day is definitely drawing to a close. I'm thrilled to note not only the length of days (o happy approaching equinox!) but the northward shift of the sun: it's now shining full in my living room window, so much so that I have to shift my position on the couch so it isn't glaring in my eyes. That's a good "problem" to have. Yes, I admit, I feel a wave of the "my sabbatical is almost over" panic (it isn't, of course, but it sure feels that way), but mostly I'm just going to relish the approach of spring, and a hope for a corresponding lift of my spirits and energy. Yesterday was a tough one, on all levels, so I'm very happy to celebrate a day that falls on the "all systems fine" side of the spectrum.

Now, off I go, snow booted and parka coated. Tomorrow may be all about life maintenance; I highly doubt I'll get any work in at all, so I'll hope to be back to working (and blogging) on Sunday.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

well, I shoveled...

That's the big accomplishment of the day. I shoveled. Snow, not BS, and out of the driveway: I'm not being metaphoric here.

I also did the scans I was so excited about last night--and it took a hell of a lot longer than I anticipated. I also truncated the process by deciding I want to own two of the books, so I've placed my order.

I have other things on my to-do list today, but I have a strong suspicion that all I'm going to accomplish is perhaps a nap. There's no good reason for me to be this exhausted (well, I did shovel), but I am, and sometimes it's honorable to admit defeat. Today, the snow won.

And now I've got the stupid song from Annie stuck in my head: "The sun'll come out tomorrow...." It will, and I hope that my mind lights up a little better too.

C'est tout. C'est finis.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


I got some work done at one of the coffee places today while my car was in the shop for an oil change. I'm liking that I'm getting started a little earlier (my sleep cycle has spontaneously shifted a little earlier), but I have to just accept that I am probably never going to finish a day and post to the blog saying, "I feel like I got enough done." What would be enough? (Having the book published. Short of that....) So today I did a little of this and a little of that, all rather random, and before I completely pack it in for the day, I'm going to scan pages from the library books I need to return, so I'll have them to refer to later.

That idea, by the way--that I could actually scan pages instead of photocopying them--feels like a significant (albeit brief) moment of intelligence. I have the capability. I even pay for the "professional" version of Adobe so I can combine individual scans into one document (excessively cool beans), so why not take advantage? Of course, I started to do the scans before I sat down to write this post and the computer and printer/scanner weren't talking to each other yet (they have to think about it for a long while first, apparently), so I'll do the scans when I finish this post.

Which, by the way, shouldn't take long. I don't have a lot to say, other than yes, I did some work. No, it doesn't feel like enough. Yes, I recognize the tedium of that as a perpetual refrain. And oh by the way, as I was walking earlier, I found myself chewing over possible assignments, formats, structures for MDC130. I know that eventually the siren call of class prep is going to get too loud to ignore, but for now, I'm content simply to allow my brain to romp around, digging up ideas and flinging them about, because I know that sooner or later things will start to coalesce, and when they do, that's the time to start putting words down. Not yet.

I had a long talk with a friend yesterday, and she asked how I could wrap my brains around the sabbatical project. The project itself is absolutely clear to me (though the individual parts become more clear as I start to address them), but the sabbatical process is odd. My two big fears are one, that, come September, I'll be frustrated and unhappy, feeling like I didn't take full advantage of the time, and two, that I'll resent the hell out of having to go back to teaching--especially with the added burden of having to accommodate the seminar hours in a way that is "permitted." I know that kind of projection into the future isn't useful (and I know that, when I project into the future, it's almost invariably negative, a pattern I'm trying to consciously confront), so my main task each day really is just to be in this day, whatever this day may be.

And today was fine. So I'll chalk that up on the plus side and call it a day.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


I'm bringing the productive part of the day to a halt a bit early so I can allow myself some time for social activities. I was doing the "sit for 45 minutes, walk for 5" thing--even though it started to feel pretty ridiculous to circle around my rather small apartment over and over--but then the timer went off when I was right in the middle of something, and I thought, "I'll just turn that off, finish what I'm working on, then do my 'walkabout'" (a term my mother uses for pacing around her house), and to absolutely no one's surprise, I then just kept working and rather forgot about the need to get up and move.

Oops. Well, I'm about to take a real walk--you know, like, outdoors--so I'll forgive the lapse. But I do have to keep an eye on that sort of thing.

Still, I whacked through more of the critical stuff today. I'm still resisting the impulse to go back over what I've already done to see if I can edit it down. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going on too long in some of the annotations, and that--contrary to my pedagogical aims--I may be providing too much for the students instead of encouraging them to dig through the sources themselves. But if I start second-guessing myself now, I'll derail, I suspect. So I'm simply going to keep on keeping on and go at it later with the weed whacker.

One interesting moment today: I glanced at one of the books I have in my own personal library today, and something about it produced an enormous anxiety wave. As far as I could determine, the anxiety was that other people have already done what I'm trying to do and have done it better. Intellectually, I suspect that when I read the bit that triggered the anxiety, I'll discover that it does precisely what I don't want to do: it hands too much to readers and doesn't encourage them to do much on their own.

That's a very fine line to walk, I must say: the line between supportive encouragement and "enabling." My experience in the classroom would suggest that I'm so concerned about the enabling bit that I don't do enough of the supportive encouragement. The nice thing about a written project is that I can keep working on it until it gets closer to striking the balance--or so I hope.

Little else to report today. I'm not sure what I'll work on tomorrow. I may continue to crunch through the critical material, or I may take a real vacation from it and work on the chapter on socio-historical context, or I may tinker around a little more with the chapter on what I'm now calling the "Hainish matrix" instead of the "Hainish universe"--largely because I got a charming reply from Ursula in answer to my question, so not only do I feel I can proceed on that, but I now know better what to say. As always, her reply brought up issues I hadn't even thought of--but for once I can include those issues in what I'm doing instead of wishing madly I could when it's too late. In any event, I don't want to embark on anything that requires me to reread the novel just yet: I want to save that part for last.

Now, however, I am getting myself into my snow gear and heading out into another round of falling flakes, multitasking by having a phone date with a friend while I walk. If only I could read or write and walk at teh same time: taking care of my body and my book would be infinitely easier.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Not a great day, but not a bad one. I woke up earlier than I have been (yay), but used the extra time to shovel (boo)--and even though it meant a later start than I might ideally have wanted, I walked to one of the coffee houses to work: it was a gorgeous, sunny day today, and yesterday's mild cabin fever was progressing from mild to moderate, so I figured it would do me good to be somewhere else.

And it did. It felt good walking (didn't even mind the little bit my feet slipped and I went sideways into a snow bank: didn't hurt anything and reminded me that, at "freeze up" time, it's hard to tell wet from ice), and I didn't mind the occasional cacophony in the coffee place: I could screen it out pretty well--and I'd far rather work to people's conversations than to thumping Hispanic hip-hop.

It's kind of fun to become something of a regular there, too. One does tend to see the same faces in the cafe itself, never mind behind the counter. Lately, I've been overhearing conversation between two young women, early 20s I'd guess. When they speak English, they sound as American as I do, but in conversation between just the two of them, they're speaking either Dutch or a Scandinavian language: I can pick up the occasional Germanic cognates, but that would be true in either case. One of these days I may just ask, but I rather like just hearing them chat in whatever it is. (Oh, and speaking of German--but apropos of absolutely nothing else in terms of the subject of this blog--I watched The Third Man last night, hadn't seen it before, and was pleased to note that I could pick up little bits of even the rapid-fire German dialog. Every now and then, that collegiate language requirement pays off.)

As far as the work goes, I fulfilled my main objective, which was to finish off the last articles in a book I have checked out from the library. I still have two volumes in my personal library to dig through, but today I also got through a few of the downloads from the databases--including two that my students turn up all the time, both of which are potentially problematic. It was nice to feel I had a chance to steer students away before they'd even get there--or at least let them know what they're in for if they find the articles.

I think I noted already that one of the ways going through the critical material is helping me is that it reminds me of ways to approach various thematic threads in the novel. I started a teeny pre-outline for the "Themes" chapter, just for something to do before I packed up and left the cafe. (I stayed until they were starting to clean up to close down.) I realize that I'll be going through the novel itself at least twice: once to work through themes and once for the glossary--but that's a delight to look forward to.

Shifting gears, I can't remember exactly when, but recently I had one of those "wake up in the wee hours with the mind on the hamster wheel" nights, and I realized that the hamster wheel wasn't the wheel of the sabbatical project but the wheel of fall semester prep. I'm starting to think that it might not be a bad idea for me to occasionally use semester prep as a kind of brain break from the sabbatical project--especially thinking through what I want to do with the MDC130 (Science, Culture and Technology) class. I have a whole lot of vague ideas about it, and heaven knows there are about a million directions I could go with it, but I have to come up with some kind of organizational structure for it, and then find readings--and figure out assignments. I expect I'll arrange the material thematically, but what exactly I'll select as themes is going to be interesting to figure out. So are assignments: since it isn't an English class, I can't expect much in the way of papers from the students, so I'll probably give a few take home exams and maybe do a few smaller ones in class.

I want to rethink the assignments for Mystery and Detective Fiction, too. Last time I taught it, I thought I'd simplified and reduced my demands significantly--and students were still telling me it was the hardest class they'd ever taken. I don't especially want it to be easy (me? seriously?), but I would be happy if the students felt more comfortable with the challenges.

Nothing else of note today, at least not that I can think of at the moment. I'll be curious to see how next weekend's shift to Daylight Savings Time affects the length of my work day (if it does). And I am starting to wonder if it's almost time to print out some of what I've already written so I can read it on the page instead of the screen, get a better sense of what I actually have. But not today. Today is over. Everything gets pushed off to another day, you know, the one that happens tomorrow.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Variations on the work rhythm

I'm still experimenting with variations in how I approach the work, trying to find the magic combination that will lead to the greatest productivity. I had intended to work at one of the coffee houses today, as I was feeling restless and cooped up earlier, but I also got a much later start on the day than I'd planned, and--today being Sunday--the coffee places would be closing earlier than usual, both of which seemed likely to truncate my work day more than I wanted. I opted instead to work at home, but instead of setting the timer for 45 minute bursts of work, I decided to try something else.

As I'm still (endlessly) chipping away at the critical material, the plan for today was read an article while sitting on the couch. Stand at the living room table to do the write up. Walk around the apartment for 5 minutes. (At first I was going to try to walk for 10 minutes, but I started to go nuts pacing in tiny figure eights--and can only imagine what it sounded like to the downstairs neighbors.) Repeat.

I did a few cycles of that, but then my brains started to seize up reading another critical article. Instead of calling a halt to the work, however, I turned my attention to working on another part of the book. I was right in my surmise that I might be able to squeeze out more work that way: I kept going a lot longer than I expected (it's rare but very nice when my expectations are lower than what I actually accomplish). In fact, if I'd been working on a new chapter, instead of adding to/adjusting one I've already been working on, I might have been able to go on even longer.

However, I did make one tactical error: when I started to just write, I forgot to set the timer--and I've been sitting here without moving significantly for far too long. I am about to go for a walk (in the dark, in the snow), but my back is not amused at how it's been treated for the last two hours or so.

Bitching aside, I did run across a place in my writing where I felt, "I really do need to check with Ursula about this." Last time I thought I was in that position, I was delighted to locate something she'd written that answered my question so I didn't have to bother her, but this one I really do need to check in with her. It's minor, but I'm extremely sensitive about what I say about her and her work: she is there, after all, and is literally the authoritative source, so I don't want to make erroneous assumptions if I can get them cleared up.

Contacting her, however, I can't help but think about her age and worry about how she's doing. My impression is that she comes from mighty sturdy stock, but I don't know if she's dealing with any health issues or any of the physical--and therefore mental--difficulties of aging. Certainly the video of her at the National Book Award ceremony shows her perhaps slightly stooped (osteoporosis, I wonder?) but otherwise she looks beautifully vivid and full of calm fire. For all I know, she runs ten miles a day and practices all the most advanced tai-chi moves on a regular basis. I hope so. I don't know her personally (though we've met, briefly, twice), but I feel as much concern and care for her as if I did, because what she has written, how she thinks, has been a powerful force in how my mind has formed. And honestly, part of why it's important to me to get this project not only finished but out there in the world, in some way, is so I can, in essence, publicly honor her and bring others to love her as I do while she's still around to feel how much she matters and to how many.

OK, I'm at risk of getting tremendously maudlin here, but having just watched that National Book Award speech again, I am struck all over by what I admire in her.

And that, I suppose, is a good note to end on, and a warm thought to carry with me into the cold and snowy night.